I’d been playing a 2-5 NL game at the MGM Grand for about two hours when Mary came to the table. She looked to be in her early 60’s, with a sweet face and the perfect little old lady vestments: a beige sweater with an oversized ceramic image of a cartoon mouse eating a block of cheese pinned a few inches below her left shoulder.
Based solely on her appearance, I assumed she would essentially be a dead seat at the table. That is, she would play too tight to lose much and too predictably to take much from anyone. This was corroborated by the way a few of the regulars in the game regarded her. In one hand, Mary (at least I think this is what they called her) raised to $25 after one limper. A lady friend of hers just called from the SB and check-folded an Ace-high flop. Mary tabled AA, and her friend flipped over KK, saying “I knew it! That’s why I didn’t reraise you!”
That was the first time Mary raised, and she’d been at the table for over an hour. About an hour later, she raised again, and after one caller, I elected to call on the button with 65o, as Mary had about $600 in front of her and I covered. As is my habit, I envisioned what kind of flop would allow me to win a big pot against what I was sure would be a big pair: certainly 347, but I’d be willing to call any reasonable bet on any flop that gave me so much as an open-ender. What about 66x? Would she figure me for calling a raise with a 6? Hard to say, but she’d have to lose something.
Then I envisioned the aftermath. This poor, sweet old woman sits patiently, socializing with friends and waiting for her pocket aces. She finally gets them, the holy grail of Texas Hold ‘Em, and she loses two months’ social security checks to a “bad beat” from some young hot shot who calls an early position raise with 6-5 offsuit. Is this really who I am? A guy who invests $15 in a garbage hand in the hopes of ruining this poor woman’s evening (maybe her month? This is the kind of bad beat story she might tell years into the future) and taking her money, money that could have been used for her grandson’s college education or her granddaughter’s orthodontia?
The flop came Q82, Mary bet and won the pot. She flipped over AQ suited and tipped the dealer.
In the next four hours or so, she watched me accumulate nearly $1000 through aggressive play, while she raised about once an hour and limped into a few more pots. I raised limpers with all kinds of stuff, particularly when I was in position, and the whole table was complaining about it, but every time one of them decided to look up one of my big river buts, they were shown a near nut hand.
I made my usual straddle UTG and looked at my phone: 11PM, meaning I’d been playing with barely a break for 8 hours. More importantly, I could detect a seismic shift in how the table regarded me. I had a mountain of chips stacked in front of me, and most of my opponents had been around long enough to see me raking in all of the big pots I played. Lately, I’d been getting less action and hearing less grumbling about my “bad” play.
But this table was soooo juicy! Not juicy in the sense that they’d lose their asses with anything, but juicy in the sense that there was $7500 in the table and only one other guy who seemed to have half a clue how to play poker. After folding, I resolved to take a walk, go to the bathroom, and play one more hour.
I returned to my seat and posted from the CO. The other competent player limped UTG, Mary limped behind him, two or three other players, including a guy I really disliked and had been wanting to stack for a long time, limped in, and I looked down at 75. It was tempting to limp in too, just to play a pot in position, and then I remembered that I’d already posted. I tapped the table, the button limped, the blinds tapped, and the flop came out Q77.
UTG bet $30, and Mary, to my surprise, called. It was unusual for our table to see this much action on such a dry board, so I just called in position with my trips. Everyone else folded, and the dealer burned and turned the K. UTG checked, and Mary, to my great surprise, bet $75, leaving a little less than $250 behind.
I considered it very unlikely that she would play any hand containing a 7. Could she have KK or QQ? She limped behind a limper, and I’d previously seen her raise AA in a similar situation, so I slightly discounted these, but who knows. I really didn’t think she was the type to semi-bluff. Maybe AQ or KQ? I called, resolving to throw my hand away to a big river bet.
The river was the A, and Mary bet about $55 into a pot of nearly $300. I smiled inside and started envisioning how this pot would give me a stack of over $2000 and get me unstuck for the trip.
Her weak little blocking bet told me she was uncertain about her hand, probably worried that I had a 7. What could I raise? What would she call with? I decided that if I bet her last $183, she’d be getting better than 2:1, and would maybe talk herself into a call, both because she might want to put me on a busted flush draw or just because she didn’t want to fold two pair to the “Macadamia”, as her friend called me (because she thought I was a nut).
“All in”, I announced, moving a stack of red chips into the pot.
Her spindly claws couldn’t shovel chips into the pot quickly enough. “Can’t win this one, sweetheart,” she informed me with a hint of malevolent glee as she flipped over her pocket Aces for a rivered full house. I grimaced, matched the last of her chips, and smiled at her. “Nice hand.”
In my mind, I replayed it. No reason to shove the river. She isn’t going to call with a worse hand. There was no flush draw on the flop to represent. Though unlikely, she certainly could have a boat, and the odds of her having a boat are probably better than the odds of her calling with a worse hand.
But the weak river bet is what I kept coming back to. The more I thought about it, the more I realized how perfect it was. If she made the big bet herself, I’d already resolved to fold. But the underbet convinced me I was good and induced me to try raising for value. Had she stumbled upon this brilliant play by dumb, nut peddling luck? Or did she know that I would do the work for her, and that she couldn’t count on having a big bet of her own paid off? I wanted to ask her this, but I realized it would be rude, as I’d essentially be accusing her to her face of being just another clueless case of beginner’s luck.
After another orbit of folding, I stood up, wished everyone a good night, and went to cash in my chips. I felt a tap on my arm as I stood waiting for the cashier to convert my racks of casino chips into crisp $100 bills. Looking over and down, I saw Mary smiling up at me. “It was an absolute delight to have you at the table, and you’re a helluva poker player,” she told me.
“It’s too bad we were across the table from each other, we didn’t get to talk much.” She said good night and started to return to her seat, but I stopped her. “Your river bet was perfect,” I said.
Her face lit up. “I invited you right in, didn’t I?” she whispered conspiratorially.
“I couldn’t resist,” I admitted with a smile.