Running Blindly in the Cactus Garden

Friday night in San Jose with my friend Vince and we decide to play a little poker. The obvious choice to me is to go to Bay 101. I know the names of three or four decent sized rooms in the area but I have played Bay 101 a number of times. We really do not know where we are or how to get to Bay 101 or the 101 for that matter. I can always turn around and go back the way I came from, but I know that is way out of the way. Vince decides we better ask our host for directions and after being passed around a few times to different authorities, the simplest thing to do is go play at Garden City. I vaguely remember there is no NL Hold’em at Garden City. They have a 10-200 spread limit game that my friends have told me stories about. The place is supposed to be heavily Asian.

The very non-descript Garden City is easy to find and the directions while incorrect were easy enough to overcome. Once inside the place is not user friendly and we have no idea how to get signed up. I find a podium in the back and it is the high-limit podium, not that I care. I ask to be put on the list for $6-$12. I am tired and I don’t have much cash on me. Vince asks if I should play higher and I tell him “no tengo mucho dinero, senor”. He says he has about 27 on him if I need a spot. I take two and tell him I am fine playing small. Vince jumps on the board at $8-$16 and gets a seat almost immediately. I figure out the podium situation and find the almost surveillance or security looking set up with two dozen video monitors is actually the board.

Vince is off to a good start making aces hold up in a five way pot with lots of action. He gets involved in the next hand and flops a set of nines which win a huge pot. Vince is in an $8-$16 with a half kill making the next pot $12-$24, with Vince killing it for $12. Vince is still stacking from the original hand so I don’t have an accurate gauge of where he is. I think he bought $200 and has about $700 and it may be time to go. Vince doesn’t think that way and he wants to play some more.

There are four games going at the $6-$12 level and I have been scouting them. I have walked around endlessly inside the casino and there is no place to sit down and relax. I spend an hour on the list. I was fourth when I signed up. I finally get a seat in the worst of the four games. The game is nine handed and there is a white guy in the game already when I sit down. The loose passive white guy is blind and hard of hearing and rarely pays attention to the action, did I mention old? The Asians range from early 20’s to late 60’s and vary in skill from maniac to solid. The maniac is on my right and he is slightly different than the rest, he seems to have no friends at this table. There are 20 to 30 languages spoken at the table in the first couple hands. I speak English and understand some Spanish, of which neither is elsewhere represented at the table. I can never tell who is speaking to whom at the table. To see a person carrying on several conversations at once with four different people in four different languages is pretty awesome. I am sure the dealer must speak some English, he just chooses not to.

I have no idea of the structure or the need to post to get a hand and nobody is willing to help me. I take the big blind and run into my first surprise, I have to post both blinds to get a hand. No matter where you take your first hand you have to post a big and a small blind to be dealt in. So I post four of the $2 chips and one is dead. I then post my small blind the next hand. I am worried that I will not catch on to the rules quick enough and they will only tell me when it is to my disadvantage. The rake is $5 per hand and I am getting used to overpaying. Something has to change on the rake it is getting ridiculous.

I muck my hand time after time. The game is decent and most hands are two or three bets to see the flop with the occasional capped hand. I am playing tight and willing to wait. I get tied into a hand with KQ and get what I deserve for my lack of discretion. I am in the big blind and the pot is laying me ten to one to call one more bet. The flop comes KJ9 and I fire at it. Called in five places. The 10 comes on the turn making me a straight. I check and the next player bets. I get a great read on the three seat when he looks like a raiser for just a second and then changes his mind as the oblivious white guy is already calling out of turn from the six seat. I make the call along with a couple others and five players see the river. No flush card comes and the 6 on the river made a back door bottom end straight possible but still looks like a blank. I check and the one seat fires another $12 and this time the three seat makes the raise. I am hating my hand and take way too long to act. I call $24 and hate myself for it. One seat is thinking of raising and decides not to waste the effort because we are chopping three ways. I want to scream, “Just CALL!” The three seat tables the AQ and takes down the huge pot. I spend a few minutes reflecting on the hand and decide that I played very average poker in the hand. I once was good enough to fold that hand on the turn. I need to get back to that level. I saw what I needed to recognize and I failed to act on my read.

I fold and fold and fold some more. I am trying to stay engaged and learn everything I can from my opponents. I play another hand from the big blind and it also costs me money. I am dealt Qc9c and nobody raises me out of the pot. The flop is Qs 9h 4c rainbow. I make the $6 bet and everybody calls. The turn brings the 3h. I make the $12 bet and the old white guy looks at his hand and makes the call. Everyone else falls away leaving us heads up. I can see he is on a heart draw. The river is the 7h and I fire another $12. As he fumbles for chips and makes the call, I am lost and actually have no idea what he has. I table the two pair and he slow rolls me the Jh5h for the flush. No raise. I guess that hand was going to cost me $30 either way. I may have checked and folded when he bet, I am not sure how I would have played the hand. I like my bet on the river knowing he will only raise with the nuts. Then again people playing J5 are not known for poker acuity. The misery of it all. Two flops and two losing showdowns. Stuck $90 in an hour and not playing my best.

A couple rounds later I still haven’t seen a flop when I pick up 33 in the big blind and only have to call one more bet in a multi-way pot. I end up whip sawed and have to put in another two bets to see the flop. A seven way capped pot and I am in there fighting with 33. If they could only see me now. My fans would surely be proud. I glance at my chips and know I am not deep enough. If I flop a set I will probably run out of chips. Like I had crystal balls or something, as I am checking I see the sweet little 3d on the flop. A couple diamonds on the board I do not care. Ad Ks 3d. The bet comes and I call along. The turn is an innocent 9h and I feel some relief. My check is as small and as disinterested as I can make it. The one seat decides to bet and help me out. I am think WTF??? A9 is the only thing I can think he could have. Four of them have called the bet when I make the check raise. The five players all call almost at once. Betting order doesn’t seem to matter at Garden City. The river 7h looks like a blank and I fire out the last of my chips. I bet $10 because my $1 chip doesn’t play. Everyone folds to the seven seat and he missed his flush draw. He pays off the $10 because the pot is too big. He flashed the 7d as I turn over my 3. Then he sees I have a set of threes and mucks. A very nice pot as I stack it up and realize I am a little ahead for the evening.

I pick up AA and open the pot for a raise. The crazy one next to me announces for everyone to look out the caveman is raising. The four seat makes the call and everyone else drops away. I bet the flop and pick up a little loose change. Smallest pot of the night and the only no show of the night. The image is too tight Mr. Shaw.

I leak back some money and find myself stuck after my pocket pairs fail to flop sets. I pay the blinds and sit there waiting for a premium hand. I resist the urge to play hands like 10c8c. No ace face coming my way tonight. I am tired and it is after midnight and the drive back to Fresno is a long one. I see Vince get up and signal for him to come over. I tell him I am done and I will play to the blind. He needs a cigarette and says to keep playing until he gets back. I pay one more big blind and know that it is a mistake to keep playing. I look down to 88 and muck it for $12 more. A super tight play. The 8 on the flop couldn’t be any bigger. Nice hand sir. When I find out I wouldn’t have won with my set of eights, now I am relieved. Good play? Bad Play? Tight Play.

The small blind is posted and I see a live $12 on the other end of the table from the two seat that has played fairly solid for three hours. I make a visual identification and feel the need to run and check his forehead. I make a little comic skit out of it and check his pulse too. Everybody laughs. The hottest Asian woman in the world makes it three bets from the four seat. She is a little too proud of her hand and I read it as false bravado and she is trying to isolate the live straddle. A call in from the seven seat and the crazy man in eight is calling when I announce four bets. The crazy guy makes a string raise and is called on it by the straddle. I say it doesn’t matter as I have already announced my intention of making it four bets. Big blind, straddle, HAW, decent 30 year old Asian male in the seven seat and the crazy man are in with me. Six way capped pot and I have Qs10s. I am playing well tonight baby. The flop is As Ks 4c and I bet out immediately. Big blind goes away and takes the straddle with him. HAW makes the call. Seven seat is hesitant and makes the call. Crazy jumps right in. The turn is the 3h and I fire immediately. HAW mucks her hand disgusted, I think JJ with the Js. The seven seat says I must have at least two pair and he isn’t going to chase anymore. Crazy is looking at the pot and looking at me and says he needs a 5 and only a 5 and he is calling hoping for a five. He says it is a 13:1 shot and the pot is laying him the price. When the 9d hits the river I once again fire and crazy has only $10 this time. He calls $10 all-in and I table the Q10. He looks at it and announces queen high nothing…..still good. I drag the monster pot. HAW is furious. Seven says nice bet “I folded an Ace”. Good play? Bad Play? Definitely not tight play…..A well timed shift of gears and I was rewarded.

I spent three hours playing too tight to build up the reputation that allowed me to take down this key pot. I end up winning $50 for the session and driving back to Fresno arriving at almost 4AM.

I can honestly say I now know the joys of running through the cactus garden naked.

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