Explained: Why you don't talk in multi-way pots

This week we explain to newbies (and Phil Hellmuth) why you should keep your mouth shut when three or more players are involved in the hand.

We have a lot of new players at PokerStrategy.com and we have to therefore remember that a lot of the conversations that experienced players take for granted will sometimes go over their head. So when stories in the poker world come up that only make sense to experienced poker players, I am going to spell out what we are talking about for the newbies.

The most talked about hand last week and probably of the entire World Series of Poker Main Event was a three-way pot between Phil Hellmuth, Alex Kuzmin and James Campbell. On a flop of 4310 Kuzmin bet 3,000 with K2, Hellmuth raised to 6,000 with 77 and Campbell went all in for 26,200 with A9. The action was then on Kuzmin, but before he acted Hellmuth started swearing and ranting at Campbell, essentially giving away that he was going to fold. Kuzmin called, spiked a 2, and Campbell was eliminated.

There was a lot wrong with this hand and the way that Phil acted on social media afterwards, but let’s just focus on the infringement itself. Why should talking be prohibited in multi-way pots?

A turn based game

In multi-way pots, talking the way Phil did is a variant of acting out of turn. If you discount things like physical tells, which give off information unconsciously, poker is a turn-based game and you should only affect the outcome of the hand and give away information when it is your turn to do so. This is why betting when it is somebody else’s turn is also against the rules, as is getting up and leaving your seat before it is your turn to fold your hand (even if you really need to go to the toilet).

The reason acting out of turn is against the rules is because you give some people an unfair informational advantage. If you leave your seat before your hand is folded then somebody considering a blind steal knows they have one less player to get through. In the case of the Hellmuth hand, Kuzmin knew he didn’t have to worry about Hellmuth calling.

This was unfair to Campbell who may well have gone all-in in part because the presence of two players making his shove seem all the stronger. It’s hard to call as Kuzmin normally with a mediocre hand like he had because he didn’t know if Phil had him beat and would call too. Likewise with two people behind him when he shoved, Campbell also looked stronger to Phil.

Talking about your hand or your opponent’s hand when it is a heads-up pot is entirely different, because you can only influence each other, and to be honest the person talking is more likely to give away something about the strength of their hand than they are to tease out some vital information from their opponent. In many card rooms you can even declare what you have if you so wish (this is something Jamie Gold did quite a lot on his way to the 2006 Main Event title):

What were the motives?

hellmuth poker
Poor emotional control or calculated move?

The really big question was whether this was a calculated move by Phil or an uncontrollable outburst? It’s forgivable if it was poor emotional control (but still deserves reprimanding, especially from a veteran like Phil) but if Phil actually purposely gave away that he was going to fold to get Cambpell eliminated this is a form of cheating akin to collusion. I’m in the camp that Phil simply has the emotional control of a child and does not have anywhere near the Machiavellian smarts to set up such a dastardly coup (which is barely a defence of the guy as he doesn’t come across well in either outcome).

The biggest advice I tell new players in their first live game is to wait for the dealer to indicate it is their turn to act before they do ANYTHING. This eliminates 90% of live poker problems and that is especially the case in multi-way pots like this (in these cases, talking count as action). It is comical, or perhaps sad, that we have to also share the same advice with the most successful player in WSOP history too.

What other poker concepts do you hear everyone talk about but you have no idea what they mean? Let us know in the comments:


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Comments (2)

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  • D4nkoo


    That is unbelievable, totally unfair behavior...
  • CucumbaMan


    He later apologised to the guy, and promised to pay for his 2019 Main event entry.