Go or Don’t Go

28 December 2005

The Life of Sin: With tonight’s game, my boys and I will have played poker nearly every Friday for all of 2005. When we didn’t play on a Friday, it was because the game got moved up or back a day. Sometimes, we played twice in the same week. We also had a couple of poker tournaments, the legendary Madcity No-Limit Poker Invitationals.

That’s dedication to dissolution, a complete commitment to the life of sin, forever and ever, amen. Can I get a witness?

The Nagging Cough: I’ve been sicker than hell for about two weeks now. Okay, I’m exaggerating; I was really sick for three days, sort of sick for a few more days after that, then generally better since. Generally better, except for this cough that won’t go away. The part that I’m worried about, though, isn’t the coughing, in and of itself. What I’m worried about is that I wake up every morning coughing blood. No lie; blood.

It’s like my morning ritual now. Wake up with a painfully sore throat and a bitter taste in my mouth. Go to the restroom, cough uncontrollably into the sink, and then do the evaluation. “That’s not too bad. Maybe I’m finally getting better.” Or: “There’s more today than yesterday. I’m too young to die.”

And it could be worse. When I lived in Madison, Wisconsin, I picked up a cough in October that lasted for months and months. Think I’m kidding? I returned to Cali for Christmas, went back to Madison, and kept coughing right through January. It was the cold, dry air that was kicking my ass, and I thought that I’d just have to live with the cough until I returned permanently to California. That was when one of my fellow fellows/fellow neurotic turned me on to the miraculous power of the humidifier. I bought one, ran it constantly (until my apartment was as hot and humid as a D.C. summer), and my cough was gone in a few days.

The miraculous and magical and mysterious powers of my current humidifier haven't, however, been able to cure me of this new cough, though it’s been going for ten solid days. I can’t imagine how bad the cough would be if I wasn’t humidifiering (hey, I just made up a word; cool) the hell out of myself. This is probably really stupid, but at this point, I’m sort of proud of my blood-producing cough. It’s shown more tenacity and determination and dedication than I ever have.

Pocket Pair: As has previously been mentioned on my poker blog, Ivan, poker player deluxe and designer/programmer of this here website, is, how to phrase this delicately?, an absolute and unrepentant fucking liar. He's my boy, no doubt, but he's shifty.

There’s a high set (three cards of the same rank) on the board, with two low cards, which means that it’s probably a battle of pocket pairs unless somebody’s holding the case card (the last card of the same rank) and has made four of a kind. The betting gets to Ivan, and he goes into the full Pacino. Then he says, as if thinking out loud, “I have a decent pair, but I don’t know if it’s good enough.”

Of course, somebody bets at Ivan, Ivan re-raises, gets called, and then he turns over the case card, giving him the unbeatable four of a kind.

As Ivan is raking in the mountain of chips that he’s just won, I say, “Hey, Ivan, I thought that you said that you had a pocket pair,” and I start laughing, because, dude, he’s just cold-blooded, straight lying to his buddies. Ivan laughs, too, and so does the rest of the crew.

For the rest of the night, though, I call Ivan “Pocket Pair,” as in, “The action’s on you, Pocket Pair.”

Go Or Don’t Go: That’s the only real decision that you have to make when you play poker. At any particular moment, do you “go” (stay in the hand) or “don’t go” (bail out)? Are your cards worth a bet? Are they worth a call? Are they worth a raise? Can they stand a re-raise? Are you willing to pour most of your chips into the current pot on the cards that are in front of you?

This go/don’t go decision involves math (counting outs [how many cards can help you] and figuring pot odds [the ratio of how much you have to put into the poet to how much you may win]) and psychology and history, so it’s sometimes difficult to make the right play, or to even know what the right play is.

But it’s not as if this one decision is the only decision that you’ll be making during the course of a particular hand. A decision to go will automatically lead to further decisions later on down the line, and having to make those future decisions has to be taken into account with every move that you make.

Some decisions are easy; you’ve got rags and so you fold, or you’ve got a great hand and you bet it the whole way. Easy. Others, though, are judgment calls. I may not play a certain hand, but others might. Some of the people at our game will, when in doubt, attack and try to hammer you into oblivion.

That’s not me. When in doubt, I throw my cards away and wait for better starter hands, or I muck my cards when the flop or the turn or the river have been unkind. This conservative strategy means that I don’t have huge nights, but neither do I have nights where I pay and pay and pay.

The Interlude: But tonight I’ve got to play some hands that I would ordinarily throw away. This is the last poker game of the year, and I am out of time.

Not with a Bang:

The Hollow Men
—T. S. Eliot

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

If I was going to miss winning the grand, I wanted it to be in a truly lovely and tragic flameout. I wanted it to be brutal and bloody and noble and sad. It was time to win $121.25, even if I hadn't gotten anywhere near that kind of triple-digit night in months and months and months. I had been chasing that grand all year, and had gotten close twice, once within $30 and once within $8, only to pay out and drift far away. I had been so close, so close, but I hadn't been able to get there.

Tonight, I was going to play hands that I normally wouldn’t play. That was the plan, but I am a hollow man, and I couldn’t get much going. I didn’t get cards with which to attack very often, and the only way to attack would have been to be on bluffs again and again, but I couldn’t pull the trigger on that kind of play and I am a hollow man.

I lost $68.50 for the night, and my year-end total was $810.25. That’s not bad, and I was the poker crew money leader for the year, which, considering the fact that I play with some great poker players, is no small accomplishment. Still, I missed my goal by $189.75, which means that I fell roughly 19% short of my goals.

I am a hollow man, and this is the way the world ends, this is the way the world ends, this is the way that the world ends, not with a bang but with a whimper.