Sunday, August 10, 2008

Third Best in a Three Man Game

During my nearly ten years in the Army, I served one tour in Vietnam, virtually all of it in 1966 - nothing heroic, a fairly safe tour. My outfit spent most of its time at Cam Ranh Bay, an area safe enough for Lyndon Johnson to visit while I was there and again the following year.

At the beginning of that tour there was a fair amount of pot limit poker played. However, three of us took so much money out of the game that wives began writing to company commanders that money wasn't being sent home, and the batallion commander banned poker.

The three of us went underground, so to speak, and continued to play, but now we were in a three man game. This figured to be the toughest poker game I had ever played in, and indeed it was. Just how tough, though, I didn't realize until perhaps the third or fourth session, when I learned that I was third best. Fortunately, I learned it from the sidelines.

I'm not going to bore you with the details, as much because you would think I made this whole thing up as for any other reason. Suffice it to say that a seven card stud hand was dealt, and after the fourth card I folded.

After seven cards had been dealt, it came down to four aces versus a jack high straight flush in diamonds, three of the aces being visible and three of the straight flush cards being visible.

The four aces bet fifty dollars (a nice bet, that), the straight flush raised fifty dollars (one of the most effective bets I've ever seen), the four aces raised two hundred dollars, and the straight flush raised, matching the pot, which was around eight hundred dollars. It took the holder of the four aces (who had dealt the hand, incidentally) perhaps fifteen minutes to fold.

In this game it was unprecedented, or nearly so, for any of us to show hole cards we didn't have to show, but this time it happened. The loser couldn't resist or chose not to resist showing us that he was skilled enough to fold four aces. The winner was simply kind enough to show his hand.

Lying in my bunk that night, I went over the bidding and the play. I concluded that I wasn't good enough to milk that hand for as much money as the winner had, and that I was too weak to fold the four aces. I could see the reasoning:
  • If he can raise three aces showing, he has to be able to beat aces full.
  • If he can beat aces full then he has four of a kind or a straight flush.
  • With no pair showing and three cards to a straight flush showing, I'm probably screwed.
But I could not for the life of me see myself mucking those four aces.

Well, if I'm not as good as one player and I'm not as good as the other player, then I don't belong in the game. That was the end of my poker in Vietnam.

I'd never be the best poker player in the world, but I was better off knowing it.

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