Our Hero, medium-stacked with six players left, is dealt QQ (clubs, diamonds) in the small blind. The blinds are 75/150. All fold to the loose-aggressive cut-off, who makes a raise to 450. The button folds, and the Hero re-raises to 750. The big blind folds and the cut-off pushes all-in, which is only an additional 450 or so in addition to the re-raise to 750. The Hero calls. The opponent turns over KK (clubs, spades), making him a comfortable 81% favorite.

Flop: 4 of hearts, 7 of hearts, 8 of diamonds; the opponent is now a 90% favorite

Fourth street: 6 of clubs

Fifth street: 5 of hearts

With a straight on the board, our Hero and his opponent tie and split the pot.

An important but largely transparent feature of the online poker table is the chat box. Sitting at one of the corners of the window, the chat box oversees and reports all of the action: it announces rising blinds, informs players of impending time-outs, and of course, allows players to communicate with one another. In my experience, especially at more competitive tables (i.e. more expensive tables), the actual chat feature is seldom used. Even when it is, it consists mostly of players “LOL”-ing at terrible beats or exposed bluffs. But once in a while, the chat box reverts to what some see as its original purpose: a forum for trash talk.

Near the end of my recent stint in Atlanta, my friend Josh and I sat down one evening and decided to play a single Sit & Go table together, laughing and drinking PBR all the while, harking back to the glory days of the Coalition (see About for an explanation of the Coalition). Now Josh has always been an advocate of the chat box; a longtime hockey player and general competitor, he’s well-known in certain circles for his unfailing ability to get under the skin of his opponents. Why should online poker be an exception? On this particular occasion, this resulted:

(The censored word, by the way, is “fag.” Also, given flow566’s avatar, one could claim it’s tough to blame Josh.)

Josh managed to get this in even before the automated tournament moderator was able to get its first words in, both setting the tone for the tournament and cementing our position as table douche bag. Flow566 elected not to respond. However, our encounters with him were not to end there. Well into the tournament, with the blinds up at 100/200 or so, we found ourselves somewhat short-stacked with about 8 big blinds. Nadovivozit7 had busted out by this point,so flow566 was sitting immediately to our left.

The table had been enormously tight and passive up to this point–even more so than these Sit & Go’s usually are–so from the button, we decided to steal a round of blinds by pushing with any two cards–in this case, we were dealt 10-4 offsuit. While this might seem rather reckless, mid- and high-blind play really is about being aggressive about the blinds to avoid getting blinded-out; after all, with under 5 BB (we have 8 at this point), it becomes more or less mandatory to go all-in with any two cards. So at this point, pushing from the button with 10-4 was only one step removed, and at this tight and passive table, we decided it was a sensible move.

Lo and behold, guess who called? Our old pal flow566–one of said very tight-passive opponents–while everyone else folded. He had even fewer chips than we did, about 6 BB, so we were no longer all-in, but just about all of our chips were in the pot. We turned over our ugly 10-4, and he revealed Q-4 offsuit, a hand that dominated ours more than 3-to-1. Now what business, one might ask, did flow566 have calling an all-in with a measly Q-4? Remember, he had exhibited extremely tight tendencies and of course didn’t know we were holding rags. Well, maybe–just maybe–it was because sticks11111 was the jerk that trash-talked him before the tournament even started.

He ended up winning the hand, leaving us with a minuscule stack of 2 BB. At this point, we more or less did have to go all-in with any two cards at the first opportunity (i.e. if everyone folded or called to us). The next hand, we were dealt a very decent-looking J-10 as the small blind, and it even folded to us, leaving us in a great position to double-up and maybe reenter the running.

Flow566 called us from the big blind, and turned over KK. In this situation, where as the only other player in the hand it was equitable for him to call with literally any hand, he was dealt pocket K’s. K, for karma. Our 10 connected on the turn but it was too little too late, and we exited to tournament to flow566’s blank, moronic stare.

In Texas Hold ‘Em, each player is dealt two “hole cards” face-down, cards that only he or she can see and use. Over the years, card combinations have earned an array of nicknames, particularly pocket pairs (hands where one’s hole cards form a pair): commonly, a pair of aces is “pocket rockets” and a pair of kings is “pocket cowboys.” History often plays a role as well: 10-2, for example, is known as the Doyle Brunson, reflecting the poker legend’s back-to-back World Series of Poker wins with the hand (go figure). Each individual player of course comes to develop his or her own unique scheme, built around both convention and imagination. The players I’ve known over the years are no different, and collected here are a few of the nomenclatures that have stuck with me.

The Hieroglyphic Method, used widely by both my brother Alex and my college roommate Tom: names reflect visual associations evoked by the cards. For example: pocket sailboats for 4s, hooks for jacks, and tee-pees for aces.

The Abbreviation Method, often used by me: names reflect phrases the cards could be abbreviating. For example, Anna Kournikova for ace-king, Justin Timberlake for jack-ten, and American Airlines for aces. Innovating this final nickname, a Korean friend Enoch refers to king-ace as “Korean Airlines”; Alex at some point also introduced the curious “United Airlines” (theories are welcome–could be a tell).

The Alphabet Method, commonly used by my current roommate Josh: the ostensibly straightforward scheme of referring to cards by their letters. It began simply as pocket A’s for aces, pocket K’s for kings, and pocket J’s for jacks, but quickly evolved into the rhyme-adhering “pocket quays” for queens and “pocket tays” for tens. The ever-mysterious “pocket lays” were also introduced at some point–the coiner in fact continues to claim it’s his favorite hand.

The Spanish Method, used on occasion by many a player, often with a snowballing effect at a given table: substituting Spanish words for card names, often with questionable and/or inebriated sense. For example, with relatively kosher beginnings at pocket cuatro’s, cinco’s, bandito’s for kings and chica’s for queens, then developing into everything from noche’s for nines to tacos for tens to Antonio Banderas for any hand containing a black card.

Unlike relatively static table activities like chip-shuffling and hole-card peeking, hand nicknames really do remain pleasantly diverse across the poker universe; further evidence is welcome.

With four players left, our Hero is the short stack with 8 big blinds or so left. Looking for a chance to double up, he is dealt a pair of aces as the small blind. The opponent first to act pushes all-in, and all opponents fold except for the Hero, who calls.

Our Hero proudly turns over his pair of aces, while his opponent turns over the ace of hearts and the nine of diamonds, making our Hero about a 94% favorite to win the hand. He breathes a sigh of relief and ponders what he’ll do with his newfound stack.

Flop: 6 of hearts, J of hearts, 3 of hearts

Fourth street: 4 of clubs

Fifth street: 10 of hearts

Our Hero’s pair of aces loses to his opponent’s ace-high flush. He sadly exits the tournament.

After a few weeks of diligent study, mostly of Collin Moshman’s Sit ‘N Go Strategy, I took on my first nine-to-five of online poker just the other day. After a hearty breakfast of coffee and milk-less Cheerios, I sat down at a coffee shop with my laptop and logged on to PokerStars, the biggest online poker site in the world. I started with a modest bankroll and played two to three one-table Sit & Go’s simultaneously, starting a new tournament whenever I finished one. Save for a short lunch break (a peach and a cigarette), I played continuously all day, somewhere between twenty and thirty tournaments altogether.

In terms of results, after the A.M. session I was up about 250%. Come the end of the day, however, I was modestly above breaking even. Some would perceive this as something of a failure; I, however, take away several positives. As far as first days go, this first day had more than its fair share of adversity, which I’ll get into, and considering I didn’t go into the red at the end of it all, I’d say I made out all right.

The biggest obstacle was fatigue. The mounting exhaustion as the day went on was probably largely to blame for my decreased earning in the afternoon. Over-consumption of coffee, along with an acute under-consumption of food and water, left me in awful shape by early afternoon. In terms of poker, a few pretty big holes in my strategy became evident as well. First, blind-stealing aggression on the bubble can be exploited by strong, big-stacked players who limp from early positions with premium hands, only to trap the unsuspecting blind-stealer (a.k.a. me). Second, the importance of good heads-up play cannot be understated. Finishing in first place yields about 70% more winnings than second, so even a small increase in the ratio of first to second place finishes means an enormous increase in profit.

The overarching moral that emerges is that a marginal decrease in decision-making ability is devastating and needs to be prevented at all costs. These seemingly minute strategy points as well as fatigue’s seemingly slight and often unnoticed effects compromise decision-making ever so slightly–and after all, you can make 19 out of 20 decisions right in online poker, and making that 20th decision wrong often costs you the enormous majority of your profit. Which means getting a good night’s sleep, substituting water for coffee and carbs for nicotine. It also probably means not sitting still and staring at a computer screen for eight straight hours, but I suppose there’s no getting around that…