Lee Jones: My quest for Zen vs. a world-class lobbyer

Lee Jones
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Posted on: December 6, 2023 11:45 am EST

I don’t tilt near as much as I used to.

In the 35+ years that I’ve been playing casino poker, I’ve matured a lot and learned to put poker in its proper place in my life. I’ve learned to laugh at things that used to really affect me at the table, and see most of them for their complete lack of importance. After all, it’s not like there’s life and death involved here (except when there is).

But every once in a great while, something truly pushes my buttons, and I sense myself experiencing classic tilt. I’m not concentrating on the game – I’m concentrating on whatever is bugging me. And instead of taking joy from playing this silly card game, I’m letting myself be in a sour mood.

About Ralph

Let me tell you about Ralph. That’s not his real name, obviously. Ralph is a regular at my home court casino. He’s a decent player, perhaps a winner – I don’t know. And the crowd-sourced intel says that Ralph is there all the time. Empirically speaking, whenever I’m there, Ralph seems to be there. It is possible that Ralph is a pro – if he is indeed a winning player, and is there all the time, that would make sense. However, there is one thing about Ralph that doesn’t corollate with that:

Ralph is a world-class lobbyer.

When Ralph gets into a game, he puts his chips down. Maybe he’ll play an orbit or two, but pretty soon, he disappears. At this club, each time you miss the blinds, they throw a “missed blind” button in front of your chips (original thinking, I know). According to “the rule,” which I’ve never seen in print, when you get a third missed blind button in front of you, they pick up your chips. In practice, the dealer gets the floor’s attention, and over the P.A. they request that, “All the lobbyers at Table 12 please return to your game. We have a list and will pick you up.”

Ralph knows how to finesse this protocol perfectly, and will show up halfway through the orbit after he’s gotten his third missed blind button. Sometimes he’ll post the blinds, other times he’ll wait until the big blind comes back around. Then not too long later, having reset his “missed big blind” counter, he’s gone again, to return after another 2-3 missed blinds.

Now, please don’t ask me why he does this. This poker room doesn’t have a loyalty program, so it’s not like Ralph is freerolling loyalty points. Neither I, nor anybody I’ve spoken to, can figure out Ralph’s angle.

“Well, Lee, is that really any skin off your nose?”

Excellent question. I could argue that Ralph plugging a seat prevents a weaker, more gambly player from being in it. That’s true enough. But I worry that the real reason it bugs me is, because I can’t see how it possibly helps Ralph, I wonder if he’s getting his jollies from trolling the table. Ralph can turn a happy, relaxed poker game into a snarky affair, as everybody is concentrating on Ralph’s rule-manipulation shenanigans rather than having a good time playing poker.

I have not yet reached Nirvana

If I had Tommy Angelo’s powers of Zen, none of this would affect me. Ralph’s chaos wouldn’t impinge on the fun I’m having at the table. And most of the time, that’s true. But man, last night in the $2/5 game…

It was the classic Ralph sit-and-run theme, but with the volume around eight or nine. Ralph had gotten his third “missed blind” button, and some players were encouraging the floorman to pick him up. The announcement went over the P.A. I sensed that this particular floorman was moderately eager to pick Ralph up, and was moving toward grabbing chip racks, when Ralph reappeared.

Ralph played two orbits, and then carefully timed a walk to the restroom to miss his big blind.

A better Lee, one who is more centered, more consistently focused on his own journey rather than others’, would have ignored the whole thing. But I ain’t there yet.

I racked up my chips, tossed a couple of bucks to the dealer, and said, “I can’t take this any more. You’ve got a seat open.”

Given this imperfection in my emotional make-up, it was exactly the right thing to do. It was almost a certainty that I wasn’t playing my A-game, and a 100% certainty that I wasn’t having fun.

I walked to the far side of the room, found an empty table, and settled down to read my email. A few minutes later, one of the floormen came over. He was the one who had almost picked Ralph up. “Was it about Ralph that you picked up?”

“Yep. But to be clear, this isn’t Ralph’s fault. This is a leak in my bliss, nothing more.”

He nodded, looked sad, and went back to his duties.

Returning to the light

After half an hour, I saw a seat open in a $2/3 game. They were laughing, and generally having a good time. I remembered why I was down there in the first place. I asked the board if I could have that seat.

“It’s all yours.”

I spent the next 90 minutes being reminded why I love poker so much. People were enjoying each other’s company, gambling was happening, the mood was light.

Next time I’m at the table with Ralph, I’m going to keep that image in my head. I’m going to build a wall of peace and joy around myself, and not let external forces throw me off my enjoyment of this great game.

Then I won’t need to exit, stage left, fuming all the way.