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Poker Blog established in 2003 as the first stop for poker news, poker stories, and bad poker advice.

January 25, 2005

A heartbeat away

by Otis

It's a second in time. Maybe a millionth of a second more. It's so negligible, it's the kind of time-frame in which only a scientist would find any real interest. It's like that final moment when you realize you could die. Speaking on a much less mortal scale, of course.

This is a long story, friends. If you don't have the time to read it, I understand. If you do, fill up a pint of Guinness and sit back, because we're about to go on a little walk together.

And I hesitate to mention where we're going to end up.

11.5 grams...the weight of a chip between life and death

That split second is a moment you've all likely experienced. For those readers who may have come here from my other blog, let me assure you, it's a brief state of suspended panic that you'll never really understand unless you've felt it--a numb sense of panicked resignation that you've just risked everything for a shot at great reward.

It doesn't happen to me much anymore. When it does, I'm almost grateful. We adults who don't work in the arena of law enforcement or extreme sports don't get to involuntarily feel our heart beat very often.

It happened the other day. I was dealt aces in the big blind in a game of $200 max. At first I was disheartened when everyone folded around to the small blind. The little blind raised into me and I re-raised. He cold called. The flop came down 9Qx. He bet into me and I raised the pot. He called. I ruled out the possiblity he had QQ in the hole, figuring he would've raised me all-in at that point. Maybe 99, I considered, but I didn't really believe that either. I put the guy on AQ and settled in for the turn. It was another rag. He checked to me and I went bone-headed and checked. I told myself I was setting him up for the river, but deep down I knew I was afraid he'd made a set and was milking me. Looking back, I realize I made a severely amateur move (or lack of move) there. I'd been suffering some serious beats and was playing scared. Nonetheless the river came as another rag and my opponent pushed the rest of his chips in the middle. I sat and thought. I think it was about $135 more to call. It should've been an easy call since I thought I had ruled out a set, but I wasn't trusting my read anymore. Playing scared is no way to play cards. Still, I called and literally turned my head away not wanting to see his cards.

There was the moment. The heart beats hard three times. If a body had time to sweat, beads of it would've popped out on the forehead. Instead, it's just three quick, hard heartbeats. And then you find out whether you live or die.

When I turned back, the pot was moving my way. I looked at my opponent's cards. He held JTo, had been on an open-ended straight draw (which I foolishly gave him a chance to make), and pushed all-in on a stone bluff at the river.

Against good sense and good theory, Otis wins.

My heart took one more hard beat and settled back in for a life more ordinary.

Catching the wave without a surfboard

Of course, many of you know my life has been anything but ordinary for the past five weeks. During a trip to Vegas for the WPBT Holiday Classic, I was able to work out a deal with PokerStars.com to blog the Caribbean Adventure in the Bahamas. After a debaucherous weekend with a posse of misfits and degenerate gamblers in Sin City, I came home and packed for the islands.

To be honest, while I have a respectable background in both poker and blogging, I wasn't really sure what I was getting myself into. I hadn't been hired to write a trip report. I'd been hired to keep tens of thousands of people constantly updated on a major poker event.

While I knew that on the surface, as I touched down on Nassau and made my way through customs, I felt like a tourist. Not just an island tourist, but a tourist in the world of big poker. I'd flown in with a couple of dealers and taxied over the bridge to an opulent resort where Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, and Damon Wayans would soon be shooting craps and signing autographs. It was a place where armed guard stood sentry in front of the the little hotel shops to guard the hundred-thousand-dollar diamond bracelets inside. It was a place where multi-million dollar yachts pulled up to the docks to have some good Jewish food at the dockside deli.

Understand, if you don't already, that I'm sort of a smalltown kid. I grew up in a medium-sized city in Missouri, but went to school in a town with a population of less than two thousand. There were twenty times as many churches as traffic signals. There were two cops. The greatest competition took place on the football field or during after-school brawls at Snider's Bridge.

I eased away from the small town life eventually and found myself experimenting in travel. I saw Hawaii, Aruba, Vegas, LA, and various towns in Texas and New Mexico. I spent time in Chicago, New York, and assorted other cities across America. I traveled Europe for a little bit and returned home to jobs in the Midwest, Deep South, and Southeast.

That's a bit of a long way of saying, when I arrived at the Atlantis resort, I was both in and out of my element. I knew how to travel. I knew how to write. I knew how to write about poker.

But, I was forced to admit to even myself, this was a whole new world.

Adaptation, by Otis

I'm an adapter by nature.

I can talk to girls in cowboy bars. I can ease onto blankets with zoney-eyed head-bobbers at Dead shows. I can walk into a CEO's office in a suit and pretend like I belong there. It's the only way to survive, I figure.

And, so, I adapted. For seven days, I wasn't just playing the role of a professional blogger. I was a professional blogger. It seemed a strange concept to a lot of people. I couldn't count the number of people who came up to me and asked, "Is this your job? Is this how you make your living?"

Each time, I made sure to calm their fears that they were living in a work-a-day existence and I was making a living by scrawling out tournament reports in rapid-fire fashion.

"No, this is just for fun," I said. "I'm a TV reporter by trade."

They always seemed happier after that.

Because I had assumed the role of professional blogger, my mind started working in the same way. Hundreds of e-mails started hitting my inbox. I religously checked the site's stats. I reported back to my superiors on successes and failures. And I worked. A lot. Only one day out of the week saw less than 12 hours of work. One day saw eighteen hours.

After the first couple of days, it started to feel very natural. It felt real. When I sidled up next to the world class players and sweated them for a few hands, I didn't feel like I shouldn't be there.

That's always sort of been a problem of mine. Despite the fact that I adapt well to my surroundings, I often feel like an outsider looking in. That's a big reason why I find myself so happy when I'm accepted by a group of people like my buddies in college, my buddies in GreenVegas, or, more recently, the WPBT. A sense of community is a wonderful thing to have.

The folks from Stars and the players began to embrace me and how I worked. I started getting requests from players and employees to see their picture or story in the blog. It felt very, very real and very, very good.

But I won't lie. As much as I was working, the week away got a little lonely. While I loved the people working around me, I missed my family much more than I expected. I love being on the road, but...well, anyone with a wife and kid knows how that sentence ends.

The arrival of some core members of the WPBT made for a good diversion, though. And I relaxed some more. There would be good stories to tell and re-tell from this trip.

And then I happened back into the poker room and watched Evelyn Ng's AKs get crushed by pocket sixes on a runner-runner flush. And then I watched a guy hit a miracle gut-shot straight. And then I got involved in a discussion in which everyone decided that "implied bluffing odds" should be a chapter in a new Sklansky book.

Yes, there are poker stories and life stories to tell and I enjoy telling them.

For the first time in my life (and I write this with no small amount of honesty and fear of reprisal), I admitted to myself that I'm meant to do one thing with my life.

I'm supposed to be a writer.

***

That admission, made to myself in the middle of a giant ballroom and hundreds of poker faces, amounted to one thing. With no one else watching, no railbirds hooting from a few feet away, I shoved my chips in the middle of the table and dared Life to call me.

My heart beat three hard times.

***

When I started writing on this blog 18 months ago, it was a nice diversion from real life. As the days went by, I found myself writing here more and more. In fact, for the past six to eight months, I've been writing here more than on the blog that has been a chronicle of my life since August of 2001 when a good friend suggested I start keeping a blog. I still owe her for that one.

For the purposes of this post, I'm going to ask you to do something a little out of the ordinary. Because the remainder of this post is more about real life than poker life, I'd ask that you read the end of it...over at Rapid Eye Reality.

If you choose not to click over, I'll be back here shortly.

| Otis' Thoughts