My patron saint has deserted me.

411: Somewhere in Fairfax, about $55 into a pot with four 3’s and a stone face.

If my funeral were held today, you’d be listening to: David Bowie’s “Rock And Roll With Me”

I’ve been playing a lot of poker.

This isn’t really a problem. I don’t play for really big stakes, it mostly just keeps me from being bored. Gives me some new friends to hang out with who aren’t constantly asking me where Sarah is.

In case you weren’t paying attention or you’re not stalking me, let me catch you up:

Sarah’s off at Harvard getting a Doctorate, and I’m there just about every weekend. My house sitter keeps up with the house in DC when I’m not there. It’s like I’ve traded my wife for a whole lot of unstructured time. So during the week, I’m basically alone except for the random intersections with the sitter.

For the first few months this drove me nuts. I was furious with Sarah. I behaved like someone who was dumped. I smoked a lot of cigars, sulked, and bitched endlessly. At one point I threatend not to return to Boston until Sarah bought a sofa for me to chill on. And I started playing poker every evening I could get away with it. It was a nice diversion, and a relatively inexpensive way to make some new friends.

Poker’s getting a revival if you hadn’t noticed. The Travel Channel’s “World Poker Tour” is all the rage. Internet poker web sites abound, and appear to be mostly honest. This has resulted in lots of people being available to play. Beginning poker players are often referred to as “dead money”. I’m still having nights where I think I’m the dead money. Other nights I do better.

So after a decent amount of research I managed to find a $3-$6 game out in Fairfax. The bets all come in increments of $3 in early rounds (1st and 2nd cards) and $6 in later rounds (the 3rd and 4th cards). One of the benefits I’ve found of being alone for four straight days a week is that I’ve got some extra pocket money. It’s not BMW Z4 money, but it’s enough to burn a hole in your pocket. You just can’t spend money very fast by yourself unless you have an expensive drug or stripper habit, and I have neither.

This is how I found myself sitting in a random carbon copy row house in Fairfax getting a $127 poker lesson, taught by a bunch of guys who have an unhealthy superstitious attachment to this little plaster Buddha doll.

The Buddha should be the patron saint of poker players. Fat and happy, he’s entirely unreadable by others. He’s not attached to his money, which means that he’d probably confound people who tried to understand his playing style. Of course, being one with the Universe also means he’d get great cards.

My most useful experience of the night is taught when I end up with four 3’s, which is an amazingly good hand in a straight poker game with 9 players. After four rounds of betting and about $50 on the table, I’m about to show my cards. My opponent is a large man who plays a lot of poker, plenty of it in Atlantic City at the Taj Mahal. We’ll call him M.

He’s good. He’s also a really nice guy about it. When he takes your money he checks with you to see if you’re mad at him. He doesn’t want you to be mad; it’s a friendly game.

M’s won money from most everyone at this table except K. from Rockville on my right, whom I play with regularly. K’s “tight”, which is poker slang for someone who plays conservatively. She’ll walk out with $300 tonight.

My only saving grace is that I’m at least smart enough to know when I’ve got a good hand and not to bet heavily enough to scare everyone off.

When we’re done betting I show my threes. The only other player left in the game is M. He’s got a full house (a very good hand, but not good enough), and I sweep in my new chips.

M. freaks out. In poker slang, this state is called “tilt”. The level of his freak out is a testament to the poker face I’ve been practicing all night and the luck of my cards.

Playing expressionless, with my head in my hands or resting on the rail, I’ve avoided any stupid shit like sitting up straight when I’ve got a good hand. But now he’s flipped. On the subsequent hands he starts betting nihilistically, refusing to look at cards and betting blind until the last round of betting. He gets up, turns around, and paces the floor. He’s annoyed. Someone finally tells him, “Dude, you’re on tilt”. “Oh yeah”, he says, “I’m way fucking tilt.”

Every time a 3 comes up on the board for the next half hour I see him visibly wince. I take the next several pots by betting heavily as if I have something good. I don’t even get to find out, since all the other players fold before the end of the hand, as if I have some psychic ability to summon 3’s out of the deck into my hand, as if I was the poker Neo. Finally M. says, “Man, have you even had to show your cards in a half hour?”

“Nope”, I say.

I then proceed to lose $127 as my shine tarnishes and the Buddha reminds me not to be so attached to my money.

That’s easy for you to say, Big Guy, you don’t have a sushi habit to fund.