Poker By The Bay

“He who reigns within himself and rules his passions, desires and fears is more than a King.”
–John Milton
After a long week of listening to conference presentations in San Francisco, it’s good to be back home in the comfy green, yellow, and red glow of PartyPoker’s virtual tables. I am appreciating the convenience and flexibility of online play after adding Colma’s “Lucky Chances” casino to the list of brick and mortal establishments I’ve visited. After the conference presentations were done for the day, I hopped on the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transport) train and took the 20 minute ride to Colma from downtown San Francisco. Anyone living in LA is blown away by any decent form of underground transport, so I happily sat on the train and wished for such a modern convenience in the City of Angels. I read in some brochure that the town of Colma has something like 10 times as many dead residents as living… but I was still amazed as we passed 7 or 8 huge cemeteries on the short ride from the Underground station to the casino. I suppressed the urge to sprint out among the endless rows of tombstones looking for Arch Stanton’s grave and got ready to play some poker.
Lucky Chances was a small casino, and the poker section was probably around the same size as the Bellagio poker room. Much smaller than the monstrous Hollywood Park, Bicycle, and Commerce casinos that I’ve grown accustomed to. The variety of games spread was limited: 3-6, 6-12, and 9-18, and had 4 or 5 $100 buy in low limit games. There was no “high limit” section, but I did see one or two 20-40 games going on, and in the middle of the room, a table full of black chips. I was a little confused by this, as the surrounding tables had something like $1000 total on the entire table. Yet here was this table with guys pushing $1000 bets in black chip denominations to the center of the table, and there looked to be something like $50,000 on the table in $100 chips. The floorman said that this was the $10-20 No Limit game, $1000 buy in, $40 to open. The only other time I can remember seeing a game this big was the NL cash games at the Horseshoe during the WSOP.
I watched the action for a minute, but couldn’t get much of a read on the players, who seemed to be a bunch of regulars. Lots of chips moving around, but very few showdowns, so I headed off to a $100 No Limit game while I waited for my $9-18 seat. The house rules were slightly different to what I’m used to– 1-1-2 blind structure ($1 blind on the button) and $4 to open. This meant that if 4 or 5 players limped (quite common), there was already $20 in the pot on the flop. In addition, they used $1 white chips, which meant that a normal raise required the player to push out a stack of $20 chips, and resulted in a mountain of chips in the pot. Players who had doubled through a few times had Raymer-like chip pyramids in front of them.
The play was relatively uninteresting, although I did manage to get all my chips in 3 hands in a row against the same player, and ended up winning 2 of these all-ins and losing one for a nice little profit. Luckily I was called for the $9-18, and took a seat after buying a rack of $3 chips (has anyone else seen a $3 chip before?).
The play was relatively straightforward and uninteresting, but after playing a fair bit of $10-20 and $15-30 online and at Hollywood Park , I really felt like I’d taken a big step forward in “playing the players” (or maybe it was just the coffee). The lessons I’d learned weeks before finally were finally sinking in, and I felt like I had a good feel for the middle limit game. The bets and raises of other players had become signals, and I felt like I knew what they meant. I ended up breaking about even for the session, but managed to win a couple big pots on stone cold bluffs based on good reads. I really think Roy Cooke’s quote in his Cardplayer article this week hits the nail on the head:
“It’s less about the cards you hold than the way you play them. I have often said that the cards break even, but the chips don’t.”
I came out of the session feeling pretty confident about my play. It was one of the first times I had felt strongly about my reads, and was able to capitalize on those reads to make good raises and laydowns. It’s carried over to my online play, and I am now feeling much more comfortable with my play in the $10-20 6 max games.
Although game selection was very limited at Lucky Chances, it had a quaint atmosphere that made it a fun place to play. I’m glad I went, but if I lived in the San Francisco area I don’t think I’d be making too many trips there.
I had a couple of very interesting conversations with up-and-coming players this weekend, who happen to be on opposite ends of the emotional poker roller coaster. One has been running extremely well, and the other is on a terrible cold streak. Both players wanted to know if I thought they had the “right stuff” to be a great poker player. This forced me to think of what it is that makes a player great, which I had never really done before.
So what is the recipe for a great poker player?
1. Knowledge
The simplest part of the game is learning the starting standards, the odds, and all the other stuff you have to memorize as a foundation for the game. However, it’s clear that many players never spend the time to understand the aspects of gambling theory that are crucial to success in poker. The “Knowledge” category really applies to the discipline necessary to succeed as a poker player– reviewing your play, constantly trying to improve your game through books and tools, and “doing your homework” on your opponents. None of these things are very difficult to do, but they require diligence and discipline since they aren’t very much fun. The great poker players are willing to think and study their game away from the table, and do everything they can to increase the amount of information they have when they sit down to play.
2. Emotional Control
A great player learns to accept variance, and separate performance from results. We’ve been taught for most of our lives that results are the only thing that matters, so bankroll swings and cold streaks are very difficult for the untrained poker mind to accept. The great players are able to separate results and performance, and they are happy when they are getting their money in as a favorite, no matter what the result. No matter how skilled a player is, if he is prone to tilting, he puts himself at a huge disadvantage during those times when he is not playing his best game.
3. Talent
The murkiest of the three attributes here, talent refers to the “card sense” and “people sense” that compose the “feel” of poker. Most people argue that reading people at the table is a combination of both natural and learned ability. Some people are just born with a better ability to detect patterns in behavior than others. After all, reading people was crucial to survival back in our caveman days. Hook up with the wrong partner and you may end up getting clubbed in the head when you’re asleep. I don’t know much about biology, but it makes sense to me that humans “read people” at an instinctual level, and some people are just born with strong observational skills when it comes to behavior patterns. While you can probably become an excellent player without this talent, it may not be possible to achieve greatness without a strong instinctual ability to read people. Of course, in online poker, this skill is relatively unimportant.
Obviously it’s not quite this simple, but I think these are the three major areas of development in a player’s evolution from an average player to a great one. You can talk about courage, and competitiveness, and a “love for the game,” but those are things that you either have or you don’t.
Ray Zee’s (2+2 author) take on a poker player’s evolution: The Different Stages in a Player’s Life
“Finally for our player, if he can get through the maze, may find himself armed with the tools to round out expert status. This last stage incorporates the tight play that’s a must in poker, with the imagination to win pots without the best hand.”
Speaking of evolution, thanks to Po’ Boy for directing me to my favorite 2+2 post I’ve read: Evolution of a 2+2er:
1. “Wow, this forum is awesome! Everyone talking poker and stuff. I’ll post some hands and see what people think.”
2. “Screw these guys. They think they know everything. Well how come I’m winning so much then? Hunh? Position shmosition!”
3. “Damn these guys are all pessimists. I say if you can’t run over a 6-12 game while half-asleep, you’re a total monkey, IMHO.”
4. “Ok, maybe I need to be open to new ideas.”
5. “Variance is a bitch. This game is practically all luck. I’m going to make a post titled: ‘luck vs. skill’.”
6. “I want to hear from the forum experts about all the considerations that come into play when defending the big blind against an open-raiser in the cutoff when you hold A3o, J9s, and 44.”
7. “I found this news group about poker but all they do is either fight or bitch about how much they hate 2+2. I don’t get it.”
8. “I’ll never fold on the river again.”
9. “I need to stop paying off the river bets.”
10. “I’ll never fold on the river again.”
11. “That Tommy Angelo character sure has some strange ideas about how to play poker.”
12. “What is this no-limit stuff? Mason says in Poker Essays Vol II, which I’ve read 14 times, that it’s a piece of cake. You simply bet enough so they can’t call you on a draw. How hard is that?”
13. “The chances that I’ll draw out plus the chances that he’s bluffing plus the chances that he’ll fold a better hand add up 122%, so I should raise in this spot.”
14. “I wonder if Paradise Poker really is owned by the mafia. You never know.”
15. “Look at this post! A pre-flop question? Gimme a break. If you haven’t figured out preflop by now, forget it.”
16. “Jesus Christ, I just don’t have the patience to read through yet another post on how to play AK after you miss the flop in a three-way pot in middle position.”
17. “You know, that Tommy Angelo character is starting to make sense.”
18. “Look, play whatever hand you want, however you want, in any position you want. I really don’t care. You’ll either figure it out or you won’t.”
19. “I’ll never talk strategy or specifics with anyone again as long as I live.”
20. “I’m going to post this hand from last night cause it’s so damn funny what happened. These guys will get a kick out of it.”
21. “awww screw it i think ill just go fishin in mopntana and throw away my worthliss spell chekcer besides punctuation is for suckers, i dont have the time or inclination; to discuss poker anymore”

Ok, time to hit the tables. I leave you with some lively banter from my favorite poker site. Talk about tapping the aquarium… this guy applies a sledgehammer to the glass…
cecloak: wtf is trey miz
trey_miz: thanks for playing
trey_miz: bring it fish
Icecloak: wtf is a fish
trey_miz: lol
trey_miz: u
trey_miz: u are a fish
trey_miz: a total fish
Icecloak: i’m obviously not a fish if i’m playin the computer foo
Monk: its what babies call people when they lose
trey_miz: not losing
trey_miz: don’t say stupid XXXX drn
Monk: no
trey_miz: drn
trey_miz: u are a lousy no-good fish
trey_miz: and u know it
rey_miz: so shut your fish trap or get out
trey_miz: send it

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