The Ligaz11 Education of a Poker Player: Part I

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I’m sitting in a $220 buy-in No-Limit Hold ‘Em tournament at the Mirage. First place is $3,000. Seven people are left at our table. I’m on the button with Q10s, and short stacked. Only $800 in tournament chips left. No one limps. It is me versus the blinds. The small blind is a tough player who won the tournament three nights ago. I’ve got to get through him if I’m going to win this thing. I reach for my chips.


Writers often steal from one another (techniques, a turn of phrase, titles). Poker players steal too, and not only blinds, but moves, styles, and plays. I’m doing a double steal here. The original steal is from Herbert O. Yardley’s book The Education of A Poker Player (the best poker book out there). The second steal is from Adam Schoenfield’s recent article in Card Player magazine. The reason I could not come up with a better title is that I am in Poker School (Pokerschoolonline-a part of, and I am trying to become a winning tournament player. Ernest Hemingway said write the truest sentence you know. Well this is the truest title I could come up with.


Besides kitchen table games, I had no poker experience prior to August of 2000. I loved going to Las Vegas, I loved to gamble. But I was tired of losing every trip. The Monte Carlo casino advertised free poker lessons and I went one morning. It was very basic and included betting rules (no string bets) and rudimentary rules on pot odds (don’t draw to an inside straight unless you have 11 to 1 odds). My first forays into live 7-card stud games were not good. I lost $200 very quickly-but I was hooked. When I returned home to Florida I ordered poker books. I subscribed to Poker Digest. My wife found Wilson software online and I ordered their Turbo 7-card stud. Now I was really hooked.


My next trip to Las Vegas, I lost $300 playing poker. But I played over 30 hours, a loss of $10 per hour. Much better than table games. Still, I wanted to be a winning player.


In August of 2001 I got the tournament bug. I had been playing Turbo Texas Hold ‘Em for a month. But live Hold ‘Em (HE) games looked intimidating. There were blinds and a button that moved around and I couldn’t figure out who bet first on which round. And the pots grew much faster than in stud poker. A dealer told me that a small buy-in Hold ‘Em tournament was the cheapest way to learn. I bought a book on tournament strategy, followed it to the letter, and made the final table at a Mandalay Bay tournament my first time out. A day later I did a three-way chop for first place at the Luxor. I had promised myself that if I won a tournament I would play in one of the bigger buy-in nighttime tournaments. I picked the $120 buy-in/$100 rebuy No-Limit Hold ‘Em (NLHE) tournament at the Mirage. The way I looked at it was that this was 15 minutes at a cold craps table. I got a lot more than that.


These were good ligaz11 players. They stared at me when I looked at my cards. They did not ask me where I was from. They were not here to socialize–they were here to win. The guy next to me had a cap pulled down to conceal his eyes and barely grunted when I said hello.


A half an hour into the tournament I caught a flush and pulled in a big pot. Then I lost with JJ when I threw out a $500 chip pre-flop. I thought I had raised. I see change coming back at me. I don’t say a word, not wanting to show my ignorance. Only later did I find out that any single chip thrown out on the table is considered a call, and that a single chip raise must be accompanied with the word raise. An Ace came on the flop and I had to lay down my jacks. I lose a couple of more hands. They announce the break. I rebuy. They tell us to put our red chips out.


The player with the baseball cap sees my look of puzzlement and as he leaves the table he tells me I might want to watch. I do watch as each odd red chip gets a card from the dealer. The highest card gets a green chip, the next highest also gets a green chip. But not me.


I have no idea how long the break is. I go to the sports book where I can see the players return to my table. I nervously puff on a cigarette.


Back from break I get pocket kings. However, I fail to raise enough both pre-flop and post-flop, giving a confident, well-dressed man the proper odds to go for his open-ended straight. He gets it. I am now officially short-stacked. We lose a couple of players. More players come in from other tables. All of them eye my short stack of chips. I tell the guy with the baseball cap I am like the wounded gazelle on the Serengeti Plain. He laughs. Then he says, “Pick a hand and go for it. Try to get three- or four- way action. Then you’ll be right back in it.” I wait. No hands come. The blinds rise.


In the meantime the player with the cap puts in a medium-sized raise. The well-dressed player pauses for a moment, then reraises him a substantial amount. The guy with the cap doesn’t hesitate; he goes all in. The well-dressed man stares at the table, then at the man, then at the table again. Everyone is looking at the well-dressed man. There are several thousands of dollars of tournament chips in the middle of the table. The seconds stretch out.


Wow. Seeing this one hand was worth the price of admission. Finally the well-dressed man shoves all of his chips toward the center of the table. Since at least one of them is all-in, they both flip over their cards: QQ for the well-dressed man, KK for the man with the cap. No queen comes and the well-dressed man gets a few green chips back, while the guy with the cap rakes in a mountain of chips. The well-dressed man is crippled up and goes out a couple of hands later.


Then the man in the cap does something that surprises me. He explains exactly how he knew that the well-dressed man had QQ. JJ or below, he explains, would not have induced a reraise. If it had been AA, there would have been no hesitation with the reraise, and, in fact, the man would have gone all in. I ask him if he’s mostly a tournament player and he tells me he doesn’t play in Las Vegas much anymore because the competition has gotten so tough. He tells me he just got back from a three-month trip to Europe where he’d been playing pot-limit Omaha. He doesn’t have to tell he won a lot. I know this now.


I finally go all in with J8s and with only one other player in it with me. Not the hand or the situation I want, but I only have three times the BB left. I lose. I stand and wish the guy with the cap luck. I count the number of players left: I’m 22nd out of 50 starting players. I had made it over halfway through. If I hadn’t misplayed two hands I would be at a better than an average stack and with a distant shot at making the money. I hang around and to see the man with the cap make the final table. He wins. No surprise there.


Talk about hooked.


I discover and read it everyday. When I see an icon to download and test tournament software, I sign up. I join Pokerschoolonline when it starts. I read more books. I try to follow a tight, aggressive strategy that all the books advise. I do well on line. I get an entry in the March 2002 Poker School tournament for a chance at a free entry in the 2002 WSOP. I book an eight-day, tournament-only trip to Las Vegas in Mid-December.




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