Thursday, April 18, 2013

Enter the Dragon

"If you lose it, then that's it. You're done?"
 Her eyes locked in like lasers on my face, awaiting my response.
"That's it. I'm done." I said.
And just like that, a deal was struck. I figured it was a win/win situation for me, but you know how life is. It would turn out to be a lose/lose situation. The situation itself was simple, when we got together one of the first questions she had asked me was if I gambled. She made it clear that for her, gambling was a deal breaker. I didn't, so it wasn't. Now, after almost two years of us being together, here I was telling her that I was going to give playing poker a try and even more outrageously, I was arguing that poker "wasn't really" gambling. It was a bit much. She was a tenured Law Professor, certainly no stranger to a debate. But I had plenty of ammunition. Ever since my conversation with Nate, I had been spending a few hours a day in the Border's bookstore downtown reading 'The Theory of Poker' by David Sklansky. All the way through. Twice. Then I read another book by Andy North. And a third. In part because I liked to read, but also because this idea of poker as a beatable game, unlike say, Craps or Roulette, was intriguing. My boy NJ was really good at games and math, and if he thought the idea was sound, then it almost certainly was. But my girlfriend didn't really give a rat's ass about NJ's opinion, or David Sklansky's for that matter. I wasn't going to win any arguments with a mere theory, so we struck a simple deal, I was going to take $100 I had gotten paid for a poetry reading and use it to play poker. And if I lost it, then that was it, no more poker. Forever. I figured it was a good deal, if the theory was correct, then I was going to make some money, and if it wasn't, I'd learn a valuable lesson. We agreed that I'd keep my 'poker money' in a wicker basket on the nightstand next to the bed where she put her jewelry every night and once the money was gone, that was it for poker.

I strolled into the park that day brimming with excitement. And trepidation. The books said that if I employed a very conservative strategy with my beginning cards that I could be a winner in Seven Card Stud. I aimed to find out. The game itself was unusual, all the players were chess players, very strong chess players, in fact I was probably the weakest chess player of the entire group. And we played on a chess table. Since we were outdoors in a Federal Park where gambling was prohibited, we couldn't put any money on the table. So they had devised an ingenious solution, we used a chess piece, a pawn usually, to mark the amount of the bet. Each box along one edge of the chess board embedded in the concrete table counted for a certain dollar amount. If the pawn was moved two square,s then one owed $2 and we squared each other up at the end of the hand. Each player stated  which amount they owed as they folded and we all policed each other. It was an Honor System, but it worked because we were all friends and all paid attention. Because of my memory, my well known hyper attention to detail, and my reputation for honesty, I quickly became the arbiter of disputes about when someone had folded.

To be honest, I had never thought that I'd be any good at poker. I have always had a very expressive face. Whatever crosses my mind usually crosses my face too. This is a great attribute when one is on a stage reciting a poem, but a real problem when trying to conceal emotions in a poker game. Poker is a game of incomplete information, one can't be handing that info out for free. And so I thought that my lack of a 'poker face' would be a big detriment. As it often was in conversations with (mostly women) who fill in conversational gaps with facial expressions. The problem is that my face reflects what I'm thinking, but since my brain works so fast, what I'm thinking is often ahead of or tangential to what is being said. Which can lead to a great deal of conversational skew, sometimes with hilarious results. But as it turns out, my ability to laser focus and to hone in on and recall minute details was way more of an advantage than any expressive face could ever be. As a result, even following a simple and very conservative strategy, I quickly became a winner in the poker game. And as I accumulated more and more information about my opponents, I had little trouble discerning what cards they held. After that first day, I spent less and less time playing chess and devoted almost all my free time in the park to the poker game. The game was full of characters. Most of the guys had very good jobs that paid well, some over 100k a year and two were even millionaires. Several of the player were engaged in nefarious activities, one of the them was a drug dealer, another was a pimp. Across the chess table, no one cared what one did for a living and it was the same in the poker game. The money we were playing for was inconsequential to them, and so they gambled it up with no regard for odds or proper poker strategy. Needless to say, by the end of the week the bills in the basket had bloomed to $300 and in a month's time, topped $1000. For years I had spent countless hours in the park pushing pawns across concrete tables, losing $20 or $30 a week. Now I was hanging out with my boys clearing $500 a week. Both sides of the street seemed sunny and I couldn't have been happier. Her jaw however, was clenched tighter than a pit bull's teeth on a chew toy. But, a deal was a deal, right? The bills filled the basket with trepidation.

And until next we meet, may all your potatoes be sweet (and dusted with cinnamon.)
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