Tuesday, November 17, 2015

A Friendly Game of Poker

This past Saturday I went to play some poker at Player’s Casino.  It was my first session since I returned from Vegas after a disappointing trip (to say the least). I mean, they say when you fall off a horse, you have to get right back on, right?  That is, if you consider two weeks to be “right back.”

I figured the break was long enough to get me thinking more positively about poker.  Also, the PC is a very different atmosphere than Vegas.  Even before I made the visit, I was thinking about some of the differences and was wondering if maybe I should do a post about them.

By now I’ve played there long enough to observe that most of the players there are regulars.  They all seem to know each other and the dealers.  And I am recognizing many of the players now.  I see a lot of the same faces, and play against the same players, each time I play there. 

Instead of a poker room on the Vegas Strip, it’s more like a poker room at one of the off-Strip, locals’ Vegas casinos, the kind I used to play at a lot when I was a 2/4 limit player.  The more I play there, the more I realize how insular the player pool there is.

It’s true, there’s plenty of regs at the Bike, I began recognizing players soon after I started playing there.  But I think the percentage of regs is even higher at PC.  And because of location, the Bike draws people from a much larger area than PC.  Poker players visiting the L.A. area for other reasons are likely to want to stop at the Bike or Commerce for some poker.  Also, both Bike and Commerce regular hold big tournament series which attract players from all over the country (and the world, really). You might see some of these visitors playing cash when they bust out of the tournament.

But PC is rather isolated and draws just from people who live within the vicinity.  It takes me a bit more than an hour to drive there (if traffic cooperates) and I don’t imagine too many people are driving farther than that.  Commerce has a hotel attached and the Bike is just days away from opening a new attached hotel.  And by the way, for an interview about the new Bike hotel written by a certain blogger you know, see here.  But there’s no hotel that’s part of Player’s Casino—if after a long day of poker there you need to crash, well, maybe you can break into a car at one of the nearby car dealers in the area.

So realizing that there all regs, I started wondering if that put me at a disadvantage.  My thinking was that, these folks all know each other’s game.  Of course, when I first started going there, they didn’t know me, so there was no advantage.  But….since they know the rest of the table, it’s easy for them to concentrate on figuring out how I play, to the exclusion of the other players that they know.  But I have to learn everyone’s game, it’s more of a challenge for me.

The good thing is that the regs at this room are vastly different from the regs in Vegas.  The regs in Vegas consist of a lot of grinders who play for a living.  In order to do that for very long, they have to be really good, really tough players that are hard to get money out of.  You have to make sure there are more tourists—the fishier the better, obviously—at your table than regs.

But the regs at PC are likely not making a living at poker (at least not at the 2/3 game I play, maybe it’s possible at the bigger games they spread).  Some of them play a lot, and maybe poker is their only form of recreation, but they are not, in general, Vegas grinder caliber.

Of course, by now, I’ve played with many of the players multiple times.  And I get to know their games, of course.  But every time I go there, I see players I don’t recognize, who, by their interaction with the dealers or the other players, I can tell are regs in the room.  So they are likely to know most of the people at the table, while I have to figure out most of the players.

Let me ask you folks…..all other things being equal, if you sat at a poker table with 8 people who were total strangers to you but all knew each other, who do you think has the advantage?  You, or the 8 regs?

Anyway, I got into a game and only recognized two players.  One is a youngish fellow who I think I’ve seen pretty much every time I’ve played there and by coincidence, have played with almost every time I’ve seen him.  He is a fairly ABC player, definitely on the nitty side, always buys in for $100 at a time, and is very talkative (about poker and everything else).  Nice guy, perhaps in a perfect world he’d talk a bit less.

But that brings me to another question.  He always buys in for $100, the minimum (max is $300).  Instead of playing 2/3, he could play 1/2 and buy in for the max, also $100.  Again, without knowing more about the games, if you were committed (because of your bankroll, I suppose) to buying in $100 at a time, would you think it is better to buy in for the min at 2/3 game or the max at a 1/2 game?

The other guy I recognized was the guy on my immediate right.  I run into him almost every time as well.  Buys in bigger than the young guy, plays a solid game, not as nitty but not even close to being a maniac. But although I felt I knew how he played, if you had asked me when I sat down if I had ever gotten into a memorable hand with him, I would have just shrugged.  Nothing would have come to mind.  But I would have been wrong, as I found out later.  This particular fellow has always reminded me of famous Hollywood movie director.  I don’t want to say who that director is because I don’t want to identify him.  So I will just refer to him from now on as “Director.”

Interesting, although I’m recognizing players each week, and they are presumably recognizing me, no one has ever said hi to me when I sit down, as if they know me. I guess I haven’t played there enough to be welcomed into the “clique.”  Of course, I don’t say hello to them either, so who am I to talk?

Now despite the fact that there are so many regs, it widely varies from week-to-week how friendly the table I’m at is.  Sometimes, all the regs are quiet, sometimes they are quite chatty, and other times it’s in between.  This table was at the high end of the chattiness scale.   Perhaps too high.  Seriously, it was like a home game with every catching up with their friends activities since last week’s game.  I like a friendly table, but it was actually a bit much for me. I was really, really trying to concentrate on the other players and what they were doing, and all the chatter was distracting.  I guess it was a good argument for wearing earbuds or headphones to keep the noise out.

One topic of conversation was an older gentleman there whose son had recently done very, very well in a really big poker tournament.  Again, I won’t say more because I don’t want to identify him, but it was not the WSOP.  His entire final table effort was rehashed during the course of the session.  And it turned out that the son had played a lot of poker at PC after his father had taught him the game.

Early on, an attractive lady dealer pushed in.  I remembered her from my most recent sessions, but didn’t think I’d seen her when I first started coming into the room.  The dealer was quite slender.  I’m using that word because some women might consider “thin” or “skinny” an insult.  She looked very nice to me.

Well one of the regs at the table hadn’t seen her in awhile and said something about when her baby was due, or something like that.  Huh?  The only way this woman could be pregnant was if she had conceived the baby on her most recent break.  She laughed and said she had the baby four months ago.  Then she stood up, spread her hand across her stomach and said, “Where would a baby be?”  Indeed.  I have to say, based on her slenderness, I would have guessed she couldn’t have had a baby any time within the past five years.

With this dealer in the box, a player won a pot playing 9-6 (I think he caught two pair).  Another player said, “Oh, you’re playing ‘big lick,’ huh?”  The dealer didn’t seem to know what he was talking about it. Hmm… I wonder if she was being honest?  Then the guy explained, in as non-graphic terms as possible, why 9-6 (or perhaps, if you need help, 6-9) is called “big lick.”  She got it and acted a bit embarrassed and didn’t want to pursue it.  But there was a guy across the table—not a young guy—who said in all his years of playing poker, he had never heard of 9-6 being referred to as “big lick,” either.

Just a few hands later, the guy who had educated the dealer as to what 9-6 was made a big bet on the river and was called.  I could see that 9-6 would make a straight and wondered if he had it.  Sure enough, he showed “big lick” and took the pot.  The timing was rather interesting.

Another lengthy topic of discussion was bowling.  One of the players said he grew up in his dad’s bowling alley and another guy said he was a really good bowler but had come close to rolling a perfect 300 game several times and just missed, ending up with scores of 299.  This led to a discussion of what it’s called when the bowl crosses over and instead of hitting the 1-3 pocket, hits the 1-2 pocket.  The guy said it was called a “Brooklyn strike,” but that it used to be called a “Jersey strike.”  Well, he finally remembered that when he lived in New York, where he was from, it was called “Jersey” but that here in California (and everywhere outside of New York, I believe) it’s called a “Brooklyn strike.”  Suddenly I felt a ting of sadness.  My late dad loved to bowl, and I would have loved telling him of this discussion.  Then later, in fact as I was writing this post, I remembered that my Dad had actually told me about the same change he discovered when we moved from New York to California when I was a kid.

Now this guy, Director, he isn’t much of a talker and wasn’t really contributing much to the conversation (neither was I).  But suddenly he had an interesting hand.  He had raised preflop and the board came Ace-Jack-x.  His c-bet was raised and he called.  He check/called the turn.  A Queen hit the river and he led out and was called.  He showed Ace-Queen.  The guy who raised him on the flop showed Ace-Jack.  Nice suckout.  He commented on his good fortune, the Ace-Jack guy commented on his bad fortune, and I said, “nice river, huh?”

Suddenly Director started talking with me.  “Yeah, Lucky, I knew I was beat but I just couldn’t get away from it. It was like that hand against you when I had the set and you had the bigger set.  I had the smallest set possible and when you raised, I knew you had a bigger set, but I couldn’t get away from it.”

Oh wow.  So not only did he remember me but he was still carrying a hand against me with him, mentally.  I started to remember, but the details were fuzzy.  And of course, I knew that when you have a big pot like that, as this apparently was, it’s always the loser of it that remembers it (and dwells on it) a lot more than the winner.  But I also knew that if I had set over set against him, I would have blogged about it and could look it up.

So I asked him for more details, after making the observation I just made, about the loser remembering the hand longer than the winner.  He said he had a set of 2’s and I had a set of 4’s.  And reiterated what he said about knowing I had it and that he couldn’t get away from it.  And obviously, every time he sees me, he thinks about that hand (it was a big pot).  Yet, he’s never said a thing about it to me, or even said hi to me….until right then.

Anyway, I looked it up and he did have some details wrong, or I misheard him.  He had a set of 4’s and I had a set of 7’s.  You can find the story at the end of the post here.  But it’s kind of funny to know that whenever he sees me, whether he ever says hello to me or not, he’s gonna immediately start thinking of that hand.  Now that he brought it up, I guess I will too when I see him.

I had a decent session.  Not in terms of a huge profit—I came out a little ahead—but I was glad that I felt like I played well, didn’t make any big mistakes and pretty much played the way I was playing before things went all to hell in Vegas (see my previous post).

Of course, I was hurt by the dreaded pocket kings, although I never had them.  A few hands earlier, somebody had won a nice pot with a set of Kings.  Now, I called a $15 raise with Ace-7 of spades.  It was heads up.  The flop was Ace high, no spades, just two clubs.  I called a $15 c-bet.  The turn was a blank, and we both checked.  The river was a King, I called a $25 and he showed me two more Kings.  Ugh.  That was two sets of Kings within about four hands and of course, neither of them were mine.

I was down to around $160 (from $300) when things turned around.

With pocket Queens I made it $15 and it was three-way, including Director, who had initially limped in in front of me.  The flop was 3-3-2 and Director donked out $15.  I just called.  The turn was a blank, he bet $20 and I called.  He bet $25 on a blank river.  I figured he most likely had an overpair, and probably lower than mine….but I felt some hand with a 3 in it was also very possible. I just called.  He showed pocket 8’s and I took the pot and learned something more about his game.

The very next hand I got Ace-6 of spades.  This is a hand I “should” raise with (although I know a lot of my readers don’t think so).  But since I had just raised the previous hand and it was a marginal hand anyway, I just limped.  It’s weak—and I guess nitty—but I don’t like raising twice in a row unless the second time I have a really big hand.  Anyway, five of us saw a flop of 6-5-3, two spades.  No one bet.  The turn was an Ace and I bet $25 and two players called.  The river was a deuce of spades.  I bet $60 and one player called.  He had a 4 for the straight (I think his other card was a Jack, or maybe a King).  He kvetched about the 2 being a spade.  Since I had two pair before rivering the nut flush, he felt I would have called a similar bet to the one he called if it was the 2 of clubs instead of the 2 of spades. 

Suddenly I was profitable for the session.

The only other hand I noted was when I was on the button with pocket 4’s.  It folded to me.  I suppose the gentlemanly thing to do there is to fold and let the blinds chop.  Is that what I should have done?  When it folds to me with a baby pocket pair on the button, I tend to make a smaller than normal raise.  Now that could be a bet-sizing tell but it happens so rarely—hardly ever more than once a session—that I don’t think anyone would ever pick up on it.  I made it $9 instead of my usual $12.  The big blind called.  The flop totally missed me but there were no face cards on it.  After the big blind checked, I c-bet $12 and after a bit of a tank job, he folded.

I cashed out up almost $50 up, but it was fun, friendly session and now at least I feel I’m back in the game


  1. Hi Rob I play in a small local casino and ninety percent are regs as you say. It definitely can have advantages. You know who the maniacs are, the people who can make three bet bluffs, and especially the nits and rocks. Yeah they also know your style too but, if you play decent starting hands and are patient then you can push people off of hands because when you make big bets they tend to fold. The other advantage is this casino is ten minutes from my house. I do not have to drive very far to find a game.

    1. Thanks, Ed. 10 minute from your house is a huge plus, for sure. I sure wish I had that edge!

  2. Glad to see you back on the horse, Sir. Cannot lose you and The Trooper in the same month !

    Finally got last months TR up. http://mrben09.com/2015/11/18/vegas-october-2015/

    1. Thanks Ben...you ain't losing me OR the Trooper, he's got a new vlop up today.

      Great trip report; I'm a gonna leave a comment over there right now.

  3. Unopened to you OTB with 44; a fold? Hell no! That's a monster!

    Welcome back to the tables sir!

    1. Thanks, Anony.

      I was thinking of the meta game....you so often here the button say to the blinds in that situation, "I'll let you chop." Maybe for the sake of keeping everything friendly? I mean, I wouldn't think of folding a big pair there, but a marginal hand?

      Of course, in a tournament, I'm raising that every time.

  4. Great post Rob. I know the feeling of everyone knowing each other. There used to be a small room 10 minutes from me in London and the same people were there virtually every time I went. No need to be intimidated though as you work out most players game in the first few hours.

    Good luck at the tables!

    1. Thanks, Paul. I just think they maybe have the advantage at the outset. And then sometimes when I finally dope out some of the players' games, they leave the table!

  5. No slut parade in this casino? Doesn't sound like it can compete with the MGM.

    1. Sadly no Slut Parades in the L.A. casinos. Why do yu think I prefer Vegas?

  6. Definitely raise 44 on the button, and a lot worse. You are in the best possible position, punish the blinds. If they call, bet the flop with impunity. They are out of position, attack!

    1. But it was such a friendly game!

      Of course you are right and that's exactly what I did.

  7. I agree that Vegas can be a tough place to play. I never understood why there were so many grinders at 1/2. Throw in some retired nits on a fixed income and you will probably bleed the rake unless you get lucky. However, it you end up at a table with a bunch of tourists, it can be very profitable.

    I guess that is why it is called gambling.

    1. I really do wonder how many people are making a reasonable living playing 1/2 in Vegas. I know Poker Grump did it successfully for a good while....but I note that he moved away from Vegas a couple of years ago and no longer relies on poker for his income. It's a tough gig.