Friday, February 27, 2009

Never thought I'd say this, but limit holdem is like playing bingo.

Shoulda sucked it up and made the drive to Majestic!!! Went to Empress instead. (Hi, Don!!!)

I hear that Four Winds Casino has a bad beat jackpot over $300k right now. That's just plain sick, folks. I also hear they're all electronic - those new fangled poker machines.

I may need to go see some cheap flops at Four Winds sometime soon.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

I finally got out to play some cards last night. I haven't been to the casino in ages.

FYI - For anybody in the Vegas area, I will be in town March 24-27 to play some poker. It looks like my friend might not be accompanying me, so I'll be flying solo... meet me in Vegas!! Hell, I've got a room at Excalibur super-cheap, if anybody wants in.

Anyway, back to the Majestic Star trip... oh how I've missed that place! It really is my favorite place to play around here (Chicagoland) - though I haven't yet checked out the new Horseshoe Casino poker room, which I hear is a lot like a Vegas card room. Somehow, though, Majestic feels like "home." I've logged more hours there than anyplace else, and it's just a friendly sort of place. The down side: it's nearly an hour drive from home. That can suck. But the boat that is local to me (Empress) only has a few tables, and most of the tables run a limit game (5/10). I played that limit game for a long while, when I was playing limit. These days, though, I'm doing the NL thing for now, and the only NL table they run is a little over my head right now (as I basically am starting from a 1-buy-in bankroll). Back when I played there, they only ran NL on one table, and it always had a giant waiting list. Since I don't do any of the other gambling activities offered by the casino, waiting hours on end for a poker seat can be brutal.

So, I was glad to be back at Majestic.

Even moreso, it was almost like I was playing with friends. The guy to my right for most of the night was a dead ringer for Mr. Geek and Proud. Srsly. Since he's been posting all those pics of him wearing different t-shirts, his mug was fresh in my mind - and this guy could have passed as his twin. I knew it wasn't him, though, when he whipped out a lame ass non-smart cell phone. No way Alan would be caught dead using such a primitive device.

I played for a little over 4 hours. On the whole, my hands pretty much sucked. I saw a less-than-average number of flops, and saw even fewer showdowns. Still, I enjoyed the mental stimulation of observing the other players, pegging them as one sort of player or another, noting tells and nuances and quirks. That's something you just don't get in full force playing online. Sure, you can note things like, "blind steal attempts 4/5 times" or "will call down all the way with overcards," but those sorts of things are like observations of blatantly obvious facts. Picking up on physical subtleties is much more "rewarding" so to speak. It feels like you've become privy to information that few, if any, other people at the table have access to. (The $200 max buy in NL game is not the most sophisticated game in the joint).

I managed to profit a whopping 2.5BB per hour - enough to buy lunch. LOL! But I will not buy lunch with it. Hey now - that's a 5% increase to my bankroll!! I've got a date with poker come Thursday night, when my friend Ed will be joining me at Majestic (I think... haven't hammered out the details, but it's a tentative plan). A 5% increase. I'm not scoffing.

I lost two big hands last night, one of which has me irked. The one that doesn't have me irked is part of the risk in playing low to mid suited connectors and seeking a flush... sometimes, you're just going to be up against a higher flush. I lost the minimum possible, as I sensed the guy wasn't going away. I pulled a check-behind on the turn when my flush hit - glad to hit the flush but not wanting to play for an uber pot, as my flush was 4-high in my hand. Called his river bet and he had the nuts. That's whatcha get for being Tricky McTrickster, buddy. You certainly lost a bet there.

The other hand, I ** once again ** broke the advice that is pounded into my head from Harrington's cash games book: Big hand, big pot. Small hand, small pot.... and an overpair is NOT A BIG HAND!! It was a little more complicated than that, so maybe my reasoning was justifiable - though in retrospect, I still think I should have played it differently. I'm just not sure that I am capable of playing it the way it probably should have been played.

I had QQ preflop. The table was pretty wacky. We had a whole lot of 7 and 8 handed flops. On a previous hand, there were actually 6 people that saw a flop after a preflop raise of over 7xBB. These people just liked to see flops, regardless of the upfront cost. (Three of the people in the 7x hand went to showdown, and 2 pair got cracked by a straight - two of the players split the pot, having called the preflop raise with various flavors of 4-7 suited).

So, on the button, after 5 people had limped in, I looked down to see QQ. I deemed it impossible to push anybody out of the pot with a raise, and with SO many people ready to come to the flop with me, my instinct was to play this as any other smaller pocket pair. It's almost as bad as having JJ. It's just not the strongest hand in the world, and the tendencies of my table put it at even greater risk of getting cracked. So I stuck with a "small hand, small pot" mentality (even though that mentality is really designed for post-flop decision making).

The blinds came along, and we went to the flop 8 handed. (Yeah. Sigh). The flop came all hearts, undercards. I held the Q of hearts. The guy in the 10 seat said, "Hmm I think I have the Ace of hearts..." as he checked his hole cards. He was a very friendly guy - I enjoyed chatting with him - and he had a giant stack in front of him after a fantastic run of hitting 2 pair on the river with such cards as Q4 of clubs and A2 offsuit (out of the blinds). Several people at the table were actively pissed off at him and were gunning for him. (Poor Alan's Clone took a beating at the hands of Mr. 10 Seat, tilting so bad that at one point, he threw his cards into the muck with great force, hitting the dealer in the face).

The other oddity of my table (aside from the overwhelming tendency to see flops at any cost) was the extreme passive play post-flop. Many streets would check around, only to wind up at showdown with somebody who checked down top pair all the way. So when it checked around to me (ALL the way around - that's SEVEN checks in front of me!), I threw out a continuation bet. If there were hearts around, they'd stay, and I wanted that information. Surprisingly, the field thinned to all but one - Mr. 10 Seat, who had previously mused that he thought he might have the Ah. Now, he mused often about his cards, and in 3 separate instances had been musing the opposite of what he actually had (and in one instance, mused truthfully).

The turn came a black undercard, and he checked. I checked behind. I did not want to see a 4th heart. At. All. (Should I have bet there? I figured, if he did have the Ah, he wasn't going away, and I did not want to make this pot any bigger).

The river... a heart. Undercard. I've now got the Queen high flush, and 2 cards in the deck beat me - the King of hearts and the Ace of hearts. Mr. 10 Seat was fully capable of bluffing, and in fact liked to do it on the river after playing all passive-like. He was also sleep deprived and should have been in bed hours ago.

He bet the river, about the size of the pot. So many thoughts went through my mind. It was entirely possible that after my turn check, he figured he could push me off the hand. It was entirely possible that he was bluffing. It was entirely possible that he had a smaller flush. It was also entirely possible that he had it.

I cut out my chips behind the line, and said (while looking at my chips), "Two cards beat me, sir... are you holding one of them?" I then looked up at him and repeated myself. I REALLY wanted him to do something with his hands, because his hands were always shaking when he actually had a hand. But he wasn't moving, and he wasn't speaking.

In the end, I listened to the devil on my shoulder that was saying, "Only two cards beat you!!" And I called.

And he had the Ace of hearts.

I suppose I lost the minimum, with the turn check. But I think I could have lost even less had I abandoned ship at the flop. A continuation bet there makes more sense if there were fewer people to the flop, but practically the entire table was there with me. SOMEBODY was likely to have the higher hearts. Still, I don't think I could have come to the conclusion that it was OK to check that flop after the entire table checked around, and when the brick hit the turn, I'm not sure that either a) I wouldn't call somebody's bet in front of me, or b) I wouldn't bet myself if it checked around again. I'm fairly certain b) would have absolutely happened. So I was losing a bet on the flop or turn either way.

The river call is where I could have saved myself a chunk of change, but... hitting the flush, I'm still not sure I can envision any scenario whereby I'd actually lay it down. To an all-in bet, yes - I think I'd have folded. But not to a pot sized bet.

Should I have laid it down on the river? Would that have been too conservative a play?

I don't really feel that I have an answer for this one. Therefore, it will continue to irk me...

At any rate, I won back most of the chips I lost to Mr. 10 Seat in a later hand, where I rivered a set of Aces with my pocket Aces. He was all apologizing as he cut out his chips to call my raise, because he had once again hit a bullshit 2 pair... but a set beats 2 pair, and that pot negated the damage from the QQ hand.

Mr. 10 Seat gave away half of his beautiful stack before the night was done, most of it trickling away on river bluffs in the last hour I was there. It was tough to leave. I was pretty sure all of those chips were leaving the station before long. But, I had a friend with me that wasn't playing, and I'm fairly certain he was bored out of his skull by that point. It was late, and with an hour drive home ahead of us, I waited until the next dealer change and then called it a night.

I didn't scoop a fortune, but I came out ahead and was VERY happy with how I felt at the table. There are times when I really shouldn't play poker. Sometimes, I'm just "off." I get nervous. I get afraid of monsters under the bed. I get paranoid. I doubt my instincts (which I'm coming to find that really, instincts are just our subconscious mind's way of feeding us information based on past experiences, and the myriad of patterns of hands we've seen over time). It's been a long time since I've played at a casino. It was entirely possible that I'd find myself out of my element - particularly since I was playing NL. If you recall, I pretty much retired from NL cash games years ago - in the same season as my KK Quandary hand. Yes, that was over 3 years ago - but it sure stung, and it spoke to weaknesses in my game and in my understanding of how cash games differ from tournaments. [For reference - KK Quandary Part 1 and KK Quandary Part 2]. I still can't tell you why I decided to fire up an NL cash game on Full Tilt a couple months back - and it has been a very positive experience online thus far. Somehow, though, I find myself back in the NL realm.

Spending most of 2008 away from poker has afforded me the opportunity to come back at it with fresh eyes... and though I wasn't trying to "change" my game, really, I am playing differently now. I can't really explain why or even what I'm doing that is different, but I feel different and I "see" things I didn't see before... almost as if some of that book knowledge has finally translated into "habit" or unconscious actions. An example: I don't forget to consider position when making decisions anymore. I don't even consciously think about it - whereas when I did remember it before, I would then stop and think, "OK, where is the button?" Now, somehow, I just always know where it is. My brain is logging that information without me having to think about it. That's just one example, but that's the sort of thing that's going on. Some of the basics are now out of the foreground of my thinking and into the background. It's allowing me to concentrate on the subtleties of the game and I feel like I'm noticing more things and making better decisions as a result.

At any rate, I'm going to try again on Thursday, so if any of you Chicago peeps find yourself out and about, hit up Majestic Star :) I'll be there...

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