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poker showdown protocol

“No offense,” said the villain after the hand ended, “but after we’re all-in, aren’t we supposed to turn our cards over right away?” For purposes of this blog, I’ll call him “Keith.” Keith is an occasional player at this private cash poker game, but not one of the regulars.

On a rather unconnected Jack-high flop, three players had checked and I was last to act.  With A6, I had no pair and no draw, but decided to take a stab at a pot that nobody else seemed to want. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Then Keith check-raised all-in, for about 6 big blinds more (making the pot ~ 45 BBs). &#^%$! This must be what it feels like to get caught with your pants down!

poker mathMaybe if an ace comes, my hand will be good. Let’s assume so and do the math. If Keith has top pair AND doesn’t have an Ace kicker, I have three live outs. With both the turn and river to come, I have a 16.2% chance of winning the pot. Incredibly, I only need 11.8% equity to justify calling from a math perspective (6 BBs to call divided by 51 BB pot size including my call).

I can save face better by mucking my hand when this is over than by folding now, so I call.

Keith immediately flips over AK. The horrifying reality quickly sets in that I’m going to lose to Ace-high. How can I claim that I got out-kicked or missed a draw or otherwise cover-up my airball bluff? Hell, I can’t even win if an ace hits.

A six comes on the river. Wha–? Now I’m scrambling to get my cards turned over so as not to be slow rolling. As I claim the pot with this silly suckout, I feel dirty.

That’s when Keith makes the comment at the top of this post.

In tournament poker, which I don’t play much anymore, most venues require players to table their cards when they are all-in and no further betting action is possible. The dealers won’t proceed with any remaining community cards until both players’ hands are face up. WSOP and Tournament Directors Association rules both require this approach.

The vast majority of cash games – in casinos and at private games – have no such requirement. Many players simply wait for the showdown. Protocol requires the last aggressor to show first. If the caller has a superior hand, obviously he or she must show it to win the pot. But a losing hand can simply be mucked. Sometimes the calling player will give a courtesy “fast roll” (as I did here…), especially with the nuts. Fast rolling is in good taste, although the absence of fast rolling is not in bad taste.

In this hand, I most certainly did not want to show my cards. When Keith check-raises all-in for such a small additional amount, I know I’m way behind. I know other players will be paying attention and take note of my failed bluff. That little bit of extra information might be a difference maker in some future hand. I know the protocol at cash games doesn’t require me to show immediately. I know the order of showing down at the end of the hand.

Deviating from the protocol in favor of showing one’s cards earlier than required is never wrong. But following the protocol in a timely manner is equally never wrong.

I still feel dirty about the suckout, however.

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3 Comments

  1. So, how did you (or someone else) explain the rule to him and how did he react? Sometimes, rules like this can make casual players very defensive and, for lack of a better word, cautious about playing again for fear that they are being played.

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    1. Yes, it can make casual players get defensive. I explained that I’ve always understood (and observed in practice) that flipping the cards over before running out the rest of the board is required in tournament poker but not cash games. Other players at the table agreed, and he seemed satisfied with this and didn’t get upset (other than as to the outcome of the hand itself).

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