Saturday, February 16, 2008

Poker Grump, master sports handicapper

I claim to have the highest winning percentage of any sports bettor in history.

I know next to nothing about sports, a level of knowledge that exactly matches my interest in the subject. Following Warren Buffet's advice about investing in what you know, I have never previously bet on the outcome of a sporting event.

That changed this week. I finally signed up for a Planet Hollywood player's club card. I didn't bother with one before, because PH is one of the few places that don't track poker players' hours and/or reward them with comps. But I decided that my card collection was woefully deficient, so Wednesday I stopped by the "A-List" club and got myself one. (It's another one with the hole in the wrong spot -- see http://pokergrump.blogspot.com/2007/12/casino-club-cards.html -- so I had to punch another one in it when I got home. So annoying.)

Along with the card they gave me two gambling coupons. The first was an added $25 payout to a win at any even-money bet of $25 or more on a table game. So I headed to the first roulette table I saw. I was going to bet on black, but another player put out several chips on the black spot just before I reached for it. I didn't want to crowd the spot and confuse things, and I really didn't care where I put the money, so I took red instead. And we have a winner! 12, red. I get paid $75 for my bet of $25 and the coupon.

The other coupon was for an extra $5 on a sports bet of $5 or more. Never having placed a sports bet before, I didn't know the procedures--like what to say to the guy behind the counter. That made the whole business a little intimidating, so I took a couple of days to think about it. I was back at PH last night (Friday), and decided to give it a go. After all, any straight bet is close to a 50/50 proposition, but with a nearly 4:1 payoff. Like the coupon-enhanced table-game bet, this was a +EV situation. I'm not a gambler at heart, but this is basically free money.

College basketball seemed an easy way to go. I pulled a list of the weekend games from PH's rack of betting information. I quickly settled on Minnesota, up against Wisconsin. This was based on an intensive study of the players, the records, scouting reports, injury lists, statistical analysis of recent trends.... OK, I'm lying. I moved here from Minnesota, and that seemed like good enough reason. Also, a friend of mine is the Gophers' team physician. If that isn't a clear sign from the gambling gods as to where to put my money, I don't know what is.

I gave the guy at the counter my $5 and my coupon. I may have detected a hint of disdain in his tone and facial expression. If so, I suppose that's because this was, like, the biggest bet he had ever had to be responsible for, and he was feeling the pressure to get it written up correctly. But I ended up with my ticket, Minnesota +10.

Today after I get up and showered and got dressed, I click into Yahoo Sports to see what happened. (You see, we big-time sports bettors can't be bothered with wasting time to actually watch the games.) And there it is: Wisconsin 65, Minnesota 56, a 9-point difference. The Gophers beat the spread by 1! Woohoo! My ticket says I will get paid $19.05 for my $5 investment.

And so I now retire from my career in sports betting, with a perfect 100% track record, with a lifetime payout of nearly 400% of my lifetime bets placed.

I am a legend.

The Monte Carlo is back





The Monte Carlo mostly re-opened today (well, yesterday, since I'm writing after midnight). I stopped by the poker room in the early evening to give them a little support. The place looks pretty much as it always did, unless you look way up and notice the rough, temporary exterior panels and scaffolding between the top floor and the roof. The poker room had three tables going, which isn't bad for a first day back. It was the easiest time parking there I've ever experienced.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Welcome to Pauly's readers

For those of you who just clicked over here from Pauly's mention in his blog today (http://taopoker.blogspot.com/2008_02_01_archive.html#1045820767713786182#1045820767713786182), welcome.

In case you're wondering why he might be looking for me at Mandalay Bay, it's because we had briefly shared a table last week. See http://pokergrump.blogspot.com/2008/02/celebrity-sighting.html.

For the new visitors (and, heck, even for the old ones), I hope you'll browse around. There's a million or so topic labels down in the lower left corner. If you just want a sampling of what I have to say, this post is probably a good place to start: http://pokergrump.blogspot.com/2008/01/best-of-grump-so-far.html.

"I hope you had it"




"I hope you had it." That's what the guy said as he folded to a large bet on the river.

This was at the Luxor last week. (I love the Luxor's spotlight; it's one of the coolest things in this city, so since I couldn't think of anything to illustrate the point I want to make, I'm taking advantage of the fact that this happened at the Luxor as my excuse for slipping in above a fine image of the light.) He showed his cards before mucking them; he had made a small flush on the turn card (something like the 7 and 8 of spades in his hand). But when a fourth spade came on the river (a second small one to join the two large ones on the board), and his bet was met with a substantial raise, he had to lay it down, obviously assuming that his opponent had made a higher flush.

Nothing about the betting action was out of the ordinary. Nor was his comment, in the sense that I've heard the same thing said many times before (though usually not in quite as menacing/threatening a tone as the Luxor guy used). But I still jotted down a note to write a post about it sometime soon, because of how stupid it is.

I would like to ask that guy, "Why do you 'hope' that he had it? What difference does it make whether he actually had your flush beat or not? Would you be happy at losing the pot if he showed you a higher flush? Would you be angry at him if it turned out he had a lower flush, or was on a pure bluff? If so, why? Once you have decided to fold, how can you possibly care about what cards he held?"

As with so many things about poker players' reactions and attitudes, I just don't get it.

But if I had to guess at what that player's response to my questions would be (assuming he didn't punch me in the nose), I suspect he might say something like this: "Well, based on his raise at the end, I assumed that he must have a higher flush, because it would be very easy for him to hold any one of the five cards that would have me beat. I hoped that he had it, because if he didn't, then my fold was a mistake, and I don't like making mistakes."

By design, poker is a game of incomplete and imperfect information. The best players in the world get bluffed sometimes, call large bets with what turn out to be weaker hands, and make other kinds of errors. It's inevitable. And, of course, we'd all like to minimize both the number of mistakes that we make and their impact on our poker income.

But did this guy really make a mistake? One answer is that we can't know, since the opponent never showed his hole cards. But I think there's a better way of looking at it.

If I had been the one in his situation, here's how I would talk to myself about it, when deciding to fold: "I don't know and can't know whether he actually has a higher flush or not. But from a lot of experience in similar situations, I know that a raise like that usually means that I'm beat. Very few players without a strong flush would be willing to raise my bet with a lower flush or as a pure bluff. So maybe 80% of the time I'm beat, 10% of the time I'm facing a dolt who actually thinks that his lowly 5 of spades gives him the winner here, and 10% of the time the raise is coming from a maniac who will raise with zilch or an exceptionally good player who has picked up on some small sign of weakness that I'm giving off here. I can't reliably distinguish between those various scenarios based on any information available to me at the moment, so I have to go with the probabilities. If I call, I'll win maybe 20% of the time and lose maybe 80%. That makes this an easy laydown."

Of course, I don't actually have to run those words through my brain; I've been in that situation enough times that I can just take the shortcut from the facts of the situation to the conclusion about what the right thing to do is. But if I found myself, for whatever reason, obsessing about whether I had made the correct move there (and, occasionally, I can get irrationally fixated on such things), that script is what I would tell myself.

At the end of Barry Greenstein's superb book, Ace on the River, he poses a series of demonically, agonizingly difficult poker situations. In discussing what he actually did when faced with these conundrums, and whether he did the right thing, he makes a distinction between the "correct" play and the "perfect" play. The "perfect" play is what you would do if you could magically see your opponent's hole cards. But since that information is not available to us when it would be useful, he puts more emphasis on the "correct" play, which is based on a rational analysis of the range of hole cards that this opponent might be holding, with some weighting as to the relative probability of each.

The correct move then is based on a weighted sum of what would be the "perfect" play against each of the opponent's possible holdings. If you make every poker decision based on that kind of assessment, you will minimize errors as much as humanly possible, and thereby maximize your poker income. If you can accomplish that, then it makes no difference whatsoever whether you made the "perfect" play in any specific case; as long as you are making more "correct" decisions than your opponents, you will win their money in the long run.

When you hold only a small flush, with four flush cards on the board, and somebody raises your river bet, the "correct" move against most opponents (leaving aside for the moment the exceptions that would tend to give one pause, such as the morons, the maniacs, and the ultra-drunks) is to fold, even if once in a while the "perfect" move would be to call or even reraise. The player whose comment inspired this little rant made the correct play. The key concept that he is lacking is the realization that he made the correct play even if his opponent was bluffing, because if he called or raised every time he found himself in the identical spot, he would lose a lot of money over a lifetime.

If I had been in his shoes and that opponent showed me the higher flush, I would not feel any sense of joy or pride or relief--just an unexcited, ho-hum, "yeah, that's pretty much what I guessed" resignation. If, on the other hand, he showed me a lower flush or a bluff, I would not feel enraged, nor would I kick myself for not having been able to see through the backs of his cards. I'd just shrug, think to myself, "Oh well, these things happen," try to make a mental note of any motions or gestures he had been making that might serve as a sign of weakness or bluffing in the future, then let it go and start thinking about the next hand.*

To "hope" that one's opponent was not bluffing is just as silly and pointless as Phil Laak praying that the community cards to come after he folds do not turn out to be ones that would have helped him (see http://pokergrump.blogspot.com/2007/11/whats-done-is-done.html).

To the player who uttered the words in the title of this post: Sir, you did the right thing. Too bad your emotions blinded you to that fact.


*Full Tilt Poker has some great television advertisements. One of them showed Howard Lederer losing a pot to an idiot who dances around, whooping it up, celebrating his victory the way so many buffoons think is cool these days. All the time, Howard sits there impassively, unperturbed. In a voiceover he says, "He's not thinking about the next hand. You should be." That's a great, great piece of advice. What did you just learn about that opponent? What mistakes might his new state of mind cause him to be more prone to make now? What did losing the hand change about your own table image? Did your relative chip stacks shift enough that you now have to adjust tactics accordingly? And how might you be able to exploit all of these altered dynamics over the next few minutes? With that ad, Howard provided me with one of the best mental/emotional tools I've ever come across for preventing myself from going on tilt after a bad hand: Start thinking calmly and rationally about the next hand, even before the cards are dealt.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Poker gems, #84




Phil Ivey, interview in Card Player magazine, January 30, 2008 (vol. 21, #2), p. 49:

When I first got good at poker, I played 14 or 15 hours per day. I played that much every single day for about four or five years. That is what it took for me to get good at poker, and specifically, cash games.

Poker gems, #83




David Apostolico, Card Player magazine column, January 30, 2008 (vol. 21, #2), p. 44:

As anyone who has played the game knows, the characteristics to be a good poker player are largely at odds with those we need in just about every other aspect of our life. Thus, it becomes critical to separate out those qualities and differentiate things in your life. It doesn't make you a bad person to adopt a ruthless attitude in the poker room. It would make you a bad poker player if you didn't.

Contradiction

I was playing poker at Planet Hollywood tonight. The player on my left had his girlfriend sitting behind him watching. Another player invited her to join the game. She politely declined, saying, in apparent sincerity, "I don't like to take other people's money."

The boyfriend chortled. "Ask her what she does for a living," he said.

So the other player asked.

The woman scrunched up her face as if embarrassed to admit it: "I'm a bill collector."

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Less-popular online poker sites may be less popular for a reason

For the last month or so, I've been playing between one and five sit-'n'-go single-table tournaments online daily, some at the big sites (Poker Stars, Full Tilt Poker, Bodog, and Ultimate Bet; Absolute Poker is never getting another dollar from me after their shameful handling of and public lying about the massive security breach), and some at the lesser-known sites. This post is about the latter.

I won't discuss the problems of funding accounts in this post; for my travails in that regard, see http://pokergrump.blogspot.com/2008/01/funding-online-poker-accounts-is-still.html, including its several addenda, edited in as I tried various options on several sites.

For all of these sites, you can pretty much assume that an ongoing problem is finding enough of the action you want when you want it. For example, with Carbon Poker, I was once the first to sign up for a single-table tournament about midnight, then started a load of dishes to be washed, prepared to abort that task when it was time to play. (Poker or wash dishes? Poker or wash dishes? Dang, that's a really difficult choice, isn't it?) I kept checking, but managed to wash the whole load before there was even a second player signed up. I gave up, went to Poker Stars, and was in a similar game two minutes later.

Lucky Ace Poker

Not much to say about this one, because they won't take money from U.S. players.

Doyle's Room

I would love to love this site, but I can't. They won't take my money. Card Player magazine just had a cover story: "Doyle's Room Is Back." That's what prompted me to sign up again. But when I tried to make a deposit, I found out that they are using what's called the "11-state ban," meaning that they won't accept real-money players that live in any of the 11 states that have some sort of statutory prohibition against online gambling. Ironically, that includes Nevada. Yep, I can legally hire a prostitute here, but the legislature wants to protect me from the evils and dangers of online poker.

See here for an updated list of online poker sites and e-wallet services that will or will not accept U.S. players, including which employ the 11-state ban: http://www.compatiblepoker.com/usa.php

How stupid is this UIGEA? It's so unclear as to its actual effect that some sites feel that in order to comply with it they had to withdraw from the U.S. market completely, others feel that they can accept players from 39 states only, and others feel free to continue welcoming Americans wherever they may live. Thanks a lot, Bill Frist, you sniveling, pandering, power-mongering asshole, for making that all clear for everybody.

Players Only

I was at first annoyed that I couldn't pick the screen name "Rakewell," because some interloper had already taken it, so I had to settle for "Rakewell1." It eventually dawned on me that the thief was me; I had signed up for Cake Poker (of which Players Only is a skin, meaning that they share the same software and player rosters) several months back, though I only played a few freerolls, then gave up on it.

The good:

Among the worst players I've ever encountered online (and given that I'm pretty bad myself, that's really saying something).

The bad:

You can't resize the windows. Didn't the rest of the online poker world (except, inexplicably, for Bodog) conquer this little hurdle years ago?

You can't pick your own seat. At the big sites, tournament seats are assigned randomly, but they will, either by default or at your request, rotate the table so that your view is natural, as if the table is laid out in front of you. Not with Players Only. You're stuck where they stick you.

The only move you can choose in advance of your turn is fold or check. For example, if I'm on the button, I can't click in advance to indicate that I will call the amount of the big blind. That's just stupid.

There are several features for which I was unable to rapidly find information. One option is "auto focus window." I still have no idea what this does. Another is "gold card." By coincidence, I saw in Card Player magazine this week a little sidebar on how this works, but before seeing that I looked through the Players Only site trying to figure it out, and came up empty. I even did a Google search of their web site, and couldn't find it. What's the point in having what is apparently a bonus feature if your customers can't learn how the dang thing works?

The tournament lobby is agonizingly slow to update. It lags about two hands behind what is actually happening in the game. Completely inexcusable.

The graphics show an actual dealer in the box, unlike any other site I can remember seeing (except maybe Party Poker did that; it's been so long since I played there I can't recall for sure). It's confusing at first, because she looks like an extra player, except without a stack of chips in front of her.

When you click on the "Cashier" button, it takes you to a web site with your default browser, rather than just a different window within the Players Only site. I don't see why this is necessary. It's annoying.

If you bet, and your single opponent folds, you are presented with the option to show or not show your cards while the icon for your opponent's cards is still there in front of him on the table. In other words, until you figure out that they just do this every time, it sure looks as though he hasn't folded. This is just insane. That cards icon should vanish the instant he folds.

If a player is sitting out, the graphics don't show his remaining stack size. In a single-table tournament, this is crucial, because if there are four players left, three to get paid, you absolutely have to know how many rounds a player who has left the game (for whatever reason) will survive before being blinded off. The worst thing is to go out on the bubble when somebody who isn't even playing anymore makes it into the money.

You can choose from many different avatars, though not upload a custom one. For reasons that I cannot decipher, about half the time it shows me as the one I selected, and the other half it makes me into a Unabomber-like hooded figure. That's a weird glitch in their software.

Carbon Poker

This is a skin of Poker.com.

The good:

A nice touch that I've never seen anywhere else is that you can choose to show opponents just one of your hole cards instead of both, if you like, by clicking on one or both when the option is presented at the end of a hand.

They show the pot size in my preferred way, which is, e.g., "100 + 30," meaning that there was 100 in the pot at the beginning of this round of betting, plus another 30 put out by players so far, but not yet gathered into the pot. Some sites show just the former; others show just the total. I like having it clearly demarcated into two parts like this.

The blinds start unusually low for SNGs: 5 and 10, rather than the more common 10/20, even though they use the standard number of starting chips (1500).

The bad:

First, I have to disclose my idiosyncratic preference: I'd like to never have to touch the mouse when I'm playing. I wish there were keyboard shortcuts for everything. I also never, ever use the slide bar to select a bet size, except for on sites where that's the only way to move all-in. When I want to raise, I wish to be able to just type in the amount of the bet I want to make and hit "enter." The closest I can come to that ideal is on Full Tilt, with the "highlight bet amount" option turned on. With every other site, I have to first click in the bet-size box before typing in the amount, which is just irritating to me. I see no good reason to require that. Anyway, on Carbon Poker, it's even worse, in that I have to first click on the bet-size box, then type in the amount, then click on another box, rather than just hitting "enter." Grrrrrrrrrr.

The little tabs to choose pre-selected bet sizes are unclear. For example, if the current bet is 20, and you click on the button marked "x2," it will enter a bet of 60, rather than 40. As another example, if the bet you're facing is 50, one of the tabs that pops up for you will say "Raise 100." Well, does that mean raise to 100 or by 100? The only way to find out is to try it. It turns out that the answer is to 100. What, they couldn't find room for the word "to" there?

To make matters worse, they do it the opposite way for the betting options you can select before it's your turn. In that situation, if the bet you're going to be facing is 50, one option presented will be "raise 50," which means raise by 50. It's maddening inconsistency.

I find it hard to tell at a glance whose turn it is; the graphics just don't provide enough contrast or highlighting. I think the slickest of the current batch is how Bodog does this, with what appears to be an overhead spotlight moving from one player to the next. I find it the easiest to follow, visually.

The tournament lobby page only updates when you click on it. I like having the tourney lobby off to one side of the tourney table, so that both are visible at once. That's pretty pointless when I have to waste time and energy clicking on it in order to be able to see current standings. (This is less important with single-table tournaments--but it's still plenty stupid.) Before the game starts, the tournament lobby (which shows who has signed up) is so slow to update that one second it shows three people enrolled, and the next you're whisked off to the tournament, with a full table ready to start.

They congratulate you no matter how you did. That is, if you're out on the first hand of a single-table tournament, they will flash you a little note, "Congratulations, you finished 10th in tournament room ____________." Yeah, thanks a lot.

There is a strange glitch. When you try to enter your "preferred seating" choice, the dialog box that pops up is labeled "reere eating." Go figure. I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm not really into reere eating.

I've complained before about the idiotic "rabbit hunting" option. See http://pokergrump.blogspot.com/2008/01/rabbit-hunting.html.

You can change various settings in the option box at the table, but nothing warns you that these won’t stick. To change the default settings, you have to access a different set of options from the main lobby. Even with the default settings, I wasn't able to get it to remember my preferred seating from one session to the next. If it's possible to make it do that, I don't know what I'm missing. It shouldn't be that tricky to figure out.

I followed the instructions for uploading a custom avatar, and nothing happened. It didn't show up, but I also didn't get any error message explaning what was wrong. How annoying is that?


Bugsy's Club

I used to play on Bugsy's Club quite a bit. But then they seemed to quit taking U.S. customers for a while. It was just last week that I was browsing through the list of sites open to Americans (noted above) and noticed it listed. I don't know when they re-opened their doors to us. Surprisingly, even though I had to download the software again, the site remembered me before I had even entered any personal data (apparently having left some trace of its former installation in my computer).

The good:

Sorry, I couldn't find anything positive and noteworthy.

The bad:

You can't resize the tables.

It won't show the amount of a bet unless you move the mouse over the little image of the chips. This is one of the most annoying and inexplicable flaws in any online poker software.

It takes only one click to go all-in. On most sites, you have to do two things--for example, move the slider all the way to the right, then click on "bet." Despite my complaints above about having to use the mouse at all, I think this is a good safety precaution, to make sure that you don't risk all of your chips on an accidental misclick. Bugsy's Club is the only place I know of where one errant mouse click instantly has you all-in and screaming at the computer, "NO, THAT'S NOT WHAT I MEANT TO DO!!!"

This is another site that requires me to type in a bet or raise amount, then go to the mouse to click on a button, rather than hit "enter." I hate that. It's completely backwards that for ordinary bets and raises, I have to take two separate actions, but only one to move all-in!

The site's sound effects I find irritating. The noise to indicate that a player checks doesn't sound like a rap on wood or a table, as most places use. Instead, it sounds like a static click on a telephone line. The "it's your turn" signal is a grating, high-pitched noise, like an alarm clock or a smoke detector. Ugh.

It's very slow putting out the community cards, especially the flop. Deal one card. Wait. Deal another card. Wait. Deal the third card. Completely pointless.

The blind structure for SNGs is faster than usual, starting at 25/50 instead of the standard 10/20 (the exception among the big sites being Full Tilt's 15/30), though still using the common 1500 chips.

If you want to put in a raise, you have to do some mental math. For example, if the big blind (and current bet) is 200, and I want to raise to 700, what I have to enter in the bet/raise box is 500, i.e., the additional amount by which to raise, rather than the total bet amount. No other online site does it this way, at least that I can remember offhand. This is too annoying for words.

Conclusion

I'll probably continue to dabble at these sites now and again, since I have money in them and the competition tends to be softer than what I find at the big sites for similar stakes. But I won't like the experience much.

Full Tilt and Poker Stars, and, to a lesser extent, Bodog and Ultimate Bet, just have a really great look and feel to them. Playing with them a while you get a definite sense that their features have been worked and reworked, honed and refined and polished to the greatest degree that their software engineers can manage. Nearly everything has been thought of and incorporated and worked out.

In contrast, as you can see from my long list of gripes about the less-popular sites, they're rough-hewn, clunky, illogical, poorly thought out, often leaving me scratching my head and wondering why some particular detail is the way it is, or why I can't do something that seems to me obvious that one might want to do.

Maybe they'll improve over time, but for now my basic assessment of them is, "Meh."

Annette vs. Rury

Very entertaining 10-minute video of a live Euro heads-up grudge match (with a bit of the Bobby Riggs-Billie Jean King thing thrown in):

http://www.siktilt.com/videos/ept/ept-season-4/ept-dortmund/the-heads-up-180.html

I found it via http://bazclef.blogspot.com/, which in turn I found via www.pokerwonks.com.

We'll always have Paris--and Bally's




Tonight I decided to hit up two casinos that I have previously been in only once each: Paris (last visited June, 2007) and Bally's (September, 2006). I had a short, profitable session at each ($101 in 1.5 hours and $222 in 1.2 hours, respectively--not that anybody really cares, other than me).

I'm not going to try to do full room reviews, because there just isn't that much to say.

Paris is a nice little room, which I would visit much more frequently except for two prominent black marks against it: First, there's often little or no action going on. Second, it's difficult to access, in terms of getting to the place, parking, and one of the longest walks from the parking garage to the poker room. I'm too lazy for that.

Incidentally, every time I make a comment about the walking distance, somebody in the comments will ask why I don't use valet parking. Hey, those 25-cent tips add up! Actually, I just prefer the sense of independence. When I'm ready to leave (especially if it has been a bad session), the last thing I want to do is stand around waiting for the valet. I also have a perhaps overly developed territorial sense about my car; I just don't like other people driving it. But admittedly, when it got stolen last summer, I certainly wished I had used the valet that night. I assume that it is much less likely that a car will get stolen from the valet lot, because there are a lot more eyes that would notice an interloper breaking in.

Other than those two handicaps, the Paris poker room is a pretty nice place. Perhaps a bit louder than my preference, but not horrible. Good service, good dealers, soft games.

I left France and went to Bally's. My one previous visit had been on a Sunday, and I had to wait for them to get even one table going. I kind of assumed it was always slow like that, so I was surprised to find tonight--approaching midnight on a Monday night--no fewer than nine tables going. Either the place has become a lot more popular in the last 18 months, or I just caught it on an unusually slow day before.

The cigarette smoke wasn't quite as bad as I remember it being, but the noise was. It's way above what I'll tolerate for a long stretch. I couldn't make myself heard to players at the other end of the table. Dealers have to yell to get a player's attention.

Nearly all of the money I made at Bally's came from one maniac who was in every pot, raising with nothing. Ironically, for the biggest pot I took from him I had nothing--I bluffed him with a scary board, which was turning his own favorite weapon against him. This is the opposite of the way I would usually recommend trying to extract money from a maniac, but it worked out OK for me this time.

Sorry to be boring, but nothing else noteworthy happened.

With so many other poker rooms around, Bally's still won't be one of my first choices, but it wasn't as awful as I remembered it being. Because it's another place I can get in a two-fer (lock up a profit from one place, then hit another room, without having to drive in between), I think I probably won't wait another year and a half before going back.


The display below is at the point where the path from the parking garage bifurcates to hallways leading to Paris and Bally's. It's one million dollars in cash.

Nice idea, but didn't Benny Binion do it first, like about 50 years ago?

For Sopranos fans





I'm not sure what prompted the Riviera to issue this set of chips, but I love 'em. Unfortunately, now I'll have to go back and keep playing there until I have the whole series.

Of course, I could just ask one of the cashiers to pick them out for me, but I consider that cheating. For my collection, I have to come by the chips honestly, which means in the course of playing poker. Chips won are far, far sweeter than chips purchased.

Monday, February 11, 2008

A confession




When I'm in a hand, I often hear the voices of Mike Sexton and Vince Van Patten in my head, doing the play-by-play commentary.

**********

MIKE: Oh, look at this, Vince, Rakewell has flopped the nuts.

VINCE: Yes he has, Mike.

MIKE: He has top set with no straight or flush possible at this point.

VINCE: The "Star-Spangled Banner" is going off in his head.

MIKE: This could spell real trouble for his opponent's pocket aces. Let's see how he's going to play it. Well, he checked. He knows he has an aggressive opponent who will likely take a stab at it, so he's playing it slow.

VINCE: He's dug the hole, he's putting the twigs and branches over it.

[Etc.]

**********

I have a feeling I'm not alone in this little delusion.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Luxor improves to mediocre




I hated the old Luxor poker room. It was noisy and smoky, poorly run (for example, you could stand at the front desk for a l-o-n-g time being ignored the employees, who had better things to do than tend to a customer), and their main no-limit game was an insane structure: $1/$1/$3 blinds with a $50 minimum and maximum buy-in. It was just an all-in fest, with half of the game time spent trying to get the pot right and dealing with missed-blind buttons because of that stupid structure. I hadn't bothered with the place since November of 2006.

Recently I read that they moved the room and changed the game, so I decided to give them another chance. I've played three sessions there in the past seven days.

The first thing to note is that it has been highly profitable, with three wins in three tries, net uptick $628 in 7.8 hours, or about $80/hour. That's well above my overall average, and indicative of how soft the games have been. Despite my gripes about some aspects of the room, this will keep me coming back at least occasionally.

The poker room is now the very first thing you see upon entering from the main parking garage. The Luxor also confers the advantage of being nestled between Mandalay Bay and the Excalibur. Either one is a quick indoor walk from the Luxor, making it unusually easy to do a "two-fer" poker hit, locking up a nice little profit from one room and then hitting another, without having to get back in the car and drive somewhere.

It has the sports book on one side, slot machines on the other side of a half-wall, and is roped off from the main pedestrian thoroughfare on a third side. Unfortunately, two of the tables are right up against these ropes, and inconsiderate boobs walking by will stop with their cigars and cigarettes and blow smoke at the table from about three feet away. This is a very loose definition of a "non-smoking" room. Still, it's an improvement from the way things were before.

I heard one of the dealers say that they're planning to enclose this room with real walls. That would be nice, but I'll believe it when I see it. I have no idea whether this "plan" is "construction starts tomorrow" or "somebody said that they'd like to see that happen someday," or somewhere in between.

On all three visits, I've been greeted instantly, seated immediately, and treated very well overall. I can lodge no complaints whatsoever in the service department.

Restrooms are close--right across the hall.

They don't track player hours for comps, so forget about building up enough credits to take your out-of-town visiting family to a nice dinner someday.

The no-limit game structure has finally yielded to something more normal: $1-$2 blinds, with a $50-$200 buy-in. If you drop below $200 (say, by paying the big blind), you can purchase another $200 in chips, so the buy-in is effectively capped at $398. It's pretty silly not to just call it a $400 max. For people who want to start with the most chips possible, what, exactly, is the point in making them buy $200, play one hand, then buy another $200?

There's a nice array of big televisions, easily visible from most seats.

They have no interesting souvenir chips. They just have the standard-issue chips, plus a whole bunch of the creepy "Criss Angel Mindfreak" chips pictured above. They kind of weird me out, if ya know what I mean. When I get them, I make sure they stay buried in my stacks underneath the regular chips, so that Criss is not giving me the stinkeye while I play.

There's a terminology problem at the Luxor. They have a few single-table tournaments during the day. The problem is that they refer to them as, e.g., "the 10:00 p.m. sit-'n'-go." If the problem with that isn't obvious, a bit of background history may help. The single-table tournament was originally conceived by Jack Binion as a satellite system for entry into the World Series of Poker. With Internet poker sites, it's one of the most popular formats (and my personal favorite). Online they are called "sit 'n' go" tables, because they are not scheduled; you sign up, and as soon as there are enough players to fill a table, the thing starts. In fact, there are now multi-table sit-'n'-go tournaments, with the highest I've seen seating 180 players. But however many players and tables are involved, what makes it a "sit-'n'-go" is that it starts whenever enough people have signed up. The Luxor staff has confused "sit-'n'-go" with "single-table tournament." They are not interchangeable terms. If they run this tournament at 10:00 p.m., even if the table isn't filled, then it is a scheduled single-table tournament, not a "sit-'n'-go." For it to be that, they would need to keep an open roster and start the game whenever enough players are enrolled. No, this isn't a huge deal, and only pedants like me will complain about it, but I find it peculiar that a whole room staff of poker professionals don't understand common poker terminology.

They have a unique way of doling out high-hand jackpots. It's done on an hourly basis: $150 to the best hand each hour (with a minimum requirement of, I believe, aces full). During my first session, the dealer explicitly told us that only one of the player's hole cards has to play in order to qualify for the jackpot. I was surprised at this, because that's far from the norm. In fact, I can't think of any room in Vegas that gives high-hand or bad-beat jackpots without both of a player's hole cards being used. In my next session, however, a new player was asking about the jackpot rules, and the dealer said that both hole cards had to play. I checked the small print on the sign to resolve the discrepancy, and the second dealer was correct. Hey, Luxor, here's an idea: Don't have your dealers tell the players incorrect information about the house rules.

Speaking of the dealers, that brings me to the most alarming thing about the Luxor poker room that I've encountered so far: way more dealer problems than I would usually expect. Enough, in fact, that it's worth listing each separately. I should note, in advance, that I'm really very tolerant of ordinary dealer errors. People make mistakes, and it's no big deal. It's unreasonable to expect people to make no errors; all you can reasonably ask is that they (1) know what constitutes an error, and (2) handle the errors correctly when they occur. If those two elements are there, I'll never grouse about the kind of mistakes that are inevitably just part of the game.

Dealer #1

One of the most unprofessional things I've ever witnessed in a dealer was during my last visit to the old Luxor poker room. My table was at the edge of the room, with just a half-wall separating it from the main casino floor. One dealer was completely shameless in openly ogling attractive young women that walked by, would frequently make lurid comments about them to the players, and once even made a "Hey, Baby" call-out to a woman passing. It was unbelieveable. So why do I mention that in a post about the new poker room? Because that dealer is still working there. No, I didn't hear any such things from him this week, but I have no reason to think that this pig will be any better behaved now than he was then.

Dealer #2

First, this is the same guy who gave us wrong information about the jackpots.

Second, he came to work sick. I was sitting in seat 1, right next to him, and he was coughing and sniffling and sneezing and blowing his nose the whole time. It was revolting. I couldn't believe the shift supervisor wouldn't just send him home. Thanks, Luxor, for caring about your patrons so much that you'll expose them all to vacation-ruining cold viruses from your employees.

Third, he made one of the worst mistakes I've seen. I was involved in a huge pot, raised before the flop with multiple players in, and three of us each putting in another $50 on the flop. I made a full house on the river. I was pretty sure that one of my two opponents had a flush, and the other less than that, and this pot was going to be mine. The first guy checked. I bet $75. The big-stacked maniac on my left in seat 2 (who I was confident had the flush) said "raise." Then he pushed forward one stack of $100. Then he pushed forward another stack of $100. Then he pushed forward a third stack of $100. The dealer was just watching him do this. I wasn't really opposed to him putting me all-in; in fact, it's exactly what I wanted. But once he announced "raise," my ideal scenario was a minimum raise, inviting the other player in, before I drop the hammer on them. So I turned to the dealer and asked, "How many trips does he get to make?" Only then did the dealer say, "Oh yeah," and jump into action. He correctly limited the raise to the minimum, $150. The other player folded.

I pretended for a moment that this gave me a difficult decision to make, then said, "I'm all-in." I stacked up the rest of my chips and pushed them forward, joining the $75 I had previously put in. My opponent immediately said "Call," without pushing more chips in. I showed him my full house (pocket 6s, made a set on the flop, and the board paired on the river). My opponent grimly showed me the nut flush that he had made on the turn and had unwisely slow-played. Before I could react, the dealer pushed the huge pot toward me, toppling and merging with my chip stacks. The problem was that the dealer hadn't counted out the remainder of my stacks and taken a matching amount from my opponent. Now we couldn't determine how much I had started with.

He should have immediately called over the floor, but he didn't--probably because he didn't want to have his mistake known--even after I asked him to. (He did the second time I asked, though.) We started the cumbersome process of trying to reconstruct what had been in the pot before the final round of betting, when my opponent came up with an alternative solution. He had eyeballed my stack before putting in his raise. He thought that I had about $35 more than the $150 he had put in. I thought back to what my stacks had looked like, and realized that this was pretty close, certainly within $20 or so. He asked if I would accept $185 as the amount, rather than try to sort it out exactly, and I agreed. He was very gracious and reasonable about the whole thing, especially given how sick he must have felt upon seeing that he misplayed himself out of that much money.

How did the dealer make such an egregious error? Here's a hint: The Super Bowl was on at the time. Here's another hint: Any time a player missed seeing a play because of being involved in a hand, and asked what happened, the dealer gave him a recap. In other words, this idiot dealer was paying a hell of a lot more attention to the football than to the poker. Even as he was pushing me the pot prematurely, he was commenting on a play that had just taken place. His mind was anywhere except where it needed to be. When there's an unsually large pot, with an all-in and a call, every dealer should know that that's the time when he needs to be most scrupulously attentive to getting things right, lest a major mess ensue.

Dealer #3

I was under the gun, that is, just left of the big blind. What was to be my first card was face up on top of the deck in the dealer's hand after she dealt the first card to each of the blinds. This is called a "boxed card" (for reasons that I've never been able to grasp). The standard way of handling this is to show it to all of the players, then put it aside, as if it hadn't been there. That is, it's as if a stray piece of paper had accidentally found its way into the deck; it is just disregarded, and the hand goes on unaffected. (See http://pokergrump.blogspot.com/2007/05/yet-another-dealer-who-doesnt-know.html for another boxed card mishandled by the dealer.) This may not be absolutely universal, but I've never known of any card room that employed a different procedure. It is what I was taught in dealer school and is prescribed the same way in every rule book I've checked.

This dealer, though, called a misdeal, and gathered the cards back in. I didn't feel like challenging her, because as long as I get two random cards I'm satisfied. I meant to ask the supervisor before I left whether that is the room's standard procedure, but then I forgot to do so. So it's possible, but unlikely, that the Luxor's protocol for this situation is different from every other poker room in the world. More likely is that this dealer had just made up her own way of handling it.

To make matters stranger still, she just gave the deck a single riffle shuffle and a cut, then started dealing. It was very strange, I thought, for her not to do a full, standard shuffling procedure (two riffles, one "box" or "strip" shuffle, then another riffle and cut) after declaring a misdeal. That, I'm highly confident, is not the Luxor's prescribed method. Not that this dealer appeared to care....

Dealer #4

I was not involved with this hand, but watched it play out. The final board was 6-7-8-9-10. There were three cards of one suit, so a flush was possible, but on the last round of betting the first player checked, and the second tapped the table and said, "I'll play the board." The first guy said, "Me, too." Then, strangely, they both pushed their hole cards forward face down.

The dealer at this point needs to say something like "I have to see the hands in order to award the pot." It does not matter that a player's best five cards are the five community cards; every poker rule book agrees that the hole cards still must be exposed in order for any player to claim a share of the pot.

Well, not when you've got Dealer #4 in the box. She pulled in the unexposed cards, then split the pot between the two players, without a word being spoken. Apparently, nobody but me found anything out of the ordinary here.

Dealer #5

I noticed that he was wearing a lapel pin that appeared to be in the shape of a carrot. I thought this was pretty strange, and he would surely expect it to provoke questions, so I asked its significance. He said, "I just like to have the ladies ask me about my big carrot," then laughed as if he had made the funniest joke ever.

When he stopped laughing, he said that the real reason was a little promotion for Carrot Top's comedy show at the Luxor. He said he was given the choice between wearing a big button with the promo on it, or the smaller lapel pin, and chose the latter. Then he added, "Besides, it gives me the chance to say, 'I like having the ladies ask me about my big carrot.'" And he laughed again.

The guy needs some serious professional help.

Dealer #6

Again, I wasn't involved in this hand, but three other players were. The final board had a fairly obvious possible straight; any player holding a 10 would have the nuts. On the river, the first player to act moved all-in. The dealer said, "He is all-in with his straight." As it turned out, the guy did indeed have the straight, as did the other player who called him (and the one who didn't have it folded). It didn't take great poker insight to guess that that's what the first player was holding, but for the dealer to say that out loud is, frankly, shocking. It's horribly unprofessional, and has all kinds of potential for queering the action, in the event that one of the players hadn't noticed what was going on.

For example, it's fairly common for a player to be looking for a flush draw to hit, and when he doesn't see the suit he's looking for, he basically tunes out the ranks of the cards and may not notice the straight possibility, sometimes overlooking the fact that he himself has made the straight! It is inexcusable for the dealer to step in and alert him to what he might have missed on his own.

I've commented several times in the past about dealers who inappropriately insert themselves into the action--see http://pokergrump.blogspot.com/2007/12/another-dealer-injecting-himself-into.html and the other posts linked therein. I can only conclude that these dealers are either so resentful that they're dealing rather than playing, or so bored, that they just can't resist openly commenting on what's happening. It's terribly unprofessional, and should be grounds for discipline.

Conclusion

This is a highly aberrant number of significant dealer problems to have noted in just a few hours of play--more, in fact, than I can recall from a similar number of hours spent anyplace else. Luxor, you have a serious problem with dealers not knowing their jobs. Of course there are fine ones there, too; I don't mean to tar them all with the same brush. But it's a disturbing array of unprofessional conduct. The Luxor's poker room management really needs to take this problem seriously and start getting a handle on it. I'm not yet ready to shift the "worst dealers in town" label from the Sahara to the Luxor (see http://pokergrump.blogspot.com/2007/07/where-are-worst-dealers-in-town.html), but a couple of more such examples, and I'll be willing to declare it at least a tie.

Still, with plenty of action going on at the times I want to play, soft games, and easy access to two other card rooms, I will certainly be hitting the Luxor more often than I have in the past. If they really do improve the room physically by walling it in, and start keeping track of comp hours, they will go a long way toward making it one of my favorite places to play.

Money to burn




There's a new aggregator of poker blogs at http://www.pokerwonks.com/. It's a convenient way of scanning recent posts from a wide variety of poker blogs, just to keep abreast with what people are doing and saying in this strange segment of the world.

I was browsing the site this morning, and was reminded that I hadn't checked in on the Prof's poker blog in a while (http://www.lasvegasvegas.com/pokerblog/). A few days ago he posted this:

While the Monte Carlo resort on the Las Vegas strip was ablaze last Monday
the poker room was doing business as usual. Poker players continued betting and
dealers continued dealing the cards to the nonchalant crowd of gamblers. The big
screen TV's in the poker room were tuned to local channels where the fire on the
upper floors exterior facade could be tracked in real time. This devil-may-care
behavior is reminiscent of the time when flood waters flowed through the casino
at Caesars Palace and blackjack players rolled up their pants legs and continued
gambling. Neither flood nor fire will keep the dedicated gamers from their
appointed games.

This was the first I had heard of how people inside reacted to the fire. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised.

I've played poker through many fire alarms before. As I wrote a couple of months ago (http://pokergrump.blogspot.com/2007/12/mesquite-flavored-poker-part-1-eureka.html):
The final interesting thing that happened on this visit was a fire alarm.
It happened just as I was leaving--literally the instant that I stepped through
the door. In fact, I wondered if I had triggered some security thing, like when
the alarm blares at you in the public library because they didn't de-activate
one of your books.

I've heard lots of fire alarms in casinos before, and they're actually kind
of funny, because nobody does anything. They just keep doing what they were
doing before. Every previous time, a recorded voice has come over the PA system
saying something like, "Our staff is investigating the cause of the alarm. We
will notify you if you need to take any action." In other words, they give
people permission to ignore the alarm.

But this time, the overhead voice was actually telling everybody to
evacuate. By the time I got to my car, a few people were trickling out, but it
wasn't anything like you see in a fire drill at a school, for instance. I think
most people will keep playing their slot machines until the reels melt from the
flames and won't turn any more. Even then, they'll complain that it was just
about to hit.

I have enough confidence in modern building construction and fire safety codes (well, except maybe in Harrah's properties; see http://www.lvrj.com/news/12530566.html and http://www.lvrj.com/business/14450797.html) that I don't worry that a towering inferno is going to result from most of the stuff that sets off the hotel fire alarms (an overdone souffle in the oven, somebody smoking in bed setting his sheets on fire, etc.).

But I'm just telling you all in advance, so you don't think I'm being rude when it happens: If I'm playing poker, and there's a fire in the building large enough that it's being featured live on all the local television stations, and that coverage is on the big-screen TVs in the poker room--I'm going to be leaving. It's possible that I'll finish the hand I'm currently playing. I might even cash out my chips if there isn't a line at the booth. But I'm done for the day.

Hundreds of people needlessly died in the World Trade Center because they obediently followed directions (both automated recordings and what they were told when they called security for advice) to stay where they were and not evacuate the buildings. That's not going to be me. Yeah, maybe the fire is only on the roof, and the poker room is on the ground floor, but fires do crazy things sometimes. They spread. They drop flaming debris to lower levels. They cause floors and walls to collapse, pancaking the stories below. Smoke gets into the ventilation systems. The sprinklers might turn on, dowsing everything and everybody that's still there. And if you wait to leave until the crisis is obvious and imminent, you might get trampled by panicking idiots.

Call me paranoid, but when a building is burning in a major way, I've got other places to be. With more than 50 poker rooms in the city, I don't need to be sitting in the one that's on fire.

Weird card protector




This one was an ugly little Yoda, spotted at the Riviera poker room.

Still not quite as strange as this one, however: http://pokergrump.blogspot.com/2006/11/weirdest-card-protector-ever.html