There he was in seat three. Bull necked, broad shouldered, shaven headed and clad in an expensive biker jacket. Several scars decorated his face and a glassy, lopsided but frankly quite threatening grin was spread across his face.
The empty glasses half filled with melting ice by his side and the fact that he was loudly singing songs in Russian were a sign. This man was drunk. Very drunk indeed.
It was after midnight. Approaching the money bubble in a turbo side event at EPT Prague. Surely the graveyard shift for any tournament director. The lady in charge on this particular evening struggled to contain the people on the rail who were of course also heavily drinking, shouting and frequently getting in the way. One man in a tracksuit even tried to break and balance tables and do her job for her.
Several drinks had already been spilled, glasses smashed and a weary waiter with a dustpan, brush and mop was on permanent standby.
The game was Texas Holdem with deuces wild. The same as regular Holdem except all twos either in your hand or on the board could be used as wild cards. In theory – five or even six of a kind could be made. And of course flushes, straights and full houses were far more easy to come by.
I'd never played this game before but after about 10 minutes I'd settled on the strategy of never playing a hand without a deuce in it unless on a bluff. Powerful traditional Holdem hands went down markedly in value and at one point in this tournament I even open folded pocket kings. Ridiculous of course under normal circumstances in any tournament other than the bubble of a satellite. Some people adapted quicker than others and some people engaged in quite deep strategy talk at the table which was surely a mistake.
Our Russian friend was getting into the spirit of the evening by singing bawdy songs in English and Russian and occasionally just swearing loudly at nobody in particular. He exuded no aggression, just a general air of Tourettish bonhomie, so generally he was tolerated by the dealers and the floor staff. He also insisting on calling me Donald and became the third person at the poker table within a few weeks to say I was a spitting image of a young Donald Sutherland. We shook hands several times to confirm our friendship. He bought me a drink.
|Donald Sutherland (mixed game specialist)|
Surprisingly he was playing well, very well indeed. In a short time at the table I'd seen him run a couple of quite skillful bluffs and make one excellent fold. His grasp of the wildcard aspect of the game seemed good and the fact that he was hammered and could barely string a sentence together made him tricky to read. In between hands he sometimes confusedly asked where we were or what tournament this was.
The problem came when we were down to 18 players and the tournament director asked us to move to the other side of the room to and have a redraw to play the final two tables. The Russian player faced some issues including stacking his chips, understanding where to go and walking in a straight line. We made it just about, but it was a struggle. I learned that making a drunk Russian bear of a man move from his seat when he didn't want to was a tricky process. I also intervened to stop him putting his tournament chips in his pocket on several occasions for fear he would be disqualified.
At around 3:30am I was knocked out just short of the final table when my ten-two was unable to beat the ace-two of my opponent. I managed to quickly sort out my winnings and was chatting to a couple of people I knew in the corridor when I heard the shout of “DONALD”. I turned to see the Russian guy running out of the toilet towards me and then attempting to rugby tackle me to the floor. Luckily I was able to largely avoid the impact, although he did succeed in grabbing me in the testicles, much to his amusement.
“Are you still in the tournament?” I asked him. He looked unsure, “I don't know. Am I?” he replied. I told him he better get back and check because he would be blinded out of the game.“You're right Donald” he exclaimed, before bounding off to the tournament room.
The following day I got up early on a lack of sleep to play the next side event at 12 noon. There he was at the venue, bright as a button, more coherent today and with no trace of a hangover. He had a vague idea who I was and had little memory of the final table the night before. All I know is that he outlasted me and therefore won more money than me. I asked him how he was able to be still playing today after a night of heavy drinking. The answer was simple. A shrug of the shoulders and an concise explanation.
“I am Russian. It is easy.”