Part one of this story can be found by following this handy link.
Also, in response to numerous requests . . .
Readers who are unfamiliar with hold-em rules can find them at ultimate bet dot com. Readers who are unfamiliar with poker terminology may want to read This glossary from CNN first. Or don't. I'm not the boss of you.
The city of Commerce is just fifteen minutes down the freeway from Hollywood, but the Commerce Casino is a thousand miles away from Odessa. There's no alley to walk down, no bouncer to deal with, and you're more likely to talk to a valet than a crackhead on your way into the club.
From The Standard, we drove across the 10 and picked up the 5 in the East LA interchange. Even though it was after ten, it was backed up like rush hour. I pointed at a sign that advised 45 MPH on the turn.
"Since I was sixteen, every time I pass that sign, I laugh. I don't think 45 has ever been a reduction in my speed through here." I said.
Burns nodded. "That's why you should ride a bike."
He's got two bikes: a racing bike, and a touring bike. Both monster Yamahas. "I'm not cool enough to ride a bike."
"And I am?"
"Well . . . yeah." I said. "How many times have you talked to Johnny Cash?"
"That's one more than me. How many times has Dusty Baker called you from the dugout at Wrigley?"
"Again, that's one more than me." I said, "How many ti--"
"How many super-hot porn stars have hit on you?" He said.
"Answer the question!" He said, in his best Tom Leykis voice.
"Yeah. That's one more than me, and we're calling it even."
"I don't think that--"
"Even!" He said. As if on cue, a racing bike flew past us along the shoulder, and punctuated the moment. I involuntarily jumped in my seat while Burns laughed.
"You're still cooler than I am."
He started to talk, and I honked my horn. "COOLER THAN ME!" I shouted. The guy in front of us looked at me in his mirror. I waved, he frowned. I made the "Live long and prosper" sign, and he quickly lost interest in keeping eye contact with me.
Burns paused a second and said, "Geek."
We laughed, and continued to creep through the interchange.
I switched the radio from Fred to Ethel, to The System.
"I'm a little intimidated to play in an actual cardoom," I said.
"Yeah, me too." He said, "I've played in plenty of home games, but I've never played in a casino."
"Have you read Lee Jones's book?"
"Not yet. I'm still in Caro's book."
"Just play super-tight and be aggressive when you've got a hand," I said. "Look for a reason to quit a hand if you're raised."
Good advice. Very good advice. Yep. Good, solid, useful, winning advice. Advice that I hadn't heeded for weeks. Advice that I needed to hear even more than Burns did, because I'd been playing like complete and utter shit: too loose, too aggressive, and way too many hands. I had consistently lost, regardless of the game: pot-limit, low-limit, no-limit . . . Hold'Em, Stud, Draw . . . ring, tournament, home game, online game . . . I just couldn't get it done.
When I was in my early twenties, I was a pretty good golfer. I usually shot in the low 90s, and I played every chance I got . . . then one day, I just lost my swing. My scores exploded into the 130s, and they still haven't come back down. I hardly ever pick up my clubs; it's too depressing. I was worried that my poker game was headed in the same direction.
Ten days ago, I was in a single table tournament that some friends put together, 10-20 No Limit Hold'Em. It wasn't that big a deal — a fifty dollar buy got me 1500 in tournament chips, and the top three places paid out. Until recently, I've done really well in the tournaments I've played this year, always finishing in third place or higher and I usually kill these guys, so I was sure I could beat this game.
We were down to 5 players at level III. I had about T4100, and was second to the leader, who had something like T7000. So far, I've played a surprisingly solid game . . .
* * *
I don't remember the specific pre-flop action, but it was called all around. The flop is Ah-3h-10c. I hold 10-9h.
I've got a four flush, and second pair . . . why did that goddamn ace have to come out?"
While I look at my cards, I realize that my left hand has picked up a stack of 100 dollar chips, and pushed them into the pot.
"Bet 1000." The first mistake.
"Why did I do that? Was that the right way to play it? I don't know. Probably not, but maybe I can represent the ace, and I had still have the flush draw. In any case, I'm not happy with that play. I hope nobody else at the table picks up on that."
It's folded to the button, who calls. The turn is the 4s.
I think about all the hands I had recently where I got killed: I can't remember the last time rockets held up for me, and I'd had AK, KK, QQ —pretty much every premium hand I held — cracked so many times in limit games, I was starting to hope for The Hammer. When a draw starts to look good, you know you're in trouble . . .
From a far away place, someone picks up my hands, and shoves all my chips forward. At the same time, he opens my mouth, and says, "All-in." The second mistake.
The button thinks for a second, and calls.
I turn over my 10-9h. He turns over AJ and laughs. At me. My stomach turns.
"You're going to tell yourself that you got outplayed, but you know the truth. You completely misplayed it. You blew it, jackass. He read you like a book. He knew he had you beat on the flop. You knew he had you beat on the turn. That guy who's passed out at the bar knew you were beat. I'm pretty sure there's some kid in Somalia who just looked up at his mother and said, 'What the hell was Wil thinking?'"
The river doesn't help me, and he wins it with two aces. I drop from second to last with something like 280, and tilt like a pinball machine in an earthquake.
The dealer pushes my stacks over to the winner, and spreads the muck around the table. I stare at the swirling action of his hands, occasionally catching glimpses of bright green felt beneath the blue-backed cards.
Tony Holden quotes Amarillo Slim Preston in Big Deal: "If you can't quit the best hand, you can't play." I have it written down, and I read it to myself before every game. I read it so much, I guess it lost its meaning, because I have been falling madly, passionately, wildly in love with two pair, a suited ace, or any king with a medium kicker. Worse than that, I was so in love with these awful hands, I couldn't get out of a pot when someone else clearly had me beat. In a 'kill-some-time-game earlier that night, I knew that the guy behind me had hit his flush, but I couldn't bring myself to muck my set of 8s. (I loved them! We'd been together since the flop!) I counted out a call, and before I capped it, I even said, "I hope you don't have that flush, because if you do, you've got me beat."
Yeah. I was such a fish, I had to wrap myself in newspaper to go to sleep.
". . . to you."
"It's to you."
I peek at my hole cards, and almost immediately I'm running hand-in-hand through flower-filled fields with J8. A string quartet plays while we make eyes at each other. A cool breeze blows through my hair, as butterflies surround us. I absently shuffle some chips, and go all-in before the flop. It's folded to the leader, who calls.
I flip up my precious J8. He flips up J7.
"I figured you for a tilt," he says.
"Well . . . I guess it was a semi-tilt," I say. "I didn't know how far I was going to get with 280."
The flop is J-x-x. The turn is also a rag, and there's an 8 for two pair on the river. I double through, and still feel like a loser. A few hands later, I finish fifth, with exactly the same to show for my efforts as the guy who went out 9th. To tell the truth, I had no business even getting this far.
Too loose, too aggressive, way too many hands . . . but it wasn't until that game that I uncovered one fatal flaw in my game: I just couldn't quit a hand, even when I knew I was beat. I'd been so worried about making the wrong play, I hadn't been able to relax and make the right one.
I hear that poker players have ups and downs in their games, but I'd been down so long, it took busting out in a game that I normally dominate to see just how down I was. When I played, I wasn't having fun, and I should have realized that something was seriously wrong.
* * *
"You sure got quiet," Burns said as we passed the 710. The traffic did that weird thinning-out-for-no-apparent-reason thing that it always does in Los Angeles, and we were back up to 80. The Chemical Brothers thumped out of my radio.
"I was just thinking."
"Not about the porn star, I hope. Because that's a little creepy."
I laughed. "No. I'll save her for later."
"What?!" He said.
"Just kidding," I said. "I was thinking about my game."
We neared our exit, and I merged right, onto the offramp. The one-story casino, dwarfed by an adjacent fifteen-story hotel, loomed large in front of us.