Lee Jones was Wrong

OK, I’m going to start this post with a caveat. I don’t know Lee Jones. I know he is a well-known and well respected poker player, and that he has written a very good book about poker, Winning Low Limit Hold’em, which I have purchased twice, once as a paperback and later as a Kindle eBook. So he’s actually made money off of me even though we’ve never met. (Not that this gives me the “right” to make such a bold statement as I did in the title.” And to be fair, the situation of which I’m writing is not one that I experienced, but one that has been talked about much in the poker community, and is one in which Lee Jones was not the only one who was wrong.

But I had to get you to click.

The original story was told in a post by Jones himself titled Letting one off the hook, which was referenced by my fellow blogger friend Rob(vegaspoker) in his own post He Let This One Off the Hook–But Should He Have?

In summary, Jones was playing in a $1/$2 NL game into the wee hours of the morning when the game had gotten short because it wasn’t quite to the point of combining table, and flopped the nut flush with A3 suited. ON a blank turn, the action went bet (by Jones), raise, reraise, and then, by all accounts (except the player, who was in the 9 seat right next to the dealer), a declaration of “all in.”

Jones says he (as well as the dealer and pretty much everyone else at the table heard the “all in” and immediately said “I call. I have the nuts.” and exposed his hand.

At which point the other player claimed to have not said “all in.”

Jones, by all account one of the “nice guys” in poker, ended up just taking what was in the pot after the floor had been called and the player adamantly refused to put a single dollar in the pot. Jones even offered to take just the additional $100 that he had raised, but the player still refused. And as he concluded, “Look, I’m no saint, but when I added it all up, this wasn’t the time or place to bring things to a crashing halt over $300.”

But that conclusion was wrong. Make no mistake, Jones wasn’t the only wrong party here, and I’ll get into that. But first, Jones.

One statement he makes is “Among my multitude of failings at the poker table, slow-rolling is not one of them. I immediately said, “I call – I have the nuts.” And turned up my hand.”

But turning your hand face up at that point is NOT slow rolling. Because it is not your turn to act at that point.

Let’s look at this. One player says “all in.” A second player says “I call.” At that point, the action is on the all-in player. That action is NOT on the caller. It is not holding up the game to wait for the correct action.

So I think Jones made 2 mistakes here. Both common, neither egregious, but both resulted in the commotion (and the loss of revenue).

It is a well-known axiom, even a rule, in poker that “verbal declarations are binding.” But I have seen way, way too many angle shooters over the years. If someone before me says “all in,” I will still wait for accompanying action. That can be the player moving chips into the pot or the dealer tossing an “All In” button to the player’s position.

I was in a small tournament once. We were on break. Seat 9 was under the gun after the break and was approaching his seat as the break ended. As he was sitting down and as the dealer was starting to pitch the cards, he jokingly said “I raise.” It was easy to tell he was joking, both in his tone of voice and in the type of person he is. But, “verbal action is binding,” and the action was on him, and the dealer made him put raisin’ chips in the pot.

Which brings me to the second person I see at fault in this scenario: the dealer. Mind you, I’ve seen plenty of bad dealers in my poker “career,” as well as plenty of good ones who make mistakes. We all do. We’re human. So I can’t put a lot of the blame on the dealer here, especially as it seems Jones acted quite quickly.

But dealers have one job: control of the game. Part of control of the game is the integrity of the game. Sure, it should happen all the time, but especially when the bets start getting big, the dealer has to focus on the action and make sure the action plays out correctly. When the player said “all-in,” the dealer should have been the first to act, not Jones. An “all-in” declaration by a player should be echoed by the dealer so there can be no question of the action. A dealer who is following the action will get this done correctly.

I have seen good dealers who follow the game action routinely hold up players who act out of turn, as Jones did here.

And let’s look at the player who (allegedly) said “all-in” and then denied it. Interestingly, Jones says that he does not believe the player was angle shooting, that he’d been playing with the player for awhile and that the player did not seem like the type. That does not mean that they player does not angle shoot, however, and it just might have been that an opportunity had not come up until that very point.

One of the reasons that Jones gives as believing the player was not angle shooing was that the player was “pegged as the tightest player at the table.” But to me, a player like that won’t typically just say “all-in” without accompanying action. It is for this reason that I think an angle shoot was more likely.

Jones wanting to be the “nice guy” because the player was apparently a regular, and the floor, after hearing the situation, was not going to back down, was not going to let the player stay in the room if the player did not pay off the verbal declaration that everyone heard and that the player claimed he never made.

I find that regulars are often the ones who angle shoot the most. They keep rooms going, they toke dealers, they make the action that brings other players in. But through their actions, from angle shooting to colluding, make the games unfair. Unfair games drive players away from games, especially players who put money into the games.

I know I come across as a bit of a hard-ass here, but I don’t think Jones should have let the guy off here. And it’s not about the money (even though, in poker, it’s always about the money). $300 may not be much to Jones, but you cannot put a price on keeping the games fair. More than anything, I believe that you should not be able to escape the consequences of your actions. They guy clearly said “all-in,” and that statement was clearly corroborated.

I’m also not one for holding up games. But I firmly believe that the correct order of play must be maintained, also to keep games fair, and that this must be orchestrated by a dealer active in running the game. That means not just pitching cards and pushing pots, but making sure players act in turn and act when it’s their turn. Most importantly, when someone bets and I call, the bettor has the action, to expose the hand or to fold. Even if I have the stone-cold nuts, it is not a “slow roll” to wait for my turn to act. If the bettor does not act immediately, I know s/he is angle shooting, and I refuse to support that behavior. Dealers shouldn’t either, and if it is repeated, should be the ones to get the floor involved.

It is never being a bad guy to do the right thing, even if the right thing feels bad.

“Everybody call?”

I recently began trying the San Francisco shuttle bus to Graton Casino. Yes, it’s $10 (plus BART fare), but the stress it alleviates and the time it provides me has proven to be invaluable. On the trip up this past Saturday, I was able to do a bit of review of a section of Small Stakes Hold ’em, by far my favorite book on the limit game. I had planned on primarily reviewing the starting hands chart, but my wandering eye led me to re-reviewing the section on protecting your hand.

Specifically, it talked about how sometimes you should wait until the turn to raise in multi-way pots because the doubled big bet, vs. a doubled small bet, will give any cold callers the wrong price to call. This is especially relevant in bigger pots. When 5 or 6 players have called a raise in preflop betting, not at all an uncommon occurrence in low-limit play, a raise of the flop bet will still give many draws the correct odds to continue–even if they don’t know it, even if their inclination is to just call. But the point of better play is to induce mistakes, but offering 7-to-1 or 8-to-1 on the flop is an easier call that 4-to-1 or 5-to-1 on the turn.

And this was relevant to a specific hand in my (winning) session. Although I lost the hand, which made a dent in my win, I think I played correctly.

After several limpers, a relatively new-to-the-table player raised in late position. With 99 in the big blind, it was an easy call. No one folded, of course, which prompted the title of this blog entry:

“Everybody call?”

I hit on that as a tell that the player very likely was raising with a big pair. No one likes seeing their aces (or kings or queens) cracked, so it was not a stretch to put the raiser on one of those hands. Of course, having built a big pot already, I was hoping to hit my set and chip up nicely.

The flop encouraged me to continue. 87-little, no flush draw. Now here is the time that you also want to formulate a plan for the hand. Because I missed the flop, I did not want to bloat the pot. But I realized that “missing” the flop also included a backdoor straight draw, adding a little bit of value.

As expected, everyone checked to the raiser. He bet, I called, and 2 others called as well. Then the hand got interesting. An 8 hit the turn, pairing the top card.

I saw a chance. I checked with the intention of check-raising the original raiser, expecting that if it was checked to him, he’d bet again. Sure enough it was checked around, he bet, and I check-raised, representing the 8.

However, I did not expect the player 2 seats to my left to cold-call 2 big bets. I knew he was very loose–he had already been in for more than one buy-in, but cold-calling a turn check raise definitely surprised me. The original raiser was the only other caller.

The river was a blank little card. Now here’s the thing: If I had gotten to the river heads up, I think a bet here would have a small chance of succeeding. The original raiser I expected was the type would would be fairly sticky, married to his (likely) big pair, no matter what. Heads up, I would have anticipated a small, but finite, chance that a bet would get him to fold, quite possibly in loud disgust face up.

But a 3rd player in the hand changed the dynamic completely. Not only did the third player mean that a bet would have to get through 2 players, his cold-call of the turn bet bumped the pot size, making a 1-bet river call significantly easier. Even if I were to get the cold-caller to fold to a river bet (figuring that the cold call was some kind of draw), the pot had gotten so large (about 10 big bets at that point), I figured the likelihood that the original raiser would fold to a bet went way, way down because of the increased size of the pot.

So my decision at that point was to not lose another bet. I checked, the cold caller checked, and (not terribly surprisingly), the original raiser checked. I showed my 99, the cold-caller folded, and the original raiser showed exactly what I expected: KK.

Now I’m sure that there are the math players who will scream at this point that I only have to get the original raiser to fold a bit less than 1 time in 10 to make a bet a profitable play. The thing is, my read was that, especially with the size of the pot, the chances of the original raiser folding to just one bet were likely much smaller.

Still, waiting until the turn to get the raise in, making the field face poor odds in a favorable situation, was exactly the situation I had reviewed in SSHE, and I had the guts to execute, even if the results weren’t want I wanted.

The Apple Watch Test

I’m betting that the 2 of you that come to read this blog are asking yourself what the heck does this have to do with poker? Let me explain.

I’ve been using some different fitness trackers over the past couple of years. I started out with a small Fitbit, easy to lose, as it turns out. At one point, I got a Jawbone UP24, which I found was orders of magnitude better at waking me up in the morning than any sound-based alarm clock I’ve ever had. And as it turns out, since my Vegas trip where I stayed at a dumpy hotel that was right under the McCarran takeoff flight path and I tried earplugs to sleep, thereby learning that I slept better than ever, leading me to use foam earplugs every night, I’ve been wearing fitness trackers that have vibrating alarms to bed every night.

One of the reasons I liked the UP24 was that it could go days without a charge. Its design was a bit bulky and it could get caught on things and get ripped off. So I bought a Withings Activite Pop. This is an actual watch that oh-by-the-way does fitness tracking. It also has a battery that lasts months. As it turns out, its alarm sucks. It has no way to shut off, nor to snooze.

I then added a Fitbit Charge HR to my arsenal. I found that its step tracking was often off (on one drive to Vegas, their support attributed the 300 “steps” it recorded during the non-stop drive segment from Vegas to Bakersfield to “aggressive shifting”) and its app isn’t very user friendly, but it is secure and comfortable, and its alarm works better than the Withings. It also does heart rate tracking.

The data that these devices have been recording, along with some lifestyle changes based on what I’ve been learning from the data, have led to some welcome weight loss.

The geek in me wanted an Apple Watch. The practical in me hated that it needed recharging once a day. The nit in me hated the price. But as I read reviews, many described how accurate its data tracking was. So when I found one discounted on eBay (and with no sales tax), I took the plunge.

Now understand that most people who own an Apple Watch wear it during the day and recharge it at night. There are many stands made for this; just set it on the stand and it will sit there and look pretty and recharge. I want the data tracking, even when I sleep, so I wear my Apple Watch to bed every night. It’s vibrating alarm turns out to be most excellent too. When I wake up, the battery turns out to be about 50% discharged. The first thing I do is take the Apple WAtch off and connect the charger. On most morning, the time it takes to shower, get dressed, sometimes shave, sometimes eat, sometimes check email, and so on, is enough time to get the Apple watch’s charge to 100%.

But there have been mornings when I pull it off the charger, morning when I am getting out the door a bit quicker than usual, and I find that the charge is less than 100%. Oh it’s at least close, but like electric car owners, if I’m not starting fully charged, it means I begin the day with a bit of range anxiety.

When I’m in Vegas, and I’ll be there for the long Thanksgiving weekend, my schedule is far from normal. Not only am I sometimes up for long, long days, playing poker sessions well into the wee hours, buy when I get up–usually in the morning, but it’s happened that my sleep goes into the afternoon–I’m almost always a quick shower, get dressed, and get out the door. To get to the next poker game, of course.  From the experience I’ve had with it so for, there’s no way my Apple Watch will fully charge in that short time.

Heck, if I put in a day where I start playing at, say, 9am, and get into a good mixed game that goes well past midnight, it’ll be interesting to see just how much battery my Apple Watch has left. It’s used to chugging along for around 14 to 15 hours, followed by 7 to 8 hours of sleep, but what will happen if I’m up for 20 hours or more, with sleep after that?

Will I have to carry the charger with me, looking for opportunities to top up? Maybe I can do some top-up during the 15-20 minute drive from the Eastside Cannery (where I’m staying, a really nice place) and the mid-Strip. It’ll be really interesting to see, with the crazy, altered hours I expect to be keeping, if my Apple watch can even keep up, and if so, how it’ll do, and what extra steps I may have to take to keep it going.

Friday Night at Graton

With a weekend softball tournament in the North Bay (and with a Saturday afternoon first game to boot) and a hotel a hop, skip, and a jump from Graton Casino, I was prepared for my first Friday night experience there.

But first I had to get there.

Google Maps had it about 70 miles form my workplace to the hotel. I was aiming for a 3pm departure, but a meeting ran late and thus, so did I, by about 20 minutes.

Understand that the only reasonable way to get from the peninsula to the North Bay is through San Francisco, and there are no fully north-south freeways in the city.

My trip to the city was free, but from the north half just about all the way up to Rohnert Park, it was like a parking lot. It took 3 hours to go the 70 miles. Ugh.

Still, check in was quick, and I was off to the casino. I called in, yet still had to wait a bit for a seat in one of the two $4/$8 full kill games. I was watching the two tables a bit and one seemed rather wild, and I got lucky in that the first seat that opened was at the less wild one.

That doesn’t mean it was tight. Nosireebob. It was generally loose-passive. I had put the 2 guys on my right as being calling stations, but in the first few orbits, they seemed to raise a bit more often than I would have expected. Turns out, they were getting hit with the deck. I saw KK or AA out of one of then 5 times in 3 orbits or so.

Meanwhile, I was doing a lot of folding. And there are 2 times that I think I was mistaken in doing so.

The first time, I was in the SB with Q9s. I completed after the usual several limpers. The flop came 7-high with 2 in my suit. I checked and the BB led out. Just about everyone called, so I did too to close the betting. The turn was an offsuit J. I checked, the BB bet again, and 4 players called. I thought for a bit, and concluded that (a) I was likely well behind and (b) at least one player was calling with a better flush draw. So I folded. The river completed the flush. The BB checked and a weak-loose player bet. He got called and he had…3x for the idiot end of the 4 straight that was on the board. And he took the pot.

The second hand came when I open raised in EP with QQ. Several cold callers, as usual, and the flop came out 654 rainbow. I bet out, a couple of callers, and then the old calling station from the previous hand I described raised. I hemmed and hawed a bit and finally folded. I reasoned (?) that he played ATC and had likely flopped a straight. I was confident that he would not have raised a draw for a free card. One one other player called his raise, then they checked down a couple of blanks, and the raiser took the pot with…99.

Definitely a bad read on my part.

Awhile later, with my stack getting low, a younger player pushed in and immediately and loudly asked for a seat change button. I put him on a loose aggro image, but he surprised me a bit by folding more than I expected preflop. He did raise a few hands and pushed them through all streets, but he never seemed to get out of line.

I limped in EP with 99. The player above called with a couple of others. The flop was A92 rainbow. I let and got 4 callers. The turn was a J. I led again, and the above player raised. I 3-bet all in, everyone else folded, and he called. I don’t know whet he had; he folded when I showed my set. Nice pot of around $80.

I was getting hungry and went to get a burrito. When I got back, there was a new player on my left with a big stack (2 stacks of red and more than a rack of whites). I wondered whether he was just waiting for a NL game. The first hand I saw him in he was aggressive.

Meanwhile, almost as soon as I got back, I found myself UTG in a kill pot with KK. I raised, and the new player cold called. Only the killer was the other caller (she was in the SB).

The flop came J-high rainbow. The SB bet, I raised, and the guy on my left 3-bet. The SB called 2 bets and I called. I had no idea where I was, but I was worried about a flopped set of jacks. The turn came a blank. The SB checked, I checked, and the aggro on my left checked. The river paired the bottom card and the SB fired out a bet.

Now I’d seen here more than once call multiple bets with bottom pair only to hit trips on the turn or river. Yet I called and the aggro guy folded. She turned over middle pair and I took down a HUGE pot of more than $150.

I went up to the front desk and asked if the player on my left was waiting for a NL game and was told that it didn’t look like he was. I knew that I did not want that player on my left, so I ate quickly, waited for my big blind, than racked up my $50 profit.

In the 3 hours I was at the table, those were the only 2 pots I won.

A Long Session at Graton

On a random whim, I decide to go play some real-money poker, the first I’ve played since my trip to Vegas 4 months ago now. So when I woke up and showered on Saturday, I climbed into my car for the long drive up to Graton Casino, way up in Rohnert Park.

I like playing there, despite the long drive. It’s a nice place to play and the players are usually pretty bad. Unfortunately, my trip started with a bad beat: 19th Avenue was backed up for blocks and blocks. It took a long time to find out why: someone had rammed a parked car just before Golden Gate Park, and the police had cordoned off the right lane.

Most of the rest of the drive was uneventful, and when I arrived, I put myself on the $3/$6 and $4/$8 lists. It was a bit of a wait, but a $3/$6 seat came up first, so I took that one. The game was so good that I didn’t move to the $4/$8 when they opened a new table.

Unfortunately, although the game was very, very good, I was getting nothing in the way of cards. Which meant I was doing a lot of folding. In fact, it took more than an hour to win even the smallest of pots, and 90 minutes before I saw my first pocket pair. Here I think I may have made a bad decision, but I think my read wasn’t all that bad. My first pocket pair was QQ in the big blind, and as was typical, there had already been several limpers.

In fact, this was a VERY passive table. Almost no one had raised preflop in the time I’d been there to that point. And I’m learning also that position is even more important than I ever thought it was, so I am tending more and more to “slowplay” big hands in early position, especially the blinds, where they can be more disguised, and wait to see what action develops through the hand.

Well in this hand, it was a paired board, TTx. I decided to check and see how others liked the hand. And when one player bet and two others called, I was pretty sure that at least one of them likely had a ten. So, fold. As it turns out, the bettor had an underpair, and none of the other players had hit that flop. Still, I know that slowplaying flipped sets or trips tends to be the default action for low limit players, so I think my reasoning was sound, even if the result wasn’t what I’d like.

Meanwhile, I’d identified one calling station early on, and when he moved, I took his seat to put him on my right. Unfortunately, my cards didn’t get any better. Yet the utter passivity of the table led me, for example, to win a hand with AQ unimproved. With 5 other players in, no one bet on any subsequent round, and none of them either had a pair or hit any board card, so my AQ won a small pot with ace high.

I did have one interesting hand where I actually “played poker.” I raised in EP with AJ and got one caller in the SB. The flop came 632. I bet, and the SB folded AK face up.

One calling station left and another arrived. I moved to get him on my right. I still was getting very little in the way of cards. I did open raise with KQ in the CO, and got paid off when I hit top 2. But in another hand, the calling station raised PF. I had AQ and it was an easy fold. Sure enough, he had AA.

Of the few pots I won, the biggest was when I was in the BB with 76. After several limpers, the calling station raised, and I called, figuring I had a good change to go big or fold quickly. Unfortunately, the UTG player limp-reraised. Everyone called, so I did too to close the action. The flop was a beautiful K66. The UTG player drove the action, and I just called him down all the way to the river.

My worst hand was my only flopped set of the 6 1/2 hour session. I ran it into a bigger flopped set. And partly as a result of that (not to mention that not once did I flop even a flush draw with any Ax suited hands), I ended up down a little more than $100.

Even though I lost, I’m chomping at the bit to get back there, maybe even this Saturday. The players are so passive and bad, it’s a value bettors paradise. Of course, value betting assumes that you make decent hands. In the long run, I know that will happen, so this one short-run session loss does not dissuade me, nor does it damage my confidence.

64 hours in Vegas

When I found out that my company takes President’s Day as a holiday, I could think of nothing else to to with a mid-February weekend than to go to Vegas. But I despaired when I started checking airfares and hotel rates: They were both astonishingly high. I suppose it didn’t help that Saturday night was Valentines Day, which seemed to make Vegas nearly as popular as New Years Eve.

I despaired.

Then I heard through the grapevine that a $3/$6 mixed game was getting set up at Green Valley Ranch for 6pm that Friday night. I thought, well, if I can get out of work before noon, I could make the dash to Vegas and make that game.

But hotels were still sky-high. And then I had a little epiphany: Airbnb. I poked around their website and found some places where I thought I might want to try. I asked some questions of one, and finally decided to pull the trigger a few days before the weekend, only to find the option gone. I looked some more, and found a private room with bathroom for a bit more than $100. Not per night, but for all 3 nights. I decided to give it a try.

I hit the road a bit before 11am and cruised through the Central Valley. The gas lines at Costco in Bakersfield weren’t too bad and I got up over the mountains and into the high desert before dark, hitting Barstow as the sun was setting, making very good time. And that’s when the L.A. traffic hit. Just outside of Barstow the 2 lanes of I-15 came to a sudden, inexplicable stop. We crept along at an inexorably slow pace. I was sure there was some accident ahead. It took an hour to go just a few miles. There’d be a little tease of a breakup, and then a sudden stop once again. The darkness fell slowly, achingly. I wanted to move and could not. And finally, after the last vestiges of the sun’s light left my mirrors, cars moved steadily again.

But it put me more than an hour later into Vegas than if I hadn’t hit that traffic. The room was in a house south of I-215. I found it easily, met the people who lived there, dropped my stuff off, and headed the short drive to GVR. I found the poker room–and got the last seat in the game. My weekend poker odyssey has started at 9pm on a Friday night.

As it turns out, I had Jon, the pro who had organized the game, on my left. Great. I didn’t recognize him at first because he’d grown a beard. Rather than a straight-up mixer, it was a dealer’s choice game, and we were playing 2-7 triple draw. My first hand, I get a one-card draw to an 8, raise, hit 87 perfect, and take the first pot I’m in. It’s going to be a fin night. When my turn came to pick a game, I wanted to select highdugi, but several players said they’d leave if it was played, so I went with razzdugi instead. I manage to get no playable hands during the 8 we played. Still, it’s a fun game. I pick another game later, and once again get nothing playable during the 8 hands. I get up more than $100, but then go card dead and just fold a lot until the game breaks at 2am. I’m up $34. I head back to the house, enter to quiet, wash up, and drop off to sleep.

GRV has a high hand promotion running Tuesdays, Thursday, and Saturdays that pays $500 for flopped quads. Being Valentines Day, they are offering an extra bonus: $1000 for flopped quad queens. I figure that should be a good game. I wake up, hear no one in the house, shower and head over to GVR where I get a seat right away in what is technically a $3/$3/$6/$9 game. It’s a good game too, a semi-loose passive game that I can usually profit in.

With 1 limper, I raise OTB with TT. The blinds both folded(!). The flop is QQQ. A turn bet takes the pot. I’m sitting in seat 5, with a couple of loose players on my right. But the table calling station is in seat 9. A table rock raises UTG. I look at TT in the small blind. It’s an easy fold. It’s only a semi-loose table with just 4-5 on average seeing flops, so setmining is not a great strategy. I see 22 and 33 in consecutive EP hands and fold them. And sometimes, the table plays even tighter. I raise UTG with TT and everyone folds. But when the looser players do get in, watch out. I hit TP with a decent kicker from LP, only to have the sticky blinds go runner-runner for a straight in a small pot. AQ isn’t being good to me. I haven’t hit one flop with that hand. After 2 limpers, I raise with AcJc. The flop gives me 2 clubs and all undercards. I don’t make the flush, but an ace on the turn and another on the river gives me a nice pot. Still, there’s a new table flopaholic, and he’s 2 seats to my left. And when it’s all said and done, I’ve played nearly 7 hours and am down $180. In that time, I never saw a pair above TT, never hit one set, never made any flush draw, and I missed all my flops with ace-big hands.

I decide it’s time to go get some food. I wander a bit, and end up deciding to try the buffet. But before I do, I had been messaging with some of my mixed game buddies, and there’s some interest in doing it again. So I head back to the poker room and talk to the floor, who says he’d love to have it run again. I start the list and start tweeting about it, as well as posting it on the Facebook mixed game group. The line is short for the buffet on a Valentine’s Day Saturday night. It’s not too bad either. Not as much stuff as I’d like from the salad bar, but there are some good beef selections and I try several. By the time I’m done, a couple of mixed game friends are already in the poker room, and when I get back there, the list is up to 11 people!

But they have no dealers. Turns out they were getting more business than planned and the dealers they had scheduled were already in the rotation for all the existing cash games for “normal” poker, the limit and no-limit hold ’em games and the one Omaha/8 game. They think they’ll be able to get an additional dealer or two in, plus maybe another when the tournament ends, but as we wait, it doesn’t happen. Meanwhile, two women who had been in other cash games waiting for a mixed game to start (that made 5 of us actually in the room just waiting for a dealer) decided to leave.

After a longer wait, we finally gave up. There were 3 seats in the Omaha/8 game. I took the one to the left of a young aggro guy, but ended up being sandwiched between a VERY loose-aggro guy who was taking an inordinately long time to make plays. He was donking off chips like there was no tomorrow–but also hitting thin river draws, which was keeping his stack healthy and adding to the frustration of players who were not only getting sucked out on, but were getting sucked excruciatingly slowly. Meanwhile, if there is such a thing as an Omaha/8 nit, I was it.

Still, I worked my stack up a bit by making some value calls, and when a seat opened up that would put me across the table from the slow guy, I moved to it. I hit a couple of big hands after that, including one where I flopped bottom set with a 2334 hand that two other players kept capping the betting on and that I ended up losing the high hand on but making the nut low with an ace on the board to take half of a HUGE pot. The game finally broke at 2am, and after 4 1/2 hours, I was $2 shy of doubling up my $160 buy-in.

Back to my Airbnb place and it was dead quiet. Brushed my teeth quietly, headed off to bed and drifted off with plans to wake up whenever and then get a Sunday night mixed game going somewhere on the Strip.

I woke up late in the morning and there was not a sound in the house. Showered, dressed, headed over to Costco to gas up, and then to the Strip. Parked in the Mirage garage and wandered out. Did a little shipping while I was messaging folks about a mixed game, and we decided ti inquire at Ballys because the room manager there used to manage the Quad room (now closed), where we ahd run this very game on many Sunday nights before.

Jake, the room manger, wasn’t there, but the floor was open to the idea. He cautioned that some dealers might not be up to the task, and I reassured him that the players in this game weren’t worried, that we’d help out. He called Jake to get the “official” OK, and then game on! Tweets, posts to Facebook, and then I wandered over to Flamingo to play a little $2/$4 for a couple of hours.

While I was there, I got a message from another player who said he’d called over to Ballys to get on the list and was told “This is Ballys; we don’t have mixed games here.” I sighed and called over myself–and got the same message, from someone who wasn’t the floor I’d talked to in person earlier. I interrupted, in a rather load and stern tone, that I had started the list myself and to look at their Bravo system. Silence. I then berated him a bit and said that when players call to get in a game, he needed to look at Bravo to see if there is an interest list.

Meanwhile, in the $2/$4 game, I played mostly tightly. I chopped a rather large pot with KQ on a T9x flop when I got to see a free turn, hit the miracle J, then had to split with another KQ who was the one to finally stop reraising the nuts. I learned a long time ago to never stop reraising the nuts on the river. It’s the dealers job to chop a pot–and not everyone reads the board correctly to identify the nuts. But I ended down $24 after a bad beat near the time I needed to leave to get to the mixed game.

Whereupon we ran into another little glitch. Turns out that rather than letting us play our “traditional” 10-game mix (with maybe one or two additional variations mixed in), we were going to be limited to only officially “approved” WSOP games. That was annoying, as the WSOP mixed game tournament doesn’t include some of the more esoteric games such as 321 Omaha, but we would survive.

We got the game going with 7 players at 8:45pm. We ended up playing until 4am. I had a blast–but I also dropped more than $200 with some severe #runbad. We stayed full through most of the night too, with players that were just fun.

Back to the Airbnb place by 5am. Now I had no idea what checkout policies there were. I had never discussed it with my host and I’d never seen any of them the whole weekend. I finally found on the Airbnb website a set of general guidelines, so I decided that I should set an alarm for 11am and plan to get up and head out quickly. I did so–and still never saw anyone. I messaged my host that I was heading out, and got a reply that we’d just crossed schedules the whole time. So the idea ended up working after all.

I decided to stop in at South Point, where I’d never been before, in hopes of getting some lunch or maybe playing just a little more poker. Lunch was a bad beat. There’s a Steak Shack at South Point (burgers!), but the line was unreasonably long. So I walked over to the nearby poker room and asked if there as a no-limit seat. Heading out of Vegas, so let’s try something different. There was one seat. I bought in for $140.

I was in seat 10 and the player in seat 1 was the loosest player I’d ever seen. Early on, I saw him limp UTG with 85o, call a raise, and hit a J88 flop. And I think I actually picked up a tell when he bet the turn. But in the time I was at the table (which turned out to be rather short), I never saw him fold preflop.

I played tightly, folding hands for awhile, then I picked up QTs and raised to $8 after 1 limper. I got 7 callers! The flop came Q-high with 2 diamonds. I bet $22 and everyone folded. Wow.

I noticed preflop raises were varying amounts, from $7 to more than $15, and it didn’t seem to depend on whether there had been limpers. I’m not sure how I could pay attention to that because the guy on my right, in the 9 seat, just would not shut up.

Not long after that QTs win, I found KK OTB after 2 or 3 limpers. I made it $13 and got 5 callers, including Mr. Flopaholic in seat 1. (After some online discussion, I think that was a badly sized bet, that it should have been $16-18.) The flop was KQJ rainbow. Score!

Mr Flopaholic, who hadn’t been particularly aggressive, typically just calling, calling, calling, bet out $45. Everyone folded to me. Now I’m sitting with top set on a coordinated flop against a player who could have literally any two cards. I remember thinking that T9 is definitely in his range. I looked at him a bit, didn’t notice any obvious tells, and shoved. He insta-called and tabled the nuts: AT.

Well, I flipped over my top set, figuring I had outs. I was either going to go big or go home.

I went big.

The turn was the case K. The pot was well north of $300, plus I got a $105 bonus for quads. I played around to the blinds and after a whopping 45 minutes I racked up and left. Not counting that bonus, I was up $220. Which left me, as it turns out, almost precisely even for the weekend. Technically, I ended up down $8, but the bonus left my bankroll slightly up for the weekend. And between seeing poker friends and all the hours of mixed game, this was definitely a good weekend.

Speaking of hours, I arrived at 9pm on Friday night and left at 1pm on Monday afternoon. That’s 64 hours. Of those 64 hours, I spent 25 1/2 hours at the poker table. And I wish it could have been more.

Sadly, the bad beats weren’t done. I just stopped at a nearby 7-Eleven to grab sandwiches, drinks, and snacks for the drive, and then hit some mean L.A.-bound traffic. What should have been a little more than a 4-hour leg to Barstow took 7 hours. The good thing? It wasn’t summertime and I didn’t have to endure triple-digit heat. But traffic in many spots, including spots where the freeway narrowed, came to dead stops. The resulting drive that should have take 10 hours to get home took more than 12.

The traffic jams into Vegas on Friday night and back out on the last day of a holiday weekend are why, when I make those drives, I like to plan my trips a day outside those days on both ends–which also give me a couple of extra days in Vegas to play more poker. But with a “real” job now where I have defined vacation time that I accumulate, that’s a luxury I don’t have anymore. Oh well. I’m still looking forward to my next Vegas trip, which may not be until summer after the WSOP is done for 2105.

I can’t be unhappy with this $56 loss

Last night I decided to leave work “early,” around 6pm or so, and head to Artichoke Joe’s for a little relaxing $3/$6. I got everything I wanted–except for a winning session. Yet I really can’t complain because I think I made all good decisions. It’s just the cards ran really bad.

In some ways, the place hasn’t changed. The players are pretty much all just as bad as they ever have been, largely loose and passive. In fact, in my first hour, with quite a few hands getting out, I saw 5 preflop raises. And 2 of them were mine, one an OTB open-raise with 99 that took a small pot with a CB, and one with AKs that whiffed the flop, where I folded after the SB bet out and another player called in front of me.

I played for 4 hours and the best hands I saw was JJ.

I was looking to practice what I had learned from yet another reading of Small Stakes Hold’em, things that I had been successful at a month ago in Vegas. Specifically, being more aggressive in late position with good holdings. But I had only one such instance, a hand where I raised OTB after several limpers with KQs.

That hand, which featured a pretty ragged Q-high flop, was check-raised by the small blind, who had shown down a raggedy flopped 2-pair from a blind just an orbit earlier. Interestingly, he check-called the Q turn and check-folded the K river. Puzzling behavior–but indicative of the behavior of most of the table: They would call down just about anything, so it was value bet city.

It was not long after that I took my only bad beat of the night. One of the aforementioned calling stations had seen a multi-way flop with 74s, called 2 bets with a backdoor inside straight draw, and went runner-runner on my flopped set of jacks.

My last best hand, which got me up to near what I left with, I flopped a flush draw after raising preflop with AQs, got multiple callers with flop and turn bets, the turn completing my flush, and even got my all-in bet called on the river.

But really, it was largely a night of fold, fold, fold, and fold some more. I had very few even speculative hands, never mind much in the way or power hands. And so I largely just sat and watched. And watched.

Sadly, Artichoke Joe’s has made some changes for the worse. First, they stopped cutting the deck when the dealer pulls it out of the shuffling machine. Second, like with Lucky Chances, they take $1 for the jackpot rake when 2 players chop the blinds.

Because I had plenty of time to think, I also realized just how much the establishment takes out of the game. Understand that in California, it’s a flat rake. If there’s a flop, the rake goes down. At Artichoke Joe’s it’s “just” $3, with an additional $2 for jackpot (although I think the latter, or at least the second dollar, is taken at $20), so in a hand where just the button limps and the BB calls, and then they both check it down (something that I saw several times), there’s a whopping $2 pot out there to be had.

Figuring a good brisk 25 hands per hour, at least, I’m figuring something in the neighborhood of $500 was taken off the table by the house. That’s about $55 per player (remember, we’re playing 9-handed)–just about my loss. If I had had better cards, I would have easily overcome the house rake.

I’m kind of looking forward to doing the exact same thing some Friday night in the near future. In the long run, the games themselves are good enough to beat the huge house take.

The $300 $4/$8 pot

I don’t usually do a hit-and-run session, but today was different, and it was because of one pot.

I got seated right away at a $4/$8 full kill table at Graton when I got there at 2pm after a somewhat grueling drive. Traffic northbound on 101 between Novato and Petaluma basically sucks, largely because of construction that hasn’t reduced lanes but slows people down anyway. It added about 30 minutes to my drive.

I changed seats almost right away to get a better view of the board and had a real calling station slip[ in to the seat I vacated 2 seats to my right. She pretty much never folded. And returning to the table next to her after a short absence was an over-aggressive player I’d played against before, one who would 3- and 4-bet preflop with any pocket pair and any ace. I’d seen him accumulate big stacks and I’d seen him pull out multiple buy ins.

I’d been at the table for about 40 minutes and was thinking about pocket pairs and sets, especially thinking that I’d not gotten any pocket pairs yet. The EP player on my right open raised after the calling station limped, and I chose to flat when I found 10-10. The player on my left, another loose player also called, and the player on his left, somewhat short stacked, 3-bet. The rest of the table called the 3-bets cold around to the over-aggro guy in the BB who capped. Everyone called, and I was thinking that it was a really good time to flop a set. It’s pretty much the same think I always think when I get into a large pot with a pocket pair.

Only this time I hit a flop of JTx. It was checked to me. I almost never slowplay sets, and even though any bet gives the right odds to all with just about anything in a pot that size (9 players x 4 bets x $4 = $5 rake & jackpot drop leaves a $139 pot that I was betting $4 into). Of course everyone called around to the over-aggro big blind, who made it 3 bets. The calling station to his left called, I capped, and it finally got a few players out, but we still had 3 or 4 or 5 left (I forget exactly), but the SB had folded, so the over-aggro BB bet the turn blind.

AT this point I was thinking that someone might have JJ, and I suspected it might be the over-aggro guy, when the cas3 10 hit the turn. The calling station finally folded, and I had a tough decision. I wanted to get overcalls, so I just called. I did get one overcall, but the pot was so big at the time, I think I might have made a mistake. I think I might have gotten a cold call, and the over-aggro guy might have made it 3 bets.

The river was a blank and I ended up heads up against the over-aggro guy, who finally only called my 4th bet, and sure enough, he had JJ.

That was a monster pot and it took me a couple of hands to finish stacking. I stacked approximately 3 full racks of chips, close to $300. And shortly after I found QQ in the BB after several limpers and only called, being out of position. The flop came JT3. I checked, it was checked around to over-aggro guy, who bet. Calling station called, and I called intending to check-raise an expected turn bet.

But the turn was a 3, and not only did over-aggro check behind, calling station bet out, the first aggressive action she’d made. I could not find a way to put her on anything but turned trips, and I folded my QQ fairly easily and quickly.

With over-aggro guy up to his usual tricks, I decided to pick up my chips after just an hour rather than risk them in a high-variance situation, even with calling station woman also on my right. The net for one single hour was $244, not at all bad, a nice little boost going into my Vegas trip next weekend.

A long session

I posted awhile back why a 40-mile drive makes for good poker. A new casino opened recently with a 20-table poker room that several miles further, and even though I dropped $100 in my most recent session, I want to keep returning. And this sessions was the longest one I’ve played in a long, long while, more than 11 hours. The only reason I left was because my table broke. I had enough energy to keep going, even though it was 1am, but I didn’t want to get used to a whole new table.

Still, such a good game, and if I hadn’t had such a bad run, I would have come out ahead easily. Why?


Sets are usually winners in low-limit limit poker games, and when they win, they usually win big pots. It’s why set mining, seeing a flop with any pair for any number of bets from any position is almost always the highest EV strategy in these games. This particular game is $4/$8 with a full kill.

Here’s the math: On average, you’re dealt a pocket pair once every 17 hands in hold ’em. I know the fasted dealer at the Mirage in Vegas averages 30-32 raked hands per hour, so figure on average you’re probably seeing around 25 hands per hour in most games, maybe a bit more in the 9-handed games that are played at the Graton Casino. So on average you shoudl see a little bit less than 2 pocket pairs per hour.

On average, an pocket pair will flop a set 1 out of every 8 times.

I played for 11+ hours. I’m guessing that I saw between 18 and 24 pocket pairs. I know I got 99 4 times during that session. And I did not flop one set. In fact, there were probably 3 or 4 occasions where I had a pocket pair and got to see a free turn, and failed to turn a set as well, which puts the set mining odds at a little better than 1 in 8. I’m not sure how to do the math, but I’d guess it’s some fraction of 1 percent to get 18-25 pocket pairs and not once flop a set.

Late in the session, I did finally turn a set, but it was when the table was shorthanded, there was little action, and the lone opponent folded on the turn. This was a hand where I actually open-raised with 88 when were were just 5-handed, and only the big blind called. He called a bet on a 644 flop. When a 8 hit the turn(!), I thought about slowplying, but I knew the player was fairly loose and figured I had a chance to pick up more bets, but also, he folded.

The game conditions were ripe for winning too. Twice I had maniacs at the table, and in both cases, they were 2 seats to my right. I was in perfect position, and never got any cards against them. One got into the game for 5 racks within a couple of hours (that’s %500), and I was able to get almost none of it. For both of them, their default play was almost always raise, especially preflop. The words “call” and “fold” simply were not in their vocabulary. It’s a value bettors dream, but to bet for value, you have to make hands, even weak ones, because these players are completely unbluffable.

Oftentimes I can sit at a table for hours, folding hand after hand, and my patience is rewarded when the cards eventually turn. Not this time. I sat down at 1:30pm and played straight through until 1am and the cards never went my way. Oh, I picked up pots here and there, and I made one mistake that may have cost me a big pot, but otherwise it was hour after hour of being card dead. I even raised with AA late when the table was shorthanded only to see everyone fold.

That one mistake? I picked up AQo against and cold called, as did a few others. I hit the A on a two-flush board and just smooth called the maniac’s flop bet. But I also just smooth called the maniac’s turn bet, which allowed a baby flush draw to get there on the river. I got cold feet on the turn and didn’t pop it then. Sure, the flush draw may have called 2 turn bets cold (cold calling a flop bet when there’s a two-flush on the board is frequently a tell of a flush draw), but it would have been an unprofitable call at that point. I failed to protect my hand on the turn and lost it on the river.

But I think that this game will show a profit in the long term, and even though it’s more than an hour’s drive, I think it’s worth the effort and I expect I’ll have more long sessions there in the future.

Why I drive 40 miles to play at 101 Casino

It’s a 40-mile drive to the 101 Casino in Petaluma from my home in the southwest corner of San Francisco, a drive that generally takes a minimum of an hour, or, if the Tour of California temporarily shuts down the Golden Gate Bridge in the morning or accidents on 101 southbound in Marin county gum traffic up, the drive can extend well beyond the hour mark. And several places are far close. Lucky Chances is almost walking distance, for crying out loud. My former “home” is just a short hop, and even Bay 101 and M8trix on San Jose are closer and quicker.

BUt the games at 101 Casino are just so good, that even when I end a session down $40, I’m jonesing to get back.

I recently found T.J. Cloutier’s and Tom McEvoy’s “Championship Hold’Em book on Amazon. Recently updated, they added “Limit” to the cover in the update. I hadn’t known it focused on limit poker, and so for $10, it’s a no brainer for my Kindle library. And they are reinforcing notions of playing tight in limit games, even in looser limit games. And the games at 101 Casino are anything, if not loose.

But better than just loose. They are not the rammin’-jammin’ type games frequently found in California cardrooms. o, more often, they are like today, very sedate, with preflop raises being the exception, rather than the rule, but rarely do fewer than 5 players see a flop. I love these loose-passive games. They are a value betting paradise–if I get the cards.

The main reason I left down $40 (and I wanted to stay longer, but I had some chores I needed to do at home before work on Monday)) was 2 hands. In both, I raised in EP and got multiple cold-callers. In both, I hit the flop hard, And in both, I got drawn out on, one on a very thin draw.

In the first, I had QQ and flopped top set, but with a flush draw. One of the tables calling stations–who never, ever raised preflop–was on my immedaite right, and had actually flopped not just any random flush draw, but the nut flush draw. He caught it on the turn (and check raised), and my river 10-outer could catch back up to his turn 8-outer.

In the second, I raised UTG with AQ and hit a rainbow Q-high flop. Again, multiple cold callers. This time, one of them had flopped middle pair with A-10 and caught a river 10. That’s a 2-outer for those keeping score. Both of these were decently large pots, and winning them instead of losing them would have made this easily a winning session.

That said, one hand in particular defines why this is such a good game. I limped in LP with 10s9s and saw a K-high flop with 6 or 7 others. It was checked to a woman two seats to my right, a fairly new player who came across as being a weak-passive type. She actually led at this flop. The calling station between us called, and I raised to get a free card. Everyone else folded and they both called.

Now I’m a big believer in the idea of, if you raise for a free card, take it. But this time, A spade hit the turn. It was checked to me, and so I bet. The woman called, and the calling station folded. A blank hit the turn, she shecked, I bet, she thought for a few moments–and called yet again. She mucked when I showed my flush.

But she paid off with what had to be far the weaker hand. IN these games, when you make a hand, you will get paid off. Sadly, in this five-plus hour session, I get very few decent hands. During one stretch, I must have gone 3 or 4 orbits tossing every non-blind hand. It’s not a game where you take flyers, where you push the action, where you can bluff (and I know bluffing is possible in some low-limit limit games). Nope, this game is about making a good hand and then just betting it. Don’t even think of Fancy Play Syndrome. I saw one guy who sat two seats to my left pay off river bets with nothing but second and third pair.

In the long run, this game should be so profitable, that it’s worth the long drive. And even worth giving up a fun Saturday night to get up early Sunday morning for that drive.