You are the Tournament Director Series 2: Mucked In Error
During a big NLH freeze out the action passes to a lady in the one seat who picks up her entire stack, moves it forward over and past her cards and announces her self all in. She has about 7 or 8 big blinds. The dealer picks her cards up and puts them on top of the muck which comprises of four other cards. He releases her cards although they are not shuffled together with the other discards. She screams that she is all in and he then picks her cards up off the top of the muck and gives them back to her, she peeks at them and nods. One of the players at the table who is still to act asks you for a ruling.
While we have a rule that states cards mucked are not necessarily dead, I would be very hesitant to call this hand live, especially because the lady grabbed her cards back out of the muck. I would only have held the lady to the called amount of her bet and refund her the raise in the absence of a subsequent call.
The hand is dead and she can take back any amount that exceeds the biggest bet on the table. If cards only touch the muck slightly and it is 100% clear which cards they are, I do give the cards back to the player.
I believe in the retrievable cards rule but in this case it is unclear as to whether those were her cards or not. I can live with the ruling David O’Neil made here and would warn the player that she must be more careful to protect her hand and then tell the dealer to be more careful (away from the table) as it was actually dealer error.
Unfortunately the only ruling I can make is give her back her bet and rule her cards dead. I don't know if you were down at Russell Square, when I was training dealers, this constantly happened. The dealers were trainees, they're nervous. Obviously people there just said your hand's dead. I pulled the person off the table, I wanted the exact cards, suit and rank, and if they could name the exact discards I would give them back. But here I’ve got to rule the hand dead but keep the blind there.
To follow the letter of the law and to declare the hand dead because it was unprotected would be a very harsh ruling. The TD did what he thought was fair at the time. To return the player her chips leaves the situation open to collusion between a dealer and a player, (where a bluffing player is given a second chance to stay in the tournament). I would make a ruling in this case based very much on the situation; I would probably concur with the original ruling if there was no calling or raising action behind her. However in the event that the player had gone all in with less the blinds, my ruling would be that her hand is dead, they could still play the board as it would still constitute a poker hand.
To strictly enforce the letter of the law in this situation is probably the right thing to do but sometimes it is fairer to do the wrong thing for the right reason.
If she was one of the blinds, only her blind stays in the pot. She gets back the rest of her chips. Owing to dealer error, she would not be penalised for all her chips.
This is a true story and happened in the 2005 Irish Open in Dublin. David O’Neil was the TD asked to rule and he ruled that her hand was dead but that she had to forfeit one big blind into the pot. The rest of her chips were returned to her.
There is generally a consensus here. It is her responsibility to protect her hand and we are aware that when this situation occurs it is nearly always in the seats to the immediate left or right of the dealer. She should have been more careful and as the cards have been completely released into the muck her hand is dead. As there was no action behind her then it would be fair to give her raise back to her and she would lose the amount of the call. Had a player called or raised behind her she would have lost all her chips although she may be allowed to play the board in certain card rooms.
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