It was a perfect storm. SoxLover had placed my name on the 1/2 NL list, as I had arrived in Atlantic City a little later than planned. My name started off in 40th place amongst those waiting for a seat. As my name slowly crawled higher on the list displayed on monitors spread around the Borgata's poker room, I sweated Sox playing on hia 2/5 NL table. Nobody on the table looked that great, and some appeared to be blatant ATMs. Sox had been building his stack diligently... right up until a donkey flopped the perfect hand. But I'll let Sox tell that story.
After 90 minutes, my name was still 16th on the 1/2 NL list. There were three names on the 2/5 list. I had also been warned that the 1/2 game might not approach the kind of poker I was familiar with, while the 2/5 might be more my speed. Despite the fact I hadn't really brought the roll for 2/5, I decided to take the plunge.
And that's how I came to be seated at a live No Limit table for the first time in my life, playing higher than I had before. The inhabitants of the table appeared to be mostly posturing New Yorkers, who were busy swapping stories about playing in various card rooms in the city. I made little small talk, as I tried to get my bearings. Early on I received pocket 6s, and made a questionable play at a flop of small cards. A ten on the flop and I was pushed off the pot. I took a deep breath, trying to keep my cool. I was worried that I was looking exactly how I was feeling - a little rattled and out of my depth.
A few hands later, and after four limpers I look down at Q-Q. I pop it to $30, which immediately starts the New York "pros" musing out loud about ifI had A-K or A-Q. Everyone folded around to me except a guy who limped in 3rd or so. The flop came down 2d-Js-10s. Not a bad flop - no As or Ks, but there were draws. The guy in middle position checks to me, so I bet about the pot.
The guy in middle position raises me to $200.
I would like to tell you that I paused and went over the possibilities. That I disregarded A-A and K-K, but was aware that J-J, 10-10, K-Q (maybe suited), A-xs suited, J-10s (not spades) were all possibilites. That I knew there was a real possibility he was trying to push me off A-K or A-Q.
I did not pause. I insta-pushed. The guy in middle position insta-called. I turned over my Queens, and he turned over... his Kings.
I distinctly remember time pausing for a moment, as my mind raced over the betting pre-flop. I couldn't believe this guy limped after other limpers with K-K, and then didn't re-raise when I popped it. If he had turned over J-J or 10-10 that was one thing. But not this.
The dealer burned and turned, and unbelievably the fourth card on the board was the 9 of diamonds. That had just increased my outs from 2 to 6 - any Queen now made a straight for my opponent, but an 8 or K would make me a winning straight.
The table held it's breath as the dealer placed the final card on the felt. No help for me. In less than an hour I had blown away a large portion of the roll I had brought to Atlantic City.
In retrospect, maybe I should haven't bought into the 2/5 game with a full stack originally. I'm not totally sold on that, as after my initial fencing on the first table I would have left myself pretty short.
I still am not sure if I could have gotten away from my Queens. It would have been a monster laydown. I feel I made a good raise pre-flop, and that I needed to bet with that flop. With no spades in my hand, and a possible straight draw on the board (while realising that I was taking away two outs away from a potential straight draw) if I check on the flop there were too many cards which would scare me off the pot: any Ace, any King, any spade and I'm probably gone.
Looking back on the turn card I think I can also state with confidence that if all the money didn't go in on the flop it was going in on the turn. An over pair and a straight draw would have looked massive to me, despite the possibility of going heads up against K-Q - that would have just been unfortunate.
I think I have come to terms with the fact that it was just unfortunate timing. I just don't think I could get away from that hand. That's how it goes.
Remarkably I didn't feel too bad after watching my pocket Queens burst into flames. The first thing I did was congratulate my opponent on his fine hand. I then announced I was standing up for a moment, but that I would be back. I wandered over to SoxLover, and tapped him on the shoulder. Sox was probably wondering why I was grinning like I had just discovered a $20 bill under my seat. I announced that I had just got stacked by his least favourite hand, Q-Q, the Hand of Death.
I quickly related the particulars of the hand, and Sox commiserated. We both shrugged, as our instant analysis was that I wasn't getting away from the hand. I informed Sox that I was buying back in, and going back to war.
I strode back to my table, and threw another 5 images of Benjamin Franklin onto the felt. The dealer slid another stack of chips my way, and I paused for a moment after arranging my ammunition. Strangely enough I felt calm, and extremely loose - the tightness I had been experiencing before was gone. Whether it was because I had been numbed by the image of all of my chips sliding across the table, or because I was now like a green infantryman who had survived his first contact with the enemy, I don't know.
I played on my table for another few orbits, with nothing of note occurring. All of a sudden Sox raced up to me, informing that a space had opened on his table. Since I had spent a bunch of time watching his table, and having Sox there added a known element, I asked for a table change and left the scene of my stacking and seated myself immediately to SoxLover's right.
Sox's table had undergone a few changes since I had last seen it. Mr "Play Any Two Cards" and his $500 chip had been busted, much to his surprise. The donkey (who appeared to have worse Parkinson's than Michael J. Fox in the last season of "Spin City") who had previously violated SoxLover busted soon after I sat down... he and his vanquisher left soon thereafter.
I played a little weakly at first, but slowly found my rhythm. I was playing extremely tight, and didn't make too many plays at pots. Sox was trying to work his way back after his earlier misfortune. After playing together for a while we decided that it was time to take a break and get some food. I welcomed the break, as I recognised it was probably a good idea for me a mental inventory of where I was at.
Over dinner Sox and I took turns lamenting our poor fortune, as poker players are wont to do. While eating our noodles and drinking Kirin we also chatted to the other people sharing our table, joking and telling stories. People playing Blackjack and Craps hooted and hollered nearby. It was strange... playing normal Casino table games seemed so far away.
After dinner Sox and found ourselves seated at the same table once more, although at opposite ends. For some reason four people at the table were absent, and for the first hour or more we played short-handed. This is not my game. Without playing any big hands I watched my stack dwindle as I was blinded away and missed friendly flops. Despite all this I felt really loose, and was chatting away and making jokes. A guy on the far end of the table, to Sox's immediate right, seemed like a good guy . On Sox's immediate left was a cute brunette, Jennifer, who not only seemed nice, but was apparently enjoying Sox's and my banter (apparently she is a great actress).
I finally had some joy as I limped in on the button with J-6 suited. The small blind completed, and the big blind checked. The flop came down giving my an open ended straight draw, with one of my suit on the board. The small blind bet out, and I was more than happy to call. The turn was a beautiful card, making my straight and giving me four cards to a flush. Much to my surprise the small blind pushed (I had him comfortably covered), and I was more than happy to call. Expecting to see an identical straight (with my spades giving me a redraw), I was happy to see my opponent had flopped two pair.
No help for him, and I manage to stack someone. My opponent congratulated me on the hand, stood up, and informed the table that he would return. After he was out of earshot SoxLover called out "Garth, did you just take that man's stack?" I smiled, and got back to stacking my chips.
Eventually the table began to fill up. To my left a young kid sat down; he wouldn't impress anyone for the duration, featuring such greatest hits as bluffing into a dry side pot. To my right was another quiet guy who had repopped me a few times when I had attempted to make some plays. His lowlight would come when a guy at the other end of the table would stack him with A-A vs K-K. After his intial success against me he wasn't really a factor. Two seats to Sox's right was a young guy who liked to play Table Captain. We'll refer to him as Milk & Cookies, as that was what he actually consumed later in the evening. I thought he was OK, with slight toolish tendencies, but Sox confided to me later that he was a dick and voted Least Popular by his side of the table. I won Miss Congeniality.
Once the table had filled, the poker was of a style I was familiar with, which was good. Not so good was my run of cards, as I continued to experience a severe cold-decking. As I again watched my chips dwindle, I realised I had to try and take pots when I could to just tread water. By and large this was successful, but wasn't enough for me to really accumulate chips. Sox was working away at the other end, building a formidable stack. The two guys to Sox's right were also doing well, mostly by receiving wonderful cards. The opposite end of the table was showing down so many big pocket pairs that I started making jokes about the table tilting to their side under the weight of their chips. I also requested a seat change button from the dealer, informing the table of my intent to migrate to the card rich side.
Of course the one time our end of the table got a big pocket pair the guy to my right gave all his chips to the guy to Sox's right (from now on GTSR. NEWSFLASH: Sox has just informed me that GTSR was Jennifer's husband - I knew her husband was somewhere in the vicinity, just not that guy! Wowsers). So maybe you should be careful what you wish for.
Jennifer was short-stacked the entire time she was at the table, but every time she was forced to go all-in she either won the pot outright, or chopped. She was playing tightly, didn't seem to catch many cards, but was helped by nice flops when she needed them. I for one (and I know Sox was thinking the same thing) was glad she was sticking around. Several times pocket 8s saved her skin, and I informed her that pocket 8s were now known as "The Jennifer".
At one stage I needed to go to the little boy's room. As I was standing up I was peripherally aware of Sox making an early position raise. I didn't think anything of it, turning away from the table as everyone folded around.
"Garth, hey!" Sox called. I turned back as SoxLover grinned and showed the table 7-2 off. In the stunned silence I shouted "THE HAMMER" and shot the devil horns at Sox. \m/ As I made my way to the bathroom I could hear Sox attempting to explain to the stunned table what had just happened. I knew the ante had just been raised.
My chance came an hour or so later. Under the gun I look down and see those beautiful cards, off suit 7 and 2. I throw out 4 chips, making it $20 to go. The table folds around to SoxLover, sitting on the button and looking at me quizzically. I give him the StoneFace, and he throws away his weak Ace. Jennifer folds in the SB, BB follows suit. As the chips come my way I shout "BOYOKASHA!" and throw down the monster. Now
the table knows something is afoot.
Milk & Cookies states that he just can't play that hand, revealing his toolishness (later, while I was away from the table, he apparently won with the Hammer from the BB when he flopped two pair). GTSR thinks it is hilarious. Jennifer thinks that we are mentally disturbed, albeit in amusing fashion.
A while later GTSR makes a 3xBB raise from late position, and everyone folds to him. With a wild grin he throws down the Hammer, and Sox and I hoot and holler. Somehow we have managed to infect Atlantic City with Hammer Madness, and we love it.
Fear not, I did have some more nice cards. After a EP raise to 4xBB, I look down and see those Beautiful Bullets. I repop to 10xBB, GTSR (in one of the blinds) smooth calls, and the initial raiser folds.
Interesting. The flop comes down as a small card rainbow, and GTSR bets out $50. I can't put him on a set, and some kind of straight draw would be strange. I feel like I am ahead, and I smooth call the bet. The turn is an Ace, a potential action killer. While I have the StoneFace going, I do my best acting job of being the "guy with a poker face who just saw the one card he didn't want to see". Check-check. River is a jack. GTSR checks to me, and I pause and look at the pot. $60 seems about right - hopefully small enough to get him to call, and if I hit the jackpot he may see it as weak and come over the top. I'm not that lucky, but he does pay me off. I table my set of Aces, and GTSR ruefully flashes his Queens. Those Queens again. Though GTSR misplayed his hand (what can he put me on?), he was also somewhat fortunate not to lose his whole stack.
A few hands later I managed to get into a hand with pocket 4s. I had been lamenting that none of my pocket pairs had hit a set on the flop. GTSR raised to $20, I called, as did Milk & Cookies. "You come, I come," Milk & Cookies called to me. I resisted making any BrokeBack Mountain references, and just smiled at the comment. The flop brought a low rainbow. GTSR checked to me. "How about I check you check?" I asked Milk & Cookies as I tapped the felt. For some reason Milk & Cookies complied, and we saw a turn card. It brought a second club, but it was a 4. Another turned set.
GTSR decided to bet out $25. I paused and decided that I'd take the pot now, raising to $75. Milk & Cookies folded, and after a pause so did GTSR. I flashed my 4s, hoping to be able to take a future pot off GTSR on the turn.
Another hand came up against the lovely Jennifer. I raised 3xBB, and she was my only caller from the small blind. The flop came down A-Qc-8c, and Jennifer bet out $25, a fair portion of her stack. I raised to $75, feeling my A-J was the best hand - unless Jennifer immediately pushed I was confident. I put on the StoneFace, and in my peripheral vision I could see her agonising, shooting me looks to see if I would give anything away. The StoneFace was strong, and finally Jennifer pushed. I called instantly, and she was dismayed to see that her A-10 was dominated. Again her luck held, as the board paired and my higher kicker turned into smoke.
My final big hand once again came against Jennifer. I either limped from the button or completed my small blind, I can't recall. I held the power hand of 8h-9d. The flop gave me an OESD, but with two diamonds. Jennifer bet out $20, and I called with impunity, staring her down. The turn brought a third diamond, and she checked to me. I checked behind. The river was a fourth diamond, and we both check.
"Do you have a diamond?" I asked, as I prepared to muck my hand.
"No," she said, revealing a lower made straight. I paused and checked my hand... oh hell, I have the best hand. Sheepishly I showed my diamond, and everyone laughed at my unintentional slow roll. Jennifer took it in a stride, shaping up and threatening to beat me into next week.
Soon afterwards Sox and I agreed to get one last comped beer, and head to the bar for decompression - it was almost 3am, and I was taking a bus back to DC at 4am (yes, I am insane). He had more than doubled up, playing great poker, which put him into the black for the trip. I had made a small profit, but was still down a bunch due to my beating when I held Queens.
On our way to the bar we cruised by the craps section. We noticed a bouncer standing next to one of the tables, looking like he was suffering a bout of 'roid rage - he was bouncing on his heels as he surveyed the crowd for a victim. I noticed the craps table had a little "reserved" sign on it, but didn't give it much thought. Sox and I paused at the end of the table, but a casino employee immediately materialised and asked us to move on. Sox and I looked at each other and shrugged our shoulders. Moving two steps away, we asked a pit boss what the deal was.
"Oh, that's Bruce Willis's table." Looking back to the craps table, yeah, there was the man in all of his bald glory, with a couple of hangers on and a couple of hotties. I shrugged, took a swig of beer, and motioned towards the bar. If you've seen Bruce Willis throw dice once, you don't really need to see it again.
In the bar Sox and I chatted about how we played, as we knocked back a couple of beers. We didn't stay too long, as Sox wanted to crash, and I needed to head to the bus station. There was a long early morning ride ahead of me.
Trudging back to my apartment I reflected on my weekend. Overall I was happy with my play, and put it down to good experience. Despite the fact I was down a fair amount it was entirely due to one hand that I still don't think I could have gotten away from. I had played and done OK at a higher limit than I expected to be at, and had a good time doing so.
I'm not sure when the next time I play live will be, but I hope to build on what I learned this weekend. And who knows, maybe next time I'll be able to see Steven Seagal playing blackjack.