I finally lost my mind last night.
It started (well, it started in June, but that’s another story) when another poor fool shipped his gutter over my flopped straight after I potted the turn leaving no room for me to fold. He binked the mysterious three outer, the one I blocked, to the nuts, announcing, “uh, I guess I got lucky.”
I watched my opponent reap the rewards of blind fortuity. This Distributor, this doofus, blabbering about golf, wearing the inevitable Beats, that scandalously overpriced sonic jewelry (red “b” for bill of goods), a ballcap and sunglasses both upside down and backwards on his head (a rectangular piece of hardwood clearly best employed as an apparel rack), had just put me in the latest hole. And then, as if cued by his vaudeville ancestors, he quivered, looked up and around, grabbed a beaten, clear plastic rack and put all the chips into it. I watched him leave the table. He went to the cage, rat holed the profit into his crumpled cargo shorts, and sat in at a smaller game. Later he would pass by me, broken by the novices, and I would get a close up of his gerbil face, his eyes wide and dim, peering simultaneously directly and indirectly at me, his cheeks puffed.
Society is both cooperative and competitive. We build our nation and our families but internally we squabble, even to death, in the effort to create. This is all for the best. The winners take and are rewarded. Inequality is the simultaneously price of excellence and the incitement to it. Over the long run, this happens in poker, too, a game which mirrors our greater system and is a metaphor for it. However, I am running out of time to find a place in the firmament of life winners. I’m being left at the side, no, the middle of the road. If this stuff keeps up, I will not even be a living rodent, and I will stare upwards directly and indirectly, perceiving the vicious smile of Variance in my oppressor the sun while the last synapses of my brain and bankroll misfire.
I shuddered and became extremely morose. The game went on, but my poker spirit had left my body. While only half knowing it, I had truly, finally reached a breaking point after the longest stretch of negative variance I have known in many years of poker. I sat dumbfounded, while the cards carouselled and pots were pushed.
For the first time in my life, I experienced true tilt.
While I boiled frothlessly, unable to steam off the turmoil, something else was happening: the diabolical joke Variance herself has been playing on me was nearing its punchline. Yes, a seemingly paranoid, strange secret trend that is hard to talk about coherently reached its zenith at this game. An outlandish amount of the time for the past few month when I correctly folded preflop in a marginal to bad spot, I would have flopped the effective nuts had I continued. At 5/10 the other night, this happened repeatedly. I had tried to look away after a while, but I needed to follow the action. Then I tried to ignore its reality, like a scientist who thought he has just seen a ghost. He goes back to his sandwich and says to himself, odd. I just saw that but I will eat my sandwich. I got through it and it remained a regrettable curiosity.
However, on this night of tilt, I was transfixed. I started to count the times I would have flopped the effective nuts and lost track at fifteen.
I was frightened by this apparition of improbability. It is hard to flop nut hands. You flop trips or better less than 1.4% of the time or so. Yet like a hunt for a demon mole, he was only there when I was not, and only not when I was there. Each time I looked at the board after folding my heart raced, expecting to see another unlikely outcome. Finally, I had run out of sandwiches to focus on, and reality ceased to be real. I needed to either come down or get higher.
I was seeing ghosts, but unlike the scientist, the ghosts were really there.
Having quit smoking, I had no cigarettes, and hit up some old ladies at a nearby slot. “You don’t mind if it’s menthol?” one said. Well, of course I minded, but I of course said, “Beggars can’t be choosers,” and walked on.
Why oh why is it always menthol in the casino? What is this shit? If the world ran out of menthol, if society was shutting down, lines at the menthol store were long and violent, if the President declared a State of Emergency on Menthol, if there was a Zombie Apocalypse and your prison fortress had nearly run out of precious, life giving menthol, all you would have to do is hit your local casino and you would never run dry and society would flourish again.
Cigarettes helped get me through one of the most difficult periods of my life. Tobacco smoke from decent leaves is an oaky, deep, scorching that burns the lungs and esophagus, which is its main benefit. When even breathing is painful, when nothing is right and the organism is immersed in suffering, smoke chokes out life and thus pain. One of Martin Amis’ unhappy characters wanted to smoke multiple cigarettes at once and then eat the rest of the pack; I understand this. It is time away. It is the pause function on video player with no control panel. It is not a good idea, and is righteously frowned upon by the well-adjusted, linear life people, but it is, somewhat ironically, the equivalent of emotional chemotherapy. It works, if at a grand cost.
Menthol, however, is a highly suspicious additive. It is a Jaeger shot dropped into your Merlot. It is jet fuel for your Accord. It creates a high, disturbingly smooth, ice cold note that at once evaporates into the head like gasoline and cuts through the palate up into the brain like a razor. Smoking menthols is like slamming cologne shots because you are thirsty.
And that’s why I didn’t complain, because I was ready. Give me that fucking menthol, liquor bomb, jet fuel, razor blade to the soft palate stuff. Top shelf carcinogens, no well shit, buddy. Menthol, I realized while poisoning myself satisfactorily, reaches out to a very hard segment of consumers who do not want to fuck around, whether they know it or not. Those old ladies are not, I realized, to be trifled with.
I was there and not there. I couldn’t take it anymore, but that I also was not going home. I could not deal with the losing. I could not deal with the ghost hands the Goddess was teasing me with. I decided if I was going to be the rat who is run down I was going to meet the car head on and try to tear off the bumper with my incisors.
I have always said the answer to runbad is to play even better. I decided that today I was missing some GTO and a few exploitative spots, and that if I was destined to lose my entire bankroll I would do it manfully. I knew the universe and worse, She, were both out to get me. I knew that I started losing as soon as I made a difficult but seemingly necessary life decision, and these months of crap was payback. I’m not going to be rational anymore. I know I deserve this pain and I am going to throw myself at the game. I want the firing squad as long as I can keep this vicious cigarette perched on my lips. Send me to the pearly gates, mentholitis. I had become hyperrational and irrational at once, an inflamed version of myself.
I also decided I was not going to tip the dealers ever again. (Warned you about the rational part.) It’s kind of funny because tipping for good results is just as ridiculous, but demented people do not care about your nuances or your ironies.
I came back inside. I was now feeling large and comfortable in my death wish. I was the murderer sleeping well in the cage while the innocent accused sweats bullets all night. Let’s have a meal! However, the decent food I wanted at the restaurant that said “Open” was closed. Excuse me, is there a manager I can strangle?
Doesn’t matter if there is nothing to eat. I thought about Gargamel and his refusal to quit until he was ahead.
Okay, I’m here all night, ladies and gentlemen. All week, maybe.
It worked for a while. I put in a nasty blocker x/r to get a tight bingo player off the winner. I ran over the table for a time, never reaching showdown. I got most of the money back. I lost some when I took a perfect bluff spot where only one hand could call (it called). Whatever. Either way, no fucking tips for you, dealer. And no more jokes or pleasantries. One of them noticed it and would not respond when I talked to him. Tough life, pal. Who earned this money? Not you.
Then, inevitably, I won a pot at showdown. I had a nut draw that got reraised all in on and I had to call. He had a worse draw. And like a house of cards, my insanity collapsed. After I was pushed those round disks they like to take away from me, I gave one to the dealer.
What was all that about?
I’ve never been good at anger. I just can’t stay angry, as frustrated as I can get. I wish I could. Anger is motivating, but it’s not sustaining. Hitchens has said it can get you out of bed in the morning, but it won’t do much more. That it’s a certain kind of evaporating energy and that’s it. I agree.
I played well the rest of the session, and put in a small win. Not even my hourly, but I didn’t dump at a soft game and the night was saved.
I feel sane today, thank you. Keep those green rimmed suicide sticks nearby, though.