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What? That's a 9?

I played my first poker game without Kris last night. Up to this point, I've always been with Kris, at various friends' houses. I've been able to watch him, let him take players out, then play directly against him instead. I've actually played only 4 times in my adult life, so the fact I won even one of those games is surprising to me.

And I need to thank my dad for teaching me how to play poker at age 5. Yay, Dad!

After dinner, several of the UPA board of directors and staff wanted to play a game of poker. Push came to shove, and we had Dave Raflo (UPA Open Division National Director), Todd Demetriades (board member), Joshua Greenough (National College Director, pronounced Gree-NO!), Michael Degnan (UPA Media Director), Mike Payne (board member), Jeff Dunbar (board member), Kyle Weisbrod (UPA Youth Organizer), and me. Count 'em: seven men and one woman, which completely tickled Sandie, the UPA Executive Director, and many of the female board members.

I explained to everyone that I didn't know how well I played, because I always play with Kris, he takes out all the other players, and I take out him. So, I win, but not by playing against other players. Kris knows I'm an aggressive player, but none of these players did. I say "Did." They do now.

My biggest problem in playing well is playing too aggressively against another aggressive player. Lisa, for example, very, very rarely bluffs. So trying to buy the pot against her won't work, you have to fold when she goes in aggressively.

Since I didn't know how anyone plays, or the level of skill with any of the players, I played conservatively. The first five or six hands I looked at the flop and folded immediately, if I even made it to the flop. I bid aggressively when other players showed lack of strength in their hands, but otherwise did little playing.

I recently watched a poker tournament (hard not to given that Kris has about a dozen shows Tivo'd), where one player made it to the final two at the final table before showing any hands. No one knew his cards. No one knew if he were bluffing or had a strong hand. No one could read this guy because he gave them no clues. I liked the mystery around this guy.

I decided to play that way last night, which frustrated a few of the other players, I think. The person that calls does not have to show his cards. The caller can also ask the other person to show his cards first, then fold or otherwise not show cards himself. There were several times when I called another bidder, he said, "Let's see 'em!" and I had to remind him I called, and therefore he had to show, I didn't.

So, the table was Todd, Dave, Joshua, Michael, Mike, Jeff, Kyle and I, around in that order. The game was the first time Todd had played No Limit Texas Hold'em (I had to ask if the game was no limit or not, because it affected my betting - a question that sent up red flags to everyone that I had played before). We played a couple open hands and started playing for real.

I won a hand and was doing okay. Dave went out first, taken out by Kyle. Mike wasn't getting the cards and lost most of his stack to the blinds. Todd's stack was getting low, because he didn't appear to care much, just enjoying the game. Kyle, ah, poor Kyle.

Joshua and Kyle were both playing a board showing a pair of sixes on the turn. Kyle started betting hard when the last card showed a 9. Joshua matched him, also betting hard. When it was oll over, Kyle called Joshua, who showed pocket 7s. Kyle threw down his cards: an ace and an eight, claimed a pair of eights over Joshua's 7s, and started reaching for the pot. When we pointed out the final card was a 9 and not an 8, and he lost the hand, he asked, "What? That's a 9? I thought it was a 8. That's a 9? Aw, man." Joshua ended up taking out Kyle in the next hand.

Down to 6.

Todd went out next, which wasn't surprising, as he wasn't playing seriously. Down to 5. The remaining players all seemed to be experienced players. It seemed we all knew what we were doing. The blinds and bad breaks eventually broke Mike Payne next, leaving Jeff, me, Joshua and Michael.

I was the short stack at this point. I bullied a couple hands and bought the pots, which started the jokes. The jokes included comments that no one knew my hands. So, Jeff decided his goal was to see my cards. I started intimdating him by looking at his stack sizes and betting his stacks (i.e. if he had a stack of 7 black chips, my bet was 7 chips). In the middle of some hand, Jeff said, "I'm going to see your hand." As I sat to the left of him, I pushed all in to force him, "I'm not going to make it cheap."

He laughed.

Then folded.

One hand I played, perhaps foolishly, ultimately not, had a straight draw on it. I had a 4 and a 7 in my hand, and made it to the turn. The community cards included a 5 and a 6, so I had an open-ended straight draw. Joshua bet heavy, Michael called, and I had to decide if I would wait for the river. I folded and was bitter when the river was a 3. I had a straight. And I folded. ARgH! Joshua and Michael kept betting hard, and Joshua eventually called. I don't recall what Michael had, but Joshua showed an 8 high straight and won the hand. If I had stayed in with that straight, I would have pushed all in, and lost. It would have been a bitter, bitter lost.

Instead, it was a brilliant fold!

Eventually, the blinds ate Jeff's stacks and a bad break had him down to 4 chips. Both Joshua and I were in for the hand to take him out. I won the hand, taking out Jeff, and getting a few more chips from Joshua.

Down to 3, and I'm in the money. We were splitting the $20 buy-in, $160 pot as $100 - $40 - $20. If nothing else, the $20 I was worried about in the beginning was coming back to me. I'm playing for free at this point.

Joshua and Michael went back and forth, with big stacks. I was still the short stack when I bet to see the flop with 5 and 7 of hearts in my hand. When the flop came and I saw the 4, 6 and 8, I went all in. Michael folded and Joshua called. I showed my cards, he showed his and had a pair. After a moment, he realized I had flopped a straight, and the pain showed on his face. The turn and the river were good to me, and I doubled up, making Joshua the short stack, and me the chip leader.

Joshua and Michael went back and forth with Michael taking Joshua out a few hands later (Michael had a pair of 8s, Joshua had a pair of 7s). I kept getting the absolute worst cards. I think I got a 2 and something less than 8 about 5 hands in a row. I used the time to see how the two of them bet. At this point, I think Joshua was playing to beat the player, and not actually playing the cards. I could be wrong, but he called a couple hands that I wouldn't have called. And Michael would play only hands that were fairly sure winners. He'd play when he could win, and folded when he couldn't.

Down to 2. At a minimum, I'm doubling my buy-in money.

Michael and I played for a bit. I soon realized that if I tried to bully, and he had the cards, he wouldn't be bullied. Good to note. At one point, I foolishly called some hand and lost. I called it even though Michael was betting heavy. He won and doubled up. A few hands later, there was a K high straight draw that matched my pocket K, but I didn't see the straight draw. At this point, I think it was 1:00 am, and I was tired. I didn't see the straight draw. Michael doubled up again.

Somewhere around this hand, I realized I was making the exact same mistake Joshua had made: I was playing the player, not the cards. I reverted back to my old style: playing only when I had cards; eat away at his chips with a few low hands; forcing him to show, without showing my cards. When the flop came with low cards but matched my pocket 9, I went all in. I was still chip leader, by about 50%, so I could keep playing, but I was tired, and wanted to be done. I think I might have conceded after the hand if I lost, because I was tired. I made some such comment to Joshua, who was dealing for us, which Michael overheard. Perhaps sensing weakness, perhaps realizing the club in his hand matched the three clubs on the board which I missed again, Michael called, going all in also. I showed my pair of 9s.

"A pair of 9s? Who goes all in with a pair of 9s?" Michael asked, and jumped up to pace back and forth. Joshua did a great job of building tension, and pointing out the flush draw Michael had. Whoops.

But sometimes you have to gamble. And that's what I did.

And won.