Last night, I played poker. Not for money, just for the competition; but I came last, so am feeling especially displeased.
In fairness to myself, although my play was too conservative, the cards just weren't falling my way: the perennial excuse of the poker loser. It's the first non-online game I've played since October and I'd been building it up into a triumphant return, but it seems in the interim my fellow players have been getting in some practice. Green, for once, exceeded his usual level of uselessness and if not living up to his brave talk of poker theory, seemed to have a bit more guts to his play. Stan, once a terrified child backing down at any big bet or alternately going all-in at the most ill-advised moment, actually played like a competent man. And Julie, the eventual winner, seemed as ever to coast through with a mixture of blind luck and faux-naiviety.
Of course, crucially, the game wasn't for money, and many would argue that poker without money at stake is barely a game at all. Money does transform poker from a mere exercise in pain-free luck to a game of nerve, daring and dastardly deception. I recall my first proper game of poker for money, back when I was living in Korea. It was with a bunch of Canadians and with characteristic poker-beginner's luck, I cleaned them all out. Anybody who knows my distaste of Canadians will understand how much this delighted me.
Subsequently, not for money, I practiced with a young Korean boy who was the sole student of a Wednesday class I taught. He loved it, and after a few weeks was well into the Korean tradition of gambling addiction. He even hugged me when I told him I was leaving - such a genuine, innocent moment that I scorn on the torried comments made my so-called "friends" when I mention the incident.
And since last year I've been gambling heavily on the internet. I've probably lost about $150 (£75) - so far, but of course am just one step away from that "big win". It started so well. My first $50 investment swelled to $250 within two days, but then over the course of a very frustrating week (in which I did little else) I managed to blow this $250 fortune. Disgusted, I vowed never to play again. A couple of months later, I put in another $50, but it didn't last long. Then life started to get in the way of my gambling, as I got a job, had to work, and began renovating my flats, and I had to put poker to the side. But in Nigeria, during a couple of weeks of inaction, trapped in the hotel with only cognac to drink, I discovered the internet connection was fast enough to gamble on, and quickly went through about $20. Convinced the poker site I was using was a fraud, I moved to a different one and my $50 investment went to $90 at one point, but tended to fluctuate around $70 until my freefall of last week has left me with just $25. I blame this mostly on my heavy drinking, alone in my damaged flat.
Now I'm going to Mauritania on Saturday, I wonder how the conditions will be for poker. Mauritania is a Muslim country, and the last Muslim place I was in - the mostly liberal Dubai - banned all poker websites, not to mention hardcore pornography. Nightmare! Given that I usually have an embarrassment of free time when working abroad, online poker accessability will very much dictate how the following month will shape up.
If I do have online poker, then my month will be a festival of gambling, soaked in gin and late nights. However, if I don't then I'll have to do other stuff, like work. I'm not a religious man, but I pray that I can play poker in Mauritania.