Sunday, July 26, 2009

What is so hard to grasp about the SHOW part of SHOWdown?

This is not exactly a new phenomenon, but it seems to be increasing in frequency. Or maybe I'm just noticing it more and becoming more disturbed by it.

We're down to the river. Player A bets. Player B calls. The action is over. But Player A, rather than showing his cards as he is supposed to do, starts quizzing Player B about what he has.

This is infuriating to all involved (except, apparently, all of the Player A's of the world). Player B has a right to expect that Player A will either reveal his hand promptly, or muck it if he was running a total bluff and doesn't want to show. The other players at the table and the dealer have the right to expect that, since the action is now complete, we will quickly and efficiently determine the winner, push the pot, and get on to the next hand.

These perfectly reasonable goals and expectations are frustrated--for NO good reason--when Player A turns into a douchebag and refuses to do the only thing that is required of him at this point, which is show his cards or muck them.

I saw this exactly pattern several times in a session yesterday at the Rio. There's a call, action is done, and the bettor starts in with, "Did you catch the flush?" or "I put you on two pair--that right?" Annoys the bejeebers out of me, even when I'm just a bystander.

With remorse, I have to report that I have even seen my good friend Cardgrrl--usually a paragon of good poker etiquette under even the most trying circumstances--run afoul of this one. It happened at the very end of her June visit, during a $2-$5 cash game at the Rio. She had 9-9, flopped top set, and bet it all the way. She had one caller on the river for her final all-in bet. By that point, there was an ugly potential straight on the board, which this opponent well might have been chasing. When the guy called the all-in, rather than flip her hand up, she asked him, "Do you have a straight?" It was only when he shook his head "no" that she showed the set of nines (which, by the way, turned out to be the winner of the biggest pot I've ever seen her take--a profit of $670 on the hand). I was as stunned as if she had slow-rolled an opponent with the nuts. It was the first and only time I've seen her violate standard poker etiquette. My guess is that it was the enormous size of the pot that was causing heightened anxiety about the outcome, and thus short-circuiting her usual impeccable habits.

Anyway, this conduct is wrong. It is rude. It wastes everybody's time, and increases the unpleasant feeling of suspense that the caller is already feeling. It increases resentment between the players involved. And for what gain? Because Player A is embarrassed about his hand? Well, if you're embarrassed, maybe you shouldn't have played it in the first place. Is it because Player A wants to maximize the chance of seeing B's hand to get a better read on him, and thus stalls, hoping that B will show first? That's just smarmy. The bettor shows first, and it is the caller who then has the option of showing or mucking. When you turn it around, you screw up the universal and perfectly sensible order of things.

And in doing so, you piss people off. You piss off Player B. You piss off the other players who want to get the game going again. You piss off the dealer, who wants to get as many hands out per down as possible. All for your own selfish indulgence.

As I said at the outset, my subjective impression is that this particular piece of bad sportsmanship has been increasing lately. It seems that players see other people do it, decide it's a good idea, and adopt it into their own play. Well, I'm here to tell you that it's NOT a good idea, and not only should you not mimic it, you should speak up in protest when it happens. You should let the Player A's of the world know that you resent their breach of the rules and of etiquette, and their selfish wasting of nine or ten other people's time.

In my opinion, every time this happens, the guilty party should receive unmistakably disapproving looks and comments from every other player at the table. Let these people know that this is not acceptable conduct. It is not cute or clever. It is a rude, unnecessary imposition on everybody, and we should not let it go without disparaging comment. Basically, we have to make the negative social pressure against the practice intense enough that it will come to outweigh whatever selfish internal motive is driving these jerks. (I hasten to add that Cardgrrl is not a jerk, nor any of the other nasty names that I think the habitual offenders deserve. It was, as far as I can tell, a one-time aberration.)

Will you join me in my campaign of explicit disapprobation of the Player A's of the poker world?


Cardgrrl said...

In my defense... the way I remember it (no doubt clouded by the tension of the moment, and the scars of having been improbably outdrawn so often for so many months), is that I asked the question and turned over my hand at just about the same time. I do not dispute your recollection, however.

I was never NOT going to show my hand. I think I just wanted to know if the news was bad as quickly as possible.

Of course you are right, however, that the correct thing to do was to just show and take my lumps (if any) with the dignity of silence.

--S said...

I always found the best way to handle it (from the working side of the table, that is), is to promptly look at Player A and announce, "S/he called you. Turn them up."

Any hesitation prompted me to call out "Floor!" which generally ended with Player A turning up their hand or tossing it in the muck.

I was even sterner with idiots who slow-rolled ;)

Rakewell said...

The only problem with that is that after being called, showing his hand is not Player A's only option. He can also muck. And I still believe that he needs to be allowed the freedom to choose one or the other, and having other players--and especially the dealer--tell him to show may unfairly be taking away his option to muck. It's just that he needs to do one or the other *quickly*. When I'm player B in that situation I'm delighted to have A muck without showing, because (1) then I don't have to show either, and (2) I still get the pot in the occasional circumstance that he was bluffing with the best hand. So I'm all in favor of letting Player A know that nobody appreciates his stalling, but have to stop short of egging him directly to show, when the muck option is equally open to him.

Cardgrrl said...

@Rakewell: Most places I've played require a hand to be shown to drag the pot even if the other hand is in the muck and no longer live. Has your experience been otherwise?

matt tag said...

first off, I am in agreement with getting the showdown over quickly so we can move on to the next hand.

can someone point me in the direction of somewhat "official" rules or etiquette regarding who has to show and who doesn't? It was always my understanding that the person being called had to show (b/c someone paid to see his cards), whereas the callER didn't have to show.

Someone in my home game says that anyone at the table can ask them BOTH to show, which I don't agree with at all. (you weren't in the hand, why should I show you my cards?).

Your post seems to intimate that neither player has to show.

Michael said...

Happens all the time and it's driving me insane!

I'm not one to be afraid of showing my cards no matter what I have because at the kiddie games most people aren't even paying atention. So, I usually turn them over even when I was the caller. I probably shouldn't but hey!

I figure if I'm prepared to show it if I won, I may as well be prepared to show it if I think it can win, even if it can't.

I was at the Mirage and some douche made a weird bet on the river. I called and he just stared at me. this time, I waited and waited. he was just staring. he asked me what I had and I just looked back at him and said, I called you. what do YOU have. he finally mucked and I took the pot. ANNOYING!

Rakewell said...

Matt: The whole question of a player asking to see a called hand is big and thorny. But in short, the rule allowing the hand to be shown even over the objection of its owner was instituted to prevent collusion. I.e., two players conspire to raise and reraise, thus trapping a third player between them; one of the colluders has the nuts, the other nothing, and the trapped third players has a strong but losing hand. This would be revealed if the losing conspirator's hand is shown involuntarily. Unfortunately, the rule has been abused more than used as intended. It is used a whole lot more to simply get a read on an opponent's play than to sniff out actual collusion. So it's in flux. Current rule books recognize the problem and prescribe various compromises that allow showing a hand, e.g., if a player can convince the floor that there is reason to suspect collusion, but not routinely. It's one of the areas in which there is huge variance between poker rooms.

Cardgrrl: Yes, my experience has been mostly otherwise, and the reason is simple. If A mucks, B now has the only live hand, and the pot can go nowhere else. Suppose B refuses to show--what is the dealer to do with the pot? Throw it away? Keep it for herself? Divide among all the players? Give it to charity? There is nothing reasonable to do with it other than give it to the last live hand, B. So it doesn't and shouldn't matter whether B shows. Recognizing this, most places don't require B to show. In fact, I don't know for sure of anyplace that does require showing. Some dealers, though--especially inexperienced ones--misunderstand this, having overgeneralized the idea that when there is a bet and a call the winning hand has to be shown to receive the pot. So there are some occasional fusses to the contrary.

For a great story on that point, see:

Anonymous said...

The rules vary from house to house and depends on the type of game. Most houses do not require a hand to be tabled in order to be awarded the pot in cash games. However, in tournament play a hand must be tabled in order to be awarded the pot. As far as I know the only major house that deviates from this is the Venetian. I asked why this was the case and was told that they did not want to "arbitrarily" force players to table their hands. I don't think they know what that word means.

Grange95 said...

This issue drives me absolutely bonkers, and it takes a lot to annoy me at the table. For what it's worth, last December I did a weeklong poker trip to Vegas and noticed an epidemic of this no-show disease; it clearly is on the uptick, and I'm not sure why. Maybe it's something that is spreading by contact as players see others do it. In any event, you've covered the issue impeccably, so let me just say I will gladly join your crusade for the forces of good. May I suggest tasers?

By the way, I'm also equally annoyed by a related strain of the no-show disease: the dreaded checked pot slow roll. This is seen where multiple players enter a pot, and the turn and river get checked around (the flop likely was as well). The players then sit there and stare at each other until someone finally rolls over a small pocket pair or third or fourth pair on the board. Then there is a molasses-slow cascade of other hands being rolled over or mucked, usually in no real coherent order. Finally, some yahoo sitting on top pair or two pairs reveals the winning hand--a hand they had to know was likely the winner based on the utter lack of action. Geez people, just get your cards over already!!

Thanks for letting me piggyback vent !

Bob @ Three Rivers Poker said...

I wrote about this exact same issue just a few months ago when a guy did this to my old man and caused a mini-uprising at my table. (Grump, I believe we even use the same word to describe players who do this -- douchebags.) It's quite possibly the thing that annoys me most in poker.

In the home games I grew up playing in, a called hand had to show and that was that. Much more recently, I've come to see that mucking could be a viable alternative, if only the guy with the called hand would muck with garbage just as quickly as he shows with the nuts. Too bad that NEVER happens. Ever.

I say: show your called hand immediately, much your called hand immediately or go the hell home.

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