“He turns all of his injuries into strengths. That which does not kill him makes him stronger.” Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)
Ben Dover sleeps on a bed that has only one side, the wrong one. He looks in the mirror each morning and sees the unluckiest person alive. Ben’s favorite joke: The pessimist says, “It can’t get any worse.” The optimist says, “Oh yes, it can.”
Ben takes his usual seat in the big no-limit game. Everyone buys in for $1,000 except for May Hem. She plops $5,000 on the table and turns to her favorite opponent, “C’mon, Ben. Let’s not wait until later. Let’s play some big pots now.” Ben accepts and buys in for $5,000 as well.
Early on, Ben gets pocket aces. Someone opens the pot for $40. May makes it $200 straight. Ben makes it $500. The $40 opener shows his hand to a neighbor and folds. Ben sees that May could have seen the opener’s hand. So Ben asks to see it too. May nods. The dealer turns over the dead hand: 10s 10h.
May slides in $300 more to call Ben’s raise. The flop comes 2-2-2. Ben looks cool, but his mind is racing so fast that time stands still. He figures he’s got the nuts for sure. And he’s got a live player with a big stack all jittered up and ready to play a monster pot. He also figures that May has a pocket pair, a two-outer, the typical kind of hand that so often lands Ben in his car, with his head on the steering wheel, wondering what the fluke happened.
Ben regroups. He plans to snare May by checking behind her on the flop, real smooth. And that he does. A baby-bottom check. Very smooth, but regrettably, very out of turn. The dealer sees Ben’s check and presumes that May had already checked. So he deals the turn card, the 3c.
“Time,” says May. “I did not act yet. Please call the floorman.”
The ruling is that the 3c will come back and that the action on the flop will start over on May.
May bets out $1000 on the flop.
Ben just calls, going for the big kill, hoping May will bet UFA out on the turn. Before anyone can stop the dealer, he mixes all the cards, including the preflop discards, without first putting up the river card as the turn card.
The ruling is sorry folks, but nothing can be done about it now. Just play the hand out. The dealer shuffles the deck, burns a card, and deals the turn card: 10s. The circle of squirms means that everyone notices the second appearance of the ten of spades. Ben sees the ten as the perfect hold’em ticket. May looks like she is waiting for a bus.
May checks the turn. So much for the big trap. Ben knows better than to give a free card here.
“I bet all in, $3,500,” says Ben.
“Call,” says May, instantly.
Ben doesn’t even need to see the cards. He knows. Sure enough, May turns over pocket tens, giving her an impossible full house, tens full of deuces. The river card is not an ace or deuce, and that’s that. Ben’s stacks of clay turn into barren felt. He picks up his pocket aces and spreads them an inch from his eyes. Uncharacteristically, Ben starts to rant, slowly and quietly at first, with a quick crescendo, “Someone please tell me she doesn’t really have pocket tens. Someone please tell me she DOESN’T REALLY HAVE POCKET TENS!”
Ben is falling apart so fast that even the chewing gum stuck to the bottom of the table is coming unglued. He is in full screech now. “Are you telling me that two players started this hand with pocket tens? And that after the flop, May was betting into me with exactly no outs? And that a ten then somehow magically appeared on the board after a double flip-flop?”
Ben gathers himself and his things, gets up, and leaves. But this time his head does not lean on the steering wheel. This time the pain isn’t so bad. In an odd way, Ben feels safe and protected. When it comes to poker, now and forever, the pessimist in Ben’s favorite joke has it right after all. It can’t get any worse. And this comforts him.
When Ben looks in the mirror the next morning, he still sees the unluckiest person alive. But the emphasis on “unluckiest” has shifted to “alive.”