Gargamel, wolf in wolf’s clothing, is taking his time. Playing great poker doesn’t just take time, it eats time. Poker devours thought, patience, intelligence, guts, math, instinct, discipline. The table tonight, however, is not accustomed to this slow burn and it is breaking up the rhythm of their evening. It’s uncomfortable. Players fidget. This is a “Got Cards?” kind of group. If I were not his friend, I’d have been tempted to call the clock myself; it’s only preflop. Jeanie, the dealer, taps the table with her typical empty headed, passive aggressive reminder. She does this to me, too, because of course, I’m a hypocrite and take all the sweet time I might need. Jeanie doesn’t play poker and doesn’t understand any more than the rest of the table what is going on. Just the other day, I had to icily remind her that she can always assume I know the action is on me. I estimate that Gargamel is number three and I am four on the all-time list of floor countdowns at the Village.
However, it’s no Hollywood. Indecision, perhaps. Gargamel does his very best to evaluate ranges and count combinations. He tracks sizings and pot odds carefully. He prefers aggressive value lines and will value cut himself, especially on the turn, rather than slow down his hands into bluff catchers. So, if he is aggravating the table, the dealer and his opponent, he’s not stalling: he’s looking for a few good reasons to get more money in.
Gargamel counts out the chips. He has a unique way of doing this, very different from DZ’s catlike maneuvers. From a single stack, usually in the back, he pulls chips off the top, counting them in rations of $25, then creates a new stack with the measured amounts. As if he’s turning a sand clock over. Then he pushes the stack forward. No old fashioned divvying, with the final bit scattered to show the amount in each ration. Jeanie, and many other dealers, will sigh and count it out, as not everyone is great at eyeballing the amount in a flash (usually I can see the amount in any stack). It’s a curious ritual, and it says a lot about Gargamel.
For many players, bets have physical energy. They are tossed, scattered, thrown, brandished. Players talk about “shoving” and “ripping” or “piling” it in. Dipshits, old table game players, men who were spoiled by their mothers, people who smoke to look cool, and certain other problem narcissists like to toss them out like puffs of bread at pigeons, so that they bounce on the Shuffletech’s thin metal and into other players’ stacks and the dealer’s tray. Experienced pros prefer quiet shivs that somehow appear out of the air as by a magician’s sleight of hand. Newbies and fish like to make an exasperating but cute puppet theater of putting together uneven piles and pushing them out as if they were using a toy bulldozer (they often even lean their heads very close to the table while doing this, like children examining their toys). Gargamel’s bets have no such inherent physical value. They are just money that appears in the pot, closer to the way a bet is displayed online. This is no coincidence. He’s not a former online grinder, but the math and logic that marks the simplified but more abstractly rigorous online game is his forte. If you want stylish betting or physical tells from Gargamel, you will have to look elsewhere. His bets always have a monetary purpose, never a physical implication. Frankly, it’s a bit of an anticlimax after all the tanking, that messy stack he finally drops beyond the betting line, and helps aggravate his villainous reputation.
Gargamel also tends to size on the smaller end, like many of the RC forum posters, so that together with his stack technique, his bets appear undaunting and ambiguous. He does not polarize much, true, but his bets don’t even look polarizing. Gargamel may wear a black cape but his wagers are always in sweater vests. This combination of bet appearance and amount helps get him more action than he can actually handle. The spread of the pot can look wide and variegated, like the ingredients on a cutting board, but the shaky little pillar of chips Gargamel offers to the stone soup recipe seems like a not much more than a single upright carrot, even if it is a meaningful fraction of the chips at play.
However, the time he takes is the most significant reason for the unusually high rate of action he garners. This works in several ways. The players at the Village have never been able to pick up on what he is thinking about nor deduce his existing timing tells. The projection of self upon another utterly fails them. Most of us, like DZ or myself, have certain maneuvers planned out, even the tricky ones, so that they are in tempo, but Gargamel goes through a checklist of thoughts when playing a hand. Although Gargamel scoffs at balance, his timing provides a significant cloak of balance. It’s a good plan for live poker, and its effect on the Villager is that they think he is always plotting something. (Well, he is.) Gargamel induces paranoia, paranoia leads to calls, calls lead to Gargamel on cruise ships. (We all have our leaks!)
However, it’s been a tough summer for the two of us. So many coolers, so much runbad. Gargamel has had to push his next pleasure boat moment, in fact, until 2016. Each of us deal with a potential turn around in a different way, though. For Gargamel, nothing matters more than the monthly tally. While it’s true that in the long run, an arbitrary demarcation is meaningless, you would be wrong to poo-poo his approach. Humans thrive on goals and need targets, lest everything get lost in the dark pool of the One Long Session, aka the One Deathless Cliché. For Gargamel, getting buried at the beginning of the month isn’t a revaluation of the game, or time for introspection. It’s time to send me cheery messages like this one:
Fuck this place and fuck this game.
Then… it’s time to get it all back, plus some more, and celebrate another winning month. Manic, you say? Do you think someone nicknamed Gargamel cares what you think? With a week to go, stuck $4k, he’s going to make it happen.
Several cool spots help him out. I had just put in an important win and left his table for a glass of red, when the following occurred:
An overweight Eastern European guy in his 50s sits down. First hand he limps, there's a raise then a 3b and he limp calls. He calls everything post flop, loses and does not show. It's apparent to everyone that he doesn't have a clue so when he's at the desk getting his next buyin, he's dealt in the bb and everyone patiently waits for him to return to act. Anyway he bets off everything, gets called, mucks and goes back to the desk to get a 3rd buyin in 3 hands.
He's in the sb now. I open the button with Q7o, hoping to get involved with the new whale. Whale calls as does the big blind, the Indian guy who kept beating me when he was short stacked. He and I are 600 effective. Flop is Q94 so it's GO time. Whale leads 40 and other guy calls. I call. Turn is a 2. Whale leads 40 again. Next guy calls. I flat again. Pot is 300. River is another 2 for a board of Q9422. Whale leads 100, next guy calls. Pot is 500. I know I'm ahead of the whale, but Indian guy has a mother fucking queen. A bigger one than I do. We're not even going to chop. What would be big enough that also looks like value? I turn my Q7 into a bluff against the Indian while also raising for value against the whale. I make it 400. Whale calls. Indian mucks, I show and win everything. Indian looks on in disbelief and takes a walk for ten minutes. The rest of the table erupts in laughter.
Then, Gargamel got himself into trouble the next night, when he took a spot that was more my style. However, aggression is rewarded, regardless of by whom, as the Goddess loves bravery, not sitting in your mushroom house. Facing an overly active and positionally indifferent opener, he put in a Gargamelesque small 3 bet squeeze out of the blinds. The loose villain, prone to elastic responses, of course called (which is why I would have bombed it from the start). On a middle straightening board, Gargamel cbet, repping a very strong hand, I think, or perhaps it is simply an auto heads up; he does cbet in spots where I would hesitate. I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. The turn 4 was blank, which he checked. Gargamel may have the illusion of showdown value on 10874 if he is weakly paired or holding AK, but I don’t like it much versus this player, and I expect him to lose this pot. However, villain checks behind, and her hand is face up as a single pair or a floating ace. The river K is therefore an interesting card and I am excited to see what happens. While I would rep this card, it may not be Gargamel’s more protective plan, so when he bets small, it looks like he has gotten lucky. Villain snap calls, and Gargamel turns over K4s, for the kind of blocker squeeze I have made a living out of. I wonder about what villain had, as if it was AK it’s a bad beat, but villain calls often and light so two pair might not have been necessary to win. Nines make a lot of sense. Either way, I like a shove on the turn; the check with imaginary showdown value versus villain’s floats is optimistic.
While I was thinking about this and Gargamel was collecting a nice pot and smiling ridiculously, a pigeon bread bettor beside me was offering a very tilting commentary. He kept saying, “You got lucky, very lucky,” etc. Gargamel was completely indifferent to Pigeon’s observation, but I found this assertion unbearable. Of course he got lucky! The point of the hand was the squeeze against a repetitive light opener, which a player like this would never understand. Plays like this are good for the game, and when they work out, as this one did, despite the possible turn error, are getting Gargamel closer to his goal.
Meanwhile, Jeannie taps the table again. Gargamel ponders. The player to his left, the always emotional Achilles, tells him to do something. The problem Gargamel is having, is how to play his holding, A4dd, from this position, and in a straddled pot with what would be fairly deep stacks for a Village weekday game. Achilles, a table captain and brash player, is going to raise nearly every hand from the straddle, and he will call as well. Opening Ax makes very little sense, as it will give Achilles position. Calling with the intention of calling again is just bad poker. They are on the edge of deep, but Axs misses flops and has very little playability, even when in a better position. So Gargamel has to have a plan.
At last, he calls the straddled amount from the small blind.
The big blind completes, then Achilles puts in the raise to fifty, as predictable as the sunrise. It’s a small isolation but better than forty, which many players would mistakenly bet. Unsurprisingly, the stations in the field do their thing, and when it’s back to Gargamel, he is looking at three players and the limped blinds, for $170 in the pot. Gargamel removes chips from the back of stack, breaks them up into small increments to count, then raises Achilles and the overcallers to $250, forcing out the big blind (again with the slightly smallish raise). It should force out Achilles in the straddle, unless he has the top of his range, because with $800 or so back, his only real move to shove. Calling leaves an SPR of one, so it’s the worse play possible without a premium.
So why does a competent, winning player call Gargamel here? As I said, he likes to be the boss. Achilles does not like to be outplayed, and essentially, he has been. The limp raise should be checkmate for this hand. Some actions are game changers, game enders; continuing is pure stubbornness. However, if you are the boss, you don’t like to back down. All night, Achilles has been moving to Gargamel’s left, determined to get the best of him. He is muscled and young, ready to fight. He’s ready to do something questionable, and he’s ready to do it now.
Achilles flats the $250. It’s clear his hand is middling. Playable cards in another situation, but not even a top ten percenter. If he thinks Gargamel’s limp raise is light, the right play would have been to raise all in and rep the top of his range. However, confused by his negative feelings toward Gargamel, exasperated by the ubervillain’s apparent Hollywooding, and sensing a squeeze, he has decided to take a flop in position.
The board bails both of them out, each has to feel. Gargamel flops the nut flush draw, Achilles top pair. The disadvantage to limp raising, even a balanced range, is that it creates unplayable SPRs for everyone involved. It is the nuclear option of poker and so there is usually no retreat from any equity at all. Now everyone has to go broke and live with the radiation.
Gargamel ships his stack and Achilles calls. The turn duplicates top pair but the river brings the flush card. The hand is over, but the conflict is about to escalate.
Achilles has been dominating the table all night. He usually runs up big stacks with pressure and earns his calls. He’s sunny and despite his wish to be in charge, is fun at the table even while taking money from the Smurfs. Now, all his work is ruined. He’s punted off a big pot to a hated rival, and the night is late. It’s a disaster.
Achilles can’t control his rage. Gargamel has fast rolled the winner, but Achilles slams down second place trips in anger. He starts elbowing Gargamel, crossing a distinct social barrier in the very polite world of casino poker, a place where you can leave several thousand dollars and your laptop unattended in complete confidence. This physical aggression is rare and completely out of bounds.
The two bicker while the tussle grows. While they swear at each other, Gargamel gathers his mountain of chips, finds some whites, and tosses a few to Jeanie. The three dollars does not sit well with angry Achilles, who is looking for reasons to fight. He offers some choice words to Gargamel about being cheap.
Gargamel tells him, “I’ll let you tip her the rest!”
Taking $800 from someone then instructing them to get the server’s bill is the last thing this confrontation needs. The two new rivals erupt into further cussing and stand up, ready to go outside, but the floor arrives at the climactic moment.
“Nobody say anything!” As a reasonable floor should, he needs to freeze the situation and ascertain what is going on.
Unfortunately, telling Gargamel what to do is pointless. And he certainly isn’t the type to overlook his own case. Despite the floor’s command- more likely because of it- he immediately resumes berating Achilles. This time, however late, authority is present and rules.
“You’re out of here!” Gargamel has been thrown out of his beloved Village. He packs his chips, giving a summary of how badly Achilles played his hand, in case his feeling on this fine point had somehow been missed. Gargamel finishes by impudently telling the floor how badly he had managed the situation- and there is some truth to it, as no one should ever be physically pushed by another player.
I spoke later to Achilles about the incident, and whoever you believe was truly at fault, Gargamel had played well and got the money in a spot that should have ended preflop. The turnaround was well on its way to completion. Soon, for all the drama, it would be just another month, another win.
That’s important. Celebrating poker is a big part of a healthy mental game. Back in the days of the bankroll challenges, “The Coven,” our triad of poker aspirants, took turns treating its members to lavish meals after strong showings. In a region where farming fertility, alcoholic expertise and the New American cuisine are strong and extends its influence nationwide, this has meant some very good times. Even though the exciting challenges are long since over, the tradition of indulging at the end of the month has continued easily and naturally.
Tonight it’s Gargamel who is table captain, of course. Lover of medium-rare Smurf flesh, it’s no mistake that we are at a top rated steak house, amazingly situated two dozen stories high, sitting outside under the heat lamps, and looking over placid water and the glow of lights beyond. The city, the land, and life is tranquil and beautiful on a sublime Sunday twilight.
We have a fourth with us, an aspirant with some sort of absurd staking arrangement to discuss (they are all absurd), but Gargamel quells the talk and holds court, telling us the complete tale of the rise from the dead. Smurfs scattered and trounced. Money in the bank. Fourteen months of winning in a row. The tales of hands and battles on the felt get reactions of laughter and curiosity. We’re talking shop and there’s no reason to hold back from our poker nerdity, specialists as we are, enjoying the best of the low stakes poker life. (At times, Gargamel’s ego does seem to need not only an extra chair, but a place setting at the table, however.)
When we order the main course, three of us settle on Filet Mignon, but Gargamel will not join in. Imperious, he implicitly rebukes our selection: “Ribeye is clearly the best choice.”
Always the last word, f’ing Gargamel- but tonight, he’s earned it.