Saturday, September 30, 2006

Poker Play and, er ... a little writing

So I meant to go to a conference this week, but I had work to do. I tagged along with DH to Atlantic City with my laptop, and spent a few days at Borders. I got enough done that I had time to play in two poker tournaments and sit down for a few hours at a ring game.

Poker is fun. It's such a people game. I'm more of a recluse and not too comfortable chatting with strangers, but I get a real kick out of watching them.

There's also a lot of power play in the game. A huge percentage of poker is skill and sport; I didn't realize that until I started playing it. There's a luck factor in tournaments, but not so much in a ring game. In a ring game, patience rules the day.

I'm really good at figuring out people's fear line. I can figure out how much to bet before they'll start worrying about being disadvantaged for the tournament. It sounds terribly ruthless, but what else can I use--I'm not great with the math. If I'm seeing a hand all the way to the end, I'm going to make it painful enough that they'll fold or I'm going to make sure I get a lot of chips doing it.

That's one of the reasons I'm at a disadvantage in a ring game. There's no fear. If they go out, they can buy more chips. If they want, they can sit there forever. It's free to fold. There's not a whole lot of fear on the table, and it throws my game off.

In a ring game, you usually play the cards a whole lot more than you play the people. In a tournament, you play the people, the fear, and the structure of the tournament. The cards, too, but not so much.

In the ring game, I got two hands in four hours and a long string of unsuited change. One hand was pocket kings, and the guy called me. He should have taken me all in, but I've noticed that older gentlemen like to treat ladies with respect, even at the poker table. I find that so touching, and it makes me sad that younger guys don't have that etiquette anymore. And people wonder why I fell in love with an older guy, lolol ...

I had to fold my pocket kings when the board came up Ace-Jack. I pegged him as having an ace, and he wasn't going to drop out of the hand. When I folded, he gentlemanly showed me his Ace-Jack. That was nice, and it made me feel better about folding. It's tough to fold pocket kings, but when you know you're beat, you're beat. No sense paying more. DH will sometimes carry things to the river saying, "I couldn't fold pocket kings with those pot odds!" but I disagree: no matter how the numbers crunch, if you know you're beat, you're beat! All the odds in the world aren't going to change the cards.

The second hand I had in those four hours was pocket tens. I ended up heads up against a thirty-something guy who had no illusions of gentlemanhood. He put me all in after making me pay through the nose to see the flop. I should have folded and saved my twenty dollars because I knew I was beat, but I got stupid. I wanted to leave and go to the tournament, so I pushed the last bit in instead of standing up and taking it with me, LOLOL. Stupid, but no big deal.

The tournament was great. I slipped back into my normal play, and it was SO comfortable. I had no idea I could be so aggressive until I played poker. It really doesn't suit my personality because I don't consider myself aggressive, except for when I set my sights on a goal. Still, as much as love competition, I constantly compare myself to others so that I inspire myself to be better, not because I have any interest in 'beating' them. Anyway, I did awesome at the tournament. I played my best goddamn poker.

Of course, I went out earlier than I ever had (in all four live tournaments I've ever been in, LOL). Before, I've always made the final table or the last two tables.

**Warning: Bad Beat Stories Ahead**

I went out with two bad beats in a row. First, I called a guy trying to make me uncomfortable enough to fold. Actually, he was banking on me using strict mathematics to fold. The fact is, I read his hand and I KNEW he was semi-bluffing. The pot odds were borderline, but I knew he had nothing, and I had top pair with an Ace kicker. I had the better hand, but he put me all in, and he made his flush on the river.

With two thousand in chips in front of me, I caught pocket ladies on my very next hand. It was my best shot at doubling up, and my chip stack was such that I needed to double up. I went all in pre-flop. I was glad the guy on my right called me.

Let me tell you about the guy on my right: He was one of those Dumb Luck guys that piss the pros off at tournaments. He didn't know anything about hands, odds (although he dropped the word once), or even antes, LOL. He made crazy calls all night, (he said he called everything with a face card. I thought he was advertising, but he was telling the damn truth. He called someone's pocket aces with jack and change. All IN!) He kept winning.

He called my pocket queens with jack-nine. All in, again. Maybe he mis-read the Kill Phil book, but Kill Phil doesn't advise that sort of stupidity! Kill Phil is about taking away someone's decision power when you're considerably less knowledgeable about poker, so that you can bring the playing field down to your level. When I went all in, I took the offensive. Calling with Jack-Nine is insane, pre-flop! He probably couldn't read my hand, so to him it didn't make any difference.

Knowing his play, I was thrilled when he called me: no one else did (Surprising, since my position was desperate, but they all seemed to respect my play. They didn't buy my sweetly naive act one bit, but then I gave away my knowledge when I debated with Mr. Math Guy about why I called his all-in bet with Ace-Jack.) Of course, Mr. Dumb Luck made a straight over my trip Queens.

Don't get me wrong, I don't get pissed off at Dumb Luck. You have to admire Dumb Luck. It tickles me as much as it stings, and I think it's cute when they think they're great poker players because of their Dumb Luck.

We were all playing on sheer Dumb Luck at one time. In my first live tournament, and the biggest mistake of my entire poker playing hobby, I put a guy who paired his Ace on the flop all-in. I knew he had an ace, but I had an ace, too. Ready to laugh?

My kicker was a two. What the hell kind of a kicker is a two???? Did my brain shut down or something? Did my common sense suddenly turn off???? But on the river, the dealer turned over a two, and I won with two pair. People congratulated me, and I remember just slumping in relief and mentally yelling at myself. Even though I won, that hand goes down as my shining example of Dumb Luck. I still beat myself up over that stupid call, at the same time I still shake my head and laugh at myself.

So I don't begrudge a beginning player his Dumb Luck. That's tournament poker. Skill and luck. I love the play, though. Plus, in tournaments, you pay your little fee and you get tons of chips to play with. It's like paying for movie and dinner--only less--and you don't have to worry about losing money while playing.

**Back to regularly scheduled blogging ... **

What's funny about poker, is that after a day of poker, you start looking at everyone differently. You start sizing them up. You feel their choke level, their aggressive level, their smarts. Funny enough, it's like what Barry Eisler had John Rain consider in one of his books: it's the quiet and still ones that you have to worry about.

At the ring game, there was an older lady--and by lady, I mean in the best and old-fashioned sense of the word--sitting so still at the table. She sorta kept herself small and contained and quiet. She managed to shrink her presence down so that you could barely see her; it was SO cool. Most of the time she was invisible, I swear to dog.

She multiplied her money by six and kicked all our asses. *grins*

At the poker table, it's the quiet and still ones you have to worry about. The ones that you don't notice. Of course, the other breed that trips me up are the every-weekend players, who are so comfortable with the fact that they can turn very little into a winning chip stack that they have no fear level. And then there's the mathematical players: every decision is made by computations. They strictly analyze, and use mathematics to make their decisions.

You can't bully cold math. I need to get better at the math so I can predict their decisions and use their math to my advantage.

My other disadvantage is that I can't headplay with someone who has no fear.

Okay, I'm done with the poker talk. But writing is such a people game, too. Analyzing people is so much fun. Seeing how they play under pressure is just fascinating.

And if I blogged about bluffing ... let me count the ways it mirrors a John le Carre novel. Is she self-comforting because she's nervous or she wants me to think she's nervous? Is she self-comforting because she IS lying, but knows that I will believe she is sending a false signal, and think that she has a hand simply because she's advertising the opposite? Or will she predict that I will consider that she is falsely false-advertising? Is he telling me the truth or is he telling me a lie? Is he telling me a lie because I'll think it's a lie and he wants me to believe the truth? Is he telling me a half-truth because he guesses that I'll believe he's lying, and he'll distract me from the real truth? I could go on, but I'm getting dizzy. Thank God I'm the writer and can control all these people in my imagination!

Someone once said that people play poker the way they play life.

They are so right. The number one reason why I'm screwed in a ring game is because I'm not a gambler. I can't risk real money, even when it's 'free' money from DH's poker profit. With a tournament, you pay your twenty or thirty bucks and it's done. The only thing I'm risking, at that point, is how long I get to play poker that night. Sure, the t-shirt at the final table is nice and so is the money, but those are like bonuses to me. A pleasant surprise.

0 bonus scribbles: