Sunday, March 25, 2012

A hand of, um, titanic proportions

I played at the Luxor this afternoon. I made a nice profit when a rivered king completed my straight but also completed a set for a guy who had played his pocket kings with complete passivity until he was beaten, at which point he elected to raise. (Brilliant strategy!)

But soon thereafter I locked up the lion's share of the day's profit with more than a double-up. I had Jh-Js and raised to $13 after a few limpers. Two of them called. Flop 4s-Qs-Jd. First guy checked. Second one bet $25. I raised to $65. That was smaller than my usual raise would be, because my ideal scenario was getting the first guy--who was kind of stationy--to call enough that he'd be pot-committed, then have the second guy reraise with what I hoped was either top two pair or bottom set. First guy folded, but second guy did even better than a reraise--he shoved. I called, of course. I had $266 left, and he had me covered. He was holding 9s-10s, giving him both a flush draw and an open-ended straight draw.

He probably thought he had 15 outs, which, if true, would make him a slight favorite if I had top pair or an overpair. But it was not so in this situation. He was actually a 63%/37% dog. This was because (1) I had one of his spades; (2) any runner-runner spades would give me a higher flush than his, and (3) most importantly, because I had seven cards that would make me an unbeatable full house or quads on the turn, and, if I missed that, ten that would do the job on the river.

As it turned out, I didn't have to sweat the river, because a queen on the turn left him drawing dead. The dealer cruelly gave him the 7s on the river to complete his flush, too little too late.

He didn't do anything wrong. Had I been in his spot, I, too, would have welcomed the chance to get it all in there. From his point of view, it was surely more likely that I had just one pair (especially AA, KK, or AQ) than that I had been lucky enough to flop a set. He couldn't know that the situation was much worse than he hoped.

So why the strange title to this post?

After playing, I went up to the mezzanine level and went through "Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition." I've been mildly interested in seeing this since it came to town maybe three years ago. But a couple of days ago I read the cover story in the new issue of National Geographic magazine, which was all about the most recent expedition to the shipwreck site to generate a detailed map of the debris field, which revived my interest in the whole subject. I also had heard that James Cameron will soon be releasing a 3-D version of "Titanic," which I haven't seen since its first run, and I thought that might be interesting.

This convergence of Titanic-related releases is no coincidence. Next month is the 100th anniversary of the disaster, and you can expect to hear no end of tie-ins. I suspect the Luxor show will get jam-packed around that time, so today was my attempt to beat the crowd by a few weeks.

It's mostly a really nice, well-done collection. It's not more exploitative than such a thing will intrinsically be. Even for a mostly non-sentimental guy like me, there is unquestionably a sense of both eeriness and astonishment to be looking up-close at objects that went down with the Titanic and sat on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean for 80 or 90 years, before being retrieved with the amazing tools modern technology has given us.

There are a lot more dishes, cutlery, and cookware than one really needs to see, but other than that, the selection of artifacts is reasonably interesting. They have good descriptions of what the items were. Where an owner has been identified, the objects are personalized by providing a short biography of the person, focused on the circumstances by which he or she came to be on the ship. The plethora of bios and photographic portraits scattered throughout and the complete list of names on a memorial wall in the final room effectively remind the viewer that the 1517 who died are not just to be seen as an anonymous composite number, but that many unique human beings, who happened to share a tragic fate.

Seeing recreations of the three levels of sleeping quarters was also interesting, and made the vast differences between them more memorable than by reading descriptions or even seeing James Cameron's faithful reproductions in a movie. Similarly, being in a large atrium with a replica of the famous grand staircase and its overhead glass dome conveys a sense of the scale and opulence that photographs just cannot do.

The crown jewel of the collection is the "Big Piece." It's the largest piece of the hull recovered so far--26 by 12 feet, weighing some 15 tons. Walking past it from just a few feet away, and knowing that it's maybe 1/30th of the length of one side of the ship makes it easy to mentally fill in the rest, and be impressed by its size.

Also emotionally powerful, I thought, was the remnants of the actual wheel that quartermaster Robert Hichens turned hard to port after a scout shouted the famous alarm, "Iceberg, right ahead!" Much of the wood has been lost to decay, but the hub is intact in its housing, and a few pieces of the wooden spokes are still attached.

No photography was allowed, and the prominent surveillance cameras everywhere were, I suspect, actively being used to enforce this, so I didn't even try to sneak a picture. I was sorely tempted, though, when in one display case I found playing cards and poker chips recovered from the ocean floor. The placard next to them said that the captain had circulated a warning among the passengers that three suspected professional card sharks were on board (it gave their real names and aliases), and advising them not to join the poker games that were being offered in private rooms. I did not think to check the wall at the end to see if the poker players survived the disaster.

Though the visitor is left with a sense that the whole subject is treated by the exhibition with a fitting level of dignity and respect, that feeling is utterly demolished by exiting through the tacky gift shop. Among other things, you can buy actual artifacts from the Titanic: tiny pieces of coal meant for the boilers, scooped up off the ocean floor. $25 apiece.

I'm glad I went. It made the whole catastrophe feel more real and tangible and immediate than the Jack-and-Rose story does.