“I’m all in.” The Pedo’s tone was soft. The board read 8h7d2h4c. I had three bet the somewhat mindless UTG player with nines, and Pedo, ever hopeful, ready to gamble and more concerned with his rambling sports betting conversation, had carelessly overcalled, inquiring about the amount later, inducing Runhot Guy in the corner to call, along with the original raiser, who looked to have a big ace or tens. Runhot had folded to my continuation, but Pedo had snapped called, and UTG had looked like he wanted to move in before calling, so on the turn I checked, trapped in the middle and looking for just one more hint to know how far to take this hand. UTG dumped it quickly, and now I was offered 485 to win 1135. I swirled his words in my mind, arriving at a few notes of uncertainty buried in the oakier textures of a value hand. It was an inevitability in his mind that he had no choice, was what he was surreptitiously communicating. He didn’t have it; he didn’t have 56, he didn’t have a set, certainly or even top two- but was I good here?
It must have been 2011 when I made my first visit to this small cardroom that would become my recreation, and then most unexpectedly, my workplace. Nestled picturesquely in the modest mountain range which divides my state in economy, politics, and weather, is an nearly unfinished, underinvested reservation casino which features a small poker room. Back then, the room was at its height, with up to ten tables, with weekly 5/5 and higher NLHE, PLO, and its base game, the 2/5 spread limit, $300 cap game. It was with trepidation on a Friday night that I allowed myself to my driven by a poker friend and his new girlfriend, conveniently a slot machine aficionado. I had reason to be worried.
I was intimidated by the clean room and beautiful chips, so much like Vegas and unlike the shitty local cardrooms I usually visited. Everyone knew each other, never a comfortable feeling. The play itself seemed wild, and I was buried in the illusion of sitting in a massive game, having humped along in the 1/3 and 1/2 games for my brief casino education. The players talked about hands and strategy; I was silent as a ghost. I didn’t have a name for him, but there he was, Pedo, with his smiling gimlet face, fuzzy mammal pelt, mouse ears, limp raising someone broke. I’d already lost my first buy in when I played AK like a wimp. After an eon, I was gifted queens, which I raised over a bunch of early limps. This was my chance; maybe I won’t lose a fortune after all! Then, he did it again: Pedo raised me to one hundred and fifty. I knew, even then, in the infancy of my play, that it was all in or nothing; no fishy calling for me, home game crusher, capable of winning $100 in a single evening! I looked carefully, watched his face and movements, and I knew this time it wasn’t KK, it was worse. I shipped it in and he snapped. I showed my hand while the dealer prepared the five card run out; Pedo acknowledged I was ahead, and gently turned over the ace and the king. The flop ran out well, a safe turn, and then the tragedy, the Ace of clubs on the river. The dealer swept up my stacks and slid them in front of my vanquisher. I was broken, shamed, defeated. I hit the bar and waited for my ride home.
I had no idea I would be playing this and other local games for a living; if I had dreamed of such a thing, I would be online, or playing in some ridiculous tournament, or really, having moved to Las Vegas, where surely all the pros go to play (I had not thought this out, clearly). Destroyed as I was, my poker bankroll eviscerated, I would be back, and in time, this obscure casino cardroom, full of charlatans, drunks, egomaniacs, whales, and donkeys, would be my playground, known by me and my friend as The Village. The Smurfs, we came to call them, would pay us off, fold to our bluffs, and fulfill our dastardly poker dreams. No Pokerstars, no donkaments, no crazy beeline to Vegas necessary.
The dealer tapped the table and brought me back into focus; she was the impatient one, waiting as always, indifferent to my plight and everyone else’s- she clearly has never played poker- for me to act. If Pedo was somewhat strong, it had to be 84 suited, maybe 86 – pair and gutter; those were his sort of hands, and I was the man to pick them out. If checked to, he liked to take initiative and protect his pair, so I had to call, surely; yet instincts held me back. He had slowed down as of late; after all, losing tens of thousands of dollars will make even a wealthy man hesitate. He had two thousand in front of him; was he protecting it or using it? “I’m all in,” echoed in my head. I had to make a decision, as I was losing the thread of his thought. He thinks he has me but is not sure. He had knocked out the guy with tens; Pedo may have opened the door to a night-making call. It was late, no early now, and I wanted to avoid rush hour traffic; I’m not rebuying. 84, 86, A8 even… yes, I have to call- and do.
It’s 74 of spades. I don’t show much emotion at the table, but tonight I sigh heavily and announce Pedo’s hand, as if I’m a remorseful secondary dealer; I even move my chips helpfully toward him. I’m right but wrong; a habit and theme of poker life where I correctly eliminate the feared hands but in heroing, lose to the truly hidden junk. Yes, the 74, sometimes known as the Jester in these parts, for the joker two pair in a classic Village three bet pot. Once again, Pedo sends me home, no doubt having long ago forgotten how he broke my heart.
However, it’s 2015 now, and the Village has belonged to me for a long time. I will be back for revenge, and then some.