No escape

Friday, February 13th, 2004, 2:27 pm

During the 2003 World Series defending champion Robert Varkonyi, low on chips, played a fateful hand with 1998 champ Scotty Nguyen. Varkonyi was dealt KK and raised. Nguyen, holding AA, re-raised. Varkonyi went all-in and Nguyen of course called. As Scotty showed his aces Varkonyi looked across the table and said, “I knew it, I knew it”. The aces held up and the defending champion was sent to the sidelines. In the brief interview they showed immediately afterwards, Varkonyi said something along the lines of, “No matter what, I was going to lose all my money on that hand”.

Let’s deconstruct what he said. First of all, Varkonyi obviously did not know Nguyen had aces after his re-raise, because otherwise he wouldn’t have gone all in. But I think this was less an attempt at Hellmuthian omniscience than a helpless person acknowledging the fates. Only if Nguyen held pocket aces would he be in big trouble, and by saying “I knew it” he was merely resigning himself to his doom.

Then we have, “No matter what, I was going to lose all my money on that hand”. On one hand…well, no, on every hand, he’s right. He had to make a move, he made it, and he was caught by the one hand that dominated his. He had to move all-in when he was re-raised, he only had 2 Kings in the deck to help him…he was dead meat. That’s poker.

I thought back to Varkonyi after a hand I endured a few nights back. I read a post somewhere (I’ll find it later and link to it) that said playing Pot-Limit with the fish almost wasn’t “real” poker. You just played your big hands and hoped you got clobbered by the flop and could lure the fish into the net. It really hit home with me, because that’s how I’d been playing. In fact I’d been playing worse than that–I was playing lots of hands, staying in with lousy cards because, hey, it’s only fifty cents most times to see the flop, and maybe THIS is the time the flop comes 10-10-3 when you have 10-3 in your hand. That happened to me once, and I got paid off nicely.

But is that “poker”? Or is it just swimming along with the fish waiting for one to sprain a fin so you can gobble ‘im up? I wasn’t making any moves at all, no check-raises to get a free card on the turn, no big bets to steal the pot. The few moves I did make started backfiring on me. For awhile I was making some tidy sums betting big if I flopped top pair. Say I had A-9 and the flop came 9-7-2. I was betting big trying to win the pot right there, or at least make a call as expensive as possible for the chasers. Thing is, I started running into guys with 9-7 who re-raised me and I froze up. A few times I called down and got burned bad. A few times I threw my hands away wondering if I’d given up too easy. I’m not bossing the table–I’m being bossed because I don’t want to get skunked out of a big chunk of change by a lucky fish.

I really haven’t studied no-limit or pot-limit strategy, and at times I feel at sea about what the heck I should do when I bet the pot with an overpair and some wacko re-raises me. That happened to me last time I played (I had QQ, the board showed 10-7-5). Did he hit trips? Two pair. I bit the bullet and called. We both checked the turn, and when nothing threatened on the board after the river I checked and called his $5 bet. He turned over J-7. If we’d been sitting at a table I would’ve lunged for him. Here I am losing weight worrying about this call and I had him crushed from jump street.

Because the potential winnings are so large and the cost to play so low, preflop play is, to my mind, at a premium. Raise, raise, raise, knock as many chasers out as possible. So let’s get to the hand I referenced at the start of the post. In early position I find KK. Nice. The two players to my left call and I bet the pot, figuring that at least one fish will tag along to pay me off but still scaring away most of the others. Well, the guy next to me calls, and the guy next to HIM calls, and one of the original betters calls. Terrific.

Flop comes Q-10-3, with the 10 and three clubs. I could be up against AK, or 10-10, or JJ, or…I could be up against freakin’ anything. The first guy checks, and I decide to put in a $3 bet, maybe enough to chase the guys who missed the flop. Fold, call, fold. Heads up now, and I feel a bit better. Until the turn shows the six of clubs. Now I’m skunked if this guy was on a flush draw. Shoulda bet the pot and put him to the test. Thing is, I have the King of Clubs, so all is not lost. I check, and he…checks. Now I’m really puzzled. My puzzlement ends when the deuce of clubs arrives on the river. I now have the flush, and the only card that can hurt me is the ace of clubs. It’s possible…but I feel like I have this hand. He has $14 left in his stack and I have $13, so I bet $8, enough to maybe tease him into a bad call, but still leaving me enough that he might try a re-raise thinking he can scare me out of putting the rest of my chips in.

He puts me all-in. I call. I show my cowboys…and he shows the Ace of clubs. He also shows the Ace of diamonds. He had AA and didn’t raise it preflop. He didn’t bet out at all until the very end. I kept feeding him rope and he patiently tied it in a noose to hang me with.

Lost my little all on that hand. I did the only thing I could do. I typed “nh” and left the table. Could I have gotten away from that hand? Maybe someone else could, but not me. Had it been for higher stakes, or for all my chips in a tournament, maybe. Maybe I could have walked away. But I doubt it.

That hand, and my general lack of success lately playing SNGs (haven’t placed in my last 4) has me worried about the Grublog Poker Classic. More and more I come to realize that I am Dead Money. In fact, my money is so dead that I’m going to leave my wallet at home and bring my cash in an Urn.

I am terribly disappointed that the runway-model-esque Evelyn Ng won’t be joining us next Sunday night. How I looked forward sipping my after-dinner port and telling my buddies, “Oh, that young lady featured in the promos for the World Poker Tour? Yes, we tussled over a few pots at a tourney I played recently. An absolutely charming woman and not a bad player into the bargain.”. This after she stole my blinds 17 times in a row and made me want to curl up and die.

“Make moves” was her advice to we bloggers. I’m gonna try very hard not to play like my “raise” button is broken. I have to remember that I’m not playing with the fish. I have to remember that I’M not a fish. I’m MEAN GENE. I’m the walking, talking, asskicking definition of SUPERBAD. The 22nd can’t come too soon!

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