Penny Wise, Pound Foolish

I’ve played an awful lot of poker for many, many years, and this was a first for me…

A couple days ago, at a private $1/2 no limit Texas Hold’em game, there was a progressive straight flush jackpot in place. Any straight flush using both hole cards would win $1,500. Any straight flush using only one hole card wins half of the jackpot, or $750.

Here I should point out that another house rule requires the pot to be at least $10 for any hand to be jackpot eligible. Like most casino poker rooms, this is the minimum pot size for any rake to be taken by the house and most casinos require a raked pot for jackpots to count.

Early in the session, everyone folded their hands all the way through the button, leaving only the small blind (SB) and big blind (BB). These SB vs. BB hands occupy a weird space in the poker ecosystem. While it doesn’t happen very often, the players are given options that amount to small-scale, albeit generally harmless, collusion.

One option is to “chop the blinds.” If both players agree, they can simply take their blinds back, not play the hand, and move on.

Another option is to play the hand normally, in which case there is no collusion. Either player can insist on this and betting follows all normal procedures.

And a third option (at this private game if not everywhere) is for each player to put in $5 and “run it out.” This ensures there is $10 in the pot, to be jackpot eligible, with a tacit understanding that neither player will bet again. Often both the SB and BB will flip their cards face up right away. It’s soft collusion but generally harmless. The house takes $1 for rake, and if lightning strikes in the form of a jackpot hand, that player doesn’t miss out by chopping the blinds instead. Virtually always, one player wins a very small pot.

In this particular hand, the SB completed the big blind for $1 more and the BB checked the option of raising. The dealer, bless his heart, reminded the players that $10 must be in the pot for their hands to be eligible for the straight flush jackpot. Being penny wise, they opted to wait, keeping the pot at $4 (so there would be no rake) and checking on the flop and turn.

Then lightning struck!

The river gave the SB a straight flush, using both hole cards. He put out a bet and showed his hand as the table erupted in celebration. At the start of the game, SB and several other players made a side agreement to split the straight flush jackpot money if any one of them were to win it.

As the host heard the commotion and wandered in to confirm the winning hand, the BB observed that the final bet wasn’t called. “All I had was junk, so I just mucked my hand.” There was only $4 in the pot.


SB protested that BB surely intended to call, because it’s always understood that if SB or BB makes a jackpot hand on the river, the other player won’t block the winner from getting paid. “I was even going to give you a part of the jackpot…” he argued.

Well, sorry, no, that’s not how it works, ruled the house, after hearing the details as confirmed by the dealer. Technically, there wasn’t $10 in the pot.

At the next game, the straight flush jackpot will be a few hundred dollars higher, and the blinds probably not so pound foolish.


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  1. Were there any threats of violence pronounced against the BB or the house? I could, depending on the people involved, that this could escalate in a bad way…

    1. No threats of violence, but plenty of chirping and the suggestion that it would take rescuing babies from a burning building (or equivalent deeds) to make up for folding in that spot.

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