View through my window

April 18, 2006

Hi, back with more Things and Stuff

... as Helen Chamberlain on Soccer AM says on Saturday mornings. You'd know that if you've got Sky. And you like football. And you don't work Saturday mornings.

And with apologies for the delay in posting. I've been reeeeeeally busy. Work, mostly. And boredom, a bit. Do those of you that write rather than just lurk sometimes lose inspiration to write anything? And then, because you haven't written anything for a while, you lose the momemtum, and it seems more like a big chore than a pleasure to write anything, so you don't bother? That, anyway. Anyway, I'm still really busy but I've got some stuff to tell you so I'm back for a bit.

Talking of the fragrant Helen, as I was a paragraph ago, it's widely known that she plays a bit of poker (she came second at the Poker Million, for instance, winning half a million dollars. Nice day out). I think I'm right in saying that she'd never been to a casino before playing - online only.

And me.

Never been to a casino in my life. And considering that The Birthday is a fortnight today (there, that makes it easy to work out), I was having an attack of four thousand weeks and thought bollocks, I shall just go. As much so I can say I have as for any other reason.

Now, I've been playing poker properly for maybe ten years now, online. And at occasional home games. But casinos have all sorts of rules and etiquette and tactics and generally ways to make a newbie look like an utter arse. And also take all his money. And send him home skint and dejected, a poorer but perhaps wiser young man. But bollocks, I thought, I've read enough poker blogs and watched enough poker on telly to know the major pitfalls, so I'm more worried that it's the quality of my poker that will let me down.

So, I made some phone calls, and decided which of my local casinos was holding the best tournament for me that evening. Don't worry, I'll go on as little as possible about technicalities of the game, promise. This is more of your colour piece. Atmosphere stuff, honest. So, I kiss a very dubious LOML goodbye and trundle along the motorway to the casino.

I walk in, nervous but trying not to show it. They're very friendly at the desk, and my passport's more than enough ID to get in. I go in.

I expected a lot of rooms, like on the films - you know, James Bond playing Baccarat in one room, roulette in another, elegant dining through the back, that sort of thing. No, wrong, this is just one big space. There's a bar at one end up a couple of steps with lots of screens showing PremPlus footie, roulette tables in the middle, all sorts of slot machines around the rest of the place, and a roped off area to the far end is the Card Room.

I go to the bar so that I can suss out what to do. I make a Beginner's Mistake in trying to pay for my coke - all soft drinks are free, my love. Sorry. No need to apologise, she smiles. She looks a bit like my mum. Ok. A quick look round, nobody noticed, I think. In fact, the place is pretty empty. There's a generous scattering of people around various slot machines - one with a video screen showing a virtual roulette wheel seems popular. There is some action at one of the tables at the far end - a roulette wheel, I think. I scan the room for a minute. There's a desk with a bored looking bloke at the far end outside the Card Room. That must be my man.

I wend my way over, and chat to him about tonight. He's got a cynical seen-it-all-before attitude that only a twenty year old who knows what he's doing can adopt in front of someone twice his age who doesn't. Still, I manage to enter tonight's tournament without making any mistakes: I mean, it's obvious that I've not been before by the questions I'm asking, but I don't make an arse of myself. There's an hour or so to wait.

I mooch around the rest of the casino for a while. There are a bunch of people playing roulette at one table. I haven't got a clue how this works, so I lean on the rail beside and watch. I work out that they go to a cashier's window adjacent and buy money chips: these are dark red. They then exchange these money chips for lots of chips at the table - each player has a different colour so you can tell who's won what.

Most of the players are Asian - Middle Eastern, for a guess, by origin, though as there are signs up everywhere saying you must only speak English it's difficult to tell. One guy in a beige suit in front of me is sticking stacks of ten orange chips all over the board - on corners, single numbers, half and half. He has a huge stack of chips in front of him, Every time he leans forward to bet, a folded wad of notes maybe a centimetre thick pokes out of the back pocket of his trousers. They're all twenties. The girl croupier has to use both hands and one arm to sweep the piles of losing chips into a hole in the table after each round. I wonder to myself if he is trying to launder drug money, then berate myself for racial stereotyping. He could be though. It's untraceable.

So, I watch a bit of football, I read the menu - the food looks ok - and after what seems like an age we are called to the tables. I am Table 6 seat 9. Each seat has a little square of printed paper with your name and a bar code, and a thousand chips: one yellow five hundred, three purply one hundreds, and eight green twenty fives. The table fills up. Now, all of a sudden, it really is like a film - this time by Guy Ritchie. There's a guy who looks Eastern European, but who's deaf and dumb; an aggressive middle aged black guy with a loud mouth; an old Jewish guy in a shabby suit and tiny half moon specs; a couple of Middle Eastern lads all hair gel and designer tee shirts, trainers, sunglasses and bling; a little old bald Chinese bloke; and a few white blokes like me -some old, some younger, dressed fairly conservatively for comfort not impact, with tidy hair.

A muffled announcement says something along the lines of shuffle up and deal, and the dealer effortlessly flicks the cards out. I am, at this point, and not to put too fine a point on it, shitting myself. Smell it? I was sitting in it. I find out that adrenalin is brown. Look, I tell myself, this just is an exercise in not looking an arse, first time. Anything better is a bonus.

One thing that I can do without showing myself up is look very cautiously at my cards, then fold. So I do that a lot. I manage to get my compulsory 'blind' bets in without having to be reminded by the dealer. Around me, madness. People are shouting and yelling. Hurling chips at each other. Slagging each other off. Criticising the dealer, loudly, to his face. Calling the floor manager over to resolve disputes. Shoving all their stack in, going broke and buying more chips, over and over. An especially loud yell from one of the other tables: someone has got incredibly lucky and the loser and his mates are all shouting and waving their arms in the air. I sit in the middle, folding, folding. The bloke on my right bets, loses, and shoves a purple hundred chip to me. I am confused for a microsecond, then realise he wants change. I shove him four greens. I don't think anyone noticed my hesitation.

I work out that the little square of paper with the bar code is for re-buying. If you get knocked out, skinted, you call the floor manager over, give him another twenty quid, and he aims a barcode reader at your barcode and casually flips you a pale blue one-thousand chip from his pocket. You then have to change this with other players in order to bet. You can do this as often as you like for the first hour and a half.

I put in the compulsory blind bet, and look at my cards - seven and eight of diamonds. Nobody raises, I can carry on for free. Next three cards - six, nine, ten. I have a straight: this is really good. I check, not betting but hoping someone later on will bet. They do - a white lad bets and the deaf guy raises. I call, nearly a third of my stack. Next card, can't be any help to them, I make a small bet. White guy folds, deaf guy calls. Final card, can't be any help. I have the nuts - the best possible hand. How to get the bloke to call? I make a small bet, someone says "Milk bet", and laughs. He's right, it was. I wink at him - but do I mean yes it was, or do I mean that's what I want you to think? He narrows his eyes at me, thinking. The deaf guy makes some more of the unintelligible mewling noises he's been making all night, and folds. Damn. I wanted the rest of his chips. Still, a win. I shove my cards to the dealer without showing - keep them guessing, don't let them know what I had.

It's getting close to the end of the hour and a half - soon, if you're out, you're out. I have three and a half thousand chips, about average. I'm playing tight - not risking my chips, not bluffing. The black guy rebuys for the fourth time - that's a hundred quid in all he's spent. He sticks it all in next hand with rubbish, and loses; walks off shouting the odds. Not going to spend any more. Shame. I reckon I can take someone that reckless to the cleaners. The little Chinese guy's got a big stack, no-one else has much more than me. One of the young Asian bling-boys has been up and down like a yo-yo.

I make a slightly loose call, in last position to act, with King-eight. The flop comes jack-eight-something. Nobody bets before me, I make a reasonable sized bet, trying to find out if anyone has a jack, and I'm called by an older white chap, avuncular, moustached. We check it down from there, no more bets. "Eight", I announce, flipping it over. I'm sure he doesn't have a jack but I'm not risking any more chips at this stage. I'm right. He folds without showing: more chips to me. "I reckon if I'd bet at it again you'd have folded up shop" he says, not unfriendly. He's right, but I'm not giving him free information. "Don't be ridiculous, second pair top kicker: I'd have raised you", I tell him. He nods, sagely, processing the information. I hope we meet again in the same situation - if I really was to raise him in that situation I'd really have a much better hand than that - and hopefully now he thinks I'm going to raise with nothing much. If he believes me. Angles, always angles. I'm really enjoying myself now. I know I'm better than most of these players, now, and I'm confident.

The end of the rebuy period. I have about four thousand chips - or eighty quid's worth, if you look at it like that. The big tv screen above the tables announces that there were 68 competitors and there have been 139 rebuys. So on average everyone here has spent sixty quid or so, rebuying twice. Not me: I've only spent twenty. Surely this is good for me. It also announces the prize structure: two thousand and twenty quid to the winner down to a hundred quid for tenth. I try not to think about it.

I go for a slash, get a coke. I want to get on, I don't need a twenty minute break. I can't get back soon enough.

I make some moves, win a bit, lose a bit, and soon after our table is broken: there are now only as many players on my table as there are empty spaces on the other tables. They do some complicated dealing out of the cards thing to decide who goes where, I don't really understand, but the dealer is saying clearly to everyone "Your new seat is table one, seat two; your new seat is table three, seat six" and so on, so I don't make an arse of myself. I am table one, seat seven.

I carry my stack of chips over to the new table. A whole new set of faces to learn, game styles to work out. I go back to folding, folding. The compulsory bets eat into my stack. Eventually I find jack, ten suited in late position and call. I'm getting a bit short: have to make a move sometime. The flop comes ten high, two of them clubs: I have top pair. A big fat black guy with a lugubrious expression bets, everyone folds to me, I am last to act. I take a look at his chip stack: he's not got much, mind you neither have I. I take a deep breath and announce "Raise the pot". There is a hiss of indrawn breath, everyone leans forward. The dealer does some quick adding up - he has just a few hundred more than me. That means I am all-in. I lose, I go home.

He looks at me with his hangdog expression. He reminds me of Droopy the cartoon dog. I rest my elbows on the table, put my chin in my hand and my fingers over my mouth, trying to hide my expression. My heart is hammering. I don't really want him to call. He asks me what I have. I ignore him, staring at the table in front of me. He asks me if I want a call. I ignore him again. Finally: "I call."

My heart pumps. Etiquette demands a quick card turn over - no 'slow-rolling'. I flip them. He flips king-jack of clubs: a flush draw, no pair. I am two to one favourite. A couple of the other players pat the table - respect. Good raise.

The dealer flips the next card, nothing to help him. Any club, any king, any jack on the last card, and I'm gone. Anything else, I win. My heart must be going two hundred to the minute. The last card seems to be in slow motion ... turning in the air ... it's red. My heart is in my mouth - it's the four of diamonds. I win. More pats on the table. I look nonchalant as I stack up a big pile, with lots of lovely pale blue thousand-chips in it. My opponent takes it with good grace and is knocked out soon after. Another one down. I am loving this, now.

A little guy in a rumpled suit on my left raises all in on my compulsory big bet. He doesn't have much left. Everyone folds round, I'm last to act. I look at him: he reminds me of someone but I can't put my finger on it. I look at my cards, king-jack of hearts. It isn't really that many chips for me to call.No brainer. "I call", and I flip them over. He raises his hands in the air in a very Jewish despairing way and I realise it's Judd Hirsch he reminds me of, very distinctly now that I've realised. Him out of Taxi and was Jeff Goldblum's dad in Independence Day. He flips three-four off suit, nothing comes, and he's gone. He pats me on the shoulder as he passes.

One of the old Chinese guys raises me. I have Ace-ten: a good hand. I call, then wonder if I should have raised. Too late. The dealer turns up three unhelpful cards, including a king. I check, the Chinese guy bets big. I think, trying to look inscrutable but really cursing myself for not either raising or betting when I had the chance - it looked weak, of course he was going to bet. I can't call, he might actually have the king he's pretending to have. I fold, flashing him the ace as I do so. I've seen others do this, it looks cool and gives out a good message: I will fold good cards if I think I'm losing. A mistake I won't make again: show any weakness and they will pounce.

The hour and a half has flown by, and another break comes. It's supposed to be twenty minutes, but seems a lot shorter - there's an announcement over the loudspeaker and then a final call, and the dealers are dealing to largely-empty tables. The dealers deal all the cards, and then immediately collect the cards from in front of the empty chairs. I sit down just in time. There are four of us seated, and the young white chap to my immediate right bets the pot. The compulsory bets have been getting larger and larger so this is quite a big bet. Other players bustle up, moaning about not hearing the final call. I look carefully at my cards, and find two kings. Second best starting hand in poker. Big thump from my heart. Keep a straight face, have a think. I could just call his bet, matching his chips. But then if an ace is dealt, and he bets, I am in trouble. No, best to try and take all the money now. Better to win a small pot than lose a big one. Deep breath. "All-in".

The hubbub around the table quietens. He curses under his breath. "I'm sure I've got the best hand" he offers, trying to get some indication from my expression whether he actually does. Obviously nothing was forthcoming from my face, so he flips his hand aggressively toward the dealer. I quietly push mine there too, face down: keep them guessing. I stack my chips and do a quick count: I have twenty-seven thousand odd. I don't realise until later that this is five hundred and forty quids' worth. You can't just cash 'em in though, you have to play until someone has all the chips in the room.

The table breaks again. We're down to two: the last twenty players. I am the last to sit down, as I have difficulty carrying all my chips across the room to the new table. It's the same guy on my right. He grumbles good naturedly as I sit down. Not you again. A couple of the others curse, too: they wanted me to go to the other table, I've too many chips for their liking. I make a few bets, steal the pot with nothing but a 'come hand' a few times. I get raised by a chap opposite. I give him the eyeball. "Leave me alone, you big stack bully," he joke-pleads. I smile and fold. "Just this once, as you asked so nicely". A laugh round the table.

Soon, the chap on my left is short stacked, and has had to make the compulsory bet. He hasn't much left. I am last to act. I only have king-four of spades, rubbish really, but in this position I can play it: I raise so he would have to go all in to call. He fidgets and mutters and sweats and grumbles. Eventually, he shoves his stack in and flips his cards. Damn. I wanted him to fold. Nearly, nearly. I pat the table, murmer "good call", and flip my king four. He has a pair of sixes, and they hold up. There is some muttered praise for both our plays - my bluff raise, his brave call. He says "God I nearly folded, God I nearly folded" over and over. I am down to twenty two thousand - still over double the average in the room.

We play on. The young chap on my right raises again. He has almost as much as me left. I look down, carefully, and find a pair of queens. No decision."I raise the pot".

He curses about deja vu. He thinks I'm bluffing - I got him to lay down a big hand before, when I had kings just after the break, and he thinks I'm trying to get him to do it again. He re-raises me, staring into my face as he does it. I hope he doesn't have kings or aces.

"I put you all in" I say, betting sufficient extra to get him to have to put all his chips in. We have the interest of the room again: two of the biggest stacks head to head.

"You're at it," he says, defiantly, sure I am bluffing.

"Cost you," I reply, smiling. This raises a snigger. I look round the table: this is a big old pot and everyone is paying attention.

He does the only thing he can do - with only a few thousand left, he calls, and flips over king-nine of hearts. I flip my queens to a ragged round of applause, and he starts to get a good ribbing from the rest of the table. It was a dreadful misread. He is way behind, odds-wise.

The dealer flips the first three cards, all low, no problems. He's standing up to leave, people are taking the piss. I'm shushing them, this isn't over yet. The turn card, the fourth out of five ... is the king of diamonds. A shout goes up, my head goes down. I've been punched in the stomach. I can't breathe for a second. One card to come: he has a pair of kings, I have a pair of queens. Only one of the two remaining queens can help me, and they are both reluctant to show their face: they don't come, the last card is small, and I have to shovel over twenty thousand chips to my right. He is getting a good-natured ribbing from around the table. I put up a good show, laughing it off, swearing good-naturedly, but inside I am gutted. I haven't made a mistake, I've just got unlucky. I suppose you could argue that the big stacks shouldn't run up against each other at that stage of the tournament, but he started it, and we were both pretty much committed.

It happens. I am praised for the way I am taking it. "Poker", I say, smiling ruefully, but knowing inside before that king turned up I was better than four to one favourite to win. If I'd shown him the kings earlier, maybe he would have folded, not thought I was bluffing this time. On such small decisions ...

I would have had nearly fifty thousand chips had I won that hand. As it was, rather than chip leader of the whole tournament I have about six thousand left, and they soon go, eaten up quickly by the compulsory bets. I cling on for a bit, going all in to stay alive, but in the end someone had to get enough of a hand to call, and my jack nine is beaten by ace queen. At five to two in the morning I am in the car park, on my way home ruminating on what might have been. Fourteenth out of sixty eight in the end. Missed the money by four spots.

Good first effort, no doubt. Could have been so much better.

Ah, well, a good lot of entertainment for twenty quid. I haven't had so much fun in years.

5 Comments:

  • oh my goodness. that was so exciting!! i don't even get poker and i couldn't stop reading.

    i know this makes me sound gushy and weird but really, i loved this piece.

    By Blogger surly girl, at 8:18 pm  

  • Thanks. Absolutely as it happened. It was just exactly like walking into a Guy Ritchie movie - the funny thing was, nobody else seemed to notice. Which made it even weirder.

    I'm going to go again, if I can persuade the LOML that I might actually win some money back at some point.

    4000 weeks ...

    By Blogger crisiswhatcrisis, at 10:38 am  

  • Gawd, I was totally gripped! That was good poker story, I like playing poker but dont really understand it...if that makes sense!

    By Blogger Moo, at 6:25 pm  

  • that was really exciting. now I don' t have to go to a casino, I've experienced the thrill right here!

    By Blogger Kyahgirl, at 4:01 pm  

  • HE DIDN'T TELL YOU HE LEFT HIS HOUSE KEYS AT HOME AND WOKE THE LOLM AT 3AM TO LET HIM IN.LIKE HE'S GOING AGAIN SOON!

    By Blogger crisiswhatcrisis, at 10:26 pm  

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