Boat racing in Orange City: A crazy holdem hand at a cash table

September 27, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
Sept. 27, 2019

I’ve written a pair of posts about my mid-September trip to Orlando (not to mention a few more about the game in which the University of Central Florida walloped my beloved Stanford football team). What I haven’t yet mentioned is my excursion to the Orange City Racing and Card Club, about 30 miles north of downtown Orlando.

What drew me here was cards, particularly the chance to play poker for money. After buying in for $220 in chips, I sat down at a $1–$2 cash table around 2:15 p.m. Aside from a pair of toilet runs and a visit or two to a nearby trash can, I stayed there for nearly the next four hours.

I was up by $69 when I returned to the cashier. This was both encouraging and disappointing: The former because I started off ice cold and seemingly couldn’t get a winning hand for an hour or so, the latter because I had roughly $350 arrayed in front of me around 5:30 p.m. before I started playing more loosely in hopes of hitting it big. (Obviously, I did not.)

The most memorable hand of the afternoon involved community cards that came out in an order that I don’t precisely remember. I believe, however, that when I limped into a $2 pot with 10-9 off-suit I was in late position — the cutoff, maybe? — at a nine-person table.

My opponent was a slender gentlemen dressed in business casual; let’s say that he was playing from the big blind. When his turn came, he did a min raise, upping the bet to $4 from $2. Four or five or us went to the flop.

When you have a hand like mine, you hope for one of four hands: Two pairs, three of a kind, a straight or a full house, in order of weakest to strongest hands. There’s a chance of hitting a flush, which ranks above a straight but under a full house, but it’s a slim one.

I had at least a pair on the flop; by the turn, if not sooner, I had two pairs. I placed some big bets. All but one bowed out: Mr. Big Blind.

I remember the river clearly. It was another 10, giving me a full house, 10s full of nines. My foe checked to me.

I bet $8, which was perhaps a 10th of the pot.

The other player surprised me by raising to $23.

There was no obvious reason not to call: I had the top boat given the board — the nuts, as poker players say. But if there was no reason not to call, then there was a good reason to raise.

I wasn’t sure if my foe was all in. I peered in his direction; he moved his arms, revealing a still respectable war chest. It seemed that there was more money to be made. How much should I re-raise? Should I go all in?

I suppose there was something in my rival’s manner that tipped me off; perhaps he seemed a tad smug. I scrutinized the board again and started hearing alarm bells.

That’s because my high card, 10, was not in fact the highest card on the board. A queen was lurking on the table, meaning that one other hand could beat me: My opponent’s theoretical pocket queens would give him a full house of QQQTT, which would beat my TTT99. (I later realized that queen-10 would produce TTTQQ, also a better boat than the one I had.)

All of a sudden, I had far less inclination to raise. Instead, I meekly called.

Which turned out to be the right decision. My foe did indeed have two queens in the hole. He scooped a huge pot — likely north of $100.

“I don’t know how you don’t raise there,” the man sitting on my left said. It sounded disparaging, but I decided to take his comment as a compliment to my restraint.

I’ll spend a moment on a far less dramatic hand. Action folded around to me in the small blind. I did another min raise, from $2 to $4. The man in the big blind — a different fellow from the one whose comment appears in the previous paragraph — put in $6.

The dealer, appropriately, ruled this a raise, although my rival had meant to call. I was about to call and see the flop, but I decided to see if I could buy the pot without giving the fellow a chance to hit. Holding eye contact with the man, I raised to $11. To my surprise, he called.

Nothing else about this hand is particularly noteworthy. Neither of us liked the community cards, although I think I bet modestly on the turn in an(other) unsuccessful effort to purchase the pot. In the end, I think my pocket sevens topped my opponent’s ace-paint (AQ or AJ, I believe).

Incidentally, once I cashed out, I drove down to Wirz Park in Casselberry, Fla., and joined a weekly session of the Orlando Scrabble Club. I won my first three games — by scores of 100, 100 and 126 points — before crashing and burning with a 99-point loss to a player with a tournament rating in the 1300s. Even so, this was a rewarding way to spend the evening and cap my Florida trip.

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