Sunday, November 15, 2015

Confessions of a Bad Poker Player

When I was reviewing my crib notes from my last Vegas trip, looking for something to blog about, I came across the entry for this day and it said, “Good session, should be bloggable, not spectacular.”  Which made it one of the best nights of my trip.  But when I replayed my voice notes, I was reminded of some of the worst poker play of my life, and had to decide whether or not to mention the bad play or just do a pretty bland post about a few small, “unspectacular” pots.

Now, when I did the post about promos making me stupid, (here) I didn’t really intend to post examples of that stupidity….but what the hell, I might as well be honest with my readers and post the whole gory details with a promise never to play like this again.  And publically shaming myself might just help me keep that vow.

This took place just two nights after the session I described here.  After that, I came close to taking the next night off, but instead, I played $1-$1 at the Linq and managed to book a small win (not sure if that session is worth writing about or not; I’ll have to see).  So this night I was back to my usual 1/2 game.  But I really wasn’t very confident going in, and trying to book a win became much more important than it should have because of the bad run I was in the midst of.  I felt that getting that win would make it easier for me to return the next night and just play poker again, without thinking too much of the bad sessions I’d had up to that point. 

Of course, that’s not the best attitude to go into a session with, is it?  It leads one to play some bad poker and then that makes it a lot harder to win.  But I went over all that in the post about the promos I’ve already linked to.

Early on I got pocket Jacks, raised to $8 and it was three-ways.  The flop was 4-4-3.  I bet $15 on the flop, one call.  The turn was a 9 and I bet $25 and he called.  The river was a deuce.  I just checked, concerned about a straight or a boat or just that my luck had been too bad lately.  He showed Ace-King so for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why he would call the turn. 

I got pocket Aces and after a couple of limpers, I made it $12.  It was three ways and no one called my $25 bet on a King-high flop.

In the small blind I had King-Queen of diamonds.  I called $12 preflop and it was three-ways (this seemed to be a night for three-ways, I guess).  The flop was Ace-Queen-5, one diamond, the 5. I called $18 and it was heads up.  The turn was the 10 of diamonds.  I called $37.  The river was a low diamond and the villain bet $62.  We still each had enough money behind for a raise, but I didn’t have the confidence to bet with just the second nuts.  I called, and he said, “Damn.”  That’s a great feeling, isn’t it?—the guy saying something like that when you call? He insta-mucked without turning his hand over.  That got me a drawing ticket.

A few minutes later, with Queen-10 of hearts in the small blind, I completed and caught a flush draw.  It didn’t hit until the river and I called bets of $10 and $15 on the flop and turn.  But the villain didn’t bet the river even though he had a King-high flush. See, I’m not the only one who doesn’t bet the second nuts on the river.  I got a drawing ticket and didn’t lose too much money.

I got two more big pairs relatively close together.  With Queens, I raised and took down another three-way pot with a c-bet.  With Aces, no one called my preflop bet.

With Ace-King offsuit in the small blind, I just completed (I know, I know!).  Another three-way pot and the flop was Ace-high.  I bet $5 and had one caller.  A blank on the turn, I bet $10 and was called.  Another Ace hit the river. I bet $15 and the guy made it $30.  Damn, did he have a boat?  Or just an Ace with maybe a worse kicker (he couldn’t have had a better one). I called and he just mucked.  I figured that might have been one of the worst bluffs ever.  I suppose a min-raise there might have looked like he was trying to induce a call when he had a monster, but since my bet was so small, it was only $15 to call.  Did he really think that would get me to fold, especially since I had bet all three-streets?

So I was actually have a good night, actually getting some good cards, winning some pots, up a bit.  It was a nice feeling.  And then this drunk guy shows up at the table.  A youngish guy, he was really, really drunk.  He showed up at the table, apparently from a broken table, with over $500 on him (a lot more than I had).  At first he just exhibited his drunkenness by talking non-stop.  I’m not sure about what, I tried not to pay attention, but he just would not stop talking.  The only think I really remember him saying was, when he sat down, “Don’t take advantage of the drunk guy.”  Despite how drunk he was, the waitress kept delivering more beers to him.

He wasn’t playing badly or erratically at first.  He was slowing the game down a bit because of his non-stop chatter and his not paying attention to whose turn it was because of his lack of sobriety.  But his play was reasonable.  And after awhile, he tried to leave the table to go play with his friends, but by the time he racked up his chips and went over to his buddy’s table, the seat was filled and he had to return (he hadn’t bothered to ask the floor for a table change, drunks don’t think of that).  When he got back, he started playing wildly, making big preflop raises, and making big flop and turn bets and raises.  He showed a few bluffs.  Although, he was so drunk, I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had showed a bluff that he didn’t realize was a bluff because in his condition, he could easily have misread his hand.  Of if he thought he was bluffing but actually had a monster.

And that’s one of the problems with playing against a drunk, isn’t it?  It’s impossible to get a read on them.  They can do anything.  And they can do anything because they might think they’re doing one thing and are really doing something they didn’t intend.  And it’s pretty hard to get a read on someone who might have totally misread his hand.

Still, ordinarily, you’d welcome a drunk at your table, as long as he isn’t an obnoxious drunk and as long as he doesn’t slow the game down too much.  But I’d prefer a drunk who bought in for fewer chips and had to keep reloading.  Not a drunk who came to the table with more chips than I had.

You see, by this time, I was enjoying poker again and was already thinking how nice I was gonna feel if I was able to take most of the chips in front of me away when I left.  Yeah, I was already looking forward to booking this win.

This probably would have been a great night to make it a short session, get that win in the books. But of course, I had the two drawing tickets and since those drawing tickets make stupid….really really stupid…..I stayed to the drawing.

Before the drunk started playing erratically, I called his raise to $7 with pocket Queens.  It was just heads up.  The flop was Jack-high and I called his $10 bet.  The turn was a Queen, this time he bet $20. There were two hearts on the board.  I made it $50 and he folded, saying, “Good bet.  I’m sure you don’t have anything, but I’ll let you have it.”  Yeah I didn’t have anything. If you call a set of Queens not anything.

Now that happened soon after the drunk sat down.  By the time he came back after the failed table change attempt, I had around $200 profit and it would have sure felt good to book a double up.  And when the guy started playing wildly, I was concerned that the game could start resembling the game from two days earlier with the maniac of all maniacs, and I really wasn’t thrilled with that idea.  I probably should have asked for a table change, but I figured maybe I could wait the guy out.  He might lose his stack—or pass out—any minute now.

So I stayed but I was ultra, ultra cautious.  It is not a good way to play poker.  Especially since I kept getting playable cards.  I raised to $10 with Ace-Queen and two players called, including the drunk.  The flop was Ace-high.  I put out $25, the first guy folded, and the drunk made it $95.  Well, It might have been a bluff.  It might have been the guy betting with a crappier Ace.  It might have been the guy had no idea what he had.  Or he could have had two pair, or a set, who knows.  But I wasn’t interested in risking that much with top pair, second best kicker.  So I just folded.  He showed his hand—Ace-10.  There was no 10 on the board, I was ahead.  But I think in a lot of situations, I’m not calling a bet like that with just top pair, so I can’t really be too self-critical.

But then the very next hand, I was in the small blind with pocket Queens. Drunk opened the pot for $25, and then said, “Oops, I didn’t mean to grab that many chips.”  Well, he was drunk, so that could have meant anything—or nothing.  But I took it to mean he had a big hand but he wanted some action. Perhaps erroneously, that made me think that he wasn’t full of crap this time and actually had a hand he would glad to go to the flop with.  He had made other pretty big preflop bets without getting called, and without saying anything.

It folded to me and I had a decision to make. My first thought was to three-bet, at least until I analyzed his comment.  As I mentioned in that promo post, there are different schools of thought, three-betting with Queens.  Ed Miller doesn’t recommend it, but many of the other pros on his Red Chip Forum site do.  I usually don’t do it.  This was a guy that I would likely do it against, under normal circumstances.  But he still had me covered and I still wanted, if not needed, to book the win.  I thought about making it $100.  Drunk would likely fold, unless he really did have the big hand this time.  Or maybe he would call or shove back anyway with 7-deuce.  No way to be sure.

I figured a raise would put my entire stack—and all my profit—at risk.  So, just call, then?  But I kind of dismissed that, too.  Sure I could flop a set, but the odds are against it.  And if I see an Ace—or even a King—on the flop, yeah, I can get away from it for only the $25.  But If it was a low flop, how far would I go with it?  Again, if it was good flop for Queens, did I really want to risk my stack there?

There was only one player left to act, the big blind.  He was a solid player. He had both the drunk and me covered.  Didn’t see him make an obvious mistake all night. I was sure that I’d played with him before, even though I didn’t think he was a local.  I figured he was folding to $25 unless he had a really big hand.  Thus, I figured if I folded, I’d never see the flop, and wouldn’t know how It would have turned out if I had stayed in the pot.  And honestly, that’s what I wanted.

So yes, I just folded pocket Queens preflop.  To a drunk.  Not my best poker moment.

To my surprise, the big blind tanked.  And then….he called.  That was not at all what I wanted to happen.

I almost closed my eyes when the dealer put the flop out.  But I peaked and there was no Queen.  No, it was 9-8-2.  So it would have been the worst type of flop if I had kept those Queens.  But not my problem anymore. 

I don’t remember if there was any action on the flop.  Based on what I noted about the turn action, there might not have been any betting, which would have been weird but I think that’s the case. 

The turn was a 9, and this time the big blind put out $25.  Drunk made it $100, and again big blind went into the tank.  I assumed he was likely deciding whether to fold or call.  Boy, do I need to improve my reads.

He finally called.  The river was a blank.  To my surprise, the big blind announced all-in, and the drunk snap-called.  Or as snap as a guy that drunk could be.

Big blind flipped over 9-8 of spades for a lovely full house.  Drunk showed his pocket Jacks, unimproved.  And he was felted, and didn’t rebuy, and the big blind had a whole mass of chips to stack.

We talked about the hand.  “I knew his comment about grabbing too many chips was bull.  I figured I could get him good if I the flop hit me hard and that it was worth risking the $25.”

I pressed further and he said, “I wouldn’t have chased a flush or straight draw.  I would only have continued a made hand.”  Assuming that is, that the guy was going to make it very expensive to chase a draw.  He figured he had a big pair, just as I did.

And I asked about the call on the turn. “So that was your hesitation, whether to re-raise or wait to get it all in on the river?”  That’s what he was thinking about, and he figured he had a better chance getting it in on the river.  It probably didn’t matter.

I didn’t tell him what I folded—I was way too embarrassed.  But I wondered what he would have done if I had called? He knew I was a tight player and if I called there, he puts me on a big pair, probably Kings or Queens, or maybe Ace-King.  And he’s got a hand to crack those with, so he probably still calls.

But if I had raised—if I had made it $100?  No way does he call that.  Not a chance.

And if I had raised, there’s no way drunk folds his Jacks.  If he was lucid enough to realize I was a tight player, he might only call.  But he probably re-raises, probably a shove.  Even if he thinks he’s behind, with his state of mind (or lack thereof), he might think, “Well, I could get lucky.” 

And so would I have put my whole stack in play preflop with QQ?  Probably not.  Not on this day.  Not with my own state of mind.  Perhaps on another day, when I’m better able to play my best game.  Not there.

On a better night, I could have doubled my stack right there.  On this night, I was glad to get away from it for free, because I wouldn’t have been willing to risk the chips to win, if I had stayed in the hand.  Just calling there preflop would have ended up costing me a bunch of chips as well.

With the drunk gone, I managed to win a couple of pots.  I raised to $12 with pocket 10’s, and it was three-ways.  I bet $25 on a low flop and only the guy next to me with the now humungous stack called.  The turn was a paired 3, and I bet $35 and he folded.

Then right before the drawing, I had pocket fours and called $12. Again, three of us saw an all diamond flop—but one with a 4 on it.  I called $15 and then $20 when another diamond hit the turn. But a paired Jack on the river gave me a boat, and no one called my $30 river bet.

I got another drawing ticket, and of course, whiffed on the drawing.  When I cashed out, I had a $210 profit, a double up I badly needed for my psyche.  I survived my terrible play to book the win, but I know I left a whole bunch of money on the table.


  1. Replies
    1. Welcome back, anger! I've missed your regularly grading the boobs. Or was that the grade for the post? It's been so long I forget which.

      I dunno, I kinda think the lady has nice jugs. Oh wait, I mean mugs, don't I?

  2. Poker Grump wrote a very interesting post about how losing streaks can mess with your head and prevent you from playing your best, most profitable poker. It's the whole question of is it the losing streak or is the adjustments I've made to my game because of the losing streak? I'm betting you probably read it back then, but I sometimes go back and read it myself when I need a kick in the seat to play smarter in the throes of a downward swing.

    1. Thanks, Jeff. Yes, I had read that a long time ago. Grump did some great posts about losing streaks, also had links to his (now) girlfriend's blog about losing streaks, it was great stuff.

      Here's the key line (it's actually in the post that you link links to).

      "You begin to believe that you know absolutely nothing about this stupid game, and then you start playing in a way that proves it."


  3. Ok Rob, I know that everything I'm about to tell you, you already know. This is just perspective from a random reader of your blog. I'm just an IT guy from a couple hours north of where you're from who happens to enjoy poker. Please take my advice with a grain of salt as I'm an absolute amateur at this game and mediocre is about as good as I'm going to get at this endlessly complicated game. While I totally understand the psychological factors that play out in a losing streak, is it possible at all that you would enjoy this game more if losing a buy in or 2 (or 7) in a 1-2$NL game wasn't quite such a hit on your bankroll? If you find that (relatively) short term losing streaks at this limit, or these .5/1/2X buy in promotions are making you play different, maybe it's time to step up your game away from the tables to increase your income to a point where the swings at this limit that you enjoy to play, don't affect your game so much. Now I must ask, do you look to poker to provide you with your primary source of income? If so, I think it's time you quit this "ho hum I'm going to quit my blog", "I'm terrible at poker", blah blah business. You do know that when you search google for "poker blog", your blog is the 3 entry that comes up, right?! Even in front of ESPN! I have to believe you have a lot of fans of your blog out there. It really is very entertaining and extremely well written. Now I'm not sure what else you've done so far to put this blog at 3rd place in google searches, but I think it's time you really start to leverage this enormous level of presence you have online. You obviously are a great writer, I mean that story with the mayo covered hotdog at the bike had me laughing so hard I could hardly breathe. There has got to be more ways of leveraging your writing talents, your love of poker, and your exposure and experience with this blog, to even higher levels of success than you have now. I know you've met tons of people in poker, I encourage you to reach out to them for advice or partnerships to try and take things to the next level. When you mention not knowing what to do with Queens there with the drunk, I know you know what you are supposed to do there. And it goes way beyond "well so and so says to do this with QQ but then other guys say to do that and that", and excuses of poker information overload. Well as you know, there are no "always do X with QQ", there are a million different factors to consider when deciding whether to 3-bet QQ there with the drunk. At a high level, what are your reads on the other players, who raised? Who was behind him? Whos left behind you? How is table playing? (Is he even awake? haha) What's happened recently that may affect play? etc, etc... The LAST thing you should be thinking about there is being afraid of the monster under the bed because you don't want to lose your winnings. Let's go Rob, you have a really good thing going here. Take this Vegas trip and your recent life reassessments and make some real changes and take your poker life/career to a new level. You have the poker world at your finger tips, if you really love this game as much as I think you do (you must have started all of this for some reason right?), then it's time...

    1. Oh wow....I really don't know how to respond to this, Anony. Just wow.

      I do want to thank you for the kind words about my writing.

      Other than that....well, thanks for the psychoanalysis. And you didn't even charge me!

      No, seriously, thanks very much for the time and effort you gave to this comment, but really don't know how to respond.

  4. Rob it seems to me this entire post culminates in the QQ hand, you feel you were wrong, but were you really. You may be being far too hard on yourself with this self analization. If you felt you at the time Villain, drunk or sober had AA or KK then your lay down was completely correct. The fact you were incorrect on this one is inconsequential. If you had the same situation 10 times how many of those 10 times would you be correct about Villain dominaring you, 7 or 8 times at least. The amount of money that you save when you are correct in these situations will always far outweigh the amount of money left on the table the couple of times you are incorrect. you may be looking at this a bit too results-oriented. Perhaps you made errors inother hands, but depending but what your true read was, what your true that feeling was about his holdings, I don't believe this particular hand should be the basis for any self incrimination

    1. Thanks, FD appreciate the boost. See the comment above and below!

      My gut told me there was a good chance he had a better hand than my Queens, but if you look at his range--it was still probably any two cards. I mean I could see that drunk doing that, and saying the same thing, with 7-2. OR,it was possible in his condition he misread his hand and might have mistaken Q-J for JJ. Who knows?

      But thanks for the encouragement. I appreciate it.

  5. It's good to book a win, especially when you've been in a slump, but I was cringing while I read the QQ hand recap. If the drunk was as you said, we were playing together, and told me you folded that preflop, I would have begged you to leave. You weren't playing anywhere near your best game.

    1. Thanks, Dave. For sure I was not playing my best game. And I absolutely should have left when I got the double up. That;s waht this post and the Promo post were all about.

    2. I'm more cringing at the AQ hand that you folded. Most of my profit at this game is by taking money from players who overvalue their top pair weaker kicker hands. Sure, top pair second kicker isn't normally good against a raise in this spot, but against this player, a drunk who is moving into maniac mode, it's an absolute monster. Against guys like this you have to be willing to gamble, or they will absolutely run you over.

      From reading all of your posts, your biggest leak is not being aggressive enough, and thus not getting full value from your big hands. You even seem to realize this in your commentary regarding the hands. Bottom line is that you need to "nut up", start 3 betting AK and QQ in most spots (there are cases where you shouldn't, but the majority of time I believe it is the best play). Increasing your aggression level will have two positive effects, one, you will get better value out of your strong hands, and two, you will pick up more pots uncontested.

      I feel I have posted things to this effect before, but experiment with it and don't get discouraged by any poor short term results. Trust me on this, it's a winning play, albeit higher variance.

    3. Thanks, steeser. I agree with you about my biggest leak, I've expressed that myself here on the blog.

      I do try to be more aggressive from time to time, but it seems every time I do it bites me in the ass. I know I give up to easily and thus have way too small a sample size toi judge it.

      I need to just commit to it for several sessions in a row and then check the results.