The Work Dilemma

May 27, 2007

“Heyyyyyy………Peter, how’s it going?”

“Fine…”

“Yyyyyeahhhhhhh.”

All right, so maybe your job isn’t that bad. You might have even made a friend or two outside the seemingly endless cubicle hours of your life. They, probably like you, need to find that balance to the 40-hour work week. They need to find the anti-job medication (aside from beer) that gives you a useful outlet for which to waste all your hard-earned dollars.
Or win someone else’s hard-earned dollars.

That outlet, of course, is poker night.

So maybe every once in a while you get together with a group of colleagues and sit down for a night of Hold ‘em, or what may be more commonly know as “I otherwise never would have known what these people’s apartments looked like” night.

You make fun of your boss, and his boss, and his wife…and the motivational speakers they shove down your throat, all while trying to keep your head in a game of probably low-stakes, filled-with-chatter, wild-card-happy poker.

But here’s an interesting situation…what happens when you’re a new employee? You like to play cards…you know there’s someone else on the gray and off-white maze of a floor you work on that likes to play cards online at Bodog…so it’s only a matter of time before someone introduces themselves to you and then slips in the age-old, ice-breaker question, “You a poker fan?”

Yeah, I know it’s not the age-old question, but it’s a hell of a lot more prevalent these days now that poker on television during prime time.

It’s happened to me, about 3 years ago when I started a new job down here in South Florida. A couple guys in our department (one of whom comes across as pretty intimidating) asked me if I played cards. They said they were thinking of getting a game together and wanted to know if I was interested in joining.

OK, at this point, two things should cross your mind.

1. Do I want to make enemies at work right away by taking everyone’s money like it was a drawerful of office supplies?

2. Are these people regulars trying to fish me in and take all of my money?

The answer to question 2 you won’t know until you accept their invitation and observe how they play for a good half-hour. The answer to question 1, though, at least in my experience, is that you can have it both ways. Clean up the game and still have them talking to you when Monday morning rolls around.

Just be quiet, friendly and modest. Even if you’re the “rowdiest sum’ bitch this side of the Mississippi” in your regular games, play it cool for a little while to let this group understand you’re not a total jack-ass in real life. Plus, win or lose, you want to be invited to the next game, and the wrong first impression can cut you off in the flip of the flop.

So how did that first night of poker go for me? Well, we were only playing for quarter antes, and there were six people in total, including a couple ladies. But at the end of the night I walked about with an $85 profit.

Now, don’t be a mute. Let the people enjoy your company. Odds are their main intention of inviting you in the first place was just to get to know you.

So by all means, be yourself. I would just keep the “damn those ladies look prettier than all those Absinthe-blurred nights in Amsterdam!!!” comments to yourself until your new peers know you a little better to understand your sense of humor.

Or…maybe you were serious with that last comment. And if you were, so help you, I will not sit idly by and let you bad mouth Amsterdam!

Poker after a while

May 24, 2007

Poker’s great when you haven’t played in a while.

Last night, I sat in with a group of people whom I hadn’t played with in what seemed like forever, and though the comfortable feeling of sliding those little metallic friends through my Dorito-stained fingers all night was all too familiar, it was how I played the game that surprised me.

I’m just guessing here, but I’d say most poker players, even those who do it for a living, take a break from the game every now and then. Family issues, vacation, lack of funds, busy at work…they all can find a way to take priority in our lives. And for me, I look forward each time to sitting back down at the green felt after an absence like it was a full day at an amusement park.
And….oh yes….I do have a cotton candy machine at home.

A little side tip for everyone else who has one of these babies, which by the way should be the centerpiece – the shining staple – of anyone’s kitchen. You can make any flavor of cotton candy you want just by combining Kool-aid mix with sugar.

I’m working on lobbying for Dorito-flavored Kool-aid for this very purpose.
OK, anyway, back to my night of cards.

I tend to get into routines of being a controlled but timid player. It bothers me more because of how aware I become of my safe playing. And I have no doubt to my transparency for others to pick up on, either.

I’ll get frightened early by big bets…I’ll make a move and then cower out at a re-raise, all the while knowing damn well I’m playing poorly, but just missing those gut feelings that sometimes help push you through your common sense into rolling the chips into the middle.

Well last night was different. I started out playing quiet, feeling my way back into the game after an extended absence. The house rules were that the deal switched every hand, and with it the choice of game. This I enjoyed, because it gave me the opportunity to refresh myself with the handful of games this group generally plays early on in the evening.

I won a few medium-sized hands in hold ‘em and Omaha high-low, (best place to play Omaha high-low right now is on PokerStar.net), but then started slowly getting nickel and dimed to death.

After two hours I was down half my money. And then something clicked…maybe it was the alcohol (I can’t remember but it was sometime between my third and fourth cigar).

We switched to a hold ‘em tournament with the blinds doubling every 10 minutes. I told myself going in I would bet smart but aggressive, and try to be the first one to make the big bet…so as not to be forced to react to someone else’s.

Of course, it didn’t happen that way. I was reacting the entire tournament.

Two big hands to note. The guy to my left called a $5 raise of mine by going all in on a flush draw. 4 clubs after the flop. I had top two pair and called.

He didn’t catch and I put him out of the game, leaving 2 other people left at the table. At that point I was the chip leader by a good amount, and started pushing people around a little bit, knowing I could drop a little here or there to buy myself a bit of attitude in the other players’ minds – something I rarely did in months past, but was sorely missing from my game.

After player 2 took out player 3, it was down to me and player 2, both with even stacks. He went all in, and I luckily had a strong hand of Ace Jack to call him back with. Only trouble was, his Ace 5 was suited.

And again, I had to sweat out the same situation on the next all-in. His flush draw this time was diamonds, but it was on the flop, as well. The cards no help to his 5.

And again, he failed to catch.

I won the tournament, bringing me back to even, and carried the attitude back into the cash game.

Cautious not to get careless (since at that point we dropped the betting limit), I used the momentum to overbet more than I ever had before.

$5 here, $10 raise there…and a few strong bluffs later, I ended the night as the only winner at the table.

Now, everyone figures at one point when they’re losing it makes sense to try something new.

Hell, it’s only logical. And historically, I was the kind of person to pull the reigns in even tighter and wait for a big hand to pay off.

But, as everyone also knows, if you wait too long, you’ll find yourself with nothing but crumbs at the end of the night.

You’re making me nervous

May 22, 2007

I like a game that flows. One that keeps a good, steady pace to it. You get your beer, a bowl of popcorn or chips, gather round the table and buy in for an evening of cards…with the understanding that everyone else around the table will actually being sitting at the table.

Because without a calm, enjoyable group of people serving as further company to your 52 red and black comrades, the typical home game can and likely will descend into absolute chaos.

OK, that’s a little dramatic, but here’s my point. There is one sure enemy to the game that flows, one mythical creature who always seems to find a way to rear its ugly head whenever I get ready to play, without exception.

And that being — the antsy player.

Don’t you hate this guy? I can’t tell you how many hundreds of times over the course of my years of gaming that I’ve said, “Would it be possible for you to just have a seat?”
Well, typically it’d be littered with harsher language than that.

This species is not a rare one, and the identifying language can be heard universally in home poker games worldwide.

“Ahhh, just deal me out a hand.”

First of all, “a hand” turns into 8 hands as he finds his way into the kitchen and experiments with the vodka and Kahlua for 15 minutes. Or he suddenly feels an uncontrollable craving for the last six of his frozen burritos coming on, and he just had to act on it before he died of starvation.

And if you’re only playing with four or five total people, losing one for a few minutes likely will put a halt to the game, as nobody wants to deal 3-person Omaha when your antes are less than your bus fare.

Moving on, another common phrase is, “Can’t a guy take a leak?”

A leak — yes. Eight leaks in an hour? I don’t care how many beers you’ve had or how many seals you’ve broken — no. Control your bladder or stop drinking 56 oz. mega gulps of Mountain Dew.

And then there’s the all-inclusive “Take it easy, man, it’s only cards.”

A very telling statement, and now you know this guy isn’t as interested in winning money as he is in getting drunk or hitting on whatever female may be there, or just plain being an idiot.

So how do we, as the other players who become annoyed that the game keeps being forced into 5 or 10-minute breaks, deal with this guy, classified of course in the modern book of poker science as “shallowbladderis assaholius.”

The ideal method, of course, is to form an unspoken alliance (completely legal) with other players to suck out as much money from this guy as possible, and as quickly as possible, to just get him out of the game altogether. (You could always as a group ask him to leave, but then he’d take his money with him…unless of course you beat him over the head with those frozen burritos.)

But the problem with this method is that sometimes you’re the only one that seems to be bothered by a guy who gets up every few minutes to go to the kitchen to fix a drink, or go to the bathroom, or check the scores on ESPN, or feed his cat, or smoke a cigarette outside, or play on Full Tilt Poker, or change the CD in the stereo, or grab a sweater because it’s “drafty”, or…you get the idea.

Another way to deal with him is the direct approach. Use a variation of the line I cited earlier, which is actually a variation itself of a classic Kevin Spacey line from “The Ref.”

“(Insert name), would it be possible for you to sit the f— down for 10 minutes and play some cards?”

It goes without saying that you won’t sound as cool as Spacey, but you’ll get your point across.

This is much easier to get away with, though, when you’re in a group of people you know and are comfortable swearing at. If you’re at the antsy person’s house or you’re playing with a group for the first time, you may have to bite the bullet and make yourself a drink of your own in the meantime.

I don’t know, maybe I’m alone here, but I want to play with people who, for the most part, keep their head in the game. I like quick deals, quick decisions and a steady, moving pace to the night. It actually takes me out of my game when things are stop and go, with the antsy player and the player who takes too long to bet being the worst offenders.

And in conclusion — hold on, I have to take a leak, I’ll be back in a few minutes.

Introduction and “that girl”

May 21, 2007

So poker has been mainstream for a couple years now, and everyone knows the game. Or at least everyone knows the language you pick up along the way.

Bad beats, flops, rivers…muck.

Yeah, it’s muck, all right. I have to admit I enjoyed being part of a smaller group of poker enthusiasts, when it was relegated to Western movies, Las Vegas and frat house basements, for the most part. Now it’s taking away the time slot for Baseball Tonight on ESPN.

But that’s fine, one of the positives of everyone from your co-workers to your barber buying in for 25 bucks each weekend is there’s a flood of people to swap stories with.

And, of course, they’re mostly bad beats.

Let me give you the quick bio before I keep going with this.

My name’s J.P., I’m 27 and have been playing since I was 12. Used to be I would play daily, either at school for “credits” since you couldn’t play for “legal tender,” (like that was gonna stop us) or on the weekend rotating houses of our regular group. Kept it up through college (won some furniture along the way), and now with a job, I play a weekly game in some form or another.

There you go, my favorite poker game is Moose, and my favorite money game is hearts. If you don’t know hearts, watch the first 20 minutes of Rounders, and you’ll see how cool it is.
“C’mon Worm, you don’t even smoke.”

Great movie.

Anyway, on the topic of bad beats, everyone has ‘em, and everyone loves to talk about ‘em. I guess we all need to feel part of a help group after dropping half the rent two days before the first of the month.

But most blogs on the Internet now are bad beat factories, and to me it gets annoying.
So I figure we can all enjoy talking about other things in poker that get annoying, instead, mostly during home games, with some weekly game-play situations and other home game topics that pop up, as well.

Today’s issue is one of the worst you’ll ever deal with…the new girl at the table who just read a “Girl’s guide to winning at poker” book.

Even worse if it’s a pink cover.

As a guy, you have to wonder if every Chapter 1 of these pieces of garbage, these collections of fireplace fuel, tell women to win by playing it dumb. And, having never been a female, I can only assume women who play regularly and do know the game must find these girls even more annoying than guys do.

Because, hell, at least we can look at them.

Although, to be honest, some of them ….

So a few months ago I’m with my new regular group, three or four guys and one girl. Well, the girl invites over someone she met in a Yoga class to join us, and then she sits her down right to my left. Needless to say, after an hour I had a nice beer-bottle wall separating the two of us.
But even the mighty barrier of Budweiser couldn’t silence the banter.

“So, wait, three kings beats a straight?….OK, full house wins over all of the same suit, right?”
On and on, and not in a dumb blonde way, either, but more like she was really trying to convince us she was new to the game of poker.

So, I’m polite at first and give her straight answers. Hell, I didn’t know her and didn’t want to embarrass the girl who invited her, for one reason being it was her house we were playing at.

But the questions didn’t stop. And after about a half hour, the rest of us realize she knows what she’s doing. She’s won some hands, hasn’t made any horrible bets.

Fine with us. In fact, I enjoy playing with smart women, but give us some credit, will you?
To ladies who’ve read those books – you don’t gain an edge by playing dumb. We won’t magically let our guard down and take you for granted, and it goes past thinking you’re clever into the dangerous territory of group irritation.

And let’s be honest, we’re playing in home games for 30, 40, 50 bucks, maybe a little more…it’s meant to be fun and social.

Makes it difficult to have a good time with Ditzy Donna clinging to some nonsense she read two days ago, and refusing to let it die.

Now, I’m not saying this routine won’t work for some women, but if you’re at a game where there are regular card players, male or female, it’s a good assumption they’ll be able to see through your B-rate performance very quickly.

So at the end of the night, we’ve all done a pretty good job trying to drown her out with alcohol and the radio.

She leaves up 55 bucks.

That still gets to me, not because she took our money, or that she won at all. Because to her credit, she played well the whole night. But she killed it for the rest of us, and it would’ve been nice to have had something to show for our pain.

Although, I did enjoy the one hand I caught a straight to her two pair in 7-card stud. She only lost 10 bucks or so, but it was funny to see her break character for a moment.

“Oh, bullshit, you caught that?”

I shrugged my shoulders, but I was thinking, “Really? I thought you didn’t know how to play.”
The kicker, though, was before she left she asked the host to give her back the rest of the beer she brought over.

Nice one.

Never saw her again.

So what’s the lesson here? I guess the only thing I can offer is to be wary of girls you pick up at a Yoga class.

See ya next time.