Monday, September 03, 2007

15/30 at the Bellagio

I played a pretty long session of 15/30 at the Bellagio this weekend. I fell down a deep hole early due to a flurry of ugliness. I won most of it back over the next 8 hours. The result wasn't that great but I really liked what I saw at the table.

I will be back for more 15/30 at the Bellagio. I'd even go so far as to say that the 30/60 game looked pretty damn good. Almost easier than the 15/30 game. I saw more grinder types at 15/30. Playing one or two hands an hour. At the 30/60 table behind me I kept witnessing 4 or 5 players seeing flops.

The Bellagio is just so full of money. There's some money at the Wynn or Venetian but not like this. It's can be startling to walk through the Bellagio poker room and see how big some of the games are. High levels spread all over the place and these huge mountains of chips. And these are the lower level tables. This isn't the separate high rollers section in the back right of the room. Or "Bobby's Room" enclosed in glass in the back middle.

So the good news is I finally found the money. Now I just gotta figure out how to take it.

I was on a mission to play limit. Most no limit players like myself usually find something less stimulating about switching to limit play. The high of the huge raise is missing. The guessing game isn't as intense. One big mistake isn't as costly. It's much more about the cards and pounding your bets. But what I learned this weekend is limit poker is alot of fun when you play it at higher limits. Suddenly each bet matters again.

For me that meant stepping up to 15/30 where I could easily win or lose a grand in a session.

When I play 3/6 or 4/8 it's usually a couple of hundred bucks swing either way.

But with 15/30 pretty much any hand I took to showdown was gonna cost me $105 minimum. (30 preflop + 15 flop + 30 turn + 30 river = $105). And that's not including the reraises that occur on most flops and turns. Thus it's alot of fun to look down at your 2 hole cards and decide whether or not to take this 100 to 150 dollar ride. If nothing else it sure makes it easier to fold borderline hands.

My $105 example at 15/30 comes out to 3.5 big bets. That's the typical cost of showdown. If you're playing 3/6 that same 3.5 bets is only 21 dollars. You don't notice it as much.

If you're playing 150/300 then 3.5 big bets is $1050. At 4000/8000 it's $28,000.

But it's still just 3.5 big bets. Financially it's all just zeros.

Once you look at it this way, the game is simple. Play correctly. And be properly bankrolled.

At 3/6 it's often hard to find a reason to fold. It's only 3 or 6 bucks. How do you not see a flop?

And in the past I've talked myself into bad calls with logic like "I have position." Or "This guy who raised is loose and playing too many hands." And of course the classic "I think I'm getting pot odds."

But at 15/30 when someone raises it up to 30 preflop, and your bankroll matters to you, it gets expensive to cold call too often. Actually even if you got money to burn, most hands aren't good enough to cold call a raise preflop. There are plenty of hands you might reraise with but you don't really want to be cold calling too often.

Of course the other problem with playing low level limit is that the results are usually not very dramatic.

(Except for the same 4 dollar rake. That really stuck out to me as a reason to step up in levels. They're taking $4 out of my 60 dollar pot at 3/6. I'm pretty sure they were only taking $4 out of my $300 pot at 15/30. It's pretty clear what the better deal is.)

At 3/6 if I win 15 big bets in a session I walk away with 90 dollars which is basically insignificant. But take that same session over to 15/30 and it's a $450 gain. And while $450 is certainly not life changing, it's definitely a much more worthwhile use of my time.

Best of all I think playing higher stakes motivates me to play better. Because it matters.

There's much more raising and much less limping as you go up in levels. The players I find the toughest to play against are the ones who never cold call. The players who either raise or fold.

I used to fear them. Now when facing them in a hand I've learned to embrace the experience.
I am supposed to reraise but quite often I just hold on and call them down. They're not afraid to fire out 3 bullets even when they've missed the board entirely. And so I let them.

This is what makes stepping up in limits difficult. Like lets say I've raised from middle position preflop with pocket 9's and the big blind calls. The flop comes 5,10, jack. It gets to checked to me and I bet, but then get check raised from the big blind. What do I do now? Give it up? Call him down? Reraise back?

What this 15 dollar reraise really represents is 75 dollars. That's gonna be the price to call him here and then his bets on turn and river. And so it becomes a big decision when it occurs over and over again throughout the course of an evening.

At 3/6 it only costs 15 dollars to call someone down here. But at 15/30 it's 75 bucks a mistake. And those $75's add up quickly if you're a bad player. So you really need to distinguish which players are capable of this bluff check raise and which players are just REALLY trying to tell you that they have top pair jack.

One of the players at my table this weekend was Hal Lubarsky who was recently featured in ESPN's coverage of the WSOP main event.

Hal can't see. He has a buddy who sits next to him and looks at Hal's hole cards each hand and whispers the information into Hal's ear.

And then the buddy does play by play announcing of the rest of the hand.
"The turn is the 4 of spades. Seat 7 checks Seat 9 bets. Seat 2 folds. The action is to you."

It's fascinating to play with someone who has a disability.

You might remember when I played William Rockwell in July he played tight, I got no cards and we basically stayed out of each other's way.

But Hal liked to play alot of hands.

And so it was inevitable that I ended up in a bunch of hands with him.

Hal and his buddy were real good together.

It occurred to me that they held a huge edge.

Playing against the two of them was a unique situation for me.

But for them playing me and the rest of the table is exactly what they're used to.

It's kind of like if you're a boxer and you've only fought right handed fighters. And then they throw you in the ring with a left hander. And suddenly the big punch is coming from the other side. There's definitely a period of adjustment.

I can admit that at first I was distracted. It was absolutely fascinating to watch a blind man play poker. Talk about a poker face. And it was real hard to put him on a hand.

In fact Hal check raised me twice on the first hand we played together. You'd think I would have checked the turn after he check raised me on the flop. But no. I wanted to get a bet in. And he made it two bets. I made the good fold and he showed me his good cards which only made me think he was going to be up to something later on.

This intuition seemed on target as he began raising too many hands. I called Hal down with middle pair. I thought he'd fire away with nothing and this strategy worked out when he instantly mucked his cards after I called his river bet.

Hal and his accomplice pose an interesting situation for poker. The rule has always been clearly "one man to a hand." I completely support Hal's right to play. Perhaps the way to do it is with braille cards. Or to put something on each card that identifies itself electronically. Kind of like whatever they put on items that get checked out at a store.

With either of these suggestions my goal is to eliminate the part of the present equation where Hal has his friend whispering in his ear.

This is the only part of the experience that seemed unnecessary to me.

And trust me. Hal doesn't need this kid whispering in his ear. Hal doesn't need help. Hal knows how to play. But I still think resolving how a blind man can play poker without having someone whisper in his ear would be a good thing for poker.

Meanwhile before he left the table, Hal checkraised me a third time.

Once shame on him. Twice shame on me. But three times?

This final time it almost cost him. He checked the turn and gave me a free card when I had up to possibly 20 outs. And then he check raised the river with his big pair. Too bad I missed.

Perhaps I am advancing as a poker player because I had no issues at all about drawing out and taking a blind man's money.

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