Poker: Winner takes all

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The Independent Culture
TOURNAMENT play is extremely popular with poker players, as a way of scoring a big win for a small stake. In tournaments, as run by casino card rooms, all the players 'buy in' for a fixed stake, say dollars 25 or dollars 50, and the play proceeds, with progressively higher antes, until only one table of players, and ultimately one winner, is left.

An 80-player tournament with a dollars 25 entry fee, for example, would generate prize money of dollars 2,000; in practice, probably nearly double that sum, because during the first hour of play players who get busted out can buy in again, for a further dollars 25 stake. First prize at 40 per cent of the pool would be around dollars 1,500, with the final half dozen players all collecting a share.

You need luck in poker tournaments, because in the nature of this winner-take-all style of play, there will be several occasions when you cannot avoid putting all your money in the pot. You may be a big favourite to win the hand and still be outdrawn. When that happens in a normal game, a player can dig into his pocket for more money. But when you are busted in a tournament, you are left with nothing but a very cold feeling. That is why this style of play is known as 'freeze out'. Everyone has a hard luck story to tell, but here's a recent example which takes a lot of beating.

It was a Hold 'em tournament. Ali was dealt a pair of 6s in the hole and bet. Big Paddy, an Irish gambler well known for his exuberant style of betting, raised. Ali, though a cautious man, re-raised, knowing his opponent probably held only an ace and a low side card. Big Paddy immediately re-raised him back again. When the flop came out 6-4- 4, Ali felt very happy. He had flopped a full house which looked unbeatable. Naturally he stuck the rest of his money in. Big Paddy, holding A-Q off-suit, decided to call. He was too far in to back down now and was hoping (mistakenly) that another ace or queen would be enough to do it for him. In tournament play you have to go for it.

Ali: (6 6)

6H 4C 4D

Paddy: (A Q)

When all the players' chips are in the pot, the players simply turn over their hole cards, and the dealer completes the hand. Fourth up-card was another 4, which left Ali's full house 6s on 4s intact. Now he was safe - or so he thought. But the final up-card, amazing to relate, was the last 4. There were now four 4s on the table, common to both players. So Big Paddy's lucky ace decided the hand. Tough.