Thursday, November 09, 2006

Just show your cards already

Another incident from yesterday's session at Mandalay Bay:

Another no-limit table breaks up and we inherit 3 new players. One of them quickly shows himself to be a loose-aggressive type, in almost every hand, betting and raising at nearly every opportunity. When there's a showdown, he always tries to hesitate to see if the other player(s) will show first, and he mucks without showing if he doesn't have the winner. In other words, even though he's playing a lot of hands, I'm not getting a lot of feedback on what he's playing, and he's the hardest kind of opponent to put on a specific hand.

I decide to test the waters against him when I'm on the button with Q-10 offsuit.* I call his raise, and have him heads-up with position on my side. Flop is A-Q-x. He bets. My decision basically comes down to whether I believe he has an ace or not. For all practical purposes, if he does, I'm beat, and if he doesn't, I'm ahead. I think it's most likely that he doesn't have it, so I re-raise all-in. He calls. The turn and river cards are blanks.

The dealer asks to see the hands. Normally, I'm not at all reluctant to show--in fact, that's the whole point of this rant, how some players try to protect their hole cards as if they were top-secret classified documents, which just slows down the game and irritates everybody. But once in a while there is good reason to use the rules to force an opponent to show first--and this was one of them. I wanted to know what he had played that way, and if I showed first and won, I knew he would muck, and I'd win the pot but not the information. I wanted both, if I could have them.

So I said to him, "You're first." He countered, "No, I called your raise." I told him that was irrelevant, because it was on a previous street, not on the last round. The dealer, to my surprise, told me I had to show first. As it turns out, the guy did have an ace, and won the hand. But that's beside the point here.

The standard rule is this: if there is action on the last street, then the last player to make a bet or raise has the obligation to show first. But if there is no action on the last street, then the compelled showdown (if nobody voluntarily goes first) is in the same order as everything else would be: from the small blind clockwise around to the button. (I have read that there are a few casinos with house rules otherwise, but if so, I don't know which ones they are.) Many players believe, incorrectly, that if there is no action on the last round of betting, the obligatory showdown order reverts to who bet or raised on a previous street. Not so.

I'm never surprised to run into even fairly experienced players who don't know the rules of poker well. Furthermore, it's not being stupid not to know something. But it is being stupid to assert, loudly and confidently, something that just ain't so. And that's what this guy was doing.

I was also surprised that the dealer didn't know the rule. After all, this is a situation that must come up a dozen times in every shift, if not more. I complied with his request, however, because there was always the possibility that Mandalay Bay has a idiosyncratic house rule (or at least some instruction to their dealers) that he was following. But after the fact, I approached the shift supervisor to ask him, and he confirmed my impression that M.B. follows the standard rule, and the dealer should have instructed my opponent to show first.

After the hand, there was quite a bit of debate at the table about the rule. Several people sided with the other guy: since he called me, the obligation was on me. Well, folks, you're just plain wrong about that. Here's the rule as written in "Cooke's Rules of Real Poker" (in my view, the best poker rule book available), p. 72, rule 11.01:

If there has been a bet and raise or multiple raises on the final betting
round, then the person who made the final raise shall show his hand first,
followed by all remaining players in a clockwise rotation. If there has been no
bet on the final round then the showdown begins with the player who had the
obligation of first action on the final betting round--the player under the gun
in draw and board games [which includes hold'em] or the player with the highest
board in stud games.

I always comply with this rule. If I'm in worst position and there is no action on the river, I flip over my cards without waiting for anybody else. I expect others to do the same. And if I bet or raise on the last round of betting, when the action is done I flip 'em over, without waiting to see if maybe I can get away without showing. Them's the rules. Not too complicated, really. It's incredibly irritating to have the situation where everybody stalls, nobody turns, and the dealer is left to beg and plead for somebody to please show. Cut it out, people. The rules prescribe a simple and straightforward manner of proceding. Just follow it.

And dealers, if one general request, such as "Show me the winner" doesn't get results, don't futz around--turn to the player whose obligation it is (whether by position or by dint of having put in the last bet or raise), and tell him, "You have to either show first or muck your hand." Way too much time gets wasted because both players and dealers either don't know or won't follow the rules on this matter.

As a side note, there is also a point of courtesy and etiquette that goes beyond the rules: anybody who has a likely winner should expose his cards immediately, without waiting. As Roy Cooke states it (p. 72 again):

In the interests of efficiency and speeding up the game, a player who is
reasonably certain he has the winning hand should turn over his hand
immediately, regardess of the order of showdown. If a player does so, then other
players at the showdown who can beat that hand should also turn their hands over

There are occasionally valid strategic reasons for going by the rules rather than by this nicety, but they really should be the exception.

So, c'mon, folks--just show your hand already.

*Q-10 offsuit is a hand I would ordinarily either toss or try to play very cheaply, with a high willingness to throw it away unless I get a lot of help from the community cards, or a good bluffing situation arises. And against a loose-aggressive player, my usual reaction has been to re-tighten my already fairly tight game. Recently, however, I've read two things that are making me re-think that strategy. I include them here for the possible benefit of readers, though I didn't want to interrupt the story above.

First, I finished Barry Greenstein's superb book, "Ace on the River." On p. 204, he has a table of "opponent's tactics," the "typical incorrect adjustment" that we mediocre players make, and the "Better adjustment" that he recommends. The first entry in the table is "Extremely loose play." The incorrect adjustment is listed as "Wait for a good hand." The better reaction is given as "Loosen your standards and reraise frequently." Seems like cogent advice, though it takes more nerve than I've usually been willing to bring to bear. I'm trying to change that, a little at a time.

Second, just a few days after reading that, I read a column in Card Player magazine by Matt Lessinger, who I think is one of their best writers. He wrote,

Overaggressive Ozzie sits down in the same game, and in six of his first 10
hands, he raises to $20 preflop. Five times, he wins the blinds uncontested. One
time, someone calls him and the hand goes to the river, at which point Ozzie
produces Q-8 and wins with a pair of eights. I don't have to be Phil Ivey to put
two and two together, and conclude that he probably did not have premium hands
when he made his other raises. Therefore, I'm going to wait for something good
and try to pick him off.

But am I going to wait for pocket aces or kings? I could, but why would I
want to play so timidly? In a cash game, I want to take advantage of all
favorable opportunities that come along. Here, I have an opponent who is making
oversized preflop raises with substandard values. If I pick up a hand such as
9-9, or even A-J, and think I can get heads up with Ozzie, I'm probably going to
play it, because it figures to be the best hand against his typical raising
values. And I'm certainly not going to be deterred by the fact that he is
raising to $20 rather than a more normal raise to $6 or $8.


--S said...

One of my biggest pet peaves. I cannot stand idiots that slow-roll, that turn over only a single card, or that just stare waiting for me to turn up my cards.

It would be nice if they would just turn over the cards and quit acting like the immature idiots that they are.

OK - rant over :)

Anonymous said...

I read the rule and I still don't understand how it is not up to show first, even though there has been no betting on the final round.
"If there has been no bet on the final round then the showdown begins with the player who had the obligation of first action on the final betting round"
He doesn't have the obligation of first action because there is no more action. You're all in and theres no more betting.

Anonymous said...

At Crown Casino in Australia, the house rule is definitely that, no matter on which street, the last better / raiser shows their cards first.