Friday, January 18, 2008

Vegas Poker Report: I

I got back from Las Vegas Tuesday night, after two and a half straight days of poker. The trip went well; I played some of my best poker while I was there, and managed to make my monthly "nut" in only nine sessions. Here's a recap of some notable hands, players, and wombat death squads I encountered while there.

Sunday

I arrive at 2 pm, check into the MGM (room courtesy of L. Thanks, man!), and take a cab to the Bellagio. I check out their Omaha H/L game, thinking I'll start there. Unfortunately, it's 30/60--too big for my present bankroll. I decide to play No Limit Hold'em, and I walk to Caesar's. I prefer Caesar's poker room to the Bellagio because it's quieter and less crowded. Caesar's also has nine players to a table; the Bellagio has ten. I have long legs (and a beak); I prefer nine.

My strategy for the week is simple: buy in at every table for 300$, play until I've doubled up, leave, and repeat. I wouldn't say that I'm confident this will work, but I do feel like my No Limit cash game has gotten significantly better in the last six months. I've made a lot of small changes to the way I play, I've gotten much better and avoiding tilt, and I think I'm just generally more confident in my own reads. But it's poker. Anything can happen.

The session at Caesar's goes more or less as planned. My second hand at the table is JJ. An early position player raises to 30$: I reraise to 70$, trying to test his hand. If he comes back over the top, I'll give him credit for an overpair and fold. However, he just calls. The flop comes all rags; he checks, and I bet 120$. He thinks for a long time and folds. I assume he has AK.

I move seats a few hands later to be on the left of the table's resident action player. A backwoods kid from Arkansas with a strong Southeastern accent, he's playing at least 50% of his hands preflop, and calling down on all three streets with middle or bottom pair. He's also hitting hands; he has at least 1500$ in front of him. He tells the table that he's a tournament player new to cash games who really has no idea what he's doing. I'm not sure if he's being honest or trying to set us up. He's not a donkey, I don't think--just a loose player who likes action.

A few hands later, Arkansas boy puts me to the test. I'm dealt AA in middle position and raise it to 30$. Three people call, including him. The flop comes 10/10/7. The first two players check and Arkansas leads into me for 80.00$. Based on his play so far, I'm fairly certain my Aces are good (I don't think he's trick enough to bet out here). My worry, though, is that one of the blind players has a 10, and has decided to check-raise. I call, resolving to fold if one of the first two players reraises. Happily for me, they both fold. Arkansas checks the turn (a blank) and I go all-in for another 200+ dollars. He harasses me a little and then folds. An hour later I win another decent pot when an older player calls me on the flop with bottom pair, hits two pair on the river, and pays off my set. This is why you don't call flop bets with a pair of threes, boys and girls. Also why leading out when you've flopped a set is often a good idea. You get value, and you often paradoxically disguise the strength of your hand. Up 300+, I cash out and walk back to the Bellagio.

Unsurprisingly, the table I'm assigned at the Bellagio is fairly strong. A know-it-all to my left is giving poker lessons to another player (to his left)--teaching him the intricacies of semi-bluffing, probe bets, and so forth. I hope to take him down; I feel like he's got too much ego for his own good (though he's very friendly). He turns out to be a decent player, however, and refuses to pay me off when I make fours full of jacks against him in a big blind hand.

One great improvement I see in my cash game over the last year is the way I play AK. In tournaments (which is really where I learned to play Hold'Em), reraising in middle and late positions with this hand is often the right play. In cash games, though, I think it pays to play AK very softly. It rarely wins you big pots, anyway: when a Ace is on the flop and there's significant action, it's more likely that someone has two pair than an Ace with a worse kicker. If you play it too fast preflop you're likely to scare off the very hands you want in the pot with you--AJ, A10, etc. Also, if you play it slow preflop, you don't feel any need to continue on after you miss. (How many people have gone broke trying to represent a big pair with AK after a ragged flop?)

My new handling of AK helps me a win a significant pot after about an hour at the Bellagio. An early position player raises to 30.00$, and a middle position player--a French kid who's been running well--calls. I have AKo and elect to call. The flop comes K 4 8. Early position checks and Frenchy bets 40.00$. I call. Although a reraise here isn't terrible, I don't want to commit myself too deeply to the hand just yet. It's possible Early Position is planning a check raise with AA or KK. It's possible Frenchy has a set, too. People assume you need to reraise to gain information from opponents, but often a call is just as effective--and much cheaper.

Early position folds. The turn is a 3. Frenchy checks. I feel confident at this point that he has a King--I put him on KJ or KQ--and try to figure out how I can bet and still get called. I bet 55.00$; he calls in a heartbeat. The river in a 6. He checks again; I bet 100.00$. He again calls quickly and tables K10. Mon ami! You can't play K10 in middle position to a raise! I probably could have bet much more on both streets, in retrospect. Like many good but not great mid-limit players, Frenchy can't fold top pair. My win here comes through his poor pre- and post- flop play, not my own skill, but that's fine. A win is a win. By the way, note that a preflop reraise here almost certainly scares off K10 and therefore wins me a much smaller pot. On the other hand, if a 10 appears on the turn or river, I'm in trouble. I was ready to slow down if a J or Q came off, but no way do I think he's stuck around all that way with just a 10.

Next time: I face off with a Stereotype and play Omaha High.

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