May 24, 2009

 You ever get so mad at someone at the poker table that you literally wanted to hurt them? If you’ve played long enough, I can’t imagine there’s anyone out there immune to this emotion. It’s natural, it comes with the territory.

Now we, as poker players, pride ourselves on keeping our cool, maintaining self control when everything’s going to crap around you. There’s no denying, though, those times exist when you just want to throw caution to the wind and strangle the bastard who got under your skin.

What brings this up you ask? Anytime I watch some footage of Phil Hellmuth, it gets me going. I know the man has 11 World Series of Poker titles, and from knowing that, I think it’s worse the way he treats players, especially amateurs. Nobody is immune to getting beat. No expert, no superstar of the game is going to escape someone else making an “incorrect” play and still getting lucky on the other end. The way that man insults others at the table, though, is infuriating. So belittling, so elitist, it’s beyond spectacle of amusement, it’s downright ridiculous. It’s worse than watching Fox News or Nancy Grace.

I couldn’t care less if that’s his “schtick.” He should know better, and, being a widely recognized face and name, should represent his game in a more professional fashion. No excuses. This isn’t your high school buddy’s basement on a Saturday night. You’re a pro, act like it.

Anyway, enough with Hellmuth. The topic stirs emotions from me when I was, in fact, playing in my high school buddy’s basement, all those years ago. The situations were too numerous to count, but a few choice ones do pop into my head.

I’m sure you all know what it’s like to have that “one guy” in your regular poker group. Nobody really likes him. You were kinda friends from grade school because you were in classes together and you were one of the few that didn’t beat up on the guy. But he’s annoying and brings a stupid, unnecessary and stressful presence into what should’ve been an enjoyable experience. But, nobody hates him enough to ban him from the game, and he does usually dump a few bucks each week, so you keep coming back to the well. Who can blame you?

Well we definitely had this guy. One summer night in my parents’ backyard gazebo, we were all playing under the ceiling fan (yes, it had electricity) and some ice lemonade (yes, we didn’t have access to anything better this night). So, as luck would have it, an argument – as they sometimes do – over the result of a hand surfaced and pitted me, a small-framed chap pushing a puny 140 lbs, against the – we’ll just call him the outlander. Now a little history, arguments would never, never, go beyond some tense words and maybe someone tossing coins half-angrily into the middle. That night, though, chairs fell back and the Outlander rose to his feet, poised to attack. Since I’m not suicidal, I did not retaliate – I just told him to leave since it was my house.

He had gotten me so boiled up, so furious that I wouldn’t stop nitpicking his every move until it finally escalated to the scene that had unfolded. Anyway, 20-30 straight seconds of awkward, uncomfortable silence ensued before he walked out.

Five minutes later he returned with his tail between his legs when he realized he’d forgotten his wallet. Punk was lucky I didn’t deep-six it into the deep end of my parents pool.

That was the one and only time I’d almost gotten into a fight over poker, and even then I managed to keep myself in control. I can only imagine what would’ve happened if the Outlander had not.