Bill's Gamblin' Hall and Saloon is neither one of my favorite nor most frequent poker hangouts, but it's a reliable money-maker, so I try to hit it once or twice a month. This weekend I did something different and put in three sessions there, racking up $508 in 10.8 hours, for about $47/hour. Doing so produced a boatload of stories and observations, which I'll lump together here.
First I have to note the guy pictured above, who was standing there watching the pigs race. I don't know if you can see it well enough in the photo I snapped of him, but the sequins fastened onto the tail of his sports jacket spell out "Big Money." That's subtlety for you.
Speaking of the pig races, I extended my perfect track record. Three of us at the table did a pig-race prop bet, and I won. Uptick $2. Thank you very much. I left shortly after that. Still at 100%, never having had to pay off a losing pig.
Saturday evening there were two women at the table in seats 6 and 7, on vacation together from the midwest. I was in seat 9, next to the dealer. At seemingly random intervals, these two would grope/fondle/massage each other's breasts. One time, when one did this to the other, the gropee responded, "Hey, don't start what you can't finish!" It added a whole new dimension to the game. I seriously thought about breaking out my pre-planned line about bringing good luck, but didn't have the nerve.
They were openly flirting with two young men at the table. They pretty much ignored me. *Sigh*. I'm afraid that my age and looks are such that I can't even remember the last time that a stranger tried to flirt with me.
That session was by far the most out-of-control I've ever witnessed at Bill's, and among the top five or so of my entire Vegas experience. The amount of drunkenness, inexperience, noise, conversation, and laughter at the table was such that the game slowed to a crawl. The dealers had to work to get nearly every player's attention nearly every time in order to get anybody to actually take a turn. We were down to about half the normal rate of hands per hour. This really tests the limits of my equanimity and patience. (And that of the dealers, too. They were perpetually on the verge of seriously losing it.) I hate that kind of crap, wasting time for no good reason, because my income is all about the hands per hour. But, as usual, the game was just unbelievably soft, so I tried to grin and bear it. I'm well aware, when setting out for Bill's, that it ain't the Venetian, that I will likely be the only one at the table who actually cares about making money, that for the rest it's all about the fun. So I do my what little it is within my nature to be able to do in order to contribute to a light, fun atmosphere.
There's a reason for the rule
Another thing I have to steel myself for in preparation for playing at Bill's is the looseness of rules enforcement. They are intentionally catering to first-time players, the ultra-casual players, people who have never tried real casino poker before. People buy in for $20 or $30 or $40, and get a taste of the NLHE game they've seen on TV, and it's a little thrill for them. They don't know the rules and etiquette. So I do my best to try to ignore a lot of it, put in a gentle word or two of education where I can, and not be too much of a nit.
After the gropers had left Saturday night, they were replaced by two young women who were part of a group that had lived together during college, and came out to Vegas every year for a kind of reunion. They had played poker in home games, but never in a casino, and were trying it for the first time. Another first-time guy was to their right.
They kept talking about the hand in progress, despite repeated admonitions from both me and the dealers not to. It was bad enough that at one point I even pointedly said to the guy, who was being pretty obnoxious about openly giving advice to players facing decisions, "You're kind of a slow learner, aren't you?" That seemed to finally stop his nasty little habit.
And then it finally mattered:
I was one of three people in a hand. I had 9-8 offsuit, and had called a small pre-flop raise. But everybody apparently missed the flop, turn, and river, so it just got checked down the whole way. The final board included four spades. I didn't have one, but the last card had been an 8, giving me a measly pair. I was in early position, so when the last player checked on the river, I was first to show. I was expecting one of the other players to show a higher pair or a flush, but both of them just pushed their cards forward, face down.
Before the dealer could gather them in, one of the college-reunion women said, "I can't believe none of you had a spade!" This prompted the guy on my right to pick up his cards again, at which point he got a startled look on his face, then turned over the ace of spades. He said, "I would have sworn that was the ace of clubs!"
He had not even noticed the spades on the board until the woman said that.
He got the pot that would otherwise have been mine.
I was seriously annoyed at this. I mean, sure, it was a small pot, and the person with the best hand took it, which is as it should be. But conversely, I firmly believe that players have the right to muck the best hand and thereby forfeit the pot if they are so inclined, and nobody else should interfere with them doing so.
At least this young woman had the good sense to be absolutely mortified at what she had done. She must have apologized a hundred times, and kept doing so long after I had both forgiven her and had stopped being annoyed about it having happened.
The good news is that seeing how one little stray comment can totally change the outcome of a hand (well, that, plus the floor guy coming over and giving a stern warning to everybody), the table finally seemed to catch on to the fact that you really must not say anything about the hand in progress. And, by the way, the hand is still in progress until the pot has been awarded and the next hand has begun with the beginning of the shuffle (or by the dealer removing the new deck from the shuffler).
As I've mentioned before, Bill's attracts the most unbelievably novice players in the universe. I have overheard the following comments in the past few days there:
- Man plausibly claiming to have had 7-7 bets $6 from under the gun, folds to an opponent's bet on an ace-high flop, says, "I just wanted to take those blinds!" Remember that Bill's plays with a single $1 blind. In other words, he was claiming to have bet $6 not to start building a pot that he could later win, but simply in order to win the single $1 chip that was on the table when he made that raise. Good thinking, sir.
- Guy who limped in, then had to decide whether to call a pre-flop raise, looked long and hard at his hole cards, then at the raiser, and said, in all earnestness, "I think I might be drawing dead here," and folded. (Note to the non-poker-players among my readers, to whom this might not be obvious: There are no two cards that are drawing dead to any other two cards before the flop. Any starting hand can beat any other, given the right community cards. One cannot play the game for very long before realizing this, which is why the guy's words reveal that he has likely watched the game on TV and heard this kind of comment in a different context, but has never actually played.)
- On a paired flop, one player asked the dealer, "Do you have to use five cards to make a hand?"
- One player, who repeatedly warned us that he had never played before and had no idea what to do, was there with a friend who was trying to teach him the game. The more experienced friend took a restroom break. When he returned, the newbie excitedly told him, "While you were gone, if I had played one hand, I would have made five in a row, 6-7-8-9-10. That's something, isn't it?"
- Last night, a player with about $30 left was facing a $71 all-in bet. He asked the dealer, "Can I just play for, like, $5, or do I have to put it all in to play?"
- One player asked the dealer whether an ace could play as part of a low straight as well as a high straight.
- Last night, I saw this betting sequence on the flop: Player A checks. Player B bets $20. Player C calls. Player A decides to go all-in for $40. Player B also goes all-in, for less, a total of $36. Player C...FOLDS! There were three of us reasonably experienced players all clustered together at one end of the table, and all three of us had our eyes bug out at the fold. We quietly exchanged a few words, all of which were around this observation: There is no hand that C could have for which it makes sense to call $20 into a small pot, but then not call an additional $20 into what is now a much larger pot, on the same street. He was getting much better pot odds on the second $20 than he was on the first $20. He must (or at least should) have known when calling B's initial $20 bet that B was going to put his last $16 in on this hand, no matter what. In other words, C must (or, again, at least should) have either decided he was willing to put in $36 or not called the $20 to begin with. In fact, it would have been smarter, probably, to look at his two opponents' stack sizes, and just shoved there, trying to keep A from calling the $20 and getting pot-committed.
I hasten to add that I'm really not trying to make fun of these people for their ignorance. They're not stupid, just new. Everybody has to learn the basic rules and strategies of the game at some point, and there's no shame in not knowing something, or in asking a question in order to clear up what you don't know.
It's just that it's really rare to encounter this much absolutely bare-bones level of inexperience in no-limit casino poker. It's much more common that people learn these basics in home games, playing micro-limits online, or playing the cheapest limit hold'em in a casino. It's the incredibly low buy-in and blind structure at Bill's that prompts people to sit down and play a no-limit game, when they really would be better off in one of those other situations.
Oops, I broke up the game!
In two hands I busted four players last night. First one was with my top pair/top kicker against her top pair/medium kicker. On the very next hand I caught quad 7s (with a pair in the hand, which got me a $50 high-hand jackpot in addition to the pot) on a double-paired board, and busted three opponents at once. One had a full house, one had hit a flush on the river (I didn't pull the trigger until then, though I flopped a set and turned the quads), and one had an ace in the hole, and thought maybe two pairs with an ace was good enough to call off all of his chips with.
On the previous night (Saturday), when I arrived at about 5:00, as the floor guy was selling me chips, he said, only half-jokingly, "Don't bust the whole table too fast--I've got to keep the game going until 7:00, when my shift ends!" I guess he should have saved his warning for the next night!
(N.B.: This is a serious faux pas on his part, if you ask me. Yeah, it's nice that he has paid attention to my play, remembers my face, and recognizes that I'm probably going to be the shark in his little fish pool, but the last thing I need is for him to be saying such a thing three feet away from the table. It not only unnecessarily warns the more unsuspecting players, but it insults them, if they're alert enough to catch his meaning. Furthermore, does he seriously think I'm not going to try to maximize my profit, just so that his job is made easier? Please.)
The Internet blog guy
When I sat down for a late-night session last night, one player at the table looked at me and said, "You're that Internet blog guy, right?" He had spent some time with me during the evening described here, so had heard others mention my blog.
Anyway, for any readers who happen to run into me across the green felt, I found this guy's question so amusing in its phrasing that it is now the preferred official way to introduce yourself to the Grump: "You're that Internet blog guy, right?"
One difficult decision
Last night I was in late position with the two black 7s, so I raised to $5, and got two callers. The flop was 7-8-9, with two diamonds. It was checked to me. I deliberately overbet the pot ($25, I think) in order not to give proper pot odds to an opponent with a flush draw or straight draw. Both of them called. Ugh.
The turn was an offsuit jack. The first guy quickly moved all-in for $71. This is the same hand I mentioned above, in which the second guy then asked whether he could just play for, say, $5 more, instead of the rest of his stack. When told it was all or nothing, he folded.
I was sitting on about $400 at the time, so it wasn't like a call here would break me. But I couldn't make sense of the first guy's move. I didn't think he had flopped a straight, because with two opponents who might be on a flush draw, surely he would have either bet out on the flop or check-raised me. But it also didn't really make sense for him to have had a 10 for a now-completed straight draw, because he shouldn't have been willing to call such a large bet on the flop. He would have had to think that if another diamond came he couldn't count on a straight being good, which means that he should have reasoned that he only had six outs rather than the usual eight. Therefore, calling a bet that is substantially larger than the pot doesn't make sense. If he had miraculously gotten me in a set-over-set situation, again, surely he would go for the check-raise on the flop, rather than slow-play on such a highly coordinated board.
I thought long and hard about this, and finally decided that it was most likely that he had either two pairs or one pair plus a flush draw. Even if I was wrong and he had hit his straight, I would have ten outs to a full house. So I called.
I had indeed been wrong. He had had 9-10, for top pair and a straight draw on the flop, but with no flush draw. Now, if I had been in his spot, I would have either folded or gone for the all-in check-raise on the flop with that holding. The second guy has so little left in front of him that he's not really a factor. The guy with 9-10 should have figured that a check-raise would drive me out if I were continuation-betting a hand like ace-king that completely whiffed on the flop, and that it would price me out if I were betting a flush draw or straight draw, and he would still have outs to win against almost anything I could have, in case I called with something like an overpair.
But I forgot where I was. Players at Bill's do not think about the game the same way that I do, so when I went through the hand as if I were in my opponent's seat, figuring out what cards I would have to have in order to play the way he had done, I was simply wrong. That entire approach, which is both sound and necessary when facing opponents of comparable skill and experience, falls flat when tried against considerably weaker players, because they simply don't think the same way I do.
What I should have asked myself was this: "Would a tight/weak/timid player just call that flop bet with top pair and a straight draw, hoping that he would simultaneously make his straight without the possible flush card hitting?" And the answer to that would have been a resounding "yes."
But the poker gods were merciful to me last night, and let me slide on my lapse in clear thinking. They sent an 8 on the river, pairing the board, and giving me the winning full house.
I don't usually rely on luck to win at Bill's (or anywhere else, for that matter), but it's nice to get it once in a while.
Never bluff at Bill's--well, almost never
As I have emphasized in a couple of previous posts about Bill's, it is not a place to bluff, because one is surrounded by calling stations. But there are exceptions. This weekend I ran into a few players smart enough to lay down a hand like top pair in the face of an opponent showing unusual strength.
An opportunity arose Saturday night. One of the good players put in a straddle, then, after he got called in several spots, raised to $15. I had the distinct impression that he was full of shit, that he was just trying to take the $10 or $12 on the table and be done with it. I had suited K-Q. I had limped in with it instead of raising because I was in middle position, and didn't feel like playing a big pot with what is, after all, still a pretty mediocre hand, with three or four players acting after me. But when everybody between the straddler and me folded to his raise, I was certainly willing to take him on, since I would have position on him, and I likely was starting with a better hand. Everybody folded behind me, too, so it was to be one on one. Excellent.
The flop was J-x-x. It gave me no pair and no draw. But I also knew that most of the time it will have missed him, too. Nevertheless, he did what a strong, aggressive player should usually do, and continuation-bet at it, $20. I thought that he was still full of it, so I thought a bit, then pushed out $65. He was a smart enough player to see a pre-flop limp-call, combined with a strong flop raise, as signaling danger, such as somebody with a small pocket pair having flopped a set. Sure enough, he thought for maybe 30 seconds, then folded while flashing me a jack, to show that he had hit top pair. But he simultaneously admitted, "The other one isn't too good."
So I had been right that he was just trying to buy it with junk before the flop. I had, in one sense, been wrong in guessing that the flop missed him. But in a more important sense I had been right. That is, my bet on the flop was not a bet that he had missed it completely, because obviously I couldn't know that. Rather, I was betting that he did not have a hand strong enough to call a scary-looking raise from a solid, tight player who had not shown down a single weak hand all night. On that mark, I was exactly correct.
When he folded, I gave him a wink and a smile, and exposed my K-Q. I rarely show bluffs, but here it was entirely purposeful. I had managed to get into a situation in which I could put in a bluff with a high probability of success against one of only two players at the table whom I judged capable of folding a superior hand. To get maximal value, I wanted to be sure that all of the calling stations at the table saw what I had done, in the hope that it would reinforce their already erroneous tendency to look me up too often with medium-strength hands when I had the goods.
So to the gentleman whom I used as my advertising, my apologies. I honestly wasn't trying to rub your nose in it. I was trying to help coax additional future calls from the weaker players, whom I would not normally try to bluff. Please take it as a compliment that I recognized you to be a good enough player to fold--it genuinely is one.
A mistake that worked out nicely
Early in the session, I had flopped top two pairs with a 9-7 in my hand, and picked up a full house on the turn. I showed it, despite my bet not being called. I won another hand a short time later when the same cards caught two pairs again. It then became a running joke and/or point of commentary at the table about how often that night the board was coming in such a form that holding 9-7 would be a great hand. With freakish frequency, if you could have played 9-7 every hand, you would have been hitting two pairs, trips, straights, and full houses all evening long. One guy complained that he hadn't been dealt the 9-7 all night. Kind of odd, when you usually hear that gripe leveled about not getting aces or kings!
Anyway, after this had been going on for a couple of hours, I found myself looking at the 9-7 of hearts. I raised. The flop was A-6-4, with two hearts. I almost never bluff at Bill's, but I do mix in some semi-bluffs. This is because many of the players there are not used to seeing betting on the come, so when a third card of a suit appears, they assume that the person who had bet at the flop must not have the flush. This is, I assume, because beginning players tend to check a flush draw, figuring it's not worth throwing money at it if you don't have to, when you can just wait to see if you make your hand first. So mixing in some semi-bluffs can pay off. I decided to do it here, and got two callers.
The turn was an offsuit 3. Dang. I thought about checking, but decided to bet again, hoping that they'd read me for having a big ace and fold. But, of course, this is Bill's, and nobody's folding.
The river was an offsuit 5. Rats! No flush and no pair! The first player checked to me, and, well, my old habits took over. I'm a third-bullet shooter. In this case, my instant self-justification was that maybe both of them had been on flush draws and would fold. If I had thought for about two more seconds, I would have realized how unlikely that was. Furthermore, I had shown the bluff described above specifically so that I would get more callers! What in the hell was I thinking, trying to pull off a three-shell bluff? I wasn't thinking--that was the problem. It was completely foolish.
I bet $25 on the river, praying to see two players throw their cards in the muck, even as the more rational part of my brain was saying, "Don't throw good money after bad." They both called. Yikes!
So, fully embarrassed, I turned over my hand and quietly said, "I guess I'll have to lose with the 9-7 for once tonight."
To my utter shock, the dealer announced, "Straight." I had been so focused on the flush that I had not even noticed that I had backed into a 3-4-5-6-7 straight. I can't remember the last time I so completely misread the board. (It might have been the third story related in this post.)
Both opponents mucked without showing their cards. Nobody said anything about what they must have thought was my weird comment about losing. I was too ashamed to admit that I had not seen the straight. I hoped that if anybody had heard what I said, they would take it as having been somehow ironic. I have no idea what they thought, if anything.
The poker gods were truly covering my backside for me that night.
Best I can figure is that they were there to bet on the pig races.
I really wanted that pig-racing bit to be the punchline, and leave the post there. But upon re-reading it, I feel obligated to add a caveat here. I fear that the number of times in this post that I make reference to being so much better at poker than my opponents will sound far more arrogant than would be a true reflection of how I view myself as a player.
So I'd like to set that record straight. I've said this before, and probably will need to again at some point. I think I have a pretty brutally realistic assessment of my strengths and weaknesses as a player. I honestly believe that I am probably just about as low on the continuum of poker skill as one can possibly be and still have a shot at making a living at the game.
But it's a simple fact that even that extremely modest level of talent (modest, that is, in comparison to the world-class pros whose ability has me in awe) puts one ahead of at least 90% of the tourists that sit down in $1-2 no-limit hold'em games. At a place like Bill's, it does not require any haughtiness or self-worship to say that my knowledge and understanding of the game is far deeper than that of the great majority of the other players. It's a simple, objective, unmistakable fact, and anybody who sat and watched for a while would, I think, inevitably come to the same conclusion.
So please don't read into my stories and comments an inference that I fancy myself as one of the greats. I do not--not by a long shot. I realize and fully acknowledge that I'm simply choosing to swim in really small ponds, in which it is just not very hard to be at the top of the food chain.