Sunday, September 21, 2008

That’s What Friends Are For

In a previous post I wrote about a home game buddy, M, who had a cardiac incident on a Tuesday and was back to the poker game by Friday. I was somewhat amazed by his resiliency, or rather his need to be out playing so soon after having a close call with the final showdown. I think I got it wrong.

In that post I went on to describe how the other players that night cut M no slack whatsoever, and said things like, “Let M win this hand. We don’t want him dying on us here at the table.” They were ribbing him, seeming to have a laugh at his expense, which is standard behavior at this game, and no one is exempt. Yet, I knew in my heart that M was still feeling a bit traumatized from his brush with Death. I could see it in his eyes.

One might wonder why M would endure what some might consider an insensitive group of louts. The answer is simple: despite evidence to the contrary, these people were his friends, and he wanted to be among them in his time of need.

Looking to get a little background on the home game crowd, a couple weeks ago I asked the group how long they had known each other. Most of them had known each other for just two years or so. They met in pub tourneys, R decided to have a home game, and the rest is history. The way they interacted, I had assumed many of them had know each other for twenty years or more, such was the level of familiarity.

Poker buddies. I have a lot of them, some closer to being friends than others: Pub tourney players that hug when we meet; the home game crowd and their grab-ass hilarity; and many more — some whom I’ve never met— in the virtual world of Poker Academy. The latter group is by and large those with whom I feel closest, perhaps because I have been playing with them the longest, and because we share a software for a game about which we are passionate. Yet, it has developed beyond that.

For the first six months after Poker Academy came out, there were probably less than 100 people who owned the software and played the online component. I was a latecomer to this group (Christmas 2005), and although cautious (I had never engaged in the world of interactive software), I was immediately taken by the conviviality of the group, largely folks from the U.S., but with a smattering of Swiss, German, British, French and Australian players. This group of poker players soon became my primary social network.

How pathetic is that? My dear wife teased me endlessly: “How do you know that this person is who he says he is?” And then when the first Poker Academy Rendezvous in Las Vegas was being organized: “These complete strangers are getting together to play poker? What if one of them is a serial killer?” My only comeback was to point out that I have a degree in deconstructive philosophy and I am therefore able to discern a lot from the way one writes (chats). While not everyone at PA was someone I would care to hang with (and indeed there were some complete lunatics, assholes, hot heads and crybabies), we shared a camaraderie that I found worthwhile.

While I didn’t get to attend the first rendezvous, over the course of my first year I did get to meet several PA players. Uncle Trick and eptigs took me to Caesars when my dear wife’s family got together in LV; I went sailing with Captn Ben in Chicago; and IdahoAs came to my house for the day while vacationing in the area. Having survived those meetings, I was allowed (joking) to go to PA Rendezvous #2 and #3. Deeper bonds were formed.

Still, the group at the Rendezvous is miniscule in comparison to the larger group of poker pals I share the felt with on an almost daily basis. And over the years, online chat has moved to Skype and AIM. At times we have had almost an entire table on Skype, shooting the shit, discussing hands (not to be read as colluding) and getting to know each other better, beyond the limitations of the written word, and, in some cases, becoming closer because of it.

“There’s an email from Stan. His father has died.”

Stan has been a Poker Academy regular for the past two years. Well, he used to be, having dominated the PA community, so, for the most part, he has moved on to Stars. Stan is responsible for me being on Skype. He is also very competitive, friendship be damned. I tell him that he is a sociopath, and he takes it as a compliment. Yet, in the true spirit of an Academy, he has taken many newbies under his wing and made them proficient poker players. I was saddened by the news, emailed him to tell him so, and since he had left contact numbers, wrote that I would call him when he got to the States. (Stan is an ex-pat who has lived in Australia for quite some time. The area code for his contact numbers were very familiar to me as we are both from the same part of the country and even attended the same university.)

I wrote the email right after setting down to a PA table where I shared Stan’s sad news with a couple other old-timers. No sooner than I had clicked on “send” Stan showed up in the room. Condolences were expressed and I typed, “Have time for sk?” We talked for a couple hours, and because of the time difference it was into my wee hours, all-the-while playing poker. It was good conversation.

“What did you do last night?” my dear wife asked this morning after I lamented sleeping in so late.

“I spoke with Stan. He came onto PA and we Skyped.”

“He was playing poker?”

“He didn’t come to play poker. He came to be amongst friends.”

Poker Academy is no longer this little sleepy community of poker players who have a hard time putting together a game late at night. There are now thousands of players from all over the world, and now that Hold ‘em has taken Europe by storm, the numbers continue to grow. And with such a sizable community, there are bound to be events in some members’ lives that shake up their world. Some members have shared these times with the community at large and collective tears were shed, some have had closely-guarded conversations about losses of relatives or loves, and other troubled members have just disappeared into the ether from which they virtually emerged. I wonder about the player who was battling lung cancer, the player who was having terrible domestic problems, or the innumerable likeable sorts who just up and vanished.

I have left instructions.


PAPro_SandMan said...

I'm doing it again. The same damn thing I did last time.

Now that I'm playing seriously on FTP again, I have a hard time firing up PAO. I play there sporadically, but it always seems more productive to my ambitious brain to hit FTP and build my bankroll.

I do miss playing with you guys. Maybe it would be different if I had the PAX to play at the levels where I'd often see people I know...

I just have no discipline with PAX. I can't seem to respect it like cash, not long term.


Cardgrrl said...

I have the occasional pang for the hallowed halls of PA, as well. But since I'm on a mission for the year, I just can't justify spending a lot of time playing in a venue where there's no money to be made.

This is why y'all need to come to Vegas and meet-up with me in October!

(I know you can't, bro, but I wish it were otherwise.)