I tapped out on this trip in about 2 1/2 hours of poker, 9 baseball games and 30 minutes on the green felt toasting Dr. Martingale. Typing it out is sweet, sweet solace on this sunken ship.
Thanks to free Party Poker, my live game is a mess. I do not fold easily. I do not believe my fellow players are betting correctly. I am suspicious of every pre-flop bet more than 3 times the big blind. Every post flop bet larger than the pot size is met with doubt as well. With a single shred of supporting evidence, I believe every player is basing their pot-and-a-half raise on a post flop middle pair. I really, really want to call.
My wife and I were on this trip together, on an anniversary jaunt. My attention was on her for the most part. I could only enter two tournaments. I know this is a poker venue, but just a word on each.
There was sports betting, with baseball being the only game in town. There’s a relatively new bet – a 5 inning bet which prevents you from putting your money on the bipolar/schizo bullpen crew. But I’m a real man and want to be on the full game. Just for kicks, I count up the fact that I am winning 7 of the 9 games I bet at the 5 inning mark. But by the 9 inning mark I end up going 3-6. There are leads blown of 5-3 in the 8th, 5-1 in the 5th and 8-0 in the 5th. In the latter case, it’s the Cubs climbing off the carpet to win, that’s how bad my luck is. There goes about 1/3 of my stake.
The morning before we leave, there’s still $500 rattling in the wallet. I’m out of tournament times and won’t play a cash game.
Why no cash game? My one past experience is a $100 buy in at the Golden Nugget in 2008. I raise with an Ace-Queen to make a $20 pot. There’s A-Q-9 on the turn. I bet $15 more and am called. A deuce comes up. I bet $35 more and am called. An Eight turns over: a combination of Q-9-8 materializes. My opponent puts me all in for $40 more. I do not give up. I will not fold easily. I call to the Jack-10. $100 is gone in 5 minutes. I have since turned to tournament play. In poker tournament play, there is all the tension of a cash game but with guaranteed winners, unlike every other game in town. And best of all, there’s a loss limit.
Back to the report. It’s 630 AM the morning of departure. $500 rattling in my pocket. I really want to “try my luck” beyond the poker tables, which I no longer have time for. I go seaward to the Treasure Island where I have placed in 6 out of 16 poker tournaments lifetime, justifiably feeling lucky there. I run a Martingale at the Blackjack table, betting 5-10-20-40-80 against the odds of a 5 game losing streak. After surviving 2 rounds, I go on to lose 5 in a row twice consecutively – that’s 10 blackjack hands lost in a row. Every combination of numbers between 12 and 16 are seen dealt up to me against every 10 or Ace showing for the dealer. The odds against losing 10 in a row are 1 in 1,024 (really 1 in 840 if the house edge is accounted for). I managed to beat those odds. The chips rolling off my fingertips seem like stones being swept from my hand by the waves at the shoreline. It’s out of my control – I am betting a system and the system is having an unfortunate day. Where is old man Martingale? Grab the biscuit eater by the ear and have ‘im walk the gangplank! $300, 60 % of the remaining stake is gone by 645 AM. I try 15 minutes of Pass line/Come line action at the Craps table and bleed out another $175 before scooping up $25 for myself and the trip home. Never want it said that I lost my entire stake. Down $475 in half an hour. “Why am I doing this?”, is the unanswered question. But it is too late – nothing left but the inner voice shouting the old familiar expletives.
Back to poker. At the Monte Carlo there’s a tournament the first night in town. Key hand is a pair of Jacks late in the first hour. I raise 5 times the big blind, because the Jacks confuse me – powerful before the flop and then never again. All fold except Big Blind. The flop is Q-9-3. Check-check, I am concerned for the Queen and don’t bet in case of re-raise. Am checked back. Then another 3. I bet 40 % pot. Called. I put him on a straight draw. Ace comes on the river A-Q-9: straight is impossible! I bet 40 %. He raises to double what I bet. I do not trust a re-raise. I will not submit to intimidation. The opponent does not look so smart. I call into an Ace-7 who hit on the river. River magic, Riverdance. I am tapped out soon thereafter.
WSOP aside. My wife is a teacher and has come to read cardplayers very well, if not able to read cards. While she and I enter poker games together at charity tournaments (and I get to hear her player reads at the break), for her to enter a cash tournament would be charity for the grinders, believe me. However, during this Monte Carlo tournament, she splits off to watch the last WSOP Big Event satellite tournament at the Rio – a warehouse of hundreds of tables where players are spending hundreds to earn $10,000 for a chance at millions. Kind of a lottery for wannabes. I catch up to her and take in the scene. I comment, naïve as always, “it reminds me of a chess tournament – a lot of smart guys. Just think if all these minds got together at NASA to build the next Space Shuttle– we probably would have a lunar-bound Shuttle program by the end of the year.” She comes back, “Probably bust NASA by the end of the year. Actually… these guys remind me more of the special ed classes/ ADD kids. Lot of bravado, lots of complaints about bad breaks, lots of grandiose plans, not a lot of real thinking going on. Like a Bad Beat Gripe Session along the rails.” Interesting observation. Am I one of them?
Entertainment aside. We intended to see the Lion King on this trip at the Mandalay Bay. It’s sold out, so we see the group Human Nature at the Paris. Anyhow, if life wasn’t bizarre enough on this trip with blown 8-0 leads and 10 losses in a row in 10 minutes of blackjack, here’s a bunch of white Aussies belting out “What’s Goin’ On?”. They were a great date show– highly recommended.
For the last tournament, I cross the pier into the Treasure Island 1100 AM Thursday game. (An aside - why is there a Gilley's across the bay? Cowboys storm the Pirate Ship? Huh?) A good group of players are lined up in the TI Poker Room (is it a shop? is it an exhibit? No - it's the Poker room!). They ooze experience and familiarity. They seem to know what they’re doing. Showdowns are rare, bets are being respected. Very few have gained an advantage. I get the image that I’m really just lining up with 9 other slightly different versions of myself. The winners and losers are going to be a blind roll of cards.
There’s a concept I believe in called rhythm betting. If there’s been a big showdown where one guy hit 3 of a kind on the flop and another a two pair on an all-in, everyone else draws a breath and think twice about going all-in. On the opposite side, if 5 deals in row result in a bet-fold-fold, with no showdowns for the last 10 minutes, future bets are going to be called more often. We players tend to act towards balancing the action to what we feel is a norm. So at the TI, I’m on a little bit of a roll but the game is getting later – past the one hour break. A showdown just occurred where a King-Queen just beat an Ace-10 on an all-in and I anticipate a rhythm bet - a blind steal from reluctant players. I’ve got the dealer button and am dealt a Jack-10 suited. I really like this hand, as I see the potential of this hand doing it all – the highest 2 cards that still have the max combinations for a straight (Q-K-Ace, 9-Q-K, etc). I raise a $500 blind to $1000. The Small Blind reraises by 3 to $3000. This puts me all-in if I call. Another $2000 to win around $4200. “Do I really have less than 1/3 chance of winning?” I ask.
The opponent has been inconsistent, sometimes leading the betting and then folding on the turn or river. He is a wily type, that probably doesn’t like to lose. Here he is protecting the blind – the small blind. I do not trust easily. I do not trust him.
My hand could be the winner 4 different ways – pairing up one of these guys (2), a straight (3) or a flush (4). I believe in this hand. It has come through for me before. It has certainly come through against me in my one cash game experience. I know this Jack-10 well.
I call. The Big Blind says to the Small Blind, “Good thing you called, I was going to call him if you didn’t” and he shows an Ace-Queen. My opponent has an Ace-King offsuit. I believe – one Ace is gone already. The flop comes out and the dealer’s hand obscures one card, but I see a Jack. The card obscured would explain the sigh of relief to my left. It’s an Ace and the turn and river are blanks. Gone again.
I count cards. I don’t mean blackjack. I mean poker. There’s not enough going on, so I count how many of my “premium group” cards I get dealt: pair of Aces, etc. The premium cards account for 7 % of the two down cards. On this trip, out of ALL OF THE PREMIUM CARDS I received one time a pair of Jacks and 87 other hands that were non-premium. That’s 1 out of 88, where 6 out of 88 is the norm. 1 % chance of getting dealt this poorly. I’m going to stop kicking myself for losing on these cards. I honestly believe that Hellmuth/Duke/Ivey could not have put lipstick on these pigs to turn them into winners.
I get up to play blackjack for a few minutes. About 10 hands into it, a European dude joins me at the Blackjack table, busted out. His first hand and just then all 4 Blackjack players are dealt a blackjack. Odds are something like 1 in 200,000. Just another unexpected phenomena, but the payoff is $7.50.
I’m usually slightly lucky in Vegas, for no particular reason (well, I chalk it up to clean living, but that’s a long story). This trip was clearly the exception. For statisticians, this was below the 5 percentile mark of luck, worse than 2 sigma on the left side of the curve. Everything had a dreamlike quality (How does any show sell out in July in Vegas? Why are Australians singing Motown? How can everyone get a blackjack? Where did all those green chips go?). I close my eyes one last time and am thankful for my wife and life I’ve been given. I slowly realize that being lucky in life is maybe a wee bit more important than being lucky on this trip.