Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Yes, I've Played This Game Before, Honest!

So I actually played poker this past Saturday.  First time in like four months.

The thing is, no one who saw me play this particular hand—the one hand I actually won—  would ever believe I’d actually played poker before—ever.

My excuse is that it had been four months since I’ve played poker.  And also, well, I’ve played poker only eight times total (including this time) since early March, 2020.

My  last session before Saturday was in late June.  Why haven’t I played since?  Several reasons, but the main one is the damn mask mandate.  Last couple of times I played at the Bike, there was no mask requirement.  But soon after my last session there, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, in their infinite wisdom, brought back the mask requirement for all indoor activities.  Whether you are vaccinated or not.

I hate wearing a mask, I hate other people having to wear a mask.  Masks are for costume parties, that’s it.  They are uncomfortable, annoying, and make it harder for me to breathe. I had played a few times at the Bike without a mask and it was so much better than the previous times when I did have to wear a mask. Knowing I would have to wear a mask for two, three, four hours was more than enough to keep me out of the poker room.

Especially since the drive to and from the Bike is so unpleasant for me.  The older I get, the less tolerant I get fighting bad traffic, and the traffic down to the Bike (and in Southern California generally) seems to get worse every year. The players at the Bike are not as pleasant as they were at the old Player’s Casino in Ventura, and for whatever reason, I have worse results at the Bike than I did in Ventura.

However, after four months of abstinence, even an old curmudgeon like me had to relent. It was time to put on the stupid mask and play with some chips and look at some cards.

To enter the casino, I had to present my player’s card (which they recorded) and put my mask on. I was relieved that they didn’t ask me about my vaccination status.  But I’m sure that will happen soon.  Both the county of L.A. and the city of L.A. have some extremely restrictive rules coming down the pike, and between the two of them, it will be almost impossible to go inside anywhere without proving you have had the jab.  Or two jabs.  Or three. Although the dictates are in place, I guess the actual enforcement isn’t quite in effect.  Soon.

Thanks to the excellent PokerAtlas app, I was able to get on the waitlist during the hour-long drive down there.  As a result, I only had to wait about five minutes before getting called into the game (as soon as I arrived, I pushed the bottom on the app notifying them of my presence and was immediately number one on the list—sweet!)

The tables are still eight-handed, and thankfully, no plexiglass.  Even better, unlike the last time I played there and had to wear a mask, you could drink (and even eat) at the tables, as long as you pulled your mask back up as soon as you finished putting the food or beverage in your mouth. Even better, they had folks patrolling the room frequently with a beverage cart that had coffee, water, beer, energy drinks and even sodas.  I soon had a can of Diet Pepsi to nurse during the session, at a cost of two bucks (plus a buck tip).  Honestly, I would have gotten something to drink even if I hadn’t been thirsty, just so I would have a legit excuse to lower my mask from time to time.  As it was, I did take a break once to go outside and catch a few breaths of fresh air.

To start, I was totally card dead.  For an hour, I practiced the fine art of folding.  No pocket pairs, no Ace-anything good, suited or not, no big face cards, so suited connectors (unless you count 4-3 of hearts once), basically nothing to play.  Somehow though, I had managed to lose close to $50 of my $300 buy-in for this 2/3 game.  Blinds mostly, but I must have played something else; I didn’t record what.  It wasn’t with a good starting hand, I can assure you of that.

Then, in the small blind, I had Ace-Jack off-suit.  This was the closest thing to a good hand I’d seen all day.  And of course, it ain’t that good.  Not out of position, as I was.  I at least remembered that much.  Up until then, my rustiness hadn’t mattered, as I wasn't getting cards that even made me think of what a decent starting hand was.  I knew I’d have to let it go if anyone raised.  But no one did.  A bunch of people limped (as was not unusual for this table, it was a pretty tame bunch).  I knew the big blind had become more interested in waiting for his table change to come through than in playing.  I knew this because he had stopped straddling my big blind as he had been previously doing.  I didn’t expect him to raise unless he really had something.  Besides, when the small blind is ⅔’s of the big blind, it makes sense to play it raither than fold for a buck, right?  At least, that’s what I recalled from many months ago.

I tossed in a buck and the big blind checked behind me.  It seemed like at least five of us (maybe six?) saw the flop.  It was King-Queen-x, rainbow.  I checked the gut-shot and someone bet $21.  A couple of more callers and so it seemed like I was getting decent pot odds to chase the straight.  Four of us saw the turn, another brick.  Some low card that put all four suits on the board. I checked, and this time it checked to the button, who bet $20.  Well now, depending on how many calls and if no one raised, I’d be getting reasonable odds to chase, plus there were some implied odds to consider. Then too, if the 10 came, it would give me the stone-cold nuts.  The board wouldn’t be paired, and there was no chance for anyone to make a flush.

Well, two more did call, no raise, and then the dealer put out the river card.  Yeah, it was a 10.  Yes, I had the nuts.  I had to decide if I should bet it.  I knew that if I bet, when all I had been doing was calling, it would send up a red flag. Especially since I had been in so few hands.  I just kind of felt that someone would likely bet.  I checked, the next two players checked, and in my mind, I was suddenly sure I had blown it. I was convinced the button would check too, and I was preparing my speech as I prepared to show my cards. “I was hoping someone would bet!”

Instead, the button announced “all-in.”

Holy shit!  I looked at his stack (not that it mattered), it looked very similar to mine, so I didn’t even consider asking for a count, although of course I should have, as you will see. 

What happened next was probably the lamest five seconds of my poker career.  I had not one, but two brain-farts in a record amount of time.

Instead of pretending to tank, I shouted, “Call” as loudly and as excitedly as I possibly could. How loud was I? Pretty sure they heard me call over at the Commerce.  I have a vague recollection of someone saying something like, “Wow, now that’s a call.”  That would have been bad enough, but it got worse.

Without thinking (obviously), I flipped over my hand!  I heard the button groan, but I somehow managed to forget that there were two players left in the hand with both cards and chips.  WTF?  I dunno where my mind went, but the dealer immediately told me that there were still two players left to act.

Shit.  How dumb could I be?  Have I ever played this game before?  I gave no evidence of it right then, that’s for sure.  The other two players folded.  Note:  I had them both covered, one of them had less than half my stack and the other one about half of mine or a little more.  Other players commented, “Well they wouldn’t have called anyway.” One added, “Unless they had the bottom end.”  Yeah.  If someone had Jack-9 they likely would have called.  Except with two all-ins in front of them, including me, the tightest player at the table, I think even Jack-9 might have found a fold. But then…..well, this is the Bike.  But another thing makes me think neither of the other guys had Jack-9.  They would have told me.  I really can’t imagine a guy with Jack-9 there, waiting to act, not telling me—hell, not showing me—that he had Jack-9 and sarcastically thanking me for saving him money.  Also….I bet anyone with Jack-9 there likely would have bet out instead of checking.

So my double brain-fart likely didn’t cost me money.  When the dealer counted our stacks, the button was left with about $13 and he took off to get more chips.  When he came back, he seemed fine, albeit muttering about the damn 10.  Much later, when I left the table, he was real nice and quietly kvetched about the straight I caught.  I insincerely apologized and he said something like no problem, that’s poker.  A good sport at the Bike?  Who’da thunk it?  Then he said that the 10 gave him two pair (most likely Queen-10 because if he had top pair I think he would have played the flop and the turn more aggressively) and he was actually value betting.

On the way home, I pondered that.  Value betting? Was that a value bet?  I mean, if he was value betting, wouldn’t he have bet a lot less?  An over-shove when he had the biggest stack is not a value bet, is it?  Or have I forgotten more about poker than I thought?  No one is calling his shove unless they have two pair beat, not with the obvious straight on the board.  A value bet should have been much smaller to get a top pair or a lesser two pair to call.  Am I right about that?

But at the time I just nodded.

I seemed to have digressed—that is so unlike me.  Let’s go back to the five seconds where I acted like I had never even heard the word “poker” before. I dunno what happened.  My initial reaction, after I was reminded that there were two players still in the hand, was to mutter something like, “Homina, homina, homina…...this is the first time I’ve played in four months.  I’m rusty.  But I swear I’ve played poker before!”  Yeah, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.  In truth, this was only the eighth time I’ve played poker in some 20 months, as I’ve mentioned.  Of course that’s no excuse for my actions, it really isn’t.  I don’t think I did two things in a row that stupid any time while I was learning to play in a live poker room. Sigh  At least I remembered what a straight was, and that it didn’t beat a flush!

I had never felt so embarrassed, so humiliated after actually winning a pot—a big pot at that. I can only remember feeling that embarrassed after doing something dumb and losing a big pot.  I wanted to run away and hide instead of stacking my chips.  I assumed the player who had given me most of those chips must have felt especially bad, having lost money to a guy who had seemingly never played poker before. As I was stacking my chips, I felt like saying, “Honest guys, I’ve played this game before.  I mean....I  work in poker.  I write about poker.  I’ve had a popular poker blog for over 10 years!  Really.”  Of course I didn’t say any of those things and in fact was quite happy that I was totally anonymous and no one there knew who the hell I was. The last thing I wanted was for someone to recognize me.

And I had to stay there with all those fellows for a while.  My first instinct was to pick up my chips and take off, or at least go to another table where no one knew I had acted like the newbie to end all newbies. But I couldn’t do that, I couldn’t do what would look like a hit-and-run.  No way.  That would be wrong, plus it would make me look like even more of a newbie, right? I had no choice but to keep playing with these guys.

Here’s what my stack looked like after I stacked my chips:

I had over $280 profit for the session.  Again, I wonder if I left money on the table?  I honestly don’t think so but I’ll never really know.

For the rest of the session, I went back to being totally, totally card dead.  I didn’t play another hand.  I finished the day never having seen a pocket pair or an Ace-King or Ace-Queen or a suited connector. I swear I never had a hard decision to even play a speculative hand.

As I was getting really uncomfortable having that mask on all the time (though I did take frequent small sips of that Diet Pepsi so I’d have an excuse to at least pull it down), I really couldn't last more than two hours.  I needed to breathe.  Besides, it was a pretty unpleasant experience. With masks on, there was virtually zero conversation at the table. Those masks are such a great inhibitor to socializing.  I switched to poker from table games years ago because I loved the social aspect of the game.  That is gone.  Everyone looked miserable too.  Of course that could just be because I couldn’t see half of their faces.  Maybe they were smiling or laughing underneath those masks?  

So I racked up and booked a $250 win.  I played exactly one hand post-flop, won it, and that was the entire win, right there, that one hand.  Where I acted like a guy who had never played poker before.


  1. Congrats on the misplayed double up, Rob! I'll take the embarrassment, AND the chips, anytime! I do hope the casinos go with the mandated vaccination policy - help keep us all safe.


    1. Thanks, s.i., I appreciate it! In the interest of harmony, I have nothing to say about "the mandated vaccination policy."

  2. I agree about the masks. I have done much better playing poker without a mask. Won't play wearing mask again. Mandates are tyranny!

    1. Thanks, Tino. We are on the same page when it comes to masks and mandates.

  3. I'm with you on the masks Rob. Here in the ever shrinking still-free America, we trashed the masks over a year ago. Ms. Duck and I were reminded what a pain they are on our recent trip to Vegas.

    Wishing you a Happy and Healthy 2022 my friend!

    1. Long time no hear, Lucki! Great to hear from you.

      Yeah it's those masks that are keeping me away from Vegas for now.

      Glad you are doing well, Hapopy New Year right back at ya!

  4. great update rob, hope for more in the future!

  5. Is this blog still current? Why no updates?

    1. Good question, Mr. Unknown. For a long time, I didn't have any material, what with the lockdowns and not playing poker and all. I do have things to talk about now, but now it is a matter of getting up the will and the inspiration to sit in front of a PC and try to hack out a few blog posts. I have been very busy lately, and with that and the lack of inspiration, well, I just lack the motivation to write.

      HOWEVER, now that I do have some material, and I do hope to get some really good material the end of this month (that's a tease), I am fairly confident I can knock out a few blog posts in the semi-near future.

      Thanks for your interest, and hang in there. Follow me on twitter for more updates.