Stepping Up

The game of poker is a fascinating game and Texas hold’em is so simple that even a novice can be fooled into thinking it is a simple game. The nuances and complexities of the game reveal themselves ever so slowly. Players tend to grow and learn because they want to win or at least avoid losing. To learn and grow while you are winning is very difficult. I have detailed this concept several times and discussed my difficulties in moving up to the $10-20 game at the Peppermill in Reno. Stepping up to the next level of play is very difficult and often very humbling.

I was recently reminded of my young protégé Ira and our adventures of poker. Ira had learned to play poker very well and was a solid winning player at the hometown hero level. Ira made thousands of dollars in Crescent City playing $3-6 limit and $1-2 No Limit. I believe at one point Ira had a twenty session winning streak over a six week period and every win was for over $100 with the big wins being eight or nine hundred. By most people’s observation, including mine, Ira was playing as well as his teacher.
Because Ira was under 21 years old his options for playing poker were limited to Indian casinos and private games.

Ira was itching to play against some better competition and we planned to make a short road trip to Grants Pass to play in a $10-20 limit game at Rocky and Tina’s place. Most nights the game is $4-8 and Ira can beat that game. The $10-20 was a special game held only twice a month. As you would suspect the bigger game brought out the better players from around the region. I had played in the game several times and was beating the game fairly easily. I felt I was one of the best players in the $10-20 game. I really believed Ira was going to be able to beat the game. Ira and I took his newly acquired bankroll and headed for Grants Pass.

I will do my best to tell you the story of the bloodbath that was Ira’s first time sitting in the $10-20 game. I honestly believe that Ira was on a good swing of luck going into this game. This night the odds caught up with him and it was brutal. Ira ran badly and the cards were truly evil. I saw pocket aces get trounced at least four times on fairly innocuous boards. Two pair fives and threes. “Of course you had to be in there with five three it was suited and it was only $30 to go. You had nothing on the flop. Wait I guess you had the runner-runner draw.” Ira, like me, is not shy and a bit outspoken at the table. You want opponents playing that bad just not making it every single time all night long.

The game was fast and the added aggression was new for Ira and particularly punishing when running bad. Ira laid down a couple winners when he had hands like pocket jacks and the board was T 8 5 3 A with three hearts and it was raised and re-raised on the river. He was into the hand about $90 and was going to have to put another $60 into the pot with an under pair. The $500 pot just slipped away. The opponents were playing bad and they were doing it with flair, aggression and some real imagination. Once Ira started losing and feeling down, about the third rack of red birds, players started playing at him just because he was running bad.

Ira and I took a break and I could see his confidence was shaken and the magnitude of the loss was taking a toll on him. I should have probably pulled him from the game and we could have packed up and headed home. I did what I thought was the right thing and encouraged him to suck it up and play his game. I knew he could climb back if the cards would just turn a little bit. Unfortunately on this night it was not to be. I think the final score read -$1190 and Ira had paid a very steep price to step up in limit.

Ira to this day is a very good poker player and I would bet money that he has never lost over $1000 in any session since that night. Ira still plays part time and hits the middle limit $6-12 to $20-40 games in the Northwest. Ira is a consistent winner in $1-2 NL and $2-5 NL. Based primarily in Seattle these days Ira has been on a tournament tear as of late cashing in the top three in 20 out of 24 small buy-in tournaments over the last two months.

A special thanks to my good friend Ira for giving me the story idea and letting me retell this nightmare evening from our past.

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One Response to “Stepping Up”

  1. Erin Bourn Says:

    Really nice article here, thank you. I lived in Reno for several years and I still miss it. My wife got me a really cool mug to remind me of my favorite city. God bless her for that.

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