Monday, April 26, 2004

Last Friday night, our weekly poker night meandered into the Poker Laboratory on a whim, after a less-than-inspired tournament round of Texas Hold-Em. We normally alternate Texas Hold-Em with multiple rounds of Dealer's Choice. Dealer's Choice is exactly that - the current dealer chooses a game from the ones the players at the table know, or can explain to the rest of the table. Usually it's some variant on Seven-Card Stud. The seven-card variants are usually the most fun, such as Dimestore (AKA Murphys), Follow the Queens, Visual Baseball, Low Hole, or Reapers. But, as I said, we didn't actually get into a traditional round of Dealer's Choice late on Friday. Instead, somebody came up with the idea of imposing a new rule on Seven-Card Stud for each hand played, as long as we could tolerate it. The resulting game got named "D.P. Dough", in honor of the calzone delivery place which printed the menu upon which the game rules were recorded. (I wanted to call it "Dragon Poker", but I was apparently the only Asprin reader at the table…) The whole mass of the rules as written make for an essentially unplayable game, as we made several rounds of the table before shaking down into simpler sub-sets. The following are descriptions of some of few of the versions, but first, a description of the basics, for those of you who don't play:

Seven-Card Stud is the base game on which most of these variants rest. You get dealt two down, or "hole" cards, and one up, or "face" card. The dealer antes. Everybody checks, bets, or folds as judged necessary. Dealer deals another face card, followed by betting, then a third, then a fourth, then a hole card, each time followed by betting. After the last round of betting, the last player to raise is called, and shows his hand. The surviving players compare their hands, and best set of five cards wins, based on the usual poker rules. In games with wild cards, five-of-a-kind wins. I'm not really sure whether a royal flush beats that - I've never seen a royal flush come up in Seven-Card, at least not yet.

"Follow the Queens to Another Game", AKA "Ballroom". Don't confuse this with "Follow the Queens", which is a traditional Seven-Card Stud variant where the Queens are wild, as well as the latest face card to follow a Queen dealt face-up. You can theoretically go through three or four different sets of wild cards in a hand of "Follow the Queens" before the cards are shown, if a lot of queens come out face-up. People usually bet heavily in Queens to drive out the pikers, and lower the chances of new Queens queering the current set of wilds. "Follow the Queens to Another Game" is a straight Seven-Card Stud game, until a queen is dealt face-up. When a queen appears, she changes the rules to another game entirely. The game you're now playing depends on the suit of the queen dealt. Thus, when the dealer declares "Straight Ballroom", you start out playing stud, but you may be in any of five different games by the end of the hand. It breaks down as follows:

Queen of Hearts - you're playing "Dimestore" or "Murphys" - fives and tens are wild.

Queen of Clubs - you're playing "Low Hole" - the lowest card in the hole, or face-down part of each player's hand, are now wild. Low Hole is itself unpredictable, because a player can bet on the pair in his hole, and find that he was dealt a lower hole on the last card, thus wrecking his hand.

Queen of Diamonds - you're playing "Visual Baseball", in which threes and nines are wild, and fours get you an extra card for your hand. Baseball games obviously wander from the concept of "Seven-Card", due to the fours rule. Existing fours at the time when a queen leads the players into "Visual Baseball" are "dead", and do not elicit extra cards - only fours dealt subsequent to the initiation of "Visual Baseball" allow additional draws. If another queen appears and leads the players into yet another game, the extra cards generated by dealt fours stay in the game.

Queen of Spades - you're playing "Reapers" - aces and eights are wild.

There was one variant on Ballroom worth mentioning - "Ballroom with Whores", or "Dance Hall". At the end of the hand, but before cards are revealed, one player can elect to buy the favors of an undealt queen, by paying a dime for each additional card dealt, until he gives up or is rewarded with a queen. The additional dealt cards don't go into any hand, but if a queen comes up, she leads the players into her game. If a queen comes up, every other player still in the hand can pay a quarter to eject her, and discard the proffered game. All other players must agree to blackball the new queen. This is a rather silly rule, but it came up in the same round of rules-making that generated the "thieving threes" rule (every time a three is dealt face-up to a player, every other player must pay that player a quarter, or fold) and the rock-paper-scissors sixes rule (whenever a player is dealt a six, he or she can challenge another player to a round of rock-paper-scissors in order to force that player to fold, or be forced him or herself to fold), so what are you going to do?

Another game based on Seven-Card Stud ended up getting called "In the Land of the Blind". One-eyed Jacks - the Jack of Hearts and the Jack of Spades - give the holder the ability to arbitrarily declare one rank of cards wild after the last bet. Two-eyed Jacks - the Jack of Diamonds and the Jack of Clubs - give the holder the ability to arbitrarily declare one rank of cards null, or not playable, after last bet. The holder of the Suicide King - the King of Hearts - can render one Jack unable to make wild or nullify a rank, but still leave that Jack as a playable part of any hand. It goes last bet - Suicide King - Jack of Clubs - Jack of Hearts - Jack of Diamonds - Jack of Spades - show hands.

The last serious game that emerged from the Laboratory is the sort of thing to make a geek proud. It's called "Magnum P.I.". Black threes, fives, and sevens - the odd primes - are wild; red threes, fives and sevens allow the holder to draw an extra card. If red threes, fives, or sevens are dealt facedown, the player must reveal them to in order to draw his or her extra card. Finally, a special winning condition was added - the player who is able to build "Pi" - at least three-ace-four-ace-six, wins. It doesn't stop at five cards. The longer "Pi" hand wins. The one hand I saw this come into play - "Magnum P.I." with "thieving threes" and the Jacks rules - a "Pi" of five digits was beaten by a "Pi" of six digits - three-ace-four-ace-six-nine.

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