I had an epiphany playing poker last night.
Turns out that I don’t have “The Killer Instinct.”
Back in High School, my football coach told his wife, who told her good friend my mother the same thing. No Killer Instinct. But I had forgotten about it.
Tracy & I like to play Texas Hold ‘em, a game I had known mostly through TV visuals of stoney-face men and women sitting around a table in Las Vegas, occasionally moving one hand or the other, slightly, to the boisterous approval of a small gallery of enthusiasts.
They would be sitting behind skyscrapers of chips and betting amounts I hadn’t earned in a lifetime. Hence the unbridled enthusiasm.
This would go on for hours. And hours. And…
In truth, Tracy loves to play Texas Hold ‘em and is quite skilled at it, while for me, well, when I accidentally acquired a considerable hoard of chips one time early on, I had absolutely no idea what to do with them and consequently quickly gave them all away to more able players, who showed little appreciation of my generosity.
The crux of the matter is, as Mr. Don Schlitz wrote in The Gambler, “you got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em.”
See, now you’re thinking, “wait a minute here, that was Kenny Rogers…”
And you would be partially right, but mostly wrong, as in you just lost all your chips.
Schlitz wrote the song, but who would know that? That’s having ‘pocket aces’ folks. You want to bet big with pocket aces…unless you’re trying to fake somebody out, which you could do, but then you risk them ‘flopping’ two pair, or a straight, or a flush….arrrrrrggh!
So maybe you DON’T bet big…but that guy across the table with the smirk, now HE seems to have something going on too, or maybe he just thought of a joke. And that woman over there, she either has a really bad hand or her shorts just rode up her butt.
Tracy’s pretty darn good at reading people at the table; me, not so much. And her son Bobby is amazing. We were in a game once where he pushed in all his chips on a fellow who had pushed in all HIS chips. I would have folded in a heartbeat. Bobby said he did it because he knew the guy didn’t have a hand. And he knew that because he had watched and every time the guy had a hand, he glanced down and left and moved his hand in a certain way.
That’s called a ‘tell.’ As in, “If you watch close enough, I’m gonna tell you what my cards are.” As in, most likely, people look at me and read exactly what’s in my hand. Tracy does pretty well at it too.
Me, well, I look at their cards and can tell they’re red on the back and covered by an obscure repetitive design. Or blue. I have that down pat.
And Tracy and Bobby remember those tells, they remember hands they played years ago and how players played against them. I work hard to remember what I had for breakfast, or if I grabbed the same colored socks. Which is one reason I’m lucky to be in South Florida; most days I don’t wear socks. Problem solved.
But back to the “Killer Instinct.”
Last night the guy to my left was just getting hammered at the table. He couldn’t buy a hand. Even when he had good cards, as the play evolved he’d be beaten on the last turn. Over and over.
I was in a hand with him, and we were the only two left. I had a reasonable stack of chips, had won a few hands and was having fun. For whatever reason of chemistry or magic, I knew I had him beat. But I folded my cards.
I just didn’t want to beat up on him again.
Now, how dumb is that. This is poker for cryin’ out loud. Get a grip.
I folded my cards.
When we left the track, I told Tracy about the hand…we’d been at the same table so of course she remembered. She said I just didn’t have that Killer Instinct. It was a “leak in my game,” and easy to fix.
I looked at her for a time and gently as possible suggested it was a “leak in OUR game.”
For half a beat she was taken aback, then she laughed, because we both knew she had done the same thing herself. More often than me however, because she plays so much better.
That heart is one of the many reasons I love her.
But we do have a leak in our game it seems, and we have resolved to work on our Killer Instinct.
At least in poker.