True Grind

I decide there is no time like the present for reinstating my work ethic, and head to the casino on what would have been an off day in the past. I feel great about my decision to abandon 5/10, and optimistic about where this will lead. I’ve been entitled and indifferent, and that’s no way to win. I feel like I’ve realigned myself with the stars, and maybe that’s all the Goddess really wanted. I’m ready to make money.

With a tournament and big PLO running, the tables are packed and it takes some time to get into the game. I sit in at 1/2 while I wait for 3/5. It’s a dumbshow for the rest of my night. In one hand I open J9s and pick up two callers. On 1086, I decline the cbet, looking for the check raise, but the button does not bite. Instead, on a deuce turn, the blind leads out. I raise and both fold; different path, same result. In an opposing situation, I fold the same hand pre, a good sign that I am playing well: the spot isn’t just everything, it’s the only thing. Then I see the beautiful AQdd and double up a short stack when I get committed versus kings.  Stuck (my middle name), I get called over to the 3/5 game. Time to put in my real session.

A known and tagged fish has unfortunately left with a monstrous stack, so by replacing her, the game takes a nosedive in quality. I get right into it, attacking the 3/5 players in a way you can’t at 5/10, where they don’t make so many folding errors. I’m given KK, and with a loose reputation established in less than an orbit, I expect action, and I get it from a PLO player waiting for a seat to open. I fire into the Q83cc, not expecting much. He asks me what I have, but it’s entirely clear what I have, so I presume he’s flopped a set, worried about what bets he’ll face with KQ, or more likely, what he can do with clubs. He calls, and the turn is interesting, a Queen.  Based on his reaction and flop behavior, I’m pretty sure he doesn’t have a queen, nor is it combinatorically likely. I fire again. Here’s where I make my error- not that I’m wrong about the queen, but a PLO player might not continue to draw on the paired board. Yet he doesn’t have a queen. Spades brick on the river, and because he is a known bluffer, I can’t see any value in betting: even if this is not the best line overall, the situation does come up. I check, he ships, I call, and I get shown the underfull.  Right but wrong again, and so can’t feel too bad about it. I’ve played about thirty minutes of poker and the am fairly deep in the hole overall. Villain was incentivized to raise the turn but took the right line against me. The runbad theme continues: when is it my turn to have the winner at showdown?

However, the day is going to be long, and if I’m going to grind out a living, I’m going to have to take some beats, even on this tender day where I restart my game. In general, it’s hard to keep to me down, and as Christian Soto has said, a LAG generally experiences less variance than other players. Even at 5/10, despite the string of giant pots I usually put in a fairly good effort to close out the session with some chips in front of me. Here, I relentlessly accumulate with attacks. My VPIP is not exactly maniacal, because you can’t play cap games this way – I am folding from EP a bunch and am not making dumb calls pre – but my involvement percentage is easily higher than that of the bottom three players combined. I open as wide 95cc from UTG and find a way to win, over and over.

I am also three betting heavily but am reminded quickly about the major differences between 5/10 and 3/5. Despite three betting on the light side with KJ, K3, AQ, KQ, etc, I get credit each time and, in fact, several times they try to name my hand as exactly AA or KK. One guy teases me about not getting value when he folds against my 97ss. One more cynical player says I might have jacks, as if that would be indicative of a loose player. For some reason I’m in a truthful mood, probably relieved from surrendering the Challenge, and name my hand several times, but they never believe me and scoff at my “lies.” I’m the Jamie Gold of our little cash tourney.

Unfortunately, the other thing the three five players do throws me for a loop and I lose all pots where I bluff catch against strange action. They always have it. At 5/10, handreading is heavily rewarded, and you will be put to the test all the time; whereas here, “herd balance” is much more applicable and calling river bets, repped thinly or not, is an error. One particular situation tilts me immensely, when a player I used to sort of worry about limp calls my open from the blinds. He just looks like a player, and comports himself with a pro’s ease at the table. I check behind Q38, and then he leads an eight, and then a three again.  I don’t think he leads the eight or the three on the turn, so on the river, can he really be going for thin value with queen? I feel like I have to call this bet, even though I hate his valuish sizing.

He shows me QJ, but here is what drives me up the wall: he makes this little sound like “Hmmp!” What happened was he couldn’t believe he was good. He bet an amount that I had to call, but didn’t want to be called. He had no idea why he was betting. That makes sense: it’s why I called. I could have figured it out, but automatic brain kicked in as I studied the board. Combined with something patently idiotic he said the other week to me, I realize his whole silent, headphones, serious act is just cover for being a fool. I am going to exploit this guy and his donk bets to death in future, but the loss of yet another stack tonight to him stings.

My stack continues to be lopped off and grow back like a plant. Back up again and deeper after a string of iso/folds, a new nemesis of mine takes me on. 100’ Hose has dubbed him Lucky Chewy, on account of his pale, nerdy appearance, a look accented by the trappings of an online reject (headphones, silence). He’s aggressive and competent, and has the original Chewy’s confidence, but none of his odd social skills. This Lucky Chewy’s no genius, however, and seems to be immune to board textures, betting into just about anything or anyone and from any position. It works for him, as it does for many, because of all the folding errors at this level. However, my problem is that he’s run like god against me, so none of the subtle stuff has mattered.  In our hand today, he again knocks me on my ass, right back to my middle name. He attacks a straddle, gets a caller, and I make a big 3ball with AK. He shoves over me and I can’t win the flip versus his pair.

Back to the grind. We’re deep into hour seven here- I’m not leaving today, I’m working until it’s time to sleep.  I reaccumulate everything I’ve lost, same as before. I have three full stacks of ones from stealing.

Now I make my only giant mistake, at least results wise, and it will sting the rest of the session, and probably for the rest of the month. A new guy opens huge from UTG, and I have pocket nines. I can’t raise him, and he does have a full stack, so I call, which creates a donkey chain behind me. Then the big blind makes a large but undersized vis-à-vis the pot three bet.  This has to be so strong, so strong!  The UTG player snap calls him. Now I look at their stacks. The UTG guy has another three hundred fifty behind, and the 3 bettor a little more. I have maybe 9-1 implied here. The thing with set mining is that it is an imperfect science, an outlier to pure strategy because you are essentially playing bingo. If this is AA versus QQ, how am I going to play certain flops? I let it go, satisfied at the time.

However, what I might have forgotten was the pure value of my hand, because now the overcallers behind me call, creating one of those four-way, three bet pot clusterfucks that action tables produce. I want my cards back. The flop is K109 monotone.  For fucks sake. I mean, I could be dead, but I’m curious. One of the donk overcallers now shoves, and the original 3 bettor snaps him.  UTG folds. The board runs out and AK wins. Jesus H. Christ on stick.

What did I do wrong here?  First off, not enough gamble. Second, what did I say at the beginning? It’s tourney night. I have to get in and felt these guys who overplay one pair or draw versus an UTG range and against someone who raises the UTG. I stare at the $1700 pot I would have won, sitting in Chipleader’s stack for the rest of the night. I’m jealous, no lie. I needed that like a drowning man needs a raft, and instead I am getting hypothermia while the glassy eyed fish float by me. I take a cigarette break, bumming a Marlboro because I’ve stopped and have none of my own. Cheap cigarettes have less tobacco in them, and crumple quickly like those glo worms they sell to kids for the fourth of July, but at least it’s no menthol.

I return and soon get a break, it seems, when I open sevens from UTG (guess I lied about not playing from EP), pick up five players, and see 784dd. I can’t bet this board with my UTG range, but here comes the check raise. A mark falls into the trap, and I put him in the cage with a perfect raise. He’s left with no choice but to ship or fold. He decides to go with his draw.  Diamond on the river. “Flush” he declares, and for the fourth time tonight, I’m back to stuck, weary, and beaten.

Hour nine. I take very good line with AQ to squeeze some value out of Lucky Chewy. Big open from EP, he calls from the button Q9Q.  I’m incentivized to bet this board with my entire range, so put in a small cbet, which he calls. Turn 9. The nines are in his range. I check, he checks. River 4. Now I check again, staying consistent. I know he has a nine or tens or as little as a float, and he bets for value. Now when I check raise him I have bluffs in my range, so I make it fairly big. He looks confused and quickly pays me off, knowing I should not have a Q or 9 here much after checking the river. He knows I’ve bet into him light many times, so our history worked to my advantage, as well.

Hour ten. I make an insanely thin value bet with Q6 and get paid by Q5. Kicker plays, opponent fumes.

From here until the end I’m in a race against time. We’re getting short handed, which is good for me, but threatens to break the game. Can I get even after losing four 1k+ pots? I miss a huge draw and can’t bluff against a pure nit. I felt a shortie for a little uptick. Soon it’s near two am, and twelve hours will have to be enough.

We’re down to three handed, where my game works the best, and I’ve been using the situation well. I can feel the game closing when an unfamiliar player makes a raise size error, gets a caller, and leaves me to call a cheap ten from the big blind with J9.  The flop is 998.  If it were heads up, I might lead a wide range including this hand, but checking to the raiser is right multiway.  Both knuckle. On J turn, I have the effective nuts, and lead out small like I’m finding out where I stand with a jack. It sells. The PFR floats me, and the original first caller surrenders.  In fact, he racks up, uninterested. It’s two a.m. and the room is still animated but getting empty. Big games are running. Laughing and action are all around, but the remaining two of us are silent.

The river is an Ace, which is a great card.  I shouldn’t have an ace, but he can be floating as the PFR.  If he has AJ, that is golden. I overpot the river, and my opponent goes deep into the tank. For minutes on end, he talks out the hand, not wanting to lose more chips as the game dies. The dealer sits stoical and professionally. We’re worlds apart from the happy deep stacked games. We’re lost in the grind, two low stakes players fighting for two hundred dollars of oxygen.

He calls, and the night is over. He wants to play heads up, but I’m too tired, and even if that wasn’t true, the rake in heads up casino games makes it a bad proposition. I know Mason Malmuth thinks I need to be leveraging my edge until the cows come home, watch Animal Farm, and then head back to the graze again, but as much as I appreciate his rather solid perspective, my edge is diminished at this point, and that is unacceptable. When I’m alert I can make very finely tuned observations, such as identifying incoming limp raises from the way someone puts in chips, or making a sure read from the millisecond of a microexpression.  I couldn’t necessarily do that with David Sklansky’s toothpicks propping up my eyelids. I try to rack up but can’t seem to get the trays to fit; I’m putting one upside down on top of the other.  The dealer laughs- I really am fatigued. My time on stage is done.

It’s a good thirty minute drive home, at least, and all I’ve had to eat is some gooey stew delivered from the miserable casino kitchen.  I decide, nevertheless, to get a meal at said restaurant before attempting the trip.  While I wait for my order to fill, I try to tally the result but can’t seem to. So if I bought in for $500 here, but topped off here, then lost this before moving games, then topped off, or did I buy in full… Obviously I should have written it down as I normally would, but normally I would also remember photographically, as I am prone to.  My mind is flattened.  I scribble out some notes and my handwriting is wild and childish.

The waitress is equally strange.  She brings the salad instantly, as if they had it ready for my arrival, but apologizes for “the delay.”  While I try to do arithmetic and write, she returns and asks beseechingly if everything is “tasting okay,” which makes me uneasy.  I tell her it’s fine.  She brings the entrée, and we repeat the process.  I look into her concerned eyes and worried brow, telling her, “You’re making me wonder if it is not supposed to taste okay.” To this she grows a tad flustered and says, “Oh, no, I just always want to be sure your food is… tasting okay.”  She gives me a long look.  Don’t be confused, she’s not flirting with me, but I have no fucking clue what is going on her head. I should be convinced I’m being poisoned, but it’s too late to care.

I finally get the math of the session right.  I’ve won… $100.

It’s three am when I hit the road after a mushy plate of overcooked clam linguine. The highway, oddly, is crowded. I’m alert and well enough after the meal; I even turn off the radio, reflecting on my fairly solid play. I hate the bluff catching and resent my unwillingness to gamble it up with the nines. As I let it go, I concentrate on the smooth ride and dodging the semis that are pulling the midnight long haul. They crowd behind me, amusing themselves as they can during their late night shift.

When I get home, I fish out a lost cigarette from the trash, and go outside to smoke in the peace of deep night. The highly suspicious types, always dressed in black hoodies, are outside the chop shop/drug hole. Two of them are at work with a flashlight, taking a handlebar off a street bike. They have those long faces and strong jaws and complexions blown up by drugs, like homeless Vikings. I’ve called the police many times about this little operation but have never gotten through. I’ll try again.

I head in, turn on the Pokerstars Big Game videos on YouTube, somehow still interested and pleased by the excitement of the game, and go to bed.

Poker’s fun.

About persuadeo

Chris Murray, poker player and low stakes coach. persuadeo@gmail... etc.

WebSite Twitter Instagram


  1. Some of your best stuff so far. I love the writing. Is it possible that as the pain grows the writing improves? maybe a side benefit of run bad that you had not considered. lol

  2. Maybe… these next few months are going to be the poker equivalent of a plane either pulling away from or hitting the mountain… might put a little zest in my scribbling while I peer out the little round window…

  3. This entry was several great blog posts. I managed to finish it in only two sittings. Great win! Easy money.

Leave a Reply