It’s hard going, trying to come back from troubles. I don’t feel well. My heart races when the latest idiot leaps behind my car while I pull out of the garage- my nerves are shot from a month of distress and I don't take it with usual equanimity and disdain. Worse, my body is tired, my lungs black, my mind flat. The deep brain which does not care for anything and only want to eat and sleep carries me on, even to the poker table, my cubicle and workspace. Yet it knows I must take some chances and break out of my rut.
However, while my mental game is weak, my execution rusty, my strategic game is coming back to me. I am more dangerous, overall. My nights of slaughtering Bovada until I passed out, hand still on the keyboard, head on my desk, have prepared me better than I’d imagined. The body is weak, the mind shot, but something deeper inside ticks on.
Now, I haven’t gotten a fair shake at the bigger games in many sessions. I am running below EV, down six straight buy ins. The Goddess Variance has had her foot on my neck (I would like to bite her tasty ankle). I understand that She and the universe are out to get me. It’s fair enough: I deserve it.
However, if my opponents are her emissaries, they don’t outplay me, that for sure. They leave it all up to Her, pitifully.
Just like always. In fact, little has changed in the games. I recognize most everyone. A new Headphone Dork stands out, as well as an aggressive Pakistani who seems to know what he wants to do. I nod at the Banker, ever more the giant happy toad, and the games go on, as if I’d never left. The dealers say my name, and I undertip them. Nothing changes.
I have to get sharp, and fast, but I make errors for the first hour. I’m too loose. I gamble. One spot versus Otto caught my attention and is worth explaining. Game flow is a big thing for an astute player, and I made a close decision not to three bet him out of the blinds with AJo. This sweet but serial over-player had not opened a hand yet, and even though he was on the button, I decided to take it postflop. I felt his range was strengthened and gave his first shot a little cautious respect. I had a weak tight player in the SB, and a loose player limping in from under the gun, so I was going to have an edge versus a lineup of shallow enders.
However, I might have been talking myself into the wrong play. The reasons for three betting are compelling in spots like this in general. A button range is naturally wide, and picking up the SB’s weak completion makes the spot highly profitable. I recommend it. Three betting AJ broadens your range and makes balanced poker possible. However, you have to play the player, and Otto is not a folder in general, as I have written. If he over calls the three bet, he encourages the SB to gamble. Less likely, but if UTG is limp/raising unbalanced, I have just burned up a stack of red. Playing out of position with Ace high versus a calling station and a guy with a strong overcalling range is not a great spot, so on the "balance," there is in fact no one way forward.
So, I took a chance and went four way with a good ace. The flop is J52dd. The SB checks, I check, UTG checks, and now Otto leads exactly half pot. It’s this sort of giveaway I am looking for: He can have premiums preflop, this being his first hand, but now the information begins to skew toward weak. He’s not protecting his hand, he’s not charging the world’s stickiest players enough. (NO FOLDING should be inscribed above The Village’s door.) Button raise plus weak bet; his range was weakening the more I stared at it. I also look into the ether and determine what I can- I don’t feel a premium.
The SB calls this soft bet: he is very likely drawing. Since UTG did not raise or look strong pre, I am almost certain I have them all crippled. I raise with the intention of snapping off a shove.
UTG quickly dumps it, and the action moves to Otto, who is troubled, just as I hoped he would be. He doesn’t bring more than two buy-ins, and this raise is not what he wanted. Nevertheless, he shoves after a full minute's hesitation, and I begin to sense he has a weak draw or KJ – I can tell he feels potstuck.
Now the small blind is frustrated. He lets out a sigh before throwing away his hand. It’s good news for me, as I put him on diamonds. Now I just need to fade whatever the hell Otto feels he can’t fold.
Turns out it’s diamonds as well, ten high! When the King of diamonds regrettably appears on the turn, leaving me drawing dead, the small blind fumes:
“I had the nut flush draw!”
Otto shrugs and smiles. Some players are going with the ten high, others are folding the nuts. It’s worked out again for Otto, and although I’m briefly upset at my winter and spring of runbad, it’s hard to stay mad at that little brother face of his. He’ll redistribute all of my chips before leaving in his typically irresponsible manner: some of us never learn.
As for me, I lose some more, ripping in a straight and flush draw and brick out, before going card dead for three hours and turning on the poker sabateur game that generally saves my nights. I dodge and float and steal, getting a few hundred back without a single showdown. I love all my spots and missed only one, declining for range protection reasons, which is to say in English, bitching out. However, on Friday night, what you want is not all this snake oil, but the Big Pot. When is it my turn? When will She get her boot off my throat?
I get my opportunity on the last hand of the my night. With the game going into overdrive but my ride leaving, I open AJo from UTG. Calling ranges have gotten loose, and this hand might as well be AQ or AK. Unfortunately, Tank Boy calls behind me, an action which is going to trigger a donkey chain: much like my first pot of the evening with Otto, I am going to be doing battle with the bread knife of AJo versus the coyotes. Tank Boy is a thoughtful fool who slows the game down with his endless indecisions. He’s a likeable guy, and always apologizes, but hands per hour plummet whenever he graces us with His Pausiness. He plays too many hands and things have to break exactly right for him to win – he was the one who pulled off the thirteen buy in night. His gambling style can work, but even for the dragging slowness, I want his active money on the table. He plays the turn like a nightmare and loves to bet, shamelessly, for information. Bring on Tank Boy, the Thirteen Buy-In Man, 'cause that ain't how it usually goes.
To return to reality, Tank Boy is mostly just screwing himself and me as well with this abysmal flat. Calling from UTG1 or UTG2 with garbage and a half stack is terrible poker- but, again, that’s The Village: NON SUBCUMBERE.
So, donkey chain triggered, Headphone Dork flats the button, and the Ace flush folder calls out of the blinds. (Is it possible he wants a second chance?)
With all this anti-equity, It’s going to be heard to win this pot. The flop is not particularly helpful: Q75hh. The clustering around the middle cards is going to hit callers' connectors and pairs, and without a single blocker in my black AJ, all flush cards could be out there.
The Folder checks. I check. Tank Boy checks. The button, Headphone Dork, who should really bet his equity here, checks as well.
Ok then. Reprieve.
I can rep cards. The pot is not over. The offsuit ace on the turn, in fact, is the best card in the deck for me. However, the Ace flush folder leads out small into the ace. It's a silly bet into a volatile player, a sticky field, and into a card that favors me. I intend to punish him for it.
I raise relatively small, as I don’t want to get committed via Headphone Dork, and simultaneously want to set up room on the river. I’m not sure where all this is going but I am envisioning a giant bet on half the deck.
Now Tank Boy pushes in his short stack, which is not good news. His behavior suggests value, but I don't see how he has value: why didn't he rip it in on the flop? This will matter. Meanwhile, he’s one blind short of my raise, and all in. I don’t like it, but he has more draws than two pairs. I sense no set.
However, what’s really surprising is that Headphone Dork on the button overcalls; this pot is getting out of control. This means, unfortunately, that HD has a strong hand. I am beat unless he just can’t let go of a nut draw and is determined to pay it badly. More likely, he has hit the ace and now has aces up: A7 or A5... just the kind of hand a fish calls with on the button. My options are shrinking because of his passivity and clear equity.
The SB folder dude is troubled once more; this guy cracks me up. He’s getting an amazing price, thanks to all these dreary overcalls. While he counts out his inevitable flat, I reflect on the brazenly bad play of the table. It’s very hard to get around three players' equity without having the effective nuts. They are like mangy, starved lions on a tired rhinoceros, no water in sight, desperately trying to drag it down with their group equity, not caring if one of their own gets its skull bashed in. They are happy to pay rake and trade chips, so long as someone sucks out. Traditionally poker players try to win the max and lose the least, which is why they pay attention to sizes and and position and handreading, but that is not really what is going on here. This is a group hunt.
The river brings an offsuit king. I love this card. I know I am behind, but I envision a cool scenario. The SB has bricked out. He’s done, but what if Tank Boy has a draw and not a hand, say 86s, or top pair on flop? He’s all in, and if… if… I can get Headphone Dork to fold out Aces up, I can win the entire pot, a monster, and go home even after all the runbad.
So I rip it in, and Headphones is in pain. For two minutes he torments himself. I have AQ, AK, and sets in my range, and all he has is A7 or A5. HD thinks a lot of himself, as all people do who wear antisocial devices in a social game: he is disrespectful and selfish. He thinks he can add nothing to an activity which simultaneously exists for his entertainment and benefit. Strategically, he thinks he has to be beat here, and wants to make a hero fold. He can’t imagine being read or outplayed. He doesn’t understand why he shouldn’t slowplay two pair. He posts in some forum, somewhere, no doubt; he beats up his home game; he brags about his ability; he talks strat with the Banker.
He is, in other words, a Reg™. A Reg™ can't call here. I'm not even that worried. What I'm worried about is Tank Boy.
When HD folds, the small blind shows me his draw (I've been friendly with him) dumps it into the muck. I’m not entirely hopeful, but there is a little light, a small candle still burning for my plan. I expose the AJ and look directly at Tank Boy. I’ve folded out and faded everyone’s equity that matters…
Except his, of course. He leaps ups and cries out. “I win!” turning over a mangled 75cc for a lucky hold and quadruple with a short stack. Rewarded for doing nothing right, naturally. The Goddess is pleased. The first shall be last. She hates my arrogance, She despises my ability, She loves all that is random, inexplicable, desperate. I rack up, but to my surprise, the dealer tosses me three red chips.
It was the sidepot. I had forgotten. If I had known Tank Boy had two pair exactly, this small return on my investment meant I had risked $500 plus to win $15. A strange smile rumples my face.
So it goes. While the table chatters and tries to make sense of what just happened in the pitter patter and hee haw of Regspeak™, I push the three red disks into my piecemeal rack, full of ones from stealing, devoid of reds from losing, saying nothing and offering no explanation to the Regs for my play.
I get pleasure out of Headphone Dork’s tilt, however, and I can hold my head high. His unhappiness is my happiness. I wish I were staying and could play pots with him. He whines to the Banker, soothsayer and father figure to many of these players. They keep to themselves, their little circle of upper middle class and racial solidarity, and keep me out of their private games. They are not my enemies (does the hunter hate the goose?) but they are not my friends either, and I relish his torment, even if I lost overall and my final bet won nothing but fifteen dollars. Five came from you, dork.
Bittersweet, this poker thing I apparently do. I'd almost forgotten, having nearly drowned in life bitterness. It's suddenly revealed to me why I have such a tolerance, and even a need, for this silly game.
Life, it seems, will go on. I’ll go again to the VIllage, soon but not tomorrow, and take another shot at biting Her foot. Nothing feels normal, but I need to push it wherever it is going. In fact, I have to do better. A lot better. Time is passing.
Today, as I back out of my garage again, the same idiot tries to get in my way. I've had enough. This time I push down on the gas toward him, testing just how stupid he is. It's a calculated risk; I'm trying something new and I'm willing to take this quite far. I’m really curious and flummoxed by all of it and their strange risks. He races to intersect the car, but I beat him to where our vectors led. He gives up, briefly stymied.
Then he leaps in front of my car as I am about to pull forward. I slam on the brakes. Ok, I guess you win again. I'm not sure what you are winning, but it's yours. We all have some plan or some chance to take. I'm giving up on my frustration with this guy.
Nevertheless, I like my experiment. No one changes, they say, but I am here to try.