Gargamel ponders. The player to his left, the always emotional Achilles, tells him to do something. The problem Gargamel is having, is how to play his holding, A4dd, from this position, and in a straddled pot with what would be fairly deep stacks for a Village weekday game. Achilles, a table captain and brash player, is going to raise nearly every hand from the straddle, and he will call as well. Opening Ax makes very little sense, as it will give Achilles position. Calling with the intention of calling again is just bad poker. They are on the edge of deep, but Axs misses flops and has very little playability, even when in a better position. So Gargamel has to have a plan.

At last, he calls the straddled amount from the small blind.

The big blind completes, then Achilles puts in the raise to fifty, as predictable as the sunrise. It’s a small isolation but better than forty, which many players would mistakenly bet. Unsurprisingly, the stations in the field do their thing, and when it’s back to Gargamel, he is looking at three players and the limped blinds, for $170 in the pot. Gargamel removes chips from the back of stack, breaks them up into small increments to count, then raises Achilles and the overcallers to $250, forcing out the big blind (again with the slightly smallish raise). It should force out Achilles in the straddle, unless he has the top of his range, because with $800 or so back, his only real move to shove. Calling leaves an SPR of one, so it’s the worse play possible without a premium.

So why does a competent, winning player call Gargamel here? As I said, he likes to be the boss. He does not like to be outplayed, and essentially, he has been. The limp raise should be checkmate for this hand. Some actions are game changers, game enders; continuing is pure stubbornness. However, if you are the boss, you don’t like to back down. All night, Achilles has been moving to Gargamel’s right, determined to get the best of him. He is muscled and young, ready to fight. He’s ready to do something questionable, and he’s ready to do it now.

Achilles flats the $250. It’s clear his hand is middling. Playable cards in another situation, but not even a top ten percenter. If he thinks Gargamel’s limp raise is light, the right play would have been to raise all in and rep the top of his range. However, confused by his negative feelings toward Gargamel, exasperated by the ubervillain’s apparent Hollywooding, and sensing a squeeze, he has decided to take a flop in position.

The board bails both of them out, each has to feel. Gargamel flops the nut flush draw, Achilles top pair. The disadvantage to limp raising, even a balanced range, is that it creates unplayable SPRs for everyone involved. It is the nuclear option of poker and so there is usually no retreat from any equity at all. Now everyone has to go broke and live with the radiation.

Gargamel ships his stack and Achilles calls. The turn duplicates top pair but the river brings the flush card. The hand is over, but the conflict is about to escalate.

Achilles has been dominating the table all night. He usually runs up big stacks with pressure and earns his calls. He’s sunny and despite his wish to be in charge, is fun at the table even while taking money from the Smurfs. Now, all his work is ruined. He’s punted off a big pot to a hated rival, and the night is late. It’s a disaster.

Achilles can’t control his rage. Gargamel has fast rolled the winner, but Achilles slams down second place trips in anger. He starts elbowing Gargamel, crossing a distinct social barrier in the very polite world of casino poker, a place where you can leave several thousand dollars and your laptop unattended in complete confidence. This physical aggression is rare and completely out of bounds.

The two bicker while the tussle grows. While they swear at each other, Gargamel gathers his mountain of chips, finds some whites, and tosses a few to Jeanie. The three dollars does not sit well with angry Achilles, who is looking for reasons to fight. He offers some choice words to Gargamel about being cheap.


Gargamel tells him, “I’ll let you tip her the rest!”

Taking $800 from someone then instructing them to get the server’s bill is the last thing this confrontation needs. The two new rivals erupt into further cussing and stand up, ready to go outside, but the floor arrives at the climactic moment.

“Nobody say anything!” As a reasonable floor should, he needs to freeze the situation and ascertain what is going on.

Unfortunately, telling Gargamel what to do is pointless. And he certainly isn’t the type to overlook his own case. Despite the floor’s command- more likely because of it- he immediately resumes berating Achilles. This time, however late, authority is present and rules.

“You’re out of here!” Gargamel has been thrown out of his beloved Village. He packs his chips, giving a summary of how badly Achilles played his hand, in case his feeling on this fine point had somehow been missed. Gargamel finishes by impudently telling the floor how badly he had managed the situation- and there is some truth to it, as no one should ever be physically pushed by another player.

I spoke later to Achilles about the incident, and whoever you believe was truly at fault, Gargamel had played well and got the money in a spot that should have ended preflop. The turnaround was well on its way to completion. Soon, for all the drama, it would be just another month, another win.

That’s important. Celebrating poker is a big part of a healthy mental game. Back in the days of the bankroll challenges, “The Coven,” our triad of poker aspirants, took turns treating its members to lavish meals after strong showings. In a region where farming fertility, alcoholic expertise and the New American cuisine are strong and extends its influence nationwide, this has meant some very good times. Even though the exciting challenges are long since over, the tradition of indulging at the end of the month has continued easily and naturally.

Tonight it’s Gargamel who is table captain, of course. Lover of medium-rare Smurf flesh, it’s no mistake that we are at a top rated steak house, amazingly situated two dozen stories high, sitting outside under the heat lamps, and looking over placid water and the glow of lights beyond. The city, the land, and life is tranquil and beautiful on a sublime Sunday twilight.

We have a fourth with us, an aspirant with some sort of absurd staking arrangement to discuss (they are all absurd), but Gargamel quells the talk and holds court, telling us the complete tale of the rise from the dead. Smurfs scattered and trounced. Money in the bank. Fourteen months of winning in a row. The tales of hands and battles on the felt get reactions of laughter and curiosity. We’re talking shop and there’s no reason to hold back from our poker nerdity, specialists as we are, enjoying the best of the low stakes poker life. (At times, Gargamel’s ego does seem to need not only an extra chair, but a place setting at the table, however.)

When we order the main course, three of us settle on Filet Mignon, but Gargamel will not join in. Imperious, he implicitly rebukes our selection: “Ribeye is clearly the best choice.”

Always the last word, f’ing Gargamel- but tonight, he’s earned it.