It Hurts to Have to Be This Funny

13 August 2005: It’s the end of summer. People lives are kicking back in and they have more to do. I, however, have no life (spending all your time reading and writing ain’t no kinda life), so I’m pretty much free 24/7. Theoretically, I could get a call at three in the morning to get my ass to a game that’s starting in twenty minutes, and I could do it without having to think about the next day or having to lie to somebody or having to jump out a window.

The other guys in the poker crew, though, do have actual lives, bastards, and I knew that this fact might one day adversely affect the Friday-night poker game. That day, sadly, came to pass on the 13 August 2005. If you have a calendar handy, you’ll see that the thirteenth was actually a Saturday, but people had stuff going on on Friday, so we moved the game to Saturday, hoping that we could still put a full table together. Tragically, not everybody could follow the game to its new date, and we ended up drastically short-handed.

It’s a different game short-handed. Aggressive players become much tougher to play against because their techniques are more effective when they're in heads-up situations; they can just keep betting it up and forcing you to make difficult decisions the whole night, punking you until you’re out of chips and your self-esteem is in tatters. Strategic and/or mathematical players like me are at a disadvantage because we can’t use other players as leverage or to build up the pots, thus increasing the pot odds.

Who was the big winner?: Bert, inventor of the Bert Classic and reciprocity failure, took hand after hand off of me, and he also took green from my big bro, and my big bro had been ruling the table for quite a while. I have to give Bert, inventor of the Bert Light and the metric system, his props because he was just relentless the whole night and every single thing that I tried—bluffing, semi-bluffing, slow-playing, check-raising, smooth-calling—didn’t help me at all. I only lost a little, but that was because I was dealt hands that were impossible to misplay, hands so strong post-flop that no cards that could come on the turn or the river could possibly be used to scare me out. Any time, however, that there was space above me, Bert, inventor of the Bert Death Spiral and the optical mouse, would blast at me until I folded.

Basically, Bert tested my character, tested to see if I could hold up under attack after attack, and it turns out that I don’t have much character and that I can’t hold up. So Bert not only took my money, he also hurt my feelings. Thanks a lot, Bert.

19 August 2005: But my style holds up better when there are a lot of players at the table. Because of my ability to quickly and accurately count outs (cards that will help me to make what I think will be winning hand) and to figure pot odds, I’ll tend to fare better in direct proportion to the number of players.

Some Math: If the odds of me catching (if I have, say, thirteen outs out of forty-six cards, which gives me 1-to-3.54 odds) are better that the cost of calling a bet (if I have to put in $4 for a shot at $60, giving me 1-to-15), then I have to go. It’s much easier because the pot odds are going to tend to be better because more players will mean more chips in the pot. Instead of $4 giving you a shot at $8 (one gets you two, which means that half of the deck would have to help you, which is almost impossible), $4 might get you a shot at $20 (one gets you five, which means that if nine cards help you, this, over time, will be a winning play), so you have to make the call.

In other words, it’s harder to get driven out of a pot by aggressive players, and they have to take the effect of good pot odds into account when they’re thinking about making bets. They’ll actually start to ease up on the aggression because that aggression is only going to cost them money.

And even if you still lose hands because you didn’t catch, you can always have the consolation of saying, I had pot odds, so I had to go.

But Friday’s game was no cakewalk. Jesse’s an aggressive player, just throwing his chips into the pot with terrifying calm. Back in the day, there used to be a pitcher with the Padres, Lamar Hoyt, who threw serious heat, but he wasn’t one of those show-offy pitchers. He just threw gas because he knew that you couldn’t hit it. That’s Jesse, daring you to try to swing at what he’s throwing at you. Mostly, I strike out looking.

Somebody else who gets his chips in is Roberto, the newest recruit into the poker crew. He’s been at the game twice, and I’m sure that he’ll be there on a regular basis because he sure likes the action.

Roberto was sitting to the left of Jesse and I was to the right of Jesse. What did this mean? That the heavy action was always going to come after I acted, which meant that any strong bets I made would be shoved right down my throat by either Jesse or Roberto, or maybe, probably, both of them. When I had some decent cards to play, I would just check it down, hoping/knowing that it would get bet up behind me, which it mostly did. This almost-automatic checking strategy was a good way to hide my cards because I essentially became the last person to act in betting round after betting round when Jesse or Roberto had bet it.

The problem, though, was that I wasn’t catching cards that often, so I was doing a lot of pre-flop folding, which meant that I couldn’t draft off of Jesse and/or Roberto . When I did catch playable cards, I would oftentimes get no piece of the flop, what we call getting no love, and I’d have to fold out then. I wasn’t playing that deeply into many hands, but I was down $40 after about three hours just from antes and the few bets/calls that I was able to make before I had to push the eject button.

It is under these circumstances that some players will sometimes become impatient and start playing hands that they shouldn’t. They feel like they are standing on the sidelines and watching the action, and, goddamnit, they came to play. This situation is a real test of character and discipline, because if you start throwing in your chips just to get in on the action, you will most likely be giving away most of your chips. You have to know that, and, as much as it kills you, you just have to…wait.

I’m a pretty conservative player, and I don’t have a problem waiting, so I spent most of my time at the table just folding my cards and trying to be funny. After about three hours, I had won 1.5 hands, but then I started catching cards and getting love from the flop. I went on a run and in a little less than an hour, I went from down $40 to up a little over $80. Not that I won many hands, but when I did, there happened to be a lot of quan in the pot.

Bad Beat of the Night: This same shit keeps happening. I make a hand that’s nearly unbeatable, the key word being nearly, but all it does is cost me a big chunk of change. I’ve got a diamond king with another diamond and I make a four-flush on the flop. The board hadn't paired, so the only hands that I would have to worry about would be if somebody had made any two pair and now had draws to a full house.

Fourth is a diamond that doesn’t pair with the board, which means that I just made a king-high flush, not the nut hand, but the second best possible hand. Because the board hadn't paired, anybody looking for a boat doesn’t have many outs. I bet it up, but then Oscar re-raises. Oscar’s no slouch, and he’ll make strong moves when he thinks that it will pay off. I put him on holding two pairs, probably top two, with a boat draw for which he’s trying to build up the pot. I could come over the top, but then he might fold, and I want to extract more money from him after the river. I call.

The river is a junk card that couldn’t have helped Oscar. I bet the max, but Oscar bets back at me again. Now I start thinking that maybe he’s also holding a flush, but there’s no way that he could be holding the ace, not three weeks in a row. I should bet back at him, but I can tell that he isn’t going anywhere but to a showdown. I call, saying that I’ve got the king-high diamond flush. Sure enough, Oscar took the flush to his ace. The odds of me losing three weeks in a row with the second-best possible hand? One in 97,336, which is .001027369%.

Theologically Speaking: The fact that I managed to lose with three second-best hands in three consecutive weeks against such long odds either proves the existence of God (because He’s finally trying to get payback) or the non-existence of God (because what kind of deity would let the innocent [I’m the innocent] get so brutalized?).

I Need to Hire a Writer: We play every Friday night for at least six hours. We’ve played thirty-five times this year, and the poker crew looks to me for the comedy, which is a lot of goddamned pressure, and, sometimes, it’s just exhausting. I have a couple of classic bits—whenever I’m heads-up against my big bro, I say, “It’s Biblical”; If we’re playing Omaha High-Low and I’ve got neither a good high nor a good low, I’ll ask, “Can we play ‘Medium’ instead; or, if I’m taking a beating, I’ll say, “The comeback starts now,” as I look at my hole cards, then, after looking at said cards, I’ll say, “Okay, the comeback starts on the next hand: pure gold, baby—but the audience, heartless monsters that they are, always want fresh material. So, unlike everybody else at the table, I’ve got two jobs, three if you count the fact that I usually act as the banker. First, I’ve got to play at an unbelievably high level just to keep up with the hardcore mofos in the poker crew, and, second,  I also have to make with the funny.

I’ve got a plan, though: Hire a writer to work with me during the week, brainstorming bits and riffs. Then, on Fridays, my writer sits next to me, lawyer-style, whispering suggestions for jokes and witty comments into my ear or handing me legal pads on which he’s furiously scribbled funny lines. Then if I stiff, I can blame him, throw a tantrum (talent can be so moody sometimes), fire him, tell him he’ll never work again, bad-mouth him all over town, say he's a thieving cokehead, try to write new material myself, fail miserably, call and beg him to come back, and then pretend that nothing ever happened. If you’re looking for work, call my people.

Poker Problem: My left front speaker or my left ear: one of them is completely fucked up. I hope it’s my ear because I just dropped a bundle on the speakers.