Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in Card Player. This entry in the "Aunt Sophie" series covers poker.
Aunt Sophie feels pain
“So how,” demanded a familiar voice, “can I keep the idiots from drawing out on me hand after hand?”
“Aunt Sophie,” I said, without turning my gaze from the Nereid arcing above the diving board on her way into the pool, “sit down.” I sighed as the vision of loveliness slid into the water, leaving barely a ripple behind, so smoothly had she entered. “Tell me all about it.”
Aunt Sophie set down a tray on the glass umbrella-shaded table between us. “A little afternoon nosh I brought in case sitting in the sun has weakened you.” She slid an iced Jackson’s of Piccadilly Earl Grey tea across the table, accompanied by a plate of petits fours.
Sophie’s second-cousin Minnie’s niece Sara surfaced, and pulled herself from the pool to try another dive. I marveled at how the skimpy bikini top stayed in place. “Nice dive, Sara,” I yelled.
“Thanks,” she responded. “Aren’t you coming in? Water’s great.”
“After a bit,” I replied. “I have to tell Aunt Sophie about the facts of life as relate to cards.”
Aunt Sophie winked at me. “Pretty nice, huh, bubeleh?” she asked, rhetorically. “So, back to my question. How can I keep the idiots from making those miracle draws time after time, when I have way the best of it?”
“Tsk, tsk,” I clucked. “You’re beginning to sound like one of those professional kvetches instead of a poker player.”
“Yah,” she protested, “but hand after hand they make, and keep beating me, and I can’t make even one hand when it counts.”
“Ah,” I smiled, “you’re learning about pain, aren’t you?”
“Pain?” she echoed. “Whaddya mean ‘pain’?”
“It’s the poker pain principle,” I answered. “Not all of the pain in poker consists of losing your last money, or of deliberately self-destructing. Some of it is losing hand after hand when you have much the best of it. Some of it is drawing to hand after hand that you should win and not making it. In a lowball game that would be time after time not being able to beat pat tens and jacks. And the other side of that coin is playing pat sevens and sixes and having them just reach in that deck and beat your hands each time. That’s the pain. You can’t be a good poker player till you’ve experienced it.” I took a sip of the delicious tea, and nibbled on a pink and chocolate confection.
“Oh,” she breathed, “that kind of pain. Well, with you I must agree, it certainly is painful. Why, just today I was playing in the ten and twenty lowball. The player on my right, this drunk fireman who always loses everything he brings in with him and can’t seem to beat anyone but me opens when there are only two cards dealt. When I see all my cards, I got a seven-four to draw to. Normally I’d raise, but I don’t want to scare nobody out, so I just call.
“The player behind me raises. I don’t know if it was deliberate, but he starts shuffling through his cards, you know, like this, front to back all the way through several times, and I see a seven and a paint in his hand, so I know I’m drawing at least as good as him. Now the fireman pulls two queens and a king out of his hand, throws them face up, and reraises. Naturally I put in another raise. The raiser behind me calls and the fireman calls.
“He takes his three cards, and bets before he even gets them. I catch the joker, and of course I raise again. The guy behind me looks at the one card he’s drawn like it’s a spider, says the ‘S’ word, and folds. The fireman looks at two of his cards, and raises back his last twenty dollars. I call, and spread my hand. ‘I caught the joker,’ I say. ‘Get it fixed,’ he snarls, and shows me a straight six. I mean, how can you beat that kind of luck?”
“You can’t,” I soothed. “You just grin and bear it, buy more chips, and know that he’ll go broke soon just like he always does.”
“Sure,” she snapped, “of course he will. And he does, but meantime I can’t make even one hand. Every time I got a good one-card draw, I raise. Every time I got a pat eight or better, I raise. And notice, I don’t play no nines. Not the way I’m running. No matter, either I catch slightly worse, or the pat hands don’t stand up. Five people in one pot, four bets before the draw, I’m drawing to a joker bicycle, catch an eight, and the fireman draws two and makes a seven. Oy, what can you do about that?”
“I told you,” I told her. “Just take it. Smile, and say, ‘take the pot.’ What else can you do? Just because you play well is no guarantee that the cards know it. If things keep running bad, get up and quit.”
“But, but,” she sputtered, “that was the best game I’ve ever been in. Seven dummies and me. I’m no real expert, but I was sure the best player in that game, what with all you’ve taught me.”
“Did you win?” I gently inquired.
“Of course not,” she grated; “I just finished telling you.”
“How much did you lose, in that case?” I probed.
“A thousand,” she returned, “and then I ran out of money.”
“Mm hm,” I assented, “and had you quit that wonderful game when you knew for sure you were in a very bad streak, how would you have done?”
“Well,” she supplied, “I knew after about five hands things were not going right. At that point I was stuck four hundred.”
“Right,” I bore on. “You had reached the point of maximum pain. You knew you were going to lose more. You became numb, and just let it happen. By quitting right then you could have saved six hundred dollars. I submit that if things are going that poorly that you’re not in a good game, no matter how wonderful it appears. Maybe you’re tired. Maybe you’re sending out bad vibes. Maybe you stepped on a spider on the way into the club. Maybe your moon is trined with Uranus. Who knows? Sometimes you just can’t win. That’s the point to quit. Don’t get numbed by that plateau of pain. You can only take so much. Beyond that you feel nothing further. You’re lucky you had only a thousand in your purse. You could have easily lost a lot more. And now, if you’ll excuse me. Thanks for the refreshments.”
I walked over to the diving board and executed a perfect belly flop. Something grabbed my ankles and pulled me to the bottom. I caught a glimpse of what was most certainly not the Creature from the Black Lagoon.