The Big Game Interestingly, the super-high stakes forced me to play pretty well

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The Big Game

Browsing the stacks of a used bookstore one day, I found a 1970ӳ era Ԉoyleӳ Guide to PokerԬ in which the author declares that seven card poker (a game played to make seven-card hands, such as quad eights over trip Kings) was getting to be all the rage and would soon supplant the popular five card versions of Stud. It was my first introduction to the concept of odds, and armed with this, I decided to sit in on my grandfatherӳ game the next time I visited him in Florida.

This was .25/.50 dealerӳ choice, where the dealer was expected to choose some variation of Stud or Omaha and only the wives were allowed to declare wild cards, over the groans of their husbands. The first time I check-raised, my grandfatherӳ best friend, a former teamster and WWII Marine, stared daggers at me and declared, ԉӶe seen men shot for less.ԠAlthough Grandma covered my $40 in losses, I felt like shit the next morning.

The Bigger Game In college I became best friends with Logan, a guy from Brooklyn who also enjoyed poker, and we were roommates sophomore through senior year. WeӤ occasionally host or attend a poker night somewhere, generally playing for nickels and dimes but having a good time.

Freshman year I blew through all the cash I had saved up from working at 7-11 the previous summer (unfortunately I did not blow it on poker), and tuition gobbled up the next summerӳ earnings, so sophomore year I was dead broke. My limited meal plan didnӴ enable me to average two hots per day in the dining hall, so I would scour the campus for any student organization giving away pizza or other free food at an event that evening. So when Spring Break rolled around, the only way I was going to see a beach was if I visited my grandmother in Florida. My grandfather had died the previous summer, but I knew IӤ still be welcome at his card game. My grandmother doesnӴ do the interweb, so I told my aunt that my dorm would be kicking me out on Saturday and so thatӳ when I needed a flight. She bought the tickets, I printed out the e-mail confirmation, packed my things, left my dorm (which would be closed for the next week) and spent two hours on buses and trains to get from the south side of Chicago to Oӈare Airport on a Saturday morning, only to have the check-in agent tell me my flight didnӴ leave until tomorrow. I could only stare at him in disbelief, with two suitcases in hand, $25 in my pocket, an empty checking account, no credit card, and nowhere to sleep.

I ended up going back to the train station and giving a panhandler a $5 bill in exchange for $2 in quarters. Not knowing anyoneӳ phone number, I was forced to call information, then cold call the few people I knew in Chicago who did not live in college dormitories. Finally, I reached Craig, my debate coach, who let me crash on his couch.

As luck would have it, a few of his public policy grad student friends were coming over for poker that night. The game was .25 ante with a $3 maximum bet on any street, no matter which game the dealer chose. I really wanted to play and had nothing better to do, so although the stakes were beyond intimidating to me, I borrowed $50 from Craig to supplement the $25 I had on me and bought in. Interestingly, the super-high stakes forced me to play pretty well. Not surprisingly, the game was extremely loose and bad, and I was playing like a giant nit. I still remember taking $75 off of Craigӳ friend Fati in a single hand of Shipwreck Kings, when I had five Aces to his five Kings and 12 bets went in on seventh street before he finally just called. Unfortunately, he was playing on credit (none of these guys had a lot of money, and they gambled all the time on cards, Golden Tee, etc., so they generally passed debt back and forth between themselves), and to this day, Fati owes me $97. Despite getting stiffed, however, I pocketed better than $150 after paying Craig back at the end of the night. After that, the Florida game was small time to me, but Iӭ still very glad I played. I had been close to my grandfather since the day I was born, and the year I spent in Chicago was the longest I had ever gone without seeing him. He died very suddenly from a brain tumor that no one knew he had, and it was quite jarring to me to learn one evening that I would never see him again. No sooner had I walked into the rec room where the game was held than the man who expressed his dissatisfaction with my sandbagging last year rose from his seat to shake my hand somberly. ԙour grandfather was my best friend,Ԡhe told me. ԗe were closer to each other than we were to our wives, and not a day goes by that I donӴ curse him for leaving me all alone down here.ԍ

I spent most of the session up a little over $10, but got greedy on one of the last hands of the night, when I declared I was going both ways on a Stud/8 showdown and lost the pot to a rivered 6-low. Tilt ensued, and I finished the night stuck $3, which my grandmother reimbursed.


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