Monday, July 14, 2008

The Good, the Bad and the Buggy: My Poker Game in Las Vegas

Posted: Wed Feb 27, 2008 4:36 pm Reply with quote Edit/Delete this post

The third annual Poker Academy Rendezvous has come to an end. Six days in Las Vegas of friends and poker! It was great seeing folks from last year once again, and it was a wonderful honor meeting others for the first time. Several of us play poker with each other at the Academy quite often. That experience pales in comparison to playing with these people live. One’s idea of them as players changes, becomes more real. One gets a better read that will undoubtedly influence us in how we play each other online in the future.

The Poker Academy events in Las Vegas were the high point of my trip. I won the short MTT practice tourney, which covered that buy-in, plus the big PA Tourney the following day in which I busted out early after a series of bad flops. That left the buy-in I would fork out for P K’s Birthday Bash and Drink Fest Tourney in which I finished in last place. The rest of my time I spent playing cash games.

As I indicated above, this was a return trip for me to the Rendezvous. I went last year (posted somewhere in these forums) and did quite well, paying for the trip with my winnings and setting myself up with a modest starter bankroll to play poker through the summer at a local casino. (That experience is also posted in the forums.) This year’s trip was in direct contrast to last year for a number of reasons, some of which I am still working out. If my readers will bear with me, I might discover some of the subtleties that impeded my success.

Overall, I was card dead for the greater part of the week. In one session, Chana Pal was sweating me and told me later that he counted more than 30 hands in a row where I folded preflop. That was probably more the rule than the exception for the week. I don’t believe I saw more than ten pocket pairs all week, and of the two sets I hit, one made a guy’s straight and I got no action on the other. I saw pocket aces three times, once on the button with no one behind, another time UTG and one other time in mid position. For the latter I bet $12 and was called by the small and big blinds. They were two friends clearly in cahoots. The flop came 23J, I led out and the small blind said that he knew I was a good poker player but to fold, that my AA was no good as he had hit two pair. I believed him and folded, but I asked him to show, to which he replied that he would for $10. Well, I went off on him (I’m not pretty when I’m mad), and he relented, showing me 23 off. Another time, only the big blind called, a young kid who had just sat down and talked a lot of smack. He flopped an Ace high flush and took about $80 from me before I folded on the river when the board said straight and flush and I was drawing dead to everything from pockets 3s to J2 of spades.

$80 isn’t too bad, right? I must say I was never once stacked in ring. Yet, is that a good thing? Perhaps. Another sizable loss came again from early position. I limped with AJ and the flop came 78J. I bet out and was check-raised by the big blind. I called. The turn was an Ace and I called the Blind’s bet. The river was a 5 and I folded to the BB’s bet, stating, “I believe you.” He showed me the 9 10. I didn’t get it all in with top two pair. A good read? I knew I was beat, even though I wasn’t clear on how. That hand cost me all of the $100 that I had won from an old local regular who caught the AJ flush against my flopped quad Kings. After the Ks, the same guy who caught the straight remarked that he thought I might have been able to get another $50 more out of the old guy. Hmmmm. I had just doubled his bet on the river, which he called. He was down half of his buy-in and with the board paired I figured he’d smell a boat with anything larger.

Still, the question needs to be asked, was I playing too conservatively? Folding as much as I was, that was certainly my table image. It was more than conservative as will be demonstrated below. I am embarrassed, as I believe I took weak tight to a whole new height. I was in the small blind, listening to my iPod when I was dealt 26 spades. I limped and the flop came 345. I bet the pot and it was folded around to the cutoff, who raised. Thinking he had a set or some such thing, I re-raised and said, “Save your money. You’re beat.” He didn’t believe me and re-raised and asked, “Do you have 57? If you have 57, why would you raise?” In that I had my music on, I wasn’t hearing everything as clearly as I could have, and began thinking that it was not out of the question that he may indeed have 57, Limping from the cut-off with 57 suited is not out of the question. And lord knows that I have been beat in just such a manner playing hands like 26 suited. I showed and folded, and of course he had the wheel.

Why did I fold? Why didn’t I play out the hand? The fear of being beat outweighed the confidence in my hand. And to make matters worse, not only did I lose the hand, I lost any advantage I may have had at the table from there on. Everyone at the table now knew that I could be pushed off of a hand. I could not remain at that table, so after a short while, I took a break and went for a nap.

Except I couldn’t sleep. I tossed and turned for about an hour, going over that hand. I got dressed and went back to the poker room. The table I had been at had broken, the Wheel Draw Guy had mover to a $4/8 game, yet there was still a $1/2 game going, so, after waiting for a seat for quite a while, I sat down once again, perhaps to redeem myself. This table had been going for a long time, and it was known to be wild at times. I knew I had to play tight yet somehow not be afraid to call a big pre-flop raise if I had the goods. Actually, railbirding had helped. I had seen this one player raise up big preflop with Q8h. hit his flush and take down a huge pot earlier in the evening. When he opened for $12 and I looked down to find pocket 6s, I called. I hit my set on the flop, and by the river I had all of my money in with 6s over 8s to his trip 8s with an A.

The remaining two days of poker brought me up a little more to the point where I was leaving down no more than $300, most of which, sadly, seemed to go to the blinds and rake. Something in me changed after that one hand. I made a few other questionable lay downs but felt comfortable with them. More importantly, I made some great reads and stayed in hands where I had the winner although the board suggested I might be beat.

I must say that my attitude while playing in the Poker Academy events was in direct contrast to my cash game. I was among friends, and therefore comfortable, confident, and sometimes cavalier. I was having fun. It makes a huge difference, but I know that if I am to continue to play poker outside of PA or with my home game buddies, I’m going to have to work on a few things. I still have a long way to go before I feel I have enough confidence in my overall game to be a steady winner. I need to work on my hand reading skills, not the board, but what other players may have. I say “not the board” because the board can be deceptive. I can see 3 ways I am beat when it may not be the case. I need to pay closer attention to a player’s betting patterns, both in the current hand and throughout a session. I need to be able to better decipher their behavior and personality and use those things to my advantage. But more importantly, I need to make sure that my head is on straight when I sit down to a game.

Poker is a game of narrow margins, razor thin edges…transience. When one’s life mirrors this, it is best to stay away from the game. It became apparent to me things in my personal life: leaving farming, looking for work, etc., were affecting my game. This realization actually helped the last couple days, yet I was still very ready to go home and cut back on the poker until other things were resolved.

I realize that this little essay may contain a higher level of self-disclosure than some may find comfortable. That’s the risk I take. Overall, I don’t think I’m so different from others that they can’t see themselves in the situation I found myself. So, I put this cautionary tale of woe out there to Poker Academy members who are also new to the game, or indeed passionate about the game. If you find yourself distracted by life, do something else besides play poker for money.

P.S. Las Vegas is a city where everyone seems to be working any edge they can muster. At times I thought some of the bullshit artists must practice their line of crap in front of the mirror. The big talkers didn’t always walk away winners though, which manifests as a sort of pathos and tragedy. I also witnessed squeeze plays and knee-capping, truly sociopathic behaviors, which may have added to my cautious play. I’ve been down on the farm too long, and enjoy that quietude, to see much reason to endure these types of people for any extended period of time.

No comments: