How fitting that a poker session on the last day of the year offered me clarity about the duality of our game, and life.
It was just another poker session at my regular haunt – a few hours of relative peace and quiet before New Year’s Eve dinner at a neighbor’s house. There was a festive mood in the room, and players were being generous with tokes and gifts to the staff, which I enjoyed watching. Even the guy who got busted on a two-out river wished the table a happy new year as he left.
My particular results were nothing unusual – I was stuck $250 in a $5/10 game, i.e. nothing. Then there was this hand…
There were five limps for $10 (yes, it was a good game) and then I made it $70 to go with J♠️T♠️ in the cutoff. The button folded, but by the time the smoke had cleared, four other people decided that if it was good enough for $10, it was good enough for $70. We went to the flop five ways with $350 in the pot, all of us about $1200 deep. I had already decided that I was playing fit-or-fold – I’m too old to get frisky with half the table seeing the flop. I whiffed a board of 4♣️-5♠️-9❤️. They all checked to me because I was the guy crazy enough to make a 7x open from the cutoff. Like I said, it’s not my first rodeo, and I was done with the hand, so I checked too. Then came an awful sequence of events: the A♦️ fell on the turn, and they all checked to me again.
You know, my friend (and former Runner) SlowPoker has a section in his (excellent) vlog called, “I didn’t ask for this.” It’s when he’s in the big blind with some piece of trash, there’s no raise preflop, he checks, and then accidentally gets a piece of the flop. Hilarity often ensues.
Well, I didn’t ask for this. When that card turned, one of my four opponents was going to bet, I’d fold and go back to wondering if our neighbors would have anything vegetarian in the buffet. But then they (my opponents, not my neighbors) all checked to me.
Am going to do this? This is obviously the single best card to turn, if it wasn’t going to give me actual equity. Ultimately I decided that it would be sad if I made it all the way through 2022 without firing a real bluff, and this might be my last chance.
The first three immediately folded and went back to their phones. But the last guy, who had limp/called from the lo-jack, had a tough decision. He and I had been at the table for two hours together, and he’d dusted off a handful of $500 buy-ins, mostly by calling too much. One of those losses had been when he tank-agonize-called my shove on the river, and got shown my flopped set. No doubt that was weighing heavily on his mind at this point. Furthermore, he had about $700 in front of him, and he correctly understood that if he called now, my red “All-In” disc was hitting the felt on the river.
Finally, with a pained expression on his face, he showed me A❤️6♠️ (the sort of schlock in which he was routinely trading), and folded.
I was inexcusably pleased with this result – it’s not my M.O. to win 35 BB pots with jack-high and the zeroest of equity.
Fast forward a couple of hours, and it was time to wrap it wrap it up, head home, and put on my going-out clothes. Thanks to that bluff and some other hands resolving in my favor, I was up a few hundred dollars. Nothing to write home about, but far better than stuck an annoying couple of hundred. I had decided to play two more orbits and hit the cage.
It was halfway through the first of these orbits when there were two limps in front of me and, sitting in the hijack seat, I looked down to see Q♠️Q❤️ peeking back. Well now. I made it $50, and sure enough, four other people thought that $50 was a fair price to pay to see the flop (it was still a good game). That was fine – I certainly had the best hand going in. There’d be an ace on the flop, somebody would bet, I’d fold, and take all that EV I’d banked preflop into 2023 with me.
The dealer had some difficulty getting the flop spread out, but I was in no hurry, because the Q♦️ was already smiling back at me from the door. Even before the joy had fully diffused through me, the 9♠️ and 9❤️ appeared next to her. Happy New Year, me.
They all checked, and I bet $70. For those of you shrieking that I had the board locked up and I should have checked back, don’t be silly. I was $1700 deep at this point, and a couple of my opponents had me covered – I was on a hunt for the elusive wild nueve. I had no interest in extracting $50 or $100 from a pair of 4’s or an ill-considered bluff – I wanted somebody’s stack.
Thus I was disappointed when they all snap-folded.
I tipped the dealer, and reflected on my bad luck.
Poker = Life
But then I came to my senses. I’d gotten unstuck in the first place because my opponents had paid $70 each with a bunch of near-random cards. They had absolutely nothing with which to stand up to my jack-high zero-equity bluff on the turn. Why in the world should I expect them to have decent value to pay me off when I flopped the Holy City Zoo?
Poker teaches many life lessons, and I’d just been given a important one. That is, I was no more entitled to win a monster pot with my queens-full than I was prohibited from winning a biggish pot with jack-high.
I reflected on this timely reminder as my session, and poker year, wound down. I slipped $5 chips into the hands of some employees as I left, always conscious that life has treated me well throughout, whether I deserved it or not. I was headed back to a comfortable home and a walk down the block, where I’d be greeted with hugs and a glass of wine to celebrate the outgoing year.
Happy 2023. May you remember that neither life nor poker owes you anything, but equally importantly, may you recognize the opportunities that they both present, even in the least expected of places.