In June 2007, I walked into the Fitzwilliam card club to play live poker for the first time in my life. When I gave my name, Denise looked suspiciously at me and my brother and said "Brothers?". When I asked if it was obvious, she said "It's the hair". Fair comment, as both of us were sporting the wild bushy O'Kearney hair that no hairbrush could ever tame.
My brother had been playing a few years already. I'd been playing less than a month, and apart from a few online freerolls, nearly all my experience was Limit cash. The main thing I remember is that people seemed particularly unfriendly, at least by contrast with the running world I was still active in where people went out of their way to be welcoming to newcomers. That was certainly not the case here, where any sign of nervousness or inexperience was pounced on. I remember being rebuked by a dealer for a string bet, and other players for acting too slowly.
My brother was an accomplished player who was almost making a living from the game. He was almost making a living from a few other things too, so between everything it added up to making a living. To stop me scarpering off into the night as soon as I busted, he swapped 10% with me, making it clear it was a minus Ev act of charity in his case. He had yet to learn just how well his older brother would run. 9 hours later he was still loitering as his 10% was now headsup with one of the great characters of the Fitz, Colette "Smurph". Smurph described me on her blog at the time as a "nervous newcomer" (which I clearly was) that she felt she could read easily. That didn't stop her getting it in drawing to runner runner (and getting there). My brother was disappointed to see his equity disappear in this manner, but I was pretty thrilled with a second place finish in my first outing.
Over the next 6 months I was back in the Fitz two or three nights a week. I learned the live game there. It set me up for a breakout year in 2008 when I would be crowned European Deepstack champion, make a number of other final tables in Ireland and have two deep runs in GUKPTs.
When I go into the Fitz these days once a month for their End of Month game, I still see Denise behind the desk. Several of the dealers and other staff remain the same. But very few of the regulars in whose company I learned to play remain. They've been replaced by new faces. It's a sad truth that in poker most players are losing players, and most losing players reach a point beyond which they are unwilling or unable to go on losing.
One of the few regulars that does remain is the legend that is Bob Battersby. Bob is one of those people it's possible to both love and hate at the same time. Talking to him is generally a surreal experience akin to dealing with a bot online. He asks you something, you respond, he misunderstands, you repeat, he goes off at a tangent based on one word in your sentence you said or at least he thinks you did, you respond again in confusion, and he generally ends the conversation pointing out you have no idea what you're talking about. Which of course you haven't, so you have to concede you've lost an argument you didn't even know you were having, and still have no idea what it was about. Despite this, and the fact that every time I see him he gives no indication of any memory of ever having seen or spoken to me before, I do enjoy running into Bob. I also enjoyed knocking him out on the second last table. Bob takes these things in his stride without rancour better than most of the other OAP regulars in there. As I came down the stairs bringing my chips to the final table, Bob caught my eye and said "Thanks for knocking me out.....again!" Sensing my shock at this rare acknowledgement that he even knew who I was, he pressed home his advantage. "I never see the brother with you any more. Does he not play?"
I don't think anyone else in the Fitz even remembers that I have a brother who used to play, but somehow the most seemingly forgetful man in the place does.