No compassion in poker?

Updated: June 23, 2005, 10:47 AM ET
By Jay Lovinger | ESPN Poker Club

Previous WSOP Moment

You know how they say that, whenever you go to a baseball game, there's a good chance you'll see something you've never seen before? Well, baseball has nothing on poker in this regard.

Early this morning, at about 3 a.m., I stopped to watch a one-table NLHE satellite on my way out of the Rio. Sam Grizzle, who's almost always good for a moment of the day, was playing, and I figured, "Hey, you never know." All of a sudden, a forty-something guy who I've seen around throughout last year's and this year's WSOP, though I don't know his name, jumped up from the table and ran out into the hall, wailing.

At first, I thought he had suffered some kind of horrendous bad beat, though crying about it didn't seem to be his style. Also, he left behind a larger-than-average stack, there were still nine other players sitting at the table, so a bad beat didn't seem to be what was going on.

I asked a woman, who was staring after the guy with obvious concern, what had happened, and she explained that the guy had just gotten a call telling him his father had died. A couple of players got up from the table to go out into the hall to try to comfort or help the grieving player, though the rest of the table kept playing as if the guy had just gotten up to go to the bathroom. And the dealer kept dealing & and blinding the guy off.

Even by the dog-eat-dog standards of poker, this seemed a bit heartless. So I went up to Chris Spear, a single-table satellite supervisor for the WSOP, to see if he could do something to restore a bit of humanity to the situation. I was unusually hopeful, because Chris seemed like a friendly, flexible human being who is not above tweaking the rules to benefit the players, especially in the early morning hours, when a certain amount of flexibility can help defuse potentially troubling situations.

Chris seemed a bit stunned when I explained what had happened - in his 28 years on earth, he had never seen the like (though who among us had?) - but he said it was out of his hands, that it would be unethical of him to suggest to the other players that, for example, they should take the grieving guy's chips out of play and give him back his entry fee (which I believe was $225).

I said I was sorry to hear that, but that I understood his position. And soon after, I'm happy to say, Chris changed his mind and went over to the table to retrieve the guy's chips as a prelude to arranging for the return of his entry fee. And I'm pleased to report that, as far as I could tell, none of the other players objected.

Who said there's no compassion in poker?

A few minutes earlier, I concluded a $660 buy-in 7-card stud one-table satellite on a most unusual note, at least in my limited experience of such things. There were just two of us left (from the original field of eight), with me having about 30 percent of the chips. The fact that I was even playing 7-card stud, only the third or fourth time I'd tried the game all year, was strange enough, let alone at such a high buy-in.

Although there's a lot of luck involved at this stage of a stud satellite - I had a little less than $5,000 in chips, Dave Freed had a little over $11,000, and the limits were up to $1,000-2,000, meaning the whole thing could have easily been finished in a single hand - I desperately wanted to make a deal. For one thing, Freed seemed like a stud specialist - at the very least, he had played the game thousands of times, often for high stakes - and I had a feeling his advantage over me would only increase during the head-to-head stage, where I have no idea about relative hand values, even compared to the slight notions I have about hand values in a full-table game. For another, Freed was a lot more aggressive than I was, which I figured would be a big disadvantage (for me) head-to-head, just as it would be in hold 'em.

However, Freed, though affable in the extreme, wanted no part of a chop, since he needed, he claimed, the full $5,000 winner-take-all prize money to enter today's $5,000 buy-in stud tournament. However, if I wished to conclude hostilities at this juncture and let him use the prize money to enter the tournament, he offered me half of any winnings he might collect.

This seemed overly generous to me, since he had 70 percent of the chips and was clearly a much better stud player - a fact I'm pretty sure he was only too keenly aware of - so I made a counter offer: If he would pay me back my $660 buy-in, I'd take a third of his putative winnings from the tournament in return for letting him use the prize money as his buy-in.

He seemed to think this was more than fair, which is how I came to own a third of a Dave Freed for the day - and, hopefully, if he makes the final table, a few hours on Saturday, too.

Jay Lovinger

Founding editor, Page 2
Jay Lovinger is a former managing editor of Life and a founding editor of Page 2. "Jackpot Jay" spent a year as a poker pro and participated in the World Series of Poker. He will be writing a book on his poker adventures for HarperCollins.

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