Tonight at the Hilton I witnessed another very strange occurrence in a poker hand--a player walking away from the table, leaving behind his would-have-been winning hand, and thereby forfeiting the pot. This also reminded me of a somewhat similar event from last fall.
For those who want the Reader's Digest condensed version without slogging through the stories, here's the moral: If you walk away from the table, you can't win the money, even if you have the best hand! Nobody should be that stupid.
Three players were involved. I folded before the flop and was just watching. Marty is a solid, above-average player in seat 4. Two people I don't recognise are in seats 5 and 6. The flop is J-Q-x, with the two face cards both being spades. Seat 5 pushes all-in, and both opponents call him. Seat 5 then makes his first mistake by flipping his cards face-up, even though the other two players can continue betting into a side pot after the turn and river cards are revealed. I don't know if he didn't realize that two people had called him (his action would be fine against just one opponent, since nobody would have any decisions left to make), or he just didn't understand why he shouldn't do that. (People develop strange bad habits in their casual home games, and tend to bring them to the casino, where they cause trouble.) He has the A-4 of spades, for the nut flush draw, with no pair.
Marty and Seat 6 both check after the turn card and again after the river, both of which are blanks. But as soon as Seat 5 sees that he didn't make his flush on the river, he makes his second mistake: he turns and walks away from the table, without waiting to see the other players' hands or to watch the pot being awarded. I suppose he must have assumed that at least one of the other two players had him beat. This was, in fact, pretty likely, but you never know for sure what people are doing in this crazy game.
So then the next bizarre thing happens: Seat 6 mucks his cards without showing them. He certainly could determine that he didn't have Seat 5's ace-high beat, but Marty hadn't shown yet. This means that Seat 6 couldn't possibly know for sure whether he won or lost.* I think that Seat 6 didn't grasp the implication of Seat 5 walking away (that is, that he was effectively forfeiting any claim to the pot, even if he had the best hand).
Marty is sharp, though, and absolutely knew what that meant. He wisely turned his hole cards face-up after seeing Seat 6 muck. He had a measly 9-10 offsuit, no pair, so he would have lost to the ace-high of Seat 5. He had been going for the straight draw and missed. But he was the only player who (1) was still at the table, and (2) showed his hand to the dealer and the table--which meant that he was the only one to whom the dealer could possibly award the pot, no matter how terrible his cards were!** The dealer can't push the pot to an empty seat, nor to a player who threw his cards away without showing them when the claim to the pot is still undecided.
The story has a coda. Former Seat 5 actually walked only to the poker room entrance, then stopped, as if he wasn't sure what to do next. After the next hand had begun, he came back over and stood next to his friend in seat 9 to watch him play. Seat 9 informs him that A-4 was actually the winning hand, but that he couldn't be awarded the pot because he gave up and left.
Now we're into the second hand after the one in question. I see and hear Former Seat 5 talking to the shift supervisor, Ken, at the front desk. Ken had no idea what had transpired. A few things seem immediately obvious to me: (1) No matter what Ken learns, he's not going to be able to rectify the situation now; it's a pretty universal rule that a player forfeits all claim to a pot if he waits until the next hand is in progress to make his protest about whatever happened.*** (2) Former Seat 5 can only relate first-hand what he saw, and the rest he's going to be recounting second-hand, and it will probably get garbled in the process. Which means that (3) Ken is soon going to have to come over to the table and query the dealer about what happened. The dealer, while a very sweet woman, speaks English as a second language, and she tends to get flustered when she feels under pressure, and when that happens, she doesn't relate events in a clear, concise manner. In other words, if Ken comes over to investigate, it's going to be a huge mess, with everybody offering facts, observations, and opinions, and it will stop the game cold for a long time while Ken sorts it all out. Moreover, Marty will probably come under at least some social pressure to give Former Seat 5 what he (Marty) won in that hand, or maybe split it. I don't think he should have to do that or even get pressed into such a gesture.
I think I can prevent the impending argument, because I know exactly what happened, and what facts are pertinent to applying the applicable rules. (It does occasionally come in handy to have graduated from a poker dealer school and to have the odd hobby of actually reading boring poker rule books.) So I hopped over and told Ken the story as recounted above. Former Seat 5 didn't deny having left his seat before seeing his opponents' hands. Ken gently explained that there was no way to give him the pot after the fact. (I didn't stick around to hear the explanation, but I assume it included both the fact that the guy had essentially forfeited any claim to the pot by leaving the area, and the fact that they couldn't correct anything this long after the hand was over anyway.) Former Seat 5 appeared to acknowledge that he had screwed up, though I'm only surmising this by body language and gestures. Fortunately, he didn't make a big stink about it.
This occurred the first time I played at the Suncoast last October. A new person was coming to the table, and the previous player from that seat had behind left a glass and a bottle of whatever he was drinking. The new player's hands were full with his chips, so the player in the adjacent seat graciously stood up, picked up the leftover crap, and walked over to the wastebasket near the poker room entrance to throw it away.
The problem was that this guy was, at that very moment, in the middle of a hand with a big pot, being contested by multiple players! He WALKED AWAY FROM THE TABLE, so when it came to his turn to act, and he wasn't in his seat, the dealer assumed he intended to fold and had gone out for a smoke or something. (This is very common, unfortunately. People often don't wait for their turn to fold before getting up to go to the restroom, get a snack, smoke, or whatever. They just leave their cards, knowing that the dealer will have no choice but to collect them as folded. It's rude and against the rules, but they do it all the time anyway.)
He was livid to return to the table and find that the dealer had mucked his cards. He claimed (plausibly, I thought--though it doesn't make even a speck of difference whether he was being truthful) to have had a flush, and that he would have beaten the hand that had been declared the winner. Maybe he did. But if so, it just magnifies the stupidity of walking away. He could have at least told the dealer, "I'm just stepping away to clear stuff out for this new player, I'll be back in ten seconds." That would have prevented the problem. He ranted on and on for 30 minutes about it.
Every poker room I've ever played in has posted on the wall a list of house rules. Usually near the top of the list is the universal mandate that each player must protect his or her own hand--protect it, that is, not only from being seen by other players, but from a whole variety of things that can cause it to be declared dead.**** These include the dealer accidentally collecting the cards after erroneously thinking the player has folded, another player's discarded hand getting intermingled with the player's live hole cards, and the cards falling off the table.
Walking away from the table isn't doing a very good job of protecting one's cards. It was this guy's own fault, and he just wouldn't admit it. The dealer took pretty intense abuse from him and from a couple of other players who agreed with him. She was actually close to tears. I stayed out of the controversy, except to reassure the dealer privately later that it wasn't her fault.
Moral of the stories (reprise):
If you're so stupid that you walk away from the table when you have money in the pot and it is even remotely possible that you might win the hand at showdown, you deserve to lose. All you have to do is sit there! What could be easier?!
*Even if he has no pair and both of his cards are lower than what's on the board--which means that the five community cards are his final hand, and his hole cards are ignored--that might be true for the other remaining player, too, in which case they would split the pot.
**He probably could have claimed it even without showing, since one opponent had forfeited by leaving and the other had forfeited by mucking his cards. But Marty is smart enough to make it all clean and legal and straightforward, and not leave open a possible argument somebody might have for reclaiming the pot if it came to a floor person's decision.
***E.g., Cooke, Cooke's Rules of Real Poker, p. 75:
11.13 After Showdown. ...Once the dealer has commenced the shuffle for the next hand then all rights to a decision regarding the previous hand are forfeited.
The Professional Poker Dealer's Handbook by Paymar, Harris, and Malmuth, p. 18 (emphasis in original):
1. Players must protect their own hands at all times. This may be the most important rule in all of poker. A hand may be declared "dead" if even one card touches the muck or if another player's card touches a hand that is not protected.... Although the dealer should be aware of only mucking discarded hands, a player who fails to take reasonable means to protect his or her hand usually has no recourse if the hand becomes fouled or if the dealer accidentally collects an unprotected hand.
Poker Tournament Directors' Association rules, #28:
Unprotected hands. If a dealer kills an unprotected hand, the player will have no redress and will not be entitled to a refund of bets.
Robert's Rules of Poker, Chapter 3, under "Irregularities":
2. You must protect your own hand at all times. Your cards may be protected with your hands, a chip, or other object placed on top of them. If you fail to protect your hand, you will have no redress if it becomes fouled or the dealer accidentally kills it.
Krieger and Bykofsky, The Rules of Poker, p. 242 (I don't know why this is only in their "Tournament rules" section; it would seem to apply equally to cash games):
9.35 Killing Unprotected Hands. If a dealer kills an unprotected hand, the player will have no redress and will not be entitled to his money back.
Cooke, Cooke's Rules of Real Poker, p. 75:
11.10 Protecting Interest in the Pot. A player with a hand he believes to be the winning hand is responsible to hold onto his own hand until the pot is awarded. No player with an interest in the pot should release his hand to the dealer until his portion of the pot has been pushed to him.
Addendum, February 28, 2008
Reader Darrell Davis emailed me the following note, with an interesting story similar to those above. It is posted here with his permission.
I have been reading your blog and see you sometimes recount other peoplesI probably would have handled this about the same way. When the guy is still in the room within earshot, he hasn't quite abandoned his hand. It would seem kind of nit-like to try to insist that his hand be killed under those circumstances, especially when (1) the guy is already down, (2) it's such a small amount of money involved, and (3) you can call the player back to the table just as quickly as you can call the floor over to make a decision. But he was definitely pushing the limits of what can reasonably be tolerated before he is considered to have forfeited his interest in the pot, IMHO.
stories. Usually these are from people you know, not some anonymous internet
person, but I have a story that you might be interested in. It too involves a
dealer affecting the outcome of a hand.
I live outside of Dallas Texas. I normally play at Winstar Casino in
Oklahoma. They have a really nice 46 table poker room. I really like the place.
It always seems well run and efficient. But yesterday I had a hand that was
I was playing in a 1-2 NL game. The person to my immediate right had just
lost a big pot and was left with only $8. He did not rebuy. This player was a
regular and seemed extra familar to the current dealer. I don't remember his
name, but I will call him Ted.
The next hand Ted limped in for $2. I looked down to find KhQh and raised
to $12. I got 3 callers, including Ted all in for his remaining $6. This created
a side pot of roughly $16. The flop came Jack high with 2 hearts. It checked to
me and I made a continuation bet. One player at the other end of the table was
contemplating a call. While he was thinking, Ted said "that's not good" and
stood up and walked away behind me.
The other player eventually folded. The dealer quickly threw out the turn
and river which did not improve my hand. I was left with King high as was well
aware that Ted might have had a winning hand. The dealer pushed me the side pot
and then said "lets see them". I asked if Ted's hand was dead. He looked behind
me and said "Ted are you still in this?". I looked over my shoulder and saw Ted
at least 10 feet away talking to another dealer. Ted walked over towards the
table, still talking to the other dealer. He stood about 2 feet behind his chair
and the dealer said "lets see a winner".
I figured if I said anything else Ted would realize that he might have a
winner and turn over his hand anyway. So I went ahead and turned over mine.
The dealer announced "King high" and then asked Ted what he had. Now Ted
realized he had the winner. He came the rest of the way to the table and turned
over his hand for an Ace high to take the main pot.
I jokingly asked the dealer how long he would have waited for Ted to return
to the table before he would have killed his hand. He didn't get it. I was
tempted to call for a ruling from the floor, but I realized that this would
definately make me the bad guy at the table. I really like to play the good guy
image and didn't want to change that. I decided to just concentrate on the next
The hand didn't affect the bottom line too much, there was roughly $40 in
the main pot. But it was the most interesting hand involving a dealer that I
have been involved in.