Do NOT Use a Card Protector

One of the first things I tell my new poker students is to not use card protectors, which comes as a shock to some of them. They vividly recall a time when the dealer mistakenly mucked their hand, costing them a ton of money, and a card protector would have saved them. While it is obviously a disaster to get your hand mucked, a card protector is not the only solution to protecting your hand.

I have never had my cards mucked when using the following method. Simply put your arms on both sides of your cards (with your chips and cards in between of your arms). It is essentially impossible for the dealer to accidentally muck your hand without reaching well into your space that is clearly designated with your arms. Of course, this requires you to stay in your seat while you have cards in front of you.

The reason I am adamantly against using card protectors is because they introduce one more physical element that can give off information about the strength of your hand. I have spotted countless tells due to people using their card protectors in different manners based on their hand’s strength.

The most extreme example of this that I have ever seen took place at a final table I was commentating on. One of the players would put one chip on top of his hand if it was bad, a few chips if it was decent, and a stack of 20 chips if it was premium. I couldn’t believe it. Eventually, one of his opponents figured out what was going on and picked him apart. Poker is an easy game when your opponent announces the rough value of his hand.

A much more common example that I see on a regular basis is when the player puts the card protector on top of his cards with different motions based on their hand’s strength. They may slam it on strong hands while placing it softly on junk, or the other way around. They may only use the card protector for premium hands, or only for marginal hands. They may place it on different parts of the cards. It is amazing how many different ways there are to put a card protector on top of cards.

As you can see, there are lots of ways to give off tells due to the subconscious way the card protector is used. I am sure many of you reading this who use card protectors are thinking “no way I give off tells like that”. While you may be the exception that just so happens to use the card protector exactly the same way every time, you almost certainly are not. In general, you should strive to be as methodical as you can when you are in a pot, keeping an especially close watch on any motions you make, such as how you place your chips in the pot (which is an unavoidable part of the game). Using a card protector gives you one more way to mess up. If you minimize the number of things you can mess up, you will mess up less often.

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12 thoughts on “Do NOT Use a Card Protector”

  1. Valid points – it’s interesting when I look at my own reaction. I use my grandfather’s lighter (he would light his pipe while we watch The Wizzard of Oz while I sat on his lap when I was a kid). He passed 15 years ago, it’s an emotional tie to me. Maybe I should change, it’s funny, feels difficult 🙂

  2. While giving us reasons not to use one, you just gave us another piece of info to study about all the players using card protectors and tells. I see them ALL the time at my local casino. Thanks Jonathan!

  3. You will have to pry my card protector out of my cold, dead hands! 🙂 I have been thinking about this since you’ve mentioned it before. I like the feeling of substantiveness it imparts. In the last tournament I usually did not use it until I was actually playing the cards in a hand, but I sometimes decided to randomly place it on cards I may or may not decide to play. It’s evolving.

  4. Years ago I wrote a CardPlayer column called The Dog That Didn’t Bark in the Night (after a Sherlock Holmes story.) This is the end of the column “There is a man two seats to my left who is following a strange procedure. He looks at his cards as soon as they are dealt. (I always advise students to wait until it is their turn to act before looking. If you don’t know what you have, you can’t give anything away.) When he intends to fold he continues to hold them in his hand. When he intends to play, he places them lengthwise in front of him and puts a small metal dog on top of them as a card protector. The dog appears to be a pointer made of silver or pewter, and is also placed lengthwise, with its paw pointing at his left hand opponent.
    About an hour into the tournament, he is the big blind and I am the button. There are several limpers. I have AJ suited and as I decide how much to raise, I note that this man’s cards are placed vertically in front of him, and the dog is now pointing at the pot. For some reason, this worries me. I’m not a big fan of AJ anyway, so I decide to fold instead of raising. The man raises about the size of the pot, and gets two callers. The flop is 887, he moves in, and is promptly called. He turns over KK, but the caller has 98 suited and wins easily. The man and dog are gone. I have dodged this bullet only to suffer with the heat and cards for another hour before, I, too, get KK and lose to suited connectors.

  5. Would recommend the use of talismans which would 1) distract your opponents; 2) strike fear into their hearts; or 3) cause them to wonder about your mental state (ha ha ha).

    Voodoo stuff gets a little creepy but bugs, or Lego Ninjago’s Garmadon, Lord of the Rings’ Golem or The Joker fit that mold in good-natured play with friends.

  6. I once noticed an older gentleman who put down his cards in a very specific way before playing them; very neatly laying them side by side, vertically. Each time his hand was shown he had a very strong starting hand. Now, after a couple of hours play, suddenly the old timer picks up his cards, looks at them and raises, after which he puts them on top of each other and puts his hand over them. Obviously I raise the immensely powerful Q# off suit and his insta-folds.

    So even without card protectors, you should be very wary of how you handle your cards …

  7. I stopped using the card protector after reading this article. For the first hour of the next session I felt like Ron Burgundy: “what do I do with my hands?”

    Recent Hand: I knew it was a bad card but I had a commitment mindset. Right or Wrong?

    Hero: 5s5c $2/$5 live Effective stack $475
    Pre-flop action: UTG limp, Hero (UTG+1) overlimp, UTG+2 raises to $25, BUT calls, BB calls, UTG calls, Hero calls
    Analysis: I never open limp but I’ll overlimp some of the time with Axs , suited connectors and low pocket pairs in passive tables. If there was a 3b here I would’ve folded but I got to close action so I called.
    Flop: 5hJd8d (Pot $127)
    Flop action: Hero bets $100, UTG+2, BB call
    Analysis: coordinated board 5-handed with passive BUT I did not want action to check through if initial raiser whiffed this flop and didn’t cbet. I rarely play out of flow but I didn’t want to let the action check through. Generally this is a XR hand for me, but I don’t often play 5 handed post flop.
    Turn: 9h (Pot $427)
    Turn action: Hero jams $350, UTG+1 over jams, BB folds.
    Analysis: I thought for about 30-45 seconds. That was not the card I wanted to see. Only worse card would’ve been 9d. Then I thought, there is now a two tone board where I am still ahead of pair + draws, other combo draws, two pair and have outs versus made straights. Only crushed by JJ, 66 (6 combos total). 67 and 10Q get there. Likely only 67s (4 combo) and 10dQd/10hQh get there for the straight.

    Villain shows 6h7h, river blanks.

    I have been on a downswing trying to figure out where else I can patch up my game (I am too sticky on the river which I’m working on). This seems like a hand that just happens and I shouldn’t over analyze it. I just want to make sure I am not making a glaring error here. I was committed to playing for stacks on the flop. I am never folding, so I thought a turn check was too weak and allowing draws a free card. Never folding with these stacks.

    Love your content!

    1. I would check-raise the flop, but leading large with a polarized range of sets, two pairs, and some junky draws is fine. Clearly jam the blank turn. Nice hand.

  8. @ Chris,
    Are you BRolled to play at those games? I only ask because you seem to be at odds with yourself about losing your stack to someone who likes to play cards that are not premium hands. Granted it was a limped pot and although you do almost pot the flop it still makes the call with just a draw that he’s not priced in to go for. This time the fish got lucky, but I’d be reloading and trying to get into pots with this guy.
    If the guys willing to gamble on his draw he clearly his BRolled to play these limits and doesn’t fear about losing $100 on the flip of a card. Players who gripe about losing a buy in (not you personally) tend to be the ones who are not BRolled to play those limits. Where a player who was BRolled to play those limits, would essentially just move on to the next hand. The fish got lucky, they do from time to time, but
    Essentially if were happy with how YOU played the hand then it shouldn’t effect your future hands.
    Money should be at the back of your mind and playing good solid poker should be at the front. Overall we like fish……

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