November 16, 2010

How to Train Your Yaks

"There are three ways to play jacks, and they're all wrong."

Mark Seif on the Professional Poker Tour (not necessarily original with him).

Hiccup: [reading in the Dragon Manual]  "Eats its victims. Burns its victims. Buries its victims, chokes its victims, turns its victims inside-out."

How to Train Your Dragon

Every poker player dreads finding Yaks (pocket Jacks).  We all know the siren song of the Yaks:  "Look at us!  So pretty!  So powerful!  We're nearly invincible!"  Then, you preflop raise, get the inevitable two or three callers, and the flop comes down with at least an Ace and usually a King or Queen to boot.  The Yaks whisper seductively, "They don't have an Ace.  We're still ahead.  Fire away!"  Then comes the raise.  There's always a raise when you have Yaks.  The Yaks lean in to murmur with their clover breath, "It's a bluff.  He's representing the Ace.  All he has is a flush draw."  Well ... hmmm ... yes, that makes sense.  The Yaks run a hoof up your thigh, "Aren't we pretty?  How can you turn us down? Soooo pretty!"  You push.  Your opponent snap-calls with Ace-King or a set of Queens.  You throw up a little in your mouth as the Yaks tapdance on your poker soul.  You make the poker player resolution—"Next time I'll fold those Yaks.  Seriously, watch me."

Well, I happen to think Yaks are magnificent, beautiful cards that are just misunderstood.  They are so much classier than those trampy suited Broadway cards—don't even get me started on that harlot, King-Queen sooooted.  If you can train them properly, your Yaks will bring you a lifetime of joy and profit at the poker tables.  Mistreat them, however, and they will make your life so miserable, you will wish you had taken up extreme ironing instead of poker as your stupid hobby of choice (extreme ironing—"the latest danger sport that combines the thrills of an extreme outdoor activity with the satisfaction of a well pressed shirt").

As many of you may have noticed, I recently managed to sneak away for a quick trip to Vegas with the sig other and two of his gal pals.  We enjoyed a great suite at the Palazzo, thanks to the awesome poker room rate deal.  I was "forced" to play a lot of poker, while the gals roamed the Strip, shopping and "boozing our faces off".  A perfect arrangement, if I may say so myself.  Best of all, I was able to work in some stellar Yak-training.

Our trip out was a breeze, leaving Des Moines at 8:30 a.m., and checking into the Palazzo by 11:30 a.m. Vegas time.  An oddity we encountered was a flock of birds inside the Denver "B" terminal; seriously, eight or so birds were just hopping and flitting around the empty seats.  Thankfully, there was a flu vaccine kiosk conveniently located in the same terminal, so I was able to ward off the bird flu.  Indoor birds—an inspired, yet devious marketing concept.  Well played, FLU*Ease!

We met up with the gals who took an early flight, and had been boozing on the Strip since 9:30 a.m.  Being on Iowa time, we hit Margaritaville for a quick lunch.  The food is decent for the price, and it never hurts to start the Vegas experience with a frosty tequila-based beverage.  After lunch, the gals headed off for some fun, while I headed back to the Venetian to grind some hours.

The Venetian poker room was packed, thanks to one of its Deep Stack Extravaganza tournaments being in full swing.  I remember my second trip to Vegas, just after the Venetian opened, when the poker room was large, fancy, and nearly empty.  You have to tip your cap to the Venetian poker room's management for having transformed itself into the most popular room on the Strip for both cash games and tournaments.  There's a good reason the Ironman of Poker festivities have been based out of the Venetian four of the past six years.

I got into a $1/$2 NLHE cash game after only a few minutes wait, even though every cash game table—all forty-some of them—appeared full, with the tourney area on the casino floor also jam-packed.  Nothing too exciting happened for a while.  Then, the Poker Grump and the Black Widow of Poker moved to my table.*  Now, with the Grump rocking the deuce-four, and the Black Widow wielding her crub whistle, I assumed that bad things would happen.  Ahhh, but I forgot that I now possess the power of the Yaks!

Oh yes, Yaks, beautiful Yaks!  The Grump, the Black Widow, and I have played a number of interesting sessions, but so far as I recall, we've only had pedestrian monsterpotten, with silly hands like flush-over-flush-over-set, but no deuce-four-vs.-crubs-vs.-Yaks showdowns.  Yet.  But this night was different.  The Grump allegedly bluffed me off a nice pot with a ridiculous 64 sooooted; like that nit would play that junky hand!  On the other hand, my iPhone notes indicate I bluffed the Grump off a flopped set of Yaks with pure rags when the river put a four flush and a four card straight on board.  Kuh-niggut!

[NOTE:  Per the Grump's comments below, it appears I bluffed another player entirely.  I should've known I could never get the better of the Grump!]

The real fireworks, unfortunately, focused on the Black Widow.  In back to back hands in my blinds, I found Yaks.  On the first hand, I took down a nice pot when the flop came all low cards (I don't recall the details, but I think the Black Widow folded in disgust on the turn).  Of course, being a gentleman (and a scholar), I showed the Yaks.  Next hand, my Yaks flopped pretty well, as far as Yaks are concerned—T-9-8, giving me an open-ended straight draw to go with my overpair.  The Black Widow and I got all our chips in the pot on the flop, and I rivered a 7 for the straight (two straights, for my cribbage-playing readers), though I wonder if my Yaks were already ahead.  Although I greatly respect and even, ahem, like, the Grump and the Black Widow, I'll still stack their chips any day.  In fact, as my long-time friend and fellow Ironman Santa Claus can attest, chips won from friends are especially sweet (this was the first anniversary of Santa taunting me in Lincoln after his CyClowns beat the Huskers—I had obtained 50-yard line, front seats to that debacle—then felted me at the Horseshoe on the way home with flopped set over set.  Bastard.).

I eventually cashed out and joined the gals for a disastrous dinner.  I then returned to the Venetian poker room for a few more hours of incredibly unmemorable poker.  I was a winner at both sessions, but honestly don't remember much at all about the swirl of interchangeable short-stacked semi-skilled poker players who donated their chips to me and the house.

The next day, I decided to head to the TI poker room for some poker while watching the Huskers play the CyClowns.  TI's poker room is a personal favorite; even the sig other has told me I should play there more often, since it usually results in his being able to get some extra shopping cash.  Meghan and Michelle were running the show, and they even put me on the cash game list when I phoned in, despite my not leaving my name; talk about customer service!  They also called down to the sports book to get the Huskers game put on one of the poker room TVs. 

I then proceeded to put on a Yak-training clinic.  In the course of about four hours, I was dealt Yaks a total of six times.  Many lesser players would have been driven insane by such a Cthulhu-ian nightmare.  Instead, I yoked those Yaks and played them brilliantly by flopping sets on five of the hands.  On one of the hands, I even turned quads, netting me a bonus wheel spin for $50 in jackpot cash.  As for the hand where I didn't flop a set, the flop instead was A-K-Q.  Mere mortals would have flinched, but no, I knew better.  I simply continuation bet the flop, then turned the Ten for Broadway and a good ol' fashioned stacking.  Nothing better than a four-rack cashout!

Later that night, back at the Venetian, I had my Kings snapped by a flopped set of Yaks, though I got a small measure of revenge when I later parlayed 53 sooooted into a wheel against his Aces-Up.  The next evening, after United Airlines overbooked my flight and then replaced the big overbooked plane with a smaller (and surprisingly still overbooked) plane, I enjoyed two bonus sessions of poker at Harrah's (thanks to the Total Rewards card which hooked me up with a $27 room during the cab ride from the airport back to the Strip).  My first session was Yak-free, though I did lose a big hand with 77 on a flop of Q-8-7 rainbow; we got it all-in and I was up against 88 and ... Q7?!?  Nothing better than drawing dead with two cards to come.

After dinner at KGB in Harrah's, I decided to play a total LAG-maniac donk session.  There were a couple of amusing hands, like where I showed deuce-four of crubs as a bluff.  Another player who follows the Grump (AVPer "acrtp") was sitting next to me, and complained he needed lessons in playing the deuce-four.  Well, the very next hand, I found the deuce-four and used it to stack a guy when I rivered ... something.  It doesn't really matter, as the deuce-four always finds a way to win.  Later, a good player flopped two pair with QJ, and snapped a flopped straight by rivering a full house.  On the next hand, I took down a pot on the flop with QJ, showed it, and declared, "I was on a full house draw!"  The other player smiled once he realized I was joking, and not poking fun at him.  Which reminds me—this trip I saw three near throwdowns, each of which resulted in a player ejection.  Intriguingly, I was not the instigator in any of the fights.

After running up my stack to maybe $800 total, the wheels came off beginning with a hand where I held Ace-Deuce sooooted, and flopped dos pairs with A-J-2.  After a weird min-3-bet of my near-min check-raise, I coulda-shoulda-woulda gotten away from my hand.  But no, I was stupid and doubled up the relative short stack with his infernal Yaks.  Dammit!  Freakin' luckbox to catch a set like that!  Live by the Yaks, die by the Yaks.  I took two more hits with my KK running into AA in a three-way all-in preflop, and when I pushed the flop with top pair against a flush draw that found the river.  Sigh.  If it weren't for bad luck, I'd win at least half of my races.

Sensing that I was getting too tired to swim in what had changed from a koi pond to a shark tank, I cashed out and was heading to my room for a quick nap, when I heard the siren song of the pits.  Hmmm, well, I was in Vegas, why not have some fun with my poker profits?  I sat down and played blackjack for about an hour, deciding to leave once I got up $500.  But, on the way to the cashier, I saw a craps table in operation.  Fancy seeing one of those in Vegas!  I couldn't resist the call of the dice, so I stepped up to the opposite end from the other player.  He went on a good run, then I went on a good run, and suddenly we had a busy table of folks laughing and raking in chips.  At one point, I had my buy-in plus $1,000 in profit in my hand, with another ~$500 on the table.  An ill-timed seven threw some cold water on the fun, and I decided to cash out.  On my way to the cage, the blackjack pit boss said hello, and since she was a nice lady, I sat down to chat a bit while playing a few more hands of blackjack with my favorite dealer, Phil (his nametag said "TC", but he looked like a Phil, and since I tipped well, he agreed to the name change).  After a half hour, I was up another $300, and had to leave to catch my flight.  So, altogether not a bad result for getting bumped from my flight!  (Interestingly, my little degenerate moment nearly tripled my Harrah's Total Rewards tier points, leaving me within a stone's throw of moving up from a gold card to a platinum card.  It's good to have goals!).

In any event, now y'all know how to train your Yaks.

Original image and more about Yaks at the Lance Fox blog.

* In addition to Poker Grump and the Black Widow, I ran into a number of readers on my trip—AVPers AlaskaGal, Mrs. Lederer, zippyboy, Rich/acrtp, and ekirwin; Vegas Poker Now bigshots Yappy Dave, Clem, and MissingFlops; poker bloggers Tarpie and "S" (a/k/a  "Mr. DiceGRRL"); WPBT last-longer challenge teammate CaityCaity (the illustrious "Knights Who Say 'Nit!'", unless we become the "Nits Who Say 'Ni!'"); and at least three other readers whose names escape my increasingly age-addled mind (my apologies!).


  1. "On the other hand, my iPhone notes indicate I bluffed the Grump off a flopped set of Yaks with pure rags when the river put a four flush and a four card straight on board. Kuh-niggut!"

    You sure about this? I think I'd remember folding a set of jacks (cuz I don't do it every day), but I don't. You remember right after I moved to the table I turned Broadway to crack the set of kings of the guy on my left? After he left, you told me that he had folded a set of jacks face up, which then led you to play a later hand against him differently. Could that be the incident your notes are referring to?

  2. @ Rakewell (a/k/a Poker Grump): Hmmm, went back to my notes, they are ambiguous/cryptic. Your recounting of events feels accurate. Clearly I am senile. I will edit my post to reflect that you are not (yet) sufficiently nitty to fold a set of Yaks to my outrageous bluff.

  3. Considering you're talking about Yaks. Do you remember this hand from Harrah's? (I may be a bit off on position though.) I think I was UTG and raised with JJ, it folded around to the 1 seat who raised all in, but it wasn't for much more. You tanked for about a minute and finally called saying, "I'm such a bad player". (You had AK spades.) I thought and figured I couldn't get you off your hand if I raised, so I called and we took an all spade flop. I think you got one more bet out of me when I called your flop bet by having my Yaks as an overpair to the board. So, there you go, I guess I need to learn how to play Yaks in addition to 2/4. BTW, did you pay Grump his royalty?

    Nice meeting you. Rich (acrtp)

  4. @ Rich/acrtp:

    Yeah, I do remember that hand. That was actually a tough decision because: a) you had been playing pretty snug preflop, and b) the reraise all-in had reopened betting to you. I'm not a huge fan of getting all-in preflop with AK in cash games, particularly where the worst part of your range was probably AQs/JJ/TT. I think I see AA/KK/QQ/AK there from you a majority of the time.

    I thought about pushing, since by calling I was likely committing myself to the hand if you pushed. But I thought a call had two advantages. If you didn't push, there was less chance you had AA/KK, so I could a little information from a call behind. Also, I might have a shot at seeing the flop and reevaluating. If you did push, then I would've had to really think about folding to what was likely a monster hand, but I think the stack sizes were awkward enough that I would've called. But, it would have been a rough decision. So, it was more the "what the heck do I do if he pushes?" issue that made me tank, rather than the "do I want to see a flop with AKs out of position?" issue (for the readers, I was on your right, so I would've been in the big blind).

    Of course, flopping the nuts made me look like a genius! Or a total statistical variance box. Well, the table already thought I was a statistical variance box by that point, so it really didn't affect my image much ...

    Very nice to meet you as well! Hope to run into you again at the tables.

  5. They have shown plenty of character, by playing for their home team without even the basic salary for almost 8 months.. Hardly an employee would do that in any career.

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