Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in Card Player. This entry in the "Aunt Sophie" series covers poker.
Aunt Sophie tries a steal
“Aunt Sophie,” I began, “may I ask a question about a play you made just before the break?”
“Tsatskeleh,” said she, “I know to what you’re referring to.”
We were at a table adjoining the tournament area of Casino Europa in San Jose, Cost Rica. The dinner break had just begun. We had had our plates filled by lovely young ladies working the buffet line. Our plates held hearts of palm salad, gourmet vegetables, bacon-wrapped filet mignon, fresh Pacific corvino, chicken chunks in savory broth, Spanish-style beans, and roast potatoes. We could have had rice and mashed potatoes, too, had there been room on our plates. A white-gloved waiter had poured us each a glass of the finest Spanish red wine. Aunt Sophie and I were still in the tournament, though she was seriously short-chipped. The rebuy and add-on periods had ended at the break. This buffet had been available for all players an hour before the start of the tournament, and then at this break two hours into the tournament. Sara ate with us, but didn’t contribute much in the way of conversation. I think flying from treetop to treetop, attached by a flimsy harness only to a cable, in a tropical forest on the Pacific coast had taken some of the loquaciousness out of her, or maybe it had been the view of a river full of caimans over which our luxurious tour bus had crossed on the way to what they called the Canopy Tour. We had all dutifully gotten out and photographed the hungry beasts, amid scores of frolicking iguanas, from a bridge directly overhead.
“Ah,” I temporized, “but clarify something for me, because my attention was diverted. On that last bet, had you called, or had you bet?”
“A steal I was trying that didn’t work,” she staunchly put in. “I bet, and he called all in.”
“That’s what I thought,” I offered. “But you could have saved yourself some money.”
“Yah,” she responded, “I know. I could have checked and folded.”
I returned to the buffet line for seconds on steak and vegetables and some of the incomparable hearts of palm salad. Only in a semitropical country can you get something this fresh; it just does not compare with the canned hearts of palm you get in American supermarkets. As I returned, Aunt Sophie finished the last morsel, sighed, and folded her knife and fork on the plate. Immediately the waiter whisked the plate away, and came right back to top off our wine glasses and add water and ice to those glasses. Sara’s plate was already gone.
“Well,” I continued, “you can tell me about that in a minute, but what I meant was that you didn’t have to set him all in. When no one else came in, you had opened from the small blind for about three times the bring-in bet. That’s a good bet. The big blind called, leaving himself about eight times the bring-in. On the flop, you then bet all his chips.”
I finished my meal, which caused the plate to disappear just as precipitately as Aunt Sophie’s. We all headed over to the dessert tables, laden with world-class pastry creations: petits-fours, tiramisu miniatures, chocolate truffles, something wonderful called tres leches that translated to “three milks,” in short, desserts, as Aunt Sophie termed them, “to die for.” When we returned to the table, waiting for me at my place was my “usual,” a frothy cocoa-sprinkled cappuccino. I had asked for that once at a breakfast in the casino, and thereafter, whenever my caffeinic cravings needed attention, the drink of my dreams magically appeared. And it was a libation suited to my dreams, having been made from locally grown beans. The number 1 business of Costa Rica used to be coffee exportation, and that crop still contributes a major chunk to the economy, but the top business is now tourism, followed closely by Internet gaming sites. Apparently many of those have moved from offshore sites on exotic Caribbean islands to Costa Rica, further swelling the country’s expatriate population. Costa Rica now has in excess of 30,000 Americans in more-or-less permanent residence; more than 10,000 of them live in San Jose. The government encourages this by, among other things, allowing Americans to bring cars and other possessions into the country tax-free. Automobile purchases are taxed heavily, making them prohibitively expensive for ticos and ticas, the name that Costa Ricans give themselves. An American making his home in the country is allowed to bring in a new car every two years; at the end of the two years, he can sell that car locally for more than he paid for it. And, of course, the cost of living is considerably lower than anywhere in the U.S. For these reasons, and because of the country’s natural beauty and consistently mild climate, many American retirees spend their golden years in Costa Rica.
“A mistake,” she persisted, “I shouldn’t have bet.”
“But as long as you did,” I supplied, “you still could have got away for less. What I mean is that the player on your left was extremely tight. You opened with a good raise, 30,000 colones into his 10,000 colones big blind. He called, which indicated he had something better than two average cards. You bet all his chips, 90,000 colones, on the flop, presumably to get him to fold. But if he had a hand he was going to fold, you could have found out by risking far less. You could have bet, say, half the pot, about 30,000. If he didn’t hit his hand, he would have folded. If he was going to call that bet, most of the time he likely also would have been going to call all of his chips, so you can find out cheaply, without risking as many chips as you did. Since he was going to call, you could have saved 60,000.”
“Ah,” Aunt Sophie sighed, “a mistake I knew I made as soon as I made it. An ace and a queen on the flop came. I should have known those cards hit his hand. The mistake I made in my head was that he would think they hit me and would fold for my bet. But it was just a momentary lapse of reason. I should have just given up at that point. I would have perfectly been playing if the flop had come little cards and my bet I made, but when I should have realized the flop must have hit him and bet instead anyway, that was my big mistake. From the table I was even ready to get up, but they counted down his chips and gave me back about half of mine. I must have bet about 180,000. The turn and river I forgot, it doesn’t matter, from embarrassment he nicely saved me and showed his ace-queen, so my three-four of different suits that hadn’t even been touched by the flop I didn’t have to show.”
“I’m glad,” I concluded, “that you recognize your own mistake. Avoiding such a mistake in the future will help turn you into a winning no-limit hold’em tournament player. But also recognizing how you can save money in situations like this should help, too. By the way,” I inserted, parenthetically, “doesn’t a bad beat story sound much more interesting when you say the blinds were 5000 and 10,000, instead of $15 and $30?”
“Of course,” she laughed, “but everyone knows that in one dollar is about 333 colones.”
Aunt Sophie and I returned to the tables for the resumption of the tournament action, while Sara remained at the table to sip her Earl Grey tea and finish Great Expectations, one of the 10 or so Dickens novels she had brought to occupy some of the time during which others of her group played poker. Casino Europa normally has five tables available for poker, with as many added as needed to accommodate the largest tournament. The games regularly spread are $4-$8 and $10-$20 mixed, with the “mix” being two-thirds Omaha high-low and one-third hold’em, $10-$20 hold’em, and a big no-limit hold’em game that goes year round. During tournaments, side games include all of the preceding and sometimes more. The tournament we were in was nominally $10 buy-in, with unlimited rebuys during the first two hours, plus an add-on at the break. The buy-ins were graduated, with three rebuys, at $10 each, permitted whenever you went broke during the first half hour, five during the next, and so on. You could get up to 21 add-on units, $210 worth, and you received 3-for-2 in chips for those. I said “nominally” a $10 tournament, but you could really figure it as a $200 or $300 tournament. The tournament offered a huge overlay for patient players, because many players, and not all of them were locals, went all in regularly on almost any two cards, and then bought the maximum rebuys. They call these rebuys camisas, a word Americans soon start shouting just as eloquently as the locals. The word means “shirt,” and it implies that you need a rebuy because you have just lost yours. Strictly speaking, they use camisa to mean any buy-in or rebuy. Americans quickly learn all the local terminology for procedures and hands, partly because Casino Europa helpfully distributes a cheat sheet prior to each tournament, but also because most locals speak English to a greater or lesser degree, and all are eager to make foreigners feel at home. The record for tournament camisas was close to 150, meaning that some locals were putting in excess of $1200 into a small tournament, providing an overlay for patient Americans. I had seen players make the final table on less than $50.
Casino Europa is also a full-scale casino, though not of the same size as those of Nevada. You’ll find 26 table games and 89 slots, with video poker being one popular variety. The casino also has local variations on roulette and blackjack; the games are identical to the American versions, with only the names differing for complicated legal reasons.
My favorite sight in the cardroom is a blank brick wall, in the corner of which is a sign, “El muro de los lamentos; llore aqui”: “Wall of lamentations; weep here.” In other words, if you get a bad beat, don’t curse the dealer or the other players or throw cards; come to the wall and vent your frustrations there.
Aunt Sophie sat down at her table and I at mine, and the tournament director announced the blinds and betting, and uttered the universal tournament rallying cry, “Cards in the air.”