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Readers Respond to "How do you Rule?", PART 1

by George “The Engineer” Epstein

My column entitled, “How Do You Rule?” in the Feb. 10 issue of PPN, had so many great responses that we awarded seven valuable prizes (copies of the Hold’em Algorithm) instead of one as planned! All raised salient issues; many offered thoughtful suggestions. Some described personal experiences. I’ll summarize their comments and quote several in this and the next column (Part II). After studying the responses and consulting with others, I have drawn conclusions that I will share with you in Part III. (You may be surprised!)

Reminder: We described a hand where James bet on the river; then, after Bill called, James shouted, “Full-House.” Bill promptly mucked his hand. But, when James showed his hand, all he had was A-K high. An argument erupted. Bill claimed he had the better hand. James insisted that, having gone into the discards, Bill’s hand was dead. The floorman settled the controversy by retrieving what presumably was Bill’s hand from the edge of the muck and declaring Bill the winner with a better hand.

Response Highlights. Several referred to Robert’s Rules of Poker (developed by poker pro Bob Ciaffone) that are more or less used in casinos. We will focus on these rules as they apply to this situation at the showdown. (See Part 3.)

Jan Fisher of CardPlayer Cruises, who is listed in the Women in Poker Hall of Fame, cited the general rules of the Tournament Directors Association. (Note: Jan participated in drawing them up.) According to these rules, “cards speak to determine the winner; verbal declarations of hand value are not binding at showdown; and deliberately miscalling a hand may be penalized.”

Jan commented: “Bottom line is that the players are adults and must fend for themselves whether against ‘shot takers or those making errors’.” Then she added, “How gentlemanly it would have been of the player who miscalled his hand to voluntarily give up the pot?” Speaking directly to the incident we described, Ashley Adams, a featured columnist in this publication, would rule that, since Bill’s hand was retrievable and beat James’ hand, the house should award the pot to Bill, although he recognizes that “there is a clear rule that a hand that hits the muck is dead and cannot win.” On the other hand, “there is a sense of decency that seems violated by enforcing that rule.” It’s plain wrong “to reward someone for a move (angleshooting) that, while not technically cheating, is clearly against the spirit of the game.” The “integrity of the game” is at stake. It is well that the poker room manager “retains this power of discretion in the best interests of the game.”

On the other hand, if Bill’s hand was not retrievable, Ashley would award the pot to James – and then banish him from the poker room for a period of time. However, if James “legitimately misread” his hand, then Ashley would follow the mucked-hand rule, declare Bill’s hand as dead, and award the pot to James.

Daniel Sverdlin of Redondo Beach cited a similar situation he had observed while playing in the Bicycle Casino. The floorman awarded the pot to the mucked hand to “preserve the integrity of the game.” Dan questions that ruling based on:

(1) It was a mistake for the player to muck his hand before seeing the opposing hand; and,

(2) The game is under the rule of “cards speak,” emphasizing that “cards thrown into the muck cannot speak.” Dan queried floormen at other casinos; all agreed that the muckedhand did not deserve the pot.

There may be reasons other than angle-shooting for misstating a hand, he explained. And he cautioned, “In a ‘cards speak’ game, always show your hand.”

Dan offers an intriguing analogy: “In the boxing ring, you must defend yourself at all times. The person who mucked his hand failed to protect his interests and should have suffered defeat.” Many more responses to our “How Do You Rule?” column will be described in Part 2.

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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