Tuesday, May 17, 2005

I am poker’s bitch

For me, poker is an abusive spouse.

At first, I was charmed by poker’s potent, alchemical combination of a smoking hot body and brains to boot. Poker lured me with her easy charm. It was the way she handled a cigarette. Her hot breath in my ear. The way she swirled the ice in her glass after she downed another Jack and Coke. The sounds she made. All of her filled my head, took control of my body, left me broken and shamed on the altar of my own spectacular Aphrodite. I was deliriously out of control. I could get lost in her warm delta for days on end.

Fast forward five years later. Poker and I are married. Not happily. It started with simple verbal abuse.

“Why didn’t you lay down those pocket aces when you had the chance?” She would say. “You should have got out when the board paired. What are you, some kind of a fucking idiot?”

Or, “Why did you fold to that scare card bet? You had top pair and a great kicker! What are you, some kind of a pussy?”

Little by little, poker sapped my self-esteem. Truths that I had heretofore taken as self-evident— that I was a relatively with-it, together guy, with my share of brains, and who enjoyed the general regard of my peers— she began to call into question. I just wasn’t smart enough, she told me. I just didn’t try hard enough. I couldn’t hack it. I sucked in bed. I was a worthless, lazy, good-for-nothing piece of shit, not fit to lick her boots.

And finally, when she realized that she had worn me down to an ineffectual little nub, she got physical.

“Been waiting all night for that pair of kings? Too bad—here’s a backdoor flush!” WHAP!

Or, “You’re sitting pretty good with that boat, aren’t you? Well, here’s a boat that’s bigger than yours!” SMACK!

Or, “Fuck your measly pair of fucking queens. Here’s a guy playing K2 off who just flopped a set of deuces. Lick my fucking boot, bitch!” THWACK!

Sometimes I try to fight back. But I can never bring myself to do to her what she does to me. I love her too much. My friends and family tell me to leave her. People like her don’t change, they say. Poker will keep taking and taking from you. She will never give anything back. She’ll destroy you.

I have left her before, you understand. I’ve packed my bags more times than I can count. I’ve stood at the doorway trembling with righteous anger, vowing that this time, I meant it. She always just laughs that bitterly cynical laugh of hers and blows more smoke in my face. You’ll be back, she says. You won’t last five minutes without me. I’m all you got, baby. And when you come crawling back, I’ll fucking take you in. You know why? Because you amuse me.

And so it goes. I come crawling back every time. I keep hoping, you see, that I can change her. If I’m just a little nicer to her. if I just work that much harder to please her. On poker, I’ve spent a lifetime of “ifs.” I can’t leave her, and I can’t change her. And therein lies the rub: exactly how much abuse can a man take before he ceases to be a man?

***
What prompted the above diatribe is the 5th anniversary of our Home Game. Dr. Pauly (who is a great guy and without a doubt the most prolific motherfucker I’ve ever encountered) recently wrote up the full story in fine fashion. I can’t top his account, but I can add to it a little of my own history and perspective.

Five years ago, four Las Vegas veterans— Iggy, Huggy Bear, GMoney and me—launched a home poker game. The story of the Infamous Pinochle Game has been recounted elsewhere, so I won’t repeat it here. Suffice it to say that over the proceeding five years, the Home Game has grown in both stature and reputation, primarily thanks to the burgeoning fame of Iggy the Blogfather, who is to the poker blogging community what Timothy Leary was to the counterculture movement— simultaneously its biggest cheerleader and its most enthusiastic participant.

Two weeks ago we had a visit from the esteemed Dr. Pauly and Snailtrax, who had come to Cincinnati in the midst of a barnstorming trip to the Midwest to take in the Trey Anastasio show at the Taft Theater. GMoney and I hooked up with these two Internet celebrities at the Trey show, where we enjoyed some fine balls-out rock and roll (including a cover of Led Zepplin’s In the Light that quite simply brought the house down), and I enjoyed about six Jack and Cokes, some ocelot earlobes and some wolf nipple chips.

The next day, Sunday, we gathered at the Raddison Hotel in Covington, KY (where, coincidentally, my wife and I spent our wedding night— meaning I spent it unconscious and she spent it sore as hell at me) for the anniversary game. Huggy Bear rented a bitchin’ suite and paid off the bellmen and housekeepers, so we could play undisturbed for a good nine hours or so. Some of Iggy’s and Pauly’s poker blogging buddies were there, as well as Home Game regulars T-Dub and the Sheriff. We all cashed in and started to deal the cards.

All was well until the Sheriff arrived late. And he didn’t come alone—he brought his father. I won’t attempt to guess Father Sheriff’s age for fear of insulting him, but let’s just say that he needed help seeing the flop. How cute, we all thought. It’s always fun to have an oldster at the table. Let’s all go easy on the old guy, shall we? We want him to have a good time.

Now of all the four founding fathers of the home game, I’m far and away the worst player. Iggy plays professionally— that’s all you need to know. Our Home Game takes money out of his pocket because he’s going easy on us instead of clubbing the baby seals online or at Caesar’s Indiana. Huggy is the Rock; he has the discipline to lay down hands that I will ride all the way over the cliff. GMoney plays fast and wild, but he’s the craftiest player at the table.

And me? As I said, I am poker’s bitch.

But back to the old man. I sat on his right, which proved to be a bad move on my part. Old Spice played nearly every hand. If he was in the hand, he was raising. There I am, folding 30 hands in a row, tossing aside every 9-4 offsuit as if it were a used syringe. Finally I get the right hand in the right position, and I raise the blinds. You can bet your ass that Old Spice was raising behind me. He played so loose that no one at the table could put him on a hand. If he was in the pot, he could have anything. The Hilton Sisters, a gut-shot draw, a set or Ace high— who the fuck knew?

So the game went as the game usually goes for me— more abuse from the Bitch. She bleeds me slowly. I pay the blinds for four or five orbits. I play a hand, don’t hit the flop and muck to any bet. Or the flop hits me in the face, and only after I’m out $20 do I learn that it hit someone else in the face even harder. The pots I scoop are generally small and serve only to prolong my agony.

But there comes a time in any poker game when you have to take your shot. You’re supposed to get your money in the pot when you have the best of it, right? I’m looking at 4-5 of hearts in late position. A few players call the flop, as do I.

The flop hits me in the face to the tune of AKQ of hearts. Bliss! Nirvana! The nut fucking flush!

Post-flop, it’s GMoney, Old Spice and me. GMoney fires out a $15 bet. I immediately call. Problem is, Old Spice calls too. I figure I’m looking at a set from GMoney and two pair or Aces from the old man. My flush, I am confident, is rock solid.

Then the board pairs aces. Now at this point, a prudent man would have thought very hard before calling GMoney’s bet. Now I’m looking at a possible boat. But I have been hemorrhaging chips for seven hours straight. I’m short-stacked as it is. It’s never going to get any better than this, I thought. After the river turns up a blank, I throw caution to the wind.

“Fuck it,” I said. “I’m all in.”

Old Spice promptly calls. I’m fuzzy on this point, but I think GMoney got out at this point, figuring that he was beat. That left Old Spice and me to flip our cards over. Old Spice flips over two hearts.

One of the reasons why I’m a bad poker player is that I’m often fuzzy on the odds. Iggy tells me that if you flop a flush, the odds are 35 to 1 against another player also holding a flush. Now not only did Old Spice beat those odds, but he held an 8 of hearts in his hand. I held, you’ll recall, 4-5.

Not understanding what had just happened to me, I was resigned to a chopped pot. What the hell, I thought. Better than a sharp stick up your ass. But then Huggy chimed in.

“He’s got the eight,” Huggy said of the old man. “He takes the whole pot.”

The whole $100 pot. The pot that should have been mine. I had to sit there, humiliation dripping from my face like warm piss, and watch the old codger rake it in.

We often say around the table that GMoney is the most emotional poker player of the lot. When G has a bad night, everyone knows it. But in my own quiet way, I’m just as emotional as G, if not more so. The best you can say about me is that I hide it better. But when I watched Old Spice scoop my pot, I was filled with apoplectic rage. I wanted to turn the fucking table over. I wanted to set the hotel suite on fire. But table etiquette required me to take it like a man.

Still, I’m sure every player in the room could tell that I was on major tilt as I bid my farewells. The boys tried to get me to rebuy and sit in for a while longer. But there was no way in hell I could have played another hand of poker that night. The bitch had not only smacked me around, she’d put out her cigarettes on my tongue, tied me to the bed and attached jumper cables to my nuts. She’d worked me over good this time. No hiding these bruises behind sunglasses and a turtleneck.

The only solace I could take from the night was learning after the fact that Old Spice had busted out a few other players and had cashed out over $300. None of us, I can guarantee you, will ever take him for granted again.

So where I come to, after this very long and pathetic tale, is that I have reached a crossroads in my relationship with poker. I can’t go on like this any longer. I’m faced with a choice: either to break down my game completely and reinvent myself as a poker player, or walk away from the game forever.

They say that the odds against truly changing your adult personality— of overcoming your demons, if you will— are about nine to one. But if I am ever again to sit down at a poker table, that’s the challenge I face. Poker is such a personality-driven game that changing your style of play literally requires you to change who you are. You have to stop being a baby and put on your big-boy pants. But if it were easy to do, then the world would be filled with great poker players.

I can’t change poker. That bitch is who she is, and she will always do her best to destroy me. I’m the one who has to change. God help me.

8 Comments:

At 9:33 AM, Blogger Dr. Pauly said...

Great recap.

Kill the bitch.

 
At 9:35 AM, Blogger monkey said...

Nice, I am also a poker bitch. Never heard it so eloquently put. At least my last $100 took 996 hands to lose.

 
At 9:58 AM, Blogger Daddy said...

Great fucking post.

 
At 3:03 PM, Blogger TenMile said...

Great.

By the way, I saw her today. Wearing Red, mini-short, backless.

Man, you're lucky.

 
At 3:34 PM, Blogger Pokerwolf said...

Awesome fucking post.

You're already on your way by admitting you need to change, dude.

Rock the fuck on.

 
At 5:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe I had a visit from your friend last night...gave me big slick to bet and raise with preflop and then gave the big blind the wisdom to call me with unsuited 45...you can be sure the ace 2 3 flop took a hunk out of my hide...but at least she rubbed it in by giving me pocket aces in big blind twice with all folds before I even had a chance to bet it once.

 
At 5:30 PM, Anonymous Maudie said...

Find her g-spot. You'll cash every time.... 8^)...

 
At 9:00 PM, Anonymous David said...

Great work..expressing your emotions in the poker world is good therapy...I may have had to boil old gramps in acid and skull f*ck him.

Care if I copy it and put my own twist to it? sofree77@hotmail.com.

 

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