When the Loonies Come Out

Painless Poker feature image

It’s the end of March, and I haven’t forgotten my Poker Goals for 2018.  That’s a small victory in itself, as by now most goals and New Year’s Resolutions are on the shelf collecting dust.

In pursuit of the 2nd goal on my list, to tilt less, I purchased a copy of Painless Poker by Tommy Angelo.  OK, actually this is misleading.  I bought the book as a gift for a friend, who for purposes of this blog I’ll call “Dylan,” hoping it will help coax him back to the poker tables soon.  Dylan pledged a lengthy break after running horrifically bad on our recent March Madness trip to Las Vegas.

Before I deliver the gift, I’m reading it.  This isn’t a book review, but I highly recommend it.  One sentence in particular spoke to me in a sultry, sexy, Penelope Cruz kind of voice, or at least how I imagine Penelope Cruz would sound if she were saying this directly to me, so much so that I already knew it would inspire a future blog post:  “…when the loonies come out, and the crazy money is on the move, you perform poorly because your skills are stunted by your incredulity.”

In home poker games, this often is how it goes.  One night this week the crazy money was on the move.

About a half-hour after the game started, the player in Seat 1 won a large pot.  For purposes of this blog, I’ll call her “Sheryl.”  I don’t recall all of the action, but the flop was 965, then a deuce.  Somebody bet around 50 BBs, one player was all-in for his last 25 BBs, and there were two other callers.  Sheryl tabled 65 for two pair, the all-in player tabled 72o, another player stated that he had a nine for top pair on the flop (“I can’t fold that”).  I took note of the time when Sheryl first accumulated a very deep stack, a harbinger of how this evening would unfold.

While she looks sweet and grandmotherly, Sheryl is a very aggressive poker player especially after the flop.  Often she’s too aggressive for her own good.  A couple orbits later, she posted a 5 BB straddle on the button.  This game uses the Mississippi Straddle with no cap on the straddle amount, and Sheryl uses that when she has the button to push some of the tighter or short-stacked players out of their comfort zones.  Seat 2 calls.  For purposes of this blog, I’ll call him “Brian.”  Brian’s call sets off a cascade of four other callers.  When it gets to Sheryl, she raises to 15 BBs.  Brian calls again, and three of the other four also call.

When the loonies come out, and the crazy money is on the move, you perform poorly because your skills are stunted by your incredulity.

Having folded a suited gapper type of hand, now I want to get back in.

The flop (82 BBs) is KT8, rainbow.

Everybody checks to Sheryl on the button.  She obliges by betting 38 BBs.  Brian calls.  Seat 4 tanks, then calls.  For purposes of this blog, I’ll call him “John.”  Then Seat 6 calls too.  For purposes of this blog, I’ll call him “Douglas.”  We’ll hear more about John and Douglas later in this post.  Another player, who I’ll call “Andrew” for purposes of this blog, check-raises all-in for 53 BBs.  Sheryl, Brian, John and Douglas all call.

The turn (345 BBs) is a 2.  Everybody checks.  The river is a 4.  Brian announces all-in, and the other remaining players all fold.  Brian turns over K2s, and his two pair beats Andrew’s lower two pair with T8.

Then the explaining begins, during what Tommy Angelo refers to as Sixth Street.  Brian explains that he limped in (from the small blind, as he had to act first following the button straddle) with K2 “because they were suited.”  Then when Sheryl raised, he felt like if he called, several other players would also call so maybe something good would happen.  When Sheryl bet the flop, he had top pair / no kicker but heck, she could make that continuation bet (into a field of five players?) with anything, amiright?  No one else was acting like they had much.  After Andrew check-raise shoved, Brian knew he was in trouble but it was only a few more dollars to call again.  Explaining raised to the 4th power.

I make a mental note about Brian’s play with a king and weak-but-suited kicker from out of position, recalling a recent hand when he called my pre-flop raise from one of the blinds with K3s and flopped top + bottom pair.  John, Douglas and Sheryl all do their own explaining.  Each had a gutshot straight draw, John with AQs, and Douglas and Sheryl both with AJ.  Andrew grumbles “I didn’t know what was going on there with all those callers.”

The very next hand, Brian wins another medium sized pot with AA, and now has over 450 BBs in his stack.

Not much later, I’ve won a couple of modest pots and chipped up to a little over 200 BBs.  Now John straddles for 2.5 BBs and I’m in the small blind.  I look down at AA and make an impulsive decision to do something I hate doing… open-limp with AA.  Sorry Tommy, I know the hating is what creates the pain, but this spot seems like the exception to the exception to the exception to the rule to never limp with pocket aces.  If nobody raises and I have to play my AA 5- or 6-handed and first to act on every street, surely nothing good will happen for me and I’ll regret this.  After two or three more limps, Sheryl raises to 3x the straddle.  John calls.

Whew!  I might not win a huge pot here, as my limp-reraise line should look exactly like it is:  trapping with a monster.  If everybody folds, I’ll win around 20-22 BBs.  Out-of-position I’ll accept that small victory.  I reraise to 33 BBs, feeling like I’ve just turned my cards face up.

Sheryl – as we say in the South “Bless Her Heart!” – does call and John folds.  Her stack has dwindled from its peak, and I have her slightly covered.  Still, both of us are reasonably deep with effective stacks of approximately 200 BBs.  Her range includes almost any pocket pair, AK, maybe AQ or some higher suited connectors (KQs, QJs, JTs).

The flop is KTx.  I don’t recall the 3rd card, only that it was lower than a ten.  I’m first and bet 50 BBs.  Sheryl rather quickly and in rhythm announces “all-in.”  This is not a time for one’s manhood to shrivel up, or maybe it is if my hand is so obvious and she knows it.  She could have 3 combinations of KK, 3 combinations each of TT or bottom set, or 6 combinations of AK, or perhaps 12 combinations of KQ.  But shouldn’t she be a little bit cautious with AK or KQ here?  Otherwise, she’s bluffing, which I highly doubt as she’s smart enough to realize that my range is very strong, or semi-bluffing with exactly QJs.

… and the crazy money is on the move…  I call and she raises her eyebrows in a look that asks if I want to run it more than once.  That makes me feel better; if she had KK, Sheryl’s style would be to flip her cards over right away.  So I don’t respond to her non-verbal cues.

Another ten comes and my heart skips a beat.  The river is a blank and Sheryl shrugs again and turns over AK.  My AA holds up for a pot that is around 400 BBs.  Easy game, right?

Yet I’m being results-oriented here.  It worked this time, but limping when first to act with AA still ain’t smart.  Note to self:  next time, just raise!

Sheryl re-loads for 250 BBs.  The house allows players to match the biggest stack on the table.  Now she’s deep-stacked again already, and Brian and I both have 400+ BBs.  I’m really amped up, ready to use my stack leverage to pound the other players into submission.  Tonight we are playing a no fold’em version of Texas Hold’em and deep stacks aren’t guaranteed to command much respect.

When the loonies come out, and the crazy money is on the move, you perform poorly because your skills are stunted by your incredulity.

The Jewish festival of Passover starts at sundown on Friday night.  During the traditional Passover “seder” meal, we ask “why is this night different from all other nights?” to draw attention to some of the customs that make Passover a special celebration of freedom.  To make good poker adjustments, this seems like a good question.  Why is this night different from all other nights?  I take a bathroom break, then sit outside for about 10 minutes to contemplate how best to continue my good fortune.  The loonies are out, the crazy money is on the move… can I avoid performing poorly?

When I return, the table is buzzing.  Sheryl has around 800 BBs in her stack, while Brian is sitting behind just a few chips.  Had I been present one hand earlier, the distribution of the cards would have been different.  What I missed was Brian had AA, Sheryl had 88, and the flop was 853, rainbow.  The pot was swolen already after a 3-bet and two callers pre-flop.  Apparently Sheryl made an overbet all-in shove on the flop – far more than one might expect from top set on this board.  Brian spazzed and put his whole stack in thinking she more likely had KK or QQ, and the turn card brought the case 8 giving Sheryl quads.  OMFG!  More explaining.

For a couple hours, my stack didn’t go up or down much.  I win some small pots, abandon others.

Then I look down at KK.  Needless to say, KKing David likes KK.  After John limps, I raise to 8 BBs.  Douglas calls.  Someone else calls.  Sheryl calls from the SB.  Brian calls from the BB.  John shrugs, as if to let us all know he has shitty cards but the odds dictate calling anyway.  Which he does.

Flop (48 BBs):  764 rainbow.  Call me nitty, but this scares me shitless, as it hits many of their set-mining and lower suited connector / gapper  ranges really well.

Sheryl leads out for 10 BBs.  Leading into the field with such a small bet suggests a hand with good drawing potential like 55, 65 or 75.  With Sheryl’s aggressive nature, she’s more likely to make a larger bet with stronger hands, or go for a check-raise.  Brian calls.  John calls.  I consider raising.  If I raise, am I raising as a value bet or as a bluff?  Neither, actually, my thinking at the time was that I’d be raising for information, expecting to find out who has me beat and have to abandon ship.  That’s just spewing chips, so I call.

Then Douglas raises all-in for 32 BBs on top of Sheryl’s bet.  Did we discover who smashed this flop?  Sheryl calls and Brian folds.  Then John goes all-in for around 140 BBs.  Whether I’m losing to Douglas or losing to John doesn’t matter.  Losing is losing.   Reading Painless Poker already has helped my self-discipline to favor of folding mistakes over calling mistakes.  When I fold a superior hand, and find out when two other players go to showdown or a villain shows a bluff, I feel pain.  When my read says that I’m beat but call anyway out of stubbornness or whatever-you-call-it-when-you-do-that-and-the-villain-has-exactly-what-you-thought-he-had, I feel even more pain.  KK is toast and I snap fold on this 7-high board.  Thats’ painless poker in action.

John tables 53s, for a flopped 2nd nut straight.  The turn and river cards are both jacks.  Douglas declares “high hand!” and flips over pocket JJ for backdoor quads.  … the loonies are out, and the crazy money is on the move…

crazy poker hand

The next day I had lunch with Andrew.  He told me the game lasted until 8:30 am, and the cray cray continued the entire time.


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  1. So I learned a lot getting beat up by better wrestlers at the Iowa Intensive Camp as a kid of divorced parents whose mom was in Iowa and the kids went to Iowa for the summer to be with my brother (Chris) and so my mom had her time with us. Iowa all in all was a positive experience. I worked construction, detassling corn and then rode my bike from Coralville to the Iowa mats to try to get better at my second favorite sport to hockey which I abandoned after the parents kind of ran out of money with the divorce. Long story made short I learned that you get better practicing and playing with better people whether it is the non revenue sport of wrestling or for some the non revenue sport of poker. Lessons still apply. Loonies can’t teach you that.

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