December 29, 2007 12:47 PM
This wasn’t one of my finest hours. Nothing about my play lifted the flag of excitement. I played ‘standard-dreary’, a well used weapon in my poker armoury, and played it to the bone. But it left the roller-coaster ride missing – ups and downs I’d grown used to in the volatile worlds of Omaha. In the end five card draw cost me a few chips in a ten minute stretch at the end intended to punish myself for being so boring.
So where were we? An hour of five card draw, carrying over two grand of my existing stack of 2,435.
The WSOP gets bigger every year but it has been 25 years since the last five card draw bracelet was contested, and won by David Sklansky
The view of The Rio - modern home to the WSOP. It was back in Binions Horseshoe when five card draw made it’s last appearance
Draw feels like one of the original variations of poker, learned first or held onto by generations before. Without the popularity in tournaments it gets left to home games. But not at PokerStars where tables are always open.
Herbert O. Yardley perhaps leads the way on draw, having written extensively about his experience in his famous book “The Education of a Poker Player.” In it, his journey from youth (player poker)to a career in cryptology and international espionage (playing poker) is explained in detail. It would be a good place to start I figured, but against the general spirit of diving in at the deep end. So, book aside, I got into a limit game of five card draw on PokerStars.net.
Draw is a simple game, pretty fast too. Each player is dealt five cards face down with the aim of getting the highest five card hand they can. The ‘draw’ is as you’d expect and after a round of betting players can exchange as many of their cards as they wish for replacements. Then follows another round of betting before any remaining players show their cards.
And whilst some games limit the number of cards you can discard PokerStars lets you swap them all! A new start on a bad hand leaving the door open for an entirely new hand giving you the nuts.
As usual the theory sounds harmless enough. This is the old west game, one of waistcoats, cigars, riverboat steam paddlers, bad pianos and banisters that shatter from the weight of a man being thrown over it. It’s developed over these many years with rugged looking people duelling in tumbleweed streets over lost pots. What chance did I have?
It started well enough. I won the first pot with a pair of aces. I was still in Omaha mode, expecting to need the nuts to win a pot, so this was a surprise. But the next pot gave me a quick lesson in hand selection.
Dealt A-K-K-J-T I threw caution to the wind by throwing one of the kings to the wind. I was in pursuit of a doomed yet heroic straight. Instead I turned my hand into nothing, folding and seeing the pot taken by a meagre looking pair of tens. It was a hard lesson that I’d rather not mention ever again.
I turned to a reliable old friend. If I’ve learned anything these last few weeks it’s that when my mind is ready I can become an accomplished folder. It’s good for getting some kind of grip on things. The last draw game I played was triple draw and that seemed like a blissful game of exchanging card until you found one you liked the look off. Five card draw is altogether different. One chance to change a hand around and that’s it.
For a start it seems a quicker game. Once the drawing is done the showdown follows fairly quickly. Less time for internet browsing then and making cups of tea. The speed belies the sense that five card draw is a deeply subtle game. Opponents can gain information from so many things, like how many cards you discard - if you discard any at all. Does discarding three cards and keeping two automatically suggest a pair? And what should you starting hands consist of, particularly as ever five card hand often looks just a couple of cards away from a straight, flush, full house or better.
I toyed with the idea of looking at my copy of Yardley but was aware that the great man tended to concentrate on its many variations. Instead I worked on my own amateur variations. Concentration was key, trying to get a grasp of what opponents were thinking takes experience and time. I gave up and tried to work on my own game.
What hands to play? Well, hands with the most options seemed best. Straight draws, flush draws, remote full house opportunities seemed to stand the best chance. But then again so did a simple good pair. For whilst you might miss making a full house with your two pair it may still be ahead of an opponent chancing a big bet on a straight draw. And missing.
I was dealt 7-6-5-4-6 - a card away from a straight which I make when the surplus 6 becomes a 3. I’d risked my made pair but figured pocket sixes were hardly going to win the day. I’m back up to 1,910. I win another pot worth 130 on the next hand when my A-K-K-K-J does enough. Being limit poker the pots are small and it’s a rock face game of waiting for hands before committing chips and slowly building your stack.
Team PokerStars Pro Tom McEvoy – pretty much the only PokerStars player around the last time draw was played at the WSOP back in 1982
Another thing to consider is that point I made about players on a draw, with odds against them that they will make their hand. More than once I folded a good pair expecting to be outdone, only for a King-high hand, lesser pair or dare I say it, a busted straight, to take the pot. It’s one thing to put opponents on a hand but I found myself giving players too much credit, a bad hangover from the Omaha tables. Are draws over rated? I wondered, and risked a diversion into territory I have no right being in. Perhaps you can help me out on that one?
Then came a dry patch. A look back in my notes and it reads “Four to flush. Ace high. Raise. Discard. Miss. Fold.”
It continued like this for a while until with ten minutes to go I had this feeling of having been safely away from the front lines for some time I was ducking the action, so, in the most casual of mistakes, I began playing hands I knew shouldn’t have gone anywhere near.
3-3-7-7-Q. Out with the queen, in with the... deuce. Fold.
4-5-6-7-Q. Out with the queen, in with a king this time... fold.
I was throwing away chips like they were weighing me down. With just minutes left I was had two options. Either take my foot off the gas and run down the clock, taking a loss in the process (but a modest one). OR, keep at this insane jack-knife trip towards glory. Yes, I chose this latter option.
That was that very quickly. My original stack had taken a knock slightly, but with New Year in sight I’d have 2,290 for my next stop on the Stud tables, where the complication in poker is multiplied a many times.
Until then, I hope you had a good 2007. Happy holidays everyone and see you in 2008.