By Tenzin McGrupp © 2003
Last Saturday morning, the smoke free poker room at Foxwoods Casino was crowded with seasoned professionals, well-groomed tourists, wide eyed newbies, and geriatric regulars. With over 500 people playing in 50 or so different games, there was a minimum one hour wait for the next available seat at a $4-$8 Texas Hold ‘em table. Las Vegas had crowned it’s 2003 World Series of Poker Champion one week earlier, but the excitement of the biggest poker tournament never ended. It spilled into Foxwoods and every player caught “the fever”. For a second consecutive year an amateur won over $2 Million at the World Series which caused every player in the Northeast to flock to the casinos in Connecticut in order to prime themselves for next year’s championship which will pay out in excess of $3 Million!
I was of those players. Brad, Senor, and myself were eager to gain experience for the New England Poker Classic (scheduled for November later this year at Foxwoods). We decided to play $4-$8 because the wait at the lowest limit table ($2-$4) was over two hours long. Poker is like any other rigorous activity, it’s necessary to ease into the game, especially if you’re in for the long haul (8 plus hours of playing without any significant breaks). I needed to warm up like a relief pitcher in baseball. I normally played the lowest limit table for a couple of hours before I moved up to my usual $5-10 game. But that day, it was too packed and crowded to implement my game plan. I knew that once my name was called, I’d have to start playing immediately. The pressure was on.
Brad got called first and sat in a game in the front of the vast card room, one of the largest I’ve ever played. My name was called next and I didn’t have a choice of where I sat or what $4-$8 table I could play at. When the hostess announced over the casino loudspeaker, “McGrupp, 4-8 Hold ‘em, Table 51”, that was it. I had less than a couple of minutes to lock my seat up, or it would go to the next player.
There was a guy sitting across from me. He wore a baseball hat and rarely made eye contact with anyone. He looked familiar but I couldn’t figure out who he was until one of the other players sitting next to him asked, “Aren’t you that guy Kato something, er other?”
He took a deep breath and put up his hand. “Yeah, yeah. But I don’t want to talk about that.”
And the conversation stopped right there. Occasionally different players from other games and tables walked past our table and caught Kato Kaelin from the corner of their eyes. All of them had something to say and Kato gave them the same blank hand gesture. He wasn’t there to be noticed. He wanted to play poker.
While I waited for my good cards, I studied the other players, paying attention to every detail possible trying to figure out their body language. I focused on eyes and hands. Some professionals wear sunglasses specifically so you won’t be able to see their eyes, which is one of the best ways to tell if someone is bluffing. Eyes give me all the information that I need, whether someone has a loaded hand or somebody didn’t get a card that they wanted. Hands are an important “tell” because they can indicate nervous habits. Most players are focused on presenting a stoic poker face than they forget to disguise the mannerisms on the rest of their bodies. Something as subtle as how someone bets with his chips, or how they tap their fingers can give away the strength or weakness of their hands. Picking up other players’ “tells” are a crucial part of the game. It’s the most difficult aspect of poker to learn and master. I was lucky that my keen observational skills as a writer assisted me greatly on numerous occasions.
About three hours into the game, I was up over $260. I played 8 out of 11 hands nearly perfectly and I was more than pleased with my early run winning a couple of big pots. I was dealt my two cards and as I peeked, I saw that I had a great hand. J-J. Wired Jacks. A pair of Jacks!! That’s an excellent Hold ‘em hand. Only three other hands are better (pairs of Queens, Kings, and Aces) and those percentages are very small. When it was my turn to bet I raised from $4 to $8. A couple of others called, but when the bet went to Kato he took a look at me, then he took a long look at his cards and raised me! Instead of calling, I re-raised Kato. He called my bet. We both had $16 in the pot and we haven’t even seen the flop yet. I figured he might have wired Aces or Kings or he could just be bluffing.
After the dealer dealt the flop of: J, 8, Q… I was extremely happy. I had three Jacks which statistically made me the heavy favorite to win the hand. I bet and Kato raised. I re-raised and he called, and $16 more each from the both of us went into the pot. At this point I guessed that Kato held a pair of Aces or A-K. If he had Aces then I have the better hand. If he has A-K, then I still have the better hand because he’s looking for a 10 on the last two cards, trying to pull a straight, which is better than three of a kind. But after the flop, I’m looking great.
The dealer puts down the card on Fourth Street, and it’s another Jack. Now the table reads: J,8,Q,J. I have four of a kind (four Jacks!), and only four Queens can beat me. Since I figured that Kato was holding (A-K or A-A), and he was waiting for a ten, I wanted to make him pay to see that last card. I checked-raised him. He bet $8 and I raised to $16. Then he re-raised me, and I re-raised and played right back at him and he eventually called. We both put $32 into the pot which was now worth over $150.
I knew I won the pot. It was a question of whether or not I could suck out more money from Kato. But there was one more card left. The River. The dealer put down the last card and it was a Queen. I looked at Kato and tried to learn anything from his body movement. He was still. I looked at the cards on the table: J,8,Q,J,Q. I was hoping that Kato made a decent hand possibly a full house. Because if he didn’t have a great hand, then he’d fold the pot. He bet right away and I raised him. The same routine continued. He re-raised me and I played back at him. He called my re-raise and we both put $40 more into the pot. The dealer asked me to turn over my two cards. The entire table was eager to see what we had.
I smugly turned over my two Jacks, and said, “Four Jacks, Kato. How about that?”
He paused and turned over his cards. “I beat you on the River. Four Queens.”
I stared at his pocket Queens and I nearly smacked myself in the head for making a rookie mistake. I was beat from the start of the hand, and walked right into Kato’s trap.
“I can’t believe I lost on four Jacks to Kato’s four Queens,” I complained to Senor and Brad, as we drove away later that night. “But shit, I can’t wait to tell everyone that I played poker with Kato Kaelin!”
Senor smiled and said, “No big deal, McGrupp. Because someday Kato will be telling his friends, ‘Man, there was this one night when I was at Foxwoods and I beat out the World Series of Poker Champion, Tenzin McGrupp!’”
Tenzin McGrupp is a writer from New York City.