KKing David

Ruminations on poker

Archive for the month “June, 2015”

WSOP Highlights

I didn’t last very long in the WSOP Bracelet event in which I played.  Event 42 seemed just right for me, with a $1,500 buy-in (fully funded by winning my home poker league), extended blind levels (90 minutes per level, as opposed to 60 minutes per level in all other $1,500 events), and traveling an extra day early to get past jet lag, adjust to pacific time, get some exercise and eat well.  But I flamed out with little fanfare during the 4th level.

The cash games also seemed quite good.  Mostly of one ballroom at the Rio was set up for extra cash games for WSOP players, ranging from $1/3 no limit hold’em to high limit games, Omaha, Big O, mixed games and Open Face Chinese poker.  It was bustling and awesome.

I stuck to the $1/3 games, as I had a ton of hours to play but not a ton of bankroll to risk.  At these games, the players were generally friendly, and the skill level was generally beatable.  I ended down a couple of buy-ins, nothing I cannot handle but disappointing nevertheless.  I’ll save the why’s and wherefore’s for another entry.

There were some other highlights, however, that I should hope to remember for a long time.  In somewhat close to chronological order:

Ken Adams – Ken is a Washington DC lawyer and part-time poker player who runs the Washington Poker School.  Thanks to a mutual introduction by Tom Farin, I had an opportunity to meet Ken at the WSOP.

I had lunch a few weeks ago with Tom, who is Ken Adams’ brother-in-law.  Tom lives in the Brier Creek neighborhood near RDU airport and is the owner of Pegasus Lighting.  I met Tom several years ago when he attended a seminar at which I spoke about exit strategies for business owners.  Tom and I figured out that we both enjoy playing poker, and he provided an email introduction to Ken.  One year when Ken was visiting his sister here (Tom’s wife), I tried to arrange a group of players from the “Wealth Redistribution Poker League” for a half-day poker workshop run by Ken, but could not get enough people.

Fast forward 3 or 4 years, and Tom re-introduces me to Ken via email a few weeks before my trip.  It turns out the my dates at the WSOP this year almost perfectly overlapped with Ken’s, and he was very gracious in providing some helpful information for a first-time attendee (what to pack, how to get the lowest room rates at the Rio, how to avoid long lines, etc.).  We had a great visit over tea one morning right after Ken busted out of the seniors tournament (all-in with nut flush on turn, then lost to full house on river – boy was he pissed!), and lunch another day, plus he let me tag along with him in making some rounds.

Ken is very well connected in this environment.  He knows a lot of the pros, old-timers, and WSOP senior staff, introduced me to some cool people (some of whom are further described below), and we shared some good poker hand analysis and strategy discussion while starting a friendship I hope will continue.

“Kenny” – I played one tournament, Event #42, a $1,500 buy-in no limit Hold’em tournament with extended (90 minutes) blind levels.  A recap of the tournament is here.  At my table was a 30-ish guy who called himself Kenny, wearing a hat bearing the logo of some poker room in Sacramento, CA.  He told me he was originally from The Philippines, and his last name is Tran.  I’m pretty sure this was NOT the professional player/bracelet winner known as Kenny Tran, who is Vietnamese American.

We started the tournament with 7,500 in chips, and the blinds were 25/50.  In 90 minutes the blinds increased to 50/100, then another 90 minutes they went up to 75/150.  In these long tournaments, players tend to be pretty cautious about getting all their chips committed at the lower blind levels.  But Kenny went on an amazing heater, where he kept getting big hands and kept getting paid off.  I’m not sure how many players he knocked out at these early levels, but by the end of Level 3, he had amassed approximately 65,000 chips.

He had 44 and flopped a set, got another player all-in and won.  He had Ac 2c and flopped a flush.  He had As Ks, and flopped a flushed with another player flopping top set and losing all of his chips.  He had Qs 9s and the flop was JT8 for a nut straight.  On this hand I had KJ and another player had AJ and re-raised all-in on the flop.  Whoops.  Good-bye.  He had 33, flopped a set and turned a full house, only to lose to a better full house.  Shortly after that, he got into another pot with the same villain with  KT, calling a pre-flop raise, and a C-bet on a flop of AQx.  When a J comes on the turn to complete a Broadway straight, he gets all of his chips back and more, busting the villain who has AQ.  He called a short stack all-in bet with Jh Th v. Ah 9h and hits a pair to win.  He has Js Ts, gets 9s 8s on the flop, Ks to make a flush on the turn, and Qs to make a 6-card straight flush on the river.  And gets paid!  Over and over!

I’m probably leaving out a nut hand or two, as there were so many.  Kenny took all the oxygen off the table, leaving me and the others gasping for our breaths while I never saw a pocket pair higher than 88, made one weak straight that was only good as a bluff-catcher, and otherwise just sat and watched Kenny destroy the table in a manner that I dreamed about over and over prior to going there.  Wait a minute!  Maybe that’s my seat.

Before I busted out in Level 4, Kenny started ramping up the aggression with his big stack and consequently started spewing away some large chunks of his stack.  Play was scheduled to continue on Day 1 of the tournament until 1:30 am.  I busted around 6 pm.  Shortly before midnight, I saw Kenny walking through the casino area, very slowly and aimlessly.  He looked a little pale.  I decided not to bother him.

Greg Raymer – Last October, I participated in a daylong tournament poker workshop led by 2004 Main Event champion Greg “Fossilman” Raymer.  He lives just north of Raleigh, and the workshop was held in a friend’s garage turned poker room for about 24 players.  It was fun, informative, and I was impressed with Raymer’s instructional ability and hand analysis skills.

As I was leaving the tournament room after busting out of my only WSOP bracelet event, I notice Raymer sitting at one of the tables near the exit.  I slowed down just a bit and saw that his stack was rather short.  A few minutes later, after going to the restroom and tweeting about my demise, I see Raymer walking slowly out of the tournament room, with backpack, water bottle, etc.  Busted!  I milled around a bit longer, saw another guy go over to Raymer to chat for a couple of minutes, and when he left I wandered over to say hello.  He was very gracious and pretended to remember me from the workshop, and ever the professional, walked me through his final hand (I didn’t ask, but it goes to show that even a former world champion can’t help telling a bad beat story).  He shoved with QQ, got called by TT, and a river T sent him to the rail. I told him that I follow him on Twitter and enjoy his posting hands on the ShareMyPair app.

Tom Haigler – after busting out of the tournament, I sat next to a fellow named Tom Haigler at a cash games table.  Tom lives in Wyoming, but originally hails from the Charlotte area.  He was drinking enthusiastically (Jamison Irish whiskey), and said he had just cashed in the seniors tournament for $2,830 (174th place out of 4,193 entries) and was celebrating.

Tom was a very amiable drunk!  He told me about his life in Wyoming (a physician’s assistant), his big game hunting trip to South Africa, complete with pictures on his smart phone of him proudly kneeling next to a dead ibex, impala, wildebeest, and half-dozen or so other big-horned, big game animals once living and free.  He described the pure joy of killing (and the cost – apparently you decide what animal you want to kill, pay the price to purchase a permit or something, and the guides then make sure you get one), along with commentary about how poorly the white South African guides treated the black South African support workers.  I’m going to resist the temptation to ‘go off’ into editorial mode here, but suffice it to say that I don’t own any guns, don’t hunt, and don’t get it as to what makes this so thrilling.  I’ve never been to Wyoming either.

More interestingly, Tom was wearing a hat featuring the logo of the popular Food Network program “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” (“Triple-D”).  This is one of my wife’s favorite shows.  It turns out that his son (Dexter) lives in Mt. Pleasant, SC just across the bridge from Charleston, and owns a breakfast restaurant there called the “Early Bird Diner.”  And the Early Bird Diner was featured on Triple-D awhile back for its signature  chicken and waffles.  (A southern thing.)  Tom shows me where his hat is autographed under the bill by Triple-D host/celebrity chef Guy Fieri.  I’m going to be in Charleston next month, and Tom said if I found his son and mentioned our meeting at the WSOP, he just might give me a freebie.  We also discussed shrimp and grits, another popular dish at the Early Bird Diner, and I mentioned that my step-mother had written an entire cookbook dedicated to shrimp and grits (“Nathalie Dupree’s Shrimp and Grits”).

He also asked me to please not tell Dexter that his father was drinking so much.

“Oklahoma Johnny” Hale – One day I was on the waiting list for a seat at a cash game when they formed a new table.  It takes a few minutes for everyone to get seated, get chips, and get started.  On the very first hand, a few players limp in for $3 (this is $1/3 no limit Hold’em), but I fold.  The flop is 654 rainbow, and all of a sudden there is a lot of betting action.  The turn is a J and river another 4.  I’ll spare all the betting details, but by the river card four players are all-in.  The big blind has 73 and flopped a straight.  The button has 87 and flopped the nut straight.  The guy to my right has J7, flopped an open-ended straight draw, picked up top pair on the turn, and somehow with all the betting could not figure out that at least one player had flopped a straight or set, and likely more than one.

Then this 88-year-old guy turns over pocket 55s and wins the whole pot with his full house.  He turns about to be “Oklahoma Johnny” Hale, one of the great legends of the game.  Johnny is the author of “The Life and Times of a… Gentleman Gambler” and the founder of the Seniors World Championship of Poker, which originally was a separate tournament series for senior players and later merged with the World Series of Poker to become its seniors event.  He still delivers an opening speech each year just prior to the start of the seniors tournament.

Why is he playing at the $1/3 cash game?  Because, he says, it’s still fun, it’s still poker, and you get to meet interesting people.

Johnny tells quite a few stories while play continues, including a simple plug for donations to The Seniors Charities, which provides caring services to seniors in the Las Vegas area.  He also passed out business cards with the offer that for anyone who emails him afterwards, he’ll provide a link to be able to download a Seniors World Championship of Poker Yearbook that he developed in the style of a high school yearbook, to chronicle the event’s history, complete with many pictures and stories.  After awhile, he racked up his chips, struggled from his seat to his scooter, and away he went.

So I emailed him the next day, mentioned the 4-way all-in pot that he won, and he responded with this:

Hi David
That sure was a lucky hand—-I will remember that one—-the gift I promised will come to you by separate email.  I give them to special friends but sell the link for the benefit of the seniors charities.
David, you are invited to download or take to your local printer for a hard copy.  You may give it to anyone you wish—but when possible help The Seniors Charities.  But please, protect it from sale.
Stay Lucky,   Your new friend  OklaJohnnyHale

Dyana – One of the dealers at the table with “Oklahoma Johnny” Hale was a 50-ish woman named Dyana.  She was clearly a veteran dealer and engaged in a bit of dialogue with Hale about various characters from the past.  She said that once years ago, Johnny Moss fired her, twice during a single shift.  I mentioned this to Ken Adams, who said that wasn’t unusual in the old days whenever Moss suffered a bad beat, and Benny Binion would just rehire them dealers before they left the building.  I would imagine that Dyana might have been very attractive in her younger days.

Quads, 3 Times – At this same table (unlike Johnny Hale, I spent over 8 hours in the same spot), there were 3 separate hands where a player with a short stack of $75 or less went all-in pre-flop, got called, and made quads.  The first had 87o, flopped trips and rivered quads.  The second had JJ and flopped quads.  The third had 55 and got called by a guy with KK.  He flopped a set and hit the case 5 on the river.

I’m watching this – not involved in any of the hands – and thinking “strategy schmategy.” Just stick it all in pre-flop and magic will happen.  At some point I get below $100 in my stack and dealt As Qs.  My friends know how much I hate the “Big Chick” and frequently just fold without a second thought as a form of tilt-avoidance.  But in this hand, there was a $6 straddle UTG, and I decided to limp, then shove if anybody raised.  (Can’t avoid tilt when you’re already there!)  There was a raise to $22 and one caller, so I went with the plan and shove for approximately $90 total.  The raiser called me with KK.  An A comes on the flop, followed by running spades on the turn and river to give me the nut flush.  While the A alone was enough to win, ending up with the nuts on an all-in pre-flop, after seeing the quads three times, seemed really weird.  Especially since I seemed to go several days without connecting very well to a flop on hands that I played conventionally.

Dena from Wyoming – Also at the same table as “Oklahoma Johnny” Hale, Dyana, and the series of quads following all-in pre-flop shoves, along came a woman from Wyoming named Dena.  I’d guess she was 35-40-ish, a bit overweight, wearing a cap and dark shades.  I wasn’t paying very close attention until she got short-stacked and shoved her last $38 into the pot over a couple of limpets.  Somebody called, and Dena turns over T9o, makes a pair of 99s on the flop and it hold up for her to double her stack.

Over the next 4-5 hours, Dena goes on one of the most incredible cash game heaters I’ve ever seen.  When I left the table, her stack was over $1,600.  She made a bunch of big hands and got paid.  She made some hero calls and got paid.  Twice she called very large all-in bets (once on the turn, once on the river) with pocket AAs that had not improved.  This deep in the hand, when someone raises all-in for $250 at a $1/3 game, you have to believe they can beat one pair.  Nope.  She call a river bet with a pair of deuces, that could only beat air.  Yep.  She min-raised pre-flop with A4o and made a full house.  She called pre-flop raise with 97s and rivered a flush.  More straights, more flushes, more full houses.  She turned out to be rather friendly, sociable and funny (who wouldn’t???). She claimed that she had quads twice that she didn’t show when everyone folded.  And don’t get me wrong here… she was actually a very good player.  It was difficult to read her and her bet-sizing was superb.

In the conversation, she said she had been playing “Big O” earlier.  Big O is an Omaha Hi-Lo game, where instead of dealing each player 4 hole cards as in regular Omaha, they deal every player 5 hole cards.  You still must use exactly 2 of the hole cards and exactly 3 of the community cards to make a poker hand.  But the extra card leads to bigger hands and more betting action.

Just when I’m thinking this gal is just too lucky, a friend of hers walks over to the table and sees her monster stack.  “Hey Dena, do you think you can repay the $300 that you owe me?”  Ouch!  Big O might not have worked out so well for her.  She’s killing us, but apparently had to bum from a friend just to buy into the lowest stakes game in the room.  LMAO.

Jonathan Little – Ken Adams had told me about his personal poker coach, Jonathan Little.  Jonathan is a poker rock star, having won multiple WPT titles earning WPT’s Season 6 Player of the Year award, and has over 25 WSOP tournament cashes to his name.  He also writes poker books, blogs and has a poker training site full of articles, videos and other strategy materials.  His newest book, “Excelling at No Limit Holdem” just came out earlier this year, and features chapters written by 17 exceptional no limit holdem experts including Phil Hellmuth, Ed Miller, Chris Moneymaker, Mike Sexton and others.

So I’m following Ken down the hall one afternoon, and there’s Jonathan, standing in front of a table set up by another poker training site where several of his books are on sale.  He’s very gracious, and I quickly buy the new book to get it personally autographed.  I’m a sucker for autographed books, which I guess is the natural result of coming from a family of writers.  Now I have one more.

Perry Green – One of the great and tragic figures in the history of the WSOP was Stu Ungar.  Stu won a total of 5 WSOP bracelets, including the Main Event 3 times, going back-to-back in 1980 and 1981, and again in 1997.  Only Johnny Moss has duplicated this feat.  Afflicted by drug addictions and gambling debts, perhaps the greatest no limit poker ever died a pauper in 1998 at the age of 45.

In 1981, Ungar’s final opponent in the Main Event was Perry Green, a veteran player and winner of 3 WSOP bracelets (all in the late 1970’s) from Anchorage, AK, where his “day job” is as a fur trader.  During my time hanging out with Ken Adams, Ken told me about his introduction to no limit Holdem in the early 1980’s, which came during a trip to Alaska where he met Perry Green.  Perry told Ken about the book “The Biggest Game in Town,” by Al Alvarez, which chronicles the 1981 WSOP where Perry was runner-up in the Main Event.  It was reading this book that initially piqued Ken’s interest in learning to play no limit Holdem, and in going to Las Vegas for the WSOP (initially just as a spectator, later as a participant).  Over the years, Ken and Perry became friends.

Now Perry is 79 years old, and still coming to the WSOP.  This year he was playing in the Super Seniors event (Event 43, for players who are at least 65 years old) and had already cashed once earlier in the series, in Event 31, a $3,000 PLO8 tournament.  When we stopped to say hello and buy an autographed book from Jonathan Little, I was following Ken to the Super Seniors event to watch Perry play.  At this point, they were down to the final 2 tables, with 13 players remaining.  Perry was in the middle of the pack.

Honestly, it was like watching paint dry.  First of all, in any of these tournaments, when they get down to just a few tables remaining, the payouts increase in larger and larger increments.  This results in slower and slower decision making.  The consequences of a mistake are too high, and extra thought goes into just about every move.  Secondly, these are the Super Seniors.  Even if they wanted to, none of them are capable of doing anything fast anyway.  In fact, much of the time, it looks as though half of them are asleep.  I look to see if the dealer has a cattle prod or other special tools to wake up the players if they nod off before it’s their turn to act.

Nevertheless, we watch for awhile.

Russian girl – On my last night, there was a black-haired, very attractive Russian girl at the far end of the table.  She was gorgeous, in addition to being a decent, albeit just a bit too loose, poker player.  She was also flirting quite a bit with the Italian guy sitting next to her.  One of the players sitting closer to me said he thought he overheard her saying that she is a professional dancer, perhaps in the “Vegas showgirl” fashion.

I’m trying not to stare.  Then on one hand I have something decent and put out my standard pre-flop raise.  When the action gets to her, she makes a large re-raise.  Huh?  My cards a not strong enough to call a 3-bet from out-of-position (AJo?  KTs?  I don’t recall, but for this story it doesn’t matter.  Easy fold.).  Right before folding, I look at her to see if she might be giving off any physical tells that I can use later.  Her nipples are protruding.  She looks back at me and smiles slightly.

And then, BAM! it hits me.  This is fantastic.  I can stare at her for much longer than one or two seconds, enjoying her awesome beauty, while pretending to be pondering my next move.  I can stare without looking like I’m some creepy old man.  So I stare.  And stare some more.  Eventually, I peek again at my cards.  Still an easy fold.  I’ll stare just a bit more first.  Eventually she becomes just a bit self-conscious, looking back at me again only this time with a broad smile and goofy half-wave.  I wave back.  Finally I fold.

Awhile later, she raises me again.  “You are so hard to read,” I say this time.  Let the staring begin again.

Jim McManus & Peter Alson – On my last night there, still playing $1/3 no limit, the seat to my right opens up.  A few minutes later, a new player sits there in offers a handshake.  “Hi, I’m Jim from Chicago,” he says.  We shake, I introduce myself, and our poker game continues.  Jim from Chicago gives the chip runner $300, and soon his chips are delivered.  On the first hand he plays, he calls a $10 bet, then folds after the flop.  Jim pulls out his wallet, finds a $10 bill, and asks the dealer for another $10 in chips to top off his stack.

I understand why many players like to keep their stacks at the maximum buy-in level, but I’ve never, ever seen anyone do it like this after just one hand, where as a practical matter there is virtually no difference between $290 and $300.

A few hands later, Jim gets involved in another hand, putting in about $20 before folding.  Immediately, he pulls out his wallet again, and hands the dealer a $20 bill to ask for more chips please.  Pretty soon, it happens a 3rd time.  At this point, I’m thinking “what is it with this guy?”  Is he going to buy a few chips every single time he slips even slightly below $300?  Will he pull out $4 after he has to post his blind bets?  This is going to slow down play for everybody.

Within 15 minutes, he’s also complaining about how difficult it is to win a pot at this table.  Tell me about it, Jim!  I’ve been feeling pretty card dead for six days now.  But after awhile, he seems to get into the rhythm of the game and forget about topping off his stack at every opportunity.  I notice that he’s all the way down to about $260 and seems content.  Perhaps he’s noticed the Russian girl at the far end of the table.  She’s certainly hot enough to take the edge off most curmudgeons.  Another guy moves to Jim’s right and tells us a couple of jokes and stories, and that also seems to get Jim feeling better.

Then a friend of Jim’s comes over and pulls up a chair behind us, asking me if that’s OK.  Sure, fine.  We introduce ourselves, and his name is also Jim, also from Chicago.  Then another guy wanders over and chats with Jim for just a minute or two.  I recognize him – at least I think so – as author Peter Alson. A couple years ago, I read his book “Take Me to the River,” which chronicles his trip to the 2005 WSOP as a means of raising the funds to pay for his upcoming wedding.  It’s a wonderful book, well written, insightful and funny.  After he leaves, I comment to Jim that he looks familiar.  And Jim confirms that it was Peter Alson, and offers to call him back over and make introduce me.

Absolutely!  I ask the dealer to skip me for a few hands, and stand up to meet Peter and we talk for about 10 minutes.  I praise his writing style, remark how much I liked the ending of his book, both of which are sincere comments and both of which will endear me to him as I know how much writers like to hear compliments about their work.  He offers me a business card and wishes me luck at the tables.  For me, this chance conversation was a real treat, and I thank Jim profusely when I sit back down, again noting how much I enjoyed reading “Take Me to the River.”

Then Jim asks me if I’ve read his book.  Given that we are playing poker – at the lowest stakes in the room – I quickly assume he’s bullshitting me.  “You have a book?  Really?  Well have you read MINE?”  He goes on to tell me the title is “Positively Fifth Street.”  And his friend Jim #2 nods in affirmation.  Well, sorry but I’ve never heard of it.  I ask his last name since he never said it when we introduced ourselves earlier, and rather than say it, he spells it, M-C-M-A-N-U-S.  When I pronounce it, I must have accented the last part too hard in a manner that rhymes with ‘anus’ as he very sarcastically says, “Thanks a lot!!”  Whoops.

Embarrassingly, I cannot recall ever hearing of a poker writer named Jim McManus.  But a few minutes on the smart phone and Jim #2 pulls up a list of the 10 Most Important Poker Books of All Time (non-fiction narratives, not strategy books), according to WSOP’s Director of Media Relations, Nolan Dalla.  Not only is “Positively Fifth Street” on the list at #5, but Jim from Chicago has a second book on the list as well, “Cowboys Full” at #10.  And one of Peter Alson’s other books, “One of a Kind:  The Rise and Fall of Stuey ‘the Kid’ Ungar” also is there as an honorable mention (#4 is “The Biggest Game in Town” which I mentioned earlier in the Perry Green section of this post, the same Perry Green who was runner-up to Stu Ungar at the 1981 Main Event).  I don’t know why Jim is playing $1/3 with the pedestrians, but he is the only author with multiple books on Nolan Dalla’s list.  And wsop.com tells me he has 15 career WSOP cashes, worth a total of $437,000+, including the final table at the 2000 Main Event.  Now I’m really embarrassed, but I turn on the charm to make it up a bit and promise to get and read them both.

And Jim #2, commenting on McManus’ occasional lack of charm (and stack topping-off habits), explains to me that back home, his friends refer to McManus as “Jimbo Sweetness.”  Yeah, I can see that.

For awhile there, I forget about the frustrations at the table all week, play the game, and continue to chat with Jim McManus and Jim #2 from Chicago.  They both seem to warm up to me when I tell them I come from a family of writers, with my father, step-mother and brother combining to publish over 20 books.

Food Vouchers – While I’m a member of Caesar’s Total Rewards club, there was no mechanism at the cash games ballroom to swipe a Total Rewards card, or otherwise accumulate any points toward food or other complimentary items.  So on about the 4th day, I asked the staff at the cash games registration desk if there was any benefit to being a Total Rewards member.  And learned that most of the floor supervisors had $10 food vouchers available to give out at their discretion.  You just have to ask, and better to ask nicely and discretely.

During the next 2 days, I secured $40 worth of vouchers, good for discounts at almost all of the food options within the Rio.

Note to self:  Next year, ask for food vouchers early and often!

WSOP Event 42 review

Just busted out of my first ever WSOP bracelet event.  Event #42 this year was a $1,500 buy-in, no limit Texas Holdem tournament, with extended blind levels.  All of the other $1,500 tournaments have blinds increasing every 60 minutes.  This one has blinds increasing every 90 minutes.

I made it to the middle of level 4, but really nothing ever happened for me.

With a starting stack of 7,500 chips, I peaked at barely over 8,000 by making a straight on the last hand of level 1 (I had T8, called a very small raise from the BB, and board went J87-6-9.  We both checked the flop, and I check/called the turn and river, expecting this villain to fire bluffs on both streets.  No point in raising however.)

Level 2 came and went and I don’t recall winning a single pot.  I tried to make a couple of moves.  Once I had call a pre-flop raise with KJo, and the flop was JT8 with 2 clubs.  The pre-flop opener bet 600 (blinds were now 50/100), I raised to 1,400.  My image then – if anyone was paying any attention to me at all – had to be extremely tight.  The button called my raise – a Philippine kid who was making huge hands left and right.  Then the opener goes all-in.  So much for my tight image.  Philippine guy then calls again, having flopped the nuts with Q9.  Another hand folded around to the button with me in the SB.  Button raised to 250, I re-raised (with J8s – just trying to steal here) to 800, then BB 4-bets to 1,900.  Uh-oh.  Gotta fold.

Level 3 the blinds were 75/150 and I started that level with just under 4,500 chips (30 BBs).  Once I raised pre-flop with KQo and Philippine kid calls.  I totally miss the flop, he calls my C-bet, then he puts me all-in on the turn after I check.  Uh-oh again.  Gotta fold.  He said he had TT.  Doesn’t matter as all I had was K-high.

Later in level 3 I open-shoved all-in three times with about 15-16 BBs.  All three times everybody folded and I picked up the blinds.  My hands were QhJh, As9s, and AK0.

When level 4 started, I was down to 11 BBs and really have no option other than folding and shoving here.  Just trying to find a good spot and there are a couple of stacks big enough to call with just about anything.  Finally with 8.5 BBs on the button, everyone folds to me and I have Ad6d.  Good enough!  I shove and SB with a deep stack calls with KhTd.  I have 59% equity in this pot.  At least I got it in with the better hand.

Until the K comes on the flop, and blanks on the turn and river.


Never had any traction this entire tournament.

Bitch-slapped by the Deck

I almost hope nobody reads this, because it may sound like I’m whining.  And I hate whiners, especially those who whine about their losses at the poker table.

So… Dear Readers, I’m not really writing this for you.  I’m writing for myself, to try to purge this from my psyche.

Here I am at the World Series of Poker, staying in an expensive room at the Rio in Las Vegas.  I flew in this morning, napped some on the plane, surveyed the WSOP area, hung out a little bit at the pool, registered for a tournament that starts in 2 days, resisted the temptation to start playing poker immediately, went to the fitness center and worked out, and ate a salad.  That seems almost perfect insofar as my plan to get my mind and body right before the tournament.  (OK, confession time, I did enjoy a Cinnabon at the airport upon arrival, but I digress.)

Then I sat down for some $1-3 NLHE cash game action.  And just got bitch-slapped by the deck.  As in…

  • AKo, I raise and get 2 callers.  Flop 983 and I continuation bet and get one caller.  Turn is a K, giving me top pair/top kicker.  I bet again and get called.  River is a T, I bet again and get raised. I call.  Villain has the nuts with QJ.  He called flop and turn bets with gut shots, and hit on the river.
  • AKs, I raise from UTG and get 3 callers.  Flop K64 with two clubs.  I C-bet and UTG+1 calls.  Turn is 5d, I bet again and he raises.  There is some confusion as the dealer scrambled up the deck before the river was dealt and before I had acted on the villain’s raise.  I folded, and he shows 66 for a flopped set.
  • 88, I raise UTG+1 and 3 callers.  Flop 652 with two clubs looks good for me.  Except UTG check-raises on the flop.  I fold, and later find out he limp/called with 43o.  BB had pocket 55s.  The guy 2 seats to my left then says he folded pre-flop with pocket 22s.
  • I call an opening min-raise with KTo.  Flop is KQ5 with two spades.  Opener bets and I call on flop and turn rag.  River A of spades and when he checks, I’m sure my hand is good, but don’t see any reason to bet.  He has JT for a rivered straight, but pot-controlling in case I was chasing a flush draw.
  • KJo and I call a pre-flop raise in a multi-way pot.  Flop is K85 all spades.  I raise after one of the pre-flop callers makes a small bet, thinking he has SOMETHING LESS THAN A NUT FLUSH.  Wrong.

OK, so over 4 hours, something must have gone right.  Well, yes I did win one mid-sized pot when my T9o made top pair.  And I won another small pot when QhTh flopped a K-high flush (I had raised pre, 2 callers, and one call of my smallish flop bet then he folded on the turn).

And here is a list of ALL my pocket pairs higher than 88:  [                                        ].

Here is a list of all my flopped (or turned or rivered) sets:  [                                         ].

Here is a list of all my 2-pair or better hands, other than the flopped flush already mentioned:  [                ].

I know this is variance.  I know “This Too Shall Pass.”  I know patience will prevail in the long run.  I know tomorrow is another day.  I know.

Multi-Way Action

Here is an interesting hand from a $1/1 cash game last night.

I am the Big Blind, and look down at 9d 8d.  My stack is $130.  I’ve been playing for about 2 hours and nothing good has happened yet.  Four players limp into the pot, and the SB completes.  I check my option, so there are 6 players and $6 in the pot for the flop.

Flop ($6):  9s 8h 4c.

The SB (I’ll call him “Dell”) checks.  I like my hand, having flopped top 2 pair.  With this many players, I need to bet for value and to find out who likes his hand enough to continue.

The player to my immediate left (let’s call him “Jeff”) quickly calls.  Hmmm…  He is UTG and limped in pre-flop from this early position.

Another player (I’ll call him “John”) also calls, then “Jason” calls, and Dell also calls.

My $5 bet was 83% of the pot size (albeit still very small in absolute terms) and only scared away one player.  This might turn into an action hand.

Turn ($31):  6d.

This card doesn’t hurt me, unless someone has exactly T7, 75 or 66.  With this loose crowd of players anything is possible, so let’s see what happens.

Now Dell in the SM leads out with a bet of $11.  He does this a lot, leading out into the raiser from a prior street, but it doesn’t necessarily mean great strength.  I debate raising vs. calling and decide to call to help me get some more information.  If my hand is indeed the best, I don’t want to run everybody off with a big raise here.

Then Jeff raises to $35.  Huh?  “Danger, Will Robinson!  Danger, DANGER!” goes the alarm in my head.  John calls $35, and Dell also calls the raise to $35.  It’s back to me.

Here is where I need to think very carefully about what each Villain might have and how they would play it.  Jeff is the biggest concern, so I’ll deal with him last.

Dell is fairly easy, once I think about it.  I’ve played with him several other times, and he is loose and aggressive.  He donk bets a lot of flops and turns where he has hit any part of the board – bottom pair, middle pair, weak kicker, as a way of (1) getting information, and (2) winning the dead money when no one else has anything.  I can exploit this from time to time by raising big and representing a strong hand.  If he does have a really big hand, he bets it aggressively rather than trying to trap.  (For example we had a recent confrontation where he has AJ and I had QQ on a flop of AQJ.  He led out, I raised, he 3-bet and also called when I shoved, playing his 2-pair (top + bottom) like it was the nuts and ultimately doubling me up.)  Back to the present, however, he just calls Jeff’s raise but doesn’t re-raise.  I conclude my top 2-pair is better than his hand.  No need for me to slow down on account of Dell.

Next up is John.  John is a very loose player who likes to see flops with virtually any two cards, and likes to chase draws, including weak flush draws, gut shots, etc.  Hard to push him off of a pot as he is very sticky if he hits any part of it.  He ends up making 2-pair or middling straights an awful lot, and this frustrates many of the other players.   He called my $5 bet on the flop and then called Jeff’s $35 on the turn.  He only has about $30 remaining behind.  Surely he would re-raise all-in if he had a made straight or set.  This looks like classic John chasing some kind of draw, perhaps with a pair + open-ended straight draw (97, 87, 76), pair plus gutshot straight draw (T9, T8, T6, 95, 85, 65) or something like J7 that was a gutshot on the flop and gained outs when the 6 hit.  He also could have 2 pair like 98, 96, 86, 64.  Since he didn’t shove it all-in on the turn, my top 2-pair dominates his range.

Lastly, what about Jeff?  He’s the one who worries me the most here, based on his UTG limp, quick call on the flop and raise on the turn.  Could he have 44?  T7?  These are the two hands that crush me and might follow this betting pattern (especially T7s).  With 44 I think he might raise on the flop, although with so many players behind him, calling to keep everyone in the pot may be his best option despite the possible straight draws with 98 on this flop.  T7 is certainly possible, and his stack is larger than mine.  Ouch!  Or he could have turned 2 pair (or have the same hand as me… suited 98, but only one combination remains), but I’m having trouble seeing which 2 pair would make sense to limp in from UTG other than 98s.  Not that it has to make sense, and I do know Jeff can be very loose passive at times.  He could also be overplaying a strong 1-pair hand (I’ve seen him limp with AA from early position trying to trap).  Without doing all of the combinatorics at the table, it seems like I need to worry about 3 combinations of 44, plus 4 combinations of T7s.  In either case, I’ll have 4 outs (9%) to catch up on the river.  It seems like there is a greater number of combinations that I can beat, plus the pot size is now rather swollen.  There is $147 in the pot, and it costs me $24 to call or $115 more to go all-in.

My last consideration here is whether Jeff could fold 44 if I go all-in, representing that I have the T7 and nut straight.  Would he fold a small set?  I doubt it, but maybe, just maybe…

I finally decide to throw caution to the wind and shove all-in.  All three players (especially Dell and John) have a lot of draws in their ranges and I need to punish them if they are going to chase.  And I might actually get paid.

Jeff folds.  Whew!  I feel better already.

John calls his remaining $30.

Dell folds.

John shows J7o, for an open-ended straight draw, plus one (useless) over card.  He has 8 outs, with the the large pot, he is getting the right odds to make this final call.

The river is a blank and I scoop up a large pot, which puts me “in the black” for the evening.

Gotta Win the Races

In a few days, I’m heading to Las Vegas for my first trip ever (can you say… Bucket List?) to the World Series of Poker.  I will be playing in exactly one bracelet event, with a $1,500 buy-in, starting June 20.

So a couple days ago I switched from my normal cash game mode to a tournament mode.  I played an online tournament on Thursday, and played in live, private tournaments on Friday and Saturday nights.

Let’s get real here, very quickly, and acknowledge that these tournaments aren’t going to be representative of what I should expect at the WSOP.  But at least they involved more players who I do not play with regularly, and the basic issue that the blinds increase in scheduled increments, creating various inflection points along the way.  And when you bust out, you’re out.  Finished.  Over.  Done.

On Friday, there were 47 players in the tournament, with a $50 buy-in plus $10 bounty.  Blinds increased every 20 minutes.  The prize money goes to the last 5 players.  I did pretty well, played a mini-“Survivor” and made it to the final 4.  Then we negotiated a “chop” of the remaining money, giving a larger share to the guy with the biggest stack and splitting the balance equally among the other three.  I had the 2nd largest stack, although my lead over 3rd and 4th place was slim… no more than 3-4 big blinds.

On Saturday, there were 16 players, with a $60 buy-in, plus re-entry for the first hour, plus a $10 add-on at the end of an hour.  Blinds increased every 15 minutes.  The prize money goes to the last 3 players.  Again, I hung on for a good while, busting out in 6th place.

Here’s the thing:  in both tournaments, there are points where significant risks are required.  Let’s call a “big risk” any situation where you are going to commit all or a sizable portion of your chip stack before the flop.  This is when you have the least amount of information — only your two hole cards.  When you go all-in and another player calls, or another players goes all-in and you call, you cannot ever be assured of winning.  With pockets AA’s, you might be somewhere between 77-94% favorite, but never 100%.  And some additional times you’ll be doing the same on the flop, with two cards still to come.

Often times the odds will be fairly close to 50/50.  When this happens, we call it a “race” or a “coin flip.”  I suppose it’s fair to call it a race whenever neither player is a greater than 60% favorite (although I have not seen any semi-official definition).  Even at 70/30, the underdog is going to win often enough to make it pretty nerve-wracking.

Here are some of the hands from Friday and Saturday nights that stand out:

Friday – Coachman’s Trail tournament (format:  my cards, my percentage equity at the time we went all-in, “>” or “<” to indicate that I won / lost, villain’s cards, villain’s percentage.  (Percentages may be slightly off as I don’t remember the suits from every hand.  This is in the order they occurred to the best of my recollection.)

1.  AKo (45%) > 55 (55%).  Knocked out opponent.

2. JJ (50%) = JJ (50%).   Chopped pot.  Villain shoved over my opening raise, then picked up a flush draw on turn but missed.  Whew.

3.  A9s (30.5%) < AKo (69.5%).  Doubled up opponent.  I had raised first, he shoved, not too much more to call and I had the bigger stack.  Same villain as #2.

4. AA (80%) > TT (20%).  Doubled up my stack.

5. QQ (80%) > TT (20%).  Knocked out opponent.  This was the very next hand after #4.  Mini-heater.

6. KJo (73.2%) < K3o (26.8%).  Doubled up opponent, who had gotten short stacked and made a “fuck it” call that was less than my pre-flop raise.

7. K9o (57.8%) > QJo (42.2%).  Doubled up my stack.  Villain open-limped in cutoff and appeared weak.  I shoved on button hoping to have just enough fold equity to get rid of him.  He called anyway.

8. KQs (44.1%) > ATo (55.8%).  Doubled up my stack.  Flopped flush draw giving me lots of outs, hit flush on river.

9.  TT (80%) > 88 (20%).  Doubled up my stack.  Villain was loose, aggressive, big stack.  Now at 5 players remaining.

In this group, I won 6, lost 2 and chopped 1.  Both losses came when I had a big enough stack to survive the beating.  4 of the wins came when I was the shorter stack (and 2 of these were 80/20 situations so not exactly races.  But still…).

My simple average equity in these hands was 60.1%.  My “win rate” of 6.5 out of 9 is 72.2%.  So without weighting for stack sizes or Independent Chip Model theories and such other fancy analysis, I performed slightly better than expected on this small sample of hands.  Most importantly, there were 5 times that a loss would have knocked me out of the tournament and I survived them all.  This is a must to go deep in a no limit holdem tournament, especially with the blinds increasing so quickly.  When we finally negotiated the chop, even the biggest stack had only about 15-17 big blinds remaining.

Saturday – John D.’s house tournament.

1.  KK (78.6%) > QQ (11.1%) < Q6s (10.3%).  WTF?  Villain #2 UTG min-raises,  Villain #1 UTG+1 re-raises, and I shove on the button with KK.  V2 has slightly less than one-half of her starting stack and we have not yet reached the end of the re-entry period, so she makes a tilted, “fuck-it, I’ll just re-buy” call with Qs6s and V1 also calls with QQ.  I love this spot.  Then a 6 comes on the flop and another 6 on the river.  I make a very tiny profit on the side pot and knock out V1, while V2 pulls in chips equal to about 135% of a starting stack.  OMG.

2.  8c 3c (44.2%) < Ks Qc (55.8%) after flop of Kc 8d 7c.  After 2 limps, I completed from the small blind (AND THEREIN LIES THE REAL MISTAKE!!!) with total garbage.  But I hit the flop pretty good, with middle pair and a flush draw.  We are 6-handed and the blinds are big, such that I begin the hand with 10.5 BBs.  I open shove into a pot of 4 BBs, a massive over bet designed to put maximum pressure on the villains knowing I have a lot of equity.  Guy on button calls (why did he limp and not raise with KQo on the button???).  Turn is another 7, pairing the board and eliminating some of my outs as now I cannot win by pairing my kicker.  River is a 3, pairing my kicker.

Trying to remember other races from this tournament and cannot think of any.  I know I didn’t knock out anyone else as I only had one bounty to cash in afterwards.  I cannot recall any other hands where I doubled up my stack.

Both of these hands were weird, and the first one doesn’t really qualify as a “race” other than how it illustrates what can happen in tournaments.

My simple average equity for these two hands is 61.4%.  I won the side pot on the first hand but lost the main pot.  So let’s just say I won 1 out of 3 pots for a win rate of 33.3%.  Performed worse than expected and finished out of the money.

Friday –> variance is my friend.  Saturday –> variance is my enemy.  Inevitably, gotta win some key races to survive.

On to the cash game.  A key hand there (see #1 again from the Saturday tournament) is where again I have KK and raise to 7 BBs pre-flop.  2 callers and then a short stack makes a “Fuck it!” shove for 25 BBs.  I go all-in to isolate him and he turns over 33.  KK (80%) < 33 (20%) after he spikes another 3 on the turn.  Sigh.

Good Guy, Bad Guy

The phrase “Good Guy, Bad Guy” generally refers to a negotiating tactic whereby two people on the team team play very different roles.  One negotiator is the “Bad Guy” who bullies, uses anger and threatens to walk away from the negotiating table.  The other negotiator is the “Good Guy” who comes to rescue the negotiation by being considerate and understanding.  The Good Guy blames the Bad Guy for all the difficulties while telling the other side that if they will only concede certain negotiating points (the most important ones, of course), he’ll try to get the deal back on track.

This comes to mind in thinking through an interesting poker hand I recently played.  In this case, the actual sequence is Bad Play, Worse Play, Good Play, Bad Outcome.

I’m in a $1/2 no limit home game, and the player to my left – with whom I have played quite a bit (I’ll call him “Russ”) – has sucked out on me twice already.  Once I flopped middle set v. his top pair/medium kicker.  The turn gave him trips (i.e., paired the top card on the board) while also giving me a full house.  The river paired up with his kicker, giving him a better full house.

And very recently, I flopped top pair/top kicker and he had a flush draw.  Both the turn and river cards looked like bricks but actually gave Russ a back-door, well concealed straight.

So my stack is down to $112, and my emotional state is sub-par as well.

Another player (“Jason” from this post) puts up a $5 live straddle, and I look down at 5s 3s one or two seats to the right of the button.  This is an easy fold, almost always.  Bad Play:  I call.  Maybe it’s my turn to hit some kind of well-concealed bullshit hand.  In reality, WTF am I doing here?  Not folding is a sure sign of the onset of my C-game.

Then Russ raises to $15.  Another player calls and Jason also calls.  I feel like I’m getting a good price to continue.  Now there is $53 in the pot (including the blinds) and $1o more for me to call.  Maybe they all have high cards, leaving the deck loaded with lots of low cards to come out on the flop and connect with my hand.  Worse Play:  I call again.  At least my cards are so bad that I should be able to get away from them easily on the flop.  WTF again?  my stack is not deep enough for this sort of highly speculative call, where I’ll be out-of-position with respect to the aggressor post-flop.

Flop ($63):  Ts 7h 4s.  I have a flush draw and gutshot straight draw.  12 outs for a very strong hand.

Russ leads out for $50.  Sure looks like he has a big pair, and would be perfectly happy to take this pot down right now, or at least charge a high price to any draws.

After one fold, Jason then goes all-in for $35.  He could be calling with any hand that hit any part of this flop, or any draw.  I’ve played with Jason enough to know he will stick it all-in when he has a short stack with a very wide range that gives him any amount of hope, so there is no reason to assume this means great strength.

I have $97 remaining, and Russ has much, much more.  I can fold, in which case I’ll still have $97.  I can call, but that would be very stupid.  If I’m going to continue, I need to be sure I will see both the turn and river cards.  Yet… surely if I raise, Russ will call even if just two over cards to the board.  I cannot count on any fold equity.  What does the math tell me if I shove?

At the table, I use the simple “rule of 4.”  With two cards to come, simply multiple the number of outs by 4 and the result is the percentage of times you will hit one of your outs if you are able to see both the turn and river cards.  I have 12 outs (9 spades to make a flush, plus 3 non-spade sixes to make a straight = 12).  12 x 4 = 48%.  One small adjustment still needs to be made:  since I have more than 8 outs, I have to subtract the excess over 8.  12 – 8 = 4.  Subtract 4% and voila… 48% – 4% = 44%.  If I shove and Russ calls, I should have approx. 44% equity in the pot.

If Russ indeed has an overpair, and Jason has something other than a bigger flush draw, this should be pretty close.  Note that I’m not overly concerned about putting either Russ or Jason on a range.  I need to hit one of my outs, and if I do my hand will win.  If not, I will lose.  The only exception is where one of the villains (more likely to be Jason than Russ) has a higher flush draw.  For now, my hand is 5-high.  I know I’m behind 100% of both of their ranges and don’t need to worry about constructing the range to make my decision.  I need to worry about outs and pot odds.

I assume that if I go all-in, Russ will call.  Jason is already all-in.  The main pot will be $168 ($63 from the pre-flop action, plus $35 from each player).  There will be a side pot of $124 (the rest of my chips and enough from Russ to call my raise).

So my EV is 44% x (168 + 124) = $128.

Compare that to my stack size if I fold, which is $97.  Going all-in has an EV of $31, the increase in my stack (i.e., on average if we were to play out this exact scenario thousands of times) that results from calling.

Good Play:  I go all-in, and Russ calls, whilst shaking his head and saying he knows he is about to get ****’d.

Russ turns over QQ (with the Q of spades).  Jason turns over J8 (with the 8 of spades).  Dammit, there goes two of my outs.

Now that I am at home, I can do the math again based on their actual hands, both of which are pretty close to what I expected.  I’m 41.5% against Russ heads up for the side pot, and about 40% against the two of them for the main pot.  Note how close this is to my “rule of 4” calculations at the table.  I’m slightly weaker than I thought after taking their combined 4 cards out of the deck, including 2 of my flush outs.  My theoretical stack size after the hand would be $119, further reduced to $112 after the house rake and dealer tip, making the play a +EV of $15.  Lower than my rule of 4 calculation due to the impact of Russ and Jason each holding one of my out cards, plus the rake/tip, yet calling still is correct.

To reduce the variance a bit, Russ and I agree to “run it three times” for the side pot.  (This means the side pot is divided into thirds.  We’ll have a turn and river card for 1/3 of the pot, then a new turn and river card for the next 1/3 of the pot.  And a final turn and river card for the remaining 1/3 of the pot.)  Since there are 3 players in the main pot, we cannot run it more than once, so only the first turn and river will apply.

Bad Outcome:  I miss my outs on the first turn and river, and Russ wins the main pot and 1/3 of the side pot.  The big money is quickly gone.  I miss again on the next two board run outs and decide to go home and eat some ice cream.

Ice cream always cheers you up a little bit when you’re feeling bad, doesn’t it?

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