On our trip to Las Vegas last January, I started playing poker, and have played it from time to time since then. In California, poker and other card games are legal, and the Bay Area features several card rooms. I play low-limit Texas Hold ‘Em, being not quite confident enough to try some of the spread limit games that go up to $100 or $200 around here.
At this point I would characterize myself as a “mediocre” poker player. I am not a winning player, but I play a tight game which keeps me from losing a lot. I actually feel I should loosen up my game a little bit more than I do. On the other hand, I watch people playing a loose game win some huge pots, and then steadily lose them over the next couple of hours. Mostly I envy their confidence, and I’m continually trying to remind myself that the money doesn’t matter to me. (And at these limits, it doesn’t, really. I’ve lost less at poker this year than one can spend on a new iPod.)
Last night I went out to Bay 101 for the first time in a while to play. Bay 101 is clean, spacious, has plenty of parking, and is always busy. (Right now it looks like their non-poker room is being renovated.) I was lucky to get there just as a new 3/6 table opened up, so I had no wait, compared to the 30-to-60 minute wait I usually have. This was the first time I’ve sat at a table as it was starting, so I learned that the players at a new table draw cards and high card starts as the dealer – the most advantageous position. I drew the high card (the Jack of Spades), which was a nice treat.
The table was loose, tending to be passive before the flop, and moderately aggressive after the flop, by which I mean: People who connected with the flop would bet, and other people would fold unless they had good draws. One player who would bet regularly with both good hands and nothing at all, and he won some hands both ways, but also lost quite a bit.
I had a pretty mediocre night. It seemed like when I played a hand, it usually didn’t go anywhere. Only once did I fold after the flop and then regret it, when my pair of 7s on the flop turned into trips on the turn. That was annoying, but since I had only second pair on the flop and was facing quite a bit of betting with few outs, I was annoyed but didn’t feel I’d played it badly. Being annoyed in those circumstances is one of those things I have to work on.
I had one really good hand: I was dealt a pair of Jacks, and everyone bet the limit before the flop. The flop came three undercards, with some straight possibilities. The turn and river left a board something like 3-5-5-8-8, and the guy on my right was betting into it, so I was obviously pretty concerned that someone had a full house. But Slansky says you shouldn’t fold a big pot if you think you might have the best hand, and I wasnt convinced anyone was playing a 5 or an 8. So I called, and I won! Go me!
I finished the night down money, mainly because of one hand where I lost a bundle due to a combination of bad luck and judgment. My feeling is that I still need to play more aggressively, and also perhaps that I need to play a little more loosely, especially when I’m at a table full of calling stations.
One weird thing about poker is that one session isn’t really enough to get good results or bad results due to your play; the variation in cards is too high. So I can have a losing session and feel like I was just unlucky, as opposed to playing poorly. But I can have a few hands where I feel I played really well. This is rather different from most other games I play. Overall I think I’ve played enough hands to know I’m not a good player. But I might yet improve. It’s a hard game to master, though. And I haven’t even played any no limit poker yet (which I’ll probably reserve for when I play tournaments, because playing no limit with my own money is a little too scary for me right now!).