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The Twilight Zone and How to Survive in It

A poker game usually starts out sensibly. You wander over to the local card room, buy some chips and sit down with folks of varied backgrounds, personalities and skills and mix it up a bit. Games will be tight, loose, varied and shifting. Players are weak, strong, tricky or predictable.

It was a Thursday, early in the afternoon when I found a seat in a $20 - $40 limit game. I prefer no-limit but there was a long list and an open seat is tough to turn down. We=re having a good ol’ time for an hour or so when two new players Huey and Louie took seats 9 and 10, each with two racks of reds. Everything seemed innocent, but we were about to enter the twilight zone.

Hand one. Both new guys posted. I look down to see Ks,Qs and decide to limp. Dewey, on my left, a reasonable sort, raises. Huey reraises. Louie caps it. I muck and sit back to watch. Flop is A, 9, 7 rainbow. Dewey bets, Huey raises, Louie reraises, Dewey calls and Huey, of course, caps it. All call.

“Hmm,” I think. “What can they have? Aces up? Flopped set(s)?” Turn is a 9. Dewey checks; Huey bets; Louie raises. Dewey thinks for a while and folds; Huey calls. River is a 3. Huey bets, Louie raises, Huey calls. Louie shows down two pair, with 7,3 off. Huey flashes T,T as he mucks. Dewey leans over and tells me he dumped A,K. Eight people shift about oddly in their chairs. I notice that the dealer bears an odd resemblance to the late, great genius of the occult, Rod Serling.

I played in this game for 14 straight hours! It never got any saner. In that time there couldn’t have been more than 3 or 4 unraised flops and the words “you chop?” were never uttered. Around 8 o’clock Louie started catching cards. That 7,3 off trick got older and just as annoying as a Wayne Newton song. A maniac catching cards can run over a table. This guy was like a road grader! In less than an hour he won well in excess of $5k in what was, nominally, a $20 - $40 game.

To make matters worse, whatever “syndrome” he had began infecting others. “Hey, man, if he can win a couple of dimes playing that way, so can I!” I was heads-up with the usually sensible Dewey. He cracks my flopped set with a rivered gut-shot and turns and grins like a freakin’ Cheshire cat.

At 3 AM I crawled away, frustrated, bewildered and my mouth tasted like the bottom of a birdcage. Next day at noon the game was still going! Six of the original crew were still there and the list for the game was about 50 players long.

Rod Serling was still dealing only now he was sporting horns and cloven hooves and the game was $40 - $80. The action was, if anything, even nuttier. Louie admitted that his nickname in his home game is “Glue Stick” —- because he just can’t throw cards away, they stick to his hands. The house had roped off the table to keep the railbirds away.

I could go on about this game for hours. More astonishing hands unfolded than I have ever seen and, of course, Louie gave it all back, but the real issue is: How can you beat a game like this? There has been a lot written on this topic. The obvious pieces of advice are straightforward. Tighten up, play position, forget about bluffing and get on Louie’s left if you can.

But the real key to beating this kind of game is psychological. You have to realize that you should not try to beat it! These “twilight zone” games can be very seductive. There is all that weird, loose play, all that money out there, all that action. The adrenaline flows. You start getting impatient, you want a piece of it and slowly you find yourself sucked in (like Dewey calling all the way down on a gut-shot).

The interesting thing that about these nut-ball games is that, while almost everyone knows what to do; few are able to do it. It helps to remember that poker is a life-long endeavor and it is all about decision making. Make the right decisions, the money will take care of itself. Games like this one will test your patience and your emotional strength. It is when the rest of the world seems to have gone on tilt that you need to maintain your composure.

So, looking back, did I do okay? I think so. I didn’t win but, then again, I really didn’t catch my share of cards. But that’s okay; I don’t have any control over that. Did I have fun? Man, did I ever. I consider my small loss an “entertainment tax.” Hope ol’ Rod shows up again —- and brings Louie with him.

BTW, because of the betting structure, games like this are rare in no-limit. But when a no-limit table has a couple of loosey-goosey types, the same basic advice holds.

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