Musings from Macau

By: Daniel Laidlaw

Step outside the glass doors of your hotel after two days of online hibernation and the humidity hits you in the face, your glasses fog up, and you’re reminded “oh that’s right…I’m in Asia”.

I change my mind about Macau almost daily. For the most part I don’t care where I am and should have few reasons to like it here. After a horror 300-hour stretch of live cash run bad for myself and my horses over the past month, it’s been sorely tempting during moments of homesickness and physical sickness to “rage quit” and flee back to Aus. But a mixture of irrational pride (wanting to “prove” myself in the games) and trademark ambivalence (nothing else is significantly more appealing right now) will likely see me here for another three weeks.

I’ve been on the road for two months now and am increasingly convinced, despite the superficial attractiveness of the lifestyle, that this is not a sustainable path. I’m aware that I can spiral into a negative mindset fairly easily and that this is always exacerbated by running poorly, but despite this it’s now pretty clear to me there is something fundamentally unsatisfying about an itinerant lifestyle.

As well as I ran in Sydney, I’ve run at least as poorly to date in Macau. Even though I understand what is happening, why it’s happening and how completely standard it is, it’s still jarring to switch from one environment where it felt like I couldn’t lose a hand, to another where the opposite is true. The nature of live poker is that short-term variance, both positive and negative, gets blown out proportion in your mind because there’s little else to focus on. Combating this and maintaining a healthy, positive mentality – especially when there are few daily distractions from poker – is a constant challenge.

In Sydney during March/April, I had never felt more confident in my live cash game. It was a powerful feeling walking in to the casino every day knowing that no one else there had a higher expectation than you. For that to be immediately followed by losing almost every big pot with either a small-to-significant equity edge or in standard cooler situations – while the exact same thing happened simultaneously to the people you’re backing – is more of a shock to the system than it ought to be.

I’ve been playing 100/200 HKD at the Wynn (~12.50/25 AUD equivalent) and the games, while beatable, are also nothing to get particularly excited about. A typical table is composed of bad regs, maybe a couple of foreign grinders, sometimes a good reg, and one or two fish. These are kind of table conditions that would have waiting lists 30 deep at equivalent online stakes, but live poker obviously needs to be inordinately softer to be worth playing to overcome the rake (here 5% capped at $200) and the fact you get ~25 hands an hour. I maintain that every live player over-estimates their win rate.

Yesterday was my first sighting of the thus far mythical Macau whale in the 100/200 game, i.e. the kind of player playing 100% VPIP and opening to 20x or larger preflop according to mood. It might that a significant part of anyone’s win rate here is determined by these occasional deep stacked clashes (buy ins are uncapped, and most regs routinely buy in for 300bb+), while otherwise grinding out a small profit in average games. This particular guy dropped around 200k in an hour.

Despite the above pessimism, one reason to consider being based in Macau is the attraction of potentially moving up to bigger games. 300/600 and 1k/2k runs regularly here and is not noticeably different in standard from the 100/200 game, with the 1k/2k arguably being softer overall given the type of players it runs around.

Given Macau’s quirky visa requirements however, my understanding is that as a foreigner you can only live here for 8 months out of every 12, being forced to leave for 30 days every two months. For that reason, unless you were playing 1k/2k, ultimately I can’t imagine being based here full-time.

Part of the reason for this trip was to make these kind of determinations though and I’ll have a clearer picture at the end of it.

Follow Daniel on Twitter @Choparno