I’ve been playing poker a long time – too long. While life events took me off the path of guns and glory, greatness and bracelets, when I do stray outside my routine of being the unknown in games small and big all over, it’s mostly to return to the play in the game. Because I remember enjoying poker, enjoying it maybe too much. That bug that unites all of us in the poker community – I had it as much as any of you.
Red Chip Poker has been a big part of keeping that flame burning for me. You see, poker can be a miserable experience when your life is out of order. And I’m not just talking about lack of community or socializing or whatnot; all that is important, but there is something more essential.
The truth is, the games continue soft at most stakes. We see this in our local haunts. We see this on television. We most of all see it in poker vlogs, where we get almost shocking up to date proof that we’re all limited, no matter how much training or computer assistance we get.
So what’s the problem, you say? Well, that state of affairs can be… boring. We’re not robots, especially those of us past our youthful love of repetition. Taking my wins from the dull regs who never fight for the pot, or even worse, are now partaking in the new, quasi-correct culture of nittiness inspired by GTO mythologies is not interesting. (That it is currently hip to be nitty – I’ve never seen so many YMCs – is grim irony for those of us who remember more exciting days.) There is no flame to be had here.
That’s why I like playing with students of the game, friends, and long-term rivals more than anything in the world. More to the point of this article, that’s why I attend every RCP meet-up and create more of them on my own. Poker is a relational game, meaning if the optimal contract is broken by any player by design or accident, the flood of exploits comes tumbling into the possible. When we play with people we know, we are probing these limitations to the extreme, wide awake. We are compelled to play our best. So large game or small game, this is where the fun is, where that flame is.
I remember the first RCP meetup well. The next year, we moved on not only to the best event in RCP history – the LATB game, one which begs for some sort of revival, but to meet-ups in other spots in the country. Some were covered by Zac, some discussed by vloggers, some only in my forum at this point. However, each of them without exception yielded the kind of excitement and interest that you had when you first caught the bug.
Everyone has their own story-lines in these meet-ups. I can’t even pretend to know them all, but that’s what you want. Me vs. Fausto is always a good one. After having his number for most of our time together, this summer at the Nugget he smashed me up, using some new, completely unbalanced lines that I was a hair behind in recognizing. That’s going to make our next match up all the more interesting. That’s a lot more enticing than extracting “value” from Limp-Call Carl at the local degen palace.
Current case in point: My former student and associate Porter has it in for me – and with good reason. I’ve stayed a step ahead of him in our battles, so he’s always looking for revenge. It’s a great story-line to have in your poker life – the grudge match. This summer I took him down again, inciting his eagerness to once again drive to Vegas for our most recent meet-up, which I advertised on RCP (and will always do so, to let you all get into the fray). We tour the rooms of Vegas as the 5$pkrclb, a code-word we use sometimes. We have mixed games, too, to broaden the appeal and expand our reach. In fact, we had a great time at the now-defunct Treasure Island poker room, playing dealer’s choice with Red Chip, TBR, and even School of Cards members – thanks to Steve “ChipXtractor” Catterson for bringing in his boys Blake and Matt Vaughan.
We like to play deep-stacked when we play no-limit. All bets are off (seems like a dumb expression in a poker article) when we put 500bbs on the table at the uncapped Nugget $1/$2 game, or when we can convince a floor manager elsewhere to do our bidding. We want to play for that perfect stake – you know, the one where it hurts enough to matter but you’re bankrolled to play on forever. After all, poker isn’t really even much of a game until you’ve got enough on the table to make meaningful decisions for, when every street is painful and there’s more to go.
All of us who play bigger have taken some big losses in these small games, and, amusingly, go back to $5/$10 to make up it up – both Porter and I had to do this in 2018. Yet the games are easier at any bigger stake after you’ve dealt with strong players who have it in for you. The cycle of learning together is always a good one.
Sometimes, it is the simple congeniality that matters. On our latest gathering, just a few weeks ago in Las Vegas, I had a day to wait before the games. Being fresh off an early, early plane, I wasn’t quite in the mood for cards yet, and instead hung out with one Joe Offsuit. I followed this intermittent RCP member to downtown, where he showed me some advantage gambling while I partook of the free drinks. His discipline was extraordinary, and made it look easy to capture blackjack and video poker money, while he talked about his life and interests. Gambling isn’t my bag, and maybe not yours, but a fruit of treating poker as a social game is learning about the people that compose the scene. (Plus I just love Joey’s handle – what nickname could possibly be better!??)
Of course, mainly you want to get better at poker, that is why you are here, no doubt. Nothing is better than drinks after the brawl to discuss the strategy. That’s de rigueur. Since the WSOP, Montecristo at Caesars has become a favorite spot. It can be hard to get a good drink almost anywhere – I suffer immensely at the Borgata – but they can handle the task at this agreeable, tobacco-infused salon. Some meet-up discussions are legendary – nobody will forget chatting with Limon for hours at another cigar spot, Casa Fuente, about the present and future of poker while he drained mojitos. And of course, it was a fellow Red-Chipper who invited me to take part in the Wednesday Discussion Group at Ricardo’s, which gave me something to scribble about.
There’s always a dinner or two, as well – why go to Vegas if you aren’t going to partake? For this trip, it was Lotus of Siam, where we squeezed in twenty players for all the varieties of food that fish sauce and lime juice can support. Fernando ordered a whole catfish which was cooked into jerky. (Well, win some lose some on that front.) But Christian Soto and several attendees of the most recent Solve For Why Academy joined us – it can’t help but be a good time. The threat of credit card roulette keeps things interesting. (I run really well at that, so watch out.)
It’s also a time for a bit of business. Fausto and I discussed some potential plans for 2019, which will be of significant interest for those who enjoy his style. Often I meet players who want to discuss their issues in person and who are potential candidates for coaching. Choosing a coach can be difficult but it’s naturally a lot easier when you get to actually play and talk with them.
A bonus on this last trip was my student Moldyfish’s appearance on Friday Night Poker. It’s not only good news whenever you see someone in your circle move up, it’s important to support them. So, before Lotus we all went to the Pokergo studio to root for him while he butted heads with the poker elephants and media darlings. Solidarity makes for a better poker experience, especially when you take it on the chin.
I can’t say I’ll do this forever, but the meet-ups give me something else to look forward to. Between events, I enjoy coaching and apparently do it well. In fact, I’ll be running my fifth Easy Game study group once we add a couple names to the wait-list. Easy Game is a special book, maybe among the few that even Christian Soto wouldn’t want to burn. After all, this is where ideas of capitalization, polarity versus the merged, and other exploitative, counter-cultural poker concepts were first put down on the page.
Easy Game is a special book, a kind of half-journal, half-notebook of an actual high-stakes player. This is a rarity in the literature, which is mostly composed of low to mid stakes players capturing and reordering the thoughts of greater performers. Seidman existed right on the divide of the poker development timeline, when quantifiable game theory was beginning to take over. Seidman looks forward and backward, predicting many of the developments we now think of as cutting edge while not having the benefit of the solver in front of him. His thoughts are searching and can help any player improve, both as thinker and performer. He can be funny, too. His essential mental game advice is basically, “I play in softer games than you and so I’m happier than you.” A prescription for the ages.
We can’t always be playing against each other of course. However, solidarity can still be a key to a player’s survival. You may not be able to guess just how connected the poker world is, how the player you admire is secretly staked and coached by legend X, how they all consult each other when they babble about “hitting the lab,” but you can take part in the same togetherness. This is why I run my coaching practice as I do, insisting on participation over payment for forum membership (yes I kick people out all the time), and keep an endless chat of what seems like a billion messages running, day and night.
After all, it’s only one player per hand at the table, not off. Join the fray next time you can.