Donk Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope

November 6, 2015 1 comment

Monday at the Palmerston and it was the start of the fourth and final 13 week season of 2015 and with it all the hope and giddy excitement that pub poker with a clean slate brings.

Turn your sarcasm detector down before I break it.

If you finish in one of the top three spots in the league you win a seat at the Regional Finals and a shot at a trip to Las Vegas. Last season at this venue I managed to finish in 4th spot like a total boss, sigh.

But this was a new season, with new hope, and at the Palmerston you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious. Look, I’m trying to shoehorn in a running Star Wars metaphor here, just bear with me.

It wasn’t that busy with just two tables running. My table consisted of, from my left, Clueless Jay, Girlfriend Beth, Random Fish, Welsh Tony, Poor Heather and Mini-Spittles.

I hadn’t played much with Mini-Spittles previously but he is obviously a reasonably good player and looks uncannily like Poker Pro Ryan Spittles. (What do you mean you’ve never heard of him?) He also, like most half decent players, likes everyone else to know it. I was hoping that having position on him would come in handy at some point.

The Classic Spittles Pose.

The Classic Spittles Pose

Brian the Brains is now, somehow, running the Monday night game. This means we frequently start with 51 cards in the deck and a random number of chips.  This time we started with 15,000 chips but after a few hands Brian handed out an extra 5k for some unexplained reason. So 20k starting stacks it was for an absurd 400 big blinds. With 15-minute levels I was mostly on my phone browsing the web while we grind through the first few pointless yet painful levels.

After plenty of folding, the first hand I eventually opened was AsTs under the gun (UTG). Clueless Jay hesitated for a second but called so it looked like he had some medium-weak hand. Welsh Tony and Mini-Spittles threw in the call as well so it was likely they felt they were priced in with some speculative nonsense hands.

If you want an excuse for your crappy pre-flop play it is important to announce to the table that you have, reluctantly, been ‘priced in.’ and will regretfully flop the nuts.

The flop in this case was Ad9d6c and I continuation bet my top pair for around a third of the pot. It turned out everyone had a piece of that board as they all called. Brilliant. The turn was a blank and I bet close to half pot this time to charge anyone who wanted to stick around with their draw or weak ace. Welsh Tony folded but the other two called. The river was anon-diamond king and when Mini-Spittles checked I checked behind hoping to get to showdown.

Nope, no such luck, as Clueless Jay threw out a chunky bet and with Mini-Spittles quickly folding I was left pondering the call. Obviously there was not a lot I could beat in that spot but I took a little time to think it through. As I did, Jay started looking at his phone. I’ve been trying to work on picking up tells at the table and that made it an easy read. I folded and it didn’t take too long before he told me he had ace-nine for the flopped two pair. Must be nice.

The rest of the first hour was fairly uneventful apart from getting 83o in the big blind when Clueless Jay limped UTG (which he did nearly every time) and I flopped trips. I managed to win a half decent pot when Mini-Spittles in the small blind called when I bet turn and river and he turned a gut-shot and hit top pair when the ace completed the board.

Another UTG limp from Jay saw me flop a straight with 68o in the big blind. I donk lead and got raised by Jay. I clicked it back but after some sighing he folded. No idea what he had there?

During the final level before the break, with blinds at 200/400, I got dealt pocket aces in early position, and what’s more Mini-Spittles opened the action UTG. No need to mess about so I three-bet to 2,900. I was hoping someone else would give me some action but it folded back round to Mini-Spittles. I was half expecting him to fold too as he had to put me on a strong hand there, but he contemplated his stack for a short time before he called.

The flop was K7Q rainbow and Mini-Spittles made the standard check to the raiser. Hmmm. I really hated that flop and thinking about his range made me check behind instead of the more standard C-bet. The turn was a blank and Mini-Spittles led out for just over 4,000. I asked to see his stack and he had around 5,000 behind. I didn’t think he was bluffing.

Was I really going to lay down aces to a single turn bet? I held the best starting hand in this stupid game for God’s sake, how could I just fold? You only get it one every 221 hands, which in pub poker is practically every two years.

A minute or so ticked by before I tossed my hand face up in the muck to a couple of raised eyebrows. I wanted to know what Mini-Spittles had and hoped that by showing he would tell me, even if he didn’t show his cards, unless it was a bluff and he could then show how badly he had pwned me.

Mini-Spittles tapped the table to indicate a good fold before dragging the pot. He told me shortly after that he had pocket queens for the flopped set.

Not long after that debacle it was break time and some of us trooped out the back for a smoke and a moan. I don’t smoke anymore and I try not to moan. I went cold turkey at the start of October and haven’t smoked since and I keep my moaning for here. I guess I was happy that I had found the fold with those aces. That’s the right way to think if you want to improve I suppose, but I was also pissed off that I couldn’t even win a damn pot with aces.

I started the second session with just over 20 big blinds, which wasn’t disastrous, but I managed to dust them off pretty quickly, which was.

We were in the middle of a heated and fascinating discussion about Justin ‘Stealthmunk’ Schwartz who narrowly missed out on making the November Nine this year. I think’ Munk is hilarious but everyone else think he is a disgusting, rude, toothless degenerate.  While I was outlining the reasons that I was right and everyone else was an idiot I opened the action holding Tc8c.

Stealthmunk: An Hero or Villian?

Stealthmunk: An Hero or Villian?

One of several callers was Mini-Spittles and he check –raised my C-bet bet on a flop of  Qc9c2x. We get it all in and he turns over Q7o for top pair versus my gut-shot and flush draw. Queen-seven off? Ffs. Who defends with that? Priced in I suppose? All that remained was to see if I could hit one of my outs like a Jedi. (I’ve been neglecting the Star Wars theme so I’d better throw some random shit in now). Can I hit? Is Jar Jar Binks funny? Fuck no. I shake hands, shove the remaining Stella down my gullet and depart.

Week one of Season 4 then started with just the 10 ‘Well done for turning up’ points for me. New Hope? More like the Phantom fucking Menace.

Everyone’s Solid

October 21, 2015 1 comment

Pub poker players; what a load of donks, eh?
Over the few short years this blog has been going regular readers may have got the impression that the people I play poker with are mostly clueless fish. If that is what you have taken away from my ramblings then congratulations, you have been paying attention.
This post, though, is about the fact that good players can be found in low-stakes pub poker games, and frankly far too many in the games I play in.
The bonus of playing in a Redtooth poker league is the chance to win a trip to Las Vegas to decide the UK Pub Poker Champion. There are a few ways to do it, but just 100 players from over 180,000 win a ticket. Amongst the smallish playing pool that I play in, four people have won a ticket to Vegas and one of them has done it twice FFS!
Poker is a skill game with an element of luck involved, and if you don’t believe that then you’re either an idiot or a US Senate Judge. Even bad players can ride a streak of luck to win a 13 week Redtooth season (Hi, Brian), but to make it to the Vegas 100 takes more than a bit of luck. It takes an absolute shit ton of luck and a horseshoe shoved up your ass. But seriously, it really does involve a decent amount of skill and other attributes that make a good player, such as perseverance, patience, a smattering of maths and a touch of masochism.

four qualifiers
This picture was created by Kevin ‘The River’ Trent for a team event in Blackpool and features the four players I know who have accomplished this feat. It’s cool because it’s like the Rat Pack, or rhymes with rat at any rate.
Dave ‘The Voice’ is the bloke who has done this twice and will be going in subsequent years, that is providing the dodgy-looking bastard can make it through customs for a third time. Dave is a modest, unassuming chap, but if pressed will admit that whatever you have done he has done better and twice as often.
Kev ‘The River’ Trent has been playing at the Village longer that I have, the poor bastard, and is one of the few people who have more poker strat books than me. I suspect he may have even read a few. After he won his ticket Kev posted on Facebook detailing his experience, emotions and that time he got ace-jack on his way to taking down the tournament that sees him jet off to Vegas, in what was widely acclaimed as being frankly TL;DR.
All hail Scotty ‘White Sauce’ Hale. Scott won his ticket last year and had a great time in Vegas with his close friend and poker mentor International Dave. If there was a vote for who the best player in our group was then Scott would undoubtedly vote for himself. The thing I look forward to on a Wednesday is seeing which fish will suck out on Scott the worst and see him grit his teeth as he tells them, ‘Nice hand.’
The most recent member of this exclusive crew is Welsh Tony, the Italian Pay-Off Wizard. He has the uncanny ability of Negreanu to name his opponent’s exact two cards and make the call anyway. At times it’s spooky how he does it, and kind of hilarious.

Here’s a photo of Welsh Tony soon after winning the final hand holding queen-four, otherwise known as Welsh Aces, the lucky twat.

welsh tony q4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Congratulations, you luck sacks. Have fun in Vegas and take down the title when you get there.
I’ve played with these four reprobates for years and their game is pretty solid and they’re all good guys too. Occasionally though a new player will appear on the scene and it’s always fun to see if they are any good. I like to think we give a friendly welcome to any new blood, but make no mistake we are eyeing up your stack. Hey, no string betting buddy.
This season one particular new player ponied up the requisite fiver to sit down and play teh pokers. The hope is usually that they are a) a nice person and b) dead money. It turned out he wasn’t completely clueless though and introduced himself as Alfie Adam. A quick look at his Hendon Mob page confirmed that he finished 364th for $24,622 in this year’s World Series of Poker Main Event and 330th for $33,734 in 2014. In total he can boast recorded total live winnings of $183,521.

alfie adam

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to make it to the final four with Alfie, Welsh Tony, Gary the Beard and some drunken short-stacked fish. The top three places get paid and the Beard suggested taking a fiver off the top to give the bubble boy his money back. With a total prize pool of just over £100 I shrugged that it was OK with me.

Alfie though knows poker is serious business. ‘I don’t do deals,’ he said, probably with one eye on pushing his total winnings towards the $200k mark.
But this isn’t Vegas, son, it’s the East End, and at the Village it’s the Beard who runs the game. So after some brief mumbling and some more shrugging Alfie relented and a single crumpled dirty fiver was set aside for the unlucky bubble boy.
And do you know who busted next and walked away clutching that fiver? That’s right, it was me. So who’s laughing now?
It’s a hard way to win a fiver and it’s getting harder.

Effective Playing Styles for the Pub Poker Player

September 16, 2015 6 comments

If you want to succeed in low-stakes pub poker it is important to understand the different types of players you will encounter and the strategies they employ in order to effectively combat them. You can also select the style that most suits your personality based on this guide. I have spent many years studying these games and players, along with several minutes typing this up, to bring you what I hope is an invaluable guide to the bear pit of the modern pub poker game as you spend countless hours getting drunk and chasing dirty fivers.

Tight / Aggressive

angry-poker-player

This style has the benefit of being easy to learn with the added bonus that very little is required from you except folding and shouting. A fundamental aspect to this strategy is that at no time should you offer to buy anyone a drink. That just cuts into your ROI and is seriously -EV. Instead just fold every hand and get blinded out until you shove your last four big blinds when you finally get dealt Aces. When the table donkey, who is inexplicably the chip leader, busts you with seven–deuce call them a twat, throw your paltry remaining chips at them and storm off, vowing never to return as you have final proof you are the unluckiest person in the world and live poker is confirmed rigged.

Loose / Aggressive

fart

This is similar to tight / aggressive style, but your starting hand requirements are much looser, as are your bowels, with high flatulence levels due to the six pints of Carling chucked down your neck. Verbal aggression can be replaced with physical violence if your choice of gas production is Stella Artois. This style of play is quite hard to combat, but if you find yourself up against one of these players it is important to have position on them, preferably on another table altogether to avoid noxious gasses and the threat of a broken nose.

Wannabe Pros

negreanu

You probably have Stapes and Hartigan commentating in your head as you play, or if you’re from the States, Mike Sexton or that bore David Tuchman. The other players may think you’re unnecessarily tanking when you take five fucking minutes to make every decision, but you’ve seen it on TV and that’s what makes the pros so great to watch. You should also pick a particularly annoying way to put your chips in the pot so it’s impossible to see how much you’re betting. Feel free to go through the range of hands your opponent could have out loud because the rest of the players are hanging on every word of your brilliant analysis. Occasionally, you will randomly stumble on a correct guess but pay them off anyway because, hey, that’s what Daniel Negreanu does.  A card protector and some sort of poker apparel should be de rigueur. You should also develop an advanced folding strategy with a snap of the wrist to helicopter your rejected cards high in the air. Let some other poor sap retrieve them from the floor as you explain why your fold was based on Nash equilibrium.

Dealer / Rule Nazi

baby dealer

Make sure you are involved in everything going on at the table, especially when it is not your turn to deal and you have already folded your hand. Tidy up the cards, make change from the pot and look out for players acting out of turn. The last-card-off-the-deck rule is sacrosanct and must be rigidly adhered to even if the returning player is half a second late because the crappy bar staff kept them waiting to get served for ten minutes while they loaded the dishwasher. Keep an eye out for string bets and strictly enforce it even if one chip accidently fell on the felt. Just because it’s a pub game there’s no reason players shouldn’t be held to the highest EPT standards. The important thing is that the RULES MUST BE FOLLOWED. Actual poker strategy is secondary to this, so after you bust out on some stupid bluff against the table drooler who calls you down with bottom pair, offer to deal for the remaining players as the respect they have for you will only increase and one of them may even gratefully mutter, ‘I’m not bothered, suit yourself.’ If, however, you deal poker as a job you will be far too jaded to get involved in this nonsense as you will be too busy numbing your senses with a bottle or two of the house white.

No Fold ’Em Hold ’Em

no fold em

This is a popular and easy-to-learn style. The game is called Texas Hold ’Em not Texas Fold ’Em. You have been dealt two cards for a reason: they are for playing. Do not under any circumstances fold, as you will then be unable to win the chips in the middle. Be sure to ask, ‘How much?’ every time you are reminded that action is on you, and then take your time to select the correct chips. Don’t worry if it takes several attempts to do this as poker players are generally a patient and sympathetic bunch.  If your cards don’t match the flop, don’t worry, there are another two cards to come. Ask, ‘How much?’ again, lift your cards off the table and hold them to your chest to have another peek, and proceed to carefully select the correct chips again. It is important to call the final bet on the river regardless of what the board reads or who you’re against. Remember: you can’t win if you fold. Voila, your full house with eight–three is good. You lucky twat.

The Willy Waver

wogan willy

For this player poker is a battle of egos. Every bet is an affront to their masculinity. The flop over-bet is your friend. Let’s see those pussies call now! They don’t have the balls, and if they do just shove it in their face on the turn. Be sure to show just one irrelevant card after your opponent folds so they know you have a large penis. You will accumulate a big stack by the second level and then donk it all off in what you will insist was a good play as your opponent was an idiot for calling you with top pair. You are now free to shovel pound coins into the fruit machine before the cash game starts, when you’ll have another chance to show everyone you’re the man.

El Spaniard (The Spaniard)

matador beard

Similar to the Willy Waver, but you will need to be Spanish and sport a bushy beard to play this style. You will want to see most flops cheaply then bluff with a pot-sized bet until you pick up a premium hand like Ace-rag or a pair of deuces. This is the stone-cold nuts and you should get your 100bb stack in the middle as quickly as you can. When it is your turn to deal don’t follow the herd and put out a neat flop; simply fling out the cards using just one hand to pluck them from the deck and chuck them in the middle. It doesn’t matter where the turn or river card go. It may infuriate everyone else but they just don’t get that you are flamboyant and daring. Your beard marks you out as an individual who cares little for the prevailing fashion of everyone else having a fucking beard.

GTO (Game Theory Optimal)

gtfo_sign

Poker theory has developed hugely over the last few years, and the latest fad for people to drone on about without ever really understanding the first thing about it is GTO, which stands for ‘Game Theory Optimal’. Game theory is a branch of applied mathematics that has techniques to solve for different types of optimal strategies. In the poker world GTO is used to describe an optimal unexploitable equilibrium strategy. Got it?

Although GTO strategy is mostly suited to high-level players, I have tweaked this approach to come up with an optimal theory for pub poker: a stratagem called GTFO. Having played thousands of real-life low-stakes games and many more simulations in my head, I have found the optimal line to take in most situations turns out to be staying at home with your feet up, a few beers in the fridge and the football on the telly.

The Poker Writer

chimp_playing_poker_smoking-300x289

You will be in the privileged position of listening to other players’ bad beats. The fact that one hand beat another hand is endlessly fascinating to poker writers, so don’t worry about stack sizes or position or when the money went in; the fact that you lost to quads is all we need to know to satisfy our deep love of poker. When at the table you will mostly need to be on your phone checking Twitter to distract from the endless poker chatter and to show you’re above such inanity because you’re like, jaded or something.  Occasionally glance at the crazy action, shake your head and mutter when your opponent chases and hits their gut-shot. You can then spin this nonsense into gold when you publish your semi-humorous self-deprecating half-baked musings on an obscure blog that ensures everyone will hate you. Congratulations. You are living the dream.

Whatever style you decide to play, remember that poker is just a game. Not one of those fun games where you feel the warmth of camaraderie and the sense of satisfaction that only healthy competition brings. No, poker is a game of endless frustration that will leave you emotionally drained, bewildered, disappointed in yourself, and angry at the universe over the injustice of it all.

Have fun at the felt.

Ace Magnets

ace on flop

It was the first hand of the Wednesday pub poker game at The Village and three players had limped for 50. I was in the small blind and made it 450 to go with two black kings from a starting stack of 6,000 and picked up one call from a new player who was down from the north for a few weeks with his mate to, as he put it, overcharge some southern idiots for some building work.

Northern Builder #1 was all broken nose and bulging biceps. “Imagine getting into a fight with the fucker,” I Withnailed as we waited for the flop to be dealt. He’d like a bit of pleading. Add spice to it. In fact, he’d probably tell you what he was going to do before he did it. “I’m gonna pull your head off.” “Oh no, please, don’t pull my head off.” “I’m gonna pull your head off because I don’t like your head.”

I wasn’t sure what his range was here, but my main strategy when I play big pocket pairs out of position is screaming inside my head, “No ace on the flop, no ace on the flop, no ace on the flop.”

The first card out was an ace. Oh for God’s sake. Stupid ace-magnet kings.

The second card off the deck was another ace followed by a nine with two clubs on board. The Ac 9c Ad flop looked good enough for me so I bet out expecting to take it down, but Northern Builder #1 made the call after a moment’s hesitation. The turn card was the 6c and I bet again, now with a re-draw to the nut flush if he was somehow holding an ace. Well, N.B. #1 clearly hadn’t sat down at the table to be pushed around by the likes of me and made the call again.

The river card was the 2d, a complete blank, and I had decided to check-call blank river cards as he seemed to be the sort of guy who would bluff his weak hands if checked to. That’s exactly what happened and his half-pot-sized bet convinced me my hand was good so I made the call.

Sometimes I just turn my cards over immediately but this time I wanted to see what he had and waited before revealing my hand. He showed K9o, which somewhat explained the action, and with that I was off to a good start with a 3,000 pot. Was his river bet a bluff? Thin value? Who knows. Pub poker sure can be confusing sometimes.

With just twelve people turning up we were playing six handed, which is a lot more fun than full ring, and it was good to have some new blood at the table. The Northern Builders had been living it large in the big smoke for over a week now and turned out to be good fun, friendly, action players so it looked like my head would remain safely attached to the rest of me.

When N.B. #1 got table service from the barmaid us regulars were absolutely gobsmacked. He hollered across the pub to get the barmaid’s attention and she came running over with his pint. I must have been coming to The Village for over five years and still struggle to get served at the break, my current pecking order seemingly just below emptying the dishwasher. I was once asked if I really wanted ice in a drink as the glass was already “quite cold”.

N.B. #1 explained that they had been spending most of their spare time propping up the bar, and that rough northern charm had certainly worked on the beret-wearing barmaid. I guess silently seething at the bar is somehow a less effective strategy for getting served than spending a ton of money and getting to know the staff. Who knew?

It wasn’t just The Village they had been drinking and playing poker in though; they had also been frequenting the Green Man. I’ve heard numerous tales of this pub and it is firmly on my avoid list, and the story the builders proceeded to tell of a recent fracas just reinforced my stance. Apparently eight guys had arrived looking for a skinful and a game of poker. One of them, involved in a cash game that is overlooked by a balcony area where the tournament takes place, took exception to one of the tournament players “looking” at him. The middle part of the story seemed to be missing but for some reason the player apparently decided to keep looking at this guy and this merry band of brothers ended up “kicking the shit out of him”.

The rest of the hour saw me get involved in a few more pots with mixed success. Faced with two limpers I raised it up from the small blind with pocket sevens. That didn’t shake anyone off – it rarely does – and I was rewarded with a disappointing flop of Ad 5h Jd. A check from me saw Old Time Tony come out firing and I laid it down. I haven’t played with him for long, but this seems to be his modus operandi: limp pre-flop and fire any flop. This guy is an old-school bluffer, he can’t help himself, and I’ve called him down with ace high a couple of times.

After a few more skirmishes, including one hand where I had 54o in the small blind, hit bottom pair and hung on against some betting from Old Time Tony with his ace high and NB#1 with king high, it was break time and I had just under 9,000.

Back from the break, after a successful mission to the bar to refresh the drinks, it didn’t take too long to get to the final table of eight with three places paid. I was looking good to make a deep run at the money with a decent stack and a favourable position. Then it all went tits up.

Despite my nitty image I tend to open up my range in the later levels of the game depending of course on position and stack sizes. (If you’re reading this and play with me don’t pay any attention; I’ve always got it.) I have been reliably informed that this is a basic principle of tournament poker: tight in the early levels and then then up the aggression later on. People tend to play fewer speculative hands and are unlikely to go beyond the flop unless they smash it. Well, that’s the theory anyway. I’m not sure how much pub poker these theorists play.

Action folded to me and I opened from the cut-off with QTo for just over two big blinds. Turtle in the big blind made the call and we went heads-up to a flop of QJ5. Bam, top pair, and Turtle checked so I bet around half pot expecting to take it down. Turtle though put out the calling chips and I was left trying to work out what the hell he had as the turn card, another 5, hit the felt. Another check and I decided to check behind to see what happened on the river, which was a 4. Turtle then led out for a bet that would leave me around six bigs if I called and lost. I didn’t think he was bluffing in this spot and had no idea what he thought I had. I’d been fairly disciplined in making folds in these spots but this time I made the crying call only to be shown A5o for trips on the turn and the pot went to the other side of the table. Man, I hate being a payoff wizard.

Handcuffed with a short stack there was little scope for anything much beyond jamming it in if I could find a spot. That spot came when Turtle min-raised from early position and, when the small bind completed, I put in the extra with 94o hoping to catch a piece of the board. The 9-high flop with two clubs looked enough and I moved all in with my top pair. Turtle shrugged and made the call with AcQc and we were flipping. The turn card was a club giving Turtle the flush and I was drawing dead and busto.

However it happens, however many chips you had to start the hand, and no matter how the hand played out there is nothing worse in tournament poker than losing all your chips. You were in a poker game and now you’re not. You’re out and there is no reason for you to be sat at the table where only moments before you were focused on the game and trying to win all the chips.

I’ve never really been interested in hanging around to see how the game turns out. Occasionally, if I have a beer to finish, I’ll offer to deal. As much as I enjoy playing poker, finishing anywhere other than first sucks, meaning it sucks most of the time. I tell the table “Good game”, drain my glass and head for the exit.

On the trudge home, reflecting on whether I could be the guy who calls with bottom pair and musing on all the uncertainties and blows of tournament poker, I realise with a certain resigned inevitability that the only sure thing in poker is that I’ll be back playing next week.

Shit Cards and the Long Game

February 13, 2015 3 comments

 

Monday night is pub poker night at The Palmerston. I had returned from a week’s work at EPT Deauville, watching some of the best players in the world fight it out for astronomical sums of money, and I was eager to play in my regular game where a dirty fiver buys you a seat and a few hours’ entertainment.

 

As soon as we sat down Numbnuts Brian started telling me a bad beat story. Brian knows how much I love these stories so he was undeterred by the fact I was facing the other way and gave me the gory details. Apparently Brian flopped a straight and his unknown opponent had flopped a full house. How this was possible wasn’t fully explained and I didn’t press him for further details.

 

Tournament director Special Chris gave it “Shuffle up and deal” and we were off. The Palmerston is a tricky venue with a mix of styles and experience. On my table I had my girlfriend Beth to my left, who likes to play back at me, Dave the Voice, who has twice won a package to Vegas, and Welsh Tony, all decent and tough TAG opponents. At the other end of the scale there was Poor Heather, who is a bit of a calling station, loose aggro Numbnuts Brian and International Dave (formerly iMac Dave). The role of table nit would be contested between me and Chess Jim.

 

Players receive a starting stack of 13k with blinds starting at 25/50, making a rather unnecessarily large 260 big blinds to begin with. To compensate blinds go up every 15 minutes, or once an orbit at the rate this game goes. What this means of course is players like to play any two cards (ATC) in the first few levels and folding is for pussies like me.

 

International Dave is a firm believer in the ATC theory of poker and got off to a great start, scooping several early pots with marginal holdings. I love playing on a table with Int. Dave because he’s a genuinely funny guy who wears his heart on his sleeve. When he’s building a stack he has a huge grin on his face and loves to run over the table. Dave the Voice lost a few early pots, one to Chess Jim who turned a set of queens, so Int. Dave decided to give him some helpful advice.

 

“Sometimes you’ve got to play shit cards,” Dave tells Dave.

 

A few hands later Int. Dave opened and then called a three-bet from Brian in the big blind. The flop was 9K9 and Brian checked. “How about two thousand?” Dave said, and Brian responded with, “How about all in?” Dave quickly made the call with K4 and Brian rolled over his AK. Brian’s better kicker held and was good for a huge pot.

 

Dave’s stack was crippled and his grin as well as his interest in the game evaporated. His attention turned instead to his phone where he discovered a picture of “A man’s face on a pig! Someone’s been shagging pigs.”

 

“That’s your job, Dave,” Brian taunted him. Classic bantz.

 

Porker face.

Porker face.

 

On level three, Int. Dave limped from early position and Beth raised to 600 from the small blind. Poor Heather called from the big blind and then Dave went all in for 3,025. Beth hesitated but made the call, as did Heather. A bet on the turn from Beth got a call from Heather and on a final board of 7d Kc 7d 8d Js the cards were turned over.

 

Dave had made his move with A4 and Beth had correctly, if speculatively, made the call with A8. Unfortunately, Beth forgot what she then called the “Heather factor”, and Heather’s pocket pair of eights for a full house took what should really have been a bigger pot for Heather. Beth took a hit but Dave was busto and sadly sloped home shortly after.

 

A few hands later Beth ran in to the “Heather factor” again when her A4 was called by Heather holding AA. Played without aggression, it was good for just a call on the flop and then a couple of checks. Can’t be too careful with aces, I guess.

 

I hadn’t won any hands in the first three levels and my stack was just below starting when it was folded to me on the button – a rare enough occurrence. With blinds-to-stack ratio at a more manageable level, I opened with Ks 7s and got folds from Beth and Heather.

 

It was getting near to the break when Chess Jim got involved in a couple of interesting hands with Dave the Voice. Each time Jim raised and then bet-folded to a shove from Dave on a dangerous looking board. On the first one Jim wanted to know how close it was to the break and, looking at the time, I told him it was probably two or three minutes to go. We all knew he was going to fold and I called the clock after a minute or so. I’m not proud.

 

Jim patiently explained the strategy behind his folds to the rest of us hotheads. He didn’t want to decrease his chip stack so soon before the break because, “For me, poker is all about the long game.”

 

I couldn’t resist the open goal and told him, “It definitely feels like a long game when I’m playing with you, Jim.”

 

The break was called and I had added 1,000 to my stack having hit on the river in a multi-way limped pot. There was just time for a smoke outside where I apologised to Jim for calling the clock on him. He was more annoyed that I had told him there were three minutes to the break when it was closer to five. I didn’t know what to say to that so I just shrugged.

 

Soon after the restart I got my first decent hand in AQ under the gun and raised. Brian was in the big blind and of course made the call and we saw a favourable flop of A Q 2. Brian checked and I considered a check behind, but if he had anything then I wanted to build a pot. I bet and Brian had another look at his cards before he declared, “Nah.”

 

Not long after that Chess Jim opened the action again and I was in the big blind with aces. Nom nom. Unbelievably, no one else got involved; even Dave decided to fold this time. I’d lost a few chips myself to the “Heather Factor” and had just over 11k so I raised Jim’s bet to 4,200. Jim made the call and the king high flop looked promising so I checked it over to Jim who failed to take the bait. On a blank turn card I made it 5,000 and Jim let it go.

 

A few other players got knocked out in short order and I hadn’t found any more playable spots when the final table was announced. The smokers made a beeline for the garden to knock a few more minutes off our lives and while we were there we saw through the window that Special Chris was dealing and had restarted the game four handed with the players who stayed inside.

 

We figured that they wouldn’t agree to start without us; surely there is solidarity amongst us elite final tableists and an innate respect for the game? We figured wrong, but no one wanted to be the first to stub out their cigarette and join the scabs. The rate of inhalation did noticeably increase though and, honour assuaged and nicotine levels restored, we rushed in for the denouement.

 

Welsh Tony protested rather unconvincingly that he had tried to slow the game down when the smokers confronted the scabs, but I guess there is no honour amongst poker players, especially when there is north of thirty pounds to be won.

 

It turned out the blinds had gone through me, which didn’t exactly help my prospects, and I fell in seventh place when I shoved five bigs with deuces and Mus the Machine gave me a spin with his big stack and a suited queen jack. Two pairs for Mus on the flop saw me shake his hand and finish my drink in a few gulps.

 

A disappointing end to a fun evening, but it was good to be back with some chips to riffle and some cards to squeeze. I was reasonably happy with how I played as I thought over the game on my trudge home.

 

It’s all about striking a balance between shit cards and the long game.

Return of the Blog

February 12, 2015 7 comments

Mylowstakespokerlife.com is back by popular demand.

village final table

By “popular demand” I mean the occasional half-hearted enquiry from people asking, “You still doing your blog thing?” to my girlfriend asking if I’m ever going to pull my finger out and start blogging again. So, here we go …

Hello again. It’s been far too long. I’ve been meaning to get this going again for ages but just haven’t got round to it, so my one and only New Year’s resolution was to start writing my blog again, and here it is, in February.

I’m not sure why I stopped blogging. It did bring me a fair bit of grief from some of the people featured, the repercussions of which are still reverberating to this day, if you can believe that. That wasn’t really a big factor, though; for one thing, writing is hard, harder than you would think if you don’t write yourself. The other is that terrible curse of procrastination, and writing this regularly again is part of my attempt to defeat that.

The plan is to continue with the original purpose of this blog, which was to document in a hopefully entertaining fashion the poker games I play in and the people I play with. I’ll try to let people that I play with know that I’ll be writing about the games, but I don’t feel any particular moral obligation to inform every single person I play with that they will potentially end up in a post.

I also want to write about other poker-related subjects, from book reviews to TV shows and industry matters. Once I get round to finishing it I’ll do a review of Moorman’s poker book. Spoiler alert: it’s a bit of a stinker but maybe not for the reasons you’d think.

Poker has become even more integral to my life since I last posted here. Maybe I’ll write about it in more detail in a later post, but I’ve been lucky enough to get some freelance work for PokerNews reporting from tournaments around the world. Matthew “Yorkypuds” Pitt read my blog and suggested to Donnie Peters that I could do a trial run at the ISPT. So far it’s working out pretty good and I’ve met some great people and been to some cool places.

Even though I haven’t been blogging I’m still playing pub poker twice a week with a regular cast of loveable rogues. Some have disappeared from the scene, such as Low Cards Everton, Schoolboy Error John and Goldtooth Bob. Some make an occasional appearance, like Toothless Mick, and some of the regulars are there every week, like TD Special Chris and Dave The Voice.

There is always the risk that people will take offence at something I’ve written about them. It’s not my intention to cause offence, only to report on the games I play and raise a smile from readers. Poker is a serious business, but I like to see the funny side of it. People all around the country play in these sorts of games and they don’t seem to get written about. Hopefully if you play in a regular low-stakes game you’ll recognise some of the characters and situations I write about.

None of us are expert poker players and some of the play is amusingly bad, including my own. This isn’t a strategy blog, although there are necessarily elements of some poker strategy. What we all share is a love of this endlessly fascinating and frustrating game.

So there you have it, my first post back in the blogging saddle. If you’re new to the blog, why not have a read of the archives to get up to speed? As of now, I’m full of good intentions to keep this blog going and to prevent the embarrassing scenario of writing a return to blogging post and then not posting for weeks. I’ve already written about a game I played last Monday at the Palmerston. I’ll post that tomorrow.

Learn to Love Folding

February 28, 2014 2 comments
Nice Fold

Nice Fold

 

This article first appeared at grassrootspoker.com where I post as MyLostPokli. It is intended as a light hearted strategy article for live low stakes NLHE tournament players.

I love folding. It’s probably my favourite part of playing poker. As another junk hand is elegantly tossed towards the dealer I like to sing my special folding song to the tune of Spandau Ballet’s ‘Gold’.

You want to call me a nit? Thanks very much, I’ll take that as a compliment. When people say to me, ‘Are you going to play a hand tonight?’ I just laugh and say I’m only here for the scintillating conversation.

Sometime I’ll get out a pack of cards at home, deal myself a hand and then just throw it away to keep myself in tip-top folding shape. You’ve got to put in the hard work away from the tables if you want to reach the top.

We’ve all heard it in the low-stakes games: one orbit of the table into the game and someone will peek at their hole cards, sigh deeply and toss them at the dealer in frustration saying something like, ‘I haven’t seen one picture card all night.’ Or they’ll limp in with a ‘very playable hand’ and get frustrated when the flop doesn’t cooperate by smashing them in the face. The crushing disappointment is evident in their groan when their speculative hand comes to nothing, proving once again that there is no justice in poker and they are the unluckiest person in the world.

Poker is a game of decisions. Folding is one of those decisions and one that you’ll be making a lot, so you’d better learn to love it. The joy of getting A2o and folding under the gun is an experience to be treasured. It should give you a warm glow that you only get from making a good decision at the poker table. Okay, I may be exaggerating just a bit here but only about the warm glow, not folding raggy aces UTG.

‘But folding is so boring,’ I hear you cry. ‘I just want to see a flop.’ But you are seeing flops – flops where you have nothing invested in the pot and can sit back and watch the other players bleed chips while giving you free information.

Pay attention to the game when you’ve folded. Who’s driving the action? What did they showdown? Are they chasing their draws? Hoping their middle pair is good on an ace-high board? Just because you don’t have cards in front of you doesn’t mean you’re not playing poker. Poker is a game of incomplete information and the more information you soak up the better your decisions will be when you do actually play a hand.

You’d think because I don’t play many hands that when I do raise I wouldn’t get any action. Surely with my tight image opponents will realise that I have a good hand and get out of the way. Not a chance. They want to see a flop and hope to get lucky. They’re here to play, not to fold! Sometimes they do get lucky and their jack four will hit two pairs on the river to crack my aces. Bad beats will happen but when they do you should be happy. Seriously. It means you had the best hand and your opponent had to get lucky to beat you. Do you want to be good or do you want to be lucky?

A lot of live low-stakes games are going to be self-dealt and not everyone around the table will be acting quickly, so you’re going to be seeing something like thirty hands per hour if you’re lucky. So how often on any given night do you think you’ll be dealt a good starting hand?

Let’s have a quick look at some numbers.

The odds on you being dealt a pocket pair are 16 to 1. Getting dealt an off-suit ace king is 110 to 1. Getting those pocket aces will only happen once every 221 hands.

If any of these numbers surprise you then you have some serious poker homework to do. You may not enjoy maths or you may claim to be a feel player, but if you don’t know the basics you will be at a serious disadvantage at the tables against people who do. You like playing suited connectors? Have a look at the numbers on how often you’ll hit the flop hard; it ain’t as pretty as your pretty hand. Planning on hitting a set on the flop with your small pocket pair? That happens just under 12% of the time so you need to brush up on implied odds and stack sizes to understand when it’s profitable to play them.

It’s a simple fact that most of the time you’ll be getting junk hands and the best thing you can do with them is to treat them like junk and throw them in the trash. Patience and discipline in the early blind levels are key so embrace the fold. Learn to love it.

Let’s say you’re under the gun with queen ten off suit and you haven’t played a hand in half an hour. Wouldn’t it be nice to see a flop with that? Hey, maybe you could hit a straight. So you limp hoping you can see a cheap flop, but dammit someone raises. Oh well, in for a penny in for a few more big blinds. So what’s the plan when you miss the flop? Save those chips – you’re going to need them later in the game.

My serious point, if you haven’t already grasped it, is that folding non-premium hands, particularly in games where players like to splash around early and see flops, is a winning strategy. Don’t get frustrated in the first few levels if you haven’t won a pot or even played a hand. Remember the maths and preserve your stack.

As the blinds go up those splashy players will often have lost a decent proportion of their stack and will then tighten up their play. That’s when you can start to rob them by opening up your range in position. Now they will be doing the folding, and hating it.