Saturday, August 02, 2008

No jackpot for you!




Last night at the Palms, it was a $1-3 game. In a limped pot, I had pocket 10s, and the flop came A-10-x, rainbow. All three of us in the hand checked. The turn was the fourth 10. When both opponents checked to me, I put out a smallish bet, hoping that one of them had a weak ace that had just improved to two pairs, or possibly a flopped set that had just improved to a full house (not very likely, I'll admit). They both folded.

I knew enough to stop the dealer before he swept the board cards away, and showed my quads. But I had forgotten something: The house jackpot rules require there to be $10 in the pot to qualify. Three of us limping in had made it just $9, and uncalled bets are not considered part of the pot for purposes of the jackpot requirements.

D'oh!

I guess somewhere in the back of my mind I did know that there was a minimum pot requirement, because that's pretty common--but even if the general idea had occurred to me in time, I wouldn't have known offhand what the qualifying amount was. Almost all of the high-hand jackpots I've won were at the old Hilton poker room, just because I spent so much more time there than anyplace else. There was no pot size requirement at the Hilton. That's why I never developed the habit of checking it. On the few occasions that I've hit a qualifying high hand at other casinos, the pot has been well over any stated minimum, so again I just have had no reason to think much about it--until it was too late.

As it turns out, the quad-10 jackpot had just been hit a short time earlier, so the jackpot amount had been reset to its minimum of $50. Not the costliest mistake I've ever made playing poker, but certainly one that could have been avoided had I been thinking more clearly.

What could I have done differently? Well, I see three possibilities.

First, making the absolute minimum bet ($3) instead of the $6 or $7 that I actually put in might have gotten a nibble. Checking the turn and only betting on the river might have allowed one of the other two players to catch something with which they could call, but, conversely, it might have put another scare card out there (like another ace) and made them even more inclined to throw their hands away. It's impossible to know.

Second, if I had been consciously aware of the minimum pot needed, and after a bet it looked like both opponents would fold, I could stop the last one and say something like, "Please call. If you lose, I'll reimburse you." Most players are alert enough that they would pick up on what this meant and cooperate. That would achieve the pot size requirement.

But I'm uncomfortable with that. It's probably not strictly against the rules, but it's skating on thin ice. Most jackpot rules have an explicit stipulation that the players cannot discuss the possibility of the jackpot during the play of the hand, precisely because such comments will tend to queer the action in favor of the jackpot paying out. That's not fair to those who meet the hand requirements without having discussed it, because every payout reduces the jackpot for the next person to hit it, so all should have to play by the same rules.

It's clear that I can't say something like, "I have four 10s, so I'd really appreciate a call so we can get the pot size above the minimum required, and I'll pay you your bet back." Now, in reality, lots of dealers will turn a blind eye (or, I suppose, a deaf ear) to such remarks, because they don't want to deprive a player of a jackpot and themselves of the resulting tip. One could probably get away with it, without the dealer (or anybody else) snitching to management about what occurred. But I'd feel sleazy about that, knowing that it was a direct violation of the rules.

The alternative mentioned above, which falls just short of being explicit, is a gray area. For the same reasons, one could probably do it, have it work, and have nothing said or done about it, but it would make me uneasy.

The third possibility that has occurred to me in retrospect is, I think, the best solution. I could ask the dealer, "What is the minimum pot size requirement for the high hand jackpot here?" Since I really didn't know, it would be a perfectly honest and legitimate question. And there's certainly no rule against asking the dealer what the house rules are at any time. If this question were not combined with a direct request to another player to call or an offer to reimburse a bet, I think this is far enough above board that it would not trouble me ethically.

The timing of it is tricky, though. I'd prefer to make a bet and have it called in the natural order of play, and not have to resort to secondary means. That means that I'd rather not ask that question before I make my bet. This is not only a rules consideration, but one directly related to the poker. If one of my opponents has, by chance, just made a full house, and he's slow-playing it, hoping to check-raise me, I sure don't want to scare him out of putting a lot of money into the pot by virtually announcing that I have four of a kind.

That means that I'd pretty much have to make the bet, then be prepared to jump in if it looked like the last remaining opponent was going to fold. I would then have to tell that person to wait, then ask the dealer the question, and hope that the other player caught my drift and was feeling cooperative.

On a few occasions, I have seen a thinking-ahead player suggest some code word to the entire table to be used in just such a situation. I've never seen it deployed, though.

Actually, I think that the best solution is just not to have minimum pot sizes for high-hand jackpots in the first place, because it pretty much ensures that all sorts of gray-area maneuvering and outright open negotiation will take place to get around the rule. I assume the minimum pot size is there to prevent two players from checking it down anytime one of them has a pair or two suited cards within the range of a straight, just trying to hit the jackpot. But I think that's a pretty small consideration, when you take into account how rare it is for those possible starters to actually develop into a qualifying high hand.

Dealer shenanigans at Bally's




I just got home from a session at the poker room at Bally's. I ran into two consecutive dealers who just couldn't keep information to themselves.

In the first situation, two players (not including me) were contesting a pot. The board read A-K-Q-J rainbow. As the dealer put out the river card (some baby card that presumably didn't change anything), before either player had had a chance to act, she said, "If both of you have a 10, it's chop-chop!"

This is just appallingly bad form. It would still be bad if she said it after the action was complete, because you never know when a player might have misread his hand or the board, and the announcement makes him rethink a decision to muck his cards unseen, thinking that he had nothing. (For example, he has a 10-2 and mistakenly thinks that the jack is a second king.) But to say this before either player has had a chance to evaluate the final board and act on it is so unforgivably inappropriate that it would be grounds for disciplinary action, if I ran a card room. One warning for such conduct, and the next time it's a pink slip. There are way more dealers than positions for them, so no need to put up with one who queers the action.

The next dealer to our table accidentally exposed my second card as she was pitching it to me in Seat 1. It was a 7. She replaced it in the standard fashion and showed it to the table. I was first to act. When I looked at my cards, they were a 2 and a 7. I had not noticed which one I got first, so I don't know whether I would have a pair of 7s or just a different 2-7 if not for the flub. But it didn't matter to me. These things happen, and they're just part of the game. I pushed the cards back to her in exactly the same way I do every time I fold.

I said or did nothing that would provoke what this dealer did next, and it's something I've never seen any dealer do before. She peeked at my mucked cards, without invitation. Then, as if that weren't bad enough, she reacted with horror, nudged me with her arm, and said, "Oh, I'm sorry!"

So now, instead of everybody knowing one card that's out of play, anybody who was paying attention to her little song and dance now could infer that a second 7 was gone. It's impossible to know on any given hand, but this kind of improper information has the potential to cause all sorts of changes to the ensuing action.

If you click on the "dealer" label at the end of this post, it will give you a list of all the posts I've written on dealers who feel an odd compulsion to inject themselves into the game in ways and at times that they have no business interfering. I may never, ever understand what the hell their problem is. But based on my small sample today, it seems that Bally's is chock full of blabbermouths in the box.

Why play online?





At least a few times a week when I'm playing poker online, somebody else at the table notices that my location is listed as "Las Vegas," and asks, "Why are you playing online?" Apparently these people think that the only reason for playing online is the lack of a convenient brick-and-mortar poker room. I think it should be pretty easy for people to come up with other reasons that one might choose to play online even while living in a city with 50+ poker rooms available 24 hours a day. But since that seems to be beyond a fair number of players, let me list a bunch of them.

  • I would like to be a well-rounded poker professional some day. That includes being able to play respectably well online. There are real differences between live play and online play, and it is not trivially easy to apply skills from one arena to the other.
  • There are times when even if the casino were right next door I wouldn't feel like going out. Maybe I'm sick. Maybe I'm lazy. Maybe I have insomnia and want to play a game in my underwear until I get sleepy.
  • I can accomplish other things while playing online--writing, watching TV, doing email, web surfing, paying bills, etc.
  • Conversely, if one is easily bothered by distractions, one can make one's home environment much more suited to intense concentration than a live poker room. Casinos are mostly noisy, busy places with lots of stuff going on. If one has difficulty tuning out the chatter from other players, the constant irritating sound of chip shuffling, the bells and whistles of nearby slot machines, the scantily clad cocktail waitresses, and so on, home might be a better place from which to play serious poker.
  • People who are even more bothered by cigarette smoke than I am might hate the casino environment.
  • There are many games readily available online that one would be hard-pressed to find being spread live at any Vegas casino. That includes razz. Even if a game like HORSE is being spread somewere in town, it might only be at stakes higher (or lower) than one cares to play.
  • Players who are talented at playing many tables at once may well be able to earn far more per hour playing online than they could in a casino.
  • One might be too young to legally play live.
  • For tournament specialists, there's much less down time between events online, and the sites tend to take less juice than casinos do.
  • It's easy to track down specific profitable opponents online. They haven't yet invented a system for doing this in casinos.
  • I suppose that for some people the temptations of free alcohol, along with sports betting, craps, blackjack, etc., are too tempting if they enter casinos. (Not a problem for me.)
  • People who don't live here tend to underestimate the PITA factor of getting around in this city. Yeah, I know that I'm spoiled, and if your closest casino is a four-hour drive you're not going to have any sympathy. But it's just a fact that from the moment I decide I'd like to play, it's going to be at least 30 minutes before I'm in a game, given the time to get ready to go, drive somewhere, park, walk inside, register, etc. Traffic can be horrendous and totally unpredictable here, and if there is either a traffic jam or a long waiting list for a table, that 30 minutes can easily stretch into an hour. Online, it's rare for it to take more than three minutes from when I decide to play until I'm in a game.

None of the above is intended to suggest that I consider online poker to be superior to live play as a general rule. I don't. For the most part, I find playing live both more enjoyable and more profitable. But playing online has its own distinct pleasures and advantages that are not by any means negated by living in even the most absurdly poker-rich city in the world.

Picking a horse

Here's a question that, for no discernible reason, I wonder about from time to time.

Suppose that tomorrow there will be a poker game and today you have to pick, as if in a fantasy league, a player to put your money on. However, in advance we don't know if it will be a cash game or a tournament. If it's a tournament, we don't yet know if there will be 10 entrants or 10,000. The version of poker to be played will be determined by a random drawing just before the event begins--it might be hold'em or stud/8 or razz or deuce-to-seven or Spit in the Ocean or just about anything else, limit or no-limit or pot-limit. Similarly, the format might be full-table, short-handed, or even heads-up. We won't know until it's about ready to start. (Never mind the logistical nightmares that this uncertainty would cause the organizers.)

Who will you pick to have the best chance of bringing you the money? In other words, who is the best all-around player to be able to do well in cash game or tournament, against any size field, against any size table, playing any game that they happen to select?

I think my top picks would be, in no particular order:

Daniel Negreanu
Jennifer Harman
Doyle Brunson
Phil Ivey
Barry Greenstein
Todd Brunson
Chau Giang
Ted Forrest
Freddy Deeb
David Oppenheim
Lyle Berman
Johnny Chan
Dewey Tomko
Howard Lederer
Erick Lindgren

If I had to narrow it down further, I think I'd pick Negreanu, Ivey, Greenstein, Forrest, and the two Brunsons.

If I were forced to pick just one of those, I think I'd resort to throwing a dart at a board, because it's awfully hard to determine that any one of them has an edge over the others.

Your ideas, readers?

Friday, August 01, 2008

Hard-Boiled Poker Radio Show

A new installment of my favorite poker podcast, the Hard-Boiled Poker Radio Show, is now up. I'm not in this one (at least partly because I have been tardy about getting my next contribution recorded--sorry, Shamus!), but it's still, I think, the most interesting poker podcast out there, way different from what anybody else is doing.

Blogroll

Something I've been meaning to do for, oh, about a year now is finally here. Way down in the lower left corner you'll find a list of other poker blogs that I like and read on a regular basis. There are others, but this is the core group. I'll add more over time. Check them out, if you don't already read them.

Another very minor celebrity sighting

I forgot to mention that the other night at the Riviera I was seated next to Allan Pyles, a poker dealer at Binion's, who hosts a weekly podcast called "Man in the Box" over at Hold'em Radio. I have to admit that I've never heard the show, but I'm downloading a couple of episodes now to listen to later. He is a fine player and a smart, funny guy--one of the rare ones that it's an actual pleasure to spend a few hours sitting next to.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Poker gems, #152




Phil Galfond, in interview in Card Player magazine, July 30, 2008 (vol. 21, #15), p. 59.


The way that I judge whether or not a game is too tough for me is that I sit in it for about an hour. If I can't look at every other player and say to myself, "This is a mistake that this player makes, and this is how I can beat him," it is a tough game. If...you think you're playing well but you can't look at all of the other players and know what they are doing wrong, it is because you don't understand what they are doing wrong or you're doing more things wrong yourself.

Put me on the jury





I am so with the casino on this one.

As reported by the Associated Press here:

Stinky gambler fuming over casino ejection

By WAYNE PARRY – 14 hours ago

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — Yes, Michael Wax stunk. He's the first to admit
it. The 440-pound Brooklyn man said he was playing poker in an Atlantic City
casino for 17 hours Tuesday and didn't have time to clean up. He understands why
grossed-out gamblers complained about his body odor, but said he didn't deserve
stinky treatment from the casino that asked him to leave.

Dave Coskey, a spokesman for the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, said it is
company policy not to comment on matters involving their customers.

Wax said he told casino officials: "There's no question I stink. I'm not
denying it. I do have an odor. I've been playing for 17 hours."

The 54-year-old limousine company owner, who says he is a frequent gambler
at the Borgata, said a poker room manager followed him into the restroom and
informed him that patrons at his table were complaining about his body
odor.

When he tried to re-take his seat at the table, he said a manager told him
he couldn't play anymore and to leave. He said he asked for a free room to
freshen up, and the casino refused.

He promptly filed a complaint about his
treatment with the Casino Control Commission. His complaint will be reviewed to
determine whether any state gambling laws or regulations were violated, a
commission spokesman said Wednesday.

Wax said his instincts tell him to find a different casino to patronize,
but he likes gambling at the Borgata. He said the casino was out of line to tell
him he stinks in front of other patrons.

"I would like an apology," Wax said.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Celebrity (very minor celebrity) sighting




FidPoker came and sat down in my PokerStars razz game tonight. That's Brian Fidler, winner of the first Daniel Negreanu "protege" contest.

See? I know important people in this business.

Poker gems, #151

Dr. Pauly.

My new addiction is PLO [pot-limit Omaha] Turbo SNGs. Holy shit. Talk about addictive. Playing PLO turbos is similar to smoking crack dipped in chocolate and wrapped in bacon.

New chips at the Riviera





Played at the Riviera last night. I hadn't been there in a few months, and was very surprised to see that they have made a complete relacement of their $5 chips. There appear to be five different new ones, shown above, fronts and backs. They're really quite nice (though the middle one may hold the world record for the most human butts ever displayed on a poker chip). It's a rare esthetic pleasure to play with a set of uniformly new, sharp-edged, and still mostly clean chips.

I can't recall ever seeing a casino entirely replace its stock of chips. The old ones were nowhere to be seen. Usually the old ones continue to exist alongside the new ones. Despite the pleasures of the new set, this is kind of disappointing, because the Riviera used to be one of just a handful of places (Palms, Rio, the old Aladdin, Harrah's, Hard Rock) that issue new chips at the drop of a hat. They had literally dozens of different ones in circulation, and there were many not yet in my collection. What I most liked about the Riviera's practice was issuing commemorative chips for the various oddball conventions that were held there.

I like having and looking at a variety of chips in my three-ring binder. But it's not a serious hobby, and not worth it to me to invest much of either time or money to expand the collection. Basically, if I don't come across a chip while playing, I don't pick it up. So I'm not going to go out of my way to hunt for all of the chips now taken out of circulation. Furthermore, I've never paid more than face value for a chip, and still won't. They're just not that important to me. All of which means that what had been one of the reasons I occasionally hit up the Riviera--the hope of picking up a couple of new interesting chips as souvenirs--is now gone, and the ones I didn't get earlier will just have to remain out of my life.

Certainly a bit of sadness, but I suppose it's possible that there are greater tragedies than this in the world.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Huge improvement to PokerStars




When I tried to log onto PokerStars a short time ago, there was a software update waiting to be installed. OK, no big deal. Usually these things are some minor security or feature enhancement that one doesn't even notice in playing. But when the game started, I noticed a funny little red dot next to the "previous hand" number. I clicked on it out of curiosity, and was surprised and delighted to find an instant hand replayer! This is a point on which Stars has lagged way behind Full Tilt and some other sites for a surprisingly long time. But they've finally implemented it, and from checking it just this once, it looks like they did the typically fine PokerStars job with its functionality.

Nice work, PS!

KNPR gets it wrong, wrong, wrong




KNPR is the local public radio news station. Every weekday they have a program called "State of Nevada." I was listening to it yesterday evening as I drove out to the Excalibur. The segment of interest was about online gaming. You can listen to and/or download the show, as well as see guest information and relevant links, here.

The guest was Kathryn LaTour, professor in the department of hotel administration at UNLV. She is the co-author of a recent study comparing gamblers' behavior and feelings about live casino gaming versus online gaming. You can read more about the study through the links collected at the site noted above.

The regular host of "State of Nevada" is Dave Berns. I generally like him. His voice is easy to listen to. He usually does his homework. He is unfailingly polite and respectful, yet won't let public figures duck hard questions that are put to them.

On this show, however, he completely dropped the ball. The very first words of the segment were, "Internet gambling is illegal in this country." This assertion was repeated several times in the broadcast. In fact, at one point Berns specifically said, "And let's be clear, it is illegal under the 1962-63 Federal Wire Tap Law." Another time he questions LaTour about how honest her subjects could have been about their online gaming activities, when answering her questions meant that they were admitting to "breaking federal law."

Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.

First of all, the law in question is the "Interstate Wire Act of 1961" or "Federal Wire Act," not the "1962-63 Federal Wire Tap Law."

Of far more importance, though, is that this law does nothing to criminalize the playing of Internet poker (which was the most common form of online gambling among the users profiled in LaTour's study). The key operative language is this:

Whoever being engaged in the business of betting or wagering knowingly uses a
wire communication facility for the transmission in interstate or foreign
commerce of bets or wagers or information assisting in the placing of bets or
wagers on any sporting event or contest, or for the transmission of a wire
communication which entitles the recipient to receive money or credit as a
result of bets or wagers, or for information assisting in the placing of bets or
wagers, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years,
or both.


Note, first, that the crime requires "being engaged in the business of betting or wagering." That clearly means that the statute is directed at those who are running the operation, not the users of the service.

Secondly, the crime is limited to being in the business of betting on a "sporting event or contest." (By standard rules of interpretation of statutes, "contest" there cannot be construed as a broad, stand-alone word, but must be limited or modified by the adjective "sporting" in the same way that the word "event" is.) No court could possibly find that poker falls under that definition.

This plain understanding of the law has been confirmed by the only two federal courts to consider the question, one trial court and one appellate court, in the same case. You can read the appellate decision here. The pertinent sentence is this: "Because the Wire Act does not prohibit non-sports internet gambling, any debts incurred in connection with such gambling are not illegal."

Let's also be clear that the 2006 UIGEA did not change that. Explicit in its terms is a declaration that it it not criminalizing any activity that was not already illegal under existing state or federal law. UIGEA is all about funding and money transfers, not about gambling, and it is directly solely at gambling sites, not banks or other financial institutions, and certainly not at individual gamblers.

For lots more on all of this stuff, see the archives of columns written by I. Nelson Rose, perhaps the foremost authority on gambling law, here and here.

Now let's turn to Ms. LaTour. To be blunt about it, it's astonishing that she would undertake to conduct and publish a study about online gambling when she has no idea what she's talking about.

First, she readily concurs with Berns about all Internet gambling being illegal. She says this unequivocally several times, and says, "Right," in agreement with Berns's comment, quoted above, about the "Federal Wire Tap Law." (She obviously doesn't know enough about the statutes to correct his errors.)

Second, she says that her research was conducted when the World Series of Poker was still allowing players to "earn points" toward entering WSOP tournaments through online play. A few minutes later she repeats this idea, this time saying that the WSOP let players "accrue points" towards tournament entry via playing online.

In truth, of course, there has never been any "points" system for gaining entry into WSOP tournaments. Online players, though sites unaffiliated with the WSOP, have been able to win the money to enter WSOP events. Previously, the sites would pay the entry fees directly to the WSOP. After the passage of the UIGEA, the WSOP got nervous about even this amount of involvement with the poker sites, so those sites switched to simply paying the winners the cash, and leaving it to them to register for the WSOP event and pay the entry fee themselves. (Of course, some just kept the money.)

To me, being so egregiously and repeatedly wrong about two fundamental points of fact so closely related to the subject she was studying strips Ms. LaTour of every shred of credibility. It's frankly an embarrassment to the state to have a professor in our flagship institution of higher learning, in the department for which UNLV is most well-known, not have bothered to learn the most basic facts about online gambling in general, and online poker in particular, before setting out to publish research on that subject. It may not quite constitute academic dishonesty, but it absolutely constitutes an appalling degree of academic laziness and/or ineptitude.

I have emailed both Mr. Berns and Ms. LaTour, pointing them to this post, and inviting their comments in reaction. If I get a response of something either of them might wish to say about my critiques, I'll post an addendum here.


Finally, let me address something a caller to the show said. (I didn't catch his name.) He told his story of having gotten caught up in playing video poker online. He dropped about $1500 on the game, then got very lucky and hit a royal flush, paying him about $4500, cashed out, and never went back to it. But he says that when he was losing he didn't feel like it was real money involved, because he was playing on his credit card. That experience, he said, makes him opposed to online gambling, because other people will similarly lose a lot without realizing that it's "real money."

It is so frustrating and annoying how many people just can't make the basic distinction between "I think you are wrong and/or foolish to engage in that conduct" and "You shouldn't be allowed to engage in that conduct." The list of activities to which you can attach that observation is practically unlimited: Gambling (live or online), pornography, prostitution, owning a gun, driving a gas-guzzling SUV, riding an all-terrain vehicle, riding a Jet Ski, riding a motorcycle without a helmet, skydiving, drinking alcohol, smoking tobacco, smoking marijuana, burning an American flag, eating foods make with trans fats, buying unpasteurized milk from the farmer next door, wearing overly saggy pants, cursing, spanking a child, breastfeeding in public, driving without a seatbelt, having sex with somebody you are not married to and/or a member of the same gender, etc. If there is any way to conclude that an activity is unwise or immoral for you to engage in, there will be a contingent of people trying to use legislative force to prevent you from choosing to do it.

This caller was such a person. In retrospect, he believes that he was foolish and perhaps in financial danger because of the choices he was making, so based on that experience, he wants to impose his will on all 300 million of his fellow Americans. I suppose he figures that if he has little or no self-control or perspective on the matter of online gambling, well then obviously nobody else could, either. He thinks he knows what you should and should not do better than you can decide it for yourself.

This arrogance, this impulse to control everybody else in all sorts of ways, is completely anathema to me. It is antithetical to liberty, which I cherish above all other values, and which was the cornerstone of this nation's founding. I never cease to be astonished at how little most modern Americans care about it.

Strange session at the Rio




Sunday evening at the Rio turned out to be one of the most peculiar poker sessions I've ever put in. For all practical purposes, I played only one hand.

I sat down in Seat 1, and in the first hand I watched a woman in Seat 4 put in a pre-flop raise to $30--pretty unusual for most $1/$3 games, even coming over a straddle, as it was.

My second hand I was dealt A-Q offsuit in early position. Again there was a straddle. With so little knowledge of the table, I decided not to press this hand, just call and see what developed, ready to trash it if needed. But the same woman raised again, this time to $35. Now, it's not impossible for a player to pick up two good hands in a row, but this was unusual enough to make me wonder if she was a hyper-aggressive type, with a lot less than the bet size was representing. Hard to know so soon after sitting down.

Even stranger, though, was that her whopping raise was called by both of the players immediately after her. I noted, however, that they both appeared mighty reluctant about it. When the action came back to me, I decided to shove my entire $100 buy-in. My thinking was that A-Q played pretty well against whatever this woman could have, assuming she had the kind of wide raising range that I'm suspecting from watching her first two pots. I think she will call, but given the reticence of the two late-position callers, I think they will fold, perhaps reading my limp-shove as the A-A or K-K that such a move often signifies. If I'm right about my guesses, my A-Q will be heads-up against maybe a top-20 hand, with the extra $70 in dead money in the pot giving me an excellent price.

But that's not quite what happened. The woman called, as I had predicted, but then so did both other callers! Oops! I don't really like A-Q against three opponents! Oh well. Can't take it back now.

The flop was Q-x-x, which was about as good as I could hope for. All three opponents checked. The turn was another small card, and the woman pushed all in. The other two guys folded. We exposed our cards, and I was delighted to learn that she had J-J. My hand held, and I more than tripled up just that fast.

This table, I was quickly to learn, was one of the most insanely hyperaggressive I have ever played at. In fact, short of the ones in which one or more players were going all-in before even looking at their cards, it might be #1 on my all-time manic tables list.

It was therefore, in a sense, fortunate that after that big hand I went completely card-dead--just an endless stream of J-4, Q-2, 8-3, etc. I had no difficult decisions about what kind of ammunition was good enough to take to war against this small army of LAGs, because the dealer was giving me nothing more than a peashooter. So I spent the next hour folding and watching the crazed fun from the sidelines.

I did win one more small pot, when, miraculously, I found myself against a single opponent. He checked the flop. It had missed me completely, but since I knew that he had watched me fold about a million hands in a row, I thought I would probably have some credibility here, bluffed at it, and won. That pot basically compensated for the blinds I was paying while sitting passively by.

There were two or three more spots in which I called a normal-sized pre-flop raise, but caught complete air on the flop and had to give it up. And that was the sum total of my action for the session.

I left 1 1/4 hours after I arrived, cashing out for a $226 profit (not including the three nice chips shown above to add to my collection).

I guess sometimes one hand is all you need to make a session worth having played.

Weird (but cute) card protectors





At the Excalibur tonight, a couple of seats to my right was a middle-aged woman with two odd card protectors. As you can see, I hope, one of them is a turtle, the other an anteater or maybe an aardvark. (I'm pretty sure that's the first time the word "aardvark" has been used in this blog.) Each of them had a head that would bobble around when the thing was moved.

Cute. Weird, but cute.

She asked why I wanted to take a picture of them. I explained that I used such things as filler material for my poker blog when I didn't have anything meaningful to write about. She said that if I was going to feature her little friends, I should be sure to note that their names are, respectively, Sparky and Diablo. Duly noted.

When these guys weren't working well enough for her, in terms of bringing good luck, she had others to supplement her little army. One was a yellow duck, looking just like the classic bathtub rubber ducky, except made of hard plastic. Press a button on it, and little beams of light shoot out of its mouth and it quacks. Similarly, a Holstein cow would flash and moo when activated.

Amazing how little it takes to keep us poker players amused during a long stretch of unplayable hands.

Be careful what you wish for




Just got home from an enjoyable and profitable session at the Excalibur.

Early on in the evening, I picked up Q-Q in first position. Bleah. It's really difficult to play this kind of hand from bad position, but I can't exactly throw it away, either. So I make a small raise, and get called by every single player at the table! Ugh. This story has just started, and it already has "bad ending" written all over it.

The flop was A-10-2. More ugh. Seven opponents--how many of them are holding an ace? Probably three, with my luck. Well, sometimes one has to be brave. I go after it with a bet about 2/3 the size of the pot, hoping against hope that anybody with an ace concludes that I have a better one and gives up. It almost works. I get rid of everybody except one caller, a young man who, it was easy to tell from the moment I had sat down, was a relative novice at poker. Well, that's it. He has me beat, and there's no point throwing any more money at it. I plan to check it down, fold if he bets.

But wait--the turn card is another queen, giving me a set! Yay! Maybe not a bad ending after all! I move all in. My lone remaining opponent calls. We both show our cards. He had flopped two pairs with his A-2. He sees what he's up against and groans. But then he figures out that there is some hope in the situation, stands up, and starts loudly calling out for the card he wants to come on the river:

"TWO! TWO! TWO!"

I barely had time to register the implications of what he was saying--and definitely didn't have time to explain to him that what he was asking the poker gods to send would be of no help to him. It obviously didn't dawn on him that queens full of deuces beats deuces full of aces every day of the week, and twice on Sundays.

Anyway, just as I'm clearing my head about his odd wish, the dealer slaps onto the table the river card: a deuce!

The young man positively exploded with exuberation. He was jumping up and down, yelling, pumping his fists. Then he realized that he was being impolite, reached across the table to shake my hand, and said, "Oh, man, I'm sorry!"

I was highly amused by the whole situation. I shook his hand and replied, with absolute sincerity and a heartfelt smile, "There's nothing to apologize for." I meant it more literally than he knew. I figured it's not my job to burst his bubble. The dealer would do that soon enough. (At least I was mostly trusting that the dealer would not make the same hand-reading error that my opponent had, and I watched him like a hawk to be sure he didn't kill the wrong hand or push the pot to the wrong seat.)

The dealer was trying to get the young man's attention, and finally he calmed down enough to listen. The dealer said, "He [pointing to me] still wins." The young man said, "No, I got a full house." The dealer then pointed out that my full house was higher.

I haven't seen elation slammed down into dejection that fast very many times in my life. He groaned, dropped his face, and walked out of the room looking like somebody had just shot his dog.

As the dealer was scooping up the cards to start the next hand, he shook his head and wryly noted, "He should have asked for an ace."

Monday, July 28, 2008

Poker gems, #150




William S. Burroughs. See here for full citation.


This is a war universe. War all the time. That is its nature. There may be other universes based on all sorts of other principles, but ours seems to be based on war and games.

That's why, sir




As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. Proverbs
27:17, New International Version.


My razz game has advanced another small step. A hand I played a couple of days ago illustrates how. It's not rocket science, as they say, and those fluent in the game will probably read this post and think, "Well, DUH!" But it's one level deeper than I had been playing and thinking.

I was dealt (6 2) 3. The action was raised by a player named "Mailfish42" before it got to me. He was showing an 8. I obviously have a better hand than he does. Besides, I'm in late position, and the only players left behind me are a guy showing a 9 and the bring-in, who has a jack. So a raise is practically mandatory here. Mailfish calls.

On 4th street, I get a 7, so I now have (6 2) 3 7. Mailfish has (x x) 8 3. I bet, he calls. Nothing out of the ordinary there.

Fifth street is where it got at least mildly interesting. I was handed a queen, so I have (6 2) 3 7 Q. Mailfish popped into the lead with (x x) 8 3 9. He bet. Up until a couple of weeks ago, I would have thought, "Well, he has a better hand now, so I'll just call." But after watching some better players raise in this kind of spot, and thinking about why they did it, I have come to realize that it's a smart move. I clicked "raise."

Mailfish paused, clearly not expecting this. He even typed in the chat box, "Ha!" and then "Why raise?" I didn't respond. Not my job to give him lessons. Then he called.

Well, Mr. Mailfish, here's why. Yes, if the hand were to end now, you'd win, because your 9-low beats my Q-low. But I know that I need to catch only one more good card to have you beat, and if I do, then you have to catch two more good cards to win--and there are only two more coming. Put another way, if I get any non-pairing card 9 or below, and you don't improve, then I win. If I get an A, 4, or 5, on 6th street, I'll have a made 7-low and be ahead even if you improve so that your 9 is no longer playing. In short, I have a better draw, and I think I'm more likely to have the winning hand by the time all the cards are out. That makes getting more big bets into the pot right now A Good Thing.

Using the fabulous simulator tool found here, I can confirm mathematically what was apparent to me in a non-quantitative way during the hand. Let's assign my opponent, as down cards, two randomly selected different ranks below 8. That gives me about 55% equity in the pot, and him only 45%. Even if he has the best possible hole cards--an ace and a deuce--I still have a narrow edge, 51% to 49%. Those calculations were run without accounting for the dead cards. I actually improve on all measures by about four percentage points when the dead cards are figured in, because they included pairs to two of my good cards (the 6 and 7) but none for his 3 or 8, so he's a little more likely to hit a brick than I am.

Even better, if that 3 secretly paired him, I'm up by a whopping 70%/30% equity, and one more good card will cinch it for me. I'm not relying on that, but it's a consideration.

On 6th street, I think he may have had his eyes opened. I picked up a beautiful ace. He paired his 3. I bet. He said, "mmm," thought a bit, folded, then added, "wp" (which I assume means "well played"). One more card being dealt out was all it took for him to go from questioning and laughing at my raise to complimenting it.

Of course, it could have turned out differently--and often does in razz. But a raise there was unquestionably the right thing to do. Getting an opponent to shovel more money into the pot when I stand a better chance of winning it than he does seems like a no-brainer to me now, though, as I admitted earlier, this insight had escaped me until quite recently. I was focused just on how the cards stood at the moment, rather than trying to peek into the future.

Several days ago I was playing with one of the regular inhabitants of the Stars razz tables, and he watched me put in a similar raise when I was behind but had a better draw. He's an observant fellow, and typed in the chat box after the hand, "You've changed your game." Yes, I have--a little to the better, I think.

I wonder if Mailfish42 has actually figured this out now, or just wrote it off as getting unlucky on 6th street, without learning anything from the experience. I'm hoping the latter.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Poker words, #4

Two new ones (to me, anyway):

chopblocker

In a facility that allows the small blind and big blind to "chop," i.e., take back the blinds and move on to the next hand if nobody before them has entered, a player, usually in late position, who limps in, thus foiling the blinds' anticipated and desired chop. "Oh, man, don't be a chopblocker!"


bring-in bitch

In stud-type games, a player who is being hit with way more than his fair share of the bring-in bets. "Looks like I'm going to be the bring-in bitch for this table."

Strange poker typo




"Minton" is one of the most popular degenerate inhabitants of the allvegaspoker.com forums, as well as being a reader and frequent commenter here. I met him at the AVP tournament last month as well as a crazy dinner at Dick's Last Resort the night before.

At the tournament, he showed me a cell phone photo of poker sign that had a weird typo in it. I think he said it was at Binion's. He forwarded the picture to me on AVP a couple of weeks ago, but I got busy with other stuff and didn't check in there for quite a while, so just found it today.

"No' Limit Hold'em." Nice job, Binion's!

Update on Suncoast poker room








I haven't been out to the Suncoast casino since last December, so I decided that it was time to head there again and see if I could take some money off of the Social Security crowd passive calling stations fine locals that tend to play there, instead of the tourists for a change. I was surprised to find that the poker room isn't where it used to be. It's in a temporary location, a slightly elevated section that previously was part of the bar. Apparently, the space formerly occupied by the poker room is being taken over by a TGI Friday's (because the world needs another one of those, obviously). You get sort of an overview of the current setting in the second photo above.

The place was really buzzing. They had eight tables going! Even though two or three of those were for a tournament, it's still double the number I've ever seen in use before.

In the first photo, you can see that they have also replaced the dirty, worn-out felt (I think it was sort of mustand-colored) with very nice new maroon stuff.

The final photo above is a sneak peek of the space into which the poker room will be moving next week. I can bring this to you because, as an internationally renowned poker blogger, I am revered everywhere I go, and get special favors in virtually every poker room on the planet. Well, that, plus the fact that there is no wall or door or anything keeping the general public from looking in.

It's in a great location, literally about 15 yards from the bottom of the elevator and stairs from the parking garage. I believe that that will officially give the Suncoast the honor of the shortest parking-to-poker hike in town. (Of course, you have to drive out to Summerlin for it, but you can't have everything.) The new space looks like it will be OK, though not quite as nicely set apart from the noise and smoke of the slot machines as the previous room was. By a gross visual estimation, I'm also guessing that it's at least one-third smaller than the old room. That's a shame, because ample space around every table was one of the best physical features in the old place.

We'll soon see.