July 19, 2012
As I sat at my usual table playing £5/10 no-limit holdem with about £1000 in chips stacked neatly in front of me, I looked down at my two cards and swiftly threw them back to the dealer. This feels so natural now, I know how it works, I knew the place, the game and the people down to the last little detail. I remember almost exactly two years ago, when I first set foot in this Casino Poker room, things couldn't have been more different. There are some days that you just do not forget, because it is a snapshot that sums up your life at that moment.
I met Justin outside the Casino, he was a little shorter and chirpier than I expected. He gave me a firm hand shake and greeted me in the voice that I was far more familiar with than his face. We had known each other online for a few months. I found his skype group while trying to learn and improve my poker game, and since joining, we have spent many hours debating various poker theories, specific poker hands and life.
"There's a £50 tournament, I think we should play." Justin said to me as we registered at the front desk.
"Really? But you know I don't play tournaments, what if they're too good for me?" I was uncomfortable physically being inside a casino, it felt wrong, I felt like I was doing something bad. I'd spend the previous 3-4 months learning more about gambling than I ever thought possible, and yet I can feel my self getting slightly agitated.
"Tell you what, if it turns out that you think you're not good enough, I will pay your £50 back." Justin was clearly entertained by how much I was underestimating myself.
So that was that, I broke off £50 from the £200 I took out of the cash machine earlier, and registered. As luck had it, Justin and I ended up on the same starting table, so we took our seats and waited for the tournament to begin.
The tournament was self dealt, meaning there were no dealers and the players took turn to shuffle and deal themselves. No problem. I knew how to deal. The difficulty, however, was that by this point, I was shaking. I was acutely aware that I had no idea about live poker etiquette, I knew the rules, of course, but everyone else was riffling their chips, playing with their cards, while I sat there looking at the different chips trying to figure out what colour was worth how much. God I must seem like such an idiot.
The first few hands went by without much drama, and then it was my turn to shuffle. Somehow, and to this day I still don't know what happened, I managed to drop half the deck onto the floor, along with a few of my chips. I was instantly embarrassed and rushed to pick up the cards I dropped. Justin, on the other hand, was enjoying every second, "don't mind him guys, it's his first time."
Maybe it was poker justice, but Justin subsequently got knocked out, so he came over to watch, standing a few meters behind me, not close enough to see my cards, but close enough to see everything else. There was an old gentlemen to my right who I then won a pot off, he became somewhat annoyed, and squirming in his frustration, spotted Justin standing behind him.
"Did you see my cards and tell your friend what to do?" he demanded.
"I don't know what you're talking about" Justin replied, to be fair, how could he possibly tell me what to do when he was standing behind both of us?
"Just move it."
Justin did not reply.
In the next hand, the old guy limped, I raised, it folded back around to him and he folded, with a loud groan. Looking round again, he saw Justin standing at the same spot, unmoved. He then shot out of his chair at a speed I thought impossible for someone his age, and darted towards Justin with his fist clenched. Justin quickly jumped out of the way while a security guard rushed to the scene.
I later asked him why he decided to not move, Justin said:"So you're asking me, why did I do my best to annoy and tilt a terrible player to your right when the most likely consequence was his chips flowing into your stack?" While I don't agree with Justin's method of doing things sometimes, I really cannot fault their effectiveness.
The tournament carried on, and I got lucky in a few spots until I became one of the chip leaders when the following pot happened.
It was now down to 11 players on 2 tables. Meaning after the next 2 eliminations, 9 players will enter the final table.
I was in the small blind, with the most chips on the table. A guy with a short stack in middle position goes all in, and a guy called on the button, after a very long pause.
I looked at my hand, it was two Kings. I smiled on the inside, because I must have the best hand here, the short stack could have any 2 decent cards, and was just desperate to double up or bust, and unless the guy on the button was trying to win an Oscar, he would not have thought that long about calling with AA, the only hand that is better than mine. So I re-raised all in, and after another 3 minutes of agonising moaning "why did you do that, I didn't do anything to you." He eventually called with Ace Six offsuit (an absolutely terrible call). I proceeded to eliminate both guys and moved to the final table.
By this point, I was in the zone, I sat up straight, watched the game carefully, it was no different to my normal games. I didn't flinch when I lost a pot, didn't smile when I won one, and it wasn't long before a middle aged guy opposite me blurted out "Everyone be careful, this guy's such a hustler, he told us it was his first time playing, but look at him, it can't be his first time."
"I said it was my first time playing live poker." I responded.
"Playing with real chips is a bit harder than clicking buttons huh?" said an old timer on my left, I smiled at him, maybe not all poker players are bad people, I thought.
After that I really felt relaxed and at ease. After all, I'd made a few thousand dollars online playing at this point, moving up stakes at a very respectable pace. I'd read upwards of 40 poker books, spent hundreds of hours playing, watching, learning, discussing poker, dissecting everything to the most minute detail, I doubt anyone else sitting at my table had done even 1/10 of what I had.
I ended up coming second in the tournament, for about £500 or so.
"So are you going home now?" Justin asked as we cashed out.
"Well actually, Anna's at this party I'm suppose to go to, and I'm late, didn't expect it to take so long." I answered, then looked at Justin, "You should come."
"O.K." And that was that, we spent the next 2 hours talking happily about all the hands we've played, about how he avoided getting a black eye from a pensioner, about how I should incorporate my "this is my first time" routine into my game to achieve maximum effect......
Anna was waiting for us outside when we arrived, she was all dressed up formally for her presentation that happened earlier, and music drifted out of the flat as the rest of her classmates were celebrating the end of term.
I introduced Anna and Justin to each other, and they exchanged pleasantries.
"What took you so long?" She asked.
"We got lost"
"For 2 hours?"
"Has it been that lo.... yeah I guess so."
Anna opened her mouth to speak again but I waved my stack of £20 notes in front of her, "But look! I won!"
She looked through the money with interest and suddenly looked up at me and said, "You mean to tell me, that for the last two hours, the two of you have been getting lost in the back streets of london, with all this in your pocket?"
I looked over at my friend Justin, who was nodding slowly, and then back into those big, pretty, blue eyes that I knew so well. I couldn't help but smile.
Life was good.