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Playing at Foxwoods

27 March 2007

It took me two hours to get to Foxwoods to play in the $300 Modified Shootout on Monday.

It took me nine hands to find the rail.

Sure, 30 minutes of driving per hand hardly makes a good session, but I'm not mad about my play -- and overall, I'm happy with the decisions I made.

I just wish there was a casino that was closer … I think.

Sizing up the table

The average age of my table was 213. While hating on the old is not one of my favorite pastimes, I feel like poker veterans generally follow the book or their gut, making them susceptible to someone who can interpret their strategy – and use it against them. So I was feeling good about having four fifty-plus players at my table (insert joke here about how quickly I got knocked out).

Looking at the rest of the table, I saw one jittery guy, two guys my age (24-30) and one person who showed up late. The jittery player kept mentioning how many people a person needed to beat to win the tournament, and I immediately pegged him for a target. Ironically, he was the player that knocked me out of the tournament.

There were two guys my age - both seemed rested, able, and ready to pounce. Generally my plan was to avoid these two, unless a situation came up where I could use their aggression against them. One of them was drinking a beer and I immediately decided to hate him, because this player was forced to promise his doctor/girlfriend/liver that he would limit his drinking to weekends.

And finally there was a guy who showed up late, frequently asked questions about how to play and kept referencing the structure. But in the first hand he played, he raised a limp-fest from the button. Warning bells went of in my head – kind of like when the Jaws theme song begins and there are dozens of people in the water.

Lesson –Take three or four minutes to size up your opponents before each tournament starts. Your initial reads are usually accurate. The older gentlemen at the table were predictably tight-aggressive. The younger guys were excellent players And the shark-in-sheep's-clothing revealed himself quickly and ended up winning the table.

Apparently, I should have recognized myself as the fish.

My favorite quote from Mr. Shark: "How much are these green chips worth? Haha – ass!

First Hand -

I was admittedly nervous. This was the second-biggest live tournament in my career -- the first being a $600 Limit Hold'em event at the 2006 Foxwoods Fall Poker Classic. The structure didn't help either. A modified shoot-out forces action, making you play many marginal hands in an attempt to secure a top-three spot to advance to the next round.

In an attempt to calm myself down, I decided I would call any reasonable bet on the first playable. Once I'm involved in a first pot, it's all the same poker to me, so I wanted to put some chips in immediately.

I picked up 9c-8c under the gun on hand one. Fairly certain that few people would want to play a large first hand, I called the $50 ($2,500 starting stack) blind and was happy to see one limper and a smallish raise from the small blind. The oldest player at the table was the raiser so I cautiously put him on two over cards (no big pair given the raise amount and quick action) and gladly saw the flop.

The flop came 9-7-4 rainbow. The raiser threw in his $200 Doyle Brunson continuation bet and I immediately felt like raising the pot to end the hand. I chickened out, however, convincing myself that he would not hit one of his six-outs to counterfeit my lead. I called the bet and winced at the ace on the turn. The raiser again bet $200 and my ego forced a stupid call. He checked the river and so did I. He turned over A-Q and hated myself for playing the hand like a donkey.

Hee Haw!

Lesson – Trust your gut. If you're in a hand and you trust your read, play the hand correctly. I'm still kicking myself over this hand, because I should have won it. And the win would have made me more comfortable at the table.

Middle Hands -

Just like hot models with cocaine addictions, things that look incredible on the surface can sometimes be a curse. I received the following pairings in my first nine hands: 9c-8c, Jh-10h, Js-10s, Kd-Qd, 6s-6c, As-10h, 9c-9s and two junk hands.

In a 10-person sit-n-go format, the seven "non-junk" hands are must plays. Both J-10 suited pairings were given to me in middle to late position in multi-way pots where the implied odds were fantastic. I completely blanked on both hands, leaving me with negative earnings on each. But tight is not always right, and I don't regret either call.

I hit the Q on the K-Q hand and made an appropriate flop bet, only to face an all-in from the big-blind. Not worth my tournament with top pair, not top kicker. I started to get frustrated at this point and probably should have taken a walk. But I've been short-stacked before and I typically trust my abilities. Plus, I still felt like I had a shot -- especially in a round where third place pays the same as first.

Lesson - Looking back, I could have been a little more patient or a lot more aggressive. These were definitely playable hands. But since I lost a decent-sized pot in the first hand, I probably should have waited a little longer force action with better hands. Still, the basic rules of implied odds gave me every reason to call. Had I flopped a monster, or even a 50-50-type drawing hand, I could have pushed and either won the medium pot, or potentially made myself the chip-leader with a call and a good turn/river. Given the structure, continually folding these hands would have given me negative equity. If I wasn't willing to get involved with these hands, I might as well have not driven down (I know - that was the probably they optimal option!)

Final Hand –>

If you want to succeed in No-Limit Hold'em, especially in tournaments where the starting stacks are relatively small compared to the blinds, you need to put your chips in the middle at some point and hope your read was correct.

For me, this time was my ninth hand. I was under the gun with pocket nines. I had 1,100 chips. I invested 200 of them with this powerful starting duo. It was enough to get away from the hand if I had to, and enough to scare off any mediocre hands given the probability that I would push my short stack.

The five-seat thought for awhile then decided to call. I put myself in his shoes and decided what I'd be willing to just call there. My starting requirements are a little tough, but I narrowed it down to pocket Jacks, or semi-weak aces…maybe double faces like K-Q thru J-10. His hesitancy looked genuine so my range on his hand was as follows: Strong side = pairs – JJ thru 66. Weak side- aces-X of some sort (probably weaker than A-10 given his delay) or maybe double faces. I did not put him on a very strong hand because his squirming betrayed that he was deciding whether his hand was good enough to call, not good enough to raise. The small blind also called the bet, most likely due to the pot odds. I had him on double face cards pre-flop or the same Ace-X (minus strength) range. Neither one seemed ready to raise me, thus I felt there was no real strength. My hand was best.

The flop was a perfect 4-4-2. I couldn't put either of them on these cards. Very few people are willing to call with a two or a four in their hand. When the small blind checked, I decided to move-in, not wanting to see an over-card on the turn or river.

The initial caller immediately went into drama mode and I knew I was beat. The Jacks were out the window because of my pre-flop read so I started to smell A-4. I got what I wanted, a caller drawing at a 3-1 disadvantage, and it burned me. He flat called the bet and the small blind mucked. He flipped his cards and the dreaded A-4 materialized.

In my humble and non-millionaire player opinion, I had gotten my money in good. The small blind confidently completed the bet, thus, the four was not an option for him. I thought it more likely that he missed. The same is true for the initial caller. I ruled out the Jacks because of his hesitation and imagined he had missed his Ace or had a hand I could crush, like pocket Sixes. I was wrong. He had me drawing dead to a nine with his A-4 off suit, but I don't think I made a mistake.

Either way, I still lost the hand, and didn't even make it through one full rotation of the dealer button.

Lesson – A tough way to go out, but getting a chance to nearly double up with a 3-1 head-start is good poker. He ended up looking like a genius, but his willingness to play Ace-rag to early position raises ended up costing him later in the tournament when his opponent flopped a better ace and he was unable to get away from the his top-pair – weak kicker. No one wants to go out of a tournament early (or first like me), but making good decisions is something that will be profitable for me in the long run. Trust your reads - mine was a good one and eight times out of ten, it would have worked.

Final Thoughts

I learned many things about my game in just nines hands, thus the ridiculous 30 minutes per-hand ride was actually worth it for me in the long run. Or I'm just rationalizing the tank of gas and $300.

1.) Higher buy-in tournaments intimidate me when all the stacks are the same.

If I could play the tournament over again, I would have won that first hand with either a big re-raise, or an all-in bet on the flop. If he called me so be it. If he didn't, well, I would have made an impression on the table that I was here to play and I would have felt good wining the table's first hand.

2.) My reads are generally correct.

When among my poker peers or worse, I can make reads that will allow me to succeed. I'm not saying I'm a great player or even a good player, but if I can't trust my reads, then why play at all? I need to make decisions based on the information I have – that's all we can do in poker.

3.) I wish Foxwoods was in Hawaii.

Two hours is still too close. Maybe I should move to Maine.


Mucking McLane
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Best of Ryan McLane
Ryan McLane

Ryan McLane was a poker reporter for Casino City. Although he has a strong background in reporting, the same can't be said for his poker skills. He has never won a major tournament nor is he a professional player. He applied for this job thinking it was a joke, only to find it out that it's true, people will pay you to write about poker. His favorite word is ridiculous.

After receiving his BA in History from Stonehill College in Easton, MA, he somehow ended up freelance reporting for a couple years before being deployed to Operation Iraqi Freedom III with the Massachusetts National Guard. He's back now and is a strong advocate of the phrase "God Bless America."

Currently, Ryan lives in Boston and occasionally makes international treks to cover tournament poker and news. Feature writing is his passion and there is no need to ask for his opinion, he'll probably offer it first - free of charge.
Ryan McLane
Ryan McLane was a poker reporter for Casino City. Although he has a strong background in reporting, the same can't be said for his poker skills. He has never won a major tournament nor is he a professional player. He applied for this job thinking it was a joke, only to find it out that it's true, people will pay you to write about poker. His favorite word is ridiculous.

After receiving his BA in History from Stonehill College in Easton, MA, he somehow ended up freelance reporting for a couple years before being deployed to Operation Iraqi Freedom III with the Massachusetts National Guard. He's back now and is a strong advocate of the phrase "God Bless America."

Currently, Ryan lives in Boston and occasionally makes international treks to cover tournament poker and news. Feature writing is his passion and there is no need to ask for his opinion, he'll probably offer it first - free of charge.