May They Bring You Good Luck

I spent a few days this week at MGM National Harbor casino in suburban Washington, DC. During the last session, I enjoyed a long, friendly conversation with another player at my end of the table. For purposes of this blog, I’ll call him “Erik.”

It started when Erik raised on the button following a straddle and series of folds. Sensing a wide range, I re-raised from the small blind with two Broadway cards, hoping to force a fold and collect a small pot. The big blind foiled those plans by putting his short stack all-in (for slightly less) and Erik called. On a 9-high flop, I check-folded when Erik made a strong bet, then watched him take down the pot with a set of 9’s.

crystal ballHe asked me several times what cards I had that would 3-bet, then check-fold. Did I have a higher pocket pair? AK or AQ? How did I avoid putting any more chips in the pot for him to take with his top set? He didn’t want to let go of the question and I didn’t want to answer it honestly. So I told him that when the flop hit the table, he gave off a physical tell in the form of a subtle but unmistakable involuntary twitch around his eyes that indicated he had smashed the flop. Based on that, I told Erik, I could confidently check-fold with any hand, even pocket aces. Certainly king high.

“Are you a psychologist?” he asked. Enjoying this meta game, I explained that I was a retired FBI agent (LOL!), with extensive training on body language and other non-verbal communications, and advised him that he should start wearing his sunglasses at the table. He seemed impressed and I stuck by my story. It’s fascinating how many poker players instinctively assume you are bluffing when you make large bets, but don’t give any second thoughts about whatever life story you want to sell.

Late in the session, a woman sat in between us, and joined in bits and pieces of the conversation. For purposes of this blog, I’ll call her “Nina.” Before long, Nina needed to top up her stack and the dealer only had $25 chips to sell. She offered me four of her new $25 chips in exchange for a stack of $5 chips. As I slid the chips over, I said “may they bring you good luck!”

The very next hand, Nina had the button and put out a small raise. I folded my small blind, the big blind called, and I sort of tuned out the action as happens sometimes in the 7th hour of a poker session on the day after an all-nighter. When I tuned back in, Nina had picked up her cards and was halfway to tabling them when she realized her turn bet had been called by the big blind, and there was still one more card to come.

“Oh my gosh,” she exclaimed, “I didn’t realize you were still in the hand.” The board read 987-8. As Nina returned her cards face down on the table, the dealer delivered an ace on the river. After the big blind checked and Nina bet again, the big blind quickly check-raised all-in. It hadn’t appeared that he was able to see her cards when she almost flipped them over prematurely, but maybe he did and decided to exploit her with the extra information.

Nope! Nina insta-called, said “I’m sorry,” and tabled pocket 8’s for quads to scooped in a large pot as the small blind revealed a flopped straight.

“May they bring you good luck…” I reminded Nina of my remark made just prior to the hand. We chuckled, and Erik asked if he could buy a stack of my $5 chips and an equal dose of good luck along with them.

Nah… I told him it would be unfair to make any false promises and unreasonable to think that I could repeat that trick again so soon.

Not much later I was ready to leave, and noticing that Erik didn’t have any $1 chips, offered to sell him five of them so I’d have fewer to carry to the cashier cage. He obliged and I said somewhat dramatically, “may they bring you good luck.”

On the very next hand, as I was racking up my own chips, Erik made a flush on the river to take a pot away from the same poor guy on my immediate left that Nina had busted with her quads, after he had made another straight on the turn.

Now if only I can figure out a way to bring that genie out of the lamp on demand for myself!

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