Raise or Fold:  A Year of Risky Business

Writing and playing poker as if they were activities worth doing well.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Fields of Gold

Based on a completely inadequate sample size, I am tempted to conclude that I played the wrong game for most of my stay in Las Vegas.

I spent an absolute fortune (by my modest bankroll standards) on tournament entries ~ both at the WSOP and elsewhere. My tournament ROI was abysmal, as I only cashed twice and minimally at that. I also played various 1/2 cash games around town and mostly lost. And then ~ battered, bruised, and in a fundamentally shell-shocked state ~ I stumbled into the Poker Room at the Rio and sat down at a 2/5 game.

As a parched wanderer crossing the desert doubts the vision of loveliness rising ahead of him in the scorching heat, thinking that surely the verdant oasis before him must be yet another cruel mirage or a hallucination bought on by near-mortal thirst, so did I experience a surge of disbelief when the bounty of the 2/5 game at the Rio unfolded before me.

A few preliminary words of caveat, mitigation, and general context: First, it must be understood that I had been (you should excuse my language) running like shit for what seemed like a LIFETIME (really about 3.5 months). Let us stipulate that running bad easily leads to playing badly, makes you doubt everything you think you know about the game, and in general is, if prolonged, the most demoralizing and destructive thing a poker-player can experience at the table. When you have been running bad, a reversal of fortune ~ being dealt playable hands, big hands consistently holding up, draws coming in at a rate approaching statistical expectation ~ feels like hitting the jackpot over and over and over.

Second, I am at best a mediocre cash player. AT BEST. Until relatively recently ~ and we're talking a matter of months here ~ I was downright feeble. This is the case with most people who learn poker by playing in tournaments. The habits and strategies that serve them well in shorter-stack tournaments are disastrous at a cash table, particularly when playing deep. The Rio poker room was filled with people who were there to play in tournaments, and not just any tournaments, but the freakin' World Series of Poker. These are folks who think highly of their poker skills; they are there to take on the best. Why were they sitting at a cash table, you ask? Because they were either waiting to play in a tournament, or had busted out and had something to prove. And the 2/5 game at the Rio is uncapped, which results in people sitting with enormous piles of chips in front of them. I have never before played in such a deepstacked cash game.

As I've mentioned previously, 2/5 has shown me a consistent profit. There's something about the way 2/5 games tend to play that suits my thinking and my baseline style. It is easier for me to understand what is happening at a 2/5 table. The higher stakes keep me that much more alert and attentive to what's going on. And the prospect of earning more money for the time committed tends to focus my mind and enhance my patience. I have little doubt that I actually play better at 2/5… and that my play is more improved than my opponents' skill level is increased compared to a 1/2 game.

It's a beautiful thing when you can look around the table and know exactly where the weak spots are (and who the dangerous players are, so you can avoid them). It's an amazing sensation when, just a couple of orbits into a game, you are confident that you have a pretty good bead on how people are playing ~ and how most of them are playing, each in his own way, is badly. Exploitably. Predictably. Sloppily. Foolishly. And all of it for large sums of money.

You know those cartoon characters who, perceiving the prospect of an easy score, get dollar $ign$ for eyes? Well, that was me. And to add icing on the cake, I ran hot too. Bonus! I played six sessions at the Rio in my last week in Las Vegas. I averaged 60BB an hour. Yeah, that's sustainable (NOT!). It was the single most profitable run at cash tables I've ever had, and I'll be stunned if I have another like it anytime soon.

But the net effect was astonishing: I absolutely owned those tables. The poker room staff actually started making jokes about it. The third time I cashed out with a huge profit, the cashier guy said to me, "Another fine day at the office, I see." And at my last session, the floor who seated me at the table said, "Here you go... I hope you enjoy dominating, er, I mean playing at this table." Even when you know how easily things could have gone differently, and indeed very badly (and I do, I certainly do), it is hard not to feel a surge of confidence when just about every decision you make is rewarded handsomely rather than brutally punished.

There's just no two ways about it: winning is fun, and winning big is BIG FUN. And it has to be said that winning big after a long, harsh losing streak is especially sweet.

But does any of this mean that suddenly I am a poker genius? Definitely not. It's incredibly hard to unravel these kinds of results to try to determine how much of my success was due to good play and what portion was just dumb luck. And, I must add, I am still struggling to show a meaningful profit for the year.

Coming up soon: some more general thoughts about my time in Vegas, and what it may or may not mean for the choices that face me at the end of the Year of Risky Business.

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Blogger Rakewell said...

I'm overjoyed that you did so well at the end. I hope that when you get over the exhaustion, you'll be as glad that you came as I am.

7/3/09 9:12 AM  
Blogger diverjoules said...

Congrats on the great Cash game accomplishments. I too will someday take a deep breath and dive into a 2/5 game. 1/2 is killing me slowly. Thanks for all your Vegas updates too.

7/3/09 10:42 AM  
Blogger bastinptc said...

I'm glad it ended on a high note. Welcome home.

7/3/09 2:12 PM  
Blogger LasVegasMichael said...

Nice entry. Very glad to hear the phenomenal results. Perhaps you have indeed found your niche. I have always preferred cash games, as my skill set is more geared toward the patient neverending game. Glad you enjoyed your time in our fair city and ended the venture on a positive note.

7/3/09 4:15 PM  

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