Like many poker players, Thinking Poker co-host Nate Meyvis spent plenty of time this summer in Las Vegas playing cash games and events at the 2015 World Series of Poker. Here's a tale from his time at the tables.
Las Vegas is less a vacation spot than an alternate universe. When I call a Vegas hotel from home back east, there's always some surprise when I get an answer, as if I'd managed to call up Mars, or 1985, or somewhere colors have all been replaced by their complements, as in a photographic negative. I have a hard time imagining an after-school job at a Vegas casino or 9-to-5 employment of any sort in the city.
But that's only how it feels from the outside. Once I'm there, I get into the local flow; it's as easy as sliding into water.
I sleep late without setting an alarm; read John Donne over hash browns and toast; sort through the unfamiliar bottles of shampoo, toothpaste, and sunscreen I've arranged near the sink. Having to put on sunscreen gives me meditative time, letting me stretch a little. This all facilitates a relaxed and attentive state of mind in which thinking comes easy. Deliberation is easier than reaction.
It's being in position, but in life instead of poker.
After the food and the sunscreen and a good walk, I'll find a poker game. Today it's the Bellagio, $2/$5. The action is fine, the coffee is good, and they had a seat open. I'm in the game for two or three buy-ins already, but no matter. My decisions all look fine in hindsight, and even if they didn't, I know that making mistakes is part of the game, too.
Now there are two early-position limpers, and I make it $25 with . Everyone folds except the limpers, who both call. The flop comes and they check to me. I bet $35 to knock them off small pairs and suited connectors. These limpers are both tighter than average, but I think they'll miss this flop often enough to make the bet worthwhile; besides, I have a gutshot.
Only the first limper calls; it looks like folding his hand is utterly out of the question, at least for now. The dealer next puts up the , which makes my straight, and the limper checks. There's about $150 in the pot, he has $575 behind, and I cover him. I bet $95. He thinks and makes it $225.
Okay. Think first, act later.
It's pretty clear he likes his hand. It's only $130 more to call, meaning if he's trying to get me to fold, he's not trying all that hard. He's sitting comfortably: poised but not threatening, with an attitude of settled attention.
The bad news, then, is that he's a tight player who likes his hand a lot. The good news is that I can beat some hands he might like a lot, especially and . Meanwhile and would give him a full house, but he might not have limp-called all of those hands before the flop.
There's $350 left to bet on top of the $130 I have to call; it's barely more than a half-pot-sized raise to put it all in. I could decide I'm winning often enough and just push. That's always tempting when there's not very much behind and I'm worried about my hand, but not worried enough to fold.
I have position, though. So why not use it? If he's this happy about his hand, he'll probably put the last money in on the river, even if a flush card hits. And if I just call, I can see what the river brings and how he reacts to it.
I put in the $130, and the dealer responds by giving us the . My opponent, with no discernible change in comfort or plan, bets his last $350.
Again, there is time to think, and again, there is good news and bad news. The bad news is that I can't beat a thing. The only plausible ten I can beat is -suited, and on this river he'd either check that hand or pause before betting it. There are some far-out possibilities for hands I tie or beat — , , or total bluffs — but none of those stories makes sense.
The good news is that I can fold, almost certainly having saved $350.
I'm a little more stuck, but I was plenty stuck already, and I've still got a good cup of coffee in front of me. I'm starting to understand what Tommy Angelo means when he talks about being on "the pure and infinite grind." In poker, as in life, I find that being in position is most valuable when I have been least comfortable.