Saturday, December 15, 2007

How Do You Handle The Bad Moments?

10:02 PM. Friday night. The Bellagio.

Their Five Diamond 25k Main Event is underway and as I walked through the tournament area I couldn't help but feel the excitement. Cable television has turned these guys into stars.

Poker was never meant to make people famous. At live tournaments the players still have to walk through the crowd to enter and exit. To get to the bathroom or go on break. As a fan it's an awesome opportunity to get up close for people watching. And unlike NBA courtside seats, walking into a casino and attending a poker tournament is absolutely free.

I love watching poker players deal with celebrity. It entertains me because you know it's not why they got into poker. People go into acting to become famous. That's not why they start playing poker. A poker career is strictly about making money. Or at least it was before ESPN showed us all Moneymaker.

It can be hilarious to watch someone like Daniel Negreanu try to navigate his way through photos with his fans, interviews with the press, and chatting with other players to get to the bathroom in time during his break.

The Bellagio's main poker room is absolutely packed. I sign up for some 15/30 limit and 2/5 NL. It's gonna be awhile. I take a walk down to the sportsbook.

10:45 PM. I'm still waiting but at least I've found some good entertainment. Over in Bobby's room I see Patrick Antonius, Doyle Brunson and Eli Elezra sitting 1,2,3. Phil Ivey sits across the table in seat 7. Ming Ly to his right in seat 6.

Gus Hansen just walked into the room but chooses to sit at another table. I take a closer look and see only 3 players sitting there. Don't recognize the first two faces but the third guy is Barry Greenstein. The three of them are holding cards in their hands. Looks like Chinese poker.

10:50 PM. A new 2/5 table opens and I'm called as the 10th and final player.

Let the record show that I have my lucky hat on. If you had a lucky hat you might use it all the time. But in my case I hardly ever wear it.

Why is that? I don't want to abuse it. I'm scared to wear it too much and destroy the myth. All I know is I wore it tonight which meant that I really wanted to book a win.

11:24 PM. I hear my name called again. They're offering me a seat at 15/30 but there are a couple of bad players here at 2/5 so I stay. I'm only up 15 bucks having won the single hand I've raised with preflop.

11:34 PM. Under the gun I raise it to 20 preflop with 4,6 suited.

The best thing about raising preflop from under the gun with 4,6 suited is no one thinks you have 4,6 suited.

I've raised one hand in my first 44 minutes at the table. As far as I'm concerned everyone should think I have a big ace here. Or at least a medium pocket pair. But no one should think I have 4,6 suited.

Certainly not the dealer who asked me I just sat down and needed to pay a blind, even though I hadn't gotten up. (This specific comment comes about once every 4 months and it's a helpful reminder that I'm not playing enough hands).

So after me and my "ace king" raises preflop I get 2 callers.

The flop is a thing of beauty if I may say so myself. I get my flush draw courtesy of the ace and queen of diamonds. If I were writing about this hand, this would be just the way I'd script it. Oh, except I'd hit my flush at the end.

I bet out 45 representing the ace. I'm happy to take it down now and if they call I've got outs.

The worse case scenario ensues as the button reraises me to 145. Damn. It's another 100 bucks to stick around in a pot with 150 in the middle.

I'm getting 1.5 to 1 which means I need win 40% of the time for a call to break even here. If he's reraising me with an ace, my odds of winning this hand are slightly less than that (roughly 38%). So a fold is fine too.

But this was a call and not a fold for me based on previous observation. I'm pretty sure this specific guy will pay me off if another diamond comes and I hit the flush.

So I call the 100 bucks chasing my self created implied pot odds. If I miss the draw I'm only down 150. I can stomach that investment.

I call and check to him in the dark.

The turn comes and it pairs the board with another queen. With my having already checked in the dark, the onus is on him. He checks behind me.

Sweet. He's not being tricky. He's not slow playing. He doesn't have a queen. He only has an ace.

Sure I'm still hoping for a diamond, but I might be able to take this pot away from him on the river even if I don't hit my flush. I just need to convince him that I have trip queens.

The river brings an interesting card. It's not a diamond. It's the 3rd queen.

I have to act first. Hmmm. I wanted to bet. But suddenly having 3 queens on the board destroys my confidence to bluff here against this opponent.

A good player could fold an ace to a bet here. But I'm not convinced I can get this guy to fold his full house.

Having the 3rd queen on the board makes it less likely that I have a queen. I've watched plenty of bad players call off their entire stacks and lose to quads in this spot with the full house.

They just don't want to be bluffed. That's way more important to some of them than paying off quads. With a full house they almost feel obligated to call. This way they can have their "I lost to quads in Vegas" bad beat story. To them it's well worth the money.

RELATED QUESTION: How come the whole "What happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas" campaign doesn't include telling bad beat poker stories? If anything should "stay in Vegas" it's this stuff.

I'd rather hear what happens behind the scenes in TAO on New Years Eve. Well not really. But I'd say I'm more curious about Vegas clubs than I am to hear which 2 outer came this time on the river to win a pot.

I'm tired of hearing about them. I'm tired of talking about them.

So...uh... yeah...I'm really not sure this guy is a good enough player to fold here. I suppose I was already showing alot of faith in his game hoping he had it in him to fold his pair of aces to the trip queens pre-river.

Now that he's "improved" to a boat, I decide I sure don't want to risk 350 bucks to find out how good he is at laying down a big hand.

We both check and he says "I'm sure we chop."

I say "You've got me" and he shows me his ace jack off.

Some of the better players at the table are surprised that I called the $100 raise on the flop without having an ace or a queen in my hand.

I'm almost tempted to do my "he had my ace out kicked" joke but instead I keep my mouth shut. I'm not going to be funny nor explain why I thought I'd get paid off.


All that matters to me is this hand confirms that the gentleman in seat 10 loves any ace. He overplayed ace 6 earlier. This hand he called preflop with ace jack. I'm gonna catch him.

I wanna add that I actually like his raise on the flop with the ace jack. This is better than calling 3 bets in a row. It's possible that a good player might reraise the flop with ace jack to simply get a feel for whether or not his ace jack is any good or not.

But I don't think he thought this way. I think he raised me because he has no regard for kicker. I think he would have fired again on the turn had the queen not come.

It's my hunch. So although I lost the hand, I was excited to see him with my chips. Unlike a few of the other players, he seemed like my best chance to win them back.

11:38 PM. I take down a pot from the blinds with 7,8. I flopped an open ended straight draw and called a $35 bet three ways because it was from this one dude who bets at every flop. However he usually slows down on the turn and river. And this time it happened again. When the river came out small, I bet 50 bucks. I was a little scared of the 3rd guy in the hand, but bet out since he hadn't shown any aggression either. They both mucked.

11:40 PM. I get all in with ace king on an ace,2,7 flop against what I'm hoping is a flush draw. Turns out dude has a weak ace and hit two pair. This was one of those hands where I wouldn't have gone all in against a bigger stack, but this guy was so small so I felt comfortable gambling with him.

The best part of the hand emotionally was I didn't pay any attention to the outcome. I was too busy jotting down notes at the time.

After the dealer peels off the river, my opponent looks at me and says "I have two pair."

I take a look at the board, notice the king on the river and say "Me too."

Usually I tend to get my money in there with the better cards. So I am usually the one getting sucked out on. What a pleasure it was to do it to someone else!

Did I mention I'm wearing the lucky hat?

11:41 PM. The very next hand I lose 15 bucks with 2,8 suited.

Why am I playing 2,8 suited?

Because my main man Doyle talks about poker and rushes. Doyle says he likes to play the next hand after he wins a pot to give himself the chance to go on a rush. So I limp and call a $10 raise with my ugly 2,8 suited to give the rush a chance to happen. It doesn't. This time.

11:57 PM. I raise preflop with ace jack suited, get 3 callers and flop two aces.
In this spot it can be tough to get more chips out of people.

What to do?

If I check it looks like I'm slow playing trips.

If I bet I may force everyone to fold and kill my action.

One play that sometimes works with trips is the overbet. People will often fold to a small value bet. But an overbet here will occasionally get paid off by some suspicious player who can't understand why the bet is so big. Their conclusion is there's no way I could have the ace, since I wouldn't bet so big and kill my action with the ace.

12:10 AM. I raise once again with ace jack and this time the flop is a scary 8, 9, jack. All spades. I've got top pair but no spades and don't want to play a big pot.

Even if I'm ahead right now what chance do you give my top pair of holding up against 3 opponents with this board?

I don't like to continue bet in this spot. Unless I bet large enough to make people fold. But I don't want to play a big pot here with this flop. I'd almost rather continue bet with ace king into a rag flop than put more money in here with top pair.

I don't want to bet, get reraised and have to fold. I'm also not in love with betting, getting called and having to deal with a scary looking card coming on the turn. The problem is so many cards look scary. Where do we begin? Any spade delivers a flush. Any 5,7,10 or queen makes a straight likely, An 8 or a 9 puts me behind an opponents trips. And with 3 other players in the hand, that's alot of outs.

I decide my most comfortable option, the decision that helps me sleep best at night is to check. It's a weak play and I may have to give up this hand on the turn. But I'm not here to try to win every pot. Just the big ones.

Lets see what everyone else thinks of this flop.

Good news. One guy takes the bait and bets 35. It's the exact same fellow who won't let a flop go by without taking a shot at it. Which means he may not even have a draw here! 35 sounds perfect to me. Even better news arrives when I see the other 2 players fold. Whew.

Turn brings out another jack. I check again. This time he bets 50. I call again.

Check calling has almost given me position on my opponent. By checking to him I am letting him bet the hand for me, while still having the option to raise.

The river is a rag and I check one last time. I think I have the best hand but I think he folds if I bet. I give him the chance to bluff. If he's missed his draw it might be his only way to try to win the hand. He gives up and checks it down.

It would have been real interesting if he went all in. I can't say I'd call. He could have flopped a straight. Although I will add that I felt nicely protected from him making a big bet like that (even with a straight) because of the board pairing.

If he goes all in it either means he has a full house....or missed his flush draw.

Usually I give myself crap for not playing more aggressively but in this case I think I got him to bet that 50 on the turn by my check calling. I'm not sure he calls there if I lead out and bet 50.

12:14 AM. I'm getting lots of playable hands tonight. Lots of big aces and suited connectors. On this one I picked up ace king and just called a preflop raise to 20. An ace came on the flop. Preflop bettor checks so I bet and was called by the same guy from earlier who called preflop and reraised me on the flop with the ace jack.

This is exactly what I've been waiting for.

I make value bets on turn and river. He calls both. I show my ace king. He shows his weak ace. He looks at the board and says to the dealer "Chop" since we both have the aces and 10's but the dealer pushes the pot towards me and my king kicker.

12:22 AM. I'm feeling good about my reads at this table tonight and playing more hands. There are just no aggressive players here so I can get away with controlling the pot size.

There's been alot of action like this in my first 90 minutes. My id wants to go home and party. "Our work is done here. We made plenty of money."

And it's tempting to listen to him because like I wrote earlier, I really want to book a win tonight.

However my superego doesn't want to leave a good table.

My ego comes up with a compromise:
"Why not stay, tighten up and fold until we find a good spot? Just be calm and wait patiently for opportunities to present themselves."

Hmmm. Pretty good idea.

But before I can thank my ego, my super ego chimes back in with the whole "Shouldn't this be what we are already thinking every time we sit down to play poker?" argument.

Wow that superego is annoying. I know he makes some good points. But damn there is something grating about his style.

At this point I believe the dealer asked me "So does this mean you are staying?"

12:28 AM. I win again with ace jack. Amazing. I go weeks without winning with ace jack. I've gone months. Years. Would you believe decades? It's true. I didn't win once with ace jack at all in the 1980's.

Yet somehow someway this is the 3rd time tonight I've won with that crap hand. This victory parade began by flopping two pair on a straight and flush draw board. I got not action on the turn after betting the flop.

12:31 AM. An "Ouch" moment. I see the flop from the big blind with 10,3 and post turn the board is: 6,10,10 queen. Earlier when I flopped trips I mentioned the overbet in this spot since a smallish bet screams value. The larger bet seems to get called just as often because it makes people suspicious.

So what do I do? I overbet the pot with my trips and it absolutely works. I get a call from a guy with a pocket pair. I guess he doesn't believe I have a 10 (or a queen for that matter).

The river brings an 8 and he bet out 40 dollars. Well there you go. I guess he has 9,jack for the straight. I shake my head and show him how smart I am by telling him that his 9, jack hit.

And here's where it got interesting. Based on his reaction, I don't think think he has the straight. He genuinely seemed to not notice that the 8 filled the straight.

Hmmm. Well I can beat two pair here. It's only 40 dollars more and now I'm real curious. I'm gonna call the 40. It's one of those calls that is more about tuition and entertainment than value. I don't expect to win. But now I want to know what hand beat me.

Well, well, man turns over pocket 8's. He filled up on the river. Wow. Huh. Lets not forget he called the overbet on the turn with on the 10,10 queen board. I wasn't happy to lose the pot but I was happy to be sitting with this guy.

This hand got me thinking about Chip Reese, who passed away recently. Chip was one of the greatest poker players that ever lived. Maybe the best. Where do we begin?
The guy was intelligent. Knew it was good for the game to be friendly and polite. Never taunted other players. Played with dignity and class. And most of all, he consistently won in the biggest games. What more could you ask from a poker player?

I've admired Chip Reese ever since I first started studying poker and there was one thing he said that really stuck with me.

I'm paraphrasing here, but Chip said that the key to being successful at poker is all about dealing with the adversity. And from my minimal experience in this world, nothing seems more true.

Everyone is great at poker when they're winning. That's when it's easy to play your best game. But the majority of players don't handle it as well when they're losing. Most people get off their game. They chase. They stay in with second best hand. They bluff off their chips.

It's rare to find people who play just as well when they're losing. And that's been the biggest challenge for me to overcome. It's part of why I take a time off after bad sessions. The game is always going. Having your mind right is the key.

I've really tried to focus on this emotional (rock) aspect the past few months. Not to crack when things get tough. To get more patient. Feel more relaxed.

I try to recognize the challenge. I try to feel good about not going on tilt.

It becomes "Robert you just had 3 big pairs cracked in the past hour. I bet that would screw up most players. I'm curious to see how you handle it. This is a spot when most people would lose the rest of their money trying to get even."

Discipline at times like this is what separates the bad from the good, and the good from the great poker players. Everyone cracks at some point. However for a professional poker player the key is to be far away from the table when it happens.

12:54 AM. I get involved once again with the same any ace gentleman who has dominated this entry and my evening. He raises to 25 preflop and I call from blinds with ace queen off. Flop comes queen high with a flush draw that I have none of. But make no mistake. I have a pair of queens and in some parts of the world we call that "top pair top kicker."

Me and the other preflop caller check to the ace guy. He reaches for chips. He's been underbetting his hands all night but this time he fires out a very healthy 75 bucks. Damn.

This is officially a situation. I've already put myself in a bind by calling a preflop raise with ace queen. And it seemed like good news to flop the queen.

If he just made a continuation bet with ace king he's in alot of trouble. However the queen on the flop doesn't seem to bother him. I'm not sure he has the courage to make a continue bet as large as 75 with just ace king.

This makes it quite possible he could have pocket kings or aces. It does happen.

In previous hands he wasn't this aggressive on the flop and here he is definitely trying to protect his hand. Just like a big pair would do.

I suppose he could also have a flush draw. Suited ace king with the nut flush draw could definitely bet 75 here and feel good about it.

What's a poker guy to do?

I could reraise here. If he agonizes over the decision then I'm ahead and he's folding. If he insta-calls then I'm behind his big pair. But either way I'd find out real quickly.

A lay down is fine too. Poker isn't about the cards. Just like I could have won this pot even if an ace or queen DOESN'T come, I can also fold even if an ace or queen DOES come. Remember, I'm not entitled to win just because I hit the flop.

I ask the gentleman how much money he has left. He has some hundred dollar bills in front of him and I need a rough estimate to make a decision whether or not to continue here.

I wonder if asking him how much he had left makes it seem like I'm on the draw. Almost like I need to decide whether or not it's worth it for me to chase.

I call the 75.

The turn is interesting. It doesn't fill up the flush but leaves us staring at a 7, 10, jack, queen board. If he has ace king he just hit a straight. If he has kings he's still beating me as well.

I check to him. If he bets I'm folding. He checks behind me. Unfortunately this doesn't tell me too much. It's likely he has a flush draw. It's also possible he has the ace king is slow playing his straight. The only hand I can imagine I'm beating here is if he raised preflop with something like pocket 9's.

And then just when you thought it couldn't get worse, the nightmare river comes.

The ace of diamonds.

Not only does it puts the flush out there, it also means I'm now losing to any king.

I check and he bets 125.

Best of all he starts talking to me.

He tells me that I'm too good of a player to call.

He's right.

I fold and say "Show me a king." Even though from the way he bet it, I think he may have the flush.

A hand or two later he says "I should have kept my mouth shut and just bet 25."

"For 25 I would have paid you" I say.

"I know." he says.

"Absolutely." I said.

And it's the truth. For you guys. For my readers. I'm not sure we're at the point yet where I'm gonna spend $125 for you when I know I'm beat, but for 25 bucks I'd have happily called so that you could see his hole cards.

12:59 AM. Guy raises to 55 on button. I have big pair and smooth call from small blind. Big blind smooth calls too! 165 in middle and I flop top set in the blinds.
I usually check here cause I'm weak and skinny. And perhaps it makes sense to give the raiser a chance to bet. But there's a straight flush draw on the board. I'm not giving free cards with $165 in the middle. It's fine to take it down now.

I have to act first. What I really want to happen is for me to bet and get reraised by the button. I lead out with a feeler bet. 95 bucks. Maybe I have top pair and am testing the waters. A call by the button is fine. A raise is better. They both fold.

Far be it for me to complain about winning a 165 pot but of course greed is here to say he wanted to check the flop. Of course greed doesn't want to answer the question of what he does when the straight or flush comes on the turn and our opponent raises our bet. Yes flopping top set and watching everyone fold sucks, but it's so much better than another "this is how my set got cracked" after school special.

You know what? Forget I said anything at all. Nice hand.

1:03 AM. Minus 45 dollars with queens. I bet preflop. Flop came jack, 5, 5. I bet again, got called and didn't put another chip in the middle. The genius with the 5 in his hands doesn't bet the flop or turn, but waits until a second jack comes on the river to take the lead and bet this hand. This sure would have been a nice time to have held a jack. I fold my queens and he shows me the ace 5!

These are the players I play with. There are many times when playing poker for a living seems like a ridiculous profession. This isn't one of those times.

1:10 AM. I just lost on the river for the 3rd time tonight and I'm feeling all good inside about myself because I haven't gone on tilt.

1:21 AM. Another big hand with the any ace guy. It's Groundhog day all over again. I raise to 20 with ace king and he calls with sub par holdings.

Flop comes king high and I bet 45. He calls.

Rag comes on turn. There are no straight or flush draws. I bet 85. He calls.

A harmless looking river follows, against an opponent who won't go away with top pair regardless of his kicker. So I fire the 3rd bullet. This time 125.

He looks like he wants to fold. He goes into the tank. He's shaking his head "no." He looks upset. He does not want to call. But then, after a minute of this he grabs the rest of his chips and pushes all in.

Usually when I watch this happen it means I'm beat.

Usually when people take too much time, and act weak, and then reraise, they are strong. Usually.

And if this guy has more chips left then maybe I fold. He could have hit two pair. It's possible.

When I look across the table his all in only seems to be less than 100 more. And if this is true, I'm obviously calling. But before I call I ask for a count. It's something I've learned to do. All it takes is getting burned once. You see, I had an experience earlier this year where I called a river bet because it looked like my opponent didn't have alot of chips. And then I found out that he had larger denomination chips mixed into his stack.

That ain't gonna happen again.

And when this guy went all in from across the table part of his stack was a few different colored chips. They turned out to only be $10 chips but they weren't familiar to me. And if they suddenly turned out to be 500 or 1000 chips I can't say I'm calling here.

So like someone doing their job, I asked for a chip count. However when he heard my words he must have thought I called because he turned over his hand to reveal king 8 for a pair of kings. 8 kicker. (Thank God he didn't get lucky and hit the two pair and make me deal with that scenario).

However him revealing the cards turned into a mildly strange moment because I hadn't said "I call" yet. I was still focused on finding out exactly how much more I had to put in.

I wasn't slow rolling him but suddenly felt like that because I have this poor guy shouting across the table at me "What do you have?" but I'm ignoring him and trying to focus on the dealer counting out the chip stack.

It all happened pretty quickly and this hand finally wiped out the any ace guy.

He said he was going to the ATM and coming back, but he didn't return within 45 minutes.

It was time to go home.


BWoP said...

Great stuff Robert, especially the id, ego, superego battle.

Check Raise Chin said...

way to go Rob! A fool and his money are soon departed. It was a classic case of fleecing the sheep and making a "wool" lot of money.

Check Raise Chin said...

Additionally Rob, I'm just curious are you actually taking notes while you're playing? I'm guessing that's how you remember all those hands and the exact time of the hands being played? Jeez I have a hard time remembering to shave in the morning let alone every single hand that I play.

PokerNotes99 said...

Loved the post; esp the id and also the part about not being good enough readers to pay off to see the other players cards. Keep it up.