Much More Lake Action, or, Why Alcohol Poisoning and Poker Don't Mix
I picked a good time to take a poker break, as my modem fritzed and I couldn't get online. If you're reading this you can deduce that I got a new card and am back in business. But I've been sans
Internet for the last week and wouldn't be able to play poker even if I wanted to.
Which, of course, I do. I didn't stop playing because I'm sick of the game. I just felt stale and needed to recharge the batteries, do some other stuff and feel like I'm not sitting in front of a computer 19 hours a day. Of course, I'm sitting in front of a computer right now, writing this. In a nutshell, I gotta get off of my butt more.
I got off to a good start this past Tuesday, going up to my friend Rick's house on Indian lLake for an annual golf outing sponsored by his dad and uncle. Went up Monday night, had a few beverages, then come the morn played 18 holes without the benefit of a single beer. Usually someone comes out on the course with a cooler full of iced cans, but not this time, and by the end of the round I was positively parched. There was a keg set up in the lodge's big dining room, and I got a cup and poured myself a cold one.
About this time I noticed that there was a sort of partition set up that separated the last fifth or so of the room. It was right where the beer and snacks were, and as I was pretty much rooted to that spot I wondered what was going on behind it. Even with a six-pack in me I can't see through walls, but I utilized another of my senses and listened. I heard voices, laughter, the occasional curse…and another sound, one that immediately seized my attention.
It was the clicky sound of plastic chips clattering as they splashed across a table. A desire not quite as powerful as lust but pretty damn close gave me the courage to walk around the wall and see what was going on back there.
What was going on was a poker game, of course, nine or ten guys from the same golf outing as me sitting around a big circular table, chips and cards arrayed before them. Since each player had 2 cards in front of him and the dealer spread out three cards and flipped them over I deduced they were playing Texas Hold-Em, but I didn't know what kind of stakes were involved. Each player had a big stack of plastic in front of him, but Rick learned that they were playing no-limit with a $20 buy-in. Just my speed.
The game in progress ended, and my friend Frank and I shouldered our way into the game. Ten players, each of us got 44 plastic chips, with the blinds starting at $1-$2. Not a lot of room to maneuver, but I was confident I would prevail, in large part thanks to the roughly 120 ounces of beer polluting my judgement.
Not that my judgment was all that bad. I was only in one hand out of the first 10, when I raised with AK and had what seemed like three dozen callers. I bailed after the unsatisfying flop and waiting a bit longer. I won a nice pot when I had 4-6 in the big blind and flopped a set of sixes, but the other three guys in the pot didn't catch a thing and weren't in a mind to bluff, so I pretty much stayed level.
Dinner was served after we lost two or three players, and what a spread it was. Pork and beef ribs, barbecued chicken, sweet corn, cole slaw…I ate nearly as much as I drank. By the time I got back to the tables I can't say my brain was firing on all cylinders. I was tired, I was drunk, I was stuffed to the gills.
Thing is, the other players at the table were almost certainly more tired, more drunk, and more stuffed than me. The only exception was Frank, but he had to race back to Pittsburgh for a 7:30 meeting and had to force things a bit. He went all-in and was knocked out, I think, when he was outkicked with an ace. I don't think I played a single hand past the flop until we were down to four players. The top two spots paid, so I had to get my chips in the middle and double up to give me a shot.
An older gentleman was the chip leader, and it's hard to say if he was bullying us with big raises and ominous calls or if he was just playing every hand 'cause he was blitzed like the rest of us. I won a small pot to get me back to about $30 in chips, and when I was dealt K-8 right before the big blind and decided this was as good a time as any to take a stand. I pushed in, and the older gent called. We turned over our cards and he showed K-7. Sweet. The king on the flop meant nothing, and but for some reason I had this premonition that he was going to get his 7. It must have been the beer that fritzed my radar, because no 7 came and I was in the clear.
Another player got knocked out by our chip leader, putting me one out of the money. Unfortunately I only had about 15% of the available chips, so I was hardly in good shape. When I was dealt 7-8 a hand later I called and hoped for a good flop.
The flop came 7-6-5. With top pair and an open-ended straight draw I moved in. The older gentleman called, and turned over J-8. I had him in bad shape…but I was in bad shape myself. I was pretty much totally zonked, and I somehow missed the dealer turning over the next two cards. When I looked down and saw that a nine had come on the turn and a ten on the river I knew instinctively that something bad had happened. The nine gave both of us the straight, the ten gave him the higher straight. Instead of doubling up, or at worst chopping the pot, I was out one from the money.
Ah, well. I had a good time, got a poker fix, ate a lot of good food. Passed out on the car ride home, and went to work the next day feeling like I'd aged 30 years in one night. I think when you hit 35 the effects of drinking and general carousing start to increase geometrically. A day of partying that might have elicited a mild groan from the 25-year-old Geno now puts me in the mood for a hospital stay. I doubt I'm the only one who feels this way, and for those of you lucky enough to be young, just you wait. It's gonna sneak up on you.
By Friday I was feeling pretty much normal, and so it was time to go back to the lake! A full weekend of wakeboarding, tubing, golf, and, of course, poker. I got up to the house around 8PM and the first thing everyone wanted to know was if I brought my chips. A silly question, of course, as my aluminum briefcase accompanies me everywhere. There were six of us gathered around the poker table--me, Scott, his wife Debbie, Neil, his wife Tara, and Gary. With Rick acting as dealer, we were well set up for some serious poker. $10 buy-in, no-limit. Let's get it on!
First hand I'm dealt KK. Well, that's nice. I raise it but no one shows me any respect and I'm in with three others. Junk on the flop and I bet, finally chasing Debbie. A king on the river and this time I toss in a Creamsicle-orange $500 chip, and this time I chase everyone out. One pot played, one pot won. I'm on fire.
Actually, I stayed on fire the whole first game. Scott busted out early, and as we played Tara asked a few times for the ranking of the hands. I couldn't tell if she was spoofing us, because she won one of these tournaments last time we were all up the lake, but when she went looking for a piece of paper to write them down with I figured she was either honestly curious or a brilliant actress.
She couldn't find a sheet of paper, so she came back with one of those little paper boats you use to put French fries in. Rick's folks had a bunch of them on the kitchen table for the golf outing. Neil wrote the hand rankings down, and Tara returned to the fray.
To my almost immediate discomfort. I put her all-in with I think KQ, and she turned over AJ, promptly doubling up. OK, no biggie, I still had lots of chips. I quickly added to my stack in a hand with her husband Neil. I got to see a free flop in the big blind with K-3, and made two pair on the flop. I checked and called, slow-playing a bit, but when another diamond came on the turn I put in a big bet to make the chasers pay. Neil called, and about the best card possible showed on the river--the three of diamonds. If Neil was chasing a flush, he got it just in time for me to make a full house. I bet $50, a little less than half the pot, daring a raise. Neil thought it over, thought it over, and decided to raise me $5. A spite raise, just to make me toss in one more chip. Oh, I tossed in another chip all right, this one a black $100 chip. He called, and I had myself a nice little pot.
Neil shortly went out, leaving me to battle Debbie and Gary and Tara. Dealing with Gary was no problem--as you'll see, Gary either needs to see an exorcist, or go out and see the new Exorcist
movie. He raised Tara and she called, and when the flop came 9-7-2 he figured the pocket aces he held were good. He went all-in, Tara called, and turned over pocket deuces. Deuces are also called "ducks", and I chirped, "Quack quack!" as Gary said a word that at least rhymes with "duck".
With just Debbie and Tara to deal with you might think I had this one in the bag. You think wrong. Debbie is a master at the staredown, and I have a problem keeping from laughing when she does it. And of course Tara had her lucky fry boat. I went all-in against Tara again, I forget with what hand, and she doubled up again. She went all-in again...and beat me again. She beat me with the best hand and the worst hand. When I was dealt pocket 8s in the little blind I put her all-in once again. She looked at her cards and Scott, who was giving her "advice", said, "I'd probably fold that."
Tara said, "I call," and turned over K-9. A classic race situation, she had two overcards, I had the pair, making me a slight fav...oh, no, I wasn't a favorite, not after that friggin' nine on the flop. Once again she'd doubled at at my expense.
Debbie went out shortly after, and I kept thinking, "I cannot lose to a woman who has the hand rankings written down in a paper french fry boat. I just can't. I've read six or seven poker books. I've played tens of thousands of hands, I'm such a wacko I write about poker for free
...I can't lose this game!"
I managed to bully Tara out of a few blinds with big bets, until I once again had a big chip lead. And when I was dealt A-9 and went all-in, she called me with Q-7. I could almost taste
the queen that had to be looming at the top of the deck. I flopped a nine, which wouldn't help me if a lady appeared for the lady. But, thank Christ, the fifth time was the charm. I had survived the wrath of Tara at last, and won the first game of the night.
I should mention that during this game I drank about 4 Yuenglings. During the second game I drank about the same amount, and I found that this amount of beer lowered my inhibitions just enough to make me an aggressive, chip-moving monster at the table. I raised, re-raised, bluffed, bullied, moved all-in at the drop of a hat. Gary got knocked out again, I think he flopped a set and Scott went runner-runner for his straight, but then Scott got taken out, and Neil, and then Tara, leaving it up to me and Debbie to slug it out. Deb had a big chip lead, probably 3-1, but the blinds were pretty high and I started stealing those blinds by pushing in my chips. The hand that pretty much wrapped it up for me was when I held 4-5 and managed to see a cheap flop, which came 3-6-Q. I checked and Debbie, giving me the staredown, slowly tapped her fingers on the felt. The next card was a 7, giving me the straight, and Debbie pushed in all her chips. I gladly called, and she was drawing dead. Shortly thereafter, victory was mine!
We played again. By now the clock was closing in on 2AM, and my beer consumption closing in on half a case. But I didn't feel drunk, just goosed and happy and enjoying myself. You'd think I would've learned from that previous Tuesday to watch how much I drank, but nooooooo. The ladies had demurely retired for the evening, so it was just me, Scott, Neil, and Gary. Our dealer Rick had also gone to bed, so the deal was the first person out had to act as dealer.
I hate to deal. First of all I'm terrible at it--I can't shuffle worth a damn and can't get the cards to glide across the felt. Plus I've been having problems with my hands lately, from all the typing I do at work and home and from tennis and volleyball and other activities. I need to get one of those squeezy things and keep it at my desk to limber up my hands. And as I didn't have one at the table, I didn't want to deal if I could avoid it.
Which I didn't do. When a drunk guy looks at a woman who is, shall we say, not easy on the eyes, and thinks she an absolute honeybabe, we say he is wearing beer goggles. When you've had a few and decide that it's time to tell that hulking bouncer what you think of him, his mother, and his whole ethnic group, we say you're flexing your beer muscles. Both maladies are liable to get you in a peck of trouble, either hospitalized or arrested or worse. Well, that night I learned that if you're sitting at a poker table and you've done well and you've also consumed upwards of a gallon of suds, you're liable to develop beer balls. I started shoving my chips in willy-nilly, thinking that I was bullying these losers with my massive stack and establishing a pecking order that would last our natural lives.
'Twas not to be. I got knocked out pronto when...actually, I don't remember. It's all a bright, noisy blur. I had to deal until the game was done, and now of course was the time when the three jackasses still in the game decided to turtle and wait for the nuts. They played for what seemed hours, weeks, ice ages, with no one going out. When Gary (of course) finally got shafted on the river, I said something along the lines of, "Goan bed", and passed the deck along. I thought I wasn't THAT drunk, so I took my book with me up to where I was sleeping and collapsed on the bed. I was sleeping in the loft that overhangs the main living room, and I figured I wouldn't bother anyone if I kept the light on a bit. I couldn't get my eyes to focus on the words, and it took me about 7 seconds to realize I wasn't going to make it. Out went the lights, both literally and figuatively.
Sleeping in the loft has a few major drawbacks. One, if anyone wakes up early and turns on the TV, you hear it. Second, and much more irritating, is that there's a clock on the wall that, for some reason, only chimes between the hours of like six and nine AM. On the quarter-hour. When you have a delicate head, and your body craves a few hours of blissful sleep, it's a bit jarring to hear that clock go BONG BONG BONG BONG...BONG BONG BONG BONG!!!!! Especially when it erupts every fifteen minutes. I keep meaning to rip it off the wall and toss it in the lake, but I haven't been able to get a few minutes alone to do the deed.
The clock was bad enough. Even worse was the phone ringing at 8AM. I didn't even know there was a phone in the loft, but as it started ringing by my right ear I soon figured it out. I snatched it up and said something along the lines of, "Woooooizzit?".
A disturbingly chipper voice said, "Hey, this is Tom Ridge, is Scott or Debbie there?".
I was hungover, maybe even still drunk, but even in that state I was alarmed. Why would the head of Homeland Security be calling Scott and Debbie. Could they be secret agents? No, I don't think espionage is something Scott would be into, since there isn't much golf involved. I managed to communicate something along the lines of what the fuck did he want, and I took his number and told him I'd have them call him back. It turns out he's a contractor doing work on their house, and his last name was not Ridge but something that sounded like Ridge. Cancel the red alert.
Awake now, I was happy to see that everyone else was suffering as much, if not more, than myself. I took two Advil and a big glass of water and got some food in me. Half an hour later I was feeling human again, always a nice change of pace. It was cool up there, bordering on cold, and I spent much of the day reading while hardier souls went out wakeboarding. Like a fool I agreed to go tubing later in the day, three tubes out the back of Rick's speedboat, swinging side to side, leaping over waves, skipping across the surface like a pudgy stone. The water was cold, the wind colder, and by the time we docked again I felt like I'd been massaged with a bat.
So of course I agreed to go golf a quick 9 holes. I played my usual horrible game, and we got home around 8:30, just in time for a huge dinner, salad and spaghetti and hot sausage and garlic bread. Watched a bit of the Steeler preseason game...and then it was back to the tables for more action and more beer.
Looking back now, I can understand why I played so poorly. During the 24 hours in question, I'd consumed about 20 beers, two or three bagels, a couple cheeseburgers, and enough pasta to sate both of Tony Soprano's families. I'd had four hours sleep, been out tubing for an hour and getting the snot smacked out of me, and then played a nerve-fraying round of golf. You don't see many pros using that regimen to prepare for the World Series.
To succeed at poker, espeically no-limit, you must be aggressive. I'd been aggressive the night before and it'd paid off handsomely. But on this night, I simply lacked the energy, both physical and mental, to take the initiative. If I was dealt big cards I could attack, but beyond that I was a passive observer. And the results showed that, as I didn't win a single game all night.
For much of the night Scott tormented Gary, winning hand after hand and building a big stack, which he then properly used against us. A few times I re-raised him back, once saying, "the only way to deal with a bully is to hit him back", but I lacked the strength to keep it up. Scott did zonk me on one hand where I made a strong play. I was dealt pocket sevens and raised it up, and Scott called. The flop came 6-8-9, giving me a straight draw with my pair. I bet, Scott went all-in, and I called, fearing he already had the straight. Instead it was a bluff, he had A-J, and he was in trouble. The turn came another eight, and the river, a nine, meaning my sevens were now worthless and his ace kicker giving him the pot.
At this point Lady Luck once again took aim at Gary. In the small blind I was dealt aces, and of course I would be taking a stand right here. Neil bet, and Gary raised $1000. Well, I only had about $1350, so I went all-in. Gary turned over pocket eights, about the first time he'd had a pair since his aces were cracked, and when I turned over my bullets he emitted a series of words I can't repeat here.
I didn't feel at all bad about whacking Gary. I actually met him during a poker game in a Penn State dorm room my freshman year. It was right around Valentine's Day, and ee were playing a game called "Declare", where you get three cards and everyone goes around saying whether they're in or not. You can draw one card if you want, and if you lose you have to bet the pot. The game was all about position--for example, if our friend Steve said he was in, you had to get out. NOW. You might have trip queens, but if Steve's in, muck those ladies. Conversely, Gary and Scott and our friend Andy would play more hands than Gus Hansen.
That first game Gary won big, and much of his winnings came from me. As I looked forward to a long week of Ramen noodles and tap water, Gary told us that now he could afford a gift for Lori, his girlfriend. When I met Lori later that week, she said, "You're the one who bought me my present!". Yeah, that was me, and nice to meet you too.
Well, Lori was in the living room watching the Olympics while we played cards, keeping an eye on their daughter Karina and no doubt trying to get comforable because she's pregnant again. I'm glad to think that, in some way, my misfortune that night helped bring these twin souls together. In another way, I was friggin' happy to put the screws to Gary and take his chips. I cackled inside as I stacked them, caressed their smooth faces. "Revenge", I hissed under my breath. "Sweet, sweet revenge".
I don't know what Gary ever did to Scott, because Scott took Gary out behind the woodshed and beat him like a rented mule. How many times did Gary have the best hand, only to lose at the river? Three? Four? I think the one time Gary had a pair, flopped a set, and watched Scott go runner-runner to make his flush.
No, actually, that happened on the freakiest hand of the night. After Scott won two games in a row, some brainiac decided that we should try a game of Omaha. If you've never played Omaha, let me say that the best time to figure it out is NOT when you're drunk, stuffed, and exhausted. The first hand I was dealt was 10-7-4-2. The next was J-7-4-2. The next hand was 10-8-4-2. Do you see a pattern here?
I don't think I got involved in more than 2 pots the whole time I was in. I did win one nice pot when I was dealt KK and they stood up. But with so many straight and flush possibilities to keep track of, my head started to hurt. And then came the hand of the night. Debbie excused herself to get a drink or something, so this hand was just for the boys. I was dealt Ad-Js-8d-8s. Double suited, with a pair. I'm playing this one, and I tossed in a $100 chip to call. Scott raised it $100. Neil raised it $100. Gary raised it another $500. "Well, the hell with this," I said, and shoved in my whole stack, around $2800. Shoulda known better, no way was I chasing anyone out, especially Gary. In a flash, all four of us were all-in.
The flop gave me nothing. It gave Gary top two pair. The turn gave Scott a chance at a flush, and I think a pair. "No way, no fucking way, not again," Gary muttered. Yes, Gary, it happened again, another club on the river to give Scott the runner-runner flush. I've never actually seen steam come out of a person's ears, but there were definitely heat waves radiating out from his head.
Debbie came back to find that she was going heads-up against her husband. He had about a 4-1 chip lead, so that meant he lasted about six hands before she crushed him. He kept going all-in, she kept calling, and this time the cards went her way. Debbie was now the Lake Omaha champion.
We played one more game of Hold-Em, which Neil won and Gary didn't. I don't even remember how I got knocked out. I figured that Scott, with that horseshoe buried up his ass, would win when it got heads up, but losing to Debbie had killed his luck and Neil dispatched him extreme predjudice.
It was now about 3:30AM, and I was totally fried. Gary said, "Anybody want to watch "Monty Python and the Holy Grail"? Sure, we all did. We made it right to the part with the Constitutional Peasant before we all passed out.
So, a good weekend's fun, and some good poker fun. I haven't played online in a week and haven't had time to miss it much. I'll be playing in the blogger tournament on Sunday, that's still in-bounds, and then we're going back to the lake next weeked for a final summer fling. How long I stay offline depends. I'm almost finished with a poker short story called "The Antechrist" that I may give to Pauly when its done. More writing, less poker, that's what I said I'd do. Maybe I need to include, "less drinking" and "less eating" and "more sleeping". Maybe.