Poker: Not-so-crazy Bill

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The Independent Culture
'I'LL GIVE you pounds 1,000 if you can tell me how I could lose this hand,' protested a highly excitable loser, as players from the Orient tend to be. 'First to speak at Hold 'em, I open with two kings, it's raised before the flop, I re-raise, two players call. The flop comes K 9 4. I bet the pot - pounds 100. One man - this idiot - calls. Next card is a 5. I bet the pot again, pounds 300. Last card is a queen. Of course I bet the size of the pot, pounds 900. What can he have?'

----------------------------------------------------------------- (K K) ----------------------------------------------------------------- SK, H9, C4 D5, DQ (? ?) -----------------------------------------------------------------

'And this idiot, this madman, this . . . . ' The player, in waving his cigarette around, almost set fire to the cards. 'This man, Crazy Bill, he raised me back. I have to call. I thought he misread his cards. Do you know what he played on? J - 10 to hit an inside straight. You explain that, I give you pounds 1,000.'

I could explain it, but I never got the chance. My friend was too consumed by the passion of being hard done by to listen. There are two explanations. The first is simply that the man who won the pot is an habitual loser. He is going to throw away a fortune on bad plays, in return for the occasional lucky break. The player on the losing end of such a freak draw should smile at fate, and be grateful that such an opponent will stay in the game, and many future games, when his luck will not hold.

The second explanation concerns odds. On the flop Crazy Bill has a draw to an inside straight 9-10-J-K. There are only four cards (the four queens) in the deck to make his hand. Subtracting the five cards he has seen (two in his hand and three on the flop) from the deck, he has four chances out of 47 to hit his hand, odds of around 11-1, and two cards to try it.

On the money odds of only 2-1, this is terrible. But if he hits the elusive queen and the kings-in-the- hole player has a lot of chips, so that Crazy Bill can raise him back, he stands to win a gigantic pot for his gamble, and wreak havoc round the table. So was he such a mug?

Answer: unless you are as reckless with money as Crazy Bill, don't try it. The calculation above overlooks the fact that he can hit his card and still lose. After the flop, if any running pair falls on board (Q- Q or a Q plus a 9 or 4), the trip kings improve to a full house. If there were no bad players at poker, there would be very few winners.