SECRET OF SAM VITTORIO
Crime in America takes in over forty billion
dollars a year and spends very little
on office supplies." - Woody Allen
everyone has mentors - people who lead
and/or guide them into (or up) their chosen
fields. One person who has greatly influenced
me in the poker world is Sam Vittorio.
many years ago I was introduced to Sam
by Leonard Stern and Donald Yarmy, for
which I'm eternally grateful. Unfortunately,
Sam passed on soon after I met him. Luckily,
I recently came into possession of his
poker diaries and these contain a wealth
those of you who never heard of Sam let
me give you a little background. Back
in the 1930's, Sam led a group of bank
robbers. At his trial, the government
alleged that he was responsible for closing
more banks than the Great Depression.
The jurors agreed and Sam was sentenced
to 10 to 20 at Leavenworth. After serving
10 years, he was paroled with the condition
that he live in Pittsburgh (Sam complained
that, "Being forced to live in Pittsburgh
added insult to injury."). Sam Vittorio
passed away just over 30 years ago.
what most people don't know is that Sam
was an avid poker player. "I've never
been double-crossed by a poker player,"
Sam wrote, and he only had poker players
in his gang. Unfortunately for Sam, he
made the mistake of robbing the Bank of
Lincolnwood (Illinois) when the entire
police force (all three of them) was depositing
their payroll checks.
arriving in Leavenworth, Sam organized
a poker game in his cellblock. Sam was
fastidious about keeping records, and
those are the diaries that I now possess.
Sam and his cellmates apparently were
one of the originators of Omaha high/low,
and Sam apparently played a mean game.
His records indicate that at the time
of his release, he was up over 75,000
cigarettes. Oh yes, I should mention that
they didn't play for dollars, but for
the "trade" in prisons, cigarettes. The
only real difference between their game
and the game today is that they played
without a kill. If Sam or someone else
had thought of that enhancement, I'm sure
they'd have used a different name - somehow
playing a 'kill' pot in a prison has a
very different connotation.
hand will illustrate Sam's style. Playing
in his usual 6/12 game Sam held A2QQ.
A pretty good hand, we'd all agree. Sam
was on the button and raised, and five
saw the flop of JJ5.
It was checked to Sam, and he opened the
betting. The next player raised, and Sam
re-raised. Only one player dropped out
to see the turn of the 6.
The betting was raised by the time it
got to Sam and he folded even though
he now had the nut low draw. The river
was an anti-climatic 9.
There were two full houses (Jacks full
of sixes and Jacks full of fives). This
hand occurred early in Sam's stay at Leavenworth
and he didn't include any details about
the other players.
hand illustrates Sam's very aggressive
style. Sam says he folded most of his
hands but he typically raised any hand
that he voluntarily played. On the flop
Sam's hand doesn't seem that good. He
has a backdoor flush draw, backdoor low
draw and Queens up. Given the raise it's
likely there's at least one Jack out against
him. Why would he re-raise? Although it
seems counterintuitive, Sam's hand is
a favorite against four random hands on
the flop (according to Poker Probe). It
is only a slight underdog against a single
set of Jacks that may be out against him.
By re-raising he's representing the full
house to perhaps get a Jack with a bad
kicker to fold.
then, would he fold when the turn card
gave him the nut low draw? When the betting
got to Sam it had already been re-raised.
Sam knew that he had only two outs for
high (a Queen) and 16 outs for low (a
3, 4, 7 or 8). He had 18 total outs out
of 44 remaining cards, a 41% chance of
making his hand. However, Sam only had
a 4.5% chance of scooping the pot (a Queen).
Now let's look at the pot odds. Sam felt,
reasonably, that there would be one more
raise on the turn with a probable bet-call
on the river. Assuming everyone still
in the pot played the hand out (Sam's
notes indicate that he felt that this
would happen), then the pot would end
up at 324C (C being an abbreviation for
cigarettes). Sam would have to contribute
four more big bets, or 48C, to see the
pot to the conclusion to make his low.
Of course, he would have to pay just 36C
to see the river card. On the surface
it would seem that Sam erred.
most of Sam's outs were for the low -
he was battling for half of the
324C pot, or only 162C. And that's if
he had the only A2 low (at least one other
player did have an A2 along with his full
house). Sam did not have the correct pot
odds given what he thought was out against
him and so he folded. Sam would probably
have felt bad had he made his low (or,
worse, the dreaded Queen on the river)
but he probably would have shrugged it
going to continue with more from Sam's
diaries next month, including Sam's Omaha
secret. This month I'll end with Sam's
'secret of life.'
his parole from Leavenworth the government
hounded him. "A vendetta," Sam claimed.
The government pointed out that he lived
in a mansion in Pittsburgh and that if
he were to return the money from his ill-gotten
gains they wouldn't bother him again.
Sam laughed at the government agents until,
on his deathbed, he confessed his secret.
"I inherited my money from my parents,"
Sam told the government agents. Sam started
to cough and looked like he would fade
out. An agent interrupted him and asked,
"Your secret, Sam, tell us your secret!"
looked at the agent, gathered his breath,
and said, "Most of the banks I robbed
were broke from the depression. Crime
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