How to Become A Stoic: No Fold ‘Em Poker

“If a man reasons and thinks soundly, no matter which path he follows in solving these problems, he must inevitably arrive back at himself, and begin with the solution of the problem of what he is himself and what his place is in the world around him.”
–G. I. Gurdjieff
Since Mrs. Double was left behind in Sweden for an extra 3 weeks of vacation, yours truly has spent a lot of time at Hollywood Park Casino this past week in the crazy, no-fold em games that LA is known for.
I’m not even going to try to describe the insanity of hold ’em at Hollywood Park. There is little “strategy” and I think the majority of players would never even think of reading a book about poker. The top section has plenty of tough players, and occasionally there will be one or two sharks in my game ($6-12), but most people are there to gamble it up. Any two suited, any face card, definitely any ace– these are playable hands for 2 bets, and if the pot is capped, the gamb00lers can’t resist. This leads to plenty of fights, and plenty of unpleasant arguments between players (and of course the constant cursing of the dealers).
None of this really bothers me too much. What does bother me is that in no-fold ’em poker, the skill is almost completely removed. Putting people on hands and having a good read on your opponents isn’t worth much if they are going to call no matter what. With 20 BBs in every pot, you are correct to call with nearly anything, since you are often getting 20 to one on your call. Loose passive games are purely odds based, and the psychological aspect of poker plays only a minor role. If the players played their hands face up, it wouldn’t make much difference– the pot is so big it’s correct to call with your bottom pair, because you’ve still got 6 outs in a pot that’s laying you 12 to 1.
But before I complain about bad beats, let’s rewind to last Sunday. I got home after a 31 hour day (Sweden is 9 hours ahead) and not much sleep on the flight. So I woke up Sunday morning at 6, telling myself I would not play the 11:30 limit tourney at Hollywood Park (tourneys are not positive expectation). But of course I found myself signed up for the $60 buy in along with 183 other players.
My first table was great, and people tried to check-raise bluff the river several times. I was able to almost triple up when I rivered a flush in a monster pot from the BB. I didn’t even want to play it, but the pot was so big I was getting almost 7:1 on a call. I played tight, and stole a lot of pots when the blinds went up. Maybe it’s because I’d been awake for 6 hours, but this was the first tournament that I felt like I had a decent read on the table and could control the betting somewhat.
With 20 players left, I had built up enough chips that I could probably fold my way into the final table. But since the payout was so top-heavy, I wasn’t gonna coast. 10K in the prize pool, and first through third paid something like 7K. I made a couple steals against tight players low on chips, and lost a pot to A9o all in preflop against my 66 in the BB. But soon we were down to 10, and I was sitting at my first final table.
I’ve found that I’ve always performed better under pressure, and as we got closer to the money and the crowd started to gather, I felt something familiar. The same adrenaline rush that I remembered from pre-game warmups before a football game was back, and I was ready for the final table. There were 3 short stacks, and I had about an average amount of chips (somewhere around 15x the bb). Everyone was waiting for the shortstacks to bust out, but after about 9 all-ins from the 3 of them together, they somehow survived and brought themselves back to the chip average. The blinds continued to go up, and my cards were not even close to playable. Finally I had only enough to cover 1.5 BBs, and was happy to see AQ UTG.
The table had been tight, and the chip leader was next to act. He thought for a long time, and eventually called, and of course everyone folded. I flipped up my AQ, and he turned over one king… and then another king. Ahh well, what can you do? No help from the board and I’m out in 10th for a whopping $150.
The poker gods rewarded my struggles however, as I quickly won $80 in the $100 buy in NL and then $80 more in $6-12. So I had completed some sort of hold ’em trifecta, and was happy to go home with my best tournament finish and a few big bets.
But back to my bread and butter game, the no-fold ’em $6-12. I’m not going to whine (much) about bad-beats, because pocket Aces in a family pot are somewhere around 30% in a no fold ’em game. Two outers on the river are a bit more fun, and I saw plenty of them this weekend. Last night I was 0 for 4 with KK, 3 times losing on the river (the fourth time runner-runner 10s gave my opponent quads). My pocket Aces were crushed in a monster pot by a guy with K4 (the second 4 on the turn), and also by a guy who rivered the straight (runner runner). They played their hands correctly– the pot was so big that they were getting proper outs on their draws. Good old schooling of the fish.
These games are extremely profitable, but have huge variance (which is ok with me). The thing I don’t like is that the skill aspect is minimized. You are rewarded much more for good luck than for good play, as the schooling fish work together to minimize the skill factor by making the default actioin (calling) the optimal strategy.
On the other end, my biggest pot of the night came with what appears to be my lucky hand– J8s. Trapped in another capped family pot, the T T 4 flop had one club, and I was able to see the turn for one small bet (in a pot of around 28 sb). The turn was the 8, and now I had some outs, and happily paid one more bet to see the river, which was a beautiful Jack. Checked through, and somehow my Jacks and Tens are good. Better to be lucky than good in this type of game.
I went home up 18 Big Bets, and was not very pleased with my play. 4 or 5 times I found myself getting check-raised after deciding that my hand was good on the river, only to be shown some miracle runner-runner straight. Against players who will call on the river with anything, I was wrong about my hand being good too many times. That cost me around 4 or 5 Big Bets, and in the no fold-em world, “better safe than sorry” seems to be a decent motto when deciding whether to bet for value on the river.
It took me a week, but I’ve finally caught up on all the excellent blogging out there. I’m too tired to link to my favorite posts, but I had a blast reading some of the great writing out there. I had the pleasure of playing with Paul on Thursday night, and I can happily say that we both went home winners (although just barely). It’s really helpful to have another solid player at the table, because it helps you to get reads on other players when you’re not in a hand since you have a pretty good idea what the other player is playing (although Paul surprised me a few times).
Thanks for reading and be careful with those value bets…

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