Poker: It Really Helps To Be Lucky… And I Was!

My Aces held and at the end of the first hand I had three times the chips of any other player!

No tease here. Straight to the conclusion. I won last night’s 7:00 PM poker tournament at the Venetian. it took until 1:00 AM, but I outlasted around 70 others.

If you’ve watched poker on television (and what a sad little life that exposes) you’ve seen the type of tournament I played. The big difference is money. At the World Series of Poker there are thousands of entrants at $10,000 apiece. My entry fee was around 1% of that.

The exact amount I won is unimportant (and won’t be divulged here). It was enough to keep my interest.

As the headline says,”it really helps to be lucky.” I was. There were two hands which were pivotal to my win.

venetian-poker-room.jpgThe tournament is played at tables of ten. As players are busted the tables thin until the poker manager shuts one down and redistributes the players bringing everyone back to ten.

At the end ‘final table’ has ten players which shrinks as they get tapped out. In this tournament the final nine players got paid on a sliding scale. I won nearly ten times what the ninth finisher got.

I got very lucky, very early.

On the first hand I had ‘the button&#185.’ One player called the blinds, another made a bet which I then raised substantially. The first player in called and the original player declared “all-in.”

OK–let’s step back a second. This is the first hand. We haven’t seen any of the common cards. All we know is what’s in our own hand. Going all-in means this player is putting all his chips on the line. He’s risking the entire tournament in the first thirty seconds!

I called. The original small caller called.

No flop and there were three players all-in. Two would soon walk.

We turned over our cards. The player who went all-in first had Queens. The other had an Ace and Eight suited (what was he thinking?). I had two Aces.

My Aces held and at the end of the first hand I had three times the chips of any other player!

We continued to play an hour and a half until the first break. I checked my chips and had a few thousand less than I did after the first hand. That first hand allowed me to be very cautious. It also scared other players from picking a fight because I had enough chips to end their night. I probably wasn’t the chip leader but I was up there.

For the next few hours I played well. My stack grew and I stayed at or near the lead.

Flash forward a few hours. With around 20 players left I was dealt a pair of Kings. I made a substantial bet which was answered by an all-in from the only player at my table with more chips. I called and he turned over two Aces.

Yes, Aces beat Kings… except there were five common cards to come. The flop was dealt and there was another King! Now I had a ‘set.’ It held and I won a monster hand crippling my biggest opponent.

The odds were against me. The most likely scenario was my being busted out by the guy with Aces. I got lucky.

By the time we got to the final nine I was in either eighth or ninth place. It’s tough to say. You can ask for a count of an opponents chips while you’re in a hand, but mostly you just eyeball them and guess.

I continued to play ‘tight aggressive’ and it worked. Slowly I ate away at the other stacks. I also watched as other players battled it out. One-by-one they went away.

At the very end it was me an another player–he a high school athletic director from Muncie, Indiana. My stack was around three times his.

I asked if he wanted to make a deal for the pot?

The poker manager awarded us both second place money then divided what was left (the extra that would go for first) proportionally by chip stack. He got a little more than second place money. I won a little less than first. It was a good deal for both of us.

We played around six hours. Yes, I was very lucky. There is always some luck in a long tournament. I also played really well. That gave me the ability to be there to get lucky!

I’ll probably play cards again today, but I really don’t have to. My goal was to face major league pitching and do well. I did.

&#185 – The button player moves last which is a strategic advantage. The button itself moves after each hand.

Losing At Poker

A few weeks ago, I hit it big at Pokerstars. I turned $3 into $966, winning a 1296 person tournament. I felt as if I were on top of the poker world. Since then, I’m not sure if I’ve won a hand!

OK – that’s an overstatement. Still, the poker fortunes have decidedly turned. It’s not that I’m playing badly (I’ve really worked hard to avoid going into tilt). It’s just a really long run of bad cards – and it’s driving me a little nuts.

If there’s a way to lose, I have found it. This past weekend, playing in the same tournament, I finished 128th. Only the top 81 were getting paid. I played my Kings against another player who had 2s. Of course the third two turned on the last card.

That in and of itself isn’t unusual. Bad beats are a part of poker. It’s just I’m getting ‘bad beat’ all the time.

Last night, with a King, Queen in my hand, I watched 2 more Kings come up. I bet them hard, all the way to the end, only to see my competition turn over King, Ace.

Helaine has hit the same rut too! She just told me about her loss this evening, playing Kings against a lower pair and losing when her opponent made trips on the river.

It can’t last forever. Well, actually, it can. It shouldn’t – but it can.

Rather than squander my money away, I have moved down in stakes, hoping to gain some advantage by playing less savvy opponents. Still, we’ve given back a few hundred dollars of our winnings.

Right now it’s frustrating.

Oh – one more poker note before I go. Last night, one of our reporters interviewed the winner of the 2004 World Series of Poker. Greg Raymer. Though he’s physically built like a poker player (don’t ask, but think about all that sitting), he seems a sharp contrast to last year’s big winner Chris Moneymaker. Raymer is an attorney from nearby Stonington. He’s well spoken and seems well liked. And, he plays at Pokerstars and Foxwoods Casino – the two main places I play… just for a whole lot more money.

Poker Philosophy

Poker is such an exceptionally intricate game. It has elements of skill and elements of chance. On any given hand, chance can turn a losing hand into a winner. Over the long haul, the effect of chance is greatly diminished.

It is fascinating to play. I am surprised that there are people who find it fascinating to watch on TV.

Last week I wrote about a streak of bad luck that had brought our stake from +$200 to -$25 (or so). It was frustrating because I was losing consistently while playing well. I lost with Aces. I lost with Kings. I lost to someone who stayed in with 7-2 off suit (statistically, the worst two cards you can get) and drew a full house!

Since that time we’ve come back. In fact, we’re a little under +$200 again.

Poker philosophers talk about going into ’tilt.’ That means you let your emotions get the better of you and play with a vengance… almost as if you had a grudge against the cards. Going into tilt is something losers often do. It is something a good player should watch for and take advantage of.

I often see players on tilt, winning big early in tournaments. I’ve gotten to where I can often predict their final outcome. They nearly always bust out.

I tried my best not to go into tilt while we were down, and I think I succeeded. Just to make sure, I even stepped down in stakes – going back to $5.50 tournaments.

Luck changes – or at least it disappears over the long term.

I was reading while playing last night and came across some poker philosophy which might help me be a better player. In the tournaments we play in, the top three finishers get paid. That’s very different from playing in a ‘live’ game where each hand means profit and loss.

The article pointed out that busting other players was not an obligation or even objective of playing. Players busting would take care of themselves. My goal is to survive.

This philosophy comes in to play toward the end of tournaments, where a player might be hanging by a thread and so will go ‘all in’ on hands which he might not have played earlier. Instinct says, if you have a lot of cash, keep him honest by calling. It’s everything to them, and much less significant to you. That’s a bad move… or so said the article – and I agree.

Often, going in will stake that opponent and allow him to play on. I have done that in the past and had it bite me in the tush. I will attempt to restrain myself in the future.

In the meantime, I’ll be playing against real people at Foxwoods this weekend. It is something I seldom do, but look forward to. The games will be much slower than what I’m used to online. I have no idea how the play will stack up, though I anticipate the game having more better and more worse players with fewer in the mid skill level. I will be playing against some people who are earning their living.

It will be interesting to see how I fare. Even if I run into bad luck, I think I understand cards well enough to gage my play.

Meanwhile, as I typed this I was also playing in a $16 turbo tournament. A little run of bad luck at the end held me to third, for $27 or $11 net profit.

Blogger’s note: If you’re interested, all my poker entries are chronologically strung together by this incredible blogging software (all the way back to sending my money to Costa Rica) and can be read by clicking here.

Poker Turns Bad

Poker fates can change quickly. From $200 up, we have fallen below even. It’s taken no more than a week.

It has been a week marked by bad beats. I’ve lost with Aces. I’ve lost with Kings (more than once). I’ve lost to players who had no business going in, but caught a wildly lucky card to make an improbable hand. I’ve had flushes lose to full houses… or better flushes.

And, I’ve also lost, at least once, by playing stupid. Helaine watched as I did that one.

It is important in a situation like this to keep from going into tilt… letting your emotions guide your play in too aggressive a manner. It’s easy to do that in a situation like this. After all, you just lost to someone who played bad cards!

The first thing I’m going to do is play for lower stakes. There’s not much difference in skill.. but there is some. I want every advantage I can find to try and rebuild my stake.

We’ve been playing on the same money since August. But now, our original $250 is $222.86.

Unfortunately, in poker as in life, being lucky is much more important than being skillful.