Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’?

Creating tilt is one of life’s greatest joys

“Too bad I’m rusty,” I thought. “Otherwise I’d destroy that table of mooks.”

Can't You Hear Me Knockin?Sunday night in Las Vegas. I cashed a winning ticket at the sports book and popped into the poker room. One table with a 2-5 NL game was filled with goofball tourists and dimwitted locals. I had not played in a couple months and wasn’t feeling like putting my name on the waiting list, so I headed to the exit. When I pushed the glass doors and took a step outside the casino an all-encompassing sensation, like a brain freeze over my entire body, stopped me in my tracks. I couldn’t move. Frozen. It felt like some other higher life force flipped the switch. A specific messaged echoed through my mind.

“Stop being such a fucking pussy and get back in there!”

The force field instantly melted. I whirled around and flung the doors open. My ears were flooded by undulating waves of chirping bells, whistles, fake coin-effects from slot machines, clinking glasses, and a muffled poppy radio song. With every anxious step I took toward the poker room, the comforting and tantalizing volume of shuffling poker chips grew louder and louder.

I marched over to the front desk and grunted as I pointed at the table in the corner.

“Perfect timing. I have an open seat.”

A gregarious college kid from Wisconsin seated to my left gave me a quick rundown of the table. All I said was a standard “How’s it going?” and he kindly broke everything down for me. He strongly suggested I avoid the two huge stacks — the freaky old guy with a voicebox (who looked like William S. Burroughs), and the angry guy (chubby middle-aged guy in a Philadelphia Eagles hat who winced with a constipated look and clutched his cellphone like a grenade).

Wisconsin kid also pointed out two guys who went off the deep end. One of the tilt guys reminded me of Chef from “South Park” (the only thing missing was Chef’s chef hat). Chef was on obvious mega-tilt and you could see the painful swelling in his eyes. The other tilt guy was a dead ringer for George Carlin. Your typical former surfer and acid casualty from the ’60s, he looked like he slept in his beat-up VW bus in the parking lot of Zuma Beach and I wondered how the hell he scratched together enough bread for a buy-in. Old surfer Dude was in desperate need of a bong hit because he was visibly rattled after taking what appeared to be a vicious beat at the sly hands of the voicebox.

The voicebox had a few grand sitting in front of him but while I waited for a chance to trap the big stack, I needled the angry guy to my immediate right. He kept holding up the action by texting people. It’s one thing if he only held folks up pre-flop, but he played 80 percent of the hands and whenever it was his turn to act, he was typing away and the dealer would clear her throat and announce, “Sir, it’s your turn to act.” He labored to crank out David Foster Wallace-sized text messages several hundred words in length on a primitive first-generation mobile phone from the turn of the century that forced him to use the numeric keypad. It took him several minutes to formulate a single sentence and he waited until he completed a message before he made a move.

His phone beeped twice to indicate a new message and he gave off a labored expression like he was trying to shit out a bowling ball. He’d furiously crack open his phone to read the new message, and sighed deeply before he resumed pounding the key pad in a violent motion. I thought he might break a thumb mashing the buttons.

The silent majority never said anything to deter his behavior, but you could see it in their irritated eyes that the angry guy had tested their patience and they weren’t having as much fun as they could be because jerk-face was slowing up the action and had no signs of stopping.

The Wisconsin kid joked, “The only way this game speeds up is when his phone finally runs out of juice.”

I felt the opposite. I wanted the angry guy to keep doing what he was doing. He was obviously distracted and unaware of how fast he was bleeding chips. At least he wasn’t a nonstop talker who wouldn’t shut the hell up. Or worse, he could have been a chimney and blowing stinky second-hand smoke into my face. Twenty years ago, you had to deal with chain smokers at the table in Vegas. Today it’s self-absorbed chain text messagers.

Angry texting guy paid zero attention to his opponents and chased everything to the river. He had the second biggest stack when I sat down and within a few orbits he had lost more than half. I needed to pick him off before he went busto, so every time he bet, I raised him blind. I was in full-blown aggro-bully mode and never looked at my cards. I shipped a monster wager (the San Francisco 49ers beat Green Bay) and had a fat wad of Benjamins in my pocket, so I didn’t care if I lost a couple of red birds trying to teach that megalomaniac fucker a lesson. Like a vigilante, I took it upon myself to correct all the wrong doers in Vegas and win over the goodwill of my tablemates. He disrespected the harmony and flow of the game and showed zero reverence for basic poker etiquette. It was time for someone to police the unwritten rules of the game, like a hockey enforcer ready to pummel a rube who was stupid enough to step out of line.

That impromptu streak of self-righteousness could have been my downfall, but it gave me enough bravado to blindly raise the angry guy every time he slowed up the action. The barrage of raises irritated him. Sun Tzu would have been proud. Angry guy continued typing away but chortled something about me “being full of shit.”

“How the hell would you know? You’re not paying attention.”

He flashed me the evil eye and actually stopped texting. The table was passive-aggressively neutral the entire time, but that mood quickly changed after I challenged the angry guy and then the table turned against him.

Chef left out an “Oooohhh, that’s right son! Show him who’s boss!”

“Sick burn, brah,” said the surfer dude.

The freaky old guy with the voicebox chimed in with his shrill artificial rasp, “ZZZZZZZZ THAT’ZZZZZ SOMEZZZZZ COLDZZZZ SHITZZZZZ!”

The Wisconsin kid chuckled and even the dealer tried to contain her laughter.

“Who the fuck are you?”

“I’m nobody, and nowhere near as important as your conversation with Hal Incandenza.”

“Hal who the fuck?”

No one got my “Infinite Jest” inside joke (Hal Incandenza was the protagonist in David Foster Wallace’s 1,104-page novel). OK, so I forgot that I was not sitting in a bar and rubbing shoulders (and egos) with staffers from the New Yorker. Literary references about a post-modern novelist who committed suicide did not mesh with wanna-be poker pros and causal gamblers from flyover states who watched too many episodes of the WSOP on ESPN.

“Never mind, tough guy. Fold your hand and I promise to show you my flopped set,” I said pointing to the eight of spades that was the door card.

I embarrassed the angry guy and his face turned three shades of pissed-off purple. I struck a deep nerve and had him exactly where I wanted. He snarled and flung his cards at the center of the table. He never even asked to see my hand, but I tabled a pair of red eights anyway that drew a few catcalls from the far end of the table. He hissed and resumed angry texting. My smart-ass responses exacerbated his situation. He was thoroughly peeved about something so unnerving that he didn’t care that he was hemorrhaging a couple hundred dollars every 15 minutes.

Twenty minutes passed before I felted the angry guy in an ugly hand. I three-bet him pre-flop with 8-6 suited and he smooth called with A-Q. He flopped top pair on a Queen-high rainbow board while I flopped a bottom pair of sixes. I turned a baby diamond flush draw and much to his dismay, I backdoored trips. When the six of hearts spiked on the river, the DJ inside my head cranked up Kool in the Gang’s Celebration. Angry guy thought his two pair — Queens and sixes — was the best hand so he made a thin value bet on the river. I raised him and he stopped texting and slammed his phone on the table, which created a minor quake strong enough to rattle everyone’s stack. He tanked for a couple minutes and kept muttering over and over, “Ya got nothing but a busted flush draw. Nothing but a busted flush draw. Busted flush draw. Busted flush draw.”

He tried to intimidate me with the death stare, which I thought was amusing so I smirked. He took that as a sign of weakness and screamed, “Busted flush! I knew it. I’m all in!”

I snap-called and tabled 8d-6d while humming “Celebrate good times … come on!” I won the pot with trip sixes (aka the anti-Christ). He flashed an Ace of diamonds to most of the table before flinging it at the dealer. I deciphered the words “cock” and “shithead” while the dealer pushed me the rest of his chips. He snatched up his cellphone to shoot off an angry text, presumably about the bad beat I issued him.

“Thanks for donating. Make sure you tell Hal Incandenza that Pauly said hello.”

March 2013