There’s simply no getting around it. Poker used to be more fun. Jumping in the car as soon as I could leave work and heading to the KC Ameristar. Exit 55B. The slow-moving, raven-haired cocktail waitress who managed to make the word “cocktails” sound like “hot towels” and who was so Goth it was rumored she farted bats.

Maybe it’s my age? The old stud players in the poker room never seemed to be having much fun. At the time I attributed this to many of them being attached to oxygen tanks and the fact that 1-5 spread-limit the way they played it was intrinsically depressing.

I’d sometimes sit in their game when there was a long list for limit hold’em. Despite the fact that it was always the same faces, they rarely spoke to one another and never once spoke to me. I could elicit a glare or a grunt by the simple expedient of raising the max on third, but that was the extent of our interactions. I found it quite entertaining in the same way that wandering through a graveyard reading the tombstones can be.

On one occasion the two grumpiest players, Wheezy and Hack, had been getting such lousy hands that they convinced the table the only sensible step was to switch the game to Razz. I agreed, then realized nobody had asked my opinion. So Razz it was. Naturally Wheezy and Hack now started getting dealt rolled up kings which apparently tilted them to the point that they couldn’t dump anything that looked smallish. So I’m merrily firing away on sixth with a smooth seven having both of them board locked and they fling in chips in a resigned yet strangely malignant manner like someone feeding pigeons with poisoned bread crumbs.

“Kat, seat open 3-6, you want it?”

“Please, Bill. Can I get four empty racks?”

That was my primary introduction to casino poker. 3-6 limit hold’em. I’d hosted a home game for years that moved with me from Baltimore to Toronto to Lawrence, Kansas, where like so many things it seemed to succumb to the diabolical weather. When the online poker boom boomed, I jumped in, moving up in limits and spending eighteen months as a Swiss lesbian. I started playing tournaments and branched out into PLO and Omaha-8. And several times a year I would go straight from giving my Thursday afternoon lecture to the airport and fly to Vegas, playing twenty-hour sessions punctuated by naps and returning on the first flight Monday reeking of casino.

Then online poker became my job. It was still great right up to the point when the U.S. Senate effectively fired me. And so I moved to Vegas.

Let me start with the good news. The only regret I have about my current situation is that I didn’t move here sooner. I can’t imagine living anywhere else. Further, while a tenured university professorship isn’t the worst gig in the world, I’d completely lost interest in it. Perhaps more importantly, any regular day job requires me to pretend to be normal; that is, someone I’m not.

But the word “grinder” is exquisitely accurate for those of us feeding in the shallow end of the pool. Playing low-limit poker for a living is a grind, and as any millstone will readily tell you, it can be boring.

There are many grinders who seem completely resigned to this, wallowing in ennui like hippopotami who have had the misfortune to be relocated to a zoo in Liverpool. Well, kittens, that is not me! Based on end-of-semester student evaluations I can say with some confidence that I made the driest principles of physics interesting. There must be a way to drive boredom from the poker table.

It turns out this topic recently surfaced in a slightly different guise on social media and a well-known poker forum where people are less polite than here at RCP. A Canadian poker player who is even better-known than the forum suggested that professionals are killing the game by failing to entertain recreational players on whom their living depends.

The solution? Take off the damn headphones! Interact! Chat! A lot!

Now I can babble with the best of them. Indeed my main technique in retaining the attention of students who were compelled to take Introductory Astronomy because some idiot in Admin listed the course as “Group C: Gen Ed (required)” was to punctuate the lecture with anecdotes about my cats, ex-wives, speeding tickets, and how last Sunday afternoon I’d woken up at the bottom of a flight of stairs wearing a cheese-and-tomato sandwich.

But here’s the problem and why the Canadian mentioned above is simultaneously wrong and disingenuous. I am convinced the reason he talks constantly is that he is one of the best in the world at gleaning useful information from opponents through his constant jabbering. Further, I sat one table away from him at a WSOP event a few years ago, and discovered that the pitch of his incessant chatter is such that it sets up a beat frequency with the tinnitus in my right ear. The result resembles the worst self-indulgences of Pink Floyd played poorly by a kazoo orchestra.

Here’s another clue to suggest recreational players are not pining for conversation. Many are wearing ear-buds. This isn’t rocket science.

I’m not suggesting that a little conversation is a bad thing. It can even provide some entertainment. But there is a rather glaring drawback in that the obvious topic to discuss while playing poker is poker. And the last thing I want to do is to give the impression that I am anything other than helpless flotsam carried along inexorably by the malicious currents stirred by the Poker Gods.

So my anti-boredom project is ongoing and will be the focus of the first quarter of 2016. If you have any solutions, please let me know.

Showing 3 comments
  • Glenn

    Kat, you need to join the great unwashed and git yerself some earplugs of your own. If you find yourself cackling uncontrollably at Eric the Half a Bee or other Monthy Pythonesque recordings it can only help your table image.

  • Kat

    I’ve been working on my cackle for some time, Glenn, good idea.

  • Butch

    So goth she farted bats …

    Love it.