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by Grant McCrea

I'm not talking about the 18 grand I lost at online poker sites the first three months I played. That was tuition, see? An investment. I'm sure to make it all back. And then some. It'll seem like peanuts, looking back.

I should have known better. Of course I should have known better. If not now, then yesterday. Last week. Or that sunny September day, the leaves turning an awful orange, when I knew, I just knew, that one day, one sunny day just like this one, I'd be a world-class poker maven. A trash-talking, stone-bluffing, ego-busting marvel of a thing.

What I didn't count on, that sunny September day, the leaves turning an awful orange, was how much it was going to cost to get there.

And I'm not talking about the 18 grand I lost at online poker sites the first three months I played. Well. That's not the only thing I'm talking about. That was tuition, see? An investment. I'm sure to make it all back. And then some. It'll seem like peanuts, looking back.

Okay. You got me. I lied. It's 27 grand, now.

Pocket change.

So I go to Vegas for the World Series of Poker. I take the kids. What the hell. Share the wealth. They like the arcades.

I buy six rolls of quarters. I give them to the kids. I leave them in the arcade. Hell, it must be safe for kids here, I think. The place is full of kids. I don't see any parents.

I go to the poker room.

I play some satellites. Trying to qualify for the Main Event. I crap out. Every time. Doesn't matter. Can't stay for the Main Event anyway. Have to work. Would have wasted the entry if I'd won one. Got the dates wrong. Next year. Next year I'll do it right.

So why, you ask, did I waste the satellite entry fees?

Good question.

Anyway, I figure I'll play in a ring game. There's a long waiting list for the tables. Takes an hour for my name to come up. The joint is crawling with sharks. And fish. For the sharks to feed on. Everybody wants in.

So I sit down at this ring game. No limit. Five and ten dollar blinds. Not too rich. But enough. If the cards fall right, the fish are swimming, I can pull down a couple grand, in a couple hours.

I've been watching the table. A couple, three tight guys. Maybe good. Maybe just tight. Haven't seen enough to tell. An Asian guy in shades, raising and re-raising. Never smiling. Just raking in the pots. An older woman. Not a babe. Big stack of chips in front of her. Friendly. Too friendly. Watch out. A loud-mouthed guy in a brown suede jacket, guessing everyone's cards. "Nice Jacks," he says, folding another hand he'd called to the end. We're supposed to be impressed.

So I sit down at this ring game. My name gets called. I'm outside. Having a smoke. I almost miss my turn. Damn. I run to the card room manager, waving my arms. Here, I'm yelling, I'm here.

I sit down. I'm out of breath. I feel a fool.

Right away I get involved in a pot with Mr. Suede. I look at my hole cards. Ace, Queen. Nice starting hand. I put in a healthy raise. Everyone folds to Mr. Suede. He calls. The flop comes all rags. Mixed blessing. Didn't hit me, but not likely to have hit him either. I put in a big raise. Try to push him off the pot. He calls. Stares me down. He's wearing shades. I forgot mine in the room. I think he's staring me down. But actually I can't tell. Because of the shades.

The turn card is the Jack of diamonds. It does nothing for me. Apart from vague Bob Dylan associations. Or maybe that was the Jack of hearts. The Dylan song. I check. Mr. Suede bets. Half the size of the pot. I glance at him. He's looking contemptuous. He's too good for this crowd, the Look is telling me.

If he's any good, I figure, that means he's got something. Somebody with nothing, somebody looking for a fold, would want to be inconspicuous. Shrink to nothingness. Not raise suspicion. Instead, he's staring me down. I think.

Of course, he could be thinking that I'd be thinking that if he had a hand he'd be doing exactly that, but that he was a good player, which he certainly thought he was, so I would think he was, of course, and therefore I'd be thinking that he might be doing it on purpose, doing a reverse tell, and … .

Well, you see how it goes.
But the guy's a fish. So.
I call.
The river card's a Queen.
I see a tiny flinch. He doesn't like that card.
I push in three hundred dollars.
Good river card, he says, raising his cards as if to fold.
I push my cards towards the muck.
I'll pay you off, he continues,
just as my cards reach the discard pile,
and throws in three hundred dollars
to call my bet,
turning over a Jack
to match the one on board
and as I reach to pull my cards from the muck
with my right hand
to flip over my Queen
and with my left reach for the mammoth pot
he says, Hey, wait a minute,
that hand is dead.
That's right, another guy says, your cards have touched the muck,
your hand is dead.
And, of course, they're right.

I watch nine hundred dollars disappear. Into the sneering pile of chips in front of Mr. Suede.

I have a hundred left.

Well, I'm here to tell you, a lot of guys would have crashed and burned after that. But not me. No, not me. I sucked it up. I picked my spots. I laid in wait. I stole a pot or two. Built up my stack. Got back to even. More than even. I did it with guile. With glee. With impassivity, when that was needed.

Oh yes. I was godlike.

Two in the morning. Time to pack it in. All in all, a good session. Even if I should have been another nine hundred up. What the hell. You lose, you learn. I called for the floor person to give me a couple of racks. I needed two, to hold all my chips. I started stacking them into the racks.

The dealer deals me in.
Wait a minute, I'm about to say, I'm leaving.
Before I say it, I peek down at my cards. Ace, Queen. Nice.
Ah, what the hell, I tell myself. I'll play one last hand.
I lean forward again.
One last hand.

The flop comes Ace, Nine, Three. Rainbow. Three different suits. Could hardly ask for better. I got the Aces. No flushes, no straights on board. I bet. Everyone folds except the quiet guy. Forgot to mention him. The Quiet Guy. He's over on the left. Three seats down from me. He plays solid. Tight. Quiet. Like I said.

He calls.

The turn is nothing. I bet. He calls. What's he calling with? Got to be an Ace, with a weak kicker. Weaker than my Queen, for sure. Ace, King, he would have raised before the flop.

The river's a Four of clubs. More nothingness. I make one last bet. Two hundred dollars.

Hah, I think. Got him.

He goes all in.


Well, I'm thinking. Got to call that. I've only got another hundred, hundred-fifty in front of me. Seven hundred in the pot. Too much to fold. I'm probably winning anyway.

I call.
He turns over Ace, Nine.
Two pair.
He pulls in my chips.
I get up to leave.
Wait a minute, says Mr. Suede.
I turn to him.
He points at the racks in my hands.
Those chips are live, he says.
I stare at him.
It dawns on me.
That is the rule.
You can't take chips off the table.
They're in the game.
I'd called all in.
That meant those chips too.

I look at the Quiet Guy. He's staring, impassive, at my chips. I plead with him, with my eyes. Don't stand on the rules, my eyes are saying. Fuck Mr. Suede. You know I only meant to play with the couple hundred on the table.

He doesn't say a thing.

Which doesn't stop the rest of the rabble.
Sure, the chorus goes up. That's the rule. Those chips are in.
I'll call the floor manager, the dealer says.
No, never mind, I say. I play by the rules.
I slowly stack my chips back on the table.
I slide them over to the Quiet Guy.
I leave.

On the way back to the hotel room, I took out my cellphone. I thought about what I'd done. My face was red. My walk unsteady.

I called the room. Tracy answered.
Hi sweetheart, I say.
Daddy, she replies, where the hell have you been?
Playing poker, love, I say. What else?
It's almost three in the morning, she says. You could have called or something. We were worried sick.
You were?
Damn right we were. We were about to call the security guy.
Jesus, I said. I'm really sorry. I was playing. You know how it is.
Yeah, she said. Unfortunately we do.
Okay, I said. Sorry. Really. I'll be there soon.
Damn, I thought. I can't believe I did that. Left them alone all that time. Didn't even call. Jesus. What was wrong with me?
I headed back toward the room.
I passed through the reception area.
The sun was coming through the skylight there.
I stopped at one of the velvet-draped bars along the way.
The waitress had some nice cleavage going.

And anyway,
I needed a drink.

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Articles in this Issue

Disappeared Detroit, by Jeff Byles
Flotsam and Jetsam, by Sarah Maria Gonzales
Their Mud and Bones, by Bill Lambrecht
We Were Here, by Donna L. Clovis
Library Privileges, by Andrew Phillips
Computer Science, by Michael Bywater
Anatomy, by Fritz Holznagel and Paul Hehn
Child Psychology, by Tim W. Jackson
Sportsmanship, by Grant McCrea
Nutrition, by Sharman Apt Russell


Grant McCrea, formerly homeless, or perhaps just dissolute, is now one of the "World's Leading Litigation Lawyers," at least according to the 2005 Euromoney Guide. His novel "Dead Money," a story of poker, murder, scotch and cigarettes, will be published by Random House Canada in February 2006. He lives in New York City with his laptop, delusions of poker grandeur and a lot of bad memories.

Where loss is found.

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