As the year approaches its end I have come across a feat of play, described as a demonstration of poker genius. I think the tribute is justified. It featured one of the biggest gamblers of the Klondike gold rush, named William F Gates.

In a game in Jed Jordan's saloon in Nome, Alaska, Gates was sitting in a seven-handed draw game with two strangers, one on his left and one on his right.

The stranger on his right was dealing when Bill got four aces in the draw. This miracle would have made most people suspicious, but old Bill was as happy as a Cheechako. There was considerable betting round the table and the pot mounted to around $1,000. Bill had shoved his entire stack into the game.

Just at this moment, right before the draw, one of the strangers upset his drink. Jed happened to be looking straight at the dealer at the time and saw him milk (fix) the cards. Everyone in the game had turned to mop up the spilled drink.

Bill laid his pipe over his cards and came over to the bar. "That fellow is milking," Jed whispered to him.

"Jed, you are a cynical man," Bill said blithely. "I have a good hand and that fellow would not hustle. Is my credit good for $500?"

Jed gave him the money, wondering if he had misjudged Bill as a poker player. Bill went back to the table and threw the entire $500 into the pot as a raise. Each of the two strangers met the bet. Everybody else was out.

Then came the draw. With four aces, Bill could either draw one or stand pat. What did he do? He threw away two of his aces and a third card!

He realised that if the game was fixed, the only hand that could beat him was a straight flush, and that would have to be held by the player on his left. Bill reasoned the player was holding, say, the 6-7-8-9 of spades, because the dealer would not have dared deal him a pat straight flush. When the dealer milked the cards he transferred the 5 and 10 of spades from the bottom to the top of the pack. If Bill took one card, his opponent would get the 5; if he stood pat the man would get the 10.

Bill drew three cards to his single pair of aces and in the showdown won a $2,500 pot.

From `Knights of the Green Cloth, The Saga of the Frontier Gamblers', by Robert K DeArment, University of Oklahoma Press.