McHaffie: MCU lesson 007 / Protecting your hand

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in Poker Player newspaper in 2003.

This is part of a series by Diane McHaffie. She wasn’t a poker player when she began writing this series. These entries chronicle the lessons given to her personally by Mike Caro. Included in her remarkable  poker-learning odyssey are additional comments, tips, and observations from Mike Caro.

Diane McHaffie index.

Diane McHaffie is Director of Operations at Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy. She has traveled the world coordinating events and seminars in the interest of honest poker. You can write her online at

Diane McHaffie

Lessons from MCU

— With bonus content by Mike Caro (pending) —

Lesson 7: Protecting your hand

I walked between poker tables in Las Vegas. Suddenly, I heard a player yell, “What have you done to my hand!” So, I stopped and turned to the table behind me. One man was standing up after throwing his cards across the table in frustration. They’d slid into an opponent’s hand, which had been lying on the table unprotected. The careless victim watched in horror as the dealer scooped up all the mixed cards.

“You idiot, you just killed my full house!” was the roar heard throughout the cardroom.


Protecting your hands is just as important as any other facet of poker.  It’s actually a must. When you first look at your hand, do so very carefully, protecting it from prying eyes. At the same time, you should do one other thing: memorize your cards, so there won’t be a need to look at them again. The more times you look at your cards, the greater the risk that someone else could get a glance at them as well, or your face or actions could give something away. I can’t stress it enough that you only need one look at your cards. Believe it or not, they won’t change from your first look to your second look, no matter how much you might wish they would.

It’s easier to concentrate on the game and your opponents if you already know what you’re holding in your hand, so you’re not distracted by continually looking at your cards.

After you’ve looked at your cards once, place them carefully back on the table and secure them with a chip, coin, rock, or a desired token that you have chosen specifically. This keeps the cards safe from accidents.

Gauging your opponent’s hand

Players will usually protect better cards more noticeably than they will bad cards. Weaker players have a tendency to do this more often than others, although it isn’t uncommon among strong players.

Most players are unaware that they are guarding their hands. Occasionally, a player will try to deceive you into thinking a weak hand is a strong hand by overly protecting it. But, that’s usually not the case. Weak players are less likely to guard a poor hand because it’s not worth the extra effort.

For these reasons, a closely protected hand is usually a very strong one. Sometimes, it’s even possible to gauge how strong your opponent’s hand is by the degree of effort he uses to protect it.

If one of the players is protecting his hand, and you play before him, it would be wisest not to open with a questionable hand. If the player opens before you, it would probably be best to pass if you don’t have a good hand. If you do have a strong hand, you might consider just checking, instead of betting, because he’ll probably bet.

Exposing cards

Sometimes players will be negligent and accidentally expose their cards. This usually occurs when they have a weak hand and don’t expect to play it. They have lost interest and their attention has wandered.

Generally a player who is involved in a high stakes game will guard his hand from being seen. If you do witness a player exposing any of his cards, take notice. It’s probably a purposeful move. You were intended to have that peak.

Sometimes a weak card may be shown to deceive you into thinking he has a poor hand, when actually he is holding a strong one. Very rarely are either of these actions made unconsciously. By exposing a threatening card, your opponent probably is hoping you won’t bet your hand.

This week’s lesson about guarding your hand and memorizing your cards has probably not crossed your mind as an important part of poker. I hadn’t considered it that important, either, until Mike pointed out how necessary it is. So, protect your hand from watchful eyes and to memorize your hand.  You’ll be amazed at how quickly this becomes automatic. — DM

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