By Matthew E. Milliken
May 27, 2015
It’s the weekend. A two-table tournament has shrunk down to one table. I’m short stack.
The blinds are approaching. I’m first to act. I peek at my hand: Two queens. I push all in.
Everyone folds to the big blind. His name is Mateo; he needs to pay just a small amount in order to call my all-in shove. He debates. He does it.
We show our hands. Mateo deflates, because he has queen-two. If a queen comes out, it will just strengthen my hand.
A queen doesn’t come out. Instead, the board harbors an ace, a four and a five.
“All you need is a three,” someone tells Mateo.
And he gets it, on the river: the wheel, an ace-two-three-four-five straight.
The table erupts in cries of disbelief. I shake my head, and then I shake Mateo’s hand. I walk away and start sharing my bad-beat story.
Cut to later the same day. It’s the second game at the same venue; it’s another small gathering. My pocket cards are ace-queen. The queen pairs with the board.
The only other person in the hand is a younger man named Dan, whom I don’t remember meeting prior to tonight. He goes all in on the river.
I stare at the board, thinking. There are three fives on the board in addition to the queen. My hand is a full house: five-five-five-queen-queen. That’s a pretty good hand.
But my gut tells me to steer clear. I can’t remember the relative size of our stacks, but I would have had little to nothing left if I lost the hand.
I fold. Dan praises my decision and shows one of his hole cards. It was a five, meaning he had quads — four of a kind. According to this page, quads turn up once out of every 595 Texas holdem hands. It’s relatively rare.
I wish I could rationally explain why I folded my hand, which was pretty good. I can’t, but it was a definitely a good idea.
Later still in that tournament, Dan and I are heads up, meaning that we’re the last two players remaining. He starts with a significant advantage, but we trade chips.
Finally, I have ace-queen again. Dan goes all in, and I call — or the other way around. We match stacks. I’ve got about two-thirds of the chips he does. If he wins the hand, he wins the tournament. If I win the hand, I’ll be in great position.
We show our hands. Dan has queen-queen. I’m behind — way behind.
But there’s good news: The very first card out is an ace. Now we each have a pair, but mine is higher!
I’m likely dead, of course, if another queen comes. That would give Dan trips: three of a kind, queen-queen-queen. The odds of my coming from behind a second time in the same hand are pretty steep.
I’m fortunate in that no queen appears.
But after Dan deals the river — the fifth and final community card — he counts the clubs on the board: “One, two, three, four.”
One of his queens provides the fifth club. Dan has a flush, a hand that vastly outguns my pair of aces.
If my ace had been a club, everything would have been fine. But the ace of clubs was on the board. If only three clubs had come out, everything would have been fine. But four community cards were clubs, giving Dan the tournament victory.
Cut to a weeknight. I’m heads-up against a man named Bill. As happened the other night against Dan, one of us goes all in and the other calls instantly.
I have a pair of sixes. Bill is holding a queen and a jack. If no queen or no jack comes out, I should be golden. Should be…
The flop includes an ace and a 10. Bill is one card away from hitting Broadway, the highest straight: 10-jack-queen-king-ace.
The turn comes. It’s a king. I swear aloud; I’m drawing dead, because Bill has a made hand, and nothing that comes on the river can help me.
Bill has me covered — not by much, but it didn’t matter. Hand over; tournament over; second place for me yet again.
Cut to later that same night. It’s the second game. Our two-table tournament has condensed to one table. The blinds are somewhere around 3,000-6,000, and my stack is rather modest.
I’m in first position (I think). I check my hand: Pocket kings.
I decide to try to reel in a sucker or two. I mop my brow, pretending that this is a difficult decision to make. Then I push all in for 20,000.
Bill calls me. So does another player, Aram, who has a huge stack. I gather all the chips in front of me and wait.
The flop comes queen-queen-jack. Bill checks. Aram bets 15,000. My shoulders sag.
“You know he’s all in?” Bill says, referring to me.
“I know,” Aram says cheerfully.
Bill folds. Aram reveals his cards: queen-jack.
“You flopped a boat!” someone says. This is true: Aram has triple queens over a pair of jacks.
I show my cards. I have my pocket pair of kings, and a pair of queens are on the board. I’m not drawing dead here, but I need a boat to stay alive. The only thing that can help me is a king.
It doesn’t come on the turn, nor on the river. I’m out in seventh place.
And so it goes, my friends.
(Postscript: Later, I learned that Aram went out fifth in the tournament despite having a massive chip stack.)