My Royal Flush

Posted By BrokenClaw on October 10, 2005

Anyone who has ever played poker knows that the Straight Flush is the highest possible hand because it is the most rare: five cards in rank order (a straight) of all the same suit (a flush). And the highest possible straight flush is called a Royal Flush: a Ten, Jack, Queen, King, and Ace of all the same suit. Mathematically, the chances of drawing a Royal Flush in any poker game are astronomical.

The Royal Flush

In the case of 5-Card Stud, in which each player is dealt only five cards, the odds against it are in the neighborhood of 600,000 to 1. Even in 7-Card Stud, the odds against it are in the neighborhood of 100,000 to 1. For instance, if a group of people played 7-Card Stud for four hours once per week, and they dealt fifteen hands per hour, and three players stayed in each hand until the final card, a Royal Flush would be likely to come up about once every fourteen years!

Let me give two more points of clarification here. First of all, I am talking about straight poker without any wild cards or common cards. Secondly, don’t believe everything you see on TV and movies. Despite how many times it comes up in fiction, the Royal Flush rarely makes its appearance in real life.

At our weekly games in college, my roommate would often recount the tale of his grandfather, who once missed a Royal Flush by one card, when the card he needed was dealt to the player on his right. His grandfather played poker his entire life and never saw a natural Royal Flush. And neither had any of us… until I drew my own.

My Royal Flush

My Royal Flush came in 7-Card Stud in a local charity poker game, which was run like a regular casino game, with the House taking a cut from the pot, but they also paid cash bonuses for exceptional hands. There were seven players at my table. My first three cards were the Ten and King of Clubs in the hole, with the Ace of Clubs face up. With three cards to a straight and three cards to a flush, I bet the limit.

Two players folded, and the rest called. For my fourth card I drew the Two of clubs. I now had four cards to a high Flush, and with no pairs showing, I bet the limit again. Another player folded, everyone else called. For my fifth card I drew the Six of Hearts. No help, but I still felt pretty good about the hand. The player across from me caught a pair of Tens and bet the limit. I called. Two more players folded, leaving me head to head with the remaining player. For my sixth card I drew the Queen of Clubs, which gave me the Flush. The other player didn’t improve on the board, but he bet the limit again.

My Flush could still be beaten by a Full House, but I figured he was betting three Tens. He probably figured me for Aces up. Under normal circumstances, I would have raised him back to see if he was afraid of my three card Flush showing. But I didn’t want to take the chance of him folding on a bluff before I got to see my last card, so I called. The final card was dealt face down. I stacked my cards then brought them up to peek at them. Ten of Clubs, King of Clubs, Jack of Clubs. I got it. The Jack of Clubs gave me a Royal Flush. As a courtesy to my fellow player, I merely called his bet. It didn’t really matter, but he had a set of Tens as I suspected.

The pot was not the real payoff. It was the thrill of the draw and the bonus money. Even the game itself was not very exciting. There were no other high hands in the game to raise and re-raise. If this were fiction, there would have been two or three other players betting on a Full House or Four of a Kind. But this was real life, and my Royal Flush came quietly as most of the table waited for the hand to end. When it was my turn to show my cards, I stood up. I announced to the table that they were witness to a genuine Royal Flush. I flipped my cards over and fanned them out in order. Ten, Jack, Queen, King, Ace of Clubs. Everyone immediately leaned forward to get a better look. The dealer called the floorman. He announced my winning hand to the room and paid me the cash bonus.

Poker in Popular Culture

In recent years, the poker game of Texas Hold ‘Em has grown immensely in popularity, due in large part to ESPN’s telecasts of the World Series of Poker. Because Hold ‘Em uses five shared/common cards on the Flop, the Turn, and the River, a Royal Flush is much more likely to come up. Whenever three or four cards to a Royal Flush turn up on the table, the players only have to hold the remaining cards to complete the hand. The chance of that happening, while still very slim (1 in 20,000), is much more likely than it is in a poker game where an individual player has to be dealt all five cards.

The most famous poker movie, The Cincinnati Kid, starring Edward G. Robinson and Steve McQueen, has a final showdown with the two players squaring off in a game of 5-Card Stud. In the climactic scene, one player draws a Full House, Aces over Tens, but gets beaten by a Queen-high Straight Flush (not a Royal). Real poker players can give you all kinds of reasons why the dynamics of a poker game would virtually exclude the possibility of such a hand ever going to the final showdown, unless the straight-flush guy was cheating and knew the straight flush was coming. Nevertheless, the odds against having two hands of that magnitude in the same heads-up deal are around 45 million to one.

Another, lesser-known poker movie is A Big Hand for the Little Lady, a drama/comedy western starring Henry Fonda and Joanne Woodward, in which the protagonists conspire to bust a local high-stakes poker game via an elaborate bluff. The nature of the bluff, which involves the town’s banker and the town’s doctor, is to make the other players believe that they are playing against an unbeatable Royal Flush. After the pot grows to an unprecedented value, the conspirators make their final raise, and the other players all fold.

At the end of the movie, the conspirators make a point to deny to each other that they cheated, because they were just bluffing, and bluffing is an integral part of poker. However, the only thing that makes this bluff worthwhile, is the fact that all of the other players had killer hands as well, whether a full house, four of a kind, or a lesser straight flush (we never get to see any of the final hands in the movie), which induced them to raise and re-raise each other. In other words, one would have to conclude that the conspirators set the deck in order to give the other players playable hands, which, by any definition, would be cheating. Regardless, it’s a fun movie with a lot of recognizable character actors, and it’s one of those movies that will stop my remote control when it’s on TV.


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