Free poker is a draw in Hawaii
I SIGNED UP for an online Texas Hold'em tournament recently and found out that I am better at poker when I'm not actually sitting at the table.
Gambling is illegal in Hawaii, but a lot of Hawaii residents still play against real people around the world via the Internet -- but with no real money involved.
There's probably something more stupid than playing poker against complete strangers for fake money, but I can't think of what that might be. The good thing is that when you go into debt, it's "fake" debt.
Right now I'm down about $14 million, which, had I been playing with real money, would have guaranteed that both my knees would have been broken with baseball bats by guys named "Ratso" and "Vlad" several times over.
I've only played in a real hold'em tournament once, at an Indian casino while on a trip to Oregon. There were 118 players and I finished 14th, just out of the money. I also accidentally pushed in some chips out of turn, which caused two tournament officials to come to our table and chastise me. The dude to my left got so angry at my mistake he went all in, pushing in his entire stack of chips. I called him and won the hand, knocking him out of the tournament.
I'm not sure if poker champs Doyle "Texas Dolly" Brunson or Phil "The Brat" Helmuth ever won a hand that way but sheer incompetence apparently can be a legitimate poker strategy.
AT HOME I regularly play at a site called "Poker Stars," which has generated two or three winners of the World Series of Poker. Players "chat" while playing by typing in little remarks in a text box. Poker Stars has a rigid policy against profanity, a policy I noticed was routinely ignored by many players, particularly the 16-year-old punks playing on their high school lap tops.
I was playing in a game and a guy from Georgia started making racial slurs about an Asian player from another part of the country. I found it offensive and called the guy a "redneck," a "dumb cracker" and another word I can't disclose in a family newspaper. Then I reported the racist idiot to Poker Stars officials.
The result was that MY chat privileges were revoked for using that third other word, which, in retrospect, might have been a bit harsh. It was a case of "no good deed goes unpunished" and I have not stuck up for the honor of another player since.
Being unable to chat means being unable to say "thanks" when another player congratulates you on winning a hand. So now "Nomayo" -- as I'm known online -- is considered something of a pompous jerk since everyone thinks I'm deliberately refusing to chat with them.
Another site, "Party Poker.com," recently staged a tournament with no buy-in -- meaning players didn't have to post any real money to play. People in Hawaii can legally play in such tournaments -- even though this one offered a real prize, a brand new Cadillac SUV. A Pearl Harbor sailor, Santino Sgambelluri, won a million dollars in a no-buy-in online tournament last year. He made it to the finals playing online from Hawaii and then flew to the Bahamas, where he won the grand prize. In all, he beat out nearly 5,000 people.
In Party Poker's event, Hawaii residents could take part in several free satellite tournaments, with winners proceeding to the finals and a chance at the Caddy. The trouble is that 4,000 people worldwide are in each satellite. I managed to register in three, which is quite a feat in itself. When registration opens, it takes about 5.6 seconds for all 4,000 slots to fill.
In the first satellite, I lasted all of 32 minutes, going out in 3,292th place. I took some comfort in knowing I had outlasted more than 700 other knuckleheads. In the second satellite I did better, playing for two hours and going out 679th. I had to miss the third satellite because of a family commitment. (I'm not real bright, but I figured it would not be a good idea to spend Mother's Day playing poker.)
The thing is, once you are registered, you are given $2,000 in fake chips even if you aren't there. And even though you aren't there, your little cartoon icon guy posts his "blinds," or forced bets, just as if you are actually sitting at the table. Then your fake guy folds, surrendering his fake money.
After our Mother's Day festivities, I checked the tournament to see how I had done. I was eliminated from the tournament in 2,081st place out of 4,000 players. In other words, I did better not being there then I did actually playing in the first satellite.
Some would find that rather depressing. But I'm thinking that I could have a whole career as a professional gambler, playing in games where I don't show up. I wonder if Brunson or Helmuth know that lack of attendance can be a successful poker strategy?
, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists' 2004 First Place Award winner for humor writing, appears Sundays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. E-mail email@example.com