Scraping the Rust off my Live Poker Skills

Live poker is back! I’ve played just a few times since getting my Covid-19 vaccine, and my live game skills are still showing signs of rust.

Last night was good though. I made some good hands and got paid off ok. Here are a few highlights, sans deep analysis. You’re welcome in advance.

Early on I had 98o in the cutoff seat and limped in after several other limpers. The button raised to 6 BBs. For purposes of this blog, I’ll call him “Mike.” He’ll make several appearances in this post. I was going to fold until four other players all called. On a flop of J85♠♠, everyone checked to Mike, who C-bet. The BB called and I called with middle pair. A turn 6 added a gutshot straight draw, giving me a few more outs. The BB and I both checked, and Mike bet again – not very large – and we both called. Bink! A river 7 completed my straight. After BB checked, I fired out a bet and Mike folded (later telling me he had QQ) and BB thought a bit and called. When I showed my straight he said “I didn’t think you had that” which I believe is the essence of calling river bets.

A little later I peeked at J♠ 8♠ in middle position. Normally I would just fold, but I’ve been out of action so long and… yada, yada, so I decided to raise instead. After three callers and wondering how am I going to play this, the flop came down K♠ 8♠ 5♠. Yahtzee! 

I took a “hiding in plain sight” approach, C-betting about 75% of the pot. Only the button called. For purposes of this blog, I’ll call him “Shane.” Not that it matters but Shane is a really nice guy and reads this blog. On the turn Q♥, I bet again and Shane called again. On the river 6♣, I bet enough to put Shane all-in, hoping he would look for deception where none existed, perhaps thinking I had the naked A♠ and missed a flush draw and having just enough value of his own to squeeze out a crying call. And he did. Thanks buddy… at least I’m trying to make you famous, right?

On another hand, I raised pre-flop with QQ and got two callers. The flop T63 rainbow looked pretty good, but Mike (remember Mike from earlier?) raised after I C-bet. On such a dry board, what is Mike raising with? None of the 2-pair combos should be in his pre-flop calling range. There were no worrisome draws. That left hands like AT and sets. How often would he raise with AT vs. calling, given that my range includes all AA-JJ combos? Why would he raise right away with a set, when the board was so dry and a third player was still hanging around? I hadn’t played with Mike before and his stack was deep enough (approaching 200 BBs) that I didn’t want to go crazy with just an overpair. After the 3rd player folded, I reluctantly let mine go, telling Mike it just didn’t make sense to me. He agreed, showing me 52s for a successful bluff.

Why do players show their bluffs?

I had JJ in the BB on my first hand back from a short break. A player in middle position had raised to 3.5 BBs and there were two callers. I re-raised to 5x the original raise, and the player on my immediate right – one of the callers, who for purposes of this blog I’ll call “Vincent” – began to groan about my friskiness on the first hand back. What I noticed was the original raiser was cutting out 4-betting chips and I softly responded to Vincent that it sucked because I was going to have to fold. The 4-bet was about 2.5x my bet, tempting me to call but also telling me I was in deep trouble. I flashed my cards at Vincent and said “gotta fold these.” The main villain tabled KK and Vincent remarked that he would have simply put his whole stack out in response to the 4-bet. Not this guy!

Why do players show their monsters?

I had 77 in the cutoff seat when Mike (remember Mike?) straddled for 5x BBs on the button. After one or two calls, I raised to 4.5x the straddle. Then Mike re-raised and all of a sudden we have a nearly 75 BB pre-flop bet going on. At this point, he had less than that behind, so if I called it would be very difficult to get away from any flop. I briefly thought about sticking it all in right then, in a “well maybe he has AK and I’m actually a very slight favorite” kind of wishful thinking. Nah! I folded and a minute later Mike told me he was hoping for a shove as he had KK there. Nice hand for a button straddle, sir.

In another spot, I got entangled with the other big stack at the table. For purposes of this blog, I’ll call him “Malcolm,” because he is a doppelgänger for Denzel Washington’s portrayal of Malcolm X in the eponymous movie. But I digress. I raised with ATo pre-flop and got three callers including Malcolm. A flop of 432 rainbow seemed to miss everybody’s ranges so I C-bet. Only Malcolm called. The turn was an A, also putting two clubs out there, and I thought my hand was good. I bet again and Malcolm called again and rather quickly. Hmmm…

The river 9♥ changed nothing. I checked, as the pot had gotten too large and I didn’t expect to get value from another bet. Rather than check back, Malcolm fired out a large bet. As with Mike’s flop raise much earlier, it didn’t make much sense. He could have 55, flopped open-ended and turned a straight. He could have an even smaller pocket pair and flopped a set. It seems like an ace with better kicker would probably check back and go to showdown. My spidey senses were trying to shake off the rust from not playing live poker for over a year. Malcolm was staring intently at the center of the table as if trying extra hard not to give away any physical tells. Is that itself a tell? I tried to think of hands that could call the flop, then make a club flush draw on the turn and bluff at the river after missing the flush, but that felt like rationalizing a way to light money on fire. I’d rather be rational than be a rationalizer. So I folded. And Malcolm showed me 8c 6c for exactly that.

Good bet sir! You deserve to look like an A-list celebrity.

BTW, why do players show their bluffs?

Later I raised pre-flop with KJo and got a couple of callers. The flop was QT9♣♣, giving me the nut straight (Yahtzee again!), with a possible flush draw out there. One player called my C-bet. On a blank turn, I got greedy. Could he have a set or weaker straight? Or spazz out with his whole stack on a combo draw? I pushed all-in, an overbet of more than 2x the pot. He thought about it briefly, then folded. Maybe I missed out on some value, or maybe a flush draw would have gotten there.

Overall a profitable session and a good time too. It’s great to be out and about again, and have a few hands to write about.

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