Tuesday, January 08, 2013

You don't remember me.. yet

When I started this blog, it was for me, and only me, really.  I put thought to MS word as therapy, and because I like sharing.  As an unemployed (or moderately underemployed) citizen of southern California, I wrote about my journey to Not-Terrible-Ness.

And I got there.  It was a pretty sweet journey, filled with characters, alcohol, and some soul-searching.  I chatted with a bunch of cool people, and met a cadre of other awesomes.

So I "got there".. and then I moved to Arizona.  Let's forget for a moment that "getting there" mean you can maybe beat subpar 1/2 NL games.  I had a girlfriend, who was the sweetest girl ever, and understood how my poker was important to me, and that it paid for our nice dinners out.

Poker southeast of Tucson can charitably be called soft.  Truth be told, I'll be looking out for a state of the union that plays crappier poker, on the whole, than the state of Arizona.  Seriously.  Fucking terrible.  I like to imagine that Arizona poker is Thunder Keller at the top, and thousands upon thousands of poker players who make decisions randomly based on the phase of the moon, or something.  Seriously.  Fucking terrible.

In March of 2009, Tarheel talked me into moving to Las Vegas, to play some poker and deal the WSOP.  He was half-right, that first summer.  I moved to Sin City in March, planning on getting settled, playing some poker in March and April, and slinging cards in May.  For the spring months, I can say I was a PROFESSIONAL POKER PLAYER.  This really only means that I played poker multiple hours a week, and I didn't have an actual job besides.  At the end of April, I ran the math, and with casino bonuses, I made something like $9/hr.  Hooray poker!  Upside: I was paying rent in Las Vegas.  Downside: I had a lot to learn.

During this time, the WSOP tightened up its requirements for dealers, and didn't have an open tryout.  Tarheel crushed his open tryout the previous year, where he walked in, pitched cards, and got hired.  When I arrived in Vegas, the WSOP decided that you needed 6 months of dealing experience, and asked that you apply online.  I thought I was money, having 18 months of (non-casino) dealing experience, and being familiar with non-holdem games.  I was playing Badugi in 2006.  Hire me!

The WSOP felt differently. So it was time for Plan B, only I didn't know that that was.  It seemed like a pretty dumb idea to keep grinding 1/2 NL at nine-ish dollars an hour.  Tarheel said, "Well, you've been playing at Harrah's, you should consider trying out there.  If you can their auditions, you can pass anywhere."

I was a good guy to deal to at Harrah's, and I had a dealer come up to me when he saw I was auditioning to wish me well.

I failed my first attempt, passed on the next, and was a Harrah's temp.  There were FIFTEEN of us at the start of that summer.  They told us that we had a seven week job, and at the end of the Series, the plan was keep two of us.  I wasn't Top 2 at the start, but I sure as fuck was gonna be top two by the end.  It's on!

Turns out, that didn't matter.  They kept seven of us, and I was one of them.  I never mind somebody underpromising and overdelivering.  So, I'm a Vegas Poker Dealer.

And I dealt to games I could (and had previously) play in.  I had a few eyebrows raised by some the regulars that were moderately relieved to see me in the dealer's box, rather than on their left.

And so it came to pass that I dealt.  /deckardcainvoice

My first six weeks or so, I was pretty terrible as a dealer, from a coworker perspective.  I was pretty awesome when it came to the players - I knew how to run a game well, and my weaknesses were confined to keeping a tidy dealer rack, and some of the lesser known rules.

I watched 1/2 NL, and the $60 and $80 tournament level, as I dealt.  Being the observant and focused guy I am, I picked up on a lot of things as I went.  In short, people don't change their style nearly enough when the game changes.  If you're open-folding A7o in the cutoff at a six-handed tourney table, you're doing something wrong.  If you're a little shaky on decision-making on the flop, you're going to be moderately terrible on the turn, and you're going to be a fucking train-wreck on the river.

If you're open-limping, YOU ARE BAD AT POKER.

So the WSOP came around, and I hadn't been fired.  As easy as submitting a form, I got to deal the WSOP.  They figured that if I was a corporate dealer, I could transfer over and deal.  I even got my first choice of shifts.  I did three WSOP, dealing one feature table in the Main Event.  Hand me a beer and ask me about it, I'll tell you all about it.  My first one was illuminating... the WSOP is *not* where you want to learn about casino protocol when it comes to dealing.  I'm kinda glad I didn't get the WSOP job when I showed up in Vegas.  I didn't realize it at the time, but I needed that first summer as a temp.

As time passed, I learned from the pros I dealt to - William Thorson in the 2011 WSOP, and then Dwyte Pilgrim in the 2012 WSOP.  I dealt to each guy for 90 minutes.. and neither one was really famous, but I felt like I was a scout in minor league baseball, watching a "can't miss" prospect.  Thorson always had more information about what his opponents were up to, than they knew about him.  He didn't win every hand when I dealt at his table, but I felt like every time he folded, he nodded as if to say "I know what up.  You have the best hand.. for now."

Dealing ninety minutes to Dwyte Pilgrim changed my life.

Ok, fine, maybe not life, but poker style.  It was 2012, and longtime Tustin Rounder and "I've been on Hendon Mob for 2 years" crusher Derek started to open my eyes to the ways of FOLD EQUITY.

Things started to come together.  Nobody ever takes a huge step in a vacuum.  When somebody appears to get better all at once, often it's that person getting better at several different skills all at once - and putting all that information together.  Atttacking weakness.  Proper turn and river play.  Multiple street bluffs.  Floats to steal later.  C-bets which lead to semi-bluffs which lead to three barrel bluffs or river value bets which nobody sees coming.  I started asking myself the question, "If I raise my opponent, can they fold?" I don't care about "will"... I care about "can".  "If I raise my opponent, what do they think I have?  What will they think I have when I bet the next card, regardless of if it actually improves me?  What story does my betting pattern tell?  Is my range wide and dangerous?  Or small and obvious?"

Dealing three downs to Pilgrim taught me a couple of things.  First off, Dwyte is not yet a top-tier poker player.  He wants to be.   He wears his two WSOP circuit champion rings, but.. he's not there yet.  I've seen multiple head-scratching, did-you-really-think-that-was-going-to-work, hands from Pilgrim.  And yet, without a doubt, he is easily the most difficult poker player to play against in a tournament.

He is chaos incarnate.  If Dwyte comes to your table with table-chipleader chips... well, you'd best strap on a fucking helmet.  Because it is ON.  At some point... soon... Dwyte Pilgrim will threaten your whole tournament life.

Derek and Dwyte gave me the idea - when people put chips in the pot weakly, it is your duty as a poker player that doesn't suck, to take that pot away from them.  Raise them.  Allow them to fold.  Let them make comfortable decisions, later, against other players.