California Losses vs. Vegas Wins

On the road to heads-up victory?

by , Apr 19, 2012 | 7:18 pm

Me in Oceanside, CA

Ahhh, California...

My brother Chris and I, hiking Runyon Canyon above LA

If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably either a poker player or fan of the game in some fashion. You know that the games in Las Vegas are plentiful on any day of the week. The weekend crowd consists of tourists from all parts of the US escaping their routine lives for a few days in the desert. During the week, the player ratio skews more towards Europeans on extended holiday, mixed with the company conference crowd and conventioneers. There are always locals in the game and during the daytime, they can represent 50 percent or more of the table lineup, even at Strip properties.

At nighttime the ratio shifts more towards the out-of-towners, but where the tourists are, there will always be local regs scattered about.

It’s so fun playing a heads-up tournament. You get to play every hand… what more needs to be said?

As a poker player and/or fan, you might’ve heard that while Las Vegas is the gambling epicenter of the US, when it comes to poker, the true Mecca is actually located in Los Angeles. And after a recent return visit to my old stomping grounds, I was quickly reminded of that fact. The LA cardrooms are different in so many ways from their Vegas counterparts in everything from the atmosphere to the feel of the cards to the player makeup to what’s comped and what isn’t. At any one time in the Commerce, Bicycle, Hustler or any other casinos that occupy very non-glitzy East LA districts, you won’t find more than 1 percent of the player pool designated as “tourists”. No tourist is going to take time out of enjoying gorgeous Malibu or exploring the weirdness of Venice Beach to grind Commerce Casino. These places are packed with locals who love poker, love gambling, and very much love action. They absolutely have to… how else could you explain these folks braving horrific Los Angeles traffic to get to Bell Gardens to play $2/$3NL midweek? It’s true, you do get comped food from a rather impressive menu at the Bike, as opposed to free cocktails a la Las Vegas. But I have to assume it’s more than that. Poker has become a real part of several cultures that make up Los Angeles’ diverse demographics. It’s been that way for decades now, before the no-limit era and now well into it.

You might be thinking, why would I want to play amidst a sea of local regs? Aren’t the tourists the ones who make the games playable and beatable? In Vegas, yes. In other parts, that just isn’t the case. In fact, if I could replace all the tourists in Vegas with the current makeup of players in the LA cardrooms, I would probably do it. Of course, who knows if they would play the same way if they didn’t have to drive through LA traffic on their way to the poker room. (I’m serious, I think this has something to do with it. It’s impossible to travel two miles in LA without experiencing at least some level of tilt.) But in any case, there is unbelievable, inexplicable poker action in LA. I often wonder why my friends who play 5/10 regularly live in Vegas because if it were me, I’d probably spend the majority of my time elsewhere. The cost of living in Las Vegas is nearly unbeatable, but if I were earning enough to support a comfortable lifestyle in, say, Manhattan Beach, I would have to jump on it.

That all being said, you still have to run good. Not only that, there is an adjustment period when playing these manic California poker games coming from Las Vegas. I’m pretty sure you should be nitting it up, because when people finally arrive at their LA cardroom of choice, they aren’t in a folding mood. You should raise bigger for value and then just pound away for more value. After that, it’s in the gods’ hands as always. And the gods were not smiling upon me on this trip. I will spare you the bad beat stories (all in on the turn 3 ways 82% favorite $800 pot wtfffff!) and give the cliff noted summary of: it was a losing trip. However, it is always good to be back in LA. I absolutely love it there. I hiked Runyon Canyon with my brother, made it to some bars in Silverlake, and came back to Vegas recharged.

I drove back into the desert the night before St. Patrick’s Day. I really wanted to come back by then because I had an idea for one of my ChipTracker session reports, which you can find here. For me, especially lately, it’s been much more enjoyable playing with more of a purpose than simply winning money. Whether it’s writing one of the session reports, or doing longer write-ups in blog form, I’ve been a lot more inspired to work when I know there will be more to my efforts away from the grind itself. I’m starting to get more heavily into what I guess I could call “other project” mode. I’m really trying to find ways to use poker (both my playing and the time that my profession provides me) to fuel other endeavors, whether they are artistic or business minded.

I played a few sessions, did some writing, and mostly broke even in the cash games upon my return to Vegas. I played a PLO tournament with no results but I didn’t have high hopes, as I left my chips on the cash game table to return to post-bustout. There was another tournament I had my eye on: the $130 heads-up NL, 64 player max at Caesars. I had actually won this tournament before, and it stood as my only title on my official poker resume. So I bought my way in the night before the tournament to make sure I was in under the player cap.

It’s so fun playing a heads-up tournament. You get to play every hand… what more needs to be said? Each player starts with 15k in chips at the 100/200 level, which means not an incredible amount of play but not completely horrendous by any means. My first match went relatively smoothly. My opponent took an early lead and was actually ahead 2/1 in chips, but he found an unwillingness to fold QJo twice all-in preflop vs. my A10, and I was able to hold both times for the win. My second match was a blur, but my third match was interesting. Heads-up is easily, for me, the most interesting poker format. I’ve played more heads-up PLO hands online than any of my friends by far, and had pretty good results. You start out making small jabs to get your oppenent to reveal him or herself. Heads-up play forces your opponent’s poker soul to be on display, and the trick is to simply adjust accordingly vs. that player type. It’s very similar to ring games where you adjust to the table dynamics and then to your opponent(s) in a specific pot, but you have to try and find out what type of player you’re up against quickly and only with your own chips, whereas at a full table you can gather info by observing other players battling each other. Add to this the aspects of how your opponent is handling winning/losing, and then tells on top of that, and you have layers upon layers of a poker match.

The really fun part comes when trying to figure out how thinly to value bet and when to call off with A high. Some players make it extremely easy, bombing away with their strong hands and checking no-pair type hands. Such was my third opponent, raising to 500 preflop and c-betting 5000 on the flop for fear of getting outdrawn. My fourth opponent was the opposite type, playing far too weakly, limping in too often, never floating c-bets and allowing himself to get run over. My final two opponents were good players. They both played unpredictably and didn’t give too much away. I ran good in the semifinals, grinded my opponent down below 10bb’s, then shipped a suited connector and was able to get there for the win.

The final was best two-out-of-three. Earlier in the day, my buddy Jaymes thought it would be humorous to tweet his prediction that I would take second place in the event. I was feeling great after winning the first of our finals matches, and feeling pretty annoyed after losing the second when I flopped top two pair vs. my opponent’s flopped straight. I was pretty exhausted at that point. If you think playing poker for 10 straight hours is draining, try playing a heads-up tournament for that long where your attention is demanded every single hand. I forced myself to bear down and took an early lead in the third match, and committed myself to grinding my opponent down without giving anything away. I had a bigger than 2-1 chip advantage and had my opponent below 10 bb’s again when I limped A5 on the button to induce a shove. He had done so a couple of times previously where I probably shouldn’t have limped in the first place and was forced to fold. My opponent obliged with another shove from the big blind and the A5 held up for the tournament title.

It’s always gratifying to be the last man standing at the end of a tournament. This win was especially gratifying for me because of my previous HU tourney title. Any one person can win a single no limit tournament, and you only need to look at the countless number of amateurs to bink a bracelet or other big score and to never find another win on their resume. Having booked a second win in the same tournament format really felt like it legitimized my first win.

andrew neeme heads up ftw

Anyway, enough of the self-stroking and back to the cash tables for now. The tournament win was for sure nice but not exactly a massive bankroll boost, especially after Caesars takes out over 25% of the prize pool (thieves!). There’s a bachelor party in Detroit, a wedding in Columbus, another wedding in Carlsbad, and another bachelor party in Santa Barbara over the next month and a half that cost dollars to get to.


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