Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Order of the Flop

The Order of the FlopThis might be about as arcane as it gets when it comes to poker tournament reporting, but I’m going to write about it anyway. One of those quirky little “issues” that sometimes come up among those who have done this sort of thing over and over and over again. Definitely not as important as other, more pressing issues, like, say, those involving journalistic integrity (such as Jon Katkin wrote about on Pokerati over the weekend). But kinda sorta interesting not only to those who write about poker tournaments, but to those who read such reports, too.

And maybe kinda sorta related to those larger, more meaningful concerns, too. Let me explain.

The “issue” -- I’m going to keep using the scare quotes -- is whether or not in games that have community cards to report the flop as it comes or to reorder the cards from high to low. E.g., if the flop comes QsKh5s (as in the above pic from a past WSOP), is it better to write out the cards in the order they land on the table or should the flop be reported as KhQs5s?

Whenever this debate arises among poker reporters -- as it did over Twitter last night a little bit -- I can’t help but think of the fight between the “Big-Endians” and “Little-Endians” in Jonathan Swift’s Gullivers Travels.

Big-Endians vs. Little-EndiansYou remember, the factions Gulliver encounters in the land of Lilliput, with one group insisting upon first breaking eggs on the big end and the other adamant about breaking them on the small end? War erupts between Lilliput and nearby Blefuscu over the matter, and thousands die as a result.

Talk about a hard-boiled story! (Rim shot.)

B.J. Nemeth is a lead proponent of ordering the flop. As he explained on Twitter last night, not only does he always reorder the three cards from high to low, when there are paired cards he likes to order them by suits, too. Says Nemeth, “Personally, when the cards are the same (2 or 3 kings, for example), I list them alphabetically by suits. c-d-h-s,” adding “I don't consider that to be required, but I like consistency. And I can always identify my own updates years later.”

“Orderers” such as Nemeth champion resetting the flop because they believe it increases readability. In a sense, they are doing for the reader the small amount of mental work each player must do when he or she looks at the flop. The further ordering of suits on paired boards is perhaps a little idiosyncratic, but as Nemeth says he doesn’t “require” that of himself. (Or others?)

“Non-Orderers,” meanwhile, will report the cards as they appear on the table, as is. “The flop is the flop,” is how Paul Oresteen put it last night on Twitter, defending the decision not to reorder the cards when reporting. (It should be added that we are speaking here of the flop only; obviously it is vital to report the flop, then the turn, then the river in correct sequence!)

Like I said, a big part of me wants to dismiss this whole debate like a bunch of discarded eggshells. But B.J.’s comment about being able to “identify [his] own updates years later” got me thinking that perhaps there is something meaningful here, something that actually suggests this “issue” is of at least some relevance, if in an indirect way.

Like Paul, I’m a “Non-Orderer.” I write the flop as it comes. It’s part of my mindset as a reporter, as someone who is not allowed to alter the facts when reporting. I understand the “readability” argument just fine, but I can also imagine taking that idea further to justify other alterations and embellishments when reporting. I’m with Paul -- the flop is the flop. And the turn is the turn and the river is the river. Those elements of the hand -- like the bets and other happenings relevant to the way the hand plays out -- I don’t change.

However, I do allow myself the freedom to engage my readers when telling the story of the hand by the introduction of other, contextual matters that heighten interest, as well as by turns of phrase and other examples of what might (immodestly) be called “creativity” that serve to make the report more interesting. Or, to put it differently, to increase readability. And that stuff I’ll order in whatever way seems most appropriate. Additionally, that introduction of personal style is also how I might “identify my own updates years later” (if there weren’t a name attached to the hand report, that is).

That said, as someone who respects and appreciates others’ styles and approaches, I’ve nothing but love for the Orderers. And thankfully, I don’t think any of those with opinions about ordering flops is invested heavily enough in the “issue” to take up arms over it.

B.J. Nemeth logoAlthough now that I think about it, I know B.J. always carries that titanium spork in his bag.

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10 Comments:

Blogger Special K said...

If I'm recreating a hand in my head from these reports, I may want to know which card was "in the door" or first to be revealed. I can assume that the third card on the flop was the first exposed, unless the reporter is an orderer.

6/14/2011 12:53 PM  
Blogger Short-Stacked Shamus said...

Yeah, that came up in the conversation last night as well... those instances when the first card revealed on the flop is worth noting for its dramatic value. Probably a bit less awkward for Non-Orderers to point out something like that in a hand report (I'd think), but the Orderers have their ways.

6/14/2011 3:23 PM  
Blogger Jess said...

I must admit that, like BJ Nemeth, I a passionate Orderer. So much though, that I genuinely find it distracting when flops are not ordered and have a tougher time reading the hand. I am also passionate enough about it that anyone who works for me is required to order flops in their coverage.

As I explained to Eric Ramsey yesterday, when players turn over their hole cards, we order them all the time. While they may show K-A when reading left to right, no one writes that they have K-A when writing a hand update. To me, the same should apply to flops.

Also, not to nitpick, but unless you pay an extraordinary amount of attention to the dexterity of the dealer, you really don't know which card was the first off the top of the deck, as it varies depending on if the dealer is left or right-handed.

To address Special K's point: In situations where the door card has an impact on the story, i.e. someone sucks out or instantly sees they have flopped a set, I will note it when writing up the post, but the flop will still be ordered. To me, the huge improvement it serves to reading comprehension cannot be overvalued.

And you thought Orderers weren't going to take up arms on this one = )

6/14/2011 6:47 PM  
Blogger BJ Nemeth said...

If the window card is relevant to player reactions, that should be noted separately by the reporter. Depending on the dealer, sometimes the window card is more obvious than others.

There are quite a few different ways I could argue this issue (Do these other reporters list chip sizes used to make bets? Do they ever report big slick in the hole as K-A? How do they order flops told to them after the fact by players?), but it's a very minor issue. The reader is still getting all the facts.

Let's debate something much more meaningful, like why WSOP bracelet events aren't receiving hand-for-hand coverage.

6/14/2011 7:09 PM  
Blogger BJ Nemeth said...

When it comes to my system of ordering the suits alphabetically (when two cards of the same value appear on the flop or in a player's hand), that is simply something that I choose to do for myself. I've worked alongside Jessica Welman for a long time (on the WPT Live Updates team), and I don't think I've ever even mentioned it to her, which should tell you how "important" I think it is.

But I like having a consistent system to follow, because when things fall out of line, I can easily and readily identify the problem. That's one of the reasons why my error rate is the lowest in the industry. Consistency leads to accuracy.

6/14/2011 7:25 PM  
Blogger Cheeseburner said...

I am a non-orderer. Always have been always will.

Again, it has to do with accurate reporting.

The floor doesn't rearrange the flop when they read it aloud, televised poker doesn't have to dumb it down.

Then if people compare our reports with those, we'll look as if we misreported.

I'd like to see how long it would take for a player to come up and say "You got the order wrong" if all poker media decides to 'order' the flop.

An argument in favor I heard of ordering yesterday said that when you describe a flop - lets use Shamus' example - you'd say it's a K-high flop with two spades.

That's all well but describing the flop is different that saying what the flop IS.

Flop can be described as queen-high with two spades, but the flop IS qs-kh-5s

And if you get on to a hand on the turn, and the turn has a straight and a flush draw, you can describe it like that.

But what if the turn brings the flush draw.

Do you arrange the the spade (for example) to be closer to the river for easier readability?

The flop and board should be reported as is.

Readability can be increased when describing something, when accurately reporting what something is, you should state it as is.

6/14/2011 7:30 PM  
Blogger change100 said...

I have my own secret formula for flop ordering. It goes a long way toward figuring out if my work has been ripped off or not.

6/14/2011 10:04 PM  
Blogger Grange95 said...

The three cards in the flop can be ordered in six unique ways. The flop order is one, BJ's ordering is another, and I suppose there are other "ordered" methods. As a reader, none of the six orders matters one whit to me. It adds no value at all to report the flop in whatever arbitrary order the reporter or editor nitpickingly mandates.

Keep in mind, the entire audience for detailed poker reporting is ... wait for it ... poker players. We already read boards at a glance. If flops were rearranged in the game as a matter of course, and players were used to that, then maybe ordering the flop would add something. As it is, all sides who claim superiority for their method are the epitome of Emerson's observations about hobgoblins.

Just report the 3 cards however makes you happy, and get on to the stuff that matters--the action, the table chatter, the drama.

6/14/2011 11:18 PM  
Blogger BJ Nemeth said...

Shamus -- I'm certain you never imagined that this blog post would re-ignite so much debate on such a minor, minor issue.

I'm a firm believer in ordering flops, and I'll happily discuss my reasons for doing so with any reasonable person if I have time available. But it's such a minor issue when it comes to tournament reporting that I'd rather not waste any more public time (blogs and twitter) on it.

If people are in the mood to debate tournament coverage, let's start discussing more important things like the relative importance of chip counts on Day 1 and whether or not final tables should receive hand-for-hand coverage. I'm sure there is just as much debate to be had with those topics, though those are style choices that dramatically affect how the people reading our updates experience a tournament.

6/15/2011 12:59 AM  
Blogger Cheeseburner said...

I agree %1,000 percent with Grange95.

When it comes down to it, who gives a shit?

I've been in the poker media for almost four years and I've never even heard about 'ordering' the flop until yesterday.

I had asked my boss if he heard about it and the debate and he said no. I told him about it and he said he always 'ordered' the flop, I told him I never did.

He said, "It doesn't really matter," and that was it.

The problem is when people began to say that they would fire people who didn't order the flop, that they would never hire them, saying that people who don't order 'didn't learn correctly.'

Poker journalism is an organic industry that has grown along with the people in it. We all agree on most things because they're important.

And we all having growing pains. Like a recent Op-Ed about people rooting for their friends. We make that mistake, then we all realize it's wrong and an unwritten rule is formed.

But the shameless self-righteousness is what set people off. Don't try to set an industry standard when you have no authority to.

And if the order of the flop is arbitrary enough for you to change it, then it's arbitrary enough for people to report it without changing the order.

There are award-winning journalists who've been in the poker industry for longer than you who don't order. There are also people who report on poker all year round that 'order' their flops.

Then you have change 100 who does it for plagiarism purposes. Which I think is a fantastic idea. (I might even try it during some tournaments I get fishy about)

If you feel so strongly about reordering you flops, just do it.

If there's this much debate from two intelligent, experienced sides, then both ways are most likely acceptable.

So don't get on a self built moral highground for no reason, and more importantly, don't tell me how to do my job.

6/15/2011 3:00 AM  

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