Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Another day at the office

The Venetian is running something called the "Deep Stack Extravaganza" over the next two weeks. Their $340 buy-in gets you 6000 chips and the $550 tourneys start out with 10,000 chips. Hence the "Deep Stack" title. I have to commend them on the concept and structure. Alot of tournaments in this town turn into pushfests by the second hour. Here you get at least a few hours of play before things turn ugly.

I went down yesterday to play in the $340 event and for the first time since I've been here went on a card rush. Within my first two orbits at the table I had pocket queens twice, ace king and even hit a gut shot straight on a hand when I was semi bluffing. My 6000 chips magically turned into 14,000. In theory I could have gone to lunch and come back in an hour.

It was interesting to be a big stack so early. I love pushing around the table and am getting much better at picking my spots. However it's hard to do too much damage when the blinds are still only 25/50, 50/100. So I was sort of waiting for things to get bigger before going into bully mode. No need to double someone up.

There was one hand that I may have played too weakly. Then again it may have been a good laydown. With blinds at 50/100 I got ace king in early position and limped in. I'm getting more and more into purposely misplaying my hands preflop. I love the idea of mixing up styles to keep players confused. It gets folded around to the button who bumps it up 400. I start to salivate. I'm more than excited to call this raise out of position.

Here's where it gets interesting: big blind reraises to 1200.

I think about my options and decide my best move is to fold. I only had $100 invested in the pot. I want to protect my stack until blinds get bigger. His reraise could easily be kings or aces so I might be drawing slim. In a best case scenario for me he has something like jacks or queens and I'm flipping a coin. I suppose if I reraise all in here it looks like I limped with aces. But I certainly think he has a real hand. He didn't just reraise with nothing.

I mention this hand because it's fascinating in poker how your stack determines everything. Like if I'm low on chips I'm gonna beat him into the pot with my ace king. Alot of players would probably beat him into the pot in my spot as the big stack as well. He had around 6000 chips so the worse case scenario is I'm back down to 8000 and still up 2000 on the day. And of course if I win the pot and take his chips I'm up to 20k. So there is certainly merit to that argument. But with blinds so small I figure it's better to look for better situations than calling a reraise with ace king after someone just showed strength. At least for me it is.

The other interesting thing about the hand was that the guy who bumped it up to 400 folded as well. So I was correct to drool over his initial raise.

A little while later the seat to my left opens up and in comes Shawn Rice who I played against last September at the Ultimate Bet Classic in Aruba. Shawn likes to raise alot of hands. He plays that Hellmuth style where he keeps trying to win alot of small pots with alot of small raises. Meanwhile I had Susie Isaacs to my right the whole day. She plays a much tighter game. In a perfect world I would flip them and have her to my left and Shawn to my right but the world sure ain't perfect. The other problem was Shawn had me out chipped and so his presence (getting to act after me on each hand) slowed me down once the antes kicked in.

The key hand of the day occurred with blinds are 200/400 with 25 ante. Susie raised to 1200 in early position and I looked down to see two red kings. I can't slowplay here. But I also don't mind if she calls. I just don't want a group of us seeing a flop. I bump it up to 3000 total. I'm giving her good odds to call. 1800 more to go after a 5000 pot. Plus the way she plays she's gonna fold unless she's really strong.

But a funny thing happens on the way back to Susie. Some dude in middle position goes all in for a little more than 6000. Susie folds. It's another 3000ish to me which means that even if he flashes me pocket aces I'm getting the right price to call.

The total pot has over 14,000 in it and I still have around 6000 still behind the line. Winning this pot will put me up over 20k. This spot is sort of similar to earlier in the day when I laid down the ace king. Except this time I have the goods. I have pocket kings.

Only problem is other guy turns over the pocket aces. I get no help and with blinds going up to 300/600/50 (1400 a round) I'm suddenly down to that 6000 I mentioned I had behind the line.

I really had no reaction to losing this hand. It's strange how numb I've become at the poker table. It makes no difference whether I'm doubling up on the first orbit or giving away half my stack with pocket kings. I maintain the same bored look. I guess that's a good thing.

So many players give away the rest of their chips after they lose a big hand. But I like to stick around and find something fun to showdown.

I hung around in the 5000 range for an orbit or two. Then I doubled up to 10k when my king queen suited found a way to get past ace jack.

By now there were 80 something players remaining from the 239 that started the day. The average chip stack was over 16k so I needed to find a spot to double up again. I was in the cutoff seat when I looked down and saw ace jack. Everyone had folded to me so I just needed to get past 3 random hands. I decided to push all in figuring that if I raise to something like 4000 and I get reraised I can't afford to fold.

Small blind calls and turns over pocket queens. Not so good for me. I'm around 30% to win the hand. The crazy part here is that if I do manage to win this pot I'm up to a healthy 20k and back to playing poker.

Driving home I was a little down on myself for going out with ace jack. But it wasn't in early position. It was first into the pot from the cutoff seat. Then I criticized myself for pushing all in instead of raising to 3 or 4 thousand but like I said above I don't think I can fold there if I get reraised. I think I just got unlucky to run into pocket queens.

Just like I got unlucky to run into pockets aces.

That be poker.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Wynn Classic

I played the $540 opening event of the Wynn Classic.

668 players. I finished 30th. I had a good tourney but it always stings to get knocked out.

Especially when first place is $110k.

I got off too a slow start on Day 1. After 3 levels my starting chip stack (4000) was down to 2850. They added the ante in the 4th level and my game finally took off. I've noticed lately that tournaments don't really seem to begin for me until the antes kick in. I think this is part of why I'm not more successful yet at cash games. I need more money in the pot to have something worth fighting over. It's almost like whatever strategic advantage I've developed doesn't exist without a nice chunk of change in the middle. I basically have no idea how hard to play a hand like pocket queens when the blinds are 25/50. And I only seem to get myself into trouble. Maybe that's why some players show up late to these bigger stack tournaments.

So back to level 4, I bump my stack all the way up to 10,000 without ever having to show down cards. I find a couple of great spots to steal pots with reraises. Amazingly everyone is playing really passively. In this day and age the problem is usually the opposite. But not in this tournament. Once I got chips I started to run over the table. No one wanted to get involved with me. I ran my stack up to 17,000 when the following hand came up. I'm sitting on the button with ace queen. Guy to my right was down to around 5000 and the blinds were 300/600 with 50 ante at this point. He pushes all in. I call him and he turns over ace 10.

Flop and turn miss us both and it looks like I'm gonna have close to 30k in chips which would turn me into a monster. As it was I was already table chip leader with 17k. But of course a 10 hits on the river and knocks me back down to 12k. I took the beat well and obviously felt fine about the play. But I mention this hand because looking back on the tournament who knows what I could have down with 30k at that point. Or to look at it another way, when the day ended a few hours later with the blinds at 1000/2000 and 200 ante, my total chip count was only 26,500. With everyone playing passively I think I could have built it up to 60ish instead of having to play more carefully and grind it up to the 26,500.

When I returned on day 2 there were 72 players remaining and I was in 49th place overall. The Wynn was only paying 63 spots so I was excited to see how the whole payout bubble went down. Players are so desperate to finish in the money that I can often build up my stack at this point. A few guys started asking if the Wynn would agree to pay out 72 spots. A couple of the big stacks objected but then the Wynn used their "Management reserves the right to change tournaments" rule and decided to pay out 72 spots. Even though I wasn't a big stack (I think average chip count was 37k) I still wanted to see only 63 get paid so that players would play tighter. With everyone suddenly in the money players were looser.

I picked up pocket kings in the first orbit and doubled up to over 50k which allowed me to play poker again instead of just having one move (push all in) preflop. Then the following hand came up with blinds still at 1000/2000/200.

A gentleman under the gun raises to 7000. A very tight player from Texas calls. I'm sitting on the button and look down to see pocket 9's. It was very tempting to reraise all in here but I also have two big stacks sitting to my left in the blinds. I'm happy to have just doubled up. I also feel like I can out play most of the players at this table. So I don't necessarily want to take a coinflip here. In a WSOP tournament if I was sitting with great players I might like the chance to steal the pot or else double up to 100,000 chips in this spot. But for once I really did think I could build up my stack through smaller pots. I liked having position from the button. And I wanted to see a flop. So I called the 7000.

Small blinds folds. But then the big blind puts his card protector over his cards and starts thinking. This went on for a few minutes. I could tell he was eyeing the original raisers stack. He needed to know how much he would lose if he went all in and original raiser has aces. The original raiser had around 30k. A player not in the hand eventually called the clock on the big blind who then immediately declared himself all in.

Much to my dismay the original raiser folded. So did the the tight Texan to my right. It came back to me on the button. This was a tough one for me. I was familiar with the big blind player. He's a tournament guy who knows that he can steal pots from the big blind with a reraise. So it's very possible he's making this move with a hand worse than mine. He also knows that if the Texan guy or me had a hand like aces, we would have already reraised. He just needed to make it through the original raiser.

I so much wanted to call him here. If I knew for certain that he had a hand like ace king I would make the call. These are the kinds of races you need to win to win these tournaments. But there was also a decent shot that he has a hand like pocket jacks or pocket queens. A hand that doesn't want to see a flop against 3 other players since he's probably losing if an ace or king flops.

I also decided that I'm too good a player to go out with pocket 9's. If he turns over jacks I'd be muttering to myself that I know better than this all the way home. If I fold I still have 43k in chips, plenty for this blind level. And so I folded.

This is one of those hands that I wish was televised so I could see his cards. After the hand was over the original raiser said he folded ace king. (Hard to believe). And big blind said he had big pair. (I'd like to believe). But either way it was a good play by him. In theory it was the same play I was gonna make if I raised from the button after the Texan called. But part of the reason I didn't raise from the button was I didn't want either blind to wake up with a hand and knock me out. So if he indeed had a hand, then my 7000 call got me the exact information I wanted.

As I hoped, I was able to cruise along and build my stack back up to over 60k without ever really getting any cards. We were playing 40 minute levels and the blinds soon went up to 1500/3000 with 300 ante and then 2000/4000 with 400 ante. At a nine handed table each orbit gets pretty expensive. With the 2000/4000 blinds with 400 ante it was costing 9600 chips every 9 hands. I stayed in that 50 to 60 range by basically stealing one pot per round. There was no one at my table with more than 100k so everyone was pretty short stacked. At this point there's much less poker being played and much more pushing all in preflop. Hands that I love like suited connectors go way down in value.

We went on break after level 12 and when we returned to the table the blinds were now 3000/6000 with a 500 ante. 13,500 an orbit. Absurd. I was down to 50k in chips which meant I had to find a hand to push with. It was tough to find a spot. Especially when you're not the first one into the pot. Like if someone bets 25k from early position there's not too much you can do with your two rags.

I eventually got my money in and was grateful to simply have two live cards against my opponent. But nothing hit and I went out 30th. I sort of feel like this tournament just ran out on me. Like I don't even have a bad beat story to tell. The blinds just got too big and my cards just went too cold. I gave myself plenty of time and alot of chances to get lucky. But it just didn't come together. That's sort of the funny part. Like for that whole final level I never saw a pocket pair, suited connectors, two face cards, any ace, or anything that I'd be remotely interested in showing down. I also couldn't find a spot where no one entered the pot before me.

Until the last hand.

Overall this was a good experience. I'm getting much better at reading players live. Picking up on tells. Guessing their cards. Keeping track of chip stacks. Knowing how much is in the pot.

The players keep seeming worse and worse to me. But maybe I'm getting better too.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Vegas Fact #3

Vegas Fact #3
You know how in casinos they give you those comp cards for when you gamble so that they can reward you with some sort of "comps" based on the time you spend playing? Well I found out today that my past 6 weeks of playing DIDN'T COUNT because I've never "checked out" each time I've left the poker room.

That's right. I have to check out for my time to count. I'm not really whining about the fact that they make you check out. But I am whining because no one ever told me to before today. You'd figure this is something that they might want to mention when you get the card.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

I play up or down to the level of the competition.

I start out the night at Caesars. There's a long wait to get onto a 2/5 table so I sit down at 1/2 and seem to forget how to play. No one at the table notices my poor play because it's the norm.

Bad play seems to inspire bad play.

And of course whenever I have a decent hand I play it too weakly and someone hits two pair or something weird to take it down.

Somehow when the stakes are bigger my concentration and attention to detail and correct aggressive play is much better.

Eventually a seat opens at 2/5 and I move up to their big section. Seated to my left is some pro who I cannot name. I never asked him his name but I've seen his face and when it pops up I guess I can come back here and edit this to add the info.

All you really need to know is that he acts like a pro. What does this mean? It means he has over Five thousand dollars in front of him at a table where most everyone else buys in for less than a grand. To give you some perspective, I've bought in for $500. So I'm not exactly gonna force him out preflop even if I raise 10x the blinds to 50. If anything he loves this situation. Because he can read my body language on the flop and maybe decide that I'm weak and shove a couple of hundred out to the middle and see if I fold. This forces me to get real creative when we're in hands together. But despite the fact that I'm intimidated on some level, on another level I freaking love the competition and challenge.

This guy is making moves like raising 100 on the river with nothing and then telling anyone who will listen how great he is. To his credit, he's often correct in his reads. He's calling out people's hands. So to counter I'm purposely misplaying my heads. I raise with 8 10 suited. I smooth call with ace king. Anything to make him misinterpret where he's at in the hand.

The key hand tonight went down as follows:

Someone in early position raises it up to 20. Two people call. I look down and see 8 9 of clubs. A dream hand in this situation. I don't feel comfortable playing hands like ace jack at this table since I have no clue where I'm at when the big stacks call.

But with a hand like 8 9 of clubs, I can make a straight or flush and feel good about getting my chips in there. Or else I can let it go. But at least I know where I'm at. I'm not gonna have to worry if my kicker is good.

Someone behind me raises the preflop bet from 20 to 40. Even better. 6 players including myself see the flop. There's 240 dollars in the middle.

Flop comes 2,3,4 with two clubs. Great news.

It gets checked to me and I decide to take my stand. I bet 120 dollars. I figure this bet somewhat hides my hand. I could have something like pocket 8's and be trying to take the pot down now. And the truth is that I'm more than happy to win the pot now. But I also want to commit myself to putting the rest of my chips in. I want to play a big pot with this hand in this spot. And if I can't take it down now, the next best thing is to get as many callers as possible to come along for the ride.

But something funny happens on the way to my betting 120. I count out 4 five dollar chips and slide it across the betting line in front of my 20 five dollar chip stack. Now I'm not exactly sure what I did but I managed to push the $20 across while sort of fumbling the larger amount. And the freaking guy to my left calls it a string bet.

This was really classless. It wasn't like I put in money and then went back for more. I clearly counted the whole thing out and obviously intended to put the whole thing out in one motion. It wasn't like I was looking for reactions and any of the other BS associated with string bets.

But the guy to my left calls it on me and the pro chimes in that he agrees with him and the dealer rules that my bet was 20. Only 20. Now everyone has no reason to fold. They can all call and get a cheap $20 look at what will now be a 360 dollar pot.

If I had a hand like an overpair I'd have gone berserk. I'd be giving everyone a cheap chance to suck out on me with a straight or flush or overcard. So I decide to play it that way. I start to mildly complain while sitting there shaking my head in disbelief that they're calling string bet on me.

It gets better. My flush comes on 4th street. So everyone checks to me, the preflop bettor, and I respond by checking in disgust. Fuck you everyone. You just ruined my pocket pair and let someone hit a flush.

The danger of making this play is that I let someone with the ace of clubs have a shot at winning the pot if another club comes off on the river. But I took that chance since I assumed I could get paid off if one didn't come. On the other hand if I bet the turn I figure it's obvious that I semi bluffed my flush draw and everyone will fold.

The river misses and my flush is still good.

Everyone checks to me again and this time I angrily announce "two hundred" while shoving just 20 dollars over the line to sort of passive aggressively repeat and relive the chaos of my flop bet. Although this time the bet is indeed two hundred since spoken words are binding at the table.

The pro doesn't know what to do. He announces that I have him beat. First he says I have a straight. Then he says I have a flush. I say to him "What my set isn't good?" He goes on and on about how easy I am to read but the thing is he won't throw his hand away. I love this.

He goes on and on about what I could have. I know he doesn't want to let me steal this pot from him if I'm bluffing. He finally concludes that two hundred dollars means nothing to him and shoves it in the middle. I thank him and pull in the pot.

A few hands later we're in a hand again together. He bets 25 on the flop and I call. He bets 50 on the turn. I announce raise. And shove in 250. Again he says he knows what I have and folds.
(Gee I thought you were folding because you thought you were ahead)

The next orbit I pick up ace jack in the cut off seat. This is the kind of hand I hate playing because I can flop an ace and still not know where I'm at. I'm not gonna play a big pot with it against players who are better than me.

Of course the ace flops. Pro checks. I check behind him. Button bets out. Me and the pro both call. Turn makes a flush. We all check. River blanks. Pro checks. I check. Button checks.

Button turns over ace 8. I show ace jack. Pro slow rolls his flush. And then complains that neither of us bet on the turn or river. He announces that "no one is playing poker here. They only bet they have the nuts."

As if I should get defensive about his criticism.

If he wants to see me put money in when I'm behind he should come play 1/2 with me sometime.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Some words from Doyle

I used to talk about a related subject with a very big and successful gambler I've known for many years. He said, "If a man came in and offered to lay me 10 to 1 on the flip of a coin for all the money I had in the world, I wouldn't take it." He said he just couldn't liquidate everything he's got, all of his property and cash. He wouldn't risk losing it all, which would be worth several million dollars. He wouldn't do it even if he thought he could get hold of a few more million.
But I'd do it. I surely would. I'd just have to. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to take 10 to 1 on an even money shot. I'd do it because I have enough confidence in myself that I'd be able to come up with more millions if I lost.
-Doyle Brunson

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Back to Back

I played tournaments the past two days at Caesars and my sanity improved tremendously by two back to back final table performances.

Thursday I was in a groove. This feels silly to write but my strategy in many spots was to think "what would a great player do here?" and then follow that advice.

We got down to 10 players but only 9 got paid. As usual everyone wanted to finish in the money. I was so proud of how I bullied the table at this point. Reraising the preflop raisers, stealing the blinds, and making the occasional good laydown.

It does wonders for the soul to lay down ace jack and have your opponent show you ace queen.

I also laid down pocket 3's in a blind on blind situation when the other guy had pocket 9's. I dare to say that something told me to do that. Not sure if it was sensing strength from my opponent or foreshadowing bad omens from the universe but whatever it was I'm glad to have followed it.

Friday night I went back to Caesars fully expecting to bust out early and play cash games. The luck involved in going far in these tournaments is extraordinary. Like even if you're always a 70% favorite to win the hand, the odds of winning two hands in a row is only 49%.

Think about that. You win back to back hands LESS THAN 50% OF THE TIME even when you are as strong as a 70% favorite!

That's insane.

But it all worked out again. When I was ahead in hands my cards held up. And when I was drawing I seemed to hit when I needed to. I'm learning to play the big stack much better and taking on alot of opponents when I have the chips. However unlike the night before this time the smaller stacks wouldn't let me run over them. I was rereaised all in alot by small stacks and faced alot of tough close decisions. This caused alot of variance in my chip stack. However when all was said and done I still managed to go to the final table as the tourney chip leader. The only problem for me was that the guy in 2nd place was seated to my left. And he was drunk and aggressive and reraising me alot. This forced me to make some laydowns with decent but not great cards because I didn't want to flip a coin with him with 8 players left.

We eventually got down to 3 players. Drunk guy, me and a woman who was a good player but having the card run of her life. It was one of those typical tournament situations where she was small stacked but just kept doubling up. She also kept flashing me her cards when she'd fold and in no particular order I saw queens, kings, ace king, ace jack suited, etc.

Meanwhile I seeing stuff like 3,8 off. 4,9, etc. I think my best hand three handed was ace 10. It was a tough spot for me. I was itching to play aggressively and take over the table but never got the cards to do much. And since she was showing me her big hands it wasn't like I felt I was being bullied.

An hour later I'm down from over 100K to just around 60. Other guy also has around 60. But now she has 137K. It was 5am and they both wanted to cut a deal. However for the 2nd night in a row I refused to do a deal unless it benefited me. I felt like I was the best player at this table and despite my bad run of cards I could still easily win this. It could all flip on one hand.

I turned down her offer but then made a counter offer and she accepted. I had mixed feelings driving home. Part of me was proud of cutting two favorable deals the past two nights. But part of me is so competitive and simply loves to play that in a sense I feel like I cheated myself of the experience.

Of course if I had lost a coinflip and gone out with 3rd place money I'd be whining here instead about how I should have been math smart and taken the deal.

I still think cash games are what will eventually make or break the Vegas year. It's the way poker players make a living. There's so much luck involved in winning tournaments. Still, after the past two nights and last summer at the WSOP it probably couldn't be any clearer that my strength right now is tournament poker.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

I ain't going anywhere.....yet.

The bad streak continues.

Today it was queens losing to 6,8 when an actual human being called my pot sized flop bet with bottom pair and then hit another pair on the turn. Very strange play. If he's not going to fold on the flop he should at least reraise me to try to get me to fold. There's no long term value in calling there. Very strange play indeed.

Unless maybe he sees the future. In which case it was a great though obvious play.

Then my night ended with good old pocket kings. I raised preflop and did everything I could to act like I was stealing. It worked because a gentleman reraised me with his pocket 10's. It was one of those mini reraises that people do with pocket aces. And if he had aces then good for him cause he's about to get paid off post flop. I smooth called him and then sat back and waited for him to bet again on the flop. If I reraise him preflop he might fold and I don't want to lose my fish.

The flop comes all connected.

He bets like he supposed to. I reraise all in. He calls.

His 10 comes on the river. He he.

It doesn't hurt like yesterday.

I got all my money in twice with the best hand. That's all I can do. And today I understand that.

If keep doing that over and over I should be able to make a living doing this.

And if I don't that's fine too.

Somehow it felt way too personal yesterday. Today I'm just trying to enjoy the ride.

One way I calmed myself down was to remember that I'm playing poker with money I won at poker. So in a worse case scenario, I lose poker money. If it weren't for poker I wouldn't have this money to begin with.

Now I'm going to eat dinner and be a human being for a few hours.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


Boy am I on tilt.

It's been one of those days where it doesn't matter what I do.

The details don't even matter. It all keeps failing.

It's one of those days where this game seems utterly impossible.

It starts to feel personal.

Almost like a conspiracy.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Vegas Fact #2

Vegas Fact #2
Valet parking in Las Vegas is free. It was Saturday night at the Wynn, Sunday night at Caesars and last week at the Bellagio. There was no charge other than my choice to tip. This experience mainly stood out because I recall having to pay to self park in Atlantic City at some point.

Friday, February 02, 2007

It depends

That's the answer to every poker question:

It depends.

Should I raise, fold or call with pocket 3's?

It depends.

Who's in front of you? Who's behind you? What are the blinds? How many chips does everyone have? How is everyone playing? Is the table tight or loose?

At the most basic level you need to determine the poker IQ of your opponents. Are they aware of situational plays or are they only playing the 2 cards in front of them? At the core this is everything.

My opponents seem to think I'm playing loose lately. One guy even told me that's his nickname for me....Loosey. But the truth is deep down I still feel pretty tight. What he's picking up on though is my finding other loose aggressive players and picking them out.

Once you determine "who is who" the table suddenly becomes so clear.

You got the people playing their own cards.

And people playing cards, players and situations.

I will play much worse cards against the latter.

So the game gets real interesting when people playing situations find themselves in hands against each other. Cause once you're thinking on this other level you gotta start wondering "did that old man just raise the pot cause no one else has entered it yet and he's on the cutoff seat? Or might he actually have a hand this time?" And then the next hand when 3 players limp and some guy repops it from the big blind you have to wonder "is he making that standard "no limpers raise" that so many players love to do over and over again or might he too actually have a hand?"

This might be followed by a guy limping under the gun but then pushing in a huge reraise when it gets raised back to him because now he's representing aces.

And this is the fun of poker. Does he or doesn't he have it? It's the way you make (or lose) alot of money.

I haven't just been waiting for great cards to make moves. I've been waiting for situations. Position. Opportunity.