Monday, July 23, 2012

SpongeBob ShovePants and the Blind Straight Flush

“When you use your IMAGINATION you can do anything!”
–SpongeBob SquarePants

At the poker table you often meet fascinating people and see events that you wouldn’t dream were possible. During this past trip to the poker tables of Biloxi, I meet one of the wildest gamblers I’d ever sat beside and observed an incident that I never would have believed had it not occurred in front of my own eyes.

I sat down to a ½ No Limit Hold’em table early Friday afternoon next to a young guy from Jacksonville. His forearms were covered in tattoos and he was knocking back tall vodka cocktails. Around his neck hung a jewel encrusted SpongeBob SquarePants medallion because he liked the popular children’s cartoon.

“SpongeBob ShovePants” liked to play just about every hand. He called large bets with hands that had little chance of winning. He urged other players to put their entire stack into the pot with him before the cards were dealt. His chip stack went up and down like a rollercoaster without tracks. “SpongeBob ShovePants” played poker like it was Russian Roulette; it was frequently all or nothing.

After watching his reckless, financial self-destruction for awhile, “SpongeBob ShovePants” leaned over to me and complained that the cards were simply against him. I kept my thoughts on the matter to myself, but he persisted. To prove his point, before the cards were dealt for the next hand, “SpongeBob ShovePants” put the remainder of his chip stack into the pot blind.

The hand ran out with an older man matching his Ace-King with two more Kings: a monster, virtually unbeatable. However, there were three clubs on the board, making the flush possible. I peeked over as “SpongeBob ShovePants” rolled over one club…then, you guessed it, a straight flush! He jumped out of his chair and started shouting like he had won the lottery.

Although the odds against what had just happened would have been too unbelievable to include in a movie, the money he won on that miracle long shot only lasted “SpongeBob ShovePants” another couple of hands before it was gone. In a little over an hour, he dumped about $1000 into the game. After he left the game, four other players got up. I was sad to see him go.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Don't Scare the Fish!

There is a lot of money to be made off of stupidity
-“Alabama Man” 

After playing poker for so many years, there really isn’t too much that bothers me at the tables. One glaring exception is when seasoned, skilled players are condescending or impatient to others who are just learning the game.

A lot of people gravitate to poker as a form of entertainment; winning money isn’t their primary goal. They just want to have a good time and don’t care if it costs them a few hundred dollars. This is an attitude that is often hard to find in poker and it should be greeted with a smile and nurtured with kindness.

Playing cards in Biloxi last week, I was moved to the left of a jovial man from Alabama. He was swilling Coronas like an unemployed Charlie Sheen and punctuating his dialogue with profanity and bleary-eyed laughs. Talking with him, it was apparent that a few hundred dollars didn’t mean too much to him. The way he played poker confirmed this suspicion. His goal was simply to have a good time and there was no denying that he succeeded.

Although I had just sat down, I noticed immediately that no one else at the table was enjoying the “Alabama Man” show. There were a lot of shared grimaces and mutterings about “idiocy.”

The dealers and other players complained about nearly everything this poor fella did. They objected to his language, to his failure to follow the action, and to his general poker strategy. Essentially, they objected to him as a person.

Sensing the animosity at the table, “Alabama Man” began to consider abandoning cards and returning to the casino’s dice game.

One especially egregious example of this behavior occurred from a younger kid at the table who had amassed a large stack of chips. When the kid made a river bet, “Alabama Man” drunkenly shoved out a sloppy pile of chips with each hand in an attempt to raise the bet. The kid complained that “Alabama Man’s” hands crossed the table’s betting line a split second apart and the raise shouldn’t count. Then, in the very next breath, the kid said that he had a good hand and wanted the raise to stand. His fundamental dislike of “Alabama Man” was at war with his desire to make money. It was a weird example of the competing instincts within a lot of poker players.

Moments like these at the poker table bother me. Oftentimes players who are technically proficient fail to understand this basic premise of the game: DON’T SCARE THE FISH! Laugh at their jokes, listen to their stories, offer condolences for their losses, and complement the good plays when they make them. Be friendly because they are your true poker friends. When they are kind enough to throw a party, sit back, enjoy yourself, and have a big ol’ piece of fishcake.

From our discussion together, it was clear “Alabama Man” understood this basic carnivorous principle. Although he may have been a red-shirted rube at the poker table, he was all shark in business. He looked me dead in the eye and opined, in a self-assured and slurred tone, “There is a lot of money to be made off of stupidity.” I nodded my head in quiet agreement.