Poker: The luck of the Irish Hold 'em

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The Independent Culture
STEWART REUBEN, who has a reputation as one of the sharpest players around, made a clever play the other night. In a pounds 2,000 pot, he declined to call the showdown for a mere fiver.

The game was 'Irish', which is a souped-up version of Texas Hold 'em, much favoured by players for its fast action. In Irish Hold 'em, instead of two cards dealt in the hole as in the regular game, players receive three, four or even five cards, which means they can make far better starting hands.

After the 'flop' - or first three face-up cards dealt in common - the players then discard their additional hole cards, keeping just two in the hand, as usual. (The Irish player Colette Docherty told me that her son Peter came up with the idea for 'Irish'.)

Anyway, Stewart was dealt a pair of queens and three 'rags' in the hole and found Q, J and 10 on the flop. Only one other player bet. Naturally, Stewart threw the three low cards and kept the queens. The next card off was an ace.

Q-D J-S 10-H A-C

Now, if this opponent has a king in the hole (probably with an ace), which is more or less certain when he bets, Stewart is beaten. But he has nine 'outs' - cards which can win for him.

He can improve to a full house as there are three jacks, three tens, and two aces left in the deck, any one of which may fall on the fifth up-card and also the case queen for four of a kind. He also has three chances of catching a king, which would make him a high straight to share the pot. So when his opponent bet pounds 500 into a pounds 1,000 pot, Stewart called him. A further point in his calculations was that the other player had probably read him for a straight, too. So if a pair did happen to flop on the last up-card, Stewart would almost certainly get called when he bet, winning a very large pot. But the final up-card was no help - a six.

Then his opponent bet a pounds 5 chip - the equivalent of saying: 'All right, we've both got a high straight, let's split the pot.'

At this point, Stewart looked at the fiver - and folded. There was much amazement round the table. Why fold for just pounds 5, when the pot was worth pounds 2,000? Surely there was 'value' in calling, at odds of 400-1.

Stewart took a different view: 'A fiver is a fiver. I knew I was beaten. What's the point in throwing it away? It would be like being offered 400-1 that 1 + 1 = 4.'

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