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.