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Poker Article

Omaha High/Low:

THE SECRET OF SAM VITTORIO

BY: Russ Fox

"Organized Crime in America takes in over forty billion dollars a year and spends very little on office supplies." - Woody Allen

Most 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, 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 of information.

For 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.

But 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.

Upon 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.

A 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.

This 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.

Why, 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.

But 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 off.

I'm 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.'

Upon 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!"

Sam looked at the agent, gathered his breath, and said, "Most of the banks I robbed were broke from the depression. Crime doesn't pay!"

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