Friday, June 06, 2008

I might be a donkey

Jeff Foxworthy has made a fortune with "You might be a redneck..." observations. I don't expect to make millions, but I'd like to borrow the general idea for some tests of donkeyhood.

1. You might be a donkey if you continue betting into another player who has already shown you a hand you cannot beat.

I did this.

I had just joined the crazy mixed game at Imperial Palace Sunday night. The game of the moment was A-5 high-low triple draw. It was down to just me and one other player. After the second draw I had two pair--aces and eights (enough to make me wish I had a seat with my back to the wall*). After the betting round, my opponent mistakenly thought the hand was over, and turned over his cards for all to see. I saw that he had two pair--kings and nines. Well alrighty then! This is looking good for me! He quickly gathered his cards up again when informed that we had one more drawing round.

He stood pat--which, if I had the sense of the average boulder, should have tipped me off that that it wasn't two pair I had seen. If it had been, surely he would toss the odd card and try to hit a full house, right? I drew one. This brought stunned looks from the other players--which should have been my second clue. I didn't improve. But, of course, I felt as if I didn't need to improve, so I didn't care much. My opponent checked. I, still not having assembled the available information into a coherent picture of where things stood, bet. He called.

I had failed to see his cards clearly enough, apparently, for there had been another nine mixed somewhere among them. His position at the far end of the table, combined with me having been caught somewhat off-guard by his premature showdown, being brand-new to the table, never having played this particular poker variation, and who knows what other factors, had caused me to miss the rather significant fact that he had a full house.


2. You might be a donkey if, on the final drawing round of a triple-draw game, you have four parts of a made hand and yet stand pat.

I did this.

It was later into the mixed-game session. The game was 2-7 triple draw. I had four good low cards and a jack. We were on the last round of the hand. My opponent patted the table, and I did the same, having gotten momentarily confused about the sequence. I thought we were on a betting round, and that I was checking behind. (Checking looks a whole lot like the motion for standing pat, I now see.) I then went to remove the jack from my hand to exchange it, when the dealer pointed to my opponent, indicating that he was first to bet. Which he did.

Realizing too late that I had accidentally passed up my last chance to draw to a better hand, I mucked. There were two reasons for this. First, my jack-low wasn't likely going to be able to beat an opponent who had stood pat on both of the last drawing rounds. Second, it would have been just entirely too mortifying to show my cards at that point. So nobody else knew what I had done, until now--though anybody paying attention must have wondered why I would stand pat, then fold to a bet.


3. You might be a donkey if you stand pat on the first betting round of a triple-draw game, and then check behind.

I did this.

We were on to baduci, which combines badugi and 2-7 triple draw. I was dealt 8-7-5-4-2, with three clubs and two hearts (as I recall--the trauma of it all may be causing some minor memory deficits--but it's pretty close). I had no idea what to do with this. Trying to make a badugi seemed out of the question, since I would have to dump either two or three cards of a decent made hand to try to get four different suits. So I abandoned that idea, and focused just on the 2-7 half of the hand. What I had was OK, but not great. It was a situation I had never faced before, having played this particular game very, very little.

It was immediately apparent to me that it would be crazy to dump my 8 and try to improve it if I had just one drawing round, because there were many more cards that would make my hand worse than ones that would make it better. But what if I'm given three consecutive draws? Suppose I decided on a strategy of mucking the 8 and whatever replaced it each time, standing pat if I ever got a card that was better? What is the probability that I'd improve by the end, versus ending up with a worse situation than I started with? That's a bit too complex for me to calculate on the fly. So I did what every other poker-playing idiot does: Nothing. That is, I decided to play completely passively. Therefore, after the first round of betting, I patted the table.

I was aware that standing pat from the outset of a triple-draw hand was an extremely unusual thing to do, and, sure enough, heads turned my way. But if that got their attention, it was nothing compared to what followed: On the betting round, it was checked to me (in obvious deference to my made monster)--and I checked behind.

I think it's safe to say that I successfully confused my opponents--perhaps almost as much as I was confusing myself.

Anyway, by the end of the hand only two of us were left in it. I finally decided to bet, just on the notion that perhaps my lone opponent had missed with his last draw. He folded.

Realizing that the other players were intensely curious what had provoked this spate of odd behavior on my part, I showed my cards, and tried to explain the dilemma I felt I had been in. The last guy to fold said (perfectly believably) that he had had a four-card badugi, but had mucked it because he had to assume that I had him beat on both sides of the hand. So, in essence, I bluffed him out of half of the pot, without really having intended to do so.

I still don't know the optimal play there. Maybe I should have tried to improve. Alternatively, maybe I should have kept my original five cards, but added to the image of having been dealt the nuts by betting and capping every street. At the time, that seemed an awfully risky way to go, though the idea did cross my mind. Instead, I chose the meek, timid, passive middle ground, neither drawing nor betting.


I take some small comfort in the fact that I rarely make such boneheaded plays in my bread-and-butter game of hold'em. When I enter mixed games like this, I do so knowing that I am more likely to lose than to make money. If I break even, I'm happy. This is all a long-term learning process, and poker education necessarily costs money in the form of mistakes. I consider it an investment. I lost about $100 in the mixed game. But I had had to wait a couple of hours for a seat to open up in it, and had made considerably more than than playing hold'em while waiting, so I still ended up for the night.

A donkey can't ask for much more than that.

* That sentence may require a bit of explanation for those not steeped in poker culture. Wild Bill Hickok, it is said, habitually sat in public places with his back to a wall so that nobody could sneak up on him from behind. The one night he didn't do this, somebody--you guessed it--snuck up on him from behind and shot him dead. According to legend, he was holding two pair at the time: aces and eights.


W. C. Sias said...

Wait a minute. In triple draw 2-7 you don't have 8-7-4-2-A, you have A-8-7-4-2. That's a really bad hand. Remember that the nuts is 7-5-4-3-2. The ace is high in 2-7.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoy reading your column. In this...when playing 2-7 triple not the A high...why would you not think to throw the A rather than the 8?

Rakewell said...

Excellent point. I think I simply misstated my hand. So now I've changed the post to a true 8-low. On the other hand, there were times I was so befuddled that it's definitely possible I had an ace and was mistakenly thinking it was the low card. This is the kind of problem I get when I wait four or five days to write up something that happened.