A Look at House Rules: Setups
The setup! The very word “setup” brings to mind an instant flash of treachery and deceit, the kind one might encounter in a hoax or a scam. But the word setup has many definitions, including the position of a camera in a shoot, one’s body posture, a restaurant’s table setting, collective ingredients like a barber’s comb, scissors, and clippers, and more. Obviously, because we’re poker players, the setup we want to discuss today has to do with a deck of cards.
The setup referred to in your favorite card room is, in fact, two decks of cards — kept in one box — with each having differently colored backs, like red and blue or green and brown. Plastic cards can withstand a million or so shuffles. (That may be a teensy bit of an exaggeration, but plastic cards are designed to withstand heavy use.) In any case, a bad or worn card in the deck can easily be replaced. Most card rooms have automatic shufflers and the playing cards in use are plastic, like Kem or Copaq brand cards.
From the Manufacturer to the Card Room to the Tables
What happens when a card room receives a shipment of playing cards? Initially the cellophane is removed from the boxes, then the deck is spread to remove the jokers and any additional cards such as a brand name card, an index card, or an order list card for replacement cards. The decks then go back into the boxes and into the rotation.
There’s a pecking order in setups that is interesting because it follows the nature of card rooms that have high-stakes poker. In “A Look at House Rules: High-Limit vs. Low-Limit,” we pointed out a few of the differences between high-stakes and low-stakes rules in the same room, and in fact the journey decks take in rooms with both high- and low-stakes games reflects this hierarchy.
You must have figured out by now that new setups start their lifecycle of being the focal point of sweat, tears, joy, frustration, and sometimes even destruction in high-stakes games. If the room is full of action, those same setups would begin filtering down through the ranks to mid-stakes and then low-stakes after circulating through high-stakes for about a week.
Introducing a New Deck
When a new dealer enters a time game (see “A Look at House Rules: The Rake and Time Pots”), a new deck is brought into play.
Most card rooms only allow a deck change when the new dealer enters a high-stakes game and a new setup is brought in on the hour when time is collected. With an automatic shuffler installed, the deck is changed every hand. If the table isn’t equipped with an automatic shuffler, the deck is only changed on the half-hour and stays in play until the dealer change. Then when it’s time for a setup change, the floor person brings the new cards to the table and removes the used decks.
With a fresh setup on the table, it’s up to the dealer to spread the deck in a fan and verify that all cards and suits are accounted for. The dealer next turns the deck upside down and does a quick scan of the back of the cards, then it’s time to scramble and shuffle or place the deck into the automatic shuffler. Once play begins, another procedure normally employed to verify the integrity of the deck is to require the dealer to count “the stub” (the remainder of the deck at the end of the hand) at least once during each down.
Sounds simple enough, right? Wrong! If it were, there would be no need for house rules concerning setups.
“These Cards Stink! I Want a New Deck!”
See, one big problem with poker is that the mind gets the better of people. Even when you know there are more bad cards in the deck than good cards — the aces and faces — you still can’t help but wonder if there’s a big magnetic X embedded in your forehead and and -offsuit have a homing device in them that’s fine-tuned to signal your location, no matter where you play.
Some players really believe the deck is against them and they want a new deck or setup every few hands. By the way, here’s a tip — you want to play against a player with this mindset. Logical, skilled players who understand the game are harder to beat than a player who is running on a superstition-based platform.
Changing decks costs the house and you money each time it happens because the game stops completely for the procedure. The only reasons to change a deck are if a card is damaged, if the deck is fouled, or if you believe someone at the table may have tampered with the deck.
Rules for Changing Decks
The following are some of the rules you may encounter when it comes to deck changes in any card room you frequent:
- Players requesting a setup have to ask the dealer, and the dealer then requests a new setup from card room management.
- Both decks are replaced, e.g. one setup goes out, another setup comes in.
- In extremely high-stakes games a new setup is brought in on the hour, but a player can request a change any time.
- Time games normally receive a new setup once an hour, and requests for setup changes are not allowed.
- Rake games usually have the same setup in play for hours. If an occasional request is made it would be honored, but if a player continually wants a deck or setup change, a time limit could go into effect that could range as high as four or more hours.
- If a card is damaged or the deck is fouled, a replacement is made immediately.
Of course by now you’re wondering where the little Setup Elves are hiding that sort the setups into numerical order and by suit after they are removed from play. Those elves are cleverly disguised as the phone person and/or dealers on break.
When a card room is extremely busy, you may hear an announcement over the loudspeaker like this, “All dealers going on break, there’s a card party on table X.” That means the room is low on sorted setups and all breaking dealers are expected to stop by and sort a setup before leaving the room. Sorry to disappoint but a card party isn’t about cocktails and appetizers, it’s about getting the decks ready to roll out more winning hands. We call them “winning hands” because after all, every hand produces a winner!
If you’re curious as to the order of the setup, usually the cards are sorted with the top of deck showing spades, hearts, clubs, and diamonds when spread face-up beginning with the ace in numerical order and ending with the king.
Changing setups and decks in a home game should never require a rule in our opinion. Many home games use paper cards instead of plastic cards, but regardless of the composition of the cards, the decks may remain in play until the spots fall off of them.
It’s possible the host keeps a steady supply of new plastic cards for weekly games and has a stack of replacement cards taken from other decks as they wear out. It’s also possible you’ll find it difficult to peel your cards apart to look at them, let alone deal them, because snacks and beverages take a toll on the finish over time.
Once in a blue moon, literally, you may find it easier to absorb a beat if you can destroy the card that cost you the pot, and doing so usually brings a laugh from everyone else. Make sure you have a replacement deck with you for the host if you do it, but don’t start a precedent. If it happens once, it’s funny. If it happens again, it can be the beginning of a problem.
In most online poker rooms you have the option to change the color or design of the backs of cards of the “deck.” Most also allow you to choose a four-color deck that displays suits in red, green, blue, and black. Choosing those options are as close as you’ll get to a deck change in online poker.
Jumping into your favorite online poker game is, as always, uncomplicated and easy. You look at hundreds of hands per hour when you multi-table, the deck is never changed, the game never slows down, and the cards hit the virtual felt hour after hour. That is poker perfection, in our opinion.