Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Card caps/protectors

Lee Jones, in his Card Player magazine column (Vol. 21, #1), p. 112:

When did it stop being cool to cap (protect) your cards? I see virtually nobody doing it now, and I just don't get it.... [S]uppose that you're
sitting there with unprotected cards, and somebody's hand headed toward the muck
hits your hand. I mean, such that there's legitimate doubt as to which cards are
yours. I think any floorman would have to rule that your hand is dead.
I don't see a reasonable alternative. But of course there will be massive
consternation, arguments, recriminations, and so on. Not only is somebody going
to lose a monster pot because he didn't protect his cards, but it will put a bad
vibe on what was previously a happy, enjoyable poker game or tournament.

Please, let's make it cool again to cap your cards.
I agree.

There are two main problems with uncapped cards. Lee Jones mentioned one of them. Don't think it happens? It happened to me again just last week. I was at Planet Hollywood, sitting in seat #1, and the guy in seat #2 flicked his cards toward the dealer. But his aim was off a bit, and they crashed right into my card protector, and bounced back a few millimeters.

The dealer reached over, picked them up, and added them to the muck. I said, "And that, boys and girls, is why we use card protectors." The dealer added, "Abso-freakin-lutely." He has obviously seen this happen before. Without it, my hand would have been declared dead.

With a fairly hefty card cap (something more substantial than a poker chip--although a chip will do in a pinch, and is better than nothing), cards headed for the muck that go astray into your hole cards will either bounce off (as was the case here), get lodged slightly under the edge of the thing, or land on top of it. No matter which of those things occurs, they will be easily distinguishable from your cards, and there will be no need to kill your hand.

The other main potential trouble for unprotected cards is the dealer swiping them accidentally, thinking you have folded. This happened to me once. Ironically, it was during a poker tournament in Sacramento, California, while I was attending poker dealer school. Back then, I had a habit of not capping my cards until I had decided to play the hand. That is, if I came in with a call or a raise before the flop, that's when I would put the card cap on. I think I had some rationale for that approach--leaving the cards uncapped until my initial entry into the pot--though I can no longer recall what it was.

The tournament was at a place called the Lucky Derby. Its tables were shallower, front to back, than most. I was seated directly in front of the dealer. I didn't know back then that this, too, is a vulnerable seat. For some reason, the dealer got distracted for a moment, then when he turned his attention back to the game, he tried to catch up to the action, and in the process was scooping up the folded hands. He grabbed mine, too. I had A-K, and was planning to come in for a raise. I was shocked to see my cards get stolen from under my nose! Fortunately, I reacted quickly enough that the hand could be saved before it hit the muck, but that experience was all it took to convince me that the card cap needed to go on as soon as my hand is off of the cards (after peeking to see what I have been given). I have never done otherwise since, and have never had the same problem again, even though when given a choice I preferentially take the two seats next to the dealer, which are the ones most vulnerable to this mistake.

If this happens to you, there won't be much that can be done about it. You'll get an apology (of varying sincerity) from the dealer and the floor person, but that's about the end of what will be done for you. The rules are pretty consistent on this point:

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.

(I should add here, though, that using one's hands to protect hole cards is a seriously bad idea, and one that I think should expressly be against the rules. Players with big hands basically hide their cards, and it's one of the most common causes of people acting out of turn. Everybody should be able to look around the table and at a glance know who is still in the pot by who has cards on the table in front of them.)

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.

Recently I've heard two contrary opinions from people who should know better. First, Adam Schoenfeld (about whom see http://www.poker-babes.com/bio/adam-schoenfeld/), in a rerun of the WSOP from a couple of years ago, was asked about his poker pet peeves, and he listed card protectors among them. I've never met him, but he's one of my favorite players from television--smart, and maybe the funniest of all the pros. (He seems to have dropped off the face of the poker planet in the last couple of years, though. Anybody know what has become of him?) He didn't explain what it is, exactly, that he has against card caps.

Second, Paul Wasicka (about whom see http://www.pokerpages.com/players/profiles/53777/paul-wasicka.htm) wrote an otherwise interesting and thoughtful column late last year for Bluff magazine about the structure and rules for an ideal poker tournament (see http://www.bluffmagazine.com/magazine/readarticle.asp?aid=566). But sticking out like a sore thumb (to me, anyway) was this stipulation: "No card protectors or other paraphernalia allowed on the table." Huh? I can understand the desire for no "other paraphernalia" (family photo albums lining the rail, etc.), but has this experienced, professional player really never encountered any situations in which a hand had to be killed because of either of the two main problems associated with unprotected cards? I don't understand his gripe with card caps. I'm going to try getting a note to him through his web site, http://www.kwickfish.com/, and see if he'll explain it in more detail.

For now, I hope readers will take my advice and that of Lee Jones--and the various rule books--over these two minority opinions. Sooner or later, you will regret it if you don't.

The photo above, incidentally, is of a comemmorative silver dollar that the U.S. Mint produces every year. You can order them at http://tinyurl.com/yqav2l. That's what I use as a card protector. Mine is from 1999; I got it free as a bonus with something that I ordered online. (Now I can't even remember what it was that I had purchased. The coin sat in a drawer until I was sorting through my possessions in preparation for moving to Nevada. When I came across it again, I realized it would serve perfectly as a card cap--especially in the Silver State.) It's an ounce of silver, which has a nice heft to it. It's not going to be pushed off of my cards even if an angry player throws his cards into mine forcefully, deliberately trying to foul my hand. (And yes, I've seen players try to do that to each other.) I've run into a dozen or so other players that use the same item, though everybody else keeps theirs in protective plastic cases. Not me. I like handling it. The silver just has a nice feel to it, and I find it aesthetically pleasing to run my fingers over the varying textures of the designs and edges when I'm bored. Besides, the dings and scratches that it picks up lend it character.

(Note to those who are unclear on the concept: The advice in this post does not apply to you if you play exclusively online. You do not need to tape a silver dollar over the little image of your cards on the computer screen. But if it makes you happy....)

Addendum, March 10, 2008

Paul Wasicka was kind enough to take the time to reply to this post. (The delay was partly my fault, because I accidentally sent him a bad link initially.) Here it is:
Okay, thanks for sending me the link. I read the article, and I agree
with the points that were made, but still maintain that card protectors should
be disallowed. First, I'll tell you why I agree with the things you said
in your article. Yes, I have had my cards mucked by the dealer a couple
times throughout my career because they weren't protected. Furthermore,
though I was very upset at the time, the rules specifically state that you are
responsible for protecting them and that the dealer is not at fault, which I
have come to accept as fair. Where my distaste for card protectors comes
from is when people have either offensive, obtrusive, or otherwise unnecessary
objects on the table that aren't part of the game. I think that a chip on
the cards accomplishes the same thing. Also, what I like to do is just
hold my cards in my hand throughout the hand until the preflop action is over.
I guess the bottom line is that I play many tournaments and never really
have problems with dealer's mucking my cards. I see card protectors and
annoying distractions that supposedly serve a purpose, but when it comes down to
it they accomplish nothing more than a single chip would otherwise do.


I agree that "offensive [or] obtrusive" objects are a potential problem, though in my experience they're pretty rare. Holding the cards is OK with me, as long as they remain easily visible to all players, so as not to trigger inadvertant out-of-turn action. (I should have mentioned in the original post that at least two Vegas casinos--Planet Hollywood and Palms--are better than most at enforcing the rules that cards have to remain easily visible. If a player's cards are, e.g., halfway hiding behind chips, their dealers are better than most at asking the player to move the cards forward so all can see them.)

A chip is OK, though it has two possible problems. First, a chip is light enough that it can easily get bumped off of the cards in the situation when another player forcefully flicks his cards toward the muck and misses. You might end up with the cards intermingled, the chip off, and a dead hand if it isn't entirely clear which ones are yours.

Second, it happens frequently in low-stakes cash games and tournaments that a player wishing to go all-in pushes his chips forward without a prior verbal announcement, and forgets the one that's on his cards. This isn't usually a big problem, because anybody that is going to call that bet will also be willing to call with the last chip added in. But at least conceivably, if a player unwisely uses one of his highest-value chips as a card cap, the difference could be meaningful. At the very least, when this happens it slows things down temporarily while the dealer and players sort out whether it's really an all-in, whether a call includes calling the last chip, etc.

All that said, it sounds as if Paul might be OK with a rule that limited card caps to a single, smallish, nonoffensive, nondistracting object (no Humberto Brenes lighted sharks, e.g.). That would be fine with me, too. (After all, we couldn't deprive Fossilman of his fossil, could we?) If so, I'm glad to have found common ground.


gr7070 said...

I suspect the objection to card caps is to the stupid ones, the annoying ones. Like the sharks, or the large obnoxious things.

I, too, use a silver coin(s), but a real one, not an expensive commemorative one. I rotate a few of them. They have both numismatic value and precious metal value.

I've only seen one other person use silver coins and that was years ago. However, I only play a couple times a year in public.

I do like being one of the few with a decent cap.

gr7070 said...

rakewell/poker grump:

I think you'd have a better blog, one with more traffic, and certainly one with more dialogue from your readers if you turned off the comment moderation.

If inapporpriate comments become commonplace then enable it. It's silly to police now.

Lucypher said...

I agree with you Grump. I always use a card protector when I play. I have two stainless steel nuts I received as a gift. It is heavy and has protected my hand on multiple occasions.

Anonymous said...

Card protectors are stupid.
People who use them are stupid.

Look, just use half a stack of chips. That solves the "one chip isn't enough" problem. Wow that was a hard problem to solve. Oh, and if you go all in, here's a novel idea: put all your chips in and hold your cards with your hand. Wow, that was tough.