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My First “Sitting O” at the Poker Table 

Okay, back to poker. Recently I got my first public applause (a “sitting O”) for the way I played the hand described below – and, frankly, I think I deserved it. You may not. That’s okay. If you’re a poker player, feel free to jump in and offer assenting or dissenting views. I chose the line I did for reasons I’ll spell out but I’m not wedded to this way of playing the hand. There is, as many have noted, no best way to play poker.


The game is No-limit Hold ‘em with blinds of $1-$3 (and a $300 max buy-in). I am in the small blind (SB) with about $350 in front of me. My opponent is on my immediate right and has me covered (with about $500). He’s a bit flakey and a talker. I’ve been spending the last hour or so trying to figure out how much of his chatter is bullshit and how much is an effort to confuse others (or put them on tilt) – but mainly seeing if I can use what he says. He is also an aggressive player and up a couple of hundred.

He starts by putting up a “Mississippi straddle” – meaning that he has made a blind bet of $6 on the button. When there is a Mississippi straddle the SB (me) must act first and calling costs an additional $5 rather than just $2. I look down at 4,4 and call.

There is one other caller, a reasonable fellow four seats to my left. When it gets back to the button, the “villain” (standard poker slang for your opponent in a hand – the narrator often refers to himself as “hero”) raises to $22. Some players like to post a Mississippi straddle because you get to go last before and after the flop and, as the villain did here, exercise the option to raise. The downside, of course, is that you’ve committed extra money to the pot before even seeing your cards. I call the raise. The other player folds. The pot now has $50 in it.

The flop is a raggedy 9♣, 3♣, 5♥.

I check. Villain bets $40. I think for a bit and call. For those of you who aren’t experienced poker players, one thing you try to do is to put your opponent on a range of hands. Under the circumstances, villain’s range is pretty wide – he could have a decent hand or his pre-flop raise could have been simply an attempt to steal the $14 in the pot. But two things are in my mind. First, he’s far more likely to have two overcards to my 4s than a bigger pair. Second, he is unlikely to have hit that flop and I suspect I may have the best hand. The pot now has $130 in it.

The turn is T♠. I (consciously) hesitate and then check. The hesitation is designed to make him I think may have something, in particular two clubs. A fairly standard trick is to play a flush draw strongly on the turn. You have two ways to win when you do. The obvious one is you hit your flush on the river. The less obvious but important one is that you can get your opponent to think you already have a strong hand and fold – this is called “fold equity.” If he notices the hesitation (often one’s little tricks are useless because “they” aren’t paying attention) he is likely to think I’m on a small flush draw.

Villain, who has been talking and muttering all evening and throughout this hand (of course) mumbles something about clubs and bets $90. I flat (poker slang for “just flat-call” rather than raise). Pot = $320.

The river is the 3♥. Without a moment’s thought I go all in. At this point I am willing to bet the life of my first-born son on my original read: villain has two big cards, like A,Q, A,J or K,Q. But notice the situation he’s in. Villain seems to have convinced himself that I was on a flush draw and missed and, hence, that his hand may be best. Because I have been check-calling, this image is reinforced. So he goes into the tank, thinks for a good two, three minutes – muttering all the while about “could you make a move like that with a busted flush?” and staring at me. BTW, I did what I often do in these situations. I took off my glasses so I couldn’t see a bloody thing and sat passively. You’re not going to get a reaction from me when you’re just a noisy blur.

Someone finally calls time on him. Before the floor can come over he says, “Fuck it, you’re trying steal my pot” and calls. I show my 4s. He makes a face and mucks his cards. I hear two “wows” and a brief burst of applause from the guy who dumped his hand pre-flop. I bow my head gently in his direction.

I talked about this hand with several friends and posted it (without the explanatory details) on a poker chat room I’m part of – the “Wednesday Poker Discussion Group,” most of the members of which live in Vegas and have lunch every Wednesday to talk poker. There were some who agreed with how I played the hand. Some who thought I took an unnecessarily risky line saying I shouldn’t have called the pre-flop raise. One friend, who plays professionally, felt that since I trusted my read, I probably should have bet out or check-raised the turn to make him pay to hit the river. Others thought I had put too much faith in my read on the villain. I appreciate all these comments while recognizing that such analyses are made in retrospective calm and not in the heat of battle. But, like we all know, there is no best way to play this game and, obviously, no best way to play any particular hand.

Would I have played it this way against a different opponent? No. Would I have played it this way if the third player hadn’t folded to the pre-flop raise? No. Would I have played it this way in a different position? No.

And so it goes. FWIW, I just about broke even on the night. I do love this game.

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