[ It's been quite a while since I posted a River Street retrospective, so I decided to write one last night before bed, since I got home from work too late to play any poker. ]
That's him, I'm telling you, I said to Nick. We were standing,
waiting for a seat, at one of the tiny two-table poker clubs in Boston
a few weeks ago.
That's not him. It can't be him; he's not acting
anything like him, Nick insisted. I retorted:
But, his wedding
ring; it looks just like the one he had, and I remember it from when
he got married while we were still playing at River Street. Remember,
that girlfriend of his that he married? Remember how he left her at
home with the fire alarm running while we were playing poker. She
couldn't even reach the thing with the step ladder to turn it off, and was
calling every ten minutes for an hour to beg for him to come home to
take care of it. Then, he'd hang up and say ‘just one more
hand, then I'm leaving’?
Nick was still sure it wasn't the same guy. I offered to settle it the way
all poker players do:
Ok, I'll make a $50 even money prop bet
with you that it's him. No? $10, then. C'mon, I know it's him.
Nick's doubt eventually had me doubting myself. Could I have
misremembered him that completely? After all, this guy seemed
pretty calm, and hadn't been stacked the whole time we'd been
watching the game.
I tried to think of what he looked like in those days, but the memory
that came back was how I got his name wrong at first. A number of
people at the River Street game knew him from outside the game;
apparently he'd come from the same undergraduate program as some of
the other MIT regulars. They had always called him by his last name,
which my poor hearing had picked up as “Troy”. I
remembered vividly referring to him that way one night in his absence,
Where's Troy tonight?. No one seemed to know who I
was talking about.
Someone finally realized what I was saying, and argued:
You think a
Chinese guy is named Troy?.
Well, I answered,
why couldn't he be? By his accent, this “Troy”
sounded like he was born and raised somewhere on the east coast.
He's as much Chinese culturally as I am Polish — at least a
generation or so removed.
This was an academic consideration, of course. As it turned out, all along, they'd been calling Michael (which was his first name, I'd suddenly learned) by his last name — a common Chinese surname that rhymed with Troy. (As a footnote, another River Street regular eventually showed up a few months later carrying from Canada the actual name, Troy. But he's a profile for another time.) I decided that from that point on, I was avoiding the confusion and just calling this guy, “Michael”.
Michael was probably the most excitable player ever to visit River Street. There was no question, frankly, that poker was gambling to him. He played lots of pots; he moved in with nearly every draw. I distinctly remember the first time in NL HE that I ever got bottom set (222) all-in against the nut flush draw. It was heads-up against Michael in Greg's kitchen, sitting in one of the comfy kitchen chairs I'd arrived early to reserve. A good tenth of my bankroll at the time was in that pot. I learned the meaning of “action player”, “gamble”, “redraw” and “EV” in the seconds it took Greg to deal the turn (a flush-making heart) and the river (a board-pairing 8).
But the nut flush draw was just a mild gamble for Michael. He'd play bottom pair to the river in limit HE without thinking twice. In the right mood, he'd push in with just about any ace-high if he had less than half the buy-in. Sometimes, he'd even just have king-high; that is, if it was his favorite hand — his beloved “Ko-jack”. For a number of weeks in that winter and spring of 2004, he was the action of River Street.
Then, he'd go broke. Greg would let him deal, and we'd tip him well. After all, as soon as he'd put together $50 or so, he'd buy in short with his tips, and then go broke. He'd go to the ATM, come back, and go broke. He'd win on Tuesday, take a stake of $20 bills home, bring them back on Thursday and go broke.
That spring, Michael joined a big group of River Street players who went off to Foxwoods for a long weekend. The stories that returned that Tuesday were nearly unbelievable. Michael, so that Tuesday crew was told, had discovered craps. He'd went on an amazing run. He'd been tossing dealers green chips as tokes. He was betting blacks on the pass line on ever new shooter.
Not to disappoint, Michael showed up that Thursday with a pair of red
dice. In between poker hands, he'd point at someone across the table
You be the house; I'm the new shooter. I don't recall
that anyone actually took him up on his offer to bankroll his
intra-poker-hand floating craps game, but his excitement for the
gamble carried over into every aspect of both games. Invariably, as
he'd receive his cards, he'd move those dice from the table to his
face, wedging them between his glasses and his eyes. His eyes now
closed and covered, he'd squint to hold the dice in place. His head
now high, he'd look back across the table, and in a robotic voice,
What number am I? … What number am I?
In these days, I had just started learning NL HE cash play and I would often forgo the $1/$2, no max buy-in NL game in the kitchen (particularly when the field seemed tough) and continue with the $3/$6 limit game in the living room after the NL HE game “broke out” from the kitchen's $5/$10 game. It was on one of these occasions that the most unforgettable Michael incident occurred.
It was an average River Street night. We were used to shouts from the kitchen during major all-ins or other surprises in large pots. The NL HE game had been going for a while when we heard an unusually loud screech — enough to freeze up the action in the limit game. Michael came storming down the hallway, caught somewhere between shouting and muttering.
As he approached the front door, which was directly adjacent to the
living room, he started to stumble. He had stepped into the mass of
removed shoes — a kindness to Greg's neighbors to avoid the
noise of 20 people stomping around that top floor River Street
apartment. Michael looked down at the piles of shoes, and the
muttering continued. He was close enough that I could hear it now:
King-Jack. It had to be King-Jack. It had to be my hand.
Tears were beginning to swell in Michael's eyes. His gaze narrowed on
a lone shoe, separated from the others; he picked it up —
examining it, ostensibly to see if it was his. Establishing that it
wasn't, he simply hurled it at the front door.
King-Jack. Another shoe picked up and thrown. Another, and
another. Shouting now:
King-Jack; Why did he have my
hand!?! Sidney, Greg's loyal canine, ran from the kitchen, barking
quietly. The $3/$6 players ceased all movement, the current pot
conceded to the confusion.
The situation was escalating quickly, and sitting in the three seat, I
was the closest to Michael's current position. I approached, a bit
fearful, and asked the rather pointless and already-answered question:
What happened?, followed by a quick and almost as pointless
Are you alright?, and finally with something marginally useful:
Would you like me to help you find your shoes?
By then, the noise had roused Greg. Within seconds, mayhem had ensued. The $3/$6 players were moving about; the $1/$2 NL players were crowding in from the back. Greg quickly shuffled through the now disorganized mess of shoes to find Michael's, as the man himself had collapsed against the wall, his tantrum spent. Greg handed him his shoes, and Michael was out the door before they were on his feet. Michael lingered briefly in the hallway, banging slightly on the door; Greg opened the door briefly, shouting that he should go home. Michael eventually complied.
The details of the hand were never clear but hardly mattered: a sharp player named Josh had called Michael's bet on the flop with on a lark with a running straight draw while holding KJ. It got there and Josh stacked Michael on the river.
As I retell the story, I'm not all that surprised that Nick didn't recognize Michael. The man we saw last month was clearly a different poker player. Sure, when we saw him, he seemed like he was playing a little too loose, and I don't know how many times he rebought. But, he did cash out something, which is certainly better than the old days.
I was cleaning out my email drafts folder recently, as I switched MUAs
from mutt to Gnus. I saw a message from mid-2004 drafted to Greg,
I am really worried about Michael. After what happened
last night and from his behavior after the Foxwoods trip, I think that
he might have a gambling problem. I was wondering if. It ended
there. I never finished the message.
I hope that Michael has turned over a new leaf. He's not the last person — not even at River Street — whom I've watched descend into something truly ugly because of poker. Had I been a better poker player at the time, I probably would have won hundreds, rather than mere dozens, of dollars from Michael. Somehow, though, I am glad that I was still a pretty bad player back then. I wish you the best, Michael, and I hope you fold KJ preflop most of the time these days.