Saturday, November 18, 2006

Mirror, Mirror

So, after my last post, aren’t you curious about how I did in my live game?

I like Scott’s game in that it has the environment that plays to my strengths: 45 people or less, tournament freeze-out, with a fair number of players who think they are good. I like tournament structures far better than cash games for two reasons. The first is that I feel that I am strategically sound, and that too many players concentrate on just tactics. The second is that in a tournament where there are 5 tables or less, you occasionally find yourselves short-handed and I feel that plays to more of my strengths. I enjoy the level of competition, so I look forward to Scott’s game. I had missed the last two months, and wondered how quickly I could get a read on players.

I drew table 2. To my left was a lady who was mechanically sound, but not good enough to get away from top pair. Next (left) was a guy who reminded me of all poker players two years ago. He knew the mechanics of the game, and could outplay a novice, but you could read his play like a book. Next was an older gentlemen who did not “get out of line”. He would occasionally stab at an uncontested pot. Next was an empty chair that would later be filled by Mr. Purple. He knew what he was doing, but… Next was a young woman who I knew nothing about. Over the course of the night, I tagged her as a “lady in waiting”. She would wait for hands that had the potential for big gains, and sometimes even make –EV calls to see if she could win a big pot. And when she hit, she invariably got paid off. Next was the Cobra, a good player and previous winner, but when I play a big pot with him, I try to act weak (like Columbo) so that I can disguise my intents. To my right was a guy who was me last year. A better player, who know his stuff. Odds, when to push, etc. But he did not read others particularly well, so I figured he would struggle in the later rounds.

I played simple, by the book poker. I am up maybe 5% and I get dealt AA. A make a minor raise (the table was currently tight was rockets) and got two callers. I flopped a set, and Cobra was interested in the pot. To confuse him, I checked the flop behind him, knowing that he would bet out on the turn. He made a good sized bet on the turn card and my raise put him in the tank. He eventually folded.

The very next hand I decided to call a 3x pre-flop with 44 because I had enough chips that I felt I could take that chance. I hit the set and let the lady to my left with top pair bet off ALL her chips. She lamented her bad luck.

At the break, I had a Q of over 2. And I notice something too, I am playing detached and emotionless, almost like I didn’t care. But I did. I was just concentrating on being competent and waiting for opportunities.

Table breaks. I am now sitting down with slightly higher than average stack, and Cobra is now on my left. Table is tight aggressive and there are some familiar faces. To Cobra’s left, is an unknown. Next is the host, an aggressive player who can often get into kicker problems. Another unknown. Frank from my table earlier. Next a woman who is mechanically sound, but does not read players. And the three players to my right that I did not expect to be factors, but had no reads on them. I get involved in a hand when its folded around to me (9 handed) and I raise 3xBB with AJ. The SB calls and the BB goes all in. Well, it’s not that much more (another 2xBB) and I call. The SB now also goes all-in and I realize my mistake. I got caught in a squeeze. BUT, the SB could not make the bet because the BB could not make a complete raise. But I know the money is going in. The flop is 3 blanks and the SB throws in his 2xBB remaining. What am I going to do? Fold? Mathematically, I had to call this. The BB had A8s, and the SB Cobra? He had AK. We all missed the flop and its lotto time. The J on the turn and the 8 on the river results in me taking all those chips. Now, what I don’t know at this point is that one of the three players on my right is from Scott’s other monthly game and this guy has a ton of poker experience. He has seen this hand…

We are now at the final table and seats are changed.

Fast forward to 6 left. I have bled down to average after folding a lot and having one hand where I tangled with Jim, who would not lay down his pocket sixes. I had to throw away my AK after stabbing on the flop and Jim calling. We take a short break and I start my usual worrying about making it past the bubble (pays 4 places). Then, it dawns on me. THAT IS BULLSHIT. This is what I wanted. This is what I ENJOY. This is the time that separates the pretenders from the closers. I decide that I am not going to now ruin the entire evening by trying to do anything but play well. I sit back down and resume my detached and concentrated self. I have been listening to music this entire tournament also, not standard for me. I also took no notes, as I wanted to just concentrate on playing. Both seemed like good choices in retrospect.

On my left, a guy I know nothing about… yet. Next, the young lady from my first table. Then Jim, who I know to do a notorious “looker upper” (see above). The host, who can not seem to change gears as the field thins. Boone, a talkative player, who occasionally steps out of line and occasionally lectures people on their play. He talks during hands he is not in (not a good thing to do). He also is observant of what cards you play. I always make sure I pre-flop raise with a marginal hand at least once to remind him to watch out for me. The solid lady is on my right, but I am not too worried as she is the short stack.

Boone sees two limpers and makes it 3xBB to go from the button. The SB folds and I look down at AK. I am out of position and bleeding, this is a good time to push back at Boone. For all his aggression, he is what I call a viper. He strikes often and aggressively, but he often retreats when slapped back with a big re-raise. All this weighs into my thinking, and since my Q is about .8 and the pot already has enough chips to add 20% to my stack AND take me back to a Q of 1, I decide this opportunity is too good to waste. I go all in, knowing that I get to see all 5 if he calls. He goes into the tank and he is sure I have an upper pair like TT or JJ. Does he want to race with his Ax? After MUCH time, he folds (bad for me?) and I scoop the pot and confirm my TT. Then, he says he does not like the way I played the hand. He would have called with TT and played after the flop. I stated that I felt that was a mistake as most flops are danger cards for TT and the pot was already big enough that I felt the 10k in chips was worth taking down. He says it was foolish to risk 30k to win 10k. I said, I felt it was foolish to risk 10k when I could apply the pressure now and make him fold. Of course the entire conversation was actually theory, as I never had the TT.

Play is tight. I am not maneuvering a lot, but still awaiting good opportunities. I make a few well timed steals, but I am still bleeding more chips than I am accumulating. I have a slightly below average stack when its folded around to the Woman on right (on the button I think). She limps and I look down at my second big pair of the night. The big AA. I make a 2.5xBB raise, like I am trying to steal because she limped on the button. When the BB folds, she goes all in and I call so fast that I must have reminded everyone of Phil Helmuth. She had Ax and I take down a big hand. 5 left.

A few hands later, Boone is taking across the table with the young woman about favorite hands. Hers is T7s, his is J9. As he says this, he limps from the button. I look down at J9 on the button. I actually snicker out loud and call. The flop is KQT. I flopped the nuts. Boone stabs at the pot with JT and I raise but look weak. He puts me all in and I quickly call. Two blanks and I am the chip leader.

We are now three handed, well past the bubble. We push chips around the table for about 30 minutes and everyone is wondering why it’s not over. But I know. It’s because I have twice the chips as either of them, and I don’t intend to double them up. Plus, I have time as the blinds are not hurting me. But the guy is VERY aggressive and has re-raised me all-in at least twice when I entered the pot from the button for 3xBB. He feels very confident.

And here it gets REALLY interesting. The host suggests we make a deal. Now its about $745 for first, $400 for second and about $295 for third. A total of about $1400 (sic). The player on my left (who is the guy from Scott’s other game) suggests $450, $450, $500 and it doesn’t take me long to find the flaw with this math. I say, in a matter of factly, bored voice, “that doesn’t make any sense, as I have twice the chips you guys have”. His response was something to affect that I was not sure to win and that the $500 was a guarantee. I counted my chips and said, “I have a little over 120k”. (they had about $50-$60 each). And his response? “Well, what would you want?”. I say “ $600” (it was late and I thought it was enough.) HE SCOFFS. (WHY?) Then, he says this gem:

“Well, we can play it out if you guys want, but I feel like I am the best player here”.

I was very proud of what happened next. Nothing. I did not flinch, make a face, or say a word. I just watched with almost disinterest. Let’s go. But then the lady says something brilliant. Why not split it and give him the $600 and then we’ll put in $50 a piece and finish the tournament winner-take-all. I could not agree fast enough. This is a GREAT deal for me. First of all, I got the $600 at no further risk. Secondly, if I win it all, I win nearly the same amount I would have for first anyway. And third, this guy now wanted to back up his words, and this was a way to make sure he could.

We start playing again, and the guy continues his aggression. Its then I realize what is going on. He thinks he is FAR better than us. He thinks we were both gotten lucky to get here. He saw a couple of hands where he thought we came from behind or just got lucky and thought he could easily out play us. Wow. (I found out later, that he too took down one or two big pots from behind and had nothing on us). I decide that with the blinds they way they are and with my big stack, I needed to parry the aggression and not allow these guys to play post flop. I was going to wait for opportunity. And I wanted to knock the lady out first. A couple of times I folded good hands to raises, including a REALLY tight fold with TT. After 20 more minutes of this, I realize I need to take more stands. I get raised by the young lady and I figure she can do this is any two face cards. I call with A6s, only to see a better Ax. But I hit the 6 on the turn, and she is out.

I have a 3 to 1 chip lead and when my lone remaining opponent raises, I realize I no longer wish to play pre-flop for the chips. I want to change gears again, wanting to see flops. I call his raise with 64s. The flop is 763 and I flop middle pair, a belly buster straight draw and a back door flush draw. He makes a big bet and all the money goes in. I feel I am probably ahead here and that he has two big cards. Nope, he had a 7. But the turn is a 5 and its over. If he wins that hand, we are heads up with close to even stacks.

But, that’s the danger in poker. Chips are power, especially in a tournament. I can afford from a single hand to not go my way, your opponent cant. And in LARGE field tournaments, you have to take so many chances to get those big stacks that its often the suicide players that end up with the stacks. But when you play 5 tables or less, you can accumulate chips without getting your money in behind. Just one or two hands go your way, and you can out maneuver your opponents when they have marginal hands. It’s all the difference in the world.

There was no celebration. Not so much as a smile on my face. It was simply business. I finished the tournament the same way I started it, with little emotion or excitement. I went to work, did my best, and then I go home.

So, there it is. I go in and take home the bacon. Did I play amazingly great? No. Did I play the best poker ever? No. Did I play a good tournament, mixing tactics and strategy, taking chances at the right time, and make careful observations of my opponents? Yes, I did.


James said...

Intriguing read. Very nice to have such a clear description of all the considerations and thought processes during your game. Reminds me that I should be trying to get to where I can play like that. Good stuff.

Anonymous said...

Awesome post.

You should come play with us at the next Pokerpalooza!

Rumor has it that we may do another one in Chicago in January.

I'll keep you posted!

Geoff said...

"I look down at J9 on the button. I actually snicker out loud and call. The flop is KQT. I flopped the nuts."

Second nuts.