The Worst Rule in Poker

“I want to see her cards.”  Who knew such a simple sounding request would nearly lead to an all out brawl?

For purposes of this blog, I’ll call the player making this request “Larry.”  We are at the Seminole Hard Rock Tampa casino poker room, my first trip here. I had just flopped a set of deuces on a very wet board (Qc Js 2c).  The other player, who for purposes of this blog I’ll call “Daryl,” (spelled like the actress Daryl Hannah) had a fairly short stack and seemed like she might be on a draw.  On the turn, I bet enough to put her virtually but not fully all-in.  Thankfully, she obliged but putting in her full stack, and after the dealer counted her chips, I owed one more chip to call.  I didn’t do this intentionally; she had a lot of small denomination chips that added up to more than it looked.

This is relevant.  Technically she made the final raise and I called.  According to protocol, I can wait for Daryl to show her hand first, having paid for the privilege of seeing her cards before deciding whether to show mine.  If the river card gives her a flush or straight, I can muck my hand and no one will know what I had.

When the river card is the 4th deuce, the protocol becomes irrelevant.  There is no reason to inflict extra pain on Daryl, so I roll over my pocket 2’s very quickly to claim the pot.  As an added bonus, my four-of-a-kind qualifies for a $250 high hand jackpot that is paid every half hour, and holds up just long enough for me to get paid.

Larry was never involved in this hand, but still demands to see Daryl’s cards.  According to Robert’s Rules of Poker, he has that right.  Rule 5 in the Showdown section says:

5.  Any player who has been dealt in may request to see any hand that has been called, even if the opponent’s hand or the winning hand has been mucked. However, this is a privilege that may be revoked if abused. If a player other than the pot winner asks to see a hand that has been folded, that hand is dead. If the winning player asks to see a losing player’s hand, both hands are live, and the best hand wins.

In poker’s war for information, some players are maniacal about pursuing every possible edge.  Larry turns out to be one of those players, hoping to learn something about Daryl’s play that he can use to his advantage later on.  Unfortunately for him, the dealer had already pulled Daryl’s cards into the middle of the muck pile and we never found out.

But that’s not why the rule exists.  It exists to prevent cheating, particularly in tournament poker.  Sometimes in tournaments, huge imbalances exist between one player’s chip stack and another’s.  Unlike in cash games, the shorter stacked player cannot buy more chips.  If two friends are at the same tournament table, Friend 1 with the larger stack might be tempted to dump a few chips off to Friend 2 with a desperately small stack to help Friend 2’s chances of making it to the prize money or the next payout increase.  The easy way to do this is for Friend 1 to make a large bet, Friend 2 to be the only caller, then Friend 1 mucks his cards and says he was just bluffing.

That’s cheating.  Rule 5 allows any player at the table to ask to see Friend 1’s hand.  Not for information, but to ensure he isn’t cheating by dumping chips to Friend 2.  The language in Rule 5 says “this is a privilege that may be revoked if abused.”  Well, I’m here to tell you that anytime this so-called privilege is invoked for any reason other than suspicion of cheating, that’s an abuse!

In cash games, Rule 5 isn’t needed.  When I grow up and have my own poker room, the house rules won’t include this one for cash games, and for tournaments the player involving the rule will be forced to explicitly state (and convince a floor supervisor) that cheating is suspected.

I’m not the only poker blogger who feels this way.  At Rob’s Vegas Poker Blog (one of the best of all poker blogs!), Rob also calls this “one of the worst rules in poker,” noting that every use of the rule is actually an abuse of it.  Rob describes another abuse of the rule here.  Last summer PokerNews featured an article by Tommy Angelo – one of the game’s greatest thinkers – describes the rule as “bad for poker” as it fails its mission while “encouraging petty behavior.”

The next rule, Rule 6 in the Showdown section, says

If you show cards to an active player during a deal, any player at the table has the right to see those exposed cards. Cards shown during or after a deal to a player not in the pot should be shown to all players when the deal is finished.

This is different.  In shorthand, “show one, show all” is simply an information equalizer.  Rule 6 only applies after a player has voluntarily shown cards to another player.  By contrast, Rule 5 applies to cards that haven’t been shown to anyone, provided that player’s final bet was called by another player.

Rule 6 comes up later when Larry is involved in a hand with the player on Daryl’s immediate left.  For purposes of this blog, I’ll call him “Darrell.”  There was at least one other player in the hand too.  According to Larry, while contemplating a large bet Darrell flashed his cards towards Daryl (who had already folded), and she made a comment like “nice cards” or something similar.  Darrell then folded, and Larry asked the dealer to keep Darrell’s cards out of the muck pile so he could see them after the hand was over.  This wasn’t the first time Larry had invoked Rule 6.  He seemed obsessed with information FOMO.

This time, however, was a tipping point.  Darrell denied showing his cards to Daryl.  Daryl denied seeing them and further denied making any comment.  Larry was insistent, and asked the dealer to call for a floor supervisor.  Before you knew it, Larry, Darrell and Daryl were all standing and pointing and yelling and swearing at each other.

It became apparent that Daryl was still seething from the earliest hand, when Larry wanted to see her cards after she lost her entire stack to my quads.

“God strike me down if I said anything about his cards!” she screamed loud enough for half of the room to hear, standing with arms outstretched.

“Don’t tempt Him,” responded Larry.

“I protected my cards properly and you don’t have a right to see them,” protested Darrell.

“I make more money playing poker in one week that you make in a full year,” Larry hurled back at Darrell, who earlier had revealed that he lived in Las Vegas for several years and recently moved back to Florida.

This went on for several minutes.  What started as a war for information nearly proceeded to an all out war between Larry, Darrell and Daryl.

Larry actually seemed to be enjoying himself through this exchange.  Darrell and Daryl were not.  Despite the floor supervisor’s efforts to calm Daryl down, telling her she wasn’t accused of doing anything wrong, she was in full poker room rage, or academically speaking, what might be called an episode of Intermittent Explosive Disorder.  I thought she might need to be physically restrained.

I can imagine Larry telling his friends he had the best time at the casino today, even though he didn’t win any money.

Without Rule 5, this never turns into such a brouhaha.

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