Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Back in Black

Hello any readers.

I regret not updating this. I lack discipline in posting here regularly but have decided not to close it down. I still like having a place to drop thoughts about poker and perhaps post excerpts from the poker novel/graphic novel I've been writing for the last few months.

As I post this I've finally soared back into black, pulling out a few recent wins to eleminate my losses from Vegas and the downswing that followed. It's not much, but I can buy a few large pizzas. That's more than some can say.

Good Luck and take care everyone. See ya around, I hope.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Paranoia and Indifference in Las Vegas Pt. 2

I awoke in an unfamiliar place and had a short pang of confusion. When I looked out the window and saw Circus Circus I remembered I was in Las Vegas, NV. Meccah. I rushed around and realized it was only 7:30am. I had only slept for 5 hours, but awoke naturally feeling pretty good. I dressed and decided to walk down the street to the Sahara by myself in the warm desert air. Little did I know that Vegas can have weather under 40 degrees this early in the morning. As I walked down the street to the Sahara, I saw my dad walking towards me.
"Where were you?" I asked.
"Sratosphere. I was looking at the video poker."
I told him of my want to see the Sahara and he decided to join me. As we walked in, I was surprised to people sitting at a full Blackjack table. After wandering the NASCAR section and the measly poker room, we came back to the gaming area and we pulled out some cash. The game that had caught our eye: $3 Minimum Craps. Rollin' dem bones at 8am. We both did well, having several hot streaks that lasted for upwards of 15 rolls each. I was more curious about the Blackjack table I saw and went back to investigate. It was only $1 to play a hand. No wonder there were so many people. I found a seat and went for it only to lose complete interest when I lost $20 as slowly as if i had set it on fire. Slightly angry at the coldness of the deck I found my father playing video poker and we cashed out and checked out. It seems Lady Luck had been toying with us both, letting us win at craps to only lose some of it back at other games.

Later that afternoon, my uncle wanted to take us to a fantastic buffet located in the Rio. My father and I killed time by watching the Circus Circus trapeze team practice their swings and twirls and such. When we arrived at the Rio, I was salivating. Here was the home of the world series of poker and it was in this building that Joe Cada won $8.5M not two months ago. The buffet was amazing and I recommend it to anyone who goes. From pizza to pot stickers from crab cakes to Creme Brulee, it was all there. After we had eaten our fill, some more so than others, we wandered slowly towards the Rio's smallish poker room. I asked about the Amazon Room and they told me everything was dismantled when the series wasn't going on. Not even the banners were up. I was a bit dissapointed but not fully surprised. My father cheered me up by pulling out a fortune cookie paper with lucky numbers on the back. We laughed about playing those numbers in Roulette and finally decided to do it. (Even as I type that I recognize my own degenerate actions.) We placed bets on our numbers in our own pattern: Dad prefered the more direct approach of covering one or two numbers with one bet, whereas I prefered a bigger cushion and played 4 or 6. We would lose a little then win a little and then lose again. We finally got a bit bored after a few spins. My father looked up at my mother and said, "Nancy, what's your lucky number again?"
"Black two." She replied. She didn't care for roulette that much, preferring slots and blackjack.
We both placed chips on black two, I doubling up just in case. The table was stunned and then elated when the little ball dropped into black two. $72 in my pocket. Thanks Mom.

We crossed the highway and went into the Palms where I was impressed but disinterested. All the table limits were too high for my comfort level and the poker room to small and crowded with old regulars. I was tempted to play a parlay card on the upcoming Bengals v. Jets game. In retrospect I'm glad I did not because all of the ones I would have picked ended up being wrong. After the Palms we happened upon the Orleans and as soon as we walked in I saw the poker room, right where everyone could see it. I informed my party i was going to play and put my name on $1/$2 No Limit Hold 'Em and $2/$4 Limit Hold'em, my best and 3rd best games respectively. I peeled $100 off and bought a stack of red chips and waited. Lucky me i got $1/$2 but unfortunately I had failed to notice something. The placard stated that the minimum buy-in was a $100 but the maximum was $500. One guy sat down with a max buy-in and pushed everyone around and open raising for as much as $25. My plan to deal with him was to be a total nit and wait til I got a really strong pair or maybe A-K, A-Q suited and then re-pop him all-in. I never got any cards that I could play. Best I got was Jacks and some Ace-Face combos that wouldn't connect. I left that game thoroughly dissapointed and $35 shorter. I informed my parents I was done and checked my phone to see what time it was. I noticed it was after 5:00pm and smiled. Bellagio beckoned.

If Las Vegas is Meccah, then the Bellagio is Solomon's Temple. The fountains danced for us, propelled by unseen forces but I was restless. The fabled poker room was waiting for me and I was anxious. Finally we entered the casino and waded through the seas of people. I remember being confused, wondering why there were so many people there on a Thursday night. The loud cheering from the bars reminded me though. Texas vs. Alabama. I smiled even wider as I walked into the poker room. People were paying more attention to the TV's than their cards. Except for the pros. You could spot them easily. They weren't watching the game. Lucky me I got a seat immediately and pulled out what was left of my meager bankroll, about $155. I was to leave here winner or loser. No breaking even. Well not really, but that sounds cool. Mostly I wanted to diminish any loses I had at the other games, and regain some of my dignity as a fledgling poker pro.
I started off down but then pulled ahead a little bit. I was a little worried that I was going to be unable to win, until I just relaxed and played. Uncle Ken back home had told me (through my father) that I shouldn't change my game. Play the way I like and I'll do well. So I did. Suddenly it came back to me, playing my looser style yielded bigger payoffs and with my focused mind I avoided situations were I was a severe underdog. Then there were the moments I lived for: The Hero Call, The Christmas Gift and the Big Bluff. Oh how all the degenerates live for those moments. With a board reading Ah-4s-10h-6s, my opponent shoved his remaining $50 into the pot of $75 as the 2 of clubs hit the board. I re-checked my 3-4 of hearts that had failed to improve and studied my opponent. Something wasn't right to me and I thought for a second the hands he may have played like that. For some reason I put him on a busted straight draw, K-Q, K-J, Q-J and maybe he had picked up a flush draw on the way too. I looked down at my stack of $170ish and decided that a call would not hurt me too badly, I'd only be down about $30 which could be recovered with time. And I really didnt believe him. So I called. He licked his teeth and nodded as he rolled over K-Q of spades. No pair, no flush, no straight. I rolled over my 3-4 for a pair of fours and scooped.
My Christmas Gift was just weird. With A-10 offsuit I called a small preflop raise that ushered in a few other players as well. The flop was 10-7-3 with two diamonds. The preflop raiser shoved for $35 into the small pot and I call. The other fold and he flips over K-4 of hearts. Re-read the last few sentences if you want, but i couldn't make sense of it. He didn't improve and I won.
My luck stalled for a bit and I lost back some of that cash. I waited patiently and got A-K of diamonds in the cutoff. A New Yorker who was about 6 drinks in and on my right raised preflop to $12, I re-popped him to $30 everyone else folded and he called. The flop was 3-3-10 and he led out for about half the pot, about $35ish. I weighed my options and decided to go for it. I cocked my gun and fired $85 back at him. He sat there for about two minutes and then folded. He hounded me for what I had and I told him I would tell hime when either of us leave. I normally show bluffs but there were new players at the table and I wanted to hold onto my table image of playing fast with big hands, IMHO it makes it easier to take down hands with mediocre cards. The guy turned to he "bro" next to him and said he folded pocket Jacks. I was stunned to say the least.

After about 6 hours I had won a fair amount and lost it back. I decided to call it a night. I left a little bit ahead and with my dignity restored. I had played very well and proven to myself that I could take on a table of regulars and strangers. We went back to the timeshare/hotel room and I conked out, exhausted from the session.

Next Time
Caesar's Palace, The Mirage, The MGM Grand, New York New York Terrible's, Ellis Island and flying back home

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Paranoia and Indifference in Las Vegas Pt. 1

I recall feeling nervous as my plane came in sight of Las Vegas. The petite skyline surrounded by desert was a bit disconcerting. For some odd reason I was having second thoughts. Listening to a book on tape (Barry Greenstein's incredible Ace on the River) I suddenly had developed a paranoia that I was fooling myself into thinking this would be good for me. I was a Native Cincinnatian who couldn't beat the local $1-$3 No Limit game or the $3-$6 Limit game. I regularly stomped on my friends at the local home game, where a nightly win was never more than $300. Here I was, flying into the Capital of Pokertown, USA with $300 in my pocket for the intent of gambling, with an additional $200 in reserve if I felt I needed the cash to get in a good game. I was arriving to a gun-fight with a nail file.

My first gambling adventure in Las Vegas began at the baggage claim. One bag checked, one bag claimed. I think that counts as breaking even. From there my parents picked me up and we drove off for food and then down Boulder Highway to see some of the casinos. Instantly these types of Casinos stole my heart. They were simple, inexpensive and had that little hint of old Vegas. Sam's Town was my favorite, it's little waterfall and nature show was a bit on the creepy side but the Roulette was a blast. A close second would be Arizona Charlie's where I played Pai Gow for a half an hour and won like $15.

My first poker venture was at Binion's on the famed Fremont Street. I sat down at the $1/$2 No Limit Hold'em game with $100 and a table fool of old regulars. I was definitely not a favorite as I proved to myself by slowly bleeding away every single dollar. It was a let down as the poke room was small, sparse and violent. Lots of the regulars were yelling and threatening each other and all the dealers would just assure them that they were just making fun and not serious. I was frightened when a tight-aggressive talker began bragging about knocking pros out of tournaments and an older black man with a Cadillac hat on told him to shut the fuck up. He did not oblige. It escalated into a yelling match and I saw Cadillac's fists ball up. I thankfully was on the other end of the table but I was worried that a brawl in Binion's poker room would not look good on my arrest record, which is a bit full as it is. Thankfully another local man, a friend of Cadillac's, calmed him down and the game continued. I lost my biggest pot at Binion's when a straight hit the board and I led out to bluff out the pot. my opponent re-raised my $25 to $65 and I called, having seen him bluff with A-Qo in the same spot. He showed me a King high diamond flush which i had not even considered. Shortly after I attempted to double up with Jacks only to be called by Queens.
As only an idiot would do, I found myself wandering into Glitter Gulch, the infamous strip club on Fremont. I was tired and adding two beers to the mix which would turn into a devastating concoction. I was approached by a beautiful Korean woman wearing a bikini and stiletto heels. Her attractiveness did not go unnoticed in my stupor. She took me to a booth and I bought two dances, $40 apiece. I wish I could say it was good but for some reason I was not aroused. I was uncomfortable with the contact. It wasn't intimate, it was very... practiced. I left $100 lighter and unsatisfied. It seems that even the closest facsimile to love can be bought, but not guaranteed.

When we arrived back at the timeshare/hotel room, I was exhausted and chalked it up to my lack of sleep before, during and after my flight, most of which added up to less than 5 hours. I had been up since 8am the day before and it was nearly 4am back home where my watch said 1am. In 44 hours, I had slept 5. I suspect my cognitive abilities were impaired but I sat in the game anyway, because it was there. If nothing else, Binion's taught me a few things I need to fix in my game, primarily Concentration and Self-Management. I had let my concentration faded when I misread the board and misplayed a few hands, which stemmed from my inability to recognize when I am in no condition to play.

Next Time: Sahara, Rio, Palms and poker at the Orleans and the Bellagio!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Promised Land

In 24 hours I will be leaving Cincinnati, drive to Indianapolis where I will catch a flight to Denver and then another to Las Vegas, Nevada.

I am going to Meccah. Full report when I get back. Hopefully it is good news.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Makings of a Degenerate

I suppose it might be time to tell how I got into poker. Or rather what reignited my passion for card games.

It started with a friend I met at the bar I worked at in 2007. His name was Jim, and he worked for the police department. I later found out that he was a homocide detective and worked nearly all the gang murders and questionable deaths in the township. We discussed lots of topics and finally found a common interest in the game known as poker. I had not played a lot of Hold'em but had learned to gamble at a young, impressionable age. My father taught me the poker rankings when I was a kid and had shown me how to play 5-Card Draw. On casino video games I played 7-Card Stud. But poker had no meaning for me back then, not being able to understand the subtle nuances of the game or how it even worked. Jim found out I was a gambler and invited me over to his house that Sunday night to play poker with "the guys." I was fascinated at this concept, being a bit of a loner with not many friends, and promptly accepted. I was one of those people who lived vicariously through TV, and saw poker night on sitcoms such as Roseanne, Home Improvement and even on my favorite show Star Trek: The Next Generation. (Picard over Kirk any day) They seemed like a simple pleasure, a little slice of Americana, and I wanted a piece to see if I liked it.

The first Sunday I showed up I knew nothing of these people. I didn't even know their names except for Jim. I played aggressively and loosely, as I'm sure they all expected me to, being a young person. (I was only twenty-one, the next oldest was Winston who was nearly thirty.) I ended up bluffing my way into the ground and was eliminated halfway through. It's strange that I came back the next week to play again. Usually if I lose in such a poor way I don't bother trying it again. I recall trying to learn to play Dungeons and Dragons as a teenager (yes, I'm a nerd) and going to my local game shop and asking around for groups who would be able to show me the ropes. I was told that a "session" was held on Saturdays and I showed up promptly with dice, books and pen and paper, ready to pretend to be a halfling rogue named Gimbal Frinsheets. After only half an hour, I realized I had no clue what I was doing and no one was willing to help me. So I left. I chalked it up as a learning experience, something to talk about in conversation some day if it comes up. Why didn't that happen with poker? I suppose the gambler in me was curious and probably a little hungry. I had given him a taste of action that can only be found at a poker table, and it fascinated me. The second Sunday I played with this group, I adapted my play, folding more, bluffing less. I won. Three hundred and thirty dollars. Almost a week and a half's wages in just six hours. Needless to say, I was hooked. A poker addict was born, and he wanted more.

I started playing every Sunday with this group, watching and observing. I realized the distinctions between each player and what they were capable of playing. It was not until 6 months later that I realized that I was not going to learn everything through observation. My mind was not wired to take in every minute detail and decipher it's meaning. I resolved this issue when I read a book for beginners and learned the terms and math behind each move and play. Not only that, I had learned the names of each type of player and who in my group fit in there. I had been given the lessons for Poker 101. For the next three years, I punished myself with losses and scrutiny and rewarded myself with wins and praise. And I learned. Constantly. Every loss is a learning experience. Every win is proof of concept. But every game is my life, no matter the stakes. The sound of shuffling decks is my rapid pulse, coursing with adrenaline. The clicking chips are my abacus, counting E.V. and pot odds. The poker table is my home. I wish it hadn't taken me so long to find it.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Under The Gun

To some poker seems like a sensational game. Perhaps part of this is due to the sensational way that poker players describe the situations they face.

I'm afraid I am no different.

I was staring down the barrel of a dangerous gun, and I didn't know if it was live rounds or blanks. The man who holds this gun is tall, fat, loud and most importantly a real jackass. We shall call him Lou, because that is his name. (Anonymity is so overrated, don't you think?) I find myself holding a hand that is strong, but not the best. The suited Queen-Nine in my hand plus the Jack-Ten-Eight flop gives me a Queen high straight, the best possible or "nut" straight. My elation is short lived though, since all the cards on the flop are spades, and I hold clubs. Six players limped in (just called the minimum bet) and Lou has led out for a decent bet, nearly half the pot. I suspect him to have a pair or maybe two pair and just wants to semi-bluff this pot. Little does he know, I have a hammer and I'm about to punish him. I raise him to eighteen hundred, three times his bet. Everyone else folds, waiting to see this hand played out, a battle for little pieces of plastic that have no value. Lou makes some noises, muttering to himself, and I know that something is wrong. Lou is always quick to fold if he has a weak hand. I've seen his cards hit Mach two when thrown into the muck. I quickly and surreptitiously drop my gaze to his hands, with which he is shuffling his two cards back and forth. Quickly. I know that move, that mannerism. It's his biggest tell. He might as well lean over and yell in my ear, "I HAVE A HUGE HAND!" Lou acts confused about my raise and then suddenly raises me two thousand more, using two purple chips. I realize that either he has made a fantastic bluff or he has the flush now. I've played with Lou for nearly three years, and I've beaten him a lot. I've knocked him out with hands he deems worthless, despite the fact that I scoop his chips with them. But Lou knows how I play as well. Even someone who seems like a loud moron is capable of moments of sheer brilliance, and I suspect that Lou's time has come. He knows that I want to push my remaining stack in and leave it to chance. I talk out loud, trying to gain some information. "Lou, do you have the flush already, or are you bluffing with a big spade? I got a great hand here, and I think you might have me beat." I look at his hands. They're still shuffling the cards. Damn. And that brings me back to the gun barrel I'm staring down, as Lou shuffles his cards rapidly back and forth. He seems very calm and confident. While he may be loud and obnoxious, I know that Lou plays a little bit tighter than people would expect. He doesn't like to bluff unless he's absolutely sure the other person can't call. He's playing with me, goading me into shoving all my chips in. I smile to myself and say "I'll let you have this one, Lou." And I threw my cards in face-up. As I had hoped, Lou could not resist the chance to rub my nose in it and flipped over the Ace-Seven of spades. He doesn't know it but I've played him. He's helped me gain great respect for my reads. Every player at that table was shocked to see me fold that hand to one small raise and they would remember it for quite a long time.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Online Poker: A Donkey's Perspective

I don't consider myself a donkey, but according to online players I am. I who will play suited connectors for a small raise and flop a straight flush draw with two cards to go, then check and call with my draw, hit my draw, check, re-raise my opponent all in and win with a made flush when his Ace-King fail to pair. These are the same players who will call my raises with King-six offsuit and flop three Kings while I hold Aces and re-raise me 2,345 into a pot of 250.

I started an experiment with $30, or 300 big blinds in $0.05/$0.10 No Limit Hold'em, and was wondering if it indeed was possible to build a bankroll from nothing. I am very far from a casino, and the casino I play at is not an easy one to win at. The players all travel in excess of 40 miles one way to get to this casino, which results in players who are actually very talented and want to be in the poker room. I have found several games that are filled with not so strong players who are looking for a convenient outlet but sadly these games either do not run everyday or are raked and therefore illegal. With the sad state of police/poker player relationships, I'd much prefer to leave those alone. Too many times I hear of police busting up a poker game because it is gambling/illegal/dangerous/bad influence to good Christian children/etc./etc. So playing poker online is definitely in my favor, no? Seeing how I can play in my own room with my music as loud as a I want as I scratch my testicles through my boxer shorts, shouldn't online poker be an obvious choice? Apparantly not.

While it was my intention to tell you how well my experiment is going, it proves to frustrate me more than anything that I am a donkey when I play online poker. I do not believe anyone since large bets are just as easily made with Jack-five offsuit as they are with the nuts. And if you call with your measly two pair you are a donkey who doesn't understand pot odds and should'nt have called that bet because he was representing Quadruple Suited Connecting Aces and any professional would know that he had it. However if you call with your two pair, only to be beat by his runner runner straight/flush/full house, you are a lousy poker player who can't even tell when a player has the nuts and should just quit breathing all together since you are obviously a waste of skin and bones and brains. LOL.

I cannot deal with online players. The strategies they employ escape me. I have seen more min-betting and min-raising in a no-limit game online than I have seen at the limit tables at the casino. I see people three-bet with pairs of sevens and eights pre-flop and then flat call with Ace high to shove in 450 big blinds on the river when a scare card hits the board. I don't understand it. These moves are mathematically unsound in live play, what makes them special online? And the aggression level is off the charts. You better hope three connecting cards don't come down, or three to a flush, especially when you have a big pair, because someone will raise you for ungodly amounts no matter what their cards are.

The way I play poker is akin to martial arts. I prefer to be a Judo master, using my opponents aggression against him. When my opponent strikes with a punch, I block and roll his energy around and redirect it back to him. When I see a weak spot, I strike the point precisely to maximize the effectiveness of the strike. But when your opponent is a UFC Heavyweight who hammers on you with pure muscle and strength, technique is not going to save you from the blows you have to absorb in order to get your strike.

So, the moral of the story, I have lost that $30 after running it up to $113. The number of bad beats I took were enough to make me sick to my stomach. I am not suited for online play, as my aggression level is too controlled and focused and my hand selection to small and obvious. I have to date dumped nearly $900 online. I do not think I will put any more on. My experiment has shown me that while I may win for a while online, I just don't have what it takes to make it as an online pro. The live play experiment is still in ongoing, and the results to date are inconclusive.