Selling Plasma (or, Why Poker and Beer don’t mix. Really)
edited: Thursday, April 11, 2002
By Timothy V. Delaney
Posted: Thursday, April 11, 2002
Become a Fan
A semi-autobiographical, semi-nonfiction tongue in cheek piece on poker.
Poker. It’s a way of life. The math. The psychology. The art. The occasional trauma.
I work for a very large non-profit organization. It is no secret that those who are employed in the non-profit sector, particularly social services, are significantly underpaid when compared to their for-profit counterparts. I am a grant writer. If I used my writing skills, say as a technical writer, I could easily make twice my current wage. However, the intangible benefits of working to help your own community and to positively impact the lives of others, keeps me here. I’m not complaining. Much.
So, for the past two-and-a-half years, I’ve supplemented my income playing poker – Texas Hold ‘Em specifically, a form of poker that is rapidly gaining popularity.
The basics of the game are simple – it is nearly like Seven Card Stud. Each player is dealt two cards face down, and then five community cards are dealt face up in the middle of the table. These are “community cards” – everyone shares them in order to make the best five-card hand.
Any two cards can win.
Sure – they do enough in the limit form of the game (where the betting is structured, say $10 on the first two betting rounds, then $20 on the last two) that the losers win often enough which keeps them in the game so that folks like me (serious “hobbyists”) and the true professionals (Doyle Brunson, David Sklansky, Mason Malmuth, Jim Brier, Amarillo Slim Preston and John Feeney, for example), can expect to earn money consistently.
Hold ‘Em is a complex game. There are 2,652 possible two-card starting hands. There are 19,600 possible “flops” (the first three cards that are placed face up in the middle), and by the end of the deal there are 42,375,200 possible combinations to make a five-card hand. But its seeming ease that “any two cards can win” is the Siren’s Song that seduces the “Gambler” – you know the type… You hear of all their huge scores – the time they won the jackpot at the slots, the enormous win at craps or blackjack, the “unbeatable scientific” system they employ to virtually mint money at the Roulette wheel. And they never seem to lose.
That’s because they develop a peculiar amnesia known scientifically as Lossus Gambleus Amnesius surrounding their magnificent, and not too magnificent losses. A $1,000 win takes immediate precedence over a $10,000 loss. They have no recollection of the time they dropped the house payment, saying, “Next one – I KNOW it’ll hit.” They do not remember the time that they were shaking as they placed their last green chip ($25) on the hard eight at the craps table, and walked away shoulders drooping as the dealer said “eight the easy way, eight.” They put these aside – they file them in the annals of their memory under “Forget,” and they never, under any circumstances, acknowledge their existence.
And that’s what this story is about. Admitting a loss.
But I don’t “Gamble.” Really.
I walked the three blocks from my apartment in Portland, Oregon to the Alpha Plasma Center. I needed cash and I needed it now. I had seventeen cents in my pocket, an overdrawn checking account, savings totally depleted, a science experiment in my refrigerator, five days to payday and rent rapidly approaching.
I also figured I could kill two birds with one stone. If I sold some plasma, went the reasoning, then I could go across the street to the dive bar (happy hour from 7 am to 9 am and 4 pm to 7 pm) and get drunk for half the cost than usual.
I have a drinking “issue,” and I admit it (not)freely.
After filling out the questionnaire for nearly one hour, answering questions about my health, my genealogy (I lied), and how I would contribute my first born to science, I was led into a room lined with beds that looked too much like a lethal-injection death chamber for me to feel welcomed and/or comfortable. I looked at my guide (executioner), smiled nervously, and said “Dead Man Walking!” No one laughed.
As I laid on my back and stared up at the flickering florescent lights above, I saw out of the corner of my eye that I had a neighbor. I turned my head to look at him and was greeted by a toothless grin gaping out of the shaggy maw of an (obviously) homeless man. As he spoke to me, the fetid wind came in like a hundred year storm, and I was privy to the history of the detritus that existed in his system – cheap wine, cheap liquor, no toothpaste, the faint smell of bubble gum that was nauseatingly sweet, and assorted morsels of food obviously from foraging through the neighboring restaurants dumpsters.
“First time buddy?” he slurred.
“Yes,” I said, breathing only through my mouth.
“Sixty bucks this time, huh?”
“I’m doing it for science.”
Reassured that I had confused my companion, I watched the “Nurse” (Executioner Technician) violate my body with a needle that was connected via a clear plastic tube to a gadget that resembled a dialysis machine. She then jabbed me with another needle in my right arm and began the process. It was 11 am.
As the machine began to hum, I gazed to my left to see my blood being forcibly sucked out of my body. As my plasma was separated within the bowels of the machine, I saw a bag filling with a clear fluid. My plasma. I looked up at the talk show that was playing on the television in the corner and I wondered just what was I doing here? I looked over to my right and saw my blood (sans MY plasma) pumping back into my body. A blood-recycling network. Keith Richards. I am alive.
45-minues to go and I think about why I’m here and this is why beer and poker do not mix.
I don’t drink when I gamble. Usually. Actually, I don’t “gamble” in the way that most people think when they hear that word. I am a blackjack card counter, and I am a good poker player – I know the odds, I know the fundamentals and advanced theories. So, yes it is gambling since there is an element of the unknown, but in my case (and in many others’), I reduce the risk. In other words, I get my money in when I have the “best of it,” and protect it when I don’t. Maximize the wins, and reduce the losses. Only when I am in Vegas do I play any table game (other than blackjack), which is usually the $0.25 Craps table. I can justify blowing $20 and call it entertaining. Those times, I do drink. Decisions are not critical on those occasions.
The only time I drink when I play poker is at the end of a session (thanks to John Feeney, PhD, for this idea). I consider it to be a demarcation line. “I will have this beer and then I will leave.” And I do.
But online poker is different.
There are several highly reputable online poker sites available. The benefits:
· Lower rake (% of each pot taken by the house) than in casinos or cardrooms
· No “toking” (tipping the dealer, or the wait staff)
· Good table selection – there are sometimes more than 75 tables going at one time
· One may play in the comfort of one’s own home.
· You cannot pick up on other player’s physical “tells” (subtle unconscious gestures that players make that give other players information about their hands)
· One may play in the comfort of one’s own home.
When an individual goes to a cardroom or casino, it is generally a conscious choice. You usually must travel, sometimes a long distance to get there, you need to find the time to go, etc. Playing online, however, is as simple as walking the six feet to your computer and pushing that nefarious button – “Power.”
(& there is beer in the fridge. I am not an alcoholic. I swear.)
I just have “issues.”
A few weeks ago, I decided to attempt playing online (again). I bought in conveniently for $100 and proceeded to play low stakes, $3-6 to be specific. I rapidly built up my buy in to $400. This is one of the benefits of online poker – the vast table selection. If you don’t like one game, you can go to another, and no one will care. I took a shot at $5-10. Fluctuated. Mourned my decision. Then, the gods smiled on me and I caught a few good hands that held up (i.e., won) and was up to $500 (after falling to $80).
The following evening, I bought into a soft (i.e., “easy”) $5-10 game for $200. I decided to play two tables at once. Lost $60 on one, made $100 on the other. Net gain = $40. A few days passed. Up and down and up and down and up…..
One evening, after picking up another $200, I took a shot at a short-handed (less than 7 players) $10-20 game. Did well. Stopped with my account now standing at $900. Happy.
That Saturday night I played $5-10 and $10-20 concurrently. Had an amazing run that brought me up to $1,466. Cashed out $1,066 and left $400 in the account. The transactions take a few days, but I was feeling quite satisfied. This, my friends, is where the tragedy (and lesson) begins. You may insert the violin music, take a Ritalin or a tranquilizer, or anything else you need to do to sympathize with the very thing I brought upon myself, right now.
Sunday. The dreaded Sunday. Bloody Sunday. A dear friend and his fiancée had just split up. Can I possibly serve as a source of comfort to him in his time of need? Hmmm… Who knows? Due to my jet lag after flying across the country the day earlier, I was up at 8 am. At 11 am it seemed like a great idea to crack my first beer (it was 2 pm on the East Coast, after all). Yeah. Went to a local pub I enjoy for lunch and to write a letter (yes – using pen and paper) to my girlfriend.
Two more beers.
By the time I left for my friend’s home at about 3 pm to “comfort” him (i.e., entice him to play poker), I’d consumed three beers. No big deal. I have a large tolerance and can function fine after three beers over many hours. I swear. Recall, I have “issues.”
I arrived at my friend’s home and discovered, much to my chagrin, that he was not there and I waited for about one hour. Went down the street to another pub and I had a beer and I shot pool and came back. Still not there. Empty.
I think I remember the code for the alarm. Yes. Now I’m sure. I KNOW the code. I climb in through a window and discover rapidly that I do not in fact know said code. As I was laughing at my stupidity (I’ve done this before) I called my friend’s cell phone, told him what I’d done, got the code, turned off the alarm, called the security company (who had already dispatched a virtual SWAT team when I did not answer the phone) gave them the secret code, called off the dispatch… Quiet. I opened a beer.
My friend comes home and I am already playing poker. I took $200 and got into a $5-10 game that I immediately recognized would be too difficult. All of them looked that way. So, I jumped into a $10-20 game. Ran it up to $600. Excellent. A few more beers….
Fuck it – I’ll take a shot at $15-30. My brain was screaming WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING, as I emailed a friend (who is a pro) saying “HELP!” He got it the next day. Bastard.
I believe that men and women both have had this experience. It’s 5 pm and you meet your friends for a drink after work. It’s a Friday and you have nowhere to be. At 6 pm a reasonably unattractive member of the opposite sex walks into the bar, and you pay this person no mind. Then it’s 8 pm. They’re looking a little bit better, right? By 10 pm you are swearing your undying love to this person who now appears to be the most beautiful woman (or man) in the entire world. And you go home together and you vaguely remember tearing each other’s clothes off and falling into bed together. You are pretty sure you had sex, as evidenced by the condom wrapper(s) littered on the carpet.
And then you look next to you and you see what you brought home. Then you start shaking. You hope to God that you did not give this ogre your telephone number and immediately think of a dozen ways in which you can get them out of the house, without so much as a cup of coffee. As you close the front door with this individual barely outside you hurriedly say, “I’ll call you” and without missing a step you lock the door and fix yourself a very stiff Bloody Mary.
When you play Hold ‘Em under the influence, you suffer a similar fate. The King-Ten offsuit that you would not even consider playing preflop from middle position suddenly appears so damn sexy that you begin calling raises with it. A pair of Fours from early position holds the same value in your mind as a pair of Jacks, and you find yourself raising with it. And this entire time, there is some part of your brain that knows you are insane. Perhaps the cortex is retaining some memory of survival instinct and you hear that little voice and you actively ignore it. “No! No! She’s HOT!” you yell back at it – “This Ace-Four offsuit is a GREAT hand.”
You get the picture.
This is where it gets a little blurry. I think my tranquilizers from the day before were still coursing through my body. I recall getting killed at the table, and I figured that I did in fact have the discipline to call back my cash out and not use it ALL. I did just that. Bought in again. And again. And again.
I left the Plasma Center with my arms looking too much like a junkie’s for me to feel entirely comfortable, and I walked across the parking lot over to the dive bar. Now I had $60.17 in my pocket. Took me a mere three beers to feel it that time. Maybe there is something to be said in “donating” plasma. Hell, I’d be a much cheaper date. As I sat in the cavernous darkness in the smoky bar, I thought a lot. Made resolutions. Maybe I’ll stick with them.
1. No more beer drinking and playing poker
2. No more beer drinking and playing poker.
Hell, I justified it a thousand times. One thousand four hundred and sixty six times to be specific…. I “really” only lost a hundred bucks. If I tell myself that another one thousand four hundred and sixty five times, then maybe I’ll believe it.