The ultimate hand: Part 1 of a very limited series

February 11, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 11, 2018

I’ve had three royal flushes in my lifetime. The most recent of them nearly escaped my attention.

The NCAA Division I FBS football championship was played on Monday, Jan. 8, and I wanted to watch the game. As noted previously, I (still) don’t have a television at home, and I generally don’t like streaming live video. (Before you ask — and I know you’re oh so curious — I have no particular reason for this preference.)

But rather than just go to a bar and watch the game, I decided to go to a bar and play poker and watch the game. So it was that for the first time in about seven months, I drove to a Cary, N.C., sports bar on a Monday evening to participate in a pair of World Tavern Poker events.

The early poker tournament that evening wasn’t memorable in any way. However, I wound up making a deep run in the second tournament, which had 28 players.

I believe we’d winnowed the field down to the last one or two tables when it happened. The blinds were 3,000–6,000, I think, and my relatively minuscule stack contained only 18,000 chips.

A dude I’ll refer to as Pittsburgh R— limped in while sitting on the button; everyone acting before him had folded. Whoever was sitting to my right in the small blind — Diane, I think — called the 6,000.

In other circumstances, I might have checked my option without looking at my hole cards. But in this case, the big blind was exactly one-third of my stack, and I couldn’t afford to mess around. I peeked at my hand and found…

…pocket kings, the second-best hole cards to get in holdem. (The only starting hand that beats “cowboys,” as they’re called, is pocket aces.)

This was a sterling opportunity to make bank. Again, in other circumstances, I might have slow-played, but my tournament life was on the line. I shoved all in — a bet of 18,000, or 12,000 more than the big blind that Pittsburg R— and Diane had already paid.

Pittsburg R— spent some time contemplating his response. Ultimately, he called. Diane quickly folded.

We opened up. To his disappointment, P.R. found that my hand was much stronger than he’d believed. (I think he’d put me on high cards: ace-king, king-queen, something like that.) He himself was playing the seven and six of spades; obviously, he’d been hoping to get lucky with a flush or straight.

As P.R. put out the flop, I rooted for anything other than the spades and middle cards that would put him ahead of me.

Just to back up for a moment: I had a fairly monstrous hand. My pocket kings — the king of spades and king of clubs — gave me a 77.9 percent chance of collecting the pot. Because I had a higher spade than P.R., I was actually in slightly better position than if I’d had the ace of diamonds and the ace of hearts. (Those aces would have given me a 76.8 percent chance of winning.)

I don’t remember what order the board came out. I did see, however, that all three flop cards were clubs, which eliminated any chance that P.R. could hit his flush. I also noticed that he had a small chance of hitting a straight to either the jack or 10.

I was still worrying about a straight when the turn hit. In fact, I was so busy concocting scenarios in which I would lose that I didn’t even notice that the turn — fourth street was either the jack or the 10 — gave me the royal flush. Someone else had to point it out.

So much to my surprise, not only did my kings give me the pot, one of them helped forge the ultimate hand in all of poker.

Now, let’s not get anything twisted: I didn’t do anything special to wind up with a royal flush. I got lucky by receiving pocket kings; I went all in with the hand, which is the textbook move in those conditions; and I got lucky by having the board supply the ace, queen, jack and 10 of clubs.

Still, it was a royal, so at the encouragement of another player at the table (Betty, I think), I took a picture.

Ironically, I suppose, the board ended up being all clubs. If neither of us had had a club, P.R. and I would have chopped. As it was, however, I had the stone-cold best club to have in that context.

I went on to finish fourth in the tournament — a decent result given that I’d been short stack fairly late in the event, but a disappointing one since I’d hit big with my cowboys. But I’ll always have that royal flush as consolation.

Royal flush (cowboys plus a club flush on the board), Monday evening, Cary, N.C., Jan. 8, 2018.

My pocket cowboys joined a club flush on the board to form a royal flush, the highest hand in poker, during a World Tavern Poker game on Monday evening, Jan. 8, 2018, in Cary, N.C.

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