Eighty degrees, deuce. Serve, return, misplaced approach; Hando dribbles J4 over the high part of the net. It’s likely he intended this defense to go elsewhere, or, perhaps, he had no idea where he wanted it to go. Not sure how such a limp-wristed stab is really supposed to send a tennis ball anywhere in particular; perhaps he is randomizing. Either way, I give up and let his carom squirt uncontested and come to rest on the back line. Hando pumps his fist.
Eighty and one half degrees, ad out. The noon sun bends over my neck, puking heat. I toe away a desiccated wasp, pick up the ball, and face my opponent. Hando is wearing a black and white horizontally striped shirt, one of those collarless, full sleeved, wide necked, sexless jerseys without a clear front or back side. I’d say its effect suggests a transgender magician disguised as an imprisoned sailor, but really Hando as a person creates the illusion of being on sabbatical from researching the Tripedal Tree People of interior Papa New Guinea. He is pale, sunburnt, and soft. His glasses are heavy and academic, his eyes squinting and shrewd. Here is a man with full command over a spreadsheet, TA, or computer mouse. His beard is his best feature, one of those collar to cheekbone carpets which curl brittle over the lips like dried moss. He looks sticky to the touch, all hair and fat, like a digesting koala, and not much faster. He is wearing a head band and nearly matching, pacific blue wrist bands, each separated by a single mysterious shade; clearly sweat is as troubling to him as style.
I push the first serve well over the net but questionably past the service line. Hando’s arm shoots up dramatically, making sure the umpire and entire stadium are clear on the call. I quickly flub the second. Game. We approach the side court for water and to change sides. I sit on the radiating concrete, indifferent to further suffering. While I am pouring water over my head and steaming, Hando looks down on me and brings up Wimbledon.
“Do you have a rooting interest?” he asks. I’m exhausted, and the air is as stifling as his grammar.
Yes, I’d like to see Federer win.
He sniffles. “That’s a common answer.”
“It must be tough,” I counter, “competing at the highest level when you’re older and perhaps lost a step.” My response makes me self-conscious and needlessly transparent.
“I think the competition is tougher.” Hando leans in on the last word, giving it an extra turn of volume. He’s implying that possibly the greatest player ever to grace the game had it easy in his early years, beating patsies and practice players, small fields and low variance, and that losing to Djokovic is merely the universe righting itself. Or, is he actually much younger than I think, behind the hair and fat and costume, and so is identifying with his age group by castigating what might appear to be mine? Is he gaming me, this fuzzy cub?
Either way, Hando needs to be squashed, or tennised, or whatever. What kind of name is that, anyway, Hando? What is it short for? Or long for? I need to crack the dry pavement of the sizzling blue court with my racquet and bury him underneath it. I can imagine that ridiculous optical blouse smeared with caked blood and clinging pathetically to a rough edge of broken asphalt.
The problem is: I’m losing. Quite behind, actually. I’m losing a bunch right now, right now when I’m supposed to be winning. The Handos are handing it to me.
With even less control over the result than in tennis, losing can be a difficult state of affairs to play through. Just last night, my latest in a string of morale testing sucker and gut punches, another aficionado of the Jack-low card double power combination delivered a brutal return of serve, killing my dominating hand in a raised, straddled pot that I wisely tourniquetted at two barrels. Unfortunately, Bdonk, as he is affectionately known by me, was just warming up.
I had been approaching my limit on negative outcomes, so even being there for the latest heartbreaker was a result of my “Maximizing” (what exactly, I’m beginning to wonder) challenge to myself. To summarize much wisdom about the mental game, one has the ability to withstand a certain number of negative outcomes, depending on a variety of both controllable and predictable factors. That night, it wasn’t so much that I was running horribly- I was down and frustrated, true- but what I was getting upset about was the clock running out: nothing ever working out during one of the last sessions blessedly free of the pros and other talented regs who had been called away to the WSOP. Taking a loss tonight, when Bdonk, probably known to his family as Bill, when they occasionally see him, was playing, along with a number of other five dollar regs, would be a travesty and an opportunity lost.
That Bdonk was even sitting in at 5/10 was a stroke of luck, it would seem. Having earned his nickname for a sweet convergence of reasons, making it possibly one of my most satisfactory christenings, Bill is always a sight for sore eyes and declining fortunes. It’s hard to even guess how much he has lost in the five dollar blind games, but if he were informed, he might just give me one of his priceless expressions that never cease to crack me up. He’ll have taken his usual line of lead into the raiser with top pair no kicker, and end the hand by calling off a river raise, having been drawing near dead the whole time. As he is mashing the remnants of his stack, he will turn to me, shake his head, and give me a very peculiar tart smirk, rubbing his old man’s goatee plaintively as if to say, “She’s a hard, hard mistress, this cruel game we love, brother- be glad, be thankful that wasn’t you!” I’ll shake my head and grimace along with him, as much as my cracking poker face will allow. Actually, natural disbelief at his absurd reaction, with its bizarre seriousness and miscomprehension of what just happened, keeps me from cackling. Tough spot, brutha! What else could you do?
When Bill has put the nth beat on me, however- especially in the middle of a rough patch- I’m not always as patient, or at least I can’t sing the chorus along with him. So after the first debacle, and stuck a buy in after having the top of my range cracked, I am gifted this beautiful spot.
A known and tagged whale opens from early positon to his value sizing, and Bill calls right behind him (of course: he is as positionally aware as a eunuch), and the rest of the table folds to me in the BB. I have my favorite hand in the world, my dear friend and trusted No Limit companion, the Ace and the King. I put in a pot sized raise. This was possibly a mistake, as you have to break down the walls with these guys to isolate, really put the brick to their skulls to get a message through, so, the raise could have been larger. Subconsciously, however, I know why I am doing this: I want action, being down to a bit under 100 big blinds, and ready to play for all of it. Both snap call, naturally, and we see Q107, one heart. I don’t have room for my normal check raise, so I just straight rip it in. Whale unhappily folds an underpair, probably nines, and Bdonk snaps me off, holding for the win with 108. While I am packing up, whale admires, “Nice call.”
Yeah, well played again, Bill. The next day, rematch.
The game is three handed 5/10. (Curiously, Bdonk has told Angry Asian Foster Child that he will “never play 2/5 again, as I can win so much at 5/10.” Righto!) So, he’s going to be making this one go for a while; apparently he never left from last night. The third player is someone I’m not familiar with, but I can see after a few hands that Viet Nit will suffice as a summary epithet. He immediately leaps over to Bill’s left before I can sit, but this isn’t the advantage he thinks it is.
I run up a quick profit by shaking off Viet Nit with double barrels, then find a slinky good spot again, putting in the 3 bet with K9o. Bdonk flats, Viet Nit in the squeeze surrenders reluctantly, as he was clearly playing a drawing hand in position on the ATM, and a middle straight board comes out. I get it all in with a pair I know is miles ahead, with an overpot shove on the turn. Snap call from villain.
Bdonk hits a gutter. Game and set.
I’ve never dumped off so much money so fast, these past three weeks. I haven’t had a losing month since doing this for bread and butter, although things were rough, very touch and go at first, as I broke even and burned through savings on travels, restaurants, and various mood enhancers. Now, my problem isn’t only that I am losing, it’s that I also don’t feel remotely worried. Wherefore this confidence? Am I that certain I can make it?
I remember the roughest financial time in my life, when I briefly said good bye to shelter. I kept up appearances, never asked for help. I used trial gym memberships to get showers and stay clean. I ate sparingly, taking advantage of snacks and leftovers at work and samples at the grocery store, I knew I would survive. I spent my time looking for employment while relaxing at a favorite café. The only time I felt sorry for myself was when I slept on the very court I’d been playing on for years, with the comfortable denizens of a beautiful, productive city.
I pulled out of it, and no one was the wiser. Why, I even made sure to play tennis on that very court.
Now, I feel even better. I’m trying to worry, but I can’t.
It’s been this way since Vegas, since I realized this poker thing really is what I do, which I guess, unfortunately includes dumping thousands of dollars back into the poker economy every now and then. I’m not sure how to get away from this runbad and his miserable friend playbad, but apparently it’s going to happen.
For starters, I’m going to tighten up. Gargamel pointed out that I didn’t have to go broke with QQ vs AA and KK the other night, and he’s right. The old days of my big folds which baffled him and angered the vindictive Goddess Variance herself have been replaced by a more gambling style, fostered by an acquired taste for disrespecting my opponents.
It’s lazy, this arrogant style. These days, the fact is, the nits are mostly taking advantage of me. I don’t get action unless they are at the top of their range or in the face up safety of a multiway pot. I can have a forty percent PFR and they will just surrender until they have it. This exasperates me because I get bored; I want them to play better, because I’m bored, however contradictory this is to a cash game grinder’s goal. The unusual suckouts I that would previously detect, I am presently ignoring, because my handreading is so strong I can’t see how some hands are even possible. I pay off because it seems theoretically right and they have made my bankroll so large I stopped caring about results, even though my liferoll is paradoxically so small.
Last night’s loss as a flop 49-1 favorite was a perfect example of this; yet it could have been one of those smart folds which helped get me here in the first place. Small value river raise when the only possibility is approaching impossible is still a fold. A fish is a fish, they simply don’t grow legs and trouble you on land very often. Their imbalance is undying and forever, no matter how odd it would seem. If anything, they get tighter, trying to control their losses, in a race to the poker bottom and into their incipient OMC condition that dwells like a bad gene inside all of us.
Who am I really fighting against?
“The younger players are tough!” Ron cries out. Well, maybe. Ron’s not a small man. Ok, he’s huge, but he’s somehow out here, feeding me forehands from a basket. I can’t believe how determined he is, nevermind college players and internet kids. He’s stocky, tan, and tough; I would believe him if he told me he was a day laborer or line cook. It doesn’t really matter who or what Ron is, though: it’s bordering on ninety; my participation in this exercise is insane. The courts are desolate for a reason; the shade is shrinking and looking for cover. I had begged Ron to move inside, where the indoor facility is equally unused; staff alone occupy a city block of tennis courts. He had just stared at me, incredulous.
“You have to work harder just to keep up!” Ron yells. I can’t even tell who he is talking to. I don’t fight with younger players for the most part, we’re a bunch of has beens and have nevers! I fight with Handos, for the most part, and Bdonks. I fight it out with guys who are basically better at something other than what we are doing. I hit my hundredth forehand; I’ve haven’t done this stuff since I was a teenager. My arm is almost seizing. “Gotta get in shape!” Who is talking?
Ron’s emptied the basket; I was watching every last one like minutes on a classroom clock. I’m exhausted, looking for any reason to quit. Ron is sweating profusely, troubled by the heat, but not complaining. He is round and balding and uncharismatic, but no pushover. I let him sit while I pick up the balls, one by one. He performed this task for us the first time, when I was still in shock. I don’t have any excuses now, however, and I’m not going to show any more weakness. If he can do it, I can. We’ll get through this.
“Time for serves!” Ron jumps up. This out of shape dad, this joyous wreck of an organism, propped by aspirin and knee wraps and optimism, is happy and pushing us forward. “Gotta work it to win!”
Ok. My head is spinning, but I am going to get through this. I step up to the service line and face villain.