Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Old Man and the Bluff

In poker, as in life, winning is the main thing.  There’s nothing like sweeping in a nice big pot, or cashing out after a successful session.
That said, exactly how you win a pot, how you play a hand, can certainly add to the fun.  Especially for someone like me.  When I do something I don’t ordinarily do, and it pays off, that makes it that much sweeter.  Or, as I put it in this post, sometimes I feel like a poker player.
Today I returned to the The Bike for some more 2/3 NL.  I am happy to report, since I know you all are extremely interested in this, this time the food service was much improved over my last visit there, as reported here.  I got my food ordered and served fairly promptly.  More importantly, I was much more disciplined in watching the poker being played while I was ordering, waiting for, and eating my food.  I managed to master the art of paying attention while enjoying a very nice, free, lunch.
Early in the session I got a few hands and chipped up a bit.  Trouble was, this was very early in the session, at a newly opened table, and, as frequently happens, everyone was quite tight the first few orbits.  I raised with pocket Queens, got one caller, who folded to my flop bet on a Jack high board.  I raised preflop with Aces in early position and got zero callers.  I lucked out when I was dealt Jack-7 off in the big blind and no one raised.  I flopped a straight draw (10-Q-K), called a bet, and hit my straight (9) on the turn.  The guy who bet the flop folded to my turn bet.
At this point, the reason I wasn’t getting much action was not due to any table image I had earned; it was too early for that.  It was just everyone playing tight at a new table.  But the time the table loosened up, I stopped getting cards to play.  I mean, I really got nothing to play.
For about an hour and half, all I can remember is pocket 5’s, which I called a raise to set-mine (and missed), and Ace-Jack suited.  Before it got to me, it was raised and re-raised.  I wasn’t about to call $55 with Ace-Jack, even if it was sooooted. 
After awhile, I started getting hands just good enough to play and just good enough to lose money with.  But never past the flop or the turn.  Whenever I did get a playable hand, the flop missed me totally, time after time.  By now, the table was not at all tight, and most pots were raised preflop.  There was one particular guy who caught my attention.  He was raising preflop quite a bit.  And always his raise was $15—as long as there weren’t any limpers.  If there were limpers, he’d raise bigger.  He almost always made a positional raise—if he was on the button, or one of the blinds, and it was limped to him, he’d put out a big bet.
He won a lot of small pots, and it was clear that he wasn’t raising with much a lot of the time, but damn if it didn’t seem like every time he had had to come up with goods, he had the best hand.
Then something interesting happened.  The guy next to me, a relatively new player to the table, raised and this guy three-bet.  It folded back to the original raiser and he tanked for a bit and folded.  To my surprise, the guy who 3-bet showed his hand.  It was Jack-5 offsuit.  This was the first time he’d shown a hand he didn’t have to, and I wondered why he did it.  I’d certainly figured out that he was raising light, and was just waiting for a hand where I could try to take advantage of it.  He seemed to be getting enough action without advertising the bluff.  I wondered if he was trying to put the guy who made the original raise on tilt?
Not long after, he made a big bet on the river, got the other guy to fold, and flipped his cards to show he had absolutely nothing.  He seemed real interested in letting everyone know he was capable of bluffing.  I’d already figured that out.
For awhile there was a savvy player to his immediate right, but I think the guy made a mistake that cost him a few chips.  The “bluffing guy” raised preflop and fired barrels on the flop and the turn.  The savvy guy called every time (he was first to act and checked each time).  And again, he checked on the river.  The bluffing guy started to grab some chips, and as soon as he did, the savvy guy grabbed some as well.  So the bluffing guy put down the chips and checked.  Savvy guy showed his cards, a rather weak middle pair.  Bluffing guy mucked and laughed.  He said, “You were gonna call no matter what I put out, weren’t you?”  The other guy didn’t say anything, but he obviously knew the guy was full of crap.
At first I admired his move to grab his chips and tell the guy, without saying a word, that he was gonna call his bet no matter what.  Then later, I thought it was a mistake.  If he hadn’t grabbed his chips, the other guy would have bet, and he would have called and gotten more money.  Of course, he couldn’t be sure the guy had nothing, so maybe it was the right play. 
At one point, the bluffing guy had worked his $300 buy in to over $900, but later he had a lost a third of that.
Anyway, my slight profits from the beginning of the session had turned into slight losses.  And then not so slight.  I never came close to getting my whole stack in, but I was losing in drips and drabs.  When I got down to about $220-$230 left from my $300 buy in, after playing about 2, 2-1/2 hours, I decided to make a concerted effort player a little more aggressively.  Of course, I always want to do that, but more often than not, I fall back into my tight game.
But I kept looking for a place to try something out of the ordinary (for me, at least).  It’s tough.  I’ve been playing NL for almost a year now, and I still find myself all too often with the 2/4 mindset.  And then, I have a few incidences burned into my mind where I did try something aggressive and it blew up in my face.  So it’s a constant struggle for me.
I was hoping to get a chance when I had good position.  But every time it seemed like a good opportunity was about to present itself, the guy in front of me would make a big raise.  Raise in position with mediocre cards?  Maybe.  Three bet with mediocre cards?  I’m not there yet.
I was about one or two orbits from just picking up my remaining stack and calling it a day.  Then, on the button, I was dealt Queen-10 offsuit.  I assumed it would be raised before it got to me and I’d muck it.  Not a hand I normally play.  But there were two limpers and no raisers in front of me.  I’m embarrassed to admit that all too often in this situation, I’d limp in as well. 
But not this time.  I decided to turn aggro (for me) and raise.  I made it $20.  Since I had a very tight image by this time, and since no one liked their hand enough to raise before me, I thought there was an excellent chance no one would call and I’d just take down a small pot.
Nope.  Two callers.  One guy had been sitting to my right for some time and surely knew that I was a tight player.  But the other guy….the other guy was probably the only player at the table I wouldn’t have wanted to call my $20 bet.
You see this guy had just come to the table from another one.  He hadn’t even been there for an entire orbit.  He was the only relatively new player at the table and thus the only guy who, if they had been paying attention, wouldn’t absolutely have to assume I had a premium hand to put that $20 bet out.
He was also an older gentleman.  He had totally gray hair and was likely in his late 60’s or 70’s.  So, sorry to be rude, sir, but he is the “old man” of the title of this post.
The flop came 8-6-3, two diamonds.  The “old man” checked, as did the guy next to me.  I had already decided I was going to make a continuation bet if the board wasn;'t really scary and if no one bet first.  So, I confidently, and unhesitatingly, put out $40, about 2/3’s of the pot.  Now, if I was check-raised, I would have let it go immediately.  But I thought with that flop, I had a good chance of taking it down there.
The old man said, “Oh, you like that 8, huh.”  At first I thought he was gonna fold, but no, he put out $40.  The other guy folded. 
I wasn’t sure what I would do on the turn.  This was the one guy at the table who wouldn’t be positive I wouldn’t bet with nothing!    And then, a 10 of clubs came out.  Now I had top pair.  No point in stopping now, right?  Old man checked, and I put out $65.  I guess that was too small a bet, as I think about it now.  But it was a bit over half my remaining stack.  I guess I was pot committed.  The old man shrugged his shoulders, asked about the size of my bet, and called.
The river was a second 8, not a diamond (which was a good thing, since the 8 of diamonds was already on the board).  Now all of a sudden, the old man didn’t seem so eager to check to me.  He thought about betting, at least I thought he did.  Then he asked to see my stack.  I made it plainly visible to him.  I started to think about whether or not I’d call his bet that would put me all in (he had me covered).  Just based on the size of the pot, I’d almost have to.  The way I played the hand, I’d almost have to. 
But I guess my stack, meager though it was, was too much for him.  He ended up checking.  This surprised me.  But I felt if I bet, he only calls me if he has a better hand than I do, why bet there when I don’t have to?  He’s certainly going to call if he can beat top pair; and he’s not going to call if he can’t.
So I checked and before I could expose my hand, he said, “I missed.”  And then he saw my Queen-10 offsuit and froze.  He wasn’t the only one surprised.  A few other players at the table were shocked, probably even more than the old man was.  “Queen-10?” he said.  “Queen-10.  You bet $20 with Queen-10?” 
I just chuckled slightly as I stacked my chips.  A few other players audibly registered their surprise.  About two or three other players said things like “well-played”, “good bet,” I can assure you no one at that table put me on Queen-10.  Finally the old man said, “Good bet….good betting.”  And he shook his head again.
That was sweet.  Stacking a pot that put me back in the black for the day was nice enough.  The way I won it, and the respect I received for playing it that way—that was just awesome.
As I write this up, I am thinking now that maybe I should have value-bet the river.  I think he may have been sufficiently curious to see what I had to pay me to see for himself.  Oh well.
I just hope I learn from this and can get more and more at ease playing out of my comfort zone


  1. no winning isnt the main thing, at least thats what my readers are telling me. they said instead of trying to make sure u walk out of the casino a winner, the main thing should be to play the right games, and to play them at ur absolute best and not to worry if u are ahead or not when u leave. but i cannot follow that either.

    1. I think what they're trying to say is that you always want to make the optimal play, with the understanding that sometimes it doesn't work out, sometimes you take a bad beat and it doesn't work out. But in the long run, if you keep making the optimal play, you'll come out ahead. In the short term, some guy can make a terrible call and hit his one-outer.

    2. Glad to hear that the food service was better ... sheesh. That is certainly important!!!!!

    3. LV, this is the kind of critical details my readers love.

  2. Grump's notes version:

    "I was card-dead, bluffed with Q-10, which luckily turned into the best hand and won me a pot. The end."

  3. Great post, Rob! It sounds like the more you play, the better you get... which should be the case. As I've said in the past, you're better than most of these players, and it sounds like it's starting to really show. Congratulations!

    BTW - I read your interview in Ante Up magazine for AVP! Very nice article. It's cool that I can correspond with a real-life author!

    1. Thanks, PM. I appreciate the support. Also appreciate the comments on the Ante UP column.

      You know, for a small fee, I will sign autographed copies :)!