The Cards Spoke

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The Drought and The Maniac

Part 1: The Drought
Knowing that I wouldn't be able to make it to the casino for two weeks while my wife's family was visiting from Sweden, I had to make one more trip to Hollywood Park. I was hoping to get there to play a couple satellites for the $500 NL tourney... $50 satellites, and there were no rebuys in the tourney, so that sounded pretty nice to me. Unfortunately, good old LA traffic prevented that... Anyway, I immediately got a seat at the $6.12 table, and I recognized a few faces as good players. One guy who I've seen a few times even had a nice PokerStars jacket, so I figured he must be pretty good, since it would take a long long time to build up the Frequent Player Points to get that jacket. A couple other middle aged guys who were solid players were on my right, and I didn't like the look of this table.

Hand after hand I threw into the muck, I wasn't even getting anything close to playable. After about 4 boring orbits, a pretty asian woman said "$200 bucks and I haven't won a pot yet!" I realized I hadn't won a pot either, and checked the time-- 1 hour with no pot, great. The parade of bad hands marched on, I felt like I was building a tower of muck... anyway, I finally picked up AA, and raised 2 limpers, everyone else folds. Flop is 4 6 7 rainbow, UTG leads out, next guy calls, and I raise-- both call. Now I'm sure he's got the straight draw, but I haven't won a pot for an hour and a half so I figure I might actually be able to will all the 3s and 8s off the table... oops, turn comes an 8, of course, and UTG bets out, and I find my hand reaching for my chips and calling, disobeying direct orders from the cerebral cortex to fold. I even call the river bet, and of course he turns over K5, and I feel like slamming my head against the table. Why did I call???

The bad hands return, and I look at my watch and it's been 2 hours and I haven't won a pot, and I've played about 3 hands not including the blinds. I think this is some sort of record... finally I pick up AK suited on the button, and decide to raise it up after a few limpers come in. Flop doesn't help, and early limper bets out and 3 or 4 people call. The mighty King appears on the turn, and I'm pretty sure that will clinch it for me unless the board pairs on the river... river brings a rag, and I finally rake my first pot. I'm $300 in and now I've got about $70 in front of me. I finally come to my senses and ask for a table change. This table is WAY too tough, there is one calling station here, who has actually accumulated more chips than anyone else, but besides that everyone is solid. On a Friday night, why the hell am I wasting my time with this crew when I can be playing a bunch of drunks throwing their money away?

Part 2: The maniac
The floorman tells me there are two seats available to move to, and I have my choice... I take a quick glance at both tables... the far tables looks like there are more chips there, but I recognize a couple of solid players, and the near table has a lot of unfamiliar faces and just "feels" better, so I take the near table. I sit down and post, and try to get a bead on the action there. On the first hand, a young, pudgy guy with a goatee raises pre-flop, and gets 2 or 3 callers. He reraises on the flop, and bets the rest of the way, called by both players. With an Ace on board, I figure he's got it, but to my surprise he turns over pocket 2's-- the player in early position turns over A3o, and the other player mucks. This looks good-- I am happy about my quick table selection, and I turn on the focus and prepare to win my money back.

My first hand is pocket 9s, and the pudgy guy raises from middle position after everyone folds to him. I call 3 more chips from my big blind, and we've got 3 players in the pot. The flop is A K 3 rainbow, and I figure I'm dead, so I check, pudgy guy bets, and the third player calls. After seeing his pocket 2 play, I am suspicious, and make the overcall with my 9s. I'm not liking this call, but I'm hoping that this guy is a maniac, and trying to buy the pot as he did with the 2s. The turn is a 7, pudge bets, call, and I call, now commited. River is a rag, and we get bet-call again, and now the pot is big enough that I'm pretty much forced to call. I wait to see what pudge turns over-- J3s! I turn over my 9s, and the 3rd player mucks, and I rake a nice pot. I'm not sure if this was a good play or not, since it's tough to overcall the 3rd player (he later told me he had pocket 6s), but it worked. I am really liking this table.

A few hands later a similar hand comes up... I raise in early position with KQo, trying to isolate pudge. It works-- everyone folds to pudge, who calls, and the BB also calls. I'm not happy when the flop is A Q 7, and now I have to decide if one of these two has an ace. BB checks to me, and I take the plunge and bet my second pair. Pudge raises, and BB calls. I want to reraise, but I'm scared of the 3rd player, so I just call, hoping he's got nothing. Turn is a rag, BB checks, I check, and pudge bets. BB calls again, and now I'm not liking my hand, but I'm pretty much committed now... river is another rag and we go bet-call-call... pudge shows Q3s! I flip my KQ, and 3rd player mucks! So my dangerous overcalls with these 2 hands have turned out for the best, and I stack my chips, climbing back to even.

I'm not sure if these beats tilted pudge, but a few hands later, he was operating in full maniac mode. He capped nearly every hand he was in, and of course everyone was anxious to reraise, so the pots were huge. I was rooting for him in every hand, because I knew those chips would be mine the cards fell true to probability... and he did take in a couple of monster pots with runner-runner flushes, and other such nonsense. I was forced to tighten up, but I wasn't getting many hands anyway, so I just sat back and watched the action. Then this hand came about: 5 players in a pot 3 bet by pudge, a middle aged asian guy who had just sat down a couple hands ago puts the cap on. Flop is Ah Kh 8c, and maniac reraises early bettor, and the flop is also capped. The table watches in amazement, and the turn brings Jc. This time everyone checks to pudge, who bets. Asian guy raises, and the other two fold, so we're heads up. Pudge just calls, and I can't put either player on a hand (AK for Asian guy?). The pot now has around $144 in it, and the river brings a 6s. Pudge checks (huh?), Asian guy bets, and pudge reraises. Asian guy beats him into the pot with a reraise, and pudge immediately mucks! He won't pay $6 more to have a shot at the $200 pot??? Amazingly, the Asian guy flips over T8h!!! I'm blown away as pudge looks away disgusted, and I mumble, "That was the best bluff I've ever seen," breaking the stunned silence of the table. The Asian guy echoes Mike Sexton's favorite quote any time a player bluffs the river on WPT "That was the only way I could have won the pot."

The lesson to be learned here, and it's not a new one, is twofold--
(1) if it costs you 2 or 3 bets to have a shot at winning a pot with more that 15 big bets, it's worth it if you think the other player(s) are capable of laying down their hand in a pot that big. Of course, this works best when it's heads up, because you only have to make the single opponent lay down his hand. However, at wild low limit games, I've almost NEVER seen this play work, since most players are smart enough to pay the extra big bet on the river to "make sure" they are beaten.
(2) On the opposite end of the spectrum, you've got to be POSITIVE you're beat if you are going to lay your hand down on the river. This is preached in all of the literature, but in low-limit hold 'em, since there are so many players in, you've got to have top pair or better to win. So one of the toughest decisions to be made is the river laydown. It will cost you a big bet if you're wrong in calling, but more than 10 big bets if you're wrong about folding.

Ok, enough theory... we want to see our hero defeat the maniac, don't we? Well, I did go up against him one more time-- by then he was running out of chips, but still had a medium sized tower in front of him. I'm dealt QTc in the big blind, and 4 players call, and of course the maniac reraises. I'm happy to call, and the 4 others call, and I'm liking my hand now. The flop is 10 8 6, with one club. I bet out, and 2 players call, and maniac raises. I am happy to reraise, hoping to isolate pudge, but we get one more caller. Pudge puts the cap on, and I'm a little nervous, but still liking my hand. My heart actually starts thumping like it did whenever I contested a pot in my first $2-4 game, something I hadn't felt in a while. Ahh, adrenaline. One of the trapped callers calls the cap (why is there always a third player tagging along???) and I'm hoping KT or AT isn't out there. The river is a 3, and no flush or straight scares me, so I bet out. 3rd guy calls, and pudge, true to form, reraises. I just call this time, figuring a raise won't knock out the 3rd player, and I don't have the guts to continue the raise war with maniac. And the river-- a beautiful Queen! Check raise time! Pudge bets, I raise, and 3rd player folds, and pudge actually folds! I show my QT happily, and start stacking chips, to Pudges cry of "That was a lucky river!" I shoot back, "It's not like you haven't sucked out on anyone." Pudge doesn't like this, and stands up and prepares to rip the cards in half. I see a ten as his bottom card, and he isn't strong enough to go through the Kem plastic, so the cards just crumple and he throws them on the table. Phew, T8, and I'm glad I dodged that bullet... anyway, he's got one chip left now, and tells the dealer to lock the seat up. The dealer shows the floorman the crumpled cards, and the floorman says "Time to go buddy." Pudge leaves unhappily, and I am very sad to see him go. But he has brought me back up to $400, +100 in a night that began potless for 2 hours.

Ironically, after the deck is changed, the player who takes pudges seat wins with pocket Aces after an ace hits the flop. Karma?

I spend the next hour missing pudge and losing $90 on a couple missed draws and bad beats. Ah well, I'll take my $10 win over 6 hours-- TJ Cloutier wrote that whenever he climbs out of a big hole, he feels like a winner-- and tonight, I feel like a winner.

PokerCharts gives me a nice little tidbit:
"STREAK: $255.00 W4 - I am on a 4 session winning streak for a total of 255.00 over 6 days."
That $10 win was nice for the stats, I suppose. My poker winnings are now at $1700, so I'm slowly creeping towards the $4K amount I am requiring myself in order to move up to $10-20 (this is the lowest non-raked game at HP... $7 per half hour, compared to a $4 drop!!! for the $6-12 game). I'm still along way from sitting in the top section... looking back at that $700 loss at HP is tough to stomach, but hey, that's variance for you.

Summary: I played ok, but I think I threw away about $100 on 4 or 5 hands where I knew I was beaten, and made horrible overcalls. However, I did make 2 good overcalls against the maniac. I'll give myself a 75% for the night-- of the 10 non-straightforward plays I had to make, I think I played 7 of them correctly. I know that I still have a long way to go, but I feel I'm learning every time I play. The more patterns I can see, the more lessons I will learn.
(1) Bluff reraises on the river can sometimes work in low-limit holdem if the pot is heads up and the players may fold.
(2) I made several bad overcalls. I need to be focused, and before I make an overcall, make sure that the players in the pot are the type to bet with top pair or worse, or determine if they are on a draw. This might be the biggest leak in my play.
(3) Position based starting hands requirements can be tricky at a loose-passive table. I was burned once or twice when my top pair with a decent kicker was beaten by top pair-good kicker (I remember my KTs losing to KQ). But I also took a few pots when my Ace-Middle kicker beat one or two Ace-Low kicker. I think the rule of thumb here is that with A8 or better and no one has raised at a loose passive table, you can assume you have the best kicker. However, when the top pair is a picture card, be careful of being outkicked. So you can carefully play your A9 from early position if you don't fear a pre-flop raise, but be careful with your suited picture cards.

Ok, 2 weeks of no poker while the in-laws are here... I don't know if I can survive!

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