Monday, August 29, 2011

Josie stirs up more trouble

Very Josie is at it again, causing more controversy in a recent tournament at Foxwoods. The details of the story are too long to summarize, and I don't want to just copy her entire post here, so before you read my breakdown of what went wrong and what should have happened, go read her narrative here. Of course, you don't have to, but if you don't, my comments probably won't make a lot of sense. Your call.

The reasons this seems complicated are, first, because there are a few different rules involved, and, second, because everybody involved got things at least partly wrong. (Sigh. It's so difficult to be perfect and omniscient in a world so full of flawed, error-prone people, but that is my burden.)

My thoughts, in no particular order:

1. First showdown action was on Josie. But that does not mean that she has to show first. It means that she has to either show or muck first. If she had, e.g., the worst possible hand for the board (in this case 2-5), she might choose to expedite getting on to the next hand by just pitching the cards into the muck as soon as the other guy checked behind. Or, since she had already decided she wouldn't call any bet he made, she could have just mucked her cards as her opening action, as soon as the river card came out, without even waiting for the other guy to decide whether to check or bet. Personally I wouldn't do that, because once in a while you get a surprise and the other guy will have done something dumb like misread his hand, and you both have the same hand (or both play the board), and you get half the pot.

2. It is wrong and a waste of time to show just one card at showdown. When the hand is over without a showdown and the pot is being or has been awarded to the winner, if you want to show just one card, fine, that's not a question of rules, but only of whether it's smart to give away that information. But when we are trying to decide who wins the pot, either show both of your cards or neither. Showing one card doesn't accomplish anything, and slows down the process unnecessarily. See my whole rant about this annoying practice here. If the obligation is on you to show or muck, and you decide to show, then SHOW--i.e., show both cards. Don't pussy-foot around about it. Don't try to get away with just announcing what you have. Get the cards on their backs and let's get it over with. There is absolutely no point in taking a few extra seconds to look at your cards in order to select one to show. You're not protecting any vital information.

3. The guy on the button, if he wanted to see Josie's card, easily could have. He would have been entirely within his rights to insist that she fulfill her obligation to either show both cards or muck them before he did anything. He screwed himself out of the opportunity to see her second card by convincing her that she had lost. He could have just waited silently for her to finish choosing to show both of her cards or muck her hand, or he could have politely reminded her that she needed to do one or the other.

4. Unless there's something missing from the story, Mr. Button never showed his cards, which I find bizarre. If I were in Josie's situation there, I would never just accept somebody else's word for what he had. Show me a higher pair, pal, or my hand is staying face-up and live, and I'll take the pot. Telling me what you have does not cut it. Too often people either lie or make an honest mistake about what they have. The poker world is full of angle-shooters who will take advantage of exactly the situation Josie set up by saying they have a better hand, hoping to induce a muck without showing, when they have nothing. I don't trust anybody. In this specific case, if he only made his pair on the river, what was he calling the turn with?

5. To sum up the foregoing, this should be really, really simple and fast. Josie shows her cards. (I trust all would agree it would be foolish to muck a small pair here without showing, since once in a while it will be the best hand.) Other guy can muck his cards unseen if he doesn't have a winner, or he can turn over his hand, in which case the cards speak and the best hand takes the pot. This process should take about three seconds total. It is unforgivable for it to be drawn out longer with stupid teases and half-efforts like showing one card or just verbally claiming a winner. Both people should in turn be showing or mucking rapidly so as to not waste the time of everybody else at the table.

6. The dealer was right about the other guy not having the right to see Josie's hand once she decided, for whatever reason, to muck her cards--at least as the standard rule. I understand that there are some cardrooms that treat a check-check river action the same as the IWTSTH ("I want to see that hand") rule, but I believe they are a minority. The dealer was wrong about the rule differing between cash games and tournaments, unless there is some unusual house rule at Foxwoods that I don't know about.

7. Let's change the situation a bit so that we cover the IWTSTH rule. Suppose Josie had bet again on the river, other guy calls. In this scenario, Josie has 2-5, the worst possible hand for this board, and knows that she cannot beat any hand with which he would have called. Rather than show her bluff, she decides to throw her cards away as soon as he calls. Now what? Well, that depends. If I ran a poker room, she would be allowed to muck unseen and not embarrass herself. (Of course, I don't think there should be anything embarrassing about being caught in a bluff, but many others feel differently.) Also, if I were the other player, I'm happy to let my opponent muck without showing; I'll take the pot uncontested, TYVM.

The rules about who can demand to see a called hand are highly non-standard. It's one of the most variable rules between B&M poker rooms. In some places any player can ask to see either hand. In some, only those who were still in on the turn can make that request. In others, only a player actually involved in the last action can ask. Some rules say that if it's heads-up on the river, the winner cannot demand to see the loser's hand. In some places you have to be able to convince the floor that you have reason to suspect collusion before he will grant the request for a hand to be shown, and in some places that rule applies only in high-stakes games. There might even be places where it is different for cash games and for tournaments; I'm not sure about that.

Tommy Angelo has a fine rant about why the traditional IWTSTH rule is bad for poker here.

And there is yet another complication. If the winner asks to see the loser's hand, in some places the losing hand is killed by tapping it on the muck before it is revealed. In other places, the hand is not killed first, which means that if it turns out that the "loser" accidentally misread his cards and was trying to throw away the best hand, the guy who asked to see it will have cost himself the pot, and the would-be loser gets a pleasant surprise reward.

I wrote a long post about all of this, including quoting all the rulebooks I have on hand, here. The impetus for that post was the only time I've seen the winner ask to see the loser's hand, and it turned out that the loser's hand was actually best. (He failed to notice that he had caught a runner-runner straight.) See also the comments to that post, which have further good discussion and readers sharing their experiences.

Final judgment: (1) Josie was wrong to show one card instead of either showing both or mucking. (2) Other guy was wrong for not taking advantage of his position by insisting that Josie either show or muck, and was further wrong for announcing his hand rather than showing, and was even further wrong for claiming that he had a right to see Josie's cards after she decided to muck. Worse, he was a completely douchebag for stopping play at the table while they called the floor to make a ruling on a situation that was so utterly trivial, especially since it was moot and the hand couldn't be retrieved to be shown by then anyway. A better course would have been to wait for the next break, then ask the tournament director what the applicable rule was. (3) Dealer was mostly right, but probably wrong about the cash/tournament point. (4) Floor guy was probably wrong, unless Foxwoods has some non-standard house rule that covers this situation--which is certainly possible, given all the variants that exist.

Oh, and one more thing: Josie gets maximal demerits for losing with the most powerful hand in poker, the Mighty Deuce-Four. I mean, how much do you have to suck as a player for you to let that happen? (J/K.)

Court is adjourned.


The Neophyte said...

The only thing I can say is if you bet and I call, you aren't mucking your cards. Bluff or not, I'm seeing them. I paid for that right and I'm insisting on it. And if I'm in position and we both check the river, you are showing before I do. But if I flip it over first and show the winner and you muck it, that's on me.

Josie said...

I forgot to mention that when I showed the 4 he showed his hand - Q-10 as he announced he had a pair of tens.

FWIW I NEVER (normally) show just one card. Just not what I do - I think I was out of it, disappointed at the outcome and didn't think the other card was worth turning over, more like worth being sent to the trash heap - I just wasn't thinking.

I knew you'd have the answer btw! Thanks for taking the time to answer properly.

I've won with the 2-4 more times than I lose with it btw.

lightning36 said...

I've been watching the win rate of my 2-4 hands in my recent cash games -- whether I choose to play "The Grump" or not. I am surprised at how many times The Grump wins or would have won. Much more than I ever would have suspected -- at least in the short run.

Memphis MOJO said...

thanks for taking the time to clarify this situation.

@lightning: I've found the true power of the mighty 2-4 is that they never see it coming. I'm not a true disciple in that I don't always play it, but when it wins pots, they can be big because the villain doesn't expect it.