It was Sunday afternoon and the NFC playoffs were on TV. The Pragmatic Play room was made up of the people who didn’t have the cash to make it into the World Poker Open main event. Everybody looked a little tired, unshaven, and ready to be somewhere–anywhere–else.

I’d gone out to go to the bathroom. On my way back, I saw a guy bust out of the main event after only a couple of hours. His girlfriend stood outside the door with him and only said, “Now we can go home.”

We, a conspicuous group of poker players from a place we would often describe as “All Over,” were about to go home, as well. We were in the waning hours of a four-day trip to Tunica, Mississippi. We planned to leave for the airport at 5pm. It was just after 4pm when I walked back into the poker room and The Mark was standing up.

If you haven’t been to the Gold Strike in Tunica during a January tournament season, you’re missing out on a fairly unique experience. I liken it to a weekend high school lock-in. Hundreds of people, by choice or by circumstance are forced together into a place they normally wouldn’t be. In Tunica, the choices are slim. You can play poker or you can gamble.

The Mark was facing people who wanted to do both.

***

Though we didn’t know it until we’d been in town for a few days, there was many a discussion had about the five of us. G-Rob, Luckbox, BadBlood, Mark, and I had been in town since Thursday, and apart from a few hours on Thursday, had made it a point to avoid having the lot of us seated at one table. Still, people were talking–more than I thought. In fact, there was one group of players that apparently sat down and had lengthy discussions about us, our individual styles, etc. On this final day, however, it was of no matter. We were just killing time until it was time to leave.

Mark and I were playing in a $2/$5 game with no max on the buy-in. Over the course of a few hours, I’d worked my $1,000 up to around $1,500. Mark had been doing a bit better and had around $1,800 in front of him.

We were all tired. Me, I had slept around ten hours out of the last 85. That kind of fatigue can actually focus a player if he works at it. Still, it required a constant infusion of caffeine and I was running to the bathroom at the end of every dealer’s down. I was in no hurry to get back…until I saw Mark standing with a famliar look on his face. He had a decision to make.

I picked up my pace and made it to the table in time to see the hand of the weekend.

***

I had missed the pre-flop and flop action, but here is what happened before I got there:

Several people had limped for $5 to Mark in the cutoff. With a pair of jacks, Mark made it $20 to play. He got calls in the big blind (a loose, semi-aggressive older guy) and a player in middle position (a 30-something bundle of grumbles and tilt).

The flop came out QJ4 rainbow.

The big blind had already proven himself unbluffable and willing to go to war with top pair. No surprise, he fired $100 into the pot. Mr. Middle Position mulled his situation before flat calling. Mark raised to $300, making it $200 more to play for the other players.

“Well, son, I’m all-in,” the big blind drawled. He matched Mark’s $300 and put $900 more in front of him.

Mr. Middle Position called for less and now it was up to Mark.

***

I didn’t know what to do. At this point, I’d seen nothing of the hand. Mark was still standing and had a hand on the back of my chair. I couldn’t sit down. I tried to lean back on the counter behind me, but the Popcorn Girl kept nudging me out of the way. And Mark was pretty deep in the tank.

Noting that I had returned, he peeled up his cards and showed me.

Jacks.

The son of a bitch had middle set. I wasn’t sure what was taking him so long and could only guess he was trying to figure out if the Big Blind had a set of queens.

After what seemed like longer than it was, Mark said, “I call,” and tabled his jacks.

***

This ain’t tournament poker. We don’t get to see all the hands at showdown. But I knew from looking at the big blind’s face, he was so beat.

Until the dealer peeled a queen off the deck and laid it down on the table.

At the very same moment, Mr. Big Blind and Mr. Middle Position jumped out of their chairs and slammed their cards on the table. I wanted to puke on the Popcorn Girl.

Board: QJ4-Q

Mark: JJ

Big Blind: Q4

Middle Position: QJ

Now, wrap your head around that for a second. Just let it sink in. Think about it. Count how many outs Mark had to dodge to win the $3000 pot.

Yeah.

ONE.

The was one card in the deck that would beat Mark in the three-way all-in.

If that doesn’t help you, let’s put it in terms of percentages.

Pre-flop, Mark was more than 65% to win the hand. That’s not bad by itself. With that percentage, Mark had only put $20 in the pot. What were the percentages when it came time to put $1,200 in?

Mark: 95.24%

Big Blind (the pusher): .11%

Middle Position: 4.65%

Yeah, that’s right. The guy who pushed had less than 1% chance of winning (he needed running fours to win the whole pot). The guy who called in the middle (who made the worst decision out of the three by calling with top two with that kind of action) was less than 5% to win.

I think the kids call it…sick.

Mark had a moment of denial. It’s understandable. He kept picking up his cards and trying to find a way they made him a winner. After ten seconds or so of him saying, “Wait, I’ve got…,” I leaned over and said quietly, “Mark, you lost.”

He knew it, but couldn’t accept it. It wasn’t the money. Mark has had a good year and the pot didn’t even make his Tunica trip unprofitable. That said, a one-outer is, in short, a bitch.

Mark was quickly himself again. He reached in his pocket, pulled out an oversized $1,000 chip and tossed it at the big blind. He went and saw Spaceman. Five minutes later, Mark was back in his seat.

***

I took three pretty bad beats this weekend (river three-outer for $1,200 pot, river eight-outer for $600 pot, river four outer for $500 pot). You will not read about any of those stories here. One, I don’t like to relate bad beats. Two, nothing I faced this weekend, nor anything I expect to face anytime soon will compare to what happened to Mark.

This was a trip that began with a lot of airline beats and included a lot of tremedous stories, some of which we’ll likely relate here over the next few days. Or maybe not.

All I know is that traveling with the G-Vegas boys is about as fun as it gets. Bad beats or not.