My neighborhood buddies and I have a friendly Texas Hold 'Em poker game. We've played four times coming into last weekend; of those games my neighbor, Jewel Rechsteiner, the pride of Lubbock, Texas, has won three. She dominates. To make matters worse, Saturday, the appointed night, was Jewel's friggin' birthday. Because he's a nice guy and it's a friendly game, Dave Richards, one of our card-playing crew who doubles as a baking whiz (also the only player to have defeated Jewel), brought her a delicious cake decorated as a poker chip, but we all wanted to beat her, badly.
I am not a strong player. Last week, during the heatwave, while Jewel and I drove to Sanford to swim at Indian's Last Leap, I joked that I should save time by just giving her my twenty-dollar buy-in and letting her kick me in the balls. That would produce the same end result, but also free up my Saturday night. Of course, despite my unblemished record of futility, I also talked plenty of shit. I told Jewel, "Screw your birthday; on Saturday you're going down quicker than Ten Dollar Trudy," but that was all bravado. Jewel knew it, too. I had never played strong enough to exhibit any potential for victory. I was the type who folded when I could have checked. Saturday's game started out no differently: I got dealt deuces and threes; I stayed in bad hands hoping to catch the card I needed to complete a straight. In other words, I played poorly. That's what happens when you lack skills, and then also catch crappy cards.
The first player went out and it wasn't me. I felt a small victory. However, I was on the precipice in no time. My chip pile was so anemic you could hardly call it a pile. When it looked like my final hand was at hand, I went all in at my first opportunity without bothering to look at my cards. Much to my surprise, I won. I won the next couple hands by playing in exactly the same manner. Out of nowhere, momentum was mine. Thus commenced the best run of Hold 'Em I've ever had. My turnaround came fast enough to give everyone remaining at the table whiplash. Around me, players went all in, and then out. In front of me, their chips accumulated in neat cylindrical piles. I was hot.
Before long, only Jewel and I remained. She looked at me, smiling. I felt like a food rat at feeding time, watching the smiling boa constrictor from across a pet store aquarium. The final battle was engaged. It lurched back and forth awhile. Then, I caught an ace and a king. This hand looks really good but usually plays for shit, hence its nickname, the Anna Kournikova. I bet big. Jewel saw me and raised. Neither of us backed down, and a huge amount of chips accumulated on the table. It should have been the deciding hand, but when we both showed our cards, Jewel also had an ace and a king. Two Anna Kournikovas! The pot, which only she and I had contributed to, was split. Things were all Jewel after that. I lost holding a pathetic hand: an unsuited nine and four. The biggest upset since the Pats' Super Bowl loss to the Giants was averted. Jewel took a big breath, removed her sunglasses, tipped her cowgirl hat, and then picked up her (our) money. Usually, friends won't let people buy drinks on their birthday, but when Jewel got the tab later at Ruski's, nobody complained.