Chess was the very first game I ever played online. This is going back years now, to when I first got the Internet at home. (When 576kbps was considered broadband!) Almost the first thing I did was head over to Yahoo! Games, and played chess against some random person. It was all very new and exciting.
But I have never really warmed to ‘proper’ online gaming. I played CounterStrike intensively for a few weeks (who hasn’t?). I played EVE Online for a few months. For a year or so I was even one of the top 50 players on an online snooker game. For one reason or another, I drifted away from all of them.
So why poker—why do I like playing poker online, but not any other game? It’s a number of things. Poker is something that materially rewards me. It’s a deep, decent game. I’m not saying that Call of Duty 4, Warhawk, and even Pro Evolution Soccer aren’t decent, deep games in their own ways. It’s just that, well, I’ll say it: the likes of poker, and chess, are more in tune with my temperament.
Poker is a game of decisions and instinct and timing. It’s not gambling, as any of the books will tell you from the start. Playing a single-table tournament the other day, I was dealt this for my first hand:
Pocket fives. It’s always a great feeling to see a pocket pair pop up as your hole cards. But you have to be careful. A low pocket pair looks good, but you have to see the flop, and you have to see how other players will bet, and it all depends on your position, and the chip stacks, and…
I was in good position—on the dealer button, the best place to be with a small pair. The player to my immediate right raised the pot to 120. We all still had our starting 2000 chips. I called. Everyone else folded. It was me versus the player who’d raised. I’ll call him Steve.
I needed a good flop, otherwise I was probably folding. I’m nowhere near good enough yet to nurse an unimproved small pocket pair through a hand and win it. This was the flop:
YES! I’d made trips on the flop and was a huge favourite for the hand. That’s just about the best possible flop you can hope to see with a low pocket pair.
Steve bets the pot,and I call. The only thing I have to fear here is pocket Aces or tens. Steve’s pre-flop raise could have been with those hands, but somehow I don’t think so. I don’t know precisely how I don’t think so. I’m not good enough at this game yet for my reasoning to be anything more that hopeful instinct. I know nothing about Steve, but most players in low-limit online poker are maniacs, and so I think that he would have raised to more than 120 with Aces or tens. I think he’s definitely got one Ace—I hope he’s got one Ace. If he has, I’m probably going to win big here.
The turn came:
I’ve made a full house. Three five, two tens. If Steve has Ace-10, I’m screwed, but as Dan Harrington says in one of his excellent books, you’ve got to win your chips sometime. You can’t always be scared of what the other guy might have.
I decided to go all-in, figuring that if he had an Ace he’d most likely call anyway, thinking he must have the best hand. My wish came true—he called. Both of us were now all-in on the first hand of the tournament for all our chips.
Before the river card was dealt, our hole cards were revealed to each other. I imagined his dismay as he saw my pocket fives. I saw his cards, which were:
Ace-Jack, eh? I was right, he had an Ace. The Jack is better than I thought, but still not good enough. Only an Ace on the river could save him by making his own full house. If it came, it came. Bring it on. The river card dropped:
The second Jack was scary, but it only gave him two-pair. My full house was the easy winner. Steve was wrong to call my all-in bet.
I went on to finish second in the tournament, winning about $5 for a $0.90c buy-in. Whenever I finish in the money, it’s nearly always in second place. My heads-up play (1 versus 1, at the end of a tournament, to decide 1st place) is a massive weakness in my game right now. I’m still a heads-up dunce. I nearly always get it all wrong. You’re supposed to loosen up in heads-up play, but I remain tight, and the other player always cottons onto this and steals my blinds. Then I panic and go all-in with rubbish, and he calls and usually wins. I’m working on it.