Raquetball as in Poker
In a search for healthier hobbies than gambling, golf, betting on golf, and poisoning my body, I've picked up an aggressive racquetball habit over the past couple months. There's a group of four of us over at the Meridian who rotate and play each other five days a week. There's Brett. He's the best of the group, a 30 something who works Bell at the Venetian and crushes suckers in racket sports in his free time. The next best is Darren Alias. Darren's a tournament poker player in his 20's who comes around this time of year chasing bracelets. And then there's Freddy. Freddy is a 56 year old retired whistle blower. Despite living with a broken ankle for the past decade, Freddy spends the majority of his time exercising in some capacity. Imagine Lance Armstrong…with one ankle, and two balls.
It was a Saturday session at Bellagio and it started off well. My 10/20 table was filled with a mixture of beats headphones and Tommy Bahama button downs. The action started when an online pro opened in mp to 80, the Oklahoman business man I'd been chatting with called to my right and I 3bet the A
on the btn to 320. The opener folded and my friend came along as the flop fell T
rainbow. He checked and I cbet 280, about 40% of the pot. It's something I've been experimenting with in order to get my opponents to continue along with the bottom portion of their ranges. He called as the A
hit the turn. But instead of checking this time he went deep into his stack and pulled out an $800 bet. I stood still in thought as I determined my best move, before calling the bet. On a 3
river he shoved in for $2300. The line didn't make too much sense and I was willing to pay off the ATs and A8s for all the times he made the same move with spazz. "You got it" he says as he flips over the 5
for a flopped gutterball gone mad.
Since Freddy and I are closest in skill I've logged the majority of my hours playing him the past month. Sometimes we'll play at noon before I go to Bellagio, other times I'll come home around 7pm for a mid session break, but most recently we've been playing right through sunrise after I finish my sessions and he wakes up for the day.
Oklahoma and I both moved to the 10/20/40 game when our names were called. "I've got chips to win back" he responded when Frank the floorman asked if he was following me upstairs to the bigger game. When we arrived we were joined by Oklahoma's good friend, Brandon Stevens. Stevens is a fit, well dressed older man. His name recognizable from his Main Event final table run years ago. He was sitting directly to my right and it wasn't long before we got tangled up in a pot. After I opened 9
utg to 140, Oklahoma called the Sb, and Stevens made it 440 in the Bb. We both called and took a K
flop. Stevens led out for 660, but I sensed some unease, leading me to float the flop bet in position. I hit the best turn in the deck as the 7
peeled off, leaving me drawing to the world. Stevens now bet 1720, challenging my read of weakness on the flop. With about 8k in my stack I considered a raise but didn't think he was bet/folding that turn often enough. So I called, planning on hitting one of my outs, and bluff shoving a
The dealer came up big, bringing my backdoor flush with the
. But as I rechecked the board I noticed it paired up the 8, adding a slight drizzle to my poker parade. Stevens seemed undeterred though, throwing a flag in the middle and announcing 3250. I looked down at my chips, noticing that was the exact amount I had in small chips, with 3 yellow 1ks behind. It seemed like a bet that wanted to be called. I couldn't fold my backdoor flush but spent a minute or two debating whether or not to put my final 3k in alongside. Eventually I feared the extra potential value wasn't worth the slowroll I was currently putting on and simply called the bet. Stevens flipped up 2 Jacks. "What the hell did you have on the flop" he asked me as I raked in his chips. "T high" I responded with confidence and deliberance.
At first we could only play 3 games a day; With myself being the culprit for the early ending times. I didn't understand it. I consider myself in pretty good shape and the huffing and puffing that resulted from less then 10 feet of movement had me stumped.
But there was a very good reason for my low stamina. My competitiveness had turned from a strength into my biggest weakness. I hate to lose. More specifically I hate it when my own mistakes results in loss. I can handle a bad beat on the river or a good drop shot down the line, but what makes me tick is when I make a horrible call against a nit or hit an easy kill shot right into the ground. At the tables it's inappropriate to act out on these impulses, but in the glassed off racquetball court I can yell obscenities as loud as I want, as the echo amplifies the pain, while also draining me of energy.
I'd worked my stack up to $16,000. It was another promising day during a profitable summer, and it had a chance to reach higher proportions as the table was playing very loose. I hoped to capitalize on the flow of the game when I picked up K
in the Sb. Kieran, an aggressive German player, opened Utg to 120 and was called by two players behind. The action was on Stevens on the btn and he threw out a 3bet to 560. I was the direct next to act and put in a 4th bet to 1600. Stevens was stuck and I was close to certain he wouldn't believe my raise.
But before I could focus on stacking the ex-November9er, Kieran was in deep thought UTG. When he emerged he had a 5th bet ready, $3,340. Suddenly my big pair was shrinking drastically. Stevens postured on the btn when the action returned to him, and I took the time to think about my best move, 16k deep out of position against a great player. But before I could come up with the most profitable play, Stevens announced all in on the btn. It was 14k to me. What the **** is going on
, I thought to myself as I scrunched my eyebrows and surveyed the two gunslingers.
Individually I would get it in against both opponents, but the presence of a 3rd party had to make both of their ranges exceptionally stronger. I shook my head, and showed the one seat my cards before tossing them into the muck. Kieran called the all in and the cards were turned over as they decided to run it twice. Kieran had TT. Stevens had 8
I bolted out of my seat and swiftly walked around the room with my hands on my head. They tried to hand me 45k and I refused the money. I returned to the table to see all of the chips being shipped to Stevens. Confused I checked out the runouts. AQ859 and 44567.
Freddy has this one move that tills me to death. Every time I hit a horrible shot or have a bad point he won't say anything. But after we've had a long fought point and I have a shot for the win and hit a good shot that just barely skips before the wall, he looks directly at me through his old man eye protectors and says "thank you…I needed that" as he hobbles back to the servers box.
"You folded two kings" Stevens questions me with a laugh as I get back to my seat. I give the death glance to the 1 seat for spilling my secret before quietly shaking my head in Stevens direction. "Waitress let me borrow that pen" he calls out to the blonde on the other side of the room. "Here kid, start taking notes."
At first I was beating Freddy with my length and athleticism. But once I'd get tired, the veteran knew how to finish me off. Because while he was gently painting the corners of the court like Picasso, I was trying to pound the ball through the front wall like Canseco. As in poker, aggression can only get you so far in racquetball. If it's reckless and impatient it can put your careful and methodical opponents in good spots to take advantage.
I'd moved to the 25/50nl downstairs. Stevens stupid needles were pissing me off, plus a seat had just opened in the Steve Aoki/Dan Fleyshman game. A tighter player had opened for a minraise and I had chosen to just call with the A
for one big reason. "I raise" announced the reckless drinking buddy of the Aoki crew as he tossed in 700. Bingo. I'd only been in the game for 30 minutes, but had already seen him throw in a handful of 3bets. The tighter player chose to call, which I'd expect him to do wide against this opponent with a 5k stack. I had 11k behind and went with a backraise to 2200. "I should've seen this coming" said the 3better with a smile as he tossed his hand into the muck.
Surprisingly the tighter gentleman wasn't letting go so easily. "Okay I'm all in" he announced while placing his racked up chips into the pot. "You know it's bad luck to play with your chips in the rack" I reminded him as I called the final 3k. The board ran out A
and I was confident with my chances as I flipped over top pair. But to my surprise the old man had trapped, twice, with AK.
I couldn't believe he didn't reraise the maniac. And instead of walking off my frustration, I put it towards some reckless preflop aggression. By the time the game broke I'd turned a 14k profit into a break-even day. The most tilting of sessions I'd had all year….
Racquetball has taught me a lot about handling adversity. About how much energy we waste with frustration and better ways to channel that. Perfection is an irrational goal for any poker player to follow. There's so much more value in learning how to handle our mistakes then there is in trying to eliminate them completely. Im working on embracing the unsolvable game that is Texas Holden and instead of sweating mishaps, challenging myself to react in ways that are good for my game and good for my psyche