In Big Hand
I’m always distrustful of a guy who wears a cap with the ace of spades and does chip twirls in between hands/Illustration from Your How to Do

I had an instant distrust of the guy who sat down next to me in the poker room of a locals joint in Las Vegas on another day ending in “y.”

He was wearing dark glasses. He was wearing a cap with the ace of spades displayed horizontally on the crown. And he was doing fancy chip twirls between hands. It added up to a savvy, experienced player. And who needs those in a card game?

We played a few hands. I picked up A-6 of diamonds. With one diamond on the flop, I bet a tiny amount, and a guy I recognize called. The turn brought another diamond. I thought briefly. But with a flush draw and an ace, I bet $11 — roughly three-fourths the size of the pot. The guy thought briefly and called.

I hadn’t been making many flushes lately or so it seemed. Briefly flashed back to the weekend, where I made one but didn’t get any action.

So we went to the river. A face card fell. It was not a diamond. I checked, and the guy behind me made a pot-sized bet. Since I had nothing, and the board was now coordinated, I surrendered and folded.

But I took a positive attitude. The pot was small. And maybe, just maybe the flush would come when I needed it and the stakes were larger.

“Train your mind to think that everything is happening in your favor,” I read recently on social media. I like that philosophy, and I buy into the concept.

We play a few more hands, and a seat opens up behind the guy doing chip twirls so I toss my seat-change button over to that seat and begin moving my “desk” with sports-betting data, a cup of tea and my chips.

Before I am even settled, I look down and see Ac-Kc, one of the better starting hands in Texas hold’em. I don’t yet have my chips unracked, but I announce “raise” and I do it loudly. Two people behind me call, and we have a $45 pot.

The dealer burns and puts out the flop: 9c-7c-5s. So I’ve flopped a flush draw and have two big overcards. I lead out for $15. The first guy folds, but the second guy pumps it up to $45. OK, what does he have? My first guess is that he’s flopped a set (a pair in your hand and one on board) — let’s say a set of 9s or 7s.

And what should my strategy be? I have the nut flush draw. But if he has a set, our overcards are no good. Could he also have a flush draw? It’s possible but seems unlikely. Could he have flopped a straight? Sure, and he could have 8c-6c for a straight with a straight flush draw. But a set just seems more realistic. Call the raise and see if we get there on the turn or maybe the river? Or go all in with 35 percent equity?

I think for a second and elect to call. With his raise, the pot is now $135.

I’m sitting in the No. 8 seat and can’t see the turn card until the dealer puts it out and then pulls his arm back. But when the turn card is revealed, it’s the club 10. Bazinga, I’ve hit a flush. Technically, there’s also a straight flush now on board. But it’s unlikely.

I check and give my opponent another chance to bet his set. He doesn’t disappoint and slides $55 out into the pot. That leaves him with another $140-$150 behind. And I have him slightly covered. Presuming he has a set, he has nine cards that will give him a full house on the river and one that will give him four-of-a-kind. In other words, he will get there about 20 percent of the time. Looked at another way, my made flush is a 4-1 favorite.

I didn’t come this far to call. I slide some chips out and declare “all in.” My opponent is not surprised but he needs to think. Obviously, if he had 8c-6c, he would insta-call and probably even turn his hand face-up. But he’s thinking. And thinking. It will cost him another $150 to win maybe $500 so he’s getting slightly better than 3-1. Not great odds for a 4-1 shot but not awful odds either. He thinks some more — and calls!

This will be the biggest pot since I’ve sat down, and I just need to dodge the river. I’m stoic on the outside, but my heart races when the dealer burns, turns and puts out — a red ace. Whew.

Since the action is complete, I turn up what is now the effective nuts. My opponent nods and shows his set of 7s. The dealer begins pushing several stacks of redbirds to my seat. My heart returns to a normal rhythm.

We play a few more hands that afternoon on a day ending in “y.” I even raise the guy who is doing the chip twirls once when he opens for $7. I make it $17 to go with Ah-Kd, get another caller and him. The flop brings a jack and one heart and the turn is the club ace. I bet the river too, and an older guy with an easy demeanor and white hair calls. When I table my A-K, he looks at his cards, says “You got me” and turns up A-10.

It turned out to be a pleasant afternoon. Sometimes you really can make a flush.

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