TLB and I have, as we have alluded to before, become enthusiastic poker players. I started playing Texas Hold 'Em a few years ago with my brothers, but only those couple times of year that we saw each other. TLB learned how to play when we started going to a weekly game at our friend MSF's house. A half dozen or so of us would get together, throw in $5, and play a little tournament once a week.
Our mentor was a great guy named Phil, a tall, goateed, long-haired man who is like Gandalf the Gray crossed with Chris "Jesus" Ferguson. His son Erik and Erik's wife Kate also played with us, and the three of them were light years ahead of us when TLB and I started playing. They took us under their wings in our weekly matches and helped transform our games from joker poker to somewhat more respectable amateur status.
One of the best parts of the weekly game was Phil and Erik's banter. Calling it trash talking would be like calling Raymond Chandler's novels detective stories. They would jab and spar with each other with enthusiasm and creativity that only a father-son team coule bring. One time, they were heads up against each other, and Erik won the hand in a manner Phil found, shall we say, dubious.
"You fucking clown!" Phil yelled with good natured annoyance.
That phrase has stuck with TLB and I, and we almost always use it when we see poker moves of a dubious nature. Like tonight.
I had, until recently, avoided the siren song of online poker. But having read Dan Harrington's Harrington on Hold 'Em over vacation, I've been eager to practice my lessons in cheapo $1 and $5 tournaments. I also am, most of the time, a gracious poker loser. Luck is part of the game. Sometimes you do the right thing and lose. I realize I have a lot to learn and try to take each loss as a learning experience.
What I can't stand is when someone does something abyssmally stupid and gets away with it -- the poker equivalent of Bush getting elected twice. Tonight, I was playing in a tourney and trying out some new betting strategies. Mostly I was playing tight, waiting for good hands, looking for key moments to beef up my stack and maybe win a little more than my $5 buy in.
At one point, we had a new person come to our table who had twice as many chips as I did. Right away, I got pocket queens -- a very good hand, and in late position, meaning I got to see what everyone was doing before I had to act. A lot of people just called, and I raised like I should. Everyone folded except Mr. Big Stack. This concerned me, because he had enough chips to seem competent and there were a couple hands (aces and kings) that could kill me.
The flop came a seven and two tens, all mixed, meaning the flush was not a real threat. Mr. BS checked, which I thought meant he either had the third 10 and was trapping me, or he didn't hit his cards. I bet about 1/3 of the pot. If he just called, chances are my queens and tens were better than his hand, and I might get more chips out of him.
The thrill of Hold 'Em tournaments comes from these moments. If I just called, I'd be hurting badly and likely get knocked out of the tournament anyway. If I re-reaised again, all in, he might fold a lot of chips to me, or lose a lot if I had a better hand. At this point, given his chips and the ballsy re-raise, I figured he had another ten. But queens and tens seemed pretty good to me, too. Like Leslie Nielson once said, "This is our hill, and these are our beans." I was going to defend my beans. Besides, I wanted to see if I was right.
I re-raised all in. Mr. BS called and turned over...ace nine.
Ace nine! He was, in a word, fucked. He needed an ace to beat me, three possible cards out of the forty-five unaccounted for. I was shocked. What the hell was he doing? How did he get all those chips making dumb moves like that? It was like invading a country that's not making nukes right next to the one that is. Finally, I thought, my studies would pay off.
The next card was an eight. A big smile crept across my face. The last card, the river card, surfaced. An ace.
The agony of Hold 'Em tournaments is watching someone play Russian roulette, get the chamber with the bullet, pull the trigger, and have the bullet bounce off the metal plate in their skull and ricochet into yours.
I sat there, speechless for a moment, as my virtual chips slid over to his table, and my virtual chair went dark. Then I felt it welling up inside me, pulsing, vibrating, ripping my insides apart.
"YOU FUCKING CLOWN!"
Taking a moment to gain my composure, I thought back on the lessons of poker -- what Phil, Erik, Kate, MSF, and Dan Harrington had taught me. That sometimes, the fucking clowns will have their days. They will dance their little clown dances and pull aces out of their butts like the tail end of a trick handkerchief. But most times, they will be trapped inside a VW bug with the other fucking clowns, heading toward a cliff where they will plunge to their deaths because no one can reach the brake.
Of course, losing a $5 poker tourney is not the end of the world. There are much worse things that could happen. And next time, when Mr. BS tries that again, odds are I'll be the one scooping up the virtual chips.
Not to get allegorical or anything, but I thought how this situation resembled the current state of political affairs. The jokers in charge keep going all in, daring anyone to challenge them, even when they're holding nothing. They've gotten away with it for a long time, but now people are starting to call and even raise against them, chipping away at their seemingly insurmountable leads. I bet that in two of the next three Novembers, the more solid hands will hold up, and the get tears painted on their smiling, smirking, ridiculous faces. When it happens, all I'll say is cry me an ace on the river, you fucking clowns.