Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A man among boys (and girls)

I played poker for money for the first time in my hometown of Cullman, Alabama, Friday night, and it was an ego trip.

Standard Q from family: “How did you do?”

Me: “I won, of course.”

A group of people get together ever so often to have a poker tournament at a local social club. It’s all very public (I saw an ad for it in the local shopper’s guide classified) because half the money goes to charity.

Obviously, the first question one must ask himself here is: can a 50 percent rake be beaten? In this case: perhaps.

The entry fee was $100 (half to a local high school girls’ volleyball or softball team, I think) with $50 add-ons and rebuys. I plunked down the $150 to start with the bigger stack, and we had about 25 players with the top four getting paid.

I mostly sat around amused as I folded most hands and took my turn dealing as I got nothing to play for the first hour or two. I was amused because probably every rule in the Tournament Directors Association list was probably broken, but should that be surprising when I was probably the only one in the room who had ever heard of the TDA?

One grandma was giving advice to her granddaughter who said she had never played in a tournament before. (One player to a hand? Huh, what's that mean?) In one instance the girl obviously flopped trip kings by the way grandma acted and told her to bet it hard. Despite this obviousness, she got called down by players holding an ace in their hands to match the one on board.

Still, the hand was not without some danger. Four hearts came on the board and the girl didn't have a full house or flush.

After the hand, one player asked grandma why she pushed her granddaughter to bet the river when any flush beat her.

"I don't care," grandma replied. 

These people were bad, epically bad. Perhaps my perspective was skewed from playing against mostly very good players in casinos, but one thing was obvious – I was a man among boys (and girls). But the blinds worked against me, doubling every 15 minutes, or about every 5 to 8 hands considering how long each hand took. They eventually froze the blinds, meaning if I built up a stack I could just wait and pick apart my foes.

It got to the point where I had to pull the shove-and-pray move a few times, which worked better than expected because people loved to limp and see flops, but hated to make or call big bets. So I built up some decent chips by just being aggressive.

In a key pot once we reached the final table, I tripled up with QQ vs. JJ and A6.

Later, playing five handed, we got to the river cheaply with me holding the ace of spades and a fourth spade coming on board. I bet out 12,000 into a 20,000 pot and got raised to 24,000. Now, if we were playing in a skillful game the move I pulled next would almost never have worked, but this was definitely not that.

I counted out 12,000. Then I counted my entire stack. I studied the board, studied my opponent’s stack, looked afraid to make eye contact. All elementary stuff that would obviously be a ruse when I eventually pushed all in. To the skillful player it looks like a strong move meant to look like a bluff. To the novice player it simply looks like a bluff.

I was called, doubled up to the big stack at the table and eventually chopped heads-up with the same guy. I chopped because it was nearly 1 a.m., the tournament organizers had already been wanting us to quit so they could go home and there was only a $100 difference in the prize money between winning and chopping first ($600) and second ($400).

They’ll likely play again in October. I’ll be back.

Can the rake be beaten? Probably.