Why would a player remove money from the table and take it out of play? There is not a great deal to be gained in limit poker, because the money removed is normally not in play on a given hand anyway. Perhaps this type of ratholing is done mostly by limit players who are “professional borrowers,” when it may bring them under pressure from creditors to be seen with a large load of money in play.
One would think it foolish to rathole tournament chips, which have no redeemable cash value, but there is something to be gained. A cardroom normally uses the same set of chips for all of its tournaments. However, the entry fee and amount of starting chips will vary from one event to another, meaning the tournament chips also vary in worth. A player might stash some chips in a $40 buy-in event and sneak them back into play in a $500 buy-in event. That’s like trading a Yugo for a Mercedes. It also can place the house in a bad position because the number of chips at the end of the more expensive tournament is going to be more than it should be, making it look like the house took in money for rebuys that it is not acknowledging and paying out. That’s why ratholing chips in a tournament is a heinous crime, and should be penalized severely.
In a money game, the poker type in which ratholing has the most to gain is no-limit poker. Ratholing provides a way to take money out of play that the rules require be in play on every hand. The losers want a chance to get even or up by winning a big pot, and are understandably upset if they are deprived of the right to recoup their losses. However, it is possible that it could actually be beneficial for the game to allow ratholing! Let me explain.
I have seen lots of no-limit games lose several players and even break up because the big attraction in the game visited the cashier’s cage, cashed out, and went to another place to gamble, or went home. A weak player is understandably nervous to sit in a no-limit game in which he is outgunned and can lose back all he won (perhaps with interest) on a single unlucky hand. Heck, I’ve even seen good players lock up a win rather than stay and gamble. Is there anything that could be done to entice winners to continue playing? Here are some ideas:
1. Allow a buy-in rathole. It is a great feeling when playing poker to know that you will either win or break even, but cannot lose. Of course, a player may well decide to “rebuy” rather than head for home if he loses the amount he was in front. There are a couple of ways to allow the ratholing of a player’s initial buy-in. One would be to place a marker on the table in front of him, simply to signify that he has used the “buy-in rathole” privilege. Another would be to use that marker to additionally require that the player “unrathole” the money (did I really write that ugly word?) if his stack falls below a certain set figure, such as half a buy-in.
2. Require that a set amount always be kept in play on the table. You could allow unlimited ratholing if the player is never allowed to reduce the amount in front of him to less than the initial buy-in amount, and is required to bring his stack up to the full amount of the initial buy-in anytime he falls below half that figure. Of course, a lot of money could be ratholed with this rule, but there are certain advantages. First, there is no bookkeeping needed. Whether you have ratholed a large amount or none at all, you must follow the rule of keeping at least half a buy-in on the table. Second, there is never a short stack to mess up the play by constantly moving all in preflop if he gets a pocket pair. All the good players hate a shortstop in the game. (Note that the right way to word this rule is to require that a player bring his short stack up to the minimum amount if anyone asks him to. Otherwise, there will be an argument over how much money was in play if he goes all in for an amount smaller than the legal minimum.)
I believe the typical no-limit player is being a bit of a hog by wanting the weakie in the game to keep his full load of chips in front of him, ripe to be plucked. This piggish behavior often backfires by the targeted player simply getting up and cashing out, which often causes the game to break up. By giving the weak player a chance to shelter some money for the moment, the game may well last a lot longer — and still have the stuckees getting their money back from the weak player, albeit not all on one lucky hand.
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