During the World Series, Strip rooms offer:

–Better games

–More comfortable chairs

–Better dealers

–Better service

…yet the big room at the Rio is always packed.



Back in the higher stakes days my hunches and reads tended to be pretty good. Actually following through on these hunches and reads was another story.

A little hand in Reno a few weeks ago demonstrated that old habits die hard. I was playing 1-2 at El Dorado – the first public cardroom I ever played poker in. A small game – but so good that its likely worth more than an average 2-5.

The hand: effective stacks are about $300. I have 10 10 in MP and three bet an early raise. Boisterous but amicable BB calls, as does the early raiser.

Flop comes 7 4 3 rainbow. BB snap leads, EP folds, I raise, BB instantly moves in for his last 200 or so. I am generally quiet while playing, but here I am talking. I think about the hand, publicly announce I believe he has 99 but I am not sure I will call. In the back of my mind I am thinking small chance JJ, but he likely would have been more aggressive preflop. So I tank, all the while talking about his 99.

Eventually I decide its not a serious game, and state I will fold hoping he shows his 99. I do, and he does.

Table is freaked out by the read. I had been winning to start, and this sort of confirmed what a great player I was.

Thing is: what it really confirmed is how bad I can be. A real player would have called.

There is no worse emotion at the table than hope. Even anger is better than hope. At least anger can be channeled. There are even players that will lay off when you are angry. But hope? Hope closes everything else going on. Hope puts you into your own little world, myopically watching the next card come off the deck.

I find myself hoping way too much lately. I hope I can stop.


Ways One Loses

I am trained not to believe in streaks.  Streaks have less to do with the run of cards than the perception people have of you (and you have of yourself) when you are winning hands.  Or so I tell myself.

But then there are nights, like last night, where I can be in full control, when I can read hands, where I can manipulate the table and the betting, where I can exude a completely misleading message about my style and my ability….and still can’t catch a break, win a race.

The last hand I played last night really could (should) have been a masterpiece.  I waited until the third round of pre-flop betting to make a big move with QQ–in middle/late position–because I KNEW who would raise, and how much they would raise, and who would go away.

At the end of the day I ended up all-in pre-flop with only one opponent…exactly what I was aiming for…but looking at about a 3.5-1 return had the QQ held up.

But it was one of those nights where there wasn’t a chance in hell my opponent wouldn’t hit his AK.

River Tells

I have a wonderful river tell I now watch for in certain spots.

It applies to average to slightly-above average players, and how to respond to a big decision they put you to on the river.  It relates to mannerisms and behavior.

I’ve looked for it 4-5 times over the past year, and picked off 4-5 big river bluffs in the process.

I’ve never read about it, at least not specifically, in any poker book, and I’ve read my share.

It is so completely great that I am not ever going to share what it is here.  And nobody is even reading this!

Player Selection

The sale of my company (no profit, but at least my hands are untied) and subsequent consulting work has allowed me to start playing more often.  By more often I mean once a week, ideally with the occasional Vegas run.

On the whole it has been ok–but the results have not been AS good as I feel they should have been.  Last night, for example, went from a winner to a loser playing 3-5 at Lucky Chances.  Even when I was up, however, I sensed I should have had more chips than I did.

There is an obvious explanation.  Playing only once a week engenders some really bad habits, most notably the need to get your fix by playing as many hands as possible, and, as the night goes on, playing these hands way too passively.  I’ll play well, sense that I have an edge, decide that I can just call with that Qx suited out of position, and then I can call again on the flop with some weak draw just to see what happens next (I am such a superior player, after all), and then I give up, having donated 80 bucks to the pot for no reason.

I do this.  I know I do this, and I know it is dumb. But at the same time: at mid-stakes NL tables I generally DO have an edge, and if I don’t drift into passive play I generally CAN play better on the flop.  I can mitigate being too loose.  Or at least that’s what I tell myself.

So I think I have a bigger problem, embodied by the big hand that took me from a winner to a loser last night:

I am the BB, and I end up being the effective stack with somewhere around $650. MP, a good player, raises to $25. Two callers in front of me and somehow it becomes obvious that I am getting the odds for the extra $20 to call with Qh7h.

Flop comes exactly how one wants it to come when playing a trash hand like Qh7h: Qc8h2h.  Top pair, flush draw with one raise pre-flop.  I check, raiser bets $60.  One call, one fold.  I raise to $160, probably a little small given the $220 already in the pot, but not a big deal.  MP then comes over the top and makes it $360 to go.  Other guy folds.

So: $740 in the pot, and I have a little more than $400 left.  And I think it out and make no mistake.  His most likely hand, I deduce, is AA or KK, which makes it 50/50 and an easy shove (I looked it up, and its actually 50.2/49.8).  If he happens to have a set, I still have my draw.  If he is on AhKh I am actually ahead.

I know I don’t have much fold equity, but even still I don’t doubt that shoving was right.  He did indeed have KK, none of my many outs hit, and I lost my stack.  And I was fine with that.  Apart from the questionable preflop call, I played the hand fine, had a chance to win a big pot, and didn’t hit.  So be it.

But here’s the thing: the guy who made the initial raise and won the pot was a good player.  And there were several not-good players there.  Some with money.  One with money and completely distracted by his computer.  So why am I positioning myself to get into 50/50s with HIM when other opportunities abound?  If I am going to play Qh7h against a raise why do it against HIS raise?

Game selection is irrelevant in a must-move format, as the NL games at Lucky Chances are.  Which makes in-game “player selection” that much more important.  Has anyone coined that term?  If not its mine,  which would be ironic given how poor I am at it.

Like any proper poker player I tend to remember those that suck out on me with ridiculous draws, while forgetting those (very rare) times that I happen to catch a long shot.  So I will remind myself about the hand below next time I get hit.  We were in Vegas last week, so, per the norm these days, scrounged together a bit of money to play with.

I have started and stopped a post several times recently on my latest complaint about not having a roll: your entire session really comes down to that first significant hand you get involved in.  Win, and suddenly you have a real stack and can play.  Lose, and you grind and grind and hope that one spot comes up.  And most of the time it doesn’t seem to, at least in my case lately.  The post was crap.  So I never finished.

But in THIS case I got lucky in that hand, and it enabled a nice trip with a decent profit.

2/5 NL at Bellagio.  I am the effective stack with about $550.  The villain in the hand was the table captain.  From this point on we’ll refer to him as, say, the table captain.

The table captain raises in EP.  A couple callers.  I re-raise with AA.  One caller, table captain calls.

Before the hand continues, a bit about the table history to that point.  I had been there for less than an hour, and had been forced into playing more hands than I like during that initial time, because somebody put a gun to my head and said “play more hand than you normally like.”  Plus, my cards were pretty good.  I originally bought in short ($300), lost half of it the first hand when I raised with AK and continued on the flop, only to have the table captain insta-push, apparently not overly intimidated by the $150 I had left in front of me.   First error: pre-flop he had asked me how much I had left, knowing exactly what he had in mind.  Rather than maintaining my standard stoic, unflappable posture, I decided to be funny and said “$300,000.”  He wasn’t impressed.

Next hand I double up against a weak player.  Went like that for a while, but in a net positive way.  I was starting to feel comfortable.

Meanwhile, I am paying attention to the table captain the whole time.  He’s got the biggest stack, and he’s not-so-subtly looking for all the weak spots at the table to push them around.  A little while later I rivered a nut flush that wasn’t as hidden as I suspected.  I checked in EP to two players including him.  They checked behind.  Like the true amateur I am I tapped the table, said “good check” or something to that effect.  He loudly said “I’M NOT A MORON!”

I think he was starting not to like me.

Now my stack was getting a little bigger and his a little smaller.  By the time the big hand came around I think he had both a.) accepted that I wasn’t a fish and b.) decided that he really, really, REALLY wanted to stack me.  And, in retrospect, I think he knew I knew that’s what he wanted.  More on that in a bit.

Returning to the hand: the flop comes a rather tame looking 9 6 3 rainbow.  He checks,  I continue with an overbet, trying to make it look like I am just continuing, because I know he’s looking to push me off the hand, and here’s where I’ll make my stand.  He calls.  Bingo!

Turn is a Q, no draw helped.  He thinks for a minute, and checks.  I bet.  He raises, but not all that much.  Now I stop to think.  Although not that clearly.  There is no obvious draw out there, and he is playing back at me.  Is he just getting ready to blow me off the hand?  Does he actually have something?  I dunno.  So I just call and decide to see how I feel at the end.

And the river is an absolutely gorgeous A.  Or did it matter?  Suddenly I am lost in my own hand, and get even more lost when he bets out.  Now: there was no way I wasn’t going to push in this spot, but I took my time trying to figure out if there was something I missed along the way.  Eventually I push, adding another $200 or so to a $1000 pot.   He starts bitching and moaning about my Hollywood act.  Shows a set of 6’s (appropriate).  Waits and waits.  I try and look like the 66 made me sick.  He calls.  I turn over the AA.  He bitches more.  Save the response to the 66 I was not acting, of course, but I was happy to have him think I was, as it got him even more flustered, and he lost the rest of his stack shortly thereafter (albeit not to me, unfortunately).  No doubt he had great things to say about me to his friends later on.

But here’s the thing I have to admit: he played me like a fiddle.  Not that the hand would have necessarily gone down differently, but I should have known.  Once I knew he accepted I was a decent player, I should have realized that he HAD to be strong there.  He KNEW I was itching to make a stand, he waited for the perfect spot, and he got it.  Unfortunately it didn’t work out as he planned it.  Pity.


Among the(poker)  highlights of the trip: met Tommy Angelo at the Rio on Thursday, and he took me on a tour around the World Series facilities.  Bumped into several authors whose books I have read in the process.  Increased the pain factor at not being able to play, but good times nonetheless.