I played at Greektown Casino on a warm summer night last week. It was my longest session in a long time, but not because I wanted to spend 8 hours in a poker room, but because I was stuck most of that time. It was a night when storms were looming and the Tigers lost a 3-1 lead in the 9th. I can still see the look on Verlander’s face after Salvador Perez hit that home run off of Alex Wilson over the left field fence.
Toni, the dealer at our table at the time that fateful hit happened predicted, “It’ll go to the 14th inning now.” She wouldn’t predict who would win, but she seemed certain in her prognostication. That was close to four hours into my session, and I had little inkling that it would only be the half way point. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
One of the most challenging aspect of trying to play winning poker, is having the patience it requires to sludge through long periods of time where you don’t make any value hands. Yes, we stay in the game and we differentiate ourselves from the typical random player by playing each situation better than them, but it’s very difficult to earn a consistent profit from just bluffing and continuation betting. Some shorter sessions do go that way, where you execute a well-timed bluff and you take down several small pots on the flop for a nice little profit. But about a third the time your opponents hit the flop, sometimes hard, and you can lose a chunk of your stack just with a couple of raises pre-flop followed by c-bets that get action.
My first two hours were fairly card dead, and my opponents were making some pretty big hands: sets left and right, flushes, boats, quads against a full house. Meanwhile, I was gathering a nice collection of nine deuce offsuit. Typically in this situation, you wait for late position, see who’s in the hand and you raise pre-flop and take some small pots on the flop. These first one hundred and twenty minutes though saw many of those hands get raised before they got to me, and I had to relinquish position almost every orbit. Again, people were getting big starting hands and making big hands on the flop.
One fellow who played tight was getting paid off handsomely by drawing pocket kings and hitting sets. Twice he hit with kings, and once with jacks (and actually ended with quads that hand). He was pretty smart about his situation, because he stacked up to about a grand and walked out. Another player to my left got himself in a hand with pocket nines against a short stacker with pocket queens. Flop goes Q 9 x, turn 9 and drum roll… king on the river. So close to the bad beat jackpot. Instead, the fellow with Queens left the table, and the guy with quad nines left to the 3/6 limit game, presumably to have a better chance to hit the bad beat.
My first interesting hand came well after dinner. Earlier I had managed to turn a flush with Jc8c, but other than AQ from early position, I had not managed to draw any playable hands that whole time. I had a bluffy, losing image, and my stack was hovering around $450. I was in for $700. I had been mostly trying to keep a positive mind set. Telling myself to stay patient, but mostly, reminding myself that past hands had nothing to do with future hands. I wasn’t about to get lucky or hit my draws, I wasn’t about to go on a rash of big starting hands that would be winners, I didn’t need to go all-in just to get in the black on a marginal spot. I was a getting a bit tired from dinner and the long droning hours sitting at the table, but the Tigers had just won the game in walk-off fashion, and my spirits were lifted by that fact.
The one competent player at the table raised to $10 from UTG+1 and got three callers. Now, the competent player had a sound game, but he was not an expert wizard by any stretch. For one thing, he had been talking strategy with his side of the table, showing off what little knowledge he had about poker when he sensed the other players he was talking to didn’t really know much about the game. But he was talking about Super System and SS2 as books to read to improve. Later he said that those books were not up to date with the current game, I think realizing he might be giving people bad advice.
So there’s already $43 in the pot, and I look down at two black jacks. I cut out some chips and made it $50 to go. The player to my left seemed interested, and made a call. He was a loose/passive player, so his range was mostly two face cards or pocket pairs. There was one more call from a young player with scared money and about $150, and then a call by the original raiser, who looked at me quizzically, as if to ask, you know I’m in early position with a raise, right? Not only had I noticed that, but I also noticed that he had been holding 7c 9c and A J offsuit the last two times he raised from that position.
There was already $233 in the pot when a player with just $103 decided to just call. This always surprises me. Why not shove? You’re never folding on the flop… right? That’s the thing, some players do think that maybe they might fold here. So we go to the flop with $283 in the pot and five players. The tension was thick like the night summer air, and the competent player across the table had his eyes locked on me. I looked up from my chips and looked right back at him. Flop was 9s 7s 4s. At first I thought there was a straight flush possible, but on a second look I saw there was only the flush.
Everyone checked cautiously to me. I checked my cards to make sure I have the jack of spades, and then I counted out $150 from my $400 stack. I pushed it quietly past the betting line. Everyone started breathing again and then the folds started to fall, making me feel like I just won a huge pot with only a pair of jacks and a flush draw. But then after the competent player folded, the player with the $53 left reluctantly pushed in his remaining chips as if reading everyone’s thoughts at the table, “you can’t fold for $53, right?” Fifty three dollars to win $336: no brainer.
I usually show my cards on an all-in hand right away, but I actually held my cards protectively expecting the worst. King of spades on the turn gave me the third nuts. 4 of clubs on the river made me puke a little in my mouth. Still, I flipped over my hand with confidence and topped it with a $5 chip when I don’t see my opponent jumping with joy or slamming his hand face up on the felt. In fact, he shaked his head and mucked, got up and walked away. Ship it!
After that I felt a big weight lifted from my shoulders. Maybe this night wouldn’t end in a cold deck nightmare like it started. I actually managed to hit a set near the end of my session with pocket threes on an ace high flop, and was happy to hear that my opponent only had top pair for an easy sweat since the flop was Ad 2h 3d. The Tigers’ game crowd that had flooded the room after the game started to ebb, and I felt it was time to call it a night.
It was a great feeling knowing that many times before I would have pushed the action thinking, “my luck has to change, I have to hit something soon”, etc. Instead I waited, I paid attention, and I focused on making the best decision for only the hand in play. Like the Tigers that night it took me extra innings, but I retreated into the summer night victorious.