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Thursday, March 31, 2005

The Honest Assessment

I remember when I was teenager always hearing about how much smarter my parents are going to seem when I get to twenty five. Check.

And the all the educational cliches about how to learn from the mistakes of those that have gone before you. Check.

The last one is the best because no matter how much you take it to heart, you still do all those dumb things until you're popped doing it and finally learn. And such is the development of a poker player.

So the slightly ego-boosted assessment of my own skill is that I'm good with the potential to be much better than good. I possess no real barometer of my skill other than for a few months I've been mildly successful playing online and live against friends and random other opponents. That the first two times I sat down and played a live tournament of sorts, I won.

So it's been easy to get down on myself this week as my bankroll has been getting pummelled. Absolutely, one hundred percent pummelled. But by nature I'm more of an optimist so I've been going back over this week trying to decide what the high points were, what I got out of this mess besides losing several hundred dollars.

1) Baby pairs can't stand a reraise from early position.

I've read that plenty of times but was just stupid enough to ignore it last night and got bounced out of the midnight show on FTP on the first hand. Naturally, it was by none other than a pair of Johnnies. [expletive deleted] Johnnies.

2) Ace-King, no matter what, still only makes an Ace high starting hand.

Read that as well, even preached about the stupidity of online players who overplay that hand no more than a few days ago on this very blog. You may currently apply the stupid sign to this guy right here.

3) It's okay to lose, it's going to happen more often than not, so long as you've made the right decision to get into that situation.

In trying to teach my parents some of the finer points of poker, I've had more than a few conversations with my father about it. I tried to find the best analogy to explain where my poker game was at and found it in one of my other passions, golf. I truly think golf is the close cousin of poker. Both "sports" have winners that come out on top of tournaments only a very rare percentage of the time overall. You can do every little thing correctly and sometimes the cards just come wrong or the ball bounces a little askew, and the expected result is demolished.

I played poker pretty regularly for about four months before I ever looked at a poker instruction book. As I've been applying the principles I learn to the style of play I have, my game has kind of vascillated back and forth between very good and very bad. Kind of like when you go get your first lessons in golf and they change your grip. And your stance and your swing and your weighting and just about every thing you can think of until you are so uncomfortable that you'd rather not even play golf. But then a funny thing happens; it becomes natural to do those things. Suddenly your game is ten times better than it was before. Once you've got those basics ingrained you can start working on the nuances of playing better. Shaping different shots, using different clubs in varying situations and generally being more creative and even taking a few more risks.

Discovering this analogy has been a big help to the evolution of my poker skills. When I started playing golf I used to shoot in the 115-120 range for 18 holes. I started lessons, played more and each year for three years I knocked about 10 shots off my score. Once I got down to shooting between 85-95 regularly, I read an article that said only the top 5% of golfers break 90 for eighteen holes. Suddenly you don't feel so ridiculous shooting 90. The pros are the top one tenth of one percent of all golfers. Then I worked on my game and I found I could do a lot more than used to, I could hit shots exactly as I wanted to, moving the ball in different directions just as I had envisioned. And then I started shooting in the low 80's. I was probably ten times better but my score only improved from 87 to 82. I could go out and shoot three or four under par for nine holes but I'd blow up somewhere on the back nine. Or I'd start out poorly on the front nine and then everything would come together on the back. I didn't have a complete game (still don't).

Seven months or so into this little poker adventure I'm on, I have to say that I think I've started finding some of the nuances. My skill has improved a lot but I still have work to do on making all these things I've learned into natural conditions of my game. Some weeks it all makes sense, like it did two weeks ago when I made six final tables online and won twice, making about $2,000. And then there's weeks like this one where I've lost hundreds of dollars. I've made good decisions, bad decisions and just plain gotten into situations where I lost but made the right decision that put me there.

And such are the bumps and bruises of playing poker... of playing golf... of living life...

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Evolution of the Johnny

I finally participated in a vaunted World Poker Blogger Tour (WPBT) event. PokerStars is a pretty decent site (FTP still the best one going) and the buy in for tonight's tourney was $22 and started with T1500. There were 109 entries this evening and as evidenced by my second post of the day, things did not end as I had hoped.

Things started out decent enough, had to fold a few hands before I finally caught a KJ and opened up for the first time; with no callers.

Then it turns into the hot corner over on my side of the table. I get dealt pocket fives, call the minimum raiser in front of me and four of us see the flop. Queen-eight-seven. Raiser leads out for $120 and I have to fold as the entire board is over me. Turn card? Five. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr...

Two hands later I have 35 clubs in the big blind, three limpers come into the pot and we see the flop together. King-two-six. Guy leads out for $150 which is a little expensive to catch a gutshot so I fold. Turn card? Four. [expletives deleted]

On the next orbit I pick up 78 hearts and get two hearts on the flop. I lead out and the shortstack on the table raises all in for another $200 so I have to call. He has King-high and I river a seven to win. Sweet victory. [dancing]

Next orbit in the big blind I get... Eke... Ike. Lovely. There's a raise from middle position up to $250, a caller from the cutoff and I decide to simply call. Flop comes 672 and I lead out for $300, get raised up to $700 and I go all-in back over the top, which he calls. And the winner is... pocket sevens for a set. [insert game show loser music here] Thank you badblood44, thank you very much.

And then it begins. What's that, you ask? The Evolution of the Johnny. It seems so appropriate being my name and all but it just never treats me right. I get pocket Jacks not once... not twice... but five times in the next twenty minutes! What's even more astounding? I won every single time! If the board was over me, it got checked to me and I took it down. If it was under me, I raised and took it down. Glorious, glorious Jacks! Long live the Johnny!

I lose a hand right before the break at hour one but it was to a shortstack, so minimal damage done. I'm sitting in 14th place with $3306 chips and 66 players are left. If not for the AA debacle I'd be in the top five. Not a bad first hour's work. And then I get moved. [dum-dum-dum...]

I end up on the table with two of the top eight stacks, including the chip leader. HermWarfare has $8165 and Guinness has $4060, and this table is loaded with the blogger elite. Luckily Herm is in front of me, so I have that going for me, which is nice. First hand after the break I got A2 offsuit on the button and raise to $450 which puts the big blind all-in. He decides to gamble and calls, turning over J3 of clubs. Okay, I'm screwed. Screwed, you say? You're ahead 57-43% preflop. Two clubs on the flop. Jesus Christ. Brick on the turn. Now I'm up 66-34%. Here it comes... CLUB! [many expletives deleted]

The luck has turned. Big time.

And then.... drumroll, please... the final hand. I get A10 offsuit under the gun and raise to $450, Guinness calls and HermWarfare calls. Naturally, the top two stacks on the table. Flop comes J 10 5, and Herm leads out for $700 into the $1475 pot. Hmmmm, my sense tell me that it's middle pair, and I have the better middle pair. Not gonna let this chip leader bully me around, it's time to make a statement... ALL-IN! About $1500 more, what do you think about that Mr. Chip Leader!?!? Guinness gamely gets out of the way and after a momentary pause for drama... Herm calls. And shows me... Jack-Jack.

Evolution of the Johnny, I knew those sons-of-bitches were gonna turn on me....

63rd out of 109...

"You're an idiot..."

Ahhh, the musings of a man on tilt. I'd raised his big blind at least seven times before and about half the time with an actual raising hand. I knew sooner or later he was going to have to pop me back and the eighth time I raised him I had QJ offsuit on a four-handed table. The blinds were at 80/160 and I took it up to 480. Just as I had expected he finally popped me back and went all-in for about 1600 more. As I had been expecting his play, I called his all-in immediately and he had A4 offsuit. I immediately caught a Queen on the flop and then a Jack on the turn and he was drawing dead. Let the shouting begin...

"You're an idiot..."

"You called with the worst hand..."

"You were behind, there's no way you should have called an all-in..."

Okay, sir, since I was playing three tables I didn't have much time to explain to you my thoughts other than to wish you a good evening, thank you for your chip donation and let you know that poker was a game of odds and unfortunately another five cards after the deal.

So what did I think he had? I didn't even give him credit for an Ace, though seeing the Ace-rag didn't really surprise me. In fact, I think his re-raise is the foolish decision here, though exactly the right play. How can it be both? Well, my limited poker experience probably makes this the wrong idea but here's my thinking. Even though I had raised him many times before, any big ace from my position is a possibility on a raise. So if you're re-raising into me, you only have three outs. Same if I have medium pairs. Hell, if I only had a pair of two's or three's, you're still an 11-10 underdog. Those are all the reasons to think you're behind from the start and at best to call my raise, not re-raise me.

Now, for why it's the right play from him. I've raised you at least seven times while you're in the big blind and you've laid it down to me each and every time. If you don't pop me back, hand or not, I'm gonna keep running over your big blind since I know you'll succumb to pressure. So you have to pop me back on a re-raise at some point to slow me down. You look down and find an Ace and figure I'm just popping your blinds again and decide to make your move. All-in. I make the call and we're racing.

Ace-four offsuit versus Queen-Jack offsuit, you have a 56-44% advantage pre-flop. Very nearly coin flip odds and you ended up on the wrong side of the coin. Welcome to poker. Your comments as you left the table, "Well, at least I got my money in with the best hand," does hold some validity (though I think someone's been watching a little too much Celebrity Poker Showdown).

That was my lone success of yesterday. Won a satellite token in that sit n' go on FTP. Other than that I lost $280 between tournies, SNG's and the tables. You might think, "Wow, that's some awful playing, Rossi," but it wasn't all terrible decisions by yours truly. Without exaggerating even a single iota, I lost $180 of that total to pocket Aces. Six (expletive deleted) times. I was bullet riddled by the end of the night.

I tried to find some solace in my now beloved 2am $20 tourney on FTP and I doubled up on the first hand. Chip leader on the second hand of the tournament and from my experience the previous day I knew I was surely screwed. Made a play at a hand a few minutes later when I had come in with small suited connectors and the flop came King high. Put a lot of pressure on the guy that stuck it out and after much debate he finally re-raised me on the turn. My honest opinion was that he was bluffing as well, but his crappy hand had to be better than my crappy hand. I had basically pissed away the money from the double up on hand one, and then I got AQ on a queen high flop and played right into my opponent's hands. How did play right into his hands you ask? Ace-Ace. Two more bullets are enough to kill me for the night....

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

"To the game, Jeeves..."

Hopped my afternoon flight back from FLA to Richmond, got in at 8:37 pm on the nose and was picked up by JB and off to the weekly poker game at Mo's by 9:15. That's dedication for you, people. Or obsession. But I'm gonna go with dedication.

We had a full game of nine players with a $40 buy-in. I mucked the first hand, JB was behind me and ended up losing with his AK suited. Second hand I looked at one card at a time... Ace... Ace. Lovely. I raise it and JB promptly re-raises me. I can only hope that I'm not smiling on the outside as much as I am on the inside. Action folds around to me and I put on a little bravado and say "re-raise" as emphatically as I can, hoping he won't believe that I have the one hand that kills him. He calls me and the flop is all undercards. I lead out at the pot, he raises me and I call. Turn is another brick and I lead out, he goes way over the top of me and I move all-in back over him. The table is loving this action, and JB announces that there's only one hand that beats him so I know I've got him caught with KK. Eventually he calls me, and I show him the bad news, Eke and Ike. So in the course of two hands JB has had AK suited and Kings and he's busted out of the tournament. There's no justice in poker.

This did however present a bit of a conundrum. Four minutes into the tournament, my ride is knocked out and I'm chip leader, so I could be there a while. We decide to make this our first ever re-buy tournament. This would prove interesting throughout the night. About ten minutes later I look into the cards and there are the bullets again. To what do I owe the honor, fellas? Three people limped in front of me, I raise and they all call. Thanks, guys. Flop comes 8 9 10, with two diamonds. I'm first to act so I lead out with a modest bet and JT ponders for a long time before finally mucking his hand. While he was debating I had already decided that no matter what I was going all-in over a raise or on the turn, I didn't think I'd be up against anything better than a flush or straight draw. PokerDon folds and then Mo pops back over the top of me for $100. Before he could finish saying it I had moved all-in. A series of expletives and a few minutes later he called me and turned over KJ of clubs. He got no help on fourth or fifth street and suddenly I'm tripled up in the first 25 minutes.

It seemed obvious the poker gods were sitting on my shoulders at this point and it grew even more apparent a little later in the night. I got KQ offsuit and Matt had AK in the seat in front of me. The flop came AK8 and when Matt checked to me, I decided to make a play at him since most of the night I had controlled his action. I led out into him and he re-raised all-in which I called since I was pretty much pot committed. When he turned over Big Slick I could feel my face fall and I told him that he got me as the dealer turned over a Jack. "It's all over unless a ten comes on the riv-" as the dealer turns over a ten on the river. I sat in shock for a couple seconds before showing Matt my straight and I briefly wondered if he were going to strangle me to death right then and there. So now I've got stacks of chips sitting in front of me that look like the New York skyline. And then...

It all went south. I made a horrible call (in my opinion) against JB when I caught K3 on a King high flop with two clubs and went back over the top of his raise and put him all-in; he had K10. Stack one, collapsed. Then I got involved with Matt again (stupid re-buys) when I caught pocket fives on the big blind. The flop came K84 and he checked it to me, so I led out at him trying to represent the King. He called my $100. Turn was a brick but it also put two diamonds on the board. He checked again so I loaded up one more time and fired at him with another $100... which he called. I'm sure the sounds of my brakes squeeling could be heard after he called the second time, but then the ever so lovely 5 of diamonds came on the river. Now I loaded up a shell with a real hand and put another $100 into the pot... and he called again and showed me his King-King... a higher set. Umm, tower, we've got problems here. Stacks two and three, collapsed. Only the fact that a third diamond came out saved me from losing all my money on that hand. So, I'd been chip leader for five hours and some change at that point and now I'm short stacked with about $270 remaining. There's no crying in poker, Rossi.

There's something truly embarassing about having quadruple what everyone has for five hours and then missing the money which is exactly what I was staring down the barrel at. Got lucky and doubled up off Matt with pocket sevens versus his Ace-Queen and then finally, at 4:15am I got knocked out in third place (money!) when I went up against JB's Ace-Queen with pocket two's. That was the second hand I thought I played poorly. JB raised $100 and I figured him on exactly the hand he ended up having. My brain was telling me to simply call and see the flop but somewhere the idiot inside told me to put it all on the line. If I had seen the flop which came with an Ace, I could have folded and been in fine shape to keep playing. Live and learn.

JB finally won about forty minutes later, which he quite frankly has earned with the never ending string of bad beats he has taken over the last few months, particularly from me. Today hasn't treated me so well on the poker front, down a couple hundred bucks, but for some reason I feel really strongly that I'm gonna take down something big soon and make it to the World Series... just got a feeling...

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Never play poker with family...

So over the course of this vacation I've been attempting to teach my family and some close friends how to play. I've covered some of the principles of betting and card selection but apparently I've merely been talking to myself. I tried very, very hard not to let myself fall into that common trap of believing you're better than the game you're playing in. It becomes a very bitter little pill to swallow, though, when you get to the river with your Ace-King and find out your mother called your $10 raise with 83 offsuit and hit the K83 flop. Or when you watch your father call two other people's all-in bets with J2 offsuit, only to hit his 2 and win. After watching all this you can only sit back and laugh and pray to God that you soon get back to a normal poker game where people fold when they're supposed to.

On the semi-normal poker front, my apparent collapse of any and all poker skill continues. I've definitely been playing way loose the last few days. Even though the probabilities have been there for many of my calls, I still should be playing a little smarter and holding my chips for times when I have the hand instead of the gambles to make a hand. I won't get a chance to play any of the big tournaments this weekend unfortunately, but that gives me a week to earn some money back online and hopefully cash in next weekend. Also have at least two big live tournaments this week so hopefully the top three streak will continue there. If I can get in the money in both those tournaments I should be halfway to the WSOP.

Well time to squeeze in a SNG (sit n' go) or two before I get ready for Easter dinner, but until my next post, may all your hands be live and your pots be monst--- damn, I've been watching way too much World Poker Tour...

Friday, March 25, 2005

EV and the Problem with Aces and Maniacs

Haven't played a whole lot the last few days other than sneaking in a few tournaments. Taught my parents and some other close friends of the family how to play NL and Limit Hold'em yesterday, let me just say, that was an adventure. My mother has an uncanny knack for making her 84 offsuit turn into a winning hand every single time. Any two cards, any two cards will do...

So the first tourney I played last night was the $20 midnight show on FTP. As seems to be the usual routine lately, I was put on the table with Sycophant, a very solid player who the last five times we've played each other has caught monster pairs everytime I'm in the big blind. Well it turns out that most of the rest of this table are maniacs. Early on I got KJ offsuit under the gun, raised it up 3x and got a call from a guy in middle position who called with Q7 diamonds. Naturally the flop came Jack high with two diamonds and he made it on the turn. With most of my money gone I waited patiently and actually got tripled up as a reward. So back up to T1400 and watching more maniac play go down. One guy went all in for 900 chips with a pair of nines and got called by a guy with A2 clubs. As should be guessed, he caught his Ace.

A few hands later I get A10 suited under the gun and raise to 3x (240 chips). Two spots down, reraised to 450 and the guy after him calls the 450. With all that out there I had to take a flop so I called. Flop came ten high. This part will lead into the title of today's discussion. I didn't think either of them had pocket aces, but I did figure at least one of them to have QQ or KK and the other could have AK the way the table had been playing. I had T1000 left with 2100 already in the pot. I knew both would call if I went all-in, so the pot was laying 5 to 1 for me. If I had everything read correctly I had about five outs left in the deck, and with a full ring at the table my odds in the deck were about 5.5 to 1.

I went all-in and soon saw I was up against QQ and KK. I was behind, but still had plenty of chances with two cards to come. Unfortunately there was no joy in Mudville and I got knocked out. This play was absolutely a gamble, as most situations with a high expected value (EV) tend to be, but the odds were good enough to take a chance on a pot that would have put me in the top five. Of course everyone one of the maniacs was going nuts about it, arguing about how I could make a call with 10's only, but in the long run it's the ability to make informed decisions that will let me beat them and I know that it wasn't a terrible play.

Then I decided to try a tourney on Paradise Poker, a new site I signed up for. An old friend of a friend of mine who is basically a pro now plays there pretty regularly. I've got some good stories about him that I'll save for another post down the road. The site is not too bad overall but the table interface leaves a lot to be desired. I do like the layout of their tournament lobbies though, provide a lot of good information about what's going on with the rest of the tables. In any event, I signed up for a $25 NL tourney that got 201 players. I was on absolute FIRE coming out of the gate in this thing. I'm making two pair, straights, flushes, top pair on five consecutive hands and was up to T3500. I also flopped a full house in there but got no action. Then I got KQ offsuit in middle position, raised it up 3x and decided to trade on my table image. I had one caller and the flop came with a bunch of blanks so I led out for a pot bet of 300 which he called. The turn was an Ace. I went ahead and pot bet again for 900 and he thought about it and thought about it before finally calling right before his time expired. Another blank came on the river and I loaded up my third shell and fired another 500 at the pot which put him all-in. He calls and turns over A4 offsuit. Brutal. A little while later I got pocket 3's and called a raise from a guy I figured was on big slick. Flop came with blanks so I moved in for my last 400 chips and he called, bingo I was right, AK suited. Turn was no help and then the unmerciful Ace came out and I was done.

Here's what I see more and more and more of online, overvaluing the Ace. The first guy calling me with A4 offsuit either made an incredible read (something I'm not giving him credit for based on his play the rest of the hour I saw) or just decided Aces are goob and I'm going to play it even though this guy most likely has a better Ace than I do. The second guy qualifies as an even bigger donk. An ace is only a high card, people, it alone does not beat a pair... ANY pair. Far too often I see people take on short stacks incorrectly. If I had pushed all-in preflop for my 675 chips, calling with AK suited is not such a terrible play. Most online players with a short stack will push with any decent painted cards or big Ace. But when they call a raise and then go all-in after the flop, more credence may want to be given to their hand when you merely have an Ace high.

Just my two cents on something to think about next time you're playing.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

"I liked my odds..."

Okay, so I'm going to sound a little bit like a whiner on this post. But I would like to preface my comments by saying I would have accepted losing on this hand if he had given me the right reasoning for his call. It's the 2am $20 tourney on FTP and as seems to be the norm lately, I made it to the final table (in spite of myself). I have been playing some boneheaded poker the last fourty-eight hours but was able to pull it together early this morning.

With seven players left out of the original seventy-two, prospects are looking good as I have about 13,000 in chips and am one good hand away from moving up to the top. I get dealt AJ offsuit under the gun plus one (UTG +1) and we are at 250/500 blinds with 50 antes. UTG calls and I bring it in for a raise up to 2000. Action folds around to the small blind who completes and the big blind and UTG folds. Flop comes Qh 8h 4d with 5550 in the pot already. SB is first to act and leads out for 2000. I get the sense that this board kind of scared him and even though I'm not on a draw, I decide I can probably take the pot down anyways and move back over the top of him all-in for another 7000 chips. After pondering for a bit he decides to call and turns over pocket 10's. I got no help on the turn or river and I'm out of the tourney in seventh place.

I ask him if he thought I was on the draw and he tells me, "No, I just liked my odds," (record scratches and stops). We are all dumber for having heard this, I award you no points and may God have mercy on your soul. You just liked your odds? Your odds were awful. Actually, less than awful. More like somewhere in the neighborhood of the odds that I have of getting Cameron Diaz into my bed.

If you didn't put me on the draw that means you thought I probably had the Queen, which was a very good possibility considering my preflop raise and subsequent reraise all-in after the flop. So by your reasoning, putting another 7ooo chips into the pot at that point, with it sitting at almost 17000, makes your pot odds at around 29%. If I did have the queen then you had no outs other than to hit one of the other two tens in the deck. Which means that you had two cards out of the thirty-one remaining to make you the winner. Those odds you ask? 15.5/1 or approximately 6.5% to hit your cards. So you have to put in 27% of the pot in order to have a 6.5% chance of winning? Thank you, Texas_Reign, I'll be looking you up to play at your table again in the future. Donk.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

So close I could taste it....

So the weekends on Full Tilt now include a $50K guaranteed and a $75K guaranteed tournament on Saturday and Sunday respectively. After winning the 2am tourney again on Friday, I had decided what the hell I'll play. Well after my three minutes of boneheaded moves in the $50K that took me from 30th to out, I wasn't so sure I'd play in the $75K. But as I saw the lineup on Sunday, 255 entrants in total with top 36 paid, I bought in. Fresh off the mistakes of the day before, I kept it tight for a long time. You started off with T3000 chips for this one which I thought was nice. For $216 I'd like to be able to make some plays and maybe even one moderately bad one without being knocked out. I was somewhere between T2300 and T3500 for most of the first ninety minutes. Then I flopped to the nut flush and got supremely lucky when I had a shortstack come up with pocket Jacks on a low board and someone else had flopped two pair. That put me at T5300 and in position to really start making some moves.

I got lucky a few times taking out some shorter stacks and kept on building the pile. Shortly after I entered the third hour of the tournament I started making some huge scores and found myself at T32,000 which was good enough for 5th place at the time. That would've paid me $3500 if I could've just ended the tournament right then. Finally we got into the final 36 and play opened back up. I took on a short stack with pocket sevens versus his AJ offsuit but he ended up hitting the Jack and I was down to T24000.

After getting blinded down for a little while and sitting at T21000 now, it got folded around to me on the button with J10 offsuit. Blinds were at 1000/2000 and antes of 250 so I decided to try and put a move on the blinds and I raised it to 8000. Small blind came back over the top all-in which had me covered. This is the only decision of the tournament that I really question. I had definitely been aggressive all along, raising up to take blinds at some spots and this guy had been on the table with me for a while too. So he could very easily have just been popping me back to make me wary of stealing. My hand was marginal enough to play or fold and as I keep thinking about it, I don't think folding it was really a bad decision but for the situation it left me in as a short stack, it may have been worth a shot at going all-in there. I think if I had been suited I may have just done it there. In any event, I folded, was left at T12000 which was the shortstack overall. Was able to make some plays here and there and get a little deeper in the money but I finally made my stand with pocket dueces when the chip leader raised over me with AJ offsuit. He got two more Aces on the flop and turn and I was finished. 22nd place paid $412 so not a bad outing but still a little disappointing as I had been so close to a few thousand.

One other random part of that tournament which was probably an omen of things to come was when I got pocket Aces during the 2nd hour. I raised up in early position, got two callers. Flop came Queen high I checked, MP led out for $200, Button raised to $500 which I took up to $1200. The MP folded and Button went all-in. I could barely contain my excitement putting him on either AQ or KK, so when I called and he turned over AA as well, it was kind of surprising. Kind of like going out to show off your shiny new toy only to find out everyone else on the block already has it. Oh well.

So the ultimate goal has been set. I want to play in the $1500 NL Hold'em event at the World Series on June 3rd. I need to get my bankroll to $5000 before I'll do it though, currently I sit at $1750. Hopefully I can take down a few more tournaments between now and then, the last week of March shaping up to be a big one in that regard. Flight is booked and two months to make the rest of the cash. Wish me luck...

Monday, March 21, 2005

"The Warehouse"

So this group of guys that I play hold'em with a few times a week play in this other pot limit game every Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday at the "warehouse". They've been trying to convince me to come along for a couple months now but there's just something about playing in a "warehouse" that sounds a little too much like I'm gonna get shot up leaving the place for my taste. And yet, I finally gave in and went over there one night. I ride along with my buddy Motown since no one can really give me directions to this place. We end up over in this industrial section near an area where at least five bodies have been found over the last year or so. Great start.

So we roll up to the (illegal) card game and go behind these two buildings into a secluded parking lot. Card game is in the building on the left and a cop shop is in the building on the right. So suddenly I'm having flashes of Rounders in my head. Motown and I get a little too hot with the cards and suddenly people are asking about mechanic's grips and I'm getting the shit beat out of me and driving back to the city to face Grandma... but I digress.

We have to get buzzed in the security door, go up to the third floor and walk into this room of about thirty or so people. Three tables are running, fully stocked refrigerator with anything you could want to drink and dealers. I feel like I might as well be sitting down in the Phillip Morris plant as much smoke as is hanging in this place.

I ask my buddy who we need to buy in from, he tells me Rob and kind of nods over his shoulder. I turn around to look, and no shit, Rob is a dead ringer for Teddy KGB. So this place is basically Rounders melded into Boiler Room. A bunch of local high school and college kids gambling with their parents' money, a few random guys in their mid-twenties (not that there's anything wrong with that) and then a bunch of 30 and 40 year olds. Just when I thought this city was pretty stale, something comes along and changes my mind.

For the next couple hours I proceed to get decent cards with three handed action that generally go a little something like this:

Everyone's in for $.50, then someone pot raises and two or three other people are in. If I'm in a hand I've got A10, K10, Q10 or J10. And every single time the flop comes 10 high rainbow, with like a 73 or 62 with it. After a couple big lead outs, or pot size raises I'm just about all in on the turn were I'm getting busted up by a bunch of damn maniacs playing 73 or 62, which is called the Simpkins. I'm not sure I like playing in a card game where 62 offsuit actually has a name for its successful use. I'm more than happy to accept the proper use and place of the Hammer but this is ridiculous.

Then I realize that I've walked into a game much like the one my friends and I play. A place where smart poker is not allowed to show its face because everyone knows how everyone else plays. So you have to play crazy cards to make any kind of headway. Meanwhile on the table Motown is sitting, people who know him are still playing right into his spade flush draws and J5 flops.

Net result: Motown leaves up $40, I leave down $110. I played A10 suited and he played J5 offsuit into raises. Somehow life just doesn't seem fair...

Sunday, March 20, 2005

I am my own worst enemy...

Damn you, Rafe Furst! Well, actually, I shouldn't blame anyone but myself. I played one hour and forty four minutes of great poker and three minutes of utterly retarded poker. In no limit poker though, those three minutes are all it takes to undo the previous hour and three quarters.

After the tourney win the night before, I figured what the hell and splurged on the $109 No-Limit 50K guarantee on FTP. Top 54 places got paid and I felt fairly confident I could pull that off. I played some very solid poker to start with, particularly paying attention to playing only premium starting hands. Finally caught break when I got dueces in my hand and flopped the bottom set. Board ended up pairing as well and my boat took down an Ace high flush and another set. Suddenly I had T6350 and had jumped up to 30th place out of the original 355 entrants, which were now down to around 215 people. At that point I figured I could just keep playing good smart poker and probably make it to the money pretty easy.

After another half hour or so we're down to 130 players left, and I've got T3900 when I get unlucky on an ace high flop over my pair of Jacks on some heavy pre-flop betting. Then apparently I caught the stupid virus. I got Q8 offsuit in the big blind, with 100/200 blind levels, two hands after the professional player Rafe Furst got moved onto the table two seats in front of me. Now there was even more at stake because if you knock a pro out of tournament on FTP they give you back your buy-in.

So the Q8 gets one limper and one raiser up to 400, SB folds and I complete and so does the limper. The flop came 984. I thought for a second and figured that both these guys were on over cards, so I led out with a pot-sized bet of $1335. Limper folds immediately and then Raiser comes back over the top for another $1200. This is where my brain went into malfunction. I knew I was beat. I swear that I really knew it. But for some reason I was able to convince myself that he could still possibly be on an Ace-King and trying to buy me out or hope for the best if I called. I've seen that happen plenty of times on FTP. And with $5300 in the pot already, my pot had odds of 5 to 1. I knew I would probably have to hit either the Queen or eight to pull out the win which left me with exactly five outs in the deck. Five cards out of twenty nine remaining in the deck, meaning my odds lay 6 to 1. Now that automatically means fold. The amount you have to pay to see the cards is worse than your odds of catching the cards, fold John fold! Call.

He turned over Jacks and nothing came on the turn or river and I'm down to T2300. Two hands later I get dealt pocket tens. Blinds are up to $150/300, and Rafe Furst raises in front of me to $1000 which was about 25% of his stack. I thought it was kind of a big lead out but figured I was down pretty low on chips and he could easily have a big Ace so we'd be racing on a coin flip. I knew I'd be all-in after the flop most likely, so instead of calling with half my stack now I moved back over the top all-in. Everyone folds back around to Rafe and he calls. Naturally, he turns over Jacks over my tens. No help comes and I'm done. Three minutes of bad poker and I'm out of a tournament I probably could have gone really deep in.

Thought about it for a while after I got knocked out and pieced things together this way. If I had been smart and not called the re-raise on my first bad hand, I still would have had about T3400. Then, went I went up against Rafe with my 10's, I could have called instead of going all-in, and the flop had come King high with three hearts. I could have moved all-in there and most likely taken the pot down. But I had taken that play away from myself for being an idiot two hands before. C'est le vie.

So, after a week of heavy poker playing, here's my analysis. I'm getting much better. Finally I took down my first online poker tournaments and barely missed on a couple more final tables. For some reason I'm unable to make myself play an entire tournament online the way I play a tournament live. I play hands that I never play offline and I can't decide why I do that. But I'm starting to break the habit so that bodes well for the future. Hopefully I can keep playing a lot, and keep playing better, during this next week and get my game tuned up for the return to Richmond. There are three big live tournaments that week I'm going to play in, and I wouldn't mind keeping my live tournament streak of top three finishes going, that'd be worth a few grand to me if I can.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

It was all by accident...

Greetings from sunny Florida. Ten days of sunshine and relaxation is just what the doctor ordered, I think. Well, I guess as much relaxation as I'm afforded after playing hours of poker.

After the great poker debacle of Wednesday, Thursday's action showed some moderate improvement. Played in eleven tournaments and sit'n go's and I came out about $25 ahead. Suffered some more suck outs on the river to knock me out in front of the money but things were at least better than the day before.

Got on a plane Friday morning, got down here to the FLA mid-afternoon, and spent some quality time with the folks. About 1:57am I thought I'd check and see what was happening on Full Tilt. At 1:59am, I decided "what the hell", and registered for the 2am $20 tourney that I had made the final table on twice this week. Why mess with good mojo, right?

Things are pretty boring, not getting much of anything cards-wise, making a few moves here and there to pay for my blinds but not much action besides that. Finally start getting some decent hands, working my way up the ladder. Started the tournament with 85 players and work our way down to around 46 left before I finally get moved to a new table. I sit down and I'm placed behind (luckily) one of the biggest maniacs I've seen in a while.

This guy is throwing his entire stack in four out of every five hands. He's got like $3600 chips because everytime he does get called he somehow manages a win. I've laid down a couple decent starting hands to him just because I don't want to get busted out just yet. I pick up a few more chips and I've got T4670, when I get AJ hearts in the big blind. Action moves around the table and the blind gets raised up to 3x, and then maniac goes all in for his whole stack. So I'm sitting there, debating whether or not this is when I want to pop him back. This guy has been showing K6 offsuit on some of his calls, so I'm feeling like my chances are decent, so I move all-in. The other guy was shortstacked so he moved all in as well for his remaining 600 chips. Turn the cards over and shortstack has J10 and Maniac has 55. Flop comes 10 7 5, one heart. Sonuvabitch. I'm getting myself prepared for the inevitable, when heart comes turn and heart comes river and my nut flush takes it down. Karma, baby. I earned that runner runner after Tuesday.

So now I'm top three in the tournament, play for about another hour until we're down to around 23 players left and I've dropped down to around 8th. I get A10 on the button and it gets raised up a few seats in front of me. I call the raise and the flop comes KQ8, two hearts. Raiser checks, and I decide what the hell, and I make it $1500 to go. He calls. Damn, I don't like that. The turn is a blank and he checks so I bet $1500 again and he comes over the top of me all-in. It's another 6300 to call and I'll be left with T900 if I lose. There's a lot of cash in the pot and I've got no idea what I'm gonna do. Maybe my Ace is good if it hits or a Jack to make my straight, which means I've got seven outs in the deck if he doesn't have any of them. I figure he's on a King or a heart draw. My countdown starts and I still haven't made up my mind, my cursor is parked over call but I decide I'm going to fold. Well, my dad's computer is a laptop with the touchpad mouse area. I am not so good with those apparently. I move my hand up to move the cursor and the millionth of a gram of pressure I put on the pad makes the click for me and I call. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

He turns over A9 offsuit. Sweet Georgia Brown! River is a blank and I'm chip leader. Maybe my subconcious took over motor skills for that split second or something but however you slice it, I accidentally called this guy and won. One hour later, the sun is rising and I've taken down this tourney for the second time in five days, up another $520 on the week.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Erin Go Bragh!

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

Well, yesterday was a soul sucking adventure in poker. I'm trying to look on the bright side of things because I know that I really didn't play poorly except in one sit n' go, unfortunately it was a $100 sit n' go, and I tilted off my stack in that one pretty quickly.

Everything seemed to start off well. I was waiting to head out and run some errands, opened up Full Tilt for a quick look and saw a buddy from my tournament win the other night so I sat in with him on a $1/2 NL table. Posted and was dealt 26 offsuit. No one raised it up, so we played six handed and the flop came 269. Thank you poker gods! 3 minutes of poker and I'm up $42. Fold, fold, fold until the big blind comes around and then I'm looking at Eke and Ike (Aces for my non-poker playing friends). I picked that up from T.J. Cloutier and I kinda like the sound of it. So 7 minutes into poker I'm up $106, and it's time to go get some things done. I like that kind of return on time and investment.

I probably shouldn't have played again that day, but when I got home I decided to play in the 11am $20 tournament on Full Tilt. Out of 91 entrants, I went out 53rd on a hand I can't really remember. I got dealt pocket 10's three times in the first thirty hands and each time I had it I went up against KK, AA, KK. The signs were out there, I should have paid attention and just stopped playing.

Got back in on the 3pm $20 Full Tilt tournament, with 115 participants. This time I went out 94th when my KK got cracked by A6 of clubs. You're probably thinking he hit the flush on me to knock me out. Au contraire, bonjour, he made his four card straight. Pay attention to the signs, John.

Then I sat back in on the $1/2 NL tables for a while and bought in for the max of $200. I'm down about $20 when I get dealt Eke and Ike again, and I've got two raisers in front of me. Raise again to $50 and then lightning strikes and the other big stack at the table pushes it all in for $180. If this were a live game, forget the rest of the players, I would have acted out of turn to get my remaining $128 in the pot. Fold, fold, fold and I'm all-in. He turns over KK. JENGA!! Flop comes blank, blank and blank. Birds are singing, I hear children laughing and playing outside and I think I hear something about world peace breaking out on CNN from the television in the other room. Turn is a blank and I'm starting to figure out, damn, I'm gonna be up like $900 on the week after this... A FUCKING KING ON THE RIVER?!?!?!?!? ARGH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I think the earth stopped rotating for a second on that one.

So what does a stubborn Irish-Italian do when he gets stomped like that by a two-outer on the river for $178? He buys in to the $100 tournament at 8pm. 71 players and two pros, Chris Ferguson and Hoyt Corkins, make up the field on this one. A lot of the usual suspects are playing and I get sat at a pretty decent table. Things are bad at first, good enough to call and see the flop and then hitting nothing. Finally start catching some cards and things are off and running. I get monumentally lucky with about 53 players left when I thought someone was trying to buy the pot and re-raised all in with my Q 10 offsuit. He called and turned over AQ. *insert taps theme here* I was feeling pretty stupid about my read until I spiked a 10 on the turn and doubled up. So now I'm off and running again and people are just getting dumped out of this tournament as the blinds go up and up. 40 players, 30 players, 20 players... I'm still in this thing with T7269, good enough for 8th position. So it's seventeen of us plus Chris Ferguson and the top nine positions get paid on the final table. I'm revelling in the fact that my game is finally coming along, as this week I've been finishing in the top third of most of the tournaments I've been in and I am seeing a lot of progress. I get K9 suited in the big blind ($240) and the first position makes it $480 to go. Folds around the table and the small blind and I both complete. Flop comes 259. SB checks to me, I make it $1500 (pot bet) and the other guy takes most of his time before calling and the SB folds. Turn is a blank and I make it $2500 to go. Again, he's taking his sweet time, and I figure he's raised with KQ or AJ or something and trying to decide if the sweet poker angels will deliver one of his six outs to him. All-in. Hmmmmmm, I did not expect this move, sir. But I push back because it's only $1200 more and I've got the King so maybe one of his cards is dead and then he turns over A9 clubs. Unbelievable. Crippled with about 14 players left. A few more hands go by and we're down to 12 players when I get K10 on a 10 high flop. I think you can guess that I went all-in, only this time the other short stack on the table is in with me and she turns over A10. I'm noticing a theme here, are you? So now I'm down to T594 with 11 players to go. Then the miracle cards start coming, I'm getting blinded in and catching one of my rags to win. I'm back up to $2200 in chips and we're at $300/600 blinds with $75 ante. A few hands of nothing and then right before I get the blinds again, I'm dealt KJ. SOMEONE PLEASE KNOCK OUT TWO PEOPLE ON THE OTHER TABLE!!! FOR THE LOVE OF GOD!!!! All-in. I get called by AA and the flop comes 9,10, J. That seems a bit unfair, Full Tilt, no need to taunt me like that. I'm knocked out 11th, Ferguson knocked out two hands later in 10th, and we both miss the money.

I can at least take solace in the fact that I can tell everyone that Chris Ferguson and I got knocked out right in front of the money last night.

Then my drunk buddy comes home and goads me into playing some more and I get knocked out 5th on a $50 2 table sit n' go where the top four get paid when some guy cracks my AA with runner runner flush and then I get knocked out 4th on a $20 sit n' go where top three get paid. I had 46 in the BB special, 469 flop, I raise, get re-raised by some ass clown, go all-in and he calls with AQ offsuit, no draw on the board. Naturally the board paired the nines on the turn and then delivered his Ace on the river and I'm done again.

So it's 3am and I must be lonely... And pissed... And down $460 on the day.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Sometimes when you lose, you really win...

Somewhere through the years I have heard this line tossed about to make many a loser feel better. Doesn't usually work.

The other night I'm playing with the usual suspects and a few new guys joined us. I think I've been playing so much lately that I might be beginning to turn into a poker snob. More and more I feel like I am watching other players make stupid plays. For instance, New Guy #1 on the first hand of our mini-tournament gets raised $31 in the small blind and calls with 94 offsuit. Flop comes J94 and he cranks my buddy who has AJ.

So for the first hour and twenty minutes I see every assortment of 8 with 2-5 offsuit. I'm not even exaggerating except for the one time I had K8. Finally I start catching cards, eventually make a great read on another buddy of mine on a draw and I'm in the game. 2nd stack, not far behind the leader with four of us left, and the top three get paid. So it's me, New Guy #1, Motown (a fairly aggressive player) and Chris (I haven't played with him much but he's a decent tight player) is the short stack with about $120. Blinds are $4-8 and Chris makes it $40 to go. I look down at AK diamonds on the button and I decide to isolate on Chris, figuring he was raising with some kind of A, so I move all in for $274. New Guy sits there, laughs, and says somebody is gonna get busted on this hand, thinks for a few more minutes, asks for a count (he has $232) and then calls all-in. Motown and Chris fold, I turn over big slick and he's got AQ offsuit. Naturally he flops a Q but a fourth diamond comes on the turn so I've got 16 outs on the river, none of which come. KQ on the next hand, I move all in and New Guy turns over AQ on me again. Needless to say, we all know I lost.

So here are my problems with him calling with AQ offsuit:

There's a raise and a re-raise in front of you. So now you have to be thinking one ace is dead and you're up against a decent pair. Maybe even two aces are dead. So if you have AQ offsuit you have to put one of the hands on a painted pair or another big Ace. You know at best you have 6 outs and maybe as few as three. Your stack is covered, so you're putting all your money in trying to win with only 3-6 available cards (best case scenario). Also, top three get paid, so why not let the short stack get toppled without having to take that risk?

As it turns out all the Aces were dead, the deal was A9, AK, AQ, A10. How's that for some dealing?

So now you're probably asking, "Okay, you lost... so how did you really win here?"

The play pissed me off so bad, I went home, got on Full Tilt and won $500 in a tournament.

Thank you, New Guy, for making a bad call and knocking me out of the tournament in time to get home and win some real money. I owe you a beer.

Monday, March 07, 2005

A brief prologue..

Everyone needs an outlet to get the tough beats off their chest, right? Poker has been a family activity at holiday time for as long as I can remember. Endless games of Follow the Queen, Baseball, Low Chicago and many more marked the beginning of my poker life. I was in college when Rounders hit and I was first introduced to Texas Hold'em. There were poker nights here and there but I ended up getting away from it for the most part outside of holiday games with the family.

Somewhere between Robert Varkonyi and Chris Moneymaker I got sucked back into the craze. There were plenty of games with my older brother, endless hours spent in a staredown over double blind Guts games, neither one of us willing to submit to the other. And as the popularity of hold'em grew I finally got a fateful phone call inviting me to play in my first tournament.

I won $120 with pocket Aces versus Ace-duece.

The next week I went back, and I won $120 with pocket Aces versus Ace-duece.

Eight months later I feel fairly certain I'm certifiably addicted to this game. I've found a few games a week that I play in with friends, mostly NL Hold'em tourneys for $40 buy-ins or so, with the occasional Omaha tournament sprinkled in.

Since I started playing last September I'm up about $2000 between my live games and online play. And I still generally don't know what the hell I'm doing. Therein lies the great thing about poker, even a blind squirrel can get the nuts every once in a while.

So I thought I'd start out on something else that has become a bit of a national craze lately and start my own blog. Hopefully the content that follows this initial post will be much more entertaining. I welcome any and all comments but for now I have to go get ready, poker tourney starts in a couple hours...

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