Irregularities and how to handle them in your card games

In any card game, mistakes sometimes happen in dealing or the course of play. Cards get dropped, decks sometimes have the wrong number of cards, and hands sometimes get discarded by accident. All mistakes like this are, as a general group, called irregularities.

As the host, it’s your job to decide how to handle any irregularities that occur in your game. It’s important, especially in games like poker with money involved, to know how to handle them in a fair and consistent way. Ruling one way in one situation and a different way when it happens again engenders distrust from your players. That means some of them may not come back the next time you host a game. If you stick to the same rules, your players will play confident in the knowledge that they will be treated fairly in such a situation.

The resolutions recommended here are based on Bob Ciaffone’s “Robert’s Rules of Poker”, the governing document of modern poker. If your players have played in a casino poker game, they’ll appreciate having the situation resolved the same way it would be in the casino. Even if you’re not playing poker, these general rules will be helpful in a wide range of situations.

Misdeals

Any time that irregularities cause a hand to be abandoned and re-dealt, it is called a misdeal. When a misdeal occurs, the dealer gathers up the entire deck, including the players’ hands. The same dealer then shuffles and deals a new hand.

In most cases, a misdeal can only be declared at the beginning of a hand. After two players have acted on their hands, the opportunity to declare a misdeal ends. Regardless of what may have happened on the deal, the hand is played as usual from that point.

Dealer errors

Any of the following errors will result in a misdeal:

  • Dealing the first card to the wrong position.
  • Not dealing a hand to a player who is in the game.
  • Dealing a hand to someone who isn’t in the game (or an empty seat).
  • Dealing cards in the wrong order.
  • Giving a player too many or too few cards, unless the players missing cards would simply get the next card(s) of the deck if the proper sequence were followed.

Exposed cards

If the dealer accidentally exposes the first or second card of the deal, this causes a misdeal. Should the dealer expose a card after this, and the game is one where the entire deck is not dealt out, the dealer completes the deal as usual, then replaces the exposed card with the top card of the stub. The exposed card is then placed in the discard pile, or as the bottom card of the stub, if the game doesn’t use a discard pile. (If the game starts each hand with one card in the discard pile, the exposed card will count as that card. In Texas Hold’em and Omaha, the exposed card is usually placed on top of the deck and is used as the first burn card.) In games that deal out the whole deck, or if the dealer exposes a second card, it causes a misdeal.

Players never have the option to accept an exposed card. Doing so is unfair to the players that did not have their cards exposed. It also encourages collusion between the dealer and the player.

If a player flashes one of their own cards after the deal is completed, they do not get a replacement. The card is still live. The player assumes all consequences of the other players’ knowledge of their card.

If a player intentionally shows cards to another active player, these cards must be shown to the entire table. This is to prevent that player from having an advantage. If the player shows cards to a player who is not currently in the game or to someone who isn’t playing, those cards must be shown to the other players at the end of the hand (or identified when they would be shown otherwise).

Boxed cards

A card that is turned opposite to the rest of the deck (i.e. it is face up when the rest of the deck is face down) is called a boxed card. If only one boxed card is found, it should simply be set aside. Boxed cards that get mistakenly dealt in error should be replaced at the end of the deal as if it were an exposed card. If the game requires that the entire deck be dealt, or a second boxed card is found, it causes a misdeal.

Incorrect and imperfect decks

We’ve discussed these before in “Incorrect and imperfect decks“, but here’s a refresher. Decks with damaged cards or cards identifiable from the back are called imperfect decks. Decks that have the wrong cards for the game being played are called incorrect decks. Every player has an obligation to point out that the deck has something wrong with it if it comes to their attention.

After the hand ends, the deck should be corrected, if possible. If not, a new deck should be substituted. Imperfect decks should always be replaced at the end of the hand.

Incorrect decks

If a card with a contrasting back design is discovered in the deck, the hand is void. The only exception is if the foreign card is found in the stub after dealing is complete, and is not part of the stock or any other place where it could potentially be put in play.

If a too many copies of a card (i.e. with the same rank and suit) are found in the deck, the deal is void. The scores are reset to what they were at the beginning of the hand, or any money placed in the pot is refunded.

In most cases, the deck having too few cards is not cause for concern. The deal is simply finished out as usual. However, if the game requires all cards to be present (because they are all dealt out initially or because every card is used at some point), when the number of cards is discovered to be inadequate, the hand is void, as if it had a foreign card or too many cards.

Extra cards (and jokers)

If a player discovers a joker or other card that simply doesn’t belong in the deck (like, say, a 2 in Pinochle), it is treated the same as if it were a boxed card. That is, the player should call attention to it and set it aside. The dealer should give the player a replacement card after the other cards have been dealt.

Dropped cards

If the dealer accidentally slides a card off the table, it should be treated the same as an exposed card. If a player drops their own card on the floor, the card is still live. In either case, the card should be recovered as quickly as possible.

Any dropped cards should be inspected for damage prior to being returned to play. It’s easy for cards on the floor to get stepped on and bent!

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Washing a deck of cards

Washing a deck of cards is more than just another term for cleaning a deck of cards. Washing, also called scrambling, is a simple, but effective, method of quickly randomizing a deck of cards, especially one that has recently been verified.

To wash a deck of cards, just spread it face down on the table in two rows. Then, use your hands to slide the cards around the table in a circular motion. Periodically, change your motion in a random fashion, moving the cards clockwise, counterclockwise, away from you, toward you, etc. After a few minutes of this, gather the cards back up into a stack and square it up. The deck can now be shuffled in a normal fashion.

While this might seem like an amateurish way of shuffling cards, it randomizes the cards much more quickly than traditional riffle shuffles. Casino dealers wash decks of new cards immediately after verifying them whenever deck changes occur and new games are opened.

See also

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Cleaning your playing cards

Over time, a deck of playing cards will spend much of its life in contact with either a table or players’ hands. Neither of these are particularly clean: tables often have dirt and food residue on them, and human hands usually have at least a layer of skin oil on them, if not more dirt. All of this nastiness has a tendency to end up on your cards.

Paper cards tend to absorb the dirt and oils, to the point where eventually they simply have to be replaced. Since Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards are not porous, the gunk just sits on the surface of the card. Under some conditions, top-layer inks (which are not as well-bonded as those closer to the card surface) can also be displaced from the backs of the cards and settle around the edges of the cards, forming a patina that looks like a fuzzy haze of red or blue on the face of the cards. A dirty deck of cards can usually be identified by the presence of this patina and slight stickiness during game play.

Fortunately, it’s easy to restore your cards to like-new condition. You just have to clean them! Fill the kitchen sink with warm water—not too hot, as hot water may warp the plastic—and add a mild dish soap. We found that Dawn® Antibacterial Soap works well. Dump the whole deck of cards into the sink. Then, use a soft towel—a microfiber towel works well—to clean the surface of the cards, especially near the heavily-handled edges, where the patina and skin oils tend to build up. Don’t use abrasive soaps, like those containing pumice, or an abrasive cleaning tool, as these may damage the surface of the cards. Run the cards under cool water to rinse off the soap, then dry them off with a paper towel, or leave them sitting on a bath towel until the water dries. Don’t use a heater or hair dryer to speed drying.

After the cards are dry, you should notice that your cards handle much better, and with much less stickiness! It’s probably a good idea to verify them before putting them away to make sure that you didn’t lose any cards during the cleaning process.

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Blackjack, part 2: Blackjack dealing procedures

blackjack1In part one of our series on Blackjack, we covered the basic rules of blackjack, as seen by the player. Now, we get into some of the intricacies of how to deal Blackjack well. Most of these procedures are in place to ensure the game is run smoothly and consistently, as well as to allow the overhead surveillance cameras found in casinos to track the game. While they may seem unnecessary or out-of-place in a home game, they create a more realistic, casino-like game, adding to the fun for your players.

Blackjack dealing procedures vary greatly from casino to casino and even from dealer to dealer. These are the procedures found in local casinos here in Oklahoma. You might notice differences in your local casino. Note that all references to “left” and “right” in this post refer to left and right from the dealer’s perspective.

Equipment

As mentioned in part one, dealing Blackjack right requires a number of props, including a shoe, a discard holder, and a chip rack. While it’s not necessary to have these, they make the game run a lot smoother and contribute to a professional feel to your game.

One thing we didn’t mention is a Blackjack layout. Real Blackjack tables have a felt surface with graphics silkscreened on them, designating seven player positions where hand bets and insurance bets are to be placed, as well as aiding the dealer in placement of the cards. While such a thing is not strictly necessary, it helps keep the game organized. You can find layouts printed on felt, for Blackjack as well as many other casino games, inexpensively available on the Internet. These layouts can be placed over a normal table like a tablecloth, allowing you to set up your own faux Blackjack table.

To set up your table like a standard Blackjack table, place the layout with the text facing away from the dealer, then put the shoe to the dealer’s left hand side, near the end of the insurance line, and place the discard holder to the dealer’s right. Chips should be near the edge of the layout in the center of the table, just in front of the dealer. Make sure to leave plenty of room between the chip rack and the text “BLACKJACK PAYS 3 TO 2” to allow room for the dealer’s hand.

Dealing the cardsblackjack2

Before dealing, perform a visual sweep of the players’ bets to ensure that they are between the maximum and minimum bets. Ensure that all bets are in whole unit amounts (otherwise, paying a blackjack will be impossible). Check to make sure that the bets are neatly stacked and have the highest-denomination chips on the bottom of the stack, followed by the next-higher denomination, all the way up the stack. Also, be wary of a lone chip of a different color sandwiched in between chips of the same color. This is to make it easier to correctly pay the player out should they win, and make it easier to return the chips to the rack should they lose. As the dealer, you’re entitled to correct the player’s bet before dealing. Once the cards come out, ensure that the player doesn’t touch their bet. If the bet needs to be moved (e.g. to make room for a split or double wager), only the dealer should touch the bet.

When dealing, you’ll remove the cards from the shoe with your left hand. Cards to the two leftmost positions will be dealt with the left hand, and cards to the other positions (including the dealer’s hand) will be passed to and dealt with the right hand.

Cards are generally placed in a stairstep fashion, with the first card dealt on the insurance line next to the right of the player’s betting box or circle, and subsequent cards dealt below and to the left of the first card. Care should be taken to keep all cards visible; generally, you want to leave the center of each card exposed. If space is getting tight, perhaps because the player has drawn up to a four- or five-card hand, or because of repeated splits, it is usually acceptable to slide the hand back toward the player a bit to create more room, condense the card spacing a bit, or start dealing the cards back toward the player, forming a V pattern.

When a player doubles down, deal the third card at right angles to the other cards to signify that the player cannot receive any more cards. Likewise, if you do not allow drawing to a split pair of aces, turn the second card of each hand at a 45° angle to signify that no further cards can be dealt (there is usually not enough room to put the cards at right angles in this situation).

If a player has blackjack, pay them out immediately, on their turn, not at the end of the hand. After paying out the winning player, collect the cards and put them in the discards, so you don’t erroneously pay the blackjack out again.

If a player busts, collect their winnings and put them in the rack immediately. Then, collect their cards, and place them in the discard holder. Don’t use the cards as a scoop to ferry the winnings over to you; it’s too easy to lose control of the chips and send them rolling off somewhere unrecoverable. Collecting the hand immediately helps you when the hand is over, reminding you that the wager has already been settled, and allows the player to get their wager ready for the next hand. If all players bust, simply reveal your hole card and begin dealing the next hand.

When it’s time to reveal the dealer’s hole card, you can slide a corner of the upcard underneath the hole card and use the upcard as a lever to flip it face up. Remember, a good dealer applies a little bit of showmanship to their dealing to make the game more interesting!

After a hand is over and all bets have been settled, give the players some time to place and adjust their wagers before you launch into the next hand. Players may want to check the amount of chips they have available to determine the size of their wager, or make change. If you start the next hand too early, you may end up leaving some players out of the hand because they’re not ready to play yet.

Making change

The dealer is responsible for making change if the player requests it. This will usually happen at two points in the game: when the player needs to break a large chip into smaller chips to make a wager, or to color up the player’s chip hoard to larger-denomination chips, usually at the end of the game.

To make change for a player, bring the chips into the area in front of the dealer, where the dealer’s hand goes. Imagine a vertical line passing through the center of this area; incoming chips will go to the left of this line, and outgoing chips to the right. Place the incoming chips to the left of the line, break them down, and count them. State “cheque change: one hundred” (or whatever the value of the chips to be changed is; in casino jargon chips are sometimes known as cheques) in order to allow the player to correct you if they think your count is incorrect. Then, place chips equal to the value of each row to the right of the line, breaking them down to allow the player to verify the chips are correct. Gather the incoming chips and place them in the rack, then gather the outgoing chips and pass them to the player.

PayoutsSizing into a chip stack

After a hand is complete, you will have to pay out the winners and take the losers’ wagers. Bets are settled from right to left, which is opposite of the usual flow of the game. You will be doing something at each active player position, even if they didn’t win: if the player lost, you’ll collect their winnings; if the player pushed, you will knock on the table with the back of your fist to show that the player pushed and you didn’t just skip them. Of course, you will skip over the vacant positions and those that have already been settled, either because the player busted or because they got a blackjack. After all bets have been settled, collect the cards and get ready for the next hand.

As with the cards, all payouts for the two left-most positions are done with the left hand, and all other payouts are done with the right hand. Payouts done with the right hand go to the right of the original wager, and vice-versa.

If you grab an incorrect or insufficient number of chips, never leave a player partially paid out while you correct the error. They could tamper with the chips while you’re distracted. Instead, collect the incorrect payout and place it in front of the rack while you make corrections. Then, pay the player out correctly.

Non-blackjack payouts

Regular wagers of only one color of chip are the simplest to pay out. Just grab a big stack of that color—no need to count exactly!—and size into it. Return the excess chips to the rack.

For a multiple-color wager, you’ll first need to separate the chips into stacks of each denomination (put the highest-denomination stack closest to you, with progressively lower denominations toward the player). Then, remove an equal number of chips of each color from the rack and form a stack, keeping the high-denom chips on the bottom, and use each of the player’s chip stacks to size into your stack.

You can also color up the chips as you pay them out. This keeps a player from becoming overloaded with low-denom chips, and encourages them to use the high-denom chips to bet higher. First, if there are multiple colors of chips in the wager, separate them into separate stacks. Then, splash each stack out to verify whether or not each stack can be colored up to the next-higher chip value. Don’t stack it back up—leave everything splashed out. Then, collect the payout from the rack and pay it out, placing chips of equivalent value next to the original wager.

Blackjack payoutsblackjack3

Because blackjack payouts are one-and-a-half times the initial wager, paying them out is somewhat more complex. Exactly how this is achieved depends on how the initial wager was made.

The simplest payout occurs when a player has bet an even number of chips of the same color. Simply collect one-and-a-half times that many chips, collect them into a stack, and size into it. You should be left with chips in your hand equivalent to half of the bet. Drop these chips on top, resting on the two even stacks of chips. This is called bridging the payout.

For all other wagers, including single-chip and multiple-denomination wagers, you will not be able to bridge the payout, since it will consist of multiple colors of chips. (Consider a simple bet of one red chip, or $5—a blackjack payout on this bet is $7.50, one red, two white, and one yellow chip!) Instead, you’ll begin by splashing the bet to verify its amount. Then, mentally figure the total amount of the payout, and place these chips in front of the rack, splashing them so the total amount of the payout is clearly visible. Then, collect the payout into a stack and place it next to the wager, by dropping the bottom chip off the stack and balancing the rest of the stack on this chip’s edge. This is called heeling a payout and is used to signify that the stack contains chips of several denominations.

Remember, blackjack payouts are done on the player’s turn, not at the end of the hand.

Dealer blackjacks and insurance

After dealing the initial hand, but before allowing the first player to act, look at the dealer upcard. If this is a ten-valued card (ten or face card), peek at the hole card. Gently bend the corner of the card up with one hand, using your other hand to shield it from the players. If you see an ace, reveal it, and collect all wagers (except for players who were dealt a blackjack, who push; make the customary knock on the table to indicate a push). Otherwise, initiate the play of the hand as normal.

If the upcard is an ace, you must offer insurance. Before peeking at the hole card, turn the dealer’s hand ninety degrees (parallel to the chip rack); this is done to emphasize that an ace is the upcard (and also allows the hole card to be inserted properly into the dealer’s no-peek mirror device on a casino table). Indicate that insurance is offered by slowly waving your hand, palm side up, over the insurance line, from left to right. Ensure that all insurance wagers are no more than half of the original wager. When all players have placed their insurance bets or declined, indicate insurance bets are closed by waving your hand, palm side down this time, over the insurance line from right to left. Then check for blackjack. If it’s present, reveal it, and collect the original wagers before paying out the insurance wagers. To pay out an insurance wager, follow the procedures for a non-blackjack payout, except size into the chip stack twice—insurance wagers pay 2 to 1, rather than even money. If there is no dealer blackjack, return the dealer’s hand to it usual orientation and continue the hand as normal.

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