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Stake Out

Poker poker poker! I've been playing more and more live poker lately, with a marathon of poker expected in the next three days. I mentioned in my last post about the issue regarding stakes. Basically, if the stakes are too low, I am not turned onto the thing. This has some obvious exceptions, and the truth is, it is more of a cost-benefit approach to when I'm willing to play low stakes or not. Overall, though, this departure from my old "no stakes too low for me" policy is, I believe, a sign of development in my game and my way of thinking. Let's delve into this a bit further.

From the get-go, I started playing very small stakes. Whether it was $1 SNGs online or $10 or $20 live tournaments with my friends, the real goal was to have some fun, play a game, and kill some time. I always wanted to play higher, but I didn't need to. My policy was simple: as long as there was something at stake, be it $.10 or $10, the players have something to lose/win and therefore they would play somewhat realistically, as opposed to play money where all rules and logic are out the door. This actually helped me greatly, because I was willing to play anything, and I got more and more experience. Eventualliy, the bankroll grew, and I was amazed to be playing with whole dollars online (even just 1/2 Limit was a big jump). Live, I was still somewhat of a small fish. I preferred the $60 (at first $40, then $50 and finally $60) tournament at Salami over any and all other live underground poker, and I wouldn't expect a homegame with anything more than a $20 tournament. Heck, the Roose game even dropped to $15 tournaments for a while, which was fine by me. I didn't have the expendable dough, I didn't have the experience, and I didn't have the impetus to play higher.

And then came the Ship It Fish homegame. I was definitely playing outside of my bankroll, but the thought of playing random games like Badugi and Razz live was too much to turn away. I remember the first time I played in the SIF game, I had brought $300, a tidy sum for a guy who wouldn't lose more than $60 on a given night. I was somewhat nervous, but I was even more excited. I ended up winner for $35 or so, but over the next two sessions at the SIF game, I went on decent runs, winning hundreds of dollars. Meanwhile, my casino game was getting better. I won about $700 in one session of 1/2 NL in AC at the perfect table. A while later, I won over $900 in a tournament in AC.

This basically swelled the bankroll over a long period of time. I'll admit, to this day I am still not above $2000 live bankroll. I'm not too concerned of this, since I had withdrawn from those funds a couple of times when needed, and after a decent win, I'll skim a bit off the top so that I get some practical use from the stack of $100s in my hidden spot. Still, the larger bankroll afforded me the opportunity to play 1/2 NL in some of the underground clubs in NYC, and thanks to introductions to EBB Club and the NiceLook Club by Chris, I realized that there were winnable NLHE underground games in NYC. Before then, it was just Salami for me, where the tournament was cheap, but the 1/2 NL had people buying in for $500 or more and throwing money around like they had disdain for their chips. The game could be profitable, but you'd have to have a very deep bankroll in order to handle the swings.

So, now I'm a regular 1/2 NL player and I've tried 2/5 NL once. Now what?

The bottom line is, I've realized that I appreciate the game more when the stakes are higher. I'm not talking 100/200 NL here. We are simply talking about 1/2 NL, but for a guy who has gotten most of his experience in low limit homegames and online games, 1/2 NL is actually bigger stakes. I was always comfortable with 1/2 NL in casinos, but that was a few times a year. Now, I'm aching for it a few times a week.

What is it all about? Is the fact that low limit turns me off a bad sign? Does it mean that I'm turning my back on the attitude that poker is for fun as much as it is for profit? Hardly. The reality is that I would still gladly play low stakes games, but I'm no longer the desperate player I once was. I can turn down a game that involves travel, be it to Brooklyn for Dawn's weekly Wednesday game or Queens for Roose's weekly Wednesday tournament, because I can get my fix in a casino. If either of those players lived across the street or even just generally in Manhattan, things would be different. But that's not the case. So, in the past, I would jones for poker and when there was a game, I would get myself there, regardless of the stakes. I was wearing myself out, traveling home late at night tired and spending any profit on my travel expenses anyway (once I won $40 at Roose's but missed the last train; I caught a cab and it cost $40 exactly to get home). Now, I can politely skip the games and go to the club, where the stakes cause more excitement (admittedly), and the travel is easy and cheap. I can win hundreds instead of tens, and what I lack in good ole times with my buds, I can make up for away from the poker table.

Looking at what I've written, there is definitely a dichotomy to my situation. On one hand, money does matter. I want to win money and lots of it. I want to build my bankroll and play higher stakes so when I have a good day, I'm bringing home thousands and not hundreds. That is definitely one of the elements that makes poker exciting. On the other hand, the other thing that makes poker great are the people, like the folks I met through Dawn's game or Roose's game or SIF's game. From poker alone, I met a slew of people I would otherwise not have known existed. For the most part, I like them all, and for an anti-social prick like me, its odd to be "meeting new friends." But that's what poker does, in a way. It creates social interaction at the table and shows a commonality between the players. No matter how different I am from Redd from Dawn's homegame, or Marc from Roose's, or Chris from SIF's, we know we have something in common, a love for the game. Those people are the same whether you are at a low buy-in game or a high one. In that regards, stakes don't matter.

I guess what I've come to is that stakes matter to me, but in a cost-benefit way. I need stakes that make it worthwhile to play if there are costs to playing, be them lost sleep or travel time or travel costs. I am excited by the higher stakes, but I'd just as soon play lower stakes if the game was across the street.

Interestingly, this stakes issue applies to online poker too. I loathe playing anything under $20 tournaments, 2/4 limit, or .50/1 NL, but I'm not even bankrolled anymore for those games. So, I fire up a tournament and I play like shit because I'm just not tuned in. The exception is the blogger games. Why? The same reason as stated above, the people. In blogger games, I'm playing with people and my results matter more because these are people whose opinions matter to me. I can't same the same for a random table of people because online, there is no interaction with the players at the table. I can sit at a table of strangers at NiceLook but by the end of my session, I sorta know the players and they sorta know me. Online, I'm just an avatar, and my actions don't matter. The social aspect is gone, and therefore stakes matter so much more. It's largely why I'm down to less than $40 online right now. I've donked a bunch and I can't seem to get a good grasp on my game. The sole exceptions are the blogger tournaments, but I haven't cashed in those in a while (the competition is fierce). Perhaps I'd play a $50 tournament online a lot better than a $5, but I'm not going to find out. No, sir.

So, my stakes have been raising live, and while I'd like to play higher online, I recognize that online poker sucks donkey balls. I'm proud to be playing 1/2 NL regularly and I look forward to making that next step when the time is right. Meanwhile, I look forward to times with friends away from table and at the table. Because poker is about two things for me right now, the people and the money. I can play with one and not the other, but in a perfect world, they would always be balanced.

Until next time, make mine poker!

posted by Jordan @ 10:14 AM,


At 11:45 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Is the fact that low limit turns me off a bad sign?

Not neccessarily, but it might mean you are putting too much stock into the value of the chips.

Friendly home games will always be that, but remember 1/2NL live =! 1/2 NL on the internet.

Very different games and not just the visual aspects of it (Rake and skill level are two differences).

At 2:24 PM, Blogger MHG said...

We lost the founding member of "No Limit Too Low?" Double-damn!

I guess that makes me President!

I know what you mean though, I have a breaking-point somewhere, I'm just not sure what limit it is. I'll play a cheap buy-in MTT and eventually just think to myself, "If I don't finish 1st or 2nd, this won't be worth it." Five hours just isn't worth the $20 or so for 7th place, especially when it is nice outside.

At 3:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good luck in the tourney tonight. If I can get out of work early enough I might drop by Salami for the freeze-out tomorrow night - I haven't played live poker in a few weeks!

- Lastman Chris (L.C. here on out)

At 2:10 PM, Blogger BigPirate said...

I almost physically can not play at certain levels unless it is a special situation:

$1 rebuy Donakament on Friday.

Low limit Tuesday night home game with buddies, some of whom would not be able to play if we raised the limits.

This, after I used to run out of the house every time I heard about a $10 tournament when I first started playing. It is a natural growth and apportionment of time and value. I receive high value playing with good friends, no matter what the stakes. I receive high value from playing appropriate stakes with strangers. I receive almost no value from playing low-stakes with people I don't know or don't like.

Doesn't make me a degenerate; just gives me another trait I share with one.


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