An extraordinary week what with the weather warming up, and hope blossoming bright and blue as spring ushers in all manner of green and gentle thing. That’s right, I’m an optimist. And it’s been an optimist’s sort of week, hasn’t it? Except for a few overly brisk mornings, warmth and goodness beckon from just around the corner. And poker – well, after the doldrums of winter I am like a dog who had a cancerous 4-kg tumour removed from his shoulder – everything is wonderful again. I feel alive; I feel like living. And my game this past week was full of that exuberance. Full of that springtime enthusiasm!
And not enough can be said for enthusiasm, we know that. Napoleon Hill, in his classic book The Law of Success (circa 1918) talks about the importance of enthusiasm in all of one’s endeavours. “Enthusiasm is a state of mind that inspires and arouses one to put action into the task at hand.” I love that formulation – I like the word “arouses” there, and the expression “put action into the task.” When’s the last time you put action into anything? Anyway, good old Napoleon Hill knew what he was talking about. The power of positive thinking is formidable. Through suggestion or auto-suggestion an individual can believe and complete monumental achievements: Herculean feats of strength, Einsteinian leaps of the intellect, Joycean verbal artistry, Houdiniesque escapes and so forth. Believe it and it will be!
So having experienced the first frail flush of spring, and feeling reinvigorated in the mind if not the body just yet, I went to Fallsview with my absolute A-game, serious but jovial, pleasant but lethal, calculating, infernal, telekinetic, sharp, focused and completely in tune with the universe as I know it. After all, a worm in a radish thinks his world is a radish. I sat down and had the feeling that I was going to catch a few cards as well, and that my opponents, the usual ill-dressed and hirsute crew of regulars and grinders one finds midweek at Fallsview, had better beware or they would be shipping me all their chips. And this feeling was validated in reality by the quick manner in which I vacuumed up all the chips at the table. It was stunning. I was catching big pocket pairs and hitting the flop beautifully with my more speculative holdings. I must have won seven or eight hands in a row barely trying. It happens sometimes. A rush writ large. A joke, really.
And then, the inconceivable happens. As I say, I’m catching cards and hitting flops, but on one hand I get pocket 8s under the gun and I come in with a small raise. After a succession of re-raises and re-re-raises, I find myself in thick with two other fellows, who likely have me crushed. But when the flop comes 9–9–8, I’m feeling mighty fine. How often does one flop a full boat? The betting doesn’t let up, however. I figure someone has a bigger pocket pair or has hit the 9, but after all that raising I’m uncertain.
When the turn yields another frigging 8, I almost poop myself. I cannot remember that last time I had quads. And yes, your chances of getting quads are remote: how does 0.17 per cent sound? Okay. So I’m sitting their with my quad 8s and these two clowns are betting like there’s no tomorrow. I don’t even glance at the board carefully enough to see that one of the 8s and one of the 9s are suited in hearts. No, I think nothing of it. Nothing at all.
And did you know that the chance of hitting a straight flush in Texas Hold’em is 0.03 per cent? That’s right. Only a royal flush at 0.003 per cent is a bigger long shot. Folks, we’re talking about absolute statistical anomalies, in the end. So what happens when, after a 10 of hearts falls on the river and all the chips go in the pot and the fellow with the quad 8s feels that spring has really begun now, and that life on the planet Earth, at least for now, is full of music and beauty, and that humans are beautiful, and sad too, and that we often simply misunderstand the apparent complexity of the universe, that in fact we compound the complexity through our misunderstanding, that indeed the universe makes complete and perfect sense, and that it is a sin to see disorder and enmity where there is but harmony and joy? And then what happens when that enlightened and enthusiastic individual sees one opponent turn over a pair of 9s, thus giving him quads over quads (a breathtaking statistical improbability)? And then, as he recoils from the jackboot to the stomach he just caught, he watches the fellow with the 9s watch the third guy in the hand turn over a jack-queen of hearts, giving him the very frightening statistical monster of a straight flush over two quads, and the fellow with 9s suddenly bursting into hysterical sobs ... and everyone running for the exits as if they just saw something they shouldn’t have ... something unnatural, something wrong.
Emile Frendo of the Honeymoon City is a semi-professional poker player and winner of the 2006 Pirate Poker Open Championship.