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Losing a Pot, Winning Joy

Losing a Pot, Winning Joy

Ever notice how states that have casinos always park a few right at the border of any neighboring state that doesn't have casinos?

My mother-in-law lives in Fort Smith, Arkansas — a state which has (or had until recently) minimal legal gambling. But Fort Smith sits hard on the Oklahoma border, and there's a Choctaw casino that's, well, closer to her house than the movie theater downtown. So when I'm visiting her, about the time she settles in with the evening news, I light out for the Territories ahead of the rest, and find a poker game.

You follow Interstate 540 into the west Arkansas darkness for ten minutes, then pull off onto an access road to nowhere. Three minutes later, on that access road, you cross into Oklahoma and a quarter of a mile later sits a moderately large casino, equally in the middle of nowhere. I stopped to get a Diet Mountain Dew at the gas station/convenience store next door, and parked in the garage. Found a space 50 feet from the door — things were looking up already.

I made my way to the five-table poker "room." There was one $1/$2 no-limit hold'em game going. The brush lady approached me.

"You got any seats open?"
"I've just got one seat available."
"Good, that's the number of seats I wanted."

The #4 seat chuckled. If my material was working that well it was going to be a fun evening.

The #9 seat was mine and I settled in with $400. People nodded good evening and I was content. I was a bit more content when I doubled up in a pretty big pot — maybe I'll tell you about it sometime. But today I'm here to tell you about leaving. It was pushing midnight and I had to adult the next day, so I decided I wasn't going to pay my next big blind.

I laughed to myself, thinking that whatever my profit for the evening was going to be, it wouldn't be exactly what I'd expected it would be when I first lifted that last pair of cards.

Needless to say, I picked up ace-king offsuit under the gun. I laughed to myself, thinking that whatever my profit for the evening was going to be, it wouldn't be exactly what I'd expected it would be when I first lifted that last pair of cards.

I opened to $15, which was my standard opening, and got three callers, including the kid in the big blind. I had glanced at his logo hoodie earlier, and he said, with no small pride, "That's my dad's body shop." He was in his 20s and his girlfriend was sitting behind him, reading an e-tablet. When he got into a pot, she'd lean forward and watch, but I don't think she understood the game. Sometimes she'd say, "Did we win?" Unfortunately, the answer was usually no. His $200 stack had dwindled down to $97. You'll see in a second why I knew this number exactly.

There was an ace in the door of the flop. Followed by a nine. And then a king. Three suits. Well, my run-good was continuing. There was $60 in the pot and I was already prepping my $30 bet when the kid led out for $25. No way I was shutting the other two out of this party, so I called. Now the guy behind shoved for about $65, and got a cold call from the fourth person in the pot. ¿Que pasa?

The kid turned to his girlfriend, "Win or lose, we're going home." Then he announced that he was all in for, "let's see here… $97." His girlfriend put down her tablet and leaned forward. I called, as did the original cold caller.

We had a $360 center pot and most of $100 on the side. The turn was a red six. The cold-caller had about $250 left and I thought I could probably get that on the river if necessary, so I checked. To my surprise, he bet $75. I thought he'd probably go with whatever he had, so I just announced that I, too, was all in. To my increased surprise, he snap-folded.

As is my wont, I tabled my hand and announced that I had top two. The dealer burned and put out the jack of spades. The guy on my left mucked his cards, and the dealer pushed the first side pot to me (I'd already gotten the second side pot).

"I... I got a straight!" he said, and laid the queen and ten of spades on the table. "That's a fine poker hand you got there," I replied.

But all of that kind of got lost in the kid holding his cards out in front of him with astonishment, as if that jack of spades had just leapt up and squirted cider in his ear. "I... I got a straight!" he said, and laid the queen and ten of spades on the table. "That's a fine poker hand you got there," I replied. The girlfriend looked shocked as the dealer shoveled the main pot over to him. "We won," she whispered.

I racked my chips up, said goodnight to the table, and went to the podium to cash out. Then I walked across the casino where they had a free coffee station, and stopped to watch Scott Van Pelt on ESPN. On my way back to the parking garage, I walked past the poker room. The kid's seat was empty — both he and his girlfriend were gone. The brush lady was standing at the edge of the room. "Did the kid and his girlfriend leave?" "Yep." "Did he hang onto all those chips?" "Yep."

I thought that was pretty cool. I wouldn't have minded winning that center pot. But I'm 100% sure that the kid and his girlfriend got way more joy from winning it than I would have. And I'm just fine with that.

The coffee was good and it was a nice drive back to my mother-in-law's place, in the west Arkansas darkness.

Lee Jones can help you get more joy from poker. Go to leejones.com/coaching and schedule a free coaching consultation. Lee specializes in coaching live cash game players.

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  • A poker story about how in some cases winning a pot can bring more joy to one player than another.

  • A story from @leehjones about a live cash game hand in which he lost a pot but won something else.

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