“You play a lot of poker don’t you?” Paddy asked.
“Not anymore,” I answered, “I’ve only played poker about a dozen times in the last thirty-five years.”
“But you did play a lot at one time,” Paddy posited.
“Yes,” I acknowledged, “I’ve probably played more than a thousand games of poker.”
“Why did you quit?” he asked.
“My regular partners and I had more important things to do,” I explained, “such as raise a family.”
“Do you think you won or lost overall?” Paddy inquired.
“I definitely won more than I lost,” I assured him.
“Did you have a system of some kind,” he wanted to know.
“I suppose,” I said, “that, in a way, I did.”
“And it was?” Paddy urged.
“My approach,” I told him, “was to minimize my losses. Although I would go for the killer win when I felt I had the cards to either win or bluff successfully, I usually played to avoid unnecessary losses.”
“But, what was your system?” Paddy continued to prod.
“As I suggested,” I countered, “it wasn’t really a system as that word is used in the context of playing cards. But I did have some basic rules that I followed.”
“Tell me about them,” he urged, as he took out his trusty pen and paper.
I had to think about it for a bit, but finally (according to Paddy’s notes) I came up with the following list; which, I must add, is in no particular order.
1. Don’t be tempted to see every hand; throw in the bad ones.
2. In draw poker, don’t over-bet to draw cards unless you have openers beaten or a four-card flush or straight.
3. Don’t over-bet to draw to a three-card flush or inside straight. The odds are, as I recall, about 11-1 against you.
4. Accept a string of losses without trying to get it all back at once.
5. Play each hand independently of what’s gone on before. Even five wins in a row doesn’t mean a loss is certain on the next hand; and vice versa. Odds hold true only in the long run.
6. If you’re playing with even one stranger, be overly cautious until you get to know him.
7. When engaging in non-poker games, such as 7/27, or in split-pot games such as Chicago and high-low, be ruthless when you have a sure winner and cautious when you don’t.
“Did you never take chances, go against the odds, or ignore your rules?” he asked.
“Of course I did,” I admitted. “You have to every now and then or else your opponents will figure you out, and you’ll never get the unexpected win. The key is to not do it too often and to never fall into a pattern.”
“Didn’t you tell me one time,” Paddy went on, “that you hate wild cards?”
“Indeed I do,” I assured him. “Wild cards throw off the odds, and in poker the odds are paramount in your decisions.”
“Give me an example,” Paddy said.
“As I recall, “I told him, “in five-card draw without a wild card, there are 40 possible ways to get a straight flush. With a wild card there are over 4,000.”
“So what,” Paddy argued.
“Remember,” I told him, “that basically I try to minimize my losses. So if I have a straight flush with no wild card, my odds of winning are enormous and I’m going to be very aggressive. I’ve never seen two straight flushes in a non-wild-card hand. So, if I have a straight flush without a wild card I’m going for the big win. On the other hand, with a wild card I’m going to bet less.”
“Did you have any other rules that you followed religiously?” Paddy asked.
“Yeah, I had a couple,” I answered. “I always insisted that we set an absolute time limit on the game, and if I was still in when we reached that hour I quit.”
“Why?” he inquired.
“It was always my experience that when poker games went beyond the time limit, people started to play foolishly, especially those who were down.” I explained. “And it’s almost impossible to play logically when you’re playing with illogical people.”
“You said you had a couple,” Paddy pointed out. “What was the other?”
“If any of the players got inebriated and stayed in the game,” I told him, “I’d quit and go home.”
“Why?” he again inquired.
“Same as playing beyond the time limit,” I explained. “An inebriated player doesn’t play logically. Also, a drunk in the game usually led to a conflict of some kind."
“Any final thoughts,” Paddy asked as he got up to leave.
“Just that I’d love to have a game of poker,” I replied.