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fish on -- part two

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.

"Uhm. One?"

"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."

"Thank you."

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."

"Oh. Sorry."

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.

No shit.

"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.


Another awesome poker entry. Your writing about the game makes me feel like I'm sitting next to you at the table. Top Drawer stuff.

Man I've really got to learn poker to understand all of these incriptions.

I have no idea what any of those poker terms meant, but it was fun as hell to read it. All this stuff sounds like it would be a pretty good indy movie, but I'm a network tech by trade so you really shouldn't consider that sage advice...

Lord, protect me from hands I think I can win.

Great entry Wil.
You do 'pokerspeak' like Worf does
'Klingonspeak'. I understand neither.

I used to do the late night poker games
ages ago, but that wasn't like it is now.
Think you could list some definitions of the
terms you use for the rest of us that aren't as cool as you? I can pick some up in the context, and I've learned some from watching celebrity poker (would love to see you on that!)but you lose me when you talk about 'The Hammer' and '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'...........Splain Lucy!

Digging the story! "Look for a reason to quit a hand if you're raised." Great advice - it's totally the hardest thing to learn... still my weakest point.

Basically the lesson that I've learned is the same... just different language --

As I stare at three of the same suit, with the last coming on the river, I'm fully prepared to divorce a set.

"Don't fall in love with your cards."

Enjoyed the story, Wil...

Sorry, gang, for the obscure jargon. I forgot to put the links to the glossary and such at the top, like I did for 'lying in odessa.'

Now they're there.

Thanks Wil!

Another great poker entry, Wil. I stopped reading when he called your bet after the flop, to see what kind of read I could get on him. I decided that he probably had an Ace and a high kicker. I guess reading all those poker books has started to sink in.

I'm really looking forward to reading part 3.

By the way, I ordered Just a Geek a couple of days ago, and I'm looking forward to reading that too. :-)

Obscure jargon rules, Wil. The casual use of it immerses us in the feel of the game, makes it crackle with authenticity. Good stuff, keep it up.

I ran into this girlfriend today who showed me this kick ass new magazine she's produced for poker afficionado's called "All In". Keep your eye out for it I think you'd totally love it. It will be on shelves soon. It's really swanky looking and the cool thing is she's just this normal person with minimal money, tons of creativity and talent to get a great group of writers and photographers together. You should contribute to the mag. E me if you want to I'll get you in touch with her.

I, too, don't understand the majority of your poker story, but I still find myself drawn in by your writing, Wil. Great stuff! I really enjoyed it. : )

Take care,

Dude...! Just... Dude...! Is there now any doubt as to why you're an awesome writer?

I was so drawn into that game. It was like watching the WPT, with you sitting there, sweating balls because you couldn't opt out of the possible flush. As a chronic nail biter, I'd be sitting there, praying for the flush draw on the river, going down to nothing and dropping my jaw when the flop came back negative...

See? You've set a scene, drawn the reader in, and hooked them. You know, you should play these cards more often...


Sheesh.. you just need a confidence boost.
You are so overdue to take some boxer money its not funny!

We can fix that real quick. ;)

I could use having my poker ego taken down a peg or two. :P

Wil, looks like you might need some good luck charm from Jonathan Frakes. From what I understand he plays poker real good or is he a bluffer too? See if you can get some advice from him if you ever can get a hold of him.

Good luck on your next round of poker. (sends good luck vibes your way)

Good writing Wil, keep up the hard work!

Just my opinion:

It seems like your blog is migrating more and more toward content for the next book, and away from being a blog.

I've read WWDN for a couple years because its been a peek into what its like to be Wil.

For the record, Dusty Baker called me from the dugout at Wrigley once, then came out of the dugout to see me on another occasion. And, I've met Johnny Cash, BB King, and John Lee Hooker, among others. Like the story says, though, all of these are trumped by being hit on by a super-hot porn star.

Perhaps being married would help with the super-hot porn stars, too?

Just finished my Wednesday night poker game and I'm happy to report that I cleaned up. Killed you might say. I'd like to think that I've picked up some good tips from reading about Wil playing poker. More likely I'm just playing against a bunch of suckers. Either way, keep those poker posts coming!

This is a great entry and all, but people sponsored you WEEKS ago to walk for your friend Kris. They did it because they believed in the cause yes, but they also did it because YOU asked and they knew YOU would write about it and tell them. I know this is a blog. I know it's not your life, but i think you need to respect your readers, and your friend and post about the experience.

"...and tilt like a pinball machine in an earthquake." awesome. simply, awesome.

Wil, you're a riot!

I'm just a poker novice, but I understand the reference to loving your cards too much. That bit about butterflies in the field nearly did me in! Too, too much. I'm glad the object of your affection wasn't lying to your face and making out with another dude one field over in that instance. ;)

The Somolia paragraph.....

Love to read your poker tales - looking forward to the conclusion! 8^)
--Maudie (Poker Perspectives)

Betting 1000 with that hand and flop wasn't a mistake. By the odds, with 5 players in, at least 1 has a probable ace, so you'd be playing for a flush or a second pair/trips. The odds of the flush on that hand are 35%-ish from the flop. 9 possible hearts, 3 nines, 2 tens...that's 14 outs...14/47 = ~30% chance of making your hand on the turn. That's _certainly_ worth a bet.

Going all in on the turn on the other hand was a mistake...you can't stone cold bluff when you expect your opponent to have an ace. In that case I'd probly bet another grand and hope the opponent doesn't re-raise. A good player would probably realize you're chasing the flush and would want to put you out without getting a chance to see that last card. After all, you still have 14 outs, and 1 less unseen card...14/46...that's just over 30% to win the hand. Not great, but not bad.

I think all-in was your mistake. Your opponent KNEW you didn't have a straight or flush because the cards weren't showing, and he had high hand. Only thing he relaly had to fear was a pocket pair (or two matches on the flop). It was just a bad time to try to use the chip leverage.

Btw, regarding your "play tight and go aggressive when you have a good hand"...it's mostly a good strategy, but remember that the best players also change up their game and keep their opponents guessing. If you're a predictable player, your opponents will simply fold whenever you raise/bet high. Sometimes taking a crappy hand to the river (cheaply) can be useful in showing your opponents that you don't just bet on premium hands only.

Btw, learning the odds (calculating outs and the such) in holdem is essential to the game. You might wanna give it a try sometime :) Most of it is basic probability.


Great writing as always. Can I contribute one small piece of what I hope is positive criticism?

When you write about poker your style creeps a bit into a voice very similar to James McManus, in Positively Fifth Street.

Obviously there's worse sins, and certainly nothing wrong with it, but I wondered if you were aware you were doing it.

Again, great entry.

Oh wil, if you ever wanna play heads-up sometime online in Party Poker or something, lemme know :)

Wil: Real geeks don't get hit on by porn stars! Not even Bill Gates. Well... maybe Bill Gates, but that's only because the title "Richest Man in the World" trumps "Ubergeek". But you can bet your ass Steve Wozniak isn't getting hit on by porn stars!

wojtyk: Getting a good handle on odds is a very weak part of my game. I'm AWFUL at math, and I've always had a very hard time with it. Is there some online resource that can help me figure it out? I got a LOT out of Lee Jones's book, but not enough to "click" it into place in my brain.

~S: Anne and I are working very hard to get our marathon story up. It's a lot of work to present it the way we want, and we're both working a great deal right now (I think I've seen her a total of 4 hours this week, and 2 of those were in the car). We are all grateful to WWdN readers for supporting our team, and Kris. I wrote about a few miles last week or the week before. Check the archives if you missed it.

Everyone Else: Thank you for reading :)

Great story Wil - can't wait to read the rest of it and see what happens.

Of all the stuff you write about, your poker stories are the best (opinions of course) - you should really try to do something with that.. from the sounds of it I'm not the only one who likes it ;)

wil:Is there some online resource that can help me figure it out?

Google man, there are TONS:

If you just want to learn the basics of calculating simple outs, this is a great page:
(be sure to "Click here" for more examples)

Tho I must say the best way of learning the odds is to get ahold of an online calculator and use it while you play. I have a nifty one that auto-senses the cards on Party Poker and re-calculates the odds as you play ("real" or "play" money). It's called
Texas Calculatem (http://www.calculatem.com/)

It was _very_ useful in learning the odds...you'd be surprised how quickly your odds of winning a hand shoot down simply by leaving 4+ people in the hand pre-flop. This is why raising pre-flop is such an effective tactic...if you can eliminate all but 3 or less players from the hand pre-flop, your odds of winning go up dramatically, especially with a mid-to-high pocket pair.

Regarding the calculator...I think it is free to use for like manual use and the such, but requires paid registration for full functionality with money tables at Party Poker (not sure if you do that). Either way, it's a damn good product. (there are other calculators out there that are totally free, I've just never used them)

Gripping writing, as usual. I find your poker stories to be incredibly enjoyable, despite the fact that I have only a passing knowledge of the game - have you thought about WRITING a poker book yourself?

Beginning Poker for Geeks or something.

Hell, I'd buy it.

Wil, you put me right into the story with you. Man, yer some kind-a writer! What a gift to have indeed.

Re: Your Play

Like wojtyk, I would agree that the all-in play after the turn was the bad play because you knew you were beat, and odds were against you. However, I also think the 1000T bet might have been a mistake. When on a flush draw, you can expect to hit about one out of every three tries. Your best move may have been to go all-in after the flop. That would have forced the AJ to make a tough choice. You might be representing AQ+, a set, or at the least, a flush draw. For just 1000, he was willing to see if the flush came on the turn. Remember, sometimes your bet should force a difficult decision... even when you know you're a loser. The all-in after the turn probably wasn't a difficult decision, especially with just 5 players left.

Re: A Book for Odds

Gary Carson's "The Complete Book of Hold 'Em Poker" is a great book for lower limit Hold 'Em. He does a great job explaining pot odds and implied odds. It's highly recommended.

Re: Your Poker Stories

Love 'em! Keep 'em coming! And drop that HAMMER! ;-)

Going all in pre-flop on 9-10 suited? That's assinine. I think the 1000T bet was ok.

You ought to set up a party poker link on your blog... I bet a lot of people will click through and sign up.

" I'd been so worried about making the wrong play, I hadn't been able to relax and make the right one. "

What a great "essence of Geek thought" quote to remind me about the dangers of fear and overthinking!

Thanks Wil!

Well, wojtyk, I don't think anyone suggested all-in pre-flop. You're right, that would be assinine. I suggested it post-flop because the 1000T bet virtually assured he'd have to go all-in at some point if he got called. If he was willing to risk his stack with that hand, he might have been better suited doing it with two cards left and force his opponent to make the tough choice, instead of other way around. It's easier to bet than it is to call.

Even post-flop, that's pretty close to a stone-cold all-in bluff. I mean, you don't have an ace, odds are he does. If he's holding any paired kicker, or a kicker jack or higher, he most likely won't fold even to an all-in bet. I mean hell, the 4s didn't help his hand at all and he still had no problem calling the all-in on 4th street.

Maybe I'm a less aggressive player, but I definitely feel that's an instance where you should bet pot odds and not try your luck.