I was at my usual casino, with the usual players, at the usual 5:30 in the morning, when an unusual man joined the game. We were playing $20-40 limit hold’em. The game had been four-handed ever since the bar closed. It wasn’t the best game – even Isaac wasn’t getting out of line much – but then, it was still early.
The new guy sat down, straight-spined and groomed. The chip-runner stood ready with a rack of reds. The new guy accepted the chips with both hands, placed the full rack flat on the table, and methodically turned it on its side. He slid the rack from under the five stable columns of chips and handed it back to the chip-runner, along with five $100 dollar bills, and one five-dollar chip. “For you,” he said.
With one sweeping glance he greeted the table. Then he met eyes with anyone who wanted to. He kept glancing back to Isaac, while Isaac never broke contact.
“What’s your name?” Isaac asked.
“Finny,” he said. “And you?”
We four had been gabbing plenty and having a reasonably good time of it. But when the stoic stranger named Finny sat down right behind Isaac, it got real quiet, real fast.
Isaac is not Isaac’s real name. That’s just a nickname I made up for him, as in, Isaac Newton. I call him that because anytime there is an action, you can be damn sure he’ll have a reaction. Reactions to the dealers, to the staff, to the television, and for sure he’ll have a reaction to the cards and betting and players. And once he gets riled up, he won’t stop. Isaac will be in on whatever is going on, and if nothing is, there will be. People are always saying things to him, harsh things: “Can’t you just let it drop?” And “If you’re so good, then how come you’re always stuck?”
Right away, Finny won a pot that got Isaac hot. Isaac raised before the flop with two kings and Finny called right behind him with ace-six. Everyone else folded. Isaac bet the flop, and Finny called. Isaac bet the turn, and Finny called. The river card was an ace. Isaac looked at Finny and Finny looked at the wall. Nothing. Blanko.
Isaac bet. Finny called. Isaac turned over his pocket pair. Finny turned over his ace. Isaac mumbled, plenty loud enough for Finny to hear, “Look at this moron, calling me all the way with shit.”
Finny didn’t move a molecule. Apparently Finny also knew a thing or two about Newton’s laws of motion, and Finny’s favorite was the one about inertia. If you think of Finny’s lack of a reaction as an action, then, of course, by law, Isaac must have a reaction to that, and the way Isaac reacted to Finny’s non-reaction was to work harder at getting Finny to react. It was a Newtonian arms race between inertia and force.
“Look at him.” Isaac’s voice went up a pitch. “He can’t even defend himself.”
Still nothing. Isaac’s talk-about-him tactic was not effective, so he tried the nearly un-ignorable talk-to-him.
“You think you’re so smug. Just keep calling me down. Just go ahead. I hope they lock the doors so I can bust your ass.”
Finny was a man who really liked to see the flop. And Isaac had shifted into raising gear. The new pattern for the game was that most pots were raised and that Finny and Isaac were in on almost every flop. The rest of us started playing tighter. Finny and Isaac were a little cautious if anyone else was in, but as soon as it came down to just the two of them, bets would fly, with Isaac taunting the silent Finny all the while.
This one hand, Isaac raised before the flop with ace-ten and Finny flat-called him with ace-jack. Everyone else got out. The flop came with an ace and two low cards. Isaac bet, Finny raised, Isaac reraised, Finny made it four bets, and Isaac called. The turn card was a ten, giving Isaac the lead with two pair, aces and tens. Isaac bet the turn and Finny called. The river was a jack, giving Finny the best hand with aces and jacks, a higher two pair. Isaac bet, and Finny paused. Isaac tipped the dealer in advance and said to Finny, ”C’mon, hurry up and fold, there’ll be other hands.”
Finny raised. Isaac’s shoulders slumped as he called the raise with his last $35, all-in.
Finny turned over his winner, again, and Isaac turned into a whiner, again.
“Can you believe my luck? This idiot sucks out on me every time, practically drawing dead.”
Isaac reached into his pocket and pulled out a substantial wad of cash, folded in half, with a nice rubber band, wrapped around twice.
“And what the hell were you waiting for on the river? Did you think that you were fooling me by hesitating?”
Holding his cash up with two hands, the way a priest holds the Eucharist, Isaac undid the rubber band and peeled off two $100 bills.
Isaac glared straight at Finny. Finny, as best I could tell, had still not actually looked at Isaac since their frigid hello. The cards were dealt while Isaac grumbled, “You play so bad. I just hope you’re rich. Stick around buddy, just stick around.”
And he did. Finny stuck around long enough to see Isaac rebuy, and rebuy, and rebuy. Isaac would go all-in, and lose, and buy back in for the minimum $200, two stacks of chips. He’d fold a few hands, then play a hand and lose a stack and a half or so. Then he’d go all-in on the next hand no matter what. Isaac completed this cycle five times during Finny’s first hour, with half the money going to Finny.
Isaac was down to the felt for the sixth time. He shouted for chips. He was startled by the chip-runner, standing ready behind him with two stacks of chips. Isaac pulled out his still-thick wad of money, held it up, undid the rubber band, and peeled off two bills. The first one was a $100 bill. The second one was a $20. We were all watching. Isaac covered his surprise well. He smoothly counted out four more $20 bills and handed the $200 to the chip-runner. He knew that we knew. He was out of $100 bills.
Isaac had struck $20’s.
Isaac continued to run bad. He went all-in and lost twice more. Both times he bought back in for $200, ritualistically counting out ten $20 bills. His wad had shrunk and was nearly gone. Then this hand came up.
Isaac only had $80 in chips. It was Isaac’s small blind and Finny’s big blind. Everyone folded around to Isaac. Isaac raised. Finny called the $20. On the flop, Isaac bet, and Finny called. On the turn, Isaac bet his last $20, all-in. Finny paused.
Isaac right away pulled out his depleted wad and waived it around while he went hysterical on Finny, “C’mon you sorry ass piece of shit. Call me! It’s only twenty bucks. You know you’ll catch whatever you need on the river and bust me again. C’mon!”
Finny turned to Isaac and looked right at him. He said, “Okay, I’ll go ahead and call your $20, but can I ask you a favor?”
Isaac, in shock, could only muster up a muted nod.
Finny asked, “Can I have that rubber band when you’re done with it?”
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