Wednesday, October 11, 2006

California Cards, Part 3

Tuesday night was a good time. NSD and I headed over to his friend Richard’s place for a little NL Hold ‘em Tourney night. We ended up playing 3 mini-tournaments that each lasted about 90 minutes. We had 5 or 6 players (it varied), and the blind structure and timing seemed to work out well. It worked out well for me, anyway.

Southside’s friends were great guys (and girls). They were friendly and they were smart. They play an occasional home game, and they play like they play in an occasional home game. Each player understood the rules of the game and some basic strategy. They were all “thinkers”, considering the play that had occurred and the appropriate course of action. I was impressed by their playing, in consideration of the occasional nature in which they played. I believe it took me many more hours of play and study to get to the point that they were, than it took them. Fortunately for me, I have continued to play and study many, many more hours than them.

The first game went to our esteemed host. He was the “thinkingest” of them all, and indeed, seemed to consider even the most obvious or insignificant of decisions for an exceptionally long time. I complimented him early in the game for his patience and attention to detail. By the end of the first game my compliments had been replaced my “Come on Richard, this is painful!” and “I have a flight on Friday, you know?”

His patience translated into my frustration. As the blinds grew, I stopped getting cards. I found myself head’s up with Richard a few times, and he got the better of me. At least once I played a hand strongly and aggressively. I was careful not to create too big a pot, but I had position on Richard and thought I could use his thinking against him. We both checked the flop on a ragged board. I thought I saw a glimmer in his eye before his check, and figured a free card could only help me. He also checked the turn, so I revised my read and bet about 2/3 of the pot. He thought for about 3 days and finally called. The river was uneventful, and no obvious draws connected. Again he checked to me. It’s mine, I thought, and after careful consideration, bet the rest of my chips, about 85% of the pot. I had made the pot comparatively big without realizing it. It was a biggish bet, but I was the aggressor, and my story told him that I had something. To me the bet said, “I’ve made something and I want to make the pot big enough to be worth winning. What’s the point in holding back 400 chips?” Richard wasn’t sure he was buying it. He went into the tank, and went through the process I so often neglect. The room could see the cogs turning as Richard replayed the flop and turn. He said, just loud enough to hear, “… you wouldn’t have checked the flop then…” I leaned back in my chair with confidence. He hemmed and hawed. The sun set and rose twice in the sky before Richard said, “okay.”

“You call?” I innocently asked.

“Yep” he retorted.

“Nice call, “ I lamented. Richard turned over Ad 3d for a busted flush draw and a pair of threes. Ick.

I left to pick up our pizza.

The next two tourneys were much more productive, as I took an early lead and never looked back. I was aggressive, but selectively so. My opponents were capable of calling biggish bets with second pair, and generally incapable of laying down top pair, unless the board was five of a suit they didn’t have.

I finished the night the big winner and headed back to NSDs. We wouldn’t be playing again for almost 24 hours. Shudder…

Day 4 of my California (poker trip) was a good time. The weather was lousy the whole trip, and quashed our initial plan of heading down to Big Sur for a couple days of camping. NSD had reserved a coveted Big Sur campground (only one of two of it’s kind) 6 months in advance, and we had finally come to terms with the fact that we’d be missing out. We tooled around, visited a new mall, hit the Ferry Building, enjoyed a light meal at San Francisco’s famed Slanted Door, and headed back to Richard’s for evening two.

Tonight we had 7 players and decided that we’d distribute the pool for generously. Third place got their money back, second place doubled their money, and the winner quadrupled it. It was too generous, but it wasn’t my house or my city. Plus, I’d already taken the money of 4 of these 6 players the night before.

Early on I grew my big stack in two ways. First, I got moderately strong hands against one female player that loved to call. She paid me off with top pair weak kicker at least once. Second, I put a harsh beat on the host’s friend Jim. He had raised pre-flop from the small blind, but only 3x with a limper already in the pot. Knowing the limper was exceptionally unlikely to make a limp-raise table, particularly at this table, I called with implied odds. I was holding 8s 9s.

The flop had a king, a 7 of spades, and a third card of little eventual significance. I basically had nothing but a backdoor straight-flush draw. Jim made a smallish bet, which I read for weakness. I smooth called, planning to take the hand from him on Fourth Street. The limper folded. The turn came a 10, and now I was open-ended. Jim bet about a third of the pot. I considered a raise, but now believed him to have a very strong hand. If I called behind I could guarantee a look at a river card with no additional risk. Also, the bet was small enough with relation to our chip stacks that it wouldn’t hurt me too badly if I missed, but I knew I could stand to land a big pot if I hit.

The river was a glorious Jack of clubs. The board was unpaired and there was no flush possible. Only Q-9 or A-Q had me beat. Q-9 was exceptionally unlikely, given the way Jim played the hand. A-Q was a possibility given the pre-flop raise, but Jim’s continued aggression on the flop and the turn dismissed any chance of holding A-Q in my mind. He may have made the continuation bet, but with an over card on the board, and only a gut-shot straight draw and an ace draw left, he would have checked the turn. No, I was way ahead.

I made a big raise on the end and Jim flat-called. He turned over a set of Kings. I said, “Sorry man, I sucked out”. He took the bad beat like a total gentleman.

I held onto my big chip lead until we were down to three-players. By the time Keith was eliminated in third-place, Richard had nearly as many chips as I did.

Once again Richard and I faced a heads-up battle. We played big pots when I was on the button and small ones when I was out of position. It seemed almost unfair when I dispatched him about 12 hands later.

Tomorrow was Thursday, and there would be no poker played. I only held out hope that we could hit a card room on the way to SFO on Friday.


Sunday, October 08, 2006

California Cards, Part 2

Continued here... read Part One first.

We headed to Gene’s that night rather than drive all the way back down to San Francisco. We also had to drop off the time machine car.

After a late start, involving a bagel, a glass of OJ, and an hour or two of work in Gene’s kitchen, we hit the road. First stop, a good cup of coffee. Second stop, the Korbel winery. We hitched onto a tour of the grounds for about 20 minutes and then explored the gift shop, deli, and tasting room on our own.

Next we headed to an Indian restaurant that Southside had spoken highly of previously. It was in the middle of nowhere. Truly. It was a hilarious experience, but tasty and fulfilling. Back in the car.

On the way back to the city, we passed the 101 Casino in Petaluma. I convinced NSD to stop after a little harassment. I sat at $3-6 limit for about 45-minutes and had a great session. I was patient, but not too patient, as the poker gods were kind to me. I made a flush, a straight, and two pair in active pots. All were good. I left the table up about 20 big bets.

I headed over to the No Limit $200 max. $1-2 table. The seats opened up as a $1000 max. table had just opened up and about half the table broke. In no time we were playing cards again. It became quickly obvious that everyone at the table knew everyone else but us. That was okay with me. No one impressed me as being a gifted poker player. I was patient, and again was rewarded by the occasional nice hand. Southside, on the other hand, got whittled down bit by bit as his mixed holdings never hit big. Eventually he pushed his chips in pre-flop out of frustration, and was fortunate to find himself in a coin-flip situation. Neither of his over cards paired and he was busted.

I played for another 40 minutes with mixed results, then headed out with a tidy profit to show for my hard work. We needed to head back to the city and tend to some paperwork – well, Southside did, and he was my ride. We needed to rest up too; after all, we were heading to a home game just a few hours later.


Saturday, October 07, 2006

Catching California Cards

I headed out to Northern California to visit Southside Darnell (a.k.a. Notorious Southside, or NSD) last Monday. After a cancelled flight and a multitude of delays, I finally found myself on an American Airlines flight from Chicago O’hare to SFO. I finally landed around 7:30pm and after waiting for my checked bag (thanks to 4+ ounces of liquids and gels) we headed out for an unplanned evening.

Southside called his buddy Gene – we were supposed to have met him for dinner 90 minutes earlier, and it was a 75 minute drive to his home in Sonoma county. After a little convincing on Gene’s part, we decided to keep our plans and hit the Golden Gate Bridge on our north. We met Gene for a nice dinner at Charlie Palmer's Dry Creek Kitchen, and enjoyed good conversation. Gene is an interesting fellow, and a good guy. He owns a small camera shop in San Francisco, but seems to dedicate much of his energy to his demolition and construction business in and around the bay area. He also owns several distinctive and cool cars. Tonight he was driving his DMC Delorean, made famous by it’s namesake and creator, John Delorean, as well as a starring role in the Back to the Future Trilogy.

I must admit, I was eyeing my watch every fifteen minutes. Southside promised we could hit the River Rock Casino up in Geyserville, CA, but couldn’t guarantee any action after 10pm. After several failed Flux Capacitor jokes on my part, we settled the bill and Gene let me sit in the driver’s side of the Delorean. Nice. It was so low to the ground that the physical act of extracting myself from the vehicle made me feel about 20 years older. Gene and Southside actually swapped cars for the night and we rode “in style” to the River Rock Casino.

We ripped through Sonoma County on low-set headlights and 24-year-old tires. The old machine felt like a decrepit tank as we made our way up the last few bends and into the casino parking lot. The humor highlight of the trip was angling into the closest parking spot, where Southside was unable to get the car into reverse to make the last 10 degrees of turn. I was eager to get into the card room before we lost our fish, so after about 10 tries I offered to push back the car far enough for Southside to adjust the car’s trajectory and get us into the spot. He took advantage of my generosity when, after having hunkered down to push the car back 18 inches, he motioned for me to push the car all the way back into the spot 18 feet behind him. At least we could pull straight out after robbing the place blind.

I wheezed my way down to the card room with NSD in tow. There were 15 or 16 tables in the room, but only two spreading games. There was a 3-6 Limit game and a 1-2 max 200 No Limit game being spread. We got on the NL list, and after about 15 minutes, on the NL table. It took me a few hands to appreciate the difference in rules. First, although the blinds were $1 and $2, it cost $5 to “complete the bet”, or see the flop. This wasn’t a raise, but merely a completion, like in 7 Stud, for instance. Second, there was a $1 blind on the button. In reality this was a 1-1-2 NL game with a $5 completion. Well why didn’t you say so?!

After 20-30 minutes of play I had accumulated a few chips, but nothing monumental. The table thinned to 8-handed, then 7, and shortly to 5-handed. This was good times, as there was a lot of action and I had developed a decent read on my opponents by this time. I added a little more fat to my stack. Eventually we ended up down to 4-handed play, including NSD and me. Southside had stayed steady in chips, I was up to about $330-350 by this time. One of the other four remaining players was a solid, aggressive player and the other was loose-weak. Eventually our fish simply started donating. He was a good guy, didn’t mind losing a few bucks, and was there to blow of some steam. I didn’t mind being the recipient of his generosity. After all, his card cover was the key/fob for his nice, big BMW. After another 45 minutes, I had been the recipient of most of our new friends generosity. I threw out a couple of self-deprecating jokes, and Southside made a good straight man. I stole a little pot and offered, “well it could be worse, you could be the guys we saw pushing their car in the parking lot”.

“That was US,” Southside volleyed. Laughter all around – players, dealers, and the floorperson standing nearby.

“What kind of car do you guys have, an old Chevy?” our Cash Machine asked.

“Nope. A Delorean,” I quipped. Beer shot from his nose. “And it isn’t even ours, a friend was generous enough to loan it to us.”

Another laugh and another $80 pot were my reward.

NSD and I rolled out of there about 2 hours later and decently richer. Southside had doubled up, I had nearly tripled my stack.

On the ground for 5 hours and already off to a good start.