Monday, May 19, 2008

You Deserved It, Part 2

I sat down in the $4/8 game at the Commerce Casino and looked over my opponents.

A typical crowd of Los Angeles degenerates (the main Commerce room is pictured above): a couple of young Asian dudes with big chip stacks (probably aggressive players, I noted to myself); a white guy in a baseball jersey to my immediate right, in Seat 8; the middle-aged black dude I’d played with two days before; an old lady with dyed red hair, a chronic table-changer and complainer, who also had made a brief stop at my previous table; some chips at Seat 7 but no player (must be taking a break); and across from me, in Seat 6, a squat, square man with gray hair and a bushy gray mustache, of uncertain Eastern European heritage, possibly Albanian, nursing a small stack of chips, and of a type in looks and, probably, playing style that I’ve encountered a lot at the Commerce.

I hadn’t seen a hand yet but I felt I had a beginning on getting my bearings. I posted behind the button. At the Commerce, as at many casinos, you must put up the equivalent of a big blind, in this case $4, before you are dealt a hand. I could have waited for the blinds to get to me, possibly saving a bet and getting a chance to watch some play for free, but I decided to post. There’s always a lot of action at the Commerce, and I didn’t want my first impression to be as a nit, someone who was going to sit there waiting for big hands, who was afraid to mix it up.

Despite my long losing slide at home this spring, I got to Los Angeles feeling good about my poker game. The recent attaboy conversations with Stahlberg and McCumber had helped, and I was returning to a place where I’d had plenty of success. When we were here last fall I started with a $3/6 game at the Hustler, quickly moved through the $4/8 and “$4/8 kill” levels, and ended up playing $9/18 and, briefly, $20/40 at the Commerce. Profitably. I got out of town about $2,500 to the good.

So, I thought, this was a good place to begin the Pie in the Sky poker tour, to get my game back on track.

My first Commerce game the other day, on April 23, had been a one-rack loser (that’s a rack of 100 $1 chips), but I wasn’t at all concerned. It was a toe back in the water, and the game seemed good to me. A lot of action, a good mix of aggressive and inexperienced players – the kind of table that, with some patience and a few good cards, you might pull down a big win. I had several big hands outdrawn right away and I wasn’t able to stay long enough to make a comeback, but I liked my chances. That night Michelle and I went together to the Hustler and we both won; I more than covered my one-rack loss in the afternoon. That's her at the Hustler, below.

Now, back at the Commerce on Friday afternoon, with more time to play and no worries, I sat down, looked over the cast of degenerates and posted. No cards those first few hands: fold, fold, fold, fold, fold.

And that’s when the hand that gave these posts their headline, “You deserved it,” came about.

It came around to my blinds – first the $4 “big blind” (I forget what happened that hand) and then the $2 small blind. The idea of the blinds is to kick-start some action. When the two face-down hole cards are dealt, the two players to the immediate left of the nominal dealer (the player with the rotating “dealer” button) post the blinds. At that point subsequent players can call the blind $4 bet, raise or fold (but not check, since there’s already a bet out there). When action returns to the small blind, he can fold, complete the bet to $4 or raise. The big blind also has an option to raise his own blind bet if it hasn’t already been raised.

This elaborate scheme ensures that, almost all the time, the pot will be contested and there will be a flop. Although sometimes – rarely at the Commerce – nobody will call the big blind bet. When that happens the small and big blinds are given the option of taking back their involuntary bets – “chopping the blinds,” it’s called in the card rooms – and a new hand is dealt without the casino raking any chips from the uncontested pot.

OK. So I put up my $2 small blind and, as I did so, the missing Seat 7 player returned to the table and posted both his missed blinds – $4, which would be treated exactly like a big blind, with an option to raise when the action got to him, and the $2 small blind, which went into the center of the table and was considered “dead” money (part of the pot, but not available for this player to use as part of a bet or raise).

Now, unexpectedly, the action folded all the way around the table to Seat 7, who could have raised, hoping to steal the blinds. Instead, he asked if we wanted to chop. I thought for a second that he was offering to let the big blind in Seat 1 and me chop our blinds plus his $6, which wouldn’t have made much sense. I looked at the dealer.

“Do you want to chop, sir,” she said to me. “You can all take your money back.”

She’s explaining a chop to me like I’ve never played before, but as far as I’m concerned she’s got the rules wrong. You can’t chop three ways, especially when there’s dead money in the pot. In my mind, this is a situation that calls for folding or playing, but not chopping. Which is what I said. The dealer shrugged.

Mind you, I hadn’t looked at my cards yet, and never do before the action gets to me. In fact, I hate it when players decide whether they’ll chop only after checking their hand. To me, that’s angle-shooting. My feeling is you should always chop or always play, and there have been many times when I’ve agreed to chop only to turn over my cards to see pocket aces or kings; them’s the breaks.

But this was different, I thought. It wasn’t even a legitimate chop situation. So I looked at my hand: Ace-3 of hearts, not a bad hand at a short-handed table, especially when no one has shown any strength at all and the only other two hands are forced to be there; they could be any two cards.

“I raise,” I said, and made it $8 to go.

Immediately, the guy to my right, in the baseball jersey, and the old man across the table, neither of whom was in the pot, both shook their head. The old guy actually wagged his finger at me.

“Don’t do that,” he said in his thick accent. “Is very bad luck.”

I owed nobody an explanation but tried to explain anyway. This isn’t a chop, it’s three-handed, I’m going to play my hand. The old man shook his head again.

Sadly, both players called (I was hoping to maybe steal the pot right there or at least lose one of the players). But brilliantly, the flop came A-8-3. I had two pair.

“Bet,” I said. “I ain’t scared.” A little extra bravado, I thought, might look false and get them both to call. Which it did. The turn was a blank, a duece, I bet again, and was called again by both players. Good little start to my session, I thought to myself. Already more than $50 in this pot and still one more betting round to go.

The river was a 6. A board now of A-8-3-2-6. Well, who knows, I thought, but everybody has kept calling, maybe that last card hit someone somehow, or maybe someone flopped a set and has been slow-playing to teach me a lesson. I’ll just check it down and scoop my little pot.

But when I checked the guy to my left bet! What?!

Seat 7 folded, and I looked around. My opponent was a blank slate. The old guy, not in the hand, was smiling below his bushy mustache.

“I ought to raise,” I said, “but I’ll just call.”

Seat 1 turned over – argh! – the 5-4 of hearts, for a weird, runner-runner straight and a nice pot. How he called the flop bet, or even the pre-flop raise, I couldn’t imagine, but there it was, the well hidden winner trumping my pretty two pair.

“Shoulda chopped,” was all he said.

Now the old guy across from me was actually laughing. “You deserved it,” he said to me. “Very bad luck.”

I guess it was an omen. My aggressive play seemed to mark me as a bully to be taught a lesson, and one with deservedly bad karma to boot. I don’t know if I deserved it – maybe so – but I know I never did recover. In fact I posted my worst loss of the trip so far, $300.

Better sessions were to come.


Mike said...

Hate to break it to you, Bro, but you didn't get beat by a "weird runner-runner straight."
You got beat, on the turn (the duece was not a blank) by an ordinary gut-shooter who was only mildly out of line in his pursuit of a straight, even if he put you on an Ace.
With $26 in the pot on the flop, plus your $4 bet and the other player's $4 call, Mr. Seat 7 was getting 7.5-to-1 on a "once in the guts for the nuts" play. (And if a duece does come to make him a wheel, the implied odds provided by future bets put him close to getting true odds.)
Plus, if a 6 comes off on the turn, he would have an open-ender. So he put up $4 on a three-outer/plus four cant-get-outters (which is what a 6 is in that situation). The call after the flop is not a terrible play, especially if the cards have been running with you instead of over you. As for calling the original pre-flop raise, he was getting 5.5 to one on that $4; you'd have to run that through the hand computer to see how bad a play that was.....
Bottom line: reading the board is even more important than reading the players.

Mark said...

Hmm, well that explains why I'm losing. Thanks Mike.

Actually I think I must have recalled or recounted a couple of details incorrectly, since I remember being beat on the end. No matter though, you're right that the guy wasn't really out of line no matter what the details, and do have the occasional problem of overplaying the hands and under-reading the board.


Maybe by the time we meet you in Vegas later this summer I'll have memorized the rank of hands.

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kateco said...

Wow, I feel like I got my eye pressed up again the keyhole of the Temple seeing the secret handshakes of 13th level Freemasons.

I hope you don't have to kill me now.

Keep it on the square, boys.

David said...

Well, mildly out of line or way out, you still got a bad beat in my book!
Man, that dealer needs to go back to dealer school. 3-way chop?
That would have tilted me for sure.
Of course, that's since I've modeled my game after you!

Rita said...

All this explains why I never roam much farther than the slot machines at casinos.

Kaye you're a kick!!

Hang in there, Mark.