By Joe Carriere
It had been a long day at the table, and at this point, Hummel was the last person I wanted to see sitting across from me. He was dangerous because he played like he had nothing to lose, and even though I had a decent chip lead I didn’t feel any better, because I’d seen enough people lose their money to him when they thought they were sitting pretty, and I’d heard at least four times as many stories as I’d seen.
The thing about Hummel was that he owned the room when the cards were down, and everything seemed to respect him—the cards, the table, and everyone sitting around it. One time, I saw him spit on the table when he wanted a card turned. Another time I saw him lose a hundred dollars on one call, only to win his money back and then some when another guy lost three hundred trying to win Hummel’s pot. I ended up with some of that poor kid’s money too, almost accidentally; after all, I wasn’t the one that pushed the pot up to a hundred so the kid could get his pockets emptied. But Hummel, it’s like he knew his money was coming back to him. He hardly frowned when he missed his bet, and he had that same slight frown on his face right now.
Only a slight frown, because I had a chip lead from knocking Johnson out on the hand before, but I had never been in the final two before, not in a tournament this big. It started with thirteen guys, all of them at least two years older than me except for the guy who invited me over, and he had been knocked out a couple hours ago. The buy-in was twenty bucks, the most I’d ever paid to play a Texas hold ‘em tournament. That money was probably nothing for the older kids, who all had cars and jobs and a lot more poker experience than I did, but I still played with them because the prize was huge—first place took home $120.
I wanted that money. I’d won small pots in the past year that I’d been playing poker, but never anything this big. This was big-time money with big-time players, my chance to show that I could hang with the older kids, to show that I wasn’t just some 16-year-old pushover.
Of course, I never thought I’d actually be sitting here at the end, one of the two who outlasted eleven other players, only one hand away from winning a hundred bucks. But there I was, staring down the most unpredictable, reckless poker player in town. That’s how I knew it was too good to be true; of course I’d have to play Hummel. He wouldn’t lose to me. But I wanted to beat him, so I was careful. He bet big and bet often, but I never let him win a big hand. Fold. Fold. Call—damn, he won that one. Fold. Okay I’ll play this one.
I could tell Hummel was getting fed up; his playful smile hadn’t crossed his face in ten minutes. I needed to make something happen, or else I’d lose and be no better off than I was at the start—second place would only gain me fifty bucks and disappointment.
“All in,” Hummel said. He’d pushed before but I had never called him because I’d be way behind if he took that many chips from me, and I was far from confident. But we’d been dancing around the inevitable for too long, and I would have to stop being so careful if I was going to beat Hummel.
I looked at my cards. They were pretty good, but I wasn’t sure if they were good enough. Then again, I’d seen Hummel push all in on bad cards before, and he was getting impatient; this could be the one that won it, that put me on top. $120 and respect.
I looked up and saw Hummel, waiting for me to say something. I looked at the other guys still sitting around the table, waiting to see something happen, to see one man win it all and the other go home disappointed. I figured it was about time to give them what they wanted.
I smiled at Hummel. “Call.”
Turns out everybody gets lucky sometimes.