I started playing poker again.
They cut my days down to three or four days a week at work, so I figured that playing once or twice a week would be a good way to make up for the lost days.
The first time I played, I made just over $500 in four hours. Though it is a small sample size, it is a decent hourly. But I was a bit upset with my performance, because I could have won more. It has been 15 months since I quit playing professionally, and I have lost almost all of my killer instinct.
Poker is, or should be, based on a very simple scenario: You Vs. Them. When I played full-time, I was still extremely friendly at the tables, but I still took the people’s money and very rarely let them “off the hook.” But during my first session, I lost out on a significant amount of money by not putting the killing punch on some of the guys with whom I was having conversations throughout the night.
So while I did happen to win $500, I was somewhat upset with myself for not taking full advantage or getting “max value” as they say.
Some of this has to do with being out of the game for such a long period of time. And some of it has to do with being in the customer-friendly mindset of a dealer*.
*This is another big problem that I noticed. When I win a pot, I over-tip significantly, which also cuts into my profit. But I’m a dealer now! I can’t help it!
Anyway, I vowed to change this the second time I played.
To do so, I adopted a new strategy of simply leaving my headphones in my ears at all times and not engaging anyone in conversation. If I was simply there to make money, then there really wasn’t a reason to talk to anyone.
When I get extremely bored, I will listen to music at the table. Many times, however, listening to music comes at the cost of missing out on information, especially if you are in a hand. Many tells come from what people say or how they say it, and if you miss out on somebody saying that they should have left an hour ago or somebody trying to verbally goad someone into calling or folding, you could be missing out on information that could earn or save you a significant amount of money down the line. Sure, at these limits, it doesn’t take much to win money. But if I am going to sit there and play, I might as well make as much money as I possibly can.
So oftentimes I will leave my earbuds in my ears without actually listening to anything. Just pretending to be in my own little world so that nobody will engage me in conversation. It’s not that I don’t want to talk to them, I just don’t want my guilty conscience to come into play when I have an opportunity to take all of their money.
And that is how I found myself at the poker table, up $200 in three hours, but having to endure hearing a drunk 70-year-old man sitting to my right for all three of those hours.
Poker wasn’t his forte. In fact, the manner in which he played suggested that he hated money and couldn’t wait to be rid of it.
It seemed that his real motive for being at the poker table was to drink as much whiskey as possible and to fill every millisecond of silence with his booming voice and slurred words. In the two hours he had been sitting next to me, he had described, in detail, the entire plot lines of Taken 2, Here Comes the Boom, and Looper, despite one player’s repeated requests to not spoil Looper for him.
“This won’t spoil the movie,” the drunk old man said, “but there’s this one scene where…” and then he described a scene that totally spoiled the movie.
I felt lucky that the man hadn’t engaged me in conversation yet. There were a few moments of silence in which he must have felt a panic for not speaking. Through my peripherals, I saw him turn to me, but he didn’t say anything.
It wasn’t until we were heads up on the turn in a $300 pot that he finally engaged me.
“Want to check it down?” he asked.
I was holding a straight and there were two diamonds on the board, and I certainly didn’t want to give him a free river card. He’d have to pay to hit his flush.
“Hello?” he groaned. “Can you hear me? Hellooooooo?”
The only response I offered was a slight bobbing of my head to the nonexistent music I was pretending to listen to.
After trying to engage me for thirty seconds longer, he finally bet $10 — a laughable bet into such a large pot, and equivalent to simply checking.
I immediately went all-in for $250.
“Fuck you,” he said to me. I was staring at the board, staring at the dealer, staring at the television, but could feel his eyes. “Fuck you, you fucking piece of shit.”
He tanked like this for sixty, maybe ninety seconds, saying all kinds of things to me. His goal, I believe, wasn’t to win the pot. The fact that I wasn’t acknowledging him was driving him insane, and a simple “Hello, and fuck you too” from me would have made him feel as if he won a major poker tournament like the World Series of Poker.
He finally called, and the river was a dreaded diamond, completing a flush draw. I showed my straight, figuring it was beaten by his flush, but he only had middle-pair, and had, in fact, made an even more abysmal call than I had originally presumed.
As the dealer pushed me the pot, the man continued to try to engage me in conversation, asking a multitude of questions, ranging from my poker-playing abilities to my penis size.
I ignored him and just continued stacking my new chips.
All $800 of them.
Some of the other players were laughing. The dealer was laughing. And it was actually getting tough for me to not react or look at him. But I was already committed to this performance, this role that I was listening to music and couldn’t hear the world around me. To take off my headphones and acknowledge him would ruin it.
It was the toughest poker face I had to make the entire night.
“He’s probably just ignoring you, sir,” said an Asian kid across the table. “He probably isn’t even listening to anything.”
With my left eye, I winked at the Asian kid.
* * *
The old man proceeded to distribute his chips to the rest of the table. He was already a bad player, but I had put him on tilt. And there is nothing quite as volatile as a bad player who is drunk and on tilt.
After another hour of spewing, he had finally had enough and decided to call it quits. As he racked up his few remaining chips, I couldn’t help but feel bad. Here’s this annoying and cranky old man who represented everything that I didn’t want to become. He clearly has plenty of money that he doesn’t care about.
And here I am, doing everything I can to not feel guilty about taking his money. If I hadn’t taken it, someone else would have.
I wanted to say something to him. “Good game,” or “nice playing with you,” or “have a good night, sir.” But I felt that he would have taken it the wrong way. I wanted this grumpy old man to know that there were no hard feelings and that I was sorry. Even though he had essentially called me gay, said my mother was a whore, and proclaimed that I had a microscopic penis, maybe even a vagina.
If I can’t take that grumpy old man’s money with a clear conscience, I’m not sure that my killer instinct will ever come back.
I don’t know. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.