Saturday, September 06, 2008

Annals of perfect timing

I set out walking tonight, intending to play for a while at the Golden Nugget, but never got there. I stopped in at Fitzgeralds (which, until tonight, I erroneously thought was "Fitzgerald's"; but now I know that, like Caesars Palace, it's plural, not possessive) to see what was happening in their poker room upstairs. I've looked in there many times, hoping to see a NLHE game going, but never have, in two years. I've even played there three times in a limit game, hoping that a no-limit game would evolve. Never did.

But tonight they had three names on a no-limit interest list, and a tournament that was about 25 minutes along, implying that we'd soon see some bust-outs. So I sat down. I only had to wait about ten minutes. It was worth it. I left less than two hours later up by $211.

Fitzgeralds is not a particularly nice poker room. It's way too smoky for my taste. Dealers are below average. Minimal amenities. It's an ugly and not especially friendly place, with only six tables and, as I said, it's hard to find much action there.

There were a couple of moderately experienced players, but the table was mostly occupied by very weak opponents. Bad rooms tend to attract bad players, which is why I endure unpleasant places like the Sahara, Tuscany, Riviera, Imperial Palace, etc.

At one point, after about half an hour of being completely card-dead, I decided to try a gambit. I raised to $15 with 5-6 offsuit in the cutoff seat. I got four callers. The flop was 4-6-7 with two spades. (I had a club and a diamond, I think.) The first player bet $10 and two others called before it got to me. I raised to $50 as a semi-bluff, quite content to win the pot as it was, but I knew I had ways to win against just about any hand my opponents held in case I got called. Any observant player would conclude I had a big pocket pair and was defending against the obvious draws. The first two players folded quickly. The last one had a long think. He was talking to me, asking how big my pocket pair was, etc. He finally folded.

I rarely show bluffs, because I don't like to anger other players. But I was tempted to do so this time. Mike Caro advises showing or not showing bluffs depending on the type of opponents. Your goal is to heighten your opponents' tendencies. Those who tend to call too much are the ones to show bluffs to, because it will amplify their natural impulse to call you down when you have strong hands. Those who tend to play too tight and already fold more than they should are the ones to bluff without showing. Let them think they're making good laydowns, which will tend to make them continue doing the same.

This table had several calling stations, so I decided to show the semi-bluff. I got compliments all around: "Nice bet," "Nice play," etc. Even though two players plausibly claimed that they folded bigger pairs than my 6s, they smiled, rapped the table, and said, "Well done."

And boy oh boy did it turn out to be a good thing I advertised that move!

On the very next hand, I picked up A-K offsuit. I bet $15 again, and got five suspicious callers. This was going to be another big pot--now I just had to hit the flop, because I had no prayer of another big bluff working in this situation.

The flop was K-K-8, rainbow. Well, I guess that's hitting it, all right! Player A (one of the weakest ones) led out for $10. I called, as did the button. The turn card was a 10. Player A checked this time. I bet $35. Button folded and A went into the tank. I tried hard to behave exactly as I had on the previous hand while I had been waiting for my last opponent's decision.* There's just no doubt in my mind that the effects of that hand were working on Player A. I think he finally decided that he couldn't stand to be the victim of a second consecutive bluff. He said, "OK, if you've got me, you've got me. I'm all in." He pushed in his last $125 or so. I had him covered.

You might guess that I called. You'd be right. Though I didn't need it, the case king hit the river, giving me quads. That beat my opponent's Q-Q handily.

As I was stacking up the chips, the guy who had taken so long to fold on the previous hand said, "Showing that 6-5 worked out pretty well for you."

Funny--I had been thinking exactly the same thing.

(The photo above is one of the atomic clocks maintained by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Get it? "Perfect timing"? OK, it's pretty lame, but I couldn't think of any better illustration.)

*One of the readers with whom I played at Bill's the other night was kind enough to email me the next day, and included this observation: "I really admired your play, you took your time on every move and you were very deliberate in your actions. Always did the same thing every time whether you had the nuts or were bluffing. Very hard to pick up a tell on you. Well played Grump, well played." It's nice to hear that at least sometimes I achieve the effect I aim for.

Mind games

After the First Friday tour (see post immediately prior), I walked down to Binion's. It's not my favorite place, but it, the Golden Nugget, and Fitzgerald's are the only poker rooms within walking distance of my apartment (well, not counting the El Cortez and the Plaza, which are not worthy of consideration), so I keep it in the mix for occasional visits.

(EDIT: On rereading, I realize how absurd this must sound to those of you living in most of the rest of the world. I have "only" five poker rooms within easy walking distance. Oh, poor me! If you live somewhere such that you would feel like you had died and gone to heaven if you had just one poker room within easy reach, I feel for you. I really do. I try not to forget that what I have here is truly an embarrassment of riches. I forgot it for a second when writing the above, but caught my gaffe in proofreading.)

Glad I did. While my friend wandered around downtown Vegas, I made $317 in 80 minutes. It was one of those rare nights where winning was effortless. In addition to a couple of hands in which a continuation bet folded all opposition, essentially my entire profit came from three hands:

1. A-8 suited in the small blind, unraised pot. Pretty mediocre hand in awful position, but no raise, so I added my $2 to the pot ($1-3 game). Flop A-K-9. Another 9 on the turn. River a deuce. I was check-calling. On the river, the guy in Seat 2 bet $60. I had only $51 left at this point. I thought it was most likely that he had missed a flush draw and had nothing, with the other main possibility being a weak ace like I had, which would result in a split pot. I didn't believe he had a 9. So it wasn't a difficult call. Because a lot of players had called on the flop and turn, there was a ton of money in the pot for the call, too. His cards hit the muck the instant my chips went in, so I guess my first thought was correct. More than doubled up there.

2. Very next hand, A-9 of diamonds on the button. Guy on my left raises to $8 from the small blind. OK, I'll bite. Flopped the nut flush draw. His bet was small enough to call. Hit the nuts on the turn. He bet again. Call. Sadly, the river was another diamond, which shut him down, and I couldn't get him to call even a small value bet.

3. Maybe 30 or 40 minutes later, K-K in the small blind. Guy with Q-Q raised before me, and we got about half the money in before the flop, the other half when the flop looked safe to both of us. Kings held up.

See how easy poker is? I don't know what all the fuss is about, what with books, videos, seminars, blah, blah, blah. Just recognize a bluff, get the nuts on the turn, and take the stack of a guy with Q-Q when you have K-K, and you'll make $238/hour. I just proved it. What's the big frickin' deal???


OK, so now for the "mind games" part. The guy on my left had just lost a big pot to Seat 2. He quietly lamented to me, "It's the first time he hasn't been bluffing." I agreed with his assessment that the dude was a frequent bluffer.

I'm not sure what prompted me to do this--it's completely out of character for me. I whispered to him, "Look, I'm going to be leaving soon, so I may not be able to take advantage of this. He bets faster when he's got it, slower when he's bluffing."

The guy's eyes widened. He said, "Oh, that's good!" He looked at me as if I were a poker guru. I had some credibility on this because he had seen me pick off the same player's bluff. I had only been at the table about five minutes longer than Seat 9 had been (I was in 8), but he didn't know that--for all he knew, I had been studying Seat 2 for hours.

Now, there was a kernel of truth in what I said. Seat 2 had been much slower and more deliberate with his bet when he tried to bluff me than he was in the hand he won in which he showed down top pair/top kicker. I had definitely noticed that, but it was just one example each way, which isn't enough to really count on. It's a trend to watch and try to verify, but it's not enough evidence to count on yet.

So why did I do this? I think there was a mix of motivations. First, it was fun to play with the guy's mind, especially knowing that my friend would be coming back to pick me up before too long--sort of a feeling of power to mess with him when he was vulnerable and feeling beaten. Second, I wanted to intimidate him a bit--make him think that every player at the table, himself included, was transparent to my all-seeing eyes. I realize that those motivations are kind of at cross-purposes, because what's the point of making him think I'm super-scary when I'll be leaving soon? But this wasn't a well thought-out plan, just a spontaneous impulse to which I uncharacteristically yielded.

Now sitting at home a couple of hours later, I'm dying of curiosity to know what happened. Was I right about the tell? Did the guy try to make a call or fold based on what I had told him? If so, how did it work out? I guess I'll never know.

Remember--advice you receive at the poker table is probably worth what you're paying for it.


Incidentally, this is the first time I've been at Binion's since they've started something apparently new--simultaneous $1-2 and $1-3 NLHE games. This is seriously weird. I don't know of any other place in town that runs both. They have separate waiting lists for the two games, so if you don't care which one you play, you have to know this and ask to be on both lists. I didn't know that at first, and only caught on after I heard names called for both games. I have no idea why they do this. I think it's a terrible idea. Pick one or the other, but there is no good reason that I can think of to be running both at the same time.

Friday, September 05, 2008

First Friday

Did some work at home this afternoon with my usual PokerStars razz $2-4 going on in the background. Had an unusually good day at it: uptick $160 in about two hours of giving it part-time attention.

My visiting friend had read good things in the Fodor guide about a Mexican restaurant called Dona Maria Tamales. This is on Las Vegas Boulevard just north of Charleston, so not far from where I live and also close to where we were heading after dinner. It was truly excellent food--easily the best Mexican I've had since living here. My friend, who is much fussier and more educated about fine dining than I am, agreed that it was superlative. My only concern was that the restrooms were pretty nasty, and you know the old saying--if they don't bother to keep the restrooms clean, when they know you'll see them, you can bet that the kitchen is filthy, because they know you won't be seeing that. Ewww.

Then we headed off to "First Friday," a monthly sort of open house of all of the downtown artsy-fartsy shops and galleries. It's a pretty nice thing to take out-of-town visitors to, because it's unlike anything else they'll ever do in Vegas, and not at all the sort of thing anybody expects this city to offer.

Below is a tiny sampling of the arts, crafts, ware, antiques, clothes, etc., that are for sale at the permanent galleries and the various temporary ones that get set up in a closed-off few blocks of Casino Center street--plus a few other sights of the evening, bands, break dancers, girls in their underwear and body paint, that sort of thing.

One of my favorite contemporary artists (and this allows me to slip in minimal poker content!) is Matt Rinard, and some of his stuff was on display at a high-end printing shop. You can see his main web site here and some from his poker-themed series here.

I had my good camera along, so there are much larger versions of these photos available for the mere effort of a click on them. Enjoy.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Night of strangeness

Last night was another of those days when a bunch of little odd things happened, which I will collect into a single omnibus post.

The weirdness of variance

I started the evening at the Palms. It was one of those magical sessions where everything went right. I did not lose a single hand at showdown. If I had A-Q, I'd get a flop like Q-8-2, and get my bets called down on every street by a guy holding Q-J. Never had a bluff called, never called what I thought was a bluff without being right. I didn't do anything tricky, really--just ABC poker. I made $270 in a little less than two hours, way above my average earning rate, not because I played like a genius, but because there always seemed to be somebody with the second-best hand willing to pay me off, which makes all the difference in one's profit.

I'm playing very conservatively these days, in terms of bankroll management, because even after the second half of August turned around for me, I still finished the month about $1200 down, due to the devastating first half of the month. So until the bankroll fully recovers, I'm looking to hit-and-run more than usual--make $100 to $300 somewhere and leave to lock in that profit. Conventional wisdom is that if a game is good, you should stay as long as it remains good. That means risking what I've made so far, rather than packing up and leaving. In normal times, I'm entirely willing to do that, hoping to turn a small profit into a big profit. But for the time being, I need to get my wins in smaller, surer chunks, risking as little as possible.

That's why I left after less than two hours, even though the game still seemed beatable, and went in search of profit elsewhere. I moseyed down the road to Bill's, always a reliable money-maker. But it was a very different crowd at Bill's last night than usual. More of the seats were occupied by decent players. There were still two or three pure calling stations, but there were people with whom I could actually play poker, if you know what I mean.

But I took a big hit early, and spent the rest of the session s-l-o-w-l-y grinding my way back up. Finally I made it, and was actually up by a whole $4 after 3 1/2 hours of play! The climb back was hard enough that I did not feel like pressing things any further, so I clocked out.

So that's the weirdness of variance in this always-unpredictable game: At the Palms, where the game is usually juicy but with high variance because of a lot of bluffers and gamblers, my stack just rose rapidly and steadily upward, and I made $147/hour with never a really difficult decision to make. Then at Bill's, where I can usually take people's money without even breaking a sweat, it was a mighty up-and-down struggle just to make $1/hour.

Go figure.

What do you do with a marked card?

The last time I was at Bill's (August 27), I had noticed that the five of spades had a visibly worn spot on its back. I did my usual procedure--waited until I had seen it twice and confirmed both times that I could identify it, then waited again until there was a moment when it was folded by another player and I could "name that card" to the dealer, thus proving that the card was indeed identifiable by its back. They took that deck out of play and replaced it.

Naturally, I assumed that they would replace the defective card before putting the deck back into use. So I was quite surprised last night when, on one deal, I noticed a little worn spot on one of my hole cards before I looked at them, and then discovered that it was the five of spades! They had simply taken the deck with the bad card out of use for that night, then put it back into service the next day without replacing the card.

This is inexcusable. I've railed before about the Flamingo's reluctance to replace a defective card. Now I have to tar Bill's with the same brush.

Message to dealers and floor staff at Bill's (and everyplace else, for that matter): When a player points out an identifiable defect in a card back, especially when he does so in a manner that proves that he can tell what the card is without looking at its face, it is your duty and obligation to replace that card. Period. No exceptions, no excuses. Even if you think that only one player in a thousand is observant enough (or obsessive enough, or nitty enough, or however you'd like to describe it) to notice, and even if you're right about that guess, that is all it takes to taint the game. If you care anything at all about game integrity, you must replace a card that even one person can identify.

Last night I again waited for an appropriate moment. When the dealer had finished the scramble and was about to start the shuffle, I noticed that the marked card was on top of the deck, so I quickly pointed it out to her, saying, "If that's the five of spades, I think you should replace it." It was, of course. This time, I was disgusted enough with how they had handled the situation that I took the card from her and deliberately creased it myself--something I've never done in a casino before--so that they couldn't pull the same inadequate, cheap-ass trick of just taking the deck out of circulation for one night, then using it again without actually remedying the problem.

Shame on you, Bill's.

Close but no cigar

An off-duty Bill's/Imperial Palace dealer was one of the players at the table last night. He was a good player and a lot of fun to spend time with.

I wasn't paying much attention to the hand in which this occurred, because I wasn't involved. (Yeah, I know I should watch everything all the time. But attention does lapse sometimes.) On the last street, I became aware that he was acting really strange, taking way longer than he had before, staring at the pot, etc. I couldn't tell what was going on. There were two 7s and two queens on board, so I assumed he had a difficult decision to make--double-paired boards tend to be very tricky to play. But then he did the strangest thing: he made the absolute minimum bet of $1. That made no sense at all. Even stranger, his only remaining opponent folded. Heck, I'd call almost anything for a $1 bet.

When he folded, the dealer-player shouted "No!" and sunk his head down.

Here's why. He had flopped quad 7s. Bill's recently instituted high-hand jackpots. I think it's $50 for four of a kind and $100 for straight flushes, but don't quote me on that. But as with my recent incident at the Palms, the pot was $1 short of what it needed to be to qualify for the jackpot. So he was trying to communicate to his opponent what was going on and induce a mercy call, without violating the rules about discussing the hand in progress. (Uncalled bets do not count as part of the pot for purposes of the jackpot requirements.)

After it was over, people naturally asked him why he wasn't just more open about the situation, tell the other player that he'd reimburse him for the call if he called and lost, or other such trickery that people often resort to in this spot. He said, honorably and admirably, "I'm not going to cheat the casino I work for." (Of course, one shouldn't cheat any other casino either. I don't think he was implying that he would act unethically elsewhere--just that he felt an especially acute obligation to stay entirely clear of even any gray zones where his own facility was involved.)

No jackpot for you!

Readers, readers everywhere!

I've had a good number of readers spot me and say hello at in a poker room. But last night broke the record. It had never been more than one in a day before, and yesterday it was three! I had one sharing the table at the Palms, then two sharing the table at Bill's! That's pretty statistically amazing, when you consider the number of people playing poker in Las Vegas yesterday evening, and the percentage of the poker-playing public that are readers of this blog (still just a tiny, elite minority, I'm afraid).

Because of the ensuing conversation, two other players asked for the URL, and I wrote it down for them, so perhaps there are two new readers today as a result. If so, welcome to them.

Always a pleasure to meet you folks.

Touristy day

I have a friend visiting from out of town, so took the day off from poker and did a few touristy things.

1. Went to lunch at Rosati's Pizza. I had never been there before. Excellent.

2. Took a tour of the Ethel M chocolate factory. Unfortunately, they're not cranking out candy 24 hours a day--just on an as-needed basis, and we happened to catch them when there was not much happening. But everything still looked yummy:

I bought a 4-oz. bar of mint chocolate and a 24-piece sampler box. Haven't tried them yet (a little too full of pizza), but I anticipate all goodness.

3. Kind of strangely, connected with the chocolate factory is what I think is the only desert botanical gardens in the valley. It showcases plants that are native to the southwest/Mohave desert/Mexico areas. It's a really nice spot to walk around for half an hour or an hour, depending on your interest in such things and heat tolerance. Lots of cute little lizards running around, too. There are a lot more different kinds of plants native to the area than I would have guessed. Some of them even have color! I wished I had brought my good camera, instead of just the crummy cell phone camera.

4. Finally, we stopped by the Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve. Unfortunately, we hadn't checked the schedule beforehand, and just assumed it had normal hours of operation. Nope. It closes at 3:00 p.m., with last entry at 2:45. The clock in my car read exactly 2:45 as we entered. So all we could do was kind of see one edge of the pond and the beginning of the walking trail--couldn't walk around or do it justice. But it sure looked like another nice place to spend a little time. I imagine it would be best very early in the morning (they open at 6:00 a.m.). But getting a poker player up and out of bed and actually at something early in the morning? That's just not going to happen.