Asking the Right Question; or, The New Existentialist Antihero–Playing Low-Limit Omaha/8

Thursday, January 27th, 2005, 2:21 pm

Even my titles are getting wordy and Bullwinkle-esqe these days. Awhile back I wrote about these poker skills programs offered by my digital cable service. Hosted by Mike Matusow, Todd Brunson, and David Sklansky, these shows (I hesitate to call them shows–each segment was only a few minutes long) gave these experts’ opinions about a game they were watching. The quality of play was pretty godawful, but I liked the shows anyway.

Well, after going thru limit and no-limit Hold’Em this months offering is Omaha High-Low, a game I’ve been interested in yet never played before. I’ve never read anything about it, I have no more insight than the wrapped-in-newspaper denziens of Party, but I was curious so I tuned in. The shows were in the same format as before, the three pros and a moderator watching the game and commenting on different aspects of Omaha/8 (you have to have a hand 8 or lower to qualify for the low half of the pot, and to show you how clueless I was I didn’t even know that myself).

The segments irritated me because a few of them were only 3 minutes long. By the time you fast-forward thru the anti-gambling commercial and the introductions it seems like Mike Matusow hardly has time to exercise that famous Mouth. But one thing he said did stick immediately in my mind. I’m paraphrasing here, but he said that Omaha is a more straightforward game than Hold’Em. There’s less bluffing, it’s more a game of playing your cards than the other players. Omaha/8 is a game that values patience and hand selection, moreso than Hold’Em.

And that got my attention, because I think I’ve been on a lousy run lately and about all I have going for me is patience and hand selection. True, I’ve been on the coldest run of cards in my life, but playing a little Omaha might be a good way to shake me out of my funk and get myself in gear again. I watched all 8 episodes (total run time about 25 minutes) and armed with the slightest of knowledge headed for the Party cheap seats.

“Play the nuts”, I told myself. “Don’t chase if the best you can make is a middling flush or junk like 2 pair. The nuts. Nuts nuts nuts”. To reinforce the motif I filled a bowl with honey-roasted peanuts (I know, peanuts aren’t nuts, but I got the point) and went to war on a new battlefield.

Twenty hands in I was standing on my chair and singing, “OMAHA! OHHHHHHH-MA-HA-HA!” a la David Lee Roth. In those 20 hands I won three and picked up a tidy $15 profit, which seemed like a fortune the way I’ve been going lately. On all three hands, oddly, I’d never had to show my hand down. I hit the nut flush on one, the nut straight on another, and on the last my two opponents must’ve completely missed their draws and bailed. This game was great! Just be patient, don’t chase silly hands, and let the fish swim into the net.

Sounded sound to me. Be patient.



Seventy-five hands later, I was sitting with a stupified look on my face. Seventy-five hands and I hadn’t scooped a pot. Split a pot. Split a split of a pot. I hadn’t had a taste. I’d barely had so much as a sniff. My $15 profit had turned into a $15 loss, partly from blinds, mostly from one hand where a bastard sucked out and rivered the five of diamonds which gave him the wheel AND the nut flush and cowkicked me. But that was about the only hand I put much money into. I sat there and saw the cards dealt and my hand filled up J-8-7-4. Or Q-10-6-3. Or…you get the idea. Over and over and OVER again.

And it wasn’t like I’d fold and see that, if I’d only stayed in, I would’ve flopped the nuts. Nah, pretty much my folds were correct, because only a moron would play the junk I was dealt. And I’m not a moron.

Or…am I? On hand 95 I was dealt A-K-2-3, with the AK suited. I was in the big blind, so finally, FINALLY, this was a chance to get some back. On most pots we’d had 4-5 callers. And I watched as around the table I saw fold…fold…fold…incredibly, it was folded around to the small blind, who merely called. In a rage I raised him back…and he folded. The sum of my winnings? A quarter.

It was then I had a sort of epiphenic moment. “What are you doing?” said an inner voice.

“I’m playing poker.” I replied.

“Are you?”

“Yes,” I said, and pointed at the screen. “See, that’s me, those are my cards…which I’m going to FUCKING TOSS IN THE MUCK! AGAIN!”

“You miss my point,” the inner voice said. “You are sitting in a chair, you are logged onto a poker site. Cards come and go. But are you “playing” poker? Are you engaged in a battle of wits and a test of strength, or are you just marking time until you get a monster hand and can win a few dollars from people who may or may not be willing to pay you off?”

It got me to thinking. And since I didn’t win another hand for the next 25 deals I had time to think. Was I indeed “playing” poker, or was I just an especially dashing and handsome bot waiting for a predetermined schedule of hole cards, flop, turn, and river to win a pot? Those books and blogs I’ve read, the shows I’ve watched, have they made any impression upon me beyond “other players suck” and “you need play a little bit better than sucky to win the money”?

This is a conundrum I’m still thinking about. The question “Am I a good poker player” seems, for the moment, to be superceded by the question “Am I a poker player, period?”. Does playing tighter than lousy players make me a better player or just a tighter one? The skills that good poker players possess–discipline, patience, aggression, cleverness, and heart–can I claim any of those for myself, or do I simply have a higher negative score than the people I play with?

A quote from an RGP poster I read at Johnny Kampis’s site at first got me thinking more on these lines. Speaking about playing at Party, the ranter rants:

It’s a meat grinder with the house keeping the best cuts, the sharks picking up the droppings. the fish crapping some of what’s left back and forth between each other and the learning players thinking they are getting good when all they are really doing is learning how to play fucking badly.

Every time I play there I feel slightly soiled, like dipping your hand into a bucket of slim-covered shit in order to try and find a prize. A demonic lucky dip, if you will. In order to win there you have to swim in filth and, I’m afraid, I just can’t stomach it any more. I’ll take my 23bb/hour rate that I get at [other sites I would rather not mention] thank you very bloody much.

Some people say they can’t take the bad beats. It’s not the bad beats I can’t take, it’s the fact that 98% of the people I have played at Party have so little idea of what constitutes a good hand or reasonably solid play that consistently beating all of them is so damn frustrating that it drives me nutso. It’s like those scenes in Dawn of the Dead/Day of the Dead where one of the secondary characters is surrounded by hordes of zombies and, despite the fact he has a fucking big gun, he’s going to get all his limbs torn off and then be eaten by mindless, walking dead.

Perhaps a bit over the top, but I can see his point. If you play poker seriously, you play to win money, and therefore the rational player prefers to play with people who stink opposed to people will skill. But playing the low-limits at Party, be the game Omaha or Hold’Em, at times I don’t feel like I’m playing poker. I feel like I’m gambling–and I’m the House. Oh, you’ll bad beat me here and there, but in the long run I’m going to get the money, because the odds are in my favor. Because I don’t play Q-10 out of position in a raised pot, and you do, and in the end I’m gonna outkick you right in the balls.

If I don’t have ambitions to be a great poker player, I do want to be a very good one. I just don’t know how good you can get playing ABC poker night after night with people whose alphabet starts with Q and jumpcuts to Z. I know my outlook is somewhat clouded at the moment because I haven’t had cards to even get to A, let alone BC (last night played 100 hands, won 3, went 65 hands without a win, begged one of my cats to put me out of my misery). I need a night away from the game, which is good because tonight I play volleyball and will therefore be running around instead of running in circles.

I need a change in attitude perhaps more than a change in luck. No less an authority than Daniel Negreanu said yesterday in his blog, and I quote, “If any of you don’t think that a positive attitude has a ton to do with your poker results… well, you just don’t get it…”. And seeing that Danny just made like his 17th WPT final table this year, perhaps I should take his advice.

A night away from the tables, a chance for my biorhythms to adjust, for Jupiter to rise in Scorpio, for my mojo mug to refill. Perhaps clearing my deposit bonus will clear my head, as I always run lousy when clearing bonuses. Perhaps I’ll take a nice…deep…breath.

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4 Responses to “Asking the Right Question; or, The New Existentialist Antihero–Playing Low-Limit Omaha/8”

  1. 4Flush Says:

    I was thinking some what on these lines about bonuses. If you cash out more money than you put in but less than the bonus amount…did you win? I know you made more money but did you play winning poker?

    Great post and interesting points.


  2. on_thg Says:

    Nice work. Really thoughtful.

  3. DuggleBogey Says:

    Fricking awesome post man.

    I have been playing a lot of O8 (I’m a newbie at it too) and agree totally. With the exception of the rare occasions where playing your draws well is important, there’s not a lot of “poker” poker going on in Limit Omaha. But I think it’s important ground work to do before you move on to PLO8, which *IS* a poker game.

    Plus it’s a nice occasional diversion from Hold ‘Em, Hold ‘Em and more Hold ‘Em.

  4. Chip Says:

    Bullwinkle-esque, love it.

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