Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Supposedly Fun Thing That I'll Absolutely Do Again

The table was as congenitally loose as Rodney Dangerfield's necktie, so I tell ya, nobody's raise got no respect. A few minutes earlier, the guy in his fifties with a thick Slavic accent and a face as gray and flat as the Berlin Wall had dropped his last buyin calling off 20 big blinds, all-in, with Ace three unimproved and no draws . . . on the turn. "I had to do that," he said. "I had to do that. I had to do that, I had to do that." It wasn't clear to me if he meant that he felt that it was a mandatory play strategically, or if he meant that the talking ghost ferrets that live in his shoes had told him to call, and he simply had no choice. In any event, he was looking for an absolution that he wouldn't receive. "I had to do that," he said, and then the crowd swallowed him up and he was gone.

Here's something you might not know about me: I've never played live poker before, ever, aside from occasional home games. But against random strangers in a B&M environment? Never. Nothing. Nada. Really. And I know, I know, with the powerful passive-aggressive game I bring, it's surprising. But I've never done this poker thing in real life.

Until last Monday, that is.

I've been many places. To the rain forests of the Congo and the chicken and waffle houses of the Indiana planes, the top of the Eiffel Tower and the bowels of the Louvre, the birthplace of O Henry and the deck of the Queen Mary . . . but I'd never been to the Commerce in LA.

Until (once again) last Monday, that is.

Shoving gets respect if you always fold. "Nice Ace-King there," the nine seat says, mucking. I just smile and stack my chips.

"That's what you had, right?"

I'd had Ace-nine off, but I don't say that. Instead I say: "Yes, but what suit?"

"Clubs."

"Wrong, spades. Your reads are awful, man. Just awful."

I was on business in LA, and it suddenly occurred to me that I was in range of many poker rooms. I texted Riggs on a whim: "What is the best poker room in LA?"

In case you've never met him, Riggs is famous (and by "famous", I mean I've noticed it once or twice) for texting back very quickly, mainly because he is stingy with the words. This one was no exception:

"Commerce."

So, Commerce it was. I went with two of my colleagues, one of whom was my ride, and neither of whom was a poker player. Now, what I didn't ask Riggs was this: "What is the nicest poker room in LA?" We thought we'd get a meal there, and technically we did. The place smelled of something impossible to identify but not particularly savory, and this fusty fug followed us like a sad little puppy into the restaurant. The swordfish sandwich was suspect, but I ate it. I was going to war, after all.

"Oh man," says the kid in the eight. He has a more than passing resemblance to November Nine alumnus Scott "Flea Market" Montgomery, and he's in agony. "How do I pass up a chance at the nuts?" The board is Ace high, all hearts, and he flips up the King of hearts.

He's already called a big flop bet from the three seat before the nine shoved for fifty bucks more. The three called quickly, and to anybody who's been watching, it's obvious that at least one of these dudes has the flush. Maybe both, but at least one of them has it.

The nine has the poker armor on. The iPod of concentration. The hoodie of concealment. The suglasses of obfuscation. "Come on, man," he says. "I just want the pot. I've got it already." He shows the ten of hearts. "You only have like twelve bucks in this. Walk away."

The three seat, a scruffy kid who looks like he has sent away for the Prahlad Freedman starter kit, is already all-in. He's still in the hand but is watching the Laker game. Rudy Fernandez has been fouled flagrantly and is motionless on the ground. The general consensus is that he is a faker. "He's a Euro!" Prahlad Fauxman shouts.

The Slav demurs. "What does that have to do with it?"

Fauxman just shakes his head. The Slav won't let this one go. He seems genuinely offended.

"Maybe he's really hurt," he demands. "Has that occurred to you?"

Fauxman looks right at him. "I can say that Euros are floppers. I'm European, too," he says in an accentless voice as flat as the Kansas prairie.

This was not the Internet. This was not the land of the FPP and the Matrix Tournament and the Party Poker Bonus. A few of the major differences:

1) Nobody chose the penguin avatar, the gnome, the fish, the donkey, or even the Dracula. The most popular avatar here was, strangely, "Asian guy who hasn't showered this week" followed closely by "Young Caucasian male in full poker armor."

2) The software sucks. It is very hard to find the toggle which displays the pot size, stack size, and bet amount. There are pauses between hands as the pot is raked and counted out. Multi-tabling is not allowed.

3) You can put people on a hand a lot more easily. Wow, people just kind of show you where they are at without thinking about it, don't they? Reaching for chips before they act, sighs of disgust, hand on the cards waiting for their turn to muck. It's all right there. Not all of them. Just . . . oh, what's the word? Most. Yes, that's it. Most. Most of them. By the way, don't turn this into me talking about my wicked reading skills. I'm comically non-observant. It was just that obvious.

4) It's slower. You need to sit longer to find big spots I played two hours and took down a few limped pots preflop using big raises and a tight image. I made a too big bet with middle pair on the one flop I did see and had to throw it away when I was put all-in. That was the extent of it. But I was there primarily to observe. To experience. The hands themselves were a secondary consideration.

5) It's more fun.

The table is getting restless. We've been waiting for three minutes for a decision. But Flea Market has ants in his pants. "The problem," he explains to us, "Is that he's already in." He indicates Fauxman. "If I fold, I'll see if a heart hits the board. If I didn't know that I'd know, it would be an easy fold."

Part of me wants to tell him that that is a completely irrelevant piece of data. The mouth part of me does nothing.

"I've got it, just fold." This is the nine seat again.

Finally Flea Market folds it and screams at the turn and river to come black. They come red, but diamonds, and so he is satisfied. The nine seat looks ill as Fauxman tables a five-high heart flush, and finally mucks his ten-high flush draw. Flea Market just looks at him, speechless.

"I can't believe this guy." says the guy to my right. "What a weasel."

Fauxman is stacking his chips, still watching the Laker game. "They're bringing out a stretcher?" he snorts. "Oh, that is just adorable."

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