The first time Andy slithered into our little snake pit, he had no chance. Not because he was drooping around like someone who had washed down his quaaludes with Jack Daniels, and not because he lacked basic card sense. There was no way to tell if he did or not. That’s because this was his first time ever playing poker for money, as in, ever. Have you read the part of “Shut Up and Deal” by Jesse May, toward the front, where he talks about poker being an easy game to play? Jesse makes the point that because of the assistance that dealers and players can give to other players, all you really have to be able to do is not fall out of your chair, and you can play poker. Andy was still in his chair.
Let’s set the scene. The year: 1991. The place: a home game with a house dealer that ran almost every night. The stakes: $3-6 limit. The games: hold’em and Omaha, alternating each round. Two things you might not have heard of before: The Omaha was not hi-lo. We’re talking high-only limit Omaha here, a sickly gumbo of gamble.
And there was no checking. Yup, you heard right. You could bet, or raise, or call, or fold. And that’s it. No checking. The only name for this structure I’ve ever heard is “bet or get,” meaning, when you are first to act, your options are to bet, or fold. This structure was so common in the games around town that when Columbus did start having games with checking, it was considered by many to be violently rude to check-raise. Which of course made me want to do it all the more.
(Here’s the details on “bet or get,” included for inquiring minds who want to know, and also because it’s slightly germane to the plot. In “bet or get,” the button effectively moves on every street. Let’s say seat 3 is first to act on the flop. On the turn, first action would be on seat 4, or whoever the next player to the left is. On the river, same thing, first to act moves to the next player to the left. This means that the catbird seat is being first to act on the turn, which means you’ll be last to act on the river. Also good is first to act on the flop, which makes you last to act on the turn, and either last or next-to last on the river depending on what your left-hand opponent does on the turn.)
These games were loose. How loose you ask? I’ve played in games where folding was frowned on as stingy and unsporting. This player pool was so loose and loving that if you folded before the hand was over, you got genuine sympathy. If you’re getting the feeling that these games were chip-hurling brawls, like poker carnivals with a double shot of ruckus, then you have it pictured exactly right. Let’s get back to Andy…
After a couple rounds, Andy had settled into a betting strategy everyone else was happy with. Every time it was his turn, we would tell Andy how many chips to put into the pot to call, and then he’d do it. He never raised and he never folded. Andy was kind of slow with the chips, so we did not wait for him to finish his calling before the action moved on. The result was that Andy was pretty much continuously putting chips into the pot on every hand. I was sitting next to Andy and I oftentimes helped him with the betting and showing down and tipping and such.
And then, this hand came up…
The game was Omaha. The hand ended with one of the most spectacular rounds of river betting I have ever seen. Andy was last to act. There were two other players in the hand, we’ll call them A and B. Player A was first, which meant he had to either bet $6 or fold. He folded. Player B was next. Player B was facing an opponent who only on occasion had a vague sense of what he had. Player B folded. Andy won the pot without a showdown. The dealer started to push the pot to Andy, and a proud smile moved onto Andy’s face. Andy snatched up one of his cards off the table. He cupped it secretly in his hands and he showed it to me, and only me – the ace of hearts. (There were no aces or hearts on the board, but hey.)
Immediately the howls came forth from the throngs: “SHOW ONE SHOW ALL! SHOW ONE SHOW ALL!”
Andy of course had never heard of this common, ancient rule, which states, “If you show someone your uncalled hand, then everyone is entitled to see it, but only after they do the show-one-show-all chant with disdain.”
Puzzled, but still able to understand English, and knowing that he had done something terribly wrong, Andy followed the instructions he had been given. He picked up his other three cards, and he showed them to me.