Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Price of Entertainment

There was a guy at my table this past weekend who kept getting into pots with the attractive woman sitting next to him.

She'd raise preflop. He'd call. And smile.

And then she'd bet the flop or turn and he'd fold.

Once or twice he even showed his top pair while mucking.

Why show that?

I don't think he's sending the table a message he can make a big lay down.

Sure he might be sending her a message of what a good sport he is and all.

Yet if she's really looking for a mate at the poker table, don't you think she'd want someone who was better at managing his money?

Earlier this week I wrote about laying down a straight on the turn to a woman's lead out bet after a 3rd diamond hit the board. What I meant to write was that I was merely soft playing her.

You know letting her win the pot because maybe she's got a couple of kids at home.

I'm not completely sure why I felt the need to show her my cards.

I guess I thought it increased the likelihood that she'd show me her cards. Which she still didn't.

The most haunting thing about the hand is sitting here thinking at worst I could have lost 450 dollars. So regardless of what the correct poker play was for me in that spot, from an entertainment standpoint, it made perfect sense to call.

To learn her cards. To have an end to this story.

Hopefully we'd have had some sort of race. I'd either win or lose a decent sized pot.

And then we'd have a lesson. A moral.

If she held a flush children everywhere would have learned that I should have listened to her warning when she led out with a bet on the turn.

If she was bluffing children everywhere would have learned that you can't trust women who play poker.

And best of all we'd see her hole cards and learn what cards she held when she made this move. To see the hand from her point of view. For us to understand for eternity.

Who knows how much that information could be worth over time?

And all this would have cost us was 450 bucks.

But no.

Instead we learn nothing.

Because you guys are too cheap.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Vegas Fact #6

Vegas Fact #6
If the dice accidentally get thrown off of the craps table, the next roll will be a 7.

Sunday, May 27, 2007


I know one hand doesn't effect the next one. The cards have no memory.

At least that's how I stand on the record.

But off the record?

"You got to know when to walk away and know when to run."

Kenny Rogers knows what he's talking about. And not just about gambling. His wisdom is why he also has a successful chain of chicken restaurants. It's no secret chicken is a solid product to invest in. Because it tastes like chicken. In some parts of the world tasting like chicken can mean knowing that you're not eating human.

But I digress.

Know when to walk away and know when to run.

There was a point today when I knew I was done. I knew my time at the table was over. I could feel it in my bones. I needed to run.

It had all started out well. I sat down with 200 and was up to 500 in just an hour and a half.

I was making good decisions. And nothing went horribly wrong. I even got lucky to win a pot with an 8 high flush beating my opponents 7 high flush. Now that's running well.

But then it all fell apart. Here's the hand that changed my afternoon.

I limp in from late position with 6 8 suited. Flop is 5,7,9.

Sure there are two diamonds on the board and yes they aren't my suit but what else could possibly go wrong?

Guy in the blinds leads out for 15. Maybe he has a pair. Solid woman across from me calls the 15. Maybe she has a draw. Now this is a moment where I'm supposed to raise. I have to be holding the best hand right now. Obviously I may not have the best hand after we see two more cards. If the board pairs or another diamond comes then I'm scared.

The advantage to not raising here is I disguise my hand. If a rag comes on the turn and I make a big bet it becomes hard to put me on a straight. And I can also save money if the turn is a diamond or pairs the board and I want to get away from the hand.

The disadvantage of course to not raising here is I'd give everyone a free card.

And I can't give free cards against 2 players. So I raise it to 50. If I really wanted to get them to fold perhaps I could have made it more. 35 dollars isn't necessarily going to get someone to fold in this spot if they have a set, two pair or on a flush draw.

The initial bettor from the blinds folds to my raise. But the woman across from me calls the 35 more. The real problem for me with her call is she has a similar chip stack to mine in the 400-500 range. So when a third diamond comes on the turn I can't say I'm still in love with my straight.

She acts first and completely takes the hand away from me by leading out for 140. It's a great play. Unless I was semi bluffing on the flop with a flush draw I can't call this bet. She's completely playing my hand for me. I raised on the flop like I had something to protect. A set. A straight. Two pair. And now all those hands are vulnerable to the 3rd diamond hitting. And she's betting like she has it.

Now I'm trying to think this through. Would you really bet there if you hit the flush? Why would she want to kill her action and get me to fold?

The best I can come up with is she holds a baby flush. If true, her 140 bet represents that she is now the one protecting something. Maybe she has two small diamonds and does not want to see another diamond come on the river.

Perhaps it's just the opposite. She could be holding a big diamond and is semi bluffing in an attempt to still get paid off in case the 4th diamond comes on the river.

Either way by leading out for 140 she's forcing me to make a decision for my whole stack.

Damn. Great bet.

Part of me is dying to call. I realize she certainly could have made the exact same bet if the board paired. Although that might have been easier for me to call since her bet could just mean trips. Or a "move."

Now if either of us was a small stack I probably call and take the chance. But with 400+ behind the line I'm not about to put in all my money into a situation where I could be drawing dead.

I've only lost the 50 I put out on a the flop. It makes no sense to spend 450 to protect that initial 50.

So curiosity aside, I fold. I've made some big calls the past week or two. This felt like a fold.

The other thing for me to consider is that calling and losing my entire stack here might do much more damage to my psyche than winning a huge pot. If I'm drawing dead it will be hard to forgive myself. And the best case scenario is I'm probably racing against a single diamond or a set/two pair and praying the board doesn't pair on the river. So even if I'm right that she doesn't have a flush at the moment, I can still lose my entire stack. That's not such a great situation to get into.

I know I can make money playing easy situations against bad players. I don't need to make a great call that may or may not hold up against another solid player. I fold.

A half hour later after players keep folding to her flop bets she makes a comment about how we all respect her too much. I ask her if I respected her too much when I folded to the 3rd diamond. I had shown her my straight as I mucked.

She tells me that she had the same hand as me (6,8) with one diamond. I'm not sure I believe her since this meant she had to have limped from early position with 6,8 off suit. But if what she says is true then she was free rolling if I called. We chop 80% of the time and she wins it all by herself 20% of the time. So 80% of the time I get my money (50) back. And 20% of the time I lose my entire stack.

More important though than losing 50 dollars was that this hand seemed to pop my balloon of invincibility at this table. (Is that even a cliche? "Balloon of Invincibility?")

In the next hour I lose multiple hands where my holdings are good but not good enough. Suddenly my reraises aren't getting respect. People are sticking around to see what I have. My top pair top kicker loses to a bigger pocket pair. My pocket 10's lose to pocket jacks when my opponent doesn't go away on an ace king board. The finale is my set of 7's losing to a straight on an ace, 2, 5, 7, king board. Go do the math on that last one. The voice inside of my head was like "as long as he doesn't have 3,4 I feel pretty good here." At least I saved money and didn't reraise him on the river.

And that's exactly when I hightailed my butt right out of there.

I was "down" to only being up 100. But if I stayed I knew I'd give the rest back. Maybe even the buy in too. I wouldn't call it tilt. I was still playing good cards in good spots. I'd call it momentum. Sometimes it's with you. And sometimes it's against you.

In the past I would have sat there and taken it all and suffered it and decided it was all part of The Vegas Year. Part of my poker education.

However at this point I've learned to get the hell out of there. This ain't no tournament. Time to go.

Sure I might stay if I could bet against myself. I'd stay if they'd give me action on my hands not holding up. Like the way you can bet at craps that the roller is going to crap out before he hits his point.

It was a pretty strange experience psychologically. It feels like I lost 200 dollars. Even though I have 100 dollars more than I started the day with.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Raise to 25

I hadn't played since last Saturday night so when I bought in this evening at the MGM I felt sort of rusty. I didn't raise too much. I didn't really try to make anything happen. I just sort of sat back and hung out and folded while waiting for spots to compete against comped maniacs killing time in between their pit game adventures.

I'm a pretty small fish on the Vegas totem pole. Picture a guy who gets comped to come to Vegas. They fly him in for free. A limo picks him up at the airport. He stays in their nicest suite. Everything is paid for. His room. His food. His booze. Who knows what else. And in between his dropping tens of thousands of dollars playing games like craps and black jack, this gentleman wanders over to the poker room.

This guy doesn't care about the money he's about to lose playing poker. He really doesn't. 500 bucks is nothing to him. Poker is just something to do to cool off until he decides to make his next dice run. This guy doesn't think twice about raising every single hand he plays preflop to 25 bucks. He doesn't care that we're only at 1/2. He just wants action.

Meanwhile in my first two hours at the table I'd only won one pot. I was playing pretty tight though and was only down 100 bucks.

I finally win my second pot to get back in the black. An ugly 4 way hand where I held trips on a flush board and watch the first guy to act push all in for his last 34 dollars on the river. The funny part though was that all 3 of us in the hand called. None of our hands were good enough to raise. Yet all 3 were good enough to call.

I suppose it was good for me. I sure didn't want to have to call a raise. And with 3 other players I wasn't sure I held the best hand. Having the first guy go all in on the river sort of took away the chance for anyone to bluff here because you'd be betting into a dry side pot and still have to show down with the first bettor.

Winning this pot gave me some ammunition to play pots with against the maniac. He was still raising the hands he played preflop to 25. And for the most part I couldn't really find anything to play against him with. Finally around a half hour later I limp in with king queen suited (diamonds) fully expecting him to raise it to the usual 25. I figured there was no need for me to do the betting for him. Why scare him away with a raise?

I get a pretty decent queen jack rag flop. One diamond. I check to him. He reaches for a finger full of chips and tosses them out there. This was the other fun thing about his post flop play. He never really counted out his chips. Just grabbed a bunch and threw. This time it was 35. I called.

Turn is the ace of diamonds. Very interesting moment. It's a scare card. But I don't think he has an ace. I really don't. I've seen him just call an all in preflop and show down king 7. And even if I'm wrong and he does have an ace this one time, I still have (royal) flush and gutshot straight draws to save me. Not to mention that a queen or king possibly wins the pot for me as well.

Basically I got me some outs.

And like I said, I'm not so sure I'm behind here.

Now I can bet out like I have an ace. But here's why I check. If I bet and he doesn't have an ace I might make him fold the worse hand. But if I check I am giving him a chance to bluff at it. And since I also have the flush draw going I'm more than happy to let him name the stakes. A free card doesn't scare me. Neither does a bet.

So I check.

And our maniac responds by pushing all in for 135.

I guess I got what I wanted Although it's still a scary moment. If I call and he turns over an ace I'm not going to be too proud. On the flip side, I said I checked so he could bluff. And now (if I'm right) he's doing exactly what I wanted him to do.

So all I gotta do is call. As I'm counting out the 135 I also decide that he bet it too quickly. It was one of those frustration all in moves. Where someone goes all in basically because they're hoping the hand will go away. And going all in can often seem like the best way to do that.

So I call. Neither of us turns over our cards and so I hope to see a diamond on the river to complete my flush and end all doubt.

Instead I get the 2 of spades. Than hand is over and all I have is a pair of queens. King kicker.

Since he bet the turn and I called, I sit back and wait for him to show first. If he has an ace I don't need to show everyone what I had. But more than that, I want to get my money's worth. I want to see what cards this maniac was playing. I paid 135 dollars to see them. Lets not discount the entertainment value here.

He turns over king high.

This guy is the entire reason I'm at the table.

He buys in again. A few hands later I call his raise to 25 with ace king. I gave some thought to reraising preflop but the benefits of flopping an ace or king and him betting far outweigh winning just 25 bucks if I raise and he folds.

I miss the flop. He goes all in. I fold.

I go back to waiting. 30 minutes later I pick up pocket jacks against him. I hit a set on the flop but it was a scary board. Ace, jack, 10.

I check the flop. I'm waiting for him to go all in so I can call. But he does something very strange. He checks too. It's pretty funny. If he goes all in I would beat him into the middle with my chips. But his check actually scares me. I decide he could easily have king queen.

Turn comes. I check again and give him another chance to bet. He checks again.

River comes. I know he won't check here. If he has king queen he wants to make money. And if he doesn't have king queen and has missed completely he probably needs to make a bet to win the hand.

And he obliges, firing off a 55 dollar river bet. Damn. I'm so tempted to raise him here. I think I have the best hand. And like I said on the flop if he pushes all in I probably call. Yet the 55 dollar bet stinks like a value bet. Isn't it the bet size he would make if he has king queen? He wouldn't want to go all in here in case I folded. But to bet 55 screams "please call me." And he has to have the better hand sometimes right? He can't always be bluffing.

So I decide to just call. And he throws his hand into the muck. Perhaps I over thought the entire hand. Or maybe it made no difference. Since he mucked his cards he obviously had nothing. So maybe he just folds if I bet the flop or turn and there was no more money for me to be won. But my play on this one sure did feel weak.

The other thing I struggled with tonight was how often and with what range of cards to call preflop against a player constantly raising it to 25. At a 200 max buy in table that's a decent size raise. It's too large for me to just be calling him preflop and then folding to his continuation bet on the flop.

Twice I called the maniac's raises to 25 with suited connector hands and twice I had to fold on the flop when nothing connected. And immediately afterwards I'm feeling sorry for myself for giving away 50 bucks so easily and decide to tighten up. So what happens of course?

I tighten up and fold my ace 10 suited in the blinds after the maniac raises to 25 and a decent player calls in late position. I decide not to get involved with a drawing hand from the small blind (out of position). I also figure I won't know where I'm at if an ace flops. Strangely enough this hand might be easier to play if it's 7,8 suited. The ace causes me confusion. So I lay it down.

And of course this one time I don't call his preflop raise to 25 the flop comes 3 hearts and gives me the nut flush. And to add to my misery bets come flying out. In some ways dealing with this hand is just as hard as dealing with a bad beat. I know my stack size didn't get smaller but since it didn't get larger either it sure feels like I've just lost a couple of hundred dollars.

This is one of those moments where I'm pleading with the universe to please pair the board or do something to let me know that I would have lost the pot and somehow confirm it was a good fold.

Damn I flopped the nut flush.....I suck.

Wow the board paired on the turn....I could have lost a huge pot.

Then they flip over their cards on the river. If someone has a full house I'm a genius for folding preflop. If the winner only has two pair then obviously I need to work on my game.

In the moment my mind isn't concerned with whether or not this is a good play over millions of simulated hands. All I care about is what would have happened here.

I get all black and white.

Results oriented.

That's the bad news.

The good news is I didn't let it effect my play.

I didn't go on tilt.

I just went back to folding.

Thursday, May 24, 2007


Alot of people consider their family to be the most important thing in their life.

Others focus mainly on their career.

And some still want to change the world.

But not you. Not if you're a winner.

If you hope to someday end up on the Winners Wall of Fame you must stay focused.

Gotta keep your eye on the prize.

You can't worry about your family. You can't worry about your career. You can't try and change the world. Heck you shouldn't even pay much attention to your health. You just gotta stick to what you know.

Sure people will mock you. But they're only jealous.

They'll tell you that you have a gambling problem. They'll try to convince you that slot machines are a losing proposition. They'll say no one can make money playing them long term.

But you know better. And that's how you get to the Winners Wall of Fame.

Persistence. Discipline. Denial.

At least that's what I tell the young kids when I visit their schools and they ask me how to make a living in the casino.

"P.D.D." I say.

Persistence. Discipline. Denial.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Running Well

I had one hand in a cash game last night that I'd like to share. I found it interesting mainly because it's the kind of hand that's real tough to play on the internet. But playing live I was able to gain additional information to make my decision. Here's what happened:

I limp in from the small blind with queen nine suited. (Diamonds).

Flop is king, 9, rag. Two spades.

I check. Aggressive guy in late position bets 10 bucks. I call.

If I don't improve on turn and he bets again I'm done with the hand.

Good news on the turn: another 9. I'm looking good. I'm feeling good. The only bad news is it also puts a second heart on the board. Now I gotta deal with two possible flush draws.

I check and let him bet. He obliges and bets 15. I raise it up to 45.

He calls me and of course a 3rd spade comes on the river.

I know if I check he's gonna bet. So I try to take the bluff away from him and lead out for another 45.

He pushes all in.

I won a big pot a couple of nights ago when I held the nut flush and some guy couldn't lay down his trips to my river reraise. This could be the same hand in reverse.

I stare at his bet. It looks like 95 more dollars for me to call.

Making folds like this is what separates the good from great players. Saving 95 dollars (if I'm beat) is just as good as winning 95 dollars when I'm ahead. I can absolutely make this fold.

I stare at the guy trying to get a read. Nothing.

I look at the dealer and say "95 more?"

At this point the other guy sort of shouts at me and says "YEAH 95."

Hmmmm. Something about it seemed a little aggressive.

Now the classic tell is to act weak when you're strong and act strong when you're weak.

And as far as I can tell it's almost like he's trying to scare me into folding with his "YEAH 95" remark. At least that's what my gut tells me.

And so I trust my read and call. He turns over his cards.

They're not suited. He only has a pair.

I was so ready to be the sucker. To beat myself up for making a donkey call.

Instead I'm suddenly so grateful to be playing live and not on the internet.

Winning a hand like this is so important to me. It's so crucial to my confidence. Much more important than winning or losing 95 dollars.

Meanwhile I've been running real well this week.

My personal definition of "running well" isn't getting good cards.

It's not even winning races. I've still lost plenty of those.

It's simply not getting outdrawn by two or three outers when I have the best of it. People hitting sets on the river to take down big pairs. People hitting two pair with their ace 6 when I have the better kicker with my ace king. People hitting runner runner flushes. Runner runner straights. Those kinds of hands.

Those are the hands that kill you.

And by you I mean me.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Why didn't anyone tell me I'm a Fish?

Just got home from the casino. The way life works no one thought I was the best player at my table. Nope. Tonight was the opposite. After all the universe wants to keep me on my toes.

Instead of compliments tonight I got called out by a fellow player for my poor play. He said some nasty stuff to me. And to my credit I just sat there and nodded.

Sure I was dying to defend myself. But one thing I've learned is it never serves me to be right at the poker table. I don't need to win any arguments. I don't need to explain why I do whatever I do. (Those explanations are only for you my good reader). At the poker table it's better when the other players think I suck. And that I'm a luck box.

Here's what happened:

I bought in for $200. I was up to around $600. However I wasn't alone. There was alot of money on the table for a 1/2 game. Maybe 4 or 5 guys with similar stacks. Thus I couldn't really bully anyone. So to switch up my play I made the choice to do some loose calling preflop in hopes of taking down big hands. When I made these calls I put my opponents on big pairs. In fact I really hoped that's what they were holding. My strategy was if I could hit a big hand on the flop there was a chance I could win a big pot. Maybe even felt someone.

So a hand comes up where I have 2,5 suited (diamonds). The hand that I always seem to win with. There were a couple of limpers in front of me. I limped in as well from late position. The big blind bumps it up to $12. Everyone in front of me calls. There's now $50 in the middle and I have to call an additional $10 to see the flop. Okay. Sign me up.

5 of us see the 2, 8, king flop. There's one diamond out there.

Now here's where it gets funky. The preflop bettor checks.


See how awesome it is to raise out of position?

The rest of us check as well. At this point I assume the original raiser has something like pocket jacks.

Turn is another diamond.

Now the preflop bettor decides to fire out $20. One guy calls. Everyone else folds.

There's $100 in the middle. I have to call $20 to win this $100. I'm getting 5 to 1 odds. I think I might have as many as 14 outs in the deck. (9 diamonds. 2 twos. 3 fives.) I promise you I'm not going broke on this hand but for $20 this is an EASY call.

River is a 2. Possibly the best card for me. If a diamond had come someone could have had a higher flush draw. And if a 5 had come perhaps someone could have been holding a better two pair. But I really doubt anyone else has a deuce. In fact my only fear right now is that the preflop bettor has something like pocket kings and was slowplaying. But we're about to find that out.

He checks the river. Other guy checks. I bet $40. If he raises me big I'm probably folding. If he raises me small I probably gotta call. If he folds then I don't have to show anyone my hand.

He does the weakest thing possible. He calls.

I turn over my 2,5. He mucks. Like I said he probably had something like a medium pocket pair (jacks?) and was looking me up. He got scared to bet on the flop because of the king on the board.

Anyhow it was this hand that caused the wrath of the other player. Best part is he wasn't even in the hand. But still he just couldn't comprehend how I had won a pot with 2,5 suited.


Instead I nodded and kept my mouth shut.

I didn't even giggle at him in the most annoying way possible.

Because I'm classy.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Measuring Progress

The plan is simple.

If I can make $200 a day I can live here and do this. Sure in time as my bankroll increases I can move up to higher stakes. But for now I still need to prove to myself and my checking account that I can make a living playing cash games.

Last night I went to the MGM at 9pm and sat at a 1/2 table. I bought in for the $200 max.

First hand in the big blind and I get ace 7 off. A guy under the gun had limped in. Everyone else folded. I check.

Flop misses me. I check. He checks. Turn misses me. I check. He checks. River misses me. I check. He checks.

He turns over king 10 offsuit. I win the 5 dollar pot. Hmmmm. He limped in under the gun with king 10 offsuit. Not exactly a Sklansky play. And then he never took a shot at the pot. I guess he hasn't read Supersystem either.

The very next hand I pick up pocket kings in the small blind. I raise it to 15. The same guy who limped the hand before calls. Everyone else who had limped folds.

Flop is queen, 9, 10. Not exactly a dream for me. He could easily have a straight. He could easily have two pair. And if he doesn't have either of these things he certainly has a draw.

I bet 30. He calls. Now I sit back and hope for a jack on the turn.

It doesn't happen. Turn brings a 7. The 7 doesn't scare me. I bet 60 and hope he folds.

He pushes all in.

Damn. Not exactly what I wanted on my 2nd hand.

Okay. If I'm beat I'm beat. But nothing has really changed with the arrival of the 7 from the flop to the turn. I felt good enough on the flop and turn to lead out with bets. If he has a straight I'm in trouble although at least I still have 4 jack outs to win or tie the hand. If he has two pair I have outs as well. I've already seen him play the first hand poorly.

Most of all I've already stuck 105 dollars into this pot. I have less than 100 left on the table. I'm getting 3 to 1 to make this call. And the real important thing here is that I'm playing at a level where I'm comfortable losing my buy in. If I had a grand on the table and he makes this move I have to fold. But for another 100? Easy call.

He turns over Ace Jack. He has an open ended straight draw. He misses on the river. I double up on the second hand. I joke to myself about getting up and going home. Isn't my work done for the day? Haven't I reached my company's goals?

I should mention here that these first two hands would be the only two hands I win in my first 90 minutes at the table! I called a few small raises with hands like ace jack suited but had to fold after missing on flop.

Now there's a sunglass wearing internet guy sitting to my right. He's putting on a show. He takes too long to make decisions usually because he never seems to know that the action is on him. He keeps using the excuse that he plays on the internet. He also can't see his cards or the chips because of how dark his shades are. He's a piece of work.

Best of all he doing the misquoting the facts thing that I've often fantasized about. He keeps giving incorrect odds on hands. He keeps talking about getting reads on people but then does the opposite of what he says his read is. And he's constantly going all in. I've seen him push all in 3 times in the first 12 hands. He's not even doing this in big pots. It's usually just to win the blinds. I tell myself that I'm going to take his stack.

I take a break after 90 minutes to walk around cause I start feeling impatient. When I return to the table my first hand back I pick up pocket aces and it's almost too good to believe. Internet sunglass guy has looked at his cards and is reaching for chips. Please move all in.

He bets 20. I want to get heads up with him. I fire out 50 with my aces. The action gets folded around to him. He thinks for a moment. And then announces he's all in. He has ace king. My aces hold up and I've just felted my second player. I've done nothing special so far tonight. Other than folding. Playing at 1/2 doesn't require too many fancy moves. In fact I've noticed lately that my moves at lower levels tend to kill my action rather than create it.

I'm now a big stack at this table. I go into Doyle mode putting the small stacks to big decisions whenever I enter a pot. I reraise a guy all in with my straight flush draw but can't hit on turn or river and his kings hold up.

A decent player sits down to my left. He wins a few big pots and suddenly we both have around 600 dollars on the table. I'm not in love with having him to my left. Every time I enter a pot he seems to be in there as well. And he's familiar with poker moves. So even when I actually hit a flop (ie. top pair top kicker) and continue bet he sometimes challenges me. And I don't want to play a 600 dollar pot against him with top pair top kicker. So he's sort of thorn in my side.

We go back and forth for like an hour. After a few head to head battles (where he twice tells me that he'll check it down after I call his flop bets) he goes and gets a rack and asks for a table change. The other players needle him to stay. He tells them"there aren't any chips on the table and the only other player with chips is better than me."

Wow. I get chills.

I mean it.

Here I am scared to play pots with him and it never even occurs to me that he could be scared to play with me. I just assume everyone who knows what they're doing at the poker table is better than me.

So many poker players have huge egos. I'm not one of them. Sure away from the table I have my Jesus complex. Who doesn't? But despite playing poker every day for the past three and a half years part of me still feels scared like a novice.

There is so much to learn. You never know it all. And that will never change. But I am noticing lately that people keep commenting on being scared to play pots with me.

I'm definitely settling in to being much more accustomed to the live game. I trained myself mathematically (as if this was a GRE or LSAT) for 3 years on the internet. But now after 4+ months of playing alot of live poker I'm finally filling in that gap in my game. And all of this couldn't be happening at a better time with the 2007 World Series starting in two weeks.

Soon after a guy I see all the time at MGM sits down to my right. We get to chatting. They call him David Rabbi. He tells me he's a poker coach. And grinder. Says he plays 80 hours a week at the MGM. He's one of these Vegas guys who has been playing poker since the 1980's.

I pick his brain. I ask him what his expected earning is at 1/2.

He says $20 an hour.

Oh dear.

I guess I've been running well the past few nights because I can't imagine sitting there for 10 hours to make 200 dollars. Then again Rabbi is a rock. He played very few hands. And always had the best of it.

I consider myself pretty tight yet compared to Rabbi I look loose. I will win (and lose) more in an evening than he will.

Rabbi asked me what I do for a living and I told him I'm a writer.

I feel much more comfortable writing than playing poker. But it's all about the expectations.

As far as writers go, I think I'm a great poker player. And as far as poker players go I'd say I'm a great writer. But I wouldn't call myself a great writer or great poker player.

I was at the final table in the 2006 World Series of Poker event 22 last Summer when Jeff Madsen (21 years old) won his first bracelet. And I sat there and watched him move all in from the small blind with king queen with 5 or 6 players remaining. Julian Gardner called him from the big blind with ace jack and had him covered. If Madsen loses this hand he gets knocked out. If he gets knocked out who knows if he has the same confidence and wins his second bracelet only 6 days later in event 30? But a king comes out on the flop, Madsen doubles up and his life changes forever.

And that's where public affirmation is fascinating. Because back to the ego discussion, if I were to win a World Series bracelet then suddenly my status would grow. People would think I was the best player at the table if I sat down in a game. And it would effect the way they played against me.

But without a bracelet I'm still a writer.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Follow the story

Every hand we witness at the poker table is a story told by multiple writers.

The writers are all the players sitting at the table.

Each player adds a line or two to the story by his or her actions.

The players who fold are basically saying "my hand wasn't that strong."

The players who stay in and especially those who raise are saying "I have a hand I want to play a bigger pot with."

If at any point during the hand someone's actions do not follow the story that is being told then it stands out like a sore thumb. (I was about to write it stands out like a "hackneyed cliche" but I think "sore thumb" says it just as well).

I limped into a hand yesterday in a cash game with queen 10 suited. No one raised preflop. Thus the story being told was that no one held a big hand. We all wanted to see a cheap flop.

Flop came queen jack 5.

An aggressive woman led out for 15 bucks. She had been leading out at alot of flops so this bet didn't mean too much to me. Two players called. I had position and called as well.

Turn was a rag.

Now she checked. All the other players checked too. So did I.

I don't have much invested in the pot and I don't want to play a big pot with this hand. If someone makes a decent sized bet here I would probably fold.

River was another rag.

Now she leads out for 50.

Everyone folds. I'm last to act.

Her bet here can mean two things. Either she's betting with nothing (a busted draw like 10 jack) and she's doing it because it's the only way she can win the pot.

Or of course she holds something good and was trapping on the turn hoping someone else bet.

Now I already mentioned she was aggressive. But as I'm sitting there deciding whether or not to call I stare at the queen jack that came out on the flop. If she really felt good about her hand and held at least something like king queen she wouldn't have checked the turn. She was giving too many hands a chance to make a straight with a free look the river.

No. Her story doesn't make sense. If she has a hand that can beat my top pair queen with 10 kicker, she would have bet it on the turn.

The only thing I really fear here is if she has a queen with an ugly rag kicker that just paired on the river giving her two pair.

But other than that her turn check and river bet makes no sense. Since no one else showed any aggression she thinks she can take the pot away here on the river. So she bets. And it almost works. The other players fold.

But I call.

She instantly throws her cards into the muck.

Like I said if she bets the turn I fold. I could believe that story. Just not this one.

An orbit later I raise it to 15 preflop. Two people call.

I'm purposely not telling you my cards because I want you to see the hand from the other player's point of view.

Flop is 4,4, jack.

Whether or not this has helped me I make the continuation bet and shove out 30. One guy calls me in position. It's unlikely that either of us holds a 4 here since the pot was raised preflop.

Now if I've missed this flop then as far as I'm concerned I'm done with the hand. I'm going to check the turn and give up.

The turn is a king. I check just like I say I would if I missed the flop. The other player fires out a half pot sized bet in position.

I call.

River is another king.

My story thus far makes it believable that I have a king. I raised preflop which can often mean ace king. And of course I also called the turn and didn't give up after the king came.

So I lead out and bet 100.

He starts to whine to me that he can't believe I hit runner runner kings. The runner runner part implies that he was ahead when the first king came on the turn. If true then perhaps he is holding pocket jacks or something like 4,5 suited. And my full house just passed his full house.

He folds and asks me if I had one king or two.

I giggle in the most annoying way possible.

I have nothing against this human being but as long as we're playing poker it serves me to have him dislike me.

Sometimes you can gain things at the poker table that at the moment aren't actually chips. What you gain is creating an image or belief about yourself in another player that will pay itself off later on down the road.

A few hands later he raises preflop to 15 and I look down in the small blind and see queens.

No need to reraise here. I'm out of position. And my hand is very well disguised. So I smooth call.

Flop is 7,7,8.

Now his story preflop was that he was strong. My story was that I had a hand worth calling a 15 dollar bet with.

I have to act first. So sticking with the story I check to him. We both know he's going to bet no matter what came out on the board. So I let him.

He bets 30 dollars.

I could get hurt on this hand if he has pocket aces or kings. But I REALLY don't think he has a 7 since he raised it preflop. (This hand by the way is a great example of why it's good to raise sometimes in early position with suited connectors. Because when it hits it becomes hard for your opponents to actually imagine you holding small cards. If he has raised preflop here with 7,8 suited I'm about to lose alot of money.)

I am going to reraise him here. I am going to represent the 7. I am in the small blind afterall.

Now the hard part is that he knows that I know that he probably doesn't have a 7.

He also knows that my reraise "looks" like a move. So if he actually does have aces or kings I'm probably getting called. I tell myself that I'm not only raising to try to win the pot. I'm also raising to gain information on his hand.

I reraise him to 90 dollars. 60 more.

Much to my chagrin he immediately declares himself all in. So much for gaining information about his hand. He's screaming trip 7's or aces. Or tilt.

I ask the dealer to count his chips. After matching my raise to 60 he has an additional 153 dollars behind the line.

So I have to call 153 to win approximately 355 dollars. Or to put it another way. I need to be right here (win this hand)1 time out of 3 to be ahead. The hard part is that I'm either way ahead or way behind in this spot.

Again I think through this story I've been watching. Yes I can't put him on a 7. If he's got that then good for him.

Sure I can put him on aces or kings. Everything he's done in the hand represents that. But he also won't get aces or kings that often. In other words, you can't play poker scared of them.

I've also seen him raise other pots preflop from early position with small pairs. So perhaps I should fear pocket 8's here. Then again if he was holding the nut full house maybe he'd call my raise to 90 so I can bet again on the turn.

Thinking through our time spent together I know he's frustrated with me from the other hand.

And here I just check raised him to 90 on the flop. He doesn't want to let me push him around.

He is also making this move having absolutely no idea how strong my hand is here. From where he sits I probably gotta fold to his all in reraise unless I have a 7. Because if I was holding really strong cards he assumes I'd have reraised him preflop.

We're playing this game of chicken regarding the paired board and I'm not going to back down. My hand is too good. The chances of him holding aces, kings or a 7 isn't good enough. As I wrote above I only need to win this hand 1 in 3 times to for the call to be correct. I think there is greater than a 33% chance I'm ahead. I call.

Neither of us turn over our cards.

The turn is another 7. This is good news. If I was already losing to trip sevens then quads makes no difference. But what I like about this 7 is it clinches my full house and means I won't lose if somehow he was on a straight or flush draw.

The river is a rag.

He has to show first. He turns his cards over. I can't see the bottom card as it's under the top card.

The top card is clearly the ace of diamonds. My heart drops.

The dealer pushes the ace to the side and reveals a queen underneath.

He has ace queen.

My queens are good.

Knowing what we know now I'm just amazed that an ace didn't come on the river.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Making Fire

Between moving to Las Vegas and our government figuring out the legality of funding online poker sites, I've largely ignored internet poker as of late.

Thus one of my accounts has been sitting for awhile with just 1 cent left in it.

The other day I was in the mood to do some clicking. So I signed on to take a look around and noticed that a freeroll HORSE tournament was about to start.

HORSE is a mixed game of limit hold em, omaha, razz (7 card poker where worst hand wins), 7 card stud and 7 card stud high low.

I signed up for one of the 2400 spots. I can't remember now if it was the top 48 or 27 players getting paid but overall $100 was dispersed.

5 hours later I ended up in 14th place and $2 were deposited into my account.

He he.

I followed this up by taking my $2.01 over to a 10 cent NL game and won 25 cents.

Then I used my $2.26 "bankroll" to enter a $2.25 Omaha high low limit sit and go.

Of course the way life works, I won the sit and go and am now up to 9 dollars.

I'm back in the game.

In some ways getting back into action is more gratifying than winning thousands of dollars.

Who knows what those 9 dollars can now become?

I feel like I created a fire by rubbing two sticks together.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Partying with Gelato

The key for me right now is getting myself to the poker table as often as possible.

If I can put in a lot of hours everything else will work itself out.

But it's hard.

The desire isn't always there.

And DVR has absolutely destroyed my life. HBO. The Riches. The Office. Lost. Not to mention the NBA playoffs. And that doesn't even include the 10 hours of sleep I need a night.

Oh and of course this blog. What a pain in the ass. What the hell do you people want from me?

So yeah. I gotta find more time to spend at the tables.

Cause if I ain't spending my time at the tables, what the hell are we doing in Vegas?

It sure ain't to party.

Case in point: Friday night my wife and I found a cool Gelato store open in the suburbs at 10:45 PM and boy were we psyched. And as we're eating our dessert the thought occurs to me that if we're 10 years younger and living in Vegas on a Friday night we're probably going out to some club and who knows what other substances are involved.

But now in my late 30's I can go out on a Friday night and party with Gelato.

I mentioned DVR destroying my life. Part of my wasting time with television problem is also all the "On Demand" stuff available for free with our cable package here in Vegas. It sure didn't work that way in NY. But here I get to catch up on back episodes of shows like WEEDS and DEXTER .

I'm not sure how many of you watch DEXTER but Dexter is guy who is a serial killer. He also happens to work for the Police. But don't worry. Dexter is the "good kind" of serial killer. He only kills bad people who deserve it.

In many ways I feel like Dexter at the poker table.

I seek out the bad players. The players who deserve to lose their money.

Dexter does it for justice.

I do it for profit.

Every time I sit down at the poker table I look around for my next victim.

I figure out who I am going to try to play pots with.

This is more important to me than what cards I have.

If there's no one at the table I want to be in a hand with then it's a bad table.

That last sentence is worth repeating. If there's no one at the table I want to be in a hand with then it's a bad table.

You can read all the poker books. You can play for a million hours. Learn and study every move there is. But if there aren't weak opponents at your table then you really shouldn't be there.

Tonight was a Saturday so as usual I got to sit with some really bad players.

One strange feeling I experienced was it didn't feel good to win money from them.

I actually felt bad. These people have no idea how to play the game. They are giving their money away. Now I guess the way I'm supposed to frame it is they're visiting Vegas and they're either going to give their money to me or to the casino. So of course I need it more than the big corporate hotel does. But when someone reraises you on the river with their flush on a double paired board you gotta feel bad for them

That sort of play is nothing like I see on the weekday afternoons when it's just me and the rounders. At those tables no one is giving action.

But on this Saturday night at the MGM no one wants to fold. The guy to my left tells me he's already lost 10k this weekend. I get to watch him rebuy 3 times but before I can feel bad he reassures me that this costs him far less than playing craps in the pit.

For him poker is relaxation. A break from losing bigger money.

He played every hand which maybe could have been effective if he was raising. But he always just called preflop and then usually folded on the flop to any continuation bet.

I also won a decent sized pot from a woman to my right who bet every street with her underpair. I had top pair and when she showed her hand I actually felt bad. Damn sensitivity.

The other thing of poker interest that happened to me today was I got called out this afternoon for not talking enough.

Some loud guy wearing a pinky ring points to me midway through a hand and says "This guy hasn't said a word since he sat down."

I stared at him and smiled.

He then asked me if I spoke English.

I told him "I speak English a little."

Some experts say you want to be friendly at the table to make the people around you as comfortable as possible so that they'll play loose and bet and feel good about giving their money away but the truth is I like sitting there in silence.

I get my Zen on and being quiet helps me pass the time.

I've already heard all the conversations that occur at the poker table. They're not that interesting.

And inevitably anytime I get into a conservation at the table I get asked what I do for a living. Personally that question has always been tough to answer. It's part of why I liked hanging out in France a few years ago. No one ever asked me what I did. People there weren't immediately identified and stereotyped by their jobs the same way we do here.

The best answer I have is sometimes I tell people I'm a professional poker player.

That seems to get a lot of laughs at 1/2.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Vegas Fact #5

Vegas Fact #5
If you walk by a roulette table in Las Vegas the number 23 will be up on the board.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Mirage Event 1

Yesterday I played in Event 1 of the "Mirage Poker Showdown."

$550 to enter. 537 players. Top 45 get paid. 2000 starting chips.

First place not only wins you also get a free entry into the WPT Mirage 10k event that occurs in a week or two.

I see many familiar faces at all these $550 events. There's this lower level of "poker pro" that travels around from casino to casino playing in under 1k events. They were at the Wynn in February. They were at the Venetian in March. They were at the Bellagio and Caesars in April. And today they were here at the Mirage.

These lower buy in events also bring out a certain "party poker" kind of player that wants to get all his chips in the middle as soon as possible. I'm not sure if it's the low buyin that encourages this strategy. Or facing a big field. But these guys seem to think they need to acquire all the chips in the first hour and of course they all usually end up on the rail.

In the first orbit at my table, in the 4th hand we played, a guy raised the 25/50 blinds in early position with 10, Jack suited. Another guy in the blinds reraised him all in with pocket 6's.
That was sort of strange. One of those bets that's going to win him a couple of hundred chips most of the time. But knock him out of the tournament at least half the times he gets called.

And then the punchline was the first guy with the 10 jack calls the all in!

Yep. We're 10 minutes into this tournament and I'm watching pocket 6's race 10 jack.

The 10 jack guy wins the race. The pocket 6's guy gets knocked out and gets to go tell a story for the rest of the day about how someone called his all in with 10 jack.

Later in the first hour the 10 jack guy gets it all in with pocket aces against a gentleman holding 8, 10 on a king, 10, 2 board.

And of course the guy with 10, 8 calls the all in.


Because he has a feeling that an 8 is coming.

He really said that.

Out loud.


At least have a king there.

But 10,8?

So what happens?

An 8 comes on the river.

He he.

Tournament poker at the Mirage baby!

I've seen people exercise more patience in an online 5 dollar sit and go.

During the 2nd level I get moved to a new table. I win one decent sized pot. I bleed away some other chips calling preflop with small pairs desperately trying to catch set and end level 2 up to 2850 in chips.

One part of tournament poker that I've written about before is how aggressive or passive to play when the blinds are small and there's no need to take huge chances. I find it freeing when blinds are huge and you just have to go with a hand. But when blinds are smaller the decisions get trickier.

For example, what the hell do I do with a hand like pocket 10's under the gun when blinds are 25/50? I don't care so much about winning 75 chips. I want to hit a set and win a huge pot. So I often limp here. But then end up folding when overcards hit. Hence the bleeding.

Or what do I do with pocket 9's on the button after someone has raised it to 500 in that spot?
I don't want to fold such a strong hand in position. I don't want to call and hope I get lucky and hit a set since that won't happen very often. I don't want to raise and be in a position where I'm playing for all my chips this early with only pocket 9's.

So between the bleeding and a cold deck I drift all the way down to 1300 chips.

I double up with ace queen versus king queen. Ace queen is another decent example of the above point. I certainly don't want to go broke with ace queen when I have alot of chips. I'd fold ace queen to a reraise in a heartbeat. It's way too easy for someone else to have Ace king. Yet to small stack a hand like ace queen feels like a monster.

The gentleman who doubled me up on this hand had been raising too often in position. So when I saw the ace queen I felt I was way ahead. Calling with king queen was pretty bad in my opinion. He had limped preflop and thus didn't have much $ invested in the hand. If I'm pushing there I have to have king queen beat. At worst I have ace high. And it's likely he's dominated.

An orbit later later he raised again in position and I had ace queen again. So with pure joy and glee I came over the top and went all in on him again. He mucked this time but gave me the whole "Next time I'm going to call you speech."

I always wonder what's up with that speech. Is that really going to make me scared to raise him in the future? Am I supposed to thank him for the "free ride" this time?

That line was used on me 3 times yesterday. I told him the classic "I wanted you to call" but that felt so hack. At some point I'm going to come up with a clever response. What I really wanted to say was "Why did you fold? You didn't have king queen this time?"

The key hand for me on this afternoon (in terms of poker confidence) was soon after at 100/200 when I smooth called on the button with 3,4 suited. There were 5 of us seeing the flop.

The board came 2,3,5 and a big stack in the blinds fired out 500. There's 1500 in the middle. I have around 3500 chips in front of me. I have plenty of chips that I don't need to force anything. But at some point I have to get out there and get some ammunition. More importantly, what kind of hand could have that would want to play a big pot against me with?

If he has something like 4, 6 and woke up with a straight then I'm in alot of trouble. But if he doesn't have a straight I'm in pretty good shape. There are four aces and four 6's to make me a straight. I also think I win the hand if another 3 comes. Thus I assume I have 10 outs, twice. But more importantly, if I raise big here I don't think there are many hands he can call me with. He ain't calling with top pair.

And so I do it.

After taking a minute or so (which is an eternity for me, I play pretty quickly) I decide to raise. All in. He quickly folded.

Yes I win some chips here but more than that I break through mentally to the other side. When playing tournaments I need to get comfortable with the idea of elimination. It's only once I've gotten my feet wet that I can play correctly. Fearlessly. And as soon as I'm dragging in the chips from the pot I know this hand will help my play the rest of the day.

And it did. From now on I was raising most of the hands I played. I won multiple pots reraising preflop. By the time we complete level 4 and go on our second break I'm up over 6000 chips. We're down to 137 players. The average stack is 7800. I'm where I want to be.

Level 5 brings us to 200/400. I think the ante was still 25. I'm writing down notes for the blog and I sort of miss out on the action in a hand involving a dead button. I look up and start to argue that the blinds should be in a different spot. A player in the small blind disagrees with me. And while we're sorting this all out I get dealt pocket kings. I raise and throw out 1200 chips but somehow it feels like a steam raise.

I've just been arguing. I was wrong. And now I'm raising.

The guy who I just accused of trying to skip the big blind reraises me. We get all our chips in and I knock him and his ace queen out of the tournament. Maybe that whole sequence happens anyway. But part of me thinks he got more aggressive with his ace queen specifically because it was me raising after our encounter. It wasn't like he was short stacked.

Then a hand or two later I pick up ace king and knock a guy and his pocket 7's out the tournament. I'm starting to feel it. These are the kinds of hands I need to win to go far in this tournament. And so far today they're holding up. I suddenly have alot of chips.

I limp under gun with 9, 10 suited. Guy in middle position raises to 1200. Everyone else folds but with the blinds and antes included I'm now in a spot where I only need to risk 800 to win 2400 chips in the middle. And I got chips. Lets play.

Flop comes 9 high. Perhaps I should fire out a bet here. I do have top pair. And I can bet to test the waters. However the guy who raised to 1200 hasn't played a hand in an hour. And I was playing 9,10 suited to flop a straight or flush draw. Not top pair. So I check.

Tight guy bets out 2000. For me this was an easy fold. If I play this one to the end and he turns over a pocket pair bigger than 9's I won't be able to forgive myself. That's not how I want to give away my big stack. If he won the pot with ace king then good for him. I decide I'd rather use 2000 chips to try to win blinds and antes a couple of times.

(But back to earlier discussion- if I'm small stacked there boy am I psyched to get all of my chips in with top pair! Yet in same spot with plenty of chips I see no need to mess up my stack. There will be better opportunities.)

My table image was excellent. It seemed that I only ended up showing cards when I had big hands. No one ever saw any of the suited connected stuff. This all came to a head on a hand where I raised from middle position with 6,8 suited. It's one of those "gee I haven't played a hand in awhile" moments. I expect everyone to fold. But if I get called it's also a fun hand to see a flop with.

It gets folded around to the big blind. An older gentleman who starts asking me if I'm stealing.
He tells me that he can tell I either have a really big hand or nothing at all.

I ask "What?" and he repeats his speech to me.

What would I say if I held a big hand?

I say "Sir I'm bullying you. I'm stealing your blinds."

And he folded.

We finish level 6 and go on break 3. I have around 12k in chips after being up to 15k. However I went card dead near the end of the 300/600/75 level and gave some of the chips back. There are 68 players left.

Here's an interesting hand for those of you playing along at home.

Under gun guy limps. Second early position player goes all in. Then the player to my right in the cutoff seat goes all in. I look down on the button and see ace king.

What do I do?

I don't think this is such an easy call.

I want to be the aggressor in the hands I play. Just like the hand where I laid down the 9,10 top pair, I don't want to play a big pot against someone who has convinced me they are strong.

In this case I am scared of ALL 3 players. The first guy limped under guy which in some parts of the world still means he has aces. Second guy liked his hand enough to push. The third guy liked his hand enough to push EVEN AFTER SEEING THE ACTION in front of him.

These guys have around half my chips. So I can call here and my stack would double if I can beat both their hands. And if I call and lose I'm down to a danger zone of around 6k with blinds now at 400/800/75.

I also think that if 3 people have shown strong interest in playing a hand there's a decent chance that 1 or more of them is holding some of my outs. Like even if I'm dominating one of them (lets say the first all in guy has ace queen) I'm still losing an ace out against someone who has pocket queens here.

So I do the unthinkable. I muck ace king. There's got to be a better opportunity. (Yet another small stack vs big stack example. As a small stack I wouldn't be able to get my chips in there fast enough with ace king. Yet as medium stack to me this becomes a reasonable fold.)

And low and behold the players turn over their cards and one of them has ace king. We're taking each other outs and would only split the pot if we win.

And he didn't win the pot either. Queens did.

Now one of the main reasons I fold there is I want to be the aggressor not the caller. My chance came an orbit or two later. Early guy limps. Asher Derei sitting directly to my right also calls. I chatted a little bit with Asher and he seemed like a pretty nice guy. I was amused when he told me he was surprised that I'm from America. Even when I travel abroad people always assume I'm foreign.

So they both call the 800 blind in front of me and I look down and see pocket jacks. My time has come. This is exactly the kind of hand where I limp at 25/50. Yet at 400/800/75 with over 3000 chips in the middle I happily push my approximately 10k left in chips all in.

If the under gun limper has aces well then unlucky me.

But otherwise this is a very strong move. We're getting close to the bubble. There are 60 players remaining. My image is impeccable. Ace king probably isn't calling me here.

The blinds immediately fold. The under gun limper gives me the "next time I'm calling you" speech and folds. Asher tells me "good move" and folds. Guy to my left says "I don't think he just did that with 2,7."

This hand was significant though because I think it got personal with the under gun limper guy.

How else do you explain what happened a few hands later?

I'm under the gun and pick up pocket aces. Now normally I love to limp here. Just like everyone I love to limp hoping it gets reraised behind me. But one of the reasons I also limp is if it doesn't get reraised and we just have a bunch of limpers seeing a flop then it becomes much easier for me to let go of my aces post flop. I feel less attached to them. If I've entered the hand as the preflop raiser I'm compelled to bet the flop and suddenly I'm playing a big pot with only top pair.

But in this case I thought a raise was clever. I had just squeezed everyone out on the Jacks hand. I wanted it to seem like I was stealing. Like I was bullying. I'm happy to just win the blinds and antes there. We're going to the money soon. And of course if I get reraised I'm more than happy to be the bubble boy and play for all my chips.

So I make it 2500 from under the gun and the guy who I described as the "limper under gun" (from the previous Jacks hand) smooth calls my 2500 bet. Both blinds fold.

There is now close to 7k in the middle. We both have around 10 to 11k behind the line.

Flop is queen, queen, 2.

I have to act first.

What do I do?

I can fire out a smallish 3k bet. It's good news if he folds. If he calls I still have no clue where I'm at in the hand.

I can fire out a pot sized 7k bet. Same as above. Only difference now is I'm definitely committing my entire stack on the turn since I'd only have 3k left. In theory I could fold on the turn if I only bet 3k on the flop. I'm not saying I would. But I guess that would be a "positive" of betting smaller on the flop.

I can push my 10-11k all in. If he folds I'm happy to win the 7k in the middle and get up to a very healthy 17-18k. If he calls and I win I'm up all the way to 28ish. Obviously if he calls and I lose I'm out of the tournament.

I can also check the flop but for me that's only acceptable if I'm planning to fold here. Otherwise all that does is give him the chance to bluff me off the hand. And of course if he checks behind me and somehow hits a set on the turn I'd never forgive myself for giving him a free card.

Now aside from how much to bet the more important thing that's running through my head here is what is he holding. He has cards that he deemed worthy to call off 2500 preflop. That's a decent percent of his stack to call with near the bubble.

I don't necessarily put him on a queen. In fact it's my thinking is that unless he has quads he's unlikely to be holding a queen. Sure he could have ace queen. But even that's a hard hand to call 2500 with preflop because I could easily have ace king. Same thing goes for him calling me preflop with king queen. It's way too easily dominated.

I think it's far more likely he has a medium pair hand like: pocket 9's. Pocket 10's. Pocket jacks.

And if this is true and I bet it will be a tough spot for him. What does he do with jacks? Perhaps I have ace king and just bluffed at the queen, queen, 2 board. He might call here with a hand like that.

Thus I decide to put my chips in the middle. It almost looks desperate since I might check or bet small if I held the queen. I certainly don't think he's put me on pocket aces. I think he has no idea how strong I am here.

If he has pocket 2's I'm beat. And if he's holding one of the two remaining queens in the deck then I'm in big trouble as well. But otherwise I like my chances. Winning this pot and getting to either 17k if he folds, or 28k if he calls, will catapult me to big stack status.

I'm not here to make the money. I'm here to win 80k. I push.

What follows was sort of strange. He thinks about what to do for a minute which is a good sign. Then he calls which is fine by me. Then he tells me I'm drawing dead. Which of course I know is impossible. Like even if he has queen, 2 for a full house I can still win the pot with another ace.

And then after telling me I'm drawing dead he turns over....

Queen 9.

Hmmm. Where do I begin?

The real genius would have been if I held pocket 2's. Or even king queen.

But I'm not sure I can understand why he called me preflop with queen 9 there. Sure I understand that if he hits like he did he can win a big pot. I absolutely understand that part.

But risking 20% of his stack on a call near the bubble seems very strange to me.

And of course what the hell does he do on a queen, 5, 2 board? Do I win all his chips or does he shut down with top pair there?

The other thing I've been going over and over in my head is whether or not I can shut down in that spot when the board pairs on the flop.

On the one hand...I can check and fold there because I still have 10 thousand chips. It's the same amount I had before I pushed with the pocket jacks to jump up to 13k. It was plenty of chips to make the money. I wasn't feeling short stacked 5 minutes earlier with the 10k. Why should I feel short stacked now?

On the other hand I can't fold there because I can't just be folding my pocket aces anytime the board pairs. I estimated that there was less than a 25% chance he held a queen and I took that chance. I can't fold there because I'm trying to win this tournament (and win 80k) and winning a hand like this is what is necessary to win a tournament. Folding this hand means I can sneak my way into the money and make a couple of hundred bucks. And if I never get another decent hand to play and bleed away my chips I'm looking back on it and thinking damn I play weak.

So this was a tough one to stomach. Sure there comes a time in tournaments when you get all your chips in there and if you're beat, you're beat. But I absolutely hated getting all my chips in there with the worst hand and only two outs. That's 7.5 hours of hard work down the drain with one bad hand.

I'm also sick of writing bad pocket aces stories. That's how two of my April Caesars tourneys ended. And I can remember whining here about losing money at cash games with them as well.

Walking out of the Mirage yesterday I thought to myself that poker is all about getting up off the mat and coming back the next day and playing well again.

And of course having deep pockets.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

The Smallest Game in Town

Well one thing is for sure.

Absolutely no one was bluffing me last night at the MGM Grand.

That' right.

I can assure you that.

Because I called every single one of those sucker's river bets.

And every single time they had me.

I'm only half kidding here.

I really did way too much calling on the river. But it wasn't because I thought they were all bluffing me. It was just one of those nights where I kept having the second best hand.

I did 8 consecutive hours at a 1/2 no limit table which was a pretty long session for me.

There's alot of ego involved in poker. And part of me feels ashamed to be sitting at a 1/2 table. Like what kind of professional player is sitting at the lowest stakes? Yet I guess part of the reason I can call myself professional is because I am managing to stay in the game. The fact that I haven't gone broke (yet). Hence the 1/2.

But I mention all this ego stuff because last night Lowell Kim was sitting at my 1/2 table with me. I have no idea if he is more experienced than me or how good he is. But I recognized his name and googled him when I came home and it turns out that the reason it was familiar to me is that he made $329,865 coming in 28th in last year's WSOP Main Event.

His name was also familiar because I knew a woman in college named Kim Lowell.

But back to Lowell Kim- if he can sit at 1/2 I guess so can I. You get to sit with bad players. And of course you can still make a grand in an evening at 1/2. But obviously without the risk of losing a grand. Interesting that the money level you play in poker has nothing to do with your skill level. Just your bankroll.

As for my night I was up and down alot. My stack kept fluctuating and the psychology of winning and losing continues to fascinate me to no end. Most players play better when winning .

I kept noticing last night how my entire point of view of how the evening and my life was going was based on my stack size and what happened immediately before.

For example it hurt to be down 30 bucks after an hour because I had been up 70 pretty quickly after sitting down. But then after falling down 170 it felt great to comeback and "only" be down 60 later on.

Later on I jumped up to +200 and felt like the genius I am . But after I gave 125 of it back and was "only" up 75 bucks I sat there beating myself up. What the hell am I doing with my life?

Then I lost a big pot and dropped back down to below starting point, Now I felt sick. How could I give away my profit? Shouldn't I have walked away?

But then after going back up 150 I remembered what a genius I am.

Now I can sit here and pretend I didn't feel these things. But I did. And I need to fix this.


Each decision at the table has to live in a vacuum. I can't call or fold or raise based on the fact that I'm up or down. Yes the information of how I'm doing effects the players around me but personally I gotta let go of the results. It doesn't matter if I'm up or down. I just need to play correctly for that moment in time.

And that's what makes poker so hard.

My other personal criticism is that I still need to be more aggressive. I'm glad I know it. I'm glad that it pains me to play weakly. It's great that I can recognize it. But I need to act on that. There were a few hands last night where I absolutely knew I needed to raise and didn't. And that ain't too cool.

Meanwhile I also gotta mention one of the worse plays I've seen at a poker table since moving out here. Enjoy this one: Board was 4 to the flush on the turn. There's a bet. A call. And then one of the guys exposes his cards. He thinks the hand is over. He doesn't realize that we still have a river.

The guy who exposes his cards shows pocket 9's. One of his 9's is a diamond to go with the four diamonds we see on the board. Okay. He has a 9 high flush.

River comes. A blank. Now the guy who has exposed his 9 high flush has to act first. He has around $150 in front of him and there's around $50 in the pot.

What does he do?

He bets $50.

This pains me to watch. Why make this bet? There's no way it can be called.

If his opponent has no diamond bigger than 9 then he's going to fold. So betting the $50 won't gain anything. But if his opponent has a diamond bigger than 9 he's now going to raise. And of course he can also raise to try to bluff our hero. Obviously this is a hard decision for the hero once he gets raised. But why put 50 bucks out there before you have to make it?

So of course the way life works, the opponent reraises all in. Again he might be bluffing. He might not. But either way that 50 buck bet did nothing.

Our hero calls and the other guy shows his ace of diamonds. Gulp.

Meanwhile rather than bore you with the details of the ugliness of my evening, let me describe one hand that actually went well.

I picked up pocket kings in blinds. Preflop guy raises to 15. I call.

Flop is 2,3,4. I check. He bets 30. I call.

Turn is a 4.

He bets 60. I make it 160. He calls.

I think I have the best hand. I certainly don't put him on a 4 or a straight or anything in that world. I'm hoping he has something like pocket jacks.

River is a 2.

Without hesitation I reach for the rest of my chips and shove them in.

Now here is where this gets strange. Because I assumed he has to call here. My all in was like 150 bucks. There was alot more than that in the middle.

What hand could he call my raise with on the turn that wouldn't also be worthy of a river call?

Yes I was in the blinds. Yes I "could" have a 2 or 4 or straight. But he already knew that when he called the bet on the turn.

So he's sitting there trying to decide whether to make a great call or a great fold. And he shows his cards to the people sitting at his end of the table. To show them what a tough decision he has.

And that's when it hits me.

He has aces.

He has aces and wants to make a great laydown. Meanwhile I've been exuding extreme confidence this whole hand because I really thought my kings were good. Suddenly it occurs to me that they aren't good. But what matters here is that he still needs to think they are. So I go back to pretending that he has pocket jacks.

He mucks and shows me the aces.

Since he showed I ask if he wants to see. But looking back on it I wish I didn't show. I didn't need to show everyone how well I played. Better to let them wonder.

The real lesson from this hand is the power of aggression at the poker table. The cards didn't matter. By taking the lead with the betting I was able to win the pot. And too many other hands went South because I didn't get aggressive. I was too willing to show down.

Friday, May 04, 2007

You want free money or you want Bobby?

Thanks to my friend Matt G. we were hooked up last night with passes to go see the Las Vegas premiere of the movie "Lucky You."

The film wasn't exactly Rounders 2. Someone still needs to make the next great poker movie. But the evening was fun as all the icons were in attendance. Doyle and Todd Brunson. Daniel Negreanu. Mike Matusow. John Juanda. Patrick Antonius. Greg Raymer.

It was kind of like being at poker camp.

The best part of the evening was sitting in movie theater directly in front of Mike Sexton. If you watch the World Poker Tour you know his voice is just so damn distinctive and it kept cracking me up to listen to him to talk.

At one point Eric Lindgren wandered over to Sexton and invited him to come play golf the next morning.

Eric Lindgren: "Me, Ivey and Negreanu are going out tomorrow at 11 AM."

Mike Sexton: "I'm supposed to go out at 11 with Bobby."

Eric Lindgren: "Well you want free money or you want Bobby?"

Forget about poker.

If I'm going to make money in this town I need to work on my golf game.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Mini Pai Gow

A few weeks ago I mentioned playing in a Bellagio tournament seated with Joe Awada and David Singer. At some point during the action Awada asked Singer how he'd been doing.

Singer told him he'd cashed the day before.

Awada told Singer he couldn't play that day because he'd had a big meeting at work. Said he has a company that invents casino games and I think he said he sold a new one to a casino.

The guy next to Awada asks "What game did you invent?"

I'm glad to hear this question. I'm curious too.

After all it seems hard to come up with new games for a casino.

Must be like trying to come up with a new drink. You figure most of the alcohol combinations have been tried and tested over time and that if certain things actually tasted good together we'd already be drinking them.

Like how come no one drinks Vodka and Coke? I can't say it tastes bad. I've never tried it.

But if it tasted good wouldn't some bar already have it on their drink menu?

Although you know what hasn't been invented.

And by invented I mean no one is making money off of it yet...

"Up Hold Em."

Up Hold Em is Texas Hold Em with all the cards dealt face up so you can see everyone's hand at the table.

Don't worry. Your opponent will still call you with improper pot odds even though he can see his draw is an underdog to your made hand.

Seriously. Next time you're hanging out with some buddies deal out Texas Hold Em with all the cards face up. Even though you can see the guy across from you has pocket 8's, you're still gonna call him preflop with your queen 10. Just in case the flop looks good.

And before you know it the guy in the big blind starts calling with 4 7 off just because nothing is more fun than winning a pot with the worst hand preflop.

This is how orgies start.

So Awada said he invented a game called Mini Pai Gow.

And how is Mini Pai Gow different from Pai Gow?

Well normally in Pai Gow you get 7 cards.

In Awada's Mini Pai Gow game apparently you only get 6.

It's Pai Gow with 15% less fat.

If I was Awada I would have named this game "Almost Pai Gow."

Because you are still getting 6 out of your 7 cards. You're still getting 85% of the cards of Pai Gow. It's almost the same game.

I don't want to tell Joe Awada how to run his business but if I was gonna call a game "mini pai gow" I wouldn't let the players see more than 2 cards.

To me that's Mini Pai Gow.

I'd also make sure all the dealers were under 5 feet tall.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Loudest Guy must be the Smartest

I hear poker players complain a lot about how much they hate to play with bad players. What these complainers really want is predictability. They want the better hand to win. They want the worst hand to correctly fold to a raise when not getting proper pot odds.

And of course when they get outdrawn by a bad player it's easy to understand why these people feel this way. However if you're playing thousands of hands you learn to love bad players.

They are where your profit comes from.

I think there are two types of bad players. There are people who simply don't know the game well. And there's nothing wrong with that. They have no clue what kind of hand or what kind of odds they need to call a bet. And so they play randomly. And that's fine.

But my favorite bad player is the guy who not only makes incorrect decisions, he's also the guy who lectures everyone else at the table about what they should have done. Sometimes these guys are so wrong, so insane, so utterly ridiculous that I assume they must be kidding. But most of the time they really mean it.

These guys are so damn entertaining that I've spent some time thinking about how emulating them might actually make me money. This type of player often puts people on tilt. (Think: Phil Hellmuth.) Other players get scared of his wrath and so they start playing tighter. And this is good for the bad player. Especially since he often has the worse cards and can only win the pot if you fold.

And there is method to his madness. Once in awhile the bad player hits the flop perfectly and takes down your monster and you're wondering what the hell happened.

My bad player character will play any ace in any position. My character will tell everyone they play poorly. My character will misquote facts. My character will always insist my hand was the favorite. My character will assume the role of table captain and tell the dealer how to do his job. And of course my character will tell everyone else how they should have played their hand whether or not I'm even involved in the pot. It doesn't matter. I might not even wait till the hand is over if there's something I need to say.

I played with one of these guys over the weekend and all I can say is "WOW."

Now it's one thing to do this sort of thing early in a session to give off the impression that you're a loose player. Then you can tighten up and trap the people who are paying attention to the crap you've been playing.

But not this guy. He played this way the entire time he was at the table.

He routinely came in for a raise under the gun with any ace. Ace 9 off was the best hand I saw him show. But he also played ace 8 and ace 6 from that position.

He reraised from the blinds 50% of the time. Not sure why he wanted to play all these hands out of position but that was his style.

I was paying close attention. And the more I watched him the more I was dying to play a hand with him.

Early on he won a big pot holding jack deuce suited. But more importantly he had raised this hand preflop. Unless he was trapping me, this hand showed that he'd raise preflop with any two cards.

He was seated to my left. In a perfect world he'd be on my right so that I could make my decisions after seeing whether or not he raised.

But being to his right I adapted by usually just limping preflop. Then I sat back and let him do the betting for me.

We played a bunch of hands together. And the best part was that our cards got progressively worse.

The first hand I called his river bet with two pair. It was a scary looking board (9, 10, jack, queen) but he seemed to flinch when the queen came on the river which made me think he was pissed off that perhaps I had hit a straight. And if he's scared of a straight then my two pair (ten jack) looked good. He had ace 9.

The second hand I called his river bet with top pair lousy kicker. Cards that I wouldn't even be playing with against a normal player. He had a busted flush draw.

The third hand I beat his ace high with bottom pair. This really pissed him off. He lectured me good after this one. And I took his verbal beating silently.

What was I gonna say? "Sir you keep betting when you miss. That's why I called."

The 4th hand I held 3 6 suited. The board was something like king, jack, 9, 7, 3. He made his usual river bet. I figured that one of these times he has to have it. So I folded.

Then he proudly showed me his bluff.

This guy was too good.

On our next hand I called a river bet with middle pair. It wasn't even that I was sure I had him beat but there was too much money in the middle and I was pot committed.

As I pushed my chips out he simply threw his cards into the muck.

And the final hand of the night I called his all in with king high.

Yes. Me. The tightest player in Las Vegas called a river bet with king high.

It feels crazy to type that.

And what did he show?

He didn't.

He threw his hand into the muck.