It's a given in casino card games that you're supposed to play your own cards.
Nonetheless, players often request and receive advice, sometimes from the dealer; more often from other players.
In mid-August, I found myself at a Mississippi Stud table with a player in obvious need of help, and the others weren't at all shy about lending aid.
When I sat down to play, there were three others at a seven-player table. Before long, a middle-aged man stopped to watch.
He remained standing for three or four hands. Finally Andy, the dealer, said, "Why don't you take a seat? We're all friends here."
The man — Phil, we learned as he handed over his players card — didn't take much persuading.
"I've never played this before," he said, edging toward a chair. "It doesn't look too difficult."
Assured by others that he'd pick it right up, Phil bought in for $100 and immediately plunked down the minimum $5 ante.
A woman to his right said, "It's kind of fun. There are a lot of losing hands, but you don't have to risk more than that $5, and when you win, you can win pretty big."
The first hand, Phil must have had bad cards, because he folded right away. Neither the woman to his right nor the man to his left said anything, and Phil held his cards far enough in front of him that there was no doubt they could see.
The same thing happened on the second hand, and the third.
"When does the winning start?" Phil asked in a joking voice.
"I hope this is the lucky one," replied dealer Andy.
It was. Phil looked at his cards and reached for another $5 chip to match his ante. You can raise one, two or three times your ante after you've seen your two cards, then again after the first of three community cards is turned up, and again after the second community card is exposed.
Phil was inclined to start small, but his neighbors were hearing nothing of it.
"You want to bet the max there," said his female neighbor. "You can't lose this hand."
The man on Phil's other side nodded in assent.
That made it obvious Phil had no worse than a pair of 6s. Pairs of 6s through 10s are pushes, so after two cards he knew he'd at least get his money back and could win big with help from the community cards.
"I thought you'd raise the max only with Jacks or better," Phil said, but he put down a $15 bet.
The first community card was an Ace, and Phil bet another $15. He bet $15 again after a 9 was exposed as the second community card.
The last community card was a 7, and it was time to settle the bets.
Phil had a pair of 9s face down, so that second community card gave him three of a kind. His total of $50 in ante plus wagers brought him a 3-1 payoff, or $150.
He thanked his two advisers and offered to buy them a drink.
"That's not necessary," the woman said. "I'm glad to help, and you'll need that to tide you over through the losing hands."
On his left, Phil's other adviser told him, "Not all the decisions are so clean cut. If you're going to play very much, you should look up how much to bet on which hands."
Phil, just thrilled to win, replied, "Thanks again, and please tell me if I'm doing anything really dumb, OK?"
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