Thursday, July 04, 2013

2013 WSOP, Day 36: Breaking a Hand

I suppose like just about everyone who learned how to play poker from the early 19th century up through around 2003, I was first introduced to it as draw poker. That is, as a game in which you were dealt five cards, you gave some back and got more, and you tried to build a poker hand right there in your hand. Etymologically speaking, that is of course where that term came from -- a poker hand, with five cards (like five fingers).

Meanwhile those who first learned the game over the past decade -- i.e., after ESPN showed Chris Moneymaker winning $2.5 million at the World Series of Poker -- likely began with Texas hold’em, with one’s hand being built from the two cards one held face down and the five sitting face up in the middle.

It was five-card draw, of course, that I was playing as a kid, in which one tries to make high hands. I didn’t really get introduced to lowball games until much later. So I didn’t play deuce-to-seven triple draw -- the game I was watching people play last night as I helped cover Event No. 59 ($2,500 Limit 2-7 Triple Draw Lowball) -- until much later, and even then only occasionally.

As a tourney reporter, I’ve only encountered non-hold’em games at the World Series of Poker. That’s the only place where I’ve reported on Omaha, stud games, draw, and so on. Before going in last night I was remembering having covered the 2-7 Triple Draw event way back in 2008, my first year at the WSOP. I also covered David “Bakes” Baker’s first bracelet win in 2010 in the 2-7 NL Draw event, and have reported on a few different mixed-game events which have included either 2-7 TD or 2-7 NL (with a single draw), and occasionally both such as in the 10-game event last week.

Last night saw a starting field of 282 whittled down to just 88, with most of the eliminations coming during the second half of the day. One who busted was Bill Chen, and it was his elimination hand that got me thinking about (1) a hand of triple draw I’d reported on back in 2009 and (2) that unique occurrence in triple draw of a player “breaking” his or her hand.

With the hand last night I’d missed the first draw, but as I passed by I saw it was a three-way hand and Chen was nearly all in, and so I stopped to take note of what happened next. Chen ended up nearly out of chips after standing pat on the second draw while both of his opponents -- Mike Leah and David “Bakes” Baker -- drew one card. Then came the third draw, and when Chen saw Leah stand pat (while Baker drew one again), he decided to break his hand and draw one card in the hopes of improving.

As it turned out, Chen made the right decision to break his hand, although he was all but doomed, anyway, as Leah had already made a “number one” or the nuts -- 7-5-4-3-2. Chen said afterwards he “had an 8-7,” and in fact managed to draw to a better hand -- a “number three” (7-6-5-3-2) -- but it wasn’t good enough and he was eliminated.

The 2009 hand I recalled came from that year’s $2,500 “Mixed Event” (which is what they called the 8-game tourney then). It was the final day, and they were down to the last couple of tables. The game was 2-7 TD, and the hand involved Layne Flack, Eric Crain, and Jimmy Fricke. All three had drawn cards on the first round, then only Flack stood pat on the second. After that second draw Flack bet, Crain raised, Fricke folded, and Flack called. Then Flack watched as Crain stood pat on the third draw.

That sent Flack into the tank for a spell, and after much thought he finally decided to break his hand and draw one. As we discovered afterwards, he’d had 9-5-4-3-2 and had tossed the nine only to receive a jack and worsen his hand. Meanwhile, Crain also had 9-5-4-3-2, and Flack was obviously unhappy to see that his decision had cost him half the pot. Here’s that hand report, and here also is a HBP post titled “Intense” which discusses the hand.

I call breaking one’s hand unique both because it doesn’t come up that often in 2-7 triple draw -- it’s rare that a player will stand pat, then draw on a subsequent round -- and because such obvious change-of-course-type decisions don’t really come up in other poker variants, or at least not as conspicuously. Sure, a seven-card stud hand with five rounds of betting might well cause players to alter some larger plan for the hand at some point along the way. The same can happen in hold’em or Omaha games, too. But from an observer’s standpoint, there’s usually no obvious action to witness that unambiguously announces a player has suddenly been forced to adopt Plan B.

I’ve been talking to various people out here this summer about the detour I experienced career-wise where I began going down one path, then took this interesting turn to write about poker. For example, when meeting Reading Poker Tells Zach Elwood yesterday, at one point I kind of ran through an abbreviated version of the story to give some context to our discussion of my “Poker in American Film and Culture” class.

I left what was a fairly secure full-time position to embark on this other, less certain career, primarily because I’d reached a point where I wasn’t comfortable staying with the original plan and I had an option available to me to make a change. In other words, it felt a bit like I was holding what might turn out to be a losing hand, and I decided to break it with the hopes of drawing to something better.

Making that sort of “break” is easier said than done. Perhaps that’s why I find it a little bit fascinating to see a player make that decision in triple draw -- to admit things aren’t going quite right and risk trying a new path. Such a sudden, meaningful revision to the story one has been telling about oneself. Interesting to think something so explicit and plain to see can come up in a game in which you can’t see anyone’s cards.

I’m back on “the deuce” today for Day 2. Click over the PokerNews to see if anyone else decides to break a hand.

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