I feel like this rule from the WSOP isn't entirely correct:

  1. Protect Your Hand: participants must protect their own hands at all times. A protected hand is defined as a hand sitting on the table surface with a card cap (see Rule 110) placed on top of the hand. If a dealer or participant kills or fouls an unprotected hand, the participant will have no redress and will not be entitled to his or her chips back that were wagered in the hand. If the participant initiated a bet or raise and hasn’t been called, the uncalled bet or raise will be returned to the participant.

The above rule references rule 110 which defines a "card cap":

  1. Foreign Objects: There will be no foreign objects on the table except for a maximum of one card cap (also known as a card protector). Card caps can be no larger than two (2) inches in diameter and no more than one-half (1/2) inch in depth. Participants may not place any food or beverages on the poker table with the exception of one (1) capped bottle of water.

I feel like the universally accepted definition of a protected hand would be more similar to:

A player's cards are considered protected if they are partially covered by one of the following:

  • card cap
  • one or more of the player's chips
  • the player's hand or fingers

(Perhaps the allowed capped water bottle would be a legal protector too.)

My questions:

  1. Is protecting your cards with chips or your fingers simply too obvious to mention, or could a player's hand with a single chip on it (instead of a card cap) really not be considered "protected"?

  2. The rules don't specify what would happen if a protected hand was accidentally mucked. AFAIK this has never happened in the WSOP, but what would the rule be if it did happen? (As an aside, here's a famous example of an unprotected hand that was accidentally mucked in the WSOP.)

Update: Apparently rule 108 which I quoted is simply incomplete, and does implicitly allow for protecting your cards with your hand or chips. Plain as day on the WSOP rules summary, it states:

Protecting your own hand is one of the most important things a player must do. Players may use their hands, chips, or another object on top of their cards to protect them. Those who do not protect their hand have no recourse if there is an issue.

Interestingly, that sentence implies that if your hand is protected, you might have some "recourse". I interpret that to mean if a protected hand were mucked by the dealer, perhaps it would be handled on a case by case basis.

3 Answers 3


1: I disagree with ejLev and don't think the definition of a card cap given in rule 110 explicitly includes chips from your stack. The rule is titled: "Foreign Objects" and I would suggest that chips in play are not a foreign object and as such this rule does not explicitly encompass chips as card caps. However, I have only once in my life seen a hand mucked (my own as it happens) when a chip was placed on top of it, so I think the chances of a hand being mucked when protected with one or more chips from a players' stack is extremely low, probably to the point where the WSOP don't deem it necessary to clarify the rule in this regard. Plus is is widely known by most who play poker (and therefore hopefully almost all who deal it) that a hand with one or more chips on it should never be mucked without instruction from the player whose hand it is.

As for protecting you hand with your fingers/hand, this is even more of a moot point, as it's going to be almost impossible for a dealer to muck your hand if you're touching it, plus they would be very unlikely to even try, for the same reason as above. Again, I suspect the WSOP didn't feel this needed to be explicitly stated in the rules and expect their floor staff to handle any disputes around this.

2: I think there are two possible ways to rule on this. Either you warn the dealer not to muck protected hands (and perhaps arrange an immediate push to avoid any confrontation) and take no further action, or you attempt to recover the hand from the muck. To do this, you can ask the player to tell the floor (secretly smother players cannot hear) what they held and if possible, have them point out their cards if they can be physically identified in the muck when they're near the edge for example. If the cards the player claimed to have can be found in the muck, they can be returned to the player and the hand can continue as if the protected hand was not mucked. If the cards specified by the player cannot be found, I would expect a penalty of some kind to be imposed on the player, to prevent possible angle shooting (where a player could take a chance and specify a hand better than the one they actually held).

As I mentioned above, I did once have my hand mucked while it was protected (including the chip which was protecting it being pushed into the pot, which added insult to injury), without me noticing (as I was talking to an opponent in the hand and looking the other way) and I actually declared I was all in before I noticed my cards had been removed. In this instance, the floor made an insane ruling and said my all in was valid (even without cards, even though the cards were taken while protected and against my will!) and my opponent could choose to call and win the pot uncontested, or fold and gift me the pot. Obviously he called and I was not pleased.

  • For #2 I agree there must be a penalty. Perhaps the player is given an option: your hand is dead OR you tell us the exact cards and we retrieve them from the muck, but if they aren't both found there you are disqualified from the tournament (if a tourney) or are barred from the poker room for X amount of time (if a cash game). I suppose it would be unfair if you legitimately forgot your exact cards: e.g. I had Ah and a black King, I forgot which one...
    – TTT
    Dec 30, 2016 at 22:05
  • 1
    I think a DQ or ban is a little extreme personally, people may genuinely misremember their hand and this would be a harsh penalty for that. A round or two sitting out would probably be sufficient IMO. Would be interested to hear from other floors to see what house rule (if any) they have on this, or how they would rule this situation.
    – 3N1GM4
    Dec 30, 2016 at 22:08
  • I don't think it's too extreme if they are angling on purpose, but obviously it is too extreme if they genuinely mis-remembered. (The hard part would be distinguishing between the two.) I know it's happened to me before, when I proudly stated "Flush!" and laid down my hand thinking I had two spades but one was actually a club. I deservedly was laughed at for that. I've also seen someone else's protected hand get mucked (and the floor retrieved it). I guess if that happened to someone AND their protected hand was mucked and they were DQ'd for it, well that's just some really bad luck.
    – TTT
    Dec 30, 2016 at 22:15
  • @ttt You really expect them to go through the entire muck and search for the two cards you said you had. You are not seeing a problem with that? In that video they sure did not go through the entire deck.
    – paparazzo
    Dec 30, 2016 at 22:32
  • I think you hit the nail on the head, being able to distinguish between an angle shoot and a genuine mistake in this situation may be impossible, so it would be a case of determining if the risk of incorrectly penalising an innocent player is outweighed by the benefit of protecting people from an angle shooter.
    – 3N1GM4
    Dec 30, 2016 at 22:33
  1. A chip actually fits the requirements for a card cap. That's intentional as it is very common for people to use their chips as caps. As for the fingers, if a player's hand is on their chips, the concept of protection is irrelevant as the dealer can't accidentaly muck the hand the player is holding in the hands. (Short of them wrestling them from the player.)
  2. it doesn't say in the rules explicitly so noone can give you a canon answer. It would be up to the judgement of the floor. If I happened to be the floor, I'd ask the player their exact cards and look for them in the muck and give them back to the player.
  • 1
    With regards to your answer to point 2 - what would you do if one or both of the cards the player names were not in the muck? If you'd do anything other than penalise the player, this seems like an obvious angle shooting opportunity.
    – 3N1GM4
    Dec 30, 2016 at 20:52
  • Personally, I don't think it's much of an angle shooting opportunity as this happens so rarely. I think that, in this situation, the player who had his cards illegally mucked needs to be catered to, and if the cards he says he had aren't there, I'd give him the benefit of the doubt and when I can't find them, give him back any money he put in the pot. Again, this is a judgement call and thats just my subjective judgement.
    – ejLev
    Dec 30, 2016 at 21:53
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    I think that when it comes to rules, saying that it's not worth protecting against a very possible angle shoot because it happens infrequently is a slippery slope. How often would this situation need to occur before you would feel it necessary to protect against?
    – 3N1GM4
    Dec 30, 2016 at 21:58

I think the rule at the WSOP is silly. A protected hand is simple, it is a hand that has not been mucked.

The video linked to by OP, is a classic example of a wrongly mucked hand. Player in a seat next to the dealer, dealer nervous and inexperienced, cards not capped, a busy environment (noise, cameras etc.) The reason this hand was mucked is because the dealer brain farted and mucked the hand. The players hand was reasonably protected, she pushed all in, and her cards were in front of her tight against the rail. No more chips were in front of her, plenty of feed back for the dealer not to have a good reason to touch the cards. This was a dealer fail and the hand should not of been mucked. The outcome was bad, the hand was not retrievable. lots of bad things may have happened because of it, like perhaps the dealer lost his job, the player was shaken up and not able to recover, an embarrassing video made it to YouTube.

All the WSOP did here was offer a rule that allows the hand to be retrieved, a common remedy in most venues but a remedy that has a lot of issues with it, as demonstrated in a long string of comments to 3N1GM4 answer. No one ever wants to get to the point were the decision is dead hand because of dealer error.

However, in any system that is dependent on humans always behaving rationally and predictably to avoid failure, your not going to avoid failure.

The problem with the rule in question (108) is that it is simple good advice, and not a rule at all. If it was actually a rule, you have a dead hand if your hand is not protected. According to that rule as written, as a player or a dealer I can reach over and kill any unprotected hand. It is a silly attempt to codify that "things can happen" and you can have a dead hand. And in doing so they put in an unintentional loophole. I say again, a protected hand is a hand that has not been mucked or more specifically conceded by the player, and add further at this point that anybody other then the player of the hand mucking the hand is in error. The rule is just silly and bloated and should not go beyond simply saying that a wrongly mucked hand may be retrieved if possible.

Back to the video, because this incident is classic in the sense that it encompasses most everything that goes wrong when a hand is wrongly mucked. I think it is clearly established that the dealer was the main cause of the hand being wrongly mucked however, there are so many things here that would of helped this mistake from ever happening in the first place that are not necessarily within the domain of the dealer.

Starting with the player; Mistakes happen! the more you are aware of this, the less you will suffer from these mistakes. The more barrier there is between your hand and the dealer the less likely it is that your hand is going to be wrongly mucked. It would of been less likely a hand gets mucked if the hand is capped by a chip or something else. The player pushed the chips toward the middle of the table, removing another barrier to the hand. The player could of stated all in, leaving the chips in place and lessened the likelihood of the hand being mucked. The more experience a player gets, the more situational awareness they have, the less likely they are to have a hand wrongly mucked. You do have to own this because in the end you are the one with the downside not anybody else.

With the WSOP there was failure on a few levels. Training, hiring and the table layout were all less then optimal to minimize the likelihood of a hand being wrongly mucked. The WSOP chooses instead to have a silly rule act as a catch all, leaving the burden to the player rather then owning their part of game security.

If a dealer says I dealt the WSOP I am not impressed at all. To staff a major tournament they need to find a couple thousand out of work or under employed people that know how to deal poker at some level. You will find the full spectrum of dealers ranging from the very worst to the very best. So there is a lot of potential for dealer mistakes.

There is not a lot of training. It is very basic stuff consisting of short meetings before shift and perhaps some orientation before the tournament starts. Most things covered are things like were you go on breaks, parking and rather or not you rake a pot if there is no flop. I am pretty sure they do not emphasize that you do not take players hands, you let players muck there hands. Even on a regular job in a poker room they will make the assumption that a dealer knows this. There is only so much you can do in the way of training for temporary employees.

The table was a tournament table. It lacks drop slots which act as a barrier that offers a little protection for the player. It did not have betting lines. Betting lines are great to protect a hand. If the hand is behind the line it is protected, if it is over the line muck it. If a player is to lame to get their cards and place them behind the line, muck them. Lines make it all so much more plain and simple.

Rule 108 is a vain attempt to address a problem that is better addressed with other means. While it usually is dealer error that gets a hand wrongly mucked, players that are aware do not get hands mucked that they did not intend to have mucked. I think defining a protected hand the way it is in 108 does not really fit with reality, IE silly. Does nothing to protect players, does nothing to help players protect themselves, just does nothing to lesson the likelihood of the occurrence. The rule at best gives the WSOP some protection from a claim that the dealer was cheating or from a player claiming foul that they suffered a monetary lose.

  • "A protected hand is a hand that hasn't been mucked" makes no sense. A hand can be both unprotected and unmucked, or mucked despite being protected at the time. Protection is the player's responsibility at all times, and while WSOP hasn't helped, that environment is well-known long prior to entry and arrival and play. The players know what can and will happen, it is their job to keep themselves in the game.
    – Nij
    Jan 1, 2017 at 8:10
  • Look at it this way, to use a metaphor. If someone shoots someone and kills them, and the victim was not wearing a bullet proof vest, is it the victims fault? It is against rules for a dealer to muck a live hand, that makes the hand protected, to lay it on the player is simply a device for a poker room to protect itself, not the player. The rule is as absurd as saying any victim is at fault when they become a victim.
    – Jon
    Jan 2, 2017 at 0:17
  • Dealers are not psychic. If your hand looks folded, it is assumed to be folded, it will get mucked. There's no time for idiots to peek and then start chatting or taking a drink, and the table to wait to ask them if they're keeping their hand. If you're not actively playing the game or make it very clear that you will, then you're not. This isn't about protecting anything except the game; play it or don't, dealers don't care, but make the choice clear to everyone especially the dealer.
    – Nij
    Jan 2, 2017 at 1:19
  • If a dealer has not seen the hand folded, the dealer does not touch the hand. That's procedure. If your not clear you ask. I am not allowed to rush players were I work, you just wait for them, the other players will rush them just fine and they do start paying attention.
    – Jon
    Jan 2, 2017 at 20:58

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