Poker Stories: When The Going Turns Weird

“When the going turns weird, the weird turn pro.”—Hunter S. Thompson

When I started writing for this blog, I promised you some stories. Here are a couple that still make me shake my head.

DON’T ANYBODY BREATHE

It was a $1/3 No-Limit Hold’em game at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. For some reason, I have a clear image of how the table was arranged in the room. And particularly that the lighting was extra bright; it was like we were on a TV table.

I was sitting in the #4 seat and there was a gentleman in the #7 seat who was having a blast in our poker game, despite losing. That makes him a hero in my book. Life is short and good times are sometimes hard to find. I feel strongly that if you’re playing poker recreationally and not having a good time, you’re doing it all wrong.

Our friend in the #7 seat was playing poker brilliantly. I mean, he wasn’t very good at winning, but he found it fascinating and loved every minute he was there. He chatted with the table, told jokes, and laughed at others’ jokes. Win or lose, he’s welcome at any poker game I’m in, any time. At one point, his family came to drag him away to dinner, but he waved them off. They returned half an hour later and wouldn’t take no for an answer. He told them he was going to play to his blinds; they stood back far enough to be polite, but close enough to ensure he didn’t take another big blind.

Toward the end of that orbit, he limped into a pot from early position, it folded to me, and I raised to $15 with pocket threes. He called and we saw a flop of 6-6-T. He checked, I bet $20, and he called. That was when I noticed he had only another $20 behind. The turn was a deuce—as good a card as I could ask for that didn’t have exactly three pips. He checked, and I said, “All-in;” I had $300 on the table. He shrugged and put in his remaining four red $5 chips.

As I always do, I tabled my hand face-up when he called. I know I don’t have to, and I know it gives away information. But it’s faster, it moves the game along, and it’s gracious. Life has been good to me; I can afford to be gracious.

The dealer burned and put out the worst card in the deck—another ten. My hand was now exactly tens and sixes, with a three kicker. If my opponent had a single card larger than a three, the pot was his. In fact, the only hands that would tie me were the other pocket threes or 32.

That’s when the going turned weird.

He looked at the board. He looked at my pocket threes. He looked at his hand. Nobody moved. He showed his hand to his neighbor. Funereal silence. The dealer was laser focused on some point five meters behind my right shoulder.

Then my opponent tossed his cards face down toward the center of the table. The dealer’s right hand shot out and scooped the cards into the muck before they’d fully settled on the felt.

The gentleman stood up, smiled, and went to join his family for dinner. I accepted the pot from the dealer and gave her two red chips.

When my opponent was a respectable distance from the table, somebody said, “What the hell just happened?” Everybody just shook their heads—obviously, he didn’t understand the rules, and/or misread the board.

The amazing thing was that nobody at the table said anything. It would have been quite wrong to tell the fellow to table his hand, but to this day I remember the dead silence at the table, and I’m shocked.

Postscript: I misplayed the hand; there was one person who could have appropriately said something—me. And these years later, I wish I had. I could have said, “Sir, turn your cards face up; you have the winner.” In the grander scheme, that pot was never going to change my life (nor his), but I wish I’d had the clarity of grace in the moment to tell him that I’d been counterfeited and the pot was his.

I’ve replayed that scene in my head many times since then. In the unlikely event that it happens again—the size of the pot be damned—I’m going to say something.

I MAY NOT WIN TODAY, BUT…

$1/2 No-Limit Hold’em at Harrah’s, in Cherokee, North Carolina, nestled in the bosom of the Smoky Mountains. I’ll just say this—coming from the parking lot to get into the casino, you walk over a bridge crossing a high-quality trout stream. It’s a powerful reminder to me that there are things other than poker I could be doing on a given day.

But this day I had a companion, Kim, the daughter of an old family friend. She’s a doctor in real life but got bitten by the poker bug, and insisted I take her somewhere she could play casino poker.

It was Sunday morning; that bittersweet post-breakfast pre-departure session that has a hard stop on it because you need to return to the Real World. Kim was in the #2 seat, and I was in #3. At the other end of the table sat Carolina Jersey. He was wearing a Carolina Panthers football jersey and had apparently been there all night. But things were not going his way. All too frequently, he’d get all the money in, lose, go to the ATM, and come back for more. But in the last 20 minutes, he’d been on a mini-rush and built up his stack a little bit.

He got into yet another pot. On the turn, he bet, and his opponent shoved all-in. The opponent had him well covered.

But before Carolina acted, the opponent tabled his hand face-up. This was understandable, given that Carolina had snap-called every all-in for the last two hours. This time he’d actually paused.

The entire table was looking at his opponent’s hand, face-up on the table. It was the nut straight. There was only brief confusion; it was not the dealer’s first rodeo. Looking at Carolina, she said, “The hand is live; you may call the all-in or fold.”

We all expected a quick resolution—Carolina would fold, next hand.

That’s when the going turned weird.

Carolina said, “Well, wait a minute; I have outs to chop.” And he studied on it for a moment.

Kim leaned over to me, and whispered, “What in the world is going on?” “I don’t know, because I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Finally, Carolina shrugged and pushed the rest of his chips in. The dealer shrugged, burned, and turned a meaningless river card. She pushed the pot to the guy with the nut straight and Carolina got up to go to the ATM.

A young pro in seat #4 whispered in our general direction… “I may not win today, but I’m in the right game.”


Lee Jones has been in the poker industry for over 30 years. He writes at the Global Poker blog, plays poker every chance he gets, and coaches poker. You can contact him at www.leejones.com.