Tonight, I encountered another example of the importance of protecting your hand, and this time I was an eyewitness. Even more relevant, the hand involved yours truly, very directly.
Here's the situation. Playing 1/2 at BSC, I was in late position, sitting in Seat 6 when I was dealt Ace-Queen offsuit. There had been a couple of limpers, and I raised to $10. It folded to Seat 9, who was either in early position and had limped or was the big blind. In any case, he called my $10 bet. Since the table is nine-handed, he was sitting directly on the dealer's right. Seat 9 seemed to have a German accent, so let's call him the German.
Everyone else folded, so it was heads up. Suddenly, just as the dealer was about to put out the flop, the German pointed out that he suddenly had only one card in front of him, not two. Apparently, when the dealer was neatening up the mucked cards, he inadvertantly caught the top card of the German's hand and it went into the muck. There was a card sticking out from the muck, touching it, but appearing to be a card that would likely be the German's missing hole card.
The dealer immediately called the Floor. A couple of people out of the hand wondered why, saying that his hand was automatically dead. But the dealer said he couldn't make that decision and that it was up to the Floor to decide.
The floorperson came over and heard the explanation. Without talking to me, he let the German whisper something into his ear, presumably the identity of the missing card. While he was whispering it, I took my hands and held them over my ears to make sure I didn't hear.
I was perfectly fine with whatever decision would be made. I sure didn't want to win this guy's ten bucks due to a dealer error, and that's what this was. The dealer had just reached too far in trying to straighten up the muck. Of course, as I explained in the prior post linked above, it is surely the player's responsbility to "protect the hand" by having a chip or some kind of card protector covering his cards, which is especially important for anyone sitting directly on either side of the dealer. I hadn't noticed whether the German, who had been at the table for at least an hour by now, had ever made any effort such as that to protect his hand, but I also knew that no dealer had warned him about it, either.
One of the reasons I was so willing to accept any decision they made was that both the dealer and the floorperson are well known to me and in some sense at least could be considered "pals" of mine. I've played poker with the dealer several times, as in he was playing poker with me, not dealing to me. The German had surely noticed that I was friendly with all the previous dealers as well, talking about things like we were old buddies. And I remembered this post here from Grange's excellent blog talking about how dealers acting friendly with the players can lead to the appearance of impropriety. So I wanted to just stay out of it, and I trusted my "pals" to do the right thing, not even sure what that was.
But two people on the other side of the table were not so willing to accept this. They thought it was outrageous that cards be conceivably be pulled out of the muck and restored to the hand. What if a player said he had a certain card, an ace, for example, and lied about it, and there just happened to be an ace in the muck? So they were expressing their concern as the floorperson was listening to the German and then starting to look for the card the German said was taken from him. Of course, both of the players complaining were out of the hand.
Floor took the card that the German thought was his and looked at it, and it was apprerently not the card the German spoke of. He took the next most likely card, and looked at it.....and then put the card back in the muck and declared the German's card dead, his $10 bet forfeited and the pot awarded to me. The German was somewhat upset, saying, "So you're just taking $10 from me....I've never heard of such a thing." But he didn't harp on it. Once he said his piece, he said nothing further, so I guess you could say he was a reasonably good sport about it.
I felt terrible. This is not the way I want to win a pot, to be sure. I didn't say anything, but I briefly considered giving him back his $10, not sure if they would even let me. I mean, technically, one player is not allowed to give another player at the same table chips under any circumstances. They didn't give me the option of just taking back our bets, which I frankly would have been fine with. So probably the only way I could have given him back the money would be to give him $10 cash out of my wallet. I didn't do this because I couldn't pocket $10 in chips off the table, that $10 I had "won" was in play. So I just took the money and felt bad about.
But my guilt was somewhat lessened because not too much earlier than that, I had lost more than $10 to the German when I had--ironically enough--Ace-Queen, and had raised to $10 and he was the only caller. The flop missed me, and he called my continuation bet. When the turn missed me as well, I checked and folded to his bet. He showed me he had 7-9 sooooooted and hit a pair of 7's on the flop (there were no paint cards on the board). So for calling my raise with a 7-9 and winning more money from me than he just lost by failing to protect his hand, I wasn't feeling all that guilty about it.
Meanwhile, the two players who were griping called a different floorperson over, who explained the policy, which I didn't hear, but he did confirm that the floor made the right decision, at least in the end.
Now, as I mentioned, I hadn't noticed if the guy had ever "protected his hand" before. After this incident, I did take note of it. While he was explaining to the guy why his hand was mucked, the Floor demonstrated to him how he should be putting a chip on his hand. So did the German learn his lesson? He did not. I never saw him protect his hand in anyway whatsoever after this $10 lesson. So that was another reason not to feel guilty.
My curiosity piqued, I had to ask my buddy, the floorperson, for a better explanation of what happened. So I went over to him some time later. He said initially he was "trying to be nice" in finding the card. The first card he looked at was not the right card, but the second card was the right card. However, he realized that it would be incorrect to return the mucked card to the player, and the right thing all along was to muck his hand. He was influenced to some degree by the constant harping of the two players on the other side of the table. But I'm sure that the fact that I'm a regular had nothing to do with him eventually making the correct decision based on house policy.
Presumably, if he had indeed returned the card to him, I could have made a stink about it and demanded to speak to the Shift Manager (also a "pal" of mine), but I wouldn't have done that. I mean for one thing, I thought this was a good chance to get some of my money back from the German--legitimately, I mean, and not because of dealer error, (and yes, most defnitely player error as well)
One last thing. The floorperson told me (because I asked) that the missing card was deuce, and the German had pocket deuces. So I would have been behind and in a race had the hand played out. We'll never what would have happened. I still feel that I won the ten bucks illegitimately, but I'm pretty sure I won't lose any sleep over it tonite.
But the important lesson here, one which the German didn't learn even though he paid ten bucks for that lesson is....protect your hand!
Note: for another take on the protecting your hand theme, this one involving a tournament, you can see a follow up tale right here.