Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Life is a Series of Annoyances Punctuated by Occasional Mundanity

A bad poker session has the remarkable ability to put me in a foul mood for the next couple of days. Life as I see it is a series of annoyances - but most of them dont bother me. There is always some bill to pay, someone whos calling who you dont want to talk to, some family event that you would rather pass on, some traffic jam or clueless clerk slows you down just that much. Im fine with it 99% of the time. But sometimes a bad poker session, and it doesnt even have to be bad, just not good, has the ability to frustrate me like nothing else.

Some scenarios are more frustrating than others. Last night was the classic play perfect for 8 hours, make a couple small mistakes and then take a bad beat in the last hour of "crazy action" which winds up costing me my whole stack. I was sitting on about $300, which had been whittled down from over $400 bit by bit over the last hour, as I had been playing really, really tightly all night, and had given up on a couple pots when faced with a big raise. I was the big blind, and after some weak action in front of me I decided to make it $19 to go with 10-8 offsuit. $7-$10 is the standard preflop raise for our game, $15-20 is usually reserved for premium stuff and bluffs. It was clearly a positional steal move, and it had worked in my favor all night. Most of the time, everyone just folded. I would have raised to that amount with Aces, Kings, Queens, A-K, or just as a positional bet. 10-8 just happened to be what I was looking down at at this juncture. Its a hand I never, ever play, not even to limp in for $2 - the only time I ever get to play this hand is when Im in the big blind. Suprisingly I get a call from The Closer who was stuck, shortstacked, and possibly on tilt. If he had pocket 10s or better he would have reraised me all in. Another player we will refer to as Donkey #1 decided to look me up from one off the button.

The flop came down 10-8-5 with two clubs. The pot was roughly $60. I am a poker genius! I flopped top two pair when I was bluffing. Brilliant! First to act, I led right out with $29 - half the pot. I would do the same bet with Aces, Kings, or Ace King, or as a continuation of my steal attempt. In retrospect, this was too small a bet for a draw heavy board, but regardless, I was 99% sure I had the best hand and I wanted action. Plus the fact that I had flopped top two pair with a hand that I never ever play, completely camouflaged my holding - making it even more valuable. The Closer called rather quickly. Donkey #1 thought briefly before calling. I put The Closer on a club draw or A-10, K-10, and Donkey #1 on A-10, K-10, Q-10, Q-J or J-10, or A-K with one or two of those cards being clubs. If he already had a made hand that beat me like a set he very likely would have reraised in the face of the looming flush draw on the flop.

The turn was a red jack. Bad card for my hand, but really there werent many turn cards that were good for it except for a 2,3, or a 4. Thats the problem with two pair: its very difficult to improve, and easy for other to catch up. There was roughly $150 in the pot. I led out with a bet of $75. The closer quickly called with his last $50 or so, and then Donkey #1 immediately went all in - and he had me covered, as I only had about $175 left. Now I was faced with a tough decision. I have a real hand, Im pretty sure its the best hand but the action suggests it could be second best right now. The pot is absolutely massive: $450 and I only have to call $175. The pot is offering me better than 2-1, so my hand only has to be best here half the time to show a profit. Considering the range I put him on, Im ahead of A-10, K-10, Q-10, A-J, K-J, Q-J, A-K, A-A, K-K, Q-Q. Im behind 10-10, J-10, J-J, 8-8, and Q-9. He could also have K-Q of clubs, for an up and down stright draw with a club draw - and with 1 card to come my two pair is exactly a 2-1 favorite over that hand as well. Of the 16 hands he could reasonably hold here, Im ahead of 11 of them.

But - I just feel like Im beat. The more I think about it, Im almost certain Im behind. The speed with which Donkey #1 went all in after The Closer went all in signals he probably has a monster and I'm probably drawing to 4 outs - the last two 8s and 10s in the deck. With 1 card to come, Im only 10% to make a full house. So we have a classic tough decision. The math is clear - I must call. If Im right half the time I show a profit, and Im ahead of more than two thirds of the hands I put my opponent on. But 2-1 odds arent very attractive when you are drawing to 4 outs - or drawing dead if he just made trip Jacks.

Think, Chronic, think. Think. Think. Im in the tank.

I hate my hand. But I cant lay down again.

"I call." I announce trepidatiously. The math is too compelling.

The river is a club.

The Closer flips over A-4 of clubs for the nuts and the main pot.

Donkey #1 flips over 9-7, for a straight, and rakes all my chips.

Its 4:30 am. The game is over. I am an idiot. A sucker. A fish.

All I can do is shake my head and cash out the winning players. Thats poker. Its no different than losing a close game or Virtua Tennis or Burnout. Sure, there is the money, but unless you are playing high stakes, in poker the money its really just a way of keeping score. Thursday, I will probably go back and have a winning session, and Donkey #1 will go back to being the #1 Donkey, and life will be mundane again. Until then, Im just going to be annoyed by all those little things that never bother me - like my house not being clean, the bills I have to pay, the corner cafe always being sold out of the snacks I want, the endless NYC traffic, losing my N+ and Prince of Persia save games due to a memory card glitch, and the incredibly cheap respawning rocket men that lurk in the dark at the beginning of chapter 9 in Ninja Gaiden 2. I realize, of course, all my annoyances are incomprehensibly trivial compared to what others may be going through around the world. So I guess its times like this I just consider myself really, really lucky to have these things be the biggest annoyances in my life.

I guess thats what I love about poker (and even when I hate it I love it): the game makes you look at things differently - being unlucky at the table can make you realize just how lucky in life you truly are if all your problems are trivial.

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