Last night I saw the craziest thing I’ve ever seen at a poker table. I still can’t tell you exactly what really happened. But here’s how it went down:
For anybody who doesn’t know, a quick recap of how Texas Holdem is played: Everybody is dealt two cards face down to start the hand. The two players immediately to the left of the dealer button (a plastic disc that moves clockwise around the table with every deal, simulating who would be dealing the hand if there wasn’t a paid dealer sitting there doing it for you) are required to put in bets, called the small blind and the big blind, in order to get the action started. From there, play proceeds clockwise around the table until the action gets back to the big blind, who is last to act on the first round of betting.
So here’s what happened. I was in the small blind, between the button and the big blind. The cards came out, and the action went around the table. Two guys folded, the third guy raised the $2 big blind to $10, and two other guys called the $10. The button then re-raised to $45, and the action was on me.
I’m about to look at my hand when I hear the big blind say “Wait, I only have one card.” The dealer halts the action and there is a brief search for the missing card. Did it go under the rail? Off the table? No. The dealer says “I’m certain I dealt you two cards.” But the second card is nowhere to be found.
Now, immediately I’m thinking this has to be a misdeal. If a player is dealt the wrong number of cards, that’s a misdeal and the cards are brought back in, re-shuffled, and dealt again. The dealer calls the floor, however, and he rules completely differently. He says that since there was significant action behind the error before it was spotted, a misdeal can’t be declared. As it turns out, this is definitely the proper ruling, according to Robert’s Rules of Poker, even though I was convinced at the time that it was the wrong call. The dealer gives the big blind the next card off the deck, and play continues. I fold my hand, the big blind disgustedly folds his, and everybody else in turn folds back to the button.
Up to this point this is already one of the weirder things I’ve seen happen at a poker table. But what happens now makes it the weirdest thing by far. The dealer pushes the pot to the player on the button, who has won the hand without a showdown. He is in no way obligated to show his hand now, and most people wouldn’t. They’d just toss the cards in the muck and stack their chips. Instead, he gleefully tosses his hand face up into the center of the table, revealing two queens. And a deuce.
Yes indeed, there it is for everybody to see–the missing card, in the winning player’s hand. The button immediately claims ignorance. He say’s “I didn’t know! I only saw the two queens!” Which seems completely impossible to me. It’s basically impossible to have three cards instead of two and not notice. Unless two of the cards were well and truly stuck together, just the way most poker players look at their hands by folding up the corners and squeezing the cards apart would immediately clue you in to the extra card.
But if he really did know he had three cards, why on earth would he show them when he didn’t have to? He could have easily mucked the cards and nobody would have ever known. The dealer would have counted the deck, found there were 52 cards, and the mystery of the missing card in the big blind’s hand would have gone unsolved and been forgotten. But turning the cards face up ignites another shit storm. The players who invested money in the pot want their money back, claiming they lost to an illegal hand that should be killed. They want the entire hand nullified and all money returned.
The floor comes back over, and again rules that nothing can be done. The action was completed, and the pot awarded. One hand being illegal apparently makes no difference at that point. If the hand had gone to a showdown and the illegal hand was revealed, then it would have been disqualified and the pot awarded to someone else. But since nobody called his $45 raise, nothing could be done, even though he revealed the illegal hand afterwards.
I still don’t know what really happened. I was sitting between the two players, with probably the best view of the situation, and didn’t notice anything. How did the big blind’s card end up in the button’s hand? Which card (first or second one dealt) was the one that ended up in the button’s hand? I don’t know.
But most importantly, why on earth did the button show the illegal hand? Did he really not know he had three cards? I find that almost impossible to believe, and yet it’s nearly the only thing that makes any sense. Why would he reveal his illegal hand otherwise? There’s no reason at all to do so, and it could have resulted in a different ruling from the floor–there’s an obscure rule in Robert’s Rules of Poker (which is the rule book a lot of casinos have adopted) which says that any player who knows the deck is fouled and yet acts anyway, without saying anything to anybody, can have his hand ruled dead. Play is then stopped and that deal is ended. Any money already in the pot is then held over to the next deal, and only players who were dealt into the previous hand are eligible for the next hand. I have never, ever seen this ruled invoked and didn’t know it existed, but this seems like a place where it could have been invoked.
So either the guy is the dumbest cheat of all time, or that was one of the wildest sequences of unlikely events to ever occur. I guess I’ll never know which it was.