Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Worlds Apart - Part One

Sunday 28th March 2004 - Salford Casino, Manchester, UK

Pot Limit Hold Em - £10 Rebuy Tournament

As a young child I would often just simply sit in the living room and play my parents records on the record player. This was before cassette tapes had become popular and a long time before CDs and DVDs had ever been invented. My inquisitive nature always managed to get the better of me. Without prompting, sitting for hours at a time, I would drag record after record out, until I made quite an unsightly stack of them on the floor. It is from these deep-rooted childhood memories that my love of music was fashioned. In particularly, my mother was very partial to classical music. This is how I became familiar to the works of Beethoven, Mozart, Grieg, Handel and countless others. Sadly, I rarely listen to classical music these days, even less remember the composer or the title of the movement.

It’s strange how one event can send a person back in time 25 years or so. I happened by chance to turn on the television, which in itself is a rare occurrence these days. I recognised the movement immediately as “Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity” by Gustav Holst. In an instant, I was transported back to my boyhood, listening to Holst whilst making shapes out of the clouds that floated by the window outside. BBC2 were broadcasting in it’s entirety “The Planets” suite as a celebration of Holst’s masterpiece, accompanied with images from around the world. I loved every minute of it!


Sunday night as usual is a poker night! I made my way to the car clutching a dusted off cassette of “The Planets” so I had something to listen to aside from the usual drivel which is tolerated on the journey to the casino. Appropriately, “Mars, the Bringer of War” was the first movement blasting at full volume from the speakers, as I psyched myself up for the oncoming battle.

My poker results have not been good lately, March being the first month in a long time where I will actually record a loss. I do not consider that I have been particularly unlucky, nor do I agree with the postulation that some poker players make that the cards are not random enough. The cards have fallen the same way they always do. Instead, I blame my poor performance ultimately on myself. It only takes one factor in a player’s life to change, to make a small behavioural difference. This can lead to making decisions contrary to how a hand would normally be played, tipping the scales from profit to loss. Work has been very stressful for me in these last couple of months, as I have been dealing with some very large contracts for the UK and abroad. I believe that it is this constant pressure has markedly affected the way I play poker. I look at moments like being in a slump, not as a bad thing as such, but more as a time for pause and reflection, and have ordered several books on pot-limit and no limit strategy, and can’t wait to get my teeth stuck into them.

I made my grand entrance into the casino car park to the flamboyant Andante maestoso of “Jupiter”, which may be more familiar to many as “I Vow To Thee My Country”, or for Rugby fans as “World In Union”.


I wanted to experiment a little by wearing sunglasses whilst playing the tournament. I was considering my previous tournament with the guy watching me reading tells that another player was broadcasting. This time I wanted to disguise who I was looking at. Due to the weakness of my eyesight, which may explain a little why my navigational skills are so poor, I had a pair of glasses specially made. Despite being incredibly myopic, I don’t have to wear jam-jar bottoms for glasses. This pair are cut ultra-thin and as dark as they can possibly be for prescription lenses. Needless to say, they are very expensive. I decided to wear them at the bar prior to the match to acclimatise myself before the game began. In spite of my best Roy Orbison impression, I swiftly realised that I could see absolutely nothing. The card room is well-lit compared to the bar, so I opted to leave my sunglasses on, pretending to watch the large screen television which I guess was somewhere in front of me, whilst trying to feel around the table for my ever elusive pint………

I sensed that the tournament was about to start, due to a sudden disquiet in the bar area as people made their way to the tables. Hurriedly, I supped up and tried to follow the crowd, my arms spread out in front of me. Thank goodness for hand rails, otherwise I would have never made it! After trying to watch the final hand in a ring game, I realised that my attempt to look “cool” was futile and made me look rather silly as well. Quietly, they were removed. We learn by doing……….


The actual tournament was a disaster for me and I have little to report about it of any interest. I played few hands, aggressively with pot-sized bets, and mainly from late position. My raises were, on the whole, ignored. Barely after we had been seated, my first playable hand, AJ on the button, only resulted in a tremendous “Chips Please!“ after several people called my all-in raise. I forgot just how loud my fog-horn voice can be as one guy sat on the table adjacent to mine nearly jumped out his skin. A couple of hands later I quadrupled my stack size holding pocket kings, only to be whittled down again to nothing after the first blind increase. I should of simply stood up then and left the table. It would have been cheaper. Instead, my prideful arrogance ensured that I stayed rooted to my chair, desperately trying to catch up to the chip leaders with another couple of re-buys. I did find playable hands, but in totally the wrong position, such as pocket sevens UTG. It would not have been correct to play them, but was very frustrating to see a 7 appear on the river, securing the pot.

One incident worth describing was that of a young player sat on my right. Apparently, he has had some success in a major online tournament (funny how everyone says that). If he plays as well online as he was at Salford on this particular night, I could well imagine it to be true. Whilst I couldn’t even make two cards to pair up, I was forced to humbly watch this chap take down some massive pots. During one hand, he asked the dealer, “What is the minimum bet?”. He made this statement very clearly. There was no misinterpretation as to his intention. He decided to check, which caused another gentleman across the table to become aggravated, insisting that he had stated he was making a bet. After a couple of minutes of verbal sparring, the decision was passed in the young guy’s favour, and he was allowed to check the action. There are a couple of lessons to be learned here, especially for beginners. First, know the rules of the game. In pot-limit hold em, the minimum bet is the value of the big blind, or an equal amount as that bet or raised from a person acting before you. As no one had bet before him, it was easy to work out the amount required. Secondly, don’t use words such as “Bet, raise, call, check, fold, or all-in” in any other context than to indicate an action, if your cards haven’t been mucked. If you jokingly say, “I’ll guess I’ll have to raise you to get you off that hand!” then the other players will insist that you follow through with the raise, even if it was obvious that you were going to muck them. You will be obliged to act. It is far better to keep quiet during the hand.

My confidence eroded in proportion to my stack size. Very shortly after the re-buy period, I was hanging on with just a chip and a prayer, just less than enough to fully cover both the large and small blinds. Sat just two positions from the big blind, I was dealt 5 4 suited clubs. The UTG player made a pot-sized bet, which I agonised over calling with my few remaining chips. It should have been an automatic call, but I was so much filled with self-doubt that I mucked my cards. Typically, three other clubs fell, another opportunity slipping through my fingers. Very shortly afterwards I had been blinded out of the tournament, those pocket aces failing to materialise in the final two hands I played.


I drove back home, defeated and broken, to “Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age”. A fitting reminder of the present, my adulthood and responsibilities. The cost of my poker endeavour totalling three re-buys.



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