On Tuesday I came unhinged. I lost my shit.
Any self respecting tell-all poker blog should include everything. Not just triumphant recaps of the good times and detached, sterile assessments of the bad times. A good poker blog ought to include honest accounts of the darkest moments. So here is a story about me freaking the fuck out.
Important preface: Bad beat stories are the white noise of the poker world. They are the dog barking down the block, the clatter of pans in your neighbor’s apartment, a taxi driver’s horn, the subway rumbling by. Or for those of you who live in more bucolic settings, bad beat stories are those crickets chirping in the night or the rain pelting your window pane. Almost every tournament ends on some kind of a bad beat or a cooler, yet people never tire of telling the same goddamned stupid stories about running two jacks into ace-ten and seeing an ace flop. If you travel in the same circles as me, you cannot escape these insipid stories about very standard things. Do you know someone who is fascinated by the weather and won’t stop talking about it? It’s like hanging out with that guy every single day.
“Unseasonably cold? Yes, I suppose you’re right, it’s kind of chilly today.”
“Oh wow. Two jacks? Yeah, there’s always an ace in the window. Crazy.”
That said, I’m going to tell a couple of bad beat stories in the paragraphs that follow. Understand that they are necessary elements in this instance. I cannot reach the conclusion of this story (i.e., I had a meltdown!) without running through a couple of bad beat stories. Bear with me.
Like virtually every other non-casual poker player, I’ve been educated in the Sklansky School of poker. Sklansky’s basic concepts are so well known and widely diffused that most poker players aren’t even sure where they originated or why they know them, but everyone knows his stuff. Sklansky-ism can ultimately be boiled down to a single concept: Expected Value (EV). One of the tenets of EV 101, drilled into the head of every poker player worth his salt on Day One of Sklansky School, is that expected value can only be reached in the long run. And the long run is a long, long time–statistical significance doesn’t kick in until some very large number of poker hands are played. The short run is nothing more than a series of blips and beeps that only gain relevence when clumped together in such magnitude that they become pieces of the long run. Think trees/forest or cells/organism here.
Since I graduated from Sklansky School a long time ago and am fully conversant in my professor’s language, I have also mastered the prescribed short run attitude. Since the short run essentially lacks meaning, I am always stoic in victory (just doin’ my job…) and affable in defeat (“good luck everyone!”). I don’t complain a lot when I’m visited by the bad beat fairy deep in a tournament, and I don’t thank God Almighty when I suck out in a big spot. Acting any other way would be “results oriented,” a phrase of extreme derision in the Sklansky world. Being “results oriented” means you are obsessed with the short term, which of course also means that you simply don’t get it. Think of how a neo-con reacts when he hears the word “socialist.” That’s how a true Sklansky-ite feels when he hears “results oriented.”
But I’m not a perfect Sklansky disciple. Despite renewed efforts to play high volume, my recent short run has not been pretty, and all those empty blips and beeps have begun to piss me off. I want to win something soon, if only to validate the sheer number of man-hours I’ve committed to sitting on my man-ass at a table surrounded my all that freakin’ man-meat. Sitting around and losing gets old. Forgive me Sir Sklansky, but I need some positive reinforcement every now and then.
The story of my meltdown begins on Wednesday night, when I played my first major online tournament in many months, Full Tilt’s FTOPS Event #1. It drew over 6,000 runners and first prize was around $250,000. I put on my Snuggie, brewed a fresh pot of coffee, and settled in to play at the 9:00 start time. As the tournament progressed I was running good and generally having my way. I managed to cruise into the money with a big stack. When we were down into the final 120 players, it was about 4:00 am and the blinds were at 4,000 and 8,000 with a 1,000 ante. I had a healthy stack of over 300,000 chips and thought that perhaps my Snuggie and I were about to witness my next big score. Then I was moved to a new table, and soon thereafter I picked up pocket aces on the button. I had yet to play a hand at this new table. It was folded to the player in the hijack, with whom I had absolutely no history. I covered him by about 50,000 chips. He raised to 19,600 and I reraised to 57,400. It folded back around to him and he 4-bet me, putting in almost his entire stack.
Realizing that this was a pretty big spot, I paused and stood up to carress my velvety red Snuggie, using gentle downwards strokes, from my neck to my stomach. “Mr. Snuggie, can my aces hold up here?” I asked aloud as I leaned forward to move the cursor over “all in” and clicked the button. The stranger in the hijack called and turned over a surprising hand: Queen-seven offsuit. Um, Okay. The board rolled out K-Q-7-x-7. I sat there in astonished silence, then busted out a few minutes later with AK against Q-3.
The absurdity of the Q-7 hand did not sit well. I came slightly undone. I racked my brain for the right words but came up empty. So I muttered “fuck you… fuck you… fuck you…” repeatedly and paced aimlessly around my apartment, unsure of how to properly release the anger welling up inside of me without waking my wife. I settled on typing a rant on my favorite messageboard and chugging three beers. Then I slept for a few hours.
The story resumes at Foxwoods last weekend. In the $2,000 event, I couldn’t lay down top 2 pair on an A-J-9-3 double suited board. My opponent had 3-3. Game over. In the $500 event, I dusted off my chips pretty quickly, just as Janeen and my parents arrived on the scene to lend support and watch me play. Instead they witnessed my deteriorating emotional state firsthand as I was detached and unable to engage in normal conversation for a couple of hours.
The story concluded at Mohegan Sun on Tuesday. The Mohegan Sun is a nice casino with a nice poker room and very nice employees, but the “Winter Chill” poker series drew little interest from the poker community. I arrived to find very short fields in the main events with little side action. Still, I figured I’d make the most of it, starting with the $600 Event on Tuesday morning, which drew a paltry 99 runners.
In that tournament I chipped up during the first two levels, growing my stack to 18,000 by the first break. I overplayed a couple of hands in levels two and three, and by the time the 150-300 + 25 ante level arrived, my stack was back down near the starting number of 10,000. At that time a new player was moved to my table, a doughy young kid wearing a backwards cap and some kind of gold medallion. He was probably the chip leader of the event with around 30,000 chips. The kid proceeded to lose most of those chips in a quick succession of hands, the last of which was a bad beat that tilted him severely. He said a few angry things that I couldn’t quite make out. Then he clearly announced: “I have no idea why I played this stupid thing. I’m going all in blind on every hand until I’m busted.”
On the next deal he kept his promise, gathering up his chips and dumping them in the middle without looking at his hole cards. He got no action then he turned his cards face up: 8-5 offsuit. As the next hand was dealt, he still looked perturbed and was holding his stack in his right hand, which was hovering over the center of the table. The implication was clear: once it was his turn to act, he’d be moving all in blind again. He was in middle position and I was under the gun. Before I peeled my cards, I decided that I’d openlimp Q-8 or better, then call his shove unless there was action behind him. I looked down, found two red queens (!) and limped in. The action folded to Tiltboy and he shoved. Everyone folded back to me and I happily called. I turned over my queens, then Tiltboy reached down and flipped over… two black aces. The entire table erupted in cheers, the board bricked out, and the dealer sent Tiltboy most of my chips. On the next hand, Tiltboy jammed in the dark for a third time. This time he had 5 high and he gave all his chips (and mine) to a guy who held pocket tens.
I sat silently in my chair amidst the commotion with a blank expression on my face. My demeanor didn’t change at all. In my mind I neither marveled at nor cursed my latest misfortune. It certainly registered, but something was blocking me from perceiving it normally. Deep down something odd was happening. It felt like a series of little clicks and snaps. They were barely perceptible at first, but grew more intense… click click snap snap snap SNAP…
My sanity was slowly breaking loose from its moorings, teetering unsteadily, then drifting off to sea. Off it went, disappearing into the horizon. Wheeeee…. As it happened, I instinctively folded a few unplayable hands. Then I began to look around. The dealer was disinterestedly pitching cards around the table, one at a time. I looked at the other eight faces. Some of them were still laughing about something. Probably those pocket aces. I looked at their eyes. They were watching each other, then watching the cards fly by, then looking down, then back up again. Boy, were they eager to pick those cards up and take a peek. Where was I? Wheeeeeee…..
On my final hand of the tournament I had J-10 offsuit in the small blind. I had around 2800 chips left and the blinds were now 200-400 with a 50 ante. Someone limped in middle position, I completed, and the big blind checked his option. The flop came Jc-6c-2d, and I got it all in against the big blind, who held 7c2c and covered me easily. When a club hit the river, the gentleman in the big blind stood up and raised his right fist in the air with his elbow bent, like a home plate umpire confirming a foul-tipped strike three. Instead of my usual “good game, good luck everyone,” I offered no words. Instead I stood up, turned to my left and looked the guy right in the face. I smiled at him, then mocked him by imitating his gesture. Yer out! And I was. Out to lunch.
I tottered out of the room and meandered back to the parking garage. I got into the elevator, but I couldn’t remember which floor I had parked on. Probably Floor 3 or Floor 4. I tried Floor 4 first. I got out and walked around. Nope. As I walked back to the elevator to try Floor 3, I felt absurd. Not because I was running bad. And not because I play a card game for a living. It was because I spend an inordinate amount of time in parking garages. I wondered how many people in the world spent as much time as I in parking garages. Very few. Very few indeed. Not only did I use parking garages frequently, I often could not locate my car, so I walked circles through those parking garages way more than was normal. I had to be among the world leaders in parking garage time! Wheeeeeeee…. I eventually found my car, then drove back to my crappy little motel and took a nap.
When I woke up from the nap I felt deceptively normal. It was around 7:00 and I decided to return to Mohegan Sun to see what was going on. I found that a $240 sit n’ go satellite to the following day’s $1,100 event was about to go off, so I grabbed a seat. All ten of us threw in an additional $100 so that we were playing for three seats. I played normal sit ‘n go poker–which I am capable of doing in any mental state, be it sleepy, drunk, delirious, or in this case, insane–and then we were four handed. The approximate chip counts were as follows:
Player 1: 14,000
Player 2: 14,000
Player 3 (me): 5,800
Player 4: 6,200
The blinds were 400-800 with no ante. I was in the small blind and Player 4 was in the big blind. It was folded to me and I moved all in with 5-3. This is a standard bubble shove and will work 98% of the time against a player who understands ICM, but the average live player hasn’t the first clue what ICM is supposed to mean. So I got called by A-10 and bubbled the thing. This one was my fault, as the mathematically appropriate play does not necessarily equal the optimal play. It’s opponent-specific, and I didn’t think that situation over well enough.
Wheeeeee….. I made the familiar walk back to the parking garage in a catatonic state. I found my car quickly this time. I started it and navigated the winding ramps down to the street. I turned right onto Route 2A, headed for that shitbag motel. About two miles from the casino, I regained my senses. I was present again, but holy shit was I pissed. The detached feeling was gone, but I was still feeling crazier than a shithouse rat. I had a straitjacket-worthy coniption, thrashing around in the driver’s seat like a lunatic. Then I let loose a startling, ear-splitting, blood-curdling scream, followed by an epic string of profanity that made the corpse of George Carlin blush.
I’m not sure where this episode ranks on the “results oriented” scale, but at that particular moment in time I would have happily jammed EV up your mother’s ass. It was a long time coming. I quit Mohegan Sun for the rest of the meet and drove home the next morning and haven’t played poker since. Now I feel a bit better.[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xp9Gm-aRe5A%5D
And that was a chimpanzee riding on a segway!