One of the most fascinating things to me about poker is how people play against their friends and family at a casino or in a competitive setting. Playing poker is supposed to be fun. I prefer to sit at a table with people I know and love and can talk to in between hands. At the same time, I am one competitive mofo and prefer to play as hard against people I know as those I don't. And in return I prefer they play just as hard back at me. But not everyone subscribes to this theory, which I understand. I can have fun, play cut-throat and not be pissed if my friends take my money. Not everyone can.
So on Friday I was playing $1/3 NLHE at the Meadows. It was a lively, chat-happy table. No one was being overly aggressive, but a lot of people were in a lot of hands. I was lucky enough to be playing with both my father and a good friend of mine. I had lost my first buy-in but was beginning to crawl my way back to even when I was dealt K♣-10♣ in mid-position. There were a few limpers in front of me, and I raised it up to $13. A whopping six players called behind me. I started shit-talking as everyone was throwing their chips in.
"Oh, come on," I said. "I've got a monster here. What are you guys doing? No one ever believes me when I raise. I'm about to teach you all an important lesson."
Everyone chuckled. Again, it was a fun table.
Flop came K♥-10♦-10♠.
My father, who was sitting in the big blind, led out for $50. Couple of folds around to me. I just smooth-called, hoping to pick up another caller from behind me, but everyone else folded. Turn came whatever because who cares? My hand was made on the flop.
My dad said, "Just us two?" I nodded yes, and he quickly checked.
I knew exactly what was happening here. My dad just wanted to check down as we were the only players left in the hand. I figured he had a king and guessed that he thought he had the best hand. But he was now playing "friendly poker" with his son. And maybe if I wasn't an asshole I would have checked it down with him. But the thing is: I just don't have that in me.
You wait weeks ... months ... years to raise with K-10 and flop a full house. These are the hands you dream about. If you're not going to bet with this hand -- I don't care who it's against -- you might as well just give up the game. Not betting with this hand feels disingenuous. To yourself. To everyone else sitting at that table. To the spirit of the game itself.
I basically made it obvious I was sitting on the virtual nuts. (Technically K-K was the nuts, but there was no way my dad wouldn't have re-raised me pre-flop with that hand.) I kind of chuckled. "Dad, I'm sorry," I said. "I can't not bet here." I exaggeratedly eyeballed my cards. I laughed again and pushed out $100 in chips.
I assumed my father would just fold. I was making it obvious I was sitting on a monster. And, yes, I understand that there's not much of a difference between me checking down with him and me putting out a bet and making it clear I can't be beat so that he'll fold. Those two actions lead to the same outcome, but, for whatever reason, the second one feels to me like it has more integrity. Pushing those chips out there feels more in the spirit of the game.
I could tell he was pissed immediately. "I can't believe you're betting me!" he said. Then he did the last thing I expected. "Well, if that's how it's going to be I'm putting you all-in." He shoved in the rest of his chips, more than enough to cover the $80 or so I had behind.
I leaned back in disbelief. "Dad! No! What are you doing?!"
"Well, I've got a 10, ya jackass," he said. Afterward, he would claim he wasn't assuming that he had me beat, but I'm pretty sure he thought exactly that.
I called, of course, and turned over my hand. He flipped up Q-10. The table erupted in laughter. After a meaningless river card, the pot was pushed my way, and the jokes started flying fast and furious. Lots of talk about he should have beaten me more as a child. (Note: My dad never beat me as a child! He was a great father!)
For the record, things turned out okay in the end. He got some of that money back, as I lost about $100 in a hand to a third player who my father later felted. We both cashed out up for the night, and he actually won considerably more than I did. We talked this morning and laughed about it, though it's clear he still thinks the right thing to do is to check down with your old man, the integrity of the game and how the rest of the table feels about it be damned.
I obviously feel differently. My standard operating procedure is to play hard but straight-forward against friends and family. Obviously, anything goes so long as there are other players in the hand. Once it's heads up, I'm not going to check-raise someone at the table who I care about. I'm not going to run a tricky bluff for a smallish pot or anything. But I am going to bet a made hand. And I am sure as hell going to bet a full house when I raised the pot preflop with K-10.
It doesn't mean I don't love ya, Dad. It's just the way I'm built. (Or perhaps it's the way I was raised! Hmm ...)