Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Poker Diaries: Every Single Night

Feel free to play the music clip while you read this. And yes, finding common concern with the brilliant, spooky, troubled, fantastic Fiona Apple is all kinds of wrong and pretentious, but so is the idea that writing about poker is of interest to anyone. Sing it, Fiona!

This is going to be even more experimental and annoying than the average Poker Diary, so bail if you like. But it might also give you that little shiver of recognition. And if it does, I'm sorry.

So I have a couple of winning NFL parleys in my hands, so clearly I need to cash those in before Week 3's games go live, seeing how hitting on NFL parleys is better than puppies. Maybe I can go on Saturday night and do the same routine as last week, where I got deep in the tournament and then added margin at the $1/$2 table? Well, sure, but the wingman is out of pocket this weekend. No worries; I'm sure one of the regulars will want to take the ride with me. Just put it in the status email and...

Crickets. Or "Sorry but I can't" emails. Gahhh. Never walk into a casino alone! That's just asking for bad vibes and killer beats, since every part of you is wondering DO I HAVE A GAMBLING PROBLEM? (Answer: Yes. Especially when I lose. But the amount I gamble hasn't really risen in five years, and I generally break even or better. So it's manageable. Besides, poker feels way too much like work after a while, and it's work with unhappy coworkers. Not something I can sign on for too much.)You walk into a casino alone, you are just asking for bad cards, worse beats, and even if you hit, you'll have the Lone Wildebeest On The Serengeti experience of getting back to your car with your cash. I'm quick and in shape and all, but that only counts for so much against someone who's prepared and determined. And the place I'm going to has the biggest and most unguarded outdoor parking lot in creation, really.

So... let's go Saturday. With a wingman. But no wingman presents themself, and the weather is going to turn bad on Saturday night. Why drive in the rain when you can avoid it? Hmm. Sportsbook is open until 10pm on Friday. The place is 80 minutes away with limited traffic. So... I get the work done, the laundry managed, have dinner with the family and my picks done and mailed to my smart phone, and it's only 8pm. The Shooter Wife, my greatest enabler for good or ill, waves me out. It's go time.

I've been to Delaware Park a half dozen times. So I don't have directions. And I've got a GPS. WHICH ISN'T WHERE I LEFT IT. GAHHHH. Well, I'm sure I can remember how to get there. And speed enough to make time, but not so much as to get a ticket. I get to the bridge into Delaware, pay my toll, and confirm with the attendant that Delaware Park is off Exit 4... and suddenly I don't recognize the road and it's exit 5 already and I must have missed exit 4 and oh crap and oh crap I'm going to miss the 10pm window when the sportsbook closes and this whole 3 hours of driving will be for NOTHING NOTHING NOTHING and where the hell is the GPS unit why can't anyone ever leave anything where I leave it I get to murder them all one day in their sleep for this and no jury will convict because seriously they kept moving your stuff and

Exit 4. And a sign for Delaware Park. They count down here. Of course.

I park in outer Maryland and get my distance miles in. By the time I get to the sportsbook, it's 9:30 -- damn, I made great time -- and the board is in front of me. The smartphone has eaten the picks, but I've memorized them anyway, and 10 minutes later I've gotten my cash and the Week 3 picks in. Poker? Poker.

Well, the tournament isn't really an option, since the big prize is an entry into a noon $400 event tomorrow... which is to say, I'd play until 4am (with luck), somehow drive home to sleep, then come back and do it all again after 4-5 hours of sleep, on a day when plans have already been made that require the car. Screw That. No, I'll just take my modest little sports bet free roll and go play $1/$2 with it, because the place is jumping and the Orioles are winning (Delaware Park cares about that a lot, it's south enough for it) and I'm shown to a table where, before I'm even in a hand, I watch a woman at the end of the table bet $25 and get raised on a K-J-6 rainbow board, then do the same and fold on the raiser's all-in after a J hits on the turn. She says she folded aces, and he says he had K-J... but the card flash when he mucked next to me looked more like Q-6.

So it's *that* kind of table. Yeesh.

OK, just be patient, play premium hands, fold a lot and work up a book on your opponents; the standard I'm Tight Until I'm Not play. And with a breathtaking succession of unplayable (2-8 off, 2-6 off, 4-9 off, Ace-Rag off out of position against big raises) hands and good folds, I've had my usual nitty effect on the table, which is to say that people are bringing their bets down a little. It happens a lot at cash tables; play tight and/or be card-dead while looking like you know what you are doing, and you can will the pre-flop raises down. Or maybe I've just got table-wide card-dead powers. That seems likely too.

Of course, the downside of being obviously tight is that the aggro guys are raising your blind and c-betting every time around, but as soon as I catch a flop, that will end, right? Um, maybe. With Ace-2 suited (spades) in the small blind, I'm the fourth caller on an $11 raise, and hey presto, $55 pot. Flop comes down 3-5-J, and the 3 and 5 are spades. Yes, that's the straight draw, the nut flush draw, and the freaking straight flush draw... and the same guy betting $11 into it, scattering everyone but me. Turn is a brick; the bet is $25, which I call. River is another brick (no straights, no flushes, no pairs) and he bets another $25. I resist the urge to come over the top and kamikaze myself on his spiked jack, but he's got the stack to call an all-in bluff, and he'd be getting pot odds on his call. Besides, I've given him no possible read other than On A Draw. PATIENCE. I muck. And wonder for the next 15 minutes it any of that was good poker, and why I can't ever hit a straight flush draw.

The game goes on for another two cycles, and I slowly start to get the occasional approaching playable cards... but always out of position, and against a double-digit raise. I throw away Ace-Rag unsuited on two occasions against middle pair size raises, and try to congratulate myself when the flop misses me entirely, until I realize that of the 30+ hands dealt so far, the flop has missed me... every time. Kind of amazing, really. I'm able to play 4s for the limp in late position, and maybe I should have shoved with those, but my stack isn't big enough to strike fold equity in the minds of my opponents. Yet.

So after 40 or so minutes, I'm down to half of my starting stack, haven't won a hand, and have the table image of Super Nit going on. I'm able to see King-Queen off for a relatively bargain $6, and a small raise goes to a guy who make it $30 to go after the flop leaves me open-ended with a Jack and 10 on the board. Putting him on a pot-sized steal comes pretty quickly to my mind, and there's only two plays to make now: fold or shove. I do the latter, and everyone scatters like I've dropped a bomb. Everyone, that is, except the raiser, who only needs $25 more to call me down. He does with Ace-Jack, and I miss my 14 outs on the turn and river, and that is that.

The drive home is 80 minutes of internal conversations about what I could have done differently, as if you aren't going to lose your chips after an hour of 100% flop-missing poker. with the final takeaway being this: never go to the casino alone. And that's when the pain comes in.

Sing me out, Fiona...

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