Showing Cards During Tournament

During the 1980’s, I and others lobbied hard to get tournament directors to realize that the practice of showing cards during a tournament for the purpose of discouraging a call was improper behavior, and should not be allowed. The principle behind this was every pot played between your opponents in a tournament with multiple payouts favors you, because it gives you the possibility of winning a higher place by a player being eliminated. An action that discourages such a pot from developing is unethical. It is now a standard tournament rule to not allow such an action. The pertinent poker Tournament Director’s Association rule says, “A player who exposes his cards during the play may incur a penalty, but will not have his hand killed.”

This rule is worded in a simple, straight-forward manner. But the truth is that the showing of cards during play is only improper when the rights of players not involved are jeopardized. For example, in Texas home games, it was common when a player moved all-in when a flush was the nuts to show the “ace of trump” while his opponent was thinking about calling on the end. Of course, this was a psychological move, and did not reveal whether the player actually had the flush. Sometimes a player who was thinking would say, “show me a bad one,” actually trying to get the opponent to show a card. There is an old story of Amarillo Slim showing a player a bad one after making a big bet, hoping to get called. Unfortunately for Slim, the opponent had a stronger hand than expected–and now could see he had the nuts!

The tournament rule makes it sound as if the rights of the other players are damaged in all tournament situations. However, this is not the case. There are two situations in tournament play where showing one or both cards during play does not affect anyone other than the parties involved:

  1. When there are only two players remaining in an event.
  2. When the event is winner take all, as in a one-table satellite.

The showing of one card adds something to the spectator appeal of poker. It can also induce a play that would not otherwise be made–for better or worse. It should be legal to show a card, even both cards, in situations where the rights of others are not adversely affected. Our tournament rules should reflect this, instead of issuing a blanket condemnation of the practice.

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