Cigar Aficionado

Education of a Poker Hack, Part Two

Cigar Aficionado sent Michael Kaplan to report a story about the hottest young online poker players. He came back with a great piece—which you can read in the August issue, on newsstands soon—and a desire to play the game well. Here, in three parts, is his experience.

Fortified with lessons from Alan Sass and feeling pretty cocky about my poker-playing prowess, I can't wait for my first solo flight. Because I have to go from Las Vegas to Los Angeles before heading home, I figure that I will give it a whirl one night in my West Hollywood hotel room. Never mind that I am a little tired and the wireless connection is kind of spotty — a bad combination. I'm not sure exactly what's going down in L.A., but I promptly lose the $30 that Sass had helped me to win — and then some. After misplaying a hand and getting dropped from FullTilt for the second time in about 10 minutes, I decide to hold off on poker.

A few days after returning home to Brooklyn, I set up the computer on a spare table in my home office. I want to keep poker separate from work and establish it as something that I do only at night. No problem there.

I remember Sass's lessons of aggression and try to deploy them. They work. I raise into people who check, go a little nuts with trying to push opponents around (suddenly, everyone is a fish to me). Other players fold to random raises, I luck into hands on the turn and the river, I seem capable of confounding others at will. All I need to do is raise, and people fold. This is easy, I think. I remark to a friend that nothing is better than busting somebody online and watching his icon disappear from the virtual felt. Too bad, loser! Log off and suck it up!

I tell a poker-playing friend about the depth of my aggression. She warns me that it has a tendency to backfire. But I am having too much fun to listen. I run my profits up to nearly $200 (four big blinds' worth of winnings in just a couple days; I must be a genius) and text Sass with the good news. As a P.S., I let him know that my aggression percentage on Hold'em Manager had stuck at 100 for a while. He does not text me back.

Maybe Sass is appalled at my playing so recklessly.

Turns out that what I view as strong, other players eventually interpret as horrifically loose. When people begin calling and raising into my busted straights and flushes, I figure something has gone temporarily amiss. After a session that ends when I call a passive player's all-in bet, with an ace on the board and two 9s in my hand, I decide that modification is in order. Aggression is great, I realize. But clearly it is also an easy thing to overdo.

Being a bit hardheaded, I have taken Sass's advice to the nth degree: pushing in my chips, on a called bet with an inferior hand; blithely raising into scary boards; increasing the range of starting hands (which I raise with!) to include garbage like Jack, 8 suited (well, I figure, Sass said suited gapped-connectors were worth playing. What's another gap?). Not only am I proceeding unwisely, but I am also getting unlucky: pocket kings cracked by pocket aces, a flopped set bested when an opponent makes his flush on the river, gutshot straights that are elusive for me but seem to be plentiful for others.

After I lose the $200 plus another $100 — six buy-ins, half my original bankroll, in just a few hours of play — I feel that it's time for a refresher course with Sass. Now, though, I have a bunch of questions and a degree of understanding that I did not have when Sass and I first convened.

Click here to read part three of this series.