On the night of my return to the local games after nearly three weeks on the road, I look for a soft landing at the Village. I have not played much poker in months. My games on the road were mostly short, breezy sessions accomplished as a sampling. Between travels, writing, and family, the coming months will be my first clear schedule since summer.
Even in the short time, things have changed. There’s a new floor manager who greets me blankly. I haven’t been missed by anyone, and only one dealer gives me a surprised hello. I am, however, given the usual Smurf greeting when a player I can only describe as hyper backraise four bets me all in. I make the snap call with AK, only to be felted by a very optimistic A10. Welcome back, me.
I get it back from him, and eventually move to a bigger $5 game, where Hyper Smurf and I quickly spar again. This time he really has it in a three bet pot, felting me with KK vs my QQ. Despite the uphill climb that my job has continued to be for months of runbad, I feel fine. The break has been good for my mental state.
Part of it is there is nothing I can do; I tilt mostly when I blame myself. I am always going to the mat with queens versus this guy. I watch him bluff over and over again while the fishcakes fold. One miserably whines about folding out her own queens to a single bet on a king high flop. She’s a weak player I’ve written about before, and doesn’t realize, even after years together and probably a lifetime of poker, who we are dealing with. Her fold then allows Hyper Smurf to bluff out the Banker, so that in the end, everyone folds the best hand. It’s great poker from Hyper in a one sided way, but any serious player would have sniffed it out after he donk led the river in suspicious spots multiple times.
Well, the soft games don’t look like they want to give me a soft landing, but what about soft play? It’s often confusing when Gargamel and I get into pots. The truth is, because full ring NLHE is correctly played on the tight side, and because both of us understand the game, we simply don’t get involved. This will often be the case for skilled players who are not pushing every edge, and there is certainly no motivation to do so in this marshmallow pit. Gargamel has a range from a certain position, as do I, and one of us folds or raises; pretty straightforward. It’s true that I don’t test him or go after him much. However, fate intervened last night, and revealed some of the limitations of unspoken, quasi-agreements.
In the first hand, the usual bunnies limp in and I make it $45 with AKo from the button. Gargamel, who runs better against me than anyone else, unfortunately, now raises to a suspiciously clean $145. The bunnies fold, and now I have a decision. He knows I can have any two cards here, meaning he can be very wide as well. However, he laughs a little, which is an oblique reference to how well he runs against me. My standard operating procedure is to four bet here. That means I am turning my hand into a bluff and I am not sure if that is part of our understanding. In fact, I begin to realize, that when pushed to the limits, softplay can get just as confusing as the regular combat in a game of low information.
I decide I am going to play a pot with this villainous pain in the ass. He can’t always get the best of me. The other thing is, we’re on the edge of deep, with effective stacks at about 150 bb: folding is almost silly. I know he knows that I don’t flat AK that much, so I decide to disguise my hand and call.
So with about $310 in the pot, we see Qxx, and he bizarrely checks. I expect him to bet if he has value, but suddenly our softplay routine seems confusing. I should bet here…but I don’t. I am out of the game and we’re back to friends. Now a ten of diamonds falls, bringing in a backdoor flush draw and the gutter for me. Gargamel leads a rather large $200. Now we’re not friends. I think he doesn’t have value after all or has flopped the nuts. Again, this is my moment to rip it in and win against another AK, which is looming in my mind.
However, I decide he’s not really my target. I fold. Later he, turns out to have AKdd, put me on nines (the flatting part worked) and was freerolling me. The flop was my chance to win the pot, as I suspected before letting the hand die.
Nevertheless, this result sticks with me, and when we clash again, I do not soft play him, but treat him as any other villain. In this hand, I open 67dd from EP, pick up a goofy software whale, and Gargamel overcalls. As it stands, he does get involved against me a little too much. I don’t set mine him generally, but he doesn’t fold out his equity even when I am establishing a pot. So he owes me.
It’s time to get my $145 dollars back.
The rest fold and we see J64cc. I expect the software whale to play face up, so I check to see what he is going to do. He checks, and Gargamel now snap bets 45 into the 60 or so.
This is a good spot for me. I have a blocker to middle set, and he can’t have top set so I am only worried about bottom set. I can get him to fold out all his jacks, and he will be forced to call with his draws or surrender, having no perceived fold equity. Secondly, he has given off information. Instead of his straightforward, normal betting, he directs the chips toward me, most likely subconsciously. He is weighted toward a draw or a steal attempt. It is very likely I have, in fact, the best hand, with middle pair no kicker.
So I check raise Gargamel to $200. It’s the right play, and am well balanced here. I would play QQ-AA, AJ, and all my draws this way in a multiway pot; the 67 fits nicely into my overall plan, a junior member of my continuing hands.
Gargamel was not expecting this. He takes his time, not entirely convinced of my representation or even understanding what I am up to. Because we don’t actually play against me much, I have not put him in a spot for a long, long time. In any case, he doesn’t look like he wants to fold, and does make the call.
The turn is a very interesting card, another jack. I have full houses in my range, and top pair, overpairs, and draws, and should continue, but again, our soft play routine has confused me. My other thought was, if I am wrong, and he has the jack, he is never folding. He is supposed to have the jack, in game theory sense, quite a bit: it’s what he represented. Facing contradictory indications, I check, to see what he is going to do. I can double check raise some of my range. Things are getting weird.
Gargamel hesitates. He looks a little lost. It’s his moment to take down the pot… but not after such a long time and that expression. Now I’m calling him or ripping it in over his bet. Wisely he checks behind. I have the best hand, but now I have to accept that I have not protected against the draw and he has a flyer on the pot, and position.
Fortunately, the final card is a blank. There is no hand he is calling me with, and if he rips it in it would be gross, so I check to induce his bluff, which he has to do with missed clubs or lose. Unfortunately, he knows I’m not someone to take a crappy line with, that I make more calls with Ace high than is healthy, and checks behind again. I show my hand and the pair is good.
Trading chips with Gargamel is not why I am here, however. Yet nothing truly goes my way, even though the game is weak. The Banker just folds to my value bets and my bluffs; I’d rather he give me action and even try to pick me off, but at some point this year, he just started rolling over on his back for me, preferring tonight and almost always to get involved with the more profitable Smurfs. The sharp edges of our former rivalry seems to have dulled and now we, too, have a softer dynamic- but unlike my tacit understanding with Gargamel, it's one I don't at all want.
My last big chance for a good day comes when I flop a royal flush draw as the preflop aggressor, facing three callers. However the board is paired with a card the banker and the weak QQ folder both love to play. If I bet it, I can get check raised for my entire stack drawing slim. I decide to see a turn card, which has to be okay multiway with most of my range. Certainly heads up I would bet it. (The result is going to be irritating, as you can foresee.) Fourth street does give me the nut flush. I bet a strong three quarter pot, looking to get paid by trips, straights, and worse flushes. The Banker folds, but I get check raised by Ms. QQ. Unfortunately, she is simply not a player and is always full here. I snap fold without even a sigh, such is the power of knowing your opposition. She shows the underfull binked on the turn, lamenting that I didn’t have a flush to pay her off with. Lady, I mean… Obviously, it’s the right play by me, but I’m just saving money, not making it.
Eventually, Gargamel and I quit. He’s very frustrated. I’ve been there very recently and don’t blame him. He’s been coolered, AA vs. the Banker’s AKs for less than a full stack, having played the small SPR to grilled edge perfection by flatting the three bet and letting his opponent value own a wide range on the flop. He got stuck in a questionable but understandable move.
It’s just not our day, no matter how soft the game. Somehow Ms. QQ, despite playing very face up and poorly, is gifted all the money when Mr. Hyper and a pure mark decide to punt sky high spirals into her stack. Must be nice.
Yet for a bum day of poker, I feel good. I’ve quit smoking again, preparing for my winter push and the new life I must plan. I allow myself a salt rimmed cocktail, which goes down smooth, cold, and beautiful. I’ve played well. I have the grind and everything else ahead of me.
I’m back. Here we go.