Thursday, May 21, 2015

Nixing Mixed Games

For some time now, I’ve been leaning towards doing a post about Mixed Games. Finally, the time has come.

You know what I mean by Mixed Games, right?  That’s when the specific type of poker that is played is changed every so often, usually once an orbit.  Instead of a steady diet of Hold’em, you’ll see all kinds of poker games….Omaha, 7-Card Stud, Razz, Badugi, Badeucy, Big O (not nearly as exciting as it sounds) 2-7 Triple Draw, etc.  Then there’s variations on those games, some can be played hi-low, or you can have multiple boards.  Or three flops, two turns, one river. Some games can even be played with an “ocean.”  I think that means there’s one more community card after the river. 

Badeucy?  What the hell is Badeucy?

Hell if I know.  And I’ve played it.

Here’s the thing.  It seems that when groups of friends get together to play poker, a lot of times they want to play Mixed Games instead of hold’em.  For one thing, it’s easier to get everyone in the group at the same table.  Yes, you can get all your buddies together at the same hold’em table in a casino, but it ain’t easy, as I’ve described here.

But if you and your buddies want to play a mixed game, and there’s enough of you, you can pretty much have a table to yourself.  Especially if you arrange it with the poker room before hand.

Thus, for certain occasions, I’ve found myself playing mixed games in Vegas.  I guess you could consider those birthday games I’ve described in the past (see here and here, for example) as mixed games.  But just switching back and forth between Crazy Pineapple and Omaha Hi doesn’t get to the crux of what a mixed games session is all about.  Mixed games usually mean a lot more variety, and a lot more obscure games, games that are much more different from hold’em than are Crazy Pineapple and Omaha Hi.

And after the original TBC Invitational, I played H.O.R.S.E (see here).  But at least all those games were games I had played before and kinda knew most of the rules for (except maybe Razz, but that isn’t really very complicated).

Anyway, I’m frequently invited to play in these mixed games, and I try my best to say no.  It’s not that I don’t like mixed games.  It’s just that I hate them with a fiery passion.

OK, that’s not entirely true.  I don’t hate them in theory.  It’s just in practice that I hate them.

You see, by the time I started playing poker in casinos, going on 10 years ago now, hold’em had taken over the poker world.  I had played stud (both 7-card and even 5-card) back a zillion years ago, but I had to learn hold’em if I wanted to play poker.  Approximately 99% of the games dealt in Vegas are hold’em. 

So I read up on the game, and of course, learned by playing it.  It’s the only game I’ve actually studied how to play.  First I learned the rules, then I studied the strategy.  And studying hold’em strategy is a never-completed process.

But most of those games in a typical mixed game session?  Not only didn’t I know strategy, I didn’t know the rules.  In fact, I’d never even heard of a lot of the games before I was actually playing them—with actual real money on the line. And those games where low is best drive me crazy.  Sometimes an Ace is high only, sometimes it’s low.  I can never keep that straight from one game to the next.  In some low games a 9-high could win, but other games, the high card can only be 8 or lower.  Huh?  Then there’s a game where you have to have low cards in four different suits. WTF?

I should never, ever play these games because I not only don’t know the strategy, I don’t know the rules.  It’s like sitting down to the poker table for a game of NLHE and not knowing cold whether or not a straight beats a flush (see here).  No sane person would do that.  And no sane person would sit down to a real money mixed game where both Badeucy and Badugi were being played and not be able to tell you the difference between the two.

But I have done just that, so I must be insane.

I’m not sure, but I think the first time I played mixed games it was at the Tropicana, shortly before that room closed.  They had a regular weekly mixed game.  Poker Grump knew I was in town and invited me to play.  When I said I had no idea how to play those games, he said that no one was really an expert on them anyway, and it would be fun to learn.  Like a fool, I believed him.  Not the last time Grump suckered me (see here).

It was miserable for me.  I didn’t know half of the games.  I never even heard of them.  I got a 30 second explanation as the game changed and then I was on my own. 

Around the same time I guess, there was an AVP (now Poker Atlas) mixer I was in town for, so of course I showed my company spirit by showing up for that event at Treasure Island.

Last year I attended at least two more of these.  One was another PokerAtlas get together at the Mirage.  And then there was AnteUp ambassadors get-together at Treasure Island.  Both of these were during the WSOP. 

I never wrote about any of those sessions because I really wouldn’t have known what to say.  I didn’t take notes, cuz I couldn’t.  I somehow won some hands but mostly I lost.  I was too confused to anything other than fold most of the time.

But the worst part was losing because I didn’t know the rules of the particular game I was playing.  Of course, even with Omaha, I’ve called (or bet) on the river thinking I had a big hand, only to have to be reminded that you have to play two cards from your hand.  But some of these other games, especially all the low-ball variants, just drive me crazy.  I’ve lost plenty of money because I thought an Ace was low but it was only high in that particular game.  And you know, it’s not really a good idea, right in the middle of the hand facing a bet, to ask, “Is Ace low or high?”  It’s like asking if a straight beats a flush. 

So bad enough I’ve done zero studying on these games to learn strategy.  But worse is not even knowing the rules of the particular game.  And losing because of that.

Of course, even when I know the rules, because I never studied strategy, I never get the most value for my good hands, or lose the least amount of money for second best hands.  So sometimes, I’d show a monster and people would ask, “Why didn’t you bet?” Or “Why didn’t raise?”  Umm….because I wasn’t sure I had that good of a hand….or because I didn’t know the strategy for that game to get the most for it.  Then there were other times when the right thing to do was to stay in and I folded because I was just too confused.

These games are just guaranteed money losers for me.  Not knowing what I’m doing, it would be almost impossible for me to come out a winner.  I’d have to get lucky beyond belief.  And the money I’m losing is real.  Sure these are usually low limit games—2/4, 3/6—but believe me, that adds up fast.  Especially when you get a few aggros in the game.  When the friends get together, it frequently starts out tame but sooner or later, the buddies get into a dick-measuring contest and start raising and re-raising with crap—or without even looking at their cards.  And I get caught in the middle.

In that Tropicana game, there were a couple of real sharks who knew the games and made it impossible to ever see a limped flop. I don’t blame them for trying to use their knowledge and skill to take advantage of the weaker players—that’s why we play poker.  But as a beginner, it was frustrating beyond belief.

And for good measure, some of those mix games I’ve played include No Limit games, so the money can get really big. 

I recognize that some of these games are fun to play, once you know the rules.  I get that.  And too, playing oddball games with a bunch of friends can be fun.  I’ve had plenty of laughs at these games.  Until I look down at my dwindling stack. 

The thing is, I would absolutely love to play these type of games around a kitchen table, for quarters and half dollars.  So that at the end of a really bad night, I’d be out $25-$50 tops.  That would be worth it.  It would also be a great way to learn these games.

But playing them in a real casino for real stakes is quite a bit different.  Dropping a few hundred bucks in games like this is not fun.  I can’t afford to just throw money away like that.  Plus, there’s the opportunity cost. If I’m playing a mixed game where I am sure to lose money, it means I am not playing in a hold’em game where, believe it or not, I actually have a chance to win money (don’t laugh, it happens).  True I could also lose money, and I could lose even more than I would like likely lose at a mixed game.  But at least I have a chance to win.

So you might be asking why I don’t take some time and study those games, learn them, read a few strategy articles on them (after memorizing the rules).  Well, the thing is, I don’t have enough time to study and improve my NLHE game.  Since I’m going to play that 99% of the time, any time I have to study poker is best spent studying that.  It wouldn’t make sense to use the precious little time I have to improve my skills at NLHE by trying to figure out the difference between Badugi and Badeucy. 

So why do I ever play in a mixed game? Well, to be sociable, sometimes. If all my buddies or colleagues want to do it, what can I say?  If there’s an official game sponsored by my employers, I want to a team-player.

So why am I bringing this up now?  Well, as you might have guessed, there’s going to be another one of these mixed games coming up soon after the WSOP gets underway.  A group of Ante Up columnists are going to have one, just like last year. A bunch of the old AVP’ers who love the mixed games will likely join us. They’re all great people and I look forward to seeing them all again, and having some laughs at the poker table.  I know I’ll have a good time—until I get a hand which I don’t know how to play for a game I don’t know how to play. 

I’ll be there.  Wish me luck.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Great Caesars Post!

OK, I’m not really calling this a great post.  That’s not for me to say, I only write this crap.  It’s for you guys (and ladies, if you ladies are offended by being referred to as “guys”) to decide whether this is any good.

But this is about a great session I had at Caesars Palace.  I could call it “Great Caesars Session” but that has no panache to it. Since this is a blog post, I can change “session” to “post” and it becomes a play on the exclamation “Great Caesars Ghost!” as uttered by Perry White in the Superman comics and TV show (and the movies, maybe, but I can’t remember).  And not only does the play on words amuse me, but it will give me a perfect excuse to post an otherwise gratuitous pic of one the fine ladies who has played Lois Lane on the screen over the years.  And if you have ask why, when I’m using a Perry White reference, I’d post a sexy pic of a Lois Lane actress rather than a sexy pic of a Perry White actor (assuming such a thing even existed, which I doubt), you obviously haven’t been paying much attention to this blog over the years.  In fact, I think I may just post several pics of several of the attractive females who have played Ms. Lane.

But since you have been paying attention to this blog all these years, this is surely the post you’ve been waiting to read for at least two months.  Because this is the “very successful session” I referenced in the post here that I had forgotten to write about at the time.  Or until now.  So here it is. 

And it goes back a ways.  Back to December of last year, in fact.  This was my first visit back to Caesars since the session I’d written about here.  Since that post, the room had come under new management, something I wrote about for Ante Up (see here).  After meeting with Frank, and hearing about his plans for the room, I knew I had to go back and check to see how things were going under his leadership, and to check on the changes that he made, some I knew about and some I didn’t.

I knew for example, that they had changed the 1/3 game to 1/2. This is something I really like, I honestly.  For reasons I won’t go into here, I much prefer playing 1/2, especially in Vegas.  Another big change….they got rid of the jackpot drop.  No more promos (tho they used the left over funds to give away WSOP seats in drawings through April of this year). 

And when I got there and started playing, I noticed another improvement.  They got rid of the dreaded two dollar chips that I had bitched about in the previous post.  So that was cool.  They also had the WiFi working a lot better than before. 

Anyway, when I first got to the game, I kinda/sorta recognized one player.  I couldn’t place him in a specific poker room, but I was sure I’d played against this guy before.  He was very aggro, raising a lot preflop and staying aggressive after the flop.  I’ll refer to him as “FLG” for Familiar Looking Guy. He was key to my early run.

Very early on I found myself in the small blind looking at the dreaded pocketKings. Before I could raise, FLG made it $10.  It folded to me.  I meant to raise to $27 but somehow, I had grabbed an extra red chip and I actually made it $32.  It folded back to FLG and he said to me, “You don’t like the kind of guy who plays bad hands out of position,” and folded.  Note, since I recognized him, it’s possible that he recognized me, but honestly, he gave no indication that he knew me from Adam—or from George Costanza for that matter

A bit later I had pocket 7’s and raised to $9. FLG called and it was heads up.  The flop was Queen-7-4, two diamonds.  I bet $15.  FLG raised to $40.  Cool.  He had started with about $110 when the hand was dealt.  I re-raised to put him all in and he called.  We didn’t show until the board bricked out and he turned over Queen-7.  Offsuit.  Note: he had folded to my three-bet thinking I don’t play bad hands, then he called my raise with Queen-7 offsuit!  Much appreciated.  Unfortunately, he decided this wasn’t his night and left.

I had over $300 at this point (from my $200 buy-in) but I managed to lose chips with fairly run-of-the mill hands.  Then NYR came and took the open seat to my immediate left.  I’m calling him NYR cuz he mentioned that he had played hockey his whole life (what…in the crib, even?) and was a huge New York Rangers fan.  He was kind of aggro too.  I’m assuming when he played hockey he spent a lot of time in the penalty box. 

I had King-Queen in the small blind and completed.  He checked from the big blind and three of us saw a flop of Queen-Queen-3, rainbow.  I decide to slow play it and checked.  I called NYR’s bet of $5 and it was heads up.  The turn was a blank and I checked again, this time he bet $10.  I’m not sure why I didn’t check raise there, but I just called.  The river was just a Queen.  This time I led out for $25 and he tanked a bit and then called. When he saw my quads, he said he was seriously considering raising.  He didn’t show, but he claimed he had a pocket pair for a boat.  Must have been a pretty small pocket pair to have not raised preflop.  I know I didn’t get much value there for my monster, but honestly, if I had bet or raised earlier I might have scared him away.

Very next hand I limped in with pocket 3’s. I missed the flop but nobody bet it (it was five-handed).  I caught a three on the turn and no one called my $5 bet.

An older gentleman raised to $6 and I called from the button with Ace-Jack offsuit.  It was three-ways. He bet $12 on a Jack-high flop.  I just called, suspecting he might have an overpair.  It was now heads up. He bet $17 on a blank turn. Again, I just called and he seemed really annoyed.  “You’re gonna keep calling me?”  He was clearly upset that I hadn’t folded.  Then a Jack hit the river.  “Well, you’re gonna keep calling me, so I check.”  I would have checked behind except I now had trip Jacks to beat his overpair, if that’s what he had. I bet $35 and he called.  But he mucked when he saw my hand.  He remained annoyed with me the rest of the time he was there, but he busted out not that much later.

I raised with Ace-10 suited.  The flop was Ace-King-10, I bet the flop and the turn (sorry, I didn’t record the amounts).  NYR was the only guy who called each time.  After my turn bet, he said, “Why do you keep betting, I thought this was a friendly game.”  I bet the river too and he called and folded when I showed my two pair.

I completed from the small blind with pocket 8’s.  A bunch of us saw the flop, which was 8-6-6.  Flopping a boat is an advanced skill; don’t try this at home.  I checked and NYR bet $12, it folded to me and I just called.  The turn was a 5.  I checked again, and he bet $20.  I called again.  Another 5 hit the river. This time I bet, putting out $40 in front of me.  NYR wasted little time in raising to $140.  There were two hands that beat me, quad 6’s and quad 5’s, and of course I didn’t think either was very likely.  I looked at his stack, he didn’t have that much behind…..a lot less than the $140 he had just put in the pot. It was like $40 or $50 behind.  So of course I was about to shove when he said, “If you go all-in, I might have to call.”  Well duh.  When he made that $140 he was certainly pot committed.  So as soon as he got that out of his mouth, I said, “all-in.”  NYR said, to the dealer, or to me, “Is he allowed to do that?”  I guess he was joking, but he didn’t sound like it.  He actually sounded like he was surprised by my move.

But he called and showed 6-5 offsuit.  Ugh, bad luck for him, he turned a boat and rivered a second, smaller boat (as had I).  Sorry, Rangers fan, this was my night, not yours.

As I was stacking my chips, I was thinking about how he had said he “might” call if I shoved, and about a similar situation I was involved in way-back-when.  So I asked the lady dealer, “When he said he might have to call if I shoved, was that binding?”  She said no.  “It was conditional, so it wasn’t binding.”

So I asked her about the situation I wrote about years ago (see here).  “What if he said, ‘I’m going to call any bet you make,’ and didn’t put any conditions on it.  He was going to call me no matter what?”  Well….no, she said, that still wouldn’t be binding.  So that would be different from the ruling I got back in my regular room.  Interesting.

I won a few more smallish pots, a couple of top pair hands, another set of 3’s (no one called my turn bet after I bet the flop).  By the time I racked up, I had won a bit over $400.  So it was a very pleasant return to the new Caesars poker room.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Pink Shirt Bluff

Every now and then, you pick up a read on someone for no obvious reason.  Or at least I do, or did, on this night.  I didn’t have enough information to make the right decision, but my gut told me what to do, and for once, my gut was right.

I got into this game and was seated to the left of a reg I’ve played with many, many times.  We exchanged some pleasantries, but I immediately noticed the guy to the reg’s right in seat 2.  There was something about him.  Pink shirt, baseball cap (worn the proper way) and ear buds.  I guess it was the ear buds.  No hoodie, no sunglasses.  But he was youngish and he just looked like he should have been wearing the hoodie and the shades.  He was giving off a vibe….I just felt like he was going to be the kind of player who would try to make some moves.

In a hand the reg and I were both out of, a guy had flopped the nut straight on a board with 2 diamonds and never bet it.  He called a small bet on the flop, then on the turn, when the pot was about $50, he just called a $15 bet.  The river paired the board and no one bet it.  His straight was good.  He had the nuts on the flop and the turn and didn’t raise.  The reg and I were both shaking our heads in disbelief.  He said to me, “Do you ever sometimes wonder how you ever have a losing session?”  I laughed and said yes.  Then we traded a few bad beat stories to remind ourselves why we sometimes do have losing sessions.  He told me that the other day, he was this one bad player’s personal ATM, kept giving chips to the guy as he hit his one or two outers.  Then when his luck turned, he gave all the money away, but never back to the reg.

Very early, I limped in with 10-9 diamonds and turned a flush.  I won a small pot so that I had about $220 when the big hand happened.  I had Pink shirt covered by maybe $10.  On the button I had pocket Queens, but Pink shirt raised to $15 first.  I just called.  I had no real read on his game at that point, just the gut feeling.  A few orbits later, I likely would have three-bet there.  Two others called. 

The flop was Jack-high, two clubs (neither of my Queens was the club).  Pink shirt put out $25 and I just called.  I suppose I could have raised with my overpair, but that early in my session I was being cautious. It was now heads up. The turn was a blank and he bet $45.  I almost folded.  I was thinking he had Aces or Kings.  But my hand had showdown value so I called.

The river was the third club.  He shoved for $125.  I came pretty close to folding almost immediately.  But I caught myself.  I started paying attention to that vibe I’d picked up from him.  And did he really have a flush?  I thought it was unlikely.  But he wasn’t afraid that I had the flush (which, the way I had played it, I easily could have).  Hmm.

I thought long and hard.  I think I might have folded if the flush card hadn’t hit, as odd as that sounds.  It just felt like the flush card had given him the perfect opportunity to bluff.  With the insta-read I had picked up, I shrugged and said “call.”  He turned over King-Queen offsuit.  In other words, nothing.  My read was good this time.  I had a nice double up, after less than 15 minutes at the table.  I probably didn’t play the hand well on the earlier streets, but in the end, I may have clumsily played it the best way possible.  

Pink shirt rebought, but then soon moved to another table.  A little bit later I got pocket Queens again.  It had folded to me on the button so I only raised to $6.  The small blind called and the big blind, an aggro German who had recently come to that table, made it $20, and I called, as did the small blind.  The flop was King-Queen-x.  It was checked to me and I bet $40, they both folded.  That was my only set of the night.

The German’s friend was sitting next to me, and he kind of freaked me out a bit.  Like the German, he had a German accent.  Unlike the German, this guy was Asian.  Yeah, an Asian guy with a German accent.  I couldn’t tell if the Asian guy was Japanese or something else, but all I could think of was that I was sitting next to a human representation of World War II. 

From my experience, totally stereotyping here, the only ethnicity comparable with Asians in terms of aggressive poker play are Germans. This guy definitely lived up to that, very much the aggro.  But I only got into a couple of hands with him.

I got pocket Queens again and the Germasian next to me raised to $15.  Since he had just sat down and I was still trying to figure out if this guy was going to carpet bomb the poker room, I just called.  It was heads up.  He bet $20 on all three streets, my Queens were an over pair the whole way.  I called him down and he showed pocket Jacks.  He said, “I was hoping you had 10’s.”

Then he raised to $16 on the button, and in the small blind I finally saw the dreaded pocket Kings for the first time all night.  I made it $46 and he folded. 

That was the last hand of note.  I didn’t lose any big pots, just lost chips here and there in unmemorable hands.  I ended up winning $220.  Because I had a good read on the guy with the pink shirt. Note: The lady below doesn't look anything like the guy in the pink shirt.  They just have the pink shirt in common--although he was wearing a pink long-sleeve dress shirt, not low-cut like the top below (thank goodness).