Thursday, March 29, 2012

When is a Spade a Spade?

" . . . I have a strong hand . . . you should fold . . ."

" . . . Will you show if I fold . . .?"

" . . . If you fold, I'll show . . ."

Live games involve lots of supposed tells.  Some are physical . . . some are verbal . . . and some can be gleaned from the manner in which the hand itself plays out.  When it comes to interpreting tells, perhaps the first question is: "am I really seeing what I think I'm seeing?

                                          Scott Seiver - Master of the "anti-tell"

Take the following example: A third heart hits the board on the river and:

(a) Player-A winces.  Is this an involuntary reaction to a bad card or an academy award effort from a player who just hit his flush and wants action? 

(b) Player-A gives a speech, e.g., "You hit your flush, didn't you?"  Is Player-A actually worried that you made your hand or his he trying to convince you that he was not drawing to the flush?  

Here's another over-simplified example: 

Suppose I bet a coordinated flop and Villain makes a quick call.  Now, its often thought that a quick call is indicative of being on a draw.  Therefore, I should consider the possibility that Villain is on a draw.  But, what if Villain knows what a quick call is suppose to represent (and thinks that I am good enough to know what a quick call is suppose to represent), so he actually snap-called with a made set?   What, if anything, can I (or should I) attempt to take away from my opponent's action?

The so-called verbal tells, such as the examples quoted above, provide perhaps the most stark example of the dilemma.  What does it really mean when a player asks, "will you show if I fold?"  What is he telling you?  What information is he trying to get from you?  Should you answer at all?  And, if you do, what's your response?

About six months ago, I was playing $1/2 NL at Harrah's AC on a Friday evening.  I had driven straight from work and had not changed clothes.  I was playing TAG and don't think I had said a single word at the table.  About an hour in, I get involved in a hand with a full blown poker superstar.  Kid was mid-twenties . . . hoodie . . . sunglasses . . . big headphones.  Talked a lot.  He was an insanely good player . . . He must be, just looking at him . . . And, by contrast, I'm sure I appeared to be dead money through his poker superstar, sun-protected, eyes . . .

I flop TPTK, but the board devolves . . . turn puts out a straight draw, and the flush hits on the river.  I'm out of position on the hand, but have been the aggressor throughout.  Ultimately, I turn my top pair into a semi-bluff and bet out approximately 3/4th the pot . . .  Poker superstar tanks and starts in with his best Daniel Negreanu impersonation: 

"Do you have x/x . . .?"

"If you had y/w, why would you have bet the flop . . .?

"I don't think you would have played the hand that way . . . "

"Your line makes nooooo sense . . ."

Finally, Superstar asks The Question:

"Will you show if I fold . . . ?"

Now, I knew the general gist of this question.  I mean, it didn't take 24 months on the WPT or an advanced degree in psychology to understand the point of the inquiry . . . at least at face value.  If I say "yes," it supposedly means I'm weak and I don't want a call.  If I say "no," it represents strength.  Nowadays, when people ask "the question," I give my best Scott Seiver and just stare forward and keep my mouth shut (I'm not that good a salesman or actor).  But on this occasion, I gave a response:  a simple, one word, "No."   Poker superstar pressed me further, but I invoked my fifth amendment right to STFU and did my best to ignore him.

Having gotten the information he ever-so-stealthily made a play for, poker superstar informed the table --  "that means he has it . . ." --  and proceeded to make a "brilliant," face-up, fold of his winning two-pair . . . (I resisted the urge to show my second best . . .).

The point of the story is this:  How does one make any sense of these types of comments?  When is a verbal tell really a reverse tell?  And is there such a thing as a "reverse-reverse tell?"  Isn't that just a form of so-called "level four thinking," i.e., what does my opponent think I think he thinks I have?  

For instance, I know that if I say, "I have a monster," that I am representing strength, which really means I'm weak.  But, what if I know that representing strength signals weakness, so I give the speech when I am strong?  And, what if I give the speech when I am actually weak, because I think that my opponent thinks that I know that the speech is suppose to represent weakness, so by giving it I must actually be strong?  You get the point . . . 

Going back to the poker superstar example above, while the hand was being played out, in my head I was thinking:  "does this little f*ck think I'm an idiot . . .?"  But, then again, I thought:  "wait . . . what if he doesn't think I'm an idiot?  What if he thinks I know what he's actually getting at?"  This is why I don't answer The Question any more.

When it comes to interpreting tells,  perhaps the first question that must be answered is simply, "when is a spade actually a spade?" 


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Line of the Month

I don't wear headphones at the tables.  Never have.  To me, table talk is part of what makes poker interesting.  While some tables offer little more than the constant noise of shuffling chips, others resemble a "home game" atmosphere with talk of poker, sports and any other number of topics.  And, of course, someone always has a story . . . Often times, when you are grinding out a six or seven hour session, the table talk is part of the fun.   Hell, some days, its the only fun. 

I was playing a session last Saturday at Del Park.  Although it was early afternoon, and the drinks were yet to really start flowing, the table was full of conversation.  It was dominated, mostly, by a young (26-ish) kid from Baltimore.  He talked.  And talked.  And talked some more.  Ultimately, he set himself up for one of the most classic lines I've heard at the tables to date.

Balt: "I've been here since 4:00 yesterday afternoon . . . almost 24 hours . . ."

Balt:  "I play poker for a living . . ."

Balt:  "I've mostly been playing poker; but I've played some black jack too.  And some craps."

Balt:  "OK.  I'll show one hand -- just this ONCE - so you know I'm not stealing . . ."

Balt:  "Just learned craps this morning.... It's confusing at first, but I think there are some good strategies."

Balt:  "I do OK at black jack, but I make most of my money at poker."  

Balt  "I don't have another job . . . THIS is my job . . ."

Balt:  "OK, I'll show this ONE time . . ."

You get the gist.  Eventually, Balt starts chatting the dealer up, largely due to the fact that the other nine of us at the table were tuning him out.  Balt starts asking the dealer about the requirements and qualifications for dealing.  The subject of the background check comes up.

Balt:  "Can you have a criminal record?"

Dealer: "Depends.  What do you have?"

Balt:  "Two felonies . . .  Grand theft both times"

Dealer:  "Yeah.  Not good."

Balt:  "Once was corporate.  Charges would have been higher but it was insured . . ."

Balt:  " . . . OK . . . I'm gonna show you just this once . . ."

Balt:  "That was a different lifetime, though . . ."

Balt:  " . . . this is my job now . . ."

A little while later, Balt gets involved in a big hand with the gentlemen to his right.  I'll call him "Hero."  A bet and a raise peflop . . . a flop bet and a call.  A check, check on the turn .  .  .  a river bet and Balt re-raises . . . Hero tanks . . .  A minute goes by.  Two minutes.  Balt starts talking about his hand:

Balt:  "You're beat.  You should definitely lay this down . . ."

Balt:  "I have a very big hand . . ."

Finally, Balt offers, "Trust me, if you fold, I'll show you my hand . . ."  To which Hero responds, with all the timing of a seasoned comedic pro: "Trust you?  You're a damn two time felon !!!

Every once in a while, someone at the table spits out a gem . . .  This was definitely one of those times . . .

Monday, March 26, 2012

Value Betting My Magical Ace

Spent the weekend playing a mix of cash and tournaments at Del Park, and made a quick stop at The Chuck Sunday morning on the way home.  It was not my finest weekend at the tables.  Not by a long shot.

Saturday, I played just over 5 hours of cash, from 11:00 am to 4:00pm.  Battled for 5 hours to keep within reach of my $300 buy-in despite having a rough stretch of cards.  I was forced to fold two turned straights when a bad river card hit and Villain lead out with a strong bet (one hand went to showdown which confirmed I was beat).  I lost a third turned straight when my jack-high (with 89) lost to Q9.  I lost with trips twice, as well.  I was as low as $130 at one point, but managed to bring the stack back to $250 with a bunch of well-timed continuation bets and steals.  I felt like I was playing good poker and, but for an awful run of cards, would have been well in the black.  Then, in a span of three hands, I gave it all away.

HAND 1:  I raise preflop with AQ clubs.  Four callers.  Flop comes down jack high and I float an $18 bet... We go three to the turn, which puts the second club on board.  Pot is around $100.  Under the Gun, who had checked-called the flop, shoves for $78.  Villain 2 calls $78 and has about $35 behind.  There's $260 in the pot.  I'm 18% to hit the river and a call gets me just better than 3 to 1.  No implied odds (Villain's $35 will go in on the river, but that's all that's left).  I fold and show the nut club draw, and tell the dealer, "make it painful." He promptly drops the 5 of clubs and obliges.  Why am i surprised?

HAND 2: My stack is now at about $225.  Next hand, I raise from middle position with 88 and get 5 callers.  Flop is AQ6 and I check fold to a bet and two calls.
HAND 3: Stack is now $215 and I open-raise the very next hand to $12 with 99 and get two callers - the cut off and the small blind.  Flop comes down 798 rainbow.  Big blind leads out for $20.  I re-pop to $85.  Cut off tanks and eventually shoves.  BB folds.  I call $120 more and cut off tables 65 off for the flopped dumb-end of the str8t.  Yep, calls $12 preflop with 65 off.  I could have lived with JT.  I would have taken that beat like a man.  But six-fucken-five-off? 

I snag my last $15 and head for a beer.  Just painful.

Sunday morning, and I decide to stop by Charles Town on my way home.  Rolled in at 11:00am, left at 2:00pm, and won zero hands in between.  Yes . . . I did not win a single hand in three hours. 

I was as card dead as card dead could be . . . a constant barrage of Q4, K3, 95, 82 . . .  I limped a few of my blinds and even then could not connect with the board.  Finally, after an hour or so, I look down at 99 and open-raise to $10.  Two callers and an 8-high flop.  It checks to me and I bet $18.  Two callers.  Um.  OK.  Turn is a 6.  I bet $45.  One caller.  I'm pretty much done with the hand at this point.  River is the A of hearts, putting up the over card and completing the heart draw, and Villain donk bets $85.  Fold.  I think I was beat on the flop. . .

After another hour of folding hands, I get QQ under the gun.  I raise to $12.  After a call, the big blind re-pops to $65.  Really?  Big blind had been playing very, very tight and had not lost a hand since I had been at the table.  I'm sitting on just under $200.  A call out of position seems awful.  A shove seems little better.  AK?  Maybe.  JJ?  Possibly.  In the end, I fold.  Big blind got a call from the cut off and took the pot down when he shoved the Ten-High flop.  I think my fold was good.

My Magical Ace of Clubs.  A while later, I look down at AK-clubs.  "Big slick."  I'm ready to drag in a pot.  I open-raise to $12 from middle position and get two callers.  Flop is A, 3, T . . . I lead out for $15 and get called in both spots.  Turn is the 3 of clubs, giving me "aces-up" and the nut flush draw.  I bet $40.  One call.  River blanks and I value bet my Ace . . . $60 . . . and get the call I desire.  I flip my hand . . . Villain flips T8 for a worse two pair . . .  and dealer pushed him the pot.  Huh?  WTF?  A look back at the board.  The A on the flop is actually a 4.  I had tabled A-high . . . .  I vaguely hear comments from the other end of the table directed at my brilliant "bluff" . . . Although there have been times over the past year or so where I have felt like a somewhat competent poker player, at this moment, I feel like the biggest fish in the room.  Whether it was fatigue or simply impatience borne from three hours without raking a pot, it was time to go.  I grab and pocket my remaining chips and head for the car.  Not my finest moment at the felt .... Fortunately, the weekend is only 5 days away . . .



Wednesday, March 21, 2012

To Shove or not to Shove . . .

. . . that is the question.  And here is the full scenario:

Live tournament.  165 runners . . . 90 remain.  Blinds are $400 / $800 and the chip average is $18,000.  Hero's stack is just slightly above average, at $20,000.  Several players have recently been moved to the table.

Hero is dealt AQ in middle position.  After three early limpers, Hero calls $800.  It folds around to the button.  Button has just been relocated to the table.  He is apparently a regular as several players at the table know him.  He "looks" like he knows what his doing (demeanor, etc), and he has a well-above-average chip stack (probably $60,000 or so).   Button pops it to $4,100.  It folds around to Hero, who flats.

Flop comes down 773 rainbow.  Pot is $11,800.  Hero checks to the raiser, who fires $5,000.

This seems like a fairly easy C-Bet from a villain with position and a big stack.  What is the move here?  Does Hero: 

(A)  FOLD and kick himself for getting tricky preflop with AQ?
(B)  CALL and put half his stack in the middle, out of position, with A-high; or
(C)  SHOVE and put Villain to the test

Option B seems like a non-starter.  The limp-call with AQ out of position pre-flop was bad enough.  No reason to compound the poor play with a second bad decision on the flop. 

Option A seems weak.  It's quite likely Hero has the best hand at this point.  Yet, Hero can certainly get away from the hand and still have plenty of chips left to put to use in a better spot.

Option C feels like a good move.  Chances are near zero that Villain actually connected with this flop.  It's certainly possible that Villain woke up with a premium hand on the button (QQ+ or AK); but it's also likely that Villain was using his big stack and position to make a move.  A shove of $10,000 on top has some fold equity; and aside from a legitimate pocket pair, what else can Villain call with?

So  . . . what's the right play in this spot?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Saturday Tournament Cash

It's Sunday morning.  Another day in the office getting ready for depositions next week in NYC.  I was, however, able to squeeze some poker into the schedule this weekend.

I drove out to Del Park Friday evening.  It's the midst of the Delaware Park Poker Classic, which is running from March 14 to April 2nd. 

Saturday's "big" event was a $340 NL deepstack.  Given that I generally suck at tournament poker, I decided not to buy in to the event.  I did, however, take a shot at winning a seat through the Friday evening $65 satellite.

Del Park takes its tournaments seriously.  They even re-felted the tables for the Classic.

I couldn't get a thing going in the Satellite.  The $65 got you $7,500 in chips, at 20 minute levels.    I don't think I ever got my stack much higher than $10,000.  Eventually, sometime shortly after the second break, I was sitting on just over $8,000 with the blinds at $800 / $1,600.  I look down at AQ on the button.  Guy directly to my right open shoves for $9,100.  I put him on a hand like 99, TT, JJ and figure I'm likely looking at a flip.  Having been virtually card dead all night, I figure its a good spot to race and either get some chips to play with or get on with my life.  So, I call.  And Cut-off shows AA.  Wow.  Did not expect that.  I would have thought AA or KK would have put in a raise and tried to at least get one of the blinds to come along and see a flop.   Busted out around 41 out of 165 or so.... (top 15 got seats . . .).

Saturday morning, I got up and made the 30 minute drive Southeast up Route 13 to Dover.  I got to the poker room just after noon and (to my complete lack of surprise) found two tournament tables and a lone $1/2 NL cash game going.  Dover is the anti-Charles Town.  Mercifully, after about 20 minutes, they opened a fresh $1/2 table and the action was spectacular right from the go.  The young guy directly to my left bought in for $200 and went busto within 15 minutes.  The other 8 players (including a 70 year old woman who played -- and BET -- nearly every hand) were likewise not afraid to splash chips.

This was my first cash game in about a month (I had not played cash since getting back into the black), and I think I was less patient than I should have been.  I bought in short for $200 (which was about the biggest buy-in for the table) and got stacked about an hour in.  I started the death-hand with about $165 in chips.  After a few limpers, I looked down at K6 spades in the hijack and limped in.  Brilliant start to the hand.    Button and cut-off also called.  Flop came out K 2 6 with two hearts.  It checked to me and, continuing my brilliance, I checked.  CO checks and Button bets $20.  It folds around to me.  I figure the button is protecting a K against the draw with that bet.  I flat, with the plan of check-raising the turn.  Turn is a black Q.  I check and button bets $40.  I shove for $100 on top ($140 total).  Button calls and flips KQ.  Opps.  Right read  . . . sort of . . .  After requesting that the button RAISE his KQ preflop next time to put me on notice, I rebuy . . .

I ended up making back the $200 and turning a small profit before heading back to Del Park to grab an early dinner and register for the 7:00 pm ($150) tournament.

The 7:00 pm got 174 runners.  I had a bit of luck early on, including a double up with AA against KK, where I limped UTG, got raised by KK, repoped to $2,800 and induced KK to shove . . . easy game.   Started with $10,000 and eventually built my stack up to $35,000 shortly after the first break.  But, as tournament poker goes, a $35,000 stack can disappear fairly quickly.  By the third break, I was down to $15,000 after three levels card-deadness.   Blinds were in the $2,000 / $4,000 range.   My mid-stage / late-stage tournament strategy is virtually non-existent.  In short, I have no clue how to play.  On this night, however, my strategy was to double or go home before my stack slipped any further to the point where a shove had no fold-equity at all.   Luckily, the cards fell in line - sort of . . .  After an agro raised to $12,000, I shoved my 88 and doubled against his AQ.  A short while later, with my stack around $23,000, I responded to a $12,000 raise with a shove of my KQclubs.  Here, I'm certainly not sure whether I played this remotely correctly.  But I felt like I still could not play much poker with less than 6 big blinds, and KQ was the best hand I had seen in nearly two hours.  So, I shoved.  Villain flipped AJ and I sucked out when a K spiked the river.   Got the stack up to just under $50,000 and was able to play some poker again . . . or, at least I would have been able to, had I gotten anything remotely playable.

Somehow, I survived to the 4th break.  Suddenly, I went from shoving my stack in hopes of going busto so I could get some sleep, to stressing over the bubble. 

Two tables remaining . . . several other shortstacks, but no guaranty I could outlast them.  First things first, the table captain collected $10 from the remaining 20 players to pay the bubbles each $100.  A nice gesture, for sure. 

After folding a few hands, I'm sitting on just over $22,000, and look down at AJ.  Can I outlast two more shortstacks to burst the bubble?  Maybe.  But I have to shove in this spot.  I do and, incredibly, it folds around.  While I think I would have welcomed a call, I'll take the $25,000 in dead money.

Shortly thereafter, we're still at 20, when the blinds hit $2,000 / $6,000 / $12,000.   I fold a few K3, Q7 type hands, thinking there must be something better to shove.  But at $2,000 an ante, and after folding another round of blinds to raises and calls ($18,000 in chips), I'm quickly faced with the reality that I won't be able to even post my next round of blinds.  And then it happens.  A quick one-two punch as numbers 20 and 19 hit the rail.  The very next hand, I'm dealt big slick and shove what amounts to a little more than a big blind.  One person raises and another calls.  When a K hits the turn, I triple up.  But I'm still about 4 or 5 triple-ups from being competitive.   Yet, players start to fall . . . and, before I know it, another 10 minutes passes before I'm forced to shove my 45 of hearts and bust out in 12th place.....

Now, its back to the office for another week of fun . . .


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Poker Barrister Hits the Road

Back in town after some work-related travel.  Flew out Sunday to Denver for depositions.  Denver is always a good time - lots of restaurants and bars.  I set up shop at the Westin early Sunday afternoon, and immediately headed out to see how many brew-pubs I could hit up before the altitude and alcohol combined to incapacitate.  The answer - not many.  After a few beers at the Wynkoop Brewing Company and a few more at the Denver Chop House, I was done for the day.  An utter failure in my mind.  Although I'd like to blame the 4:45am east coast wake up and early morning flight out of BWI for the let down. 

It was mid-60's in Denver the entire trip.  Felt like baseball:

Hit the town a bit after the depositions both Monday and Tuesday.  Knowing you have to be up early in the morning with your "A-Game" limits the degeneracy.  I was, however, able to hit up a smattering of local watering holes, including my favorite "chain" bar, The Yard House (you can never go wrong with a few Stone IPA's . . .).   I could prolly spend an entire week working from bar to bar down the 16th Street Mall . . .

Wednesday began with a 5:00am wake up and a drive north up I-25 towards Cheyenne, Wyoming, for some additional work-related fun.  It was sort of nice to swap Beltway traffic for a Rocky Mountain view on the commute:

My destination was Carr, Colorado . . . just a few miles South of Cheyenne.  I hit the exit, and the sign read:  "no services."  Said sign did not lie.  Carr was basically the middle of nowhere:

I eventually found my destination -- a compressor station -- and quickly determined that my suit was a poor wardrobe choice. 

After TCB (not to be confused with TBC, who has, apparently, blocked me and most others from his new private blog), I decided to make a quick trip to Cheyenne, because . . . how many chances to you get to hit-up Cheyenne . . . After a quick 30 minute walk around town, I had had my fill.

After the not-so-subtle reminder why DC traffic is worth the sacrifice, it was back on the road to Denver to catch a flight back to civilization.   But not before spotting some buffalo on the side of the road.

I really thought buffalo where mythical creatures - like dinosaurs . . . or the Loch Ness Monster.  Apparently, they do actually exist.  The concept of the buffalo burger now makes a bit more sense . . .

Currently back in D.C. . . . for the moment (more depositions early next week).  It's 85 degrees and the cherry blossoms are aleady out around the neighborhood.  Baseball will definately be here soon . . .

Looking foward to some cash games this weekend; but until then . . .


Thursday, March 8, 2012

How do YOU Play this?

Played two tournaments at Del Park last Saturday, and didn't come close to a cash in either.  The first was the noon $340.  I was card dead (like, 74o, Q7o, J2o, T6o card dead . . .) for nearly the entire event.  And my table had a lot of seemingly decent players.   No limped pots, and lots of re-raising.  It was hard to even find a spot to make a move.  Of course, this could be because I suck at poker . . .  I got blinded down to $7,000 chips with blinds at $400 / $800, and decided to just shove shit since I really wanted to take a food break and get back in time for the 7:00 pm....

As for the 7:00, I busted out at $50/$300/$600 with the chip average at $24,000.  Here's the hand:

It's only the 5th hand or so I've played at this table after getting moved by the floor.  No reads on anyone.

Villain 1: $16,000 on the button
Villain 2: $22,000 in small blind
Hero (that's me): $18,000 in the big blind, with AA

First premium hand I've had all night.  Action folds around to the button who limps for $600.  Small blind kicks in another $300.  I debate repopping.  But, the blinds are starting to get high, and I decide to try and play a big pot to position myself for a decent run.  I flat.

Flop comes 3, T 7 rainbow.

Small blind bets $1,200 . . . I call . . . button raises to $3,000 . . . small blind re-raises all in ($20,000 or so).

What's the move?