Friday, April 06, 2007

Are you SURE you've got the nuts?

I was at Fitzgerald's casino downtown (a really pathetic place for poker, by the way), playing a little $3-6 limit hold'em at about 3:00 a.m. a few days back. It's four-handed, because this last game running is close to shutting down.

At the other end of the table is a mediocre player who thinks he's got it all figured out. Next to him is somebody who is clearly very, very new to the game (can't keep straight when the bet is $3 and when it's $6, etc.). So the first guy is just reveling in the joy of being able to instruct the newbie. In the process, though, he reveals how little he himself understands of the game.

At one point, our Professor has A-x of clubs. The flop is all clubs (with no straight flush possible), followed on the turn and river by the two red 7s. I'm out of the hand early, but the newbie calls him down all the way with basically nothing. Professor proudly slams down his hole cards, and says, "I've got the nuts!"

Usually I just roll my eyes and let this sort of thing go. But tonight was different. Maybe he got under my skin with his constant attempts to show the newbie how much he knew. (I'm not opposed to helping somebody new if they need and want the advice. But this was sort of like a third-grader helping a first-grader--not exactly world-class instruction.) Maybe it was because there was only one other player there, so not a lot of potential for a big, table-wide, multi-way argument to ensue. Maybe it was just way too late at night. But for whatever reason, I decided to speak up.

"How is that the nuts?" I asked.

He looked at the board again, apparently having not considered the implications of the paired turn and river cards.

"OK, well, it's the nuts unless somebody hit quads," he conceded.

I pressed on. "What about a full house?"

He shot back, "There's no full house possible there!"

I then proceded to rattle off the 6 different combinations of hole cards that would give somebody a full house, and concluded, "So there are 7 different hands that have you beat, and you think you have the nuts?"

He still defended himself: "Well, I had the nuts on the flop!"

Well, yes, you did. I'll grant you that. But you didn't have the nuts at the point that you declared yourself to have the nuts, you ignoramus.

If I were a better person, I wouldn't take pleasure in what happened next. But I'm me, so I did. On the very next hand, I had pocket 10s, and the other two 10s came on the turn and river. The new player called my bets all the way. Before I showed my hand, I asked the Professor, "So what would be the nuts here?" He quickly replied, "Quad 10s." I said, "I'm glad you're learning," and turned them over.

Folks, if you're not 100% sure what the best possible hand is, with a given set of cards on the board, don't declare yourself to have "the nuts." It's just a set-up for embarrassment. Personally, when I do have the nuts, I find it much more satisfying, generally, not to announce that fact. I just flip over the cards, and inevitably another player will say something like, "That's the nuts--nice hand." And I try to return that favor when I see that another player has it. It's uncommon enough to have the best possible hand that I think it's nice to give/receive compliments to/from other players than to pat onesself on the back. After all, it's not like you actually accomplished something difficult--you just got lucky.