5,550 To One
I was fifteen years old the first time I was cheated.
It was 2004 and like any teenager who gagged at the taste of booze and had yet to be laid, I spent my friday nights with my best friends playing dealer's choice poker. Of all the rebellious options surrounding a teenage kid, low stakes gambling was groundfloor in terms of adult anxiety. Understandably, our parents had no problem stocking the fridge with pop and leaving us alone in the basement till the wee hours of the night.
It was innocent fun, typically, with losses rarely exceeding a 20 dollar bill. But as time went on and our competitive juices boiled, the stakes began to increase. And as the game got bigger, we began expanding our player field to anybody we knew who could pony up a 50 dollar buy in. After weeks of playing with the new competition, one guy seemed to never lose. The original crew stayed late one night, after cleanup, and came to the conclusion that he may be cheating.
We opted for a sting.
The next friday night we showed up early, stocked a video camera inside of a decoy case of cherry coke and aimed it directly at the culprits seat. Sure enough we watched as he maneuvered cards into certain slots while he prepared the next hands deck. I was bewildered as we rewatched the VHS in my parents 24 inch box TV.
I couldn't move, I had nothing to say.
I may have only dropped 25 dollars that night, but i lost a lifetime's worth of innocence and naivety. Not everybody was who they portrayed to be, and maybe this game of poker wasn't as innocent as our parents believed.
Cruising downhill in my A5 and out of the mobile dead zone that is Mt Charleston I felt a buzzing in my pocket that was the release of text messages trapped in Iphone limbo. Amidst the questions from standard texting buddies was one from an old bellagio acquaintance. He told me about a 5/10nl he'd been playing at a house game in one of the cities most affluent neighborhoods. This Wednesday they were kicking the game up to 25/50 and while he couldn't afford to play it, I was more then welcome to take his seat.
After missing the Turks implosion and other opportunities I was anxious for a poker adventure. Still I was mindful of a private game charging $5 a half hour, that was okay with a pro coming to play. "Why's the rake so low" I asked him? "Huge fish losses enough to keep the game profitable" he told me. "But they need to fill seats".
I passed the idea through Alyssa who could sense my excitement as she gave me the thumbs up for a night to myself.
That wednesday I dropped half my money off at a nearby friends house to hedge against a robbery set up, upgraded to a large chai latte to fight through my bodies natural 10pm resting state, and entered into unknown territory at 8 o'clock sharp.
The million dollar home had the bare feeling of a house used solely for poker. Expensive couches accompanied by no other furniture ironically describing the base of people with lots of money but little sense of visual appeal. (And this coming from a guy who wears mismatched socks and shoes with holes in them).
Two girls held the versatile role of host, sever, and masseuse. I watched their mannerisms as they flirted with the players, internally debating whether or not they added "hooker" to the repertoire come midnight. Probably not, I concluded, sensing their innocence and inexperience.
I recognized nobody, but it didn't take long to locate the fish my acquaintance was referring to, sitting to my direct left. I played a lot of pots early and showed him my inadequate cards, hopefully setting up the big payoff later in the night.
Up a few thousand I played a big one with AJ against one of the regulars. The Flop came JJ3 with a flush draw and by the time the turn solidified my fullhouse with a 2nd 3, I'd gotten my opponent to bet a big portion of his equal stack, before check raising him all in. I was called as we'd built the biggest pot of the night. The dealer was quick to turn over the Kd river as was my opponent to flip over his pocket Kings and rake in the twenty five thousand dollar pot.
I played 3 more all ins that night with one card to go and the best hand for pots between 8 and 15k, all shipped to 25/50 "pros" who somehow I'd never seen before. The total damage was somewhere north of 25,000.
There was no hidden camera to legitimize my concerns, just a memory reel of misfortune as I drove home in the dark reminiscing on the night I surrendered my innocence.
"I did the math and the odds of me losing all 4 hands was 5,500-1" I told Ben Hammnet later in the week as he had received an invite to the same game. "I'm not saying I was cheated, but I'm saying I won't go back."
He thought while nodding, as Ben often does, before reminding me of a time 3 years ago. "We played at the house of a guy who wrote a movie about hustling pool. So many thoughts of hustling went through his head that he decided to write a movie about it. And we let his friends deal our cards and gave him our chips."
He laughed and I nodded, I suppose a biological difference in dealing with pain.
Sometimes people are exactly what they portray, and this game of poker isn't as innocent as our parents believed.