Saturday, March 24, 2012

Protect Your Hand

In poker, “protecting your hand” can mean making sure that no one else sees your hole cards when you look at them, or it can mean putting something on your hole cards when they are on the felt to make sure they aren’t accidentally mucked.  This post concerns the second meaning.
This story goes back to my 2/4 limit days.  A couple of young guys came to the game, they were friends, and they sat in seats 1 & 2.  Seat 1 is immediately to the left of the dealer.  These guys were obviously not newbies at poker, and they seemed to know a few of the people who worked at BSC.  Turns out they worked at BSC, but not in the poker room, I think perhaps in one of the bars or restaurants.  So it was kind of surprising that I didn’t recognize them.
Seat 1 never bothered to “protect his hand."  He’d just lay his cards down in front of him and did not put a chip or some trinket or some good luck charm on top of them.  This meant they were vulnerable to being accidentally picked up by the dealer, thinking he had folded.  Also, if another player folds his cards, and slides them towards the dealer, if they touch a player’s unprotected cards, technically, that automatically mucks the unprotected hand.  That’s the technical rule but if at all possible the dealer will catch it in time, or they will just barely touch and the dealer will save the hand.  But if you don’t have something on top of your cards, there are no guarantees that you hand won’t get forfeited if some other discards hit them.
The first dealer gently suggested to Seat 1 that he should put a chip on top of his cards, but the punk kid just grunted and ignored him.  The dealer didn’t pursue it, he had done his job by warning the player.  The next dealer was Jim, then fairly new to BSC.  Jim is a grandfather and has no doubt seen it all.  Almost immediately, he suggested to Seat 1 that he should protect his hand with a chip.  Seat 1 grunted and ignored him.
Jim didn’t let it go.  He mentioned it again a few hands later.  I’m betting he’s seen guys lose their hands in this situation and didn’t want that to happen to this kid.  But the kid would have none of it, and took an attitude.  He said something like, “What is it with you dealers?  My cards are fine, nothing’s going to happen to them.  I refuse to put a chip on them.  So there.”
Jim just shrugged his shoulders and said something like, “That’s your choice sir, I’m only trying to protect you.”  I don’t know if the kid told Jim to mind his own business, but if he didn’t say it with his mouth, he said it with his expression.
I kind of felt badly for Jim, who seemed like a nice guy (and since this happened, I’ve confirmed that) who was only doing his job and also helping the guy in the process.  I wanted to comment but didn’t feel that I should go out of my way to get into it with this jerk.  Luckily, about 2/3’s of the way into Jim’s down, Seat 1 and Seat 2 got bored and decided to look for greener pastures, and left the table and the room.  I know that Jim worked extra hard to make sure that nobody’s folded cards from that side of the table slid into the jerk’s unprotected hand.
I was sitting in Seat 5, directly across from Seat 1. When they were safely out of the hearing range, I said to Jim, “You know, I came thisclose to, one time, just flinging my cards directly at that jerk’s hand so they’d hit his cards and kill his hand.”
As I said, Jim was new and didn’t know me like most of the dealers there did, but with that one sentence, I made a friend.  He gave me a fist pump and said thanks for backing him up.  He said he would have really enjoyed that if I had done that—on the inside, not on the outside.  Then he just shook his head and said, “I don’t understand people like that.  What I was telling him was for his benefit.”  I agreed, and then I remembered a story that Brent had told me a trip or two before this one, so I asked Jim if he had heard it and he had not, so I told him about it.
Brent was dealing at a No Limit game, I think it was a 2/5 game, and some guy was being kind of a jerk. He enjoyed calling, and sometimes raising, blind, without looking at his hand. And of course, he was somehow being rewarded with it, making some incredibly lucky draws.  All the other players were really pissed at this guy.  He was sitting in the middle of the table nowhere near the dealer.  And one time, with a big stack of chips in front of him (I’m gonna say at least $300-$400), he declared all-in, preflop, without looking at his cards.  He didn’t touch his cards to look at them, and he didn’t bother to put a chip on top of them since he was in the middle where they were unlikely to be touched by another hand or taken by the dealer assuming that he had folded.  Especially since he’d bet “all in.”
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.
Now of course the guy didn’t take this lying down.  Before almost any of this happened, the floor was called and in fact, the Shift Manager weighed in.  He asked the guy who shoved what his hand was, and of course, he couldn’t say because he hadn’t looked.  So he asked the other player what he folded and he just shrugged.  He “couldn’t remember.” Thus there was no way to determine which two of the four cards belonged to the guy who raised.  He screamed and ranted and raved, but his money was gone and when he put up enough of a ruckus, security was called and he was escorted out of the casino.
Although he never admitted it, there was no doubt in Brent’s mind (or in the mind of anyone else who witnessed this) that it was no accident that this player’s mucked cards ended up in mixed up with the raiser’s cards. 
Of course Jim loved that story, as any dealer would.
The moral of the story is, protect your hand at all times…especially if you’re stupid enough to raise all-in without looking at your cards first.

For a sequel to this story and one that personally involved me, check this post right here.  And for the tournament version of this same theme, see here.


I'm proud to report that two excellent poker blogs, Poker Grump and CrAAKKer, have picked up the batton and referenced the above post, and I thank them for it.  CrAAKKer actually posted a counterpoint argument to my entry, so you just definitely check it out if have not already done so!


  1. I can only think of once or twice that my hand wasn't protected and swept away.
    However it was more no harm no foul as I never even looked at the cards to know if I should have been upset or not lol.

    Also, a 2/5 game - $300 - $400 is standard starting stacks, not "a big stack"

    1. Yeah, like I'm ever gonna know what a big stack at a 2/5 game is!

      Those two times you had your hand taken before you looked were both pocket Kings and you would have lost to a rivered Ace and a rivered straight.

  2. Thanks Rob. I always protect in the 1 or 10 seat but almost never do it in the other seats. Never thought about the "accidental mucking" into my hand etc. Gonna make sure I do it from now on though.

    1. Definitely a good thing to do, glad I was able to warn people. Might also take heed that it is a bad thing to shove all in totally blind!

  3. I had pocket 8's once in seat 1. Two 8's on the flop gave me quads...did not win much of a pot, but was due a bonus. Luckily I had my cards covered because my friend who was sitting across from me mucked his cards toward the dealer and into my cards. The dealer saw my cards covered so did not muck my cards. Good thing for my friend as I would have had to take the bonus and the pot out of his hide ;-)

    1. Good story, Anony....yes that could have easily ended a friendship. More reason to remember to "protect your hand."

      Thanks for commenting.