Saturday, February 11, 2012

G. Gordon Liddy sets an example

I was playing at the Luxor tonight. A guy joined the table that looked so much like G. Gordon Liddy that I had to stare for a while before I could convince myself that it wasn't actually him.* He not only had the same build and facial structure, but he had the shaved head and Tom Selleck moustache, too. I was tempted to challenge him to a contest of who could hold his hand over a candle flame for the longest to find out if it was him or not. You can see him (sort of) on the right in the photo above.

I don't remember playing with him before, but he is clearly a local nit--the archetypal nut-peddler that everybody warns you means serious business when he bets or raises.

I had A-A under the gun and raised to $10. One caller, then Liddy raised to $35. Hmm. This was the first three-bet he had done in the two hours or so we had been playing--and he was doing it against my UTG raise. All by itself, this fact narrowed his hand range incredibly far: About 90% chance he has aces or kings. The other 10% (and that's being generous) is queens and A-K, both much less likely than the Big Two. I could narrow it even further, in fact. Given that I had two of the four aces in the deck, it was six times more likely that he had kings than aces.

A fourth player called the $35, so this was starting to look like we were going to have a big, multiway pot. I started salivating. After nonchalantly wiping the drool from my chin, I slid forward two stacks of $50 each to add to the previous $10. A bet of $110 was not only conveniently about three times Liddy's bet, but had the added advantage of being about half of his remaining stack. (I started the hand with about $320, and had him covered.) I hoped that he would decide that if he was going to put in half his stack, he might as well put in the whole thing--or, alternatively, that he would just call and then feel pot-committed when I moved in on the flop.

First caller folded. Liddy thought for a bit, counting and stacking and restacking his chips. I couldn't tell if he was considering a shove or a fold. He well might have had both in his mind as legitimate options. He finally settled on a call. Fourth player dropped out.

As the dealer scooped the chips into the middle of the table, I was exerting my mental powers on him: Don't flop a king, don't flop a king, don't flop a king. I really wanted there not to be an ace, either, so that Liddy would be more likely to commit his stack, but that plea to the universe was made with an order of magnitude less intensity than the no-king one.

The flop was 3-3-4 rainbow. Of all the flops that do not improve pocket aces, that may be the very best that one can see. Absolutely perfect, utterly nonthreatening. "I'm all in."

And now the sweat began. Liddy was quiet and still, but obviously in some psychological distress. After a minute or so he broke the silence: "I know that you're good enough to know exactly what I have. So the fact that you go all in while knowing that means that you can only have one hand." Neither I nor anybody else at the table responded to this observation, and his silent vigil resumed. His only other sound was quietly adding up what the pre-flop bets had been to get an estimate of the pot size, then counting his own remaining chips--about $135.

Finally he let out a big breath and said, "You have aces. That's all there is to it. I have to fold." And with that, he turned his kings face up and slid them back to the dealer.

To his left was a young stereotypical European internet player, who had been waiting out this drama with obvious impatience. The kid's eye bugged out of his skull, and he said, "You're folding?! How can you fold that?"

Liddy was unperturbed by having his decision questioned. Matter-of-factly, without defensiveness or irritation, he replied, "He has aces. I have two outs. I'm not going to put in another hundred dollars drawing to two outs." Eurokid smirked and said, "You have to call there." Liddy brushed him off. "I know you couldn't fold here, but it's the right move. In fact, I was close to throwing it away before the flop." I believe him 100%. His tone was not defiant or argumentative--just supremely confident. It was the voice of a man who had made a difficult decision, and didn't like having to do it, but was at peace with what he had done.

I was seriously impressed. I don't know if I would have saved my last money the way that he did, after investing half my stack. I think coming to the conclusion that I had pocket aces was relatively straightforward for him, as was arriving at the obvious implication that that conclusion required a fold. But actually carrying out what he knew needed to be done was agonizing and took some mustering of his considerable internal fortitude.

The best episode of the World Poker Tour I ever saw was in the first season, with Paul Phillips heads-up against Mel Judah. Judah had fought back from a short stack to have a small chip lead. Then in the decisive hand they both had straights on the river, but Judah's was the nuts. Phillips had the dummy end. Judah moved all in, which was a massive overbet to a small pot. Phillips deliberated for several minutes, and they did not edit the tape. You see him talking to himself, trying to get some read off of Judah, sweating profusely, debating whether Judah would have taken the line he did if he had the only cards that beat him (Phillips). Meanwhile, in the voiceover, Mike Sexton ticks off for Vince Van Patten (and for the home audience) all the clues that Phillips has that Judah has him beat. It was one of the most cogent and insightful pieces of analysis I ever heard him do, and he was exactly right. Van Patten was much more sympathetic with the dilemma Phillips was in. He acknowledged Sexton's points, but then said, "But how do you fold a straight when you're heads-up?" Sexton's response was classic, and I've never forgotten it: "It's easy, Vince. You just pick up your cards and throw them in the muck." (Phillips didn't see it that way. He called and the tournament was over.)

Many times I've been faced with the painful conclusion that I'm beat and have to fold, abandoning some small fortune in chips in the pot. In such situations, Sexton's words come back to my mind: "Just pick up your cards and throw them in the muck." It hurts, but you make that one small physical motion, and it's done, like ripping off a Band-Aid.

It seems to me that this is a lesson that Mr. Liddy (or whatever his real name is) has learned well. He didn't care what anybody else would do, nor what anybody else thought of his decision. He simply was not going to throw good money after bad, once he convinced himself that his read of my hand was correct.

I did not show my cards. I thought it was strategically better to let Liddy, the kid, and the others continue to wonder if his certitude would have been vindicated. As a general rule, leaving opponents feeling psychologically off-balance and unsure of themselves is more effective than satisfying their curiosity.

But an hour or so later, after I racked up my chips and bade the table good night, I stopped by Liddy's seat and told him, sotto voce, "You were absolutely right. Very impressive laydown." He gave me a quick nod and a terse, "Thank you." I thought he deserved to know--though his confidence in himself was such that I'm not sure it really added anything to his perception of what had transpired.

*It has absolutely no connection to the poker tale, but I'm suddenly remembering a funny moment from the real Liddy. Many years ago I saw him on a late-night TV talk show. He and the host (Carson? I can't remember for sure) somehow got talking about guns. The host asked him if he owned any guns. He said, "As a convicted felon, I am legally prohibited from owning firearms. [Pause.] Mrs. Liddy, however, has an extensive collection."

Addendum, February 11, 2012

I found that World Poker Tour episode online here. The final two hands start at about the 37:00 mark. It's been years since I watched it, so this gives you a chance to see whether my memory of the action and dialog in my description above was accurate. (I got some details wrong--e.g., it was early in the second season, not the first, and Judah's straight was the second nuts rather than the nuts--but the general flavor of it was about right, I think.


Anonymous said...

I've been silently reading your blog for longer than I can remember. I must say that this is a tremendous post, the kind that keeps me returning. Expertly written. Thank you!!

snevman said...

Great post!

grrouchie said...

Good read,
However I wish that Internet kid was the one who had the Kings for you.

PokerLawyer said...

No, *really* great post. I hope to think of this type of reasoning during my own opportunities at play.

Anonymous said...

excellent post but if he didn't know you were the pokergrump (or a better than average 1/2 player at the very least) I think is a horrendous play by him pre ans flop

that said, interesting reading!

Rob said...

Great post. Reminds me of the next hand I have to blog about.

What do you think of the guy showing his hand as he mucked? Do you ever do that? What are the advantages of doing that?

I liked the fact you told him he was right when he left, but of course, you could have been just saying that. sure were you the guy didn't call your $110 bet with pocket fours and had flopped a boat? Ok, I'm kidding. Actually I'm wondering if the guy had his read of you so perfectly--should he have folded pre-flop? I know you're never supposed to fold pocket Kings pre-flop, but maybe there.....? He was quite a long shot to flop a set to beat you.

Regarding the guy looking like Liddy, I know when I started playing poker I kind of instinctively started noticing that players resembled famous people, even if they didn't. It was a memory device. Made it easier in my mind to remember a person's habits and tendancies if I could put a famous name on him.

E.g., one time I played with a guy who reminded me of Jerry Seinfeld, so it was, "Oh wow, Jerry Seinfeld raised with Ace-rag under the gun? Good to know."

Memphis MOJO said...

Looking back, would you play the flop differently if you had known the kind of player he is?

Rakewell said...

Anon: I have no reason to think he has ever even heard of this blog. But he was a very observant player, and had undoubtedly developed a good sense of my style of play and level of experience over a couple of hours of watching me. That's what accounts for him saying that he was confident that I knew what he had.

Rakewell said...

Rob: I almost never show something I'm folding. The only reason I ever do it is as a tacit request for the winner to show me in return, which sometimes works, sometimes doesn't.

I told the story of one such attempt here:

Rakewell said...

MOJO: I'm not sure what you mean. You mean check as if I had missed with AK and let him be the one to shove? Or try to look weak and milk him with, say, a $25 flop bet? Maybe. It's true that I assumed that with kings in his hand and half his stack in the pot, he would be incapable of folding unless an ace hit the flop. So if I had known he was the rare bird that actually could fold, maybe play it different? I dunno. Good question.

Grange95 said...

Your opponent made a good laydown ... but played the hand horribly. His line essentially turned KK, the 2nd best preflop hand in poker, into a baby pair that is set mining for half his stack. If your opponent put you on a range of only AA/KK/QQ/AK/JJ, then why on earth call your big preflop 4 bet? Push and see all 5 cards, or fold. Calling with the intent to fold if he doesn't flop a set, on a flop that is great for all big pairs (you could also have had QQ/JJ there and played it the same), is just plain spewy.

Rakewell said...

Grange: I agree completely. His sharpest reasoning would have been this: "This guy raised UTG, then did his first-ever four-bet, and he did it against ME, knowing that I'm the tightest player, and knowing that it was my first three-bet, and knowing that I three-bet an UTG raise. He has to know I have QQ or better. So if he's raising me, he has to have AA or KK. Since I have KK, he almost surely can't have exactly the other two kings. Therefore, he has aces, and I must fold. Losing only $35 with KK against AA is a great play."

And as I mentioned, I believe he came very close to doing that.

But failing that, he lost the second-smallest amount that he could have.

Anonymous said...

You shoulda shown the AA right away man. Have a heart. You have a cool girlfriend who loves you. You don't have to be heartless. A man you respected was getting insulted by some young internet formula-playing donk and you couldn't step in and stop the bs.
Think about it...

Also, I think your playing style is textbook TAG and lacks art and reading ability. You could win more with your big hands but you prematurely e-bet-ulate and announce your hand strengths.
Just my opinion.
Love your blog though, man. You are a good writer and a smart guy. But you have played the same style since day one. It could evolve, I think.

Anonymous said...

One thing I would take away, a good player knew where you were. Glad you told him, might get you additional respect down the line. I agree terrible play on his part, either shove or fold.

Rob said...

Thanks for the link to that older post of yours, it was a good read (and in fact, you had a good read on Mr. Dangerous).

So I guess in the current story, the guy showing his hand was trying to make the same arrangement as you tacitly made in the older story, and you didn't comply (at least until you left the game).

My lack of self-confidence is high enough so that I would never likely show a hand I was folding because I wouldn't want everyone to see what a fish I was if I indeeded should not have folded!