We've all seen ballistic poker players go off like a helicopter occasionally and basically become a source of entertainment for the table. I've often thought that besides the rake and the $1.00 bad beat withheld by the dealer, perhaps another $1.00 should be collected from each player, in the form of a cover charge, for the live entertainment the misbehaved player is creating for the rest of the table.
To have composure under fire is not easy, not just in the poker world, but in life in general. Challenges, hurdles, and various obstacles are a common denominator we all face every day. The big question is... "How do we handle it?"
Reflect for a few minutes and ask yourself how you handled a bad beat or tough situation during a poker game. Did you pass or fail the composure test? How tough was the situation you had to deal with?
Here are two colorful stories that happened at the poker table that are true. Both incidents would definitely fall in that challenging category, composure under fire. The first story happened to me, and the second story happened to my brother, Mike:
FIRST STORY: About 20 years ago I had entered a $25 buy in poker tournament with $20 re-buys, in South Lake Tahoe at the High Sierra Casino. I played well, and found myself at the Final Table playing three-handed. First place paid about $1200; second place $600; and third place $300. It isn't often in this situation, that all three players find themselves in an all in pot, but circumstances led to this very scenario. My first opponent went all in with pocket queens; the second player called with pocket kings; and I was amazed when I looked down, and discovered I held pocket aces!!
While this was all happening, there was a cute cocktail waitress approaching our table, directly behind me. She had a full tray of drinks, that included some hot coffee and hot chocolate. She accidentally lost her balance and spilled her whole tray of drinks directly over my left shoulder! She screamed and desperately lunged forward, trying to reach for all the spilled drinks. With this unexpected avalanche hitting me, I turned my head, and lost site of my pocket rockets, that were unprotected and still face down. This all happened very quickly, before the dealer had a chance to ask all of us to turn our hands over. The cocktail waitress didn't mean to, but her hands accidentally hit my cards, and they flew off the table and hit the floor!
There was this heavy cloud now over my good fortune of finding this big hand in this situation, as the Tournament Director's body language told me a bad ruling was heading my way. He felt bad, as he ruled my hand was dead, when it hit the floor!! I was sort of in a bewildered trance, listening to this, as the poor cocktail waitress was literally crying about what she had done. I was designated to third place in the ruling, thus winning $300 verses $1200. Of course, an Ace came on the flop, which would have won the tournament for me.
I felt the ruling was incorrect, but actually felt bad for both the cocktail waitress and the Tournament Director, who was also the poker room manager. In fact, he was one of the nicest guys you'd ever want to meet. I was unhappy with the result, but proud of my composure under all of this adversity. Most people I tell this story to will tell me the floor made a terrible decision. However, the decision back then was final, and I had to accept it. I remember I felt so bad for the cocktail waitress, I tipped her $10, which made her cry even more.
SECOND STORY: In 1990, the Four Queens held their first $5,000 Main Event. Stu Ungar had put my brother, Mike Sexton, in the tournament. Mike was sitting next to Doyle Brunson, while Stuey was two tables over. When Mike found himself in a three way all-in hand, Doyle yelled over to Stuey, "Hey Stuey, your man is all in!"
Stuey loved action, and hopped out of his seat immediately to run behind Mike and said, "What do we got... what do we got?" Stuey clapped and rubbed his hands together, as he said "All right baby!", Mike had pocket queens, while both of his opponents had pocket tens! The flop was J-8-2. The turn brought a 7, and the river was a NINE!! Mike was in stunned disbelief, as both of his opponents split the pot with a jack-high straight!!
Mike said Stuey looked on, and never said a word, as he returned to his table. Doyle looked at Mike and said, "Mike, I've been playing poker almost 40 years, and that is about the worst tournament beat I've ever seen!" Mike showed amazing composure, as he stood up and shook both players' hands, and exited the event. No one knew back then that Mike would go on to become the ambassador of poker that he did, and be a key figure in bringing poker into a new age. The path to get there wasn't always easy!
One afterthought. After Stuey saw what happened to Mike, he not only went on to win the Four Queens Main Event in 1990, but personally knocked out every player at the Final Table, and did it in record time - about 1 1/2 hours!!
The Cab is Parked,
Tom Sexton is a featured columnist for PokerNews.com. Tom attended the University of Oklahoma on a full gymnastic scholarship, where he was captain of the team four straight years, becoming the first NCAA All-American and Big Eight Champion in OU's gymnastics history in 1968. The Sexton family is well established in poker and includes Tom's brother Mike, the World Poker Tour commentator and poker's "First Ambassador", as voted by his peers. Tom welcomes your thoughts and comments about any of his articles. His e-mail is TSStarbuck1@aol.com.