I could pretty reliably get to the money

in our regular Friday night tournament

by playing what’s called “tight-aggressive,”

which is to say fold, fold, fold

and then push the action hard when you’ve got something.

When you haven’t got something,

establishing a table image like this

allows you to bluff effectively,

particularly when the community cards are showing potential.

Second place would get her buy-in back, 

and the winner would take the rest.

The boys started to believe that I never played without an Ace,

that I was a threat if I was in a hand.

I could pretty reliably get to the money,

but I’d rarely win when I got to the head-to-head

even in our regular Friday night tournament

where my table image was established over years together.

In general, it can be an effective play style 

as long as you practice around enough tables

do the math,

know when to adjust, 

especially when you’re not catching cards.


So here’s what happened when I won a seat to the World Series of Poker:

I caught cards like I have never caught cards before or since.

I was overwhelmed with Ace after Ace after Ace,

suited face cards, 

an unprecedented number of great starting hands

that absolutely did not hit on the flop. 

I caught cards so early in the tournament

I became afraid I’d miss my chance to grow my stack,

and so my table image came off as loose-aggressive,


and very, very, bad at math.

I didn’t know what to do when another player

sensed my panic and chased me out,

I was so unpracticed at pushing the action so early,

at simply stealing blinds and small pots,

so unprepared for what I was attempting to do,

it was like I’d forgotten completely

that I’d ever been skilled at this at all.

I felted in fifteen minutes.

My suited Ace-King all in against an off-suit Ace-Queen.

The queen hit, and it was over before it got started.


At least I played that hand right

and I wasn’t the first out of the tournament.

Small comforts. I haven’t played in a while

and it has nothing to do with the World Series.

Our regular Friday night tournament fizzled out, eventually

but I think back on the whole thing fondly.

I loved the ritual of it

making friends in the orbit of the cards,

A romance started when I won a head-to-head 

with pocket Jacks, once

The trouble with poker, though,

Simple to learn, tough to master

So easy to see the patterns at the table

ripple out into regular life.

I’ll be sitting across the table

at some other head-to-head, someday.

I can’t spend years building a table image every time.

I have to bring my whole self, stay present,

know when to adjust, do the math,

make it less about playing the cards,

And about playing the moment instead.