You wouldn’t think so, based on the perceived stereotypical poker player: lazy, out of shape guy slothing it up at the table. And granted, nobody’s getting in shape while playing Texas Hold’Em. But the game can be completely exhausting. The past 7 days of poker were exactly that, providing a couple of new experiences in my profession over the hours of flops, bets and folds. I’ve just awoken from a nap and wanted to bang out a blog detailing the most interesting stuff that went down the over the past week.
It’s the high season for poker in Los Angeles. Well, it’s pretty much always poker season in LA… those people love them some gamble. But with the WSOP Circuit making their now-annual stop at the Bicycle Club in January, immediately followed by the WPT LA Poker Classic at the Commerce Casino, you’ve got over 2 months of wall-to-wall tournament events and with that, the increased cash game action. Having had a good experience playing my first bracelet events over the past summer in Vegas, and hearing that the Circuit events were on par as far as solid structures and soft competition, a drive out of the desert and into my old stomping ground seemed mandatory. Leaving Vegas around 8:45pm resulted in an arrival of about 12:15am after the standard ~4hour drive. My good buddy Tara once again provided the pull out couch at her place in Silverlake, aka Land of the Hipsters.
The pull out couch didn’t treat me too kindly and after tossing and turning most of the night, I rose around 10am to get ready for my first Circuit event: $365NL at noon. If you’re the kind of person who’s always late, playing poker professionally will not help you be more punctual. Even the tournaments have late registration. Having been raised by a family that is, in fact, rarely on time (or at least was; mom and dad may have improved their own punctuality over recent years) I have made many a late registration. This being my first WSOP Circuit event, though, I was at my seat well before the shuffle up and deal.
Things went well early in the tournament. I made hands, played solidly and patiently, and got lucky–the trifecta of poker tournament success factors. I took an above average chip stack right up to the dinner break, and even after losing a big hand just before break, I still brought 33bb’s back when play resumed. On the very first hand back, I made my worst play of the tournament. I opened A9 from the cutoff for 3k at 600/1200/200, and the older gentleman in the big blind shoved his 15bb stack. I could very well be ahead as his range probably includes a couple of good kings and weak suited aces, and be flipping against small pairs, but I think this particular player’s range is ahead of mine almost always. On top of that, the variance of calling is probably a little higher than necessary with a really weak field and a slow structure. Anyway, I called vs AJ and lost about half my stack in the process. I ran TT into KK and AK a couple of hands later and that was the end of my tournament, finishing around 50th in the 211 person field and outside of the money.
Having not wanting to head back to Silverlake just yet, I decided to check out the cash game offerings at the Bike. I was happy when I sat down and observed some hands take place and see what holdings people were investing money in. Things looked to be off to a great start when I got all in with KJ vs AA on a KJ8 flop, but an 8 on the turn changed the situation considerably. Reaching into my pocket and getting back to even over the next couple of hours had me feeling in control again, but running 22 into J9 on J529J felt less than spectacular. Around 2:00am I had grown considerably weary from the drive and the day’s poker, and called it a night.
What had my interest piqued was a text my buddy Justin had sent while I was on life support in the tourney: “I’m obv hoping you don’t bust but if you do I’m going to a home game if you wanna come.”
The following day provided an immediate chance at tournament redemption: another $365 offering, but 6max NL was the flavor of the day. Not arriving late but not quite as early as the previous day, our table began play 3-handed and once again I was able to find an early opportunity to get above average. With about 10k in chips I opened JT on the button for 150 in the first level of 25/50, and a middle aged man whom I had played with in Sunday’s tournament made the price of poker 450 from the small blind. I called and we saw a flop of QJT. The man fired out 1000 and I flat called. The turn brought a blank 7 and he continued his aggression, this time to the tune of 2200. I don’t see too much reason to over represent my hand in these spots, so I again flat called. The river was a 6 and all 5500 of our friend’s chips were in the middle. I was worried as the only hands I can beat are those which could possibly be considered overvalued: AA and KK. There are some combo hands such as KQ KJ but this type of player seems unlikely to 3bet that category preflop. I tank for about a minute and a half and decide to make the call vs his AQ of spades for the early knockout. I was a little surprised to see that hand but I suppose my flat calls do the job of underrepping my hand enough where he thinks he must be good considering the action and runout.
Eventually our table reached it’s capacity of 6 players and at the 75/150 level I raised 4h4c to 350 from 2nd position. The button made it 1100 to go and it folded back to me. Normally I hate calling 3bets, out of position, with small pairs looking to set mine. It can be tough to get all the money in when you connect and you might not have correct odds in the first place. We were both pretty deep (for a tournament) and I felt a competency discrepancy existed, so I made the call. The flop came JT5 all clubs. I checked and my opponent checked back. The turn brought gin: 4d. I lead out for 1400, and after checking his cards and thinking for awhile, my opponent raised to 3300. I wasn’t sure what to make of the situation. If I am somehow beat I have outs no matter what. And how could I be beat anyway? I put in the second raise of all my chips and my opponent snap called with AcKc. The river brought no pairs to the board and I was suddenly crippled. I was able to double with AK vs A6, and then busted with AK vs 99 when the flop brought a K along with a 9, and an end to my Circuit hopes.
I headed back to the cash game area, but the action was nowhere to be found. My $2/$3NL table was full of familiar faces, even for an out of towner such as myself. But what had my interest piqued was a text my buddy Justin had sent while I was on life support in the tourney: “I’m obv hoping you don’t bust but if you do I’m going to a home game if you wanna come.”
I’ve written about poker in Los Angeles before. For about 4 and 1/2 years I lived in the city and spent many hours in its cardrooms (not to mention who knows how long sitting in traffic going to/from said cardrooms). What I was completely oblivious to was the underground home game poker scene, and this particular Monday would be my first experience in that realm.
When I arrived at the address Justin provided me with, I was a little confused by the valet guy offering to park my car. “I’m looking for Club 52,” I told him, to which he casually responded with “Yep it’s right there.” He pointed at a dark nondescript house on Ventura Blvd. which I entered. It was a cool spot. A large lounge area with a massive TV greeted me upon arrival, then a full bar, and then the poker room. 3 large flatscreens and two full sized poker tables, with comfortable chairs all the way around. I met the owner/operator, “Tom”, who told me about his background (he used to run one of the prominent poker rooms in Las Vegas) and was an extremely nice guy. The gorgeous girl to his right offered me anything I wanted to drink as well as some food from the couple of restaurants that had catered the evening. I accepted and hopped in the $5/$5NL game, $500 chips in tow.
Immediately the game was better than the comparative teeth pulling that was taking place at the Bike. First of all, you could straddle from any position for any amount. Secondly, aside from Justin, these weren’t poker players. The game was populated by friendly, chatty guys who were in the entertainment business and didn’t like driving through LA gridlock to shady LA neighborhoods just to play some cards. They were trying to win, of course, but they were also trying to have fun.
My set of Kings getting burned down by a check-calling flush and straight draw wasn’t exactly fun, but as long as those chips were still somewhere on the table, they were going to be available for retrieval at some point during the night. I opened any suited gappers or better when it folded to me and I felt like that provided enough action from my seat to get action when I wanted it. Such was the case when I was able to get all in preflop with AA vs AK for a $900 pot, scooping 3 boards. Grinding it out through the rest of the night resulted in a win of $980, virtually erasing my tournament bricks and cash game loss at the Bike.
I met “James” at Club 52 the previous night. He was sitting on my direct right and was another very friendly fellow. We chatted a little about Vegas and LA poker and made other small talk. We got tangled in a hand at the end of his session that night… James opened the action for $20 and I looked down at QQ. I made it $65 to go and after the table folded around to him, he shoved his $250 stack into the middle. I made the call and was flipping vs his AK. We ran two boards and my run good resulted in scooping it all. He departed with a handshake but not before inviting me to his home game, which would be Tuesday night on Melrose.
I arrived at the address among the endless trendy clothing shops on Melrose to find another nondescript location. Justin had let the security guy know I’d be arriving and he was just outside the door letting me know I was at the right spot with a wave. I entered the room and was once again greeted by two full size poker tables and some friendly personnel. The layout and decor of the Melrose spot wasn’t quite as posh as Club 52 had been. It was a bit smaller and more functional than feng shui. But the same offerings were available: drinks, food, and massages from a very attractive waitstaff, and a good game. I jumped right in and the action got underway.
At AVN you see a barely covered walking plastic surgery model, next to the big black guy in a fur coat and shades drinking scotch, across from the trannies who even had the dealer fooled.
I spent most of this night in the hole as the cards wouldn’t cooperate. “Ryan”, another affable actor who hasn’t played much poker, was getting the better of me in the form of quads and then a straight flush vs my flopped flush. But I felt like as long as the game was running, there would be action and chances at redemption.
I decided to be a provider for action on my biggest hand of the evening. The game had evolved into $5/$5NL with a mandatory $15 straddle. 3 red chips were literally rubber banded together and included in each winning pot, but were set out in front of the winner as the next hand’s straddle (again, straddling from any position in tonight’s game was not only allowed but encouraged). I had played this type of game a couple of times in Vegas, but this was pure action compared to my standard games.
The straddle was on from the utg+1 spot, and “Bill” made it $60 to go next to act. I was on Bill’s left and made the call with QcJc, as did Justin on the button. The three of us saw a flop of K74 containing two clubs. Bill put me in a tough spot when he skipped the formalities of a standard betsize, and instead decided to shove all in. I had about $450 behind; I covered Justin and Bill covered us both. Analyzing the math itself, this should be a standard fold. In my typical low stakes games in Las Vegas, this is AA or AK all day, and I’m simply drawing to 9 outs at best. But this isn’t Vegas and nothing about this game is standard. If Bill has a smaller pair, and pairing either of my overcards gives me the best hand, mathematically I need to call. Bill knows it will be tough for anyone to call with just a K, so he puts the maximum pressure on better hands with his shove. I don’t really care about that and decide to make the call. Justin goes into the tank, and to my surprise, overcalls. The turn brought a club immediately, followed by an additional club on the river and Justin quickly flipped his hand over. As Justin always waits to showdown his hand in turn based on position, my stomach sunk a little until I made out his holding: a ten-high flush. I flipped my hand over and Bill went berserk.
“You called $400 into that pot??”
Amateurs might be embarrassed by making various plays but grinders have seen everything at least once. Nothing is out of the ordinary any more. If he didn’t like the result when I flipped my hand over he probably didn’t like it when I responded with “Yeah buddy!” Actually I’m pretty sure he didn’t like that either because he proceeded to call me a “fucking donkey” which warmed my soul beyond words. The smiles from players I made eye contact with on the other end of the table added brightness to that warmth.
I had planned on playing a $235 tournament at the Commerce on this day but I was growing more tired and my sleep schedule was getting more off kilter the later I stayed at the home games. I decided to sleep in (the pull out couch was my friend again) and relax that afternoon. Besides, while tournaments will be the only path to recognition and personal branding from a results perspective, I am a cash game player at heart.
After taking it easy around Tara’s place all day (and taking her dog Bella to the park for a walk) my brother Chris and I grabbed dinner at Omi Sushi in West Hollywood. They have a pretty solid happy hour: 4-10pm every day. Tough to beat for something in the neighborhood. It was great to see him as always. The guy has been on a fitness quest for several years now and literally has like no body fat on him. I’m a slim guy and all but he’s got the build as well as the tone. He’s also obsessed with Randy “Macho Man” Savage which you’ll have to speak to him about directly if you want more information in that regard.
After dinner, it was back to the Melrose spot. Ryan was hosting the game tonight, his first time hosting. It’s hard not to like the guy right away; he’s outgoing and friendly and joking about everything, including the mechanics of poker itself. There were some players on hand that night to support him more than looking for a game, and the game kind of suffered as a result. At times there was more socializing than poker. Even the hired help, the dealer and cocktail girls, weren’t happy about the lack of income they were generating. I was ok with it until I got in a hole that I’d have trouble getting out of thanks to a gross spot.
A couple people limped up front, I limped along with 2h3h, and “Steve” made it $30 from the big blind. I made the call as did another player, and the 3 of us saw what, to me, was a glorious flop of A45 with two spades. Steve continued with a flop bet of $45, the other player folded, and I bumped the action to $110. Steve made the call and the two of us saw the turn bring the 6d, the second diamond on board. Steve checked and while I assembled a turn bet, he was going on about the necessity of making a large wager, what with there being two flush draws out there now. I wasn’t listening to his banter whatsoever while announcing my $235 bet. Steve asks me what’s left in my stack and after seeing about $400 there, he announced all in. I snap call only to learn I am drawing dead vs his turned nut straight. Somewhat disheartening, you could say.
Additionally, this game wasn’t like the previous two, and there wasn’t quite as much action to be found around the table. I was able to cut my losses in half as the night progressed, but as morning arrived and players were literally sleeping at the table, we ended the game and I booked a $375 loss.
Having played poker, and a lot of it, over the past 4 days straight, I was ready for a short break. Thankfully, Tara had closed two deals for her newly formed business, giving us the perfect excuse to go out for beers. One of the top reasons why I love LA as much as I do is the endless list of bars that are begging to be explored and experienced. Tara took me to two that were new to me: District 13 in Hollywood, and The Black Cat in Silverlake. The former is definitely worth a visit if you’re into beers and microbrews. The latter has beautiful chandeliers.
I’m always sad to leave LA but Friday just felt like it was time to head back to the desert. After all… AVN was in town.
I left Silverlake around 1pm and arrived at my girlfriend‘s place in Summerlin a little after 6pm. Friday traffic leaving LA is always bad so I was lucky it only added a little extra time to my drive. The two of us relaxed for a while and watched Craigslist Joe on Netflix. If you haven’t seen it it’s worth a watch. The guy spent 31 days without money and living off of freebies from strangers on Craigslist–including shelter and food. I’ve had thoughts of doing a similar project with poker. Something like, a month in Vegas staying in a different hotel every night and living off poker winnings, while showing a profit at the end of the month. Could be fun, although it could be pointless. Dunno.
After Busi went to bed around midnight, I made my way to AVN ground zero: the Hard Rock Hotel. I don’t really frequent the HRH poker room. Back when their first poker room (or Poker Lounge, as they called it) was in operation, it was a beautiful space that did well for a while. Unfortunately competition, as well as the layout of the room itself–there was nowhere for railbirds to perch–saw it devolve into its current state as a space on the casino floor. However, I crushed there during last year’s porn awards and headed back to try and repeat.
The people watching was solid. Vegas, The Hard Rock, and AVN is a match made in heaven. You see some interesting outfits on an average Friday night in Vegas but at AVN you see a barely covered walking plastic surgery model, next to the big black guy in a fur coat and shades drinking scotch, across from the trannies who even had the dealer fooled.
The games, however, were not so special early on. I found myself stuck after trying to make something out of nothing and getting no action when I had something. Things changed when our $1/$3NL table got shorthanded and combined with another. Apparently I was missing out at my original table because my new opponents weren’t exactly in a folding mood. I made hands and climbed my way back into the black, and continued in that direction as the night became morning again and players in the hole didn’t want to end their session in that manner.
Suddenly it was 8:00am and I found myself holding AK. I opened the action for $16 and two callers joined me to the flop of AT7 containing two hearts and a spade. First to act, I bet $40 and both opponents made the call. Looking for an unlikely blank card I was pleased when the Kd landed. I bet $110 and again, both players called, swelling the pot we were battling over. Looking for one more, increasingly unlikely blank river card, the 2d somehow found its way to the felt. I took 3 bills from my stack and placed them out in front of me. My first opponent folded quickly indicating his missed draw, but the man who had been giving the most action over the past few hours didn’t disappoint. Making the palms-up-“meh”-shoulder-shrug gesture, he made the call, sending an $1100 pot my way. A few additional fun hands later and I was ready to book a $1250 profit around 10:45am, ending a 10 hour session and a very long week of poker.
I mentioned that grinders have seen everything at least once. Perhaps that’s misleading… we’ve seen the cards fall every which way and plays that were once shocking but now simply just another hand history. But there is almost always something interesting that happens, every day that you play, whether it’s the characters sitting around the table, the conversation during that day’s game, or the location and setting the game takes you to. Hopefully I can accurately and entertainingly blog about it here so that the writing is not only cathartic for me but takes us all on a low-stakes-and-beyond ride. We’ll see.