Perception is a great theme of poker. Dealing with information. Evaluating actions. Filtering misinformation.
Judging your opponents, sometimes at a glance, and sometimes, over years together, like smiling, vicious colleagues who have been stealing each other’s work.
Tougher questions, too: range versus perceived range, that great tension of technical poker which can occasionally cause tantamount confusion or can set up a powerful, positionally aware strategy.
But… also slightly sillier, but still real questions! One of them comes up a lot at a poker table, and in groups of poker players.
Who’s the best? Who is winning the most ‘round here?
As men, we are part dog and want hierarchy. (Julesy Quadflopper can laugh at us... a little.)
Back in the cap games at the Village, I am undergoing an inoculation, the kind where the vaccine possibly kills the patient, but one that is also reinserting me, like a card that has flown off the table, back into the deck. After all the trips and travel and dodging where I am at in various ways, I decided to try to plow through these shortstack games. These are soft games where no one knows what or why they are doing what they are doing.
A place, not where they know my name, but I know theirs, if you know what I mean.
So far, it's been tough!
How did this happen? I made my bones in here. Remember, Persuadeo? Always right? Calling with jack high and folding queens? Hey there Buddy, hello?
Why, just last night, an old reg came in and shook my hand, asking how I was doing, and recalling the days when I would take his money, over and over.
That’s… kind of what I was expecting would happen, once again here in the ole’ backyard. (Not the old acquaintance part!)
The other night, the table was talking, stirred up deliberately by a restive dealer. The players, at his behest, were trying to create an All-Star team of Village regs, with the intention of taking on another casino. They named the Banker (naturally, his endless gamble and indifference is powerful to watch)… and then it got weird.
Otto the Overcaller? Uh…
They rattled off names.
Wait, some of the day rocks?
Really, Atlas Mugged and The Gourd?
The high hand chasers?
The top pair folders and set worshippers?
The kind of player who doesn’t even buy up to the already ridiculous cap? (Unless you are Cosbying, there is no excuse for this.)
I was rattled. It was like when someone tells you a car is green and you clearly see blue. Then they rounded out the list with some sensical choices.
(And if they name the Banker, why not his minion the Koala?)
Ok, Angry Asian Foster Kid. Sure.
Maudib. Ok those guys are good.
But in a way, I’m a little surprised. I’ve literally created my new life out of their buy-ins, but apparently I’m just another face in the crowd.
Then another shocker: without even a dispute or second thought, they quickly confirmed that clearly their All-star team would crush the other casino’s team, one borne from an old school hellhole of nits and quasi-pros!
What the hell is going on?
Well... maybe nothing! Maybe this is what's normal, and I've just forgotten.
For one thing. Apparently I’ve succeeded in creating an aura of anonymity beyond my wildest dreams. Remember how I had been worried about going on the LATB? About having my blog and thoughts and life exposed?
No one noticed. Not one word. The Village, appropriately, is immune to external stimuli.
Yes, I am amused at all the grief I take because of the way I play, and that there are players who trawl poker forums for advice, who I help anonymously, but who insult me to my face.
I look forward to it, actually.
Another reason I say nothing is because the Banker himself says nothing, probably knowing how absurd some of the comments are. He is a smart man, and humbler than most. He is also a gambler, an action junkie who plays in massive private games and by now realizes his edge over most of the field is his pure indifference to all the negative EV things he does.
Let them talk, we seem to be saying.
Otto, feeling expansive, suggests an idea. He and two other players coach a newb (where do you belong in this arrangement, Otto?) and another three player team choose another beginner.
The two coaching teams and their horse square off.
Finally I speak. I tell Otto, “You have a deal, as long as I don’t have to take two partners.”
But he only looks confused.
Meanwhile, the game continues.
A shortstacking fish makes a nasty overcall with a three gapper, doubling through me on the river.
Stuck and handed a rack from the floor, I won't get to hear the rest of their conclusions. Another cooler from Gargamel awaits me at the main game, but even he will into the wall of run bad. A fellow Red Chipper carts off five buys ins.
Sigh. My reshuffle into the Village is going painfully. Poker owes me nothing.
I show up the next day, and sit with Maudib, tourney grinder and cash game winner. He's an interesting fellow, far more taciturn and dignified than most players, but we don't play much together, as he is a day player and I can't usually bear the idea of being inside a casino while the sun shine.
I have wondered how he wins, and I get a view of the landscape today. First, he makes a brutal overcall with KJo versus a nit’s UTG range, creating an SPR 3.3 pot, flops a two percent hand, and felts the nit, a youngish man thirty-five going on sixty. This gets him a playable stack; I wonder if he likes that sort of preflop error in order to double, as a strategy? If you always get someone's stack, I suppose it's better than I usually consider.
Maudib bets into boards he can’t hit and gets raised off. He checks nut hands on the turn, making his monsters into medium strength hands. He raises in spots where I can tell he is completely unbalanced and has the pure nuts… still getting paid. In the most egregious example, he's bailed out by an extremely poorly thought out bluff repping nothing, one with SDV that would actually be good against any air that should be in Maudib's range (yet isn't), and only calls with his FH.
Meanwhile, he flops monster after monster, running up nearly $2k in high hand bonuses.
The dealer continues the conversation from the other night. “Otto is captain. Maybe _____ as well.”
I ask with a little sarcasm, growing a little testy at being told trees are stealing all the good air. “Captain of what, exactly?” but the dealer is not even thrown. “Captain of the night crew. Best player.”
What universe am I in? I am actually getting confused. Green is blue and is growing yellow.
The vaccination is making me blurry. It’s a strong dose, these reintroductory sessions.
The orbits go by. I lose with my only premium of the day... to a fish who flat calls my three bet with KJ out of position. One of your acolytes, Maudib? I give him one street and muck the queens in disgust at showdown.
I know I have been away. I’ve been wiped out of their minds, fortunately. To consistently pull 12/bbs per hour out of that game, much like Gargamel’s amazing winning streaks, are accomplishments that no one sees or needs to see. (And wait a minute, why didn't his name come up?)
I get it. It’s just that the perceptions of others are very confusing as much as they are reassuring: the games remain good, somehow, some way.
Meanwhile, Maudib rakes in the money, turning quads and getting paid. The players titter about his giant stack. But he’s not the only one having a great day.
A true nit, a very weak fish next to him is on a pure heater. In the midst of it, I have actually picked off one of his rare bluffs, a move he will make about once a month, perhaps encouraged by his run good, and earned a few bucks.
But it doesn’t matter to him or the table. That call, the summation of handreading and betsizing and combinational work, should have been as amazing, and equally likely, as seeing your four of a kind drop in.
The pot is pushed without comment.
Meanwhile, the game goes on and his heater continues. He never bluffs on the river, but he is making river bets. Therefore….?
…he gets paid, over and over and over and over and over again! After the fourth abysmal river punt, I break discipline and actually comment to his victims about it, while the nit grows his stash of chip porn.
Don't feed the nits, the saying goes. but these guys don’t care. They still pay him. The nit’s stack grows to a size I have seen him with only once in four years together.
Are they calling him because of my call? Have I taken in a stack from him only to have him use it to fill up racks?
I'm not sure that was the lesson, but one of us is happy, anyway.
It is like watching people drown and having no way to help them. I’m not supposed to help them, but a sort of mild despondency is overtaking me.
Meanwhile, Maudib rises to leave with his nine buy-in win after a day of epic run good.
A player jokes about getting coaching from him, and to his astonishment Maudib hands him his poker card!
He is a coach. (Paging Kagey for some sardonic surprise.)
Meanwhile, the old reg and catch up a bit. He informs me of the grooming habits of far east prostitutes. Apparently there are some compromises in seeking out what you desire.
Sitting with my decimated stack, having lost in two coolers, I’m not sure how I am going to stomach this stretch of the poker journey. I’ve tasted big games and faced real players and true challenges, and mostly triumphed, but back home at the Village, nothing matters. I've foolishly spend three quarters of my bankroll trying to cheer myself up with a ridiculous year of travel, dining, and laziness, and now am facing the music.
But I'm also beginning to perceive something about the Village. It isn't just strange.
(But then, I guess that's why I belong there!)