Chance Kornuth ‘angle’ triggers rules debate among players

Haley Hintze
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Posted on November 15, 2021 1:18 am EST

What sort of chip movements should be allowed to a player whose turn it is to bet or fold, and when does an attempt to elicit a response from an opponent cross the line into unethical play? Where the line falls and how rules might be written to account for such actions are now on many players’ minds. That’s thanks to an unusual hand on the 2021 WSOP Main Event featuring American Chance Kornuth.

Kornuth, who won his third WSOP gold bracelet earlier in the series, was at the main feature table when a hand he played against Kyle Arora turned controversial. Video of how the hand played out was soon posted on Twitter by Chris Brewer:

The CBS announcing team of Norman Chad, Lon McEachern and Jamie Kerstetter had a pained chuckle at watching Kornuth hunch up his shoulders, grab two stacks of high-denomination chips — as if to bet — and then just slide the chips sideways a couple of inches.

Since Kornuth didn’t push the chips forward, he didn’t violate any of the formal rules regarding chip movements. But, still…. “It’s allowable,” said Chad on the streamed coverage, “but I still don’t like it.”

Nor did a lot of players. The hand and Kornuth’s conduct drew plenty of comment and debate in the following hours. Did it fall into a grey area? Most players acknowledged that it did. But was it a true angle-shot? Players’ opinions were much more divided on that point.

Noted rules nit Allen “Chainsaw” Kessler visited the growing debate around Brewer’s post and Kornuth’s conduct and asked, “Should this type of behavior be allowed, or warrant a penalty?”

Among those who responded immediately was Daniel Negreanu. “If you try to start enforcing rules like this then you are headed down an incredibly slippery slope,” Negreanu posted. “He didn’t come close to breaking any rule, and I don’t know how you would word a rule fairly to prevent something like that.”

Action versus intent

Negreanu’s comment strikes closer to the core of the matter. Negreanu himself is very much a “tells” player, as Kornuth seems to be in the above hand. But Negreanu’s issues with rulemakers have come in the form of what sort of probing banter should be allowed at the tables. Negreanu wasn’t defending Kornuth’s actions specifically. He was pointing out how hard it could be to distinguish actions from the real intent behind them.

While it would be possible to craft such a rule about intent — as seen in the video above, it seems clear that Kornuth’s intent was to trick Arora into giving off a tell — it’s a tough area to enforce. Such interpretations generally fall under the judgment of a tourney’s highest-ranking directors, but those directors are rarely hovering over any given table, even a televised one. So that means that the table’s dealer would be forced to make highly controversial, judgmental calls, and that’s likely far above what a dealer should have to face. Dealers are trained to recognize and react to more outlandish behavior than this. While the dealer here almost certainly saw Kornuth’s actions, since there was no forward movement of the chips, there was no violation.

Many other players offered their own takes on the Kornuth episode. But as usual, opinions far outnumbered possible solutions, if indeed it’s a problem needing to be solved.

Should a rule about moving chips in a way that “simulates” a betting action replace the old forward-motion language? It could be done, and it could reduce behavior of suspect ethics, but it’s also a can of worms. Here, Kornuth gets away with his move penalty-free, but it certainly increases his reputation as being one of those players.

Featured image source: Haley Hintze