If Only I Could Bottle This

Dear reader,

I wrote this story right after it happened, around 2001, before no-limit holdem made its way into public poker rooms. Back then, the main game that grinders like me played was $20-40 limit holdem. This story is about me learning how to become a good quitter.


When I blow a grand at $20-40, it matters, and it usually hurts. This time what matters is that it didn’t.

To my eyes, the game was live at first glance, with lots of soft preflop action, but deceptively tough, with tricky caution by the turn. I rarely post behind the button but this time I did because of how it worked out with the collection. When the action came to me, three players had limped for $20. I did not have chips yet, meaning, my announced post of four chips was not sitting in front of me as a visual reminder that I had posted. I glanced at my 8-3 or 8-4 or whatever it was, and mucked. No one raised. Duh, I missed out on a free flop, but I didn’t even realize it yet when the guy next to me showed right away that he is one of these nosers who can’t watch a mistake happen without making sure that all who are in error know so and all the better if the guilty show some remorse.

He pointed at the empty green in front of me, where my posted chips weren’t, and cheeped, “You posted! And no one raised! Why did you fold?”

I’m thinking, man, I just sat down, and mostly I’m deciding if I want red wine or white with breakfast, and here is this annoying guy in my ear already, and I know from the past that if I give him any encouragement he will be like Ted Striker in the movie Airplane during the scene where people kill themselves to escape his long-winded stories. But hey, that’s okay. I feel exceptionally steady today.

I’m not even facing the table when the flop comes Q-3-3 and my neighbor nudges me and looks at the flop as if to ask if I had mucked a three.

I leaned a little and said, so that only he could hear me, in the most convincing way, “Damn, I would have hit. I had Q-J.”

He looked me over, suspiciously, and I felt his brain spinout. If I was telling the truth, it meant that had it been a non-posting hand, I would have folded QJ in the cutoff seat with several limpers already in. If I was lying, then it meant I was a most exceptionally devious liar, especially for someone who so recently displayed such tragic memory-loss problems. And the whole package of lies or truths, whatever it was, supported the conclusion that I wasn’t at all bothered that I had started a session by paying $20 for a flop and then casually mucking preflop, which also happens to be the point I’m making to you.

He didn’t talk to me any more. What happened next was a whirlwind of starts and fits that felt like every bet raise and fold was scripted. I get AK and openraise. The cutoff and button call and both blinds fold. The flop comes 10-x-x. I checkfold and I didn’t pay much attention to the action except to see A-10 take the pot. Next hand I get AA and the flop comes A-x-x all one suit. The flop action is: a bet to me, I raise, a reraise from behind, and it comes down to heads up, with me calling the reraise on the flop. I checkcall the turn and river and lose to the flopped nuts.

At this point, I swear, I was feeling good. Very strong. My feelers were out and working and I was reacting well and it felt like I was up at least $40 in theoretical money. But better than that, here I was, being tortured, before I even creamed my coffee, and I was feeling no pain! And I was made stronger by the awareness that I was still strong! And I guess the reason I’m writing this is to share joy. I’ve been to a high place and when I come down from the mountain I want to shout about the view.

I folded the next few hands preflop, but not just any hands. They were exactly those hands readers fret over, the ones that I don’t think are all that bad, except for when, and especially when, I’ve lost some big pots, because that is the time to establish internal combustion control for the session, before it slips away, and also to let those opponents who care about such things know that I am and forever shall be unfluffable, at least for now.

Right in a row, in the middle seats, I got these three hands: 2-2, A-10, and K-J, and I mucked ’em all. But it wasn’t some spasm of discipline or anything. This is where maybe I’m a little lucky, to be wired up a certain way so that after I lose a couple big pots, I really don’t want to play any hands. That’s not to say I want to get up and walk away from the table. No way. I see other guys do that and I know for sure they are rattled. I want to sit right there, and hold together, and make it obvious that I’m level. So call it pride I guess. That’s why I fold a lot right after big lost pots, and probably the reason I’m not broker.

And fold a lot is just what I did, well, pretty soon. First there was my big blind that no one raised. I flop bottom two pair, fill up on the turn, and lose. And then the next hand, my small blind, a couple players fold and the rest limp. As the action comes around, I haven’t looked at my cards yet. Even with all those limpers, especially with all those limpers, I am so ready to muck this hand. I have pocket sixes and I have to call, don’t I? So I call and right on cue the big blind raises and we all call and the flop is all big cards and neener neener you sadistic poker gods you. Didn’t hurt!

Then I made the best play of my life. Half the table limped on my button and I folded.

I fold fold fold up to my big blind, Q-J, and no one raises, forcing me to see the 10-9-8 twotone flop. The suited ten on the river hit two players, allowing a graceful checkfold.

By now I was so happy I was about to burst. If only I could bottle this! This strength! This resolve! I felt like being unflushstraighted at each instant was saving me chunks of money. Not in bets per hour, but rather, in stacks per minute.

Fifteen minutes later I hadn’t seen another flop and the next dealer was coming, meaning time collection. Some players were quitting. Time to assess. It’s a nine-handed table and I’m in seat nine. On my left, in seat one, sits one of the reasons that seats three, four, and five are still here. Next to him, in seat two, sits the other. In seats three, four, and five are some of my fondest, midnight-rambling pongyows. Next, in seats six, seven, and eight are still-warm cushions, meaning, the only way for me to gain any seats on the live ones would be to move to seat seven and then hope for more players to show up at, uh, five in the morning? Plus, being stuck this much this fast will get me down eventually if I don’t win some pots soon. Uh oh, I think I feel it already. Yeah, fuggit, I’m outta here.


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