A Look at House Rules: Hole Cards
If you're completely new to the game of poker, you may not know that your cards are referred to as “hole cards.” There are a few other names for hole cards that may get tossed around at the table — just to help build your game knowledge, here are a few: pockets, tickets, and down cards.
Last time we discussed the order of showing cards when a hand goes to showdown in “A Look at House Rules: The Order of Showdown.” But there are other rules in most live poker rooms that are in effect specifically for hole cards. Check with your favorite card room if you have questions.
In all poker rooms, the “cards speak” rule applies to turning over your hole cards and having the dealer read the hand. Even if you misread your hand, or are trying to terrorize your opponent's verbally by declaring a winning hand that you do not hold, your cards must be turned up in order to claim any part of the pot — with one exception.
Playing the board
There's always an exception, right? Just when you think you have a solid understanding of everything that can happen in a poker game, you have to handle a curve ball.
For this exception to the “cards speak” rule, in some live poker rooms before you toss your hand into the muck, you must declare, “I'm playing the board.” That statement means exactly that — you can't beat the board and your hole cards have no bearing on the hand. Playing the board is more common in high-limit games, but could occur in low-limits, too.
Exposing hole cards
Not only is showing hole card(s) while the hand is in progress completely wrong, it most likely will cause your hand to be declared “dead” by poker room management. Here is a brief example showing the effect of exposing one or both hole cards while a hand is in progress:
Player A raises preflop and four players call to see a flop of . The action then goes crazy, with all sorts of bets and raises going in before the hits the turn.
Player B has a set of deuces (three of a kind) with in the hole and tries to eliminate other players who may be on a flush or a straight draw by exposing the hand while betting the turn. Player C has and Player D — each have just a pair, and so knowing they cannot possibly run down a set on the river card they pitch their hands.
However, unknown to Player B is the fact that Player A flopped a set of aces with , meaning Player B is drawing nearly dead (with only the case deuce left as a remaining out). In other words, Player B just ruined Player A’s action and the opportunity to win a much bigger pot by exposing those deuces.
What if Player B hit that one-outer on the river? The best guess is the hand would be declared dead. But consider the possibility that the hand was allowed to play — Player B would have also lost the opportunity to claim one or more big bets on the river because Player A would have most likely put in multiple raises with aces full of deuces.
Retrieval of mucked hands
The floor person may decide that a mucked hand can be taken out of the dead card pile and used in declaring the winning hand if the hand was shown on the table before it was mucked and the hole cards are positively retrievable. (Yes, it happens — sometimes the excitement and flurry of cards and chips can create unfortunate circumstances.) In that event, the hole cards are considered to be a live hand.
Speaking of the muck, here are a couple of tips to keep in mind:
First, if you go to showdown with a player and turn up the winner as your opponent folds his or her hand face down towards the dealer, do not ask to see the hand. If you make the request, in most card rooms the dealer would pick up the hand, tap it on the deck, and declare “dead hand” before turning it up. But if the hand isn’t declared dead by the dealer or the player turns it up, it can be considered to be a live hand — and if it is the best hand, you will lose the pot.
Second, always keep your hole cards protected, either by placing chips, your lucky charm, or your fingers on your cards. At the end of the hand, turn them up in front of you and hold on to them. Occasionally a losing player will throw his or her cards down the table and the cards can foul your hand if it isn’t protected.
Your local home game may be tried and true and have everything ironed out when it comes to hole card rules, but then again, most home games could become crazy as the night progresses and showing of hole cards could be part of the game.
The best bet is still always to maintain control of your hole cards, even if opening them to the rest of the players by placing them on your forehead in Indian Poker is part of the game.
Online poker is such a sweet, carefree way to play poker. The software deals the hand, all action is in a controlled, orderly fashion, and hands called down are shown — no arguments, no mistakes, your hand cannot be fouled, and you cannot throw away a winner if you call on the river. You are given the option on many online poker sites to show your cards on the river if no one calls your bet; otherwise, unless you call at showdown, your cards are mucked — and irretrievable.
Always protect the integrity of the game and the players who take a seat with you by giving them a fair opportunity to win with the best hand. Showboating, laughing, and having fun are all part of the big picture, but remember everyone is trying to win. Hopefully the other players at your table will give you the same courtesy.