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Jim Knew That I Knew

It's a little spooky when another poker player tells you what you were thinking

by Lee H. Jones |  Published: Nov 14, 2006


"Hello, old friend …"

I live in the Isle of Man, a small island in the Irish Sea between Great Britain and Ireland. It's a beautiful place with verdant hills, gorgeous glens, and the ocean wherever you look. And every June, the island comes to a halt while the Tourist Trial – a world-famous series of motorcycles races – comes to town. Stop and see us sometime. But living that far from my California roots means I don't get much chance to play in the card clubs of San Jose, where I first learned "real" poker.

Recently I was on a trip back to San Jose and was out to a delicious Ethiopian dinner with my family and our friends Eugene (immortalized as "Uge" in a couple of my columns) and Brigitte. As we were polishing up the last tibs-soaked bits of injera, my son David looked at Uge and me and said, "Let's go to Garden City." We got the blessing of the ladies in the group and headed over to the club where I first played casino lowball and (a few years later) hold'em.

Soon enough, we were happily settled into a friendly $6-$12 game and enjoying the camaraderie that you just can't get from an IP address. David was in seat No. 9 and I noticed that in seat No. 8 was Jim – a wonderful gentleman who's been playing and propping at Garden City since before I can remember. I stood behind David and said, indicating Jim, "This guy's been playing poker longer than you and I have been alive, combined."

"You guys both 18?" chuckled Jim.

Back in my No. 2 seat, I chatted with the players around me, Uge sitting on my right, and cards and chips flying everywhere. The guy in seat No. 5 said, "That's your son in No. 9?"

"Yeah, cool, huh?"

"Fantastic. Take care of your son, man."

"I will, but I'll check-raise him the first chance I get, too." It was a wonderful poker game.

Then came the most interesting hand of the evening, and a great lesson about the complexity and subtlety of our game. Jim open-raised from early position, and I called with pocket tens. Against weaker players, I might reraise. But against Jim's range of raising hands, the tens were barely playable. Only because I had position on him was I even willing to call. We got one cold-caller behind me in the No. 4 seat and a flop of A-10-5. Well, this was going to get interesting. Jim checked. Checked? Well, OK, maybe he had K-K or Q-Q and the ace just spoiled his plans. I thought I sensed the player in seat No. 4 reaching for chips, so I checked, too. I wanted to see what Jim would do, and if seat No. 4 bet, I'd effectively have the button for this round.

Seat No. 4 bet, as I'd hoped. Jim called pretty quickly. I wondered if he had something like A-J and just wasn't willing to go to war. I decided that they both had a pair of aces, and I was in fat city. So, I just called, planning to check-raise both on the turn. The turn was a king, putting a second diamond on the board. And now, Jim bet out! Eek! That wasn't part of the plan. Did he just hit a set of kings? No. Jim wouldn't check-call a pair of kings on an ace-high flop. He'd either bet them to see how he was doing, or he'd check-fold. He hasn't made a living as a prop for 30 years by check-calling with pocket kings on an ace-high flop. Could he have a set of aces? Uh-oh. Well, wait. I decided already that seat No. 4 had an ace. For Jim to have pocket aces, he had to have exactly the two remaining aces. That didn't seem right. What about A-K? That was starting to make sense. I wasn't sure why Jim would play A-K that way; maybe he was thinking about check-raising us on the turn, but now the board was turning scary with three to a straight and two diamonds. So, he decided to decloak his top two pair right there. You know, that fit perfectly. And if I was right, Jim was in deep trouble: He had a hand that looked really good but in fact had only four outs. So, I did the obvious thing: I raised. Seat No. 4 didn't like that at all, but he grimly pushed his 12 chips out.

They talk about the best-laid plans of mice and men. Suddenly, my plan faltered when Jim put in a third bet. This wasn't some crazy gambling kid with sunglasses and an iPod. This was rock-solid Jim; he had a real hand. A very bad feeling started to form in my head. Could he have Q-J for the straight? But then my fears were completely allayed: Jim had raised from early position preflop. Jim doesn't raise with Q-J – even suited – preflop. And the guy behind me had called two bets cold on the turn. He almost certainly had an ace, so I just couldn't give Jim a set of aces. No, Jim had A-K – it was clear. So, I put in a fourth bet, capping the betting.

Now, seat No. 4 finally got the message. He looked at both of us, shook his head, and threw his cards in. Jim quietly called the fourth bet.

The river was a 5, pairing the board and giving me tens full. Jim checked, and I, of course, bet.

Jim said, "I was really hoping the board wouldn't pair." What? He continued, "There was no possible way you could put me on what I have." He slid what turned out to be his last $12 into the pot. I turned up my hand.

"Jim, you don't have …" Without a word, he tabled Q-J; he had turned the stone-cold nuts. "But you never, ever raise with …"

"No, I don't ever raise with Q-J. I just did this time. Good hand, Lee."

With that, he stood up, bade the table a good night, and walked toward the door, a gentleman from stem to stern. I don't usually feel bad about winning a big pot, but I definitely had mixed feelings as I dragged those chips in. The dealer, Lyle, who's been dealing in San Jose since forever, looked at me. "You're worried about Jim? This is just another night for him. He'll have forgotten about this before he gets home."

Anyway, Jim, it was great to see you, and an honor to play that pot against you. But next time, stay out of my brain, please. It's a little spooky when another poker player tells you what you were thinking.

"Really good to see you once again" spade

Lee Jones is the poker room manager for, and the author of the best-selling book Winning Low Limit Hold'em.