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Smashed, smashed, smashed, smashed...

... smashed, smashed and win!! - I wish, no, smashed.

In Melbourne at Crown playing the 50c/$1 Poker Pro tables with my wife. Get it all on with AK post the A 7 K rainbow flop. Beaten by A 2 who makes runner, runner flush. Barbara did well though, and won $35 for the session.

On to Sydney and Star City. Call a raise to $8 UTG with pocket sevens. Three callers for a four way flop, which is Q 7 Q two diamonds. Hmm. Well no, here is what I figure; if no one has anything, then it is going to be checked around anyway, if someone has a queen, they will probably check to trap, if someone is on a diamond draw will want to check hoping for a free one. The only possible way someone is going to bet on this flop is of they have a single seven and are trying to find out where they are. Obviously anyone with two sevens is also going to check to trap.

So. If I bet say half pot, no one is going to suspect I have sevens full, and I will get called and paid out by the flush draws and the trip queens. yes? I act first and make it $15 - just lite of half, which looks perfectly like I am a little wary (I hope).

A call comes from the next player, and then an all in raise for an extra $80. Last guy folds. Could the guy have pocket queens? He was the initial raiser. If he has he has, but I recon it is much more likely to be A Q. The thought crosses my mind he could have exactly Q 7, but he is a tight-ish player and I don't think he would have raised from middle position with that holding.

Whatever the case, I have him covered by only $15 and if the other guy is going to call, that much isn't going to make any difference. In goes all my chips too. Piggy in the middle calls.

I flip my cards and enjoy the sickish looking expression on both faces. Middle guy just folds and comments he is drawing dead - flush draw I guess. All-in guy slow rolls me and doesn't show. Turn is a jack and the river is a blank (but would have made a diamond flush). Slow roller f-wit turns over Q J. Nice hand sir, you got it all in with the worst hand and hit your three outer. Well done.

Fortunately Barbara cashed out for $250 from her $100 buy in and covered my loss.

Next night at Star City, I am doing pretty well, up to $520 from my $100 buy in. On the button I call a raise to $12 UTG and two other calls with pocket eights. The flop comes hence A Q 8, two spades. I make it $40, just over pot. The initial pre-flop bettor, who was in 2nd position, now check raises all in for an extra $290. The other two players fold to me.

I consider.

I have only see this guy showdown with very good hand in the five or six hands I have seen him play to the river. I consider him a tight, if average, player. The huge overbet has me worried though. It could be a complete bluff but it seems very inlikely - he has not been playing that way and looks like a solid, middle age type. He is not giving of any tells that would lead me to think it was a bluff and if anything, looks quite confident. He could have aces, though I don't think so. But queens, now that seems very possible. It has to be either queens or ace queen. However, if A Q, why would be make such a big over bet? A bet like that from a player like that against a player like I think he would see me as, is, in my opinion, meant to look like a bluff on the hope of getting paid out if I have two pair.

I flash my cards to the players nearest me as I fold and say 'I think you have queens'.

The guys next to me express incredulity. 'How could you fold a set?', 'You have to call for value' I am told. I ask my opponent what he had, and first he says he can't remember, but after hearing confirmation of my hand, he then says he had A Q.

Well, if he did, it was a bad laydown for me. But over all, I don't think it was that bad. Bottom trips against possible AA, QQ or AQ. One hand I can beat, two I am almost dead to. I figure I was being asked to risk $280 on a 1:2 chance to win $80. My only real regret is showing what I folded.

A couple of orbits later I limp from middle position with K J. The flop comes J J 7. There are two checks, and I bet $15, just over the pot of $12. Fold, fold and an elderly gentlemen on the button calls. The other two who checked than fold.

The turn is a blank, a four I think. I bet $30 into the $42 pot and get called. I am not liking this all that much. Old tight players don't call with nothing.

The river is an ace. Worst card possible. I check. The old one now goes all in for his last $60. There is only one hand he can have. I must save myself $60 here and fold. Which of course I don't. Undoubtedly I was tilting from my previous laydown of trips and I call. It was no consolation at all that I was completely right about his hand.

I end that session up $240, but it still feels like a big loss to me. I donk of the profit at craps to choppy dice and a shooter who must have thrown 12 at least nine times.

I give poker a break for the next couple of nights until Thursday. I am a bit tired from a long week, but feel ok.

First buy in goes on about ten minutes when AK with an ace on the flop get beaten by ace rag making two pair on the turn. I am tilty for sure, and probably too tired as well - must be to have lost a buy in on a single pair. But I want to keep playing so i rebuy, just as a $1/2 PLO table open up.

I think my Omaha game isn't too bad, but I am wrong. I am totally out played and lose my $200 buy in in about an hour. Now I am done for the night.

Saturday, well rested, my flight out isn't until five. Check out at 11am. What to do with the six hours to spare?

Pocket kings on a board of 7 9 3, two diamonds one heart. Turn is a blank of hearts, I am sure my opponent hasn't improved. The pot is $80 and I have $60 left. In it goes. Opponent has 2 6 of hearts and hits a heart on the river.

Rebuy and some time later pocket kings again in late position. Two limpers so I pop it up to $15. BB calls, the rest fold. Flop is blank ace blank. I mean, bloody hell. BB is, yet another, old, tight player. He checks, I bet $15, he calls. He has an ace, no question. River is another blank. I bet $30, thinking; he will have an ace with a high kicker, my only chance to win is the represent ace rag and with lots of rags, made two pair. But he is oblivious to my clever strategy and calls. I give up on the river and check it down. He shows A 10. I have $25 left.

Some other hand doesn't hold up and I am out a few rounds later.

What a disaster. Bad play, tilting, and bad luck have made a huge dent in my bankroll.

Not so bad beat city

I had a very pleasant Sunday afternoon at Star City last week. I think a lot had to do with my seat position; two tight passive players on my left, three loose, aggressive players to my right. But more on that later.

The new poker room at Star City is worth a mention first. I think it has the same number of tables as there were when it was on the main casino floor, but they are in two long rows. It looks like they run down what must have been a wide corridor that has now been refurbished to make one long room - perhaps poker hall would be a better description that poker room.

Anyway, that is no problem. The area is on the 2nd floor of the casino, right away from the hussle and bussle of the slots and table games. Also from everything else too. It is a fair walk to the closest bar or anywhere to grab a quick bite. And, saddest of all, a long way from the craps table. Apart from that, nothing really has changed. The registration desk people are still as indifferent-verging-on-rude as usual and the dealers still as averagely competent as always.

I don't know what it is with casino poker in Australia that sets the maximum buy in at not more than 50 big blinds. Maybe it is something in the gaming act, or maybe the casinos figure they can get more action and hence more rake with shorter stacks. I don't know what it is, but I am sure if a game were to be spread with say 100 or even 150/200 BB buy ins, it would immediately become the most popular, whatever the stakes.

Star City _could_ have used the opening of the new room to re-vamp and restructure their poker product, say like spreading PLO, better rake/time charge structures, or even just brief their staff not to treat poker players like the pariah customers of the casino. But no, same old, same old. So what are you gonna do? Don't worry about it, buy in, sit down, and play poker.

So I did.

A nice elderly lady to my immediate left was a school teacher, and now a grandmother apparently. In the seat next to her was a bloke in his late sixties of the type commonly seen permanently positioned in front of a poker machine at the local RSL, overflowing ashtray on one side, somehow always half full midi on the other. One on from him was a well groomed girl, maybe early to mid 20's, and next to her an older lady, her mother as it turned out. The rest of the table were 20-something guys, who played a lot of poker on-line in the $5/10 and $10/20 range. So the table talk went.

Now I have to say, I hear that sort of thing a lot. Always at low stakes games, where the players make the most outrageous claims about the on-line poker stakes they play at. It puzzles me, because I am not sure what they are actually trying to achieve with that. If it is to intimidate the other players into thinking they are better than they are, then it just plain does not work. If you are a winning player at 5/10 or 10/20 on line, then a $1/2 live game (with the huge casino rake and time charge) is going to be the most boring, and unprofitable thing you could do with your time. Star City spreads a $25/50 game, so wouldn't that be the one they would choose? The story just doesn't add up.

It's good for me though. Because it is pretty easy to get an early read on such players. The almost always fall into the overly aggressive, too tricky for their own good category. Frequently they leak tells, so can be safely called down with middle pair, and because they over-value their own reads, just as often they can be pushed of top pair or even trips when possible draws hit on the board. At the same time, they do have enough ability to not make donkey plays (probably because they fear being labeled one more than losing money), so rarely will they deliver a bad beat. When I think about it, they really are the most profitable players. I smile and nod at their stories, and try and encourage them to keep re-buying.

The game itself was nothing spectacular. I went down to about $60 before I hit a few hands and doubled up. Retired school teacher, old codger and older lady swapped some pleasant banter. The attractive girl got all her money in with a flopped set of 5's, only to loose when pocket nines from one of the internet young guns made trips on the river. She lost her second stack a few hands later in a similar way (flopped nut straight losing to runner runner full house). So she left early. Pity, her low cut blouse made the view a little nicer.

There action was mostly multiple limps to the flop. I would put in a raise with a top hand, and usually see three or four calls. I kept the raises to three BB, plus the limps, or 4 BB from early position. It made the pot big enough to guarantee action if I hit, but small enough to get away from if nothing hit. I made two bluffs with air during the session, to two similar self proclaimed internet players. Folding their pot size bet into a $20 pot post flop to my $60 raise and check raise respectively. One had paired his weak ace and was sure I had a better kicker (I had 9 10 suited, but had paired the 9), the other was on a flush draw with Q high (my 5 6 unsuited from the BB hit nothing, but his bet was clearly a button bet to try to take the pot). I don't know why they felt they had to show me. I guess they were such 'great laydowns' that I would better respect their play in future. My cards went quietly face down into the muck and I nodded agreement with whatever hand they told me I must have had.

Here's the thing though. I didn't play a lot of hands, and every one I did that went to showdown I was able to turn over a premium hand. Not always the winner, but always something like AK suited, AQ suited, JJ, or, in a limped pot, some worse hand that had made a monster on the flop. So, for the three hours I was there, with mostly the same players, no one saw me play anything but a super premium hand.

You would think then, that I would find myself not getting paid out much after a while, wouldn't you? But no. Amazingly, I would almost always get a caller to the river (if I wanted to and didn't price the pot too high). And even more amazingly, they would usually show a single pair with a weak kicker, middle pair or some other junk hand.

End result - I cashed out for $380. Retired school teacher who left at the same time I did cashed out for over $400, and old codger was still at the table with about $300 in front of him. So much for middle/high stakes internet players, huh.

Bad Beat City...

.. is my new name for Star City. After cashing out with over $700 on the $1/2 NLHE game on Monday night, I was set for the rest of the week to just idle along, not push my luck, and show a net gain for the week of $1,000.

That seemed like a reasonable expectation at the time. Star City is the casino I play the most. I have a pretty good handle on both low stakes NLHE games there ($1/2 and $5/5), and out of the last 50 sessions I have at least doubled my buy in 33 times, make between 50% and 100% profit nine times, broke even twice and been broke six times. (I count each buy in or re-buy as a 'session).

So, Wednesday night I am sitting in a soft-ish (as usual) $1/2 game. Late position with pocket kings with one raise already, I bump it up to $35 and get two callers. I am pretty sure I am facing AK and possible another big pair (queens down to tens, but not aces). The flop comes 10 K 3 rainbow. Nice one.

First guy to act checks. Next guy bets $50. I have $80 and I don't see any point calling, so I go all in. The checker then check raises all in as well for $110, which puts the initial bettor all in as for about $80. I show my cowboys, 1st player shows AK, and the second player A 10.

The turn is a queen. And what else could the river be but a jack.

Rebuy.

From the BB I call a raise to $15 with 88. We are heads up with $38 in the pot. The flop obliges me with 8 4 9, two clubs. I make a pot sized bet of $40 and get called. The turn is a 2 of diamonds, making a diamond flush draw now possible. I can't see how I am not ahead here, but fear the flush draws. The pot is now $118, I have $65 left - enough to make it incorrect to chase I figure, and in it goes.

The river is 10 spades. Ha, the flush draw missed. But the gutshot straight draw hit as my opponent turns over Q J offsuit.

My heart really isn't in a 3rd buy in, so I call it a night.

Friday night. A huge waitlist for the $1/2 game, so I list for the $5/5 tables as well. The $5/5 at Star City is the worst structure of any casino cash game I have seen. The max buy in is $200, but the SB of $5 makes it the equivalent, I figure, of about only 30 big blinds.

Anyway there is lots of action and the players are no better than the $1/2 game - if anything, perhaps a little worse, or at least if nothing else, looser.

In the first hour I build up to a healthy $420 stack. An Asian gentlemen meanwhile has amassed a huge stack of at least $1,500, through, as far as I can see, dumb luck. He is the classic calling station, and with any ace, any picture card or any connectors, has been calling all pre flop bets and post flop bets and raises. And always managing to hit somewhere along the line, scooping pot after pot.

My first heads up against him I have pocket aces and raise a five way limped pot to $50. Al fold, EACS (elderly Asian calling station) calls. The flop looks non-threatening, but two hearts. I make a 2/3 pot sized bet, $100, and get called. Both the turn and the river look like nothing, but I have no idea where I actually am - other than knowing any bet from here on will get called no matter. I check both streets, as does EACS. I show aces, the river had paired a 4 from the flop. EACS shows A 4.

A big dent in my stack, but not fatal. Until...

Pocket 10's under the gun. Raise to $25 (standard for the table). Six callers. All undercards on the flop. I can't see how I can not bet this, even so massively multiway. My read on the table is no one was happy with the flop. I shove all-in $140 into the $150 pot. All fold except EACS who calls. I show tens, he shows Q 8 with no pair. The board 3 flushes on the turn, and four flushes on the river, given EACS the pot with his eight high flush.

Rebuy. Though I suspect I may be a little tilty at this point.

Calm, collected, patient. I think to myself. Bide your time, wait for the hands to come, and they will come. Just make sure you get your money in with the best of it and you will be ok.

I take my own advice. I don't tilt. I get a few good hands, make some plays, fold when opponents make better hands and otherwise do all the right things. No cards and a cold deck drain my chips down to $120 when I get QQ on the button. As usual there are a number of limpers, 4 in fact, to me. I raise to $60, making the pot $90. Fold, fold, fold, call (from EACS), fold, fold.

Flop is K, A, J all spades. I have the queen of spades. EACS checks, and I of course push all in. AECS has J 7 diamonds. The turn is a blank, the river is a jack.

I stand, have a stretch, for a few seconds watch AECS adding the pot to his already massive chip pile, and politely tell the dealer I wont be rebuying.

Ah well, there is always next time.

Avenged

I decided to forgo the discounted city hotels on Wotif.com for this months trip to Sydney. And instead pay the $100 or so extra per night for a room at Star City. My rational (perhaps forlorn hope) being that I could offset the extra cost with a few nights of poker winnings from the low stakes NLHE tables.

Well, the first pleasant surprise was that my basic room had been upgraded to a higher floor, much better view, executive suite. Very nice, as I looked out at panoramic views of the City skyline and SH Bridge.

I might have mentioned before the new sports bar, bistro and sports arena in the casino. If not, let me tell you, they really have done a top job on it. The bistro is particular is fantastic value, the food is great, at around $12-15 for a tasty, filling, and satisfying meal.

Apparently Star City are building a brand new poker room on the mezzanine level. It looks like that will be ready sometime later in October. Not ready now though, but interesting to see what that will be like on my next visit.

So.

Usual 6am start in Perth (curse non-national daylight savings). 11:15 flight to Sydney. Arrived in my room at 7pm. A quick shower and then... hmm, Top Gear is on. After Top Gear, a bowl of nachos and a beer for dinner and then.. Monday night, pretty quiet, so only a few minutes wait for a table.

Pocket queens on the second hand.

You know, I have to say, as nice as it is to get those ladies, I much prefer not having to make any betting decisions for an orbit or so. I have no read on the table, and it is easy to be tagged as a mug punter and big pairs cracked for an early re-buy.

Sure enough, my $15 raise to two limpers from mid position is called by three people and we go four handed to the flop. 8, 3, K. Two clubs. Great. Who wouldn't have a king here. Checked to me, with two people to act behind and a $60 pot.

I have hardly an feel for the table at all, but is seems nit-ish to me. I figure a $25 bet will be as effective as anything more is no one has a king, and putting more in would just cost me if someone does have a king.

'Bet, 25' I announce. It does the trick. I take the pot and am off to a good start.

I take down one or two modest pots over the next hour. Lose a little on multiway limped pots when draws don't work out, and my chip stack fluctuates between $120 and $160.

Then comes a hand I have been waiting for. I raise pocket 10's UTG to $10. I am not crazy about the 4 callers, and prepared to check-fold if (when) overcards hit to betting on the flop. Sure enough, there is a jack and an ace on the flop. And also a nice looking 10.

No point slow playing this draw-ing board. My previous observations of opponents in this hand tell me that even a pot size bet will not be enough to push out two particular players if they are drawing (they will call any bet on a draw). The other two, I don't know. I am first to act, and I think at least two players have connected well with the flop, but I am certainly ahead here. My strategy therefore is to try to get as much money into the pot, and hope no draw makes it. I figure $35 will do that.

One fold and three calls. Nice pot builder.

Turn is an off-suit 2. No danger there, but one guy looks more interested. Guess he now has two pair with his ace rag.

It's a huge pot and I don't have enough chips to kill the drawing hands. Never mind though, it's value town or bust now. Mr Two-pair is first to act after me, and he is certainly going to bet, but is one of the better players at the table and may be able to lay down if I show strength again on this street. I elect to check.

Two-pair announces all-in for $86. Fine by me. One call, which is also all-in for just $25, one fold and I call. The river is another blank. So pot to me. What a nice game this is.

In high spirits I donk off about $50 over the next hour with some speculative hands. I am still sitting on $240 though, exceeding my trip objective to 'double up every night I play'. It's 11pm, I am tired, and I know I am not making good decisions, but then rationalize that the table isn't that tough (which is further evidence of degraded reasoning).

Never the less, it seems easier to sit here for the time being that get up and cash out. Maybe I will leave when the blinds come around again. But here they are now, and I have paid the big blind, so I am in for another orbit at least.

Pocket threes in the small blind. Worth seeing the flop for another $5 in a single raised, six way, pot.

Which then comes 3c, As, Jc. Wow, now there is danger. No one has pocket aces for sure. Also very unlikely anyone has pocket jacks, unless it was the first raiser (and I wasn't paying enough attention to see who that was). Which means I am very likely best hand here in this $36 pot.

What to bet, what to bet? Must push out draws. I bet $40. Call, call, call, call, call. Bloody hell.

The turn comes ten clubs. Damn and bugger. How many draws does that complete? I can't be good here, but how can I let it go? Fatigued, at the end of a long day, my fuzzy logic is something like 'I have outs to make a boat, $80 bet with just two callers will give me the right odds'.

Was that right? Assuming no one had paired any of the board cards, and ruling out a straight flush, I had, what? Ten outs, which is a bit over 20%. $80 into what I am hoping will be a $400+ pot is better than 5 to 1. Well, there you go, I was about right. As long as everyone did what I wanted.

I bet 80. Instead of two I get four callers, one of which is all-in for just $30 more. Just what are these guys on??? Do they ALL have flushes? Has someone else made trips and I am dead in the water? It doesn't look like anyone liked that bet/call, but can I really tell at the moment?

The river is either a very nice card for me, or a very bad card. The ace of clubs. There is now four to a club flush on the board. Great to get whatever money is left from anyone still drawing at that point, especially someone with the king who was worried about someone having the nut ace flush. Very, very bad though for me if someone had two pair with an ace.

I check and let whatever will happen happen. The next person to act goes all in for $87. One fold and one call. I should have tried to figure this out, and got the rest of the calling players chips as well. But for some reason, tiredness probably, I didn't, and just called. Pair of jacks from the last player to go all in (great play mate, please come again tomorrow), low flush to the first player who went all in. Queen high flush from the player who called.

Humongous pot to me.

I let the blinds come around one more time, then wander off to find a chip tray and call it a night.

Smashed

Took the worst loss ever at a short handed home game on Friday night. With the usual blinds of 10c/20c, I ran $50 down to $15 and topped up another $40.

I won some reasonable, but smallish, pots with the nut flush on one hand, semi bluffs on a couple of others, and large bets on the river with mid/top pair - which were essentially bluffs to possibly 2 pair or trips on an otherwise draw heavy board.

So I wasn't too upset with the way I played in general - it was my usual style, with a slightly extended range because of the 6/5 handed format we played most of the night. One thing though, I either made some very good laydowns, or was very successfully bluffed, though it is most likely bother of those on several different hands. Which is ok. I think winning play requires a laydown to a well executed bluff, just as it sometimes required a lookup.

I won one $15 pot calling down with pocket eights as a king, ace and then 4 flush board came on the river. I lost a similar size pot with 10 J, pairing the jack on the flop for top pair, betting on two streets and ultimately loosing to a pocket pair that flopped trips fives.

But what killed me was the large number of very good starting hands I was dealt, but with nothing hitting, no draws succeeding, and on-going suck-outs.

I had AK and AQ/AJ suited about six times. Hands like 5 6 suited, 9 10, J Q. All positive VE hands. All requiring a pre flop raise from position.

It is hardly unusual to get 3-4 callers for a $1.25 raise (a standard raise in this game is either 75c or $1.25). Then what happened time and time again was one of three things:

1. a piece of the flop, like top pair, flush draw or straight draw.

2. hit nothing, check to me.

3. hit middle or bottom pair, but lay down to a bet an a raise in front of me.

Invariably, a pot size raise with top pair would be called by 2 or 3 players. And I would find myself facing a bet, and often a raise on the turn with no improvement to my hand.

A C bet when checked to me would either get called to at least two people, or say I bet $5 into a $8 pot, find myself facing a check raise to $15.

And what can you do with bottom pair to a bet and a raise? Call the $10, maybe then face all in from the first bettor, or at best face a pot raised to $25 on the turn.

Often I would get the odds to call with a draw, or I would semi-bluff the draw and raise. Great - no draw hits and I now have face an all-in on the turn or river.

It all adds up to an average loss rate of about 75c a hand. And sure enough, after about 100 hands, at 1am in the morning, I find myself with $26 left, and pocket 10's in the small blind. The pot is double straddled, and we are 5 handed. The button raises to $2.50. With $4 in the pot, I raise it up to $12 - a bit tilty, but still.

It folds to the button who calls.

The flop comes 5 9 10 rainbow. Bingo! I think for a minute, then push my remaining $24 into the ~$24 pot.

Call. Shows J Q.

The turn is an 8 and the board doesn't pair on the river. For some reason I don't feel like another rebuy - which would need to be $100 to match the other stacks at the able. So it is all over red rover.

Worst loss ever at that game.

One Tough Game

Is the regular home game I go to here in Perth. Run most Tuesday nights with a cast of regulars and the occasional newby, it is, without doubt, the toughest game I know. Which is great - because if you can win, or just hold your own at the home game, there is no question you will be a winning player at (at least) low stakes Casino games.

So what mega stakes do we play? 10/20 blinds. No, not $10/$20 - rather 10cent/20cent.

Wow (I hear you say), really hard core man.

Sure, it is hardly Big Game at the Belagio stuff, never the less, it is not uncommon to see a $100 or higher pot. Most hands start out with a straddle, sometimes a double straddle, occasionally a triple, and once, eight handed, straddled all the way to the button for a $19.50 starting pot.

But is it not the stakes at all that matter. The players are tough. Very tough, in the cunning, loose, tricky, value betting, any two cards, fearless bluffing type style of Negreanu, Ivy, Dwan, Hansen, Antonius or any other scary opponent you might like to not face.

I have seen a $60 pot (bet and called on every street) raised to $120 on the river and called ($180 pot), the caller showed a 10 high, beating the raisers 9 high.

'You are sick man, I knew you were weak, how could you call that!'

'I knew you were bluffing and 10 is better than half the cards you could have done it with, so I had the right odds'

Is something how the post hand dialog went.

There is no question the regular game has improved my own game substantially. And I note that quite a few of the regulars, who, a year ago, who as novices to poker started out as 'producers', now hold their own pretty well. I for one would not like to see that type of player at my table in a Casino.

Our buy-ins started at 100BB a year ago, but now some buy in for $20, but most for $50. 2-3 reloads a night is not uncommon either.

Apart from an occasional new person, the regular group divides itself into roughly three types of players:

- maniac aggressive: in most pots, raising at least 50% of the time. Usually checking the flop no matter what, and betting or raising the turn. These guys have the biggest wins, and unsurprisingly the most frequent reloads. There will be 2-5 of these at the table on any given night.

- tight aggressive: the category I would put myself in. Bluffing about 10% of the time, hopefully just enough to get paid off with big hands (getting rarer now - will have to get caught bluffing more in future). There are 2-4 in this group usually.

- dead money: either new people or non regulars, or the one or two regulars who are off their game or just bad players. But, because of the often insane action, these guys can win some big pots and so not become too discouraged (I am not being critical of these players calling them 'dead money', some who started that way are now scary players - we all had to start somewhere, by loosing).

One thing is for sure thought. We are all there to improve our game, by playing has hard and tough as we can. The money, even the crazy 1,000 BB pots, is trivial, and for me at least, respect as a player in the group is far more important - a view I am pretty sure is shared. Not that I particularly feel some need to be respected due to some personality deficiency, rather, I respect the game of the other players enough to know that it equates to winning poker at a table where the stakes really count.

At the Cas

'The Cas' is the local name for Burswood Casio. Apart from the very soft $2/$3 game, it is possibly the worst card room of any casino is Australia (I don't have first hand knowledge of Restpoint or Jupiter's).

The rake is 10% capped at $10 per pot. Not too bad for a low stakes game, and at least there are no time charges. Which is just as well, because the hand rate is s--l--o--w, not more than 12 hands an hour I am sure. The dealers are usually not too bad, but it is not uncommon to get a dealer that seems like they have only just completed their induction. They often make mistakes, or get confused by the action, pot splits etc.

They also run out of $1 chips with monotonous regularity. The dealer then sends a _player_ off to another table to scrounge up spare chips. I mean, really?

And the registration staff are just rude. Like it is some privilege to go there and pay their rake. The table seating system is unsurprisingly pretty hopeless.

But the worst, the by far worst thing, I have ever seen at any casino, is the dealers will cough or sneeze into their hands!, and then completely unselfconsciously just keep dealing and handling the chips - no doubt believing the players should be honoured with the bonus mucus and germs they are now sharing with the table.

But, it is the only casino, and legal card room, in town. And the game _is_ soft. So what are you going to do?

Here is my hand history graph for my last session there.



I think this nicely illustrates 'trading my small mistakes for opponents big mistakes'.

Good times, bad times..

.. you know I've had my share (Bonham, Jones, Page)

Would be more appropriate if it were 'good beats, bad beats', or in my case 'bad beats, bad beats' - because that is all I seem to get lately. I mean, what a bad run I am having - played over 15 tournaments and a number of cash games, and just lost, lost lost.

The thing about such a bad streak though, it does make you look long and hard at the way you are playing. And I have found one or two errors I was making and fixed them (nothing that would cause such a run of losses, but handy to have those holes plugged, never the less).

In the most part, the losses are down to two things; first, bad luck and second, tilting more because of the first.

As far as bad luck goes, it is coming in two forms - top hands that are beaten before the flop, and best hands that are drawn out on.

Here is an example of the first case - in the SB with KK. Really hoping I an going to be able to get some value from the hand, and that the pot gets raised pre-flop. There is one limper and the button puts in a 5 x BB raise. Fantastic, exactly what I was hoping for. Wont get fancy where, will re-raise the obvious blind steal up to 20 x BB and take the pot now. Limper folds, of course. Button thinks and then raises me again. Well, I have been known to defend my blinds, especially against the button who is a maniac lose aggressive player.

I jump it up again, and now half my stack is committed. He has me slightly covered, and I expect he will fold here. But no, he thinks and then announces all in. Bugger, he has a real hand. He can make that play with AK suited, AA, KK, QQ, (and also a complete bluff if he thinks I am playing back at him to counter his normal aggression - though I think it would be hard for him to think that the way this hand has been played) and knows I would do what I just did with AA, KK, AK, QQ or JJ.

I suspect aces. However of the possible hands he could have, only one has me beat, half a chance (KK) of a tie, and three I have beat. With 50/50 pot odds, I see myself as the odds on favorite.

Should have gone with my read. He had aces. The whole evenings work, and profit, passed across the table on that one hand.

And so I have run into that situation what seems like at least a dozen times in the last month. Where the _most likely_ best hand turns out to be a dog.

As for the second case, I must be giving off this aura that attracts opponents to chase me down. Time and again my chips have gone in on the flop or turn with the best hand, only to be outdrawn - top two pair vs mid pair that becomes trips, a flopped nut straight on a rainbow board where my opponent calls a bug bet and then an all on to hit runner runner flush on the river, trips against two pair that make a bigger full house on the river. And on it has gone. While at the same time, nothing I chase has hit.

I know a 60% favorite will often not win, and plenty of time I have put chips in whe 55% or just 52% ahead, and sometimes 80% - I have no illusions I am entitled to win even if my opponent has a one or two outers. But sheesh, at least ONCE out of a dozen times would be nice.

As my wife points out, at least I am getting all the bad luck out of the way for when it might really matter. And, I was reading Annie Dukes book the other day. She mentions that her and Howard Lederer both had a 4 month period where they lost regularly. So it happens, and it is just a matter of perseverance I guess.

Tilt the table...

... and all the chips roll down to me.

My last poker session at Vegas was preceded by two 'two finger' scotch-on-the-rocks, a bottle of wine with dinner, and then, demonstrating my still sound judgment, an 'espresso martini' (4oz of Vodka, a shot of espresso, a shot of creme de cao and a shot of kaluha).

Buzzzz. My brain was firing on all 19 of its four cylinders.

In my defense, I have to say that it was not my intention to actually play poker after dinner, _but_ the card room was on my path back to my room, and, well, there was a seat free, and, one thing just lead to another I guess.

With the great dexterity bestowed upon me by my consumed beverages, I managed to spill my chips as I assumed my seat. 'Better play tight' I thought 'I might not be at my sharpest at the moment'.

Second hand was A K. I'm in late position, one raiser to $6, one caller. I raise to $25. All fold. Nice one.

Two hands later, Q Q. 2 limps from early position, I raise to $10, not wanting to scare away too much action. One caller from late position, the BB calls and one of the limpers call. A little too much action for my liking for pocket queens, but never mind.

There is an ace on the flop, it's checked to me, and I figure $30 is going to let me know if one of those hit. The BB calls, everyone else folds. Ah well, those queens looked good while it lasted.

The river is some blank, but makes a three flush on the board, and yes, I see now a straight for a 10, 8 holding.

The BB checks, trapping no doubt, but my limbic brain has already decided to bet and before I can stop them, $100 of mine goes into the pot. At which point, the BB with top pair, and no doubt a pretty good kicker, promptly... folds. huh?

My limbic brain had obviously seen something I didn't.

Anyway, I flashed my queens to the player as I mucked them, causing one or two people at the table to say 'Show one show all'.

"Oh come on" I said "Who's the rules lawyer here?"

"We all are" someone else commented

"Ok, turn them over" I said to the dealer, indicating my mucked cards

"No, you have to do that" the dealer told me.

So I did, it wasn't really a problem, but, of course, my conscious brain, just now catching up, wasn't about to let it go at that.

"Oh yes, you don't want these Aussies coming over here and bluffing you out of your money" I said to no one in particular as I turned the cards face up "Better see what cards they were holding, even though you weren't even in the hand"

'Murmer murmer' whet the table

Next hand I played was UTG, 4 7 off looked good, so I lead out with $12. And picked up the blinds.

In the BB next, the button raised to $6 (standard for the table). I make it $18 and get a sheepish fold. I know I had some cards, I probably did look at them at the time, but they were not that memorable so I can't tell you what they were now.

I fold the SB to a legitimate looking raise, and then from the button 3-bet a raise to my right and make it $18 again with A 10. The BB calls, a crusty looking 'old timer' who's mule was probably tied to the hitching rail outside (no joke, this guy looked like a stereotype of a 'Californ-i-a' old west prospector). The initial raiser gets out of the way and folds.

The flop is all low and two clubs, which do nothing for my two hearts. The prospector bets $20 and I call (I have no idea what he has, but all parts of my brain agree, I wont be bluffed).

Turn is something low again. He makes it $40 and I call. The river is a jack, no help to me. Prospector makes another $40 bet. I figure his previously tight play and now call, bet, bet, bet just _has_ to be a bluff and my ace high could be good.

"Ok, I guess I am going to pay you off" I say, calling.

As it turned out, I had made a wheel straight on the turn and won the pot.

Fortunately, a benefit of the alcohol was to buffer the total embarrassment and astoundingly poor manners of both missing my hand and so rudely making a slow roll statement about paying off, so I almost didn't feel anything. To his great credit, the only emotion the prospector showed was a slightly more rigid set to his permanent grimace.

But that was all in the past now, and another two cards were in front of me.

However, the die were cast, there was no going back. The table had me pegged as an audacious, maniac, aggressive player, and I wasn't going to let my countrymen, Jeff Lisandro, Tony G and even Joe Hachem (I fantasized) down.

By forth street again I find myself with ace high, except I am the one betting each street this time. It dawns on my that the most likely holding my opponent has is top trips - the very hand I have been trying to represent. The river brings a blank, but makes a three flush. 'Ah Ha!' I decide, I will now represent a flush. I have the other guy well covered, the pot is about $120 and I announce 'all in', meaning my opponent needs to put in his last $80.

He folds. Well.... I am sort of coming to expect that by now.

So sure am I that he had trips, I make the smart-arse comment "Mate, in Australia we don't usually fold trips to a bluff" and show my ace high. It works, and he turns over his pocket kings, for, indeed, top trips.

A few hands later I am pulling in chips again and make a comment (to the increasing grumblings at the table ranging from 'ass-hole' to 'can't get all the luck, the ass-hole etc) something like "I don't know how you guys play here, but in Australia, we actually try to win money when we play".

Well, that did it. I could feel the enmity from the whole table now. Every hand, whether I raised or limped pre flop, there would be five or six of them right there, trying to out draw me and teach that 'Aussie ass-hole' a lesson.

Six callers pre flop. Six folders to bets on the flop and turn.

It helped a lot that in two hands that went to show down I had trips and then a straight, taking out large chunks of the stacks of two or three brave enough to stay in. The tight passive table, that seem common in Vegas, and so exploitable, had now become a loose passive table with, fortunately, no need to exploit, as they did all the exploiting to themselves for me.

I noticed how in the pots I wasn't in, the guys who won were only tipping $1, even though sometimes the pots were quite large. I made a point of telling the dealer that even though our exchange rate was really bad, hell, if you can afford to come to Vegas, the least you could do was tip the dealers a reasonable amount. Then, every $1 tip another player made, I would tip $2 on top.

More tilt. More chips to me. What a great game. But all good things must come to an end, and by about 1am the effects of the caffeine were wearing off and the alcohol was setting in. The sigh of relief from the table was audible as I loaded my chips into a tray to cash out. Buy in $100, cash out $450. Viva, Las Vegas indeed.


Vegas is...

... my kind of town. If you can make it anywhere, you can make it there. (apologies to Cahn and Van Heusen, and Kander and Ebb).

I can well understand why pro poker players end up in Las Vegas. I don't know how the games stack up at higher stakes, but one would have to assume that the tables at any stake level are indicative of any other. And so at low stakes, $1/2, $2/3 and $2/5, I can tell you, the games are as soft and good as I can imagine.

My recent visit - played six sessions, mostly $1/2, over three nights. usually one session after the 'work' day on the way back from the convention I was attending at the Mandalay Bay, then dinner, than another session after that, each once averaging about 2-3 hours.

Apart from the first session where I cleverly managed to get it all in pre flop with pocket Kings against Aces, each one I at least doubled up on my $200-$300 buy in. Total winnings for the trip was $1,200. I mean, that's a win rate of $100 per hour (after the rake and tips). How can it get any better than that?

Now, please don't think that I am implying I am some great player or that I ascended to poker god-hood on my flight across the Pacific. I know and will readily admit that my game has many flaws and leaks. But I do know I an a regular winner in Aus casinos at the $1/2 level, averaging about $25 per hour over the last year.

What I am saying, is just how much better/softer the Vegas games are. If I can make $100 per hour, what could a good player do? (well I know, because I ran into one or two at different times at my table, and their chip stacks where much bigger than mine).

As i said to the players at our regular home game - anyone from this table could make a killing in Vegas.

What makes it so good? I don't know (apologies to Pete Townshend), but here is a list of the a-typical Vegas low stakes player characteristics:

- tight passive
- level 0 thinkers
- scared money (I know, I know, $200, sheesh, but that is what I saw)
- easy to tilt, at which point they become
- loose passive

Maybe it is just because the $1/2 games are so low stakes (but that was all the casino's were spreading), that no one 'good' plays in them. I am sure that the $5/10 games would be much tougher, but then you would expect a whole better calibre of pro to be playing them to match the higher 'tourist' skill level.

So can it really be that at $5/10 it is possible to make upwards of $500 per hour (if the $1/2 experience scales)?

it is certainly food for thought. A good way to fund a very, very, nice holiday if it does and I can improve my game to that level.


There's no way you could have called that..

... with (insert suitably weak hand like ace high or pocket eights). Is something I hear people say to me a fair bit at the poker table.

Usually it is after I have bet pre flop from position, they have called, the flop has come raggy and disconnected, they bet, I call, they bet the turn, I call, they then make a large overbet all in on the river, and I call. I show my lowly, unimproved, pair, they muck their bluff in disgust and make the above comment.

First let me say that making such a call depends heavily on two things; first, my opponent must be a good, tricky and aggressive player (but not so good that they are able to play beyond the low level stakes I play at - obviously, otherwise they wouldn't be at my table). Second, I have watched them for a while, seen them enter a lot and bully a lot of pots and/or have a reasonable read on them.

Particularly in the latter case, it is common that the person is in almost every pot, or at least every other pot.

So how can I call, with over cards, a possible flush, a possible straight etc, etc out there?

I actually think a call is pretty easy in this situation, because:

1. They don't need a hand to bet, they just need to think my hand is less than the nuts

2. They usually mistake my ability to let go of a hand that I think is second best in a reasonable size pot as 'tight passive', and can be pushed out of the hand when scare cards hit

3. They are trying to sell a story that 50% of the time or more they have a premium hand or the nuts

4. which all goes into making their range so wide that, pretty much any hand against them that is better than 55% pre flop against a random hand, makes calling an all in bet the correct price.

Sure, they _may_ have hit and have me beat, BUT, they are tricky players, so if they had hit the scare card, they would either checking to trap or betting small for value. The large bets, particularly all in on the river, can only be for intimidation.

Making that call is a profitable play for me. There is only one time in the last 18 months, that is hasn't worked - when a particularly smart opponent in our regular home game figured out what I was doing, and trapped me twice with a better hand. Then, once I figured that out, I am pretty sure he bluffed me out of the next two big pots too. My strategy at the moment for that particular guy is just not to get into any big pots with him unless I have a strong draw to, or, the nuts.

For everyone else however, I am running at about 15 all-in wins to one loss.

And here is the nice kicker - the super aggressive, bet and raise with any two cards, players, after a couple of beats like that, become the meekest loose passive players you can imagine. If I call their pre flop bet, all of a sudden they are checking down to the river or folding to any bet.

I am pretty sure I read a Mike Caro article to that effect in the past. Must see if I can dig it up.

Runner, runner - How many outs?

Occasionally a situation will come up where I am forced to make a very marginal call. For example, say I have QQ, raise pre flop and get called. The flop comes something line K 7 9. I bet about half the pot and my opponent raises double my bet.

Now, can I fold? Well, the thing is, this particular opponent is the best player at the table. I have added 50% to my stack in the hour and a half we have been playing, but he has tippled up - and not though luck, but through shrewd, tight and aggressive play.

So I tank for a while to think about it.

One of the first things I consider is that (my play has been fishes arse hole tight) he almost certainly has put me on a big pair. AA, KK, QQ or JJ, and possibly AK, and he would have to give heavier weighting to QQ or JJ. Whether he considers me a good player or not, there is no disputing he has knows how tight I have been playing, and so I think he thinks that there is a very real chance I view the king as a scare card (which I do in fact).

On the other hand KK is one of the four possible hands I could have played this way.

His play though has also been tight, and his range is the same as mine with the inclusion of AK and any pocket pair (with his huge chip advantage, it is quite likely he would call pre flop with any pair, looking to flop a set).

Here is how the pot stands ($2/$3 blinds):

$5 from the blinds - I was BB
two callers +$6, my opponent on the button raises $20
I re-raise, suspecting a button steal, $60
fold, fold, call

the pot is now $131

the flop, as mentioned, is K 9 7, two clubs, one of my queens is a club and so is the king on the flop.

I bet $60, and my opponent raises to $120

At this point I am pretty sure he has a king. But I am also 100% sure he is capable of representing a king, putting me on either queens or jacks. The pot now stands at $311m giving me better than 5:1 to call. If he has a King, and I have two outs, is that enough? 8% to hit, no way.

BUT

I have runner runner to a flush, and runner runner to a straight, plus I MAY be ahead now (don't know how to figure that, so say 10%). So what does that give me?

I figure any 'runner runner; is worth somewhere between 1 1/2 to 2 outs. I know the math isn't exactly correct, but a flush is 10 out of 47 times 9 out of 47 = 4.1%. And a straight, assuming it remains open ended, is 8/47 x 8/47 = 3% near enough.

I must admit I could not do that math at the table - the over riding factor at the time was the thought that he was good enough to represent a king and push me off the hand. However, I was thinking about the runner-runner math, and decided it must add something, and I did roughly figure 2 outs.

Here is the final calculation: 10% I am ahead, plus 2 x 4% (I thought at the time) for drawing out, plus 8% to hit a queen on the next two cards - total 26%.

hmmm... at 5:1, them is calling odds

Still, I was not super sure I had figured it right, so there was one other thing I factored in - some fold equity. If I just called, there was absolutely no doubt that whatever came on the river, I was going to be facing another big bet and be playing for the rest of my stack. However, I felt that if I pushed now, and IF he was just representing a king, he would not be able to call, with something, say like A Q, A J, A 10 or an under pair. _And_ unless he has trip kings himself, he must credit me with a 20 or 25% chance that is the hand I have (my tanking could be deception, though I doubt he buys that). So maybe another 1-2% in fold equity.

To call his $60 raise would leave me with $120 with $371 in the pot. If I bet the turn, it can only be all in, and If I don't bet, he will, and I will have a better than 4:1 odds decision.

Maybe he had a king, or maybe he had trips. Forget the king for a moment, if you are going to fold a premium hand in a big pot post flop on the _possibility_ someone has made a set on a raggy, disconnected flop, then hello muppet, you can play at my table any time.

One thing is for sure, it is impossible to get the fold equity percentage by calling. It really seems I am driven to but one action.

All in it is then.

Insta call.

I show my queens. "You have a king?" I ask, but he shows pocket sevens for a flopped set. Not exactly what I was expecting, but in the range.

Turn is a blank. River is a queen. Fancy that. Lightning in a bottle as Mike Sexton would say.

I felt a bit sheepish about it at first. It was a loose-ish call of the raise on the flop. There is no doubt he had me pegged and out played me at that point. Never the less, I think I did not make any errors, all things considered, and was calling/betting with the right odds to make it correct.

Back at the Crown Casino ATM

I have to say, Crown Casino have always had a great poker room setup. It has been some months since I was last there, and if anything, it has improved over that time (an example Star City could do well to follow).

The electronic tables are still there, and popular, spreading 50c/$1 NLHE games. The lowest live dealer game was $2/$3 - which I quite warmed to. The nice thing about 2/3 is that it makes it very easy for the SB to limp in. And so, for me, I feel any hand at all is worth the extra $1 to see the flop.

I bought into the $2/$3 game, no waiting, converted cash for the max buy in of $200 in chips, and took my seat. Fold, fold, fold, fold, fold, check in the BB with K,5, nothing hit, fold, fold..... etc, etc for about the first 40 minutes.

The blinds and a few limped pots, plus call of a $15 pre flop raise with AQ, and my stack was now down to just $155. But, the good news was, I had had plenty of time to observe the table and get a feel for the other players.

From the small blind I limped in with A 7 off, with four other limpers. The BB called. The flop now comes 10 7 3. Middle pair, not bad, time to play a hand and find out where I am. I bet $20 into the $24 pot. The BB calls, every one else folds.

It is worth mentioning at this point that the BB had a BIG stack, may $700 or more, hard to say since there were quite a few green chips at the bottom of some of those big stacks of reds. He had also been playing lots of pots, and using his stack to bully the otherwise fairly tight table.

The turn comes 6, all suits are now out.

I check here, for two reasons; one, whatever I bet, I am very sure I will get a raise from my aggressive opponent, and his raise will give me no extra information other than he has a large enough chip stack to feel he can do that with impunity. Second is to try to exercise some pot size control - in vain as it turned out.

Predictably, my opponent bets. But I thought the amount he bet was revealing - $40. Now, if he was on some sort of weird straight draw, or even had made a straight, I felt sure he would have checked. Either to get a free card, complete his straight and try to felt me on the river, or to feign weakness and induce a bet from me on the river. If he had two pair or trips I could only see him making a smaller bet for value, or a larger bet if he thought I was on a draw.

Yet he had called my $20 flop raise, so he had to have something. If he had raised me on the flop, I could have credited him with top pair and maybe top kicker. But he just called, so I had to count that out.

The best hand I could put him on was A 7 like me, and the other possible hands were from Ace high or Ace with a weaker pair than mine.

So I called.

The river is a jack. A slightly scary card, but not very. I am sure he would have raised pre-flop with a jack and any other face card. He _could_ have jack-rag, but it seems unlikely given the way he has played the hand so for.

Again I feel a bet will not help me, since a) any worthwhile bet will be the rest of my stack, and b) I will certainly get a raise for anything less. I check again.

He bets $100, $10 more than I have. Now, I think that is a very interesting bet. He can not have a strong hand, otherwise he would be value betting. The $100 is an amount that screams 'I don't want to be called'. So I call.

He turns over A 3. Ha.

The dealer shoves all the chips over to me before I can mention that the $100 actually had me covered. By that time the chips are all mixed up, and it would be impossible to sort out, so I just shut up and accept the $10 bonus in my favour.

Embolden with a nice double up, I enter a few more pots with strong aces or connectors, but fold to aggressive post flop bets and nothing hitting for me.

About an orbit later I am UTG with 10 J off. I figure I will try and see a cheap flop, about 50% of pots are limped by this table pre flop, so I think it worth the risk. I call the $3. So do six other people and the SB, the BB checks. Talk about value.

The flop is K Q 9 rainbow. Wow. Don't see that happen often. What a nice flop.

The SB is one of two older (65+) guys at the table. They are both playing ultra tight, waiting for big pockets and then making big bets. I have entered maybe one pot in eight, they have been in less than one pot in sixteen.

The ultra tight SB bets $30 into the $27 pot. He has A K. Can't be anything else - or maybe, just maybe, A Q (less likely), pocket 9's (more likely) or K Q (most likely if not A K). What worries me though, it even though I have the nuts now, a hand like A J/10 is very possible for someone else, and if SB old guy has K Q, another one of those on the board would not be good for me.

What I want to do is push out the possible gut shots, and maybe even get the SB to lay down a hand that could improve to the nuts. I raise to make it $90 to go - a pot size raise in other words.

Everyone folds to the SB. Who tanks, and tanks. Minutes tick by. I am quite happy to let him think, but eventually someone else at the table calls time on him and the floor person gives him 30 seconds to act.

Instead of calling, he surprises me and goes all in. I insta-call. He flips pocket aces as I turn over the straight. Just to make it interesting, a jack comes on the turn, but a six follows, and I add another $200 to my stack. Pocket aces was certainly not a hand I had put him on, limping into the pot as he did. He was in the small blind and with so many callers, how could he expect not to be outdrawn?

I heard some muttering from the table that, apparently, I had played the hand in the worst possible way, referring to how I had flopped the nuts, yet put in a large raise. It is very true that just calling the $30 bet would have offered a price of 3:1 and almost certainly got at least one, and probably two, more calls into the pot. But who would call? Anyone who could outdraw me, that's who.

Which as it turned out, if the comment of 'I would have made the ace high straight' from one of the folded players can be believed, is exactly what would have happened.

If I had gambled, I might have made another $60, or, with the jack hitting on the river, could well have lost $200 or more. So in effect, balancing a possible $200 loss against a $60 extra win, it looked to me like I was getting better than 3:1 odds to make the big raise and push those draws out of the pot.

I think two principles apply here:

1. The money you don't lose is exactly the same as the money you win

2. Reverse implied odds of likely hands in the pot on a draw, ie A J, A 10, K Q, K 9, Q 9, 9 9, meant one or more of the other six people could have had 4, 6 or 9 outs. They would have to pay to beat me.

Maybe the extra $60 was a little too heavy in hindsight, but at the time, it felt right. All I can really say is that, since the outcome was positive in my favour, it achieved what I wanted it to.

I had another small win, and donked off about $60 with two loose plays as a bank for future action. But at 1:30am, time call, it was enough for me. I could feel the long day of travel catching up with me and knew I was starting to leak tells. So could the some of the better players at the table, who said 'not leaving already' and 'you've only just sat down' - with an eye to my juicy chip stack no doubt. 'Sorry fella's, been a long day, thanks for the game' I said ('and all the chips' I didn't say).

Cash out was $570. A nice result.

I think it is worth mentioning some of the nicer aspects of the Las Vegas room at Crown Casino:

1. The staff know what they are doing and treat the players well

2. The dealers are very competent, using that visually pleasing 'cards in the air' style of dealing, with plenty of spin and accurately dropping the cards in front of each position.

3. LOTS of tables. Maybe 40 on the main floor.

4. They keep the tables full. Each dealer has a little electronic pad that send a signal back to the pit when someone leaves a table. The vacant seat is usual filled within a few minutes.

5. Reasonable rake - on the $2/$3 table the rake was 10% of the pot, capped at $6, with a $5 per hour time charge.

6. Sensible buy-ins of more than 50 big blinds for all games. And you can top up at any time.

Aggression, Aggression, Aggression

Recent home games seem to have taken aggression in No Limit Hod'em to new levels. At different games I now see at least two players prepared to raise the pot pre flop on almost every hand, and in addition, keep betting and raising post flop.

I have tried that strategy myself, but for my style, it just doesn't seem to work for me. However, the good news is, I think I have added a few plays that can effectively neutralize that sort of play in others, at least against me.

The first technique is nothing new - coming directly from a Mike Caro article in Bluff Magazine. In the face of a aggressive pre flop raiser, just call them down to the river. As long as you are heads up against the aggressor, any hand in the top 1/3 of starting hands is going to see you picking up the pot about 2/3rds of the time.

I used this the other night at a new game with mostly players I had not met before. By the end of the evening I noticed that the main aggressor would a) only enter a pot if I had already folded, or b) if he was out of position and already in the pot, would only call or check, even when he had the 2nd nuts on the river.

The second technique, and the one that suits me the most, is also very basic. Simply tighten up my starting hand selection and then be _very_ aggressive with raises through the hand. BUT, still be prepared to fold to a dangerous board (such as a four flush where I don't have a card in the flush suit). It also helps/requires having a bit of a read on my opponent, for example, with a four flush board I will gladly throw in a river bet 'for value' if I think my opponent either has no card or a low card in the flush suit.

I find with this sort of play I will win about 65% of hands, which are often big, if not all-ins. The hands I lose, I hopeful have folded before I have committed a lot of my chips, but even taking into account the cases of bad reads and poor judgment on my part (unfortunately fairly common), my net gain is still 3:2.

I am still some way away from refining this style, in particular with regards to finding the most profitable way to handle preflop action. At the moment I am using this as my rough guide to enter a pot:

- any pair
- any suited connectors down to 3,4
- any connectors 9,10 and above
- AQ
- AJ, A10 in late position

About equally I will limp, call, or if first into the pot raise with those hands, from any position. I find I need to do that to mix it up so the other players can't put me on a specific hand. Although I will generally always raise pre flop with AA, KK, QQ or JJ. I can tell you it is very satisfying when a maniac player finally gets KK, and gets taken out by 2 pair on a 3,4,10 flop.

A new tell

I have encountered this type of player many times now - where they seek to educate the table on the way a hand was played, or how it should have been played.

The two reasons someone would do that (other than at a friendly home game where everyone knows each other) are:

a) they are insecure and are trying to bolster their own self confidence by 'showing off' their poker knowledge

b) they are trying to intimidate the other players with their (in their opinion) superior poker knowledge

Me, I have always found it a bit irritating, but pretty much ignore it. Well, ignore it with one exception - a bad beat from such a player against me will tend to put me on tilt. I just hate seeing them 'rewarded' for, what I consider, a poor tactic. But generally, I have treated their blather as inconsequential.

However, sitting at a table on Friday night with just such a self appointed 'expert' to my right, it occurred to me that his expert analysis of hands was giving me quite a lot of information. Information about him that is.

Only three hands into the session, I was UTG with AKs and made it $10 to go (in a $1/$2 game). One call from mid position, and the expert in the BB also calls. The flop is all low with two spades. BB expert checks to me, I c-bet $20 into the $31 pot. Mid position folds. BB comes over the top and announces 'Raise to $130'.

I had listened to him giving advice to the table on the first two hands I had seen, explaining, to obviously novice players, how they could not call his bet, telling them what they must have etc, etc. The $130 raise was about half his chip stack, so his strategy seemed to be working for him - a combinations of intimidation and bullying with his stack.

I thought for about 5 seconds, but I could only see such a huge overbet as a bluff. Also, why bet $130? I only had $80 in front of me, having just sat down, so why not raise to either $80 or just go all in? My read at that point was he was so enamored with his own superior knowledge that he wasn't really taking any notice of anyone else - including the fact I was a new player, was twice his age, or whatever other information that might have indicated a raise UTG pre flop from me may actually represent a good hand.

I could imagine him playing any two cards, and it was certainly possible that one may have hit and I was behind. In the worst case I figured I would have two overcards. I certainly did not put him on an overpair to the board, which, according to his own comment on a previous hand meant 'you always have to re-raise with pocket 9's or better bro'. Nor would such a large overbet be consistent with two pair or trips.

Strong is weak, weak is strong. An easy call.

The dealer quickly dealt the turn and the river. The turn was an ace, the river a blank. The expert showed me one ace 'I have and ace bro' he informed me. 'Me too' I said showing my AK. He mucked his other card face down.

Then came the inevitable analysis. 'How could you call that', 'you called that so quick, but there was no way you could have put me on anything but a trips', 'Bro, I had you smashed if I had a pair, you can't call a big reraise like that with nothing on the flop', and so an and so forth for the next 15 minutes. All the while building up my information on how he was going to play future hands.

But after 15 minutes I had well and truly reached the level of diminishing returns, where no additional information he could impart would be worth listening to more of his rambling. 'Mate' I said to him 'You know you can only bluff _good_ players'.