Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Phil Hellmuth, man of maturity

The good folks at PokerSavvy gave me a 30-day free trial of their site. I've downloaded maybe 20 videos that I thought looked interesting, and have watched five of them so far. I'll have a lot more to say about them one of these days.

For now, I just wanted to share this screen shot. The video is a session that Shaun Deeb played with Phil Hellmuth, with commentary by Dani Stern.

Three observations:

1. I haven't heard Stern speak before. He strikes me as an extraordinarily sharp poker mind--highly impressive real-time, rapid-fire analysis of each situation and how he would play it, with clear, lucid explanations of the reasons. He runs circles around where I am in being able to make decisions. He's also funny. At one point, he says the play is so bad in this game that "it's like watching blind, retarded monkeys throw shit at each other." When a bad player he knows well from past encounters gets into a raising war with Hellmuth, he says, "Uh-oh. Donkey-on-donkey violence."

2. I obviously have no love lost for Hellmuth, but it's still almost painful to hear how these other pros have zero respect for his play. Sure, it's all no-limit hold'em, but make it a cash game instead of a tournament, move it to the faster pace of online play, change the game to short-handed, and Phil is completely out of his element. In televised cash poker, one frequently hears other well-known pros talk about welcoming Hellmuth to the games because he ends up being a big donator. It's always hard to know how much of that is sincere and how much is a combination of self-promotion and playing mind games with Phil to make him tilt. But in commentary such as Stern is providing here, it's transparently sincere. They are aching to join the game and take his money, openly referring to him as the fish in the game, and discussing how the play should be calculated to take advantage of his constant mistakes. Stern even says at one point that he stopped playing at UB because the site is so shady, but if Hellmuth regularly plays this level of cash game there, he might have to suck it up and start playing there again. To be sure, there are levels of bad, and there's no hold'em game in which Phil is going to be anywhere near as bad as, say, many of the tourists I play against every day in the casinos. But when put up against those who specialize in online, short-handed, deep-stacked cash games, he's chum for the sharks just as much as I would be. Too bad for him that he's constitutionally incapable of ever recognizing that. No fear of tapping on the glass in this case--the fish is deaf.

3. Didn't really mean to go off on that tangent there. I mainly posted this snapshot so that you could see that Phil is every bit as professional and mature and self-controlled when playing online--at the site for which he is the prime representative, no less--as he is in casino-based tournaments. Note the chat box. Nice, Phil. The snaps are just a few seconds apart and together show a single string of Phil's chat, though it omits one additional misspelled "idiot." On the hand in question, they got it all in pre-flop. His opponent had 9-9 and flopped a set. Phil's hand wasn't shown, but it's likely he had a larger pair and took a bad beat.

My night at Caesars Palace

Celebrity sighting #1

I hit Caesars Palace last night. As usual, I didn't have any particular reason for choosing it--nothing better than "I haven't played there in a while." I'm glad I did. Here's what happened.

I'm one of eight people starting up a new $1-3 NLHE game. Within the first few hands, I don't like the table. There are too many very good players here, no obvious soft spots. Nobody is chatting, nobody is drinking, everybody looks like they're here to take other people's money, and nothing will distract or deter them from that goal. Frankly, they're all too much like me!

At the next table over, there is drinking and laughing galore. There are at least three players that I can see even from this distance have little experience in casino poker. Shots are being ordered for the whole table. No question about it: That is where I need to be. Fortunately, just as I'm realizing this, one player there gets up to leave and I hear the dealer announce, "Two seats open on table 7." Since we have just one open seat, that means they should allow me to move. They do, and I do.

Within two minutes of arriving at my new home for the night, a familiar face takes the second empty seat at the far end of the table. It takes me a few seconds to place it, but I'm pretty sure it's Ira Glass, host of my favorite radio program, This American Life. (How do I know the face from radio? Well, they have also done two seasons of a television version of the show for Showtime.) But you know how people look somewhat different in real life than in photos or on TV--so I wasn't completely sure it was him. The voice would have given it away, but he was chatting softly with the people near him, and I couldn't hear well enough to tell. So I asked where he was visiting from, and he said, "I live in New York now. Moved there a couple of years ago from Chicago."

Oh yeah, that's definitely a voice I recognize. I said, "From Chicago Public Radio!" He looked surprised, but said yes.

We ended up playing together for about six hours, most of it with just one other player between us. He was a delight. He kindly posed for the photo above before leaving, and gave me permission to post it. I was thrilled to have this completely unexpected chance to tell him how much I love the show. I'm not easily star-struck, but I've been listening to this program for several years now, and it's simply the best thing on the radio.

The situation was a bit weird, though, because I sensed that I was at an unfair social advantage. In the course of telling a story or making a point for the show, Ira often talks about his own life, so I realized that I knew all sorts of strange odds and ends about him: his testosterone level, what TV theme songs he sings along with when his favorite programs come on, his father's former radio career, how he can't admit to his wife that he is ever wrong, etc. Yet he knew nothing about me, save what I chose to reveal.

He quickly caught on to the fact that I play for a living. It's not something I usually disclose at the table, but I remembered having heard a segment on his show about poker, in which he revealed his secret longing to ditch the day job and play poker for a living. (You can--and should--listen to it here, Act Two, starting at about 20:45. Great piece on what it's really like to play for a living, though it primarily focuses on the highest-stakes players, not the groundskimming grinders like me.) As he said to me at one point, "You're living one of my dreams." He seemed every bit as interested in my job as I was in his, so I got to ask about how they find thematic stories and about the future of the Showtime series, and more, and he got to ask about beating passive games, how much I make, what books he should read, where I played, and more.

He engaged in a lengthy discussion about politics with the woman sitting between us, a self-proclaimed right-winger who was now completely disenchanted with politics and refused to listen to the news, and had even given up listening to her beloved Rush Limbaugh because of how she hated the November election results. At one point, she spouted the standard line from conservative talk radio about how the current financial downtown was due to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac trying to be politically correct and extend mortgages to people who really couldn't afford the houses they were buying. I knew what was coming, and couldn't help smiling. Boy, did she pick the wrong person to lay that on! For those who don't know, This American Life earlier this year did a whole hour on how the mess evolved, and it's all far more complex and global and interesting than that quite wrong-headed explanation. (That particular episode has, I understand, become moderately famous in its own right. If you haven't heard it, and feel like you still don't have a grasp on what triggered the crisis, you owe it to yourself to listen to it here. While you're at it, take in the follow-up show here.) It was impressive hearing Ira tell this woman of things of which she had no inkling, and I felt unduly smug for having heard it all before.

Back to the poker. I was initially pleased that I was playing well and catching good cards, making money quite rapidly--making winning look easy. In fact, it was shaping up to be one of the best nights I've had in a few months. I had worked my initial $200 up to about $600 in just a couple of hours. (That included a $100 high-hand jackpot for hitting quad 7s.)

Then disaster struck, and I lost about $550 of that in one horrendous hand. It was one of the three or four largest single-hand losses I've ever experienced, and it was witnessed by a guy who thinks I have a great life, and who, moreover, might find occasion to tell the story to a national radio audience. (Actually, Ira, it's fine if you do, should the subject ever come up. After all, I'm telling it here.) The details don't really matter, but I pushed all-in, over the top of his $100 bet, with an open-ended straight draw as a semi-bluff against a guy who I was nearly certain had no more than one pair, and that lower than the highest card on the board. (Flop had been 6-4-?, turn a jack. I had 5-7.) I was right about his hand--he had pocket 9s--but dead wrong about what he would do. He called rather quickly. I still don't understand that call. I had shown down nothing but strong winners all night, had engaged in hardly any bluffing and had not shown a single one of them, and was playing mostly classic tight-aggressive poker. I also think it's unlikely I have any tell of such predictive power that he would rely on it for a pot of that size. Finally, in an unusual tactical slip-up for me, I had told him honestly not too long before this that I didn't want to play a big pot, as I was getting ready to call it a night. I regretted saying that instantly, and he had responded to it by starting to raise me more frequently and aggressively--a smart adjustment, given what I had carelessly revealed to him. But I thought that that slip would actually work in favor of making him fold in the big hand. Not so, apparently. I would love to have asked the guy what he thought I had there, but didn't think I'd get a straight answer. Nothing about it makes sense to me still.

Anyway, I was acutely aware that Ira would now be watching me to see how I handled it. A couple of months ago, a reader of this blog with whom I was playing told me that it helped him to have me there; it prevented him from doing anything stupid for fear that he'd have to read about it the next day. (Story here.) I felt the same way with Ira scrutinizing me for how I'd handle this setback. Fortunately, though it felt like getting kicked in the stomach, I didn't go on tilt. I kept playing reasonably well, but in the end another three hours or so passed without making any significant progress monetarily, so I took the occasion of Ira's leaving to catch his plane as my excuse to leave simultaneously. Sorry I couldn't put on a better show for you, sir. But there's the reality of poker--sometimes it hurts like hell and you go home with less than you started the day with, wondering why you bothered.

Now here's the weird part. I listen to This American Life via its podcasts, usually while I'm washing dishes. A couple of months ago, Ira introduced three consecutive episodes with a special plea, only for the podcast listeners, to contribute just a few bucks to help defray the cost of the enormous amount of bandwidth they have to use. He had said that even $5 or $10 would pay for the listener's use, plus that of a couple of other people, too. That small amount, he had said, would make you a "hero" to the program. Yeah, of course it's hyperbole, but the message was effective, and I decided to do it. I imagined that in some random encounter, I'd run into Ira Glass, and I'd joke, "Hey, I'm one of the 'heroes' who paid for bandwidth for some other listeners!" For three weeks in a row, upon hearing that, I told myself that I'd make a small contribution as soon as I was done with the show and the dishes. And, predictably, three weeks in a row I got busy with something else and forgot all about it.

And then, in a completely random encounter, as you now know, I actually did run into Ira Glass! But instead of being able to tell him that I donated to the cause, I had to confess that I had procrastinated it to the point of neglecting it altogether.

So there's your lesson. Contribute to whatever worthy cause you choose now, before you have a random run-in with somebody associated with it and have to say that you intended to send them money, but never quite got around to it--because you really, truly might have such an unexpected meeting.

Ira, I have now made my penitance complete, I hope--I just charged $20 to my credit card at this site, linked to on your show's home page. And yes, that stupid little story is really true, and yes, you can use it if you think it would be helpful and/or amusing to others.

Celebrity sighting #2

Lacey Jones was playing at the table next to mine. She appears to be as attractive in person as in photos, which isn't always the case with model types. (Here is what she looked like posing in her undies for the cover of Bluff magazine a couple of months ago, and here is what she looks like wearing nothing but body paint.)

The nutjob

For the last maybe 90 minutes of my session, we were joined by a nutjob. A crankcase. A wackadoo. A looney. A fruitcake.

We all first became aware of his loose screw when he started screaming--not the "screaming" that people say in exaggeration to make the subject of the story look bad, but literally screaming, loud enough that that entire, large poker room could hear--about how he got screwed out of a pot by an unlucky card because of the automatic shuffling machine. It seems that he had, a short time before, busted out of a tournament on some sort of bad beat. He shouted, "They don't use those machines back in the tournament area! It's the dealer! And that guy was a MECHANIC! A MECHANIC, I'm telling you!" This was so over-the-top that I was prepared to laugh at his antics, until I looked at him and realized that he was not trying to be funny in the least. He was livid. (The rant didn't really make any logical sense. He was simultaneously angry at our table's autoshuffler, but at the same time saying that it's worse being at a table without one, because you might get a crooked dealer who deliberately cold-decks you. Whatever, dude.)

When he entered a pot, it was usually for a raise to $30, a ridiculous amount in a $1-3 game. When he won a hand at a showdown, he would usually celebrate it by standing up and whooping, just like the showboating morons at the WSOP, but louder. When he won by making a bet that his opponent wouldn't call, he would taunt for no reason, yelling about how the other player had no "balls."

When he lost a pot, on one occasion, he fumed that he didn't care about the money. "I've got hundred-dollar bills coming out of my ASS!" There's a lovely image. (When Ira busted him once, I said, "Oh great. Now he's going to have to pull out the ass money.")

But as obnoxious as he was, nobody really wanted him to leave, because he was giving his money away faster than any other player. Tangling with him was classic high-variance poker, because he would shove it all in just as willingly with nothing as with the nuts, and all you could do was pick a spot and hope that it was one of the former rather than the latter. This isn't poker in any meaningful sense, but it can be very profitable. (It wasn't for me; I won one big one and lost one big one, roughly evening out in the end.)

He did not seem to me to be drunk, nor did I notice him consuming any booze. As far as I could tell, this was just his usual baseline personality disorder.

The man was in need of some heavy-duty psychotropic medication.

The deuce-four claims more victims

Yes, the mighty deuce-four struck again! I raised with it in late position and got two callers. The flop was 8-9-2. It was checked around. The turn was a third 2 for me. I was ecstatic, because I knew that my opponents would never suspect I was sitting on trips. One opponent bet, the other folded, and I raised. She called. The river was an ace--as it turned out, a terrible card for my lone remaining opponent, because she had A-8 in the hole, and had now made two pairs. She checked. I bet $50. She raised to $100. I just called, because she had been a consistently very solid player, and her check-raise gave me some concern that she had slow-played pocket 8s or 9s. That may have been the biggest pot I won in the session, thanks to the ol' 2-4 offsuit!

The new phone comes in handy

I mentioned earlier this month that I was upgrading my cell phone to one that had a web browser. I don't think I really need such a thing, but there are plenty of occasions when it would be handy.

A few days ago, I used it to look up a sports score that another guy at the table was interested in. But tonight it had the first moderately interesting application. A young man, who wasn't at our table for long, said that his name was Matthew. He claimed that this name meant "son of Christ." I was highly confident from my years of religious training that this was wrong, though I couldn't recall offhand what the real translation was. I whipped out the new toy, called up Wikipedia, and found this:

Given Name
Gender Male
Meaning "Gift of God"
Origin Hebrew

I showed this to Ira and to Matt, who said, "Yeah, see? That's what I told you." Uh, no, not quite. But have it your way, sir. It didn't seem like a point worth arguing any further.

Anyway, the phone lived up to what I had hoped it could do when I'm away from my computer. I was pleased with that.

I wish I had some clever punchline with which to wrap everything up and close this post. I don't. Sometimes the story just ends where it ends. I'm too sleepy to wait for a brilliant summation of some sort to occur to me.

Addendum, January 1, 2009

I realize that I forgot a really, really embarrassing element of the first story. Back at the point where I was doing well, Ira asked me something--I don't remember the exact question. But I remember answering that often winning is relatively easy, and the hard part is not giving it all back through sloppy play.

I may not be a great poker player, but at least I possess considerable self-knowledge!

Guess the casino, #14

Comment: Yet another full wall-sized photo very near a poker room.

Answer: Rio

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Grump makes a funny

Well, at least I thought it was funny.

Here's the situation. I was at Bill's last night, not involved in the hand. Player A has 9-7. Player B has A-9. Flop is 9-9-8. They get all the money in, but with the 7 kicker, Player A catches a very lucky runner-runner straight.

Player B goes off on the dealer, who is obviously the main culprit in this grave injustice. He complains that this dealer has been delivering him bad beats all day long, blah, blah, blah. The dealer appropriately just lets it bounce off of him, while continuing with the next hand, but the tirade continues.

Finally Player B storms off to calm down for a while. I take the opportunity to ask the dealer, "Are you married?"

He looks at me completely puzzled. "Am I married?"

"Yeah, are you married?"

"No. Why?"

I tell him, "Oh, I was just wondering if you get blamed for things that aren't your fault at work and at home, or just here."

2008: Grump year in review

I don't feel that I have a magnum opus about to hatch in the next 24 hours, so I feel safe in making a slightly premature year-in-review post. I wrote about 855 posts this year, which just boggles my mind. I have made no effort to whittle the list down to a top ten, but herein I attempt to highlight the ones that I look back on most fondly.

First, for those who have started reading at some point during the year and haven't had the time or energy to slog through the entire archives, early in 2008 I pulled together a list of what I thought were the best posts of my first 14 months of blogging:

Now on to the new stuff.

Three times during the year my attention was called to poker publications in which the famous WSOP-ending hand between Johnny Chan and Erik Seidel was described, but with one or more factual errors. I find this almost inexplicable, because you can watch the hand in full on YouTube; there just isn't any reasonable excuse for making the kind of factual errors that seem to keep popping up in print. So I ranted about that thrice:

This was one of my most memorable hands ever:

I enjoyed detailing my thoughts through the course of this hand, which I don't attempt very often:

Here I postulate a way of turning poker degenerates into Olympic athletic stars:

Jerry Yang came into my crosshairs a few times, all for basically the same reason: his strange invocation of supernatural forces at the 2007 WSOP final table. An interview with Gary Wise was the catalyst for my final blast at what I thought was his lying (or, at a minimum, self-deception) about what transpired:

One of my better rants, I think, about poker and politics:

Cheating in poker always gets my dander up, and never more so than here:

I hope that this is one of my most useful contributions to the subject of Vegas poker rooms. While all but a few are ostensibly "smoke-free," that phrase means vastly different things, as a practical matter, from one room to the next. Just as some animals are more equal than others, some poker rooms are more smoke-free than others. In this frequently updated post, I try to pin down which rooms really deserve the label and which don't:

Poker players are constantly saying all manner of stupid things at the table. This is a probably typical example of the kind of analysis that such moments prompt from me:

A little-noticed post in another poker blog mentioned that when the Monte Carlo's roof caught on fire, the poker players in the place continued playing even as they watched the live coverage on TV. Not my style, man:

2008 brought plenty of reason for Hellmuth hating. For example, this:

My public-service announcement on the need for using card protectors:

I do follow poker news avidly, but comment here on current events only occasionally. That's because usually most of what needs to be said gets written by others faster and better than I could do. But once in a while I have a perspective and/or analysis of something in the news that I think is unique (often because I think other commentators are getting it all wrong), and I launch into a big to-do about it. This was one of the best of that genre, I think:

The following is a profile of a woman named Annie, one of the most colorful people I regularly encounter at the Vegas poker tables:

One occasionally hears stories about poker jackpots being deliberately foiled. I think I'm the first to identify such stories as a specific form of urban legend, even though the stories are told as if they are the honest-to-goodness literal truth:

It irks me no end that complete morons writing absolute garbage can get jobs churning out regular columns in gaming magazines, when far, far better and more thoughtful writers in the poker blogosphere get ignored:

Annie Duke got my ire when she did what I thought was a disingenuous interview defending the company she shills for:

I found something I didn't like about PokerStars, asked them about it, and got a lame explanation, which is irresistible prime material for a grump:

One of my favorite poker-table zingers:

Regular readers can't help but noticing that I have a penchant for poker rules. So when there's a horrible floor decision at our game's premiere event, I just have to complain about it:

Sure, Shannon Elizabeth is beautiful and is becoming a decent poker player, but she's completely looney, too:

An uber-rationalist like me just can't take it when presented with evidence of how moronically superstitious poker players can be:

One miserable git:

I got seriously annoyed at all of the attention heaped upon Tiffany Michelle simply for being the last remaining contestant in the WSOP main event possessing two X chromosomes. Though I caught a ton of heat for it, I blasted back at this manner of thinking by pointing out how little attention was paid to the "last black standing," when race is every bit as relevant or irrelevant to poker as sex:

I was fascinated when I looked into what Google searches bring readers to my blog, and learned that far and away the most common thing people were looking for was about Tom Dwan's sexual orientation--a decidedly minor emphasis in the whole history of my posting:

Another politico-poker rant, one which I keep remembering every time I hear people cavalierly say that they want federal regulation and taxation of online poker:

KNPR, the local public radio station, earned my wrath first for getting basic poker facts wrong, then for refusing to own up to the errors:

This was one of the rare instances in which I knew I had a great blog story the instant it occurred, and I couldn't wait to get home to write it up:

I started playing razz and HORSE this year. There were many posts about my learning curve along the way. Probably too many, in fact. But I still like this one:

I had my worst-ever losing streak in August this year. I stoically sucked it up without telling readers what was happening, until it finally broke. At that point, I could write about it with a sense of relief, rather than with the dread and fear that were consuming me as it was happening:

Here's one of the most difficult decisions I was faced with at a table. It pleased me that it generated more reader comments than anything else I've written, and it pleased me even more that I had apparently described the situation in a sufficiently balanced way that readers were almost evenly split over what I should have done. I still think it's an unusually interesting situation:

One of my favorite types of posts is the conglomerate, in which several noteworthy things happen all in one poker sessions (interesting hands, rules questions, colorful characters encountered, stupid things said, etc.) and I can make a big post out of the several small stories. This is probably one of the better of this type:

I don't tend to do a lot of poker book reviews, but I did a four-part analysis of two books I read about how to play razz. It took forever to write them, so listing them here is probably just a way of getting a little more mileage from the investment:

This is a character sketch of an amusingly pathetic figure I ran into at the Venetian:

The most astonishingly horrendous razz hand I've ever seen:

Bill's Gamblin' Hall and Saloon opened a poker room this year. It is unlike any other in the city because of its ultra-low buy-in (for a no-limit game). It thus attracts clientele of an average level of experience below that of any other poker room. This yields some interesting situations, a whole bunch of which I happened to either witness or participate in one memorable weekend:

Shortly after that night, I had yet another memorable night at Bill's, though for reasons entirely apart from dealing with ultra-inexperienced opponents:

When ESPN first made a glaring error in its new "Poker Facts" feature this year, I thought it would be a one-time thing. But it continued, week after week after week. Fact-checking ESPN became something of a hobby for me during the WSOP broadcasts. This link is to the final one, and you can find the others either by working backwards through the links I included in each one of the series, or just by doing a search of this blog for "ESPN":

This post is completely out of character with what I usually try to do with this blog, but when I realized that the tenth anniversary of Stu Ungar's death was approaching, I decided to attempt to do something that I hoped would make the occasion more real, both for myself and for readers, most of whom I assume never had the opportunity to meet and/or play with the legend:

I inadvertantly stumbled upon one of the insider secrets of tournament poker: the bundles of cash on the table for the winner's photo op are (at least sometimes) FAKE!

I do occasionally have a possibly useful thought or two that I try to pass on to readers, when I can write them up in what I think is a manner that will be instructive. This is one such post:

If you're a poker dealer, don't get on my bad side, as this guy seriously did:

This was truly the year of the deuce-four. When I first played it, turned it into a successful all-in bluff, and the story got published in Card Player magazine, at first I wrote it off as a fluke. But as this year has progressed, I have come to understand as few others do the awesome power of this often-overlooked hand. It has become the focus of (or a sidelight in) many posts, which are collected here for posterity:

I have saved the best for last. This is my all-time favorite post, even though it's not in the grumpy genre that I initially settled on as the theme for this blog. It is yet another story from Bill's. As Henry Kissinger would say, it has the added advantage of being true. I really do talk to myself in approximately the way I describe here (though naturally I take a bit of literary license for the sake of hopefully being amusing). Yes, I really do struggle with maintaining self-discipline at the table from time to time, and this was certainly such an occasion. I was really proud of myself for taking a stupid play in which I got unjustly lucky and turning it to my advantage in a highly calculated way. I thought it made for my best story ever. Apparently readers thought so, too, because when I encounter them at the real or virtual tables, if they mention one post as their favorite or most memorable, this tends to be the one. I'm delighted that at least some readers enjoyed hearing about the experience as much as I enjoyed writing about it:

OK, that's pretty much it for this year. I have a bunch of "guess the casino" posts already written and pre-programmed to deploy at the rate of one a day for the next week or so. Other than that, I am likely to be scarce for a while. I'll soon be taking off for a little trip up to Salt Lake City to visit family for a slightly delayed Christmas get-together. It's likely to be next Tuesday or Wednesday before things get back to normal here, though I may pop in with a short post if something occurs to me.

It's been tremendously fun, interesting, and educational for me to bring you this year of poker blogging. My readership has grown by a factor of more than four, a rate of progression that I can only hope continues in 2009.

Thanks for stopping by. May you run good and play well in the new year.

Sign spotted at Bill's Gamblin' Hall and Saloon

With two apostrophes in the casino's name, you'd think that the signmakers at Bill's would have a little better sense of where the little buggers are supposed to go. It would be amusing to interview the person who made this sign and ask him what he thought that second apostrophe was accomplishing where it was placed.

What will Las Vegas be like in 50 years?

Today on KNPR's "State of Nevada" I heard an interview with the author of this article in Vanity Fair magazine, featuring his projection of how Las Vegas will become a ghost town due to the lack of water. Interesting stuff. Scary, but interesting.

Guess the casino, #13

Answer: Venetian

Monday, December 29, 2008

Another pokery dream

I'm in a computer science class in college. The instructor (who is, weirdly, Annie Duke) introduces the day's guest speaker, Howard Lederer. He doesn't have anything prepared, just asks if we have any questions. I'm the only one who does, and I have three:

1. You can't really answer any questions because of pending litigation, right?

2. Can you tell us how the Doomswitch works? (I was suppressing a laugh when I asked this--just trying to get his goat.)

3. Who actually owns Full Tilt--percentage shares, etc.?

His answers: No comment, no comment, and no comment.

It seems that I'm surprisingly aware of current poker events when I sleep.


Pokerati has posted a 13-minute segment from a recent Rounders Radio podcast in which Phil Hellmuth is asked about the pot that was incorrectly awarded to him. Casually dropped in his response is this, at the 2:29 mark:

"Probably in my online career there's probably been a hundred pots that have been shipped, maybe 50 the wrong way to them and 50 the wrong way to me."

I have to assume that these were all on UltimateBlecch, which, according to Phil, has "the best software out there."

Prior to last week, I don't recall having ever heard of an online poker pot going the wrong way after a showdown, yet here is Phil speaking as if it's a moderately common occurrence, and shrugging it off as if it's just something to be expected.

Maybe it is, if UB is where you play.

Guess the casino, #12

Answer: Golden Nugget

Sunday, December 28, 2008

New poker room at Gold Coast

I recently saw an ad in one of the poker publications saying that Gold Coast opened a new poker room, so naturally I had to check it out. I had played there only once before and pretty much hated it. Thought the new room couldn't be any worse. I was right. It's a definite step up.

It's now an actual room rather than just a roped-off area in the middle of the casino--real walls on three sides. As you might imagine, this vastly cuts down on the smoke and noise factors, which are what I primarily hated about the old room. It has now been upgraded to a Category 2 on my continuously revised list of how smoke-free poker rooms are.

I can't remember what the old tables looked like from one visit a year ago, so I'm not sure if the nice maroon felt seen above is new, but it's sure pretty. There are enough TVs. Six tables. Chairs are below average--like standard kitchen chairs on rollers, no adjustments available. The new room is close to the entrance from the parking garage, which is a big improvement on the long hike required to get to the old one.

The main problem with this room is going to remain the lack of a game I want to play. I was there yesterday evening, and when I arrived they had one $4-8 LHE game and two $2-4 LHE games. During the 90 minutes or so that I was there, a second $4-8 game got started. I had started an interest list for a NLHE game when I checked in, and when I left mine was still the only name on it. If you can't get even one additional person to express interest in NLHE during poker's weekly prime time (Saturday night), then it's just not gonna happen. I don't think it would even be worth the trouble to call and ask whether they have such a game going, given the low probability.

Which means that a suddenly nicely upgraded room is, for my purposes, basically wasted. I just can't think of any reason I would make it a regular stop on my tour--which is really a shame.

Guess the casino, #11

Comment: This is yet another wall-sized photo, again located very near a Vegas poker room. Unlike the previous one, there are no intrinsic clues to its location in the image. If you've noticed it when visiting in person, you may remember where it is, but if not, you'll probably be reduced to pure guesswork.

Answer: Sahara

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Seen in downtown Las Vegas

Happy Hanukkah from Fremont Street. For more than one might ever want to know about the holiday, see here.

More on the Sahara poker room robbery

See news story here.

It strikes me as very strange that those are the best photos they could pull out of surveillance coverage.

Guess the casino, #10

Comment: Scale is hard to determine here, so I'll tell you that this is a wall-sized photographic blow-up, with the carpet there in the foreground. It is located not far from a popular poker room.

Answer: Orleans

Friday, December 26, 2008

Guess the casino, #9

Answer: Fitzgeralds

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Poker gems, #203

A delusional Phil Hellmuth, in a Poker News Daily interview (see here), upon being asked what he thinks makes UltimateBet an attractive site on which to play.

We have the best software out there.

[This interview took place several days before it became public that UB had a software problem that could result in the pot being awarded to the wrong player, which the site later admitted had occurred 37 times.]

Just wondering

Do guys named Bill have an inherent disadvantage when playing live poker because of giving away information about the strength of their hand? That is, do they have a, um, William tell?

Merry Christmas

May your holidays be blessedly free of grumpiness.

Guess the casino, #8

Comment: This may be an exceptionally difficult one. This casino doesn't have many distinctive things to take pictures of. The first photo is of the poker room. (The poker room itself is not out of focus, like Robin Williams in "Deconstructing Harry." I just couldn't get my phone camera to focus right. Gotta read that owner's manual one of these days.) The second one is a bar/lounge just to the left of the poker room, with a piano player. So the question is, where is there a poker room like this with such a bar next to it?

Answer: El Cortez

Odd sight at the Golden Nugget

I'm not sure what a mariachi band was doing sitting/standing around the slot machines, but there they were.

And you thought he was just a fictional character

Look who's working at Binion's--it's Clark Kent! I guess he got laid off from the Daily Planet. Times are tough all over.

Naturally, this raises once again the whole troubling issue of Superman playing poker.

(Josh actually wore a nametag reading "Clark" one night, which amused me greatly.)

The fine art of counterfeiting

I was playing tonight at the Golden Nugget. When a new player joined the game on my immediate right, I fairly soon realized that he was the most inexperienced person at the table, and I was happy to be positioned perfectly to take advantage of him.

My opportunity came when I was in the small blind with Kc-3c. The pot was unraised, so I limped in along with several others. The flop was K-Q-3 rainbow, giving me top and bottom pair. I bet out $7. One player called, then the button (the new guy) raised to $20. I pushed all-in for a total of $68. The caller folded and the button went into the tank.

First he asked, "You got big slick hiding under there?" I said nothing. After a while more he asked, "Will you show me if I fold?" By this point, I was highly confident that I was ahead, or his money would already be in the middle. I wanted a curiosity call, so I told him, "I can't promise you that." He hemmed and hawed a while more, then finally counted out the chips for a call and slid it half-heartedly across the betting line.

I showed my cards, and he turned over his K-7--exactly the kind of horrible call that I had been hoping for. But the dealer didn't see things the same way I did. She put out 10 on the turn and another 10 on the river, giving us both two pair (kings and tens) with a queen kicker. Argh!

To clinch his identity as my new ATM, the new guy said, as he was stacking up his half of the pot, "I guess I did the right thing after all." There was no humor in this comment; he was earnest, patting himself on the back, displaying a just slightly results-oriented manner of thinking about this game. Yes, friend, keep doing exactly that kind of thing!

Just a few hands later, the UTG player raised to $12. I was two to his left. I called with Ad-5d. (I know, I know. It would be a questionable call even if I were on the button, but with about fifty players yet to act behind me, it was inexcusable. I confess.) Three other people behind us called, too, making a pot of about $60. The flop was K-7-5, giving me bottom pair. The UTG player checked. I didn't have enough chips for a check-raise to have any fold equity, so it was either make a very cheeky shove now (I had $67 left), relying on my tight image (plus the table having witnessed how I handled the two-pair flop a short time before) or check and plan to fold if anybody else bet. I made a snap decision to do the former. (Yep. Second dumb thing in one hand. Mistakes have a way of snowballing that way.) The button called, and I knew I was beaten. UTG folded.

I sheepishly turned over my pathetic cards, smiled at my opponent, and said, "You couldn't just let me steal it, huh?" He showed 5-7 for bottom two pair.

Well, you can see the end of this story coming down 6th Avenue--and we didn't even have to wait for it. Turn card: BAM! Ace! River was a blank. I took it down with a better two pair than his. He politely refrained from making various and sundry comments about my play--just shook his head. I gave him the screwed-up face and shrug as the only semi-apology I could make.

There is no honor among thieves--or among us counterfeiters.

Poker gems, #202

Richard G. Burke, in Poker Player newspaper column, January 5, 2009, p. 7.

Chasing is something winning players do every session. Chasing is something losing players do every session. Winners have the money odds going for them; losers have the money odds going against them. It's just that simple.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Perhaps the smallest problem with playing on UltimateBlecch

The recent fuss about UltimateBlecch awarding pots to the wrong players has reminded me that I haven't played there in many months, probably more than a year, in fact--whenever it was (January, 2008, as I recall offhand) that there was the first buzz about superuser account cheating. I still had about $60 sitting on account there. I hadn't even looked at a table since the whole "Cereus" merger thing went live a few weeks back. I was curious if and how that might have changed the look and feel of the games.

So I decided today to see what things are looking like on the ol' UB. Yeah, yeah, I know. Spare me the vitriol. Or unleash it, if you want. I can take it.

Played a $6+1 9-handed NLHE SNG. (Finished 3rd for a net profit of about $4. Whee! Excellent use of an hour!) What bugged me most was that there is nothing on the screen to inform players of the current blinds. If you're in the middle of a hand such as the one shown above and want to know where you and/or other players stand in terms of big blinds remaining (one of the most crucial parameters for decision-making in SNGs), there is nothing to tell you. You can probably go to the tournament lobby (I didn't check this), but that's a pain. If you're playing several of these at once, it would be very difficult to remember confidently where each game stood.

That's right: Even among all of UB's issues, what annoyed me most was the lack of a couple of numbers planted somewhere on the screen. I'm funny that way.

I have to admit that I felt a bit wistful playing. It reminded me of how much I used to like UB. It was my favorite online site. There is a lot of play built into the tournaments; I was the short stack when we got down to four-handed, but still had 22 BBs left. It's subjective, but I just plain like the table layout, controls, speed of the play, lobby, etc.

If only it weren't, y'know, owned by criminals who use their insider access to steal your money, run by PR hacks who lie to their customers almost every time they open their mouths, operated out of one of the most corrupt and untouchable political jurisdictions in this hemisphere, lacking any meaningful regulation, oversight, or licensing by any outside agency, plagued by the most fundamental kind of software errors, and represented by the most ill-behaved, embarrassing, annoying, and immature pro on the circuit. Small things like that can sour a sensitive soul to an otherwise pleasant poker experience.

Guess the casino, #7

Once again I had to digitally obscure the answer found within the photo. But at which hotel/casino did the Beatles stay in August 19, 1964?

Answer: Sahara

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Misconceptions about the big stack advantage

Maybe I should have included the following in my post from earlier today about why I tend to buy in somewhat short rather than for the maximum allowed. It would have fit in well particularly with the Daniel Negreanu blog post (to which I linked) about common misunderstandings of alleged big stack advantages in cash games.

For two or three months now I've had on my desk a piece of paper on which I scribbled some quotations from players I've heard opine on the subject, and I just never got around to writing the post. (Yes, I always have pen and paper in my shirt pocket when I play--primarily for documenting cash in and out and time in and out, but secondarily for jotting down notes about blog post ideas.) Their remarks caught my attention because I heard basically the same error from two different people on consecutive days.

The first guy was at Bill's. He was nursing a very short stack--something like $30. A player at the far end of the table from us (I had just sat down) had obviously had a very successful day, and had several hundred in front of him.

At one point, Mr. Bigstack made an intimidatingly large bet at a pot and won it. Mr. Shortstack said to me, "He has enough [chips] that he can do that." I just nodded and let it go.

Not long after, Mr. Shortstack folded to what he thought was a bluff by Mr. Bigstack. He again chose me as the outlet for his lament: "He bluffed me earlier. I know he did, but I didn't have enough chips to call him."

Yes, that's an exact quotation. And no, I have no idea how he arrived at such a bizarre conclusion. If you think your opponent is bluffing, generally you call or raise. Now, you might decide to do otherwise if the bet is very large compared to the pot, or if it's more than you're willing to risk (though in that case you probably should cash out rather than continue playing with money you're unwilling to put into play). But calling what you believe to be a bluff is the very easiest if you're short-stacked, because you can't lose much! I just can't get my head around what this guy was thinking. Maybe he believed that your last money has to go in with a virtual lock on the hand, or something like that. In any event, he clearly was of the opinion that the table's biggest stack had an enormous intrinsic advantage over the smaller stacks, and he was feeling persecuted.

The next night I was playing at the Rio. There was a similar chip discrepancy at the table. A short-stacked woman watched a big-stacked player make a pushy, aggressive move, and whispered to me, as she folded, "He's got the chip equity."

Chip equity???? Are you just making this $%*&@# up?

I realize that there is a concept of "chip equity," though it's not often referred to in exactly that way. It has to do with making decisions in a tournament situation, especially very late in the tournament. There are circumstances in which you have to consider not just what action has the greatest expected value (EV) in terms of accumulating chips, but what action has the most value in tournament cashing--in real money. Those considerations can sometimes be at odds with each other; a move might be slightly +EV in chip terms, but -EV in terms of your expected prize money. The latter is often called "tournament equity," and the former could be called "chip equity"--though, again, it's a term I've only seen used rarely.

But it has zero applicability to cash games. Your "chip equity" and your win or cash "equity" are precisely the same. For all practical purposes, you should be happy to get as much money into the pot as you can when you are a tiny favorite--say, 55:45--because repeating that situation many times over the course of your poker career will show a profit. In a tournament, that might not be wise if the result of losing will be missing out on cashing altogether, or missing out on a big jump in prize money that is about to occur. (I'm not saying you necessarily wouldn't take the gamble--just that the decision becomes complicated by more factors, and isn't necessarily an easy one.)

I genuinely have no ill feelings for people who just haven't learned something yet. We all are beginnings when we start, and learn as we go, and there's no shame in being at any given point along the learning continuum.

But I do definitely feel disdain for people who pretend to know more than they actually do--who, for example, try to throw around a word or term that they've heard and think that they vaguely understand, when in reality they have no idea what they're talking about. They're trying to sound smart and knowledgeable, when they're clueless.

Naturally, I don't consider it my job to point out to them in person that they're showing off their ignorance. For reasons of both social comfort and profit, it's far better to smile and nod approvingly, make a mental note that the speaker is playing way over his level of understanding, and adjust my game accordingly to more efficiently take his or her money.

But nothing need prevent me from using my blog to let loose on their garish, willing display of ignorance!

New Lederer book

No, not that Lederer. The other one. No, not that one, either.

It's Katy Lederer, author of the fine autobiographical work Poker Face. She has a new book of poetry out. It presumably has nothing to do with poker, but if you are, like me, somewhat fascinated with the entire Lederer clan, you might want to look into it. I heard an interview with her on public radio today. You can hear it and both hear and read excerpts from the book here.

Things people ask me, #3: Buying in short

So where was #2 in this series of things I frequently get asked via email and comments? Well, I kind of forgot to label it as such, but it's the post called "Where I play." All of them can be found through the label "questions."

I've mentioned many times that I almost always buy in to my $1-2/$1-3 NLHE games for $100, which isn't always the minimum (a few places set the min at $50, and Bill's $1 game has a buy-in of $20 minimum), but is also never the maximum. Conventional wisdom is that you have a strategic advantage if you always buy in for the maximum, particularly if you figure to be a better player than most of your opposition. So people naturally wonder why I go the other way. (It's technically not "short" in the sense of being below the table minimum, but I'll call it that, since it is below the table maximum.)

To be honest, the habit started because I was new to playing, trying to just get a feel for the Vegas games, I was scared money, and I didn't have any real bankroll to speak of. As you may know by now, I wasn't planning to play for a living when I moved here; I was planning to get a job dealing and play on the side until I got good enough to go pro. But the dealing job never panned out, and I found that I was winning from the get-go, so I just sort of fell into it.

During that period, I discovered that I liked buying in short. It allowed me to feel out the table without having too much at risk. My liking for it continues, for much the same reason. I think of it as taking the temperture of the table by sticking my toe in the water, rather than diving in. The first buy-in is expendable--not that I'm seeking to just give it away, but I'm willing to let it be an investment in learning how the table plays and reacts to me, if need be.

Suppose in the first few orbits I find prime bluffing opportunities. I can make the all-in move. I either get away with it and win the pot and learn that this table might be one I can push around, or I get caught, lose not too much money, and learn that this table might be one for value-betting my strong hands to make my nut, rather than blustering my way to a win.

Similarly, it allows me to discover if I have an exceptionally smart and/or tricky opponent who has trapped me with a second-best hand without losing a ton. Occasionally, I find myself at an unusually sharky table, and when I have to pull out that next Benjamin after losing the first, it occurs to me, "I don't have an edge against this table." That prompts me (if I don't let my ego get in the way) to move to a different table or a different poker room, before I lose more.

There's also an emotional component to it. I find it extraordinarily satisfying to start with $100 and watch it grow to, say, $500. Sitting on $500 feels oodles better if I started with $100 than if I started with $400. And in the worst-case scenario, if I lose it all in one hand, and it's either too late or I'm too tired or discouraged to keep playing, my net loss is still only $100 in the former case versus $400 in the latter.

Starting somewhat on the short side also usually forces me to play tight at first, which is a bit of imposed discipline that I definitely sometimes need. To be profitable with a shorter stack, you just have to be more picky about starting hand requirements, less inclined to chase draws, etc., because you don't have the implied odds to play a broad range of speculative hands. That imposed discipline also has the lovely side effect of creating a certain table image.

To the extent that there is any typical session of poker, I'd say that my most common pattern is this: I buy in for $100, play tight and solid, establish a rocky image, and gradually build up to around $200 or $250. That's when I either leave the game or seriously change gears, depending on how long it has taken me, what I think of the table and my edge over it, where I am on the mental tiredness/alertness scale, and various other factors. I love it when indicators are to do the latter. That's when I start bobbing and weaving, making the tricky plays, playing the speculative hands. By that point, I have a much better feel for which players I can push, which to avoid, which ones will pay me off when I have the goods, and so on. My opponents will also have developed a false impression of my playing tendencies, which I can now exploit. I can also absorb the impact of a bad beat (or a bad move or a bad read on my part) or two without turning my W into an L for the day. Finally, if all is going well, there will be one or two bad players who are in the hole and trying to climb out (a process I will have witnessed step by step), and I can take full advantage of their growing desperation.

Of course, it doesn't always work out that way. Lots of things can muck up the game plan. But by far my most profitable and satisfying sessions are the ones where this pans out: I buy in for $100, play tight and solid, build the stack slowly while simultaneously building a reputation, then turn up the heat when I've got more in front of me, and accelerate the profit-making, finally leaving with a tidy profit. Ain't much in this world that makes me happier than the cash-out and drive home after such a day at the tables.

To be sure, there are at least two major advantages that buying in for the maximum would convey, which I am sacrificing by this choice. First, if I am actually the best or one of the best players at the table, my edge is greater against weaker players when we both have big stacks, because deep-stacked decisions are more complicated, risky, and error-prone. A less experienced opponent is more likely than I am to make a very expensive mistake, to my profit. Second, it's great to be on the good side of a nuts versus second-nuts situation and make the most money possible from it, which I can't do if it happens near the beginning of a session and I have only $100 in front of me. I might be missing out on, say, another $300 that I would have made on the hand if I could have gotten the opponent to commit his stack when we were both equally deep. (Of course, the flip side of that is that when I'm on the second-nuts side of it, I don't lose as much. But presumably I'm better than my average opponent in escaping that kind of trap when necessary.)

Those are not small considerations. They are, in fact, the main basis for the conventional advice to buy in for the maximum. And maybe I should. I don't preach this as gospel. I'm just telling you what works for me. It has been a successful pattern for a couple of years now, and I'm content with it.

For further reading, Daniel Negreanu wrote a nice blog post debunking the myth of the strategic advantage of the big stack here. And in his first columns for Card Player magazine about a year ago, Ed Miller did a bang-up job explaining the same concept:

He then proceeded to show how starting with a shorter stack provides a particular strategic advantage against a wild table:

In apparent response to Miller's series, fellow Card Player columnist Bob Ciaffone penned a jeremiad in which he grudgingly acknowledges the strategic advantage of the short stack in no-limit poker, but decries it as "a poker pestilence" (great phrase!), rather than something to be desired and/or attempted by his students or readers. In this piece, Ciaffone unleashes on habitual short-stack, hit-and-run players (and the casinos with buy-in rules that encourage them) a heaping helping of vitriol that I don't recall ever seeing come out in his writing before or since. It's a must-read column:

So consider all sides of the matter; don't just take my advice. In fact, I wouldn't even call what I've written here "advice." As I said earlier, it's just what I have found works well for me. Your mileage may vary.

Ultimate proof of the deuce-four's power

A reader pointed me to this hand he played recently on Full Tilt:

And yet there are still doubters out there. I don't know what it takes to convince some people!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Guess the casino, #6

Note: I would normally consider a casino's floor or carpet pattern to be way too obscure to make a fair visual guessing challenge. However, this one is so striking and distinctive (and, IMHO, beautiful) that if you've seen it once, you'd probably remember it.

Answer: Venetian

Poker gems, #201

Mike Caro, in Bluff magazine column, January, 2009, p. 77.

[Sorry, folks. We have a problem here. The whole column is the gem. You need to read it. Really. Seriously. It's about politics and the right to be left alone to do things that don't hurt anybody else, like playing poker. It's good and important stuff, done in the usual inimitable Caro way. It's too long to type in here, but find a copy of the magazine and read it. If you're reading this note sometime after, say, February, 2009, you should be able to find it at in their archives (Peter Eastgate on the cover, column is titled "We're Being Conned").]

Eleventy hundred

Sweet-looking ride, eh? Has nothing to do with poker, but it's hard to find meaningful pictures of much of anything when searching under "1100." That's how many posts there have been in this blog now.

It took 38 days to put up the last hundred posts, my second-fastest mark yet. (See #1000 here.) No, I'm not really trying to break records--it just sometimes happens that I'm feeling blabby, other times not so much.

As always, thank you for reading and commenting. I am flattered on a daily basis that so many people point their browsers here.

Don't forget the stupid Google ads.

Poker gems, #200

Lee Jones, in Bluff magazine column, January, 2009, p. 65.

A couple of years ago, Greg Raymer won a Pot Limit Omaha event during PokerStars' WCOOP tournament series. When it got down to heads-up play, I instant-messaged a colleague and said, "Greg is going to take this thing down and it's not even close." How did I know? Well, it was like this: when Raymer had the button, he'd raise, and his opponent would call. When the opponent had the button, he'd limp in. So to a first approximation, every pot in which Greg had the button was three times as large as the pot in which the opponent had the button. Who would you put your money on?

At a major tournament about a year ago, I was chatting with Daniel Negreanu about the value of position. Steeling myself against a potentially fatal blow to my ego, I said, "Daniel, suppose you and I are playing PLO heads up. But one thing: I've always got the button. Who wins?" Daniel thought briefly and said, "You'd win." ...Now, just to be clear, Daniel Negreanu is ten or a hundred times the poker player that I am. But faced with me having the button on every hand, he fancied my chances better than his.

Can we talk about something besides the jackpot?

Saturday I played for quite a while at the Orleans. They have a bad-beat jackpot, and it had climbed over $125,000. Two things happen at that point. First, the threshold hand for winning it drops to its lowest level: aces full of anything beaten by quads or better (both hole cards playing). Second, the room fills to capacity with people trying to get a share of it. Nothing wrong with that--that's presumably why the casino does it, to increase attendance.

I admit that I chose the place to play that day based on the jackpot. I thought it was highly likely to hit sometime over the weekend, with that low threshold and that many people making their hand selection mostly based on the potential for hitting the jackpot. (I was right; it hit some time Sunday morning.) And as long as I can play pretty much anywhere with roughly the same overall +EV, I might as well play when and where I might pick up some extra free money. At the Orleans, everybody playing in the same type of game as the one where the jackpot hits divides 5% of the jackpot. I estimated this at something like $600 each just for being there at the magic moment. Of course, it's quite a bit more likely to hit in a limit game than a no-limit game, but I'm not going to change what I play in an attempt to guess which limit will get it; I just play my regular game the regular way, and if somebody in one of the other $1-2 NLHE games hits it, great, and if not, nothing lost.

Anyway, the room was more jam-packed than I have ever seen it before. There were 23 cash tables in operation when I left, with long waiting lists for all of them. It was a madhouse.

At the table, there was, for all practical purposes, only one topic of conversation: the jackpot. It drove me batty after about ten minutes. People were repeatedly checking what the threshold requirements were. Players worked out elaborate signals and code words and betting patterns that they would use if they had a possible jackpot hand, in order to make sure that the pot size reached the minimum acceptable to qualify. Dealers passed on stories (possibly true, possibly urban legends) about there having been X number of hands that would have qualified, but the pot was just a dollar or two shy of the minimum. Players engaged in all sorts of shenanigans to be sure they were never dealt out, lest the jackpot hit during the two minutes they were in the restroom. When somebody was away from the table, somebody else would usually make a point of noting that he was out, so that if the jackpot hit right then, he wouldn't get a share. Every detail of the qualifying rules was hashed and rehashed and debated. One guy got a table change and told us that it was specifically so that he could be at a table with an autoshuffler, so he could get in more hands per hour and thus maximize his chances of making a jackpot hand. Stories of jackpots of yore were told and retold and retold. Whenever some combination of cards came even vaguely close, somebody would show his hand and say something idiotic like, "If only that had been a jack on the river instead of a six!" And, of course, every time that the board was such that it conceivably could yield the required kind of bad beat if two players held precisely the right hole cards, the chatter would heat up: "Oh, here we go!" "I hope somebody has the aces!" "This could be it!" Etc. Even the damn dealers couldn't keep their damn mouths shut, and would make comments just like the players were doing.

It was utterly maddening. These morons just had nothing else on their mind. I even sent a text message to a friend: "I'm in poker table small-talk hell!"

The most perplexing aspect of it was that all of this talk was doing the one thing that the casino's rules explicitly warn might void the jackpot, even if all other requirements are met! See rule #7 in the photo above. (Every casino that I know of with such a jackpot has a similar prohibition, because they don't want to queer the action and have people play in artificial ways just to try to hit it.) Now, I don't really know how strictly this would be enforced. But for heaven's sake--if you seek out a particular poker room because you want to try to hit the jackpot, and you stay in hands longer than you should (i.e., play in a -EV manner) because you're trying to hit the jackpot, why would you flagrantly engage in the conduct that might void your payment if you do manage to get lucky and hit it? It's just insane!

I was definitely using the non-iPod yesterday, with the volume turned up quite a bit louder than usual. I had to muster up every bit of self-restraint I had in order not to stand up and channel Sister Mary Elephant for them:

Oh, and by the way, the Orleans poker room is WAY too big to still be relying on dealers yelling at the desk person, chip runner, floor person, etc. When the room is busy, it's almost impossible for them to be heard. It's a horribly inefficient and unprofessional way to run things. And for those sitting in the seats next to the dealer, it's deafening to repeatedly be assaulted with "FLOOR on 17!" "PLAYER'S CHECKS ON 17!" "SEAT OPEN ON 17!"

Get with the program, and install a computerized player management system already.

More on the deuce-four

Some updates for you.


About three weeks ago, long-time reader Grange, obviously a faithful convert to the Holy Order of the Deuce-Four, alerted me to an excellent deuce-four story he posted on the forum. See here. (Sorry for the delay in posting this, Grange. I meant to do it right away, then got distracted and forgot about it.)

He also proposed (privately, but I trust he won't mind my sharing) naming the hand The Schadenfreude, because of the pleasure it brings when you show it, either as an outrageous bluff or as a winner, and you get to watch your opponent go on Super Monkey Tilt. It's a nice thought, but the problem is that I would have to look up the spelling every time I wrote about it here, and that's way too much work.


I was dealt the 2-4 twice in today's blogger tournament, and lost both times. I don't think I have to point out to this audience the phenomenal odds against such a coincidence. Truly stunning.


I had it once this evening on the button while playing at the Orleans. It was suited in diamonds, and I caught my diamond flush on the river to win, naturally. The guy I outdrew didn't say anything, but if looks could kill....


The other night when I was at the Riviera playing, I had 2-4 in the big blind. I paired the deuce, but got edged out of the pot by the small blind, who had pocket 3s. Such a huge bad beat. So close. Anyway, he scoffed (in a friendly manner) at the hand I had played. I tried to educate the table. I told them in complete deadpan, "Many people underestimate the power of the deuce-four."

Brace yourself for this. They LAUGHED! They thought I was joking! I assured them of my earnestness, and the more I did so, the more they laughed at me!

But over the next hour or so, every time there was a board with two deuces, or two fours, or something like an A-3-5, or a one-pair hand taking the pot when 2-4 would have made two pairs, I pointed it out to them, saying, "See? You mock the deuce-four, but look what it would have done here." And every time they laughed MORE! I felt like Noah trying to convince the world that a boat would be a really good idea in the very near future, and nobody would listen.

The Apostle Paul warned about just this sort of thing: "If ... there come in those that are unlearned, or UNBELIEVERS, will they not say that ye are mad?" (1 Cor. 14:23, King James Version.) Yes indeed, the unbelievers say that we who are in the know are mad. But if they persist in their unbelief after being exposed to the truth, the poker gods will smite them mightily.

I've done what I can to bring them into the fold. I wash my hands of them after that.

Yea, verily. Amen.

Secret most pros won't tell you

I've decided to break down and share with my readers an important poker principle that you won't find in any book or DVD or training video currently on the market. That's because there are some things that the pros keep to themselves in order not to give up all of their edge to the general public.

You're sitting in a casino poker room and the dealer pitches you a card. It lands nicely right in front of you. But you see that it is not oriented the way you'd like in order to be able to peek and see what it is. Personally, I like them with the long axis pointed toward/away from me, but others like them with the long axis oriented right/left. Either way is fine, but whichever way you prefer, you have a problem when the card lands close to 90 degrees from the way you need it.

The dilemma is this: You have to rotate the card(s) either clockwise or counterclockwise--but which?

Amateur players often assume that it couldn't make any difference. After all, what is printed on the face of the card can't change because of how you turn it. "Preposterous," these people would say.

But it does matter. You absolutely must apply the rotation in the same direction that the card was spinning as it arrived in front of you (which usually depends on whether the dealer is right-handed or left-handed). If you rotate it in the opposite direction, terrible things happen. The cards get dizzy from the sudden change. This is especially true with the face cards. If you upset the delicate equilibrium of, say, a queen, do you think she is going to call out to her peers to come join her in this hand? No! She's upset. She's nauseated. Her inner ear thing is all out of whack. She's going to just sit there and try to recover. She might even throw up a little. By the time she's feeling better, the hand is over and you've got nothing except a little spot of queen vomit.

The underlying mechanism is different for the non-face cards. It's not a dizziness problem, but one of conservation of luck, which is closely related to the conservation of angular momentum. Do you remember a carnival ride when you were a kid, in which you stand against a round wall, and they start spinning it, and after it's really going they drop the floor out from under your feet and you stick against the wall by centrifugal force? It's the same with the cards. You need to keep them spinning in the same direction that the spinning was initiated by the dealer. If you suddenly reverse it, the luck all falls out, in precisely the same way that you would have fallen down into the pit of that ride if they had suddenly thrown it into a reverse spin.

The mathematics of this has actually been worked out in some detail by the boys at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory. It's beyond the scope of this blog, but trust me on this. Or go to your local library, ask where they keep the back issues of The Journal of the American Society of Theoretical and Applied Serendipity, and look it up for yourself.

You have to treat the cards with respect, and that includes not jarring them into a sudden reverse spin. Once you think about the underlying mechanisms, it's rather obvious, isn't it?

So now you know.