Posts Tagged ‘Texas holdem’

Fortunes of play: Notes on an extended tavern championship run

August 4, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Aug. 4, 2018

Having botched my chance at a season points championship in the World Tavern Poker venue where I play on Tuesday nights as well as the one where I play (and direct tournaments) on Sunday nights, I had extra motivation to want to do well in the two-week “postseason” that the league stages every six months.

My first opportunity at redemption came in the tavern championship on Tuesday evening. This is a single tournament, run with the same length of blinds as all the others. The main differences between the tavern championship and regular games are twofold. In the championship, each top-10 player receives twice the starting stack as other players, and each top-10 player is bestowed with a bounty/re-entry/add-on card.

Here’s how the card works. If a top-10 player is knocked out before the first chip-up break, which occurs between the 500–1,000 and 1,000–2,000 blind levels, then the card enables the top-10 player to get a new double stack (effectively, a rebuy or re-entry). In addition, the individual who knocks out the top-10 player receives a 10,000 bounty.

Any top-10 player who survives until the first chip-up break receives a 10,000 “add-on.” After that point, top-10 players receive no further advantage. A top-10 player can use her or his card only once, either when knocked out or at the break.

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Tough tournament spot, redux: Further notes

July 30, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
July 30, 2018

Sunday was the final day of World Tavern Poker’s regular season at the venue where I serve as tournament director. That evening, I got caught in a surprisingly similar situation to the one I was in last week.

As on Tuesday, I started the day in the No. 2 position. In this case, the average of my top 15 scores at the pub was 60 points lower than that of the person who held the top rank. The lowest of my 15 scores was 9,450, so I’d need to record a score of more than 10,000 to catch up.

Around the two-hour mark of the early tournament, our blinds moved to 5,000–10,000. I had four chips (nominal value: 20,000), and nine players remained. As the big blind approached, I anxiously waited for a good chance to win a pot. Unfortunately, it never seemed to come.

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Notes on facing a tough tournament spot

July 27, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
July 27, 2018

For much of the season, I led the rankings at the World Tavern Poker venue in Cary where I regularly play on Tuesday evenings. Two Tuesdays ago, on the second-to-last night of the regular season, I was unable to record any points in either of the two tournaments; worse yet, my chief rival, H.M., won one game and finished second in the other to pass me and take hold of the No. 1 position.

Which brings me to this past Tuesday, the last night of the regular season. Since I was eliminated without gaining any points in the first game, I faced no small pressure as the second game got under way.

Unfortunately, the cards didn’t go my way for much of the contest. The good news was that I hung on and made it to the final table. The not-so-good news was that I had one of the smaller stacks when we got down to the final 10 players. The better news was that H.M. hadn’t gotten a good score in either game, meaning that I still had an opportunity to catch him if I could manage a terrific finish.

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May 2018 pokerpalooza: The rest of the mess

June 26, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 26, 2018

Following my elimination from the National Tournament of Champions Finals, I had a bite to eat before deciding to sit down at a $1-$2 no limit holdem cash table with $95.

I had a slow start, dribbling away chips. I got excited during one hand that I must have played from the blinds with decidedly inferior starting hand — say, seven-five off-suit.

The flop — 3-4-5, I think — gave me a pair of fives and an inside draw to a straight. I bet on it, and the older fellow to my left called. The turn was, I believe, a six, completing my seven-high straight (3-4-5-6-7). I bet even more; my rival called again.

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May 2018 pokerpalooza: Day 5, tournament 8

June 25, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 25, 2018

On the final day of pokerpalooza, my morning tasks included waking up, showering, dressing, breakfasting, brushing my teeth, packing, checking out and driving over to the casino, where I would be participating in what World Tavern Poker calls the National Tournament of Champions Finals. None of this was particularly challenging, especially because I’d done most of my packing the night before. However, there was a wrinkle thrown into my agenda.

Around the time I went downstairs to have breakfast, I received a phone call and voicemail message from an unfamiliar number. When I checked the message, it immediately became clear that I’d have to run an errand before going to the casino.

Remember when I deposited three hundred-dollar bills shortly after winning a tournament the previous afternoon? Well, I’d failed to retrieve my ATM card after completing that transaction. There had been a van behind me in the line to use the drive-up ATM; I remembering catching a glimpse of the logo on the side and thinking that it was a florist’s delivery van or maybe some kind of food truck. Anyway, someone had removed my card from the automated teller and placed it in the night deposit box.

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May 2018 pokerpalooza: Day 4, cash table stint 3

June 21, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 21, 2018

As previously mentioned, I came down from my tournament championship with a few hours of walking, tea-drinking, writing and relaxation in downtown Wilkes-Barre. A little before 10 p.m., after discovering that most of the places where I might have wanted to grab a quick dinner in the city center had closed at 9 or 9:30, I drove back to the casino to play holdem on a $1-$2 no-limit cash table.

I sat down at 10:10 p.m. with $122 in chips. I’ll recount a single hand, my last.

My opponent was a heavyset older man, maybe in his mid-50s, sitting on the far side of the dealer from me. He spent a lot of the (brief) time I was at the table cradling his head in his hands, as if he were extremely fatigued or grievously upset or maybe suffering from a headache. I actually found myself worrying on his behalf whether he was liable to make some kind of desperate wager that would cost him a lot of money.

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May 2018 pokerpalooza: Day 4, tournaments 6 and 7

June 13, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 13, 2018

On Wednesday morning, I began playing in an event called the Patriot Poker Kickoff Tournament. I no longer recall much about this event, except that I did OK at my first table and then had a major flameout after being moved to a different table.

That afternoon, I sat down to participate in the fourth and final grinder tournament — my third go-round at this type of event. The event got under way a little after 3 p.m. with three tables of 10 players each.

Things began quietly before I started getting some cards and hitting some boards. A little past the midway point of the event, the equivalent of about $250 was sitting in front of me. One of the poker room supervisors, who was moving throughout the room and checking the largest stashes at each table, mentioned that I had the chip lead.

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May 2018 pokerpalooza: Day 3, tournament 5

June 11, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 11, 2018

Early registration helped me to secure a seat in Tuesday evening’s grinder tournament. My actual choice of a seat… well, that may have had an interesting ripple effect on subsequent events.

When the poker room supervisor led me to my table, where I was given a choice of two open spots. One was in position nine, two seats to the right of the dealer. The other was in position four. Initially, I headed to seat four, because I think that position affords a better view of the table. (When you’re next to or near the dealer, it can be hard to see the players on the dealer’s opposite side.)

Then I noticed the person in seat three: An older woman, apparently the same person from whom I’d won a big pot in my first cash-table stint the previous evening. Although she seemed to be a pleasant enough individual, I’d gotten the impression that she was the kind of poker player who held grudges. The prospect of spending three hours next to someone who was gunning for me was quite unappealing, especially when there was another open seat.

So I changed course and headed for seat nine. Immediately, I regretted this decision — as mentioned, I don’t like the obstructed views afforded by a spot near the dealer. However, I feared that reversing course twice in the space of perhaps a minute would make me look silly. I resolved to settle in seat nine and make the best of it. After all, isn’t it said that successful people make their own luck?

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May 2018 pokerpalooza: Day 3, interlude the first

June 6, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 6, 2018

As previously stated, I hoped that the magic from my golden hour at the cash table on Tuesday afternoon would carry over to that evening’s tournament. The format was once again a grinder, which incorporates elements of cash play into a three-hour event.

The run-up to this event was a bit unusual. After visiting my favorite local purveyor of tea, the Crimson Lion Hookah Lounge Cafe around the corner from the Wilkes University campus, I drove back from downtown Wilkes-Barre and parked near the racetrack.

Most of the tournaments at the pokerpalooza are staged in the casino’s ballroom, which for our gathering is stocked with portable poker tables and temporary poker dealers.

(The latter characterization is no exaggeration. Although all of the staff who handle cards at our events have passed a course on how to deal poker, they spend 51 weeks a year running blackjack and other games. Many of these activities don’t involve cards. Nor do they require casino employees to divide pots that have to be chopped because two or more players wind up with the same hand or to split unequal pots that involve at least one all-in with three or more participants. This can lead to no small amount of chaos, depending on how much the dealer bumbles things and how irritated and impatient the players become.)

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May 2018 pokerpalooza: Day 3, cash table stint 2

June 5, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 5, 2018

I wound up playing a light schedule at the pokerpalooza on Tuesday. I chose to skip the 10 a.m. bounty tournament because it rewards play that doesn’t suit my natural style. Also, I hadn’t qualified for the national championship finals, let alone become one of the last top 100 players in the finals, who fought it out for the title that afternoon.

It wasn’t until a little after 5 p.m. that I sat down for that day’s first personal poker exploits. As it turned out, this stint at a $1-$-2 no-limit holdem table would be my golden hour — my most magical run of play at the entire five-day conclave.

Unfortunately, thanks to the passage of time, I don’t recall a lot of specific clashes with other players. Even so, I’ll recount what’s stuck in my mind.

The very first hand I sat down to was ace-queen or ace-jack; moreover, I think they were suited. I made a modest raise. The flop had an ace, I believe, and I ended up battling with the player to my immediate left. I think he hit a pair of kings and was working on a straight that never came. I wound up collecting a modest pot.

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May 2018 pokerpalooza: Day 2, cash table stint 1

June 4, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 4, 2018

After taking a little time to lick my wounds, I attempted to wash away my dismal showing in the tag-team tournament by heading to the casino’s poker room. Once there, I swapped $120 in cash for chips and took a seat at a $1-$2 no-limit holdem cash table.

My only previous experience in a cash game — aside from bombing out of that afternoon’s grinders event — had come at the previous year’s pokerpalooza, which was held at the same casino in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Following a string of unrewarding tournament runs, I’d sat down for about two hours at a cash table late one night and come away some $20 or $40 to the good.

Obviously, I was hoping to make a bit of dough when I joined the table at roughly 20 minutes before 11 p.m. While I succeeded in doing so, I recall just one hand from this evening, and incompletely at that.

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May 2018 pokerpalooza: Day 2, tournament 4

May 29, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
May 29, 2018

I have a bit of a checkered history with tag-team tournaments, which was the format on tap for Monday evening.

The tag team is unlike every other event played at World Tavern Poker’s national gatherings in that it involves teams. Normally, poker players are lone wolves, battling every other person in the field. The tag team involves pairs of contestants, each of whom starts with a stack of chips.

Every so often, the master of ceremonies will instruct players to take their partner’s seat if, say, they’re married, or if their dealer is male, or if they’re wearing World Tavern gear. A switch can be announced between hands, during deals or while players are placing and reacting to bets. The exchange introduces a certain element of chaos — if you’re switched during a hand and you don‘t know your partner’s strategy, or the tendencies of your opponents, you can find yourself in quite a pickle.

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May 2018 pokerpalooza: Day 2, tournament 3

May 24, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
May 24, 2018

Author’s note: On June 11, I edited the fifth paragraph, which immediately follows the jump. Originally, the passage had wrongly indicated that the winner of a grinder tournament does not get to keep the chips in front of him or her. As usual, additions are marked with boldface text; deletions, with a strikethrough line. MEM

Misplaying my first pair of pocket aces early Sunday evening seemingly sealed my doom in that deep-stack tournament. My next chance at redemption came Monday afternoon in a fairly unusual style of tournament: A three-hour grinder.

I’m hardly a poker expert, but I first heard of this format two or three years back when World Tavern Poker first used it at one their national events. WTP now stages grinders at all of their opens, as the twice-annual league-wide gathering is called. In fact, this time around, the league scheduled a total of four grinders.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying two things: First, I don’t know if this is an established tournament style played at other poker events; and second, it’s very popular at WTP conclaves.

So what is a grinder? The way this league runs it, it’s a three-hour hybrid of a $1-$2 no-limit holdem cash game and a tournament with limited re-entries. Everyone starts with the same amount of chips, and everyone can re-enter as many times as they want over the first 90 minutes of the competition. The blinds are fixed — that is, they never rise, as they would in a regular tournament, because the point isn’t to winnow the field down until one person has all the chips.

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May 2018 pokerpalooza: Day 1, tournament 2

May 23, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
May 23, 2018

On Sunday at 7 p.m., I sat down for a deep-stack tournament that probably wound up having around 300 entrants. This was the second event I played at the pokerpalooza; unlike the first one, which got under way as I was still en route to the casino, I took my seat shortly before the first hand was dealt.

Relatively early on, while sitting in the big blind, I looked at my hole cards and found two aces. Some four or five players had already called. Rather than scare off anyone with a big bet, I decided that I could make a bunch of dough by slow-playing this strong hand. I did a minimum raise, to 800 chips. Everyone who was already in the hand called my bet, naturally.

Unfortunately for me, the flop was a total nightmare: three low and middle cards, all spades. I believe I placed a modest bet, for perhaps 1,800 chips, and the player two seats to my left raised to 3,600 or so.

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May 2018 pokerpalooza: Day 1, tournament 1

May 22, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
May 22, 2018

I’m participating in another spring pokerpalooza. I regret to report that things are off to a rocky start.

In my first tournament, on Sunday afternoon, I was attempting to win my way into the national championship finals. The semifinal qualifier in which I was playing had a shootout format, pitting players at a table against each other until only two retain chips. Unlike a typical tournament, players never change tables as the field is narrowed down. I’ve traditionally been a bit leery of shootouts, but I started to warm up to them this spring when, during a regional championship, I made it through the shootout stage in one of the satellite tournaments.

I didn’t get to the casino for the start of the semifinal shootout. Still, I was in time to join the proceedings, so I paid my $15 entry fee and sat down at a table in the far reaches of the ballroom where the event was being held.

The table had started with about four ghost stacks, each of which had paid blinds as the deal orbited the table for the better part of an hour. When I arrived, we were in the third blind level, 300-600, and the ghost stack I took control of felt rather puny. (Incidentally, a standard casino poker table is designed to accommodate 10 players, although it can sometimes be a bit of a squeeze.)

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The ultimate hand: Part 3 of a very limited series

February 16, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Feb. 16, 2018

The very first royal flush that I was ever dealt was by far the most dramatic and rewarding.

I was playing in a friendly game sometime at the tail end of 2010 (I think). It was a small tournament, maybe seven to nine players in all. My hole cards this particular hand were either the ace and queen of diamonds or the ace and jack of diamonds. For simplicity’s sake, let’s say I had AQ.

The flop was almost as good as it gets given my hole cards: king of hearts, jack of diamonds, 10 of diamonds. When I took stock of the situation, I realized that I had Broadway, a straight to the ace, and that I was just one card away from a royal flush.

A bunch of people were involved in the pot. I don’t remember the exact sequence, but someone (possibly me?) bet on the flop. I think it’s also likely that someone else raised. Obviously, I hung in there.

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The ultimate hand — interrupted! Part 2.5 of a very limited series

February 15, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Feb. 15, 2018

I interrupt my series on royal flushes to offer a short primer on sorting all-in pots. (The reason for this will become apparent in part 3 of my very limited series.)

When three or more players go all in, multiple pots are typically formed. This isn’t always the case: If all but one of the participants have exactly the same amount of chips and the last participant has more chips, there would only be one pot. Be that as it may…

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The ultimate hand: Part 2 of a very limited series

February 12, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Feb. 12, 2018

The second of the three royal flushes that I’ve ever gotten was the least lucrative.

I think this happened sometime in the middle of 2016, though I could be off by a season or two…and by a year or so. I am certain that this hand was dealt in the same venue where I had a nasty late-game crack-up a few Junes back. (It’s possible that bad beat was the very same evening, and perhaps the very same tournament, as what I’m about to relate. But again, I can’t say for sure.)

We were at a table of probably six or seven people, with maybe three or four calling pre-flop. I think. It was early in the contest, and blinds were low — 300–600, I think.

I have a weakness for suited connectors, and I’m also overly fond of jack-10 whether or not they’re suited. I started this particular hand with jack-10, although I couldn’t tell you whether one or both of them were clubs.

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The ultimate hand: Part 1 of a very limited series

February 11, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
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.

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The ultimate hand: A preface and primer

February 10, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Feb. 10, 2018

Most Americans are obsessed with the best of the best. For decades, children have been encouraged to dream big: Growing up to become president, for instance, or the richest person in the world. Some of our most successful movies involve people striving to become — and succeeding at being — the most accomplished or powerful person in a given arena. The GodfatherTop GunThe Lion King, the Star Wars and James Bond and Harry Potter franchises, just about any superhero feature — the list goes on.

A lot of poker players revere the straight flush. This is the best hand in Texas holdem, consisting of five cards of the same suit in order. It’s the kind of thing players dream of hitting, and many movies with poker scenes cater to this fantasy. The high-stakes poker sequence in the 2006 movie Casino Royale, for example, shows James Bond hitting a straight flush and collecting a massive pot against incredible odds.

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Tales from the free poker postseason

February 8, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Feb. 8, 2018

Author’s note: This post includes a brief reference to criminal activity that may upset some readers. I’ve placed a trigger warning to mark the relevant text. MEM

It’s been nearly nine months since I last wrote about poker. But my experience Tuesday night makes it time to revisit the topic.

For the season that concludes this week, World Tavern Poker retooled one of the various contests that it runs at each venue, replacing Big Spender with Best Customer. There are some similarities: Then and now, for each game, a tournament director awards a point to one or two players.

Previously, though, people were selected for (as the name states) spending the most money at the venue. Now, people are selected for making positive contributions to the competition. You can get a Best Customer point for bringing new players to the game, being friendly to other players, helping the tournament director or the servers at the venue or, as before, spending the most at the restaurant or bar.

There’s another change. Previously, a tavern’s Big Spender prize — a medallion — was handed to the person who accumulated the most points at that venue over the course of the season. Now, the top eight to 10 point-getters at the bar or restaurant face off in a short tournament. The winner receives the Best Customer hardware.

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General notes on East Coast road trips, or: More morning motivation

June 17, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 17, 2017

I recently made one of a number of hometown pilgrimages that I undertake each year. On Wednesday, the eve before my return to North Carolina, my Parental Unit and I were discussing what time on Thursday I planned to depart. (I’d asked to be awoken by 9 if I wasn’t already up and about.)

P.U. then asked if I was trying to get back to the Old North State for any particular event. “Nope,” I responded flippantly.

Actually, this answer was in the nebulous realm between truth and untruth. I typically play free bar-league poker in Raleigh on Thursday evenings, and I prefer to arrive in time to participate in the early game, which begins at 7 p.m. (There’s a 20-minute grace period for late arrivals.) So there was that incentive for returning to Carolina by a particular time.

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Robert does me dirty: In which a terrible man beats me terribly at free poker

June 13, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 13, 2017

Time for more tales of free poker!

Last night, shortly after the late tournament consolidated from two tables to one, blinds were 10,000–20,000; as it happened, 20,000 was all that the fellow in the big blind had. I was sitting in first position with suited ace-10, both hearts. Naturally, I called. So did Robert, the player on my left. A third player did as well.

The flop, it seemed, could hardly have been better for me. The first card out was an ace; then came a four, followed by a second ace. That gave me three of a kind. I checked.

Not so Robert, who went all in for 65,000. The other live player folded; I counted Robert’s chips, sorted through mine and announced that I would call.

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Regional championships, Aug. 27, 2016: Finale

September 6, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Sept. 6, 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. You can also read my accounts of the first part and the second part of this event. 

After I raked in my big pot, there were at least five tables left in the tournament, meaning that 45 or so players remained. That was good — we’d started with 26 overall, I believe — but there was plenty of work to be done before I could claim to have accomplished anything…

Most poker tournaments have an ebb and flow: You win a hand, or maybe a few hands, and then you go through a dead period in which either you lose a few chips or nothing much happens. I went through a dry spell, watching other people win and lose massive amounts of chips, while I waited for a hand worth playing. I entered a few pots, but nothing big, and none of them worked out in my favor.

Finally, not long after blinds went up to something intimidating — either 4,000–8,000 or 5,000–10,000 — I found myself sitting in the small blind with king-two off-suit, which is a lousy hand. (The website Holdem Tight ranks it 135th out of 169 possible starting hands.) Because blinds were so big, I considered sitting out. Instead, I decided to call.

One of the reasons I did was that my participation would make the hand three-handed; that is, there would be three players — myself, the big blind and a gentleman three or so seats to my right who had called.

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Regional championships, Aug. 27, 2016: Part 2

September 3, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
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.”

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