It was just too hot outside to be the first November night of 2004. Decorative lights--almost Christmasy--hung haphazard-but-stylish in the trees that lined the street. Parking, as always, was at a premium in this particular part of town, so I considered myself lucky to find a spot just a block from the evening's tournament.
The tournament, reportedly for charity (but I figured otherwise) was to take place in a familiar watering hole. I scanned the street for the beat cops and found none. It was a Monday night and there wasn't much need for the cops to keep the weekend drunks in line.
As I stepped onto the sidewalk, arranging my cell phone and bankroll in my pocket, I sensed evil in the air. Okay, it wasn't really evil, but it was something at least a little menacing. Something akin to a three-year-old kicking me in the shins while calling me a doodie-head.
That sounds about right.
Ten dollars bought me all the beer and bar food I could consume. Though I had skipped dinner, I wasn't hungry. I ordered a beer and sat at a bar table, waiting until I could spot the tournament organizer in the growing crowd of increasingly drunk middle-aged men. A few young college hipsters lined the bar. I could tell that they weren't part of the charity crowd either. They were there to play poker.
Eventually, one guy's voice seemed to rise out of the crowd and I pegged him for the man I needed to talk to.
I walked up to him and said, "I got an e-mail from X."
"You're not a member of the local police department, are you?" he said, not joking.
This could've been construed as a joke. Just a few months ago, several local police officers had been caught playing poker on duty, much to the dismay of the people who lived in the neighborhoods on the cops' beat.
"No, I'm not." I thought maybe I could joke with the guy, but in this situation, I figured it would be similar to saying the word "bomb" while in line at the airport. It probably wouldn't get me thrown out, but it certainly would cause enough problems to make my evening difficult.
He told me to grab another beer and some food and we'd get started in a few minutes.
I sat back and watched the crowd mill through the tight space. Flat screen TVs were showing previews of the Monday Night Football game and an interview with Terrell Owens. T.O. makes my eye twitch. I turned away and watched the scantily-clad waitstaff make its way through the Grecian Formula and leers of the over-40 set.
The tournament was supposed to start at 8:30, but since the organizers were still setting up the tables, I figured it was going to take a little longer. I passed the time reading the graffiti on the walls and indulging a new player in a conversation about cold-callers.
"What's a cold call?" he asked.
"Doesn't matter," I said.
I told myself that if the tournament didn't start by 9:15 that I was going to have another beer to get my money's worth and go home to my wife and kid (where I should've been anyway). Then a little person walked through the bar and I couldn't help but think it was some sort of omen.
By 9:10 the organizers had figured out what they were doing and started sitting players at the tables. Twenty-seven people bought in. I drew the seat directly to the left of the guy who asked if I was a cop.
"At least I have you on my right," I said. He didn't respond.
We started with a rather arbitrary $4000T in chips and the blinds at $25/$50. I started in the small blind. Within minutes it was evident that several players at the table were very, very bad. A couple appeared to be pretty good. On the second orbit, I raised pre-flop with AQs and got four callers. The flop was rags and I folded to a sizable bet. My ace-high would've split the pot.
So, I sat back. It was only a matter of time before I got a good hand and could double up. That's all it took in this game. One good hand--played well--doubled up every time.
And so it came in the third level. I found 99 in the small blind. Four people called the big blind. I knew a raise form the small blind would drive out no one, so I called and waited for the flop. The big blind knocked the table and we saw the flop. It was gorgeous.
This was it. I checked, knowing someone would bet out, even if they weren't holding the queen. The BB bet $200T and got three callers.
"I raise," I said, calming slipping $1000T into the pot.
"You're raising?" The BB seemed incredulous.
I only responded, "Yep."
I had played very few hands, established myself as a rock, and had just raised the bet by 5x. I expected to pick up the pot right there and if not, well, that's all the better.
The BB called and the rest of the field folded. I put him on KQ, but was ever-so-slightly worried he was holding TJ and was holding out for his straight-draw (it would've been a horrible call, but the table was making a lot of marginal plays).
In my mind I was repeating over and over, "Pair the board, pair the board, pair the board."
A queen fell on the turn and I couldn't have been happier. I was so happy, in fact, I checked again.
"All in," the BB said.
I thought for all of two seconds. I was sure of my KQ read now. He'd just made trips with a good kicker and figured to double through me.
"I call," I said and flipped over my boat.
"Good hand," he said and flipped over Q-7 offsuit.
I was taken aback. He called my check-raise on the flop with top pair and a seven kicker?
Before I could think, the dealer burned and turned the river.
Let me make one thing very clear: I don't like angry players. Emotional, screaming, cry-baby players make my balls itch.
But when I looked at the river and saw the fucking red seven sitting there, I found myself screaming, "Son of a bitch!"
I'm not sure what happened next. I sat stunned for sixty seconds. I know Q-7 shook my hand. I know that when I looked down at my chips I discovered that he had me covered. My mind wouldn't process how the guy called my check-raise on the flop then caught perfect on the turn and river. Only four cards could've saved him on the river and one came off.
It looked like a cash game was about to get started, but I still couldn't see straight. I found myself walking directly out of the bar, into the street, and to my vehicle. I don't remember the drive home.
When I got there, my wife was sitting on the couch playing solitaire with a deck I brought back from my last trip to Vegas. The TV played quietly in the background. My kid was already in his crib asleep.
At one point in the evening, one of the players spied my wedding ring and said, "Your wife must be really understanding."
"You don't know the half of it," I said.
As I plopped down on the couch and related the bad-beat story to my wife, I realized she was actually listening, actually caring about how it had ripped out my medula oblongata.
It was then I decided that it was time for a break.
Here's why: If my wife didn't understand, if she didn't care so much about how much I care about poker, then I might find a spiteful molecule in my body that could cancel out the guilt I'm starting to feel for leaving her alone so much.
But she does understand. She sees the absolute joy poker brings me and she shares in it. She's always been one to see potential where even I couldn't see it. She knows that, even as a hobby, poker is an important part of my life. She wants me to succeed.
That, friends, is love.
So, with little deliberation, I made a decision. After BadBlood's homegame on Saturday night, I'm going on a break. It will serve many a purpose. First, I've been running bad (I tend to slump in autumn, I've found). Second, I have a few writing projects that require more focus than I've been giving them. But foremost, I need to show my wife I love her as much as I do and as much as she's shown me that she loves me for who I am: A degenerate, poker-playing writer.
So, as of Sunday morning (about 2am, I figure), I'm hiding the bankroll and am not going to play live again for a month. I may dabble online from time to time, but my nightly three-hour sessions will not be a regular occurence.
On December 5th (after I wake up from what is sure to be a wicked birthday hangover), I'll re-begin my efforts to be a solid poker player in advance of the next weekend's blogger extravaganza in Vegas. With this break comes the danger that my game will be rusty when I reach Sin City.
However, I think the overall benefit of a mind-clearing, family-focused break will do everybody at Mt. Otis well.
Here's to hoping it helps.