"Joe, have you tried internet poker?'
"Not interested, Hobby. I'm a purist. Doing it on a computer is like watching porn. It's a far cry from the real thing."
"I might've agreed at one time, but I've been playing on line and I like it. You can play your favorite game for real or play money, anything from $1 to $100."
"I wouldn't bet $100 against a machine. For god's sake Hobby, you're playing with an inanimate object. It takes the psychology out of the game, how can you read a machine?"
"Joe, I admire your intellect, but you're dead wrong. I challenge you to watch; then tell me what you think.' "It's a waste of time, Hobby, but I accept your challenge."
At a popular poker website Hobby entered his password and selected the game and table of his choice: $15/$30 limit hold 'em. With a click of the mouse, we were observing a game with simulated people around a simulated poker table, complete with a dealer. Each player had a name or moniker like "FlushKing.'
"Do you think they represent actual people?' I asked.
"Absolutely, I'll show you something.'
Hobby moved the cursor to a player's name and Philadelphia was displayed, at others I saw Des Moines, Claremont, Tuscon, L.A., and Toronto.
"You think that's for real?'
"I'm sure; watch.' Two players were betting after the river. The board showed J, 8, 3, K, 3 in a rainbow of suits. It went: check, bet, raise, re-raise and call. The check-raiser won the hand with a set of threes. The other player showed a worthless A, 4.
"What did you think of that, Joe?'
"I think the chump was very loose to stay on the draw and then try to bluff. I wouldn't mind playing against him.'
"You see Joe, you can read the players; they're not inanimate!'
"Well, maybe. Let's watch, I want to see how the betting goes.' After about a dozen hands, Hobby was anxious to get into the game. "I'm going to play, Joe, but first tell me what you learned.'
"I've got some possible reads and tells. Strokexx with the big bank, is tough. I'd be careful against him. The next guy is just the opposite, he's in every flop, and losing. I don't know about Bilko. GoSlam is aggressive in position, maybe bluffing; no one has called him. SmokeyJoe is interesting. Have you noticed anything special about him?"
"He tells when he's strong. It's the timing. He bets much faster when he's got a good hand. I think a player's timing can be a good tell."
"So, you ready for internet poker Joe?"
"I'm not a convert yet. I'll have to see more; maybe try play money to get the feel of it."
I watched over Hobby's shoulder, but he was so absorbed he wasn't inclined to communicate. When I said I was leaving, he just grunted. On the walk back to my place I decided to download the software Hobby was playing. It took about 15 minutes and I was on line. I scanned the games and found Hobby. His nickname is Lazybuns, the name of his boat. An ace, king, and two small cards were on the board. The betting was heavy, but Hobby kept calling the raises and re-raises of two other players. The river paired one of the small cards. The betting was a repeat of the previous round; Hobby kept calling. At the showdown both players displayed pairs of aces and kings, but Hobby held the small card that made a set. He had been drawing to a flush, but won without it. A message appeared: you lucky b-stard. It was from Bilko, one of the losing players.
The next hand came to a showdown with Hobby and Bilko again. An ace on the river gave the pot to Hobby. Another message from Bilko read: you'll get yours a-s hole. But it didn't happen. Hobby was on a rush and more often than not up against Bilko whose messages were increasingly nasty. Finally, Hobby wiped out Bilko's cash and got a warning from the loser: you won't make it through the night Isaac. It had an ominous ring that put me on alert.
I phoned. "Hobby, I watched you play on the internet."
"Hi, Joe, that's great. Did you see how I kicked that guy's butt?"
"I did, but I'm afraid Bilko might want revenge. Did you read his last message?"
"It wasn't even about me, Joe."
"I think it was; the guy's serious."
"Go to bed Joe, your writer's imagination is running away with you."
I couldn't sleep. I put on dark sweats, pocketed my sap, and returned to the Marina. From the clubhouse doorway I could watch the boat. After an hour I convinced myself this vigil was stupid, but then I saw a person climb over the fence with a large can. He walked directly toward Hobby's pier. I followed, but before I could catch up, he spayed something against the boat and tossed a match. The "whoosh' almost knocked him over. I finished the job with my sap to his noggin. The flames were huge, but the pier hose was nearby,and I dosed them quickly.
After a couple resounding kicks to the hull Hobby appeared.
"What the hell are you doing, Joe?'
"Oh shut up and give me a hand with this bozo who tried to burn you out."
No surprise it turned out to be Bilko.
"Joe, how did you know he was coming?"
"I didn't for sure, but when he used the name Isaac I was certain he knew you."
Hobby gave me a blank stare. "Your name- Newton-he called you Isaac."
More of the blank stare and then his eyes sparkled. "I get it Joe, Isaac Newton! And he knew about Lazybuns. Maybe I should change my handle."
"Good thinking, Hobby."