I couldn’t tell you the last time I played a ten-hour poker session. I mean, I have certainly played my share of absurdly long ones (noting that one’s “share” could very reasonably be zero). But those days were long ago, before responsibility, kids, wisdom, a granddaughter, and so on.
In those days, such long sessions were usually fueled by a need to escape, and tilt resulting from the stresses of my regular life. The tilt resulted in bad play, which resulted in me getting stuck, and playing longer to get unstuck, inducing more tilt, and… you can see where this is going.
Yesterday, I actually planned a marathon session. Maybe the first time I’d ever done such a thing.
I had a ten-hour flight from London to San Francisco awaiting me, and one of the best ways to get through such a journey is to sleep a lot. All the road warriors know this, and use various techniques (e.g. Ambien, alcohol) to maximize their down time. Since I don’t like using artificial sleep enhancements, I need to get myself into a state of almost total sleep deprivation. Then I just get moderately comfortable in an airplane seat, and let the engine hum do its work.
Playing poker all night is a great way to accomplish this.
I rocked up to the Empire Casino in Leicester Square, and got into a £1/2 no-limit hold’em game around 7:00pm. There was a guy in the #1 seat who – I’m going to name him “Altered” – was taking an extraordinarily long time for every decision. Half the time, the dealer had to tell him the action was on him, and each time, he was startled to learn that it was his turn. He’d struggle over a call, silently agonize what to do, finally put the chips into the pot, and then turn over the near-nuts.
I got into a pot with him, where I had raised preflop with KQs, and he (eventually) called in the big blind. The flop came 2-9-T with one of my suit. He checked, I bet 1/3 of the pot, and he snap-called. The turn was an offsuit 5. He mentally left the game for a minute, then checked. He had a pot-size bet behind, so I went for it and put him all-in. He blanked for a minute, thought for a minute, and called. I turned up my hand, and thought about the jack of spades. He seemed not to notice my hand, or that he was in a poker game. The dealer put out the river card, pairing the 9. My opponent slowly turned over pocket fives for a full house, as surprised to see them as the rest of us.
I thought that if I sat in a game with him for multiple hours, I would lose my mind. There was no doubt that he’d eventually lose all his chips, but the process was going to be agonizing. Taking a page from Ben Adler’s book, I lapped the six games in the room twice in a 15-minute span, and settled on table #6. The stacks were deep and two players were pushing the action with frequent raises and 3-bets. I asked Caroline, the room manager, if she could move me to that table. Around 8:00pm, she brought me a rack and said a seat was open. Yes, I tipped Caroline £5. No, it wasn’t necessary.
I wouldn’t leave the #7 seat of table #6 until fingers of dawn were slipping into the corners of Leicester Square.
Knowing that I had a long night ahead of me, I settled into a pattern of ordering a cappuccino and a pint glass of sparkling water (you have to balance stimulation and hydration). I got great service because (take note here) I tipped. The UK has nothing like the tipping culture of the States, and both my beverages were free. So the server would bring them to my little side table, then start away. I literally had to catch them to give them three £1 chips. Once they got over the shock, they’d always keep an eye out for that American at table #6 who over-tipped.
I’m no spring chicken, and I’m well out of practice for marathon poker sessions. So I knew that fatigue and lack of concentration were the enemies, as they’d bring along their friends, tilt and bad play. I didn’t look at my phone, I didn’t watch the football matches on the TVs. I focused on the game, the players, and their moves.
Sunny, in seat #2, is a great guy. He’s Indian, a serious player, and £1/2 NLHE is the kiddie pool for him. He talked about how much he was looking forward to the WSOP this year, after missing it the last two years. I didn’t particularly want to play pots with Sunny, unless I had to. But I got the impression that the feeling was mutual, and he’d usually get out of the way when I came into a pot.
Jackie, in the #8 seat, and I had a fine conversation. He runs private poker games in London, and explained to me how Covid had decimated the availability of poker dealers in London. When the pandemic hit, and the poker rooms shut down, the dealers were furloughed, but given payouts. Because many of them are not British citizens, they took their payouts and went back to their native lands. Jackie is able to get dealers for his private games, but that’s only because they pay much better than the casinos. The room we were in was literally turning away customers as the night wore on, as they had no dealers to start a new game.
In the #6 seat, on my immediate right, sat Sphynx. Sphynx never said more than a handful of words for hours. He had transferred to our table when another table broke, and brought over £1,000 with him. He didn’t see many flops, and usually played quickly. But when he had a decision to make (e.g. sizing a raise) he would sit motionless and stare across the table. Then just when you were about to get exasperated with the time he was taking, chips would slide out. Thank Johnny Moss he was on my right.
But the early star of the show was Chris in the #5 seat. Chris was drunk. I mean, Friday night 11:30pm at the pub drunk. He was jabbering away non-stop, slowing the game with his wrong bets, retelling the same stories, and being a huge pain in the ass. But, as will happen, Chris had stumbled onto a stack of £1,500, and everybody wanted a piece of it.
What about the American in the #7 seat? Bad news, good news. The bad news is that I got stuck £200 in that early hand with Altered, and hadn’t seen profit territory since. I didn’t get any premium hands for a long time, and then when I got a little rush of them, I won the blinds or a tiny post-flop pot.
I stayed topped up to the £400 cap, and then somebody told me that you could match up to one-half of the largest stack. I glanced at Chris’s stack, and immediately topped up to £700. But I was still stuck, and getting more stuck as the wee hours crept past. My low water mark was -£650.
But onto the good news. I was playing great. Flawlessly? No, don’t be ridiculous. I made a couple of bad mistakes that I immediately knew as such. But what I was not doing was tilting, playing silly hands, or trying to blow calling stations off hands when I had air.
I stayed on my cappuccino and water regime. Around 2:00am, I ordered a tomato and mozzarella sandwich, with sides of roasted potatoes and wilted spinach. It was delicious. I got a 20-minute massage at the remarkable rate of £1/minute. And yes, I over-tipped everybody in sight. Life has been generous with me, and when life is generous with you, you share.
Regardless of how the poker results came out, I was having fun.
The turning point came, not surprisingly, against Chris. He splashed in a raise from the cutoff, and I 3-bet from the small blind with K♠T♠ – I wanted him to myself. It worked – everybody else folded, and he immediately called. The flop came 8♠5♣2♠, and I bet 40% of the pot. He looked at me, and just pushed out some of his sloppy chips to call. The turn was the Q♠.
Chris’s M.O. all evening was to pounce on weakness, and he didn’t disappoint. He bet £175. I had £550 left, and he covered me. I paused an appropriate amount of time, then announced that I was all-in. This shocked him. He hemmed, hawed, and discussed the whole situation with the table. When another player started to engage with him, Jackie spoke to the dealer, “Can’t have that, mate.” The dealer just looked at Jackie, unsure of what he was supposed to do (or unwilling to rock the boat). But Chris slurred, “Right, mate. I’ll shut it. I guess he’s gotta have the flush, didn’t it? Okay, I fold.” Had Chris called, I would have been into healthy profit territory, but this pot achieved two things: it restored my confidence, and it put me in a chip position that I could reasonably hope to recover my losses.
Shortly after that, Sphynx and Chris got into a monster pot. I think Chris was still on tilt from our confrontation, and he tried to bluff Sphynx off top-pair, top-kicker. It didn’t work, and Chris was busto. He wandered out of the room, no doubt in search of a pint, since Caroline had cut him off from alcohol an hour earlier.
Then the good hands that I knew were around the corner started coming. I got aces, and instead of winning the blinds, I got two customers for my preflop 3-bet. On a 7-4-4 rainbow flop, one of them check-shoved on me for £150. I snap-called and turned up my aces. The dealer ran out the board. My opponent, in the #1 seat, held his cards out in front of him. I paused briefly, then noted, “We’re in slow-roll territory now.” The dealer could see #1’s cards. He shook his head to indicate that there was no slow-roll coming.
Then I flopped my first set of the evening, and in the same orbit, flopped the nut flush after raising preflop. Both hands won large-ish pots. I discovered that I was literally £50 into the black.
It was the first time since I’d sat down, nine hours earlier, that I had been there.
By this point, the new target at the table was Jitters, who had replaced Jackie in the #8 seat. He had gotten very stuck early (I mean, who could possibly fold jacks to a 4-bet shove for 250 big blinds?). But then he’d gone on a hellacious, odds and sanity-defying rush that left him with £1,400. We were down to 5-handed at that point, and I thought that maybe I could get some of his chips before Sphynx got them all.
So I decided to play until 5:30am, then walk back to my hotel room and get three hours of sleep.
I got to play literally the last hand I was dealt. I opened T9s from the cut-off, and Jitters 3-bet from the button. I called, and chuckled to myself. It would be supremely ironic if my entire results for the session, for good or ill, came down to a huge pot on my last hand. But get thee behind me, superstition – I was focused and happy to play a big one against Jitters if the cards dictated it.
They didn’t. I whiffed the flop, folded, and announced that I was done for the evening/night/morning. That broke the table, and they moved the remaining players to the single other game in the room.
After I cashed out, I saw Sphynx stretching before settling down into the new game. I went over, shook his hand, and thanked him for a great poker game. “It was a good game – I thought you played well.”
That compliment meant more to me than the discovery that I had booked a £25 win. Of course, the important thing was the self-test, and I felt I’d passed with flying colors. I had grinded through a difficult all-night session, maintaining focus and discipline. Whether the cards had cooperated or not was less important – I’d let the game come to me, rather than trying to force it. To have Sphynx confirm this, as a third party, was a special treat, even at 6:00am.
I turn 65 this year, and don’t know if I have another ten-hour session in me. But it is confidence-building and gratifying to know that I had this one.
I may have had a spring in my step as I walked the three blocks back to my hotel, while the delivery trucks made their way down the pink-hued alleys of Leicester Square.
Feature image: Creative Commons