09/05/2006 11:00PM

Embrace the simple things, like raising pocket rockets


It's all about the math, rudimentary second-grade arithmetic. Whether betting an exacta, calling with two pair, or struggling with the 2+2 equation in a pressure situation, pretty much every decision comes down to common sense.

From the string theory to a decision on where you and the missus might go to supper next Tuesday night, simple arithmetic will usually give you the answer.

The beauty of all these games we play is the simplicity of it all. You can teach a child the rules of hold 'em in a matter of minutes, and even most adults can learn how to read a Racing Form in just a few minutes more. These actions require elementary thinking. But what does everybody do? Whether it's the child who just learned that you bet with aces and fold a 2-7, or the grown-up who doped out the favorite in just a few seconds, we decide that what we just learned cannot be that simple, and so we become experts instead. And judging from how some people play poker, apparently the qualification of an expert must mean to immediately forget how to add.

If you've been following any of the televised coverage of the Main Event of the World Series of Poker, these newly self-ordained experts - average people who most likely used to know how to add - find themselves in a heads-up situation against somebody like Daniel Negreanu, perhaps the best player in the world, and immediately become stone-stupid and decide that 2+2 somehow equals 163.

For the average schmoe, sitting down at a poker table across from the likes of a Daniel Negreanu is akin to a fat, 5-foot-10-inch 40-year-old playing one-on-one with Michael Jordan. You cannot win. Sure, you might suck out against Negreanu or throw up a miracle 30-footer against Jordan, but common sense says you will lose.

Yet, when given the opportunity to answer a simple arithmetic question that would give these otherwise overmatched adversaries a glimmer of hope, that obvious answer eludes them.

There was a hand at this year's world series where a player was dealt aces and found himself heads-up against Negreanu. It was a simple equation with a simple answer. You have A-A, the best starting hand in hold 'em. Your opponent, who might be the best player in the world, doesn't have A-A. Therefore, your hand is currently best, and the simple math dictates a raise. Your opponent will fold, and you will win. The child who just learned the game would scream out the answer without even raising his hand.

Put it in perspective with your basketball game with Jordan. If he were to say to you that he would take all his shots from half-court and he wouldn't play defense, your chances of winning would be the same as simply raising with those aces against Negreanu. But you decline, because you feel you have a better chance of beating Jordan by trying to defend him, and you also feel that his defense is weak from the left side. But unless you are Shaq, such an equation is beyond comprehension.

Just do the math: Best hand + raise = win; best hand - raise = loss. But since our poker player was obviously now an expert, and therefore numerically challenged, his ability to do the simple math and give the only possible answer deserted him.

In the end, the poor schlub decides to play one-on-one against Jordan and checks pre-flop with his pocket aces. When the flop brings three cards that most likely cannot help Negreanu, our mathematician decides that checking is still the smartest play. Then, only after he lets Negreanu catch two pair, does he finally bet. As if he were waiting until he was behind, begging to lose all his chips when his aces didn't improve, almost wanting to prove that rudimentary math isn't just for second graders anymore.

Kurt Paseka, a former turf writer, is a regular at New York City tracks and has cashed in the main event at the World Series of Poker.