Old Men Behaving Badly

Claude*, a regular in the game, a sixty-ish gentleman who wears a branded golfing cap, a polo shirt, and several layers of cardigans (all collars popped), was banned from the casino for a day for “throwing cards and chips at the dealer.”

Wouldn’t it be nice to just let it all go?

My late grandmother played the Italian card game Scopa very well, but when she lost she threw the cards and accused the rest of us of cheating, a habit I acquired for a time. I still respect it: if you’re not freaking out, you’re not trying. But these days I keep an evener keel. Barry Greenstein says the rules are different for winning players, and they are. Noblesse oblige.

And yet playing with Claude always threatens to disrupt my equilibrium. Watching him squirm elicits schadenfreude so strong that I constantly catch myself contemplating plays not because they’re +EV, but because of how mad they would make Claude. And I’m not the only one.

I wasn’t around to witness this hand. I heard about it from Chad and was instantly humbled, because, as much as I yearn to mess with Claude, I would never in a million years dream of going half as far as Peter did in this hand.

It happened in a 5/10 PLO game with a $20 straddle. A few players limped and Chad (who told me about the hand) called in the cutoff with 9987 with two clubs. Claude raised to 60 on the button, Peter called in the big blind, the limpers called, and Chad called. The flop was Ac Ks 9s with $300 in there from the pre-flop action.

Everyone checked to Claude, who bet $200. Peter called, the limpers folded, and Chad called. Claude is a very passive player, so when he bet the flop into four players, Chad wasn’t feeling great about his bottom set, but didn’t want to fold just yet. After calling the $200, he only had $1200 left, whereas — and this would become very important — Claude had over $5000 and Peter covered.

The turn was the 6c, giving Chad a backdoor flush draw and open-ended straight draw. It checked to Claude again and he potted for $900 and Peter called. Once Claude potted the turn, Chad was pretty sure his set was no good, but with the flush draw and open-ender, his hand was too strong to fold. He called the $900. With only $300 left behind and $3600 in the pot, he was effectively committed.

The river was the Qh. Peter led pot for $3600. Chad put in his $300, more or less resigned to losing his stack, but unable to fold for the last few hundred. Then the action was to Claude. He has a routine he goes through when the tide of a hand turns against him. He breathes heavily, mutters to himself, holds his cards up to his face, and flicks them. After several minutes of that he folded his hand face-up: AKK5 with clubs, for a set of kings with the nut club draw. Peter showed QsTdThTc for a pair of queens. Chad’s set of nines won the $4200 pot.

In case you’re unfamiliar with Omaha, let’s break down Peter’s play in this hand. First of all, he called a pre-flop raise with trips. Trips are the absolute worst hands in Omaha. Since you have to play exactly two cards from your hand, you can’t play pocket trips, and having the third card of the rank in your hand decreases the chance that you make trips on the board, as well as making it impossible to make two pair. Even people who play every hand don’t play trips.

Then Peter flopped a bare gutter — basically nothing — in a five-way pot, but he still didn’t fold. He probably called the flop because he had the Qs, meaning that if a third spade came he would have a blocker to the nuts, which he could use to bluff. Calling for a draw is often a bad idea: you have to consider the odds, how many cards you’re likely to see, whether you’ll get paid off, and so on. Drawing to a bluff is just bonkers. But if the flop call was bad, the turn call was much worse.

When the river came a heart, Peter missed his spade “draw.” But he seized upon the opportunity to use his three blockers to jack-ten to represent the nut straight. The only problem was, by this point Chad was already committed to the hand. When one player is all-in, it’s known as a protected pot. There’s no reason to bluff at a protected pot because you still have to win at showdown against the guy who’s already all-in. Thus, Peter’s bluff could not possibly make him money — all it could do was screw Claude. And this is what made it so credible from Claude’s perspective. Since there was no rational way Peter could be bluffing, Claude laid down a huge hand.

I’ve never met Peter, so I can’t say I know for sure why he played the hand the way he did; but based on the action, the spitefulness of his line is staggering. He hung around till the river and invested $1200 for the opportunity to run a bluff that couldn’t possibly succeed. It would be like running an Iron Man for the sole purpose of tripping someone at the finish line. This hand is the Bhagavad Gita of trolling.

After years of learning to be robotic, to focus on the odds and the strategy, and nothing else, of murmuring graciously, “Nice hand,” when someone beats you, no matter how improbably, there is a certain release in watching someone emote freely, scream and curse, throw chips and cards. So, hats off to you, Peter, you bastard. I wish I could’ve been there to see it.

*Names changed to protect the spiteful and the wrathful.

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