I got a call last Thursday from a friend who was in Las Vegas, asking me to fly out for the weekend. He had a room, and food is cheap (and booze is free), so I made the decision to go. A quick call to Southwest Airlines, and less than 24 hours later I was winging it to Sin City. Of course, it helps that I live only a two hour flight from the place.
I arrived at McCarran Airport around 4 PM, and from that point it was game on. I had less than 48 hours to do some damage. By 6 PM we were in the MGM poker room, because my buddy told me it had been an ATM machine all week long. He wasn’t kidding. There were people from all over the world in there because the Pacquiao-Cotto fight was Saturday night at the MGM. Most people that travel to Vegas for a fight are gamblers, not poker players. They bring a ton of money, and of course they are bored the night before a big fight. So what better to do than drink and throw some money around?
That quick trip to the MGM turned in to a long night of facing off against some serious donkey poker. When you play against a table full of bad players, you have to be prepared for some sick losses with premium hands. Against good players, your pocket Aces will normally hold up the majority of the time. Against calling machines, you make a big mistake playing them in a flop seen by 3 or 4 other people. The key to winning in a donkey poker game is to see the flop cheap with good drawing hands, and try to hit a big draw against a bad player who can’t let go of his Aces or Kings. I can’t tell you how many people called all in bets with pocket Kings or Queens after an Ace hit the board.
Around 3 AM we decided that a least a little sleep was in order, so we cruised back to the hotel. A quick check showed we had both turned a tidy profit, so already the flight was paid for. One more big day of poker to come to try and turn a profit for the trip. We did have to avoid one friendly girl on Freemont Street that really wanted to see my hotel room, but as I told her, my room was free….she wasn’t.
Day two started much sooner than it should have. In bed around 4 AM, and both of us awake and buzzing by 8:30. Such is my life. So where do people go when they can’t sleep in Vegas? Back to the MGM poker room, of course.
Day two held a nice surprise for me. I got seated at a table with Vanes “The Nightmare” Martirosyan. Vanes is a 25-0 Junior Middleweight boxer, and will be fighting next month on Pay-Per-View on the same card as Kelly Pavlik vs Miguel Espino. I remembered Vanes from the 2004 USA Olympic Boxing Team, so it was a nice surprise to spend an afternoon talking to him. Seems he shares the same trainer and management as Pacquiao, and was holding three $1000 seats to the match. I tried my best to get him to throw them into the pot on several hands, but he must have realized that he was a much better boxer than he was a poker player. He probably lost about $1000 over the morning and afternoon, but never lost his smile.
Around 5PM we decided that a dinner break was in order, so we cashed out (again, both showing a profit), and took a stroll around the strip. I had actually cashed a little earlier when I realized that I was losing my focus. Marathon poker games are no problem, as long as you realize when it is time to step away; even for a little while. The brain needs an occasional break to refocus. So it was off to dinner, and a good back massage at one of the kiosks set up in the shopping area at Planet Hollywood.
After dinner, we discussed what to do next, and decided the best course of action was to hit up the MGM poker room once again. I know, you’re shocked. So back we went, and it was fortunate that we did. Within two hours of the session, I was already up $600. Here is one hand description to show how you have to play in donkey environment.
I was on the button, with one raise and a call in front of me. I looked down to 3-5 of Hearts. Now, I have to be perfectly honest here; the 3-5 of Hearts is one of my favorite starting hands. I play it very simple. I see a flop, and if I don’t flop perfect, I fold. I don’t get too committed to it, but I know that when it hits it pays off in a big way. So the flop came Qh-8h-6d. The original raiser bets out, and it is folded to me. I have four to the flush, and a weak straight draw. The problem is that the bettor made it only $15. I was thinking a weak Queen (possibly Q-J or K-Q), so I smooth called.
The turn made things interesting, as it was the 4 of Clubs. Now I’ve got an open ended straight draw and a flush draw. I really want to see the river. The bettor sees trouble brewing, so he bet out $45. Now I have a decision to make. And my decision was based on this: I am thinking that the other guy doesn’t have a flush draw. No chance he bets nearly $50 on a draw at that point. I had already called two of his raises, so he has to be thinking I’m on a flush draw. He’s probably putting me on A-X of Hearts. I also don’t see him with a straight draw. He MIGHT have a 7 in his hand, but his betting indicates he doesn’t. So if that is the case, and he has a Queen, then I am drawing to 15 outs. Any Heart, three additional 2’s and three additional 7’s. Fifteen outs with one card to come is fairly strong, but still only has around a 1 in 3 chance of hitting. In poker terms, call it 2:1 against me.
Once you do the math, you will see that the pot odds were greater than the hand odds. I was getting around 2.5:1 on the money, with a 1:2.3 chance of me hitting. In other words, the calling odds were almost even, but slightly in my favor. The money odds were greater than the hand odds. If he had made it only $60, then the math would have favored him.
If I made the call several times over the course of play, I would mathematically show a slight profit. In normal play, I might even fold the hand, since the money was so close. But you should usually make calls that show profit over time. However, these weren’t normal times. I was in Vegas for only a few hours, and figured I could either hit or fold on the river, still ahead for the session.
And wouldn’t you know it…..the river was the 7 of Clubs. The original bettor immediately pushed $60 out onto the table, and after a moment of thinking about my flight home, the new book I had bought to read, and anything else I could muster to give the impression I was actually thinking about my options, I countered with an All-In. He thought for awhile, and finally announced “There’s no way you called me this far with a 5 in your hand”, called for the rest of his $200, and turned over Q-8 for a flopped two pair. Oops, bad read on my part, but not bad enough. I tossed out my 3-5, and was immediately called the biggest donkey in the casino. I didn’t mind though, since I was a donkey with his $200.
I discuss this hand simply to discuss the math of the situation. I would have been correct folding at any time, but I was also correct in calling each time…after the flop. I played a borderline situation where I had the correct odds to call. In a tournament, I would have folded the hand on the turn, if not on the flop. Heck, I probably would have never played it preflop. But in a cash game, you always have the option to buy back in if you get felted, so the game is played differently. In a tournament you make the play that best keeps you in the game. In a cash game, you play the math and the other players. It is that simple.
If the other guy remembers the cards that hit the board, and does an honest review, I am certain he will see that the math was correct in my play. And maybe, just maybe, he might consider the fact that he did raise in early position with Q-8 off suit. After all, that was the start of his problems in this hand.
Anyway, after another long night of poker, we finally quit around 4 AM. We did have a flight to catch the following day, didn’t we? So we cashed in our profit, and headed back to the room. Up again at 8:30 too. I wish I could sleep late, but it just isn’t in my genes.
It was at that point that we came to a brilliant decision. Why, when in Vegas, do we bother with 4 hours of sleep on the final night, with a flight in the morning? Why not save the hotel room fee, and just stay at the poker table? The valet will certainly watch our bags overnight, and we can leave straight to the airport from the casino. I think maybe we will try that next time. We’ll be tired, but hopefully those extra 5 hours at the table will work out to a few additional hundred in profit.
So once again I made the Vegas trip, and once again it proved profitable to both me and my friend. I hear constantly that Vegas was built on losers, and I certainly agree with that assessment. Somebody paid for all of that glitz and glamour. But the money losers that built the town were playing black jack, slots, and the roulette wheel. They weren’t playing poker. A poker player that knows the game strategy, and is able to be patient enough to wait for the right situations, can make a profit at the tables. The key is mastering those two points.
How many times have we heard the story of Stu Unger or Mike Matasow winning big with solid poker play and then donking the winnings away on football or the ponies? Don’t be that guy. Let Vegas work for you.
Give it a try and let me know how it works out.
Tiny URL for this post: