The Enemy of My Enemy Is My Friend

4 November 2005

I’m a Math Geek

Short-handed, poker is a different game. Usually, we get anywhere from six to eight players at our game. We’ve had as much as ten, but that’s rare. At a full table, anything over five players, I’m at my best because poker becomes a mathematical game and I’m a natural at math; you figure your outs and the pot odds and you either go or you don’t go. The lower the number, the less mathematical and more strategic the game becomes. You’re not so much playing the cards as you are playing the other players, what you already know or manage to learn about them.

That’s a real problem for me because reading people has never really been something at which I’ve been any good. Honestly, I just don’t get people, their moods or their feelings. For instance, you could be standing in front of me, frowning and mouthing obscenities and giving me the finger, and I’d probably have no idea what you were feeling.

My big bro, on the other hand, can just read people and then make some pretty amazing calls and folds because he’s managed to detect something, some tiny, tiny thing, in the players against whom he is up against. I’ve seen him call huge bets when he wasn’t holding a monster hand, but he had intuited that the other player didn’t have it. It blows my mind.

And Pumpkin Boy was back. I’m pretty proud of myself that I’ve managed to not throw a chair at this dude. I’m learning, finally, how to put up with people who annoy the hell out of me, and it only took me until my mid-thirties. I think that being an introvert screwed me because I never trained myself to tolerate people. If I were in a group of nitwits, I’d just retreat to my room to read.

So, how did the new and improved, more tolerant me do? I won, beautiful babies. I had killed the previous week, clearing $129, but Pumpkin Boy hadn't been there, so it wasn’t a real test. On this night, I made $22.75, which isn’t a lot, but Pumpkin Boy lost a ton of green. Also, for the year, I’m at 988.75, less than twelve dollars from making a grand. Sweet.

10 November 2005

The Enemy of My Enemy is My Friend

Remember how I said that I hate Pumpkin Boy? Well, there’s this player, KayJay, who was making his return appearance after being away for over eight months and who is at least three times as annoying as Pumpkin Boy ever was. What makes him so annoying? First, he’s a smack talker, which is classless in every way. Also, he’s the kind of guy who gets loud and acts uncool when he’s winning but who then shuts down and gets pouty when he’s losing. Most of all, though, as a person who thinks that he’s relatively funny and who’s studied the craft and practice of humor, he offends my comedic sensibilities. Here’s a test to run on a person who thinks that he’s funny. Wait for him to say something that he thinks is funny and then see if he even waits for laughter from other people or if he is the first person to laugh, because people who are first to laugh at their own jokes are mostly just joking for themselves and are also lousy judges of material. Chances are that this person is not funny at all. KayJay is not funny at all, though he clearly thinks that he’s hilarious. Self-deluded is more like it.

What happens at the game? Seated to my right is KayJay and seated to my left is Pumpkin Boy. I was getting myself mentally and spiritually prepared to have a miserable time but also to focus on the game and play as well as I could under the circumstances. I thought of it as a test.

But it turns out that KayJay is so annoying that he even managed to annoy Pumpkin Boy. It wasn’t too long before Pumpkin Boy was staring lasers at KayJay and then making counter-comments at him. Operating under the theory that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, I decided that Pumpkin Boy wasn’t so bad after all. The truth is that, well, he had sort of mellowed out last week (or, as per my newfound ability to tolerate nincompoops, I’m becoming less uptight). We actually managed to get along. It was touching, really.

So KayJay is being a pain, but Pumpkin Boy is getting some shots in on him, and so am I. Then I busted out with one of my cool little sayings. I turned to Pumpkin Boy after KayJay had made yet another one of his stupid little comments and I said to Pumpkin Boy, “Do you know what the bull says to the rat?” Pumpkin Boy has no idea (because my saying has yet to really hit on the street), so I said, “Nothing. It’s just a rat.” There was a pause while KayJay decoded that one. “Uh, I guess that Blas Manuel is the bull, so, uh, wait a minute, it’s coming to me, so that means that I’m the rat.” KayJay had no comeback. Now that’s a quality burn.

KayJay, by the way lost like five dollars, which isn’t a lot, but he had been up huge almost from the first hand, and he had been a real sore winner about it.

My Big Bro Has Skills, Son

My big bro has two master’s degrees. He holds a black belt in kenju, earned it, in fact, faster than anybody else in the history of his dojo. He’s so bad-ass at his job that he can probably go as high in his field as he wants. He’s got tons of green and property. Yeah, of course I’m proud. But what really makes me proud? How goddamn good he is at poker. Last night, he made a little over $173. He’s ruthless and clear-eyed and calm, no matter what goes down. He just knows how to play.

The cool thing about playing with my big bro is that even when I’m not winning, I can be happy for him when he kicks ass. The bad thing? He’s a terror to go up against. For instance, last night, he and I were heads up after the turn, and, because he was to my left and the dealer to my right, he was first to act after fifth-street came down. He checked it to me, and, because I thought that I was holding a great hand, I leaned forward and reached for my chips and was about to make a max bet that I knew that he’d have to fold to when the thought that he was suckering me and was going to come at me with a check-raise popped into my head. That thought came so forcefully that I leaned way back in my seat and said, “Hell no, bro, you're setting me up.” He didn’t say a thing and got this enigmatic smile on his face. The board had paired away from me on fifth, so my flopped two pair were now vulnerable to three of a kind or a boat. A better man than me would have checked it and gotten a free showdown, but I had a nice hand. Also, like all younger brothers, I am programmed to try to beat my big bro at any- and everything, even if I fail 99.9% of the time. I bet the max, my bro called, and he turned over a winner. I’ll get him next time. If I don’t, then I’ll get him the time after that. Hopefully.

Couch Time

We were playing on a Thursday because just about everybody had Friday off, which meant that we could go as late as we wanted. At the beginning of the year, the game would break up around three in the morning, but we started calling it quits at two, mostly because I have a forty-five minute drive home and have to be at work every Saturday at seven thirty. How do I pull that off? Caffeine, my friend, caffeine.

But, like I said, on this day we could quit whenever the mood struck. Some of us said we should still go until two, but two came and went, and so did three, and then so did four, and we were getting close to it being five. My big bro, who is badass, had said we should play until seven, go get some breakfast, and then come back for more action. Thankfully, because I was already spacey and on the verge of hallucinations (caffeine can keep you awake, but it can’t keep you coherent), we decided to stop at five.

That’s still pretty late, especially since most of us at the game are responsible adults with commitments and obligations. So one of us (to protect his rep on the street, he shall remain nameless) gets a call at around four in the morning from his special lady. Have you ever done that thing where you're with the homies and your ruca calls but you can’t leave the table (because, for example, you're in the middle of a hand) so you talk softly and quickly in clipped and half-mumbled sentences? This was the end of the conversation that we could hear: “We’re still playing…I’ll be home soon…bye.” It was then that I made a joke about somebody having to put in couch time when he got home.

Somebody asked, “Couch time?” and I said, “Yeah, you know, when you fuck up with your lady and you have to go sleep on the couch. We’ve all put in couch time. All the fellas (and by this, I meant all the fellas in the world) know what I’m talking about,” and there were nods and rueful smiles of assent all around as we all flashed back to our stretches of sleeping in our various living rooms. Even Bill Clinton, my man Bill, my homeboy Bill, has had to put in couch time, but he had had to do his in the White House. I imagine poor Bill, the goddamn President, dragging a pillow and a blanket around the White House, looking for a place to crash.

So, we played for nine hours, and after all that, I lost $7.50, which meant that I lost about eighty cents an hour.

12 November 2005

Whenever It Goes Down

I’ve been busting ass all day. First, I put in four hours at work. Then, after lunch with my big bro (I got a meat-lover’s omelet; that bad boy was huge and I have decided that, at some point meat becomes too much meat), it’s to Starbucks (yeah, Starbucks; it’s the only T-Mobile wifi in Madtown, so step off) for four more hours in front of my computer. I’ve got a killer headache and I’m sort of woozy from all the caffeine by the time I get to my parents’ house for dinner when, shortly after I've finished eating, I get the word from my big bro that there’s some action going down at Frosty’s crib. Frosty is a cool dude and he makes a ton of green and, best of all, I’ve gotten into some really soft games at his house. I had planned on going home and working for at least three more hours (that’s right, motherfuckers, I was planning to put in an eleven hour day; the poems and stories don’t write themselves), but it’s hard for me to pass on a poker game. Yes, I have considered that I may have a slight case of the gambling addiction, but I’ll only really worry about it when I’m selling furniture out of my apartment to pay for the next game. Until then, I’m going with denial. Don’t knock denial; it’s gotten me this far.

I’m following my big bro to the game and I figured that he and I would be taking everybody’s money all night long and that there was a good chance that I would finally clear a grand for the year. I thought wrong, but we’ll get back to that later.

Now, at our game, we’re very organized and, except for Pumpkin Boy, we’re all pretty good about poker etiquette. This level of courtesy, though, isn’t about some mindless allegiance to the rules; it helps to keep the game chill and the cards coming quickly. I’ll admit it: I’m a bit of a nut for order and I need everything everywhere to be perfect all the time. Stupid, I know, but I can’t help it.

Again, at our game, we’re a pretty smooth-running and efficient machine. Not Frosty’s game. A dude spent nearly half an hour on his cell, talking loudly and slowing down the game. People were leaving the table when it was their turn to deal or act. The pot kept getting splashed, which makes it nearly impossible to keep track of the betting. And then, when one dude was all in, he was allowed to reach into the pot and pull out chips to use to finish playing the hand. In other words, we weren’t playing table stakes or any other type of stakes off which I’d ever heard. If your game is going to allow such a half-assed maneuver, you should probably let people know because my big bro could have done the same half-assed thing when he had had to go all in after fourth street during a previous hand. He could have kept betting and calling and raising and pulled more money from the pot if he’d have known that he could have played with pretend chips. It seemed kind of sketchy because, after my big bro won the showdown, he lost out on money that he could have made. Not cool.

So the lack of order was getting to me and I said that I had to leave at midnight because I had to work the next morning, which, because I try to maximize the use of each waking minute, was true enough. My thinking is that I can always be working, either reading or writing or thinking. Like a nitwit, however, I had forgotten my watch, so I had to ask others for the time. Next thing I know, it’s five after midnight, so I say that I’ll go after my last deal. At this point, I’m actually up $4.50 after being down as much as $30 from my $50 buy-in.

I deal it out, but I catch crummy cards and I fold pre-flop, there’s not much action for the rest of the hand, and Frosty says, “Come on, one more.” I’m usually really good at doing what I say that I’m going to do, but I didn’t really want to go out on such an anti-climactic hand. This was a test of my character, and I failed like a frat boy fails a Breathalyzer test after driving his Mustang into a ditch after homecoming: spectacularly.

I get dealt unsuited K-J, Kojak, and I see the one-dollar blind. The flop gives me an inside straight draw to the ace that’s on the board. The smart play is to check it and try to get free cards, especially since there’s an ace on the board and people may be scared to bet. Instead, after everybody checks it down, I decide to semi-bluff and lead out by betting the $2 max. My big bro folds, so does Stevie, Frosty calls, and Victor mucks his cards. It’s Frosty and me. Fourth comes down, but I don’t fill my straight. Frosty checks, and I bet the $2 again. Fifth misses me again, and I’m holding exactly nothing, but I've been betting it the whole way, so maybe Frosty will put me on a good hand, a hand strong enough to beat whatever he’s holding. I bet the max, four dollars, and Frosty thinks for a second before he finally calls.

I turn over my cards and say, “I don’t have a goddamn thing.” Frosty had made a pair on the flop and two pair on the turn and had led me the whole way. He stayed with me, called me, and won the nice pot that I had done all the work to build. It was, of course, the worst time to bluff. People are going to want to turn over their cards on the last hand of the night, but I thought that I could bluff him out.

If I check it the whole way, then maybe I get out cheaply. The last $4 was definitely a bluff. If I check it, Frosty probably does so as well and I only lose fifty cents for the night. Better still, if I don’t play this hand at all, I win for the night, not a lot, but winning is winning. Amen.

My big bro makes over $20 for the night, which is incredible since he had burned through his initial $50-and had had to re-buy for another $30. He made a $70 turnaround. And it wasn’t as if he had been playing badly. He took two really brutal fifth-street beatdowns that, if his opponents had made smarter plays and had folded rags when they should have, shouldn’t have happened. The same thing happened to me early in the evening, cost me $20 (40% of my chips), and forced me to play short-stacked for most of the night.

Oh yeah, as usual my big bro kicked my ass on a hand when I made an ace-high straight with a queen of clubs that landed on fifth. Unfortunately, that queen gave him a king-high club flush. Not my night.

For the night, I lost $4.50, brining my year-to-date total to +$976.75. I’ve got a month and three weeks to win $23.25 more and finish above a grand (a “g,” as we say in the hood) for the year.