A little side action on the lake

Sunday, June 13th, 2004, 9:25 pm

Before I begin this post in earnest, I just watched a bit of the WPT Celebrity event (I usually never watch them because they’re a total waste) and, my God, does Daniel Baldwin look awful. A little like what Robert De Niro would look like after a six-day bender. I remember hearing Baldwin once on Howard Stern’s show (before Clear Channel booted Howard from Pittsburgh’s airwaves) just after Danny had gotten out of rehab, and he’d hired a guy to basically pal around with him all day to make sure he didn’t pick up any old bad habits. He paid the guy sixty grand a year. The question I ask is, what exactly has Daniel Baldwin done in his career that gives him the scratch to dish out $60K to a guy to keep him away from tequila, blow, and worse?

I just played in my first Empire multi-table SNG. The buy-in was five whole bucks, and I went up against 19 of Empire’s finest. And finished dead last. How did that happen? How about flopping the nut flush, luring a guy to his doom, and have him fill in his straight flush on the turn? I had a whole $75 left after that, went all in, and had this one glorious doofus raise all-in, as he’d done two times before. This put me heads up with him, and though the doofus’s pocket nines were better than my Jh8h, I caught a straight on the flop. This would’ve given me about $200 to play with, and with my shortstack mastery I felt I claw my way back into the game. Ah, no. Runner runner clubs and the doofus made his flush. Out, dead last.

Typically a loss like this would have me despondent and making vodka milkshakes. But I had a good weekend at the table this weekend, and for once I mean an actual table, nothing virtual about it. A gang of us went to my buddy Rick’s lake house for a few days of boating, drinking, and no-limit Texas Hold-em. This was the first time I got to use the chips I won in the Grublog Classic in combat, and all agreed that playing with these brightly-colored discs was far better than filthy nickels and tinny dimes. Give me the clatter of clay chips splashing into a pot any day.

The night began with a rather surreal moment. My friend Scott was in Vegas during the World Series and briefly took in the scene at the Horseshoe. He played a little himself and took home a tidy profit–along with a copy of All-In magazine, which he brought along for me.

“That’s it!” I said when I saw Moneymaker’s mug on the cover. “That the magazine I’m in!”

“Wait, you’re IN it?” Scott said.

He didn’t know about my blogging and I opened it up to Hdouble’s article and, voila, there were my words in black-and-white. Pretty cool, I must say. Now I gotta get something published in there. Actually, maybe I could score a full-time job there as a copywriter, as I found oodles of typos in its pages, the most egregious being the misnaming of our Poker Grub as “Poker Grab”. I misspelled a person’s name in a paper I did for a journalism class and got an automatic F. Can’t misspell names, guys.

With our crew more or less gathered, we retired to the card room (yes, the house has a room with a hand-made poker table, green felt included) and kept alive our tradition of playing Asshole for the first few hours. If you don’t know the rules of Asshole…well, lets just say that the game involves lots of drinking and leave it at that. Actually, I’d like to see a “World Asshole Tour” and watch six people drink themselves into oblivion while brutally insulting each other. Have to be on HBO.

Three hours and 17 beers later the game wound down and I found to my delight that several folks wanted to break out those chips and play a little poker. No $1/$2 garbage for these folks, they wanted chips, lots of chips, piles and stacks of green and black and orange! So six of us took $2000 into battle for the massive stakes of $5 apiece.

Since we were all in various stages of inebriation the game was naturally loosey-goosey. Even with several gallons of Yuengling in my belly I knew that if I played just a little bit tighter and a little more aggressively than everyone else I’d have an edge. The blinds started at just $10-$15, so those orange $500 chips got very little work at the beginning. We figured out quickly that we’d be there until dawn playing that low, so we goosed them up every few rounds and soon had ourselves a nice aggressive little game.

Things get a bit hazy here and there. As God is my witness, I know that I won the first game, but I don’t remember how or against who. Beer and exhaustion will do that to you. I may have been up against Scott…but I don’t remember. Shoulda taken notes. The weather Saturday morning wasn’t conducive to boating, so we played again and the outcome was the same, with Mean Gene running rampant. I built up a massive stack before Scott’s friend Neil doubled up on me, and then doubled up again, and then AGAIN, and pretty soon those Creamsicle $500 chips were split evenly between us. I was having the same problem I have online–once I get the chip lead, my aggressiveness fades. I wait for big hands and run away when confronted. Not good power poker.

I won a nice hand when I made a straight on the river and my sizable bet got called, and that gave me some confidence. Playing for fun, and not for much money, still had my nerves frazzled. One of the reasons why I play poker is the intellectual challenge, it lets me prove to myself that, even if my career is in limbo (or freefall, depending on how you wish to look at it), I do have a brain in my head. If I lost to people who, smart as they may be, don’t have my experience and haven’t studied the game as I have, well, I’d be embarassed. And having Neil re-raise me every time I tried to steal his blind had me grinding me teeth.

I have Daniel Negreanu to thank for winning that game. During a segment on the WPT show he appeared on players were asked what their favorite, “lucky” hand is, and Negreanu said his favorite as 10-7 offsuit. That’s what I was dealt, and two sevens appeared on the flop. I called a small bet, and a glorious 10 appeared on the turn. Neil, sensibly sensing weakness, went all-in, but this time I was just trembling with relief. I won the game just in time for the sun to appear and make wakeboarding less a punishment than a pleasure.

Since the boat was filled to capacity I took the jet ski out and tooled around the lake at 40 MPH, shrieking out a rebel yell as I bounced over the nubbly waves. Dinner was chicken marsala with bowtie pasta and salad, made by our friend Ted, the bulkiest chef in Western Pa, and after disposing of that we all went back to the table for another $5 tourney. This time we had 8 players, some a bit less experienced than others. Neil’s wife Tara, for example, who wasn’t quite sure of the ranking of hands. I should’ve known better than fall for THAT particular trick.

This game didn’t go quite so well for me. The night before Scott’s wife Debbie had suffered two terrible beats at my hands, once when the board paired on the river and made the lower of her two pair obsolete. I feared Debbie, because she had one talent the rest of us didn’t have–she could stare us down without busting out laughing. Trying to detect a tell on someone you’ve known for 20 years is made considerably harder when both of you start giggling like loons. Like, I’ve known Mark (and Rick and Scott and Ted and Matt) since high school, or ever earlier than that. I roomed with Mark for 4 years. I can tell when Mark is lying, as can just about everyone can, because he starts grinning when he’s fibbing. But when all of us are drunk and laughing and trying to display our stoniest poker faces, well, there’s so much false information out there that there’s no way to deduce what the hell the other guy (or gal) is holding. Except for Debbie, who stared us down with predatory malice. Even her husband got the treatment, but he probably gets it all the time.

This time Neil busted out early, meaning I didn’t have to worry about him bashing in my skull again. Things got confusing here. Debbie actually came to the table late, and took over Scott’s pile while he took a (much needed) shower. When Rick got tired of dealing (yes, we had full-time dealers for these games, sweet) Ted took over and Scott started playing Ted’s stack. Over this weekend I was reading Anthony Holden’s book “Big Deal” and in it Holden recounts a time when Johnny Chan was hideous to this one dealer, who left the table in tears. Chan is known for abusing dealers, but I don’t think he’d be so rude if Ted was dishing out the cards, unless he wanted his head squeezed to pulp like one of his lucky oranges.

Ted dealt me absolute garbage for about an hour. Neil and Tara were now playing as a team, and gathering a sizable stack. I went up against Scott’s friend Vince once with A-8, only to be up against A-J. I tried again when Vince went all-in and I had him covered by about $600, but when I turned over KQ he showed AJ, and when only garbage appeared on the board I was on the respirator. And then, my final hand. I was dealt K-9 and with the big blind one hand away figured this was the time to make my stand. I pushed in my $600. Scott called. Vince called. Neil and Tara called. “What the fuck?” I gurgled as a nice pile of chips was pushed to the side, leaving room for the remaining players to fight it out. Some big cards on the flop, but no king. Junk on the turn, but a nine appeared on the river, giving me the barest glimmer of life. No one bet, and when I turned over my cards I said, “Anyone beat my nines?”

“Yup,” said Scott, turning over AJ.

“Yes,” said Vince, turning over AQ.

“We have a straight,” Tara and Neil said, turning over AK. I go all-in with king high and end up against three aces with big kickers. Oy vey.

The game went on for about an hour, with Scott (playing Ted’s chips) and Neil and Tara tag-teaming it. I sat and read while they traded chips back and forth, until the dynamic duo finally put Scott out of his misery. Note to self–don’t play poker against husband-and-wife teams. Dangerous.

I got up and made the mistake of taking a shower. Clean at last, wearing clean clothes, sitting in a comfy chair with a good book, I soon found myself headed for dreamland. I only got like 3 hours sleep the night before because the goddam clock in the living room chimes at like 8AM and I was sleeping in the loft above that room. I hope Rick doesn’t read this, ’cause next time I’m up there I’m tearing that clock off the wall and making firewood.

Got out on the jet ski again this morning, and as it was still rather nippy it didn’t look like we’d be going out on the boat. I was gonna get a ride home with Mark, and around 1 he said he’d like to head back. While I enjoy staying at the lake as long as possible, I wasn’t opposed to the idea of getting home early and getting some chores done. We said our goodbyes as Rick took the hardiest folks out for some wakeboarding, and Scott was about to take the jet ski out himself. Then he said, “Hey, you wanna play some Hold-em?”

Did I want to stay and play some poker? Was he kidding? Was Mark kidding when he said he wanted to play too? I of course said yes, and we shanghied Vince and had a little four-way tourney. This time we all put in $20, meaning we were playing for MASSIVE stakes this time. Now was the time for Mean Gene to make his presence known, bossing this table as only I knew how, stealing blinds, check-raising this pigeons to within inches of their lives.

“Coo!!!” Mark said, or at least I thought that’s what he said in his pigeon voice. He may have asked how many chips we should start with. We ended up with $2500, blinds $25-50 to start. And into battle we went.

When the blinds were low I played conservatively, no sense throwing a lot of chips into a sparsely-populated pot. We played for about 45 minutes without anyone making much of a move, so we pushed the blinds up a bit and got some action started. Mark won a few hands and built up his stack, but I took $500 from him when I made a straight on the river. I raised his bet, and he looked at me and said, “You’ve got the 7-8…” but called anyway. I wasn’t winning many pots but I had enough to keep me in good shape.

The funniest hand of the weekend came when I sagely folded two rags. The other three guys were in all the way to the river, when a third spade appeared. Mark bet, and Vince stared to move his cards to the muck. “Possible flush out there,” Scott said rather abstractly, and Vince immediately grabbed his cards back. Vince may not be the most experienced poker player, but he immediately raised it $500. Mark turned a sort of purple color and he said to Scott, “You goddam asshole! What…he was gonna…you…you…asshole!”

Scott was purple too, from laughing, and he tossed his cards in the muck. Mark had to decide whether Vince was making an inspired bluff or if he had the flush. He called, and Vince turned over the K-J of spades.

The game soon turned into the Mark and Scott show. With his chips dwindling Scott developed the annoying habit of raising me all-in anytime I raised. Twice it would’ve cost me about $800 to call and maybe knock him out, and twice I folded. Both were inspired laydowns that Phil Hellmuth could write columns about. I really didn’t want Scott to pick up any chips, because he had the most experience besides me and I figured that, eventually, I’d pick up a huge hand and let him bet into me.

That was the plan with Mark, too, and when I looked down and saw pocket 10s, my favorite hand, I raised it up and Mark and Vince called me. The flop came, I think, 8-9-9. I checked, Mark tossed in an orange $500 chip, and Vince folded. Shit, did he have a nine? I had the overpair…I could definetly see Mark bluffing this, or playing an 8 strong. I called. Junk on the turn, I check, he bets another $500. Double shit. I have only 2 moves here–fold or all-in, because I’m getting close to critical mass now. Call or fold. Should I allow Fate to step in and guide my hand? Pocket 10s have done so well for me over the last 6 months…

I folded. Mark had pocket 3s. I cracked open another beer and chugged it. Sonofabitch tricked me, the bastard. Mark stacked up a mighty stockade of chips and I had a tiny little pile. Bastard.

Vince was soon bounced, leaving it to me and Mark and Scott. We’d been at it for a few hours now, and everyone was back from the boat and surprised to see Mark and I were still around. It was time to start cleaning the house, so we bumped the blinds WAY up and now was the time for me to get lucky.

It started with me getting QQ and having Mark call me. Junk on the flop and I went all-in and won the pot. One lesson I’ve learned from playing online SNGs is that, if you’re trying to hang on and get in the money, the best way to do it is eliminate the other guys yourself, so you get their chips your ownself. I had a few more chips than Scott and went all-in with pocket deuces. He called and turned over J-10. He flopped an open-end straight draw, but he got no help the rest of the way and we were down to two. We were about even, but Mark won a decent pot from me and had probably a 2-1 lead on me before I won a pot myself to get us almost back to even. I had maybe a few hundred more than Mark when I was dealt J-3 and the flop came 5-3-2. Mark might have anything in his hand, but if he didn’t have a five or a pocket pair I was in the lead. We could hear vaccum cleaners humming, so it was time to end this thing.

I pushed my chips forward, and Mark called. He turned over A-10, so my tiny pair had me in the lead. My God, is it stressful watching the dealer burn a card, and then turn it over. Scott turned over an 8, no help, and then turned over a glorious 7, giving me the sweet, sweet victory.

It was a lot of fun, playing live. My concern is that these bastards will catch the poker bug and start reading books and playing online and kicking my ass. Be nice to get a regular live poker game together. Hmm, maybe ask Mark if any of his wealthy, gullible, and overconfident doctor friends have ever watched the WPT…

OK, time to play a quick SNG and to bed to once again admire my blurb in All-In. I’ll be writing something soon about the magazine, and also something about “Big Deal”, one of books in the poker pantheon. But for now, to the tables. Hope I don’t finish dead last again this time.

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2 Responses to “A little side action on the lake”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    “Now was the time for Mean Gene to make his presence known, bossing this table as only I knew how, stealing blings, check-raising this pigeons to within inches of their lives.”

    stealing blings? can’t misspell crucial poker terms, guys.


  2. oy Says:

    Hmmm- Stealing Blings-
    I likes it. Like when someone flashes the bling-bling of AA, trips it, then gets stomped with a flush. Rockets on fire. Abort.

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