by George "The Engineer" Epstein
Our two previous columns [Editor's Note: Read Part 1 and Part 2] presented responses from a wide range of readers to our earlier column, “How Do You Rule?” It was about a hand where a player misstated his hand on the showdown, prompting his opponent to muck his cards. To whom should the pot be awarded?
Based on readers’ responses, in this case, both the Tournament Directors Association (TDA) rules and Robert’s Rules of Poker lack in specificity and are subject to interpretation by individuals, as well as possible personal biases.
Quoting Robert’s Rules as they apply to this situation: “A player must show all cards in the hand face-up on the table to win any part of the pot. Cards speak; players are responsible for holding onto their cards until the winner is declared... Deliberately miscalling a hand with the intent of causing another player to discard a winning hand is unethical and may result in forfeiture of the pot. If you miscall your hand and cause another player to foul his or her hand, your hand is dead. If both hands remain intact, the best hand wins. If a miscalled hand occurs in a multi-handed pot, the miscalled hand is dead, and the best remaining hand wins the pot. For your own protection, always hold your hand until you see your opponent’s cards.”
These are the most definitive rules available, and they are well thought out. So it makes sense to focus on these while clarifying any inconsistencies, filling any voids, or making significant changes.
Defining the situation:
(1) Once a player’s hand hits the muck (discards), it is out of play and, therefore, cannot win the pot under any circumstances.
(2) The over-riding rule is “cards speak”—not what a player says, whether or not it was a misstatement, intentional or otherwise.
(3) A player who makes a statement (including a falsehood) that leads to his opponent mucking his hand after calling the bet (or if both players had checked), is being deceptive much like other forms of deception common in poker games (such as bluffing).
Furthermore, as Rich Muny (PPA) emphasized, “cardrooms should all use complete written rules.” (Learning from Engineers: To avoid anomalies, engineers rely on clearly written, precise specifications in designing, developing, and manufacturing products, and testing to assure reliability.)
Recommendations. Clearly written, unambiguous rules are needed. Considering the issues involved and experiences of players (see Parts I and II), Robert’s Rules of Poker and the TDA rules should be modified to avoid misunderstandings and inconsistencies among cardrooms.
In retrieving a hand from the muck, there is possibility for error. It may be a matter of personal judgment. On that basis, it should NOT be allowed—even if the dealer believes both cards are distinguishable from the others. Once in the muck, cards are not retrievable! Furthermore, we recognize that deception (including lying) is an intricate part of the game.
Therefore, during the showdown, if all except one player muck their hands, the one remaining player (“the last man standing”) shall be awarded the pot. If his misstatement caused the others to muck their hands, the casino may penalize him in a way that does not involve the chips.
Every cardroom should prominently post a sign:
• Cards Speak—Always.
• Cards that are in physical contact with the muck are dead.
• Never muck your hand before being certain an active opponent has you beat.
• A misstatement—even if it leads another to muck his hand—is a part of the game, a form of deception, and permissible.
• “The last man standing” or the player with the best hand at the showdown wins the pot.
• A copy of these rules is available here.
In the Final Analysis. Every cardroom is entitled to use whatever rules it desires. It is a private establishment and not required by any law to use any particular documented rules. As a player, you can accept this— or move your business to another cardroom.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.