Poker: Cleaning up everyone's garbage

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The Independent Culture
THE biggest game around that is open to all-comers, is in London. No doubt far bigger games can be found in Las Vegas, and higher stakes private games may be held among friends. But as a regular game, the Omaha/London lowball game at the Victoria Casino on Edgware Road, consisting of alternate rounds of Omaha (the four-card version of Texas Hold 'em) and London lowball (6-4 low) is where it's at, three days a week.

The buy-in is pounds 1,000 which may seem manageable, but in practice means a player needs to feel comfortable sitting down with at least pounds 3,000 and prepared to bring up more if needed, and more again.

I asked Stewart Reuben, one of the regulars, what has kept the game going for four years. He explained that because there are smaller games at the Victoria, where you can sit down with as little as pounds 50, it creates a pyramid of players, who can move from one game to another at higher stakes.

The two kinds of game chosen for the big table make an intriguing contrast: Omaha is a sophisticated and complex card-reading game, while seven-card lowball is a deceptively simple, strong betting game. In tandem they provide a good test of skill and nerve.

Here is an example of a recent Omaha hand, which stunned the table.

Ted: Ah Jc 6h 2s

Flop: Qh 8h 6d 2c -

Joe: Kh 10h 6c 2d

At Omaha, each player must use two cards from his hand, combined with three from the five flop cards, dealt face-up in common. Somehow or other, Ted and Joe, neither having managed to make anything more than the two bottom pairs, 6s and 2s, goaded each other into putting pounds 8,000 into the pot. No money left to bet and one flop card to come.

Joe has a terrible hand, with no 'nut' (absolute best) card to draw to; Ted's hand is scarcely better, but at least a heart will give him nut flush. Out came the last card - 8c. Both players turned over their dismally poor holdings, and everyone gazed in awe at so much money being spent on such garbage.

Everyone agreed to split the pot, including the dealer (whose duty it is to call the best hand). Finally someone noticed that the best hand was not 6s and 2s, after all. Ted has A-6 in his hand to make 8s and 6s with an ace. Joe's best hand is 8s and 6s with a king.

Ted expressed surprise that Stewart had not not spotted this. Why hadn't Ted noticed it for himself? His excuse was that he had imbibed rather too well shortly before the game.