In constructing poker rules, one of our goals is to prevent a player from taking a free shot at the pot. By this I mean retaining the option of calling attention to an irregularity until he sees whether ignoring the irregularity will help or hurt him. The following letter from a Card Player reader concerns this type of situation:
Bob, I'm hoping I can solicit your comments and opinions regarding a ruling I influenced at the end of a no-limit Texas hold'em tournament the other day. It involved a player not returning his holecards after a deal and how it affected the subsequent hand.
I was not the tournament director or the dealer. I was not even near the table at the time. For most purposes, we use Robert's Rules of Poker Version 7.0 as the official rules of the tournament. As it was explained to me, here are the pertinent details:
Only two players remained in the tournament.
Player A had approximately 85 percent of the chips in play.
Player B moved all in preflop and Player A called.
The players turned over their cards, the dealer moved the cards to the middle of the table, and the dealer properly dealt the boardcards.
Player A won the hand and the tournament seemed to be over.
As the tournament appeared to end, Player B stood and stated, "Wait a minute. I never returned my cards from the last deal. That makes the last hand invalid." He then showed that he had two cards somewhat hidden behind his stack of chips. There was no way to determine how long the cards had actually been there.
The tournament director immediately ruled that the
hand should stand as played and that the outstanding
cards did not invalidate the hand. He said the
tournament was over.
Player B disagreed with this ruling and insisted that the hand was invalid and should be declared a misdeal. He contended that the hand was tainted because the "missing cards" affected the shuffle. At this point, the tournament director asked me to help him in the decision-making process by identifying pertinent rules to help support his decision. After consulting the rules, the tournament director and I agreed that the hand should stand as dealt and played; the tournament was over.
We based this ruling on several factors, including our interpretation of what is considered a misdeal and what is not considered a misdeal. However, the overriding detail in my mind was a quote I saw attributed to you recently. The quote was as follows: "We do not want a player delaying a complaint until he sees whether the card helped or hurt.
For example, the dealer accidentally burns two cards stuck
together, then puts out the third card of a suit on the
board. Player A moves all in. Then Player B asks, 'How many
cards were burned?' and the dealer discovers the two cards
This quote seemed particularly pertinent to the ruling we made. I do not have any reason to suspect Player B purposely hid the cards or delayed commenting on them until the dealer completed the hand; however, I do not believe intent is relevant to the situation. As I see it, a player could delay comment until the end of a hand and take advantage of any ruling contrary to the one we made. Therefore, I believe it is in the best interest of the game to rule as we did.
I'd really like to hear your thoughts on this situation. Does that appear to be a fairly accurate quote? I still don't think the player agrees with our ruling, and, of course, he would value your opinion on the matter more than mine. Do you believe that quote is pertinent to our situation? Does there appear to be any rules we missed or didn't consider when making our ruling? We could not specifically find a rule addressing this exact situation (nor can every situation be addressed, of course). However, we do honestly believe we properly interpreted the intent and spirit of the rules.
I think my correspondent gave the tournament director excellent advice on what the rule should be and the reason for it. (I note that Robert's Rules of Poker directly covers this situation, as do a number of other sets of poker rules.) Cards missing from the deck can be gone for a variety of reasons - some innocent, some sinister. When the player affected is the one who points out the fact that the cards are missing, it is reasonable to wonder if he would be as diligent if the boardcards had won the pot for him. Also, there is no way to be sure how long the cards were missing from the deck. A player could drop his hand on the floor when a friend was involved in a big pot. If the friend won, he would "leave it up to someone else" to notice the missing cards. In fact, if he were involved in a future pot, he would have the option of using the dropped-cards move that was intended to help his friend to help himself. This is a big reason in favor of not letting missing cards invalidate the results of a deal.
There are other ways that a deck can be imperfect. There can be a card from another deck added to the regular pack. There can be two identical cards in the deck. Having an extra card of the same rank and suit makes it easier to improve a hand, favorably changing the math. I do not see any alternative to invalidating a deal when the deck is discovered to be imperfect in this respect. However, we still need to avoid giving a player who knows or should know of the invalid deck a means of taking a free shot at the pot. So, we usually penalize a player who does not call attention to this duplicate-card problem when it arises by not letting him get back the money he wagered.
Here is an incident that happened many years ago: Ralph Morton, a well-known tournament player of the time from Yakima, Washington, was playing a hold'em hand in a money game. I was in the same game and witnessed this situation. Ralph had "flopped a set of fours." There was a red 4 on the board and he had two black fours in the hole. At the showdown, Ralph turned his hand faceup, and it was good. However, the "two black fours" were the 4 and another 4 with the same color back - two identical cards. When he saw the cards he had exposed on the table, Ralph responded as if he had sat on a tack, jerking his back ramrod straight. It did not look like a Hollywood act to me. Morton said, "I saw two black fours when I looked at my holecards, and naturally thought they were the four of clubs and the four of spades."
A floorperson was, of course, called over. In this case, he let Ralph get his money out of the pot, because all of the players thought it was not a case of shot-taking, just an honest mistake. However, the floorperson would have been entitled to rule that the chips stay in the pot for the next deal.
The next time you decide to play a hand blind, or look at only one card while faking to look at both, I suggest that you think about my Ralph Morton story. My advice to you is to look at your entire hand before putting any money into the pot. Maybe you have two identical cards. Worse yet for appearances, if your holecards match a boardcard, and you make a big bet, will people buy a story that you did not know what you had in the hole? The players and floorperson may not be as understanding of you as they were of Mr. Morton.