Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Return of Pokerbluegill

I knew Greg's game this week would challenge me because I would go into it with very little rest. It would have been tiring enough to go into the city for an 8 AM eye doctor's appointment, but I woke up at 2 AM worrying about what my eye infection might be.

I then had a few hours of what my commanding officer, fighter pilot Captain Rennsler (fresh out of doing bomb raids in Vietnam) at Kincheloe Air Force Base called "stare time."

Along with remembering poor Janice Newkirk's early death from rare eye cancer, and thinking about our three friends now struggling with some form of cancer, I worried about leaking windows, Little Grey squirrel who may or may not be living in the upstairs couch, and even the struggles and terrible fates of some of the characters in Water For Elephants, the novel I just finished.

And I did not sleep.

Then sometime after 5 thirty I did doze off because the alarm clock woke me at seven.
I hear an alarm perhaps a half dozen times a year, and then rarely in the early morning darkness with just enough time to shower and then a dash into rush hour traffic.

The eye exam proved my irritation to be nothing but a localized infection. More hot packing and some antibiotics cream should do the trick.

I had a fine morning walking the leaf covered sidewalks in Albany Pine Hills and infusing myself in crowds of young people on the Saint Rose Campus where I read the New York Times and bits of 19th century American literature.


Peter and I had a fine lunch. I was a bit off my diet, and the rich dishes of the Pakistani buffet (across from the police station where Madison and Western meet) was such a treat.

It had been a great morning, but at noon I felt my energy drain away. I was ready for a nap, but it was time for poker. This is not a good thing.

At Greg's I explained that I would be slow and everyone said, " That's fine." and "No problem" until I really was a bit slow, and then they hurried me along with prompts to play or post a blind or check my cards, and so I got confused and more jittery.
They did not do it on purpose to throw me off my game (although perhaps they will next time after reading all this) They did it simply to keep the fast paced play going, but still it was disconcerting.

Luckily, late in life, I have discovered coffee, an insidious drug, but one that keeps naps away.

It was a full table. Silver took an afternoon off work and made a rare appearance; most of the regulars were all there: Bruce, Phil, Greg, Peter, and me.

It was a treat to have Silver dealing for everyone and others doing the shuffling. That took away two tasks. While I don't much notice the arthritis anymore, I do have to concentrate to shuffle cards or my stiffened finger gets in the way. If I let the automatic part of my brain take over, it assumes the fingers will work a certain way and when they don't oblige, before I know it, cards are scattered everywhere. Relieved of that task, I can concentrate solely on the poker.

Greg was not playing his usual loose, aggressive game.
So I assumed his role.
I bet my good cards aggressively, but the flops caused them to look more like recent American bank mortgages.
I bet some of my bad cards aggressively to steal a few pots, and always there was one stubborn person who did not believe me, who seemed to know I had taken a risky mortgage and that I could not meet the balloon payments. So I was called down into defeat.

Soon I was low chip guy with multiple buy-ins.
And I was still tired.

I had consumed an entire thermos of the coffee we had bought in Hawaii, and it was strong and good and soon it began to work.

Well, better late than never.

Yet even awake, I lost.

Coffee is fine for staying awake, but it leaves me jittery. So does losing with lousy flop after lousy flop after lousy flop forcing me to toss away pots I had built.

Greg started to rake in chips and reach for more racks.

I could see he was aggressive only rarely, probably only with his good cards, but I could not do anything about it. The others still remembered his bluffs of other games and paid him well.

Bruce has radically improved his game and shifted his style, so that he is making good money from the improvement. His would be the first of a one-two punch to take Bill out. His Ace-King beat Bill's Ace-Queen. Then Greg outdrew Bill for the rest of his chips, and Bill quietly called it a day.

Peter was smuckered from the get go and all afternoon. I helped by staking him, but it did not improve his winnings. He was often stuck with second best cards. The worst was flopping a straight, going all in, managing to avoid Silver's spade flush river draw only to have Greg with two pair, 8's and 10's, draw an 8 on the river and make the winning full house.

Everyone accumulated chips, but, as always, Greg accumulated more of them, in spite of the fact that this normally aggressive betting machine was letting us all limp into flops unpressured.

I just relaxed into the inevitable abyss, while the coffee slowly woke me up.

I drank an entire thermos and called for another.
Greg tried to talk me out of the second thermos. He wanted to conserve on the coffee. He did not think I would drink an entire second thermos, and he wanted some coffee to enjoy the rest of the week.
Now, I had brought the coffee, so it was an odd conservation argument. But that is what makes Greg the Pokermaster, his ability to leverage what isn't his.

At my last buy in I had $90 invested. This is an unconscionable amount in our little game. $90 should be enough money to buy in for three weeks and lose. I had lost it all in one rather short afternoon, and everyone was heading home.

"Would you like to re-buy for $10 and play a while?" Greg asked.
He had three racks of chips.
I had half a rack.

"I'll just play this off and head home," I answered, knowing that I was playing uphill against the larger chip stack, still tired and very jittery.

So we started.

There were three turning points I remember.

One was a mind game. I did not do it on purpose, but I will if I can in the future.

Greg was commenting on how Bill and Silver just head home when they lose a pile of chips.
"You and I are the only ones who have such passion for the game that we stay no matter what," he remarked.

Greg and I have this conversation often. I stress the wisdom of not trying to win an uphill battle with just twenty chips against a hundred. Greg asserts that he loves to come up from behind. To me his claim reminds me of a millionaire Republican calling for the poor to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. I remind him that he is never in a position of having to win from far, far behind.
"You can't really talk about coming up from nothing because you are never the low chip person."

The very next hand Greg looses almost all of the rest of his third rack to me, and he looks at the loss and says , "I probably should quit for the day."

I go for his jugular.

"You are Soooooooo full of bullshit! A minute ago you were talking about how much fun it is to come from behind, and now you want to quit rather than risk your remaining two trays of chips! Unbelievable!!"

And it works just fine. He is insulted and stubborn, so he keeps playing.
That is his biggest mistake of the day.
I wish I could claim that my taunting was a planned strategy, but I just stumbled into his stubborn ego. In fact, somehow Gregg has heard me call him a "piece of shit," or pretends he has heard that. I have not said that at all, but when I see how determined it makes him, I file the insult away so I can use it another day.

And I see more clearly how mental sparring is part of this game.
I have him. He is not on tilt, but he is determined now to wipe me out and that is the next best thing because we will play now until one of us wins it all. I have $90 invested and he has $20, but with over $100 still in front of him, his $20 investment does not seem as real as the three stacks of chips he had when we started out head to head battle.

As more chips dwindle, so does his confidence. He gets scared, and then I really have him.

I'm fully awake. I'm flying with the coffee.
And finally I get cards. Once I get pocket aces twice in a row. Greg folds healthy pots, but I show him the aces anyway each time. It is unnerving to see pocket aces twice in a row when playing head to head.

Once I go all-in with just a pair of 8's and a nine kicker and Greg folds his pocket jacks. I show him my bluff with, "Aw gee, all I had was a pair of eights."
"You outplayed me!!" he shouts, and what he means is I out "Gregged" him, getting him to fold when I had anything but the best hand.
Showing those cards costs me a pot later when I try a similar bluff, but it also worked to unnerve him more and set him on a stubborn edge.

However, it takes a long while for me to make any progress, and I am up and down a lot.

At one point I flop two pair (8-10) and push the hand only to have him with a straight on the turn. I am all-in nad our cards are up, so I am ready to go home, when the river brings me my full house 8, the same full house that Greg used to wipe out Peter's straight earlier in the day along with most of Pete's accumulated chips.
Ahhhhhhh....Hill Boy justice.

So I have money to play with and I am awake. I work hard at patience. I remember The Tao of Poker and remind myself of how often at this stage of the game I would get too loose, get too bored shuffling and shuffling and waiting and waiting, and make bad loose plays.

I wait.

Soon I grind it to a place where for the first time in hours I have more chips than Gregg does.
Now I just need one good hand.
That is the advantage of being even chipped.
Low chipped I would need three or four good hands without a loss to win everything. Even chipped, just one lucky break will do it.
Gregg comes out strong after one flop when I have an inside straight draw K-Q. I put him on a bluff. That is a mistake. He holds two pair (A-10) and he has me beat easily. The turn gives me a pair of kings and has me pot committed, so I call Greg's value bet thinking it is more bluff. The river gives me the jack for the nut straight.
I go all-in.
Gregg thinks a while.
He studies my lack of smile.
Perhaps he remembers laying down the pocket jacks earlier to my pair of eights. He puts me on a bluff, calls the bet, and the game is over.

I have all the chips!!!
I have all the money!!!!

My huge buy in reduces the amount of my winnings, but they cover what I lost last week as well. More important, this breaks a long losing streak in poker for me lately. And of quintessential importance, I have taken the Pokermaster down!! Me, my cards, and his stubborn ego.

Ahhh.... the joy of it!!!!!!!!!!

I have a long time to enjoy it too, because even after I drive home, the coffee does not let me sleep for hours and hours. Elizabeth holds me, and still I don't sleep, just listen to her snoring in my ear and wiggle my feet, trying not to review again how characters in the last novel died.

It is a rotten feeling.

Tea wakes me up to a mellow awake sense of calm reflection; coffee wires me into agitated jitters.
Alcohol soothes me or makes me talkative and a bit silly; coffee puts me on an anxiety edge.

So for the second night in a row, sleep eludes me for a long, long while.

But that has passed now, and I've slept a few hours and will nap more today. It will be a fine day. I have defeated the threats of eye infection and beaten the poker master all in the same day. And I have indulged and delighted in a bit of urban autumn with fine flashbacks to younger days. But those reflections are a topic for another blog:



Dear Dewey,
Having had 14 hours to sleep on, dream about and reflect upon the loss of my three story home -- I have decided that our head to head play after yesterday's game and your drubbing of me was
I hope you turn "my" money into a fortune at your next games.


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