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Rounding Bruce

Rounding Bruce
by Loki Luchs of Predictem.com

When I first began playing poker, I was one of the greenhorns who had the big dreams. The money, the cars, the women… I wanted it all. As the years passed, I gained experience in a number of games and in a number of different fields, but the age was still pre-Moneymaker. As do many of us, I put off these dreams after college in order to chase more practical ones. After I graduated, I traveled around the country for a few years, before returning to Detroit. Once I had settled back down into my Michigan roots, I began to itch for the action. I quickly found out that in those few short years the game had changed. The movie Rounder’s had gone from being a B-rental to a cult classic and Moneymaker had just taken his crown. This was a whole new era and frankly, a whole new game. For years I had only played low-medium stud and limit hold’em. Detroit had just finished building their first casinos and these new casinos were spreading a new type of game: No-limit.

The first few times I went to Greektown, I avoided this new, dangerous game as though it was an infectious disease. As with all infectious diseases, though, it wasn’t too long before I was exposed and eternally contaminated. I knew much less than I know now, but I had more experience than most of the players and I had read some of the early poker books on no limit, so I was better off than most. That first year was the most lucrative poker I’ve ever seen; WPT and the poker-cams were in their infancy; Moneymaker was being replayed on ESPN five times a day; Teddy KGB was being quoted more than the president; my opponents had been introduced to the dreams I had outgrown… and I was reaping the benefit.

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I wasn’t alone however. I felt comfortable playing against all of my opponents. I could make money on most of them by reversing their style. I could figure out where they were at by their bets and some of the basic tells that I had learned. I stole pots from almost every player I met....Almost...

One player, Bruce, never paid me a nickel. He was the real deal. Every aspect of the game that I aspired to improve on he had already mastered. He knew where I was on every hand and he out-played me every time. Out of position he would bet into me when I had Ace high, out of position he would re-raise my continuation bets. When I had flopped heavy, he folded. When I was on a premium hand, he wasn’t in. The man put me on every hand I ever played. In one memorable hand, he called my river all-in with his pocket kings saying “I just can’t put you on any two cards other than the other two kings.” We chopped the pot. Within the first month of the first time I played him, I made one of the best decisions I ever made in poker.

I stopped trying to beat him.

The other players at the table wanted the thrill of victory. Other players wanted to be able to say that they had outplayed him. Other players wanted to show him up and get under his skin. The man was unflappable. He couldn’t be shaken, he couldn’t be pushed around, he couldn’t be beaten. He was more experienced, patient, aggressive, and (frankly) smarter than anyone in the room. So my dance around him began. The respect that I showed him was obvious only to him. I was the only player he wasn’t crushing, so he, in turn, danced around me. If I was in the hand with him, he knew I had a monster.

After that first year, I was preparing to leave Detroit. With only a few weeks left, I made an acquaintance with a promising upstart named Adam. He reminded me a little of that eager college boy I had left behind. With the choice between medical school and poker, he decided that it would be best to take a year off before committing to the slicing and dicing. He wanted advice on style, aggression, and most importantly, live play. I gave him what help I could, as did others, and he became a dominating force at the table. His play was loose and aggressive and obscene amounts of money accumulated. After I returned to college, we continued to e-mail back and forth with stories and hands. Of all the pieces of information I gave him though, he failed to listen to only one.

I had been very clear: Don’t round Bruce, go around him. Show Bruce respect; he will take every cent if you let him. Adam heeded my opinion at first, but I received a few e-mails complaining about how much money he felt he was losing while he was tip-toeing around this guy. “You’ve over-estimated him… His game is pretty weak, actually… I think I’m going to take the fight to his door.” He finally stated in one frustrated e-mail.

A few weeks passed and I got the follow-up. Adam had taken every precaution he could. Once he had moved into position, he took the war to Bruce. He had brought a huge portion of his bankroll, over 50%, so that he could counter any swings he might have. He was going to play TAG with alternating loose tendencies to false advertise. Adam had his hooded sweatshirt and sunglasses to better hide the tiny tells he might still have. Even though the game was only 5/10 no-limit, I understand that the battle was fierce. They played for over 12 hours together. Most of the time it was a full-ring, but by 6:00 am it was down to just five. To the tune of $15,000, Adam hit the felt. Accordingly, $10,000+ made its way to Bruce

Over the coming months, Adam worked his way back, but he was constantly plagued with self-doubts and repeatedly wondered by the epiphanies he had of Bruce’s play. The lesson, though expensive, was that the glory of poker is not at the table. It’s in the stack you carry away from it.

A few years later I had the chance to return to the Greektown poker room. Sitting at the table was the seasoned veteran. I jockeyed for position the moment I sat down, and ended up right behind him. A few young players were standing at the rope and gesturing dramatically. “That’s the guy! I played a hand against him last month in Chicago! I picked up pocket-rockets and I bet right into him! And you know what? He FOLDED! I BEAT BRUCE IN A HAND!” The buddy slaps him hard on the back in congratulations as they walked away.

Bruce, uncharacteristically, made a passing comment to me. “Only decision that kid made right that night was picking up his chips and leaving after the hand.”

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