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Poker Blog established in 2003 as the first stop for poker news, poker stories, and bad poker advice.

March 4, 2007

The penalty for miscalling a poker hand

by Otis

Don't ask why I was playing 8-4 suited in diamonds. It doesn't matter. It was shaping up to be that kind of night. Plus, I'm sort of lost. Nevertheless, I saw two diamonds on the flop and stoppped paying attention. I paired the four on the turn and hit another diamond on the river. It was checked to me and BadBlood asked, "How much will it cost me to buy this pot?"

"Thirty-five dollars," I said. That was the amount I will was willing to call with my weak flush.

"Then I check," he said.

I saw Do-Right getting ready to table K4. I was happy my little flush was about to win.

"I have a flush," I said and tabled my 8-4 of diamonds.

"You realize you don't have a flush?" Eddie, the dealer said. He looked at me like I was something just short of a diagnosed moron.

I looked at the board and re-counted the diamonds. Sure enough, there were only two.

Do-Right tabled his K4 to outkick my 8-4 and dragged his pot.

"Cocktails!" I yelled, startling the waitress into action. I then buried my head into a felt of shame and listened to someone joke, "Five red cards...FLUSH!"

Avoided in all of this was what would've happened if Do-Right had mucked his K4. That might have been ugly.

Now, to be fair, I don't think there was a person at the table who would've accused me of shooting an angle. First, it was pretty clear how humilated I was by my mis-read of the board. Second, the $40 pot really wasn't substantial enough for me to risk an otherwise clean reputation by trying to shoot an angle.

Still, there was a guy at the table--not in the hand, by the way--who insisted on making an issue of it.

"So, what would've happened if he intentionally mis-called his hand and Do-Right mucked?" Shawshank asked.

"That would be called shooting an angle," I said, and tried to crawl further into my iPod.

And that is where the debate began. Eddie the Dealer insisted my hand would be declared dead and Do-Right would win. Shawshank said that if the other hand had hit the muck, it didn't matter. It was a dead hand and I would've still won the pot.

I was stuck in an odd situation. I actually like Eddie the Dealer and am not as big a fan of Shawshank. That said, I thought Shawshank was right. If a hand hits the muck, it's dead. I decided I'd keep my mouth shut out of respect for Eddie's authority. It was all hyopthetical anyway.

This argument kept on for some time, so long that I didn't actually pay any attention to how it ended up. Today, however, I got to thinking about it again and decided to consult the authority that was many times brought up in the middle of the argument: Robert's Rules of Poker.

It's a tricky question. Most of us believe that if cards hit the muck, they are dead. Well, not always.

Here is what Robert's Rules of Poker has to say about it (with my emphasis added):

Cards thrown into the muck may be ruled dead. However, a hand that is clearly identifiable may be retrieved at management’s discretion if doing so is in the best interest of the game. We will make an extra effort to rule a hand retrievable if it was folded as a result of false information given to the player.

The dealer assists in reading hands, but players are responsible for holding onto their cards until the winner is declared. Although verbal declarations as to the contents of a hand are not binding, deliberately miscalling a hand with the intent of causing another player to discard a winning hand is unethical and may result in forfeiture of the pot

So, basically, I interpret that rule like this: If I mis-call my hand intentionally (a subjective matter to be ruled upon by the floor) and someone mucks a winner, the dealer (if he can accurately determine which cards were mucked) can pull out the cards and determine the winner. What's more, based upon a decision by the floor, if I mis-call my hand intentiionally, I may forfeit the pot.

The way I read this rule (and based on what I know about how most poker rooms are run), if a person is known to be an angle shooter and repeatedly mis-calls his hand, the floor will finally say, "Listen, buddy, you do it again and you lose."

Now, this angle gets shot a lot more in stud games that it does hold'em games. It apparently happens enough in lowball games that Robert's Rules of Poker's lowball section has a special rule about this very subject (again, with my emphasis added).

Cards speak (cards read for themselves). However, you are not allowed to claim a better hand than you hold. (Example: If a player calls an "8", that player must produce at least an "8" low or better to win. But if a player erroneously calls the second card incorrectly, such as “8-6” when actually holding an 8-7, no penalty applies.) If you miscall your hand and cause another player to foul his or her hand, your hand is dead. If both hands remain intact, the best hand wins. If a miscalled hand occurs in a multihanded pot, the miscalled hand is dead, and the best remaining hand wins the pot. For your own protection, always hold your hand until you see your opponent’s cards.

So, my interpretation is as follows:

1) I am an idiot and probably am in need of a 30-day poker hiatus or a 30-day jail sentence.

2) If I had been intentionally mis-calling my hand and Do-Right had mucked his hand, Eddie could've tried to find the right cards and pull them out of the muck. If he could do that and Do-Right won, then Do-Right won. This is one of just a few cases when cards can be pulled out of the muck.

3) If I repeatedly violate this part of poker etiquette, the floor can penalize me by declaring my hand dead.

4) If we're playing lowball, my hand is automatically dead.

So, thereya go. That's what the rulebook says. If anything, it's a good reminder (and the same reminder Eddie offered) to always wait to see your opponent's cards before you muck. Don't trash your hand until you know you have no use for the cards. All else fails, just turn up your damed hand. I know one person (who used to write here, incidentally) who mucked a full house on the river when he was sure he was beaten by a flush.

One final note on the rules: Every card room is different and rules are enforced more strictly in some than others. What's more, Robert's Rules has a caveat that a floor person may make a ruling contrary to Robert's Rules if it is in the interest of fairness.

Thanks to my friends at LasVegasVegas for offering Roberts Rules of Poker on their site.

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