Thanksgiving, tilt, and rebirth

Well friends, it was a rough Thanksgiving. Your humble narrator nearly gave his whole bankroll, thanks to a little too much Budweiser, combined with several shots of frustration. I thought I was immune to tilt, but I found myself playing like a maniac on a drunk Thanksgiving afternoon. Here are the gruesome statistics:

Date Game Hours Return ($)
11/27/2003 3-6 1.05 158
11/27/2003 5-10 4.78 -452
11/27/2003 15-30 1 -126
11/27/2003 15-30 0.5 -258
11/27/2003 15-30 0.16 -311

It hurts just to look at them. However, I did learn a valuable lesson, and although the cost was high, I think it was worth it. As you can see, I took a shot at the big game. Actually 3 shots, and all 3 missed the mark by a longshot. Yes I was on tilt, but I was also very unlucky.

I can’t stomach a hand by hand analysis of these awful sessions, but I will give a general overview. The most painful loss (and I can’t get this one out of my head) was a 300 dollar loss when I flopped a flush with a straight flush draw, and was beaten by a full house on the river. That hurt. Amazingly, in all 3 of these sessions, I was dealt AA in the big blind on my first hand. All 3! I thought this was some sort of sign, but apparently it was only a sign to take my money and run. If I had only taken my rockets and went home… anyway, those 3 hands only netted me a paltry $190, and unfortunatley I was trying to win back what I lost in my 5-10 game…

What are the odds of getting dealt those 3 pairs of aces? Well if we use the simple 1/220 calculation, we get one in 10,648,000! One in 11 million! The poker gods smiled on me, and then punished me brutally with a few bad beats when I decided to be greedy. Ah well. The good news is that the 15-30 games were considerably softer than the $5-10 games. Considerably. Lots of bluffing, lots of loose play. Tight play still gets the money at this level, and there were many multiway pots… I know, the results look bad, but I was on tilt and playing way too loose, and suffered 2 or 3 really bad beats.

Anyway, the lesson learned was that the games at $15-30 are not much different than those at $3-6. Which says that you should try to sit tight in these games as soon as your bankroll is anywhere near 300 big bets.
After getting punished for my careless play and playing over my bankroll, I was forced to take stock of my relationship with poker. Was it worth it? Was I wasting my time? Shouldn’t I be doing something other than moving chips around a
table? I decided to take a couple days off while I tried to answer these questions.

I had time to come up with some answers on the 4 hour bus ride to Vegas on Friday. I have confidence in my poker skills… I know I’m not great, but after a few months, I’m pretty sure I can win a couple big bets an hour on the average table, as long as I can hold some cards (and I’m not on tilt). The grand I just dropped on the tables came out of my profits, and may sting now, but in the long run is not a big deal. I’m still learning, and I still like to play. But do I want to spend every waking hour playing poker? There was a time when I thought I could do this for 8 hours a day, and I might even enjoy the grind. But now I realize that although there is a lot of variety in poker, it’s just like any other game… like a computer, you follow your algorithms– you develop a general strategy for each starting hand, and stick to that strategy. Except in the rare case where you pick something up that tells you to deviate, such as a tell or an opportunity to bluff. Although these deviations from normal strategy are what keep the game interesting, most of the time you’re just following a set of rules that your brain has picked up with experience. That’s why they call it the grind.

I thought about my dream of being a writer. I wondered if I was ready, ready to face long sessions in front of the keyboard, waiting for the muse, hoping that the creative spark would be there. Was this so different than poker? Can writing become a grind as well? Is the feeling you get when you get that creative spark so different from hitting your flush on the river and raking a big pot?

Poker is great. But our options are limited, very limited. Given a starting hand, a flop, and a set of opponents, the number of possible optimal plays is very small. Finding that optimal play is fun, but the choices are limited by the board and our opponents. To write is to express your unique perspective, your unique view of the world. The options are unlimited. And when you’ve finished a book, you’ve given something to the world. You’ve taken a shot that your view might comfort others and might give someone out there a sliver of happiness.
As the bus rolled on, these thoughts flashed through my head, and I felt a slight giddiness that the time to start writing had come. I’d always felt that when I was ready to write, I would know. And I hoped that this terrible poker Thanksgiving might have pushed me over the edge and prepared me to start that first book.

The Nevada border came into sight, and welcomed me like an old friend. I tucked away the internal monologue and got ready to win some money. After waking up at 4:30 and sitting on a bus for 4 hours, I was hoping the tables would shake me out of zombie state. After getting killed yesterday, I resolved to play conservatively, and set my trip bankroll at a meager $400. This was plenty for the 7 hours we would be there, but wouldn’t allow me to win much. The thought of trying to win back what I lost yesterday flitted through my head, but I figured a big loss might knock me out of commission for a while, so I remained conservative.

I picked a bad day to be conservative. We started out on the $2 craps table (ya gotta love the state line) and after an hour, I had slowly built up a $50 win. No big hits, but a slow progression of 6s and 8s grew my stack of red chips. On to the blackjack tables, where I suffered through a couple of cold shoes, but managed to stay afloat long enough to hit a couple big hands when the shoe turned positive. Card counting finally paid off, and I came out slightly ahead after being down $60 in the first 20 minutes.

This particular casino was the only state line casino with poker, and every hour or so I’d hear “Joe, your Texas hold em seat is open” on the PA. I was tempted, but knew that the game was $1-4-4-8 spread. I didn’t like these spread games, and wanted to avoid poker, since the LA poker rooms are 20 minutes away, but blackjack and craps are at least 2 hours away (the Cali indian casinos have blackjack, but no craps). So I resisted the urge, and found myself at the deuces wild video poker machine, where I quickly hit 5 of a kind and cashed out $20 ahead. So I had completed the trifecta– 3-3: small wins at all three games. There is a first time for everything.

It was time to try to hit for the cycle. I sat down at an empty roulette table, and tried out a simple strategy. $4 on black, and $4 on inside bets, usually $1 or $2 on 4 corner bets. Black was hitting, and I managed to hit a couple of the $2 corner bets, and walked away after 20 minutes $20 up. So I’d hit for the cycle, but was only up $90.

The rest of the day was spent playing blackjack, and had its share of ups and downs. The highlight was a pair of sevens I was dealt on a positive shoe. I had $15 on the table (playing too conservatively!) and the dealer showed a 5. I split the 7s, and got another 7. Another split. A 4. Double down 11. Dealer gives me a 5, and now I need her to bust. I get an ace, and am forced to double again. This time I get a face card for 17. So there’s $75 on the table, and my heart nearly breaks when the dealer turns up a 5, and I wait to see the face card. But it’s a 2, and the face card comes next, as my heart pounds in relief. Whew, a nice $75 win.

The whole time I’m busy counting cards, I’m also dealing with the worst casino patron I’ve ever seen in my life. This swarthy bald guy, maybe about 50 years old, is playing armchair quarterback and second guessing my blackjack plays on every single hand. In his Indian accent, he’s telling me to stay on my 14 against a dealer 8. This goes on for an entire shoe, and he hasn’t played a hand the whole time. Finally the shoe ends, and I have to take my money elsewhere to prevent myself from punching him in the face. He asks “Where you going?” and the only thing I can answer is “You’re the worst blackjack player I’ve ever seen!” and he seems shocked. Never seen anything like it.

Anyway, I got on the bus home with $160 in my pocket. Not much, but better than losing. The bus ride home was endless, and I am not planning on EVER doing a turnaround trip again.

I got some rest and spent Saturday reading Paul Auster’s “The music of chance,” which is sort of about poker. I definitely recommend it– Auster’s style is kind of annoying, but he hooks you with his characters (maybe because one of them is a young punk poker player). After about 70 pages I felt my poker mind coming back to me, with a new appreciation for the game. I resolved to take the day off from poker, and take another shot when I was ready.

So what did I do with my day off? Write, of course. I finally started my book, and the sentences slowly, but at least they came. It was tough, but after a few hours, I had a few pages and my main character started taking shape. It felt good to get something “on paper.”
I woke up today feeling pretty good. It felt kind of like a serious relationship– you get in a fight, get frustrated,and think that it’s not worth your time. But then you reflect, and realize how much you care about the person, and you find yourself back where you started. In this case, the poker table.
So I found myself back for one more shot at the $15-30 this morning. Luckily this story has somewhat of a happy ending. I’ll leave you with the hand history:

15/30 TEXASHTGAMETABLE (LIMIT) – SUN NOV 30 15:16:48 EST 2003
Table Card Room Table 2700 (Real Money) — Seat 6 is the button
Total number of players : 10
Seat 1: Redfish ( $1941)
Seat 2: chibikiko ( $750)
Seat 3: jogman ( $306)
Seat 4: Etowah ( $738)
Seat 5: hirtme ( $382)
Seat 6: hdouble ( $570)
Seat 7: bcm252 ( $539)
Seat 8: heelhook ( $1243)
Seat 9: patientone ( $1477)
Seat 10: coonz ( $160)
bcm252 posts small blind (10)
heelhook posts big blind (15)
chibikiko posts big blind (15)
** Dealing down cards **
Dealt to hdouble [ Kd, Kh ]
patientone folds.
coonz folds.
Redfish calls (15)
chibikiko checks.
jogman folds.
Etowah folds.
hirtme calls (15)
hdouble raises (30) to 30
bcm252 calls (20)
heelhook folds.
Redfish raises (30) to 45
chibikiko folds.
hirtme calls (30)
hdouble raises (30) to 60
bcm252 calls (30)
Redfish calls (15)
hirtme calls (15)
** Dealing Flop ** : [ 7s, 7d, 6d ]
bcm252 checks.
Redfish checks.
hirtme checks.
hdouble bets (15)
bcm252 folds.
Redfish calls (15)
hirtme calls (15)
** Dealing Turn ** : [ Ad ]
Redfish checks.
hirtme checks.
hdouble bets (30)
Redfish raises (60) to 60
hirtme folds.
hdouble calls (30)
** Dealing River ** : [ 4d ]
Redfish bets (30)
hdouble raises (60) to 60
Redfish calls (30)
** Summary **
Main Pot: $552 | Rake: $3
Board: [ 7s 7d 6d Ad 4d ]
Redfish balance $1746, lost $195 [ 8h Ah ] [ two pairs, aces and sevens —
Ah,Ad,8h,7s,7d ]
chibikiko balance $735, lost $15 (folded)
jogman balance $306, didn’t bet (folded)
Etowah balance $738, didn’t bet (folded)
hirtme balance $307, lost $75 (folded)
hdouble balance $927, bet $195, collected $552, net +$357 [ Kd Kh ] [ a flush,
ace high — Ad,Kd,7d,6d,4d ]
bcm252 balance $479, lost $60 (folded)
heelhook balance $1228, lost $15 (folded)
patientone balance $1477, didn’t bet (folded)
coonz balance $160, didn’t bet (folded)

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