Check it at the Door
I’ve been playing at the underground card clubs in New York again, after a slight break following the birth of our daughter, Eden River (yes, someday she will be able to divine the true nature of her daddy’s degenerate ways in the tea leaves of her middle name - but you have to admit it’s a pretty cool name, no matter what lies behind it?).
Along with the birth of our daughter, the other factor in my decreased playing time was for a while the lack of a venue. What happened was that during the first flush of the poker boom, the New York clubs got too popular and too public and became a source of embarrassment for the NYPD. The situation came to a head when a cell phone photo snapped of Yankees star Alex Rodriguez playing $5-$10 no-limit hold’em at the "Broadway" club made the front pages of the local tabloids. It was inevitable that the vice cowboys would then crack down - and they did. They shuttered not only the Broadway club but every other club in town. For a while, if you were among the addicted and the degenerate, things were pretty bleak indeed.
But poker club entrepreneurs are like cockroaches. As soon as one club was shut down, a new one popped up to take its place. In the past, these police crackdowns had usually been short lived. But this time, the cops really had a bee in their bonnet. They seemed intent on permanently ridding New York City of the Great Poker Menace. For several months, you’d go to a brand new place one night, and by the next week it was history.
Eventually, however, the heat lowered, and I’m happy to say that poker in the Big Apple is once again thriving. That’s been very good news for me. I’ve been on an excellent run since the beginning of the year, and I like to think that it hasn’t been all luck, although obviously I’ve avoided the kind of cold streak that can ruin even the best-laid plans.
Last night, as I continued my quest to add to the bankroll that I will take with me on my annual pilgrimage to the World Series of Poker, I managed to book another solid win. At 11 p.m., as I racked up my chips, I found myself $2300 to the good, having played almost error-free poker, bossing the table around and even throwing in a bit of Jamie Gold-type verbal manipulation for good measure. My winnings would have been even greater, save for a bad beat in a hand in which I limped in late position with pocket kings on a $10 straddle, absolutely confident that one of the loosest players at the table, who also happened to be on tilt, would throw in a raise. He did, as predicted, raising $40 more - and, much to my delight, two of the $10 limpers called his raise. When it came back to me, I didn’t feel like messing around. I was happy to take down the close to $200 that was already in the pot, so I raised it $225 more. My on-tilt buddy then did me an even bigger favor: He moved in for $640 more. The two previous callers mucked, I insta-called, and he showed A-Q, saying, "I must be in bad shape." I nodded, but on the turn he spiked his ace, and instead of a $950 profit, I took a $950 hit.
The real reason I mention this is that I subsequently won back from him the money I lost in that hand, and as I was racking up at 11 p.m., he said, "Where are you going? You can’t go!" and he stood up and said, "What are you, a girl? A hit-and-run artist?" I laughed and took it in the light spirit in which it seemed to be intended, but instead of continuing on my way, I suddenly changed my mind and sat back down. Now, I can rationalize this decision by saying that I wanted to keep the fish happy, which is partially true, but I also let my ego come into play. I was not a hit-and-run artist! I was not a girl!
As lame as this sounds, I soon compounded my decision to stay by making an even worse one. A young Asian player joined the game from another table, and took a seat two spots to my left. I had played with him several nights earlier, and though I had managed another good win in the game, he had taken a big hand off me during the course of it, and pretty much outplayed me in the process. I hadn’t forgotten.
Now, in late position, I made a $35 raise with 6-7 suited. He re-raised to $100, and I quickly called. I figured him for a premium hand, big pocket pair, A-K, A-Q, and also figured if I hit the flop right, I could bust him. He had about $1300 in front of him, more than enough to justify a call.
Unfortunately, the flop came 10-6-3 with two diamonds. Not the nutcracker of my dreams, but just the sort of flop that a guy with an ego and a chip on his shoulder (i.e. me) might think he could work with. I checked to my nemesis, who bet $100, a bet I found suspiciously weak. I decided he had two high cards and had missed. I could have been wrong, and there was certainly no shame in folding in this spot. But his bet was almost like a taunt. I’ll make the little girl fold. (Sorry ladies, I know there are many outstanding women players out there, but boys still don’t like it when they’re called little girls). So I called, hoping to hit a seven or another six on the turn, but also thinking that if anything but an ace, king, queen or diamond hit, I’d probably still be good, assuming I had made the correct read. The turn was a non-diamond jack. I checked again, waiting to see what he would do. As I say, I was still of the opinion my sixes might be good. Again he bet $100.
It defied logic. Why would he bet $100? If he had an overpair or had flopped a set of tens, could he really risk a small bet like that with a flush draw out there? It didn’t make any sense, and at the poker table, when things don’t make sense to me, I usually figure that there’s a reason. So I re-raised him $200.
Now, this was perhaps not a terrible play, based on my read, but it was certainly a lousy bet. If I intended to make a raise here, I really needed to make it for more. A $400 raise would have shown I was serious. Two hundred looked more than anything like an idea with insufficient commitment. So when he re-raised me, after a lengthy stare-down, I wasn’t shocked. Except he didn’t move in for his remaining $800. He raised only $300, leaving himself with $300 more. It was once again a weird bet, although, I realized, a bet that would force me to commit. There was no point in calling. His $300 would go in on the river no matter what. So my only option, if I decided my sixes were good, was to raise him the rest.
As I now stared him down, he went into all sorts of exaggerated perambulations, covering his face with his hands, smiling like he’d gotten caught with his hand in the cookie jar, and just generally putting on a show that did not jibe with the nervousness of someone on a bluff. And yet…my feeling that I had him beat with my lowly pair of sixes persisted. I tried to quiet my mind and listen to my gut. But it was impossible. My ego had been the culprit in this hand from the beginning. And my desire to teach this kid a lesson - how dare he disrespect the semi-famous poker author - had now put me in a situation where I had to make a decision in which that desire to teach him a lesson wasn’t a factor. It was self-reflexively impossible.
And so, even though my poker instincts told me I was ahead, in the end, all I could hear was a voice in my head saying, You got yourself in this stupid situation through your own hubris. Never mind the fact that you should have been in a cab on your way home, just cut your losses at this point and go home.Which is what I did. I folded the hand. Did I make the correct decision? I can only answer by saying that once you become aware that you are in a situation that is the result of your initial faulty decision-making, it is never incorrect to assume that the best possible course of action at that point involves an expeditious withdrawal.
Are you listening, George Bush?