Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The bad beat to end all bad beats

I'm bringing this blog out of hibernation because the hand that ended my $1/3 NLHE session at The Meadows on Monday night demands it. It's the type of hand that will be remembered and discussed for years, not just by those involved to the end, but by everyone at the table who was present and bore witness to its very asininity.

A few hours into the session, I was sitting ~$100 up. The table was consistently short-handed, around seven players, with everyone playing fairly straight-forward poker. Then Short Stack sat down. I'm calling him Short Stack because ... well, you'll see. Short Stack was a large, black guy with swagger and a mouth that could run for days. He had come from the blackjack tables, and I'm pretty sure he was drunk when he arrived. And, if not, he was about to be, as he had no sooner plopped down at the table when he ordered a top-shelf Long Island Iced Tea.

Short Stack bought in for a measly $100 and immediately declared that "the Short Stack" -- as he constantly addressed himself -- wasn't going to take any shit, that the Short Stack was going to quickly turn his tiny pile of chips into two grand. (I pointed out that there wasn't even $2,000 total in play on the table and was quickly told that rebuys would be coming.) After making these bold proclamations, this guy started put his money where his mouth was and -- and I kid you not -- doubled up on three of his first five hands. Not only was he talking massive amounts of shit, he was getting the cards to back it up. Short Stack flopped a nut flush and doubled-up against my friend Shawn who shoved with a straight-flush draw. He played 5-8 and made two pair. He called a pre-flop raise with 2-7 and hit trip sevens on the turn. Short Stack was going to the flop with pretty much any two cards, smashing the board once he got there and getting paid off by the end of the hand. I've never seen a new player at a table have so much crazy luck right off the bat, and, within 20 minutes, he had $1,000 in chips in front of him. He was already halfway to his ridiculous goal. Amusingly, he still insisted on calling himself "Short Stack" even once his stack became the biggest at the table. ("Short Stack is making moves! Short Stack ain't fucking around!") It was hilarious and annoying and entertaining and aggravating all at the same time. The more he won, the looser he played. And though I believe most of the table suspected he was starting to mix crazy bluffs in with all of his ridiculous luck, no one had been able to catch him on one yet.

Meanwhile, as I tried to get acclimated to a table where all the rules had changed, my stack had dwindled a bit to just over my original $240 buy-in. Then, some luck -- Q-Q from under the gun. I briefly considered limping, planning a three-bet once someone (likely Short Stack) inevitably raised, but ultimately decided it would be better to start building a pot immediately. I bumped it to $12. A couple of callers, and when it got to Short Stack he instantly raised to $100. Folds around to me, and I just as quickly shoved all in. Folds from the early callers, and then the action was back to Short Stack. He looked at me with wide eyes.

"Let me ask you this," he said. "Do you want me to call?"

"Yes," I answered, staring right back at him.

"Because I might have a monster!"

"That's fine."

"You sure you want me to call?"

"Yes."

He glanced back at his cards and got a little squirmy.

"Okay, my hand's not very good," he said. "I'll probably suck out on you. You still want a call?"

"Yes," I answered. "You should call."

So that's what he did, throwing some green $25 chips in across the line signify his intent. He shugged and quickly rolled over his hand ... Q-2.

Jesus Chris this guy, I thought. Short Stack is insane.

"Well, you're crushed," I said, revealing my queens as I did. Then, remembering the preposterous streak this guy was on, I quickly added, "But don't worry. I'm sure your diamonds are going to get there." He just shrugged and took a drink of his Long Island Iced Tea.

I awaited the flop, expecting to see at least two diamonds, and felt a deep well of relief when the flop came three blanks, rainbow, no diamonds.

The hand was clearly over. A look of hazy disappointment settled on his face -- perhaps him realizing that his streak of luck had ended. I relaxed, waiting to be pushed my chips once the formalities had been completed.

Then the turn came: 2.

The table laughed. I laughed. Of course Short Stack had enough luck left to make this mildly interesting. Wasn't going to change the end result, of course, because that would be ridiculous. I certainly wasn't concerned. But the deuce did amuse everyone who had been watching this guy smash the board non-stop since he sat down.

The dealer peeled the river. I'll never forget the feeling of watching the back of that card morph into the 2 as the card was flipped. It was like time had slowed down -- the crushing inevitability of what was happening turning the seconds into hours. The table, of course, exploded. I've never heard so much noise at a poker table before. I just stared at that deuce, unable to look at Short Stack, the dealer or anything else.

We've all taken bad beats, and when you do it usually feels like a dagger in your gut, a pit of despair forming in your stomach. This one didn't feel like that. It's like my brain couldn't process what was happening enough for the feeling to even reach my stomach. What just happened could not have happened. It was impossible. The fabric of reality itself seemed suspect. That river couldn't be real. Thus the hand wasn't real. Was anything real? Was I even playing poker? Was I asleep and this a nightmare?

I dropped my head to the table, burying my forehead into my arms and the felt. Laughter and the shouts of four-letter expletives echoed all around me. My brain felt short-circuited, having fried itself trying to make what just happened fit into a rational world. After a moment, I lifted my head and looked at Short Stack. A massive smile stretched across his face as he pulled in his chips. "I warned you," he said. "I told you this would happen, but you wanted me to call. You told me to."

I went to the restroom and returned to the table a few minutes later to tell my friend goodbye. The table was still talking about the hand. When Shawn texted me a few hours later, the table was still talking about the hand. I presume that today the table continues talking about the hand. In the years that follow, when folks from this table see a bad beat and the loser begins to complain, they will say, "Well, if you think that's a bad beat ..." and proceed to tell the story of this hand.

The math breaks down as such: Preflop, once the money is in, I was 89 percent to win. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think it's the most favorable pre-flop percentage you can have, excepting the exact same scenario when your opponent's cards aren't suited. It's dominant, but at least the 11 percent chance coming in to beat me is a thing my brain is able to process. After the flop, I was somewhere between 98.1 and 99.7 percent to win, depending on whether he also had the possibility of hitting a runner-runner straight. I don't recall for sure whether he did or not because, at that point, with no diamond on the board, I was really only thinking about collecting my chips. Though I am fairly sure he did not (which would make this a true three-outer into two-outer, gotta-hit-both-to-win affair). And, really, what's the difference? Neither should hit outside of a scene from a bad poker movie.

I've been playing poker much more casually these days, as evidence by the lack of updates to this blog. I hit a few home games over the summer, but Monday was the first time I'd been back to a casino poker room since late winter. After this hand -- after this unfathomable, absurd hand -- I don't feel in much of a hurry to go back.

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