There's no better feeling in holdem than when you're playing smart, being dealt usable starting cards and running lucky on the community cards. It's the holy trinity of poker, and when it happens, the tangible feeling of being "in the zone" (or being in a state of "flow," as Csikszentmihalyi characterized it) drapes your entire consciousness. You feel invincible.
It's something I haven't felt in a long, long time, but I got back to it Friday night while playing $1/3 NLHE at The Meadows. It was like reuniting with a long-lost lover. I haven't played in a cash game since last July. I took a hiatus from poker, then just dabbled in cheap tournaments once I did start playing again. But Friday was open, and I had some "fun money" laying around. I figured why not give a cash game a go?
I only took a single buy-in. (Which is something I'm going to do for a while now, no matter what my roll is. I think I play better when I've got ~$250 to play with, and, if I lose it, I go home. It makes me tighten my game to where it should be.) I started off card dead but practiced plenty of patience. The first real hand I was in I flopped a pair of aces (10 kicker) in an unraised pot but folded to the guy on my right when he raised my flop bet. He flashed two pair. My radar seemed to be functioning properly.
After about an hour, I hit a hand -- one where two guys both slow-played flopped trips and I ended up hitting runner-runner to make a better full house -- to put me up ~$100. Then disaster when a guy smacked a three-outer on me, taking me back down near my starting stack. (I raised $13 pre with A-K from position and got two callers. Flop: K-8-2. Check, check. I c-bet $25. One guy called. Turn: 2. Opponent checked. I checked behind for pot control. River: 10. He bet $40, and I snap-called. He turned over K-10. Blerg.)
It was disgusting, but I didn't get frazzled, reminding myself I still had money and to just keep playing solid. Whiffed on a few flops and was down to a stack of ~$140 when, finally, all kinds of good things started happening. I flopped top pair in a limped pot with K-J and played it exactly like I played the A-K in the previously described hand. Only this time, my turn check induced a river bluff from the other guy, so my snap call paid off. Then I decided to set-mine from the big blind with pocket twos when two other players had called a $15 raise from a scruffy individual who had just sat down not 20 minutes prior with two black $100 chips. The beautiful flop: 8-6-2 rainbow. I checked it. Scruffy bet $40. The other two went away. I bumped it to $100. Scruffy put all of his ~$150 into the middle. I called and cracked his aces hard.
Shortly after that and now feeling fully in the zone, I decided to screw around preflop for the first and only time of the entire session by raising it up to $12 with 6♣-4♣. My only caller was a short stack playing with ~$80. Flop: Q♣-9♣-3♣. (Yep, that'll work.) The short stack led out into me. I took a moment to consider whether to raise or string him along but decided to put him all-in right there. He called. "Have the ace of clubs?" I asked and flipped over my hand. He just laughed that little "oh fucking hell" chuckle you'll hear at the poker tables sometimes and replied, "I don't have any clubs." He turned over a queen for top pair. The blank turn ended the hand. You could literally see jaws drop when I turned over the 6-4, my image had been so tight to that point.
"Hey, that's what's supposed to happen when I raise with 6-4 of clubs, right?" I asked, pulling in the pot.
"It never happens when I do it!" a jovial fellow from across the table replied.
"Yeah, usually not for me either," I said. "But when it does, it feels awesome."
A rotation or two later, I decided to head home up $217 in less than three hours of play. There were a few massive stacks at the table, and I didn't want my first cash session in nearly six months to turn sour by ending up on the bad end of a set-over-set situation or something. Remember, sometimes you can lose the flow just as quickly as you find it. Plus, I kind of wanted to come home and watch the penultimate episode of Fringe. Now I just got to hope that the zone doesn't abandon me for too long again. I feel like I deserve to have it stick around for a while.