Lately I’ve been playing a lot of poker. It’s one of the few things I can do year round that I really enjoy doing, and it helps take my mind off everything else that’s going on in my life.
Unfortunately, despite having been playing for years now, I’m not that good at poker. Ever since Black Friday, I’ve been forced back into the local casinos to get my poker fix, which is even worse for me, since although I was a winning online player, I seem to be a break-even at best live player. I’m not sure exactly why, but over my lifetime I’ve definitely lost more than I’ve won playing live, where the opposite was true online.
Anywho, I’ve been playing some live tournaments lately, trying to relearn some of the mad skillz I seem to have forgotten since getting kicked off the online poker rooms. Probably my biggest leak in live tournament play is that I sometimes just completely go nuts and make a horribad play in completely the wrong situation, and it’ll cost me all or nearly all of my chips. Similar to pro player Mike Matusow, I’ll often dump off all my chips in crazy fashion, then walk away muttering to myself about how awful that was.
Last night, I got into it with a player two seats to my left. He’d had my number all night, and was a good player overall. I couldn’t steal his blind, and he always seemed to make exactly the right move against me. I kept fixating on him, wondering exactly what I had to do to win a pot off him. His playbook seemed fairly simple. Whenever I raised from late position when he was in the blinds, he’d call, check to me on the flop, call any reasonable flop bet, then check to me again on the turn. If I checked behind, he’d fire a bet on the river trying to take the pot. If I bet the turn, he’d ponder for a bit, and either call or fold–but he always seemed to know where I was, because he’d call when I was betting with air and fold when I had a hand. I always seemed to need a hand to beat him, and when I had a hand I couldn’t make any money from him because he seemed to know he was behind and would fold. It’s frustrating as hell when someone is clearly reading you very well, and having such a tough player in the blinds made blind stealing (a must in tournament play) nearly impossible.
Finally, I had my moment of stupid. I was on the button with AQo, and made a raise. Of course my nemesis calls in the big blind, and we see the flop heads up. It comes three small cards, and he checks to me. This was shaping up just like every other hand I’d played against him in the tournament. If I bet, he’d call. If I improved on the turn and bet, he’d fold. If I didn’t improve and still bet, he’d call. He was frustrating the shit out of me, and all I was thinking was “What haven’t I tried yet?” I’d tried making a standard bet, I’d tried checking when I missed the flop, I’d tried checking when I hit the flop and betting the turn trying to “disguise” my hand–nothing worked, this guy picked it all off, every time.
So I shoved all my chips into the pot, thinking maybe I could just blow him off the hand right here. He immediately called and turned over two jacks. I shook my head, knowing I’d made the worst possible play, and turned over my AQo.
“Why the hell would you shove with that hand?” he said derisively. I opened my mouth to say something (I still don’t know exactly what) but just then the dealer brought the turn, which was an ace.
“Because I knew that was coming,” I said, like a true luckbox asshole. The river was no help to him, so he walked away muttering to himself about how he’d set me up perfectly and still lost.
Now, let me be clear here. I made a horrible play. I made the play almost entirely because this one guy had been pissing me off all night, which is probably the worst reason to do anything in poker. He truly had set me up and I’d blundered into the trap and still come out unscathed. That’s part of the beauty of poker, though–sometimes the worst hand wins, and if it wasn’t that way, nobody would play.
But here’s the thing that keeps bugging me. The guy claimed he’d put me on AK or AQ, which is what I had, so he’d called with his jacks to see a flop and try to trap me into bluffing off some of my chips. Then the flop came three rags and I shoved my chips into the middle, and he insta-called. Wait, really? Sure, if you really think I have two big cards and am bluffing (which I was) that was the right play. But… you berate me for making an insane play with two over cards, a bet you can’t believe I’d made. And yet that thought never entered your head before calling? You can’t believe I’d make a play like that, and yet you called off all your chips banking on the fact that I had, in fact, made exactly that play? That does not really compute.
For the record, I shoved partly because I’m insane, but partly because I didn’t think he had a pair either. His pattern was to call me almost any time I raised his blind, so it’s not like I can assume he has a pair every time he does that. If he has AK and I blow him off the hand with AQ, then I look like a genius.
Clearly next time, I should follow T.J. Cloutier’s strategy, and play only medium pairs so I can flop middle set and bust him.