Friday, September 12, 2008



I guess I should fill you in a little about my accommodation over the past few weeks here in the States. The first week was spent in a luxury hotel with my mum and sister. We got free fruit, a daily weather report delivered to our room and all the shampoo, shower gel and towels we could handle!

When they flew back to the UK, my standards of dropped considerably. I spent the next four nights in a hostel, which was pretty much OK apart from the Germans waking me up at 6am every day by rooting around in carrier bags and planning their schedule for the day. One other thing to note about the hostel was the complimentary breakfast it served which was basically just lots of varieties of sponge cake. No toast, no cereal, just lots and lots of cake and some lemon flavoured water. Very strange indeed.

Next I spent several days couch surfing with three different people in San Jose, San Luis Obispo and Oxnard. All of whom were great and in one I even got my own room.

Then I got to LA.

I was always dreading LA because all of the hostels seemed unbearably grim, so I knew I'd have to shell out for a hotel or figure something else out.

I started out in a hotel in the Bell Gardens district. Not on the tourist trail but directly opposite a casino and a great smoothie bar. After staying there a few nights I was considering whether to move on but was undecided. Upon returning from the casino at 2am one night, my mind was more than made up.

I was a little sleepy and groggy but I soon snapped out of my tiredness when I turned on the bathroom light and saw what could only be described as a GIANT cockroach writhing around on its back on top of the toilet seat! I think tomorrow I would be checking out!

It was just bizarre that it just ended up directly on top of the toilet seat. I could only surmise that it fell from the air vent above. Either than or the maid, who I had thus far not left a tip for, had decided to leave me a little treat. I only wish I'd taken a photo, it was huge. About (holds arms wide) this big!

Now I'd just re-read Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, as well as seeing it on stage in London, so there was no way I was going to kill the cockroach, just in case it was actually a travelling salesman. Instead I was faced with the task of getting the creature into a very small plastic cup so I could take it outside. After a few Chuckle Brothers style moments and a frightening instant when I thought it was going to jump on me. I managed to take Colin the cockroach outside and release him into the LA streets.

I check out the next day of course, making time to fill out a customer comment form on my way out.

And now the poker bit...

I have to mention poker as I have been playing a fair bit these past few days. I finished 21st in a large tournament last night, winning a little bit of money and having a good run at the $17,600 first prize. I played great despite having no good cards at all, so I was pleased. One notable moment came when one of my toughest opponents who had just been given a ten minute penalty for swearing, proceeded to say that he wished the children of the poker room manager would die horribly and painfully.... He was unceremoniously kicked out of the tournament and the casino. It probably wasn't the best decision he's ever made.

But before I end this note, let me tell you about a very funny but also somewhat unsettling hand of poker. I'd been playing in the 9/18 limit game at Commerce Casino and was just getting ready to leave as it was approaching my bedtime. A new player sat down in the game in the nine seat (right next to the dealer) and straight away it became apparent that he'd had more than a little to drink. The first hand he was dealt his cards and waited for his turn, gazing into the distance with a slightly glazed and gormless expression on his face.

A few people folded and the action went call, raise, call, call. When it got to out hero he turned over his two sixes face up and said "I wanna split em."

Oh dear.

After some commotion the floor manager was called (sadly not the one who looks like a Vietnamese Bobby Charlton) and a discussion ensued. It soon became clear that this man didn't know where he was, what game he was playing or even perhaps who he was. Stalemate ensued, as he had not made a confirmed action as the hand could not continue. Our hero still seemed firmly under the impression that he was in a blackjack game and was insistent that he wanted to split his sixes. The whole table was doubled up in hysterics.

Now the part that made me feel decidedly uneasy inside. It was clear that this man was holding up the game and was in no condition to play it. However all parties concerned seemed reluctant to move him on. It could have been something to do with the $300 in chips he had in front of him. "Listen guys" said the floor manager almost conspiratorially as he leaned over our hero, "I really don't want to kill your action here, you know." The floor manager was now clearly complicit in this drunk guy losing his money. Perhaps there would be a nice tip in it from the other players for bringing a drunk to the table?

I felt sick.

Well finally and somehow it was decided the guy with two sixes had called and the flop was dealt. I think we all knew what was going to happen next. The flop came 2-6-Queen giving our hero the second best hand possible, three sixes. Suddenly he comes to life. "I'm gonna bet em" he shouts, flinging chips across the table. One guy called him even though he clearly had the second best hand possible. At the time I thought this was a stupid decision, but the more I think about it, the more I admire his cold hearted calculation. Our hero could do anything. He could fold at any time, he could collapse, he could throw up on the table, the pot was there for the taking. But our hero was not to be dissuaded. He bet out again on the turn, still with his cards face up and took down a nice pot.

Of course, the next hand our hero called the dealer a "fucking idiot" and was instantly thrown out of the game. He didn't know who he was or where he was, but he'd played one hand and won it, turning a nice profit on the evening. That's poker, sometimes you get beaten by a drunk.

A little later as I left the casino I spotted him stumbling around outside the casino with no shoes on, being escorted somewhere by security.

Sometimes playing poker leaves me feeling a little bit ill.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008


LA Story

I spent last weekend with some of the most mean, rude, miserable, abusive and downright unpleasant people I have ever had the misfortune to meet. No, I'm not talking about the waiting room at West Bromwich Job Centre, I'm talking about the poker room at the Bicycle Casino, Los Angeles.

The plan was simple - Play a little poker whilst I'm here in LA to make some of money to pay for a little bit of my trip. Little did I realise how much like work it would actually be...

In Vegas gambling is fun. People play poker for recreation. Tips flow and so does the beer - It's a fun place to play. At 'The Bike' things are very different, at least in the games I played. Grim faced, moody and even downright angry, the players hurl a constant stream of abuse and often their cards at the long-suffering dealers.

There is completely crazy superstition. People won't play when certain people deal, they always need to sit in certain seats and the regularly request the deck is changed for no other reason except they just lost a hand. Players regularly berate others for their perceived poor quality of play. Thankfully I was able to play the clueless, bumbling Englishman to perfection. Hugh Grant would have been proud...

Why are these people there? Why indeed was I there when the experience was such a drag?

Well for one, I was staying in a hotel ever the road and I didn't know how to get anywhere else in LA because of the mindbogglingly confusing public transport network. There are no maps or schedules at stops and half the time it doesn't even say where the bus is going. Drivers are generally monosyllabic and best of all, there are paper timetables on the buses themselves for completely random other routes with no connection to the one you are on!

In the end I viewed it as simply a money making exercise and grinded it out. But hey, the free Chinese food is very nice and I made my wages the two days I played there, so it wasn't at all bad.


The doctor

One of my more interesting opponents was a Sri Lankan doctor who sat next to me and played for a few hours. He was very friendly, we chatted and inevitably the conversation turned to his profession.

Now, I'm not questioning the medical ethics or integrity of this man, but all I do know is that within an hour of meeting me he offered me all manner or drugs, prescription or otherwise, all for "very reasonable prices."

It seems one of his biggest trades was in tablets to treat erectile dysfunction. This is the reason why I am currently carrying a Viagra tablet around in my wallet.

I tried to explain to the good doctor that I really didn't have any trouble in that department. And when I confessed that I'd never even used Viagra or Cialis, a veritable gasp went up around the table (average age of about 70).

"You have to try it, your life will never be the same" urged the doctor, ignoring my vehement protests. "Take a look at Larry over here" he said, gesturing to another of our opponents. One glance at the smile on Larry's face told me that both him and his wife were very happy indeed.

To placate him, I accepted his offer of a free sample. "You find yourself a nice chica, you take the pill and how do you say in England? ....... boom boom....."

Well I wasn't sure what Basil Brush had to do with anything, but I put the pill in my wallet along with his card, where it has remained ever since. I guess I should throw it away or something, just in case in a moment of madness I think it is a paracetamol and take it. Instead of soothing my headache it could lead to a completely different kind of ache...

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


A blonde moment at the Empire

The Empire Casino is probably my favourite place to play poker in London. It has a good mix of players - Less dickhead cityboys and WPT wannabes than the Gutshot and less grumpy old men than the Vic. Plus it's pretty central, which is always a bonus.

Usually there is a wide variety of the standard of play. Ranging from the sublime, the the SAG (sick Asian gambler) to to the ridiculous (people who don't know the rules of poker). Of course at the weekend the casino gets packed, you are more likely get the latter.

One Friday night at the £1/£2 cash table there was the usual mix of regulars, internet kids and tourists grinding it away. The time charge for the table is £6 per hour and it's a self deal table so progress can sometimes be slow. Things perk up when a very scantily clad blonde girl walks up to the table and coquettishly asks "Hey boys, can I play with you?"

Of course, this perks the table up no end because the girl is extremely good looking and it becomes immediately apparent she has no idea how to play poker. Jackpot!

We play for about ten hands, and after winning a small pot early (to much congratulations from the table), she's called off all of her money. After several consolations of "unlucky love" from the table, she reloads - much to their delight. Of course, the same happens again - her stack dwindles down and she ends up calling the rest off with fourth pair against a young nervous looking Asian guy who flopped a set and ended up raking in a pot of about £120.

Now this is where the fun begins. The femme-fish looks in her purse and discovers she's out of cash. Fixing the winner of the previous pot with her best flirty look, she says "Could you lend me some of my money back so I can carry on playing?", battering her eyelashes and smiling for effect.

Now dear reader, the cold hearted poker machine that I am, I'd like to think that I would be able to resist the financial advances of this admittedly attractive lady - but this slightly nervous Asian kid looked like a rabbit in the headlights and didn't really stand a chance. Soon, and perhaps inevitably, he passed four £5 chips across the table to her.

It was at this moment that the Poker Room manager chose to come over to our table and ask for the £6 table charge. The usual grumbling ensued but everyone put in their six quid until it came to the blonde girl, who protested that she only had £20 and hadn't even won anything. But the Poker Room manager at the Empire has a heart of steel beneath his brown suit and was not to be denied.

After two or three minutes of begging and pleading the blonde girl soon realised that her feminine wiles could not charm and conquer casino charges. And with that she put on her jacket, picked up her bag and stomped (as much as you can stomp in 4" stilletos) out of the poker room. Of course she took the four £5 chips with her, before our money lender had the chance to protest, leaving him open mouthed and shaking his head ruefully.

"I've always said women are the rake of life" quipped a grizzled older man sitting to my left, his tone and weathered face suggesting he was speaking from bitter experience.

"Lol Blondaments" I replied.

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Known poker players that I've played with
Julian Thew
Joe Grech
Jen Mason
Leif Force

Known poker players I've met or got their autograph
Hoyt Corkins
Gus Hansen

Known poker players I've uriniated in an adjacent urinal to at the Vic
Neil Channing
John Duthie
Ben Roberts

Known poker players I've spilt a drink all over
Micky Wernick

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Using the weak lead with a monster

What do you do when you flop a monster? It’s always a nice problem to have in a no limit holdem tournament! With blinds constantly rising, opportunities don’t come along often, so when you’ve flopped a big hand, you should always think about how you can extract the maximum value from it.

The weak lead is a play you can add to your repertoire and use as an extra way to get chips from your opponents.

What is the weak lead?

The weak lead (often called a ‘donk bet’ on many websites and online forums), is a small opening bet from out of position on the flop. It’s generally anywhere between 1/5th and 1/3rd of the pot. It is almost always a bet into a pre-flop raiser, when you are first to act, against one or maybe two opponents.

Why use the weak lead?

The weak lead is a great alternative to the check raise when you flop a big hand out of position. By firing out a small bet on the flop, an opponent may come over the top of you with a moderate hand, a draw or even a stone cold bluff.

The reason it works so well is that despite the wealth of poker literature advising players on bet sizing, for many online players, a weak looking bet still means that they’ve got a weak hand. By using this information that has been drummed into your opponents over many online tournaments, you can turn it to your advantage.

Which opponent should you target?

When you’ve got a monster, the weak lead is a play you want to use against a loose-aggressive player, who is capable of making moves with any two cards. Such a player will be looking for any sign of weakness and if they have a pair, any draw or even nothing at all, they may decide to raise your weak lead bet to try and take the pot.

As I mentioned above – a small bet is still often made with a weak hand and if you can give an aggressive opponent any reason to get involved in a hand, they often will. In response to the weak lead, your opponent may raise you for information, as an outright bluff, or they might even think they are raising for value. This is of course exactly what you want!

In contrast, against many loose and inexperienced players who call too much – simply betting your big hands strongly will often bring greater rewards than making any tricky or advanced plays.

The right flop and the wrong flop

Now, let’s look at the best time to use the weak lead. In both of these examples it’s in the reasonably early stages of a tournament - you’ve got two black tens in the big blind and are heads up on the flop after calling a three times the big blind raise from an aggressive early position player (we’ll leave the discussion of whether the flat call here was the right play for another day).

The first flop is 10-6-2 with no flush draws, this gives you top set (the nuts) on a very dry board. This instance is an excellent opportunity to use a weak lead. In this spot you want to get value from someone with top pair and if your opponent has an overpair, the weak lead could be your best option of taking his whole stack. If your opponent simply has overcards or even another random hand, then the weak lead could induce him to come over the top and try to take the hand away from you, or at least ‘float’ to see if they can do this on a later street.

The check raise is such a strong play that is often stops an experienced opponent in their tracks and make them consider if they want to continue in the hand, even if they have caught something on the flop themselves. On such a dry board, a good opponent facing a check raise may sniff out your set and be able to get away from his hand, either right here on the flop or on a later street.

The other advantage of using a weak lead rather than a check raise is that inducing an opponent to put the second bet in on a street, rather than opening it, he will almost always be putting a larger proportion of his chips into play. The weak lead gives you more of an opportunity to get your opponent embroiled in a big pot – And with the nuts this is exactly what you want to do!

Again though, as mentioned earlier, if you see your opponent as a weak or passive player (or both!) then a better play may well be just to bet out for value with your set.

The second flop is J-10-7 with two diamonds. In this example you only have the third nuts, but more importantly, the board is very dangerous with flush and straight draws out there. In my view, this not the right spot for a weak lead because an opponent could call your small bet with a wide range of hands (AK, AQ, KQ, A9, A8, Q9 or two diamonds) and take a very cheap shot at hitting their draw – you’ve essentially priced them in to do this.

A far better play would be to come right out with a pot sized bet, this way you are making your opponent pay a big price if he’s got a draw and wants to hit it. Of course, another play you could use here is a big check raise. This is probably more of a standard play against someone you are expecting to continuation bet, but again you risk your opponent taking the free card.

What to do next?

When an opponent raises your weak lead, if they have committed a large proportion of their chips or you think they are the kind of player to stack off with top pair, then now would be the time to fire a third bet to put them all in.

However, against a good, aggressive and tricky player, with a big stack, now could just be beginning of something beautiful! Rather than three betting, it might be the time to flat call their raise and give them a chance to hang themselves on a later street. If an opponent thinks you are weak on the flop then it may take a lot for them to change this opinion and they could be looking for a chance on a further street to try and take down the pot.

Finally, don’t get too down heartened if your opponent chooses not to take the bait of your weak lead. Your opponent folded on the flop, so probably was unlikely to get too heavily involved, whichever way you chose to play it. You are unlikely to have cost yourself much value through your unorthodox play.

Chorny’s weak lead in Monaco

The final table at the recent EPT event in Monte Carlo saw a great example of the weak lead from eventual winner Glen Chorny.

Four-handed, the super-aggressive and renowned online player Isaac "westmenloAA" Baron raised with AQ and Chorny smooth called in the small blind with pocket aces. Heads up on a flop of 267, Chorny then led out with a half sized pot bet into Baron. Holding just overcards and a back door spade flush draw, Baron pondered, eventually making the decision to shove all in, where he was snap called by a delighted Chorny. Despite picking up a flush draw on the turn, Baron got no help on the river and found himself on the rail after falling for Glen Chorny’s ‘donk bet’.

Chorny’s play worked out perfectly because he had the right opponent and the right flop. The loose-aggressive Baron would be looking for any sign of weakness and chance to take the pot away from him. The deceptive smooth call by Chorny pre-flop and the weak lead on a flop of three undercards induced Baron to commit all his chips when he was virtually drawing dead. Whilst smooth calling pre-flop with aces is sometimes a dangerous play, Chorny took the risk with the chance of busting his most feared remaining opponent at the final table and it paid off.

To conclude

When you flop a monster hand in a tournament, particularly out of position, the weak lead is a play that you definitely need to have in your poker arsenal. In the right spot and against the right opponent it can be used as an excellent alternative to a check raise and enable you to play a big pot with a very big hand, which is always the ideal tournament scenario! Remember, when observant opponents have seen you use a weak lead when you’ve flopped a big hand, it opens a whole range of options to you. You can then make a weak bet to price yourself into a draw, or even as an outright bluff – Opponents will remember your earlier move and you’ve added a whole new level to your post flop play.

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Sunday, May 18, 2008


First post

My name is Phill - I play a lot of poker and I like to write, so it figures that I would start a poker blog. I'm not a world class player or anything like that but I think I'm good. I play all the games, a mixtures of cash and tourneys and a mix of online and live. I infrequently post on a few forums including ITH and The Hendon Mob and read lots of magazines and books about poker. No idea how this blog will pan out - but hopefully I'll pick up a few readers along the way...

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