I played in a home poker game a while back that liked to end with a variation of poker that was guaranteed to generate a lot of action. Such a game was Black Mariah.
Black Mariah is a seemingly simple variation of 7-card stud. The winning player, however, must possess both the highest hand and the highest spade in the hole. If no player has both, the hand "goes over" – meaning that another hand commences with the pot staying in the middle.
Black Mariah falls into that category of games, like 5-draw Jacks to open, trips to win, that doesn't necessarily end with the end of the hand. It can continue for many hands building an enormous pot along the way. As such, there is a strong inducement to continue to stay in even if you know you are beaten.
I recount for you one such game of black Mariah that ensued among a group of us over many beers and many pizzas just a short while ago – or so it seems.
"OK guys" says Jerome. "Here it is. Last hand. Aren't you glad you stayed until now. We're playing Black Mariah."
"I knew I should have left earlier," says Tyrone.
"I hate this game," says Arty.
"You hate poker then" says Jerome. "Now shut up and let me deal".
The game is $2/4 with a $2 dealer ante and three raise maximum. Jerome deals three cards, two down and then one up, to each of the six players. Their hands are as follows. Thanks to the genius of hidden cameras you get to see their hole cards too. Betting starts at the option of the high hand.
TEE: ( )
MOOSE: () With only the in the hole, he figures that he can't win the hand unless he gets a high spade on the last card. He checks.
JEROME: () He has three to a spade flush with the in the hole. This is a very good starting hand. He bets $2.
TEE: ( ) He's a loose player in general and plans on being in all the way, hoping no one wins both halves of the hand. He calls.
ART: () He has a 3-flush but is a tight player, hates the idea of having to throw a lot of money in without being in the lead, doesn't have a spade in the hole at all, and so he folds.
TYRONE () He's looking to build the pot just because he can. He raises $2, making it $4.00.
LESTER: () Lester knows he can't lose this hand – though he's a long way from winning it. Even so, he figures that he'll make it as expensive as possible for anyone to stay in and draw a better poker hand. So he re-raises to $6.00
MOOSE: () He figures that he'd better sit this one out rather than call a full $6.00. He folds.
JEROME: () He's on a drawing hand for high and his isn't a lock. So he safely calls the extra $4.00
TEE: ( ) He calls the extra $4.00 too.
ART: Already folded
TYRONE () He says, "Hey, let's gamble it up. It's the last hand" and caps the betting with another $2.00.
LESTER: () He's a lock for not losing and so calls the $2.00
JEROME: () Calls the extra $2.00
TEE: ( ) He calls.
Tyrone, Lester, Jerome and Tee remain in the hand. Moose and Art have folded. The pot is $34.
Jerome deals fourth street as follows:
TEE: ( )
TYRONE is high with his pair of Jacks. He bets $4.00 (allowed to bet the higher tier because he has an exposed pair).
LESTER still has his in the hole, of course, and can't lose. He hopes to drive out someone, if not on this round then perhaps if he catches another exposed diamond. So he raises to $8.00
JEROME is now even more confident in his in the hole. He also has four to a King high flush. So he raises.
TEE is working on a straight. But with all the raising he's nervous that he's going to have to put in a ton of money. Even so, he calls.
TYRONE, with his trips, just hoping to get a high spade on the river, raises to $12.
LESTER caps it at $16.
All four players see fifth street. The pot is at $98.
TEE: ( )
Amazingly, Tee caught his straight in five cards, and Jerome caught his flush in five cards as well.
TYRONE, who is still high with his exposed Jacks, is praying that Jerome isn't sitting with a spade flush. He checks.
LESTER, hoping to convince everyone that he has a flush, and knowing he can't lose with his , bets $4.00.
JEROME, almost certain that he's going to win this hand – there only being one spade that can beat his in the hole (the being exposed now) – wants to keep the others in and so only calls.
TEE, always looking for an excuse to call, figures that either he'll win high or that two other players will hold the high spade and the high hand, calls.
TYRONE calls. $16 more dollars go into the pot making it $114.
TEE: ( )
JEROME is high with his pair of Kings. He figures others will assume that he now has two pair and will call him. So he bets $4.00
TEE, with his straight, but afraid of the possible diamond and spade flushes, just calls.
TYRONE, still with trips and now picking up a 4-flush in clubs, also calls.
LESTER, thinking he may actually back into both ends of the hand by hitting another diamond on the river, raises to $8.00.
JEROME, with a King high flush and a in the hole, re-raises to $12.00.
TEE calls, as is his habit.
TYRONE calls, hoping for a full house or a high spade or both on the River.
LESTER, with nothing to lose, re-raises, capping the betting at $16.00.
Everyone calls. Another $64 goes into the pot. It's now at $178.
THE RIVER (SEVENTH STREET)
The last card, dealt down, is given to each player as follows:
TEE: ( ) ()
TYRONE () ()
LESTER: () ()
JEROME: () ()
The betting begins with Jerome with his exposed pair of Kings.
JEROME picked up the on the river – not that he needed it, having made a flush already and already having the powerful in the hole. Even so, it makes him feel even stronger. So he bets $4.00
TEE calls the $4.00.
TYRONE is hoping the hand goes over and just calls.
LESTER is now sure that he's going to win both halves, with his in the hole and a diamond flush that he miraculously made on the river. He raises to $8.00.
JEROME is perplexed. Even so, he figures to win both ends so he raises again.
TEE is praying for split winners and calls.
TYRONE figures that the pot will probably go over – since the only way he figures that Jerome would continue raising would be with a flush higher than the . So he just calls.
$48 more in the pot for a total of $226.
The players reveal their hands.
JEROME has the high hand with a King high flush. LESTER has the in the hole – with his Queen high flush not being enough to win. So another hand is dealt.
The pot starts at $226. There is no additional ante. Art and Moose don't get cards. They folded and so are out of the hand. But the remaining players receive the following on the second deal:
Tyrone is high with the . It doesn't count as a high spade for him since it's not in the hole. Still, it's intimidating in its way. So he bets $2.00. With $226 in the pot it's unlikely that anyone will fold. No one has a monster high hand either. They all call.
(By the way, if there is absolutely no spade in the hole when the hand concludes then the pot is awarded to just the high hand).
$8 more in the pot. It goes to $234.
JEROME: ( )
LESTER is high now with the . He doesn't have a pair or a spade and so just checks. Everyone else checks behind him.
Pot is still at $234.
JEROME: ( )
TYRONE is now in the lead with a pair of fours and an Ace kicker. He bets $4.00. No one has improved but they all see the huge pot. They call.
$16.00 more in the pot that now stands at $250.
JEROME: ( )
LESTER has the high hand with a pair of Queens. Still, with no spade he is a bit timid. He checks. No one can beat the Queens; and no one has a spade in the hole. So they all check behind him. Pot remains at $250.
Here come the spades. The players receive:
TEE: () ()
TYRONE () ()
LESTER: () ()
JEROME: ( ) ()
LESTER is still high with his pair of Queens. He's also received an in the hole. He knows the Ace, King and Jack are gone, so his is actually the fourth highest spade in the deck. Still, with only a pair of Queens, both exposed, and with three other spades that can beat him, he decides to take the safer route and check. Everyone else sighs with relief, not having to call another bet. The players turn over their hands.
TEE has a in the hole and King high.
TYRONE has a in the hole and a pair of 4s for high.
LESTER has the in the hole and a pair of Qs for high.
JEROME has no spade in the hole and an Ace high hand.
LESTER wins the entire pot of $250 with both the high spade and the high hand.
"Did someone finally win that awful game?" comments Art from the corner. "Can we all go home now"?
"Shut up" says Jerome.
"I love this game," says Lester.