LEDYARD, Conn. --There are magical phrases every poker player needs to survive. Some are universal, like:
1.) "I think I'd better fold this crap."
2.) "I don't want to frighten anybody, but I'm gonna have to raise this pot."
3.) "Have you got a few thousand you can spare?"
And some are personal, like the one that suddenly came to me as I stepped off the flight from Las Vegas after I'd been away from home for more than five weeks, and I saw that fearsome glint in my wife's eyes:
I used it for the first time right then and there, when she said, "I hope you're ready to get up-close and personal again with Mr. Dust Buster."
The first question almost everybody asks me when they hear about my idea to spend a year on the road as a high-stakes poker pro is:
What does your wife think about it?
The hard but true answer?
Oh, on the surface, she is a good sport. But right about when the pipes in our Bronx co-op apartment started to leak ... which required holes to be ripped in the walls of our bathroom and the bedroom of my daughter Woo ... an event which coincided with my daughter Wendy's first final exam ... and my wife's attempt to get her own book started ... and Woo's emergency root canal ... and Woo telling her she wished I was home to provide some "calm role-modeling" ... but of course I wasn't there to help ... not at all ... or even to sympathize ... though I was calling up regularly from Vegas to complain about an endless slew of bad beats (and excessive air conditioning in my two-room suite with Jacuzzi) ... which even my wife, with her limited knowledge of and interest in poker (and a shower she couldn't use because of the hole in the bathroom wall) could tell were pretty much the result of my bad play ... well, I guess the nice way to put it is that she lost just a bit of patience with me and my journey into self-realization.
As you can see, "Yes, dear," wasn't going to be nearly enough. I thought to myself, "What would a real high-stakes poker pro do in this situation? What would a strategic genius like Howard Lederer do?" Then it came to me.
So there I was, two weeks later, watching that Virgin Air flight take off from JFK, winging its way toward England, carrying my wife and Wendy and Woo off on a four-week, four-country journey of their own. And I must say, on my own behalf, that I'd really learned something about giving:
I waited until that plane was at least a quarter-inch off the ground before I jumped in the car and headed east to Foxwoods.
A FACIAL FOR THE WORLD CHAMPION
Like marriage, poker can occasionally be heavenly. But more often, you wind up feeling like a total feeb.
Bad beat -- A particularly unlucky way to lose a hand, especially a big one, usually involving an unlikely draw by an opponent on the last card (also known as "the river").
Blinded off -- When you lose your last chips in a tournament because you have to pay either a small or big blind. In some kinds of poker -- notably hold 'em -- the player to the left of the dealer has to post a bet called the small blind, and the player to the left of the small blind has to post another bet (usually but not always twice the size of the small blind) called the big blind before they are dealt a hand. The purpose of the blinds is to get the betting started (similar to antes in, say, seven-card stud) and, more important, to prevent players from endlessly folding until getting the best possible hand, which is A-A. In a tournament, the blinds increase at regular intervals, encouraging the play of less-than-optimal hands, which, in turn, prevents tournaments from going on forever.
Final table -- The last table left at a tournament, usually nine people in hold 'em events, though some televised tournaments, such as World Poker Tour championships, only seat six.
Flop -- In hold 'em, there are four betting rounds -- after each player is dealt his/her two down cards, after the first three community cards are dealt face up in the middle of the table, after the fourth community card is dealt face up in the middle of the table, and after the fifth and last community card is dealt face up in the middle of the table. The first group of three community cards is known as "the flop." (The fourth community card is known as "the turn" or "fourth street," and the fifth as "the river" or "fifth street.")
Position -- On any hold 'em hand, where a player sits in relation to the dealer. The first few players (usually the first three or four) to the left of the dealer -- that is, the ones who have to bet first -- are in early position. The next three or so are said to be in middle position, and the last three or so are in late position.
And the way I did it was particularly satisfying. Down to my last $3,000 -- the other nine players left all had at least $15,000 -- and in danger of being blinded off in just two more hands, I watched in amazement as two medium stacks went all in against each other. When the loser of the hand was eliminated, I moved up from 10th (prize money: $600-plus) to ninth (prize money: $1,024).
Not exactly the life-changing win I was hoping for, true. But it figured to pay for about three days in Europe for the wife and kids, which ain't exactly chopped liver, either.
However, the best part of the tournament wasn't finishing ninth. It was a single hand -- the dream hand of a lifetime, the likes of which I'll probably never see again if I play until I'm 80. I was dealt A-A in fourth position. The guy in front of me bet $900, about 25 percent of his stack. I called, hoping somebody behind me would raise, so I could re-raise -- or at least call. Nobody did. The flop came A-A-5, giving me four aces, an unbeatable hand.
My unusual problem was this: The hand was too good. There were no two cards in the deck -- except a 5-5 -- the guy could be holding to allow him to bet, or to call any bet I might make. So I had already decided to check through to the river, hoping against hope that the next two cards would give him something, anything, to bet with. So imagine my amazement when the guy went all-in after the flop -- a stone-cold bluff into my four aces.
"You know, I really think I'm gonna win this one," I understated, calling, as the guy shame-facedly turned over a K-Q unsuited and beat a hasty retreat from the smokeless poker room.
An interesting side note: Greg Raymer, the winner of this year's World Series of Poker (and with the title, $5 million, a world record for any poker tournament), sat for a while at my table. Despite the fact that everybody was all over him like he was a nude supermodel -- congratulations, questions, requests that he sign pictures/hats/shirts/what have you, demands for hugs or just a lucky finger ramble through his hair -- he was incredibly congenial and obliging.
He seemed like the kind of guy who would appreciate all those old patent lawyer jokes. (Q: What do you have when 24 patent lawyers are buried up to their necks in sand? A: Not enough sand.) When somebody asked him how the patent attorney business was going, Raymer said, "I'm retiring tomorrow morning ... and that's the best part of winning the World Series."
He also displayed a nice I-gotta-be-me edge from time to time, which an unregenerate '60s throwback like myself found particularly endearing. One player asked him to autograph a copy of Card Player magazine (with Raymer on the cover) for his son, with the words: Dear Noel, don't gamble. Raymer smiled, nodded ... and wrote: Dear Noel, play smart.
Several players began to heckle the guy who was overseeing the tournament, suggesting rather pungently that he -- and, by extension, Foxwoods -- was miserly because he had failed to offer a bounty to the player who knocked "the world champion" out of the tournament. Finally, just to shut everybody up, the guy promised a steak dinner for two to whomever terminated Raymer. "Wow," said one guy, "that's truly magnanimous. Are you sure Foxwoods can afford it?"
Soon after, our table was broken up, and I'm not sure who actually eliminated Raymer. All I know is, when I arrived at the final table, he was not there.
KING OF FEEBS
I'm going to try not to dwell on the bad times. This column is long enough as it is; and, really, nobody cares.
Before I stop dwelling, however, just a bit of background. The World Poker Tour is hosting a $10,000 buy-in, no-limit, hold 'em event in November at Foxwoods; and, if you are one of those cheapskates who would prefer not to lay out 10 grand, Foxwoods has instituted a three-step program by which, God willing, you can win your way in for a total of $60.
It works like this:
1.) You enter an Act I one-table satellite for $60 ($45 entry fee, $15 for Foxwoods to help pay dealers, electric bills, the mortgage, Uncle Sam, etc.). If you finish in the top three out of 10 starters, you move on to ...
2.) Act II, another one-table satellite. (You can bypass Act 1 by simply paying a $150-$120 entry fee, $30 for Foxwoods -- but that doesn't seem particularly sporting.) If you win the Act II, you move on to ...
3.) Act III, a weekly super-satellite tourney. (You can bypass Act I and Act II by simply paying $1,000 -- plus a fee for Foxwoods -- but that is not only unsporting but expensive.) For every 10 entrants in an Act III, one person will win a seat into the WPT championship event. So, if there are, say, 60 players entering, the last six standing -- or, more accurately, sitting -- save themselves $10,000 and get a free shot at fame and more than $1 million.
|Got a poker problem or want more details about Jay's Vegas adventure? Send in your questions and comments.|
I thought so, which is why I entered an Act 1 with rather high expectations. The key thing to keep in mind about Act 1 events is that at least three or four of the 10 people entering will typically have no idea what they are doing and, therefore, virtually no chance to be one of the final three players. Two examples should suffice: a guy who asked seven or eight times before he was eliminated how much you could bet in a no-limit game; and a woman who would visibly shudder whenever anybody bet into her, and then mutter, "So much money. I knew this was a bad idea."
In other words, if you are even a mediocre player, your true odds of moving on to an Act II from an Act I are about even money.
Which is why I was ready to kill myself after entering three Act 1s and failing to move on all three times.
To sum up this distressing experience: I spent $180 to win my way into a mini-tournament that I could have gotten into just by paying $150 ... and after all that, I still hadn't qualified for an Act II.
Things could be worse though. Just imagine if my wife wasn't in Europe somewhere and she heard about this. Do me a favor ... if you happen to run into her Over There, please don't mention it.
ATTENTION, IRS: HOW JAY IS DOING IN HIS NEW CAREER
Three days at Foxwoods: plus $1,000
Total for my CTD (career-to-date): minus $500
Jay Lovinger, a former managing editor of Life and a founding editor of Page 2, is writing on his poker adventures for ESPN.com and also writing a book for HarperCollins. You can watch the 2004 World Series of Poker starting July 6 at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN.