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.


  1. Good post, though I think you erred by not working in a reference to the heat death of the universe.

  2. @ Rakewell / Poker Grump: You are indeed correct, sir! Added links to the Heat Death and one other related Grumpy Rant.

    (Honestly, I was afraid to get sucked too deeply into a search of your showdown rants, so I stopped after I found two related to the "one card" showdown issue.)

  3. I think the influence was all poker on TV. Lots of showboating of all sorts in those games.

  4. Thanks for the post, it drives me crazy when some of these people refuse to show. Lately I just turn to the guy and tell him " You've been called sir, time to show your cards." And if I piss someone off, even better.

  5. @ Cardgrrl: Agreed, plenty of bad etiquette on display on many poker TV shows. Frankly, some of the regularly featured players almost revel in poor etiquette.

    @ The Neophyte: Yeah, handling the inevitable awkwardness of these weird showdowns always makes me uncomfortable. But if you have a good dealer, they can make it a lot easier by directing the showdown action.

  6. I never know who is supposed to show.. Internet poker ruined my live game! lol. So I just tabled my hand always and hope the pot slides my way.

  7. I remember playing in one tournament, and always insisting that I see the hands of people I called. One lady persisted in the 'one card' habit. Finally, after I insisted about the third time, she said (in a sneering tone) : "Oh, that's right - YOU'RE the guy that always insists on seeing cards."

    My new reputation!