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“The Road Not Taken” by Alan25main

December 11, 2018

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Poker is all about choice. In this article, Alan25main shares a personal story about a player called Tiger and some important decisions that both of them had to make at the table.

“Sometimes, survival depends on correctly identifying our situation and taking a sudden, radically different course of action. As scary as that might be, the alternative can be certain doom.

After the regular poker game at the Elks broke up because too many players had died, I had one of the other surviving Elks sponsor me to become an Eagle. Though there’s a lot of fraternal competition between the various civic organizations, there has always been a lot of “cross-over double membership” within the much smaller poker playing community. Francis got me into the Eagles; that seemed fair, as I had sponsored him into the Sportsman’s Association some years earlier.

The Eagles game was every Friday evening, mostly draw poker Jacks-or-Better, $2 before the draw and $4 after with a maximum of three raises per bet, but if no one opened, the next deal’s bets were doubled. Players could draw up to three cards. No wild cards were allowed. Once I got to know the other players, the game was pretty straight-forward.

Every player finds things that seem to work for them. The thing I found was that by passing without looking at my cards when I was under the gun (first to act after the initial deal), I could usually fold poor to mediocre hands at no additional cost other than the ante. Or, if I DID have a solid hand, I was then in position to check-raise from the least favorable seat. That became my practice.

It started with no one being able or willing to open. The deal passed to Francis, seated at my right. We all put up a second ante for the now-doubled bets of $4 and $8.

Being under the gun, I passed, blind. The next player, LeVesque (le-VAKE) opened for $4. Three players folded, then “Tiger” (who gave himself that nickname – have you ever noticed the relationship between players and their self-chosen nicknames?) raised to $8. Everyone folded around to me. I looked at my cards; I had a pat straight to the Queen. “I’ll make it $12,” I announced. The average winning hand at Jacks-or-Better is about two pairs, Queens-over. Straights are very strong hands.

LeVesque raised to $16. Tiger called while looking as if he really wanted to raise again, but there were no raises left. I called, too, now figuring LeVesque for high trips and Tiger for a good two pairs or low trips.

I was first to draw. There being no possible improvement for my straight. I stood pat.

Sometimes, bluffing players will stand pat on two pairs or triplets, so they can look stronger to their opponents. (Being the permanent contrarian, I would’ve kept a kicker to trips so as to look like a weak two pair.) While that pat hand bluffery might give some slight advantage to an early-seated player, it doesn’t work if the player ahead of you has already done it. It especially doesn’t work if you’re known to bluff seldom, as I was.

LeVesque looked at his cards, looked at me, then repeated both a few times, but his smile was gone. “I’ll play these,” he finally said, standing pat.

Tiger was likewise torn. With visible reluctance, he too, stood pat.

The average pat hand at Jacks-or-Better is a straight to the Jack or Queen. So, my hand was almost exactly that average. Experience, though, says that when multiple pat hands appear, they are not usually all straights. Some are flushes or full houses. I now had two different pat hands, both raising hands, waiting to call my bet or raise into me. And, me with a mere straight to the Queen. After a lot of thought and hesitation, I checked with the $8 call money ready in my hand.

I watched LeVesque go through the exact same thought process and come up with the exact same solution. He also checked with the call money in his fist.

Tiger, though aggressive, was no fool. We had both beaten him many times. He examined his cards. He examined us. Finally, he announced “Straight to the five.” He showed his hand.

Happy to be past the first hurdle, I said “Straight to the Queen.” I showed my cards.

“Damn! My straight only goes to the Jack,” said LeVesque as he mucked.

I breathed a sigh of relief as I reached for the pot. I also looked at the cards Tiger had shown. His wheel contained four hearts for a possible flush. I said nothing.

After stacking my chips, as I was the next dealer, I gathered up the cards. It occurred to me to look at the top card of the deck, the one Tiger would’ve drawn if he had asked for one card after LeVesque and I had stood pat. It was the nine of hearts.

So, who made the mistake? I wasn’t strong enough to bet into TWO pat hands, and I was too strong to fold, even if they bet (notice that in a no limit game, this might not have been true). LeVesque was in exactly the same position. Tiger had to hope both of us were bluffing even though that was very unlikely. He held the worst possible pat hand. If either of us had a real pat hand, he was beaten. Which meant he should’ve broken up his straight and drawn one card to the possible flush. If he missed the flush, it was irrelevant because he was already beaten by any pat hand either LeVesque or I could hold. But, Tiger didn’t draw, either from bad analysis of the situation or lack of courage. It cost him the pot.”