Raise or Fold:  Learning (From) Poker

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

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Let's Go To The Tape

In the middle of the chip-shipping insanity that was Saturday night’s 2/5 game, there was an incident that brought together several important lessons about playing live poker.

The hand went down between an average even-tempered player (ETP) and a Crasian* who had been up and down like a yo-yo with ADD, rebuying multiple times. The Crasian was playing any two pre-flop and then betting aggressively if he caught any piece of the board. ETP had been picking his spots and building a nice stack, remaining polite and calm in the wake of a couple of horrendous beats. Again, I can’t remember the exact nature of the action. But the upshot of the matter was that there was tremendous action on a very wet board, with the likelihood of a broadway straight being very high.

The hand went to showdown. ETP announced, “I have an ace,” and flashed it. There was an ace on the board, giving him top pair. The Crasian threw his hand on the table face up. He had paired the river card, which was a ten. He also had a jack. To the inattentive, it might have looked as if he had made a straight, but he had not.

The dealer started pushing the pot to the Crasian, and ETP mucked his hand. Another player and I looked at each other with a questioning glance.

I spoke up. “Why is the pair of tens getting the pot? ETP had a pair of aces.” The other player chimed in to say he had seen the ace as well.

All hell broke loose. Crasian was busily stacking the chips.

ETP says he showed his hand. Dealer didn’t see it, and says it wasn’t properly tabled. Both I and the other player allow as how we didn’t register ETP’s second card.

Everyone at the table suggests that, for the good of the game, it would be sportsmanlike to chop the pot, since there is no doubt that in fact ETP had the winning hand. Crasian starts yelling defensively about how he was cheated out of some other pot at some other game in some other casino and refuses to consider it.

ETP calls the floor and asks them to go to surveillance tape. At this point everyone at the table realizes that he’s doomed. There’s no way the tape is going to have captured him flashing the Ace. Unsurprisingly, the floor comes back and says the pot result stands.

Crasian, who clearly knew he was beat, manages to win the pot on a technicality along with the disrespect of everyone at the table. It will probably cost him money in the long run.

Lessons from this event:
  1. Table your hand.

  2. Read your hand, your opponent's hand, and the board carefully and accurately.

  3. Do not let go of your hand until the pot is awarded correctly.

  4. Do not expect the surveillance tape to capture the action with enough detail to make up for failures of observation by people actually at the table or for your own mistakes.

  5. Don’t be a douchebag.

*I feel a cringe of embarrassment using this stereotyping term, except for the fact that it is exceedingly accurate in describing a small subset of poker players.

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Sunday, August 2, 2009

Where are the softest games?

If you visit the Brick & Mortar or Las Vegas Lifestyle forums on 2+2, or check out AllVegasPoker, you will find numerous threads of the following generic form:
Hey Guys, I'm going to Vegas/AC/Tunica/LA and I'm wondering where the softest 1/2 cash games are. Thanks!
The standard reply you see on the forums is:
Dude! All live poker is ridiculously soft compared to the internet. I crush whenever I play in a casino. But the action at [insert casino name here] is always especially donkalicious!
Honestly, whenever I see posts like this, I want to respond: "It's always softest wherever I'm playing. Y'all c'mon down!"

Because, seriously, think about it.
  1. Do you actually believe that there's a consistent answer as to where the softest games are? Are you so inexperienced that you don't understand that game complexion changes from hour to hour and day to day? That the sharks move to where the fish congregate and then away again; that the fish school in one place rather than another depending on a whole host of transient circumstances?

  2. The fact that you're asking the question betokens a certain naivété about the game, and an experienced player will be happy to have you sitting at his or her favorite happy hunting ground.

  3. On the other hand, if they look at your posting history, and you ~ despite the question ~ DO seem to have a clue, then why on earth would a player who's found a (temporarily) soft spot invite you to come and dilute his or her profit potential?
As for the standard, "Live poker is teh EZ, anyone who profits at 25NL online can crush!!!11!!1"... sure, whatevs. Except that live plays differently from online, and a lot of successful online players are lousy at adjusting. They get bored playing only 30 hands an hour and wind up spewing. They don't understand the importance of social interaction in keeping the table friendly and chase away the fish. They forget they're not home alone in their underwear and are giant tellboxes. Or ~ to be frank ~ they come with so many arrogant preconceptions about the abilities of live players that they completely fail to notice when someone at the table has their number and outplays them. Ooops!

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Monday, January 26, 2009

My Image

I was walking home from the coffee shop where I had been fruitlessly waiting for my car to be finished getting fixed (grrrr!). It was cold, I was wearing a huge sweater and a big bulky coat, and carrying a big shoulder bag with my laptop in it. I was striding with some purpose as I was eager to get out of the winter weather.

I heard a southern-tinged, older urban voice from behind and then alongside me: "You walk just like a cowgirl packing a big gun," he said with a smile.

I was momentarily nonplussed and at a loss as to how to respond. "I just might be," I said cheerfully, "you never know!"

"That's right," he laughed, "you never do know."

Maybe I do have a bit of a swagger these days. And who knows, maybe I am packing, too, metaphorically speaking. There was something about this unsolicited, spontaneous observation from a total stranger that tickled me. We don't often get an opportunity to see ourselves as others see us.

It was like getting an unexpected gift from a secret Santa.


Thursday, August 28, 2008

Day 11: No Respecter of Persons

One of the things I love about poker is that it is utterly egalitarian, a great leveler. Poker doesn't care who you are, where you come from, what school you went to, what you do for a living, what color your skin is, how old you are, what language you speak, what sex you are, how hot you are or who you sleep with. Poker is entirely indifferent as to what God (if any) you pray to, and rains down luck on the good and the wicked in equal measure. As long as you have enough money to buy in, poker doesn't even care how rich you are, either. Although some of the people at your table may care about these things, if they're smart they'll set those concerns aside for the duration of the game and concentrate on the important stuff, such as: what exactly does that check-raise mean in this situation?

Like most people, I've spent the majority of my life among my own, surrounded by people of roughly similar background, education, and even politics. Some of it was just inertia (I made friends out of people who were nearby, and that generally meant either at school or work), and some of it was a disinclination to move out of my comfort zone. And while I have been more than typically willing to make friends across age gaps in both directions, my pack of pals isn't especially ethnically diverse, for example. Unless you have spent a meaningful amount of time in a social environment that actually does cut across a lot of demographic lines ~ like, say, the military ~ chances are your experience has been like mine.

Welcome to the poker table, baby. Be prepared to deal with anybody and everybody. And be very cautious about relying on stereotypes.

Maybe the pale young guy in the hoodie and sunglasses, iPod buds firmly implanted in his ears, is an internet grinder. But he might have learned the game from watching TV (a girl can hope). Maybe the tanned gentleman with gold chains in his ample chest hair really is full of gambool, or maybe he is a tight aggressive player who has been taking money off the unobservant for twenty years. The gal with the whisky-and-cigarette voice and the lowcut sweater could be just whiling away her time and donking off her trophy husband's bankroll between boob-jobs. Or maybe she's just enjoying the fact that you are so distracted by her cleavage that you've failed to notice her three-betting the nuts AGAIN. That dude with his jeans belted so far down his ass that six inches of boxers are showing may have spent the last three years polishing his $10/$20 skillz at someone's backroom game in the 'hood, or he may be a graduate student in computer science specializing in AI and game theory. The quiet little girl who always seems a bit confused about the value of the chips in front of her and can't quite manage to follow the action? She's a real shark on the felt. On the other hand, the loud, loose and aggressive Asian guy who acts like it's the most natural thing for him to be crushing the table is actually stuck five buy-ins and is desperately hoping his girlfriend will finish up at the spa and come give him an excuse to leave.

You want to be successful at poker? You have to see the player behind the persona.

The delightful thing is how different they all are! Paying attention to the individuals as individuals and concentrating on how they actually play (not how they want you to think they play, or how you expect them to play given what they seem to be) is the only way to really have an edge. In any case, just listening and watching with an unprejudiced frame of mind will teach you a whole lot about other people and yourself. And if you're really lucky, maybe once in a while you'll make a new friend too, perhaps the kind of person you never would have met if it weren't for poker.

Do I have to draw a diagram explaining how useful this attitude towards other people is in non-poker contexts? Martin Luther King dreamed of a time when people would be judged not by the color of their skin (to name just one source of prejudice), but by the content of their character. You can get plenty of practice doing just that at the poker table.

Live Bankroll: 98.8%
Online Bankroll: 119.5%