#195 In which our hero plays poker rather badly, expect for one notable hand.
Last summer The Scientist and I met a couple down the street. They have two little boys about the same ages as our girls. We made the effort to get to know these people a little, thinking it would be nice of we (the adults) could chat with someone while they (the children) played together. However, after one BBQ it was sorta evident that we didn’t have a lot in common, especially considering that this couple was about 10 years younger than we are.
But, it’s not like we hate they (nor presumably, do they hate us) and we’ll probably get together some other time. Matter of fact, the guy invited me to his semi-regular poker game. I’m not a big poker player by any stretch, but I’ve played lots of penny-ante with my family over vacations, so I at least understand the ranking of hands.
So, last Friday I walked down the street to the big poker tournament. I made sure this guy knew I wasn’t any sort of expert, and matter of fact, had never really played Texas Hold ‘Em, the game of the evening. He assured me it was a nice, friendly game with players of all skill levels.
That was the first lie.
I arrive and there’s about 15 guys milling about in the basement. There are three tables set up. Almost everyone knows everyone else. Turns out they know each other because they’ll all in a poker club and play together three times a week. So right away I see that they guys are way more serious about poker than I am. Half the guys listened to their iPods during play, presumably so as not to be distracted.
And honestly, I suck in these situations. Typically, if I don’t know anyone, I just keep my mouth shut. I sometimes wish I was that guy who could strike up a conversation with anyone at any time, but I’m not. So I’m being the big wall flower and watching people set up the tables.
Well, that is to say, I was watching the person set up the tables. There was one guy who was in charge of running the tournament. And the second I saw him in action, I realized I knew him.
I mean, I didn’t really know him, his name or anything like that, rather I knew his type. He rushed around between the “check-in” table, his laptop, and the other room where the third table was set up. Everything he did and said was exaggerated; he was clearly giddy with anticipation. When I was playing role-playing games, this was the guy who had read every rule book, owned every expansion set, had read all the novelizations of the most popular scenarios and, most importantly, could quote you every rule, chapter and verse. It was clear that poker was important to him, that he defined himself in some fashion by his knowledge and skill of the game.
Not to bad-mouth the guy… I mean, I’m a big dork about some stuff, too. My reaction to him was probably exactly the same as most people’s reaction to me when I go off on a tangent about comic books. That all said, the guy was at my table to start, and it only helped me when he gave a running commentary about the game (“All right, $5 to you; thank you; pot’s right; action is HERE!”)
When I came aboard for this thing, I was thinking it would be a bunch of guys playing cards, bullshitting about whatever, and drinking. I was right about two of the three: they were playing cards and drinking. But the conversation at the table concerned one topic and one topic only: poker. Exciting hands from pervious games. Good hands that had just been played. Professional poker players and how they play.
I, of course, could add nothing to this conversation. Honestly, I could hardly follow the lingo, let alone add anything relevant. Whenever the conversation veered briefly into areas that I could speak on (iPods were discussed for about 30 seconds) I had already been sitting there mum for forty-five minutes, so it felt awkward to break the silence.
For my original $30 I got $250 in chips. I had managed to win a few hands and still had a reasonable stack after an hour (thanks in no small part to the advice of my buddy Dave, who’s a big poker player. Here’s the strategy that got me that far: “Play A-A, K-K or A-K. Throw everything else away.”)
However, I was seeing people win pots with a low pair, or just an ace at times. So, when I got a pair of eights I figured, “What the hell. I’m going to play this hand.”
Now, here’s the big difference between me and everyone else at the table: they’re all looking at the cards on the table and in their hand and figuring percentages: I have a 30% chance of picking up another heart to fill out my flush, but the guy on the bullet is betting his he has the straight, so I’ll limp in and see how he reacts… etc. Here’s what I’m thinking: Huh, pair of eights. That doesn’t suck. Maybe I’ll pick up another pair, or a third eight. That would be great.
I’m not even considering what anyone else has. So the betting goes around and a couple guys go all-in (that is to say, all the money they have is in the pot). Including me, there’s four guys playing. Once these guys are all-in, there’s no more betting so we all lay down our cards. I really hate this part… I prefer it when people aren’t all-in, which means that we don’t have to show our cards until the final card is revealed. Then, if I’ve been beat, I can just throw away my cards without showing anyone. This means that I don’t have to reveal what an idiot I was in continuing to bet on a hand that had no chance of winning.
But anyway, everyone’s cards are on the table. The first three cards on the table are reveled (the “flop”), and it includes a pair of sixes. So I’m thinking, Hey, two pair, that’s cool. Except, there’s already two pair in someone else’s hand that beats mine. And the two other guys are working on flushes, which would also beat my hand.
The fourth card (the “turn”) is revealed, and it doesn’t help me; but it does further one guy’s flush, I think. The guy next to me looks at my cards and says, “This guy’s totally dominated.” Eh, thanks, appreciate the vote of confidence.
At this point people are standing up, and there’s some excitement in the air. I don’t know what the odds are of getting the card I want, but I figure it’s something like 1 in 52 (I’m sure I’m way off here). Finally, the last card (the “river”) is turned over. It’s an eight. So I have three eights and a pair of sixes: full house. I think wow, I got an eight, that’s cool, I win.
Everyone else at the table completely loses their shit.
“What the fuck?!”
“Holy shit! What a suck out! I can’t believe you pulled an eight!”
“What are the odds?!”
“I’ve been playing every week for three years and I’ve never seen something like that!”
“Why were you even in? Did you really think you were ahead at any point?”
“Hey, everybody, come look at this shit!”
They lay out everyone’s hands and take a picture of the table.
Of course, I don’t really get the excitement. I won, it was a long-shot, but… all the cards are random, right? I had a chance, even if it wasn’t a good chance. Honestly, everyone is so excited about my hand that I start to act more thrilled than I really was. I stand up, shake my head like “Holy shit I never thought my carefully considered play would actually work!” and run my fingers through my hair.
This play busts out three people from the table and leaves me with a huge stack of chips. Now I’m the chip leader at the table. If I knew what the hell I was doing, I’m sure I could have dominated everyone else with the shear amount of money I had.
But I don’t. The one time I try to buy a pot a guy yells at me; if I had folded instead of forcing him out, he would have beat the guy to my right who was all-in, and he would have been out, so why the hell would I force him out? This, of course, assumes a level of strategy that is well beyond me.
At the end of the hour they re-gigger the tables. A few other guys go out, and I’m at the final table. There’s nine of us; the final six players will end up with some money (real money, that is: #6 gets $33 and #1 gets something like $250). At this point I have $680 in chips, and I think I’m the second highest chip total at the table. If I was smart, I could just fold every single hand and still end up in the money.
Of course, I’m not smart.
I’m still kicking myself in the ass about it. I play a few hands, and since the bets are around $100 now, I quickly lose half my stack. Then I start to worry and think that I’ve got to win a couple of make back that money. And naturally, I don’t win. I’m the second guy knocked out of the finals, much to no-ones surprise, I’m sure.
I get my coat, say goodnight to no-one in particular. Everyone is so intent on the game that no-one marks my leaving.
It costs me $30 and I get a fun story to tell. And honestly, I’m not even telling it well… I think it was sixes and eights that I had, but I’m not one hundred percent sure. I couldn’t tell you what other hand had me beat on the table. However, I’m sure that everyone else at the table could tell you, card-for-card, how it went down.
And I’m equally sure that when they tell the story, it begins with “This first-time idiot is playing with us…”