There’s a story told about O.G. poker theoretician David Sklansky. The story goes that he was prowling around the perimeter of some high-stakes game back in the day.
[Author’s note: I imagine it at the Aladdin, in 1975, giant piles of black $100 and yellow $1000 chips scattered around the table. A blue haze of cigarette smoke, and it’s pushing 1:00am. They’re playing $400-800 7-card stud, or maybe no-limit 2-7. Got the scene in your head?]
Somebody in the game leans back in his chair, shows his hand to Sklansky, and says, “What would you do with this hand in this situation?”
I see David peering at the guy from behind those classic aviator-rimmed glasses.
“I have no idea – I’d never play that hand.”
The story is probably apocryphal, but it certainly could have happened. Not only because it is well within David’s M.O. to make a blunt statement like that, but also because that is exactly how he would approach the problem. Er, not approach the problem. That is, he would never end up in this silly situation on 5th street, with a single buried pair, and two opponents showing all kinds of strength – why would he waste valuable moments of his life contemplating what to do in such an unfathomable universe?
Which brings me to my “DUI Lawyer” theory. I’ve never had this happen to me, but I’ve wondered what would happen if a poker buddy ever called me late on a Friday night, and said, “I’ve just been arrested for Driving Under the Influence – do you know a good attorney?” I wouldn’t actually do this, but there’s a thought experiment in my head that has me saying, “Well, as played…”
I read, listen to, and watch a lot of poker hands. I find them educational and I get great entertainment. I routinely see the hero in some tough, marginal situation, and think, “This is a DUI Attorney situation. All this pain and difficulty goes away if we make different decisions on earlier, ah, streets.”
Recently, there was a Thinking Poker Daily podcast where the hero was playing $1/3 NLHE at the Venetian. He had AJo in the cutoff, and the hijack (one to his immediate right) opened for a raise. The hero called, and immediately things got difficult as both the small blind and big blind called. Our correspondent found himself going to a four-way flop, with a marginal hand. Yes, he had the “button,” but the preflop raiser acted immediately in front of him, potentially setting him up to be squeezed by a check/raise coming from either blind.
As soon as they got to the hero’s call, Andrew and Carlos paused, and said, “I think our first decision is right here.” Yes. They spent quite a while on this specific decision, and that’s exactly where their precious podcast minutes should have gone. Ultimately, they were both firmly in the “fold or 3bet” camp, and I joined them. There are arguments for either choice, mostly based on your perception of the opener, but flat calling the raise was a distant third choice.
The hand plays out as a comedy of errors, with the hero doubling through a worse hand, while getting the best hand to fold, all on the river. But that was, quoting Andrew, “threading the needle.” Had our hero 3bet preflop, he would have won a moderate pot off the initial preflop raiser, and nobody would have thought a thing about it. Had he folded, he would have watched from the sidelines as his cards made a very strong second-best hand. Either result would have been better than the twisted jungle he entered, only miraculously escaping with his chips.
When people discuss hand histories, there seems to be a covenant that we will see the hand through to its bitter end, no matter how much of a train wreck it has become. Me, I often fast forward to the next one, whatever that means given the current medium.
I have nowhere near the mental power of a David Sklansky, but, like him, I have limited trips around the sun. Exploring shards of a universe that I never wish to enter is a time luxury I don’t have.
To that point, you will never, ever, get a call from me, saying that I’ve been arrested for DUI, and need a good lawyer.