Tuesday, May 8, 2007

"Poker? I hardly even know 'er!"

As with almost all of my game obsessions, I can trace my current fascination with poker to one man. That man is Wil Wheaton. And no, I'm not a Star Trek fan, and though I really did like Stand by Me, I wasn't ga-ga over him like so many other young females of my generation were. No, I became a Wil Wheaton fangirl through the most convoluted and obtuse way possible.

It all started when my karaoke-loving, future standup comic star/pal Neva Reese was rooming with a guy she called the Greek Musician for some rather obvious reasons. He was the musical accompanist for an L.A.-based improv group called the Liquid Radio Players, and every time she worked the box office for the show, she got to watch it for free. One night, she blogged about how Wil Wheaton was one of their featured performers and gushed about how funny and perfect he was, linking back to his website (the original WWdN).

Since I trust Neva implicitly when it comes to all things that belong in the category of "funny," I started reading his blog and I got hooked. I even went to a LRP show once or twice, but never got to see him as an improv performer. Years later, I did get to interview him over the phone for Sequential Tart as part of the pre-publicity for his first book Just a Geek. Those microcassette tapes will probably be in my pocket when they bury me because he was so warm and so giving as an interview subject.

(In fact, when I posted the second part of the interview, he publicly thanked me for being an awesome journalist. A print-out of this blog entry will also be in my pocket when they bury me, too.)

It was specifically his short story "Lying in Odessa" (the first part of which is here) that got me interested in really learning how to play real poker, the kind that didn't require the taking off of any clothes. I avidly followed his progress as a player, but of course as a girly gamer, I didn't immediately sign up for PokerStars or any of the other gaming sites. I did briefly fall in love with Phil Gordon after reading about his adventures with the Tilt Boys, but Wil's more shy and humble demeanor won me back when he blogged about losing in his first World Series of Poker.

Since then I've played in perhaps three money games, one after hours at work and two at my friend Doc the Stampede's place. The first time, I made it to heads-up poker only because I luckily beat Doc with trip sevens that I think I picked up on the turn. I made a rookie mistake at the game I played at work because in three-handed poker, I played J-x and got beaten by a Queen. The next time I was at Doc's place, I bankrolled my boyfriend and had so-so luck, making some money in the free play 7-card Stud round, but coming in either third or fourth in the Hold 'Em tournament. However, since Doc said after the game that my tells were harder to notice and I actually made him take me seriously in a few hands, I felt as if I'd ended the night in the black. My favorite hand of that night was during the 7-card Stud round where my table cards were showing an Ace-high possible straight. Doc had me pegged for having some of that action and folded, but I couldn't resist flipping over my three hole cards to show that not only did I have the Ace-high straight, but I had it all the way down to the eight.

Last night, Doc and I showed up for poker night with The Lunch Club, but because I was feeling kinda shy, I sat with Doc at his table rather than play with the complete strangers at the other one. I'm not going to do that at the next game in June because the entire purpose of the Club is to make new friends, and I can play with Doc most any other day.

The venue for the game was Solas in the Village, on the second floor. Solas is one of those ubiquitous Village bars where the lighting is way too dark, and on a busy night it can get way too noisy. But upstairs it was brightly lit, and when I approached the lounge, The Lunch Club's founder, Jared himself greeted me. Doc was already set up and teaching, and I learned later that he had bought some new, heavier chips that were better than what Jared had provided because that's just the way he rolls. I was surprised that he was leading the second table because poor Doc has been overworked at his job in New Jersey and had said previously that his brain was too fried and crispy to do anything but just enjoy a game. Looks like you can't take the teacher out of the player, either.

Here's where everyone was at, clockwise from the dealer, who was Doc because no one else volunteered, and I don't know how to shuffle cards correctly:

Seat 1: Doc
Seat 2: The Newbie
Seat 3: The "Cop"
Seat 4: Me
Seat 5: Syndication Man
Seat 6: Fearless Leader, Jared
Seat 7: Casino Man

Doc taught the Newbie 7-Card Stud first, but after that short lesson was over, he started to deal out the Texas Hold 'Em. Because our blind structure was less fixed than the other table, when folks started busting out over there, they'd come over to our table to watch us play.

Since I'd played poker with Doc twice before, I knew to get out of the way when he started calling with stacks of chips. If we ever got into it and he folded to me, I never showed my cards because again, I play for cash with him. I don't want to give him any more advantages than I need to. I eyed the Newbie carefully because even a poker neophyte like me knows that brand new players are too damn unpredictable to win off of because they're often unsure of what they have. In fact, sometimes I'm not sure of what I've got either, and I couldn't remember last night if two pair beat a straight or a flush (turns out, to my detriment, they don't). Jared played like a newbie as well, but he was getting advice from a guy named either Brad or Matt who had busted out from the other table, and I stayed away from him as often as I could.

I wasn't sure how to read the "Cop" because she rarely got into any pots. I think I only saw her go into a showdown with the New Player once. The cards must have just been dead to her. Syndication Man kinda bothered me with his play because though he got into more hands, he played kinda erratically and kept betting out of turn or splashing the pot. He also looked like someone I've seen before, either at an independent comics convention or an anime con or something like that. Casino Man was more fun to play against, and I took down some nice pots by pushing and sticking to what little strategy I know.

I know I'm a fairly strong player because just like the other three times before, I played tight, didn't go on tilt too often, and racked up a nice chip stack--some of which I foolishly donated to Jared when I stayed in a hand longer than I really should have. Though we weren't playing for cash (because apparently it's illegal and immoral!), I got the feeling that me, Doc, Casino Man, and Syndication Man were playing as if we did have our cash in our hands. This may have caused a problem for me mentally because I know the poker night was a chance to have fun and meet new people, so I took more chances and bluffed more than I normally would have at Doc's place.

Finally, it came down to three-handed poker between Casino Man, Syndication Man and me. This is where I screw up all the time, for though I am a very strong player normally, I fall down when it comes to the end stages of a tournament-style round. In other words, my end game does not bring all the boys to the yard. The blinds started going up drastically because the other table had already broken up, it was getting close to 10 pm, Doc was getting tired of dealing, and it was only Tuesday night. I don't know about anyone else at the table, but I felt energized and excited (though I was later to figure out that the flush on my cheeks was due to a lingering fever more than anything else).

I forget the hand that Casino Man went out on, but I think he ended up losing to me. As I stacked up my new winnings and scooted around to Seat 3 so I could properly face Syndication Man, my hand didn't shake like it normally does when I either win or bust someone out. This is a huge improvement for me.

As I kept folding to Syndication Man, Doc urged me not to lay hands down, but when you get crap like 7-2 off suit, you really don't want to think you can play them. The J-x combo hit me a few times, but I didn't bite because I didn't want to lose the same way again. I think I eventually decided to check as the big blind if the small blind didn't call, and fold all the small blinds because I knew I could get 'em back as the big blind.

I was short-stacked, and was almost about to go out when I managed to eke out a win on a hand where my junk just happened to be stronger than his. We then decided to just play one more freaking hand, and that would be that. Again, Doc dealt junk, and we just watched the race to the river to see if Syndication Man would pull a deuce or the other card he needed--and he didn't.

So technically, I won the tournament at our table, but I feel rather ambivalent about it because I'm not that confident about my end game yet. I think that if I do decide to go to Atlantic City for my upcoming 30th birthday, I'm going to take Casino Man's advice and try the poker room at the Bogota. I most definitely have to get into more poker games for practice.

Hmm, maybe I really should get a PokerStars account...

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