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Poker News | Casino Poker | Tournament Reports

The Games We Play

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Several months ago, I wrote in these pages about some of my experiences playing and dealing poker on the tournament circuit. I am here now to report on my recent evolution, if that is the right term, with respect to the game.

At last report, in the fall of 2006, I had embarked on a hunt for a non-poker job following a summer of dealing at the World Series of Poker. Ever ambivalent, I took a flyer, interrupting that job hunt to play at Foxwoods for a couple of weeks during their fall tournament. I did exceptionally well in the games during that period, scoring again and again at the $1/$2 NL tables. In fact, I beat my "personal best" monetary result of the previous spring, when I had also played in the side action during a tourney at Foxwoods.

After I left Foxwoods, however, the problems started. Looking back, I think I got too confident. I had had such good results that I began to feel invincible. While confidence is crucial when sitting down to play cards, feeling invulnerable often leads to poor decisions. In my case, it caused me to call way too many raises preflop and to pursue too many draws. This eventually spelled disaster, naturally. Over the next two months, I ended up losing back all my profit from Foxwoods, and then some. In the course of these sessions, as the feeling of invincibility gave way to one of the inevitability of loss, I attempted to fight a bad run of cards by tightening up. In most sessions, I only found one or two playable hands. I began playing super tight for long periods -- in several cases, too tight -- ie, flopping trips and folding to a bet and a raise for fear I was up against trips with a better kicker. Some of these sessions were winners, but many were not, as I would play selectively for hours upon hours, only to make a mistake for most of my chips in a final key hand.

The predictable accompaniment to this period was the feeling that I just couldn't win. That old self-perpetuating, gradually saturating conviction that no positive outcome was achievable. You know, where if you have pocket Kings, your opponent has pocket Aces. Or if the situation is reversed, and you have the Aces, your opponent -- nay, your nemesis -- will flop a set with his pair of Kings. Every poker player has been there at one time or another, I am sure, as long as he or she has played long enough.

It also came home to me during this period how much of an adversarial relationship each of has toward the other players at the table. This condition is often masked by the camaraderie and general fun that we also obtain during the game. I finally concluded that I wanted, and needed, to be out of the fray for awhile. After dealing another tournament, this time at the World Poker Open in Tunica, Mississippi, in January, I came home to NY and got a temp job. A one-week assignment turned into two months, and has the potential to become permanent. It's not much of a job -- that is, it is not a career, just a job -- but it pays at least some of the bills and it's a nice environment. Nobody is surly or rude; people are engaged in working together and seem to be respectful of one another.

So now I am playing a game of another sort: the game of 9-5 life. The one where you have to be sunny and friendly and upbeat, though not too chirpy or syrupy, have a positive attitude and act as if being where you are is just the most important and desirable place to be. Well, maybe that last is a bit of an exaggeration, but don't most bosses want employees that seem happy to be at work? And, in a way, I am happy to be at work. Although I lack a sense of purpose, since most of the work I have been doing is purely rote, people are friendly toward me and seem to like me, and most importantly I have a routine, a structure that is basically keeping me sane at the moment.

There are plenty of reasons I could go into a tailspin -- many of them unrelated to playing poker, but some the result of uprootedeness, of traveling too much for too long -- and this routine seems to be an antidote to that. I can see why some people become addicted to work, because any kind of repetitive activity can stave off feelings of gloom and doom. (Isn't poker mostly a series of rote decisions and actions too??) Besides, the work I am doing is not that stressful. For one thing, there are no deadlines. Other people in the office have them, but I don't. The last time I had a stable work existence, I was under constant deadline pressure, with too many managers and clients, and the situation became untenable. That's one reason dealing appeals to me. It is certainly stressful at times, but those times are heavily circumscribed as each dealer typically moves on to a new table after half an hour. And dealers have no deadlines.

The most salient thing that distinguishes my current work environment from dealing and playing poker is that I am on the same side as my co-workers. We are not adversaries trying to gouge each other, or deprive one another of every last chip. To be sure, there are plenty of office situations in which co-workers compete relentlessly for plum assignments, promotions and recognition, but mine is not one of them. Although I am somewhat bored, it is not the same kind of clawing, nails-on-a-blackboard, agonizing boredom as sitting and looking at unplayable hands like J-5 offsuit for hours and hours and days.

But last weekend, maybe I missed poker a little bit, or maybe I was just starting to be dug in to my new routine enough that it was time to hit the road, at least for a day or so. (I always seem to have this conflict between the wanderlust and the need to stay put.) Whatever the reason, I dug my car out of the previous night's snow and took off. For Connecticut. For the ‘woods.

The drive itself took a long time, much longer than usual, with detours for gas and food and finally, a visit to the beach in one of the little shoreline towns about 15 miles from the casino. I had been in the car for too long not to go for a brisk walk by the bay. Besides, the beach was too inviting, though the sky was gray and lowering, and the wind blew cold. The vista of open water never disappoints. The marshes, too, were as beautiful as ever, and the bare trees etched themselves against the sky. The Eastern Connecticut shoreline is one of the best-kept secrets of the Northeast, not as popular as its oceanfront cousins further East and North, in Rhode Island and Cape Cod, but in many spots just as beautiful.

I parked the car and disembarked, crossing a bridge over the water and heading for a spot I particularly liked. This is an area that is bustling with beachcombers and fishermen, sailboats and tennis players in summer, but nearly deserted during the winter months. In a few weeks, the summer people will return to their large lovely Cape Cod-style homes, with their kids on bicycles flocking to the inlets like the geese who have already come back. For the moment, though, the place was virtually deserted.

I walked and walked, until I was too tired and cold to walk anymore. It was an antidote to weeks of negotiating massively crowded sidewalks and intersections whenever I ventured outside. After I got back to the car, I sat and looked out over the bay for awhile, idly observing the masts at the marina and houses in the distance, the small waves lashing at the shore, until my reverie was interrupted by the arrival of a police car. That area is rife with police, mostly trying to catch people for speeding. I was parked diagonally across two parking spaces, and I started to worry that the cop would bother me to move. Instead, he perched by the side of the road, where he could clock the speed of those driving past.

I sat in the car for at least half an hour. By now, it was almost five o'clock. The hotel room I had booked "in case I decided to stay over" was going to cost me $175, and given the hour, it looked like I would have to check in. Also, it was St. Patrick's Day. Not the best day on which to make a long late-night return trip after a poker session. I would therefore be in for almost $200 before I had even played a hand.

After a brief internal debate, I started the car, turned around, waved at the cop as I left the small beachfront parking lot. I thought about several of the folks I know who were undoubtedly playing in the Foxwoods poker room at that very moment. I pictured the tables, the whole routine of checking in and finding my room and crossing the casino floor, past the guards and the pai-gow tables and down the steps to the poker room. And I knew -- I was going home.

I got on the highway heading West, and was back in my cozy little apartment just after sundown.

I didn't go to the game, in part, because I don't really want to be a weekend warrior -- the kind of player who, in the words of playwright Peter Schaffer, plays for "little profits and little losses." In a moment of intense soul-searching, the psychiatrist protagonist of Schaffer's classic play, Equus, confesses that he feels chided by his passionate patient, who seems to be saying to him, "At least I galloped -- when did you?" Last weekend, I felt almost as if going to play were prescribed for me -- another routine within my larger routine. That it was somehow foreordained that if I work a regular job in a regular office, I will play one weekend a month and simply hope not to get crushed. The only way to break out was simply to take a walk, admire the water, the islands off in the distance and the newly-returned geese, get in the car, and take my leave.

When I return to poker and the Foxwoods poker room, it had better be spectacular.

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