‘Hail’ to a legend: Oklahoma Johnny

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I’ll wager you all remember OK Johnny Hale, “The Elder Statesman of Poker,” who once wrote interesting poker columns here in GamingToday.

Johnny also wrote for other poker publications and authored The Gentleman Gambler, his life story. As you probably know, with Benny Binion, he helped to create the World Series of Poker (WSOP). Later, he was responsible for the Seniors World Championship of Poker and the Seniors Poker Hall of Fame. Hale has also played and won several WSOP events.

Well, after many years playing hold’em, poker legend OKJ is now into the game of Omaha hi-lo. He told me about an especially interesting hand and said it was OK to share this with GT readers.

OK Johnny was playing in a $4-$8 limit Omaha hi-lo, 8-or-better game with 1/2 kill. So it was now $6-$12, and likely to be a big pot.

“I have two Kings and a good hi hand, but no low possibility,” he wrote.

The flop was 8-8-4 with no flush possible, giving him two-pair, Kings and 8s. Representing two Aces in the hole, or an 8 for trip 8s, he raised the bettor, and was re-raised by another opponent. Then he re-raised to build the pot.

With 8-4 on the board, his opponents may be drawing to low hands, he thought (or hoped). He is optimistic that, with two 8s on the board, no one has a full-house or four 8s, which would slaughter his two-pair.

“I like to play and think if it comes off big (on the turn), I may just take this pot without the need of catching a third King,” he said.

The betting is now “capped” with a fourth raise.

On the turn, “I catch the King! I play ‘cute’ and check to make them think I do not have the Kings-full. They bet it for me and it is capped for $60.”

Wow, what a pot!

Unfortunately, an Ace falls on the river, so low hands are quite likely. OKJ realizes he can only win half the pot, so he wants his share to be as big as possible. “So I again play cute and check.”

He expects an opponent to make the bet so he can complete a check-raise. The bet is $12. Then another player raises to $24.

“I now re-raise to $36.” It is then raised to $48, and finally capped at $60! Uh, oh…

“George, I know that, at best, I can only win 1/2 of the pot – but will get nothing if one of them has the four 8s plus a low hand or if one uses the Ace on the river for Aces-full-of-8s. These are good players who I have played hundreds of hours with. They never cap it on the river on a kill pot unless they think they can win it both ways.”

So, with both opponents raising and re-raising on the river, OKJ decided to save his remaining chips and folded with two more big raises facing him. He was certain he knew how they play and bet their hands.

But both only had the low nut! Neither had a high hand!

Accepting his loss, OK Johnny concluded by paraphrasing a popular idiom: “I have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.”

“In my lifetime of poker, I would have bet the farm I was correct – I’ve played with these boys for hundreds of hours and never seen them cap it without the nuts – both ways.

“Their lifetime poker M.O. is call with one of the nuts, but never raise or re-raise when all cards are dealt – unless they have nut/nut.”

That hand surely is “one to remember, once in a lifetime of poker.” But here is OKJ’s bottom line: “I do not want to get even.”

Stay Lucky! Signed, OK Johnny

“The Engineer,” a noted author and teacher in Greater Los Angeles, is a member of the Seniors Poker Hall of Fame. Contact George at [email protected].

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About the Author

George Epstein

A retired engineer, George Epstein is the author of “The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners!” and “Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision.” He teaches poker courses and conducts a unique Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Senior Center under the auspices of the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks and at West Los Angeles College.

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