Five Royal Flushes? Not a Bad Hour of Poker
In the middle of an uber
mentioned a brief article
on ESPN about a 75-year-old poker player named Allen Hanley, who won one of ESPN's qualifying tournaments by outlasting a field of 1473 players. That's a remarkable feat. But there's an even more stunning fact later on in the piece--Hanley said that, while playing poker in a casino, he oncehi five royal flushes in the course of an hour's play.
Let me repeat that to make sure you get it--he had FIVE ROYAL FLUSHES. IN AN HOUR.
Iggy suggested ESPN should hire some fact checkers. I decided to go right to the source and e-mailed Andrew Feldman, who wrote the article. I insinuated something along the lines that he needed to have a new bullshit detector installed because the odds against this were something along the lines of eleventeen gazillion to one.
To my surprise, Andrew wrote me back, politely informing me that, yes, he knows that five royals in an hour is a bit out of the ordinary. But when asked Hanley insisted that it happened, that every time he turned over a royal flush the casino people gave him a jacket (their prize for hitting the hand) and everyone gathered around to make a fuss. So maybe this is a story that's just strange enough to be true.
But it's pretty strange. I mean, if I hit five royal flushes the first thing I'd do would be to call the good folks at Ripley's Believe it Or Not:
ME: "Hello, Ripley's? Mean Gene here. Hey, I was playing poker today and I made five royal flushes in an hour."
RIPLEY'S: "Sorry, don't believe you". (Click
Actually, strange isn't the word. Impossible? Uncanny? Spooky? If I hit five royal flushes in an hour, I'd be pretty creeped out. I mean, all that luck, concentrated in such a tiny sliver of time, would make me fearful for the future. And not just because I'd be afraid that the casino operators and/or my fellow players would think I was cheating and drag me to a back room for a date with a hammer. And I mean the ball-peen sort, not the 7-2 offsuit variety.
Could you ever, ever
, bitch about a bad beat again? Your buddy goes runner-runner to make a flush, you say your goddams and bullshits, and he says, "How can you complain? You had five royal flushes in one hour
. Shut the hell up". You could slip into a variance trough three years deep and still not get so much as a sympathtic nod. You'd walk by with that thousand-yard stare after your 397th consecutive losing session and hear someone mutter, "Five royal flushes in an hour...lucky bastard".
Would that fear spread to life beyond the poker table? Is Luck parcelled out at birth, some of us getting a healthy pour, others merely a splash? How much of that luck would you use up spiking five royals in 60 minutes? Hanley seems to have done all right--he's 75 years old and still winning poker tournaments. But if I got a third royal and then looked down at the ace and king of spades the next deal, I might have to fold that hand. Because the jitters would start coming. What if I make ANOTHER royal flush? Does this insane luck herald my imminent death? Tomorrow, are people going to be saying, "Ah, poor Geno, made five royal flushes in an hour but couldn't avoid that out-of-control Good Humor van. Never got to buy that Scooter Crunch with his winnings...".
What are the odds of making five royal flushes in an hour? Long. The odds are long. Let me steal some info
from Jeremy from Love and Casino War
. You'd expect to make a royal flush in Hold-Em every 30,940 hands. Playing in your average cardroom, where they deal about 35 hands an hour, you should see one royal flush every 884 hours. So, to hit 5 royal flushes, you'd expect to wait 154,700 hands and 4420 hours. So, while Hanley hit five royal flushes in one hour, the odds say it would take 185 DAYS
playing non-stop to expect the same result. If you extend that to playing a reasonable 8 hours every day (let's see, we multiply by three...) we would expect to turn over five royal flushes in 552 days.
One hour. Five-hundred and fifty-two days. Stunning. But no matter the activity, if you have a big enough sample size you're going to see some unusual results. If there have been tens of billions poker hands dealt throughout the universe since the game was invented, it stands to reason that a bizarre outlier like five royals in an hour might pop up. And it makes even more sense that, when such a miracle took place, it didn't happen to me.