Friday, July 12, 2013

A Surfeit of Poker, and Speaking Up

Since my last blog entry, I have played more real money poker than in the previous three months, along with the usual free bar league tournaments. Below is my report on the highlights of the most recent sessions. I also want to comment on an item of poker etiquette later in this post.

Shortly after my last post, my wife and I went up to Norman, OK, to visit our son Ben who has been taking a few summer school courses to complete his bachelor’s degree. While we were there, we made a stop at the Riverwind Casino, where I have played a few times before. I offered to stake Ben to some low-limit Hold ‘Em, so I bought both of us into their $3/$6 Limit game for $100 each. The poker room was having a special promotion that day, in lieu of their usual Saturday tournament which I had been thinking of playing. They were having a $200 splash pot once per hour all day long; they would randomly pull a table number at the top of each hour, and that table would have $200 added to the next pot. The table where Ben and I were seated was picked in the second hour of the promotional period. The starting cards I was dealt for that hand were 4s 5s. Suited connectors: just the kind of hand I wanted for a pot that a lot of people were likely to be limping into. As expected, everyone called the big blind. The flop included a 5 and two random cards higher than that; I think they were all unsuited. I called the first bet, hoping to catch another 5, a 4, or straight cards. Almost everyone called. The turn was a blank for me and didn’t look too threatening, as I recall. I might have had a straight draw but don’t remember now. A couple of people folded, and no one of those left in the hand got aggressive, so I kept calling due to the enormous pot odds. The river was another 5, and I thought my trips might have the hand locked up.  I called the last bet, and it turned out that the case 5 was in another player’s hand. Neither of our kickers played, so we chopped the pot. I also won a couple of other decent pots during that session, and walked away with a profit of over twice my buy-in. (Ben didn’t do as well but didn’t get felted.) I still would have had a profitable day without the splash pot, but that one certainly helped my bankroll.

Since that trip, I have been up to the Winstar Casino twice. On July 4, I played $4/$8 Limit HE for about 1.5 hours. The most memorable thing about that session is that it was among the most card-dead runs  that I have ever had. The only pocket pair I got the whole time was QQ, and I had to give them back because it was a misdeal. Near the end of the session, by which time I had played maybe two hands when I wasn’t in the big blind, I started getting some cards to play, but I missed the flop every time. I donated the last few chips of my buy-in when my AT caught an A on the flop and a T on the turn, but someone else caught the Broadway straight on the turn. Oh well, at least I feel like I made good decisions, mostly because folding crappy cards is pretty easy.

I went back to Winstar yesterday and played $1/$2 NLHE this time. Another bonus promotion came into play on this trip: they had an “Aces Cracked” payout where if you play your pocket Aces to showdown and lose, you get paid $100. This causes a lot of limping with AA instead of playing them fast. However, you have to be careful that you don’t put too much in the pot to the point where the $100 bonus doesn’t make up for the pot that you lose. As the dealer explained to one of the players at my table, in the $1/$2 game you can usually make a profit when you lose with AA, but in the $2/$5 NL game you would typically lose money because the pot would be larger than the bonus. This time around, I got good hands right away and they kept coming. Among those good hands, I got AA twice. The first time I slow-played them, my opponent had QQ and I won the pot instead of the bonus. The second time, though, the villain caught trips and cracked my Aces. The pot wasn’t very big, so the $100 bonus stacked me up a fair amount. I went up and down the rest of the way, and finished with a decent profit.

What I am happiest about regarding the sessions mentioned above is not just the profits, when I got them, but that I felt like I was playing better and making good decisions the majority of the time. Knowing how to adjust my play based on the conditions of the game, including the bonuses and how they affected me and my opponents, felt good. I still think that I could step up my aggression a notch or two and not play as timidly as I sometimes do. But my reads of other players and general game conditions are improving, and that should give me the confidence to play a little more boldly in the future.

I have had some success in the bar league too. I finished first in a tourney on July 1, which got me a $50 cash prize. I also qualified for the monthly championship tourney at my local venue, and took first in that tourney on July 9. No cash prize for that one, but the top four finishers qualify for the WPT-APL (World Poker Tour Amateur Poker League) National Championship tournament which will be held in Las Vegas next April. The field for that national championship tournament will undoubtedly be big; this year’s tournament had nearly 700 players show up. But, it’s an excuse to go to Vegas, and possibly win some prizes, so I expect that I will go if I can.

Now for my comment on the poker etiquette matter. It seems to me that the majority of players, at least that I play with, do not verbally announce their betting intention before or during their action. They put their chips out and expect everyone to know what the action means. Naturally, there are many instances where the action is obvious, especially in limit poker where the bet size is fixed. You put chips out, and if they are equal to the current bet amount, then they represent a bet or call. I can understand a player thinking that it is unnecessary to say something in this situation. But, it seems to me that there is no reason NOT to say “bet” or “X” [where X is the bet size] or “call” or “raise” just to confirm that everyone not only sees but hears what the action is. Verbally announcing your action can also speed up the game and allow the next player to act while you are putting together the chips for your bet, since your verbal declaration is binding.

It is in non-fixed bet games like no-limit or pot-limit that I wish everyone, or at least more players, would state their intentions out loud. It would avoid mistakes and confusion, and it could speed up play in many cases. Just placing, or (too often) throwing, chips towards the pot when you bet, call, or raise forces the other players and the dealer to stop and count what you put out, which isn’t always easy from the other end of the table, in poor lighting conditions, etc. Also, if you intend to bet a particular amount but don’t announce that amount, and accidentally put more than that out for your bet, then all of those chips you put out become your bet; whereas if you announced the bet amount, you would get back the extra chips you mistakenly moved over the line. If the last of your chips are going in, it helps everyone else if you say “all in” so there is no question about whether some or all of your stack is in play.

I feel like there are three kinds of players who don’t announce their action:

*Those who for some reason are afraid to speak up;
*Those who think that since they aren’t required to announce their bet, they won’t;
*Those who are deliberately staying quiet to force the other players, and the dealer, to figure out what they are up to.

The first two types probably just need to be informed or reminded that stating their action is in the best interest of themselves and of the game. The third type probably needs a swift kick in the hindquarters, but a friendly reminder may have to suffice.

[There are, of course, physically challenged players who may have difficulty making verbal declarations, but I am not concerned about them. In my limited experience, those players seem to do their best to make sure their intentions are clear in one manner or another.]

I would like to see more encouragement of verbal declaration of action in all poker games. The best person to provide such encouragement is the dealer, but floor persons and even other players can and, IMO, should do so too. I realize that verbal declaration is not likely to become a requirement in most poker rooms, but it seems to me that it would be a ridiculously easy way to reduce confusion and disagreements, and facilitate play. I try to state my action out loud on every play other than folding, whether the other players are doing it or not. I will even announce when I have folded if it looks like the next player to act did not see that I mucked my cards and is waiting for me. I tend to hope that others will pick up on my example and maybe even follow it. I’m sure all of us want to improve the poker playing experience; could anything be easier than just speaking up?