I have to face it. I am a beginner poker player. I just learned to play the game a few months ago when South Florida was hit by four devastating hurricanes in a row. Without lights, A.C. (unimaginable during the summer here), refrigeration, nor passable roads (most blocked by trees and debris), I spent many long hours being taught poker (by my son who had gotten swept into the craze.) We played cards by candlelight into the wee hours while sipping some wine (our only luxury) with chips and canned tuna.
So, poker was the highlight of those sweaty August days and the best family entertainment that could take our minds off the sweltering summer nights. I am talking hours and hours of Texas Hold' em, 7 Card Stud and Omaha.
Soon after life returned to normalcy and the next step was initiation into playing 'Texas Hold 'em, 1-2' in a casino. My son (who by then had become a Professional Poker Dealer!) encouraged me to enter my first tournament. He felt I was "ready.' I signed up for the last single table tournament of the night (at 11 pm.) I was so nervous, I could not eat dinner that evening. I was the only woman at the 10-player table. With a $45 buy-in, we were each given $1400 worth in chips. I reluctantly asked the player beside me to explain the values of the pink, black and green chips. He smiled wryly, thinking I was more "green' than the chips and figuring I'd be an easy 'sucker.' (My son taught us that if you don't know who the sucker is at the table, it's probably you.)
I started at the button which gave me a few rounds to observe the action before participating. My first hand was the proverbial useless 2-7 off-suit which I tossed. I was so nervous I just folded, folded, folded and watched the other players building mighty chip piles.
My turn came as the big blind, at 50. Everybody folded except for 2 players who limped in. I looked down at 3-5 offsuit and checked. The flop came: 3-Q-3. I bet 150 with my three 3's. The two players called and I was scared. The turn was a Jack. I bet 150 and player #2 folded but player #3 raised. I feared that he was holding a 3 with a better kicker. I re-raised 300; he called. The river saved me: the 5 made my full house. He went all in with A-3 and I did, too. I can't tell you how thrilled I was when the pile of chips was first pushed my way. I looked at my opponent, shrugged and said, "Big Blind Special.'
Again I cruised, folding and not picking up cards. I kept hearing my son's words: "play tight", "if you don't catch cards, wait for a better day;" "follow aggression with aggression."
With the help of some good luck and winning some big pots, I made it to the final three players as the chip leader. I remembered my son's words about shorthanded play and decided that, as the chip leader, this was my chance to be more aggessive. I raised on the button with Q-8 H. The small blind folded and the big blind re-raised all in. I decided to call since it wasn't too much more. He flipped over pocket KK (my heart sank) as the flop came 10-9-5 rainbow. The turn was a K and I started to congratulate him. Then the dealer put a J on the River and announced that I had a straight! Again I shrugged and in disbelief said, "tough beat." This left me with one other player at the table.
I could feel my heart pumping in that strange combination of nervousness yet excitement. Only two of us left.
Close to midnight and after 5 minutes of heads-up and folding alot, the final key hand came up. He went all in with an A-6 and a King came on the flop after I went all in with K-9. He had refused to "chop" so I won the first place prize pool of $220. After tipping the dealer $25, I walked away with $195. I had actually MADE money for the first time doing something that was, although tense, satisfying and gratifying. To me this was winning $10,000 at the Bellagio.
The accomplishment of winning this first try at a poker tournament meant so much to me. It taught me: that people can learn new skills regardless of age; that we should take a chance and try something new even if we don't feel quite ready (especially if someone knowledgable in the field says we are); that a woman can compete, have just as good a chance (and win!) in certain arenas equally as well as men; that if we do not show we are scared out of our wits, others may not suspect it; that men may initially presume we are weak but that skill and confidence changes that perception; that men are generally willing to tone down the swearing and be very polite when there is a lady at the table; that a woman can be really terrific at bluffing even when she never knew she had it in her to do so; that when a woman does well, men will shake her hand and say 'nice hand' or 'nice game' genuinely just as they would to another man; that we can make new acquaintances and even romances through the social magic of the game and the dynamics of the oval poker table; that it is a satisfying, powerful feeling to have a pile of chips pushed your way, whether by luck or skill or a combination; that by learning and earning, we can triumph and in that overwhelming feeling of success from our efforts, there may be no greater satisfaction and pleasure.
In short, I can see that poker is a microcosm, a miniature universe, exemplified by my first tournament. Like life, it is competitive, fast, and full of bluffs, decisions, gambles, wins and losses. We can utilize the wisdom of poker if we are in bad times; we can just fold for now and 'wait for a better day." Even Phil Hellmuth and Phil Ivey aren't dealt 'pocket aces' every hand.