Sunday, April 02, 2006

My Casino cherry gets popped

My heart started thumping as I rode the elevator up to the poker room at the Lodge Casino in Black Hawk, Colorado.
I admit it. I was scared.
Life rarely scares me. If you can:
1) Walk along a ridge no wider than a staircase and stare at a 2,000 foot drop on either side and continue on, as I have many times in my mountain climbing adventures
2) Raise a 9-month old who loves to endanger his life about 20 times a day
3) Drive down Interstate 25 in Colorado,
well, then, you can do anything.
But walking into the pokerroom at the Lodge, with 15 tables, terrified me. The place was mouse-quiet, with the clinking of chips and an occasional groan the only sounds bouncing around. Cigarette smoke drifted to the ceiling.
I immeaditely assume most people are better than me at poker, even though, most of the time, I'm actually one of the better players. It's sort of a habit, actually, of mine to assume that most players are better than me at anything, softball, running, mountain climbing, when, again, usually, I'm one of the better ones.
I never have to prove that to others. I just need to prove it, over and over, to myself.
My $200 in my pocket already seemed gone. My worst month since I started playing for real money, in October, sure as hell didn't help boost my confidence.
A guy who looked 20 and had 80s, Anthony Michael Hall hair, sneered at my question, "So, um, what are the betting structures?" Normally, I could slip into Reporter Mode and tell Mr. Feathered to go F himself, but I meekly slinked away and stared at the 10-person tables.
My wife saw this, raised her eyebrow at my meek reaction to the jackass and came up to me.
"What the hell? You've been looking forward to this for weeks."
"Yeah, but..."
"And you do well at online play all the time."
"Yeah, but..."
"And you've read about 15 books and studied and you watch that damn poker all the time on TV."
"So get up there and sign up."
The poker manager, another guy with glasses, thin, wiry hair, and a Don Johnson beard, was much nicer and explained $2/5. There's only one blind, it's $2 to call, and you can bet $5 per round. Yes, you can raise, and the betting is capped at $30.
Or you can play 5/5, when it's $5 to call, you bet $5 every time, and if you're heads up against someone, the betting is unlimited.
"Well, I've never done this before," I said, gaining confidence, even though I have rarely played limit.
"OK, start with $2/5."
"Should I get my chips now?" I asked.
"Nah, have a seat. A table will open shortly."
Two minutes later, they put together a new table, and I was off.
I brought out my notepad to take a few hands down, but I was amazed at how fast everything seemed to be, as fast as online play. I made up some rules right then:
• Don't worry so much about pot odds. It's limit, so you'll have the odds to call if you want to.
• Play solid, not fancy, poker.
• Fold to most raises.
• Watch, watch and watch everyone there.
The last, of course is easier said than done, but as my wife said, "once you sit down, you'll realize it's just poker."
I watched how others bet by grabbing their chips and flipping them across the felt and tried to imitate them, with mixed results. My face probably went a little white when I realized that three at the table knew all the dealers and also knew each other. Shit.
But I soon realized how lucky I was. The table was chatty, not serious, and the guy on my right, a good, solid player, talked to me right away. OK, he was cool. And the guy to my left was from Weld County, my county, and he read my articles all the time and was very nice. A classy-looking woman, with a hairsprayed do and four buttons off her white shirt, smiled at me and said she was waiting for her boyfriend. An old guy with a Broncos hat, a mousey, stone-quiet woman with, I would later learn, an accent, puffed on her cigarettes called everything and Played. Very. Slowly. Even. When. It. Was. Time. To. Turn. The. Cards. Over.
• Then I'm dealt JJ in EP on my fourth hand, and I reach for my chips for the first time. My hands, strangely enough, were not shaking. The conversation calmed me.
"Raise," I say, throwing out another $5 in chips. It's $7 to call.
Six callers.
Of course, I had no idea that calls would mean nothing tonight. People were there to play, and play they did, even if that meant calling a raise with nothing. There were, on average, six or seven players in every hand. It was Saturday night, the feeling was right, and they were there to gamble, not play poker.
The cool guy to my right calls, too, and the flop comes trash, trash, trash, with no chances for a straight or a flush. I bet $5, everyone folds, which was a common theme: People wanted to see the flops, but they would fold to the first bet if they had nothing, unless they had draws (which we'll talk about later). Everyone except cool guy to the right, who I knew was good after scooping a $175 pot on the second hand of the night. The way he played his cards told me he knew what he was doing.
But then he opened his mouth.
"I think you've got pockets, and I think your pockets are higher than mine, but I"ll call you," he said.
Why would he say that? Is he fucking with me? I don't think he's fucking with me. He's a nice guy and doesn't believe, so far, anyway, that he needs to lie to me to win.
So he has either QQ or 10,10 or maybe 9,9. He doesn't have a set because he would have re-raised me. So I think I've got him beat.
My question is, in another theme for the night, why would he tell me what he had? Players, all night long, talked far too much. If a third card came down, they would say, "dammit, there's the straight." And if I had the straight, I knew I was good, and yet, they would continue to call my raises.
It blew me away. The play was worse than my home game Friday night. It was worse than online play, much worse, actually.
I was sitting on a gold mine.
Trash card, trash card, and I flip over my JJ and take my first pot of the night.
Now, suddenly, I have a lot of confidence.
I made beginners mistakes too. I tried to take that first pot myself, until the dealer, a cool one, said, "I know you do that at your home game, but let me push it over to you here."
I fiddled with the button until he told me that it could ruin the hand. I needed to be reminded to post my blind a couple times.
But I said, at the table, "This is my first time," and everyone was cool. If they thought I was dumb, all the better. When the hairspray woman said my nose twitched when I had a hand, I twitched it every time I had a hand extra hard, so she thought I was exaggerating. I had fun and started talking to any player, not just my two "friends" on my right and my left. I made jokes and people laughed.
• I'm dealt K,A sooted, and I raise to $7. A few callers, but they all fold to my $5 bet when an A flops. (By the way, I"m sorry I don't have more details on the hands. I tried to take notes but had trouble keeping up with them and observing the table as well).
Mousy woman with accent calls.
Nothing too worrisome on the turn or the flop, and I bet every time, the max.
I win another nice pot.
• I am dealt J,Q, I throw my $2 out there, and I see J,3,7, rainbow. I bet $5, MWWA calls again.
Same deal. Bet, bet, bet, call, sweet.
It was almost irritating, actually. I saw many suckouts that night - thankfully, I never had one against me - because most hang in there, hoping to catch their card. Fold, people.
I saw pocket AA six times and it didn't win the whole night. Too many callers. Guy on my left lost it two times in a row.
• I pitch 7,2 and two other 7s come down, with a fourth on the turn. I obviously don't berate myself for folding 7,2.
• My favorite hand of the night. I have K,K, I raise, hairspray calls. J,10,3 comes down. She bets, I raise, she calls. K on the turn. Sweet. No flush draw, and she bet on the flop, so I'm not that worried about the straight. She bets, I raise again, and she stares me down before calling.
K falls on the river.
I bet, hoping and praying she will raise me, but she just calls, and I flip over the cards to the oohs and aahs of the table.
Now I"m a badass.
• And then my only suckout of the night comes on the next hand. I have A,10 sooted and I raise. Hairspray lady, who lost her two pair to my quads, is wary but calls it. She would later get drunker and worse as the night went on.
The flop comes A,8,K, rainbow, so I bet $5 and she calls. I put her on a weak A.
3 falls, and she raises my bet. Did that two pair her? It may have, but there's enough money in the pot to call, and I'm on a roll.
The K falls on the turn, I bet, she just calls, and her two pair, A,3, is counterfeited.
I apologize. She accepts.
Then she says, "I'm coming after you now."
I smile.
"I thought you said this was your first time," she said.
"I said it was my first time playing in a casino. It wasn't my first time playing," I say.
"You're cute," she says.
I'm also doing much better than I ever thought I would.
• And just to prove it was my night, I play Q,5 sooted for the hell of it, just for fun, and I get a flush on the turn, and I take another guy who had a lower flush under me to the cleaners.
• I get QQ in the second hour and raise to $7. Everyone except one person folds.
"Well, at least you're paying attention," I say, making fun of my rock image.
I bet the hand when nothing threatening comes down, and the caller, another good player, folds.
My rock image, however, has me up by quite a bit. I don't realize by how much until I ask for the dealer to color me up, trade some chips in, and the floor manager racks up some chips and brings me back my $100 buy in.
I misplay two hands, but even then, I believe, the plays were justifiable.
• I have A,Q, and the guy to my right raises $5. I throw out my chips and notice that a red one is one top. The reds are $5. The whites are $1.
"Re-raise," the dealer says.
I pause and don't worry about protesting. I also curse myself and start digging out my red chips out of my white stack. Idiot.
The guy re-raises my raise.
Uh oh.
A,Q, at this point, looks weak. I fold. Everyone at the table seems stunned. The dealer says, "Wow." Yeah. Wow. I folded a good hand. Funny how that works, isn't it?
Guy shows me Q,Q.
Pretty good fold, I think, and maybe, down the line, that mistake re-raise saves me a lot of money.
• I have J,9 on my blind, and it's checked around to me (for some reason, the table stopped raising after the first hour, allowing me limp in with some marginal hands, which we'll see helped me later. I was card-dead for the second hour, mostly, so I didn't care about the lack of action).
J high again, so I bet, and the right to my right raises.
Hmmm. A good player. The flop doesn't look too bad but not too good either.
I fold. Two others call.
He eventually wins with J,3.
Now I did have top pair, and top pair was golden that night (I would win a big pot with K,9, of all things), but I also had a weak kicker. I make that fold again, no problem.
Things settle down a bit. I fold a lot. I have A,9 but fold it to a raise. I get lots of small pocket pairs but none of them flop a set and I pitch them when overcards appear, as they are sure to do.
• Near the end of the third hour, I get 8,9 diamonds, a perfect hand to limp on, and I do, even when I'm in EP, because I know no one will raise me out of it.
The flop? 10,J,7. Yeah, baby.
Two spades, so I bet the max, and a frequent caller to my right raises me.
My wife slinks up behind me. I don't know she is there.
I raise him back another max.
He raises again.
I look things over. I have the nuts so far, and the more times he raises, the more I"m not worried about the flush draw. He must have a set or two pair. I reraise. He looks me over and calls.
• An 8 falls on the turn. Well, Q,9 has me beat now, but I'm not worried about that, especially after this comment:
"Shit, there's the straight."
OK, now I KNOW I'm good, and I raise him to death, and he bets or calls regardless.
"Geez, that took guts," my wife says. "It was fun to watch that."
It was fun for me too.
• On the final hand, the dealer asks me, while I'm stacking chips, if I want to see the cards. Sure, why not? It's free.
I get J,10.
Worth a $2 call, I think.
Flop comes J high again, and I bet out and get a call.
We eventually split it, two pair. I shake hands with everyone, tip the dealer and leave $175 up for the night in three hours. I probably tipped the dealers $15 or $20 for the night.
They deserved it after giving me those sweet hands.
I did it. I proved I could play and win. Maybe not at 2 p.m. on a Tuesday, but on a Saturday night, filled with fish, I proved that I could be the shark.

Thanks go to
  • Trip Jax
  • for his continued encouragement on my blog and my play,
  • Poker Princess
  • for answering my questions on live casino play,
  • Will Wonka Poker
  • for just being encouraging as well,
  • Quest of a Closet Poker Player
  • for the encouragement on my blog the day before I left to play and
  • Low Limit Grinder
  • for yahooing me and reassuring me that, yes, I could do this.

    Yes, I got sweet hands throughout the night. But I still, in my mind, did many things right.
    Here they are:
    • I folded most of my hands. I didn't play crappy hands. I was lucky because many times the flop did hit my good hands, making it easier to fold mediocre hands later because I could be patient.
    • I rarely called. Instead, I raised or folded. I raised if I thought I had the best hand instead of calling. I folded if I wasn't sure if I had the best hand and a player bet at me. I did not lose one showdown that night. That's partly because of luck, of course, but it's also because if I took a hand to the river, I thought I had the best hand.
    • If I had a hand, I bet at it, instead of checking. The players checked far too often, letting people hit their draws or not getting value for their hands. People slowplayed AA, which is deadly in limit. No free cards.
    • If someone raised, I usually folded, even at that loose, wild table.
    • I did not chase.
    • I folded if the flop did not hit.
    • I was patient. I was so, so patient.
    • Finally, and this is important, I did not drink. I ran 11 miles earlier that day, farther than I've ever run before, and I knew I would be a little tired. So I did not drink anything except water.
    It helped. A lot.


    TripJax said...

    Man, what an experience and what a post. And you nearly doubled your buy-in at a limit table. Awesome.

    Congrats on the big day and the popping of said cherry.

    I hope this confidence continues at the virtual felt.

    Peak on.

    C.L. Russo said...

    I'm envious. I'm three hours from AC and haven't been there yet. Probably in July I'll go- can't wait.

    By the way, I was a bit surprised to hear that you don't really worry about pot odds in limit games. I'd heard/read the same thing, only about NL games, because you're usually not going to get better than 2:1 or 3:1 odds.

    Were the pots that high that you had favorable odds?

    dcoke said...

    Nice post and welcome to the world on live play with lots of people looking to "gamble".

    PLENTY of blog material there that's for sure!!

    Kent said...

    Nice! My first live game had mixed results, but I agree about the play. I don't know how many times I heard "Crap!" or the likes when the third card to a flush was turned over.

    GaryC said...

    I told you so.