I used to be competent. I think so, anyway.
While playing $2/5 no limit hold’em at Harrah’s Cherokee yesterday (whilst the WSOP Circuit was in town), I brought my A Game. For example, once I had American Airlines in the cutoff seat. There was one limp in front of me and I raised to $25. You might be thinking this doesn’t require anybody’s A Game, but keep reading.
Both blinds called and the early limper called as well, making the pot $100. The flop was J32 rainbow. Everybody checked to me. I can get value from Jx hands, and sometimes from pocket pairs 44-TT here. So I bet $65.
The small blind calls. For purposes of this blog, I’ll call him “Barry.” He is 70+ gentleman from my hometown of Columbia, SC, which I had discovered while playing with him the previous evening and realizing we had several mutual friends there.
Then the big blind check-raises to $175. Hmmm… For purposes of this blog, I’ll call him “Nick.” He has red hair and beard and looks to be in his mid-30s. I had played briefly with him the previous day, and he has struck me as generally tight, patient and observant. As I’ve never played with either Barry or Nick prior to this trip, there isn’t a lot to go on.
The other player folds. Nick has exactly $300 remaining in his stack. Barry has approx. $400 and I cover them both.
My first reaction is to assume Nick has flopped a set. For starters, look at the title of this blog… They Always Have It. Next, consider that a majority of the time, when a player check-raises against the pre-flop aggressor, he has two pair or better. There aren’t any two pair combos in his range, nor possible flopped straights or flushes, so that only leaves sets.
Then consider his bet-sizing combined with my table image, which matters a lot if Nick is paying attention and anticipating what I might do next. I’m the tight middle-aged white guy (MAWG) at the table. Barry is the Old Man Coffee. So far in this session, I’ve been quiet and patient, so my image may be even nittier than normal… a lot like the stereotype of a recreational player who simply refuses to fold an over pair on this board texture. Including his bet, now there’s $405 in the pot and $110 to call. He’s giving me a great price to call… or setting up an easy shove on the turn… or tempting me to come over the top.
He is not check-raising with top pair, top kicker. Not against Barry and me. Never.
So I send Alan Alda to the muck. Then Barry back raises all-in and Nick snap calls. Barry shows a set of 3’s and gets destroyed by Nick’s set of J’s. Oh my! Good to be a nit, even if not everyone agreed.
Less than two hours later, my A Game abandoned me without warning. On the far end of the table was a very loose and aggressive player, who for purposes of this blog I’ll call “Arman.” I’ve never seen him before. He is 40-ish with brown skin of indeterminate ethnicity. In one of the first hands after he joined the table, I raised pre-flop with TT and he called from one of the blinds along with one other caller. On a 772 flop, Arman led out for $35.
With no reads on him to help interpret this donk bet, I called. The other player folded. The turn was a 3, leaving no obvious draws. Arman quickly announced “all-in” for about $750, which slightly covered my stack and was more than 5x the pot.
Considering the possibility that he profiles me as the kind of MAWG who won’t fold an over pair and thus is trying to get paid off handsomely, I folded. Following that, Arman continued to play a lot of hands and very aggressively post-flop, although massive overbet shoves weren’t a regular feature.
On to my troubles…
Arman opens for $20 in middle position and I call from the small blind with AJo. I considered 3-betting there, but that would really be turning a playable hand into a bluff as I would be hoping to avoid playing a bloated pot out-of-position against a competent and very aggressive player. No one else called.
The flop was J84 rainbow. After I check, Arman bets $50, which was slightly more than the pot. I had seen him slightly overbet on flops earlier – far from the same thing as his 5x pot bet on the turn described above – but those hands never went to showdown. No need to go crazy here, yet too good to fold. I call.
The turn was J♦, giving me trips and putting two diamonds on the board. I try to look just mildly disappointed and check again. Arman bets $75. I’m confident I have the best hand, but does raising do me any good? His opening range is very wide and after I check the flop heads-up, his C-bet frequency is close to 100%. If I check-raise, it’s an easy fold for Arman. On the other hand, if I call, it’s hard to imagine him firing another bullet on the river. Can I rope-a-dope my way to more value here? Are any river cards truly terrible for me? I call, with a plan to fire out a small bet on most river cards in hopes of a crying call from a hand that has some sort of weak showdown value.
The river is another diamond. This might give him a reason to bet again, so I check and plan to bluff-catch. Easy pickings, amiright? Arman looks pained, however, tapping out what appears to be a very reluctant check-back, and tables Q♦9♦ for a made backdoor flush.
Sonofabitch! Yes, his pre-flop middle-position open range was very wide. But really???
Stunned, face burning, I try to hide my emotions and slide my hand forward towards the dealer. Just as he places my cards on top of the muck pile, I realize the river 4♦ made a double-paired board, and I just mucked a full house, not trip jacks.
“Wait!” I hear myself shouting at the dealer as I insta-unhinge. “I had a jack! I mis-read the board… are those my cards on top of the muck pile?” With the small shred of composure that remains, I ask the dealer if my cards are clearly identifiable. Having recently written an article for PokerNews about the rule giving floor supervisors discretion to retrieve cards from the muck when it is deemed “in the best interest of the game,” maybe, just maybe, a Hail Mary pass will fall into the right receiver’s hands in the end zone as time expires.
The dealer confirms that my cards are on top of the pile, and I ask the dealer to call the floor over, while Arman insists that cards can never be declared live after touching the muck. He certainly has no interest in letting the cards speak.
The floor arrives, the dealer explains, Arman and I both chime in, in my case trying to get the floor to acknowledge that a rule does in fact exist that allows cards to be retrieved from the muck if they are clearly identifiable, which the dealer had previously confirmed. For purposes of this blog, I’ll call the floor guy “Robert.”
Unsurprisingly, Robert rules that the nearly $300 pot must go to Arman. He’s not having anything to do with my argument, saying he’s never going to retrieve cards live after they are in the muck pile of a cash game.
And I know Robert’s ruling is right, in the sense that part of having discretion is choosing not to use it. In the moment, however, it was like my worst enemy was sticking pins in the emotional center of the brain of my voodoo doll. Embarrassment. Anger. Self recrimination. Suspended disbelief. [I’m editing this post two days later and still pissed!]
With just enough self-awareness that I need to get out of there, I rack up my chips, go bark at Robert for another five minutes and head back to my room.
While cooling down, Mrs. calls and tells me her beloved clothes dryer has died and we must buy a new one. Could I please find a bad poker player to help pay for it?
Yes dear, that shouldn’t be a problem. There are definitely some clueless poker players here.
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