Look at your hand and know which cards you’re holding – know their rank and know their suits. Yeah, it seems pretty basic, but even former world champions can misread their own holdings. Happily so, it can turn out.

Dan Harrington, who won the 1995 World Series of Poker main event, was one of 10 players left in the 2004 World Series championship. The next person eliminated would miss the final table. So, this is a pretty important time to know your own cards.

Harrington, the courtly New Englander known for wearing the green Boston Red Sox ballcap at the table, sat in middle position and found the ace of clubs and the jack of diamonds. Except he didn’t know it.

"I quickly looked at the cards, and I thought I had the ace of spades and the jack of diamonds," Harrington said.

Either way, at this point, Harrington raised. Marcel Luske called. The flop came Q-8-6, all clubs.

"I didn’t like that," said Harrington, thinking he held a spade and a diamond. "I check. Marcel thought a long time and pushed his chips to the center of the pot (a $700,000 all-in move).

"So, I took a quick look at my cards before I was going to throw it away, and lo and behold, the ace of spades turned out to be the ace of clubs."

Lo and behold, that changes a lot of things.

Suddenly, Harrington had the nut-flush draw and an overcard to the board.

"At this point, I’m pretty sure I’m beat," said Harrington, co-author of two Harrington on Hold ‘em volumes, "but I also know he has a small pair because of the way the hand was played.

"Irrespective of the money in the center of the pot, I know I have good drawing odds. First of all, I have the nine clubs. I count these cards: I think the ace is probably going to win for me, too, so that’s 12. I thought a jack would win for me, too, so that’s 15 outs. Even if the ace or jack doesn’t win for me, it’s an easy call because of the pot odds. I was getting over 2-1 on my money."

Harrington called. Luske showed a pair of 4s, which ranked below the three board cards.

"That’s extremely important," Harrington said. "That gives me additional outs. For instance, if any of the cards on the flop pair, it gives me another six outs to win with all the high cards."

The turn came the jack of hearts, the river the 8 of spades. Harrington won the pot with his pair of jacks and busted Luske to set the final table, none of which would’ve happened if he indeed held the ace of spades instead of the ace of clubs.

"If I had the ace of spades, I would’ve raised for a couple hundred thousand, Marcel would’ve hemmed and hawed and thrown his hand away, and we would’ve gone on to the next hand," Harrington said. "But because I made that mistake, I had a beautiful set-up play."


Middle position: In a nine-handed game, they are the spots that are fourth, fifth and sixth from the dealer button.

(Steve Rosenbloom is a sports columnist for the Chicago Tribune and the author of the new book The Best Hand I Ever Played, now available in bookstores. He can be reached at srosenbloom@tribune.com.)

© 2005, Chicago Tribune.

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.