Monday, April 30, 2012

An Audience with the God of Poker;
an Allegory for What Happened to Me Last Night

Like Gregor Samsa in that long-ago tale*, I recently awoke from uneasy dreams. Unlike Samsa, instead of finding that I'd been transformed to a giant beetle, I awoke to find myself in an anteroom with which I was completely unfamiliar. The walls were covered by rich dark wood paneling, and were stuck here and there with wall sconces out of which a gentle yet strong light emanated. At the front of the room sat a stately mahogany desk and behind it sat a slender, blond gentleman, with an officious demeanor, who was speaking on the phone with someone.  It did not seem to be going well.

" can raise your voice all you like but that doesn't mean you're going to be connected.  That's just not how it! I do not have to take abuse from anyone, let alone some random caller looking for an audience...I am hanging up the phone now.  Please don't call back."

He exhaled deeply in exasperation, shook his head as if to shake off the bad vibes of the phone call, and turned his head toward me. "Yes, sir.  How can I help you?"

For a panic-stricken second I had no idea what to say.  Then, as if it was planned all along, I knew why I was there and who I was there to see.

"I'd like to speak to the God of Poker.  I have an appointment."

"Your name, please?" he asked, his tone indicating doubt.

"It's probably under Crafty Southpaw."

"Hmmm, let's see, Southpaw, Southpaw...ah.  Oh, I see." A microsecond pause. "My apologies, sir.  You can go right in."

I walked through the anteroom, heels clicking smartly on the marble floor. A pair of gigantic double doors opened without a sound, and without any visible mechanism, to let me through into the office of the God of Poker.

It was less than imposing.

As I walked through the door, I noticed a threadbare poker table, with a dealer chained to his seat.  I noticed his toke box was welded closed. The God of Poker was not playing; he was at his desk, with his back to me, staring at a window.

"Which of these raindrops will hit the windowsill first?" He asked, to no one in particular.  I'll bet you twenty million bucks it's this one."

"Me?" I said, a little bit confused.

"Yeah, you," he said.  "Who are you?"

"It doesn't matter.  Listen, I need something from you."

"You and everybody else," he said, and I thought for a moment I detected a little sadness in his voice. "What do you need?"

"I'm tired of treading water at poker," I started.  "It's not like I'm throwing my fortune away, but I'm not making huge coin, either.  I need to get some words of wisdom from you."

"You need me to tell you something magical to make you better at poker?  Is that it?"

"Well- yeah, that's about it," I stammered.

"Sixty-three bucks," he said, with the slightest edge to his voice.


"Sixty-three bucks.  Hand it over."

I reached into my pocket and sure enough, I had $63, to the penny. I handed it over and he folded the bills, thumbed through the wad to count it, and stuck it in his shirt pocket. He took a deep breath and looked me right in the eye.

"You ready?" he asked. "You want to take notes or something?"

"Do I need to?"

"Probably not.  Well, here it is: Don't ever limp into a pot pre-flop. If it's worth one blind, it's worth three.  And if it's not worth three it isn't really worth one.  Raise the blind, call a raise in front of you, or fold. Got it? Don't limp into a pot pre-flop."

I waited a long second to make sure he wasn't just pausing for dramatic emphasis.

"That's it?" I asked, trying not to sound incredulous. "Don't limp into an unraised pot?"

"Yup. You're welcome, by the way."

"No, yeah, thank you," I found myself saying, almost mechanically.  I made a mental note how ingrained it is to automatically thank someone who made it known he was expecting it, like when you're four years old and an adult hands you something and asks you what the magic word was. "But, um, I actually already knew that. Known it for a while actually."

"But do you do it? I mean, all the time?"

"Well, no, not all the time.  There's a time and a place for a pre-flop limp, especially if the table is right for it."

"Then you don't do it," said the God of Poker. "What I said was, don't EVER limp into an unraised pot. Sometimes you do.  And sure there are a lot of definitions of 'sometimes,' but it's more or less agreed that 'sometimes' DOES NOT mean the same thing that 'never' does."

I bristled a bit at his patronizing tone, but I must admit that it felt a tiny bit gratifying to see him becoming more engaged in the conversation.  Indeed I could see an occasional flash of emotion around the edges.

"Do you understand me?" he asked, and met my gaze.

"Yes," I replied.

"Do you?" he asked, still looking hard at me.

"Never means never," I told him, and his expression softened at once.

"Good," he said.  "Anything else?"

"No thanks, but I really appreciate this, Poker God."

"Call me Mitch.  And OK, but you know I could have made you into a poker genius if you'd asked me."

"Oh. Could I..."

"Too late," said Mitch. "Thanks for coming."

Damn.  Well, at least I learned something valuable, even though it cost me two greens, two redbirds, and three whites.
*Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis.


  1. I'd rather you had just said that you felted Josie last night on BCP as I watched.

  2. Well, that is true, but that was a hand that played itself: AA vs 88. This little tale was for the hand that came afterwards, you remember the one...if I had raised the blind he with his 34o would have gone away instead of felting me.

  3. I don't get you actually met the God of Poker?!?!? Did you put in a good word for me?

  4. Jeff, I don't quite know how to put this, but the god of poker doesn't like piano players. Something about an old girlfriend, a gig in Minneapolis, and someone mysterious whose name is lost to memory, but who referred to his own penis as "Baby Grand." I thought it best not to bring you up.

  5. Thanks, Gary, that explains a lot. It's a relief to know that my failings as a poker player are not because I'm too often a passive little pansy who is afraid to risk his stake. (Accurate self-assessment is a bitch.)

    1. Actually it's all musicians he hates. Apparently he got his ass kicked one day by a trumpet player from Branson MO.

  6. Does the God of Poker even hate The Beatles??? If so how can you give any credence to his advice?

    This was a great read. Very entertaining. But there are times when limping is the right thing to do.

    Because the answer to every question in poker is: "IT DEPENDS!"

    1. Yeah, well, because I was too cheap to throw in a PF raise, which would have set back my bankroll to the tune of exactly one dollar, I lost a gigantic hand (relative to the stakes). My pocket pair connected on the turn, giving me trips but my opponent, who was playing a BB special of 34o, made his miracle straight, handing me the third nuts but giving it to him stone cold. So I'm gonna do what Mitch told me to do for a while, see how that does for me.

    2. And, forgot to say, thanks for saying it was a good read.

    3. Well, it was. Still think that it is ok to limp and that varies from game to game. But I've played quite a bit of No Limit by now and I'm pretty sure I've never seen a player who NEVER limped into a pot. And I've seen some pretty damn good players. The hand that has you steaming may be one where you screwed up by limping, but even if that's true, it doesn't mean that it's never the right move. Personally, some of the biggest pots I've won had me limping in and I know I wouldn't have won any more--and probably would have in fact won a lot less--if I had raised instead.

      In fact, on the ones I'm thinking of, if you had put a gun to my head and said "raise or fold, but if you limp you'll get a bullet in the head," I'd have probably folded and won zilch.

    4. You DARE doubt Mitch?

      Listen, I'm in no real position to give anyone advice on poker, but I will suggest to you, with respect in my heart, that one can't really determine the effectiveness of a particular strategy based on one's memories of having won a big pot or two. Limping pre-flop sucks. It's gutless; it keeps players in who shouldn't be, even (especially) you; it telegraphs weakness; and as Mitch pointed out with pith rarely found in this blog, if your starting hand is worth one blind it's worth two or three, and if it's not worth two or three it isn't worth one. Whereas, always raising (as opposed to limping) forces your opponents to make yet another decision as well as gives you a rep as a tough player, and will win you a frightening number of pots pre-flop.

      The moral of the story: "Don't play like a bitch; let's listen to Mitch."

  7. I thought of you this afternoon when I played poker briefly at Foxwoods. I never limped in to an unraised pot. It is, of course, the right way to play, and I had been doing some limping in recent trips to Foxwoods. Only won 1 hand when my KK hit trips on the flop and the SB's QQ found a Q on that same flop. Shazam!

    I got bored and spent most of my time playing craps. Fortunate choice as I made good dough at craps. Had some fun rolls at the table, too.

    1. Ooh, there's an all-in and insta-call. Bet SB thought he was good right up until the end.

      And yes, not only is limping pre-flop almost never the right play, but doing it just screams "weak player with a weak hand" to those who read the tea leaves.

  8. Not to beat a dead horse--though, come to think of it, that's gotta be better than beating a LIVE horse, since that would be animal cruelty--but I have in front of me Dan Harrington's Cash Games Vol 1 book, one of the most highly regarded book on playing No Limit cash games.

    He recommends limping into pots quite a bit. Some of it is to disguise your hand, if you raise with only great hands it will be easy to read you. But if you are going to raise every single time instead of limping, that wouldn't matter, because your raise wouldn't tell much about your hand.

    Still, he talks about lots of situations where limping is recommended, or where, you should raise 70%/limp 30% (and the percentages change depending on the hand). Some of the hands he says limping is recommened are mid to low pocket pairs, suited connectors, non-suited connectors, etc. He even says you should limp with AA and KK occasionally just to throw off your opponents.

    He also says that how much you limp depends on the game and also on whether you have really good post flop game...the better your post flop game, the more you can limp instead of raise and hope to take down the pot preflop.

    Now, if you're playing 1/2 and your PF raise is only $6 (3 BB's), well at most games I'm gonna say that's a pretty weak raise and that actually looks weaker to me than a limp.

    Again, it varies from game to game. But, sorry Mitch, I think you're wrong.

    1. The only remotely justifiable reason for limping is to disguise the strenth of your hand. I posit that you can provide your hand with the same amount of cover - more, even - by entering every pot you enter with the exact same raise - and yes, that raise could easily be 3xBB. This approach, while seeming rigid, can prevent you from falling prey to Fancy Play Syndrome, unlike trying to keep in your head to limp with KK one time in ten, which will sure as shit encourage FPS. Besides, if you want to get creative you have plenty of opportunity to do so post-flop.

      Is Harrington's approach good? Well it's certainly good for Harrington, but that's not the same as it being good for a dunce like m'self.

    2. Hey, what about your offer we never discuss this again? OK, fine, I haven't accepted the deal yet. In that case, I will respond and then go to the other thread to accept.

      I don't really disagree with anything you said here. I know I limp too much myself. And your point is especially good in the context of what I said about Harrington's view that the better your post-flop game, the more you can get away with limping, the more problematic your post-flop game, the more you need to raise preflop.

      So if you think you're a dunce post-flop (and I think you're being too hard on yourself), then raise, raise, raise preflop.