The Poker Floorman

A Floorman's perspective of the poker world

The “One Player to a Hand” (OPTAH) Poker Rule

OPTAH?  What’s that?

Ahh, yes.  The “One Player To A Hand” (OPTAH) poker rule.  This is another concept that new poker players or poker players transitioning from online poker to B&M poker need to be aware of.  It should seem obvious, but the common rules of poker say that only “one person may play a hand”.  Sounds easy enough.  Poker isn’t a team sport after all.

Online, you really have to go out of your way to “help” a player play his hand.  You could type something in the chat window, but you won’t get real far doing that.  Do that a few times and you’ll get reported and banned.  And I suppose you could talk to a friend on the phone or text him to collude against other players.  But blatant cheating isn’t what I’m writing about here.

As always, there are situations where unintended consequences can cause all kinds of problems in a B&M cardroom because there are 10 people sitting around a table having fun and usually enjoying a few adult beverages.  And the “one player to a hand” rule can cause you some problems if you aren’t careful.  It can be a bit tricky too.

As a basic rule of thumb, you should pretty much keep your comments to yourself about another players’ hand or what’s on the board, at least until the hand is completely over and the pot is pushed (with the exception outlined below).  If you happen to see your opponents’ cards, don’t say anything that will help or hurt that player.  Frankly, it’s none of your business.

Some statements are just a blatant violation of the rules.

For example:
Say you’ve mucked long ago and are just watching the hand play out.  At the showdown you hear your neighbor say something like, “Damn, I missed my straight….” And it looks like he’s about to fold his hand as he holds his cards up for you to see.  You notice that he actually made a flush and say, “Yeah, but I’d table my hand just in case if I were you”.  The player then tables his hand to take down the pot.  Is that fair?  He was about to fold, but you instructed him how to play his cards so he won.  Now his opponent is furious with you.  Whooops….you can’t do that!

So what would happen if you did this and the Flooman got called over?  You would most likely get a warning and a brief lecture on the OPTAH rule.  If you repeated the same violation, you might get something a bit stronger.  But luckily, you are reading this and you won’t ever run into this situation.  🙂

Now, there are some nuances to this rule.

Situation 1: At the showdown a player says to his neighbor, “Wow, I can’t believe you made a runner runner flush there…nice one!”   The neighbor then tables his hand and takes down the pot.

If this a violation of the OPTAH rule?  Not really.  Who’s to say if the guy ALREADY KNEW that he made a flush or not?  He didn’t say that he’s folding or that he lost.  I would award the pot to the guy with the flush in this case.

Situation 2: At the showdown a player say’s “Dammit, I missed”, then tosses his cards toward the dealer like he’s folding.  His neighbor then says, “Wait a minute, you made a flush on the river.”  The player then retrieves his cards quickly before they’re jammed in the muck and tables the winning hand.

Is this a violation of the OPTAH rule?  Obviously, it is.  The player intended to fold and even tossed his cards away, but his neighbor alerted him to the fact that he had a flush before his cards were mucked.  I would not award the pot to this player based on the OPTAH rule.

Situation 3: At the showdown a player tosses his cards into the muck.  He quickly says, “Wait a minute dealer…I want my hand back…I made a flush.”  His cards are clearly identifiable and retrievable from the muck.

Is this a violation of the OPTAH rule and should he get his cards back?  No, there is no rule violation here – nobody gave him any advice about his hand.  And yes, his hand is live if it is clearly identifiable and retrievable from the muck.  There is no “magic muck” pile that instantly renders all cards that touch it unable to play (more on this in another article).

Then there are situations where it’s just really bad etiquette and on the line as far as a rule violation.  Say the river brings out a 4th spade on the board.  Don’t say, “Holy cow!  Four spades on the board!  Who has the Ace of spades?”  That’s just bad etiquette for obvious reasons.

Now, if anyone sees a dealer miscall a hand at the showdown, regardless of what a player says he has, they are obliged to alert the dealer as to the error so the pot is pushed the right way.  This is the exception to the OPTAH rule.  When the cards are face up on the felt, cards speak, and the best hand wins every time…even if the player had no idea that he won the hand.

The bottom line:  simply keep you comments to yourself about another players’ hand if you aren’t involved in the hand and you won’t cause any problems.

For reference, here are a few quotes from Robert’s Rules of Poker:


The following actions are improper, and grounds for warning, suspending, or barring a violator:

  • Reading a hand for another player at the showdown before it has been placed faceup on the table.
  • Telling anyone to turn a hand faceup at the showdown.


  • Only one person may play a hand.


  • Any player, dealer, or floorperson who sees an incorrect amount of chips put into the pot, or an error about to be made in awarding a pot, has an ethical obligation to point out the error. Please help us keep mistakes of this nature to a minimum.

January 28, 2011 Posted by | For Beginner Poker Players, Going from Online to B&M Poker, Poker Rules | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Poker Showdown – Part 2

In Poker Games, “Cards Speak”

One of the cardinal rules of poker is that “cards speak”, meaning that it really makes no difference what a poker player says he has.  If a players cards are shown flat on the felt at the showdown, his cards are what they are and his best poker hand will play, regardless of what he says.

From Robert’s Rules of Poker:
Cards speak (cards read for themselves). The dealer assists in reading hands, but players are responsible for holding onto their cards until the winner is declared.

Again we see the words “players are responsible…”

For example: at the showdown a player tables his hand in disgust and says, “Damn…I missed my straight” but he didn’t realize that he made a flush.  Well, he still has a flush and will win the pot if it’s the best hand.  It doesn’t matter what he said (or thought) he had.

On the other hand, if a player miscalls his hand the other way, like “I have the straight” when he really has nothing, it’s your responsibility to be sure what he has before mucking your cards.

Robert’s Rules says that “Although verbal declarations as to the contents of a hand are not binding, deliberately miscalling a hand with the intent of causing another player to discard a winning hand is unethical and may result in forfeiture of the pot.

The key word in Robert’s Rule here is “may”.  It will depend on the Floormans ruling if it comes to that, so protect yourself and be sure that you know that your opponent has beat you before mucking your hand.  Of course, simply tabling your hand at the showdown and protecting your hand until a winner is declared would avoid this altogether.

Show One, Show All (SOSA)

It just makes sense.  All players involved in a hand are entitled to the same information.  So if a player shows his cards to another player, everyone should be allowed to see those cards.

But what if a player still involved in a hand shows his cards to a guy who has already folded?  Yes, everyone at the table is still entitled to see those cards if someone asks to see them.  So those cards should be held aside by the dealer until the hand is over, then shown to everyone when the hand is over, if someone asks to see them.

It’s as simple as that, although I have seen huge arguments erupt about it time and time again.

Picture this:  a player is betting big on every street but gets a surprise check-raise from a player on the river.  The player says to the guy next to him “Can you believe that sh*t?” while showing him his hand, then mucks.  If another player on the table asks to see his hand, the dealer is obliged to show it under the “show one, show all” rule.

Keep this in mind:  Much like the IWTSTH rule, the hand will usually be shown only if a player requests that it be shown (it’s not automatic), so this rule should be used by poker players selectively.

Poker players tend to like to share their misfortunes with others when they get beat.  How many bad beat stories have you heard?  Typically, showing a hand to a neighbor is just a “can you believe how unlucky I am?” gesture and not something that everyone at the table will be amazed to see and remember the next time they are playing against that player.  Of course it is you right to request to see that hand, but…

Repeatedly asking to see a players hand when they show another player that’s not involved in the hand can be seen as annoying and unnecessary.  The rule has it’s place, but use it sparingly and only when you feel it’s necessary.  If the guy is mucking but shows his neighbor first and you are taking the pot, be happy that you’re taking the pot and don’t rub it in.  Sure, you have the right to see those cards.  But don’t abuse that right.

Who Shows Their Cards First?

Holy cow!  This is a giant pain in the ass in the poker room and I really don’t get it.

The hand dramatically plays out….and the showdown finally arrives….the players are all anxious to see who wins the pot………..but nobody wants to show their cards to see who wins!  “I called you – you show first!”  “No, I called YOU – you show first!”  “Well, I’m all in so I show last”.  WTF?!?  Just show your hand so we can award the pot and move on to the next hand!!  What’s wrong with you people?

OK, so here’s the official explanation for who show’s first (I wish everyone would just show at the same time!! 🙂

1)  If everyone checks on the last betting round, the player who naturally acts first is the first to show his hand.

2)  If there is betting on the last betting round, the player who has taken the last “aggressive action” (bet or raise) will show first.

(Please note that local rules may vary – and this is one rule that may vary greatly)

Examples always work best:

1)  On the river, there are three players.  All three check (for whatever reason).  The player furthest away from the button should show first followed by the players going clockwise from the button.

2)  On the river, there are three players.  Player 1 checks.  Player 2 bets.  Player 3 calls and Player 1 calls.  Since player 2 is the “aggressor” he should show first, followed by Player 3, then Player 1.

3)  On the river, there are three players.  Player 1 checks.  Player 2 bets.  Player 3 raises.  Player 1 and player 2 call.  Player 3 should show first, as he is the last “aggressor”, followed by Player 1, then Player 2.

I have seen rooms where the “aggressive action” rule goes back to the previous street if it’s checked down on the river, but I think this is a little silly.  It’s called a “showdown” for a reason!  “Show down” your damn cards and see who wins!

January 25, 2011 Posted by | For Beginner Poker Players, Going from Online to B&M Poker, Poker Rules | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Poker Showdown – Part 1

The showdown – where everyone shows their cards and the best hand wins, right?  Well, it doesn’t always work so smoothly.

To win a hand of poker in a live poker room, both cards a player is holding need to be placed face up, flat on the felt.  Showing your cards to the guy sitting next to you isn’t going to cut it.  If you show your neighbor the nuts, then toss your cards face down into the middle of the table and they get mucked, you have no redress – your hand is dead.

Online, the winners cards are shown automatically at the showdown for all to see, so this is never an issue.  If you lost the hand, you may have an option like “You Lost – Muck or Show?”  You can then click “Muck” so nobody knows what you had or “Show” to reveal exactly what you had.  Now, anyone can request to get a hand history and see what you had anyway, but they can’t see it instantly.

In a poker room nobody’s cards are shown automatically.  The cards are held by humans who tend to be emotional beings.  General courtesy suggests that everyone just turn over their cards at the showdown and see who wins.  But there are many players who want to wait to see what everyone else has first to see if they won or lost.  If they lost, they will muck their cards so nobody sees what they had.

The “IWTSTH” Rule

IWTSTH is an acronym for “I want to see the hand” and it is a controversial rule indeed.  Common poker rules allow any player who has been dealt into the hand to see any other players hand that been called, even if the hand has been mucked.  If a player other than the winner requests to see the mucked hand, the mucked hand remains dead.  If the winner requests to see the hand, both hands are live and the best hand will win.  Obviously, the player who invokes the IWTSTH rule has to be very careful here – he risks losing the pot if the mucked hand is actually the winner.

So where’s the controversy?  Online, you can request a hand history and see what a player had.  Only you will see it.  In a live game, everyone at the table will see it if you ask and some players get genuinely offended when another player asks to see the hand they just mucked.  He may feel embarrassed by his bad call or a bluff on the river.  He may feel that he will be revealing important information about how he played the hand.  He may feel that the other player is suspecting him of cheating, etc.  Many players ask to see just because they are curious what the other guy had, which is just bad etiquette.

In general I suggest not using the IWTSTH rule, especially if you aren’t even in the hand at the showdown.  Let the player muck in peace and move on to the next hand.  If you won the hand, be happy with the pot and don’t rub it in your opponents’ face that he lost.  Many times forcing someone to show will end up in some sort of argument.

The only time I might invoke the IWTSTH rule is if I feel that I was squeezed out or sandwiched between two colluding players.  But even then, it’s risky.  What if both players show legitimate hands and weren’t colluding at all?  Then you look like a sore loser and the other players are offended.  Besides, it’s very difficult to prove collusion.  A guy with nothing could just claim he was bluffing the whole way, so you’ll probably accomplish nothing.

I honestly can’t remember the last time I used IWTSTH in the last 10 years and I just table my hand at the showdown 99.9% of the time myself, so IWTSTH isn’t used against me.  I’m not concerned about a guy thinking he gained valuable information about my play.  Good players mix up how they play anyway, so let him think what he wants.  Plus, how many casual players can really process that information and use it against you later?  Not many.  There’s no Poker Tracker or HUD’s for live poker.  You have to use your brain and nothing else.

There is a huge discussion about the WTSTH rule here:  The IWTSTH Controversy



January 22, 2011 Posted by | For Beginner Poker Players, Going from Online to B&M Poker, Poker Rules | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Da Pimp Is In Da House Ya’ll!

A guy started playing in our room pretty regularly.  He was harmless enough, but it seemed that something was a little off with him.  After a few days he started wearing a giant gold “$” on a gold chain around his neck.  Of course this looked ridiculous, but he never said a word about it.

One day one of our dealers said, “Hey, that’s a pretty cool necklace.”

The guy started rambling, “Yeah, well, I plan to get a real one once I win the WSOP.  This one isn’t real.  I’ll get a solid gold one when I win the WSOP.  Ya know, I’m a pimp and a pimp can’t be wearin fake gold.  I mean I dress real good like a pimp.  I drive a convertible like a pimp.  I try real hard to be a pimp every day.  Pimpin’s a big part of my life.”

The whole time the guy was straight faced and serious.  A few weeks later he walks into the poker room looking like this:

Da Pimp Is In Da House Ya'll!

Yeah, a ridiculous suit complete with top hat and cane, fat wallet in hand…and the necklace of course.  All I could say was “WTF?”

January 20, 2011 Posted by | The WTF Files | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Counting the Pot

How much is in the pot?

Knowing how much is in the pot is essential information when involved in a hand of poker.

Online, the pot is counted for you and presented in the middle of the table for all to see.  You don’t need to keep track of bets at all – just look and there’s the pot size displayed for you.  This makes calculating odds a piece of cake.  Again, this is another big reason why online poker players can play more than one table at a time, or several tables at one time.  They don’t need to pay attention to the action of every player in the hand the way you need to in a B&M poker room.

At a live poker table, the pot is a pile of chips of different denominations sitting in the middle of the table.  It is the players responsibility to count how many bets were made, how much the bets were, and for keeping track of the pot size.  House rules vary of course, but in most poker rooms the dealer is not permitted to tell a player how much the pot is (Pot-Limit games are an exception) and there’s a good reason for that.  Knowing how much is in the pot is part of the game.  Ignore the action at your own peril.

One reason that many cite for not allowing the dealer to tell you how much is in the pot is that it’s a violation of the “one player to a hand” rule.  If the dealer tells you how much is in the pot, he’s basically helping you play your hand.  Knowing what’s in the pot is a part of the game and your responsibility.  If he told you how much the pot is, he would essentially be helping you calculate your odds.

At first it might seem a bit difficult to do all of this.  After you play B&M poker for a while you’ll get the hang of it and it will become second nature to count bets and know the pot size.

By the way, do you see a common theme in the last few articles?  In B&M poker rooms, poker players are expected to take responsibility for all kinds of things.   I’m not asserting that online players are “irresponsible” at all, so please don’t take it that way.  Playing B&M poker is just different than playing online and my goal of all of this is to help online players when they do play in a B&M poker room so they can WIN.

A rather snide remark made by some dealers is “It’s a visual game…” when a player asks what the bet is or who made the last raise.  I’m not condoning these comments, of course, but it makes the point that you should be following the action at all times if you are involved in the hand.

January 19, 2011 Posted by | For Beginner Poker Players, Going from Online to B&M Poker, Poker Rules | , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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