Friday, April 04, 2008

Where'd he go?

At the Venetian yesterday I noticed that there were no Gordie Brown $5 chips in use. His run at the Venetian recently ended, and he's now appearing at Planet Hollywood. Guess they don't want to advertise him anymore.

This is the second time recently I've seen what appears to be an intentional withdrawal of specific chips from circulation. (See I wonder if it's the start of a trend. Or maybe it has been going on for a long time, and I just never noticed it before.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

You make the call

Playing my usual $1-$2 no-limit hold'em at the Venetian this afternoon, quite early in the session, I picked up J-J in second position. Ick. Oh well--you've got to play them even from out of position, right?

I have a system of raise amounts that varies with my position (earlier position means smaller raise, later position larger raise) and the number of limpers already in (more limpers means a larger raise). I never want my bet or raise size to be related to the strength of my cards, but it does make sense to take into account those two factors. My formula dictated $8 for that spot, so that's what I made it. A fairly loose-aggressive player on the button pushed it up to $18. I couldn't give him a lot of credit here for a big hand, so I put in the third raise, bumping it up to $38. He called. We're the only ones in this pot.

The flop was Q-9-4, rainbow. I hated the queen, but nearly half my stack was in the pot already, and with J-J if you're scared of every overcard, you'll almost never play past the flop. So I scrunched up my courage, put my remaining chips into one stack, and slid it forward across the betting line. As usual, I didn't say anything.

My opponent asked how much the bet was. The dealer eyeballed the chips--without breaking down the stack--and announced "35." Well, that's what everybody else heard. I actually thought he said "45," but he had an exceptionally heavy Asian accent, and those two numbers could sound quite similar in a noisy cardroom. Furthermore, I had not paid any attention to what the amount was, and really wasn't listening to the dealer. I was just watching to see what my opponent would do.

He plucked seven red chips from his stack and tossed them in, after thinking for a bit. I showed my jacks. He just nodded. The dealer put out the turn and river cards, and the player kept his hand face-down. He never did show it, so apparently my unimproved pair had him beat.

But now the problem arose. Another player not in the hand noticed that my stack was actually $45 (eight red chips and five whites), not $35. When he pointed this out, the dealer broke down my stack and confirmed it.

Now the other guy didn't want to put in the additional $10 for the full call. His argument was that he put in what the dealer said was the amount required to call. I didn't get involved, just sat quietly, knowing that it would all get sorted out in some manner. My reasons were that, first, because I hadn't really paid attention at the critical moment, I didn't have any useful firsthand-witness observations to contribute to the discussion, and, besides, anything I said would look petty and self-serving.

The floorperson got called over. He eventually ruled that all of my chips had gone forward across the line and were clearly visible, and that it was the caller's responsibility to know the amount, even if the dealer misstated it. His intention was clearly to call, and the floorperson couldn't believe that the player would have been willing to call $35 but not $45 in that situation. He was, therefore, required to complete the call for the additional $10.

I still don't know whether that's right or not, which is why I'm posting this for comments--especially from you dealers and floor guys who read this.

Yeah, in this particular case the difference is pretty small, which makes it likely that the guy would have called even if the dealer had stated the amount correctly. But what happens if we change the facts just a bit? Suppose that I had had a black $100 chip at the bottom of the stack, and the dealer's error had been overlooking that, and the opponent, at the far end of the table, couldn't clearly see it? Should he then be required to call off the additional $100 after thinking that he was making just a $35 (or $45) call? What if the player is known to have very poor eyesight, through no fault of his own, and has no reasonable choice but to rely on the dealer's count?

And don't I have at least some responsibility here to have noticed the error and help get it right before the guy made his decision?

When the player takes the trouble to ask the dealer for the amount before making the call, and the dealer gets it wrong, who should bear the responsibility? My opponent, when arguing with the floor guy (very civilly, I should point out; no raised voice, no swearing, no insults, no sarcasm--just thoughtful, logical questions and statements) asked, "Do I have to walk around the table and physically count it myself to be sure that the dealer isn't getting it wrong?" Good question, for which the floorperson didn't have a convincing reply.

My gestalt sense is that the floor's decision was probably the best one for this particular set of facts, but I don't like being left without a clear rule or rationale that would guide all such decisions, even if the facts were somewhat different.

Comments welcome.

Addendum, April 4, 2008

I posted this same question in the forums over at Chris Coffin, poker room manager at Treasure Island, posted a superb response, listing all of the relevant rules and considerations. Highly recommended reading, if the situation interests you:


This is my 500th blog post. As Mike Sexton would say, "Oh my golly!"

I actually managed (though not intentionally) to slow down the pace just a hair; it took me 42 days to put up the previous hundred posts, and I stretched that out to 43 this time around. That was mainly because there was a five-day stretch in there in which the muse completely abandoned me, and I felt no inspiration to write anything. (And thanks to those of you who noticed and took time to tell me that I was missed.)

I can't think of anything to say here that I haven't said before (and I don't like repeating myself), so please just click back and see what I said about posts #400, #300, and #200 (I didn't do anything special to note #100). It's all still true:

And I only say this every 100 posts: Please click on the stupid, ugly ads on the left! They keep this thing a-goin'.

A newfound simple pleasure

At many Vegas casinos, you exit the parking garage (for non-valet-users like me, anyway) and have to go down an escalator from there to get to the main casino floor. Offhand I can think of the Venetian, Treasure Island, Harrah's, Imperial Palace, Suncoast--there are undoubtedly others.

Over the last couple of weeks I've done something new and different: I take the stairs. There is usually a narrow staircase located adjacent to the escalators, and it's almost always empty. Using it does several things: It gives me a little exercise; it allows me to avoid the irritation of the throngs of people who are too stupid to grasp the "stand on the right, walk on the left" concept (about which see the fine rant at; and it actually gets me there faster, because even when I'm not hurrying, my normal pace on stairs beats the slowpoke escalators. Also, the escalator riders tend to look at me as if I'm nuts for not using the common conveyance, and I always like being just a bit different than the crowd.

When I'm done with a poker session, climbing the stairs actually feels great. If it was a winning day, I've got a little spring in my step to exert on the stairs. If it was a stinkeroo, the exercise is at least a little, um, exorcising. Either way, blood pumping through the atrophied leg muscles feels quite invigorating after a few hours of near motionlessness.

I recommend giving it a try.

I hate seat squatters

It happened again the other day at the Palms. A player went for a dinner break, leaving his chips at the poker table to reserve his seat. Then, after an hour, the guy returned, picked up his chips, cashed out, and went home.

You might wonder why he didn't cash out before leaving for dinner. The most common reason is the various incentives that casinos give players for hours spent at the poker table. In the case of the Palms, they have a freeroll tournament every week for people who put in enough hours to qualify. Players in absentia for long stretches become a real problem when they are given incentive to play longer than they really want to. The Palms guy got credit for an extra hour or so that he didn't actually play.

Some places have effective measures in place to prevent this. Poker rooms such as Treasure Island, the MGM Grand, Imperial Palace, and all the Station casinos have electronic systems built into the tables. Players swipe their cards in at the table, and the dealer can just push a button when the player is absent, so that they cease to accumulate time credit. When the Hilton had its poker room open, they had an increasing problem with this phenomenon, so they would manually take people off the freeroll tournament clock as soon as they missed a blind. (This was possible because the number of qualifying players was low enough that essentially all of the players were known by name to all of the dealers, and the room was physically small enough that it was easy for dealers to speak to the people at the desk.)

In most rooms, there is a limit to how long you can be gone before they come around and pick up your chips, so that your seat is forfeited. Typically you get 60 to 90 minutes. They keep track of this by each incoming dealer (changed every 30 minutes in most rooms) placing an "absent" button at the seat of anybody not there. Usually the third absent button gets you picked up. The most unethical players try to effectively extend this by returning after an hour, playing one or two hands, then leaving for another hour. The Rio recently instituted a countermeasure: If you get an absent button, it can only be taken back by the next dealer, not by the same one that gave it to you. That means that when you return from your break, you have to stay and play at least until the next dealer arrives, or the effect is the same as if you hadn't come back.

Personally, I don't get this behavior. I'm at the casino to play poker because I make money doing so. The longer I play, the more I make (or at least that's the plan). Furthermore, there's nothing else that the casinos offer that I want to do. I don't drink, I don't play the table games. I'm not interested in watching what's on the TVs in the sports book. I'm not into shopping at the stores. If I'm at the casino, I want to be playing poker. But that's just crazy ol' me.

In addition to being a cheat on the incentive these seat-squatters are chasing, it leaves the game short-handed while they do whatever it is they're out doing, and it prevents other waiting players from joining the game because the seat is locked up.

What made the situation at the Palms more infuriating than the many other times that I've seen it happen is that the culprit was a guy that I know is a poker dealer at the Red Rock casino. He's normally a very cool guy that I like having at the table--a good player, quiet, friendly, respectful, easy-going. This is the first major etiquette infraction I'm seen him guilty of. I'm calling you out, Adam. You of all people should know better than this.

Taking a dinner break in the middle of a long poker session is perfectly fine. But tying up a seat for a long time, only to return, pick up your chips, and leave without playing again, is a crummy, unethical, low-life, rude, cheating thing to do to the casino. It is a crummy, unethical, low-life, rude, cheating thing to do to the other players that are honestly qualifying for the freeroll tournament (or whatever other incentive the hours count towards). It is a crummy, unethical, low-life, rude, cheating thing to do to the other players at the table, who would like to have the seat occupied. It is a crummy, unethical, low-life, rude, cheating thing to do to the people who are on the waiting list and would like to be able to sit down and play.

Horse, not HORSE

I usually work for a while on a crossword puzzle before I go to bed. Last night I was doing so, when I came upon this clue: "One who gives shots on a horse farm?" (The question mark suggests that it's a wordplay answer.)

When I finally figured out the solution, it was:


Hee hee hee!

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

How far off can my read be?

The other day at the Rio I was new to the table, sizing people up. After maybe 30 minutes, I thought that a 30-ish guy at the far end of the table was going to be a solid, tough opponent. He was kind of awkward in handling his chips and cards, so I knew that he was new to casino poker. However, his decisions seemed confident; he wasn't overly loose; he continued aggressively once he took control of a hand; and opponents seemed to give him a lot of respect. He was quiet, moved and talked very little, unflappable, showing little of any emotion about anything. I pegged him as a pretty experienced online player, making good poker decisions, but just inexperienced in the mechanics of live poker. This was somebody to watch out for.

Then came the hand that opened my eyes.

I had A-J in the big blind. Mr. Confident raised from middle position, got one late-position caller, and I joined in the fun. The flop was K-Q-10. I had flopped the joint, the Broadway straight. I checked. True to form, Mr. Confident put in a $20 continuation bet, and the third player called. I check-raised to $60. This was about half of my stack, which presumably signaled to the other players that I was perfectly willing to go all the way here. With little hesitation, Mr. Confident called, making me think he had either two pair or had flopped a set. The other guy folded.

The turn was a blank, and of course I shoved the rest of my chips in. Mr. Confident quickly said, "I call." I showed my straight. He kept his cards face down. The turn was a jack, which I hated, because if he had A-K or A-Q, he just made the same straight that I had.

But then he turned over... K-4 offsuit.

Yes. K-4 offsuit.

Raising with K-4 isn't totally crazy if it's an unopened pot, though doing so in middle position rather than late position is a bit iffy. You have to know that you're making a play based on table image and representing something stronger than what you really have; you do not want to go to a showdown, unless you happen to hit a truly miracle flop (like K-4-4). When you flop top pair with it, and the action is checked to you, a continuation bet is perfectly reasonable. But when you then get called in one spot, and check-raised by one of the blinds--who is putting in half of his stack and is therefore committed to putting in the rest--and you still have the third player to act on the check-raise behind you, it is absolute suicide to do anything other than run away as fast as you can. You're done. The jig is up. You got caught with a mediocre hand, and you have to abandon ship.

But this post isn't to poke fun at how badly he played. It's primarily to marvel at how wildly off my initial assessment of him had been. I thought he was savvy, when actually he was clueless. I thought he would show me KK or QQ or KQ, when actually he was much, much weaker than that.

So how I have to ask, where does one go to get one's poker radar repaired? Mine seems in need of some fine-tuning.

Congressional hearing on UIGEA

A simply outstanding report of the proceedings is posted over at Hard-Boiled Poker: I'm confident you won't find a better summary of what went on.


I now have four poker chips with cows on them (only two of which are immediately accessible, and are therefore shown here). I just think that's a little odd. It's not like herds of cows often wander around the Strip.

They're, y'know, cow chips.

Poker gems, #103

Howard Lederer, in Poker Pro magazine, April, 2008, p. 21:

Unless you are drawing to the absolute nuts, I tend to pretty much ignore implied odds. The chances that A. you hit your hand and when you bet the person folds; or B. you hit your hand and it's no enough...that I don't think you should count implied odds for money.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

I begin to grasp the heartache of razz

This is another of the occasional posts that's completely self-absorbed and likely of a lot less interest to most readers than the majority of the stuff I try to write about, so again, all are forgiven for clicking on to something else.

My interest in razz keeps growing. I have moved both the Cogert and Sklansky books (see off of my wish list and ordered them; they should be arriving any day. In the meantime, a reader who bumped into me (in the virtual way) in an online razz game kindly pointed me to a quick primer on the game from twoplustwo magazine. I read it this afternoon, but in a weird turn of events, it has disappeared from the web site within the last few hours. Trying to figure out what happened to it, I found a notice that the site only keeps its magazine articles available for three months. The article was in the January issue, so I suspect that they did housekeeping today and removed it. But never fear, entering some search terms in Google led me to the author's razz blog, where I found that the article was posted yesterday, specifically to make it available after twoplustwo removed it:

Others in the series that I just now discovered and haven't read yet:

The primer introduced me to the concept (incredibly obvious once it's pointed out) that one must use at least two of the four up cards, which makes for a simple way of putting limits on how good or bad an opponent's hand can be. I also learned what "boardlock" is, a term that I had seen used in a couple of places, but without a definition that I could easily find, so it remained meaningless to me. (I figured I would just wait until my books arrived to learn about it.) I know, I know--in the ocean of knowledge of razz, this stuff is about puddle depth, kind of like realizing that there has to be a pair on the board in order to make a full house in hold'em. But that's where I am in learning this stuff, so don't make fun of me. You'll hurt my tender feelings.

The article also pointed me to this hand simulator/calculator, which will quite amazingly run several billion trials of a given hand-versus-hand that you give it, in just a few seconds:

(As helpful as reading the first article today was at getting me my first real toehold on even the most basic strategy, I have to inject a note of caution about this author, whom I know only as "listening," the alias he or she adopts for both playing online and writing/blogging. There is another blog post at the same site,, that in its grasp of the concept of randomness is, at best, just plain dead wrong, and, at worst, bordering on the looney. This makes me pretty tepid about recommending the author's work wholesale. But he or she doesn't have to know very much about razz to be able to teach me useful things at this point, and the razz stuff is well-written and easy to grasp. So you have been warned: Take what's useful, but be leery of anything mathematical.)

I've played several sessions of 0.50/$1 limit razz on Poker Stars over the last week or so. I'm using Stars exclusively because, as a reader kindly pointed out to me after my first post on the subject, they allow you to see the order in which the cards came in the post-hoc hand history, and at this stage of my development, I desperately need that in order to reconstruct what happened and figure out whether I did the right things. Full Tilt's decision to scramble the order still seems crazy to me.

Amazingly enough, even with my rudimentary understaning of the game, I've been able to break even over maybe 10 hours of playing, even when playing two tables at a time. Not only that, I've been able to make at least some general identification of the players who are better or (if you can believe it) worse than me.

Here's a hand I played this evening against a guy I had pegged in a previous session as really bad and a too-frequent bluffer. (The full hand history is below, in case anybody wants to dig through it.)

I get dealt 7-3-A. Only about 10% of starting hands are unpaired cards 7 or below, so this is definitely one to put some hope into. I raise. BIGDOG006 is the only caller. He has (as I was later to learn) A-3-8. Not a bad hand, but using the calculator linked above, I find that I was 59/41 favorite.

Fourth street brings me a 6, BIGDOG006 another ace. This is huge for me. I'm now an 87/13 favorite. I bet, he calls.

Fifth street: I get a 9, he gets a 4. So at least I now have a made hand with a 9-7-6-3-A; not great, but definitely workable. He has nothing. I'm still a 70/30 favorite. He is, as his screen name implies, a Big Dog. He bets, I call. (I know that I have a 9. He's showing an 8. Since I know he bluffs a lot, I could easily be ahead, but I'm playing cautiously.)

Sixth street: I get a jack, which doesn't help or hurt me. BIGDOG006 gets delivered another 3, so that he is now double-paired. He bets--the obvious thing to do when you have a horrible, horrible hand. I call again. I'm a 77/23 favorite.

In hold'em, I've seen enough hands that I can almost instantaneously figure out, once the hands are shown, what cards will make the underdog the winner. With razz, though, it's like learning to read all over again. I had to think long and hard (after the Stars session was over) to deduce what had to happen at this point for BIGDOG006 to win the hand: He needed to catch a 7, 6, 5, or 2 (we have a dead 7 and a dead 5), and even if he does, I still win if my last card comes a 5, 4, or 2.

You know I wouldn't be telling this story if it didn't end badly. PokerStars sees fit, in its infinite wisdom, to give him a 5 and to pair my 3. This gives him an 8-5-4-3-A, me a 9-7-6-3-A. At least I didn't lose another dollar at the end, because I knew my 9 was playing and I couldn't be sure if his 8 was his worst card or not.

In short, I was ahead at the first four of five decision points in the hand--all except the last, which, in the end, is the only one that matters.

This is why people hate razz! I get it now! It is certainly enough to make one want to blow raspberries at one's opponent (or perhaps at one's computer screen, if one doesn't mind viewing the remainder of the session through little globs of spit)--which I'm thinking is how the game got its name.

No, I'm not genuinely upset about the hand. It was a $10 pot, which doesn't even make a pixel of difference when I graph my overall profit/loss in Excel. And, of course, the same general thing happens all the time in hold'em (start with A-K, hit two pairs on the flop, opponent catches runner-runner jack and queen to make a straight with his 6-10 offsuit) or any other form of poker. So far, I don't see that it's really any more frustrating in razz, unless one has a selective memory. But I am starting to see why razz has the reputation that it does.

Perhaps the most encouraging revelation of the last few days is that, terrible as I am at the game, I am measurably and demonstrably better than at least some of the other people that inhabit the low-stakes games. I may be a razz donkey, but I am no longer the king of the razz donkeys.

(Hand history below, for the obsessive/compulsive.)
PokerStars Game #16427278923: Razz Limit ($0.50/$1.00) - 2008/04/02 - 02:08:47 (ET)
Table 'Celaeno II' 8-max
Seat 1: BIGDOG006 ($7.60 in chips)
Seat 2: Katty Bear ($18.10 in chips)
Seat 4: gas05 ($16.20 in chips)
Seat 5: Rakewell1 ($17.15 in chips)
Seat 6: Android982 ($8.90 in chips)
Seat 7: Wetdog13 ($23.85 in chips)
Seat 8: PokerWiz84 ($17.55 in chips)
BIGDOG006: posts the ante $0.05
Katty Bear: posts the ante $0.05
gas05: posts the ante $0.05
Rakewell1: posts the ante $0.05
Android982: posts the ante $0.05
Wetdog13: posts the ante $0.05
PokerWiz84: posts the ante $0.05
*** 3rd STREET ***
Dealt to BIGDOG006 [8s]
Dealt to Katty Bear [Th]
Dealt to gas05 [7h]
Dealt to Rakewell1 [7s 3s Ah]
Dealt to Android982 [7c]
Dealt to Wetdog13 [9c]
Dealt to PokerWiz84 [5s]
jbrennen has returned
Katty Bear: brings in for $0.25
gas05: folds
Rakewell1: raises $0.25 to $0.50
Android982: folds
Wetdog13: folds
PokerWiz84: folds
BIGDOG006: raises $0.50 to $1
Katty Bear: folds
Rakewell1: raises $0.50 to $1.50
BIGDOG006: raises $0.50 to $2
Betting is capped
Rakewell1: calls $0.50
*** 4th STREET ***
Dealt to BIGDOG006 [8s] [As]
Dealt to Rakewell1 [7s 3s Ah] [6s]
Rakewell1: bets $0.50
BIGDOG006: calls $0.50
*** 5th STREET ***
Dealt to BIGDOG006 [8s As] [4h]
Dealt to Rakewell1 [7s 3s Ah 6s] [9s]
BIGDOG006: bets $1
Rakewell1: calls $1
*** 6th STREET ***
Dealt to BIGDOG006 [8s As 4h] [3c]
Dealt to Rakewell1 [7s 3s Ah 6s 9s] [Js]
BIGDOG006: bets $1
Rakewell1: calls $1
*** RIVER ***
Dealt to Rakewell1 [7s 3s Ah 6s 9s Js] [3d]
Wetdog13 said, "sup bro"
BIGDOG006: checks
Rakewell1: checks
*** SHOW DOWN ***
BIGDOG006: shows [Ad 3h 8s As 4h 3c 5c] (Lo: 8,5,4,3,A)
Rakewell1: mucks hand
BIGDOG006 collected $9.15 from pot
*** SUMMARY ***
Total pot $9.60 Rake $0.45
Seat 1: BIGDOG006 showed [Ad 3h 8s As 4h 3c 5c] and won ($9.15) with Lo: 8,5,4,3,A
Seat 2: Katty Bear folded on the 3rd Street
Seat 4: gas05 folded on the 3rd Street (didn't bet)
Seat 5: Rakewell1 mucked [7s 3s Ah 6s 9s Js 3d]
Seat 6: Android982 folded on the 3rd Street (didn't bet)
Seat 7: Wetdog13 folded on the 3rd Street (didn't bet)
Seat 8: PokerWiz84 folded on the 3rd Street (didn't bet)

Two books

A friend emailed me this link to a review of two new books that may be of interest to readers: I hadn't heard of either of them before, but they both sound pretty good--added to my wish list.

Monday, March 31, 2008

New poker podcast, with a bit from the Grump

I'm pleased to point you to, where you will find the first installment of the world's newest poker podcast, "The Hard-Boiled Poker Radio Show," put together by Short-Stacked Shamus of the Hard-Boiled Poker blog ( As his invitation, both Tim Peters of the "Literature of Poker" blog ( and I contributed segments. When you have an hour to spare, please go give it a listen. I think you'll enjoy it.

Makes my poker adventures seem tame

Go read:

Poker needs this

I know essentially nothing about console video games. But I use Yahoo as my browser's home page, and their lead story when I logged on just now was about how Microsoft has implemented some sort of upgrade that detects players who have used other software to post higher scores in some games than the players have actually achieved. (See Those accounts will still be usable, but when their accomplishments are displayed publicly, they will be branded with the "cheater" label shown above. (I don't know why it was blurred for news release.)

Poker SO needs something like that. Of course, it's really better to perma-ban the cheaters from all games everywhere. But as long as we're dealing in fantasy, I'd love it if a player caught cheating at poker--internet poker, casino poker, home poker, whatever--would have a scarlet "C" burned into his forehead and both hands for all to see. Even in my fantasy world, I can't really get an exact equivalent to what Microsoft is doing online, because the player wouldn't be allowed to establish or use an online account at any site anywhere on the planet, so the electronic labeling would not be necessary. But having the poker gods sear it into the most visible parts of the cheater's flesh would be quite satisfying. Every casino in the world would have a rule not to even let such a marked person in. People running home games would be warned about who is in their midst.

Have I made it sufficiently clear yet how violently I detest poker cheaters? (See

One of these things is not like the others

Saturday night at the Palms there was a young man at the far end of the table with what looked like an unsuually small stack when I sat down. Only when he played a hand by tossing in a green $25 chip did I realize that he had a lot more money in front of him that I had realized, because some of what appeared to be $1 chips were actually $25s. I don't think I had seen $25 chips in play at the Palms before, so this was the first time I became aware of what a problem it is.

You see, their $1 chips are a white background with blue-green decoration, and a blue-green edge. The $25 are green and white, but with a solid medium-green edge. The edge colors are far, far too similar. Even after becoming aware of the problem, I could not tell from a table-length away which chips in this guy's stack were $1s and which were $25s. With a chip flat on the table, it was not too difficult to distinguish them (though a glance might still mislead), but in a stack viewed from the side, they're nearly identical.

After a while this guy moved down to my end of the table. I gradually became aware that he was deliberately inducing confusion. If he won a pot with more than a few red $5 chips in it, he would go to the cashier's desk and trade five of them for another $25 chip.

Maybe he has a serious aversion to red. Maybe he just likes to have a physically short stack. But I'm pretty suspicious that his goal was to eventually trap somebody unaware. When he had a monster, he could move all in, and hope that an opponent would see his stack as mostly consisting of $1 chips, and decide to call with a marginal hand, only to be informed that there was actually something like $300 to be matched.

The best thing the Palms could do about this would be to get rid of either the $1 or the $25 chips, and replace them with a color that won't easily be mistaken for another denomination. But they could accomplish the same thing--that is, preventing the kind of mistake that I think this guy was trying to induce--by simply making it a poker room rule that the $25 chips don't play. If somebody brings them to the table, they have to be changed for reds.

In retrospect, I think that what I should have done was ask the floor man to require, at a minimum, that this player keep his $25 chips in a separate stack from the $1s and $5s. Instead, he was constantly shuffling them, keeping them thoroughly intermixed.

There's also a warning for all players in this observation: Don't assume you can tell at a glance how much money is behind an all-in bet; always ask for the dealer to count it, unless you're certain that you're willing to put your whole stack in. You may avoid a nasty surprise. If you don't look closely, you may miss the fact that there are higher-denomination chips ($25 or even $100) lurking quietly among the expected $1s and $5s.

Paying for time

Friday night I partook again in the crazy mixed game at Treasure Island. The mechanics of it were a whole lot easier this time. But I still played like a donkey and got punished for it.

For reasons that are not entirely clear to me, the house rakes that game by time instead of by the pot. (My best guess is that this is because the games plays a lot more slowly than hold'em, and some games are faster than others, so the number of hands per hour is lower and variable.) Each player pays $4 every 30 minutes, then nothing is taken out of the pots.

After maybe three hours, one player left and another arrived. The new player--obviously a veteran of this game, so she doesn't get unfamiliarity as an excuse--played three or four hands before the half-hour interval arrived and we all had to chuck in the $4. She complained that she shouldn't have to pay, because she had only played a few hands.

But--DUH!--she had been playing them for free!

In hold'em, the blinds are payment in advance for one full round of poker (i.e., the dealer button going around the table one time). Similarly, when paying by time, the payment is for the next interval, not the one that just passed. Were it otherwise, if a player busted out and decided to go home, he or she would have to reach into the wallet and pull out $4 for the time spent. Obviously the casino isn't going to do that.

So rather than seeing her few free hands as a bonus, a gimmee that the previous player had paid for her, she instead griped about it.

It never ceases to amaze me what petty and just plain wrong-headed things poker players will decide warrant complaining about.

I could've sworn...

A fouled deck occurs any time there are more or fewer than the standard 52 cards, or if there are 52 cards but not 52 different cards. It's a pretty rare phenomenon. In fact, I've only seen it once. In a tournament at Caesars Palace about a year ago I was dealt two cards with different backs. Oops. It's a huge problem when it happens, because the entire hand gets voided, no matter what action has taken place, and people who had put a lot of money into the pot--and especially the winner, if one has been determined before the fouled deck is discovered--tend to get upset at having a "do over" called on them. (See for a story of how Clonie Gowen illegally and unethically used a fouled deck to her advantage.)

At the Rio tonight I was in the big blind with Q-3 of spades. I was thinking that it's not a great hand, but it's about as good as you can hope for in the blinds. I was hoping to get to play it for free. But there was a substantial raise, then a reraise, so of course I had to dump it. I kind of zoned out of the action at that point, listening to my music.

I was quite surprised, then, when after a little while I looked up and noticed that the flop included the queen of spades. I thought maybe my mind was playing tricks on me, but I thought back and distinctly remembered seeing the Q-3 of spades and thinking that it was a decent big-blind hand. I didn't want to say anything, and hoped that maybe a bet would take down the pot and I could ignore it. But then I realized that if there really was a problem with the deck, it would be better to have it discovered now than to continue to play. There was a bet and a raise, followed by an all-in. So when the action paused while the original bettor pondered what to do, I walked around the table and whispered to the dealer to check the discards before concluding the hand, because I was pretty sure I had folded the Qs.

The hand played out and the dealer pushed the pot. He then turned the discard pile face up. There were two red queens in it, as well as a red three, but no black queens.

Wow. I wouldn't quite have been willing to go to court and swear under penalty of perjury that I absolutely did have the queen and three of spades in my hand, but I was highly confident of it. Had I not been, I wouldn't have bothered the dealer about it. It's something I've never done before.

I apologized for my memory glitch. To his credit, the dealer was absolutely perfect about it. He said, "Not a problem. It wouldn't be the strangest thing I've ever seen happen. I'm happy to check and be sure. Thanks for mentioning it." He almost made me feel like a hero instead of a dork--even though I'm pretty sure I was a dork.

Strange how memory errors occur. I could remember clearly the visual image of the queen and three--distinctly black, and complete with the spades symbol--as I had seen them when I peeked at my cards a couple of minutes before. But it was a false memory. I've had a few other occasions in my life when something I remembered with perfect confidence was proven not to have been as I so clearly remembered it. I don't think, though, that there has ever been such a short time interval between forming the memory and having it altered by subsequent events and/or by the passage of time and/or by a brain short-circuit.

Gotta start taking those memory-enhancement pills....

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Mr. Unbluffable

At the Palms last night, an older gentleman was dealt A-K on his very first hand, didn't improve, but still made a heroic call of a large river bet, with a very scary board, against what turned out to be a bluffing, unimproved A-J. As the dealer pushed him the pot, he looked around the table and said, seriously, "Now you all know that I'm unbluffable." A guy at the other end of the table chuckled and said, "We'll see about that." Mr. Unbluffable got his dander up and challenged, "You just go ahead and try."

Do I even have to spell out how stupid this is, and why?

Never mind whether his initial call with the A-K hand was brilliant or folly; one could argue either way. (I.e., it was smart because he was right, or it was dumb because most of the time in that situation he would be throwing his money away.) Nobody likes to get bluffed off of the best hand. But being unbluffable is a terrible quality. It means that you make a habit of calling way too often when you have the worst of it, just to avoid losing out on the pot in case your opponent is bluffing.

Even worse than actually being unbluffable, or something close to it, is being so stupidly proud of having that defect in your game that you openly announce it to the table, and then rise to make the point even more emphatically when somebody good-naturedly questions you about it! I loved the guy throwing in the "We'll see" comment, and the response it provoked. That combination perfectly set the stage.

No, it didn't set the stage for bluffing in order to show the guy up. That might be emotionally satisfying in some sick way (and could be profitable in the long run if successful, because it would heighten Mr. Unbluffable's already exaggerated calling tendency). But the more obvious route to making money off of the guy is simply to take advantage of his habit of thinking he's being bluffed, and make larger-than-average value bets when you do actually have the goods. Bet in a way and in situations that will look to his overly-suspicious eyes as if you're trying to bluff him, then turn over the best hand when he makes what he thinks is a great call.

Poker is like judo, in that you need to use an opponent's moves against him. Maybe the hardest poker skill to develop is observing the other players in enough situational detail that you figure out their bad habits, then look for and create situations that exploit them. That task is made immeasurably easier when an idiot sits down and loudly announces exactly what the biggest weakness in his game is, and how proud he is of it.

Poker gems, #102

George Carlin:

Avoid people with gold teeth who want to play cards.