We’re playing a 10k tournament at Aviation Club, Paris.
“I’m all-in” the Frenchman said.
“How much is it?” my friend, the Grand Daddy of Finnish poker, asked.
The dealer started combining chips into more easily calculable piles as Grand Daddy stared down his opponent. The Frenchman was nervous, even I could see that. He was gasping for air and tried to hide the shaking of his body – and was failing at it.
“The bet is for seventy-eight thousand and two hundred”, told the dealer, who had completed her calculations.
The Grand Daddy leaned back on his chair and started to interview the Frenchman:
“So, should I call you here?”
Don’t answer to him
I had seen Grand Daddy break people before. For some reason I didn’t want the Frenchman to make this too easy for him. When I see a fight; I’d like it to be a fair one.
Much to my satisfaction, the Frenchman didn’t reply. He sat in silence and shook by the rhythm of his heartbeat that was slowly decreasing. The shaking was barely visible anymore.
Time passed and Grand Daddy continued his monologue: “You’re representing a really narrow range here, a set perhaps?”
The Frenchman said nothing.
After around five minutes other people on the table were starting to get agitated. They murmured quietly to the person they were sitting next to or exaggeratingly looked at their watch. The Frenchman was like a stone wall; he had regained his composure completely.
The Grand Daddy took a small breath, leaned over the table and said “So how much did you bet again?”, he put an extra weight on the word you and was pointing at the Frenchman – entirely ignoring the dealer and everyone else at the table, this question was aimed straight to the Frenchman, and GD made sure that he knew it.
Why is he asking that? He knows that already.
I turned my gaze to the Frenchman, who just a moment ago was a stone wall, shaking and drawing for breaths again. His live appearance deteriorated right in front of my eyes as he gave an almost desperate look for the dealer saying, “please tell it for me.” The dealer responded to the Frenchman’s unspoken plea and repeated: “The bet is for seventy-eight thousand and two hundred.”
I turned my look to the Grand Daddy now. His eyes were still fixed on his opponent. I felt sorry for the Frenchman, it felt like GD’s spirit was crushing his, showing no mercy and literally weighing on him as he crumbled underneath it. Slowly sinking ever more to his chair and gasping for breath as he waited for the inevitable. GD kept his eyes still on the Frenchman.
He must’ve seen it.
GD started to pile his chips slowly. Every pile made, seemed like an invisible slap to the Frenchman’s face. His eyes were still on him – just making sure that there is no possibility that the Frenchman is the best actor the world has ever seen. For me it just seemed like a torture. The man had fought valiantly – just give him a noble and quick death already.
“Okay, I guess I have to call”, GD finally said and threw one chip in the middle. Making the piles of his stack was just to strengthen his tell on the Frenchman. It had given the certainty that he was ahead and now he called the man with one chip. You expect to get the whole pot if you call only with one chip – save the hassle of re-organizing your stack when you win the pot.
The Frenchman showed the bluff and looked almost relieved. Relieved that even though his bluff didn’t go through – at least he didn’t have to face GD’s interrogation and soul crushing pressure of the situation anymore.
Couple hands later Grand Daddy leaned on me and asked:
“You saw what I did on the earlier hand?”
“Sure”, I replied.
“You saw how his appearance changed when I finally asked him about the bet again? That only happens when people are bluffing. You should try it sometime.”
And I did. It’s been a long time since this hand was played but it always stayed with me. Since then I have learned few things about live poker:
First: Whenever I’m faced with an extraordinarily tough spot – I will take my time with it. At least enough time that your heart rate has gone down, just to see if I can make it rise again with one simple question: “How much did you bet again?”
Second: Live poker and sex are similar in a way that it’s always much more fun to go unprotected until someone calls you because of it. I’m always using a hoodie or a scarf if I’m playing a big tournament or high-stakes cash games.
(Writers note: I almost wrote “So always use a hoodie (on both) – but after a quick internet search it became clear that “hoodie” is not – even in any 84 slang words that I found – a synonym for a condom. Which is a shame, because the original sentence, would’ve given me some pleasure. Luckily, the list did contain a synonym “cumbrella”. Now, I’m happy with a bit bigger vocabulary.)
Third: Pressure can break a man. Like the Grand Daddy of the whole poker world, Doyle Brunson, put it best:
“Poker is War. People just pretend it’s a game.”