Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in the London Telegraph in 2005.
Historical note: The following explanatory note didn’t appear in the series, but was sent with each column as submitted.
Doyle “Texas Dolly” Brunson stands unchallenged as the most celebrated poker player who ever lived. In 2005, at age 72, he won an unprecedented 10th championship gold bracelet at the World Series of Poker. He is among the few living members of the Poker Hall of Fame, and his books are the bibles for poker professionals.. Through www.poker1.com and www.doylesroom.com, Brunson has teamed with Mike Caro, today’s premiere poker educator, to offer a free learning experience to players worldwide. This column is founded on those collaborative teachings.
I was only 18. I was fascinated by poker and took it seriously. At that age, some poker concepts had already jelled in my mind and some hadn’t.
This story shows a little of each. It’s about a businessman named Ken who, every week, came to our game in Sweetwater, Texas. He always lost, and it wasn’t because he was unlucky. He just flat out always got drunk and played poorly.
Today was no exception. He had gotten up from the table numerous times to walk to the bar across the room. He’d finished off several strong drinks and had even been in a scuffle that left his shirt torn. So, he wasn’t exactly the image of suit-and-tie composure he had been a few hours earlier. And his poker playing had deteriorated, too, although you couldn’t really praise it much to begin with.
And now he blustered, “Raise again!” as he faced me down in a seven-card stud hand. He had about $2,000 in $100 bills he’d earlier flashed, and I wanted my share. At that time, I had only a few hundred dollars in front of me, and that was the extent of my bankroll that day. These were the lean days of poker for me, in smaller games, before I had acquired a permanent bankroll or turned pro.
Pair of aces
I had a pair of aces after the fourth seven-stud card had been dealt. All he had were two low-ranking diamonds and his two face-down secret cards. I raised and he raised again. Now I started to ponder. I was worried that this might be the one time he actually held a big hand, like three-of-a-kind or two pair. But, then, unexpectedly, he showed me the rest of his hand – two more diamonds. Well, I had two diamonds myself and this meant I would win about 53 percent of the time. So, I had an edge.
Well, I raised and Ken raised and I raised and Ken raised and we just kept going until I was all-in. Then it got scary, because I had to escape without Ken catching another diamond. Unfortunately, he caught one on the sixth card.
I was broke for the day. I’d learned enough about poker to realize when I had an advantage and that if I kept raising when I had one, every wager was bringing me a little profit – in theory.
But there was something I hadn’t learned. Gloomily, I sat and watched another player, Percy, who had years of experience, win all of Ken’s $2,000. As the game was breaking, Percy told me, “You shouldn’t have kept raising against his four diamonds.”
Well, believe me, I was in no mood for this criticism, especially since I was sure Percy was wrong. “What are you talking about?” I fumed. I had two of his diamonds. I was a favorite!”
“True,” acknowledged Percy, “but now you’re broke and I have his money.”
“What’s your point,” I wondered, impatience and irritation punctuating my voice.
“My point is you only had a small advantage and you risked it all. Don’t you think you would have had better opportunities and bigger edges against someone who plays as bad as Ken? Why settle for a little edge instead of a big one?”
Well, I just nodded grudgingly. I didn’t really have a good answer for Percy back then, and I don’t really have one today, either. He was right. — DB