The Second Worst Play Ever

diamond_whiteIn 2003, I intentionally folded pocket aces before the flop in a live, $20/40 limit hold’em game. It was, according to my meticulous calculations, the worst play ever. But that wasn’t the only reason I did it. I wrote an article at the time in which all is revealed:

Today I am here to claim credit for also having made the second worst play ever. But this time, I had help – or more accurately, I helped. Most of the credit must go to my partner in perversion, Eric.

THE DATE: August 20, 2009

THE PLACE: The Venetian Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, room 22017

THE PLAYERS: Me, Eric, and an unwitting cohort who shall remain forever oblivious of the gift bestowed upon him by our lunacy.

Eric is a young professional poker player who hired me as his coach. During the first day of a three-day coaching program, Eric told me that my article “The Worst Play Ever” had inspired him to fold pocket aces before the flop too. We briefly discussed the long-range effects that making this outrageous play had on us. Turns out, there aren’t any. But we did note that it gave us a quirky little bond, like two people who bump into each other and spill each other’s coffee.

At the end of the third day, after the official coaching was officially over, we decided to play some low stakes online poker and split our action, just for fun. Minutes later we were playing two tables of 6-max $1/2 no-limit hold’em, with Eric driving. Because my iPhone was still recording the coaching session, these events were etched in silicon.

Eric and I were having a grand time, casting aspersions and making proclamations exactly as I had coached him not to. I did some bold mock-yelling at my faceless opponents after I convinced Eric to call a river bet with ace-high. “You’re all a bunch of ding donks and I hate you all!” Eric did some mock-mocking of me after I talked him into bluff-check-raising the river against a player who happened to have the nuts. “It’s a good thing you charge a lot for your coaching,” he said, “because you suck at playing.”

A couple minutes went by with no interesting betting decisions. Eric was playing on autopilot as we discussed his method for quickly sizing up the skill level of an opponent, when suddenly, the talking stopped, and we both gazed lustfully at our latest hole cards: pocket aces, on the button.

“Now there’s a hand with some creative potential,” I said.

The first two players folded and the cutoff opened for $6. He had $200, as did we.

Eric said, “What are we doing?”

I said, “We’re … calling!”

Eric said, “Okay,” and he called.

Both blinds folded. The pot was now headsup.

Eric said, “Hey, we’re up against the bozo player.”

“Yeah,” I said.

I distinctly remember what I was thinking at the time. I was thinking about the financial and emotional damage we were about to inflict on this poor unsuspecting sap who had chosen to visually represent his being with the image of a mostly squashed cockroach.

Eric, anticipating a continuation bet by the cutoff, asked, “Are we instant calling? Instant raising?” Then he paused, and added, “Or folding?”

I erupted with a big loud laughing AHHHHHH-ha-ha-ha-ha and Eric joined in just as loud, right away. I said, “I like your thinking!”

The flop came out 10-6-2 rainbow. The cutoff bet $12 into the $15 pot.

Eric said, “This’ll be the first time anyone made a play like this, on purpose anyway.”

I said, “Wow, you’re really serious about this? That would be wild.” The tempo and pitch of my voice started going up as I processed what was really going on here: “Go ahead! Do it! Fold it!”

Eric giggled, and…

Click. Aces gone.

SMACK! A stinging high five.

We relished the monumentalness of the moment. This went way beyond coffee spilling. This was more like walking on the moon together and puking up our Tang. I rambled on about the incredible improbability of this event. First, I had to be wacko enough to fold those aces six years ago, and then write about it, and Eric had to read about it, and hire me to coach him, and then we had to share our action, and get pocket aces, and then, Eric had to somehow summon enough awareness to think of folding the aces at that perfectly absurd postflop moment.

That I would enthusiastically say yes to Eric’s suggestion was a given. This is the kind of thing that if you pass it up, you regret it forever. Even if you forget it ever happened, the regret lives on inside you, chewing away at your mind’s lining, dampening your dynamics in that way that makes people who haven’t seen you in a while say things like, “You’ve changed.” But they aren’t smiling. Okay, maybe it’s not like that. But it’s something.

Eric and I have talked and emailed plenty since that day, and the pocket aces hand has never come up. It’s like it never happened. Except it did. It’s like we are no different than before. Except we are. It’s like nothing ever matters, except everything always does.


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  • Gavin Kelly Posted January 19, 2010 2:13 pm

    Tommy, I always like your blogs, and I always like the things you write, and I often get a lot out of them. But I have to say – I really don’t get the point of this article – your stories usually have some underlying gem of wisdom, but this one is just passing me by


  • Spike The Cat Posted January 19, 2010 2:54 pm


    Some things, many things, are worth more than a couple of coconuts. There are many kinds of coin in the world.

  • Dayne Posted January 19, 2010 3:59 pm

    That’s the beauty of Tommy~ you must go beyond the spoken word… you have to travel further than the knowledge we’ve been taught to date. To understand Tommy is to bite into the best apple you’ve ever tasted, then throw it away for no good reason, just because you could.

    There’s a lot of “meaning” behind this post, but you’ve got to get out of your own way to understand.

    Because of Tommy’s 20/40 AA muck, I did it too… also in a 20 game, loved it, told friends about it… and got ridiculed for two straight yrs. There’s not a session that goes by that they don’t remind me of that “horrendous fold,” yet I know why I did it, and I know how much better of a player it made me!


  • ben Posted January 19, 2010 4:38 pm

    Without question, these are the 1st and 2nd best poker stories I’ve ever read.

    Tommy, you rule. I love you as much as any straight man can love another man. Keep doing what you’re doing.

  • Tommy Angelo Posted January 19, 2010 7:30 pm

    “your stories usually have some underlying gem of wisdom, but this one is just passing me by”

    Hi Gavin. You didn’t miss anything. Sometimes a story is just a story.


  • brother paul Posted January 20, 2010 1:19 am

    Gem 1:

    “This was more like walking on the moon together and puking up our Tang.”

    Gem 2:

    “Even if you forget it ever happened, the regret lives on inside you, chewing away at your mind’s lining, dampening your dynamics in that way that makes people who haven’t seen you in a while say things like, “You’ve changed.” But they aren’t smiling.”

    Gem 2.1:

    mind’s lining, chewing away

  • stacks Posted January 23, 2010 12:58 pm

    Hi Tommy,

    I too was inspired by your story, and it put me on tilt. After hearing you talk about it on the two plus two poker cast, I decided, ‘The next time I get pocket aces, I will fold pre-flop. No matter what.’ At least three sessions went by where I didn’t get pocket aces. This tilted me. I stayed in those sessions much longer than I should have.

    Finally, I was in a 5-10 game, and had just been stacked after flopping a J high flush and getting it all in while marginally ahead against two other players. No big deal. I buy in for another 1K, peek down at pocket aces from the button, facing a raise behind a limper. Normally I would commit myself to the pot and hope for the best. Instead, I fold. It was a very difficult fold, and I had no choice but to show the cards to the dealer, saying something like, ‘I am folding the winner, you should see.’

    The flop comes K high rainbow, with two players. One bets, the other calls, and I am feeling what one should feel, a dichotomous mix of pride and shame, regret and mastery. The turn is another K … Folding those aces could have saved me getting stacked another 1K, who knows.

    After the hand I make the dealer show my mucked cards.

    None of my cronies know I stole that move from you.

  • Tommy Angelo Posted January 23, 2010 8:30 pm

    dear stacks,

    That’s quite a story! A much more difficult fold than either of the ones I made. Good going, I think. 🙂


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  • Tom Posted January 27, 2012 10:39 am

    Hey Tommy, I just found your blog online and read all the way to this article. Please keep blogging!

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