Friday, April 20, 2007

Real-Life Banhammer at the Poker Game

IT'S NEVER EASY TO tell someone to get the hell out of your house. Even when it's warranted, most folks are unaccustomed to confrontation and will go to great lengths to get the offender to right his or her course. In cases when the message just isn't getting through, however, sometimes one just has to point out the shortest path between their ass and the door and urge the jerk to use it.

Such a situation arose last night at the poker game. For the size of our player pool, we've had surprisingly few confrontations and, up until yesterday, only one ban. Even that one took several weeks to become necessary, because amid his faults — abysmal dealing skills, being a poor winner, telling annoying stories all night, rubbing his bluffs in people's faces — he was a borderline-retarded poker player and routinely left $300 to $500 behind each visit. (By comparison, the maximum initial buy-in is $100.) We did warn him to clean up his act with declining measures of diplomacy. He shined us on with his irritating chuckle and continued to offend.

Only when he began angleshooting — engaging in actions that bordered on cheating — did the host, Danny, step in. After a night when he deliberately misdealt to confuse an opponent, clumsily colluded with a friend of his at the table, and first denied that he had gone all in, and then attempted to short the pot when we forced him to commit, Danny finally told him not to return. It was in this guy's interest to heed the warning; at least three of the players were as willing to kick his ass as they were to bankrupt it.

The only other player who came close to evoking this much wrath was Craig. Craig was out to have a good time, both in his carefree play and his prodigious thirst. He played hunches, raised heavily with crap to throw folks off, and chattered constantly to those in the hand or, when he had folded, to his seatmates. Craig could easily down 10 beers over the course of an evening, and often showed up already tipsy. I feared letting him leave when I hosted, despite assurances that he was okay to drive. I relaxed when Danny took over as primary game host.

Between talking all the time and getting progressively drunker over the evening, Craig routinely committed a mortal sin of poker: He slowed down the game. We have a system for sending two active decks around the table so there's almost never a time when a new dealer can't pick up a shuffled, cut deck and get 'em in the air. We see more hands per hour than many casino players, even as one or two conversations roll on. But chitchat takes a weak second when a pot gets big or several players are seeing the river card. So when Craig, well into his second six-pack, would begin slurring through a defense of his questionable play while holding the deck, as players are itching to see the last card, there would arise a chorus of, "Next card, Craig," "Let's see a turn, Craig," "Craig! Deal!" like an Apostles' Creed for edgy poker degenerates.

Between his repeated delay-of-game penalties and his nonsensical play, Craig was sinking in popularity fast. An absence of a few months eased folks' ire, though if you slowed down the action, you still risked being called "Craig."

The real Craig showed up uninvited last night, after calling Danny to see if there was a seat available. As we were on the verge of spreading to two tables with 11 people already, Danny — who sometimes has trouble saying "no," said to come over. This put some folks on edge, as for a while we would be playing six-handed. Playing at a short table involves some changes in tactics, and some folks flat out don't like the more aggressive style it requires, nor the lesser chance of getting proper odds for draws. So Craig had already gotten under some skins without even appearing. He finally arrived already drunk.

Also simmering with one guy was a confrontation he and Craig had lit at my place several months ago. After Craig got this guy, Greg — himself an often unpredictable and temperamental card player — to call an all-in bet, Craig showed a terrible hand, which hit big on the river and busted Greg out. Greg freaked, yelling, "You are the worst fucking player in the game!" as he slapped his losing cards into the muck. Craig, rather than backing off and letting Greg yell his steam out, instead egged him on, capping his "yeah, yeah" routine with the old Henry Hill classic, "Fuck you, pay me." Greg threw his remaining chips across the table at Craig, leading the guy sitting between the two to wonder if he was about to be trampled in the rush to fisticuffs. I intervened at this point, telling them both to knock the shit off, and Greg took that moment to leave. Craig spent the remaining half hour in complete oblivion of what he had done to make the fight worse.

Despite a later reconciliation, Greg had no particular interest in hearing several hours' more of Craig's boozy ramblings. Naturally, when Craig drew for tables, he got to sit right next to Greg. I watched Greg's face grow steadily redder as Craig blew beer breath at him for a couple of hours, while repeating (as drunks will) his desire to have Greg, a money manager, become his primary investment guru. Greg was an exemplar of placation as he "uh-huh"'ed Craig stoically, his frustration flaring across his features.

True to form, Craig had to be prodded like a reluctant walrus to keep the game moving. He flipped cards face-up while dealing them to players two seats away. He fumbled with his chips while trying to get them all in one of his anesthetized hands for a bet. His cards sat idle as he got up for one beer after another, crashing through two or three forgotten empties around his chair each time. And of course, the dealing delays. He'd put the deck down to babble about something, and the "Deal, Craig!" chorus would begin. Danny joined in with an edge in his voice that stood out against his usual relaxed but firm management of the game. Those of use who heard it knew Dan's fuse was getting short, and we also knew who had lit it.

After three hours of this, Craig knocked a beer onto the poker table. He was the last to notice this, even as his neighbors scrambled to get their chips clear. With alcoholic sloth, he righted the can, and tried to drag the beer back off the table with his fingers, which forced it deeper into the padding. Then with his dripping hands he picked up the cards, soaking them in Miller Genuine Draft. Fortunately, we use casino-grade plastic cards, but that deck was now unusable until dried. I grabbed it and spread the cards over the second poker table, dabbing them dry with toweling as Danny yelled at Craig. Things had gotten hot quickly.

"Danny, you know I don't disrespect you."

"You slow down the fucking game!"

"Hey — look, you know I don't disrepect you."

"You're always drunk. You take a fucking year to deal the cards!"

It ended with Danny telling Craig to count out his chips. "You're throwing me out?" asked Craig. "Why do you keep emailing me if you don't want me here?"

"I didn't email you — you just showed up!"

"All right, I've got other places to play." Craig passed his stack over to Danny, who counted it down and tossed the requisite bills onto the table next to the beer stain.

The rest of us were silent as we watched Craig retrieve his jacket and pick up the cash. "G'night, everyone." We replied in kind, as though we were going to see him next week.

Danny moved from tolerating Craig's bullshit to cutting it off so rapidly that most of us didn't have a chance to react until Craig lumbered out the door. Greg soon breathed a sigh of relief, and the rest of us moved around the table to snatch up the space Craig's departure had created. Play continued, much more swiftly. Sympathy was muted at best.

No comments: