Part P of the April A-Z Blogging Challenge, where every day this month except Sundays, I'll be talking about things I love - one thing for each letter of the alphabet.
There are many things that I could have put here for P, but I've decided to go for the most unique one - poker.
Many years ago, when I gave myself the challenge of going out to do something every Spring, most of those nights were spent at various pubs playing their free poker nights. That's where my enjoyment of the game began. I love the old adage of "You don't play the cards, you play the person." It gives me a huge thrill when someone bets big and I can take a look at their face and think "I can beat them." I call their bet and it turns out I'm right, so I end up winning a huge pile of chips. I've done it the other way too - I've ummed and arred over my cards before timidly placing each bet, making it look like I'm not confident in my hand when in reality I have a full house. My opponents usually smell blood and go in for the kill, only to be left red faced.
With poker, you either know the game very intimately or you don't know it at all. During breaks at these pub poker games, players will have conversations that go "I had a pair of ducks and I raised to $250. Guy across from me goes $1000, so I called him. Flop comes out and it's Ace-King-Queen rainbow. Guy checks so I checked too. Then the turn comes out a five he bets $500 and I called, and on the river I hit a two. Won a total $2000."
To some people that paragraph made total sense. To others it was complete gibberish. The people who play this game at the pub rarely just play once a week. They live the game without having to go to the casino and put up thousands of dollars of real money to do so. I have my own stories - like the time I won my first ever tournament with an Ace-high - which to the uninitiated means I had nothing, but my nothing was better than my opponent's nothing. Then there was the time I went all-in with a 1-in-13 chance to hit a straight and got it. Another time I was down to my last $1000 (in a game where everyone started with $20,000) and went all-in twice and won, making me chip leader for the table. Then another time still I was playing in Melbourne and I was one of four people to go all-in on a hand and once the hands were revealed, everyone started discussing who beat who and how much of the pot should go to whom. No one was paying attention to me, so I just quietly put my four Queens down on the table and waited for someone to notice. Their reaction upon realising I'd just snuck in and beat them all was very satisfying. One time I brought a friend along to play with me. He knew the game, but hadn't played it enough to be one of the high-rollers that were surrounding us. On one hand he came head-to-head with a guy who worked as a poker dealer for one of the other pubs. He was doing what I like to call "sharking" me friend - laying big bets with the intention of intimidating his opponent, with the clear understanding that his opponent isn't experienced at the game like he is. My friend slowly but jovially called all of this guy's bets, looking like he didn't know what he was doing and that he was just staying in the hand for fun. Then when his opponent was all-in, they flipped their cards to reveal my friend had flopped a flush, which beat the pants off of the other guy's two-pair. The shark was knocked out and I laughed harder than I ever had at a poker night before.
My last time playing pub poker was at once impressive and disappointing. I made the final table (a table made up of the final nine competitors from various tables after the other 30-50 had been eliminated) and at one point during that final table I flopped a royal flush draw (which means I was one card away from getting the rarest and best hand in poker). I could have hit anything in the last two cards - a straight, a flush, a straight flush, royal flush or at least any high-ranking pair. So I made the obvious call of going all-in. Those last two cards turned up absolutely nothing and I was knocked out. Which just goes to show that you can play the person as much as you want, but sometimes the cards just don't fall your way.
It's probably time I get back in there.