Wednesday, October 5, 2011

90-Day Poker Challenge: Day 1. Rotten teeth and mental beats

Day 1: Sunday, 3pm – 1am, October 2nd, 2011

*Note: if you don’t know poker terminology, this post does it’s best to ease you into the scene. But subsequent posts will be more technical. Try to keep up? I don't know, Google it or something.

When I walk into the casino at Resorts World, Manila's #1 hip-hoppiest tourist destination, I’m temporarily blinded by the bright lights, the faint waft of cigarette smoke, and the hundreds of people sitting on red plush chairs doing nothing but watching – an electronic billboard, a wheel spin round and round, a card being dealt. I have 5000 PHP in my pocket, 4000 of which I’ll use to play with, and 1000 that’s going to stay in my pocket as a check against unforeseen consequences.

12 hours before I left, I posted a question to my favorite social networking site, Quora. I asked, “What should an amateur know about poker if he doesn’t want to leave completely broke?” I get an answer almost immediately:
  1. Play tight aggressive. This means only bet when you have great cards, and when you start to bet, never back down.
  2. Bet big. Pre-flop, always put in 4-6x big blind (BB). For those of you who don’t know poker at all, this means that your bet should always be 4-6x higher than the minimum bet required. After the flop, bet ½ to 1x the amount already in the pot.
  3. If I get short stacked (lost half my money), put more money (rebuy) to 100x BB. If I ever make it to 8000 PHP, cash out and re-enter for 4000 PHP.

In Manila, the locals play Asian games like Super 6, where the action isn’t player to player but player to dealer. There are just 9 hold ‘em tables. Three of those have 25-50 blinds. It’s 40 pesos to a dollar, so I’m essentially playing 50-cent-$1 games.

First table I join, a fish joins with me. His girlfriend is on his left arm; he’s wearing an expensive Italian shirt; he doesn’t understand what the dealer is asking him about buying the button. Everybody at the table, including me, is salivating, literally licking their lips at a chance to take his money. I can’t wait.

After waiting out a round of betting so I can better read people (all people have two dimensions: they are either weak or aggressive and they are either tight or loose), I look down at my cards and see AA in the hole. Even given my severely limited knowledge of poker, I understand that these are the best hole cards anyone can start with. I'm the clear favorite for this hand. And the first rule of poker is: if you know you have the best cards, try to make the pot as big as possible. 

I raise 300 preflop (remember, 6x BB) and the fish calls me. Post flop, there’s a K and two undercards, all different suits (rainbow). No worries – nothing’s threatening my aces. So I bet 500, which is about 3/4th of the pot. The fish calls me again. On the turn and the river, I get him to put in 1,200 more, and when he flips over his king (giving him what top pair), I flip over my Aces and take the hand. It’s been 15 minutes and I’m up 2000 pesos already.

I maintain the amount for the next 2 hours, then walk out of the casino to grab something to eat (bread). When I'm back, I join another table. Here, there are three fish – from Germany, California, and Hong Kong – to my left. On the fish scale, they’re 8/10. (Fish scale? Get it??).

I don’t go to showdown once in the next three hours: I’m still playing tight-aggressive and taking pots off folds. For the first time in my life, I’m making money off poker because of aggression. It’s more stress-inducing, but I’m winning, and I’m bullying everyone else. After three hours, I’m up another 1100. I take another bread break. Two prostitutes (could have been bluffing, though), say something to me on the escalator. I tell them I only speak English; they say, “Did you lose?” I tell them I won, and the uglier one says, “Let’s go celebrate and get drinks!” I laugh and keep walking.

The last three hours: I take my 3200 in “free money” and join a table with 3100, so that even if I lose it all I’m still up 100 for the day. This in retrospect is a bad move, because it gives me a sense of entitlement; I'm implicitly telling myself it's "OK" if I lose it all because it's "free" money.

The first destructive hand: Filipino hick with rotten teeth and an orange t-shirt to the left of me. I hit AKo. I raise preflop to 300 (6x big blind); he calls. One other guy limps in. Flop comes 3 under cards, all diamonds. My K is a diamond. I’m feeling good -- highest card and a flush draw. I take 1000 and get ready to throw it into the pot. And then the pivotal moment occurs: the hick starts to squeal and finger his chips. He gets in my face and says, put it in, I’ll match it, just watch. I’m shaken by how confident he appears, and instead of betting, I just check, hoping to see another card for free. He checks. FML.

A pretty universal poker rule is that, whenever someone makes a show of trying to prove something, they're usually going the opposite way. If someone pretends to have great cards, he actually is weak. This hick – his implication of strength meant he actually didn't want me to bet. And I fell for it, like the biggest chump in the book.

The turn comes up blank; I check again, still intimidated. The river is a diamond – I’ve made my flush. Now emboldened, I put in 1000. He re-raises me 2k. I don’t think and I call him. There’s only one card that can beat me – the ace of diamonds.

Of course, he has it. He had me the entire way. The correct play would have been to bet the 1000 on the flop to at least take him off the pot. If he had called it, at least I would have known he had something, and wouldn’t have made that stupid call re-raising on the river. That, and my horrible position, was a natural disadvantage. Big, big lesson learned.

Shaken up, I go all in with my remaining 500 chips, and luckily hit a turn and river card to go up 1500.

10 minutes later, I have JQs late position, raise to 300 preflop. One call comes; flop comes up under cards. I'm "aggressive" this time and go in ½ pot, but he calls. Turn card is nothing – and I don’t barrel on. I know he hasn’t hit anything, but I peg him on Kx or Ax, so my only option is getting him to fold. I can only do that if I bet. But I call. He calls. And when the river comes up nothing again, I call, and he goes in for 800 and I fold. Turns out he had JQ suited too. We would have split. GAHHH. Rookie mistake. I'm still not sure what I should have done here, but at the very least, I could have gone into the turn again hoping to barrel with the cbet and get a chance to take the pot.

What’s even more frustrating is that afterwards, the guy tells me, “the [hick] outplays you before hands; I outplay you after hands.” Now I’m really mind-f**ed. I have 1000 left, and I go all-in with pockets 5s. The hick calls me with ATs, and because of a 2 pair on the board, I lose everything. I walk out up 100, but feeling as if I've gotten flushed out.

I'm taking the conclusions format straight from Alan's blog (thanks!).

Brag: Being aggressive for the first time in poker, knowing to cbet on flop
Beat: Downward spiral / mentally screwed over
Variance: Longest continuous set of poker I’ve ever played

Taxi: -250 pesos
Poker: +100 pesos


  1. Look on the bright side. Rotten teeth could now afford that dentist appointment.

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  2. Its ok. at least you got only beat by 150 pesos. I've seen guys do worst in the table. My technique is to only bet minimum and try to spot fishes then go aggressive on them. I leave the table when I see there aren't any.

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  3. I can't imagine myself playing poker in 90 straight days. That will surely be tiring.

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