Tuesday, February 9, 2010

guilt on the felt

sometime summer 2004:

i had been in contact with my friend, who told me about a place he had found in the city. it was an "underground" club and he told me that he was making a lot, pulling even a thousand in one night just playing no limit hold em. the games he claimed were so soft you'd have to be inept not to print money there.

i was a bit skeptical at first, after all, my bankroll was just a paltry couple of thousand dollars from playing small online, and the prospect of losing hundreds, or perhaps even half my bankroll in a single night was a bit frightening. and i imagined the scene of an underground club like those in rounders, shady villainous folk waiting to kill you in some back corner at any moment, darkly lit rooms with paint coming off the walls amidst the dusty sights and smell of cigar smoke, and big burly men waiting to collect your money the moment you dumped them off to the club owner in a rigged poker game. but my friend insisted that it was nothing of the sort, and that even alex rodriguez had played in that club before, so it was safe.

so i took the trusty metro north railroad into manhattan to visit the club and make a quick score. and it was nothing like i imagined. as in, it wasn't as glamorously gangster-like, as i feared (but secretly hoped, to increase my street cred). as jason introduced me to the staff to gain me access to the place, i noticed the bright florescent lights illuminating the paltry few tables that were available, the plain white walls that made it almost seem like an office space, and the fact that it wasn't actually underground, but in a building a few stories up.

i took a seat at the 1/2 game, putting in 200 bucks to buy in. this was the biggest live game i had ever participated in (home games i played in were .25/.50 with 25 dollar buy ins typically), so the weight of the chips felt heavier under my hands as i shuffled through them. as i sank into my groove however, i familiarized myself with this foreign new experience (having an actual dealer, tipping the dealer after a hand, having other rules that aren't as strictly followed in home games, etc.) quietly and calmly. i then took control using my experience and started winning, and winning big (well big for me at the time).

there was an old asian man at table. the man looked as if he was in his late 50's or early 60's and didn't seem to have a handle on what exactly was going on. the dealer was explaining to him some rules earlier on. he just seemed like one of those degenerate asian men that loved to just gamble at the casinos for fun. he became my mark.

we became involved in a hand where i picked up something relatively strong, and he check called me. i bet strong on each street, extracting as much value from the hand as possible, on the river i had bet 100 dollars, a big bet for me. eventually he called me, and i showed my hand. he didn't seem to know what my hand was, so the dealer explained to him what i had. he looked at his own hand and became somewhat confused, and somewhat sad, and sighed. then he mucked his hand and tossed the necessary chips for the call.

as i took the chips in, i felt terrible. i didn't know if this man needed that hundred dollars or not, but he didn't look like he was particularly wealthy. was what i was doing right? was it justified? at the same time, it didn't feel right to give him his money back, because there was almost a contractual agreement upon playing the game that this is what we signed up for, the risk of loss. he might even take the offering of money back as a slight to his ego, making for an awkward scene.

at the same time, it was like he could have been my grandfather or something (both my grandfathers passed away by this point so i didn't really know what having a grandfather would be like but still), and here i was, pwning someone else's grandfather. it was different at college, playing against people that i knew were wealthy enough to withstand a 5-10 dollar loss here and there, especially against opponents i thought were cocky and arrogant and deserved to have their asses handed to them. but the fact that this man seemed meek and senile, almost in a sense weakish, seemed to make me out to be predatory in nature.

when i started to play poker, i was more involved with the intellectual and competitive nature of it, i never really thought i could make a living playing poker, or that people could actually become millionaires doing it unless they were really lucky (like me). i suppose i ignored for the most part the social and psychological aspects of the game until that night.

at the end of the night, i ended up staying late enough that i had to stay at my friend's place in the city for the night (i think my first night that i remember staying there overnight), and counted out 500 dollars in profit. not bad for a night's work. but as i lay in that bed looking at the moonlight of the nyc sky, i couldn't help but wonder what i had done, and if it was legitimate. was i falling into something deeper that i wouldn't be able to extricate myself from? what was my justification?

but it was hard to argue with a nickel in your pocket as a 20 year old college kid.

1 comment:

janet said...

yikes... what happened to that old dude?