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I Heart Western New York (Buffalo/Niagara Trip Report)

I love Buffalo. I mean, really love it. In another world, I'd be living there, but alas, I am in NYC, the Center of It All, and the thought of leaving the Big Leagues of Everything (we are, after all, a world capital of finance, art, theatre, law, fashion, jewelry, and business, to name a few) to move to NY's most depressed (economically) city is hardly a smart move. Still, when I left college in Buffalo, when I was offered a job working for a Buffalo law firm after a mediation competition held at my alma mater, and after visiting this last week, I can't help but picture my life in Buffalo. Ideally, wifey Kim and I could afford a nice house in a good neighborhood. We can enjoy all of our favorite restaurants from our college days, and discover new ones throughout the city. We can work in an environment that stresses family life over work life. And we can enjoy the people, who may be wearing head-to-toe Buffalo Sabres sweats at the supermarket, but are also invariably kind. Sadly, all that is not meant to be. My roots are in NYC, but at least I have branches in Buffalo.

When wifey Kim first told me of her speech pathology convention in Buffalo, I heard opportunity knocking. I had been itching to visit Buffalo again, and I had heard that, since my graduation, two new casinos had openned up. When I was a student, the only casino was Casino Niagara, a Canadian casino just over the border. It didn't have poker, but that was before the poker boom. Even so, with little money to my name, we would make monthly jaunts to gamble on roulette or try our best to beat blackjack. Whenever I was up $100, I'd always think, "I should lock up this win," then think, "Wait, this is Canadian money! I need to win more to get an even $100 USD." Then I'd proceed to give it all back.

But remember, that was before my poker days, and before Buffalo's poker days. From what I heard, there was now a second Candadian casino and the US finally got wise to the fact that American money was gambled away to our retarded brother up north. Hence, the Seneca Niagara Casino was born, a casino owned by Americans (American Indians) on the American side of Niagara Falls. Poker rooms popped up in all of the casinos, and we had ourselves a perfect poker storm. I just thank god that it wasn't there when I was going to school. At least I went to some classes.

The first day and a half in Buffalo were fantastic. It seemed that most of our agenda involved visiting old food haunts, and Wednesday night, after checking in, we immediately went for some Mexican food. Thursday morning involved our favorite greasy spoon diner, a jaunt around campus, and a late lunch at Duff's the best wings on the planet. Sadly, as delicious as Duff's is, it is also usually an intestinal wrecking ball, so dinner was skipped altogether.

On Friday, wifey Kim and I got up early to grab some grub. After breakfast, we decided on our day. Wifey Kim was going to a 1:30-4:30 class, and once I dropped her off (I was driving a sporty PT Cruiser, cause thats how I roll), I was headed to the NY casino to play my first poker ever in Western New York. Wifey Kim was kind enough to suggest that I drop her off early to get more game time in. I took the offer, and after changing into my poker uniform (say it with me now, black dollar-sign Superman shirt, cargo pants with a slew of pockets, baseball cap, hooded sweatshirt, new elephant card cap, sunglasses, and iPod), I dropped wifey Kim off at her destination and started the 30 minute drive to the casino.

God bless GP-systems. I didn't remember everything in Buffalo, and I sure as hell never went to the posh hotel where wifey Kim's convention took place when I was but a young student. The casino was new, so that was going to be a tricky ride for me too. GP made it easy and even told me the exact minute when I should expect to arrive at my destination. Let me tell you, when you can shave off a minute, that's a fine feeling. I have a casino speed that I automatically walk at when I enter a casino, and its somewhat true of the driving as well. Add a time limit to the play, and I was able to shave a whole 2 minutes from my less-than-30 minute drive!

The NY casino certainly looked nice. It's a tall building in the middle of a semi-urban area that really feels depressed, like an industrial city gone to dirt (which I expect it was). There are remnants of the tourism heydays, but most of the strong touristy stuff (not good, but strong as in established and likely to last in reasonable condition) are on the Canadian side. But that tall casino/hotel with bright-colored lights changing on its exterior looks like a gambler's oasis in the den of dead commerce. Parking, to my delight, was free, and once I found the entrance, I moved swifty to the casino floor.

In Buffalo/Niagara (including Canadian casinos), you cannot step onto the casino floor without going through velvet ropes where a guard inspects your ID. I handed him my ID and asked about the poker room. He pointed down a long hallway, separate from the ding of slot machines and the -EV table games. For this reason, I never did quite enter the casino-proper. Rather, I made my way down the hall and got ready for some poker action.

When I got to the poker room and showed my ID, I reviewed the list of available games. I'm pretty much a NL guy when it comes to live cash games, largely because of the opportunity to make good money. There is certainly more at risk and you can felt yourself with one hand, but it works both ways, and I've found that more likely than not, when all the chips are on the line, I have the best of it. The options were 1/2 NL with a 100 max buy-in and 2/5 NL with a 400-max. I thought about the 1/2, but those were some mighty short stacks for live poker, and would likely dissolve quickly into a push-monkey contest. I'm not against playing that style of poker (or player), but I'd rather have more room to maneuver. In Atlantic City, I'm much more used to the 1/2, 300-max tables, so I considered taking my $700+ bankroll (all I brought with me for this trip) and trying out 2/5, 400-max. I put my name on both lists and within 5 minutes, was called to the 2/5 table.

This was my first time playing 2/5 NL, but the way I saw it, it couldn't be too different from 1/2. Sure, you can expect a certain better caliber of player, but there are donkeys at every level, and this was 2/5, not 100/200 NL.

When I sat down, it didn't take me long to realize that I was playing with a bunch of regulars. Players shared tasteless jokes back and forth, none worth remembering, and referred to each other by name. It was a chummy group, but I felt every bit the outsider as I grabbed my seat and prepped by sporting all of my accoutrements. I tried to add my 2 cents on certain conversations as a way of getting a rapport with the table.

Early on, it became clear that the 40-year-old burly guy with a goatie and pony-tail would be the loose donkey of the group. He looked like a real shlub and was sending out more signals than a cat in heat. He was playing most hands and raising with seeming reckless abandon. His main play was to check-raise all preflop and it worked to his benefit at least a half-dozen times at the table. When he did reach showdown, his cards were rarely exceptional. Later on, a Sopranos-wannabe joined him on his left. The Sopranos-wannabe was an early 30s Italian with thinning slicked-back/spikey hair, wearing a tracksuit opened to expose his gold cross and white tanktop. He was mark #2.

I also noticed pretty quickly that players did not know how to use their straddle. They would straddle, get a bunch of callers and then check. This is how NOT to straddle. Instead, if you are playing against a straddler, you want to raise more often than not, because the straddler is essentially going to be out of position for the rest of the hand (assuming you are not a blind) and also likely has crap cards that can't call a raise. If you are the straddler and you get some limpers, the optimal move is to raise more often than not, because the limpers probably put you on crappy cards, and part of the reason to straddle in the first place is to gain position preflop. By checking, you are just wasting that position you blindly paid $10 for.

Seeing this, I decided to raise to $50 after the pony-tail guy, we'll call him D-Bag, straddled and got several callers. I figured from the fact that I was an unknown entity, I could get away with some tomfoolery early. I only had KTs, but that was a decent hand against the blind straddle, and I hoped that the big bet would scare the others away, since they were merely limpers. I was wrong. I got 4 callers, and the table livened up. Apparently, this was the biggest preflop pot in a long while, and I would find out why they were so eager to call me later on in the day. The flop was Ace-high, and by the time it got to me, a player had bet $100 or more into the pot. I stared at the board and folded, my imaginary KK going up in flames. See, in hands like this, I like to imagine what hand doesn't suck (i.e., is worthy of a preflop raise to $50) but would fold to this action. KK or QQ would do, since the many callers and the Ace-high flop would be a good indication that a bare Ace had taken the lead. So, I mentally picture KK in my hand and act accordingly. I was just glad for the Ace-high flop, which allowed me to fold and save face.

I played on until I was down $100 from my initial $400 buy-in, and then rebought in for another $100, topping myself off. I was getting into the flow of the table, and two seats to my right was an older clean-cut gentlemen, late 40s to early/mid 50s, with white hair, a baseball cap and a whole lot of chatter. He was a jokester, yucking it up at the table. I could tell that he was sorta gunning for me, something I would also learn more about later, and every once in a while, he would stab a comment in my direction, either encouraging my fold in a passive-aggressive jerkoff way, or making some veiled half-insult under the guise of humor, like "I'm waiting for your elephant to run over the table" in reference to my elephant card cap, or "Looks like your elephant is about to lay a crap." Classy! We'll call him Chummy, just for the hell of it.

I couldn't wait to use this gentleman's attitude to my advantage. For the most part, I was keeping quiet and mostly tried to stay out of the way while I took the table's temperature. Aside from the silly $50 straddle raise, I had been largely quiet. I finally got a good hand, JJ, when the D-Bag straddled once again. This time, he only got two callers before it got to me, including Chummy. Chummy had been spewing chips slowly, mostly to loose calls and whatnot. He was a smart player, though, and on at least one occasion laid nice traps, only to suffer a suckout. I could tell he was on semi-tilt.

With JJ, I decided to raise to $50 once again, hoping to encourage players to remember the last time I tried this ploy in the exact same position. I received two callers this time, the D-Bag who would call with any two cards, and Chummy, likely because he wanted to take this hand from me. The flop was 962, with two hearts. I liked my hand. It checked to me in LP and I decided to bet $100 into the pot. D-Bag shuffled his two cards (a telltale sign of weakness) and folded. Chummy thought about it for a while. I looked at his remaining stack of about $265. I had him covered, and if he was calling the $100 bet, I wanted to get his last $165 in the pot as well. I decided to try to reel him in. "Just fold and nobody gets hurt." He perked up and looked in my direction. Trying to sound tough, he replied, "$100 won't hurt me either way." I decided to flip the script and make him feel as big and powerful as he wanted so desperately to be. "Actually," my voice went a bit quieter, "I was talking about me." He needed more time to think. Meanwhile, a guy in the 10s (I was in the 8s) returned to his seat and asked, "Is this hand still going?" "Not for long," I replied, once again flipping the switch and making my comments seem threatening. To my delight, Chummy chirped up, looked at me with a hint of desperation behind his eyes, and said, "You are going to call?" "Wha?," I asked back. I had no idea what he was talking about. "Did you just say you were going to call if I went all-in?" I leveled with him, "Um, no. This guy asked if this hand was still going on and I said 'Not for long' one way or the other." He saw this as his opening, "All-in!" "I call." My response was so quick and so in opposition to what he thought he heard in my voice from that last interchange that it appeared as though his heart broke right there. The turn was another 6 and the river was a Queen. I was mildly worried about the suckout, but I tabled my JJ and Chummy could only look at his cards before sadly mucking them. Take that, motherfucker! I'm the king of the mindfuck now!

I should have made him show first. Whatever the case, this hand just goes to show that it really is about waiting for your opponents to make a mistake in NLHE. That mistake can cost them (or you) an entire stack, and from my recent experiences, its usually hands like this, one or two a session, that make up the entirety of my profit.

A little while later, I saw a relatively tight old man lose a hand to runner runner flush. I was playing very tight, and felt like I could take a swing at a pot, so I raised to $15 from MP/LP with QTo. That old guy called, and the flop came down with nothing of any use. I believe there was an Ace out, though, so when the old guy checked, I bet $30. He called, and announced, "I'm calling you on tilt." Sometimes that's just a cute statement, and other times, it's actually a ploy to fool you into betting into a strong hand, but most often, when people speak at a poker table, they are telling the truth. I know it sounds odd, but actions and speaking are two different things. For some reason, a player who is "smart" enough to sign and look depressed when they flopped the nuts is too "honest" to lie when they speak aloud. I think it is our natural impulse to be honest. Whatever the case, I saw his "tilt" comment as earnest and when the turn came down, I bet out $60. He folded, and I said, "I was hoping you were going to tilt-call again." Okay, so not everyone is honest when they talk at a poker table.

A long while later, I'm dealt AxQh. AQ has been a real pain in the ass lately, and I'm re-learning how to fold it. However, facing a straddle and sitting in MP, I decide to raise to $40. I only get one caller, the Goomba in a track suit with the gold cross and exposed wifebeater. Class! He is in late position, but generally is a loose preflop caller. The flop is 345, all hearts. I'm first to act, so I do what I do and bet $80, hoping to show strength and win the pot immediately. He flat calls fairly quickly. This does not outright concern me. He could be on the flush draw, or he could have a minor overpair, but I doubt he has anything very strong. Otherwise, he would raise me. I know this because he's been doing it to me all day. More often than not, I fold, because it is usual to minor $15 preflop raises, and I don't need to get into those hands without good cards against such a maniac. However, I still AM concerned because all I have is Ace-high. The turn is an offsuit Queen, giving me top pair, top kicker, with the loser's end of an inside straight draw and a draw to the third-nut flush. I think it over and decide that I am likely ahead to 99 or something similar. If he is ahead, its likely to the straight (yes, I thought he may've called with 67, or to a small flush). I figured that in those instances, I have the draw to a superior flush as well, although I seriously did not see him as having the flush. I think this is where I moved all-in for about $300+ more. It was a ballsy move, but I thought that the Queen turn gave me the lead and I didn't want him drawing out on me. He folded and said that I must be protecting something big to bet like that. "Yep, I'm protecting the winning hand." It's all the info I would give him.

Those were the significant hands that I played. The rest was a lot of folding or a preflop raise folding to a flop. While I was sitting there, a player took over the 10s. He was a younger guy, 30 at most, wearing a dress shirt with a fancy pen in the breast pocket and slacks. If I was in NY, I would think him some low-level marketing croney but in Buffalo, he had an even more professional aire. He also acted like a douschebag frat boy, and liked to cackle-laugh at his silly quips and obnoxious table chat. On three different occassions, I heard him verbally announce his cards to the other player in the hand and agree to check it down the whole way. At first, I thought it was an odd defensive play, but when he had AK and flopped the Ace and still checked it down, and when he had AK and the other guy had 99 and they both checked it down after the A and K missed the flop, well, it was clear that these guys were softplaying. It wasn't just the Cackling Frat Guy either. It seemed that a good amount of the 10 person table were willing to softplay each other once they were alone in a pot. It was so utterly blatant that I finally had to ask. I turned to the Frat Guy and asked him this:

"Hey man, you don't have to answer this if you don't want to, but I just have to ask. Why would you check it down with such a strong hand? Why are you giving him a chance to draw out on you?" He said he'd be open and honest. He also said that there was no money in the pot in reference to the most recent softplayed hand. "Yeah, but there could have been if you bet at it, or you could have protected yourself from being drawn out on." He got more honest with me when I confronted him with that reality. All the while he was mostly jovial. The entire table, including the Goomba all the way in the 3s were listening and joining in. "We are regulars (referring to himself and the other player in the last softplayed hand). I don't need to go after him. I can go after the non-regulars, like you." I soaked that in and fired back my next question: "Yeah, but you are leaving money on the table. I mean, do you play this for fun or for money?" "Aw, this isn't for money. This is all for fun. I don't want to lose. No one wants to lose. But its all for fun." My last reply ended the conversation, "Okay, I can see that then. If you aren't playing for rent money, then I guess I can see it. No offense to you or any of the guys, but I don't have a home casino, so I'm not used to the regular thing."

This conversation actually took place at around the 2 hour mark of my 3 hour session. Once I had this info, I knew a few things: (1) these players were gunning for me as one of the few non-regulars in the room, (2) these players now thought that I was playing to pay for rent based on my implications, (3) in multi-way pots, these players are going to be playing soft until I make a move, and (4) the whole table will start to get more aggressive because I have exposed their pussy-ass softplay for what it is. Sure enough, all four were correct. From there on out, if I was in a multiway pot (of which there were more than a few), I kept out of the way, knowing that the only time there would be action was if it came from me, at which point I would expect to be re-raised so the other regulars would get out of the way. I also noticed some looser action from the softplayers who heard our conversation. Likely, I exposed their shame and they were overcompensating, like the guy with the small shlong who tries extra hard to look like the playa. I also noticed that players were a bit more wary of me, likely because of my image as a wandering poker player making rent at the tables.

If nothing else, the game was a huge learning experience. I learned that under the right conditions, 2/5 is the exact same game as 1/2 NL. I learned how to take advantage of the regulars' mentality. I won $338, too, and gladly cashed out 30 minutes before I even had to just to lock in the win and change before meeting wifey Kim. As I got up from the table, the Frat Guy asked, "You're leaving?" I couldn't help but keep up the front. "Sorry, guys, I got a call about a deepstacked home game in Detroit and I got a long drive." I walked out of there like I was the shizznit, because frankly, with this group of clowns, I was.

I met up with wifey Kim at the hotel where her conference was taking place. As I waited in the parking lot, a college kid walked by with a blue hooded sweatshirt with bright white letters. Those were my fraternity letters and in wifey Kim and my jaunt through campus on Thursday, I looked for them everywhere to no avail. Here I was, though, in downtown Buffalo at some random hotel, and a fellow brother just walks by. I stepped out of the car, "Are you with ___ ____?" "Yeah," the kid seemed uncertain. "Me too." We got to talking. The fraternity was actually having their formal that night at the very same hotel. After we parted ways, I got a call from the one fraternity brother I still knew that was in college, a younger guy I met through my little brother (real little brother, not fraternity little brother). Wifey Kim and I were invited to the formal last minute, and after dinner at a nearby restaurant and a 1 for 3 loss against wifey Kim in air hockey, we strolled into the formal dressed informally. It was a pleasure seeing these kids all dressed up with their hot ass sorostitute dates. I didn't know most of them, but they knew me as a founding father. I made small talk, drank free booze and headed out before they started dinner. It was good to be back, and that coincidence made things even better.

The next day, wifey Kim and I headed to the local supermarket where they have the best subs around. We picked up two subs for the airplane ride. We were scheduled to fly out on Sunday, but due to inclement weather, we decided to leave a day early. When I left the sub section of the supermarket, a guy walked right in front of me, yelling across the aisle at someone else. There, right before my eyes, was Jim, a good friend and fraternity brother that I neglected to call on the trip. What another freakin' coincidence. We hung out by the butcher section and caught up. I felt a bit bad about not thinking to call him sooner, but I was just glad that somehow we bumped into each other anyway.

Wifey Kim and I made our way to the airport and eventually returned home. On the way to Buffalo, I told wifey Kim that I could really imagine living in Buffalo. She scoffed. On the way back, she confided that she had a great time and wished we could live in Buffalo. By then, I had changed my mind. After all, I don't want to become one of those silly ass poker room "regulars."

Quick unrelated topic. I bought my way into the Blogger Big Game last night. I had suffered a series of defeats in brief spurts of online poker during the day, and contemplated skipping the tournament altogether. Ultimately, however, I decided to play, and play I did. When we were down to the final 19, I was near the back of the pack, but I still had plenty of play left in me. I eventually got Lucko to call my all-in. He raise preflop from the button and I raised a little bit more than the minimum back at him, knowing full well that I was pot committed. I was hoping to get him to push back at me, and he obliged. At showdown, preflop, I held AA against Lucko's JTo. By the turn, he had made his straight. I immediately turned off FT and my Yahoo Messenger. It hurt, but I wasn't defeated. I accept that poker involves luck and I don't blame Lucko one bit for his play or his luck. When I started the tournament, I thought that if I donk out, I'm going to suffer a brutal poker hangover, that feeling I get the next day that says, "What were you thinking?!" I'm glad to say that I felt fine about 30 seconds after the tournament and well into today. I may have lost in an improbable way, but I played well, and that is all I can ask. I don't damn Lucko either. His play wasn't all that bad, and even if it was, I cannot control him and make him play the hand any differently.

Something for you to chew on, whether it be poker or your everyday life: You can only control one person in the world, and that person is You. Don't get wrapped up in what everyone else did wrong at the table or in your life. Focus on how you reacted to it, how you learned from it, and how you can handle it in the future to better yourself. Anything else is just a waste of time and energy.

Until next time, make mine poker!

posted by Jordan @ 9:57 AM,

6 Comments:

At 5:04 PM, Blogger Schaubs said...

Great post. Getting Aces cracked sux... but it happens. Nice cash game win!

 
At 6:10 PM, Blogger JL514 said...

So basically what you were saying on my blog was that you were the "rate my asshole" searcher eh.

 
At 9:57 AM, Anonymous kipper said...

Sorry to have missed you while in Buffalo. I spent most of my weekend clearing a tree at the mother-in-laws house that fell in the last wind storm.

Kipper

 
At 2:00 PM, Blogger Matt said...

That last paragraph is so true; it's very similar to part of my personal philosophy. Nice post, man.

 
At 12:48 PM, Blogger NewinNov said...

Nice trip report.

 
At 2:55 PM, Blogger HighOnPoker said...

Thanks guys. I know its ghey, but it really makes my day when someone is willing to leave a quick comment like, "Nice trip report." It reminds me that I'm not just writing into a vacuum, and I'm also not writing stuff that is boring to anyone but me.

 

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