I was Outplayed

The pilgrimage to the desert is one of opportunity and not one driven by religious beliefs. Palm Springs is a high cost area and draws a number of people who retired. The people vacationing there are into the spa lifestyle and are in Palm Springs to play golf or tennis and lay around relaxing. Local players of note include Darlene James and not much more.

The freeway takes you out into the desert and makes the drive much faster and the vast distances are reduced to just a few hours. A casino that is owned by a Native American tribe on what they claim to be ancestral lands and just happens to be immediately adjacent to a busy freeway. This is the first of many questionable coincidences. Agua Caliente seems to be a Spanish name. Hot Water. The tribe is Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. The Cahuilla Indians were long time residents in the area of the former water body known as Lake Cahuilla. The Cahuilla are not Mission Indians as many believe. I thought the missions were built by the Spanish. A Mission Indian is probably just a name that European settlers gave to the tribe. The truth is that the Missions Indians are the Native Americans that were brought to the missions and baptized Catholic and lived in and around California’s 21 missions.

However, these guys came to have the right to build this huge casino next to the highway just outside of Palm Springs it is a money making venture. A tribe of 400 people that employs thousands of workers in many businesses in the area. The tribe is a major player in the Palm Springs area and is starting exert influence over all of Southern California.

The casino is beautiful and the place is always bustling. The card room is a small one with only 11 tables. The games are full all weekend long and you will wait for a seat, any seat. Arriving at noon, I waited for an hour to get a seat in a game. A second hour brought me to a no-limit game. Six hours on the waiting list and I climbed the nine places to a spot in the big game. Make a note: Be there early.

The games are good and there is plenty of action and plenty of money at the tables. The rake has crept up slightly over the last several years. The small games are taking $3 plus $1 and the bigger games are taking $4 plus $1. The action makes the rake acceptable.

I played the $1 and $3 blind no limit game with a maximum buy–in of $300. The game was a little tight and the action was slightly off. The average number of players seeing the flop was four or five. The action on the flop was passive with the field checking it around on the flop many times. Most bets on the flop took down the pot and rarely did more than one player call.

A couple hours into the game and I have yet to play a hand to the turn. Every time I have bet the flop I have picked up the pot. I look down to a pair of kings in middle position with a couple limpers in front of me. I raise to $17 and I have a total of five players, two in front of and two behind me. The small blind is 70+ year old gentleman that plays a few too many hands and seems to fold on the flop. Just in front of me is Darlene, who I recognize from the 2008 WSOP main event and her ESPN television time. The player behind me is “Spaceman”, I nicknamed him and he is the worst player at the table. The player on the button is a clean cut 40’s Mexican man with an upscale appearance and nearly flawless English. He likes to see flops and has a decent game post flop.

The flop comes 984 with a couple spades. The small blind bets out $20 pretty quickly. Darlene looks genuinely dismayed and mutters, “Why would he do that?” I decide he is on a flush draw and wants to draw cheap. Darlene folds and I raise to $60. Spaceman folds. The button folds. The small blind spends a minute or so and finally makes the call.

The turn card is the ace of spades. The small blind was looking right at the board and when he saw the card he turned and looked right at me and said, “I am all in”. I hated the card. The dealer counted it down and told me it was $72. I have him covered and I had hoped it was a little more. I am getting a little less than 4:1 on my money. I have the King of Spades and I am not drawing dead. If he has a flush, I have seven outs. I am more than a 5:1 underdog if he has a made flush. What if he flopped a set and I really have 11 outs? Exactly 3:1. Could he push in with just an ace? I doubt it. Still 10 or 11 outs. Barely getting the odds I need.

I have been in the tank quite a while. I figure it was a long three minutes and I have counted out the chips and separated them. I am looking at my opponent and he is silent. He is slightly forward in his seat. Hands folded under his chin. I look at Darlene and look for a hint or a clue. She is still frustrated that he bet the flop. What kind of hand did Darlene fold? JT or 67 suited seem like the hands that would want to draw cheap. No she calls if those hands are spades. Where were you Darlene?

I decide Spaceman did not have an ace or he would be anguishing at the moment. Spaceman or The Mexican would have called with all open enders and flush draws. Darlene may have had QJ of spades or possibly QT of spades, however that seems pretty ragged. I have extracted as much as I can from these players and I still am undecided.

Put it all together, Victor. I decide that I am 80% he has a flush. 15% that he flopped a set. 5% that he made a pair of aces. I have about $60 to $65 in expected value on a call of $72. I am net a $10 loser on this call. I need to fold the hand. I send it in.

My opponent throws a QJ off-suit onto the middle of the table face up. He was on a bluff. I did give him credit for being able to make such an elegant and yet suicidal play. I doubt many, if any, players would lay down kings with the nut flush draw in that spot for that bet. I smiled and said “nice hand”.

I just got outplayed. He made a great play against a great player and it worked. He must have outplayed me. Or did he? Was his read on me that solid? Would I have folded a set of aces in that spot? Did I make a mistake in folding?

Thoughts about my analysis. I needed to factor in a bluff percentage for the player. I didn’t even assess what the odds were that he would have air. I should have assigned some value to a semi-bluff for hands like JT and 67 which were straight draws. If I were to assess the hand in hindsight, I could lower his flush number to 70% and figure 5% semi bluffs and 5% air. That little adjustment raises my value to $85 and I have a call with a $13 profit.

I let myself make a bad read and I made a razor thin decision based on my read. I remember an old friend telling me “you are never as far behind as you think”. I should have asked myself, “Am I drawing dead?”, “Am I dominated?” The answer to both is no.

Why would I make the call? This is exactly why. I do not need people to think I will fold every time they push. I want to slow down the bluffs.

I was outplayed.

I was outplayed by a great player.

The only player that has consistently been able to outplay me.

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