Thursday, December 29, 2016

King of the Dipshits

This trip report begins as many of the others do: Hey Jo, we haven't played poker in a while, whudja think, sure, let's go.

That's where the similarities end.

It started off with such promise: Yosie and I hadn't seen each other in months and it's always a barrel of laughs when we haven't seen each other in a while and act as stupidly as we can to get the other to laugh (and, in Josie's case, spit her drink à la Danny Thomas). She took the train down to the stop closest to me, right by Shangri-La, and I was looking forward to a fun day at the tables.

But the look on Josie's face as she got off the train told me a different tale.

She got in the car and before I could say "Jesus, you look like hell," or some similar endearment, she looked at me with desperation about the corners of her eyes and said "We need to stop at a bathroom."

"I live 7 minutes down the road," I answered, in tones I hoped were assuring.

She looked at me and said words that put the fear of God Almighty in me.

"I don't have that kind of time," she said.

Roger that. I threw ol' Bessie into gear (Bessie being at present a 2012 Ford Fusion, bereft of any bodily fluids or solids, and that's just how I like it), floored it around the parking lot and screeched into  a gas station nearby. She looked at me with pure gratitude in her eyes (and, if you're a girl, your straits have to be pretty desperate to be grateful for a gas station bathroom) and said she'd be right back.

A few minutes later, she came walking out of the Mobil station a hell of a lot more at her ease than when she walked in. And when she got in the car she was a different person.

So, the wrongs of the world righted for the moment, off we toddle to Twin Rivers to play a little poker.

Now I had just gotten my Christmas bonus, a matter of a couple of months' salary more or less, and I was feeling flush. So on the way we discussed swimming in the somewhat deeper waters of 2/5 NL, as opposed to the 1/2 that we were used to.

We knew poker, right? We had our poop in a group, metaphysically speaking. We were strong players. We had reading skills. We had mojo.  We knew a flush beat a straight. We were ready, god dammit.

Except we weren't ready.

As it turns out, playing 2/5 is kinda like Double-A baseball. You're not seeing major-league play for sure, but you're sure as hell no longer in the rookie league. At the 2/5 table, no one is splashing around, no one has dime-store skills, no one has tells so transparent you have to stop yourself from laughing at them.

And there isn't a single fish at the table. Well, at our table, there were two: Josie and me.

Could we succeed at 2/5? Sure, I suppose so. But it so obviously required an entirely different mind-set than what we were used to that we were entirely unprepared for it.

Jos lost what could be considered a lot of money - unless that sum is compared to what I lost.

In the span of two hours, my friends, I was down about $850, with no sign of doing any better. Far and away the biggest and fastest loss I ever experienced. And it hurt.

At 2:30 we had lunch at a bar/grill called The Shipyard, right next to the poker room. She, watching her figure, had a salad; I, who was also watching her figure but also trying to eat better, had a salad too.

We ate our lettuce and licked our wounds, and grumbled between bites about how we need to come up with a new strategy. We could either keep knocking our dicks in the dirt (figuratively, for one of us) at 2/5 until we had to sell our plasma for gas money home, or we could conduct a strategic retreat, regroup behind established territory in 1/2 land, and do what we could to recoup our losses.

As we both dislike giving blood, we decided to play some 1/2 for the latter part of the day. And oh, friends and neighbors, what a good decision that was.

As soon as I sat down I knew I was on friendlier turf. It was like going from prison to a playground. The difference was astounding. Within 10 minutes of sitting down I had a decent read on everyone at the table. I deliberately let two blinds go by just watching the group before I started playing. This raised a few eyebrows but I got some good intel and I think I scared them a touch as well: one of them remarked on my patience, and asked me "Have you learned anything about us?"

I answered "A few tidbits here and there."

"Like what?" seat 4 asked me, a half-grin playing about his lips.

"Well, if it's all the same I'll keep that to myself, but I will say that you and seat 8 are left-handed."

That seemed to land a little bit. There were no more questions about what I had learned after that. Certainly no scoffing at my observational skills. If you're interested, by the way, I had seat 7 pegged as a compulsive bluffer, seat 3 as someone to avoid (as it turns out, he was waiting for a 2/5 seat to open up), and seat 1 just plain didn't know what he was doing.

It was like a clinic in how not to play poker: this one squirmed in his seat when he caught something; that one grinned at his hand. GRINNED AT HIS HAND! I'd love to take credit for my comeback but sometimes it's enough just to be king of the dipshits.

Yosie, at another table, was doing about as well. We could see each other from where we sat. We texted each other about how squishy soft our respective tables were and rolled our eyes.

The early going went against us, but by God, we captured the afternoon.

So: in the span of about 3 1/2 hours, I turned $300 into $1183. I cashed in $883 in chips and had $300 in cash. I made back everything I'd lost except perhaps $80.  Jo came up positive for the day, but she played a little 21 in there too. We turned a near-disastrous start into a great day at the tables.

And I learned an incredibly valuable lesson about my place in the poker world for a ridiculously small amount of money - especially given how much that lesson can cost sometimes.

The lesson, of course, is this: It's way better being the big fish in the little pond, my friends. The king of the dipshits is still a king.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Not Having to Be Faster than the Bear

Two guys were hiking in the forest, when they stumble upon a mama grizzly protecting a couple of cubs. She looks at them wild-eyed and starts posturing for a chase.
One of the guys frantically reaches into his pack and starts putting on his sneakers.
"What the hell are you doing?" says the other. "You're never in a million years going to outrun that bear."
"Don't have to outrun the bear," he says. "Just have to outrun you."

I went back to Twin River yesterday with Yosie, because last time I was there I made a few hundy and was feeling my oats pretty, um, oatily. We had breakfast at a local greasy spoon (not the coffee milk place), and got there early enough so we could sit together without a wait.
Last time there were really no table captains, no bullies (besides the one I destroyed, and subsequently wrote about), pretty much no really strong players at all swimming in the shallow waters. So this time I got there and decided I would ratchet up the aggression just a little bit, maybe try to take control.

Because I have stumbled upon (or rather, finally come to) the realization that informs the little parable above and provides the title of this particular missive: I don't have to be the world's best poker player. I just have to be better than the schmucks I'm playing against.

And lordy lordy, were there a bunch of schmucks at our table. Way more often than not, the big blind would be called all around. There were often six or seven people to a flop, with a pot of perhaps $16! I've never seen the like.

Now I have for a long time lived by a simple rule for pre-flop action: Don't just call an unraised blind. If a hand is worth one blind, it's worth three, and if it isn't worth three, it isn't worth one. A fairly simple rule, and one that has saved me my share of misery and dollars over the years.

But, as the old saying goes, the only absolute rule in poker is that there are no absolute rules.  I quickly made the decision that if these jabronies are going to let me see cheap flops, and let me outplay the shit out of them post-flop, well, then, by god and sonny jesus, that's what I was going to do.

I would have been up nearer to $1000, but I lost perhaps $300 when I went all in with AA when my opponent had 77, and caught his two-outer, but after everything was said and done, including guesting at a home tournament that Josie frequents (and winning it), I was up the better part of $550 for the day, which is still a hap hap happy day for me. Happier still I can feel when my game starts getting passive and I start missing opportunities to take pots, and can correct my behavior and get back on track.

Things are looking up for The Kid, my friends. Having a poker room eleven minutes or so from my house is doing wonders for my game.

Expect more posts of a pokery nature in the coming weeks. The Crafty Southpaw is back!

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Trip report: Twin River Casino, Lincoln, RI, 2-20-16

What's that you say? Twin River's poker room has been open for months, and you're only now getting around to going there?

Well, no. Strictly speaking, no. In fact, not-so-very-strictly speaking, no. I have been there three times now. But the first two times were pretty uneventful and I had my hands full with getting my poker legs underneath me and trying the truly awful chipotle sauce at Johnny Rocket's. Both times I walked out within $10 of my buy-in, once up, once down. Josie was good enough to accompany me the first time, and Josie and FDD Spuds were both there for the second time.

For what it's worth, Josie professes a dislike of the place, based on (she says) the fact that she lost money the first time, and that she got no reception on her phone. I for one am more inclined to believe the latter than the former,  but no matter, no matter. I'm sure there'll be return visits in the future.

The room suffers somewhat from its infancy; the growing pains it is experiencing are far from over, and some of them aren't trivial. Knowledge of the rules of poker and of the house is disquietingly inconsistent and though I have not witnessed it cost anyone any big money, I believe it is a matter of time.

To give only three examples that happened at my table today: Firstly, the dude in seat 3 string-raised. As clear-cut a case of a string raise as it got. When seat 5 and I (seat 6) pointed it out, the dealer got a little shitty and asked us to please refrain from identifying string raises, that it was the responsibility of the dealer to do so. That was met with incredulity among the table, the universal sentiment being that in fact the players should (indeed must) call a string raise when they see it. The player in question withdrew his second stack so it didn't get heated, but later, when the brush was by, this was informally confirmed.

Second, it is a stated rule in this room that cards speak. We had an unidentified flush come up and the dealer kept his trap shut about it. When a player who wasn't in the hand spotted the flush, the dealer immediately said "I was hoping one of you would say something, we're not supposed to." More howls of protest from the table. The dealer started defending his position then almost immediately backtracked - actually lying about having said that dealers weren't supposed to call hands that players themselves didn't spot.

Thirdly, in a three-way hand, the river was checked down all around. The last guy to act, instead of saying the word "check," tabled his cards face-up announcing what he had, an act all of us have performed a thousand times. The dealer says "You can't do that. You have to say 'check.'


The brush comes over and sure enough, he looks at the dealer like he had baby shit in his hair and informs him that yes, the last bettor on the river can turn up his cards without word or gesture if the play has been checked to him.

These are simple things, remedial things. I'm sure time will heal them, but until that happens a visitor to the Twin River poker room should prepare himself for minor disappointments like these.

Anyway, to my play...

For most of the day, I had about $500 in front of me. One can start with $300, and within the first half-hour I was down $200, most of the damage wrought by my flush losing to quads. I re-upped another deuce and quickly got back to even, but didn't really move off $500 for several hours.

Then I lost a ton of money when my AK lost to KK, and things were looking a little grim for The Kid. I was stuck around $300 and was faced with the conundrum we dread: do I get up from the table, lick my wounds, and live to fight another day, or do I use the $200 I have left to recoup some of my losses and my dignity?

I decided that surrender was for the weak and for the French, and I am neither of those things. Luckily, right about then the table got a new player to seat 7, the seat at my left elbow. I'm going to call him Tony "Bro" Gellmuth, because he deftly combined the annoying bravado of Tony G with the condescending poker knowledge of Phil Hellmuth - and he called everyone "Bro." When he sat down he claimed to have been up for 20 straight hours and I believed him. And whatever he was taking to stay awake was fucking working. He could have played lead violin at the Boston Symphony Orchestra, been a world-renowned brain surgeon, and designed the most graceful and beautiful buildings in skylines all around the world, and still his greatest gift would be flapping his goddamn gums. Talk talk talk talk talk, that's all he did. He talked about his hand. He talked about his strategy for playing his hand. He talked about why other people were such poor players. He talked about why he was such a good one. He never, ever stopped, except to get up and have a smoke.

During one of these times I parodied his little act to a player I was in a hand with. During the hand I asked "What you got, bro? What you got, bro?" - which was the subject of much mirth from the table. We spent the next two full hands talking about what an obnoxious asshole this guy was, how he was disrupting the flow of the game, and trying his best to bully everyone else into submission.

So I decide that when he sits back down, I should start in with the needle, and I wouldn't be shouted down by my tablemates.

Sure enough, his first hand back from his most recent smoke break, he keeps up his running commentary about a hand he's in with someone, telling him as the hand is in progress, "if you have a pair you win," to which I replied "If I had a set of earplugs, I'd win," which broke up the table and turned him red for a little while.

From that point on it became his mission to tell the table that I was a bad poker player, and to try to prove it to the world. The first hand that this strategy really cost him was when, holding JQh, I flopped the nut straight. He was betting like a maniac, and I knew I had him since I had the nuts, so I just check-called the flop and the turn, let him do all the damage himself.

When the river came, I bet out $60, I think. He said - he actually said - "I raise. NO! I mean I call!" as if it were a genuine mistake. I looked at the dealer and said something like "tell the naughty boy what he has to do," and the dealer rightly said he needed to make at least a minimum raise. He puts in the extra chips with just token resistance, and flips over his cards out-of-turn to reveal the low straight.  I show my winner and drag a giant pot, and now I'm within sniffing distance of even.

More importantly, Tony "Bro" Gellmuth loses his fucking mind.

"You had the nuts and you just check-called your way through that hand?" he asked incredulously. "What kind of strategy is that?"

Now, I know that questions of that nature are best left unanswered. Perhaps it was the Imp of the Perverse that made me answer it. Maybe I just knew that it would tilt him like an old pinball machine.

"A damn good one, with a maniac like you on my left," I answer to the laughs and hoots of the rest of the table - who, remember, hated this guy's guts. "You were betting right into me, and I was letting you. Nicely done, by the way - thanks."

"Oh, you're going to discuss poker strategy with ME? A guy who check-calls the nuts wants to discuss strategy with me?"

"No, I really don't," I said, letting a little anger flash in my eyes. "I could live my entire life quite happily never discussing poker with you, ever."

A few more laughs from the table, and he finally shuts up, if shaking his head and mumbling to himself counts as shutting up.

A few hands later, Mrs. Crafty texts me - she's sick with a cold I gave her, bless her - and asks me when I'm coming home. I couldn't answer her right away because play had already started back up but I knew the sands of time were running out on my afternoon.

I make a decision that the hand that breaks me even will be my last - and I was within perhaps $60 of this goal.

I look down at the hand I was in and see A2h in cutoff +1 or so. I make a raise to $7 and Tony "Bro" Gellmuth calls me.

Flop comes a deuce and two hearts - and I decide this is my Alamo. Here will I make my stand, to succeed or fail, and may the Almighty favor my undertaking*. I throw $20 in the pot, which has the net effect of isolating me with T "B" G.

Turn comes a blank. I c-bet $30 or $40 and he calls without thinking too hard.

The river comes my wonderful, beautiful heart. I have the nut flush and there are no pairs on the board. This hand is won.


"$75," he says, and throws three green chips in the middle.

"Raise to $200," I say, and start cutting chips.

"Call," he says, before I get the chance, and flips over J3h for a smaller flush.

"I have the nuts," I say, and flip over my cards, and he yells "GOD DAMMIT!" and puts his head down in his arms on the table - that is, until the dealer tells him to give me another $125. And now I'm up around $200 and I decide that before I leave I will administer the needle one final time, which should give you an idea of to what extent this fucking doofus deserved it.

"Well boys," I say, "Reckon I'll head home - my wife needs dinner." I look at Tony "Bro" Gellmuth one last time. "I was hungry, but after eating your soul I just can't have another bite."

He scowls, and I walk away from the table feeling like I just won a million dollars.

Anyway, that's my trip report. Hope you enjoyed it. Go see a doctor if you haven't recently.

*"Annuit coeptis," a phrase you'll find on the back of the dollar bill, translates to "He [god] favors our undertaking."