Friday, April 25, 2008

The Suns/Spurs Series In The Context Of Poker

Matt and I met through playing big poker games down in Texas. It was one of the few things we both found interesting (besides the NBA) and we always knew that life, and sometimes sports, could be understood lucidly through the context of poker. (If you don't like poker, just go read Matt's '>great T-Mac piece). Such is the case with the Suns/Spurs series.

The Spurs are the cagey, wily veteran (ever heard that analogy before?). They play a steady, solid game. They are very attentive to what is going on in the game, but they are older and their attention span dwindles from time to time. There is no hand they haven't seen 1,000 times. They never lose too many chips, but never win an exorbitant amount either. They can smell a trap from a mile away and can always make a big lay down if their intuition tells them that something is up. They are always in control of their emotions, only play as long as they need/want to and never complain (okay, so the Spurs do complain. A lot).

But then, one day, you see the old man drive up to the weekly game in a brand new Lexus. He doesn't say much about it unless he's asked. He is just happy to be back at the game and wants to play some cards. While everyone else is talking and gambling around him, you slowly start to realize that the old man is on a fixed income and that there is no other way for him to afford that car unless he has been quietly kicking your butt and taking all of your money, while saving it for the day he wished and treating himself like a king. You respect his stolid ambition (even though you think his game stinks), but the results are undeniable. In another 4 hours, he is gonna cash out in the black... again.

The Suns are the internet wizkid. They play fast and loose, are never afraid of jamming chips in the pot and can always pull off a big bluff without a sweat. He plays hands that no one would ever conceive of, loves to gamble on coin flips and rolls up huge winnings when the deck is hitting him like a ton of bricks. He plays the live game while still running 4 tables on line and chugging a red bull. When he is running the table, he will swallow up every other players chips, build pyramids of cash in front of him to look like little plastic castles and break the game in an instant. He can be transcendant at times.

But then, you see the guy a week later and he looks like he hasn't slept in 10 days (and, perhaps he hasn't). He's doing shots of Patron and slurring his words. Everyone at the table is sort of sad for him, but secretly making fun of him. They know it's easy money because his faculties aren't there. He makes stupid call after stupid call, desperately trying to get his money back. He may get one lucky break every now and again, but he keeps walking in to every trap and losing money. Any time he jettisons off another $500 bucks, he just keeps asking the game owner for more money, getting further into debt. He has imploded.

So tonight, when you watch Game 3, keep a few things in mind. In Game 1, the youngster (man it feels weird to call Hill, Shaq and Nash youngsters) ran as hot as star. They were pulling out every bluff and weilding their giant chip stack like a weapon. But, as the cards kept flying, the vet just started slowly chipping away, winning all the small pots and obsequiously mounting his own victory. Then, before you know it, the kid makes a dumb play (Amare fouling out) walks right into a cooler (Duncan 3 pointer) and its over. Aces vs. Kings. Suns go down hard.

Game 2 was the vet's best game. This time, he just let the kid get off to a hot start. Folded the winning hand a few times just to blow up his self image. Perhaps there were times when he had the lower full house and just sniffed out the better one, only losing a tiny bit. But, all along, he was on the top of his game and didn't need any luck to pull away. It was all skill and he made it look easy.

When Game 3 rolls around tonight and the Suns come in and crush the competition, it is going to look like the supernova is back. The kid will be flopping royal flushes and playing like his balls are made of steel. People will oogle at his skill and think he has learned his lesson.

But as the games progress, you will notice that the veteran doesn't break a sweat. He's playing with house money after all. And who knows, the house might even be in debt to him. Soon enough, he'll be riding around town, in that new Lexus, with a full tank of gas. He has filled up his new trophy with your money and is heading to the bigger game down the street. Either in Dallas or New Orleans.

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