I was recently invited to play at a private event at a local casino. It was a £55 (+1 re-entry) NLHE game for some on-line, low-stakes players, and was principally a social gathering. What I should be saying here is that I was thrilled to attend and be support to the local poker community, but actually, I went to the event to give the beered-up Sunday afternoon poker party people a chance to support me.

I like playing in events like this because I have the highest odds of facing my favourite live opponent type: MrSalesManGuy.

MrSalesManGuy is easy to spot, he will definitely have expensive jeans, he will definitely have shiny shoes and he will definitely have an open collar shirt.

Salesmanguy; just look at his shiny teeth
Mr Salesmanguy; just look at his shiny teeth

He may have either a subtly branded jumper or blazer jacket, or both, sometimes it takes him ages to decide which to wear and he phones his mum for help in the morning. Mr SalesManGuy will have perfect hair, it might be styled in a perfect mess, but MrSalesManGuy is just that funking cray-cray. MrSalesManGuy will also have a loud voice.

So why is MrSalesManGuy my favourite? Two things must ye know about MrSalesManGuy:

  1. He’s never going to believe I’m better at poker than he is, because I have boobs.
  2. He’s a salesman? Yes. It’s important because before a hand is dealt I know he’s going to try and sell me some shit.

I was pleased with the table draw, 2 x MrSalesManGuys at my table. One was three seats to my left (MSMG1) and the second was two to my right (MSMG2), seats 6 and 1 respectively. I felt gleeful. I was the only female player at the table and MSMG2 was straight on it and offered me a drink, the sales bullshit had begun and the cards hadn’t even been chemmied.

I politely declined the drink, MSMG2 looked a bit surprised that 3pm on a Sunday wasn’t cocktail hour for me and ordered himself a bucket of four beers. The glee was growing.

The game got underway and, as predicted, both MSMGs started selling. They mentioned a few pivotal hands in previous tourneys, laying the groundwork for us recognising their experience. They mentioned a few big pros, they incorrectly used some jargon (anyone else think it should be a 2hand penalty for calling trips a set?) and generally made the rest of us notice they definitely knew all about poker.  I, for one, was in awe as I busied myself trying to bleed some chips from an old guy immediately to my left. He was having issues with his hearing-aid and was suitably distracted, calling pre-flop raises and giving up almost consistently.

Then MSMG2 pipes up with a 2.5x opening raise on my bb. I peer down at 8h9h and play with my chips for a bit before raising roughly the pot, and he called my raise. I’d thought he’d be out there, to be honest. I had him as trying a move he’d just read in a poker magazine that afternoon, and now I wished I was dead. Obviously, I barrelled the 7-high flop and he fold showed Jh9s. This is where I made a crucial decision to wind up the MrSalesManGuys. I showed my cheeky 9-high and observed that both men clocked it.

What MrSalesManGuy sees when he looks at me
What MrSalesManGuy sees when he looks at me

This is where point 1), above, comes into play. MrSalesManGuys usually won’t credit a woman being better at poker (or anything else) than them. I mean, they might just about concede a brevity of skill against say, Victoria Coren, or Vanessa Selbst, but not against some chick at the local casino with a false eyelashes and a purple penguin for a phone cover.

As a base starting point, MSMGs will assume I am always playing the nuts, or close to, purely because I am a girl. I’m confident I can play back light a good few times before they get suspicious; I call it breast-equity. I can’t very well credit MSMGs with zero intelligence, often they are pretty smart, but salesmen rely on stereotypes, and I rely on that.  These two had seen me make a few raises and as reliable as breast-equity is against certain players, it does have a limited life span; at some point I have to show them I’m not always strong.

I took the opportunity in this pot as within 5 minutes I’d have been lurking about with 15bigs, and I needed to lay a bit of groundwork for getting chips in with some kind of hand, which I know from reading books will happen to me eventually. I perpetually have a party popper in my handbag for when the day finally arrives.

About  15mins later I’m dealt KdJc in the hj and open to 1800 on 300/600/50 with 7600 behind and MSMG1 on the bb. We’re heads up to the flop when MSMG2, on cue, like a scripted pro says:

“Watch her, mate. She’s tricky. Tri-cky.” I could have kissed him on his adorable attempt to hide his male-pattern-baldness. I felt tricky. MSMG1 did not have a better hand than me, I’d seen his raises, he’d have shipped me with any A or pair and MSMG2 was talking him into thinking I always had boiled pants. Go-Team-Idiot.

Flop presents itself as Jd-8d-2c and he insta checks. I could tell he didn’t mind the flop, and I was pretty sure he wouldn’t give up with hands like Q-10, Q-9, J-10, which I was confident accounted for a large part of his flop calling range here. In short, I fancied the arse off my K-J and thought he was good for some beans, so I put him to a bet.

He literally could not raise-shove all his chips in fast enough. He spannered them all over the table and stood up, nearly knocking his chair over with excitement. My least favourite thing about live poker is my propensity for getting a bit caught up in all the excitement, which is exactly what happened this time.

I snapped him off and launched my fat backside out of my own chair, showing my cards with a dramatic rainbow-arc swoosh of my arm. In hindsight, I wish I’d said ‘Ta Dah!’.

He sheepishly turned over Qh-Js for visual confirmation that he was indeed, my total bitch (82%). The turn card was 3d, making me feel invincible (95%). Then MSMG2 opens his wretched mouth again and says:

“Oh shit, mate, you’ve only got one queen now… the queen of clubs.”

“Let’s see the only safe queen!” squawked MSMG1. Time appeared to slow down, and as the dealer peeled the last card off the deck I looked at the two MSMGs, both intently focussing on the spot on the felt where the river card would appear. My eyes followed theirs to the space. As the dealer dragged the card across the table, I knew it was coming. It that tiny second, three fully grown adults were focussing their attention on imagining the queen of clubs appearing.

BOOM! Queen of clubs on the river (slag).

MSMG1 gave me a small, conciliatory smile. I’ve had it before from really good players, it says “Well, you got outplayed this time sweetheart, but maybe you learned summat.” I don’t mind being outplayed, and I’d even go as far as to say when I get really spanked, I even get a bit of a buzz out of it. Being beaten by a really good player is not the worst feeling poker gives me, by a long way.

In this case, I wasn’t beaten by a really good player. I think I was beaten by the power of will. I appreciate how stupid that sounds. I prefer science to hocus-pocus, as a general rule, and there is no scientific grounding for the idea that people can cause specific events by the power of will.canstockphoto7470741

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a well-established idea, and many people believe in it, it’s just that subjecting this idea to scientific testing has not resulted in what science would consider reliably informative data. Maybe science has done the wrong tests, maybe the idea of human will affecting the physical universe is bollocks, I don’t know.

What I do know is that in that moment, I allowed my mind to be captivated by the idea of chance, and magic and the all-powerful human will. When I saw the Queen of Clubs, I believed in fairies for a second, and nearly clapped my hands.

I shouldn’t have done that. I’m not saying it’s never okay to be excited at a poker table, some hands are heartpoundingly thrilling, but that wasn’t one of them. I play poker, not only because I enjoy it, but because I know that maths is tried, tested and pretty damn reliable. Mathematically, that was a boring hand, he was crushed all the way, but on the turn, when everyone was all excited, I genuinely felt like it was a 50/50 shot, one of us would be out, one of us would be in. What a thick twat I am.

There was no need for me to be caught up in the excitement. I think I make the call anyway, honestly, but why didn’t I think about it for a minute first? Why was I standing up? Getting all your money in at 4/1 favourite is the dream, I should have sat down, taken a sip of my drink and been ready for the next hand. By the turn, I was staying in that seat 95% of the time, and yet I was buzzing about like I was actually in some serious peril.

Maths does not require faith; it’s will do its thing, whatever you believe

I think I should have reflected my own faith in the Great Church Of Mathematics and sat the fuck down. Let the MSMGs believe they can call in a card, I don’t believe in fairies. There was no need for me to be thinking about the Queen of Clubs at that point in the hand. Not because I believe it will make the dreaded card hit, but because it’s a negative seed. Why would I want to consider the 5% bad when I’ve got it 95% good? Why dwell on the tiny negatives?

If I had won that pot, I would have been table chip lead, and have needed to concentrate to try and build my stack against an aggressive turbo structure. Thinking about the horrible 5% of the time that maths will kick me in the taint in that position simply allows the fear of getting beaten to start growing and prevent me from thinking clearly in the next hand and the 100 hands after that.

I’m not a hippy. I don’t believe we should never focus on negatives. Sometimes I identify a leak in my game, and I have to hate on myself for a bit to sort it out, but there’s a time and a place, and during the live game is not it.

That turn card should have brought me a deep sense of peace and possibly a little bit of smugness, I should have enjoyed that instead of being all hyped-up. The river card hurt my poker feelings no less because I was braced for it. I shouldn’t have even been looking at the table, yeah, that would have made me appear cool as fuck.

I had a little twiddle on roulette and won my buyin back, plus a re-entry, so I bumbled back into the donkfest and proceeded to donate my new stack to calling stations on god-runs.

The first thing I said when I got to the new table was:

“You’re all in luck, maths hates me today.”

The MrSalesManGuys sold me the magic, and I bought it. I saw them coming, and they still tripped me up. By the time I’d re-entered the madness, I was already defeated, from the inside, by a thought that is mocked by maths and scorned by science.

I don’t believe the power of the human mind can affect the physical universe, but the power of my mind definitely affects my internal universe, and being in control of that is essential to me playing winning poker. Winning poker players don’t believe in fairies, because they just don’t need to.

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