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“The Middle Ground” by Alan25main

August 28, 2018

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Ever watch a Royal Flush hit the board for everyone to share? Ronald G. Pittenger shares another work of poker fiction that highlights a rather unique situation. Read his latest story below!

“Tommy, it says here in the obits that Clarence Boudrreau died. I know I’ve heard that name, but I can’t connect it to anybody. Did you know him?” Billy asked.

Milly poured a refresher in my coffee mug. “Clare? I knew him. He was a wonder, all right.” She walked to the register at the other end of the counter to sell a passer-by a doughnut.

“Billy, when did you start playing cards with us? Wasn’t it in the 90s?”

Billy nodded. “1996.”

“That’s why you don’t remember Clare. We’d already kicked him out by then.”

“Kicked him out of what? The Sportsman’s club game?” Milly returned in time to hear the question and smiled. Billy looked amused. “What’d he do, cheat or something?”

“No, nothing that dramatic. He was just a f…” Tommy looked at Milly from the corner of his eye, rephrased and continued, “classic mess up. If he fell out of bed, he’d find a way not to hit the floor cleanly.”

Milly chimed in. “He always had great ideas and every one of them went wrong. Remember the night we played poker with a Pinochle deck? We always figured his last words would be some variation of ‘Let’s try something.’ The paper said he died quietly in his sleep. That’s a minor miracle all by itself.”

“What did he do to get kicked out?” Billy asked.

“The Sports’ game had been going since my grandad helped organize the association back in the 1920s. Clare and I were initiated on the same day in 1968, and we both watched the game in the clubhouse cellar after the meeting. By the end of that year, we were both playing regularly. I mostly broke even, but Clare lost a little more each month. Now, in those days, we were playing nickel-dime-quarter, and a two dollar loss was a lot. By the early 80s, inflation had driven the price of poker to 50¢-$1-$2, and Clare’s losses were running about $20 to $25 monthly, but the game had undergone a radical change.

About the time Reagan was elected, we started playing high-low split. Early on, it was mostly 7-stud games, but it was more fun played like draw poker with a five-card hand and five common cards in the middle that we could all use to finish our hands. You could even play the board. Boy, those hands ran strong. The average high winner was Jacks-full; and any low worse than 6-5-3 was almost worthless.”

“Wow, Tommy, by the time I came along you guys were all playing Hold’em and Omaha.”

“Yeah, you’ll understand why we changed games when I finish the story, Billy. One thing that doesn’t change is that every ‘house’ has its own house rules. One of our house rules was that 5% of every pot was dragged, held by that night’s dragger and paid to the club for the use of the cellar space at the game’s end. Again, when the rule was made, the stakes were so low, the couple of dollars the club made for the night didn’t really mean anything, but as the stakes spiraled up, that drag began to become a burden. The other house rule that bears on this is there was no limit on the number of raises per betting interval. That, we changed in 1990.

“Like I said, most of the games were high-low. Clare said we ought to try High-Low-Middle. With three ways to win instead of two, there’d be a lot of action. He was more right than he’d ever dreamed.”

“Middle? What’s middle poker?” Billy was stumped.

“Middle hand was 8-8-8-8 and an Ace. If anybody held it, it won BOTH ways and the highs and lows were out of luck, no matter what they were. A Middle beat a Royal Flush for high and beat the lowest low for low. It was a sweepstakes hand that took everything.

“Some of the players thought it was a great idea, others, not so much. Clare pointed out it was about the same as adding an extra Royal Flush that outranked all the others to the game. He also pointed out it had been years since there had been a royal at that table. We agreed to play it.

“Milly wasn’t there that night–thanks be–and I told them to deal around me so I could go upstairs to the men’s room. It turned out I was the only one who didn’t lose. As I walked back toward the game, I could hear the shouting half way across the meeting hall. All the shouting was directed at Clare. With a fast-beating heart, I went down the stairs and into the card room.

“All seven of the seated players, just like me, had bought in for $200. My money was untouched because I had sat out. The other $1400 was piled in the middle of the table. The board cards were 8-8-8-Ace of clubs-8. EVERYBODY–all seven of them–had the perfect middle! I just stood in the doorway and watched, dumb-struck.

“By the time the money was all sorted out and split, and everyone realized they had lost $10 to the drag on a seven-way shared perfect hand, it was clear that Clare would be well advised to leave with his skin intact. I walked him out, partly to protect him and partly to make sure he really left. He never came back.”

“So, why did you switch to Hold’em and Omaha?” Billy asked.

“Because when we play high-low, it’s always Omaha, isn’t it? You have to use two cards from your hand in Omaha, so the whole table can never again share a perfect high, low, or middle.”