Thursday, October 28, 2010

Texas Hold'em at Harrah's New Orleans

Generally speaking, I don't enjoy cash poker as much as I do tournament poker.  Tournament poker is essentially "knock-out" poker, but cash poker is just that - CASH poker.  Getting knocked out in cash poker means something entirely different - specifically, it means that you're broke. 

The psychology of poker changes from tournament to cash poker too.  In cash poker, guys (and girls) can force you to make decisions with all of your money.  Mis-played hands can lead to going broke very quickly.  Two days ago, at the Harrah's Casino, in New Orleans, I played beside a young guy that was throwing $100's down like they were $1's.  I wanted to try and keep track of the money he was losing, but I lost count at around $800, and he was still there after I left.

I've played poker and won at the Bellagio.  I've been up an down at the Chumash in Santa Ynez, California.  The Winstar, in Oklahoma, is still keeping a few hundred dollars of mine warm.  But my time at Harrah's New Orleans is by far the most memorable poker I've ever played.  The Bellagio is my favorite venue so far, but the experience in New Orleans was the most educational poker I've ever played.

I played $1 / $2 No Limit Hold'em starting in the late afternoon / early evening.  All day leading up to that, I didn't drink any alcohol.  I took a power nap before walking to the casino.  While I was attending the educational sessions earlier in the day, all I could think about was poker.  This day, I was finally going to really get to do what I went to do - play uninterrupted poker (see my previous blog about Poker in New Orleans if you want those details).

So, I sat down at the table.  I had a great spot at the very end of the table, to the right of the dealer.  I could see everyone.  I could watch and observe everything.  Lots of people like to sit directly in front of the dealer, but not me.  I want to see my opponents without needing to turn my head and make it so obvious.  Immediately, I found out that this was going to be an aggressive table.  Bet, raise, re-raise, fold (me).

There was a very old guy at the table, probably about 85 years old, give or take.  He was the clear big stack at the table.  He appeared to have about $1,000 in front of him when I sat down.  Some smaller chip stacks at the table, at that time, averaged about $400 and the larger stacks (other than the old man) averaged about $600 or $700.  Me?  I sat down with $300 and an immediate and very obvious disadvantage.

Throughout the evening, I played at this table with around 25 different guys.  Nobody sat down with less money that me.  Many of them were locals and knew each other.  Those guys clearly played together regularly.  I heard several of them talking about something that happened last week and saying they would see each other again in a few days.  It felt like that scene in rounders when Matt Damon and Ed Norton went to the casino and sat at a table with some other guys they knew and took money all night long from lesser players.  Was I the lesser player?  Probably.

In New Orleans, I played with some of the best players I've ever played with.  Aggression was the theme of the table.  No free cards.  No limp-ins.  But still, lots and lots of draw chasing.  I couldn't believe all of the guys betting $50 or more after the turn, hoping to hit their draws on the river.  It was really maddening.  Once, I flopped 2 pairs and made big bets at each stage with 2 callers.  After the river, I didn't believe my final opponent, so I bet, he raised, and I called.  He hit his INSIDE straight.  So sick!

The old man was taking everyone's money all night long.  He was either hitting everything or he was bluffing often.  I figured him for bluffing often.  So, in another hand, I flopped 2 pairs and made a large bet.  He called.  There was an Ace on the flop (not one of my pairs).  So, I had him on an Ace with a big kicker.  Turn was insignificant.  I bet, he called.  River was even less significant.  I bet, he raised, I re-raised all in.  I won and I was up for the first time all night.  (By the way, he had AQ off).

After that, I lost fairly consistently.  I made bets, but ultimately my hands weren't good enough to continue calling ridiculous raises and re-raises.  So, I donated quite a bit until I finally got pocket A's.  Thank God for that hand because it kept me in the game for a few more hours.  I played the way I had played all night long - relatively weak and irritated.  I was the small blind.  By the time the betting got back around to me, it was at $30, and I very uncomfortably just called.  (Just the be clear, the only think actually uncomfortable was the idea of other people folding.)

Flop:  A 2 2.  Unless someone was holding pocket 2's, this hand was mine.  I'm first to act.  So I checked with that look of discomfort.  Another guy bet $30 more and the guy on the button raised it to $50.  I thought about my options (again very uncomfortably) and finally just called after what seemed to me like minutes, when it was actually only about 15 seconds.  The other guy folded and it was heads up for the turn and the river.  I checked the turn and "button boy" bet $40.  I hesitantly called.  The river came and I bet $40.  By this point, I had about $65 left and "button boy" raised me all in.  I VERY uncomfortably (wink, wink) called and said, "I hope you don't have pocket 2's." 

He threw down 2 3 suited and was certain he won with a set of 2's until I showed my pocket rockets.  Full House!  I was up BIG at that point and the other guys at the table who seemed to all know him and each other gave him hell for the next couple of hands to follow.  I tried to hold in my excitement, but I'm sure it showed in my shaky hands as I folded the next hand.

Later, I played A K off really big and got folds all around to win about $75.  Other than that, I won some small hands and lost some small and big hands.  I won't lie to you.  By the end of my night, I was busted out.  I walked away from that table with zero (although I still had plenty of money to throw back down if I chose to). 

Here's the thing though.  Even though I lost, in my 3 days there, $265 total, I sat at that table Tuesday night for 6 hours and played with some of the best players I've ever faced.  It took these guys 6 hours to take me out and you better believe that I told them all that very thing as I was standing up with a smile on my face after being finished off by a pair of queens over my 10's.  "Well guys, you got me.  It took 6 hours though.  You better practice up for next time."  It got a good laugh, but I'm still smiling today - 2 days later.

I could have quit half way into my evening and been up relatively big.  Then, my story would be about going to New Orleans and winning.  That would have been a good story, but this one is better.  I never thought I would walk away a winner anyway.  That's just me being honest.  I wanted to sit back and play for hours and I got to do that.  What I realized throughout the evening is that I just wanted to stay in the game and keep playing with these guys that were way better than me.  I wanted to last as long as I could last.  I stayed in the game for 6 hours.  I didn't get up to go to the restroom.  I didn't get up for drinks.  The waitress brought me water and Sugar Free Red Bull throughout the night.  The Chinese place delivered egg rolls to me at my table.  I sat there and played undistracted poker for 6 hours.  I got my good plays in and I made some stupid plays.  It was a great education in aggressive poker and I'm still smiling.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Poker in New Orleans

I'm so excited because I'm leaving tomorrow for a 4 day business conference in New Orleans.  I should get to my hotel around 4pm, listen to a speaker, and then hit the casino.  My hotel is 0.2 miles from Harrah's.  My plan is simple and relaxing:  put $200 on the table, kick back, and fold hand after hand until I get good starting hands.  No mid-level hands.  Sure as heck no low hands.  Pocket pairs, suited face cards, AK, probably AQ, maybe even 10 J suited.  I won't have to rush.  I can play as long as I feel like playing.  My co-workers won't need to wonder where I am if I'm not with them.  Just find me at the poker room at the Harrah's.  I hope there's plenty of coffee at the conference each morning and I'll need to find a place to buy sugar free Red Bull.

Where's Chris?  He was just standing right here.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Texas Holdem Game Adjustments

I haven't written anything in 2 or 3 weeks.  During that time, I have just broken even in Friday Night Poker, while having probably my 2nd worst game streak in over a year.  My winning prior to that could best be described as total dominance, but I've been rattled by distractions that turned my poker brain upside-down.  Lately, when I've won, it's been ugly and when I've lost, it's been a result of stupid play and an utter disregard for my own personal "rules".  But, I've been lucky to break even.

I've used this down time as an opportunity to grow my game and I've made some mental adjustments that should be very helpful in the long-run.  I have been playing a lot of online cash poker and I spent a few hours in the poker room at the Winstar Casino.  I've also done my normal routine of watching every hand played on TV.  A primary adjustment that I'm making is aggressive betting - raising and re-raising, but not only with predictably good hands like, KK, QQ, AA, or JJ.  I've paid special attention to the game style of Tom Dwan.  Now, I understand that his style alone probably is not going to have long-term benefits, but it does serve as a nice change-up.  I might, for example, play 6-8 suited like it's a pair of Q's, especially in the right position.  Unpredictability is another game adjustment that I need to make.  This style of play should be particularly good for that change-up.

In the past, I've shown too many of my hands after winning hands and I've confirmed when other players called my hands correctly.  That has to stop.  From now on, I'll only show my hands if I feel that doing so has some strategic value.  Otherwise, you have to pay to see.

Finally, I'm going to try to play fewer overall hands.  I read once that Hellmuth said that you should only be in about 20% of flops.  So, I'm going to fold a little more often, but I also read that when betting, roughly 50% of bets should be raises so that you're not playing against so many opponents in a hand.  Both of these things will help me with unpredictability and aggressiveness.

Of course, we'll see how this ultimately plays out at the table.  The distractions are mostly gone now.  I'm acutely aware of my recent stupid game-play.  And, I've run my losing hands thru my head over and over and over again.  So, I think the winning should start back up again.  We'll see.

Stay tuned.