Ever since reading Tommy Angelo’s excellent Elements of Poker, I’ve been working on keeping calm and focused while playing live poker. This is no mean feat: the pace is glacial and the company grating. There are a million reasons to zone out, wander around, or get annoyed with someone. My mother, a yoga instructor, recently gave me a Thich Nhat Hanh book, and that, combined with Angelo’s advice, which itself draws largely on the famous Buddhist scholar, gave me some things to work on at the table. Specifically, both advise focusing on your breathing as a way to stay calm and conscious in the present moment.
As I say, I’ve been working on this for a while, and on Day 1 of the PCA, I felt like I was doing it about as well as I ever have. I was a statue, sitting placidly at the table, back straight, hands in my lap, slowly and deliberately breathing in and out.
With about two hours left in the day, my original table broke, and I was moved across the room to meet a new group of players. I walked deliberately but unhurriedly across the conference center floor to take my new seat. Two seats to my right was a heavy-set kid with greasy hair, an unkempt beard, a backwards ballcap, and a basketball jersey stretched out over his considerable gut. He was loudly recounting the hand that had vacated the seat I now occupied, in which the European kid to my left (who spoke barely a word of English to defend himself) got it all in with AK in a three-way pot and busted ADZ, who’d held KK. The big hairball seemed to think this was an awful play and was telling everyone who would listen about it, though as best I could tell he’d not actually been involved in the hand himself.
I was still unracking my chips when the dealer said something about a player mucking his cards. “Players don’t muck cards. Dealers muck cards. Players discard cards, and then dealers muck them,” the shaggy sports fan corrected her, loudly and matter-of-factly. She nodded in acknowledgment, but he insisted on explaining the distinction several more times, in several different ways. I had finished unracking and was just sitting there, not reacting to this at all or even looking at the downy detractor, but taking it all in nonetheless. Annoyance slowly crept across the dealer’s face as the guy continued to bloviate, but she said nothing, and neither did anyone else.
About ten minutes passed, most of which was to the tune of the meatbag’s constant rambling. He talked virtually nonstop, to no one in particular, about things going on in the room and hands he’d seen, always returning to this AK vs KK situation with the Euro-kid on my left. I ignored it all, though, barely playing a hand, just breathing and looking and listening and sitting upright quietly and attentively.
So I’m just sitting there, I’m a rock, so fucking impassive that the Buddha would shit himself with shame to see me, when this same loudmouth recounts some story and specifically refers to “mucking” his cards. He finishes the anecdote, with none of the rest of us saying anything for fear of giving the impression that we’re paying attention or want him to continue. I let a couple seconds of silence go by, still stone-faced and unmoving, and then quietly say, never looking at him or even turning my head, “Players don’t muck cards.”
Only the people on our half of the table could hear me, but several of them chuckled. “He’s right,” Hairy assured them. “He’s making fun of me, but he’s absolutely right.” I didn’t acknowledge him or anyone else, didn’t crack a smile or in any way show pleasure at the reception my needling had received. I couldn’t help but notice the dealer beaming her appreciation at me, like she wanted to have her way with me right there on the table. But I was all business, dark shades and brim pulled low. No time for that now, ma’am.
About half an hour goes by without me saying anything to Chewbacca or anyone else. He’d actually kind of calmed down. Then a short stacked player moved all in for only two times the blind. After some consideration, Sasquatch flat called. I had 65o in the small blind and considered making a move. Slowly my eyes took in the short stack and then the caller, who was staring back at me knowingly. I mucked (sorry, discarded), the European who’d been the subject of so much derision called, and the big blind called.
The flop came QJ2, all clubs. It checked around to Tubby, who bet 3K. His fishy friend called, and the big blind folded. The turn was blank, and they checked it through. The river was an offsuit T, and now Euroboy quickly threw 11K into the pot in what could only be a show of extreme strength. I expected to see a straight or better.
The portly pontificator snap-called and discarded angrily when the kid tabled 74cc for a flush. “You’re the best. You’re too good,” the guy began his berating, standing up from the table. “I should have had you crushed on that flop. How do you do it? How do I not have you crushed on that flop? I have fucking Kings with a club, and you flop a flush. Unfuckingbelievable. The one time I try to trap. I’m trying to induce a back-raise from this guy,” he points over at me with one meaty paw.
Growing red in the face, he was beginning to look more and more like a primate. I was severely tempted to tell him that I’m at least as likely to play back at an isolation raise as at a flat call, maybe even moreso, but I just sat placidly, eyes forward. I couldn’t have gotten a word in anyway.
He’s really gone now, foaming at the mouth, eyes wild, speckles of saliva glistening in his beard as he snarls and rages. The Eurolucksack understands barely a word of it but seems to find it just as amusing as I do.
I’m looking now for opportunities to get involved with this guy, who I’m sure is in spewbot mode. At 300/600/75, I open to 1800 UTG with ATo. He makes it 4200 from the SB, and I can’t resist the pot odds. Flop is 855 with two diamonds (I have none), and we both check. Turn is the Qd, and he checks again. I toss a little T4400 underbet out there, ready to bet 15K on the river if called. He ponders for a while and raises to about 16K, and I, with just a hint of a contented smile on my face, quickly fold.
He fires his cards angrily into the muck, and, huffing and puffing, stares daggers at me. After letting him fume for a few seconds, I ask, with genuine concern, “What’s the matter?” It’s the longest phrase I’ll utter to him all day.
Somewhat surprised by my verbacity, he shakes his head confusedly for a moment and explains, “Just…not happy with the result of the hand. I mean, I won it, but…I mean, I guess you didn’t have anything…I can’t give you a free card though… versus your range…you could have the Ace of diamonds…” he fumbles some more, throwing around some disjointed jargon and generally failing to make much sense.
A few minutes later, he asks me if I’ll tell him what I had when we’re done for the night. I turn to look him in the eye, shake my head slightly, then face front and resume my thousand-yard stare. “You won’t tell me? No? We can’t share stories at the end of the day? It’s not like we’re going to play together tomorrow, bro.” I continue to stare straight ahead and give him a little half shrug.
He spends the rest of the night fuming, ostensibly at the Euro but really I think at himself, while I take measured in-breaths and out-breaths. Then I get into my big pot at the end of the night, where I’m all-in with 66 on a 5c6c8d flop versus 74 and AcJc and eventually lose my ass to the straight. He oohs and aahs for a while over the size of the pot, and then starts giving his take on it. “Wow…I mean, wow. Set, straight, nut flush draw… nothing anyone can do there. No one can get away from it… he has to call,” referring here to his favorite Eurokid. “Maybe you can get away from it?” he looks at me, then corrects himself, “No, no, you can’t fold.”
He says this last like he’s reassuring me. Are you sure? Are you sure I can’t fold? You know I’m the favorite, right? Do you get that? Do you get that I’m that I’m the fucking favorite to win it, you FUCKING BABOON?!?!?!?