Atlantic City revisited

I just came back from my first of two birthday weekend celebrations in Atlantic City. 

Apart from the poker, I met someone from the local Maryland poker community, ehonda.  The guy actually plays poker as much as I wish I could!  Go check out his blog, I’ve been reading it for a while and when I saw him in the Tropicana, I walked over and introduced myself.  I hope to get to his game sometime soon when I’m on the east coast.

I did really well and yet I don’t feel like I have a good handle on some of the games.  I ended up playing $4/$8 limit hold’em, $7.50/$15 limit hold’em, and $1/$2 no limit hold’em.  I also played two tournaments, but I don’t count those in my totals, as I have no expectation of making money.  (I also don’t keep those in my cash game bankroll.)  I left AC a little over $700 wealthier than when I came, so the trip was a success, but there’s a lot I learned, and even in the games I made money in, some of them feel over my head.  Here’s a recap:

$1/$2 no limit hold’em
This was the game I did best in, and for two reasons: 1) it’s very very cheap to see a flop when you’ve got $300 in front of you and the table isn’t wildly aggressive, and 2) the players at the Tropicana aren’t that good.  When I did actually run into a talented table, I knew it and got up after two orbits.  Imagine two tables, one full of laughing people who obviously aren’t headed to the world series of poker, and another table where nobody says a word, they all wear Pokerstars gear, and one player announces to another that "you have 6 different tells" and then correctly raises him out of the pot.  I saw almost none of these pots bigger than $25, and none of them go past the flop. 

Clearly, I left the second game for the first.  I hit a number of good hands, and more importantly managed to always slowplay them just slow enough to make money.  When I had a pair, I hit a set a disproportionate number of times, and managed to also time it when another player had a hand he  or she was too inexperienced to let go.

I think my my overall abilities in no limit are still novice skills.  The difference, I think, is that I have enough patience to wait for hands that hit flops, and even fold when they hit but not hard enough.   One example was when I was in late position with a pair of red 6’s, and I raised and got three callers.  The flop came three clubs, all higher than 6.  I decided I was done with the hand and after everyone checked it around to me I did as well.  Of course the 6 of clubs came on the turn and a $10 bet circulated and was called by two players.  I laid my set down, and said to the table "I’m so proud of this fold".  It turns out an early player had the flush the entire time, from the flop on.  I don’t know if it was my spidey sense or an over-abundance of caution, but something kept me out of the hand.

Such a fold would be much harder for me (probably impossible) in limit hold’em, and figuring out why that is would probably explain why my results are much worse at limit than no limit.  I made most of the profit from the trip, except for about $100, at no limit.

Oh, and once again I managed to really piss off two people that were together.  A relatively cute girl and her boyfriend were seated together.  I bluffed the girl out of a pot that tilted her for 20 minutes.  Then I busted her boyfriend with a slowplayed set of jacks.  He was a good sport, but she left soon after.  They were both very tilty. 


$7.50/$15 limit hold’em (pink chip)
This game is played with pink $2.50 chips and is legendary for being full of awful players.  The last two trips it has been full of good players.  This time I recognized several of the older regulars (all over the age of 60) and when I noticed three of them begin to just check down hands to each other instead of betting, I racked up my chips and got up, announcing that I thought they were cheating.  Hoo-boy, that made me unpopular.  It was also aggravating because most of them bet on the horses so the game is always short handed because 1 or 2 of them are always away at the betting window, and one other player is away doing something else.  If I never play this game again it will be too soon.

$4/$8 limit hold’em
I played this quite a bit, both with my friend having "poker school" and by myself.  Poker school, by the way, is when we sit next to each other and when we’re not in a hand, we whisper guesses of what the other players have to each other.  We’re careful not to let anyone anyone hear us.  It’s a great way to practice your reading skills, and we often critique hands that we or the others play as they play them.  The goal isn’t to win money but to use your poker brain muscles.  (However the goal is not to lose money, so you play your best to win the pot, even though the presence of people thinking about poker may influence the actions of other players.)

Poker school was awesome, and somewhere in the middle I made probably the very best read of my life on a player which allowed me to bet into the river when I didn’t hold the nuts.  Here’s the skinny:
The guy on my right is a novice who’s aggressive but not tricky.  If he has anything, and I mean anything, he bets it.  Top pair, second pair, bottom pair, he bets it all. 

We both see a raised flop and I hit top two pair with my mid-sized Ace.  He bets into my like he paired the ace, and I raise him and he slows down.   He’s been checking and calling the whole way when we get to the river and a straight comes.  He checks.  I had the presence of mind to stop and think.  The safe thing to do is check in case he was waiting for the straight, but check raising is entirely out of character for him.  I’ve been here two hours and he hasn’t done it once, even with big hands.  So I do the range of hands analysis on him.  A set?  Unlikely, as he would be leading the betting into me.  Two pair?  Maybe, but I’ve got that beat.  Top pair with some unpaired kicker?  Probably.  Straight?  Nope, he’d have bet into me.

And so I bet into him, he called, and showed top pair with a big (but unpaired) kicker.  I showed him my two pair and took down the pot.  That read made me an extra $8, but the money’s not the object, the analytical skills are.  I’ll be enjoying that event long after I’ve spent the $8 on something.

My bottom line on limit games on this trip was that I felt like luck played a huge factor in my game.  I really felt like I was really at the whim of the kinds of cards I was getting, and frankly, I don’t like that.  I need to know I’m playing a game of skill, or I’ll leave the casino.  Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t like to play craps, blackjack, slots, or any other casino game for money because it seems to pointless.  What is the use of your brain in something where your edge is so small that luck is the overriding factor?  For me the answer is nothing.

I played two of these on Saturday and Sunday morning.  The first was a 74 person $125 tourney.  I went out 11th and was really proud of my play.  I stopped before every hand, thought, analyzed the situation and acted really smartly.  I also had a fair bit of luck, but I finally ran into someone and made an actual mistake, pushing with a weak ace when our table was six handed and I got put out 11th and they merged the last two tables into one without me.

The second was a classic case of hubris.  I was late because we had to walk down twenty five flights of stairs with our luggage since the elevators were not operating.  I sat down, promptly bluffed off all of my chips to a pretty girl who clearly plays plenty of cards and wouldn’t lay down her set to my bluffed flush, and put myself out of the tourney in a record TWENTY MINUTES.

I definately have a tourney impulse problem that I’ll have to work on.

On the whole, though, a very successful trip.