As Tommy explained to us recently, "the book is called Painless Poker because most of it takes place at a fictional place called the Painless Poker Clinic. What happens at the clinic is, I'm sitting there alone and seven archetypal poker players beam-in at their moment of greatest pain. Each of them has a story to tell about what they were doing at the moment they got beamed to the clinic."
Once the players have arrived at the clinic, Tommy teaches "a two-day seminar to them on how to reduce pain — both in poker and in life," with the different characters representing "all the various types of pain that we experience in poker."
Today he shares with us another excerpt from the book, this one describing a big (and painful) hand from the book's first chapter in Tommy's colorful, inimitable way:
The gamble demon is a frenetic spirit arising from a sudden and unquenchable craving for more money in motion now. Faster action. Higher stakes. More gamble. And behold, the demon bore a child. We call it: The Straddle.
All straddles are the same in this way: Before the dealer deals the cards, one player voluntarily posts an extra blind that is double the amount of the big blind, thereby raising the stakes significantly for that hand.
The key word here is voluntary. Most pots are not straddled. But sometimes every pot is straddled, by player agreement, such as what happened at midnight, when Hammer put ten bucks out and said, "Who's up for taking it up? Mandatory straddles anyone?"
The demon slipped through that slit and dashed from mind to mind, building a quick consensus. The chorus sang out, "Let's do it!" and Kazzang! What began at 7pm as a tame $5-5 game turned into a late night $5-$5-$10 brawl.
"Lock the doors!" Hank said. And the demon's work was done.
The higher stakes put my final $1,500 at greater risk. Which would normally make the risk junkie happy, except this was too much risk. And too soon. It was all wrong. An overdose. No longer titillatingly treacherous. More like totally terrifying.
I raised before the flop with pocket nines and got called by this loopy fossil named Travis. Maybe it was the bushy white hair and paisley vest, maybe it was being on a Mississippi Riverboat, but when Travis was in the game, I fancied myself playing poker with Mark Twain.
The flop came 8-7-6 with two clubs. I had an overpair and a straight draw. I bet $100. Travis raised it to $400. I already knew what I would do if he did that. I shoved all-in. And he already knew what he would do if I did that. He called quick and showed his hand, the ace-five of clubs, giving him a straight-draw flush-draw.
And there I was, my life riding on a coin toss.
My pair held up. And of course Hank had to comment. "Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn now and again," he said, for probably the millionth time, like he was yelling to someone outside.
The higher stakes also meant that if the cards were kind, a huge comeback was possible. And that's what happened. After I won that pot from Travis, my stack stood at $3,000. Next I won a series of middle-sized pots with a satisfying combo of good cards and good betting. I was up to $4,000 and feeling some relief, and solidity.
Got me a little cushion now, whew. And some muscle. Still stuck a ton but feeling okay. The fruit's hanging low and there's nowhere to go. Just playing. Just waiting. You've done it before, been out of the groove, and got back in it. The opportunities will come. To get the money in good. Wait. Wait for them. No need to zig and zag. Steady now.
Three hours later my stack was up to $6,000. I was still stuck $3,000 for the night, which sucked, but I had survived a near-death experience and made a miraculous recovery, so I was ecstatic about that, and I felt great about being on my best game, despite being stuck bad.
One hour to closing time, Travis and Hammer got busted by Quinn and Hank respectively. We were down to seven players. Quinn had a big win going, even for him, about ten grand. The other solid regulars were up a grand or two each. And Elvis was still in the building. He had $400 on the table and he was stuck about two thousand.
The main action source was Hank. He had $4,000 on the table, and he was stuck $4,000 for the night. He was edgy, seeing lots of flops, hoping to get lucky and win a Hail Mary pot to get even before "All ashore!"
I had the same hopes when I called with 54 offsuit from the big blind after Elvis limped for $10 and Hank made it $50 on the button. Plus I knew how bad Hank wanted to win a big pot off me, so it seemed sporting to give him a chance. Elvis called Hank's raise too, and three of us went to the flop.
I had 54, and Hank, as it turned out, had pocket aces. The flop came 9-3-2 rainbow, giving me an open-ender. I needed a six or an ace for the nuts. I checked, Elvis checked, and Hank bet $150. I called, Elvis folded, and the turn card came—ba-da-bingo—an ace.
I checked, he bet, I raised, he reraised, and we were all-in. When the river didn't pair the board, I nearly seized from rapture. It was the biggest pot I had ever played, and it was all mine boys. Eight thousand dollars. That pot put me ahead $1,000 for the night.
And, I spanked Hank. When he saw my straight he chomped his toothpick in two and threw it at the floor. No fond farewells. Not even a stupid saying for the road. He just stomped up the stairs and out. I resisted the urge to say, "Don't let the door hit you in the ass." It's easy to be kind to a vanquished foe while you're stacking his chips.
One of the nit players was in position to put the straddle on. "No more straddles for me," he said. And without another sound or glance, our straddle pact dissolved, the gamble demon fled, and the game reverted to $5-5 blinds.
With the maximum opening bet reduced from $40 to $20, and the deep-stack gamblers gone, the game went flaccid. At 3:30, Elvis went all-in for a couple hundred, got called, and lost. He put three more $100 chips on the table and kept up his happy facade. Nobody could really enjoy losing, could they? First he changed one black chip to a stack of reds. Then he tipped the dealer ten bucks before the next hand. And then he gave us the old, "Come 'n' git it boys, cuz this is awl you git."
Translation: If Elvis goes bust, we all go home.
With ten minutes to closing time, the demon flew by and flicked Elvis's ear. Elvis straddled for $10. "You boys ain't even trying. I said come git it!"
Okay then, if you insist.
I had ace-three of diamonds, so I granted Elvis's request and opened for $40. The next four players fold, fold, fold, folded. The action was on Quinn in the big blind. He added seven more $5 chips to the one he already had in the pot. What? You're calling? Dang Quinn! Get out of my pot!
Elvis called as planned, and we were three. The pot was $120.
The flop came Qs, 4d, 2d.
Quinn checked. Elvis checked. I checked.
The turn was the 5d, giving me a five-high straight flush. Quinn checked and Elvis flung a $100 chip into the pot. I didn't know what that meant he had, or care. I called, figuring Quinn would most likely fold, clearing the way for me to scoop up Elvis's last $160 on the river either by picking off a bluff, or beating a legit hand. Then we all go home.
The action was on Quinn. The fingertips of his left hand rested lightly on the backs of his cards while his right hand stroked a column of $25 chips. He was definitely not folding or he already would have. And he hardly ever just calls. That's one of the things I hate about him, I mean, love about him. But hey, I've got the stone cold unbeatable nuts. No fear here.
Go ahead Quinn! Raise it! Please! Do it!
He did. He raised to $400 by gracefully cutting sixteen green chips into four stacks of four, during which time I metaphorically peed my pants.
Elvis folded. It was $300 more to me if I wanted to call. Or I could raise.
The river was the 8d.
Quinn bet $1,000.
I made it $3,000.
Quinn moved his right hand onto his big-denomination chips. I couldn't believe how lucky I was. Quinn himself was about to pay me off for $2,000 on the river. I was already sculpting my new chip stack in my mind.
Nobody knows how to construct a chip castle like I do. Wow. What a pot. What a night. What a bankroll! I'm moving up to the next strata. I deserve this. I deserve to finally have things break my way in a big way. C'mon Quinn, you know you're calling. Put it in there. Get it over with.
And right after I said it, I knew I was beat. That fast. I knew. I knew this was an unwinnable betting sequence, and that I had made a $7,000 mistake.
I don't know where my head goes in hairy situations sometimes. I don't know where my mind goes, but it goes somewhere… else. It doesn't do what it's supposed to do. It doesn't process, solve, and act accordingly. It ceases to function in that way.
We turned our cards over at the same time. Quinn showed the six-seven of diamonds. He had a higher straight flush.
I lost and Quinn won. I lost and Hank won. I lost and The Admiral won.
World-class coach and author, Tommy Angelo is considered a modern master of poker's mental game, and has helped pros and rec players alike achieve less tilt and more focus. Called "the seminal poker text of the 21st century" by The London Times, Angelo's Elements of Poker has revolutionized how serious players approach the game. His latest book, Painless Poker, already a bestseller, can be found on Amazon.com. Connect with Tommy on Twitter @TheTommyAngelo, and visit his website: tommyangelo.com.
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