She pressed her knee into my leg. She was sending me a message, hidden under the table from the rest of the players. It was different from when she placed her hand on my arm or whispered in my ear. I knew exactly what she was trying to tell me here, and it excited me.
Two hours earlier...
"Rachel, what's the best hand in poker?" I asked her, leaning past Jena (pronounced like Geena). Rachel sat in the 4 seat with a twenty-something volleyball player in the 5 seat. I was in the 7 seat, where I'd been for the last 6 hours.
"Seven-two off-suit," she replied, not missing a beat.
Jena looked back at me, eyes wide, with a quizzical smile, as though she was the only one not in on the joke. Thankfully Jason was standing nearby, ready to deliver even more assurance.
"Hey Jason," he walked over to us, "what's the best starting hand in poker?"
"It's seven-two off-suit," again, not a missed beat.
This time, Jena narrowed her eyes at me. "Okay, what makes that hand so good?"
I explained it to her. I told her how it's important to play them like Aces. I told her how it proves that poker is often not about the cards you hold but about how you play them.
Two hours even earlier...
The table was dead. We had just 6 players at the table, with three empty seats and a stack that was soon going to file a missing person's report for its owner. I wanted to leave. I was in a bad mood. I had just misplayed a set of queens and run right into a nut flush. My $650 stack (from my $200 buy in) was back down to $200. We couldn't keep a full table and the ones who were there bored me to tears.
Then she sat down.
I was immediately taken by her smile and bright eyes. She introduced herself and wanted to know my name. She repeated it two or three times, telling me she had trouble remembering names and didn't want to forget it.
"Do you mind if I straddle you?" I asked. Yes, I never miss an opportunity to pull this one out.
"Ooooh, now I've heard of that, but I don't quite know how it works. Will you teach me?"
I held back some responses that crossed my mind, and that was probably for the best. We played the hand and I explained how it worked. She would go on to straddle a few times herself throughout the evening.
On the third hand after she sat down, I raised from middle position with pocket tens. The calling station in the one seat did what calling stations do. The flop came down with an Ace and two undercards to my pair. He checked and I bet out, trying to see where I was. He, well, what do you think he did? The turn was another ace. He checked and I checked behind him. It was rather obvious, at that point that Ace-rag would win this pot. The river was a blank and he lead out this time.
"Your ace is good," I said, sliding my hand to the dealer. He flipped over his Ace-6 offsuit, a stupid grin on his face. "That was pretty tricky, checking the turn like that," I told him.
Jena leaned towards me, "How'd you know he had that?" I tried to explain the read as best as I could. This guy was terrible, but managed to river three pots off me already. Eventually, I knew he'd give the money back, I was just hoping it was to me. My intuition, however, seemed to impress Jena, and, well, I like to be impressive. She told me she had only been playing poker for a few months and wanted to learn as much as she could.
Over the next orbit she tripled her buy-in.
Those doe eyes weren't fooling anyone, anymore. Whether she had just started playing or she enjoyed telling people that, her instincts were solid.
"Floor! Can we card her?" I called.
She laughed, "I have a son who's older than 21."
(Insert record scratch here.)
(Insert rewind here.)
She laughed, "I have a son who's older than 21."
"Really?" I asked, honestly surprised. Jena is an older woman, I knew that, but I would not have guessed she was a 42-year old mother of four. In fact, I still think there's a 25% chance she's just running a bluff. If she's this beautiful at 42 and after raising 4 children, her husband is one of the luckiest men I know.
Back to the present...
Jena's chip stack had taken a pretty significant hit. I doubled through her when my overpair was bigger than her overpair. On the very next hand, her pocket K's were cracked by a set of 5's. She was now stuck a hundred bucks or so and had reloaded.
I folded UTG and a new player in the 10 seat raised from $2 to $20. The "standard" raise at the table varied wildly throughout the day. We were now at the $17-$25 range. It was folded around to Jena.
"Raise," she said. And that's when she pressed her knee into my leg. She had the Hammer.
She bumped it to $40 and the 10 seat called.
The flop was AQ4, two diamonds. Jena bet $20. The 10 seat wasted no time in raising it to $60.
"You can lay it down," I whispered to her. I had a feeling the 10 seat was pretty big and I felt bad that she was going to lose more chips because of our obsession with 72o.
She was committed to the hand, just like I told her you had to be a few hours earlier. She called.
The turn was the Q of diamonds. Jena peeked down at her cards. I knew she was looking for a diamond to see if she had any potential outs. She bet again and this time the ten seat pushed for his last $125 or so.
Jena thought about it a moment and called. Leaning into me, she whispered, "I need a diamond." The river was a deuce, but not a diamond. It wouldn't have mattered. The 10 seat flipped AQ. She was drawing dead after the turn.
Jena proudly flipped over her 72 offsuit, "I knew you had the Ace," she said, "but I was hoping for the diamond." The rest of the table was stunned. Most of them weren't there when I told the tale of the hand. Even Rachel had vacated her seat.
She looked at me with a big smile. "That was fun," she said.
"You're my hero," I told her.
"I heard you say I could lay it down, but I didn't want to."
We all know that playing The Hammer isn't easy. And few of us have been willing to risk $200 with it. But there she was, playing it for me.
She reloaded again and told the table she was sorry but had no more money in her purse. This was it. I didn't like seeing her lose. She was too much fun. In fact, she was the only thing that made it worth playing for me at that point.
A few hands later, her AQ would turn top pair. All the money would go into the pot and the new 4 seat would flip over a flopped set of 7s. Jena laid her head on my shoulder, slowly shaking it. The cards had been unkind to her on a few big hands.
Her night was over. The good news is that her husband had turned $500 into $1700 at the $2/$5 NL table. The bad news for me is that she was going to bed. Before leaving she invited me to her room.
It's not what you think.
I mentioned I had a two hour drive home once I stopped playing and that I might come back on Sunday. She told me that she and her husband had an extra bed if I wanted to spend the night in New Orleans. I didn't take her up on her offer.
I wish, however, that I had left when she did. A few hands later, my flopped set of 7s lost to that 4 seat when he turned his two outer. The very next hand, my JTs flopped trips, but I lost a sizable chunk to KJo. My long day saw me go from $200 to $650 to $100 to $600 to -$200.
I was tired, losing and my Muse was gone. It was time to leave. But hopefully I'll encounter Jena at the tables again some day. It was all worth it.