A fellow I’ve run into a few times at Fallsview named Alessandro showed up the other night and I think he underwent some kind of transformation during one hand, which convinced me that poker has the power not only to humble people and reduce them to paranoiac babbling idiots, but it can sometimes reveal to its participants glimpses of the divine, of the paradisal, of the real and beautiful world that lies beyond the flickering shadows of our mortal cave. Allow me to explain.
I would describe Alessandro as a big blond good old boy with a penchant for playing junky cards in an effort to take down guys playing premium hands. In other words, he will actively seek to play a 9-7 suited against a raiser and a re-raiser in an efforts to destroy those two players likely playing premium hands by hitting a little flush, a straight, two pair, or whatever. Yes, it’s a risky road to take, one fraught with danger, but Alessandro, who tools around the Falls on a big-ass Harley, likes the danger. He justifies his game by comparing it to counterpunching boxers who sit in the pocket and let the fight come to them. “The implied odds in those situations always delight me,” he says. “The guy with the rockets or the cowboys doesn’t see it coming. I slow-play nice and let them take the lead. Then when I hit, I take all their chips.” Of course now and then Alessandro actually has a big starting hand and he knows how to wield a sledgehammer as well as a knife.
Anyway, I’ve grown to like this Alessandro dude, always smiling, always red-faced with joy or chagrin. He also suffered from a facial tic that some players thought evidenced a cynical mind. In other words, every now and then Alessandro would appear to move his lips in disgust or contempt when in fact this was the tic at work. Well, on this one evening I was having a good night and had doubled up twice already. I tightened up my game and thought I´d only venture in with big big hands. I didn’t feel like giving any of the hard-earned chips back to the bozos at this table.
Alessandro was having an up-and-down night and he looked miserable. His game lacked rhythm and he seemed distracted, at times bored. On one hand his pocket aces got cracked by a J-10 suited that flopped into a flush. I told him he couldn’t really bitch since he did it so often himself. “True,” he said, “but that doesn’t make it feel any better right now.” Then when he tried to junk out a couple of guys sparring like gladiators he lost half his stack when one of those boys hit a full house with his kings.
“You’ve got no one to blame but yourself,”I chuckled, when he started bitching again. Alessandro squinted at me and smiled but clearly he was unhappy. Moreover, a couple of new guys at our table, one wearing a hat like Jeff Lisandro and the other sporting an annoying neck beard, quickly started mucking around, raising and re-raising and showing everyone how aggressive they were. One of them announced that they were from New Jersey as if this was supposed to mean something to us.
They quickly got under Alessandro’s skin. It wasn’t too long before both these fellows and a third man with a giant purple mole on his temple got into a little betting skirmish. Alessandro noted the action and flat-called almost a third of his chips (after a recent re-buy). I thought he was hanging around with one of his typical little connectors or what have you, maybe even a 10-9, while the others contested with big aces or maybe queens but not aces because no one moved all-in. The man with the mole finally let his hand go and touched his mole as if it had given him unsound advice.
The Jersey boys and Alessandro meanwhile gazed intently at the felt and waited. The flop came A-K of clubs and a 10 of diamonds. Boom the betting started, raise, re-raise, call, but still no one moved all-in, something I found odd. With that much money in the pot someone should have moved all-in. Then I suspected that the Jersey boys were colluding in some fashion for they had Alessandro between them and were chopping off all his chips. The turn now came: 10 of clubs. Uh-oh, I thought, someone’s going to get hurt real bad. Flushes, straights, boats, take your pick. This was a scary scary board.
I glanced at Alessandro and he gave me the weirdest look. His eyes seemed to be vibrating; his skin glowed. His small blue eyes burned like sapphires. He moved all-in, his voice liquid and thick, his hands slightly trembling. Then he glanced sheepishly back at me and I thought, the poor guy missed everything and now he’s making the weakest play at a pot I’ve ever seen. What the fuck could he possibly have? He’d been calling, calling, calling and now he moves in with that scare board. I didn’t figure he had aces or anything like that, no way. He would have moved all-in earlier. Then I thought, If one of those Jersey boys don’t have a monster then poker is truly a stupid game.
The boys called so quickly they almost sprained their wrists, and as they both had chips remaining they didn’t open up. Then when the river fell, a king of hearts, I thought that whatever Alessandro had was dead and one of these two colluding clowns would take down the gigantic pot. When one of them turned over his A-K the other let out a hysterical little yelp; and with good reason, his A-10 was destroyed. Full house over full house.
Then the shocker. Alessandro turned over a Q-J of clubs. Flush, I thought. Everyone stared at the Q-J clubs for a moment and – as it is with these things – it finally registered. Alessandro had hit a fucking royal flush.
The Jersey boys quickly gathered their remaining chips and made for the exits. The others at the table applauded. Alessandro, red-faced, shaking, stood up and gave a little bow. It was beautiful. He gathered the mountain of chips with a simper on his face. He tossed the dealer a toke and the dealer rang a bell. Alessandro said almost nothing for the rest of the night. He sat their with that simper and with his eyes staring off, as if into the distance. I’m telling you, that hand changed him. A hand like that can change anybody.
Emile Frendo of the Honeymoon City is a semi-professional poker player and winner of the 2006 Pirate Poker Open Championship.