Uncle Sug Hits Vegas

I became an uncle on Saturday morning. My sister had a 9 lb. baby boy. He’s a cute little mushball, and his name is Ezra Arthur Mellor. It’s the first grandchild for my parents and everyone is very excited. And of course, Uncle Sug will teach Ezra how to play cards as soon as the little fella can read.

As for me, I’m out in Vegas right now. I played the WSOP’s daily $500 second chance tournament yesterday and didn’t make a dent. I decided to crash, and I’m heading into the $2000 Pot Limit Hold ‘Em event on ten hours’ sleep.

And now for an anecdote from the $500 tourney:

I found my seat and the tournament began. After a few hands were played, the player directly across from me arrived and sat down. I immediately recognized him as Eric Haber, a.k.a. “Sheets,” my PokerXFactor mentor. Any doubt about his identity was removed when, on the very first hand after he sat down, I heard his familiar voice yelling “misdeal! I have 3 cards.” He did indeed have three cards, and the dealer declared a misdeal. Everyone returned their cards to the dealer. I checked mine to see what might have been. Pocket aces. The only aces I would see all day. Thanks, Sheets.

Mr. Mojo Rizen

Just a couple of days ago, one of the instructors at PokerXFactor, Eric Lynch, a.ka. “Rizen” (pronounced ‘RIZZ-en’) finished third in the $1,500 Pot Limit Hold ‘Em Event at the 2006 WSOP, winning over $100,000. link to results

This is great news not only because Eric is a superb instructor (PokerXFactor is currently offering a free Rizen video, check it out), but also because he seems like a genuinely nice guy.

It’s also very encouraging news to me personally because Eric Lynch is relatively new to high stakes tournaments. Through hard work, mastery of no limit concepts and a good deal of natural ability, he has risen (no pun intended) to the top in a very short period of time. I believe he officially “went pro” around the same time as me, and his success so far is astounding.

I am a realist. I can’t touch Rizen; he’s a ridiculously good player on a plane I can only view from below. But his story is an inspiration to me, and I hope to follow in his footsteps, only a bit slower. Oh, and Eric Lynch’s poker career, along with numerous valuable insights, have been chronicled very nicely in his blog. Check it out, it’s a great read.

Congrats Rizen.

Rewind: April 2006

You just won $85,500 in your third month as a professional poker player. What are you gonna do now? Go to Disney World? Nope. The correct answer is… you find out how much gamble you got in ya. My answer: not much.

There are many stories of pros who made their first big score and then “never looked back.” So after giving myself a few days off, I had to decide what came next. Some 50/100 NL cash games? $1,000 sit ‘n go’s? Some $5,000 heads up matches? Buy directly into the $10,000 WPT Foxwoods main event?

I chose none of the above. Instead, I drove back up to Foxwoods and tried, unsuccessfully, to cheaply satellite into the main event from the $230 level. Then I drove back home and returned to online play at the same stakes I’d been playing before. What kind of gambler was I? What a wuss!

As it turns out, priority number one was maintaining my self confidence. I could have tried to turn the 85 grand into a million, but I was more concerned with proving that I was a solid winning player, that Foxwoods wasn’t a fluke. The downside of blowing through my profit far outweighed the upside of possibly joining the upper echelon of poker pros. I told myself that slightly bigger tournaments, buy-ins of one and two thousand dollars, would now be fine, but in the afterglow of the shining achievement of my young career, I didn’t take even one big shot.

I settled right back into the daily grind of $109 tournaments online. I sat on my 85k, protecting it like those March of the Penguins guys protected their eggs. A part of me was surprised and disappointed. I have told people that Stu Ungar is one of my heroes, but Stuey never would have taken the shopping bag full of cash to the cage. The truth is I don’t have much in common with him beyond playing cards.

I wondered what I would have done if I was younger, if I had never worked a paycheck-to-paycheck job. If I hadn’t gone through three years of bullshit just so I could fill out timesheets every two weeks to validate my existence. If I hadn’t spent my days, for months at a time, looking through boxes of meaningless papers. If I hadn’t forced myself to smile in the hallway. If every morning hadn’t been the same, put on one of my four suits, catch the subway, read the Post, walk to court, sit and wait. Good morning, Your Honor.

Yeah, if I was 21, I’d probably have flown to Vegas and taken my big shot. Sat down with Doyle and the rest of ’em. But I was about to turn 33, and I understood how many days of drudgery $85,000 was. More than that, I understood that I didn’t want to even think about going back to that world. No way. *penguin noise*

I suppose I probably did the right thing, because I opened April on a hellacious losing streak. Nothing was going right at all online, so I decided to visit one of New York’s poker clubs for a little live action.

When I walked in, the proprietor (name withheld of obvious reasons), who I’d known for many years but only made occasional small talk with, approached and congratulated me, giving me a hug. It was a nice acknowledgment of my recent win. I played a three-table $100 tournament, and caught cards the whole way, winning easily. The proprietor gave me a funny look, which I interpreted to be one of newfound respect, and paid me my first place share. I shrugged, thanked him, tipped the dealers and walked out, passing on the 1-2 NL cash game. It would be the last time I’d play in his card club. The cops shut him down the next week.

I resumed playing online, and resumed losing. But as the month drew to a close, I pulled another rabbit out of my ass. On April 30, a Sunday, I entered the $500 Pokerstars event at 4:30. I played well. I won a few races. Before I knew it, I was in the money. Then it was 9:30 and there were 3 tables left. Another major score in the works?

I was doing my thing, picking my spots, when I noticed something funny. All the spectators, all the railbirds, were rooting for me. The online version of the rail, the chatbox, was filled with words of encouragement for me. Huh? Why? I’m not a chatty player and no one knows me. I scrolled up, and then I discovered the reason. None other than JohnnyBax, the undisputed king of Pokerstars and my PokerXFactor mentor, was watching and rooting for me. Everyone else followed his lead. Such is the power of the almighty Bax.

His reason for doing this was personal: being able to cite the winner of online poker’s biggest monthly tournament as a subscriber to your brand new instructional website would be a nice selling point. The short testimonial that I’d undoubtedly write would bring in new customers. But the chat also indicated that Mr. Bax at least knew who I was, and that felt good. And, I must admit, so did all the other assorted chatter from the less accomplished people.

Down to 18 players, two tables. The big stack, to my immediate right, made a standard open-raise from the button. He could have a wide range of hands. I had the KcJd in the small blind, and roughly 4x the amount of the button’s raise in my stack. Easy shove. I pushed. He called and showed two red queens. The flop came all babies, with one club. “kkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk,” said the chatbox. The turn was the 4 of clubs. “kkkkkkkkkkkk, club club club club club club,” said the chatbox…

The river was a harmless ace of hearts. I was out 18th, but had made enough to salvage my month. And that was fine for now.

Hand Analysis: min reraise by excellent player

This is a test to see if I can post a hand from the PokerXFactor hand replayer. And if it works, I’ll review a key hand from the Party Poker tournament I finished 2nd in Friday Night (woot!).

[kml_flashembed movie=”http://www.pokerxfactor.com/swf/trainingApp3.swf?xmlHandID=10577&fn=1275_20060604_151009&hn=0&mh=0&sc=1″ height=”375″ width=”500″ /]

If you are a registered user of pokerxfactor, then click here to view a large version of the hand.

It works (Jon rules)! I intend to use this tool to discuss hands that illustrate important NLHE tourney concepts, or were otherwise instructive in some manner. I promise I won’t limit the selected hands to ones I won.

This particular hand took place in the middle stages of the tournament. I had a mid-sized stack, and I made a standard raise from under the gun with 10-10. It was folded all the way around to the big blind, a big stack, which is where things got interesting.

The big stack made a very small reraise, almost a minimum reraise. Now the wheels started turning. What to do? First of all, a minimum reraise in online play almost always means one thing: the reraiser has KK or AA. This is a very common play. The player has a monster hand, wants to get more money in the pot, but doesn’t want to scare his opponent off. He wants to get all in on the flop, so he makes a small raise that will commit his opponent further. I happen to hate this play, and I never employ it unless i’m playing a complete donkey, because all solid players know exactly what it means. The correct response against a normal or unfamiliar player is to call and try to flop a set. If you don’t flop a set, you give no action.

But notice the terms I chose to put in italics in that paragraph. I said that MOST opponents who make this move have AA or KK. But what did I know about the player “ibite123”? A lot, actually. I know that he’s a very tricky, very good player. So good, in fact, that he’s currently ranked #35 amongst online tournament players by Pocketfives.com. So what was this excellent player trying to accomplish with the small reraise? It was one of two things. He either: 1) thought I was a donkey and was trying to trap me with AA or KK; or 2) had some kind of hand–probably AK or AQ–that wanted to see the turn and maybe the river for free, and was trying to accomplish that, i.e., freeze the action, with the min reraise. I was unsure of which, so I decided to call.

So as the video shows, the flop came Jd 4c 2d. “Ibite123” checked, and I was still unsure whether he was trapping me, so I checked as well. I would have happily shown this hand down, as his play had succeeded in confusing me. The next card off was the 3c, which put two 2-flushes on board, and now ibite put me all in. And so we arrived at one of those super-crucial tournament moments. What now?

I had to put this guy on a hand. The only ones I could imagine were AA, KK, AK or AQ. I felt that with QQ and JJ, this player would have put in a bigger reraise preflop rather than invite action with the min reraise. I figured the odds were about 60% AK and 40% AA or KK. As I stated above, if i was not familiar with the player, I would have automatically assumed AA or KK. In light of this information, I was compelled to call, which I did after thinking for about 30 seconds (isn’t it amazing how much information the human mind can process in a short period of time?). And as you can see, in this instance it was the correct decision. He didn’t fill his flush, hit either of his overs, or make his gutshot straight (wow, he had a LOT of outs) and I won the hand.

In short, my opponent knew I would respect the min reraise and managed to freeze me on the flop by employing it preflop. Because I knew that he’s a very good player, I was able to figure out that he wasn’t making the min reraise to trap me with a monster. I used that knowledge to alter his range of holdings and thereby made a difficult call. I guess the lesson here is “know your opponent.”

Rewind: March 2006

Priority number one in early March was a trip upstate to Turning Stone casino for their annual March tournaments. These tournaments were not very expensive (the grand finale was only $1,000), so they fit my bankroll nicely. I have a lot to say about the Turning Stone facility and will devote an entire blog entry to it later. The highlights of this trip were a nice cash game session at a table populated by internet kids and Al Krux of 2004 WSOP Main Event final table fame and my car breaking down on the New York State Thru way on its way to the Dinosaur BBQ in Syracuse.

OK, the car wasn’t really a highlight; it was awful. I waited over an hour for a tow in 15-degree conditions. A day later, I took a cab to scenic Utica and hopped a bus home to Manhattan. Particularly memorable were the two passengers seated behind me: two hideous biker babes Greyhounding their way to rural South Carolina and the Florida panhandle, respectively. Their conversation, which was inappropriately loud, alternated between stupefying and horrifying. Topics included, but were not limited to, American Idol, tattoos and dildos. Both of these self-described badasses refused to disembark at Port Authority for their half hour layover because they feared they’d get mugged in the big city. I fled to the safety of my apartment.

I returned to online play with uninspiring results. I treaded water for three weeks, notching small wins here and there and then blowing through the profit on new buy-ins. I was still working on a couple of projects for my father, which was growing very tiresome. It was around the middle of the month when I learned of the pending grand opening of PokerXFactor.

PokerXFactor.com is an instructional tournament poker website run by “JohnnyBax” and “Sheets.” In the insular world of online poker, these two guys (those are their Pokerstars screen names) are behemoths, celebrities. I don’t know the exact details of their story, but the general background is this: Sheets (real name Eric Haber) was working on Wall Street and Bax (real name Cliff Josephy) was his client. Both discovered online poker and began playing, discussing it regularly. Soon they were discussing it more than whatever financial stuff they were supposed to be discussing. Both became obsessed, and through their constant play and strategic discussion, they improved drastically. They improved to the point where they became two of the best players on the net. Bax in particular, now a WSOP bracelet holder, he’s basically the Babe Ruth of online tournament poker. Today, both are revered, almost idolized, by scores of online players who aspire to similar success.

I personally witnessed Bax and Sheets’ ascent to the top, having played against both of them a few times prior to, during and after their climb. My reason for liking them runs slightly deeper: both are family guys in their late 30’s or early 40’s residing in Syosset, Long Island, ten minutes from where I grew up. And I have no way of verifying this, but I believe both are non-observant Jews (like me). They’re also funny, personable people (like me!). Through no fault of their own, Bax and Sheets came a little late to the online poker party and are constantly pitted against younger foes (like me). When Bax and Sheets talk (in actuality, type, or “chat”), I feel a kinship, it reads like something I might say. Unfortunately, that’s where the similarities end. I could learn a lot from them. So when I found out about their website, I immediately signed up, despite the pretty steep cost, more than double what similar sites charge.

PokerXFactor allows you to watch tournaments played by the instructors as they narrate along. It’s a great tool. And it immediately plugged a few leaks in my game. Namely, after watching only one or two videos, I learned:

  1. stop stealing so much early in tournaments, particularly with weak aces;
  2. when and why to re-steal (a move I was generally too timid to implement previously); and
  3. how to handle small blind/big blind confrontations late in tournaments.

pretty soon i’d be putting these concepts to work.