Sunday, January 30, 2005

An appetizer

The poker players just finished a nice dinner of east Asian food and soda pop. I can't offer you that, but I can offer a few morsels of what happeneed before the dinner break.

Gale Force Stymied by Aces

The poker room is a non-smoking venue. Anyone in need of a cigarette is forced downstairs to the main casino lobby.

I knew where I'd find John Gale.

The PokerStars Caribbean Adventure champion had just received a giant round of applause from his fellow players. In this room, that's not a good thing.

He stood at the bottom of the stairs with PCA final table-mate, Mikael Westerlund. Westerlund was in the middle of a rant about the stupidest player he's seen in his life. The tale wound through a series of bets, raises, and cold calls and ended with what even Westerlund admitted was a big mistake. After raising pre-flop with 9T, he found himself facing a re-raise. The Stupidest Player cold-called the re-raise giving Westerlund odds to call. The flop came nine-high and Stupid Player (not my words, so don't give me any grief about it) checked to Westerlund. Westerlund then made his mistake, checking his top-pair. Westerlund didn't indicate what the original re-raiser did, but I assume he checked, because Westerlund saw the turn, a king. He ended up losing at the end to a pair of kings his opponent made on the turn.

Westerlund survived and returned to his sat next to Marcel Luske.

But, really, I was there to hear John Gale's story.

Gale was working the play over and over in his head, still not free from the bounds of his loss. With the blinds at 25/50, Gale raised to 200 before the flop with a pair of queens. Martin de Knijff re-raised to 700. The raise wasn't enough to sscare Gale off. But before he had a chance to act, a player in between them cold-called the 700. Gale made a decision.

"I didn't want to see the flop," he said.

And so he pushed the rest of his stack into the middle.

Gale's Caribbean poker gods must've missed their flight, for de Knijff turned up AA, crippling Gale and sending him eventually to the casino lobby, a champion now saddled with the burden of being the first out of the Scandinavian Open.

Goodbye Mr. Gale

Dane, The Great and Terrifying

When I walked up to the table, Gus Hansen seemed to be needling Devilfish. He was piling chips that it seemed once belonged in Devilfish’s stack.

“You can’t believe how sick that hand was.,” he mused almost to himself. Then again, “So, sick.”

He shook his head as if he wronged the world in some way.

“So sick.”

Something drew my attention away from the table, but when I turned my head around, Gus said, “Deuce-five.”

I’d noticed during the hand in question, the board had a A34 on it with two spades.

“But the deuce-five it was in diamonds,” Gus said. Apparently Devilfish had been holding two spades.

“So sick.”

Devilfish in mean-looking mode

An orbit later, the deuce-five conversation hadn’t ceased. Gus made a minimum raise from the cutoff, then cold-called the button’s re-raise. The flop came jack-high rainbow. Gus bet out a small fraction of the pot and the button, perhaps still thinking about the deuce-five, pushed all in. Without as much as a blink, Gus called and flipped over two aces. The button, another European player, dropped his head and turned over two queens.

That, it seems, is the danger of the Great Dane. It could be deuce-five. It could be rockets.

A few hands later, Gus called the 150BB from early position. The table folded around to the BB, who checked his option. The flop came down ace-high with two clubs. The BB checked and Gus bet out the minimum. The BB called and they saw a rag on the turn. Again, the BB checked. This time, Gus followed suit. The river, a queen of hearts, drew another check from the BB. It was here I expected Gus to make a play at the pot. But he did not. He, too, checked.

The BB turned up AK suited in diamonds and Gus mucked his hand.

I looked back at the board with my mouth ever-so-slightly agape The BB had checked his option with suited Big Slick. He had checked his top-pair, top-kicker on the ace-high flop. He had checked the raggy turn. And he had checked the river that didn’t fill in the club flush.

Checked all the way down against Gus Hansen, who never bet more than the minimum bet.

Perhaps, I thought, he was hoping as I thought: that Gus would make a play at the pot and he could check-raise. Or, perhaps...perhaps he was just scared.

I walked away a little scared myself.

The Great Dane there an adjective better than 'great?'

Why Hold'em Makes Your Heart Beat

I was watching one particular table because Marcel Luske, Mikael Westerlund, and Isabelle Mercier were all playing there. I was hoping to a catch a hand that involved one of them.

Instead, I got caught up in a hand featuring a young American.

In the cutoff, the young man raised about 2.5x the BB. The players folded around to the BB who cold-called the raise. The flop came king-high with two clubs. The BB checked, the kid announced strongly, “Eight hundred..”

The BB called and watched the turn come down. A queen of hearts. Now, two clubs and two hearts sat on the board.

Again, the BB checked and the young American announced, “One thousand.”

Again, the BB called.

It was as if everybody at the table knew what was happening. Two clubs on the board and two check-calls from the BB.

When the nine of clubs hit the river, the BB instantly moved all his chips in the middle. It almost seemed too deliberate. Too fast. So fast that either he had the flush and wanted to seem like he was making a play. Or so fast that he didn’t have the flush at all and was, in fact, making a play.

The young man went so far in the tank that the hotel had to call out for a deep sea diver to rescue the player. He was gone, mumbling to himself about not wanting to bust out early but also wanting the BB’s chips. Eventually, Luske called the clock on the kid. But the young man was so far in the tank, he didn’t hear it. The floorman came over and announced the American had one minute and ten seconds. The floor started counting down with ten seconds remaining.

With seven seconds left, the young man shot from the tank as if he’d been fired from cannon.

“Call,” he said with a voice of confidence that waned as fast as the BB turned over A8 of clubs for the nut flush.

And just like that, it was over. Six minutes of high-drama that for the moment represented to me everything this game is about. Decisions overlapping decisions, wrapped in a moment of sheer terror, culminating in a poker life or death maelstrom of denial and triumph.

Or something like that.

A decision he won't soon forget

So, there's your appetizer for the evening. Barring any connection problems, I hope to have a five course meal later on tonight.