Well I stood stone-like at midnight, suspended in my masquerade
I combed my hair 'til it was just right, and commanded the night brigade
I was open to pain and crossed by the rain, I walked on a crooked crutch
I strolled all alone through a fallout zone and came out with my soul untouched
-Bruce Springsteen, "Growin' Up"
I had another live 1-2NL session today that I feel was a landmark in my development as a poker player. Although I didn't make the one laydown that would have let me say "I'm finally at the point where I can call myself and excellent player," I maintained my composure, and played some excellent poker in the face of adversity... Let me explain...
Tuesday, 12:00 noon, I took a few mid-week days off during the slow time of year, and used my free time for, what else, poker. The 1-2 NL game at the club quickly filled up, and it was playing big. Most pots were straddled, and liquidations led to rebuys which led to large stacks. I took some beats, was down $350, before fighting back to +$400 with a $1050 stack, when this hand happened:
A young loose cannon straddles for $5 UTG. Two players call the straddle, and Larry, a club regular raises to $10. I'm two to his left, and I raise to $40 holding Friday In Vegas: coupl'a hooks: JJ. Dean calls in the SB, the straddler calls, and Larry calls.
The flop is 5-8-T and the LooseCannon is visibly excited. This is a player I'm not familiar with, but he's shown some big bluffs and some big hands thus far in the 3 hours we've played together. He clearly pushes his hands too hard, and I'll have a chance to take his stack eventually. So, after Dean checks, LooseCannon comes out firing: $200. Larry can't believe it, shakes his head, and mucks his pocket nines. I'm left running my fingers through my hair, standing up, and talking to myself. With $1000 each, I'm playing for a lot more than this $200 here - I need to raise or fold. How can I call? He's playing it just like he has a set, and given the action, a set of 5's or 8's makes PERFECT sense. This guy could even have QQ or T-8 here. Oy vey. I think for 3 minutes, and eventually muck - I'll have a better chance to take his stack. After Dean mucks, LooseCannon triumphantly shows his T-9, showing us that he did indeed have the hand he claimed to.
Now, this is the important part: the kid actually THOUGHT his T-9 was the nuts! That's why I read him as being so strong - he didn't know he wasn't! I've thought a lot about playing a hand blind, not looking at my cards and simply CONVINCING myself that I had Aces. This may work against solid, observant opponents - but it's an interesting concept nonetheless. Now, this kid wasn't trying to convince me that he had a huge hand: he actually thought that top pair WAS a huge hand - that's the mistake I made. Also, if I were in his spot, I would have bet out a set there. I projected this same line of thinking onto my opponent: "That's how I'd play a set - he must have a set," which is a dangerous line of thinking. After further analyzing the hand, I realized that this player would probably try to check-raise me with a set here, where as I would bet the set and hope to trap an overpair. Unfortunately, this kid left before I had a chance to get his stack, but I'm sure his money will be recycled into the poker community at a future date.
I 'Coulda Been a Contender
I had the opportunity to become a great player on this hand, but I failed. Here are the details: I've been making pot sized raises every time I raise preflop, regardless of position or hand. I raise to $7 with A-K UTG, and I raise to $11 after 2 limpers with 8-9 suited on the button. Always consistent. On several occasions I've been reraised, and have exhibited the ability to fold, call or re-raise when the action is back to me.
Billy, my eventual opponent in this hand, was formerly known as a very tight aggressive player. He's a regular, has been playing live poker in NYC for 30 years, and knows what he's doing. Lately, however, he's exhibiting some stranger tendencies: calling oversized raises preflop with hands like A-T offsuit, K-J: things that "Billy" simply doesn't do. In addition, he's shown the tendency today of VASTLY overbetting the pot on the flop or turn on numerous occasions when he pushed all in. Now, the Billy I used to know doesn't put his stack in the middle without the nuts, or outs to the nuts. However, tonight, he's made such bets: like $1000 into a $200 pot, that just don't make perfect sense. Is Billy preying on his opponents' natural desire to play sheriff and not believe him? Is he HOPING to catch an opponent with a huge second best hand? Is he WILLING to not get the value he could from his nut hands by bullying everyone out of the pot with oversized bets? All of these previous hands, and my detailed knowledge of my opponent, led to: The Biggest Pot I've Ever Lost:
I'm UTG with $1100 and KK. I raise to $7. 2 players call my raise, and Billy, in middle position, makes it $50. I have him covered by $85. It's folded back to me, and I raise to $150. The players in between us fold, and Billy takes his time, before announcing "I'm all in." Whoa. I've never mucked KK preflop, but Billy is a player I could do it against. I know him well, and he knows me well: he respects me as a highly intelligent, talented player. I stand up and walk in circles. What is he trying to do? Why would he do that with AA? He knows I cannot call with any hand other than perhaps KK, and that's not even automatic. Is Billy willing to win a small pot with his Aces if I fold? Maybe he has JJ? QQ? A-Ks? and knows that I cannot call? Wow. Lay it down Kid Dynamite - be a pro. I look at Billy. He is not cool, calm and collected. I ask him, "Have you been to the movies lately Billy?" "Why? would that be relevant to one of these hands?" he replies. Yeah bitch - King Kong... and we all know the ape dies in the end.
After 4 full minutes, I call. Billy says "You have kings,?" I nod. "You're trailing," I know. An ace on the flop seals my fate, and I feel like Mikey McD as Billy's Aces float to the felt in slow motion. Holy fucking cow. I've been thinking a lot recently about how I haven't been stacked with KK vs AA for a long long time - and it finally happened. The problem is, it was probably avoidably in this case.
Billy played me like a pro. He put off some fantastic weak tells, which he later acknowledged, and I picked up on them. He capitalized on his knowledge that I'd deconstruct the hand in the context of everything I knew about him, and the action I'd seen from him thus far today. In the end, I was simply outplayed.
I titled this post "Growin' Up" for two reasons: First, I'm not about to make a habit of laying down KK preflop routinely, or to every overbet, but I think my analysis has matured to a level where I can understand what I did wrong, and how I can do better. Second, and more importantly, as I discussed with E-dub after my A-Q debacle a few weeks ago: I had the opportunity to continue playing after a crushing blow, and while in the hole, which has been a weakness for me. I maintained my composure perfectly, avoided TILT, screwed down and played excellent poker, and ground back to finish the 7 hours session with a very juicy win.
until next time,