I Never Met A Canadian I Didn’t Like
Thursday, 1 October 2009
This is an explanation for anyone who might have seen my comments on Twitter today about “Eric”. This is the story behind them.
“I never met a Canadian I didn’t like.” That’s what I told Michael McDonald this morning, during the early levels of Day Two in the EPT High Roller event. Every Canadian I’ve ever met, and every Dane, is somehow sweet-natured and lovely. My theory about Canadians is that they (unlike us Londoners) have a lot of space around them. So other people aren’t a threat of any kind. Although that doesn’t explain the Danes. How big is Denmark? Bigger than London, I’m guessing.
Anyway, I’d forgotten about Eric. Horrible Eric from the World Series of Poker. He sat down at my table in one of the Vegas events, looking like… well, I don’t think he looks scary, but he looks like he wants to be scary. He has a big old pumped-up chest and enormous arms, down which he has tattooed the legend LIVE HARD. Doesn’t mean he isn’t a nice guy. I started out friendly, like I always do.
“Luckily” I chuckled to him in a friendly, flirty way, “We don’t live very hard, do we? Poker’s pretty good fun. Just sitting around, playing cards and drinking tea.”
Eric gave me the stare. Then he said, in a strong French-Canadian accent, “I am not gay.”
“What an odd thing to say”, I said. “Why should I care if you’re gay or not?”
We didn’t talk further. Later in the tournament, a hand came up between me and Rob Hollink - a very good and skilled Dutch poker player. To cut a long story short, on the river I checked a small full house on a double-paired board. I won’t go into detail, but I made the equation between the chance of Rob calling me with a worse hand, against the chance that he was trap-checking me with a better hand, and decided to check behind. I won the pot and Eric roared with laughter.
“She check a full ‘ouse!” he shouted at the man next to him.
“Well”, I said, “I didn’t think he would call if…”
“NO!” Eric held up a big meaty hand. “You have ‘umiliated yourself in front of everyone. The more you say, the worse it get.”
Here is a photo of Eric.
I forgot about him until we met again today in the EPT London High Roller event. Did you see the comments on Twitter and wonder what the problem was? This is the problem.
Eric does not speak to me directly. Eric watches me play, listens to me speak, then turns to his (male) neighbours and makes loud critical comments about me. It is very peculiar. There was a hand today where William Thorson (a shorter stack than me) raised into my small blind when I held the strong hand of KQ of spades. I flat called, as this is a good drawing hand and I wanted to see the flop before committing. The flop came 5-7-7. Not exactly “a hit” but I decided that my hand was almost certainly winning anyway (Thorson is a regular raiser), so I checked to let him continuation-bet, planning to check-raise him all in. But clever William checked behind. The turn paired the 5 and I checked for the same reason. He checked again. The river was a 6. Well, it was now too late to bet. He would call me with a weak ace - or, with nothing, he might suddenly raise all in and land me with a nasty decision. The best move was for me to check and call, as this gave him one last chance to bluff. When he checked, and I showed KQ to win the pot, William said, “Damn, I should have bet the flop!”
I like William, a fellow member of Team Pokerstars Pro and a nice, funny, likeable guy, so I told him in all honesty, “I wouldn’t have passed on the flop.”
Across the table, Eric slammed his sausagey fist into Matt Glanz, who sat next to him. “She wouldn’t ‘ave passed on the flop, she say! Hahaha! She be too scared to call even with two pair there!”
I looked at him, puzzled, but he didn’t look back.
A few hands later, I saw William Thorson go to raise under the gun. Then, oddly, he looked up, looked round the table and limped instead of raising. Several players limped behind him and the flop came 9 5 3. William Thorson and Matt Glanz entered a raising war and got the chips all in. Glanz (the big blind) showed 95 for two pair. Thorson showed A9 of clubs and was knocked out. As he walked away, Andrew Feldman (sitting next to me) said quietly to me, “That was a strange way to play A9.” I replied - to Feldman and only to Feldman - “He was going to raise but he changed his mind. I think maybe he sensed that someone else around the table had a hand and he didn’t want to get raised.”
Eric thumped Matt Glanz so hard, the poor man nearly fell backwards out of his chair. “She think Thorson ‘ave a read, when ‘e is first to speak!”
“But of course that’s possible”, I said to Eric. “You can get a read on people before they’ve acted. They can react to their cards, they can look at their chips, they can look to see where the button is… of course people have tells before they bet.”
“She thinks they ‘ave tells when they ‘ave not even bet!” Eric screamed at Matt Glanz, almost helpless with scornful laughter.
It was like he physically could not look at me, could not speak to me. And yet, over and over again, he reacted to things I said or did by making derisive or scornful or critical comments to his neighbours.
I wondered why I was letting it get to me, when poker players act like idiots the world over, and I usually like everybody or at least find them funny. Why be so upset by this guy? I thought maybe it was the annoyance of sensing that he has some sort of problem with women. I thought maybe it was the stress of getting near the final table in such a significant tournament, having a premonition that I might just miss out on the final (as I did, out in tenth place when the final table was for eight). But I realized, walking away, feeling a little guilty about my anti-Eric tweets, exactly what it was that bothered me. It was like being back at school.
That technique - of talking about you negatively, addressed to someone else but deliberately in your earshot - is what school bullies do. At school, they make the comments about your clothes, your hair, your body shape. But the principle is the same. That’s what chilled me: feeling again like the gauche kid who couldn’t get anything right, with the Big Successful Bully sharing jokes at my expense with a crowd who didn’t quite feel ready to stand up to him.
It was especially upsetting since, as I’ve written in my book, one of the things I loved about poker to begin with was the escape from the snidey-gossipy atmosphere of school. Poker was my alternative universe where that sort of thing didn’t happen; I don’t want it to take me back there.
Luckily, these days, I can stand up for myself. I told him across the table, before I left, that I thought he was a horrible man. I told him I had to assume it was accidental, since nobody could possibly be that rude deliberately. I told him I didn’t like him. And I’m glad, I’m glad. I’m glad that I texted my annoyance to Twitter, where lovely fellow Tweeters sent supportive messages back. And I’m glad I told him he was horrible, because you can’t really be bullied unless you let yourself be, and I was glad to remember that I won’t let myself be, any more. And I’m glad because, having said my piece, I am free to feel a bit sorry for Eric, assume he has problems like everyone else does, and I am determined to be nice to him the next time we meet.
Eric is going into tomorrow’s High Roller final as chip leader and will probably win it. I don’t care if he does. Good luck to him. If poker were a meritocracy of ethics, first prize would go to Adolpho Vaeza: a charming, sweet, gentlemanly Uruguayan player, at whom Eric also laughed heartily and nastily, I suspect because Adolpho is older than Eric believes successful poker players should be.
I will be delighted if Adolpho wins. But I won’t care if Eric does, because poker doesn’t work like that. I will try to be happy for Eric and hope that a win makes him happy. I am only sorry for one thing: that I finally met a Canadian I didn’t like.
HIGH ROLLER RESULTS
1 - Matt Glantz, USA, £542,000
2 - Erik Cajelais, Canada, £326,000
3 - Eugene Katchalov, USA, £193,000
4 - Adolfo Vaeza, Uruguay, £141,000
5 - Leo Fernandez, Argentina (Team PokerStars Pro) £104,000
6 - Ilari Sahamies, Finland, £74,000
7 - Dennis Phillips, USA (Team PokerStars Pro) £60,000
8 - Shane Reihill, Ireland, £45,000