Analysis of Poker Hands – Luck

Hand 1
This is from the semi-final of the second series and illustrates the fact that, despite excellent play, luck can often be a factor. This is a hand between Jonas Slovenia and Ross Boatman. Jonas is the host of a Slovenian chat show and Ross Boatman is a London-based actor well known for his role in London’s Burning. Ross is following in the footsteps of some other (perhaps more famous) actors like the late Telly ‘Kojak’ Savalas and Gabe Kaplan by being an extremely accomplished poker player. The hand developed as follows:

Jonas held AD, KD and raised the bet to £300.

Ross re-raised all-in with AS, KS.

Jonas called.

The board came QS, 7S, 8S, 9H, 3S.

Jonas went out having played the hand (of identical value to Ross’s) perfectly well but having suffered bad luck.

The theme of luck cannot be emphasised too much as it is a factor in all poker games. Over the long term, each individual player gets as much good luck as bad. Hence skill comes into play in that good players will minimise their losses during a run of bad luck but maximise their gains during a good run (or a ‘rush’ as some players would call it).


Hand 2
This hand illustrates one of the most famous recent pieces of poker bad luck. In addition, it illustrates the sort of ‘at the table’ analysis that sophisticated players are able to make. It is the final hand in the main event of the World Series of Poker 2000. This tournament takes four days to play and is the ultimate test of a poker player’s stamina and character.
When the tournament got down to the last two players, T J Cloutier was up against Chris (Jesus) Ferguson, not an unknown in Vegas poker circles, but certainly less famous at the time than his opponent. However, to compensate for this, he had 90 per cent of the chips.
Cloutier soon got to work. A master at head-up play, he had Ferguson on the run. Time after time, he would bet or raise and Ferguson would throw his hand away. Soon, Cloutier was nearly level. Then came the key hand. Ferguson made an initial small raise and Cloutier moved all-in. Ferguson thought for five minutes before calling. (That he was allowed such time might surprise some readers. As stated in the chapter on rules, many card rooms in the UK have a rule that ‘thinking time is restricted to two minutes’. But two minutes from when? Most dealers don’t wear watches. The correct rule is two minutes from when another player requests that a player be ‘put on the clock’.) The dealer should have no authority to put a player on the clock. Thus, if Cloutier said nothing (as in this case), Ferguson could have sat there for half an hour if he’d wanted to. However, even five minutes can be a long time sitting at a poker table when nothing is happening.
He called. The hands were turned over. Cloutier had A-Q offsuit, Ferguson A-9 suited.
I must confess the first time I heard this I thought Ferguson had made a poor call but actually it was quite clever. Here’s why.
I suspect that Ferguson realised that he was up against a superior player (this is something a lot of players would be reluctant to admit). So what does he think Cloutier has? Remember, Cloutier had moved all-in, a bet much bigger than the size of the pot, so he’s unlikely to be bluffing.

1.    A Small Pair This would be ideal for Ferguson, as he’d then be about even money to win the tournament. But would Cloutier go all in with, for example, two 4s?
2.    A Medium or Big Pair This is much more likely. It wouldn’t be a disaster, however, because Ferguson could still hit his ace and win (unless he is very unlucky and Cloutier has two aces). He’d be about two to one against if facing any pair but
3.    Ace-High Kicker A-K, A-Q or A-J. This seems to be most likely. Again Ferguson’s not out of it, though, because he could still hit his 9 and win. Here, he’d be about five to two against.
4.    Two High Cards K-Q or K-J. This seems most unlikely.Cloutier would be more inclined to just call with such a hand. Ferguson would be slight favourite here, though.

Ferguson probably took the view that he could take a stand with his A-9 where he was likely to be at worst, five to two against, or he could keep on folding and let Cloutier ‘ante’ him away. On balance, it wasn’t such a bad decision.
What happened? The flop came K -4- 2. Fourth street was another king. So, on the river, Ferguson needed a 4 or a 2 to tie. But a 9 would win him the tournament and the title of world champion. And a 9 is what came. Ferguson was crowned as champion and received the $1,500,000 first prize whilst Cloutier, who was most gracious in defeat offering the winner his warm congratulations, received a mere $896,500. Nevertheless, Cloutier’s bad luck cost him some $600,000 or £400,000!