January 17, 2012

You Might Be the Sucker If ...

"Listen, here's the thing.  If you can't spot the sucker in the first half hour at the table, then you ARE the sucker."

~Mike McDermott (Matt Damon), in Rounders

I don't have an official trip report for my holiday hit and run in Vegas, but there were a few random amusing moments that are worth sharing. So, with apologies to Jeff Foxworthy ... no wait, he made millions with his redneck schtick, so screw him. Herewith is my first installment of what is likely to be a running theme:

You Might Be the Sucker If ...

The players send a car and driver to pick you up at the airport.  We've all seen the hordes of limo drivers at the Vegas airport, many sent by the casinos to pick up their whales. But no casino is sending a car for a poker player, at least one who doesn't have a big craps or blackjack monkey on his back. I certainly will never be looking to gamble enough to get even the most desperate casino host to give me so much as cab fare.

So imagine my surprise when, after being stuck in airports for 16 hours due to storm delays, I landed in Vegas at midnight and discovered a chauffeur waiting for me with instructions from a group of poker players to take me directly to the Palms poker room for the Pokerati NLHE/PLO game. Though I would normally have drug my jet-lagged behind directly to bed ... Oh who am I kidding? I love me some Pot Limit Gambooool! So if a bunch of Vegas vultures need a chip-spewing lagtard, well I'm their huckleberry!

You think an overpair is a good PLO hand.  The Pokerati game was in fine form, with a nearly full table when I arrived. Now, I'm not a PLO wunderkind by any means, but I've done some reading* and played fairly regularly on Vegas trips the past two years, so I can hold my own at the low-stakes tables. The Pokerati game had at least four players who made basic, newbie errors, most notably failing to adjust hand values to account for the differences between Omaha and Hold 'Em. Bread and butter Hold 'Em showdown hands—say, overpairs, two pair, trips—are rarely more than bluff catchers in Omaha. Yet time and time again several players got it all-in with those kinds of hands, often on the flop or turn, only to be mowed down by strong Omaha hands—wraps, wraps with redraws, sets with backdoor flush draws, etc.

So, I bided my time, playing tight in Hold 'Em, loosening up in Omaha, licking my chops. In three big hands, I got my money all-in with the nuts or a monster draw against weaker made hands or non-nut draws, each time raking in a healthy pot. My biggest hand of the night came when I played a run-down hand (Q-J-9-8 with one suit) on the button against an early position pot-raise and a late position re-pot raise. I figured I was up against A-A-x-x and another big pair (probably K-K-x-x), which made my hand easy to play postflop. The flop was perfect: J-T-8, though there were two of a suit other than mine (I did have a backdoor emergency flush draw). I had the nut straight, plus two pair (more useful for blocking full houses than making one), and my Jack made top set unlikely. Early position player bet, late position player raised, giving me some pause. Although I had the current nuts, my opponents could easily have draws to better straights or flushes. Still, they were prone to overplaying hands, and the pot was too large for me to fold at that point. So we got it all-in right there, and my hand held up. One player had A-A-rag-rag without any flush or straight draws, while the other player mucked without showing, letting me drag a $500+ pot. Thank you, come again!

You have to ask the rules to the game before you buy-in.  While I was luckboxing a nice stack, a young guy walked into the room. By this point, it was nearly 3:00 a.m. and we were the only game running. My seat was within an arm's length of the counter, so I overheard the manager explain that we were playing a NLHE/PLOT mixed game. Then, I just about did a Snoopy Dance:

The young guy actually asked how to play Omaha! Then, he bought in for $300! Being the seasoned veteran I am, I simply wiped the drool from my chin and made sure the seat to my right was open. My dreams of stacking the newbie were dashed, however, as he won some pots at Hold 'Em, but then put his chips on virtual lockdown during the Omaha rounds. Disappointed and being overcome with travel fatigue, I decided to put my profits (just over $1,200) on lockdown as well, and went to cashout. Imagine my surprise when I turned around moments later and saw Poker Grump scooping all the kid's chips in a hand of Hold 'Em! Well, it was mighty sporting of the Grump to protect the kid from learning Omaha the hard way.

You don't know how blinds operate.  On day two of my trip, I moved to the Caesars Palace poker room to rack up some Total Rewards tier points on my mission to hit Platinum status. I was seated at a new table, and immediately began making money off of several weak players. I was eventually joined by friends Grump and Carol (a/k/a "the Black Widow of Poker", or CKBWoP for short), who smelled blood in the water. Two young players were in the game at various points, neither of whom had the first clue how to play poker in a live setting. One sat on my immediate right, and constantly inquired whether it was his blinds, and if so, how much to post. Neither player could figure out elementary betting techniques such as how to raise. Not surprisingly, both players donated several buy-ins to the game. Honestly, I thought players like this were nearly extinct! I will definitely need to put Caesars back in my Vegas rotation.

You try to bluff a calling station.  During my Caesars' session, there was one older gent with a vaguely European accent who invested several buy-ins before going on a heater and luckboxing his way to a big stack. During his entire time at the table, he was a textbook ET (an uber-calling station), calling down with any pair, any draw. So what brilliant strategy did I employ to get his chips? Yes, I raised with 98 sooooted on the button preflop, then fired three barrels at a scary board that did not improve my hand. Of course, ET called me all the way down with flopped second pair, because that's what he does. Huckleberry redux. Sigh.

Orel Hershiser buys you a martini—with your money.  This hand actually occurred during my WPBT trip earlier in December, but it fits well with the theme of this post. I had busted out of the Aria tournament and joined Carol at the $1/$3 PLO table to kill some time before dinner at CarneVino. A couple of hours into my session, I was treading water when Orel Hershiser sat down on my right. For a guy who was an MLB Cy Young winner, League MVP, and World Series MVP during a pretty illustrious career, Hershiser was surprisingly friendly and down-to-earth.  Hershiser is a solid amateur poker player as well, known for making the final eight in the NBC Heads Up Poker Championship in 2008, and rumored to be a regular at the mid-limit cash game tables. Our baby game was clearly just a recreational activity for Hershiser, who seemed to be using the game both to relax and to try out some PLO tactics.

Hershiser was playing fairly loose, but he clearly knew what he was doing and didn't put big money in the pot without a quality Omaha hand. Like any Omaha player, Hershiser stuck around with some marginal hands and won some nice pots when his more improbable draws hit, but he was certainly playing well.  My stack was around $350 when I found K-K-Q-T single-suited on the button. I three-bet it and we both saw a flop of J-T-2 rainbow with one of my suit. Herhsiser checked, I bet, and Hershiser moved all-in. I thought a bit, then decided his aggressive style merited a call. Hershiser showed K-J-9-2, also with a backdoor flush draw. Not the greatest hand for me to see, but I was alive. Then the turn came another deuce, giving Hershiser the baby boat and leaving me on life support, drawing to the case King. The river was the case duck, naturally, just to twist the knife with dangler quads.

I stared at the board a few seconds, then declared I was done for the night. Hershiser was still raking in the pot. He saw me stand up, and immediately turned and handed me three red chips from the stacks that only seconds before had been in front of me. In a completely sincere manner, Hershiser said:

"Here, let me buy you a drink! Have a great night!"

Let me tell you, I savored that free $335 martini.

* For those who want to improve their Pot Limit Gamboooool game, I highly recommend this set of four books by Jeff Hwang (available in paperback or Kindle editions):

Pot-Limit Omaha Poker (a great introductory strategy book)
Advanced Pot-Limit Omaha I: Small Ball and Short-Handed Play
Advanced Pot-Limit Omaha II: LAG Play
Advanced Pot-Limit Omaha III: The Short-Handed Workbook

Now maybe I should make time to read them again ....


  1. LOL Excellent recap and storytelling.

  2. Well told sir, hope you enjoyed the martini as much as I did the recap.

  3. That was hilarious; a great read. Well worth paying for with your money.

  4. Hershiser was pure class as a baseball pitcher and even today as a poker player.

  5. One of my favorite pitchers, that is one of those that the story is worth the $335. (well at some point it will feel like it was)

  6. Sounded like a fun time. Don't you just love those 4 card Holdem players?

  7. Awesome read, I will take it along with me and reread today while waiting to get in a game.