Saturday, September 17, 2005

Vegas -- Toothpick Time

So long as you remain a big favorite, you should stay, even if it means using toothpicks to prop up your eyes.
--David Sklansky, The Theory of Poker

LAS VEGAS -- I push $100 into the middle of the table at the MGM Grand. It's all that this well-dressed African-American guy has left.

"Bring it," I mutter under my breath while he looks down at his cards.

The guy is a complete live one. He came in about 2 a.m. after I found a table there. I came there after eating a good meal but losing $110 at the Stratosphere. I had QJ and tried to isolate a guy who was raising with a 4-flush. The guy after me went all in for $13 more with Q4o, 2 pair. His hand held up.

The live player is drunk and has a stack of $100 bills in his pocket. He says he lost $1,000 playing $100 a hand in Casino War and is trying to make his money back. So far he's just pulling bill after bill out of his pocket.

"Just because a black man loses $200 he has to go?" he yells at us jokingly but not so much. "I have $500 left. I'm staying to the end."

Buy-in. Bust. $100 buy-in. Repeat.

"There's never been truer words than what David Sklansky wrote," this guy in seat 9 tells me. That's the thing in the Theory of Poker where he says you should prop open your eyelids with toothpicks if the game is good.

It's that good. I'm also that sleepy. I bend my head down in between hands. The dealer's cards hit me in the hands.

"Let's see if you have a J," he says as he calls. Board is JJ66x.

"I have two of them," I say, as I hold up my hole cards, fan-like, facing him and showing my quad.

He just has an A and then reaches in his pocket to buy more chips. It sucks. He was like, "How much extra do I have to call," thinking that he'd have to match my bet. I say "I'm fine if he wants to put more money on the table," but the other players quickly dash that, since I'll be the one with all of his money.

"I'll bust you," he says.

The game is good. The guy is erratic and a terrible player. Over the next seven hours, he's sobering up but still terrible. Some overeager players help him build his stack. They rebuy, exasperated.

"Don't worry," I tell them. "It's the Galaga Effect."

That's the term I coin for the special part of the arcade game. You have a fighter that can be captured by the enemy spaceships if they turn on a tractor beam. They fly back and hold your fighter ship hostage. But if you shoot the enemy spaceship, your fighter comes back to join the one you are using and you can shoot double.

But little did I know, it would be reverse Galaga Effect for me.

I had about $450 in chips when I raised with AA. Some people called, including the live one.

Flop was 279, all diamonds. I have red aces.

I bet the pot, $50. The live one calls.

Turn is a 2. Immediately the live one pushes all-in. I'm like, fuck.

Do I risk it?

I am probably beat, but I have the A-high flush draw. Guy has been calling down big hands with just 2nd or 3rd pair.

I talk to him. He's not nervous and is even chatting with others while I wait. Mike Caro's Book of Tells says that's a bad sign. Bluffers usually stay silent.

I can't lay down this hand. It's going to be costly.

But then I think -- If I lose this hand, I will only be down $200, as I've only lost my initial $200 buy-in and I've lost much more playing online in a day. But it's nice to be up $1,100 on the trip.

Greed sets in, too. I want to be the one who busts this guy, the live one, and jumps up to $1,500 on the trip.

I call. The hand plays out. The river is a black card. I have to press the guy to even show his hand.

A2o. Trip twos.

I stay the next four or five hours trying, hoping that I'll benefit from his bad play. But everyone else is the recipient of his poor poker skills. I leave $200 more down, for -$399, kicking myself the whole time. Entire shifts change. People start eating breakfast at the nearby cafe. Tourists start to roll in mid-morning.

This is what isn't always mentioned, the Dark Side of Vegas. You can lose and it can hurt.

I crawl back to the Sahara, happy that I'm still $500 up on the trip but sad I made such a poor call.

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