Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Preserving One’s Tournament Life: The Aussie Millions Pregnancy Story & A Big Hand for the Little Lady

You might have heard about this story from the ongoing Aussie Millions where a woman playing in a preliminary event went into labor and had to leave the tournament. That in itself would be a somewhat unusual situation, but the story became even stranger as tournament officials actually allowed her husband to take over her stack and finish the event for her. No shinola!

The decision did follow one of those “discretion of the Tournament Director” rules that allow a lot of leeway for those who run tournaments, in this case one having to do with permitting a player to “transfer his/her entry to another person” as long as the new player wasn’t already in the event. In other words, there isn’t really much to debate over whether or not the husband could be allowed to take his wife’s place at the table, but rather over whether or not he should have been allowed to do so.

The woman, Katrina Sheary, began a Day 1 flight in the event before having to leave, at which point her husband, Peter Sheary, took over for her. He actually managed to make it all of the way to a 25th-place finish in the $1,150 tournament, cashing for $6,495 (AUD). Should put all of that straight into the college fund, I’d suggest.

Following some of the debate over the decision, it sounds like the general consensus is that while few are especially bothered by this specific situation, many aren’t crazy about this sort of thing happening again going forward. Esteemed tournament director Matt Savage summarized that response in his tweet about it yesterday: “Wonderful story and terrible precedent.”

I fall on the side of those who like Savage wouldn’t think to allow any substitution like this, regardless of the circumstances. Also, given how many seem likewise opposed to the idea of allowing substitutions, I can't imagine this turning into a meaningful “precedent” for tournament poker going forward.

Meanwhile the whole incident immediately reminded me of the plot of the 1966 western A Big Hand for the Little Lady (one I’ve written about here before in the past).

Those who’ve seen that film know how much of it revolves around a single hand of poker that lasts nearly the entire movie. It’s the once-a-year high-stakes cash game game in Laredo, Texas, and the naive-seeming Meredith (Henry Fonda) finds himself sitting in a game amid a bunch of savvy high rollers during a stop along the way to taking his family to San Antonio to buy a farm.

A huge hand of five-card draw develops involving all of the players, but before it can conclude Meredith suffers a heart attack and becomes incapacitated. Much drama follows, ending with the men reluctantly allowing his wife, Mary (Joanne Woodward), to take over for Meredith and complete the hand. There’s a lot else going on plot-wise, including more sketchy rulings regarding what is allowed and what is not in the game, but I’ll save those who haven’t seen the film from spoilers and instead recommend it as a fun couple of hours.

That fictional “precedent” makes me think of other stories of players dying at the poker table, some of which involve some wickedly black humor regarding others’ callousness and how the importance of playing out a hand to its conclusion gets elevated above the importance of someone’s life coming to a conclusion.

How would they have ruled at the Crown in Melbourne in the case of a player dying during a hand? Would that player’s stack be “dead,” too? If so, I guess there would be a certain symbolic symmetry when juxtaposing that situation with the one in which the stack of a player giving birth was allowed to remain “alive.”

Image: A Big Hand for the Little Lady (dir. Fielder Cook, 1966).

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