By Matthew E. Milliken
Sept. 3, 2016
We pick up the action late in the afternoon of World Tavern Poker’s North Carolina Central East Regional Championships on Aug. 27, 2016. Click here for an account of the first part of the tournament.
Finally, there was a (figurative) knock at the (metaphorical) door. I found myself on the button — that is, the dealer — with pocket fives. Few if any people had called the hand, and I don’t think that anyone had raised, suggesting that I had a superior hand relative to the other players. I raised and got a call from the woman immediately to my left, who had what seemed to be an immense stack.
The flop excited me, because it contained a five. That gave me three of a kind.
However, I was faced with a classic poker dilemma. In many hands, there is a tension between maximizing the amount of chips in the pot and actually winning the hand. If you pretend to have weak cards by betting small amounts, your opponent or opponents are likely to call your bets, thereby increasing the amount of chips in the pot. The flaw with this tack, alas, is that as more players see more community cards, their chances of having their hand improve rise. This means, of course, that your chances of maintaining the best hand decrease.
One can minimize the risk of losing a hand by betting big on it. This has two potential flaws, however. One is that you scare off opponents who are on a draw. That is, people who are hoping that the flop or the turn or the river will improve their hand will fold rather than calling your bet. You can win this way, but you won’t win as many chips as you would if opponents had called your smaller bets and you wound up with the strongest hand.
The other problem with betting big is that your opponent can call you and win, either because she or he started off ahead or because the community cards helped her or him. This can be true when you bet small, too, but at least in that case you can abandon the pot with relatively minimal losses.
At any rate, just by betting small enough that my opponent could see first the flop and then the turn, I was taking a risk. So when the turn came out— a three, I believe, which I didn’t perceive as causing me any potential trouble — I declared all in.
My foe called me right away, which surprised me. I showed my pocket fives. “I have three of a kind,” I said, somewhat tentatively.
“I have a straight,” she said gleefully, revealing the two and four of hearts. “And I need one card for a straight flush.”
I was deflated. Three of a kind is good, but a straight — five sequential cards; in her case, ace-two-three-four-five — is better. And a straight flush, as I’ve previously written, dear readers, is the best possible hand in Texas holdem: Five consecutive cards of the same suit.
But all was not lost. “All I need is a five or the board to pair,” I said. If that happened — with one exception — my triplets would become a full house. (The exception was if the three on the board paired with the three of hearts, which would complete the straight flush.)
I was dealing, as mentioned. I burned a card and revealed… another ace. “Yes!” I exclaimed. My opponent sagged.
Going into the hand, my impression was that my opponent had a much bigger stack than I did; ironically, she thought that I had her covered. When we sorted through all the chips, it turned out she had a little left over — and I had a very respectable war chest.
I felt pretty great about that.
To be concluded…