the great misread hand

LAS VEGASAt the time, it seemed like a minor event. Two players went to showdown, one hand was better than the other, and the pot shipped to the winner.

However, for a group of players at a fateful Luxor table, there was nothing minor. Indeed, the year was 2009, and it has since become known as the Great Misread Hand.

Now, as we approach the ten-year anniversary of the Hand, we thought to interview all the relevant parties. This is an oral history. These are reflections on a missing 8.



December 21, 2009 started just like any other early winter day in Las Vegas. A relatively comfortable and typical 63-degree December was recorded at McCarran Airport, but the routine nature of the day was not to foreshadow what lied ahead.

A mile or two from the planes, eight players clustered around the mustard-orange felt of the Luxor’s lone table. The $1-2 no-limit game was underway, and it was only 4 p.m.

With the button at Seat 3, the blind duties fell to the players in the 4th and 5th positions. Dealer Mark Vasquez began flicking the cards to each recipient.

The under-the-gun player placed two time-worn clay chips to call. The next two players did the same, with Boyd Henderson in Seat 8 explaining his action as the result of a “friendly game.”

Seat 1 folded, and it seemed like Seat 2 would follow the crowd of limpers. However, the player in Seat 2, Marty Sellers, indicated a different idea when he placed two red chips onto the felt in front of him.

SELLERS (Seat 2): I had Ace-Jack, you know? Not a great hand, but what am I supposed to do? I wanted to get some guys to fold their trash.

The button, Anh Tranh, had other plans. He quickly called the raise from Sellers and placed an ivory mahjong piece over his cards to protect them.

The two blinds folded, as did the players in Seat 6 and Seat 7. However, Henderson reaffirmed his read that it was a “friendly game” and matched the bet.

HENDERSON (Seat 8): I guess Ace-Eight isn’t the best hand to call a raise. I don’t know…I guess I thought about it being the Dead Man’s Hand, and that it was suited to hearts. I don’t even remember calling the raise.

SELLERS: I knew my hand was pretty much dead, at that point. Ace-Jack is just a tough holding, especially against two players.

The flop

The three players saw the flop. Sellers had roughly $200, Henderson about $250, and Tranh had run hot and sat with $600 in front of him.

The flop brought the 6 of hearts, the 7 of spades, and the 9 of clubs. Henderson checked, and so did Sellers. Tranh didn’t.

Misread hand flop

TRANH (Seat 3) – 89: I had 8-9 of spades, so I wasn’t ever going to fold for nothing. I put out $50 into $37 pot, and maybe they think I’m bluffing.

VAZQUEZ (Dealer) – thankfully not in the game: When I saw that $50 go out, I knew that he was making some sort of play. He’d been pretty aggressive, but not always bluffing.

MILTON EDGAR (Seat 6) – xx: I’m glad I folded. $50 is too much. You bet $50, and everyone starts throwing money around. That ain’t poker.

HENDERSON – A8 : I knew I wasn’t folding. I had the best card plus a straight draw, and I might even back into a flush. I made the call.

SELLERS – AJ : I ain’t staying when these guys are going to start betting like that. My Ace-Jack was no good. It never is.

With Sellers out of the way, the battle for the hand now came down to two players. Little did they know that their lives were about to change.

The turn

Vazquez tapped the table lightly with his fist to close the action. He then burned a card off the top of his stub, and dealt the turn card.

The ten of diamonds. Of the remaining dozens of cards in the deck, it just had to be the ten of diamonds.

VASQUEZ: I knew it was trouble. There was no way that somebody wasn’t sitting on an 8. I wanted to scream, but I knew it would be my job if I did.

HENDERSON: That card was a dream come true. I had the straight. I didn’t want to scare him off, though, so I checked.

TRANH: I like the ten, obviously. So, I count about $130 in the pot, and he got $200 left. I bet $120.

It was a big bet.

DAVE THOME (Seat 1): My heart skipped a beat when I saw that $120 go in, and I weren’t even in the damn hand.

HENDERSON: It was just so much. I started sweating in my palms. But, I knew what I had to do.

Henderson pondered for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, he announced that he was all in, and pushed his remaining $200 into the pot.

Tranh tossed in one more chip to symbolize his call. He turned over his 89 to confirm his straight.

Henderson turned over his Ace…and a six.

Misread 6

It’s hard to describe the next ten seconds accurately. Many of the players made a guttural sound at the surprise – a sort of choked “hmph” that dripped with pain.

VASQUEZ: It had to be a mistake, you know? How did he make it to the turn with Ace-six?

TRANH: I thought it was chop-chop for sure. But, it wasn’t.

HENDERSON: All I could think was “where the [expletive] is my eight?” I kept blinking my eyes, hoping that I just had some sweat in them or something. I looked underneath both cards – maybe someone else’s had got into mine or something. I couldn’t make sense of this.

There was no other explanation, though. Henderson had simply misread his hand.

The River

But, the hand was not over. The entire table knew that an 8 on the river would cause both players to play the board. So, there could be a chop-chop, after all.

VASQUEZ: That was my hope, yeah. I wanted to just peel an 8 off the top and we could all put this behind us.

Vasquez flexed his hand and shook it a couple of times. He was clearly nervous, but he had a job to do. Pound the table, burn a card, and deal the river.

The ace of diamonds. Two pair for Henderson, but it’s not enough.

Vasquez somberly pushed the entire pot – all $537 of it – over to Tranh. As it turned out, Henderson was spared some of the pain for a purely physiological reason.

HENDERSON: I had already started crying a little bit, so I couldn’t really see the end of the hand. They give guys facing a firing squad blindfolds so they don’t have to see the part that hurts the worst…my tears did the same thing for me.

VASQUEZ: I wanted to throw up. It’s just not right to lose all your money on a misread like that.

SELLERS: I still have nightmares about that hand. The crazy thing is how long it took me to come to grips with the fact that Henderson had two pair at the end there. For years, I thought I’d had a better hand than he did, and that really made me think.

Down to the Felt

Some moments leave a mark forever. None of the nine men at the table that day went home untouched.

For Henderson, it marked the beginning of a downward spiral. The former college professor told us that after the hand, he began betting on longshot horses and the hardways in craps.

After losing his tenure, his home, and his family, he found himself with no other option than to become a long-haul truck driver.

HENDERSON: I think part of me never left the table. I heard recently that they got rid of the poker room at Luxor. Good – maybe it’ll spare people the same fate that I encountered.

Vasquez also took the hand hard. Though his family, friends, and therapists assured him repeatedly that he was not to blame, he developed several substance dependencies in an effort to mute the pain.

VASQUEZ: You just don’t understand, man. I saw this guy’s life fall apart, and it happened because of something I did – something my own hands did. What kind of human being does that to another?

We may never know. But, we learned that there are some things in life you can never do too many times.

Hug your kids. Love your friends. Live every day like it’s your last.

And, check your cards again.

a hug

Also read: Whining Poker Player On Bad Calls He Makes: “That’s Different”

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