I am at the Golden Door. We are lying on our backs listening to the sacred sounds of a woman playing a crystal bowl.
A girl sits up. “I think I experienced a snippet of a past life memory!” she announces. “I was in an open space, and there were hundreds of people playing these bowls, and a huge crowd listening.”
The woman nods. Everything is possible at the Golden Door. “That was probably Atlantis,” she says with authority. “They used to have these concerts all the time at Atlantis.”
I perk up. When I think of Atlantis I think of poker. “We’re going there next week!” I say.
“You will probably have a spiritual experience,” the lady tells me.
I am intrigued, but doubtful. Atlantis is the least spiritual place I can think of. It is a big sprawling Disneyland-esque compound bisected by waterparks.
Our first night there a crazy tropical storm rattles and shakes our room. All night long I dream of being on the ocean buffeted by waves. I awake to Phil standing on the balcony getting some fresh air. The curtains billow and whip in the wind.
“We have a great view!” yells Phil. I can barely hear him over the noise of the elements.
Day 1 of the main event starts auspiciously for me. You know how it is when everything flows. People don’t seem to know when I’m bluffing, then get incredibly suspicious and call me down when I have the nuts. I end the day in the top twenty with double the chip average.
Regardless, I bounce out the next day in a fairly uneventful manner. My chips just dribble away, like I am a rowboat with a slow leak. I don’t even remember where they went or how. Just suddenly my pile is small, and then gone.
“Ho hum” I think to myself, walking to Nobu. “It is what it is. Not meant to be. Tomorrow is another day.” Repeating these inane truisms makes me feel a little better, like I am a Zen insect clinging to a leaf. I have to eat alone, because Phil has found an off-the-hook private game at another hotel. I guiltily indulge in a little slot machine action to pass the time.
The next day I enter the High Roller. Normally I wouldn’t shell out 25k for a tournament, but the Sacred Sounds Lady said I was going to have a spiritual experience, and nothing is more spiritual to me than shoveling bricks of money into a crumpled paper bag.
I am having fun at my new table. It is a lot of chatty internet geniuses with Noah Schwartz to my left. We are shorthanded for a while, and then uh-oh here comes Antonio Esfandiari! He sits down with panache. A skinny kid who has been playing with us for about half an hour suddenly realizes he is at the wrong table, and scurries away leaving his badly decimated stack. He was supposed to be playing the 1k, not the High Roller. “I lost some money to him,” gripes Noah annoyed.
Antonio is in fine form. He is cracking jokes, jumping up to greet people at other tables, and initiating games of Lodden Thinks.
“Jennifer!” he says pointing at me. “Today I am going to run a big bluff on you and show it!”
“Yeah,” I retort with false bravado. “After I call you down!”
“After you fold!” promises Antonio merrily. He is very pleased with himself. “Just wait!”
I am in middle position, so unfortunately it seems whenever I enter the pot, it’s Antonio’s blind. He always makes a big show of mucking. “Every time Jennifer?” he says with mock resignation.
I am waiting for the other shoe to drop, and it does. I have Ace, 9 of hearts on Antonio’s blind again. This time he calls. The flop comes Ace high. I know Antonio doesn’t have an Ace, but I know he will recognize a “continuation bet.” He checks, I bet. With a sigh he throws out the call. The turn: another nothing card. He checks, I check behind like I am scared, because I know he will bluff the river.
And boy does he ever! The river card rolls off, and Antonio makes a little flipping gesture with his hands. “All in!” he announces. I have to laugh. There is not even two thousand in the pot, and Antonio is all in for over 50k.
I had vowed to call whatever he bet. I know he doesn’t have an Ace. I know he thinks I don’t have an Ace. Because that’s how I set it up. But to call off my whole stack? Less than an hour into the tournament?
Once I was playing with a young kid. At one point before he acted he cried out “This is my defining moment!” I thought that was pretty funny, and he explained to me it was a line from “Rounders.”
So now, staring at Antonio, contemplating calling fifty thousand dollars for my tournament life, I think of that kid, and I think of that quote. I know I have Antonio beat. I know I have the best hand. I knew it on the turn and I knew on the river. But do I know it fifty thousand dollars’ worth? The answer is no.
Reluctantly I relinquish my cards. Antonio gleefully tables his hand. “Can you beat…10 high?” he squeals.
“I was going to call,” I tell him. “I had an Ace.”
“No you weren’t,” he scoffs. “How can you call? For your entire stack?”
And he’s right. I really couldn’t. Later I find out the High Roller was a rebuy tournament. If I’d known that I may have called. I spend some happy moments imagining how tilted that would have made Antonio. He would have been like that Ultimate Fighter that was goofing around and got knocked out.
But ultimately I didn’t call. What could have been my defining moment just become one more incident in my long history with Antonio where he got the better of me.
That’s really the only hand I remember in that tournament. 25k slid away from me just as easily as 10k. The next week Phil and I barely see each other. I play poker in the day, and he plays his manic private game at night. I never make it to the beach or into town at all. Aside from the palm trees rattling angrily as I walk past them to the tournament room, I could be anywhere.
My last night I wake up to see a bright light blossoming in the room. I lie still, watching as the light gets brighter and brighter, and then it fades, and I am once again in the dusky darkness.
“Maybe that was my spiritual experience,” I say to Phil. I am trying to describe the quality of the light, and how it unfolded and spread. “Maybe a supernatural being was in the room.”
Phil listens politely. He is a little distracted because he just lost all the money he had won on the trip.
“I think it was an ocular illusion,” he tells me.
“But I was awake!” I protest. “My eyes were open,”
“An ocular illusion,” repeats Phil, and goes off to count the money he has left.
At the airport, I buy a fish carved out of a pink shell and some Bahamian spices. Even though we didn’t have any romantic dinners or win any money, it was still a good trip. We filmed “The Shark Cage,” which was fun, I almost had a defining moment, and I may have had a Spiritual Experience. Or an ocular illusion. Whatever. It’s all good.