Thursday, April 17, 2014

Planes, planes, taxis and automobiles (Part 1 of 2)

September 10, 1999
[NOTE: I made a pledge a few months ago that I would post at least once every seven days, and if not I’d donate $100 to the charity of the first person calling me out. I missed this week for the first time. Congrats to Taki – I’ll let you know what his selected charity is.]

in 1999, Sharon and I were carrying on a cross-country relationship, alternately meeting up in the east (New York City, Philadelphia, various places in New Jersey) and the west (usually Redondo Beach). One of us traveled at least once a month.

Around this time, I started receiving offers from the Venetian in Las Vegas, which had just opened. I had been a regular player at the Stardust and Treasure Island; I suspect some host moved to the Venetian and brought me along. The offers were hard to resist – three free days, plus a variety of goodies like meals, cash and show tickets. I had tried several times to convince Sharon to meet me, but we weren’t able to coordinate schedules so I went by myself. It was my first trip to Vegas since early 1997, when I was dating a woman who lived there. I was looking forward to checking out the Venetian, and to playing some poker at the Bellagio.

I arrived early afternoon on Thursday, checked into the Venetian and dropped off my stuff. I wasn’t sure how far the Bellagio was, so I asked a valet, who told me it was walking distance but urged me to take a few bottles of water. He was right that it was walking distance; however, it was somewhere in the 105 degree range. By the time I got there, I was drenched and parched, although I had downed both bottles of water on the way. But as is typical in Las Vegas during the summer, it took only a few minutes to dry out, so I looked slightly less scruffy by the time I made it to the poker room.

The rarely-helpful floor staff at the Bellagio informed me that a seat in a $6-12 or $10-20 limit hold ‘em game would likely be a several hour wait. I was on a very limited bankroll at the time, so playing bigger than that was not an option. I decided to wait. A few minutes later, a $6-12 Omaha High-Low seat opened up, so I sat in on that game while I waited for a hold ‘em seat.

[NOTE: In case you’re wondering why I wasn’t playing pot limit or no limit, remember that this was 1999. The poker boom hadn’t happened yet. I would guess that there were ten or less ‘big bet’ games in the entire state of Nevada back then.]

I’m not a very good limit Omaha player, but the deck smashed me on the head over and over during a two-hour stretch. I don’t think there was a single sizable pot I played that I didn’t win at least half of. I had stacked my chips in unruly towers of varying sizes, and only had a vague notion of how much was in front of me. As fate would have it, at that moment a seat opened in a $15-30 game. I quickly took inventory and counted almost $800, more than enough to take a shot at the $15-30 game.

I asked the floorman to lock up the seat. He feigned not hearing me. I asked again, loud enough not to be missed. He finally nodded, apparently quite unhappy that this request wasn’t accompanied by a tip. I racked up my chips and headed to the $15-30 game.

I decided to wait to come into the game until the button had passed me. I went out into the casino and called Sharon at her office, but got voicemail. I left her a message letting her know about my early success and went back to the game.

The $15-30 game didn’t appear to be particularly good. There were a few old grizzled characters that appeared to have a thin coat of dust on them that extended to their chips. I saw a guy I used to play with at Hollywood Park, who didn’t acknowledge me. The rest of the players didn’t look like tourists; they looked like local rounders.

However, don’t underestimate the power of a horseshoe up the butt. I bought into this game for $500, and less than an hour later I had $1,500 in front of me. As if fate were giving me a nudge, at that moment I heard, “Seat open, $30-60.” Before my brain could catch up, I heard myself saying “Lock it up.”

I went to the cashier to exchange my red $5 chips for brown $10 chips and dropped them off at the $30-60 table. I decided to wait again, and left to call Sharon. Still no answer, either at the office or at home (she didn’t have a cell back then). By this time it was late afternoon, which meant early evening in the east, and I was starting to be a little concerned.

I sat down in the $30-60 game, having no idea what I was getting into. Typically, a game this size had more serious players than the $3-6 to $10-20 games, and a typical hand had 2-3 players seeing the flop. The very first hand I played, eight players went to the flop for two bets each, and I quickly realized that this was to be the standard.

Had I realized how volatile the game was, I wouldn’t have played – a game like that doesn’t favor thin bankrolls. But I was there, and decided I’d play to my blind and then decide what to do. Two hands later, I won a substantial pot, and the very next hand I flopped quads after calling three bets cold with pocket jacks. Suddenly the $1,000 I sat down with had grown to $3,000 and I felt a lot more comfortable.

And that’s when the first of two of the most memorable limit hold ‘em hands ever happened. I was first to act and looked down at the Ace of hearts and the King of hearts. I raised, and by the time it got back to me, it was capped (one bet, four raises - $150 per player), and every player at the table had called. I didn’t love my hand any more, but at that point I was getting something like 12:1 to call, so I called.

The flop came out T44. It was checked to me. I checked, and by the time it got back to me, it was capped again. This time there were only eight callers. I don’t recall how many players made it to the river – I think it was five – but by that time the pot was absolutely enormous, well over $4,000.

When the river action was done, the tiny woman in seat 10, who had barely said a word since I sat down, said, “I think I have this one,” and turned over 44 for quad fours. The dealer pushed her the pot, and it took at least four both-arm pushes to get all of the chips to her. There were chips everywhere, falling into the dealer’s tray, on the floor, on the woman’s lap.

Someone asked for a deck change, which the dealer did. He dealt the next hand, and when it got to the little woman in seat 10, she couldn’t even find her cards under all the chips. She said, “I call blind,” and put in $30. It was capped once again, and once again every player at the table called. I was in the big blind this hand, looked down at a pair of threes and decided to call.

The flop came down with the exact same three cards as last hand – T44. I checked and then folded when it came back to me. There was less action this hand, but by the end of the hand there was still over $3,000 in the pot. The woman who had won the previous pot said, “You’re not going to believe this,” and turned over 44, having flopped the same quads on two consecutive hands.

I’ve seen a lot of bizarre stuff at the poker table, but in all my years of poker, live and online, through millions of hands, I had never seen that before, nor did I since. But the story isn’t over.

The next hand, I was in the small blind, and once again, for the third consecutive hand, the betting was capped. At this point, I really didn’t care what I had, but I looked, and guess what? I had two black fours. I called.

The flop, unfortunately, wasn’t good for my hand – 992. I checked, and folded when it got back to me. The big blind had folded already, so I showed him my hand. He nearly jumped out of his seat. “YOU FOLDED?!?”

Yes, I told him – calling five more bets with that flop just didn’t seem like a good choice. He told me he would have bought my hand from me had I let him. And just as he was saying this, the four of diamonds popped off the deck.

My neighbor just couldn’t resist. “YOU SEE? YOU SHOULD HAVE CALLED!” he practically shouted at me.

It would be a fitting, if unbelievable, end to this story if the case four came off on the river. It didn’t, but my fours full would have won.

Sharon wasn’t yet a poker player, but I thought she would appreciate this story. I took a break to call her, and at that moment, my cell rang. It was Sharon.

“You won’t believe what I just saw!” I said. I started telling her the story.

She interrupted me. “I’m in the hospital,” she said, and sobbed a little. Sharon doesn’t sob much; I knew it was serious.

“I have a blood clot in my leg.”

Next up: You can’t get there from here. (the title of this post will make more sense after you read Part 2.)

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