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Hope Springs Eternal

Author: Mark Pilarski

Dear Mark: A replay of the old Steve McQueen, Eddie Robinson movie The Cincinnati Kid was shown on TV. I assume you have seen it. Of course Texas Hold ’em has pretty much supplanted stud poker, as the gambling game of choice, has it not? Is that because hope springs eternal as the common cards are turned, or what? Which is more intellectually stimulating? Lawrence E.

Near the end of The Cincinnati Kid, Lancey (Edward G. Robinson), called the Cincinnati Kid (Steve McQueen) thirty-five hundred and then raised him five thousand on a hand most rank amateurs of the game wouldn’t make: trying to draw to an inside straight flush. Folding is what most skilled players would have done. On the other hand, we’ve all had bad beats like the Kid, who lost to Lancey while sitting pretty with a full house of Aces and 10s. "It gets down to what it's all about. Making the wrong move at the right time," so said Lancey.

As for poker, Lawrence, its earliest reference is in 1834 among the writings of Jonathan H. Green. Green mentions the rules to what he called the "cheating game," then being played on Mississippi riverboats. Green, who couldn’t find reference to it in Hoyle, decided to name the game Poker. The game Green described was played with 20 cards, and used only aces, kings, queens, jacks and tens. Up to four people could play; each dealt five cards. The now-standard 52 card deck ultimately replaced the 20 card deck, and during the Civil War, modifications such as open cards (stud poker), the straight and the draw were established.

It wasn’t until 1967 that Texas Hold ‘em was introduced in Las Vegas by the likes of gambling legends Doyle Brunson and Amarillo Slim. It wasn’t many years thereafter for Hold ‘em to eventually replace seven-card stud as the most popular poker game in U.S. casinos.

Texas Hold ’em’s popularity at present is because the granddaddy of all tournaments, the World Series of Poker, is based on Texas Hold ’em, the game’s exposure to film, television and literature, internet advertising and play, and the Cinderella story of Chris Moneymaker, who had never played in a "live" tournament, before winning the main event in the 34th annual World Series of Poker Championship in 2003.

My guess is that players in general would lean towards Hold ‘em as more “intellectually stimulating” because with draw poker, you wager only twice, but with Hold 'em, you are betting four times, so tactical betting comes into play more.

As for “hope springs eternal,” for some it comes from the community cards on the board, for others from the fact that Moneymaker -- a rookie of just three years playing experience – qualified at an online tournament in which he parlayed an entrance fee of only $40 to a win of 2.7 million.

Calculate all you want the risk/reward ratio that reflects the Moneymaker formula of $40 to win 2.7 million through the online route, or, spin in your mind, “if he can do it, so can I,” but Moneymaker got decent cards throughout, got away with a whole lot of bluffing, had loads of luck, and like Lancey, made the wrong moves at the right time.

Dear Mark: Do any slot makers still make the old mechanical slot machines? Julie R.

You may stumble upon a one-armed bandit from days of old in a downtown joint in Reno or Las Vegas, but as to a company manufacturing them, the answer is no. They became obsolete, Julie, for a whole host of reasons, but mainly, the machines from yesteryear were much easier to cheat on than are today’s machine.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week:
Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never Is, but always To be blest:
The soul, uneasy and confin'd from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.
—Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man