The Signs of Four

Monday, August 30th, 2004, 9:20 pm

A long weekend has come and gone, with much poker filling up the hours. After work Friday I went up to my friend Rico’s lake house for a last summer fling of boating, drinking, and cards. Got up there around 7:30, ate more than my fill of fajitas and Heather’s addictive Spanish rice (I think she puts crystal meth in it or something, I can’t stop eating it), and we retired to the card room for some serious drinking. And poker, some poker too.

Let’s not beat around the bush–I was on fire all night. We played 7 handed the first game, even my friend Matt played instead of wussing it up and just dealing all night. I’d lent Matt my Cloutier and McEvoy book a few weeks ago, so I had to be wary in case he’d absorbed the whole thing and was suddenly a shark in sheep’s clothing, if you’ll pardon my mixing my metaphor.

About five hands in I was dealt pocket aces under the gun. How to play them…I just called, expecting there would be a raise along the way, and I would come over the top. Sure enough, Debbie, sitting on my right, raised it to about $100. Neil and Matt both called. Time to bring out the orange Creamsicle chips. I whacked them back $600, figuring that would be that. Uh, no. One by one they all called, making my aces less than the lock I’d like them to be.

I liked the first card that came on the flop–the ace of clubs. But the next two cards were the deuce and trey of clubs. Ugh. I had to act first, and I went all-in, figuring that even if someone had two clubs I at least had a miracle draw to a full house. Deb folded her pocket 10s, Neil folded…but Matt called, giving me the willies.

He turned over KQ, but only the queen was a club. So, he needed a club, I needed to hold my breath and pray for red cards to come up. The turn card was a spade, which I noticed right away because the spade filled the entire middle of the card. Yes, the case ace popped up and gave me quads and the hand. The club on the river merely taunted Matt, whose chips were soon assimilated into my own stack. This was the first time the number four would enter into my whirlwind life.

I soon knocked out Neil, I believe when my straight beat his top two pair. I had the lion’s share of chips and managed to hang on to my stack as we got down to me, Debbie and Scott. I didn’t like the set-up–Scott was to my right, Deb to my left–and they’re married to each other. Not good.

Wish to hell I could remember all the hands we played, but I was on my 9th beer or so and I didn’t take notes. I do recall one hand vividly, because I nearly puked before it ended. In the big blind I was dealt 7-4, and after Scott raised and Debbie called I decided to toss in a few chips and see if I could get lucky. I didn’t–the flop came something like Q-8-2. We call checked, and a jack came on the turn. This time I bet about half the pot, hoping to steal. I have a better chance of stealing a pot from the FBI than Debbie. She called, Scott folded. Another jack came on the river. I had 2 choices–bet, or concede the pot. If I gave up Debbie would probably take over the chip lead. What is it that Stu Unger said, that anyone can fire one shell at a pot, but only the truly great players have the courage to fire two?

I may not be a great player, but I couldn’t concede this hand like a meek little mouse. This time I bet the pot. And Debbie started the staredown. I twisted the bill of my baseball cap so she couldn’t get a good look at me and I stared down at the felt. “You don’t have the jack,” she said, her voice dripping with contempt. I waited for her to count out chips and shove them in the pot, but she didn’t. She thought about it, thought about it, thought about it…I was close to tears. And then she tossed her cards in the muck and I cancelled my “brown alert”.

I now felt comfortable enough to mix it up with Debbie a bit, winning a pot at the river with nothing but ace high when I felt pretty sure she was on a straight draw. I forget how I knocked Debbie out, or maybe Scott did, I forget. Lots of cold beer was sent to its proper conclusion during this game, and heads up with Scott got a bit testy in places. I remember limping with queen-high one hand and knowing he was going all-in. So why the hell limp? I stole a pot from him right back and then I believe won the game when I had A-9 suited and he had A-3.

A good start to the night, which was quickly followed up by another win. I think this time I knocked out Frank with a straight when again I was up against top two pair. I kept getting good cards, kept getting good flops. Poker is really an easy game when you’re getting cards. I don’t think I had as scary a hand in that second game as that one encounter with Debbie, but once again I found myself heads up with Scott. This time the chip stacks were closer to even, but if I recall I won a pretty decent sized pot when I had QJ and flopped a jack as top pair and got Scott to put in a few of those yummy-looking Creamsicles. I stole a blind with Q-10 when he had Q-8, but the very next hand I limped with K-J, he went all-in, and I called him down. He turned over K-3, and when I flopped a jack the issue was no longer in doubt.

It was about midnight now, everyone was fairly well liquored…so let’s play Omaha. Trying to explain Omaha to my friend Ted was a bit difficult, but we got him up to speed and got the cards in the air. Ted was only up for that night, he had a wedding the next day and just wanted to come up and see everyone and drink. So we started playing “drinking” poker, a new variation I don’t think you’ll see in next year’s WSOP. The big blind got to give out 2 drinks, the little blind one, and if you folded you had to drink. The suds, they were a-flowing. Rick has an old jukebox in the card room with all sorts of old 45s, and Debbie always plugs it in and requests the same half-dozen songs. It’s an eclectic mix–Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart”, the Pittsburgh Steeler polka, the “Unicorn” song (you might not know this one if you never went dancing at the ‘Gaff at Penn State), and a few other songs from the seventies. Somehow, Rick’s folks got a copy of Olivia Newton-John singing songs from “Evita”. My friends, until you’ve seen my beefy, powerlifting, 270-pound friend Ted singing along to “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina” with tears in his eyes, you don’t know what the word “cringe” means.

Maybe Ted has excrement where his taste in music should be (he drove me up to the lake once and we listened to the “Titanic” soundtrack on the way up–and he was singing along to the instrumental parts, making me wonder how many times I would bounce along the pavement after I jumped out the window at 70 mph), but he did pick up Omaha rather quickly. I found myself heads up against him, with the majority of the chips piled up in front of him. I went all-in when I hit a measly 8 on a ragged board, but Ted turned over a queen and, come the river, I needed an eight or an ace to stay alive. Lo and behold, another 8 appeared and I was back in business. Ted called me a variety of names I’ve heard thousands of times before, and riled as he was I quickly capitalized with a few tasty wins. I believe I polished him off when I made an awkward straight and Ted called with, once again, top two pair. He called me another nasty name but that was cool. What wasn’t cool was that we hadn’t been playing for money–we’d forgotten to set stakes. “This was a $50 buy-in, right?” I asked, but for some reason no one went along with it.

Closing in on 2AM we decided to play Howard Lederer’s favorite game, Razz. This was not a good idea, even though I won like the first four hands. After about an hour we’d just traded chips back and forth, and with dawn nearly upon us we didn’t think this was the way we wanted to spend the last few hours of darkness. We switched to our old dorm-room game, “Declare”. You get three cards, and you have to announce if you’re in or out. If your in, you can take one card if you like, but if you lose the hand you have to match the pot. Won a decent amount of money in college playing this game, though there were some Ramen noodle days after a rough night.

Again we weren’t playing for money, and if we had I woulda won about $64,000. I had K-Q-7, tossed the seven, and picked up a jack for the straight. Had KJ8, tossed the eight, picked up another king. Had 10-6-3, the last two cards hearts, and drew the ace of hearts. Just sick, totally sick, and the moreso because this was all just for fun. I went to bed a bit concerned that I’d used up a lot of my luck just goofing around, but I did have two huge cashes under my belt, and I slept the sleep of the winner.

Woke up around 10AM feeling only moderately awful. Some Advil along with bacon and eggs and I was raring to go. Not to go out on the lake–to go back to Pittsburgh. Yes, Rick and I were driving back to the ‘Burgh to play in our beach volleyball league’s tournament. I think we finished dead last (well, last among the teams who actually finished the year out) but we’d won our last match (and our first ever in 2 years) and Rico insisted we go back to defend our honor. I thought this was kinda nuts, but what the hell, life’s a rich pageant, and what else was I gonna do, sit on the dock and drink beer?

We drove back through intermittent rain. In Pittsburgh the rain had been more than intermittent–it’d been a deluge. We got JD’s Pub and walked up to the cabana to see how the action was going. It was going good, but it was going soggy–there had been so much rain that the courts looked like the beach does after high tide. Water pooled in the middle of the court, and the sand was getting cement-like. Our game, originally scheduled for 2PM, then pushed back to 3PM, was looking more like 4PM because of the delays. The sun decided now to blare down as it hadn’t all summer, and sitting in the bleachers made me feel like an egg tossed down on a griddle.

The courts are set in a sort of plateau, with steep, woody hills rising on two sides. Perfect for trapping in humidity. I actually skipped the beer and hydrated myself properly. Our whole team assembled and we warmed up on the secondary court. Our opponents were the same team we’d gotten crushed by last Monday, and I didn’t like our chances, especially when they started hammering their warm-up spikes into what can only be called a bog down by the fence. I slipped in some mud and got my shorts all dirty, along with my feet and ankles. It was goddam hot and goddam humid and now I was goddam filthy. It did not bode well for the game.

Let’s see, it took us an hour and 45 minutes to drive back to Pittsburgh, we waited two hours for our game, and we were on the court…30 minutes? Less? They played good and we played our worst match in over a month. We flat-out stunk. True, the other team was superior in every facet of the game, and some facets I probably don’t even know about, but we did not do ourselves proud. We lost 15-1, 15-3–a total of, you guessed it, four points.

Disgusted, disgraced, I hosed off and we set our sights on heading back to the lake. Ted stayed behind to go to a wedding, and our volleyballing Dr. Mark accompanied us for the ride back. We drove up analyzing our play, which could be summed up with one phrase, “We need to get a lot better”. For myself, I need to drop about 50 pounds and increase my vertical leap about six inches. We had a good year, it was fun, we actually won a few games and even a match, but that was a crummy way to end the year. Leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

Which was quickly remedied back at the lake with lots of beer and a vat of chili Neil brought up. Neil must get his crystal meth from the same dealer as Heather because I couldn’t stop eating it. Maybe I need to stop this sort of eating so I can lose those 50 pounds. Maybe, but then was not the time. I got some chili in me, then Kris grilled steaks and we had scalloped potatoes and sweet corn. I had a taste of a frolicy Shirazz Kris brought up, making me wish I’d brought up a bottle myself.

Not that wine would’ve help during the next game we played. We decided against poker, alas, because Kris wanted to join in the fun and she knows less about Hold-Em than, apparently, Matt does. So we decided on the old lake standby–a friendly game of Asshole. If you don’t know the rules of said game, well, basically you try to take tricks as you would in many other card games, but you also try to cheat and trashtalk and basically act like a complete asshole to those who might otherwise be called your closest friends. Great fun.

We had a fantastic game, by which I mean that there was an imminent threat of physical violence by the end. You know you’ve had a truly great game of Asshole when you could, with clear conscience, throw someone you’ve known for 20 years out of a twelfth-story window. Had the lake house had twelve stories it would’ve looked like a Wall Street brokerage house during the Crash of 1929. Neil and Scott, antagonists all night, took a midnight “stroll” down to the dock, and as Mark and I watched a little TV I kept an ear open for a tell-tale SPLASH and then the silence. Neil would return and we’d ask, “Where’s Scott?”

And he’d answer, “Scott who?”, and that would pretty much answer THAT question. But they both came back a bit later, the hatchet buried and a general spirit of bonhomie filling the room, meaning that, once again, a lake weekend would pass without the fun of dredging for Scott’s body.

Alas, the next day it rained nearly all the morn, and we decided to call it a weekend a bit early. The volleyball finals would be played that night, with free food and beer for those who played in the league, so that’s where Rick and I headed as we drove home. My fourth circuit of the turnpike between Pittsburgh and Somerset, that number four again.

At JD’s I probably drank more than four beers. Had a good time, watching the best teams slug it out for the title. These teams were so good it was like watching Moonmen or something who landed in their spaceship to show we pathetic humans how to REALLY play our Earth games.

I toddled home, tired and sedated by beer and food, to play in the Monty Memorial. I should’ve known I was gonna get whacked out early. But then I won a huge pot when I was dealt pocket 7s and, you guessed it, flopped quads. I checked and called to the river, where I again checked, knowing dankhank or doubleas would bet. They both did, and I came over the top all-in and dankhank called with his pocket aces.

Alas, this time quads did not portend eventual victory. I had over $2400, which I quickly pissed away with moronic play, eventually losing my little all when I bluffed at a pot with bottom pair against dankhank and his top pair. That was that for me, though not for Iggy, who channelled good catvibes from Monty to win his own tournament. My own cats provided enough comfort to get me through the night.

So no more poker at the lake for awhile. Haven’t been playing online much lately, and that’s probably going to remain the status quo. But I’ll find lots of poker-related issues to write about, never you fear, and maybe even the occasional non-poker post. Just let my Muse take me wherever she will…but hopefully someplace with a bar.

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2 Responses to “The Signs of Four”

  1. neil Says:

    Great Post – but you can’t leave out Scott’s new nickname for you from the Asshole game – or at least the name for that night anyway. With the light blue shirt and the light blue hat the Poppa Smurf comment was too funny to forget. I will never be able to see a guy in those colors again without chuckling. I guess it’s good I like Duke and hate UNC so I don’t have to worry about that name sticking to me anytime in the future.
    By the way I think we need to play Drinking Hold ‘Em everytime now so I’m not the only one that loses the ability to add my own chips by night’s end.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    About a year ago, my friends and I started playing Drinking Hold’em. While not an original name, beware f you ever find yourself in our vicinity and hear a call for Droker.

    We play much like you, but uses pennies as chips, each indicating 1/24 of a beer (perhaps one drink on average). Whoever rakes the pot can divi up the drinks or assign them en masse. 24 pennies=one can/bottle of beer.

    My last experience in Droker resulted in a very long, very humiliating night (I found myself bluffing against a calling station and it didn’t pan out…at all).

    In Droker, there there be hangovers.


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