Monday, January 28, 2013

WTF River Card of the Night, 3-Outer Style

Took a trip to Hollywood Casino at Charles Town, WV yesterday with a friend and fellow recreational grinder of mine.  First bit of bad luck was that we had to wait about 2 hours to get a seat at a $1/2 table.  We couldn't even see our names on the monitor until after we had killed about an hour and a half playing video poker on the nearby Game Kings.  Later on we found out that sadly one of their dealers had passed away recently and a lot of fellow staff members were at the funeral, at which point we both felt like massive assholes for being slightly salty over the wait.  Nevertheless, the whole upstairs room was closed because of the short-staffing, and given that a lot of people seem to have nothing else to do on a Sunday afternoon than play cards, we had to pay our dues to get an eventual seat.

At this point I had been playing for about an hour at a table that seemed semi-tight with not a lot of big pots being played.  I had taken down three solid pots myself - twice with TT that hit a set but didn't get paid off, and once with KQs.  On the latter hand I had raised UTG to $8, got 5-6 callers including the BB.  Flop was KKQ and I c-bet about half the pot, trying to look like a feeler and hoping someone else had a K, JT, or a flush draw.  Only the BB called, and then he led out the turn (off-suit 8) for $15.  I Hollywooded for just a bit and put out what I hoped would appear as a hesitant call.  River was a 9, giving JT the straight and filling the flush draw.  BB bet $20 this time and I cut out chips to raise to $90, trying to look like a bullyish steal.  BB starred me down, showed me a Q, asked if I would show, etc, trying to get some sort of read.  I guess I did a good job of looking scared because he eventually called and mucked AQo.

An hour or so goes by and we find ourselves at it again, this time he's in the SB and I'm the BB.  About 4 or 5 players limped in and the cutoff makes it $6 (ok?) to go.  Everyone and their mother calls, including me with ATo.  Flop is a beautiful TT5 with two spades (I have the Ace of spades).  SB (same guy as before) bets $5 (ok?) and I decide that's just way too small to build a pot that's already about $40 and raise to $25, expecting maybe a spade draw or another Ten to call.  Only the SB comes along and the turn brings another 5.  Not the ideal card if I'm up against the other Ten, and a spade draw is probably check-folding at this point.  SB checks, I bet another $25, SB calls.  River is the King of diamonds, and now all of a sudden SB leads out for $85.  I tell him that I'm assuming we're chopping and elect to just call.  He shows KTo for the lovely 6.82% (about 12% on the flop) river suckout.  Nice hand sir.

That hand put a sizable dent in my stack but I was able to chip back up over the next three hours or so, even after a pretty cold run that occurred at the worst possible time, when a super-LAG kid was donking off tons of chips and had the rest of the table getting quite donkey-ish at the same time just hoping to bust him.  Either way, up is up, and I had a good time overall.  Still can't wait for poker to come to Maryland to spend more hours playing and less hours driving back and forth and waiting for an open seat.

Until then, best of luck at the tables, and watch out for those 3-outers.


Thursday, January 10, 2013

Learning to Love the Finer Things in Live Poker

As previously mentioned in a recent post, when I started getting back into poker I decided it was time to treat myself to a fancy set of new chips - sort of an engagement gift to myself.  With online poker virtually dead I was becoming more aware of the fact that if I really wanted to play more often I would need to branch out into nearby home games, start hosting some myself, and/or drive over an hour away whenever convenient to play in one of the poker rooms right over Maryland state lines.  If I was going to have any success hosting a game of my own I was definitely going to need the proper setup, and the first item on the list was new chips.

Venerati chips by Sidepot
After a quick Google search I stumbled into the world of poker chip obsession,, which is now one of the sites I check almost daily.  Turns out poker chips are a much more complicated product than most of the cheap "dice" chip manufacturers would have you believe.  Not only that, but there is a dedicated group of poker-loving folks out there who take their chips very seriously and have a wealth of knowledge on everything from mold options to edge-spot designs.  I spent a few days perusing old threads and boning up on all the lingo while discovering a wide range of poker chip options that I never knew existed.  Eventually I settled upon a set of ceramic chips that I found visually right up my alley - the Venerati chips by Sidepot.  I liked them so much I actually went back and put in two more supplemental orders over the next few months.  These chips continue to get compliments from both regulars and recreational players, and they're probably the only ceramic chips that I've ever found to be just as satisfying as the other alternatives that I next discovered...

A few months down the road I officially have the poker chip addiction and can't wait to see what's new on ChipTalk every day.  I've bought a few sample sets of other chips here and there and am beginning to amass a collection to go along with my Atlantic City mementos.  Then one day a thread pops up about a Halloween sale offered by this guy Jim  from The Chip Room, featuring used chips from a closed Missouri casino among other things.  Knowing what I know now, I probably should have just handed my whole bankroll over to Jim at the time, as my first purchase of a small set of used Paulson (the top hat and cane chip company) President Casino on the Admiral (PCA) chips was only the first in a long line of his great sales that I would take advantage of.  Hmm, or am I the one being taken advantage of?  Who cares, poker chips!

President Casino on the Admiral chips
The PCA's came complete with the grime and gunk of the former riverboat casino-goers, also known as "finger jelly."  They demanded quite the labor-intensive process of soaking, scrubbing, and oiling in order to get cleaned up real nice, and luckily all the details of how to go about this were already covered in the ChipTalk threads.  This set doesn't get much play anymore, though they still have a great feel and I love the color combos and shaped inlays of each denomination.  I will add that I play in a few home games with mint condition and lightly-used PCA's and the difference is remarkable.  Mint Paulson chips are the absolute nuts, but you'll have to pay a pretty penny for them.

A little further down the road I started thinking about getting a serious set.  And by serious, I mean that in the world of chip-talkers you're only serious about your chips when you get your own custom-designed set.  One of the main companies in the business of making custom clay chips for enthusiasts such as myself is Atlantic Standard Molding (ASM) now based out in Las Vegas.  You pick the color combinations, the edge-spots, the mold, and the inlay design of your own making, give them the preferred quantities needed, and they shop it up and ship it off in a few months time.  A few of the home games hosts I know have their own custom sets from ASM (some actually have two or three full sets) and they are awesome chips to play with.  After doing a little Q&A with some of these guys I started playing around with the color combos and inlay designs, using the ChipTalk Chip Factory and an old version of Photoshop, respectively.  The whole process took a matter of months to finally get things right, but as of now I have an order in and paid for and am hoping for a late February or early March delivery.  Putting a game together with quality chips is nice.  Having your own custom set to put in play is definitely extra baller!

Empress Casino chips
For a little while I thought the big order for ASM's would mark the end of my poker chip shopping sprees, or at least for a good while.  Unfortunately it was not long before another one of Jim's sales went up in the threads that had me rationalizing how NOT purchasing more chips clearly did not make any sense.  The prices were just too good to pass on as always, and thus I started putting together another set of used Paulson chips from the former Empress riverboat casino in Illinois.  This set is now my go-to for nickel-dime games with friends and family (we just move the decimal places on the $5, $25, and $100's), as well as for any potential tournaments.  The hundos ($100's) are by far some of my favorite chips that I've ever laid eyes on, and they look particularly nice in stacks and racks.  It's quite likely that this set will become secondary once I receive my custom babies, but I'll make sure they still see the table every now and then.

I'm hoping that at this point I'll settle down a little bit and be happy with the beautiful chip sets that I have.  One thing I'm sure of though is that the little things are insanely addicting.  There are quite a few chip-talkers out there that boast tens of thousands of chips across dozens of large sets... we're also talking tens of thousands of dollars worth of total investments here.  Some even put together live sets - sets of chips from casinos still in operation.  These are the folks who could have cashed in their chips before they left the casino for hundreds of dollars, but opted instead to keep them (some temporarily, some likely permanently) for playing at home.  Certainly I'll take a souvenir or two from the casino poker rooms I play in, but I can't see myself ever driving hours away to mine racks of mint chips from new casinos.  Then again, I probably never would have predicted that my fanaticism for poker chips would have ever reached the level that it's currently at.  Perhaps when you get into live poker you just start to appreciate the finer things that you never think of when sitting at a computer and playing online.

My new appreciation for live poker things has also extended to cards and tables, which I'll talk more about later.  Certainly it'd be a bit unfortunate to have great quality chips on a lousy table with old marked-up paper cards, and I definitely have plans for a future poker room / man-cave that brings the whole high-quality package together; think Ron Burgundy's leather-bound books and smells of rich mahogany.  It will likely be a while before this project even begins, but the necessary pieces are already accumulating in various rooms of my house.  Rest assured that one of these days my fine poker chips will get to splash around and play surrounded by the classiest poker room amenities on the block.

For now, I'll just keep dreaming and trying not to spend all my money on more chips...


Sunday, January 6, 2013

A Decent Start to the Tournament Poker Season

Played in a big monthly home game tournament last night - about 45 runners squeezed into a basement with five tables and a fridge stocked full of beverages.  The host is an incredibly gracious guy just for allowing us all into his house, but he also puts together a great tournament structure (in the end-of-year championship format) with high-quality amenities (chips, cards, tables, etc.).  Having been to other home games that lack pretty much all of these, it's always a great relief to play at this game just for the fact that it's run by someone who actually knows their poker stuff.

Anyways, last night was the first monthly tournament of this year's season, and the buy-in was upped this year from $40 to $50 - $30 goes to the monthly prize pool, $10 to the end-of-year freeroll (with starting chipstacks based off of points accrued from monthly finishes), $5 bounty for each player, and $5 goes to the host for supplying all the beverages.  My plan is pretty much always to play my typical tight-aggressive style and be patient early on, since the starting stacks and blind levels allow for a more conservative approach.  If I do happen to bust earlier on it's no big deal, since a $.25/.50 cash table is usually forming by the 2nd hour of play, with at least 2 full tables by the end of the night.

Most of the night I was pushing around a less-than-average stack, but I managed to make a few key moves, got it in twice as a big favorite and doubled-up, and ran fairly deep to finish in 5th for a small profit.  There were two big hands at the final table that I can't stop thinking about, the latter of which did me in.  Here's the first:

Down to 6 players, blinds at 2500/5000.  I have 56k in chips and am probably 4th or 5th overall.  Hero is first to act and looks down at AhAc.  FYI - BB generally plays a very LAG style but makes solid reads and intimidates the hell out of a lot of other players.  He's the type of player that really gets his jollies by getting in your head and messing with you, but without all the Jamie Gold trash talk.

I decided to standard raise to 3xBB to 15k, and it folded around to the BB who quickly asked me how much I had left.  I counted out the 41k for him and went into blank stare mode as I felt him trying to get something out of me.  I sat there for at least a solid minute as he stared me down and likely contemplated shoving.  God I wanted him to shove, though the more I waited the more I felt it was unlikely that he was going to.  "How can I get you to shove," I thought.  "What do you want me to do to look weak?"  I tried to let out a hard swallow to feign concern, and also just because there was a ton of saliva swishing around in my mouth, possibly foaming with the prospect of doubling up again.

After giving me the intense staredown for what seemed like an eternity 
(keep in mind he was immediately on my right) he put out chips to call.  Flop was Q93 with two diamonds.  He checked, I pushed, not wanting to slowplay myself into a 2-outer or something, and he folded.  Certainly can't complain about adding a decent amount of chips to my stack in that situation, but I'm still thinking about what I could have possibly done to get him to push.

A little while later we're down to 5 players and it folds to me with Kh8d and about 80k in chips on the button.  With blinds at 3000/6000 I raised to 14k and got the giant stack BB (different guy) to call.  Beautiful flop for me - T88 with two hearts.  BB checks and I put out what I hope looks like a weak continuation bet of 18k.  BB calls and I assume he may have a weak hand that he feels is ahead... he certainly had the chips to make a thin call here.  Turn is the 2h.  BB checks and I opt to check behind and pretend to be giving up on the hand so that the BB will be more likely to take a stab at it on the river.  There aren't many river cards that I'm thinking I should be worried about, especially considering that any heart will give me the 2nd nut flush (or nut flush if it's the Ah).  River is a black 4 and the BB bets 30k.  I'm certainly not folding my trips, so I push the rest in and get a quick call.  BB shows J4 of hearts for the turned flush and my tournament experience is over.

Not sure what I could have done differently here to get away from this.  I think it's just one of those hands that you can't play much differently given the circumstances and limited information.  Folding preflop in the spot would be a bit too tight, even for me, though I suppose a larger raise would have got the blinds.  After the flop I don't think there's any escaping from it.

Either way I'm quite content with my run and the way I played throughout the tournament.  This is the 7th winning session in a row for me, beginning in late October (I know, things have been hectic), including this one tournament, one $1/2 game, three $.25/.50 games, and two nickel-dime games with friends and coworkers.  All-in-all it's been a nice little upswing of a few hundred dollars for the bankroll.

Here's hoping that the run good continues.  More to come later.  Best of luck for now,


Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Story Behind my Poker Revival

Over the past four years or so I transitioned from a life of part-time micro-stakes online grinding, to virtually no poker at all, to live poker in nearby home games with the occasional casino trips.  The transition to live games happened in large part because of Black Friday and the demise of online poker options - something I'll write more about at a later date - but the actual spark that lit the fire of poker obsession in me again was really quite random.  As I look back through old posts and see scattered anecdotes of how work and romantic relationships were cutting into my poker time, I realize now that I very well could have gone on in life and completely forgot about the game that I once couldn't sleep without dreaming about.  Thank goodness for a trip I'll never forget, mostly for other reasons, for getting me back into the old swing of things.

It was early August in 2011.  Lord knows what I had been doing with my summer vacation, though I was definitely not achieving the level of productivity that my lady friend at the time was, as she had just finished law school and was studying madly for the bar exam.  We had decided to celebrate her assumed passing of the monster test (months later we found out she did indeed pass it) with a trip to Aruba.  Unbeknownst to her, I had other special plans in mind that involved expensive diamonds, a moonlit walk on the beach, and her not making the rest of our vacation incredibly awkward by saying "yes."  Of course I did my best to play it cool and not give away any hints.  Fortunate for me, it seemed the bar exam experience had left her mind in a state of numbness and made her completely incapable of picking up on any behavior that would otherwise be relatively suspicious.  At the same time I have to admit, I'm pretty damn good at keeping a secret.

As we had packed our bags for the flight I happened to throw in a deck of cards for potential entertainment.  On the plane my wife-to-be was going down a list of things to do at our resort (I entrusted her with all the planning and was too busy worrying about my little scheme to think about other things to do), and she mentioned that there was a nearby casino.  "Interesting," I thought out loud, "I wonder if they have poker there."  The little lady's curiosity was peaked as well.  She knew of my earlier life grinding and had always welcomed the occasional poker tangent with attentive and somewhat intrigued eyes and ears.  "That could be fun," she replied, "you'll have to teach me how to play."  And that's when my pants burst at the seems with overwhelming joy and we were forced to make an emergency landing.

Kidding aside, we made solid use of that handy deck of cards on the remainder of the flight, going through all the basics, simulating 6-handed play, and even getting a little into pot odds.  It was probably a little bit much to spoon her right off the bat, but nonetheless her interest in the game was sustained, and what's more, I came to realize that mine was making a full-blown comeback.  My heart was racing just thinking about big check-raise bluffs, flopping the nuts, and trapping fools into stacking off.  Safe to say that the resort casino had become one of the top priorities on our to-do list, right after eating, drinking, and a possible bowel movement, but only if absolutely necessary.

To make a long story a bit shorter, we were disappointed by the lack of poker at the nearby casino, but continued to play on our own by the pool, in the hotel, and on the trip back.  The rest of the vacation was awesome.  We chilled with flamingos, snorkeled with exotic fish, took in the local flavors, and ultimately got engaged on the last night in town.  In the days that followed I remembered what a recently engaged guy friend of ours had said on the topic of engagements.  "It's not fair that the girl gets a fancy ring and the guy get's nothing for engagements.  The guy should get something cool as well, just something manly though... like a sword to wear around.  Then all his friends could be like 'whoa awesome engagement sword man, congratulations!'"

I agreed with this assessment, though I'm not that into swords and am fairly certain that the open carry laws prohibit such showmanship.  Nonetheless feeling entitled to a small treat for myself, and still coming off my recent poker revival, I decided to splurge a little bit on a new set of poker chips.  This in turn led me into the world of poker chip enthusiasts, including a handful of home game hosts in my area, which in turn led me to appreciate all of the finer things in the alternate universe of live poker.

To be continued in my next post - the poker chip addiction and transitioning to live poker.  Best of luck for now,