Last Saturday night, while in Las Vegas, Mr. F and I headed of to Hard Rock to check out the still-fairly-new Poker Lounge. The 18-table room features nice, if loud, decor, nice poker tables, comfortable chairs, and ample space for getting to, and reclining at, your seat. The room was spreading 1-2 NLHE, 2-5 NLHE, and the final table of a Vince Neal's charity tournament. I did not observe other games, but that isn't to say they didn't exist.

The table depicted in this post shows the nice purple felt that was featured on the lowest limit tables. The $2/5 tables, on the other hand, had very busy purple felt, covered in promotions, and reminiscent of a NASCAR driver's jumpsuit (but prettier). Often the cards and chips would become camouflaged in the design.

Room highlights:
First of all, the dealers were hot. Pretty much all of the dealers were attractive females. Distracting, but nice. They were not great dealers in the technical sense, but most of the male players were willing to let things slide. Once I caught a dealer shipping a pot to the incorrect recipient. I pointed this out, Mr. F corroborated the oversight, the floor came to oversee, and the rightful winner was awarded the pot.

Second, the limits are nice. The $2/5 table has a maximum buy-in of $2000. Like it.

Lovingly borrowed from New Yorker magazineThis, my first full day back in Chicago after an enjoyable weekend in Las Vegas, is also the first day of Barack Obama's administration as the 44th president of the US of A. Being in Las Vegas is like being in Neverneverland - the outside world, news, politics, fades away, and the lights, sounds, and poker chips take focus.

For me, this trip to Las Vegas was a chance to pick myself up, dust off the bad poker decisions of November and December, and rebuild my poker bankroll. Returning to Chicago, and my reality, I got to observe Obama's first days away from Chicago, where he faces his new reality - a place where he intends to pick up, dust off, and rebuild a nation, indeed a world, in distress.

For dramatic purposes, I'd argue my poker bankroll was in distress in late 2008. I was playing poorly, making bad decisions, and to top it off, simply running bad. I can count the number of bad beats I applied on one hand, and for the bad beats laid on me, removing shoes and socks simply would not suffice.

Mr. F, Meester Dave (formerly Omaha Dave), and I headed out on Soutwest Airlines on Thursday night. A check in and a dinner at CraftSteak later, and we headed off to the biggest game running in the MGM Grand poker room, $2/5 NLHE. :) Several uneventful hours later, I headed off to bed, up less than a half buy-in in this game.

Friday morning Meester Dave and I decided to hit the best low-buy-in tournament in the city, the Venetian Daily. It is a $150 buy-in ($130 to prize pool, $15 vig, and $5 staff bonus). The tournament had 211 runners.

The beauty of the tournament is that the starting stacks are deep, T$7500, the levels are decent, 30 minutes, and the blind increases are reasonable - typically increasing by about 50%. In the first several button revolutions, I had already lost about a third of my starting stack, having flopped big draws, playing slow, and not hitting. But I understood, as many of the players did not, that the structure of the tournament allows its participants to play a little looser, a little more like a cash game, early on. After losing 1/3 of my chips, of course, I needed to tighten up a bit, conscious that as my stack shrank, the blinds increased, and I was looking at more tournament-type ratio of blinds to stack.

I was impressed by the general competition level, particularly in a $150 buy-in tournament. At my starting table six or seven of the players were reasonably cabable - three were regulars, one or two were full-time grinders, and a couple were recreational players from out of town.

After a few levels I managed to consume a little breakfast at the table, and pick up some additional chips. By the first break, I was back above the starting stack level and looking good for levels 4+. After the break, my table broke, the first of several times over the course of the day. Time to learn a bit about my new opponents.

The tournament itself was largely a blur to me. Looking back, I can find few memorable hands.

By the time we were down to 27 players, I was ready for a table massage, and for $2/minute, she didn't disappoint. I immediately felt more relaxed and tuned in to my opponents.

By the time we had made the money (top 18 participants), I was starving - I started to get the shakes from low blood sugar, and was again losing my focus. Fortunately, Mr. F had come over to The Venetian, and was kind enough to pick up a couple Balance Bars for me.

It was at this point that I was starting to recognize the fact that I had made the final two tables without picking up a single big hand. I hadn't had a pocket pair above 9s the entire tournament. I had AK once, and AQ never. I never flopped a set. I merely played solid hands, in position. I was never the first limper, and I never went crazy with my draws.

I really settled in as we approached the final table. The blinds and antes started to get fairly big, but I never felt short-stacked, and never was I all-in. Finally I started to pick up some pre-flop hands. When we were down to 14 players, I went on a tear, raising 2 out of 3 hands for a period of 10 or 11 hands. I picked up lots of antes, blinds, and several pre-flop calls. I didn't lose a hand.

When we got down to 9 players, and drew seats for the final table, I was the tournament chip leader by a small margin. I also had a great seat, immediately to the left two of the more talented and aggressive players. It took some time to get down to 6 players, but when we had, both of those dangerous opponents had been eliminated. Down to 6, we had many short stacked all-ins who refused to be eliminated. I faced a couple of losing coin-flips for about 8-12% of my stack each time. I continued to play aggressively, however, and stayed amongst the chip leaders.

When we finally lost player #6, i was second in chips by a close margin, and well ahead of #s 3 & $. Player #5 was very short stacked. It was #5, of course, who was strongly encouraging a chop. The other three players at the table agreed that a chop would be acceptable. Given the disparity in chips, I was really surprised by the chip leader's willingness, and also myself unwilling to agree. The chip leader confessed that he'd gotten "really lucky" and didn't care that he was giving up some value. Clearly he was a relative rookie.

We had the tournament director run a "chip chop", assigning the remaining prize pool to each chip stack size, based upon ratio of chips to total chips. I indicated that I'd be willing to give up a little bit of my equity to make the chip chop work, but not much. Since everyone seemed eager to make a deal, I was able to work out a fairly strong one, and we agreed to two tiers, with the chip leader and I taking the effective First Place prize, and the remaining three players splitting a smaller prize amount.

First big win of the trip.... more story to come.

Mr. F –

Mr. C and I played some cards last night, and I had one of my worst losing sessions of all time. In my estimation, I played pretty well, having gotten very few opportunities for getting value out of strong hands (had none) and only a few real steal opportunities (two fairly loose passive tables), I am keying in on my key hands.

We started the evening at the $2/5 PLO table, with its sick variance. We were 8-handed, on average, with a few solid-aggressive players, and one total nut job, whom Mr. C and I have played with on many occasions. Mr. Nut Job basically raised every hand.

Due to the aggressiveness of the table, and the relative stack-size to pot-size ratios (especially mine), I was playing very tight pre-flop. An average flop cost about $30, or 5% of my average stack during the session. Certainly hitting a flop would be rewarding, with 4 or 5 players seeing many flops, but hitting a flop was not my specialty on this night.

I kept my stack-size hovering around my initial $600 buy-in by stealing orphaned pots from Mr. Nut Job. Only on a couple occasions did my hands rate playable (note: not strong, just playable) enough to three-bet Mr. Peanut, but on those two occasions I was able to take the pots away from Mr. Nut on the flop, despite never improving.

Finally, I got all my chips in on a hand wherein I flop trips with three over cards, and turned the third nuts. At this table, third nuts was generally immortal, but on this unfortunate hand I was sandwiched between Mr. Nutty Bar and Mr. C, and when I got my chips in on the turn, and Mr. C quickly called, I knew I was the sawdust in his whipsaw. Mr. C had flopped the top boat, and I was drawing to an 8 or one of two kings to improve to a better boat. I did not. Had Mr. Nutskies not been in the hand, I would have played my underfull much more cautiously, but his aggression and Mr. C’s savvy lead me off the cliff.

One buy-in and many folds later, I woke up with a reasonable hand, a mediocre set of Aces. I had shy of $800 in front of me. Being in early position, and immediately to the left of Mr. Nutballs, I decided to limp my Aces. Mr. Nuts, of course, raised to $20. I smooth called with what I’d like to call Bears Aces (AA85). The Aces were not suited, but the 85 were both diamonds. This is a good hand head’s up, but far from a great hand, and one in which I’d like to get all my money in without having to make any later decisions, if I think I can get someone to make a big mistake pre-flop. Several players behind me called, and the big blind, a solid and aggressive player raised to $200. Play folded to me, and I considered whether to fold, call, or raise. Certainly folding Aces, in position, is difficult without a really strong read that my opponent has better Aces (certainly his range was much broader), if I’m confident I can get head’s up and can withstand some variance. I favor calling when the stacks are much deeper, and we can have some play after the flop. On a bad flop I could evaluate my opponent’s strength, and occasionally fold when conditions were ugly, or play slowly in the face of uncertainty. When I can get most, if not all, of my chips in pre-flop with Aces, I think I must.

I re-raised to $700, effectively putting me all in. It folded back to the big blind who pondered for a moment, and then shoved with Ac Ks Qc Th. According to, I was a 2-to-1 favorite to win this $1850 pot, having contributed only 42% of the funds. I like those odds. Alas, it was not to be my Omaha day, again. My opponent made a flush on the turn to leave me drawing dead on an unpaired board.

I made my way over to the $2/5 Hold ‘em table, where there were some very deep stacks. I bought in for the full amount, and bided my time. My cards were absolutely terrible, with the occasional 6d7d looking like pocket Aces. I won a few small pots, and limp folded or call-folded a few hands over the course of a couple hours. I’d say my VPIP was around 9-11%. There were a few weak players at the table with really big stacks, and I never found an opportunity to tangle with them. In fact, I didn’t have any tangles for much of the session, and after a few hours, found myself with $485 of the $500 for which I had bought in.

Finally, I flopped a flush in a 5-way limped pot. I bet about $20 into a $25 pot and took it down. Four hands later, I flopped another flush in a limped pot, holding 6h7h. I bet $25 into a $25 or $30 pot and got two callers – one from a small-blind chaser with a big stack, and one from Mr. C who was now sitting at my table under the gun. The turn was an off-suit Queen and Mr. C bet out $50. I thought this was a quite odd bet for him, leaving only three real likely holdings, in my mind. First, the Queen could have made him a straight, and he didn’t believe either of us had a flush yet. Second, he had flopped a larger flush, which was certainly possible. Finally, and least likely, he had made a set (possibly even on the turn, holding two Queens with one of them a heart), and again, believed he was good. I didn’t think it likely that he limped pocket Queens up front, and with a smaller set, he’d likely have made a move on the flop. I decided that he made a straight, probably with a big heart, and he was hoping to get some value from a bad call, defend his pot by taking away odds to draw, and also determine if he was badly beaten, and could release the hand.

I decided to let him know where I was, and raised his $50 to $150, leaving myself only about $155 behind. The small blind smooth called (??) and Mr. C called as well. At this point, I wasn’t sure what was going on, except that a heart was the last thing I wanted to see on the river. On cue, the 3 of hearts peeled right off. The small blind checked (wha’?), Mr. C check, and I gave the little speech – “well, I flopped it, but I guess you both beat me now”. Mr. C turned over QQh, for the turned set and the Queen-high flush. Then, the small blind slowed the Kh6d. Nice hand sir. And way to extract that value.

I had $150 left in front of me, and elected not to add-on. After another 20 minutes of folding, I went on a baby tear, and worked my now $122 up to $395. My objective was to build to $400 and call it a night. I was only $5 short of the goal when the $5 big blind came to me. A smarter man than I would have noted that $5 blind is $5 in the wrong direction, and picked up just short of goal, but not I.

Crazy Max had moved into the seat to my left an hour earlier, and had been playing aggressively, but not overly so. He had straddled twice before, and elected to waive his raising option once, and folded to a raise the second time. I had a strong sensation that he would raise with almost any two cards if the field limped to him, and I prayed for a set-up hand.

Important observation: a new player had come to the table recently and sat to Max’s left. When he was seated, he was overheard talking to the floor. He wanted a $1/2 seat, his “usual game”. Rather than wait, he somewhat hesitantly sat in our game. He asked for the buy-in limits, indicated that he only brought $500 with him, and bought in for all of it. He played his few early hands diffidently. He wore sunglasses while he played, and stared down his opponents (or one would assert that, behind his glasses, based on his head movements). I read him as a very weak player, but hadn’t tangled with him.

The new player called the $10 straddle in the one-hole. Most of the table followed suit. In the big blind, I hoped to find a hand in my pre-selected range of stealing hands, and found one at the bottom for this particular situation – KcJc. I called the $5 more, and Max immediately said “raise”. He counted out $110 in chips and pushed them forward. The new player to his left, paused, hesitated, paused, and then counted out $100 more, in the way that a semi-green player would. As the rest of the table folded to me, I had to consider what his call meant. I put him on a small pair, and bad call, or a bad Ace, hoping to play Max in position. With a big holding, I had every confidence, this player would simply shove and take the already big pot – a full buy-in at $1/2 with no risk.

When the action got to me, I had decided to continue with Plan A. I promptly, and without pause, stacked my loose chips on my three stacks of red, and pushed forward $495, including the initial call. Max folded instantly. The new player tanked. He stared me down. I calmly looked back at him for a few seconds, then at the chips in the center. I moved slowly, and without purpose. Someone said something to me, and I looked and acknowledged, but didn’t really engage. The player pondered for about 90 seconds, then stacked his chips, and pushed his full bankroll for the evening into the pot. In my head I screamed, “oh shit”, for surely he had me dominated, or I was flipping a coin for $1000. I really didn’t put him on a hand worse than 88 or 99, which cut into my straights as well.

The flop came off K75, beautiful beautiful King. I stood up and said to the player, “I have a King”. He looked unhappy. The turn was a blank – deuce, or similar, and the river a four. I asked, “is my King good??” In slow motion he reached for his hand and ever… so… slowly… turned over 4h 4s.

ChicagoJason a.k.a. Gramps