Poker: The gambler and the reader

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The Independent Culture
A FINE passage of arms between a good gambler and a good card reader came up the other night. The game was Texas Hold 'em. The gambler, player A, had re-raised strongly before the flop, and the initial raiser, player B, called him. Out came a nondescript flop.

A: (x x)


B: (x x)

The presumption is that neither player has improved, although you can never be sure that the man who re-raised is not holding a big hand like aces or kings wired. Anyway, player A, the gambler, who was now first to speak, checked. The pot was already worth pounds 225 because of his re-raise before the flop. Player B, a quiet, thoughtful player who maintains a low profile at the table, now bet the size of the pot.

The gambler eyed the pile of chips, rather like a cat eyeing a canary, and raised him back pounds 500. Now that is a bet to make you think. Player B sat back in his chair and studied the board. One minute passed, then two, which in this situation seems forever.

This was his analysis: either player A has a really good hand, like aces or kings wired, or he has nothing at all and is trying to buy the pot. In Hold 'em, players get an intuitive sense, brought about by experience, of what opponents are up to. Could player A, whose style is to bet it up, really have shown such restraint, if in fact he held aces or kings, to have checked after the flop? It was highly unlikely, but he had to have a hand of some sort, to have re-raised before the flop, so what could it be?

Player B put him on ace- king. Which, as it happened, was exactly the hand he held himself. If he was wrong, and the gambler had a high pair like queens or jacks, player B still has several 'outs' to hit an ace or a king himself. So he called. All the money was now in, so there was no more betting. The next two cards were blanks. Player A announced 'no pair'. Player B also said 'no pair'. They both turned over ace-king and split the pot.

Hold 'em is a gutsy game, in which strong betting often counts for more than card sense. But in top-class play, as in this hand, a process of close deduction underpins the betting. This is why Hold 'em is regarded as a game rather like chess, in which position round the table is crucial.

Player B was sufficiently gratified by the money he saved to make a large bet on an international rugby match, which he won by a distance.