September 20, 2012

Poker Trip Report: A Jesse Game at the Fairmont

Poker Trip Report: A Jesse Game at the Fairmont

My friends and I are all very good poker players.  After Black Friday, we pooled some of our money to play live, and managed to run it up reasonably quickly.  It's been stagnant since then because we've taken out living expenses, but we're still firmly entrenched in 5-10 and reasonably happy for the moment.  We met Jesse playing 5-10 in a small gold mine north of Los Angeles, the Ventura Player's Club, which has a regular uncapped 5-10 game with some of the nicest and most wonderful people you'll ever meet in your life.  They also happen to be very wealthy and very bad at poker.

Pretty soon after Jesse started playing at my table, he started to ask about me—what stakes I play, my life in general, et cetera.  He casually asked if I ever play higher limits and I mentioned that no I wasn't really rolled for that.  After a few hours, he got up for a smoke break and asked me to come join him, where he proceeded to inform me that he runs a lot of private games around California and he makes money in them by staking good players, and he thinks I'm worthy of being staked.  The next night, he says, he has a 50-100 game up in San Francisco.

So, naturally, right then and there I hop in the car with Jesse, who I'd just met, and go up to San Francisco. (After – of course – depositing all the team money and my personal money with my friend and teammate John.)  I then proceeded to lose $50K of Jesse's money running second nuts into the nuts, and rode back to Ventura with him two days later.  He didn't seem upset, and I had a very interesting addition to my normally boring life. While I felt bad about losing his money, I was still pretty stoked at the neat adventure.

Jesse still wanted to continue to stake me, and talked to me and my teammates about getting us in his games.  Initially we were excited, but after months and months, we realized that these games only go very rarely.  They hinge on a few rich businessmen who often change their mind about what they want to do for the night—and obviously it's poor business to let them know the games just don't go if they don't show up.  So I'm often running over to LA from Vegas on the slim likelihood of a game.  John lives in Ventura and he's managed to play a few of the bigger ones.  The biggest game he was in was 300/600 PLO held at the house from this car commercial.  John won “only” $30K that night, having lost a $186K pot in a game with Ben Lamb, and with Ben and our staker Jesse literally flipping coins for $5K a pop.  We've always been in the red in these Jesse games, and they rarely go anyway, so as far as we are concerned, it's just funny money.  We've never been paid from them.  I don't actually even know Jesse's last name.

That being said, all we have to do is bink one good night and we're set—assuming we actually do get paid.  So we always have to be ready to go at a moment's notice for these games, even though we're still down overall.  We were only $25K in make-up when John got a call about this 100/200 game in San Francisco the next night at 8pm.

I was hot off a nice $20K win at the Bellagio 10-20 the previous week, and feeling pretty good just grinding 5-10 with a nicer cushion now, and happy I had finally been able to contribute to the team after being flatlined in my winnings over the past few months.  I was on an odd sleep schedule, so even though it was mid-day, I was ready for bed but couldn't sleep, so I went to the Aria and was playing 2-5 since the 5-10 didn't look very good.  I didn't want to scope out the Bellagio because I was tired (and also the Yellow Curry Chicken from Lemon Grass is just too good to pass up).  I had been playing for a few hours when I got a text from John saying there was a Jesse game in San Francisco the next day, so I cashed out and drove my ass over to LA. Our teammate Jim was working, and Bill had already committed himself to some leadership seminar or something; therefore, I headed over alone. That's fine – I was happy to have a chance to finally get some good miles out of the fancy new car I had gotten after deciding that regularly taking the bus with thousands of dollars in my backpack wasn't the best idea.

Books on tape are a good way to pass time, but Cormac McCarthy's The Road is a bit too much of a downer for focused, casual driving while already being sleepy.  So I was a bit on the tired and depressed side when I pulled into the Player's Club.

Thankfully, that wonderful 5-10 game managed to perk me right up.

It was a good game.  In fact it was a REALLY good game.  John and I knew if the Jesse game went, we'd have to leave around 1 or 2 in the afternoon the next day to make it to SF on time; however, we estimated there was only about a 10% chance that that would actually happen, so we kept on playing the juicy 5-10 game.  At about 9:30am the last player quit playing John and me 3-handed, so we went home to sleep, somewhere around $5K in the positive for the night.  At about 11:00am, John was banging on my door saying we need to leave.  The Jesse game is for sure going, and it's starting at five o'clock, not eight.

So, unshowered, in our day-old clothes, and half asleep, we make the drive up to San Francisco.

Groggy as we were, we still managed to have a fairly in depth discussion about John and Bill's very exploitative sense-and-pounce-on-weakness style versus my and Jim's closer to optimal board-texture-representing-with-the-right-frequency style.  Jim and I are both still learning how to maximally exploit our opponents and make the most money, but I continue to catch myself making certain plays in order to be balanced when doing so is completely unnecessary.  Yes, if my opponent was good, I should just raise here with most of my range, but he's terrible, so I can just flat here and even if the club does hit, he'll tell me whether or not he has it.  No, I can't make this river call, even though I put in so much money in on the turn—he just always has it.  He's never bluffing, he just has it.

I don't like opening myself up like that, but it's clearly where the money is.  5-10 and 10-20 live (and 50-100, 100-200, and 300-600) are just miles softer than 100nl post-UIGEA online, and exploitative play is obviously the best for live games.

As we were about an hour away from San Francisco, I pulled out my phone hoping to find a truck stop or something that we could shower in, but we were cutting it too close already.  So we just continued into the city and found a parking garage as close to Hotel Fairmont as we could.  We wondered how the hell they snuck in a poker table into the suite we were going to play in, but Jesse's friend Sasha, who was running the game, said that they have private poker “parties” all the time, and the hotel loves to accommodate that.  So apparently he'd found a good permanent home for hosting his games. It's a nice hotel. (Pictured above.)

After we had parked, we got out, and right there in the parking garage we changed clothes into more classy business-casual attire—we did after all have to pretend like we were also rich businessmen.  I hoped piles of cologne and deodorant would mask my B.O. smell, and I stopped in the less-than-sparkling parking garage bathroom to wash my hands and run a comb through my hair.  As long as whatever stickiness was on the floor didn't manage to get on the TOP of my shoes, I felt like I might actually pull the charade off.  I'm more of a shorts, tee shirt, and flip flops guy myself, so this dress-up was kind of foreign to me.  But for a 50-50 split stake in a 100/200, I can find a way to live with it.

After I got out of the bathroom, I ran to the car to grab a few 5-Hour Energies, chugged one right there, and stuck the rest in my pocket.

The game itself was actually pretty uneventful.  Everybody bought in for $20K or so and we started out at 100-200 no limit holdem.  (Nobody brings cash to these things; it's just taken care of on a laptop spreadsheet, and then the host and the winners/losers settle up privately, usually just through check or bank wire.  This is another reason I said it feels like funny money to me—I've never actually seen the cash.)  The game was pretty soft, easily soft enough to beat the exorbitant 5% $200 max rake that finances the whole shebang, but I was not getting any cards, and pretty quickly re-bought, so I was sitting on $25K and in the game for $40K for a good chunk of the night.  It was a pretty boring game.  The only interesting hand was that John managed to bluff somebody off of a one card A-high flush convincing them that he had one of two possible two-card straight flushes.  John had air and just thought the guy's river raise was a bluff.  John showed the bluff after the guy folded his ace face up and we all had a chuckle about it.  After that, everybody got card dead and the game slowed down for a while, so we agreed to mixed in a round of PLO, and then eventually also a round of PLO8.

PLO is approximately 4 times swingier than holdem.  This is because hand values are closer together equity-wise, so it takes more money being bet to determine where you are and narrow ranges to the same degree that you can in holdem.  It's also often correct to call off because you usually have a lot of equity, even when you realize you're behind.  This means that if you're not 600+ blinds deep, getting all-in is much easier and more common in PLO than in no limit holdem.  That fact, combined with everybody straddling for $400 made my losing another $20K seem completely normal.  Before I knew it, I was sitting on about $40K, and now in the game for a cool $100,000.

Once again, I slowly and uneventfully dwindled down to about $25K, but then a few people left, and we were stuck playing 4-handed with me and John, Sasha the host, and Mike the main businessman who was reason for the game.  For whatever reason, we all agreed to switch the game back to just NLHE, and John and I began really eating away at Mike's chips.  Sasha fairly quickly stopped the game when Mike had $10K left and looked ready to rebuy.  When John and I talked to Sasha later asking why he stopped the game, he explained that this particular guy was the type to get REALLY upset if he lost everything and not want to play for a few months, so stopping it when he still had $10K was better for the long term interests of the game.  I'm suspicious of this, but if the man is going to give me $100K to play poker with, he can do whatever he wants.

All told, I ended the night down $72K, John up $7K, so adding that net -$65K to our already -$25K, we were now in the hole $90,000 for the Jesse games.  It sucks, but many people have had big six figure nights, and like I said before, it only takes one good night to make it all worth while.  John said that Mike Baxter spewed over a million in that 300/600 game he played. All in all, I'm not too worried, and I'm hoping that sometime in the next year or so (since these games only seem to go once every few months) we'll bink a good score. Editor's note: This was the last Jesse game. A few months later, Jesse moved to Europe and got married, and I haven't heard from him since. I think I did learn his last name at some point though...

It was about 2:00am and the game was over.  We were both dead tired, but John had previously made plans with his family for the next day, and he wanted to get home.  I took my last 5-Hour Energy and drove most of the way, giving him a chance to nap, and we pulled into his house at about 7:30am.  He only got a few more hours sleep before getting up with his family, but I happily slept all day on his kid's bed while they were all out.  I'd been up for something like 3 days after all.

That night, I played in the Player's Club 5-10 again for a little bit and then decided to head back home to Las Vegas.  John pestered me to stay, because no games in Vegas are as juicy as that 5-10 game, but home is home, and I desperately needed some rest and relaxation.