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How Do You Rule on this Poker Situation?

by George “The Engineer” Epstein

Hear Ye... Hear Ye... The Players’ Poker Court of Law is now in session.

 You are the Judge. I am the key witness. I have been sworn in. During a low-limit game at a local casino, James raised before the flop in middle position, and was called by several opponents. The flop was rather uninteresting:

There was no card higher than a nine, no pairs, no connectors, and it contained three different suits. A player in early position bet out. There was one limper before James raised again. One player behind him—Bill—and the two limpers called James’ raise. The turn was not very exciting either. There were no pairs on the board, but there were possible long-shot draws to a straight or flush.

 James opened the betting on the turn, and was called only by Bill. It was heads-up. The river was a deuce. Without a pair on the board, no one could have a full-house or better, and without three cards of the same suit, no flush was possible either. While a straight was possible, it was highly unlikely. Of course, it was possible that James or Bill might have started with a pair in the hole. Either might even have made a set. The only aggressor during the hand was James. I figured him for an overpair in the hole, though he might just as well have been betting and raising with two high holecards. Based on his play thus far, I considered him tight and selectively aggressive. He raised when it was to his advantage. I didn’t have much of a read on Bill. He had just joined our table a few hands earlier.

 James bet out on the river with an air of confidence. I had seen him bet that way before and then revealed a powerhouse hand to scoop the pot. I had little doubt that James held a strong hand. Bill studied his holecards, and then looked over the board. He appeared crestfallen. Apparently he had been drawing to a hand, and failed to make it. Bill made no effort to mask his disappointment, and I fully expected him to fold. Then he picked up some chips as if he was about to call. He hesitated, then laid his chips down on the table in front of his stacks of chips. Bill sat back in his chair, deep in thought. He finally decided; he made the call.

 Now listen carefully to the testimony. . .

 As James turned up his holecards, he shouted: “Full-House!” Those were his words, loud and clear. Having watched the game from start to finish, I knew there was no way he could have a full-house. There was no pair on the board. Bill promptly tossed his hand into the muck.

 As the others at the table looked at James’ holecards, someone said, “He doesn’t have a full-house!” In fact, James held A-K suited, but nothing more. Bill protested that he actually had a better hand. The dealer called a floorman. After hearing the story, the floorman pulled out two cards that were lying facedown on at one edge of the discards—but definitely in the muck.

 James protested, “His hand is dead. It’s in the muck! Once a card touches the discards, isn’t it dead—out of play? My cards were exposed for him to see,” James added. “Isn’t it the player’s responsibility to protect his hand? He should not rely on what a player says at the table.

 You are the Judge in the Poker Court of Law. How do you rule?

 There will be a prize for the best judicial ruling (with rationale). Send to

 George “The Engineer” Epstein is the author of The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners! and Hold’em or Fold’em?—An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision and teaches poker at the Claude Pepper Sr. Citizen Center in Los Angeles. Contact George at

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