March 11, 2004

Poker Nation

I blew through another poker book over the last couple of days, this one "Poker Nation" by Andy Bellin. This isn't really an instructional book, but more of a story/journal by a guy who plays poker for a living in New York City. He talks about what the life is like and shares some very funny stories, things you could only get from someone who has lived and breathed the game for a long time.

There is a little bit of tutorial at the front, just for the casual reader who lacks experience. Bellin even includes a figure of hand ranks in poker, from lowest to highest, "for the benefit of a number of friends whom I am too kind to mention by name." Here is a typical excerpt from one of his hands:

I've just been dealt my down cards: 3-3 (a pair of 3's, for some reason, are called crabs). Not a great hand, but because the table is so short, I decide to play aggressively. I raise $30. Liam takes a break from eating his dinner to check his cards and then matches my bet. Wilson's dealing; he's the only other caller.

The flop comes: J-J-6. This gives me two pair, jacks and 3's, but it's really not the best flop for my crabs, so I check, Liam looks at his cards again and then bets $50. Wilson folds, and I do the same. As Dr. Liam is sweeping in the chips, Wilson decides to show the hand he just folded: J-10. His two pocket cards, when combined with the flop cards, gave him three jacks. A very big hand. Everybody at the table is shocked by his fold. "Man, you flopped trips, that's a tremendous fold," Dr. Liam says.

"Jesus, I would've bet my G-string on those cards," Amy adds.

Wilson nods, "Any man taking time off from eating a steak and then bets into me has got to have me beat. I put you on queen-jack." Dr. Liam thinks for a second -- then exposes his cards: K-J. He had trip jacks with a better kicker than Wilson. The only way Wilson could have won the hand is if the turn or the river cards were one of the three remaining 10's in the deck, giving him a full house. Liam was about a seven-to-one favorite after the flop. Usually a great night is not decided by how many big pots you win, but how many you don't lose. Wilson just avoided a brutal beating. "I give lessons on Tuesdays," Wilson says, smiling.

Later, Bellin has a 7-8 of clubs and the flop comes 6-7-K with the latter two clubs. Anyone who has played Hold 'Em knows this common scenario, where you get four of a suit and so are tempted to chase the flush (with about 50/50 odds) on the turn and river cards. When your suit doesn't come up and you are left with four of a suit, Bellin points out that your hand is a "toilet flush".

Bellin goes on to tell the story of a friend of his who plays:

Dave Enteles is a friend of mine from college, an occasional participant in my original Vassar poker game. David is a nice guy, very funny, quick-witted, with a unique aesthetic appeal that you could only understand if you pictured a white Chris Rock with Bruce Willis' hairline. Yet his most striking characteristic is that Dave Enteles is a terrible poker player. He is perhaps the worst I have ever seen. [...]

His card strategy is akin to the U. S. exit strategy in Vietnam. He has none. Absolutely none. It's shocking. His play is completely devoid of all rational thought. To give an example, I was once "sweating his hand" (playing along with him, looking at his cards) and watched him call the final bet with an ace high in a game of seven-card stud when the person who bet was showing a pair of nines on the board. I asked him why he called when there was no way he could win, and Dave replied, "I didn't want anybody to think that I had bad cards."

Bellin then goes on to tell his personal "bad beat" story when he lost a small fortune to Dave, who drew two runners on the last two cards of a seven-card stud hand to beat Bellin's full house. Very funny story but too long to quote here. The whole book is like that. Some general comments on poker, like how to approach the game, what life is like, etc., mixed in with a lot of personal stories about hands he had played and so on. Unlike McManus' "Positively Fifth Street" (in which there was a lot of dreck mixed in to the very interesting poker stories), this one is all poker and a good read from start to finish.

Posted by Observer at March 11, 2004 08:11 AM

Comments on entries can only be made in pop-up windows while those entries are still on the main index page. Sorry for the inconvenience this causes, but this blocks about 99.99% of the spam the blog receives.

There had to be somethign Wilson wasn't saying about that guy with the KJ. The other guy could easily have been betting with pocket aces, kings, or queens...

Higher kicker, my ass.

Posted by: Humbaba on March 11, 2004 08:41 AM

Well, there's more about the hand and about Liam's play in general prior to that story. I think with pocket aces or kings in a short game, you would raise the opening bet rather than call. Wilson probably made a lucky guess. Bellin doesn't tell the stories of the other times where Wilson makes his prediction and then the cards are really pocket aces, of course. Wouldn't be as entertaining.

Of course, you could also say that in order to be a good poker player, you have to be an accomplished bullshitter, so Bellin may just be making that one up. I still thought it was a funny story. :)

Posted by: Observer on March 11, 2004 09:22 AM

I would agree, but since it was after the flop he would have to think it was either higher kicker, or, even worse (better long run), the guy had pocket 6s and already had a full house. Course, if I'm sitting on three jacks with a ten kicker, $50 isn't scaring me out, because I'd say 9 times out of 10, you're going to be bluffed and not sharing the same three of a kind. Actually, I think 9 out of 10 is too frequent for that.

Sometimes those bad players are the ones to watch for, and sometimes they're putting on a show (that 7-stud example would be terrible in any right ... you can't bluff a man out by calling) for later. I have a friend that's very tough to read because of the way he plays; very unpredictable.

Posted by: Polerand on March 11, 2004 10:44 AM

You must never bluff bad poker players, just be patient and hit them hard when you have good hands and you'll profit.

Posted by: Humbaba on March 11, 2004 11:16 AM

Well, never bluff bad players unless, you too, are a bad player. ;)

I'm telling you Dr. I, Party Poker (I just found out I can't post a URL -- cool!) -- can play for free, for fun. That's how what's his name, Moneymaker, got in the WSoP last year, through a $25 or $40 online tourny and he won the whole shebang.

Posted by: Polerand on March 11, 2004 03:55 PM

Actually, if you are a bad poker player, the best thing to do is recognize and acknowledge the fact and never play poker. Or, perhaps, only play it for stakes you can afford to lose. Nickel-limit (and I mean the metallic five-cent-piece nickel here) is about right. That way after a really wretched evening you're down at most $10, and that's the same sort of cash layout as a movie.

For the record, I am a lousy poker player (especially for someone whose skills with math and probability are good), and I know it.

Posted by: Feff on March 11, 2004 11:03 PM