Wednesday, October 31, 2007

One Hand Is Better Than No Hands

I played a four hour session last night and on only one occasion did the dealer push the pot to me at the end of the hand. One.

I had 8, 10 suited. The hand of champions.

I flopped the flush draw cause I'm popular.

Turned the open ended straight draw.

And hit on the river.

See how easy poker is?

This hand occurred at the 3 hour and 18 minute mark of my session and doubled me up right as I was on the border of feeling sorry for myself.

My 600 stack had bled down to 242. Minus 348.

This one hand brought me back up to 535.

That was the good news.

The bad news is it would be my entire earnings for the night. This one pot.

He he.

I finally left 45 minutes later without winning another hand.

And maybe Vegas is getting to me because I'm about tell you that I felt good about the session.

I know I got no cards.

I had very little opportunity.

But the big difference between now and a year ago, is a year ago I would have lost my entire stack trying to make something happen and afterwards blamed it on the deck.

Now I accept that getting past cold streaks like this without losing alot of money is completely my responsibility. No one cares that the deck was cruel.

So yes I lost money on the night. But I maintained a decent amount of chips. Enough to come back with and play again tomorrow. And whether it's the next day or this weekend at some point situations will go right for me. And poker will seem easy again.

I woke up this morning real grateful it didn't go worse.

I could have won no hands.

Monday, October 29, 2007

To Speak Or Not To Speak?

When I walked into the Bellagio poker room Sunday night the host said "Hey look who's back."

"Robert for 2/5" I said.

"The guy who is always causing trouble."

The host laughed at his joke because in the poker room I never cause trouble.

It's out of the question. I wait for my seat. I don't say a word.

I'm a good neighbor at the table. I pay attention. I point out errors. I'm a witness.

Sure maybe I fold out of turn once a month but other than that I am part of the solution. And when I'm not involved in a hand I try to keep my mouth shut.

Why not? Being quiet seems to work for guys like Cunningham and Ivey. Their chips and bets say plenty.

So of course what happens to me Sunday night?

An hour into my session I'm chastising another player for what I felt was bad etiquette on his part. Afterwards I had mixed feelings.

I was proud of myself for speaking up. I said my piece and got my point across. Yet it's rare I engage in conflict like that at the table so it sure stood out to me. Here's what happened.

Our table was real wild. Regardless of bet size, there were usually multiple callers. It was common for 5 or 6 people to call a 35 dollar raise preflop.

Everyone had a stack larger than 500 when I sat down. I had no idea how everyone could be "up" at the table since the buy in was supposed to be 500 max.

What I soon figured out was that a few of the guys were definitely not up but repeatedly buying in for 500 over and over again. There sure were alot of chips on the table for a 500 max game.

The best part was it didn't matter if you hadn't played a hand in an hour. You could still open it up for 25 under the gun and get 4 callers. The action was absolutely unbelievable. I was in the right place.

One guy across from me was openly frustrated by the number of players seeing these multi-way flops. As if this made it a bad table. How could he not appreciate getting paid off like this?

Even on the slower hands someone would raise to 15. And then once one or two people called the next thing you knew there would be 7 players seeing the flop with 100 bucks in the middle. Putting this much money in the middle preflop really encourages the chips to fly around. There is definitely something worth fighting for.

I was up 500 and cruising along when I played a big pot with top pair because I felt strongly I was ahead of my opponent.

And indeed he did put his 227 stack into the middle bluffing with bottom pair. And I called down because that is what I do when I sense weakness. I am willing to be wrong but if I flop something and don't believe the other player I am going to trust the read.

I was in such great shape here to win this nice beautiful pot. And yet his two outer came on the river to give him trips.

It turns out he only had two outs because the cards that would give him two pair would also give me a straight. Damn I had him trapped. Oh well. Good play. Bad result.

His hitting the two outer was obviously tiltillating.

After the hand he says to me "I'd rather be good than lucky."

Why do people say that? It's really obnoxious when you've just lost a big pot to hear that. I guess people say it because they're embarrassed to have won?

I didn't say anything back. Nor did I say anything an hour later when he lost his whole stack to a runner runner flush. Boy was I dying to reference his earlier saying and discuss luck with him then.

After losing with the jacks to the 7's I was still up over 200 but admittedly sort of disturbed when I picked up pocket aces the very next hand.

It was almost too perfect because here I was feeling true tilt feelings. I could channel them on this hand. The guy to my right makes it 40 dollars to go. I raise to 120. You know sometimes I like to just call here but not at this table. A call will just start another parade of 40 dollar calls behind me. I bet 120.

It gets folded around to this 50 something alpha male sitting in the blinds. He's the table expert. He's been friendly with our most recent dealer, mainly complaining to him about how bad our play is,

On this particular hand the villain folds to my raise but as he throws his cards into the muck he needs to show how smart he is.

He looks towards me and says "I folded as quickly as you put your chips into the pot."

It's up to the player to my right who raised initially under the gun.

He thinks for a moment. Stares at me. It's one of those 50/50 moments. Either I have aces. Or I'm on tilt. Both are believable.

He decides it must be aces and folds.

Now here's the thing. I think that this guy was going to fold with or without the villain's comments about how quickly I bet my hand.

But I still don't think he should have been saying anything at all at that moment.

Fold your hand.

Don't explain to the table why you folded your hand. Especially while it is still going on.

Like even if I play devils advocate and argue that it didn't matter what he said, I still think he should respect the game enough to be silent in that spot.

How does a game of poker benefit from a player explaining why he is folding his hand when there are still players left to act in the hand?

The answer is it doesn't benefit the game. Nor me. And so I let off some of my steam in his direction.

"I want to thank you for not discussing the hand while it was in progress."

"I didn't discuss your hand. I discussed the way you bet your chips" he says.

"And obviously that has nothing at all to do with my hand." I said.

"I didn't discuss your hand. Just your bet."

"And my bet has nothing at all to do with what cards I'm holding. Why would it?"

It felt like someone ran into my goalie or hit my quarterback late and I was going to stand up to them for my teammate. Call them out on their behavior.

It wouldn't change anything about the hand or what happened but it would send a message. Hopefully he would keep quiet in the future. And perhaps an unintentional benefit was showing him I wasn't scared to stand up to him.

Most of all I was happy to mentally let go of it on the spot. Once I said what I said I was done with it. Emotionally speaking the experience was very healthy. I got it off my chest and moved on.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

I Guess Money Really Does Change People

I played at Caesars Palace Friday night with friends from NYC.

Pictured below is my man A.C.

You know how OJ has Al Cowlings? Well this is Andy Cohen. He would never ask to be written about but he's a good guy to know if you're ever driving down the 405 with a gun in the car and a bunch of LA's finest behind you.

The photo above was taken moments before A.C. won a big hand with quad 9's. He managed to get paid on every street. In the above photo A.C. still has his innocence. He still has that sparkle in his eye.

Contrast that with A.C. again only maybe 20 minutes later.

Can you see the difference? Can you tell what he has lost and who he has become?

Snooty. Obnoxious. Judgmental.

We all just want the pre-quads A.C. back. What happened to that guy?

That guy was hopeful.



But post quads all we get is this guy.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

More Aggression.

One thought I've had this week is to relax more when I raise.

I don't need to pretend that I have a big pair every single time I push chips towards the middle.

Instead lets think of raising as a guessing game.

I just raised you preflop. You've seen me raise X% of my hands.

Do I have anything?

In the past I've probably worried too much about what my opponents think.

Almost like I'm sitting there trying to convince the table that I must have a big pair because I raised. It feels too serious. Too focused. And since I'm not raising enough preflop it becomes way too big of a deal when I do raise.

I blame this on my mainly playing tournaments for the first couple years of poker. As the blinds climb late in those tournaments it's often all in or fold. So there isn't too much speculating with suited connectors and small pairs. You're committed to a hand or you aren't.

But in cash poker the blinds never go up. This makes two things true:

1- You can tighten up. Blinds are never going up. Fold till you find something.

2- You can loosen up. Many more hands become playable. Raise and see what happens.

This week I tried to raise more and see what happened.

If I'm in there raising 3 out of every 10 hands then OBVIOUSLY I don't have a big pair each time. The big difference was granting myself permission. I didn't sit there and pretend I had a big pair. Regardless of if I did.

And that's why I'm reframing raising as a guessing game. If raising is not a guessing game then I become too easy for my opponent to read.

One way I've created a guessing game in the past is simply to always limp or call preflop. This also disguises my hand. It's great for trapping but the obvious drawback is that I'm giving my opponent the ability to control the betting of the hand. It also forces me to make some real tough calls or folds. Not fun. Better to be the aggressor.

At this point I'd much prefer to wear a t-shirt or carry a megaphone that announces to the table that I'm going to raise more hands than a player should.

I want them to know my starting hand requirements aren't tight enough. I want them to give me action. This is how I can make money.

And if my opponents aren't sure if I have 5,6 suited or ace king then they have no clue where they stand on the flop.

Anything is possible.

Bringing more aggression to my game has been a gradual process. Constant adjustments. I'm too tight. I'm too loose. Combine this with the fact that the game is always changing. The players we sit with. The books they read. The moods they're in. The cards we're dealt.

Feel seems to be the greatest skill in poker.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Raising Good

I had an enjoyable session last night in terms of switching gears. Kept mixing my style up. I probably played more hands than usual but more importantly I raised way more often and it felt so freaking good.

This style served me well. And just when my raising seemed to have gotten on everyone's nerves and no one believed me anymore, I picked up pocket aces, bet the whole way, and got paid off. In those moments poker seems so easy.

Playing more aggressively definitely confuses people. The less experienced players don't want to play hands with you. They stay away unless then have a monster.

More experienced players will come along for the ride but they're forced to play a guessing game each time I bet.

The most entertaining part was betting way more hands than usual and yet people seeming to believe me more.

Some of the harsh poker moments I've experienced over the past week have turned out to be helpful. Certain weaknesses in my game were exposed and if I'm going to lose money it's wonderful to receive a lesson from it.

Having a few losing sessions definitely led me to me do some deeper thinking. The education continues. Two steps forward, one step backwards. Over and over again.

There are so many things in poker that take years to sink in. I might know the correct play in a spot but it still takes years for me to understand deep down in my bones why I am doing what I am doing.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

I've Had Finer Weeks

"Hey we’re all coming from a different direction and sometimes it doesn’t get in sync."
-Vic Ferrari

Tonight was frustrating in that I managed to lose money and don't even have a good story to tell.

I'm still not feeling incredibly sharp at the table this week.

The breaks aren't going my way either.

My most memorable hand was holding queen 10 suited with a flush draw on queen high flop. I hit a ten on the turn to improve to two pair with my draw. But then a king came on the river and my opponent who stuck around for some reason with her ace jack hits the gutshot. Not too much I can do there.

The only good news is when she raised on the river she executed a string bet and so I only lost what I initially bet. I didn't have to sit there and ponder the call.

Meanwhile things might be getting more hectic. The foreclosed home we are renting gets auctioned in a week.

Of course it does. Why wouldn't it?

When I filled out the rental application ten months ago the owner asked me for financial information so he could conduct a credit check.

It never occurred to me that in this Vegas housing bubble maybe I should have asked him for the same.

Emotionally and mentally I need to ignore this problem. I must go sit at the table and play good poker for as many hours as I can handle.

Everything else will work itself out.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


Being a poker player sometimes feels like being a hockey goalie.

No one notices when you are doing your job. Only your mistakes get magnified.

After all when a goalie is stopping shots everything is status quo. We might not even appreciate a scoreless tie. No one has scored. No one is winning.

But then eventually a shot goes past one of the goaltenders.


Everything has changed. The goaltender has finally made an error.

All the shots he has stopped before do not count now.

Now all that matters are the shots he does not stop.

Can you guess that I had a rough night?

I feel like a goaltender who gave up a couple of really bad goals and cost his team the game.

I'm not sure what led to my poor play.

I suppose it could be the sugar rush from these Flintstones Vitamins I started taking a couple of days ago.

The only silver (gray?) lining to all this is that by playing poorly tonight I was able to see how disciplined I've played over the past six weeks.

I gave up my first goal around an hour into the session.

For some reason I took a stand against the player seated directly to my right.

Well sure there was a reason.

He was on tilt.

But it wasn't a great reason.

Especially once the board paired with a 5,5,10 flop.

I had the 10 so I was beating alot of hands here. Except the obvious 5 for trips.

He overbets the turn firing 25 into a 20 dollar pot. I'm either way ahead or way behind. I call. He's on tilt. One of those guys that will fire at the river and then muck when you call.

A harmless looking river card appears. There's 70 in the middle. He bets 105.

This bet represents the exact same thing it did on the turn. It's still either a big bluff or a great value bet. And I say great value bet because I am seriously considering calling him here.

Many nights this is an easy fold for me. But I had just watched him go through poker hell. He'd been playing wildly for the past 30 minutes. Anything was possible here.

I'm not usually interested in calling a 105 dollar bet on the river unless I know I'm ahead. I can fold and move on. No need to fight this battle.

But he hooked me in with his acting. He looked scared. He looked like he didn't want the call. I fell for it. I confirmed this later on when I caught him flinch in pain on a hand where he flopped a set.

I'm not used to giving away money like this.

So this was a bad call for me. If I really sniff something out then I have no problem with me making a big call. But in this spot I never really knew where I was at. I basically decided that because he was on tilt there was no way he could have a 5. And that wasn't a good enough read. I think the money lost here is me trying a little too hard to make a great call.

This hand must have put me on some level of tilt because soon after I decide to gamble with suited connectors. I flop the flush draw and on a queen high board reraise all in against a player holding pocket jacks.

What's fun about this hand and this moment is that if I knew she had pocket jacks then I absolutely love my reraise here. She bet 60 on the flop to see where she was at and I came over the top and made it 200. Incredibly she called.

Alot of players would lay down jacks on a queen high board. Especially when a tight player like me reraises. But in hindsight I don't think this player was good enough to fold.

And what kills me about her call here is most of the time I will be able to beat pocket jacks in this spot. So the fact that she called with jacks on a queen high board made her seem like a good opponent to be playing against.

My flush didn't come on turn or river and chips were lost.

I don't hate how I played this hand. What concerns me is that it came on the heels of the previous hand so it sure smells like tilt.

And when a move like this doesn't work it becomes real easy to question why I did it. It's not like I'm in there raising with alot of hands. If I were playing more aggressively then maybe it's great to get it all in on a draw. Steamroll the table.

But I'm not sitting here raising and giving action. I'm playing tight. And when I play this style of poker I don't need to chase draws. I can chase draws. But I don't need to. I can pick my spots.

And just like that I gave up another goal.

This time I got up and took a walk.

I looked in my wallet and took out two more hundred dollar bills.

We've been through this routine before. I'll start over and run it back up to even.

Who knows? Maybe even make a profit. And then we can pretend that all this bad stuff never happened.

In my first hand when I sit back down it gets raised up to 45 after a bunch of limp straddlers. I have ace king. Nice. Lets bump it up. I'm all in baby. Woo hoo. Vegas! Who's your daddy? College! Lets party!

I'm plenty happy to take down the 70 bucks or whatever is in the middle.

I'm happy to race a small pair.

I'm happy to face a non pair.

Double me up or send me home!

I get called by a pocket pair but flop trip aces and just like that, my stack is up to 476. I'm only down 124 despite not impressing anyone with my play tonight.

Around a half hour later my stack climbs over the 500 mark. I feel grateful to have so much. It's been a real strange evening in that I've sat down and literally done the exact stuff that I've recently blogged about being so proud of not doing.

Stuff like calling off big bets with top pair. Playing big pots with small holdings.

A little after Midnight I chop a pot where my opponent and I both had ace jack on a king queen jack board. I should have bet the river. He checked to me and if I had fired off $100 I'm pretty sure he would have folded but my confidence was rattled from some of the earlier hands.

I should get up and go because my play is not optimal. But I'm also trying to log as many hours as possible. Seeing if I can treat the poker experience more mechanically. Perhaps more table hours will mean an eventual great run of cards. Of course I have to make sure I still have chips on the table when the rush comes. I seem to be getting myself into trouble with the hands I am playing.

I lose 25 with pocket jacks. The preflop raiser had pocket aces so I was happy to get away from this hand without having lost more. That was a good fold. but then here comes another bad goal.

I call preflop with queen 10 suited. Flop queen, jack 2. I bet and get 3 callers. Jack comes on turn and small blind bets out. In this spot when a player out of position shows strength it is (usually) not a bluff. At least not at low stakes with 4 players to act behind him. In a high stakes game this is a very creative play. At 2/5 it means he has a jack.

But in position I stare him down and decide he must be bluffing. The board has paired and he's going to represent it. Very sneaky sir. Too bad I am on to you.

That's right.

I decide that this gentlemen, sitting across the table from me, whom I've never met before, who hasn't done anything out of the ordinary, is capable of this level of thinking.

If this isn't tilt I don't know what is.

I call him on the river and of course he shows me the jack. What else would he have? It wasn't alot of money. But losing chips on this hand is not how you make a living as a poker player. This was another embarrassing crystal clear indicator of me not being on top of my game.

I make another comeback around 1 AM. I feel dirty right now. I seem to have more gamble in me than usual. Someone stares at me the wrong way and I may reraise.

It's not necessarily a good or a bad thing. Just increased fluctuation. Speed stuff up. Tonight I'm calling the 25 preflop with my 7,8 suited. I'll take more variance. Good and bad.

And it seems to pay off. I hit a flush with 7,8 suited. It's the hand that's going to get me back over the hump. Out of the red and into the black.

I bet 50 dollars on the turn and incredibly get 5 callers. Part of me is nervous I may not have best flush with this many players calling.

But before I can figure out how to bet the river a freaking 4th diamond comes out on the board. And a gentlemen in front of me leads out for 100. Once again a guy out of position suddenly shows strength after a critical card comes out. This isn't a bluff. If he's making a play then good for him.

I don't think he would bluff into 4 players. It would be too easy for one of us to have a jack or something and look him up. Someone has a diamond. If I call and he turns over a higher flush I will go insane. I can't make this call. Not with the night I'm having. I'd rather be bluffed than pay someone off again.

I try to calm down. I tighten up and fold ace 10 under the gun. Despite everything I'm still only one hand away from turning around this whole mess.

I haven't played a hand in awhile so I raise to 20 from middle position with 3,6 suited and get two callers. Flop is 2,6, queen. I bet 45. They both fold.

I keep folding for awhile and around 20 minutes later pick up pocket 9's.

When I flop a set everything seemed great.

Little did I know it was about to turn into another ugly hand. Another bad goal.

Does it even matter what happened?

I hate having an off night mentally. I've been so steady the past few months. Tonight probably hurts my ego more than anything.

Here is the ugly truth.

I flop a set of 9's on a 6,9,10 board. I bet 20 and get a couple of callers.

2 comes on the turn. Now I bet 45 and get one caller.

King comes on the river and he leads out for 45.

If this were a standardized test question the correct answer would be CALL.

FOLD is wrong. I can't lay down a set of 9's here.

RAISE isn't always wrong here but it sure isn't always right. Not when a player with 7,8 or jack,queen is beating me.

CALL is most correct. You win pots from hands you are beating. And you don't lose additional money to hands which you are losing.

The other really big clue is that up until the river I've been doing all the betting.

But now suddenly he fires out a 45 bet. Usually this bet is not someone trying to steal your pot. It's a player wanting to put some chips out there to gain value from their hand. They don't want you to check it down. It's not a big enough bet to get good hands to fold. So it's a bet that wants to get called. It represents strength.

But I ignored this obvious message.

Instead I push out 145 chips. I raise him 100. I make a freaking value bet.

Why? Because I have a sense of humor.

Seriously. What is wrong with me?

I'm not sure at what point I decided I was ahead. Cause I do recall noticing that he led out with a bet on the river. And I thought I understood what that meant. But then I forgot. Within seconds. And so I raised him.

He thought for a moment.

My small brain is actually thinking "He he! When he folds right here I am going to be back up on the night!"

And then he says "I'm all in."

Never mind.

Guess I'm not going to be up on the night.

Further evidence of what I already knew.

He has a straight.

The only question now worth asking is whether his straight was flopped with the 7,8 or rivered with him holding the jack, queen.

Otherwise he wouldn't dare have the courage to reraise me here. Not from the way I've bet this hand. I obviously have something.

He's not bluffing. No. He has the goods.

I still have $300 in front of me. I can fold. I mean I have to fold.

I will have lost 200 on the hand but that's the breaks. He sucked out on me.

Whatcha gonna do? Happens to me everyday. I still have 300.

I'm still up 100 since sitting down at this table just 100 minutes ago.

Lets fold and move on.

And I wish that's how the story ended. But something was wrong. I wasn't myself.

I wasn't the guy I am night after night.

The guy who makes these lay downs over and over again.

Tonight for some reason I was the sucker who called the all in by the guy holding the nuts.

I am genuinely stunned by my play. I know too much about poker to be involved making a call like this.

The whole thing is torturous. Instead of smooth calling 45 dollars on the end after my set lost to a straight, I somehow managed to call off the rest of my stack as dead money. It's almost inconceivable.

What's really scary here is a really good player might even fold the set to the initial river bet! Right?

Like I'm fine with calling the first 45, but a really good player might watch his opponent lead out with this bet on the river and actually get away from this hand. That would be awesome to watch.

Of course I go the other way with it and raise.

And raising actually isn't terrible in this spot for some hands (as a bluff) because at least we'll find out for certain where our opponent is at.

When I raise to 145 he might fold a semi strong hand like top pair top kicker.

Which is why when he reraises me back all in I have got to listen to the information that is being said.

Information that I've specifically asked for.

Information that he is SHOUTING AT ME.

With my $145 bet I asked my opponent loud and clear if they were serious about the original $45 and my opponent went all in.


My call is awful. Going back to hockey, it's kind of like the other team was just trying to ice the puck and my goalie let it slip through his legs for a goal.

It will be a few days before this gross feeling goes away.

And of course losing money stinks. But at the end of the day I really wish I could have folded this hand just so I wouldn't have to live with the ensuing emotional baggage of calling.

Feeling stupid bothers me way more than losing money.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Long Sunday

It's 10:45 PM on Sunday night. Over 12 hours have passed since football began this morning but I'm still going waiting to play poker at the Bellagio.

Seated near me at 5/10 no limit are comedians Michael Ian Black and Michael Showalter.

Part of me wants to go sit at their table. The logic here is if I can't win money from these guys then I need to leave poker and get back into comedy. But I don't sit with them because I'm not properly funded to play 5/10. I have a formula and I'm sticking to it. Even if my opponents would be Michael Ian Black and Michael Showalter. And so I play 2/5.

My artistic side knows I should sit down with them just for the blog. A few years ago I got into a shouting match with a woman at Ian Black, Showalter and David Wains show Stella in NYC. The problem was this shouting match occurred in the middle of my comedy set. It didn't exactly help with creating laughter but I did find it mildly entertaining.

Tonight however we're not here for entertainment. We're at work. So I don't sit down with the Michaels. Because I'm a robot baby.

The last time I had a conversation with Michael Ian Black was sometime in 2002 or 2003 on the set of that NBC show Ed. I'm in the Screen Actors Guild and I took advantage of my union status with a few days of SAG extra work. A couple of these days were spent working on the bowling alley set of Ed.

Everyone in show business thinks it's embarrassing to do extra work

Everyone outside the business thinks doing extra work is like getting paid to go hang out in the Universal Studios cafeteria.

They're both right.

I usually had a great time. Eating buffet style for hours. Reading The New York Times cover to cover. Drinking cold soda. Writing jokes into my Palm Pilot. And getting paid. The only possible improvement for my afternoon would be the addition of a laptop with the ability to access internet poker.

But who has the time? I don't. I barely have time to do the scenes on set because I've also brought my cell phone along to return all those phone calls I've been putting off making for weeks. And today I can get paid for making them.

The real humor comes when I'm knee deep in tasks and suddenly get called out to set (the bowling alley) by the director (the red haired dude from Thirty Something) and I'm all annoyed because I'm in the middle of 3 things.

"Can you tell them to wait a minute?"

I don't actually ask but the answer is clearly no. They've got Hall and Oates set up waiting to play music during an Ed dream montage. They need me to bowl in the alley next to them while Hall and Oates play.

I'm getting paid to bowl next to Hall and Oates.

The happy ending occurs in a week when a check for 150 bucks arrives in the mail because of how I spent these hours hanging out with a bunch of freaks who think they are actors but are just in the wrong place.

Extra work is a great way to make extra money. But it's not a great way to advance your career. Do it for the cash. Don't do it because you think you are going to make connections. A little public service announcement from your friend Robert.

(Disclaimer: Although it's fair for me to say I did meet John Travolta impersonator Brian Travolta while doing extra work so I can't say I didn't make any connections.)

11:13 PM. Minus 20 Ace queen. Flush hits on the turn. In case I had any doubt about where I stood the guy across the table from me says "I guess that's a decent card. I guess I'm all in." I guess that's an easy fold.

11:23 PM. I win 20 bucks with 9,6 suited. More importantly, I break a two hour streak going back to yesterday's session of not winning a hand.

11:41 PM. My starting 300 is down to 255 so I reload for 100 more. With 355 on table I call 20 preflop with king 10 suited. Dust clears a minute or two later on a king high board and I'm up to 511.

11:50 PM. Bleeding along. Minus 20 with pocket 7's. Fold suited connectors a couple times to excessive preflop raises. Not looking to randomly gambling.

12:08 AM. Fold ace 10 off under the gun. When I'm not running well it makes sense to me to tighten up like this. Like the last thing I need to do is flop an ace and play a big pot with ace 10. When I'm running well it's different but there's no need to force anything here.

12:22 AM. There's a guy to my right with around two grand on the table. He's playing alot of pots and always raises when he enters. I can't wait to get into one with him since he always continue bets on the flop.

12:47 AM. Over an hour since my last pot won. I'm still up 60 bucks from my high of 111. Not bad to only drop 51 dollars in an hour where I win no pots. This right here is the glamor of what I do. The glory if you will.

12:57 AM. 77 minutes. I'm up 53 after paying blinds.

1:14 AM. 94 minutes of no pots won. Breathe. Breathe in the air.

1:20 AM. Just hit 100 minute mark. I wonder if anyone at the table has any clue that I haven't won a hand in 100 minutes. Probably not. You notice more who is winning that who isn't. Sure you notice who is losing. But you don't always notice the guys that are sitting there folding for hours. To call my style of play this session tight might not even be strong enough of a descriptive statement. Tight? I'm folding ace 10.

1:25 AM. Minus 20 with ace jack suited. On the bright side people at least I saw a flop!

1:32 AM. At the 112 mark I pick up pocket jacks in the small blind. There it is. For those of you playing along at home I'm "down" to being "up" 14 dollars in this session at the start of this hand. I've been sitting here folding like a robot. Not doing anything too fancy. Sometimes I do. But at the moment I'm just trying to earn. To grind.

Loose guy in late position raises to 20 in front of me.

Guy behind him on button calls.

Me and my jacks probably have both of them beat but I prefer to call from the small blind out of position.

Flop is 2,4,5. Two clubs. It could be scary but it's more likely good news.

Preflop raiser bets 60. Button calls.

I still think I'm ahead of the preflop raiser.

And the guy next to him wouldn't just call if he was strong. His call screams "I am on a draw."

No time to mess around. I trust my read and come over the top making it 300.

Initial raiser thinks long and hard about it and I'm sort of confused. One of us should be crushing the other. This pause has got to be good news right? If I was beat he would have already called. The fact that he is taking time gives me hope. But then he suddenly calls for the rest of his 230 chips. Oh well. Guess we're gonna race.

The button who has already invested 60 on the flop starts chatting me up asking if I want the action from his flush draw. I don't speak because I am genuinely indifferent. If they both have flush draws then I want them both to call. But otherwise depending on his cards I might prefer to be heads up. So it's easy to remain silent.

However the player who has just called his all in for $230 starts telling this guy that he should fold because Mr. 230 says he has a bigger flush draw. They're both really not supposed to be talking in a multiway pot and the main reason it bugged me is I could tell the 230 guy was trying to talk the 3rd player into folding (with his flush draw threat). At that moment I would have bet money that the $230 guy did NOT have a flush draw. So if he can get a flush draw to fold he's doing himself a big favor. It works. The 3rd player eventually folds. Although he didn't have a flush draw but rather king,3 for the open ended straight draw.

The original raiser has 3,4. He seems like he's gambling but he's getting a good deal calling the 230. We're basically 50/50 to win(I'm 51-47%) and he's getting more than 2 to 1 from the pot.

If my jacks hold up I will have approximately $716 shoved towards me in chips.

Despite no cards for the past two hours I will be up over $400.

The flip side is if he draws out on me I'm suddenly down almost $300.

One big hand.

After all this waiting.

I'm ready for it. But it's also sort of the type of gambling I've been avoiding lately. However it works for me for two reasons. One, there was a good chance my flop raise would get everyone to fold. And two I am favored and getting great value on my 230 when I raised my opponent all in with my jacks. And that is why we play the game.

Where is all this leading? My opponent hits his draw and takes the pot.

Twice actually. First he hits an ace on the turn for the straight. And as if that never happened, a 4 comes on the river giving him trip 4's as well.

Pick your poison.

How do I spin it? Good for me for being ahead on the flop, getting my chips in with the best of it.

1:43 AM. It's official. I haven't won a pot in over 2 hours. Combine this with the 100 minutes that ended Friday night and I've been sure seeing some dry times lately.

1:50 AM. I break the streak and win a pot. I am now "up" to being "down" 267.

2:00 AM. I call 20 and win pot with queen 9 suited. Then lose 20 with 8's. Leaves me down 208. Not terrible.

2:12 AM. I'm only down 135 after I turn two pair take down pot with jack nine. Funniest part of this hand is the two loose guys to my right seriously discussing how I need to be looked up. I've won my second pot in 2.5 hours. I've been folding 90% of the hands. I need to be looked up.


Don't trust the guy who folds every hand.

Who knows? Maybe I've been folding aces. Cause you can't trust me. You need to look me up.

It's moments like these that make me feel like I'm in Mensa.

2:16 AM. Minus 20 with ace king suited against the loose guy. Damn I wanted to hit that flop. Missing that flop was like hitting into a double play. I had the ace king suited. The crowd was pumped and then the flop came out like 2,7,9. Just completely took the air out of the stadium.

2:19 AM. Not sure about this one. A small stack to my right with only 110 in chips raises preflop to 50 in a straddled hand. He's pretty tight so it is very likely he has a big pair. The best case scenario for me is probably ace king. I look down at pocket jacks.

If I was in late position I could just call here and see what flop brings. Maybe save 60 bucks if an ace comes. But I don't want to call and start a party behind me where suddenly everyone is calling 50 preflop because of the awesome odds. I also don't want to call and have someone reraise behind me to force out any other callers. So my decision is to raise to 110. This should force out everyone behind me. And then we can race. It's costing me an extra 60 I could save on the flop. But it's gaining me heads up access with my jacks.

Now looking back on the hand obviously if I knew he had aces I would have just folded. But I didn't. And he did. And I gave away $110.

2:39 AM Down 270. I get pocket kings but they don't look as good when an ace comes on flop. This time it's a multiway pot so I let it go. Pocket kings are the most amazing ace magnets.

2:53 AM. Two more hands till the blinds. I might be leaving soon.

2:54 AM. I pick up pocket 9's under the gun. Amazing how often I seem to get a big hand under the gun when I'm about to leave. My 9's flop a set. I get called down by top pair. 20 on flop. 40 on turn. 100 on river. I'm suddenly only down $112. I decide to stay one more orbit to give myself 10 more hands in case there's a rush that's about to happen.

3:08 AM. Minus 20 with queen 10 suited. Down 139.

3:10 AM. I fold under the gun and leave the casino. I'd be up almost $600 if I had won that all in at 1:32 AM. Losing that hand, combined with the cold two hours drought makes losing only 139 tonight an absolute joy. I mean that. I appreciate that the loss wasn't more.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

A Quickie At The Bellagio

I arrive at the poker room at 3:19 PM and am seated at 3:43 PM.

I had plans to go see Louis CK tonight so I sat down with the expectation of a short session. I wouldn't be there past 5:30.

While waiting to be seated I noticed a familiar looking guy.

I know I know him from somewhere and to be honest it's not a good feeling.

Damn. I don't know exactly who he is but I know I don't like something about him.

A few minutes go by. And then it clicks.

That's the guy who cracked my ace king with ace queen at the final table of a Caesars Palace noon tourney a few months ago. I knew I didn't like that guy.

As for the quick session I only had two hands worth mentioning.

I raise to 15 in early position with ace jack suited. The guy to my left mini-raises me to 30. I call and hope to flop big. Cause who the hell knows what his mini-raise means?

Half the time it's some weak tight player trying to announce he has aces. Other times it's someone building a pot and taking control of the betting while they disguise their small pair or suited connectors.

Thus I'm not sure where I stand when the flop comes Jack high. I think it's good news. I'm ahead unless of course he reraised me preflop with jacks or bigger. Which is entirely possible.

I check to see how big he bets.

He bets 40. I call.

No one lets other people do their betting for them like I do.

A second of my suit comes on the turn. A small safe helpful card. My top pair now has the nut flush draw. Lets party.

I check again and this time he bets 60. Kind of feels more like a semi-bluff than a value bet. I'm still not positive where I stand but I can't call here and smooth call another big river bet.

I reraise to 220. 160 more. If he's got an overpair and calls I figure I still have at least 11 outs on the river.

He asks me to count my chips. I point to the dealer.

After a minute or two he lays down. I'm not sure if I wanted the call here. I figured I was good since he took so long to decide. If he could beat top pair here I think he would call me with no straights or flushes on board.

For what it's worth: a few minutes after the hand he told me he thinks he made a mistake folding.

In the second hand of interest I called a preflop raise to 20 with my 10,jack suited.

Flop was queen, 10, rag giving me middle pair and flush draw with two of my suit.

Guy bets 30. I happily call.

Turn is a 10. Maybe even better for me than hitting a flush. Opponent bets 120 out of the 200 remaining in front of him. I raise his 120 to 240. It doesn't even occur to me that he could fold here and save his last 80. But that's exactly what he does. He folds and says he has ace queen. I don't believe him. Putting the rest of his chips in the middle would be automatic with top pair top kicker getting 420 on your last 80 bucks. His hand was probably something like ace king. But greedy me wants to know if he would have bluffed off the rest of his chips on the river if I had just called the turn instead of reraised.

Today the session was short but I felt good about my folding.

The poker theme for me lately continues to be when to stick around and when to let hands go. I've been playing pretty tight which is also why I've had a few streaks of one or two hours without winning hands. The cards haven't been coming. But I haven't been forcing the action either.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The 100 Minute Exit

9:35 PM. It's Friday night at the Bellagio and I'm seated at 2/5.

I buy in for 300. It's exactly what happens to be in my wallet.

I could go to an ATM to ensure I start out with 500. But there's something fun and challenging about trying to rebuild the money in my pocket without hitting the bank machine.

And tonight it happens easily. I win two nice pots in the first hour at the table. My pocket jacks hit a set. My king jack hits trips.

Alot of my poker thinking lately has revolved around "feel" at the table.

The way different situations (with the exact same cards) can require much different responses.

This theme came up again for me on Friday night when I held ace jack on a 9,10,jack flop.

My opponent led out for a 2/3rd's the pot bet and in this scenario pretty much every possible response from me could be correct:

-I could call and see what they do on the turn.

-I could fold. It may seem weak but I'm only holding top pair on a board where someone may already have a straight. I'd certainly have no idea where I was at if an 8 or queen comes on the turn.

-I could raise to find out where I'm at. I may certainly be holding the best hand here. But if I raise and get called what do I do on the turn?

Against loose opponents I may call on this flop. Against tight opponents I may raise. However on this particular evening against this particular opponent I folded my top pair top kicker.

My opponent bet his chips in a way that seemed to me like the way you might bet chips if you just flopped a straight but didn't want it to seem like you had flopped a straight. And it just didn't seem worth it for me to go to war here.

So I make this fold. And it makes me feel confident.

11:15 PM. I make another borderline laydown. Pocket 5's on a queen, 7,7, flop. I checked to the preflop raiser and he only bet 15. I was going to call or raise here but the player to my right called in front of me and I didn't want to play a multi-way pot with my underpair. So I folded my 5's despite my radar beeping away trying to tell me that I was beating the first guy.

11:30 PM. I flop two pair with my ace queen and take all the chips from some guy who called down with ace 2. Not two pair ace two. Pair of aces, 2 kicker. That kind of ace,2. Oh dear.

11:45 PM. I flop set of 7's on 6,7,9 flop. 3rd heart comes on turn. I call one bet here but fold to his river bet when the board doesn't pair. And he shows his ace suited flush.

I wait so patiently for those sets. It stinks when they get counterfeited. At least I didn't lose too much on the hand. In past months I may have gone broke trying to stop anyone from seeing the turn. These days I usually prefer to see it and then get away from the hand if need be.

11:50 PM bathroom break. I've doubled up to exactly 600 in chips.

There was a fellow to my right who seemed pretty experienced. He didn't play many hands but when he did enter a pot it was always for a healthy raise.

Around midnight he raises to 30 after I've limped in front of him with pocket 3's. Unfortunately everyone else mucks. I'm going to muck too.

There are weird moments in poker. Sometimes I am sitting on a big pair preflop but just have the worst feeling about what is about to happen. Kind of like I already know it's going to be a disaster.

And after watching these feelings come true, it actually starts to feel reasonable to lay down a strong hand when you have this feeling.

Now in this case with my pocket 3's the opposite feeling occurred. Something inside told me to call. Not sure if this is ridiculous to read but it sure feels ridiculous to type. However a feeling is a feeling. So I call the 25 dollars and see a flop. Heck at least he has a large chip stack so if I can hit my set maybe I will get paid off well.

Flop comes out 4,5,queen. Two hearts. I check and my opponent bets 30.

Now earlier in this very same session you've witnessed me muck my top pair top kicker on the flop. And here my holdings are even weaker. I'm not even bottom pair on the board. But this situation just felt different.

His flop bet didn't seem confident. It felt more like someone with an ace trying to buy the pot. He was betting and just hoping I went away. And if I had a flush draw here he's not betting big enough to get rid of me. So I call.

Turn is a 2. I check again. I expect him to check behind me. He doesn't. This time he bets 60.

Tough decision especially if we consider that he may fire another big bet on the river. Am I really prepared to call 2 more bets here?

If I stick with my read I'm still ahead. I think he has big ace or ace suited. The 2 on the turn was harmless. I really think I still have him. So I call.

River is a 2. Other than a 3 coming out it's probably the best I could ask for.

I could lead out with a bet here but there isn't a ton of value. If I bet I'm probably not getting called by ace high. But I am getting called if I'm beat.

Thus I don't mind checking it down. I suppose I am also giving him the chance to bluff with a worse hand.

He plays with his chips for a moment and then slides 150 out there.

It's definitely more than I wanted to call.

But I can't fold now. If I'm going to fold now then I had no business calling on flop and turn.

I can still beat the same hands I could beat on the flop. And I'm still losing to same hands that were beating me on the flop. Nothing has changed.

The other big thought here is that if he has ace high and he's a good player, he knows that the only way he can win the pot is with a healthy bet. So his betting 150 makes sense. It fits the story. The irony here is he may be scared to bet as much as 150 if he actually has the queen for top pair. In other words 150 is a large bet for top pair. But not necessarily such a large bet if you've got to bluff to win the pot.

One final piece of info: he was from Arizona and the Diamondbacks had just lost game 2 in extra innings to the Rockies. It was subtle but seemed to put him on mild tilt.

So I stick to my gut and call the 150. He turns over ace suited. Ace high. He did have the flush draw the whole way but missed and bluffed on the river.

I show my pocket 3's and it genuinely shocked the table. No one said "nice hand" or "nice call." In fact my sense of the situation is that the other players were more supportive to the guy with ace suited. As if I had gotten lucky and sucked out on him. As if my call was amateurish. The irony of course is that it was the complete opposite for me. I made that call based on playing hundreds of thousands of hands the past 4 years. I made that call because I didn't believe him.

1221 AM. I win with queen jack hitting two pair on a jack queen king scary flop. This hand is significant mostly because it was the last one I will win on this evening.

12:52 AM. Folded all hands for last 31 minutes.

12:53 AM. I call preflop raise to 25 with Ace queen suited. Flop is jack, 10, 8 rainbow. Preflop raiser bets 100 (pot sized). If I knew that the player behind me was going to call then I might call here with my open ended straight draw getting 3 to 1. But I fold not knowing what's going to happen behind me.

My read was also that the preflop raiser had actually hit the flop hard. Perhaps a set. What this meant was I still wouldn't win here even if an ace or queen came. Losing these 6 potential outs (going from 14 to 8) made this an easy fold for me.

And of course the king comes on the turn and I would have hit the straight. The preflop raiser (who did have a set of 10's) pushed all in. I obviously would have called.

If the board didn't pair on the river I could have doubled up. If the board paired on the river I'd have lost my stack.

Sure I'd like my chances here. But I'm also happy to say that for the most part I've avoided playing big pots lately without being well ahead way when the money goes in.

I've been earning my money without the risk involved of shoving my entire stack into the middle. If I don't bet my entire stack, I can't lose it. I was much more willing to shove earlier in the year. Now I really smell out situations before proceeding. I would call this adjustment the #1 improvement in my game.

I ended up staying at this table for over another hour.

I finally left at 2:01 AM not having won a hand since 12:21 AM.

100 dry minutes.

The usual.

No one folds like I do.

Monday, October 08, 2007

My 3,8 Suited Makes 0.61% Happen and Other Fun Math

I've seen Johnny Chan the past two nights at the Bellagio. Sources say we're working the same shift. He must be scared of me because he hasn't yet sat at my table.

I started play around 11 PM. Finished up a little after 4 AM.

The key hands you ask?

11:42 PM. I get frisky with suited 7,5 the "Mean Joe Green" and flop top two pair on a 2,5,7, board. Problem is it's all hearts. I call 20, 30, and then 40 and the gentleman shows me his flopped flush. Yep yep yep. Nice small value bets. Good for him. He deserves my 90. I was equally grateful not to have lost more. Of course the best solution would have been me hitting a full house. Second best solution would have been a 4th heart coming on the turn to help me fold. But what you gonna do? I sure could have lost more on this sort of cooler flop.

11:59 PM. I lose $45 with queen jack suited missing the flush draw. He checks the river to me after betting the flop and turn so I think I could have been able to bet him off his ace king here but I really didn't know him well enough as a player. He was new to the table and I didn't want to spend 100 bucks to find out if he'd call me down with ace high. I've been making this type of bet more often when I sense weakness. But here in this spot I thought it was better to just swallow the 45 loss and move on.

12:18 AM. I'm in there with 3,8 suited. I know. No story should begin like that.

I'm all for free speech and the first amendment but the words "I'm in there with 3,8 suited" just shouldn't be allowed. This sentence should be some sort of grammatical error.

How did it happen that I'm in there with 3,8 suited?

How does it always happen?

I was big blind. It was raised to 15 preflop. There were 4 callers. I was on tilt. I call for 10 bucks and make it 6 players seeing the flop.

I mainly call because if I fold 3,8 suited and the flop comes out 3,3,8 I'm going to lose my mind.

So it's only 10 dollars to maintain my mental health.

Think of it as health insurance.

And you know what? YOU are absolutely right. My health insurance company SHOULD co-pay.

I should be able to send them the paper work asking for 5 dollars from October 9th at 12:18 AM when I needed to call an extra 10 bucks from the big blind with 3,8 suited to maintain my mental health.

The problem of course is my insurance premiums will go up. Because if I'm the kind of person who plays 3,8 suited then my insurance company will do research that determines I probably don't take good care of myself.

In fact I had a really awkward moment with my insurance agent recently when he asked if I played 8,10 suited. I didn't know what to say because I definitely wanted to be covered for it. You just can't get good insurance for suited connectors anymore.

Anyhow sometimes in life you gotta be careful what you ask for.

The flop for my 3,8 suited came out 3,3,8.

It's completely disguised.

Are you kidding me?


You had me at 3,3.

I don't even need the 8.

It's gluttonous.

Guy in early position bets 20. I'm second to act. I call. I gotta call here. I can't raise. The button doesn't believe either of us and calls the 20 too. Usually I might be suspicious of the call behind me. But here with the 3,3,8 flop, unless he has pocket 8's I truly believe he's floating.

Turn is a queen. Guy in early position bets 20. I could raise here but I'm happy to let the pot slowly build. If we all call there will be 210 in the middle before betting occurs on the river. I can make my move then. I don't mind giving away another cheap card here.

And sometimes when there is weak betting like this (a 20 dollar bet into a 150 dollar pot) someone will pop it up $100 or whatever just because they sense the overall weakness. And usually everyone folds to this raise. So I don't want to raise and get them all to fold here.

Likewise I'm hoping that maybe my call entices the button to make this exact move behind me. Maybe he will sense the weakness and reraise in position. Please. It would be an absolute gift to me sitting here with a boat.

The button doesn't raise. He just calls. Oh well.

River is the nightmare queen. The only card that counterfeits my hand. The only card I didn't want to see.

I can't say with certainty that someone has a queen. They both came along on the flop when there was absolutely no queen out there. That's the good news.

But the bad news is they both stuck around on the turn when the first queen appeared. It's very common for someone to have a queen in a multi-way pot. And the fact that they just need to be holding one queen to beat me is suddenly sickening.

The first guy checks. No surprise there. I'm not that concerned with him. However I do worry about the guy behind me. Especially because if I check here and he bets I won't know anything at all about his holdings. He could have nothing and be betting in position because it's the only way for him to win the pot. I don't want to give him this option when the action gets to him.

So I move first and fire out 50 dollars. I'm not completely positive where I stand. But like I said, I can't give the player behind me the power to bet first.

If I get called here and we showdown that's fine. $50 is a small bet but it could genuinely be me having a queen and just trying to squeeze some value out of it.

If the player behind me has a queen I'm hoping he might just smooth call to get money from the 3rd player. There may not be value for him to reraise. Like either I have a queen and we're chopping or I don't have a queen and I'm folding. So a call here with the nuts (him holding a queen) isn't as nuts as it may seem.

And the button does in fact call me here. And the first player does fold.

I ask from across the table: "You have a queen?"

He says "Yes" and shows his king queen.

I show my 3 but I don't show my 8. They don't need to see the full extent of how badly I just got hurt. The 3 shows I was ahead going into the river with my trips. That's enough information. (The strange part of my showing the 3 is normally I probably raise with trips on the turn. It was only because I had the full house that I felt safe checking.)

As far as the rest of the press conference goes: I'm not disappointed with this hand. It took a 2 outer on the river for me to lose. Any other card and I'm telling a success story. I chose to maximize the money I could win by letting my opponents catch up and hit something. He was 19 to 1 to hit the queen on the river and win this hand. He sure wasn't getting that kind of payoff from the pot. So it's a chance I certainly don't mind taking.

95.45% of the time I look good here.

But you know that old expression:

"4.55% happens."

Actually if we go back to the flop it's 0.61% that happened.

That's 6.1 out of 1000. I can live with giving that action.

12:58 AM. Pocket jacks run into pocket queens on king high board. Another cooler.

1:11 AM. Pocket kings lose to ace queen. This is when the game gets real hard. If I can't win with pocket kings vs ace queen then it gets tough to play a hand.

Meanwhile I'm happy with the session so far.

"Huh?" you ask.

How can I possibly be happy?

Well mainly because I've run into some real bad results and yet I'm still not down a full buy in. That's progress. I haven't lost all of my chips despite some real bad stuff happening.

1:30 AM. We're now playing 4 handed. Short handed poker is quite familiar to me from my internet days but it's rare I get to play short handed at live casino cash games. It's alot of fun and I'm glad the Bellagio didn't push us to join another full game. The rake is lower ($2 max per pot instead of $4) and you can play way more starting hands.

1:42 AM. My opponent rivers me to hit a higher two pair. My poker game tonight is like the Yankees in their series versus Cleveland. I'm getting no hits in the clutch. And I keep giving up hits with 2 outs. I'm losing it both ways.

1:50 AM. I steal a few straddles pushing all in from late position. Poker is so simple with a small stack.

2:09 AM. Our table is full again and the miracle happens. The reason I'm still sitting here. A $10 straddle gets raised to 35. Multiple callers in front of me on the button. I call the 35 knowing full well that the rest of my slightly less than 100 dollar stack is going in on the flop if there is any hope whatsoever. The preflop pot is larger than my stack. This is a beautiful thing. And my cards are perfect for the situation. 3 5 suited.

Flop is 3,4,7. Two spades but not of my suit. Guy in early position who raised it to 35 preflop bets out 100. It gets folded to me. I push in my 90 something. From the way he's played this hand, raising preflop and betting out here I'm thinking it's likely I need to improve to win. I'm guessing I have 9 outs if I'm behind. Two 3's. Three 5's. Four 6's.

Turn is a queen. River is 9. I miss.

He looks at me to show my cards.

I say "I think you got me."

He says "Four spades" and turns over the Ace and King of spades.

I flip over 3,5 and pull in a $347 pot.

If nothing else this hand inspires me to fold for 2 more hours.

I have come to terms with losing tonight. I am ready to leave. However 3 young guys have sat down and are playing real loose. There is great opportunity here.

So I stay.

2:30 AM. And my moment arrives. My comeback will be complete. Well almost. The young guys I just mentioned have been straddling and reraising preflop. It's common to pay $45 to see a flop here. So on one of these hands I pick up pocket aces and limp in. The kid in the 10 seat pushes all in. I call. Even though you no longer have to show your cards at the Bellagio when you go all in I choose to show my aces. He turns over his cards but they're stuck together and all I can see is the queen on top. I don't know what is underneath.

As the dealer reveals the queen, 5, 6 flop I say "I hope you don't have another queen under there."

He shakes his head "no" and adjusts the queen to reveal a 5 under it.

Poof. He hit two pair. Turn and river don't help and my aces go down to queen,5.

Usually when pocket aces lose to queen 5 there is a flop that comes out and gives the queen 5 the best of it. It was pretty strange to watch it play out with the queen 5 getting all of their money in there preflop with the worst of it.

On the plus side it was nice to catch my opponent doing exactly what I thought he was doing and exploit it. Against that particular player I would have called his all in with a much weaker hand than pocket aces.

And as far as the evening went, this was the moment. This was the hand I was going to win if I was going to make a profit tonight. But I couldn't close the deal.

My bad rush continued on the next hand. I flopped top pair and a flush draw but missed on the turn and river. Worst of all my pair lost to a guy pairing his king on the river. The guy had king 2. I'm not sure what he was doing in the hand, putting money into the pot before that king came.

It's kind of like he was traveling around lost on the flop and the turn, driving around and didn't want to ask for directions with his king, 2.

He doesn't have a flush draw. Has no straight draw. He has king high. And yet he continues to put his money in with the rest of us. Very strange.

Continuing with this travel analogy, it's as if he's on the wrong airplane. The wrong flight. He wants to go to Mexico but he's on an plane to Canada.

And then the king hits on the river and suddenly he lands in Cancun.

2:33 AM. Just like that I'm back down to $153. I was so close to getting over the hump. I still wouldn't mind calling it a night but these wild kids are still at the table. And since I keep having the best of it with them I stay. I want to keep "running the math" against their hands.

Meanwhile if you really think about all the disasters from tonight...from the 3,8 flopped full house not holding up to the pocket aces getting cracked by queen's REALLY not so bad to still be down less than one buy in.

3:04 AM. There's a new clueless guy at the table and he just backed into the nut straight in a huge 3 way all in. A half hour from now he will also hit a full house on the river to win a thousand dollar pot. He will leave around 4 AM with approximately 3 grand. Sometimes the deck is real kind to people.

3:07 AM. I make a questionable lay down with ace 10 suited on ace high flop. There was a pot sized bet in front of me of the preflop raiser. It was clearly raise or fold territory and I didn't want to play for all my chips with a 10 kicker against an opponent who I believed was likely to be playing a big ace here. Still, it feels weak to lay down a strong hand.

My intention of playing ace 10 suited was to flop a flush draw. Two pair. Straight. Not defend my stack with a 10 kicker.

I'm okay with this fold even if I got outplayed. But rather than focus on the negative, lets flip and it and think how cool would it be to see his cards and know I that I actually made a good laydown?

Like if I'm gonna torture myself with the negative "what if's" of getting outplayed I may as well also do a positive hypothetical where I explore the possibility that I made a great lay down.

3:08 AM to 4:07 AM. Cold hour. I miss over and over again. King queen. Ace queen. 10 jack suited. Pocket 9's running into overcards. Etc.

4:08 AM. I finally leave the table. Just wasn't my night. I didn't play my A game and obviously the breaks didn't go my way either. That's the bad news.

The good news is I managed to lose less money than I won on Friday.

And for you regular readers I gotta mention that this was my first losing session since getting that water leak in my house fixed last month.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

311 Minutes

I played 2/5 tonight at the Bellagio for 5 hours and 11 minutes.

311 minutes.

18,660 seconds.

I was up early on (250ish) but made a few loose calls to give it back.

Then again it was loose calls that got me the profit in the first place. So you figure it out.

By the way, as long as I'm here typing this I might want to send myself a message.


I think I'd make more money over time if EVERY time I played a hand I raised it preflop instead of limping. It's scarier to play this way. Much bigger swings. Bigger pots. But it accomplishes the same goal of disguising my hand.

If I raise the big blind 4 times every time I enter a pot my opponents will have no idea whether I'm holding pocket aces or 7,8 suited. The same thing is presently true when I limp with both hands. However for me to grow as a poker player I need to raise more. Create action on the hands I choose to play.

Meanwhile the biggest news out the Bellagio for me tonight was sources say I may have gone on tilt. I've been so good lately in terms of separating myself emotionally from the experience. Tonight I slightly cracked.

We can probably blame ego. Overconfidence. You see early on I made a real tough river call with pocket jacks to a 100 dollar bet on an overcard board. I really thought he was making a move. So I called and indeed he only had ace high. It felt real good.

And so a hand later I assume I must be on a rush and get myself involved after one guy goes all in for 46 and two others call. I'm sitting there with pocket 4's or some real similar small pair. I've done my best to block it out.

I'm getting 138 on my 46 investment. A worse case scenario of 3 to 1. But with two deep stacks calling in front of me, I'm all about the implied odds here. My plan of course is to flop a set and double up.

But $46 is alot to put in preflop at 2/5 with a small pair. Cause no matter what comes out on the flop, if you don't hit your set you know you're gonna be staring at overcards in a multiplayer pot. Not pretty.

Still on some form of tilt, I also called a 50 dollar reraise after already joining the 20 dollar straddled pot with an ace suited hand. That's right. I spent 70 dollars to see the flop 4 ways with ace 7 suited. I'm that rock and roll.

Why was I playing like this?

Probably because the table maniac was making it look so easy, winning thousands of dollars playing any two cards. With ace 7 suited I was sure likely to be ahead of him.

There were a few other hands that frustrated me as well. But the main difference between tonight and the past month is that tonight I chose to own the feeling.

Instead of laugh at the predicament of seat 6, I lived it. For a little while anyway.

By the two hour mark I was down to 362. I had gone from up 250 to down 138. A 388 dollar swing in the wrong direction.

The good news is my attitude finally got better. I let the tilt go. I played good poker after this. And it was a good thing because it certainly got worse before it got better.

According to my notes at 11:10 PM my straight loses to a baby flush. I was sure I was good. How sure was I that I was ahead? I bet the river for him.

I continued to bleed over the next half hour. However I felt much better. I reminded myself that last night I won the exact money that I am playing with right now.

I am still ahead from where I began yesterday. Why stress? Just stick with my game. The money will come. At some point the cards will even out. I'll drag in a pot. The healing will begin.

11:48 PM. I win a pot against the loose guy who is still up a few grand. The funny part is that he's been raising preflop all night yet limped here. Why did he limp for the first time all night? Answer: because he had pocket kings. I hit a 10 on the flop and another on the turn to take down the pot. I didn't raise until the river since he was willing to bet the turn and river for me.

11:56 PM. Up to 741 after I win hand with pocket kings but I don't think I played it so great. I got 90 out of my opponent but he folded to my 120 river bet. In this case I think I should have checked the river and given him a chance to bet. My leading out with a bet (after letting him take control of the betting on flop and turn) showed him that there was danger ahead. I thought I was gaining value by betting. I was wrong since he folded. But then again, he may have checked behind me so maybe there was no more money to be won regardless of what I do on the river.

12:12 AM 705. Up 5 dollars.

12:29 AM 695. Down 5 dollars.

It's The Robert Ticker. We could have a publicly traded market based on my current second to second stack size at the Bellagio.

12:48 AM 664. Down 36.

12:53 AM. I hit a set of 10's. That's the good news. I don't want to brag but I may have even flopped it. The bad news is a guy calls my flop and turn bets and rivers a straight to take my pot.

In the last 20 minutes I've lost money with kings jack suited, 10 jack suited, 9 10 suited. Some really nice starting hands but no flop has even come close to me.

Meanwhile the loose guy keeps betting every flop. I'm not able to take a stand. Damn I want to.

1:05 AM. Tight player to my right bets 35 preflop. He hasn't raised all night and from what I've seen he's the only play at the table who won't go broke with top pair. So even flopping a set against him with my pocket 7's may not make me much money. So I fold. I am at 602 down 98.

1:14 AM. 595. Down 105. Remember the good old days like 78 minutes ago when I won my last pot?

1:30 AM. I get back to even with a set of 2's. I make value bets of 35 on turn and 50 on the river even though a 3 card flush has hit. I get paid off by guy with top pair king with a 9 kicker.

Minus 15 with 10, Jack suited. Suited connectors yet again.

Minus 15 with 7,8 suited. Tonight I've been calling these bets preflop for 15 but not for 25. And some people think 10 dollars doesn't matter....

1:42 AM. 639. Down 61. Just called preflop with queen 10 suited but missed flop.

1:54 AM. 720. Win with ace jack.

2:06 AM. Paid my blinds. I'm at 713. Up 13.

2:14 AM. I fold under the gun and leave table.

I was not on top of my emotional game tonight. I could have been more patient. Both in my play as well as with my decision making.

Basically I'm sitting here right now happy to have not lost money.

And how can I not be proud of making around $2.60 an hour?

The valet outside had no idea how large of a percent of my profit I shared with him tonight.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

The Game Continues

Friday night.

I arrive at the Bellagio at 8:30 PM.

On the ride over I wrote a new poker joke:

"Your momma is so tight, she's gotta check the river to get paid off when she's got the nuts."

Thank you very much.

I'll be here all year.

The list for 2/5 no limit is long. I'm probably around 15th in line waiting to play.

I finally get seated at 8:52 PM. They start up a new table with 10 of us. For some reason in the past I've gotten off to slow starts in this scenario. I've found better success when I enter a game in progress. Something about a game starting out fresh sometimes makes it harder for me to determine who is who at the table.

And by who is who, I mean who I am going to win money from.

There is one loose aggressive guy to my left but other than that everyone is playing pretty tight.

I get off to my usual slow start winning no pots in the first hour.

In fact my 500 buy in is down to 333 after losing a moderately sized pot with king jack suited. My initial read was correct but then the guy hit 2 pair on the river to pass my kings.

With 333 in front of me I flop top two pair from the big blind with 5,8 suited on a 4,5,8 flop. The early position raiser bets 50. He gets two callers. I push my remaining 300+ into the middle. I was going to raise smaller but there were too many players in the hand and I didn't want to start giving everyone attractive pot odds. There was a flush draw out there as well and I really thought I was ahead.

One thing that definitely factored into my decision here was my stack size. If I'm sitting on a large stack I may play it differently. But knowing that I was putting full pressure on my opponents while also only risking 333 dollars definitely made the move easy to make.

Much to my chagrin the preflop raiser had hit a set. But I gotta say he deserved my action. He was the loosest player at the table (on a previous hand he had reraised all in with ace jack suited!) and so I really thought my two pair was good.

Now down 500 dollars, I look inside my wallet and see two remaining hundred dollar bills. I place them on the table.

This will be it for me on the night. I will lose 200 more and take a 700 dollar loss. Or I will begin my comeback.

A couple of hands later I pick up king queen suited on the button. Someone in early position makes it 40. This is a real expensive call when you only have 200 in front of you. How can I put 20% of my stack in on a smooth call?

But the woman to my right calls. And I can see the blinds to my left reaching for chips. So I call too.

If the flop comes king or queen high I'm just going to have to lose my remaining 160 if anyone has ace king or ace queen.

Flop comes with two aces. Preflop raiser checks. So do the rest of us.

If he continue bets here he takes the pot. But he gives us all a free card.

The turn is a queen.

He checks again. A woman to my right (regular player who I see all the time) bets 40. I call. Everyone folds.

River is a rag and she checks. I check behind her. There's no value here. She's folding if she's behind. She's raising if she's ahead. I take the pot with my king queen.

Maybe 15 or 20 minutes later I pick up pocket queens. A guy in early position raises to 20. Same woman from previous hand calls. I call in position.

I often give up winning small pots with hands like these in an attempt to win the occasional bigger pot. And this is a good example.

If I reraise preflop and take down the pot then I win 40 dollars. If I reraise here, get called and then overcards come it's a difficult hand to play. But smooth calling in position and hiding my strength seems to work well for me. And then once they figure out that's how I play big pairs I start raising with my big pairs for value to keep them guessing.

For what it's worth, twice last night I bet out on the flop after hitting trips. To mix them up. Everyone expects me to check the trips. Sometimes up is up. Sometimes up is down.

So back to this hand I get the dream flop. Ace, queen, rag. In Doyle's book he talks about this exact situation. That with pocket queens the way to really make money is to flop a set with an ace on the board. That guy might know what he's talking about...

Preflop raiser bets 50. Woman to my right calls. I can slow down and call here if I think the raiser is going to bet again on the turn. But I'm not so sure. My read is that he was firing a continuation bet. And that he was going to check and fold on the turn. So I raise right here.

As expected he folds. The woman calls me. She must have an ace. But we'll never know because the Bellagio changed their rules regarding showing hands when players are all in. Now you no longer have to show the cards. Oh well.

After the turn and river I show my queens. She mucks. Dealer shoves pot to me and I'm back up to 687. Down 13 dollars after 2 hours of play. And it feels great.

Most of the action at our table was now coming from a guy who described himself as a tournament specialist. Kept saying how much he hated cash games. And it made sense. Because his terrible style of play (pushing all in or over betting anytime he hit the flop) might work in tournaments. But in a cash game eventually someone is going to have a real hand and take his stack.

Perfect example: 4,5,10 flop. A guy with pocket kings who raised preflop bets out. And our tournament specialist comes over the top all in with 10,6! Top pair. Bad kicker.

The way life works the tournament specialist hits a 6 on the river and takes a huge pot. He then gives everyone at the table 10 bucks and leaves.

At 11:42 PM after almost 3 hours I switch from seat 2 to seat 6. I find it easier to play from seat 6. It also gave me position on the biggest stack at the table. Seat 5. At this point I'm down around 50 bucks on the evening.

My notes say "11:53 PM. $642 after paying blinds. Nothing has happened since I hit set 83 minutes ago."

At this point "Lou" from "New Jersey" came and sat down. Lou was clearly a novice. Although he was so comfortable in his "I have no idea what I'm doing" routine that at times I thought it could be an act. But after seeing him call all ins multiple times with bottom pair I decided it definitely wasn't an act.

Lou was a nice guy, having fun, not caring if he left the table with chips. The thing was he kept hitting flops and winning pots. I knew I couldn't leave the table until Lou did.

I must have not looked like I wanted to be there. Because at one point Lou turns to me and says "You don't look happy."

I look back at Lou and do my best Larry David.

"You don't look happy" I say back at him.

"If you had to live with my wife you wouldn't be happy either" Lou says to me.

Fair enough.

12:15 AM. Down to 578.

12:28 AM. Up to 877 after I flop set of 4's on a 4,5 queen flop. 4 and 5 were diamonds as well. A fellow bet 100. I made it 200. He goes all in for 20 more. I call expecting to see his draw. He shows queen, 8. Gulp.

12:34 AM. I lose 25 bucks with 3,4 suited after I flop bottom pair and a flush draw but something smells fishy after one guy bets and 2 others call. With 3 other players expressing interest in that flop it's just too likely that someone has a better flush draw here.

12:46 AM. Minus 180. Ugh. I hit top pair and pay a guy off who chases and hits his straight. What grossed me out about this hand was that if he has a bigger stack, I let it go. But I had that moment where I stared at his stack after he called my flop bet of 20 (leaving him with 160 in front of him) and thought to myself that if I'm wrong here it only costs me 160. But that's not good poker. Good poker is figuring out if I'm ahead or behind. I let his stack size completely dictate my decision.

1:02 AM. I'm at 617 and down 83. Feeling frustrated that I'm back down after coming all the way back. However it's these moments where I kick into the poker is one long game mindset and it genuinely helps.

1:14 AM. 607. Down 93. I'd leave and go home but Lou keeps firing insanely large bets into insanely small pots. Like there will be 20 dollars in the middle and an innocent looking flop comes and Lou bets 100. I know one of these times I'm going to have a hand and take his stack.

1:34 AM. 601. Down 99. Waiting.

1:44 AM. I lay down my pocket 10's on a jack, queen, king board. I actually think there was a good chance the other guy was bluffing here and that my 10's were good. But I don't need to try and outplay this guy with Lou at the table.

1:56 AM. Bleeding. 539 in front of me. Down 161. The problem with keeping notes is I can see that I've won absolutely nothing since hitting that set of fours 88 minutes ago.

2:05 AM. There's a raise to 15 from early position. I look down at pocket kings and make it 45. Lou calls the 45 from blinds. Early position guy calls too. Flop comes queen high. Early position bets 75. I raise to 200. Lou folds. Early position guy moves all in. I call. He shows ace queen. And just like that I'm back to 879. Up 179.

2:30 AM. Lou quits! Oh no! I never got to play my big pot with him. This might be my last orbit. Then again 3 new players just sat down so there's some fresh blood.

2:33 AM. In the blinds with queen, jack suited. I flop top two pair on a queen, jack, 10 board. I bet flop and get called. I check call 35 on turn. And check call another 50 on river. And then watch my opponent muck. I love winning pots without showing my cards after calling another player's river bet.

2:41 AM. I'm either a genius or donk but it's gotta be one or the other. I do not raise preflop from the small blind with ace queen. There are 5 of us seeing the 3,4 queen flop. At this point I should lead out with a bet but I decide to trap. It gets checked around to the button, a large stack (with over $1200) sitting to my right in seat 5. The gentleman fires 85 dollars into the middle! A complete overbet! A bet that is screaming fold! A bet that clearly doesn't want to see a turn or river!

Now here I was waiting to trap someone. And he completely took the bait. Unless of course he's ahead. If he has a couple of hundred bucks in front of him (like the 180 I lost with top pair) then I'm probably not going anywhere. But with over 800 in front of me, do I really want to play a big pot, potentially for my whole stack with top pair?

I can't call him here. I think I gotta raise or fold. What am I going to do? Raise it to 200? What if he smooth calls in position? Many scary cards could come on the turn and there are still 3 players to act behind me. One could have been slowplaying. Or have a draw. I don't want to call him here and then have to decide what to do on the turn when he fires another 150 or 200 into the middle.


I know. It's utterly insane. I'm the weakest player ever. I folded the best hand.

But if I play a big pot and he shows me his set of 3's or 4's or even two pair then I couldn't forgive myself. And he didn't raise preflop. These hands are definitely possible.

Most of all he's a tight player. I don't think he's making a move. I think he thinks he genuinely has the best hand. He ain't making this move with pocket 10's.

Yes the big problem for me is that he could make this bet with king, queen. Or queen, jack. Two hands that I'm dominating.

But I'm doing this for a living. I'm not here to gamble. So I fold.

I also decided that if I was right and I was ahead in this hand then he might not put any more money into the pot. I might only win the cash that's out there now. Which is not too much.

However if I'm wrong, I could lose over $800 here. So I fold and wait for a better spot.

Look at me. Laying down ace queen on a queen, 3,4 flop. Go figure.

Poker is funny like that. Sometimes you got a feeling and you just gotta trust it. No two situations are exactly alike. I certainly don't always lay down top pair here. But then again I don't always call with it either.

And life is funny. Because 25 minutes later this same tight player in seat 5 raises to 20. I smooth call with ace 5 suited. I'm not in love with calling raises with ace suited hands but as you can see our stacks are large enough that if I somehow hit a miracle flop it will be worth it.

I'm thinking "clubs" but instead I see a 2,3,4 flop. That works too. I hit a straight.

He bets 70. I call quickly. Everyone else folds.

Turn is another 2. The 2 and 4 on the board are clubs. I think I'm already ahead with my straight but I suppose it's nice to have the flush draw there too. Then again another club on the river might scare him and hurt my action more than help it. Who knows? He bets 100. I call again.

River is a blank. This time he checks.

I bet 100. Small enough for him to call. He's folding if I push. He might call a bet larger than 100 but I know he'll definitely call at least 100 here.

He does call and mucks his big pair when I show my straight.

After the hand he couldn't help himself. He made a comment about how I had the nerve to call him preflop with ace 5.

My response?

I told him I had ace queen the hand he bet 85 and that it was a great bet and that he got me to lay down the better hand.

3:15 AM I call an all in with ace king. Opponent has jacks. I win the race.

3:21 AM. I call a raise to 15 with pocket 3's. Miss the flop. Decide to go home.

Tomorrow the game continues.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

I Don't Wanna Brag About Living in Vegas

People see me all the time and they just can't remember how to act.
Their minds are filled with big ideas, images and distorted facts.

-Bob Dylan

725 miles behind the wheel and just like that we're back in Vegas.

Our last night in Taos I had an encounter with an older woman at a dinner party.

If I was a reality TV show you would have complained that it looked scripted. It couldn't be real. After all, I had never met this woman before. So why would she be critical of my choices?

It began innocently enough. She asked me where my wife and I lived.

Hindsight now suggests she already knew the answer.

"Vegas" I said.

Still not giving too much thought to how she'd react.

The word Vegas seems to elicit a very strong reaction from people. Tell them it's where you live. And they'll let you know what they think.

When you tag it with "I play poker" it pushes all sorts of other buttons as well.

People just love it or hate it. But either way they have an opinion. And it's usually stronger than seems warranted especially when coming from a person you've never met before.

Some strangers are supportive. They bond with me over the experience. We discuss the journey. This is fine.

Others try to rescue me. Poker is wrong for them so it must be wrong for me. This is unnecessary.

This particular 74 year old woman heard the word "Vegas" and then looked at me like clearly I had given her the wrong answer.

"Why would anyone ever want to live in Las Vegas?"

Later on it occurs to me that I'm being heckled about my choice of residency by a woman who lives in Dixon, New Mexico.

Her town's population is 1500. I think that's how many people we had in my freshman year dorm.

"Why would anyone ever want to leave Las Vegas?" I say. It feels playful.

I get a laugh from the table.

"Why would anyone want to stay?"

She was back in the lead. Clearly she was going to get the last word.

And why not?

She was certainly ahead on all of the judges scorecards.

The only problem for the other 8 people at the table was she wasn't finished yet. She turned it up slightly harsher. She actually said something referencing my intelligence and the fact that I play poker.

Her words were harsh enough for my wife to get involved and defend me.

He he.

I completely understood my wife's reaction. I would have done the exact same thing if someone started like that with her. The only difference is I would have been ruder.

The point to all this, the reason I share this story, is my behavior in handling this situation mirrors what I do at the poker table.

At the poker table I listen to what everyone has to say. I'm present and aware. But it's never personal.

Never personal is much easier said than done.

And there's a delicate balance of proper sensitivity in poker.

I need to be sensitive because I need to pay close attention. I must notice and feel everything that is going on.

I can't be sensitive because I need to stay even keel. I can't be sensitive and react emotionally to bad events. I must remain confident when bullies try to scare or intimidate me. In all these ways I cannot be sensitive.

Sensitivity in poker. It's the great contradiction.

I must feel everything. Yet feel nothing.

Maintaining serenity and calmness in life is just like a using a muscle. The more you do it the stronger you get. To go to a place where not much bothers you. A healthy detachment.

Don't be sensitive - I must be an emotional rock to my opponents.

Be sensitive - I must be a sponge soaking up all there is around me.

Later on the discussion turned to Trader Joes. How they manage to keep their prices so low.

"We just might happen to have a couple of Trader Joes in Las Vegas" I said.

"You might?" this same woman inquired.

"Well I don't wanna brag about living in Vegas...."