Rob recently posted about the importance of protecting your cards during play, to prevent them from being accidentally mucked by the dealer or fouled by another player's mucked cards. [FN2] The basic premise of his post—be smart and keep a chip or other trinket on top of your cards—is sound advice. We've all seen live hands accidentally mucked by a dealer in the course of play (usually in the two seats next to the dealer, but occasionally in the middle seats facing the dealer, particularly when a player with a large stack holds his cards closer to the middle of the table than is usual). Of course a good dealer is going to try to prevent this problem from happening, but players need to do what they can to protect their hand.
I digress for a moment to share my favorite story in this genre. This hilarity ensued several years ago at Prairie Meadows Racetrack, Casino, & ATM, back in the dark ages when only limit hold 'em was spread. I was sitting in the "big game"—$4/$8—where the stacks were deep and the action was juicy. One obnoxious guy was in Seat 10, playing a very loose and aggressive style. On this hand, he was in the big blind, and called a raise preflop, along with most of the table. Seat 10 then called a bet and a raise on a draw-heavy flop, along with several other players. The turn filled both straight and flush draws (and a straight flush draw as well). Seat 10 checked, there were a bet and a raise, and Seat 10 three-bet. By the time action got back to Seat 10, there had been another raise. Seat 9 had been in the action to this point, but folded to the extra raises. The dealer swept in Seat 9's cards, Seat 10 capped the betting, and was called by two players across the table. The river paired the board, and the three remaining players quickly capped the betting. The other two players each had full houses, but Seat 10 loudly proclaimed, "I have a straight flush!" and reached down to turn over ... nothing. Seat 10's cards were gone, accidentally mucked by the dealer on the turn when he swept in Seat 9's cards while watching the betting action on the opposite side of the table. Seat 10 went ballistic. The floor ruled his hand was dead. Seat 10 dug his cards out of the muck, but the ruling stood. Seat 10 then went on super monkey tilt and burned through over $1000 in the next couple of hours (which is a pretty incredible accomplishment in a $4/$8 limit game).
In Rob's post, he relates a story of a dealer who kept trying to persuade a player to protect his cards with a chip, but the player wouldn't listen and in fact seemed annoyed by the dealer's comments. This reaction seemed to bother the dealer. My advice to the dealer—warn the player once, then move along to dealing the game. If the player doesn't want to listen, then the player has assumed the risk of having his hand killed accidentally. Trust me, this is one of those poker rules many poker players learn the hard way, but they should only have to learn it once.
Rob also fesses up to thinking about teaching the yahoo player a lesson by intentionally mucking his cards into the yahoo's unprotected hand. Rob resisted the temptation, but shared a story where another player wasn't so kind. To sum up, an obnoxious player went all-in preflop without looking at his cards, and without protecting his cards. Then, someone decided to teach the yahoo a lesson:
A player from the corner folded, and “accidentally” aimed very badly with his mucked cards, and instead of heading toward the dealer, they landed right on top of the preflop raiser’s cards, which he hadn’t looked at yet! Since they were unprotected and now mixed in the folded cards from the player on the corner, Brent had no choice but to pick up his cards and declare his hand dead. But the bet was still there and part of the pot. I don’t remember if someone had already called his shove or someone did subsequently to claim an easy big pot (assuming he had the idiot covered), but the guy’s entire stack was part of a pot that he couldn’t possibly win.
What the mucking player did in this case is probably a violation of poker etiquette; as noted in Robert's Rules of Poker (by Bob Ciaffone), players mucking their cards have responsibilities to the rest of the table:
SECTION 1—PROPER BEHAVIOR
The following actions are improper, and grounds for warning, suspending, or barring a violator:
Deliberately discarding hands away from the muck. Cards should be released in a low line of flight, at a moderate rate of speed (not at the dealer's hands or chip-rack).
But even if the mucking player didn't technically violate any rule of poker, he did violate a rather basic principle of general etiquette—never be a jerk. Look, we all run into players we find to be obnoxious yahoos. But it is not our responsibility as players to be vigilantes enforcing our own ideas of poker justice. Sure, the yahoo pushing all-in without protecting his hand probably deserved to be taught a lesson. But it is not appropriate for another player to intentionally foul his hand just to make a point. If we wink and smile at the mucking player's actions here, where do we draw the line? Would it be acceptable to grab another player's cards and muck them just because they slow-rolled you earlier? Would it be OK to mix your cards into another player's cards, killing his hand simply because he always takes a long time to make decisions? Call me crazy, but I think there is an implicit corollary to the the various rules governing how players handle their own cards—"Players may not intentionally mess with another player's hand."
As poker players, we owe it to each other to play not only within the technical letter of the rules, but also within the spirit of the rules. Players who try to take unfair advantage of a rule technicality are rightly derided as angleshooters. Players who intentionally do something to attempt to kill an otherwise live hand are angleshooters of the lowest order. In this case, if the table yahoo was out of line, there are rules and procedures that can keep him in line. If the yahoo doesn't want to protect his cards, it's only a matter of time before fate intervenes and teaches him an expensive lesson. There's simply no good reason for a player to intentionally cause a fouled hand. Doing so is more of a jerk move than anything the table yahoo might have done.
[FN1] CORRECTION (2 April 2012): Originally posted stating Rob was a Vegas resident, corrected per Rob's comment below.
[FN2] Robert's Rules of Poker (by Bob Ciaffone) states the generally accepted rule as:
SECTION 3—GENERAL POKER RULES
2. You must protect your own hand at all times. Your cards may be protected with your hands, a chip, or other object placed on top of them. If you fail to protect your hand, you will have no redress if it becomes fouled or the dealer accidentally kills it.