“In order to live you must be willing to die.” Amir Vahedi
i’m only two hours into my first World Poker Tour tournament and already on life support. Kept alive by cruel hope, and a cute, high-heeled nurse, who arrives at regular intervals to ease my pain. I take another dose, savor the burn, and fondle my remaining chips.
Two seats down from me a tall Aussie in wrap-around shades contemplates calling the preflop raise. He’s done some damage tonight a la Gus Hanson. That is to say, playing any two cards. His 8 6 suited’s about to break an old man with aces. Poor old guy doesn’t see it coming. How could he? Only a lunatic would call a big pre-flop raise with 8 6. Online, I see that move all the time. In Panama’s Majestic Casino you expect tighter play.
The cards fall. Old guy bets a third of the pot. Not enough. The Aussie calls. On fourth street the geezer finally gets serious. He makes a pot sized bet. Too late. The Aussie’s caught a straight. He re-raises. After a long think the old man pushes in and the Aussie takes down another unlikely pot.
Any two cards is a difficult style to play against. It’s hard to put an opponent on a hand. Simply put, if they’re catching cards you’re fucked. If they’re not you’ll grind them down, bit by bit. I’m more comfortable playing against the fat, Cohiba-smoking man seated opposite me. He’s a maniac, and our chip leader. All night he’s been stealing with the big re-raise. To beat him I just need to be patient. Catch a hand. Pull the rope-a-dope. Let the maniac destroy himself. I tell myself, let the cards come to me.
So far the cards haven’t come. This is my first live tournament. Until now I’ve only played online and in home games. I learned poker from my dad. Dad loved poker. He was a merchant seaman. He’d play poker with shipmates, sometimes while transiting the Panama Canal. He died when I was a boy.
No wonder I’m in Panama playing no limit holdem. Tonight my goal’s simple. Hang around long enough to get a feel for tournament play. Play tight, aggressive. See if I can make the final table. So far I’ve spent the first two hours folding, sipping my meds, and watching for tells. On my left a striking Latina catches my attention. I don’t need Mike Caro to tell me what she wants. She has that look.
“Maya,” She says with a big smile.
“Cool name. Cojito.”
“First? No, my fifth.” I say, rattling the cubes in my drink.
“No, I mean, tournament.”
“Ah, does it show?”
“I can tell virgin.”
She gives me a knowing smirk. I should know better than to underestimate opponents. Or get distracted by flirtations. But I’m only human. (OK – a little less than human). After two hours I believe all the players at this table are beatable. Maya hasn’t given me reason to think she’s any different. She’s mostly been limping with crap cards, hoping to get lucky, bucking pot odds, calling too deep into the hand when she’s already beaten. I’m guessing her money making talents lie elsewhere.
Just before the break I pick up AJ of spades. Not a super starting hand but my best so far. I’m one off the button. No one’s raised. More importantly, the blinds are eating me alive. I raise big; hoping to steal from all the limpers and blinds. Instead, I get four callers. “Shit, this can’t be good” I think.
The flop comes all rags: 8 of spades, 7 of diamonds, 2 of hearts.
I have only a vague idea how much is in the pot. Online the money adds up after each round. You just glance at the total to figure pot odds. But live, you have to do the numbers in your head. It’s not hard, but it takes some getting used to. There are a lot of things going on at the table. Reading the board, the players, figuring pot odds, flirting, and of course, trying to understand the dealer’s Spanish.
It’s checked to me. I have a backdoor flush draw, two over cards, and I’m the pre-flop raiser. I bet what I think is a little over half the pot. A standard continuation bet. I want them to believe I have top pair. It’s the same bet I make when I do have a made hand. The Gus Hanson wanna-be, maniac, and hottie, all call. Hmmm., que paso? It starts to feel like I’ve wandered down a dark tunnel.
Fourth street: 5 of spades.
There’s a possible straight showing on the board. That is, if anyone’s crazy enough to be playing 9 6. The Aussie is. He’s well into his cups. He seems to have an unnatural fondness for Balboa beer. My best guess is the maniac and Aussie are drawing to a straight, or have already caught a small pair. It’s quite possible one is holding Ax. I’m dead if either are slow-playing trips or two pair. I think briefly about shutting it down, and asking the hot nurse for more medication. But I’ve got too many chips committed. I can’t worry about my prognosis. “Make your best read and go.” I tell myself.
Surprisingly, it’s checked to me again. A trap? Weakness? I’ve got a nut flush draw, two over cards, and outs. I don’t sense any strength out there. I either take this pot now or its over. I move all in, as if I’m worried the flush will hit the river. Respect my authoritah!
One of the benefits of playing tight for hours is that when you finally make a move even maniacs think you’ve got the goods. Both men quickly fold. Only my flirtatious friend calls. “Has my sexy savant found something to like in this mess? Or is she onto my bluff?” The good news; I’ve got her covered.
The river: 9 of diamonds.
The final card is worthless to me. But anyone holding J 10 has a straight. The Aussie looks pained. I’m guessing my move at the pot stopped him from drawing to an inside straight. Maya flips over QJ suited or queen high. She’s been drawing at the same flush, hoping for a miracle. Tonight there are no miracles. My AJ (ace high) takes down a fat pot. I feel like one of those Andes crash survivors just after they’ve gone cannibal. Adrenalin surges in my veins. I want to scream. I’m alive!
Maya smiles sweetly, and with a shrug leaves the table. My eyes follow her tight ass out the door. I can see curious faces pressed against the window, watching the drama inside unfold. The maniac complains bitterly that he’s folded top pair. He tires to snag the discards to show us A 9. Prompting a rebuke from the dealer. And a menacing glare from the pit boss. I gather my chips trying to look bored.
Thirty minutes later we break.