Posts Tagged ‘Poker’

We are not Done Yet

May 21, 2015

reno-archThe game in a small town is very hit or miss, it is best to have a set schedule so that everyone knows when to show up for the game. Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 6 PM to midnight was the schedule at the local cardroom. With just one table you need to be there on time or suffer an endless wait on the list. Some nights the game starts out weak and just falters with things shutting down at 8 PM or so. This is usually caused by a few players with limited bankrolls going broke and leaving the game shorthanded with no real live players.
One such night, there were four of us young guys in the game when it went down. We bitched and moaned about the lack of a game and the fact that we wanted to play more. We made a few quick calls down to Humboldt County looking for a game and a quick check of the Medford/Grants Pass area found no games going. At the time, Reno had pretty strong poker games going all night at several of the casinos. Reno is over 400 miles from Crescent City and takes a seven hour drive. Undeterred, the four of us jumped into a Ford explorer and took off for Reno. A pocket full of cash and the clothes on our back were all we needed to make this impromptu trip.
P. Rick, Phillipino Gene, Matt the Brat and I were headed out across the state after a quick stop for gas and snacks. A few hours into our trip the enthusiasm began to wane and Gene dozed off to sleep like a little baby. Rick and I soldiered on from the front seat as the miles clicked by and we headed south on Interstate 5 from Grants Pass toward our turn at Mount Shasta. A rest area, a stop for gas and a quick drive thru burger were the only impediments to our march on Reno.
We hit town and parked in the Circus Circus parking garage figuring that Circus would be the cheapest place to grab a room. We ended up with two rooms, one for Rick and I and Gene and Matt in the other. For $22 a night there is no sense crowding into one room.
I wandered to the poker room and jumped into a $3-6 game full of dealers and a couple locals. The game was tight and I was immediately in trouble. Nobody at the table was giving any action. I ratcheted up the aggression. Nobody seemed to ever miss a flop and I took my lumps for a couple hours. I dropped $300 in the game before I drug my first pot. That was a split pot where the elderly lady and I both made the nut straight. Yes they had a game going in Reno, it was just not a game I needed to be playing in.
I traipsed over to the Cal-Neva to see what the bottom of the barrel looked like. Circus was no frills, but Cal-Neva was just worn out and dirty. They had two games going, a $4-8 and a $3-6 with not much of a list for either game. This was during the famous two beers and two hotdogs for two bucks promo. The dealers worked hard for the quarters that were tipped in this grind joint. The chips were worn thin the carpet was threadbare and dirty. The place had a bad odor. But they had a poker game and that is what I was looking for. A drunk in the $3-6 game seemed to be giving action and running over the table. I got the seat behind him and began to play back at him. I knew this was going to be a high variance play and a bit of a crap shoot. I managed to get him to the felt before his buzz wore off. I leaked back a few chips after the action died down and I finally cashed out a $380 win for the session.
I jumped into the $4-8 game and played through the afternoon. The game was pretty dry and I was grinding around even. A tourist from the mid-west struck up a conversation with me at the table and gave me a million dollar poker tip for free. He said, “You are holding your breath on your draws”. I said, “I know, bad habit”. I made a note of it and made an effort to keep breathing smoothly and effortlessly as I could. Next time I was heads up with a good player back home, I tested out the tell and sure enough it worked. That tip was worth quite a bit to me.
We bounced around Reno for three days and two nights. I eventually made it over to the Peppermill and the $10-20 game. I was taking my lumps and paying my tuition to learn from the professional grinders. Down over $500 in the game, I had given back all of my profit from the trip. On the button, I called a raise in a multi-way pot and ended up seeing the capped flop for $50 against seven other players. I had 87 of hearts and did not feel too bad about the hand. The flop hit me hard K 6 5 with the two little ones being my suit for an open-ended straight flush draw. I got a raise in on the flop hoping to slow down the action and all it did was get me re-raised. An off-suit 9 on the turn gave me the nuts and I was feeling pretty good. There were just too many players in this hand. What could they have? The 9 of hearts on the river gave me the straight flush and paired the board. When I turned my hand over, I knew I had just won the biggest pot of my young poker life. I stacked chips for the next three hands. My hands were shaking and I was bouncing in the seat. I cashed out when the blind came around.
I grabbed a taxi and went shopping. I bought all new clothes and even a jacket. I got a little overnight bag and filled it with toiletries. I showered and shaved and went out to a nice dinner. Against all odds, we had gone on the road and booked a win against players that were far better than us.
The drive home was pretty miserable and seemed ten times longer than the drive to Reno. I still hit the road from time to time looking for a game, I am not done yet.


You Never Lose

July 28, 2014

500 logo

I was whining and complaining the other day about being broke. My July allowance ran dry before I ran out of days in July. That sucks. I decided I needed to go play poker and earn some scratch the hard way. I used to play to pay my bills back in the days when I was without a job. I still play from time to time on the weekends, usually when I am out of town. In the 14 years I have been working my day job I have not had to worry about money. I make plenty of money to live a really comfortable lifestyle.

Because my expendable cash reserves are low, I was telling a friend I might take a shot at some poker over the weekend. I mentioned that blowing off a couple hundred dollars would be pretty devastating at the moment and maybe I should just be good until the end of the month. My friend says, “You never lose”. I rarely lose but I can remember real well many times I managed to lose. I have never been down to my case money. I have been scraping by before but I have never gone broke. I am pretty risk adverse and always seem to find a way to claw my way back.

My friend insisted I take the shot Saturday and I agreed that if I felt well in the morning I would go scout the games at a local room. He offered me $200 to play and go 50/50 with him. I told him to stake me to three $200 buy-ins and we have a deal. I will play on one buy-in and if I lose it we will discuss if the game is worth a second buy-in. He did not want to risk $600 so he called another co-worker and they scraped together the $600. I am getting a really good deal in that I have no risk and will take half the win. I usually eat and drink off my stack. But I have made money for these guys in the past.

The UFC had pay per view fights that were being shown in the card room. I wanted to watch the fights, but I needed to play cards and pay attention so I could win. As planned, the place filled up with people coming to watch the fights. They started ordering drinks and three of them were seated at my table. They were not the type of kids that would have too much money on them but they were not playing much poker.

Early in the session I made a well hidden straight against a local dealer and doubled up. I had raised to $6 from the cut off with 86s in an attempt to lock out the button. The BB reraised me making it $15. I called quickly and we went to the flop. A flop of 972 gave me an open end strait draw, He checked to me and I bet $20. He called rather quickly. The ace on the turn was an ugly card for me. He checked to me and I checked behind. He seemed like he was upset at missing his check raise. The river card was a five giving me the nut straight. He bet $50 and I moved all-in. He called instantly with just AK. Wow.

A few hands later I called a raise with pocket fours. This was a seven way pot for $6 each. The flop was 944. I managed to check it along and one of the young kids put a $20 bet in and I called along with one other player. The ace on the turn was an absolute monster. I checked and let the bettor move all-in. I started to call the all-in and considered moving all-in but did not want to scare the other player away. I called after some fidgeting. The third player moved all-in and I instantly made the call and turned over my quads. Aces full and nines full find no help on the river and are no good. No jackpot either.

500 pot

I managed to stack up my pot and be just over $400 ahead for an hour session. I walked over and cashed out my chips. I found a seat in the bar to watch the fights. I paid my backers and agreed we would do it again some other time.

I did not play especially well in this session. The cards just fell my way. The opponents were a few locals, an off-duty dealer, three young kids drinking beer and a single low level pro grinder.

If I pick my spots and play when I feel good, I can still play with the regulars. I can beat the tourists that happen to be travelling through town. I can beat the gamblers that come for the action. I can beat the low stakes grinders who play semi-professionally. In most Las Vegas rooms I can beat the locals that scratch outr a living beating up on the tourists. I do not need to move over to that big table and play for super high stakes against people who are better than me. My bills are paid and I just play to make a few dollars to buy my wife a gift or take her to dinner and a show.

I am very lucky to have friends that believe in me and will put up money for me to play when I am feeling very risk averse. Thanks guys.

Amarillo Slim Passes

April 30, 2012

Tom Preston was better known as Amarillo Slim among all of the poker world. I did not know Slim well and only had a few very brief conversations with him. He certainly did not know me, but he always had time to give me a smile and a handshake.

Slim won the main event of the 1972 WSOP and I have written on the circumstances surrounding that tournament and the idea that Doyle really did not want to notoriety of winning. Slim did not mind and was actually a fine ambassador for poker over the next year. Slim appeared on every talk show and did every interview and was very entertaining.

Slim was a world class talker and a pretty fair poker player. He wrote several books and they were very entertaining reading. Slim told many stories over the years and most of those stories had at least a little bit of truth in them.

Slim did his best to take poker to the mainstream in the seventies and he came close to getting poker into the mainstream and for that we all owe him a huge debt of gratitude.

Late in life Slim was accused of child molestation by one of his family members and he was shunned by the poker world. I had heard that Slim was asked not show up at the WSOP the last several years, I have no way to know if that is true. I was pretty sure that Slim would die a lonely man as the poker world was a big portion of his life.

Slim died around midnight late Saturday night or early Sunday morning and i was actually relieved to know that Doyle has spoken to him a couple times in the last week. Thank you Doyle.

The Answer

March 8, 2012

I always encourage all of my friends to shoot me questions about poker. I like for questions to drive my blog posts and it almost guarantees that at least one person will read my post. Did I mention that it keeps me from having to generate a topic? My brain hurts and I am getting old. This all brings a lack of creativity.
A local casino is running a promotion and it is a very strong promotion. Many of my co-workers are considering taking time off of work to play at the promotion. The first day the promotion ran the world of poker rained down free chips upon everyone in the area. If half of the people on Facebook who have claimed to have made hundreds that day were actually at the poker room the room would have burst at the seams. I asked around and the casino pulled in blackjack dealers and was able to spread seven tables of nine handed poker. I also heard the list was obscene and most players stayed put for the entire eight hours that the promotion ran. The promotion runs two days a week and from 8 AM to 4 PM. Rumor has it you need to be there at 5 AM to get a seat. That is strong marketing. I would say it is almost too strong for the size of the room.
The question comes to me in many forms from several people and it all revolves around, “How much is the promotion worth?”
The promotion is called Aces and Faces Cracked. If you lose with a pocket pair jacks or better you win $100. If eight players hold large pairs and lose to the ninth player they all get $100. I doubt that would ever happen, but it answers the question about two players losing holding jacks or better.
I was told one player had 13 large pairs cracked in eight hours that first day. That story is hard to believe but certainly possible. I was also told the least anyone received was three pairs cracked. After that story, I had to start asking questions. Apparently the table was colluding as expected in this type of promotion, anytime a player had a pair jacks or bigger they would declare family pot and everyone would oblige. If all live hands went to the river in an effort to crack the big pair it would be possible to lose the maximum number of times.
I started with basic statistics to tackle the problem. There are 1326 possible starting hands and 24 of those qualify for the promotion. Six each of aces, kings, queens and jacks. This means you will be dealt the big pair once every 55.25 hands. The casino uses shuffle machines and my understanding is that players are folding most hands and playing for the promotion. I was told by a couple dealers that they are getting out around 40 hands per hour which seems high. If the 40 hands per hour is correct, you can expect to have about 5.8 qualifying hands in the eight hour session. With a nine handed table somebody will declare “family pot” every six or seven hands. Pure statistics says every 6.13 hands but there will be some hands where there are two qualifiers in the same hand meaning that family pots will be less frequent. I figure that the nine handed table will have about 52 shots at the bonus over the eight hour session.
The prevailing sentiment appears to be everyone collude and chop up all the money. This basically means that all profit is split up at the end of the session with everyone getting back their buy-in. The only tax becomes the drop that the house is taking. The drop on this particular game is $6 per hand and for sanity sake I will add another dollar for a dealer toke. In the eight hour session we will play 320 hands and pay $2240 for that privilege.
I have now reduced the problem down to the point of 52 chances to get a big hand cracked and make $100 for the cost of $2240. Will half of the big pairs be cracked if we play in the absolute best possible manner? Absolutely. Pocket aces are the hardest hand to crack and they hold up about 50% of the time against four opponents. Eight random opponents must bring that percentage up to about 66%. Pocket jacks are the easiest of the four hands to crack and against eight random opponents going to the river the jacks will go down approximately 80% of the time. On average we are going to be able to crack the big pair 75% of the time. While this is slightly conservative the math involved is so cumbersome as to make simulations the only practical way to solve the problem. I will say that an expectation of cracking 39 hands in an eight hour session is fairly reasonable.
The $3900 made from the promotion is offset by the $2240 cost of playing to yield a net expected value of $1660. The $1660 profit would be split among the nine players giving each about $185. An expected hourly rate of $23 is pretty strong for a promotion.
Now for the down side of things, I mentioned earlier that players have to arrive three hours early to get a seat. If the confederates manage to get situated at the table they will have to fade an additional $840 of rake and tokes until the promotion actually begins. This brings the total taxes to $3080 and reduces the profit $820 or just above $90 per person. With the day now being an eleven hour shift the hourly rate is reduced to less than $8.25. The casino is a short drive of about 20 miles away and gas is outrageous these days. The drive time cuts my hourly rate to $7.50 and when I deduct my gas costs I am down to about $6.66 an hour.
I am not sure I want to get up at 3:30 AM to leave my house by 4:00 AM so I can get a seat at a table where we are going to grind out a meager six or seven dollars an hour. Mind you this entire scenario does not involve playing poker. The team is purely grinding to maximize the bonus. This is a great promotion, but it is simply not attractive to me. I have a good day job that requires me to work during the hours of the day that this promotion is being run. I could take a vacation day to play this promotion and I was actually considering it until I took the time to grind out the numbers.
On a more positive note, if I were to play this promotion, I would advise playing the poker straight up and doing your best to win as much money as possible. Adjustments in strategy to collect the bonus would be required and would require paying off with your big losing pairs. While I can beat most $2-4 limit hold’em games, fading a $6 rake is very tough and requires a fairly wild game with weak opponents that are giving ridiculous action. I am not sure the texture of the promotion games is that good. The biggest point of contention strategy wise between myself and the players who are up there grinding for the eight or ten dollars an hour is whether to raise pre-flop with these big pairs. In a normal straight up $2-4 limit game I would raise and re-raise every time I held a big pair. The reason everyone is telling me to limp is that they want everyone in the pot and my thought is that most $2-4 players are seeing the flop with the exact same hand range for two, four, six or eight dollars. This level of player is playing their hand and rarely considers the strength of the pre-flop raiser. When my big pair holds up I want to win a big pot. When my hand gets cracked I will take the $100.
I wrote this for my co-workers and somehow I convinced myself that it is a good idea to come to work and miss this great promotion.

Winning Player

February 27, 2012


I write about poker too much and I specifically write about my own poker play far too often.  The biggest question I face is one of credibility.  People always want to know if I am a winning player.  Funny how that is the yard stick by which we are measured.

I am a winning player.  I do not win as much money as many of the top players and I do not play as much poker as I would like.  I once played poker almost every waking hour and I played for over 400 days straight without a break.  I was winning and I was winning regularly.  I was able to support myself and travel all up and down the west coast playing poker.

Most people have a hard time buying into the poker lifestyle and the simple fact that a few of the players out there are winning players.  I guess all poker players by their very nature are liars and when they state that they are winning players it has to be taken with a grain of salt.  The only way to really know how well you are doing financially is to keep detailed records of your poker and probably just as detailed records of your finances.  I kept detailed records of my poker and was a bit sloppy with my finances so it is rather depressing to g0o back over the records and see how much money ran through my hands and how little of it actually made it into my bank.

When I got married I had actually stopped playing while I was dating my wife.  I had started working a regular job and that was what made my wife happy.  I guess there is something to be said for being home for dinner every night.  I did not play for about a year and when I did start playing again it was mostly social at home games.  Trust me home games barely feel like poker. I have a very good day job that provides a great living for my family.  I really do not need to play poker to grind out a living.

A few years into my regular working life, one of my co-workers asked me to enter into a staking arrangement with him.  I talked it over with my wife and decided to play one or two nights a week after work while she was teaching a night class.  I would go play about five hours and head home to be there when she got home.  I had no risk in the arrangement we made.  I still played primarily to be social and was not playing as serious and focused as I once had.  Of course I played a fairly small game that looked pretty soft and I was able to beat it consistently. We each made thousands of dollars and were pretty happy with the arrangement.  At the end of the semester, my wife did not teach another night class and my availability to play went away.

When asked what it takes to be a winning player, I have a simple answer,  I believe the key thing that is required is to play against people that you can easily beat.  Rather than jump into the  biggest game, I often just get into a smaller game against very weak players.

If you want to be a winning player keep good records and play against weak players.

Unbelievable Hand

August 8, 2011

Just when I think my 20 years of playing poker has let me experience everything, I find myself in yet another brand new situation. Recently I was playing in a small tournament in a casino when the following situation happened to me.

I was having a very good tournament and I was chip leader at my table with only two tables left. I was very deep and playing very aggressive against a weak table. In the hand of the night, I was on the button and watching my opponents fold until a weak older woman flat called from the hijack position. The cutoff folded and I raised to five times the blind without looking at my cards. I figured my weak opponent would fold rather than commit half her stack. I was staring her down as I made the raise to read her reaction. She almost immediately moved all-in and I grabbed a stack of large denomination chips and set them in the middle of the table.

Everything seemed to be fine at this point. I took a quick glance at my hole cards for the first time and I was happy to see a KJ. The old woman tabled AQ and I turned up my KJ. About that very moment all hell broke loose.

The big blind had not mucked his hand and was now letting the dealer know that he had not acted. With both hands tabled face up this seemed like a good time to call for a floor man. The dealer had counted the stack of the woman and had pared my over sized stack of chips to an equal amount. Of course, the floor took forever to arrive at the table. By my own admission, I was irritated and very upset with the whole mess.

I immediately made enemies with the staff as the dealer tried to tell an entirely different story of what had happened. The major sticking points of the argument was whether I called the all-in or actually had raised by putting so many chips into the pot. The fact that I put more than four times the amount of her all-in into the pot speaks for itself. The second was the fact that the dealer asked for the hands to be turned up. The dealer claimed he did not ask for both hands to be turned up. Needless to say I lost the argument.

My hand was dead, the all-in hand is still live. All the chips I put into the pot have to remain in the pot. The big blind has the option to call and of course does call with 10-7 offsuit scooping the side pot against my dead hand. I walked away to keep from going to jail. I still had chips but my mind was in a very bad place when I came back to the table.

I now have a new experience to add to my list of bad beats.

The Big Tuna

February 20, 2011

Because I grew up and lived in Crescent City before heading to college in Sacramento, I have spent most of my life in northern California. I moved to Fresno almost 11 years ago and now have a home base in the central valley of California. My early poker revolved around northern California and southern Oregon with the occasional Reno trip thrown into the mix. I have many fond memories of those Reno trips. I managed to play many small buy-in tournaments at the Peppermill and the Hilton. These were very good tournaments and the level of competition was pretty stiff for a small town boy.

My younger friends asked me about the poker player I was playing with in those days and I rattled off the names of quite a few old timers. Finally, the question of the best poker player from Reno came up. I thought about it quite a bit and hedged my answer the best I could. I really had three names I wanted to mention off the top of my head and that was without any research or discussion.
The first guy I brought up was Jack Fox. At one time Jack was playing tournament poker as well as anyone and I believe he was considering playing full time. Yes Jack was an attorney and had a full time job. I believe Jack won the best all-around at the Peppermill a couple times. I remember chatting with Jack at Binion’s one year during the World Series of Poker. I do not remember the year butt it was probably 97 or 98. I am not sure what happened to Jack and I do not know how many more tournaments he played. I just remember him being one of the best tournament players in Reno for a couple years.

The second guy is actually a GIRL. Jennifer Harman was born and raised in the Reno area and got her poker start in Reno before moving on to bigger and better games in California and Las Vegas. Jennifer plays in the biggest cash games in the world and is without a doubt one of the best female cash game players ever. Jennifer has not written the final chapters of her poker story and if her health holds up she will have many more years to polish that resume.

The third guy I mentioned and the one I unofficially anointed the greatest player ever to come from Reno is Hans “Tuna” Lund. Tuna was the greatest tournament player ever to come out of Reno. Tuna had a second and third place finish in the main event. Tuna is also the only man ever to lose the title on the river card. In a heads up hand with Mansour Matloubi, Tuna had him all-in and slightly covered. Tuna had made two pair on the turn aces and nines against Matloubi’s pocket tens. Matloubi had exactly two tens to draw to and a ten came on the river. Tuna played the Peppermill tournaments with us many times and he even made the trip to Casino Club in Redding for the End of the Rainbow tournament. Tuna took many years away from poker to be with his family and was away from the game for nearly a decade. Tuna won some big tournaments and actually won two WSOP bracelets. All told he had tournament wins of three million dollars. In 2006 he returned to poker and cashed in the main event in both 2006 and 2007. He also placed in two WPT events when he rejoined the poker scene. The old guy still had game. As is often the case, by the time I tried to look him up and see how he was doing I found out he had passed away in November 2009 at the age of 59. The Big Tuna was one hell of a player and is still the best ever to come from Reno.

There may be players that came from Reno and I have overlooked them because I never had the opportunity to play with them. If so I apologize for any omission and I assure you no slight was intended.

“You’ve got to have the heart of a lion — play fearless, don’t be afraid and, when you roar, they better back up.” – Hans “Tuna” Lund.

Read the Fine Print

February 16, 2011

I have written stories about how I made huge mistakes because I did not know all the details of promotions that were running in the casino. I basically told the story and detailed how I lost out on thousands of dollars because I did not know the details of the promotions. I am sure those stories are probably a little boring and everyone has the attitude that it could never happen to them,

Well this time the failure was not mine. I guess I failed to make my point with my coworkers and readers. So I will take a very small piece of the fault for this one. My co-worker made a trip to Las Vegas with his family and actually ended up jumping into a small no-limit game one night.

I run into the guy at work and he looks at me and says quite dramatically, “I got robbed in Vegas”. I looked at him and tried to find a little sympathy and yet I was wanting to hear the story behind how one of my co-workers managed to get himself into such a predicament.

“What happened?”

“I was robbed by the casino.”

I could not stand it; I had to hear this story. So I asked for the whole story so I could render a few words of wisdom and convince my young friend that the casinos are not robbing people. To the best of my ability here is the retelling of the story.

I jump into the $1-2 no limit game about three in the morning and we are playing six handed. I ask the dealer if they have a bad beat jackpot and he says no but they have high hands for quads or better with both hole cards playing. He pointed at a reader board with all the payouts scrolling by. After a few minutes I pick up pocket sixes in the small blind and throw in the additional dollar to see a flop of 966. There are two other players in the hand and I check to let them catch up. The hand checks around on the flop and turn. On the river I figure I already have the $500 bonus for the quads and I bet out $30 and both players fold. I throw over my hand to collect my $500. The floor man comes over and tells me there has to be at least $10 in the pot to qualify for the bonus.

My friend wants no part of hearing the rules. A binder is produced from the podium and he is shown the fine print of the promotion. He will not listen or be comforted and finally a casino manager is called to talk to him. In the end, my friend believes to this moment he was screwed.

I listened to the whole story and named the casino as soon as he was done with the story and confirmed that those are the rules. He was not screwed or cheated. In the end it was his responsibility to know the details of the promotion.

I will say it one more time; learn the lesson for free so you do not have to lose hundreds or thousands of dollars because you did not make the $2 bet you needed to make the pot a full ten bucks.

Sometimes Even the Winner is a Loser

January 31, 2011

My good friend, DJ MTM, asked me to write a piece for my blog. As he asked me to write the piece he believed I had already written a story about it in the past and he just wanted to read it to reinforce the ideas. I had him explain what he was looking for and decided I would crank out something fresh. Things change and I change and I enjoy writing the modern piece and going back and looking at what I wrote about the same thing years earlier.

The concept is simple enough. Why do winning poker player go broke? Most do and the reasons are many but they generally revolve around a few basic ideas and concepts. My primary focus has always been poor planning and budgeting. My second thought is generally a lack of self-discipline. I have a newer third reason and it centers on the person’s ability to say no. These seem to be the major problems for winning poker players who end up going broke.

Planning and budgeting seems simple enough at face value. The poker player has a life of some sort and if he or she plans correctly they could have a decent quality of life. The problem is that most people become professional poker players on a whim. One of the the things they love about poker is getting away from the day to day grind of a regular office job. In getting away from the day to day grind the poker player often forgets to make all the necessary plans to have a decent life. In my experience, insurance of all kinds was neglected and just forgotten about. Along with leaving my health insurance behind I also quit taking care myself through regular checkups. Before making the jump to full time poker player it is absolutely essential that you lay out a realistic monthly budget that includes everything you need to lead a long and happy life. The first time something unplanned and unbudgeted arises it usually sinks the ship.

Lack of self discipline really means drugs and alcohol along with the party lifestyle. I live the majority of my life in a pretty disciplined and squared away professional manner. I have no drug problems and I very rarely drink. But even I struggled with self discipline on the occasions I had major poker wins. I would take my friends out and we would party it up and drink too much and by the end of the night we would have blown through several thousand dollars of what had been a good win. The blackjack pit, sports book or the strip club could all be the weakness of the poker player. I am sure clothes, shoes, cars and food could be the downfall of many. You could win all the money in the world playing poker and still go broke if you lack self control.

Winning poker players are not much different from lottery winners these days. Poker players used to sneak around in the dark shadows of the back rooms of bars and nobody really had much understanding of what they did or how they did it. Today it seems there are 50 magazines and a dozen television shows on television all glamorizing poker. The internet is full of buzz about the latest young poker whiz kid. Well I promise you with the money comes all of the hangers on and scammers who are all right there leaching away the new found riches of the poker player who doesn’t know how to so say no.

I see all three of these as major pitfalls and traps for the winning poker player. When you see a guy winning thousands of dollars every month and he ends up broke do not be surprised. Making money is very tough but hanging onto it can be even more of a challenge.

Stepping Up in Limits with Ira

January 13, 2011

My latest story that was published in The Cardroom


Stepping up in limits with Ira

By Victor Shaw

The game of poker is a fascinating game and Texas Hold’em seems 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. 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 20-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.

Ira’s first $10/20 game was a bloodbath. I honestly thought 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. “Of course you had to be in there with 5-3. It was suited and it was only $30 to go. You had nothing on the flop. 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 their hands 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 of winners when he had hands like pocket jacks and the board was 10-8-5-3-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 badly and they were doing it with flair, aggression and some real imagination. Once Ira started losing and feeling down they 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 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 was a $1,190 hit. Ira had paid a very steep price to step up in limit.

To this day Ira is a very good poker player and I would bet he has never lost over $1,000 in any session since that night. Thanks to my good friend Ira for letting me tell this nightmare story from his past.