Okay, a roundup of my poker exploits on our recent trip to Las Vegas.
My First Tournament
After a fashion, the highlight of poker on the trip was playing playing the 11 am $65 no-limit hold ’em tournament at the MGM Grand. This was actually my first experience playing no-limit hold ’em; all of the cash games I play are low limit, which means the amount you can bet in each round is strictly structured. In no-limit, of course, you can bet any amount at any time up to your total chip stack.
This tournament provides everyone with $2000 in chips for their buy-in. Blinds start at $25/$50, and go up every 20 minutes. This is a very fast tournament; by the fifth level, someone was going all-in on every hand because of the escalating blinds and antes. Moreover, only about 10 hands (i.e., one full orbit around the table) were played per level, so everyone would post only one set of blinds before they went up. The tournament started with 6 tables of 10 players each, and an alternates list who would sit when someone got knocked out. I was alternate #2, and was seated about halfway through the first round. Ultimately there were about 95 buy-ins, including people who got knocked out and rebought as an alternate. One guy next to be rebought twice. The top 8 finishers won money.
I sat down and my very first hand I was dealt a pair of 7s. So I raised to $300, everyone folded to the big blind, and the big blind went all-in. He had about $900 left, so I could either surrender my $300 raise, or potentially lose half my stack. I dithered for a moment, and decided to fold.
Over the next 40 minutes my stack steadily dwindled, as I never managed to hit anything on the flop. Finally I got down to about $1100, with blinds of $100/$200, and played J-To. I flopped two pair and pushed all-in, getting two callers. One guy made a straight on the turn, but then another ten came on the river giving me the winning full house. I had tripled up and was still in it! I went all-in again not longer after that with A-K, and everyone folded so I won the blinds and antes. I managed to win a couple more pots, and when the first break came after the fourth round I had about $5500, which I judged to be above-average.
Shortly after the break I went all-in against a short stack, and a larger stack went all-in as well, forcing me to go all-in, along with a fourth player. The short stack won the hand, but I came in second, and since I had him covered I picked up the rest of the chips, and came out slightly ahead.
Shortly before 1:00 we were down to 3 tables, and a woman in early position went all-in. I judged her to be in a position with the escalating blinds where she felt she had to push, and I looked down at… a pair of 7s. Again. I figured while she might have a bigger pair, more likely she had two big cards (which would make us a coin flip as to who won), or maybe even an Ace-rag (low card). So I called her. She had A-T. The flop and turn didn’t help her, so I was about 7-to-1 to win the hand, but a Ten hit on the river, she doubled up, and I was crippled. I went out the next hand when I pushed with T-7 and lost easily. (I probably should have waited the 3 hands I had left before the blinds hit me to see if I could get something better, but that wasn’t the hand that killed me.)
Overall I was very happy with my play, finishing 24th out of 95. I had some luck, but I think I played fairly well, too. This tournament is so fast-paced that luck probably oughtweighed skill overall. (Games that emphasize skill tend to have higher buy-ins, $150 or more.) But I think I got a feel for how the game is played, and I had fun. And that’s what counts.
I played about 9 hours of cash games, almost all of them at $2/4 limits, and one at $3/6 limits. The ritzy poker rooms tend to start at $4/8, and I don’t think I’m quite good enough to go to those limits. I’m still not a winning player, after all.
We made a tour of poker rooms on the Strip, and there’s a lot of variety. I think the MGM has the nicest room of those I’ve played in: It’s a space between the sports book and a bar, with walls on both sides, nice tables, and good dealers. (Debbi noticed that all poker rooms in the casinos seem to be right near the sports book. I wonder why that is? Do sports gamblers like to play poker between making bets? Do poker players like to bet on sports during their breaks? Is it just convenient for the casino somehow?)
By contrast, the Excalibur‘s poker room is right in the middle of one of the main access ways. Even though all poker rooms prohibit smoking, the Excalibur’s therefore gets a lot of ambient smoke, which is not so great. Bally’s is similar. The Luxor and Flamingo put their rooms in corners at the edge of the casino, which is sort of a compromise. Mandalay Bay and the Rio put them in separate rooms which are open on one or two sides; the Bellagio and Venetian do something similar, but dress up the room to make it stand out more. And Caesar’s Palace and Harrah’s have completely separate rooms for poker.
Some poker rooms have snazzy video waiting lists, which makes it very easy to figure out what games are going on and whether there’s any wait. I was more willing to try new rooms when they had these screens; some rooms don’t have visible waiting lists, which deterred me somewhat from trying them.
Overall, I think Excalibur and Luxor have the easiest tables to play at of those I’ve tried, while Caesar’s is the toughest. The MGM is somewhere in the middle. Of course, I probably don’t have a large enough sample to draw any firm conclusions.
My worst round was at the $3/6 game at Caesar’s. I didn’t play real well, didn’t have a lot of luck either, and lost $73 in an hour. Ouch. I had a session at the Excalibur that was about half as bad, but in that case I just never got any cards. On the other hand, I had another session at the Excalibur which cancelled out the bad one. And I was up-and-down at the MGM, and had a bit of bad luck at the end of a session at the Flamingo which left me down a little after being up a bunch. Bummer.
The more I played, the more I had to think about: I realized why some people say that slowplaying two pair is a bad idea, since it’s much easier for someone to beat you. Two pair is a good hand, but you do want to knock out people on draws. I need to be more careful playing two overcards to the flop, as I think I’m too quick to call bets in that situation, or bet out myself. Finally, I need to pay better attention to the odds, as I think I fold in some situations where I could continue.
The one hand I keep coming back to is this: In one session I kept being dealt Ace-rag. It was a loose and very passive game, so I started playing some of these hands. One hand I had A-7 offsuit. The slop was Q-8-2 with two clubs, and I had the Ace of clubs. One player bet, and I thought for a moment and folded. But in retrospect I think I should have continued. The reason is that any bettor probably had either top pair or a flush draw. If I hit an Ace, then I will have a better top pair, and since I have the Ace of clubs, anyone on a flush draw would not be helped in that case. However, if a club hits, someone on a flush draw would make it, but I’d have a redraw to the nut flush, if a fourth club came. With 7 bets already in the pot, I think I had the odds to call, and it was likely that there would be enough callers that I could continue to the river, as well. So I should have called. And indeed, the next two cards were clubs, and the winner had a flush that I would have beaten had I stayed in.
Ironically, the very next hand I had A-6 offsuit, the flop was like A-K-3 with the K-3 being of my Ace’s suit. This time I did go to the river, and my top pair beat my opponent’s pair of Kings.
Anyway, I had fun, even though I didn’t win. I look forward to the day that not every poker session leaves me with more things to think about and work on than to be happy about and proud of. Maybe someday…