trip reports

Treasure Island

Seven hundred big blinds in front of me, Q3o in the hole, six callers, getting lazy; something else is on my mind.  Sorry, it’s on me; can I cbet this monotone board?  Yes, apparently, as I watch my hands pushing chips. Chinese Eager Beaver next to me, raising his body upwards and erect in a literally pointed display of strength, shakes his head in parodic frustration while putting in half of his stack, screen testing well for his future role as Old Man Green Tea in a shitty casino near you.  He has the nuts; my check/fold for the next street is already marked on the box. I can go back to ruminating about Treasure Island and why something feels slightly wrong. This should be great fun, but I can’t put my finger on it…

I certainly wasn’t here for the lucre, at least, not now; my remaining opposition in total probably has same amount of money as I do on the table.  It’s Saturday night, and the WSOP has pushed the Vegas card room capacity to previously unknown limits, but these guys are the dregs of the dregs, the reserve reserves.  I wasn’t in the zone, either, so I had no serious incentive to continue: I had left a bunch of value on the table and had exceeded my mistake quotient, breaking mental game guidelines.

Of course, the game could have been great- the buy in is a generous max of $500 at TI.  It’s unheeded and unused.  Instead, a bunch of hyenas with $150 have gathered.  In fact, this is the moment they have been waiting for, these beta hold’em imposters: the moment where I just start spewing out of boredom, the moment where they finally start to bring me down, one stack, one leg at a time.

Well, they have something right: I am bored. Most of the Red Chippers have left; the party is long over- I was excused but am still here with the lampshade on my head.  As Eager Beaver is collecting his pot, proud and happy at having outplayed me by cleverly being present to receive his holding, he suggests to his buddy that they should leave for the Wynn and turn their $180 into further glory.  Good luck, little fellas.  Here’s my prediction for you two:  The Venetian.  What? Why? Because when it’s 3 am, and you are gathering at a Wynn slot machine to get a free drink on the server’s route and to tell your buddy about that terrible beat you took with A9 from the small blind, you both realize you can’t afford any more 1/3, you don’t want to go back to TI, but that the Venetian has 1/2 and you can both short stack it if you divvy up the money.  It’s the shortest walk south. Hey, are you listening to me?  I’m trying to save you time!

Leaving this place would never have occurred to me a few years ago. Treasure Island wasn’t always just another 1/2 hole in the wall; once, it aspired to better than a Monte Carlo minus racetracks.  Nor were the games spread in this obnoxious, unprotected room next to a horrible deep fry, faux diner, the shitty soundtrack of forgetting blaring from the edge of the slots.  The TI poker room was originally a quiet dream, a cozy poker beanbag nestled in the hallway leading up to the parking garage.  It was red and black, dark, comfortable, and a tad cheap, like a good bar or a well-appointed Camaro.   The TI in those days spread 2/3, an unusual game that was low limit but could get deep.  Opens were often to fifteen or more, and big pots were played.  Once I had found it, the hotel itself became my favorite place to stay: mid-priced, good rating on the bed bug registry, near the classy Wynn.  I also loved it for the most obvious, sympathetic reason of all: it was the first casino cash game I played in.

It must have 2007 or 2008 when I made my first acquaintance with poker.  I had been invited to a house party featuring a $10 poker tournament.  The game, Texas Hold’em, was a confusing one.  It required money to participate in, which seemed in dubious taste (hadn’t I already spent enough on the bottle of wine), and worse, if you busted out you had to sing Karaoke; not a strength of mine, then or now.  I have never been much of card player; the mere suggestion signaled to me tedium, physical debasement, and a lack of imagination (to some extent this final one still comes up, but not at all in the way that it did then).  One step removed from the Bored Game, the card game.

I was shoved a little rectangle with hand rankings, like a diagram on how to use an oxygen mask before the flight; for fuck’s sake, how am I going to remember this in the middle of trouble, I remember thinking. The straights and flushes and full houses seemed complicated, ambitious and unlikely.  If there was a full house, was there just a house?  A half house, perhaps?  It made so little sense.  So, I decided on a strategy I could handle: I was going to concentrate on making pairs.  Manageable and sane.

Thanks to my minimalist approach, I was not the first to sing, but I remember when I did.  There were not many chips in front of me remaining, which itself was frustrating and depressing, as I had barely pushed any forward, it seemed.  The egg timer the host used kept going off, and suddenly I was worth even less in this supposedly fun thing I would certainly never do again, all based merely on time passing.  Poker was about pressure and hysteria, apparently; no wonder Americans love it, I deduced.  I looked down at what would be my final hand, and identified that if some certain cards arrived, I would make a straight.  This much I had advanced in my poker knowledge; I pushed in the chips, making my first semi-bluff ever, in complete ignorance. Wait, maybe I would make a flush, let me check! I fumbled with the instructional rectangle. Either way, I was ready to move beyond pairs. I heard Call, and they wanted me to turn my hand over.

He’s got a draw.”  A novice at the game, I could still clearly tell there was something shameful or wrong about being on a draw, whatever that meant, judging from the host’s tone.  I was directly in front of him, but I was being addressed in the third person; this was remedial, parental, not really polite (I have never liked this aspect of poker conversation, even now).  The draw did not arrive.  I rose, put in a fairly convincing Puff the Magic Dragon, well suited to my three note range.  Thank god that was over.

Or was I thankful?  As silly as all that was, with the stupid surprises and the incomprehensible randomness that seemed to tickle everyone so inexplicably (that never changed), the problem was how competitive I am.  There was a winner among all this nonsense, who laughed, was paid in my money, and best of all for her, she didn’t have to sing the damn karaoke!  Like some degenerate variation of Pavlov’s experiments, I could tell I would be back, with plan to salvage my cash- and no singing required.

That home tourney was probably enough to kick start my interest, but poker kept showing up in my life; she wanted me, for reasons completely obscure, and sped up the process.  A separate group of friends started their own tiny tournament; now I had two games per month.  A friend on Facebook pointed me to Zynga, where I could learn all about those complex straights and flushes (and virtual drinks).

Still, this wasn’t enough to conquer the game, I felt: without more regular practice, how would I really do?  What I needed was a controlled environment that duplicated the Karaoke game, real live poker, not people online throwing virtual pies at each other- minus the threat of punitive performance, of course. I found some crappy chips, those plastic, unslugged, undenominated clinkers, dug out those cheap paper cards that somehow everyone has in a drawer they never look into and from a casino they never visited, and gathered the amici.

We started with the typical tiny tournament.  When I upgraded the buy in to a steep $15, we lost some of the players but started gaining others.  These guys, willing to put in three hours for the hope of winning nearly $100, seemed to have a better plan than the previous contestants.  I watched them carefully.  My player pool grew, and soon, I couldn’t stop playing.  I hit Craigslist, finding a $.10/.25 game.  I loved it, and manfully risked up to $50 each session, thanks to its unusual forced second buy-in.  (The host has a lot of control issues for a musician.)  I stumbled into 2+2, and from there, onto the major poker sites, where I dabbled in the smallest of games.

Then, the real development: a smart player self-interestedly suggested we try cash games.  I sold the cheap chips, got some mid-grade heavy sluggers, inherited some plastic cards from the home game circuit, and started a $.25/.50 cash game.  Once again, massive turnover.  The tournament guys who seemed so clever couldn’t handle the swings, and I had to advertise the game.  I poached players from the other games now I sat in, as many as once a week; I was grinding the home game scene and getting known.  My game filled, my experience widened.  I was nitty.  I was winning, never much.

Then, that’s when I got the call, summer of ‘09: will you visit me in Vegas?  We’re staying on the strip. And there I am, at Treasure Island.

My first day playing outside of the home game circuit is awkward.  I have to wait to get into the game, which I am not used to doing; I feel like I am being set up for something.  I warm up by dumping off $60, four times the amount I have ever spent on a tourney, in a nooner.  I can’t really shuffle the chips, and I feel like a complete tool whenever I raise- surely they know what I have?  I survive for a while, get to the final table, and then dump it all on top pair, knowing I am beat but defeated by the pressure of the gigantic tournament.

It’s then that I do something much braver.  I take my remaining trip money of $75 and plop it down on the cash table.  I play as terribly as one would expect, but queens hold up in one pot (I get one scared street of value), and I crack AK with AQ like a pro.  I pay someone off, eating up my precious suck out money; I’m horrified.  I make a hand, blow my opponent off the second best hand, and get some back; I’m relieved. When I get up, a scary reg who had talked about “bracelets” and called someone a “student of the game” (which was puzzling to me at the time, as wasn’t that all of us?) tries to stop me: “Where are you going?” he barks.  “Gotta go,” I choke out, but what I want to say is: Can’t catch all the fish, buddy.  I go back to my room, elated, up what feels like thousands of dollars (I think it was actually $179; I have a good memory).

So tonight, years later, sitting with a giant stack and making my living from a game I could barely play a few years before, I should be enjoying myself more, here at TI again.  However, I’m not feeling remotely great or even sentimentally satisfied.  Maybe these twerps have the right idea: I should go to the Wynn, too?  No, that’s just more indulgence.  It’s late and I should sleep, yet I want to feel like I’m at some milestone.  I want this night have meaning.

That’s when I realize what it is:  I’m not actually feeling sentimental about this place.  It’s just an expectation or wish.  The truth is, everything has changed.  The room itself is unrecognizable.  More importantly, I have changed. I couldn’t have predicted this moment, even when I naively thought I could change my life and move here, a daydream at the height of my obsessional first learning phase.  There’s a lot to do, a lot to think about, and I am very grateful to have spent some time with half of the RCP founders and a few subscribers; yet this turned out to be just another night of battle, with my roll in play and my expectation on the clock.  I am in the middle of the war, and it’s not quite time to look back with satisfaction or regret.

I ask for racks.  Never mind the Wynn tonight; I’ve got dates with 5/5 there the rest of the week.  It’s time to go, before I start punting to a bunch of shortstacks who deserve a small loss and a consolation hoagie at the diner.  I grab my bag and head to the front desk- there isn’t even a cage, this room is so small.

“Are you leaving?” someone asks.  “Yeah. I’m tired.”  “Fun playing with you.”

I hear a little fatuous disappointment in this aspiring shark’s words, and briefly look him in the eyes.  He’s an unshaven nobody in a stupid hat and a worse t-shirt, but he’s studying me, fixedly, telling me he is in control. He’s in fact done nothing special tonight, but I can see he still thinks, in the back of his mind, that he’s going to own me, if only I’d stay.  He believes in himself; this newb believes he can beat the game.  I’m amused by this, and now, at this last moment, I finally feel happy and good about the evening.

“Sorry buddy,” I tell him, “Can’t catch all the fish!”


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The OOP Lexicon is a user-developed poker glossary.

Absolute Position
Being last to act (e.g. closest to the button) postflop.

Advancing Leverage
Aggressive actions intended to shift the leverage point closer to the current street.

A bluff or value hand which is a natural candidate for balancing another hand because of their shared qualities, such as AA and AK; usually helps planning range splitting and line construction.

Auto profit threshold (APT)
A bluff made with positive expectation resulting from the opponent under defending vis-a-vis bet sizing. The inverse of MDF.

Choosing to support either value bets or bluffs with their converse.

A bet is a proposition.  It’s the first offer on the pot with regard to the outcome of the game. Each player, in turn, has the opportunity to lay or change the price on the pot to the rest of the players. “The language of poker.” The bet, as opposed to the raise, is most often and most easily allied to the merged pricing construction.

To remove combinations of hands from a range based on cards in your hand or on the board.

Cards which influence our combinatorial assumptions. Ex: We face resistance on T76ss while we hold As7d. Both our cards act as blockers. Our ace of spades blocks (limits) a number of flush draws our opponent could hold, while our seven blocks a number of two pair and sets our opponent could hold. *See also Block and Unblock

Blocker Bet
A small bet made by an out-of-position player.

Board Texture
The available community cards and the set of conditions which inform its relationship to a logical range.

The worst hands in a betting range.  Depending on context this could be the worst hand in a value bet range or the bluffing section of polarized range.

A range descriptor indicating a range shape with a specific high or low boundary.  A range bounded high won't contain some number of the best linear hands ranked from the top down.  This is equivalent to a "capped" range.  A range bounded low won't contain some number of the worst linear hands ranked from the bottom up.  This is often useful to describe a range that doesn't include any air or very weak hands.

A strategic mode in which a player is attempting to deny their opponent(s) equity share of the pot through aggression. Often referred to as “denying equity” or “buying up equity”.

A range is capped when it represents little to no nutted combinations as confirmed by prior action.

A continuation bet. A bet made by the player with initiative as a continuation of their initiative on a prior street.

The ability to accurately range an opponent based on all available information at a decision point.  An understanding of your hands exact equity.

Closing Action
Acting last where no subsequent action is possible behind you.  For example calling a UTG raise in the BB or calling in position postflop with no players behind.

Cold Call/Cold Bet
An action is considered “cold” when it comes from a player entering into the pot has not previously put chips voluntarily in the pot. Ex: the UTG opens, the BTN 3bets. If the SB were to call or raise, it would be a cold-call or a cold-4bet.

The branch of mathematics the deals with finite number sets. Used in poker in determining the amount of combinations of certain hands in a range.

When a blind that is not the biggest blind calls the amount of the biggest blind. Ex: At $2/$5, action folds around to the SB and the SB completes. Meaning they just call. The BB can complete when there is a straddle.

A capped range that contains only middling value hands. A range without the polarized portion.

Logical advancement of combinations across streets.

Dark Side of the Deck
The large swath of hands, often off-suit, that fall outside of conventional playable recommendations. Counter-equity hands.

Dead Money
Money in the pot that is not being fought for.  A passive player creates dead money when they call a bet preflop and looking to play fit-or-fold postflop. Dead Money is often confused with the money in the pot.

Delayed Cbet
A cbet made on the turn by the preflop raiser when the flop checked through.

Delaying Leverage
Passive actions intended to maintain a likely late street leverage point, or possibly to avoid a leverage point entirely.

A strategic break from one’s standard construction as an exploit of a particular player’s profile or construction.

Diminishing Medium Value Category
A Seidman concept in which when one’s middling value hand range is too small and transparent to our opponent and thus either that range should be shifted into the top of a polarized range or the nutted portion should be shifted into the medium value range. Ex: AQo or TT being 3bet preflop.

A cbet that is less than the preflop raise. Ex: BTN opens to $25, we 3bet to $90 from the SB, BTN calls. On the flop we cbet $70.

Dry Board
A board texture that yields relatively few logical hands value. Often containing one medium or high card and disconnected low cards. Ex: Q53r, T622r.

Dual Mentalities
A Seidman concept in which when we decide to go postflop with a weak hand against a nutted range, we should either be looking to out flop it or steal the pot away. We base our decision against the player type we are up against and never go post with both mentalities at once.

Dynamic Board
A flop texture in which the runout is very likely to change the order of top ranking hands. Ex: 954tt, 742r.

Effective Stack
The smallest stack to VPIP in a given hand. Their stack decides the amount of money that can be played for or threatened before an all-in.

Effective nuts
A value hand that can be played for stacks as if it were the actual nuts.  This is a relative hand ranking based on range assumptions and opponent type.

A measure of how well the equity of a hand is deployed. Efficiency can also be used as a measure of what is risked vs what is gained for a given bet size.

Either/Or Philosophy
A Seidman concept in which a particular street can be a very good spot for value, meaning our opponent is never folding, or a very good spot to bluff, meaning our opponent is never calling, but that those spots cannot be concurrent.

Borrowed from economics, a measure of the sensitivity of a range or hand relative to the price offered.  Ranges (or hands) described as elastic will narrow, sometimes quickly, in response to increases in price.  Those described as inelastic will not.

The percent pot share of a holding or range on any given street if the hand were to go to showdown with no further betting action.

Equity Pusher
A analytic approach to the game in which a player views the correct actions only through the lens of their hands equity vs. their opponent’s range. Often this player type has a lack of understanding of overall strategy and plays their range face up with few bluffs.

Expected Value
The mathematical formula for how much a player’s action is expected to make with their hand vs. their opponent’s range. EV = ($towin * %ofwin) - ($tolose * %ofloss)

Face Up
A player is playing their range “face up” when their actions directly correspond with their desired outcome. Ex: A player bets half-pot three streets with a range that has no bluffs. A player 3bets to 7x with JJ.

False Polarization
Otherwise known as Faux-Po; a polarizing action taken with a merged range.

The result of losing your entire table stakes. All the way down to the felt.

A call of a cbet with a weak holding with the likely intention of taking the pot away when the opponent shuts down. Often done by an in position preflop caller.

The convergence of positions, stack depths, and preceding actions at a given decision point.

A mathematical formula developed by Phil Galfond for calculating the expected value of one’s range construction vs. an opponent’s holding.

A computer programming term that means "garbage in, garbage out" which also applies to poker forums when a poster seeks an in-depth conversation about a hand, but fail to provide pertinent information such as stack sizes, bets sizes, table dynamics and player tendencies.

Game Theory
The applied science of combining mathematical models with logic to craft winning poker strategies.

Game Theory Optimal
A set of strategies is GTO if no player can unilaterally deviate and increase his average profit. ~ Will Tipton.  GTO does not mean best possible response, highest EV, or maximally exploitative play.

Implied Odds
Additional value likely to be accrued if you make your hand on a later street.

Sometimes referred to as the betting lead, a common situation in which the passive player yields to the aggressive player postflop, or the last aggressor continues betting on subsequent streets.

A bet or raise intended to force out the rest of the field in order to play heads up against a weaker opponent who has entered the pot through limping, raising, or posting the blinds.

Loose aggressive player type. Generally overused and inaccurate.

A bet made from out of position after a passive action. Often referred to as a donk bet on the flop.

He knows that I know that he knows I know.

A bet or raise that signals the hand will be played for stacks.  Within reason, it is accomplished by betting with a sizing that will create RSP equal to 1 on the following street.

Limp First In

A consecutive range of hands decreasing in strength from top to bottom; generally meaning value hands. Equivalent to "merged."

Lockdown Board
A board on which the nuts have often already been made.  More prevalent in PLO but sometimes useful in no-limit, for example on monotone flops and boards with available common straights e.g. JT9, T98, 987, etc.

1) A range of hands that includes both strong and medium value; 2) in reference to medium value; 3) the merged construction describes the natural representation of a wide range through a bet.

Mini Stop-N-Go
A Seidman concept, a line taken by a OOP PFR where flop is check/called and turn is lead.

Minimum Defense Frequency (MDF)
The necessary defending (calling/raising) frequency to prevent an opponent from auto-profiting.  The inverse of APT.

Natural Action
A check, bet, or raise which is exactly suited to a player's range and situation (e.g. a pfr's continuation bet on AK2r).

A player who will not put chips into the pot without a very strong and sometimes only nutted hand.

The best possible hand.

Nuts-To-Air Ratio (NAR)
In a polarized betting line, the ratio of value to bluff.  As used by Seidman, not limited to polarization but sometimes used to label general opponent tendency of value to bluff.

Old Man Coffee. Typically an older, retired player that likes to play bingo with ATC, but will only continue with the nuts.

The first voluntary action. The first action or bet to voluntarily enter the pot.

A bet that is more than the size of the pot.

Perceived Range
Refers to the range of hands that your opponent thinks you could have in a certain playing situation. This can be interpreted and thus misinterpreted from your playing style and position at the table.

A range consisting of very strong and very weak hands.

Post Oak Bluff
A small bluff on a late street that has little chance of winning the pot.  Generally interpreted as “gutless” in the past but now fulfilling certain functions as betting efficiencies are understood.

Positional Protection
When the strength of a range is perceived to be capped or uncapped based on which position an action is taken from.

When an action or player is perceived to have strong hands in its range.

Protection Bet
A wager which denies equity to hands which will only give action if they significantly improve; "a value bet which does not want a call."

The rejection of the offered price and the laying of a new higher price.  Raises represent a more narrow range of hands and trend towards polarization.

Range Advantage
Implementation or study tool that refers to 1) most basically, equity measurement of one range against another; 2) or also including a combination of further factors including availability of nutted hands, the nuances of the runout, and positional protection.

Range Manipulation
Deliberate line work/bet sizing made to narrow a range or keep a range wide.

Range Switch
A deliberate change in range composition made to thwart a player who is reading our range too accurately in any spot.  Reduces transparency, fights assumptions, and wins the leveling war if implemented correctly.

Ratio of Stack To Pot
RSP. The stack to pot ratio at any point in a hand, generally used post-flop as opposed to Stack to Pot Ratio.

Taking a hand to showdown and realizing its full equity.  Generally used with regard to passive actions.

The mutual exchange of chips resulting from similar play and ideas.  Reciprocity is a common bi-product of group-think.  A true edge by definition cannot be reciprocal.

Relative Position
A player’s position measured against the aggressor's position.  Generally this is used going to the flop.  For example, if UTG raises and several players call behind, calling in the big blind would give you the best relative position.  You will act after seeing how the field responds to a likely continuation from the preflop aggressor.  In the same scenario calling immediately after the preflop aggressor results in the worst relative position.  You will have to act immediately after a continuation without seeing how the remaining players will respond.  Strong relative position confers an information edge.

The ability of hand to maintain equity across streets against a betting range or as part of a betting range.

Reverse Implied Odds (RIO)
Hands that often win small pots or lose large pots suffer from reverse implied odds.

Popularized by Mathew Janda, a descriptor for how well a hand retains equity over streets of play.  Hands described as robust have equity that does not suffer as an opponent's range becomes stronger.  Often these hands are currently both strong and invulnerable, or have the ability to become very strong by the river, relative to the opponent's range.

Fourth and Fifth Street cards following a given flop texture.

Scale of Protection
Poker theorem which states that the more protected or strong an opponent's range is, the higher the degree of denial or retention a counter will require.

Sklansky Bucks
Dollars won (or lost) in expected value regardless of actual hand result.

Any one of many possible poker archetypes found at low stakes games.

A reraise made after a player has raised and one or more players has called in-between.

Static Board
A flop texture in which the runout is unlikely to change the order of top ranking hands. Ex: AK7r, KK4r.

A passive action followed by an aggressive action, out of position.  For example, a call followed by a lead on the next street.

Streets of Value
A crude shorthand measurement for how much betting a hand can tolerate and still be best at showdown more often than not.

Tight aggressive opponent type. Generally overused and misapplied.

TAG's Dilemma
The paradox created by having a top-heavy range played so aggressively that it misuses equity vis-à-vis position and holding.

The Great Range Fantasy
The common idea that we know our opponent’s range and frequencies precisely; most commonly seen in post-hoc analysis to justify microedge decisions.

Thin Value
A bet that is only slightly more likely to be called by worse than by better. Associated with the merged pricing construction and bet-fold lines.

Three Fundamentals
The most fundamental variables for decision making: position, stack size, and community cards.

The best hands in a given range.

Two-Way Bet
A bet that expects calls from worse hands and incorrect folds at the same time, a simultaneous value bet and bluff line.

The psychological effect of feeling like you’re losing because your stack size isn’t as large as it once was during a session, even though it’s more than what you’re in the game for.

(e.g. You bought in for $100, ran it up $450, but now only have $175 in front of you.)

A hand that has no negative card removal effects on the target range.  Bottom set, for example, unblocks top pair top kicker.

A range that is perceived to contain the nuts in any given line.  Capped ranges may become uncapped during transitions for example from preflop to flop, or flop to turn.

A turned nut straight after raising flop with a gutter.

Value Owning
Making value bets with a hand that has less than 50% equity when called.

Voluntarily Put Money In Pot (VPIP)
The frequency at which a player limps, calls, or raises preflop.

Volatile Board
A flop texture where equities will often shift on the turn and river.  See “dynamic”.

An illusory cooler where one player makes a massive mistake equity mistake and loses his stack with a strong but second best hand; also known as a Jam Basket.

Wet Board
A board texture that allows for a lot of logical hands to continue. Often made up of medium rank connected cards. Ex: KT9tt, Tc8c6s-7c-Ac.

“Walk In, Fuck Shit Up, Walk Out” a hashtag used by instagram poker players.

Winning Player
A forum poster who offers reciprocal advice under the guise of questionable positive low stakes results. A weak player or fish, in general.

Young Man Coffee. Is very much an OMC, but younger.  They usually only continue with the nuts, often under the illusion of playing a GTO style.