So Sarah’s high school reunion was this last weekend up in NJ. I decided to skip it so we sent the dogs to camp and headed off our seperate ways, Sarah to her hometown with the baby to see Grandma and all her high school chums that don’t talk right, and me to Atlantic City.
I stayed in the Days Inn next to the Tropicana. The Days Inn is actually closer to the poker room on foot than if you were staying in the Tropicana’s own hotel rooms, ironically enough. (It won’t be after the Trop’s new owners move the room to a larger space across the casino) And the rooms are pretty cheap, though I went to sleep and woke up Saturday/Sunday to the sounds of a couple having loud sex in the next room. I presume that during my five hours of sleep from 4am to 9am they took a break. At least I hope they did.
Playing was good, and except for a quick trip to Caeser’s to blow my money on one of their $100 tournaments and to clean up at their no limit hold’em table playing like a donkey, I played exclusively at the Trop. The room is nice, the staff is nice, and there’s huge pedestrian traffic which makes for lots of poor players who don’t really study the game but are more than happy to plunk down $300 to play with you. A couple of interestering observations:
- Late at night a poker table can go into a kind of ‘autoplay’ mode, where nobody is giving any action. If you raise, people fold. In that kind of situation if you’re not up to bluffing a lot, or you don’t like the risk profile of that kind of play, you need to go to bed or change tables.
- People who think limit is a lot easier than no limit probably suck at limit. I pretty much failed to make any money at limit the entire trip, and I think it’s mostly because I’m just not as good at limit as I need to be.
- I’m convinced that you can never learn enough about playing low limit poker. Playing low limits well increases your ability to analyze the range of hands your opponents are playing, and therefore forces you to exercise your hand reading and ‘range of hands’ analytical skills. Once you start playing $6/$12 and up, you get a little lazy because people don’t normally call three bets with Queen-Three, and so you begin to forget about considering that.
- As I have consistently learned, you make money in poker when your opponents make mistakes. You can play limit and watch them make lots of little mistakes, where the rightness of your actions gets a small payoff each time, or you can play no limit. In No limit when your opponent makes a mistake, it’s for their whole stack. I think I like no limit better.
- Repeat this mantra I used all weekend next time you’re playing cards, "I am a good poker player, and good poker players makes raises, they don’t call them."
- The $2/$5 no limit table (max buy-in $1,000) is full of fools on Sundays. I think I could move up to that level of play in a year without too much trouble.
- I really started strategizing my opponent play this trip and it paid off wildly. I’d observe an opponent and look for patterns, such as a need to increasingly bet hard on every street every time they raise pre-flop. Or the willingness to fold to a really sizable bet. I would then identify a strategy, commit it to memory and look for an opportunity to execute it. This was much easier for me than trying to summon up all the previous details I could remember about their play for an instantaneous decision. It also functioned as a shorthand for each player. Instead of trying to remember, "Bald guy, $12 raise for Ace-King/Queen, $20 raise for Aces or Kings, and will check on the flop if his Ace-King misses", I instead thought, "I’m looking for a chance to re-raise the bald guy’s Ace-King preflop with Kings or Aces, or to call his $20 raise (and other callers) with some kind of hand that can outflop a big pair." Once I remembered that situation I was looking for, it became really easy to work backwards in my head as to the facts that resulted in that. Perhaps I’m just weird, but that’s just me.
- I executed this techniques several times with perfect results:
Once I watched an opponent who was bullying the table proceed to raise and then make pot sized bets every street without regard to the flop or any apparent improvement with his cards. I waited for a situation where I read him for raising likely with a big pair or Ace King, and where I was dealt a strong hand that hit the flop. I proceeded to smooth call him to the river, and true to form, he handed me his money until he got concerned and slowed down on the river, where I sized my bet just a little too big for him to call and he folded. He then proceeded to stop doing that, which opened him up to my next strategy….
After that, he started to get self-conscious of his bet size, a problem I saw with many beginning no limit players in the $1/$2 game. They consistently bet too little and let people draw out on them, basing each bet on the size of the previous one, no matter what the size of the pot. This meant that when someone raised to $12 and got 3 callers, they’d then bet $15 or maybe $20 out on the flop, even though the pot stood at $50. This gave their callers odds to call, and they often saw people draw out on them, especially when holding Kings. With kings, they’d often get called by someone with a raggedy Ace that didn’t hit until the turn or the river.
When it happened to me, I had Kings on the button and an early position player raised to $12. Three players called whereupon I raised it to $65. One by one they all folded, with one of them saying, "I’m not going to pay $50 to see the flop." That’s right bucko, you aren’t. PS, perhaps you ought to play with more than $100 in front of you in a $300 game.
This also happened a lot after someone raised preflop to $12 and then the flop missed everyone. The last player to act often tried to steal the now $50 pot with a $15 bet. Well hell, that’s just not big enough. Save your damn money and either check it or make a bet that requires people to make a difficult decision. The range of hands you can call $20 into a $70 or $90 pot is annoyingly large on a messy flop. The pot sized bet makes that a very very difficult decision, where it becomes obvious that I’m either beat, or I’m about to win a whole lot of money.
When I started making my bets that big, I started winning those pots without having cards.
Finally, I want to say something about position and aggressive players at your table in no limit cash games. Conventional wisdom says you always want the aggressive on your right, so you can know what he’s going to do before you act. On the day when I made the most money I had such a player on my left. This wasn’t a big deal, as I would just call a hand for $2 before he acted. In a game where you buyin for $300, a $2 bet isn’t a big deal. My crazy neighbor would often make it $10 to go, over and over again after I’d put in my $2. At first I thought, "this sucks", then I realized this game’s dynamic and how it differed from the conventional wisdom. Once my crazy neighbor raised, I would get to see how many other players at the table called his bet, and then have the option of closing the betting.
I can’t tell you how powerful a position it is to be able to close the betting. If my aggressive neighbor had been on my right I would have constantly been wondering, "what if someone else re-raises him? Then, instead of a $2 mistake, I’ll be making a $12 mistake. Yuck." Instead I got to make decisions like, "Does he look like he’s playing weaker cards this time? Is it worth $10 to see a flop with Queen Jack suited when the pot stands at $60?"
After that, I started pretty much playing every hand possible for $2, knowing that if I flopped something good I’d have someone building the pot for me on my left, and I would always get to act after him. It was in this manner than I called a $10 bet into a $50 pot with Queen Three suited when my randomness indicator suggested this was the one time in ten that I needed to see a flop despite his raise and my weak holding. Of course the flop came Queen-Queen-Three or I wouldn’t be telling you this story, and suddenly I had $500 more than I did before I played this hand. While I don’t suggest you regularly play Queen Three to a raise, making that decision after the rest of the table acted (and knowing that I would be last to act) was a lot smarter place to be than right after my aggressive neighbor. I only needed 8 to 1 to justify flopping a flush draw, and knowing his pattern, I knew I’d have odds on the flop to take off one more card. (and if I hit, I would break him)
My trip results were that I played cards for ~32 hours, made a total of $333.50, for an average win rate of ~$10 / hour. That’s not a great job, especially after taxes, but not a bad thing at all for a hobby. (Hell, golf would actually cost me money, instead of make a little bit)