Whoopee! I won again at poker last night. It was against Mr F, one of his workmates and an old friend. I started off playing woozy and rubbish on a painkiller, and really at the beginning of the game, hoped I'd be out early so's I could curl up on the sofa with the banana tea loaf I'd made earlier. Our old mate went out first (he's more into the gee-gees really), leaving three of us to scrap it out. Taunts of "Wake up short stack" got me riled and I rallied, shooing off Mr F's colleague and surprisingly (for I am still a little bit in awe of Mr F's poker skills) I good a good run of cards, and with some skill against Mr F's agressive play, that was that.
Now, I am not a really experienced player yet. Mr F got into poker about three years ago, on his weekly get together with his mates. They changed gradually from playing Dungeons and Dragons to poker. I didn't often play D & D with them, but used to help Mr F write the odd dungeon, and still hope (as do the ones who don't win as often as they'd like to at poker) that those days aren't gone completely. But the poker bug bit the majority of the group, and it's been poker ever since.
Mr F has been encouraging me to play since the spring of this year. I wanted to know what it was all about when he came home after winning and breathlessly told me how he'd pulled some fast moves to win a pot - and it all went over my head. It's his new passion and it's good that its another thing we can do together.
At the time, poker was starting to become more popular, shedding the seedy image it used to have. Here in the UK we have a full-blown poker craze going on. This is good, because you can now easily buy paraphenalia like poker chips, rather than have to use monopoly money, pennies, or matchsticks, which are not very desirable objects to accumulate. We don't often play for money - it's the social element and skill building that's the main enjoyment. The more you learn, the more layers of skill necessary to become a sophisticated player become apparent - you need to know what cards make a good hand, but also know how to bluff and take risks, know when to play conservatively, use strategy to get where you want to be and develop an individual game playing style. Some people play 'tight' and wait for good hands, some people play 'loose' and bluff or play small hands - and everything in between. You have to attune your game to your opponents, and watch them in case they give away 'tells' - behavioural signs that may point to what hand they have. For example, picking up your cards and grinning like a loon will not make you any money because your opponents may figure you have a good hand and not risk any money in the pot.
Now I join in the home games, although I don't often travel out for a game unless it's a weekend or cash game. The flipside for me is the sitting still for hours. My joints get too stiff. Now we have moved house, we have a better room to play in, and people will now mostly come to us, to my lair, where I can further hone my skills.
This is a good thing for my game, because sometimes people don't take beginners too seriously. They don't believe they have the skill to beat them and stick in their money, only to realise you did have a better hand. Oops. The boost from times like these, winning chips and knowing people have been caught off guard always gives me a little spark of pleasure. It's how I got my poker nickname, shedgirl.
I must have been playing for all of a couple of months when Mr F decided to organise a cash game. Now, we are not big spenders or gamblers in the sense we end up betting our cars, dogs, jewellery and the like. A cash game means everybody pays a tenner for the same amount of chips, and the winner takes the pot. During the first hour of the game, if you lose all your chips, you can buy back in for the same price you started with, £10. So if 5 people are playing and there's one buy-in during the game, £60 is up for grabs. Our logic is this for the occasional Saturday night cash game - where else could you have a night out for £10?
I didn't expect to win this cash game, being so green. It was the first time I'd ever played more than one person, because up until then Mr F had just coached me 'heads-up', that is to say, play between only two people. Everyone around the table knew it and had been playing longer, so I suppose my presence that night was hardly an imposing one. Plus I am female - which, surprise, surprise, in the historically male-dominated world of poker, can be seen as an, ahem, impairment.
Some poker books I've read say women don't make good poker players because they aren't aggressive enough. It's as if society has backpeddled 20 years and the talents of the female of the species are regarded as looking pretty and sniffing flowers - nasty bullying, especially not amongst boys, is abhorrent to such gentle creatures. Ha. Believe it if you like boys, but there are some pretty good women professional players these days, and there's no genetic reason why a woman can't employ brutal tactics at the table. I choose to see this old-fashioned perspective as an achillies heel in any male's game who subscribes to it. Meet a man who doesn't believe you can play aggressively and you've got something to reel in, simply making the evening more fun.
I don't think I've detected this much around any men that I've played with so far. The funny thing is, it's in a lot of the books by more misogynistic old experts, that they're all reading to improve their skills! Some of the wives and girlfriends in our group of friends are starting to play, and I can't help thinking there has been a pattern of surprise victories... and possibly a little bruised pride when someone's 'missus' gives the boys a kicking.
Back to our little game. I wobbled along, noticing some of the other's chip stacks were about the same amount as mine, trying the odd bluff and being successful, scaring myself silly in the process. I had my confidence boosted when the buy-in hour was nearly up and somebody lost all their chips and had to fork out another tenner. I may have detected a little surprise on the part of the unlucky player I wasn't first out, but then again it could be my imagination. I'd been so nervous about the game I'd spent a week swotting up from a book called "How To Play Poker - And Win" I'd tried a few tricks from the book, and was about 3rd in a game of 6 people at this point. I was happy. I'd estimated on experience alone I'd have the least chips all the way through the game and be out first.
The next had was dealt. Mr Fang is an aggressive better, and he was chip leader at this point. He uses betting to push people out of pots, scaring them away, or bets to see if anyone else has a hand before deciding whether his hand can stand up to them, or it's worth a bluff to steal the chips. (Any poker player with an ounce of savy will tell you that they never bluff). Everyone else caved out of this pot and it was me and him. Him, who'd taught me everything I knew, who had a pretty good idea how my mind worked, and who was now staring me out across the table and smugly sticking in an outrageously aggressive bet. My stomach flipped. Really, it did. I had a half decent hand. And I'd run away from several pots he'd exhibited this type of behaviour in, not wanting to loose more chips than was necessary, but also, not wanting to loose badly and be beaten by my husband. I was hemorraging chips as a result and would soon drift out of the game if I didn't stick up for myself. Dammit, I said to myself. Enough is enough. I glanced across at him and he had the cheek to start grinning from ear to ear, certain I was going to back off. "This is it," I said to myself, "Better to burn out than fade away. I'm going to go all in". I pushed all my chips into the middle of the table.
His smiled broadened (although I wasn't sure how that was physically possible). He clearly thought he was going to give me a whipping for my cheek - and put me out of the game in the process. My all-in bet meant he'd have to dedicate half of his chip stack to come with me, but I'm sure all he was thinking was that he'd soon be possessing all my chips and I'd get relegated to making tea for the rest of the evening. Right. We turned our cards over. He went a little pale. It appeared I had a hand one card higher than his. The last but one card was dealt. My hand improved further. Mr F had a few 'outs', that is, cards that would strengthen his hand to be in the lead, but they were few in number. However, it had been a daring move on my part, possibly one he hadn't thought I'd have the heart to make- my starting had was good enough to be seen with, but not all that by any means. And I'd caught the beggar playing less than the quality he claimed he always played. Everyone went quiet. Final card. It was all over. I'd won! I'd demolished half his big fat chip stack!
The shock on my poor husband's face almost made me feel some guilt, but the evidence on the table in front of me showed he'd been just as cheeky - no, more so, in fact, than me, for all the aggression he'd showed. In the little sparks of pleasure you feel after winning an important hand, I basked - I was the new chip leader. I had pulled it off. Clearly now I saw evidence in the faces around the table that I'd been underestimated - and god, did it make me feel smug.
Mr F, anxious to retain some dignity, switched back into mentor role. "You should never have bet that amount on that hand," he said, hoping to claw back some ground. "Ha!" I said "You're a fine one to talk! I thought you never bluffed?"
In an attempt to prevent my head from swelling up big enough to crush the table, our friends, and the entire room, a fag break was called. Most of them smoke, but I don't, so they left me alone to be smug whilst they all went outside. And out there, in that huddle of despondency, my poker nickname was born. Mr F's mates rallied round, offering consolation, and fearing the dawning of a new age. For the week before, in a chip game round someone else's house, the wife of the host had giving them all a good shooing off the table, eventually winning the game. This was not good news. "If your wife keeps playing like that, you'll have to lock her in the shed," someone offered.
Word has it, my husband agreed...
Back inside, every time I bet the pot, it was accompanied by rising cries of '"shedgirl, shedgirrrl!" I liked the fact my name was born out of fear, and sadly, all the attention went straight to my head. Did I go on to win victory and crush them all? No such luck, I'm afraid. I did what many a player does when their world is rocked by winning, losing or being caught bluffing - I went 'on tilt', in other words, played my level worst for the rest of my time in the game. Mr F prevailed, eventually at sometime past midnight going on to win the pot. Every game you play is a lesson learned, and that night, I may not have won the game, but I did win a name that always gives me a chuckle when it's evoked.
Months later, I won a cash game, going heads up with Mr F and holding my nerve. And last night in a chip game, I had my second game win. It's nice to experience a win, but now I know it's not the only thing you play for - it's the pleasure of the game and the company.
Mind you, if I ever find out which one of our friends suggested my husband lock me in the shed, I'll make dammned sure he gets the shooing of his sorry-assed life...!