Do you remember when you were little and your friends would knock-on to see if you were allowed to play-out? My parents were pretty relaxed, and unless I’d done something awful, I’d be allowed to play-out.
I loved playing-out; I loved reading and playing computer games as well, but there is something about being a child and playing-out with your friends that makes you feel like you own the world.

canstockphoto12891833I was always ‘one of the boys’ in most respects. I liked climbing trees, and skateboarding, and fishing around in muddy puddles; admittedly I did it wearing a sparkly, pink, party dress, but otherwise, I was a tomboy. I never minded what the game was, or what the rules were, as long as I could be competitive and messy, I was in.

As I got older, I liked DnD, paintballing, LazerQuest, clay pigeon shooting (okay, anything with a mutha-fucking Gat) and eventually, sitting around, stoned, playing ShitHead for bragging rights, or dares. Some dares were pretty risky to health, if you think you can chew a whole packet of Airwaves gum whilst drinking 1ltr of lemonade at the same time, I promise you, you can’t.

When I started working in a casino, ‘playing-out’ took on a different face. I started working in casinos when having a job in a casino meant you couldn’t visit a casino. Having a job in a casino also meant that when you and all your mates finished at 4am there was nowhere open except casinos. Checkmate. What do you and all your friends do? Homegame.

The venue for the homegame was usually my house. I lived close to the centre of town, near the casino we all worked in. I had a decent sized lounge and a ramshackle collection of crappity furniture that could be cobbled together to make a poker room. Well, a room in which poker could happen fairly effectively, I don’t want to overstate the setting, one of the seats was an upturned bucket.

Who needs a posh venue for a homegame?
Who needs a posh venue for a homegame?

Don’t get me wrong, the game was good, we once had a 16 runner, £10 rebuy tournament in there, and the cash game could get sweaty enough that it wasn’t unusual for a pre-flop straddle to be £256.

When it started, it was fun, and it was as much about having something that shift workers can too regularly miss out on, a social life. We often played on credit, and as the nearly teetotal hostess, it was my job to balance the books. It wasn’t hard to see that overall, the money just passed around and no one was really crushing the game, I think it’s fair to say that no-one was properly trying to.

When the game at my house, my homegame, started to become about the poker, I didn’t like it anymore. It got darker somehow. Oddly, the overall money in the game dropped, but there were still some people who believed they were serious about poker in that game. We talked strategy, we analysed hands, we argued over how big-name pros were/were not donkeys with all the froth of young people with nothing better to do.

Friends and money are too often a bad crossover.
Friends and money are too often a bad crossover.

We tightened up the leaks in our play against eachother, we became more aggressive in our criticisms, we started fighting.

One night there were tears. I was the only regular female face at a poker game with Salford local lads, a couple of other mongrel Northerners, and a shouty Hungarian, and I wasn’t the one doing the crying.
On the face of it, the row started over a shit call with J-10. I can’t remember the specifics of the hand, but I do remember thinking it was a shit call, although I can’t really remember how the argument escalated to shouted offers of carpark rendezvous and climaxed in one man storming out of my house and another crying on my sofa.

It wasn’t the Hungarian who was crying either. He only served to compound the crying man’s woes by saying, in a sympathetic voice and broken English:

“British men are open vaginas, yes?”

Obviously, the argument was about much more than a shit call with J10. A hand of poker was acting as the spark to a friendship fuse that was,no doubt, due to go off anyway, and the lads sorted it out, as friends do.
One still owed the other £200.

In the end, I think the game finally died because of a cheat. One of the regulars was spotted looking at the turn card whilst he was dealing and facing a large flop bet. We all thought it was sick at the time; he called a 1.5xpot allin with K2os on a J64 rainbow, his opponent showed AJ and the turn hit K.

Sad times when you have to closely watch a friend as he shuffles the cards.
Sad times when you have to closely watch a friend as he shuffles the cards.

We were all casino dealers and inspectors and he was spotted by the guy opposite him, he said nothing during the game, and I can’t tell you why.
The cheat was eventually confronted, predictably denied it, and the game died off. Cheats kill poker, I knew that, but I didn’t expect to find one in my homegame, among my friends.

In recent years, my idea of a ‘homegame’ has evolved. Now, I’ll hang out with a select few, and we’ll all play online at the same time, against other people. Sometimes we’re playing seriously, sometimes we’re whooping and messing about, it’s still a social experience, but I don’t have to take any money from my friends.
Or even worse, owe them money.

This week, my beloved flatmate dragged me to a local poker tournament. I could have played $5 online tourneys in my underpants, but no, I let him convince me to brave the outside for a £30+£3 unlimited re-entry £1200 gtd donkfest at a local casino. It wasn’t entirely illogical, there was a big game in another local casino which was, to cut a very long and confusing marketing story short, a £55 re-entry ‘winner takes all’ $5000Vegas package satellite (runners up would get some loose change and a cabbage, or something, I honestly lost interest).
We figured the local tournament regs would get a boner for the Vegas thing, so the smaller game would be softer than usual, plus, potential low attendance numbers might mean some value.

The very first table draw sat my flatmate and I next to each other, seats 1 and 2. I love my flatmate, Steve, we’ve been best friends for years. If you’ve ever seen Will and Grace, that’s us, except we’re fatter; we’re the Fat Will and Grace.

When Steve and I play on the same table in a game, I make two mistakes, every single time.

Firstly, I get myself too emotionally involved in his game. Steven plays a crazy game of poker; he has a long standing relationship with gambling, and he is NEVER afraid. He will bet/raise/call hands based on the subtle twitching of his testicles, I am not kidding. I’ve seen him all in, blind, pre-flop for £200 because his knackers had shuddered a second previously.
I’m forever lecturing him about game strategy, thinking through possible ranges, understanding pot equity, and I am always faced with blank looks and polite disinterest.

Steve’s not a poker player, he’s a punter, and a crazy one at that. When someone you love is gambling, you want them to win, and when you have nine opponents at your table, wanting one of them to win is a detrimental and painful mindset; if he’s there, him losing a pot can tilt me.

The second way Steve’s presence affects my game is that I seem incapable of factoring him into the hand. If I’m planning to open UTG and Steve is at my table, then my thoughts go like this:

“Seat 2 Station, Seat 3 Nit, Seat 4 Drunk?, Seat 5 Maniac, Seat 6 Aw, Steve, I love Steve, he’s no threat, Seat7 Smelly Nit… (etc)”

One of the frustrating things about tournament play, is that anybody who has enough chips to take you out is a threat, no matter how much of a donkey they are. I suppose I am incapable of seeing Steven as a threat in any way and this probably explains why he’s knocked me out of the last two live games we’ve played. I won’t bore you with the hand specifics, but as I like to think that I’m a better player than Steven, I have to conclude that I played the hands badly.
Reflecting on the hands confirmed that the way I played both of them was out of character, sloppy and had no logical line that could be identified. I simply wasn’t thinking.

When I’m forced to play against Steven, I am playing against ‘The Friend’, an opponent I don’t yet have any mechanism for outplaying. I like to beat my friends at games, I still like paintballing, or go-karting, or anything competitive, and I play to win, but in those other games I don’t care if I lose.

Poker is different, because it’s not just a game to me, it’s a passion, I’m far more emotionally involved with poker than I am with any other game; I do care if I lose.
It feels far too emotionally clinical to sit at a table with a close friend and look at them as nothing more than a leak in my game, I’m not sure I’m ready for it.

It’s fair to say, that when Steve donked me out of the tourney this week, I wanted to punch him straight in his hairy face, hard. Like, really hard, like, Chuck Norris has a baby with the Hulk levels of hard. I often have this fleeting sensation about opponents when they knock me out of a tournament after hours of play, but I don’t want to have it about someone I love, it’s not good for domestic harmony.
I just don’t have enough close friends to get away with punching the ones I do have in the face.

Whilst I’ll always be up for a game of poker with friends for fun, learning purposes, bragging rights and/or sweets, I’m going to work my hardest to avoid playing with my close friends, for real money, in a game I’m taking seriously. I’m sure at some point, I’ll mature my psychological mastery of poker to a level that means I have better control of what is clearly a messy leak in my game. At the moment, I feel like there’s enough fish swimming about that I don’t have to dip my net in the home pond.

I’m not a kid any more, although I’m still playing-out occasionally, but when the game is poker, I’m just more inclined to play-out alone.

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