July 11, 2007

Two Hands

I've never written much about my adventures at the poker table mostly because of the lack of adventure involved. But the other night I played two successive all-in hands against the same player that resulted in the biggest pot I'd ever won.

As the pot was pushed my way, I received congratulations from the other players at the table as well a guy on the rail. I thought "Word. I must be doing something right." It was only later that I realized the number of mistakes I made. I've reconstructed the hands here because thinking about them has helped me see the game a bit more clearly. This is unlikely to be interesting or even decipherable to most.

I sat down at table 34 at the Lucky Chances about 20 minutes before the hands detailed below. The game is $1-$1-$2 spread-limit Hold'Em where the spread means you can make any bet between $4 and $200. When I sat down I immediately noticed the thin Asian guy on the dealer's right. For one thing, he had more money than anyone else; close to $600 in a game where the max buy-in is $200. For another, he was on an amazing run of cards.

In my first 20 minutes at the table, I saw this guy (I'll call him Wispy for the thin mustache he sported) win a number of big hands. In fact, I quickly lost $60 of my initial $200 in a series of hands where he'd strongly re-raised me before the flop or put me in bad position with no hand after the cards came out. In each of these cases, the eventual showdown revealed that he had me well beat when I folded. Wispy wasn't bluffing; he was getting hit by the deck.

So, with $140 in front of me, I get dealt 10J on the button. It's called for $4 by Wispy and one other player before it gets to me and I just call as does the big blind. The flop is 10J7. It's checked to the player on my right who makes it $10. I don't like the hearts and would fastplay this two pair here regardless so I raise to $20 to go. The big blind folds, and Wispy calls the $20 as does the original raiser. There's $80 in the pot.

The turn is the K. It's checked to me and I make it $40. Wispy thinks for a second and calls and the player to my right folds. $160 in the pot. The River is the 10 making a board of 10J7K10 and me a full house. I've got $80 left in front of me and I push it in. Wispy thinks for a good while and mutters aloud during his deliberations. When he finally he calls, I show my boat and another player asks to see his cards. But while the dealer is pushing me the pot, Wispy slides them in the muck. He mutters that the 10 was very lucky for me; implying that he had AQ or Q9 for a straight before the river. I kinda think he's lying.

In any case, Wispy is a little steamed. In the next hand, I'm one off the button. It's called for $4 in a couple places, including Wispy, before it gets back to me. I've got KK and I make it $15 to go. It's folded back to Wispy who raises to $50. The action gets back to me without any callers.

A little bit of a think here. I'm not folding, but the limp-raise suggests either strength or craziness. I figure there's an 80% chance he has a big ace, a 15% chance he's got a lower pair and a 5% chance he's got AA. So should I get all the money in right now? Maybe I should, but I can't pull the trigger. This is probably my first mistake.

I call the $50 and the flop is 872. Wispy leads out with a quick $100 bet. And I now I really need to think. To begin with, I didn't even know how much money I had in front of me when the hand started; I was still stacking chips when the cards were dealt. Second, I just doubled up off of Wispy. Do I really want to play for all my chips here? If I call the $100 bet, there will be $300 in the pot. After I finish stacking my chips, I realize I'll be down to $170 and be almost certainly compelled to call on the turn if Wispy, who still has me covered, puts me all-in. Third, I figure there's a 15% chance that Wispy had pocket 8s, 9s or As and a decent chance he's got a suited Ace. If that suit is clubs, he's got nine outs to the nut flush.

But I figure I'm ahead. So I know I can't fold even though I'm really not happy about playing for all the money here. So should I re-raise all-in? I probably should. The money's going in anyway and there's a small chance an all-in induces a fold here. But I can't do it. This is my biggest mistake and the reason why I'm not yet a good poker player. I'm too risk averse to push all the money in even when I figure I have the best of it. I'm too busy thinking about what it will feel like to lose back all that money to Wispy. I'm thinking about going from being up $120 to down $200.

So I just call the $100. The dealer turns a 3. Wispy goes all-in as I figured and I've got another $170 in front of me. I don't think long before putting the money in and Wispy looks crushed when I announce "Call."

The river is a J. Wispy won't show his cards so I say "I called you, what do you have." He says "Ace high," but still doesn't show. I flip over my Kings and Wispy mucks his hand. The dealer pushes me a pot of $640 and I've netted $500 in just under 10 minutes.

I barely played the rest of that session and left with my win in tact. Wispy busted out a few hands later but I wasn't even there to see it; I'd gotten up to take a walk and figure out what happened. Thinking about it now I realize that I got lucky my mistakes didn't cost me. And that it will probably be a long time, if ever, before I have the temperament needed to be a good poker player.


Dgcopter said...

"I'm too risk averse to push all the money in even when I figure I have the best of it."

I'm kinda surprised to see you say that. I think you're way less risk-adverse (what's the opposite of risk-adverse? risk-attracted?) than most, myself included. I couldn't even bring myself to sit down at a poker table. Hell, I have a hard enough time as it is playing craps -- though I think I would win more if I, like you, could throw down some more money now and then.

Of course, craps is entirely luck, but still...

jason said...

The most anyone has ever won in Plinko is $21,000 on November 30, 1990 with the $5,000 slot; $23,000 with the current $10,000 slot; and $40,000 on primetime specials with the $20,000 slot. The $21,000 win in 1990, with four Plinko chips landing in the center slot and one landing in $1,000, is the most successfully that the game can be played without being won.

goldman said...

Wow - you play craps? I'd love to have you teach me. I understand the basics but the game itself confuses me and seems much less accessible than poker. But it's both your best pure chance gamble at the casino and clearly the game that people have the most fun playing.

I am very risk averse about money. My interest in poker is not really about the money-making. Yes, I want to win the money but I'm never going to be willing to play for stakes that are likely to truly hurt or help me.

I find poker interesting because it's a game that offers a certain type of competition that has both an analytically and intuitively side.

The game theory side is compelling to the dork in me(it's a myth that there's a lot of math in poker) and I enjoy thinking about the situational strategies that arise. And as someone who spends a lot of time reading other people, I find the intuitive side really interesting as well.

I don't think there's something inherently better about poker and am strongly on the record in the "all compulsions are equal" department. That means if someone wants to get super-deep into Plinko (I've actually read the same wikipedia article), I see that as equivalent to stoking a poker jones. Just as it's equal to a hyper-analytical approach to Harry Potter or Warcraft or ...

Unless you draw a distinction that says "if money involved then worse." Which seems arbitrary.

Dgcopter said...

Craps is deceptively simple. It's just obfuscated by all the crazy 18th-century-pirate-esque terminology. My favorite example: "Horn high yo".

I agree that there's no real difference between getting really into poker or Harry Potter (except for perhaps the financial investment ... J.K. Rowling doesn't really require a $200 buy-in), but I also wouldn't necessarily call them "compulsions"...sort of makes it seem like a disease. Well, ok, maybe WoW is a compulsion...

But yeah, all methods of entertainment are equal.

goldman said...

Craps has seemingly tricky names for everything including the goddamn numbers. That's just mean.

I'd love to play it some time tho'. I'm pretty much the only one of my Vegas-going friends who plays poker. Rather than playing blackjack or roulette with those folks, I'd rather play craps. Maybe next time.

Chester said...

Perhaps, after his refusal to show his cards after the first loss painted him as a bullying bluffer in your subconscious, despite the earlier run of good cards of his.

If that had been your read, you didn't make a bad move in that, had you gone all-in after his $100 bet, he would've folded.

Though, I guess I have to agree that orthodoxy would say that you should've protected your cowboys better.