Monday, October 24, 2005

A Dish Best Served Cold

As I was riding the shuttle bus from the airport to The Palms, I wasn’t very excited.  This was my 3rd trip to Vegas, but this time, I was here by myself.  My anticipation level was low as there was no blogging contingent to meet up with, no planned activities like Storming the Castle, no massive drinking of 3 ft. margaritas – just me and Vegas and poker.

Sure, I’d get to meet up with Pauly and Grubby, and that was sure to be a blast, but I knew Pauly had tournament coverage obligations, so I thought I’d spend much of the time flying solo.  Which was fine, because I planned it that way.

I was really here on a mission.  I had something to prove to myself.  I was going to take back from Vegas more than just my confidence; I was here for a bit of revenge.

If any of you are comic book geeks, some of you may remember an obscure title called Ronin.  It was authored and illustrated by one of the industry’s finest – Frank Miller, he of the Dark Knight Returns fame.  In Ronin, the hero is a masterless samurai displaced thousands of years into Earth’s future.  His arms are robotic prostheses and he’s pretty damned good with a sword.  In one scene, he’s basically left for dead when a couple of street gang leaders beat the ever-lovin’ crap out of him.  That’s not unlike how I felt back in December during my first trip to Vegas.  Some of you may remember my experience at Mandalay Bay:

The first: I'm dealt A,Q in EP and raise the $4 blind to $17 and get 1 lone caller. The flop is A,7,4.  I get fancy and check the flop and the lone caller bets $25. I immediately check-raise it to $50 and the guy pauses. I know I'm good here. His reaction to my raise, his reluctance in calling, it's all there. I've got him nailed. The turn is a K and I put him all-in. More pausing, more hesitation. Finally he calls. We flip up our cards and he shows A,10. There is $320 in the pot. The river? Guess. My first bad beat is a 3-outer and it costs me huge. I wince, but I vow to keep on keepin' on. The other players at the table even complimented me on a hand well played. Big freakin' deal.Then comes the second: I'm dealt K,K in EP and raise the $4 blind to $17. See a pattern? Anyway, the SAME FUCKING GUY re-raises me to $30. Now, I'm certainly not psychic, but his re-raise seemed weak. Again, I knew he didn't have aces here. So, of course, I re-raise all-in. The guy has me covered with the $320 he won only 20 minutes earlier and quickly calls. We flip our cards, he has Q,Q. Can you say dominated? I didn't. However, the bastards at my table tell me "Don't worry, he'll catch his queen on the river." Honestly, I'm not making it up, this was said to my face before the flop even occurred. The flop was junk, the turn was a brick. The river? Guess. A 2-outer, and I'm busted.

I still remember those beats as if they happened yesterday and not over ten months ago.  I am supposed to get over that stuff if I ever want to move on.  And I have.  But forgiving and forgetting are two different things.

After checked-in, I made my way down to the casino floor at The Palms looking for their poker room.  After picking my jaw up off the floor at the sight of their cocktail waitresses, I managed to find the “high stakes” poker area.  “Hmm, probably not for me,” I thought.  Right next to it was the regular poker room, but alas they were only dealing $2/$4 and $4/$8 limit poker.  I inquired as to the availability of the no-limit tables and the cardroom manager directed me back to the “high stakes” room.  Ok then, here we go.

The game was $2/$5 blinds, $500 buy-in no limit poker.  I bought in for $300.  I know, I know.  But that’s what I did.  It happened to be the most cash I EVER bought in for in a poker game.  I don’t think that a $500 buy-in would have mattered much.  There were players with $1500 in front of them.  I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that on a Wednesday afternoon, the table was jammed with locals.  Real good locals.  In fact, my heart didn’t leave my throat until I’d played about three orbits.

Certainly, doubts crept into my mind about what I was doing.  But this was it, this was my personal test.  I came to Vegas for EXACTLY this reason.  I was either going to prove to myself that I had a chance to be a poker player, or I was going to leave knowing I wasn’t.


Things started off reasonably well.  I had KJ in late position and flopped middle pair.  When the flop and turn were checked, I easily called a $30 bet that was called once before me and took down a pot beating pocket 8’s and pocket T’s.  I was a bit passive at first, understanding that I was probably making these regulars salivate at the fresh meat at the table.  I’d get aggressive when the situation dictated it.

Aggression, meet pocket K’s.  I raised 6x the BB to $30 and got two callers in later position.  The flop was a semi-coordinated 79J with two diamonds.  I bet $50 into the pot and got the button to call.  All the while during this hand, I’m telling myself “Do not go broke here, do not go broke here.”  The turn was the Ace of diamonds, completing the flush draw and putting that dreaded overcard on the board.  I checked, the button checked.  The river was a blank and I checked again.  The button checked down his T8o for the flopped straight.  The flush draw saved me some cash and I salvaged a mini-victory – I did not go broke.

Sadly, pocket J’s were no good at this table either.  A King-high flop ensured that my $50 continuation bet was more money in the local’s pockets.  After a couple of hours, I was hovering around my initial buy-in, but getting more comfortable all the while.

Then it came.


All the while the Ronin is lying in his own blood, arms severed and barely conscious, he’s still focused.  In fact, he’s so focused that he’s able to use telekinesis to repair his arms and over time regains enough composure to walk back to the place of his beating and re-challenge his tormentors.  He’s learned from his previous battle and this time, he will not lose.


I’m on the button and I find AK of spades.  Two people limp and the button raises to $30.  I come along for the ride as do the two limpers.  I could have re-raised here, but I’m out of position and perhaps a smooth call will add some uncertainty to my holding.

The flop is K32.  Rainbow.  I check.

(“I get fancy and check the flop”)

Both limpers check and the pre-flop raiser comes out firing for $60.  I come out with a check raise and make it $160 to go.  Both limpers fold and the button pauses.

(”I immediately check-raise it to $50 and the guy pauses. I know I'm good here.”)

The button is a good player.  He’ has close to $2000 in front of him.  But he’s paused.  He’s at least thinking about my check-raise and what it means.  He’s paused and stacking chips.  First he makes one stack of the $100 required to call me.  Then he makes a second stack of $100 and looks at me.  I look back, calmly.  In my mind, if he re-raises, I’m pushing.  His pause told me everything I needed to know.  Finally, he simply calls.

The turn is a rag.

“I’m all in.”

(“The turn is a K and I put him all-in. More pausing, more hesitation. Finally he calls.”)  

But here the script goes astray and changes course.  He insta-calls.  Now I’m very confused and dare I say it, a little bit scared.  I’m pretty sure my testicles have crawled back into my body cavity.  At The Palms, cards are not turned over immediately, so at this point; I do not know what my opponent has.  The river is dealt and it’s a Jack.  Was that a good card for me?  A bad one?  With some bit of resignation in my voice, I flip over my AK and say “Kings, Ace-kicker.”

The button slowly flips one card.  It’s a King.

I don’t move, but I’m thinking to myself “Do not slow roll me, because if you do, I will hurt you.”


By the end of the encounter, the gang leaders who originally nearly destroyed the Ronin are no more.  But what of my Vegas demons?  Only the turn of one single card would determine my fortune.  Regardless of the outcome, I had my chance and I took it.  I played the hand the best I could and just like at Mandalay Bay, I shouldn’t put too much value in the results.


But I’m human, and the results do matter to me, perhaps more than they should.  I never got to see the button’s second card.  He mucked it.  I can only assume he had KQ and lost a kicker battle.  When the dealer made the pot right, I gathered an insane amount of $5 and $1 chips.

The final tally was $758.  Biggest. Pot. Ever.

And no small bit of redemption.


I left the poker room not soon after.  I had completed my own personal quest to redeem myself at the Vegas no limit poker tables.  Later in the weekend, I’d learn that the Wednesday afternoon game at the Palms is filled with local sharks and full time players who feast off the likes of me.  Part of me knows that this single session is no great indicator of my relative skill compared to them.  But part of me also knows that I went to battle with some of the best players I’d ever played with, stood toe to toe, and for at least one short while came out on top.

I can’t describe how good it felt.  I can’t tell you why I also felt it was something I had to do by myself.  It just was.

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