Wednesday, December 13, 2006

"The Annoying Bastard"

An article in the November issue of "Bluff" (which I think is the most entertaining poker magazine out there; for hard-core strategy, nothing beats "Card Player," but for lighter fare, "Bluff" is my favorite) is about the varieties of players who chat at the table. For today's grump, I can do no better than to quote verbatim their description of "The Annoying Bastard" (p. 77):

This guy (or girl) talks because he must, the same way sharks have to keep
swimming to live. The patter is generally an unending stream of mundane
nonsense--the equivalent of someone asking "Hot enough for ya?" seven hundred
times in a row.

Of course, babbling about the buffet or the dry heat is one thing; heaven
forbid he starts trying to school you at poker. After he busts your set with a
miracle straight on the river, he'll take pains to educate you on how to
calculate outs, odds, and pot equity until you're ready to stuff a copy of
Brunson's Super System down his gullet and put him on a plane back to
Des Moines.

Recommendation: You can't win with an Annoying Bastard, and you
can't go over the top on him. He's why god made iPods. Screen him out, then bust
him out.


However, another alternative for the inveterate table-teacher is one I've come to use more frequently of late. I ask, "Are the lessons free, or do we have to pay extra for them?" (This has a bit more bite if it's addressed to the dealer, while pointing in the general direction of the self-appointed professor, than if addressed directly to the offender. It sounds a bit more like a sincere question.*) The jerk usually can't resist the bait, and will say something like, "No, they're free." This set-up is such a softball that I should be ashamed to swing at it, but I like to follow that up with, "Oh, good--because they're worth what we're paying for them."

It really does seem to stem the flow of "lessons."

*My apologies to any dealers who have been put into an awkward position by involving them in this way, but in general I think they share my combination of amusement and annoyance at the "expert," and haven't minded the rhetorical question.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Perfect poker

A couple of weeks ago I was at a table at the Orleans when I overheard a conversation between a player and a dealer. The dealer expressed to the player his surprise at learning that the player had placed only second in a recent tournament. The surprise was apparently because the player had gone into the final table with a substantial chip lead. The player, explaining his disappointing second-place finish, naturally proceeded with a series of bad-beat stories, complaining about what terrible players his opponents were, etc. The player--for whom the terms "loudmouth," "braggart," and "egomaniac" are woefully inadequate--concluded by griping that he had played "seven hours of perfect poker," only to fall victim to other players' stupidity.

I couldn't help myself: I laughed out loud. "Perfect poker." As Bill Cosby used to say, "R-i-i-i-i-i-i-ght."

Imagine what that would entail, were it humanly possible. It would mean perfect reads on every one of one's opponents' hole cards every hand. It would mean never giving away a speck of information about one's own hand beyond what is conveyed in the size of a bet (i.e., never a bit of hesitation or haste in the timing of a bet, not a hint of any facial expression related to the hand, not a trace of weakness or strength in the tone of one's voice). It would mean never betting, say, $100 when a weaker opponent would actually have called as much as $101.

I do not believe that any person is capable of pulling this off more than on a rare, exception hand--and it's damn hard to know that one has done it, because you just don't get the information you'd need to be able to ascertain that it had been accomplished.

I am impressed with the far more realistic assessment that Barry Greenstein makes in his superb book, "Ace on the River" (pp. 204-205):

I typically make more than twenty plays in a session that in retrospect I
think were mistakes. Some are clear blunders that cost me the pot or caused me
to lose more money than I should have on a hand. Others are more subtle. Maybe I
should have check-called or check-raised instead of betting. Sometimes I should
have folded instead of calling, or called or raised instead of folding. Yet, I
have played with people who have told me they play almost flawlessly. I have
never respected the play of anyone who has said that....

I believe the game of poker is so complex that we all make many bad
decisions, but the best players win by making fewer than others. It reminds me
of what Lee Trevino said when he was asked if he chokes. He admitted, "Of course
I choke, but I look around and see other players choking worse than I do. That's
why I'm able to win golf tournaments."

Seven hours of perfect poker, my ass. It can't be done.

Still, I'm happy to have heard the guy say this. It's exceptionally revealing about his psychological state. First, he has a huge ego. Second, that ego is tied to his success at poker--the outcome more than how he actually plays. Third, his ego is fragile enough that he desperately needs the accolades of others--else why bother trying to convince everybody that he's so good? (The really great players don't need to talk people into believing in their skill.) Fourth, he's incapable of honest self-assessment, which perforce means that he's incapable of assessing others accurately; he'll likely think that I'm a terrible player, no matter what I do, which is just fine with me, because then when I win hands, he's that much more likely to go on tilt as a result. Fifth, he believes that any loss is due to bad luck and/or bad play by others, which means that he'll never, ever improve; after all, how can you learn to play better than "perfect"?

I'd almost feel sorry for the guy, if it weren't so much fun to ridicule his pathetic condition.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Biggest raise ever (non-grumpy content)

I recently learned of the biggest raise ever made in the history of poker--at least according to legend. It regards John Dougherty, perhaps the most famous gambler in old Tombstone. This is from “Sucker’s Progress: An Informal History of Gambling in America,” by Herbert Asbury, published in 1938, pp. 348-349:

If Southwestern tradition is to be credited... [t]his historic event occurred in
1889, when Dougherty and Ike Jackson, a rich cattle owner of Colorado City,
Texas, met in Bowen's Saloon in Santa Fe and agreed to play a square, no limit
[sic] game for the Poker championship of the West. A hundred prominent citizens
of Santa Fe, including L. Bradford Prince, Governor of New Mexico, crowded into
the saloon to watch the battle.... In a few minutes $100,000 in coin and
currency was piled on the table between the players. Jackson was then short of
cash, so he wrote out a deed to his ranch and 10,000 head of cattle, and with
this document raised Dougherty a hundred thousand. Dougherty hadn't money enough
either to call or to raise, but he was equal to the emergency. He called for
paper and pen, wrote rapidly for a moment or two, and then handed the paper to
Governor Prince, at the same time drawing a revolver.

Governor," he said, "you sign this or I will kill you. I like you and would
fight for you, but I love my reputation as a Poker player better than I do you
or anyone else."

Without reading what Dougherty had written,
Governor Prince hastily signed, and with a smile of triumph Dougherty flung the
paper into the pot, saying impressively:

"I raise you the
Territory of New Mexico! There's the deed!"

The Texan threw down
his cards with a mighty curse.

"All right," he said, "take the
pot. But it's a damned good thing for you that the Governor of Texas isn't

I’m please to report that today such moves are against the rules in most of the better casinos in Las Vegas.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Just stay home, you inconsiderate jerk!

Let's make one thing clear: you don't have to play poker in a casino on any given day. (I'll make an exception here for people who have paid in advance for a big-dollar tournament.) So if you're sick, just stay home (or at your hotel).

It happened again last night, and surely will again many more times before the currently starting cold season ends: One doofus sat down in seat 8 (I was in 10) at the Flamingo, and was instantly recognizable as being sick. First thing he did was take a bottle of God-kn0ws-what cold syrup out of a bag, and take a big swig of it. In spite of that stuff, he coughed and sniffled and snorted and blew his nose and wiped his nose with his hand, etc.

This isn't that complicated, folks: The rest of us don't want to pick up your miserable cold! Don't go into a casino and plop down for several hours (or even several minutes, for that matter) in close proximity to a bunch of other people, who will then have to share your air, and handle the same cards and chips that you're befouling with your stupid virus.

Really--how inconsiderate can you be? How about taking a few days to brush up on your online play instead?

I am not looking forward to this aspect of winter in Las Vegas. I think I'm going to become a vigilante about this. I didn't say anything to this particular jerk, but next time I am going to speak up.

Dealers who don't know the rules--and don't ask

Three stories.

1. I was playing at the Flamingo last night, my usual game ($1-$2 no-limit hold'em). I was first to act on the river. I bet $8. The guy to my left, without saying anything, put $13 in front of him in one motion (2 red chips and 3 blue chips). Therefore, it wasn't clear if he had intended to call and accidentally dragged an extra red chip along, or if he had intended to raise and miscounted or miscalculated what the minimum raise would be.

There are four possible rules that one could have to cover this situation: A. The dealer asks the player what his intention was, and then, depending on the answer, the player either retracts the extra amount or puts in more money to make the minimum raise. B. In the absence of a previous verbal declaration of a raise, any amount pushed forward that is more than a call but short of the minimum raise is deemed a call, and the extra returned to the player. C. In the absence of a previous verbal declaration of a raise, any amount pushed forward that is more than a call but short of the minimum raise is deemed a raise, and the player is obligated to complete the minimum raise. D. As a sort of compromise between the possibly harsh consequences of (B) and (C), you split the difference, and if the amount is more than halfway between the call and the minimum raise, it's deemed a raise; if the excess is less than halfway to the minimum raise, it's deemed a call.

Cooke's Rules recommends option D. Some casinos appear to go with D for tournaments, but either B or C for cash games (a distinction that makes no sense to me). But clearly the worst option is A, because that's what the angle-shooter would want: ambiguity, which he can then take either way, depending on what reaction he gets from other players.

So what did the dealer do here? He went with A. I asked him whether the player really had the option, and suggested that there must be a house rule settling the issue one way or the other without giving the player the choice. The dealer said that the player had to say what his intention was. I didn't believe it, but it was a small enough amount that I was going to call it anyway, so I didn't make an issue.

Later, however, I approached the shift supervisor and asked what the dealer's move should have been. If I understood his answer correctly, the Flamingo goes with B--the extra $5 should have been returned to the player and his action deemed a call, even if he claimed that his intention was to raise. The dealer was just wrong.

I won the hand at the showdown, incidentally. I still don't know if the guy really intended a raise--he had just hit one small pair on the river, so with 2 0r 3 people left to act behind him, it was a pretty stupid raise, if that really was what he meant to do.

2. I left the Pink Chicken because I wasn't making any money this time around, and went to Tuscany, a short drive away. Late in my session, I made a pre-flop raise to $12. The button reraised to $80, all in. The big blind was gabbing away with somebody and not paying attention. He had seen my raise, but missed the reraise, so he tossed two more $5 chips forward, intending to call my raise. Before anybody else could act after him, I intervened and told him of the reraise. (The dealer hadn't noticed the problem.) He decided to fold instead and took the $10 back.

The dealer told him that the $10 he had just put in had to stay in the pot. The player protested. The dealer, rather than calling for the floor, insisted that the guy put the $10 back. Player refused. They went back and forth a couple of times, until the guy on the button (who had put in the reraise, and was an off-duty dealer there) called for the floor. Floor ruled that since it hadn't affected any action behind him, the player would be allowed to take the $10 back.

This is in accordance with Cooke's rules: "[W]hen facing a raise, if a player is unaware that a pot has been raised and places enough chips in the pot to call an unraised bet only, the dealer shall advise the player that the pot has been raise, whereupon the player may reconsider and change his action, provided that no one has acted behind the player." (10.06, p. 66.) I assume that it is also in accordance with Tuscany's house rules.

3. About two weeks ago at the Orleans, there was a huge pot--about $1000 by the end, which is about as big as pots ever get in a $1-$2 game. I wasn't in it. I was in the 10 seat. On the river, the guy in seat 8 was facing an all-in bet for something like his last $400. He stood up to think about it, and finally decided to call. He pushed forward his two tall stacks. (He was one of those guys who like the 40-chip, $200 stacks instead of the more common 20-chip, $100 stacks--a tendency that was about to cause an unforeseen problem.) He then picked up his hole cards, and attempted to drop them on the table face-up with a little forward motion.

Unfortunately, his cards caught on his tall stacks on their way down, which flipped them face down, right on top of the muck.

The dealer reached for them, picked them up, and placed them face-up in front of the player, as if nothing unusual had happened. I asked her, "Isn't his hand dead?" She said, "No, he didn't mean to muck them [which was obvious--he's not going to call, then throw his hand away before seeing the other hands], and I know it was these two." Since I wasn't involved in the pot, I didn't do or say anything more--and, to my surprise, neither of the other two players in the pot said anything about it, either. (If it had been me, I'd instantly ask for the floor person. I'll take a $1000 pot by default if I can, and not feel one smidgen of guilt about it.) As it turned out, the caller had the worst hand and lost anyway, so the outcome would have been the same. But still, cards in the muck (at least face down, when nobody else has seen them) are dead, pure and simple, end of story. I seriously doubt that Orleans (or any other casino) has a house rule otherwise, though I didn't bother asking.

The common thread in these incidents is that a dealer doesn't know a rule that he or she should know, compounded by being certain of something that wasn't so, and not asking the floor about it. As I said in an earlier post, there's (usually) no shame in not knowing something. But one should be ashamed of being confident that the rule is X when it's actually Y, and not having the humility to say, "I'm not sure what the right thing to do here is; let me call the floor person to clarify it."

Addendum, August 16, 2007:

James Klosty is one of the shift supervisors at the Hilton poker room, and co-host of "Poker, Straight from the Hilton" on KLAV, 1230 AM, Fridays at 3:00 p.m., Pacific time. (You can also listen to the show live on the web through, click on the "listen" button. End of free plug.) Tuesday he told me that he had been reading some of my old posts--including this one, obviously--and questioned whether my opinion was right in story #1 above. At the time, I couldn't remember the situation that had prompted the rant, so I wasn't able to provide James a very satisfactory answer. But his point was thoughtful, and worthy of an equally thoughtful reply, so here's my take on it.

James noted that his long-standing practice in such a situation is to immediately ask the player what his intention was, and go by that. A player would get to make this mistake once--after that, it's assumed he's an angle-shooter, and the bet would be ruled a call only. James is a superb and experienced dealer. I trust him to have a keen sense of BS coming from a player who is trying to pull a fast one, versus an innocent mistake. If all dealers were as consistent and reliable, this system would probably work adequately. That said, we'd still have the problem that dealers change every 30 minutes, and the next one wouldn't necessary know that the guy in seat 8 has had his one chance to have his ambiguous move deemed a genuine oversight.

Overall, though, I still think it's preferable to have a rule that clearly defines what is to happen here, and not give the player a choice. Granted, the great majority of the time there is nothing nefarious intended. But that's also true of other ambiguous actions, such as tossing in an oversized chip when faced with a bet. It is, as far as I know, universal that that action will be deemed a call in the absence of a player announcing a raise before the chip hits the felt. Again, most of the time when a player intends to raise with the oversized chip, but fails to announce it, it's an honest mistake, not an attempt to deceive, so the rule has potentially harsh consequences when it is inadvertantly violated. But we don't give players a choice; the rule clearly defines how the bet is to be treated.

I think that the situation in my story #1 above is exactly analogous, in terms of how it should be handled. That is, there should be a rule (either one standardized everywhere, the way things like the oversized-chip rule are, or ones that casinos adopt internally, which may vary from place to place) that settles the matter cleanly.

I don't so much care which of the possible rules I discuss above (B, C, or D) is implemented. But I will stick to my guns on saying that having one of those rules in place to automatically and consistently determine the interpretation of the otherwise ambiguous action is better than the practice of asking the player what his intention was--even once.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Immutable law of poker

The cocktail waitress will only come right when it's your turn to play.

I have no idea why this is, but it is an undeniable, universal truth.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

"Let's just check it down"

One of the most egregious--but common--violations of the general rule about not discussing the hand while it's in progress is two players agreeing to "check it down" (i.e., not bet against each other) once they have both called the all-in bet of a third player. I've witnessed it once before in a casino game (at Bally's--and the dealer heard it and did nothing about it), and often in online games, but I had never been the object of it until today.

It happened at the Hilton. I was getting tired and was about ready to go, when I found pocket 9s. The two players to my right were extremely loose, in almost every pot, so when the first of them raised it to $12 and the other called, moving all-in for my last $30 or so seemed the obvious move. The action was folded around back to the original raiser and caller, both of whom called. Then one asked, "You want to just check it down?" The other agreed.

I protested to the dealer. He said, "What's wrong with that?"

He's fairly new, but he's been dealing since July, and he actually went to dealer school, so he should certainly know what's wrong with it. Fortunately, the floor person intervened. But, of course, the damage is already done, because even if the two players are required to officially recant their agreement, there's the wink-wink, nudge-nudge knowledge that they're going to abide by it anyway.

That's why if I had my own casino, the penalty for making and/or accepting such an offer would be that the player's (or players') hand(s) would be declared dead, and they would forfeit any interest in the pot. No exceptions, no explanations, no mercy. I think players would learn pretty quickly not to try it.

In today's case, I won the hand anyway. One player was very apologetic, and clearly didn't understand that it was against the rules, and when I pointed out the reason for it, immediately understood. I'm confident that he gets it now, and won't do it again.

The other guy (the original raiser), however, was annoyed that I was accusing him of collusion. He showed me his 7-2 offsuit, and asked, "If I was trying to collude, why would I do it with the worst hand in poker"? Well, you idiot, maybe because you have the worst hand in poker, and don't want anybody betting into you! If you had a strong hand, you probably wouldn't feel the need to get an opponent to agree not to give you a hard decision to make! What a moron.

In case any reader doesn't understand the problem with this situation, I'll try to explain. One of the fundamental principles of poker is that every player must make all of his own decisions without assistance, and must make them in his own best interest--not in the best interest of any other player. When you enter an agreement not to bet against another player when one is already all-in, you are conspiring. You are reducing you own potential gain (because if you developed a very strong hand, your best interest would be served by making another bet and hoping an opponent called with a worse hand, making a side pot you could win). And you're doing so at the expense of the all-in player.

Look at it this way: if you're all-in against two opponents, wouldn't you love it if one of them made a big bet and drove the other out of the pot, so that you'd only have to beat one other hand at the showdown? Even better, wouldn't it be great if the person betting was really stupid and was bluffing with nothing, and drove the best hand out of the pot?

In tournaments, particularly in the late stages, players will often check down a hand when one is all-in. There's nothing wrong with this, as long as it isn't made an agreement. In a tournament, each player's interest in knocking another one out of contention for the title may well be greater than their interest in winning a particular pot, so in such a situation each player is still acting in his own best interest. But that's not true in a cash game, since a losing all-in player will either just buy more chips or be replaced by a new player bringing new chips into the game; there is no countervailing interest to take into account. If you want to maximize your chance of winning the biggest possible pot, you don't agree to "check it down." The effect of the collusion is that each of the agreeing players shares the risks and rewards--they trade off maximum chance of winning the biggest possible pot for a reduced risk of losing what they've already put into it.

Occasionally when there is a bet and everybody folds except the last player with the option to call, that player will make an agreement with the bettor: I'll call if you agree to check it down after this round of betting. That is, the potential caller says that he's only willing to call if he doesn't have to risk any more of his money. Although I think this isn't good form, it doesn't have the same problem of collusion. The bettor can accept the call on the terms offered, or decline it and take the pot as it is. Either way, he's making a decision based solely on what he thinks is best for him. There's no conspiracy against a third player.

So if any reader didn't know before, now you've been told: agreeing to "check it down" when a player is all-in is collusion. It's against the rules. It's cheating. If you do it, you're a cheater. Dealers who don't know this are incompetent. Casinos that don't enforce this rule are facilitating cheating.

It really is that simple and stark.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Overly chatty dealers

A few days ago I'm in a game in seat #1, in late position, with 10-10 in the hole. Flop comes down J-10-4, two-suited. The guy under the gun is cutting some chips out of his stack, and there's 2 or 3 players to act after him before the action gets to me. I am focused like a laser on the guy who's acting first, because I'm going to have a huge decision to make when my turn comes around: slow-play it, make a minimal raise, make a big raise, or just push all-in and take it down. My Spidey senses are on full alert. Are these other guys on straight draws? Flush draws? Did one of them hit set-over-set on me? It is just a handful of situations like this every session that make or break my success as a cash-game player. Today is going to be a winning day or a losing day based on how well I handle just a few critical moments like this.

And in my right ear, I hear the dealer start telling me about a car wreck he saw as he drove to work. WTF???? I realize he doesn't know that a potentially huge hand is developing right under his nose, or that I'm intensely interested in every scrap of information my opponents may be giving off, but jeez--he obviously can see that I have live cards in front of me. He's a nice enough guy, but his timing is just awful. I'm afraid to even cut him off, because that might signal the other players yet to act that I'm just a little too interested in the action. But he's leaning over, and referencing something else he told me about on a previous day, so I can't just ignore him. I have to tell him to wait until after the hand.

I wanted to smack him. How dense can you be?

Another day last week at another casino, a male dealer was openly flirting with an attractive young woman in the 10 seat, which meant that he was always looking away from the action. Over and over again, we had to get his attention to tell him that a betting round was complete, and we could use another card on the board, please. Incredibly annoying and unprofessional. There is no chance that he could have noticed and stopped a string bet, or an illegal raise, or a pot that wasn't right, or two players talking about the hand improperly, or any of a zillion other things that he should have been paying attention to. I wanted to hit him over the head with a 2x4. Or maybe whack him between the legs with it, which would have been more to the point.

Look, I like friendly dealers as much as the next guy. In fact, one of the reasons that the 10 seat has become my favorite is that it makes it easy to chat with the dealers I like when there's a lull in the action. But I try to be careful not to try to talk when he's, e.g., carving out three side pots, because I know that he's got to concentrate on getting this several-hundred-dollar mess of chips exactly right, or he'll have the whole table jumping down his throat (soon to be followed by the floor person). And the vast majority of dealers are aware that they shouldn't initiate a conversation--even with a player they know well--when that player has live cards. It's just a few that don't seem to grasp the difference between moments when it's OK to gab and moments when it's not.

And it's never OK for the dealer to compromise how he does his job for the sake of chatting, even if it is with a hot chick.

Drives me crazy!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

New setup? You're a moron.

God, how I hate idiots that ask for a new setup because they're in a dry spell for catching good hands. Do they seriously think that getting one or two new decks of cards will change that? It's sheer lunacy. Every hand you're dealt is random, whether it's from an old deck or a new deck. Random is random. Bad streaks are no more likely to end with a new deck than with the current deck. I wouldn't mind so much, except that it's such a waste of time, what with checking the decks for the right number of cards, getting them shuffled, etc.

I really want to ask these imbeciles to explain to me the mechanism by which they believe that a new deck of cards will change the probability that the next hand they're dealt will be a good one. They can't possibly have a cogent answer.

The only advantage is that this is yet another way that we learn which players think that they lose because of bad luck, rather than bad playing. If you ask for a new setup, thinking that it might change your luck, you're an idiot, plain and simple, in the same way that if you blame the dealer for bad hands you're an imbecile. You don't understand or accept randomness, which means that with your current mindset you will never, ever become a consistently winning player. You're a loser because you just don't get it. Thanks for volunteering to announce that to the whole table.

I understand randomness. I accept randomness. In fact, I embrace randomness. In the same way that random genetic mutations are the raw material on which evolutionary forces work to produce new species, random card sequences are the raw material from which I make strong, interesting, and unexpected poker hands. I make my livelihood out of randomness, and I accept that an inevitable consequence of randomness is that there will be long stretches of unplayable hands, and days and weeks when I lose money because I get strong but second-best hands over and over and over again.

That is the nature of the game. And it doesn't change because a new deck of cards is brought to the table, you pinhead. So stop wasting everybody's time. Go for a five-minute walk, and when you come back, we'll tell you that we changed the decks. Just believe it, and the effect will be exactly the same. (In fact, come to think of it, that's exactly what casinos should do: Anybody who asks for a setup is required to leave the room for five minutes. The game will just go on without them, but when they come back, everybody tells them that the decks were changed during their absence.)

Once again, if I had my own casino, asking for a new setup would be deemed proof that you're too stupid to be playing, so you'd be escorted out. But first we'd take a photo of you with a dunce cap on your head, to be added to the file of people not allowed back in for reasons of excessive stupidity.

I should note an exception to the above rant. Sometimes a deck needs to be replaced. This can happen because the cards have become sticky and the auto-shuffler keeps jamming, or the dealer keeps pitching two cards at a time, etc. Also, sometimes the cards are so worn that the backs of some of the cards have developed wear patterns that players can start to identify, or an out-of-spec Shufflemaster is putting distinguishing creases on some cards. If you can show the dealer and the floor person an objective reason that a deck should be replaced, by all means do so. I've done it myself a few times, including once when I spotted an ace that had been deliberately marked by a player. But as anybody who has spent much time in a poker room knows, the vast majority of setup requests are from players who want to change their luck. I frankly don't understand why casinos indulge these idiotic demands. Roy Cooke has it right again in his proposed set of rules: "A player may not request a set-up except for a marred card." ("Cooke's Rules of Real Poker," 14.19, p. 107.) Are you listening, poker-room managers?

Live straddle

You know how most casino games have bets that have larger or smaller house edges, and the ones with the biggest house edges are called the "sucker bets"? Well, the live straddle is the sucker bet of poker.

You're putting money into the pot voluntarily, without knowing what your cards are, knowing that you'll have to play the hand out of position. I can't think of even one good reason a sensible player would want to do that.

To sweeten the pot, you say? I doubt that it does, because you'll get fewer callers for the larger amount, offsetting the fact that they each come in for a bit more money.

To thin the field of opponents, you say? Well, you might not want to thin the field after you see what cards you have. If you have middle suited connectors, for example, you probably want as many players as possible in, because that's how such hands tend to get maximum value when they hit big.

To gain the advantage of acting last before the flop, you say? Sorry, but that's a pittance of an advantage compared to the uphill climb of having to act out of position for each of the next three betting rounds.

To be able to bluff-raise pre-flop and steal the limpers' bets, you say? Well, there's a decent chance that one of them knows you intend to pull this trick, and is limping in with a real hand, just waiting for you to do it, so he can re-raise you. Then how smart does your little ploy seem? Furthermore, there are a good number of players who dislike the live straddle enough that, especially when they're in late position, they'll put in a hefty raise with nothing, just to steal your money, and to discourage you from doing it again anytime soon. I heard one guy say, "If I'm in position, I'll always raise the straddle just on general principle." Can't say as I blame him.

And to make matters worse, the straddle always slows down the game, because there's always at least 2 or 3 players who don't notice that it's on, no matter how many times the dealer announces it, so we waste time while it all gets sorted out. It's a nuisance, with no benefit to anybody.

If I had my own casino, you'd get kicked out just for uttering the words "live straddle," let alone trying to do it.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Crap underfoot

What the hell is wrong with poker players?

OK, well, the only answer to that is "a lot." But today I'm talking specifically about leaving junk under the poker table. Poker players are pigs--no two ways about it. It seems to have become accepted that the area under the poker table is a wastebasket. If you've never looked under there, take my advice and don't. It's an ugly sight.

You take your chips in a rack to the table and unload them. Is it really too much trouble to take the rack back to the counter (or cage)? You could even put it on an adjacent table that's not in use, where it will easily be spotted and picked up by somebody running chips for another player before too long. But for God's sake, don't put it under the table. They accumulate there, and take up the foot space for the next guy that's going to sit in that seat. And, BTW, do you think that there's a chip-rack fairy that magically transports them back to some central location after you leave? No, you moron--when you drop it there, you ensure that somebody--whether another player who wants to reclaim an uncluttered bit of floor space for his feet, or an employee of the casino--will have to crawl under there and pick it up, because you were too damn lazy.

The same thing goes for all the other crap you're tossing under there: cups and glasses, candy-bar wrappers, losing sports-bet receipts, magazines, and all the other miscellaneous trash. How in the hell did you come to conclude that the floor under the poker table is a garbage-disposal area? The very worst, I think, are the cups with your chewing-tobacco spit in them. Thanks a lot for leaving that for me to kick over accidentally, you no-class, inbred peabrain.

How I would hate to visit the homes of some of the pigs I have to share poker-table space with....

Dealers as beggars

As Joan Rivers used to say in her stand-up routines, "Can we talk?" In particular, can we talk about dealers who beg (directly or indirectly) for tips?

There's a dealer named John at Orleans that I have previously liked a lot--he's very funny, while also being better than average at keeping things moving clearly and efficiently. But he shocked me the other day. He looked extremely bored while waiting for the action to finish on one hand, and while dealing the cards on the next he was in slow motion--literally. I told him that it looked like his batteries had run down. He just said, "No, that's not it." I didn't catch what he meant. But then that hand turned into a huge pot, and the winner tipped him 2 red ($5) chips. The next deal flew out of his hands. I still didn't make the connection, but I said, "Hey, I guess you got new batteries." He replied, "Yep, two red ones." Then he added, "Basically, you guys determine how fast we'll go here."

On I've read visitors commenting on the occasional dealer who is shameless in hinting for tips, but I've never seen it before. I lost all respect for this John. How completely crass and tacky and unprofessional, to deliberately slow down in order to annoy (or cajole or encourage--whatever) players into tipping better. The only book there is for poker dealers ("Professional Poker Dealer's Handbook," by Dan Paymar) says (though it shouldn't need to be said):

Always thank a player immediately for a toke. Try to make eye contact, as
this adds sincerity to the thanks. Show gratitude in your voice, but always do
it the same regardless of the size of the toke. Don't fawn over a player because
of an unusually large toke, and don't sound disgruntled because of a small toke
or none at all.... It can go without saying that dealers have a natural
resentment toward a "stiff" (non-toker). However, such a player should be
treated as well as any other. Even the non-tokers are important to your income
because without them there might not be a game for you to deal. Also, the
subject of tokes should never be discussed within earshot of any player.

Maybe my next "tip" for John should be a copy of that page of the book.

Second story: The only time I've tried playing at the Sahara was about two weeks ago, and a similar thing happened. Two guys in a pot go to the showdown. The one who called the last bet voluntarily turned over his hand first. The other guy sees that it's a winner, and mucks. The winner asks to see the mucked hand, with which request the dealer complies. The loser is out of chips and leaves the table.

The dealer tells the winner of the hand that, in the future, it might be better not to ask to see the hand, because sometimes the guy who mucks has actually thrown away the winner without knowing it, so exposing the hand risks losing the pot. Better to just take the money and be left wondering what your opponent had. (In some casinos, the house rule is that the dealer has to kill the hand before showing it, so there is no such risk, but generally what the dealer said here is correct.) The player saw the point, and thanked the dealer for the advice. The dealer said, "Well, you know, there is always a way to show appreciation for good advice from the dealer." The player said, "You're right"--and tossed him a few chips.

Completely tacky.

Final story. Last night I was playing at Suncoast. I won an enormous pot--about $900, because of a three-way all-in. There was a side pot, but the dealer ended up not having to count it out, because I was the big stack and I won it all. I passed him a $5 chip. He went surly fast, and seemed extremely grumpy for the next several hands. Maybe something else had happened that I missed, but I got the impression that he felt shortchanged on his tip for that big pot. I hope that wasn't it.

Everybody has his or her own approach to tipping dealers. Here's mine (remembering that we're talking either $1-$2 no-limit or $3-$6 limit here). I give $1 from every pot I win. The exception is that if a hand takes unusually long to play out (e.g., lots of bets and raises with several people involved, and/or side pot to count down), I'll bump it up to $2 or $3, because the dealer could otherwise have gotten out another hand or two in that amount of time. On one hand, that means that I might look cheap when there's a large pot and I toke only a buck (and some players have called me cheap in that situation). But on the other hand, I do the same even if I only pick up $3 by winning the blinds with an early-position raise, in which case I'm giving 1/3 of my profit. I figure it all averages out. I also don't distinguish between fast and slow dealers (because their tip income will naturally reflect their speed), or between those who make few mistakes and those who make many. I've wrestled with the ethics of this, and decided that I just don't want to be faced with having to weigh all those factors to come up with a "right" amount every time I win a hand, so I've basically said, "screw it all," and devolved to the fixed amount. If that makes me lazy or unethical in some other players' eyes, so be it--it's what works best for me.

I was encouraged recently that this was an acceptable approach when I read David Sklansky's book, "Poker, Gaming, and Life," in which he makes the following comment (p. 116-117):

One logical way to tip if you are a regular player is the following: Tip in
such a way that if everybody tipped similarly, the dealer would make a
reasonable amount for the day. For instance, if a dealer deals about 150 hands
per day, you might think that he or she ought to average about 75 cents per hand
dealt. If so, you might want to make this your average tip, depending on the
size of the pot. You know that tourists frequently tip more, while others tip
not at all, but that is not your concern. No dealer should complain about you if
you use this method. Furthermore, if you are trying to make a living by playing
poker but are just struggling along [that's me!], it should not be expected that
you toke off a high percentage of your income. You are still helping dealers
indirectly by keeping games going.

I agree, except that I've eliminated the part about the size of the pot. I figure that since I don't hold the dealer responsible when I lose a hand, I don't owe him or her a "reward" when I win one, either. The tip is a sign of thanks and respect for doing the job, and, in my opinion, doesn't need to relate to the size of the pot won.

But even if I'm being unforgiveably tightfisted, it doesn't excuse dealers degrading themselves by begging. It's an embarrassment. (What's more, I'm guessing that it's explicitly forbidden by every casino in town.)

Comments are welcome--particularly from dealers--about this touchy subject.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Weirdest card protector ever

This was in use by a guy at my table at the MGM Grand last night. All I can say is, "WTF?"

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Just show your cards already

Another incident from yesterday's session at Mandalay Bay:

Another no-limit table breaks up and we inherit 3 new players. One of them quickly shows himself to be a loose-aggressive type, in almost every hand, betting and raising at nearly every opportunity. When there's a showdown, he always tries to hesitate to see if the other player(s) will show first, and he mucks without showing if he doesn't have the winner. In other words, even though he's playing a lot of hands, I'm not getting a lot of feedback on what he's playing, and he's the hardest kind of opponent to put on a specific hand.

I decide to test the waters against him when I'm on the button with Q-10 offsuit.* I call his raise, and have him heads-up with position on my side. Flop is A-Q-x. He bets. My decision basically comes down to whether I believe he has an ace or not. For all practical purposes, if he does, I'm beat, and if he doesn't, I'm ahead. I think it's most likely that he doesn't have it, so I re-raise all-in. He calls. The turn and river cards are blanks.

The dealer asks to see the hands. Normally, I'm not at all reluctant to show--in fact, that's the whole point of this rant, how some players try to protect their hole cards as if they were top-secret classified documents, which just slows down the game and irritates everybody. But once in a while there is good reason to use the rules to force an opponent to show first--and this was one of them. I wanted to know what he had played that way, and if I showed first and won, I knew he would muck, and I'd win the pot but not the information. I wanted both, if I could have them.

So I said to him, "You're first." He countered, "No, I called your raise." I told him that was irrelevant, because it was on a previous street, not on the last round. The dealer, to my surprise, told me I had to show first. As it turns out, the guy did have an ace, and won the hand. But that's beside the point here.

The standard rule is this: if there is action on the last street, then the last player to make a bet or raise has the obligation to show first. But if there is no action on the last street, then the compelled showdown (if nobody voluntarily goes first) is in the same order as everything else would be: from the small blind clockwise around to the button. (I have read that there are a few casinos with house rules otherwise, but if so, I don't know which ones they are.) Many players believe, incorrectly, that if there is no action on the last round of betting, the obligatory showdown order reverts to who bet or raised on a previous street. Not so.

I'm never surprised to run into even fairly experienced players who don't know the rules of poker well. Furthermore, it's not being stupid not to know something. But it is being stupid to assert, loudly and confidently, something that just ain't so. And that's what this guy was doing.

I was also surprised that the dealer didn't know the rule. After all, this is a situation that must come up a dozen times in every shift, if not more. I complied with his request, however, because there was always the possibility that Mandalay Bay has a idiosyncratic house rule (or at least some instruction to their dealers) that he was following. But after the fact, I approached the shift supervisor to ask him, and he confirmed my impression that M.B. follows the standard rule, and the dealer should have instructed my opponent to show first.

After the hand, there was quite a bit of debate at the table about the rule. Several people sided with the other guy: since he called me, the obligation was on me. Well, folks, you're just plain wrong about that. Here's the rule as written in "Cooke's Rules of Real Poker" (in my view, the best poker rule book available), p. 72, rule 11.01:

If there has been a bet and raise or multiple raises on the final betting
round, then the person who made the final raise shall show his hand first,
followed by all remaining players in a clockwise rotation. If there has been no
bet on the final round then the showdown begins with the player who had the
obligation of first action on the final betting round--the player under the gun
in draw and board games [which includes hold'em] or the player with the highest
board in stud games.

I always comply with this rule. If I'm in worst position and there is no action on the river, I flip over my cards without waiting for anybody else. I expect others to do the same. And if I bet or raise on the last round of betting, when the action is done I flip 'em over, without waiting to see if maybe I can get away without showing. Them's the rules. Not too complicated, really. It's incredibly irritating to have the situation where everybody stalls, nobody turns, and the dealer is left to beg and plead for somebody to please show. Cut it out, people. The rules prescribe a simple and straightforward manner of proceding. Just follow it.

And dealers, if one general request, such as "Show me the winner" doesn't get results, don't futz around--turn to the player whose obligation it is (whether by position or by dint of having put in the last bet or raise), and tell him, "You have to either show first or muck your hand." Way too much time gets wasted because both players and dealers either don't know or won't follow the rules on this matter.

As a side note, there is also a point of courtesy and etiquette that goes beyond the rules: anybody who has a likely winner should expose his cards immediately, without waiting. As Roy Cooke states it (p. 72 again):

In the interests of efficiency and speeding up the game, a player who is
reasonably certain he has the winning hand should turn over his hand
immediately, regardess of the order of showdown. If a player does so, then other
players at the showdown who can beat that hand should also turn their hands over

There are occasionally valid strategic reasons for going by the rules rather than by this nicety, but they really should be the exception.

So, c'mon, folks--just show your hand already.

*Q-10 offsuit is a hand I would ordinarily either toss or try to play very cheaply, with a high willingness to throw it away unless I get a lot of help from the community cards, or a good bluffing situation arises. And against a loose-aggressive player, my usual reaction has been to re-tighten my already fairly tight game. Recently, however, I've read two things that are making me re-think that strategy. I include them here for the possible benefit of readers, though I didn't want to interrupt the story above.

First, I finished Barry Greenstein's superb book, "Ace on the River." On p. 204, he has a table of "opponent's tactics," the "typical incorrect adjustment" that we mediocre players make, and the "Better adjustment" that he recommends. The first entry in the table is "Extremely loose play." The incorrect adjustment is listed as "Wait for a good hand." The better reaction is given as "Loosen your standards and reraise frequently." Seems like cogent advice, though it takes more nerve than I've usually been willing to bring to bear. I'm trying to change that, a little at a time.

Second, just a few days after reading that, I read a column in Card Player magazine by Matt Lessinger, who I think is one of their best writers. He wrote,

Overaggressive Ozzie sits down in the same game, and in six of his first 10
hands, he raises to $20 preflop. Five times, he wins the blinds uncontested. One
time, someone calls him and the hand goes to the river, at which point Ozzie
produces Q-8 and wins with a pair of eights. I don't have to be Phil Ivey to put
two and two together, and conclude that he probably did not have premium hands
when he made his other raises. Therefore, I'm going to wait for something good
and try to pick him off.

But am I going to wait for pocket aces or kings? I could, but why would I
want to play so timidly? In a cash game, I want to take advantage of all
favorable opportunities that come along. Here, I have an opponent who is making
oversized preflop raises with substandard values. If I pick up a hand such as
9-9, or even A-J, and think I can get heads up with Ozzie, I'm probably going to
play it, because it figures to be the best hand against his typical raising
values. And I'm certainly not going to be deterred by the fact that he is
raising to $20 rather than a more normal raise to $6 or $8.

Bad call? No, it was a GREAT call!

So I'm at Mandalay Bay yesterday, and the guy on my left is a hyper-loose-aggressive type. I'd like to switch seats to get him on my right, but the opportunity hasn't arisen to do so yet. He and several others limp in. I find Big Slick in the big blind. It's a hard hand to play from out of position, but that's what you have to do sometimes. I put in my standard raise to $12. The loose-aggressive guy is the only one who calls.

The flop is all blanks. I put in my standard continuation bet, $20 (I think), which, as I predicted to myself, he insta-called. The turn is another rag. I bet again. He raises me all-in, for another $85. Now I have a tough decision. The straightforward analysis is that he figures me (correctly) for two big cards, which the board hasn't helped, and I therefore can't call a big raise. In other words, he doesn't need any real hand at all to make that move. It's one I've done successfully myself on any number of occasions--you're basically playing your opponent's hand (and the advantageous position of acting last) rather than your own.

There were no straights or flushes possible, and the board hadn't paired. I was highly confident that he didn't have much, but the obvious problem is that he could have hit just one pair somewhere, and that would be all he'd need to win a showdown, if I didn't get lucky and catch an ace or king on the river. I was certainly not going to call that big a raise on the hope of 6 outs, so I had to decide whether I thought he had hit a pair. His loose style meant that he could easily have called my pre-flop raise and my bet on the flop with small or medium suited connectors, or with something like a suited A-7, for instance.

The more I thought about it, the more I thought his demeanor was conveying that he had nothing. It was just the classic Mike Caro stuff of being a little too quick to fire that raise, and too forceful in how it slammed the chips in, etc.

I'm not afraid of losing $85, but it feels really silly to lose it on an all-in call with not even a pair, so this was not an easy call. But over the course of a minute or so of thinking, I decided that it was better than 50/50 that he had zippo. Combined with my possible outs on the river in case he had already hit a small pair, I thought it was worth acting on my read of him.

(Side note: I didn't find a lot to like in Charlie Shoten's book "No-Limit Life." But I do find very useful his "mantra": "I am calm, confident, and clear, and I wait for my best choice to appear after considering all of my choices and the consequences of each. When my best choice appears, I act." That is exactly what I was following in this moment. I had considered my choices and their consequences, and the right thing to do just kind of subconsciously emerged to the forefront, and I just needed to muster the courage to take the action that choice recommended. Thank you, Charlie Shoten!)

I called. The river was a 9. He turned over an 8-9, having caught one pair on the river. He had nothing before that. So I was right. I lost the pot, but was bursting with pride for having made the right decision. I showed my AK.

This isn't a bad-beat story. I'm not upset that he caught a lucky break. The story is about the aftermath. Both he and another player that wasn't in the hand started criticizing me for making the call. Between them, they said that it was a horrible call, a donkey move, etc. "You had nothing!" Not true--I had the best hand, you morons! I was way ahead when the money went in, which is all you can do to win in this crazy game. My read was dead-on accurate, and I had the guts to follow through with it.

The other player said, "You had no pot odds to make that call." Uh, excuse me, but aren't pot odds usually calculated for the player who is behind, to decide whether it's worth trying to catch a card to develop his hand into a winner? I already had the winning hand, so "pot odds" are irrelevant to the analysis of whether I made a good call or not. But thanks for revealing that you have no clue what you're talking about!

One other player chimed in with a cogent observation to the bluffer: "If your cards had been face-up, he obviously would have made the call, so he did the right thing." That's a Sklansky-esque analysis: if you made the play that you would have made if you had been looking at your opponent's down cards, you did the right thing. An excellent point.

I have no criticism of the other player's all-in raise here: it was a strong, aggressive move, made on a correct read (or at least I presume so) of my hand. In that situation, it has a high EV because it will usually force the weak but better hand to fold. But it's odd that a player good enough to recognize the value in that bluff couldn't also recognize that I made an even better play. If our roles in the hand had been reversed, I would have told him, "Good call--I just got lucky on you at the end there." But neither he nor the other guy could get past the simplistic conclusion that it's stupid to call a big raise with just ace-high.

OK, guys, you keep telling yourselves it was a bad move on my part. I'm done trying to educate you to the contrary. I'll just keep raking in the big pots the 87% of the time I win that situation.

Show one, show all

I was one of six or so players that started a new $1-$2 no-limit hold'em table last night at the Flamingo. I sat down in the 10 seat, which has recently become my favorite, if there are no strategic reasons to sit elsewhere. On the very first hand, the guy in seat 9 played quite aggressively and won the pot without a showdown. As the pot was being pushed to him, he showed his hole cards to the guy in seat 8, who I think was a friend of his, and said, "Pretty good way to start, eh?"

When one player flashes his down cards to another before mucking, I usually don't ask to see them, if it's just an occasional thing. But it's uncommon for players to come out so aggressively on the first hand of a new table, so I wanted to see what had motivated this guy. Accordingly, I turned to the dealer (who had seen the interaction in question) and said, "Show those, please." (I always prefer to ask the dealer to do it, so that it doesn't seem that I'm confronting or challenging or ordering another player.)

To my great surprise, seat 9 turned to me and gave me a look as if I had just asked him to drop his pants. With what struck me as unbelievable haughtiness, he said, "Do you have any idea what bad etiquette that is?"


I have heard only one person ever express the opinion that it's bad form to ask to see a player's cards after he shows them to another player, under the classic and universal "show one, show all" principle. That was Phil Hellmuth, in one of last year's WSOP events. I recall that another pro at his table state strong disagreement that there was anything wrong with the request.

In fact, I think the breach of etiquette is in showing your cards to one other player without voluntarily showing them to everybody, thus requiring that somebody else take assertive action to keep the flow of information equal. I, for one, never flash my hole cards to just one other player. I don't think the "show one, show all" precept just gives one a right to ask to see flashed cards; I deem it to confer on me an affirmative duty to "show one, show all." This may not be a universal sentiment, but still, I can't imagine under what ethic or rationale one concludes that asking for equal access to strategic information is bad etiquette.

Dude, you were out of line. If you don't want anyone to ask to see your hole cards, it's pretty simple: just don't show them to anybody. But if you choose to flash your aces to your buddy, you've got to expect that somebody else is going to ask to see them, too, and if you can't deal with that, just go back to your home game.

The dealer, incidentally, was great--she immediately took the onus off of me, and when she heard the player object to me, she stepped in and quite firmly told him that he was in the wrong. I love dealers who aren't afraid of offending a player when there's a rule to be observed and enforced.

Loved or feared? (Non-grumpy content)

Yesterday was a rare four-casino day. Most days that I play, it's in either one or two places. I get up and leave if I'm losing several buy-ins in a row, or if I go stagnant and can't make any headway, or if I'm feeling bored or distracted. Occasionally if I've made a lot of money and feel as though I've hit my peak, after which things will just go downhill, I'll leave to lock up a profit. But all of those reasons to pick up and go somewhere else usually don't have me hitting four places in a day, as yesterday did. I played at Mandalay Bay, Orleans, Flamingo, and the Hilton.

Anyway, I was at Mandalay Bay for only about 2 hours, and in that time had two people (at different tables) tell me that I scared them. This has happened occasionally before, but not often. I'm a completely non-scary person, but apparently, at least on some days, the way I play (pretty much a classic tight-aggressive style) intimidates some other players. The second person yesterday to tell me I scared her explained, when I asked her what was scary: "Because you actually have what your bets represent!" I thought that was pretty funny. It's also true--at least usually!

But in contrast, at the Orleans yesterday I received just the opposite message. One of the dealers I particularly like there (Mark) caught me away from the table as I was leaving; I think he was on a break. He wanted to know my name. He shook my hand and said, "I just wanted to tell you that it's always a pleasure having you at the table. You really bring a calming influence when you're there."

Now, maybe he was just blowing smoke up my arse, or shilling for future tokes. But it was an unexpected and completely unprecedented gesture, in my experience. I do take pains to remain as civil and nonconfrontational as I can at the poker table, because interpersonal conflicts make playing no fun, and can easily erode one's decision-making capacity. So if my efforts to keep the peace have some effect on others that I hadn't been aware of, I'm pleased.

All of which is a long introduction to this thought: Machiavelli famously pondered "whether it is better to be loved rather than feared, or feared rather than loved." I believe I have finally stumbled upon the ideal solution: It is best to be feared by the other players, and loved by the dealers.

Quasi-celebrity (non-grumpy content)

On occasion, I will deviate from my usual grumpy online persona to relate stories or observations for which I have no other outlet. This is one of them.

Last night was the first time I've had at a poker table a person that I instantly recognized from outside of the poker world: William Hung, who attained fame for his enthusiastic but, well, flawed rendition of "She Bangs" on "American Idol." Played with him for nearly four hours at the Flamingo. He apparently is sort of a regular there when he's in town, because at least some of the dealers had clearly seen him there before, and he had a card for tracking players' hours.

He got asked for a couple of autographs, though not by anyone at the table. He got a few Idol-career-related questions over the course of a few hours, but for the most part was treated just like any other nobody sitting down to play--which is, of course, how it should be. Once I heard a couple of guys at the next table over break out with "She Bangs! She Bangs!", then laugh themselves silly. But that was about it.

He's not a bad player, but my unofficial observation was that his chip stack stayed basically stagnant, neither growing nor shrinking significantly from start to finish. I really don't care where my chips come from, but I'm pleased to say that I won a couple of decent-sized pots from him, and lost only small ones where I didn't (couldn't) contest them seriously. In fact, shortly before the table broke up, somebody asked him whether he was up or down. He said, "Mostly winning--except against that guy," and pointed to me.

So, Simon Cowell, if you get a percentage of William Hung's poker winnings, sorry--I didn't contribute to your income this time around.

Monday, November 06, 2006

"He hasn't played a hand all night"

The first time this happened (a few days ago at Flamingo), I didn't think much of it. But tonight I played for a while at Circus Circus (a pretty revolting place, but I'm gradually trying to get around to try all 52 or so Vegas poker rooms) and the same thing happened again.

At first blush, you wouldn't think much of it. Somebody bets, I put in a hefty raise, everybody folds, and the last guy to fold says something like, "I believe you--you haven't played a hand in hours." That was the Flamingo guy. The Circus Circus guy addressed the comment to his buddy in the next seat: "He has a real hand--he hasn't played a hand all night."

But the strange thing is that in both cases I had been at the table for less than ten minutes.

And no, they clearly were not being funny or ironic. In both cases, they really just hadn't noticed that somebody new had come into the game.

Brilliant way to inform the whole table that you're not paying any attention to who you're playing against.

Too many poker players have forgotten Mark Twain's advice: "Better to keep your mouth closed and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt."

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Ugly poker clothes

There's not much you can do to brand yourself as an amateur/tourist/wannabe than to wear stupid poker-themed clothing. This is really more of an amusement than a gripe, because it's so funny to see how oblivious people are to how ridiculous they look.

Take the guy in this picture, for instance, who was at my table last night at the Flamingo. (I apologize for the grainy picture; my cell phone camera has pretty low resolution, and my hands were shaking trying not to laugh.) When I asked him about the shirt, he boasted that it was custom-made--a bull-rider's shirt, he said. (He's in town for the big rodeo competition.) He was very proud of the thing. I had to obscure his face out of a sense of mercy. Might as well wear a rhinestone-studded white jumpsuit, like the dork in the Milwaukee's Best Light commercial.

A wise piece of advice, attributed variously to Tom Landry and Vince Lombardi: "When you get into the end zone, act like you've been there before." Nobody who plays poker on a regular basis wears silly clothes to do so. Special poker-themed shirts say to the world, "Woo hoo! I finally get to play POKER, in a real casino, in VEGAS, baby!"

It's perfectly understandable that one might feel that way, particularly if visiting from a state or nation where there are no legal places in which to play. But a poker table is not a place to wear your feelings on your sleeve, literally or figuratively. If you don't present yourself as a newcomer, you're less likely to be perceived as one--and "newcomer" is strongly associated with "weak player," which is not exactly the image you want to project.

So save the silly shirts for your Wednesday night home games, OK?

Friday, November 03, 2006

"Nice bet"

It seems I'm hearing this more and more these days. It's almost always the same situation: one player makes a big bet, everybody else folds, and then either one of the players who folded or somebody who wasn't even in the hand says "Nice bet."

This is completely inane. Nobody except the person making the bet can evaluate whether it was a good bet or not, because nobody else knows what the goal or intent of the bet was.

In one of the ESPN episodes covering the World Series of Poker, they showed Daniel Negreanu in a hand. He bet, opponent folded, and somebody said, "Nice bet." DN looked a little disgusted and said something like, "No, it wasn't--if I had made a nice bet, he would have called."

I wanted to cheer. He gets it--most people don't.

If I have the nuts, I obviously want a call. I want to bet the largest amount that an opponent will call. It's usually difficult to know what that magic number is. Only if you hit it, or pretty close to it, can the bet be considered "nice," and unless it's an all-in bet that gets called, or the opponent later tells you that you bet the most that he would have called, you'll never know whether you got maximum return or not. If he folds when you were hoping for a call, you blew it.

A bet is not "nice" or smart or any other positive adjective unless it accomplishes what it was intended to do. And even then, it can only be considered "nice" if the goal was a good one. Lots of bad players hugely overbet a pot on the flop when they have, e.g., an overpair, to make it ridiculously expensive for anybody to go for a straight draw or flush draw. That's not smart play. Yes, you want to give opponents incorrect pot odds to draw to a hand that will beat yours, but you also don't want to put at risk more chips than it takes to accomplish this. If the pot has $20 in it, and somebody bets $200 at it, and everybody folds, it just plain was not a "nice bet"; yes, it did what the player wanted, but it was still really dumb. So dammit, don't tell him it was a "nice bet"! (Of course, you also don't want to point out how stupid it was--but I'll deal with tapping on the aquarium in a rant another day.)

In short, it's virtually impossible for anybody else at the table to know whether a bet was good or not (with the rare exception of when the hand is shown down, and it can be seen in retrospect that the bet fulfilled the goal of getting a worse hand to call for an amount that was obviously painful and difficult for the caller to put in). I hate meaningless, insincere, or wrongheaded compliments, and "nice bet" is nearly always fits at least one of those descriptors.

So just knock it off, OK?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Who raised?

This is the question invariably asked by the doofus who is more interested in the football game on the big-screen TV, or talking on his cell phone, or whatever the hell else he thinks is more important and interesting than the game. He tosses in his call of the big blind, only to have the dealer patiently tell him, "It's been raised. The bet is $10." (Of course, this was announced previously by both the raiser and the dealer, but how can we possibly expect the doofus to have noticed that?)

And then it comes: "Who raised?"

Gee, I dunno. Maybe the guy with $10 out in front of his cards? Just a guess.

These morons apparently find it too difficult to scan around the table and see that there is either only one player with the larger amount of chips pushed forward, or that there is more than one, from which he would have to deduce which of them acted first. It's so hard to remember that action proceeds clockwise. Daylight savings time, standard time; clockwise or counterclockwise. Modern life is so complicated that nobody can really be expected to keep up.

Now, I'll admit that occasionally the chips are in a spot that is somewhat ambiguous as to which of two players might have put them out, but that's the exception. Usually, it's clear as day, given about 2 seconds of observation. But noooooooo--better to ask the dealer than go to that much work. Besides, it's always good to make really obvious to the whole table that you're not paying a lick of attention to the action--it earns everyone's respect that you have more important things on which to focus, right?

The other day I was playing at the Flamingo with a guy who thought he had a hilarious new take on this old problem. Every time he'd raise, he'd follow it a moment later by asking, "Who raised?" Ha ha ha. You're a comic genius, sir. Please, please stop--my sides are splitting from laughing so hard.

Friggin' idiot.

The only good thing about this stupid question is that when I'm new to a table, it's one of the more reliable indicators of who's going to be donating their chips to my stack, sooner or later. Those who don't pay attention end up losers nearly every time. So go ahead and watch the game, talk on your phone, hip-hop to your iTunes, chat yourself silly. It's annoying to have you slow the game down while we wait for you to catch up, but it's a small price to pay to get your stack merged into mine, you moron.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

What you threw away

Everybody complains about having to listen to other people's bad-beat stories. And rightfully so, because bad-beat stories are annoying as hell. So I'm not going to start this blog with a grump about poker players who tell bad-beat stories. Instead, I'm going to start with the second most annoying announcement that players inflict on each other: what they threw away.

You know how it goes: You sit through what appears to be a pretty unremarkable hand, with a board of something like 8-8-Q-3-9. Then, as the dealer is clearing the board for the next hand, the guy next to you turns your way and says, "I had an 8-3 and threw it away. I would have had a full house."

I know that he wants sympathy, but it's impossible to give, because I simply don't care. I can't care. It's just part of the game that any starting hand has the potential to develop into a monster. The player seeking sympathy did the right thing by tossing it. He knows that and I know it. So why in hell should he seek or expect sympathy for making the correct move?

More fundamentally, that guy knows that he doesn't give a shit when somebody else tells him what potential huge hand got tossed in the muck pre-flop, so what on earth possesses him to think that I'm going to give him the Balm of Gilead to soothe his momentary sting of regret?

I try my best to pretend that I didn't hear such whines, or that I'm so engrossed in doing something else (restacking my chips, calculating pot odds, ogling the cocktail waitress, checking myself for excess belly-button lint, etc.) that I can't respond at the moment. If I can't seem to get away from the situation without saying something, I try to come up with a retort that will encourage him not to inflict such stupid observations on me again, without being quite as rude as down deep I'd like to be ("Nobody gives a flying fuck, lardass.")

My favorite is along these lines: "It's pretty damn stupid to throw away a full house." With just the right lilt in the voice, it comes across as funny, while still allowing me literally to tell him that he's stupid (though not exactly for the reason stated). It gets even funnier, though, when the poor sap doesn't get the joke (the excessively literal-minded never do), and follows up with an explanation, "Oh, it wasn't a full house when I folded, but I would have hit a full house on the turn." Oh really. Gee, thanks for explaining it to me, Einstein. Now shut the hell up until you've got something at least mildly interesting to say.

Maybe nobody will ever read this or any of the other grumps I intend to post. But if you play poker, and if you read this, do us all a favor, and take this opportunity to swear on all that is holy: "I will never inflict on another player the stupid, boring, idiotic announcement of what garbage cards I folded, no matter how big a hand it would have become if I had played it."

There--doesn't it feel good to have made that pledge? Don't you wish everybody would make and stand by it?