The stories that I heard about the game in Macau made me salivate. “Imagine a table full of people with top pair disease” – one story went, referencing the hand in which a person who has a top pair will stay in the pot till the end and will pay you dearly. The stories turned out somewhat true, but one little nuance was omitted: Chinese are gamblers by nature and they have limitless pockets. (Don’t ask me how, US Treasuries don’t pay much these days). Because the amount of money in the pot, odds and the size of their stack is not the issue for them – poker in Macau is a pure gamble.
There are no structured limit games in Macau – only no limit. I think they have no notion of a limit game – if I was to tell them that such games exist they would probably laugh at it, what do you mean I can’t go all in? Who plays such a game? Another factor that unpleasantly surprised me is that they all smoke at the table. The stench was unbearable for me the first few days and I covered up my nose with the scarf. Then I got used to it.
In the first few days I played at the Wynn and the Venetian. Because I was completely unaccustomed to the way the game is played there and because of a few unfortunate hands that I pushed all-in with I ended up in a deep hole. In AC and in Vegas the prudent way of playing for me is to be as tight as a virgin. I thought that the correct response to a super-loose game in Macau is to tighten up even more. I was wrong, but it took me 4 days and several grand to reexamine and adjust my game. In AC I fold suited connectors and pat myself on the back for the correct play, here I should have raised with them, especially in the position. Sure, Chinese will nonchalantly call your raise, but if you flop something good it will be completely undetected and then you come and collect.
The next five days I spent at the Grand Lisboa Casino where incidentally they also had a tournament going. I haven’t had a single losing session there as I somehow got into the swing of things, which enabled me to dig out of the hole and even make some money that I ran away with. In the morning of the last day however, I decided to stop by the Wynn where I left my money earlier in a week and exorcise my demons. I succeeded with just a couple of good hands – that’s all you need in a no limit game. I keep making a distinction between limit and no limit because I’m a recent convert to a no-limit game. I don’t think I want to go back to limit – way too timid for my tastes.
The level of looseness is unbelievable – nowhere have I seen such a reckless, cavalier game. One loose guy at my table kept going all in and losing, and kept reaching into his pocket again and again for a $10,000 chip. He raised every hand he was in, which means every time because no hand was bad for him.
Some of my most memorable hands:
KQ suited – I would never allow myself such frivolity in any game on the American soil. But this was different. The previously described loose guy makes a big raise preflop as usual, and everybody folds to me. I had about $2500 in front of me and thought for a long time. Usually I’m rather quick to make a decision, but this time I took my time. He can raise with 5-7 for all I know. I figured it was very possible that just my king alone would play as I did not put him on pocket pair. So I pushed, hoping he would either fold or that I still had a better hand if he calls. He calls. The flop comes K, blank, blank to my relief. He said to have pocket 10s and mucked, showing only one. I doubled up. I know I rolled the dice with this hand, but it worked. I played the guy, not his cards. Some of my much stronger hands didn’t hold up in earlier game so it was a gamble. After such a hand I couldn’t resist the “squeezing the balls” gesture with both of my hands to the delight of locals at the table. I guess it’s international!
The two painful hands I had that set me into a deep hole in the beginning – I flopped two top pair both times. And both times I had somebody with an ace call and catch an ace on the turn and paired board on the river – counterfeiting my two pair. Same thing two times, both times I was all-in! Going all-in rarely scares a guy with an ace, and it just so happens he catches it when I’m in a hand. Another time I slowplayed my KJ with KK4 on the flop, almost celebrating my certain victory, when it was the guy who slowplayed me with pocket 4s flopping a full house. When someone flops a set – you rarely have any idea or any recourse against it. It’s undetectable!
But the most stunning hand I saw I didn’t participate in. The board on the river had no straits, no flushes, no pairs – nothing. One guy pushes all in with maybe $2-3K in front of him. The girl thinks for a while and calls. As she calls, the guy mucks his hand face down (!) and says something like “it’s yours”. The girl shows ace high (what a gutsy call in itself!) and the guy in panic reaches for his mucked cards, probably having folded a small pair, but it’s too late. He folded a winning hand without even showing it after pushing all in! Such reckless, stupid play!
One time I got a pair of black pocket kings. A preflop raise of $600 comes to me, I make it $1200. There’s another guy left in the pot and he’s thinking and thinking. A few times he made a gesture as if to fold his cards, a few times he pretended he wants to go all in, asking me how many chips I have, looking at my reaction. Because he hesitates, I know my hand is the best. He obviously thinks I have AA, as I count my chips in a way that says I want him to call. The guy really takes his time as I’m becoming annoyed: he’s either indecisive or he’s acting – either way I don’t appreciate it, so I called time. Patience is not my virtue, besides I don’t appreciate the theatrics. Btw, acting is big in Macau. He shoves his entire stack. The first raiser wisely folds and I, of course, call. The flop comes A, rag, rag – all hearts. Remember, my kings are black, besides the ace made me very nervous. Since we’re both all-in we turn our cards over. He has the same hand I do – only reds! Thank God no ace, but he has a flush draw, which didn’t materialize to my relief. The guy who folded had QQ. So we split his money.
All in all, Macau is a curious place to play, but poker is not the predominant game in the local casinos – they have much fewer tables than an average American casino and a poorer choice of games. They prefer baccarat and some unknown to me games involving dice. Like I said – they are gamblers.