Why do Poker Players Put a Chip on Their Cards?


You might’ve seen a poker player put a chip (or some other small object) on their cards during a game, or you do it yourself on several occasions while playing. Chipping is not an uncommon phenomenon in poker, but most people don’t actually know why it’s done. We are now going to see why.

Players chip their downcards in poker – which is called capping – either because they want to indicate to the dealer that they intend to play their hand and are not folding, or to protect them from mucking.

In today’s article, we will explain to you what chipping (or capping) in poker is. We will tell you some rules related to the process and advise on when and how to do it. We will also give you a recommendation of some card covers that we’ve tried out, so keep reading to find out more.

Why is it good to cap (put poker chips on) your hand (cards).
Putting chips or capping your hand in some other way is a good habit.

Why do poker players put a chip on their cards?

Putting a chip on one’s card is called capping. Despite the same term, this capping is not the same as the one signifying a limit on the number of bets/raises in a betting round.

Our capping is actually a move where you physically “mark” your cards by putting a paperweight, a chip, a coin, or some other small objects on your downcards. It is called capping because you put a “cap” on top of your cards, i.e., their “head.” Capping is most often done in Texas Hold ’em and Omaha poker.

There are two main reasons for capping your cards, depending on what you want with your downcards.

  1. The first reason is indicating to the dealer that you are not folding your downcards and are still intent on playing them. Namely, an uncapped set of downcards that the player doesn’t use usually signals to the dealer that they have folded, i.e., that they are returning the downcards to the dealer.
    If a player caps their downcard, then the dealer won’t touch them (there is an exception to this rule, but more on that later), even if they are close to the muck; the dealer can take uncapped downcards and merge them with the muck, which is why it’s also essential to cap your cards if you don’t want to lose them.
  2. The second reason is a more practical one.
    Namely, in poker, when an opponent’s card touches yours at any given point or for any given reason, your hands are ruled out as dead. An opponent can fling his cards towards yours, and they can touch by accident, or he can do it intentionally to harm you; this is a known phenomenon in poker and is prohibited by the rules.

If you have an uncapped hand and it comes into contact with an opponent’s card, you automatically lose that hand. On the other hand, if you cap your cards and they come into contact with your opponents’ cards, your cards remain active, so you don’t have to worry.

YouTube: An example of why you need a card guard (card cover).

When should you Cap your cards?

There is no exact best time to cap your cards. The rules don’t state anything, so you can do it whenever you want. Whenever you feel your cards might be “endangered,” you can cap them to secure them, since that is the main reason for capping – securing your cards from becoming dead.

Many players today always cap their cards immediately and without any specific reason because it’s always better to be safe than sorry. We actually think that it is a good habit to get into because it will protect your cards if one of the two situations listed above actually happens. It is better to do it earlier because you might not be able to react quickly when the situation arises, and it is already too late.

You can cap your hand immediately, without even looking at it. But that means that you have to uncap it if you actually want to see your cards. Other players look at the cards and then memorize them before actually capping them, which means that they generally don’t have to uncap them every now and then to check what cards they actually have.

Can a dealer take your uncapped hand?

As we’ve stated above, a dealer considers an unused and uncapped set of downcards as their “prey”. He can consider your hand to be a folded one and can easily take it and put it on the muck. This is one of the reasons players cap their hands because it is a clear signal to the dealer that the hands are active and off-limits. If your hand accidentally touches any card within the muck, your card is automatically considered dead, so a dealer can immediately take it.

There is also a situation where the dealer can touch and take your hand even if it is capped. This happens when a player explicitly tips the dealer by sliding their hand back, facedown, with the tip on top of the hand as though it were still capped. This can be done only after the hand is over when it becomes clear that the player is not folding their hand, but is merely returning their hand for shuffling plus tipping the dealer.

Can you uncap your cards, and why would you do it

You might wonder whether you can uncap your cards once you’ve capped them? Well, you can. You completely control your hand, and if you want to uncap it at one point, you can do it without any restrictions.

Players who’ve capped their hand without even looking at it usually uncap it from time to time to see what cards they have. You can also uncap your hand at any given point if you want to unprotect it, change it, use it or whatever tactical approach you may have.

There are no general rules. You have to be precise and clear about your intentions, and that’s it. It is truly a very simple procedure that you can to at any given point in the game.

YouTube: Examples of custom and cheap card covers.

What are card covers

There is no exact rule as to what you can use to cap your cards. You can use a chip from your stack, a coin you have in your pocket, a paperclip, etc., but also a very stylish item such as a card cover.

Due to the increasing popularity of poker and the use of capping in games, many companies have specialized in the production of card covers for players. The covers are also called card guards.

Card covers can range from simple, yet stylish designs to more complex objects that even have a certain artistic value, despite being nothing more than a practical paperweight.

They come in many different shapes and sizes and are usually relatively cheap (between $5 and $15). Most of them are shaped like chips or coins, but they also come shaped like cards, regular paperweights, and other objects such as hearts, bullets, boxes, card symbols, etc.

If you’re wondering which one to buy, we recommend the commemorative triple spinner card guard (Amazon link).

It is a very nicely crafted item that is available at a reasonable price. It is heavy and has a nice feel. Like us, most people are generally satisfied with it, and it comes with different symbols in the center, depending on your desires.

Conclusion

That’s it for today. Poker is an exciting game, and capping is one move with a lot of meanings in poker. Besides the general betting limit, capping can – as you’ve seen – also mean the protection of your cards and players do it for two main reasons – to prevent your hand from being treated as folded or to prevent accidental mucking.

Players today routinely cap their hands, and that is a good habit because it provides instant protection and is not an issue, since you can uncap your hand at any given moment. You can also use different objects to cap your hand, but there is a whole industry of card cover manufacture that can add a lot of style to your game. See you next time!

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Primoz

I have played poker professionally for more than 10 years. I was a winner at every poker format that I played - from tournaments to cash games, both in NL Holdem and PLO. Now my biggest satisfaction is to provide enthusiastic but new poker players with answers to all of their questions.

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