Friday, July 06, 2007

You Can't Say I Didn't Warn You

I do a lot of weird shit in the name of "research". Often it's for a writing project. Oddly I find it harder to discipline myself to research things for acting roles. Another thing I should work on.

Anyway, though the marathon of the 2006 World Series of Poker isn't on until Sunday there's plenty of poker on the various incarnations of ESPN if you're patient. As I was dressing to go out this evening I ended up watching sort of a highlight reel of a series, I think it was 2005 but it might have been 2006. It turned out to be the best thing I could have caught. I've been reading some stuff online and playing a lot myself in the name of researching an idea I have for a screenplay that will involve a novice female poker player jumping into a high stakes Texas Hold 'Em game. When I read things like "you have to vary your play" I understand it. When I read things about "emotional" poker players as opposed to "traditional" players I get confused.

I watched the following interchange twice. If you're not interested in the specifics of poker you can skip the next paragraph, I promise to give you an overview so you'll get my point. This next paragraph is going to be a re-telling of the hand with jargon so if you're not interested I'm cool with that.

I stopped to watch because it was Annie Duke and I've been fascinated by her for a long time. She's short stacked at $70,000 and she gets pocket tens. She checks the big blind rather than going with the pre-flop raise. Her opponent (whose name I sadly can't remember) flops trip nines. After some back and forth the Duchess goes all in. It's the wrong call and you can tell she knows this even before they show their cards.

OK, we're back for those of you that think I'm a nutjob but still wonder enough to keep reading. The upshot is that Annie Duke is a famous female poker player, trained and originally bankrolled by her brother who is also one of the greats. She's got the fewest chips of the players at the table and she makes some questionable bets, according to the announcers. The table is waiting for the final card to be dealt. Everyone knows that there's only one possible card that will keep her from being eliminated from the tournament.

As an actor and/or a writer this is where it becomes really interesting. Duke has made a questionable choice and she's realized it just seconds before everyone else does. She's so tense and so dejected that she can't even watch the final (river) card be dealt. She is, essentially, gathering up her things to make her exit as quick and as painless as possible. She's done, she knows it.

Traditionally when a hand is at this point the players with action on it stand and wait. Some of them stand on their chairs, some rouse the crowd, some chant or bang the table or do any number of other superstitious sorts of things.

Most players are men.

The river is dealt.

It's a 10.

It's the only card that keeps Duke in the tournament. She's won the hand and doubled her money.

Her reaction?

Many players jump up and down. Some sing songs with the fans. Some deride the loser of the hand. A number grit their teeth and grunt or shout in triumph. Some sigh and wave their hands or fix their hats and sunglasses to draw attention away from the fact that they've pissed themselves in relief.

Duke's a woman. Not a girly girl, but a real woman. A mother of 4. A woman who won her first World Series of Poker while 8 months pregnant with her 3rd child.

She gasps. Her hands fly to her mouth. She sinks to her knees, bends her forehead to the floor and gets into a laugh/gasp cycle. She finally gets up, turns to the felt to really see the hand and take it all in. Her hands stay at her mouth covering her continued incredulity.

Then she does what you'll never see a man do.

She apologizes.

Her gut reaction is, "Oh my god. I'm s..." she looks at the loser, "I'm so sorry. Oh. My god."

That's some serious character research that I needed. I think I know how to take the first bite out of this project now. I can't wait. And I can't wait to watch Duke play some more.

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