"If that's true, yer dead to me." --Iggy, upon being informed of another one of my undeserved poker experiences.
"That's not Bach. That's Vivaldi."
The man was balding, ever smiling, and using a marble-sized opal to cap his cards.
"It's 'The Four Seasons'," he said. Though genial and probably not as drunk as he was letting on, his British tenor, good humor, and slightly slurred words channeled Dudley Moore as "Arthur."
We were in what could only be described as a back room. A giant mural--full of sprites with naked breasts--covered one of the walls. Several hundred euros were stuffed in the dealers tray of this, the only poker table in the room. The floors were hard wood and the room echoed when we laughed. We were a motley and drinking six-handed poker game. Cigarette smoke hung above the table and the four Brits, the Irishman, and the American were defending their blinds with patritotic fervor.
"This," the Authur-esque character proclaimed, "is the only smoking poker room in the city!" He lit another cigarette and laughed.
As he was about Vivaldi, he was right about the legalities (or illegalities) of the game. The poker room was only 30 yards away. This room had been set up for overflow before it was realized that no overflow area would be needed. Now, the room was being used for storage and a 4am poker game, where six euro beers were being purchased six at a time, and--if only to keep the game going--rebuys were instituted after the first hand had been dealt and the older Brit had cracked pocket kings with QT offsuit. This game wasn't on the tournament schedule, but, for the moment anyway, it was The Big Deal.
I don't get much chance to play poker when I'm on the road in Europe. Many of the places where we hold tournaments aren't familiar with poker and hence don't spread cash games. More often than not, the only available games are single-table tournaments, usually starting at 100 euros (about $122).
My first night in Monte Carlo, after getting stuck on my hotel room's balcony, I had played two of these 100 euro games, busting out in fourth in the first one and chopping the second one two ways for an even split. In that game, I'd gotten heads-up with a Nordic player and felt lucky to walk away with any money. I had badly misplayed pocket queens three-handed and the Nordic's sweater (one of these guys), let me know about it. He wasn't mean about it. He just pointed out the painfully obvious. Still, I managed to overcome the chips I lost on that hand and, I must say, artfully played myself back into the money.
And so I had a little more than 400 euros in my pocket and set about a week of work. Over the course of the next week, I would curse myself several times for not exchanging more of my dollars for euros. By the penultimate night of the trip, I had $1500 in unspendable American currency and 270 euros in my pocket. And I had a poker jones like I can't explain.
The poker room was hopping. Every list, from the 100 to the 1000 Sit and Go tables, was ten deep. I had heard my colleagues were drinking in the bar with a well-known author, but I wanted to play. I found the floorman and before I thought about it too much said, "Put me on the list for the 100 and the 250 euro tables."
I stood waiting for five minutes when my name came through the PA system. I'd drawn a 250 seat.
Now, I've played just about every level of single-table tournament from $5 to $1000. What's more, I've won at just about every level of single-table tournament from $5-$1000. Finally, the $300+ buy-in to this table didn't mean a great deal in the grand scheme of my bankroll. However, there was one consideration that set me on my heels. I only had 270 euros in my pocket. That is, if I didn't cash, I would have 20 euros in my pocket and in need of an ATM (which, oddly, had been invisible since my arrival).
I took the three-seat (my second-favorite seat at any table) and waited. I felt good that the 250 game was one of the lowest games in the rooms. The pros, I told myself, would be in the 500 or 1000 games. I'd be with the journalists, the drunks, or the stuck pros.
"It's just a fucking SNG," I told myself.
"It's just a fucking SNG," I told myself...again.
And so I played it like any other SNG. Down to six handed, I picked up with worst hand in all of poker, AQ suited spades (see previous entries for my trouble with this hand). Folded to me on the button, I made a standard raise and a loose Frechman called in the small blind. Short-stacked, the Nord pushed from the big blind. Hoping we were racing, I pushed to isolate, but the small blind called.
In short, I got lucky. A queen flopped and I took both the main and side pots. The Nord walked away and before I knew it, I was three handed. First place paid 1700 euros. Second paid 600 euros. Third place paid nothing.
There's a rule most everybody knows. It's almost universal in major tournaments. English-only during a hand. My two French opponents knew and adhered to the rule. Thing was, after every hand, they would break into full French conversation. I'd been in a similiar situation at the WSOP, up against three French-Canadian friends. In that game, I'd finished fourth.
I sat, annoyed at my inability to call the guys on a rules violation. After a few hands, I took a different tack. I started listening. It became quite clear that they were telling each other what hands they had been holding. While irrelevant after the fact, I still found it annoying. And so, I did all I could. I listened. And then, when they did it again, I responded. In kind. And in French.
Looking a bit surprised, the two Frenchmen then seemed to focus more on winning and less on beating me. When a gorgeous Danish dealer sat down, one of the guy's attention turned more to flirting and before he knew what was happening, he had given all his chips away.
Based on our even chip-stacks (in fact, he had me outchipped by a a couple of blinds), I proposed an even chop. The loose Frenchman said, "I make you a deal."
I expected him to say he would take 1300 and give me 1000, which I had already decided I wasn't going to take. It would've been a decent chop for me, but I thought, despite my inability to play heads-up poker, I had a skill edge on the guy and deserved an even-chop.
"I take 1000," he said, "you take 1000, and we play for the rest."
I didn't think long before accepting the deal. We played two hands. I folded to his raise on the first hand. On the second hand, I found AJ suited in diamonds. He came over the top all-in and I called in a shot. He turned over A6o. He flopped a six, the Danish dame gave me my 1000 euros, I tipped her and walked away.
The poker room was on the verge of closing down. No more SNGs were opening. I went to the bar and bought a 6 euro Monaco-brand beer and looked around for anyone I knew. Nobody.
Funny thing about winning. It's a lot like losing. I want to keep playing. Suddenly, I was an action junkie where the action had dried up. I asked around about any off-the-books games.
One young lady did me the biggest favor of the trip. "Look down that hallway," she said.
The guy on my left had just won about $30,000 in the main event. He had a lucky rock that his dad had found on the beach. I worked with three of the guys at the table. They were all nice enough fellows. But the reason I was there, the reason I had dropped 100 euros into a tournament that had already started, the reason I refused to leave even if I busted out, was the older man in the three seat.
Later in the night, after we had laughed and joked for a couple of hours, before I had gotten heads up and the man had offered me his lucky opal to cap my cards, before I got in ahead and came out behind, we had this exchange.
"So, Tony," I said, "did you go out and look for someone to publish your new book or did the publisher come to you?"
"It was quite a funny story," he said. "The publisher called and suggested the new book. At first I laughed and said, 'What should we call it? The Bigger Deal?'"
Indeed, that is what they should call it.
It's funny, you know. I'm now a little more than a year into this new gig. I've met just about everybody who is anybody in the poker playing world. Oddly, I don't get star-struck very often. Except when it comes to poker narrative authors. There, I get sort school-girly.
In the past year, I've met Jim McManus. I've discussed writing with Jesse May. I played a drunken and rocking $2-$6 spread game with Michael Craig (who, it should be pointed out, didn't drink a drop). And now...well, now I can say I've drank and played poker with Anthony Holden.
If somebody could find me Al Alverez, I might be able to feel complete.