Yesterday afternoon I was playing at South Point. It was a $4-$8 limit game with a half-kill, while I was waiting for a no-limit seat to open up. My opponent in the hand had won the two previous pots, the second with an outlandish bluff, so the half-kill was on, and the hand was being played $6-$12.
Normally when somebody has just shown a bluff, then comes out firing the next hand, he really has something. But I got a sense that this guy might try the ol' double-reverse-reverse and bluff again, on the assumption that we wouldn't think he'd do that. He raised before the flop. I was on the button with just a 6-8 offsuit, but I decided to hunt him down and see what was going on.
The flop was A-6-3, giving me middle pair. He bet, I called. Although he could easily have an ace, I thought his range of raising hands was wide enough that it was more likely he did not have one. Of course, he could also have a pocket pair bigger than 6s, but I just didn't believe him.
The turn was another 3. He fired again, and I called again, figuring that this was a safe or at least neutral card for me.
The river brought a third spade, the 4. Now he checked. I couldn't tell if this meant he never had the ace to begin with, or he had it but was now afraid that I had filled a flush draw. So I bet. He called. Oops--that must mean he has an ace after all. Oh well. That's the way it goes sometimes.
I flipped up my cards silently. He was at the other end of the table. I was extremely surprised to hear him say, "Oh, you flopped a set. Nice hand." The guy next to him said, "No, a full house," and my opponent then apparently noticed the paired board and said, "Oh yeah, even better. OK"--and he pushed his hole cards toward the dealer face down!
Both he and the player next to him had obviously misread my hand and thought that I had 6-6 instead of 6-8. Well, it's not my job to correct them. I hadn't said a word. I wasn't trying to trick or deceive anybody. I was sure that somebody else at the table would pipe up and correct the guy's misimpression, because that virtually always happens in such situations (even though it shouldn't), but miraculously nobody did this time.
The dealer had pushed up the 6, the ace, and both 3s on the board to indicate which cards constituted my best five-card hand, but he did not verbally announce my hand. This was good for me. Unfortunately, by the time my opponent pushed his cards forward, the dealer was busy stacking the chips up (I can't imagine why he was doing this--it was not a situation in which he would reasonably expect a split pot to result), and those cards just sat there for several precious seconds! I was mentally flogging the dealer: "C'mon, forget the chips! Get those cards in the muck before he comes to his senses!" But I remained quiet and motionless. I think that urging the dealer to muck the cards would both alert the other player that something was wrong and border on being unethical.
Finally, the guy says, "Hey, hold on a minute." This suddenly alerted the dealer that something was afoot, and just as the guy started to reach out to reclaim his cards, the dealer snatched them up and shoved them deep into the muck, completely unrecoverable. Whew!
That's when the talk started. People started pointing out that I just had two pair, not three of a kind or a full house. The guy said, quite plausibly, that he had had A-Q. He wanted the dealer to do something, but the dealer obviously had to explain that he couldn't do anything but award me the pot, since nobody else had seen his cards.
I didn't say a word through the whole thing, just stacked up about $70 in chips.
I have maintained here repeatedly, whenever the subject has come up, that a player's decision to either show his cards or muck them unseen is a strategic/tactical one, just like the decision to check, bet, call, raise, or fold, and the player must be allowed to make that decision unaided, even if it's a foolish one. Once he decides to reveal his cards, then it doesn't matter if he has misread either his own holding or that of an opponent--at that point both the dealer and the other players can sort out who the winner is, because, as they say, the cards speak. (Or, alternatively, "cod spick.") But the cards can't "speak" if nobody except their owner ever sees them.
I would never intentionally tell an opponent that I had trips or a full house, when I really didn't, in an attempt to get him to muck the winner--that's about as dirty as angle-shooting gets. And if he opened his hand and the dealer misread the cards and started pushing me the pot, when it rightfully belonged to somebody else, I'd speak up and correct the situation immediately.
But I feel not one iota of duty to correct another player's erroneous reading of my cards before he finishes making his decision on whether to show or muck, nor one speck of guilt for having accepted that pot. Why on earth should I stop him from throwing away the winner, if that's what he feels like doing? All that he has to do in order to prevent adverse consequences of making a mistake at this crucial juncture is the minimal effort of turning over his cards. If he's not willing to do that much, why should I or anybody else help him? If he has decided that keeping his cards Top Secret is more important to him than reducing the risk of losing the pot by mistake, who am I to try to convince him otherwise?
I'm glad to report that the guy didn't go ballistic or anything. He admitted that he screwed up--although he did have a few unflattering comments to his neighbor about my decision to make such thin calls.* That's OK, pal--we can disagree on whether it was reasonable. I'm pretty generous about such things when I have your money.
*In this particular situation, this gripe was even more stupid than usual. One of the objectives of showing a bluff--as he had just done--is to make opponents think that you're bluffing again later when you're actually not, and thus collect extra calls that otherwise would not have been reliquished. Assuming that he was rational enough to have that as one of the reasons he showed the bluff, he got exactly what he was hoping for--and then complained about it!