Pro Basketball, Pseudo-Rookie

I don't have more than a few years' experience with Texas Hold 'Em. In fact, my first live game was an impromptu event at a backyard barbecue two years ago. Surprising myself, I ended up finishing second of nine players. The second-to-last hand saw me lose most of my stack to a bad read, an all-in bet, a fanatical call, and an all-hearts flush.

The game was a learning experience in that I didn't have three buttons and a bet slider bar sitting in front of me on an LCD screen. It also meant I was in danger of pulling such stupid rookie moves as folding my cards while in the big blind position after a series of calls around to me. Luckily, friends didn't mind when someone else shoved my two cards back to me, smirked, and mumbled, "Just check, Jeff."

Suffice to say, I learned a lot during that game. I gained more confidence as I played more games. Eventually, I began developing my own style (as most styles go, it's a work-in-progress).

This Saturday, I had the opportunity to watch former Chicago Bull Dickey Simpkins sit at a table with eight other players, including Chicago Poker Clubber Jason Finn. I don't know which very large (and damn impressive) championship ring Dickey was wearing on his pinky, but it didn't help him distance himself from the same beginner mistakes I made during my first few games.

As I hovered around the table during the charity tournament's first break, I watched Jason Finn and fellow CPCer Kirk Fallah give Dickey a brief run-through of poker's core rules, mechanics, and order-of-hands. They followed it all up with a few pointers and some advice. Though it was a good faith effort by both Jason and Kirk, Texas Hold 'Em takes more time to explain than that which is allowed during one break!

The break ended. Jason took his seat, as did the other seven players (one or two separated Jason and Dickey). As I continued to hover, I watched Dickey fold hand after hand. After one fold, he caught Jason's eye and shook his head looking like he'd just run up and down the court ten times. You don't have to be a good poker player to pick up on that read.

Jason smiled and affirmed his disgruntlement with a nod: "It's a patient man's game."

"Know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em," Dickey responded, shrugging before sitting back in his seat to wait for his next two hole cards.

Continue reading....

As the night rolled on, I watched hand after hand develop between a number of random players at the table. One in particular caught my interest. It wasn't because of a huge pot, huge lay-down, or successful bluff; no, it was because Dickey Simpkins folded as the big blind with no raise to call.

Wait a sec -- did championship ring wearing Dickey Simpkins just make the same rookie mistake I did once upon a time?

The few people left in the hand glanced at each other. One woman smiled, held her hand atop Dickey's cards and said, "You could've just checked."

"Naah, I didn't have anything." Dickey gestured to the woman: she was sitting behind an impressive stack of chips. "She would've thrown out a bet and I just would've folded anyway."

Dickey is using the exact same excuses I used!

"Aah, give 'em back his cards!" another player at the table cheerfully suggested while waving his hand towards Dickey. It was, after all, a charity event (and charity events are more often geared towards the fun of the game). Regardless of the support, Dickey shook his head and allowed his cards to continue into the muck. Despite the rookie mistake, he remained a sportsman in his live-and-learn experience and followed the rules of a folded hand.

Unfortunately, having only five hours of sleep and 20 hours of consciousness, I didn't get to see how the table played out. I did, however, get to see a championship basketball player make the same missteps as I did a few years ago. Had I never played a live poker game before, it would've made me feel better about sitting down and getting into the thick of things.

The next time I watch a newbie player make a newbie mistake and shake his head in newbie embarrassment, I'll get to retell the story of a pro athlete who did the same damn thing we all did (at least once).