Brian & Ann's European Experience

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Know when to hold 'em...

There’s good news about poker night, and there’s bad news.

The good news is that we have finally migrated to “no limit”, and we have moved into that phase of gambling degeneracy. We have moved into the phase where the adrenaline shoots into your veins as you calmly look across the table at your opponents and say, “I’m all in.”

Previous poker nights were all low-limit affairs where people would come, buy in for five Euros, perhaps buy in for another five if everything disappeared too quickly, and your entire exposure for any given hand of poker was a whopping two Euros.

But lately we have brought in the X-factors, Constantine and Dominic, our two German interns, into the game. The good thing about interns who are only there for three months is: they don’t give a damn. They’re willing to give anything a try. And, like the degenerate pusher that I am, I brought out the hard stuff: no-limit.

No-limit poker simply means that at any point in the game, you can decide to wager your entire stack of chips. Anyone who has enough chips to cover the bet can match you, and usually in those situations, after all the cards are out, one person doubles their money and one person is then out for the rest of the hand. It’s like the playoffs: win or go home.

In no-limit poker you play until one person has all the chips. The chips themselves don’t have any intrinsic value, they’re just indicators of who’s got the advantage (and the biggest cojones). At the beginning of the round everyone “buys in” for a pre-determined amount, and the person who wins all the chips walks away with the money. If you have a large enough group it’s usual to split the money between first and second place, or even first, second and third place, but you need at least six or seven players to make that worthwhile.

No-limit is intoxicating. It brings a whole other dimension to the game. You aren’t bound by the normal rules of strategy, and the swings can be immense. You can go from being almost out to the chip leader (the guy with the most chips) in two or three consecutive hands (as I did last night). It’s like walking the edge of a skyscraper when you declare “all in”. And you will either crash and burn and have to watch your friends play the rest of the time without you, or you will be catapulted to an even higher level of chips, which you will also eventually have to put on the line again in order to knock the next players out. You can’t win at no-limit by just waiting it out, gaining a little on this hand, a little on that hand. In order to win… you have to risk it all.

Last night we had five players, one of whom was my wife. She didn’t take to no-limit. The traits that make her successful at regular Hold ‘Em, patience and risk-aversion, are liabilities in no-limit. The new guy, Marco, who hadn’t played even regular Hold ‘Em before, actually was a very fast learner and did very well. The German interns were the German interns. Unpredictable, staying in on hands they clearly had no chance and, and every now and then pulling out something that would just make you shake your head in disbelief.

We played four rounds of no-limit. I won them all. I have to admit, I got really lucky on one of them. In the last round there were 3 players left, and I was down to about fifteen chips. My opponents had about 80 and 120. I do the only thing I can in that situation, where just covering the big blind would take out a quarter of my stack, and I go all in before the flop. Thankfully, Constantine goes with me. I guess he figures it’s less than ten percent of his stack for the opportunity to knock me out. But I win that one. Go all in on the next hand, win that one too, and all of a sudden the chips are evenly distributed again.

Now, while it IS true that I was pulling stuff out of my ass all night (getting two pairs on hands like Queen, 10, and getting full houses and the like), the truth is: I’m just nasty. I am a NASTY no-limit player! I’M THE GREATE—I better quiet down before Ken and Guze decide to fly over one night just to remind me what’s what.

It saddens me that this was the last poker night for the German interns. They will be going back to the Fatherland at the end of the weekend, and I will have to go back to five Euro buy-ins and playing hands for forty cents and losing to hands like 3,9 unsuited. Sigh.

Well, it was great while it lasted, and I’d like to thank Constantine and Dominic for contributing to the “Brian’s Next Trip to the Casino In Amsterdam” fund.

Take care guys.

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