The Biggest Fish in the Sea Ain't Necessarily a Shark
Basking in my second place showing in Sunday's tournament (I don't get many chances to bask these days) allowed me to forget for a bit that I got my head handed to me the other day. I haven't been playing much at all lately, what with my hospitalizations and determination to lose weight and all, but when I played the other night I had one of those epiphanies that always seem to come up in Flannery O'Connor stories and family sitcoms. To wit--know your limitations, and, when necessary, run away and hide.
Thrill-seeker that I am, I've moved up to the $1/$2 limits, thinking that there are enough more than enough fish schooling there for me to make a meal of. And, to be sure, there are fish to be found. Thing is, and this is something that I have to realize, is that I'm a fish too
. Maybe a bit craftier and sneakier than the others, maybe a bit toothier, but I'm still not at the top of the poker food chain.
In his book Poker Nation
Andy Bellin opens by saying that he's probably a better player than 99.9% of all poker players in the country. But before you think he's bragging on himself, he says (I'm paraphrasing, sorry), "But since there are 50 million poker players in America, you don't have to be a math whiz to realize that means there are 50,000 players better than me. And the big problem is that six of them are sitting down at my table right now". It's an excellent point, one that all players should take into account. One that, except for a few nights ago, I thought I had internalized. Ah, no, not quite.
I was playing at 2 six-handed tables. At the one table I was bracketed by players who each had more than $100 in front of them. The minimum you can start with is $50, and most players bring that amount when they take their seat, so these two guys probably knew what they were doing. And I was between them. So not only had I chosen a table that had two guys who probably knew what they were doing, I'd selected a seat that insured I'd have to react to the one every hand and then worry about what the guy after me would do. And as the table swiftly proved to be an aggressive one, with lots of preflop raising and slow-playing and check-raising, I should have simply walked away and looked for greener pastures.
But I didn't. I won a few nice pots, one with a check-raise on the river that frightened away a low-stacked dude, and one with a nice call when my AJ outkicked an A7. But the two guys on either side of my kept me from getting into a rhythm. I had to fold a lot of hands because the guy to my right raised and then had to put in two bets to see flops with iffy hands because the guy on my left wouldn't let sleeping dogs lie and just call. I tightened up like crazy, but when the few decent hands I held (AQs, pocket 9s) didn't get helped on the flop and I faced two bets to see another card I had to bail. I think I lost $25 at that table playing what I felt to be a reasonably smart and aggressive game. Didn't get great cards, but enough that I couldn't complain. Made one terrible play that cost me about $8 to the guy on my left (my nemesis--King with so-so kicker), but beyond that, I just got jerked back and forth by these two guys. I finally bailed to concentrate on my other table.
Where I was seated to the left of another nemesis, this one a guy who goes by the handle olethegoalie. I didn't fear him at first, because my Penguins made the Washington Capitals and their goalie Olaf Koelzig hit the golf course earlier about 5 years in a row in the late nineties. How dangerous could such a guy be?
Turns out way dangerous. Way. While we were playing he was idly chatting with someone who wasn't at our table but was just watching, and I got the impression that he was just waiting for a big multi to start and was killing time. The other guy made mention that he'd had a rough night playing $20/$40, so it was possible that Ole was just slumming and cleaning his claws before heading into the tournament fray. Again, I resolved to batten down the hatches, play tight, play aggressive, play like a hero.
'Twas not to be. Allow me another hockey reference, if you will. On December 30, 1998 Mario Lemiuex became the only player in NHL history to score five goals (against the Rangers, natch) in five different ways. Super Mario scored even-strength, on the power-play, short-handed, on a penalty shot, and into an empty net. The Ranger fans gave him a standing ovation. Well, Ole beat me like Mario beat the Blueshirts, every way you can think of. I didn't applaud, though I did honor him with a one-finger salute.
I think I won 2 hands against the guy. He won maybe 8. He bullied me out with raises and re-raises. He bluffed me--on one hand I had A-10 and limped in from the big blind. The flop comes 10-9-2 and, after checking, raise him and another guy. A goddam K on the turn, I bet, he raises me. Like poultry, I fold. He shows me pocket threes. He wasn't being a jerk about it, he didn't say anything, but to me it said, "Dude, you're making it too easy".
So I resolved to make it harder. I won a teeny pot by check-raising after the turn, a $4 win. Which was quickly wiped away when, my testicles shrunked my now to acorns, I capped the betting preflop with AQ and, with the flop utterly missing me, I capped the betting AGAIN trying to show that I had some kind of monster holding. Junk on the turn, and when I bet and was then re-raised I finally folded my tent, put my tail between my legs, and a few other cliches.
The hand that broke my spirit came soon after. Yet again he raised preflop, and again I held AQ. The flop comes Q-J-4. Hosannahs to the highest, and I bet. He called. Junk on the turn, bet, he calls. Junk on the river, I bet, and he raises. I have top pair, top kicker. No straight or flush draws out there. Do I raise? I feel my nuts tighten to raisins, and I just call. He turns over pocket jacks. I turn over in the grave I just dug for myself.
Why, you may ask, didn't I just switch tables? Party has about a jillion tables at this limit, some especially ripe for the pickins, so why hang around and get my head caved in? There are several reasons. One, my computer is as stable as the situation in Iraq and I try not to tax it by, you know, making it compute more than it has too. Two, inertia held me in its thrall and I couldn't muster the energy to switch. But the third and most accurate reason was that I tilted and wanted to get some of my money back before I fled. And it didn't work out. I dropped nearly $45 at that table, about $35 of it going directly to Ole. Should've written the bastard a check.
No, because I did learn a valuable lesson--table selection is just as important as hand selection. Maybe more so. Actually, almost certainly more so--even if I bring my A-game, I'm in trouble if I'm sitting down with 9 savvy pros with names like Alabama Zeke and Uno Nguyen and Zbignew "The Itchin' Mathematician" Bydgoszcz. Big trouble. No, give me a gaggle of drunken yahoos who think Stu Unger is the guy the late
Tony Randall played on The Odd Couple
So, a lesson learned. Cost me dear. But the infusion of cash I got for placing in the tournament made up for that and the Poker Gods, pleased that I persevered and did not curse their name, smiled upon me this time. This time. Next time, I'll be smart and allow discrection to be the better part of valor. A little more study, a little more experience, an epiphany or two, and I'll be ready to match wits again with olethegoalie.