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Smokin' Poker - The ABC of 2NL

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On Monday night, Rob Sharona invited me to Westcliff casino. It's about a mile from my house, but I've never stepped inside. We went to play a freebuy tournament. It was $3 to register, and then there were two £10 rebuys and a £10 add on. I was somewhat apprehensive, as I'm a homebody that doesn't like being dragged from the comfort of his Ikea chair, but Rob led me to believe that the game would be fairly soft and the surroundings are comfortable. He turned out to be right, but I could have done without one of my headaches kicking in, as it's hard for me to play my best when it hurts to think. The casino is quite plush considering this town is a seaside resort that is about 80 years past its prime. I went with the attitude that this would be a learning experience, and that I'd get a few hours "entertainment" for my money and so it proved to be.

Genting casino, Westcliff

49 players registered, and this meant that the casino guaranteed a prize pool of $1000. I was seated on a table of 9 players, and was happy to fold my first few hands. Although the blinds went up every 20 minutes (making this a "turbo" of sorts) the efficient dealer kept the game going pretty speedily. Indeed, hands played out much more quickly than I expected, as I'd heard live games could seem ridiculously slow to online veterans. As expected there was quite a lot of limping early on, but I still folded hands like 97o and Q2s in late position, as I wanted to save my chips for situations that had a clearer positive expectation. Folding allowed me to pick up some general reads. The opponents on my table were mostly males around age 30. They were chatty, and all seemed to know each other, and I felt that I was building a very tight image, which I might be able to exploit later. I made a clear mistake on my first big blind, however. There were three or four limpers, and I could have checked my option, but I had such a weak hand that I mucked my cards without thinking. I felt like an idiot for folding when checking was free, but I laughed it off and regained my composure.
Villains were making some rather odd plays. They would generally only bet if they hit the board, but their bets were generally less than half pot. Occasionally, however, they would shove all in for 2000 into a 400 pot, drag the chips and then reveal they had a flush draw. I saw this move a couple of times from different players, so decided that if I made a pair and got shoved on, I would call. I never had the chance, however. The first hand I played was AK, which I raised versus a limper. I took the pot down with a c-bet on the flop even though I'd missed, and it was exhilarating to have a bunch of chips slid in my direction. One player at the table was wise enough to realise that the ability to rebuy made it +EV to shove all in with a wide range. He jammed 86o vs AJ and made a straight to give him a big stack, and then he started bullying the table. Meanwhile, I looked across to Rob's table and saw he was all in with KK vs JJ and TT. Amazingly, he was staring at a flop of JTx, so both his opponents made a set, and he was crippled.
I picked up  UTG and made a 2.5x raise, and the big stack 3-bet. I shoved what was only about 20bb and he called with . I was happy to have got it in as a big favourite, but the board ran out badly for me. The flop put out a gutshot to the wheel and the turn gave my opponent the nut flush draw to go with it, so he had a ton of outs. The river came an ace, so I lost my first stack. I wasn't that unhappy, to be honest, and took the rebuy as planned.
No one had busted out of the tournament when the first break came round, but a few had used two rebuys. I didn't play many hands in the second period. I was getting a lot of junk and doing a lot of folding. Just before second break, I was down to about 6bb, so I was looking to shove just about anything. I picked up  on the button, which seemed like an obvi-shove to me. Amazingly, the guy in the big blind folded  face up, even though he had me well covered. Addons came around after second break, and the addon was very generous: 10k chips for £10 meant everyone added 25bb to their stack, so no one was desperate.
I played a couple of pots and missed, so dropped to 20bb, when I picked up . I can't remember the precise action, but ultimately I 4-bet all in. Perhaps my tight image was still intact, because I picked up a lot of dead money without seeing a flop. A few hands later, the blinds had gone up and I had  UTG. I didn't really want to raise and see a flop multiway in which I'd probably miss, but also didn't want to open-jam, so made the "weird" play of limping in. One player shipped a very small stack and another called, but these players had been playing a lot of hands. I presumed my AQ was the best hand, so I shoved. I improved on the flop and added a chunk of chips. I lost a bit after that speculating with hands like 97s and QT, so when the blinds went up I was getting desperate. I shipped  and got two calls. One of them made a set on 976, so when he bet into the dry side pot, the other player folded and I flipped over my cards, knowing I had an OESD. As luck would have it, I turned the straight. I yelled "Don't pair the board" and the Pokergods obliged. I'd tripled up and could take my stack (which was about average for the 24 players remaining) to a new table as the first one was broken up.
I went horribly card dead on this table and wasn't enjoying myself much. The pain in my head was increasing in a way that was inversely proportional to my stack. Rob had got busted, so he railed me. I made a mistake when I picked up  in early position. I opened and got 2 callers, but the flop came . The player in the big blind donked out for a minbet. I said to myself "That looks weak, like just the 8, so I'll call, but if he bets the turn too I'll give him credit for the ace". Another player also called, so I should have realised I was definitely behind with little chance of improvement. The turn was a blank and again the BB bet really small. I couldn't bring myself to fold my jacks, even though it should have been obvious that the villain had to have an ace to bet into two players. One folded, so we were heads up on the river. Once more the BB bet small. I reluctantly called and he showed his ragged ace.
I was very short then and looking to shove. I'd barely noticed that we were getting close to the bubble. We'd been playing over 4 hours and I was getting antsy, just wanting to go home and rest my head. Ultimately, I shipped about 8bb with , my least favourite hand. The big blind tanked for ages, before reluctantly calling with . I would have been snapping in his position, as he had me well covered. Unfortunately, I didn't even get a sweat on the flop. He hit the ace and I only had a weak backdoor draw. I was busted in 12th, with 8 players getting paid.
Apart from my newbie mistake of folding my BB when I had the option to check, and turning myself into a station with JJ on Axx, I was pretty happy with my play. I think I'd have a reasonable chance of cashing if I play this game again, as the opponents weren't exactly solid. They either bet way too small (pricing in all the draws) or way too big (risking them getting value-owned), so there is definitely scope for exploiting them. Naturally, you still need some luck to win. Most of the time I was all in, I had the best hand, but I lost a couple of flips.
I think I'll be much more confident next time I play, and I think I'll enjoy myself a lot more. As a first-timer, I was too concerned with avoiding newbie errors like forgetting to post my blinds or folding out of turn. Now I'm more used the mechanics of live play, I think I could spend more time picking up usable reads.
Overall, I'd recommend that everyone at least tries playing live, especially if they have a friend to go with, as it could be a profitable experience in both monetary and "experiential" terms. For me it was nice to get out of the house. Playing live is not something I see myself doing very often, but I'll certainly go again, headache permitting.

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