A Look at House Rules: Must Move Games

Must Move Games

You might not ever experience the complexities of a “must move” game, but in the event that you’ve decided to go on a “play about” and visit as many card rooms as possible, we’ll get you up to speed on what a must move game is and the rules that were created to make it work.

As with all house rules there may be variations, so if you’re being seated in a must move game in Nowhere, PokerLand, and the rules vary from the last game you played in in Somewhere, PokerLand, wipe the shocked look off of your face and just go with it.

What is a must move game?

A must move game is created to protect the main game of a specific limit and structure. A must move game is more likely to spring up in high-limit than in low-limit, but it could happen in an extremely popular game like $2/$5 no-limit hold’em where the masses are screaming through the door every evening carrying baskets of poker chips, ready to fire up the action.

Once a main game has been established, a must move game starts from the player list to feed the main game when seats open. Must move games may start short-handed, but players who sit down have the knowledge that they will get a seat in the main game. The main game is always protected and seats are filled from the must move game or “must-must move games” that are started.

What normally occurs is new games are started when there are enough names on the list to merit opening a new table of that limit. For instance in high-limit, it’s often difficult to find 20-30 players who have the desire or bankroll to take a seat in a $100/$200 mixed game, so creating a second game without making it a must move is almost impossible.

As mentioned, a must move game is started from the player list and players are moved from the must move game to the main game in the same order of the list. It is possible to have more than one must move game to a particular game. In that instance they would be labeled in starting order, and a player could have to navigate through multiple must move games in order to get a seat in the main game.

Some rules governing must move games

What if the main game becomes a “rock pile” — that is, all the players are grinders and there is no action — and the must move game looks pretty juicy? Can you leave the main game and head over to the must move? Yes and no! Remember, the reason for the must move game is to protect the main game and keep the seats filled.

Here are a few rules regarding must move games to keep in mind:

  • If you leave the main game, you may have to wait two hours (depending on house rule) before you can enter the must move game as a new player. Re-enter through the must move game when a seat opens and your name would be first on the list for the main game. Then if your name is called for the main game, you MUST MOVE, or you’ll be dealt out and your name will be removed from all lists.
  • If your name is called while in the must move game, you must move immediately, unless (1) you are in the blinds, in which case you are entitled to play through the blinds and button before moving, or (2) you’re playing in a ‘kill’ game and won a qualifying kill pot, in which case you must play the kill hand before moving. Also, in some extremely high-limit games, you may be entitled to play the entire round — that is, to your big blind — before moving, or if you’re playing seven-card stud or other non-button mixed games, you may be entitled to play the entire round (e.g., eight hands) in the game before moving.
  • When you move to the next table in the chain — whether it’s to another must move game or to the main game — you must take all buttons with you (but no player/absent buttons, missed blind buttons, etc.). All chips and cash that were in play when you were called must be taken to the new table with you. By the same token, if you are short chips or cash for the limit, you do not have to buy more chips since your move is not voluntary.
  • You are dealt in immediately at the new table without waiting to post a blind unless you arrive in the big blind position, in which case you must post the blinds and take a hand or you’ll receive a missed blind button. Note: Some savvy players look before approaching the next table and stall to let the blind go by the seat before approaching with their chips, as they want the advantage of coming in for free if possible.
  • If you are absent from the must move table when it’s your turn to move, the floor person will move all of your chips/cash and any buttons you may have accumulated to the next table.
  • Some must move games are started with an expiration time and the must move may be in effect for two hours (again, depending on house rule). At that point, players may request transfers to the main game and other must move games. If a must move game breaks down, the lists are still maintained by the floor person for seating priority in the main game.

There are “table captains” (players who watch everything and everyone moving in and out of their games) in all limits and they can be very helpful when it comes to keeping track of the order of lists for must move games and transfers. It’s possible that a must move game breaks and a player may get called two to three hours later for their seat in the main game.

The table captains will help track whether or not the must move player’s chips/cash coming onto the table is correct, and if he or she had any missed blind buttons or absent buttons that need to be given in the main game. It may seem a bit nitty, but once you get into high-limit games, the table captains are working hard to make their living playing poker and they want the rules to apply to everyone equally.

Home games and online

Most home games are geared to keep everyone playing and enjoying the great game of poker. A host may use a must move format if more than one game is running, but most likely a transfer list would suffice. If a player is having fun in one game and told he or she must move to another one where everyone looks like they’re asleep, the player may just cash out and leave. Such a scene would put a damper on the festivities. If you have any questions about whether or not there are must move games in a home game setting, check with your host and know your options beforehand.

Meanwhile, when it comes to online poker, there is no such animal as a must move game. Rather for full tables you simply put your name on a list, you are notified when your seat opens, and you take it!

The best part about poker is that it’s one long game, designed to be played by many people. You can always come back another day. Keep that in mind if you find you don’t want to take a seat in a must move game.

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