I’m sitting in Hartsfield airport in Atlanta. I’m halfway through my trip home. It’s my first official trip home as an expat. At first this was just going to be an extended business trip, I needed to go through Newark to get to New Orleans for a business meeting. I did the rational thing and scheduled it so I would have a weekend in Princeton and could do some important things such as attending Friday poker night, getting a round of Frisbee golf in, seeing Mark and Katrin’s beautiful baby girl, and eating some good Indian food. You know, the basics.
Then Ann found out that her school schedule had a gap during exactly the same week, so she booked a ticket and the two of us got to have the enjoyment of watching “Dodgeball” three times on the interminable flight over.
So, the brief recap so far is: won $40 at poker, ate pancakes at PJs, saw “The Incredibles” (two thumbs way up), crashed Murray’s housewarming party, won Frisbee golf by one stroke, won a lot at poker in New Orleans, got cocky and gave most of it back, walked away today (Tuesday) with a small profit and still can’t decide if I’m happy to be up overall, or pissed off that I lost so much of my profit chasing straights and flushes.
I absolutely love poker. I would go so far to say that if poker were a woman, I would practice polygamy and marry her. She and Ann and I would create a non-traditional family unit of blissful possibilities, and at night—
Sorry. Jet lag.
But seriously, I love poker. I played from 9:30pm until 2:00am the first night, played four hours on Monday night, and played for two hours today before rushing out to make my shuttle to the airport. So, with this in mind, you may be able to appreciate the cruelty of what happened to me at my so-called ‘friendly’ poker game on Friday night.
Allow me to set the scene: Imagine you love poker. Imagine that between getting to and from airports, flying to the states, waiting in line in fucking customs, and driving, you have spent eleven and a half hours traveling and your body is telling you that it is 3:00am as you sit down to BEGIN playing poker. Now, imagine further that you sit down with eight of your close friends to enjoy some quality time with your second love, and the first hand you get is a pocket pair of queens (a very good hand, for all you poker ignoramuses).
Imagine your pleasure at the obvious sign of a divine mandate to win. Imagine your further pleasure as the flop includes is king of spades, queen of spades, and queen of hearts. Imagine your glee as you realize you have four of a kind, a hand you might see once in a thousand hours of playing poker. Imagine keeping it all inside as you wisely check, allowing other players to bet up the pot, and waiting for your chance to strike some poor sucker with an “I’m all in.”
Now imagine your satisfaction as that poor sucker turns out to be Hoagie (aka Paul), who has a history of staying in on hands he shouldn’t, and whose presence as your sole competition is likely to immediately double your bankroll.
Imagine that, as you had hoped, Hoagie calls your “all in”. Putting all his chips, and all your chips into the pot, so that both of you are fully committed to this one hand. Win or go home. And you have four of a kind.
Now, dear friends, comes the truly terrible part.
Imagine that you flip up your pocket queens, proudly showing four of a kind already, with the hand not even finished yet. And imagine that Hoagie flips over the jack and ten of spades. Imagine the terrible thought that surfaces, as much as your fatigue and poker haze try to suppress it, that there is a possibility that this inferior hand might just beat you. That’s right sports fans, the only hand that could possibly beat four of a kind… a straight flush. Something that you might play ten thousand hours of poker and not see. And it’s possible that this grinning fool next to you, who has bet all his money without even a pair, might just beat you if the ace of spades is the last card to come out.
“Hoagie. If you beat me… I’m going to have to kill you.”
Hoagie just watches the board with his hand over his mouth.
The final card is dealt.
The table erupts.
Ace of spades.
“He did not just pull a straight flush!”
For a few seconds I do nothing, make no reaction, just clench my jaw and attempt to furiously find a way to be okay with the fact that I just lost with four of a kind. And then I notice it. The laughter. There’s just a little too much of it. Then Ken lets me in on a little secret.
“We rigged the deck. Welcome back.”
I went on to lose sixty bucks over the next hour, borrow $40 from Ken, win one tournament and finish second in another, to end the night at 3:00am (9:00am Brian’s body time) up by about $40.
But nothing that happened that night will really stay with me other than that hand.