Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in Card Player. This entry in the "Aunt Sophie" series covers poker.
Aunt Sophie busts out at the Oaks
“Oy,” grumbled Aunt Sophie, “I’m out.”
We were in the dining room of the Oaks Casino in Emeryville, California, a small industrial town that sits between Oakland and the San Francisco Bay. Once completely industrialized, lately Emeryville has become home to several Web design companies. Emeryville once had four cardrooms. Only the largest, the Oaks, remains. The Oaks was named for a baseball team of that name prominent in the first half of this century. The Oaks were in the Pacific Coast League. In 1948 they were coached by Casey Stengel, and won the pennant. Aunt Sophie and I had flown up to the Bay Area for the weekend, mainly to participate in the annual Turkey Shoot at the Oaks, one of the few good-sized lowball tournaments remaining in California, if not the world. Sara was otherwise occupied for the weekend. I had busted out early, but Aunt Sophie had managed a tie for eighth place.
“At least,” she ventured, “with the best of it I went out.”
“Well,” I hazarded, “considering that I didn’t even get close to the money, while you, at least, made $40 on your investment, I hesitate to gainsay your claim. At least I had the sense to take 10% of your action.”
“Always with the big words,” she chided. “If you mean ‘contradict,’ then say it.”
“Hmm,” I mused; “‘gainsay’ has one less syllable than ‘contradict.’”
“Yes,” Aunt Sophie assented, “but people know what ‘contradict’ means.”
“Okay,” I agreed.
I had quit the $120-limit lowball game — I had jumped into an empty seat there after busting out of the tournament — ahead a rack, and had watched as Aunt Sophie busted out. We had then headed for the dining room. We each ordered a dark turkey sandwich with cranberry sauce. She had earlier told me that part of her fondness for the Oaks was that its restaurant was the only one in a cardroom that she knew to have dark meat turkey available for those who, like she, were not fond of dry white meat, a staple of restaurants everywhere, not just those in cardrooms.
“You started,” she continued, “to imply that the best of it I may not have had when I went out. How is that possible? A pat 9 I had against one player with one chip and another drawing a card.”
“Yes,” I nodded, “at the point that the other player drew, you had the best of it, but the a priori odds were definitely against you. In fact, on that last hand you played, you simultaneously made almost every possible tournament error that can be made, in addition to the one specific to lowball.”
Our turkey sandwiches arrived, each complete with two kosher dills and potato salad.
“Every error!” she exclaimed. “How can that be?”
“Optimal tournament play when you’re at or close to the final table,” I explained, “involves several precepts. One is not to attack the big stacks. Another is when someone has a good chance of busting out on the next hand, don’t get involved unless you have the absolute nuts, because if that player busts out, you move one rung higher up the pay ladder. Another is don’t risk all your chips on a hand that at best might be a pure coin toss, and, at worst, probably has way the worst of it. Save your chips for a better spot, particularly when you have enough chips that you don’t need to be desperate.”
“Oh dear,” she expostulated, “everything I did wrong.”
“There were nine players left, at two tables, five at the other table, four at your table. The limit was $4000. You had nine $1000 chips. The chip leader at your table had about 15 chips, so you weren’t in bad shape. You had to put one of those chips in for the middle blind. The big blind had only one chip left, so he couldn’t even put in the full blind. Jack opened one off the blind.”
“He was also in first position,” she interrupted.
Up the ladder
“True,” I concurred, “but that’s not the point. Anyway, that’s splitting hairs, since the game was four-handed. What’s more important is that Jack is a solid player. Whatever he had was extremely likely to be better than some random hand held by the big blind. The button didn’t call. All you had to do was fold, and the big blind very likely would have been eliminated, moving you up the ladder. Yes, you would have had to put in another chip for the button blind on the next hand, but you would have been in a much better spot. But what did you do?”
“I raised,” she returned defiantly. “I figured that was the chance to build up my chips.”
“Wrong time, I think,” I gently put in. “If Jack had not opened and the button, too, had folded, it was the perfect chance for you to get a pot with absolutely no risk. If you had a really good pat hand, then Jack’s playing made your play automatic. But in this case, a ‘really good pat hand’ meant something like an 8-6 or better. But, instead, you had a rough 9, and you attacked the chip leader, a tournament error. This was bad in lowball terms, too, and, consequently had you risking your chips when you had the worst of it. Consider this. If Jack’s hand is a pat 9 or better, he will probably stand pat right behind you when you stand first. Most of the time that Jack has a pat hand, then, you are completely dead. Jack was playing solidly, despite the game being short-handed. This means that about half the time he opened, it would be with a pat hand. And the remaining half of the time he’d be drawing to a hand better than yours. Depending on the precise cards he and you held, he should beat your hand at least 40% of the time. So, half the time he has you beat without drawing. Of the remaining half of the time, he draws and beats you about 40%. Half of 40% is 20%. Add that to 50%, and you can see that overall he beats you about 70%. So, yes, when you knew he was drawing, you had the best of it. But you had no idea he was drawing when you raised. When you put the money, in, then, you were risking all your chips while taking about 70-to-30 the worst of it. You shouldn’t do that in a tournament even with a 50-50 shot. The big blind has one chip and a random hand. Someone should try to get that one chip. But Jack beat you to it. You should have played the particular hand you held only if you had less than one bet left. You could easily have afforded to wait for a better spot. But here’s what did happen. Jack opened. You raised, first to draw. The big blind was already all in for his one chip. Jack called the raise. You stood pat. The big blind went into a big huddle with himself, and finally drew one card. He didn’t show what card he threw, but I suspect he had you beat and broke a better hand, maybe something like a 9-7 or 9-6, or possibly even a smoother 9-8 than yours. He would not have broken an 8, and I doubt he had a 10; throwing a 10 after you stood pat would have involved much less internal agonizing. Jack drew one card. You threw your remaining chip into the pot after the draw.”
“It was only one chip,” she protested. “If I’d checked, I would have called if Jack bet, so I might as well put that chip in myself.”
“And he called,” I persisted, “because he made an 8-6. And you were out. And I contend that if you hadn’t made all those classic tournament mistakes, you would have been at the final table, and maybe even won.”
“Well, dollink,” she offered, chastised, “something at least I learned.”