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Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Friday at Foxwoods
OK, I've read a ton of WSOP reports and now the relative dearth of news is killing me. So I wrote up my visit to Foxwoods this past weekend:

I played some $2/$4 Hold'Em at Foxwoods this past Friday night. I lost about $15, but feel that it was some of my most solid "live" play yet. And I had a blast.

A Little Background

This was my, let's see . . . 7th time playing in a casino ring game (I've also played in 4 Foxwoods tournaments). So I'm not really a casino poker newbie, but there've been such long spells of time in between my casino visits that I've haven't become totally familiar with the differences between online and live play yet.

The first 3 times I played casino poker were way back in 1998 and 1999, when B and I were living in San Diego and making fairly frequent trips to Las Vegas. I played once at the Flamingo, once and Mandalay Bay, and once at the Viejas Casino outside San Diego. Won $40 the first time, lost $100 the second and third times. Each time I played $4-$8 (at that time the $1-$4, $8, $8, or "one-four-double-eight," format was still very popular).

However, I don't feel that I really learned to play poker competently until I started playing online in April 2003. My triumphant return to casino play came in October 2003, when I sat down (very late at night and a little drunk) at a $3-$6 game at the Las Vegas Flamingo. I won all of $10 in the couple hours I played, but it did a lot to bolster my confidence about playing Las Vegas (I have to admit to being worried that sharks were everywhere). In that same trip, I played in a $2-$6 spread game at the Excalibur. I did very well at that game and was up almost $100 at one point. . . .

Then came a hand I still remember. I get AKs, and directly cross the table from me is a maniac who is raising everything preflop and has burned through at least a rack since I've been there. He and I cap it preflop. I get my Ace on the flop, it's capped again, and now it's me and him head's up. I don't remember the turn and river betting -- I think maybe one of them was 3-bet. Anyway, I get no further help and he reveals a set of threes at the end. I leave the table still up around $15, but completely pissed off about losing the $70 or whatever it was on that hand. I had overplayed my top pair because the maniac had gotten to me.

This happened again in a different way when I went to Foxwoods a month later. I sit down at a $4-$8 table, and directly to my right is a guy who is playing every single hand, and raising with about a quarter of them. He's drinking and making all kinds of mistakes (betting the wrong amounts, acting out of turn, etc.), and soon after I sit down he apologizes to the table with something like "Sorry folks, I've been up for over 24 hours." But he's winning a lot of hands, and most of the table is just pissed at him. Not a fun table at all. Everybody's raising him, and since I'm on his left, my attempts to limp and see a flop keep failing. Then when I do get good cards and the flop misses I foolishly see the turn and river because the pots have gotten large. I end up leaving a few hours later down $120.

Goals for the Evening

My point with this little bit o' background is that in the past, at the casino, I have let players throw me off my normal game and, in the example directly above, even put me on tilt. It's one thing to see crazy players online; it's quite another to be seated next to or directly across from one. And along with the maniacs you've got your calling stations, your rocks, your drunks, your overconfident young guys who just read their first poker book, etc. Online I just take notes on these bad players and pretty much continue with my normal straightforward game. But in live games I find myself thinking "This guy is so bad!!!" and I start not folding to the bad players when I should. So I went into Friday night with one goal in mind: Play the cards first, then the player.

And of course, online, you've got table selection. If I see too many maniacs, too much preflop raising, or a bunch of angry trash-talk -- I just find another table. I had waited for over an hour for a table in the two instances described above and didn't want to be "chased away" by the maniac(s), so I foolishly stayed, feeling kinda trapped. I didn't do that Friday night.

The other dangerous thing about casino play for me is getting bored. The pace is is just soooooooooo much slower than online. In that situation I don't start playing trash cards, instead my bad tendency is to get way too attached to the good cards I get dealt, even when the flop misses me. I was determined not to do that Friday night.

I also decided to play $2-$4 rather than $4-$8, which is what I had played before.

Friday Night

B and I left Providence at 4pm, and were in the Foxwoods poker room by 5:20. About a half hour outside Foxwoods, we called to put our initials on the lists, but were informed that they don't do that anymore. No big deal, since the wait turned out to be only about 20 minutes. From conversations with players I gathered that this was normal for Friday night, whereas on Saturdays the waits get much longer.

B and I were seated at the same table, but at opposite ends. Since it was too far apart to talk, we basically pretended that we didn't know each other. Kinda awkward, and we agreed later that we'd rather not play at the same table in the future.

At first the play seemed soft enough. No preflop raises, and a lot of people calling but not betting or raising. Then I realized that a women down at the other end of the table, next to B, was playing every hand and seeing most to the river. An Asian guy 3 to my left won a couple pots with really good cards, and I decided he might be rock-ish. There were two college guys at the other end of the table who didn't seem very experienced, and seated on both my right and my left were older guys who kept asking how much the blinds were. The one guy who jumped out at me was a guy in his 30s wearing a nylon Tennessee Titans workout outfit. With clothes that comfy I figured maybe he plays a lot, but he showed down with a lot of really crappy hands, so then I figured probably not.

There aren't that many exciting hands to recount. And unfortunately for you, my dear readers, I tend to remember my beats better than my wins.

I stuck to my game and won a little. I do remember a hand where I had A-10o, got a 10, and ended up going to the river against the no-folder, where her Q-5 caught another Q. It annoyed me that she would call the whole way with that, but I knew my hand was weak and I did save a bet checking the river through, so I don't think I could've played it better (other than to not play A-10o at all).

Then I made an awful, awful play. I had AJo and raised preflop. The flop came KKJ. For some reason I bet (I was first one in--was I hoping to steal? testing the waters? what the heck was I thinking?), and Tennessee Titans is the only one to call. Then I get a J on the turn. I actually have position on Titans-guy; he checks, I bet, and he calls. River is a blank, Titans guy checks to me, and I check it through (my only smart move in this hand). Titans-guy shows 4 Kings.

This was such a badly played hand that I am kicking myself, and I know I'm in danger of going on tilt. Plus I'm not liking how into slowplaying Titans-guy is, nor do I care for call-to-the-river-all-the-time lady, so I get up and take a break. At this point I am down $58.

I got something to eat. It was almost 8:00 and I hadn't had dinner. I guess I better add "don't play hungry" to my list for my next Foxwoods trip!! It's common sense, but it's easy to ignore things like that at the poker table. Feeling much better, I sign up for $2/$4 again and am seated at another table within 15 minutes. My first hand is, (I kid you not, AA; it holds up, giving me some good table image for future raises.

Mostly young guys at this table. The two guys to my right order drinks (a Tequila Sunrise and a Long Island Iced Tea) and I'm wondering if they're over 21 and/or gay. The guy two to my left is raising a lot and generally dominating the table. He goes up $100 in the first hour, then announces to his buddy that he's heading over to $5/$10. A semi-maniac replaces him. He's betting and raising a lot, but with total crap, and he's losing. The guy to my immediate left is really nice, is playing $20 at time, going all-in, and keeps rebuying, God bless him. I actually saw several players doing that over the course of the evening. I've read in books and online what a fishy tactic it is, but it's another thing to actually see it.

In short, the players at this table were worse than at the previous table. Plus they were drinking and more sociable (perhaps because it was later in the evening), and we were near a TV with the Lakers game on and that reduced the boredom factor.

My biggest win of the evening came with Q-10o in late position, when the flop was AAK and I saw a free Jack on the turn against 4 other players, who then bet the heck out of their aces on the turn and river. I wish I had a hand history for that one--proof that at low limits you make a lot more from your opponents' mistakes than from your own smart plays.

I won my $58 back and was up some small amount (less than $10) around midnight. At that point an interesting thing happened. Everyone was clearly getting tired, and it seemed to me that the whole table got looser and crazier all at once, as players tried to snag "one more big pot" before heading home--just like so many nickel-dime home games I've played in. I should've steered clear of this loose period, but didn't. I lost with a pair of Queens and then with a pair of Aces. I know I showed down with the Queens even though there was an Ace on the board, which was a bonehead play. But then a couple orbits later I got the Hilton sisters again, made a set on the flop, and it held up. The lack of details at this point is a reflection of how tired I was. Six hours at the table and I was really starting to have trouble concentrating--that really surprised me. I left the table down $15 (more if you include dealer and cocktail waitress tips, which I'm not).

I feel I had a good evening because I can point to the reasons I left down $15--if I had just not made a couple of the bonehead plays that I made, I would've walked away up 4 or 5 big bets. It bothers me far, far more when I have a losing session and have no idea what I did wrong or how I got outplayed.

B fared not so well, losing $70. She was pretty upset about it, but this was only her 4th time playing in a casino, and she won an average of $25 the first three times she played (twice in Vegas and once at Foxwoods), so not only was it her first casino loss, she's still slightly positive at live play, and way up online.

Lessons Learned

B and I talked the whole way home about how different live casino play is than online. Some of the things we talked about we knew already, but like so much in poker there's knowing it, and then there's experiencing it. Some of our observations:

--Everybody seemed to be playing "any ace," much more so than online.
--Far fewer players seemed to be playing any two suited cards and drawing for the flush, as some players do online.
--A lot of people were going all-in and rebuying for small amounts. This didn't much change the way I would play against them but it did help mark them as bad players.
--There was an awful lot of slowplaying going on. A lot of free cards being given. And B and I both saved a lot of bets by checking the river through when an overcard or 3rd-of-a-suit came.
--On the other hand, a lot of players also checked on the river because, by checking and calling, they wouldn't have to show their hand first, and could muck the really embarassing crap they were playing. This happened an awful lot at my second table, and it was really obvious when a player's bluff failed and they didn't want to show. So each time someone checked the river, you really needed to decide why they were doing it, whereas online I usually make the decision of whether to bet or check-through based on how strong my own hand is.
--There is a psychological distinction between tossing out one $2 chip for the call vs. tossing out 2 of them. Usually everyone called the flop but the turn bet got respect. In many cases this was probably just good play, but it seemed more pronounced than it does online.
--Table image counts for a lot more than it does online. When you were on a rush, players could tell. On the other hand, I would have runs where I'd be raising with hands like AQo, then folding if the flop didn't hit me. When this happened more than once in an orbit, I knew for sure that my next pre-flop raise would get a lot of callers, and so if it was a raise to get people out, I knew not to bother. Again, this phenomenon happens online but it's more pronounced in the casino.

And that's what's fun about the casino--all the little signals you get during the game make it a much more vivid experience than online play. It's more fun, more social, more personal. It can also be more emotional and more tilt-inducing, but hopefully I'm learning how to avoid that.

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