Monday, June 29, 2009

Survivor, the Super Stack Concludes

I suppose I need to finish up my column about the Orange Park Kennel Club and Poker Room. I don't like it. How is THAT? I just don't feel comfortable there, and I'm not sure why. It's all a combination of things, I suppose. I would just rather play at my usual card room. The action is nearly the same at both, so what's the difference? I'll go to the place that is both closer to my home and makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. What I really want to talk about is the Player of the Month race that concluded with a Final tournament this weekend. The buy-in was $350, and everything was riding on this tournament.

Before I had to leave for the tournament on Saturday, I was sitting in my dining room reading a little bit of Facebook. I was thinking about the month long Super Stack Series, and just how bad I was getting the shaft. I was, and I don't know how else to put it. I was getting skahroooooed. The staff at the poker room, when they were all sitting around doing bong hits, failed to realize they had inadvertently placed so much emphasis on this weekend's Grand Finale. As it turned out, it did not really matter what you had done in the tournaments leading up to the this weekend, because whoever won Saturday's $350 buy-in was going to also win the Player of the Month award.

That kind of stinks for someone who has been playing pretty good, and running even better, in the previous tournaments. I mean, imagine if someone had run so well that they played in four tournaments and finished 1st, 2nd, 2nd, and 1st, do you think that person might feel a bit let down once he realized it didn't matter one little bit? Yes, that was me. I talked with one of the floor guys the night before, and I had actually asked him for a calculator, so I could point out what I thought was a big problem. How can you have a month long series if nothing leading up to the last tournament even matters?

I was calm about it. I figured it all out on the calculator, with him standing there watching me, and do you know what he said? He told me they realized their error, but that it was too late. He admitted they made a mistake, but there was nothing they could do. He also said next month's race would be a bit different, and he apologized. Now, I don't know about you, but that is enough for me. I smiled, made some stupid joke about the intelligence of he and the rest of his crew, and told him I'd better figure out how to win on Saturday.

I was sitting there thinking about this issue, and I think I may have even posted something about it on Facebook, when I began to realize the negative thoughts I carried were going to cause me problems. I did not want to get wrapped up in something I had no control over. They had printed the rules, and it was not changing. Once I consciously noticed this tension I was able to set it aside and think about the important things. Like, how was I going to play this baby?

The buy in was $350, and we would each receive $10,000 in tournaments chips. This is a pretty big stack. The blinds would begin at 25-50, and each level would last 30 minutes. Having that many chips is the equivalent to sitting in my usual game, 2-5 NL, and having $1000 in front of you. This represents plenty of room to maneuver, which means the more skilled players will find more opportunities to collect chips. Of course, although half an hour per level sounds like a lot when you are used to 18 minutes, it really still is not. The blinds escalate, and they will catch you. You must collect chips, somehow. You must.

Of course, one should not use the collecting of chips as an excuse to go broke really early in this thing. There is a lot to be said for survival. Half of the people will be gone before the first break, which is in two hours. That means, that out of 54 combatants you can beat 27 of them by not doing anything at all. Most people lose sight of this seemingly trivial fact. That means that 27 people will have put $350 dollars into the tournament as essentially 'dead money'. That is over 9k in dead money. Dead money is a reference to someone who has NO chance to win. Don't be dead money. If you lose your whole stack very early, at least when the starting chips are 200 times the big blind like this tournament, you probably played pretty shitty poker.

At the beginning, in the first couple of levels, I like to play pretty apathetic. I try to keep pots small, and If I sense some weakness I may try to take one down, here or there. I'm not splashing around much in these early pots though. A lot of people, who are not used to tournaments, will go for every draw, and play every pair to the river. If you pump up the action too early in the hand, than you could end up the short stack when your opponent catches that 7 that he needed. Besides, doubling up now does nothing. In this tournament there is 540,000 chips in play, and going from 10k-20k in chips is meaningless. The big pots are much later, and those are much more important. Too many people get married to a hand early on in tournaments, when survival matters more.

Early on I had pocket aces, and won a pot worth 800, maybe. Those pocket aces later in the tourney could win 80,000 in chips. This is one reason why I don't really care for tournaments, at least not as a means to an income. It's too volatile for my liking. Anyway, the first hand of significance I played went something like this:

I think the blinds were 50-100. I still had about 10k in chips, but my two opponents had been faring much better. The one young man had about 20k, and the young woman had around 15k. The young man limped into the pot in early position, just calling the big blind of 100. Everyone folded around to the woman who made it 400 to go. I looked down at pocket Kings. Nice. I decided to not re-raise, and in true apathetic form, instead just called her bet. The big blind folded and the young man also called. We took the flop three-ways.

The flop came a queen and two small cards, with two of them being hearts. This board is not too worrisome for a three way hand, and I decide to check, to see what happens. The young man bets out 1000. Nice. I immediately think he has a queen, and I pray I am not wrong. I'm hoping the woman is going to fold, but she does something even better. She calls.

This is her worst option. She should be raising or folding here. A call, for her in this situation, is bad poker. I know she does not have the best hand, but since this pot has grown to 30% of my stack I need to win it, and therefore push her out. I raise it to 4k. Almost half my stack. If Young man has flopped a set I hope he decides to let me know now, and raise all-in. I may still call though because of the possibility of him going nuts with a flush draw. Let's wait and see though. I really expect him to fold because I don't think he has too much at all.

He calls the extra 3k, and the woman folds. HMMMMMM, this is interesting. I've never played with this guy before, so I'm not sure if he has a big hand, or is now just playing badly. I pray it's the latter.

The next card off the deck is a small card, and not a heart. I look at my stack, I look at his monster stack, and I push all-in. I had about 4.5k left. When he doesn't automatically call I know I have the best hand. Now, I want him to call. I try to hide my eyes behind the bill of my cap. I hunker down a little bit to give the impression that I am hiding something. I start to think to myself that I want him to fold, really hoping he will feel the vibe and decide to call. I can feel him looking at me, sizing me up. Finally, after a minute or so, he calls.

We flip our cards up and he has QJ, and I have pocket kings. No queen or jack comes on the river and I collect a nice pile of chips. This guy was pissed at himself, and maybe a little at me. I don't know what I did! I mean, I'd be pissed too, If I were him. How could your pair of queens with a jack kicker NOT be good in this situation! Bad play buddy.

Right before the first break, after I had built my stack to around 28k, I made a bit of a mistake, and it costs me a third of my stack. I had AK, and I raised. I was called by the same young woman from the previous hand I described. I come to find out her name is Nicole, and she's a nice woman, although she plays a bit differently than I. The flop brings all small cards. She checks, I bet, she calls. Now, a queen comes on the turn. She checks, I bet, she calls.

At this point I'm concerned because she may have a queen. But, based on how she checked I don't really think she does. I was surprised when she called on the turn. The river rolls off a 10, and she checks. I think she has next to nothing, so I bet. Big! I bet almost the size of the pot. She calls quickly. Shit.

I turn over AK, for no pair. She rolls over pocket 4's. There was a 3 on the board, but the other four cards were ALL higher than the 4's. I spent 9k on that stupid hand, and 2 minutes before the first break! Now it was my turn to be pissed! I started to be angry at her, but I caught myself. I caught myself before I asked her just what she thought she could beat with that piece of crap pocket pair. I had given her way too much credit. Either that or she was a strong player and had picked up on something I had done to tip off the true strength of MY crap hand. I decided to save judgment, but vowed to bet her only when I had the goods. I will not be bluffing her any longer.

Of course, about three other people decide to run a bluff at her. Each time she showed them some weak pair, and they just mucked their cards. When I saw this I knew she was a calling station. She was getting lucky that no one had anything. She was a non-believer. I made a note of this as we went on our first 10 minute break.

As I sit in my car, chastising myself for giving up a third of my stack, I try to look at the situation as though the loss of 9k in chips hadn't happened. I decide that if I hadn't just given back those chips, then I would be feeling very good about my situation. I had doubled my starting stack, and was never in any real jeopardy of disaster. I was in a good spot, and a lot of folks were already gone with a bunch more on the verge of bowing out of this thing. They were paying five spots, with first place receiving a whopping $7900. Our break was only 15 minutes in length and I needed to get back inside. The blinds were going to 200-400, and my stack of 19k was right where I needed to be.

As I walk back inside I pass a few friends playing in the cash games. A couple of them ask me how it's going. My only reply is that I'm still alive, and we have a long, long way to go. I keep reminding myself, over and over again, that this is a marathon and I need to trust that my decision making abilities will give me the advantage I need to go very deep in this deal. Once we get to the final table, anything is possible. My next goal was to get to that final table. There was thirty-some people left, and the pace was going to start to pick up a little bit as short stacks tried to get chips or die trying.

Now, I have to admit, I don't remember a lot of individual hands from this point forward. I do want to point out that it is usually about this time, when folks start to feel the pressure of the increasing blind amounts, that my strategy changes, and drastically. The tournament essentially becomes the large stacks pressuring the small stacks, and the small stacks struggling to find some resemblance of a hand to make a stand with. Every once in a while, when a couple of inexperienced Big stacks clash, there is a monster pot and one person emerges as the chip leader. I looked over my shoulder to table #1, and could see that one lady had a vast majority of the chips. Her name was Pam, and she had on all kinds of garb from the WSOP in Las Vegas. I'd played with her in a couple of other tournaments and hoped I'd get the chance to challenge her.

As a rule, there is no pre-flop calling of the big blind. It's raise, raise, raise. Constant pressure must be kept up. So, with this strategy an aggressive player, like myself, can find himself in some tricky spots being forced to call with a very bad hand. On two successive hands I raised the blinds, someone went all-in, over the top of my raise. Both times I had an ace with a small kicker. Both times my opponents had an ace with a bigger kicker. Both times I was forced to call their bet because of the small amount of their re-raise (due to their short stacks), and both times I hit my kicker and knocked them both out. One of the players I knocked out was my buddy Dom. Dom was pissed! Dom should be happy as hell. He won a tournament earlier in the month which gave him a 12k prize package to the WSOP! He was leaving for vegas early next week. He needs to calm down a bit if he is going to do anything out there. He's been running very well, and should thank the Poker God's every day.

We get to the second break at around 6:30 pm. This is our dinner break and they decide to give us twenty minutes to grab a bite and get back to it. I'm starving, and since I'm off bread I decide on a salad. I'm still eating as we start up again. We go to the final table and I'm holding about 90k in chips. There is 540k in total chips spread out between nine people. We quickly lose 3 of them. We settle in to play until one more person is eliminated and we can all get paid something.

I am second in chips, but Pam, the woman who has been barnstorming through this thing, has me well covered. It was at this time that the head of the poker room was speaking to one guy, named Rem, who was in the tournament. They were discussing the Player of the Month race, and how whoever won this event would win the first place prize for the month of June. We were still playing as this was going on, and this is the point I knew my concentration levels were at their height. I could hear what they were saying, but for some odd reason I had no desire to add my two cents. For those who know me well, this may be a first. I wanted to win. We were getting close, and I want to win this mother! I don't care about how you guys blindly screwed this up. I'm going to win and that will be that.

Rem goes out after about 20 minutes and we are now five-handed, and we're all in the money!!! Fifth place would receive $800, and first pace would receive $7900. This is a huge difference, and I was determined to get to the top three spots. Third place paid about $2500, with second at $4200. At this point the Floor man stated that any payout over 5k would result in a w-2 form needing to be filled out, for tax purposes. Jesus. Another wrinkle. As I'm thinking about the payouts it occurs to me that we could all be very happy with a split. Here it what I proposed to my competitors.

I suggest the winner gets 5k, and the other four split the remaining 12k. We could play for the win, and the Player of the Month points, but essentially the money would be decided. I was thinking that we could all get better than 3rd place money, and the winner could avoid government paperwork. How perfect! Right? Everyone readily agrees, except for one dissenter.

Pam, the chip leader, does not like the deal. She gives it a flat "play on". Of course, everyone else wants to deal. I want the deal just because I know how one turn of a card could put you out, or nearly out, collecting $800 instead of a guaranteed 3k. For someone who plays for an income this is a big difference. Pam must feel pretty confident. Well, good luck. I'm second in chips and playing on isn't all that bad of an idea.

We go from five to four shortly after that when Jim, a poker player I am very familiar with, bows out when his KQ loses to an A4. I was pulling for Jim. He's an older, Asian fellow, and I think he has been ill of late. He hasn't been around much, and he's lost a lot of weight. I hope it's not cancer. I think it may be. I play with him in the 2-5 cash games, and he is a strong, tough competitor. That is the best compliment I can give a fellow poker player. If you hear me refer to someone as "tough" then you know I respect his game. I hate playing against tough competitors. They never just fold and give you the pot. They are quick to recognize you may be trying to be "tough" and they will take that strength and throw it right back in your face. Secretly, I'm glad Jim has gone out. I would not like him having chips.

There is no discussion of a chop. The guy who knocked out Jim brings it up, but no one says much. Pam wants to play on, and I'm up for it too. Deal, let's go. After about ten minutes, once the button went around a couple of times and the blinds eat into his ever dwindling stack, the man who knocked out Jim now goes all-in. I look down to see A9. This is way good enough and I call. He tables K7, and when he does not improve there are just three of us left.

It is me and two ladies. A nice predicament for any situation. Pam, the chip leader, myself, in second place, and Nicole, the woman from the beginning of the tournament. You remember, the one who called me down with pocket 4's? She was quiet, readily agreeing to any chop discussion, and therefore exploitable. Nicole was the short stack, and I just hoped that Pam knew enough to pile the pressure on her by raising, raising, raising. This was my plan and I hoped it was not going to backfire.

Pam does not raise though, ever. She is content to sit back and let me do the dirty work. This is all well and fine because I pick up ace after ace after king after queen. I am raising nearly every hand and they are both folding to my obvious (in my mind) overaggressive behavior. Neither of them is willing to do anything about it though. I'm not sure if they are getting really bad cards, or are just too timid to play back at me. It is wonderful though, and I eventually take over the chip lead from Pam.

Nicole is able to stay alive when she goes all-in, and is called by Pam. When Nicole wins that hand it is now Pam who is the short stack. Something interesting happens now. Pam, who did not ever want to chop, wants to discuss an even split of the prize money. This is the woman who was totally against any chop earlier, when she was healthy in chips. This is the woman who told everyone that she makes 300k per year and the little bit of taxes from winning the $7900 first prize was not going to change anything for her. You can imagine that I was feeling a bit of "you must be high" towards her. See, once we got to guaranteed 3rd place money of $2500 I became obsessed with winning. The $2500 represented my total nut, that I had to cover, for the month. Once that is covered I really could care less if I went out now or won the damn thing. So, I may as well try to win it. Besides we still have the Player of the Month race to think about. I give her a stern "We're playing". I look at the dealer and say "Deal".

There are at least two separate instances of each of them being all-in and surviving. At one point I raise, which I did 75% of the time, and Nicole goes all-in, but for less than my raise. The blinds were 10,000-20,000, and my standard raise was to 45k. Pam folded. Nicole won the hand when she paired her king. I think I had 7-9 off suit, or something similar. Pam makes the comment "I would have beaten her if you weren't always raising!!". Really? You had a king? She confirms she did and would have made two-pair. I ask her why she didn't call. She doesn't answer because she and I both know the reason is that she can't believe, after having the chip lead for so long, she was now on the verge of being knocked out of this tournament. I love it.

Eventually, Pam makes a stand, and I knock her out. I don't remember the hand, but I remember her reaction. It's customary to shake hands with the person when you have just sent them packing, especially this deep into a tournament. I reach across the table to shake her hand, and she does not readily offer it up. Finally she does, but she is not happy about it, at all. She is actually bitter, and she is not hiding it with her poker face. Oh well. Next time maybe she'll agree to a chop. Either that or bring a stronger game.

The heads up battle does not last long between Nicole and I. I continue raising, and she keeps folding. At one point she raises! I fold, choosing to wait for a better spot. Two hands later I look down at one card, and it's a queen. I look at her stack and announce all-in. She folds again! She must be getting really bad cards. She is almost to the point of having to make a stand. The very next hand I decide to not even look at my cards. I raise. She has barely two times the big blind left, and finally she calls, and is all-in. We flip up our cards and I have a monster 2-6 offsuit. She had K7, or something similar. The flop brings a 6, and it is all over when she does not improve.

I have won! I shake hands with Nicole, and she is genuinely happy. My palms are sweaty, and I now realize the tension in my neck as it begins to fade. Tournament poker is stressful, and I play this game every day! Nicole must have been very nervous, and her smile reveals her relief that the end is finally here. Her 4k+ payday is adding to her joy.

The Floormen offer congratulations and even walk me to the bar to open a tab, on them! What? This is an odd development, and I'm not sure if I can buy drinks for everyone or not. I didn't, but I should have. I also have some sushi, and after calling home to announce the victory to the little lady, I wait to get paid. They take some pictures for a magazine, and hand me my check.

As I drive home to the sounds of Franz Ferdinand on the radio, I cant help but sing out loud "No, you girls will never know, how you make a boy feel"!

Friday, June 26, 2009

The First Time

I opened the truck door and slid out of the passenger's seat. I made sure the point of the gun was leading the way. I just prayed the gun barrel did not bang up against anything as I was getting out. I knew we had to be quiet by the way my father was talking, in hushed tones, as we were riding in the truck. I never understood the reasoning behind that certain procedure, but I knew what it meant.. BE VERY QUIET!

I started to close the door, doing it very slowly, inching the door closer and closer to being closed, until I felt the door and the wall of the truck meet. I gave it a slight push, and CLICK!!!! It was the loudest sound I think I have ever heard. I was sure it resonated throughout the entire forest and no creature within 2 miles was not running for their lives! I looked at Dad and he was already loading his gun. Maybe it wasn't that loud after all. I was trying very hard to do everything right. I was fifteen years old and this was the first hunt that I would actually get to carry a rifle.

I had my dad's .308 semi automatic Remington. It had a scope for accuracy and the gun felt heavy in my hands. I had shot this gun many times in my short life, but only at the targets behind our house, and never at anything living. I started to load it. First, I'd take the clip, with four shells in it, and slide it part way into the gun. Next, I'd slide the chamber open and slip a final, fifth bullet into the breach, let the chamber close by just letting go, making sure it locks. Finally, push the clip all the way in until it "clicks". Always recheck the safety on a gun. Mine was on.

I looked up and Dad was standing there, waiting for me.

He said "get your light out, but keep it pointed in front of your feet, don't step on any branches. Follow me."

All of this was conveyed in a whisper and I just nodded and turned on my flashlight. It was still very dark outside, and the ground was crunchy from the cool night air, but there was no snow yet in mid-October. Dad started walking up the trail, and I was right behind him.

This was not my first hunt, not by a long shot. This was only my first hunt holding a gun, or at least, this big of a gun. I had been going to hunting camp for at least 5 years, and hunting squirrels in the woods around my house, with a .22 caliber rifle for the past couple of years. But I had never shot an animal as large as a deer. I've never been with anyone, my father, or other relatives, when they have actually killed a whitetail deer. I had seen many deer while at camp, and have been there right afterwards, while the cleaning and gutting was going on, but I had never actually seen one killed.

I was not that concerned anyway because I was sure I was not going to see a thing on this, the opening day of the season. At that time, in the Adirondacks, in the early 80's, you might see a deer one time in ten. You may not see a buck the entire season. If you were lucky enough, or good enough, to see a buck then you may only get a good shot one time in two. My father had killed a buck every season for the past ten years, and he was a very good hunter. He knew the land, and he knew the deer. Everyone at camp knew he was good too. How else would I have known about the 10 in a row? Dad's friend Gale, who had been hunting with dad since they were in their teens, had only killed two bucks in his life at that point..... CRACK!

Jesus, I had stepped on a branch. It was loud. Dad turned around and looked at me. I couldn't see his eyes but I thought I could see his head swivel back and forth a little bit as if to say "What did I say?!"

He turned back around and kept walking. I just kept following, vowing to pay closer attention to what was in front of me. We walked down a little slope and crossed the two logs laying side by side, providing a small foot bridge to get over the creek. The rush of the water was much louder than that branch I broke. I bet the deer didn't even hear me.

We went back up the rise, and as it crested I could see the fur trees down below, in a small gully. The path continued down through the trees, and I knew, from experience went back up hill again, bearing right, towards what was called Burnt Hill. Dad turned around and pointed, with his light, to the ground. There was a runway right in front of him. The deer used this runway to go from the hills up ahead, and on the right, down to the swamps to our left. Dad knew his stuff, as he had scouted this whole area before hunting season. He had placed a tree stand at the base of Burnt Hill, and he was going to sit me somewhere near this runway. The little hill we were standing on was called The Sand Hill.

"Go right in here". He pointed his light off to the right of the path. "Find a tree to sit against, and look down, in front of you, and a little left. If they come they'll come through there". He whispered quietly. We were standing very close to one another.

I shook my head in agreement, and started to walk off the path. After a few steps I looked back over my left shoulder and saw dad's light heading down the path, towards the fur trees. I am feeling a little bit anxious, but my main concern is finding a tree that I can sit against and still see down the hill. I got to the top of the small hill, and I can see a rock face to my right, with the hill rolling down and to the left, into the fur trees and ending in sort of bog.

I find a nice, big, birch tree to lean against, I turn off my flashlight and sit down on the ground.

Check the safety again. Good, it's still on.

It is dark, and really quiet. It's not very cold, probably 45 degrees, and I'm wearing a heavy wool coat. The sun has not risen, but it's pending arrival is just changing the night sky in the east to that little bit lighter shade of night sky that comes right before you're sure it's daylight. Daylight is coming, and I'm glad because I can't see anything but shadows down the hill, to the left.

Check the safety again. Really, I don't think I'm going to see any deer today, runway or not. The only thing I have to worry about is making sure I do not accidentally shoot myself. Check the safety again. It's still on. Obsessive even at 15.

This tree is really comfortable. I have a Hot Seat that I'm sitting on. For those unaware, a Hot Seat is a Styrofoam filled bean bag that hooks to your pants and holds nicely a hunter's, or ice fisherman's, butt. It also holds nicely the heat from your butt, thereby keeping your underside warm and dry. I was warm, and I was comfortable, and I was feeling tired. I normally don't get up at 4:45 am, and I wanted to close my eyes....


I opened my eyes at the sound. It was very loud, and was made by something heavy. Oh shit! It was light. Not bright, ten o'clock in the morning bright, but bright enough to see everything around me. I had fallen asleep!

I looked left, towards where the sound had come from. There, walking through the fur trees, was a buck! I saw the antlers first! It's head was down a little, and it looked like it was sniffing as it walked. I needed to get my gun up. The deer, at that point, walked close enough to the hill I was on that I could no longer see him because I was sitting on the ground!!!!

If I stand up I'll get to see him! He's going to get away! I start to get up, and right then, at that moment, the deer crested the hill. I froze. The deer stopped and put his nose to the ground. He had not heard me and all of my goings on, he took a step, right behind a tree.

I took this as my opportunity to get my gun up and the scope on him. I could see his rear end, and I could see the antlers. Everything else was behind the half fallen tree. I took the safety off and waited. All I needed to do was have him

He stepped out from behind the tree and I knew I had to shoot him. I was shaking so badly that the cross hairs on the scope kept moving all around. I knew I needed to shoot him behind his front shoulder, to be able to hit the heart and lungs, and hopefully kill him quickly. The cross hairs kept moving, my aim was not steady. Finally, as the cross hairs swayed near his front shoulder, I squeezed the trigger.


The blast was loud, really loud. It echoed through the trees. It hurt my ears. Oddly, I don't remember feeling the kick of the gun. I had always felt it at the target range, but do not remember it at all while shooting a deer. There was some smoke, and as I blinked to see where the deer was I could see something moving, on the ground, right where the deer had been standing. He was down.

I got up quickly, making sure the safety was on again. Holy shit! I had just shot a deer. He was still moving and I walked over to him. I took the safety off and put the barrel of the gun under his jaw. BLAM! He was dead.

I put the safety on again, and set the gun against a tree. I got my knife out, and was trying to figure out how to gut this thing when I heard something coming through the trees!! It sounded just like another deer! I grabbed the gun and stood perfectly still, waiting. This can't be happening. Jesus! Another one? No freaking way. Something was coming, I could hear it. There's a glimpse of something, walking through the trees.. oh shit. Oh, "Hey Dad!"

"did you get him?!"
"what is it?"
"I'm not sure."
"Does it have horns????"
" Yes, it has horns." I could gather where my father's thinking was taking him.
"It's an eight point". I said. It looked like a big deer to me. wow.

"Where were you sitting?" He asked
"right there" I said, pointing at the tree I was sleeping against.
"where??" He asked with some disbelief.
"Right THERE. Dad, right there, against that birch tree". I pointed to the tree again.
"That close?" It was true. The shot this mighty hunter had made was all of about 30 feet.

"Good job, Eric".

Thankfully, dad showed me how to clean the deer. We then slung our rifles and proceeded, together, to drag this deer towards the truck. I was not acting excited. I was not whooping and hollering. I was not talking quickly, in a hurried voice. I was in awe.

We got to the truck, and Gale and his son, David, were the first one's there. They had been hunting near us, and Gale immediately assumed my dad had shot it. I was just sitting there, not saying anything. Dad said, "I didn't get it". I just sat there. David said "nice buck". Gale said "what do you mean you didn't get it?"

It was coming, and I have never felt better in my entire life.

"Eric shot him. One shot, right through the shoulder." There was pride in his voice, and I could see on David and Gale's faces the expressions of bewilderment.

That still may be the greatest day of my life, other than my wedding day and the days my two kids were born. I actually made my dad proud and could see it in his face and eyes.

We unloaded our guns, and as I opened the door to get in, I reached down one more time. Yup, the safety is still on.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Other Side of the River

Every once in a while, usually following a losing day, I like to venture to another part of Jacksonville to play some poker. There is a card room about 10 miles from my home, as opposed to the 5 miles away my usual poker palace is located. It's not so much the extra distance traveled that is required to play at this other room, it's more the people that I run into at this other room which makes me tend to stay on my own side of town.

As I drove north on San Jose Blvd, past the McDonald's, past the Hardee's, and Zaxby's, and another McDonalds, and a Burger King, a Wendy's, and a Moe's (southwestern fast food), and Taco Bell, KFC, and another Moe's (popular place in the south), and a multitude of other small restaurants that are not huge chains, I begin to feel a little bit hungry. I'm not sure why, but I feel like I NEED to eat. I wonder what it would be like if everyone just stopped eating at these places, and resigned themselves to the fact that good, healthy, home cooking was the key to happiness and longevity. Do I sound like I'm trying to convince myself? You would be correct.

I turn left and start over the Buckman Bridge. The St John's river is very wide right here, and therefore is quite shallow. I'm assuming that is the reason for placing a 3 mile long bridge at this point in the river. For anyone who lived, or drove through Jax over ten years ago, you most likely tangled with the Buckman Bridge. This bridge used to be four lanes wide, and there would undoubtedly be a crash on the bridge, at some point, nearly every day. I-295 would become a standstill on such occasions. They widened the bridge to eight lanes, and thereby made driving to or from work at least livable for the people who had to use this bridge. I have lived on the southern side of the St. Johns since moving to Jacksonville, and the Orange park Kennel Club was on the other. I have been stuck on this damn bridge a few times, and driving across it right now seems a pleasure.

As I turn right to get off the exit I begin to think about what I may encounter over the next five or six hours. My plan is to play from noon until about 6 pm, and then head home, get dinner together, and decide at that time if I should play a night session in my home poker room. I'm secretly hoping to win about a eight hundred in the next 6 hours, and then by a carton of wine to drink with dinner. Classy with a capital K.

As I'm driving I'm of course listening to the radio. An ad comes on the radio and it at first sounds as though it is an ad for a security company, a la ADT, or Brinks. There is a woman, who's alarm has gone off, and she is talking on the phone to a person from the security company. He is telling her that help is on the way and she replies "You'd better get here soon or somebody is getting blown the blank away!" The next thing you hear is 6 gunshots in a row. It turns out this is an ad for a gun store in Jacksonville. Only in the deep south...

My new favorite song comes on the radio as I'm pulling up to the dog track/poker room. The lyrics go something like this:

Somebody told me
That you had a boyfriend
Who looked like a girlfriend
That I had in February
Of last year
It's not confidential
That I've got potential...

I don't know the name of the song, or the artist who sings it, but damn, it's got an upbeat tune and cool lyrics. I consider this a good omen as I park the car and head inside. I parked under some overhanging trees because the sun is out and it is about 90 right now. It's partly cloudy and the clouds look like giant cotton balls. I do remember where I learned what type of clouds these are called. It was eighth grade science class. Of course, I don't remember the name of the clouds. I walk inside and head upstairs to the card room.

As I get closer to the top of the stairs I can hear the people already playing away. If you've never been inside a poker room you are missing out on seeing the most diverse group of people you can imagine, all getting together to test their mettle against all comers. The sounds of the poker room are unique as well. The overriding sound is that of the clink of hundreds of poker chips clanging together. Poker players like to play with their poker chips while they wait to receive their cards, as they look at their cards, as they decide what to bet, as they place their bet, as they watch the other players, and aw hell... we just play with the poker chips ALL OF THE TIME. As I stand here I realize just how loud the clicking is.

This room has not been a haven for me. It seems like every time I play here something strange happens. It usually involves one of their dealers. For some reason, the poker dealers in this room routinely make mistakes that others just do not make. They are just bad dealers, as a whole, and whenever I play here I have to be sure and pay attention to everything the dealer does because if not then one of them will cost me some money, somehow. Today, nothing the dealer does will cost me anything, but on four different occasions the dealers attempt to push the pot to someone other than the winner of the hand. They cannot read hands. In casino poker there is a rule called "cards speak". This means if you turn your hand face up you personally do not have to have any idea what you have for a hand. The dealer is supposed to read all of the hands, determine a winner, and push the pot accordingly. The first mix up is on a board that reads A K J 9 2. One player turns over A3, and the other turns over A4. The dealer tries to give the pot to the guy with A4. This is clearly a split pot because the best 5 cards that either of them have is A A K J 9, for a tie. No one says anything until I YELL "Chopped Pot". The dealer pauses, looks at the board, looks at the players cards, I say in a dry tone "the kickers don't play" and he smiles and splits up the pot. The dealer has no trouble collecting his tip, from BOTH players, and sliding it into his tip bucket. Jesus Christ.

I may have to dedicate an entire column to just dealers and their bad habits.

I put my name on the list for the 2-5 NL game. I then dutifully get my chips from the cage. Years ago, when I first started playing casino poker, the floor person would take your name, and personally seat you at the table. He, or she, would take your money and walk and get the chips for you. Of course, it was customary to tip the floor person for this service. Nowadays, the player listens for his name on the intercom, hears what table, has to get his own chips, and find the table on his own, and the floor people get a percentage of the dealer's tips. That's pretty effed up, if you ask me. I miss the old days. Does ten years ago constitute the "old days"? It does for me.

I decide to locate the 2-5 games that are running. I see an acquaintance of mine, and he gets up to say hello. We shake hands. He wants to know how things are going, and how much I've been winning. I give my stock answer of "doin alright, winning a little..". Let me explain a little tidbit to the uninitiated. I am not going to talk about amounts won and lost. One reason for this is because it is not your business. You don't need to know. I don't walk up to you and ask you how much money you made last year while swindling people out of their homes, do I? Secondly, I can't talk about it because to tell someone I've been losing is depressing, and to speak of wins can only anger the Poker Gods! So, if you see a poker player, just ask him how he is. He may tell you a detailed story of his wife's infidelities, but he won't speak of his earnings. If you are lucky he'll just say "doin alright, winning a little" because you don't really want to hear about his personal life anyway. I have found to be concerned only with wins and losses it a sure way to go absolutely crazy. Poker is too fickle. The ups and downs are insane.

As I sit here writing this, I realize I have to get ready to play again. I'll continue the Orange Park Adventure at a later time...

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Like a Salmon

Every year, at around this same time, I begin to feel a bit remorseful. The end of June and beginning of July represent one major, yearly event in my life since the year 2002. That's right, this is World Series of Poker time.

It did not always run during June and July however. It used to take place in the spring of the year. Spring time in Las Vegas is like heaven on earth. It is routinely 78 degrees and sunny. The golf is great, the pools are perfect, and walking from casino to casino is not a chore. The tournament was put on by Binion's Horseshoe Casino on Fremont street, which is part of downtown Vegas, removed from the strip by a $15 cab ride, a 45 minute bus ride, or a 10 minute "I'll pick you up in front of the Mirage" car ride with a friend. It was fun.

Now, since Harrah's purchased Binions, and also the rights to the WSOP, things have changed a bit. The tournament is now at the Rio all-suite Hotel and Casino. The Rio afforded the tournament the space it now requires to host the month and a half long series. The tournament now takes place during the summer months of June and July. I'm not sure if you've ever been in a desert during the summer, or not. Be sure though, it is a tad bit hot, and BRIGHT. The sun just bakes everything. Harrah's has decided to cash-in as much as possible and get all of us poker players into the desert at the exact time we, and everyone else, would rather not. Yay capitalism!

This is not the reason for any remorse I feel each year. The feeling is caused usually by the entire trip being a lesson in futility. I would gear up each year in the months leading up to the Series. I would scrimp and save, all the while building a big enough bankroll, so I could play in bigger than normal cash games and take a shot at a tournament or two. Each year the process would repeat itself over and over again. Save up money, nearly die of the anticipation of going to vegas, race out there, lose money, hate vegas, and go home with my tail between my legs vowing to give up poker, forever.

Why o why would I subject myself to this torture once every twelve months? This, I would ask myself, on the long, plane ride home to Jacksonville. It never seemed to make sense. I still don't understand it. I could always travel to Turning Stone in N.Y., or Tunica, Ms., and Biloxi, Ms., and maybe to Los Angeles or even Phoenix, and I would win much more often than I lost. I then head to Vegas, and can't seem to win a hand. I think you could see how this would become discouraging to an aspiring poker player.

Here I am, wanting to play this game as a primary source of income, and yet I am unable to win in the one place that is easily regarded as the Capitol of Poker. My Mecca. My Ground Zero. My shrine. My holy land. It pains me to even talk about it. I feel sick right now, as I write these words.

It's not like Vegas is much more expensive than any other place either. I mean, it can be, if you want it to. I'm probably the only guy who has been to Las Vegas more than 10 times in his life and has never seen one, single show. Not one. I almost went to see a show one year with my friend, Stevedini, but I bowed out at the last minute because I was playing in a great 40-80 limit holdem game at The Mirage. I never go to clubs, or really pricey restaurants. I'm there to make money, not spend it all on "hookers and drugs". I did go to a heavyweight title fight at Mandalay Bay one year with my buddy Reaper. We watched one of the Klitchsko brothers get knocked the fark out. But, that's it.

This year, at the request of my better half, I have decided to avoid Las Vegas. So far it appears to be working out. It looks like I'll turn a nice profit during June this year, as opposed to recent years where I regularly showed a big red number for this month. I wish I knew what happens to me when the plane lands in that oasis in the desert that is Vegas. I cannot, for the life of me, figure it out.

Do I play differently? I must! I must be doing something differently in Las Vegas than what I do in other poker cities. It is not a conscious thought. I have a friend, who is a Rounder and now resides in vegas, and he told me I was a "hometown hero" and unable to beat the vegas games. He may be right. I sure as hell hope not. I have never gone out there and used apathy as a strategy either. I think that is what I am truly remorseful about this year.

I need to be there. I need to take my game and put it up against all of the other "hometown hero's" of the world. I have worked on, and refined over and over again, my poker strategies and tactics to the point that I feel like a well oiled machine at the poker table. I fully expect to win each and every time I sit down to play. It was not always so. To Prevail Takes Apathy has been, for me, like removing a mosquito netting from around a bed and now being able to see clearly what is happening between the sheets in some bad, 'R' rated, B movie on Showtime. Unfortunately, To Prevail Takes Apathy has not been tested against the best Vegas has to offer. This not knowing is killing me.

How will I play against the rash, young guns of the poker world? I simply do not know. I will not know until I place my money on the table and gamble. I just don't think, right now, that I could use a kick in the balls. That is what I would equate another losing trip, in Las Vegas, to at this point. I think I'll just cross my legs and see if Jacksonville wants to let me hold a couple of grand for them this week. Remorseful, yes, and wise. Thank you Michelle.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Battle

It was such a nice looking day outside, as I peered out of my bedroom window, that I had an irresistible urge to go for a walk. I usually walk for about an hour, and try to keep up a good pace. I was losing weight, slowly, and I could picture this becoming a normal, every other day activity, hopefully for the rest of my life.

As I opened the garage door to begin my stroll I felt the wall of heat. Or should I say the wall of heat felt me. It wrapped itself around me like I was standing in front of the oven, cooking a turkey, with the oven door wide open. Well, that's not entirely true, because there was also the humidity, which immediately went to work on my sweat glands.

Talley-Ho! I was going to drop some pounds this morning! I turned left at the end of my driveway and began the hike. It is an hour long process starting at my front door, and winding throughout my community, out past the middle school, where both my daughter and son will be going next year. The path then turns right and heads towards the elementary school, before turning right again and winding back to my house. I don't know how quickly I'm walking, but I would gauge it's nearly three of four miles.

I would only get to the end of my street, just barely into the walk, before I realized something else. My lawn needs to be mowed, and how. Damn! I was looking forward to this walk, so much so that I never even thought about the lawn until just now. What a disappointing turn of events. I reverse my path and head back toward the house. I reason that I may as well mow the grass, which is good exercise, instead of just walking to get the exercise. I have come to like walking, but I still detest mowing the lawn.

The lawn mocks me as I return to the garage. The lawn has four days of rain, out of the past week, to back it up. It also has the 97 degree temperature with about 98% humidity as part of its defenses. It will be a battle, but it is one that must be fought.

Thankfully, I do not have to run to the gas station before this lawn mowing day. There is just enough gas left in the container to fill the mower, and the gas station trip can wait till next time. The mower starts up after a couple of cranks on the pull cord and I begin the hour long chore.

I quickly note the new location of our ever wandering fire ant mound. I'm not sure if you're familiar with fire ants, or not. I was not aware of them until I visited Odessa, Tx. during my college years of the late 80's. It was there I ran into the aggressive, little buggers. Fire ants are evil. They sting with impunity, and once they start they do not stop until their prey is down, or they have perished in the attempt. They are merciless creatures.

I was playing golf last year, at a course nearby my house, and I hit my ball onto the edge of the tree line. I had no idea I was about to be ambushed. I walked in, hit my chip shout out into the fairway, and was walking out of the woods when I looked down at my bare legs. There were hundreds of ants on me. They were making their way up my legs, and it was at this point I made a nearly fatal mistake. I swatted a few of them with one, hard, SLAP!

Apparently, when one fire ant begins to bite and sting she sends out hormones, or something, to alert her sisters that it's feeding time. I found this out rather quickly as every ant on my leg seemed to simultaneously sting me. I was flailing around with my arms and legs in a feeble attempt to rid myself of this new, completely unexpected, form of torture. The guys I was playing golf with were no where near me, but they commented later about thinking it was odd that I was hitting myself, repeatedly, while jumping up and down.

I almost passed out shortly after I was able to stop the brutal attack. I'm not allergic to these things, but I guess over a hundred bites in fifteen seconds may be almost too much for the human heart. I sat in the shade and thought about life insurance. I also thought I need to make sure I look at where I am walking from this point forward. Lesson learned.

The fire ants in my lawn are believed, by me, to be the same fire ants that I have waged war against since moving into this house five years ago. I use a chemical to drive them off, and they do disappear for a little while, but sure as rain they'll be back, popping up in a new place in my yard. You can imagine this is a huge pain in my ass. I make a note to myself to treat this ant mound as soon as the lawn is mowed.

I get my son's help with the lawn. It's his job to clean up the toys, dog ropes, and whatever else has accumulated over the past week. He's on the computer and is reluctant to get up. What an interesting development. I ask him if he would rather mow the lawn and I'll clean it up? He moves a bit more quickly after this question. He's a good boy, and he means well. He is a very nice kid, and being small has had to deal with bullies, and his older sister, his entire life. He's very bright. He scores well above average each year in the standardized tests the school forces on the kids. But, when it comes to school, or household chores, or much of anything that does not involve sitting in front of a computer or television screen, he just doesn't like to try very hard.

In that regard he is a lot like his father. I was the same way as a child, and some would say, correctly, as an adult too. I remember my dad just looking at me as if to say "what in the hell are you doing?". I catch myself giving Sam that same look about once a day. My poor boy. He's a thinker and a dreamer, and not so much a doer. If I had the choice I would much rather be a doer. I think they probably make a lot more money in this world.

The lawn was a bear today. It is so very hot, hazy, and humid. I was almost finished mowing, and I was just left with the front, right side of my lawn. I was going back and forth, first pushing the mower, and then pulling it backwards myself to start another row. As I pulled the mower back I stepped down into the street, and I heard it, just before I saw it.

The sound of the car was roaring over the sound of the mower. It was so close that I barely had time to look at it. I turned my head to the right, and could see it was an older model, goldish- green in color, and it had a white top. It was right in front of me and it was going to hit me.

I have heard that your entire life passes before your eyes right before you die. Well, that must happen when you are DEFINITELY going to die, and not when you THINK you are going to die. My only thought was "you dumbass" as I was sure I had just done what I constantly preach to my kids NOT to do. I had walked into the street without looking. Luckily, I suppose, there was NO car. It was an hallucination. It was so very real that I actually turned off the mower and just stood there for a minute.

That experience was a new one. I'm not sure what to make of it. Was it the years of taking hallucinogens, back in college, that finally caused a full blown, underwear filling, flashback? Possibly. I have no idea. I'm surely glad it wasn't real.

Fire ants have nothing on LSD.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

I'm Having a Really, Really, Good Day

I took my son golfing this morning. I have committed myself to trying to get him out on the golf course as often as possible (meaning when affordable) this summer. Even to the point of not putting him in a golf program. I'd rather spend that money on just letting him play. It's way more fun than practice. If he gets any good then we'll see what happens down the road. I see some potential and now I just want him to enjoy it. I can't see it being very hard for him to like it because I took to it like a fish to water when I was his age. The difference is that my Grandparents completed a small, public golf course in upstate New York, right across the road from my house, in 1978, when I was 11 years old.

How completely unbelievable is that? Do you think I had a pretty good childhood? Think I played much golf all summer? If it weren't for that golf course, and knowing my propensity to get into massive amounts of trouble when left to my own devices, I would have been finding some way to screw things up. I always had a place to work, every summer, and as many hours as I wanted. I played golf nearly every day. Of course, thinking about it now, I should have played every day possible! Oh, to relive past decisions. We can only dream. I just want to give Sam the same chance that I had to fall in love with the game of golf. I will hopefully be able to allow him to take the game as seriously as he wants. It's not a cheap sport.

I may have to consider giving up golf just so HE can play.

Maybe he'll want to play frolf. I think you just need a Frisbee and a stick for that game. You can take off your shirt. In fact, removing your shirt while playing frolf may be a prerequisite, based on the pictures I've seen.

I'm just kidding. I think.

So, anyways, Sam made a par today. I then bought him McDonald's burger as a prize. A prize? A bribe? A "here you go son I hope you had a great time today, cause I did"? Probably the third one. I'm sure it's the third one. The funny thing is, it was all subconscious. He mentioned McDonald's and I was in such a good mood that I said "you got it!". I'm happy to say that I did not partake in the McDonald's feast. I'm still losing weight.

I came home, after golf, and took a quick shower before I headed out to play poker. I was putting on a pair of shorts, that my wife had recently purchased for me, and I realized they were VERY loose around my waist. Now, before anyone does any back patting, let me say that these shorts had been my first pair of 38's, and everything else is a 36 inch waist. The whole diet started about the same time M came home with these shorts, and they fit comfortably. This made me realize how badly my 36's were fitting. Well, these 38 inch shorts could NOT be worn, by me, right now, without my belt! They hang down low and I would look like one of those young folks who wear their hats sideways. I am pumped. I may have lost only five or six pounds since the whole new-age Eric has come to light, but I have certainly lost a couple of inches around the waist. Every one can piss off! I'm off bread! I, and George Costanza are off bread, together. What's the opposite of tuna salad on toast?

I was playing poker today in a 2-5 NL cash game. I had almost $100 in front of me, and picked up AQ of clubs. A powerful hand in hold em. At that very moment they announced that there was one seat left for the tournament that was about to start. I yelled to the Floorperson "I want it!" and he replied "Lock it up!", and I was in the tournament. But, I still had this hand to play. I decided not to raise, for a variety of reasons that I'm not going to discuss right now. If you don't know, and if you care, read some of my prior posts. Anyhow, there is no raise and six of us take a flop of A- 2- 6, rainbow (all different suits). This is such a good flop for my hand, that is scary. There's about $25 in the pot (after the rake), and I have $95 in my stack. I'm concerned that someone will have two-pair, but I have position, and I have top pair with a helluva kicker.

Everyone checked around to the man on my right. He leads out $20 dollars into this pot. Now, I've played with him a whole lot before. I don't know, for sure, that he doesn't have a good hand, but I would be willing to bet all of the chips in front of me, as well as all of the money in my pocket, and also all of the money left on my credit card that I have him beat right now, at this moment.

I now have to get him to put the rest of his money into the middle. If I raise now, he may very well fold. It's probable that he has nothing. It doesn't really matter what he has because I am not folding to him no matter what happens from here on out. I've seen the small hands he routinely sticks his entire stack in with, and I am not worried. If he shows me a better hand, or he sucks out, so be it. I think I have him beat, and I don't want him to suddenly play well and get away from me. I think he may fold if I raise, and honestly, I don't want him to fold. But, and this is a BIG but. If one of the OTHER player's raise, then they most likely have me beat. I may still have to call, but chances are I'm in trouble.

I know these players, I know where I stand, and I've charted the path. It is auto-poker for the rest of this hand. I call his twenty dollar bet. One other man calls, which is no surprise, and we await the turn card. At this point I'm skeptical that the bettor even has an ace. I've played a bunch with him and he could have nearly anything. The other caller, I believe, has an ace. I need to fade this turn card.

The dealer puts down the burn card and then rolls over an 8. The board now reads A-2-6-8.

That's a pretty good card. Granted, it may have just beaten me, but it's far more likely it helped no one. The first man checks, good, he probably doesn't have the best hand. He may go for a check-raise, but I doubt it. After playing with him a lot I'm pretty certain he would bet here if he thought he had the best hand. The original bettor now slides twenty more dollars into the pot. This is a weak bet for a pot this size. It means one of two things, and I'm not sure which it is. It either means he has little, if anything, and is trying to pick up the pot with a small bet, or he has a monster and wants to be called. I look at him, and decide the course was charted, and I can't leave the other man in for a cheap card if the bettor is dicking around, so I raise, all-in.

The middle man folds, and the guy on my right calls instantly saying "I guess we have the same hand". Uh-oh.

Whenever I have heard that phrase the person saying it has a pretty good hand, and they can't believe you just put them all in. Shit.

Sure enough, he shows A-8, and the river card does not come a queen, so I lose. I just mucked my cards and told him "nice catch". He won't believe it, but who cares? There was no way he would have gotten away from that hand, believe me I know this person, and he would have committed the full hundred on A-8. The only problem was the damn 8 on the turn!! Oy. Oh well, now I have to run up and get my tournament entry.

I sit down in the tournament and we begin. We have 4,000 in chips, and the blinds start out at 25-50. Each level lasts eighteen minutes. It's not a lot of leeway, but I've been navigating my way through these waters pretty good as of late. I'm trying to stay in the present, and most importantly, stay humble.

Humility is thrown out the window in the first significant pot I decide to play. This play gets sort of complex, but I don't think enough people read my blog to make much use of it anyhow. If anyone is reading this and plays against me, well if you can pick up on what I picked up during the play of this hand, than you've already used this play and I'm not telling you anything new.

I'm in middle position, and no one raises in front of me, and I look down to see the queen-nine of spades. First of all, this is my truly, favorite hand. Second of all, it was time to start playing something. I raise it to $150. Not a huge raise, only 3 times the big blind, but hey, let's play a pot, guys. Maybe someone will hit a big hand. I get five callers and the pot now contains $900. Here we go.

One of the callers is the small blind, sitting right across the table from me, to the right of the dealer. This guy likes to portray that he is a player. I have seen him go out of his way to look at another player while the flop is rolling off. Obviously, if you've watched any poker on t.v., or read any poker books at all, you have probably heard that you should watch the oppositions eyes while he is looking at the flop being put on the table. This is true. This guy knows it, but now I know he knows it. See any possibilities here folks? This game is all about opportunity and I had a plan for this hand.

The flop rolled off off K-J-4, with two of them diamonds. As soon as the flop hits the board I glanced at it quickly and then looked away. Does everyone know what this means to a poker player who is looking for information? It means I have hit the flop. Had I stared at it for a while he probably would have deduced that I had missed the flop. No one else in the hand knew what to look for, they were watching the flop with me!

Everyone checks to me, and I bet $700. I'm thinking I'm going to get called by anyone with a King, or a diamond draw, or possibly a straight draw. Everyone else will fold. of course, if someone flopped a giant hand I'm sure I'll find out soon enough. Two people call, and one of them is, of course, the guy right across the table from me. I don't like the third person in the pot, but we're narrowing it down and that has to be a good thing. I still only have a gut-shot straight draw, but we'll see if the turn card gives us any possibilities. I believe the guy across from me really believes I have a king, maybe even Ace-king. I believe he is calling looking for an opportunity to steal this pot from me. The whole plan hinges on his thinking that way and the turn card giving me hope.

The turn card is the 9 of diamonds. This is potentially a very bad card as either of my two opponents could easily have either a straight or a flush. If either of them bet, than I will have to fold my hand. I was hoping for a small, blank, that affected nothing, so I could make a big bet on the turn and take down the pot. This 9 is a bad card. But, they both check. I do not think either of them has a straight or a flush. This board is very scary for any made hand, and a bet here would definitely be in order for someone with a straight or flush. To let this go around without a bet, if you have that good of a hand, is just terrible. One of them or both of them probably have a king. I don't think I'm ahead here, I mean, all I have is a pair of nines. When they both check I adjust my plan, but just a little. I decide to check now, and depending on what comes on the end, and who, if anyone, bets the river, I will decide what to do at that point.

I'm pretty sure the guy directly across from me is going to bet on the river. He knows I'm scared of the flush, but I don't think he has one. Just like he isn't afraid of the third guy having one. I'm hoping he doesn't think about that bit of knowledge though. He might be thinking this is the opening he needs to steal this pot.

The river card is a second jack, the jack of hearts. The board now reads K-J-4-9-J, with three diamonds. This is a great card for me, and you're about to find out why. The small blind, the guy right across from me, the guy who can read my thoughts, or so he thinks, bets $1000. This is a pretty small bet, and it screams weakness. It screams "please just call me cause if you raise I CANNOT WIN!", but I try to not do what my opponents want. I'm sure the best he has is a king here, and I'm sure he will fold if I go ahead and raise.

My options become clear when the middle guy folds and it's now on me. I pause for about 10 seconds, then I announce "raise". I make it $2000 more. This amount does not put the small blind all-in, but if he were to lose he would be crippled. More importantly, I will still have plenty of chips left should he go ahead and call.

He looks at me, and I stare at his chips (another reverse tell), and he looks at the pot. He looks back at me, and I stare at his chips. Finally, after counting out his chips, he folds. By the way, normally, if an opponent looks at your chips while you're trying to decide what to do, it probably means he has you crushed. Since my opponent thought he could read me, I'd let him see what I want him to think. This is Psychology 101. Check and mate, sir.

Humility goes bye-bye right



I proudly turn over my queen-nine of spades and say quietly, but sternly, "don't try that again". He appears angered, and I smile and start to rake in a nice pot. Two hands later the guy "directly across the table" bows out, calling a way-to-big of a bet with a pair of tens and a jack kicker. He has tilted, and is gone.

Not much else happened of significance until we got to the final table. I was in a comfortable position, and it looked like I was second in chips. The chip leader was on my direct right, and he mowed through a bunch of people to get us down to three handed. He was on fire, and had a bunch of big hands. I thought "good, maybe he can go card dead now and I can win a couple of pots".

It wasn't that I was sitting idle the whole time. I had been raising, and stealing, and not stealing, taking down a few pots, but only winning the blinds and antes. A few times Mr. Big Stack, to my right, re-raised me pre-flop, forcing me to lay down my hand. The blinds and antes will eat you up during the late stages of a tournament. If you're not in there trying to win your share you will surely be too short on chips for your raise to matter. Once that happens, you may as well quit because you will have to win a bunch of hands, in a row, to do anything at all. It's much better to put the heat on the others and hope no one wakes up with a big hand. I looked down, when I was in the big blind, to see pocket fives. In a three handed game, this is a monster.

Mr. Big Stack called in the small blind. I doubt if he has anything, because I would expect him to raise here if he did. Why give my crap hand a free shot at the flop if you think you have me beat? I guess he could trap me, but that would be odd at this point, especially since I've laid it down to him so many times. I raise, making it $4500 to go. The blinds were 600-1200, with a 300 dollar ante. This is not huge raise, but it's not small either. I have about 12,000 left in my stack after my raise. Mr. Big Stack apparently doesn't like my raise and announces "all-in".

Shit. Jesus. Can this guy have another big hand? I'm about to be out of this tournament because he has to have at least two over cards to my small pocket pair. I guess I could hope he has a hand like A-3, but why didn't he raise in the first place with the ace? We're three handed.

Suddenly, it hits me! Eureka! I have pocket fives! And we're three handed! I have a very good hand, and I've been folding to this guy too much. It's time to sack up and make the call. So, I do. I call. I ask him if he has a pair, and he says "no", well, problem number one down.

"I'm sure you have over cards." as I turn over my hand.

What comes next is almost too good to be true. "Nope, I'm in big trouble".

He shows the 3-4 off suit. What in the hell? I actually laughed out loud from the relief of it all more so than the pure comedy of his cards! Nice move, I must look like a chump or something. I actually flop a five, and then the turn comes a spade, putting three of them out there. He, of course has the 3 of spades. But, alas, no spade comes on the river and he is crippled.

After that hand the end for Former Mr. Big Stack, comes quickly. He loses to the third guy leaving just two of us. I look over at his stack, he looks at mine, and it's obvious we have about the same amount. He says "want to chop?", and I reply "yup", and that is that.

This is the fourth tournament, in a row, that I have played, and finished 1st or 2nd. This is a really, really good run.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Rebel Yell

Since I had a little extra time this morning, I decided to get a haircut. Now, I had been putting it off for about a week and a half, so it was definitely time for a trimming. I headed north on San Jose blvd, here in Jacksonville, and started wondering if I should not go to my usual hair place and instead stop at one of the others I would be passing along the way. I usually go to a place called Sportsclips.

Now, I'm not aware if these are all over the United States, or just in the southeast, but Sportsclip knows how to cut a man's hair. In fact, I've never seen a female customer in the place. Before you get the wrong idea, it's just a sports themed hair cuttery, with mini televisions in front of each booth playing ESPN, and sports paraphernalia decorating the walls. They have men's magazines in the waiting rooms and are lacking toys for the kids. In essence, Sportsclip has decided to try to make getting your hair cut an enjoyable experience for the men of this world, rather than something that is to be avoided, like playing Ace-jack under the gun at a full, ten handed table. Trust me, don't do it, you're not that strong a poker player.

I walk into Sportsclip and there are no other customers. The sign outside says you get $2.00 off the regular price of an MVP cut. The MVP is a haircut (styled), a wash (with scalp massage), a hot towel on your face, and a shoulder massage with a vibrator. It's a nice deal. It spoils me, and it only cost about 25% more than a cut and shampoo at any other place. How can I not love this? The girl asking me for my phone number is new, and young. This pleases me. She looks like she has weak hands though, and this concerns me because I want some pressure when all of this rubbing starts to take place! She directs me to the chair and puts one of those black plastic bag things around my collar. I guess it's a cape.

I tell her I want it shorter than it is now, but not much of a change. She says "Business cut?". I immediately say NO, not like a business cut. Not that short. Ok, no problem, and she starts clipping. I'm watching the little tv to my left, and this girl starts talking to me. Now, I don't know how you are, and I realize everyone is different, but I'm not all that interested in hearing about this woman's kids right now. I came in here to get a haircut and relax. As she's talking I begin to realize she has a few kids. I find this peculiar since she looks like she is about 19. I decide not to ask for details.

As she is clipping I mention that I don't want it too short because I'm trying to NOT look like a businessman, and I'm actually going for something a little more rebellious. But, I say, not too rebellious, I mean, I don't want tattoos or anything that might be permanent. Well, that was probably not the right thing to say since this woman, Melissa, has four tattoos, one for each child. One of her four tattoos is a rebel flag, with hearts around it, and has something to do with her son. Apparently, a former friend of hers told someone about the tattoo and told some people that Melissa was a racist.

You can imagine me sitting there, hearing about her four kids, and her rebel flag tat, and then she says to me "well, all of my children were born out of wedlock, and they all have different fathers".

Say what?

I'm beginning to think there is a camera somewhere nearby because this might be a little bit too much information. I mean, we just met. Maybe you should save the rebel flag tattoo and your four illegitimate children until the next cutting.

All the while she is just clip, clip, clipping away. She was talking for a while, and I've already decided that I'm tuning her out, so I begin to watch the highlights of the U.S.-Italy soccer game on ESPN. The U.S. lost, but it looked like a good game. The highlights then moved on to cover the Brazil game, also from yesterday. I never got to see who won because it was at that time that I glanced at the mirror. She has nearly clipped me clean.

Whoah!! Don't cut any more! That's good! It's short enough. Please. Stop.

Hair grows back, so this is not a big deal, and I'm not all that fazed. At this point I want to get finished and get out of here. We go into the back for the shampoo portion of the "experience", and sure enough she can't give a good scalp massage to save her life. She's very gentle and barely touching me and the worst part is she's now talking about how much she likes soccer. Her fiance' doesn't, he likes football, and he says only girls play soccer. Melissa seems to enjoy the game even though it is clear she has never watched a soccer game in her life. Ya know how when something feels really good and it seems like it can never last long enough? Well, this was the opposite of that.

The hot towel was good and hot. I was very relaxed. She also massaged my face a bit, which was nice. The best part was the vibrator on my shoulders. The vibrator was loud enough that she decided to not try and talk over it.

She was finishing up, and she had run her fingers back through my hair. I looked into the mirror, and I'm like, "hey, that looks good!" Meaning, I like my hair JUST LIKE THAT. It did look good, too. Even though it was a bit shorter than I wanted, it did seem to still say "There is no place I have to be right at this moment". Of course, Melissa immediately grabbed a brush and started combing my hair. I'm not sure what part of "that looks good" she failed to understand, but she thought it needed improvement.

I just do not understand why she would divulge her life story to me after knowing me for two minutes. My first thought, as I sat in the car afterwards, was that she would make a great interview for one of those daytime talk shows. My second thought was "those poor kids". Talk about needing to "come from behind". Those kids got dealt deuce-seven offsuit in a world full of pocket nines. Maybe the flop will come 2-2-7. I hope so, for their sake.

After getting my hair cut I had just enough time to get down to the local card room so I could sign up for another poker tournament. This is the same tourney I played in last Tuesday, and I was hoping for another final table. After finishing first and second, respectively, in the two tournaments last week that are part of the Player of the Month contest, I was leading by a few points. There is still a long way to go and another strong finish would probably keep me in the lead.

I played pretty good, but there were two hands in which I was all-in and should have been out, except for lady luck sitting on my shoulder. I took A-7 up against pocket queens, and flopped and Ace. After that I took A-2 up against A-Q, and flopped two deuces. I was very short stacked in both instances, and in both instances I moved all-in first. That makes a big difference. I probably wouldn't call a raise with either of those hands, but I'm willing to raise with both of them myself.

I ended up finishing in second place. Somehow. The blinds escalate so very fast that at the final table there is almost no play. It is just an all-in festival. We were playing five handed with the blinds at 6,000-12,000 and an ante of 3000. The largest stack is 90,000! Well, we ended up chopping it five ways, and then we played down to the end for the points. I was able to knock out one guy when two kings came out on the flop and my AK won against his pocket aces. If I'd known I was going to be so lucky I would have wanted to play it out for the cash too.

Heads-up play lasted all of two hands when my ace-five lost to my opponents King-Jack. Another second place finish. This is all very odd because I normally don't like tournaments. I particularly detest the end of tournaments when every hand is basically flipping a coin. But, how can I scoff at the results? I now have to keep playing in this month long deal. I have a head start on everyone else and need to keep the pedal to the metal. I have finished 1st, 2nd, and 2nd in the three past tournaments I've played. Pretty amazing run. Really amazing, actually.

Why am I not in Las Vegas?

This might be the rush that could have netted me possibly a few hundred thousand had I been playing at The Rio or one of the other many casinos that host various tournaments during the World Series of Poker. It seems like so many things in life depend on timing, and I'm worried I may be missing out on a golden opportunity. Of course, good fortune in Jacksonville does not necessarily mean good fortune in the desert. I'm just happy my bio-rhythms are on, and the cards are coming my way.

Back to my bread and butter, the cash games, tomorrow.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Super Stack Series II

I played in another tournament today. I played quite well. I don't remember getting my money in bad. Well, except for the last hand. The money was already chopped up between four of us, and we played the tournament out for the Player of the month points.

I spiked an ace on the river to convince me to put the rest of my chips into the pot, thinking I had just sucked out on my opponent. Unfortunately, he had already made trip 3's and I was drawing dead. I am very happy with second place, but I believe the good finish had as much to do with luck as it did my playing good, solid, poker. I may be too hard on myself, but I was in at least four situations where the odds were within a 60-40 proposition, and I won them all. That, well, that is fortunate. Flip a coin four times and see how many times it comes up heads all four flips. It's difficult.

A part of me likes to believe that another, less informed player would not have laid down some of the hands that I got away from today. Also, other players may not have had the cajones to check-call with nothing on the flop, check-call again with nothing on the turn, and then lead bluff the river because I just KNOW he didn't have a strong hand. Of course, had that play been a mistake then I may very well be sitting here telling you how much of a donkey I am, like I did yesterday. This is a fickle game.

I did notice a certain breakthrough, of sorts, today. It seemed people were going out of their way to give me a hard time about things. They were doing it in a joking way, and I certainly joke with people all of the time, so I take these things quite well. They were really giving it to me about my sunglasses. Yes, I was wearing sunglasses today, even though they are cliche'.

These sunglasses were newly purchased while I was recently in Biloxi. I didn't buy them as a joke. In fact, a woman in the store helped me pick them out telling me the pair I had looked much better than another pair I was thinking of buying. So, what's a color blind, fashion challenged, middle aged man supposed to do? I bought the pair that she recommended, and apparently, she was in on the joke.

I have heard from my wife, my daughter, my son, my sister-in-law, her son, my daughter's friend (although she only just sort of agreed with my daughter), and now a bunch of people at the card room, just how lady-like my sunglasses appear. One woman, in the tournament, who is a regular player, and who I know well, but not really well, even called me a pussy at one point. Yes, you heard right. A pussy. I mean, she said it under her breath, but loud enough that I thought she said "sissy". I was corrected by the folks at the other end of the table who clearly heard what she said. The interesting thing is that everybody was laughing their asses off everytime someone gave me shit about my sunglasses!

It was all good though, because like I said before, I am sure I have made a smart-ass remark to each and every one of the folks at that table. I feel pretty good that they are comfortable enough around me to give me a well mannered hard time. Even the Floormen, and Floorwomen were getting in on the deal. Is Floorwoman a correct term? I have no idea. We're in the south, so I'm going to assume it's ok. This is not a hotbed of women's liberation.

I just remembered what the spark was that caused the great sunglass debacle. One of the players, right after I had won a hand by going all-in when I was incredibly short on chips, says to me "Hey, Eric, nice hand. I wanted to ask you something..."

His name is Paul, and he plays often, and he is a good guy.

"what's that buddy?" I said with a little smirk. Remember, I had just won a pot, and was feeling pretty good.

He looks at me, and with a straight, deadpan face, says "Does your wife know you stole her sunglasses to play in this thing?"

I guess I have to wear those glasses more often. A big hit they were.

I need to go to Las Vegas. I can't believe I'm not there. It's WSOP time, for the love of God!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Donkey Kong

I am such a DONKEY! For those of you not familiar with poker lingo a donkey is someone who plays poker badly. Donkey's make the worst plays, and lose a lot of money. It's almost unfathomable as to how badly I can play the game of poker sometimes. This is not self deprecating humor here, my friends, this is me giving an honest review of my play during the 5 1/2 hours I spent at the local card room today.

I have to admit though, early on I played very solid, if not flawless, poker. I really never got much in the way of cards to get very involved with. I spent the first couple hours either limping and folding to a raise, or getting to see a cheap flop and then folding because I missed completely. It's hard to lose a lot of money like that, but it is disheartening and can lead to frustration, which can lead to impatience, which leads to over playing a hand and losing far more than you ever should with that pair of sixes and your 4 kicker.

But, I was playing pretty good, and I kept my head, and my stack dwindled, then I'd win a small pot and get back to even. This went on for a while until I got to limp in with the 7c8c, no one raised, and I flopped a straight flush. I'm not sure If I've ever flopped a straight flush before, but I did today. Of course, I've only been playing for about 12 years, and only nearly everyday for the past 5. A woman also flopped three of a kind tens (a set of tens) in the hand, and another guy also flopped a flush. Needless to say, we got the money in and I tripled up.

Had a second 10 hit the board on the turn card (4th street) or the river (5th street) we would have hit the Bad Beat Jackpot. It's about 150k right now, and my straight flush would have won me 1/4 of that amount. Quick math people, what's 1/4 of 150k? Easy way to figure it? half of 150 is 75 and half of that is 37 or so. I would have won about $37,500. That would have been ok.

That's pretty easy math, huh? That's about as difficult as the math gets in the game of poker. But, still it took years of practice to be able to keep track of the money in the pot, and figure out my chances of winning, and figure in the amount of the bet, and see if I'm getting the right price to continue. Some people may have picked it up right away, but I took a little while to be able to do it quickly. Some people who I know have been playing for years barely pay any attention to pot odds. Strange really, I guess they do it by feel. I think they lose a lot of the time, but I could be wrong.

Back to why I am a donkey...

I steadily built up my stack all day long. I was ahead about $450, and feeling pretty good because, other then the straight flush, not much was happening. I was picking up pots with moderate hands, and stealing pots it looked like no one wanted. Then, it happens. I look down to see AA. American Airlines, the atomic bombs. The best starting hand you can get. What did I do to deserve this? Life is pretty good.

Someone actually raised in front of me, and I was on the button. I make it $50 to go, and he, Ronnie, calls. It's heads up, and I'm going to win a nice pot, especially if he hits a little something. The flop comes king high with two small clubs. Ronnie checks and I bet $75. He calls immediately. It looked, for a moment, like he was going to bet before me on the flop. I think he has a king. This is good, I can milk him along and win a nice pot here.

The turn card is a king.

Not good. Ronnie checks and I want to bet, to find out for sure if he has the king, but I check along. His checking has thrown me off though, I can't help but think he has a king. But, there is a sliver of doubt creeping into that crevice in the back of my brain. It's way back there where most of my bad ideas form.

The river card is a blank (a card that probably doesn't matter).

Ronnie grabs a handful of chips and sticks them into the middle. I ask the dealer for a count and the bet is $105. This is no good. By checking the turn I have opened the door for Ronnie to bluff, but I'm pretty sure he wouldn't be bluffing here. I can't help but think he might be bluffing because I've played with him before, and seen him bluff many times. At least I want to believe that.

The real reason I end up calling is because I cannot believe that King came out on the turn. I was already starting to tilt, and bad play Eric was trying to come out. Ronnie shows three kings and I lose.

The very next hand three Kings come on the board. It reads K, K, K, 6, 3. Ronnie checks on the river and I decide to make a horrible play and bluff $105 into a pot of $225. I have ace high, and Ronnie calls with pocket tens, giving him a full house. I lose. I have tilted off about $300 in five minutes.

I am livid at myself. I am seething inside. I fight the urge to freak out, and instead just sit there. Ronnie, of course, always the gamesman, says to me "Why did you do that? You KNOW I WAS CALLING! How long have you been playing with me,ten years? I ALWAYS call!! You know that!!" Followed by loud laughing. He is loving it, and he is trying to make me lose it.

Right here is about the time that Old Eric would start calling Ronnie the donkey. Thinking about it.... that would be rather foolish, don't ya think?

All I can do is smile, and say "you're right". I lean back in my chair and wonder if jumping off a three story building would kill me. I decide it's more likely to mess me up really bad, and I'd probably live through it. I stay seated.

I played on after that. I knew I had screwed up. The only thing to do, after a talk with myself, was to plow forward. So, I stayed and actually won almost all of the money back that I had lost in those two hands. Unfortunately, that's not the point. That $300 is gone. Ronnie's got it, and he'll probably not hang onto it for long, losing it instead to someone else. But, I lost it first. Shit.

Jesus. Some days blow.

The Home Game

This was originally written a little while back.....

The nachos were filling. So filling that, along with the two beers I had just downed, these nachos were making me feel a little bit on the gross side. This is not a good feeling after running my mouth for the past few weeks about the big “weight loss challenge” I had levied to my best, good friend, Johnny. John and I have continued to gain weight at a dangerous rate since our glory days, at least our physical glory days, of high school and college. I would not say that we have gone completely overboard, but for a couple of young, active guys we were obviously on the verge of not being able to challenge our kids on a basketball game in the driveway. We have become middle aged, couch potato guys and I, for one, am sick of it. The nachos may not have been the best choice for dinner that night, but hey, I aim to please. I’m not going to let some diet keep me from making my baby mama happy.

My wonderfully amazing wife had called me earlier Friday, while I was playing cards at the local poker room, and asked what I had planned to make for dinner. It has come to pass, and I must admit I enjoy it, that I be the person responsible for planning and making dinner. In part because of the fact that in my current job state I have far more free time than she, but also because it is fun. After I make the meal, and we finish dinner, it’s also my job to convince someone else to clean the kitchen. I mean, I did go to the store, pick everything out (which is way more difficult than I ever thought it could possibly be), unload the car, and cook the entire, glorious meal. Someone else can clean the kitchen. Once I get the three of them, my wife, and my kids Myah, age 13, and Sam, age 10, to agree I did a lot that day, then they start attacking each other in an attempt to save their own necks from the cleaning duties. At that point I usually just sit back and watch until two of them convince the third he or she is cleaning the kitchen.

But, I digress, Michelle had called to ask what I had planned for dinner, and since I had eaten a sandwich for lunch, and was having fun playing poker, I hadn’t thought of the subject at all. She had obviously not had much to eat that day because she was interested in nachos. For the next two minutes all I heard about was the virtues of nachos. Nachos are salty, and nachos have cheese, and she wants refried beans, and chili peppers, and black olives, and sour cream, and ALL OF IT! I, OF COURSE, cannot say no to that because even though she seems to like nachos an awful lot right now, I LOVE nachos! I put nachos on par with watching Phil Hellmuth blow up on tv about some schmuck calling him with a jack-six offsuit. For those of you not familiar with poker talk, on par with CBS giving you a full on close up of tiger woods molesting Stevie after winning yet another golf tournament. So, even though I’m trying to lose weight, there is no way we’re not having nachos. I wonder if Michelle is in cahoots with my best, good friend Johnny? Probably, but it won’t work. Sorry suckas, I’m onto both of you.

Since I was feeling like a tub of lard, after filling my gullet with nachos, I decided to punish myself and go play poker in a new home game I had heard of. I usually avoid home games for a variety of reasons. I would much rather play in a public poker room. Home games are not legal, although it is rare to hear of one getting busted anymore. You used to hear about it every few months, but with the poker explosion in the United States, and it becoming more socially accepted, it has lost much of the stigma that was once attached to it. In turn, arrest have gone down. Home games are not secure. Initially they are, but as time goes on eventually the wrong person hears about the game, puts together a posse, and busts in to rob the place. This occurs much more often than police action, and is the main reason I avoid the games. Home games are sometimes hard to get paid in. Nothing is worse than playing your heart out all night, and then when you go to cash out the guy running the game says “hey Eric, can I just give you half of what you won? I’m a little short with me putting Tommy in the game. I’ll hook you up at next week’s game for sure!”. Be forewarned, if the guys running the game request this of you, agree to it, but get your money next week and never play again. That game is getting ready to go belly up and the only thing that will keep it going is the “owners” ability to convince everyone the money is coming.

For all of these reasons I prefer to play in a public card room. Every once in a while though, someone tells you about, or you hear through the grapevine, something about a good game, in a secure spot, where winners get paid, the food and drinks are free, they have nice looking cocktail waitresses, the dealers are good, the houseman plays and poorly, and there is plenty of poker action. I was promised the game I was going to was something just like that. I’d still rather sit home, drink about 10 beers, and watch tv all night but I can’t pass this up and continue to call myself a poker player. Besides, I’m still working on the “To Prevail Takes Apathy” poker strategy and I need different environments and games to test it on.

I still can’t believe the strategy works, it seems so simple, and so weak, that it goes against everything I’ve ever been taught or read about in any poker publication. Still though, after reviewing my sessions of play, I have lost when I have obviously strayed from TPTA strategy. To Prevail Takes Apathy is a reminder for myself about TPTA, which translates into Tight-passive Tight-aggressive. I don’t really want to get into all of that again since I’ve covered it all before in previous writing’s. Let me get back to this new poker game I’ve found.

I live in the far southwest corner of Jacksonville. I actually live in St. Johns county, and Jacksonville is Duval county, but come on, I live in Jacksonville. The poker game is in the northeast part of Jacksonville, in a gated community, out towards Jacksonville Beach. This sounds good to me, and I kiss the wife good bye, tell the kids to be good or else, and hop in the car for the 45 minute drive I have ahead of me.

I’m not sure how it can still be raining. It started raining Sunday morning, six days ago. It had stopped now and again throughout the week, usually for about a good 10-15 minutes. One time the sun broke through and I actually heard a bird sing outside the window. It was all a tease though because 5 minutes later it was raining again. The bird was gone. The other night I left the dog dish on the back porch and a raccoon was sitting there eating Kibbles and Bits, while looking right at me. He was soaking wet and looked pathetic. There was glass between us, thankfully, so I did not have to run away, but raccoons use their front paws exactly like hands. Very cool. He was harmless and just went back into the woods after finishing off the kibbles and bits, still wet and still pathetic.

The rain makes idiots out of so many people. The going is slow as every motorists is accelerating to about wheelchair pace before getting uncomfortable with the conditions of the roads. I fight the urge to bump the car in front of me and turn on the radio. It’s set on an AM sports station, but there is a commercial running, and then another, and then another, and then I move onto FM. The only reason I just wasted a minute and a half of my life listening to commercial on the radio is because I was thinking about that stupid raccoon. The FM station I tune to is an alternative rock station. I don’t know any of the songs by name, but they all have that same upbeat, “but I may come into your school and gun down your children” kind of attitude about them.

Wait a sec, do I have everything I need for this poker game? Hat? Check. I have to have a hat. First off, the hat shields against any headache causing lights. Secondly it’s great for shielding your eyes from your opponents. Sunglasses? Check, but I never wear them anymore at a game. They just sit on top of my head more a symbol of what we’re doing rather than a tool to be used. So cliché, sunglasses at a poker game. Money? Check. I have almost a grand with me. I hope no one tries to rob me, but I am “prepared to lose it all”. I am really ready for it too, whether it gets stolen, the cops take it, I get set up in the game, or just get a bit unlucky. I am ready to lose the whole shot tonight. It’s kind of invigorating when you put it in that perspective. I guess THAT’S why they call it gambling. IPOD? Check. But I bet I won’t use it tonight. I will be going out of my way to be sociable tonight. If it turns out to be a good game, and I win, then I at least want to keep em laughing to increase my chances of getting invited back. I’ll know I have them if I win a big pot and can get the guy I just whacked to laugh shortly thereafter. I know it sounds cruel, but is it really? He could either lose the money and be grumpy, or lose the money and keep laughing. I’d rather lose and laugh. I just hope he doesn’t lose AND think I’m an asshole. That would be very bad for getting asked back.

Sitting in the car, driving in a rainstorm, and thinking about how much money I’m going to win, I realize something. I am not being humble. I caught myself though, so I say a little prayer that includes some stuff about respecting my opponents and believing they are not inferior, that they have good rational thoughts and I only want to “make better decisions” than they do and I do not expect to “get lucky”. I do this quite a bit, especially to myself at the table, because overconfidence, or being “cocky” has ALWAYS caused me to play below par. It’s that simple, and I’m not sure if by praying to God for humility that I am actually getting God’s help, or if it just makes me feel peaceful, but I believe it helps, either way.

I’m almost to the front gate so I call my boy, B, to see how I get into this place. B is a good friend who told me about the game. He plays in a bunch of the games around town and he was nice enough to mention this one. He said something about never losing in this game, and I start to think that’s impossible because I’ve played a lot of poker with B. Never losing is not an option for B. He’ll find a way to lose. Wait, what was that prayer about humility again? Oh Jesus, do I have to do it again? I decide I don’t.

B finally answers and tells me there are 15 people playing in a small $25 buy-in tournament, but the cash games are getting ready to start. He tells me to give my name to the guard at the gate and she’ll give me directions to the house. “OK, see you soon.” I say, and hang up.

My first thought is, why in the hell am I driving to the other side of the world for a $25 poker tournament? This does not sound good. I’m here now, so we’ll see, but it’s probably better he didn’t mention the $25 deal when he told me about the game. I can drive five minutes from my front door to play small stakes stuff. I thought this was going to be good action? It could be that B wants me there so he has someone to talk to the whole night. That’s cool, I suppose. I’d rather be home sippin on gin and juice, but we’ll see. It may be a good game despite the rinky-dink tournament.

I make a left hand turn into the development and the time is almost nine o’clock. I roll my window down and come to a stop at the front gate. There is no cover above the car and the rain is still coming down. I can see into the guard house and notice, bent over something, the back end of a woman. She is obviously in good shape, and her rump looks like she is smuggling two cornish game hens in her security guard pants. I am staring, and then notice the camera. This is perfect, busted, looking at some shapely figure, by a security guard’s camera.

She won’t turn around. I look away and wait for her, she must be busy. She still won’t turn around. Does she know I’m sitting here? How could she not see me as I pulled up? She’s facing towards where I had just come from! I sit there for another 30 seconds and then finally yell to her.

She turns around and I am flabbergasted. She’s gorgeous. She has long, black, curly hair and her skin is the color of milk chocolate. Her facial features are soft and round, and her eyes are large, round and perfectly brown. She has red lipstick and her nails are red as well. She has long finger nails, but not the really long, curvy kind that a lot of black women wear these days. They are of regular length and well manicured. Her eye shadow has a bluish tint and her eyebrows are obviously waxed, or plucked, or whatever torture women do to themselves to feel attractive.

I mumble my name, and the name of the host, and she turns away to call him to verify I can be admitted. She comes back a minute later and informs me it’s ok to go on, and here are the directions to the house. I consider saying something witty to her, but stop myself because A. she is not into me, and B. if she were, then what do I do? I’d have to go the next step, and affairs are way too taxing.

She let’s the arm of the gate up and I say “thank you” and head on my way. As I drive along I start to notice the homes. Wow, these are nice houses. I’d estimate most of them are in the 4000 sq. ft. range, and there are some actual mansions also. Yes, this is what going to a poker game is supposed to be about. I’ve been to games in some truly frightening places, and I am now on the opposite end of the spectrum. There is nothing scary about this neighborhood. I wonder how many of these homes are in foreclosure? Who cares, where is this damn house? Finally I find the street and immediately know where the poker game is located. There are cars everywhere, and I can see people through an upstairs window at one house in the corner.

I park on the street behind a pick-up, and walk up the driveway. I approach the door and look in the downstairs window. I can’t see anybody downstairs. They’re expecting me, but I’m not going to just walk in, so I ring the door bell. It rings some goofy door bell ring tone, and I wait for someone to let me in.


No one.

What the Hell!?!?! I call B again and ask him if anyone is going to let me in this mother. He says just come in, but before I can hang up She answers the door. She is tall, slim, bleach blonde, short haired, wears too much makeup and has two perfectly round, totally unadulterated, fake breasts. Her fake breast look nothing like what a person of her build could ever receive from our Lord. They are fake and meant to look that way.

She introduces herself as Heather, I think. I can’t remember, as awful as it sounds, I’m just not sure. It could have been Beth or Jill too, but I think it was Heather. From here on out though she will be known as sweetie, as in “Thanks for the drink, here you go sweetie” as I hand her a tip. The booze and food are free, but the fake boobs serving them are not, and tips are necessary. I follow her up a long, winding flight of stairs. This house has three floors, and the game is on, at the top.

As we walk up the stairs I start to think about the white, shag carpet that is steadily being ruined from people walking on it with their shoes still on their feet. I guess the carpet was put in prior to the poker game being a thought. That’s when I realize the owner is a single man. The house is neat, but he may want to invest in a maid service because there is dust and grime everywhere. Gross.

As we walk into the game room I look around and see some familiar faces. They are all foes I have battled before across the felt. I see B sitting in the tournament, and say hi. He doesn’t have many chips and I immediately tell the crowd at the table to put him out of his misery cause he has no chance anyway. They all laugh, B laughs, I laugh, and we’re off and running.

There is poker paraphernalia on every wall, and the poker table has drink holders and good felt. They have designated dealers, and chips are flying. I can tell this group is happy to be out of the house this Friday evening, and they are gambling. All of the signs are pointing to a fun and profitable evening. Plastic Boobs offers me a drink, and see the huge bottles of liquor on a shelf behind her. There’s a big bottle of Crown and my mouth starts watering as I ask for a crown and coke. While she makes the drink I get introduced to the owner of the house. He will be referred to as Perfect Hair.

This guy’s hair is so perfectly in place that it seems almost as fake as Heather and her boobs. I also recognize him from the public card room, and I think I recall he is a loud, obnoxious idiot. Sure enough, just as I process that thought he grabs my hand, shakes it wildly, and in a very southern drawl yells “Eric? Hey do yoooou remember that day I flopped a full house and you caught a miracle 4 on the river to beat me with quads?!?!” He’s guffawing and now yelling to fake boobs telling her I’m that guy!

Meanwhile, I’m feverishly trying to remember the hand that Perfect Hair is babbling about. I can’t remember it, and I half think he’s full of it, but it doesn’t matter anymore because he’s being dealt into another hand and is quickly losing interest me. I laugh and agree that I remember, and he moves on. Plastic breasts calls me over for my drink, and hands me a big, red plastic cup filled to the top with ice, crown, and coke. I taste it and realize it’s mostly crown and ice, with a splash or two of coke. This won’t work. I’m not so much worried about playing poker with a buzz on, because I have done that so many times I’d rather not think about it, but what about the drive home at four in the morning? Spending the night in jail, and paying thousands for a DUI offense is not my idea of how I want to top off a night.

I explain to her, in a hushed voice, that the drink is too strong. No sense alerting my poker brethren that I am a big wimp when it comes to drinking (and driving). She says something about not being able to see how much liquor she was pouring in because it is plastic and not glass, and she may have poured in too much. Really? Ya know, I think she’s right! She says she can fix it, and she does. I don’t like her because she is fake and it becoming obvious she’s probably dumb too.

I decide to sit in a chair and watch the poker tournament for a while. These guys are playing loose, and pushing chips into the middle of the table in bunches. I’m glad because it means this tournament will be coming to a close soon. After what seems like forever they finally finish up and B actually chops it up (splits first place) with three other guys and they each win 90 bucks. Good job B! Miracles abound…

We finally sit down to start the poker game, and since I’m not quite sure about this place yet, or these players, I decide to buy in low. I get three hundred in chips for the game of 2-5 No Limit Hold em. Anything less than 100 times the big blind, in this instance five hundred dollars, is pretty short. Being short kind of restricts the moves you can make during a hand, but my “To Prevail Takes Apathy” style will help offset that disadvantage.

I look around the table and see we have an action oriented line up. We have Perfect Hair, who I KNOW to be loose with his money, in seat 8. Seat one and two are young guys, and hopefully inexperienced. It used to be that young age equaled poor poker playing ability, but with the onset of internet poker this is no longer a guarantee. Occasionally you run into a young guy (under the age of 30) who is simply a lights out kind of poker player. So, I’ll watch these two, but I’m not overly concerned. In seats three and four are two black guys. These guys I like and I will try to keep them laughing all night. As a rule black men are usually looser with their money than white men. This is a sweeping generalization, I know, but true anyway, as I have discovered over time. Seat 5 is my buddy B, I’m in seat 6, and seat 7 is open, but reserved, I would find out later, for Shake. I don’t know Shake, but apparently everyone else does, and Shake can play some poker. Alrighty then, we will see….

The first hand dealt out gets raised to 30 dollars by black guy in seat 4. He gets called by Perfect Hair, and they proceed to each put in around two hundred dollars into the pot. The hand is won by the black guy, who had one pair, and Perfect Hair had stuck his money in on some kind of wild bluff. That was hand number one, and I buckled up and prepared for what could be a wild, exciting game. All I needed to do was be a little bit patient, play solid, and wait for them to hand me the chips.

I win my first hand of the night by playing the 7c8c. The flop comes 9c 10c Jd, and I quickly try to figure out how best to get more money into the pot. I have flopped a straight, but the bottom end, and there is a small possibility that someone could have Q8 or KQ for a bigger straight. I do, though have a straight flush draw to go with my made straight, and I am going to look to play a HUGE pot here, as all of my chips are likely to go into the center of the table. I don’t get to do anything fancy though because one of the young guys tries to bluff me out, after I make my straight flush when the jack of clubs falls on the turn, and he is now busted and leaving. Nice game son, next time try to last longer than 20 minutes. I think I’ve forgotten about humility, again. A quick reminder for myself as the youngster walks out.

Everyone at this game is very polite and gentlemanly. They all wish him well before he leaves. “Did you get enough to eat? Want another drink? No? Well, come back next week, all right, good night, drive slowly. Bye bye.” He walks out smiling. He’ll probably, if he’s not drunk, try to figure out how he lost his chips. If so he may learn something and next time play a bit better. After twenty or thirty years, if he’s not broke, he may turn into a winning poker player. He could accelerate the learning curve by reading everything he can, playing on-line, and constantly be thinking about the game. It’s far more likely though that he will not study, not practice, and not get any better and will forever be a donator to the game of poker. Which is not awful either, as long as he can continue to afford it. That will be his problem, and not my concern.

Shake arrives, and he looks the part. Shake is a stocky, and hairy, black man, who appears to be about 45 or 50 years old. His beard and mustache is tinged with gray hairs and he is completely unkempt. His clothes are too big for him, and appear to be dirty around the edges. He sits right down to my left with 600 dollars in chips, and takes up more than his fair share of the room the two of us occupy. Great, Shake is a gross, smelly, overbearing, and apparently masterful poker player. I’m moving out of my seat, and like, quick. A strong poker player, to my immediate left at the table, is not a good thing. Shake will have the opportunity to act after me on every hand. This is not good. Position at the table, in a no-limit game, is extremely important.

I was actually considering changing seats before Shake arrived. I want to get to the other side of black guy, in seat 4, who raises all the time. Once I busted young drunk kid there became an available seat right where I want to move. The reason I want to move is so I can trap raising black guy and take a bunch of his chips. Once I change seats I promptly have more room and feel much better. It takes about a half an hour, but the inevitable happens and I get a hand to play against raising black guy. It went like this.

I look down to see two kings, nice. I just call the five dollar blind. Now, I have called many five dollar bets, and when raised a significant amount I have simply folded. It amazes me that my opponents don’t take notice once I finally decide to enter a big pot. But, they never slow down. In this guy’s defense he actually had a hand, sort of, well, let me explain. The flop comes out with three small cards and two of them hearts. I check, he bets fifty dollars, and I raise it to one hundred and fifty, he quickly calls. The next card is another small card, this time black. I push all in for around two hundred and fifty dollars. He calls so fast that I think I am beat. But no, he has the king and jack, both of hearts. So, he is drawing dead to a heart on the river. Now this is the time of the hand that I hate. All of the money is in, and I have NO CONTROL. Thankfully, no heart comes and I double up now having more than 700 dollars in chips.

One thing that is irritating about this game is the color of the chips. The white (dollar) chips are nearly the same color as the red (nickel) chips. Maybe it is the glare of the lights, but I am having a hard time distinguishing between the two, and stacking chips was a process indeed. I hate being color blind.

Plastic Breasts offers me another drink. I agree and order a jack and coke. She makes this one much better and even tells me she got a shot glass to be able to measure the shot. Very nice, and thank you. I just win a nice pot, have a drink made for me (to perfection), and am now starting to like these perfectly round, obviously inflated, breasts.

The mood of Raising black guy changes after that. If I enter a pot, he no longer raises. I start stealing small pots. Twenty dollars here, fifteen dollars there, thirty dollars here. The game is coming to me now, and I don’t have to chase it. “To Prevail Takes Apathy” is once again working to perfection.

I play on, and another guy sits down. He hardly plays any hands, and he is not good for me. Perfect Hair keeps promising The Persian is coming. I decide to hang around and see because if The Persian comes, Benny by name, than we will have a crazy game! The Persian is completely out of control because he bets and raises until he has lost thousands, literally. I have seen him lose upwards of ten grand in a game before. I’m not sure if he’s ever left a winner. I believe he’s from Iraq, or Iran, or one of those countries. But, alas, I wait until 3:30 am, and no Persian has arrived. I recognize the promise of The Persian for what it is, a ruse used by game owners to keep people playing until all hours of the night. I have seen housemen actually carry on fake conversations with said player on a cell phone to trick other people into sticking around.

I am tired, very tired, and I am ahead for the night. I decide to call it an evening, and I’m glad I get to drive home sober. Everyone is still friendly as I cash out, and Perfect Hair gets my number to call me again for next week‘s game. We’ll see what happens. I may be in Biloxi, or Vegas, or the Turning Stone in NY, or maybe Foxwoods in Connecticut. Wherever I go, and wherever I play, I’ll be sure to be mumbling to myself “to prevail takes apathy, to prevail takes apathy..”