It’s NOT elementary, my dear Watson

April 27, 2008

Have you ever tried teaching someone to play poker? I don’t mean the fundamentals of poker – what beats what, how to bet, how to deposit money on FullTiltPoker – I mean tried to explain to them how a new house game works that they haven’t yet heard of?

I suppose that’s basically what I do half the time with the poker home game articles, but in print it’s quite a bit easier. You have the opportunity to think longer about what you’re going to say and how to phrase it, you can add breaks and notes and tips throughout the way, and the person learning can read through it at his or her own leisure, take their time and review anything they may not have caught the first time.

But, in a live setting….things are different.

I haven’t had the “luxury” of playing the poker game instructor in at least a year; in fact I’m actually the one being taught these new games that we’ve started added to our semi-regular playing rotation. Now, it’s a rare thing that I’ll drink while playing cards. I’ve done it, I know what it’s like, but since the drink of choice tends to almost always be beer, and beer just isn’t my thing, I’m usually option for the cola on hand.

However, I will go on record as saying that beer is, without a doubt, the worst enemy of even the most patient poker game teachers.

Even the simplest twist to an already understood game becomes a challenge…an eye-rolling challenge of pure frustration and rage, and people who you were just having fun with, chatting about the upcoming football season, turn into what you hope will be the receiving end of an open waffle iron.

Here’s an example: Baseball. Many different ways to play. So any normal player, when given the opportunity to deal, will ask what the house rules are? In a recent example whoever’s place it was that night came out and said, “It’s stud, 3’s and 9’s wild.”

My mistake….my horrible mistake….at that time was pressing the issue, and asking about a match or fold rule on a 3 coming face up, or the extra card for the price of the ante rule if a 4 is dealt face up.

You’d think I was asking them to break down the political views on our current presidential candidates (of which the candidates probably couldn’t even do). I’ve never seen so many blank stares.

“What the F— are you talking about?” one asks.

“So, if I get a wild card I have to fold?” comes another winning question.

“Do I have to trade in the 4 for another card? Why would I pay for that? Do I have to match the pot on the 4, also? Is the 3 wild if I match?”

Ah, and here’s the best one….. “What happens to the 3 if I fold? Is it still wild?”

Yeah, buddy. The 3 in your dead hand is still wild. In fact, it can make your whole hand smell like cinnamon buns for all I care.

My point, as trivial as it may be, is that it was obviously the beer talking. But even sober, you’d be dumbfounded how typically intelligent individuals can break down into third grade head-scratchers at the very mention of a new game.

Not all of them, mind you, but it’s usually around half. In fact, unless it’s at the VERY beginning of the night, before people start playing and get in a rhythm (thus not wanting to break it for 10 minutes to learn a new game), I won’t even make an attempt to bring up a new game.

I tried it once with a game I’ve explained on here before called Continents, and in hindsight I think I’d rather sit through another Jennifer Lopez movie than deal with the onslaught of bafflement that ensued.

Actually now that I think about it, I’m not sure I have a point. Maybe to consider your situation before voluntarily upping your stress level trying to bring a new game into the rotation.

I’m probably exaggerating a bit. On occasion I’ll be sitting with a group that really enjoys learning new games (as do I, what a concept), and isn’t too toasted to stay interested and attentive through the rules.

I will add, as well, that it might be worth going through a little bit of frustration and agony to get to that end result…which is usually a winning hand in your favor, at least until the drunk bastards can sober up and pick up on the strategy.

Poker Home Games: Suit Poker

April 21, 2008

Suit Poker

I know there are plenty of purists out there who just flat out hate wild card games. Of course, I can understand this in a casino setting such as PkerStars, but when it comes to the home game, I’m pretty much open to anything. I love learning new games, and the crazier they are, the better. (Unless I’m drunk, in which case the easier they are to learn and remember, the better.)

I remember having so much fun as a kid when I first learned about Aces, Deuces, One-Eyed Faces….and Suicidal Kings being wild.

What’s the deal with those kings, anyway? You’re the frickin’ king….you get to sleep with the Queens and….uh….sevens. What’s there to be suicidal over?


So, here’s a simple, fun, wild-card stuffed version of any poker game that exists. Whether it’s five-card draw, five-card stud, seven-card stud or something else, you can add in these wilds and some spice to your game (and likely some more money to the pot.)

So what’s the wild? Whatever suit you choose.

1.) Let’s set the example for this walkthrough as a game of five-card draw. Basic rules remain unchanged. This one actually gets extremely crazy because all of the cards are hidden…and the ONLY indicator you have of what your opponents might be holding is by how many cards they choose to draw. (And a word of advice, if you don’t choose anything, you better be holding a royal flush or better, or you’re done, son.)

2.) Well, there’s really not much need for a #2. Whatever single suit you choose in your hand to be wild, is wild. You don’t have to call it before hand (although that could make for a good alternative to this — each person writes down on a hidden sheet of paper what suit he wants to be wild, and THEN the cards are dealt).

3.) My house rules are a royal flush beats five of a kind. Four of a kind, straight flush, five of a kind, royal flush. That’s what I prefer…but I know house rules nationwide tend to lean toward five of a kind being the king of hands. I don’t really get this because technically the odds are still probably in favor of you pulling 5 of a kind rather than a royal flush…but I’m just guessing, I could be wrong. In any event, I always recommend you decide this before you start playing so there’s no confusion if the situation does come up.

Enjoy….go WILD!

Poker Playing Places of Power

April 13, 2008

Poker Playing Places of Power

Everyone always talk about how one plays poker. The tips and tricks. The tells and traps. The hints and decisions, the online strategy at Full Tilt Poker, and everything else that makes a poker player what he or she is.

Well, while the “how” seems to get all the glory, I personally find the “where” to be just as interesting. Have you ever thought about all the different venues in which you’ve played your favorite card game? I recently have, if only because I was bored for a few hours this week, and I’d already exhausted the Internet (I know, can such a thing really be done?).

So, I thought I’d walk you though almost everywhere I’ve played America’s favorite card game pasttime, and tack on a mini-review for each one.

1.) Binion’s Horseshoe Casino – Figured I’d start with the best to keep you interested. The place is actually a little dirty, and you don’t necessarily feel in awe as you walk in. But you do HAVE to play there…it’s one of those casinos on Freemont street in downtown Vegas that you go to just to say you played poker there.

2.) My parents’ backyard gazebo – From one extreme to another. I actually have a lot of fond memories of our high school poker group basically camping out overnight and playing cards until the sun came up. It was the only place we could play at that time where we weren’t kicked out by 1 a.m. Plus it had a wicked awesome ceiling fan.

3.) Cruise ships – I’ve been on 4 cruises in my life, but only 1 that actually had a poker table that wasn’t of the Caribbean Stud variety. I thought I’d hate playing with the cruise ship crowd, but it was actually pretty enjoyable…probably because I cleaned up every night. Also the only table I’ve ever played at that I can remember that had burgundy felt surrounded by faded black leather. The dealer was also cool. At the end of the night we taught each other new games – he was fascinated by Spot (aren’t we all?).

4.) A friend’s house – You know the familiar setting…beer all over the place, chips on the vacant chair so as not to obstruct the table, and someone serving as banker (somehow poker night always turns into Monopoly). I’ve been lucky the past few years down here in Florida, as my poker friends ponied up for one of those nice, shiny table-top covers. It keeps everything so much more organized, and the cupholders reduce the spilled drinks count by a good 15%.

5.) Canada – Windsor Casino to be exact. Here I only got to play Caribbean Stud (man I hate that game so much), and Blackjack, as they didn’t run traditional poker tables. If you’ve never been there and don’t mind the game restrictions, it’s actually a very lavish, elegant setting…outside of the casino that is. Plus you can buy Cuban cigars in the gift shop. It’s like an upscale European hotel until you get into the casino, at which time you think you’ve stepped into a 1980s Indian Reservation. Speaking of which….

6.) Indian Reservation – Kind of depression, actually, although I can’t 100% put my finger on why since all casinos on the inside tend to be the same at heart. I think I was 19 when I went to my first and only Indian Reservation casino either in Illinois or Wisconsin….or maybe Indiana. I felt like I was doing something wrong the whole time…and not in that awesome, “yeah I’m buying illegal fireworks” way, either.

7.) Work – If you can get away with it, playing at work is…..just kidding. I’m not that stupid.

8.) School – However, I was stupid enough to play cards at school when we were in high school. We thought we were being all sly playing for “credits” instead of “money” so the teachers didn’t think we were gambling during our lunch break and down time. Our group of 6 or 7 managed to get playing cards in general banned from the entire school, a rule which stands to this day, 12 years after I graduated. This was a time when there were as many wild cards as pimples on my face.

9.) College – In my fraternity, when I was a pledge, a bunch of the older brothers rounded a few of us up after asking if any of us wanted to play cards. I was extremely quiet as a freshman in college, at least in situations when I didn’t really know anybody yet, so I came across as shy I suppose, and thus I’m sure these guys were planning to take me for everything I was stupid enough to pull out of my wallet. This was the beginning of my 4 1/2 year reign as poker king of the AEPi house. Others will disagree, but I guarantee you I’ve either taken their money, their textbooks (as good as cash) or a piece of their furniture at one point or another. We’d play in rooms, the hallway, the basement, the front porch. The only place in that house I didn’t play cards was the deep fryer…although my constant full houses probably would’ve tasted better fried up than half the garbage we were given to eat.

10.) The Internet – The Internets!!!! I have to be honest, I hate playing poker online. But I love playing hearts and spades online. Personal preference, I guess. Maybe at the heart of things, I like poker as a social gathering just as much as a challenge and an avenue for winning money, and online you just can’t get that.

So those are my poker travels…it’s been a fun ride, and I look forward to adding zephyr, rugby game and the Playboy Mansion to that list sometime in the next 20 years or so.

Poker Home Games: Make Your Choice

April 5, 2008

Poker Home Games – Make Your Choice

I’m just reading that title and it sounds like something out of the “Saw” movies.

“Live or Die….make your choice.”

Unfortunately, the choice in this poker home game isn’t as dramatic as…say…having to saw your own foot off, but hey, playing for a few bucks can give you just as much as an adrenaline kick, right?

Anyway, here are the basics of the game. A simple but effective variation of 7-card-stud.

Game can consist of 2-8 players, but as I always advocate, 5-6 is the best. Just my preference.

1.) Each person receives two cards dealt face down.

2.) Dealer then flips a card up and gives the option to the person with the first play to take the up card or take a new card off the deck, which also will be face up in his hand.

3.) If the player does not want the card, the next card in the deck is given to that player (face up), and the face up card that the player rejected is offered to the next person in turn.

4.) If a player does take the offered face up card, a new card is flipped and the next player is offered a choice between this new face up card or a card from the deck.

5.) If dealer is playing, once it gets to his turn, he can choose the remaining up card or pass that to the discard pile and receive a new card off the top of the deck.

6.) Round of betting.

7.) Each player receives 4 total up cards, same as in 7-card stud, with the same process of receiving your up card as explained above.

*** Here’s the second unique aspect to Make Your Choice *** Any face up card that you receive that matches one of your down cards automatically makes them both wild. So if you have a six face down and you are dealt a six face-up….you’ll want to keep it.

8.) Last card dealt face down. If it’s a match to any up card, that one, too, becomes wild.

9.) Last round of betting. High hand takes all.

I really like the small but effective twists that the wilds add to this game. First, it’s more or less completely hidden. Nobody knows FOR SURE what your wild cards are…although if you keep a six and a nine, it becomes pretty obvious. Second, it adds a nice element of bluffing if you choose to go that direction – by keeping a throw-away up card instead of passing it off, you can mess with your opponents to make them think you have that as a wild card underneath.

***One last tip*** Even with bluffing, unless you’re sitting on a strong hand of a high full house or better, I wouldn’t stay in the game. Much like baseball, with wild cards all over the place (which some purists would frown upon), it does tend to skew the power of some hands.

Now all we need is a little freaky puppet riding a tricycle and we’ll be all set!

For a more down to earth game, check out the sit n go games at Full Tilt Poker.