Grand Falls
Kimo Sabe
Running Aces
Golden Gates Casino
Grand Casino, Mille Lacs
Tropicana Evansville

Greg Giraldo

I’m afraid this post has little, if anything, to do with poker.  I’m simply a little sad today.  Greg Giraldo, one of my all-time favorite comedians, died.  I will say, I did listen to Giraldo’s stand-up routines, downloaded onto my ipod, while at the poker table.  His comedy kept me from going on mega-tilt, as I’d simply turn him up and laugh between hands.  I saw him live last summer, and spoke to him briefly after the show.  He was engaging and very gracious.  Most people will know him from the Comedy Central Roasts, but I urge anybody who’s a fan of quality stand-up comedy to YouTube some of his videos.  He’s a hilarious man, and I just wanted to pay a small tribute to a fellow who gave me a lot of laughter.  R.I.P.

The Lifestyle of Limit 2.0

The most frequent complaint about limit hold’em, it seems to me, is the fact that nobody ever seems to fold.  A flop is generally seen by three or more players, and bad hands find a way to win far too often.

Really, the problem is not that your opponents play too many hands.  The problem, rather, is that you can’t protect your own hand.  You may hold pocket Aces, for example, with a board reading A-Q-10-9.  There’s already over $200 in the pot, but because you’re playing limit hold’em, you can only bet $16.  Your opponents with all sorts of gross cards may, in fact, be making a mathematically correct call.  Against any of your opponents individually you’d be a huge favorite, but collectively, you now must avoid an Eight, a Jack, a King, a Club and a Diamond.

No-limit purists, and even cynical limit hold’em players, get very irritated with this aspect of the game.  And it’s difficult to dispute the merits of their argument, as there’s definitely a justifiable element to their reasoning.  It’s emotionally exhausting to be beaten repeatedly by the worst hand.

Ultimately, however, just like any other poker game, there is a winning strategy over this objection.  For starters, not all limit hold’em games are painfully loose.  Some play very conservatively, and hand-protection can be achieved, as well as the occasional bluff.

Furthermore, the reason players get so frustrated at the unfoldable table is generally one of two things: A) They adopt an ineffective no-limit strategy at the limit table or, B) They are too short-sighted and emotional, getting overly irritated with suck-outs while downplaying or not recognizing their own big-pot victories.

Using traditional no-limit hold’em tactics at the limit hold’em table is something that plagues many players.  The glamorous no-limit hold’em game glorified through media is a game of big bluffs, gutsy calls and large risk.  Winning limit hold’em is a game of patience, and value-betting.  Sure, there are a number of parallels between the games, like reading your opponents, creating deception, and mathematics.  But to truly succeed at the limit hold’em table, one must recognize the crucial distinctions.

Attempting a river bluff after missing your draw is very difficult.  You cannot bet $150 into a $200 pot.  You can bet $16.  Also, trap plays are almost useless.  My favorite play, when sitting at an aggressive no-limit hold’em game, is to limp with my Aces.  That way, when somebody raises from $2 to $10 and gets three callers, I can back-raise to $50.  In limit hold’em, your trap will simply bring more opponents into a hand, and swell the pot incrementally.  You can’t go all-in.  You can’t put your opponents to a test for all their chips.  The better play, at most limit hold’em games, is simply the obvious one.  Raise with your Aces.  Protect your hand as much as you can.

The second most common reason for limit hold’em irritation is a little more complicated.  Limit hold’em is a game of far more suckouts than no-limit hold’em.  The price to suckout goes down in the limit hold’em game; therefore, it will happen with more frequency.  There’s very little denying this fact.  I believe, however, that the savvy player will win the same number of hands at a no-limit hold’em table as at the limit hold’em table.  The difference is simply with which hands he wins.  Take, for example, how pocket Kings might be played at a no-limit hold’em game.  There is usually a raise or re-raise pre-flop to limit the field to, most likely, two or fewer opponents.  The flop is dealt, and very likely the Kings will bet and receive no call.  Or, perhaps, his opponents will have flopped a draw, and now the Kings can dictate how much he wishes to charge his opponents to proceed.  In a limit game, of course, one cannot decide the price of admission.  As a result, he has far more hangers-on.  But consider this: As a player, even as a very competent skillful observational player, you have just as much likelihood of holding the Kings as you do of holding the J-10 straight draw.  What I’m getting at, ultimately, is that your victories in limit hold’em may not be with pocket Jacks or Ace-Queen; they might be with 9-8 suited, or K-5 from the big-blind.  And with each of these victories, you may have been playing mathematically good poker.  Despite the emotionally draining aspect of losing with a big pair, your wins, if you’re playing sound strategy, will be financially equal when your draws come home.

There is a lot of tunnel vision in poker.  You will end a session and forget all nine draws that you completed, many of which will have cracked pokcet Aces, but you remember, with vivid accuracy, every time your pocket pair went down in flames.  Limit hold’em can be very emotionally exhausting… in the short term.  In the long run, your suckouts will pay equal dividends.  It may not be as satisfying from a customary poker “justice” standpoint, but your winning draws gets the job done; it simply takes a small alteration in strategy.

Let The Games Begin!

This is often the month where new stars are born in MN poker.  This is Minnesota’s World Series of Poker.  For the next 4 weeks you can find a tournament….or two….or three, every day.

The Midwest Poker Classic at Running Aces kick starts the action on Friday, October 1st.  Aces will be hosting two or three events each day until October 10th where they will hold a $1K buy-in, $120K Guaranteed Main Event.

Matt Leshovsky took down the 2009 MPC Main Event.  Leshovsky just took home another $20K+ last weekend at Mille Lacs and recently final tabled the Twin Cities Poker Open in August.  The MPC launched Leshovsky onto the scene one year ago and he’s been making deep runs ever since.

Then of course Canterbury Park hosts the Fall Poker Classic.  2009 saw Brad Berman take home his 2nd Fall Poker Classic Main Event title.  Berman took home $75K for his 2nd win, $116K for his first FPC title in 2006 (buy-in use to be $1,500).  The FPC begins October 9th and runs until October 24th.  The $1K Main Event starts on Saturday, October 23 this year.

If all that weren’t enough, Shooting Star is hosting the HPT October 9-17 with the $1K Main Event on the 16th.

Jeremy Dresch (Pictured) began his epic run at the 2009 FPC Main Event.  Dresch finished 5th for $13K…but that was just the beginning.  One week later he took down the Shooting Star HPT for $71K.  One week after that he housed the Tama, IA HPT for another $55K…he wasn’t done yet.  Two months later Dresch dominated the Minnesota State Poker Tour at Mille Lacs for $36K.  Unreal!  I expect to see Dresch at a final table or two during the next month.

Good Luck All!

Noteworthy Hand 6.0

I went back on forth on this post, contemplating whether or not to include it in the Noteworthy Hand or Lifestyle of Limit series.  I ultimately settled on Noteworthy Hand, but I will say this:  There is no way this hand would ever have unfolded as it did if the game were no-limit hold’em.  Every aspect of the way this hand played out would’ve been different, most importantly, the victor.

I will attempt to explain this hand as clearly as possible, as there are some complicated details, and in turn, complicated reasons for my seemingly bizarre plays.

8-16 hold’em.  It’s late on a weekend night.  I’m in the eight-seat, and in the one-seat is a very drunk man.  This player is quite jovial, and not particularly irritating, despite his heavily intoxicated state.  In fact, he’s buying drinks for everybody at the table!  He is also playing most of his hands blind.  And when I say blind, I don’t mean metaphorically.  I mean, he isn’t even looking at his cards.  He’s raising the action, betting the entire way, and occasionally looking at his hand on fourth-street or the river.

A hand is dealt, and I’m on the button.  An early position player limps.  The player to my right, who has only three and half bets remaining, also limps.  I look down at A-J of spades.  I decide to raise, given my position and the likelihood of my hand being best.  The drunk in the one-seat calls, as does the big-blind and the original limper.  The man to my right, now realizing that this is his final stand, back-raises to three-bets.  I just call.  The drunk, recognizing an opportunity to build an enormous pot, four-bets!  (Once again, I’m not certain he’s looked at his cards)  Everybody calls.  As a result, we go to the flop five-handed, one of whom is all in, $144 in the main pot, and a side pot starting at $16.

The flop is 10-9-3, with one spade.  The drunk in the one-seat bets.  The big-blind and the first limper both call.  Do I like my hand in this spot?  Of course not!  But there is still $144 in the main pot, and now $40 in the side pot.  I have the back-door nut flush draw, and two overcards.  Also, the drunk is driving the action, and he may have total air!  What ultimately tips the scales toward a call, however, in addition to all these perks is the fact that I close the action on the flop.  Nobody can raise behind me, so my amount to see the turn card is a fixed $8.  It cannot cost me more than that.  I simply have to call.

The turn is the King of diamonds.  The drunk once again bets out.  This time, both the big-blind and the original limper fold.  What a peculiar scenario!  I’ve been watching the one-seat, and though he may have been sneaky about it, I still haven’t seen him look at his cards.  There is now $64 in the side pot.  I no longer have a flush draw, and I now only have one overcard, which may or may not be live.  I did, however, pick up a straight draw to the nuts.  I still don’t love my hand, obviously.  But a combination of things made a call seem reasonable: 1) The pot odds.  Sure, my only out might now be a Queen.  But to call $16 into a pot totaling $208 gives me 13 to 1 odds, which is almost exactly what I’d need to make this play mathematically correct.  2) Additional outs.  If the drunk did indeed like the flop, he may have a hand like A-10, Q-10, J-10, or something of the like, giving me additional outs if I hit a Jack or an Ace.  3)  The Drunk.  Remember, also, the one-seat may have nothing!  He just loves the Friday night action!  So, in addition to having a definite four outs, a possibility of as many as six additional outs, I may outright have the best hand!  This realization plays only a small factor in my decision to call, because remember, I still must contest with the all-in man to my right for the main pot.  But this final incentive tips the scales, and I call.

The river is the Queen of hearts.  How gorgeous!  For some reason, the drunk actually checked in the dark before the river-card.  I, of course, bet.  He now check-raises me!  I three-bet, he calls, and I scoop the entire pot.  The drunk said he had two-pair, though he never showed his hand.  I believe him.  The man to my right, disgustingly, had K-10.  Ouch!  What a sick river for that man!

Despite how gross my hand appeared to be on the river, I still think my reasoning was sound.  It sure pissed off the K-10 man, though!  But I don’t blame him… he couldn’t protect his hand!  Limit hold’em can be a real scoundrel.

Matt “Magic” Leshovsky wins Grand Series Main Event

Matt Leshovsky (middle) at the final table

Matt “Magic” Leshovsky — winner of the 2009 Midwest Poker Classic $1K Main Event at Running Aces — took down the September Grand Series $1K Main Event on Sunday at Grand Casino Mille Lacs.

Leshovsky outlasted a field of 54 to take home $20,928.

Since October, 2009, Leshovsky has more than $70,000 in live tournament winnings.


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The Lifestyle of Limit 1.0

Limit hold’em is my game of choice.  Sure, I play some no-limit cash games, a handful of tournaments, and the occasional awkward fumbling through a PLO session.  But my real bread and butter is at the limit hold’em table.  I have a good grasp on limit strategy, but as crucial to my success is my opponents’ lack of sound strategy.  No-limit hold’em is a very different game than limit hold’em.  Considering the exposure of the no-limit game, it stands to reason, then, that your average player would apply an ineffective no-limit hold’em game plan at the limit hold’em table.

This sequence of posts will be dedicated to what makes limit hold’em unique.  The posts will not, however, champion limit hold’em as the superior game.  Rather, these posts will simply highlight the discrepancy between the two hold’em variations.

Oftentimes I will examine how the same hand would have played differently, limit versus no-limit.  Quite frequently I will find myself in a limit game begging for no-limit hold’em legality in Minnesota, praying for my re-raise to punish these nerds for more than $8 at a time.

Elucidation complete, I’d today like to examine the speed of the limit hold’em game.  A large part of what slows down the no-limit hold’em table, in addition to crucial decision-making for large sums of money, is simply the contemplation of bet size.  Do you bet $5 or $500?  This aspect of the game is completely removed from the limit hold’em arena, and as a result, the pace is drastically accelerated.

With accelerated pace comes accelerated play.  It’s just that simple.  People rarely take their time at the limit hold’em table.  Just this week I saw a girl check her K-Q on a K-K-4-5-Q board, because the river Queen brought a fourth diamond.  (Also, she was last to act on the river, so it isn’t as though she were attempting a check-raise)  The action quickly went check-check in front of her, and she erroneously checked the nuts, not recognizing that the scary fourth diamond filled her up.  This mistake would rarely if ever happen at a no-limit hold’em table.  The action would get to her, and because the etiquette of the game does not dictate she make a quick decision, she more than likely would’ve had time to recognize her unbeatable hand, and subsequently would’ve bet.

Really, there’s no reason the game has to move so hurriedly.  Players feel an almost non-existent pressure to make a quick decision simply because the pace of the game is otherwise very fluid.  Ultimately, the speed of the game can be advantageous to the skillful player.  More hands per hour are dealt, and your opponents’ quickness to act will frequently lead to mistakes.  If you can slow your own decision-making down, you’ll reap the benefits of a fast game.  I’ve fallen victim to this perceived pressure myself, checking quads on the river without even thinking!  Don’t say it can’t happen!

A Loss is a Loss is a Loss

Is it more soul-crushing to be beaten by A-Q suited or 10-4 off-suit?

Sure, the easy answer is the 10-4.  But why?

There’s something about dreadful hands repeatedly bludgeoning you over the head.  Emotionally, a swift strike to your brain with the J-3 seems far more painful than the blow with Q-Q.

Really, though, does it make any difference what your opponents’ hands are?  We should be able to maneuver a field of loose whackos with some grace, given their abundance.

For me, losing to an inferior hand is far less disheartening than losing to an inferior player.  Somehow, getting one-outed by the skillful opponent has less of a sting than the totally oblivious suckout.  Somehow, it’s easier for me to swallow the former, as the competent player is aware of his incredible good fortune.

Ultimately, however, both of these emotional hangups can get you in trouble.  I need to constantly remind myself that everybody’s one-dollar bill is worth the same, whether it be from somebody you respect or somebody you can’t stand.  In the end, it’s about the money.  A loss to the shark with Aces is no less wallet-draining than a loss to the donkey with 6-3.

Mature players recognize this, and emotionally adjust themselves accordingly.  Although frustration is an inevitable byproduct of the game we play, a level-head on these matters, while oftentimes difficult to maintain, can be the difference between victory and defeat.

Its About Time!

That’s right!  Finally someone started a Bag Toss League!  Obviously focuses on poker but this hits too close to home to not discuss.  I love this game.

Pretty sure my brother and I would dominate this league…cause we both have some serious bag toss skills.  Now that I think about it, we should bring the bag toss to Hinckley to play during MSPT week in November (indoors of course).  Crowd lovin’ it!

Anyways, here are the sweet details:

Running Aces will be hosting a an 8 week long Bean Bag League. The league will play each Tuesday night at Running Aces starting at 6pm. League players will enjoy drink specials nightly during play.  Teams of two will compete against one another while enjoying drink specials.  

The final tournament will be held on Saturday, December 18th. The team with the best record at the end of the tournament will win a grand prize.   

The league fee is $40 per team. Teams will consist of 2 players each. To sign-up for the league or for more information call 651-925-4600.

Schedules will be released October 4th.  

Smart move Aces, fantastic idea.

Mark Dunbar Wins HPT Colorado and $182K

* Look for a more comprehensive write-up in the upcoming October 1 issue of Minnesota Poker Magazine

11:20 Update:  Mark Dunbar wins HPT  – Colorado and $182,000!

11:15 Update: Play is now heads up.  D-Mark began heads up play at a 2-1 chip disadvantage but is now leading.  His opponent is John Beauprez who’s linked in profile says he’s a professional poker player and poker instructor on

10:42 Update: 3 players left, chip leader has $3.8M.  D-Mark has $1.3M, other player has $1.0M.  Blinds are $50K/$100K with no ante.

10:37 Update: Down to 3 players…D-Mark standing tall.  Mary Huffman took home $42K in 4th place.

10:32 Update: Still 4 players remain, Dunbar is current chip leader.

10:15 PM Update: Dunbar just won a pot.  There are 4 players remaining, D-Mark is 2nd in chips and reported as “Healthy”.  1st place is $182,100.

Mark Dunbar, a local cash game specialist who has been making waves on the live tournament scene is in the midst of another deep run.  He is currently playing 6-handed in the HPT at Golden Gates Casino in Black Hawk, CO.

He has roughly $1.2M of $6.0M in play.  First place is believed to be worth around $182K though the numbers have not been posted yet on the HPT site.

I am following his progress through text messages and will update as frequently as I can get information.

Noteworthy Hand 5.0

I don’t think I need to espouse the importance of table image.  When your opponents know you play a certain way, of course, it becomes much easier for them to be successful.  Duh, right?

Well, as sophisticated players know, this image can be used to your advantage.  If everybody thinks you’re playing conservatively, it becomes easier to bluff.  When you’re pegged as a maniac, bluffing is impossible, but value-betting is very productive.

Ok, enough reiteration of something you likely already know.  What’s entertaining to me is the man who has no idea how he looks to the rest of the table.  He’s playing like garbage, raising with nothing; he calls down to the river with a pair of fours, then tries to bluff his way out of the mess.  He is continuously getting called.  He is continuously having to show the table his bluff attempt.  The rest of us are hyper-aware of his play, and adjust our strategy accordingly.  This man, however, is totally oblivious.  He thinks he’s simply been unlucky, and has no idea the rest of us see everything far more clearly.  It doesn’t stop him, however, from further handicapping himself by failing to adjust.  Ultimately, this guy just doesn’t know we’re paying attention.

This man and I played a hand late in a recent 8-16 session.  He limped in early position, as did two other players.  I decide to limp on the button with K-8 of spades.  The blinds call.  The flop was K-Q-9, with two clubs.  All five players check to me.  I also check.  Sure, a bet is absolutely reasonable, and possibly the better play.  My thinking, however, is that players with draws (and there are a lot of them) will be calling my bet.  I want to keep from being check-raised in a huge field, and keep the pot a little smaller with only one-pair on a very scary board.  Furthermore, the turn card will determine how interested I am in this hand, and my position on the button will keep me from putting in too much money if something gross comes on fourth-street.

The turn is the 8-of-clubs.  The blinds check to the lack-of-image-awareness-man, who bets.  Both other players fold.  Here, I could definitely raise.  Getting the pot heads-up is preferable, and there is a good chance I have the best hand.  To help make my decision, I look to the two players in the blinds to see if they give off any information.  They both seem very disinterested.  This sways me to simply call.  I don’t need to get three-bet by a very aggressive player, swelling the pot, and leaving me guessing where I’m at.  Furthermore, I’d like to let him drive the action.  If he is bluffing or semi-bluffing, why give him an opportunity to exit gracefully?  I’ll let him bang his head against the wall, knowing full well that I’m not going to fold the river.  The blinds do indeed release their hands, and we go to the river heads-up.

The river is the 7-of-clubs, putting four clubs on the board.  My opponent gives a weird little smile to the man sitting next to him, and bets again.  I actually thought there was a very decent chance my hand was beat.  I don’t even have the best two-pair hand!  There are so many ways to be behind.  Of course, in addition to the pot odds to close out the hand, I was playing against this guy! He bluffs every river.  And he has no idea that I know he bluffs every river.  I call.  He turns over A-9 of hearts, and I scoop the pot.

He then goes on to say, “Boy, that was either a great call or a terrible call.  I’m thinking it was a terrible call,” simply reiterating my theory that he has no idea how he really appears to his table-mates.

Let’s be clear: this hand explanation is not meant to congratulate my “hero” river call.  Pot odds played a part, of course, but more than that, this man just can’t help himself.  He must bluff.  I’d seen him do it six or so times in the last hour.  The call had to be made.

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