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My grandfather taught me most of the card games that I know, bar Blackjack. Not proper Blackjack. This other “hood” game where 8 means miss-a-go, blackjack means pick up 5, etc. But all the proper games like poker, Blackjack, Rummy, my granddad taught me as a young child.
My paternal family are gamblers. They have the gene, assuming there is one. Even those who profess not to have the gene dabble in business gambling. Stocks and shares and what have you. For this reason, my grandad should have probably been more cautious about teaching me these card games (he’s on my maternal side), but all of the grandchildren learnt.
All card games of that nature are about spotting patterns, risk, chance and everything else that comes with gambling and competing, but poker always resonated with me the most. I’ve played internet poker avidly for years as well as watching every major tournament I could to learn to be better. And I know how I could be better. I just can’t. Poker is too much like life. It’s all about your fucking position in the game.
For instance, one of my flaws in poker (I’m talking Texas Hold ‘em) is that even when I have good pocket cards, I don’t come out aggressively. Now this isn’t something you should do all the time anyway; it depends on several factors - but even when I should and I know I should, I don’t. And that’s because life has taught me that even when you think you’ve got the best hand, you have got your pocket Aces, some fucker with some random unrelated, unsuited cards will bag a straight on the flop and you’ll have already committed to the hand. Like you should have done, statistically, perhaps, but that’s not going to pay your bills next week.
So I don’t commit, instead, I play passive aggressive. I’m the small blind. I have to act first. I pretend that I don’t have shit, I call, see what every one else has got hoping someone else will raise so I can reraise them. They can’t have a better hand than me at this point. But they might do later and I’d have committed more than was necessary. I call and whilst everyone else has their go, I weigh up whether to call a raise or reraise it and trust that my pocket Aces are enough to see me through. It’s like auditioning or interviewing for a position where there is an element of competition and also several rounds, you can choose to give it your all on the first round and maximise your chances of success of going through to the next round, but you might not be able to elevate your game. You don’t have anything else to give. Maybe it’s best to coast and see what other people have before you decide whether you have enough resources to compete and how much of those resources you should reserve for later battles. Being risk averse, I take this option after the flop too. My hand hasn’t improved as I don’t have another Ace, but the flop doesn’t have a pair nor does it support someone else having a flush or a straight at this point, so statistically speaking, I’m still in a good position with my Ace pair. It still nags at me though, the knowledge that despite starting the hand with a low pocket pair, someone else could be sitting on 3 of a kind. Or has some random straight or flush draw that the later cards will complete. So I check, and hope someone else raises so I can retaliate without feeling impulsive and reckless. I’d be defending myself. Not arrogant or foolhardy. Measured and rational.
Nobody raises, the Turn pairs with one of the flop. For the first time, I’m critically aware that I really might not have the best hand statistically. Someone else could have three of a kind. I’ve now got a 2 pair but it doesn’t matter. If they’ve got 3 of a kind, I’m finished. My chance to dominate the hand has passed. Unless, I lie and pretend like I have the 3 of a kind, or somehow this card has made everything right and I’m 100% sure I can win this hand. Or should I let them see my caution with a small raise and make them think that I have absolutely nothing? I have a weird relationship with bluffing. Lying and pretending to have what I don’t is so alien to me that it fills me with anxiety so I rarely bluff when I have nothing of note, but I might exaggerate a little, like in this situation. I’m panicking that I’ve left it too late to win so I start relying on wishful thinking to scrape back some of what I’ve let go. I check. Still hoping for an opportunity to reraise and wishing desperately for an Ace which will give me a high Full Houseand pretty much guarantee I win the hand. Unless someone now has 4 of a kind because they have had a pocket pair all along. Always cautious that what I have, as good as it is, will not be good enough. Someone else will have more low value stuff that will trump my good stuff. Poker is like fucking life.
Everyone else checks. Maybe they have nothing. Or little. Next card. The river. A King. Here’s another chance for passive aggression. I can rely on the fact that I’m female in a male dominated game and act accordingly: naive and excitable. Oooh I have a pair of Kings now to go with that low pair on the board and that’s a winning hand. Big bet. That way, anyone with a King will be compelled to compete not knowing I’ve had a higher pocket pair all along. I go with that. First one folds. I hope they all don’t. I want them to see that I had a pair of Aces, or do I?
Second one calls. Shit. No, don’t worry, he also has a King. Probably a King with a high kicker which he is confident about but not cocky. He’s thinking about the 3 of a kind too. That’s why he called and didn’t raise. Shit, what if someone has a Full House because their “kicker” is actually a pair?
Next one reraises. Shit, he does have that! That’s why he’s cocky rather than confident. What shall I do? I could fold. Be the bigger person. Acknowledge that his larger bet means that he must have the better hand and bow out gracefully. Refuse to engage. Make out that I never had an agenda and it was all about statistics, which are obviously out of my favour given his action. If he’s lying, then treating him as if he isn’t will prick his conscience. He’’ll feel bad that he pretended to have something that he didn’t and I assumed the best of him. I’ll still be the bigger person. Sure, he will have taken some of my money. Money that I risked because I also played a game of pretence. Or I could fuck the lying bastard over and go all motherfucking inon the cunt. He’s not lying, fine, we’ll know that it was my doing. I made the wrong decisions. I should have taken the hand when I really was in the best position. I should have set the bar so anyone who wanted to stick around would have to pay a steep price to see if the next round would improve their chances of success. If he is lying. He will pay. Lying always has a price. You always have to pay it. Fuck is poker like life.
Sometimes I go all in at this point. Sometimes I call. Other times I fold. It varies. Either way, unless I fold, I know what will happen next: I die a little. I might win the hand because the person was bluffing, at least to some degree. They have neither a King or any of the other possible strong hands, they have some bullshit low pair I didn’t even consider, if that. They invested all those resources into a hand they could never win and the winner wouldn’t even feel any real sense of accomplishment from gaining. They beat someone whose only chance was scaring them off with half truths and misrepresentations. I might lose the hand because of all the reasons I listed before which can be summarised as fear and baggage and regret. I die a little less when I see that the person who won was an underdog rather than a chancer. Someone who had an Ace and a low card and that low card just happened to match a pair on the board rather than some lucky fucker who bet big with two unrelated low cards because they have the means to lose that kind of money and not miss it. That cunt reminds me that my pocket Aces, as good as they seemed, were only ever a lousy pair and I was right to play them that way. Regardless of what I choose, I die a little more each time.
I go all in on this occasion. I call his bluff. But this time none of what I expected happens. This time he just disappears. Goes offline. Yeah, I win the money. All of it. But I don’t know what how or why. Did his internet or the app crash and he actually did have the winning hand? Did he bluff and was so embarrassed to show it that he flounced like a petulant child? Did something happen that required his immediate attention and he just had to go and leave the money? We’ll never know. I’m just left numb, with all my money, and none of the satisfaction that usually comes with winning it. Poker is life.