Passing of the Guard

Man, was he old. I met him long after his prime and he was still a very large man. He had broad shoulders and big strong hands. He knew how to shake a hand in the true sense of the word. He was most definitely a man’s man. The skin was tough and weathered and somehow I knew he was but a shell of his former self. I was truly saddened to see him using his walking sticks to get around. The hips were long gone and he needed help just to get around. He would rather suffer and fight to get around than to give in and get a scooter or wheel chair.

I never knew where his money came from or where he lived or what he did away from the casino. I knew he came in from time to time to play blackjack. He sat at third base and played for hours. He rarely got up and went to the bathroom; it was a real battle of wills for him to force his body to do his bidding. Getting back into his chair was almost as hard for him. He never asked for help, nor did he want any.

The ornery old man was Chuck. He was the type of guy that was slow to warm to you and even when he liked you he rarely showed it. The old poker players would always say “hi” to Chuck. Chuck was a poker player many years ago. He never plays poker anymore. I asked Paul why and he said, “the game is too slow for him…he only has so much time left.”

I decided it was my personal challenge to get him to play poker. He seemed to have an endless bankroll and a thirst for action. I should have been listening when they told me that twenty years ago he was a pretty fair player.

The biggest problem with poker was our regular game was $3-$6 limit. No amount of action in a $3-$6 game is going to keep a persons interest when they have more money than a bank and no patience. I caught Chuck coming into the casino and yelled at him to sit down at the poker table we need to get this game revved up. “I am going to raise every hand for one full round of the table if you get in here.”

That got him to the poker table along with the promise of seat choice; “don’t worry I will make them move take any chair you want.” Chuck bought in for $300 so I got out $600 and bought a rack of each. For a couple hours we had some fun splashing chips around. Chuck inevitably got bored and fled for blackjack saying he would rather play no-limit. There were very few no-limit games in those days and nowhere was it spread on a regular basis in Northern California.

A few months went by and I hadn’t been able to get Chuck back into the game. I was being particularly loud and rambunctious one night when Chuck came in behind me and stopped to watch a few hands before passing on to the pit. I showed him my cards and let him sweat a few hands with me. I was playing bad and doing it with the utmost gusto. I went for $6 bluff on the river and to no ones surprise I was called. “I would have won that pot if we were playing no-limit.” Much to my surprise, Chuck says, “Why don’t we find out?” “Should we open that table and play a little no-limit?”

The game was $1-$3 blind no limit with no maximum buy-in. Chuck was giving me the evil eye and making sure I was going to buy some chips. “What do I need Chuck?” “I am buying more than you son.” Oh yeah, let me see what I can do…A rack of green, a rack of red, and a rack of white for $3100. Chuck says, “Bring me four”. I have as much money in action in a no-limit game as I have ever had. Chuck is taking me out to the deep water. The game fills up with $100 buy-ins. Chuck is aggressive and I am conservative. I stay away from Chuck.

I am playing my patient waiting game and watching my adversary. I know Chuck will lose interest and his aggression will ratchet down. After an hour and forty minutes, Chuck is up several hundred and I am up $31 when I finally get the tell I am looking for; Chuck glanced over at the blackjack pit. He has lost his enthusiasm and he is getting tired of the hand to hand grind. A loose player re-raises all-in for $140 and Chuck having $20 out there snap calls the other $120 with A 3. An ace comes on the flop and the jacks are crushed and disgusted.

I am starting to play a little faster and Chuck seems to be in most pots with any two cards. I have AKs and raise pre-flop and Chuck calls $10 more without hesitation. I flop two hearts and have the nut flush draw, Chuck leads at the pot for $40. I make a mistake and raise the pot to $140. I think Chuck is going to call and we will be heads-up. Chuck moves all-in on a pot that has a little over $200. I throw my hand away. Chuck shows J 3 nothing and laughs. He laughs the type of laugh he hasn’t had in many years. The grouch is actually having fun tormenting me.

We are playing a heads up match at a ten handed table. Chuck wants to play every hand and he would like for me to join him. I play a memorable hand with Chuck.

I am dealt AQ on the button and Chuck has made it $10 to go and I raise to $20. Chuck calls the $10 and I feel better about my hand. The flop is Q93 rainbow and Chuck checks. Why did he slow down here? I bet $40 and Chuck calls instantly. The turn brings a 4 and Chuck is checking before he sees the card. He grabs a handful of chips and gives me a look…he is daring me to bet. I bet $100 and he is cutting chips at the same time. The river is a 5 and no flush is possible. Chuck is staring at the board and looks back at his cards and again looks at the board. I find myself wondering if he is looking at his cards for the first time.

Chuck looks at me and stares deep into me the way a real poker player would. Yes he does know how to play; he just chooses not to. I wonder if he is considering moving all-in. The only hand he has to worry about is QQ, everything else in my range is a fold to an all-in shove here. Chuck and I are really playing a hand of poker for the first time.

The seconds crawl by slowly as each of us considers how the hand will play out. I break my stare and go to my soda for a drink and Chuck finds that exact moment to speak, “Bet three or three thousand I am calling you.” I believe him. I finally ask if that was a check as the dealer seems to want to leave us alone. “It wasn’t a bet.” I cap my cards with a tower of red and sit back to contemplate the hand.

I know Chuck is going to at least call me. My hand beats a big portion of Chuck’s possible calling hands. If I move all-in Chuck is going to call me with every hand that beats me so I gain no fold equity. If I make a small value bet, Chuck may sense weakness and move all-in and force me off my hand. I decide I have enough invested in this top pair top kicker hand and I open up my hand. Chuck tables his 9 5 and I breathe a sigh of relief.

Chuck is truly having a good time and I seem to be facilitating his entertainment. Haven’t seen Chuck in close to 15 years and yet I will never forget him.

We played a hand, once, Chuck and I did.

Bet three or three thousand I am calling you.

Thanks for the air Chuck.

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