December 17, 2008

My Week In Las Vegas: Poker At The Bellagio

I'd never played no-limit hold 'em live before and the $2-$5 game at the Bellagio is a pretty intimidating place to start, but with the winter meetings essentially ending Thursday afternoon and my flight home departing at 1:00 a.m. it seemed like the correct way to spend my final night in Las Vegas. I'm thankful that my nerves didn't keep me from taking the plunge, because the game was incredibly juicy and the night was extremely fun.

As a poker nut perhaps the best part of my $2-$5 no-limit table was the location right next to Bobby's Room, which allowed me to watch the most famous high-stakes game in the world and rub elbows with big-name pros like Doyle Brunson, Howard Lederer, Jennifer Harman (and her husband Marco Traniello), John Hennigan, David Oppenheim, Eli Elezra, Abe Mosseri, David Levi, Minh Ly, and even Men "The Master" Nguyen, who came about as close to anteing up in Bobby's Room as me.

That probably doesn't sound all that exciting to most people, but the odds are that anyone with enough of a poker obsession to immediately recognize cash-game players like Mosseri and Oppenheim who haven't made a ton of televised tournament appearances will get a pretty huge thrill from the Bobby's Room experience. Brunson hobbling past to get to his table and Harman having a lengthy conversation while standing about two feet away definitely makes a $2-$5 no-limit game seem a lot more exciting.

As for the actual $2-$5 no-limit game, it was very beatable. My table was almost as loose as they were talkative and several players seemed capable of basically giving away money after the flop, which had me convinced that the proper plan was to avoid big pre-flop coin flips and force them to make as many decisions as possible on every street. Of course, no battle plan survives contact with the enemy and all my small-ball tactics couldn't keep me from being forced into a big pre-flop pot almost immediately.

After a couple of people limped into the pot from early position a very loose, aggressive player with tons of money in front of him raised to $30 from middle position. Dealt ace-king suited one off the button my first thought was to bump it to $100 or so, but rather than risk playing a huge pot before the flop I simply called in position. Unfortunately, the button and small blind also called right behind me, at which point the big blind thought for a few moments before shoving all-in for $225.

For whatever reason it seemed obvious to me that the all-in didn't come from a monster hand and was simply a "squeeze play" attempting to pick up all the money already in the pot. It also seemed unlikely that the button or small blind would have called behind me if they had monster hands, so when the original raiser folded my decision basically became a math problem. There was $355 in the pot and it was $195 more for me to call.

As long as the all-in raiser didn't have aces or kings I was facing a coin flip at worst and I'd be a pretty solid favorite in the fairly likely event that he had anything with an ace. Committing $225 before the flop with ace-king was the exact opposite of my plan, but giving up 1.8-to-1 odds in that spot seemed like it would have been a horrible decision. I called and thankfully my reads were correct, because both the button and small blind quickly folded and the all-in guy turned over queen-ten off-suit for a pure bluff.

Being laid 1.8-to-1 odds on the call when ace-king suited actually has a 67-percent chance of beating queen-ten off-suit made me feel good about how things played out ... until the door card was a queen and he added a ten on the river for two-pair. Despite losing a $550 pot when I was a 2-to-1 favorite an hour into the session I still managed to leave with double my buy-in and did so without playing another big pot, which no doubt would have made Daniel Negreanu proud.

Interestingly, my ace-king losing to queen-ten wasn't even close to the worst beat that ace-king took at the table. A couple hours after the aforementioned $550 pot, a guy in his late 20s wearing a hoodie sat down directly to my right with a ton of money and immediately began picking on the other players while seemingly trying to convince everyone that he was a pro. He quickly got into a huge pot with the nattily dressed middle-aged businessman sitting directly to my left, at which point the fun began.

I'm not certain what they had because neither player ended up showing their hand, but it seemed to me that the wannabe pro flopped a set and the middle-aged guy rivered a straight on a paint-filled, four-line board. As he made the laydown against a big raise, the wannabe pro began berating the middle-aged guy, telling him "you were so behind that you didn't even know it" while calling him names like "a stupid tourist fish stick."

That went on for several minutes and was definitely out of line, but the table remained silent and to his credit the middle-aged guy took it in stride (while raking in the big pot). Clearly upset and still mumbling insults under his breath, the wannabe pro took three hundred-dollar bills out of his backpack to reload. No more than five minutes later, with a few early position limpers in the pot, the wannabe pro put in an oversized raise to around $50 or so.

At that point a quiet, seemingly tight player in his mid-20s re-raised all-in for about $250. The wannabe pro called immediately and slammed ace-king down on the table, angrily asking, "You got that beat?!" The other guy sheepishly turned over four-five off-suit for a ridiculous bluff and said, "Not yet, but you're gonna be really upset when this hand beats you." Because the poker gods have a sense of humor, the flop's door card was an ace ... followed by a deuce and a three to turn four-five into a flopped straight.

As the guy with four-five raked the pot worth over $500, the wannabe pro remained surprisingly calm, grabbed a pack of cigarettes from his bag, and excused himself. As soon as he was out of sight the entire table broke out laughing in unison and the "stupid tourist fish stick" who hadn't uttered a single word since being berated during the previous big hand, said: "Is that what they call karma?" For some reason his ace-king losing was a lot more amusing than my ace-king losing, karma or not.

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