Cognac

This weekend I went down to Foxwoods for my annual poker excursion at an event called FARGO, which stands for Foxwoods Annual Recreational Gambling Outing. Every year since 1997 a group of poker players who discuss strategy on the internet have been meeting for several days to play poker and earn bragging rights amongst themselves. Our group has included many players who have gone on to win world championships, including Greg “Fossilman” Raymer, who played with us again this year, and other notables such as Andy Block, who finished second this year in the WSOP $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. tournament buy-in winning himself a nifty million plus and Gavin Smith, the 2006 WPT Player of the Year, as well as many ordinary players such as myself.

We get a reduced hotel room rate, a free dinner at Custy’s all-you-can-eat-lobster buffet, and play three tournaments together. There is an also a nationwide outing every August in Las Vegas and similar regional poker outings at casinos in Atlantic City, Mississippi, California. Of those, I’ve only been to the Vegas outing once. Some in the group go to all events. Since the advent of online poker rooms, which make playing not only easier, but more profitable, the online casino takes a much smaller portion of the pot for their take than the brick and mortar casinos, I limit my trips to Foxwoods to once a year.

Poker players talking about poker is very similar to EMTs talking about EMS. In poker, it is the bad beat story. “I had all my chips in preflop with ace-ace, and get cracked by a joker with jack-jack when a jack lands on the river.” In EMS, it is usually stupid calls. “We go lights and siren for a difficulty breathing and it turns out the guy is only having trouble breathing because he got in a yelling match with the nurse at the home over how many cigarettes he could smoke.” After awhile you can get tired of hearing the same old thing. Whine whine whine.

So I won’t tell you how I did, how I lost. I budgeted for three tournaments and some cash game play. I did not win, but I also didn’t have to hit the ATM in order to keep playing or to pay for gas home. i stayed on budget. Chalk it up as entertainment.

Before the last tournament, instead of eating at the breakfast buffet, I went down to the gym and took a steam bath. It is an annual ritual. I pretend I am the traveling poker pro, and this is my life, steam baths, carpeted locker room, complimentary juice bar, tooth brush and razor, and then I head out to do battle.

Two hours later, my last hand is beat. I stand and leave the table while my opponent rakes in the chips, the dealer shuffles and deals a new hand to the remaining players, and I am forgotten until next year.

It was a beautiful day to drive back, the leaves orange and yellow. I got back in plenty of time to clean the house, do laundry, watch some football, cook a steak, and lay out my working clothes for the next day’s predawn rise.

**

People say I work too much, and sometimes I think that is true, but I do have some escapes and poker is one of them. I forget about work and just get lost in the cards, in the challenge of the plays and situations. It was good to play in a real casino again, and hold the chips in my hand, and joke with the others at the table. One of the big topics of conversation was the new law banning online poker which late one night in the final days of the session was snuck onto a bill dealing with port security without ever being debated. I heard someone say now Osama Bin Laden sitting in his cave in Pakistan can play Texas Hold’em on Party Poker on his laptop, while we in America, where poker is a national pastime – a game played by Presidents and factory workers alike — are now banned from pushing our chips in.

In EMS, you see how life beats people down – they get old, their backs hurt, their joints ache, their eyes dim, their houses fall into disrepair, just getting out of bed and walking to the bathroom becomes a chore, their mates die, their children don’t visit. EMS teaches you to enjoy life while you have it. What really pisses me off is a government that tries to tell people what they can’t do with their own lives in their own houses. You’re dying of cancer; you can’t smoke marijuana to relieve your constant nausea and pain. All of your old poker buddies are dead or in nursing homes, but you can’t play poker anymore because the government won’t let you play a nickel and dime poker game on the internet, all the while they will take your lottery money and of course you can bet on the horses because the Senators from those states were able to carve out an exemption for internet betting on horses, probably by trading their votes on issues like lavish pork spending for other Senator’s states. And they spend their time on this stuff instead of addressing the real issues of poverty, health care, and education, not to mention the war.

In any time and age or country, people should have a right to enjoy themselves. My girlfriend works even longer hours than I do. She came down to Foxwoods to join me for two days. While I played poker she spent an afternoon at the spa. When the hospital called her cell phone to see if she could come in to work overtime, she told them, “I’m sitting by the pool drinking cognac.” “That would be a no then,” the caller correctly assumed.

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