An Idiot's Guide To Poker: The Anatomy of a hand and a life


So, I'm sitting in a room drinking whisky with my shirt off  and playing 30NL. Rules have been broken. According to my strict new poker guidelines I'm not supposed to play when I've been drinking. I'm also supposed to playing within my bankroll, and although playing a few tables with buy-ins of £30 isn't exactly nosebleed territory, it's beyond my feeble - £500 - bankroll. As for playing with my shirt off, that's fine - just. My body isn't what it was, and what is was wasn't great.

But I'm playing well. On one table I've managed to fatten up my original £30 stake to £73, and on the others I'm hovering around the £45 mark. I'm happy. What's making me particularly happy is a colourful, splashy player on the table who is also playing deep. I plan to take his money. He's 3-betting pretty much every hand and making the other players crumble post-flop to his continuation bets and doing all manner of reckless things - paying too much to chase gutshots, for example - which, for the time being, have been profitable. 

I pick up nines on the button. Splashy, unsurprisingly, raises from early position. Two other players call. I think about 3-betting as I'm in position but I want to keep the other players in the pot, don't want to bloat it too much and don't want to navigate a 4-bet. I take a slug of whisky and call. The blinds fold.

The flop saunters down 2h-6s-Js. Splashy, unsurprisingly, leads out with a half pot-size bet. Two players fold and I call. In retrospect, I think the call stinks. He probably doesn't have a jack. If he's drawing to the flush then I want to charge him for it. If he has a higher pocket pair then a raise might bring it out of the shadows. If he has nothing and is just leading out with muck - as he has been doing - then he'll probably fold before he hits his miracle cards. I think the call stinks. Maybe.

The turn is a nine of clubs, giving me a set. Splashy bets £8 into an £8 pot. Without thinking a great deal beyond "I have a set", I bet £17 into the £16 pot. I'm not sure if this stinks or not, and that's part of the problem I'm having right now. If he's drawing to a flush, then he needs to put roughly £9 into a £33 pot. His odds of hitting are approximately 18% - he'll hit less than one in five times. In that sense, I've priced him out of his draw. But if the third spade comes down and he shoves in his remaining £65 will I believe him and fold? Or will I make talk myself into a semi-hero call? Perhaps I should have bet more. If he had aces or kings he'd probably - definitely - still call. And if he was on a draw then he may well fold, saving me any grubby, hurried river decisions.

The flop is a lovely king of diamonds. The flush didn't get there. Splashy checks. I don't even think about what this means (all I think is: "I have a set") and stick in £23, half the pot. I'm hoping to get paid off my AJ or KJ or AK - queens, even. The pot stands at £65. Splashy check-raises me all in and I'm staring at a £129 pot.

This should be worrying. Normally when a player checks, you bet, and he shoves all-in it means that he has the nuts or the near nuts. But I'm not worried. The only hands that he could have that could beat me - a set of kings, a set of jacks or queen-ten - don't seem to fit. All of these, I try to convince myself, he would have bet out with on the turn, hoping that I would call down light. He doesn't have the skill to check-raise with the nuts on the river. He doesn't know me as a player. He'd want value. He has KJ and thinks he can crush my aces.

I call. He flips over queen-ten for the nuts and scoops up a £149 pot. Not for the first time in my poker career I feel stupid. I slug whisky, clench my teeth and resolve to sharpen up my knowledge of Game Theory and its application in poker. An update on the success (or otherwise) of this should be forthcoming next week. Until then, run better (and play better) than I am.