Four years ago.
I had over $400 on the table when I found myself involved in a pot with an overweight guy dressed in black jogging pants and a wrinkled NY Yankees windbreaker. He spoke with an Eastern European accent and could have been from Russia, or the Ukraine, or Bulgaria. It really didn't matter. I wasn't there to make friends. I was there to make money. That's the reason why I played in the various underground clubs in New York City.
The fat guy played aggressively all night. He raised almost every pot and when another player would re-raise, the fat guy moved all in over the top and bet the rest of his remaining chips. The other players had no other choice but to fold. The fat guy had more than $900 in front of him, more money than anyone at the table. He only had one move... all in. The only way for me to neutralize him was to wake up to a big hand. That's when I was dealt pocket Aces, a hand which I had not seen in over two weeks.
When I peeked at my cards and found the Aces, my heart rate rapidly increased and my palms began to sweat. I craved that kind of feeling, like the moment before you get into a fist fight. The fat guy raised like he always did and nonchalantly tossed three chips into the pot. He acted like he was bored with the game and was doing everyone else a favor at the table by raising. What an arrogant twat, I thought. I couldn't wait to bust him. I counted down my chips and had $405 in front of me. I re-raised him knowing what would happen next. The fat guy glared at me for about two seconds then announced, "All in."
He pushed his remaining stack forward about three inches and then shot me the evil eye. His intimidation tactics were not going to work. Statistically, I had the best possible hand and I wasn't about to fold. I quickly said, "Call."
I tabled two red aces and the fat guy flipped over a Queen of clubs and the 9 of diamonds.
"Fack me," he muttered.
I was ahead and he needed a miracle to win. I stared at all his chips at the other end of the table and wondered what I was going to do with my new windfall. The dealer fanned out the flop of J-6-3. My Aces were still way ahead. The turn was an 8 and the fat guy jumped up.
"Come on, ten!" he screamed. "A fackin' ten!"
The fat guy picked up a gutshot straight draw. He needed one of four tens in the deck to win. And if any other card appeared, then I would win the pot that was worth more than my entire bankroll. At that moment as the fat guy screamed at the dealer, a sharp pain tore through my stomach. Before the last card was dealt, I knew what was coming. A black 10 spiked on the river and the fat guy made his straight to win the pot. I went numb. My vision got foggy. The fat guy screamed a bunch of things in his native tongue. I didn't say a word. I stood up and walked away.
I forgot that Morris was in the club that night and played at my table. He had followed me outside. We walked to the corner of 72nd Street and Broadway. Silence surrounded the both of us, until he finally mustered up enough courage to say something.
"Sorry man, that totally sucked. It hurt me to just watch that," said Morris as he attempted to offer me condolences.
We used to trade bonds on Wall Street when I was 23 years old before I quit and attempted to write the last great American novel of the 20th Century. We kept in touch over the years and when I started playing poker, he told me about an underground game a few blocks away from his apartment. He introduced me to the owners and ever since then, I was a semi-regular at the club. He felt partly responsible for losing all of my bankroll.
"Do you need money for a cab?" he asked as he pulled out a couple of $20 bills out of his wallet.
"Nah, I'm cool," I said as I gazed across the street to Gray's Papayas.
"So, um... do you want to grab a beer or something? I'm buying," offered Morris as he pointed towards P&G on the corner of 73rd and Amsterdam.
"No it's alright," I said as I dug through my jacket and found a joint. "I think I just want to be alone right now."
"Sure. I understand," he said as he whirled around and headed back towards the club. "I'll call you in a few days to make sure you didn't kill yourself. And tell the elevator button heiress that I said hello."
I fired up the joint and called Miami. I told her to meet me at the diner. I only had $12 on me and decided to walk across the park via 79th Street since I couldn't afford a cab. I had a little more than $200 in my online bankroll at Party Poker, which used to be much bigger but a bloody awful February wiped out all of my profits. Aside from that, I was tapped out and down to my last $200 in savings.
"Ohmygod! You look like shit, McFucker!" Miami said as she kissed me on both cheeks.
"Thanks. I feel like shit."
"Bad day at the office?"
"You can say that."
In less than ninety seconds I told her about a vicious beat from the fackin' twat and how I couldn't even afford a taxi and walked across Central Park to meet up her.
"Holy shit, you walked crosstown through Central Park alone? It's almost Midnight!" she said with a horrific look on her face as if I just told her I murdered a litter of adorable kittens.
"It's not like I had anything worth taking. Besides, do people actually get mugged anymore in New York City? I'm more worried about a Jihadist blowing up the subway."
A short Armenian guy in black pants, a white shirt, and a black vest overheard my comment and frowned as he handed me a menu. I handed it back and told him I knew what I want. I ordered an iced tea, French toast with bacon, and a side of cheese fries. When the waiter left, I admitted for the first time to Miami that I had been losing steadily playing online poker over the last few weeks.
"Aren't you worried about losing your bankroll on one hand?"
"I guess I should be freaking out, but, Steve McQueen would have never freaked out. Then again, he never played on Party Poker at 3:30am against a bunch of donkeys from Albuquerque. It's just a losing streak. I can ride it out."
"Quick question for Mr. Steve McQueen. How do you ride a losing streak when you don't have any money to play?"
I didn't have an answer.
"Maybe it's time to quit and get a real job?" she said.
"Did you just fuckin' say real job?"
"You know what I mean. A job that pays you every week. Let me ask my father, I'm sure he could find..."
"No way," I interrupted.
"Then get off your ass and write a book about poker. Write another novel. Anything is better than gambling for a living. Oooh, write something with a lot of nasty sex scenes."
"And who will be stupid enough to buy that trash, let alone publish it?"
"Oh whatever, you're like this totally famous blog boy, right?"
"Me? There's a museum down the street named after your family. I'm a nobody."
We were ensconced in a very strange relationship. Miami was loud, boisterous, opinionated, and an extremely selfish person. She was a prototypical shallow, stuck up, and materialistic Upper East Side daddy's girl. Her grandfather amassed a fortune shortly after WWII when he owned a company that may or may not have done business with the Nazis. When her grandfather died, she inherited a percentage of his estate.
Most of Miami's behavior was ruled by Adult ADD and her infamous mood swings were immense. She was too rich to be lumped in with the rest of us, yet too volatile to be considered one of the elitist members of high class society. Although she had blue blood pumping through her veins and was a member of one of the oldest and most prominent families in New York City, she was an outcast and unable to identify with everyone else. The result was a tragic figure of Shakespearian proportions. She snorted way too much cocaine, drank to excess, and spent too much of her time shopping and acquiring unnecessary lavish items. Her walk-in closet was almost bigger than my brother's studio apartment. She owned over a hundred pairs of shoes and some of them she only wore once. If I stole a few pairs of Manolo Blahniks and hocked them on eBay, would she even notice? Some of those designer shoes cost over $500 a pair. The last three purses that she bought cost more than $3,000 each. I could sell a dozen shoes and bags and raise enough money to buy into the World Series of Poker main event. All I needed was $10,000 in cash for the entry fee. Then again, if I was seriously looking for a quick score, I should have stolen the Matisse or Basquiat paintings that hung on the walls of her living room.
I had discovered a bar that opened at 9am in the East Village. The dive smelled like cat piss, but they had cheap eye-opener drink specials. I sat at the end of the bar since twenty bucks dulled a lot of inner pain. Sometimes Miami went slumming and made an appearance around noon. I'd be able to drink for free because she'd pick up the tab and insist that I order some food.
"How can the best writer in New York City write anything on an empty stomach?" she'd often say in a very proper finishing school accent much like Julianne Moore's portrayal of Maude Lebowski in The Big Lebowski. "You're sitting in a bar all day hiding from your friends. And I'm sitting here because I have no friends."
Miami was a modern day Edie Sedgwick. She was a lost soul and we acted like characters from a sullen Raymond Carver short story. The air of desperation in a Tennessee Williams play surrounded us. (Her sadness still haunts me like a wispy apparition and has followed me everywhere.)
As I devoured my French Toast, the reality of my financial situation set in. I was on the verge of going busto.
"I guess I'm just not lucky," I moaned. "Some people in life are pre-destined to have a life of good luck. I'm not one of them."
“For Christ's sake, McFucker. Don't you know how lucky you are?"
We sat in an unusual silence for thirty seconds as I finished off the last of the cheese fries.
"Worst thing about being in New York is not being able to drink coffee and have a cigarette," Miami said. "I'm going to powder my nose then it's time for a smoke."
"For fuck's sake, don't start spewing out 101 reasons why Europe is better than America. And for the love of God, don't be one of those warped ex-pats born with silver spoons in their mouths who can afford to move to a lavish European country, instead suck it up with the rest of us poor slobs who have to live with three more years under the Bush Junta."
She made one of her "fuck you" faces as she got up and went to the bathroom to rip a rail or piss, or both. A couple of minutes passed and the short Armenian waiter brought over the check. I walked up to the cashier and handed him my credit card.
"What the fuck are you doing?" screamed Miami as she ran towards me.
"Uh? What does it look like?" I uttered in total confusion.
"I'm paying!" she said as she dug through her Kate Spade handbag and handed the cashier her Platinum card. "You're broke. Some fat Russian guy cracked your soul cards and took all of your money. Remember?"
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