Today I played a poker tournament and lost. Blegh. Been there. Done that before. Too many times now. It is what it is. It hurts. It sucks. 10 hours of mind-crunching focus and hard work over two days for zilch. Demoralising. Soul crushing. Soul destroying. It really is all those things, but the poker tournament story has become a rather boring one to me. I’m not here to whinge and moan about that.
Instead, I’d like to tell you another story. One that happened mostly on the tables too…
The tournament kicks off. Immediately I win the first hand I’m dealt in a bizarre scenario where my opponent thought they had a straight when they didn’t. I flash a look of bamboozlement to the table, and say “I was confused there, but I figured the only hand she could have that beat me was X. Can’t fold”. A girl sitting one seat over from me nods, “Yeah, exactly. Quite strange”. I detect an accent. British I think.
Play continues. I notice the girl who’d made the comment to me reaching for her phone every now and then. Every time players at the table give away new information (when they show their cards), she grabs the phone out and begins banging away on the keyboard. I think she’s taking notes on people. I’m doing the same, only it’s all happening in my head. I make a mental note that this girl is taking notes on people. She’s paying very close attention to the game. Most other’s at the table aren’t. One other guy is. But the rest are just playing their cards. Not thinking about the other players at the table. Not paying much attention to them. Definitely not taking notes. Not in their phones, nor in their heads. As for the lady who thought she had a straight, she doesn’t even seem to be playing her cards. I have no idea what she’s thinking. Not much is my guess.
The girl and I speak a couple words to each other during the second two hours of play, “unlucky” being one such word exchanged once in each direction on separate occasions when we both had the best hand against our opponents but the deck had other plans in mind…
At a break in play, which are only ten minutes long, I ask her where she’s from,
“London” she says
And she asks me,
“From here, but I lived in the USA for a while” I say
“That explains the twang”.
While on the third ten minute break from the tournament, about to head into the final two hours of play, both London and I need some help. We’re both rather short on chips, in desperate need of some traction. Luckily, we both find some. First London. And then I. The final two hours of play goes according to plan, and we both increase our chip stacks.
At the end of the final two hours, I turn to London:
“That went a little better”
“You can say that again.” she says,“It’s frustrating to see the chips going in all the wrong directions”
“Yep, people playing poorly and getting rewarded. People making monster hands and not getting any value. It’s hard to watch.” I say
“But hey, very happy with that final two hours” I say as I raise my fist in the air hoping for a bump. Quickly, I find it obliged.
We exchange a few more words as we bag up our chips. “That was a fun table”. “Yeah, I thought so too”. I finish bagging up my chips, while London is still busy bagging hers. I walk away from the tables and into the casino amongst the pokies and the ding ding ding noises. Although, I don’t head straight for the carpark lifts as usual. Instead, I hang around a little bit, walking a lap of the casino floor pretending to be looking for something, spending the time pondering whether it would be creepy or inappropriate of me to ask London for her number. An internal monologue ensues:
We’ve been competing against each other all day, given such a scenario, is it offensive to ask her out? Would she perceive it as offensive? How can I ask for her number while making sure to get across the point it’s because I respect her poker game? Her mind. Not just because she’s cute (which, she also is).
I don’t come to any conclusion on the matter, but decide aimlessly walking laps of the casino is not a good way to be spending time. I don’t really know what I’ll do if I see her again, all I know is I hope to. But alas, it’s not to be.
Later that night, lying in bed, I make two mental notes:
- Play disciplined poker tomorrow, start fresh, new day, new table, take it slow.
- Find an opportunity to ask London for her number. If none arises, create one.
The next day I arrive early at the tournament wanting to set up my chips, have plenty of time to scope out my new table, the competition and to catch my breath. And to give myself ample chance to put point 2 above into effect. I can’t control the cards, but I can control this.
I grab myself a coffee and sit down at a closed roulette table overlooking the poker tables. There’s 30 minutes until the tournament restarts for the day. A dude who’d played with me on my table for the full eight hour day before spots me and walks over and sits down in the empty seat next to me. A lousy poker player, who’d been smacked in the face with the deck the day before and was now sitting on a mountain of chips. He talks to me about his strategy, “I only play really good hands”. My mental note could’ve told him this. London’s phone-notes could’ve probably told him this too. Unless a horseshoe remained embedded in this guy’s arse, he really has no hope. I smile and nod “you’ve got to play your game, what you’re comfortable with”.
With 15 minutes to go until the tournament begins, I spot London walk in and make her way to her table. I tell Horseshoe I’m going to grab a glass of water before play begins.
I make my way to the water jug at the bar, and pour a glass. London is sitting at the end of the bar, empty chairs next to her on either side, looking at her phone. I pull up a seat next to her, say hello and ask her whether she’s set for the day ahead – the poker-equivalent of some pretty poor small talk, on par with “how about that weather”.
“Did you get some decent rest?” I ask
“Not really, struggled to sleep. Had a bunch of stuff racing through my mind. Couldn’t switch it off.” she says.
I can relate. Eight hours of intense focus is not easily shaken with a click of the fingers. It takes time to unwind. It’s difficult not to indulge in mentally replaying hands from the day over and over in your head. Was that person bluffing me? Should I have raised this hand? Folded that hand?
“How long have you been in New Zealand?” I ask
“A while now, just under two years. But I’m heading back soon” she says
It’s foolish, because I don’t know London from a bar of soap, but her words cause my heart to sink a little.
“Do you play the tournaments up here regularly?” I ask.
“Sometimes, the smaller ones. This is the biggest I’ve ever played. By far.” she says, “did you play much poker in the USA?”
I don’t have the heart to tell her I was a professional. Most people look at you with sideways-judgey-eyes when you say such a thing. I had a strong inkling London may not, but in the moment, I’m incapable of thinking it through. I respond in the habitual manner I’ve become accustomed, which is to take the most direct route I can think of to avoid having the head-beating-against-a-wall conversation trying to convince someone that poker is a game of skill and to avoid having to reassure them, “no, I don’t drink while I play”.
“Yeah, quite a bit” I say, “I take it you play quite a bit”
“A fair amount. I live in a Women’s Buddhist community and they’re all a little suspect about it. Telling them it’s a game of skill is a difficult point to get across, but I think they’re warming to it” she says, “not many people understand poker, it’s very misunderstood”
She believes in the Buddhist way of life too? What the actual fuck.
“Tell me about it” I say as I let out a sigh, “Women’s Buddhist community. That sounds interesting. I’m a big believer in the Buddhist philosophy. Done a bunch of reading on it.”
An announcement rings out over the speaker asking players to take their seats. London and I stand.
“Good luck today” I say
“You too” she says
“Hey I never got your name”
“Camilla, I’m Mark, nice to meet you”
“And you, good luck”
We take our seats on different tables. I wonder whether I’ve blown my opportunity to get her number, but I make a mental note to ask at the first break, in two hours time. I zone into the table. Unfortunately, I blow point 1. Royally so. Within an hour and fifteen minutes I’ve lost all my chips. Dejected, I stand from the table and take my position as spectator.
There’s still 40 minutes until the first break. I think to myself that I may not have made good on point 1, but I’m not about to let this day be a total catastrophe. There’s still point 2. I can make it happen. I park up at an empty roulette table and read a book, waiting for the first break and an opportunity to ask Camilla for her number. It seems a little bit of a creepy move, some guy sitting in a casino reading a book waiting for a girl to go on a break in a poker tournament so he can ask for her number. I message a friend to get a creepy-ness read. I’m reassured it isn’t creepy. Totally normal. Well, maybe not totally normal. But definitely not totally creepy. “Do it bro” is the sentiment I’m given.
The seconds tick down on the tournament clock, and players begin to stand and make their way to the bathroom. I spot Camilla. She’s walking toward me.
She doesn’t hear me.
“Oh hey” she says, “I saw you busted, what happened?”
“Uhhh, never mind that”
“Don’t want to talk about it?”
“It is what it is you know” I say, “tell me if I’m out of line here or whatever, but I just wanted to ask if you wanted to hang out some time?”
“Oh, I would definitely, but I have a boyfriend back home”
Her admission she’d soon be leaving the country made my heart sink a little. This feels like a punch in the guts.
“Totally understand, no problem. Good luck!”
She hurries off to the bathroom. And I make my way to the lifts.
Two thoughts cross my mind…
- Ugh. Ugh. Ugh. Ugh. Damn. Fuck. Shit. Testicles.
- Was that a bluff?