They named the game Texas Hold'em, but after two hours of rapid play my $1,800 bankroll had dwindled to $220 and I still hadn't heard one Texas-like thank you from the other players. But the worst part was I was being verbally bullied by a skinny runt who didn't like the way I played poker. I wanted to reach across the table and slap him, but he was so frail looking I was sure he'd die no matter where I hit him.At 6'5" and 240 pounds and a fist as big as his head I decided it would be safer to ignore him.
They Call It Texas Hold'em
By Ed Barrett
I'd checked in at The Mirage on the Las Vegas strip in the early morning after a smooth Southwest flight out of San Antonio. I'd been working as a manager and sometime bouncer at Space Age Billiards for about six months now along with doing some skip traces for a private investigator while I accumulated the required experience to get my PI license. Despite some time spent in jail on a false charge, I'd managed to win the confidence of the owner by sheer hard work and determination. I still had to clear my name with the state in order to get my license but that was moving along smoothly.
I'd signed in as Buck Garrison. My real name was Charles; I'd picked up the nickname while playing dollar limit stud in college and it stuck with me. The desk clerk started to say something about the name being different on my driver's license but thought better of it. I didn't mean to look tough, it just came with the package. "Room 16030, Mr. Garrison,"
I hadn't been in Las Vegas in over twenty years and had never experienced anything near like The Mirage. A make-believe volcano greeted me near the entrance to the hotel and just beyond that I came upon two white tigers that I was told would be made to disappear later that evening. Waterfalls, lagoons, first class restaurants, and a giant aquarium. I thought of how it was a lot like my days at Ft. Leavenworth Prison on those nights that I dreamed I'd died and gone to heaven.
I'd come out here to hustle nine-ball and was on my way to a juicy match when my thoughts were diverted as I passed by the poker room at The Mirage. My eyes riveted on one particular game where a pretty young brunette was deftly floating cards around the oblong playing table to each of 10 players, landing cards beneath dormant hands or splitting stacks of chips that many of the players nervously played with between and during the hands. I wasn't sure what it was that attracted me to her.
Tough times were written all over her face, but she had a look of innocence in her soft brown eyes had that had withstood whatever troubles she had been dealt. I decided to learn a little more about Texas Hold'em. The Las Vegas pool players would have to wait.
I approached the guy whose job it was to monitor the thirty or so games in progress in the poker room, and he explained all the rules of Texas Hold'em to me in a quick, staccato fashion, rattling off how each player is dealt two cards face down after the antes, which they called blinds, were made. A round of betting followed, and then three cards were placed face up in the center of the table, which is called the flop. These cards belong to each of the players, along with their own two pocket cards. After another round of betting , another card, called the turn, is placed in the center of the table, and the players bet again. Then the final card, which is the river card, is placed in the center of the table. More betting, and maybe some raising, then the players who have hung around this long get to make their best possible five card hand out of their two pocket cards, and the five cards on the table. It all sounded simple to me. Sort of a communal adaptation of seven-card stud. The $10-$20 game looked about the right speed for me while I learned the game..
After waiting about twenty minutes my name was called and I took a seat for my first experience with Texas Hold'em.
Most of the players were a quiet but congenial bunch, happy to take my money. Except for the runt, who decided it was time I learned how to play the game, as he belittled me for calling an early raise with on off suit 6 and 8 in the pocket before the dealer had flopped the first three cards. I think what really upset him was when a 5,7 and 9 came up on the flop and I raked in a huge pot with a straight.
But his harassing did bother me. I felt like a fourth-grader who'd been caught with a frog in my pocket and worst of all, the pretty brunette was dealing the hand. But my embarrassment wasn't a total loss. I'd caught her eye and got just a wisp of a smile, which was a major victory at this point since I hadn't seen her even cast a mean look at any of the other players. Her name was Cindy and she was from Oklahoma City according to her name tag.
I decided it was time to take a break and watch for when Cindy's shift ended. It was after midnight, and I was holding my own on some slots near the poker pit when I saw the new crew taking over the tables. A friendly cocktail waitress had told me where most of the dealers parked. I cashed in my bucket of quarters and left through a side entrance to wait for Cindy to come out.
The light near the parking lot was poor but it wasn't hard to pick Cindy out of the crowd. Her lithe figure floated effortlessly along the pavement, and I was totally fascinated by how her hips swayed and her long hair floated from side to side in perfect unison as she came nearer. Suddenly it occurred to me that I hadn't taken much time for the ladies since being released from prison. My first priority had been getting my life back in order. Until recently I hadn't been doing to well at that. Cindy was just a few feet away now and I knew I was on the hot seat. This was a one-time chance.
"Excuse me, Miss," was all that would come out of my mouth and I felt inordinately awkward. She came to an abrupt halt as she sensed the possibility of danger.
"My name is Buck Garrison," I blurted out before she had a chance to scream. "I've been in prison, but I'm not going to hurt you." It was such a stupid thing to say, she must have realized I wasn't a danger to her.
"You're the guy who called the early raise with an off suit 6 & 8, aren't you?" She was smiling and I felt the frog squirm in my pocket. "Can I buy you a cup of coffee?"
We stopped at a small coffee shop away from the action and I learned that she was a divorcee with two children in private school. She talked non-stop for thirty minutes about how her husband had lost all his money gambling and had left her flat broke and without a job. I learned about how she was abused as a child and about her alcoholic parents. Finally, she paused and all I could do was stare into her face. I was completely mesmerized by her beauty. "You can beat the little guy," she said.
She had broken the spell and my mind shifted back to the hold'em game. "How?"
"He's an OK player-has an image as a really good player, but when he's bluffing he has a tendency to talk more. Ask him a question when you're not sure of what he has. If he ignores you, he has a winning hand. If he starts blabbing away, chances are you have him beat." She had a soft smile on her face, looking as though she was pleased that she could help me get even with the runt.
I reached across the table and kissed her softly on the cheek. The non-verbal I got from her let me know that this could be a long and happy relationship if I was interested. I definitely was.
I had a good night's sleep, my first solid meal in a week and a long walk thinking about Cindy before returning to the poker room with a clear head and a lot of confidence. I put my name on the 20-40 hold'em list and was called for a seat immediately. The little guy showed up around 7:30 and I felt a surge of energy as he took the seat to the left of the dealer, directly across from me. I tested him quickly on the first hand. There was one o ther player in the hand as the last card hit the table. I had three 4's but there was danger of a flush being out. I hesitated before making my bet.
"This game bores me," I said. "Is there any good nine-ball action around here?" He looked at me but didn't say a word. I checked and quietly folded when he made a $40 bet. The remaining player called the bet. Just as Cindy had predicted, he had an Ace and nine of spades in the hole. There were three spades and no pairs on the table. In hold'em parlance he had "the nuts," meaning that no one could possibly beat him.
I played conservatively for the next two hours and was ahead about $200 when I locked horns with the little guy again. He'd raised on his pocket cards before the flop. I called his raise, and then another player raised, followed by the little guy putting in the final raise. I was dealt an ace and king of clubs, which could be a powerful hand if the right cards flopped. If they didn't, I could get out in a hurry without too much damage. I decided to call the raises.
The flop turned up the queen, ten and nine of clubs giving me the flush. The little guy bet and I raised. He re-raised and we were already building a pretty good pot. I decided to just call, making him think that I hadn't made my hand yet. At this point I figured he had a pair of aces. The turn card was the Ace of Spades. If I was right about his hand, and if one of the cards on the board paired on the river, this could give him a full house and I'd be in deep trouble. There were two other players who had stayed through all the raising, but had folded when the ace came on the turn. The final card was the queen of hearts, pairing the queen of clubs that had shown on the flop. It looked like he had the winning hand, . He bet and I hesitated for a moment before calling his bet. .
"What do you know about nine-ball?" he asked.
Well, I don't need to tell you that those words were music to my ears. If Cindy was right, he was bluffing. "Not much, I just like to knock the balls around once in a while."
"Well, I've played them all," he continued. "Hopkins, Strickland, Varner. They all know me." I
smiled as I raised his bet, and he called with a bewildered look on his face, looking as though he'd swallowed my imaginary frog. He turned over two kings, giving him two pair. The dealer pushed the mountain of chips to me, and I slowly started stacking them neat and high, relishing the moment. The runt made a comment about how I should have thought he'd had a full-house and folded my flush. I smiled at him and said that I'd be happy to discuss the matter with him as soon as I finished stacking his chips.
Around midnight I checked out of the game and caught a cab to Cindy's place. My $1,250 profit for the two days was nice , and the visit to Cindy's apartment might be nicer, but I took the most pleasure from beating the little guy. I guess I have my priorities wrong. It must be the gambler in me.