Saturday, September 22, 2007

Walking away in the middle of a hand--not recommended!

Tonight at the Hilton I witnessed another very strange occurrence in a poker hand--a player walking away from the table, leaving behind his would-have-been winning hand, and thereby forfeiting the pot. This also reminded me of a somewhat similar event from last fall.

For those who want the Reader's Digest condensed version without slogging through the stories, here's the moral: If you walk away from the table, you can't win the money, even if you have the best hand! Nobody should be that stupid.

Story #1:

Three players were involved. I folded before the flop and was just watching. Marty is a solid, above-average player in seat 4. Two people I don't recognise are in seats 5 and 6. The flop is J-Q-x, with the two face cards both being spades. Seat 5 pushes all-in, and both opponents call him. Seat 5 then makes his first mistake by flipping his cards face-up, even though the other two players can continue betting into a side pot after the turn and river cards are revealed. I don't know if he didn't realize that two people had called him (his action would be fine against just one opponent, since nobody would have any decisions left to make), or he just didn't understand why he shouldn't do that. (People develop strange bad habits in their casual home games, and tend to bring them to the casino, where they cause trouble.) He has the A-4 of spades, for the nut flush draw, with no pair.

Marty and Seat 6 both check after the turn card and again after the river, both of which are blanks. But as soon as Seat 5 sees that he didn't make his flush on the river, he makes his second mistake: he turns and walks away from the table, without waiting to see the other players' hands or to watch the pot being awarded. I suppose he must have assumed that at least one of the other two players had him beat. This was, in fact, pretty likely, but you never know for sure what people are doing in this crazy game.

So then the next bizarre thing happens: Seat 6 mucks his cards without showing them. He certainly could determine that he didn't have Seat 5's ace-high beat, but Marty hadn't shown yet. This means that Seat 6 couldn't possibly know for sure whether he won or lost.* I think that Seat 6 didn't grasp the implication of Seat 5 walking away (that is, that he was effectively forfeiting any claim to the pot, even if he had the best hand).

Marty is sharp, though, and absolutely knew what that meant. He wisely turned his hole cards face-up after seeing Seat 6 muck. He had a measly 9-10 offsuit, no pair, so he would have lost to the ace-high of Seat 5. He had been going for the straight draw and missed. But he was the only player who (1) was still at the table, and (2) showed his hand to the dealer and the table--which meant that he was the only one to whom the dealer could possibly award the pot, no matter how terrible his cards were!** The dealer can't push the pot to an empty seat, nor to a player who threw his cards away without showing them when the claim to the pot is still undecided.

The story has a coda. Former Seat 5 actually walked only to the poker room entrance, then stopped, as if he wasn't sure what to do next. After the next hand had begun, he came back over and stood next to his friend in seat 9 to watch him play. Seat 9 informs him that A-4 was actually the winning hand, but that he couldn't be awarded the pot because he gave up and left.

Now we're into the second hand after the one in question. I see and hear Former Seat 5 talking to the shift supervisor, Ken, at the front desk. Ken had no idea what had transpired. A few things seem immediately obvious to me: (1) No matter what Ken learns, he's not going to be able to rectify the situation now; it's a pretty universal rule that a player forfeits all claim to a pot if he waits until the next hand is in progress to make his protest about whatever happened.*** (2) Former Seat 5 can only relate first-hand what he saw, and the rest he's going to be recounting second-hand, and it will probably get garbled in the process. Which means that (3) Ken is soon going to have to come over to the table and query the dealer about what happened. The dealer, while a very sweet woman, speaks English as a second language, and she tends to get flustered when she feels under pressure, and when that happens, she doesn't relate events in a clear, concise manner. In other words, if Ken comes over to investigate, it's going to be a huge mess, with everybody offering facts, observations, and opinions, and it will stop the game cold for a long time while Ken sorts it all out. Moreover, Marty will probably come under at least some social pressure to give Former Seat 5 what he (Marty) won in that hand, or maybe split it. I don't think he should have to do that or even get pressed into such a gesture.

I think I can prevent the impending argument, because I know exactly what happened, and what facts are pertinent to applying the applicable rules. (It does occasionally come in handy to have graduated from a poker dealer school and to have the odd hobby of actually reading boring poker rule books.) So I hopped over and told Ken the story as recounted above. Former Seat 5 didn't deny having left his seat before seeing his opponents' hands. Ken gently explained that there was no way to give him the pot after the fact. (I didn't stick around to hear the explanation, but I assume it included both the fact that the guy had essentially forfeited any claim to the pot by leaving the area, and the fact that they couldn't correct anything this long after the hand was over anyway.) Former Seat 5 appeared to acknowledge that he had screwed up, though I'm only surmising this by body language and gestures. Fortunately, he didn't make a big stink about it.

Story #2:

This occurred the first time I played at the Suncoast last October. A new person was coming to the table, and the previous player from that seat had behind left a glass and a bottle of whatever he was drinking. The new player's hands were full with his chips, so the player in the adjacent seat graciously stood up, picked up the leftover crap, and walked over to the wastebasket near the poker room entrance to throw it away.

The problem was that this guy was, at that very moment, in the middle of a hand with a big pot, being contested by multiple players! He WALKED AWAY FROM THE TABLE, so when it came to his turn to act, and he wasn't in his seat, the dealer assumed he intended to fold and had gone out for a smoke or something. (This is very common, unfortunately. People often don't wait for their turn to fold before getting up to go to the restroom, get a snack, smoke, or whatever. They just leave their cards, knowing that the dealer will have no choice but to collect them as folded. It's rude and against the rules, but they do it all the time anyway.)

He was livid to return to the table and find that the dealer had mucked his cards. He claimed (plausibly, I thought--though it doesn't make even a speck of difference whether he was being truthful) to have had a flush, and that he would have beaten the hand that had been declared the winner. Maybe he did. But if so, it just magnifies the stupidity of walking away. He could have at least told the dealer, "I'm just stepping away to clear stuff out for this new player, I'll be back in ten seconds." That would have prevented the problem. He ranted on and on for 30 minutes about it.

Every poker room I've ever played in has posted on the wall a list of house rules. Usually near the top of the list is the universal mandate that each player must protect his or her own hand--protect it, that is, not only from being seen by other players, but from a whole variety of things that can cause it to be declared dead.**** These include the dealer accidentally collecting the cards after erroneously thinking the player has folded, another player's discarded hand getting intermingled with the player's live hole cards, and the cards falling off the table.

Walking away from the table isn't doing a very good job of protecting one's cards. It was this guy's own fault, and he just wouldn't admit it. The dealer took pretty intense abuse from him and from a couple of other players who agreed with him. She was actually close to tears. I stayed out of the controversy, except to reassure the dealer privately later that it wasn't her fault.

Moral of the stories (reprise):

If you're so stupid that you walk away from the table when you have money in the pot and it is even remotely possible that you might win the hand at showdown, you deserve to lose. All you have to do is sit there! What could be easier?!



*Even if he has no pair and both of his cards are lower than what's on the board--which means that the five community cards are his final hand, and his hole cards are ignored--that might be true for the other remaining player, too, in which case they would split the pot.


**He probably could have claimed it even without showing, since one opponent had forfeited by leaving and the other had forfeited by mucking his cards. But Marty is smart enough to make it all clean and legal and straightforward, and not leave open a possible argument somebody might have for reclaiming the pot if it came to a floor person's decision.


***E.g., Cooke, Cooke's Rules of Real Poker, p. 75:

11.13 After Showdown. ...Once the dealer has commenced the shuffle for the next hand then all rights to a decision regarding the previous hand are forfeited.


****See also:

The Professional Poker Dealer's Handbook by Paymar, Harris, and Malmuth, p. 18 (emphasis in original):
1. Players must protect their own hands at all times. This may be the most important rule in all of poker. A hand may be declared "dead" if even one card touches the muck or if another player's card touches a hand that is not protected.... Although the dealer should be aware of only mucking discarded hands, a player who fails to take reasonable means to protect his or her hand usually has no recourse if the hand becomes fouled or if the dealer accidentally collects an unprotected hand.

Poker Tournament Directors' Association rules, #28:
Unprotected hands. If a dealer kills an unprotected hand, the player will have no redress and will not be entitled to a refund of bets.

Robert's Rules of Poker, Chapter 3, under "Irregularities":
2. You must protect your own hand at all times. Your cards may be protected with your hands, a chip, or other object placed on top of them. If you fail to protect your hand, you will have no redress if it becomes fouled or the dealer accidentally kills it.

Krieger and Bykofsky, The Rules of Poker, p. 242 (I don't know why this is only in their "Tournament rules" section; it would seem to apply equally to cash games):
9.35 Killing Unprotected Hands. If a dealer kills an unprotected hand, the player will have no redress and will not be entitled to his money back.

Cooke, Cooke's Rules of Real Poker, p. 75:
11.10 Protecting Interest in the Pot. A player with a hand he believes to be the winning hand is responsible to hold onto his own hand until the pot is awarded. No player with an interest in the pot should release his hand to the dealer until his portion of the pot has been pushed to him.


Addendum, February 28, 2008

Reader Darrell Davis emailed me the following note, with an interesting story similar to those above. It is posted here with his permission.

I have been reading your blog and see you sometimes recount other peoples
stories. Usually these are from people you know, not some anonymous internet
person, but I have a story that you might be interested in. It too involves a
dealer affecting the outcome of a hand.

I live outside of Dallas Texas. I normally play at Winstar Casino in
Oklahoma. They have a really nice 46 table poker room. I really like the place.
It always seems well run and efficient. But yesterday I had a hand that was
interesting.

I was playing in a 1-2 NL game. The person to my immediate right had just
lost a big pot and was left with only $8. He did not rebuy. This player was a
regular and seemed extra familar to the current dealer. I don't remember his
name, but I will call him Ted.

The next hand Ted limped in for $2. I looked down to find KhQh and raised
to $12. I got 3 callers, including Ted all in for his remaining $6. This created
a side pot of roughly $16. The flop came Jack high with 2 hearts. It checked to
me and I made a continuation bet. One player at the other end of the table was
contemplating a call. While he was thinking, Ted said "that's not good" and
stood up and walked away behind me.

The other player eventually folded. The dealer quickly threw out the turn
and river which did not improve my hand. I was left with King high as was well
aware that Ted might have had a winning hand. The dealer pushed me the side pot
and then said "lets see them". I asked if Ted's hand was dead. He looked behind
me and said "Ted are you still in this?". I looked over my shoulder and saw Ted
at least 10 feet away talking to another dealer. Ted walked over towards the
table, still talking to the other dealer. He stood about 2 feet behind his chair
and the dealer said "lets see a winner".

I figured if I said anything else Ted would realize that he might have a
winner and turn over his hand anyway. So I went ahead and turned over mine.

The dealer announced "King high" and then asked Ted what he had. Now Ted
realized he had the winner. He came the rest of the way to the table and turned
over his hand for an Ace high to take the main pot.

I jokingly asked the dealer how long he would have waited for Ted to return
to the table before he would have killed his hand. He didn't get it. I was
tempted to call for a ruling from the floor, but I realized that this would
definately make me the bad guy at the table. I really like to play the good guy
image and didn't want to change that. I decided to just concentrate on the next
hand.

The hand didn't affect the bottom line too much, there was roughly $40 in
the main pot. But it was the most interesting hand involving a dealer that I
have been involved in.

-Darrell
I probably would have handled this about the same way. When the guy is still in the room within earshot, he hasn't quite abandoned his hand. It would seem kind of nit-like to try to insist that his hand be killed under those circumstances, especially when (1) the guy is already down, (2) it's such a small amount of money involved, and (3) you can call the player back to the table just as quickly as you can call the floor over to make a decision. But he was definitely pushing the limits of what can reasonably be tolerated before he is considered to have forfeited his interest in the pot, IMHO.

Some poker stories (non-grumpy content)

While looking for a story I wrote up for a friend last year (which I hope will be in my next entry), I came across this email (now slightly edited for clarity) with what I thought were pretty amusing stories that all happened to me in one crazy week last October. Enjoy.

1. "That guy couldn't feel any better..."

This week a California couple has been putting in mega-hours at Suncoast. They both get drunk early and stay that way the whole time they play. They’re really pretty annoying, because they flagrantly talk about the hand while it’s in progress and coach each other, and the casino staff won’t do anything about it, because they’re dropping thousands of dollars a day. They’re never paying attention, so they slow the game down terribly, because every time it’s their turn, the dealer has to catch them up on what’s happening. The woman, Kelly, is actually a decent player. But the guy, Rob, is awful—he’s never paying attention, and thinks the way to play is to make ridiculous bets and raises every time, because occasionally he’ll get a call when he has a monster hand, or pull off a big suckout with lucky cards coming. He must get such an adrenaline rush when those huge pots are pushed to him, because he’s willing to lose tons of money in the process. Obviously, decent players will just wait for a big hand, and when the stars are all lined up right, spring the trap on him.

So Monday night, I think it was, Player A is a guy who, I swear, talks exactly like Paulie Walnuts on the Sopranos. Player B is somebody I haven’t seen before, but he has been waiting and waiting and waiting for a chance to nail Rob for all his chips, and he finally does it. B quickly declares that he’s done playing for the day, because he just doubled his money. He packs up his chips and leaves. After he leaves the table, Player A says (and remember, you must hear the Paulie Walnuts voice in your head when you read this), “That guy couldn’t feel any better if he had just gotten a blow job!”

I usually try not to laugh at or otherwise encourage the many crudities and vulgarities that low-class poker players engage in, but it was just too perfect a line, in too funny a voice, and I almost fell out of my chair laughing so hard.


2. Inflicting a bad beat

I have put some truly sick beats on people for big pots recently. Last night, when one of three ultra-drunks sat down, he started throwing in big raises nearly every hand, and scaring people off. I picked up A-J on the button, and decided to play back hard at him to see if I could cool his jets. He raised, and I reraised. He called. Flop had a Q and two little cards--nothing to help me, really, but he checked, so I put in a pot-sized bet. He hesitated quite a bit (and he was way too drunk to be consciously doing that to disguise a big hand), but called. Turn was a 10, which I didn’t like at all, because he could easily have either a Q or 10 in his hand, and any pair would be ahead of me at this point. But he looked at the board for a long time, as though he didn’t like it much, and checked, so I pushed all-in. To my considerable surprise and consternation, he thought a while, then said, “Fuck it, I’m calling!” and pushed his chips in. Then the blessed K came on the river, giving me the highest possible straight. Turns out he had Q-9, so he had flopped top pair, which explains why he was willing to call. So because I caught one of the few cards left in the deck (any of four kings or three remaining aces) that could save me, I made over $200 on that hand instead of losing the same amount.

There was an audible gasp from the table when we turned over our hands at the end (in a tournament, you have to both turn over your hands as soon as the betting is complete, but in cash games you can wait until all the cards have been put out), and they realized that I had moved all-in with basically nothing, and sucked out. This was obviously startling because they had only seen me bet strong with strong, made hands. Several people all at once were saying, “I would have sworn he had pocket aces,” “I thought he must have flopped a set,” etc. But somewhat surprisingly, there was general approval and admiration: the consensus was “You’ve got a helluva lot of guts to do that,” rather than “Boy, that was stupid—don’t you know you can’t bluff a drunk, bad player off a hand?” I certainly should know that by now—it’s one of those lessons I’ve had to pay to learn more than a few times.


3. Inflicting another bad beat

I didn’t get enough sleep last night because I was playing so late, so around 8 pm tonight I was really hitting the wall. I was at the Orleans again, had started with $100, doubled it up, then lost a big hand when I had A-J and another A on the flop, but I didn’t recognize that an opponent had made two pair, so got knocked back down to about $100 again. I decided I’d play one more big hand, and then win or lose, I’d go home. But then I went card-dead. I waited 45 minutes for any decent hand to play, and nothing came. I was down to about $75, because of paying the blinds and calling a few pre-flop raises, only to have to dump the hand when nothing developed. Finally I decided that I would just have to pick two cards and play them as if they were aces, and hope for the best. I got J-3 of diamonds in late position, a real crap hand. But sometimes—especially if you have a strong, tight reputation and haven’t raised in a long time—you can get away with playing like you’re holding a big pair, even when you’re not. That’s what I decided to go for.

I raised to $12 and got five callers. Yikes! That’s not what I wanted! With five others seeing the flop, it’s going to help one of them for sure, and it will be hard to push him off the hand. Oh well—the pot was now big enough that it was worth taking a major gamble on winning it.

The flop is 10-8-3. I’ve got a crummy pair of 3s, and nothing more. But it’s checked around to me, so apparently nobody else liked it very much either, and I decide to go for it. I push in my last $60 or so. One guy calls. Crap! No matter what he has, it’s got to have me beat, because nobody would call that bet with a worse hand. Oh well, I went into this hand knowing that it might blow up on me, but I had made enough at the Hilton earlier that even if I bombed out here, I’d still be up for the day. Turn card was a 7, and the river a 9. I sheepishly turned over my cards to show that I just had the 3s.

I didn’t even realize what had happened until another player said, “Oh my God, he hit runner-runner straight!” Sure enough, there was a 7, 8, 9, and 10 on the board, plus my J for the straight. The other guy had had ace-ten, giving him top pair and top kicker on the flop—a pretty good hand for him to gamble on. He was, shall we say, unhappy when he saw how it had gone down. Oh well—as they say, that’s poker, and I’ve been on the bad end of crap just like that enough times that I don’t mind a little excessively good luck flowing my way now and then.

Besides, hands like that have powerful future value, even if I lose them. To the extent that I’m known just as a rock that only plays premium hands, it’s hard to get action. When people see that I can push just as hard with nothing as I do when I’ve got the goods, it makes them more likely to call me the next time I actually have the best hand. Having opponents completely unsure what I have is at least as good as, if not better than, just having them habitually run away because they’re convinced I have the nuts.

Poker gems, #24

Jesse May, Shut Up and Deal, p. 29:

So all in all it’s a pretty good game. It’s a very good game and the pots are big, but the live ones have all the money and they might leave. I just wish I could pick up a hand soon because this game doesn’t have a lot of staying promise. I mean two guys already left with big loads and all the wrong guys are stuck. And if the three live guys with all the chips take off as they maybe are wont to do, the game will break up in ten minutes flat and I’ll be left with no option but to put what’s left of my money and chips in my box, go up the escalator, trudge to the parking lot, climb in my car, and when I’m sure that no one can hear me, yell “Aarghh” at the top of my lungs before driving home and collapsing into a fitful sleep plagued by poker nightmares of cards, chips, and disreputable characters robbing and cheating me ad infinitum.

Bigfoot (zero poker content whatsoever)

A friend took me to my first monster truck race/show last night. I captured the coolest moment on video, and made it into my first YouTube clip. Now I'm going to see if I can successfully embed it here, since I have no other place to experiment with this kind of stuff.

Monster truck show, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Sept. 21, 2007. This dirt mound was used as the landing ramp during a motorcycle-jumping event. During the monster-truck freestyle competition, Bigfoot drove up the steep side of this ramp and down the landing side. Not a single other truck driver even attempted to surmount this obstacle, from either direction. Bigfoot should clearly have won the freestyle for this feat alone, but with obviously fixed judging, they gave it to TMaxx instead.

Here it is:

Friday, September 21, 2007

Poker gems, #23

Jesse May, Shut Up and Deal, p. 16-17:

Ever since I started playing poker it seems like it’s always been the same. Win a little. Lose a little. Stay in action, afford the buy-in, keep my head above water and keep moving, always moving. And watch people go broke. Watch 'em fold up and go broke.

Then I go on a losing streak. Or have one bad night, or whatever. Just something that makes me question everything I know about poker—no, everything I believe—and consider giving up and be scared to go in the card room and not know when to fold or when to raise or when to play or when to stop.

And then it turns around. Pop. Just like that it turns around and I start winning and don’t stop winning and start playing higher and faster, and then the cycle starts again. Over the last six years this cycle has been perpetual, and always vicious, and always of lunar-type proportions. And these cycles have been punctuated by leaves of absence, lots of them, because basically I can’t deal, I’m dysfunctional, I need to reorient myself, my place in space, my poker philosophy…. And every time I’m away, I’m away from the table, but the game is right there next to me, it’s living with me as I replay hands and people and conversations and games and days and plays and angles. And every time I come back, I break through, my thoughts are different, my understanding feels deeper. And here’s the funny part. I always think I understand. And everybody else doesn’t. And they’re all thinking the same thing.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Las Vegas police (only tangentially related to poker)

My car was stolen August 10 from the Hilton parking lot while I was inside playing poker. This rant is about how the local police handled the whole thing.

The Hilton security guy filled out his forms and called the police for me. They took a bunch of information over the phone, then asked me to wait there until an officer could come by to complete the incident report. After an hour, nobody had showed up, so the security guy suggested that they probably had all the information they needed, and I could just call them the next morning to be sure. Sounded like a good idea to me.

Wrong. When I called the next day to tell them about nobody showing up to complete the report, I was told that it's often three or four hours, but that one has to wait, or the report doesn't get entered into the system. So for the first nearly 18 hours that my car was missing there was no report on it anywhere, because they deleted the information I had given them over the phone when I wasn't there to give the officer the rest of what they needed. (And thanks, too, Hilton security team, for the great advice on this point. I assumed you had dealt with this situation before and could be trusted to know what needed to be done.) I had to go down to the nearest precinct station, wait in line, and give all the information--again--to a woman through a plexiglas window.

I just assumed the car was gone and never coming back, rented one for a week, then bought a used car. The dealer issued a temporary (30 days) permit for driving it.

About a week into that time, I got stopped by the police not because I was doing anything wrong, but just because I had a temporary permit instead of real plates. The officer explained that it's common for car thieves to make phony temp certificates for stolen cars to avoid the registration process. (The things do look like they would be incredibly easy to produce on any cheap color-capable photocopier or computer scanner/printer. Not a very secure system, if you ask me.) He verified that the car was really mine, and I went on my way.

Yesterday I got a call telling me that my car had been recovered two days earlier. They could tell me the street and block where it was found, but not anything else about it. They said no arrest had been made, and it hadn't been in an accident, but that was all I could get from them. I have no idea what circumstances led to its discovery. They couldn't even tell me if it was driveable.

So I had to go to the lot of the towing company and pay $241 to get it out.

Why didn't they call me as soon as it was identified, so that I could claim it immediately without the tow and storage fees? I don't know. Why did they wait two more days to notify me? I don't know.

Did they set up some sort of surveillance in the hopes of catching the felon who had stolen it? Nope. Did they take fingerprints to see who had put the last 200 miles on it? Nope. Did they even bother to contact me to ask whether there was damage to the car that hadn't been there before, or to ask whether maybe the thief left something inside that might identify him, etc.? No, they did not. Basically, they seem to care not one whit about actually finding, arresting, and prosecuting whoever stole my car--at least as judged from their actions.

Now I have to get it repaired, because in the process of wrecking the ignition interlock system, the thief screwed up the whole electrical system, so the thing won't start without a jump. (No, it's not just the battery.) I have no idea how much that will cost.

I wasn't going to write anything about this, but tonight I got the icing on the cake. On my way home from the Hilton, I got stopped again. The officer says I rolled through a stop sign. I won't deny that that's possible, but by long habit even my not-quite-complete stops are awfully darn close--not the classic slow-down-and-go that one commonly sees. The intersection in question is barely even a real intersection; the "cross-street," which comes from only one side, is the private drive to a gated community, and has a lift gate for which exiting cars have to wait. In other words, of all the intersections in the city controlled by stop signs, this one may be the very least likely to have a collision result from failing to come to a complete stop.

I really hate the "don't you have anything better to do" speech that many motorists give police officers when being ticketed for minor traffic offenses. I recognize that enforcing traffic laws protects both lives and property. Still, I couldn't help but think about the insanity of the situation. I get stopped by police officers twice in a month--once for no violation at all, and once for possibly the most inconsequential, hypertechnical violation he could muster--but they couldn't ever stop the actual criminal who was driving my stolen car around for a month??? What, was he the world's most perfect, careful driver? That seems unlikely.

So the Metro police twice stop the law-abiding victim, never the car thief, and make, apparently, zero effort to actually solve the felony that was committed, reasoning, I guess, that if the car gets back to the owner all is well.

No, all is not well. This whole thing was handled with a complete lack of professionalism on the part of the police, both in terms of communicating with the crime victim and in terms of solving the crime. Harassing me twice in approximately the same month that my car was being joy-ridden by somebody else makes the whole experience so damn ironic and galling that I finally had to gripe about it.

Las Vegas Metro police, you suck. Now I know a large part of the reason that Las Vegas is the capital of car theft in the United States: it's because you guys barely lift a finger to stop it, and spend your time and energy harassing the victims instead of the criminals.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Yet another horrible quasi-poker movie

Last night I taped a movie on Showtime, because of this description from the channel's web site:

Blowing Smoke (2004): A group of eight men playing poker at a club in Beverly Hills are busy bemoaning their fate at the hands of manipulative women, when a damsel in distress shows up at their door and proceeds to take them to the proverbial cleaners in this comedy-drama starring Estella Warren, Sean Michael Allen, Jack Axelrod, Daniel Roebuck and Shaun Baker.

See also http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0432257/.

So the action takes place over a poker game (at least initially), but it's not a poker movie at all. Not a single hand is shown. It's just the lame background for one of the most stupid and pointless movies I've ever sat through. Appallingly bad writing and acting--far, far worse than a typical made-for-network-TV-movie (which this isn't, by the way)--no plot to speak of, and just generally offensive dialogue, with every "joke" old and ripped off.

I've mentioned before that I notice things in movies that characters do wrong with guns, and this is another example. One character handles a part of a shotgun, after firing it, that would be so hot it would burn his hand. (I know about this because in rapid-fire shooting competition using a shotgun, one of the biggest challenges is reloading it quickly without burning one's hand on the extremely hot parts. Also, two characters consecutively pump a round into the chamber, without the gun having been fired in between--why??? Another guy makes a big show of cocking a pistol, but very shortly thereafter you can see that the hammer is down, the gun uncocked. Stupid things like this annoy me no end. Filmmakers in general just don't care about getting things right, or even plausible.

Anyway, there is absolutely nothing to recommend this piece of trash as a movie of any sort or genre. And it's definitely not a poker movie. If you think about seeing it because it looks like it might be sort of a poker movie, don't bother. And if you think about seeing it for any other reason--again, don't bother.

Where do I apply to get an hour and a half of my life back?

Poker gems, #22

Jesse May, Shut Up and Deal, p. 30:

But sometimes if you can catch a guy right after a big win then he’s an easier touch and he’ll still hem and haw, but a broke might be able to squeeze a few hundred out of him that will rarely to never get paid back. Some people think that it’s kind of a winner’s tax that they pay and spread the money around a little bit and then when they run bad or go broke everybody will help them out a little too. But maybe they’re thinking that they have a peer group and they have some buddies in there and they haven’t found out that everybody hates you under their breath if you’re doing well, that poker peers feel no sympathy and no pity for you when you’re doing bad, they’re merely glad it’s not them and move in for the kill like big buzzards who know it’s much easier taking money from someone on his way down.

Getting things right--or not

There's concern in some circles about a serious security breach at Absolute Poker. This appears to go beyond the usual "online poker is rigged" conspiracy theories, though I freely admit I don't have enough expertise to render a useful opinion on whether the hypothesized problem is possible or probable. You can read more about it here: http://news.parttimepoker.com/2007/09/16/rumors-continue-to-circulate-regarding-suspicious-play-at-absolute-poker/

Anyway, a spokesperson for Absolute Poker recently posted the company's official response in an online forum. I was struck by how poorly composed this post was, for a formal corporate announcement. I wrote and posted my thoughts about how the carelessness of the writing reflected on the substantive issues involved. This is the kind of post that an online forum, if heavy-handedly moderated, might take down, because some will see it as a personal attack on the author (a woman named Danielle, about whom I know nothing). So I'm reproducing it here, since it is definitely in keeping with this blog's general critical approach to everything that's wrong in the poker world. The original thread can (at least for now) be found at http://www.pokeraffiliateworld.com/forums/general-poker-affiliate-discussion/11817-what-happened-absolute-thread.html

First, here's the Absolute Poker message:

Hi All,

Thank you for your patience in this urgent issue.

Let me start off by stating in 100% confidence that, fair play and security is of paramount importance to Absolute Poker. We have temporarily frozen accounts that have been brought to our attention while we perform an extensive investigation.

While we are continuing with our investigation, we have yet to find any evidence of wrong doing. Our game client only receives data regarding the individuals hand and no other players hole cards, except in the event of a showdown.

The player’s and their respective actions that are in question, all come from a small sample of Hands. We have researched their play exhaustively and have found no proof that they had any knowledge of other player’s hole cards.

There were hands that were played poorly -- from a poker strategy perspective -- and these players did receive a fortunate result.

So far we have no evidence that substantiates claims that any of the players were involved in chip dumping, or any other improper activity.

Because of the seriousness of these allegations, we have not closed the investigation and are continuing to look very closely into this matter.We will notify you if we obtain any new information regarding these claims.

Kindest Regards,

Danielle


And here's my reply:

Undoubtedly some readers will think I'm just nitpicking here--but there is a larger point to it.

There are at least ten obvious errors of grammar, spelling, and punctuation in Danielle's post, which is pretty remarkable in a message of only 11 sentences--pretty remarkably bad, that is.

I fully recognize that, for the most part, online chats are highly informal. I certainly don't proofread and rewrite as carefully for such posts as I do for, say, business letters or for things intended for publication. Hell, there may be little errors left undetected in this very message (though I'll try to eliminate them).

But when one is posting a formal message in one's capacity as a representative of a company, one presumably uses one's utmost care in getting things right. This presumption implies, then, that Danielle's very best writing as a spokesperson for Absolute Poker means about one orthographic/grammatical error per sentence, a level of carelessness--or outright ignorance of the basic tools of the English language--that one might expect in, say, a sixth-grader.

Here's the larger point: Danielle proves beyond any serious doubt by this post that she doesn't care one bit about getting details right. We can also assume that nobody checks her work (or that whoever does check her work is just as careless as Danielle). If she can't be bothered to care about the *form* of her official response, on what possible grounds can a reader be convinced that she pays any more attention to getting the *substance* of it right?

In my experience, people either pay attention to details or they don't, and either way it's not a phenomenon that is limited to grammar and punctuation, isolated from everything else that they do. A person who makes a large number of such errors when trying his or her best to get them right probably makes lots and lots of other kinds of errors in his or her work, too.

I know nothing about Danielle other than this one post, but I think it's a highly revealing window. To me, the message is that neither Danielle personally nor AP corporately can be trusted to care about getting things right. This isn't to say that either she or the company is deliberately dishonest, but it *is* to say that she is probably not the kind of person who would really be sure to know enough detailed facts about the situation to be reliable.

Naturally, just because a post is perfectly constructed by a bevy of skilled PR people and lawyers wouldn't mean that the claimed underlying investigation was thorough, or that the facts reported in the post were correct and honest. You don't even need a high school diploma in order to compose a short letter with good grammar, spelling, and puncutation. But the *lack* of those things pretty clear implies, to me, a general lackadaisical approach to things, at least by Danielle, and very possibly by the AP staff generally. This is not a good thing when one is attempting to convey an image that everything has been looked at in intricate detail, and all found to be in order. All is *not* in order, quite clearly.

A clean restroom in a restaurant doesn't necessarily mean that the kitchen, too, is spotless. But if the restroom is filthy, there's a good chance the kitchen is, too--because if they don't care about uncleanliness where they know you *will* see it, they can't possibly care about uncleanliness where they know you *won't* see it. AP doesn't care if we see egregious sloppiness in public missives; why should we assume that there isn't egregious sloppiness behind the scenes as well? If they won't even bother to proofread the official, public response to these rumors, on what basis would I conclude that they bothered to do a careful investigation?

Danielle's post sounds, to me, suspiciously like a bedbug letter--and a very poorly written one at that. (Google "bedbug letter" if you don't understand that term.)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Poker gems, #21

Jesse May, Shut Up and Deal, p. 6:

Everybody wants to know about skill. Who’s the best and who’s got it and who ain’t and what we’ve got here, and all I can say is that the answer is never that easy. Like for example there’s this guy, call him Ace, and he plays well, I mean he plays really well, better than me, like if we were ever to get involved in a heads-up match, Ace would clean me up. And he has. Nothing to it. But one night maybe Ace and I are in a Hold 'em game together, and we both have bad luck and we both lose five thousand dollars. Now Ace, what does he do? He gets so mad at losing that five thousand dollars that he stalks off into the pit to try and get even and blow off some steam and he ends up losing twenty thousand more playing craps. Meanwhile, I get so mad at losing my five dimes that I go home, get in my closet, stuff a pillow in my face, and scream until I lose my voice. What’s the difference? Twenty thousand dollars. Now who’s the better poker player? It ain’t that easy.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Poker gems, #20

I'm reading Jesse May's 1998 novel, Shut Up and Deal. It's brilliant, not in terms of traditional literary values, but because nothing else I've ever read, in fiction or non-fiction, has so perfectly captured the deeply cynical, selfish, and lonely existence of a poker grinder. This is a book that could be written only by one who has been through it. There are likely to be a bunch of excerpts from it posted here, because I'm finding so much in it that resonates with my recent life. I start with the most famous passage:

Poker is a combination of luck and skill. People think mastering the skill part is hard, but they’re wrong. The trick to poker is mastering the luck.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Information parasites

I was about to start this grump with "Not much bugs me more than (what I'm going to talk about)." But then I realized that it's really hard to rank what annoys me most at the poker table. It varies so much from day to day. Let's just say that a whole hell of a lot of things irritate me--which shouldn't be too surprising, since I decided to run a blog that is basically devoted to complaining about all the things that other players do that make me want to throttle them.

Today it was one of those guys who want to know how a hand went down, but was too busy watching a football game to pay attention. He even missed the showdown. He just saw a big pot being pushed and the loser pulling out more money to re-buy. Then he asked, "What was the winning hand there?" Ace-king. "What did the other guy have?" Ace-queen. "Was there a king or a queen on the board?" Yes, a king hit on the river. "Did he [meaning the winner] raise before the flop?" Yes.

Fortunately, today he was asking the person next to me, not me. I wouldn't have told him.

In no-limit hold'em, only a minority of hands get played out to a final showdown. Probably eight out of ten hands end when somebody makes a bet that no other player is willing to call, and he wins the pot by default, without having to show his hole cards. Even on hands with a showdown, lots of them are pretty lackluster, in terms of betting. Often this is because there's something scary on the board (e.g., 3 diamonds flop, and none of the players in the hand has one), and nobody wants to bet at it.

So on the relatively rare occasions that a large pot has developed between two or more players, with betting and raising at every opportunity, naturally the other players--if they're paying attention--are making silent guesses about what the contestants hold, and then we get to see if we were right, or at least close. It's one of the most interesting parts of the game, in my opinion, and a skill that takes constant honing.

More importantly, this kind of hand contains a wealth of information about the players involved. To put it into useful form, though, you have to see the showdown, then mentally backtrack each stage of the hand in order to understand why each participant did what he did. You can then discover, for instance, that one of the players will pay any amount for a flush draw, regardless of his pot odds or whether he's likely to get paid off if he hits it. You can sort out which players tend to bet when they have just draws, and which wait until they have made hands to bet. You discover who was bluffing. You learn who can't let go of a big pocket pair, even when they should know that they are beat. You find out who plays in a straightforward, A-B-C style and who is tricky and deceptive. You see who's a poker savant and who's a numbskull. Who was aggressive and who was passive? Which player more accurately gauged the relative strength of his hand at each point? Who sets traps, and who is able to detect them? This is all crucial stuff.

One way to think about the game of poker is as a contest of information. Whoever has the most and best information about his opponents, and exploits that information most skillfully, will win the most money over the long haul. If you try to bluff a guy that habitually calls any bet with any mediocre hand, you'll lose. If you call down a player who only bets when he has the nuts, you'll lose. You have to know opponents' tendencies, or you'll make a lot of otherwise avoidable--and very expensive--mistakes. The kind of information revealed when there is a showdown between two or more players, with a big pot being contested, is by far the most valuable information available about opponents in a poker game.

It doesn't come easily, because, as I said, you have to remember who did what through the whole hand, and mentally reconstruct what information they had at the time. It requires paying a lot of attention--putting in some work. But the result can be tremendous insight into how the other people at the table approach the game.

It seems, though, that there is always a leech, somebody who wants that information without putting in the effort to gather and process it himself. This idiot today was one of this ilk. He couldn't be bothered to watch the hand play out, because his football was more important. But once he realized that he just missed out on one of the rare opportunities to peek inside how two of his opponents think and play, he wanted to know all about it.

These people are like the other animals in the story of the Little Red Hen (see, e.g., http://www.elliottsamazing.com/lrh.html), who aren't willing to help make the bread, but want to share in the meal when it's ready. They're information parasites.

It's rare that I lie at the poker table. I realize that most players consider lying just part of the game, but I don't like it. If I win a pot without a showdown and somebody asks me what I had, my stock answer is something like, "If I answered that directly, I'd just lie, which wouldn't do you any good." Or I'll lie in a way that makes it obvious that I'm lying ("Aces, of course--that's all I ever play!" "I can't remember--my memory just went blank!"), which I think doesn't carry the ethical problems of genuine lies. I consider both of these options to be a polite way of saying, "I'm not going to tell you."

But today's situation is one where I will lie every time. "Sorry, I wasn't paying attention," is the usual reply. Sometimes it's the truth, of course--nobody can pay full attention all the time for hours at a stretch. But even when I know exactly what went down, and have new, cherished nuggets of insight about opponents, I answer the same way. I do this because I think it's so incredibly rude to try to extract this information from other players. I'd rather lie and keep up a decent social facade than give the heartfelt response, which would be along these lines: "Look, asshole. If you really cared, you've have paid attention during the hand instead of watching the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders jiggling on the sidelines. If you want instant replays, keep watching television--ESPN will give them to you, but I won't."

I never, ever ask another player to rehash events for me; if I'm daydreaming, it's my own damn fault and I just accept that I missed out, mentally slap myself in the face, and remind myself to pay more attention. In my opinion, asking another player to give a retrospective play-by-play is every bit as out of line as asking, "Can I have your stack of chips?" Information is money at the poker table, and I'm not going to give away either one just because you ask.

Unlike money, the information is freely there in the open for everybody to take in. If you pass on the opportunity, don't come to me looking for a handout.

Poker gems, #19

More from Antonio Esfandiari's book, In the Money: Strategies for Winning Texas Hold 'em Cash Games, p. 15:


What's the best way to play fearless? First and foremost, you have to divorce yourself from how you traditionally think of money. Money outside of the poker room is different. That is money to be spent wisely or invested discriminately. The money you bring into the poker room is your means to winning. Do not think of this as money. Think of it as the tools of your trade. You should no more think about the dollar cost of an individual chip than a carpenter thinks about the cost of the nails he's driving. That carpenter will drive all the nails he needs to in order to do the job. That is what I am going to do at the poker table, and that is what you should do as well.

Consider your chips to be the cost of doing business, nothing more and nothing less. As with any buiness, you will have overhead. Think of bad beats as your overhead. Furthermore, as Doyle Brunson once wrote, when you make a big bet, you cannot think, "Oh man, I'm betting a Cadillac." Even if you're a recreational player, if you're thinking of the steak dinner you could buy with the chips you're betting, you're dead money. So look at those chips as the tools of the trade. You will free yourself from the fear of losing them, and then you can go win more.

Poker gems, #18

I realize that lately I've had a long string of these "poker gems," which I originally intended to be just occasional diversions from my rants, not the main menu of this blog. But for whatever reason, I haven't gotten myself up into a good lather about much of anything lately. The muse hasn't been pushing my annoyance buttons, which is what has to happen for me to write up a good grump. So these thoughts from other writers will have to suffice until I get unblocked. Never fear: I have a long list of topics yet to write about, as soon as I get in the mood for a good rant.

Continuing with advice for bad beats, this is from Antonio Esfandiari's book, In the Money: Strategies for Winning Texas Hold 'em Cash Games, pp. 13 and 36. Antonio does take his own advice here; I remember reading (in one of his columns for Bluff magazine, I think; it doesn't seem to be in this book) that he has a standing deal with a friend, that if either of them ever hears the other tell a bad-beat story, the teller of the tale owes the other something like $5000. I haven't gone that far, but I do make a point of not sharing my poker woes, either with friends and family or with other players. I make some exceptions when writing--but only when there's some larger point to be made from the story, never just because I'm feeling sorry for myself.



Be positive. You will never hear me tell a bad-beat story. Nobody wants to hear it. Think about it. When somebody tells you a bad-beat story, do you care? Besides, everyone who plays the game will suffer his or her fair share of bad beats. That's poker.... If you play poker, bad beats are the cost of doing business. Take it in stride and move on. If you dwell on it or let it get to you, it can only have a negative impact on your game.

...

If you let the emotions of these moments affect your play, you will lose focus. One simple way to avoid this is to never tell a bad-beat story. This is such an important point that I am going to repeat it for emphasis: Never ever tell a bad-beat story. All that does is reinforce losing--and nobody wants to hear it, anyway.

Poker gems, #17

Today I was the chip leader in the Hilton weekly tournament with only seven players remaining, the top four finishers to get the money. The player with the second most chips moved all-in (a huge overbet--really bad play) from first position with 8-8. I was on his immediate left and called with K-K. I'm an 80:20 favorite. He spikes a third 8 on the turn. I was crippled and finished in 6th place. Then I moved to a cash game, and within the first hour had K-K again. A player raised from first position. I put in a small re-raise to try to induce an all-in from him and got it. I call. He has A-Q. I'm a 68:32 favorite. He catches an ace on the river to win a $400 pot.

Neither of these is extraordinarily unusual; they're in the "run-of-the-mill" category of unluckiness. It was just unusually annoying because of the probable financial loss in the first instance (absent that 8 hitting, I would have had nearly half the chips in play just at the time that the other players were going into survival mode to be sure they made it into the money, and I could have aggressively accumulated a truly overwhelming chip lead, with a very high probability of winning the tournament outright), and the large, tangible financial loss in the second instance, both happening within such a short time span.

So I'm taking this occasion to remind myself (and any readers) of perhaps the wisest words I've read about bad beats. It comes from Mark Blade's excellent book, Professional Poker: The Essential Guide to Playing for a Living, p. 257. I can't say I'm yet able to muster the mental discipline to actually do what he suggests, but I do try to keep it all in proper perspective:


Bad Beats Are Your Best Friends

So how should you react when you experience a so-called "bad beat?" You should shout inside your head, "Yippee!" And do a little mental jig while you're at it. I'm not kidding. Bad beats mean that there are still players out there who play badly. That means the games are still beatable. The day you stop having any more bad beats is the day when you should crawl into a fetal position in the corner of the casino and bawl like a baby. Your career is over. The worst case scenario...has just played out. Your competition all plays as well as you do and you are just passing money back and forth among yourself with only the casino take coming out ahead. Don't scoff at the title for this topic. Bad beats truly are your best friends.