Red's Deal

3-2-1 Blast Off!

This is a hand from the Imperial Palace mixed game a few weeks ago. We'd been playing for about four hours with mildly active betting. Like what usually happens in this game, everyone had finally relaxed and was having a good time.

We were headed into our second round of 3-2-1 Omaha for the night -- a particularly sick game with three flops which can play with either of two turns and a final river card. As with any other form of Omaha, all players are dealt four pocket cards and must use exactly two from their hand along with exactly three from the board. With a full table of eight players, that puts 44 cards in play (47 if you count the burns). Winning hands in 3-2-1 tend to be extremely high-- it's usually something like a high full house, or a low set of quads that will bring the pot down.

It doesn't matter if you don't know 3-2-1 Omaha -- in fact it's better in many ways if you don't -- because the underlying lesson here has to do with some basic poker skills.

The hole cards were dealt, and the big blind, an aggressive younger Asian player with an iPod raised. He had been the most aggressive player at the table and wasn't afraid to bet a hand, although he had over-bet a couple of times. He was called by an older white guy with everyone passing up to the Brit on the button (the best player at the table) who merely called and a call from a younger white guy who covered his big blind.

After the flops the big blind checked, the iPod Asian bet, the older white guy called as did the Brit on the button. The big blind passed.

Three players are active for the two turns.

Qc 3s 9s Jd
Ad 6c Kh
Qs Js 9h

Let's pause and look at the board — at this point, there are a few possibilities. The best hands are probably something like full houses running off the center line — aces full, or kings full. Quad sixes are possible, but not that likely since people tend (wisely) to not play out of the middle of the deck.

There's a straight flush draw possible out of the top line with 10♣ J♣.

There's a spade flush playing off the bottom line with the 6♠ turn, so almost certainly you have to be better than that to win.

Back to the action...

The Asian checks, the older white guy bets and the Brit raises. I've played enough with the Brit that he only re-raises for two reasons in a limit game like this: he either has the top hand, or he's testing the field if someone wants to declare something better. His mild preference is to flat call if he has the best hand before the river, so the Brit is probably sitting with a lower full house, something like nines-full-of-jacks.

The Asian re-raises.

Okay, now a check re-raise is an unusual play. And considering that he's firing away at the Brit, he's got something big. He raised pre-flop under-the-gun which means he's almost certainly holding a big pair: kings or aces and is looking at a big full house.

The older white guy thinks and thinks and then calls. What does he have? Quad sixes? Maybe a nut flush with something else he's drawing on? Kings-full maybe. His actions are hinting to me that he thinks he's too good to pass but not good enough to raise. I'm not sure. He's played tight and has been fairly firm on his betting.

The Brit folds. Which means that like always he was raising to test strength. You better believe he dropped a good hand here.

The river brings a K♠ against the heads-up players.

Qc 3s 9s Jd
Ad 6c Kh
Qs Js 9h

The Asian bets out. The older white guy pauses for a second and then raises. It's very important to note that this is only the second time in the night that he has raised.

The Asian quickly re-raises.

The older white guy pauses and looks at the board and re-raises.

Okay, stop right here. This is the guy that has raised once only tonight and this is his second time. Alarm bells should be going off everywhere.

The Asian says to the dealer, "How many raises do we have heads-up?" When told there's no cap, he asks the white guy how much he wants to bet.

The white guy says, "we can bet it all."

I can tell you right now what both players have. In fact, I lean over to the player next to me and tell him. The white guy has whatever the nut hand on a board like this would be — which is to say he has a royal flush, playing off the bottom. The Asian has quad kings and is over-playing it. In fact, I'll bet he has target fixation and doesn't see the royal out there — he's probably focused on someone having quad sixes or aces-full.

They both push, and sure enough, the white guy has a royal. The Asian shows quad kings and acts like he's been hit on the back of the head with a baseball bat — like he's just taken the worst beat in the history of the world.

And there's no doubt that he's had bad luck here, but the worst luck he's brought upon himself when he ignored the obvious and decided to push the bet all the way to the felt.

Here's a rule to never ever forget at a table. If you're playing unbelievably conservative players, and they raise you, you're beaten. Always. Ignore pot-odds, pay no attention to any bluffing possibilities. If the tightest player at the table is in a raising battle, stops and looks at a board, and then re-raises, you are beaten.

It may seem easy and obvious to you — maybe it is. But in the heat of battle, many people forget. The iPod Asian is a good player. We're playing 3/6 limit and one moment of extreme fixation has caused him to lose two-and-a-half racks.

If it can happen to him, it can happen to you. Don't let it.