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Dead hands protect the integrity of the game

6 January 2006

Dear Mark, I have a question concerning a dead hand in poker. Here’s the scenario: I'm playing Texas Hold'em heads up till the river card. First position bets, I call and turn over my cards. First position is excited he won, slams his cards on the table face up, but one card falls on the floor. What is the correct ruling? Isn't it a dead hand when the card leaves the table? Larry R.

There is nothing better, Larry, than when you’ve dead meat holding a crappy hand, and an opponent hits a straight flush on the river and slams the hand down in excitement yelling, "Beat that, Sucker!" only to have one of the cards bounce off the table and onto the floor. Too bad, so sad, you’re now glad. He just lost all interest in the pot. The hand, Larry, is forfeited once that card falls off the table.

According to the rules of just about every poker room you’ll ever play in, any card not in play, or one that cannot be played for some technical reason, like a card being dropped on the floor, by either the dealer or an overly excited player, creates a dead hand. The player must "have it and show it," meaning to complete the hand, the player must present two cards, and it wouldn't have mattered if the card that flew off was or was not needed to complete the straight flush. Once any card leaves the sight of fellow players, there is no way to verify that the card that comes off the floor was the same card that left the table. Calling it dead, Larry, protects the integrity of the game.

There is one exception. Say for instance that nobody called first position’s hand and everybody folded, and first position in his exuberance slams his cards on the table. Even if one card flies off the game, the winning pot would still be his.

Dear Mark,
Last week you stated that there was no difference between playing one coin and five coins in regards to what hand that appears on the screen. But wouldn't playing one coin affect the possible future value of the hand? Gayle F.

You are correct, Gayle, in that if you don’t play the maximum coin amount on most video poker machines, the royal flush’s return would be affected since, on a Jacks or Better machine, that would be an example of a hand whose per-coin payoff is different with five coins played. Playing short can reduce the long-term payback by up to 1.5%.

Another example would be in some double-pay Deuces Wild games where you receive double pay on four deuces, but only if you play five coins. If you play less than the maximum coin amount, your long-term payback can be reduced by over five percent.

Dear Mark,
Do the casinos really allow you to look at a blackjack strategy card while playing? David S.

As you already know, David, playing your hand correctly will bring the casino advantage down to less than 1%. Since you cannot control how the cards fall, you must focus on what you can control — how to play the hand you were dealt. Using a blackjack strategy card allows you to go nearly even up against the house.

Luckily, almost every casino in the country doesn't give one iota about a player using a strategy card on a blackjack game, just so long as you don't grind the game to a squalling halt. Why, many even sell them in their gift shops.

Even with the mucho many strategy cards I've strewn across the planet over the years, (http://markpilarski.com/bj.html), I've only had feedback once that a casino in a Midwestern state considered such a card to be an illegal gambling device. All trades have their occasional pucker-butts, David. Don't sweat it.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "The ATM is like the coach's pep talk. "Here's another hundred! Now get out there and fight! It ain't over till it's over!" --Frank Legato, "Strictly Slots"

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Best of Mark Pilarski
Mark Pilarski

As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.
Mark Pilarski
As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.