Think I hate Pocket Kings? Well I do. But I found something I hate even more.
Not the city, of course, the poker game known as “Omaha”.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The main reason for the timing of my most recent Vegas visit was to play in the AllVegasPoker Meet & Greet Tournament on 4/1. As I’ve mentioned before, AllVegasPoker is a terrific website that is devoted to all things Vegas and Poker. When I first started playing poker, the website proved invaluable giving me info on what rooms to play and also provided useful info on strategy and poker etiquette. The forums there are particularly interesting and worth reading.
More recently it seems that many of my regular readers discovered my blog first from AVP. I post there quite a bit, and AVP allows posters to put a signature at the bottom of their posts to give their website URL and/or their Twitter ID (a lot of forums don’t). Fortunately a fair amount of forum readers there found my posts there interesting enough to click on the link to check out my blog. And some of those people became regular readers. I described one such person on this page.
The first such AVP tournament that I played in (tho by no means their first such tournament) was last October. That had a huge turnout, over 360 players. The reason for the large turnout was that there was no “juice.” That means 100% of the money the casino took in in entry fees was in the prize pool, the house didn’t take anything out for its own profit. The reason the house did that in that case was that the tournament was at the MGM and was part of their inaugural Grand Challenge Poker Series. They thought it would be good advertising for their big event, so they got an awful lot of local Vegas pro’s and grinders to attend and hoped they would play in some of the other events, which cost more than the $100 entry fee for the AVP event.
The AVP meet & greet tournament last week was not juice-free, the cost was $100 plus $20 to the house, again, the MGM. And it was not part of their Grand Challenge poker series, which has its second occurrence end of this month (April). But it was sorta/kinda connected to the AVPT event that I referred to here and here and that I participated in by virtue of winning a free entry in the drawing that AVP had.
They weren’t expecting anywhere near the 360+ players they had in October for this event. One reason was the fact it wasn’t juice-free. Another reason was that unlike the prior tournament, which was strictly a No Limit Hold ‘Em event. This year they decided to do something different. It was half NL Hold ‘Em, and half No Limit Omaha, changing back and forth every 15 minutes. There are a lot less people comfortable playing Omaha than Hold ‘Em, and I’m certainly one of those people less comfortable with Omaha.
That’s because I don’t know how to play Omaha. Now, many people who have seen me play Hold ‘Em will tell you I don’t know how to play that either, but at least I’ve read up on Hold ‘Em—I’ve actually read a bunch of books on it—and have plenty of experience playing it. Cash games, low limit games, No Limit games, tournaments. But Omaha? Not so much.
Oh I kinda know how it plays, and I have played it a few times at a local Vegas casino. But it was strictly a 4/8 limit game, not No Limit, which makes a lot of difference. And the way the game was played at that place, there wasn’t a lot of raising or strategy involved. You either hit a big hand and won a big pot or you hit the second best hand and lost a big pot. How you would play it in a No Limit tournament, where raising and bet-sizing would be critical, was totally outside my skill and knowledge set. Frankly, I didn’t even know what a good starting hand would be, a rather important thing to know, for sure.
So why did I play in the tournament? Well, for several reasons. For one, I wanted to support AVP because it’s such a good site and it’s been very good to me, as noted above. Also, I know many of the other posters in the forums, and they know me, but only in cyberspace. I thought it would be nice to meet some of these folks in person. And some of those folks may be readers of this blog, and I am always interested in meeting readers of my silly blog posts in person. And finally, I certainly wanted to support AVP after they were kind enough to give me a free entry into a $350 tournament, the priciest tournament I’ve ever played in.
I guess I should explain a little about the game of Omaha for those who aren’t familiar with it. It is similar to Hold ‘Em with two main exceptions. First, you get four cards dealt face down, instead of two. There is still a 3 card flop, a turn card, and a river card (ie, five common cards), so that essentially you have six Hold ‘Em hands instead of one (there are six combinations of the four cards that you can use to make your hand). The other key difference is that you have to use two cards from your hand to make your hand. So, in Hold ‘Em, if there are four diamonds on the board and your hand is Ace of diamonds, King of Spades, you can just use the Ace to make the nut flush. In Omaha, if there are four diamonds on the board and only one of your four cards is a diamond, even if it is the Ace, you have nothing. You need two diamonds in your hand to make that flush.
Omaha is usually played high-low, but for this tournament it was high only, which is the only way I played it in that 4/8 limit game I mentioned. High-low obviously adds a whole new element to the game. But even in Omaha-high only, a Hold ‘Em player has to totally reorient his thinking as to what is a good hand. In Hold ‘Em, Top pair/top kicker will win a lot of pots. In Omaha, that hand is totally worthless. If you have a straight in Omaha, it better be the nut straight or it’s likely a loser. If there are three of a suit on the board, it’s pretty much guaranteed that someone has a flush and again, if you have anything less than the nut flush you’re not likely to win. Similarly, if there’s a pair on the board, you can be pretty sure that someone has a full house—if not quads—and if you don’t have the best full house possible, it’s much less likely to win the pot than in Hold ‘Em.
So the question is….only having played this game a few times—and then only in a 4/8 limit scenario at that—what the hell was I thinking playing in a No Limit tournament that was half Omaha High? Well, as I said, I really wanted to support AVP. It’s been good to me and I want to be good to it. Also, I hoped to meet more people who I knew from their posts on AVP and who know me from my posts there….and on this blog. So for those reasons—and also, I thought it might be fun—I wanted to play in the tournament, and I thought $120 was a reasonable price to play for that.
Thus, I showed up at the MGM last Sunday a little bit past 2PM for the “meet and greet” part of the event. I have to say, I was a little disappointed with the way TPTB at AVP handled this. At the previous such event in October, they gave out name badges for everyone to put their AVP handle on to wear. Also, before the event, they introduced all the major behind the scenes people at AVP. This year, they did neither of those things. Some of those “behind on the scenes” people did have bounties on their head (you got a prize or money or both for knocking them out of the tournament), and were wearing signs to that effect, but they didn’t introduce them. So if you already didn’t know who they were, you had no idea why they were wearing the signs, other than that they must have been “somebody.” And if they weren’t at your table, it didn’t matter anyway, because you didn’t see them.
The name badges would have been nice too. It wasn’t too effective at the last meet in Ocotober, because there were so many people in the tournament and a large percentage of those playing had nothing to do with AVP, they just showed up for a juice-free No Limit tournament. But this time, with a fee to the host casino, no ties to the big MGM Grand Challenge Event and it being on a Sunday afternoon (I think the last one was on a Friday night), less than 60 people showed up for it. But the good thing about that would have been if everyone was wearing badges, it would have been easy to identify people and introduce yourself, or have them introduce themselves to you. With badges, I probably could have met everyone there I wanted to meet, and they me. At the risk of sounding like an raging egomaniac, I bet there were readers of my blog there that didn’t even know I was there or who I was and would have liked to have met the silly guy who introduced “Prudence” and “Poker Genius” on an unsuspecting world, and who somehow inspired “Hooker Week” throughout a heretofore innocent poker blogosphere.
Of course, I acknowledge I could be wrong about there being people there wanting to meet me as the author of this blog, so perhaps it’s just as well it wasn’t that easy to meet people so my I can still have my illusions intact!
I’ve never been good at parties and what is known as “working the room”. Just not a social skill I ever developed. So the thought of going up to total strangers and saying, “Hi, I’m Robvegaspoker” do I know you? Do you know me?” was not appealing or something I could even remotely find myself doing. Sad to say.
And that’s about as introspective as I want to get on this blog. You’ll never find me as open about myself as say, TBC, that’s for sure. But the point is, I was kind of disappointed in my inability to meet and interact more with my fellow AVP’ers. I hope they look at this for the next meet. After all, not all poker players are as effervescent as Phil Helmuth!
Anyway, the tournament started and Jon Friedberg, the head of AVP and a pro player himself, was the player with the bounty at my table. I had met Jon a couple of days earlier when he awarded me my free seat in the AVPT event. Heckuva nice guy. Also at that table were two sisters, one of whom has a major role in this story, so let’s call her Ethel. I believe I heard her say she was 23. She sat two seats to my left. Between us was a guy who revealed himself to be a dealer at the Mirage. Ethel’s sister was across the table from Ethel. Ethel mentioned that her mom was at the table next to ours and also that her dad—who I believe she said was a professional poker player—was playing at a third table.
A very funny moment occurred early when the Mirage dealer, having overheard Ethel say something about her mom playing, mistook Ethel’s sister for her mother! Hilarity ensued. Ethel’s sister looked to be a few years older than Ethel but certainly nowhere near old enough to be her mother, she looked mid-to late 20’s. Of course, the sister was a bit horrified by that.
“Mother???? I’m her sister!” The poor Mirage dealer spent the next two hours apologizing and trying to explain it away but everything he said only made it worse. “I haven’t slept in 24 hours. I have terrible eyesight, I can barely see the board from here.” During a break, when sis came over to Ethel, he said, “Oh, now I see you actually look younger than your sister.” But none of this helped. Big sis seemed to take it in good humor, if she was really pissed she hid it well.
During a very early level a hand happened that gave me a reading on Ethel that may have contributed to my downfall. I turned Broadway (Ace-high straight) and she called my bet. The river paired the board with Jacks, causing me concern. Never-the-less I went ahead and led out with a value bet hoping she hadn’t filled up. When she called, I figured I was probably good.
No, the second Jack had given her the boat. But I was actually relieved. She could have/should have raised me there and did not. She gave me a break. I took that to signal that despite her apparent poker heritage, she was a timid, soft player. By the time this tournament took place, I’d already met Veronica, so you’d think I would have learned never to trust a woman at a poker table—or anywhere else, for that matter. Some lessons are harder to learn than others.
Now I was pretty much card dead for all the Hold ‘Em part of the tournament and pretty much clueless for the Omaha part. I was slowly bleeding chips but without many hands to play it was a drip, drip, drip, not a flood. Whenever we switched to Omaha I pretty much throw the cards away unless I could limp in with something that my gut told me had potential. Pretty much decided if I didn’t flop quads I was gonna toss the hand after the flop. Only a mild exaggeration there.
As we were winding down through the first three levels, I was in a tricky situation. I knew that sooner or later, card dead or not, I was gonna have to think about making some moves and being a bit more aggressive because of the dwindling chip situation, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable trying anything even remotely tricky or risky on the Omaha side. So I was seeing my chances for any long term success for this tournament evaporating by the minute. One thing I knew for sure, I wasn’t going to take any chances when the game was Omaha. I’d have to hope for an opportunity (or a great hand) when we were playing Hold ‘Em (or just get real lucky and flop an absolute monster in Omaha).
Which brings us to the final level before the ante’s started, so it was $100-$200. I guess I had lost a bit over $3K in chips from my starting stack of $10k. In early position in Omaha I looked down at QQ93, three suits. I knew that I should have just tossed the hand away because I was pretty sure that was a bad Omaha starting hand, but those damn Queens just looked so pretty. I said to myself, “Limp in, if it’s raised pre-flop, fold, if you don’t flop quad Queens, fold.” There hadn’t been much pre-flop raising at the table during Omaha, so I had a good shot at seeing the flop cheaply and seeing how close I’d come to the monster I was praying for.
The flop was 8-10-J, rainbow. My first thought was that my overpair would never hold up, throw the hand away. But as I looked further, duh, with a 9 and one of the Queens, I had flopped the nut straight! Ok, that was very interesting.
I don’t remember if Ethel led out or if it was the next player. The next player was Las Vegas Michael, who I believe was one of the founders of AVP and still a major contributor to it and to it’s success. I met Michael in October and did re-introduce myself to him before this tournament started. He had just moved to this table from a broken one and had made a comment to the effect that he was just here for the Omaha portion. That and the fact that he helped start a website about poker in Vegas made me think he was probably a pretty solid player.
But there was a bet out there before it came to me and two players with me. I wasn’t worried too much about Ethel based on that hand when she weakly played her full house against me. I was very worried about LVM as he is known. I knew I had to raise, but I also knew a flopped straight doesn’t usually hold up in an Omaha game. I had to raise enough to get everyone to fold, anyone sticking around would have too many chances to make a better hand. I knew that much about Omaha, anyway. In Hold ‘Em with this hand, I could possibly afford to smooth-call and set a trap. No way was that a smart thing to do here.
I tanked for awhile and even though it was early in the tournament and I had plenty of chips—and it was freakin’ Omaha and I didn’t really know what the hell I was doing—I figured any raise big enough to scare off everybody was going to get me pot committed anway. So I said those famous last words, “all-in”. In an Omaha game where I didn’t have to. Both the other players had me covered, but I didn’t think either had me covered by so much they would relish risking nearly $7k at that moment in the tournament. At least that was my thinking.
To my horror, Ethel spent very little time thinking before she said “Call.” Gulp. At least I could hope she didn’t know what she was doing. Las Vegas Michael said something about getting out of the way and folded. Remember, it was him I was worried about, not Ethel.
We both flipped over our cards and I’m embarrassed to say that, since this was Omaha, I wasn’t even sure what she had. You have to evaluate six different possible hands when you see an Omaha hand and since I had just thrown up a little in my mouth when I heard her say “Call” I couldn’t concentrate. I saw some high cards including a King. And I did notice another King too. One way or another with me, it’s always pocket Kings!
But somehow I knew I was dead when a 9 came on the turn. Sure enough, when the river came, whatever the hell it was, the dealer announced that her King high straight beat my Queen high straight, pushed the pot to Ethel and I was left with picking up what was left of drink and the souvenir card protector that AVP had given all the players and cursing my fate. I was really stunned, and more than a bit upset. Both at myself for risking my tournament life on an damned Omaha hand and at Ethel for taking my chips.
The thing is, I had no idea—and still don’t—if I made the right play and/or if she did. I moved over to an empty table and just sat there stunned for a good long while. I knew at least I had gotten a blog post out of this so I figured I better get a bit more details on the hand that killed me. I waited for when Ethel was not in a hand and came over to her to whisper, “Excuse me, when you called, did you already have the straight and improved to a better one?” If that was the case, her call would have been totally correct.” She said no but the Mirage dealer still next to her also spoke up. “No, she just had an overpair and a gut-shot.” My instincts were right, the 9 on the turn made her hand. She had risked like 7K in chips on a pair of Kings (not worth much in Omaha) and a gut shot straight draw. But maybe she had other draws working for her too, I can’t say. And frankly, I know so little about Omaha I still have no idea if her call made sense or not. For that matter, I don’t know if my shove was a good move or not.
I spent the next hour just sitting at the empty table vowing that, if I ever met the person who created Omaha, I would without hesitation kick him squarely in the balls. And of course, vowing never, ever, ever to play that insane game again. You’ll see me volunteering for a root canal without Novocain before you see me playing Omaha again.
A few minutes after I busted out, I noticed that Ethel’s mom had busted out of her table, had re-entered, and been assigned to my old seat, thus sitting at the same table as her two daughters. Trying to show what a good sport I was (which I really wasn’t), I went over to her and warned her to watch out for the girl in seat 9 (Ethel), that she’s a killer.
Ethel’s mom told me she knew that…because it was her daughter. As I was about to say that I knew that, she added, “And she almost killed me during childbirth.” I have no idea if she was kidding or not.
I stayed over in the tournament area awhile longer because they had promised to serve pizza to the tournament players. Damn it, for $120 I sure as hell was going to wait around and get my pizza. It did indeed show up. It was perfectly acceptable pizza, but it really wasn’t worth $120.
But seriously, my experiences with AVP were worth $120, and a lot more. They are great people there and it is great website, and if you’re not already familiar with it, I cannot recommend it highly enough. I hope all my readers go there and contribute to the forums, and please make sure that whenever the topic of the next AVP Meet & Greet Tournament comes up, if they suggest that part of the tournament involves Omaha, you tell them “No Freakin’ Way” in the most emphatic terms possible.
As for me, if for some bizarre happenstance you ever catch me playing Omaha again, please hit me over the head with a sledgehammer. I’m sure it will be a lot less painful.