Monday, September 25, 2006

My Favourite Kind of Call Stack

Well, I had decided previously that I wasn't going to post about my adventures in gambling, given that they aren't something that I should necessarily be advertising, but, as it's coming up on two weeks since I last posted, I feel compelled to fill this space, and it's the only thing of note that I've done lately. Besides-- I would rate the likelihood (and justification) of my arrest for illegal gaming at somewhere just more likely than being arrested for the episode of Boston Legal that I downloaded this week (I taped over it on my VCR by mistake-- D'oh!).

I'm sure that everyone is at least peripherally aware of the surge in popularity that poker has enjoyed in the last couple of years-- Texas Hold'Em in particular. I never really saw what all of the fuss was about at first-- I was never much of a poker fan, and TH struck me as needlessly complicated poker for wusses. Since then, though, I have very much come around, and have actually been playing a fair bit over the last year or so. Texas Hold'Em is easy to learn, but very nuanced for more experienced players. It can be as mathematically deep or shallow as you like, and provides just enough information to make the betting very interesting. It gives the player a lot more power while decreasing luck's impact-- good luck can help a bad player win, but bad luck doesn't necessarily doom a good player. It also has the "well gee, I could do that" factor going for it, making it tantalizingly accessible to the average person, fueling dreams of attainable wealth and stardom.

I'm not looking for wealth or stardom, though, and I think that gambling as a rule is a bit silly (in fact, that philosophy extends far beyond mere monetary concerns, dictating such things as my social behaviour and career decisions). So why am I playing Texas Hold'Em? Well, primarily for the social aspect, believe it or not. Poker is very much about getting together and having fun as a group, and TH in particular is a very engaging and interesting game, which is a bonus. I generally don't play for high stakes-- only the required minimum to serve as a bluffing disincentive. That being said, I would like to walk into a casino and plop down a few hundred just once, for the experience alone if for nothing else. However, I need to have a bit more confidence in my game before I'd be willing to that.

I've actually weathered a bit of a crisis in that regard as of late. Although I enjoyed a lot of success early in my poker career, as of last week I'd lost quite badly during my previous couple of outings, and was starting to wonder if I should re-evaluate my entire playing strategy and start from square one. After a particularly awful night this past Friday, in which an aggressive veteran player I'd never met before threw me off my game completely, I was ready to do just that. And then Saturday night happened.

I was in the zone. I was playing in a small "tournament", with a dozen people at two tables and prize money going to the top four (although third and fourth only got their initial stake back, and first place got the lion's share). I was enjoying some pretty solid luck, which I would characterize as just a little bit towards the good side of average, but, more importantly, I was playing really well. I was reading the other players well, choosing my hands well, and doing a good job of scaring (within the context of the game) a couple of the new guys. I personally knocked out a couple of players pretty quickly, and before I knew it I had made it to the final table as the big stack, enjoying roughly a two to one chip lead over my nearest competitor and playing with a great deal of confidence.

I was actually a little concerned about this, as I didn't have a lot of experience playing from a chip advantage, and was worried that I couldn't leverage it properly. Suffice it to say, I was wrong. It may or may not surprise some of you to know that I can apparently be an excellent bully when I want to be. So, my initial play at the final table was characterized by shoving a lot of chips into the middle, and my already large stack was slowly getting larger. However, after knocking out only one of these final seven other players, I ran into a bit of a snag.

[Note: I'm actually going to start getting into specifics now, and I apologize in advance to anyone who doesn't know how to play. I'd be happy to teach anyone who wants to learn-- I have my own chipset.]

The fellow on the opposite end of the table from me, who had the second-largest chip count, had come out betting. Everyone else folded in response, but I was sitting on the big blind with a suited Queen-seven, and decided that I would pay to see a flop. The flop was four-five-Queen, and since I had hit top pair I opened up with a moderate bet. He re-raised a similar amount, and I called. The turn card was a seven, giving me two pair. I opened with a fairly large raise, and then he went all-in over top of me. I thought about it briefly, and then decided to call, since, given his betting, I was pretty sure that he was sitting on a pocket pair between six and Jack, but I was pretty confident that he hadn't hit trip-sevens. We flipped over our cards, and the guy had three-six. Three-six! He'd come out betting from a fairly early position with a three-six off-suit, and then caught a fucking straight! Lucky bastard. The river card offered me no help, and he took the pot, which was the largest of the night at that point.

Needless to say, that hand was somewhat disheartening, and I was left as one of the shorter stacks. I persevered, though, and slowly built my chip count back up by stealing blinds and winning the occasional hand. There were no dramatic hands for me as the next three players busted out, and I managed to last until we were four-handed, which guaranteed, given the prize structure, that I would at least break even on the night. We actually played four-handed for quite some time (at least an hour, I think), shifting chips back and forth, until the steadily increasing blinds (they went up every twenty minutes) forced us to start playing a little more aggressively. It was at this point that I ran into my other bad hand of the night. At least, I think it was bad. It's certainly the one I'm still kicking myself about, even now, and, unlike the earlier bad hand, I can't defend how I played this one.

The short stack had been getting quite aggressive lately, and had gone all-in on two of the last four hands. He did so again on this one, and I was sitting on the big blind with pocket Jacks. And I folded. I folded! I still don't know what I was thinking. I thought about it long and hard, and a quick chip count revealed that if I called and lost I'd be as good as eliminated, but I knew that common sense dictated that I had to call. And yet, my gut was screaming at me to fold. So I did. I still don't know what he had, so it's possible that I was right to fold, but overwhelming chances are that I wasn't, and I really wish that I had called, if for no more reason than to not have this damning uncertainty. But, I didn't, and half an hour later it was that same player who eliminated me, when I called his all-in king-queen with my own king-jack.

So, what went wrong? Was I subconsciously perceiving something about the other player's behaviour, or was I simply being influenced by my previous loss against Mr. straight-draw (who, incidentally, was eliminated soon after me in third place)? I wish I knew. In the end, though, it doesn't matter, and I need to stop obsessing about it. That one bad hand aside, I brought my A-game Saturday night, and it was a real confidence boost to have played as aggressively as I did and watch everyone else wilt as I shoved my chips around, and to personally knock out three other players. It's definitely an improvement over my last tournament, where I ran into a Queen-high flush with a Jack-high flush early on and got to watch everyone else play for most of the night. I feel like I'm definitely settling into my own style of play, and I'm looking forward to my next game, during which I'll no doubt lose horribly and blame it all on bad luck. Because, if there's anything that I've learned, it's that poker players don't ever play badly-- if you lose, it was bad luck, but if you win, it was all skill.


Blogger Darcy Cameron said...

I can't believe you folded pocket Jacks. Maybe if someone else had called ahead of you, but with just the two of you I think you're nuts. :P

Tuesday, September 26, 2006 4:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Vern said...

Ha ha

Tuesday, September 26, 2006 9:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous (Vintage) said...

Poker like a Champion!


Thursday, September 28, 2006 9:40:00 AM  
Anonymous Mike said...


I don't even know her!

Thursday, September 28, 2006 10:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous(new & improved) said...

3 main parts of a wood stove:
Lifter, Leg and poker!

Gold Nugget Saloon:
Liquor in the front and poker in the rear.

Friday, September 29, 2006 2:22:00 PM  
Blogger Jordan said...

This post's commentary brought to you by Ms. Stapleton's grade 3 class.

Friday, September 29, 2006 2:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Jeff Kerr said...

Hey Jordan, didn't know you played... great game, isn't it?

Yeah, I'd say that fold was a mistake - since buddy was short, his all-in requirements were probably low, and even if he had AK or something similar, you're down to brass tacks at that point, so jacks are definately worth a call. Mind you, anything can happen, and two overcards make you only a slight favorite, so who knows how it would have played out had you called?

Monday, October 02, 2006 10:44:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous(New & Improved) said...

Grade 3 level posts for grade 3 level poker play!

Would you expect anything less of Anonymous!?

Monday, October 02, 2006 2:33:00 PM  
Anonymous Mike said...

I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have made that joke in grade 3, since the word "frig" was considered swearing.

I will, however, concede to the low-brow-ness of the jokes. When I said it was picturing that "Laugh-In" show from the 70's where people stuck their heads out of those holes in the wall and let one liners fly.

Also, if I were in grade 3 in the 70's that would have been over my head.

Monday, October 02, 2006 4:22:00 PM  

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