Saturday, November 17, 2007

And It Makes Me Wonder

10:02 PM. Friday night and the Bellagio is packed. The list to play is over 30 names deep. While I'm standing around waiting, a man I've never met before walks up to me and says, "You look tired. You should go to sleep." Not exactly words of encouragement.

10:25 PM. I'm seated sooner than later. Unfortunately I recognize 5 of the faces at my table. Fortunately two of the unfamiliar faces turn out to be bad enough to make the table good enough to stay at.

My first hand is pocket jacks. Mostly worth mentioning because it would be my best starting hand for the night. I won the pot and just like that I was up 60 bucks. I suppose I could have cashed out and bragged about my 60 dollars per minute win rate.

10:38 PM. My ace, 5 of spades flop two more spades but miss the flush draw on turn and river. I still end up winning a small pot with a pair of 5's. However the real shame comes when my opponent shows his king and jack of spades. Talk about a good time to have hit my flush draw. Some fireworks would have ensued and I could have gotten paid off nicely.

10:55 PM. I'm up $90 when I join a family pot from the button with queen 10. I flop nicely: jack, 9, 5. One opponent leads for 15 and three of us call. I miss my straight draw on the turn and this time the blind leads out for 25. Everyone folds. I've only been sitting with this guy for 30 minutes but I am pretty sure of two things.

1- He will pay me off if I hit this straight. Even if a king or 8 comes on the river, he will bet and then call a reasonable raise from me. He doesn't like to be bluffed, and based on his taking over the betting lead on the turn, I think it's reasonable to put him on a hand like two pair.

2- He won't fold if I raise him here.

So raising is out of the question against this opponent. I can fold or call.

I chose to call and hope to get lucky.

However I missed on the river and mucked like a good tourist.

10:57 PM. This time it's minus 50 for me with the same ace 5 suited hand. It's funny to have a second ace 5 suited hand to discuss because I really don't like to play ace suited hands. Especially against any kind of substantial preflop raise. It's too hard to figure out where you are at if an ace flops. I almost prefer the small suited connectors for this reason. But what happened here was I limped in for 5 bucks and then flopped the nut flush draw. So here I was stuck in the hand again.

It was checked around to me on the button post flop and I fired out $20. It's a win/win bet. I'm happy to take it down. I'm happy to build a pot.

I got three callers so I guess I was building a pot.

I miss on the turn and now one of the blinds fires out 25 bucks before I can act. Uh okay. He's ahead and doesn't want to give any free cards.

There's one caller and one folder in front of me. With the nut draw and in position I call too, but none of this matters when I miss again on the river.

And that my friends is how you lose 50 bucks with ace suited.

11:14 PM. Basically the same hand for the third time in less than an hour! I get ace suited a third time, once again flop two of the same suit, but cannot hit to complete the draw.

Lets analyze this mathematically. I've now chased the nut flush draws three times. (Not to mention the open ended straight draw I also chased).

I'm not in love with chasing. But as far as these flush draws went, I should win 1 of the 3 hands. And hitting 1 of the 3 could have made the experience profitable.

Sometimes I will get real lucky and hit 2 (or even 3) out of 3 draws and win a large percentage of money. However very often I will lose all 3 of my 3 trials I'm down money and wondering why I'm chasing.

The voice inside my head reminds us that we had 3 good opportunities to win some nice sized pots. Specifically against opponents whom I believe would pay me off on the river. Implied odds if you will.

Against better players I could reraise these hands on the flop or turn and play some poker.

Against these weaker players I will actually need the better hand to win at the end.

And let the record state that I'm fine with having to showdown if this means they're calling my bets on the end and I'm actually getting full value the times I can hit my hand.

What this discussion eventually comes down to is variance.

How much do I want at the table?

Yes I will win and lose more money by playing more hands. And while folding borderline hands is fine, when I play them I am trusting that I can outplay most of the opponents at my table post flop. But against bad players, when my draws don't hit, it just feels like bad poker.

11:18 PM. I smooth call a $20 raise with pocket 9's in late position. Three of us see a 2,2,8 flop with two hearts. The guy who raised to 20 preflop checks. Guy to my right bets 50.

This is a hard hand to play. Despite his 50 dollar bet, I really think I'm ahead of the guy to my right. I've watched him reraise a few times preflop with strong hands. If he was holding something stronger than pocket 9's, I think he would have reraised the $20 preflop bet. That was just his style.

This makes me think two things are likely. Either he has two hearts. Or he has something like ace 8. And the way poker works he could certainly be holding something as scary at the ace,8 of hearts. I wanna see what comes on the turn.

Meanwhile my bigger worry here is still the guy behind me. My best hope is that he raised preflop with ace king. However his actions could also resemble someone holding a big pair who is about to checkraise the flop.

So I'm hoping to find out more by calling the 50. If the gentleman indeed has an overpair, he will let me know by here raising. And if he has ace king he will fold.

I'm gonna spend 50 bucks to find out where I stand. And find out I do. The initial preflop raiser bumps it up 50 more to 100. Perfect. Thank you sir.

That's the bet of someone holding an overpair. Someone who thinks he wants the call. Someone who thinks he's ahead.

And with a 2,2,8 board his only legitimate fear is that either of us has pocket 8's.

It's far less likely that either of us could be holding a 2.

Before I can fold my 9's, the guy to my right who bet the first 50 pushes all in for 350. I guess I can officially fold now.

After some thought the initial preflop raiser calls. Both of their cards were sort of predictable. The preflop raiser had pocket kings. The all in pusher who bet the flop had ace 5 of hearts. And off they raced.

I think if the board was something like 2,6,8 the pocket kings guy may have folded to the all in since there would be 3 possible sets with that board. But with a 2,2,8 flop it's REALLY hard to lay down pocket kings.

If I was truly a grinder I could have saved 50 bucks on the flop. However in terms of my growing at poker, I was happy to see that the guy to my right wasn't ahead of me on the flop when he bet the 50. If the 3rd player had indeed held ace king, I would have won this hand.

And what good is 50 dollars anyway? What am I gonna do with 50 bucks? Buy groceries?

11:24 PM. It's been a pretty busy first hour. I'm playing too many hands but this is intentional. It's me adjusting my style to fit the table. People are paying people off. I just need to actually hit something at some point. Despite all 4 draws missing and my giving away 50 on that 2,2,8 board with the pocket 9's, I'm only down 128 dollars.

It's also fun to admit that I wasn't satisfied when I was up 90. Why? Because I had no perspective. Now that I'm down money it would be great to be up 90. It's kind of like that Mike Caro line about how "you are ALREADY even." Every time you begin a new hand. You are even. At that moment. There is no up or down.

11:31 PM. I get pocket 9's again but check out of the hand after an ace and king flop. I then sit back and get to watch a third 9 come out on the turn. Oh joy of joys.

11:40 PM. I fold pocket 3's to a raise and reraise preflop, and then watch a 3 come out on the flop. More joy.

11:48 PM. My cards have really slowed down. I'm down 133 and about to pay my blinds.

12:02 AM. Still card dead. Been folding for last 20 minutes. The guy to my right keeps flashing his cards to my end of the table every time he's in a hand. Intentionally. I've never had someone do that before over and over again. But I'm real glad he's showing because he's on such an incredible streak. I've seen him get pocket aces and pocket queens 4 times each since I've sat down. And so when he keeps raising preflop no one on the other side of the table believes him. And why would they? How often can someone really get pocket aces? Once every 200+ hands? Yet this guy really kept having what he was representing. To the rest of the table the truth was less believable than fiction.

12:06 AM. Our table is discussing how to "play the player and not the cards" and our dealer has an interesting suggestion. His recommendation? Go sit at 1/2 and don't look at your cards. Then sit back and try to play the hands completely based on the behavior of the other players. In other words, don't distract yourself with your own cards and whether or not you've hit the flop. Just completely focus on the other players. And obviously at 1/2 the most a mistake here could cost you is 200 bucks. Sounds like tuition well spent to me.

12:26 AM. I've got nothing going here. So much so that I just folded king 10 suited in the blinds to a 30 dollar preflop raise and felt good about myself. Just because I'm not getting cards doesn't suddenly mean I need to defend my blinds with king 10 suited out of position against a tight player If I was running well it's different. But right now if I play a hand I gotta make sure I've got the best of it. I can't play it just because I haven't played a hand in awhile.

12:50 AM. Still card dead. Just had 9,10 suited but had to lay it down after a raise and reraise behind me. These guys aren't making moves. They're getting cards. My stack has dwindled down to the point where I'm willing to overplay a big ace or medium pair if there is money in the middle of the table. The painful part tonight isn't being card dead. The painful part is seeing that there are bad players at my table and I can't take advantage financially.

1:00 AM. Down 319 after I lose to runner runner. I feel nothing. I even say "Nice hand sir."

1:07 AM. I win back half of my loss thus far with 10,8 off suit flopping trips and turning the full house. Why don't I do this every hand? Why do I make poker so difficult for myself? Why don't I just hit a full house every hand?

1:16 AM. The guy to my left keeps raising to 35 preflop and each time I've reraised his bet he's folded. I like being out of position against him and letting him bet my hands for me.

1:25 AM. I limp in again with ace 5 suited. Damn that hand. Big blind makes it 25. 20 more. I'm dying to fold but there are two callers in front of me so I join the dance party. Flop comes ace high which looks good at first. Real good. That is until the big blind fires out $50. Me and my top pair go quickly into the muck. Nice bet sir. No need to look you up here.

1:33 AM. Three hours in and I take a walk down 200. Being down 200 feels a-okay. It's all relative. There will be one hand at this table tonight when I have the chance to double up. I can point out the 3 players it's going to happen against. I can't tell you which one specifically. But I'm definitely going to double up through one of the 3 maniacs to my left. I just gotta wait patiently for the right moment.

1:40 AM. Phil Ivey walks through the poker room and into the upper limit Bobby's Room. There are actually two games going on in there tonight. A 100/200 no limit game....and the Big Game.

Isn't that great that 100/200 no limit ISN'T the Big Game?

The 100/200 no limit table looks like a bunch of rich guys but not necessarily poker players. Our last dealer said he pushed an $80,000 pot to a guy in there with second pair. I just wanna know what hand called him? Bottom pair?

Dealer also told us the Big Game that night was 8 mixed games with 4000/8000 blinds. Looking through the glass I can see our old friend Jennifer Harmon. Eli Elizra. Minh Li.

1:43 AM. Ivey leaves. Maybe he was just picking up money? Maybe the game wasn't good enough? Who knows. All I know is if you're sitting in Bobby's room you probably gotta take a deep breath and sigh of relief when Phil Ivey exits.

Like I wasn't even at the table and I felt more relaxed when he left.

1:48 AM. Two locals at my table keep checking it down anytime it's the two of them in a pot. It's happened a few too many times now and a guy at my table just yelled at them that this is not real poker and then he got up and left. He's right of course.

What keeps happening is the aggressive local raises to 20. Everyone folds. And the other (passive) local calls him and then immediately shows his cards.

What I don't understand is if you don't want to ever play the hand out, why the hell call in the first place?

If you're so scared to play your cards post flop, or you don't want to take your friend's money, THEN JUST FOLD.

I was sitting between them and kept finding myself tempted to play hands just to see what they'd do with a third guy in pot.

1:52 AM. Another amazing display of The Power of Negative Thinking TM. One of the local guys is all in with his pocket aces on jack high flop. The other player puts him on ace jack, and then calls with queen, jack.

These are the players I play with.

How do you put someone on a hand that beats you and then call?

So the turn is a rag and as the dealer peels off the river the local guy with the aces says "Give me a queen!"

And the dealer turns over a queen.

I just can't help myself: "Why did you ask for a queen?"

"Because I didn't want one" he says.

1:59 AM. Down 226 after paying blinds.

2:17 AM. Down 236 after paying blinds.

2:18 AM. Minus 15 on button with pocket 2's.

2:23 AM. I raise to 20 preflop from middle position and get called by the button. Flop comes out 9 high and I bet 40. He folds and shows me ace king. I show him one card. A king. I guess I was trying to stimulate future action by showing him a card that could mean anything. He probably put me on kings. But otherwise he may have been ahead of me. The significance of this hand will come into play 15 minutes later.

2:38 AM. 15 minutes later I limp in with pocket 10's fully expecting to get raised behind me. This is what happens at 2:38 in the morning. People get bored and that leads to players lowering their starting hand requirements, and getting out of hand with their preflop raising. I counter their new found aggression by limping more with my stronger hands to trap them.

The guy to my left, as he has done alot tonight, reraises me. Same guy who keeps making it 35. This time he makes it 20. Both blinds call. It gets back to me.

The button raises too many hands. If he woke up with a hand this time I'm gonna pay him off because I don't believe him. I think I have the best hand here.

I am betting the button raised with rags and that if either of the blinds had a hand stronger than 10's they would have already reraised. So I raise all in.

Button immediately folds and I'm feeling good about taking down the three $20's.

But then the blind (the same guy who showed me the ace king and then I showed the king to) asks me the classic "Do you want action?"

Well sir I moved my wife to Vegas almost a year ago.

It also just so happens that I am sitting in the Bellagio at a poker table.

So one might conclude that "Yes" I do want action.

Lets consider what I might say to him if I had pocket aces. Hmmm.

I'd probably shrug my shoulders and mutter "I don't know."

So that's exactly what I did. I told him I didn't know and shrugged my shoulders. It was close to the truth. I probably want his action because he doesn't have my hand presently beat. But it's also fine if he folds and I win 60 bucks. I don't need to race his big ace here.

Much to my surprise he finally decides to call. Neither of us shows our cards.

Flop comes out king high. Damn. Not a good sign.

An ace comes on the turn. Double damn. Could it get any worse?

A queen finishes me off on the river. What hand can I beat at this point? Pocket 9's?

I look at him, shake my head left and right, and say "You got me."

But he doesn't turn over.

I want to be done with this hand. I show my 10's and I'm not embarrassed. You can all have the information that I repopped preflop at the Bellagio on Friday night with pocket 10's. Win or lose, lets move on.

And then this dude turns over pocket 6's. Huh?

I look back the board.

On the board, as part of that king high flop, was a 6.

Oh dear. He got lucky. He hit his two outer and made a set.

I didn't exactly appreciate the slow roll part, but I still smiled and said nice hand.

The pain of his hitting a set was numbed for me by the fact that I was already losing to any ace, king or queen here. It didn't matter how I lost. Just that I lost.

The hardest part of playing poker is nights like this when being right doesn't mean winning money. At other things in life, usually when you are correct in your work, you gain.

In poker I can make a play like this, correctly read my opponents and the situation and yet still lose money. When my 80% favorite doesn't hold up it makes no difference to my refrigerator that I got all of my money in good.

Do we need to discuss his call here?

I'm not sure I've quoted Led Zeppelin before but "it makes me wonder."

What was he hoping I had here?

He couldn't be thinking too deeply. He probably just wanted action. Wanted to gamble. This must be true because the only hand he is happy to see me turn over is a smaller pocket pair. More likely I'm either crushing him with my overpair or we're racing if I have ace king.

Calling an all in with pocket pair as low as 6's likely turns whatever hand I have into a race. Even if I was making a move with 9,10 suited, it's still the classic overcards vs pocket pair race. However this isn't a tournament. Blinds aren't going up. There really isn't a good reason to call an all in at a cash table with a small pair. Unless you just wanna gamble. Even if you catch someone making a move you're still basically 50/50.

Truth be told, his call with pocket 6's is a DREAM for me. I'm certainly not complaining. I return home from another evening in the poker room, happy with how I got my money in there. Unhappy about how it turned out.

I beat myself up at times but my job at the poker table is only to pick the right times to get my money in there. I can't control what happens beyond that.

There is no justice. There is no fair.

I might have been an 80% favorite here but 20% absolutely happens.

Next hand please.


Falstaff said...

Now that was a great post. Looking forward to meeting you in a couple of weeks.

NewinNov said...

Also wanted to say I enjoyed the post. Enjoyed walking through your decisions and it's like I'm at the casino which I rarely can get to. Liked the Phil Ivey comments too. Keep it up.