Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Texas Hold ‘Em At TBS: Going All In With The Brotherhood

posted by James S. Hirsch

Is there a God?

That question often comes to mind when I’m playing Texas Hold ‘Em and I’ve got a small pocket pair and I’m looking for “trips” – or three of kind – on the flop. Or when I’m drawing to an open-ended straight. Or when I’m down to my final few chips.

In other words, the question often came to mind during the TBS Brotherhood First Annual Texas Hold ‘Em Poker Tournament on March 13. The event in Simon Hall was superbly organized by Rob Braunstein, Jeff Keselman, and Steve Gladstone, and 50 TBS men gathered for spirited play. The buy-in was $36, so we had little to lose but plenty to gain – first place would receive $360 plus a pair of tickets to the Red Sox-Yankees.

The highlight of the evening was Rabbi Todd’s appearance. He didn’t play cards, which is good, because bluffing a rabbi out of a pot would surely violate some Talmudic law. Instead, Rabbi Todd visited each table and blessed the chips.

Poker is actually quite popular in Needham. I know of several quasi-regular games in town, including one that I’m in. Our games are low stakes, and whenever someone loses, we comfort him by saying, “Hey, it was cheaper than taking your wife out.”

Poker requires a sharp mind, nerves of steel, and a little bit of luck. Okay, make that, “a lot of luck,” at least for me. At Foxwoods and at other casinos around the country, I’ve had some good nights, but I’m just as likely to have a bad night. I’m a classic amateur poker player: when I win, I attribute it to my superior skills. When I lose, I blame it on the cards.

And when I need a card to bail me out, I wonder about the existence of the Almighty.

Fine. I know He has more important things to do, but early in the TBS tournament, some divine intervention did appear to come into play. I had pocket queens, a good starting hand; I raised pre-flop, and four players called me. On the flop, three cards lower than a queen turned over, plus two clubs. I figured I was ahead, so I bet, and two players called me. Then on the turn, or fourth card, the king flipped up. Uh-oh. I feared my pocket queens were toast. But everyone checked. The river, or final card, then came up – the queen of clubs.

I now had three queens, but another player may have hit his flush. The player to my right started the betting and put in 1,500 chips, more than half my stack. I thought for sure he had the flush. I agonized for awhile – the professional poker players agonize on TV, so I should as well – and then I called. My opponent turned over his cards: a king and a queen for two pair, but no flush.

Brilliant call! I won the hand with three queens – and a huge pot! – but I was incredibly lucky. On the river, there was only one card left in the deck that could have saved me – the queen – and it came up. Someone was watching out for me.

Once you lose all your chips, you’re gone, and within 20 minutes, players began dropping out. It’s a tough game: you can have a big stack of chips and lose it all in one hand. When you heard a howl from across the room, you knew that someone had just busted out.

Each table sat 10 players, and I just wanted to make it to the final table, because then I could tell my wife that I made it to the final table, and in the long, august history of Temple Beth Shalom, how many Brotherhood men have ever made it to the final table? Damn straight. I wanted that last table. I didn’t really care about the prizes. The top seven players would be “in the money,” with the seventh place winner receiving a $20 gift certificate to Wild Willy’s (which may have argued for the benefits of coming in eighth place).

I won a couple of small pots, but hadn’t lost any big ones, and after three hours I was now part of the final two tables, with about 7,000 in chips (we started, if I’m not mistaken, with 3,500). At this stage, the blinds were at 600-1,200, with a 100 ante, so winning a hand pre-flop yielded a decent pot.

I drew A-J off suit, the best cards I’d seen in awhile. Two players limped in, including Steve Sherry, who had the most chips at the table. “All in,” I said defiantly, expecting everyone to fold. Everyone did . . . except for Steve. My tournament life was at stake! At least that’s what they would say on ESPN. I flipped over my A-J, and Steve showed his cards – K-9 of hearts. Steve put in somewhere between a half and a third of his chips with a middling hand. If ESPN were broadcasting the game, it could post my likelihood of winning, but it had to be at least 60 percent. I was in good shape to double my stack and make it the final table.

The flop came – three blanks but one heart. Next card was an ace – yes! – but then I noticed it was the ace of hearts. Uh oh. Two hearts on board now gave Steve a flush draw. But only nine cards in the deck could beat me – a 17 percent chance.

Last card: eight of hearts.

Now it was my turn to howl. And Steve went on to win the tournament.

So maybe I didn’t get any breaks from a divine power on that last hand, but after an evening of catching up with friends, meeting some new guys, and having some drinks and laughs, I have no doubt there was a higher spirit guiding the tournament, and I felt quite good about going all in with the Brotherhood.


  1. Sounds like a good time was had by all.

    Maybe next year in Vegas?

  2. I may become a poker player after reading this! Thanks for the theological reflections, good humor and gripping narrative.