Thursday, September 18, 2014

Mixing it Up at The Bike

This past weekend I went back to the Bike (in grandiose Bell Gardens, CA) and I had sort of a new game plan.  I was “inspired,” if you will, by poker whiz Ed Miller.  I’m on his mailing list and he sent everyone on that list a free video, “How to beat any 2/5 game.”  I downloaded the video and found it interesting.

I wondered how well I could use the concepts Miller was teaching and change and improve my game.  Of course, I don’t play 2/5.  Not sure how well it would adapt for 1/2 but…. I thought intuitively that the 2/3 game I play at the Bike probably plays similarly to a 2/5 game in Vegas.

Most of the things are stuff I should already be doing, but let’s just say, I have become too complacent in my game.  So this was a good reminder, if nothing else. 

I decided it was worth risking a buy-in or two to see if I could execute the strategy and see some results.

Miller supposedly described the way he plays 2/5.  I suspect, good as he is, this might not be the whole story.  One thing though is….Miller never limps.  He doesn’t open-limp, he doesn’t limp in behind limpers.  If he enters a pot preflop, it’s with a raise—unless he’s calling a raise. He also gave a list of suggested starting hands for the 2/5 game.  The biggest principle in this video is that players play too many hands, play too much junk, and as such, you can win pots when they miss, betting the turn and/or the river, even when you miss too. As I describe some hands, perhaps I will be better able to give you a better idea of what he’s saying.

As usual, I bought in for the max, $300.  Early on I had pocket 10’s in late position.  It was raised to $12 by the player in front of me.  Miller doesn’t recommend three-betting with anything but AA & KK (and any suited Ace for balance), at least in early position.  Note, his video was aimed at early position play, which he was defining as any position before the cut-off seat—since I was in the cut-off he might have recommended a three-bet there).  I called, as did two others.

The flop was Queen high, not much for me.  Preflop raiser bet $15, and everyone called (note, the strategy is heavily slanted toward never folding on the flop).  A blank on the turn, and the preflop raiser checked, and here’s where I should have bet.  I didn’t because there were four of us, and most of Miller’s discussion was about heads up play.  I meekly checked, and we all checked it down on the river.  I was actually thinking my 10’s were good and I was right, the only pair was the preflop raiser’s pocket 9’s. Decent pot, though no thanks to great play on my part.

Won another nice pot just based on stack sizes.  No one raised when I was the big blind with Ace-8 off. The flop was 8-high and I bet $10.  A short stack shoved and another short stack shoved behind him.  The first guy had around $45 and the next guy had $50. With no further action possible, it seemed like a pretty easy call for me.  The board blanked out, the first guy had 8/7 (not suited) and the other guy had a gut-shot that he missed.  Nice pot for a measly pair of 8’s.

Then in the small blind I had Ace-9 of clubs.  An aggro lady in middle position raised to $15 after a limper or two.  This lady was from Syria.  She was sitting next to a man from Israel.  I’m happy to report they got along well.  See, poker can bring peace to the Middle East.  Anyway, this lady had, on my very first hand, won a pot against me (when I was the big blind) when she didn’t raise with pocket Queens preflop.  But ever since then, she had raised preflop a lot, called almost every raise preflop, and limped in with every other hand.  Hardly ever folded.  I dunno why she didn’t raise with those Queens but she obviously wasn’t raising with only so-called premium hands. 

It folded to me.  I called.  All suited Aces are on Miller’s list of hands he plays preflop, even if it’s raised (but not if it’s three-bet to you).  This being the Bike, I expected the limpers and/or the big blind to join us but no, they all folded. It was heads up.  The flop hit me like a ton of bricks: 10-7-3, all clubs.  Always nice to flop the nuts.  I was sure she would bet so I checked.  She put out $50, more than the pot.  Hmm….

I wasn’t sure whether to call or check-raise.  I decided to go for the check-raise.  I put out $100, a min-raise.  She called quickly.

The turn card was another club, a low one, and I figured I wouldn’t get any more money.  I put out another $100 anyway.  She was extremely unhappy, but she called.  The river was the Queen of spades.  No board pair.  I still had the nuts.  With the size of the pot, the only bet I could make was a shove (it was $140 or so).  She had me covered—she had over $500 when I got to the table—but she just threw her cards face up in total disgust.  She had flopped a set of 7’s.  “I needed the board to pair.”  She sure did. Then she did something I don’t think I’ve ever seen before.  She reached in the muck and tried to find my cards (which I hadn’t shown). Of course, that’s totally against the rules. She turned over the Ace of clubs and another card that wasn’t mine, and a red 6 or something. “Ace-6 you had, you called me with Ace-6?”

She was honestly so upset at this point that I didn’t want to set her off any more, I didn’t think it was worth it.  If this had been a Vegas poker room, I would have complained to the dealer, and perhaps the floor, that she had illegally tried to look at my cards.  The dealer should have said something, but didn’t.  However, this being the Bike, I wasn’t even sure I would win the argument.  And in the moment, I considered the possibility that if I said anything at all about her post-hand actions, she might just pull a gun out of her purse and shoot me.

Ordinarily I would have said nothing, or the classic, “I forget.”  But the way she was looking at me, I decided to just tell her the truth—especially since she had seen the Ace of clubs (which was obviously my card, but the other one didn’t have to be).  “I had the nuts.”

“On the turn you had the nuts, not on the flop.”

I could tell she wasn’t going to believe the truth, so I told her the truth.  “I had the nuts on the flop.”

She started muttering about how I had cost her $250 (actually, it was only $215).  Then she said something interesting to the guy next to her.  “I should have bet more.”

The guy said, “He had clubs, you’re never betting him off that hand.”

“No, I should have raised more preflop, so he doesn’t call with Ace-rag.”

Oh wow, perfect timing.  You see, I had just told the story here, about the MGM regular who commented on my preflop bet-sizing.  That led to a comment from our friend Poker Grump, who left a link to an old post of his about preflop bet-sizing and the whole notion of, “How Much Do I Have to Raise” to get someone to fold garbage preflop.  The part in quotes is the title of his post, and you can (and should) find it here.  Obviously this lady hadn’t read his post!  As Grump says, that’s the wrong question to ask.

But I had read the post, and in it Grump also explained his own method for pre-flop bet-sizing.  I actually came up with a calculation myself for this 2/3 game myself based on the formula he wrote about for the 1/2 game he normally played.  I did use it, but not often, because any time I had a playable hand, it was almost always raised in front of me.

Some time later, I took out my notebook and made some notes about the hand.  The Israeli next to the Syrian woman asked me what I was writing.  Usually I say, “it’s my grocery list.”  This time I said, “I’m writing a novel.”  The Syrian lady, with steam still coming out of her ears, said, “No he’s not….he’s writing about what he had, who bet what….”  The guy was reacting to me, not her.  “Have you been published yet?”  I laughed.  The woman convinced him I was taking notes on the hand, and guy dropped it.  I wasn’t really lying….aren’t some of my posts almost novel-length?

No...I said I was writing a NOVEL, not a NAVEL!
I raised to $11 with Ace-10 of hearts, and this old guy who hadn’t played very many hands suddenly made it $40 behind me. Ordinarily this would be an easy fold for me, but perhaps misunderstanding Miller’s system, I called.  The flop missed me, I checked and he shoved his last $98.  So the idea of getting to bet the turn went out the window.  I also should have known that this guy is most likely only three-betting with Aces, Kings and maybe Ace-King.

I raised to $10 under-the-gun with 10-9 clubs and had two callers.  The flop was Jack-10-x, and no one called my $15 bet.  I wouldn’t have raised with that hand under-the-gun with watching that video (late position yes, not UTG).

Perhaps my favorite hand of the day, though not the most profitable, was when I raised to $12 with Jack-9 of diamonds (per Miller).  It was three-bet to $30 by a young Asian man who wasn’t your typical “Crazian.”  I mean, he had played a fair amount of hands. but not that aggressively.  I was sure tempted to fold, especially since I didn’t have position, but I had Ed Miller in my ear telling me to call, so I did.  It was heads up.

The flop was Ace-high, the other two cards low, not a diamond to be found.  I checked and was shocked when my opponent checked behind me.  So I knew I was going to bet the turn, no matter what it was.  Perhaps I’d be betting into his flopped set of Aces that he was slow playing?

As it happened, the turn was a Jack, giving me second pair.  I bet $50 but I swear I would have bet the same without a pair.  My opponent thought long and hard before saying, “Caught your Ace huh?  Ace-King?” and then folded his pocket Queens face up.

Holy shit.  At the risk of stereotyping, because of his ethnicity—and also because this was the Bike—it just totally amazed me that he would lay down his Queens there, and put me on an Ace. The lack of a c-bet—even with the Ace on the flop—was surprising as well.  So that was a nice win for me.

With pocket 5’s I called a raise to $12.  Heads up, the flop was King-4-2.  Called a $15 c-bet.  A three on the turn gave me a straight draw.  First to act, I checked, and he checked behind.  So I bet a blank river, $20.  He called and showed Ace-10.  Yes, he called me down with Ace-high, thinking I was bluffing. I sorta was….bluffing with the best hand.  My tendency would be to just check it down and win a showdown, but my bet got me an extra twenty bucks.

Then in the small blind I had Ace-King off.  The button raised to $12 and I called, as did two others.  The flop was Ace-high, two hearts, including the Ace.  My King was black.  I checked and called the preflop raiser’s $25 bet.  It was now heads-up.  My opponent had built up a small stack into a large one, had me covered, and had been bullying the table for the past hour.  I think between that and the fact that this was late in my session, when I was ready to call it a day, I lost my fortitude. The turn was a second spade, and I checked. That was very weak, a bad play on my part. He checked behind me. When a third heart hit the river, I checked again.  That would have been a perfect spot to bet, to represent the flush.  But again, I wimped out.  And then, he shoved!  About $500, a lot more than I had.  Wow.  I really did consider risking everything there, because I was fairly sure a shove into a pot that size is a bluff.  But…, I wasn’t ready to risk my entire stack on a single street of a single hand with just TPTK.  He might have caught two pair with the river card.  He might have had the flush.  I should have made a reasonable bet myself…and then have been willing to fold if he shoved over me.  But I just let it go.

I knew then it was time to quit, but during my last orbit I caught a pair of 9’s and raised to $14.  Only got one caller.  The flop was Jack-high and I took it down with a $20-flop bet.

Now, because I was calling a fair amount of preflop raises, and calling more flops with not much, I lost most of those chips I won on the big hands I described.  It was also hard to make that big turn (or river) bet Miller talks about, because so often there were multi-way pots, and he seems to be mostly talking about heads-up hands.  But overall, I wasn’t displeased with a small ($25) profit.  I was actually pretty card dead—the biggest pocket pair I had was the 10’s. I had 9’s, 5’s and 3’s (twice). I had Ace-King two or three times tops.  And I almost never limped into a pot.  I think the only time I limped (other than from the small blind) was with the pocket 3’s twice.  So I violated Miller’s “rules” those two times.  But you know what?  He doesn’t even play pocket pairs below 6’s.  So I violated the rules two ways!  But I didn’t think it was happened enough for anyone to be able to figure out what I was doing. 

I want to watch that video a few more times (and also finishing reading Miller’s new book, which goes over some of the same themes) and keep working on my game

(Note: a week later I returned to the Bike using the same strategy.  The follow-up post about that session can be found here.) 


  1. When I used to play online a lot, I used to follow hints and tips by Chris Ferguson (yeah, I know). But, he was also an advocate of the fold or raise and never open limp. It also forces you to play a lesser amount of hands as a by product. I think the quote was, "if its not worth raising, its not worth it at all"

    Not sure I could of shown your level of restraint with hell woman though. Well played Sir.

    1. Thanks Ben, by calling raises that I ordinarily would not have (like the Ace-9 hand), I may have actually played more hands than I otherwise would....but then, I'm a total nit.

      Yeah, the lady was something else. I was torn between asking for a table change or staying and hoping she'd pay me off again. I stayed, but I didn't get any more money from her before she left.

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  3. Novels envy your grandiose (good word) posts. I almost laughed out loud at your expectation of her pulling out a gun and shooting you. I left a home game here in Vegas once not long after a girl started digging through the muck to find my cards... :)

    1. All I can say is, if looks could kill, I'd wouldn't lived to write this post!

  4. Hi Rob Yes the good old Bike. I learned limit poker at the Bike 30 years ago. The Bike the true melting pot of the world. Old and new players from all over the world. It almost reminds me of the movie " Casablanca " everyone is looking for there letters of transit ( a big win ) A little bit of heaven in see-die Bell Gardens. You of course are Rick but where is your Elyse. Have fun.

    1. The only similarity between the Bike and Casablanca is that, there's gambling going on.

  5. How would you play this hand?
    I will let you know what Villain has after a few replies.

    1-3 No limit holdem game

    Hero - QQ - under the gun
    Villain - xx?

    Villain has $152 dollars in stack and hero has him covered
    Villain is here for a conference. Calls a lot of hands. Likes to see a flop. Does like to chase draws.

    - Heros bets $15
    - Villain calls
    - everyone else folds

    - 347 - with two hearts
    - Hero bets $25
    - Villain calls

    - K - no heart
    - Hero bets $50
    - Villain calls

    River J - no heart
    - Hero all in
    - Villain calls ($72)

  6. I'm guessing villain had J7 of hearts and got there on the end.

    As played, I do not like the river. What does the villain call with on this river? May be AJ of hearts? Would villain call this river with pocket 8's, 9's or 10's?

    By betting this river, villain folds just about all hands you beat and only calls with hands that beat you.

    The best play on the river is to check. If the villain is capable of bluffing to your check, call any bet he makes. If the villain likes to chase on early streets but will only bet this river if he has a made hand, then fold.

    But by betting the river, you don't even give the villain the chance to bluff. You are making a bet that will only get called if you are beat.

    1. Thanks for the sound advice.

      I should and will check the river in those situations from now on.

    2. I would have checked the river too, with the same reasoning. V probably checks behind you with a weak top pair. If he bets, it's very read dependent whether to call. It's pretty easy to put him on nothing but a busted flush draw and he's trying to steal.