Just Like You and Me
By Greg Able
New Orleans . Just saying the name stirs up a mental jambalaya of sights and sounds. In June, the steamy streets of the Quarter teem with vendors hawking cheap beer, strip joints pushing cheap thrills, and cheap co-eds bearing it all for a string of cheap beads. Every night of the week the town stumbles along to a chorus of ragtime jazz and the smell of fried seafood ? blurry memories from a blurry weekend?unless your name is Ken Jenkins ? then all you remember is pocket cowboys.
Away from the din of the Quarter, a couple miles down Canal Street towards the river, you?ll find Harrah?s New Orleans . With its 115,000 square feet of gaming tables and machines, Harrah?s is literally the only game in town.
One night last June, Ken Jenkins found himself walking through the doors of Harrah?s. It had been a good day. Jenkins and his fellow suits had delivered a strong new-business pitch that day, and by all accounts, the deal was in the bag. Time to blow off some steam, relax, and celebrate. In the corner a $10 blackjack table beckoned.
Though no seasoned gambler, he typically split his time between blackjack and Caribbean stud. But lately he?d been hitting the poker rooms: relatively low buy-in tournaments, trying out his newly online-acquired poker skills against living breathing opponents.
Back at Harrah?s, the blackjack dealers were laying down a hot streak for Jenkins ? his $200 stack blossomed to just over $1800 in the space of two hours. Suspecting a turn for the worse was in the cards, Ken left his companions to find a tournament seat at one of Harrah?s poker tables.
At the edge of the poker area was a solitary high-stakes table. The $25-$50 blinds were by no means astronomical, but the stacks piled in front of three players were something to see. Sitting at the far end of the table were the ?big three?, as Ken would come to call them, each with a tower of chips, the largest teetering around ninety thousand. Three other mopes pushed around shorter stacks - $600 here, $1800 there, $2400 there - rounding out a table of six
Ken considered it a moment, then abruptly sat. The first time Ken ever sat at a table in a Vegas poker room, he had felt a similar mix of anticipation and anxiety asking himself: ?You know what you?re doing, but who are these guys, really? They could be chumps, they could be pros ? but how the hell would I know??
Ken kept his usual aggressive style in check for a couple hands, getting a read on his competitors. Once settled in, he got into a couple of pots, and 45 minutes later found himself staring down at thirteen thousand in winnings.
Ken is thinking, ?Ok, that?s it. I?m up 13K on two hundred. I?m walking after this hand, but I just want to see what I get.?? Ken peeked at his hole cards and saw two friendly faces staring back ? a pair of kings in the hole.
With his best poker face, Ken flips $200 to the middle, playing it slow. But his mind was racing, just thinking, ?Shit. I?m gonna clean up!?
The big three stayed in to see the flop as it came up ten-seven-king, giving Ken the set he was dreaming of. With the second round of betting, the action heated up - with $1700 to call - putting one of the short-stackers all-in and two of the three big money players still in the game.
came over as a 6 with no strong straight or flush draw in sight, Ken saw his chance ? and drove the bet to $2000. With one guy all in, Ken?s $2k was enough to chase one of the heavyweights out of the pot, but his well-financed friend was slower to turn tail. 50ish with gray hair, jeans and a long sleeve OP-style t-shirt, Ken?s opponent seemed unassuming, even with his towers of chips. But a moment later, with a couple of parting shots for his friend, he calls Ken?s two grand.
The river comes, and an Ace falls. ?Could he have pulled out an Ace-high straight on
?? Ken didn?t think so, he did the math in his head ?I just can?t see anything out there, could beat my set?? Across the table, Ken?s opponent tosses out with $1500 - $500 less than
. That does it for Ken. He goes all in, shoving away his remaining 9K and change.
Without blinking, Mr. $90K pushes his stacks away from the rail, flipping his two card to reveal American Airlines, completing a perfect set of three Aces.
Ken lets a string of expletives roll out under his breath. As he pushes away from the table, the winner stands to shake his hand. He offers an understanding smile and says simply ?That?s the breaks kid.?
Later, as Ken lay wide-awake in the stifling New Orleans night, living the moment over and over again in his head, he couldn?t help wondering if he?d been duped. After all, jeans, t-shirt and tennis shoes just don?t add up for a guy sitting with $90K. Do they?
Last time he went to a casino, Ken stayed off the poker tables. ?dyannaIt was just me and the boys this trip and it was more fun for us all to play blackjack and craps together than for me to break off and play poker alone. But I know I?ll be back ? after a night like that, how could I stay away??
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