Poker: Better to stay than to split

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'THE POT was worth dollars 32,000, so a lot of people were surprised I didn't take the offer to split it,' said Stewart. 'But why should I split when I thought I was best?' The game was Omaha, the four-card version of Texas Hold 'em.

What surprised the others at the table was that Stewart only had two pairs of 8s and 2s at the time, with one card to come - not a big hand.

But here is how it went. The first man to speak raised the opening bet, which Stewart in the next seat called with a rather weak hand, A-8-4-2. His A-8 were suited, which gave him a 'nut' flush draw, but that is not relevant here. Three other players called and the flop came out 8-7-2.

Now the raiser bet again. Raising in first position, Stewart read him for just a pair of aces, trying to buy the pot. So he called, fearing the others could be winning. But they dropped. Fourth flop card was a 3 - no help. This time the raiser checked, so Stuart went all-in for dollars 9,000, which brought the pot up to dollars 23,000. His opponent called, offering (without revealing his hand) to split the pot, before the final up-card was dealt.

Raiser: A A K J

Flop: 8 7 2 3

Stuart: A 8 4 2

Splitting pots, or 'doing deals' on the probability of improving on the last card, is quite common in Las Vegas, but Stewart wanted none of this - it wastes time.

However, there is another way of doing it, which is to divide the pot into two, and then deal out a fifth up-card, and then an extra sixth up-card, to decide each half of the pot, therefore, separately, so spreading the risk. If the man had a pair of aces in the hole, there were only 7 cards left to help him. If a 7 or a 3 falls he makes aces-up and the case ace gives him trips. (An 8 or a 2 gives Stewart a full house.)

The obvious question was why, if he was such a red-hot favourite, Stewart should offer to deal out the extra card? His explanation was that poker is a social game. It is important that the players round the table feel happy, especially the losers. If he had accepted a straight split, he would have surrendered the whole advantage of his good play.

By offering to deal out the extra cards for each half of the pot, he preserved his mathematical edge and at the same time gave his grateful opponent an 'out'. As it turned out, Stewart won both halves.