Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Poker II

I first experienced casino poker in Lake Charles, Louisiana in 2003. (Actually in 1999, I lost 100.00$ playing 3/6 Limit at the Excalibur in Vegas, but that was before I knew how to play.) I drove there on a Friday afternoon, through the traffic-clogged pine forests of East Texas (immortalized in the mature work of Veronese). I checked into the Holiday Inn, drove to the casino, and played 3/5 No Limit till 4 A.M. The next day, I woke, played some more, and drove home. My total profit, minus hotel fees, was $500.00. At the time, it was a fortune. I felt like I'd gotten away with something. I felt like I'd committed a crime.

Last night, at the poker room I frequent in Houston I won $500.00 in four hours. But it was nothing like my first time, at the Lake. It was a letdown. Their Pot-Limit Omaha/8 game is so soft, so donkey-laden, that a three-digit win is really a loss. It’s like being given a ticket to a 95 flavor, all-you-can-eat, ice cream buffet and only trying two scoops of vanilla. Vanilla’s fine. It’s what the Incans ate. (Not really). But all those other flavors. The goat! The sea eel! The spotted orchid! And all I had was the vanilla?

Last week I described a hand I misplayed. This time I’ll describe one I think I played well. Or at least, not badly. (Of course, without seeing your opponents’ cards, you never know for sure how well you played.)

Date: 5/23/07
Game: PLO/8
Blinds: 1/2
Location: Leopard Lounge

My hand: 10s Jc Qh Ks

Thad the Donkey Prince makes his standard preflop raise of $10.00 from first position (likely holding: Ad 7h 8c Qs). Four people call. On the button, I also call. My hand has zero low potential, of course, but it has the ability to scoop the whole pot if high cards come. Thad’s bet means nothing. He raises five out of six hands he plays. I'm in position and there are lots of callers in front of me. It's an obvious call.

The flop: 6d 7h 8c

At this point, I’m done with the hand. A low exists; I don’t have it. Only one card—a nine—can help me; even then, it only gives me half the pot. The reason I make money in this game while people like Thad do not is because I follow the first rule of Omaha/8: never seat two members of the French Aristocracy next to each other at state functions.

That's not right.

The first rule, in fact, is: only play to scoop. (“Scoop” means win the entire pot, an outcome that’s possible only if your hand has low and high cards in it, or if no low exists.)

To my surprise, all five of the other players check in front of me. I check as well.

The turn: 9s

Money. I’ve just hit my inside straight. I have the nut high—the best possible high hand. The problem is that I have no low. I’m only going to win half the pot, and in Omaha/8, half pot wins are for suckers.

Someone—either Thad or the player after him—bets fifteen dollars. Two players call. The pot is about a hundred and twenty dollars. I reason as follows:
....If someone out there had a good low hand (A2, or even A3), wouldn’t they have bet the flop? Surely the A2 at least would have bet? (I don’t think the A2 should bet here, necessarily, but I also know the players in this game. If one of them had it, they’d bet it).
....With the exception of Thad, the other players remaining are smart and solid.
....Everyone at that table has pegged me as a super tight. My reputation is that I only play the Nuts. I have never once been caught bluffing. I have never once bet without the nuts, usually both ways. (Why I still get action, I don’t know).

The action comes to me. I raise the pot (130.00$).

As hoped, everybody folds.

As I scoop the pot, one of the other players asks, “how does it feel to have both the nut straight and the nut low?”

I say: “Pretty damn good, SUCK-A.”

Then I danced my funky jive chicken dance. It involved getting into a chicken suit, with an afro, and surfer pants. But it’s worth it.

No—I said nothing. I never call any attention to myself at a poker table.

By no stretch of the imagination could this bet qualify as a great stroke of brilliance; probably it was one that many people at the table would have made. Certainly it was one that many of the players at my home game—which is far, far harder than the Leopard—would have made.

Still, it did win me an entire pot, even though I had no low. I suspect that several people in the hand folded lows: 3/5, 2/4s, and the like. Since they were weak, their lows couldn’t stand to call a pot-sized bet, especially given the likelihood that I held both a high and low hand. (This is another of the many reasons not to play weak lows: even if they’re the best hand, they can’t call any large bets.)

This bet would never have worked in a Limit Omaha/8 game. Whatever I bet on the turn would comprise only a fraction of the total pot. Any reasonable low—probably even some unreasonable ones (3/5)—would likely hang around till the river, and I wouldn’t have been able to scoop.

The potential to push out mediocre lows with a made high hand is a crucial element of PLO8 strategy. It’s why I slant my play much more towards making high hands than making low ones. It’s also why I carry my “funky jive chicken” costume with me to games. People ask me, “T, what is that giant styrofoam beak sticking up out of your clothes?”

And I say: I have a thyroid condition.

And they feel ashamed.


Cartooniste said...

i saw a documentary years and years ago about a poet traveling across the united states, and one of his stops of course was vegas. he hung out with a few professional poker players, and they talked about the fact that they had played poker so long that they didn't enjoy it any more. it was like any other eight hour a day job, they said.
do you worry, t, that too much pro poker might make you joyless in some regard? i guess anything has that potential. but i wonder what your thoughts are.

Tim said...

K--It's an insightful question. My experience accords with the pro players in the documentary you mention. The more I play, the less I like it. And, the more I play, the worse I play. If I play once a week, I can play well. Twice a week, pretty well. Beyond that, it does start to grind. (One nickname for pro players, you might be interested to know, is "grinders.") The dirty little secret about playing poker is how unbelievably boring it is most of the time. Not just boring, unpleasant. Grouchy, sleazy people in smoky rooms talking about money and sex. It's unbearable. What redeems poker, for me, is the mental and emotional challenge of it. And, of course, the money.

Kate said...

interesting. do you think that it will always retain the same degree of challenge? i suppose you also play many different kinds of poker, which probably helps to mix things up. different pot-odds, strategy, whathaveyou.
the conversation must grow horrible though. if i had to have the kinds of conversations held during a sailing regatta every day, all day, as part of my job i would probably chew off my own leg.