January 23, 2012

Gin Night at the Meadows

Gin card: In poker, a card that gives two players strong but different hands. Usually, one player will make the strongest possible hand (often referred to as the "nuts"), while the other player will make a very strong but losing hand (e.g., a card gives one player a flush and another player a straight or smaller flush, or one player makes quads while another player makes a full house).* Alternatively, getting the specific card(s) one needs to make one's hand (e.g., hitting a set or an inside straight draw).

Last week, I made my Ali-like return to the Meadows ATM, where I hadn't played in several months. But, my buddy Santa Claus was in town for work, so we met up for Jethro's BBQ and some poker. After stuffing myself with smoked brisket, pulled pork, and andouille sausage, it was off to the Meadows poker room.

The crowd was typical for a Wednesday night, with eight or nine tables in action for the mid-week tournament. Santa and I had to wait only a few minutes before getting into a new $1/$2 NLHE cash game with several tournament bustouts. Seat selection is a key skill for poker success, so I made the important strategic decision to sit in the 3 seat. Santa, however, unwisely chose the 2 seat.

The game started rather tight, typical for a mid-week game. After a couple of orbits, I found As5s in the big blind. Shockingly, a bunch of us all limped. The flop was junky with a couple of hearts and one spade. A bad player two to my left bet $10, and I called along with the hijack, thinking my Ace might be live and figuring I could represent the flush if a heart hit. The turn was a big spade, giving me the backdoor flush draw. I checked, bad player bet $25, hijack called, and I called. River was a baby spade. Gin! I bet out $50, bad player called, and hijack folded. I rolled over the nuts and hilarity ensued. My opponent stared at the board and my hand, then commenced angry, non-stop muttering until he busted out a few hands later. As Dusty Schmidt says, "Just like in the porn industry, you need to backdoor it if you really want to get paid."

An orbit later, I was back in the blinds. A couple of aggressive guys who had busted out of the tournament had joined the game. Most of the table limped preflop, and I closed the action checking my option with JTo. The flop came down 9-8-3 rainbow. I checked, aggro guy in middle position bet $10, aggro in hijack called, and I called. Turn came a Queen. Gin! Believing in the theory that the best way to get money in the pot is to put money in the pot, I led out with a $25 bet. I was hoping to get one caller. Instead, first aggro guy raised to $50, then the next aggro guy pushed all-in for roughly $150. With the action back on me, I paused a moment, trying to figure out what was going on. The turn had put a backdoor flush draw on board, but I had one of that suit, so I couldn't be up against a freerolling straight with a flush redraw. I decided the worst case for me was to be dodging a flush draw and a set, and there's no way I could fold the current nuts even though those draws were live. The other guy had roughly $200 left behind, and I decided if he could call the current raise, he could call my push. So, I pushed, and he snap-called. I rolled my hand, and both opponents rolled over ... Q-9 for top two pair. Ruh roh Rooby! That's about as good as I could hope for. Variance was kind, and the river rolled off a blank. I scooped a nice pot, and a few hands later, racked up and cashed out with a tidy profit.

Santa, meanwhile, stuck to his silly Seat 2 strategy. I headed home to celebrate Gin Night:


* I've used the term "gin card" for years, as have several of my poker buddies. Interestingly, I was unable to find a definitive origin for the phrase, but did find several references going back to 2006 using the term, including United Poker Forum (May 2007), Full Contact Poker (August 2007), Two Plus Two (September 2009) (though the forum archives reference the term much earlier in strategy posts dating back at least to 2006), Poker News (November 2009), and the Durrrr Challenge website (December 2010).

The earliest reference I could find was in the Two Plus Two archives where there is discussion in 2005 about a blog post by Daniel Negreanu where he reports hitting his "gin card" and losing:

From his blog he says, "The flop came A-A-10 and I was pretty sure that my opponent had A-K, K-K, Q-Q, or maybe even AA or JJ. He checked and I checked. The turn was my gin card, an 8. Or not... the dude had four aces! Goodbye."

In any event, although the exact moment where "gin card" crossed over into the poker lexicon is probably lost to the mists of time, I think it's safe to say the phrase probably came into vogue sometime around the Moneymaker boom.


  1. I was always under the impression "gin card" was related to the game of gin. Unfortunately I don't know much about the game...

  2. In gin, the "gin card" is the card that lets you go out / win.

  3. I will attempt to help bring "gin Card" to popularity (as yours is the first time I have read it) by using it at live tables everywhere and maybe in my blog as well when detailing a hand.
    While my 6 readers will read it, maybe one will use it and now a phrase that really only you use will become viral and everyone will attribute it to Daniel Negreanu while you sit the sidelines.

  4. Michael Wiesenberg uses the term in the 1999 "Official Dictionary of Poker" as a lowball equivalent for a wheel, so it's probably been used in relation to poker for quite some time.

  5. Funny enough, the one and only time I used that word in my blog was nine days ago. I like your post better though.

  6. I'm pretty sure that Phil Gordon used it in one of his books, but I'm not sure which one. I couldn't find it in the blue book. As for where he got it, I have no idea.

    A quick google search shows it in "The Real Deal", his black book. It also revealed that he plays some gin rummy.

  7. Isn't it an allusion to "gin trap"?

    A gin card is the card that completes two draws. If two players have got different gut shot draws to the same card, that is the gin card for the player with the lower draw. That player has successfully set up a trap, disguised and camoflaged it perfectly and then stepped in it himself.