I'd been thinking about the heat.
I'd been thinking about the heat because it wouldn't let me think about anything else. The temperatures in G-Vegas had been over 100 for the past three days and the nights weren't much better. Even though the poker room enjoyed central air conditioning, it couldn't fight the heat wave. Nothing I drank quenched my thirst. Nothing stopped the sweating. I was clammy and thought, "Well, here's my chance to die at the poker table."
"Remember to get the weather in your god damned book--weather is very important."
Hemingway wrote that in 1932 in a letter to John Dos Passos. I know that because fellow poker player and writer Larry Phillips was kind enough to send me a copy of his "Ernest Hemingway on Writing" a few months back. I thought about it because Dan kept encouraging everybody at the World Series with Hemingway's thoughts on the weather.
For the moment, though, I was sweating through my t-shirt, routinely walking to the bathroom to splash cold water on my face, and asking the cocktail waitress for cold bottles of water I could hold on the back of my neck. At one point, I stood up and stumbled toward the back door.
"Leaving?" the hostess asked. She's friendly, but I'm sure the question was based more on wanting to know whether I was coming back and whether she should slap the deadbolt behind me...what with the cops and robbers and all.
"Just stepping out to get some air," I said.
The way she laughed at me confirmed what I was thinking. The air hadn't cooled off outside. Even though the sun had disappeared, the parking lot felt like my grandma's kitchen on a fried chicken Friday. I climbed into my car, turned on the AC, and let it blast my face. I calculated how long it would take for the blinds to get back around to me before running back inside, no cooler than I had been all day. I'd started sweating at 3pm while cleaning the garage, continued to sweat in the swimming pool, the shower, the bar, and now the poker room.
With no cool place to go, the poker room seemed like a reasonable place to land. The romantic wing of my brain sees poker as a hot game. It sees dusty cowboys, sweating riverboat gamblers, and red-faced Texans driving down tumbleweedy highways. The Rio turned up its AC so high this year that many players were forced to wear jackets--and, in some instances, coats--to stop the shivering. If a poker player suffers any form of temperature woe, it should be that he thinks he's dying from the heat.
The poker, despite the heat, just felt right, like seeing a college buddy you haven't seen in forever. The banter was familiar, the rhythms the same, and all the old jokes were just as funny as they were four months before. I hadn't sat down in a G-Vegas underground game since mid-May. My days in Vegas and time catching up with the family had kept me away from all the old haunts for a long time.
Unlike the days where I would watch the clock and rush to the games as soon as I could, I felt no urgency. I was rolling with BadBlood for the night and it was just good to be with a buddy and going to play some cards. We walked into the Black Stallion as the evening was getting underway. Blood ceded my favorite seat to me and I sat down to an unlikely run of good luck. I flopped five sets in the first three hours and seemed to do no wrong. I was rusty, for sure, but the cards were making up for it. I'd left my iPod hooked to my pocket and set my sights on a couple of likely marks.
It was after 10pm when I realized how hot I really was. It wasn't good cards. It wasn't good play. I was literally hot. I'd been sweating non-stop since 3pm and I started to think I might be in the middle of a minor heat stroke.
In the first few hours, I'd managed to more than double my buy-in. I'd made a tough fold that, while I still think was correct, would have won me a massive pot if I hadn't made the laydown. That pot made me burn a little hotter. When I doubled up a guy with my flopped boat against his turned boat, I got a little hotter.
That's when Papa started talking to me. "This isn't the weather. It's poker. And you're not writing a god damned book. Get your head together or get out. Oh, and two other things. You're not me and you really should be thinking about the poker more than whatever story you're going to get out of it."
Note to poker players who fancy themselves writers: When the ghost of Hemingway starts chatting you up while you're on tilt, it's time to take a break.
The iPod went in, the "On Tilt" mix began with Chris Knight's "Backwater Blues," and I settled down. There still needed needed to be at least one hand of poker to make this night worth writing about. Even if the weather was the only interesting character in the whole story, making the tale fit on the pages of Up For Poker would require something for the hand history set.
I've never been to Omaha, but I can attest that Texas is a hot place. I once rode in the back of a pick-up truck from the Gulf coast to El Paso in the middle of the summer. It's fucking hot. Still, as poker players, we know that Omaha is a hotter game than Texas Hold'em in terms of the gamble. This night, we were only playing No-Limit Texas Hold'em, but there was a light breeze blowing from the north and it carried Omaha's smell all the way.
A tight player in the five-seat came in for a raise and I smooth-called with 7s8c. Two callers came in behind us and we saw the perfect Un-tilt Otis flop: 6c9hTh.
"Look, Papa! The nuts!"
My only problem, as I had it figured, would be extracting value from the hand without giving any heart draw a good enough chance to stay in. I hadn't been paid off on a set all night long and I was getting frustrated by the emasculation of my monsters. Turns out, in this case, it wasn't going to be a problem. Let's see if I can capture how fast this all happened.
Original raiser: Bet
First caller: All-in
Second caller: All-in for less
Original raiser: (thinking for one minute) All-in for just a little more
I ripped my iPod ear buds out of my ears and heard myself asking, "How much?" Then I heard myself say, "Wait, it doesn't matter how much. I call. I have the nuts."
I love writing about other's people's perfect storms more than I enjoy getting caught up in them myself. Remember, on the 6c9hTh flop, I was holding 7s8c. Everybody's money was in the middle. I was fortunate enough to have the nuts and have everybody covered by--hey look!--a little more than my original buy-in. Here's what my nuts were up against:
Original raiser: 9c9s for top set
First caller: Ah2h for nut flush draw
Second caller: Jh7h for gutshot straight draw, gutshot straight flush draw
Looking back, the pot wasn't anywhere near as big as other pots I've played in that same room or, for that matter, a couple of pots I played that night. Still, for that moment, a four-way all-in had half the room standing and watching.
"I don't even know if I'm actually ahead," I said.
Everybody was counting outs and running through all the cards that would beat me. I was trying to dodge any heart, any eight, or the board pairing. The math would have to be done later, because the turn was falling...and smack, there was the eight I was trying to dodge.
"That's just for the main," I said quietly. I actually felt good for a second. The side pot was going to be pretty big, because the guy who had called all-in for less and hit his miracle had been sort of short.
I was trying to explain this as the river came down. I was safe! It was a nine.
The room did that thing where everybody goes, "Woooooaaaaahhhh."
Oh, yeah. That's quads.
"Nobody said anything about the fucking nine," I mumbled.
Suddenly, I was hot again.
"That was like one of those Omaha hands," Badblood said. "The kind where you're ahead, but it's right to fold."
And he was sort of right. I pulled out my Blackberry and pulled up TwoDimes. With all four hands in, I was actually a dog. I was a very slight dog--like a fraction of a percent--but a dog nonetheless. The set was ahead. Of course, by that time, I was priced way the hell in. However, I was also behind with the nuts.
That actually made me sort of happy. Any time I can call three all-ins while I'm holding the nuts and actually be behind, well, that's a night that I'll remember. It ain't the stuff of Hemingway, but, really, what in poker is?
Knowing now that I was not going to stop sweating until I was naked, I thought it best to leave the game. I looked at my stack. I'd earned a grand total of...four dollars. I tossed it at the dealer and headed out into the heat.
That's how I got back into the underground circuit after a four-month absence. I nearly had a heat stroke and was behind with the nuts.
Damn, I really love this fucking game.