If the Empire, in Leicester Square, is the closest we get to a Vegas Strip kind of cardroom, then the Golden Nugget on Shaftesbury Avenue is strictly Vegas downtown, Fremont Street. It’s a small casino, and it feels local, almost friendly. The game I was in though was becoming serious.
‘Someone looking at me would say, There’s a big fucker… And you know what? I AM a Big Fucker.’
The Big Fucker was rolling over the table. The game had started as a small 1-1 game, almost like a nervous home game. A £10 bet on the flop would be enough to take down most pots. But that was before the Big Fucker joined the table. A large Irishman already full of beer and fuelling himself with more, he’d recently been knocked out of the tournament and sat down on my left. (I’d been knocked out of the tournament some time before.) The Big Fucker had curly hair, a slightly pouting mouth, and eyes that were getting a little fishy with beer. But, he was a good player, and he was very aggressive. The plump American who was sitting between an attractive young couple didn’t like every pot being raised by at least £15 pre-flop and got up to sit elsewhere. He was replaced by a bald German, who fancied himself as something of a player himself. Bald German would raise to £3. Big Fucker, as a matter of course, would reraise, making it £15 or £20. Very tentatively, the German would call, huddle inside himself. And inevitably fold when Big Fucker put in a £35 or £40 bet on the flop.
Big Fucker had bought in for £65. A few hands later, he had over £100. And when I had ace-jack on an AA3 flop, and called his all-in reraise only to see him table ace-king, he had over £200. That’s the problem with aggressive action players who play a wide range of hands in a more or less identical way: sometimes their holdings are the nuts or close to it.
Big Fucker shook my hand, hard. ‘You’re not going to be chicken are you? You’re not going to chicken?’
‘No,’ I assured him. ‘I’m not going to chicken.’
I reloaded for another £100, the table maximum. Quarter of an hour later, I had about £60 left after I’d folded my 44 on a J99 flop. ‘Unless you have a 9, you’re losing,’ Big Fucker told me. Why would a player advise you to fold? Because they’re kind and and caring and want you to save your money? It’s more likely that they don’t want you to call. Nonetheless, I folded. He showed me 10-8. With his straight draw and his overcards, he was in fact out in front.
Nonetheless, I felt it as a kind of failure, close to elemental. I was losing money to a drunk player. He happened to be a good drunk player but all the same, if I’m claiming to be able to play poker, this was wrong. I made a kind of vow. If I didn’t win my money back from Big Fucker, I was going to give up the game.
The wisdom in playing difficult opponents is that you want them on your right. They have to act before you, this gives you an edge. Actually, with someone who is predictably going to raise almost every pot, it’s rather good to have them acting after you. You can limp, then reraise. I waited for a hand to go up with against Big Fucker. Most of the time I was getting garbage. I won a hand, when Big Fucker’s attention was elsewhere, against the German and a young Oriental player, who bizarrely called my all-in bet on the end with Q7 off-suit on a 997K2 flushing board.
I’ve been playing some cash recently, mostly at the Empire, where the action is much bigger than the Golden Nugget. I’ve been developing a taste for cash play, the bravery needed, the different kind of adrenaline. Big Fucker’s stack was growing. He was throwing abuse the way of a player across from him, he was throwing in raises and reraises, and every now and again he would punch me on the arm and make manly noises, ‘Eh?! Yeah!’ He was an imposing presence and he was bullying the table with his play and his size. But I don’t like being punched on the arm. I told him to stop it. He offered his arm for me to to look at. ‘Look at the size of me!’ he said. ‘You’re a big lad,’ I said. ‘That’s right! I am a big lad. I raise.’
This was the hand I had been waiting for. I had AQ of clubs, and had limped, waiting for Big Fucker’s inevitable raise. But Big Fucker was drunk and he was used to playing a 1-2 game at least, so he put in two £1 chips and started counting out his raise. ‘Raise to two pounds,’ the dealer said. Big Fucker was prevented from throwing in the extra £20 and a very relieved, rather gleefully craven table saw his raise. When it came back to me, I called as well, in the dangerous aim of disguising my strength. The flop came down KQ3, rainbow. I checked, he bet, everyone else folded. I raised, he reraised all in. If he had a king, my poker career was over. I called.
He had QJ, my hand held up. I raked in the chips and shook Big Fucker’s offered hand. It was a genuine shake, unaccompanied by the brutal hand squeeze I’d seen him use against the player on my right. I felt as if I was being welcomed back into the game.