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“Where are my cards?”

by Steve Zolotow |  Published: Aug 20, 2010


Protect your cardsIf you watch movies about the mob, you are familiar with the protection racket. It is a form of extortion in which the victim pays money to a person who provides protection from physical or property damage. It sounds a little like insurance, but there is a catch. If you don’t pay, the person offering protection actually causes the damage. When you play poker, you also need protection, but in this case, you have to protect your cards, your chips, and yourself. In theory, the dealer protects you, but just like the mob, he is often the one you need to protect against.

Let’s take a common situation. You are sitting in the seat next to the dealer, on his right. You have aces, and raise. Someone else reraises. You move all in, and he calls. You reach down to turn up your hand, but there are no cards in front of you. The dealer has swept them into the muck. In a perfect world full of perfect dealers, this would never happen. In the real world, which contains some tired and some incompetent dealers, it happens all the time. It is up to you to protect your hand. At the very least, put a chip on top of your cards and move them close to you. Even better, hold on to them. This also guards against someone flicking his cards toward the muck in such a way that one gets mixed in with your cards, killing your hand.

At the showdown, maintain control of your cards until it is clear that you have lost the hand or until the dealer pushes you the pot. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen four players see the flop; one bets out; the next two fold; and the last one still has his hand and is thinking. The bettor thinks everyone has folded, and pushes his hand into the muck, awaiting the pot. The thinker is now the only one with cards, and will be awarded the pot. Another common situation is the dealer misreading the board and starting to push the pot to the wrong person. First of all, you should know that you have the winner; second, it is best if your cards are still faceup (but the fact that you have displayed the winner should be enough); and third, you’d better squawk quickly and loudly.

In split-pot games and when hands tie in one-winner games, the dealer must divide the pot. Dealers frequently make errors. You must watch carefully to make sure that you get what you are entitled to. It is very common for a dealer to make a mistake with an odd chip left after splitting the pot. In a recent World Series of Poker tournament, the blinds were 500-1,000, and the pot consisted of nothing smaller than a 500-denomination chip. The dealer split a pot into two stacks of 4,500 each, and gave the odd 500-denomination chip to the player to the left of the button (in worst position). This would have been correct, except that the next round was to have blinds of 600-1,200, and 100-denomination chips were still in play. That 500-denomination chip should have been broken down, with 300 going to first player and 200 to the second.

Another common error occurs when two players have gone all in. If the winner clearly has a lot more chips than the loser, the dealer pushes him the pot. But when it is close or when the loser has a lot more chips, it is important to accurately count the amount the winner has in front of him and accurately match it from the other stack. It is very easy to be distracted by the win or loss of this big pot, and not pay attention to the count. Dealers usually get it right, but not always. You must protect your chips and watch the count carefully in order to ensure that you get everything that you are entitled to get.

There are rules to protect you, but if you don’t know them, you’ll end up being a victim. For example, do you know what constitutes a string-bet or string-raise? Basically, the rule is that all bets and raises should be performed in one motion. If someone bets 100 and you want to raise to 350, you can’t push out 300 and then go back to your stack and pick up another 50 to add to your bet. Instead, put it all out at once or announce exactly what you are doing, then do it. Many common problems involve using a large-denomination chip. When you are first to act and throw in a large-denomination chip, in no-limit, you are betting that amount. If someone else bets first and you throw in an oversized chip (larger denomination than necessary), it is only a call unless you announce a raise. Even after you learn to avoid making string-bets and string-raises, your opponents will make them. Most dealers don’t say anything, and leave it up to the players to object. I have always felt that this is a bad way to handle things, but since it is common, you must know how to deal with it. Obviously, you can object, and assuming that everyone agrees as to what happened, your opponent’s string-bet or string-raise will not be allowed. If, however, you have a great hand and welcome his questionable bet or raise, you can quickly raise or reraise. (It is because this gives you a “free shot” at your opponent that I think the dealer should immediately call string-bets and string-raises.)

While the subject of protecting yourself is not a very interesting one, it is better to spend a little time being bored and learning the proper rules and procedures. Don’t be the one who suddenly cries out, “Where are my cards?” Spade Suit

Steve “Zee” Zolotow, aka The Bald Eagle, is a successful games player. He currently devotes most of his time to poker. He can be found at many major tournaments and playing on Full Tilt, as one of its pros. When escaping from poker, he hangs out in his bars on Avenue A — Nice Guy Eddie’s and The Library near Houston, and Doc Holliday’s at 9th Street — in New York City.