Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Live conversion

Last week, I left Nautica, the charity poker "festival" in the Flats, disappointed that I failed to pull the trigger with ace high to a turn bet. I knew the guy was trying to steal a $50 pot with a $40 bluff. Everything in my being said he was stealing. Yet I folded. He showed. I was good, of course.

That hand crowded my thoughts as I fell asleep that night. It lingered the following day, a stark reminder of the mediocre state of my game. A good poker player would have called -- no, raised -- in that spot if he really believed in his read. A good poker player would have taken down a $90 pot. I did neither. Draw your own conclusions.

The demise of Stars and Tilt has put me in a bad spot. If I want to play poker, I now must put on pants, get in my car and drive somewhere. Playing poker now requires an effort. Yet I have no choice. I must play poker.

Addiction specialists (and addicts, I suppose), talk about triggers that remind people of their hunger for their drug(s) of choice. My laptop is a trigger. Open it up to check e-mails and I find myself staring longingly at the Stars icon on the desktop.

Fortunately, I have opportunities to play live. The Group typically has at least two games a week, usually more. Nautica is downright convenient, although the $6 max rake at $1/2 sucks. And Cleveland's first and only casino (with a 25-table poker room) is scheduled to open early next year.

I've played nine times since Black Friday -- six times with The Group and three times at Nautica. Not great volume, but it's a start. What I don't have at the moment is a proper roll. That's a problem. You need a lot more money to play $1/2 properly than is required to donk around at low limits online. I started with an exploratory $200, doubled it up fairly quickly and then saw it dwindle to a single hundred dollar bill.

Tonight, despite feeling a bit tired, I caffeined up and headed to Nautica. I had reached Public Square on Superior when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a car in the other lane swerve toward mine followed by a dull-sounding thump. I pulled over and the driver pulled in behind. It was a 21-year-old kid who had driven up from the 'burbs of Columbus with his girlfriend for a concert. He couldn't figure out where to park. I resisted the urge to point out that a parking lot sat 20 feet away.

He gave me his information and I didn't give him a hard time. He seemed a little shook up. I considered calling police for an accident report but decided against it. I had poker to play.

At Nautica, I was pleased to discover open seats at several $1/2 tables. I grab the 10 seat at one of the tables, which has some decent-sized stacks but no monsters. (Sorry for the change in tense. But poker narratives always sound better in the present tense.)

A new player takes the 2 seat right not long after I sit down and immediately wins a pot by raising preflop in position and chasing away a few limp-callers with a c-bet.

A few hands later, I find A-Q in the big blind. The same guy raises to $12 from EP and gets three callers, including me. Flop comes 10 high. He bets $25, two folds and I ponder. Folding would be easy here, but I call. No need to give up yet. This is something I must learn.

King on the turn. I check and he casually tosses out another $25. I still think I'm good. If not, I could be drawing live. An 8 on the river completes no draws. Villain immediately pushes in his last $45. Fuck. I give him a look and analyze his story. The turn bet? Weak, I decide. The instapush at the end? Fishy. The way he held his cards in the air and rubbed them back and forth? I cut away chips and toss them in.

"Good call," he blurts. Shit, maybe I'm good. But, as it turns out, I'm not. I wait for him to table his hand and he finally shows A-Q. The table murmurs. I shrug, offering no explanation.

Fact is, I had to make the call. I had to prove to myself that I'm capable of listening to my inner voice. That I can call thin. That I'm able to draw conclusions from how a hand plays, ignore the monetary value of the chips and follow fucking through.

I then took a one-way trip to Rush City. Couldn't miss. Even the crap hands I folded would have dragged pots. People didn't seem to respect my bets and each time I showed I had the goods. Cracking aces with a set of deuces didn't hurt. As tough as the A-Q hand might have been, the rest of the session proved simple, easy. There were a few good players at the table and no real fish. But there was no one to fear. A standard Group cash game table is typically much tougher.

I hit and run after two hours, cashing out $729 on a $200 buy-in. Should I have stayed longer? Meh. I had booked a solid win and much-needed bankroll boost.

Conclusions to be drawn? We'll see. It's only one session. But as I sit here, I'm certain of one thing. I'm jonesing to play poker. Just hope I can get a session in tomorrow somewhere.


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