The beauty of poker lies not in the turned up cards, but in the moments of decision. As I’m fond of saying, once the cards are on their backs and the dealer is running out the board, we could just as easily spin a roulette wheel with the proper pie slices assigned to each player by her equity. The seven of clubs on the river is no different than “Black 26” as a randomizing outcome.
But oh, those moments when there’s a decision…
It was the final table of the Moneymaker PSPC Tour event at Stones Gambling Hall outside Sacramento, California. Past midnight and the players were both exhausted and wound up. Because of the (appropriate) shallow structure of the tournament, nobody had a lot of chips relative to the blinds. I think the average stack was about eight blinds. Johnnie “Vibes” Moreno, sitting on 8-9 blinds, opened in early position to 2.5x the big blind. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a min-raise, but what I distinctly know is that he did not shove.
And my heart skipped a beat. Johnnie Vibes is a professional mid-limit no-limit hold’em player (and well-known poker vlogger). He knows that when you’re on a short stack that you can’t play much poker; it pretty much comes down to shove or fold. I thought to myself, “My god. He’s got a monster and wants action. That’s AA, KK, QQ, maybe AK.”
Just the big blind called. The flop came down A-J-x, and the big blind immediately ripped in his last six blinds. Johnnie started to think. And I said to myself, “Wow. If I’m right, that’s KK or QQ.” For an agonizing (for him) and exquisite (for us) minute, we got to watch what poker is all about. Johnnie thinking through his situation, as the man on the big blind stared at him from under a wide-brimmed hat and through sunglasses.
The essence of poker, right here.
As the seconds ticked by, Johnnie picked up his cards to check them again, though he knew what he was going to see – it wasn’t a mistake. Two kings. Standing behind him, I saw them and could feel the dilemma. Finally, without comment, Johnnie slid his cards face-down to the dealer.
An hour later, the livestream audience would learn not only what I had seen, but that the big blind had outflopped Johnnie with ace-ten. But it was that eternal one minute in between that we all live for: will he or won’t he? Does he or doesn’t he?