Another in my occasional series of true poker stories. The names have been changed, but not the facts.
In 2001, the no-limit hold’em boom had yet to begin, so the big game in St. Louis was $20-40 limit hold’em. Three days a week, one of the local poker rooms would have several tables going at those stakes, with a waiting list. The games had been running like that for several years, with great action, and were a solid training ground for anyone trying to improve their poker skills. If you could be a consistent winner in the St. Louis 20-40, you could play against anyone anywhere. In fact, people came from hours away to get into these games.
Poker rooms are full of all sorts of characters, and Steve was one of them. He had a hair-trigger temper, which flared whenever he got beaten in a big hand — which happened often because Steve played loose and fast, getting involved in way too many hands. Today, he’s changed his style and plays mostly local tournaments, where he has some success, but in 2001, he was loud and wild. I don’t mind having a player like that at my table, as long as he’s contributing dollars on a regular basis. Talk all you want, just keep playing — and losing.
There was one night when Steve had been having a bad run and you could see his temperature rising. I knew it wouldn’t be long until he blew, and when he did, it was classic.
In limit hold’em, you can only bet a certain amount when it’s your turn, and there’s a cap on the number of raises permitted in each round of betting. In this poker room, the limit was four raises so, pre-flop and on the flop, the first structured bet was $20, the first raise made it $40, and so on, up to a cap of $100. On the turn and river, those limits doubled, so the cap was $200 in each of those rounds. In a multi-way pot with a lot of aggression, that meant you might have to commit $600 — or more, because when things got down to two players, there was no cap and unlimited re-raises were permitted, although still within the structure.
In this particular hand, Steve had a pair of aces against four other players. When you start with aces, you prefer to have just one opponent, not four. In that circumstance, you’re a favorite against each of them, but mathematically likely to lose the hand to someone else. With multiple raises before the flop, each player put in $100.
On the flop, the cards were ace-eight-six, two of them hearts. While Steve had flopped a set (three of a kind), the board was “wet,” meaning there were some drawing possibilities to a straight and a flush. As the betting and raising progressed in this round, one player folded, but the other four each put another $100 in the pot, making it a total of $900.
On the turn, a black queen came up, which didn’t help anyone with a draw and kept Steve in the lead with three aces. Once again, there was a lot of betting and raising, with one more player folding but three remaining who each put in another $200, making the pot $1,500. The players in this game all used red $5 chips because it made the pot look bigger, and this one was filling up the entire center of the table.
On the river, the four of clubs appeared, killing any flush draw but making a straight possible. Player A bet $40, Steve raised to $80, and Player B folded. Then Player A re-raised, and I knew he had seven-five and had made the straight. But Steve either didn’t see it or refused to believe that his set of aces weren’t the winning hand. He put in a fourth bet, and the raising war didn’t stop until each of them had put in another $320. They might have kept going, except that Steve was out of chips.
That’s when Player A turned over his cards and showed that, indeed, he had the straight, winning the pot of over two thousand dollars.
Broke and broken, Steve cursed very loudly, then stood up, still holding his cards, and did something I’ve never seen in a poker room (or anywhere else). He tore his two aces in half, reached down, and stuffed the pieces into the plexiglass box where the dealers put their tips. Next, he threw his chair several feet and stormed out, cursing and yelling and bumping people out of the way, until a supervisor who had been watching the hand stopped him and told him that his actions were way out of bounds. Steve was banned from that poker room for a month.
Within 15 seconds, everyone in the poker room knew the entire story and was talking about Steve’s bad beat and explosion. But what stayed with me was the incredible feat of strength I had just seen.
The cards used in casino poker rooms are plastic, making them durable enough to be used and re-used hundreds of times without tearing or wearing out, unlike the cards you probably have at home. I have a couple of packs of plastic cards and have tried tearing them and, while I was able to twist and mangle them pretty good, I couldn’t rip them in half. Since then, I have bet a half-dozen guys that they couldn’t do it, and I won every time.
Those little rectangles are strong, but Steve was stronger — he had torn them like they were made out of paper. The good news was that the poker room had plenty of other cards, which were waiting for him when he returned to his loud, losing ways a month later.