We’ve gotten Ben Adler settled into his seat in an Aria $1/3 NLHE game. Let’s talk more details about his experience playing professionally.
“What other skills are vital for being a pro?”
“Entitlement. Specifically, not having it. I’ve gotten over feeling that if I have pocket kings, or I flop a set, I’m entitled to win the pot. A lot of guys will berate other players – ‘It should have been obvious that I had the flush, how could you possibly call with two pair?’ That’s not me. If somebody beats me out of a pot, even if I was a favorite to win, I don’t sweat that. The only thing I’m asking myself – and the people in the Hand History Lounge – is whether I made good decisions. Because I know that if I do that, the money will continue to come my way.
Sometimes those are at-the-table decisions, and sometimes they’re metagame – what some people call mindset. Like when I left at prime time on a Friday night because I knew I wasn’t playing well. There was another time a couple of weeks ago – man, I hit a tilt wall. I don’t remember the details of what happened, but I do remember what I did: I stood up, dumped my chips into my pocket, and walked to the cashier. I didn’t even bother grabbing a rack. It was kind of rage-quit.”
“Sure. But that’s way better than rage-rebuy, right?”
“It’s ten times better than rage-rebuy, which is what a previous Ben might have done. When I can and do play every day, I really do see it as one long session. So I play as long as I’m playing well and the games are good. If either of those things isn’t true anymore, I leave.
“Also, I’ve simplified my game. I hesitate to use the word ‘formula’ because – well, you know there’s no formula for beating poker. But sometimes it feels like that. I don’t get involved in head games with my opponents, and I’m not taking all kinds of weird lines – what we call Fancy Play Syndrome. Mostly what I do is play tight and in-position. I try to minimize my mistakes, let the other people make their mistakes, and I get the chips.
A sample hand
“It’s one thing to talk about generalities, another to see these concepts in practice. Can you walk us through a hand?”
“You mean, like where I folded queens preflop?”
“That’s a good start.”
“I happened to be playing the $2/5 at Bellagio. It has a $500 buy-in cap, so plays a bit smaller than some of the other $2/5 games in town. In this hand, though, we were $1100 (220 big blinds) effective. A middle position guy opens to $15. An older, reckless guy calls. This is kind of unusual – usually, it’s the younger kids getting out of line, but whatever. Now the cut-off 3-bets to $65. I find pocket queens on the button and make a cold 4-bet to $230. I thought that the cut-off could be squeezing light over a random open and the old guy calling with any two. And hey – there’s only two hands better than QQ. The original raiser folds, but now the reckless older guy tanks, hems, haws, and calls! Cutoff doesn’t take too much time to ship in $1500 (I started with $1100).
“I snap-fold. Lot of people would say, ‘Queens, can’t fold.’ Or they’d find some twisted story of how the cutoff knew that I knew that he could be 3-betting light and blah blah blah I call. The only question in my mind was whether it was aces or kings – obviously, I didn’t care. Old guy eventually found a fold too, so we’ll never know. But if the cutoff did that with something weaker than queens, good for him.”
“It is rumored that you’ve folded kings preflop.”
“I have, and probably will again. If you’re facing what is almost certainly aces, kings don’t do so well.”
Buy-in Caps and Game Size
“Switching topics for a moment, let’s talk about game structures. I know that, within the Las Vegas NLHE world, there are many different game structures and buy-in caps. I assume you’ve become familiar with most of those.”
“It’s amazing how quickly you learn all that stuff. The deeper the buy-in cap, the bigger the game plays, and the bigger bankroll you need to avoid going broke, what the statistics guys call ‘risk of ruin.’ The poker pros call it ‘career death.’ So you have to find the right balance between playing big enough to earn the most money, but not run too big a risk of busting.
For example, the buy-in cap at the Aria $1/3 game is $300 (100 big blinds or “BBs”). And the buy-in cap for their $2/5 game is $1000 (200 BBs). Down the tram at the Bellagio, their $1/3 game also has a $300 cap (100 BBs) but the $2/5 game has a $500 cap (also 100 BBs). So the $2/5 games play much smaller. In fact, it’s a nice training ground for moving up to $2/5.
The Wynn plays deep – they have a $500 (133 BB) cap on their $1/3 game, and $1500 (300 BBs) at their $2/5. That’s the same dollar amount as the Bellagio $5/10, but of course it’s only 150 BBs in the Bellagio $5/10. Sometimes the Bellagio $5/10 regs will go over to the Wynn, because they can buy in for the same dollar amount they can at the Bellagio, but be playing twice as deep.
“And deep is good for pros?”
“The deeper the money – more big blinds – the better it is for the good players, and the worse it is for the fish. It’s more ways to make expensive mistakes, or to exploit those mistakes.”
“And there you sit in your office at the Aria $1/3.”
“Yep. I’m sure I’ll be trying out other games and rooms as I build up confidence and bankroll. With all the different offerings around town, there are lots of ways to gently move up – play the same stakes deeper or play higher stakes shallower. Fortunately, I have Benton and other guys I trust to guide me through that, once I get there. But for now, yeah, send your postcards to the Aria poker room, Table 7, Seat 3. Until the game at Table 7 isn’t good anymore.
“What do you do when you’re not at the office?”
“Other than sleep? I have some friends from the Chicago area who live here now – I’ll go and hang out with them. I was at a trivia night at a local bar recently, which was a lot of fun. Here’s the thing: I can’t just sit home. My brother, he’s totally happy being at home, hanging out, playing video games, whatever. I cannot do that. If I’m not playing or sleeping, I’m somewhere. Couple of days ago, I went with a friend and walked their dogs at Mount Charleston, which is beautiful.”
“Mount Charleston is one of my favorite places in Vegas. Be sure to try Red Rocks too. Let’s tie this one up for now. You’ve been at this – I’ll say the word – you’ve been a poker pro for six weeks. Do you ever float up to ten thousand feet and look down?”
“Man. All the time. I’m still in touch with a couple of people from the Chinese restaurant in Chicago. And they gripe about the same crap I used to gripe about. But that’s not me anymore. I don’t know what the future will hold, whether I’ll be a successful pro, or even if I am, if it’s something I want to do long-term.
“But what I know, for sure, is that I’m never going back to the Chinese restaurant life. And… and the doubt is gone. Initially, I had to wonder if I could make it as a Las Vegas pro. I can cut it here, and that’s huge. In fact, can I tell you about a hand that made me think I can cut it?”
“It’s my regular office location – the Aria $1/3. Stacks are $300 effective. I open red aces UTG+1 to $15. I get one caller in middle position. So $35 in the pot, and the flop is K♦8♠2♠. I bet $25. I know the solvers would say $10 or something like that. But nobody is folding a king or spades, for any bet size, and I want more. The guy calls. Turn is the deuce of hearts, pairing the twos. There’s $85 in the pot, and I bet $60. He calls again. Now, he can still have spades. He’s supposed to fold if he has spades – he’s not getting the right price to call, and I’m not paying him off if the spades get there. But this is the Aria $1/3 and they don’t care. So he still has a king or spades.
“Now there’s $205 in the pot, and $200 left in the stacks. The river is the T♣. The old Ben would have checked there. I might have said something like, ‘Let him bluff his missed spades,’ but the truth is that I would have been nervous about pushing in a stack with one pair. But I hate to let him check back. So I just rip the remaining $200 in. As soon as he starts tanking, I know I’m good, and I’m so pleased that I shoved the rest in. On some level, I don’t even care if he calls or not, I’m just proud of myself for jamming. Finally, he does call. I show my aces, he shows KJ, and mucks.”
“That’s an extra $200 in your pocket.”
“Sure is, but that’s nothing compared to the confidence boost it gave me. As I said, I am good enough to be a Las Vegas pro. So I’m happy, I’m excited to get up and go play every day.”
“Perfect ending for this chapter. Thank you so much.”