Friday, April 11, 2008

Another 6-high story

In the post I wrote a few minutes ago (http://pokergrump.blogspot.com/2008/04/nice-call-with-6-high.html), I told of winning a big pot with a 6-4 at the Luxor, and the story reminded me of another in which I similarly made a big hit with a suited 6-4 at the Venetian. That got me thinking about another story that I haven't previously told here, from the Golden Nugget. I remembered that it, too, was a 6-high, and thought maybe it was yet another 6-4--but upon checking, I see that it was actually a 6-2. Shucks. So much for the trifecta. Anyway, I think it's an amusing story, though it's one for which I can't claim to have any larger point to make--it just is what it is. This is one of many stories I have in my email archives, things I wrote to a friend back home in Minnesota before I started this blog. This was written August 20, 2006:


Last week at the Golden Nugget, there was a woman who had an abnormal love for flushes. Maybe even an obsession with them. How did I know? Because if she hit a flush, bet, and an opponent folded, she’d show it, and if she missed and had to fold to another player’s bet on the river, she’d show her hand and say, "I missed my flush." People are so dumb—they have no idea how valuable information like that is, and they’re just giving it away proudly. She would call nearly any bet when she was on a flush draw, without respect to pot odds.

So there’s a hand in which I’m in late position with 2-6 diamonds. Now, normally this is a throwaway. But you have to play garbage hands once in a while, for several reasons that I think you know: You may get a situation in which a bluff will work, in which case it doesn’t matter what your cards are; when a junk hand hits a monster, they’re extremely difficult for opponents to suspect and can make lots of money; when you win with one, opponents can go seriously on tilt; showing that you played one can get you extra calls later when you have AA, because people mentally label you as a junk-hand player, etc.

On this occasion, I hadn’t seen any good cards for a while, and nobody had raised, so I limped in with my 2-6. This woman was in the big blind and checked it. Flop was 2-6-K, giving me 2 pair and almost surely the best hand—and a complete stealth hand that nobody would expect. Sweet. Two of the flop cards were hearts. This woman bet, and I suspected she was on one of her flush draws. I called.

Turn card is another 2, giving me a full house! Oh, I’m starting to feel something big happening here! She doesn’t have her flush yet, though, so she checks. I make a smallish bet just to sweeten the pot, knowing she’ll call. She does. I'm praying for another heart on the river.

The wonderful dealer provides the beautiful, glorious, perfect third heart. My ditzy opponent has made her flush. She bets. I try to look a little uncomfortable, stare at my chips, picking up little stacks of them, as if I’m not sure what to do. Finally I put in a little raise. She pushes all her chips in, looking like she has sprung her trap. Little does she know….

I call, of course. She is beaming, radiant as she turns over her A-8 nut flush. I really wanted to pretend that I was a complete novice, and say something like, “Let’s see, I just have these two 6s and three deuces. Is that any good?” But I didn't torture her that way. I just quietly said “full house” and turn over my pathetic little 2-6.

Her jaw dropped, and she stared back and forth between my hole cards and the board several times before she fully accepted that she was beat. She was at the other end of the table, but I could still overhear snippets of conversation between her and the players next to her for a LONG time afterwards, about how stupid it was to be playing crap like 2-6. In another hand later when I raised, she even said “He must have 2-6 again.” TILT TILT TILT TILT TILT!

Tee hee hee. Here’s a chip for the bus ride home, lady. Have a nice day. Thanks for the money.

"Nice call with the 6-high"

There are at least four ways that I measure the success of a poker day: (1) How much money did I win or lose? (2) How well did I play? (3) Did I have a good time? (4) Did I get any good stories to write about? Last night's back-to-back sessions at the Luxor and Excalibur were exceptionally good by that last metric, this being the fourth post I've gotten out of them. I think my record is five stories from one session (check the archives for July 28, 2007, my first-ever time at the Palms).

Luxor. An early-position player puts in a substantial raise. It smells to high heaven of jacks or queens. This is a player I've identified as tight-aggressive, but inexperienced--the kind who will have a hard time getting away from a big pocket pair even when he's beat. This makes him the perfect target for a sneaky play. As luck would have it, I'm on the button, and position is huge when attempting to take down a premium hand.

Limit hold'em is a game where you try to have small edges many, many times, and chip away gradually at opponents' stacks. No-limit hold'em, by contrast, is a game in which the object is to swipe away another player's entire stack in one fell swoop. I live or die by looking for and creating such situations.

I held the 4-6 of spades. This is a pretty good hand for taking on a big pocket pair. If it hits in the way I need it to, with two pair or a straight or flush or a big draw, it will often do so with a flop that looks very safe to a player--especially a less-experienced one--sitting on a big pair. So I call. It's just the two of us in the hand.

The flop is a red 6 and the 2-3 of spades. I have flopped top pair with a straight-flush draw, on the button, with a board that will look completely non-threatening to a player with a big pair sitting under his card protector. I can't reasonably ask for it to get any better than this. If he has just two big cards, such as A-K or A-Q, I'm already ahead. Even if he has a big pair, I win with any spade for a flush, a 4 for two pairs, a 5 for a straight, or a 6 for trips, giving me 16 outs twice. That makes me a statistical favorite to win.

He bets. I put in a smallish raise, hoping he'll think that I'm just trying to weakly counter a continuation bet or that I have just a flush draw, in either of which cases he would be correct to come back over the top with a reraise. He does just what I hope, and moves all-in. I beat him into the pot with my chips. By the time I get my cards exposed, the dealer has already put out a red 5 on the turn, clinching my win with a straight. My opponent mucked without showing, so I'm left with my original guess of a big pocket pair. I'd be very surprised if it were anything else, given how he played.

I wouldn't bother telling this story if not for what happened next. After all, though it turned out nicely for me, and exactly the way I had set it up, it's just another hand out of millions of poker hands, and not particularly remarkable or memorable in and of itself.

My opponent had a look of mixed disgust and puzzlement on his face. He asked me directly, "What were you doing?" I thought maybe the hand had played out so fast (the dealer was very quick to whip out the turn and river, determine the winner, and push the pot) that he hadn't had a chance to grasp my situation. I don't usually explain myself, but it seemed to be an honest and non-hostile inquiry, so I pointed out, "I had top pair and both straight and flush draws on the flop." He responded, "Yeah, I see that--but I meant before the flop." Here his voice took on an unmistakable nasty/sarcastic edge: "Nice call with the 6-high."

This situation is virtually identical to one that I described here: http://pokergrump.blogspot.com/2007/08/you-called-raise-with-that.html. In fact, looking back on it, I see that it was another 4-6 suited that won that pot! Maybe I should make that my trademark hand (although the 2-4 still has a special place in my heart; see http://pokergrump.blogspot.com/2007/08/warning-do-not-try-this-at-home.html and http://pokergrump.blogspot.com/2007/07/article-in-card-player-magazine-non.html for that history). This guy was just incapable of recognizing that I took a measured gamble and won. Most of the time, I would miss the flop, have to dump my hand, and he'd profit the $15 call I made before the flop.

Maybe it was an idiotic move; I'm certainly capable of patting myself on the back for things that much better players would say were stupid moves, with convincing explanations of why I was wrong to do them. But as I said after the last 4-6 story, if my opponent really is a more advanced player and I made an objectively bad play, then he should relish having me there, and welcome every knuckleheaded move I make, because in the long run he will profit thereby. Conversely, though, if it was a reasonable and clever play, then he just looks petty and shallow for not being able to recognize it as such. Either way, the nasty comment works against the one spouting it.

I suppose he got a "good" bad-beat story out of the deal: "You wouldn't believe the moron I ran into at the Luxor last night. Everybody should have been able to tell that I had a big pocket pair, and he called me with a six-high, then hit his gutshot straight draw after all the money was in! What a donkey!"

I not only walked away with the chips, but with what I think is a better story.

My own personal "tells" coach

Another story from the Excalibur last night. There's a guy two seats to my left. I played a hand perfectly (if I do say so myself), deceiving him into thinking that I was on a steal when I had actually flopped a set of 7s and made a full house on the river when the board paired. He called my all-in with A-8, for top pair and a bad kicker. I stacked him. Just before he did the "walk of shame" to the ATM for more cash (see http://pokergrump.blogspot.com/2008/02/taking-walk-of-shame.html), he said, "You really need to work on controlling your hands shaking when you bet. I didn't know if it meant you had a monster or were bluffing, so I had to call to find out. Now I know."

This was clearly meant in a friendly, helpful manner, so I didn't tell him how completely full of crap he was.

First, anybody who knows anything about poker tells realizes that shaking hands is not ambiguous; it's one of the most reliable signs of a player being strong. You might think that you'd get the same phenomenon from nervousness when somebody is making a big, expensive bluff, but it just doesn't happen that way. In Mike Caro's classic Caro's Book of Poker Tells, he rates this as 99% reliable in weak players, 95% reliable in average players, and 92% reliable in strong players, which is as high as he rates anything. He even gives "Caro's Law of Tells #4," which is "A trembling bet is a force to be feared." In the more recent Ultimate Guide to Poker Tells by Randy Burgess and Carl Baldassarre, pp. 58-59, they agree: "[I]t's a huge tell in all forms of poker.... Players who've never seen this tell may have a hard time believing it, but yes, it's that powerful an indicator. Moreover, it can't be faked with any degree of realism." Joe Navarro, in Read 'Em and Reap, says, "When you see someone reaching for his chips and his shaking hand knocks them over, or he looks at his cards and his hands begin to tremble, it's usually a strong sign that something good has occurred." Navarro adds a caveat that it occasionally means the opposite, but I believe he's wrong about that, or at least it's a rare enough phenomenon that I've never seen it. My experience exactly matches Caro's: when it is present, it's perhaps the single most consistently reliable guide you'll get that a player loves his hand. I have saved a lot of money by folding when I have noticed this in an opponent, who then proudly shows off his quads or full house.

Second, I know with certainty that there is and was no difference in my hands during that pot from any other. You see, this is something I've spent an enormous amount of time and energy on. I have a familial condition that causes a constant hand tremor. It's not horrible, but it's there; you wouldn't notice it under ordinary conditions, but if I held my hands out, trying to hold them still, you'd see what I mean. It hardly ever matters to my life. But part of the condition is that it is greatly amplified by even small amounts of adrenaline. This has been a problem in the past with public speaking (which I actually enjoy, but the adrenaline rush makes my hands shake like crazy, and it looks like I'm terrified), playing the piano in public (which I used to do for church quite often), and my other main recreation, which is competitive handgun shooting (need I explain how shaking hands is a problem there?). Long ago, I started taking a medication called propranolol when I anticipate one of these situations. It blocks the effects of adrenaline on the nerves, so that I'm just left with my baseline, everyday tremor. I use the same little pill before I go out to play poker. (I was fortunate enough to have a doctor who immediately "got" the problem. I started to explain it, but he cut me off and said, "Other players see your hands shake, and you can't get any action when you've got the nuts." Bingo! Got my prescription. Today's lesson: Find yourself a doctor who plays poker!) I have watched myself carefully to be sure, and I know that my hands look exactly the same whether my card situation is strong or weak. This guy was just seeing my baseline tremor, and interpreting it the way he wanted to. It doesn't look anything like the high-amplitude shakes that accompany the adrenaline rush of a huge made hand.

Third, this isn't something that one can voluntarily control. Adrenaline is going to do what it's going to do. People overcome it not by force of will, but by being exposed to the situation of having a monster hand enough times that eventually they stop having such large adrenaline dumps when it happens.

So, OK, the guy needed to soothe his big loss by telling himself that he had spotted something significant and just couldn't pin down its meaning. No big deal. If listening to an unwelcome (and wrong) piece of advice is the price for taking a guy's entire stack, I can tolerate that.

When he returned, he decided to take the open seat on my immediate left, from where he decided that we were best friends and should chat about everything. I hate that. I eventually had to put on the music and headphones to help clue him in that I didn't feel like his oldest buddy. He kept trying to show me his cards while he played hands, etc. So annoying.

But the strangest part of the evening was that three more times he watched me play a big pot. I had the best of it in all three, and won two of them (losing the biggest one to a river suckout, unfortunately--ouch!). After each one, he said something like, "You controlled your hands much better that time," or "You did that one very smooth--good job." He had appointed himself as my own personal "tells" coach, giving me feedback on whether I was effectively controlling my hand shake. My hands were exactly the same every time--the only difference was his interpretation of it.

Before our first confrontation, I had overheard him chatting with another player, making himself out to be a big-time gambler, belittling other people who "don't really understand gambling" like he does. That sort of talk made it obvious that his ego is heavily invested in being a suave, smooth, sophisticated player of all of the games. His conduct towards me was a reflection and continuation of that; it was important to his self-image to be the expert, offering advice to a person he perceived as an inexperienced amateur. It was simultaneously annoying, funny, and pathetic.

One of the most cathartic things about having this blog is that I get to say things to people that I would never say to their faces, partly because of being removed from them when I write, and partly because there's only about a one in a million chance that the people involved will ever read it. So here goes again: Buddy, you haven't a clue what you're talking about. Your advice was flatly wrong, ludicrously misdirected, irritating, unwelcome, condescending, and indicative of a deep personality disorder in yourself that I think you haven't the faintest clue about.

A strange situation

I was playing at the Luxor tonight before I moved over to the adjacent Excalibur. While there, I saw one of the strangest poker situations of my career. It's one of those things that makes me realize there will never, ever be a poker rule book that covers every situation, because nobody could possibly anticipate the exact mix of circumstances that gave the floorman tonight a very difficult judgment call to make.

The two players involved we will call Mr. Straight and Mr. Flush, because one of them flopped a straight and the other flopped a flush. It must be noted that Mr. Flush was very, very drunk.

Mr. Flush had been sitting on my immediate right for a couple of hours. (I was in 9, he had been in 8.) Seat 5 became available, and he decided to move there, for unclear reasons. He picked up one stack and moved it, came back and picked up another stack and moved it.

Just then, the big winner of the day in seat 6 decided that he was done, too (up about $1300). So Mr. Flush changed his mind about where he wanted to sit, and decided to take the "lucky" seat. A new dealer was simultaneously just sitting down, saw Mr. Flush moving to seat 6, and helped him push his remaining chips there. The new dealer, unfortunately, didn't know that the two stacks of chips at seat 5 also belonged to Mr. Flush, because this new dealer hadn't been there when those got moved. Mr. Flush is way too drunk to realize or remember that he now has chips in front of two seats. He takes his hand sitting in 6. He has about $300 there, plus the roughly $200 in seat 5. There is no list of people waiting for a seat, so nobody is coming to claim seat 5, which would have uncovered the problem before disaster struck.

So we have a flop, and Mr. Straight bets, Mr. Flush raises big, Mr. Straight--who is in seat 3, with about $500--says, "I'm all in." Mr. Flush calls. The hand plays out, and Mr. Flush is the winner.

The dealer matches Mr. Straight's chips with the $300 or so in front of Mr. Flush. Mr. Flush still hasn't remembered that he has another $200 in front of seat 5. Mr. Straight hadn't been aware that those chips belonged to Mr. Flush; he hadn't been paying attention to Mr. Flush's seat change maneuvers, and assumed that there was a new player coming in to whom they belonged.

Another player points out to the dealer that the seat 5 chips are also part of Mr. Flush's stack. (I hadn't said anything because I thought they were his, but I hadn't paid enough attention to all the goings-on to be sure.) Mr. Flush himself is a little foggy on it at first, but finally remembers that, yes, he did put those there before deciding to take seat 6 instead.

Well, now Mr. Straight doesn't want to cover the additional $200 or so for the chips in front of seat 5. The floor is called.

Mr. Straight's argument is that when he moved all in, he assumed he was only actually putting at risk the amount that he saw in front of Mr. Flush, which was about $300. He says he might not have been willing to risk his entire $500 if he had known that Mr. Flush had about the same total amount. It's not his job to know that a player has distributed his chips between two different seats.

The argument for Mr. Flush (which he was entirely too drunk to think of or articulate on his own; this is the point of view taken by a couple of other players who thought he deserved to have all of his chips counted, and spoke up for him) was this: Suppose that Mr. Straight had won the hand, then discovered that Mr. Flush was actually sitting on $500 instead of just $300. Mr. Flush would surely then argue, "I said all-in, he said call, so he's responsible for the entire amount, even if some of his chips are in front of another seat." If Mr. Straight would claim the whole amount had he won, then it's only fair for him to be responsible for the entire amount when he lost. Besides, Mr. Flush had been hugely overaggressive for hours, bluffing at nearly every pot, so nobody really thought that Mr. Straight would have played it any differently even if he had known the correct amount that he was putting at risk; he was highly confident (but wrong) that he had the best hand when he pushed all-in.

The floor guy did not have an easy decision. I kept my mouth shut, although when it was over and the player on my left asked my opinion, I said that I tended to side with Mr. Straight. Yes, he was probably being less than candid in saying that he might have played differently had he known that their stacks were about equal, and yes, he might well try to claim the entire amount if he had won it--but the larger responsibility, in my view, lies with Mr. Flush, to keep his chips in clear view, and in a manner that isn't deceptive (even if unintentionally) to opponents. It was, in effect, the same as if he had two black $100 chips hidden behind his three stacks of red chips, not visible to an opponent.

The floor guy apparently couldn't make up his mind as to which way to go, so he ended up splitting the difference. He eyeballed about half of the disputed amount, and made Mr. Straight match that. In other words, Mr. Straight ended up losing about $400, rather than the $300 that he thought he should lose or the $500 that Mr. Flush thought he should have to give up. Mr. Flush was content with that resolution, but Mr. Straight was not. He was hopping mad.

I got the rest of Mr. Straight's stack on the next hand, when I recognized that his all-in on the flop--an enormous overbet--was classic steaming, and I called him with bottom pair. I was right--the flop had missed him completely. I was pretty proud of that call, because it was all about understanding Mr. Straight's frame of mind at the moment, rather than what the cards were. Calling that big a bet with bottom pair does not come easily or naturally to me. That's when he reached his boiling point, left the table, and got into the really heated argument with Mr. Flush, who had decided to take a cigarette break maybe 20 feet away. It very nearly came to blows, and they had to call security to separate the two of them.

As I said at the start, this was one of the most peculiar confluences of circumstances I've ever seen. I don't envy the job of the floor, to settle such matters, when there isn't a clear right or wrong.

"Convenience"?




I noticed this sign during a session at the Excalibur tonight. The capilization of "The Poker Room" is odd, but that's not what really caught my attention.

I get "comfort." Poker rooms are definitely more comfortable--for me, anyway--when they are non-smoking facilities. (Excalibur's poker room, however, just barely qualifies as "non-smoking; see http://pokergrump.blogspot.com/2008/02/how-smoke-free-is-smoke-free.html.)

But I'm puzzled by the claim that the non-smoking status is somehow for my "convenience." I don't see how a poker room is made any more or less convenient by being smoking or non-smoking, except that it's obviously inconvenient to smokers to have to leave for a cigarette break.

Here's the American Heritage Dictionary entry for "convenience", from http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/convenience:

1. The quality of being suitable to one's comfort, purposes, or needs: the
convenience of living near shops, schools, and libraries.
2. Personal
comfort or advantage: services that promote the customer's convenience.
3. Something that increases comfort or saves work: household
conveniences such as a washing machine, an electric can opener, and disposable
diapers.

4. A suitable or agreeable time: Fill out the form at your
earliest convenience.
5. Chiefly British A lavatory.

I suppose you could argue that being non-smoking makes the room more suitable to one's purposes or needs, though that's not obvious--and I'm confident that's not what first occurs to most readers when encountering the word "convenience." If it is taken as a rough synonym of "comfort," then the sign's wording is redundant.

I wonder who decided on the language for that sign, and why. But I kind of doubt I'll ever get an authoritative answer.

At least being confusing and/or redundant is better than being an outright lie, which is what I usually find with signs that businesses put up telling me that something is for my own "convenience." Usually it means that they are undergoing some sort of construction, and the mess makes my time in the establishment significantly less pleasant and/or efficient than usual, which just makes me resent the signs telling me that they are doing the work for my "convenience." Even if one assumes that they are referring to future convenience rather than current convenience, it's still a lie: the only reason that businesses take on such projects is so that they can make more money. What they perceive as my future convenience is merely what they hope is a means to that end. I hate companies that lie to me, especially in such obvious ways. I'd have much more respect for them if their signs said, "We are remodeling in the hope that you will spend more money here when we're finished." Honest and direct--that I could admire.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Two more online sites, one good, one not so much




I tried two more online poker sites tonight. Actually, they're both ones that I've used in the past, but it was a couple of years ago. I thought I'd see how they have changed.

First up was Poker Host. This got started a few years back, with a decent corral of name-brand pros hawking it, but never developed a player base, and faltered. I think it got bought out by somebody else. According to this usually reliable site, http://www.compatiblepoker.com/usa.php, it's now part of Microgaming Network. It certainly has a completely different look and feel from what I remember.

Microgaming is on the 11-state ban, so I presumably wouldn't be able to play here for real money--if I used my real address. But it's easy enough to lie. I fed them my old Minnesota address. This might be a problem when I want to cash out, but we'll see. It might also be a problem if I were using a checking account or regular credit card to fund my account, because they might try to match addresses. But I used an anonymous Visa gift card, and it worked fine.

So far I've just played one sit-and-go, so experience is limited. The observant reader will notice that I am in the chip lead, having conveniently chosen to do the screen shot immediately after being on the good side of a KK vs. QQ all-in contest. It's didn't last. I fell victim to FPS (fancy play syndrome), a common affliction of chip leaders. Out in 7th place. Oh well.

What's most striking about this site so far is the speed. I've never seen an online game go by so fast. It was actually hard to keep up with what was happening, though I assume that will get easier as I get used to the visual and audible signals and the action buttons. There are no razz games on the menu, sadly, and no non-hold'em games appeared to be in progress.



The second site is True Poker. I dabbled with this briefly a couple of years ago, and it was so awful I couldn't stand it. I saw an ad for it again recently, and thought they must have improved the situation. Nope. Looks exactly the same as I remember it. It is by far the slowest online poker you will ever play. It's hard to tell how much of this is attributable to the players and how much to the software, but it's like molasses in winter. They try to have very cool animation, but I think it's just silly and pointless. There are very few players there, so waiting for a game is as painful as waiting during the game. I see absolutely nothing about this site to recommend for anybody, for any reason.

Almost six months




On October 30, 2007, Poker News ran a story that included this:

On a popular internet forum, Greenstein posted the following:

"I'm sure it will be less than 6 months before Congress realizes that they
need to pass legislation contrary to the UIEGA. If it hasn't already happened,
it will happen in a few weeks. I don't know how slow the process is and how much
debate there will be as to whether there is a different approach that should be
taken than the Frank and Wexler bills."

Greenstein expanded on this incredible news on a recent "The Poker Road"
show, where he explained what he witnessed during his trip.

"We met with
politicians and I can tell people that I am very confident that online poker is
going to be back strong, legal; use credit cards, bank accounts, it would really
shock me if it wasn't within the next six months."


(Full Poker News story is here: http://www.pokernews.com/news/2007/10/barry-greenstein-online-poker-to-fully-return.htm.)

When I read that I thought, Barry Greenstein may be a fine poker player, but in terms of politics, the man is completely delusional. I think he got bluffed by a bunch of politicians who are highly experienced at sensing just what constituents want to hear and saying those things, wave good-bye, and then do nothing--or even do the opposite of what they had promised.

There was just no way that Congress was going to reverse itself so soon after passing the UIGEA, let alone get Bush to sign any such legislation.

It's a bit too soon to say that I was right and Greenstein was wrong--but does anybody want to put down cold, hard cash on the proposition that Congress will, within the next 21 days enact the kind of wholesale relief that Greenstein thought was just around the corner?

You know that old joke about how you can tell a politician is lying because his lips are moving? Well, Barry, I think you just learned how to pick up a "tell" on congressmen.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

I can love the WPT again




If you follow such things, you've known for a long time that there have been loud and frequent complaints among both players and serious viewers that World Poker Tour final tables have been all-in luck-fests. The blind structure was such that usually half of the last six players came in very short-stacked and had to make shove-and-pray decisions. It was not the greatest display of poker skill.

Last night was the conclusion of the two-part Bellagio Cup III broadcast--a four-hour final table, the first using the WPT's new tournament structure, which made for much deeper stacks, and therefore much better poker.

It was like watching a whole new show. I cannot praise the change sufficiently. Even after two players were eliminated, even 2 1/2 hours into the 4-hour combined show, all four remaining players had more than 60 big blinds each! Deep-stack poker is a whole different animal than what we've become used to in these programs, and it was sweet.

I also noticed that Mike Sexton and Vince van Patten were going deeper in their analysis than they used to. They take a lot of grief for saying the same things over and over again, but frankly, these guys taught me the game. The first time it came on, I had no idea how to play, but I learned through watching. They understand that their audience has grown more sophisticated in its knowledge of the game, so their commentary is now stepping up a notch to accommodate that.

For example, at one point Danny Wong (who I thought was the most impressive talent at the table, with fewer missteps than anybody else, and astonishing feel for when to press and when to back off) flopped two pair and led out betting, rather than slow-playing it. He got no customers. In past episodes, I don't think that would have received any significant analysis. But this time they showed unimportant footage of him stacking up his chips (with four hours, they have the time luxury to do this sort of thing), while Vince came to his defense and explained why this non-obvious move was actually smart. (At the risk of breaking my arm while patting myself on the back, I appreciated this commentary because I was thinking that I would have played it the same way, and for precisely the reason that Vince noted.) Wong probably anticipated that his ultra-aggressive opponent, Kevin Saul, would view the bet as a steal attempt and raise with position. Wong would therefore win more chips than if he check-raised or just called, both of which would set off alarm bells in Saul and cause him to shut down. It's the reverse-reverse thing: betting out is the first-level obvious thing to do when you flop big, so the common ploy is to reverse that and check instead, which makes betting out look like you have a small piece of the flop, rather than a monster. I agree completely with the play and the analysis, and it just happened that Saul, this one time, didn't play as per his usual style. Anyway, I appreciated the time the show took to explain why the unconventional move may have been smarter than it looked at first glance.

I also appreciated what seemed to be the commentator's newfound willingness to be openly critical of bad plays. In the past, about the most scathing critique you'd hear from the ever-positive Mike Sexton would be something like, "Well, in my opinion, that was a questionable move there." But in last night's show, Mike Matusow, way behind in third place and getting pummelled by both remaining opponents, said that if he didn't win this event he was going to go kill himself. (To which Vince rather nastily remarked, "Promises, promises, Mike!") Mike Sexton said something like, "He's going to have to start playing better if he hopes to beat these two guys." Dead on accurate. I like the pull-no-punches approach, when it's justified.

I have to admit that I was disappointed not to see Matusow break down and cry like a baby when he got knocked out, the way he did in his only other WPT appearance back in season one. They showed a clip of that again last night, and again I laughed out loud at him. No wonder he and Phil Hellmuth are such good friends--they can cry on each others' shoulders. Not that there's anything wrong with that, if that's who they are....

I was surprised to notice that a guy I used to play with all the time at the Hilton is a Bellagio dealer and had a lot of time in the box on this episode. I didn't even know he was a poker dealer. There's probably not a chance in the world that he reads this blog, but just in case: Hi, Sal!

Now if they could just find a hostess that I like as much as Shana Hiatt, they'd have me completely hooked again.

"I think you're..."




Mike Caro says that the way to profit is to be fun and jovial at the poker table. People who have played with him say that he makes it enjoyable to lose to him, and he capitalizes on that; people rebuy and then lose more to him. Good for him. But I can't make that work. I'm so naturally quiet and reserved that I can't sustain that kind of image.

So I go for the opposite: near silence, not much movement, try to give away as little information as possible. I used to say that Chris Ferguson was my model for table conduct, but I'm not quite as purely robotic as he is. (For an amazing look at how perfectly he has mastered the mechanics of disguising tells, see this 22-second video clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UmPa7gRcMdg.) I also don't go for the sunglasses or the cowboy getup. So I think it's more accurate to say that I'm like Allen Cunningham--not in terms of playing style or skill, but demeanor at the table: saying very little, composed, unflappable, completely neutral facial expression, but not hiding the way that Ferguson does.

A few days ago at the Palms two friends came in and took adjacent empty seats. They were drinking heavily, having a good ol' time. They complained that the table was too quiet, not fun enough. Predictably, they were both playing very loose games. I was playing my usual tight-aggressive game, listening to some tunes, sipping my bottle of water, observing everything but not getting involved in the table talk. I was in seat 10; they were in 6 and 7, so I was directly facing them.

At one point, I called the pre-flop raise from one of them with an A-10 offsuit. The flop came something ragged like J-7-3. I checked. My talkative opponent instantly shot out a bet, without even stopping to think. That, combined with the unscary board (and the knowledge that most flops miss most starting hands) made me reasonably confident that he couldn't call a check-raise. So I pushed all-in.

The expression on his face instantly told me that he was going to fold--that hang-dog look that wordlessly says "I've been caught; I can't call." His buddy, in violation of every rule and convention about not talking about the hand in progress and one-player-to-a-hand, couldn't keep quiet. He said, "Dude, he's wearing headphones, he's only drinking water, he doesn't say a word, and he hasn't played a hand in half an hour. I think you're screwed."

His friend folded.

So even if I can't pull off Mike Caro's jocularity, there are other ways of winning chips at the table. All you have to do is convince opponents that they're screwed.

On my non-iPod



It's my birthday next week (47--almost too high to keep counting now). My brother (who is five years older but somehow still alive, which gives me a modicum of hope for a few more years of life, though I'm sure it will be a wretched, decrepit existence at such advanced years) sent me the CD pictured above as a nice b-day present.

What do you get when you cross bluegrass with Led Zeppelin? Sounds like it should be a joke, but it's not. I had actually heard of this collaboration late last year, from this review on National Public Radio: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=16251067. I think that describes the result better than I can, so I'll just add that I like it. Nice, mellow poker music.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Grammar Donkeys




OK, it's a cute ad, and I get the point: You will no longer be a donkey if you pay CardRunners a whole bunch of money to teach you to play poker better.

But how many people at their organization, their ad agency, and at Bluff magazine (where I found this advertisement) failed to notice that they used "it's" where they should have had "its"?

Does it make any sense to say "It wants it is donkey back"? No, of course not. But that's what they've made it say.

They are Grammar Donkeys.

If these people are so smart, why can't they properly apply something so basic that they presumably learned it in about 6th grade? Why would I trust them to be experts on anything? If you don't know the language well enough to write ad copy, then for Pete's sake hire somebody who does.

By the way, for those of you who, like me, enjoy poking fun at the world of Grammar Donkeys, here's a whole blog devoted just to documenting apostrophe abuse: http://www.apostropheabuse.com/. And yes, I'll be sending them a link to this post.

(I almost had the title of this post as "Grammer donkeys." How embarrassing would that have been? Fortunately, I caught it in time. Still, writing a fairly high volume every day, and working without an editor, it's inevitable that spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors will creep into these posts from time to time, despite my best efforts--and despite the fact that I really do know the rules of the language well enough. So just in case somebody is tempted to call me a hypocrite because of a mistake you find herein, consider the difference between one guy, working for free, pumping out what are for the most part first-draft thoughts, two or three times a day on average, for the entertainment of a fairly small number of readers, and a commercial enterprise, working for weeks or months through a professional ad agency and one of the top magazines in its field, with teams of writers and editors, trying hard to make something eye-catching and persuasive enough that lots of readers will send them lots of money, yet all missing something so fundamental. It's just not the same.)

The Toothpick People



The screen capture of Elliott Gould from "California Split," which I just finished watching (see post immediately below; http://pokergrump.blogspot.com/2008/04/two-gambling-related-movies.html) reminded me of something I've been meaning to grumble about here for a long time: The Toothpick People.

This isn't just a poker phenomenon; you can see them everywhere. But it especially bugs me at the poker table, because of being in such close proximity to one's fellow man for extended periods of time.

What is the deal with the toothpicks? I understand if you've just been to dinner, but if so, then do what you need to do with the toothpick (away from the poker table, please; we don't want or need to see what you're digging out of your cavities), dispose of it, and get on with your life. But obviously that's not the majority of what we're witnessing. We're seeing people who just have some sort of strange oral fixation on small wooden objects, and I find that completely incomprehensible.

Have you never seen the damage inflicted when somebody falls, or accidentally gets bumped in the face while suckling on one of these things? I have, and it's not pretty. There have also been reports in medical journals of ruptured intestines when one of them gets accidentally swallowed (people think they can take a swig of their beer with the toothpick in place without taking it down, and they're right most of the time, but it's that one out of a thousand that'll get ya). Yes, it's a pretty small thing as the menaces of the world go, but since there is no upside to it, why accept any risk at all?

Why do you guys do this? What do you get out of it? Well, splinters in the gums, a soggy toothpick, and worn-down teeth--but beyond those rich rewards, what is there in this vile little practice for you to enjoy?

If I ran a poker room, the list of rules would not just be a poster on the wall--the list would be so long it would become the very wallpaper. No smoking, no chewing tobacco, no toothpicks in the mouth. That'd be a good place to start.

You people disgust me. No, not just you Toothpick People. You all disgust me, every last one of you, in some way or another. It's just a matter of time before I've made a blog post of the particular form my disgust for each of you takes. Maybe back when I started writing this stuff I should have thought to call myself the Poker Misanthrope, instead of the Grump.

(Feeling especially churlish today, in case you couldn't tell. I have a headache. Go away and leave me alone. Grrrrrrrrrr.)

Two gambling-related movies

Yesterday and today I was a bum, stayed home and watched movies.

First up was "Owning Mahowny" (2003; see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Owning_Mahowny and http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0285861/). It has no poker in it, but just about every other form of gambling. It's based on Brian Molony, who embezzled from the bank he worked at in order to feed a gambling addiction. It's depressing throughout, as we watch him spiral down, but well-made and compelling nevertheless.

Next was "California Split" (1974; see http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0071269/fullcredits). This is one of those movies that's just generally worth seeing, even if you're not much into poker. There are only two poker scenes, so calling it a poker movie is a stretch. Again, it's much more about gambling addiction than any particular game. It was directed by Robert Altman, and like most of his films, there isn't so much of a well-defined plot as the sense that we sort of fade into the characters' lives at one arbitrary point and fade out of them again at a later arbitrary point.



The stars are Elliott Gould (above) and George Segal, looking, oh, about 24 years younger than they do now. But if you want startlingly young, take a gander at the small role of Jeff Goldblum, in what was then only his second movie.



And who could that be sauntering in to join the Reno poker game in the movie's final scenes? Might it be Amarillo Slim Preston? Why yes, I think it might! (If you don't know who Amarillo Slim is, shame on you, and start learning about the man here: http://pokergrump.blogspot.com/2008/01/maybe-hes-never-heard-of-babe-ruth.html.)


Both of these are decent, though not great films, easily worth the viewing time.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Miscellaneous online poker annoyances, part 2




(For part 1 of this occasional series, see http://pokergrump.blogspot.com/2008/01/miscellaneous-online-poker-annoyances.html.)


1

I hate people who use pictures of their children as avatars, on the sites that let you upload your own (Poker Stars, Absolute, etc.). I think it's your social obligation to other players to give them something that is at least marginally interesting to look at. No baby photos pass that test. The situation is made infinitely worse when the accompanying screen name is something like "KaitlynsMom." What's the problem--you have no identity of your own beyond that of being your kid's parent?

(By the way, isn't it amusing to think that 70 years from now, the nursing homes will be crowded with all of the Kaitlyns and Caitlyns and Katelins of today?)

2

I hate how some online sites show bet amounts with cents displayed (e.g., $525.00), when it's a tournament, and the smallest chips in play are $25. What's the point of that? I'm talking to you, Ultimate Bet.

3

I hate how some sites (Poker Stars and UB, are you listening?) can't manage to remember my preferred window size. Why do I have to manually expand it every time I start a new session? Really, I won't mind the extra 1 kb of memory (or whatever it would take) as a cookie for you to remember this little piece of information automatically, and save me the trouble. Your competitors have managed to accomplish it. What's wrong with you?

4

I don't get why the sound levels are so vastly different from one site to another. It makes it functionally unbearable to have two sites open at the same time, because if the alerts from one are at a normal volume, the alerts from the other will be either deafening or inaudible.

5

I can't stand people who type "thank you" (or "ty") in the chat box after winning a hand, as if you have given them a gift of chips. It's so smarmy.

6

There's a little glitch on Full Tilt Poker's software that occasionally makes the piles of chips bet obscure the displayed amount of the bet. Get that fixed, will ya, guys?

7

Most online sites don't allow you to show your cards if you're the last one to fold. UB does, and the others should follow their lead. It's sometimes a useful friendly gesture as a means of requesting the winner to show his cards, too. It's also sometimes useful to show a bully that you're folding not because of his aggression but because you had 7-2 offsuit, with the implication that you'd mix it up with him if you had anything playable.

8

There's too much time wasted on stupid animations, such as pitching the cards. This happens even on otherwise first-rate sites, such as Stars. Yeah, it's only 2-3 seconds per hand, but multiply that by 9 players and a hundred or so hands per hour, and it adds up to a whole lot of man-hours wasted. Just have the cards instantly appear. We are not fooled by the animation into thinking that there are actual cards being actually thrown.

9

Since I've been playing more razz than hold'em online lately, I've noticed that nearly every hand is slowed down by there being at least one player who isn't using the "auto-ante" feature. I don't understand why the sites even make that an option. It should be mandatory. If somebody doesn't want to play the next hand, he can use the "sit out" button. If he's going to play the next hand, he's going to have to put in the ante, so why not make it automatic?