One of the best perks of this gig my year-long odyssey through the weird and wonderful world of poker is the chance to schmooze with the game's star players and executives, on those rare occasions when they are willing to drop their guard and tell you what's really going on away from the bright lights of TV and the fulsome writing that so often passes for poker journalism.
One subject that almost always comes up: prostitutes, who seem to share an almost spiritual bond with the card-playing pros. I'm not sure why maybe they offer a no-frills method of relieving tension without the danger of being dragged under by time-constraining commitments. Whatever. All I know is, if I've heard one story about a poker player, a hooker and a hotel elevator, I've heard a thousand.
Another fascinating topic of these off-the-record talkfests is the star who the public believes is a no-worries millionaire, who is actually so deeply in debt he can't even see the desert sky anymore. (The big rumor floating around the WSOP from Day One was about the World Poker Tour supernova who is said to be $4 million in the red, despite TV winnings of millions during the past two seasons.)
Dysfunctionalism and poker there's a fascinating combo you'll never hear Mike Sexton mention on the Travel Channel. And who can blame him? It's in everybody's financial self-interest to "God up the players," to borrow Red Smith's wonderful phrase.
Meanwhile, there were tournaments going on, and I actually played in a couple of them, at least for a little while.
On Wednesday, I flushed $1,000 down the toilet in the 7-Stud High-Low with an 8 Qualifier event, a game I've now played three times in my life the second time coming the day before in a $150 buy-in one-table, in which I finished third.
I've always thought that one of my rare talents was that I'm hard to read. Oh, how little do we know ourselves! Sitting at the next table was Greg Raymer, who took one look at me and said, "Do you play this game, too, Jay? Or are you one of those guys who says to himself, 'It's only $1,000, so I don't care if I know how to play or not'?"
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Isn't it fun to get undressed in public by a world champion?
For the first few hours, I held my own, if just barely, with a stack slightly above average. Then I found myself at the same table as John Juanda, one of the few players legitimately in the sentence that begins: "The best poker player in the world is "
The reality of 7-Stud/8 is this: At the lower limits, there's not much even a great player can do to differentiate himself from a solid but uninspired player (this changes drastically, of course, when the betting levels get big enough that you can push players off hands). These are the basic realities:
1) Starting hand selection is vital. You want to play almost exclusively hands with scoop (or two-way) potential: three low cards (ideally, below a 6) with straight or flush potential, preferably including an ace, or a hand that includes a pair and another low card (for example, A-A with a 2 or a 3, preferably suited, or A-2-2). There are a lot of dangerous trap hands similar to A-x in hold 'em that look attractive but which tend to win small pots and lose big pots (7-6-2 rainbow, K-x-K or Q-x-Q, just to name three). These should be avoided, or, at the very least, handled with care by players with discipline and judgment.