I’ve written this post a million times before, and when I die, they’re going to stick it on my memorial plaque somewhere.
"Pride Goeth Before The Fall" is what Shabbir always said, tossing off a wave as he pulled away on his Harley without wearing a helmet.
Then he got hit by a truck and died of a massive head injury.
(This is a joke, by the way, I always wear a full face helmet when I ride my motorcycle, and I’m a very conservative rider)
When you last left me, I had just headed to bed after a successful two hour session of $1/$2 No limit at the Harrah’s casino in Vegas. I was up $490 for my trip, and I hadn’t yet had a losing session. I was the bees knees, kiddo. I was a poker genius. I was Jack’s righteous fucking poker ego.
So I finished up my work duties about 3pm and realized my flight left at midnight. I drove my business partner to the airport and then, with my luggage in the trunk, headed over to the Wynn to play some cards…..and ran into a rock wall.
I sat down at a $4/$8 table and didn’t take the time to assess the players before playing a hand maniac style when I saw 5 people pay to see an unraised flop.
I raised, I re-raised, I called anything to the river as long as I had at least top pair with a medium kicker. And I lost. And lost and lost. I was had lost $100 when I realized I needed to rebuy to play a hand effectively at these limits. As I put myself out for a couple of hands and scanned the table, I realized what I had missed in my horror: I was playing good players!
I reviewed each hand I had played and what my opponents had showed down. Fat lady in the 1 seat…premium hand. Old guy in seat 9, premium hand. Short Asian lady in seat 8, top pair top kicker. Oh crap, these people know how to play poker?
I rebought for $100 and started to play my tight game. I leaked away $100 figuring out just how tight I was going to have to play. The answer was REALLY TIGHT. I also couldn’t figure out how to make money at this table if I didn’t catch some cards. Or I was going to be forced to steal blinds with half-assed cards. I decided I didn’t want to work that hard this evening since I was short on sleep for the trip, so I requested a table change. I’m smart enough to know when I’m not playing my best game, and when that’s happening, I need to ratchet it all back or quit altogether. I still felt I could learn something, so I jumped tables. "I need to go play with a table that sucks worse than you people" I announced with a grin and took my chips to the next table.
Sitting down at my new $4/$8 table, I glanced around and realized it wasn’t going to be much better. To my left were two people who were very comfortable and obviously knew each other. Their sizable stacks suggested earlier wins. The 5 seat was the bustout seat, occupied by a series of bad players. Seat 6 was a woman who was very good and played very few hands. Seven was a kid with a baseball cap, an iPod, and who looked a lot like Jay-Z. Oh, and he had $700 of $1 chips in front of him, when the typical buyin for this game is $200. He was going to be a problem as well.
As I sat in the game, I realized instantly who was a fish and who wasn’t. For once today, I wasn’t. I tightened up to the point that the good players I just mentioned would fold automatically when I raised because I played so infrequently. That didn’t mean I didn’t get action though, but it was just a little.
This is a terrible mix, by the way. You can make money off the weak players, but you can’t get away with bluffing. When you bluff, the good players fold and one of the weak players calls you. You never win a big pot. This is hard poker at it’s best, and the kind of poker that you don’t see at low limits. Aces and other big hands hold up. Nobody plays 7-2 offsuit just to show it down.
Every hour or so I did my mental examination of each player’s stack. Have they won or lost, are they up or down? Except for the bustout seat everyone was the same. It suddenly hit me: nobody is making money at this table except the casino. I promptly started ordering large quantities of food, knowing it would be comped and it would be delivered in a bag so I could take it with me to the airport later. As I watched, the rake proceeded to eat away at everyone’s stacks. One of the better players to my left started to tilt. He’d been drawn out on in a hand, and given the very small quantity of action at the table, lost money in a pot that was bigger than many we had seen.
This did not bother me. In a game with as little action as this, you have to either: a) make action, b) get out, c) or play for the very long view. I chose to b) get out, and cashed out, thereby limiting my losses for the day.
I lost a little more and ended the session $349 in the hole, bringing my total for the trip to $141 in profit. A nice profit and yielding me quite a bit of fun.
Which may cause you to ask me the question: "Why do you play poker? And why do you play low stakes so much? You could make more money at high stakes?" Bradley, a one-time poker colleague, once said he plays higher stakes games so he "can win amounts each year that are meaningful as well".
I honestly don’t need to make money at this. I’m already pretty good at making money. At this point it’s just to keep score against my competition, and at a low limit table, that’s all a matter of perspective. I’m only moving up levels so I can play more challenging games (when I’m not too tired to think because I’m short on sleep, like the session above). I’m not moving up levels because of a weird thirst for action, or because I’m hoping to make poker my career someday. I already have a career and I’m pretty happy with it.
Which is also why I can genuinely have fun playing $1/$2 limit hold’em, even $.25/$.50. At the end of the day, there’s always people sitting behind those cards, and no matter at what level, they’re still enigmas wrapped in riddles, and I find that fascinating. To those who can’t play lower limits because they can’t play at them, I think you’re foolish. If you can’t play well at lower limits, you can’t play well. It’s a foundation, baby.