Call. Or quit.

There I was with my friend and poker buddy, Rose, having dinner in Las Vegas. We’d agreed to meet there for a weekend of poker, catching up, poker, sushi, and poker. She dropped the bombshell mid-meal…

“I’m gonna sit the Bellagio 5/10.”

FX: Lee stops with a hamachi nigiri halfway to his mouth. Chopsticks frozen in mid-air.

“You grind 1/3. The Bellagio 5/10 is a, um, slightly bigger game, and the competition…to put it gently, the competition is a boatload better.”

“I don’t get to Vegas much, and you know we barely get a 2/5 game on Friday nights where I live. I’ve always wanted to try this. There’s even a term for it; it’s called ‘taking a shot’.”

“Thank you, professor, for that. I know the phrase. But you could lose a couple of months of EV in one hand gone bad.”

“So? I have a j*b; it’s not like I’m going to starve or be homeless. I’ll just have to go home and continue beating up the bad players in Elgin. And, Captain Optimistic, didn’t I read about you taking your own shot at the Bellagio?”

“You did indeed, and it was glorious. But I sat the 2/5, not the 5/10.”

“That’s because you have no game in you.”

Whatever.

1500 IN CHIPS, PLEASE

We polished off our green tea ice cream, drove down Flamingo to the Bellagio, and walked toward the poker room.

“Can I sit behind you and sweat?”

“If they’ll let you, sure. But don’t you want to play?”

“Not nearly as much as I want to watch this.”

Rose bought in for 1500, which is the table max at the Bellagio. The room was not very busy and the floorman graciously allowed me to pull up a chair behind her. I sat quietly, didn’t try to look at her cards, and she didn’t show them to me. I wanted to be completely invisible and not invade the game-space.

If Rose was nervous (or terrified), she didn’t show it. She was quiet, just taking it all in, watching the players, watching the hands. She played very few hands, but played those well and confidently.

An hour into the session, she raised to 35 preflop from the cut-off, and just the big blind called. The flop was ace-high with a couple of rags. He checked, she bet 30, he called. Turn brick, he checked again, she bet 95, he called again. The river paired the trey that had flopped. He checked a third time, and you could see him loading his cards to turn them over. She paused, and then slid out seven green quarters—175.

“Boom,” thought I.

Oh, he didn’t like that one little bit. Finally, he shrugged and called. Rose snapped AQ onto the felt, and I knew it was the nuts. “Good kicker,” he said, as he tossed A9 toward the muck, face-up.

Going for that third street of value told me my friend Rose was definitely playing her A-game. No shy check-back on the river for her.

GUT CHECK

It wasn’t long after that Rose was under-the-gun and opened to 40. It folded around to a middle position player, who put both hands behind his chips, and shoved them all into the middle, like you see in the bad poker ads on TV. It was 1200, give or take. Action folded back around to Rose.

If she was opening light, she’d have an easy fold; if he’d accidentally shoved into her kings or aces, we’d know that quickly too. Neither of those things happened. Rose paused.

Here’s the thing: this villain was probably on tilt. He’d gotten stacked a couple of times in the previous hour, and was splashing around like a 7-year-old in a swimming pool in July. Hands that Rose could easily fold against other people, she’d probably have to go with here.

Finally, she slid a stack of black chips forward, said, “I call,” and turned up pocket jacks.

I leaned forward, sotto voce, “You beast. Great call.”

See, it didn’t matter what the other guy had, or who won the pot. What mattered was Rose made a great poker decision, despite being in a game well above her normal stakes. She knew her hand was crushing his range, and if she wasn’t going to call here, she needed to redeem from the table and leave.

Now, there’s not a thing wrong with deciding you’re playing above your comfort level. In fact, it’s a healthy realization. But when you have that thought, the only correct response is to get out of that game until you feel you are emotionally ready for another shot.

Poker is a game of fine edges, so when you’re offered a chance to get piles of chips in with a massive range advantage on your opponent, you must take it. If you’re not ready to ride that particular rollercoaster, it’s time to step down in stakes for a while.

Rose, she stared that situation in the eye, and said, “I’m here to play poker. I call.”

YEAH, I KNOW YOU WANT THE RESULTS.

Can I say just one more time they don’t matter? Rose made a solid call and that’s all you can do in a poker game. But the results matter, or at least they did to Rose and me at the time.

The dealer put out an 8-6-2 rainbow flop. The turn was the 6d putting a second diamond out there. The river was a black ten. The villain looked at Rose’s hand again, tossed Ad7d on the table, and walked away. He’d turned 12 outs. Probably as well he hadn’t shown while the board was running out. The dealer pushed a 2400 pot to Rose; the profit was four buy-ins at her regular game back home.

She played for another hour, lost a little bit back, but continued playing well. After three hours, she called it quits. I told her I wanted to buy her ice cream to celebrate.

“But we had green tea ice cream with the sushi.”

“Your point?”

“Fair enough. Are we celebrating my big win?”

“No. What we’re celebrating is you leveling up as a poker player.”

When Rose tabled those jacks, I knew she had every right to sit in the Bellagio 5/10 no-limit hold’em game. Maybe she doesn’t feel she has the bankroll for it. Maybe the size swings are too stressful for her. Those are both fine reasons not to play the game. But as a poker player, Rose is ready for that game, and that was ample cause for celebration.


Lee Jones has been in the poker industry for over 30 years. He writes at the Global Poker blog, plays poker every chance he gets, and coaches poker. He also has a severe ice cream habit. You can contact him at www.leejones.com.