When you play no-limit poker your winnings or losses in any given session almost always depend on the outcome of two or three crucial hands (this is in stark contrast to limit poker where success is achieved through a process of steady accumulation). On Tuesday, my last full day in Vegas, it call came down to a single hand - about two minutes of play. My opponent was what I’d call a typical Vegas local: elderly, severe and tough as the desert mountains. I think he was called Dave and his severity was increased by the fact that he spoke using an electronic voice box. Unlike the usual models, however, his device was implanted or hidden in some way so that when he wanted to speak he didn’t have to hold the thing against his throat as if he’d suddenly decided to shave a spot on his Adam’s apple. Instead, he discreetly pressed a button near his left collar bone and out came the words like a dusty wind through a cheese grater. Normally Dave was pretty implacable, inoculated by long experience against the stomach-churning swings of the game, but on this occasion he’d suffered several bad beats in a row and I think it was getting to him. Anyway, he raised it up to $7, got called by a fairly loose Mexican kid on my right and I looked down to see two black aces in the hole. I reraised to about $40, which should’ve killed the hand right there, but I just had this feeling that Dave had strong cards and might be stung into doing something rash. When you’ve lost a few hands with the best of it and then find some know-nothing punk (ie, me) piling over the top of your initial raise it can really snap your self-restraint. And, sure enough, when the action came back round to Dave he peeled off two one-hundred dollar bills from under his chips and let them float disdainfully onto the pot. He’d drawn his line in the sand. The Mexican kid was clearly stunned by how the hand had suddenly exploded into war and quickly got out of the way. I paused for a moment before announcing that I was all-in for the rest of my money - about $800 in total. With Dave already in for two hundred bucks it’d be tough for him to lay his hand down and even if he did I’d still scoop a fairly healthy pot (they say that with aces you either win a small pot or lose a big one; two hundred dollars represents a more than respectable result with those cards). Dave stared at my money, ashen-faced. A few times I thought he was about to fold but then he rasped, “call” like he was saying “fuck you!” and started counting out the bills. Now, for the first time, I thought, “Christ! I hope I don’t lose!” and it also occurred to me that maybe Dave had aces as well, in which case we’d almost certainly split the pot and all that drama would’ve been for nothing. But the dealer started laying out the community cards in the centre of the table and when the turn card was an ace (giving me three of a kind) I knew I’d won the hand. Straight away I turned over my hole cards, shrugged and announced three aces. Dave gazed quietly down at them for a few seconds and then threw his hand into the muck. The dealer pushed the large pile of chips and notes towards me: a little over sixteen hundred bucks. Then, in a moment of spleen, Dave said, “I knew you had aces”. What he meant was that I was an obvious player - a guy who only bet when he was sure he had the best hand. This stung me a little because there was a large grain of truth in it.
“But I had kings,” he continued, “so what was I to do?”
“You could’ve folded,” I said.
“I still could’ve caught a king to beat you.”
“Well, if you’re willing to pay even money to hit a five to one shot, that’s your prerogative.”
“Yes it is, so why don’t you shut your mouth and count your money?”
And right away I regretted my comments. It was true that Dave’s call contradicted his claim that my game was obvious and easy to read, but he’d put his money in the pot - a lot of money - and lost the hand. He deserved a little respect for that, if nothing else.