Saturday, October 27, 2007

Hitting the wall

(Cross-posted from Poker Seattle)

I've been moderately successful over the years playing low-limit hold 'em -- mostly $4/8, with occasional $3/6 games and some $6/12 -- but whenever I've tried to step up to $10/20 I've been spanked, taken a hit to my bankroll and had to drop back down.

Actually, that's true primarily here in Seattle, where I'm beginning to realize the games are rougher than in a lot of other parts of the country. Even in Las Vegas, which has a reputation as a tough poker town, I've won playing $15/30. And I've beat the L.A. games pretty good, up to $20/40. (That reminds me, I still need to file a trip report on our recent Los Angeles vacation.)

This annoys me. I've been playing this game for a long time now, more than 25 years, and at this point I ought to have sharpened my skills enough to compete with the "big boys" (really, at $10/20, just the mid-size boys). It's also important financially. The "rake," the amount taken out of each pot by the house, is proportionally smaller in larger-stakes games. And a healthy win in a bigger game obviously is more profitable, which is the whole point.

So what's going on? I know I understand hold 'em well and I have great confidence at the table. I played in the World Series of Poker this summer and even there I didn't feel intimidated. In fact, if anything, as I've said before, some of my biggest leaks come from hubris, too much confidence.

My WSOP table, with "the joker," pro Jeff Madsen

Some of my poor results at $10/20 fairly can be chalked up to bad luck -- I've got stories to tell from a Diamond Lil's session a week or so ago -- but I'm sure a lot of it is me. Sometimes I tighten up too much, afraid of losing at a faster clip, and turn weak/tight. Sometimes I'm too suspicious that the players -- who are clearly a level or two above the low-limit fish I'm used to -- are "making moves," trying to steal pots, and I pay them off with inferior hands. And in some cases, especially at the Muck, the $10/20 players are just better than I am; they play with more discipline for longer periods, exploit even smaller margins of potential profit, and instinctively (or through deeper study) know when to ratchet up the aggression and when to back off. They outplay me.

But I'm determined to break though this barrier.

After my profitable games in LA, I took a shot at the Lil's $10/20 game last week. Not so great. I burned through my "rack of red" -- 100 red $5 chips -- in less than two hours without winning a pot. Argh. I didn't rebuy.

Instead I rebuilt my stack a bit in my next couple of sessions, down in $4/8, and decided I'd look for a spot to try again.

Yesterday, with an afternoon to spend playing while Michelle worked, I drove to the Muck and sat into my normal $4/8 kill game. From my first hand I was on fire -- flopping straights, hitting flush draws, making big pairs stand up, even bulling my way into a few pots. Before long they started a new $10/20 game and, $160 up already, I changed tables and took a seat.

Fortunately some of the tougher regular players weren't around; nobody in the game spooked me. In the first hand I was dealt A-Q of clubs, raised, got called in two places, hit an ace on the flop and got paid off all the way. Nothing to it. Deal me in.

For the next hour or two my papers went cold, but not disastrously so. In fact, I was lucky in a way: I was so card dead that I couldn't get into much trouble. Still, inevitably, chips dribbled away and after a while I realized I was $200 down for the day, even counting my profit from the $4/8 game. Man.

But I kept my cool, finally made a hand or two and rallied a bit. When it was time to cash out I was up $200 for the day -- $160 from the small game, and $40 profit at $10/20!

Not a killing, clearly. But not a loss either. Sometimes just breaking even can feel like winning. Maybe I'm over the wall.

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