EPT12 Prague: Rust Cohle looks at Day 1A

If poker is, indeed, a young man's game, the first day of a major poker tournament may be to blame. With every tick of chip against chip and every tock of the deck's stub on the felt, an existential crisis draws one second closer to realizing itself in the soul of a man running out of time.

Just look at how meaningless it feels with these tiny blinds and antes. Before long, the chips will be so small they'll be taken out of play, reduced to mere dead weight in a closeted lockbox. The winner of this tournament will have long forgotten these meaningless tokens even existed. And yet, here we are, betting out with five little black chips, trying to manufacture some meaning in a pot that in short order will be forgotten.

Just look over there, sitting side by side in the middle of the room. It's Ole Schemion and Daniel Dvoress sitting straight-backed and looking for all the world like they are patiently engaged in matter of great import. If an outsider--perhaps the man hawking grub from the food truck outside--walked in, he would never know that Dvoress had just minutes before been playing another an event with a ten-times-bigger buy-in. Eliminated in sixth place from the €50,000 super High Roller, Dvoress took his €172,100 prize receipt and sat down in a €5,300 event next to Schemion, a man who had played but failed to cash in the big one.

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Hey, didn't I just see you in a much more expensive tournament?

But again, these are young, fresh-faced men with nothing but time ahead of them. The minutes that might seem precious to a man twice their age are, like the blinds and antes, nearly irrelevant relative to their life-stack. It takes older ears to hear the clock ticking. Their attention is not an affectation, but it's also not anything more than sheer will. There is no compulsion to get involved. There is no hurry. In fact, even showing up on time is optional.

A person more advanced down the continuum might find some terrifying significance in the fact Dvorees didn't even start playing the Main Event of this tournament until the generations-older Neil Blumenfield and Pierre Neuville had been eliminated. The elder statesmen of this year's WSOP November Nine had no sooner sat down next to each other at the table today than they were shown the exit. These men, celebrated for their WSOP tenacity, were unceremoniously reduced to also-rans before most of the field even started to wake up.

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If you've ever sat and stared at a bedside clock as the hours tick toward morning, perhaps you too can feel the existential angst and terror that a ticking tournament clock can force on a man who understands just how little time a person has on this planet. A young man can wile away the tournament levels, folding when he should, plucking opportunities as they flitter through the air, and breathing slow easy breaths knowing he has countless more ahead of them.

But someone older, perhaps someone who projects his own existential fears on a poker tournament, that person might look at the same clock and rage against the dying of its light. That person might, to further wear a worn-out phrase, "try to make something happen" well before a younger man might. The fear is, on its face, irrational and impossible for anyone else to understand, but that doesn't make it any less of a saber-toothed terror.

It's enough to make the afflicted want to stand up and scream, "Look at yourselves. You're all playing with these meaningless chips, in a meaningless level, on a meaningless day during which success is impossible and failure is likely! You all look as if this is something normal, that patience is a virtue, that valor and victory are awarded to a man who can wait. But let me tell you, waiting evolves into resting, and resting turns into sleeping, and sleeping, as old Edgar Poe said, is just little slices of death!"

Alright, take a breath. It's a poker a tournament. It's not group therapy, and no one is listening.

But as we look in on John Kitchen and Eli Heath, two early Day 1A runners, we have to take pause.

It's an ace-high board in front of them. There's no straight or flush to be had, but the board has paired a couple of eights. It's been checked down to the last card, and Kitchen mutters something about something being annoying. He picks up five black chips and tosses them in front of him.

"You've got king-high," Kitchen says to Heath. "King-queen."

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John Kitchen

Heath takes his time, weighing everything, including Kitchen's rat-tat-tat banter. "King-queen. King-jack. King of spades, jack of--"

Heath peeks at his cards and slides them toward the muck.

"Good read," Heath says. "King of spades."

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Eli Heath

And while Kitchen never sees the face of the cards, he knows Heath is telling the truth. Why bother lying at this point?

This was two things at once: it was, if Heath is to be believed, a pretty damned good read, and in any case, it was also a good bet.

But did it matter? The pot was negligible, and the result barely helped or hurt anyone. It was a quick mind game, an exercise in a time of absolutely no importance. A nihilist would've loved it.

"You wouldn't believe me if I told you what I had," Kitchen says.

And that's it. The hand is over, and the men move on, no further enriched, only a few minutes closer to their goal of surviving the day, and completely oblivious to the fact that two people who made the November Nine had been eliminated more than an hour earlier. Rust Cohle once said "Time is a flat circle." He could've said the same of a poker chip.

So, what then? What of Day 1A? What of this exercise in survival?

Well, it's no different than anything else? Your born, you live with whatever ease you can manage, and then you leave the rest to what fate deals you. There is no celebrating making it this far, because the road ahead only has room enough for one traveler.

The secret, perhaps, is believing you're that traveler. Perhaps that's why poker is a young man's game. Men without wrinkles in their face and a spare tire around their waist have not yet discovered time and again that they are, in fact, not that traveler. They still believe all the road signs are written for them. Maybe you, too, can tell yourself the same thing, and in that, maybe you, too, can play Day 1 with a smile.

You may lying to yourself, but hey, who isn't?


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Brad Willis
@BradWillis in European Poker Tour