PCA 2012: Going a round with Heath Herring
Poker attracts players of all sizes, occupations and backgrounds. Labourers chip away beside highfaluting aristocrats, diminutive Italian maestros spray chips into lanky American traders. Poker is the great leveller.
The cards do not respect size or strength nor, like marathon running, budget airlines or Michelin starred restaurants, do they punish it. Heath Herring, 6'4" and with a back you could build a house on, finds himself on an equal footing to everyone else.
The UFC fighter is a man well known for knocking out opponents, but mostly in an octagonal ring than at a kidney-shaped baize. That's not to say that he hasn't got poker previous though: he scored a fourth-place finish in a $1,000 event last January for $37,167, extremely close to a six-figure finish.
He's currently sat alongside Vanessa Selbst, conveniently for him to her left (not so lucky Boris Becker who is conceding position to the Team PokerStars Pro). A large red drink is wedged into a cup holder in front of him, presumably strawberry or raspberry Jamba Juice, although I can't help worry that it might be the blended gizzards of his last sparring partner.
Finding footage of Herring is easy, playing poker not so, an audio recording of Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights comes close to the top of the 'Heath Herring poker' search list. The only way to find out how he plays is to share an orbit with him. Possibly making the worst, perhaps most suicidal, decision of my life I decide: "I shall go a round with Heath Herring."
The orbit begins with Herring in early position who quickly folds to a Selbst under-the-gun raise, most likely a wise move. His under-the-gun hand goes into the muck, as does his big blind when Selbst three-bets out of the small blind.
Action ahead of his small blind also sees him toss his hand away then the action folds to him on the button. He looks down at his cards, looks up at the table... and mucks. I then realise what he's doing. He's going for the submission. He must know I'm watching. A knockout is out of the question (thankfully) so he going to fold me out of the game instead. He's going to keep me scribbling hands down until my tendons get weary or my ink runs out, but I am not ready to throw in the towel. We carry on the dance. Selbst continues to win pots as Herring and I fight our battle of wills. Cut-off, fold. Hijack, fold. The next hand is dealt and the action folds to Herring again. He folds.
Okay, I've had enough. My hand may be beginning to show early signs of cramp but I reckon I could handle that, it's my mental fortitude that's the problem. The thought of waiting through the second-half of the orbit, through those nitty middle and early positions, is one I can't entertain. I tap out with no small amount of shame. Herring, unbowed, carries on with 50,000 clean, ten 5,000 chips, for exactly 100 big blinds, a few thousand more than the average chip stack. One thing is for sure, he's less likely than most to feel bullied or intimidated at the table.