Sugar Mama (Part 2): Into the Poker Underground

Filed in Uncategorized by on April 7, 2013


By 'Proposition' Nate

I’m still rubbing the sleep out of my eyes in the cab over to Club Amore. The place is located on a busy arterial road in Mosman, wedged between shopfronts and up a set of stairs like a Club X, and marked only by a discreet sign that states “Members Only”. I climb the stairs to reach a heavily reinforced door overlooked by a conspicuous security camera. Unsure whether I should find the high security concerning or reassuring, I press the buzzer.


I didn’t really know what to expect, but it’s a pretty nice setup. A bit dingy and smoke-filled, but there’s a bar and kitchen area, a billiards table, and a couple of very nice card tables. Most impressive to me was that there were two lackeys present to help us out with whatever we needed. They didn't have names, and seemed to have been instructed not to talk.

Before proceedings kicked off Sweetie fixed everyone a steak dinner. I’d just had dinner/breakfast with my mum so passed on that offer, but I did grab a mango from the platter of fruit she’d personally sourced from some local market. Best damn mango I ever ate.

Over dinner I started chatting to Shane, one of the other players in the game. First impression: a bit of a rough nut. Wearing a crumpled collared shirt, Shane had a weathered face and gravelly voice that betrayed his relatively young age. We exchanged some fairly standard pleasantries. I told him about the job I’d just finished up in a government call centre, and he told me about the life ban from Star City the Australian Federal Police had imposed on him because he couldn’t account for the sums of money he’d turned over there. He was getting his fix elsewhere these days: on New Year’s Eve he lost $20,000 backing the half-time/full-time result in a random A-League game.

Seems a nice guy though.

There are some other older guys around as well. Sal, a pleasant and jovial Italian guy of about 50 who owns a restaurant in Leichhardt, and Carl, who claims to have dealt in the biggest club games Sydney has ever run. We're just waiting a couple of others before starting.

It’s not too long before the rest arrives, including ‘Toothpick’ Tony, a local semi-celebrity in the Australian poker scene. Tony saunters in wearing a crisp suit and new Pierre Cardin belt that for some reason becomes a conversation point for the group. Before he arrived everyone had been talking about him like he was a superstar. I've seen Tony before at Crown playing in big, big games.  

"He’s in the Joe Hachem league" one guy said. I don't really know what that means. Perhaps they were talking about how big of a douchebag he was.

After Toothpick has some grub and another player arrives the game kicks off. The buy-in is $2K the blinds $5/$10.

Right away Toothpick was on edge and just generally being a surly prick, despite picking up more than his share of the early pots. I clearly had the run of it though. After about 30 minutes I’d doubled my buy in and found myself in a hand with Tony for the first time.

Details are sketchy, but I believe I limped 79 off-suit and Toothpick raised on the button. Pretty much everyone at the table called. On a 763 rainbow flop Toothpick thinned the field with a continuation bet, and this time only I came along. The turn was a Queen and we both checked. Then the river came down a 4, putting the 4-card straight out there. I checked again, and this time he bet something like the size of the pot, $800. His line seemed pretty suss to me and so I called. With typical petulance he held onto his cards and refused to show, so I table my pair of sevens and let him save face and muck his hand. As I’m scooping the $2,500 pot, Sal makes the mistake of saying nice call.

 "What the fuck nice call! He beats nothing but a bluff! Fucking nice call. It was a terrible call!"

Meh. I thought it was a pretty easy call.

Anyway, Toothpick has a tantrum after not too long and cashes out. Which is good, because the game is much more pleasant after that. We were 5-handed from that point briefly, then 4-handed, which it remained for hours. Clockwise, the table is Me, Sal, Shane and Sweetie.

At some point we upped the stakes to $5/$10/$25 blinds on Shane’s request. I said I was happy to do that for a few orbits, but I should have known better than to think I could wind back a game after it's been cranked up, and it stayed at those stakes for the remainder of the night. I was running well though, and clearly in a league of my own at this table, so happy to roll with it. Swings were big, but I chipped away steadily until I was up about $6.5k.

Then one of the weirdest hands I've ever played goes down. On my ‘middle blind’ of $10, Shane straddles on the button to $100. Sweetie calls out of the small blind, and I call with Q6 of clubs, Sal calls and Shane checks. He hasn't looked at his cards yet, and jovially informs us of this.

There’s $400 in the pot, and the flop comes down: 9 of clubs, Ten of clubs, Jack of clubs.

I’ve flopped the third nuts, with outs to the straight flush—just in case.

Sweetie leads straight out for a pot sized bet, $400.

I could have raised it big at this point, but chose instead just to call. Not because I was afraid to get my chips in, but rather because I find people are liable to do crazy shit on boards like this, and I had Sal and Shane still to act.

Unfortunately the bet is too steep for Sal who folds, but Shane is not so easily discouraged. He reminds us all that he has not yet looked at his cards, then casually splashes the pot with four black chips.

Shane, Sweetie and myself remain, $1600 in the pot. 

The turn brings the King of hearts.

This is a card that could go either way for me. If no one’s made a straight then it might scare them both and make it hard for me to get paid. If anyone did make a straight, though, chips should fly. My hand is stronger than it looks, and anyone holding a queen will spend a lot to find out if I have the goods.

Sweetie unfortunately no longer seems so enthusiastic and checks. I thought for a while before betting $940. This is my Colonel Clint’s Crazy Bargains school of bet sizing: slightly less than $1,000 I think is much more likely to get called than slightly over. And I definitely want a call.

At this point Shane decides to look at his cards. Probably a good idea.

He squeezes them out slowly, and all of a sudden his face turns to one of anguish and consternation. He begins compulsively playing with his chips as he thinks things through. He counts out the $940 and separates it from the rest of his stack, and frantically works another pile of chips over with his hand. I try my best to give off shitting myself vibes as his gaze shifts between the pot, his stack, and me.

After a long, long wait he announces all in: about $2,000 on top of my bet. Sweetie folds but holds onto her cards, and I actually think for a second just because of all the "I haven’t looked" talk. I ponder the possibility he’d putting on an act and has looked at his cards. I obviously can't lay it down now though, and so after 10 seconds or thereabouts make the call.

Final pot: $7,900.

In retrospect, I wish it had occurred to me to ask to run it twice.

Neither of us show our cards before the river is dealt: a repeat Ten.

I’d have rather a red Deuce, but I’m still fairly confident. I table my flush first, and Shane takes just a little bit longer than is sporting before showing pocket Jacks for a rivered full house. Just to throw a bit of salt into the wound, Sweetie reveals that she folded T9, two of Shane’s outs. 

After the game I crunched the numbers: I was an 83.3% favourite when the money went in.

All of a sudden poker does not seem so easy.

In the blink of an eye I was back to about even, and it didn’t take me long to bleed off the remainder of my $2K buyin. It was almost sunrise and there was a pretty strong case for calling it a night, but a new player, Dan, had just arrived and injected a bit of energy into the game. I didn’t have a concrete read on Dan at this point so I did some rudimentary profiling. Two things stood out: 1) He’s turning up to a home game at 5am, and 2) he’s rocking a waste-length ponytail.

This does not seem like a person who makes smart decisions. I’m sticking around.

So I called over one of Sweetie’s mute helpers to fetch me chips. Everyone’s happy if I buy in for extra, and so I ask for $3,000.

Again I knuckle down and start chipping away. The room was drenched in cigarette smoke at this point, and I suspect we were oxygen deprived because a heavy lethargy had set in. Someone ordered coffee for the table, and I joked that perhaps amphetamines would be more appropriate. “You like a bit of goey huh?” Shane asks. “I can sort you for some of that.”

I don’t doubt it, Shane.

But while my demeanour may not have betrayed it, I was drawing on all my resources to stay zoned into the action. While the play around me got even sloppier, I stayed sharp and despite the setbacks remained in good control of the table. A few hours passed by, and at about 10am I was sitting on almost $7,000 and up again for the night.

Then the biggest hand of my life played out. Dan was in the straddle and opted to make it $100 instead of $25. I was first to act and raised it up to $300 holding two red Sixes. Sweetie (who had moved to my immediate left) called on the button, as well as Dan, both of whom had me covered.

So I found myself deep stacked, in a bloated pot, wedged between two fishy and reckless opponents. First things first, I had to draw on my knowledge of ‘The Secret’ and summon a third six on the flop. Loosely paraphrased, my internal monologue went something along the lines of “six six six six six six six six six six…”

I stared intently at the dealer’s hand as he spread the flop: 4 of diamonds. 5 of hearts. 6 of clubs.

Boom! My training had paid off.

Still, not the most innocuous board. This could get tricky.

Dan throws a bit of a curveball by leading for $240, a small bet relative to the size of the pot. This felt like a blocking bet to get a cheap look at the turn, or else a fake blocking bet with a big hand. No matter though, with Sweetie still to act there’s no option for me but to raise, and after a moment’s thought I made it $1,060.

Sweetie did not need a moment to think it over.

“I all in!”

Dan seemed content with the role he’d played in building this monster pot, and folded straight away.

For my part it was a straightforward call. Sweetie had played overpairs such as Aces and Kings like this twice already: smooth calling preflop, waiting for a ‘safe’ flop, then moving all in for some ridiculous amount that guaranteed she’d be called only if someone had a hand that had her completely dead.

Sure, she might have flopped a straight which would be a 2-1 favourite against my set, but she also might have flopped a smaller set, an overpair, two pair, or a pair and a straight draw, and I crush those hands.

Of course not, though. It’s a $14,000 pot, the biggest pot I’ve played, and I’d established days earlier that I was cursed from above and would never win again.

I announce call and Sweetie instantly rolls over 78 for the nuts.  This time I remember to ask: “Want to run it twice?”


That’s that then. In a flash the dealer puts two picture cards down for the turn and river, and just like that I’m cleaned out.

At no one’s request, he also deals what would have been the second board “just to see”. Obviously I would have made quads.

And so on that note I called it quits and the game broke. The other players cashed out their chips and exchanged exhausted pleasantries while I sat at the table, silently and despondently smoking a cigarette. As we all leave, Sweetie takes me aside and puts a $100 note in my hand “for the taxi home.”

Usually my pride would preclude me accepting such an offer, but not this particular morning. I meekly pocket the $100, mumble something about thanks for the game, and slink off.

I was on the phone to my temping agent the next day, setting up the next shitty government contract.

It was written.


Comments (3)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    surely you give it another crack!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Plenty of red flags in that story… hope you're sure about this game

  3. Avoozl says:

    Great story, 'Proposition' Nate, and great delivery! I hope there's more brewin' in the mix!