The Beatdown/The Barbecue/Let It Bleed/Yard Fights: A Three-in-One Poker Report

18 November 2005

The Beatdown:

It was not going to be my night. I burned through eighty of my $100 buy-in in a few hours. It wasn’t that I was playing that badly; I took a couple of pretty bad beats. The worst had to be the one that Ivan, poker player deluxe and designer/programmer of this here website applied early in the night. After the deal, I see that I’ve got pocket tens, not great, but certainly worthy of a call of any bet that may come at me; if it’s checked around, then I may even want to bet. However, there’s a bet ahead of me, so I just call. A ten comes on the flop, along with an eight and a four, and, since it was the highest card that hit, I’ve got top set: a monster hand. Ivan bets out, most everybody folds, and I just call, slow-playing my hand and hoping to get paid off later on in the hand.

Now, I can attack with it early, but I check it instead, hoping to check-raise whomever bets. Ivan, bets, and I call. Fourth street is a great card for me, another eight, giving me a 10-10-10-8-8 full house. Ivan bets out again and, seeing that he’s committed to the hand, I re-raise, knowing that he’ll re-raise me, which he does. I close the betting with the last raise, putting us both in for $8 on this round alone. Fifth street is a jack, but I’m not worried that Ivan’s holding pocket jacks, which would give him a better boat than mine. He bets the fifth-street max, $4, I re-raise the max, he re-raises the max, and I make the final raise: each of us invests $16, and the pot is at nearly $60, with Ivan and me investing over $25 each.

Since I got called, I show that I’ve made a boat. Now it’s Ivan’s turn to show his cards: two 8’s. My boat loses to his four-of-a-kind. We had both made our sets on the flop, but he had gone right past me when the second 8 hit on fourth. After that, only another ten could have helped me, which meant that I had one card in the deck that was of any use to me. I was almost drawing dead.

That hand was the start of the ferocious beatdown. Most of the guys in our game buy in for between $50 and $80, but Big Daddy (I’m Big Daddy; go with it) always buys in for $100. When anybody asks why, I like to say, “Because I like to lose early and often,” which gets a laugh, but I really buy for so much for a combo strategic/psychological reason.

Strategically, if a fellow player sees that you’re short-stacked, they’ll use that to their advantage by making bets that you may not be able to call when calling would put such a large percentage of your chips in play. Conversely, being short-stacked may prevent you from being able to extract maximum value from a great hand.

Psychologically, you may become discouraged by looking down at your chips and seeing how little of them there are. You may, as the expression goes, go on tilt. For example, if I had only bought in for $50, Ivan’s four of a kind would have taken half of my chips, which can be a painful thought to have to deal with for the rest of the night. By my buying in for $100, Ivan only got a quarter of my stack.

Also, my playing a relatively conservative, low-variance style, prevents me from ever being in danger of losing my original buy-in and then having to re-buy, which is painful/demoralizing/slightly embarrassing.

At some point, though, when I was down to about $10, I actually had to go to my man-bag to reload with another $100 for a potential re-buy, my first since18 June 2005 (the night that I gave it up like the town skank, to the tune of $145.50) , which I put in my pocket for when the last of my original buy-in was gone, because, with the way the cards were coming and how I was playing, I was convinced that it would be gone.

But then my luck changed. I don’t think that I played any better, though I did make two calls that I wouldn’t ordinarily make because there was plenty of room above me, and those two hands netted me about $40. By the end of the night, I actually won $15.50, which meant that I didn’t need the green I’d pulled from my man bag. Sweet.

23 November 2005

I Just Wanted Some Food:

So it’s the first day of my little five-day vacation. I spend four hours in bed trying to catch up on my New Yorkers (I just finished 1999; 2000, here I come), get up and then ready to go out (to a local coffee shop with free wifi and where I can work on whatever [I’m so far behind on all my little projects that I should probably just give up]), when I see that there’s a voicemail on my cellie. It’s Bert, inventor of the Bert Classic and aluminum siding, telling me, enigmatically, to call him back as soon as I can. I call back, and Bert, inventor of the Bert Light and preference utilitarianism, says that he’s barbecuing at his crib. Now, I don’t love anything in this world except three things: corduroy pants, existential despair, and barbecue. Goddamn, I look great in corduroy.

I say that I’ve got to try to get some work done, but that I’ll be at his crib at seven. I roll in at about 7:05, which isn’t that bad, but I felt kind of like a dick because I’m a real stickler about being where I say that I’ll be at the time that I say that I’ll be there.

When I arrived at Bert’s crib, he was hanging in the garage, sitting at a round patio table (the one we use when we play poker at his house), and I know what’s going down. Bert had told me on the phone that my big bro might also be showing up, which meant that we’d have at least three poker players on the premises, which meant that there was a good chance that the cards might start flying. I sit down, and Bert immediately starts naming all of the players who will be arriving shortly.

Every single person that he names shows up. By the time that everyone arrives, we end up with seven players, and they are all heavy-hitters: my big bro, Ivan, Bert, Jesse, Oscar, Pumpkin Boy, and Big Daddy (I’m Big Daddy). There’s no dead money and it’s going to be fierce and brutal and bloody.

Let It Bleed:

This is the toughest group that we’ve ever had (if I were to pick the seven best players from all of those who have ever played in our game, this would be the seven), and it’s going to be a test. How’d I do? Remember how I said that I buy in for $100, more than anybody else? Well, that money was gone in about two hours. I bought in for the second $100, but before I did, I had joked, “Okay, this hundred, then one after that, and then somebody cut me off.” Everybody laughed, but I was semi-serious because I won’t ever leave a game just because I’m pouring money; I’ll only leave at the time that I said I would or when we collectively decide that it’s enough, already, with the poker. Otherwise, I’ll pay and pay, but I’ll come back to that later.

A Yard Fight:

The play is intense and we’re getting some sizeable pots. Bert makes a joke about getting his ass kicked, and I say, “You know what? I haven't seen a good yard fight in forever,” and everybody knew exactly what I was talking about because we’ve all seen at least one. But since most of us aren’t or never were in the kind of life where yard fights were a regular occurrence, none of us had seen one in quite a while.

My dad used to have these barbecues/parties that would go from Saturday afternoon (after work) until late Sunday night, and, obviously, there was a lot of booze involved. What happens when you get a bunch of drunken people together in a yard? A yard fight.

Most yard fights take place between guys who are pretty wasted, so nobody is really going to get hurt. Somebody might trip over an ice chest, but that’s as bas as it’s going to get. For serious fights, though, the aggrieved parties will take it to the alley (for an alley fight [because of all the junk commonly found in alleys, the most dangerous of fights]) or to the street (for the classic street fight [watch out for asphalt burn]). Thanks to my dad’s social gatherings, and his friends (most of whom were really great guys), I’ve seen all three.

Let It Bleed, continued:

Like I said, this is the toughest group that we’ve ever had. I was getting brutalized and I found myself deep into the end of a hand, with only nine dollars from my second hundred sitting in front of me. If I lost this hand, I’d be down $191, and, since we were going to go late, I’d have to buy in again with hours and hours to go before the game broke up.

Now, I don’t really worry about how much I do or don’t win; the chips are just a way to keep score, to see how I’ve done relative to the other guys at the table and relative to my other nights in our game. But, the way that the night was going, it seemed like a distinct possibility that if I bought in again the third $100 wouldn’t last too long, either, and I’d be in for a fourth $100. That’s when I started to get a little nervous.

But I split the pot that had left me with only $9 from my second buy-in. I started winning pots, not big ones, but winning is winning, amen. In the last hour, I went on a bit of a rush and got back $77 of the second $100 to the $9 I’d had left. So, even though I lost $113.50 for the night (the second-most I’ve ever lost in a poker game), I actually didn’t feel too badly and almost felt sort of relieved. For the year, though, I’m only up $878.75 now, which means that I’ll have to find a way to win $121.25 by the end of December so that I can get up over a grand in profits for the year.

25 November 2005

Once More Into the Breach:

I had sort of thought that we’d played on Wednesday because the Friday game probably wasn’t going to come together, what with the holiday and familial obligations. At the end of Wednesday’s game, we were chilling in Bert’s kitchen, seeing if Friday was in or out. Everybody was a maybe, which I just figured was a polite way of saying no. I was wrong. My big bro calls me on my cellie to tell me that we’re on for 7:30 at his house, and that it’s going to be a full table.

That’s all I needed to hear. Screw literature, man, it was business time. I was at the local coffee joint, working on some poems and stories, and I had planned to work pretty late (they close at eleven), but I had to get out of there by 6:45 in order to restock the poker food and drinks and get the table and chips set up.


I had taken an ass kicking just two days before, had been on the verge of a truly horrific night, but I had managed to make a bit of a comeback. I was sort of hoping that I could continue the upward swing and try to get at least close to even for the week.

Don’t Call It a Comeback (Mostly Because It Wasn’t):

It was not to be. I lost a ton of chips early, about half of my $100 buy-in, and was up and down from my remaining fifty for the rest of the night. There was one hand that knocked me down to about $20, and it was the biggest pot that we’d ever had.

We were playing Omaha High-Low, where the best high hand and the best low hand split the pot. I had A-3-?-?; I can’t remember my other two cards, mostly because I was so happy that I had A-3, which, while not the best low (that would be A-2), is great because I controlled one of the four aces in the deck and meant that there were only three other aces to go around, and even then, that ace would have to be joined by a deuce in order for me to lose.

There’s a lot of action in Omaha High-Low, so the bets and raises and re-raises can get pretty crazy. Pre-flop, everybody but Pumpkin Boy called all of the bets, and the flop came with a four and a five, which meant that A-4, and A-5 were dead for the low because whoever held a 4 or a 5 had paired. Now, my A-3 is really great because only one hand beats me, the aforementioned A-2. There are max bets and raises, and we’re still five-handed before fourth street. What I’m hoping for now is two things: that a 3 doesn’t land on fourth or fifth so that a pair cracks my low hand and that a 2 comes down and kills A-2.

Fourth street isn’t a 3, thankfully, but neither is it a 2, so I’m still a little vulnerable. Again there are maximum bets and raises and everybody stays in. I had been hoping all along that the flop with a 4 and a 5 had driven most people to play for the high, but with so many people still in, I’m not so sure.

Fifth street comes down, and it isn’t a 2 or a 3. In our game, post-river bets double to a $4 maximum. I’m hoping that the betting will slow down and I can get a relatively cheap showdown, but by the time the action gets around to me, there isn’t one bet left to be made. All four players ahead of me, except for Ivan (who had gone all-in when the betting came to him) are in for $16, and it’s up to me to decide if I should call or fold. I’m already in for close to $15 and a call puts me in for almost $31.

At this point, making the call isn’t an automatic. Yes, A-3, is the second-best possible low hand, but the bets came so quickly and strongly that I suspect that one of the other players has to be holding A-2. Still, it’s hard to let go of my hand, and, you never, know; everybody else could be going high or has a worse low than A-3. It will cost me $16 to get a shot at $140, almost nine-to-one odds. I call.

What happens at the showdown for the low? There are three of us going for the low, and I finish in third place. Two guys had A-2. Two guys. That’s just mean. There were five of us in at the end and about $140 in the pot, and I didn’t get one little taste.

There’s Pain, Baby, There’s Pain:

All of a sudden, I’m down to $20, and I’m probably going to have to reload for the second night in a row. Toward the end of the night, however, I made a mini-run and managed to recoup most of what I lost. When I cashed out, I had lost only $31.50, which isn’t bad (my man, Ivan, dropped almost five times as much), but, for the extended holiday weekend, I had lost $145.

The Question:

So why has it all gone sideways for me? I thought that I’d gotten everything straightened out, game-wise, in the past three months, but that turned out to be wishful/delusional thinking.

Since Friday, I’ve been mining the data and doing a deep statistical analysis of what I’ve been doing at the table, and the answer, now, seems pretty clear: I’m getting into too many hands when I shouldn’t, and I’m also staying in hands when I should be pushing the eject button. I’ve been chasing the action instead of being patient, which isn’t usually like me. Come next Friday, I’m going to try to go back to how I had been playing when I had gone on my three-month winning streak. We’ll see how it turns out.