Friday, November 16, 2007

Barcelona Poker - A Little Variety

Should you focus on one game, or learn them all? That is a common question posed by players who’ve reached a plateau in their poker education.If my recent trip to Barcelona is any indication, and I think it is, I suggest at least some combination of the two.

Poker authors and educators like Steve Zolotow and Bob Ciaffone extol the virtues of learning a variety of games. They suggest that playing multiple games will help you across the board – being a good Stud player will make you a better Hold ‘em player, and vice versa. They also make the argument that you may not always have the opportunity to play your preferred game, or another variety may have a much weaker table running in your purview, and hence choosing another flavor of poker is your superior, or only, option. “When would I not have the option to play Hold ‘em, but have access to only something else!?” you ask ever so calmly.

Just this last week in Spain, such a situation arose. Fortunately, I have been playing a more mixed bag of poker in recent months. More than anything else, I’ve been playing a good amount of Pot Limit Omaha (PLO). What a game! And I think I’ve gotten to the point where I am comfortable enough with the nuances to apply my skills in other games, namely No Limit Hold ‘em, to the game of PLO.

I visited the Gran Casino Barcelona on three consecutive days last week. I can’t say the room is well run, and despite about 18 people waiting to get into action, there were only three tables being spread on the Monday night I arrived. There was a €5/€10 (about $7.50/$15) No Limit Hold’em (NLHE) Game, a €10/€20 NLHE game, and a €5/€10 PLO game. After about 90 minutes of waiting, it was getting late, and I was getting no closer to a seat. The wifie had an early morning, so we headed back to our hotel with no poker played.

On day two I arrived within an hour of the casino’s opening (yes, the close. This one is open from 3pm to 2am). I put my name on the list for €2/€5 and €5/€10 NLHE and €5/€10 PLO. Only a €10/€20 NLHE table was running, with a list. After maybe 75 minutes a €5/€10 PLO table was opened, and I was given a seat. How much to buy in for? I really didn’t have access to enough local currency to buy in for more than the €300 amount I decided on. Yes, I know, only 30 BB in a PLO game, I needed to play tight-tight-tight.

I was very patient, and watch the table play loose-passive, and generally poor, PLO. I didn’t get many raising hands, and saw a handful of cheap flops for a limp, in position. I had a little up and down, but hovered around €200 for most of the session.

Finally I woke up with a 7, 8, 9, J three-suited. I saw an unraised flop in mid-position and the board came 4,7,10 with two suits. I bet out for about ¾ of the pot and got a ½ pot raise and a call behind me. I decided to push with my super wrap and one pair, and both opponents called. Both opponents caught their shared flush draw on the river – putting me in third place behind an ace-high and a king-high diamond flush (diamante color).

I called it an evening and headed out for dinner with my wife and her colleagues.

On day three, I headed to the casino around the same time, and had approximately the same experience in getting a seat and buying in. This time my marginal edges held up and I began to build a bit of a stack.

After a short time, a new player was seated to my left, and I could tell he was unfamiliar with playing live poker. He seemed very tentative in his actions and nervous much of the time. He had a friend in the casino who would come by occasionally, and they would speak in hushed tones. I noticed that he opened his hand at every showdown, even if it had been established that he could not have the winning hand. When he did show his cards, they were often very marginal holdings, with two or three cards working together, but never a complete Omaha hand.

Later, I found myself in the big blind with a suited ace, a J, and two small connected cards. There had been a small raise early (a "pot builder") and several calls. I had €10 in, and decided to make a loose call of €15 more, given the pot odds. The board came with two aces and two hearts. With four players to act behind me at this loose table, I was unsure how to proceed. (What WAS I hoping for with this hand?!) I had trips, but was probably in trouble against the case Ace, which I suspected was out, given the number of opponents. If I bet an opponent raised, how could I know if they were on a flush draw (people bet flushes into paired boards here) or a bigger Ace (or even a smaller Ace at this table). I checked, and it checked around. I decided that if a non-heart came, I was in good shape, and I would bet out the turn.

Voila! The turn was the case Ace. Well, that settles that. I decided to be coy, since there were no other real hands to be had out there. Maybe someone with pocket kings or queens would decide that there was no ace out and would make a bet.

It checked around and the river put a third heart on the board. I grinned inside, thinking to myself, "if this guy [to my right] was on a flush draw, he'd probably call a bet". No one else at the table was poor enough to do that. I bet out about €90, he thought for a minute and then called. Everyone folded behind. "Quads", I said, and turned over my hand to avoid any language confusion.

My opponent turned over (of course he did) his hand, a big heart flush. Geez... I was right, but 'huh'!?

This was a nice pad to my stack, and I continued to play my tight-aggressive game. I didn't raise a single hand pre-flop for about an hour until I found myself with AA double-suited in the big blind. I hate having aces up front, but at least they were suited.

The rookie to my left had been replaced by a new, loose player with deep pockets. The whole table had gotten crazy loose-aggressive pre-flop.

I was praying for someone to make a raise as I watched the table limp, fold, limp, fold, limp, around to the button. He raised it up to €30, which of course was going to get nothing but calls with €75 in the pot, including his raise. The small blind smooth called the raise, and the pot-size was €100 with my big blind. "Pot," I said. "Ciento cuarenta", came the response from the dealer. I plunked €140 onto the felt.

"Ahz Ahz doble color," my new neighbor inappropriately declared my holding to the whole table in his native tongue. Not that it was really a secret to anyone. "Posiblemente, pero quales colores?" I jested back in my lousy Spanish. He was both surprised at my comprehension and tickled by my response at the same time. I got a pat on the back.

Then he called. Called. He just... called. Then, three more players called behind, including the small blind. Five players saw the flop for €140. Five players. WTF?!

There was €700 (over $1000) in the pot as we watch a Jack, 7, and 4 dress the felt. Not a bad flop for my hand, but not a great one, and I was in terrible position. The small blind paused, riffled some chips, turned to look me straight in the eye, got completely wide-eyed, and said, as if he was talking just to me, "POT!" He said it with an almost playfully mocking American accent. He had only about €540 behind, so that was the bet.

At this point, it really didn't matter what I thought he had - as if I had enough information to detect anything. There were three players behind me, three unmatching cards on the board, and I was facing a several car payment-sized bet. One pair and one backdoor flush draw didn't look so delicious and I mucked.

After some fanfare and Hollywooding, the rest of the table conceded the pot to the small blind.

So much for Aces.

Not so fast my friend.

Later I got two Aces, three-suited in late position. I made a pot-sized raise pre-flop and took down the pot with a flop bet.

Even later I found two aces, three-suited again. I was in mid-position, and a player on either side of me called my pre-flop pot-sized bet. The flop came A-7-4 with two diamonds. Bingo! Top set, currently the nuts. I was aware that there were two draws, but was less worried about the 7-4 than I was the "diamante color". I bet 'pot'.

The player behind me thought for only a moment and then called. Eek! I had to put him on diamonds AND something. Maybe he had a gut-shot or something? If he had a huge two-way draw, maybe he'd put it all in then. But what hand do you call with that has a straight draw AND a meaningful flush draw here? Not too many.

The player to my right when into the tank. I had respect for his game, so now I really wondered what he was considering. After a couple minutes, he mucked and it was head's up. The pot was huge, and I prayed for a blank. The turn brought a black face card. I don't know if it also gave my opponent a gutshot broadway draw, but when I pushed the rest of my stack in (close to the size of the pot), my opponent decided that he needed to call. The river blanked out and I took down a GiNormous pot.

Stacking those chips was a fine feeling.

About 30 minutes later I cashed out a big stack, and headed to a big, fancy dinner with my wife and some colleagues. Guess who treated?