Quotation Inspiration Contest - April 2009.
"I can resist everything except temptation."
- Oscar Wilde
Now it was just the two of us, and I was really beginning to sweat. Even the air conditioner's icy breeze couldn't prevent tiny beads of sweat from gathering on my brow as the cards were dealt. Most people would probably be thrilled at the idea of sitting at the tournament's final table, taking in their surroundings and savoring the last moments of the game that would determine who would win big, and who would go home empty handed. The honest truth was that I couldn't even tell you which casino's logo was on the table. I was too preoccupied with the pocket cards I had been dealt, and the more than a quarter of a million dollars that rested on the strength of those two cards.
Ace of Clubs. Ten of Clubs.
Not a bad start. I had the makings of either a flush or a straight, which put me in a good position. But a smart poker player never underestimates his opponent, and the woman sitting across the table didn't get to that seat by playing poorly. I had to assume she was dealt a good hand too ... maybe even a better one. Call it a pair of something, and that would put me at about forty-seven percent to win.
Under that assumption – and noting that she had more in chips than I did – I opened the betting at a conservative $10,000. Enough to show that I was committed, but not too much to scare her off.
She called my wager and we watched the dealer turn over the flop.
Eight of Spades. Jack of Clubs. Queen of Clubs.
I clenched my jaw tightly and fought off the urge to smile. I now had four Clubs and was one card away from my straight or flush. Assuming my opponent didn't get anything useful in the flop, I was now looking at a sixty-two percent to win.
But I wasn't about to let myself start celebrating just yet. That's how the third to last man got eliminated. He thought his two pair with an Ace kicker was a lock and he went all-in. It didn't even occur to him that she was holding that Suicide King in the hole that would give her three of a kind and all of his chips. I wouldn't make that same mistake, so I had to assume the flop gave her something useful. Had to assume it was a card that matched the imaginary pair she had with her pocket cards, and gave her a theoretical three of a kind. That dropped me down to forty percent to win.
Trying to read my opponent was like trying to get a reaction out of a statue. Her expression hadn't changed the entire game. Not when she was dealt her pocket cards, and not when she saw the flop. She could just as easily have a winning hand as she could nothing.
The odds had me down and I didn't want to seem too eager, so I checked. Seeing how she reacted would tell me everything I needed to know about the cards she was holding.
She raised. $25,000.
That meant she had solid cards. Or maybe she was testing me? Seeing if I really had the cards to back up my opening bet? Even if the supposed odds were against me, I couldn't back down. I didn't come here to lose, and I didn't get to the final table by folding at the first sign of pressure.
I called her bet and the dealer flipped over the turn.
Two of Diamonds.
It didn't do me any good whatsoever, but I knew it didn't help her any, either. There was no chance of that Two contributing to a straight, a flush, or even a pair with the cards that were on the table ... and I'm already assuming the woman had three of a kind, which meant that if the Two helped her, it wasn't going to give her a better hand than she had already. Still, if I wanted to operate under the theory that she had a solid hand, that meant my odds dropped to about thirty percent.
The Two didn't change anything for me, which meant that the dealer's next card would make or break my hand. There were only nine possible Clubs left to give me a flush, and only four cards that could give me a straight. I had a roughly twenty percent chance of the river card being the former, and ten percent for it being the latter. Without either, I had nothing. Not even a pair.
I suppose the best thing to do would have been to check again and see what the she does. But if I did that, she'd probably guess that I didn't have the cards yet. And the worst thing a poker player can do is depend on the luck of the draw. I needed her to think that I was holding something solid ... maybe she was doing the same calculations in her head and assumed that I was the one holding a three of a kind.
Leaning against the table's rail, I gave it some thought. Even after I decided what to do, I took a few moments to play with my chips, seemingly in deep consideration of my wager. Hopefully I was giving her the impression that I had the cards, and was just debating how much to raise her.
I toyed with my chips, deliberately focusing on the five-figure ones that made up a small stack in the corner. I wanted her to think that I had the cards, and was merely contemplating how much to raise her so that she would call rather than fold. When I felt I had put on an adequate show, I tossed five $10,000 chips into the pot.
The pot now had $60,000 worth of my chips in it ... half of what I had left. If I lost this hand now, it would give her the bankroll she needed to finish me off and eliminate me from the tournament. As she considered her options, I stared across the oval table at her, eager to find any kind of reaction to my bet.
She was a smart poker player; she had to be questioning whether I actually had the cards. Maybe we were both holding three of a kind ... but then she would wonder who had the three of a kind with face cards, and who had the three of a kind with ranked cards? Was she holding three of a kind Eights and contemplating whether I really had the three of a kind Jacks or Queens to beat her?
She answered by calling my $50,000 and raising me another $50,000.
I felt lightheaded and woozy. So much money was at stake, and it was quickly looking like this would be the make-or-break hand for both of us.
If I called her bet and lost, I would only have ten grand left. Hell, at that point, she could afford to wait it out just let the blinds eat up the rest of my chips over the next few hands. And if I merely called, she'd know my hand probably wasn't as strong as my betting behavior implied.
Okay, I had to think about this. I have a twenty percent chance of a flush, and a ten percent chance of getting a straight. Assuming that next card is a Club or a King, she'd have to get a full house or four of a kind to beat me. There are six cards left that could give her a full house, and only one that could give her four of a kind. That meant a fourteen percent chance of her getting a full house and a two percent chance of a four of a kind. The problem then became that I'm far more likely to get a Club than I was a King ... and if I ended up with a flush rather than a straight, a full house or a four of a kind could beat my hand.
But she had a less than one-in-five chance of getting either of those cards. And we're still talking low percentages all around. If the river card wasn't something that helped me, I'd only have an Ace high and she'd beat me with any pair or better.
My mouth was dry and I was sweating again. The harsh lights of the casino were beating down on me. This was it; there was no turning back.
I cringed at the thought of that river card being another unhelpful addition ... and watching as all of my hard earned chips were raked across the table and added to my adversary's stacks. But then I thought about seeing that King ... about how it would feel to lay down the straight or – dare I say it? – the royal flush that would send the crowd into a frenzy and all but assure my championship win. That image, of victoriously tossing down my suited pocket cards, was the one that stayed with me. I couldn't resist its allure.
I went all-in.
The scratchy green felt scraped along the bottom of my palms as I pushed all of my chips toward the pot in the middle of the table. A murmur arose from the crowd. Ten thousand dollars left after the hand would mean it was all but over, and I was better off using those chips to raise her now, and hopefully intimidate her into folding or backing off.
No such luck.
She called my bet and pushed her chips into the center, where they joined mine. She still had a good fifty thousand in chips left if she lost ... but if I lost, it would be all over.
Everything was riding on the river card. I squeezed my eyes shut and prayed for a King.
Lord, just give me one King.
Show me the King that will make it all better.
Reward the risk I have taken.
All I need is one King ...
As I sat at the bar later, my opponent slid into the chair next to me and ordered a drink from the bartender.
"Hell of a game," she remarked, stirring her drink with its straw.
"Yeah," I replied, still unable to believe it.
"You know," she said. "Holding out for that straight was a pretty ballsy move. There aren't a lot of players who would have risked it."
"Yeah," I replied again.
"Would've really been something if you had gotten that King," she remarked.
"Yeah," I said once more.
She stood up with her drink. "But I'm impressed. You had me sweating for a while there. Maybe you'll get it next time, huh?"
I nodded. She offered her hand, and we shared a handshake of mutual respect.
As she left the bar, a huge smile spread across my face. In that moment, I wasn't thinking about the King that never showed his face ... or the full house she had won with ... or even the prize money I'd missed out on.
I was thinking about the fact that one of the best poker players in the world just shook my hand and told me that I'd impressed her.
That was the best hand of my life.