On Thursday night: Cold open, prologue, Act I

September 27, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
Sept. 27, 2015

The Cold Open.

I’m sitting across a table from a man named Eric. We are heads up at the conclusion of a no-cash Texas holdem poker tournament. The three cards from the flop are on the table. After a series of post-flop bets, we’ve both agreed to go all-in.

Eric has me covered, but I have the superior hand — for now. As I cautiously remind Eric, he can beat me: “All you need is for the board to pair.”

I burn a card and put out the turn. It’s a 10. I relax a minute amount: That card did not help Eric.

I burn again and reach for the final card — fifth street, the river. I’m holding my breath…


The Prologue.

Several hours earlier, on Thursday afternoon, I was steaming. I regularly drive a Durham man named K— to local World Tavern Poker events. After an exchange of text messages, I’d swung by his house to pick him up, but he hadn’t been ready. After impatiently waiting for a few minutes — I was eager to beat the traffic — I got out of my car, walked up to his porch and knocked on his door.

“One minute,” K— shouted* from within.

He cracked open the door and poked his head out.

“You ready to go?” I asked curtly.

“Jeez, can you give me a freaking minute?” he asked irritably. “I just walked in the house!”

I threw up my hands in annoyance. “Uh, OK,” I said as I turned away. He closed the door forcefully. “Jesus f—ing Christ,” I muttered angrily to myself as I descended the stairs and returned to my car.

About three minutes later, K— emerged from his house and got into the car. I was still stewing, but still, I noticed that my companion was breathing heavily.

K—, who I think is in his late 50s, started talking about his afternoon. He’d been getting some tests to check whether he might be developing thyroid cancer, and the results had not been very good. He’d spent several hours doing testing procedures — the process had taken much longer than he’d expected — and the doctors had scheduled him for additional tests in the coming weeks.

I immediately felt chagrined for rushing him. Yes, I wanted to try to evade the worst of the traffic, and yes, I was annoyed that K— hadn’t asked me to give him a few extra minutes when texting me about when he’d be home, but there were more important things in play.

As we approached the Durham Freeway, K— apologized for being short with me earlier. I mumbled something semi-coherent about how we’d had some poor communication and I was sorry for being irritable and I appreciated his apology.

Act I.

Typically, a venue hosts two World Tavern events in a given afternoon or evening. This Thursday was part of what the circuit calls “special events week”; we were playing no-limp holdem, which I won’t explain because the mechanics aren’t particularly germane to the story. I mention it, however, because at the start of the first tournament, I was sitting next to an older man named Doug, who was belly-aching about the format. I happen to like it, as I’d won a no-cash World Tavern Poker satellite tournament about a year ago that was played in the no-limp style.

When the table broke up, I had won some modest pots and was slightly up over my starting stack. I picked out a spot at my new table and waited for my cards.

When I checked them, they were quite good: pocket kings. At this point, before the flop, at least four players had jumped into the pot at 1,200 chips apiece. I probably had the best hand, but my odds of winning against five different players were not so swell.

I announced a raise and then debated what it should be. At last, I said “4,400” and put them out.

Everyone folded except a fellow whom I’ll call J.D., a white-haired Southern sportsman who loves boating and fishing. He said that he was re-raising and put out 8,800 chips.

It was just J.D. and I in the pot. I had two options: Call J.D. or go all in. (Technically, I could have folded, but folding pocket kings pre-flop is the poker version of burning a fistful of hundred-dollar bills.) I decided to call his raise.

The flop included two tens. I briefly contemplated raising or going all in; instead, I checked to J.D., curious as to what he might do. When he checked, I smiled slightly. I’m ahead of him, I thought to myself.

The turn was a queen. I wasn’t scared of it, so I declared all in.

“Call,” J.D. said casually, leaving me very startled.

“I have a boat,” he said, and revealed his pockets: a queen and a 10.

I turned over my kings.

Jim, the tournament director, was dealing. There was only one card that could help me: “A king and only a king,” Jim announced before revealing the river, which was…

Not a king.

We checked to see if J.D. had me covered; in fact, he did, so I was out of the first tournament. This was before we’d gotten down to 20 players, which meant that I wasn’t going to get any World Tavern points for this game.

Would Jim have called me if I’d gone all in pre-flop? Surely not, I thought to myself — not with queen-10. I posed the question to him; he admitted that he probably would have folded. I cursed myself; my play had been too conservative, too timid. And given that there were more than 10,000 chips in the pot after J.D.’s re-raise, going all-in and forcing him to fold would have left me with a healthy haul.

I had some time to contemplate this as I waited for the next tournament to begin.

To be continued


Standard disclaimer: Since I wasn’t taking notes or making recordings at the time of these events, all dialogue and thought bubbles are guaranteed to be only kind of, sort of accurate. Fortunately for you, the valued reader, this free blog comes with a money-back guarantee! 

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