An Ignominious Exit
Wednesday, 13 March 2013
*note: this one’s for those who saw my cryptic tweets this morning, when I got knocked out of EPT London… but if you’re not a poker player, this blog is probably not the one for you!*
You see, now, I created a rod for my own back by saying I’d write a blog about this. Wasn’t sure what else to do at the time. Having tweeted during the first days of the London EPT, creating a situation where some lovely people (people that I didn’t know) were quite excited to see what happened when I returned for Day 3, close to the money, it seemed… well, OBVIOUSLY the story needs an ending. I was expecting to tweet when the bubble burst, or when I got knocked out, or when I won the tournament. There always had to be some sort of rueful or happy or philosophical conclusion to the narrative.
So, having concluded the tournament in a way I’m struggling to make sense of, and would really rather not write about, I feel like it would be unfair not to. So: here goes. The following story makes me look like a total idiot. It’s very embarrassing. But the day I started writing about poker, several years ago, I promised myself that (whether in a quick passing column, or in my book) I’d never be one of those people who told half-truths, with room for only highlights and triumphs, glamour and glory. Some poker players are keen to sell a version of events where they only ever win, and only ever do the right thing. That’s not how it is in real life – for anyone. I was kind of a moron today, so I might as well be a moron in public.
So: I’d had a really bad morning. Won’t bore you with the details - all work stuff going stupidly wrong, and me feeling sorry for myself that I couldn’t just concentrate on the tournament like those who haven’t taken on too much else besides - and I’ve been a bit ill, and not had any sleep and… Blah blah. I had to stop in the middle of a meeting to make the tournament on time – having finished day 2 with 34,000 in chips and blinds at 1000-2000 (going up, of course, on day 3), I couldn’t afford to be late. I rushed there but I was in kind of a mess.
To my horror, I realised I was on the TV table. This is depressing news anyway, when you have a 10-15 BB stack, as the likelihood is you’re about to make your tournament exit live on camera, with a bunch of people giving their opinion on whatever mistake you made for that to happen. An involuntary vision of that moment makes it quite hard to conjure up the gung-ho positive spirit that you need to play this stack (and, if you’re so minded, to manifest good things). It’s especially depressing when you have a horrible feeling that one of the reasons it’s been chosen as the TV table is that they ANTICIPATE you’re about to get knocked out and it’ll be a good moment of TV!
But whatever. Them’s the breaks. Especially for me; I’m a PokerStars Pro – I am an ACTIVE PART of the modern poker machine, with all its whizz-bang coverage. It is part of my JOB to be visible while playing – and if that means getting stuck playing an awkward stack under more scrutiny than I’d have liked, fine. There’s no such thing as a free lunch. The problem was, I was absolutely not camera-ready. For some reason… OK, here’s the embarrassing bit. I was underslept, I felt stressed, and… God this is embarrassing, it’s going to make me sound like such a sap and SUCH a girl, but I couldn’t shake the feeling I was about to cry. I needed five minutes to wash my face, sort myself out, and maybe put on a bit of makeup to feel ready to look nice and try to embrace the double challenge of playing a short stack while helping to make a TV show.
So I asked… I’m not going to use anyone’s names because I don’t think any of this is anyone’s fault. I asked X if we HAD to be the TV table from the start – whether it was possible to start broadcasting a bit later, or move there later, because I absolutely wasn’t feeling together.
Or, I thought, if the live webcast HAD to start as soon as the first hand was dealt on the table, couldn’t we have a five minute delay before it started, so everyone could be ready for the extra factor of the coverage?
That seemed likely to be possible. If you’re moving to the TV table in the middle of play, you always get a bit of notice and often a little break. And in my experience, TV tables always run on a different clock. That’s because you often have to pause for people to get miked up, new players to go in and out, lights or cameras to be fixed – meaning you always go on the break at a slightly different time to everyone else. It can be annoying. On the plus side, at least it should mean you can ask for five minutes before the start to get yourself together and psych up for TV. (By which I mean: have some cocaine).
(I don’t mean that. Have you MET me? I’ve never even SEEN cocaine. I mean: have a cup of tea and brush my hair.)
X said I’d need to talk to Y. So, I waited for Y to come to the table. I was getting anxious, as the clock was ticking down towards start time. By the time she arrived, there were only a couple of minutes to go, so I asked very quickly if the TV table could have five minutes before starting. Confusingly, she engaged me in conversation about it. Probably my fault for being nervous and unclear with the question. Suffice it to say that by the time she said she actually had no authority over the TV timing, I’d already missed four or five hands. This seemed such a ridiculous waste of time – so INSANE that I’d used up the few minutes I did have, pleading for a 5-minute delay with someone who couldn’t authorise one – that… OK, there’s no good way to say this. I now seemed to be crying.
I’m almost as embarrassed typing that as I was at the time. I don’t make a habit of bursting into tears in public. But everything was a bit much today, and I just found I couldn’t help it.
Well, now I was stuffed like an absolute kipper. Obviously I couldn’t sit down and start playing hands on a televised table while CRYING. I’d look utterly mental. And it wouldn’t reflect very well on the tournament either. There was no option of sitting down like that – but it seemed an unfair general disadvantage against the rest of the room, to be blinded out because I couldn’t sit down, when the only reason I couldn’t was because of the cameras. So now I pleaded quite seriously for a five minute pause, and Y said I’d need to ask Z the floor man.
Now it was my big blind. The cards were being dealt. Marvellous. I had to put in a significant part of my stack when the hand was already dead, because I wasn’t sitting down when it was dealt. I didn’t even know what the big blind WAS. 2400? 3600? 4000? I hadn’t sat down since play started, nor seen a clock. So I just leaned over – not close enough to be in shot for broadcast, just leaning across the table – had a look at the hand and pushed my little stack of chips over for the dealer to take the big blind and give me my smattering of change. The hand was quite pretty, as it happened - 8–10 of clubs. But I could pretty much never have defended my big blind with it anyway, I reasoned, because I had too few chips. So: not a disaster. It would have had to go in the muck anyway, barring a super-specific set of circumstances. Still standing, I pushed the cards over the line with the chips.
At this point, Z the floor man arrived. I explained (perhaps unnecessarily!) that I seemed to be in tears and couldn’t sit down on camera like that – but neither could I afford to miss another round of blinds and antes – so could we have a five minute break. The dealer then asked “Are you all in?”
Turns out it wasn’t even my big blind! That’s how much of a mess I was in, no sense of what was going on in the tournament at all. The blinds were still on my right, I was under the gun. This was a relief, albeit a small and temporary one: it bought me an extra few minutes to try and get this break, or stop snivelling and tidy up enough to sit down. Obviously I’d now get all the chips back again, not just the change - I mean, this was a dead hand, on which it must be impossible to make an active bet.
The floor then asked if I had meant to go all in. I’m absolutely certain he meant well. But if there’s one thing I know, it’s that you don’t answer this question directly with opponents listening. If you say “No no, of course not” and then it’s somehow ruled as an all-in anyway, six people call you! You have to leave the option open that this was deliberate and you might have aces and they might fold. So, I just said: “You can see the situation… I’m standing here… The cards and chips are over there… You have to make a ruling based on what you think!”
The floor then had a conversation with the dealer that I couldn’t hear, although I did hear one player say that the intention was to go all in. Did he mean to be helpful as well? He’s always seemed like a nice guy, so I have to hope so. Though I wasn’t sure at the time… Either way, to my amazement, it seemed that my bet was being considered an active all in. I didn’t really understand whether my hand was also being considered dead… But I realized the floor was, kindly, at least calling it a live hand. Based on what the dealer said, this must have been his only possible ruling. The action passed round to Player B, who called. I didn’t know what with. I couldn’t see her cards, or the flop, from where I was standing. But when it had finished, I said “Is that it, am I out?” and the floor said yes. (Later I discovered that Player B had a pair of queens. Well, she MUST play that hand. She’s got no choice at all. No advantage-taking there.)
I don’t want to blame anyone except my idiotic self for any of this. That floor man is a genuinely lovely guy. I absolutely believe that he made the only ruling he felt he could with the information available. In fact, on reflection, I rather LIKE the ruling. I think it was properly well meant. Assuming that I intended to go all in, and understanding why I felt awkward about sitting down in front of the cameras in that moment, he opted in favour of the spirit of the rule (rather than the letter). I always want good TDs to be free to do this. Imagine if I HAD had aces! What a just and kindly ruling I’d have considered it to be. It just so happened, that was not the case.
(Barry Greenstein told me later that, when the floor asked if I had meant to go all in, what I should have done is asked to give my answer out of earshot – which never occurred to me, but it’s a good idea and I pass it on to readers for possible future use).
But I understand the floor’s reading of the situation, and have genuinely come to appreciate it. Even with the cards as they were: my 10-high could have won the pot, in which case I would’ve got to keep the chips, I’m sure. So I have to accept the alternative outcome.
I also talked to X, who’d first advised me to wait and speak to Y about a 5 minute delay. He (really nicely) explained he hadn’t understood what the request was, or he would have said at once it’s impossible to have a delay. I’m sure that Y, too, despite being very senior on the TV production, felt that she had no option to give the delay. I’ve been delayed so many times by external factors at feature tables, I was absolutely certain that it would be possible. But I was wrong. Not her fault; I’m sure she wasn’t PRETENDING her hands were tied.
At the time, I felt incredibly sad that there had been no room for a bit of human discretion from anyone. Rules are rules, I know. But are there no circumstances when a bit of… I mean, if I were running a thing, I…
Oh, I dunno. Serves me right for making a human error. Poker players are supposed to handle their emotions better than that. (They are also DEFINITELY supposed to know when it’s their big blind, and how much that is.) So, I can’t say that anyone did anything wrong – except me, being too much of a big girl’s blouse and not enough of a poker pro. But it was a perfect storm.
If I’m disappointed in anyone, maybe it’s the other seven players at the table. Please note: if a player needs a break for any reason – if they are ill, or have just had bad news on the phone, or are inexplicably in tears – and the people in charge (tournament directors or TV production people) won’t or simply can’t give them a break, then there is one thing that you, a player, can do. You can create the space by making a slow decision. You can sit with your hand for five minutes, while that person has their break. You can say “Go, take five minutes, I’ll wait.” I have done this many times. Sometimes, everyone joins in – as happened in the major event where a player was given the wrong dinner break information and was due to miss a key half hour of play. The others took it in turns to make 5-minute decisions, so he’d only missed a couple of hands when he came back. It was an “I’m Spartacus” thing. The thought of it makes me very happy.
I’ve done that kind of thing - tried to help a fellow player, despite the general umbrella of trying to knock them out of tournaments – because, for all that this game is about trickery and deceit and bluff, it is also a game of people and you have to keep humanity alive. On Day 1 of this very event, I missed several hands after a break because a girl had been stuck in a toilet cubicle and I waited for someone to get her out and then talked to her while she calmed down. On day 2, I noticed an opponent was suffering with a bad cold and feeling miserable – I gave him some cold remedy and bought him a bottle of water to take it with, despite it being to my obvious advantage if he felt awful and wanted to go home.
You don’t have to do this. If a girl is standing in tears by your table pleading for a few minutes’ break, you certainly don’t have to help out with a delay. You don’t have to advise a drunk person in a cash game that he should probably have a cup of tea, or go home. You don’t have to warn a sloppy opponent that you can see his cards. You don’t have to point out to someone that it’s his big blind, before he passes by mistake. You don’t have to do anything for anyone. It is for each individual player to decide where his or her own line is, when it comes to deceiving people for money but remaining human at the same time. It’s definitely possible to do both. I know where my line is. I know what I’d have done.
But maybe they had no idea what was going on either. I hope not. I really hope not. I’m going to assume not. I’m going to assume that nobody in this whole situation could have done anything different – because if they could, and didn’t, it’s a bit too cold a world.
Two lovely friends sat and talked to me, on swivel chairs by the slot machines, while I whinged about this perfect storm, and how unjust it felt, and kicked myself for being such an idiot. They made me feel better. Thanks, K and C.
I wanted to go and play a cash game immediately, just to make something of the wasted day. Funnily enough, there was a seat in a £10-£25 Holdem game. But Jeff Leigh, the card room manager, said I shouldn’t play because I’d be on tilt and might make the day even worse for myself. I don’t know if he was right. I never really go on tilt. I thought I would play fine. But I came home because he offered this advice as a kindness, and I wanted to respect it by acting on it. It was one of those days when I thought: nothing’s really as important as a bit of kindness, now and then.
There’s a story my Dad used to quote about an old academic, giving advice to a newcomer at All Souls’ College. It translates well to poker.
“Don’t try too hard to be clever”, the old don said. “In this world, we are all clever. Just try to be kind.”