Good-bye, Mrs. Chips

What’s a nice girl like me doing at a Texas Hold ’Em table?

SO MANY WAYS FOR A TEXAS girl to lose her virginity. My own deflowering was witnessed by 88,971 spectators at Memorial Stadium when I attended my first-ever University of Texas football game last fall. In the time-honored tradition of so many coeds, though, I chose to revirginize and lose it again. A whole world of Texas First Times still awaited. But which quintessential Lone Star experience had I missed? Visiting Boys Town? Swimming naked in a stock tank? Shooting my daughter’s cheerleader competition? Wrong sex, wrong body, bad aim. That left playing Texas Hold ’Em.


I had a problem with poker: I worried that too many Slim Jims, pork rinds, and Pabst Blue Ribbons would be required. That ritual anointings with Right Guard and Brut might be involved. That, in short, I wasn’t man enough. And then: poker with aromatherapy! How could I resist? The Lake Austin Spa Resort was offering a three-day Texas Hold ’Em workshop with Susie Isaacs, the first player to win the World Series of Poker ladies’ championship two years in a row and the second-highest female finisher in WSOP history. But isn’t the purpose of spas to starve willing dieters? On the way out, I pulled over at an Oh Thank Heaven and loaded up on—well, why not?—Slim Jims, pork rinds, and a sixer of DP, the national drink of Texas. I arrived just in time for lunch, but instead of a vat of cottage cheese or a bale of carrot sticks, the choices were walnut-garlic-and-rosemary-encrusted trout or roast-apple-stuffed pork tenderloin. I was liking poker more by the minute.


Filling the lull until Poker 101 started, I perused the menu of spa classes. Would it be Kundalini Yoga and Meditation, Nia Dance of Joy, or Pilates Foam Roller? I chose instead some low-impact Channel Surfing and retired to my room. Emerging in time for my first Texas Hold ’Em lesson, I felt energized in the manly way that only an hour of viewing an outdoor prison riot, a man fall from a Ferris wheel, and a street luger almost get his foot severed on Spike TV can make a girl feel.


I should have been watching Martha Stewart commit unspeakable acts with doilies and potpourri, because the convivial group that gathered in the bird print—hung Treehouse Lake Room was ladies only. They included a retired schoolteacher, the assistant to the president of a haircutting franchise, a stock analyst, a former librarian, a pharmacist, and several women whose occupations—full-time volunteer, “aerobics gal,” “spa addict”—tended to involve either family money or the acquisition of a wealthy husband. And Susie Isaacs, poker shark? An insanely cute human being. Think “nicest kindergarten teacher ever,” a Kewpie doll in a black-denim-and-rhinestone World Series of Poker jacket. On becoming one of the game’s female pioneers, the Nashville native said, “My husband retired and wanted to be a poker player, so we moved from the Bible Belt to Sin City, Las Vegas. Five years later I was a professional poker player and I didn’t have a husband anymore.”


Susie started us off with a cheat sheet that explained what beats what. (“Royal flush? Bet your family.”) We learned some basic etiquette: Don’t “splash the pot” (toss chips into the pot), “break the rail” (pick your cards up off the table), or “leak the salty wet ones” (cry like a little girl when you lose). Then we got into Hold ’Em lingo: “big blind,” “small blind,” “the river,” and many other schizophrenic terms having nothing to do with the things they describe. Only those, like me, without cable don’t know that Hold ’Em starts with every player’s being dealt two cards. These have colorful names as well that only soon-to-be-bankrupt people with too much time and increasingly less money on their hands can invent: Two kings are “cowboys,” a king and a queen are a “marriage,” a queen and a jack are “Oedipus Rex,” and a queen and a three are a “San Francisco busboy” (that would be a queen with a trey—I guess that’s why they call it “poker” and not “sensitivity training”).


Susie dealt a practice hand and tossed me two queens: a “Siegfried and Roy.” Hotcha! I was a poker natural. I “pushed all-in,” shoving all my chips into the center. Everyone else folded. Susie announced that it was time to talk about “tells.” Apparently, my tell—balling my hands into tiny little fists and waving them in front of my face while bouncing up and down—subtle though it was, had tipped the other players off. Too bad this tell thing had not been covered earlier, since I didn’t see “paint” (face cards) again for the next two practice sessions.


Wearied by the rigors of the gaming table, I sought to refresh myself, calm the spirit, and clear the mind for the big tournament coming up the next day. I considered the traditional poker approach—opening a Benzedrine inhaler and eating the contents—but opted instead for a French lavender oil massage at the LakeHouse Spa. Only when I was lying naked on a gurney waiting for the masseuse, a young woman so sweet and aromatic and alternative that I’ll call her Crunchy Granola, did I remember why I don’t get massages: They make me incredibly tense. With my face planted in the little toilet seat thing and my naked backside exposed, I visualized Granola entering the room wearing a hockey mask and holding a meat cleaver. I banished that thought and tried to imagine how a mentally healthy person would be reacting to the sensation of being kneaded like a giant log of Play-Doh in the giant, warm hands of an exceptionally loving and skilled toddler. It almost worked until I noticed the background music: a multiethnic mélange of temple bells, chimes, and a chanter calling for all the oppressed peoples of the world to rise up and massacre the lavender-scented overlords.


Tense was good. Tense players are alert players. I was tense and smelling

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