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The Rules of the Game

Cards Speak Rule

"It's a game now, just gotta know the rules"
-- Social Distortion

Cards Speak Rule: A common rule meaning verbal declarations are not binding, the value of a hand is the value of the cards in the hand itself, no matter what anyone declares.

To put it bluntly, to be a winning poker player, you should not act like a sucker. While nobody needs to become a total rule nit, people should learn the rules at the club they play, and not assume the rules are the same everywhere. Misunderstanding rules and making false assumptions about rules are two quick ways to be separated from your chips -- usually at a critical point.

Unfortunately very few casinos have rulebooks for their customers to consult. This "save a nickel" policy directly leads to conflict and unnecessary bad feelings, which leads to lost revenue for the casino, and headache and heartache for players.

At a tournament at Hollywood Park Casino recently, I was pleasantly surprised to see a list of sixteen key tournament rules written on the back of the structure sheet. Casinos used to do this regularly, but it's done only some of the time now.

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Right at the top of the list was perhaps the most misunderstood rule: "1. CARDS SPEAK -- verbal declaration as to the content of a player's hand is not binding. However, at the discretion of management, any player miscalling his hand may have that hand fouled."

Sounds pretty simple and straightforward, right? Well, if only it were so. I've heard players mangle this simple rule to justify all sorts of fanciful, personal "rules" that do not in fact exist. They try to make the cards speak rule some sort of Vegamatic that slices, dices and purees. The cards speak rule, specifically in Hollywood Park's words here, says verbal declarations are not binding, the value of a hand is the value of the cards in the hand itself, no matter what anybody else declares. This is a good and useful rule -- but it won't change your carburetor.

The cards speak rule does not address the process of awarding a pot; it does not address the responsibilities of players or dealers to read hands; it does not address who is entitled to a pot; it does not address "one player to a hand"; it does not address whether a discarded hand is live if it hasn't touched the muck; or what happens when you move away from the blind, or any of a hundred other things.

Other rules address other things. These other rules are (usually) specific also. And, they aren't the same from casino to casino! I've seen players hollering at a floorman about some "rule" that it turns out is nothing but a fabrication created in the mind of the players. No matter how loud anyone shouts about the umbrella applications of any rule, the fact of the matter is that most rules (like the cards speak rule) are very specific, very limited, and crystal clear in application.

Okay, so what? What does that have to do with winning poker strategy? Not knowing the rules almost always costs you money. If you don't protect your hand, if you make string bets, if you showdown too early, if you pitch a card off the table, if you muck your hand when an opponent who only has one pair says "flush", if you try to checkraise in California Lowball, if you don't know how an odd chip is awarded (and you have a novice dealer who will do whatever your opponent says), if you put an oversized chip into a pot and don't announce raise, if you don't know that management reserves the right to make any decision that they deem in the best interest of the game, if... nearly anything, you will cost yourself money.

The reverse is also important. You need to know what is not a rule. If you blindly expect to be dealt in when you are away from the table, if you expect the dealer to tell you when it's your blind, if you expect the dealer will stop a player from string-raising, if... you play in blissful ignorance, you will cost yourself money.

Each casino has somewhat different rules, conventions and courtesies. Tournaments have somewhat different rules than ring games. Management presumes different responsibilities for players playing higher limits. The more you know these things, these not very interesting things, the better it is for your pocketbook.

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