One part of the job I'm doing for the World Series of Poker involves spending way more time than I would really like looking at the names of the players who have registered for the various tournaments.
Probably the lowest, most primitive, juvenile, abject form of humor is to make fun of people for their names. After all, with rare exceptions, nobody chooses his or her own name. Besides, those with names that make easy targets for ridicule have already had to endure a lifetime of idiots thinking they are clever by making the same tired jokes over and over again.
TOO BAD! I'm going to do it anyway. I think it's impossible to spend as much time looking at long lists of names as I have over the first three weeks of the WSOP without developing a list of things that strike one as amusing.
So first the disclaimers. As far as I know, every person mentioned herein is a fine, upstanding individual, probably an excellent poker player, and didn't do a single thing to me that would justify me making fun of them. Furthermore, I understand that what one finds funny is highly subjective, and varies from country to country and culture to culture.
TOO BAD! This is my list, and I get to pick what I find amusing!
Hardest to spell correctly; even their own mothers might get them wrong
This batch is the exception. I'm not making fun of them. On the contrary, I find something unusually cool about these names.
Just plain weird
Yeah, yeah, these names are probably not too out of place in whatever God-forsaken land they come from, but here they stand out as, uh, excuse me, what did you say your name was again?
Yeah, I find poker tedious, too
Think he pees like a race horse?
Can I get you a drink, sir?
Say, can you fix my transistor radio while you're over here?
He probably hits a lot of miracle cards on the river
(It's a joke about deus ex.... Oh, never mind.)
I thought they pulled him off of the market
Wicked Chops Poker would make fun of them, but I never would
These guys run a men's clothing store, right?
De plane, boss, de plane!
Pete de Best
Martel De La Chesnaye
Roland de Wolfe
They howl at the moon if the tournament runs too late
Roland de Wolfe
The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming!
But where's Uncle Fester?
Names that, for some reason, strike me as properly belonging to porn stars
At risk for getting each other's mail by accident
Allyn Jaffrey Shulman
What, no Robert E.?
In lieu of a real name...
Shi Jia Liu
Candidates for the WCP "Davidson Matthew" club
(Explanation: Davidson Matthew is a poker player who came in 2nd in a World Poker Tour event. Ever since then, the entities at Wicked Chops Poker have inducted into the "Davidson Matthew" club any poker player who has two first names or has a name for which it is difficult to tell which is the first and which the last name.)
Let's stop at McDonald's!
A "winning" team?
Thang Duc Nguyen
The Irish are coming! The Irish are coming!
They've got a phan club
Everything's coming up roses
I like these guys, schwartz and all
If they make it to heads-up, I guess one of these guys is playing the other
Present tense, past tense
If the tran has left, you can just catch the next one
They all took a van from the airport
James Van Alstyne
Thierry van den Berg
Jorryt van Hoof
Anh Van Nguyen
That's enough of this silliness--I have to go catch some z's
Thursday, June 19, 2008
I've told many stories before about players (including, on a couple of occasions, me) mucking a hand that would have been the winner or would have at least shared the pot--most recently here. This is virtually always because the player involved misreads his own hand (overlooks a straight or a flush, for example), or misreads his opponent's hand as being stronger than it really is. Either way, he concludes he has a loser and throws it away, and with it the pot.
Yesterday at the World Series of Poker there was a variation on this, one that I don't recall ever seeing go down before. Here's how it was reported by the PokerNews bloggers covering the Stud/8 event:
Tim Frazin has gotten himself into a bit of a sticky situation. He and
David Benyamine were involved in a pot that went to showdown. When the cards
were turned up, Benyamine had 8-7-6-5-4, a straight and an eight-seven
It was Frazin's turn, and he couldn't beat the high, but he did hold an
eight-six low, good enough to win him the low half. As with every pot, the
dealer was occupied preparing the pot for a split, awaiting the results of the
showdown. Frazin didn't wait though, and he mucked his hand before the dealer
had a chance to read it.
The floor was called over, and each player gave their side of the story.
The high half was clearly awarded to David Benyamine. However, the low half of
the pot is in poker limbo at this moment. The chips were placed in the dealer's
rack while the surveillance team reviews the tapes to find out exactly what
ruling to make. The chips are out of play pending a decision.
About ten minutes later came this update:
The controversial low half of the Benyamine/Frazin pot has been awarded to
David Benyamine after reviewing the tapes. Those chips are back in play now.
I have to sort of read between the lines here. It appears that Tim Frazin exposed his hole cards--presumably other players saw them. I'm guessing that he wasn't mucking because he misread his hand and thought he had lost, but because he assumed that once he had shown them, it didn't matter what happened to them. For whatever reason, once he had shown that he won the low half of the pot, he was done with the hand, turned his cards face down, and tossed them away, before the dealer had seen them and confirmed how the pot was to be awarded.
I cannot figure this out. In years of playing, I can't recall ever showing what I believed to be the winning hand, then turning it face down and throwing it into the muck. Why on earth would any player do this? The only reason that I can imagine is that he thinks it will speed up the process of getting on to the next hand. But risking losing the pot to save maybe two seconds that it will take the dealer to kill the hand, rather than having the player do it, seems an outrageously stupid trade-off, in terms of risks versus benefits.
Poker dealers have a set routine, a series of steps in a specific order that they are supposed to do to conclude one hand and move on to the next. These include, in order, pushing the pot to the winning player, moving the button (if there is one), dropping the rake (again, if there is one), and killing the winning hand(s). Notice that killing the winning hand(s) is the very last action to be taken. (Losing hands are to be killed before pushing the pot.) That gives everybody at the table ample time to examine the hand and either agree that it's the winner or speak up if there is a problem identified.
I cannot think of a valid reason that a player who thinks he is entitled to a share of the pot would or should kill his own hand--ever. Let the dealer do it. There are certainly dealers who don't follow the prescribed order, and kill the winner before pushing the pot. I hate that. When I have one of those dealers, I don't try to change their bad habit, but I do keep an eagle eye on what's happening, because one of the safeguards in the system has been removed. I want the pot securely and uncontestedly in my possession before my winning hand gets put into the muck.
Did the tournament staff make the right call once the dispute was brought to their attention? Probably, though I'm not sure there is an absolutely correct versus incorrect decision here. In hold'em, with only two hole cards, if they are exposed, it is likely that several other players will have seen them and will agree as to what they saw. If the dealer accidentally kills the winner, as happens once in a while, the players' testimony is usually sufficient evidence for the floor to award the pot where it belongs. As long as the player has done everything he reasonably can (turning his hand face up, and speaking up instantly if the dealer erroneously mucks it), there is no reason he should be penalized for the dealer's mistake.
But in yesterday's situation there were two additional considerations. First, there were seven cards to be read, rather than just two, making it much harder, presumably, to get several witnesses who can recall and agree as to exactly what cards were shown. Second, this wasn't the dealer's error, but the player's own action. Surely he is less entitled to any benefit of the doubt when he threw his own hand into the muck.
So my answer is this: Even if the tournament staff reasonably could have made a different decision and split the pot, Mr. Frazin has nobody but himself to blame for the outcome. Rio security personnel shouldn't have to review videotapes to discover what his cards were, when all he had to do in order to claim half of the pot, after exposing his cards, was nothing--just let them sit there!
I didn't recognize the name of Tim Frazin, but according to his Poker Pages profile he has plenty of substantial tournament cashes, including two for over $100,000 each. He is far, far past the point at which inexperience can be blamed for this screw-up. My guess is that he has developed a nasty habit of showing his cards, them mucking them prematurely, and this time it bit him in the butt.
I just checked another page that came up in a search of his name--his bio from when he was in a World Poker Tour final table. Seeing that now, I do recall him, though the name didn't ring a bell. He was on the WPT just a couple of weeks ago, in fact. He was memorable because Mike Sexton and Vince Van Patten kept referring to the fact that he works in a pizza joint, and because he uses a Magic 8 Ball to help him make difficult decisions at the table. (Brilliant strategy, that.)
The blurb about him says that he is writing a book titled How to Lose at Poker & Still Have Fun. Keep throwing your winning hands in the muck, and that's advice you'll surely need.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
I've written once before about the weird variations of poker that my brain sometimes concocts while I sleep. This one, I suppose, was inevitable, since after a full day of playing, reading about, writing about, and thinking about poker, I relax with a New York Times crossword puzzle for 30 minutes or so before I go to sleep most nights.
In crossword puzzle poker, you somehow draw to five cards in the hand, while a whole bunch more cards (I'm still a little fuzzy on the details) are carefully dealt out onto the enlarged grid of a crossword puzzle.
I found the game frustrating. In one hand, while playing against Michael Craig, I nabbed quad 3s in my hand, only to discover than they had been counterfeited by quad 4s on the board. Craig held a higher kicker and won the hand. A short time later, virtually the same thing happened again, though this time Layne Flack was my opponent. I drew quad 6s, but quad 8s showed up on the grid, and I lost yet again.
I suppose that with most of the deck spread out on the table for both players to use, that sort of thing is going to happen a lot. It might even be a more frustrating game than razz.
If anybody knows of a good strategy book for CPP, please let me know. I need to do some brushing up on it before I head back to sleep tonight.
Monday, June 16, 2008
Gaming Today/Slots Today is a dual-named publication because they print the two parts on opposite ends of each issue, each upside down with respect to the other. I don't pick it up or read it regularly, but once in a while I'm bored and take a look, because occasionally it has some interesting tidbit of news of the gaming industry that I had missed elsewhere--mostly (1) stuff about regulatory and licensing issues, and (2) casino promotions. A previous time that I read it prompted a lengthy two-part screed against one of its columnists (see here and here).
In the issue of GT/ST that I have in front of me (May 27-June 2, 2008), I find evidence that other columnists are just as stupid and/or willing to deceive their readers as the one I wrote about previously, Ms. L.J. Zahm.
But let's start with her, since she remains the paradigm of how unbelievably moronic you can be and write a column for this rag.
I covered all of this in my previous posts, but as a quick refresher, Ms. Zahm's columns--and even a book she published--always center around her two primary theories about video keno: (1) You have to pick numbers in groups or clusters, because that's how they tend to hit--in fact, her column is called "Cluster Keno." (2) The machines tend to hit big soon after starting a session, so she advocates frequently "resetting" the machine by taking your card out, then reinserting it and re-entering your numbers, even if you are going to pick the same ones you were previously using. Of course, she has zero meaningful evidence that either of these things actually turns a -EV game into a +EV game (or even into a slightly less negative one). But she writes about the same two things, week after week after week. Easy work if you can get it, I guess.
But in this issue she outdoes herself in stupidity. Here's her gem of insight: "I've always believed that gambling is based in large part on luck."
Wow! Quick, write that down before you forget it!
She again reviews her machine-resetting theory (I suppose by now she has a macro on her word processor that lets her spit out those oft-repeated paragraphs with just a couple of keystrokes). She concludes this week's column with this brilliant advice: "By following your system, whatever that happens to be, you give yourself a chance to overcome, the odds of the game." (Yes, there really is an extraneous comma in there. I didn't make that up.)
I see. So if you don't follow your system, then you don't give yourself a chance to overcome the odds of the game. And apparently it doesn't matter what your system is, as long as you have one. Every system is as good as every other, I suppose. Each one gives you "a chance" to overcome the odds. She doesn't specify how big your chance is. I have never seen even a shred of mathematical analysis in any of her columns--for example, estimating how much she thinks you improve your odds or reduce the house edge by employing one or both of her theories. My guess is that numbers make her head hurt too much to fiddle around with them.
Speaking of systems, this guy Larry Edell has a column in this issue about a betting system for craps. It has nothing to do with selecting which bets to make--only about the quantities.
His system is based on the famous Fibonacci sequence, in which each number in the series is the sum of the two previous ones: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, etc. He translates this into a system for altering one's bet sizes depending on the number of consecutive wins or losses one has incurred.
He says that "craps professionals use the Fibonacci to increase their profits." Yeah, right. First off, I don't believe for a second that there are any "craps professionals." You can't make a sustained living from a game that has a fixed house edge. Naturally, he produces no actual evidence that that this system makes the game profitable. That might be because it doesn't. It can't.
Over a lifetime, the only thing that determines the predicted amount of loss from playing craps is (1) the total amount bet, and (2) the odds for each kind of bet made.
One of my favorite David Sklansky books is Fighting Fuzzy Thinking in Poker, Gaming, and Life. In the first chapter of the book, he presents the story of three imaginary brothers who each have a system for playing craps, changing bet sizes depending on wins and losses. He then asks the reader to determine which of the three brothers will have the smallest or biggest expected loss or win over many years of playing every day.
I have to admit that the first time I read this I couldn't guess the answer. But it's painfully simple, once you have your eyes opened. The system that results in the fewest number of total dollars being wagered is the one that will have the lowest expected long-term loss. (In his story, they all bet on the pass line, so the odds were the same on every bet.)
For purposes of long-term results, it makes no difference whatsoever whether you bet the same amount every time, use a Martingale type of system (which involves doubling bets), this idiotic (and way more complicated than necessary) Fibonacci-based method, or use a random number generator to size your bets. Your lifetime EV is still based purely on the total amount you wagered over the years, and the odds offered on each of the dollars bet. A bet-sizing system can help control the range of wins or losses for a session (though any reduction in possible loss is necessarily offset by a reduction in possible gains, and vice versa), but it cannot change the long-term outcome. It cannot turn an intrinsically -EV game into a +EV one. It is just a fancy way of implementing a stop-loss measure.
Mr. Edell says that "The Fibonacci can be very profitable to a crapshooter." Well, sure. But it would be equally true to say, "The Fibonacci can be very costly to a crapshooter." His assertion is no more meaningful than saying that "gambling can be very profitable." Of course it can. But it usually isn't in the short run, and never is in the long run, if you're playing against a mathematically irreducible house edge.
Mr. Edell never quite tells the lie that his system will make the game profitable, but it certainly appears to this critical reader that that's the message he wants to convey, without saying so explicitly. In other words, he depends on his readers not being bright enough to see through his careful language. He also apparently assumes that they won't care that he provides not an iota of mathematical or real-world proof that this works.
It would be a pretty simple thing to rig up a computer simulation, run it through a few million iterations, and see what the net profit or loss would have been from using his Fibonacci system. I think we all know why Mr. Edell doesn't do that: he would have to report that the loss was pretty close to what would have been predicted for the total amount wagered at the odds of whatever type of craps bet he was testing. That's not the kind of fact he would want to have to give his readers. And, slightly in his defense, it's probably not the kind of hard, ugly truth that his readers want to hear. They want hope, the fantasy that they have a system that can beat the casino, and Larry Edell is selling it. He's the modern equivalent of a snake-oil salesman, but he presumably has an audience that positively adores snake oil.
This is another puzzling column. It is ostensibly about video poker, but on each of the few occasions that I've read it, the guy doesn't actually describe what to do in particular situations to optimize gains. (Clearly there are better and worse strategies for playing; a source I deem reasonably reliable asserts that the optimal strategy gets approximately 99% payback, and can actually be slightly profitable, once you take into account the incentives and bonuses offered by casinos on players' club cards. The casinos are relying on the fact that only a small percentage of players deploy a strategy anywhere near optimal. If all players did so, they would probably have to lower the payout schedule to keep the machines profitable to the house.) Rather, all he does is brag about the fact that he is a long-term winner at the game.
In this week's column, as with the other couple I've read from him, he says that he is always being attacked by critics he disparagingly refers to as "the math people," who don't believe he could be as successful as he claims to be. He says that he has records to back up his claims, and, of course, the critics can't prove him wrong. He claims to be a "professional video poker player."
To be sure, I haven't examined Mr. Singer's personal win/loss records, nor am I interested in doing so. Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that he could upon request produce records showing a substantial profit over many years of playing in quantities approaching the hours of a full-time job. Would that convince me that he has found a system of play that turns video poker into a +EV game (neglecting here any points-based incentives offered by the casinos)?
Nope. I would consider it far more likely that his record-keeping was deficient, either through intentional misrepresentation or the kind of selective neglect that is a temptation to any record-keeping gambler: Faithfully record every win, but leave out losses now and then, with a whole litany of excuses why they shouldn't be counted. (I am proud to report that although my poker playing has plenty of faults and holes, my poker record-keeping has been scrupulous. I have not even once yielded to the temptation to omit the results of a session on the excuse that it was an atypically bad or unlucky day, or that I wasn't really trying that day, or whatever. I have definitely felt such pulls, but have managed to force myself to include every painful loss.)
The problem is much like trying to disprove alien abduction. Of course, for any individual story of such, it is possible that the alleged victim really was paralyzed and taken by a tractor beam up into an alien spaceship and given anal probes. (I saw it on the very first episode of "South Park," so it must be true!) I can't prove that it didn't happen. But the alternative explanations are, in my opinion, just a whole lot more plausible. They include, variously, people seeking attention and/or financial gain, delusions and hallucinations, and manifestations of poorly understood but natural physiologic states of sleep, influenced in their subjective interpretation by cultural norms and the experiences reported previously by others. (In other words, the same phenomenon that in previous generations would have been reported as a visitation from a succubus, say.)
In Mr. Singer's case, I find it just as implausible that video poker game manufacturers have designed the games in a way that can turn them into your own personal ATM if you just follow the simple strategy (whatever it is; he doesn't seem to talk much about it) claimed by Mr. Singer to be a winning one, as that every night thousands upon thousands of people are being abducted and experimented upon by aliens.
Look at it like this: If you were a casino owner or manager, would you purchase for your casino a machine that the manufacturer told you could be easily exploited by players to be profitable? I sure wouldn't. That would kind of defeat the basic idea on which casinos are built.
That consideration leaves us with only four possibilities: (1) The machine designers and casinos are knowingly building, purchasing, and installing games that they know can be beaten by anybody who follows the Singer strategy. (2) He has stumbled upon a loophole that has not been noticed by anybody in any of the various manufacturing companies, nor by any of the casinos that install the machines and monitor their profitability performance. (3) He is either intentionally lying or somehow unintentionally deceiving himself about his actual long-term results. (4) He is the luckiest S.O.B. ever to walk the planet, with results many standard deviations from the mean.
I find #1 and #2 impossible to accept, absent extraordinarily strong evidence (which no one person's results could provide). I have no objective way of distinguishing between #3 and #4, the only other remaining possibilities. But #3 strikes me as by far the less improbable one.
I am, in a sense, envious that these hacks can get paid for writing complete bullshit and passing it off as helpful gaming advice.
I'll leave you with this thought: If winning at gambling were as easy as these worthless columnists portray it, the casinos would all go bankrupt overnight. Casinos love players who are convinced they have a system that reverses the odds--because they're all wrong, no matter what some lying or self-deluded GT/ST columnist has written.
Steve Zolotow, in Card Player magazine column, May 21, 2008 (vol. 21, #10), p. 80:
In general, I'm not a big fan of firing multiple bullets with nothing. My experience has been that after the first bullet misses, players fire the second one into their foot and the third one into their brain.