Monday, April 30, 2012
An Audience with the God of Poker;
an Allegory for What Happened to Me Last Night
an Allegory for What Happened to Me Last Night
Like Gregor Samsa in that long-ago tale*, I recently awoke from uneasy dreams. Unlike Samsa, instead of finding that I'd been transformed to a giant beetle, I awoke to find myself in an anteroom with which I was completely unfamiliar. The walls were covered by rich dark wood paneling, and were stuck here and there with wall sconces out of which a gentle yet strong light emanated. At the front of the room sat a stately mahogany desk and behind it sat a slender, blond gentleman, with an officious demeanor, who was speaking on the phone with someone. It did not seem to be going well.
"No...sir...sir...you can raise your voice all you like but that doesn't mean you're going to be connected. That's just not how it works...no...sir...SIR! I do not have to take abuse from anyone, let alone some random caller looking for an audience...I am hanging up the phone now. Please don't call back."
He exhaled deeply in exasperation, shook his head as if to shake off the bad vibes of the phone call, and turned his head toward me. "Yes, sir. How can I help you?"
For a panic-stricken second I had no idea what to say. Then, as if it was planned all along, I knew why I was there and who I was there to see.
"I'd like to speak to the God of Poker. I have an appointment."
"Your name, please?" he asked, his tone indicating doubt.
"It's probably under Crafty Southpaw."
"Hmmm, let's see, Southpaw, Southpaw...ah. Oh, I see." A microsecond pause. "My apologies, sir. You can go right in."
I walked through the anteroom, heels clicking smartly on the marble floor. A pair of gigantic double doors opened without a sound, and without any visible mechanism, to let me through into the office of the God of Poker.
It was less than imposing.
As I walked through the door, I noticed a threadbare poker table, with a dealer chained to his seat. I noticed his toke box was welded closed. The God of Poker was not playing; he was at his desk, with his back to me, staring at a window.
"Which of these raindrops will hit the windowsill first?" He asked, to no one in particular. I'll bet you twenty million bucks it's this one."
"Me?" I said, a little bit confused.
"Yeah, you," he said. "Who are you?"
"It doesn't matter. Listen, I need something from you."
"You and everybody else," he said, and I thought for a moment I detected a little sadness in his voice. "What do you need?"
"I'm tired of treading water at poker," I started. "It's not like I'm throwing my fortune away, but I'm not making huge coin, either. I need to get some words of wisdom from you."
"You need me to tell you something magical to make you better at poker? Is that it?"
"Well- yeah, that's about it," I stammered.
"Sixty-three bucks," he said, with the slightest edge to his voice.
"Sixty-three bucks. Hand it over."
I reached into my pocket and sure enough, I had $63, to the penny. I handed it over and he folded the bills, thumbed through the wad to count it, and stuck it in his shirt pocket. He took a deep breath and looked me right in the eye.
"You ready?" he asked. "You want to take notes or something?"
"Do I need to?"
"Probably not. Well, here it is: Don't ever limp into a pot pre-flop. If it's worth one blind, it's worth three. And if it's not worth three it isn't really worth one. Raise the blind, call a raise in front of you, or fold. Got it? Don't limp into a pot pre-flop."
I waited a long second to make sure he wasn't just pausing for dramatic emphasis.
"That's it?" I asked, trying not to sound incredulous. "Don't limp into an unraised pot?"
"Yup. You're welcome, by the way."
"No, yeah, thank you," I found myself saying, almost mechanically. I made a mental note how ingrained it is to automatically thank someone who made it known he was expecting it, like when you're four years old and an adult hands you something and asks you what the magic word was. "But, um, I actually already knew that. Known it for a while actually."
"But do you do it? I mean, all the time?"
"Well, no, not all the time. There's a time and a place for a pre-flop limp, especially if the table is right for it."
"Then you don't do it," said the God of Poker. "What I said was, don't EVER limp into an unraised pot. Sometimes you do. And sure there are a lot of definitions of 'sometimes,' but it's more or less agreed that 'sometimes' DOES NOT mean the same thing that 'never' does."
I bristled a bit at his patronizing tone, but I must admit that it felt a tiny bit gratifying to see him becoming more engaged in the conversation. Indeed I could see an occasional flash of emotion around the edges.
"Do you understand me?" he asked, and met my gaze.
"Yes," I replied.
"Do you?" he asked, still looking hard at me.
"Never means never," I told him, and his expression softened at once.
"Good," he said. "Anything else?"
"No thanks, but I really appreciate this, Poker God."
"Call me Mitch. And OK, but you know I could have made you into a poker genius if you'd asked me."
"Oh. Could I..."
"Too late," said Mitch. "Thanks for coming."
Damn. Well, at least I learned something valuable, even though it cost me two greens, two redbirds, and three whites.
*Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis.