Monday, August 28, 2006

Playing poker in Florida (and getting creamed)

So I flew down to Florida this weekend to spend some time with my parents. After waking up Saturday morning and having breakfast with them, my father went off to work and my mother had things of her own to do. They both suggested I spend some time at the Hard Rock Casino playing poker and then come back to pick them up for dinner. I wasn't going to play this weekend because I'm only here for two days, but who am I to argue with my parents? So I took the car and ran over there. There was a small wait for a table, but they opened up a new one and I was able to snag my favorite seat, seat 5, directly across from the dealer. This allows me to see the cards without straining and also observe all my opponents without moving around too much.

The game is $2 straight Limit Hold'Em, which means the blinds are $1/$2 and all subsequent bets are no more than $2. According to current Florida state law, no betting round can have more than 3 raises in it, making $8 the maximum for any street. I bought in for $100 and was up $70 in the first 30 minutes on two nice pots. In the first one, I raised preflop with AK and got a whole bunch of callers. The flop was Ac6c8h. I bet out again and someone raised me, again with more callers. I reraised and he capped it at $8. There was about $50 in the pot already with two more streets to go. The turn was an 8. I figured I was dead, but amazingly it got checked all around! The river was a scary Jc. I figured a flush draw had me beat, but when I checked it around, the reraiser bet out $2 and I was the only one to call. He showed A6 for a flopped two pair. The second 8 counterfeited his two pair and my K kicker gave me a nice pot. A few hands later, I limped in in the SB wtih QJ and got a JTT flop. I bet out to see where I was at, figuring any T would reraise me. Sure enough, I got a reraiser and I called along with 3 others. A J hit the turn to fill up my boat and I bet out again. I got two more callers. Amazingly, a Q hit the river to give me the stone cold nuts. I bet out again but the other guy didn't raise, just calling me with his J3. The first reraiser folded a T, knowing he was beat. So things started out pretty good and I was hoping for a good session. Unfortunately, after 30 minutes of play, lady luck would turn her attention elsewhere and I didn't drag another pot for the rest of the session. That's 3 more hours without winning a single pot! It was the single worst session I've had down in Florida. The only good thing was something an 85 year old man whispered to me. After 30 minutes of play, a large Puerto-Rican woman and her boyfriend got up to leave the table and the 85 year old man with age spots and a hearing aid leaned over to me and said, "A nice chunky one, huh?". It would be the last time that night that I smiled. Here are some the awful details:

Note: Since this is a $2 straight game, it can be assumed that every one of these pots was multi-way to the point where I was probably getting pot odds on nearly every bet.
1. After getting a bit frustrated, I decided to protect my big blind against a raise with 45 offsuit. A J48 flopped and I called another $2 bet. My miracle 5 hit the board on the turn and I check raised the original callers bet. Everyone folded except him and a disastrous Jack hit the river. I checked, he bet and I had to call to see that he did indeed have J3.

2. I get QQ under the gun and raise preflop. Nearly everyone calls and the flop is JJ5. I bet again and get no raisers so I still think I'm good. The turn is a J and now I'm sure I'm good. I bet and everyone but 3 people fold. The river is a J! There are now 4 Jacks on the board and my Jacks full of Queens has turned into Jacks full of shit. I only have 4 of a kind with a Queen kicker and it's assured that one of these guys has a King or Ace in their hand. I fold after checking and getting a bet and the pot is chopped between two guys who stayed in with Ace-little and no pairs on the board.

3. My A5 flops and A and two spades. I bet out and get a few callers. The turn is a 5, giving me probably the best hand. I'm scared of a flush draw but I can't chase them out so I value bet $2 and get a few calls. The river is a 9 of spades. Damn. I check and one guy bets. Everyone else folds and I look him up expecting to see the flush. Instead, he shows 99 for a set on the river.

4. I get 33 in the BB and again protect against the raise. Amazingly, 345 rainbow flops and I'm sure I'm good. Of course, I'm nervous about a straight but no one is betting it. I lead out the betting and get calls, but no raises, all around. The turn is harmless and I get a call, but then a reraise against 2 clubs on the board. The river is another club and we both check, figuring the other for the flush. But he turns up 55 for a set over set win!

Those were just the highlights of my beats but there was a succession of missed flush draws, busted straights and miracle 3 outer losses. I console myself with the thought that I played as I should have and if I had hit even two of the many pots I lost, I would have been nearly even on the night. Three pots would have put me up. Since I lost so many pots on two and three outers, I have to assess myself as having played correctly in the short term. Meanwhile, the dumb asses at the corners of the table, who were playing any two cards they got, were hitting everything they needed. One guy hit 5 flush draws in a row and left the table up $200. I realize the $2 straight game is "Bingo" poker, but I disagree with the folks who say there is no strategy in it. The strategy is money management. Get your money in with the best of it and you will be up in the long run. My record in Florida proves this as I am up over $2000 in the last 18 months at this casino playing this game and tournaments. Of course, that doesn't help me as I left, licking my wounds and cursing the gods. Such is life I suppose.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Atlantic City trip

I spent the weekend in AC with some other League members and had a blast. My weekends in AC always follow the same pattern. Play poker, play poker, player poker, eat, sleep as little as the human body can stand, play more poker, eat, go home. Sometimes I vary it. I eat less.

Because I was there specifically on a League trip, I played almost all tournaments rather than the normal 1-2 NL I would usually play. I did pretty well, placing 22nd out of about 85 in one tourney and placing 2nd out of 31 in another. The third tourney was a bust when Michael Brown busted me early on with his AA vs. my 77.

I only made three big mistakes during the weekend.
Mistake #1: I played tired. Scott and Adam wanted to play some late night craps at Caesars so I went, intending to waste time at the Pai-Gow tables. When I couldn't find one offering $25 stakes, I should have left. Instead, I went to the poker tables and sat down at a 3-6 limit game. The incredible thing is that I chose limit because I knew I was tired and couldn't lose too much! That thought alone should have sent me back to my hotel room. I did lose during the session, dropping $76 total for two hours of play. Incredibly though, my play wasn't as bad as it could have been, and had it not been for some guy sucking me out of a $100 pot with his 24 offsuit(!), I might actually have been even. In that hand, I had Ac8c in late position. A loose player in early position, who had been hitting just about everything he went in on, raised it to $6 and I limped in along with a few other people. Mr. 24 offsuit called from the small blind. It might have been a loose call on my part to come in, but at lease I had an Ace. The 24 was inexcusable. The flop came A85, with two spades. The original raiser bet out $3 and I raised to 6 with the top two pair. Mr. 24, incredibly, called and everyone else folded, including the original raiser. The turn was a harmless looking 3. Harmless looking to me that is, but it gave the moron with the 24 a wheel straight. He checked, I bet, he raised. I put him on pocket 3's with the check raise but I still had outs to win and I had to see what he had. I called and the river was harmless. He bet out again and I called just to confirm he had it. A crappy suckout.

Mistake #2: I let my familiarity with a player cause me to play incorrectly. In the second tournament the group played in, we were in the 5th blind level and I had a good sized, but not huge stack. Michael Brown was sitting on my right with a slightly large stack. I got a little frustrated with my cards when I looked down UTG at pocket 7's. I decided to take the pot and antes down and I bet 3000. The blinds were at 300/600 at this point so 3000 put just enough pressure on people that they would fold unless they had very good cards to gamble with. My assumption was that I could fold into a big re-raise if I had to and still be in OK shape. Well, everyone folded around until Michael, in the BB, pushed all in. Now, I've seen Michael do this before and it was a pretty good spot to bluff in for a good pot, especially seeing as he was already in for the Big Blind. But I let my comfort with Michael blind me to the fact that he might have the monster I was afraid of. I assumed he wouldn't try to bluff me specifically since we played in the League together. I also assumed if he had a monster he would try to slow play me instead of pulling the trigger in one shot. So I used my intuition (erroneously) to deduce that he must have a 'gambling' hand like AK or KQ or even a small pair. The right play for me at this point, even if my assumptions were correct, would be to fold because Michael could have easily dominated me with a pocket pair that beat mine like 88, 99 or TT. Instead, I called thinking he had AK and he flipped over AA. Yeesh, did I get THAT one wrong. He busted me out and I licked my wounds at the 2-4 table, where I made $67 dollars before the next tournament started.

Mistake #3: I mispriced a bet on a big hand. In the third tournament I played, I placed 2nd for a big payout. My play was nearly flawless up until I got into the heads up round. I was doing the right amount of raising and folding and all that but my opponent had a chip lead and I was going to have to ratchet up the play. With blinds at 2000/4000 and the antes at 500 each, there was 7000 in play before betting even started. I had about 40000 to his approx. 80000. While I was in the big blind, I picked up Q9 offsuit. A reasonable hand heads up but not a raising one. My opponent raised in the small blind to 10000. It was now 6000 for me to call with 15000 in the pot. I made the easy call and the flop came down with a Q and two rags. I was pretty sure, but not positive I had the best hand here. I was first to act and led out with 12000, about a half pot bet. He called! Now I know he had something but the lack of a reraise led me to believe it wasn't as good as it could have been. The turn was a 9, giving me top two pair. Now I was sure I had the best hand and I moved all in. That's where my mistake was. He went into the tank (confirming for me that he had a good, but not premium hand) and I took the pot. It was a very good pot and it kept me around for awhile, but I'm convinced if I had made another 12000 bet, he would have raised me all in. I could have doubled up and been in a much better position to win the tourney.

Regardless, I had a great time. Also, for those of you who care, the Italian restaraunt in the Showboat is excellent!

Wednesday, August 9, 2006

World Series Final Table - The table is set!

Last night, the last 27 players in the main event played until they were down to 9. I went to bed at 2AM and there were still 11 players. I don't know how long it took them to knock off the final 2, but it must have been a long day regardless. The concentration and stamina needed to excel at the main event this year is incredible!

The final table is now set and the seatings and chip counts for Thursday will be:
Seat 01: Richard Lee - $11,820,000
Seat 02: Erik Friberg - $9,605,000
Seat 03: Paul Wasicka - $7,970,000
Seat 04: Dan Nassif - $2,600,000
Seat 05: Allen Cunningham - $17,770,000
Seat 06: Michael Binger - $3,140,000
Seat 07: Doug Kim - $6,770,000
Seat 08: Jamie Gold - $26,650,000
Seat 09: Rhett Butler - $4,815,000

Jamie Gold has a commanding lead, but this is No Limit and fortunes can change at anytime. Robert Varkoyni, who won the Main Event in 2002, lost his very first hand at the final table with pocket 9's vs. his opponents pocket A's, and was down to next to nothing in chips. He ended up coming back and somehow winning it all. So while Mr. Gold has a distinct advantage, by no means is he a lock. Any of these players can take the brass ring and the $12,000,000 first prize! The difference between first place and second place is 6 million dollars(!). Which means losing the last hand of this tournament will be the most expensive single hand loss at cards ever seen in a public venue. Wow.

There was some drama around my ordering this event on Pay-Per-View. For the last few days, I tried to go to the channel it's on (ESPN3) and buy it through my TV the way I'm supposed to but it never gave me the option to purchase it. No alternate intstructions, just a blank screen. So I started getting nervous last night and thought it might not be available to Time Warner customers. I did some research and found out that Time Warner is a main sponsor of the event so I was pretty sure it should be available for purchase. Plus, it IS listed in the on screen guide. I called up customer service at 1:00 AM and told them the problem. He said he was about to order it for me, but he hadn't done anything yet, when I turned on the guide and surfed over to the event to check one last time. Amazingly, I now had the option of ordering it! I didn't do anything and he said he didn't either. Oh well, I saved myself a $1.99 charge he would have imposed for using him to order it. Kewl. So now we're good to go. Another positive is that I initially thought I wouldn't be able to TIVO the event, but it turns out I can. So we can watch the final table starting from the very beginning if we'd like.

Ok, now the bad news. I've been reading on the message boards that the hole cards will NOT be shown. With this much money at stake, no one wants to risk any information being given to the players. I understand this point of view. After all, even with a significant time delay, any information you can get on how your opponents play can help you later in the game. I hope this doesn't mess up our enjoyment of the final table!

Tuesday, August 8, 2006

Tournament recap - Out on Long Island

I just got home from a multi-table tourney in Massapequa, Long Island. I found an ad on Craigslist for a multi-table tourney where the main prize was going to be a seat to the 2007 WSOP with other cash prizes as well. The ad stated that they were needed 200 entries at $150 per entry to be able to run the tourney but that they would revert to a straight cash tournament if they didn't get enough entries. I immediately inquired about it and they informed me that I would have to pay my entry fee IN ADVANCE. They were NOT taking fees at the door. This raised my suspicions a bit but it seems somewhat logical for two reasons. One, a cash tourney is patently illegal and gathering the fees in advance is a good way to meet the players and scope them out. Two, getting the entry fees in advance GREATLY speeds up the seating process. So I didn't think too much of it. A nice guy named Larry, who looked like a car mechanic, only much fatter, actually drove into Manhattan from the Bronx where he was making another pickup and met me on Wall Street to pick up the money. I figured they must be legit if he went all that way, plus I already had his cell number and now his license plate. I forked over the money and he gave me directions to the place, an Elks Lodge in Massapequa that was, luckily, about fifteen paces from the LIRR train stop. They requested that everyone be there to register at 6:30 and that cards were going to go in the air at 7:30. Unlike my previous experience with the music tourney where everyone showed up late, this tourney started precisely on time. Intrestingly enough, the same company ran both tournaments. They have a lock on the Long Island market from what I hear and run these tournaments a few times a month for private parties and the like. Mostly, they told me, it's about 40-50 people and this one, with 129 entries, was the biggest one in a long time. It turns out the cops have been cracking down something fierce on poker on Long Island but we had no problems despite the huge turnout.

The tournament couldn't have been more professionally run. This company knows what they're doing, to be sure. Deals were crisp, the equipment was excellent and the dealers kept the games moving at a good pace. They even had a professional tournament clock, like the one we use in the League, running on a movie projection screen. The blinds were also set at a very slow comfortable pace, which made me very happy. I spoke to the organizer and he told me that they used to allow re-buys and add-ons but this was the first tournament that was going to be a true freezeout because of too many complaints of loose play and aggressiveness that just wasn't fun. Blinds started at 25/25 for 30 minutes, with 2000 starting chips. Then went to 25/50 for another 30 minutes. After that, blinds proceeded normally to 20 minute levels at 50/100, 100/200, 200/400, 300/600 etc..., with a 10-15 minute break after every hour of play. I sat down to my table and there were a few regulars there. I know this because the dealers recognized them. But all in all I wasn't too worried about the competition. Play started on a shaky basis and I couldn't hit any of my flops. A prime example of what was happening to me was being dealt AcQc in the small blind. 3 limpers come in and with blinds at 25/50, I raise to 225. The first limper, a weak playing latino woman, calls and the rest of the field folds. I was hoping to scoop their bets with my raise but I guess 225 wasn't enough to scare her out. The flop came Kh9h3c. I caught NOTHING and she came out swinging with a 300 bet. I folded to what was her obvious King. Nothing I could do there. Later on, I limped in the small blind with J9 offsuit and flopped QcTc5d. I check on the OESD (Open Ended Straight Draw) and the guy in seat 5 bets 100. The pot is 250 and everyone folds to me and I call hoping to make the straight. The turn is a blank and I pause before checking. He checks. Now I'm confused. He makes a bet on the flop and doesn't continue through? Is he drawing me in? I just don't know. Why would he bet a middle pair if there are players behind him. He was a decent player but not savvy enough to justify whatever he was doing, that I could tell. The river came an 8c giving me my straight. I bet out 400, which is enough to buy the pot, I think. If he calls, it's because he hit two pair. This is what I'm thinking when he makes a tentative call and shows me a 6 high flush. He had limped in with 6c2c and somehow thought his 100 bet on the flop was smart. I guess it was since it confused the hell out of me. Meanwhile, I made my money back from another guy and then some when I chased another OESD to the river and caught it for 1200 chips. I also caught a bunch of chips when I raised to 150 in late position with JJ and the small blind re-raised me to 300. I considered reraising all in but squashed the idea and smooth called to see the flop. It was nearly perfect for me. AJ5, rainbow. She checked and I was hoping she checked an AK to draw me in. I bet 250, trying to get a bet from her but she mucked showing 99. I didn't understand the reraise into a raise. What's the point? If you're just trying to see a flop, she could have just called me. If I reraise, is she going to move all in on me? That's kind of dumb with just 99, unless she thought she had a read on me (which she obviously didn't). If she just wanted to buy the pot, 150 to 300 just isn't going to do it in the small blind. I dragged the pot and smiled.

After we came back from break, we played a few hands and then my table was broken up. the tournament director gave us all new seating cards and I chose Table 2. She looked at me and said, "Uh oh, the Table of Death". That didn't sound good. "Table of Death?," I asked? "Yeah, there's a guy there who's taken out 8 people already". "One guy?" "Yep, one guy," she replied. That didn't sound good. It took me 3 seconds to figure out who it was. I was seated in seat two and the guy to my left had a stack of about 16000 chips in front of him, leading the entire tournament by a factor of three! Luckily, he was to my right, which is to my advantage when he raises, which he did often. He also caught some of the luckiest cards I've ever seen. Example one of the massive horseshoe up this guy's ass. A short stack of about 2000 chips moves all in with blinds at 200/400 in early position. The big stack (I'll call him Mr. Big), calls on the button with everyone else folding. The short stack shows 77 and Mr. Big shows 66. Needless to say, a 6 came on the flop. Mr. Big increases his stack. About 15 hands later, another short stack moves all in with about 2600 chips, also in early position. Mr. Big calls with his enormous stack. It's an inexplicable call though because Mr. Big flips over K9 offsuit (?!?) and his opponent has KhTh. I guess he thought the K9 were overcards to a small pocket pair? I don't know his thinking. What I do know is the insane action that followed. The flop came 9c6hJh. Mr. Big makes his 9 (natch) but his opponent has a King high flush draw. The Turn is 9h! Giving Mr. Big a set of 9's but the flush to his newly relieved opponent. That relief, though turned into excrutiating agony when the river was a K!. Mr. Big had gone from loser to winner to loser to winner. Wow! My stack, in the meanwhile was growing. Very slowly, but growing. At the start of the second break after two hours of tournament play, I had 4100 in chips. Not a lot considering blinds were now at 300/600, but I was alive, which is more than I can say for a bunch of these other saps. There were now 50 players left out of the original 129 and the railbirds were gathering at the rail to look on. I felt like I was at the World Series. :-) I couldn't make a play for the first few hands and blinds were big. My big blind was folded when someone limped in and Mr. Big raised to 1800. I only had 10h2h so I mucked. But on my small blind, I looked down at AK offsuit. I sensed that this could be good for me. A small stack of 1900 moved all in. He was two hands away from the big blind so my sense was I could very well be leading him or at least even. It was my intention to move all in when it folded to me but Mr. Big called. I only had 3500, so moving all in is not an incentive for Mr. Big to fold, but I couldnt' get away from a pot this big with AK where I am already in for 300 and there is dead money (the original raiser) in the pot. I called. The flop was A2T. I didn't realize it until I was on the train going home, but Mr. Big acted out of turn and announced he was putting me all in. In hindsight, that MIGHT have induced me to fold but there were too many possible hands he might be holding that I could beat. Remember the K9 he called with? My instince was that he was bullying. I was sure he made the Ace and that meant I had to call him. After all, why would I call with my AK, hoping to flop an A or K and then NOT move all in when it hit with no pair or draw on the board. I called and he showed the incredible A2. I did not improve and I was out. The more I think about it, the more I believe there was nothing I could do here. I had him dominated pre-flop and I'm sure if I moved all in then, he would have called and caught his two pair anyway. Post flop, I am only left with 1300 chips which means I have to take a stand somewhere in the next 6 or 7 hands. In THIS hand, I already had 1900+600+3500 in the pot, which I could win with my remaining 1300 and a flop that favored me in most cases. I just fell victim to the guy everyone ended up calling "The Grim Reaper", which by the way is a fantastic poker nickname. I hate losing to a lesser player who is getting cold cocked by the deck, but that's the way it is sometimes. The all in short stack, by the way, had 77 and also lost. I busted out in 40th place.

On a happy note, I went directly to the train station when I lost and only had to wait 3 minutes to catch a train to the city! :-)