I played poker tonight…

Posted by in Poker

…and it went well –

It’s been a long week and a rough, rough day. I went from seeing the check engine light come on to seeing smoke coming from the hood of my precious baby Mustang in far too brief of a time period. When the mechanic comes out and asks you if “your car is that little blue one” and when you reply yes, then says “I’m sorry”, you know the rest of what he says is probably not going to be pretty. (And quit your male assumptions – I took it in as soon as the damn light came on.)

So, despite the fact that I have more than enough to do this weekend, I felt a little relaxation was in order. I caught up on everything I had Tivo’d this past week, sans the WSOP episodes, and then decided to read a bit before I went to bed. But what to read, what to read…should I go with the responsible choice, and read about the formation of the Black Church? Or continue my evening of decadence and select one of the many poker-related titles from my bookshelf? “Well, self” I thought, “If you’re just going to read about poker, why not actually play it instead?” Well what a great idea!

But what to play? I keep going back and forth between limit and no-limit, which isn’t the best move, I know. I’m conflicted – most of the great players I know started playing limit and still do, while I know great no-limit players that never even touched it. On the one hand I feel like I need to “do the time” and really learn limit. On the other, I started playing no-limit, it’s what I’ve been focusing on for over a year, and I don’t know that taking time off from it to really focus on limit would do me much good. Plus, I really enjoy tournaments and have being doing quite well in them lately. Any tournament I enter is going to be no-limit, because I think I would likely die from boredom playing a limit event, possibly from a self-inflicted wound.

Since my last time playing limit didn’t go so well, I decided to head for more familar waters. I wasn’t really in the mood for a ring game, and given that this was a pre-bed activity, I didn’t want to get involved in a tournament. That left the SnG option, which I hadn’t done in quite a while.

Here’s my other problem – lately, I’ve noticed I really have no concern at all for the money. I can lose half my bankroll, and not get the slightest bit worked up about it. If it was losses due to my crappy play, well, then I have no one else to blame. If it was due to suck-outs and other random bad beats, well, that’s poker. And wins? Well, they’re great of course, but I want them BIG. (I think I may have a gambling problem…) But the only place I’m encountering 160BB pots is at the blogger table on Stars, and even then it’s only $16.

So is this Level 3? I wouldn’t say I’m bored per se, and I certaintly don’t think I no longer have room for improvement; in fact I continue to actively work to improve. But the fact that I haven’t played in so long, or had an opportunity to play…doesn’t really bother me. And the fact that it doesn’t bother me is sometimes a little concerning – am I really committed to this? Is my heart really in it? Have I lost the passion, or, shocker of shocks – perhaps matured to the point where I realize I don’t have to be playing all the time?

I do know I’m antsy, and keep thinking of BadBlood’s “statis=death” post. I don’t know that I feel challenged anymore – I know when I lose a pot, it’s 9 times out of 10 because of something I did, usually calling bets I knew I shouldn’t have. (Lack of discipline continues to be my biggest weakness). If my biggest opponent is myself, whom I’ll always have to deal with, why not take my game to a bigger limit, where I will (hopefully, ideally) encounter new challenges, in the form of opponents that are thinking on higher levels?

Thus my decision tonight to play a $20 SnG. And yes, I know…”ooohhh, $20, big money!”. Keep in mind though, that up until a few months ago, I was playing at a max $25 buy-in NL table. And I’ve always had the mental block that in playing a tournament, I was dead money, and my buy-in was going to be gone, so I rarely wanted to put up more than $10. But in those precious few moments where I can slip away to read something non-governmental, I’ve been boning up on strategy and the like, and, as we often do when we’re not playing, really thinking more about the way I play.

So, I signed up, sat down, and played. When playing online, I have a hard time reading people, paying attention to betting patterns, and doing all those other little things you should do in a game. It’s easier for me to do it in a live game, since you have that human element right there for you to focus in on and assign attributes to. It’s easier (for me at least) to say “Oh, that’s a raise from Scott, my KJs is probably still good” than it is to say “Hmmm…a raise from Donkey7564…I know nothing about him…I should be safe and fold”. Yes, there are online tells, but live ones are (in my opinion) easier to pick up on.

So, despite a minor (welcome) distraction from three hot guys, I made an effort to pay closer attention to the other players. The table donkey was easy to pick out, the conservative players too. It’s the ones in the middle that are tricky.

I made a few mistakes…I got heads-up with the maniac at times I didn’t want to (the “can’t bluff a calling station” rule so easily escapes memory at times) and I tangled with the player I had pegged as the most conservative – that cost me some chips. At the time however, we were heads-up for the win.

I’ve always loved playing heads-up. I like to think I’m kinda good at it too, although I have been knocked off my pedestal a few times. In this game, when it was down to two, I was the short stack with T3270, and my opponent (whom my assessment of proved to be correct) was well in the lead with T11,730. Was I intimidated by his nearly 4-1 chip lead? Yea, just a little.

I have this silly little problem where I automatically assume any move I make against a player I know to be better than myself is going to be wrong. I psych myself out of winning; get intimidated and think that automatically I’m going to lose every race, that my raises will be called down, that my bluffs will be seen through, that it’s a karmic way of making sure the balance of power in the poker universe is maintained. (Interestingly, I’ve had the privilege of playing two greats heads-up…but only one of them intimidated me).

In this case, since my opponent had me so out-chipped, didn’t that mean he was clearly better than me? I mean, he had all the chips…

It only took me a few hands to dispel that notion. Not because of anything he did, but because of my realization that I had a huge mountain to climb if I wanted to improve my standing from what it was. I could bust out on the next hand, or five hands later – there would be no difference in prize money, unless I won first. So when my raise with AJs was re-raised, I didn’t assume I was up against a high pocket pair and folded, I came over the top and went all-in. So when my opponent showed 88, and the flop came Ace high, I was rather pleased with myself – win or lose, I had made the right move. Winning the pot of course doubled me up, and closed the cavernous gap between our two stacks.

My big mistake came a few hands later. I had 3h5s in the SB, and completed to see the flop of Jd Tc 5c. Blinds are 50/100, and the bet to me is 100, which I raise to 500. I get called, which should have clued me in that um, my bottom pair shitty kicker was no good. Turn is Qd, and another minimum bet to me, which I again raise (cause you know, I didn’t quite get the message last time) and am again called. Here it finally kicks in that I am beat, however the river is the Qh, and when there is another minimum bet to me, it’s $100 to win $2600, so I call. My opponent had 8hTd, giving him middle pair off the flop, and again my biggest opponent (myself) has gotten in the way and cost me a chunk of chips.

I obviously managed to get it back and then some. Nothing really remarkable there – a few steals, a familar-looking betting into the winner move by my opponent, a little agression, and good ‘ole Ace-Ten.

It was the hand that gave me the 10K+ chip stack, and the final hand as well. Blinds still at 50/100, I have T10,640 and my opponent T4360. I raise to 450 pre-flop and get called. Flop is 2d Kh 3h, the bet is 900 to me, and I raise to 2000, mainly because I can. If he calls, that’s a sizable portion of his stack, and while I have outs, unless the turn is very kind, I’m probably beat. Turn is Ah, and my opponent goes all-in for 1910. He could have hit his draw, but even if I call and lose, I’m still okay with chips, and I don’t think he would have called my raise on the flop with just a draw. I put him on a piece of the flop, which my Ace has now made worthless. He shows 7c 3c (thank goodness it wasn’t a 2!) and the river comes 2c. (See???)

I finish my night quite pleased with myself and joined the boys in a little railbirding. (Go check G-Rob).

It’s always nice to win, even better when you’ve challenged yourself, even if in a small way. I still have decisions to make and issues to grapple with, but every time I see progress and improvement in myself it is a validation, and a reminder of why I love this game so much in the first place. I fear though, that I may be in a hurry to get more and more of those moments, and that perhaps that’s the wrong choice – that I should spend my time in the trenches even if it isn’t the most fulfilling thing. More on this to come. For now, it’s just nice to have something worthwhile to write about again. ๐Ÿ™‚