A controversial hand was played recently at the EPT Barcelona between Roland de Wolfe (his name is variously rendered orthographically, but the most reliable sources seem to converge on the way I have it here--small d, with a space) and Tobias Reinkemeier (whose name it seems inevitable that I will misspell at some point herein). Remarkably, there is also a video of how the hand plays out. I first heard about it from Shamus's blog. You can read his take on things and watch the video here.
I was undecided whether to comment about the hand here--until this afternoon, when Matthew Parvis, editor-in-chief of PokerNews, posted an extensive commentary on it, which you can read here. I'm not sure it would be possible for me to disagree more thoroughly with Parvis.
From this point on, I'm going to assume that readers have seen the video and have read Parvis's opinion.
First, I have to disagree with Matt Savage, at least as quoted by Parvis. Savage apparently first concluded that the tournament director's decision to award the pot to Reinkemeier was correct, then changed his mind after watching the video. He apparently decided in retrospect that he would have ruled de Wolfe's hand retrievable and live.
I think this is dead wrong. The usual rule is that cards in the muck are dead. Granted, there can be exceptions to this. But they are and should be rare. The exceptions should, in my view, be limited to those situations in which (1) the cards in question are clearly identifiable without any meaningful risk of misidentification, (2) the potentially aggrieved party was innocent and fulfilled all of his obligations to claim the pot or a portion thereof, and (3) the cards being in the muck was the result of some factor outside the injured party's control. This would most commonly be the dealer accidentally mucking the winning hand. Even when these conditions are fulfilled, it should not be an automatic retrieval. The decision-maker should, I think, keep always in mind that the general rules should prevail unless there are compelling reasons to deviate from it and make an exception. I think it should be done only in a situation in which a gross injustice would be caused by not making the exception.
In my view, if the player has voluntarily put his cards into the muck (or the pile of burn cards, as here, which I think should be considered the same thing), or has clearly voluntarily released them to the dealer for purposes of mucking, then I can't think of any circumstance in which they should be retrieved and declared live. Maybe there are such situations, but none occur to me at the moment. Even in the case of the angle-shooter who intentionally claims to have a better hand than he actually does, which then prompt the real winner to muck, tough--you should have waited to see your opponent's cards before giving up. No mercy.
Here, de Wolfe shows one card, and keeps the other face down. Mucking one card unseen is the same as mucking all of one's hole cards unseen--and that is a precept, again, to which I can think of no exceptions. de Wolfe made two errors which are related but actually independent. First, he failed to turn his cards face up. Second, he pushed them into the muck. (The dealer was a bit overaggressive in then pulling them out of de Wolfe's hand, but I think that is inconsequential. de Wolfe's intent was clearly to muck, and he presumably would have released the cards an instant later even without the dealer's intervention--and even if didn't, I would still rule the hand dead at that point for having voluntarily been pushed into the muck.)
So de Wolfe cannot claim either that he did everything he should do to claim/retain his interest in the pot. He was not an innocent party wrongly aggrieved by an errant dealer. He completely fails my test for when cards in the muck should be given the governor's reprieve and declared live again.
de Wolfe scores additional (though technically irrelevant) demerits in my view for, well, lying. He can be heard on the audio to say, "That's not in the muck." Uh, yes it is--that's where you put it, dude.
Next, I disagree with Savage saying that "he would have had a talk with Reinkemeier, letting him know he did not want to see this type of behavior from him in the future or a penalty could be warranted." Why? What did Reinkemeier do wrong? He called a river bet. Then he insisted that his opponent either show his hand or muck it, which was fully within his rights to do. Then, after his opponent had mucked, he voluntarily showed his cards, though at that point it no longer mattered whether he did; the pot was his either way, as he was the only player with a live hand. There is nothing there to penalize, nothing to warn about.
Parvis here equivocates. He doesn't say that Reinkemeier was angle-shooting; he says that it "was on the verge of an angle shoot." C'mon, man--make up your mind. Was it angle-shooting or not? He deems Reinkemeier's actions "inappropriate," without, apparently, being willing to label them as cheating or unethical, and while acknowledging that he violated no rules.
I think de Wolfe is far more susceptible to the angle-shooting accusation than Reinkemeier is. He first failed to perform the simple duty of showing his cards when his bet was called. He then tried to claim a pot to which he had clearly and voluntarily relinquished all claim--akin to a chess player voluntarily and deliberately knocking over his king in acknowledgement of defeat, stepping away from the table, then thinking better of it and coming back to take another turn. Finally, he lied about his action when he realized what a grave error he had made. It is de Wolfe, not Reinkemeier, who should be warned about his unethical actions.
Was it sleazy of Reinkemeir to show his queen-high? I don't think so--certainly no more than showing a bluff in order to get under an opponent's skin.
Here again I find Parvis's opinion less than crystal clear. He writes, "When players do their best to finagle the rules in their favor as Reinkemeier did when he waited for De Wolfe to muck and then boasted about it by showing his hand triumphantly, it should bother all poker players." So then, was it the waiting for de Wolfe that was, in Parvis's view, the ethical violation, or was it the triumphant showing of his own cards, or was it the the combination? That is, if Reinkemeier had quietly taken the pot without ever showing his hand, would he then escape Parvis's judgment of angle-shooting (or "verge of angle-shooting")? I cannot tell for certain.
However, in a later paragraph Parvis suggests that it was waiting for de Wolfe to show the second card or muck that was troublesome, rather than just the in-your-face showing afterwards. He writes, "when Reinkemeier finally saw that his queen-high was trumped by De Wolfe's king-high, he should have had enough honor and respect for the game to muck his own hand on the spot, allowing the pot to be awarded to De Wolfe." I think this is absolutely wrong. The clear implication is that Reinkemeier should not have forced de Wolfe to show his second down card, but instead let him get away with showing only one to claim the pot. No way. Both cards are shown, or both are mucked. There is no half way on that. There are reasons for this. Suppose, e.g., that de Wolfe had two of the same card, or his kicker was a duplicate of one of the board cards, i.e., de Wolfe had been knowingly playing a hand with a fouled deck, and he didn't want to show his second card lest that be revealed. Why should Reinkemeier not wait to be sure that he was actually and legally beaten with a legitimate, live hand?
Parvis clearly believes that showing one card is enough. He writes: "If, in fact De Wolfe mucked both of his hole cards without showing the king and then tried to retrieve his hand before seeing Reinkemeier's hand, then Reinkemeier, in my opinion, would have done nothing wrong. However, a king was shown, it was the best hand, and I believe the pot should have been pushed to De Wolfe." This makes no sense to me. Showing one card is not an action with any meaning. It is merely a tease. It would make as much sense to say, "de Wolfe clearly announced his hand as king-high, so at that point Reinkemeier should have accepted his word for it, acknowledged defeat, mucked his cards, and let de Wolfe have the pot." Nope--that's not how it works. A player does not have the winning hand by saying that he does, nor by showing fewer than all of his hole cards. He tables his entire hand face-up so that it can be read by the dealer and all players, or it is dead. That's all there is to it. There is no in-between.
Parvis's confusing position continues with this head-scratcher of a sentence: "I understand that there will be plenty of people who disagree with me, but I believe that as long as one plays within the rules then all is fair." Huh??? Reinkemeier did play within the rules, as Parvis explicitly recognizes, but yet he receives Parvis's condemnation. This sentence seems to be out of whack with the message of the rest of the essay.
I do not disagree with the general idea that there are points of ethics that are not part of the written rules. But they do not trump the written rules; they supplement them. They can never point or lead to a different outcome than the official rules, nor should they ever be understood to require a player to do something different from or contrary to what the actual rulebook prescribes. Parvis apparently wants the "unwritten rules" to trump here. He wants de Wolfe to be awarded the pot, even though he did not take even the most minimal step to fulfill his ethical and rule-based obligation to either show his cards or muck them. He wants to penalize Reinkemeier, who violated no rules and did not fail in any of his obligations to protect his interest in the pot. This I find bizarre. It is turning things on their head.
Parvis concludes that Reinkemeier should "man up" and relinquish the pot when he sees that his hand is second best. I think it is de Wolfe that should "man up" and either show his cards or muck them when called, without needing to be prompted by his opponent and the dealer to do so. And, when he learns that he made a mistake in mucking them, he should "man up" and live with the consequences of his own voluntary actions.
de Wolfe tries to boil down the issue this way: "The best hand should win." No. The best live hand should win. You killed yours by pushing it into the muck. All you had to do was turn both cards face up, rather than just one, and you would have had the pot. You were apparently embarrassed to do so (though it's strange that you would be willing to admit verbally that your hand was king-high but then not be willing to show that that was so). You let your embarrassment take priority over the slim but finite chance that you had the winner. So be it.
I not only would act exactly as Reinkemeier did (though perhaps without showing at the end), I have done so on any number of occasions--that is, insisting that the bettor either show or muck. If he chooses to muck the winning hand, that's his decision, and I have zero responsibility to stop him.
The bettor in such situations has the world's simplest remedy against losing the pot with the best hand: Just show it. It takes half a second and the flick of a wrist. If a player is not willing to do that, he deserves to lose. I have had many river bets called that were either bluffs or were in situations where the call told me that I was almost certain to be behind (e.g., the caller had the big pair, instead of the A-K I thought he might have). In such cases, I usually say something like, "If you called you must have the winner," but I do so while exposing my cards. Once in a while I get the pleasant surprise of being wrong and winning the pot. It happens often enough that I can't figure out why one would not take such action, when it is so easy and foolproof.
By the way, a very similar situation played out at the Wynn Poker Classic earlier this year. I wrote about here. It seems that some pros are slow learners, unable to take lessons from even the very recent past.
I just remembered that Cardgrrl told a similar story from her last visit to Atlantic City, which you can read here. Here's what I posted in a comment on her blog on that occasion. Very astute readers may note some similarity to what I just wrote above:
I strongly disagree that Crasian did anything wrong or was being a
douchebag. First, of all, he had the only live hand. Only live hands win pots.
Second, nothing in the account suggests that *he* saw the ace flashed. Why
should he take the word of somebody else as to what an opponent had? Third, I
completely disagree with the term "technicality." This is far, far more than
that. ETP had a decision to make, whether to table his cards or not. He chose
not to. The consequence of that is a dead hand and forfeiture of any claim to
the pot. This is absolutely standard by every rule book I've seen. He had the
world's simplest method of preserving his interest in the pot--turn his cards
face up on the table. It's not asking that much of him. If he chooses not to
take that minimal step, he deserves to get nothing. IMO, it would be a travesty
for him to get the pot, or even half of it. Tabling one's cards is not a mere
formality or technicality. It is a crucial and intrinsic part of the play of a
hand. It involves a strategic/tactical decision, whether to show or muck. One
must live with the consequences of making that decision badly, just as with
every other decision made in the course of the play of a hand.
I would feel differently if he had tabled his hand and everybody misread
it, or if the dealer accidentally killed it, or something else. But this was his
own damn fault, 100%. He did wrong the one thing he needed to do. Crasian did
nothing either unethical or against the rules. I, too, would keep the pot in his
situation, and not feel a shred of guilt or douchbaggery about it.
For two similar stories from my blog, see http://pokergrump.blogspot.com/2008/06/you-goof-i-profit.html