If only, if only, if only: A daisy chain of recent recreational mistakes

October 23, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
Oct. 23, 2014

On a recent night at a no-jacket-required sports bar in Cary, N.C., during a World Tavern Poker tournament, the flop came out ace-ace-six.

I was sitting two spots to the right of the dealer. The dealer and the person between us had folded, meaning that I was the last player to act in the hand.

The flop was checked around to me. I had pocket nines, so the board had given me two pairs. That hand, of course, would be useless if one of the other players held an ace.

Did he or she? I decided to test the waters by betting 2,600 in chips.

The other players reacted: Fold, fold, fold…

I started to muck my cards, mistakenly thinking that the hand had ended. As I did so, however, I noticed in my peripheral vision that the person two spots to my right, a heavyset woman named Norma, was reaching to call my bet.

I grabbed at my cards as they slid toward — and as they may have entered — the muck pile. Everyone agreed that the two cards whose movement I’d arrested were mine. Norma, however, maintained that I had mucked. Since there hadn’t been an all-in bet, she contended that my hand was irretrievably discarded, meaning that she had won the pot.

I protested, but the dealer, Scott, said that he thought Norma’s interpretation was correct. He said I could ask Josh, the tournament director, to come over, but the ruling would probably go against me.

OK, I said — call Josh over. I said that I wouldn’t be mad if Josh ruled against me, but I wanted the ruling to come from the tournament director.

We waited for a few minutes because Josh had pushed all-in. When he came over, it still took us a few minutes to sort things out. But Josh’s ultimate ruling was that, if my cards were identifiable, I could continue playing the hand with them.

I leaned over to Scott and whispered in his ear: “I had a pair of nines; I couldn’t tell you what suit they were.”

He checked the cards and passed them to me. “They are what he said they were,” Scott announced.

At last, the hand was ready to resume.

But I had a sinking feeling, one that was confirmed after Scott dealt the turn.

“All in,” Norma said. “Might as well get this over with,” she added.

I don’t remember what the turn was, but I know that it wasn’t a nine. I considered for a moment.

“Well,” I said, “I think you have me beat, but I guess I’m gonna call you.” I pushed my three white chips, valued at 15,000 in nominal units, and flipped over my pocket pair.

Norma showed an ace, which didn’t surprise me. I can’t remember what her kicker was — it may have been a six, meaning that she’d flopped an almost unbeatable full boat. The river was dealt, and it did not help me. (If in fact Norma had her boat, there was no card in the universe that could have helped me.) I pushed back from the table and stood up to go.

A player named Kevin was sitting at the table. “Why’d you make all that trouble if you was just gonna go?” he asked me scoffingly.

I tried to explain, but I don’t think that I did an adequate job of it. And I thought about Kevin’s perfectly apt question and my imperfectly phrased response as I drove home.

During the wrangling over my action, I’d come to realize that Norma almost certainly had an ace. In other words, her calling my big bet indicated that she had the goods. Her shoving all in was a bet that I should never have called.

And, indeed, I could have folded. But at that point, after I’d struggled to keep my chances in the hand alive, folding seemed like a weaselly thing to do. Calling, and losing to, Norma seemed like it might restore some kind of karmic balance.

But, as I continued driving, I wondered: Does that make any sense? Poker is a game that tends to reward patience, and I’d acted rashly. Why not bail on a bad hand and stay alive, waiting for the right moment to win a big pot?

But if I’d done that, I would have felt like a weasel, I told myself. Anything that I might have accomplished after that point would have felt tainted.

I’m still not entirely sure whether I took the honorable way out or acted foolishly. (I suppose that both might be true at once.) But I think part of the explanation for why I did what I did was that I was annoyed at some things that had happened earlier in the game.

Shortly before Norma hit three-of-a-kind aces, a player named Dwayne, who I think is the top-ranked World Tavern Poker player in North Carolina, went all in with 2,000 chips. I had king-eight in my pocket, hole cards which I liked only because they were suited — both spades.

I don’t remember how much I’d paid pre-flop to participate in the hand, and I’m not sure exactly which cards were in the flop.

But one of them was an eight, so I had a pair. It wasn’t the highest pair, but if another eight came out, or if a king came out, I’d probably have the best hand.

But what were the chances that one of those would appear, I asked myself.

I folded my cards — and I regretted it practically before the cards had left my hand.

The turn, of course, was a king. I don’t remember what fifth street was, but Dwayne had a weak hand, and I would’ve beaten the other ones out there — if only I’d been willing to pay 2,000 (relatively measly) chips.

“I made a mistake,” I muttered to myself as Dwayne left the table and the winner raked in her chips.

So I was angry at myself about that when I was playing the hand with Norma, and that may have made me more inclined to make a bad call and put what — even before I inappropriately moved to muck — sort of felt like a tainted tournament behind.

And actually, that wasn’t the only thing that was nagging at me. I was also bothered by the way I’d handled an illegal bet that Dwayne had tried to make shortly before Dwayne’s all-in move.

Shortly after the blinds moved to 300 and 600, Dwayne was (I think) first to act. He put out 800 in chips.

A moment ago, the blinds had been 200 and 400. Raises must be at least the amount of the previous bet or raise; when the big blind is 400, 800 is perfectly legitimate as a first raise.

With the blinds having increased, however, Dwayne’s bet was invalid, and I told him so. In keeping with my experiences in World Tavern Poker, the proper corrective is for the bettor either to back down to a call (600 chips, in this case) or to move up to a minimum raise of 1,200. I told Dwayne this.

For some reason, he was confused, so I kept on trying to explain the situation. I was surprised that he didn’t understand me right away, because he plays both well and frequently on the circuit.

Kevin listened and asserted that I was correct. After a few minutes, a disgruntled Dwayne corrected his bet. (I think he backed down to a call.)

I don’t remember how the hand played out after this point, but I do know that Dwayne lost with pocket aces. (Did his opponent hit trips? a straight? a flush? Again, I can’t recall.) That cleaned out most of Dwayne’s holdings, meaning that a few minutes later, he would go all in on a hand that I did not call… but should have.

And not long before that (on a hand I remember even less clearly), I thought I’d scored a nice pot on Broadway — an ace-high straight, ace-king-queen-jack-10. Unfortunately, I didn’t bet aggressively when my hand hit (which was either on the river or the turn), and the completed board also gave my opponent Broadway, so my take wasn’t quite as fat.

The point being that every part of this sequence influenced a subsequent part of the chain of causality, creating a vicious cycle that left me more and more irked, and more and more like to act rashly.

What if one of these hands had played out differently? What if that Broadway hadn’t been mutual, or Dwayne had raised correctly, or I’d called Dwayne’s all in, or I’d realized that Norma was still in the hand? The results could have been completely different.

Of that I’m sure. But what’s done is done, and we’ll never truly know what what might have happened if only, if only, if only…


One Response to “If only, if only, if only: A daisy chain of recent recreational mistakes”

  1. Wolfgang Says:

    Those type of trials plus tribulations, no matter whether you realize the idea or not, switch who you are and make you a stronger individual.

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