"Otis, have you ever had one of those ideas that the moment it pops in your head, you know it is the best idea you've had all day long?"
That was the way G-Rob began the conversation.
"Sure," I said, "but not recently."
"What say you and I go downtown and drink five or seven beers?" he said.
In short, we were bored. Everybody else was wrapped up in family stuff and we had nothing--nothing--to do.
I told him that sounded like a better idea than any I had and I'd call him back in 30 minutes.
When I got off the phone, it sounded like less of a good idea. Bored drinking, especially the kind that begins with the idea that we'll drink five (or seven), often results in us drinking fifteen (or seventeen) then popping for a cab to get home.
That's when I remembered.
The State Park Game.
I'd heard about it from a guy who came to my home game several months before. He'd left his cell phone number somewhere among my poker chips. It took me two minutes to find it. I made the call and asked if G-Rob and I could play.
I heard the voice on the end of the line scream, "Hey, bud! Two more?"
In the background, I heard the affirmative response. The State Park game would accept two new players, relative unknowns, into the weekly tournment action.
I called G-Rob back.
"G-Rob, have you ever had one of those ideas that the moment it pops in your head, you know it is the best idea you've had all day long?"
If you ride down the two-lane highway long enough--but not too long--you'll find the game down a long driveway in a small scattering of buildings made up of a ranch style house, two small apartments, and a large workshop with an office.
I pulled in with a cold 12-pack of cheap beer on the console and an increasingly nervous G-Rob in the passenger seat. I could tell this was not exactly what he expected.
"The code word is 'Jerry'." I said. "If we need to get out, we're going to see Jerry."
G-Rob is a bit of a Dead Head.
"Jerry's been dead for a while," he said.
We stepped into the gravel drive and heard the yell from a nearby apartment.
"Ya'll here for poker, right?"
I looked at G-Rob, looked at my 12-pack, looked at the yeller. I shrugged my shoulders and said, "Yep."
It's a weekly game that gets played any number of places on the property. Sometimes it's in the ranch. Sometimes in an apartment. Sometimes in the shop. This night, as the flood of cars started pulling in the driveway and a decidedly motley crew started to emerge, the host decided we'd play outside. However, an impending rain pushed the game into a small office inside the shop.
The room was small, 14 feet by 14 feet, with a fridge, a sofa, and two poker tables. Monogrammed chips lined the tables. Someone was tossing a pint of booze back and forth across the tables. Someone brought in a giant bottle of Seagrams. Two coolers full of beer sat against the walls. Someone dropped a half-dozen cigars on the felt.
"How's Jerry?" G-Rob said.
I looked around, fingered the roll in my pocket, and made the decision.
"Jerry's been dead for a while, man. Let's let him rest for a little longer."
Fourteen people bought in for $20 a piece. The host said he'd pay the top two finishers. Second place would get $40. The winner would get the rest. The blinds would increase every 15 minutes.
Top-heavy payout, quick blinds, and a room full of people I didn't know. I didn't feel good about my chances.
I folded through the first level, watching all-in bet after all-in bet. We lost a player before level two and I saw several less-than-premium hands winning. I made the decision to loosen up.
In the big blind, I saw KJ of diamonds and checked to play with two other people already in the pot.
The flop brought 457 with two diamonds. Player one checked. The small blind bet twice the big blind. Having seen the weak hands already in play during level one, I raised, pushing out the first player, and getting a call from the SB.
The turn was a blank. SB checked, I bet big. He thought and called.
I didn't really want to see that. It seemed obvious that we were both on a draw. However, since I had only seen him play a couple of weak hands, I was having a hard time putting him on a hand. If he was playing overcards or an overpair, it was looking rough for me. If he was on the straight draw, I might be okay. If he had two diamonds and one of them was an ace, I was in trouble.
The turn was the 8 of diamonds.
SB pushed all-in.
I thought for two seconds and called. He turned over a six for the straight. I raked the pot with my king-high flush.
I could only think, "So, that's how we're playing this game."
I didn't get another hand until we were down to five players. I found AA in the BB. I raised it up and only got one caller, who folded to a small raise after the flop. No money.
I couldn't make myself play any game other than tight-aggressive. It was to my own peril. I couldn't find a decent starting hand and when I did, my raises got a lot of respect. That's no way to win this kind of tournament.
I finally got blinded down to the point that I hand to push in with KQo pre-flop. The chip leader called me with jack-high and paired up. I got bounced in fourth place and way out of the money.
Once the tables had consolidated to one, the second table became a a sidegame. I noticed that G-Rob had already won back his tournament buy-in plus about $30. I decided it would be best to sit down.
It was structured $1/$2 betting, dealers choice, but no draw games allowed.
The table was loose and two guys who were already sitting were already re-buying.
"Alright," said the host. "Simpsonville."
In the minutes before, a new player had walked in with a chilled bottle of Sake. The host was loosening up and novelty games were becoming the norm.
Simpsonville was three-card Hold'em. Use any, all, or none of your three cards. Dacusville was Simpsonville, but you discard one of your three cards into a pile, then draw out a new (or possibly the same) card from that pile.
Then there was Crossroads, the reason why I barely lost any money that night.
Four cards in your hand (like Omaha), a pre-dealt five card flop, face down on the board. The flop is arranged like a cross. The four outside cards are turned up one at a time, with a round of betting after each. The card in the middle and any like it on the board or in your hand are wild. You play either the vertical line of three cards, or the horizotal line of three cards on the board with two from your hand.
I wasn't even going to play the hand, because novelty games give me the red ass. But I looked down at my four cards and saw two aces, a king, and an 8.
While I had no idea what was a good starting hand in Crossroads, I decided my AAK8 couldn't be all that bad, so I raised it up and got two callers.
As the board started to open up, the dealer revealed two fours, then two eights. Then he flipped the middle wild card. Another four. That meant anyone with an eight in their hand had quad eights. Anyone with a four in their hand had quads of the highest card in their hand. I made a crying call on the final bet.
The first guy flipped up his four and a king high for quad kings. The second guy (G-Rob incidentally) sighed and flipped over his eight. I got ready to muck, but flipped over my cards. The dealer read them, even surprising me. My two aces with the two fours on the horiztonal part of the cross made quad aces.
I hate novelty games, but for some reason didn't mind raking the massive pot.
G-Rob called Jerry as the tournament wrapped up and I watched the guy who put me out rake a $240 win.
I looked down at my chip-stack and realized I was up for the evening.
"Come on, man," I said. "Let Jerry rest."
As he relented, the host's wife walked in and sat down for the second tourament of the night.
A random draw sat her two to my right. She added something intangible to the room. Moreover, she put me on tilt the moment she sat down with a glass of wine and shoved a cigar in her mouth. She'd actually put me on tilt hours earlier when she stepped out of a giant SUV.
I was the big blind in the second hand of the game. G-Rob was in, as was the guy who had initially gave us the thumbs up to play for the night. I held T4o and was able to check to see the flop.
The flop came down QTT.
I was ready to double up for the first time and maybe ride to the money.
I checked, G-Rob bet out and got a call from the other guy. I pushed all in.
I wasn't suprised to see G-Rob fold, but I was when the other guy called.
"You have a ten?" I said.
"Well, I hope your kicker is worse than mine," I said, flipping over my T4.
"Not quite," he said. And flipped over T5.
I only needed any of the next two cards to be bigger than a five. The turn did me well, coming with another Q to give us both tens full of queens. I think if G-Rob had called, he would've taken as both out with queens full of tens.
We chopped and moved on.
Later, I found myself in a hand with K2o with the lovely cigar lady (Note: I honestly don't remember how I ended up in the hand). The board came with three diamonds, one of them a two. She checked.
I had a flush draw (my king was a diamond), and I bet my pair of twos. She called.
The flop was a blank.
I didn't peel my cards off the table again, preferring instead to eat her face with my eyes. Her cheeks pulled in as she drew in on the cigar. She pulled her cards off the felt one more time. I couldn't read her as well as I wanted. Remember, her beauty put me on tilt the moment she'd climbed out of the H2-Hummer. When she lit the cigar and bathed the table in a sexual wash of smoke and casual good humor, I decided there was no way I could play the game of poker ever again.
I stared at her, watching her cheeks suck in and blow out. A firefighter sitting across the table said, "The boy could win a staring contest if he wanted, too."
I didn't respond. I just sat there and stared into her face while she looked up at me and said, "All in."
It was the longest I took to make a decision all night long. I looked at her again and decided there was no way I could call. Low pair with a flush draw, early in the tournament. I couldn't do it.
I pushed my cards into the muck and watched her face for a reaction. Nothing.
The dealer flipped the river...just to see. It was another two. Of course.
I eventually made it to the final table again, but just long enough to be on the short stack. I raised big UTG with AJ.
There she was again, pushing me all in. This time I called to see her KK. It held up and I bounced in 7th.
Later, her set of aces crushed G-Rob's set of kings.
She stood up, shook his hand like a man, and said, "Good game."
It had been about seven hours since I had convinced G-Rob that I had developed the best idea of the day. Somehow, we both left $7 down and suffering massive smoke-induced headaches.
When I got home, I couldn't sleep. My head was buzzing on playing out of my element for the first time in ages. Unlike my home game, it was all new players. Unlike a casino, there was an element of something on the edge of dangerous in the room. (Gordon would recall later that my running joke of the night was putting someone on tilt then saying, "If you don't like that, just take me outside and knife me, then.")
We left with an open invitation to play again anytime.
I'm still trying to decide if I want to go back.