Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Sweet, Sweet Smell of Bluff

Another edition of the Poker Diaries; you know what to do.

So tonight, in order to escape the onslaught of the Shooter Eldest's sleepover, my casino regular picks me up for the drive to Parx, the big trouble room in Bensalem, no more than 30 minutes from my door. We stop for food and get to the tables around 9:30, just in time to be seated at the same table as a bunch of guys that know each other, bet loose, hard and often, and seem to be more interested in $5/$10 stakes than $1/$2. It's just about the hardest table I've ever played at in a casino: no drunk and sloppy guys, no depressed mouse girls, nobody with a tell, everyone talking about various high stakes players, casinos and inside baseball poker knowledge. I'm vibrating with nerves for at least the first 30 to 45 minutes, and I'm as card-dead as I've ever been, with the small comfort of never seeing a flop that would have hit my rags. Patience. Patience. They will pay you. Cards will come. Have faith. I'm seeing maybe 1 in 10 flops, getting my blind stolen with routine, and never get above my starting stack. Patience. Patience. The table chatter gets loud enough that, for the first time in my life at a casino, I pop out my iPod and play some music at a low volume. Why not; it might change the cards. (It doesn't. But what the hey, it saved a few brain cells.)

I catch my first pair of the night, jacks, and the table is attentive enough to the very rare pre-flop raise from Mr. Tight Pants to take my kings or better pre-flop bet seriously and fold, despite the presence of a reasonable chunk of change in the pot. A few meager draws and weak ace plays don't work out, and an hour or so later, I'm down to about 55% of my stack with off suit 7-9 in the small blind. I call a small raise to see a multi-player flop, and it comes a rainbow, queen high, giving me an open-ended straight draw. I bet $10 into it, and the loose player at the end of the table pops it to $30.

I mull my options for about 10 seconds. He's been raising every pot; he might not have much, or more than top pair. If I just call the bet and the turn misses my straight draw, as it's likely to do with just 8 outs in the deck, it's going to be way too easy to put me on my hand. Even if he does put me on trips later, I'm not going to have so much left in my stack, with pot odds, that a shove could work. Besides, he might have the queen and see his hand improve on the turn. And the guy, despite being a chattermouth and kind of irritating, is a good player... and that's important, really.

Why? Because he just might be good enough to bluff.

And in a blink, that's what I do, shoving it all in to try to bring down a $50 pot.

The misery alone on the guy's face is almost worth it, really. He goes hard into the tank, asking me what I could possibly have, then follows up with the frank question of whether, with more than a little hate in it, or not I want a call. I do my best to give him nothing, not changing my expression, not making eye contact, not moving, not breathing, hoping against hope that I'm not giving him any information by my lack of movement, but to be fair, I haven't talked or moved much in the last hour as is. The delay tells me he doesn't have the nuts or an overly strong hand, so I'm nearly there. The heart is racing, the adrenalin going, in a way that it doesn't at any other point in your life, and ye gads, it's vice-tastic. Really glad I don't do this for a living. I don't really want to rebuy at this table. I don't ever really want to rebuy at any table, but particularly not this one, after an hour of throwing away garbage and telling myself patience, patience, patience, only to shove on a draw against a guy with 4X my stack.

And after a solid two minutes of this, and several different chip counts and reconsiderations that looks increasingly like he's just trying to get me to bite on a pump fake, he finally convinces himself that he's betting into trips, and throws it away.

I start to slide the cards into the muck, and he's still chattering. "Come on, show it, show it! I've shown every hand!"

Now, I generally don't show my bluffs. I think it's rude, really, and I'm generally not interested in giving up any more information about my plays than I have to. I'm also generally paranoid about tells, and maybe this is just weak of me, but I feel that guys who show you their bluffs are just doing everything they can to put you on tilt... and well, that's just not how I roll. The guy you play in a casino is also the same guy who hosts a good home game; the habits of not pissing people off transfer.

But, well, he's asking. And I've played less than 10% of my hands tonight, and if I actually start to get cards, I'd like to get paid on them. So, well, OK... you asked for it. Jerkoff. I turn them over and pull in the chips while keeping my head down, like I've done this a million times for that kind of money. Heh.

The table's reaction... is more than worth it. My regular, who clearly doesn't have much use for the guy I bluffed either, looks at me as if I just saved his dog from a wood chipper. I swear, there might have been a tear in his eye, The dealer's eyes widen, and well, those folks never do that. The chatter at the table is all about my play for the next 10 minutes. The bluffee's buddy compliments me on the play, while steadfastly stating that he'd never do that (um, sure, right), then goes into ten minutes of damage control to get his friend off the ceiling. And I spend the next 10 minutes folding crap hands and trying to stifle my unrepentant thief's smile.

The bluffee winds up busting at the end of the night, but not to me, though I did nick him for a few more pots, and I don't think he re-raised me again. The table generally leaves me alone in the few pots that I play, and I finally catch aces and get paid off near the end of the night to get back to 80% of my stack before we go. My ride catches a few good hands to get back over .500, and the table breaks after four hours to see the two of us with roughly the same amont we sat down with.

And, well... with the exception of one value-bet sized bluff when a flush and straight draw misses on the river and I go after it anyway, like a moron... I couldn't have played any better, really. Or been any more pleased to have escaped a table of very, very strong players with that many of my chips, having caught very little playable hands, and very few flops that helped my hands.

Sometimes, poker is just like that, and if you get out with any cash at all, it's a win.

And sometimes, you need to shove with a pretty unjustifiable draw and bluff, just to prove that you've got the heart to do it.

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