The stacks of chips began to add up like in a dream. Virtual piles of black and blue chips placed neatly at the center of an online poker table all seemed to be tumbling my way.
I was on a roll. I had been given a free pass for the past ten hands, making outrageous bluffs and picking up monster hands. Winning was easy like this.
An aura envelops the area around you, and you feel like a gambling superhero - invincible. Forget about that five bet bluff over the top of someone whose probably holding three of a kind. Just remember your deuces will hold up. Play 'em like aces my brother and his poker friends say.
Unfortunately, this blessing, which comes as an unmitigated sense of euphoria, teeters on the edge of a curse. Few have mastered the ability to pull back, lay off, and take a break at just the right moment, when you hit your peak.
At least once in my life, a dingy night in New Orleans ended at the Harrah's casino downtown. I remember going up big very early.
"Take the money and run," I said to myself. "Find some dive in the Fauxbourg district or in Mid-city, whatever you do, get out, before these wretches steal the money back."
But the soothing touch of good fortune was too much to bear, locking me into my seat at the blackjack table. I would have just one more drink and then go.
I ordered the drink quickly and bet small at first. But after a couple lost hands, the deck looks prime and I tripled my bet. This was a mistake.
Five minutes later I was cursing the cocktail waitress for taking so long. Frustrated, I bet even harder, no longer coddled by the ephemeral force, which drives all naive gamblers.
By the time the drink arrived, my money was below where I had started three hours earlier.
The transition from high to low in gambling is one of the most difficult emotional adjustments to make in life. It takes a genuinely mature person to walk away when he or she has a hot hand.
I had forgotten the New Orleans episode as I sat in front of my computer recently, laying out bets like I was the king of the table.
Suddenly, thunder boomed outside. A winter storm was moving in. This should have been an omen to me, except I had surge protectors. So what did I have to worry about.
Well, once your Texas Hold 'Em pocket aces go down to two pair of rags then you have something to worry about. Then you know your luck has shifted.
I had scuttled along that precipice dividing luck and misfortune for too long, the poker gods decided.
Now it was time for pay back.
Hand after hand showed down to be a loser. Even the most confident hands, like a top pair trumped by a flush draw, ended up a bust.
Do not grow arrogant with your luck.
This is a lesson I have never bothered to learn, and I probably never will.
Justin Boron is the government reporter for the News-Daily. His column appears Monday. He can be reached at 770-478-5753 or firstname.lastname@example.org