Chess Ideas: The Legend of the Sheriff

A group of men congregated on the Pequot reservation to play Texas Hold Em’ evenings and weekends. They talked the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry, passing weighted chips to the center of the orange felt with a wish for a safe return. Sometimes unwashed, sleepy players broke their languid silence to talk about the “one-way journey” of their plastic money. Stacks were brought low and raised up again. They formed uneasily swaying towers always ripe for demolition.

Ruling my fifth-seat roost I knew little of chess, and would’ve cared still less. The boisterous cavern was filled with the snickers of granite-jawed regulars sporting dark glasses and Titleist visors. Every three minutes or so the dealer pushed a pile of white, red, green, and black chips to one of the grinning goblins.

Mostly the men breathed deeply while waiting for something good to happen. Trying too hard to get fate to notice you is impudent, ill-advised and dangerous. The constant test of patience frayed nerves and turned beards white over the days and weeks. The game left men  financially destitute; “the poker hospital” always had room for more patients. Hold Em’ put deep fissures in some people’s psyches. No one was less self-confident than a man walking away under the gaze of nine unsympathetic men. As a player’s ego incrementally crumbled they scrambled to recoup losses and respect. Subconsciously they wanted the bad decisions to end and tomorrow to be different.

I was interested in the bluffs that happened as the men cracked and revealed the human beneath the stone. “Here goes the light bill,” or “Guess I should take my kids to school,” they told us during those final all-in hands. The character that sticks out in my memory, and the only one for whom I rooted, was a man in his mid-20s they called The Sheriff.

He gained this nickname because he didn’t believe your story no matter how compelling. He was an investigative reporter, a martyr, and incredulous poker sentinel. The Sheriff called people down again and again. They named a rock after him – Gibraltar. The more he went down the better his nature became. It was a weird bit of self-flagellation. With this peculiar calling fetish he was certainly destined to lose, right? That’s how the story must end.

I was there when he got paid off on the biggest 1-2 hand I’ve ever seen at that limit. More than he could have ever lost. He uncovered his cards and blasted the table to bits. I’m not sure how much the pot held. I do remember that someone had tried to bully him off of a hand. He could disparage himself, but one else had that license.

He coaxed the massive pile into a tray, bid us a good day, and I never saw him again after that. He had talked about his non-poker designs often;I like to think he won at his future, preserving the utmost etiquette the whole time.

The Sheriff won by laying bare his own psychological unfitness for the game he loved. Your attempts to value bet him to oblivion only made his only job easier. The evaluations his opponents made piggybacked on data that he’d provided them. So the next time you lock horns remember your defense sets the tone of attacks to come.




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