Tuesday, May 8, 2012

How I Finally Learned to Play Pocket Kings

I cashed three times in tournaments on my recent Vegas trip.  This was the biggest tournament I cashed in, but not quite my biggest payday.  I’ve already told you about the three-way chop for first in the “home game” tournament here.  Now comes the story of the Aria 1PM tournament on a Tuesday afternoon, late last month.

I got to my seat just as the tournament started.  To my right was a late 20’s to mid 30’s blonde woman, who I noticed had an English accent.  So early in the tournament I asked her if she was from England and indeed she was.  She and her husband had just gotten to town for one of their twice a year three week Vegas vacations.  But when I asked, she wasn’t from London but lives farther north.  She told me the name of her city but I didn’t remember it later when I took my notes.  To my surprise, they rent a car when they are in Vegas.  Surprising, because I know a lot of Brits (and Aussies) are a bit put off of driving in the U.S. since we drive on “the wrong side of the road” here in the states.

Both she and her hubby are hardcore poker players, they can and do easily play online back home, and they play in tournaments both online and when they do get to a casino in England.  I got the impression that it will be mostly three weeks of poker for them in Vegas.  Although she likes the Aria tournament, she says when in Vegas she has had the most success playing at the tournaments at M Resort, a locals casino at the very south end of Vegas.  That’s when I asked about having a car, it would be difficult to get there from Aria (where they were staying) without one.  Funny thing, I was happily able to tell her that I had just cashed at the new 2PM tournament at M Resort just the week before (that was my biggest tournament payday, and I will get to that story soon).

I need to give this nice British lady a name, don’t I?  Since I have nothing bad or embarrassing to say about her, and I’m not likely to ever run into her again, I could use her real name, but that would at odds with my blog’s policy and furthermore, giving a fake name will annoy Lightning36 and Josie, so I can’t pass up a chance to that. So let’s call her Emma—sounds like a good British name, right?
 Emma and I were chatting up a storm through the early rounds of the tournament and I realized that she was a good, experienced, well read poker player.  I knew I would have to be careful with her, and had to hope that her skill level didn’t reach that of Veronica, as I described here.

Early in the first level, a hand not involving either one of us played a crucial role in my tournament success.  A player who had been a late entrant and was playing his second or third hand made a preflop 3-bet.  The original raiser shoved.  He had slightly less chips than the new guy, who still had his starting stack of $10k.  The new guy called and the two turned up their hands.

The guy who shoved had pocket Kings, and I would have thought that the other guy was going to show pocket Aces.  Nope.  He called that all in, on the first level of the tournament, while he was still getting comfortable in his seat, with pocket Jacks! Really guy, really?  I couldn’t believe it.  Neither could the guy with pocket Kings when a Jack hit the river!  What am I always saying about pocket kings?.

Emma and I talked about the guy’s play, the guy with the Jacks.  Neither one of us could believe that call, we both thought it was a stupid play at that point in the tournament.  The fact that he lucked out didn’t change our opinion.  I got some real good insight into Emma’s thinking based on this conversation.  Keep that in mind as the story progresses.

Not long after I made a bonehead play of my own.  With Ace-King, I made a standard raise, one caller.  AJx on the flop.  I bet and was called.  Queen on the turn, I bet, other guy shoves.

Ugh.  I had him covered, but not by much.  I was pretty much still with my original stack of $10k, this guy had about $7500.  So if I call and lose, I’m still alive but deeply crippled.  It was still either the first or second level of the tournament.

Too early in the tournament to risk that much with just Top Pair/Top Kicker, right?  I figured my hand might not be best at that point, and I went into the tank for a long time.  Did he have two pair?  Did the Queen give him a straight?  I guess I wish I could give you some great analysis of why I decided to do what I did, but I can’t.  I just went with my gut and called.  The guy hadn’t played a lot of hands, so I couldn’t really say he was an LAG who was shoving without a pretty good hand.  I just called because…I just did.

He flipped over AQ, two pair.  I needed a King or a 10 to beat him.  I said, audibly, “All I need as a 10.”

Which is exactly what the dealer put on the board!  I hit my gutshot and took down the pot.  The other guy pounded the table in disgust and walked away.  Note, he reentered and ended up at the final table with me.  Emma congratulated me and another guy near us could not believe it.  He gently gives me a hard time about it (“Can’t believe that”).  I said, “Yeah, I guess that was a bad call, huh?”  But Emma said no, because it worked.  But I was sure she was thinking it was a bad call.

Now with a nearly doubled up stack, a few hands later I was dealt—you guessed it—the dreaded pocket kings. But before I had to act, Emma, immediately to my righ,t raises to $400 (blinds were 50/100).  Flush with those newly acquired chips, I make it $2k.

Emma, that lovely British woman, that sweet, nice lady…..shoves.  “Really?” I whisper.

I had her covered by a lot, but she had chipped up some so I would be left with about 2/3’s of my starting stack if I called and lost.  And I was really planning on enjoying those chips I had just won.

I thought about her range.  And I remembered the conversation we had just had about the guy who went all in with pocket Jacks.  There was no way in my mind that she had pocket Jacks, or pocket Queens.  For sure she doesn’t do that with Ace-King.  Nope, I was pretty much 100% sure she had one of two hands.  She either had the other two Kings (unlikely, of course, but certainly possible), or a couple of Aces.  I was really pretty certain about this.

Now, if we hadn’t been talking all through the tournament up until now, and in particular about the guy who shoved with Jacks, I wouldn’t have been nearly as sure about this. But I just knew I was right.  She had Ace’s and I didn’t like my chances of a second miracle suckout so soon after the first.

I coughed a bit, then folded.  Emma was nice enough to flash me her hand.  Ace/Ace, just as I had suspected.  I thanked her for showing.  “I didn’t want to mess around, I was happy to take it down right there,” she said.  Unlucky for her, I guess, I was likely the only player at that table that would have folded Kings there.  But it saved me a lot of chips.

I not only misplayed a hand a bit later but misread it too.  I had K8 hearts in the big blind and didn’t have to call a raise. I had top pair on the flop, but was worried about the kicker.  I kept the bets small as I could and didn’t even bet the river, just praying my Top Pair, weak kicker was gonna hold.  Other guy shows two pair.  I flip my cards and saying, “I only have a King.”

Good thing I flipped them face up. Dealer says, “No, you’ve got a straight” and pushes me the pot!  I totally missed the river card giving me a straight with the weak kicker—8—I was worried about!  How embarrassing.  But it gave me a chance to talk about the time that Phil Ivey mucked a winning flush in the WSOP a few years ago.  Hey, if Phil Ivey can do it…..

At one point I asked Emma if she was familiar with AllVegasPoker She was and uses it for tournaments.  Then I asked if she ever posted on the forums.  I recalled the tournament at Binions that I cashed in last year, (post is here) when the British fellow at the final table who had lobbied for the 6 way chop was someone I’d traded posts with there, which I didn’t find out until after the tournament was over.  Could lightning strike twice?  I did recall some female poster there from England talking about an upcoming Vegas trip.  Could Emma be her?

Nope.  She never reads the forums there, only uses it for tournament info.  Damn.  Probably means she doesn’t read this blog either.  I hoped to have a chance to give her my card (with the blog URL on it) but she got moved to another table before I had my opportunity.  But I did tell her about the coincidence at the Binions tournament and she said that the poker community is indeed a small world.  I agreed.

My stack started dwindling, as stacks tend to do.  I needed to make a move and shoved with pocket 10’s.  Ace Queen called and didn’t hit anything so I got a nice double up.  I hung in there, stealing some blinds, making a few successful moves (and a few not so successful ones), not really getting the cards I needed to get out of the woods. Mostly when I had a decent hand and raised preflop, either no one called or my continuation bet on the flop took it down. But I survived.

When we got down to three tables, Emma is moved to my table, but on the other side.  All we could do is nod to each other.  She was shorter stacked than I was, and shoved light.  She lost and took off like a bullet, apparently her husband (who hadn’t played in the tournament) was waiting for, so I never got a chance to tell her about the blog.  By this time I knew I would be blogging about the tournament and her. Damn.

Then it was down to two tables.  They had 102 runners and they were paying 12.  Now it got down to 13 and no one suggested paying the bubble.  I was the short stack at my table and very possibly at both, so I didn’t think it appropriate to bring it up.  No one else did.

Thus began the most excruciating hour of poker of my life.  It went “hand for hand.”  Meaning that each table had to stop after every single hand until the other table had completed its hand.  This was to make sure there was no question as to who the last player not to cash was, ie, the guy on “the bubble.”  Yeah, it took an hour.  They stopped the clock and knocked off two minutes off it for every hand.

I guess it was like 7PM or thereabouts, six hours of poker.  The last three spots only paid like $165—buy in was $125—but none of us wanted to have played that long without leaving with something. Let someone else make the risky move and bust out empty handed. That’s how everyone played for an hour. Including me. Yeah, I played chicken-shit poker.  I wanted to walk away with something. But truth be told, I didn’t really have any hands that I could have shoved with anyway.  I was getting dealt absolute crap.  I had a few Ace-rags, pocket 3’s twice and pocket deuces once.  Nothing else even close to playable.  I held out for something better.

I guess my best chance was when I had AQ, but it was already raised when the action was on me.  I tossed it.  Raiser had a big stack and was called by a short stack (probably a bit less than mine at this point).  Raiser had K-10, short stack had 77.  A 7 on the flop ended the drama.  I would have been pretty much dead if I had stayed in, so that was a good decision even if it wasn’t the right move.

It was actually painful playing this way.  Not only the incredible tight play of everybody at two tables, but having to play a hand, wait, play a hand, wait….look over at the other table while waiting and just praying someone there busts out.  Poker hell.

Finally someone actually does bust out, and I am in the money.  Now I start to look for some hands to make moves with.  But while that is happening, a few others bust out first, so we are down to 9 players, and a single table. I am going to get over $200, at least.

Remember the guy I sucked out on early with the rivered straight who re-entered?  He’s at the final table with me.  He had just lost a big hand and was now really short-stacked.  He shoves, and I have King-Jack, as good as I’d seen since that AQ.  I shove.  Big stack calls us both.  Big stack has Ace-5.  Short stack has 6-2.  But he had so few chips that wasn’t a bad play.  A deuce hits on the flop, but a 5 on the turn puts the big stack in the lead.  River was a blank.  Big stack busted out both of us.  But I lucked out here…as I had a bigger stack than the other guy when the hand started, he took 9th place and I took 8th place.  So it was about an extra $50 for me.  Payout to me was $272.  As it was like 9 PM, that’s not a good hourly rate, but it’s always nice to cash in MTT with over 100 runners.

So it was a good day as far as I was concerned.  Won a few bucks, met a nice lady from across the pond and finally, finally learned how to play those damn pocket kings!


  1. Rob, when you talk about the hand that you watched with Emma (KK v JJ) I got the impression that it was the player with KK who shoved and the player with JJ who called. When I read through your hand with Emma though you exclude JJ from her shoving range based on that prior hand. Am I just misreading the first hand and it was the JJ player who shoved?

    I ask because (particularly with a good experienced player) there should be a big difference between their range when they are shoving and their range when they are calling off. If Emma is critical of calling off with JJ early, it doesn't necessarily mean she wouldn't shove with JJ later.

    1. No, Glenn, you read the hand correctly, the player with the Jacks called the shove. You are correct, it is a much different play to shove than to call a shove. Obviously, the player who shoves has fold equity that the caller does not have.

      My read on Emma was based on our discussion of that hand, but also on watching her play for some time and other discussions we had had up until that point. I just couldn't see her risking her tournament life with anything less than Kings that early in the tournament, when she still had over 100 BB's in front of her.

      Also, she had a read on me and was pretty sure I wouldn't have 3 bet her with less than a premium hand. Now I suppose you could say that knowing my game by then, she thought a shove might get me to fold a better hand than hers. I considered that but I was confident of my read.

      I guess it would have been a helluva story if she showed me JJ there and said, "after our conversation about the guy with the Jacks, I knew you wouldn't put me on them." Yeah she could have gotten me there, but I think she was more of a straightforward player than that, again, especially at that point in the tourn.

    2. Well, I definitely misread the second hand because I didn't realize her shove was a four bet. I thought you opened and she three bet shoved and that makes a huge difference.

      You just aren't going to run into hardly anyone in that tournament with a light 4-bet shove range.

      Good disciplined laydown.

  2. I admire your ability to stay with a game for that long. I stay away from tournaments because I don't have the patience for it. Good show!

    1. Thanks, Cranky. I read about how you and Josie and company bailed on the Red Sox after 13 innings, so I guess you just don't like long, drawn out contests. Heh Heh.

      I also play in tournaments that are sure to end much sooner than the Aria tournament. The other two tournaments I cashed in last month, including the one I already blogged about, were 3 or so hour affairs.

      But I do prefer the longer ones because they don't turn into shove-fests right away. I'd like to play some actual poker for awhile before just looking for a hand to get it all in with. And that means a longer time commitment if things go right. That Binions tournament I cashed in had me playing from 2PM to midnight or so! That was getting to be a challenge, for sure. But worth it for chopping 1st place money (over $1200).

      But yeah, I can't do that every day, and when I don't want to make that commitment, there's cash games.

  3. Great laydown with the kings - that's not easy to do... The comments about the length of tournies are interesting also - for people who don't know what they're getting into with deep stack tournies, I'm sure that it turns into a chore when they make it deep, not expecting them to last that long... :)

    1. Indeed, my British friend from AVP at the Binions Tournament last year was surprised being up so late....he had to get up early the next morning, also missed out on dinner with his wife!

  4. Yeah, it took an hour. They stopped the clock and knocked off two minutes off it for every hand.

    That's why in most tournament, players agree to give the bubble boy(girl) something, even if it's just $100. Speeds things up. What otherwise happens can't be called poker, so I agree that it's a good idea.

    1. Thanks MOJO, I hadn't experienced anything quite like that before, so I didn't know. I know the hard core pros, especially if they have a big stack, would love to take advantage of the bubble boys and girls by bullying them around. But that hour was reason enough to pay the bubble.

  5. I would prefer that you refer to me as perhaps "Thunder." wtf -- I got a link so I guess I shouldn't complain. : o )

    1. Not only did you get a link, Ben*, but I put that link right above a picture of Diana Rigg. Diana Rigg!

      Or are you too young to appreciate that?

      *-Ben, as in Ben Franklin, famous for discovering electricity in a lightning storm. So if you do something too outrageous when we get together this summer, I'll have to call you Ben to protect your identity.