Buy the Button: A Perfect Rule

Dear reader: This article was first published in the early 2000s (in Poker Digest). After that I was involved in some forum discussions, and emails with some major-poker-room managers, including the Bicycle Club and Foxwoods. Those rooms adopted the rule, and over the next ten years it became ubiquitous. I’m happy to have played a part, and a teenie bit proud. 🙂


Several major card rooms in the San Francisco Bay Area use a rule called “Buy the Button.” This is an option that pertains to the blinds. The only thing to prevent a casino from using this rule is that they do not know about it.

You leave the table, beckoned by your mate, stomach, bladder, nicotine, whatever. You have a sense of how much time you have until your big blind. But now and then, you return a moment too late. -sigh-

You could post both blinds behind the button, but you’re not too happy about that, especially if the game is not full. Or you could wait a whole round and take the big blind and waste precious poker time.

Meanwhile, the seated players are grumbling about the absent players. Another one gets up, then another, and the game stalls out. A moment later the usual plea is broadcast. “Players on table 14, please return to your game. You are all lobbying at the same time.”

Buy-the-Button eliminates the personal frustration of barely missing the big blind, and it frequently remedies the group frustration of stalled games. I’ve seen every type of player gladly use this option, from the most reckless recreational player to the most careful professional. Here’s how it works.

A player with a missed blind button may reenter the game by posting both blinds from the small-blind position (one seat left of the button). The big blind amount is live and the small blind amount is dead. The players to his left, who would normally be posting the small blind and big blind, post nothing on that hand. On the next hand, the player who bought the button gets the button. The blinds resume as usual, and life goes on.

It’s as if you were never gone. And that’s why the dealers and the floor staff like it as much as the players do. Buy-the-Button keeps games full, prevents stalled games, and helps restart games after domino-effect lobbying.

When I first saw this rule in 1998, I was blown away by the ingenuity. Because I’m a rules freak, I couldn’t help but wonder about how “buy the button” would be used in those awkward situations that arise when a player quits or lobbies right after taking a blind. As it turns out, these puzzles are easily solved. Just make sure each player has a big blind and then a small blind.

A while back I asked where this rule came from. I was told Reno. Soon after that, I was in the Sierra Nevada Mountains walking around with a gal who likes to slow down and smell the pines. That didn’t last long. “We’re only an hour from Reno! Let’s go!”

She perked up and yelped, “Shopping!”

We stopped by the Peppermill. There was one seat open in the $10-20 limit holde’em game. There was also one door open at the gift shop. Both of us were drawn to our natural environments.

I bought in and started yacking with the locals. Nice bunch. I played a couple rounds and then headed over to the gift shop to see who was stuck the most so far. I came back to the poker table an instant too late to take my big blind. Dang!

On the next hand the button moved to my right and I reflexively posted both blinds to buy the button, just like back home. The dealer politely pushed my chips back and told me to wait one more hand. I asked about buying the button, adding that I had heard it started in Reno.

Someone told me that they use that rule in Tahoe. This was feeling like a mystery story. Home again, I dug around and learned that “buy the button” was invented by Bee Estes during his tenure as poker room manager at Harvey’s in South Lake Tahoe. From there he went to Lucky Chances Casino as manager and brought “buythe button” with him. When Bee left, his clever invention stayed behind.

Buy-the-Button is spreading. Danny Twitchen took it across the Bay Bridge to Casino San Pablo when he became poker room manager there. And Artichoke Joe’s Casino in San Bruno added it recently.

Buy-the-Button is a perfect rule because it is simple and fair, good for the players, good for the employees, good for the house, and good for poker.



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