Friday, September 12, 2003

Watching the Stars

Friday, September 12, 2003

I posted about playing at the Bellagio a bit while we were waylayed in Vegas.

While I was waiting for a seat one weekend night, I happened to saunter over to the rail protecting the high limit players. The high limit area is "forbidden" by low rollers and middle limit players, like most of us, but if one just stops by for a couple of seconds, we can get a glimpse of great play.

I was lucky enough to be standing outside the rail when the supervisor had left the table.

Daniel Negreanu, Ralph Perry, Jennifer Harman and Gus Hansen were playing mixed games with a couple of unknowns. The game at the time was Stud 8. I think they switch games every half hour. The limits were fixed, 800/1600. The ante for each hand was a mere $200, lol. Someone was sweating Jennifer. I'm not sure if he was her husband or someone else.

I got to watch for about ten minutes.

Daniel was exactly as I expected him. Very fast, aware of all of the players and not missing much. Eyes darted from opponents hands, to face, to their chips, in neverending motion.

Jennifer looked very cool, calm. She was used to being in control of a game, win or lose. She sat back from the table in a controlled effort that has been perfected over the years. She must have cashed out a winner at the 16k minimum buy-in game (about 40k, although I have no idea what she brought to the table). If she had initially brought more than the 40k, and cashed out a loser, I could not tell by her body language. She seemed happy, chatty and content.

Ralph Perry was serious. He seemed to be more into silently observing and playing the game than any of the others. He might have been stuck, or he might have cashed out winner, I have no idea, as his demeanor is always serious.

Gus Hansen was in the seven seat at the end of the table. A good seat for observant players. He played with his head lowered, very seriously, eyes coming up only to study his opponents, but far too late to give away any information. He played hard and fast, a lot moreso than Daniel. He called a $1600 river bet head's up, even when he felt he had no way of winning the pot, because the pot had grown to over 20k. He was able to calculate the pot size before the dealer. Sure enough, his crying call was just that. He won neither the high, nor did he have a low. He was very good natured about it, being that he had put in almost half of the 20+k himself.

Watching the pros play was enlightening, even if for such a short period of time. The things I looked for were mostly body language. Just as I'd always imagined, they memorize their hole cards. I never saw one of them looking back at their cards. They look at faces and hands, not at the "board." Their eyes take everything in, darting around rapidly. When each hand can be the price of a new car, or even a middle class home, there is no time to sit back and relax, they must take everything in and not be constantly checking their hole cards because they can't be bothered to memorize what they started with (don't you hate that in Omaha? It slows up the game to the point of about 5 minutes for each hand). No one was wearing dark glasses or low slung ballcaps to hide their forehead. Their "tells" were completely hidden, at least from me. I couldn't pick up a tell, period. Maybe when Gus did the crying call, that could be considered a tell, as he knew he was beat, and vocalized his predicament with a large sigh, but by that time, the action on the hand was over, and there was no need to hide his holding.

I had a good, if short, experience watching these four extraordinary players. Someday I'd like to be up there, but I'm not holding my breath!!!

Sunday, September 07, 2003

Sunday, September 7, 2003

I was in on a phenomenon which rarely happens in my limited world. So when one does occur, I am ever so glad to be a part of it. This phenomenon was playing at the Bellagio for the ten days I spent with my Mom, waiting for our house to close, in September, 2003.

When I left Las Vegas in March, 2003, having spent the fall and winter there, I was a low limit player. I could consistantly beat any low limit Stud game; 1-5 or 4/8, but I had less skill at hold'em, and usually stuck to the lowest limits offered.

April 2003 brought me to Atlantic City and a whole different world of poker. Hold'em was easier to beat, stud was tougher. Tournaments were daily, and good. I knew eventually we would be out in the Southwest for good, but I hated the thought of leaving the closeknit poker world of the Tropicana.

Finally we sold our house in the DC area and were free to move out to Arizona for good. While waiting for our new house to close, we stayed in Vegas for ten days and played lots of poker. I have documented accounts of various cardrooms and tourneys in other posts, but this one is solely dealing with play at the Bellagio.

Back in March, 2003, I was playing only one game at the Bellagio (and not very frequently, at that, given the high rake): 4/8 Stud. The ante was fifty cents. Upon returning to the Bellagio in September, 2003, I found that they had done away with 4/8 Stud and now spread 6/12 Stud with a one dollar ante. Not the best game for me, a very, very tight player. Cross that one out...I decided to either move up to 15/30 Stud or stick with Hold'em.

They start at 4/8 Hold'em. Forget that, the players play like it's a 1/2 game. Okay, so onto 8/16. Nice, nice, juicy. They were 10x worse than when I left Vegas, due to the WPT phenomenon. Wow...maybe I could move up to 15/30, after all, I had consistantly beat the 10/20 game with 1/2 kill at other casinos.

So I took the plunge. $300 in chips, 3 hundred dollar bills under them. "Act confident, get in control of the table, you can do it."

It was a coup. The players were more like the 2/4 players I was used to at the Tropicana. I was amazed that the play has deteriorated so badly that now "I" can be considered a middle limit player! My own skills have not increased tenfold, of that I am sure.

I was constantly shocked at the number of times that players tried to throw away or "call" their big blind. I was astounded at the amount of "string raises" attempted, the junk cards played and the overall feel of the table. My sessions were always winning sessions, not hugely, but enough to give me 1-4 big bets per hour. Amazing. Even during the worst of my sessions, I would find myself at least ten dollars up. Wow, not me!

Hmmm, maybe next time I visit Vegas I can move up to the 20/40 game? I don't know, they look like a bunch of crafty, old sharks to me...I can't let my head get swollen!