Monday, August 6, 2007

Showdown Etiquette

Executive summary of my quasi-rant: if you are called and your opponent doesn't instantly and obviously reveal out of turn, failing to reveal your hand promptly is an annoying breach of etiquette.


Surreal Lunch Poker (hereafter SLP) used to do tournament-style all ins: by house rule, both players would show their hands, and the hand would be dealt out. Now, we have gravitated towards true cash-game style: in an all-in situation, neither player is required to reveal his hand until the river, at which point, the player who was called is obligated to show his hand first. Then, the caller may opt to show a better hand to take the pot, or just muck. (Or show a worse hand, of course.)

Now, it's the responsibility of the caller to force the called to reveal by leaving their hand face down until the called player shows. Many players, myself included, are aware of frequent opportunities to avoid showing their hand when their all in is called, because many players habitually flip their hand up tournament style after they make the call. The called player sees that they are beat, and opts to muck.

Martin pulled this on at least two people today: TJ called Martin's all in, showed his hand, the board was dealt out, and Martin mucked. It happened again against Dave, even as I was telling him, "You called Martin, make him show his hand."

We discuss this aspect of our game a bit, and Martin said something along these lines: "If you call someone's all in and you have a really strong hand, though, you should show right away; it's bad etiquette not to."

As someone continually frustrated by having to ask Martin to show me his hand when I've called his all in, I vehemently disagreed. I went as far as to say that Martin's tactic of never voluntarily revealing his hand when he moves all in and is called is, in fact, a far worse breach of etiquette. (To his credit and to the amusement of the table, Martin agreed.)

I want to take it a step further and say that:

1) Forcing someone you have called to show his hand when you are holding the stone-cold, unchoppable nuts is not in any way a breach of etiquette. Poker is a game of information, and you should absolutely get every shred of information that you paid for.

2) When you are called, refusing to show your hand until you are verbally requested to do so is a breach of etiquette, and is in fact, borderline angle shooting when done habitually in an effort to avoid showing hands.

I'm talking to you, sushicowboy.

You are the king of reverse slowrolling...even though you know you have been called and you know it is your obligation to reveal your hand, you sit there at the river and wait, hoping to induce your opponent to reveal first. Many of your opponents at SLP and WNP eventually oblige you in this spot because they don't have these fine-point rules down pat, and figure they must have to show.

Or, my other "favorite:" when they don't reveal on the river, you slooooowly staaaaaaaart to tuuuuuuuuuurn your haaaaaaaaaand ooooooooooover....your opponent sees you doing this, turns their hand over at normal human speed, and you muck before revealing yours.


So, since it came up today, I'm officially calling you out on it, Martin. It's BS. Stop playing head games at the river, trying to induce your opponents into showing first when you were called. You were called. Show. Your. Damn. Hand. It's especially frustrating to watch you attempt it against players like Nick, Joe, myself, and others, who are only going to let you get away with that crap in our very weakest, distracted moments.

I don't blame you for the hands like the ones against TJ and Dave today, they both revealed their hands while the final card was still being dealt, and I would happily muck my losing hand in that situation as well. However, if someone calls my all in, it gets to the river, and they have made no move to show me their hand, I show mine without hesitation.

Because that's good etiquette.


Marshall said...

Hmmm I guess I just don't pay that much attention in these spots. I haven't noticed Martin doing this, but I haven't looked for it either.

I guess I am a bit shortsighted and when someone really slowly is rolling their hand, I roll mine because I figure I am good.

Strangely, the only person against whom I really try to make them show if called is Ryan, and thats just because he does it.

I guess I feel like I am taking mercy on the opponent if they don't want to show. I feel like it means I have the best hand, and they are sort of saying "Ok you got me, end this quickly".

I am however leaving information on the table.

It just FEELS like bad etiquette to force someone to show for some reason. I am not sure why. I am also not sure why I haven't really considered this yet.

Ryan said...

Wait, did "Marshall" just speak of "mercy" at the poker table?

Whoever you are, give us your demands for Marshall's safe return. The jig is up, though; you've blown your cover and we know you have him.

Oh, and if someone *really* doesn't want to show their hand when I've called them, they can absolutely muck. But then I get to muck mine, too.

Part of being called is showing your hand promptly or mucking promptly. Period.

nick said...

IMO, not making the bettor show his hand (when you are nearly sure that you are best) is the "nice thing to do", but I don't think that it's required by poker etiquette by any means.

There are a couple of reasons not to make the bettor show his hand. First, it simply keeps the game moving faster so you'll get in more hands/hour. Not just on this particular hand, but you also encourage other players to just flip their cards without worrying about the information war. In general it's best to maintain as carefree of an attitude as possible at the table.

Second (and the biggest reason, imo) is to avoid unnecessarily embarrassing a bad player. If some donk is continuously playing bad hands and making stupid bluffs with them, the last thing you want to do is make him turn over his trash and show it to the whole table. No comment on whether this applies to martin... :p

Ryan said...

On rereading my original post, I want to retract one thing and clarify another.

First, I retract the suggestion that being slow to reveal your hand when called is a borderline "angle shoot." It's not even close. Angle shooting is truly dastardly business, twisting rules and acting way outside their spirit with the sole intention of making a few extra bucks. Nothing about a delayed reveal is designed to make extra money--it's the opposite, because if you are correct that once an opponent shows his hand, you can muck without showing, it means you've lost the hand.

And to clarify...I laid into Martin there for what I feel is a bad habit of his, but I made it out to be way more calculated and underhanded than I should have. My armchair shrink diagnosis is that it's only a habit for Martin because of his weak/tight nature. He's always preparing for his opponents to show him a hand that's beating him, so he instinctively holds back his own hand until he can verify the bad news and muck. I don't think he's consciously trying to get away with something in the "information game" as much as he's unconsciously being the Eeyore of poker.

Anyway, joining forces with Martin to maintain WNP has benefited my poker on many levels [insert "me taking his money" joke here], and I think Marty is the greatest. Even if sometimes he won't show me his damned hand without a court order...

Sushi Cowboy said...

Oh boy. Where do I start?

Let me begin by quoting from Roberts Rules. There is a copy available here for everyone's perusal.

Item #8 under showdown.
If everyone checks (or is all-in) on the final betting round, the player who acted first is the first to show the hand. If there is wagering on the final betting round, the last player to take aggressive action by a bet or raise is the first to show the hand. In order to speed up the game, a player holding a probable winner is encouraged to show the hand without delay. If there are one or more side pots (because someone is all-in), players are asked to aid in determining the pot winner by not showing their cards until a pot they are in is being settled.

So the first nugget to extract from that is the first sentence. If a player is all in on the river as I was against TJ. The person left of the button (TJ) shows first. That is one specific scenario where the rule states what to do and the rule is NOT that the person who was called must show first. I've even seen this rule specifically enforced when a floor was called over at the MGM Grand.

The second nugget to extract is where it states that the probable winner (like someone holding the nuts) should show their hand so that everyone else at the table can move on to the next hand. This is also reinforced by one of the rules in the etiquette section which states "The following actions are improper, and grounds for warning, suspending, or barring a violator: ... Needlessly stalling the action of a game." What the rulebook is saying is, if you have a strong hand, show it so everyone can move on.

Those are established published rules which are largely adopted in card games around the world. They are usually the default set of rules which are only amended by house rules.

I feel fully justified in not showing my hand immediately when I am the person who acts last in a showdown if there is no betting on the river.

There are times where I feel that I am most likely beat and that my opponent also feels that they are almost certainly beating me. In those situations I expect them to show their hand first not because I am trying to angle shoot but because I think that everyone's read is that I have a second best hand and that the presumed winner would open his hand. I know when I am coming in light. I am pretty sure that others know too based on how much we play together along with my betting patterns and playing style.

When I have a strong or presumed winning hand, I table my hand immediately. I do this regardless of if I called or was called. I am not always afraid that I am beat (often but not always). I do not ALWAYS hold back my cards waiting for someone else to show. Two examples from last Friday: 1) Marsh leads for 100 I push, he calls, I show my Broadway straight immediately. No drama. 2) I lead out on the river for 100, Ryan calls me. I show my bluff of JT for two Jacks which (as suspected) loses to Ryans QQ. Again, no drama.

If there is betting on the river and I bet and am called then yes, technically the action is on me. There are times that if I feel that I am beat then I am slow to reveal. Maybe I feel that I am beat more than I actually am or than I should feel. For those times when action is on me and I am slow to reveal I apologize and I promise to improve on that.

As to whether someone MUST show, I take issue with that. The mantra of "but I PAID to see those cards" doesn't wash with me. The person who bet and was called put just as much money into the pot and in my opinion has the right to muck his cards. Technically, the person who called can still request to see them but now we are getting into essentially accusing someone of cheating and I don't think that is warranted. This is my personal opinion. I am open to taking a vote on this among the WNP crowd and will respect the wishes of the majority. If we want to adopt a "must show when called" policy then so be it. Otherwise, I think we should have a "show or muck" option when it is on the person who was called after betting on the river. If the person feels that they are beat, they would be able to just muck their cards and surrender the pot. Why would the person who called worry about it if they take down the pot? Another thing to remember is if Player A insists on seeing Player B's cards after being mucked. If they can be identified and retrieved that they are live again and if they beat Player A's hand then Player A would lose the pot they would have won if the cards remained mucked.

In a bigger picture, I feel that the showdown should be a mechanism to award the pot. It should be to determine the winner, not to out the loser. If you want the pot, show your cards. As Nick points out, why would you want to discourage someone calling with weak hands by making them show their junk?

Ryan's post seems to have been largely directed at me so I would like to add some of my own observations about Ryan on this issue.

* In my opinion, he seems to be the person by far most distressed about this issue, if not the only person.
* I feel there must have been times when he has insisted that someone show their hand when they were not obliged to by standard poker rules.
* He has insisted on seeing what (in my opinion) he feels is the losing hand which I feel is unnecessary and delays the game.
* He has insisted that someone show their hand even when he was not involved in the showdown nor the dealer in the hand.

I am not saying that this is Ryan's problem and his only. But I will say that I do not feel it is a widespread issue. It is my desire to run games which move smoothly and with a minimum of conflict. I look forward to more discussion on the matter and reaching consensus so that we can hammer out a clear set of house rules to address showdown situations.

Ryan said...

OK, one reply before I buckle down for work...

First, while, it's hard to argue with Robert's Rules, I will anyway: that's the dumbest thing I've ever seen in Robert's Rules. It's a basic tenant of poker that in the final betting round of a hand, if you bet and are called, you show your hand. "I'll look you up." "You have to pay to find out." "I'll keep you honest." "I have to see." "Information call." The poker language is filled with references to the basic idea that when you are called, you show.

I might actually write him for an explanation of this rule, but my feeling is that it's a weird casino case having to do with memory issue. Even though it's common sense that a player whose bet is called should show, the rule is set up to contradict common sense to avoid having procedure on one street be dictated by actions from a previous street. I can see that for a casino, but for a home game it seems silly to me that you wouldn't use common sense rules of betting and calling to handle an all-in scenario.

Re: Martin's observations about me on this issue:

In my opinion, he seems to be the person by far most distressed about this issue, if not the only person.

"Most distressed" wouldn't be my choice of wording, but "who cares most" works for me. I take poker seriously, and I'm a rules lawyer who believes you should get what you pay for, and in poker, that includes information about a player's hand who has been called in the final betting round.

I feel there must have been times when he has insisted that someone show their hand when they were not obliged to by standard poker rules.

I have never knowingly demanded to see a hand against my understanding of the rules (if you are called, you show), or the rules of etiquette (like, asking to see the caller's hand at a showdown). As a rules lawyer, it goes both ways: I want to see hands I think should be exposed based on the rules, but I would never demand to see a hand the rules don't say should be exposed.

If I ever do such a thing, call me on it on the spot: if I am in error, you will see Arrogant Rules Lawyer Ryan turn into Apologetic Embarrassed Ryan, and it will probably shut me up for a couple of orbits, at least.

He has insisted on seeing what (in my opinion) he feels is the losing hand which I feel is unnecessary and delays the game.

It's information I paid for, and I will not apologize for doing this, nor will I stop doing it. Maximizing that mental file cabinet about how people play various hands is dependent on seeing all the hands you have paid to see. The fault is not with me for waiting to see a hand I have called down, the fault is with the bettor for making me and the rest of the table wait when it is the bettor's clear obligation to show (or muck: let's be clear that I have no problem with the bettor mucking in response to a call on the river).

He has insisted that someone show their hand even when he was not involved in the showdown nor the dealer in the hand.

I definitely ask players to show hands in pots I'm not in if they were called and the opponent hasn't revealed yet. Again, I'm trying to maximize my file cabinet by encouraging others to adhere to the basic concept of betting and calling. If you bet on the river and are called, you need to expose your hand to the whole table or concede the pot. I have no problem enforcing that process.

I have probably also made pleading, "Aw, come on, show us, you were called!" type comments when the caller has shown and the bettor is about to muck. I would never demand in that spot, though; once the caller exposes, the right to see the bettor's hand is forfeit. If I've ever come across as demanding it, I apologize.

But seriously, does that "all in before the river" part of Robert's Rules really make common sense to anyone given the basic tenants of poker? It feels like a casino loophole case where they can't have action from a previous street dictate procedure on a later street due to memory issues. It inarguably goes against the basic spirit of making a bet and getting called in a game of poker.

I'm all in favor of expediency and straightforwardness when it comes to exposure of hands, which is why I support the universal adoption of the basic premise that if you bet and are called in the final betting round (even if that's the flop because of an all in), show your hand immediately.

If everyone adhered to that basic concept, there would be no slowdowns, no controversy, and no Ryan saying, "Wait, you called him, make him show!" from outside the hand...

K, I'm done with TNP posts until this evening at the earliest! Oh, and Martin is still the greatest, I want to be crystal clear on that point.

Sushi Cowboy said...

Ryan is a valued regular to WNP and I want to make sure that his concerns are addressed.

Below is a draft at clarification of showdown protocol.

* If there is betting on the final betting round, the last person to bet is the first person to show. Or to paraphrase, in a heads up showdown the person who called the bet has the right to show last.
* If there is no betting on the final betting round then showdown order starts left of the button and continues clockwise.
* When it is someone's turn to show down they have the option to either show or muck. This action should be done promptly.
* If a player has the likely winning hand, they are encouraged to show their hand first even if they were the one calling a bet.

I think that following the above procedures will help to keep the game running smoothly for everyone. If anyone has comments, please chime in.

Also, Ryan, here is the email for Bob Ciaffone (the Robert of Robert's Rules): I previously emailed him about a different subject and was pleasantly surprised by this prompt and thorough response. If you mail him, please let us know what he has to say about the rationale for showdown order.

Ryan said...

So if the SB and button are heads up on the flop, the button moves all in, and the SB calls, are you saying we go with Robert's Rules and the SB has to show first?

I wrote to Bob about it, I'll let you know what he says, but I'm curious to know what others think, Martin in particular.

Does this rule actually make sense to you, and does it feel "correct" in the context of WNP or SLP?

Marshall is usually the one saying, "Yeah, but why?" when I or someone else cites a special-case rule in a game. This time it's me.

I see the rule, Martin...but why? Well, hopefully Bob will enlighten us, and I will certainly post his response if I get one.

My apologies for coming off so harshly in my original post. I am a born ranter, and when I get going, what sounds "barbed but playful" in my head as I'm hammering out a post can sound "barbed and downright mean" in the actual presentation...

Ryan said...

Bob speaks! Exchange below.


Hi Bob,

There has been some recent debate in my poker group about the etiquette and rules surrounding who reveals cards first in a showdown situation. Naturally, we turned to Robert’s Rules, and found item #8 under “showdown:”

If everyone checks (or is all-in) on the final betting round, the player who acted first is the first to show the hand. If there is wagering on the final betting round, the last player to take aggressive action by a bet or raise is the first to show the hand. In order to speed up the game, a player holding a probable winner is encouraged to show the hand without delay. If there are one or more side pots (because someone is all-in), players are asked to aid in determining the pot winner by not showing their cards until a pot they are in is being settled.

According to these rules, if the small blind and the button are heads up to the flop, the button moves all in, and the small blind calls, the small blind is obligated to reveal first despite being the caller, not the bettor.

This flies in the face of the basic poker tenant that if you bet and are called in the last betting action of the hand, you show your cards first. I was wondering why the standard poker rules would go against the common sense approach that when you’re called, you show.

My personal theory is that it’s a “memory” issue: it would be bad casino policy to have the procedure on one street be dictated by the actions from a previous street, as you could end up with people arguing over what the action was back on the flop when the players ended up all in. By making the rules look only at the current street, this problem is avoided.

Would you agree that for a more casual home game, going with a basic bettor-driven policy makes more sense? If there are never any disputes or debates over who went all in and who called on a pre-river street, shouldn’t the player who moved in be obligated to show first once the river is dealt?

Thank you for your time, and for all your contributions to the poker community.



I have been fighting the whole poker industry on this issue. I agree with you 100 percent. I am not free to use whatever rules I want, despite the fact that they are my rules! The rule you quote is pretty universal--the wrong way.

My suggestion is that you adopt for your money games the tmt rule that when the betting is over because all players are all-in, all hands are shown before further cards are dealt.


Interesting, thanks for the quick reply! So are the “standard rules” this way for the reason I surmised, then? That casinos want to avoid disputes about what the action was on previous streets?


Your surmise is partly right. There is also simply poker tradition.

Sushi Cowboy said...

As the rule is written, yes the SB would show first. I assume that this is an extension of the rule that all action always works clockwise from left of the button on each street. Let's say that there was a bet from the BB and a call from the SB on the flop. When the turn card is dealt, action starts with the SB regardless of who bet and who called on the flop. In that context, I think it makes sense that the action of showing cards again proceeds clockwise from left of the button. I do not know what Bob's rationale is and it will be interesting to see what he has to say. Yet another reason not to play out of position I guess! ;)

Sushi Cowboy said...

Hey, how did Ryan's comment get in before mine? Odd. Anyway. Bob's suggestion is an interesting one. It is certainly one that we are used to from tournament play.

It doesn't quite address the issue where there is no betting on the river and neither player is all in. Action would still proceed from the SB.

But if there is enough interest to implement a house rule to address the needs/desires of the majority of the players then I am game.

Ryan said...

We must have been composing simultaneously and I hit "publish" first.

Anyway, in a non-all in, checked river, going around from the button makes perfect sense to me.

All in before the river, though...even Bob doesn't think people should use Robert's Rules! I would grudgingly be OK with adopting tournament standards as a compromise, but Mr. Rules himself agrees that we shouldn't force the out-of-position player who called an all in to show first...

Marshall said...

There is a weird gray area between rules and guidelines/etiquette here.

I think that this is at the heart of a lot of the showdown etiquette stuff we have been exploring. Ryan says that it's the rule that the called person should flip their cards immediately, or muck immediately. Them are the rules. But I find that there is an "exchange" of sorts in those spots, where if the bettor is hesitating to roll, then I will roll for them, assuming I am probably good. It's not in the rules, but its part of the game.

It's also my choice whether I table my hand in that spot or make him show/muck first.

Take a similar situation with chopping blinds. Ryan is an advocate of doing the same thing each time during a session, given that none of the major game factors (# of players at table etc) have changed. But the rule is that it's case by case. I am in no way obligated to chop or not chop blinds at any given juncture. I would feel like a dick if I did once then changed my mind the next orbit for no reason.

There is also no rule against slow rolling. I can do it if I want to with the nuts. And I could justify by saying "I am well within the rules by doing this". But it wouldn't feel right.

I think that the whole etiquette thing comes into play for showdown also. The RULE is that the bettor shows/mucks immediately, but it doesn't feel right to force that to happen if the caller doesn't want it to. You are well within your rights to ask for them to show, but doing it as a rule, just feels weird.

Just because its within the rules, doesn't mean it feels right I guess.


Sushi Cowboy said...

Yes, the rule is the bettor shows/mucks first but as mentioned earlier, "a player holding a probable winner is encouraged to show the hand without delay" is also in the rules. So someone slow rolling the nuts would be in violation of that portion of the rule on top of being poor etiquette.

Since the original post singled me out, let's just try rolling with the clarification bullet points I outlined earlier. I have already made concerted efforts in the SLP to make sure I do not delay any showdowns that I am involved in so I think this is going to end up being a non-issue going forward. If there is any time when any of us steps out of line then let's handle that on the spot. Sound good?

Marshall said...

Ya the issue has been resolved, but I think there is more to this than just this specific situation.

Like the example I gave, the player is encouraged to not slow roll, but not required. It is within the rules to slow roll, but not at all within the etiquette.

I feel like if you are called, you are allowed that pause to "ask" for the other person to show first. I don't think it should be discouraged. If someone is taking a really long time and its obvious that the caller isn't going to show until the bettor does, then I think it's bad etiquette to make the person ask you to do it.

I have never viewed it as an issue though, so I am probably more impartial than others about this.

Top2 said...

Isn't poker illegal in Washington?

Top2 said...

Isn't poker illegal in Washington?

Top2 said...

Hey, look, double post

Ryan said...

Hi Top2, I was wondering when we'd get a comment from outside our play group. :)

Online poker is illegal in Washington (even more so than it is in the rest of the country). In fact, it's technically in the same legal territory as being a pedophile. However, it's completely unenforced from a player standpoint.

Private, no-rake cash games are perfectly legal in Washington, as opposed to say, California, where they are not.

Where do you play?

Bob Loblaw said...

Are we taking votes on this? If so, I like Bob's recommendation of:

for your money games the tmt rule that when the betting is over because all players are all-in, all hands are shown before further cards are dealt.

Less confusion all around. Maybe not as "sportsman" like, but it will stop the confusion and apparent slow-rolling.