jesse may   Bring a Coat  
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  All poker rooms are cold in the morning. I don't care if you're in a Hold'em game two blocks from the beach in Oceanside, California, dead center in the middle of July, or if you're wrapped up in a tight pot limit game in a hotel in Helsinki with a drunk Finn grinning down your neck and chomping on a reindeer sandwich. Come four am, they'll still turn the heat down on you.

You might be in Paris. Maybe you're in Paris, France, upstairs at the Aviation club playing pot limit Courchevel. At midnight you enjoyed a cassoulet of duck comfit with a saucy cabernet in their gourmet dining room and chatted it up with Bruno the Italian nobleman over Cuban cigars and brandy about the bad beat you got when Andreas the jeweler check-raised you before hitting a deuce on the river to win all your chips. That was hours ago, and now you're locked up in the game together and it's your big blind and you're staring down at a queen high flush draw and up at all the money in the center of the pot. It's four in the morning, my friend, and if you didn't put on a sweater under that Hickey Freeman sports coat when you left your hotel room on the Champs Élysées, your teeth are bound to be chattering. Cause it's cold in there.

Could be you're in Connecticut, playing at the Mohegan Sun. You get in there about five in the morning on a Sunday and sit down in a 10-20 Stud game over by the rail. Six guys have been playing all night, but no one looks in a hurry to go anywhere. Guy next to you from Boston says, "Dis coffee's givin' me ogida!" And it's freezing at your table. I mean it may be the middle of summer outside, but the table is directly under the vent and early morning they turned the air up high, way high. Everyone's shivering. Same guy from Boston says to you, "They should send somebody for sweatshirts or something. I'll buy one!" Poor guy's been up all night in shorts and a T-shirt.

And I hope it's not you, but one day you might find yourself near Escanaba, way up in the northern peninsula of Michigan. You drove the six hours from Chicago in a blinding snowstorm, packed five guys into a rented Lincoln Town Car at five o'clock on a Saturday morning just so you would be sure not to miss the weekly Hold'em tournament that cranks up at one pm sharp in the cavernous tin-sided barn down a dirt road on one of the first American Indian reservations to have legalized casino gambling. Well that tourney's been over for more than twelve hours now, and you're stuck so bad that you almost didn't care at two am when the house tripled the rake, making sure they could sock it extra to anybody crazy enough to stay until five in the morning in a desperate attempt to get even. Hell, you barely even notice that Old Logger Tom sitting on your right is making everyone play Crazy Pineapple again. It's all kind of secondary right now because the only thing going through your brain is how stupid you were to leave your winter coat in the back of the car when you pranced in fifteen hours ago, and how the hell were you supposed to know what was gonna happen even in a goddamn blizzard and three hour triple rake? They turned off the heat.

Well you may think it's crazy and you may think they're cruel, but really it's just smart business. Casinos know exactly what they're doing. They know that when people been playing all night they're bound to get tired, they're bound to feel raw in the throat from dense clouds of cigarette smoke and the cards are starting to swim in front of their eyes and a mind can't help but wander, thinking about a bed somewhere. After spending all night and all day in a poker room in a poker seat hunched over the table throwing chips and staring at cards and trying to peer past the wide-eyed stares of a roomful of gamblin' fools, man, you need sleep. You could sleep anywhere. And with the knowledge that if you do manage to catch a few winks you're just gonna return to that same seat in the same game, it doesn't take a poker genius to figure out that the best thing for a smart player to do would be to sleep right there, right at the table. Right on top of the table.

That's why they put the heat down. They know how you're thinking, they just know you're looking at the table and seeing a big green mattress, mentally calculating the number of seat cushions it'll take to make the perfect pillow, and that's no good. A person can't gamble while they're sleeping.

So right before the dawn, whether it's Greenwich mean time or eastern standard, just when your eyelids are feeling heavy and you find yourself sinking down deeper into that padded chair, poker players beware. If you're gonna stay, you've gotta wake up and play. Someone's gonna slide that dial down, and if you didn't show up toting a sweater or sport coat, nylon jacket or earmuffs, you're gonna have to be hooked pretty good and hitting the hot coffee real hard to keep from shivering.

But you'd better get your mind back in the game. Remember--you came here to play.
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Copyright © 1998 Jesse May.