I should be sleeping…

…but I’m posting my rah rah hand moment.  I played at the Big Dirty Game tonight.  It was destined to be a tension filled evening.  Of course I couldn’t forget my $800 slide there the last two sessions, along with my self-doubt that I was playing without a clue.  After my successful no limit weekend I had my confidence back and I walked into the club with a single $300 buyin.  I was prepared to try and out-think my opponents.

The two very best players in the club sat down and I thought, uh oh.

I made two mistakes overplaying poor hands against a strong player and a poor player.  I beat the poor player, and lost $400 to the strong player, but still had $200 left, so I wasn’t out.  I played some bad hands then, but got control of myself and regained my focus.  Finally I looked down at a raise from the Pretty Boy (he had $700), a call from the Barman (he had $650), and a pair of jacks in my hand (I had $400).  These guys are aggressive enough that I am not able to pattern their play in any way, so I’m basically playing my cards, while they’re playing their cards and me (and my cards, in a way).

We saw the flop for $16 each, which is like it wasn’t raised at all.  This is a wild game where this isn’t really considered a raise at all, and it came 962 with two clubs.  I didn’t hold a club.  Pretty Boy bet $30, Barman raised it to $70, and I went deep into the tank to think.  I’ve seen Pretty Boy make this play with an overpair, but I thought I could rule out Aces through Queens, there would have been a bigger pre flop raise.  He could have jacks, or more likely tens.  Yes, there’s a set possible, but the odds are low he hit it.  He could also play large unpaired cards that way.  I didn’t think he’d have 2 pair because he wouldn’t raise under the gun with 96 or 62 or 92.  So his range is a pair (Aces through Sevens), big unpaired overcards (Ace King down to Ace Ten), or top pair (Nine with an Ace).

Barman would almost certainly be playing this way to isolate with top pair (a 9 with any kicker), a straight draw, or a flush draw.  He wouldn’t have just called $16 with any pair, he would have re-raised.  He would have played that way with 10-10 or 8-8.

I felt that Barman was trying to take the hand down cheaply, and I thought they thought I would fold.  I had been folding a lot all night, but occasionally would show down crap.  I definately had them thrown.  I decided my jacks were probably the favorite here.  Sure I could be against a set, but I’d know pretty soon about that when I got re-raised.  I wasn’t going to get called by Aces through Queens because they didn’t exist in my opponent’s hands.  I needed to make this too expensive for them to continue in the hand.  I raised it to $150 to go and Pretty Boy thought for a while and folded.

Barman fiddled with his cards.  "Shabbir Shabbir…." he shook his head and said "Good bet" and folded, showing a Jack of clubs.  It turns out he had the Jack-Nine, and Pretty Boy had Ace Queen.  Pretty Boy went insane the rest of the evening trying to get me to tell him what I had, and I finally offered him a deal.  I’ll tell him, if in the future I get to expose one of his hands instead of folding it.  He agreed and I told him.  He’s good for it, and so sometime in the future I’ll exercise that favor when I make a tough fold against him.

The money’s nice (I finished up about $250), but more so is the fact that I realized that when I’m thinking I can be competitive with these guys.  Pretty Boy has a real job, as does Barman, but Barman in particular is my aspiration for poker skill.  (I don’t want his life).  He owns several businesses that seem to run without difficulty and so he plays poker every night, and during the day plays as well at an outdoor game in the DC area.  He gets in hours of practice time and his play really shows a level of complexity, insight, aggression, and trickiness I really aspire to.  If I hadn’t moved away I would have gone to sit at his feet and begged him to take me on as an acolyte.  Alas I’ll have to keep looking.

This also brings me into positive territory this year for the Big Dirty Game, something that had haunted me for a few weeks.  I’m toying with the idea of just playing no limit this year, purely so I can practice my skills at cash games and tournaments.  The hand reading and "range of hands" analysis are very similar in both game types, and so I think I could really focus in well.  I don’t want to learn some obscure game just so I can be good at it.

As an aside I had a long talk with my poker colleague Chris about my theory about low limit hold’em being all about the cards, and the concensus was that I needed to move up in limits or stop grading myself on whether I win or lose money, since getting dealt cards is a prerequisite to win money in these games.  I think I might do both…

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