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Thursday, September 19, 2013

Poker Stories: The Slow Roller

Another in a continuing, occasional series of poker stories I've witnessed or heard through the years. The names have been changed, but the details remain intact. You'll find more here.

In a poker game, you usually don't want to show your cards because it gives other players information about what you had and how you played. Of course, you have to show the best hand to win the pot, but if you're not sure you have the winner, you don't want to turn them over prematurely. So, there's an etiquette about when you're supposed to expose your hole cards at the end of a hand. In some casinos, the last person to bet or raise (as opposed to calling) has to show their hand first. In others, you go in order, clockwise from the dealer button.

Regardless of the rules, slow-rolling is always considered bad etiquette. Slow-rolling is the practice of having the best hand, but waiting until the losing player(s) have turned over their cards -- and then waiting, as if to add dramatic tension -- before turning over yours. Sometimes, it's done by accident, when one player isn't 100% sure they have the best hand until they peruse the other player's holdings, but some players do it on purpose, which usually draws disdain from others at the table. There are also those who make it a habit to slow-roll and thus earn a negative reputation within the poker community.

Roger is a well-known slow-roller. He's done it so often that some of his opponents -- and I admit, I'm among them -- have purposely slow-rolled him to try to teach him a lesson. But he either won't learn the lesson or doesn't care.

That's why I like this story so much.

A couple of years ago, I was playing in a main event tournament on the World Series Of Poker Circuit. On day one, I had amassed a healthy stack of chips, as had the guy on my left, an out-of-towner named Mike. He was a good player and a nice guy, so we carried on a conversation as the hours passed, but stayed out of each other's way in the game. The tournament had started at noon with several hundred entrants, and as the day progressed, some of them busted out and the tables were consolidated to fill the now-empty seats.

At about 9pm, Roger was moved to my table, but didn't get involved in a lot of hands for awhile. Then, after a half-hour, Mike raised in middle position. Another player called and Roger, who sat three seats to his left, called on the button, too. With three-way action, the flop was queen-nine-eight, with two clubs. Mike bet about two-thirds of the pot. The second player folded. Roger stared at Mike for a few seconds, then checked his cards, then looked at the board, then looked back at his cards again. I'd seen Roger do this many times, and it always meant he had a big hand. I figured he'd flopped a set of nines or eights.

I wasn't surprised when Roger put in a raise, about three times what Mike had bet. Mike, who had never played with Roger, must have thought he was making a move with a club flush draw and, to increase the pressure, Mike announced he was all-in. Roger again stared at him, looked at the board, and checked his cards once more before calling. At that point, I changed my mind about what Roger had. I was now sure he'd flopped a straight with jack-ten and was "Hollywooding" (a term meaning he was hamming it up, big-time, acting like he was trying to get as much camera time as possible -- if only the tournament were being televised).

According to WSOP rules, when one player moves all-in and another calls, they must both expose their cards before the rest of the hand is dealt. Mike turned over the ace and queen of hearts, for top pair with top kicker. Roger, who has never cared about etiquette, actually looked at his hole cards (again!) for a couple of seconds, before confirming my suspicion by turning over a jack and a ten.

Mike had more chips than Roger, so he couldn't be eliminated, but this hand was going to cripple his stack. I could see that Mike was upset -- not only about his now very small odds of winning this hand and thus going much further in the tournament, but about the way Roger had slow-rolled him.

Mike didn't say anything, but another player said to Roger, "What the hell? That's one of the worst slow-rolls I've ever seen!" The words bounced off Roger without sinking in. It wasn't the first time he'd heard them.

The dealer exposed the turn card -- an eight. Mike now had two pair, but with one card to go, he would need either another eight or queen on the river to win, giving him about an 8% chance. BOOM! Mike's face lit up with excitement when a queen fell on the river to give him a full house, beating Roger's straight. Roger stood up in shock and slunk away from the table, eliminated from the tournament.

I don't believe in nonsense like karma, but I was glad to see him go. And to know that he wasn't going to slow-roll anyone else that day.

Later that night, our table broke, and Mike and I ended up in different parts of the room. We both made it to Day 2, and though neither of us made it to the final table, we both went deep enough to cash. When I ran into him during a break on the second day, he said he'd told the story about that hand to someone at his new table, and that person had asked, "Was the guy's name Roger?"