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“That Time I Invented a Game” by Alan25main

October 29, 2021

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Have you ever created your own poker variant to keep the game fresh and challenging? Alan25main describes his own invention, “Only Two,” and the one hand that’s stuck in his mind over the years.

Back in the 70s and 80s, playing in the club games at the Sportsman’s Association, the Elk’s, the Eagles’, the Italian-Americans’, and private house games, we mostly played 7-stud, 5-card draw, often Jacks or better to open, a little 5-stud (though that wasn’t as popular), and a few high-low split variations. The newest game at that time was locally called “Straight Eight.”

Straight Eight was dealt with a five-card private hand like Jacks or better, but the players didn’t draw to their hands. Instead, three cards were dealt to the board as the hands were dealt.

Rather than discarding from our hands to draw replacement cards, the three center cards were turned one at a time with bets after each. This produced a total of four bets: one on your 5-card hand, plus one betting round on each card after it was turned. I suppose you could think of it as a form of 8-card stud.

Whoever had the best hand picked from the three cards on board, plus his 5-card hand, was the winner. The average winning hand tended to be a medium-high (nine-ish or so) full house. There was a lot of action and the pots ran large.

Since I’d never played that variation before, I played very conservatively and only took a minor beating that first time. When I got home, I dealt out 2000 hands to 8 “players” to get a better idea what the true odds ought to be and what cards were worth staying in on (that took two weeks, by the way). I found that it played a lot like Jacks or better, but straights were not worth much — even if you caught one cold in the hand.

Armed with that knowledge, I faired better at the next game, losing only a small amount. What I eventually settled on as a “good” starting hand was very high pairs–QQ or better–trips in the hand, but discard them if board overcards drew a raise, two high pairs, and four flushes and four card straights if both ends were open. By limiting my investments to only those good starting hands, I managed to show a solid win in my fourth game and pretty much never lost regularly after that.

I will now tell you a truth you already know, but probably don’t like to admit. Every player is hoping to find an edge in our games. Our minds seek patterns, and when we notice one, we take note of it and try to use that knowledge to our advantage. Something I had noticed stuck in my mind. If you could only use two of the three board cards, flushes were almost as likely to win as full houses.

So, I invented a game.

Dealt and bet exactly the same way as Straight Eight, players could use only TWO of the three board cards. Very originally, I named it Only Two. Just to make it easy for players to be visually reminded which game was being played, instead of laying the three board cards in a row, I arranged them like the three-pointed star in the center of a Mercedes auto emblem (one pointing straight up at “zero degrees,” one pointing at the lower right at “120 degrees,” and one pointing at the lower left at “240 degrees”). It turned out to be a fairly good game, and I still deal it now and then in home games. Occasionally, it produces odd results.

The night I first introduced Only Two, one of the players was Gianni, an electrical engineer. He’d been born in Italy and was drafted into Mussolini’s army at age 14 and sent to Greece as a replacement. Greek partisans captured him and his whole train full of unarmed replacements. He spent the next few months as a POW.

Eventually freed, he made his way back to Italy just in time to be captured again, this time by the Germans who had taken over the defense of Italy. Another few months in a POW camp, and the camp was then captured by the Americans, so he was now a POW for the third time to a third country.

When the war ended, he left Italy at age 17, went to school in New York City, became a USA citizen and an engineer who could curse creatively in at least five languages. He was a very tight player; if he bet, he was likely ahead of you. He was almost always a winner.

“Bad Wig” Bart was another player that night. Bart (who has since passed away) had no hair — not even eyebrows. He owned several toupees, but none of them fit his skull well, thus the nickname. Bart was a plunger who would raise with anything or nothing but air. He usually lost.

I explained how the game worked, showed what it would look like, and how the betting worked. “Remember, guys, you can only use two of the three board cards,” I reminded them and then dealt the first hand.

Looking at my cards, I found three smiling ladies looking at me. High trips is a good start at almost any game. When the bet reached me, I raised. Bart, seated at my left raised again. Gianni, seated next, just called. I reraised, Bart reraised, killing the betting, and Gianni called again, as did I.

The first card turned was an Ace. I had to consider the possibility that at least one of them had an Ace or a pair of them in his hand. I checked. Bart bet. Gianni raised. After some thought, I called but I wasn’t happy about it. Bart raised and Gianni reraised.

“One of them has just hit trip Aces,” I thought. Reluctantly, I kissed my trip ladies goodbye and folded them. Bart raised again, killing the betting.

The second up card was another Ace. Had I played on, I’d now have Queens full of Aces. Of course, if either one of them had an Ace with a pair in their hand, they’d have me killed by Aces full. Again, the betting was capped.

The final up card was turned: another Ace! Thank God I’d folded, I thought. Again, the betting was capped.

“Four Aces!” shouted Gianni. “I’ve got them all!”

“No, Gianni, you can only use two board cards,” I quickly put in. “You can count three of them. What pair do you have?”

“Oh, crap! I don’t have a pair. I was drawing to a flush and missed,” Gianni admitted. “I guess all I have is three Aces, then.”

“YES,” exclaimed Bart. “I’ve got a straight, cold in my hand.” Sure enough, he had a straight to the ten, cold in his hand.

I wanted to weep. I had folded the winner of what would’ve been at least a $150 pot.

We played Only Two many times after that, but that hand has stuck in my memory for nearly 40 years. Under the circumstances, I think my fold was the right decision at the time, but my regrets still live on.