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Poker & Poetry

This weekend, I played in the 2011 Foxwoods Poker Classic Ladies’ No-Limit Hold ‘Em “Deep Stack” tournament. “Deep Stack” means they gave us a whole lot of chips, so play generally lasts longer. One of our dealers suggested that women tend to play a tighter game than men, and that that contributes to the length of women’s tournaments as well — not sure whether that’s true or not.  I played for about five and a half hours, and went out around 67/68/69th in a field that started with 206 players.  I was playing at a table with some serious, serious players and frankly still can’t believe I lasted as long as I did. I went out as the short (WAAAAY short) stack — threw all-in pre-flop with KJ of hearts. It wasn’t enough.

In January I held my own for a while in one of Foxwoods’ regular lower-stakes tournaments, another “deep stack” hold ’em with a “bounty” chip, which is lots of fun — you win a cash “bounty” for each person you put out of the tournament.  I managed to come away with three chips (my own and two others), so the $200 buy-in ended up costing me only $25. In a field of 134, I came in 25th (not close enough to be in the money, alas). More thrilling (I am such a dork) was splitting a pot with poker-playing actor James Woods. Anyhow, I feel like I’ve played well in my last two “big” tournaments, but I need more practice at aggressive betting in the later part of a tournament. I’m a decent conservative player, which takes me a good ways, but I don’t think I’ll ever get into the money without learning to shift into higher gear. The two friends I go to the casinos with are more consistently better players than I am — partly (I think) because they are better at math than I am, but also because they know how to bet more aggressively than I do. Thankfully, I’m having a good old time learning, and slowly (SLOWLY) improving my game.

So of course today I had to share my poker status on Facebook, and part of my status update was crammed with poker lingo: “Best hand: quad 8’s, but no one took my bait. Went all-in as short stack on K/J hearts pre-flop. Got called by A/K. She flopped the straight, so what ended up being 2 pairs (K/J) for me just wasn’t enough to double up.” And later, in response to some friends’ comments about the inscrutable poker jargon, I commented that my King-Jack suited was nicknamed “Kojak,” and that the King-Jack unsuited (“Jack-King-Off) is called the Bachelor Hand. Naughty.

I love the word play (visual word play, metaphors, puns, etc) involved in all the poker jargon — here’s a great list of all the fun names for various cards and hands. I’m drawn to it both because I love the particulars of subcultures, and (mostly) because I’m a word nerd and a poet.  A friend commented, after all my jargony updating and comments on Facebook, that I ought to write a poker poem.  And I may have to write a new one — I want to write an ode to the player (she was so clearly the Boss of Our Table) who slow-played her pocket queens so well it was like I’d been hypnotized. It was an honor to be so well-played. She was that good. But before I get to that poem, this one goes out to Bill — a poker poem I’ve already written — several years back.  It appears in my chapbook, Luck, whose title poem is actually set at a craps table. Anyhow, here it is, and I’d love to hear about more poker poems.

All-In

Luck can’t be worked; sometimes you just fall in:
you’ve got the pocket aces and the nerve
and so you push your stack of chips all-in.

One player calls; another rubs her chin
and folds. The big blind checks. You feel in love.
Luck can’t be worked. Sometimes you just fall in

with a crowd of cards too bad to call. In
this instance, though, your mother would approve,
and so you push your stack of chips all-in.

The flop’s an ace, a seven, and a ten.
Two drop their cards. One raises. Then a five.
Luck can’t be worked; sometimes you just fall in

at the right time or table, or crawl in
to the warmest bed to stroke the softest curves.
And so you push your stack of chips all-in.

You block out the casino’s garish din.
You ride the river’s solitary wave.
Luck can’t be worked; sometimes you just fall in,
and so you push your stack of chips all-in.

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