Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Poker Diaries: One Mistake

Some of this was mine
As a general rule of thumb, humans will only risk an asset if they feel that they are likely to double up for the risking of the asset. So poker is, as a rule, something that is not practiced by healthy human beings, since even the best players rarely win twice as much as they lose. Even on average earning power metrics, a 200% ROI on a consistent basis is damn near impossible. The game is too subject to the vagaries of luck, and if you run into the wrong hand and table, you are going down. At any moment.

This is also why the defeats last so much longer on your psyche. And why you've got to figure out how to get over them, assuming that you are going to keep playing the game, or getting better at it.

One of the rules of my home game is that we take 10% of the side pot from every tournament buy-in, and put it towards a Player of the Year prize. You get a point for entering, one for each player you outlast, and a double score if you win, so my home game promotes a fair amount of heads-up play. We've ran the game in this way for four years, and I've finished twice in the first two years, before breaking through in the fourth. So I had to take some portion of my winnings and try to roll it into a World Series of Poker or World Poker Tour event.

The smart way to do this, of course, is to just play online, but I hate and fear online poker. The idea that I could be facing some 18-table huge monitor math mutant, or all of the various times that people have gone into God Mode with some terrible piece of cheating software, tells me that's not the game for me. You see things happen online that you just don't see anywhere else, and I'm generally patient, and I don't need to play all the time. The occasional casino, and every three weeks home game, is more than enough for me.

(Also, if you believe in omens, I wasn't going into this in a position of strength. I don't get sick very often, but when I do, it's a monstrous affair, and so it was here -- fevers, chills, constant clear nasal drip and a throbbing headache. It felt like allergies, so I tried to exercise it out, which also probably didn't help, as I wound up with frayed hamstrings and overall ache. Friday was better, so I medicated myself up and talked myself into the attempt. I don't think it had any impact on the outcome.)

With the WSOP already starting in Las Vegas, I needed to get on this. So I decided to pull the trigger on a 1-day deep stack event at the Borgata today in Atlantic City. 25K starting stacks, 30 minute periods, a likely 12 to 18 hour session with a $100K guaranteed total purse. It attracted 350 entries from a little over 240 contestants, and it was my first time at the room that many feel is the best poker room on the East Coast. 11am start, so I drove down for the day.

First things first: money's tight, so I had no funds possible for a rebuy, no matter what. I also wanted to play tight and patient, as it's just not an event that you are going to win quickly... and the cards obliged this gambit in a big way, as I see a wide range of 10-2, 8-3 and 7-4 offsuit. I turn off the phone and focused, and started putting together my book of information on the players at the table. The player in Seats 2 and 3 (I'm in Seat 4) are nice and tight, and the two to my left are loose, so I'm in a good place to be slow. In 80 or so hands of play, I catch pairs four times; deuces, fours twice, and sixes; on all of those, I see a flop for a reasonable price, don't catch trips, and wind up happy to be out, as bigger pocket pairs carry the day. A-Q offsuit happens for me twice, and I'm able to cash those without showing a hand. I'm also able to be more or less even on a half dozen position steals. Not something I'm thrilled with doing too often, but if I had just played good hands, I'd have been the tightest player at the table by a factor of four.

Seat seven is the action seat. Our first maniac of the day is more interested in his newspaper, tablet and food than his cards, and his day is more or less sealed in the first hand, when there are just four players at the table, and he gets three folds in front of his pocket aces. Don't think I'd have shown that if I was him. I take some of his money with c-bet bluffs, because he's in 2 out of every 3 hands, but most of it goes to the player in Seat One, who's aggro and measured, and I like his game, in that I felt like I got a good read of it. More on that later. Right before the end of period 6, with rebuys ending and down about a grand, I fold 8-9 off to the maniac's every hand 3X BB raised and start to regret it when I see the straight hit on the turn... and then not so much as the board pairs on the river, and the aggro guy pays off the guy to my left's boat. Phew.

After the break, I get back to the table and get 10s in middle position. As I've played few hands, I think I can make these look bigger with relative believability, so I answer aggro player's 3X raise with 2X in return, and don't love two callers. The flop is K-3-5 rainbow. Both callers check, and I throw out a pot sized bet. One fold... and then a shove.

So his story is that he's got a K; I can't put him on low trips. The shove is for 80% of my stack... so what does he think I have? Queens, in all likelihood. So he's got the K and thinks I won't believe him... or he's got pairs that are a lot like mine, Js, 9s or 8s. He also doesn't seem to be too thrilled that I'm thinking things over, not that he's giving off extreme tells. If I'm wrong, I only have 10BBs left, but I don't think I'm wrong; if he's got a K, he's better off calling and raising again on the turn to get full value out of me. It just doesn't pass the smell test. I call, and he turns over 8s, blank blank bang, and he's amazed that I made the call. Well, I don't need compliments, I need chips. And now I've got 40K of them.

Next hand is 8-9 suited. I limp and hope to see a cheap flop, but new crazy aggro guy in the action seat three to my left throws his usual 3X at it. Three callers makes the math for me easier, so I make the call. Nice pot, and it's looking better when the flop is 9-2-3 rainbow. Pot sized bet gets the all-in for only $1400 more from action man, and I'm not thrilled with having to call here, but I like it better when he turns over A-J. Six out for him is pretty thin odds, but the turn is a J, and the river a blank. He lives and I'm back to 32K. Dammit.

Ten hands pass, and on at least eight of those hands are 3X raises and c-bets from crazy aggro guy, with an awful lot of blind stealing, and two hands of utterly random cards hitting on the river. I fold on all of these, and get Q-10 suited (diamonds). Well, hell, that's a hand, and I've got chips, and his stack is my size; if I hit this hard, he's giving his chips to someone. Might as well be me. Call.

The flop is Q-5-8, the 5 and 8 are diamonds, and damn, that's as good as I can hope for, really. I check to get his inevitable raise, and he makes it 5X the blind. I raise, he re-raises.

And that's when I screw up, and in tournaments, it really only takes one misfire for it all to come crashing down. A 2 or 3X re-raise should tell me everything I need to know here. But I've hit top pair, reasonable kicker, 4 to a flush -- and he's not priced as pocket Qs or better, or A-Q for that matter. I shove. And he calls, with A-Q.

Well, crap. I'm not dead in the water -- 11 outs with 2 to go -- but blank blank bust, and here goes 95% of my stack, and any real shot at things. The Borgata dealer makes a hash of the pot, and it takes a lot of work from the players to convince her that I've still got chips; they don't seem very engaged with the idea that they are working an important event to the rest of us. With fewer than 5 BBs left and antes starting to boot, every hand now is shove or fold. I make Broadway and quad up from K-10 off two hands later, getting me back to 12 BBs, then find 6s. Shove, called by As, and the coup de gras is that I make the straight on the turn, only to see my caller hit a freaking straight flush on the river. As if the usual four cards on the board flush wasn't bad enough.

Takeaways? Well, I don't think I was the worst player in the room, or at my table. If the guy who crippled me doesn't hit his six-outer from overcards, I avoid him later. If I hit my flush or 10 draw -- 46%, according to the site I use to calculate such things -- I'm chip leader at the table and running hot. Hell, if the club doesn't hit on the river on my final hand, I've got half of a starting stack and might have been on the comeback trail. Instead, I'm on the rail a lot earlier than I anticipated, and driving back home with all of this rattling around in my head.

Oh, and I just checked the Borgata blog, just to hurt myself. They just went to the final table, and the guy who crippled me is chip leader. If he wins, he takes down $35K. Guess he kept running hot. (Well, no; he didn't hold it at the final. Still won a lot of money, though.) And so it goes.

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