Monday, October 28, 2019

Have I Forgotten Tournament Strategy?

As I mentioned before, I played just one tournament in Vegas during my July visit.  That was the Wynn on Sunday. On Friday and Sunday (but, alas, not Saturday), they have $200 tournament at noon, 15K starting stack, 30-minute levels and it even has a $10K guarantee. Big blind ante, of course.  I had never played a tournament at Wynn before, but from my observations, it appeared that this Friday and Sunday tourney there was now getting a bigger crowd than Aria's similar tournament had.  Plus Wynn had the $10K guarantee and Aria had no guarantee.  So I figured I'd give it a shot.

It's a good tournament, good structure for the price.  I'll be more than happy to play it again if I get the chance.  That said, (spoiler warning) I didn't come close to cashing.  I'm not going to do a complete recap of my experience.  Basically I just want to discuss one thing that came up during my run, based on a play I made and a comment I received for that play.

My table was kind of crazy.  Not the play, just the cards.  In the first few levels there were an awful lot of bad beats and bust-outs.  I mean ten-minutes into the tournament two players got it all in on the turn.  The flop had been Queen-Jack-x, and the turn had been another Queen.  One guy had pocket Jacks and the other guy had Queen-Jack!  Boat over boat in the first level.  The guy who won that hand later lost most of his chips in another boat over boat situation, this time he was on the wrong end of it.  Another time a guy with 7-4 in the big blind took out a guy who had a boat with three 4's on the board.

The craziest hand was perhaps when a short stack shoved from the big blind.  There had been a limper, and the small blind completed.  The big blind explained after the hand that he figured he had enough chips to get the two limpers to fold.  But it turned out the first limper had pocket 10's and the small blind inexplicably completed with pocket Queens.  So they both called the shove.  The big blind was embarrassed to turn over Queen-3 off.  But he wasn't too embarrassed to take the triple up when he used that 3 to complete a wheel on the river.  He couldn't believe his good fortune and also couldn't believe the guy with Queens just limped in from the small blind.  He said, "I was just trying to steal it.  If he had raised, as he should have, I'd have folded of course."

Well, the hand I want to discuss was on level 5.  The blinds were 400/200/400.  I had approx 16K.  With Queen-10 of spades, I opened to $500.  There was a call then a guy shoved his last $1,800.  I called and the other guy called.  He had me covered, in fact this was the guy who had gotten a double up in the boat over boat situation from level 1.  He was a fairly aggressive player which is why I didn't re-raise.  Of course I was worried about a re-raise from him, but I thought if he only called my initial raise that was unlikely.

The flop was Queen high, one spade.  I bet 2K and the guy said, "Why?"  Huh?  "Why are you giving him protection?"  He folded, saying, "I hope you have a monster."  OK, so I guess what he was saying was that in a tournament situation, it was in both of our interests for the guy to bust out and we'd both have one less player to compete against.  That is basic tournament strategy, and certainly in the latter stages of a tournament in a multi-way pot, you often see the players in the side pot check it down so that either one of them can bust out the short stack.

I never said a word, but for a second I was wondering if I had made a major gaffe.  Had it been so long since I played a tournament that I forgot basic tournament strategy?  It bothered me.

Anyway, the short stack had King-8 off.  Not sure why he felt compelled to shove with that, he was not one of the blinds.  The turn card was a second spade, so when the King of spades hit the river, his pair of Kings was no good against my flush.

Of course I kept thinking about the guy's comment.  The more I thought about it, the more I thought he was wrong.  What he was referring to was a late-in-the-tournament strategy, when you are near the money (or in the money) and you really want to see those player bust.  Here we were still early, registration was still open so I'm not sure what one guy busting during registration gets us.  I mean he could have re-entered himself (I don't believe he did).  My thought was that at this point in the tournament, I'm really trying to accumulate chips more than I'm trying to bust people and the best way for me to do that was to bet top pair and either get him to call me with a weaker hand or get him to fold whatever equity he had.

Am I right or was he right?

Anyway, I made it to level 7 (600/300/600) with $21,600.  With Ace-9 of spades, I opened to $1,600.  A guy shoved his last $3,100 and it folded back to me.  Couldn't fold for that price so I called.  He had pocket 3's.  The flop had a 9 on it but was all hearts and he had the 3 of hearts.  I faded the hearts but he rivered a 3 and that one hurt.

I tried to steal it when it folded to me on the button with King-deuce by raising to $1,800 but the small blind shoved.  Had to fold.

I opened to $1,800 with pocket 9's and got a call.  The flop was King high and I tried to get away with a c-bet ($2500).  But the other guy raised big and I had to fold.

That got me to level 7 (800/400/800) with $9,600.  So I open/shoved with pocket 3's.  I got called by the small blind who had me covered with King-9. He said he "had to call" me but I'm not sure why.  Well, he hit his 9 and I was done.

They ended up with 110 players and an $18K prize pool.  Not bad at all.  First place was $6K and the min-cash was $490 (acceptable!), 11 players were paid.  Would have been nice to have lasted into the money but I didn't run well enough…or didn't play well enough. Maybe both.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Movie Review: 7 Days to Vegas

7 Days to Vegas is the very amusing new gambling film starring Vince Van Patten, known to all of you as the host of the World Poker Tour on television.  It's available in select theaters but can also be seen on V.O.D. (Amazon, iTunes, etc).  I watched it from the comfort of my home this past weekend and I have to say, the movie is a total delight. 

Vince is no stranger to acting, being the son of actor Dick Van Patten (of Eight is Enough fame) and having been a child star himself.  After he grew up, he became a professional tennis player and played (and beat) the great John McEnroe, among many others.  Since I have been a lifelong tennis fan, I do remember Vince from his tennis days.  Of course we all know him now for his poker commentary on the WPT.

Vince co-wrote the film and it is based on a true story.  I'm going to guess that the word "loosely" belongs in there before the word "based" but I have no direct knowledge of that.

Anyway, Vince plays Duke, who bears a remarkable resemblance to one Vince Van Patten.  Duke was a child actor, then a pro tennis player before he turned to hosting (and crushing) private poker games for his friends, including a lot of Hollywood types.  That's how he makes a living.  In fact he's so good at poker (and recruiting bad players with money to play in his game), he has to bury his winnings in the backyard.  The first part of the film lays all this out, and introduces us to all the colorful characters who populate his games.  Of course, they are all incurable degens, and that sets up the main story of the film.

These degens like to make prop bets, as degens do.  And we see a few of these ridiculous bets, which leads to the most ridiculous bet of all.  Duke manages to get swindled out of all his hard earned poker winnings and ends up broke and in debt.  He lucks into a $1MM inheritance and decides to risk it all to try to make a bigger killing.  So he bets the villain of the piece, an obnoxious big-time movie director named Sebastian, the $1MM against Sebastian's $5MM that he can walk to Las Vegas from Los Angeles in 7 days.

Yeah.  It's totally insane.  It sounds even more insane to me than some of you because I am so familiar with the trip from L.A. to Vegas, having done it dozens of times.  Of course I never walked it….because I'm not totally nuts. Also, because I have a bad back.  But mostly because of the not being totally nuts thing. Nevertheless, recognizing some of the landmarks and towns they travelled through (on foot) made it even a little bit more fun for me.

Well, they establish the ground rules and Duke starts to walk to Vegas—280 miles through the desert in seven days.  Apparently it is summer when he does this since they mention temperatures of 110-120 degrees.  Oh, and he has to wear a suit!  I do wish they had established what kind of footwear Duke was wearing.  Was he able to wear tennis shoes or did he have to wear the dress shoes that would be more appropriate for his suit?

All the degens from the poker game of course have action on whether Duke can make it.  So they all follow him in an RV, which Duke can use for regularly scheduled bathroom visits.  But Duke must sleep outside, not inside the RV.

Of course the journey takes all sorts of surprising—and very funny—twists and turns.  All the characters are funny and crazy, just the sort of folks you might encounter at a big poker game like this, or perhaps even in a more normal poker game in a casino.  Well, maybe not.  But if you follow the poker world (and of course you do if you read my blog), you know all about these kinds of degens and these type of crazy prop bets.  Hell I read about crazy prop bets (almost) like this one nearly every week.  Don't you?

The crazy, funny degens are what keep the movie so entertaining.  Vince and his co-writer have    created some great characters to keep the viewer fascinated.  Sebastian, the villain, is a wonderfully smarmy, vile creature.  Another character thinks he's a ventriloquist. Angry Jim is always, well, angry.  The role of Vince's bother is played by Vince's real-life brother, James.  For that matter, his real wife, actress Eileen Davidson, plays Duke's wife, though she has a relatively minor role.

Among the degens that show up during Duke's walk, all playing themselves, are Vince's poker pals Antonio Esfandiari, Phil Laak and of course Jennifer Tilly,  Great casting, as the two guys are two of the most notorious prop bettors around, and of course, how could you cast real poker players playing themselves in a movie and not ask Jennifer Tilly to join the fun, since she is an extremely talented actress as well as a bracelet-owning poker player.  I do wish the delightful Ms. Tilly had been given a little more to do because you can never get enough Jennifer Tilly.

I should warn you that although the first half of the movie introduces us to this big private poker game Duke runs, this is not a poker movie, per se.  There is not a single bit of poker strategy discussed, there are no hand histories depicted.  But you will definitely recognize bits and pieces of most of the players as poker playing types.  The setting of the underground poker game reminded me of the recent film, Molly's Game, but this movie has a much, much lighter touch than that.  It doesn't take itself anywhere near as seriously as Molly's Game did.

Which is great, because the movie is funny, entertaining, and mostly just plain fun.  I had a smile on my face pretty much the whole time I was watching.  I really think that anyone who likes this blog would enjoy it similarly.  It's just a really good time for 90 minutes.  I heartily recommend to all my blog readers.

One final note.  I said at the outset that this is a gambling movie.  Well it is, but as it turns out, there's really another genre that this movie belongs to even more.  However, if I told what that genre is, it would spoil it for you, so I won't tell you.  You can find out for yourself.  Enjoy!

Congrats to Vince Van Patten for a fun, fine movie.  So, Vince….do you think you could still beat McEnroe?  How about Antonio?

Sunday, October 13, 2019

A Lesson in Patience

This is one of my most recent sessions out in Ventura.  For the longest time it seemed like the most interesting hand of the day was the very first one, a hand that didn't involve me.

I had been waiting for a good 15 minutes when they opened a new table of 2/3.  It was a full table as we began. I was UTG for that first hand, and I folded some garbage.  The player on my immediate left raised to $45.

Well now.  The very first hand of the game and he opens to $45?  That is not a normal opening raise for this game, I assure you.  Even the most aggro of aggros never opens for more than $25.  Standard is anything from $10-$15.  But $18-$20 is not unheard of.  I've never seen a raise this big before.  Had I finally found the maniac of all maniacs in Ventura?  Now in Vegas, I've sometimes seem outrageous opening raises, particularly from a new player playing his first hand.  Sometimes an open shove.  But it's Vegas, sometimes people go crazy.  Although the overall action can be a lot looser in CA than Vegas, you just don't see that kind of opening raise in a 2/3 game.

To my surprise, he actually got a call from one of the older players at the table.  It was a heads up, and the flop was 5-4-4, two diamonds.  The preflop raiser announced all-in.  He had started with $300, the maximum, so he was betting $255 into a pot of ~$85.  The other guy tanked for quite a bit, he too had bought in for the $300 max.  Finally he let it go.  The aggro didn't show, and he refused to answer the question of what he had, which was asked by a couple of other players.  So they speculated.  One said Aces, another said Jacks.  My first thought was Jacks.  I think you see more crazy opening bets with Jacks than any other hand.  Of course, he might have had anything and was just trying to establish a certain image.  Who knows?

I will say this guy proved to be an aggro, but he never opened another pot like that, never made a ridiculous opening bet again.  He was always on the large side when he did raise, but within reason. And he was capable of limping. He did straddle under-the-gun every chance he could, to my annoyance.  As such, until he finally moved to a bigger game midway through my session, I never got a free big blind hand to play.

I know I say this a lot, but man was I card dead.  I mean extremely card dead.  When I finally got my first pocket pair, I actually wrote down the time of it, it had been that long.  It was about 90 minutes into my session.  BTW, it was pocket 6's and I folded them on a missed flop.

Through the first 95% of my time at that table, I had won exactly two pots.  They were both small blind hands.  When the small blind is $2 and the big blind is $3, my range of hands to complete is fairly wide.  I couldn't get a big blind hand to play without calling at least an extra $3 due to my neighbor straddling, but I could play the small blind hands for a buck.  My aggro neighbor, for whatever reason, rarely raised from the big blind.

So early on, I completed with Jack-7 of clubs.  It was four-way.  The flop was Ace-King-Queen, one club.  I checked and called $8 and it was heads up.  The turn was an offsuit 10, giving me Broadway.  This time I led out for $15 and he called.  The river was a brick and I bet $30 but didn't get a call.

Later I completed with Ace-Jack off, again it was four-way.  The flop was Ace-10-9, two clubs and I led out for $10.  I got two callers.  The turn was a blank and I bet $20 and it was now heads up.  The river was a third club so I checked.  He checked behind and he had Ace-6 and I took it down.

And that was it.  In fact, as I was so card dead, those two little pots were enough to keep me in the black for almost the entire session.  I think I maybe voluntarily put money into play one time and never raised preflop.  Never saw any other pair, never saw Ace-King, Ace-Queen, King-Queen or any suited Ace.  It was pathetic.

The table was starting to thin out and I figured if the table didn't break before then, I'd play two more orbits and call it a day.  It looked like I might get away with $5-$10 loss, which considering how bad my cards were was going to be a pretty decent result.  If I hadn't demonstrated any great skill at the game, I had at least exhibited great patience, refusing to start playing inferior opening hands out of sheer boredom.

And then, under-the-gun, I looked down at two Queens.  I opened to $15.  Now, considering this was the first time I'd raised all day, and in fact was like the second or at best third time I'd actually put any money in pot when I didn't have to, I assumed I'd probably just take it down there without a fight.  I mean, the aggro on my left was long gone, and the action had kind of slowed down considerably as the last few players who had left had not been replaced.

Well, I was off a bit. I only got four callers.  The flop was Jack-9-8, rainbow.  Kind of a scary board, but with my overpair I had to bet.  I put out $50.  The first to act took a long time to consider it, but folded.  Everyone else folded rather quickly.

The very next hand, in the big blind, I was dealt Queen-2 off.  No one raised and about 3-4 of us saw an Ace high flop, plus two lowish cards.  No one bet.  The turn was a Queen.  I bet $5 and got a call.  The river was a deuce and I bet $10, he called and showed Queen-9.  Nice river.

Two hands later, on the button, I looked down at Ace-Queen.  I called an $8 raise, it was three-way.  The flop was Ace-high and I called $12. The turn was a King and I called $20, still three-way. The river was a Queen, which now made a straight possible.  So when the guy who had been betting checked, I checked behind.  Turns out he had King-something and the other guy didn't show.  It was my third pot in four hands.

I reverted back to card-deadedness after that for the rest of the orbit.  By the time the big blind was about to come to me, we were so short-handed that I didn't hesitate to pick up and call it a day.  I had gone from a few bucks down to plus $180 in a manner of minutes, and in so doing, demonstrated the virtue of patience.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

The Dreaded Value Bet

This was a Saturday afternoon session at Venetian in July.  I usually play a tournament on Saturdays in Vegas, but I felt my options were limited.  The great Binion's tournament I loved to play is long gone.  And the last few times I'd played the Saturday tournament at Aria, the number of players was disappointing.  Plus that tournament now starts at 11am.  I figured this close to the end of the WSOP, having seen how dead all the rooms I'd played in were that week, there was no chance for a decent turnout at the Aria.  So I played cash instead.  Note:  It turned out that they got a pretty decent turnout at Aria with a nice prize pool and I probably should have played over there.

But if I had, I wouldn't have this story to tell you of how I conquered my fear of the pocket Kings.  At least this one time anyway.

The Venetian still had the high hand promo going that I discussed here.  The danger of that promo is that games can get too nitty as players want to see lots of flops hoping to score a high hand.  You can find yourself at a table where four or five players are seeing every flop, a preflop raise is rare, and even the early streets are played without a lot of action as somebody with a draw to a potential high hand is trying to avoid ending the hand prematurely.  Of course, there are ways to exploit players like that.  And this table had a player trying to take advantage of the nits.  Let's call this guy Dallas.  Dallas rarely limped into a pot and when he did raise, he raised big, bigger than most anyone else at the table. He was definitely an aggro. There were actually a few other players at the table who liked to mix it up so this table was definitely atypical for the high hand promo game.

BTW, I'm not calling this guy Dallas because he was from Texas.  I believe he was from somewhere in the Midwest.  But he had moved to Vegas a few years ago.

I called $10 from late position with Ace-2 of clubs (it was sooooooted).  The flop was Ace-King-Queen.  I called $15 from the preflop raiser and we were heads up.  The turn was a blank and we both checked.  The river was another blank, this time she bet $15.  I wondered if she even had an Ace.  For $15 I decided to look her up.  It was a good call, she had King-Jack and I took it down.

I limped in with Jack-10 of diamonds and waited for Dallas's inevitable raise.  He did raise, but I didn't note how much his raise was.  But it couldn't have been too much because I called.  It turned out we were heads up.  The flop came Jack-10-5, but it was all spades.  Dallas bet around $20, maybe $25, and I called.  The last two cards were both blanks and he checked both times, I did likewise.  I showed my hand and he mucked without showing.  Probably missed a value bet there but all those spades were disconcerting.

Then I limped in with pocket deuces and called Dallas's raise to $17.  There were at least two other callers.  And I was feeling like Dallas would be more likely to pay me off if I hit my set than most players would be.  Well, I didn't hit my set, but I did pick up a nice draw.  The flop was 5-4-3, rainbow.  He bet something like $25 (maybe a little more) and I called.  An Ace hit the turn giving me the wheel.  This time I led out for $40.  He called.  The river was another 4 and though that was a bit scary, I really doubted that could have filled him up.  So I put out $70, but he quickly mucked.

I had been down well over $100 (from a $300 buy-in in this 1/3 game) but those two hands had me close to even, tho still down a bit.  I was actually thinking of stopping and heading for dinner.  So of course I looked down at the dreaded pocket Kings, always a sure way to kill my appetite.  After one limper, I made it $15, and Dallas and the limper both called.

The flop was 10-9-9, rainbow. It checked to me, and I bet $35. Dallas called, the other player folded.  The turn was a blank, a low card.  Now with unimproved pocket Kings, it's tough for me mentally to bet the turn.  Especially against an aggro who could easily raise.  A lot of times I would just check there.  But I forced myself to bet.  I put out $60.  Dallas called, without much of a thought.

The river was a 9.  That wasn't the way I wanted to get a boat.  Now I have to admit, my first thought was to check.  That's what I'd usually do.  Trying to value bet the river with the dreaded hand isn't easy for me.  True, I had a boat, but whenever you see three of a kind on the board you have to wonder…..could the other guy have quads?

So I almost checked.  After all, what could he have that I'm beating that he'd call with?  If he had a big pocket pair he might have three-bet preflop.  He certainly didn't have Aces, I was sure of that.  But if he had a medium or low pocket pair would he call?  Seemed unlikely.  And if he flopped a straight draw, he missed and would certainly not call. 

But I figured, there's just no way he has quads.  If he flopped trips, he would have raised before then.  I couldn’t see how I could be beat.  So I went ahead and bet.  I put out $70, thinking there was no way he was going to call. I did it mostly for practice.

He tanked, and then finally called, very reluctantly.  Unless he was really Hollywooding, I was good.  He mucked when he saw my Kings.  He said something lke, "I had a sucker hand.  I had to call."  I assume that meant he had a fairly big pocket pair, It's possible I suppose that he even had Queens and didn't three bet preflop because I'd played so tight.  Who knows?

All I know is that I was now in the black.  I was able to cash out up $140, which was very nice.  I guess a good chunk of my profit came from my successful value bet on the river.  I guess I need to do that more often.