shipitfish: (river-street-chips)

[ It's been quite a while since I posted a River Street retrospective, so I decided to write one last night before bed, since I got home from work too late to play any poker. ]

That's him, I'm telling you, I said to Nick. We were standing, waiting for a seat, at one of the tiny two-table poker clubs in Boston a few weeks ago. That's not him. It can't be him; he's not acting anything like him, Nick insisted. I retorted: But, his wedding ring; it looks just like the one he had, and I remember it from when he got married while we were still playing at River Street. Remember, that girlfriend of his that he married? Remember how he left her at home with the fire alarm running while we were playing poker. She couldn't even reach the thing with the step ladder to turn it off, and was calling every ten minutes for an hour to beg for him to come home to take care of it. Then, he'd hang up and say ‘just one more hand, then I'm leaving’?

Nick was still sure it wasn't the same guy. I offered to settle it the way all poker players do: Ok, I'll make a $50 even money prop bet with you that it's him. No? $10, then. C'mon, I know it's him. Nick's doubt eventually had me doubting myself. Could I have misremembered him that completely? After all, this guy seemed pretty calm, and hadn't been stacked the whole time we'd been watching the game.

I tried to think of what he looked like in those days, but the memory that came back was how I got his name wrong at first. A number of people at the River Street game knew him from outside the game; apparently he'd come from the same undergraduate program as some of the other MIT regulars. They had always called him by his last name, which my poor hearing had picked up as “Troy”. I remembered vividly referring to him that way one night in his absence, asking Where's Troy tonight?. No one seemed to know who I was talking about.

Someone finally realized what I was saying, and argued: You think a Chinese guy is named Troy?. Well, I answered, why couldn't he be? By his accent, this “Troy” sounded like he was born and raised somewhere on the east coast. He's as much Chinese culturally as I am Polish — at least a generation or so removed.

This was an academic consideration, of course. As it turned out, all along, they'd been calling Michael (which was his first name, I'd suddenly learned) by his last name — a common Chinese surname that rhymed with Troy. (As a footnote, another River Street regular eventually showed up a few months later carrying from Canada the actual name, Troy. But he's a profile for another time.) I decided that from that point on, I was avoiding the confusion and just calling this guy, “Michael”.

Michael was probably the most excitable player ever to visit River Street. There was no question, frankly, that poker was gambling to him. He played lots of pots; he moved in with nearly every draw. I distinctly remember the first time in NL HE that I ever got bottom set (222) all-in against the nut flush draw. It was heads-up against Michael in Greg's kitchen, sitting in one of the comfy kitchen chairs I'd arrived early to reserve. A good tenth of my bankroll at the time was in that pot. I learned the meaning of “action player”, “gamble”, “redraw” and “EV” in the seconds it took Greg to deal the turn (a flush-making heart) and the river (a board-pairing 8).

But the nut flush draw was just a mild gamble for Michael. He'd play bottom pair to the river in limit HE without thinking twice. In the right mood, he'd push in with just about any ace-high if he had less than half the buy-in. Sometimes, he'd even just have king-high; that is, if it was his favorite hand — his beloved “Ko-jack”. For a number of weeks in that winter and spring of 2004, he was the action of River Street.

Then, he'd go broke. Greg would let him deal, and we'd tip him well. After all, as soon as he'd put together $50 or so, he'd buy in short with his tips, and then go broke. He'd go to the ATM, come back, and go broke. He'd win on Tuesday, take a stake of $20 bills home, bring them back on Thursday and go broke.

That spring, Michael joined a big group of River Street players who went off to Foxwoods for a long weekend. The stories that returned that Tuesday were nearly unbelievable. Michael, so that Tuesday crew was told, had discovered craps. He'd went on an amazing run. He'd been tossing dealers green chips as tokes. He was betting blacks on the pass line on ever new shooter.

Not to disappoint, Michael showed up that Thursday with a pair of red dice. In between poker hands, he'd point at someone across the table and say: You be the house; I'm the new shooter. I don't recall that anyone actually took him up on his offer to bankroll his intra-poker-hand floating craps game, but his excitement for the gamble carried over into every aspect of both games. Invariably, as he'd receive his cards, he'd move those dice from the table to his face, wedging them between his glasses and his eyes. His eyes now closed and covered, he'd squint to hold the dice in place. His head now high, he'd look back across the table, and in a robotic voice, slowly chant: What number am I? … What number am I?

In these days, I had just started learning NL HE cash play and I would often forgo the $1/$2, no max buy-in NL game in the kitchen (particularly when the field seemed tough) and continue with the $3/$6 limit game in the living room after the NL HE game “broke out” from the kitchen's $5/$10 game. It was on one of these occasions that the most unforgettable Michael incident occurred.

It was an average River Street night. We were used to shouts from the kitchen during major all-ins or other surprises in large pots. The NL HE game had been going for a while when we heard an unusually loud screech — enough to freeze up the action in the limit game. Michael came storming down the hallway, caught somewhere between shouting and muttering.

As he approached the front door, which was directly adjacent to the living room, he started to stumble. He had stepped into the mass of removed shoes — a kindness to Greg's neighbors to avoid the noise of 20 people stomping around that top floor River Street apartment. Michael looked down at the piles of shoes, and the muttering continued. He was close enough that I could hear it now: King-Jack. It had to be King-Jack. It had to be my hand. Tears were beginning to swell in Michael's eyes. His gaze narrowed on a lone shoe, separated from the others; he picked it up — examining it, ostensibly to see if it was his. Establishing that it wasn't, he simply hurled it at the front door. King-Jack, King-Jack. Another shoe picked up and thrown. Another, and another. Shouting now: King-Jack; Why did he have my hand!?! Sidney, Greg's loyal canine, ran from the kitchen, barking quietly. The $3/$6 players ceased all movement, the current pot conceded to the confusion.

The situation was escalating quickly, and sitting in the three seat, I was the closest to Michael's current position. I approached, a bit fearful, and asked the rather pointless and already-answered question: What happened?, followed by a quick and almost as pointless Are you alright?, and finally with something marginally useful: Would you like me to help you find your shoes?

By then, the noise had roused Greg. Within seconds, mayhem had ensued. The $3/$6 players were moving about; the $1/$2 NL players were crowding in from the back. Greg quickly shuffled through the now disorganized mess of shoes to find Michael's, as the man himself had collapsed against the wall, his tantrum spent. Greg handed him his shoes, and Michael was out the door before they were on his feet. Michael lingered briefly in the hallway, banging slightly on the door; Greg opened the door briefly, shouting that he should go home. Michael eventually complied.

The details of the hand were never clear but hardly mattered: a sharp player named Josh had called Michael's bet on the flop with on a lark with a running straight draw while holding KJ. It got there and Josh stacked Michael on the river.

As I retell the story, I'm not all that surprised that Nick didn't recognize Michael. The man we saw last month was clearly a different poker player. Sure, when we saw him, he seemed like he was playing a little too loose, and I don't know how many times he rebought. But, he did cash out something, which is certainly better than the old days.

I was cleaning out my email drafts folder recently, as I switched MUAs from mutt to Gnus. I saw a message from mid-2004 drafted to Greg, which read: I am really worried about Michael. After what happened last night and from his behavior after the Foxwoods trip, I think that he might have a gambling problem. I was wondering if. It ended there. I never finished the message.

I hope that Michael has turned over a new leaf. He's not the last person — not even at River Street — whom I've watched descend into something truly ugly because of poker. Had I been a better poker player at the time, I probably would have won hundreds, rather than mere dozens, of dollars from Michael. Somehow, though, I am glad that I was still a pretty bad player back then. I wish you the best, Michael, and I hope you fold KJ preflop most of the time these days.

shipitfish: (poker-not-crime)

I am sitting here slowly recovering from the “bad beat” W.D. put on me — not a poker one, but a plane-caught cold he brought back from Asia and shared with the office. The coughing is annoying, so to distract myself, I'm playing micro-limit online poker (so I don't abuse my bankroll while sick) and watching television.

Of course, nearly every hour of the day there's another poker show on televison. Most of them are pointless. Producers have not completely figured out yet: people don't want to watch amatuers play, as if poker were some sort of game show!

Perhaps the worst of these shows is YES Network and Party Poker's Boston vs. New York Poker Challenge. I suppose the worst part about this game to me is that I have played with at least half of the players. As someone who spent a lot of time playing poker in both Boston and NYC during the poker boom, I've run into just about everyone who has spent more than a few weeks at poker games in either city.

And, for about fifteen seconds, my reaction to the show was: “Wow, people I know on TV”. Then, I realized that I didn't really like hanging out with nearly any of them when I played regularly in the home games and clubs of Boston and NYC! Of the half I know, there is only one person on the whole show who has extremely strong poker skills (he's a Boston player previously mentioned in this journal years back, for those who want to hunt). And, while he's not a bad guy, he's not the friendliest of folks — he plays poker to take people's money, not to make friends. The rest, well, their company is not the most high quality out there.

Truth is, sitting here, coughing and watching this awful show like it's a train wreck I can't turn my head from, I am reminded that, in poker, I spend a lot of time with unlikeable people. There's a meme going around the NYC poker blogs that states if you want to be a winning poker player, you have to hang around with losers. It's a fact that is difficult to argue; good players choose good games with weak competition. Weak players are, by definition, losers.

On the other hand, it is not that simple. I was a fish in my River Street NL days. While I might have been a loser (per se) in the game, I was working hard to get better at the game and learn more. I was able to keep even by the final days, because I simply passed chips from the truely terrible players to the very good ones.

I wonder if I felt so strongly and positively about that game and the people in it because I was a little bit the fish. When I play now, and find tables with only two or three strong players out of ten, and the rest mostly jerks who I wouldn't think to spend time with otherwise, I wonder why I am playing. If it's for the money merely, I have to consider if I would stay in a job with a mix of co-workers identical to the nightly line up at your average NYC, Foxwoods, or AC poker game. And online? Heck, I can barely stand to have the chat boxes on at all. The level of homophobic remarks alone are enough to make any reasonable person ill.

Ironically, I had been thinking lately that I want to see if the New York clubs are still as bad in this respect as they were the last few times I went. Of course, I won't discover another River Street hiding under a subway station in downtown Manhattan. But, perhaps there is a community of players that has a good mix, where the losers aren't insufferable. Or, maybe the games will be so lucrative again that I won't care so much.

Whatever the NYC poker scene is now or becomes, I'm sure that I don't want to watch it on TV. If I am in a game myself, I have to watch the other players as I try to think as they do and learn as much as I can about their psychology. But, if they aren't the best players in the world, it's going to be downright boring to do that as a mere spectator. If it wasn't for the coughing fits drowning out weak players explaining how they are “in it to win it”, I am sure I'd have changed the channel by now. Oh, wait, I have a High Stakes Poker episode on TiVo.

shipitfish: (river-street-chips)

[ By popular request, here's the second entry in my River Street series. ]

It was every Tuesday. I was fortunate to have an office that didn't even get moving at all until 10:00, and sometimes later. I even came in a bit after that — around 11:00 — on Wednesdays and Fridays to make it easier to manage. I had to go. I had to be there. My week was planned around it. It was River Street.

What was the magic? I'm still not sure, even a year later. The feeling struck me even earlier this month, as I pulled into Cambridge for a conference at MIT, and saw the Riverside Pizza and the empty lot, and that building. The building of Greg's old apartment. The first apartment of River Street; it's where the magic happened.

Through February 2004, we were still self-dealing, and continued to do so into March. The limit game became goofy, fun and interesting. I realize now that we were slowly building the cast of characters that would become the center of the NL HE game — stakes always escalating — that would define River Street for most of those who came later.


I remember [livejournal.com profile] nick_marden's first arrival vividly. A unseasonably warm night in February 2004 a slightly chubby, broad-shouldered, smiling and friendly fellow stormed into Greg's living room. As Sydney jumped and barked around his legs, from under his Red Sox cap, he bellowed: I was just driving through Central Square with my head out the window trying to reboot the three Windows boxes on the roof of my car. Do you know how hard it is to reboot Windows while driving with your head out the car window?. My only thought: Who is this guy?!?!

Nick is that extroverted fellow, somewhat like myself. I immediately felt kinship to this guy — he was a computer geek, he was exuberant, he was thoughtful, he was friendly. We had a lot in common, and we quickly became friends. Well, at least we did eventually; for a while, he was was my friendly neighborhood fish.

Through February and March of 2004, I remained fearful of the NL game. I felt I was totally outclassed in the game, and I surely was — at the time I had a very poor understanding of the complexity of NL HE and had too much of a limit mindset toward the game. But, $2/$4 limit HE were my usual stakes anyway, and that limit game through February was rocking with new players. I probably only had six months of careful study ahead of them, but poker is about selecting games where you have relative, not absolute, edge. I certainly had one here, especially against Nick.

Nick started as a tight-weak player; many good players (including myself) start their poker play this way. This made Nick incredibly bluffable. I'd be sure to sit on immediately on his left — a treat anyway because he was a fun guy to talk to — and I'd three-bet him every time he'd raise. I'd bet the flop, and if he didn't fold there, I could bet the turn and the river, and he'd almost never call me with anything less than a strong top-pair. I got lucky enough that the few times he did call me, I had hit some goofy draw. He caught on after a few weeks, but it was easy pickings early on.

After some time, Nick and I exchanged contact information, and we became friends outside poker. I also eventually told him what I was doing and how to avoid it. I taught him everything I knew about how to beat the games, and being the smart guy he is, he soaked up the knowledge and became a formidable opponent. We played thousands of hands on Poker Room, watching each other's table and learning the game. These days, Nick ranks on the short list of my best friends in the world, despite that I have moved down to New York. When anyone questions whether or not poker is good activity, I think about how I met one of my best friend thanks to the game. It's all part of what made River Street so special for me.

shipitfish: (poker-strategy-books)

As I discussed in my first post about the PL mixed game at the club in Boston, I was already down a full buy-in ($300) to Josh. Although I wasn't as sure then as I am now (after discussing the PL stud hand with all of you), I did have a strong feeling that I had played well against Josh in the PL stud hand. I felt I was basically somewhat of a favorite to the game, or at least able to break even and get some experience with PL mixed games. I decided to buy-in again for another $300.

As it turned out, I would play only one more big hand that night, again against Josh. My description of it is quite long; the details are behind this link. )

Anyway, so much for my foray into PL mixed games. I'm down about $1,000 overall playing such situations (that is, between Ashley Adams' games in Boston and this one — I actually won about €150 in Paris at the Aviation Club). Of course, I'd be up lots if my Sklansky dollars were fungible. If I could get some more practice, somewhere, playing mixed game big-bet poker, I might be a force in such games! Hey, what's the deal all these overspecialized players in the USA, anyway?!?

shipitfish: (clueless-donkey by phantompanther)

While I was in Boston in January, I visited a downtown poker club. It's run by a fellow who used to work at The E. Club in NYC. As I understand it, he commutes down to Boston a few times a week and has some locals who help him run it.

I discovered that folks from the old River Street crowd, such as Ken come by there occasionally. I saw none of the old group on the two nights I played there, except for [livejournal.com profile] nick_marden who joined me the second night.

The club was small, with only three tables. As is typical on weekend nights at these sorts of clubs, the one running game was short-handed on this Saturday. I arrived and they were playing $2/$4 limit mixed games, which was great fun and I was happy to play.

The local fish, a fellow named Josh, arrived a while later and immediately bought two grand in chips, hoping a big game would get started. He sat down in our little limit game, which was comprised mostly of off-duty dealers and that night's floorman. Josh got "bored" and asked for the stakes to be changed.

We agreed, after some argument between a newbie dealer and the floorman that PL is too complicated for this n00b to deal. It was settled; we would play PL mixed games, including Stud, O/8, and HE, with $1/$2 blinds. I was excited to work on my mixed game PL play. It's frankly my preferred form of poker, but something that's tough to find in the USA and online on a regular basis.

We moved blinds and small pots around for about half an hour, when the following hand came up during a stud round. I'd be curious to hear from anyone who has some PL stud experience to tell me if I simply misplayed this hand. After much thought and input from [livejournal.com profile] nick_marden, I decided that I played it correctly, but I'd appreciate hearing arguments on the subject. Details of the hand are behind this link, if you are interested. )

Anyway, whether I played it right or not, I lost a quick $300+ in this hand. In a later post, I'll describe how I rebought and lost another $300 to Josh just few hands later in O/8.

shipitfish: (Default)

As has now become my custom, I'm posting about Greg's games with a delay. Since everyone (more all the time) from Greg's game is reading this journal, it seems to make sense to always be at least a week behind in posting.

That night, the place was packed; there was actually a wait list and consistently 5-8 people standing around in the kitchen waiting for a seat. I got stuck early for a substantial amount (two buy-ins) and therefore was offering my seat for the price of "getting me even for the night". No one took me up on the offer, and eventually I did get even (up $16, actually) and decided to leave. The crowd was too much, Nick was offering a ride (because he wanted to hit-and-run :), and, as I mentioned before, I don't like playing a large stack there if I can help it. So, here's my post about that short session. )

shipitfish: (Default)

Last night, for the second time ever in Greg's poker game, someone got angry enough at me to resort to name-calling. I made (as Greg called it) "an unorthodox move" to avoid implementation of a controversial rule. While I agree that my move was unorthodox, I don't think it warranted name calling, nor do I think it violated the spirit of the rules, especially given the controversial nature of the rule, the implementation of which I thwarted.

We were playing limit poker ($4/$8 limit HE, O/8 and (of all things) Crazy Pineapple, with a half-kill to $6/$12). I may post specifically about some hands in a later entry, but at the moment, I want to focus on the incident that led to someone calling me a "little bitch". (I'm a pretty portly fellow, so I was a bit surprised I was a "little" anything. :) I write in this entry specifically about the incident. )

I follow it with a discussion of the specifics of the rules in question that led to the incident. Those who aren't as pedantically aware of poker hand-showing rules may wish to read this part first. ) I follow that with a discussion of one thing I do above and beyond the requirements of hand-showing rules that I think is good for the game. )
shipitfish: (Default)

So, for the first time, I've had to go back and read my post that started this journal, wherein I argue that it's a good thing to talk about your poker game publicly. Nearly every regular at Greg's game has started reading my journal. So, the theoretical possibility that most of my opponents are reading this journal has become an actual reality. I read that old entry to remind myself that I really don't mind this happening. I do ask, however, one favor from those regular opponents who were in the hands I describe in this journal. Please do post comments about your thoughts. This is a forum of poker learning, and I would rather it not be a one-way conduit of information. I'd like to hear what you were thinking when you played that hand against me.

So, without additional fanfare, I'll discuss Greg's NL game from two weeks ago. )

shipitfish: (Default)

I played twice last week in Greg's game. I guess because he'd been out of town recently, he decided to host two games last week, both NL HE, on Tuesday and Thursday. His standard NL HE game is $1/$2 blinds with a $140 initial maximum buy-in, which increases to "half the largest stack" as stacks go past $280.

I won $324 at the Tuesday game. )

I'll have to write about the Thursday game later. I also played Ashley's pot limit dealer's choice game on Sunday, which didn't go well. I doubt I'll make it to any home games this week, but maybe I'll do an entry on online play, and the promised entry about my thoughts on moving up in limits.

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November 2016

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