When Donkey Moves Are Brilliant!

By Douglas (“The Donkinator”) Bergman 

Can a stupid mistake ever pay off at the poker table? Yes! I am an example of a three legged donkey turning into Secretariat at the Belmont. Even an iconic poker movie agrees that horrible plays can have humongous payoffs!

“Sometimes it’s about making the wrong move at the right time.” That is actor Edward G. Robinson’s line in the iconic poker movie Cincinnati Kid. Robinson’s Lancey Howard, known as ‘the man’ is the elegant old school gentleman poker king in a 50’ish era of illegal underground poker games. The title character Cincinnati Kid is played by the handsome star Steve McQueen. He has come to seek out ‘the man’ for a private game with seat fillers to crown himself the new ‘man’ by crushing Lancey Howard in a winner take all the cash and the game is over when your opponent quits.

After all the star seat filler characters had been eliminated by Cincinnati, the kid, or Lance ‘the man’ it was down to the kid and the man. They pounded each other for hours with the kid seeming to get the mental edge on the old ‘man’. The game was 5 card stud. As the pot pile of cash grew for the final hand, the man seemed to be flush/straight chasing and the kid was seemingly in search of a third ace or 10 for trips. Could the kid have a 10 in the hole for 10s full of aces or could the man have a diamond in the hole for a flush? The rail birds speculated… the man couldn’t have played such a donkey play as chasing the 10 of diamonds with a jack in his hand for the possible Royal Flush? Could the kid have an ace in the hole for the aces full boat? The kid bet like he had it. The man raised $5,000 more saying he’d take the kid’s marker. The kid calls and says “Let me see it.” He and viewers expected a diamond for a flush. When the jack rolled – SHOCK and dramatic music. The man had fulfilled his destiny, “Sometimes it’s about doing the wrong thing at the right time!”

Cincinnati was crushed, said he was done and left. In the alley where he beat a boy tossing pennies at the gutter at the start of the movie, this time he lost.

In just about every poker circle, a type of play exists called a “Donkey.” Generally, a Donkey play is just wrong. Any level of player might donkey off his remaining chips on an ill-advised shove all-in because he is on tilt after a bad beat or card on the river hand loss. A new player might chase his deuces to the river to get none and lose, chase suited connectors to no avail when the pot is heavily bet and so on, moves that seem stupid or strategically very wrong… a Donkey move!

After 15 years of casino tournament play including a high win of $16,500 among other cashes and final tables as high as $600 buy-in, I am here to tell you that my new nik-name is set. I am the Donkinator! I earned that honored moniker (and a few more four letter and asterisk laden names in the men’s room) with a stupid move that built my on a heater healthy stack to table leader stack eliminating one big stack and chopping the gigantic table leader down to six 100-chips in a qualifier for the main event.

My Donkinator hand was a stupid error with a brilliant outcome. I had entered a $250 qualifier for the $1,100 main event at a MSPT tournament at the Grand Falls Casino, golf course hotel in Larchwood Iowa. For about two hours, I was very cold decked and having a tough time holding ground at 9,000-14,000 chips from a starting stack of 20.

Then one hell of a burner hit me. In a short time, I built the stack to the 40 – 60,000 area. I could do no wrong and the flops plus rivers came my way. Folks including a touring pro joked, they didn’t want to play with me as my burn would beat their better hand.

Then it was time for the Donkinator hand that, I believe, carried me into the final seven that earned my ticket to the main event. I was dealt a suited queen, eight (hearts I think). The table leader, for the majority of the time, with a similar stack to me and another big stack were both to my left. Both seemed to be touring pros with high knowledge and an ease of play that built their stacks. As a 67-year-old vet now writer painter and a lover of poker, I am an instinctual pre-flop player that uses humor ‘pocket aces.’ I was in love with my rush and full of I can’t be beat!

The hand started with strong betting through the two big stacks to my left. My ego wanted those chips! My response bet on the OK but not great suited queen eight was a cocky All-In. I proceeded to set my cards down in front of me. A heartbeat later a whisper from a right of me friend said, ‘Doug, your cards are face up. Cover them!’ It was a heartbeat to late.

The two pro big stacks to my left in rapid fire yelled ‘Call! Call!’ They both had seen their cards were bigger than mine. My best recollection amidst my self-damning panic is one had a Queen with a paint kicker and the other had like a king jack. With all the loud yahoos, came the flop a queen with two rags. One hand had the dominant kicker and the other that might still whip me with an over card and straight/flush options.

Well, you can hear it coming can’t you? The poker Gods chose to take mercy on my Donkey play. The river was… an eight! My just off the bus amateur mistake eliminated the one strong stack at about 50K and beat the table leader down to 600 chips. I was now the Stack Daddy table captain at well over 100,000!

I want to make a special mention of the former table captain, an excellent player of the highest order and a solid pro. He rebuilt that stack in true chip and a chair fashion to big stack status! We stood in the get a main event free ticket line together and had a great laugh about my Donkey hand with brilliant results!

With all the laughter at the table, and fouler language I am sure in the men’s room, I joined the laughter in proclaiming my new poker nik-name – The Donkinator!

Douglas R. Berman is a published writer/painter in Longmont, via a life in New York City. His lauded literary memoir “Names I Can’t Remember” is the Charles Shelton Award winner. His plays have been produced off-off B’way and his features/investigative pieces have appeared in national magazines. He is a sought after speaker by schools, veterans groups and at the wall in Washington, D.C. on veterans issues including substance abuse and P.T.S.D.

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