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Okay France, You Win -- Part II
by Miikka Anttonen | Published: Mar 13, '12
Carrying on from part I… I didn’t travel back to France for many years. Slowly my bitterness from my past bad experiences wore off, and I even found myself silently liking certain French musicians and filmmakers. For a solid seven years or so France was just another country for me. I still hated the soccer team and enjoyed watching them never win another title, and I made good money betting against them. But it was just soccer, and in the bigger scheme of things I found myself more than ready to give the country more chances. If Serge Gainsbourg was French, it can’t be that bad, right?
Then, in 2008, I started my professional poker career. Back then the French hadn’t been put in their own networks yet, they were playing with the general public on sites like PokerStars. They were always the joke of the table, and to this day I’d estimate that about 90 percent of the villains I have marked with the purple tag (yellow tag=bad regular, red tag=random fish, purple tag=a fish so impossibly bad it’s questionable whether they have a single brain cell) are French. From the beginning I formed a love-hate relationship with the French villains. They were bad, so they made me money (in theory). But they were also the luckiest people on the planet, gave me the worst suckouts, and then always shit-talked and celebrated in the chat afterwards. It wasn’t too bad though, as there isn’t really anything someone can say to me in a random online chat that I’d get too pissed off about.
My first live tournament trip to France was in early 2009. I traveled with my friend Jens Kyllönen, who as a side note has been the biggest online winner of the year so far. The trip was awful, the food in every restaurant we went to was hardly eatable, it was colder in my hotel room than it was outside, every person who was working in customer service made it their mission to ensure we enjoyed ourselves as little as possible, and my French tablemates tilted me from the first minute. To finish the trip I got hustled out of chips at the Aviation Club in Paris.
I’ve later learnt that this is something that happens at French casinos on a regular basis – if you go to the toilet and leave your chips at the table in a cash game, some chips may mysteriously go missing. When you change chips at the cashier, they often deliberately give you the wrong amount (as most poker players don’t really watch the process or count their chips), and unless you correct them they’ll keep the change. This happened to me on my first time ever playing at a French casino, and it has been a rare occasion someone hasn’t tried to pull it off on my future trips too.
Another painfully funny memory I have is from early 2009, when I traveled for a tourney in Northern France with two friends. I’ve forgotten about the name of the place, but it was in the middle of nowhere, not too far from Brussels, Belgium. We took a plane there and trekked our way down on a train.
It felt like I had been cursed the moment our train passed through the French border. I had been winning in Chinese for the entire trip, but in France I started losing instantly. Our train from Belgium to the French border was on time, the French train wasn’t. The guy who checked our tickets was nice in Belgium and grumpy in France. Oh well.
The tournament we were there for was a €1,300 buy-in that started 50,000 chips deep at 25-50. Anyone who’s played more than a couple of tournaments in his life knows that a structure like this is stupid. It doesn’t make any sense to play 1,000 big blinds deep, since it requires a setup for a pot to become significant. However we knew how bad the French players were, and how they loved to spew hundreds of big blinds just to see if their bottom pair happened to be good. We made a plan of overbetting ruthlessly for value and never bluffing. A structure this absurd would be great and make us nearly unbeatable. Or so we thought. I was the second player out. One of my two friends was the first one.
It took me a little longer than an hour to bust. “A thousand big blinds deep, how is that possible?” – one may ask. It is true that it would basically require quads versus quads, straight flush versus straight flush or something like that for me to bust that deep. Unless I took a crazy bad beat. I think you already know where this is going.
I had made 200 big blinds on the first level, playing according to my plan. I played a lot of hands, always bet huge for value and never bluffed. The French never folded anything. The blinds had just been raised to 50-100 and I had 60k. I opened to 300 from UTG with 3-3. The button and the big blind called. The flop came J-5-3 rainbow, the big blind checked, and I checked too because the button was a bit of a maniac who stabbed at every pot and didn’t believe check-raises. My plan seemed to work fine when he grabbed chips to bet, but I had to double-check the amount because I couldn’t believe what my eyes were seeing. The amount he chose to bet into this pot of 950 chips was 6,350!
I considered the possibility of him trying to do the “fake misclick” trick on me. A fake misclick is when you overbet on purpose but try to make it look like an accident with a strong hand to make someone make a huge mistake. A good example in this case, for example, would be if he had made it 5,050 when it would seem obvious he tried to bet 550, grabbing a 5,000 chip instead of a 500 chip. Now if he had a set and made me believe he had a weak hand and just accidentally threw in the wrong chip, I could make a gigantic mistake by trying to bluff him off.
However, it didn’t make any sense for him to have a fake misclick, because no matter what chip you replace that 5,000 chip with, you can’t really come up with a reasonable betting amount (the 25s were clearly in a different stack). So this must have been intended. I knew I could never fold a set. I was just trying to think of the best value line. I had no idea what to make of his hand, so I just shrugged it off and put my brain to the “he’s French, I have a set, how can I get all my chips in the pot?” mode.
I check-raised to something like 17,000. He called instantly, leaving about a pot-sized bet behind. The turn was a deuce. I shoved and he went into the tank. After about 15 seconds had passed I knew for sure he didn’t have me beat. A set bigger than me has got to be snapping here. “Please call, please call,” I repeated in my mind. After about five minutes he finally called. I smiled, tabled my set, and nearly started scooping the chips against what I assumed would be something like K-Jo.
He looked at my hand, seemed disappointed, and shook his head without revealing his cards. The dealer told him to show, and he refused to. I was enjoying every second. This guy was so embarrassed that he’d just put in 500 big blinds with top pair that he didn’t even want to show!
The dealer told him that he must show in order to see a river. He finally, reluctantly, showed. The first card I saw was an ace. Then a four. For a second I didn’t even realise what he had. When I did I nearly fainted. What the…? Did this guy just call my check-raise with a gutshot leaving a pot-sized bet behind, hit it and then slowroll me for five minutes?
I wanted to strangle him.
The most devastating part about the hand wasn’t how I’d just lost 50,000 chips to some idiot chasing his gutshot. It wasn’t even the most brutal slowroll of my life. It was how he behaved afterwards. He started dancing on his chair and shouting something in French. I didn’t know what he was saying, until another fine gentleman told me that he was making it known to everyone at the casino that there’s some stupid foreigner at the table whose chips he just took. “That’s what you get when you think you can come here and try to take our money!”
I still had 10k left after the hand, thanks to my successful first level grind. While it was just 20 percent of my starting stack, it was still 100 big blinds. Nothing to worry about, I could still make a comeback. Especially against these guys. Or so I thought.
A few hands later I got my chips in with A-Ks against another French guy’s A-Ko. He was sitting on seat 10, and I was on seat one, with the dealer between us. No one had said a single word of English at the table, so I was a bit surprised when the guy with the A-Ko, a fifty-something gentleman, stood up from his chair, walked past the dealer to put his hand on my shoulder, and said, “I got you now.”
I had no idea what he meant, until I saw the flop: three spades. He obviously had the ace of spades. I already knew that I was gone. A fourth spade on the turn sealed my faith. These beats, while hard to take, would in themselves have been fine. But the mysterious “I got you now”, the chanting and dancing and shouting, their unwelcoming attitude towards foreigners – it was a bit too much, especially combined with my earlier experiences. I made it a mission to come back stronger and win something big in France, just to get back at them.
(It didn’t take long for my other friend to bust as well. We were now stuck in a middle-of-nowhere town with nothing to do, so all we could do was to go out drinking. They had a bar called “Booby Trap”. I must admit that it was a fun night, and resulted in me running through the town naked getting yogurt for us at 8 in the morning after a lost prop bet, but that’s another story).
I gave WPT Amneville a shot later that year. I bubbled a 2k side event after losing to K-Q with A-Q, and I busted the 5k main an hour before the end of day one. I had two French guys colluding pretty hardcore at the table. Whenever a foreigner did as much as open his mouth at the wrong time, the floor was called and the player penalized. The French proceeded to tell each other their folded cards multiple times when the other was still in the hand, and they were never even given a bad look by the dealers. While I tried to call the floor and explain this thoroughly, all he could say in English was “it’s okay, it’s okay”. It’s nice to have the staff give the locals a bit of a home turn advantage in a €5,000 tournament! Only in France.
In January 2011 it was that time of the year again – EPT Deauville was on in January. I had just won the Helsinki Freezeout for my career-high score and was at the top of my game. I felt like it would be impossible for me to lose this time. They had a schedule of 15 tournaments I could play with some awesome side events. So even if I busted the main, I could still do the sides with six figures up top.
My Facebook status ten days later: “**** YOU ****ING FRENCH PEOPLE THIS IS THE MOST RIGGED ****ING **** I HAVE EVER WITNESSED I AM NEVER COMING BACK TO THIS **** COUNTRY”. If you assumed it didn’t go well, you assumed wrong. That would be a drastic understatement.
I took a sizeable beat to a four-outer on the last level of day one of the 5k main, but still made it to day two with 1.5 times the average. I continued grinding steadily on day two, until I lost the eventual 4x average flip to bust. I played every single side event imaginable and took horror beats in every single one of them. I lost to a one-outer in the 1k when my opponent hit quads on the river in a set versus set situation. I lost to a lower pair preflop all in like 15 times. Every tournament I sat there grinding for hours, building a big stack, and then lost as an 80 percent favourite for a chip-lead pot.
Finally, in the last 1k side event, the hand that sealed my decision to never return happened. There was a young French guy at my table who had been extremely rude to me (even by French standards) in some other side event where we played together. I had owned him in a pot, and for some reason he had held a grudge against me since then, even that I had been nothing but nice to him. Later in that same tournament he won one of those quadruple average pots against me sucking out with sixes against my jacks. He naturally proceeded to slam the table, fist pump, dance, chant, yell, and do the other standard procedures.
The same situation occurred again in the last side event. I had double average, he had double average. I looked at aces and 4-bet him. He said “all-in” in a millisecond, and pushed his chips into the pot. While I would have loved to slowroll this guy, it’s something that a poker player with any self respect just doesn’t do, so immediately said “call” and turned my hand face up. He called the floor on me.
I had no idea what this was about. I hadn’t done anything wrong or said anything wrong. All I did was simply call his push. The floor came over, and they had a long conversation in French. The guy was pointing at me and speaking enthusiastically in French, and I couldn’t understand a word. I tried to ask the floor what was going on, but he ignored me. Finally he told me that the guy had in fact had an extra chip of 25 (in a pot of something like 40k) on top of his cards, and he therefore wasn’t all-in and I had shown my hand prematurely. I told him that he had said “all-in” too, so it shouldn’t matter. The guy said he hadn’t said so. I told the dealer to confirm this (as he was sitting next to the guy and must have heard it), but he said no too, and smiled to the other guy. The floor obviously believed the French guy, no matter how much the foreigners at the table protested.
My opponent, being the fine gentleman he was, tried to make the floor rule my hand dead. The floor at least didn’t allow him to do this. However, what he did finally rule wasn’t much better. I still wonder what on earth he was thinking, but somehow he managed to decide that the best way to solve this situation would be to rule that if I win the hand, I get half his chips, and he gets to keep half. But if he wins, he gets all my chips. Only in France.
The first card on the flop: a king.
“Please, God, if I lose this I might not be able to take it. Not like this, not against this angleshooting scumbag. Please, please let my hand hold.”
The river: a king.
I still don’t know how I did it, and I credit myself with massive zen buddhist skills for this, but somehow I managed to watch through his table-slamming, fist pumping, dancing, chanting and yelling without showing emotion. Inside of my mind I executed him in at least 750 different ways.
I was still left with some chips, which I got in a bit later with A-K against K-6 on a king-high board. The river: a six. Only in France.
After 10 days of eating half-rotten baguettes, after the worst bad beats I had ever taken, after absurd slowrolls, dealer mistakes, collusion, awful floormen, and all the other bad things I’ve already forgotten about I wrote the Facebook status, one hundred percent sure that I’d never return.
It didn’t even take me a year to return. More on that in the next part.