Saturday, December 11, 2010

Taking It Well

Part of the continuing series of Poker Diaries; as always with such things, skip if you aren't served.

I host a home game every third Friday, and we put 10% of the tournament pot to the side for a Player of the Year prize. Yesterday was our final event of the year, since no one had any taste for playing on New Year's Eve. The turnout has been good, and the pot grew to just under $700. To push the final event higher, we ruled for a double point final event... and I held the lead going into the final, with my two best regulars capable of taking the lead without a win.

The rules of our game are that you can rebuy in the first hour. Normally I play premium cards hard, and trust my reads and gut to keep me out of traps. I mix in the occasional bluff or trap myself, but I'm pretty tight usually, and try to avoid huge chip swings. But knowing that I needed to place highly in this game no matter what, I went hard from the start, and rebuy on the first hand when I run into trips. I then returned the favor with trips of my own, but lose some of that advantage paying off a straight. After the first hour, I held $140 from a starting stack of $100, a slightly less than average chip stack in a room where we had many rebuys.

After the break and redraw, I know I've got to survive, and I do so with some of the better lay-downs of my life; a suited ace in the big blinds against a three times bet, where the raiser showed me aces in disgust; J-10 suited against aces again, similar situation. Playing few hands hard, I'm able to bluff and continue, but I'm catching very little and hitting no flops. I make the final table and the poor luck continues, as the loosest guy in the room, and someone who contends in every tournament but rarely seals the deal, winds up to my left. The top three players who can take the player of the year pot are sitting at the table with me, of course, but one of those guys winds up taking a bad two-pair beat on the river from the player on my left. It winds up costing him the shot at the player of the year title. He's not thrilled about it, but the players at my game are quality people, and despite a history of bad beats at the hands of Mr. Loose, he shakes it off and goes to work at the cash game. He'll wind up cashing out there for a nice payday.

With eight players left at the final table and the blinds raising to the point where I've got maybe 15 hands left before being blinded out, my fold equity is at low ebb. So on the button, I catch my first pair in hours, 5s, and the hands is folded around to me. I only have two choices, given who I'm playing against: fold or shove, since a limp is going to get raised by my super-aggressive friend, and 5s aren't the kind of hand I really want to see a flop with. I'm also really not counting on getting better cards in the next dozen hands, and since I've played something like five hands in three hours, I'm really hoping he'll put me on a painted pair and just fold. Just stealing the blinds at this point should get me to outlast the other short stack, and if that happens, my point total would eliminate another of the contenders. I shove. Mr. Loose gives me a crying call for my $70 with 9-10 off suit, and I'm ahead until the river, when he wins the coin flip by spiking a 10 and ruining my shot at ensuring the big prize. Happy happy, joy joy.

At this point, there are seven players at the table, and two players who can win the player of the year along with the tournament pot... so we've got the potential for a heads-up battle for just under a thousand bucks. Of course, I'm hoping for anything but that to happen; of course, that's exactly what does happen. And just to deepen the agony and speed the game along, I deal a lot of it... and just to deepen the agony a little more, the guy who winds up winning it? He's the guy I would have eliminated had I just outlasted one more player... not just in the tournament today, but in any of the other seventeen events in 2010. Or if we just had not made the final event a double point event.

As I had the winner his cash and the trophy, I'm strangely OK with the whole thing. I've hosted a great event. The winner is a Princeton grad student in his 20s, and like all of my regulars, a good guy; I'm genuinely happy for him, though I would have been happy for the runner-up, too. And on some level, I'm kind of glad that I avoided the experience of the runner-up, who winds up losing the heads-up battle when he goes all-in with a pair of fives against overs after a thirty minute battle, ending a nearly even chip stack battle ... so he's going to be seeing that hand in his nightmares, since it winds up costing him over $800. Not exactly life-changing money, but certainly Christmas-altering.

At the cash game, struck by how the evening has gone and sipping on a Guinness, I realize a few things. First, that my tight play and managed betting isn't making me money, or me happy, and that the stakes that we are playing for aren't going to break me. So I start calling Mr. Loose's auto three dollar raises with kicker trouble paint, knowing that he's never going to put me on such hands... and playing back into the others at the table when I miss, or checking when I hit. Later on the evening, I do something I rarely do; check aces in middle position, see the flop for no raise, then bet like I'm trying to steal it with middle pair. Two callers see me to the river and pay me off nicely for the play, and my aces stand against high pair and a failed draw. Almost as importantly, I surprise the table, and put some information out there that goes against how I usually play. At the end of the cash game, I've won back to even, and don't feel too bad about What Might Have Been.

Because, really, that's the essence of the game, and life: getting over it when you don't get what you want, because the next hand, the next day, the next job and the next anything doesn't care about your hurt feelings or disappointment. But so long as you are grieving over such things, you are losing, even if you win. A hard lesson, and one that we have to be taught over and over again.

My hope is that I'll be a better player for having the big game experience, and that I'll have more heart when big stakes are on the line. But my bigger hope is that I'll be able to shake off the losses faster, and not keep the disappointment with me. Some part of me even wants to go play at the local Kryptonite Casino tonight... but, unfortunately, I don't have the cash to do it. Which is, really, what disappoints a player most about losing, after all.

1 comment:

woodshood said...

Thanks for the great games this year! I look forward to seeing you next year.

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