Recall my column, Legal? Immoral? or Just Tricky? In the March 30 issue, Jim called Jill on the river. Jill announced she had a straight. Jim mucked his hand. Another player asked to see Jill's hand. Guess what. She did not have a straight! Jim would have won the pot had he shown his hand.
In response, Robert, an attorney in Cincinnati, Ohio shares his two key poker rules, commenting: "Your student might know strategy and odds, but it's also important that he know the rules."
Rule No. 2: Cards in the muck are dead. Surely, every player knows that once your cards touch the discards-the muck-they automatically are out of play. They are dead. You cannot win the pot with dead cards.
Rule No. 1: People lie. Deception is an integral part of the game of poker. Deception is trickery, a pretext, a ploy designed to convince your opponent to take action that is in your best interests, and contrary to his own. Deception can be non-verbal (using actions), verbal-or combinations of both.
Bluffing is usually intended to convince opponent that your hand has his beaten so he folds what would have been the winning hand. Your actions and words serve to deceive, giving your opponent a false impression. Example: The bluffer says "I have you beat," as he bets with confidence. You also might use a tactic like the Esther Bluff and a reverse tell (suggested by Richard B.). These are basically non-verbal forms of deception, as are sandbagging or check-raising, slow-playing, and trapping. Sometimes a player may reinforce this action with non-truthful words-a lie.
A lie is an untrue statement, a falsehood that misinforms another person-giving him the wrong impression, thereby deceiving him. As children growing up, we were taught never to lie. Lies get you into trouble... Remember? But, in poker, deception is acceptable. Lying is a verbal form of deception.
Yes, Jill used words to deceive Jim; she told a lie. Unless there is a mandate against verbal deception-as distinct from other means of deception, Jill played the game according to Hoyle. She did nothing illegal.
Psychologically, our early upbringing makes it difficult for us to accept lies, the verbal form of deception. It's often considered immoral. Hence we tend to find verbal deception-lying-reprehensible, but readily accept deception by our actions. (Actions speak louder than words!) That's why so many PPN readers, including Robert, would reprimand Jill for her deception; and some actually would give Jim the pot if his hand could be retrieved from the muck. But, by far the majority would award the pot to Jill. Apparently they accept that deception in poker is allowed in whatever form we choose; although many disdain lying. Where Robert and I Disagree. Robert agrees: In poker, "lying is a subset of bluffing ... I don't think there is anything wrong if you are trying to influence action ... (but) there was no action to be had" following Jill's lie. Accepting Robert's criteria, there was indeed an action that followed from Jill's deception (her lie): Jim mucked his cards, thereby ceding the pot to Jill. He also could have acted by showing his hole cards.
The Final Analysis. Deception is intended to misrepresent your hand to an opponent. As long as bluffing is permitted, how can anyone justify disallowing the verbal form of deception-like it or not-and punish anyone for doing so.
Want to change Robert's Rules?
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 email@example.com.