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Making adjustments for weird games, III

In my last entry, I wrote about what to do when the blinds are comparatively small. Now, what do you do when the blinds are comparatively big?

For example, at the Seminole Indian Casino Hollywood, the $1-$2 limit game is spread with $1-$1 blinds. In this case, there's 2 small bets in before the flop (as opposed to the "standard" 1 1/3 to 1 2/3 small bets). Can you say "blind stealing opportunity?" Risk $2 to win $2, you only have to be a favorite 50% of the time to win.

Of course, this needs to be tempered by the fact that proper play dictates defending your blind more (even the SB) -- a button raise to you in the SB gives you 4:1 odds on your call; if you're a winner more than 20% of the time, you've made money. In fact, you should consider reraising to a blind steal more (especially out of the BB); putting in $2 to win $4 means that you need to only win just over 1/3 of the hands you reraise to show a profit.

Additionally, you should loosen up slightly in a game like this. You're paying 2 small bets per orbit, so you need to be a bit more active than normal, and the extra money in the pot preflop makes it worth your time to do so (remember, if you open with a call, you only need to be the winner 1/3 of the time to break even). If you have any kind of a read on the players behind you, especially a "they're gonna call, not raise" read, all of a sudden early position can be played like middle position (eg, you can call UTG with K T as I did recently, flopping a flush and netting a $20 win).

So, to sum up the ideas from my little miniseries on making adjustments for weird blind limits:

As the blinds get comparatively smaller, fold more, raise less, steal less, and let your blinds go more.
As the blinds get comparatively bigger, fold less, raise more, steal more, and defend your blinds more vigorously.

Making adjustments for weird games, II

I live in the backwoods of the public poker world; Florida. Here, there's a maximum $5 bet in limit poker, and a lot of folks who want to play ultra-low (for years, there was a $10 maximum on pots, so it's still a scary thing, playing where you can lose $10 a hand for some of these old folks).

At any rate, on a recent trip, I played $1-$2 limit at the Seminole Hard Rock, in Hollywood (see my trip report and room review for more info -- the upshot, nice room, a bit noisy, and the dealers are mediocre). At that game, there is no big blind, only a single $1 blind in front of the button (eg, if the button is at seat 1, seat 2 posts $1, and seat 3 is UTG, as opposed to the more "standard" play where seat 2 would post 50¢, seat 3 posts $1, and seat 4 is UTG).

How does one adjust to such an arrangement (aside from noting that it's frikkin' $1-$2, so it's an uber low-limit game anyhow, so the major mistake made is players calling when they should fold, and sometimes calling when they should raise or checking when they should bet, that is)? Having a single blind should change the texture of the game, right?

It does.

First off, there's less money in the pot preflop, as normally there's between 1 1/3 and 1 2/3 small bets in the pot (depending on the game -- for $3-$6, it's generally $1 and $3 blinds, for 1 1/3 small bets, for $9-$18 I've seen blinds of $6 and $9, for 1 2/3 small bets). Here, there's only 1 small bet. So, your preflop steal equity goes down; you risk $2 to win $1, so you must be at least a 67% favorite to win if you're called, where in the other situation, you need only be a favorite ~57% of the time (actually, it's between 54% and 60%, depending on the size of the small blind). Additionally, defending your big blind is riskier -- you'll put 1 SB into a 3 SB pot to defend in this case, rather than

So, steal less, and defend less.

This opens the door to the other major strategy change. Tighten up, compared to a game with the same number of players seeing the flop and "normal" blinds. You are only spending 1 small bet per orbit, so you can afford to wait for premium hands more. Admittedly, with generally between 5 and 9 players seeing the flop (on a 9-handed game, this describes the $1-$2 games here accurately), "tighter" is a pretty shaky term; you mainly only have to be tighter than your opponents to win. However, don't let yourself be tempted by mediocre hands like 9 T; you're facing long odds, because of the number of players (remind yourself in early position, "there's gonna be a crowd behind me,"), and can afford to wait for something that plays well against a crowd.

That being said, I can see some players making the argument (and it's reasonable, IMO) that in such a game, taking an extra hand every 2 orbits might make sense (after all, it means you're effectively paying your small blind as "normal"), but I'd caution you to do so in position only. Don't let yourself be swayed into calling UTG with crap like, oh, K T (a joke; I won a big pot in that position with that hand last night) unless you really know what you're doing (in that case, I had good reads on 4 players behind me; they were all calling, so I knew I was OK odds-wise).

So, perhaps a better way of saying it is "tighten up in early position, loosen up a little in late position."

Next time: dealing with games with comparitively big preflop blinds (like, the Seminole Casino Hollywood's $1-$1 blind $1-$2 limit game).

Rockin' in Hollywood

I've been taking a hiatus from poker for a while, as Real Life has dictated that I'm not to have any free time.

However, the company I work for made the mistake of sending me to Hollywood for a meeting, not 4 miles away from the Hard Rock. So, of course, it's off to play poker.

I actually went there twice during the day; once before the meeting (which started at 2 -- I arrived at 11), and once after. Both times, I asked to play $2-$4 limit holdem... and both times there were problems.

The first time, there were no active $2-$4 games (there were probably 25 tables playing total, and some of them were a multi-table tourney), but there was an interest list. Fine, put me on the list, and I'll play $1-$2 until then. I was seated immediately (well... kinda. The brush told me "table 44, by the rail," and left me to find my seat in the 50+ table room. Uhh... service?). Buy in for $60, a large buyin in that game it seemed. Overall, the quality of the players was pretty low, as exemplified by the following hand: I'm in the big blind (just clockwise from the button -- it's a single $1 blind in this game) with Q J. Preflop, there's a raise from UTG, and 7 players call. I toss in my $1, figuring to fold if the flop misses me.

It doesn't. It hits me. In a big way. Q Q Q. I check, UTG bets, 4 calls, I smooth-call (why raise? Am I gonna lose here? Only to runner-runner AA, KK, or some combination that makes a straight flush... and even then, there's the bad beat.), the turn comes a 9. I check, UTG bets, 1 call, I checkraise, 2 calls. The river brings us an A, and I'm thanking the gods of poker -- a flush on board, and I've got quads. I bet, UTG raises, the caller folds, I reraise, and UTG caps!

He had A 9. And, of all things, proceeded to tell me that I should have been more aggressive on the flop. Uhh, OK. I can't hear you over the din of the background noise and the sound of your chips being pushed to me, sir. Alas, quad queens wasn't enough to win the $1,000 high hand for the hour (it was already quad aces).

Then, I heard "Bill R, your seat is available for $2-$4 limit holdem."

Hey, waitasec... I was on the interest list! Shouldn't I have been opening the table? A quick step to the brush station, and they claim to have called me (not that I could hear the intercom reliably in the room -- it's really noisy, even at noon on a Monday), but it seems to me that sending a brush over to ask if I wanted the seat, when they knew where I had been seated (or... well, should have. They have computerized seating, I can see where that would be a reasonably nice feature to have, noting where players on multiple lists are playing). Anyhow, Bill R didn't show, and I was given his seat. $2-$4 was decent to me, not great, I won a couple of small pots, but broke even for that half of the session. Still, up $40 from $1-$2, I left to go to my meeting after snagging a slice of pizza at the coffee shop.

After my meeting and checking into my hotel room (comped by my company, score!) I drove back to the casino to see what the evening action was like. Busier! I asked to be seated at $2-$4 limit holdem... and was promptly seated at $2-$4 limit Omaha.

But, no matter, I'm flexible. Still, would have been nice to be seated at the game I'd requested!

One hand of note. I'm in late position with A3KJ, 6-way preflop action without a raise, flop comes 2 4 Q. Bet by the SB, BB folds, call around to me, I call. Turn comes a 5, same action, I raise, SB thinks for a second and folds, the next player reraises(?!) to $12, a call and a fold, and player to my right goes all-in for $14. At this point, I state "I'll complete," throw in another $8, and the reraiser begins throwing a fit. "You can't do that, it's 3 raise maximum, blah, blah." The dealer begins to toss back my $2 chip, and I ask him to call the floor for a ruling. He says "no, it's a 3 raise max, sorry."

No tip for you, buddy. Too bad, because the river gives me a T, for the nut high and lock low. Checked to me, I bet, get 2 callers in the side pot, and lo and behold, split the low with the reraiser from the turn. 3/4 of a pot is better than nothing, but I stiff the dealer, saying "when a player asks you to call the floor, you should do so. So, folks, because of mister 'you-cannot-raise,' I'm outta here... with your money. Later!"

The obnoxious guy begins to stammer and stutter, as I've just raked in about $60 in profit, and won't "give us a chance to win it back."

Too bad, so sad, you were a jerk, and there's another casino down the street where my money spends too.

See, the Seminoles used to have only one casino in Hollywood, the Seminole Casino Hollywood. I used to go there, years ago, back in the dark ages of $10 pot caps and quarter-fifty betting on stud.

The room has barely changed since then (and the last time I was over there must have been... oh, almost 6 years ago!). It's dingy, it's dark, the chips are worn to nubs. But, the players suck, so it's a good place to make a profit.

There were no $2-$4 games going, so I was seated immediately in $1-$2, and had one hand of note. I was in the BB (this game uses 2 $1 blinds) call around (6 players), SB checks, I've got A 3, I check, flop comes 2 9 4. I check, UTG bets, 5 calls, SB folds, I call. Turn is the 5, I check, UTG bets, 3 callers, I raise, UTG calls, 1 more fold, so we're 4-handed to the river... a K. I bet it out, everyone calls, I flip over second nut, and they all muck.

Another hand, my last. I'm UTG and announce that I've got to get back to the hotel (where I'm typing this before I go to sleep) and the dealer gifts me with K T. Now, I don't advise playing this hand UTG, but the game was so passive preflop that it was a safe call -- I knew I'd get at least 6 callers in the pot with me and no raise. So, I call. The flop comes something like 5 7 Q. Check to me, I bet second nut (something about me and second nut in this game...), folded around to the blinds, who both call. Turn and river are rags (I think they were something like the A and 8), I keep betting, they keep calling.

Total profit for the night, playing poker? $114. Not bad for uber-low limits. The moral of the story? Bad players can make what are, on paper, bad games into good ones. All of these games are raked 10% (in $1's) to $5, with an immediate $1 jackpot at $10. So, a $45 pot becomes a $40 pot. Bad on paper. Bad players? Make it good.

And, a second moral? If you're a dealer, and a player asks for a floor ruling... call the floor. Especially if he's betting like he's got a winner. Nobody likes being stiffed (and I don't like stiffing, either, but it's warranted in that case... and I say that as a former dealer!).

Making adjustments for weird games

Here in Florida, the law limits bet sizes to a maximum of $5 (and allows no-limit games with buyins of $100 or less, but in this article, I'll be discussing limit games). Due to this, there are a number of "strange" limit games in the state, for example:

$2 straight limit ($1-$2 blinds) almost everywhere.
$3-$5 fixed limit ($2-$3 blinds) at Sarasota.
$5 straight limit ($3-$5 blinds) at Naples/Ft Myers.

Now, admittedly, the competition at these games is fairly weak, but there are adjustments to be made to optimize your play in them.

First, preflop. In the SB, for example, in the Sarasota game, you're OK to call limpers with almost any two cards, even if it's folded around to you! Consider the case of 2 3 in the SB against K K in the BB: you're getting 5:1 odds from the pot (completing your $2 blind costs $1, the blinds total $5), and your hand is a winner 15% of the time. Yes, it's slightly -EV, but the KK would likely NEVER fear a board of 2 3 7, so your implied odds are greater. It's fit-or-fold on the flop; if the flop hits your hand hard (not bottom-pair-weak-kicker, not middle pair, I mean at least a pair and a draw, or two pair), you can play it out and make some money from implied odds, and if not you can get away cheap.

Your hand selection in the straight limit games should be different; your high card values go up, while your suited and connected values go down. Why? When do most straights and flushes hit in a "normal" limit game? On the turn or river, when the bets double and the straight or flush gets paid big. In the straight limit games, however, since there is no higher betting limit, the straight or flush doesn't get paid well, and is therefore less valueable. Therefore, hands like 6 7, that are playable in late position in a normal limit game, aren't so good here, while hands like K Q become more playable in early position (as the players who DO play small-card drawing hands in late position are giving up equity to your higher cards).

In the Sarasota game, your hand selection should be relatively standard; since there is a higher betting limit, straights and flushes get paid off reasonably. However, since the higher limit is $1 less than in a "normal" limit game, you can more easily fold your weak straight/flush draw hands preflop; you'll need more callers to give you odds than you would in a "normal" game.

Postflop, as indicated above, in the $2 and $5 games, you can draw more inexpensively, but you don't get paid off as well. Because of this, it's almost never a good idea to slowplay a good hand; you want to make it expensive for the draws to happen (and, when they arrive, it won't be as costly to you as it'll be on a "cheap" round). You don't want to be playing draws as much; free card plays negated in value, and your implied odds are lower. Strong draws are still playable (eg, A Q on a flop of T J 3), but weak ones can be safely mucked, even though your pot odds on the turn are better!

In the Sarasota game, postflop adjustments can be more limited; basically only the weakest draws should disappear. You can safely slowplay huge flops, and free card plays just become cheaper-card-plays (a raise from the button in our above situation with A Q on a flop of T J 3 costs you $3 to save you from the $5 turn bet, so you save $2 instead of the normal $3). Semi-bluff opportunities are OK for such plays, but don't do it if you only have the straight or flush outs to beat top pair.

Interestingly, in all these games, many players seem to take a sort of binary logic on whether or not they'll play their hand; they look at the cards, decide to play or not, and then see the flop or fold. Note that at no time is there a "re-evaluate the strength of my hand based on the preflop raise from the UTG player" stage in that logic. Additionally, players in these games almost never let go of a hand when they've limped and are raised preflop! Therefore, your preflop raises should be more based on value than on wanting to narrow the field. All of a sudden, hands that are perfectly callable in other games become raising hands in late position, and your field-limiting raises in early position should be severely reconsidered.

Low limit games like these have a ton of weak players; they offer a skilled player a nearly ATM-like opportunity to take money off the table. With minor adjustments to your play, you can raise your expectation in these fishponds.

One Eyed Jack's a Winner

While driving down 75 (I had some business to take care of in North Carolina, so I was returning home. Alas, I'd spent the previous night in Jacksonville, but the St Johns Greyhound track -- which has a poker room -- was about 30 miles from my hotel, and I didn't feel like taking an extra 60 miles onto my trip, and the much-nearer Jacksonville Kennel Club has not yet opened their poker room.), at about noon, I was in Sarasota and decided to stop at the dog track there to have some lunch and play some cards. The track is relatively easy to find, about 6 miles west of of exit 213 (it's the big building with a mural of a greyhound, kind of hard to miss). It turns out that I picked a good day to go there, as it was "50¢ Friday," with admission, as well as hot dogs, soda, and draft beer all costing 50¢.

The poker room is upstairs, under the grandstands. There isn't a whole lot of signage, but if you spot the logo (a smiling greyhound with an eye patch and one ear up), you can find it easily enough. Up the escalator, and then up a ramp to go under the stands, and you're in what is likely the physically nicest poker room in Florida. The ceiling is high, there are chandeliers, marble counter tops on the brush/cashier station and the bar, everything is decorated professionally in shades of brown and beige, giving the whole area an air of relaxed luxury. The tables are covered in beige, with a betting circle, and pictures of One Eyed Jack on each table. There are two types of chairs, one high-back with firm padding and one low-back with a softer cushion.

I was early, as the room opens up at 1PM (hours of operation are 1PM to 1AM, Monday through Saturday. They are closed on Sundays; likely due to Florida's laws that mandate parimutual poker rooms can only operate on days when there is live racing), so there was no waiting on the list for $3-$5 (that's right, $3-$5. $3 for the first 2 rounds, $5 for the last two. Blinds are $2 and $3. I'll discuss adjustments to make for such a game later, in another entry), but I did have to wait for the game to start. Fortunately, one of my table-mates brought a newspaper, and I got caught up on the chess and bridge columns while waiting for our dealer. When he sat down and sold chips to the table, we still had about 10 minutes to go until start time, so we chatted for a while. It turns out that he and some of the other dealers at the club share a hobby with me -- chip collecting! He called over one of their main collectors, and we chatted for a while, comparing collections. It turns out that One Eyed Jacks' $1 chip won the CCGTCC (Casino Chip and Gaming Token Collectors Club -- the national collector's group for casino chips and slot tokens) "chip of the year" award. Next time I go up there, I'll be bringing any extras I have along with me, to see if anyone needs a trade. I also pocketed one of each of their chips (50¢ -- you'll see the reason for this chip shortly -- $1, and $5), so now I have a full set of One Eyed Jacks chips.

The game was a typical low-limit affair. It started off fairly tight, for low limit, with only 4 or 5 players seeing the flop when it was unraised, and no preflop raising (literally, for the first hour I was there, there was no preflop raising). Post-flop, nobody seemed to respect bets or check raises (One hand I had was a 4-limper unraised BB with K 2, flopped K 7 6, bet out into 2 callers, turned a 2, check raised the player to my left, rivered the 6 bet, got a call, and lost to his A A, which he'd limped with UTG. Well, that was $15 and a good checkraise into the equity bank.)

At the 1-hour mark, it was like a switch was pulled. All of a sudden, any pretense to "tight" went out the window. 8- and 9-way action was the norm on the flop (myself and one other player being the one or two who folded preflop consistently), and there were even some preflop raises. I took advantage of this in one hand: I was on the button with A K, and there are six limpers to me. I raise, both blinds call, and all the limpers call (woohoo, a $54 -- well, really $49 with the rake -- pot preflop in a game with a $3 preflop limit!). Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, as I flopped A 3 8. Check to me, I bet, get 4 callers. Turn is a lovely A, check to me, I bet, get 2 callers ($63 pot). River is a harmless 6, check to me, I bet, get a caller, and win a $73 pot ($54 profit!) with the king kicker over A 9.

Oddly enough, the very next hand, I was dealt A 9, it was folded around to me (weird, at this table, to be in steal position and have it folded to you. I think this was the first time I saw it happen at this table, in fact.). At this point, the devil on my shoulder told me to pop it. Obligingly, I raised, the blinds called, and the flop came Q 7 4. Check to me, the devil says "you can push them off it." I bet, they call. Turn is a 9, check to me. "No, really, you can push them off it." I bet, they fold. Score 1 for Satan, I suppose.

I had to resist the urge to flash my cards to the player I'd beaten the previous hand (and who had called my preflop raise and flop bet this one), and say "That's how you play ace-nine."

At 2:30, I realized I had to get back on the road, so I racked up and left a winner, up about $40 (slightly less, if you count the fact that I've kept some of their chips for my collection). I'll be back there next time I'm anywhere near Sarasota, though. Or if one of my friends wants to learn to play (they offer a $2 straight limit game that seems to go all the time, as opposed to my local poker room, which rarely gets the $2 game going). Or if I feel like a bit of a drive.

A note on their games: they spread $2 straight limit holdem and $3-$5 limit holdem, Omaha, and Omaha/8, 50¢ ante $2-$5 stud and stud/8, $1-$2 no limit ($60 buyin), $2-$3 no limit ($100 buy-in), and single table tourneys. They run sit-n-go's as well -- $27+13 paying $180 and $90, $47+13 paying $250, $140, and $80, $95+$15 paying $500, $300, and $150, and $275+25 paying $1400, $900, and $450. While I was there, a $47+13 and $95+15 got together.

They also spread multi table tourneys the six days of the week that the room is open:
Monday: 1PM $50 with a $40 add on, 7PM $40
Tuesday: 1PM $30 with $20 re-buys, 7PM $30 with $20 re-buys
Wednesday: 1PM $65, 7PM $65
Thursday: 1PM $30 with $20 re-buys, 7PM $65
Friday: 1PM $50 with a $50 add on, 7PM $120 with a $100 add on
Saturday: 3:30 $330 (30-minute levels), 7PM $65

Also, every day at 10:30, there is a $40 "blitz" tourney, with 40 players maximum.

There are single-table satellites into the Saturday tourneys, $70+15 paying two places to the $330 game and $20 each. Satellite entries must be used for the next Saturday game.

The rake is moderately steep; 50¢ at $5$, $15, $25, and every $5 thereafter up to $60. There is also a 50¢ jackpot taken at $10 and $20. The overall effect is to make the rake 10% to $6, but nominally it's 10% to $5 with a $1 jackpot -- they just rake slowly as the jackpot is being pulled out. NL games charge time, which is (I believe) $5 per player every half hour.

There are a number of jackpots. Each form of high hand has it's own jackpot, ranging from quad deuces to the royal for both hold em and stud (both cards must play for hold em, and for all jackpots the pot must be $20 or more), and all straight flushes for Omaha. The jackpots vary, depending on when they've been hit last (and, I presume, the royals get more of a share of the jackpot drop), ranging from $39 for a steel wheel in Omaha up to $599 for a straight flush to the king in hold em, and $4396 for a royal in clubs (the royal jackpots vary by suit). Additionally, on Friday, any player getting a flush (not flush or higher, just a flush) is entered into a drawing for a "dueling rack attack." Blindfolded, 2 players rack up chips. The one who racks up more, gets to keep them. The loser gets 1/2 of what they rack. Also, on Mondays, starting at 6PM, flushes win you a square on their board for Monday Night football (either the first 100 flushes, or the end of the first quarter, close off the board) -- the first through third quarter scores win $100, and the game ending score is $200.

Cocktail service is available in the room, which has it's own bar. The waitress was rarely near my table (she was serving the tourney players, perhaps?), but it's not hard to get a drink. The room also has its own restrooms, which is a nice perk, and like all Florida poker rooms, is nonsmoking. The grandstand, right outside the door, is a smoking area for those who need to light up.
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