AQ versus AJ (reader discretion advised)

Some may know, some may not, that I’ve been writing a monthly column for the Bingo Bugle for over ten years, under the name Greg Hershel. I’m an average, at best, poker player, but I hope my learning of the game has made for some entertaining stories. This is a more personal one, and so I wanted to share it here, with my publisher’s permission. Thank you for reading!

I’m still struggling in the NL game with one of the key components of the NL game, the NL betting. I’m used to running bad in limit poker and going through a rack or even two or even three in the course of a session. Losing everything on the turn of a card remains unsettling. I’m still a mark at the tables, buying in for less than the minimum and playing scared with strong hands.

I called an under-the-gun straddle from the big blind with AQ suited and the player straddling made a large raise. Everyone else folded and I called. I was in a tough spot because my opponent could have had a wide range of hands and I could only have a narrow range of hands and I was out of position. The flop was AK5. I checked because I knew my opponent would make a large bet, which he did. I moved all in. When he didn’t call right away, I knew he didn’t have one of the few hands that would have had me crushed. When he eventually called, I thought we might have had the same hand. He actually had AJ, which was good enough to win when the turn card came a jack.

That was the first hand I played and I shipped off all my chips. I bought back in and threw away several weak starting hands, ruminating on how that hand could have gone differently. After running through every conceivable scenario and deciding that my only other play would have been to throw away the best hand, in case an outdraw might occur, I got down to the serious business of bemoaning my bad luck.

A few calls for the floor sounded from the table next to ours, which I took little notice of. Calls for the floor are popping up throughout a poker room, but the next call got my attention. “Floor! We need medical attention, now!”

I looked up to see a man slumped against another player and convulsing. The floor rushed over. A player from another table who appeared trained in emergency services took charge. They had him on the floor and his shirt open and they started chest compressions. I’ll never forget I had a Q8 of spades and it was my action and I thought I would play but it was a borderline call and with everything going on, I decided to fold. Our game broke up immediately after that hand, but people were stunned and, with the cards already out, they just fell into the routine of continuing to play.

I got up and walked around the poker room. I felt wobbly and near gagging just from breathing. The other tables were far from the commotion and most of the other players were engaged in poker and had no idea what had happened. I couldn’t get the images of that man convulsing, his chest being compressed, out of my mind. And then there it was, a little kernel of pity, for my bad luck of that jack coming on the turn.

I confessed that disgusting thought to a friend of mine, the next day. He made me feel better. He said, “Something really awful happened to someone else and you felt really bad. Something a little bit bad happened to you and you felt a little bit bad about that, too. You’re allowed.”

The paramedics arrived and I saw that the man’s eyes were open when he left on a cart. I hope he makes a full recovery, but I can’t say if he did or not. The reality is that there are poker rooms all over the world and a lot of players who spend large amounts of their precious time playing at them. Health emergencies occur and not everyone survives them. We know this and we still play because we love the game. We know we’re lucky to be alive and have the opportunity to sit and play cards for an afternoon or an evening. We gripe, sometimes, when the cards don’t come out the way we’d like, but we’re allowed. If that man didn’t make a full recovery, if he died, I hope he was catching every draw and getting rewarded for every borderline call he made prior to whatever hit him hitting him. I would hope the same for every poker player.

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