March 25, 2012

Another Silly Rule at the Horseshoe

"There are some remedies worse than the disease."

~Publius Syrus, "Maxim 301"

Last week, I had to travel to Omaha to take an examination under oath (basically a deposition in an insurance claim investigation, usually when fraud is suspected). When the insured failed to show (not uncommon, as it is easier to drop a bogus claim than risk legal trouble from lying under oath), I found myself with a couple of hours to kill. As often happens, my car dropped me off at the Horseshoe.

It was mid-afternoon on a Monday, so there were only two $1/$3 NLHE games running, with a long list. After a 30-minute wait, they finally opened a new game, giving me a little less than two hours of playing time. I managed to make the most of it, racking up for $525 profit, mostly from a young gun running two all-in bluffs into my made straights. Thank you, come again!

Although my card-playing was pretty boring, the Horseshoe's idiosyncratic rules once again caused some commotion. I've previously written (see HERE and HERE) about the Shoe's silly betting line and all-in rules; to their credit, the Shoe's managers have now abandoned those rules. The Shoe no longer requires all-in hands to be shown in cash games, which brings the room in line with every other poker room I've played in, and encourages looser all-in bets and calls (always good for the game). The Shoe also now disregards the betting line on the table, which is now merely advisory (though that rule change leads to its own set of problems, particularly when chips are cut in front of cards but behind the line.).

The Shoe's poker room management jealously guards its place in the wacky poker rule pantheon, and only dropped those two quirky rules because they adopted an even more mischief-inducing rule, to wit:

At showdown, a player must table both cards face up. If a player attempting to table his cards has one or both cards land on the table face down, the player's hand is dead, even if the player's intent was to table his hand, and even if the cards do not touch the muck pile.

Of course, this rule isn't posted anywhere, so I am paraphrasing the rule as explained to me by several dealers and regular players throughout my session. But during the course of play, the rule was enforced several times, usually at the insistence of the obvious regulars in the game. In two instances, the rule nearly caused a serious problem.

In the first instance, a large pot developed between three players, with a river Jack putting two Jacks on a rather draw-heavy board. After the river went check-check-check, a lady rolled over a Jack and said, "All I've got is trip Jacks." The next player mucked, but the last player loudly insisted the lady's hand was dead because both cards were not tabled face up. The dealer told the player to roll his hand, which was a busted draw, and the dealer then awarded the pot to the lady, but with a stern warning that any future infractions would result in her hand being ruled dead.

In the second hand, the player in the 8 seat (immediately to my right), was in late position. The flop was 5-5-7 with two of a suit. It checked to the 8 seat, who bet and was called in two spots. The turn brought a 6. Again the action checked to the 8 seat, who again bet and was again called in two spots. The river brought the Ace of the flush draw suit. An early position player bet big, next player folded, and the 8 seat thought and then called. The early position player showed AK for two pair. The 8 seat went to table his cards in front of him (well clear of the muck), and the cards somehow caught on his fingers, over-rotated, landed on their edges, then flipped over face down. The other player immediately declared, "That's a dead hand!" The 8 seat reached out and rolled over K5 for flopped trips, which would have been the winning hand. The dealer declared the hand dead, but the 8 seat protested. The dealer called the floor, and the dealer described what had occurred. The 8 seat stated he had been trying to table his hand, and that since he had bet his trips on two streets and called the river, there was no way he had been trying to fold. The floor asked the dealer if the 8 seat had been trying to table his cards; the dealer (to his credit) stated it looked like the 8 seat had been trying to table his hand. The floor then ruled that the hand was live, but cautioned the 8 seat that his ruling was an exception to the usual rule, and that his hand normally would have been ruled dead.

When I asked the table about the rule, several regulars and two dealers told me that the rule had been implemented "to prevent angle-shooting". Now I'm clearly in favor of encouraging players to follow proper showdown protocols, but this rule seems to cause more problems than it solves. First, this rule appears to be unique to the Shoe, and involves a rather important part of play (the showdown). Players who are not regulars in the room can be taken advantage of by regular players familiar with the rule. Second, and to my mind more important, the rule is excessively punitive, resulting in what is generally a winning hand being declared dead. Poker rooms should be in the business of awarding pots to players who hold the strongest hand on hands that go to a showdown, not looking for reasons to rule a hand dead on a technicality. Finally, there are already plenty of rules regarding various showdown angle shots. If a player somehow causes a problem by only tabling one card at showdown, or by fake-mucking then showing a hand, enforce the rules already on the books and handle the situation accordingly.

The Shoe's new showdown rule is like curing a hangnail by amputating the finger. It's effective, but makes it tough to do chip tricks.

March 24, 2012

Rube Goldberg Showdowns

Dr. Evil:  All right guard, begin the unnecessarily slow-moving dipping mechanism.

[guard starts dipping mechanism]

Dr. Evil:  Close the tank!

Scott Evil:  Wait, aren't you even going to watch them? They could get away!

Dr. Evil:  No no no, I'm going to leave them alone and not actually witness them dying. I'm just gonna assume it all went to plan. What?

Scott Evil:   I have a gun, in my room, you give me five seconds, I'll get it, I'll come back down here, BOOM, I'll blow their brains out!

Dr. Evil:  Scott, you just don't get it, do ya? You don't.

~Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997)

Forgive me while I channel a little Poker Grump.

Showdowns in poker should be quick and orderly. The last aggressor (bettor or raiser) to act is called by one or more players. The last aggressor turns his hand face up on the table, showing both cards (unless he chooses to muck). If there was no betting on the river, the player in earliest position tables his hand (unless by house rule the last aggressor in the prior round of betting is required to show first). The remaining callers then table their hands going in clockwise order from the first player required to show his hand (again unless they choose to muck). The dealer reads the tabled hands and pushes the pot to the winner. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Based on my recent trip to Vegas, as well as recent sessions at the Horseshoe in Council Bluffs and at Harrah's in Kansas City, showdowns have devolved into an overly complicated, poorly choreographed dance routine. I'll bet at least once every couple of hours I have been involved in a showdown that goes something like this:

  • Yahoo bets.
  • I call.
  • Yahoo stares at me.
  • I stare back.
  • Yahoo says, "I have a ten," which, if true, gives him second pair on the board.
  • I gesture, making a couple of small circles with my forefinger, indicating he should show his cards.
  • Yahoo holds up one card in the air, showing he does in fact have a ten.
  • I gesture again, making a couple of slower, larger circles with my finger, hoping he catches on.
  • Yahoo stares at me.
  • I stare back.
  • Yahoo tables his hand, either showing only the ten, or placing his cards carefully so the ten is on top of his other card, hiding it.
  • I gesture again.
  • Yahoo shoots me a death glare, finally tables his hand with both cards visible.
  • I either table or muck my hand.

The whole routine is incredibly annoying and needlessly slows the game. The "hold one card up in the air in lieu of an actual showdown" dance seems to be almost endemic, occurring at least once or twice per orbit. What part of showdown is giving players trouble? Show your damn cards, and put them down on the table. Trust me, it's easy.

Now I'm not getting petulant about showdowns because I'm a rules nit. In many situations, I don't care enough to get picky about showdown order. For example, a bunch of players limp preflop, and then there is no betting on later streets. Usually, a small pair or even Ace-high is good, so when everyone is sitting around waiting for someone to show, I'll jump start the process by just tabling my hand. Or, if I happen to make a pretty big hand for the board, I'll just declare and table my hand, again to jump start the action.

However, if I'm in a decent-sized pot, and there has been betting action on all streets, I am very interested in seeing my opponent's hand, even if I lose the pot. I want to know both cards in order to see how his hand matches up with the betting action. Was he floating or check-raising with air and caught a pair? Was he semi-bluffing with a pair and a draw, or betting naked draws for pot control? In these situations, I am entitled to see my opponent's hand first; as some players are fond of saying, I paid for that privilege. I'm not looking to cause a scene, but I don't think it's too much to ask that my opponent table his hand without delay when I call his bet or raise on the river.

As you might expect, Poker Grump has written on showdown etiquette on several occasions; see HERE and HERE for his posts dealing with the "showing one card" issue, as well as HERE and HERE for some related (and entirely meritorious) showdown grumpiness. Grump's theory was that the "showing one card" routine originated in home games. I suspect there is some home game influence to the phenomenon, but I personally think the issue is also somewhat generational. Most of the flagrant and recurrent offenders seem generally to be in their early-to-mid-20s, a group that also seems far more likely to commit other poker etiquette faux pas, like talking about their hand during action, calling the clock too quickly, hollywooding during routine decisions, or slow rolling at showdown. These players likely cut their poker teeth online, where many live game etiquette matters are either handled automatically by the software, or simply have no online analogue. Be that as it may, if a player sits down at a live poker game, that player has an obligation to know and follow not only the rules but also the generally accepted etiquette for live action poker.

To be blunt:  Just turn your cards over and put them on the table already.