Wednesday, May 18, 2005

My favorite part of the Vegas trip (aside from spending time with friends blah blah blah) was playing in a poker tournament. I learned a little bit about poker and ...cue the cheesy music....a little bit about myself.

Poker is both a game that I should be good at and a game that I should be terrible at. I should be good at it because I'm a even-keeled guy guy who is capable of calculating odds. I should be terrible at poker because it requires being able to read your opponents and I SUCK at reading people. I was eager to play in a real poker tournament and see how it all turned out.

So, on Saturday at noon, I sat down at a poker table at the lovely Rio casino for their daily Texas Hold 'Em No Limit tournament. I plunked down my $40 and was given $1500 in funny-money chips. About 100 other people did the same, as did The Dentist, to whom I had just spent the previous 90 minutes teaching the non-subtleties of the game.

I was hoping there would be a bunch of bluffers at my table, because my poker book recommends a conservative approach against them. That's what I'm most comfortable with. If they're all very conservative, then I'm supposed to bluff aggressively, which I suck at. So, my strategy was to take advantage of the idiots and the bluffers and then just get lucky after that. Brilliant!

After a few hands, I was able to make some generalizations about other players at the table. Out of my 9 opponents, only one of them seemed to be a bluffer. The rest of them seemed to be playing competently and conservatively. AAAAAAAH! Where were the I'll-call-anything morons? Things looked grim.

One guy at the table was the unintentional comic relief. He was a big frat-boy type who kept yammering incessantly. He failed to realize that when you start a story by saying, "Do you want to hear the funniest poker story ever?", not only will my answer be "No!", but even if your story is the 2nd funniest poker story of all time, you've still disappointed your audience. Also, his idea was witty repartee was to say, "And that's why I stay home and jerk off." Dude! Too Much Information!

His big move was to stare at everyone involved in the pot before deciding what to do with his cards each time. At one point when he and I were contesting a pot, he tried to stare me down and I gave him a big stage wink. Next round he stared at me again, so I upped the ante by giving him the stage wink AND a big cheesy smile. At the end of the hand he smiled at me and said, "I'm your huckleberry." I wasn't sure what this meant, but I was scared that I just made a date.

After an hour of play, I had already bought another $1500 worth of funny-money chips for $40 (which everyone did) and I had managed to lose almost all of it. I was down to about $400. The one bluffer was long-gone, so it was me and a bunch of decent players who had more chips than me. The technical term for this situation is "crap". There was a break at the one-hour mark, so I went over to chat with The Dentist who had been playing at another table.

Within a minute, the frat boy descended upon us. We had the most bizarre conversation I've had in a long time.

Frat Boy: (pointing at me) I want YOU to represent the table!
Me: Huh?
Frat Boy: (a faint whiff of booze coming from his mouth) I want you to start representing the table!
Me: Uh, I have no idea what you're asking me to do.
Frat Boy: Look, when Internet Boy has 9's or less, he folds. When he has Jacks or better, he raises! That's all you need to know.

I puzzled this statement for a minute and then remembered that he had referred to the guy to the left of me as Internet Boy during the game at one point. I don't know why that guy got to be Internet Boy instead of me, but it didn't seem wise to try and claim the title at this point in time.

Me: Ok.
Frat Boy: Got that? 9's or less and he folds. Jacks or better and he raises! So, push him around!
Me: I've only got $400 at this point, I'm not pushing anyone around...
Frat Boy: NO! I don't want to hear that. 9's or less and he folds! Just do it!

This advice seemed about as good as his breath. Regardless I recognized that he was A Crazy Man and I needed to just start agreeing with him to make him go away.

Me: (crossing my arms in front of me) Okay!
Frat Boy: You take care of your half of the table and I'll take care of mine!
Me: Alrighty! I'll take care of mine.
FratBoy: You know, when your arms are crossed it means that you're unapproachable:
Frat Boy: I don't give a shit.
Me: Lucky me.
Frat Boy: Look, just take care of your half of the table and I'll take care of mine. Then I'll see you at the FINAL TABLE! (puts out his fist so that I can give him some sort of male-bonding-gone-awry fist-punch)
Me: Uh (awkwardly raising my fist as though I had never made one before), ok.
Frat Boy: I can GUARANTEE you that I'll be there!

And then, having felt the silky touch of my dainty knuckles, he left. I debriefed with The Dentist and we agreed that was the previous minute or two had made zero sense whatsoever.

I went back to my table and promptly got dealt a King and a Jack. Given that I had very few chips it made sense to gamble on this hand. I made my move and declared "All In". Internet Boy on my left promptly folded as did almost everyone else. One guy called my bet and I ended up beating his hand. I had doubled up to $800. Frat Boy caught my eye and gave me a "I told you so!" smile. I refrained from informing him that I wasn't acting on his advice or trying to advance our imaginary partnership.

I went all-in again two hands later and won that one too. Frat Boy raised an eyebrow at me knowingly. I said, "Gee, I guess he had 9's or less."

"Shhh! Don't talk about it!" Frat Boy whispered angrily across the table. Super, not only did Frat Boy think that I was on his team, he thought I was a crummy member of it. Good god.

After another win or two, I did claw my way back to respectibility. At one point, at the two-hour mark in the tournament, I had a Queen and a Jack, and the flop (three cards that are shared by all players) turned out to be a Jack, 10 and 3. It was very likely that I had the best hand, and the only other player in the pot was a recent addition to our table who had been bluffing a lot. He made a big bet and I went all in on his ass. He called my bet and we flipped our cards. He was holding a 10 and 7.

So, I was had a pair of Jacks to his pair of 10s. The dealer flipped the next card and it was a 6. I'm still winning. The final card came up and it was a....10! That gave Mr. Bluffer three 10s, beating my pair of Jacks.

Doh! And I'm out of the tournament.

The Dentist had also gotten knocked out, so we made our exit. We did, however, stop back by the poker room a few hours later to see if Frat Boy had made it to the final table. Pleasingly, I noted he had not.

Now, flash forward to Sunday night.

I'm back in San Francisco, and the wife and I are out for Date Night, having deposited our child in the care of her aunt. We went to go see Sin City, which I enjoyed, but was easily the most violent and gory movie I had seen in a while.

Three-quarters of the way through the movie, a couple comes into the theater carrying their small daughter, who looked to be between one and two years old. They came over to sit next to me. I stared at them aghast and said, "A baby!?!", stunned that they would bring a toddler into an obviously gory movie. They ignored me and sat down.

I immediately felt aggressive, dismayed at their bad parenting and annoyed by the rudeness of bothering the rest of us with a soon-to-be-whining small child. Without thinking, I became territorial and took control of the armrest. The father made a timid play for it, but I stood firm.

This is EXTREMELY bizarre behavior for me. I NEVER confront strangers. In fact, I never say anything to people in a movie theater unless they're part of the 2% of society that I can successfully beat up (essentially just small children). Somehow, it felt natural despite the fact he was among the small 98% of people who could kick my ass.

I turned towards the man and stared at him. After a few seconds, I could see him trying to check me out in his peripheral vision. I kept staring and loudly said, "YOU CAN'T BRING A BABY TO THIS MOVIE." The man ignored me a for a while longer, but then his kid started whining, as you'd expect from a small child in an unpleasant movie.

With me staring, and the kid whining, the man couldn't take the heat. He stood up with his kid and moved to the front row, leaving his wife in our row. After a couple minutes there, his kid started to sing "Daaaa-ddy. Daaa-ddy. Daaa-ddy" fairly insistently and the whole theater could hear. After about 30 seconds of this, he got up, signaled to his wife, and they both left.


Granted, the guy probably left more because he couldn't shut up his kid rather than being purely intimidated by my show of manliness, but clearly I had applied some pressure here. I was all up in his bizness!

So, after he leaves, I'm left wondering why I chose this particular moment in life to confront a stranger. Why him? I'd like to think it's because I was so concerned about the emotional health of his small child, but I think a truer reason was that I had just spent two hours the previous day trying to be aggressive to strangers. Poker had been training me to do this sort of thing. However, if that guy had turned to me and yelled "Shut up, bitch!" I probably would have meekly turned towards the movie, or perhaps left the theater, or maybe just wept a bit. But that didn't happen. I bluffed the guy. I was strangely comfortable being aggressive to someone I didn't know.

Thanks, poker! I'm now more of an asshole and I have you to thank.

No comments: