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Monday, March 14, 2005
Updated: March 16, 12:11 PM ET
Feelin' lucky or feelin' good?

By Jay Lovinger
Page 2

Would you rather be ...

1) good;

... or ...

2) lucky?

Sure, sure, you believe you'd rather be good. But think about it for a moment. What really gives you more satisfaction – getting your money in the pot as a favorite and having your hand hold up as it mathematically should, or hitting a 22-1 two-outer on the river to take a big pot that you know you didn't deserve?

I knew it! I knew it! God DOES love me!

Most players I run across get a lot more pleasure out of being lucky than good. This more than anything, I think, accounts for the frequency of players going all-in, pre-flop, especially in low-buy-in, no-limit tournaments.

So what? Well, for one thing, it makes those games rather difficult to beat, even if you are far more skillful than the competition. Going all-in at every conceivable opportunity tends to neutralize skill advantages, most of which come into play post-flop, where subtle judgments are required.

Think about it: How do you beat a game where half the players are going all-in pre-flop every time they have K-Q unsuited or better? Obviously, you can just wait until you have a good hand, call, and hope for the best. But that eliminates all bluffing, value-betting, slow-playing, check-raising, putting players on hands, etc. – in other words, everything that distinguishes poker from slot machines. The only way you can win is to get lucky – and stay lucky until all the all-in obsessives eliminate themselves.

What to do? As I returned from my self-imposed month-long exile from the game, I happened on something I'd heard of but never experienced – pot limit hold'em. Several top players – including, I believe, Daniel Negreanu – are on record as saying that pot limit hold'em is the most skillful poker game going. For one thing, you can't easily go all-in before the flop ... you have to build pots in pot limit, which is a skill in and of itself. And, of course, since you can't go all-in pre-flop, you have to be able to make good post-flop decisions to have any chance of winning.

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The first time I ever played pot limit – last week, on the much-maligned (by my readers) Captain Cooks site – I finished second in a $10 buy-in tournament (out of 270 players), winning $780, after which I could easily imagine how Columbus felt when he discovered America.

"No wonder he's so high on pot limit," you're probably thinking. "It's the first time he won anything online since the Clinton Administration."

I can't even argue with you. You are probably right. Solipsism are us.

BEAT-THE-MOB NIGHT

Another salubrious feature of Captain Cooks is the occasional Beat-the-Mob tournament. That would be the four members of the Hendon Mob – the Boatman brothers, Barny and Ross, plus Joe Beevers and Ram Vaswani. In most respects, it's a typical $25 buy-in NLHE event, with the usual prize structure. However, there's also a $250 bounty for whoever knocks out one of the Mobsters.

It seems to me that if you are ever lucky enough to find yourself at a table with one of the Mobsters and have him out-chipped and should find yourself alone in a pot with the poor guy, the correct move is to go all-in, no matter what your hand. After all, you are getting 10-1 on your entry fee – and that doesn't even count the fact that you are more likely to finish in the money in the overall tournament if you should happen to win the hand, making you even better than 10-1.

I might be wrong about this – probably am, if anybody wants to check the historical record – but I'd like to hear from the technical wizards among you. (As always, I'll print the best e-mails in a Toxic Mailbag.)

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However, judging by the play of the one Mobster I ran into during the tournament – Barny Boatman, who came to my table nine minutes into the first level (each blind level lasted 12 minutes) and sat two to my left with exactly the same size chip pile as I had ($1,470; we all started with $1,500) – I'm probably right. Barny cleverly avoided any all-in situations by failing to make a single wager – at least not during the 12 minutes we shared a table, until I was moved to another table with $3,605, at the time No. 18 out of the remaining 309 players. (We started with 370.)

Alas, I bombed out in 96th place, well short of the money, when I went all-in for my last $3,000 in chips with 7-7, only to be called by a player with A-K. Needless to say, a king appeared on the flop – stop me if you've heard that one before – and I was gone, never to catch another glimpse of a Mobster, at least not on that day.

IT'S ALWAYS SAD WHEN YOU HAVE TO SAY "GOOD-BYE"

The first season of "Tilt" is over. What can I say? Endings are hard.

Season 1 ended, as T.S. Eliot said, " ... not with a bang, but a whimper."

Poker-wise, the last episode was a two-outer festival – plus a bad play by Miami ... or, at least, a very bad read. Clark was knocked out on the final-table bubble when David Williams, the guy who actually finished second in the 2004 World Series of Poker, hit one of his two outs on the river. Then Williams was knocked out in third place when The Matador cracked his pocket aces by hitting a set of kings on the river.

Yes, payback is a bitch.

Miami was on a short stack in fifth when she went out. ESPN omitted the early betting on this key hand, which we joined after the flop. The flop was Q-J-10 (rainbow, I believe). The Matador's hole cards were 9-8, Eddie was sitting on A-A, and Miami held 10-10. (Why somebody wasn't all-in at this point was not explained.) Anyway, the turn brought a king, giving Eddie the nuts. When he bet, The Matador folded his lower straight – after all, he was beat if Eddie and Miami had a single ace between them – but Miami somehow thought her set of 10s was good. I don't know ... maybe the first two rounds of betting confused her or something, but it wasn't an impressive display. Who am I, though, to talk – she's sitting on $1 million going into Season 2 (plus whatever cut Eddie gave her from his $5 million), and I'm sitting on my thumb.

The last hand was a little strange, too. The Matador made a $1 million bet, pre-flop, with A-K suited. Eddie called with 6-6. So far, so good. The flop came A-K-6. Both guys checked. Still OK. Then, after the turn brought a blank, The Matador bet $4 million. Eddie did his looking-through-the-back-of-the-other-guy's-cards thing, and decided that The Matador was not slow-playing either A-A or K-K – apparently, he had written that he never slow-played those hands – and therefore must have an A-K. Therefore, Eddie went all-in, The Matador – who, in contrast to Eddie, didn't have to contemplate the situation for a second – called Eddie's bet before it hit the pot.

And my question is this: Was there any way in the world that Eddie wasn't going all-in after The Matador's $4 million bet, a bet he could easily have made with a lot of hands –like A-anything, K-anything or even a stone bluff? Why did Eddie think the only possibilities were A-A, K-K or A-K? Hey, I've seen Gus Hansen and The Magician make equivalent bets with 8-7 offsuit many times.

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And what was with The Matador's daughter and her henchmen betting hundreds of thousands of dollars on Eddie to win? The difference between first and second was only $1.5 million. Why would The Matador bet hundreds of thousands of dollars on Eddie to insure the difference between first and second, especially since he was actually trying to win and since he obviously believed he was by far the better player? Unless, of course, Eddie was a huge long shot, which seems unlikely, since the final two is essentially a crapshoot and Eddie had a bigger stack. (Can you actually bet on a poker tournament in Vegas when there are only two players left – especially hundreds of thousands of dollars? I'm dubious. It would be too easy to fix the results, with the two guys splitting the winnings AND the huge amount of money they made betting on the guy who was the designated winner.)

Dramatically, the series continued to dismantle whatever credibility law enforcement in this country still has left. When the lady FBI agent let the revenge-seeking Lee Nickel have five minutes alone with The Matador in the hotel bathroom, what was she thinking? (And what was that legal stickler Nickel thinking?) What if one of them killed the other one, hardly an impossibility, since The Matador was responsible for the death of Nickel's brother and Nickel was obviously obsessed with exacting vengeance, and not necessarily in a court of law? Or if Nickel just, say, broke The Matador's orbital socket? That would be a bit tricky to explain to the grand jury, wouldn't it?

I know, I know. Now I'm nitpicking. But they say that God is in the details, and who am I to argue?

(However, I did love the homage to "Godfather II," where the stoolie mobster hangs himself in his hotel room as the babysitting feds come to pick him up for his grand jury testimony. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and what movie is more worthy of imitation than "Godfather II" – other than the original "Godfather," of course.)

HEY, IRS: HOW JAY IS DOING IN HIS NEW CAREER

Last week: won $1,173.75 (my first good week ever online)

Career-to-date: plus $14,507.25

Jay Lovinger, a former managing editor of Life and a founding editor of Page 2, is writing on his poker adventures for ESPN.com and also writing a book for HarperCollins.