Thursday, January 12, 2006

The Big Game

We both knew the deal but the backer wanted to get everything out in the open.

“This is not a loan.”

“I know”

“It’s not a gift.”

“I know that, too.”

“If you lose it, I’m out of luck, but, if you do well, I’d like to get half.”

‘That’s the way it works. Thanks for the help.”

“Do good.”


I received the phone call on the way to the Tuesday night game. There were going to be some spots open at a game on Wednesday I’d been contemplating on playing for the last few months. The backer had been keeping his eyes open for me, letting me know how the table was running. He was getting his information from an old running buddy we’ll call the Rock who played every week The information was prime. No “some guy told me” stuff here. The Rock was a player, telling it like it was with no embellishment. An old pal with mercenary tendencies. No checks, no gimmies, no quarter. It was a game I needed to play. A game good for a player with patience.

The first detail knocked me right out. Minimum buy-in $800. I had been expecting a number a little closer to $300. The live bankroll had been sitting pretty a month ago but, with the holidays, poor family health, and a sketchy money order I am still trying to get cashed, the box was a lot easier to pick up off the closet floor these days. “Well, the thing is, the swabs have been sick and I’ve had to use my bankroll for co-pays and Gatorade and everything else that goes along with a bacterial invasion.” I wanted to play but I couldn’t drain my roll completely and then try to explain to the First Mate why I needed to delay the check to the power company for a few days. “Don’t worry, honey. If it gets below freezing, they won’t turn off the heat if we tell them we have kids.” I sighed and told the backer to check on it for next week as I thought I’d be ready to go by then. There was that heartbeat of silence that speaks so clearly, then

“How much do you need?”

“I can swing half.”

“I can get you all of it if you want.”

The swabs are still scurvy ridden, we have more appointments set up, the electric bill actually does need paying. I took the whole thing. That’s right, I took the game for the worst reason of all. I really needed the money.


The next day, I walked into the office after an errand run and the backer was sitting in the lobby, glass of water perched in his hand. “I would have been here when I said, but I was just able to get out of bed with this damn flu.”

“It’s going around.”

“Well, it beating me down right now. Here you go.”

He slipped me a bank envelope, thick with bullets. I didn’t even lift the flap.

“It’s the whole thing,” he said for no good reason other than to keep things perfectly clear.

“I appreciate it. Any info you can give me?”

“I don’t know anything else about the game. Talk to the Rock when you get there. He’ll give you a heads-up on anybody you need to watch out for. He’s not going to hold your hand or roll over for you, but he’ll make sure you get treated right.”

“That’s all I can ask for.”

“You’ll be alright.”

“Well, if not, I’ll know within fifteen minutes, stand up, say ‘Good night, fellas. Thanks for the game,’ and bring whatever I have left straight to you.”

Again, “You’ll be alright.”


Every game has its quirks. In our home game, we let you re-raise a quarter even if someone has already raised a dollar. It keeps the stakes manageable. It helps keep a friendly game friendly. The Rock clued me to the Big Game's quirks in when I got there, thirty minutes after what I was told was the start time but thirty minutes before we actually put cards in the air. The game was dealer’s choice. They dealt O8 most often, a little HE, and some stud. He showed me a criss-cross game I had played a version of in G-Vegas, demonstrated a hi-lo, five card stud game with a buy, and one or two others we never got around to playing. Every once in a while, he said, somebody would break out a wild card game, usually when some stacks were getting short and players were desperate to catch up. Each game’s stakes were set by the dealer who would throw out the first, blind bet on the deal. If it was a red, it was 10/20. A white and it would be 20/40. Near the end of the night, someone would be sure to toss out one of each to make it 30/60. You had to match the dealer’s bet to stay in after the cards were dealt and you could “kill” raises if you said “Kill” when you called. A combination of three raises and/or “Kill” calls capped the betting at the last amount. I was half in my element, some familiar games with some unfamiliar stakes. I was a bull shark who had wandered into a fresh water estuary and was floundering around, looking for a way out. Well, sometimes, bull sharks stay in fresh water a bit longer than they might have envisioned because they stumble onto lunch. An opportunity arises and they are killing and eating machines. What do you expect them to do? Sometimes, bull sharks eat fish with funny shapes. Yes, they really do.

I realized I was going to be alright early in. We settled into eight at the table within an hour of starting. There were two professional types, three “builder” types with the crinkly skin that comes with leaning on the hood of your truck in the Carolina sun watching a crew frame a house or put the roof on a convenience store, one of indeterminate type, and two older gentlemen, one the Rock who played every fourth or fifth hand and got stated respect when he raised, and the other, who got no respect when he raised as he played every hand but got no more appreciable action than the Rock because the table was calling everything no matter who was doing the raising.

Early in I got one of those, “Well. I don’t know you so I’ll have to look you up” comments that we tight boxes love to hear. It means we’ll be getting looked up all night long. People who call to see what kind of player you are don’t care what kind of player you are. They want to see your cards because they think there is a chance that they can beat you. It doesn’t matter that you bet when the K came. It doesn’t matter that you raised when another K came. It only matters that they have a Q and IT MIGHT BE GOOD. He was actually ahead of me once when I was in hand. We both had an A and his kicker dominated mine until mine hit the river. “You bet with that shit? And then drew out?” I bet as I’d seen him play any two all night long. I thought I was good the whole way. I was wrong. I was good at the end though, and that got me more action later as I had shown the gall to bet with top-pair, weak kicker in such a game.

I dealt O8 all night as there were no odds to play Hold Em. Everyone called the dealer’s blind bet and a raise was just a reason to hang around to try to make more money. I saw Q7, 79, A2, and 49 win raised pots. In 25 hands or so of HE, I played three, AKo (folded after a flop bet with all low cards), AKs (flopped a K and had two callers to the end), and QQ(turned a Q and check-raised the AT who hit his T on the flop to the end). I figured O8 was the best hand to punish poor starting hand selectors and I scooped a number of big pots playing vanilla poker. I picked up some nice half-pots on 13-33 in-between when I was dealt 13 ½ to start and half the table chased high. I folded a lot, usually because I had poor cards, but sometimes because I had no idea what a good hand was in the game we were playing. I did leave some significant money on the table as I threw away the best low hand once as I did not realize the game we were playing did not have a qualifier, and twice, when I showed down my monsters, not realizing there was another round of betting. “Uhh, thanks for showing me that my crap is actually no good. I fold.” Aaarrrrrgggggg!

It was a table that would drive some people crazy. Players talked about what they threw away, showed what they threw away to each other while others were still playing and said, “What you do with that?” They complained about the luck they were having, the shit they were getting dealt, and the amount some other guy had been losing the last year. I sat there and tried to look innocent, showing my hands with an “Aww, man, I got so lucky again. Ya’ll have that same ‘new guy luck’ we have at my regular game don’t you?” Finally, near the end of the night, someone said, “Damn, you don’t show down anything but winners do you?” I try not to give lessons, I try not to tap the glass, I did not want to disturb this fragile environment as I am a firm believer in the prime directive of Poker Fleet which is Set your phasers on extracting as much money as you can out of the indigenous population as their planet may collapse into a fiery ball of death next week and boy, wouldn’t you feel stupid for not maximizing your profit while you could, but I couldn’t resist my only soft jab of the night. “I show winners because I like to fold my losers.”


I hit the backer’s on the way in this morning. He’d been working all night, like he has been for most nights the last forty-seven years and was reading the morning paper before heading off to bed. I threw the envelope down by his hand. He didn’t make a move to lift the flap.

“How’d you do?”

“Not too bad.”

“How’d you DO?”

“It’s not twice as thick as the one you gave me, but it’s close.”

He just nodded. “You going to play again?”

“If they’ll have me. Nice group of fellas.”

“I’ll look into it for you.”

“I’d appreciate it.”

“Good job, boy.”

“Thanks, Dad. Good night.”


Human Head said...

Fuckin great post.

April said...


Chris Halverson said...

Great story. Nice job.

TeamScottSmith said...

Great post Pirate. And great Dad too.

BadBlood said...

super job pirate, great reading.

What's your dad's number again??? ;)

Falstaff said...

Great story.

Otis said...

holy shit. that ruled.

TripJax said...

That, Sir, was the best read I've had in a while. Thank you.

Gamecock said...

Damn Wes, that was awesome. Nice work.

Daddy said...

Very nicely done.

Drizztdj said...

Excellent post Wes!

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Anonymous said...

Great Story!

Anonymous said...

Awesome read. Gotta check out the rest of the blog now.