Monday, October 13, 2003

Poker, the Great Equalizer

This week has been good for me. Poker has been, as well as life. It has been enlightening and profitable.

As I become more and more of a "local" in the Laughlin poker rooms, I am being included in conversations, both positive and negative, which teach me a bit about my fellow locals, as well as giving me insight into the backgrounds of many people I see everyday.

Sometimes, the people we play poker with are the sole reason that we continue to play. I would say that this is not the case for me, but I can understand the joys of camaraderie and companionship, especially among the seniors here.

Once in a while, someone crosses our path who makes us enjoy what we have more than we do day by day. This week I have gotten to know some people who have made me smile and love my life a bit more.

I spoke about Troy in my last post. Troy is a very good player. He is probably in his mid sixties and retired to Bullhead City from LA. Troy played in mid to high limit games in LA and learned hold'em as soon as it was legal in California. He actually dropped down several limits until he got down to the 4/8 game. He kept a hotel room at the Commerce until he could beat the 4/8 game, then started moving back up. He has played quite a bit of no-limit and high stakes hold'em. Now he chooses to play the 10/20 game at the Colorado Belle every Saturday.

Troy is always the best player in the big game. The first time we played together, he stayed out of my way. The second Saturday, he outplayed me a bit and I got caught up in some of his traps. The third week we played together, I adjusted to his play, and he backed off, choosing to stay out of my way again. This Saturday (last night, October 11, 2003), he had once again adjusted and used a few tricks to outplay me. It is hard to stay ahead of Troy. He is a better player than I am, with thousands more hours of experience.

Troy is missing most of his left hand. His story is that when he was in the military, they sent him to help work on the Panama Canal. He was a diver. His partner and himself went to the bottom of the canal on some mission. Something to do with the locks. Anyway, a huge fish bit him in the side. He tried to fight off the fish, and the fish bit off his hand. His partner helped him fight off the fish. Now he has a stump and partial fingers. He thinks it is funny and makes jokes about it. He chidingly flips off players with his little middle-finger stub. We all think it is hilarious and not even the most uptight of the old ladies get offended.

A low limit player at the Colorado Belle is missing both of his lower legs. He has prosthetics and wears shorts, lol. The prosthetics match his skin tone. I think that is pretty cool.

Lots of players are in wheelchairs, for whatever reason. The Belle is always very accommodating to them, as well as the other players.

Last Tuesday I met Jason. There was a big cop convention in town at the Ramada. The Ramada doesn't have a poker room, so about ten cops came over to the Belle to play. They wanted a table they could all sit at, but didn't mind others playing as cops came and went. I was seated at their table later in the evening.

No one could miss Jason. He has no real face. He has no hair and some of his fingers are missing. His skin is patchy because it has been grafted back on over the last two years. His ears are burnt off, and he has obviously been built a new nose. His eyelids are made out of some kind of tissue other than eyelid tissue because they are very thick, fatty, almost like lower lips, not like an eyelid. One of his eyes doesn't get vision, I believe. Thumbs have been sewn on each stump of a hand, and look like they work a little bit, but not like regular, human thumbs.

Jason was hard to look at, which is why no one could miss him. But no one cared. "Can he play poker? Will he play 72o to the river? Can I check-raise him?" That was the only thing anyone thought about. Poker, not appearance. I heard bits and parts of his story during the next few hours. It is quite a story. If you want the background, you can go here:

Jason is a cop again. I guess it is something he never thought would be possible after this horrible accident. But it happened, he persevered. No, I don't think he can hold a gun. He will probably never be able to hold one again in his career, unless medicine makes some huge advances in the next 20 years. But he is working. He is not at home contemplating suicide or refusing to be seen in public. I know it must hurt, he was such a good-looking guy. But we are all handicapped, we are all deformed, whether those deformities can be seen by others or not. I truly believe that.

I looked at Jason and talked to him more and more as we played. He was in the six seat, I was in the ten seat. I could stare him in the eyes. They were the same, gorgeous eyes he had before, so what has changed? I am glad that I met him. And miracle of miracles, he could actually play poker better than all of the other cops combined. He wasn't the fish :)

God bless you, Jason. Keep on keeping on.

In the Monday tourney, I got bounced right after the break. There is a woman who plays at least one tourney per week at the Belle. She plays every hand. She calls every raise. She rebuys up to ten times during the first hour. She usually starts making a few hands and builds up her chips. I really don't like playing at a table with her. Not that she isn't dead money, don't get me wrong, but I just don't like her personality. She is rude, loud and obnoxious. Sometimes she is okay, she seems to be joking around and having fun. But most of the time she is sarcastic and bitter. She appoints herself the table captain and makes sure everyone knows about it. She tries to run the table, the dealer, and the tournament itself. She is a nuisance and a bother. She never wins, never even gets close, but she collects a ton of $5 bounties with her bad beats. I was one of her victims on Monday. Ho hum. I felt like TJ when he said, "Hey, listen, have absolutely NO chance of winning this tourney, but you just blew any chance I had right out the window with your bad playing." C'est la vie. That's poker.

Wednesday brought the $100 hold'em tourney. There were a few things that were different than last week, when it was the last "monthly championship." One was that the Belle only adds the $500 if 27 players or more enter. We could only get 26. So no added money. Only 4 places paid, very top heavy, with first paying about 50%. This, combined with the speedy structure towards the middle of the tourney (blinds speed up for a while after the break: 25/50, 50/100, 100/200, 200/400), made me change my overall strategy. Fast play is a MUST after the break. No other choice. There is no use being conservative in order to get 5th to 10th place. They pay the same as dead last!

After the break I started playing fast. So did Chris, the only other player who really understands tournaments and knew what was going on. I wanted to double up, so I tried some moves, but no one would call and I would get blinds and/or chips by a few limpers. I knew eventually someone would have to have a hand. Chris raised 3x the BB when I was in it. I knew that he was raising the maximum amount he could afford to lose if someone went over the top, but yet put people with short stacks who were trying to survive in a delicate position if they called him. The fast-me called before I could blink with Q9s, having only about 500 chips left after paying the BB, with the blinds being 100/200. My read was right, he had 99. I got no help and IGHN.

Glenn could not understand the concept of doubling up in order to have any shot whatsoever at the top four. I tried over and over again to explain it to him, but he just didn't "get it." No, for those of you who are curious, he still hasn't read Tournament Poker for Advanced Players ALL the way through yet, grrr. So what happened to Glenn? You guessed it, he folded his way into a fifth place finish, receiving all of zero dollars and zero cents, just like me. Don't want to read and study about poker? Fine, then accept your failures with a grin, don't cry to me.

Thursday brought us the Omaha 8 tourney again. God, I wish they would get rid of one of these every week and replace it with something else. I would take anything else at this point; stud, lowball, pineapple...anything! LOL. Playing Omaha 8 with these people is worse than having my fingernails pulled out without anesthesia. They never bother to memorize their hole cards, and sometimes each hand lasts 10-15 minutes. That is a whole level, btw. NOT fun.

So then why do I play? Why not just stop whining and sit in some cash games? Well, number one, I am a tourney junkie. I must have my fix. But secondly, and most importantly, the overlay for this tourney is overwhelmingly awesome. This tourney costs $25 to enter. But there is no entry fee, no juice, vig, rake, nada. On top of that, the house adds $500 to the tourney. What is not to love? I might get exasperated by the long, long hands, but I am going to play come hell or high water.

So on Thursday I got to the final two tables, but no biggie. I went all-in as a shortish stack with A237, two of one suit. Got nada, zip, zero and IGHN.

Glenn, on the other hand, managed to fold himself into 5th place again and got $150. Maybe he has the right idea, hehe.

On Friday we played Omaha 8 again. Lovely. This time there were about 40 entrants. I fought my way to the final table by folding a lot of icky, icky hands and doubling up on the decent ones. As we took our seats at the final table, I was the shortest stack, by far, with only two measly black chips left. Everyone got $50, no one wanted to vote on the $100 increase, as they looked at me, as well as several other desperate stacks, and knew they had a good chance of making the "real" money. That is fine with me, I completely understand. The locals love the $100 motion, but most of the people at the final table were tourists.

Then something happened which completely rocked my world. As they were handing out the $50, I put mine under my measly chips. I usually keep my money out on the table so that I can tip the dealers if I somehow manage to get unstuck (I was into the tourney for $55: $25 buy-in, one $10 rebuy, one $20 add-on). Suddenly this guy jumps up from the other side of the table and points at me. He had been watching us since we'd taken our seats, but since I had never met him before and didn't know him (he is a tourist), I just assumed he was looking at all of the stacks and sizing up his competition (for those of us who had moved from the other table).

I couldn't have been more wrong. He jumped out of his seat and pointed his finger at me, extending his arm in a menacing gesture. He yelled, "YOU didn't tip the dealer. You have to tip the dealer! Give him a tip!" I was flabbergasted. I decided not to stoop to his level and answered calmly, "I am stuck in this tournament. I will tip the dealer if I make it into the money. So far I am losing." He kept yelling, "We are ALL losing in this tournament! We all tipped the dealer, I made sure, but you didn't!" I still kept my cool, but was firm, when I told him that the chances that he would make the money were great, whereas my chances were slim to none, but that I had kept my money out to tip if I was fortunate enough to make the top five places. He was still mad and tried to argue, but the tournament director called to shuffle up and deal. I was kind of sad that the tournament director (he is not the main guy, Doug, but a dealer who replaces Doug on Fridays only) did not stick up for me in the slightest. I am not a stiff, and I always encourage tipping, but Ward said nothing in my defense, although one local, Ida, did say, across the table, that she "understood." Ida is from Japan, or she might have come to my defense a little more vocally. She has had her share of "tipping" problems, too, which I will tell in another post.

Anyway, predictably I went out in eighth place. I had AA9J with two hearts, but got outdrawn by a bad hand containing a J8 (??).

I was a little peeved on Friday night, as we drove home, but I quickly let anger pass after I have it out of my system, so I was quite psyched up for the Saturday 10/20 "big" game.

Glenn and I arrived at the Belle on Saturday at about 1:00pm only to find the room jam-packed. I wondered if it was a holiday weekend. No, I guess the tourist season is just kicking in. Nine of the ten tables were filled, with long waiting lists, and within 30 minutes more dealers arrived early to open table ten. Amazing.

Although Glenn and I had called ahead to put in our names for the big game, the wait was still a long one. I didn't get my seat for well over two hours. Troy had gotten in early, and was occupying his usual seat nine. He was obviously stuck with very few reds. There were a few new faces, as some players had come in from California. They were young and aggressive. I was stuck in the one seat for a while, having no other choice. RC was to my left in the two seat. He was freezing and looked bad. I was freezing, everyone was freezing.

The big game is intentionally put at the rail to encourage railbirds. Not a bad policy. But there are some problems with that table. It is positioned at a part of the casino where huge air-conditioning vents blow right into the poker room and on the table. It is a freezing table. There used to be heavy drapes blocking part of the rail, but they were taken down to encourage more railbirds and help disperse the smoke. I think they went overboard and maybe should have left up just a couple of drapes over the rail where the coldest air comes in. That way the railbirds would still have a full view, but we would be blocked from the worst of the cold, the noise, and also this small "coin" room that is right off the poker room where coins are run through a machine and into bags. This is extremely loud and one has to shout to converse over the noise. No one is allowed to shut the door of the coin room because there is no security camera in that room and employees are not trusted. The noise of the coins is LOUD. If the drapes were put back over the two panels that affect that table the most, I feel that things would not be so cold and noisy.

Anyway, RC had generously given his jacket to an elderly handicapped man who was freezing. The result was that RC was freezing and didn't look good (healthy). I asked Glenn to go out and get all of our sweatshirts from the car. Glenn generously obliged and RC and I layered ourselves like we were in Siberia. The color came back into RC's face, but he still didn't stay the duration of the big game, and I guessed he wasn't doing well that day, overall.

I never really got stuck in the big game yesterday. I wasn't having huge swings, just small ups and downs. I slowly, but steadily built my stacks. There were enough donators in the game to keep it healthy. There were less crafty locals. I didn't get monster hands, I just got decent hands that held up their fair share of times. It was a true grind, which is how most cash games are for me. Slow and steady wins the race.

I managed to win one drawing. Troy won two (he initiates so many kill pots that he accumulates a huge amount of tickets). Two drawings were won by players unknown to me. One player was stuck over $3000. He was a Californian who had spiraled down into horrible play by drinking too much and getting steamed.

Glenn was stuck from the beginning. He keeps playing more and more scared. Every week I find more weaknesses in him while playing the big game. He isn't confident and lets bad beats get to him. Instead of tilting and playing more hands badly, he plays less hands, and plays premium hands cowardly, looking for every monster under the bed to be had. Glenn lost most of his $600 buy-in and left the table to go play 4/8.

Speaking of 4/8, the Belle is spreading it! They are trying to wean the retirees off of the 2-5 spread limit game slowly by offering one 4/8 table every day, and opening more if there is enough interest. Go Belle!

I went through a cold card spell. A really cold spell. For well over an hour I didn't receive a playable hand. We see a lot of hands in an hour, as this is not a slow game whatsoever. I lost about $200 in an hour. Yeah, how is that possible, when I don't see a playable hand? Well, those stupid free plays in the big blind. Naturally I always flopped something good, and even more predictably I was rivered, lol. That is poker ;)

My comeback started at 10pm. First, I won the drawing for $100 right as I was involved in a big hand (yes, I was finally dealt a playable hand). I won that pot, which was well over $100 and the cold spell was broken. I was never stuck, like I said. The lowest I ever got was $900. I bought in for $550.

Midnight finally came and I was relieved. I was cramped and sore. My back hurt, my butt hurt. I had been playing for eleven hours and needed to get out of the smoky poker room.

I made about $850 yesterday after tips and the rake. I played for nine hours, so I guess that is about $100/hr. Easy-peasy game. I can't imagine what my hourly rate would be if Troy wasn't in the game, LOL!

I look back on my week, my results, and the new friends I have made. I am happy to have met Jason, the heroic cop from Phoenix. I am glad to know Troy and many of the other locals at the Colorado Belle. I feel blessed by my success and happiness. Life is good!