Border test: Are you better than Phil Ivey?

I went on a cool road trip with one of my best friends from Holland. He came to visit me in Toronto, and the two of us took a trip into the U.S. to visit various places. It was a lot of fun, both to see new places and meet new people, and also in some cases to see how people responded to us, too.

Our first stop kept us on the Canada side as we visited Niagara Falls, which was pretty amazing to see with all of the snow and ice moving on it.

From there we drove over to Detroit, and crossing the border was kind of a funny episode in itself. After all, we were two Dutch guys just going on a road trip into the U.S., and so it wasn't too surprising that the border guard wanted to ask us some questions.

"What do you do for a living?" he asked me, and I told him how my friend was an event organizer and I was a poker player.

"Oh yeah?" he responded. "Are you better than Phil Ivey?"

We laughed, and I told him "No... no one is better than Phil Ivey." He chuckled back and said "Now I know you're legit."

He then asked me if I was better than Tom Dwan, and again I said no, I didn't think so. "I think that kid is crazy... I don't think he knows what he's doing," he said, and I replied "Well, you know some people wonder that sometimes, but he's pretty good."

Then another guard joined the conversation. If I was a poker player, he asked, how much money did I have? I only had about $500, and they laughed and said I was full of it, but I explained how we weren't really coming to play poker.

"I think you guys are lying," he said with a grin. "I think you're going to some secret underground judges' game or something." But it was obvious he was joking and they let us through.

Detroit was a fascinating place to visit. We had a local tour guide accompany us on a drive around the city and he filled us in on all of the old buildings and other details about the city's history. People are down about Detroit these days because it has been in such steep decline, and it is kind of wild to think about how the city was once one of the most powerful in the world. Now even though Detroit is starting to recover, people are still leaving because of its bad reputation.

From there we drove to Washington, D.C. and again did a lot of touring around. Then it was up to Philadelphia where we saw where the Declaration of Independence was signed. There wasn't much else to do there, however, so we cut our day short and drove to Atlantic City.

Unfortunately by then none of my debit cards were working and neither were my friend's. We found ourselves in a casino with about $200 left between us, and since my friend is kind of a sucker for slot machines, we ended up trying our luck. I personally hate slot machines, but my friend insisted that since we had walked about an hour-and-a-half somewhere the day before to see something that I had wanted to see, I "owed" it to him to let him play the slots. (Maybe I was the sucker here, now that I think about it.)

I said okay and settled in with a beer to watch my friend play. He started playing, then soon was saying he felt like the machine he was on was kind of cold. It didn't "like" him, he said. Su-u-u-ure it doesn't, I thought, shaking my head as I watched him go from $100 down to around $60. That's when I convinced him to leave that machine and we moved over to a roulette machine.

Whenever I gamble -- I mean truly gamble like in these kinds of casino games -- I tend to choose the same strategy every time. For instance, if someone wants to bet me on a coin flip, I always take heads, because I'll never regret that I should have chosen differently afterwards. I just take all of the fretting over the decision out of it.

For roulette, then, I always put money on one number -- 20. That's because once about six or seven years ago I met this interesting, rich Turkish guy who one time had visited a roulette table at the Wynn. He asked the croupier what his favorite number was, and the guy said "20." So he said, "Okay, $20,000 on 20."

You know how these stories go. The guy hit his 20 and won like $700,000 or something, then he tells the croupier "So 20 is your lucky number? Here's a $20,000 tip."

So that's why I always take 20 when playing roulette, but in this case I was trying to drag the money over to that number on the machine and for some reason it didn't work -- the amount wasn't sufficient or something, I don't know. Anyhow, in the process I end up dragging money onto different numbers and then the machine started to spin.

My friend was crying "Oh, no!" and calling me an idiot, but one of the numbers hit and suddenly we had $250. Then we played video poker, hit a royal, and eventually we ran it up to about $700. We then took that money and decided to play poker.

That was another fun experience, sitting down at a $1/$2 table and playing the "information game" with the other players. My friend isn't that great of a player, and I knew once we sat down, ordered some White Russians, and began speaking in Dutch that we probably didn't look too much like we were that serious about the game -- just a couple of foreign tourists having a good time.

This created kind of an interesting dynamic for me. There was one player at the table, kind of the "table captain," if you will, who had no idea I was a pro and usually played for much higher stakes. As it happened, my friend immediately lost a buy-in, and so I was also playing very tight since we were essentially down to our case money, which further created a very particular image for me.

That's when this guy started talking to me, kind of trash talking even, just about every time I acted. If I raised, he would say "It must be aces" before folding, and would make other comments that were clearly based on his impression that I was just a tourist short-stacking this $1/$2 game who was too afraid to take any real risks.

Of course what happened was he was completely letting me crush him, bluffing him off of hands left and right because of his mistaken impression. There was a second guy at the table who also joined in a little with the needling of me, but something about him seemed different -- he didn't seem quite as serious about it as the "table captain."

It went well for awhile, but eventually my friend and I both ended up losing and so had to call it a day. I was wishing everyone good luck when the second guy stood up and said how it had been a pleasure playing with me and he started to ask me for tips about what books he should read. I replied by inviting him to come have a drink with us, and it was funny to see the demeanor change in the "table captain" as he realized I might not have been the guy he thought I was.

lex_veldhuis_pro_player_ivey.jpg

I don't wear the patches when I'm incognito

Live poker is great fun in that way -- the way first impressions affect people and become very hard for some to correct later. A lot of players are too confident in their initial reads of their opponents to even notice when they turn out to be incorrect.

People are also often way too concerned with showing others that they know what they are doing at the poker table. I don't care if someone thinks I'm a newbie -- that just means if I have an extra edge because they are operating with a false read of me. I never ever talk strategy at the table, and in fact if asked about anything I always reply with silly, stupid answers, which nearly always has a good effect with players giving me action and underestimating me.

So the trip ended kind of the way it began -- thinking back to the border guards and the way they were "reading" us at the beginning of the trip. It turned out to be a very fun vacation, getting to learn more about other places and people, and also enjoy others learning about us, too.

Lex Veldhuis is a member of Team PokerStars Pro

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