Saturday, April 30, 2005
Those who chase straights and flushes go home on Greyhound buses.
-poker wisdom from a dealer at the former Horseshoe (now Binion's), Las Vegas
Well, I hit rock bottom yesterday. -448 1/2 BB at $3/6, a loss of $2,700 in less than a month and the trading curbs set in. For the first time ever since I've been playing, I'm in the midst of a losing year. -$335 this year.
I re-read this sentence and I think, "What kind of fucking idiot loses $2,700 gambling?" The good news is that my poker bankroll long has been separate from the money I live on.
In some ways, this can be normal. Many poker players say your variance can include a -300 BB losing streak. I've heard someone even had a -500 BB losing streak. In a recent Card Player, Jennifer Harman talks of a losing streak of 6 months. It's likely like dog years online. I feel my one month streak has been at least seven in live play.
The bad news is, despite my feeling this is just a bad losing streak, I wonder if I have a future playing limit poker. It's like when NASA loses a shuttle -- I'm pretty much not going to play $3/6 online for the time being. There's a lot that needs to be reviewed before that happens again.
I feel like my play isn't atrocious. But maybe I should have taken heed when I had that $800 downturn a month ago. I came back from it so I didn't think anything was wrong.
I suspect much of it has to do with multitabling. I don't do it crazily. But I would jump into any game that was open on a site if I had the funds.
I think multitabling led to poor game selection, which can be deadly. I also think that being down 5 BB at a table added up. I never felt like I was being beat, but just whittled down and taking beats and tight tables gummed up my chances to win back chips.
I also wonder if I need more than a 300 BB bankroll to multitable online. I feel like I have a bunch of -90 BB phenomena happening to me at different sites than the whopping -448.
So what have I done? I've forsaken Absolute for the time being. I probably should have heeded Mark's advice during his previous downturns. He refuses to play that fucking site, no matter how many times they plead for him to do so. He also has pulled his money from Ultimate Bet, although I love that site.
I've finished up bonuses and am now only playing at two sites.
He's also showed me how to analyze PokerTracker stats. My postflop play, although considered aggressive in the PT stats, could be even more aggressive. So I'll keep that in mind.
I've also reread HFAP (Hold'Em for Advanced Players) and SSH (Small-Stakes Hold'em). After rereading those tomes of Jedi wisdom I can conclude I was due for a refresher course.
I also took his advice and started playing NL$100 (.50/$1 blinds). I've had some pretty good successes so far with that. I think my postflop experience in limit has helped me raise aggressively and confuse opponents. I've tripled up and doubled up in the last two days by people calling my all-in when I made a flush on the river. I think the postflop play confused them, and, as Amarillo Slim often says, "Guessers are losers."
So the process of coming off a losing streak is a lot like the process that brings the shuttle program off the ground after a disaster. NASA doesn't just start firing up launches until the fleet is totally expended. There's a careful review and there are baby steps until the giant machine of their program is fully running again.
I'm not out of the negatives yet. But NL has provided a little bit of a lift. We'll see if I'm going to go home on a Greyhound just yet.
Monday, April 25, 2005
The Dark Arts
-Emperor Palpatine, Return of the Jedi
Seat 1 to Seat 2: If you play it right, you can sit here all day for $20.
Gary, the Dealer: If you don't, you go to the ATM a lot.
-poker wisdom at the Sahara
LAS VEGAS -- At the Sahara's newly renovated poker room, the flop comes out, 5, 6, 8 of hearts and Sham just looks at me and shakes his head.
"Maybe I should play 7 4," he says disgustedly. "I've seen it hit three times today."
And instead of being the good friend, I say in a voice like Darth Vader:
"Your transformation to the dark side is nearly complete. The Small Stakes arts are weak."
The Small Stakes arts (tips from "Small Stakes Hold'Em" by David Sklansky, Mason Malmuth and Ed Miller) are the Jedi arts to the Dark Side, random cards that are mercilessly used against your premium hand. In the "no fold'em hold'em" lower limits, the Dark Side uses fishy players to break young Jedi apprentices of their training.
Sometimes it works.
Why raise with a premium hand? You'll just get beat anyway. Why raise with the edge, a 4-flush draw and an open-ended straight draw, you'll just lose to the guy who thinks his 4th pair is pretty good. Everyone else just checks the river, even with the nut. (It's true at these low-limit tourist tables).
"There should be a companion to 'Small Stakes Hold'Em" called 'The Dark Arts,'" I say and laugh.
It's easy to think that any two cards can win, especially when you see it happening. But you're making money in the long run if you're gambling with the edge yet still lose in the short term. The Jedi training does not have to be abandoned and you wield a ferocious power when you understand the Dark Arts as well.
Part of my comeback run was at a loose-passive $2/4 table at Binions (formerly the Horseshoe). I was in the bb when my 83o was raised. So many people called after a guy in middle position raised with AA that I had to call.
The flop was 3Q3. This guy bets, everyone calls. He bets again, I raise on the turn, knocking people out. Me and Mr. Aces goes to the river. He shakes his head in disgust when he sees my three-of-a-kind.
"I normally don't play this way, but..." I say, feeling a little guilty.
But I'm feeling a little invigorated. It was a large pot, a rush. You can feel the power in that tiny 8-3-offsuit hand. If I played all of these trash hands I could ... take over the poker world! Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.
But really. I come to my senses, knowing the difference between succumbing to the Dark Side and being a winning player. There are times for playing garbage hands and many more times for throwing them away.
Saturday, April 23, 2005
-- Promo sign for ESPN TV show "Tilt" in Las Vegas cardrooms
LAS VEGAS -- It's not even 10 in the morning when this guy sits down on the wing across from me in the Excalibur's fishy beginner's limit poker room.
He's this gruff sounding dude and looks a lot like a younger version of "The Matador," Michael Madsen's character in the ESPN fictional poker drama called "Tilt." In case anyone hasn't seen the subpar show, The Matador is this grizzled poker pro who makes his living punishing tourists and anyone who tries to go against him at the poker table. An all-around nasty guy.
"I'm looking for a raise," says the Matador, out of the small blind, before anyone looks at his cards.
Me: Right now?
"I'm looking for a raise," he repeats.
And he gets one. The guy on the other side of the dealer's button makes it $8 to go. The table is a $2-6 spread limit, meaning that on any betting round, you can bet anywhere between $2 and $6.
The Matador eyes his wee blind being raised and calls.
The flop is a 3, J and 5.
"I want you to know I have a Jack," the Matador says to the preflop raiser, a pudgy tourist who looks uncomfortable at being the focus of the Matador's attention. You can see the Matador's eyes laser beam right through Pudgy's cards to see a pair of tens. He looks a little disgusted at the amateur.
But the Matador decides to check, and so do two other callers. Pudgy Tourist makes it $6. Everyone calls.
The turn is a J.
"Now I have three Jacks," the Matador barks out to the field of three other callers. "I check."
The next two callers seem relieved that no chips come from the Matador's stack. They check as well. The preflop raiser doesn't seem to care about the Matador's bravado. He bets it out. The Matador calls. One other guy stays with the hand but to the table it's becoming pretty clear this is really a mental battle between the Matador and the guy who raised his blind.
The turn is an A.
"Now I have a full house -- ace and jack," the Matador says, pulling out $6 in chips.
The second guy calls, not believing him at all.
But before Pudgy Tourist can decide whether to call with his pocket tens, the Matador slams down his hole cards -- an ace and a jack -- on the table.
"I told you I had a full house," he says.
Now he realizes his mistake -- Pudgy Tourist didn't even have the chance to put chips on the table.
"He said call," the Matador barks at the dealer. A whole circle of people at the table shake their heads. "We didn't hear anything."
"Save your money," he says to Pudgy Tourist. "But if I come to you later and say, 'Can I have $2 for the bus home,' you'll give it to me, right?"
The Matador laughs and stacks his chips. "I thought I was going to go broke."
Me from across the table: "There's still plenty of time for that."
He looks up at me and laughs.
But I was wrong about that. The Matador disappears for a few minutes and then reappears with a rack in his hand. He starts to stack his chips.
"I woulda liked to play poker with you guys longer," he says sheepishly.
A casino security guard is standing right behind him. Nobody knows what he did outside the poker room for those few minutes, but it was something to displease the casino.
He cashes out and guards escort him out of the building.
Thursday, April 21, 2005
"It's been a while," Staind
Greetings from the Crown Room Club. My home away from home, a transition between my home and my second city -- Las Vegas.
Shammie Chan is already there and Drew is not too far away. Shammie actually called me when I was in the middle of a Julie Gerberding press conference. My phone was on silent of course.
It's been 80 days since I was in Vegas last and it feels like a lot of stuff has happened. I'm returning there in the middle of a cruel online losing streak that at one point pushed me just beyond -300 BB for 3/6 although I've bounced back a little. I've managed to lose $42 more at a 2/4 table on Absolute as we speak. Top pair heads up gets bounced by nut straight on the river. Outs for a straight or flush loses to a higher flush. But whatever.
This is a new day.
I've readied myself as best I can for the trip. I've gone through my carry-on for Vegas and it's nice to see familiar things that comfort me. An errant $100 bill, which I promptly put in my wallet. My $100 black chip from the Bellagio win last summer. Lots of tracking cards. Business cards for the Bellagio's poker room, where they offer great hotel rates. Last year, the manager told me, "The bill will say $580 a night, but that doesn't mean a thing." Maybe when I become dateable again I'll finally stay there.
I'm hopeful for the best in Vegas. I'm mainly going to go to have a good time. Play some low limit tables until I get comfortable. Maybe play NL, which has been my bread and butter.
It'll be interesting to see if the trip will help me out of my slump. I wonder if it will push me even farther back, maybe to even see my first losing year since I've been playing.
We'll see. Like love and murder, time will tell us everything.
I finally won a fucking pot in abs. I snap my fingers in the middle of the empty Crown Room business lounge. Huzzah!
Sunday, April 17, 2005
Worf: I remember it made me sick to my stomach.
-"Star Trek: First Contact"
Losing streaks are the barometers for me. Show me a player on a winning streak and I won’t be able to rate him. Show me a player who is in a losing streak and I’ll be able to tell you if he can play.
-Jennifer Harman, in Card Player magazine
So Kelley asks me if I'm any good at poker.
Now that I look back on it, I'm not sure if I just lied to her for the first time. What I said was, well, if it's based on what they say, that you keep score in poker by the money you make, then yes, I'm pretty good at it.
Only catch is I'm in the middle of a 250+ BB free fall over the course of the last 11 days. For 3/6, that's more than $1,500.
It all happened when I made +$5,000 for the very first time. It's like that scene in The Big Lebowski where Jeff Bridges is having that dream where he's flying, and he starts to smile. Then all of a sudden, he plummets down to the earth violently, with a bowling ball in his hand that's weighing him down like an anchor.
The good news is that things seem like they are starting to normalize. I'm not just hemorrhaging money anymore, and am only suffering the occasional bad beat. I lost a $130 pot last night to a guy who thought that calling my 4-bet with his KJo was a good move against my AA. Of course, he flopped the nut straight vs. my set of aces.
The other good thing is that with a $5,000 bankroll, you can afford to give some of it back and still play with abandon. It will come back. It's just the first time I've dropped more than $1,000 online. Last month, it took me 24 days to make up the $800 I lost. But it still came back. Plus, maybe it was bound to happen. I've long since stopped playing poker with my own money. My bankroll completely has been built from months of bonus whoring and spearing fish in the eye.
And I'm a veteran of sorts at this. I've lost more than $1,000 before playing hold'em in Las Vegas, taking beats that no person should ever have to experience. When it happens, you just have to take a deep breath and hunker down for the next hand.
I think being on this current losing streak has allowed me to take a step back and not be so glued to the computer. I've been running more and out with friends. I have the raspberries to prove it -- on my elbow, hip and just below the knee. I was running to third base in kickball and decided at the last moment that a headfirst slide was a good idea.
It will be an interesting setting for heading to Las Vegas on Thursday. My online bankroll is separate from the cash that I play live games with, but any success in Sin City will really make me happy.
Tuesday, April 05, 2005
A good day
"Early morning, April 4/shot rings out in the Memphis sky/free at last, they took your life, they could not take your pride"
I'm standing at the counter of a downtown Atlanta eatery with the goddess and I'm fumbling through my wallet, trying to navigate through a bundle of $20s and $100 bills, (some winnings leftover from my Kansas City trip over the weekend) to find a five-dollar bill to give to the cashier.
"Poker money?," she looks over my shoulder and explains to the restaurant lady, "he plays poker on Mondays."
Ah. The Emory game. Sadly no more. But yeah, poker money. Where that chocolate I brought back for you came from.
I'm having one of those runs where you're in the Zone, where, as former Chicago Bulls player Toni Kukoc once explained to the Chicago Tribune "The rim looks as big as a hula hoop." I'm up nearly a grand since a week ago and tonight my bankroll crossed for the first time the $5,000 mark.
Last month I was fairly close, but then had a "Black Tuesday," where my bankroll took an $800 freefall, thanks to some incredible beats on Full Tilt.
I don't know if anything's changed. I don't know if my game has. But the tables have seemed really easier lately. Can't explain it. I guess my reads are better. I've really had an upper hand lately with shorthanded or heads up situations involving the blinds and the button.
And it's come to this. April 4. The anniversary of the killing of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Also the one year anniversary of my online play. In one year I've made $6,837.26, first starting out with .25/.50 limit on Pacific Poker and then playing $2.50 6-seat tourneys. Who knows what another year will bring? My taxes, which I haven't done yet, are going to be hell.
If you believe in the "rule of three," then it's appropriate to mention that Monday night also was the night that Carolina, my alma mater, won the NCAA national championship. It's sad to say that I didn't catch the game -- I was trying to fiddle with my TV in between hands, but couldn't get it going. Early in the game, a sickly Meg called me up to her place -- she thought she heard some kind of strange noise. Oh, well.
What I love about it is how people use the same bad assumptions in their daily lives that I saw all weekend at the Kansas City tables. All kinds of people were talking about how Carolina coach Roy Williams has a reputation for choking -- this is his first championship in I think five tries.
It could happen, but I seriously doubted he would be title-less forever. Just doesn't work that way. And, just like in poker, previous events have no impact on what's going to happen on a given basketball floor. You take the beat, you move on.
"Eights were really hot yesterday," said Carol, a gray-haired but chatty dealer at the Ameristar on Sunday afternoon. As if the cards are like some kind of corn commodity in which they even warn you on the radio "Past performance has no bearing on future value."
And the third thing? Well, Shammie, who looked like he would be a very doubtful member of the Coalition of the Willing, was informed by his employer tonight that he could take the time off for Vegas. I like the fact that he has two Vegas trips under his belt, where the other two people going have a single Biloxi trip (Empire) between them. It's like adding a veteran to the squad.
Saturday, April 02, 2005
The Stare of Juanda
Young woman in seat 2: I don't have nuts.
Friday night at Ameristar Casino, Kansas City
Seat 6: You kind of have the stare of John Juanda.
KANSAS CITY -- So I'm returning back to my $3/6 table at Ameristar in Kansas City and the guy in seat 6 turns and looks at me and says "You kind of look like ... you kind of have the stare of John Juanda." It's wild because one, I've never heard that before. Two, this young woman in seat 2, right when she sat down, told me the same thing, adding "You look like a guy that I saw on the World Poker Tour."
"Yeah, I'm John Juanda slumming it at the $3/6 table," I tell the guy. Maybe they don't get too many Asians in these parts. LOL
I didn't mean to be all about business but I was wearing the same clothes that I wore at work on Friday -- a dark Ralph Lauren oxford, no tie, and khakis. Most times at the table I'm all about wearing poker shirts, comfortable clothes. But yesterday it was just come as you are, and come quickly.
I'm in Kansas City to celebrate the wedding of two friends who I knew at a previous newspaper. I haven't been in Kansas City for a while, and already it's brought back some Bourne Identity-like, but random, memories. My first major spill on a bicycle. Kissing a girl for the first time. I'm amazed at how flat the place is. Atlanta is a series of rolling hills.
I like wearing dressier clothes though at the table, especially at the Wednesday and Friday home games back where I live. More often than not it's because I'll have just come from work. It reminds me though of a time when I saw Phil Ivey at the Bellagio, just sitting back in a white dress shirt, playing.
But the comment about the stare reminds me to laugh more, to get people thinking less about the game. The dress code here was casino casual, with more than a few baseball caps being worn. I rarely look at flops first, instead being intent on seeing how people react when they study the cards. If I know they're not paying attention, then it's easy for me to bluff bet without even looking at mine, as one poor guy in our home games has been the victim of several times. Once, I went all-in on a flop with two aces and he folded his paired up 8s that would have won. My no-look Q6o beat someone else's jack high.
The $3/6 game at Ameristar is something that you only can dream about at the same limit online. It was loose-weak. Lots of people calling raises with junk. A few people, like the young woman who mentioned the WPT to me, hadn't ever played at a live casino table before. I lucked out when I first sat down -- I won 4 of 5 pots in the first 45 minutes with some good cards AKx3 and AQs that turned into a flush on the river to beat a set of 6s.
I could do this for a while, I thought, as chips just piled up around me. The casino was very nice, of a class of riverboats that don't make you feel like you're in a riverboat. The poker room is large, and what I loved about it was the fact it had the same tilty height-adjustable chairs that are in the Bellagio. Only here, the chairs and the tables are all the color of the prairie and the corn.
I was up $140 but left up $71 after 4 hours. I played a few hands that I shouldn't have. I missed a straight that I was out and betting and tried to represent a flush. But I lost to two people playing Ax who had paired their aces. TT got beat out by a woman with a ragged J9o.
"That's why NL is better. Three dollars doesn't drive many people out," says a young guy wearing a University of Tennessee hat.
Later I went to Harrah's, a smaller riverboat with a correspondingly smaller poker room than Ameristar. I sat down and played a few hands at a $2/5, $200-max NL table. All of the $3/6 limit tables were taken. But I found the room too dark and the noise from the slots next door was really loud and distracting. So I left after the table went shorthanded.
I asked directions and found the Isle of Capri -- a third riverboat that I didn't know existed. I had been to sister casinos in Lula, Miss. and Tunica, Miss. This boat seemed a lot older. I sat in their Paradise Poker room, playing $2-5 7 Stud while I waited for their $4/8 Hold'em tables to open. I loved the fact that I was playing 7 Stud here, with grizzled old guys who looked like they played this often. After a few hands, I was transferred to the Hold'em game. Guys with tall plastic cups of beer looked like they would be there all night long.
But not me. After an hour I was exhausted. I cashed out my chips and hit the road, happy to be up in play at casinos in the Midwest, which so far have been very kind to me.