Perspective

Everything in life is relative.

I’m updating finally and writing this mostly as a reminder to myself and to get some thoughts down on paper (and I guess there may be a select few out there who still care or know this blog even exists).  Lately, there have been some extremely frustrating and nonsensical delays with our pending house closing, which has taken the forefront of my thoughts and mood often times.  We should’ve been moved in at the beginning of April, and as I’m typing this in the middle of June on a plane to Vegas, we still haven’t settled.  It’s times like these I need to reflect on just how fortunate I am, and how I’ve defied astronomical odds to be where I am today.  Let’s start from the beginning:

My parents were born into somewhat poor families in China, a country with the world’s largest population, where countless millions of citizens and residents are trying desperately to find a better life elsewhere.  My mom is the youngest of two children, and my dad is the fourth of six.  Pollution is devastating, especially in major cities like Beijing where I was born and raised, education is subpar, and the chances of finding a way to make a decent living are automatically stacked against you since there are so many people competing for the same education, career, lives.  The quality of life is far inferior to anything my spoiled ass could grow accustomed to.  Because my grandmother on my mom’s side had a stepmom who immigrated to California, my grandparents on that side only were allowed to latch on and move with them.  A few years later, my parents were granted this same opportunity, the absolute best blessing anyone in our position could’ve asked for, something that I take for granted far too often: we as a family were the only ones out of six to be able to move to the United States, the greatest country in the world.  My parents picked up and left their families, everything they had ever known in their lives, and native country to move somewhere where they had no money or knowledge of the English language, all for one purpose: to provide an opportunity for a better life for my sister and I.  To this day, the rest of my extended family in Beijing is still on the waiting list to immigrate here.  It’s been over a decade.  While they’re finally about to be called up on the queue it seems, we’ve had the sanctification of creating a life of comfort and luxury that the rest of them can only dream of.  People in China literally give their entire life savings for the chance to come to the US.

Flash forward some twenty years, it’s 2007.  I had little direction or ambition in life, no job, and not a dollar to my name.  The lack of maturity, discipline and bankroll management had caught up to me and  I had hit rock bottom.  Once in a while I look back on those long sleepless nights in my parents’ basement, overwhelmed by feelings of hopelessness and dread with what I was going to do with my life.  Had my parents sacrificed everything for me to fail them?  With no other options I hesitantly agreed to a short term staking deal at a local house game where the stakes were $1/2 NL.  It was there I met and befriended Greg Merson (who went on to win the WSOP Main Event in 2012).  At the time he happened to be establishing himself as a volume low stakes grinder on Pokerstars, and was getting into the investing side of the game.  I recall that night was actually the one and only time I played at that home game (they subsequently, like most other home games in the area, got raided.  I haven’t been back to a home game since and don’t plan on it).  The stars aligned, and though I was always confident in my abilities as a player, I happened to run well that session too.   Greg took notice and reached out to me to propose a staking deal to play on Pokerstars.  He offered to set me up with an account and $2k to grind $1/2 NL 6 max in exchange for a portion of my profits.  I felt like I had hit the lottery.  I had never been a winning player online before that, but I was determined to learn how to beat it for good this time.  I felt like I had no choice, and refused to let the second chance go to waste.  I would stay up all night studying my hand histories and playing, four tables at first until I got the hang of it, and then slowly adding to six, eight, ten, and sometimes twelve at once as I continued to enjoy a nice upswing.  In the first three and a half weeks I won 17k playing no higher than $1/2 NL online, and haven’t really looked back since.  I paid Greg his share and went on my own shortly after.

I often think to myself, what if I hadn’t agreed to that home game arrangement to begin with?  What if Greg didn’t happen to be there that night, and what if he was but I was doing poorly?  Would he still have staked me, given me a fresh opportunity at life?  What if the game had been raided before that, or during that night?  What if I didn’t go on a massive heater to begin the staking arrangement, would that have crippled both his confidence and mine?  I was a losing player, after all, going into the staking deal, so I didn’t have the mental assurance that eventually I would win if I kept at it that I do nowadays.

As it turns out, eight years later, my life is amazing.  It’s everything I could’ve dreamed for and more.  I still get to do what I love for a living, and that is not something I should ever take lightly.  Too many people I know hate going through the motions of having a boss, a job, someone to answer to.  Being my own boss, I wake up, go to sleep, go to the gym, watch a movie, hang out with friends, go on a trip, basically do whatever I want, when I want.  I “work” much less hours than conventional work weeks but reap much higher financial benefits than I would doing anything else.  I talked to a good friend recently about my annoyances with the house delays, and he kept things in check by commenting that I should be so fortunate to even have the opportunity to play a game for a living and be in the position to have a house to wait for.  Recently Tammy and I got married in front of some of our closest friends and our family in gorgeous Jamaica.  It was the best experience I’ve ever had in my life.  To see such outpouring of love and support, and of course getting to marry my best friend where we get to spend the rest of our lives together, was just simply incredible and something I’ll never forget.

The past three summers I’ve gone to Vegas around this time of year, and have not gone to a single event or outing save from my one time at a Above and Beyond show at Encore that I didn’t appreciate at the time.  I’m a couple of hours away from landing at McCarran, where I will rent a car and drive to an awesome house off the strip to be shared with three of my good friends…and a few days away from attending the biggest music festival of the year: EDC.  It still hasn’t hit me yet that it’s so close, and it being my first time I don’t really know what to expect except that it’ll be mind blowing.  I look forward to a month of spending time with good friends, eating good in the hood, EDC and EDM related activities, and of course, doing what I love: playing cards and engaging in mental warfare.   This year I won’t even set a monetary goal or be too concerned about that side of it.  I will only focus on playing my best as often as I can and living with the results.  After all, I’ve already won in life.  I should keep that in mind and count my immeasurable blessings.

Eating My Own Words

Life and poker wise things have been pretty awesome lately.  Me and Tammy are having our dream wedding in Jamaica where I originally proposed next May, and in Feb we will be moving into our brand new very first home together (literally new since they’re building it from scratch).  After a bit of a hiatus from poker I’m back in a rhythm of putting in consistent volume and trying to play as well as I can.  Aside from some lapses in judgement I think I’ve been pretty good at staying focused and arriving at the appropriate course of action.  I believe mindset is so critical to success in this field, which is why I am pretty strict about only playing under optimal conditions mentally and physically.  Days that I plan on playing poker I dedicate the whole day to just that until after the session is over, and only then do I allow myself to relax and indulge in activities I enjoy otherwise.  I think also I’m pretty fortunate in that I genuinely still love the game and that keeps me intrigued in what I do.  I would absolutely hate to be forced to do something for a living that I didn’t enjoy, as I’ve already done that before.  Life’s too short to not pursue what you love, know what I’m saying?

Anyways, the title of this entry.  I know my last entry I kind of blasted EDM and voiced why I disliked it so much, and how I probably would never get into it.  It’s funny how I look back and can laugh at myself for being so close minded.  For the past year, while Tammy has gone to numerous shows and always had a blast, I never once expressed interest in joining her.  Not only were they always either on weekends when I normally play at Live or EDC in Vegas (when I lock down and try to play as much live as I can), but I had never been one to want to go out to do anything remotely like the party scene.  She always mentioned I never gave it a chance and she would love it if I accompanied her at least once, and finally I gave in and told her I would accompany her to just one upcoming event just to say I did it.  She gave me a choice between something called Moonrise Festival or Andrew Rayel at Echostage.  I didn’t know what any of that meant, so I just asked which one was shorter.  She told me the latter, so off we went…and I have to admit, though it was a bit overwhelming and awkward for me at first since I had never been to anything like that before, combined with seeing so many friends there having a blast, it was an amazing night.  Probably one of the best nights in recent years for me that I can recall, actually.  I definitely experienced a bit of culture shock just looking around me and seeing so many things that were unfamiliar, but I could tell that everyone else had been there and done them before.  That, and Andrew Rayel’s set was endless high octane energy pumping through my veins all night.  The bass pulsated through my chest and the melodies were always hauntingly distant, kind of hard to describe…and he definitely fed off the crowd’s energy and positive vibes and returned the favor with a relentless assault of beats and remixes flavored with his own unique classical kind of sound, which of course, I always appreciate.

So after that magical night with friends I decided to give EDM a listen, and while I’m still a bit confused as to how the whole process works, as in who makes the actual songs and tracks, and who sings on them, who they belong to, what the DJs have to do with it, I have grown accustomed to listening to it and actually prefer it when I’m working out because of the upbeat tempo and tirelessness of the sets.  In the future I’ll use this as a reminder to myself to be open minded about not just music but other things in life as they come up.  Sometimes things we haven’t experienced yet will surprise us.

Poker & Music; Other Random Thoughts

If you’re anything at all like me, you do your best thinking at night time.  I’ve always preferred nocturnal solitude where I can reflect and be alone in my thoughts on a fairly regular basis.  I still don’t quite and never will understand the mass hordes of people who weave through one of the most traffic infested cities in the country, pay $20 just to park their car and have to walk a few blocks to the club, where they line up outside in extreme temperatures just to cough up another door fee to the bouncer.  Then, after you get inside finally, it’s so loud you can’t even hear yourself shout, and acquaintances who you would never otherwise go out of your way to spend time with come up to you and try to make half assed conversation with you, as you both take turns screaming in each other’s ears:

Person A: “Hey man! Long time no see!”

Person B: “Yeah! how you been, good?”

Person A: “Yeah, good.  you?”

Person B: “Good!”

—-end of conversation—-

Then you push your way through a moshpit of sweaty strangers to get to the bar, wait fifteen minutes for the bartender to notice you, before you voluntarily give them $7 for a beer, or even more amusing to me, $15-20 for a 1 oz shot in a plastic cup of liquor.  Or, if you’re “lucky” enough to have your own table for the night, you get to pay $300 for a $20 bottle, or $80 for a fruit plate, only to have random people come and drink your shit and never offer to chip in with the bill.  In fact, it’s always the same three or four guys in the end that end up eating the cost, and usually they’re the ones who drink the least (this is me) out of the group of a dozen or so.  Anyways, that was quite a tangent I went on there.  That’s kind of going to be the theme of this entry, lots of random thoughts just thrown on here no filter.  So where was I.  

Oh yeah, so I like peace and quiet at night and never go out, but honestly who am I to judge?  To each their own, and as long as people are enjoying what they do and aren’t harming anyone else, more power to them.  We all have different needs and preferences.  I love spending time with friends, but in a more intimate situation where I can hold actual conversations with them, and we are able to lounge around and be ourselves around each other, eat, watch movies, play games, bond.  In my poker career, I’ve been very fortunate to receive some incredibly kind words from various people.  At times I feel validated, like, maybe I’m onto something here, or, great! all that hard work is paying off.  Other times when I feel I’m going through a stretch of uninspired play I feel genuinely uncomfortable hearing these nice things.  I definitely don’t want what I don’t deserve, and believe what you get in a lot of situations in life is what you put into it.  I constantly challenge myself and like to put myself in someone else’s shoes when I’m watching a hand transpire.  What would I do with this range, or how would this alter the outcome of the hand?  What would I do better, worse, or differently?  If I think I can take a better approach to the situation, why is it better?  Essentially, I am constantly asking myself what my edge is in this or that spot, and sometimes there is no edge to be had.  Certain hands between competent opponents just play themselves, or become labeled as “standard.”  To be honest I tend to cringe when I hear players talk about hands and say things like “Oh well he never has this,” or “he would’ve done X with Y.”  I remember a random inconsequential hand 5 years at the Bellagio where I bet/folded the turn in a 3b pot vs a young internet player and he turned up a bluff.  He then proceeded to tell me that if I had X hand, I would’ve always checked turn and therefore my betting range on the turn is polarized towards nutted hands/floats.  By the way, it was the first time we’d ever played each other.  I didn’t say anything back to him, but what he said really stuck with me.  Not that it was true, by the way, but just that he was so linear in his thought process that he would go as far as to encapsulate my turn check/bet tendencies, in position, in a 3b pot, in a dealer vs BB situation, with an incredibly rigid (and incorrect) assessment of what I will do with XYZ of my range.  In a game like NL where there are very few absolutes in my opinion, based off of a hand sample size of perhaps 50 hands, that just seemed so absurd to me.  And yet, I see it time and time again.  The kid who 5b jammed AKo vs the 65 year old rock who opened UTG 5x because it’s “standard” and you should “always” re-raise AK and get it in no matter the situation.  The times I hear bustout stories of some kid who called it off with XX even though your hand is much less relevant in the situation than the opponent.  I think a lot of times, you can make assumptions based off how people play hands in general, but in no universe should you ever think everyone plays like you.  Or thinks like you.  Just because you would make this play or do that doesn’t mean the next person will.  And that’s what keeps poker interesting to me.  If everyone was always making “standard” or “optimal” plays, where is the edge?  Short term variance can be deceiving to everyone, from the recreational player to the seasoned pro, but without analyzing why you won or lost that particular session, and what can be learned from it, your game will become stagnant, taper off, and eventually fall behind.  

If you read this far, props to you.  Because this is just a mashed up unedited “freestyle” mess of thoughts.  Speaking of freestyle, this blog is supposed to correlate music and poker, so here it is.  I’ve been in love with music since I was a kid.  I was the only kid I knew who volunteered himself for piano lessons in elementary school, and spent countless frustrating hours by myself trying to put together a melody until my parents actually told me to stop practicing and go to bed.  I actually looked forward to Thursday afternoon piano lessons each week, ready to tackle on new songs and show my teacher the progress I made on last week’s.  I got pretty good at one point in high school, winning the only talent show I entered with my partner at the time (we played a two song duet and rocked the auditorium), and then I got myself a guitar and taught myself how to play off this Green Day tab book I bought.  Pretty funny looking back on it now that for the first couple of weeks I held my guitar based on how I saw Kurt Cobain from Nirvana hold his on MTV, and therefore my chords were inversed until I realized that Kurt Cobain, of course, was left handed.  My guitar was meant for the rest of the world who play it right handed.  If learning piano was like trying to learn a bike, then learning guitar was like trying to learn to fly a jet at first.  My chords never sounded clean, I could never hold it correctly without my wrists hurting, I didn’t use the pads of my fingertips and ended up muting my strings, I had no rhythm when I strummed, nor did I really understand what strumming was, but I kept at it and eventually got fairly decent at it as well.  This was while I was playing trumpet in band in high school too.  Was there a point to any of this in relation to poker?  Not at all yet.  Just felt like sharing something personal with the internet.

To me, I draw inspiration to play my best poker from music.  Everybody’s trying to do the same thing as you, so what’s going to set you apart?  I remember as a kid I would play a song on the piano I had spent hours perfecting, only to have someone more skilled than me sit down and make it sound infinitely better, effortlessly.  At the time I felt a sense of envy, mixed with awe and a newfound determination.  It was amazing to me: we both used the exact same instrument, the same sheet music, same notes and rhythm, but he would just bring something entirely different to the table that when you heard it, you knew you were hearing an experienced musician who was transcending the music written on paper.  That’s the beautiful denominator between poker and music, both start with a relatively blank template.  You as an artist choose to create what you want, based on the situation.  The million other poker pros who do what you do and play exactly the same game do not all approach the game, or any hand, or any street the same way.  I just want to be the best I can be, and preferably better than the field.  

In the music industry similar parallels can be made since it’s so cutthroat.  Everybody else has their talents and is trying to make it as an artist, so what is your edge on the field?  I hardly think it’s any coincidence that Justin Timberlake, formerly of Nsync, is the only member today with a flourishing career.  He knew the boy band days were numbered, and took it to the next level on his own to tailor fit his strengths.  A couple of weeks ago I listened to every single Eminem song he’s ever recorded, starting with his Infinite album before he was well known.  I have to say, I went through a period in high school/college where I really liked his music, but then stopped listening to him when he started putting out corny commercialized “mainstream” singles just to appease the masses like “The Real Slim Shady”, “Without Me,” “Crack a Bottle,” etc….but after listening to his albums in entirety, especially some of the more obscure tracks, the guy is a true artist and lyrical genius.  After every track of listening to him string together flow after flow of parables and rhymes and metaphors I kept expecting him to run out of steam at some point, but he just kept getting better.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone so witty and clever with the English language, and he does it so easily several times I had to go back and listen to a verse again to make sure I got every word.  Here’s some of my personal favorites:

Slim Shady EP

Drug Ballad

Rock Bottom

Guilty Conscience

Just Don’t Give a Fuck

Bad Meets Evil

Marshall Mathers EP

Stan 

Drug Ballad

The Eminem Show

Till I Collapse

Relapse

3 a.m.

My Mom

Bagpipes from Baghdad

Old Time’s Sake

Must Be the Ganja

Deja Vu

Beautiful

The Marshall Mathers LP 2

Rap God

Headlights

—————–

See, I told you this would be insanely random.  That had absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the stuff I was talking about; I just really respect creativity and talent and think it should be rightfully recognized.  I think that is why I still haven’t gotten into EDM, nor will I ever probably.  I prefer organic music with words and a story and some sort of emotion from the artist who put it all together in the form of a song, which is no easy feat…while EDM not only all sounds the same to me (prevalent driving synth bass, similar upbeat tempo, high treble notes for some major key melody on repeat) but listening to it just bores me to tears.  No feelings of awe are invoked, like when I’m listening to Tom Morello pull off some sick guitar solo or Matt Bellamy belting out that familiar haunting voice over a grungy guitar riff or beautiful piano segment he composed, or the raw aggression/angst of Eminem when he’s making real music, or the playful banter between the Beastie Boys on their tracks, etc.  All of these are very human to me, and I will always be infinitely more impressed with sounds that humans conceived, wrote, and executed with their own voices and hands than a beat machine and some synthesizers.  

Anyway, time to wrap this crap up.  I’m headed to Vegas on the 8th for the rest of the series, so hopefully I activate my inner musician and play my heart out.   

 

Poker Night in America “Controversy” Follow-Up: I believe in Peace

It’s been a couple of days now since PNIA and my previous blog entry detailing my frustrations on the set.  What I never anticipated was the flood of comments/Twitter interactions/raging debate on FB and in general, a ton of what I don’t ever enjoy having in my life: drama.  I don’t have any enemies in my life, nor do I have any interest in accumulating any.  The nice guy persona isn’t an act, it’s a lifestyle.  That being said, I am far from perfect and have my own set of flaws.  I feel compelled to address what has happened.  I am an unknown in the greater poker world, largely because I rarely play tournaments and wasn’t a former nosebleed stakes player online.  I’ve always flown under the radar; imagine my shock at how much feedback my basically anonymous blog was getting from a post I wrote while extremely frustrated and angry.  It wasn’t meant to be read by more than a handful of people.  People have asked me, why did you blog about it instead of confronting them at the time when they were bothering you?  There are a couple of reasons why I chose not to fight back while on set: one being that I’m non-confrontational by nature, especially in circumstances where I get the vibe that I’m being outcast to begin with, so I believed at the time ignoring them would’ve been better.  The other being that this being my first time on camera, I didn’t want to make it awkward for my tablemates, the crew, whoever would eventually be watching if any of this ever makes the final cut.  The last thing I wanted to do was turn a proud moment in MD televised history into a set of The Real World/Jerry Springer.

The reason I wrote about it is mainly because eager friends kept asking me how it went, and instead of having to retype the whole experience to each individual person I figured it’d be much easier if I just wrote it up where I knew they would see it.  As for calling out Gavin and Tom S. on Twitter, not my proudest moment.  At the time I was pissed off from feeling disrespected all day, and felt compelled to let them know how they acted was how I felt was unprofessional.  Some of this is being re-written from previous comments I’ve made, but also imagine getting chastised while getting dealt unplayable hands/spots, and then every now and then attempting to play off this “tight image” and running a sup-optimal bluff based on that and also in an attempt to make something happen since there were so few opportunities, have it fail of course, lose the pot, and then get needled immediately after for still not playing pots.  I think my fellow poker players understand in this business there will be characters and needling, it just comes with the trade, but as for my first experience in this environment, it just didn’t leave a very pleasant taste.

But that still doesn’t make it okay to put Gavin and Tom S. on blast; not that I ever thought more than 5-10 people would read it, but at the end of the day I should’ve either let it go, or confronted them on set in a peaceful manner.  All parties have reached out to each other and we can all agree this was pretty much the summation of a big misunderstanding, and an unaligned set of expectations.  I take fault in not trying to be more engaging with my tablemates, or trying to contribute more to the show.  Gavin seems truly contrite and surprised that he had upset me, and now that we’ve talked it out, I can see why so many of his friends consider him an ally, who at times may be misunderstood.  I do hope we cross paths again sometime soon so we can put all of this behind us and start fresh.  As for Tom S., he wrote up an extremely well thought out response on Gavin’s Facebook thread, much of it directed at me, and it was about as honest and genuine as you could get.  I commend them for being pros about the aftermath, and we have also exchanged contact information so we can talk some more about it.  They both seem like great guys, and I do have respect for the older generation pros who have paved the way for the younger guys to do what we do and will try not to take that for granted.  I sincerely look forward to speaking more to both of them and consider this a vast learning experience.

To Gavin Smith and Tom Schneider: I apologize for causing you any grief for things I said out of frustration.  It’s been an eye opening experience this past couple of days, and I think I owe that apology to both of you.

Had I ever known my entry would’ve caused this much controversy, I would’ve never clicked on that submit button.  However, what’s said was said, and after necessary reparations are made (currently in progress), I think I will consider myself fortunate to know these two guys.  Again, thanks go to Nolan Dalla for giving me the opportunity, and all the PNIA crew for doing such a fantastic job.  I’m sorry if I did not meet expectations as to what I might add to the show.

Oh, and as for the random people posting on FB criticizing my blog for posting about hands as if I’m bragging about them or whatever, you can go f*ck yourself.  It’s my blog and I’ll write whatever I feel like.  You don’t have to read it. :)  And if you even read carefully, I criticize myself at every step of the way as well, as I am constantly working to improve on my game.  And as a person.

#theloveforthegameisreal

First off, I’m really beyond tired of this snow b.s. that’s plagued this never-ending winter for us east coasters.  Supposedly we’re getting another 6-10 inches tonight, and it’s freaking March.  If it weren’t for my family, friends, Maryland Live!, and hesitance to tackle things that require a shitload of moving and hassle, I would probably opt to live in California.  Maybe in another life.  

Anyways, as usual in January and February my interest in poker is sort of in a lukewarm phase as it is every year.  I can’t really explain it, it’s just sort of carried over from December usually when I’m decreasing my hours and trying to take some time out to enjoy other things in life more.  However, it’s not to say that I stopped thinking about the game or trying to learn more about it.  I think in the past couple of months with playing much more short handed on Bovada I’ve definitely gained something from playing against all sorts of opponents, some much looser and more aggressive than others, and perhaps started figuring out ways to not only counter their strategy, but to take parts of theirs and weave it into my own.  The nerdy kid in me that grew up loving Transformers automatically associates tweaking parts of my game with the Construticons, the Decepticon group of engineers and builders who form together to make a powerful juggernaut of a machine, Devastator.  Image

^that’s a metaphorical representation of my poker game, accumulated through millions of hands against players more skilled than I, but not without me at least trying to learn something from them and try to apply it to my own.  It’s important to remind myself that I can learn from bad players, too, as in how they think, and more importantly, why their play in various spots is incorrect.  

Now that it’s March, it means the WSOP is just around the corner again, and suddenly the insatiable desire for more knowledge, more advanced strategy, higher levels of thinking and focus, and the urge to compete and succeed is like a raging furnace.  Not that I’m looking to be playing in many tournaments, if any at all, besides the Main Event, but just something about summer and Vegas and poker always brings back some of the best memories of my life.  I secretly love that grinders and zillas alike gather from all corners of the world in one city to play poker, and that as for cash games, I get to challenge myself and play against other pros and see if I can destroy them.  Maybe it sounds kind of twisted now that I put it on paper but it’s always been that competitive drive in me that forces me to be better and get better as a player, same as it was before with basketball or music.  Historically I also have a very solid record at the Bellagio (knock on fucking wood), so I guess that helps the confidence a bit as well.  

This is several months overdue and comes at a shock even to myself, but for the first time in a while I’m going to reveal some hand histories that I thought were interesting spots, and my thought process during that time.  Luckily I remember these like they were yesterday still so I can still transcript them accurately.  These are during last summer at the Bellagio:

$10/20/40 NL

I’m well into my session and doing extremely well, which certainly wasn’t the case for me the first week or so of my trip.  I was locked in and comfortable, and finally attained the ever-elusive “zone” where every action seems to happen in slow motion and the right decisions find their way into my thoughts, and all my creative energy reserve is pumping.  I’m in UTG+3 and open to $140 with:

My cards: 6c-5c

Folds to some assy British dude, 40s, thin, looks like he has played some before, probably a tournament background mostly, and he 3bs to $400 on the button.  Action is folded back to me, and I peer over at his array of stacks and cash somewhat haphazardly piled in front of him and ask him about how much he’s playing.  

“About eight thousand and change,” was his reply in a distinct English accent, while subtly giving a nonchalant shrug of the shoulders that was supposed to indirectly imply strength to me, which I of course read as slightly weak.  Though this isn’t always a defend for me, and of course sometimes I would consider a 4b bluff, I decided to call out of position as I felt I could make better decisions than my opponent post-flop.  

Flop: ($870)

7-5-2 rainbow, one club

I check and call his continuation bet of $440.  So far, pretty standard stuff as I would be doing this with pretty much my entire range of hands that continues.  

Turn: ($1750)

Ah

I check, (obviously this is a less than ideal card for us and our perceived range) and observe my opponent slide out $920.  When I’m honed in I think I can sort of sense when someone has it or not, and when I’m out of focus I really don’t know what’s going on, but luckily, at this time, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he wasn’t particularly strong.  It’s hard to explain, but I guess in the moment it makes sense.  Something about the way he counted out the bills and how he put them across the felt just told me he wasn’t even happy about making this bet, it was more of something of an obligation because he read somewhere that when you 3b and cbet and an A comes on the turn, you should bet again.  I also thought back to my initial read of him holding less than premiums preflop, and how he wasn’t the kind of player who was capable of value betting TT-KK in this spot when the A peels, so when you put it all together he’s really capped at Ax mostly.  I decided if indeed he had a naked A, I would need to rep better and put him to a decision for his stack with an implicating turn raise (with an impending river bet clouding his mind obv), and check-raised to $2340.  He deliberated for a little bit, shot me a look, and threw his cards in the muck.  Not the most interesting or most complex hand, but definitely a confidence boost at the time that my reads were on.  

$10/20/40

I had just sat down about an hour ago, and picked up some small pots here and there when this hand came up.  Action folded to me in the cutoff, and I raised it to $120 with 

My cards: Qd-Jd

A middle aged Vietnamese grinder, who played fairly solid and erred on the side of nitty/cautious, 3b to $400 on the button.  Action folded back to me and I made the call, both of us around $10k effective.

Flop: ($870)

(by the way I just noticed the first two hands I am defending a 3b out of position vs a button raise)

J-5-4 rainbow, one spade, one diamond

I checked and called his bet of $600, though I did take note that with his image and fairly tight preflop range there was a decent chance my hand was no good.  

Turn: 6s ($2070)

I checked, and he continued with a bet of $1400.  At this point I actually didn’t think my hand was good, nor did I necessarily want to turn it into a bluff since it would be quite expensive and would require some pretty big ammunition.  Besides, nits tend to get extremely stubborn with their overpairs in my experience, directly correlating to how much money they’ve already invested into the pot.  Something inside me clicked while I was studying the board and realized a new alternative to winning the hand: call and lead the multitude of shitty river cards for him.  This way it’s more credible I completed my hand, and he’ll have less money invested and therefore less incentive to call again.  I’m definitely no math wizard, but I do know there are a lot of cards on the river that he’s going to puke on.  

River: ($4870) 8s

Beautiful runout.  Now the board has run out J-5-4-6-8 with 3 spades.  To dissuade any sort of curious calling I hit him with a large barrel of ass to the tune of $4k, realizing this is how I would play all my hands that got to the river in this manner that are greater than one pair (his perceived range), and realizing that he knew that I knew he was never betting this river.  He groaned and agonized for a good two minutes, but finally rechecked his cards a few more times before pitching them in.  

$10/20/40

This particular hand was probably my favorite of the trip, perhaps one of my best personal best hands I’ve ever played.  It occurred during a somewhat assy session where it had been several hours in and nothing much was going on for me, and the game wasn’t very good.  It was short as some people were up from the table, and folded to the button, a young white guy grinder who opens to $120.  I look down in the SB and find:

My cards: Ks-Js

I don’t always 3b here, but when I do, I drink Dos Equis.  Sike.  I 3b to $420, and as soon as I did, I noticed the bb, a similarly young white guy grinder looking type, not fold immediately and was shuffling his chips.  All three of us were $10k effective, and I began to detect some re-thievery was on his agenda.  He cold 4bs to $960, and the button folded.  I considered 5b as a bluff, but again, decided to keep my flatting range wide and the pot smaller before the flop and not get into as many of the pre-flop monkey wars that are so prevalent nowadays.  It would be painful to have him send it in on me with an Ax blocker or whatever assy shit he had, thereby nullifying any postflop edge I may have on him.  Heads up we saw:

Flop: ($2040)

3-4-6 with two diamonds, one club

This being a 4b pot with a BTN/SB/BB dynamic makes for a far more perplexing set of ranges.  I studied the flop a bit before I came up with the following plan: if I went with my original read preflop that there was a decent chance he was just cold 4bing with a Ax or Kx blocker and therefore wasn’t that strong, I would hit him with some ass and induce some mistakes.  If he had a pair, he’s far more likely to call, and if he has a pair, it’s probably going to be 99+, which means on a 5, diamond, 7, 2, overcards, or any combination of other whacky runouts I can run a multi-barrel bluff to force him to fold one pair.  

I led small, $700, and really tried to focus now on his reaction.  My initial sense was that he hated that I led into him, and now he was trying to figure out what to do about it since it clearly had taken him out of his comfort zone.  He deliberated for a while and finally raised to $2400.  I thought and clicked it back on him to $4100, to which he immediately folded in disgust.  Uncharacteristically (I pretty much never show bluffs since I think it’s poor sportsmanship usually) I turned up my hand without saying a word and dragged the pot.  His face turned beet red, and some people across the table looked shocked and started chuckling.  I guess at this point I started to feel bad since I didn’t want the attention and definitely didn’t want to embarrass him necessarily, but in the moment I felt like since I had been such a non-factor all day I had to let him know he wasn’t playing with a scrub, and his assiness would not be tolerated.

So this entry turned out to be a lot longer than I expected, and it’s getting late so I’m going to have to retreat to bed.  Stay tuned for more updates soon (and possibly more hand histories?)

Obligatory End of Year Blog

Only a couple of hours left in 2013, and I haven’t touched this blog in a while…seems like an opportune time to update real quick and reflect.  2013 was an especially whacky and eventful year for me.  I think I’ve experienced the entire spectrum of human emotion in these past life-altering and at times mind-boggling months, and definitely more volatility than any other year I can recall in my life thus far.  Not that volatility is always a bad thing.  Sometimes things swing upward in your favor.  Case in point; my beautiful girlfriend is laying next to me fast asleep while we’re vacationing in Santo Domingo, DR.  We’ve been here almost a week and it’s been blissful serenity with 85 degree weather.  Neither of us speak much Spanish (I thought I was kind of proficient because I always did well in Spanish in high school and got A’s and B’s in AP Spanish 5, but it’s a lot different speaking a language to natives than it is sitting there reading from a textbook) and our phones don’t work here.  We don’t watch TV since all the channels are also in Spanish.  It’s actually a really refreshing change of pace from being totally immersed in technology (eh, our laptops and tablet still works so it’s not like we’re completely shut off; hence how the hell else am I blogging right now) to being basically the only English speakers in the resort to not only being together all hours of the day, but talking and learning to appreciate each other, as well as life.  We’ve had a blast this whole trip, and honestly without doing all that much besides relaxing in the sun and making the most of this paradise-like weather.

To sort of sum it up, in 2013 a lot of shit happened in my life, drastic changes were made, I don’t think I ran very well in poker for much of the year but managed to end up a pretty good winner overall so I’m very satisfied with the result, we traveled to a bunch of places, I learned to appreciate my friends more, learned to appreciate my family even more, and hopefully I have matured some as a person and learned some things about people and we all inter-connect on a societal level.  Since this past year wasn’t almost a smooth ride, I  sincerely wish and pray for a less turbulent 2014.  Here’s my short list of things that I expect from the new year:

-continue developing my game and maintaining a high level of focus.  And keep the money flowing.

-show T-dawg everyday how awesome she is.  never take her or us for granted.

-cut the carbs and increase the exercise regimen; find healthier ways to eat and keep those cravings for crap food at bay

-make sure my family is always taken care of and let them know how much they mean to me

-enjoy time with my friends.  you all know who you are and you guys are seriously such a blessing to be around.  

That’s it! Happy New Year!  See you soon 2014!

What Time is it?

I’ve got good news and bad news.  The good news is that Maryland Live! has surpassed mine and probably most of my peers’ expectations in terms of having consistent bigger NL games that run.  I love that we have a steady player pool that seems to be gradually increasing the longer the room has been open, and the willingness of most regs to play short-handed to keep the fire going or get it started.  The bad news is that for now, I’ve been on somewhat of an extended tough stretch there for a few weeks now.  I know in the big scheme of things anywhere from a few weeks to a couple of months is really nothing, and that someday I’ll (hopefully) look back on this stretch and laugh it off, but when you’re in the midst of it, it’s pretty frustrating.  I go through abnormally extended stretches of utter card deadness; not that I necessarily mind that, but it’s more spot dead than anything.  It’s when you have totally unplayable hands repeatedly like 8-2o and you know they have something they won’t fold, or even if they do fold the risk vs reward is just silly to do anything….that for 14 hours at a time can be pretty humbling.  Or, when you finally do make a hand after 6 hours of getting trash, it always happens to be second best, so you either end up making what turns out to be a bad call/raise/bet, or have to fold at some point anyway, which results in a loss also.  It seems impossible to win at poker during these times, but I think I can honestly say I’ve kept my composure pretty well and remained mentally tough, still joking around and having a good time with my peers at the table who are winning money off me.  I also do keep a mental tally on every hand I play and then try and keep myself in check that I’m making something close to the optimal play.  Of course, often there are times that I don’t, so I hold myself accountable, but for the most part, I think I’ve been playing fine and the cards  are just behaving strangely lately.  

I think one of the blessings in disguise when you’re suffering an assy stretch as I have is that it forces you to dissociate yourself from your ego and really look at yourself objectively, much more so than when you’re on a winning streak.  It’s easy to think one is God’s gift to poker when you are just making hands at the right times and coolering people for big pots, but seriously, anyone can do that.  I think it’s much more important after a winning or losing session to sit down with yourself and ask yourself why you won or lost on that particular day.  Days where I have a big hand against a slightly inferior hand and have a good winning day, I could care less about and don’t want to give myself props for it.  There’s actually been days that I’ve lost and ended up being proud of myself for how I played during the course of that particular session.  Another thing that I constantly ask myself is, what is my edge in these games?  It seems more and more people these days are self-described “pros”, and employ a similar playing style that is somewhat formulaic.  I think NLHE in particular edges become magnified during short-handed play, although it can be very subtle over the long run as well.  A call here or a check there or a bet in between can be a drastic difference between a slightly winning player and a massive winner.  It’s always been my personal goal to attain that level of play.  

Especially in today’s poker climate with all the training sites and poker coaches and forums and general vast wealth of knowledge there is out there, and most players, even recreational ones have some general idea that a basic play of NLHE is you make a raise pre-flop, and then at a reasonable frequency follow it up with a bet on the flop.  It sounds simple in itself, and thankfully for a lot of players who fancy themselves good players, poker pretty much ends there.  So what does it really mean to be a really good player?  Aside from the math and the GTO and the stat trackers and equity derivatives blah blah blah, what I personally think it really boils down to in a nutshell, as me and Danny like to put it, knowing what time it is.  Maybe it’s over-simplifying things a bit, but when it comes down to it, if you know what time it is at any point during a hand, you’ll be a winning poker player.   The subtleties of NLHE that I mentioned earlier are what dictates every players’ win/loss rate, and day to day, it can go unnoticed.  Maybe it’s a pre-flop call of 2 bb that leads to another 4 bb mistake on the flop, and then another 10 bb on the turn, followed by another 23 bb on the river.  That in turn could lead to deviating from optimal play in the next few hands, and so forth.  It’s about knowing what players are doing, anticipating what you anticipate, countering their tendencies, and most importantly, knowing why.  Once you figure out why this particular player takes this line with this hand or whether he is more prone to play the next hand a certain way due to his emotional state of mind at a given time of the session, poker becomes that much easier.  There’s been times that I’ve known what time it was, times I’ve been completely off, and times when I know someone knows that I know what time it is, which is what makes poker incredibly interesting to me.  The psychology aspect of the game has always intrigued me , while the numbers sort of become lost on me.  It’s funny that I’ve been around poker for several years now, and off the top of my head I couldn’t tell you the percentages of completing a straight/flush on the flop, or how one hand does vs another.  

Anyways, that’s enough ranting on this peaceful Sunday afternoon while watching the Redskins game.  Tomorrow I’m having the guys over and it should be a whole lot of fun.  I can’t wait to play again, as crappy as this stretch is; I just know someday the stars will align and I’ll shed my temporary nickname of “Dumpster Tom.”

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