Saturday, January 05, 2008

Poker gems, #63

Doyle Brunson, in the new "Poker After Dark" opening montage.

We don't stop playing because we get old. We get old because we stop playing.

Friday, January 04, 2008

What Las Vegas has been needing

I've had an idea brewing in my brain since shortly after I moved here and started playing a lot of live casino poker about a year and a half ago. There's no way that I have the time, the financing, or the technical expertise to pull it off myself, so I'm just throwing it out into the ether for any entepreneur to pick up and run with.

We need a centralized web site with continuously updated information as to what games are currently being spread at the city's 50+ poker rooms.

Many times when tourists find out that I live in town, I get asked where they will most reliably be able to find a 7-card stud game, or $10-20 limit hold'em, or whatever. I can only guess.

If you read trip reports (there are new ones almost daily) on http://www.allvegaspoker.com/, you'll frequently see visitors commenting that they went to a particular poker room, but it was dead or didn't have the game or limits they wanted to play, so they had to walk down the Strip to the next casino.

I've sat near the poker room desk often enough to know that the brush or cashier has to handle lots and lots of phone calls asking what games are going on.

Since I generally prefer the smaller poker rooms, I have had times that I have had to call four or five places to find one that had a no-limit hold'em game going. It's a big time waster.

All of these problems would be eliminated, or at least reduced, if we could log on to a web site and get that information.

I envision being able to specify a game and limits, and have the site spit out a list of all of the casinos currently spreading that game, with a notation of how many tables they have going. Alternatively, I could enter my current location, and ask for a display of all of the live games within a certain radius, for example, 0.5 miles (if somebody wanted to see what was within walking distance, say).

Obviously, the big sticking point would be getting the poker room staffs to keep their data frequently updated. Maybe I've got on my rose-colored glasses, but I think they would have sufficient motivation to do so. Letting people know what games they have going brings in more business. It also avoids giving people the sour taste in their mouth that results from taking the trouble to go someplace only to find that there's no action, and have to move on. Third, I think it would take less time for a casino employee to occasionally update their list of games than to answer all the phone calls they get requesting that same information. Finally, poker rooms could advertise on the site, with information about current promotions, etc.

I'm psychic. I can tell what you're thinking. You're thinking, "But Grump, wouldn't the casinos be inclined to fib, and say that they have games going even after they've broken up, just to bait-and-switch people in?" Well, they might, if given no reason not to. But I propose that the site be open to feedback from users. On http://www.allvegaspoker.com/ you can get a pretty good feel for how places treat their poker-playing customers from the aggregate reports they compile. Big sites like eBay and amazon.com's used-book dealers also get useful (though admittedly not foolproof) profiles of merchants' reliability through massed reports from purchasers. As I see it being set up, if, say, Caesars Palace were found repeatedly to be claiming to have games running that weren't (and this could be either through deliberate false advertising or simple failure to keep their list adequately updated), angry site users who wasted their time going there would quickly shame Caesars into cleaning up their act, or risk losing business.

Whoever owns and runs the site could generate income from all sorts of poker-related advertising.

I think that once a critical mass was achieved, such that the majority of poker rooms was actively using the site, it would become a significant competitive disadvantage for the others not to join in. The usefulness of such a site would clearly expand over time, as more and more consumers start carrying and relying on web-capable cell phones, such as Apple's iPhone. It is a general fact of life in this century that people will more and more be expecting--even demanding--real-time information in ways that are easier to access than making a tedious series of phone calls. Look at movie theaters as an example. Nobody calls around to theaters these days to find out show times. Even using newspaper ads to get that information is going the way of the dinosaur, as web sites can compile, update, and distribute it much faster. The way poker rooms now inform customers of their offerings is stuck in the stone age.

Maybe someday registered users could even put their names on waiting lists through the site, but that introduces a whole 'nuther level of complication and problems that I would avoid at first. It would be sufficient to have poker room telephone numbers listed so that once you've decided where and what you want to play, you place one call to get on the list while on your way there.

So that's my million-dollar idea, given away for free to anybody who wants to do the hard work of getting it implemented. That's just the kind of guy I am, ya know?

Thursday, January 03, 2008

How many mistakes can you make in one paragraph?






In the December, 2007, issue of Poker Pro magazine, David Apostolico has an article on slow-playing big hands (pp. 80-81). In it, he recounts what has become one of the most famous hands in poker history, Johnny Chan versus Erik Seidel in the World Series of Poker main event, 1988. Here's what Apostolico says. If you know the history, see if you can count how many factual errors Mr. Apostolico manages to make in describing just one hand of poker.
The ultimate example of this is Johnny Chan's play in the final stages of
the 1988 World Series of Poker as memorialized in the movie Rounders.
Chan was heads-up with Erik Seidel when he flopped the nut straight. Chan held
Jc-9c and the flop was Qc-10d-8d. Seidel held a queen with a weak kicker, giving
him top pair. There was $40,000 in the pot and Chan was first to act after the
flop. He checked. Seidel bet $50,000, which Chan called. The turn brought a blank
and again Chan checked. However, this time Seidel checked also. The river
brought another blank and again Chan checked. This time Seidel went all in and,
of course, Chan called (right away, I might add).

Seidel was severely crippled and soon Johnny was world champ. Chan took a
big chance by checking on the river. If Seidel had checked also, then Chan would
have lost the opportunity to make a bet with the nuts.

First, let's acknowledge that Mr. Apostolico gets a few things right. Chan and Seidel were, in fact, heads-up for the 1988 WSOP championship. Chan did, in fact, hold the Jc-9c, and Seidel had a queen with a weak kicker (Qc-7h, to be exact). Chan did flop the nut straight. And the hand did famously get featured in "Rounders." But that's pretty much the entire list of things that Mr. Apostolico gets right.

The errors:

1. "[T]he flop was Qc-10d-8d." Actually, the 10 on the flop was in hearts, not diamonds. This is confirmed by three sources: Jonathan Grotenstein and Storms Reback, All In: The (Almost) Entirely True Story of The World Series of Poker, St. Martin's Press, 2005, p. 150; and Dana Smith, Tom McEvoy, and Ralph Wheeler, The Championship Table at the World Series of Poker, Cardoza Publishing, 2nd edition, 2004, pp. 112-113; and Mark Rogers and Matthew Booma, 52 Greatest Moments, World Series of Poker, Amalgam Studio LLC, 2007, p. 135.

2. "There was $40,000 in the pot." I'm not certain that this is wrong, but I suspect that it is. I haven't found any source that relates what the blinds and antes were at this stage of the tournament, but it's clear that both players limped in before the flop. It's hard to think of a plausible combination of blinds and antes that would have resulted in a $40,000 pot before the flop.* I think more likely, given the other mistakes I'll discuss below, Mr. Apostolico is erroneously getting the "$40,000" figure from the initial post-flop bet.

3. "Chan was first to act after the flop." Nope. Chan had the button, as you can clearly see from the famous footage. Seidel had to act first after the flop. This mistake leads to several others that follow in the article.

4. "He checked." No. The action on the flop was this: Seidel checked first, Chan bet $40,000, Seidel check-raised another $50,000, and Chan called.

5. "The turn brought a blank and again Chan checked. However, this time Seidel checked also." Well, it did go check-check, but in the opposite order. The card was the 2s, incidentally.

6. "The river brought another blank and again Chan checked. This time Seidel went all-in and, of course, Chan called." The river was the 6d. But Seidel was first to act and moved all in. Chan called (which, I suppose, I should count as another point Mr. Apostolico gets right).

7. "Seidel was severely crippled, and soon Johnny was world champ." Uh, no. According to Smith/McEvoy/Wheeler, "When the final hand began, defending World Champion Chan had $1,374,000 in chips and challenger Seidel had $296,000." This is plausible, because this makes a total of 1,670,000 chips in play, and there were 167 players in the tournament, at $10,000 each. Grotenstein/Reback give the same figure for Chan, but don't specify Seidel's stack size. They do note, however, that Chan had "a substantial lead." It's obvious from the footage that the hand in question ends the tournament. Seidel wasn't "crippled," he was eliminated! Furthermore, Chan would not "soon" become the world champ, as Mr. Apostolico writes. This is wrong in two ways. First, Chan was already the defending world champion, having won the same event in 1987. Second, he gained the title for the second year in a row upon completion of this hand, not sometime "soon" thereafter.

8. "Chan took a big chance by checking on the river. If Seidel had checked also, then Chan would have lost the opportunity to make a bet with the nuts." No. Since Chan had the button, he didn't have to make the difficult decision as to whether to continue his slow-play on the river.

I should add that a couple of lines of dialog in "Rounders" sort of suggest that Chan was first to act and had the "patience" to wait for Seidel to "bluff." But it's not so. Also, the movie calling Seidel's move a "bluff" is inaccurate; he likely believed that he had the best hand. Top pair in a heads-up situation is usually good, especially given the way Chan played it (which was indeed masterfully deceptive).

I also see that Smith/McEvoy/Wheeler make an apparent error when they suggest that Seidel moved all-in before the river card hit. It's not quite explicit, however, and it's possible to read their text as being correct. In the actual footage, though, you can clearly see all five community cards are out when Seidel pushes his stacks forward, followed by Chan's call. That the action was check/check on the turn and all-in/call on the river is confirmed in both of the other books mentioned above.

So that's eight (plus or minus one, depending on how you count them) factual mistakes in 14 sentences of Mr. Apostolico's article--a pretty high error rate by any standards.

I'm disappointed by this, because I've enjoyed his columns in Card Player magazine. He has also written six books about poker (at least that's how many are listed on amazon.com), two of which I own but haven't read yet. One of them is Lessons from the Pro Poker Tour, a book devoted to lessons to be learned from specific hands as they played out in a tournament series.

If Mr. Apostolico can't be bothered to get the facts correct when he's describing one of the most famous hands in the history of poker, it's going to be hard to put much confidence in an entire book that depends, through and through, on getting just such hand-history details correct.


*Theoretically, blinds of, say, 9,000 and 18,000, with a 2,000 ante would make the pot 40,000, but those are kind of odd amounts for a tournament structure to use. Blinds of 7,500 and 15,000 with a 5,000 ante would work mathematically, but it would be highly unusual to have the antes be that high a percentage of the blinds. Blinds of 8,000/16,000 with a 4,000 ante would also yield a 40,000 pot, but, again, it would be strange to have an ante that was half the size of the small blind. I just can't think of a plausible set of numbers that works, which is part of why I strongly suspect that Mr. Apostolico's number is just wrong here.

Addendum, January 5, 2008

A reader pointed me to this YouTube clip, which appears to be unedited from the original broadcast. Without the editing imposed by "Rounders," it's much clearer about the order of action, and completely confirms what I had pieced together above.


Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Playing for a living

Anybody who ponders taking up poker for a living should read this blog post, about whose author I know nothing, save that he speaks the sober truth and should be heeded:

http://www.thepokerchronicles.com/archives/000947.html

Poker gems, #62




Kenna James, as quoted by Arthur S. Reber in "Defining Tilt," article in Poker Pro magazine, December, 2007, p. 77.


Poker is a game of me against myself.

I SO need one of these things!




Best of the Grump (so far)

All right, I'll join the rest of the writers of the world in doing a year-end (slightly belated) "best of" list of my own. But two differences. First, since I've only been blogging for about 15 months, I'm going to take the liberty of including everything from the beginning (since the main purpose of this post is to tempt some newer readers into exploring stuff that was put up before they joined, and what the heck do I care if it's from 2007 or late 2006?). Second, it may or may not be ten items. I'll just stop when it feels like I'm done.



I have to include my first-ever post, because it's the rant that got this whole thing started: http://pokergrump.blogspot.com/2006/10/what-you-threw-away.html


This one amuses me because it's the one by which Google searches most often stumble upon the blog. I think that's funny, because most likely people typing in "poker clothes" are looking to buy poker clothes, not find somebody taunting them about poker clothes. http://pokergrump.blogspot.com/2006/11/ugly-poker-clothes.html


This was my first attempt at waxing philosophical, without really being grumpy: http://pokergrump.blogspot.com/2006/11/loved-or-feared-non-grumpy-content.html


This is overall my favorite post ever, perhaps my best attempt at being funny at the same time as grumpy: http://pokergrump.blogspot.com/2007/04/armpit-of-las-vegas-poker.html


This story is still the most startling, eye-opening thing that has ever happened to me while playing poker: http://pokergrump.blogspot.com/2007/05/whats-absolute-worst-thing-in-poker.html


I'm going for a double here, because these two posts, I think, were basically what got me my first poker-related radio guest spot, when they were read by James Klosty, then a host of the Hilton's weekly radio show (see http://pokergrump.blogspot.com/2007/07/on-radio.html): http://pokergrump.blogspot.com/2007/07/i-think-im-going-to-throw-up.html; http://pokergrump.blogspot.com/2006/11/crap-underfoot.html


This is just a pointer to something else I wrote that got published in Card Player magazine, my first appearance in the larger poker publishing world. While not particularly important in the big scope of things, it was a milestone for me personally, because it confirmed my thought that I really do have things to say that others will find interesting and/or useful, even though I'm playing $1-$2 games instead of $1000-$2000 games. http://pokergrump.blogspot.com/2007/07/article-in-card-player-magazine-non.html


This pair of posts remain the one most widely read, after I took the liberty of putting links to them up at a couple of widely read poker forums. I think the overt religiosity at the year's WSOP final table caught a lot of people off guard, and I had a few things to say about the subject that I think weren't said by anybody else. http://pokergrump.blogspot.com/2007/07/mr-destiny.html; http://pokergrump.blogspot.com/2007/10/more-on-religion-at-poker-table.html

I like this post because circumstances were just right to turn one of my most painful poker experiences into what I think is a story so perfectly ironic that I would think the author was making it up, had I not lived it myself: http://pokergrump.blogspot.com/2007/08/irony-poker-story-in-4-parts-non-grumpy.html

This post has a little bit of everything thrown in--grumpiness, movies, my medical background, some poker history, rules discussion, and the kitchen sink (well, not literally): http://pokergrump.blogspot.com/2007/08/why-do-poker-movies-have-to-be-so-awful.html

This post isn't characteristically grumpy, but it may be the one that I learned the most from. I ended up having to do a lot of research to figure out the right mathematical approach to the question I posed, and had to revisit it a couple of times with addenda as I learned more. Writing it ended up giving me a big boost in my understanding of how to go about poker probability calculations. http://pokergrump.blogspot.com/2007/08/unlikely-events-non-grumpy-content.html

I'm deeply cynical about politics and the current political scene. I find it endlessly baffling and depressing that the great majority of people, it seems, have a deep urge to control how other people behave--a trait that I do not share. Most of politics is people trying to control others, which I despise. That finally showed through with this post, my first about politics: http://pokergrump.blogspot.com/2007/10/poker-players-are-political-wimps.html

I'm a big fan of Doyle Brunson, so it took an investment of quite a bit of time and research before I was willing to publish a post saying that he was wrong about a point of poker advice: http://pokergrump.blogspot.com/2007/10/doyle-brunson-is-wrong.html

Two of my worst poker experiences ever were both at the Tropicana, stories told in two posts: http://pokergrump.blogspot.com/2007/10/tropicana-home-of-most-obnoxious-poker.html; http://pokergrump.blogspot.com/2007/12/tropicana-poker-room-with-no-rules.html

This is another potpourri post (touching on game shows, probability, the stupidity of the general public, other people's blogs, and Elvis Presley, among other things) that for some hard-to-define reason I just like way more than is probably reasonable: http://pokergrump.blogspot.com/2007/10/chuck-woolery-and-me-non-poker-related.html

The concept of Superman playing poker is just too silly not to love. Incidentally, the "Family Guy" snippet I managed to put up on YouTube got taken down shortly thereafter by the powers that be--something about copyright infringement. http://pokergrump.blogspot.com/2007/11/superman-playing-poker.html

OK, now it feels like I'm done with my Top 16 Or Maybe 19 Depending On How You're Counting List. I hope you enjoyed it.

"Give 'em a good wash, would ya?"





I heard the request quoted in the title of this post at Harrah's the other day. It's hardly the first time.

A "wash," in dealer-ese, is the process of scrambling the cards face-down on the table before gathering them up and commencing the standard riffle shuffle. It's a routine and important part of the whole hand-shuffling procedure.

But what's odd is that sometimes players will request that the dealer do this before placing the deck into an autoshuffler. That was the case at Harrah's. There was a regular at the Hilton poker room that used to request this on a regular basis.

Maybe I'm the wrong person to write blog posts about the idiotic things that people say and do at the poker table, because I really want to be asking about them, rather than explaining them. As far as I can tell, there is no rational explanation for them. For the life of me I can't understand what goes through player's brains that makes them submit such a request.

It might help (though I really think the details don't matter) to understand how casino autoshufflers work. It's kind of mysterious if all you do is watch the dealer insert one deck and take out the next one. But how the things work isn't exactly a secret. The manufacturer, Shufflemaster (Shufflemaster's market dominance is so complete that I've never even once seen a casino using any other kind of machine, and I don't even know if any competitors exist), isn't shy about explaining it, and it's all laid out in detail in its patents.* For example (from http://tinyurl.com/yqsg8e):

The microprocessor randomly assigns potential positions for each card
within the initial set of playing cards, and then directs the device to arrange
the initial set of playing cards into those randomly assigned potential
positions to form a randomized final set of playing cards.

In other words, it has a computerized random number generator that determines a random order into which to place the 52 cards. It picks them off of the bottom of the used deck one by one and sticks them into pre-assigned spots in what will become the newly shuffled deck. This isn't to say that the machine has decided that the queen of diamonds will be at position #32 in the completed deck; it doesn't know which card is which (although I see now, looking at Shufflemaster's web site, that it has a new model that does exactly that; see http://www.shufflemaster.com/02_eu_products/utility_products/shufflers/shufflers_sd/i-deal.asp). It simply determines that, say, the current bottom card of the deck, whatever it may be, will go to position #19 in the final reassembled deck, the next card from the bottom will go to position #46 in the reassembled deck, etc.

Of course, the order that the cards are in when the dealer drops the deck into the machine is a key factor determining the order of the newly shuffled deck. So "washing" the cards, as opposed to simply gathering them up, definitely does alter the order that the cards will be in when they emerge from the machine two hands from now.

But the important thing conceptually is that it's a random order either way. You could have the dealer take a few minutes and put the deck back into the same order it was in when it came from the factory, with each suit in consecutive order of rank, and you'd still get a randomly shuffled deck out of the machine when it was done. (For stories of how poker hands go down when you accidentally use such a factory-ordered, unshuffled deck, see Steve Zolotow's column at http://www.cardplayer.com/author/article/all/57/8510.) It would be a different order than the one you'd get if the dealer just scooped up the cards and placed them in the shuffler, which would also be a different order than the one that you'd get if the dealer were to "give 'em a good wash," which would be different from the one that you'd get if the dealer went through the full hand-shuffle routine and then dropped the deck in the machine. But they would all be random.

Perhaps even more crucial to grasp, though I think this should be obvious, is that how the final order of the deck changes as a result of the wash is precisely as likely to hurt any given player as to help him. For all you know, when the dealer does the wash you request, it sets you up to have pocket kings when an opponent has pocket aces, or to be the one with the aces when the guy with the kings will hit quads against you with them, outcomes that would not have occurred without the wash.

In short, it's just a waste of time and effort.

I assume that players do this when they've had a run of unplayable hands or bad beats and they want to change their luck, in much the same way that they ask for a new setup (i.e., a different pair of decks to be brought to the table; see http://pokergrump.blogspot.com/2006/11/new-setup-youre-moron.html), or insist that the dealer make the final cut of the deck higher or lower. Yes, you change the circumstances of the next hand, but in a way that has exactly zero positive expected value for you and for every other player.

I really wish I could get one of these imbeciles to explain to me in detail what they believe they're accomplishing with the wash request. Presumably they must believe that it acts to their advantage, or they wouldn't bother, right? But no rational mind could possibly believe that--which is why my rational mind can't grasp what's going on.

My best guess is that their thought process--if that term can be applied at all--is something like this: "Well, the standard procedure that the dealer is using every time is resulting in me getting crummy cards for the past half an hour. So I should have the dealer do something different." And that's as far as the analysis goes. Standard process is treating me about as bad as it can get, so anything different must necessarily be an improvement.

But even as I type that out, I think that surely can't really be it, because two seconds of critical thought would dash the notion all to pieces, and I'd like to believe that most of my fellow humans are capable of two seconds of sustained rational thought.

The evidence, though, is to the contrary, sad to say.



*Incidentally, Shufflemaster didn't used to sell its devices to non-institutional buyers, but it has apparently recently changed this policy, so if you'd like to have your own to speed up your home games, it can be yours for just $15,795 (see http://www.shufflemaster.com/02_eu_products/utility_products/shufflers/shufflers_sd/deck_mate.asp). I guess I'm a tad late with this announcement for those who wanted one for Christmas. Sorry about that.


Addendum, March 1, 2008

See the story about Sam Grizzle at today's heads-up championship round, at http://www.fulltiltpoker.com/poker-blog/2008/03/362_nbc_headsup_championship_12_highlights_from_high_noon.php.

Monday, December 31, 2007

Will grump for food





Yes, I've gone the way of so many other blogs and added a tip jar. Two, in fact, so that anybody who cares to throw in a buck or two can use either PayPal (the upper button) or Amazon.com (the lower button). No, I won't do anything noble with donations, like save the whales or bring peace to the earth. But it will make me feel that the time I spend writing instead of sitting at the green felt is actually contributing to keeping myself financially solvent.

This isn't meant to be begging or to impose some sense of personal or social obligation. But after getting so many kind words from readers, it occurred to me that somebody out there might actually use such a thing if I put it up. It took me a while to figure out how to set them up (I find that every new thing that I try to do with HTML makes me feel like I'm retarded, like I'm the last kid in the class to catch on to something simple), but there they are.

There's only one quotation that would be fitting here, I think. Yeah, I alluded to it not long ago, and it's honestly not the only movie dialog I know, but it's just irresistably perfect here:

And I say, "Hey, Lama, hey, how about a little something, you know, for the effort, you know." And he says, "Oh, uh, there won't be any money, but when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness." So I got that goin' for me, which is nice.


Incidentally, I had considerable difficulty in selecting an illustration to go with this post. I finally settled on a classical motif, with Rembrandt's "Self-Portrait as a Beggar." My disclaimers above notwithstanding, it seemed undeniably appropriate.


Wow. Mixing Rembrandt and "Caddyshack" in one post. How many poker bloggers you know can pull that off, huh?

Poker gems, #61

Nick Brancato, in Bluff magazine column, December, 2007, p. 96.

The game is so simple on the surface, yet it's exceedingly complex. People could play for years before they even realize how little they actually know about poker.

Crass, tacky, and distasteful





While I was at O'Sheas the other day, I had to visit the men's room, and saw two of the above-pictured devices above the urinals. For a quarter, you can having a contest with your buddy about who has the fastest and/or greatest volume of output. (I was a little unclear on the details, and it's creepy enough taking a photograph in a public restroom that I didn't want to also lurk around long enough to read the fine print.)

This reminded me of something I always meant to gripe about from the Hilton: In their men's room, above the urinals, is a bunch of photographs of attractive women looking down on those using the facilities. The women are looking closely at what's being exposed, some of them reacting with obvious delight and admiration, others pulling out rulers and tape measures. If you see what I mean.

I'm sure that many visitors to these two facilities find these installations hilarious and enjoyable. As the title to this post suggests, I think they're just plain in bad taste.

I don't belong to that segment of society that experiences any sense of shame about human waste elimination. Personally, I wouldn't care a whole lot if all restrooms were unisex, because I don't really care if anybody is watching me; conversely, I have neither interest in nor disgust from seeing somebody else, male or female, urinating. I remember once being at the zoo in New Orleans, using the men's room, when an unfortunate female elementary school teacher, with her class on a field trip, had to enter and keep an eye on her young male charges--I suppose to be sure that they didn't get kidnapped or molested or something. She was a whole lot more embarrassed about the situation than I was. It's just not that big a deal.

But at the same time, I can't go so far in my relaxed attitude as to want to elevate it to institutionalized humor. Surely O'Sheas and Hilton management must realize that at least some of their guests will find such attempts at humor loathesome and vile. Why would you do something that you know will offend some substantial fraction of your customers, at least when there's little or no money to be made from doing so? (I put that condition on it because other things in casinos are likely to offend some people, but are undoubtedly revenue-enhancing, which at least makes the decision to have them understandable from a business point of view.) I can't imagine that whatever little enjoyment some segment of the population derives from crudeness like this outweighs the undoubtedly stronger negative thoughts and feelings that another segment will experience.

I guess I just don't get businesses going out of their way to be offensive.

Addendum, January 2, 2007

A friend pointed me to the following story about a downtown casino that has a piece of the Berlin Wall in its men's room: http://www.roadsideamerica.com/sights/sightstory.php?tip_AttrId=%3D12552. I'd have to agree that that is in even poorer taste than the two examples I cited above, though for different reasons.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Visuals

You've probably noticed that in the last few days I've fiddled a bit with the colors and type size for this blog. I think it's easier to read now than when I first went with the new template a week or so ago, but I don't trust my own eyes as the exclusive judge. Comments pro and con (public or by private email) are welcome.

Poker the Harrah's way










Last night I took in three of the adjacent Harrah's properties on the Strip. I started at Harrah's. I've played there twice before, and liked it OK, but yesterday, for some reason, it impressed me more, and I think I'll be spending more time there. Part of it is that I discovered the back way into the parking garage, so I don't have to battle Strip traffic now. Soft, easy-to-read competition, extremely low noise and smoke, competent dealers. And good hot chocolate, served fast!

I then walked next door to Imperial Palace. I've been there once before and thought I'd never return. But lately I've seen reports on allvegaspoker.com about how incredibly easy the games there are to beat, so I decided to buck up and try to win some $$. The room is different than it was when I visited previously a year ago or so. The noise and smoke are pretty bad, but it was true that winning was easy. Also, the tables have been revised; they're no longer the infamous, huge monsters that they were before. They might be a tad larger than average, but before they were completely ridiculous, so wide that the dealers couldn't reach the player's bets or cards.

Finally, I stopped in at O'Sheas, one of the last remaining places on my "haven't tried yet" list. The definitive collection of stories and observations of O'Sheas is at http://pkrdlr.blogspot.com/, a blog kept by a Flamingo poker dealer, because they also staff O'Sheas. I set foot in the place once before just to grab an ice cream cone, so my only mental picture of poker there is the couple of tables they have set up right inside the front door. (See the bottom photo above.) Only one was going when I entered. I was stunned to find that it was a $1-$2 no-limit game, instead of the expected $2-4 limit. Maybe it was some sort of optical illusion, but it appeared to be the smallest table I've ever played at. Perhaps it was only because of the contrast of having just come from playing at the giant I.P. tables. Anyway, I was one of only four people playing, a few minutes before midnight. The game broke up after about ten hands. Fortunately, though, I doubled up on the last hand with pocket fours flopping a set and rivering a full house.

There was a live band playing about 40 feet away, making this officially the loudest place I've ever tried to play poker--painfully loud, literally. You could just barely make yourself heard by shouting. It was also the coldest place I've ever tried to play, because of being right next to the doors that kept opening. Absurdly uncomfortable conditions under which to play--impossible to concentrate.

But after I had been there about five minutes, the other table suddenly filled up, as in going from zero players to full in two minutes. I quickly realized it was a midnight tournament. The person who ushered these players in mentioned something about the "back room." I then looked around and noticed a sign towards the back of the casino: "Poker Room." Whaaaaattttt?

Somehow I had missed (or perhaps read about, then forgotten) the fact that O'Sheas at some point this year opened an actual room for poker. (See top two photos above.) I guess these tables out front are just for overflow and/or as an attention-grabber for passers-by. So when my game broke up shortly thereafter, I went back to the real poker room. To my utter shock, it's not so terrible back there! The noise and smoke were worse than I like, but after coming from the front tables seemed quite acceptable.

Two of the three tables were running the tournament, but the third had a $1-5 spread-limit game going, with a single $1 blind. I didn't stay long, because three of the players were drunk and playing unbearably slowly, prefacing every single damn bet with a series of announcements, speeches, conversations, questions, dares, challenges, jokes, etc., to each other. Every hand took three or four minutes to complete because of this. It was just intolerable. The only redeeming value in it was that one of them was genuinely Irish, with the charming accent to prove it. Still, about 30 minutes was all I could take. With a different mix of players, though, I wouldn't have minded staying longer.

If I'm counting right, I've now played poker at 55 different casinos in Nevada, plus 9 (I think) in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa before moving out here. I believe that my list of local poker rooms yet unvisited is now down to Speedway, Poker Palace, Railroad Pass, and Hacienda. The former two I'll probably knock off fairly soon; the latter two may take a long time, for reasons of distance and paucity of games being spread. After that, I may have to take on Reno!