Poker is Life

Self Awareness and Self Improvement through the game of Texas Hold'em

  1. 2012-05-27 06:58:49

    Vegas Cash Games Reviewed - May 2012

    I spent last Saturday through Tuesday in Las Vegas and had the opportunity to play Texas Hold???em No-Limit Cash Games in seven different casinos. Here they are in order of classiness from worst to first:

    Terribles
    Riviera
    Hooters
    Hard Rock
    Mirage
    Planet Hollywood
    Bellagio

    I?m relatively new to no-limit in casinos. I?ve played plenty of 3/6 limit, and a good number of no-limit home games ? but it?s different when you?r not among friends. Thus far I?ve been timid about playing no-limit in casinos, mostly because I tend to lose my entire stack quickly. It???s been too easy for me to make mistakes and blow it all.

    But last weekend I just dove into it. Having $1200 cash on me to fool around with gave me a lot of confidence. I wasn?t afraid to lose a hundred bucks here or there, because I knew I?d have an opportunity to win it back an hour later, or the next day, or the next. And besides that, most of the players in Vegas were not that intimidating. At Lucky Chances and Artichoke Joe?s the players seem so serious, and I often feel like a goldfish in a tank of piranhas. In Vegas it seemed that a lot of my opponents were young, well-mannered Canadian or British tourists ? and who the hell is afraid of guys like that?

    That said, here is an overview of my experiences at the 7 different casinos in which I played no-limit Texas hold???em cash games:

    TERRIBLES:
    One of the cheapest and sleaziest casinos you?ll ever want to visit, it?s clear that they threw poker in as an afterthought. I know for a fact that they didn?t have it there 2 years ago. All they did was dump one table in the middle of the room. A year ago it was limit, but this year it?s no-limit. No-limit seems to have gotten more popular in recent years. I have to say, it is a hell-of-a-lot more fun that limit.

    The players at Terribles were mixed. Mostly middle-aged and not very aggressive as I remember. So it wasn???t hard for me to see a lot of flops or to scare players off a hand. I only played there for an hour or so, but managed to walk away with a $50 profit.

    THE RIVIERA:
    The poker here had a similar feel to Terribles ??? although they did have 2 poker tables. Similar players to Terribles, only maybe a little more aggressive and serious. I only played for about a half hour and lost some bucks before my friends wanted to move on.

    HOOTERS:
    I wouldn?t go out of my way to play here. I played many hours at Hooters? one and only poker table, mostly because I was staying there. I never dreamed I?d stay at Hooters, and never thought I?d admit it openly because the place is so goofy; but the fact is that it?s a decent place with a nice pool and a decent location for a great price. And the cash game there was made up mostly of twenty-somethings as you might imagine. Loose, aggressive, sometimes odd play which can get a rational player like myself into trouble. Although I lost a good chunk of change at Hooters I still ended up feeling like it was a good place for me to play ? that somehow I?d make some good cash if I spent more time there. Maybe I?m delusional.

    THE HARD ROCK:
    I have always hated the Hard Rock. Loud obnoxious music, ridiculously dressed rock?n roll types right out of the ???80s? But I loved it the night I played their cash game. The group there reminded me of a bunch of Silicon Valley types at a home game. They all seemed familiar with each other, drinking a lot, ribbing each other, and generally yucking it up. As soon as I sat down one guy leaned over and welcomed me to the table. He said, ?What?s your name?? My response: ???Danger.? He laughed. He liked it.

    First hand: Pocket Queens. I made a nice bet, two guys called. The flop was all undercards. I bet bigger. Only the guy to my left called. It became clear to me by the guy?s movements and lack of facial expression that he was plastered. Turn, River? He eventually put ME all in. I figured he?d hit something or he was a complete moron. ? Yeah, I went with ?moron? and called him. My QQ held up and I raked in a $125 profit. Nothing big happened after that and I walked away with my winnings.

    MIRAGE:
    I?ve always loved the Mirage. But in my opinion this is no place to play if you?re looking to take down suckers. The players there mostly seem pretty skilled and pretty serious. It???s not the funnest or liveliest group of players. And though I did take down a few nice pots I found it difficult to win consistently and eventually ended up taking a loss.

    PLANET HOLLYWOOD:
    Probably my favorite place to play poker in Vegas. I like the decor, I like the atmosphere, and I liked the players. There always seem to be a lot of Canadians at this place. They?re generally friendly with a good sense of humor. Smart, but not sharks at the table. Typically most of the players seem to be thirty-somethings. Planet Hollywood?s got a lot of poker tables going, and I did well there. I only played a total of about 3 hours at Planet Hollywood but profited over $200.

    BELLAGIO:
    Definitely the classiest place I played. I mean, where else can you pull up a chair to play a nice cash game and look across the room to see a legend like Doyle Brunson sitting in his private area playing high stakes with his picture hanging on the wall over his head? This Bellagio poker room was abuzz with cash games. I think they had 3 low-stakes no-limit cash games going on when I was there. I profited mare than $200 in the first 20 minutes though I must admit it was mostly due to the fact that I was dealt KK, AQ, and flopped a straight in three different hands ? all of which held up. But after about an hour I?d lost it all back. My overview: Serious, good players. Again, no place to play if you want to take advantage of suckers. Unless, of course, you see me sitting there.

    And that?s it ? my overview. So to sum it up, here???s the order, from Best to Worst places to play No-Limit Cash if my objective is to make money:
    1. Planet Hollywood
    2. Terribles
    3. Hard Rock
    4. Hooters
    5. Riviera
    6. Bellagio
    7. Mirage

    Let me know how your experiences compare.

    Posted by Phil at 2012-05-27 06:58:49 | permalink | Discuss (0 comments)

  2. 2011-10-29 07:12:54

    Tales from the Felt #9: Chip Stories

    It?s been well over a year since my last entry of ???Tales from the Felt.? It?s not that I haven?t been playing poker ? just that nothing very outrageous has happened in the past year. I used to play with the Behan?s group in Burlingame. That group of guys was very rough around the edges. The bar itself was rough around the edges. By the end of 2010, for some reason the group started to fizzle out. By around the holidays it got to be difficult to even get three people together for a tiny Texas hold???em tournament.

    So earlier this year I started my own new league at a great old tavern called Ausiello?s in Belmont. It?s a very different environment. A bigger, classier, much nicer bar ? but it doesn?t have nearly the edginess of Behan?s. I think part of the reason is that they only serve beer and wine ? no hard alcohol. That definitely keeps the tempers down and the arguments to a minimum. But alas, a lot less to write about.

    Which is why this installation of ?Tales from the Felt? will not be my stories, but the stories of a certain floor manager of a certain local card house. ... Okay, his name is Chip. At least that's what they?ve been calling him ever since I started playing poker at Artichoke Joe?s in San Bruno. I don?t go there that often. I can?t afford it. Seems most of the time I end up losing $100 in my usual game of 3/6 limit.

    But back to Chip. He?s a white-haired, tall, slightly overweight guy who definitely gives off the air of being in charge. And he should because he is. He?ll do everything from place new players at tables to settle disputes during games. He?s kind of reserved, but you always get the sense that he knows what?s going on. I had never considered it until recently, but I should have known that he is apparently a very skilled poker player.

    It was just last Sunday that I?d heard of this. Andr??a was out running 17 miles in training for an upcoming marathon, and I had a few hours to kill, so I stopped by the old casino. It was mellow as hell there on that late Sunday morning. In fact there was only one 3/6 table running at the time, so I put my name on the list. While I was waiting I moseyed up to the counter where Chip happened to be sitting at the moment. I said, ???Slow morning, eh?? ?Sure is. More than usual,? was his response.

    I paced around a bit more, observing the quiet action at the tables and noticing the regulars that I?d seen there on and off for about the past 5 years. And I recalled that there was one guy who used to be in there just about every time I was, and I hadn?t seen him in a few years. I went up to Chip again and said, ?Hey, you remember that guy Vince?? He looked a little puzzled. ?A tall, dark-skinned guy?? I said dark-skinned because I didn?t know what race the guy was. Could?ve been black, could?ve been Cambodian. Maybe some odd combo. ???Oh yeah,? said Chip. ?Do you know what ever happened to that guy?? I asked. But Chip didn?t know. He admitted that some people just vanished. They?d either moved, or died, or just stopped playing. ?Some people shouldn?t be playing at all,? said Chip. ???Some people have a problem, so I hope they suddenly wise up and stop playing. That?s why we have all these phone numbers around so people can call if they need help. I know most people wouldn?t ever call even if they knew they had a problem ? but even if just once in a while...???

    I told Chip that I didn?t think there was a very large percentage of people with problems. I told him that I had a LOT of friends who like to gamble, and I didn?t think even one of them had a problem. ?Well, I?VE seen a lot,? said Chip. ???Being around here you tend to see a lot of people with problems. Guys who are down and out, but they just keep pulling that money out and losing it.?

    This was the longest conversation I?d ever had with Chip. He?s usually all business, quickly walking here or there, or watching the tables like a hawk. It was a little uncomfortable quite frankly ??? but that was just my self-consciousness kicking in. As I started to wander away, Chip started yapping again...

    I learned that Chip used to be a pro poker player beginning back in the ?70s. He must have been a youngster then, because he doesn?t look more than 10 years older than me. He used to play with the likes of Doyle Brunson and Amarillo Slim. He mentioned that he was once poised to win a whole lot of money from those guys. He?d somehow convinced them to play a round of golf against him for a hefty sum. But that at the last minute he got ratted out. At the time Chip was what?s called a ?scratch golfer.? (I?ve only recently become familiar with this term after watching an entire season of Ray Romano?s ?Men of a Certain Age? on Xfinity.) I?ve heard and read lots of stories about the old pros and the various things they like to bet on, not the least of which is the game of golf. Chip might have ended up one of those great stories had someone not blown the whistle. ???I was from Montana. I only used to go down to Vegas a few times a year, so they didn?t know how good I was.???

    Somehow we got onto the topic of cheating. Chip informed me that he played high-stakes limit. I believe it was $40/$80, something like that. Which isn?t that high by today?s standards. Not even then, Chip told me. He informed me that he would have played higher ? but the higher the stakes, the more likely there was cheating going on. So he played the highest stakes he could where there wasn?t cheating.

    ?I always knew when they were cheating. One time I was playing a game and I hit four-of-a-kind. But I?d seen one of the guys cheating. I knew he had a straight flush. So I mucked the four-of-a-kind. Well the guy nearly fell out of his chair. I hadn?t shown him the hand ? I just mucked it. And he was shocked, because he knew what I had folded. But he couldn?t say anything because that would?ve given away that he was cheating.? Chip went on to say that it was the only thing he could?ve done. There was $1600 dollars in the pot at that point, but he gave it up! ?Hey, better to lose the 1600 than to lose everything.?

    ?That doesn?t go on that much these days, does it,? I suggested. ???Oh, no... no... Not anymore. That was back in the ???70s and ???80s. Some of the old downtown casinos were okay, like the Golden Nugget and Binion?s; but the Stardust was the worst. That?s the place that the movie ???Casino? was based on. I knew all those guys. The guy that Joe Pesci?s character was based on ? he was much worse than he was portrayed in the movie.? As riveted as I was by these great inside stories, I still had the urge to get away. Just my nature I guess. But I told myself that I needed to change my attitude ? alter the game plan. This was quite an opportunity ? a rare moment. This old pro was opening up to me, telling me first-hand stories about the world I?ve been obsessed with for the past half a decade. So I just relaxed and leaned into that cool, rib-high, black granite counter top, looked Chip in the eye and let him tell his stories.

    ?One time a friend and I said, ???Let?s go down to the Stardust, just sit at the bar and see what?s going on.?? With a few hand motions Chip mapped out the basic layout of the bar in relation to the poker tables. ???My friend and I just sat there drinking beers and watching the cheating. We couldn?t BELIEVE what we were seeing! Guys passing cards to one another...???

    Chip was really on a roll. He told me how he?d recently cashed in the casino employees event in the World Series of Poker. Silly me, I?d always thought that event only allowed the employees of that particular casino to enter. No. The event is open to ANY casino employee, including the floor manager of a small card room in northern California. I think Chip said he ended up winning like $50,000. Or was it 50th place. ... Irrelevant. The guy did well.

    He?d said earlier how playing poker for a living really became just like a job, having to keep track of all your winnings and stats and tracking other players. And I?m thinking, ?But what you do now is just a job. Why not play poker?? So I asked him, ?Do you ever think of going back to it?? ?No, I can?t. I?ve got a wife now, and a three-year-old.? ?A THREE-year-old?? I said, immediately a little worried he?d think I was implying he was way too old to have a three-year-old. Which, well... yeah, he kind of is. But Chip didn?t flinch. He said, ?I?m taking her to Disneyland in a month. I?m thinking of staying at The Commerce Hotel.? ?Yes!? I said. I knew he was going there. The Commerce is a great place. Biggest poker room in the world. All the pros play there. Chip smirked a little. ?I?m gonna ask my wife if we can stay there. Can you imagine? I?m taking my kid to Disneyland, but I wanna play poker. ... Anyway, she?ll probably say yes because she?ll know I?m gonna win.? Must be nice to have such confidence. I guess I?ve always thought of that level of skill as a kind of superpower: You can always pull it out of your back pocket when you feel like makin??? some quick cash. Oh yeah! ...

    We spoke about the pro players and what they were up against these days. We spoke of the successful tournament players and the kind of skills it must take to consistently end up in the money. I mentioned Johnny Chan, the only player ever to win two back-to-back World Series of Poker main events. Chip laughed a little, looked away for a second and said, ?I hate that guy. Yeah, he?s good. I?ve seen him make lay downs that are beyond comprehension. But he?s an asshole. I was dealing to him once at a place in Taho in about ?86. He lost to a bad beat, and he threw the cards at my face. One of the cards hit me right in the eye. I was so pissed, I stood up and knocked him out of his chair. I punched the guy right to the ground. I was pretty built then, so it took four guys to hold me back. They kicked him out of the casino.? Amazed, I said, ?They kicked HIM out of the casino?? Can you imagine that? An employee punches out one of the guests and they throw the guest out of the casino. Only in a poker room, and only in the ?80s. I?m sure things would be a lot different today.

    ?I ran into him a few years ago. We only said four words between us. There were a few other guys at this gathering. I shook hands with the others, and Johnny said, ???Fuck you.? And I said, ?Fuck you too.? ... Oh, that?s five words.? That may be the only math error I???ll ever catch Chip making.

    By the way, I didn?t end up playing at Artie?s that morning. A spot at the table had opened up, but I noticed a guy there who I?d played with before. He?d been criticizing everyone at the table the night I played with him ? players and dealers alike. He was a fat asshole, and at one point I?d opened up on him for griping about another player?s move. I said, ???You?re criticizing him because he doesn?t play the way YOU would play? Why don?t you keep your comments to yourself!? He?d just ignored me and watched the television up by the ceiling. He was honestly the only guy I?d ever told off at a poker table. Nope, Chip?s stories were enough for me on this nice Sunday morning. I didn???t need to play with that jackass again. I might have flung a card into his eye.

    ??2011 Philip Travisano

    Posted by Phil at 2011-10-29 07:12:54 | permalink | Discuss (1 comment)

  3. 2010-09-19 20:20:45

    Tales from the Felt ??? Number 5 in a Series

    Written in July of 2009. ?? Philip Travisano

    It was a different kind of ?Tales from the Felt? last night. What started out as a typical bar-room poker tournament turned into a seemingly endless session of an old game called ?Tonk.? I learned it just last week, and made about $30 in 2 hours ??? more than I usually make in my weekly 3-hr. poker tournament.

    Last night it ended up being me, Alan the tournament organizer, and another regular named Tony.

    So, in case you didn?t know, my weekly game now takes place in the back section of a local bar called Behan?s in Burlingame. This place attracts more Irish people than any other place I???ve seen. And after midnight all the weirdos come out.

    The game of ?Tonk? is like Rummy. (Not that I?m familiar with rummy ? but that?s what I read on Wikipedia.) I also learned that this game was very popular in the ???30s and ???40s among jazz musicians because it?s quick and easy to play and involves lots of dollar bills flying back and forth. The guys at Behan?s have been playing it for years. They told me they learned it from some old black guy named Fred. Fred is no longer with us, so we won?t be able to ask him, but Alan somehow assumed that Tonk was a big prison game. Not sure if that was a racist assumption or if there really was something about Fred that made Alan think he???d been to prison.

    In any case, the game seemed to have attracted a new jailbird to our little table: A tall, somewhat attractive young woman named Tara. Tara swaggered over, towered above the table and inquired what we were playing. We told her a little about it, and she asked if she could play. Of course she could! She???d be back in a moment after a trip to the bathroom.

    Well, despite the wisecracking and horseplay among my newfound poker buddies, we really were mostly a bunch of nice guys, and we really didn???t want to take advantage of a young semi-toasted lady. But who were we to deprive her of some fun at the felt?

    While Tara was in the bathroom a guy who I?d learned was named Jay rolled up on his electric wheelchair. Not too hot with the brakes, Jay bumped the table and pushed it about 6 inches to my right. Alan seemed to know him, and they exchanged some playful words. Soon Tara came back and dove right into the game. It soon became apparent that Tara and Jay knew each other too: I couldn?t hear all the dialog between them over the blaring of the juke box, but every once in a while one of them would tell the other to SHUT THE FUCK UP! They were a cute duo. More like brother and sister. Or quarreling astronauts cooped up in a space capsule on a 3-year journey to Mars. I was a bit surprised when Tara gave Jay a little smack on the face. ... Yeah, she slapped the guy and kept playing the game. Odd, considering the guy wasn???t just a paraplegic; he also had impaired use of his arms. A few Tonk hands later Tara and Jay exchanged a few words and she gave him a quick kiss on the lips. ... What the heck!

    At one point Jay joined in the game. Not only did he seem to have little patience with listening to the rules, but he was definitely a little toasty himself, and he was having a hell of a time handling those cards. He got frustrated with losing 2 bucks here and 5 bucks there and eventually threw the cards onto the table the best he could, turned his vehicle around and wheeled away at about 12 mph. (Was there a speed limit in this place?)

    The game went on and Tara lost money on just about every hand, but kept on saying things like ?I?m still learning,? and ???I think I?m gettin??? it now.? At one point Alan began inquiring about Tara and Jay. ???So what?s yer deal?? asked Alan in his slightly diluted brogue. ???How d?ya know Jay?? ???We live together,? said Tara. ?He?s not my boyfriend. I?m his nanny.? Alan, Tony and I took a few seconds to process that one. At 12:30am on a Wednesday night, after a long day at work and an exhausting Texas hold?em tournament, I had no shyness about asking the question, ???Isn?t it a little unethical of a nanny to slap her client in the face?? I don?t think she responded. She was too busy trying to figure out how to stop giving us all money.

    ?I wish I could have a cigarette right now,? said Tara at one point. I think it was California which paved the way toward the abolishment of smoking in bars. A shame. Tara did seem to be getting a little better at Tonk, but that hadn?t yet helped her stop bleeding cash. ???I keep thinking poker! I?m a poker player! You should see me play!? ???We?d like to,? said Alan. ???You should come back next Wednesday at 8 o?clock.? ???I hope I can,? said Tara. ?I hope I?m not in jail.? More processing of information. ???Why would y? be in jail?? ???I have to go see if they?re going to extend my probation.? Then came Alan?s serious probing. ?What did you do? Have you served time?? Tara was reluctant to tell, but eventually let on that it had something to do with withholding information about some thefts. It seems she would rather do time in the bighouse than be a stooly for the man. (I stole that line from an old sit-com.) Tara was getting interestinger and interestinger.

    Time moved on, as it always does in a Tonk session. Tony must have said ?This is my last hand? about a dozen times, but found it hard to go home to his family while he was raking in so much drunken jailbird loot. And eventually Tara hit her streak. She had finally figured out a strategy to win a few hands. Then she thought she was hot. Then she was confident. And that?s when it turned around again and she morphed back into the walking ATM we knew she was from the beginning. Jay wheeled his ass back, pushing the poker table another half a foot to the right, and Tara said ???I need some money.? Jay put up no resistance as she reached toward his crotch and pried open his money belt for some quick cash. Alan, Tony and I looked at each other undoubtedly with the same thoughts in our heads: ?We?re taking money from an intoxicated woman who?s stealing it from a cripple.? Were we bad, bad people? There really wasn?t much time to ponder such existential conundrums ? we were having too much fun.

    Well it wasn?t long before Tara was cleaned out again. We occasionally said things like ???We should stop. You?ve lost too much.? And Tara would say ???That?s alright. It?s not MY money!? After another dip into the piggy bank on wheels, Tara was broke again, but insisted on continuing to play. Alan said, ?But y?ve got no money! How?r y?gonna PAY us?? ???I don?t know. I?ll figure something.? ?You?ll have to flash us,? said Alan with a big laugh. ???Okay,? said Tara. ?Oh no,? I said, thinking of my wife who was innocently sleeping at home, ?I can?t go along with this.? Alan began laughing at me at that point. ???What, yer not gonna look?? ?No,? I said, ?if it happens I?m just gonna look straight ahead. I?ll just see her through my peripheral vision.? ?But you?ll still be looking!? said Tara. ???No I won?t,? I defended, ???It?ll be peripheral vision! That doesn?t count!?

    So we played. And sure enough she lost. Tara slumped down in her chair actually looking defeated for the first time that night. ?Now what am I gonna do?? For a second she looked toward the greater part of the bar. In my mind this was clearly a scan to determine how many people would see her if she did in fact lift her shirt for us. Then she turned back. I noticed a fresh pack of Marlboro Menthols sitting on the felt in front of her. I said, ?You can pay me in cigarettes. They?re worth about a dollar each now anyway, aren?t they?? So she tossed me two cigarettes. Then Alan made a crack at Tara, ?You?ll have to get used to that. That?s what they play for in prison.? Tara flashed him a dirty look. So in a way she did pay up what she agreed to.

    So here I sit, writing this latest ?Tale from the Felt,? an unlit Marlboro Methol between my lips ? one of 4 that I walked away from the bar with last night... 2am, through the desolate streets of Burlingame, laughing out loud at the surreal and ridiculous evening I?d spent. Ah, the life of a gambling lounge-lizard.

    Posted by Phil at 2010-09-19 20:20:45 | permalink | Discuss (2 comments)

  4. 2009-03-05 05:21:27

    Knucklehead Flush

    They call it the Nut. Tonight it was the Knucklehead. Weekly $20-buy-in tournament, 10 players, 4100 in chips, 10/20 blinds.

    First hand: I'm last to act before the button. I'm dealt . Not bad. Checks around, I make it 60 to go, my standard 3x the big blind. I get 4 callers. Not unusual in this game. Flop comes . I've already hit my flush. The NUT flush. (Or Knucklehead flush as we're about to see.) Checks around to Pat (the "Puerto Rican") who bets 150. I smooth call. There are one or two other callers.

    The turn card is the . Checks to Pat who bets 400. I pretend like I'm laboring over the decision, then smooth call again. Everyone else folds.

    Here's the river: Out comes a card which unfortunately pairs the board. Let's call it the (I actually don't recall the suit).

    Okay, I'm thinkin' obviously there's a chance of a full house here, the only hand that can beat me. But crap, what are the chances? (Try 100%.) Pat bets 1,000. I think a bit, listen to my racing heartbeat, and raise him another 2,000. He goes all in.

    I am a little disappointed that I did not give it more thought before I called him; but honestly, no amount of thinking in the world would have gotten me to fold my hand. So of course I called and watched him turn up his pocket 4's for a boat.

    Shortest tournament of my life.

    No sympathy please. I am a very, very lucky man in so many other aspects of my life. And I still love the game.

    Posted by Phil at 2009-03-05 05:21:27 | permalink | Discuss (5 comments)

  5. 2009-01-09 09:40:26

    Poker is for the Macho!

    This will be my second blog entry ever. Having enjoyed the experience of posting my first one, I???ve decided to pull my favorite poker story from my archives. This true account was first written to email to my close friends back in May of 2007. And now it will enter cyberspace forever!!!!! ??2009 Philip Travisano.

    Enjoy! ...

    A serious little battle went on last night at the poker table. To set it up, I?ll have to tell you a bit about last week?s game.

    At a home game down in Sunnyvale, CA, last Thursday night, I was involved in a two-table tournament which worked its way down to one. At that table was a mix of people including myself and this new guy, Aaron, a physically mature high school senior. Aaron is tall, a little beefy, and has a bit of a C. Everett Koop beard, only dark. Aaron is talkative, impatient, and a bit obnoxious.

    At one point the table was down to about 6 players when I half-jokingly said, ?You wanna chop the pot? Who?s up for chopping???? There was some discussion, but no one seemed seriously into it.

    As time went on, and we were only down to about 5 players, a few of us began commenting on how long the game was taking. Normally a game would end at about 10:30 or so, and it was now about 11:15 with no sign of it ending soon. Well, I?d had a few lucky breaks and my stack had built. But Aaron and another player began serious talk of chopping again, and they agreed that yes, they wanted to chop. They high-fived each other, happy that it would finally be over and we?d all get some cash. But I broke in and said, ?Hold on! Hold on! I haven?t agreed to this. I?m not so sure I want to chop now.? The cash prize was substantial, and I hadn?t won a tournament in a while! Aaron was visibly and vocally upset. He threw his arms up in the air: ???Oh, it?s always the ones with the short stacks who want to chop, and the ones with the big stacks who don?t!? ?Well naturally!? I said.

    So the game continued, and Aaron slipped in his occasional groans and comments of disapproval. Despite this, I was having a good game and enjoying myself, when at one point Aaron took occasion to mimic my laugh. ... He mimicked my laugh! That, in my mind, was crossing the line. It was no longer a friendly game.

    The tournament dragged on, and the chips got pushed around for another 20 minutes, and there was still no clear sign of a conclusion. Plus my chip stack had begun to dwindle. So again I put the offer on the table to chop the pot. And it was taken. We were all relieved to end the tournament and take our cut of the cash. I walked over and shook Aaron?s hand telling him he was a good sport (even though he wasn?t); and the night was done.

    Flash forward five days to last night?s game. This one took place at Trish?s house, my favorite place to play. She?s got a big, spacious house on a hillside in Hillsborough, CA. This was to be the biggest tournament I?d ever played. There were 30 people signed up! It was a $40 buy-in, so first prize would pay over $500! I was psyched. I felt at the top of my game, so I thought I had a very good chance of ending up in the money.

    Throughout the day I?d been checking on the players as they added their names to the roster on Meetup.com, the website that our organization uses to plan all its games. Throughout most of the day, to my relief, Aaron had not signed up. I just thought I?d have been more comfortable without him there. But then, near the end of the day, his name showed up on the list: Aaron + guest. Oh well, poker is supposed to be a battle after all.

    So I showed up just before the game began, and they assigned me my seat at one of the three starting tables. This was bigtime! At least as bigtime as I?d ever seen. Before I sat down I noticed Aaron at the next table, and he noticed me. Immediately he stood up, walked over to my table and leaned over to whisper into the ear of one of the players ? a player I?d never seen before. As Aaron whispered, the new player shot me a quick glance, then looked away. Was I being paranoid? I didn?t think so. The words I imagined Aaron speaking were, ?That?s him. That?s the guy you?ve gotta knock out.? And the tension washed over me. The nervousness set in. I?m not a person who likes conflict. (Strange game I?ve chosen as a main hobby then, isn?t it?)

    So the game began. I played tight as usual, being very selective about the hands I?d stay in with. And when I finally did have a playable starting hand, I made my standard 3x the big blind raise. Wouldn?t you know it? Everyone folded around the table except for the new guy. Aaron?s friend re-raised me a massive amount. Instinct urged me to call it, or to go all-in, but my logic was in charge. I repressed my impulse and tried to relax. My cards weren?t that great, so I folded.

    The game went on, and I remained patient, though constantly aware that this behavior might continue. This clown just might massively re-raise any raise I made for as long as we were at the table. I didn???t like it.

    Let me just take a moment to tell you what this guy looked like. He may have been a high school senior, like Aaron, although he too was physically mature. Very stoic ? very serious. Bushy, furled eyebrows. Not the kind of guy who you?d like to test. I resented the intimidation I felt in his presence.

    In time I received a few more decent starting hands, raised them, and fortunately did not get re-raised by Aaron?s henchman. And I won a few pots. Feeling okay-confident, I even made my standard raise in early position with only pocket 8?s ? not a move I automatically make. But I did it, and the henchman only called. The flop came down something like 8, 5, Jack, giving me a coveted three-of-a-kind. I was sure I had the best hand. I made my standard half-the-pot bet. Thee henchman re-raised, about 3x what I?d raised, leaving him with a modest stack of chips! Everyone else folded, so it was just me and him. Still confident, I re-raised him back putting him all-in. There was stillness... silence, as he thought about whether or not to call. For some reason I had the urge to shake my head ?No? to warn him not to do it. I?m not sure why. Maybe I had pity on him. Maybe I just wanted to take down this monster pot as it was, fearing the coming cards might make him a winner, however remote that chance was. Or maybe it was just a power thing ? the feeling of a lion with its prey taking the opportunity to release this one little mouse. Whatever the case, the longer he thought, the more I was compelled to warn him.

    At this point I was standing at my end of the table. I was hyper and tired of sitting. I stood while all the others sat. At one point, even Aaron noticed the stand-off from the other table. He walked over for a second and said to his friend, ?You all-in against this guy?? I didn???t pay much attention. I was too into the situation.

    The guy thought for so long that I could no longer contain myself. ?Don?t do it,? I said. He looked at me for just a second. He continued to think. ???You don?t want to go out of the tournament yet,? I said. ???You?re not gonna win.??? I was absolutely sure of it now. And I was pretty sure that he was becoming sure of it too. He was really laboring over this decision. I was definitely in control here.

    Having not yet actually met this guy, I thought this might be an interesting opportunity to introduce myself. I said, ?What?s your name?? He hesitated. ???Mark? he said. I extended my hand across the table. ?Phil.? He reluctantly shook it. I let him think a little longer, then said, ?I don?t want you to go out your first tournament. Have you played with us before?? Someone else at the table volunteered, ???Yeah, he?s played before.? Mark was still thinking, and I said, ???I don?t lie.? I looked toward the rest of the table and said, ???I feel like Jamie Gold at the end of the World Series of Poker.? Anyone who?s seen the video tape is familiar with the talkative style Jamie Gold was using at the end of the days-long-mega-tournament ? his tendency to be completely open about his hands as his opponents struggled with a decision ? overconfident due to his massive chip lead and exhaustion-induced breakdown of inhibitions. Cocky, and not shy about letting his opponents know that he was ???the man? and they were his victims. ... Yeah, that???s how I felt.

    ?If you fold, I?ll even show you my hand,? I offered. That was an oldie but a goody. It encourages folding, because you know they want to know what you have badly; but they?re reluctant to pay to see it. But if you offer to show them for free if only they fold their cards, what a deal! Mark thought for just a few seconds more, then finally tossed his cards into the muck. I flipped over my pocket 8???s revealing my set. He did not look surprised.

    Mark was crippled after that hand. I?d broken him down and allowed my fellow players to gobble him up, like a pack of hungry jackals. And Aaron was soon knocked out of the tournament at his table. The two left shortly thereafter, and life was good again. I went on to take 2nd place that night! Sweet victory, and a $255 profit for the evening ? the most I???d ever won at a poker tournament, by far. After 4.5 hours of play, I was exhausted yet exhilarated.

    I love the game.

    (By the way, the player who came in first that night was none other than Jason M. Some day, Jason... Some day I???ll be back!)

    Posted by Phil at 2009-01-09 09:40:26 | permalink | Discuss (11 comments)

  6. 2009-01-04 16:46:39

    Use the Force, Luke

    Last night's game took place at my friends Alan and Roxanne's house in Burlingame. Eight players around their poker table in the living room. A really nice setting despite the hockey game on their big-screen TV in the corner.

    We'd all started with about 3800 in chips. My screw-up occurred as follows: It was the 2nd blind round at 40/80, and I was two players before the button. Several people checked to me. I looked down to see AQ off-suit and immediately made it 250 to go. The guy to my left calls (let's call him Willem DaFoe) as well as the "Puerto Rican" on the button (He's actually Filipino, but the group constantly jokes that he's Puerto Rican). Everyone else folds; so we've got three players, me being first to act.

    The flop comes 4 9 9. I look, I think; and my best guess is that no one's hit. I'm guessing my AQ is the best hand at the table; so I bet roughly half the pot: 500. Willem Dafoe folds, and the Puerto Rican calls without too much thought.

    The turn comes Queen. Wow. That's a really good card for me as, in my mind, it has clinched my hand as the best. Again, without too much thought, I bet roughly half the pot, thinking he will probably fold: I count out 1000 and place it into the pot. Without hesitation the Puerto Rican calls. ... At that moment my thought is "He's got a 9." I look at him, see a blank expression, and think, "He's slow-played me."

    The river comes something like a 2. It is my turn to act, and my intention is to check, but I am interrupted by the PR saying (out of turn) "All in."

    Crap.

    Now, I wouldn't really fault myself for how I've played so far. I don't think I'd had a reason to suspect trip 9's. But here's where I screwed up royally: I didn't listen to the voice that was yelling at me in my head.

    1) It was my strong feeling that he'd been slow-playing trip 9's.
    2) His eagerness to go all-in was a give-away that he held the best hand. It should have been a DEAD give-away considering he bet out of turn!

    And here are the other factors which I foolishly did not take the time to consider as well:
    3) He'd been calling quickly and calmly the whole way – no sign of deliberation.
    4) He had a healthy stack of chips – a little more than me in fact – so he knew he was putting a lot on the line with his all-in bet; It was obviously not out of any kind of desperation.

    So, instead of taking my cues from the wise information above, here are the amateurish thoughts that went through my head:
    A) There is a chance that he's got a pocket pair lower than Queens.
    B) I've put so much money in so far, I'd be really annoyed if I let myself be bluffed out of such a large pot.

    And here are the responses I should have had to those amateurish thoughts:
    A) Not likely. If the guy held even JJ, considering the Q on the board, he would NOT have gone all-in.
    B) I will be REALLY annoyed if I call with the worst hand. Besides, if I'd taken the time to think about it, I'd have only lost about half my stack, leaving me with about 2000 – well enough to remain competitive at that point in the game.

    Other than a 9, it occurred to me that he could have held KK or AA; another good reason to fold.

    Yes, I took a few moments to consider my next move, but apparently not enough time, because I gave in to the feelings of not wanting to be beaten at that moment. I traded in my surrender for the inevitable beat when we showed our hole cards. I didn't listen to my gut instinct NOR did I take long enough to come to a complete rational assessment.

    ... If I were able to freeze time for everyone else, and write down all my thoughts on paper (much like I'm doing now) and really taken my time to weigh the pro's and con's of calling, I'm pretty sure I would have folded. ...

    But I gave in to my irrational desire not to lose what I'd already invested. I chose to throw good money after bad. I decided to "take a shot" that he did not have me beat. I called, and was not surprised when he showed me the 9.

    Foolish human, I am. This is what I battle to overcome in this game and in my life in general. And this is why I am so drawn to poker.

    Posted by Phil at 2009-01-04 16:46:39 | permalink | Discuss (13 comments)