New York City
Flashback to the summer of 2005.
The World Series of Poker had just ended and I stuck around Las Vegas for several weeks. During the last two WSOPs, I hightailed it out of Las Vegas within a week of the last hand of the main event. I couldn't stand being in Las Vegas for another minute and escaped the madness as soon as possible to repair my battered soul.
But the summer of 2005 was different. I wasn't completely jaded by the poker industry yet and after working my ass off for several weeks, I was jonesin' for poker. I wanted to explore Las Vegas as a local and play as much poker as possible. Fortunate for me, Grubby lived in Henderson at the time and the two of us hung out everyday.
Grubby and I had a daily routine. I still lived at the Redneck Riviera and I'd wake up sometimes after noon or 1pm. It was too hot to venture outdoors and I didn't want to catch E. coli from the hordes of pot-bellied mulleted kids that frequented the pool, so I'd stay inside and write for a couple of hours. Grubby would wake up in late afternoon and give me a call. He'd then swing by the Redneck Riviera to pick me up. We'd go eat somewhere, usually selected by Grubby. Then it was poker for several hours before we ended up at a strip club in the middle of the night.
If we were winning, we wanted to celebrate with lapdances by slutty dancers drenched in cheap perfume. If we were losing, we wanted to be consoled by slutty dancers drenched in cheap perfume. It was win-win. And there was always that moment when I'd signal Grubby at a table across the poker room to let him know it was time for Cheetah or the Rhino. He'd chug the rest of his strawberry Julius and quickly rack up his chips as he sprinted to the cage with a massive brain freeze.
After completing our charity work and humanitarian efforts at the local strip clubs (save the strippers, save the world), we'd either race back to a poker room to get in a game or go eat a late night special at some random eatery where tranny hookers, tweakers, and the odd random hipsters from Hollyweird seemed to gather at 5am.
Probably my favorite part of the day was our first meal at the buffet. You see, Grubby had comps all over town for different buffets which he had earned by playing (losing at) slot machines. So we'd hit up random places like Silverton, or Monte Carlo, or Terribles, or Green Valley Ranch only because Grubby had a ton of comps at those places
We would sit at a buffet for three hours or more in some instances. Grubby is the type of guy who likes to get as much bang for the buck as possible. So he'd milk the system. He felt that he lost so much money in that particular casino, that he was entitled to a relaxing meal which would be eaten at our pace. Sometimes we'd sit and discuss writing and films. Other times we talked poker. Grubby would explain a hand and then ask me how I would play it. And vice versa. We had two different styles and it was great to pick each other's mind. There were moments when we only discussed one single hand of poker and we'd debate back and forth for a couple of hours about the proper way to play that specific hand.
Grubby had an amazing feel for the game and was in the process of developing a new style that would be suitable to play in Las Vegas. I always said that Grubby had a grasp of the game that very few people I knew had. He could have been a highly successful cash game player, if it weren't for slot machines.
Here's an inside joke between us. Grubby's biggest leak in poker? The slots.
He had such a solid poker game that he frequently won. Except that he couldn't leave the casino with his poker winnings. He'd donk them all off at the first Mr. Cashman machine he would find.
We read every possible poker book. Our biggest complaints were the concepts discussed in those books, were basically concepts. Very rarely were you able to apply those to real life situations, mainly because those books were written with optimal play (or atrocious play) from your opponents. What we both learned was that players in Las Vegas didn't play like the pros wrote about in books. In short, we had to take the concepts they preached and apply them to the recent wave of poker people who flooded the tables in Las Vegas in the golden year of the poker boom.
Every night we were experimenting with different styles and play at the 1/2 NL games that the tourists loved. We also played different styles against geriatric rocks at the locals casinos. The Strip casinos had a ton of competition with table games and other poker rooms. They were all about keeping their poker rooms filled to capacity and offered up high hand jackpots (like at Palms or Mandalay Bay), so our style incorporated those promotions. The Station Casinos (like Green Valley and Sunset Station) were a part of a larger bad beat jackpot, so the locals played any pair and any suited connectors hoping for a straight flush over quads.
We'd opened up our playing range and got ourselves into different situations. After our sessions (and after a quick visit to the strip clubs), we'd sit and discuss what we learned that night. It was hard getting tourists to fold flush draws and they almost never folded Big Slick post-flop. We worked on picking up as many small pots as possible while at the same time, looking for that big moment when we get to felt an opponents with junk hands. Our philosophy sort of mirrored Barry Tanenbaum's approach to the game about making your opponents predictable while becoming completely unpredictable yourself.
Our other basic philosophy was trying to quickly read the players at the table and figure out their story. That's where being writers helped us immensely. We looked at people differently than most normal people. We paid close attention to the small details. Like expensive loafers or baller watches. We listened to the conversations to figure out if they were locals or in town for a few days. We watched their reactions when they won or lost posts. Humble winners? Or did they erupt like a volcano when they got sucked out on?
We extracted as much information as possible in order to compile a thin psychological sketch of our opponents, which would come in handy later on if/when we got involved with a big pot against them. The more information that we had about what they played and how they played it, gave us a slight edge in determining which buttons we needed to push in order to get them to fold or to call. That was the one advantage we had playing live versus playing online, so we exploited that edge.
We did our best to get involved with post against predictable players, since more often than not, we knew exactly what they had (or narrowed down them to a specific range).
My poker game was slowly evolving at the time to the style that I play today. I soaked up everything I saw at the WSOP and asked pros lots of questions. Almost all of them were happy to discuss poker strategy, especially Andy Bloch. I credit a lot of my development of a poker player from the conversations I had with pros during the down time at the WSOP. After I started thinking about the game in a different way, I applied what I learned from poker books, conversations with pros, and the Buffet symposiums with Grubby.
The weeks right after the 2005 WSOP were vital for me. That's when I rebuilt my bankroll and gained more confidence at the tables. I'm a better person and player today for the lessons that I learned in those few short weeks where I continued to live in the Redneck Riviera in the shadows of the Las Vegas Strip. (However at the same time, that was the end of the innocence and the beginning of our moralistic demise as we slid into the abyss of debauchery and became princes of darkness, trolling the streets of Las Vegas and feeding our voracious appetites for gambling, food, and sex. But you already know about those stories...)
When I finally left Las Vegas in August of 2005, I made adjustments. In order to neutralize all the short term luck involved in poker tournaments, and to stop the biggest leak in my bankroll, I began to eliminate tournaments from my daily diet. I focused on cash games because I played them much better. Although it would still be another six months or so that I stopped playing NL cash games and switched to my bread and butter... limit hold'em cash games. But that's a story for another time.
Ah this would have been a perfect time to segue into a review of Barry Tanenbaum's new book about advanced limit hold'em strategy, but I'm out of time. I'll save that review for a future post.
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