Saturday, May 13, 2006

11 Seconds after Midnight

The Game:

WWdN: rmgustaf Invitational

Some of the Players

A few of the (many) Railbirds








ricoM (atsa me, Boss!)




Troublecat (aka Absinthe)







My imaginary friends:



The Dream

The background and the cast changes. Sometimes I’m in Maine, sometimes in L.A., sometimes somewhere I can’t identify. The people are usually those I’m close to – parents, Peggy, other family, close friends, sometimes people I haven’t seen in years, sometimes strangers who act like I should know them. The plotline follows the same general pattern. A letter comes, the phone rings, someone asks a question. Finals are coming. Graduation is coming.

Except I can’t take the finals. I’m not going to graduate. I stopped going to classes months ago. No diploma is coming in the mail. My mind is racing as I try to figure out a way to escape being found out.

And then I wake up.

I used to have enough recurring dreams to fill a multiplex. Time and tide have softened the anxieties fueling them and they’ve mostly faded away. But the one above is an old companion, and I suspect will ride my shoulders like a hag until my ashes are finally scattered along the Maine Coast. If you’ve got a layman’s knowledge of psychology, you might recognize that recurring dream as a classic example of Imposter Syndrome, a fairly common malady among people who rely on their wits to make a living, as I do. Of course, I did graduate from high school, and then college, but the dream has nothing to do with that.

The Voice

It’s the incessant little chatter in your head – like an annoying IM popup demanding attention - that whispers, whispers, “Faker. You managed to pull it off for awhile, but you’re going to get caught.” You learn how to ignore the voice in the day, or it would cripple you, but it’s expert at creeping through night defenses. The dream was coming so frequently when I was going through a major transition from being a 9 to 5’er to freelance – that I finally read several books on lucid dreaming and regularly confronted my angst-torn dream self with the message that if he would only wake up he’d find himself happily graduated, and in bed loving and loved by a wife and cats.

That worked. The dream still comes regularly, usually when I’m under deadline stress, but I’m as likely to laugh at the scenario now as be concerned by it. It’s like a Frankenstein that terrified you as a kid but now you can see the inexpertly applied makeup, the tawdry costume, the knowledge in the monster’s eyes that he’s the one found out.

That doesn't mean that I still don't have doubts about many things, including the quality of my writing and my poker playing. I started playing online poker sometime in mid to late 2004, after reading Jim McManus’ “Fortune’s Smile.” I don’t think I had ever heard of Hold `Em until that article, but – following my usual compulsive pattern of learning as much as possible as quickly as possible about a new subject that interested me - I bought Wilson’s software; played against the computer for several months, and eventually found my way to UltimateBet. I chose UB because of a TV commercial and because it didn’t seem as, ah, sleazy as some of the other poker sites that offered free games and freeroll tournaments. In any case, I played in UB for several months, exclusively in freerolls, and was finally able to amass around $30 or $40 bucks still without ever putting any of my own cash into the stake.

By that time, I had found some friends in the poker blogger community, notably in the shrunken form of a dwarf housewife who had named herself after a fictional 30-year-old medievalist for reasons unclear. Iggy’s uberlist led me to other bloggers, including a witty writer, sometimes sharp-tongued, sometimes glum Okie, who I found I shared a lot in common with, including generational things like `60s folk and Borscht Belt comics.

One of the blogger tournaments brought me to PokerStars where I transferred about half of my UB stake and started exclusively playing for “real” money. I found I had little taste for ring games, and with my PS stake improved with an 8th place finish in one of the early blogger tournaments, I concentrated on SnG’s and tournaments. Low stakes for both - $3 to $5 tourneys; $5 SnGs, sometimes multi-table, sometimes not.

My stake was in steady state for almost a year at PS, not growing immensely, but not needing an infusion of outside cash either. Ultimately, the law decided to average itself out, and I had a 3 or 4 month period where I could not get into the money more than very occasionally. In late 2005 I finally had to transfer some money into PS. In the meantime, most of the blogger tournaments had moved on to other venues and, after trying a few other sites, I decided I was happiest playing where I had started, at UltimateBet and PokerStars.

On one of those other sites where I had played in a blogger tournament, I had left $2.38 behind in my account. Sometime earlier this year, I received an email with an offer fof a “free” token good for a $10 SnG. I parlayed that chip into a $30 win and cleared out, transferring the money back to my then empty UB account, liking the symmetry of it all. That money has happily grown, yet again, into a pretty good stake for a small beer player.

And I played, and I played, finishing on the bubble a lot; finishing in the money enough that I could indulge myself with long-shot tournaments, tries at Omaha tables, and so on. In 2006, I’ve had some good games. In January, in the first freeroll I had played in months, I finished 9th in a field over 4,000. Wil Wheaton had his “invitational” at PokerStars, and I started playing in that; playing regularly after the date and time settled into Tuesdays at 8:30. I’ve done okay in those, if you define “okay” as usually placing somewhere in the top third… but out of the money, except once when I finished 15th, and made around 40 bucks.

And, all this time, I’ve had this niggling worry about whether I was a “good” player. I mean, I’m in the money enough in 10 to 30-person SnGs that poker is a much cheaper habit than most of my other vices… you should see what I spend on booze, wine, and cigars for example. But they’re $5 SnGs… the competition ain’t all that tough. You get the few players like me who play as if it’s the family grocery money, but you more often get people learning the game; people who refuse to learn the game, and people just there to have fun. If you’re willing to play poker qua poker, you have a better than average chance of making money in the $5 SnGs.

The blogger tournaments are something else. There are some hard-nosed, very good players in those tournaments. It’s why you tend to see the same names at the final table regularly. On the other hand, some of those hard-nosed players look at tourneys such as the WWdN almost as a form as relaxation from their regular games, like I do when I play Omaha Hi-Lo, a game where I seldom know whether I’ve won or lost until the chips move to my position. I mean, this is a loosely-affiliated community that applauds fierce betting in their games when holding a 7 2 off-suit, which is not a tactic endorsed by anyone very concerned with winning.

The Problem of Fishes

And then there’s the Fish problem. Good players encourage bad players to play. You can always tell the amateurs at the $5 SnGs or the low stakes tourneys. They’re the ones bitching about other players, especially if they just lost a hand to them. Pro or not, knowledgeable players are more likely to type in “nh” after losing against some idiotic play. I once sat at a memorable table – a ring table for a change - and watched a group of players, including me on one occasion, flense a player who was either drunk, suicidal, or brand-new to Hold `Em of three rebuys totaling $50 in less than 30 minutes. When the guy busted out and his seat finally went dark, the entire table pleaded with him to come back, with many only semi-ironic “ggs” and “bad breaks” thrown in. “It was,” as someone noted mournfully, “like having your own personal bank for awhile.”

So, maybe even though I had a good time sparring with other regulars in the chat box, maybe they were just happy to see more dead money at the table to fill out the final pot. I hated the idea of being thought of as a Fish. And the little voice would shrill in my head, even after winning a SnG, a series of SnGs, winning money from tournaments, “You know the million monkeys and Shakespeare, Bals. It was your day to get lucky is all. You’re not that good, and sooner or later everyone is going to know.”

Shut up, voice.

Last Tuesday, the 9th, I took second in the WWdN Invitational, earning $156 bucks to boot. It's my highest placement in an MTT, and the most I've ever won from poker in one shot.

I had a couple of good shots at taking first; I had my opponent Troublecat backed up a couple of times. If the cards had fallen towards me, I would have won. But they didn't, and I didn't.

I'll be back - if the creek don't rise much more, which in fact it is right now in soggy New Hamster - this Tuesday to try again, and the following Tuesdays too, when I can, as long as Wil wants to sponsor the tourney. The voice tried to tell me that it was just luck - and if you looked at a couple of the hands I played, some of it was, as some of it always is in poker. And the voice tried to tell me that I would just embarrass myself playing again. But the voice sounds a little worried itself, as if it's just going through the motions. It's not very convincing at all.

I think I can play poker.


And The Game

So, about last Tuesday night. Here’s a few things for your amusement:

I was the same table from beginning to end. My table was the final table, people were moved in from the other table.

PokerStars says my stats were:

396 hands played and saw flop:

- 14 times out of 86 while in small blind (16%)

- 21 times out of 85 while in big blind (24%)

- 22 times out of 225 in other positions (9%)

- a total of 57 times out of 396 (14%)

Pots won at showdown - 20 out of 32 (62%)

Pots won without showdown – 70

- The lowest my stack dropped during the game was $785 chips, after I called a $435 all-in with an AK. ragecg had a pair of Queens that held.

- I went all-in with those chips and a suited A 8, and chopped a pot with CJ, collecting 1252 when the board’s two pair became the best hand, confusing both CJ and I about what had just happened.

- A few hands later I was all-in again and chopped another pot with Budohorseman when we both had Big Slick and both pulled full houses.

- My first suck out of the night was at 9:44. With 1027 in chips and sooted AQ, I go all-in when the flop shows an Ace. darval calls and flips Big Slick. Bad news for me till the Turn and I pair my Queen. I collect 2279.

Live by Big Slick. Die by Big Slick.

I have the rookie habit of getting Buck Fever when drawing a good hand and pulling the trigger too early rather than trying to siphon as many of the other player’s chips as I can. NL Hold `Em is a game of trapping, the saying goes, and even though the trapper is the one trapped at times, trapping is how you collect the chips to make it to the final. The hand I was proudest of playing came shortly before 10, when I found a pair of 8s in my hand. Blinds are at 100 and 200. With a middlin’ pair, I make a middlin’ raise of $400, and get one caller in the small blind, surflexus.

Flop is a rainbow 2 8 9, and I have a set of 8s. At this point my normal reaction would be to make a sizeable bet to scare off a possible straight draw, but I decide to just check it, as does surflexus. Turn is a 2 of spades, and surflexus decides to ah, flex his muscles, with a bet at the pot of a grand. I figure a) he’s either playing the board, representing a deuce set or b) he has two overcards. Either way, with a full house I’ve got him beat, unless he’s been doing the same thing and slow-playing 9s. Unlikely, I think, and go all-in. He calls, and I’m wrong; he’s been slow-playing Jacks, but they’re no help when a King hits the river and I collect $6816.

I even get some table respect for that one…

darval said, "reminder to self - don't go all-in against carmen for a while"
darval: calls 100
Budohorseman: checks
*** FLOP *** [As Ks 2c]
BrainMc [observer] said, "or rico"
CarmenSinCty said, "hehe"
darval: bets 400
ricoM said, ":-)"
CarmenSinCty said, "yeah, or rico"
darval said, "yeah"
Budohorseman: folds
CarmenSinCty said, "he's on a roll"

A few hands later I’d crack Grrr.Argghh’s pocket Aces with an off-suit QJ – my second big suck-out on a hand I shouldn’t have been in. A Jack hit the flop, and with the other two players limping I throw a sizeable raise at the pot of 1200. Grrr.Argghh goes over the top at me, I fire back - although I think I have the hand lost if he goes all-in to call me – and he does. I’m expecting AJ, but it’s a pair of Aces. Just as bad at that point… but Grrr.Argghh gets a bad beat from me when the River shows a Queen.

A “whew” moment.

BrainMc warns me I have two Atlanta players at my table and one railin’ (him). I tell him I’m actually a Southern boy… southern New Hamster, and find out one Budohorseman is Manchester-born.

10:00 - Xkm1245 – another New Hamster boy, still in the tourney but on the short stack, comes on the rail for a moment to cheer me on.

10:15 – I get my “lucky” cards, a pair of 3s, and feeling rich with $10k of chips, make it $800 to go (110/200 blinds). Darval in the BB calls me. Pair of Jacks on the flop; darval leads out with $1200. I call. Queen hits the turn. We both check. 7 on The River, we both check. Darval’s got nothing, and I collect $4,250.

10:21 – A short-stacked surflexus gets knocked out by hacker59.

23skidoo pops in to discuss the Atlanta game with the table and says Hello.

I explain to darval the rico who sucked out against his Big Slick previously was the evil Rico… and I killed him. He goes out the next hand.

10:30 – xkm comes back, out of the tournament, to wish me luck.

10:45 About this time Garthmeister goes on an all-in frenzy, raising multiple times in the space of 15 minutes.

10:46 – Our table becomes the final table and we’re all in the money. Budohorseman, who had been moved earlier, finished on the bubble in 10th:

Seat 1: hacker59 (11063 in chips)

Seat 2: CarmenSinCty (9268 in chips)

Seat 3: Garthmeister (8940 in chips)

Seat 4: Troublecat (26691 in chips)

Seat 5: bluto392 (10525 in chips)

Seat 6: Jaxia (10774 in chips)

Seat 7: Scaffidi (20850 in chips)

Seat 8: bloser2 (8213 in chips)

Seat 9: ricoM (10676 in chips)

11:00 - DuggleBogey, who visits my blog now and then, shows up to cheer Garth on.

11:00 – I find an A 10 in my hand while in the Big Blind. bloser2 in the small blind raises to $3200 (400/800 blinds) after everyone folds to him, and I figure he’s trying to buy. I call. The flop is 6c Ac 10h, pretty good for me unless bloser2 is holding two clubs. He bets $6400, and I go all-in, forcing him to commit his remaining $3,000 in chips. He has a pair of 5s, which don’t improve, and I take him out.

About this time Garth discovers you can use the word, “Ass!” in chat. The rail quickly devolves to the 5th grade.

Scaffidi, who has been sitting out a lot, gives the table too much information by informing us he’s racing between the computer and toilet with a bad case of stomach flu.

23:12 – Jaxia goes away, her set busted by Troublecat’s full house. Bloody P offers a $5 prop bet that Trouble will win. Beck2Knaves takes it. The railbirds attempt to fart on command for reasons unclear.

23:18: The Lady Maudie appears at the rail to give me a shout-out and encourages Beck2Knaves to root for me. Three minutes later, Iggy shows up. My final table is complete.

I get an early taste of the Cat’s claws with an ugly misplay. I raise to $2400 with off suit A 2. (600/1200 blinds). Trouble in the BB calls. Flop is a scary K 10 J, giving me an overcard and a straight draw. The Cat checks, giving me a freebie, and I gratefully do the same. On the Turn a 3 of spades shows and the Cat suddenly bets $4000. What the hell? Does he have a Jack or 10? I call. River is a deuce, giving me bottom pair but what the hell has he been playing? I think I should have bet out long ago, but I’ve effed up this play, and check. Cat is holding a pair of 6s, and takes the hand. I think I could have shook him up if I had gone over the top when he bet the $4000, but opportunity missed.

A few hands later I take out the pukin’, shittin’ Scaffidi when I pull a flush on the flop and bust his King pair. I’m the chip leader with $43859, which lasts exactly one hand. Troublecat busts out Carmensincity, who’s played magnificently coming back from a short, short stack to make it here, with two pair against her one pair. Three of us left now…

Seat 3: Garthmeister (7915 in chips)
Seat 4: Troublecat (67326 in chips)
Seat 9: ricoM (41759 in chips)

The railbirds start making “grass growing, paint drying” jokes as we all go tight, no one wanting to go out 3rd. But it doesn’t take all that long. Garthmeister, who’s been playing super-aggressively earlier and winning with the strategy, goes all-in preflop with Q 10. Troublecat calls with off-suit A 9 and pairs the 9, winning.

Just me and him now. It’s 11:30.

I’m not a great heads-up player; I don’t have enough practice. I know the basics… it’s essentially raise or fold, and the most aggressive player usually wins. But I can’t get any traction. Troublecat raises. I got nothing. I fold. Troublecat raises. I got nothing but re-raise. Nothing on the board, and I fold. I raise. Troublecat folds.

Bottom line is he’s winning a lot more hands than me.

My hand – a pair of 3s – finally shows up, and I just call. The Cat checks. Flop has a 3 in it and I have a set. Troublecat checks and so do I, praying that he makes a big bet at the Turn. Jack at the turn, and I’m dead if he has a A 10 or a 10 9 to make a straight. I go all-in. He calls. I was close. He has K 10, and I take $45718. Cat still has $71282 left.

The next hand I get off-suit KQ. The cat raises to 7000, and I fire back raising to 12000. He calls. Flop is 5 K J, giving me high pair and a straight draw. I check in the hopes of seeing some more moola from the Cat, but he checks too. Turn is a scary J, but I have lotsa outs, so its time to bet. I go all-in. Troublecat folds. I collect $24200.

Tie game.

Seat 4: Troublecat (59182 in chips)
Seat 9: ricoM (57818 in chips)

Next hand I have my 3s again, and feeling frisky I raise to $4000. Cat calls. Two Qs on the board, and I make a small bet of $5000, hoping Cat will interpret that as a “I want to be called” raise. He does and folds.

Seat 4: Troublecat (55082 in chips)
Seat 9: ricoM (61918 in chips)

We stay tied for several hands. I get involved in a weird flush while holding the 7 3 of diamonds. Unfortunately, TroubleCat is holding the Q 4 of diamonds and knocks me down to $47,000 in chips again.

The chips go bad. I’m down to $37,000 quickly, then $32,000. I finally put a hard whack on TroubleCat when I have K 10 and go all-in preflop. He calls with Big Slick. The Poker Gods smile and I pair my 10.

For the first time I have the Cat in trouble.

Seat 4: Troublecat (46064 in chips)
Seat 9: ricoM (70936 in chips)

The Cat comes back quickly. I get sooooted A 9 and raise to $12,000. Cat goes all-in with A 10, and his one card higher wins. I’m in serious hurt.

Seat 4: Troublecat (83128 in chips)
Seat 9: ricoM (33872 in chips)

I win with a pair of Kings and take the lead again. Troublecat wins with a pair of 9s and takes the lead again.

With $8,888 chips left I go all-in with AJ and beat Troublecat’s A10.

The next hand I get the Hammer, and what-the-hell. I raise. Troublecat folds, I show and bow.

At hand 396, with only $6,000 in chips left, I go all-in with K 5. And it’s over. Troublecat wins when his Jacks pair the board.

It’s 11 seconds after midnight.


CarmenSinCity said...

Good job in the WWdn. I had a great time playing with you - hopefully we can both make the final table again this week.

BrainMc said...

Excellent recap of the night. I forgot how much bathroom humor we had that night. Now I can explain to my wife why I stayed up so late to watch a game that I had been knocked out of hours earlier. Great job on the finish.