The old sitcom Cheers is one of those classic TV comedies that never seems to get old. Despite being off the air for more than two decades — the series ran from 1982-1993 — episodes can still elicit genuine laugh-out-loud moments even today thanks to some brilliant lines, clever and funny plots, well-rounded characters, and an especially talented cast.
The entire series run is available on Netflix, and it was there this week I dialed up an episode from the first season titled “Endless Slumper,” one of a few written by the late Sam Simon who sadly passed a couple of months ago. Before going on to develop The Simpsons, Simon was a writer and producer for Cheers during its first three seasons. He’s also remembered fondly by many of us in the poker world as he was an avid and successful poker player.
The plot revolves around bartender Sam Malone loaning out a lucky bottle cap, then experiencing some bad fortune thereafter. Included in the story is an example of a common comedic device — the “call back” — a concept relevant both to comedy and to poker.
The “Call Back”
Even if you’ve never heard of the “call back,” you know what it is. A joke is made early in a show (or movie or standup set or what have you), then later on the joke gets brought back in different context, producing extra laughs from the audience recognizing the reference.
In this episode of Cheers, Sam performs a trick early on in which he slides a full mug of beer down the bar which then surprisingly curves before reaching the corner. Diane, waitress at Cheers (still before she and Sam develop a relationship), asks him how he did it. “That’s just one of my two hidden talents,” says Sam lasciviously. “The other one is just as impressive.” Diane hears this and responds “But you could hardly charge a buck for it.”
Later in the show — after Sam has loaned out his lucky bottle cap — he tries the trick again and the mug slides over the side of the bar, crashing to the floor. “Gee,” says Diane with mock concern. “I hope you haven’t lost your other talent, too!”
Many sitcoms employ the “call back” — some quite frequently and/or subtly — with the joke’s payoff largely depending on the audience having paid enough attention initially to get the reference when it later returns.
High-Level Poker: Lodden vs. Mateos
Paying attention pays off at the poker table, too, of course, where examples of a different kind of “call back” are in fact quite frequent. An opponent makes a play that recalls a similar sequence from an earlier hand, and our recognition of the similarity helps guide our decision-making when deciding how to respond the second time around. A pivotal hand from the exciting final table of the PokerStars and Monte-Carlo®Casino EPT Grand Final Main Event provides a ready example of such a principle in action.
It was Hand #134 of the final table, when four players were left and eventual winner Adrian Mateos was enjoying a big chip lead with around 7.2 million, about twice what his nearest challenger Johnny Lodden had.
The hand began with Lodden making a min-raise to 160,000 from the cutoff with and Mateos calling from the button with . Both Muhyedine Fares with in the small blind and Hady El Asmar with in the big blind called as well, meaning all four players were in to see the flop come .
It checked all of the way around to Mateos who fired 275,000. Fares called with his pair of nines, El Asmar folded, then Lodden check-raised to 710,000 total.
“Ooh, yeah... go Johnny,” said Daniel Negreanu who (luckily for us) happened to be in the EPT Live booth providing commentary at the time.
“He’s not representing much by calling from the button... with the chip lead,” explained Negreanu of Mateos’s preflop play, narrating Lodden’s possible thought process when deciding to check-raise with his fives. “This is Johnny Lodden at his best,” he added.
Mateos then called the check-raise, and Fares stepped aside. “We’re seeing some high-level poker here,” said Negreanu, noting the gamesmanship on display from both Mateos and Lodden.
The turn was the . Lodden checked, and Negreanu continued playing his own version of “What Lodden Thinks.”
“What is this guy calling with?” said Negreanu, voicing Lodden’s concern about Mateos having called the check-raise on the flop. Mateos took the opening to bet 650,000 — less than a third of the pot — and Lodden called, making the total pot 3.685 million.
The river then brought the . Lodden checked quickly, and Mateos took more than a minute before acting, during which Negreanu speculated Mateos might be about to “shut this down.” That’s when Mateos pushed all in, putting Lodden to the test for his last 2 million.
Lodden tanked for four full minutes, clearly considering very seriously the idea of calling before finally folding his hand. Mateos then showed his bluff before collecting the pot.
After busting in fourth, Lodden spoke with EPT Live about the big hand with Mateos.
“I can only blame myself,” he explained, judging himself a bit harshly for how he’d played the hand. “My first rule of poker is always trust your instincts, and I did so until the river.”
Negreanu had made an uncannily similar observation when Lodden was tanking, noting how “You can tell, Johnny’s first instinct? Call.... The question here is does he trust his first instinct...? What he may end up doing is talking himself out of his read.”
Lodden went on to explain how he’d considered the possibility of Mateos having an ace or perhaps pocket threes. But he shook his head as he did as if to say these were hands he’d initially ruled out, but during the long tank he had let them creep back into his thoughts.
Calling Back Mateos’s Earlier Calls
Just looking back over hands played on that final day — from the time they began at six-handed until the big hand between Lodden and Mateos came — there were several instances of Mateos calling others’ preflop raises and then getting to showdown. While Mateos was playing from the blinds in all of these hands (and thus was out of position), they nonetheless might have suggested something about his range of calling hands in the big one with Lodden.
In Hand #88, Fares raised from late position and Mateos called from the small blind with . A nine came on the turn, and Mateos bet the river only to have Fares call him and show to win the pot.
A little later in Hand #107, Fares again raised and Mateos called from the big blind with . That one saw a queen come on the river, Mateos bet, and get paid off by Fares.
Hand #110 was a big one, again involving Fares and Mateos. They were down to four players by then, and after Fares raised under the gun with pocket sixes Mateos called from the big blind with . A six flopped, but then Mateos turned a straight. All of the Spaniard’s chips went in on fourth street, the straight held, and Mateos took the lead.
The very next hand saw Mateos defending his small blind versus a button raise by Lodden, calling with . They went to showdown with Mateos winning another pot.
Leaving out a subsequent hand that saw Lodden shoving with pocket fours and Mateos calling with ace-nine (and Lodden doubling up), that makes four hands played over the previous couple of hours in which Mateos had called standard-sized opening raises, with those hands being , , , and .
None contained an ace, and all contained a face card. There was a nine and a three in there, too, to make things interesting with this particular hand.
When Mateos pushed on the river after having only called preflop, Lodden’s initial instinct (it seems) was to “call back” those earlier hands in which Mateos had called preflop raises before negotiating his way to a showdown — hands which for the most part represented a range he was beating with his pair of fives.
That difference, though, of Mateos calling with position rather than from the blinds perhaps introduced an annoying wrinkle for Lodden, allowing some of those hands to suggest themselves to him as possible. Other factors assuredly affected his thinking, too, beyond Mateos’s most recent pattern of play. And so after the long tank, Lodden couldn’t bring himself to make the very tough call.
By showing his bluff afterwards, Mateos was no doubt looking to set up a later move — another “call back” (or false one) — and give his opponents something else to wonder about the chip leader.
As Negreanu says even before the hand is over, “This is a really exciting hand. This is going to get replayed over and over.” If you missed seeing it (or even if you didn’t), click here to watch it again — all incredible 13 minutes of it.
And if you’ve never seen Cheers and like to laugh — or if you have and haven’t watched it in a while — call back some of those old episodes, too.