Towards the end of May, I had the opportunity to visit Las Vegas to cover the Season XVI WPT Tournament of Champions. In between crunching numbers and enjoying first-class WPT hospitality, I had the opportunity to play some poker. I visited over half a dozen poker rooms during my week-long stay. Some I had played in before, such as the poker rooms at Planet Hollywood, MGM, and Harrahs. Others, like the poker rooms at the Westgate (formerly the Las Vegas Hilton) and the Bellagio, I patronized for the first time. The latter two were the last two rooms I played in on my trip, on the penultimate and final nights before flying home, respectively. After each of those sessions, I released a Tweet, each of which one can appreciate far more deeply with the proper context. What follows, then, is a chronicle of those last two poker sessions, highlighted by those two Tweets.
Session One: The Westgate
I’ll be blunt. Things were not going well for me at the tables in the days prior. I had played $1/$2 and $1/$3 No Limit Hold’em exclusively and I was down many hundreds of dollars over multiple sessions. Even so, I sauntered in to the Westgate poker room with my head held high. I may not have been brimming with confidence – losing sessions do take their toll after all – but I knew deep down that I wasn’t playing poker poorly.
After about three hours of play, I was up a little over $250. Having bought in for just $100 that session, my stack was at that point the third-largest at the table. While I was on the big blind, the under the gun player announced a raise to $12; rather unusual as he had been playing kind of snug. I then looked down at my cards to discover one of the prettiest sights in poker, pocket aces (my favorite hand, by the way). Everyone else folded until action reached the player in the cutoff position. He then uttered two exquisite words, “I raise,” counted out $35 from his stack, and pushed those chips forward. Action folded to me and I was seeing dollar signs. The 3-bettor, who had me covered, had been playing rather loose throughout the session while the initial raiser was short stacked, with just $95.
After Hollywooding a bit, I slid a stack of redbirds in, $100, figuring the original raiser would move all-in and the 3-bettor would fold, so I’d be in a very strong position heads up. Indeed, quite quickly the raiser announced “all in” and we both sat there waiting for the 3-bettor to fold so we could table our hands.
A minute passed, and then another. Finally, the 3-bettor said, “I dunno, I just have this feeling. I call.” I took my cue and practically insta-shoved over the top. Once again, the 3-bettor went into the tank, and once again he ended off with the same phrase after a couple minutes, “I dunno, I just have this feeling. I call.”
I immediately turned over my red aces, while the short stack dejectedly revealed his pocket kings. The 3-bettor decided to play things coy and clutched his cards close to his chest. At just over $800, it was the largest pot I had ever played.
The board ran out Q, 10, 6, 2, 9 with no flushes possible. Just as I was ready to scoop the pot, the 3-bettor laughed hysterically, shouting “I knew it! I had a feeling!” and slammed down his J8 suited.
Without missing a beat, the dealer then announced “aces cracked,” meaning I had the pleasure of sitting felted at the table, waiting for a floorperson to deliver $50 to my seat as everyone at the table talked nonstop about what had just taken place. While waiting, I took to Twitter…
Nobody likes a bad beat story, so I’ll just say that poker can be exceptionally cruel. $50 for cracked aces is no consolation for losing a 3-way all in preflop when the guy with J8 suited says “I had a feeling” and is now stacking $800 that could have been mine.
— Robbie Strazynski (@cardplayerlife) May 28, 2018
When the floorperson arrived, I signed, took the money, and sullenly headed back to my hotel room. I might only have been down $50 for the session after getting the promotional money, but it felt like I had lost a fortune.
A Fateful Dinner Turns the Tide?
I woke up the next morning and, with 24 hours left in Las Vegas, I of course still had the itch to play more poker. After getting slammed at the felt in such dramatic fashion, however, I had quite simply lost my mojo. I was even thinking about trying to play free slots online. As mentioned, I was already down several hundred dollars for the trip and just didn’t feel as though playing any more poker would be such a good idea. After all, if you sit down to play poker with scared money, you’re practically guaranteeing yourself a loss.
I holed up in my room, broke out the laptop, and worked all day, willing myself not to lose any more money at the tables, but nonetheless fighting the urge to head over to a poker room and scratch my itch to play. As evening settled in, the city was buzzing, as the Golden Knights were set to take the ice in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Midway through the game, a very good friend texted me and asked me if I’d be interested in going out for dinner after the game ended.
That’s what I needed. A friend! “Yes, of course! I’ll be happy to join you!” I texted back.
Over a sumptuous dinner – he kindly treated, as he had won big betting on the Golden Knights – I couldn’t help but spill my guts. That’s what friends are for, right? I spared no details as I told my friend about my poker woes over the previous week. While he very much sympathized as I related the final bad beat from over at the Westgate, he’d seen it all before. This was a Las Vegas local who had plenty of experience with the ups and downs of casino life. “That’s poker,” he said.
When I finally finished relating my poker sorrows, he quipped “so, where are you playing tonight?” I laughed, but he was completely serious.
He continued: “You’re flying tomorrow morning, Robbie! You have to get on the plane tired, then you’ll sleep all the way back to Israel. It’s a long flight!” I told him he was crazy.
“Come with me to the Bellagio,” he continued. “We’ll play together.”
I then told him I was too scared to play at the Bellagio poker room. “I’m not good enough; only the pros play there. Plus, I’d be playing with scared money!”
His response shook me to my poker core: “Robbie, first of all, it doesn’t matter who is playing or where the game is. $1/$3 is $1/$3 and you can only lose what you’ve got in front of you. Second of all, you’re approaching the game wrong. Don’t play scared; pretend the money is already gone! Will losing another $500 break you? Will you feel any worse than you already do? Take $500 and see what happens. You really have nothing to lose.”
I couldn’t think of any way to argue against his logic.
Session Two: The Bellagio
We arrived at the Bellagio around 10:30 pm and my friend’s name was called first from the list. As he headed off to his table, he reminded me once more: “Robbie, pretend you’ve already lost the money. Play like you have nothing to lose! I’ll come check on you later.”
I decided to give myself two $250 “bullets.” Within an hour of sitting down to play, I was forced to reload with bullet #2, as my made straight lost to an opponent’s rivered flush. I had gotten then money in good on the turn. What can you do? That’s poker, right?
Somewhat sick to my stomach, I took the second $250 out of my pocket and asked the dealer to exchange my two black chips for two stacks of reds. I placed my two green chips atop those stacks, then left the felt and walked to the bathroom to wash my face and clear my head a bit. I reminded myself that I had committed to following my friend’s advice. He was right, after all; it was just another $1/$3 game, and I had been getting my money in good. Things were bound to turn around.
It’s said that when G-d split the Red Sea, the first Israelite Nahshon the son of Amminadab nonetheless had to wade in up to his neck until the waters fully parted.
Over the next 30 minutes, my stack took one hit after another until I was down to my last $22. A missed draw here, an iffy call there. I was grasping at straws, but I should’ve known better. You can’t force good fortune.
Ready to call it a night, I tossed my $22 in under the gun with KJ offsuit. I had my one caller (with QJ) dominated and my hand “miraculously” held. Chip and a chair, eh?
A short stack of just over $40 doesn’t allow for much play, so I figured I’d wait for an opportune moment, some good cards, and hope for the best. Pocket tens came along a couple hands later and they, too, held up against a lone opponent. Suddenly, we were back in this thing. I felt a surge of momentum starting to swing in my favor. With $86 in front of me, I could actually play some poker again.
And play poker I did… Over the next couple hours I could quite literally do no wrong. By 3:00 am I had managed to climb all the way back out of the huge hole I had dug. With $505 in front of me, I got up from the table, too shocked to know how to proceed. A back and forth swing of that magnitude within such a short time period is something I had never experienced before.
I walked over to my friend’s table and told him what had happened, how after 90 minutes I was all but packed up to go, when the tide had suddenly turned. Now, I had painstakingly built back up to what I had started with. Perhaps I should call it quits, head back to the room, and catch some shuteye before the flight?
He smiled, laughed, and said “Robbie, nothing to lose means nothing to lose! If you still feel good, keep playing, buddy.”
And play on I did. The run good continued. At around 6:00 am I was somehow up a shade over $300. My friend came over to wish me good night/morning. I felt that that was my cue. I had had the most exhilarating poker night of my life and winning more money wouldn’t move the needle while losing would certainly sting a bit. Before cashing out, I had to Tweet something out to capture my mood at that moment.
…and sometimes poker can be the f***king best game in the world!
You know those moments when you have just $22 left… and then 6 hours later THIS happens?
— Robbie Strazynski (@cardplayerlife) May 29, 2018
The adrenaline kept coursing through my veins over the next few hours as I went back to my room to pack up and then continued on to the airport. Exhaustion hit pretty hard once I settled into my seat for the lengthy flight home, but I’m pretty certain I fell asleep smiling. Though I was still down overall for the trip, it sure felt like I had won big time.
Win or lose, for recreational poker players like me, it’s the experiences you have at the table that make the game so exciting and fun to play. There will always be ups and downs, hopefully more of the former than the latter, and all we can do is buckle up and enjoy the ride.
Two tweets from two poker tables, barely 24 hours apart. Tweets sent by the same person playing the same game. Yet, they encompass two wildly different stories and outcomes.
Sometimes poker drags you through the worst of times, but thankfully it’s also the setting for some of the best.