Some real beauties
In this column, I am going to
confess to some of the boneheaded poker errors I have made.
One of the basic attributes of a good player is being able to read one's hand. Yet, I have misread my hand on several occasions, and as fate would have it, there was at least a grand in the pot each time. Although these errors all happened 20-plus years ago, that is not an excuse to claim I was a rookie. I had been earning a living from poker for years before any of these events took place.
I once misread my holecards of the Q 7 (the lighting was dim) to think they were both of the same suit. There was a three-flush in hearts on the board that arrived on the turn, with the a A on the board. I bet and got called, and then bet the river. When I bet the river and got called again, I thought I had the equivalent of a board-lock, because I did not get raised. I turned my hand up and said, "All red."
My opponent looked at my hand for a moment, and the truth of the situation hit me in about a half-second. "I have a flush," he said. He flipped up a couple of trashy little hearts and took the pot. I got up and went for a walk, thoroughly disgusted. When the four-color deck was introduced a number of years later, I accepted the idea immediately.
At Binion's Horseshoe, about a year after learning hold'em, I played pocket kings strongly in a no-limit hold'em game. The board paired on the end, but I did not pay very close attention, because it was a tiny pair and the hand had been raised preflop. My opponent turned up Q-10, which gave him two pair, queens and tens. I folded my hand. About a minute later, a spectator who had seen my hand said, "You folded a winner."
I said, "I had kings; he had two pair."
He replied, "There was a pair on the board; you had kings up." Groan.
When I lived in Dallas in the early '80s, I used to play no-limit hold'em every day of the week. Yet, I made a dreadful mistake one day. I got tangled up in a pot with Everett Goolsby for all of my money when I had a pair of queens and the flop came 3-3-2 with a two-flush. I thought Everett probably had a flush draw, but he came up with pocket deuces for a boat. They burned and turned twice, and no queen came. That was all of the money I had brought with me, so I stood up and headed for the door as if I had been stuck by a pin. The next day, I learned that I had drawn out on Everett; a trey had come on the river to counterfeit my opponent's hand and give me a bigger boat.
My misreading of hands can also be done at my favorite game of pot-limit Omaha. At the Golden Nugget in Downtown Las Vegas, we used to play pot-limit Omaha on a regular basis. One day I played a big pot against Puggy Pearson, who had adopted Omaha as his favorite game. We got all in on the flop. Puggy had the low end of a straight, which turned out to be the best hand, because I had top set. The dealer burned and turned two cards and the board did not pair. There also was no flush possibility. I threw my hand away faceup, and it intermingled with the boardcards, though it was easy to reconstruct what the board had been. At this point, I took a second look, and noticed that I had backdoored a bigger straight. Needless to say, Puggy did exactly what one would expect Puggy to do. He said to me, "You threw your hand away," and to the dealer, "Give me the pot." I, of course, asked for a ruling.
The Nugget at that time had what many of us have considered to be poker's best set of shift supervisors who ever worked in one cardroom at the same time: Doug Dalton, Jim Albrecht, and Jim Brenner. Brenner was working on this occasion. After hearing the explanation, he decided to award Puggy the pot. This was reasonable under the rules of poker back then, when not as great an effort was made to protect an idiot as is done now. (Yes, I was an idiot.) I knew that Jim could have ruled either way with plausibility. Yet, sometime later, Brenner admitted to me that his ruling had been influenced to some degree by the fact that he knew I would accept it gracefully, whereas Puggy would have bitched about it every time he saw Jim during the next several years, saying, "I lost a pot to a folded hand because of a dumb ruling." Since Jim saw Puggy nearly every day, he would have had to put up with a lot of aggravation for a long time.
Note the common thread of most of my misreads: I was so intent on improving in the obvious way that when helped in a different manner, I failed to notice my stroke of luck.
I will close with what I consider to be my biggest bonehead decision in betting. This happened in around 2001 in Tunica, Mississippi, in a pot-limit Omaha game. I had a packet of six grand in hundred-dollar bills, with a rubber band around it. On an unpaired flop that contained a two-flush, I was in late position with a hand that contained a king and two jacks. The flop had come K-J-X. I did not hold the nuts, and knew it, but it sure looked like a lock hand. The first player bet, the second player raised, and a player in middle position moved all in. I had nothing in the pot, and could have gracefully folded. However, after considerable thought, I decided that someone almost surely had a king with this betting, besides myself and the guy who went all in. I flipped my packet of bills into the pot, and said, "I call." After the hand was over, and the player who had made the all-in reraise had taken in the pot with his set of kings, I felt foolish. I had put six grand into the pot with nothing invested and no outs.
Later, I gave my hand to Garland Walters, asking him what he would have done. Garland logically asked me, "Who was the guy who went all in?"
"Ronnie Graham," I replied.
"He told you what he had, but you didn't listen," said Garland. That was exactly the truth.