Sunday, December 26, 2010

26 DEC 10: Dressed to the Nines

(BLOGGER'S NOTE: The main part of this entry is our second annual "Blog Simulcast," also being posted at On the Flop.)

As I scurried to the car around 8:10 p.m. ET Saturday night, a "wintry mix" was falling -- more snow than rain. The forecasters on TV went back and forth so much on the chance for snow that I'm not sure if they wound up being right or not.

Yet I was undeterred as I drove down U.S. 280 in Phenix City. I remembered the old "over and under" rule from icy winter storms in Atlanta -- slow down at overpasses and underpasses. But where I was going, people were more likely to put "over and under" on the Saturday night pro football game.

I drove to The Red Barn in Phenix City, for its weekly Saturday night heads-up poker tournament. Yes, a bar was open on 25 December. But from what I could see, it was NOT serving spiked egg nog.

"Are you here to play?" the tournament director asked when I walked into the side room of The Red Barn.

"Yes, sir," I said. "It's a day on, not a day off." In terms of winning money, that is. My apologies if that explanation disappoints people looking ahead to Martin Luther King, Junior Day....

"That's a snappy suit you have on," the director added. It was the same suit I'd worn to a worship service during the afternoon, which was followed by a nice dinner with friends. If only my gray tie hadn't been so uncooperative - because the director fixed it for me once, spotted it crooked again and wondered who tied it in the first place.

The side room at The Red Barn was chilly for several people - even though the window "air conditioner" at one end was set to 86 degrees F. There weren't enough warm bodies on hand to improve things. And of course, that meant not as much hot air from trash-talkers.

"It's snowing like h**l out there," the tournament director said after a check outside. Nearly a minute later, he suddenly realized what he had said. "That's an oxymoron, isn't it?" Umm-hmm....

While I sat at a table warming up with solitaire, a man holding a cell phone explained why a female friend couldn't play. "Christmas Day is the one day of the year at Waffle House when all employees are required to work." Even calling out sick could get you fired, he said. Who knows what happens to a manager who didn't order enough frozen hash browns?

(The good news for that female employee is that she already had received $170 in tips on her shift. First prize at Heads-Up Poker Night normally is $60 - and you probably don't have to deal with nearly as much cigarette smoke.)

One woman in the unofficial poker room was playing for the first time, so the tournament director explained the rules - and even played a hand with all the cards face-up. Sometimes I wish all the hands were like that - because my chances would improve substantially.

The Heads-Up tournament director delayed the start of play, hoping more players would show up. But 30 minutes after the scheduled start time, only 11 names were on the list. The usual maximum is 24, so my chances of winning were more than twice as good. If only my play could improve that quickly, after three shutouts in a row....

After the draw for bracket positions, I faced a man I've played on two other Saturday nights. We were 1-1, and he jumped to the lead in a few hands. But I rallied by making three sevens and a "double-up" with Ace-Queen, and it led to this....

BLINDS: 400/800

IN THE POCKET: A-K of diamonds

With the blinds this high (each player starting with 4,000), a hand this good is worth a big move. We go all-in, and our opponent calls. He has 10-4 of diamonds - and a chip count reveals we're exactly even, so we're BOTH all-in for a winner-take-all showdown.

ON THE FLOP: J-9-8 (only the 8 is a diamond)

Uh-oh -- our opponent has a straight draw to win.


That pair gives him the lead, and there's no longer any hope of winning with a nut flush. We need a big card.


It's not big enough, and the man beats us for the second time in a row. It's called "winning a race" in poker -- and it beats drag racing on slick roads.

Thankfully, the Heads-Up tournament is double-elimination. We were now in the losers' bracket -- and while we waited, someone called the tournament director to wish everyone "Merry Christmas."

"Bah humbug," one of the players answered. "It's Christmas night, and I'm playing poker." And unlike my Dad's Christmas night card games, he had to pay for the liquor.

After early matches were finished, we sat down for our second match against a man named Ben. "My name's Richard," Ben said. "My name's really Richard Benjamin."

"Well, I'm Richard Burkard." If my middle name had a W, it would have matched his last name -- and I would have someone for comparing notes about identity theft.

Then came one of the most amazing moments in my four years of playing live poker....

BLINDS: 100/200

IN THE POCKET: 4-9 offsuit

On the very first hand of the match, Ben calls in the small blind. I check the big blind.

ON THE FLOP: 9-9-9

Did I see that right? Yes, I did - quads-come-quick! Hoping to make a big gain, I check. So does Ben.


Not wanting to scare Ben away, I bet a meager-looking minimum 200. "Raise to six," Ben says. I ponder a moment, tempted to go all-in - but instead simply call.


Now it's time to strike. "I'm all-in," I say.

"I have to call," Ben says. "I've got a full house." He shows 7-10.

"Can you beat quads?" I say. Of course he can't - but he's understandably stunned by what just happened. So is the tournament director, whom we both call over to examine the cards. "This was a one-hand knockout," I tell him - a little like another Saturday night match, which put a fighting troupe out of business.

"Awesome two-bet!" a man across the room said to us when he heard about what happened. It's called in poker a "slow play" - but I've never seen it lead to a faster exit.

But one punch doesn't win a poker tournament, even when it's Heads-Up. The next elimination match proved to be the end for us, as several losses led to a forced all-in bet with 5-8 of clubs on the 12th hand. Our opponent had King-Jack, made a full house -- and sent us back to our empty one.

We didn't win the tournament, but at least we improved to winning one match. And for an unexpected consolation prize, we found a buildup of wet snow on our rear windshield to take home and store in the freezer. Columbus now has seen a noticeable snowfall four winters in a row. If only the poker cards fell that attractively all the time....

2010 IN REVIEW CON'D: June traditionally is a hot month in Columbus -- but 2010 was exceptionally so. The Parks and Recreation audit debate grew hotter. Someone tried to torch a building next to mine. And it was SO HOT that the Miss Georgia pageant decided contestants could run downtown in their pajamas.

The "Rec-Gate" controversy became so intense that when prison inmates were spotted playing billiards at Comer Auditorium, it was posted online by the Ledger-Enquirer as "Breaking News." Imagine if those inmates had been taking fencing lessons.

But I shouldn't point fingers at the newspaper. After all, the Ledger-Enquirer put your blogger in a June video about Chick-Fil-A's new spicy chicken sandwich. That's the good news, I suppose - but when that video has fewer views on YouTube than this blog receives in a weekday, maybe it's not.

June actually began with the Alabama Primary. The candidate who gained the most national attention didn't make the runoff for Agriculture Commissioner. But Dale Peterson became so famous with his shotgun in campaign commercials that we may have found the eventual replacement for YellaFella.

One local candidate went very high-tech in June, when Josh McKoon introduced a personal "app" for iPhones. McKoon went on to win a State Senate seat, as voters apparently decided he had the right app-titude.

Columbus lost a television station in June, when WLGA quietly faded to black. It was SO QUIET that no one reported on it for three weeks, until this blog did. And it's so quiet that the corporate owner still hasn't removed WLGA from its list of stations.

Local law officers faced some unusual crimes in June. Someone stole a hot water heater from a Columbus day care center. And I still haven't heard who stole several picnic tables from a Russell County park. If they didn't resurface at the local premiere of "Yogi Bear"....

Local sports were as hot as the weather in June. The Columbus Lions humiliated an indoor football opponent 99-0. Former Shaw High School pitcher Edwin Jackson threw a major-league no-hitter. And the Woodbats came back from the dead - only to find Columbus still only loves baseball players younger than age 18.

COMING MONDAY: The most unusual "holiday greeting" you're likely to read this year.... in fact, we've been asked to edit it....

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