All these characters

July 27, 2008

How much do you miss your first poker group? Sometimes when I think about the “good old days,” I miss mine quite a bit. There’s something to be said for the comraderie, friendships and challenges made and met from the first group of guys you drew cards with….at least that’s the case with me.

It could be you didn’t start playing until after college, or during college in a fraternity…for me, though, it was junior year in high school that really set me on the path to a having a regular clan of poker dogs. We’d rotate playing at parents’ houses (those who would let us play), sometimes having to quit way earlier than would even be thinkable by today’s standards (12:30 a.m. – are you serious? The sun just went down a few hours ago!)

High school’s funny, too, because you don’t have very much money to play with, but you also don’t have many financial obligations, either. All I had to worry about was paying for gas (which was about $1.05 a gallon at the time, if that), and coming up with enough for a McDonald’s extra-value meal each day for lunch. I know, I’m sure that’ll come back to bite me at some point, but I’ve been off the junk for years I tell ya (that’s a lie.)

Even so, we’d only play for quarters, but the types of games we were playing, many of which I’ve detailed in other articles, were invented for the sole purpose of beefing up huge pots. So a night of dimes and quarters could easily land you $80-$100 in the hole if you weren’t careful.

And a couple of us regularly weren’t careful. Which brings me around to my character study of the “stereotypes” of my first group of poker buddies. Read along and see which ones you’ve got in your own group…I’m guessing all of them.

The loser: Can also be known as “the sucker,” but the terms don’t go hand-in-hand. Kinda like all squares are rectangles but not all rectangles are squares – well all suckers are losers, but not all losers are suckers. This loser was just a loser, which I guess is more of a compliment than an insult. Anyway, he couldn’t buy a hand. He didn’t bluff but once a year, either, which didn’t help his cause (although to be fair we did play with strict betting limits, so bluffing wouldn’t help as much as a no-limit situation – but it still had its purpose). I really don’t know how else to explain it other than he just couldn’t get the cards. He knew how to play the games and was reasonably intelligent, he just kept getting screwed the the odds. Go figure. Eventually, in later, crazier years, he thought things like the color of the deck or which seat he was in were having a negative effect on his situation.

They weren’t. He was just a loser.

The oblivious man: Has no idea he’s a tool, but everyone else around the table knows it. So why is he always invited? Two reasons – he’s usually good for money, and sometimes we just need the warm body at the table. So these guys worm their way into games, thinking they’re your friend, inviting you to non-poker events like birthday parties and the like, and you just look at each other in disbelief that someone can be so – oblivious. I could go on for pages and pages about this guy, but if I get started I’ll drive myself crazy and have horrible flashbacks, so I’m moving on.

The Outlander: This guy isn’t a regular, but he overheard someone talking about the game, and hey, just so happens to know how to play poker also! So someone feels obligated to ask him to join in one week, and that’s how he finds a spot at your green-felt battleground on Saturday night. And, in my experience, the Outlander always has a damn chip on his shoulder – like he’s gonna hustle all us regulars. Most of the time they lose or break even, if only because we all know each other’s games and he’s coming in blind. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes it’s fun to have new blood at the table, and the better they are the more fun the games are…but they’re still Outlanders.

The comic relief: He plays, he wins a little, he loses a little, he’s there mostly for the laughs, though. And it’s not so much how he plays that’s hilarious, it’s his general comments and demeanor. Like, I don’t know, showing up one night in a big purple raincoat, or having to write out little IOU notes when he runs out of money (we didn’t have chips back then, only quarters and dimes).

The apartment: This guy is a regular, but it’s more because you know he’s got a place that isn’t regulated by parents. Which means as long as your parents (remember, this was back in high school) will let you stay out until whenever, it’s time to load up on the Taco Bell and Mountain Dew and get to it. Funny, in our circle, the apartment was also the comic relief.

The challenger: There’s usually at least 2 people at the table that are really good, and that beneath the jokes and the steotyping, take the game seriously. I like to think I’m one of them. The other one at our table was a great challenge, very good at math and calculating, but just unpredictable enough to throw you when trying to find a pattern in his gameplay. I miss playing against him. There are always other challengers, but like a true love, it’s the first one you remember forever.

And I’ll close with one of the great quotes from “Rounders,” which seems relevant here. “If you can’t spot the sucker after 30 minutes at the table….you are the sucker.”