Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Helmet Man

Hollywood Park has several levels of no-limit holdem, most defined by their fixed buy-in. Recently, I've been playing their $400 no-limit game most of the time, which has $5-10 blinds. They have another 5-10 blind game that they call $500 no-limit. For quite a while a couldn't understand why they would have two such similar games, but eventually someone explained to me that the $500 game has no cap, by which it is meant that while $500 is the minimum, there is no maximum buy-in. This is very similar to (if not the same as) the 5-10 NL game at the Wynn. Obviously, the average buyin at these games tends to be much higher, making the effective stakes much higher as a result.

Although I'd put my name on the list for the $500 NL game several times before, Sunday was the first time I was actually called for that game before the $400 NL game. I sat down with $988 (I had lost $12 at a 4-8 limit game while waiting for my NL seat). On one of my first 10 hands I doubled up another player who fortunately had only bought in for $500; I would have put in quite a bit more than that if his stack were larger. On the turn the board was KQ33, and I held KQ. My opponent had 33 for quads, so there wasn't much I could do.

After maybe half an hour, a player wearing a helmet sat down at my table. I'm pretty sure this wasn't even the same guy I had mentioned wearing a helmet at Hollywood Park before. The original guy's helmet was chrome, while this guy's looked like a green WWII-type helmet. Also, the first guy looked rather like Flavor Flav or maybe Pierre Bernard, whereas the guy I now found myself playing against was much bulkier. So as strange as it may seem, I'm pretty sure there are at least two people who like to wear helmets while playing poker at Hollywood Park. After just two hands it became apparent, as I quipped to the players sitting next to me, that his style of play was so wild that he may have actually needed the helmet. He was very fond of continuing to bet at each opportunity regardless of his cards.

Before long, I found myself in a hand with helmet-man and a few other players. My stack was back up to about 800, while helmet-man had just bought in for another 500. I was in a blind with K7 and the flop was KQT. I bet and got a caller, and then helmet-man raised. I called and the third player, who I though may have had a J for a straight draw but also may have already had me beat, also just called on the flop. The turn was a 6. We both checked to the helmeted man, who bet again. I can't remember the exact amount but I think this bet was about $175. I called again and the other player folded. The river was a 2, and I put helmet-man all-in for his last $175. He called and showed K9 for the win.

I was at a "must-move" table and had to leave before getting into another hand with this crazy player, and he didn't stick around long enough to move into the main game where I had been moved. Even without him at the table, the game was quite beatable. After losing a bit more I was able to come back and even make several hundred before heading home.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

"Wilson's Law"

Just in case I don't become famous for my theoretical "River-Call Bluff," I've decided to name something else after myself. I call it "Wilson's Law," and it should apply not only to poker but also to any other endeavor involving any amount of chance. Before I describe it, let me explain what made me think of it.

I've been winning a lot recently, and I'm very aware that I've been quite lucky. However, I've also never heard of anyone actually overestimating his own luck (with the possible exception of Lou Gehrig) . A player who's losing usually seems to think that he's the only one at the table who has ever lost to a flush draw, and the player who caught the flush usually seems to think that he "deserved" to win that one because he can remember some previous instance where he missed a draw. I think everyone is subject to this mode of thinking, although obviously to varying degrees. With this in mind, it occurs to me that even though I readily acknowledge that I've been lucky recently, I'm probably still underestimating the extent. This line of reasoning reminded me of Hofstadter's Law: "It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter's Law." This led me to the formulation of what I will now dub "Wilson's Law": You're always luckier than you consider yourself to be, even when you take into account Wilson's Law.

Monday, April 16, 2007

The River-Call Bluff

Often, after being called on a river-bluff, a player will try to avoid having to show the hand he bluffed with. Technically, having been called on the river, the bluffer is required to show his hand first, but obviously he'd rather not have to show a hand he knows is going to lose anyway. If the caller doesn't immediately show his hand, the bluffer will often act like he is about to muck his hand and say something like "you win," trying to pressure the caller into showing his cards. Being rather non-confrontational, I've usually been inclined to acquiesce to this ploy and show my cards if I've called someone's bluff. I think I'm going to stop doing this. The main reason is that I'd really like to know what people are trying to bluff with, and by showing my cards first I forfeit my right to see what the bluffer had. I've occassionally told the bluffer to "show or muck," and although this tends to upset and offend the bluffer, it has the desired effect of forcing the bluffer to show before I do. Most of the time the bluffer will show his hand, but it's not uncommon for him to opt to just muck it. This result is especially desirable for me because, when my opponent mucks first, I don't need to show my hand either. This way my opponents won't figure out the types of hands I'm willing to call bluffs with.

Other times, a bluffer will immediately just show or muck his hand immediately after being called on a bluff without going through this ordeal. Personally, I usually just show my hand immediately.

After playing with particular players for long enough, I can often place them in one of these four categories based on how they react to having their bluff called: always show, always muck, reluctantly show, reluctantly muck.

This has led me to occasionally consider a play I've never heard of before. I think I may have just invented it. Hopefully, like Daisuke Matsuzaka and the gyroball, I will become legendary for using this play even though I never actually have tried it. I call it: "The River-Call Bluff". I'm pretty sure it can only work in live play (as opposed to online), and it can probably only be used profitably against players you know from experience bluff a lot and fall into either the "always muck" or "reluctantly muck" categories. It would also help if your opponent is aware of your tendency to resist pressure to show your hand first after calling a river-bluff; this way the bluffer won't suspect what you're trying.

This is how the River-Call Bluff works: Your opponent bets on the river, and you suspect it is a bluff. However, your hand is so weak that it very likely would lose even to a bluff (for instance, you were drawing to a 6-high straight and missed). Despite your hopeless hand, you call anyway. Your opponent mucks his hand, either immediately or after you refuse to show your hand first, and you take down the pot. And there you have it: The River-Call Bluff.

Has anyone ever seen this play even attempted?

Optional: show your 7-high hand that you just called with and send your opponent on tilt.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Back From Las Vegas

I ventured back to Las Vegas last week for the first time since I moved to Los Angeles.I can't really explain why it took me so long, except that I've gotten very tired of travelling, and I didn't have any particular occasion to go. Last week, though, Joe was home, meaning I'd have a nice house to stay in instead of paying for a hotel or sleeping on someone's couch. Also, this meant I'd have someone to play with most of the time.

Being back in Las Vegas made me realize that there is still such a thing as a mediocre player willing to play above the smallest limits at a casino. Such a person has become very rare in Los Angeles. Also, I was not just imagining that the LA casino's have a much more dour atmosphere. Frankly, I was shocked to realize how much fun it was to play poker again. I think the main difference is the fact that players in Las Vegas are mostly there on vacation. They're excited to be there, and the excitement permeates the room in the same way that despair seems to preside over places like the Commerce and Hollywood Park. Okay, I'm exaggerating, but the contrast was really quite remarkable. Until last week, I had convinced myself that I had judged the LA casinos too harshly when I first moved out here, and that they are actually almost as good as the ones in Las Vegas. They aren't.

One positive development is that I was able to profitably play in the 5-10 and even briefly 10-20 NL games in Las Vegas. Having become accustomed to these stakes I think I will be more comfortable playing in games bigger than the $400 buyin 5-10 NL at Hollywood Park.