The Poker Game

First off, Project Horseshoe was an AMAZING and insightful experience and I’m so glad I came. But I’ll write about all that later. First, a story….

When I came to Project Horseshoe, I was delighted to find that James Ernest (creator of Tuesday Night Basketball favorite, Give Me the Brain) was also an attendee. He’d visited the ETC recently and seemed like a cool guy, and when a student at the ETC seminar had posed the question “What is your favorite card game?” he answered “Poker” without hesitation.

When talk of the game came up the first night of Horseshoe, I lamented that I was terrible at Poker, because I can never remember what beats what and I have a horrible Poker face. James’ eyes went alight, and he exclaimed that this was a perfect Poker combination and that I would probably do quite well at the game.

Needless to say, I was dragged into the first night’s game of Texas Hold’em, which was not for money since it was a training game for me. The other players included a smattering of designers who were, more or less, serious Poker players, but they were happy to help me learn the ways of the trade. With James on one side of me and Scott Brodie on the other, they coached me along as I bumbled through the rounds. The whole table was apparently trying desperately to let me win (so that I would be fond of the game and want to play again), but it was a trying effort on their part.

After the game, James continued to coach me by dealing out hands and having me analyze the cards and figure out which hand would win and asking me mysterious questions with Poker lingo that I didn’t quite get. The subsequent days, the other players assured me that once I learned the game, I could play professionally and pay off my student loans. I was mystified by this show of faith, and observed games and tried very hard to learn.

By the last night, I felt like I still couldn’t remember what beat what and still had a horrible Poker face.

Still, I sat down to observe their tournament (not daring to join, not when money was on the table). I watched closely to try and guess what cards would make a winning hand, and trying to figure out why whoever won a hand won. As the night waned on, Victor Jimenez grew very sleepy, and kept making ridiculous bets hoping to go out so he could go to bed. Unfortunately, he kept winning the hands.

I joked that I would happily sit in for him and would quickly lose all his chips, and after a pause, he agreed. I bumbled and back-tracked but he insisted I join, and the other players were fine with the swap, so I nervously took his place at the table, not too thrilled about losing another person’s money.

I played as best I could, always checking regardless of my hand because raising involved math and I didn’t want to fool with it (math is hard!). I folded more often than not, nervous since it was a real game, but I was brave enough to play a few meager hands.

The game finally came down to 4 people (the payoff was going to be for the first three places, so just one more person had to go out for the game to end). At one hand, James put everything in, one person called, I was next. I looked at my hand.

I had a 6 of hearts and 7 of diamonds. On the table were 3 other diamonds, one of which was an ace, and some hearts or something.

“Let’s see, I have a diamond,” I thought, “and there are some diamonds on the table, maybe the next flop will be a diamond! Who knows!”

I called. I learned later that this was a very poor decision, especially when someone was going all in with an Ace on the table. But, I was merely excited that I remembered that flushes existed! (I always forget about the flush, and I always forget whether it beats a straight or not) So, I was proud to show that I had learned something and was acting on it. The last person folded for an easy guaranteed 2nd or 3rd place.

The last flop was a diamond and we showed our cards. After a moment of stunned silence, it became clear that I won the pot, thus winning the entire game. Something about a “flush on the river.” James lost altogether and I won first place, and there was a riot of laughter and disbelief, while I looked around hesitantly and said “Did…did I win? Was that a good decision?”

Dustin Clingman informed me that no, it had been a terrible decision, but I had been damned lucky (he said this with a grin, having won second place). James was silent, and I think his eye twitched once or twice. Everyone else was laughing.

I trotted over to find Victor with the winnings, and he guffawed in disbelief, running back to the table to heckle the others that I’d actually won. He took his initial buy-in and then let me keep the winnings, which I was embarrassed about but thankful.

James told me that I had to use the winnings to buy a book about Poker so I could continue my training, and I agreed (though I’ll likely spend it on food, don’t tell). In spite of my having beat him out of the winnings, we are still friends.

So, shall I start my trade on the professional Poker circuit, using the winnings to pay off my student loans?? Probably not. I still can’t remember what beats what and I still have a horrible Poker face (though confusion is apparently as good as any bluff).

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