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That ubiquitous ace

21 July 2006

Dear Mark,
Could you please explain the ace as it relates to poker, both using it as high or low, and using it in a straight? Also, can the ace ever be used in this scenario: Q-K-A-2-3 to form a straight? Ray W.

The genesis of the ace's mighty rise to power can be traced back to the French Revolution, when the lowest numbered card (in that era the one) was positioned above the king to represent victory over the monarchy by the common man. Its chest did swell with pride, Ray.

Many games today, such as poker and blackjack, allow the player to choose whether the ace is to be used as a high or low card. For example, in Hold'em poker, an ace is considered the highest card in the deck, with one exception: it can help form what's called "the wheel," or the lowest straight possible; an A-2-3-4-5. With this 5-high straight, the five is the top card, not the ace. Conversely, the highest straight, called an ace-high straight or "Broadway," is

10-J-Q-K-A. Unless you are playing a game where an ace is specifically given a high or low value, it's usually played as either, never both. Wrapping the ace, Ray, a Q-K-A-2-3, would never constitute a straight.

When playing best low hand, there are some poker games that permit the A to play low, ignoring both straights and flushes. For example, the 5-4-3-2-A is the best possible low, even if it makes a straight or straight flush. Other games count straights or flushes against you, but let the ace play low, making 6-4-3-2-A the best possible hand. In games where the ace is ranked below the deuce, a pair of aces would also score lower than a pair of deuces.

Dear Mark,
Here is a tip your readers might be interested in. When ordering a cocktail in a casino, you might as well order a quality drink. Why get Scoresby when you can order Johnnie Walker Black. Robin L.

Holy befuddled with booze, Batman! Robin's got it right. Casinos will actually serve you the best call liquor behind the bar, that is, if you ask. But, Robin, if you're trying to hustle premium drinks versus some hooch from the well to offset your losses at the table, fuhgeddaboudit. A little select spirits might be a good thing, but too much of it and you'll find yourself, not the drink, on the rocks. Besides, they don't call it chip remover for nothing.

Dear Mark,
Can a player toss in his cards, then change his mind, and get them back from the dealer? Jay F.

No way, Jay, afterthoughts are not allowed in poker.

That collection of face-down cards near the dealer composed of discards and folded hands is called the muck, garbage pile or trash. When someone throws one's cards into it, the thrower automatically withdraws from further participation in the current pot.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "Poker is a microcosm of all we admire and disdain about capitalism and democracy. Poker can be rough-hewn or polished, warm or cold, charitable and caring, or hard and impersonal, fickle and elusive, but ultimately poker is fair, and right, and just." -- Lou Krieger

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Best of Mark Pilarski
Mark Pilarski

As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.
Mark Pilarski
As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.