Friday 13th Came Early
Wednesday, 11 February 2009
Wow, there really is such a thing as “one of those days”.
I was in a pretty good mood, on route to play the PartyPoker European Open. I wasn’t wearing my magnificently-selected Blog Outfit after all, maybe I should’ve. My new black skirt was definitely not lucky for me. But I was happy with it yesterday: it turned up mail order in the morning post and thus I miraculously acquired something new that fits reasonably well, despite having no time to go shopping, AND it was in the sale. I was a happy little mail order convert as I headed off to East London in the sunshine, for a lovely afternoon break from work before my regular Tuesday game.
Technically, I shouldn’t have agreed to play in an event which I needed to slot so neatly in between work deadlines and a longstanding evening arrangement. But these matches always take 3-4 hours; every day so far, the second game had begun at 4pm sharp and finished by 9. Besides, I needed a break. I’m in the middle of another OCD workaholic phase; I might sing the joys of taking time off, but I’m very bad at practising it.
When I got to the studio to find three people still playing the last match, half an hour after it should have ended, I didn’t worry too much. Blinds were 5000-10,000, average stack 200k. This wouldn’t take long. But it was only after 4 o’clock, the time our heat was meant to start, that they got heads-up.
“Don’t worry!” cried Beiju, the lovable event director from Matchroom Sport. “So far, all the heads-ups have finished in three hands!”
Fifty hands later, the six players waiting for the second match were lined up on the sofa with slumped shoulders as if we’d all, already, been defeated. Ian Frazer, God bless him, expressed his certainty that it would surely now be finished in less than ten minutes. Padraig took the bet. I hope he finds something fun to do with the money.
With the unexpected aeons of extra time, I took the opportunity to phone back a relative who’d left me a message – what an error. It turned out to be one of those “difficult” conversations. I’ve had too many of those this year. Family, eh? Now I just wanted to go home. But you can’t really, can you? Even though nobody pays you to show up for these TV poker things, and they can promise you a start time that doesn’t deliver, it’s just mean to leave, however you’re feeling. Cocks up their programme. Not fair.
The fold-fold-fold-raise-fold-fold-fold heads-up marathon finally grizzled to a halt around 6pm, two hours after our match was meant to start. “Come on”, I said gloomily, “Let’s go in.”
But no! Turned out the crew had to have an hour’s break. Of course. I don’t begrudge the cameramen a meal and a trip to the bathroom, but this was horrible news. Partly because it meant we would be starting only an hour before six people would show up at my house, on the other side of London, expecting dinner and a card game. But also because, unexpectedly, an old friend of mine was knocking around the studio. Sounds like cheering news? Someone to hang out with on the break, catch up, have a laugh and a cup of tea? Sadly not. This is an old friend who woke up one morning last year deciding that he hates me. I honestly don’t know why. It’s a bit scary and sad. For years we played cards, swapped shares, travelled together, went swimming and had meals in the sunshine. Then, suddenly, from about three months after my father died, everything I did seemed to piss him off. You don’t really expect friends to get angry with you, do you? That’s the thing about friends. Unlike family, boyfriends, employers, rivals, enemies or strangers on the internet, friends are the people who don’t get angry with you. When it happens, over and over again with the same person, at one of those times in life when you really need your friends, it’s bizarrely unsettling. Eventually he just stopped talking to me. At Christmas, after six months of this, I was feeling nostalgic for the friendship I thought we used to have, and sent a nice text to see if he wanted to hang out at the end of the year. He didn’t. And I understood, finally, that it wasn’t to do with pique at any individual thing; he must have just realized, one day, that he’d hated me a bit all along. Or should have done. Nothing I could do about that, except give up and try not to feel too hurt or resentful. It’s very sad, but who needs friends to make you feel terrible about yourself? I, particularly, don’t. On the days when I wake up yearning to be told what a **** I am, I can just read the Hendon Mob forum.
Some pretty terrible things have happened in my life over the last 18 months, so I’m quite muscled-up, emotionally, for getting past the sadness of a lost friendship. If you’ve had a serious kicking, you can deal with a Chinese burn, even if you’ll never understand why an old friend would want to administer one. At bad times, you are amazed and delighted when anything nice happens, and the world goes all sparkly when good friends show their kindness and patience; when the opposite happens, it doesn’t cripple you because you’re in a state where you sort of expect it. Probably sounds weird, but anyone who’s been depressed will know what I mean. So, it’s ok. But let me tell you: it’s not ideal to be reminded of all that, with no warning, when you’re meant to be playing poker, you’re running hours late, and you’re already upset about family stuff and you want to go home.
It certainly doesn’t help your brain to work perfectly when a man you’ve never played before, who has so far showed down only a full house (thus knocking out the player you feared most in the heat) calls your pre-flop raise, check-calls on a flop of Q T 2, then bets out heavily when an 8 comes on the turn. My hand was pretty standard: I had a flush draw and a gutshot, plus I was the pre-flop raiser. It would be an automatic all-in for me, normally; I’d do it in my sleep. But my brain hurt. I knew that I wanted to go home. I was worried that the instinct to move in was coming from a place of desire to sabotage my tournament, rather than a desire to win it. After all, the guy had played it exactly as he would play J9. And I didn’t know him, and I had no reason to believe he’d do anything crazy at level one, and Padraig had put all his money in with a much better draw than mine (up and down straight flush) to discover that the geezer had a house already. I sat there for ages, in a sort of dream world, trying to analyze my own instincts rather than just listening to them. It was simple really: in that kind of situation, I would always stick it in and wish the guy luck if he had a straight and I missed. But I was lost in all these other thoughts, and my difficult afternoon, and I didn’t trust any of my impulses. So, I called with some strange passive idea of hitting the flush or passing, missed it, passed, and the guy waved 9-5 offsuit in my face shouting “That’s the second time you’ve raised my big blind!”
I dunno. We chatted on a cigarette break and he seemed like a nice guy really. But I could’ve done without that. Whether it’s internet posters, old friends or new acquaintances at the poker table, too many people lately seem to treating me like their arch-enemy. I feel like a soft target. Let’s be honest: I could craft a three-piece suite out of my own self-pity, and curl up in it for a snooze.
So, the upshot is, I ended up getting knocked out in fourth place but still not arriving home til midnight, to find the players just starting to wind up my home game. Still, the washing up was therapeutic.
And the moral is: poker might seem like a great little unwinding treat in the middle of a busy schedule, but it isn’t. Not a high-stakes live tournament, anyway. If you’re too busy but you can spare a few hours one day for “fun”, go for a nice walk in the park. Leave poker for when you’ve got a clear head.
And the happy bit is: luckily, I am quite a shallow person. My depressions never last long; a few hours, and suddenly I’m all cheered up by the thought of beans on toast. And you know what? I paid my dues in advance: I reckon Friday 13th is going to be a beautiful day.