This blog was one of my new year’s resolution. It seems only fitting I use it as a place to talk about one of my other resolutions. If you already know the gist of my poker resolution and want to skip straight to why this post has the name it does and how I did this last weekend, jump down to the paragraph that starts with, “I want to make something abundantly clear.”
I’ve been playing poker to varying degrees of success from expensive hobby to supplemental income to full time profession for over ten years now. Along with most poker players, I have delusions of grandeur regarding my abilities. The World Series of Poker is a series of 61 tournaments that take place in Las Vegas in June. Any variety of poker you can name has an event, buy ins range from 500 to 1,000,000. If you win an event you get a bracelet signifying you’re one of the best. This year my goal is to play in event #10, $1,500 buy in Fixed Limit Hold’em. In 2013 there were 645 entrants and first prize was $191,605. I think I’m worthy of playing in that tournament, but I don’t know.
It doesn’t really matter whether or not I’m worthy, what matters is do I have $1,500. That’s one of the many things I love about poker. For all the instances of discrimination in our modern world, the 1,500 buy in is the only hurdle here. That is an insurmountable hurdle for many because of financial reasons, but my point here is that no matter who you are you can buy into this tournament. You won’t be turned away for your sex, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, physical state, or any other trait you can think of. If you have 1,500 and you want to play in this tournament, you’re in, end of story.
When I say, “I don’t know if I’m worthy,” I mean I don’t know if my abilities would allow me to be competitive in a world class field. I don’t want to play in the WSOP just to play, I want to have a shot at that bracelet. All of my poker success has come either online, or in poker rooms in the Midwest. I’m proud of my Midwest roots(pronounced with a short ‘O’), but I’m not about to put Canterbury Card Club in Shakopee on par with the Horseshoe, the Golden Nugget, the Rio, Foxwoods, Mohegan Sun, or the Borgata.
Speaking of the Borgata, Atlantic City is only a two hour drive away and I figure the talent level there is comparable to the talent level in Las Vegas. The plan is simple, get in at least 25 hours of play at the Borgata between now and the beginning of June. That should be a large enough sample size to judge whether the talent gap exists, and if so, how wide it is.
I am going to throw some quick poker terms here, feel free to ask me to further define any poker or gambling terminology. I went to play at the 10/20 stake. The numbers refer to the amount you’re allowed to bet in the game. Fixed limit, as opposed to no limit or pot limit, has a fixed amount you’re allowed to bet in each round. There are four rounds of betting in hold’em. In a 10/20 game you can bet or raise 10$ in the first two rounds and 20$ in the last two.
The second number is also referred to as a ‘big bet’ and is used as the benchmark for how much you should buy into a game for and what your expected profit should be. In fixed limit a good rule of thumb is to buy in for 20-25 big bets, or $400-$500 in the case of our 10/20 game. Big bets also determine expected profit, obviously making $10 in a penny ante game is a lot more impressive than making $10 in a game with a $10,000 buy in. Winning 5BB/100 hands is considered average for someone who is beating a game with 10BB/100 hands about the maximum that variance will allow. In a casino you normally are dealt between 30-40 hands per hour. My goal with any game is 1.5-2 BB per hour of profit; this translates to $30-$40/hour rate at the 10/20 stake.
I want to make something abundantly clear. The posts chronicling this are not meant to be a brag. They will be an accurate account of what happens. I’ve witnessed what gambling addiction can do to a person. It is powerful. I’ve been asked point blank by a friend of mine, “How do you know you aren’t addicted?” Unfortunately the answer is that I don’t. The method I use to make certain I don’t slip up is to be honest about when I’m at the casino, how much money I bring, and how much money I leave with. The blog posts I make are an extension of that honesty. As you will see in this first post, I will detail the mistakes I make as well. This will ideally serve a double purpose of keeping me honest about this aspect of my life so it doesn’t became my whole life and helping me reflect on ways I can change my game to improve.
I’ve wasted enough time with this intro, so I’m going to save my actual impressions of the Borgata casino, atmosphere, staff, and card room as a whole for the next time I do write up. I’ll probably throw in some poker game theory over the coming months as well, but for now let’s get to the action.
My name gets put on the 10/20 list with a few people in front of me shortly after 11, but there is immediate seating for 3/6. Sitting down and playing a low stakes game will help calm my nerves a little. I’ve played close to a million hands of poker in my life, but yes, I still get nervous before the start of a session. My hands shake. I still get jittery before opening night of a show I’m in too. The key in both is the same, never let the audience know, but in poker you have to pay the audience for your own bad performances.
An hour of 3/6 goes by and I’m down $25. I’m pretty certain I was the only one at the table who didn’t vividly remember VE day. I love fixed limit, but it truly is an old man’s game at the lower stakes. Either way I wasn’t too concerned, I didn’t really play that many hands and was mostly just biding my time. My name gets called for the 10/20 game around noon on table 80, I ask the dealer where table 80 is and he says it’s back behind the divide.
The divide? I look towards where he nods and there are arches with curtains separating off 20 or so tables from the rest of the poker room. It dawns on me that 10/20 is considered high stakes. Damnit, now all the work I did calming my brain is ruined. Stay calm, you’ve played 8/16 before, this isn’t that different. Walk back there like you’re insulted there isn’t a butler in a white suit coat to pull aside the curtain for you and announce your name along with your family history stretching back four generations.
I get an additional shot of panic when I take note that several of the players at the table are discussing what they did last night. Now I get to worry about friends playing together, but on the plus side they’re discussing drinking, so they might be hung over, and friends bragging about drinking are going to be more likely to bluff in front of each other. Ok, you still have a handle on things.
The game starts out perfectly, I win the first hand, second hand, and fourth hand. I’m up 175 before the waitress has come to take my drink order. I’m dealt fantastic starting hands and they hold up beautifully. Other players start to joke about me sitting down in the lucky seat. It’s true I’m not pulling any great moves, just straightforward poker, but if you can’t win with good cards things aren’t going to get better for you. The players at the table seem polite, there is little to no trash talking, and the average age is more in line with an office building than a bingo parlor. My heater keeps going throughout the first hour and a half to the point I have 900 in front of me.
I don’t leave for a couple reasons. I went there to see if if I was good enough to play at that table, and it might sound strange but I hadn’t proven that. I’d gotten great cards and gotten lucky, that doesn’t tell me how well I played. I needed to stay longer to find that out. I told myself if I got to a grand I’d call it a day no matter what. I’d take a picture of the $1,000 chip before cashing it in and driving home as the conquering hero.
My opponents finally start catching cards. I have someone hit one of only 5 possible cards that could beat me(I have JJ they have 79 offsuit) followed by someone hitting one of only 6 possible cards. I have K10 and run into someone with A10 when we both pair our tens. All three hands hurt my stack and after another hour, I’m down to 600. I get the call that I need to switch tables to one of the other 10/20, I was feeling comfortable in my reads of the players and now I have to move. I’m displeased, but there’s no point arguing.
The second table is another much older demographic. They’re all clearly there to complain about how awful life has treated them while they buy in for another 500. I tell myself that you’ve still got plenty of time and you’re doing fine. It took me until the end of that thought to lose another hand, and another, and another. I’m down to 300 in front of me, so now I’ve lost 100 on the day, and I can tell I’ve made some bad moves. There were a couple hands I shouldn’t have been involved in, and I know better than that. I was trying to get cute in a couple situations too.
I missed the prompt, but one of the old guys at the table looks at the guy across from him and says ,”If a bullfrog had wings, then it wouldn’t kick itself in the ass when it jumped,” What the fuck? What does that even mean? Why did you say it and then get a look on your face as if you’ve dished out Dalai Lama level philosophy. Wait a second, you’re no different than any of the thousands of old crotchety men I’ve played against in the past. No one at this table is a half way decent player aside from the guy two spots to my left and four seats to my right. That leaves six players I should be cleaning house with. You’re back here in high stakes because you have the money, not the talent. Let’s do this.
I play my game. I raise preflop enough hands in a row that the guy immediately to my left tells me to knock it off. I call a somewhat obvious bluff. I start making moves at the right time. I start getting free cards by putting in defensive raises when I’m in position after the flop(I promise that sentence makes sense just take my word for it for now). It’s 5:00 and I need to leave so I can get to a Chinese New Year’s party on time. I pick up my 613 chips and happily make for the exit.
A $213 profit(really 238 because I had to make up a little ground from the 3/6 game) from five hours of play. It works out to a hair over $40/hr which is the high end of my goal for the session. Would it have been more profitable if I had left with the 500 much earlier? Monetarily yes, but had I left then, I would be calling that profit largely unearned. I proved to myself I can play on the other side of the divide. That the game is the same and I’m worthy of that spot.
One fifth of the hours I want to put in for this resolution, and I’m exactly on pace to prove to myself that I am a winged bullfrog.
As always questions, comments, and criticisms are welcome. Answers are guaranteed.