PLAYING ALL NIGHT—AFTER MIDNIGHT
If you haven’t read the first half of this story, you can catch up to us here.
In case you don’t want to bother catching up… It was the early dawn of the hold’em boom and past midnight in the poker room. I’d spent the last few hours in a $1/3 NLHE game getting hit with the deck, and was considering calling it a night. That’s when the announcement came over the P.A.
“We have open seating in the $2/5 No-limit hold’em game.”
The most chilling words I could hear at 12:30am, sitting in my $1/3 NLHE game at the Bellagio. The announcement bisected my brain.
BRAIN HALF ONE“We are up by over $500 and have been playing for five hours. It’s past midnight. We could rack up, head over to Phở Kim Long, which is still open. We’ve done a lot worse than bracket a big win at the table with Vietnamese noodles on both sides. And remember what our parents always told us: ‘Nothing good ever happens after midnight’.”
BRAIN HALF TWO
“Indeed, we are up over $500, which is a 100 BB buy-in at the $2/5 game. We are freerolling into that game. We have no responsibilities tomorrow and life is short—carpe noctem! And one other thing; what our parents said about nothing good ever happening after midnight? Think about that.”
BRAIN HALF ONE
“Oh man. All the good stuff happened after midnight, didn’t it?”
I stood up, racked my chips and bade the table goodnight. “Going home?” As nonchalantly as possible, “Nah, going to the $2/5.” Failing to mention I’d never played $2/5 before. To be fair, I’d played in some very big games in California back in the day, but they’d all been technically $1/2 games. Still, this was, paraphrasing Mike McDermott, the ****** Bellagio, and I didn’t even have the presence of mind to see if any bigger NLHE games were running. If there were none, the apex predators would be in the $2/5 game, and I didn’t need to be tangling with them.
I went to the podium, where they directed me to an open seat at one of two $2/5 tables. I really did want to freeroll into the game, so I slipped 12 $25 chips (my original $1/3 buy-in) into my pocket and put the newly acquired $550 on the table. The dealer looked at my chips. “Sorry sir, max buy-in is $500.” A couple people glanced in my direction. Awesome. I’d just given myself away as a $2/5 newbie. I quietly pocketed two additional green quarters.
My opponents in this game were “different,” somehow. Basically, the brand-newbies, the meek, and the timid were all missing. That’s not to say these were all good poker players—far from it—but there wasn’t likely to be anybody check-shoving the second nut flush on the river here. I even saw a couple of backpacks slung over chair backs; usually a reliable sign of a grinder, or a grinder-wannabe.
I settled in and started playing uber-tight. I watched the game and who did what. I wasn’t the best player at the table; indeed, both backpack kids had learned about 3-bets and squeezing, but I thought I was middle of the pack. Not least, there were a couple of guys who I thought were in the $2/5 game because that was the size game they needed to make it “interesting.”
2:00am rolled around. I’ve been playing poker (and in bluegrass music jams) long enough to know about the magic of 2:00am. It’s the all-nighter inflection point. At 2:00am, you can ask them to deal you out (or put the guitars and banjos in their cases). You go to bed, get 5-6 hours of sleep, and are a semi-functioning member of 9–5 society the next day. If you go past 2:00am, such rationalizations are shot, as is your alertness and productivity the next day. You’ve committed to an all-nighter, whether you admit this to yourself or not.
I was enjoying myself, knew who the sharks and fish at the table were, and was pretty sure I wasn’t in the latter category. I flagged down the next referee-shirt who made it near our table. “Yes, Miss, could I have a cappuccino please?”
One of the older guys I had made as a well-to-do newbie heard my request. “They have cappuccino here?” (“I was right; he is a newbie”). “Oh yeah; you gotta try one. Miss, make that two please.”
I was playing few hands; raising with big hands, betting the best hand, people were folding. I was seeing flops with prospective hands, they were missing, and I was folding. I varied between being ahead $100 and down $100 for an hour. Then we got into a big one.
One of the backpack kids raised to $25 and I found a suited AK on the button. I’d been paying attention and was learning 3-bets caused grief and consternation among the field. (You can learn to do that too; read about it here). So I made it $75. It folded back around to him. He called with body language that said, “It will be a cold day in hell when I fold to a 3-bet from an old square guy like you.”
With over $150 in the pot, the flop was an attractive A-T-3 with two spades. I don’t remember if I had diamonds or hearts, but still these years later, I know they were red. He checked and I bet $100; his black chip beat my stack of nickels into the pot. The turn was some brick. He checked again, and I considered my options. There was $350 in the pot and he had about $400 behind. I decided I had just one action…“I’m all-in.”
This was before anybody had thought to have “all-in” discs or plaques. Remember, limit hold’em was the regular game; all-in just meant somebody had gotten short and run out of chips. But the dealer knew good protocol; he turned to the kid and said, “He’s all-in.” He immediately slid in his $25 chips and said, “I call.”
Because I’m that sort of guy, I turned up my hand. He didn’t flinch. The dealer burned and turned a spade. I knew that wasn’t my card. With an “I knew it was coming” look, the villain turned up Ks-Qs for the nut flush.
When the accounting was done, I had been knocked down to $50 – all that was left of my profit from the $1/3 game. It was 3:00am and nothing, nothing good ever happens after midnight.
I was up $50 for the night. Phở Kim Long was still open (it’s a 24-hour joint) and I’ve had much worse nights at the poker table. Or I could rebuy, settle in, and rebuild from scratch. The opportunity to play all night and not really pay for it the next day was more than I could pass up. Carpe noctem.
“Chips, please. And if you see the cappuccino person, could you wave them over?”
I rebought, and re-centered. Whatever my A-game was, that was what they would be facing. I stayed out of pots until I had the best hand and then extracted value mercilessly. One of the backpack kids lost a big pot, went on tilt, and dusted off his remaining chips. The one who had beaten me made his required profit for the night and disappeared into the roar of the maintenance team vacuuming the carpets. A couple of late-night partiers had joined the table, and I liked my chances.
I suppose it was coming up dawn on the Strip (how would you know?) when I got into the final big pot. I had ground my way back to a profit of $300 on the evening, and had $700 in front of me.
I raised to $25 with AQ. This time I got called by a well-dressed guy about my age. He’d been seeing a lot of flops and mixing it up. Just the two of us, and the flop was A-9-8 with no suits—a rainbow. I bet $40 (this was before betting small on the flop was en vogue). He called. The turn paired the 8, and brought a flush draw with the 9. If he had an 8 he was going to make a train wreck of my night/morning. There was $130 in the pot, and I didn’t want him seeing a flush card for cheap (the disaster from earlier in the morning was still fresh in my mind). And I thought I could get value from worse aces. I bet $100. He snap-called.
Okay, this was the last orbit of the night for me. I was going to win a big one or lose a big one; either way, I was going back to my hotel room when the blinds got to me. With the pot at $330, the river was a dagger through my heart—a deuce, but bringing in the flush draw. Frozen, I didn’t know what to do. So I checked. He immediately said, “I’m all-in,” and pushed a handful of green $25 chips forward. Then he stared at me.
It was another $400 to call. If I called and was wrong, I’d be stuck over $250, and would be going home with my tail between my legs.
I was all set to fold, collect my $150 profit, and head out. But seconds before I folded, something stopped me. This guy had been in a handful of all-in pots. Twice when he’d gone all-in, he’d gotten called, and turned over a monster. But there was an idea forming in my brain. When he had those monsters, his all-in had been quiet and understated.
This one was an aggressive statement. And I didn’t remember him staring down his opponent when he had the big hands. I looked up; he was still staring at me.
I swallowed hard internally, said, “I call,” and pushed a stack of chips forward. He didn’t move. I could feel the smile forming in my head.
Finally, he muttered, “Good call.” I knew I could force him to muck or show, but I didn’t. I turned up my hand. If he was slow-rolling me, he’d have my chips, but I’d have my dignity; I could live with that trade.
He looked at his hand, shook his head, and tossed his cards face-down to the dealer. Then he stood up and walked away.
Me, I tried hard not to stare at the stack of chips in front of me, and prayed I wouldn’t get anything playable until the big blind. Yes, I folded a playable ace; tell me you’ve never done the same in that situation.
When the blinds reached me, I tossed the dealer a red nickel. “Thanks, deal me out, please.” One of the stuck players looked up. “Hit and run?” I chuckled. “Hit, get hit, hit back, and run.” I glanced at my phone—6:15am. “It’s breakfast time.” The dealer smiled; “They’ll give you a comp to the buffet if you want it. They open at 7:00am.”
What I didn’t need was the Bellagio breakfast buffet, and I definitely didn’t want to try to kill 45 minutes sitting near a live poker table. “Thanks, but I’m hungry now. Where’s a good place nearby?”
There was a woman at the table who hadn’t said a word in the last three hours; “Blueberry Hill is your best bet. Just head west on Flamingo. They’re at Decatur, on the left.” I thanked her and headed toward the cage.
I could envision scrambled eggs, hash browns, biscuits, and coffee—lots of coffee—as I got the car from the valet and headed west on Flamingo. The rising sun bathed the Spring Mountains in orange. And that’s when I remembered: all the good stuff happens after midnight.