Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Florida Heat

Gaming opportunities are few and far between these days. My own poker game has dried up, Atlantic City is too far away for anything other than a weekend (which I can’t spare) and my job in midtown, coupled with the intense summer heat, has precluded me from playing competitive Backgammon with the usual crew. So what’s a gamer to do when the itch comes?

For me, I try to take the time to enjoy my wonderful relationship with my fiancé and spend the bulk of my remaining free time planning our wedding and honeymoon. The wedding date is November 6th, in Aruba, and even though the hotel takes care of a lot of details, there’s still so much more to plan. Finalizing the guest list, the music choices, the flowers, the cocktail hour details, etc… is pretty close to a full time job. A pleasurable one, but a job none the less. On top of all that, Alison is busy spending her time looking for work. It’s a miserable job market for newly minted law school graduates, which is only driving her to work twice as hard to find a position.

Incidentally, if anyone out there knows of a job for a Dartmouth undergrad, a Fordham law grad, and a super hard and organized person (all Alison, natch), please give me a buzz!

In the midst of all of this craziness, my father has been bending my ear for months to come see him down in Florida. He’s been alone since my mom passed in November, but there hasn’t been enough time to fly down for a trip, until now. Ali and I took a JetBlue flight from JFK to Fort Lauderdale this past Thursday night, returning the next Monday night. My dad was in great spirits and we had a good time together. My parent’s condo is on the beach in Hollywood, and beach going would normally be a priority, but the temperatures were in the mid 90’s and the humidity was oppressive. Ali and I managed a few hours here and there to go in the ocean (bath water temperature) but it was in the late afternoon, when the sun was low on the horizon and the beach was shaded by the 30 story buildings lining the beachfront. We ate Golden garlic crabs at the Rustic Inn in Dania (a huge favorite and highly recommended), really good Cuban food at Little Havana in North Miami and had some kick ass breakfasts at the local bagelry.

But one thing was missing from my usual Florida frolics: Poker. I had already warned Ali in advance that since Florida has recently approved No-Limit Poker, there would be ZERO chance that I wouldn’t sample it for at least one session. I saw my chance Saturday night when we came back from our Cuban dinner. Ali was sated with food and it was about 9:30p. I announced my intention to go play cards and got surprisingly little resistance, only an admonishment from my father not to ‘stay out all night’. My legendary (in my parent’s mind) all night session of 10 years ago (where I came back at noon of the following day) had still not been forgotten. I promised I would try my best, but I never made any guarantees and I headed out.

I debated going to the Hollywood Hard Rock hotel for my one and only poker session of this short trip, but discounted it for two reasons. One, it was a 30 minute drive to get there, which meant I’d be shaving off a precious hour of playing time. By comparison, there were three other poker rooms within an 8 minute drive, allowing for much more time on the felt. The other reason was that the Hollywood Hard Rock is, by far, the most popular poker room in South Florida and likely to be the most crowded. I envisioned a long waiting time for a table, and I would have been pissed if that occurred. I opted instead for the Mardi Gras racetrack and casino, a greyhound pari-mutuel facility which had recently, according to news reports, moved its poker room downstairs and expanded it. I wanted to check it out anyway so I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone.

I was inside the poker room within ten minutes of leaving my father and Ali and I have to say the room is impressive. It’s about 35 tables with nice tables, auto shufflers and plush chairs. The room is on the dark side, but the tables themselves are lit up quite nicely and the dealers were way above average in skill and friendliness. The opponents were also nice people and, more importantly, not particularly good players (more on this later).

Even though it was Saturday night, the room was not as busy as usual according to the local players. I can only imagine the Jewish holidays had something to do with that. Even so there were still 16 tables going with 1-2NL, 2-5NL, 2-2 Limit, 1-2 Limit and 2-5 O/8 spread limit games going. After a short wait, a seat opened for me at a 1-2 NL table and I took my seat in seat 2. The man who was in the seat got up and moved to seat 7, a glum look on his face. I knew the look. "The seat is that bad?," I asked. He just grunted. "You’ll see. Of course, now that I moved, you’ll probably win every hand!"

His prediction wasn’t far off. My second hand, I was dealt ATo in early position. I was new to the table and wary of the other players, so I wasn’t about to get cute and raise with a middle Ace. I limped and a few people limped as well. The button raised to $6 and everyone who limped called. Pot builder. The flop was TT6, as good as it gets. I checked and it checked around. Turn was 8, putting a club flush on board. I bet out $20 and got a call from the button raiser. Curious. Club draw? I couldn’t tell. The river was a harmless 2. I bet out $40 for value and he squirmed but finally made the call showing pocket Queens. I tabled my trips and he grimaced. Congratulations on your marriage to Queens pal, now ship the candy.

The hand after that, I got 23 and limped with it but folded after a mid table raise to $15. One of the risks of limping in early position with speculative hands is that you will lose a lot of limps having to fold to raises which will almost be in position on you. But I’ll do it early in a table because I assume most 1-2NL tables are limpy. Until I’m proven otherwise, I stick with the game plan of limping with suited connectors and hoping to flop big. The flop was 33A! As it turns out, I would have cracked a guy with AK. The next hand, I got 66 in the BB and saw a flop of 633. This time, I fired out and got no takers. I had hoped somebody would have a three, but no go.

So my first few hands were definitely successful but then it quieted down. I was up about $80 on my $140 buy-in about 2 hours in when a very pretty Cuban girl sat down to my left. My standard playbook on pretty girls is that they can’t play poker very well, but this girl proved that first impression wrong. She was active pre-flop, made plenty of c-bets and was taking down pots with alarming frequency. We got to talking and it turns out she was here with her boyfriend, who was at another table. They had met about a year ago at a Miami poker room and were only here in Hollywood because of some friends they were visiting in the area. She was nice enough to tell me about some great authentic Cuban restaurants in the Miami area and I was trying to be friendly. I was also looking to move seats to get position on her. I don’t mind putting up a friendly façade with a strong player, but I’m still looking for an advantage. And it worked because we got involved in a bunch of big pots during the session. I had lost half of my profit on the session at this point trying different things on the table and not getting any traction. Finally, I’m dealt JJ in the hijack seat (button minus 2). It limped to me and I raised to 8 and Cuban Girl re-raised me to 15! This was the first pre-flop three bet that I had seen at this table so far so I immediately put her on a big hand. I was absolutely ready to give up the hand except that three other players cold called and the pot odds were quite heavily in my favor to set-mine. The flop was a very beautiful J63. I would have slow played if the flush draw wasn’t on board, so when it checked to me, I fired out $25. When Cuban Girl smooth called, I immediately put her on an over pair. Which one, I didn’t know, so I was praying quite heavily for small cards on the turn and river. Unfortunately, the turn was a King. Ouch. It was on me and I froze for a moment. My brain snapped me out of it quickly and I fired out $35. She called again. I was hoping she hadn’t noticed my hesitation on the King peeling off on the turn and luckily she didn’t. A better player would have shoved on me and I almost definitely would have laid down my set considering the situation. But she wasn’t world class, merely a good player. The river was a blank and I was feeling better about my situation. I had to figure out what she’d call and I saw her stack at about $135. I put out $45, probably too small as it turns out, but she called quickly and showed me QQ. I scooped another nice pot and she re-bought for another $100.

A little later on, her boyfriend sat down at the table next to her. They were a nice chatty couple and he seemed to be a slightly better player than her, but they weren’t too dangerous in my eyes anymore. I was on the button when the UTG straddled to $4 (yes, straddles are allowed in Florida now!). One weak player limped and it folded to me. Perfect time to steal, right? I had KJo, which is a reasonable hand and could even be best at this point. I raised to $20. Cuban Girl, whose stack had been knocked down to $93, smooth called. So did the straddle and the limper! I wasn’t expecting this at all. Then my mind got the better of my instincts. I was less worried about the straddle and the limper and more worried about the SB Cuban Girl, who probably wouldn’t call a $20 PF raise without a real hand. The flop was A84, rainbow. It checked to me and I decided to represent the Ace on an otherwise non-threatening board. I bet out $55 and the SB immediately re-raised to $73 all in. The other two players folded and it was $18 for me to call. $18 into a pot of $210. A clearer call I’ve never seen, but I STILL contemplated folding, knowing I was trapped perfectly. But I decided to make the call and try to talk up my attempted bluff. Cuban Girl was surprised to see my total bluff and happily showed AA for top set. It happens sometimes. Soon afterwards, I was able to move into position on Cuban Girl and her boyfriend and plotted getting my chips back.

I was back to even at my initial buyin of $140. Three hours down the drain. {Sigh}.

My stock oscillated for the next hour. I was down $85 at one point and I picked up J8 in the cutoff. Cuban girl raised to $6 after a few limps and I decided to see a flop. 7 players saw a flop of AK6. Cuban girl bets $10 and I’m the only one to call, in position on her now. Turn is 9. She checks to me and I bet $15. Her boyfriend laughs and says, "Oh no, no checking here!". I was kind of pissed because he obviously put me on the flush and seemed to be gently communicating that to her. To my surprise, though, she check-raised me to 30! Given her pre-flop raise, I couldn’t put her on a Queen flush since the Ace and King were already on the board and I held the Jack. Would she raise PF with QT?!??! It didn’t seem like a possibility given what I’d seen of her play. So I put her on a set or two pair (AK) and opted to call, hoping the board wouldn’t pair. I was in position, after all, and could possibly lay it down if the board did pair and she shoved. I had $47 behind. The river is 7, a harmless card in my eyes. She checks to me! At this point, I’m legitimately confused and I said so. I muttered out loud about how weird her play was. She check raised me on the third spade but opted to check the river when I called her min-raise. After about 30 seconds of this, I gently put the rest of my chips in and she quick called, showing A9 for a turned two pair. Her boyfriend yelled at her when I showed the second nuts. I guess my Hollywood had convinced her that I couldn’t beat two pair, or I was bluffing with a busted draw, but her boyfriend knew better early on. The two pair which gave me the flush kept her in and she didn’t want to believe me when the river bricked for her. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; most of the profit in this game comes from your opponent’s mistakes, not your own skillful play (although one sometimes begets the other).

After my double up and a few more smallish pots, I was back to about $220, or +$80 on the session. I picked up AKo UTG. I raise to $6 to pot build and immediately curse myself for not making it $11. A loose older foreign man, rocking an awesome white ‘stache, called from UTG+1 and that drew in three more callers. The flop, though, was a very pretty A86, rainbow. I bet out $25, intending to take it down right there given the diamond draw but the ‘Stache called me. $25 was considered a pretty big bet on this table, so I was concerned he had flopped something big. A set, maybe, or two pair. I didn’t know if he would cold call on a diamond draw, but it was a possibility. There are plenty of 1-2 NL players who will call on a flush draw heads up even though common sense says they probably won’t get paid off if the draw hits, putting the pot odds against them. Good players will call in position knowing they can bluff successfully if a diamond hits, but this guy wasn’t good. I had already seen him crack JJ with 84o when he called a raise PF and flopped two pair. So I knew he wasn’t beyond playing trash for a raise. The turn was 4. Now there were TWO flush draws out there. I figured I’d better lead out again for a substantial amount and maybe he won’t want to draw again. I bet out $45 and he instantly called "all-in" for $190 more! He had me covered and now *I* was the one squirming! I started to talk it out loud, "two pair? Set? 5-7?" In my mind, all I was beating was a pure bluff and I just didn’t see this guy bluffing. It took me a full minute to come to the conclusion to fold but I finally remembered Doyle Brunson’s maxim of ‘Don’t go broke with just top pair’ and I kicked in my cards. He tabled his 5-7 for the nut straight and said, with a heavy greek accent, "I show you, so you no feel bad". He gave me a fist bump and then asked what I had. I told the truth, hung my head and slogged on. I was back to my starting stack of $140.

It was now 2:45a and I was thinking about just picking up and leaving, calling this an even session. But the play was so crackable and I hadn’t played poker in so long that I couldn’t bring myself to leave! I started to chip back up, finally getting back to ~$220 again. I ground it out and it was a small profit, but two hours later I was finally ready to leave. I decided I’d play until UTG for a straddle and then leave after that hand. At this point, the table was down to 5 players (Cuban girl and boyfriend left) and it was definitely late. People were starting to make small errors due to fatigue and I was trying to take advantage. It got to me UTG and I made the straddle, which every player called. I looked down at A3o and checked my option. The flop is a pretty nice AK4. It checks to me and I decide to check because a weak Ace might be best here, but almost any other Ace beats me. I wanted to see what the table would do. Fortunately, it checked around. The turn was the 3. Beautiful. I now had top and bottom pair, and probably the best hand. George, a strange looking local with a crazy bad case of lazy eye, bet out $20. He was called by a youngish kid in the BB who had $45 in his stack, leaving him with $25. I figured him on a spade draw. I decided that with one card to go, I would isolate the spade draw. There was all this dead money in the pot, so if I bet huge, I should knock out everyone in the pot except the kid on a draw and I’d get my bet back minus $45. So I put out a silo of $100. A 30’ish loose guy, who had taken ‘Stache’s seat an hour ago, surprised the heck out of me by shoving for $179! Wow. George, who had been counting out his chips to call me (!) folded. The kid I put on a draw, naturally, called for the remainder of his small stack. It was now up to me for $79. If I folded, I’d be nearly even on the session. Calling and losing would leave me with a big loss relative to my starting stack. On the other hand, I was getting 4:1 to make the call. Still, I couldn’t figure what the guy had. I looked at the board and it hit me like a ton of bricks: Darko. The Darko, named for everyone’s favorite former Wall Street Poker player, Johnny Darko, is 2-5. The Darko would have given this guy a turned wheel. And he *did* get to see the turn for free after all. It totally made sense to me. He calls my straddle because, what the heck, it’s late and this might be our last hand. He flops a gutshot and fills it in when the flop is checked. Every instinct told me to fold the loser. But then I started to debate it in my head. Literally, I got up and started pacing the floor. If he had the wheel, I still had outs. Plus, he might only have an inferior hand of some sort. But I couldn’t figure out what that hand would be. I tried to fish for information verbally ("You got a wheel?") but the floor person told me to be quiet since there were other people still in the hand, even if they were all-in. Finally, after two or three minutes, probably out of sheer frustration but certainly egged on by my 4:1 odds call, I pushed my chips over the line. He asked, "You have a set?" Hmmmm, that’s nice to hear. "No," I said, "just two pair". "Me too," he said. He showed a 4 at first, and I fully expected him to turn over an Ace with it, but no! He had K4 for a slow played two pair that turned into disaster! I turned over my better two pair. The kid whom I thought had a draw actually had A9o. George told me after the hand was over that he, wisely, folded K3 for yet another inferior two pair! He told me, also, that he would have called me if the other guy had folded, which means the pot would have been for nearly all my chips no matter what. I had to dodge a 4, 9 or King to scoop the entire pot and I was elated to see the T peel off on the river! What a last hand!

The table broke up immediately, after having busted two players, and I racked up. After my tip, I had $460, for a $320 profit on the session! W00t!!!!

Finally, at 5am, I got into the car and drove back home, visions of my next session already dancing in my head. I love a good win.