Thursday, October 04, 2007

Poker gems, #33

Jesse May, Shut Up and Deal, p. 162-163:

I’m a watcher. Always have been. Maybe that’s why I learned. I love to watch people, love to stare at ‘em behind my dark shades as they load up racks with new-found dollars and walk away. Or as they fall apart, as they crumple up, as their eyes become big and glassy and lose focus and they take deep drags on their cigarettes. As they come in all smiles and how ya doing and start winning and talk about how good they are and how they could have made an extra bet by checking the flop, and then a month later they’re stuck on the rail trying to borrow money from the same guys they called losers a little while before. I just watch. Don’t say nothing. Nothing. Just sit there and watch 'em night after night with a big silly grin on my face as they call me a live one.

Chip rack on the table

Treasure Island tonight. There's one player who's steaming something fierce because he lost a huge pot when the river card made his straight and his opponent's full house. Now he's raising every pot. At some point he put his remaining chips in a rack and set the rack on the table, as if he were about to leave, but then they just stayed like that.

Finally a dealer told him that the chips in the rack were fine if he was going to be leaving within the next few hands, but if he was going to be staying, his chips had to be on the table.

Now, if a dealer told me this, I'd say, "Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't know," take the stupid chips out of the rack, and be done with it. It's one of those things that nobody could possibly really care enough about to make a fuss over. Unless, of course, you're just a misanthrope to begin with and can't stand having anybody tell you what to do, even over the tiniest point.

You guessed it, this guy was just that sort. He argued that his chips were on the table--just that there was a rack under them. The dealer told him again that he needed to remove the rack. So he tried going halfway and taking out just one stack. No, all of them, the dealer said. A couple of other players who were obviously TI regulars had encountered this before and chimed in, confirming that it's a consistently enforced house rule. This idiot kept arguing and fighting about it. Finally he gave in and said that he would remove his chips after the current hand was over. Instead, though, he got up and left. Maybe he thought to himself, "This will teach them not to boss me around!" But nobody really cared that he was gone.

Not all casinos care about having chips out of the rack. I've played in some places where they're positively anal about it, and won't even let you start racking up during your last few hands--you have to have actually stopped playing. Other places say that you just have to keep one stack of chips out on the table. And in some it's common to see most of the players playing directly out of the rack the whole time they're at the table.

It seems to depend on what the casino's reason for the rule is. In some places the motivation seems to be security; that is, they're worried that somebody might hide a card under the rack, to be put back into play when the situation is favorable. (At one place in Wisconsin where I used to play a lot, any player having a rack on the table would invalidate the bad-beat jackpot. This motivated players to police each other even more carefully than the dealers did. "Wait! Don't start dealing the hand yet! There's a rack on the table!") In rooms in which cash plays, there's a legitimate concern that somebody could stash a few $100 bills under the rack, and an opponent might seriously underestimate how much an all-in bet or call could cost him. Some places seem to emphasize the efficiency aspect--it just plain takes longer for most people to remove a few chips from a rack than from a stack on the table, so everybody playing out of racks slows down the game substantially. And although I've never heard this expressed directly as a reason behind the prohibition, it's obviously quite a bit harder to estimate at a glance how many chips an opponent has when they're laid flat in a chip rack, rather than standing in stacks.

But this is really about more than what rule a particular card room has in place on this point, or the reason(s) for it. It's about the kind of antisocial personality that would argue such a small point so vehemently and for so long, instead of just shrugging it off and complying. It's unimaginable to me that somebody could care so deeply about playing from a rack that he'd want to cause a dustup about it--and if you really just cannot function as a poker player unless your chips are laid out in neat rows in an acrylic rack, well then for God's sake call and ask what the house rule is before you choose where to play. In this city you've got 50+ places to choose from. Give your business to the place that will let you use your precious rack, if you must; don't try to buck against the rule where you are, even if you don't like it.

I know, though, that for this kind of demented individual, we could quote Roseanne Rosannadanna: "If it isn't one thing, it's another." That is, he was itching for a fight over something, anything, to make himself feel better (in some perverse way) after having had a big loss. If it wasn't the chip rack, it would have been talking about the hand in progress, or whether he had to post both blinds after being away from the table for a while, or acting out of turn. Or he would have pounced on a dealer for making some small error, or yelled at the cocktail waitress for not getting his order quite right. I think it's clear that his ego was bruised, and he would have taken the opportunity to contend over any little point on which he could assert himself, as a salve to his wounded self-image.

It's frightening how many people there are in the world so eager to lash out over anything, with the least provocation. Fragile egos are terribly dangerous to society at large. If nothing else, it's really annoying to have to share a poker table with such deranged jerks.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

So do something about it, pal!

I was on the receiving end of an unpleasant complaint from somebody at my Hilton tournament table today.

There's a guy I've seen there several times before, though I don't know his name. He always seems grouchy and ready to tear into somebody for some perceived offense. Today it was me. He got moved to my table, two seats to my left. After being there maybe an hour, it was folded around to me on the button, so I raised with an A-7 offsuit. This guy looks at his cards, then shoots me a dirty look, and says, "You just have to raise on your button every time, don't you?" Then he mucked his cards.

Usually I let this sort of idiocy go unchallenged. But he was so far off-base that it irked me. I had not been at all out of line with late-position raises. I was playing pretty much textbook A-B-C poker. Yeah, if it's folded around to me, and I'm on the button with only the two blinds yet to act, and I have an ace, of course I'm going to raise! That is absolutely the standard, obvious, and correct thing to do, because any ace is statistically likely to be the best hand when put up against two random hands.

Soon after this guy moved to the table, I did the same thing with a suited K-3, and the big blind moved all in for just a little bit more, so I naturally called. He had an A-3 and won. OK, no big deal. K-3 was likely to be better than either of the blinds held, and this time it just happened not to be. The call of the raise was a no-brainer because of how little it cost me. But apparently, this planted the idea in this guy's mind that I was routinely stealing with nothing.

Yeah, a couple of times it was folded to me on the button or in the cutoff seat (one to the right of the button) and I raised with garbage, for a couple of reasons. First, I had a larger-than-average stack, and, second, the three players to my left (including this guy) were ones who tend not to play back at a raiser unless they have a strong hand. Again, raising in such a situation is exactly what every strategy book written since Super System would recommend. Stealing blinds is absolutely crucial to tournament success.

I've been on a short stack when there's an aggressive big stack one or two spots to my right, stealing the blinds every chance they had. It's a helpless feeling, because there's nothing you can do about it, other than fire your one all-in bullet and hope that it isn't the one time the thief has a real hand. Yeah, it sucks, but that's just how the game is played. Big stacks have a huge advantage over smaller stacks in a tournament, and the blinds are in a strategically weak position. Put those two things together, and it's not hard to predict who will be preying on whom.

But this curmudgeon apparently felt like it was personal, as if I were reaching into his wallet and absconding with his cash. No, pal, I was just playing the game exactly the way every expert recommends--probably somewhat tighter than optimal, in fact, stealing the blinds less often than I maybe could and should have.

I actually responded a bit testily to him: "If you had been paying attention, you'd know that it hasn't been anywhere near every time." He said it literally had been. Absurd. I just don't play that loosely/aggressively. I pointed out that I had even folded on the button a few times, which he claimed was untrue. But I remembered doing it, because I felt a twinge of remorse when I did, thinking, "I should probably be raising rather than folding here," but couldn't get myself to pull the trigger with, e.g., 9-3 offsuit.

It doesn't really matter, though. Suppose I had been raising every single time I had the button--so what? What earthly good does it do to complain about it? It just makes the griper look like a whiny Phil Hellmuth wannabe. It certainly isn't going to slow down an aggressive position player--in fact, it might make him even more determined to steal, steal, steal.

If you want to break somebody of the irritating habit of stealing your blinds too often, the remedy is simple and universally recognized: You re-pop them. Put in a huge re-raise. It doesn't even matter much what cards you're holding at the time, because if he's raising every time, and you've let it slide four or five times in a row, he's going to have to give you credit for having a big hand, whether you actually do or not.

The first time I played a tournament at Caesars Palace, we were down to the final six or so. Sure enough, I got a habitual button-raiser two seats to my right, and he had a bigger stack. After about four times in a row, I decided to stick it to him, to try to make him a bit more selective about his steal attempts. I re-raised all-in with a K-6. He insta-called, and I knew I was in deep doo-doo. But to my delight, a 6 came on the flop, his A-K didn't get any help, and I doubled up! He exited soon thereafter; I went on to take first place.

On the other hand, the same situation arose at a tournament at Binion's a few months back, and I did the all-in reraise with a J-10, and again learned that my timing was off, since the aggressive big stack had the A-K that time, and knocked me out. But that's still the thing to do. Most of the time he'll fold and start being a little more careful about his steals. Sometimes you'll get unlucky and lose. Sometimes you'll get lucky and double up. That's just how the game goes.

Being a sourpuss about having your blinds stolen--even if it is flagrantly more often than the raiser could possibly have a strong hand--is counterproductive. It makes you stew in your own juices, which isn't good for your game, and it lets the raiser know that he's getting to you, which will only encourage him. Rather than complain about it, act--put in the re-steal. It's risky, but it feels great when it works (which is most of the time), and it's far more effective at accomplishing what you want. For those of us who are physically kind of like the 97-pound weakling who gets sand kicked in his face at the beach, the big re-raise/re-steal from the blinds is the poker equivalent of giving the bully a black eye, a bloody nose, and a fat lip after he tries to steal your lunch money once too often. It feels tremendously empowering (and, compared to the fistfight, has the added advantage of being perfectly legal and relatively safe).

There's this old joke: What's the difference between a puppy and a poker player? After six months or so, the puppy will stop whining.

Poker gems, #32

Jesse May, Shut Up and Deal, p. 158:

Yeah, but about the eighteen [losing sessions] in a row. I didn’t start out trying to break any record. I guess maybe I finished trying to. I mean I remember distinctly one time in the Taj Mahal where I had been playing almost five hours and I was ahead like seventy-five bucks or something and I thought to quit and Morty advised me heavily to quit. It was the same night I had gotten my hair cut for the first time in two years and I’d lost about nine or ten in a row at this point and I just should have gone home and cursed the streak. But maybe I needed to see that doom doesn’t have to have an end and just because the roulette ball has come up black fourteen times in a row, don’t go betting on red again. Just walk away.

And maybe I learned the lesson vividly. Because that was the only end for that streak. Just walk away. Or go broke. Or run through the valley of the shadow of death because you get through the valley quicker that way. Or go home, lock your door, pace the floor, pace the house, flip the channel, grind marijuana stems, listen to every CD, go to the market and construct elaborate huge meals not to eat because everything makes you sick, mumble, talk out loud, put your palm to your forehead, cry out and groan, and want to go back into that poker room but be so scared to do it that in the end I just had to leave town, had to leave the country, in fear of what might happen with me in proximity to my money.

An observation

After playing a few tens of thousands of hands of Texas Hold'em, I've come to a conclusion: Five is rarely the right number of community cards for the dealer to put out. About half the time, I want them to stop at four. The other half, I want them to put out a sixth one. Five is almost always either one too many (because my opponent hits his miracle card) or one too few (because I haven't hit mine).

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Poker gems, #31

Jesse May, Shut Up and Deal, p. 145:

Everybody has gotta draw the line somewhere. Actually, a lot of people manage to go through life without having to draw a line at all, but if you play poker, if you gamble, if you do drugs, you better draw that line because sure enough you’re gonna be slammed up against it often enough, and one step over—well, it’s just over.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Me at the table

I think it's probably safe to let the Lone Ranger's mask slip a little bit, so to speak.

Last Sunday I participated in a private tournament at Treasure Island, hosted by http://www.allvegaspoker.com/, the best web site for rating, learning about, and discussing Vegas poker rooms. I wasn't the first player knocked out, but I did earn the distinction of being the first one to be knocked out twice, since my re-buy wasn't terribly successful.

To the best of my knowledge, nobody has ever previous taken a picture of me while I'm playing poker. I wasn't even aware that photos were being taken, being rather focused on the game. (The whole bunch of them is posted at http://www.allvegaspoker.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=3018, from which page I stole these. I don't know who to credit as the photographer.)

In the first one, I'm only barely visible--the guy at the far end of the table, with the brown sweatshirt. This appears to be the hand on which I lost 99% of my chips, with my pocket jacks running into a flopped set of 10s against the opponent in the foreground. It looks like the flop that killed me has just been dealt. I'm looking confident with my overpair. I don't yet know that I'm basically dead.

The second picture must have been taken very shortly thereafter. I was left with only 50 in chips after that debacle (I think we started with 3000), so they had to go in with any two cards. You can see that I'm looking annoyed (not exactly a rare occurrence), with no chips on the table in front of me (which, fortunately, is a rare occurrence).

Oh well. It was a fun event anyway.



Addendum, October 2, 2007:

Not that anybody will care, but I see now that the second picture isn't from immediately after the first. I should have noticed three things: First, there's a different player on my right (on the left in the photos) in the second picture; second, there's another table behind me instead of a wall; third, the felt on the table is completely different! So obviously this photo was taken after I changed tables. I got knocked out from the first table, then moved to this one. I lasted only about 5 or 6 hands before the second bust-out. The guy on the left of the second photo (known to me only as "The Other Dave" or "OD") was the one who beat me. I had A-K, he had 7-7. Flop missed him, but he made a standard continuation bet. The flop paired my king, so I moved all in. He had to call, because it didn't cost him much more. He caught runner-runner straight to bump me off. So this photo must have been taken right while we were waiting for the turn and/or river to be dealt, because all my chips are in, but I haven't stood up to go yet.

Poker gems, #30

Jesse May, Shut Up and Deal, p. 140:

It’s not that it’s impossible to make money at poker in the long run. It’s just that you’d be better off packing up your stuff and going to Alaska to dig for gold.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

You've got to be careful what you say

This blog post was originally an overly long footnote in my post from a few minutes ago about "The Tournament Host." Upon re-reading, I think it deserves to be a separate entry. So first I'm going to repeat the paragraph to which it was appended (so the story may sound familiar, if you're reading things in chronological order of posting), then carry on with my related thoughts.


Also at today's tournament, in a hand I wasn't in, an early-position player raised. When the action got around to the guy on the button, he addressed the raiser and said, "I know you're raising with nothing. You have something like 8-2 of diamonds. I'm calling it right now." Then he threw his cards in the muck. It took me a couple of seconds to realize what had happened, but in retrospect what he apparently meant by "I'm calling it" was not that he was calling the raise, but that he was predicting what the raiser's cards were. But any competent dealer should have considered that a verbal, binding announcement of his action, and any floor person called to settle the inevitably resulting dispute should do the same. Again, their own rule #30 repeats the universal recognition that "[v]erbal declarations in turn are binding." Universal, that is, except in TH tournaments, I guess.

A very interesting incident along these lines happened at the final table of the World Poker Tour's "World Poker Open" at The Gold Strike Casino in Mississippi (season 5). Kido Pham, a well-known semi-professional tournament player, raised with K-7. An amateur, Gary Kainer, was short-stacked in one of the blinds, holding A-Q. He moved all-in, which constituted a big reraise.

Pham asked him, "Do you want me to call you?" He got no answer. Pham then told Kainer that he (Kainer) could decide--Pham would either call or fold, whichever Kainer wanted him to do. He said, "You call it--yes, no, whatever." This is an interesting ploy, one that I had never heard before. If Kainer took him up on the offer, it would make for an interesting question as to the rules, whether or not Pham's promise was binding. But it didn't come to that, because Kainer wisely just kept his mouth shut.

Finally, Pham apparently realized that he wasn't going to get any useful information from his opponent, and gave him a time limit for answering: "Three seconds. You call it." Still no response, so Pham counted down the time: "One. Two. Three. I call it." The dealer announced a call, and the announcer in the arena repeated that. But Pham quickly realized that he had been misunderstood; he didn't mean that he intended to call the bet, only that his offer to let Kainer make the decision for him was rescinded, and he (Pham) would make the decision for himself. Daniel Negreanu, also at the table, pointed out, "You said 'I call it.'"

The tournament director was called in to make a ruling, and he decided--correctly, in my view--that Pham's words "I call it" were binding, regardless of whether he intended something other than calling the bet. While they were awaiting the decision, commentator Mike Sexton observed, "Vince, he would have nobody to blame but himself if they make him put his money in and he loses this pot"--which is exactly what happened. After the ruling against him, Pham stated the obvious, that he never would have called with just a K-7. (Which raises the question of what he would have done if Kainer had taken him up on his offer and said, "OK, I want you to call.") That one little mistake may have cost Pham the tournament, and a few hundred thousand dollars in prize money.

A dealer friend once told me of an instance in which a player during a hand was telling the guy next to him a story about something that had happened long ago. The story included saying "All in," and this player said those words quite loudly (apparently recreating how it had happened). His opponent thought that the story-teller was declaring himself all-in, and immediately said "I call," and turned his hand up. The story-teller had had no intention of moving all in, but had just picked an unfortunate time to be saying those words loudly enough to be heard across the table. His words were ruled to be binding, even though he hadn't intended them that way.

It has to be so. Otherwise, you could have a scenario like this: Suppose I'm facing a large all-in raise from an opponent, and I've noticed previously that as soon as he gets called on his all-in bets, he instantly flips over his cards. (One should do this, of course, but not quite instantly. It's usually wise to take a few seconds to be absolutely sure that all the betting is over, that one's opponent really said he was calling, etc. I usually just wait for the dealer to instruct me to turn them over, because then any misunderstanding is the dealer's error, not mine.) I'm not sure what to do, so I say, "I'm going to call," kind of drawing out that last word, trying to induce my opponent to flip over his cards so I can see what I'm up against. Then, if I see that he has me in a bad spot, I complete the thought with, "...my mother on the phone at the next break." I then claim that my opponent jumped the gun, and I wasn't announcing my action.

Players have to be careful with the short list of words that sound like verbal declarations of action, particular when it's their turn.


Addendum, October 3, 2007:

By odd coincidence, I saw another example of this today while playing in the last-ever Hilton monthly freeroll tournament.

Before the flop, the player who was going to be second to act started to push his whole stack in when it wasn't yet his turn. He aborted the move before the chips crossed the betting line. (I don't know whether he was honestly mistaken or whether this was angle-shooting, but it doesn't matter for the point of this story.) The player under the gun noticed this, and asked him something like, "You're all in?" The dealer announced "All in." He heard clearly those last two words from this player, but not what went before it. The player protested that she wasn't moving all in.

The dealer called the floor person over and explained that the only thing he had heard clearly was "all in." The player confirmed that she had indeed uttered those words, but as part of a question to the other player. The floor person ruled that her words constituted a binding declaration of action. (Part of his reason was that one can't ask a player yet to act what he's going to do.) Presumably, if the dealer clearly heard the words "all in," other players might have heard them, too, and we can't have players trying to be weaselly by letting those words be heard, in order to see the reaction from other players, then retract them as having been accidental or misunderstood if it looks like somebody behind him--perhaps a player with pocket aces--welcomes that move. (I'm confident the player today was not trying to be tricky in such a manner. But the rule has to be enforced the same regardless of one's intentions, because intentions are impossible to know with certainty.)

Like the heading to this post says, you have to be careful what you say at the table, particularly when it's your turn to act.

Poker gems, #29

Jesse May, Shut Up and Deal, p. 75:

It’s like when people hear that I’m a professional poker player the bulk say, Yeah, yeah, yeah, you’re so lucky because you can do whatever you want, play whenever you want, make your own schedule. But I know a lot of guys who play poker—hell, I feel like I know all of them—and to a man it’s play poker, eat, sleep, eat, play poker…poker, poker.

And when I’m in the groove after playing for something unreal like eighteen or twenty hours and then home for five or six hours of fitful sleep and then pop out of bed, it’s not relax, flip on the TV, go out to eat, call my friends, read a book, play golf, see a movie. But jump awake, run in the shower, convince myself I don’t even have time to shave or finish listening to a song on the stereo, and run down to the kitchen and no time to cook a proper meal or even sit down and eat but whatever I can grab and run to the car and eat on the way. And fifteen minutes later, after running a few questionably yellow red lights, there I am back at the table like I never left, and as I look around it’s the same everywhere—bleary-eyed and in action.

Thetournamenthost.com sucks

I have a friend back in Minnesota who is the editor of a section of the St. Paul Pioneer Press newspaper. There's nobody whose opinions and observations about good writing I value more. He tells me that he despises the use of the word "suck(s)" to describe something that one doesn't like. I agree that it's overused, but I sat here for quite a while trying to think of a single verb that simultaneously conveys that something is lousy and that I have a really strongly negative visceral reaction to how lousy it is. I couldn't think of one. So I'm going with "sucks." Thetournamenthost.com sucks.

I'd better explain what it is: http://www.thetournamenthost.com/ is one of many entities that have sprung up around the country to allow people to win prizes in poker tournaments with no entry fee. With this site, as with most others, the tournaments are held in bars. I assume that ultimately the prizes are paid for by the sponsoring bars, who hope they will make up in liquor sales what they pay out in prizes.

What interested me is the prizes. According to this web site, if you win two single-table tournaments over the next five weeks, you qualify for the big tournament, in which the top three finishers will win a trip to Tunica, Mississippi, to participate in a real poker tournament, with many thousands of dollars to be won. OK--sounds like it's worth giving it a shot, I thought.

I signed up at Tournament Host ("TH" hereinafter, to save me typing) about a week ago, and have now played in four of their single-table tournaments. I won two of them and came in second place in another, which kind of tells you that they're not made up of the stiffest competition in town.

But they have so irritated me along the way that I don't know whether I'll continue or not. Here are the problems I've encountered:

1. They seem incapable of making anything clear.

Consider these examples.

Here's a challenge: Try to learn from the TH web site when and where the next big tournament (the one for which the winners will receive the prizes) will be held. As far as I can tell, it's not there anywhere.

There are apparently occasional multi-table tournaments that are something apart from the single-table qualifiers, but I'll be damned if I can discover what they are about. There was one today. The web page announcing it has a link that says "Click here for event and prize information." But the link calls up a blank page.

I can't tell from the web site whether winning any two events will get one qualified for the next big tournament, or if, perhaps, one has to win two events at the same venue. I used the "contact" link on the site to ask them this question, as well as the one about when the next big tournament will be. I got an automated email in response, telling me that they would be responding "shortly." You guessed it--haven't heard any answers yet.

The second event I attended was the last tournament of the evening (Wednesday), scheduled for 9:30. I arrived at about 8:45 and sat where I could see the table, which was playing out the end of the previous match. That one ended just before 9:00, so I sat down at the table to announce my presence, since there wasn't any obvious place or person to check in with. I figured that if I was sitting at the table, it should be clear to everybody that I was there to play the next event. Sure enough, somebody came over and took my name. Then about ten minutes later they were getting ready to start. To my surprise, all the seats were claimed by players who had been given seat cards. (The most common way for seats to be assigned in small tournaments is that when you register, they have you pick a card with a table and seat number on it from all the ones that are left, face down, so that it's basically random.) So they weren't going to let me play. Apparently the guy who had asked my name wasn't the one in charge of assigning seats. Like I'm supposed to know this? Some miscommunication between the organizers (and I use the term "organizers" very loosely) made them think that I hadn't shown up to claim my seat, so they had given it to an alternate. I fussed about it enough that they ended up giving me the seat in the end--but it would make everybody's life a whole lot easier if they took the trouble to make it obvious, somehow, what one is supposed to do, exactly, to check in upon arrival. If I was supposed to do something more than sit down at the table and wait for somebody to tell me what else to do, nothing either on the web site or in the bar so indicated.

2. They don't follow their own rules.

I've noticed at least six examples of this in just the short time I've played with TH.

a. Sponsoring sites typically have three or four consecutive tournaments in an evening, but the site's rules clearly state that you can play only once a day. (See http://www.thetournamenthost.com/about.php: "You can play every day but can only play in one tournament per day.") This is sensible from a sponsor's perspective, because if they have four 10-person tournaments, they'd rather have 40 people in their bar than the same 10 people for four games in a row. But yesterday I was playing in the first match of the evening (5:00 p.m.), and the guy in charge was letting people sign up for the 8:00 p.m. tournament. Why have rules published, then not abide by them?

b. TH has posted a set of rules governing their tournaments. These appear to be just the Tournament Directors' Association rules (see http://www.pokertda.com/rules.htm) (reprinted without acknowledgement of the source, which is in itself in pretty poor taste). One of these is as follows:

8. At Your Seat: A player must be at his or her seat by the time all players have been dealt complete initial hands in order to have a live hand.

This is a standard poker tournament rule: if you're not in your seat when the last card is dealt, your hand is instantly, automatically dead, period. We don't wait for players to get back from whatever else they may be doing. But during today's tournament I put in a raise from middle position, and nobody called. Both players in the blinds were away from the table, so I should have won the pot by default, with both of those players' hands declared dead. When the dealer hesitated, I asked him, "Those two hands are dead, right?" He said no, because the guy in the small blind had announced that he would be coming back. Sure enough, he waited until the guy came back, and let him play his hand. He told me that they only follow this rule at the big tournament, where the prizes are at stake.

In this case, it worked out well for me, because the guy called and I won the pot, so I won more than I otherwise would have. But that's not the point. The point is that it's insane to publish rules, then willy-nilly decide not to follow them sometimes. If you're sometimes going to enforce rules and sometimes not, then you might as well say that--just for today--a straight beats a flush. It's crazy to run things like that.

c. In another bizarre incident today, a player fished his hole cards out of the muck and was allowed to play them. The player was in the big blind, and he and/or the dealer thought that he had a walk (i.e., nobody called the big blind). My attention was elsewhere at first, so I don't know whether he folded his cards or the dealer took them. But after his cards were in the muck, it was noticed that one player had, in fact, made the call, so the hand wasn't over. The big blind just casually reached toward the muck. The dealer allowed him to pluck two cards out. He checked them, then said, "Yep, I got the right two." They then played the hand out.

I've previously quoted the rules on this point; see the footnote at http://pokergrump.blogspot.com/2007/09/walking-away-in-middle-of-hand-not.html. It doesn't matter whether the error was the player's or the dealer's, that hand was dead the instant it hit the muck, and the pot should have been awarded to the one player who had called the big blind. You can't fish cards out of the muck and play them. I've only seen this allowed once before (see the story at http://pokergrump.blogspot.com/2006/11/dealers-who-dont-know-rules-and-dont.html), and it was clearly, unequivocally wrong then, as it was today. Even the most fundamental, universal rules are ignored by the TH people.

d. While I was watching the conclusion of the tournament before the first one I played last week, the player on the button threw in a bet after the flop before it was his turn. He took it back when the dealer pointed out that it wasn't his turn. The player who was rightly first to act checked. But then rather than making the button bet as he had done out of turn, the button checked, and the dealer allowed that to stand. This is in clear violation of another universal rule:

30. Action out of turn...will be binding if the action to that player has not changed.

The purpose of this rule is to prevent unethical players from deliberately firing a bet out of turn in order to intimidate an opponent from betting, then checking after the opponent checks, in order to get a free card. Apparently at TH, rules just don't mean much.

e. At today's tournament one of their own dealers was playing, which is fine with me. At one point he was supposed to be first to act, but was busy talking to one of his co-workers. Another off-duty dealer who was sitting with him picked up the cards, looked at them, and threw them in the muck. The actual dealer for that tournament just accepted this as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred. I have never, ever witnessed a poker game--cash or tournament--in which a non-player was allowed to step in and play a hand in the place of the seated player.

f. Also at today's tournament, in a hand I wasn't in, an early-position player raised. When the action got around to the guy on the button, he addressed the raiser and said, "I know you're raising with nothing. You have something like 8-2 of diamonds. I'm calling it right now." Then he threw his cards in the muck. It took me a couple of seconds to realize what had happened, but in retrospect what he apparently meant by "I'm calling it" was not that he was calling the raise, but that he was predicting what the raiser's cards were. But any competent dealer should have considered that a verbal, binding announcement of his action, and any floor person called to settle the inevitably resulting dispute should do the same. Again, their own rule #30 repeats the universal recognition that "[v]erbal declarations in turn are binding." Universal, that is, except in TH tournaments, I guess.

3. They don't honor their commitments.

As much as laxity about rules annoys me, people not living up to their offers, agreements, or promises is even more galling. (See, for example, what I wrote about Caesars Palace when they went back on what they had offered 300+ of their players: http://pokergrump.blogspot.com/2007/06/shame-on-caesars-palace.html.)

I used the TH web site to sign up for a 5:00 tournament today. I got there just before 4:30. Again it wasn't at all obvious who to tell that I had arrived. The multi-table tournament was still going on. I walked up to an off-duty dealer and said, "I'm here for the 5:00 tournament." He said, "OK, just hold on a bit, we're getting that together now." OK, fine. So I sit down and wait. Maybe ten minutes later another dealer tells me that they're getting ready to start in the next room. So I go over to the table, and all the seats are full. Huh?

I talk to the person that I now recognize is in charge and ask him what's going on. He said they had already given out all the seats. I explain that I signed up on their web site, and when I did there were still eight seats available. He tells me that there weren't supposed to be any single-table tournaments at this place tonight--they were just throwing some together because players exiting the multi-table tournament were requesting them. "But your web site announced the single-table tournaments, and I signed up for it there." Oh, he tells me--that was a mistake. He tells me that he called "most" of the people who had signed up for it to tell them that it was cancelled. Of course, he had neither called nor emailed me.

But he tells me to relax, because they have enough demand that they're going to get a second one going in just a few minutes. OK, fine. And sure enough, they do. It even starts a few minutes before 5:00, so they're not later than what I had expected. And lo and behold, I actually win the thing--come in first place! It's my second win, which should get me qualified for the next big tournament, whenever that may be. (And, incidentally, I tried asking the dealer today when and where it was--he didn't know, predictably.)

So they report my name as the winner to the guy in charge. He proceeds to tell me, "Tonight's tournaments don't count as qualifiers." WHAT????? I politely ask what they are for, then. He says, "Bragging rights."

First, I try not to brag. Second, I don't know a single soul at any of these things so far, so who would I brag to? Third, I don't waste time playing poker when there is nothing of value at stake--especially when I have to drive out to Henderson for it. I assume that this "not counting" thing is related to the apparent "mistake" of having the tournaments announced and available for sign-up on their web site.

I left in a huff. I was, for once, actually too stunned by this declaration to do or say anything more about it at the time. I thought that just maybe he was joking with me, but I really don't think so.

I will be trying to call whoever I can tomorrow and figure this all out. They announce a series of four qualifying tournaments for tonight on their web site. I follow their procedures and sign up for one. I show up, only to be told that that was a mistake. Fortunately, though, they've decided to hold the tournaments anyway. I win, and only then do they tell me that these aren't counting for anything.

I seriously don't get that. If they decide to at least partially correct the web mistake by actually holding the single-table tournaments, what in the world prevents them from counting them as qualifiers? It's not like there is a state statute or some larger tournament association with rules that prevent them from treating these events as if they were the regular qualifiers that were announced. I can't figure out why they would handle the situation this shabbily. It has me seriously aggravated. If they had bothered to tell us in advance that the winner would get nothing, I wouldn't have wasted my time playing!

4. Summary.

With five days and four events under my belt, my conclusion is that this outfit is completely unworthy of participation. They make rules but don't follow them. You can't get from anyone the most basic information about what's going on. Most egregiously, they don't abide by what they announced they were going to be doing. This is an organization (and, as with "organizers," the term has to be viewed as only loosely applying here) that appears, to me, to be completely undeserving of any trust or support--not because they're dishonest scammers, but because they're just utterly incompetent and uncaring about doing anything in a sensible, straightforward, professional manner.


Addendum, October 3, 2007:

A dealer I know occasionally checks in on my blog. By coincidence, he's the one who first suggested I give TH a try. I ran into him today. He, too, has noticed the sloppy enforcement of rules, and told me of another example. A player announced a raise, arranged his chips in several small stacks, then pushed the stacks forward one at a time without having announced an amount of the raise. The first stack was the amout of the call, and the second one would have constituted a legal raise. My friend protested that this was a string raise, and that the player's raise should have to stand at the amount that was out after his second stack was pushed. He's absolutely right. The dealer, however, said that because the guy had announced "raise," he could put out as much as he wanted.

Anybody even minimally familiar with casino play would know that this isn't the way it works. Basically, you have three choices for putting in a raise. (1) You don't announce anything and just push out the entire amount of the call and raise all at once. (If you've never seen Chris Ferguson raise all-in, it's a thing of beauty to watch. He has mastered, somehow, being able to move his entire mass of chips all at once, even when it's dozens of individual stacks of 20 chips each. He wraps his hands around them, and they all move forward a few inches as if they were glued together. Amazing.) (2) You can announce "raise," without a specific amount, put out the amount needed to call the previous bet, then in a single, separate motion push out the amount of the raise. (3) You can announce the amount of the raise, after which it doesn't matter how many trips your hands have to take back and forth to collect that amount and put it into the pot. I won't bore the reader with quoting the various rule books on this point--just take my word for it that this is one of those undisputed, universal rules. Except, of course, at TH, where otherwise universally recognized rules get ignored at the whim of the dealer.