Letting one off the hook
Over the course of a poker career that's lasted a bit over three decades, I don't remember all the times I've flopped the nuts. Or "been dealt the nuts" in those dusty evenings of ace-to-five lowball games at Garden City in San Jose.
But I'm pretty sure I'll remember this one. It's been a few months now, and I'll leave the specific venue, even city, anonymous for reasons that will soon become apparent.
It was at that hour when plans for a reasonable night's sleep have vanished and you're thinking that a hearty breakfast sounds good. When the five $1-$2 no-limit hold'em games have become four, then three, then two, and both games are just clinging on - neither getting small enough to justify combining into a single healthy game.
We were five-handed when I got A♠3♠ under the gun, and opened to $8. There were two calls including Pat, on the button. Flop came K-Q-4.
I've always felt that if you want to win a big pot, you better help build it. I bet $15 and just Pat called. I don't remember the turn card, but it wasn't a spade and it didn't pair the board. I bet $25; Pat raised to $50.
Pat had started with $350-$400. I had more like $800 (all honestly bought and paid for, along with a bunch I could no longer call my own). I thought that another $100 on this card would commit Pat to the rest of their stack on the river.
"$150 total," I said, as I slid a stack and a half of nickels toward the center.
"All-in," said Pat, who was sitting in the #9 seat, immediately adjacent to the dealer. Dealer threw an all-in button in front of him/her.
Among my multitude of failings at the poker table, slow-rolling is not one of them. I immediately said, "I call - I have the nuts." And turned up my hand.
Pat goes, "I didn't say 'all-in'." Ruh-roh.
Dealer says, "I heard you say 'all-in' - thus the all-in button in front of you." Pat says, "Do you think I'm going to go all-in when he has the nuts?" I thought this was a novel debate gambit (not to mention wise poker strategy). The dealer's shoulders slumped as he called the floor.
The floorman listened to the dealer carefully, and asked the others at the table what they heard. At least one person said he heard, "All-in". The floorman told Pat that he/she would have to push their remaining chips into the center.
I got involved for the first time. "Could we see Pat's hand? Maybe we'd have a better sense if he/she would be likely to ship their stack." Floorman didn't seem to want to go there, so I dropped that line. Floorman was adamant with Pat that he/she had to relinquish all of their chips. Pat absolutely refused to put another chip into the pot.
And I got to thinking, "What's the most important thing here? We've got an ugly stalemate that's going nowhere and just creating a mess for tired players and even more tired staff. And Pat's stack, plus or minus, is never going to change my life."
"Tell you what - just give me the $100 re-raise and we'll call it square."
Floorman thanked me and told Pat that was the best deal going in the whole damn casino at the moment, the $7.99 steak and eggs notwithstanding. Pat told him in no uncertain terms that I was not getting that $100, much less his/her stack. I was pretty sure that the floorman was about to throw Pat out - and Pat was clearly a regular in the room.
"You know," I piped up. "It's all just chips. Push me what's there now and let's get on with the game." I thought both floorman and dealer were going to hug me. Floorman indicated the other game, "I got four seats - y'all go on over there," pointedly leaving Pat out of the invitation.
Here's the thing: I'd come to believe that Pat didn't intend to go all-in. One thing was that I'd been playing with Pat for multiple hours prior to the incident - I had him/her pegged as the tightest player at the table. There are other reasons that I'll leave unspoken, and I don't know exactly what was going on, but I honestly don't think Pat was angling me/us. Look, I'm no saint, but when I added it all up, this wasn't the time or place to bring things to a crashing halt over $300.
A "Believe in karma if you will" postscript... I moved to the other game that was now full. An hour later I won a stupidly large all-in pot, had my opponent drawing dead on the turn, and he didn't contest the chips that doubled me up. Not only was I (miraculously) unstuck, but I had enough profit for steak and eggs at the coffee shop.
Karma or not, though, given the chance to do it again, I'd make the same call at the first table. Sometimes, you just gotta let one off the hook and get on with your life.
Lee Jones first joined PokerStars in 2003 and has been part of the professional poker world for over 25 years. You can read his occasional Twitter-bites at @leehjones