Saturday, September 13, 2008

Poker gems, #163

Richard Taylor, in Bluff magazine column, May, 2007, available here.

There is nothing noble or gentlemanly about trying to take someone else’s mortgage payment to make your car payment. It is not a knitting circle; it is a war fought on felt.

Foolishly showing off

During one of the first hands I played in a session at Bill's last night, two players got it all in before the flop. The short-stacked player had A-4 suited. He was up against K-K. The guy with K-K looked at the situation and said, "You're about 26% to win." I didn't think that was quite right, and on checking now I see that it's actually about 33%.

But that's not the point.

The point is the effect that quoting the number had on me. So early in the session, I still had no clue which players were the experienced ones I needed to be a little wary of, and who were the dundering calling stations. This guy made that a whole lot clearer for me, as far as he was concerned, without me needing to invest any more effort in analyzing his play. People who know, even approximately, hand-versus-hand winning probabilities for pre-flop confrontations are not beginners.

I didn't get much chance to confirm the impression this left with me, because this player (1) was extraordinarily tight, (2) tended to wander around a lot, missing many hands, and (3) left the game not too long after this. But I was left shaking my head at his self-revelation.

One of the skills that I noticed developed most rapidly for me after moving to Vegas was the ability to figure out opponents' skill levels. You know the old saying: If you can't spot the sucker at the table within 30 minutes, it's you. It's true, insofar as inexperienced players have a hard time gauging the relative strength of their opponents. Maybe they'll eventually figure it out, but why help them with comments that instantly signal them that you know the game more thoroughly than they do?

Sometime within the last year I read a column in one of the poker periodicals (sorry--I've spent half an hour trying to find it, and I can't) suggesting that one put one's ego aside and deliberately misstate some poker fact out loud to the table. The example given was something like this: "I can't believe I haven't hit a set yet today. When I start with a pocket pair, I should be flopping a set one out of three times, but I've had nine in a row with no set!"

The idea, fairly obviously, is twofold. First, you plant in knowledgeable opponents' minds the notion that you don't know even basic poker math. Second, you may draw out the egotistical player who can't resist openly correcting you. Knowing that somebody at the table knows basic poker math and yet values his ego more than money is a great insight into how to beat him.

I'll admit that I can't pull that off. I'm so naturally quiet that I just don't think I could be convincing. I also can't do any of the things recommended by Richard Taylor in this great piece for Bluff magazine, designed to convince opponents that you're a complete idiot and put them on super monkey tilt.

I don't act out of turn as if I don't know any better, or naively ask the dealer whether a flush beats a straight. It's just not in me. But at least I know not to flaunt the fact that I'm usually more experienced and poker-savvy than most of my opponents. (Incidentally, this is also high on the list of reasons that I have deliberately avoided ever learning any chip tricks. Excessive dexterity with chips signals a history of long hours at a poker table even to a player too clueless to figure out by other means who the good players are.) If they deduce that on their own over time, fine--but I'm not going to help them rush to that conclusion. Why put them on notice that they're up against better competition than they face at their home game in Podunk, Louisiana? It's easier to win their money when they haven't figured that out yet.

Sights and sounds around town (minimal poker content)


Bill's Gamblin' Hall and Saloon just got new felt on their tables. That's usually not cause for a photo and post, but these are really wild--easily the most colorful in town now. The wood looks so real that you have to touch it to convince yourself that it's not actually a wooden table.

Rumor has it that the cowboy shown on the felt, who is also on all sorts of other promotional materials around Bill's, originally had no moustache. But then the aggressive lawyers for Pixar objected, saying that the cartoon looked too much like a certain iconic character from a certain successful 1995 animated feature that that company had made, so Bill's added the moustache to better differentiate the two.

Sorry, but that's the end of the poker content for this post.


I passed this car in the parking lot the other day. I liked the license plate so much I had to stop and take a picture of it.


I was at Red Rock casino yesterday afternoon. All three of the remaining stories herein took place there within the space of five minutes.

I was in a stall of the men's room taking care of business, when somebody entered the stall to my right. I saw his shoes. He was standing up against the wall separating us, with his heels toward me, back against the wall. I figured he was going to engage in one of the various pre-business rituals that I've grown accustomed to hearing take place: wiping down the seat with toilet paper, putting down a paper seat cover, maybe a preparatory flush. But no, it was nothing like that. It was much stranger.

There was a series of loud, non-human noises I couldn't identify. Then I heard the slosh slosh slosh of what was unmistakably something being swirled around inside the toilet! I found this rather alarming. Lots of shuffling around. Things being wiped with a lot more vigor than expected. I couldn't figure out what he was doing.

But then I heard a sound that clarified everything: a brush. Aha! It's the cleaning guy!



As I was exiting the stall, I had to pass by the row of urinals. I saw something there that I have seen only once or twice before: An older guy accessing his, uh, parts by hiking one leg of his shorts way up. That's actually why I couldn't help noticing--the contrast of him having black shorts covering up one half of his backside, and his exposed lily-white thigh and butt cheek on the other side. It was seriously weird.

I don't get this behavior. I can't believe that it's faster, easier, or conveys any other advantage over the more traditional routes.

(That's right. This blog has now devolved into bathroom humor and observations. Maybe it's time to give it up, eh?)


Upon leaving the restroom, I passed by a small decorative fountain and pool. Wherever there is such a thing in a public place, people will toss coins in. Here, though, I caught an old man bending over and fishing a quarter out. He gave it a vigorous shake to throw the water off before slipping it into his pocket. He then looked up and saw me staring at him. I'm not the confrontational type, because it's really not my business. But I hope my disapproving glare gave him a little jolt of shame.

People are so strange.


My out-of-town visitor left this morning. One of the last touristy things we did yesterday, after the lunch buffet at Red Rock, was to visit the Las Vegas Art Museum in Summerlin. I had never been there before.

I can't recommend it. It costs $6, and there are only three rooms of art. Now, if these were three rooms filled with Monets and Cezannes and Rembrandts, OK, I'd consider that a treat and a bargain. But--pardon me showing my ignorance here--these pieces are mostly just crap. There were one or two things that were OK, that I wouldn't mind hanging over the sofa. But nearly everything else there, if I noticed it sitting in a Dumpster, I not only wouldn't bother retrieving it, I'd think that it had been put there with good reason.

Addendum, September 21, 2008

A reader sent me the photo below, showing the Bill's cowboy before the moustache was added, which adds some evidence to the rumor I heard about his alteration.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Electronic tables nixed for Aliante Station

James Klosty, poker room manager for Texas Station, has been picked to also manage the poker room at what will be the chain's newest facility, Aliante Station, scheduled to open November 11, 2008 (at 11:11 p.m., which is more than a little bit silly). There has been a longstanding rumor that the room would open with all electronic tables, provided by PokerTek's rival, Lightning Gaming. This was not just idle chat; it genuinely was under serious consideration.

However, James has given me permission to quote him as follows on the final decision: "Aliante will have real dealers."

He also adds, "The entire building is gorgeous and the poker room is spectacular."

Photo above shot on August 5 by the good folks at Vegas Today and Tomorrow. See here for their Aliante updates.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Palms freeroll

The Palms poker room just started a series of weekly freeroll tournaments for frequent customers. They use a structure unlike any I've seen before.

If you play 12 hours in the preceeding week, you qualify to sit in a single-table satellite. You can qualify for additional satellites for more hours of play. The last two standing in each satellite receive $100 and entry to the main tournament, where $3000 is up for grabs ($1000 for 1st, $400 for 2nd, $300 for 3rd, $200 for 4th, and $100 for 5th through 15th).

So far so good, at least in theory. But in practice, there are problems.

The first problem is scheduling. You don't pick or get assigned to a specific time for your satellite. They are run from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday. You show up, they add you to the list. I arrived at 2:05 Tuesday, and found that the first satellite had just started, the list for the second one was already full, so I was placed on the list for the 3rd. They thought it might start between 3:00 and 3:30.

As it turned out, the first one took an hour. They started the second, and I was thinking I'd have to wait another hour. But then they decided to start #3 with a second dealer while #2 was still running. It got underway at 3:20. But the point is that you can't really know when you'll be playing. You might arrive at 4:00 and find that there are five full satellites ahead of you, and you won't play until 8:00. I also don't know what they do if you arrive at, say, 7:30 and they don't get enough to fill up another satellite. Are you just out of luck? Do they run a short-handed satellite? And what if you arrive at 7:30 and there are four or five full satellites? Will they keep running them past the announced close time of 8:00? I don't know.

The main tournament is run on Wednesday evening. This means that basically you have to expect to spend all or most of Tuesday afternoon or evening and Wednesday evening on this tournament. With no definite times for Tuesday, this is a big commitment of time to expect people to make on a weekly basis. Of course, if there are tables running, you can play cash games and be building hours toward the next week's qualification, if you are so inclined. But those may not be the optimal times for playing (i.e., the room will likely then have more locals than tourists, compared to prime evening/night hours).

There's another huge problem with the satellites: the structure. You start with 1200 in chips, and the first round of blinds are 100/100. That's right--you start with 12 big blinds, and an "M" of 6. Blinds go up every 15 minutes: 100/200, 200/400, 300/600, 500/1000/100, etc. You can buy an optional 500 chips for a $3 dealer contribution, which everybody does, of course.

This is the most ridiculously short-stacked tournament structure I've ever seen in any venue. In the first level, suppose you make a standard 3x BB raise from the cutoff, the button calls, and the big blind calls. Now the pot contains 1000 chips, and you have 900 left (or 1400 if you've done the optional chip purchase). Your only rational choices after the flop are to shove or fold. That's it. That's your shot. That's your whole tournament. One hand.

It's so absurdly biased toward luck over skill that I would literally prefer that they just randomly pick 20% of the qualifiers' names to receive the $100 and tournament entry. It would be just as fair and would save hundreds of currently wasted man-hours. Post the winners' names on the Palms web site and be done with it. You then wouldn't have dozens of people having to drive over, sit around for an unknown number of hours to play what often boils down to a one-hand luckfest tournament.

As it stands, the time commitment and stupid structure are such big turn-offs that I don't think I'll be making much effort to qualify for for these things. If I happen to put in two or three longish sessions at the Palms in a week and qualify, OK, I'll endure it. But in my opinion, the Palms has made their freeroll so unappealing in terms of time commitment and structure that it's not worth much extra effort to try for. If instead of weekly they made it a $20,000 monthly deal for, say, 40 hours of rated play, I would find it more interesting, because I'd only have to be making those additional two trips out there for unknown amounts of time once a month instead of once a week.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Playing my regular $2-4 PokerStars razz game this afternoon I had a rather jolting experience, when a player not in the hand stepped in via the chat box, and probably altered how the hand played out.

Here's a screen shot of how the hand looked when it was over. We ended up with the same best five cards, and split the pot.

As you can see, we both started with excellent hands. Predictably, we capped the betting on 3rd. I improved nicely on 4th; he did not. And he got even worse on 5th. So he had decisions to make when I bet out in both spots.

Here's the relevant portion of the hand transcript, so you can see how things played out:

*** 4th STREET ***
Dealt to Rakewell1 [Ah 3h 4d] [2s]
Dealt to Phoinix [4h] [Tc]
Rakewell1: bets $2
Phoinix: calls $2
*** 5th STREET ***
Dealt to Rakewell1 [Ah 3h 4d 2s] [Ts]
Dealt to Phoinix [4h Tc] [Qh]
Rakewell1: bets $4
Phoinix said, "u lucky"
bizzlenuts said, "he paired"
Phoinix said, "u might have a deuce"
Phoinix: calls $4

So "bizzlenuts" appears to have planted the suggestion that my 2 on 4th street paired one of my down cards. What the hand history doesn't show is the delays. "Phoinix" first got the 15-second warning, then it showed him having requested extra time. It is in that window of time that "bizzlenuts" speaks up with "he paired." After another delay we get "Phoinix" saying "u might have a deuce" (i.e., another deuce in the hole--a pair).

It's pretty clear that he couldn't call there with a 10 and a Q showing without making the decision that I had, in fact, paired up. Now, maybe he would have come to that conclusion on his own. But it sure looks like it was the chat suggestion that pushed him that way.

This is so obviously wrong I hope I don't have to explain it. It's as clear a violation of the "one player to a hand" rule as I can imagine. And in this case, it likely cost me half of the pot, because without it, I think my opponent would have folded on 5th street.

This ticked me off enough that I fired off an email to PokerStars support, with the relevant portion of the hand history included. Here's the reply I got back:

Thank you again for bringing the actions of this player to our attention.

His comment was inappropriate and violated the rules listed on our

Although many of our players are not aware of all proper rules and
etiquette, this player has been informed of the rules now. A future infraction
by this player is potential grounds for chat revocation.

The help of players like yourself is integral to maintaining the
integrity of our games on PokerStars, and we appreciate vigilant players like
yourself who help us police our games.



PokerStars Support Team

Personally, I'd prefer that they forcibly confiscate the money I believe I lost on that hand from "bizzlenuts" and transfer it to my account as just compensation. I suppose that's asking a bit much, though.

What is so damn hard about just shutting up about the one subject that is forbidden to discuss while playing a poker hand, which is the hand in progress? It's like Adam and Eve with the forbidden fruit. There's a whole garden full of every variety of things to eat, but what they go for is the one thing that is off-limits. It's the same with poker. The entire universe of possible topics of discussion is open, with one exception--the hand currently being played. Yet that is the one thing that players seem most unable to refrain from commenting about.

I will never, ever understand this.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Two Palms stories

People often ask me how I select a place to play on any given day. There's no good answer to that, other than that it's highly arbitrary. Sometimes there's a confluence of reasons. Tonight was one of them.

The Palms has a new promotion. During NFL games on Sunday and Monday nights, whenever a team scores, they randomly select a table and seat, and the player in that seat wins between $50 and $300. (The amount is apparently selected at random from a list of quantities. $50 is by far the most common, though just in the past two days I've heard a couple of $100 and one $300 being called out.) I also noticed that the duration of the two ESPN Monday night games would be just enough hours to qualify me for the new weekly freeroll tournament at the Palms (12 hours per week, and I had already spent nearly 6 hours there in the last few days). Third, they just rolled out a new series of $5 chips, which I will be happy to collect while they're still new. Finally, I had an errand to run a short distance from there. So the Palms it was.

Two reportable stories for you.

"I can't believe he went all in"

I was in the small blind with 5s-5h. I'm in Seat 10, big blind is in Seat 1, with the dealer between us. There was one limper ahead of me, and I called. The big blind raised to something like $12. This is a guy I've played with before. He has a pretty wide range for pre-flop raising, and cares little about position. I also know that he will put in a continuation bet virtually every time if post-flop action is checked to him after he has raised. Both the limper and I call.

The flop is 6-7-8, all spades. It just misses being my third flopped straight flush in as many weeks. But an open-ended straight-flush draw is obviously full of potential for good things happening. I checked. The big blind bet $20. He would do this pretty much no matter what, so his bet didn't help me define his hand. The limper called, but looked troubled about it. My read was that he liked his hand too much to fold, but not enough to raise, and he would have preferred a free card. The pot was about $75. I had $102 left in front of me. I shoved it all in. I didn't know if the big blind would fold or not, but it was OK either way. I felt reasonably confident that the limper would fold and leave an extra $20 in dead money in the pot.

The big blind called rather quickly. Limper folded. The five of diamonds hit on the turn, giving me a set. The river was a blank. Three of a kind was good enough to beat the big blind's pocket kings, which included the king of spades (thus explaining his rapid call).

As the pot was being pushed to me, the Seat 2 player, who had stepped away, was returning, noticed the large pot, and asked Seat 1 what had happened. Seat 1 summarized things, speaking softly, probably thinking that I was too far away to hear him. He closed his summation with, "I can't believe he went all in with pocket fives when there were three overcards."

Well, I guess that's one way of looking at it. It kind of misses some relevant facts, though. It's true that had I known that the big blind had exactly K-K, including a spade, I would not have pushed there. But K-K of any suits is at the very upper end of the range with which he puts in a pre-flop raise (even from out of position; he's one who likes to try to steal the limpers' money with a raise from the big blind with nothing). Even if I could somehow guess that he had an overpair to the board, there's only a 50-50 chance that he's holding a spade, and even then, unless he has the ace of spades, he has to worry that I have it, and/or already have a made flush. He could be drawing nearly dead, even with the K or Q of spades. In short, given his range of possible hands here, I have a ton of fold equity with the all-in check-raise.

As for the limper, I'm confident he doesn't have a made straight or flush, else he would probably raise big to protect his hand (unless he miraculously flopped the nut flush or a straight flush). He could be on the nut flush draw or nut straight draw. If so, my 5x raise is not giving him correct odds to call. If he has two pair or a set, again I would have expected a protective raise, so I think those less likely, but I have lots of outs just in case that's what he has.

All in all, even after thinking about it for a long time after the fact, I conclude that it was an eminently defensible move on my part. It's not the only possible reasonable way to play the hand, but there's nothing crazy about it. Again, if I could have seen my opponent's exact cards, it's not what I would have done, but that's not an especially useful way of analyzing the situation. Knowing his wide range, there was an excellent chance I was already best, and with the panoply of draws I had, I was a big favorite against his range. It was entirely possible that I had 17 outs that would beat both of my opponents (9 spades, 2 fives, and 3 additional fours and nines).

But I gather from his snide little comment that he thinks I should have known how far behind I actually was, and retreated from his routine continuation bet with my open-ended straight flush draw.

Sorry, pal. I guess I'm just not that good.

The deuce-four strikes again!

Regular readers know by now that once in a while I go a little crazy with the 2-4 offsuit. (See story toward the end of this post and links therein for the explanation.) Why offsuit instead of suited? Well, obviously, because I can make two different flushes!

My favorite way to play it is on the button when there has been a raise in front of me. That way, when it hits the flop, it's an absolute blindsiding, because nobody is insane enough to call a raise with a 2-4! Those were the circumstances tonight, so I did my thing.

Four of us saw the most unbelievable flop: 4-4-2. Oh, please don't let me pee my pants before this hand finishes playing out! Flopping a full house with unpaired cards in the hand is about a 1/1000 proposition. Not quite a straight flush, but I'm not complaining!

First two players checked to the pre-flop raiser, who bet $10. I called, as did one early-position player. I don't remember what the turn card was. I didn't care much care, except that it put two hearts out there, and I was hoping that somebody would hit a high flush on the river. This time the raiser bet $20. I min-raised to $40, and got two callers. Yummy pot taking shape here.

The river didn't complete the flush. It was checked to me. I bet $60, which happened to be exactly what the raiser had left. Sadly, both he and the other guy folded. I showed my hand to tell the table: I am crazy and unpredictable--be afraid, be very afraid!

Those hands were nice, but I never got a high-hand jackpot, a football scoring bonus, or even a diamond flush (which, at the Palms, gets one entered into a drawing for three $100 cash jackpots the following morning). See how hard my life is?

Monday, September 08, 2008

The problem nobody's talking about

The town is all abuzz about today's start of the O.J. Simpson trial. But not a single news outlet or commentator that I have heard has mentioned what is, for me, the most serious ramification of this whole mess: how the trial is going to be a huge obstacle to O.J.'s all-consuming, never-ending search for the real killers.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Poker gems, #162

Mike Caro, in column for Poker Player Newspaper, July 23, 2007, available here.

The cards probably won't break even--not in gin rummy, not in poker, and not in real life. There's a common misconception that if you play poker long enough the cards will break even. Fat chance! Maybe, if you could play forever, never stopping, never sleeping, eventually you'd break even on luck. But not in just one lifetime! Early on you'd probably break even on, say, the number of full houses you were dealt, but it would take much longer to break even on circumstances surrounding those full houses.

You might lose more hands than you should lose on average. On the other hand, sometimes opponents might have nothing to oppose you with, and you'll win nothing. You might get many full houses when you're sitting in big-limit games, or you may receive most in smaller games.

You might be against weak opponents, you might not. On and on. And the more factors you consider, the broader the range of luck, and the longer it will take for you to break even.

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.