This past weekend I played in a fundraiser poker tournament. The twist was that there were quite a few people from the professional circuit in attendance as well, for a grand total of 5 tables of 8, or 40 total. The buy-in was a set amount, which got you about $5,000 in chips to start, and you had the option of buying an extra $2,500 for about 1/3rd of the buy in price—a good deal, but one I refused. So I was already starting at a deficit.
The game was Texas Hold ‘Em. For the uninitiated, you are dealt two cards face down. Then a round of betting ensues. Anyone remaining gets to see three more cards (“The Flop”), more betting, another card (“The Turn”), more betting, the last card (“The River”) and, if there are two or more players remaining at that point, a last round of betting. Players play the best five cards available—a combination of one or both of their two cards and the five in the middle.
The thing about poker you don’t see in movies and on TV is the enormous amount of folding of hands that goes on. Most hands never make it past The Flop. The best players pick their moments and their fortunes largely result from a few well-placed bets or even going “all-in” at certain points. Rarely are you in every other hand.
The other thing that gets a lot of attention is “The Tell”. Everyone supposedly has one. But in all my years of playing, I can honestly say that it’s not so much a specific action, like a smirk or a wink, as a general feeling that develops as you play. Every hand is a chance to learn something about your fellow players. Does the guy to your right always folds if challenged? Does the girl to your left bet too aggressively when nothing good is showing?
For example, if The Flop comes up A-K-J and everyone checks around or bets lightly, you would expect that things wouldn’t change much when a 2 comes up on The Turn. But if someone suddenly bets aggressively, you have to wonder if they are 1.) trying to steal the pot, 2.) were trying to pretend they didn’t have anything at first in order to lure in more money or 3.) want to make sure that no one is able to catch their Straight on the River.
Basically, these things add up to give you an almost subconscious read of the table, which of course “Tells” you quite a bit of information.
Unfortunately, even the best played hand are subject to the whims of Lady Luck and my A-10 suited was beaten when the old codger across from me caught a matching 7 to his A-7.
These are the subtleties that make poker interesting. And if there wasn’t so much smoking at those games, to the point where my eyes were burning, I would probably be more inclined to try my luck in the future.