That’s Poker

Thursday, February 5th, 2004, 12:40 pm

This is the mantra of the grinder. When you get your money in with the best hand and get rivered by a 2-outer, all you can do is shrug your shoulders and say, “That’s poker”.

I heard this phrase twice last night. The first time came during last night’s WPT Commerce Classic, when T.J. Cloutier (no grinder, he) had his jacks cracked when a 7 on the turn gave Paul Phillips trips. As he told Shana Hiatt, “That’s poker. I’m getting a bit sick of saying that over and over again, but…”.

I spoke those exact same words on my last hand playing PL last night. I was down to about $16 and I was dealt AsKs. I raised it up and had 2 callers, and when the flop came A-8-3 I made a teasing $1 bet, a little bait in the water to lure the fish. Sure enough, I got a strike–a $6 re-raise. The second guy called, and I decided to put them to the test and shoved in the rest of my stack. I didn’t put them on trips, and when the first guy folded I thought I’d gobble the pot. But the second guy called, and the turn came another three and the river a five. I had aces and threes with a king kicker. I feared the 3 on the turn, afraid he was crazy enough to call a $16 bet with a three in his hand. I needn’t have worried about the three. It was the five on the river that killed me. He had A-5. Unreal, he called a $16 bet thinking his kicker was good. I just shrugged my shoulders, said, “That’s poker”, and called it a night.

But fear not, dear readers, I still ended up $25 for the night. Just with that hand I would’ve posted a $60 pop. Won a really nice pot holding 3h5h in the big blind. The flop came A-9-4 rainbow, and as the betting was checked around I was saying, how about a deuce? And, voila! A quacker on the turn. I had a weird straight and I hoped someone out there had an ace and felt strong. But I didn’t want to just check it around. I had the feeling there was a big fish waiting to pounce, a guy who fancied himself a shark who just needed a little chum in the water to make him strike. I tossed in a $1.50 bet, a little hunk of bloody tuna to perfume the waters…

Bingo. A $6 raise. A call. A smooth call by yours truly. Another deuce on the river, quack quack. Unless he had quads I felt good. I decided now was not the time for subtlety–I bet $8, hoping they wouldn’t be scared off by the threat of trips and would call. I didn’t want to check and have them check it around, so I threw in what I hoped would seem like a stealing bet.

The one guy folded. The other thought about it…thought about it…thought about it…with 5 seconds left he raised me to $15. I had $25 left and I re-raised him my whole stack. He had me covered by about $10 and he called. What he had I’ll never know, but I raked in about a $65 pot and was glad to have it.

I won another tidy pot holding K-10 offsuit. I saw the flop for fifty cents and the flop showed Q-10-J rainbow. So I had middle pair and a open-end straight draw. I was still removing my socks so I could count my outs when a 9 fell on the turn. Bingo, hello Mr. Straight. But anyone holding a king would have the same straight, and with four people still in it was likely I’d be chopping the pot. But there was also a sucker straight out there, and I hoped someone out there had an 8 and would be willing to contribute. So I tossed in a $5 bet, and the first two guys called. The guy on the button raised it to $20, obviously holding a king…or did he have an eight? I of course went all-in to call, but no one came along for the ride. An ace hit the river, giving me the nut straight, but of course he had the nut straight too, right? Or…could it be…could he actually have been playing the eight…

Turns out I need work reading my opponents. He had QJ. He had 2 pair and, as he typed later, “I was hoping to make a full house”. Was he now! He was willing to bet the pot on a four-outer, with a straight practically on the board. Hell, he had a better chance of making the straight on the board than his full house. My friends, Empire/Party is a barrel full of fish. All you need to do is…shoot.

God, I love talking like I know what the hell I’m doing. Oh well, braggodoccio is one of the joys of playing this game. I remember reading a piece written by Martin Amis about the Karpov-Kasparov chess title match, and Amis asked the reigning British champ (Nigel Short, I think his name was) if he considered chess a sport, an art, a science…what?

And Short said, “It’s a fight. It’s a fight”.

How succinct and how true. Poker is a fight as well. An all-in brawl with ten guys and gals taking swings at each other, fighting dirty, crowing over their victories, plotting revenge after bitter defeats. The big difference between poker and chess, of course, is the presence of those heartless bitches known as Fate and Lady Luck. Phil Hellmuth may well be the best Hold-Em player in the world (he’ll certainly confirm that if you ask him), but he only won the World Series once. Skill in poker is still paramount, but it isn’t absolute, as it is in chess.

I can’t beat Garry Kasparov in chess, unless I brain him with my chair and let his clock run out. I can beat Phil Hellmuth in poker, not because I’m better, but because that’s just the nature of the game. As in Nature with capital N, sometimes the best and brightest and swiftest and strongest get hit by a big rock and don’t survive. Thems the breaks, baby. That’s life. If Charles Darwin had gone to Vegas instead of the Galapagos Islands he could have written a much-more interesting “Theory of Evolution” and not missed one iota of scientific accuracy or import.

OK, I’ve wandered a bit far afield here, and I haven’t even discussed last night’s WPT event. I’ll get to that eventually. And now time for my sandwich and Spaghttios. That’s Lunch.

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