Friday, July 29, 2005

Cards in Newark

My brother took me to play cards on Friday. It was a big open warehouse full of tables and about 40 card players. Here’s how it works. People bring their own chips and play a couple of loosely organized tournaments. If you don’t play the organized tournaments, or if you get knocked out, you can join or start a side game. We were there just for the side games. One gaping whole in my understanding of this place is that of who pays for it. None of the games are raked and there’s no entry fee. All the money you pay in goes back out to the winners so what’s going on? Here’s the kicker: The concession stand is fully stocked, self-serve, and free. They have free soft drinks, chips, candy bars, etc. Who pays for that?

I’m taking the “don’t ask, don’t tell” position on that. So long as the cards are good, it’s easy money. Oh yeah, I should explain that. The majority of the players at this place are absolutely terrible. These people will showdown with any two cards, regardless of the action coming at them. This point was reiterated over and over again when people would call my pre-flop “all-in” with great cards like 2-7. After I rake in the chips the poor guy surprisingly often defended himself with, “but they were suited.” My job in this situation is to nod in artificial agreement and watch the terrible play continue.

Of course this can be frustrating, too. When people play any two cards, they get lucky sometimes. When this luck comes in streaks two things happen. First, the players getting burned while making the right decisions, like my brother and me, get a little frustrated. Second, it teaches the player and those observing that the cards don’t matter. So long as you can keep number one in check, number two will continue to pay you in large sums.

This simple fact was proven Friday night. The first tournament we played, Chris and I did very well. It came down to three players (from eleven) with relatively close chip stacks. Chris and this other guy get involved in some heavy betting. Chris makes top-pair on the turn and re-raises all-in. After 10 minutes (seriously) of deliberation, this other guy calls with all of his chips. He flips over an open ended straight draw. Let me lay this out for you. This guy did not have a made hand, only a draw. If he put Chris on a pair or better, he’d have to hit the straight to have a chance at the pot. This gives him eight outs or about a 17% chance to hit the straight.

Even if he put Chris on a total bluff, his cards were low so he’d still have to hit to win the hand. This situation gives him perhaps fourteen outs, his open end draw (eight) plus either of his hole cards (three+three). Wow, a whopping 30% chance. Those are pretty bad odds to commit all your chips, too. This makes even less sense when you consider that he had about as many chips as each of us—we were all pretty even. Other than this particular hand, this guy wasn’t too bad.

Not to deny mathematics, he did not hit his draw and Chris won the hand, giving us first and second place (the only places that paid). Even though Chris had me covered 2-1, we split the money and moved on to another game.

All told for the night, we each made $80 each, making it the single most profitable and easiest poker night I’ve ever had. I almost feel guilty ;).

The plane (oh yeah, I’m currently at 22,000 feet) just began its descent so I better close up.