Andrew Neeme's thin line between success and failure

Lee Jones poker writer
Lee Jones
Posted on: March 19, 2023 02:42 PDT

It had been one of those sessions. Midway through, I'd value-owned myself for $650 – I'll never know if it was a good bet or not. 1 But poker goes on, and I crawled back until I was stuck "only" $800. The hour got later, then earlier. Around 2:00am, I promised myself one final orbit and then the short drive home. The orbit came and was about to go, when I reached the UTG position.

"Last hand, folks – make it a good one."

Then I look down at pocket queens. It is going to be a good one.

Because of our weird straddle rules, the action starts (on this hand) with the cutoff. It folds to the small blind, who makes it $35. Folds to me and I make it $110. This would turn out to be significant. An action player behind me thinks briefly and calls the $110. Now the kid on their left, who's been trying to punt off their short stack for an hour, says, "Aw, the hell with it," and rips in all their chips. I watch carefully as the dealer counts it down. It's $215, which, praise the poker rules, reopens the betting. Barely.

It folds back around to me, and I, of course, announce that I'm all in, for $1600.

Oh, the action player doesn't like this at all. They have about $1200, so it's all of their chips. They hem, haw, and scratch their head. Finally, they say, "Let's gamble," and slide in a stack of chips.

I say, "I have queens." Action player says, "Oh man – you're way ahead," and turns up pocket jacks. The kid does't show their hand – it may be two Starbucks gift cards for all we know.

The dealer starts organizing the whole mess, and as she's doing this, l commence to thinking...

About a week ago, I published a short Q&A with Andrew Neeme, who will need no introduction here. The best answer he gave was to a question that I didn't ask. In my last question to him, I had simply asked if he had any final thoughts he wanted to share. His closing paragraph displayed his equanimity and introspection about our game:

Watching the dealer arrange the $2,800 worth of chips into two separate pots, I thought, "Andrew Neeme is so right." Not that there were cameras pointing at our game, but that thin line runs across the less glamorous tables, too. I did some quick math, and realized that if I won this pot, I'd not only be unstuck, but leaving the club with a profit north of $500. If I didn't win the pot, I'd be walking out $2,000 poorer than I'd been when I walked in.

All because of five board cards that the dealer was about to put out. Not because of how well I played, or how good a person I am. But solely based on a random sequence of playing cards sitting there in the dealer's hand.

And until she put out that fifth board card, I'd dance back and forth across Andrew Neeme's thin line.


  1. "Value-own" means to bet for value, last to act on the river, and then be called by a better hand. Since you could have checked down your hand with showdown value, you cost yourself extra money. However, if you don't occasionally value-own yourself, you're not value betting thinly enough. I had a specific target for my bet, but unfortunately, my opponent showed up with a slightly better hand than mine. Whether he would have paid off with the hand I thought he had, who knows?