Practice Your Poker Face – It’s Time to Play

I learned to play poker when I was five. A friend of my parents taught me, when I was supposed to be having an afternoon nap during a grown-ups party.

Pontoon came two or three years later, when we were on holidays with another family, at a rented beach house at Cape Peron. The two older boys and I, armed with a box of matches each and a pack of well-worn cards. The matches were for betting – yes, I learned gambling young.

Cape Peron

Cape Peron, Western Australia

My husband told me it wasn’t real gambling – for you’re not as competitive when you’re not playing for money. Well. I guess you just had to be there. The two boys were twice my size and a few years older than I was, and to lose (or worse – run out of matches from betting too high and playing badly!) meant pitying looks from the two of them as they made excuses that I was just a little girl. I learned to hold my own very quickly and I don’t recall ever running out of matches. Perhaps that’s where my character Caitlin found her strength, not many years later – in the depths of my head, where it didn’t matter how small or insignificant you seemed, the big boys were in for hell before you’d give up.

Back to poker, though, for this post is about Mel Goes To Hell, not Nightmares of Caitlin Lockyer.

I felt I needed a little refresher, for the poker game Mel engages in with a few fallen angels at the inner gates of Hell. Yes, she does make it that far – she’s a very determined angel.

It’s been twenty-six years since I first learned the rules of the game, and I’ve played a fair few variations since, the last of which was Texas Hold’em – a very different style of poker to that learned by my precocious, five-year-old self, and much later by Mel in Hell.

Mel and the fallen angels play the simplest version – called Five Card Draw.

How to play Five Card Draw Poker like angels and demons do:

The dealer in this game, unlike in pontoon or a casino game, is a player like any other. They have one deck of 52 cards that is used for the game and is set aside when they’re not dealing. They’re just last in any dealing sequence. The first person to bet or be dealt cards is the one sitting to the dealer’s left.

Before any cards are dealt, it’s time to buy in to the game – a small, minimum bet that says that the player is in for this round of play. Usually, this is predetermined before play and the players all agree on the buy-in amount. It could be 5c or $100 – that’s up to the players. It’s part of their bet for the game.

Once all the players have paid their buy-in, the dealer starts passing out cards. Starting with the person on the dealer’s left, they get dealt one card at a time, until all players have a card and they each get their second. The cards are dealt around the table until everyone has five cards in hand.

Once again, the person on the dealer’s left gets to bet first. There might be a standard bet, or they could bet whatever they choose, depending on what’s been agreed on by all players before play commenced. They can also choose to bet nothing but their initial buy-in – that’s okay, too.

The second player can choose to match the first player’s total, fold (bow out of the hand entirely) or raise the bet. Subsequent players have the same choice – to meet the player before them’s total, fold or raise – until it’s back to the first player. If anyone raised, they have all three options and the betting goes around the table until it gets back to the first player again. And again…until all players have either folded or have the same bet before them. Once everyone’s made their choice of their three options at least once, the betting round ends when everyone remaining in the game has the same bet.

Next up, people can choose to discard cards and have them replaced – from none to all five cards, their call. Starting from the player to the left of the dealer, each can trade cards just once. Once everyone’s discarded their cards and been dealt new ones, there’s a new round of betting.

Similar to the first betting round, they can choose to stay, fold or raise, until everyone has either folded or has a matching bet.

Once the second round of betting is over and all remaining players have the same bet, they have to show their hands. The only time they don’t is if there’s only one player left. If there’s only one player left in the game, they can keep their hand hidden from the others, so no one will know whether or not they were bluffing.

As for which hand is better, in determining who wins the game…

The highest scoring hands, from highest to lowest, are pictured below.

Source: Jeremy Voros

Source: Jeremy Voros

So…who wins the game between angels and demons in Mel Goes To Hell – and with what hand?

Sorry…I don’t do spoilers…you’ll just have to read the Mel Goes to Hell series to find out.