Saturday, November 29, 2008

Where I play

One of the questions that sometimes pops up in emails or the comments is where I play most frequently. So as I was entering some data in my spreadsheets just now, I thought I'd check the records and see.

The place where I have played the most turns out still to be the Hilton, even though it closed its poker room over a year ago. Moreover, my total number of sessions there dwarfs the nearest competitor by a factor of five! That gives you some idea of how concentrated my play was there prior to its closing, and why it felt like a home away from home. Because my play is now so much more spread out over the city's 50+ rooms, it will probably be two or three years before any other place catches up to the total number of Hilton sessions.

Second place is a tie between the Venetian and the Palms. Third place is the Golden Nugget (though the bulk of my sessions there were early on in my Vegas life; I'm there less often now). Fourth place is a tie between the Orleans and the Rio. Fifth place is a tie between Planet Hollywood and Caesars Palace.

Following those, we have, in descending order:

Bill's, Mandalay Bay, and Treasure Island (three-way tie)
Excalibur, Flamingo, and Stratosphere (another three-way tie)
Harrah's, Hard Rock, and Luxor (tie)

There are a bunch more, of course, but the rest are all fewer than ten sessions each, so I didn't bother putting them into the order here.

So there you have it.

A related question, while I'm looking at the spreadsheet, is which places have been most profitable for me? That depends on how you do the accounting. In total dollars won, Hilton is first. But that's not a very useful figure, given its huge lead in number of hours and sessions. The purest read would be in dollars per hour, but, though this may seem strange, I actually don't keep track of that separately for each casino. Figuring it out would mean going through every session I have put in at a given casino and then going back through another spreadsheet to look up how many hours I put in there that day, and add them all up. Way too much work. I do, however, keep track of average profit or loss per session, so let's check that.

In order to eliminate outliers, I'm limiting this to places I've played at least five times. If I didn't, then Boulder Station would be in the lead, with an average per-session gain of $320--but since I have played there only once, that's not a fair representation. So with that limitation in mind, here's my top ten list (giving you the order only, and keeping the actual figures private):

1: Tuscany
2: Sahara
3: Suncoast
4: Bill's
5: Planet Hollywood
6: Binion's
7: Caesars Palace
8: Palms
9: Venetian
10: Imperial Palace

Kind of an odd assortment, eh? There is no logical overall explanation for the ordering, as far as I can tell. I mean, Bill's and Tuscany and Sahara definitely have among the worst players in town. But I'd put Imperial Palace right alongside Tuscany and Sahara in that regard, yet it's several notches down the profitability list. That may be because I haven't had many sessions there, and its average is therefore pulled down by a couple of times when I've played the I.P. mixed game and been a net loser (as I expected to be going in).

Players at Suncoast are not, on average, terrible. Its place on the list might be kind of a quirk, skewed by a few really enormous sessions there where I either got completely run over by the deck or had a maniac at the table just giving away his chips, or both. For example, one memorable day there I made $903 in an hour and a half--just completely off the charts in dollars per hour. I was winning an absolutely absurd percentages of the pots with a string of big hands that should have alerted security to check for collusion between me and the dealers, including quad 8s that busted two other players and got me a high-hand jackpot to boot. The other players that day might have been tempted to go with Worm's line from "Rounders": "F--- you and your never-ending string of boats!"

The typical quality of play at Binion's, Caesars, Palms, and Venetian is unquestionably higher than that at the names toward the top of this list, so it's not surprising that they average less profit per session. On the other hand, I can't explain why they have been more profitable for me than many of the ones that didn't make my top ten, such as Harrah's, Orleans, or Stratosphere, where the average opponent is clearly inferior to the Binion's/Caesars/Palms/Venetian level. It's mostly a mystery to me.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Playing with Cliff

I played this afternoon at Binion's with Cliff Clavin. No, I didn't play with John Ratzenberger. I played with Cliff Clavin--or at least somebody who acted a whole lot like him. He knew everything, or thought he did. Of course, he was no more likely than the real Cliff to be right about anything, but that didn't stop him from spouting alleged "facts" about whatever topic happened to under discussion at the moment. Naturally, this included poker.

In one hand, I was in the big blind with 9-2 of clubs, which I would have thrown away if anybody had so much as coughed. But I got to see the flop for free, and it brought two more clubs, with a non-club ace. Nobody bet at it. The turn made my flush, so I led out with a $7 bet, roughly 2/3 of the pot. Cliff, two seats to my left, was the only person to call. The river neither paired the board nor put a four-flush out there, so I bet again, $20 this time. He quickly called with two pairs--aces and fives. He had paired his ace on the flop, made the nut flush draw on the turn, and caught his second pair on the river. He may not have played his hand optimally (e.g., playing A-5 offsuit from early position was a bad idea to begin with), but he certainly didn't do anything monumentally stupid. I might have gotten trapped into making those calls, too, if I had made the initial error of playing the hand at all.

Anyway, as the pot was being pushed my way, he said, "That was gutsy to be betting a flush that small. You know, when you have a flush, there is a 33% chance that somebody else has one, too."

I'm pretty conversant with the most common probability facts of hold'em, but this is not one that I can recall having heard before. Nevertheless, I know it's wrong. It's wrong because the real number is unknowable. It is unknowable because it depends on all sorts of things that can't be calculated--for example, the likelihood that any particular player likes chasing flushes enough that he will enter the pot with suited cards. It also matters whether you make your flush with three of the suit on the board or four, since it is obviously easier for an opponent to have a flush in the latter situation, needing only one card. It would matter further when you make your flush. If, e.g., you flop top pair but then happen to back into a runner-runner flush, it's presumably less likely that somebody else did the same, whereas if you flop a flush, it's more likely that an opponent with either a higher or lower flush will stick around. In real-world situations, you would also adjust your estimate of the probability of an opponent having a flush based on the betting pattern, though I suppose technically that can't be said to affect the probability of another flush being out there or not.

So I repeat: for any actual table of real opponents, the probability of an opponent also holding a flush when you do is highly dependent on (1) how and when you made the flush, and (2) the other players' propensities, which are, for all practical purposes, unknowable. It is therefore just silly to make any sort of blanket pronouncement about the likelihood of an opponent holding a flush.

We can, however, take a decent stab at knowing how likely it is that somebody else was initially dealt two cards of the flush suit. This is, I suspect, what Cliff heard at some point, and he then warped it to the very different "fact" that he so kindly shared with the table.

OK, I have 9-2 of clubs, so there are 50 cards left, including 11 more clubs. In order to get at the probability that somebody else at the table was also dealt two clubs, we're going to have to use a binomial calculation. First, let's figure out the probability that any one randomly selected opponent was given two clubs. His first card has a 11/50 chance of being a club, and if it is, his second card has a 10/49 chance of being a club. Combine those, and the probability is 0.0449.

Here we come to a wrinkle in the math. It would be easier if the probability of every opponent being dealt two clubs were independent of that of every other opponent--but it is not. If, say, the first six players all get two clubs each, it is impossible for anybody else to start with two clubs, because there is only one left in the deck. A full-out attack on this question would require a series of calculations far more complex than I think it's worth, adding up the probabilities with each of a bunch of different conditions for who does or does not get clubs. But the binomial calculation should give us a good estimate because, as you'll soon see, the numbers drop off so fast that we really don't need to consider the tiny odds of more than two opponents also having been dealt two clubs each.

When dealing with binomials, this is my favorite site for both explaining how they work and providing a nifty, easy-to-use calculator. I'm using p=0.0449 and q=0.9551. Here is a table of the results:

Interpretation: At a ten-handed table (nine opponents), the probability of exactly one opponent also having been dealt two clubs, given that I was, is about 28%. The probability that one or more opponents were all dealt two clubs is about 34% (though that's where the estimation error comes in; the real number would be lower, because once we know that one opponent has two clubs, the probability of another player also getting two clubs drops, because there are fewer clubs left in the deck). As you can see, the probability of four players (i.e., you and three opponents) all having been dealt two cards of the same suit is negligibly small.

But we're not done analyzing Cliff's claim yet. The above calculations were done as if we were still before the flop, when all that we knew was that we had suited cards. Once we're to the river in a hand such as the one that I played this afternoon, we have more information to factor in. Now I know that three more clubs and two more non-clubs were unavailable to be dealt to the players at the start of the hand. That changes the p in the binomial equation. Specifically, we can now say that the probability of a randomly selected opponent having been dealt two clubs is 8/45 (probability of his first card being a club) x 7/44 (conditional probability of his second card being a club, given that his first card was a club), which is 0.0283, and, correspondingly, q (which is just 1-p) becomes 0.9717.

Plugging that value into the binomial calculator, the same table as above changes to this:

So here's the conclusion: At a nine-handed table (like Binion's uses), if on the river you have a flush made with exactly three board cards plus the suited cards in your hand, the probability that one or more opponents started the hand with two cards of the same suit is about 21% (and remember that this is a slight overestimate, because once one opponent has been given two clubs, there are fewer left for other players to be dealt).

Given that information, it is up to you to determine whether any such opponent actually stayed in the hand until the end, given the betting sequence, and whether his flush is higher or lower than yours. (Of course, those questions are not independent of each other, since players are more likely to stick with higher suited cards than lower ones.) As a gross ballpark figure, it seems reasonable to guess that even in a limped pot, half of all suited starting hands got thrown away before the flop. If that is approximately correct, then the probability of there being one or more opponents who caught the flush draw on the flop falls to the vicinity of 10%.

But Cliff insisted that I was bold to be betting such a relatively weak made flush, because of his inflexible and incorrect conviction that there was a 33% chance that somebody else also had a flush when I put my money in. I doubt that the guy is capable of grasping in how many ways he was wrong.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

What I'm thankful for on Thanksgiving

Bad players who don't know they're bad.

'Nuff said.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

History Channel show available

I mentioned here the recent History Channel show about the literal underworld of Las Vegas--Hoover Dam, the flood control drains, a casino count room, and the Bellagio fountains. I see that it is now up for online viewing here. You'll have to click on the "playlist" and navigate to the one called "Secret Sin City." Enjoy.

Unclear on the concept

A couple of us at the table at Binion's last night were talking about the upcoming freeroll tournament. Another guy had seen the sign for it, but wasn't sure about the details. He asked me, "How much does it cost to buy into that freeroll tournament?"

I am not of the school of thought that claims there are no stupid questions. There are stupid questions, and this was one of them. In fact, it exceeded the amount of stupidity that I can address without sarcasm and/or condescension entering into my answer. This guy got the latter.

I told him, "It doesn't cost anything. That's why it's called a FREEroll."

He replied, without a trace of humor in his voice, "Oh, I guess that's why I couldn't find what the entry fee was."

Yeah, dude--that's probably the reason, all right.

Long ago (probably about 20 years ago, in fact), I read in a magazine (I think it was CoEvolution Quarterly, later renamed Whole Earth Review) a great article that explained the Laws of Stupidity. The First Law of Stupidity states that there is always more stupidity in the world than you think. The Second Law of Stupidity states that, even after you take the First Law of Stupidity into account, there is still always more stupidity in the world than you think.

This guy proved the point.


Immediately after publishing the above post, it occurred to me that surely somebody has put that old article on the Laws of Stupidity up on the Internet. Sure enough, here it is. I see that it was published in 1987, so I was right about the time frame. (That's because I remember where I was living when I read it, which narrowed it down quite a bit.) I was way off in my memory of what the laws are, though. Apparently I thought a lot about his First Law, and over time its implications sort of morphed in my mind to being two separate laws, when really what I have written as two laws is just one. But to tell you the truth, I like my way of stating it better than the original.

False advertising at Binion's?

They shouldn't keep me waiting for a table at Binion's; I just use the time to find things to criticize and make fun of.

This sign conveys the impression that if you take the daily poker lesson at Binion's, you'll be able to play like a pro.

But it doesn't quite promise anything, if you read it carefully. It just says, "Now you can learn to play like the pros." It doesn't say that the lesson they provide will teach that to you. You might have to learn to play like the pros from a book or from the Internet or from private lessons or from hard experience. But you can learn it, somehow, somewhere, and Binion's won't stand in your way!

Fremont Street Experience maintenance

Ever look up at the Fremont Street Experience light show and wonder how they do maintenance on the thing? Well, if you leave a downtown casino in the wee hours of the morning, as I sometimes do, you can see how they do it. Somebody goes WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY up high in the tallest cherry-picker I've ever seen. As you can tell, I had to go across the street in order to fit the whole thing into one shot. It's not a job I would want.


Last night I noticed, while wandering around waiting for a seat in a game at Binion's, that the photos of Stu Ungar on the walls are all labeled with his name misspelled as "Unger." That includes the one in the "Gallery of Champions," the one in the "Poker Hall of Fame," and a random one that is among a bunch of historic photos on the walls of the new poker room.


Poker gems, #187

Anonymous player at the table with me at Binion's last night:

I'd rather lose all my money playing poker than do some shit I don't want to do and get paid for it.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Weird photo anomaly in poker magazine

Last night I was reading along in the December, 2008, issue of Poker Pro magazine, when I came across an article about the recent UltimateBet tournament in Aruba. I usually don't read stories about tournaments because they just don't interest me much. But something about this one caught my eye. Here's a low-resolution scan of the first page of the article:

My brain is wired in seriously weird ways. This announcement will come as no surprise to regular readers.

One of its bits of strangeness is that if I see something that is anomalous, and I can't quickly figure out why it is the way it is, I can become fixated on it. For example, for several months I have noticed a dirty spot frequently showing up just above the right knee on my jeans. I put on a clean pair in the morning, and at the end of the day I see this dirt spot. Always the same place and same size, though not showing up every day. At first I ignored it. But as I kept noticing it time after time, I started becoming increasingly obsessed with figuring out what was causing it. I thought that maybe it was from the underside of casino poker tables, or maybe I was unconsciouly brushing it against my dirty car door when I was getting in or out of the car. But I couldn't ever catch myself in the moment when it was happening. I started having to force myself to be conscious and aware of everything that I did through the course of a day so that I could nail it down. It wasn't that I desperately need my jeans to be pristine and spotless. (I'm a bit of a slob in dressing, actually.) I just couldn't stop obsessing over where this strangely consistent spot of dirt was coming from. I finally nailed it one evening upon coming home a week or so ago: I discovered that when I take off my left shoe, I untie the laces by first propping the heel of my left foot at that exact spot on my right leg. (For some bizarre reason, I don't perform the symmetric action with my right foot; I just hover it in the air. I never noticed this about myself until being faced with tracking down the dirty jeans problem.) Mystery solved!

Anyway, what caught my eye about the magazine page was the image of the $100 bill. Here it is in higher resolution, though it's still fuzzy because it's out of focus in the original:

In case you don't spend a lot of time looking at Benjamins, here's what a real one looks like for comparison:

Well, of course, real ones don't have colored dots or the word "SPECIMEN" superimposed on them, but I stole the image from the Bureau of Engraving web site (here), and they obviously figure that those extra features will help prevent people from stealing the image for use in counterfeiting. I assume that if they can post it, I can, too. I know there could be trouble if I scanned a real bill and threw it up here.

Anyway, it's obvious that the bill in the Poker Pro photo is not genuine U.S. currency. The portrait doesn't look anything like the real Franklin engraving. This puzzled me, so I kept staring at it, trying to figure it out.

I thought perhaps Aruba uses currency that sort of looks like American money, but isn't. Nope. They use the "florin," and you can get a good sense of what their paper money looks like here. Not even close.

The basic layout of the bill appears approximately correct. For example, the photo is clearly showing the bright green "100" in the lower right corner. But some details are off. Note, e.g, that the words presumably reading "The United States of America" (though you can't actually read them because of the focus problem) are spaced differently than on the real bill (on two lines instead of three). Also, the seal of the federal reserve system (on the left) is white in the center instead of dark.

So the image is definitely not real money, but something made to approximate the appearance of real money. But why?

I first wonder whether the fake money was what was actually sitting on the table when the picture was taken, or whether they had real cash, with the photo doctored in processing. The latter is a possibility if the magazine feared violating the federal counterfeiting statutes by publishing a photo of actual currency. However, that possibility doesn't really make much sense, because they are reproducing the image so small and with such low resolution that it wouldn't even come close to being a violation. On that consideration, I conclude that most likely the tournament organizers put phony money on the table as a prop for the victory photos.

But why? Well, after giving it some thought, my best guess is that they didn't want to bother with the legal paperwork requirements and security concerns associated wtih moving large sums of cash out of the states, and didn't want to saddle the winner with the same problems taking it back home (if the winner was a U.S. resident). I assume, then, that the big-money winners were paid by check instead of cash. I understand that Vegas casinos will usually give winners of their big tournaments the choice of payment in cash, chips, check, wire transfer, etc. (You can read an interesting post by F-Train, live-blogging for PokerNews, about the details of getting paid in a WSOP event at the bottom of this page--a post which I suggested that he write, incidentally.) In Aruba, they probably just didn't offer the cash option. They just threw some stage-prop money in bundles onto the table to make it look the way we're used to seeing winners' photos at WPT and WSOP events--with blocks of cash piled on the table next to the champion.

Where did they get the fakes? A little exploration on the web this afternoon (see how obsessive I can get about this stupid stuff?) led me to understand that fake money to be used as props in movies and plays is actually a fairly significant problem for the producers, and one that I hadn't thought much about before. (I did, however, make a note about the obviously unreal C-notes displayed in the horrible poker movie "Aces," here.) Of course, the big studios can afford real cash as needed. But low-budget projects struggle with it. You can understand that the feds do not look kindly upon the manufacture of paper money that looks too real. But on the other hand, if it looks too fake, you intrude upon the viewer's illusion. I'm guessing that in Aruba they're less concerned about violating U.S. counterfeiting laws, and are perhaps somewhat more free to make and/or purchase stuff that sort of looks real.

In the process of researching this stuff, I learned today that there is even a small world of collectors of Hollywood prop money! You can get a taste of that world and see at least one published catalog of what has been produced over the decades here and here. Is there anything that people won't collect?

So there you have it. I think that the Aruba tournament put fake money on the table for its photo ops, and Poker Pro used a picture with just enough detail that the wrongness of it caught my strangely wired brain's attention. It's even possible that neither the photographer nor the photo editor at the magazine noticed the oddity--they left that up to me.

Poker gems, #186

Haralabos Voulgaris, on Card Player magazine's "The Circuit" podcast, May 16, 2006, as recommended by Shamus in today's post. Story starts at about the 58:40 mark.

I was stuck like $130,000…. I just didn’t want to quit until I got even, because I’m a real sick one when it comes to that. I don’t need the money, but I can’t quit loser. I don’t play bad. If you ask anyone, I don’t tilt when I lose, but I definitely have an issue about putting a minus next to a ledger. So I’ll play like a 60-hour session if it means I can win a dollar. I’ll just keep on going. It’s good for all parts of your life, really.

Problem solved, mostly

I recently asked for suggestions from readers on how to solve the problem of wanting to play heads-up online SNGs with my nephew without somebody else grabbing one of the seats before we could both get it. There does not appear to be a good solution for Full Tilt Poker.

So instead I decided that the best approach would be to switch to a less heavily used site. But which one? UltimateBlecch and Absolute Puker were out of the question, for obvious reasons. I would have considered Cake, but a recent post on Red Bull and Poker nixed that. Before you put any money on that site, be sure to read what Ted found when he tried to cash out. What they put you through and what they charge you is nothing short of obscene. I finally settled on Bugsy's Club. It's a perfectly decent place, though a little clunky and inelegant in execution, and it's nearly dead. That's not what I want most of the time I play online, but for this specific purpose, that's a highly desirable quality.

Ben created an account there, with the fine screen name "IrwinMoneybags." Bugsy's Club doesn't have a super-easy funding mechanism like PokerStars does (see here); you basically have to use an e-wallet service or buy a specific type of gift card. Rather than bother with that, I just transferred a few bucks to Moneybags, the ability to do which is apparently a brand-new feature in the site's software.

An advantage of Bugsy's Club, I discovered, is that they offer heads-up SNGs as low as $1+.05, perfect for playing for funsies. A disadvantage is that there is no player search feature. (I confirmed this by writing to their customer support help desk when I couldn't find such an option. The response verified that they don't offer that function, but hope to implement it with their next software upgrade.) However, the site is so small that it's not hard to find somebody. Every table has a name, and there aren't many of any particular type. Right now I see that under the "heads up" tab there are two NLHE tables each at $1, $3, and $5. So I just took a seat in one of the cheapos and told Ben via IM the table name, and he took the other seat. There was not another soul in sight on the prowl for these games, so virtually no risk of facing an interloper. It's a pretty good solution to the problem.

So hear this, Full Tilt and PokerStars (because I'm sure they hang on my every word): You're missing out on big action by not offering a mechanism by which one can selectively choose one's opponents for a heads-up SNG grudge match. Me and my nephew are taking our $2 elsewhere!

We played two games last night--split decision, making us 3-3 overall so far.

Oh, another slight problem with Bugsy is that the hand histories will not import into any online hand displayer/converter that I have tried. Which means that if you want to see the sick call Ben made against what I thought was a well-timed bluff, you'll just have to slog through the hand history text the old-fashioned way:

Hand Number: 558,325,743
Table Number: 7,865,205
Event Name: Sit & Go Table Hotsy (#4865388)
Event Started: Monday November 24th 6:50:35 PM CST 2008
Event Type: Real Money Heads-Up Satellite
Event Buy-In: $1+$0.05
Total Prize Pool: $2
Game: No Limit Hold 'em
Level II: 50/100 Blinds (25 Minimum Chip)
Starting Chips: 10,000
Seat 1 : Rakewell starts with 9,550
Seat 2 : irwinmoneybags starts with 10,450
Seat 1 : Rakewell has the dealer button
DEALING FLOP [ 6c 4d 6s ]
irwinmoneybags bets 575
Rakewell calls 575
irwinmoneybags bets 875
Rakewell raises 2,225 to 3,100
irwinmoneybags calls 2,225
irwinmoneybags bets 1,750
Rakewell calls 1,750
irwinmoneybags cards were Qs 7h
Rakewell cards were 7d Js
irwinmoneybags wins 11,350 with two pair, sevens and sixes
Rakewell: ugh
SUMMARY Hand Ended: Monday November 24th 7:05:45 PM CST 2008
Total Pot: 11,350 Board: [ 6c 4d 6s 2s 7c ]
Seat 1 : Rakewell (small blind) lost 5,675, showed hand [ 7d Js ]
Seat 2 : irwinmoneybags (big blind) bet 5,675, won 11,350, net +5,675, showed hand [ Qs 7h ]

I still can't decide if his call of my bluff-raises on the flop and turn there were Stu-Ungar-brilliant* or completely idiotic. Either way, it worked, and put him a long way towards winning the match, and I had to take the next one in order to keep even. Anyway, it was fun, and it appears that Bugsy's Club will be the new home of the series of great uncle-nephew heads-up challenges. I shall keep you posted as I proceed to crush him like a bug! :-) *Perhaps Ungar's most famous sick call was this hand, as recounted by James McManus in this article:

After his victory in '90 and a dominant run in the live games, Matloubi
began to be spoken of as "the new Stuey Ungar." Ears burning, Stuey challenged
Mansour to a series of heads-up, winner-take-all matches for $100,000 each
during the Four Queens Poker Classic in February of '91. Brimming with
confidence, Mansour happily put up $50,000 and sat down to play. After a seesaw
battle between two aggressive champions, Stuey had about $60,000 when he opened a pot for $1,600. (The blinds were $200-$400.) Mansour called with 5-4 offsuit.
On a rainbow flop of 7-3-3, Mansour checked to Stuey, who bet $6,000. Mansour
called again. Both players checked the king on the turn. When a queen appeared
on the river, Mansour had missed his draw. Even so, he smelled weakness in Stuey
and moved all in for more than twice the size of the pot. Stuey stared him down
for 10 or 12 seconds. "You have 5-4 or 6-5," he coolly announced. "I'm gonna
call you with this," though all he could show Mansour was 10 high.

When he saw the two hands, even Phil Hellmuth was startled. "Wow, what an
unbelievable call! Stuey can't even beat a jack-high bluff." Mansour later said
he felt "like a bulldozer just ran over me. I still love Stuey, but what the
heck is going on!" As Barry Greenstein and others have noted, Stuey "was a hard
player to bluff, since he was an expert at figuring out when his opponent was on
a draw that didn't get there." The extremely narrow range of hands Stuey had put
Mansour on, 5-4 or 6-5, were just about the only two he could beat in a
showdown, so it took total confidence in his read to call a bet of that size.
"When a guy makes a call like that against you," Matloubi admitted to Hellmuth,
"you just give up. It's like he's taken all of the wind out of your sails. I
decided that I couldn't play any more heads-up no-limit hold'em, at least not
that day, if not forever." Stuey's defeat of Mansour and the way he'd
accomplished it cemented his reputation as the game's reigning no-limit genius.

Good fold

While playing at Binion's, we had a wild man at the table. Among other things, he straddled at every opportunity, and nearly always raised on his option.

One time when he was UTG and had put in his customary blind raise, I looked down at A-K. I called the $4, planning to execute the ol' limp-reraise on him when he threw in another $20 or so, as he was likely to do. That plan got a wrinkle in it, though, when the uber-rock in the big blind beat the wild man to the punch and raised to $15. That guy, raising from out of position, is not to be underestimated and definitely gets my attention. Wild man called. I did, too, abandoning the reraise plan.

The flop looked great for me: A-10-4, with two spades (I had none). Mr. Rock bet small for the pot, just $17. Hmmm. Hard to know if that's a string-us-along bet with a monster, or weakness because he had something like K-K or Q-Q and does not like that ace having hit. Wild man calls. Well, I have one way of finding out which way Mr. Rock is swinging here: raise! I pushed out $55.

Rock doesn't hesitate to announce a reraise, and makes it $115 to go. Obviously I can't like that. But I think there's a good chance that he has A-K like I do. I have about $130 left now, so calling his additional $60 gets me pot committed. I'm pondering what to do, wondering whether my new thought of putting Rock on the same hand as I have is wishful thinking on my part, trying to justify staying in. But then Wild Man interrupts my train of thought with "all in." He has $400 or so.

This is definitely a guy who would push like that on a draw. On the other hand, he would also have called the pre-flop raise with crap like A-4 or even 10-4, let alone the more sensible possibilities of 10-10 or 4-4.

This just isn't fair! Top pair/top kicker is supposed to be a winner, and now I have two opponents who are not only not cowering in fear of my over-the-top move, as I had anticipated, but are daring me into the pot. This has rapidly turned from promising to intimidating.

Echoing in my head is the age-old bit of wisdom, "Don't go broke with just one pair." It takes me a minute or so, but I finally overcome my urge to shove it all in and cross my fingers. That is, I finally convince myself that one or the other of these two has me beat. Besides, there was a definite element of probing to find out where I stood with respect to Mr. Rock with my raise, and he has given me a pretty definitive answer. Furthermore, I have noticed that he has grabbed hold of the C-notes that are sitting under his chips, as if ready to pull the whole mess into the middle. Of course, this might be a ruse to get me to fold, but (1) he doesn't seem like the type to do such a thing, (2) he was definitely happy to get a reraise in when I opened that door for him, and (3) it wouldn't make sense for him to try to get me to fold if he is going to fold himself to Wild Man's all-in bet. So he's clearly ready to play for everything--a lot more ready than I am, I conclude.

I reluctantly folded. Damn.

Well, Mr. Rock did indeed call. He had 10-10 in the hole. Not too surprisingly, Wild Man had J-x in spades and was on the flush draw. He got there on the river, but it was too late, as Mr. Rock's fourth 10 hit on the turn. My top pair/top kicker would have been in third place when it was all said and done.

I'm aware that when I describe the details of the situation, it sounds like it should have been an easy insta-fold. But in the heat of the moment, it can be hard to evaluate everything objectively. I had planned to win this pot from the second I first saw the A-K. When I put in the $55 raise, I had visions of my two opponents folding, and the pot coming my way. Within the next, oh, 15 seconds or so, that vision was shattered. It was hard to let go of it.

In moments like that, I often find myself reverting to some simple, concise bit of wisdom that I've learned somewhere. They frequently just come from seemingly out of nowhere into my awareness and I hear them being spoken to me. It's my own voice sometimes, that of the person I learned the tidbit from on other occasions. This time it was Doyle Brunson from whom I first heard, "Don't go broke with just one pair." It's not always correct advice, and there have been plenty of times when I was indeed willing to go the distance with just one pair and was correct to do so. But tonight I was happy to have Doyle in my head nudging the decision the other way.

The hand was not a total loss, however. Before I folded, I flashed my cards to a couple of players at my end of the table--something I almost never do, and have even said in this blog is usually ill-advised. I suspected that this hand was going to get discussed after it was over, and there might be advertising value in the table knowing (A) that I was capable of slow-playing something big before the flop, (B) that my raise on the flop was serious, and (C) that I'm capable of making the big laydown. I wanted witnesses in case I decided to announce what I had folded and wasn't believed. It turned out just that way. The hand did get talked about. I did get asked what I had folded, and I did say it had been A-K, and somebody didn't believe it, until my witnesses verified it.

That advertising paid off later when I was able to muscle a couple of pots away from opponents with no hands, just a steely look in my eye and a solid reputation that I had earned the hard way. It was enough to about pay for the loss on the A-K hand.

According to whom?

While I was waiting for my table at Binion's, I looked over the Poker Hall of Fame portraits again. Every time I see the image they have of Edmond Hoyle, I think two things. (1) How can he be in the poker hall of fame when he died a few decades before poker existed? (2) Are they sure that picture is really of Hoyle and not, say, Johann Sebastian Bach?

"Gentlemen, tonight's no-limit hold'em game will be played in D minor. Please tune your hands accordingly."

Perhaps if Bach had written the rule book, the blinds would be called "the toccata" and "the fugue." The river would probably be called the "coda." I'm pretty sure that instead of "all in," one would have to declare "tutti."

OK, it's much too late, and my brain is showing clear signs of delirium now.

I might be too easily amused

I finished my night at Binion's, putting in a couple more hours toward the big December freeroll tournament.
They finally finished the renovation of the restrooms next to the poker tournament area. The men's room, at least, was a real dump for a long time, and now it's nice--everything is new.
The best part, though, is that they have installed one of those new-fangled Dyson "Airblade" hand dryers. The first time I ever saw one in person (I had seen stuff on the Internets about them previously) was also in Binion's, two or three weeks ago, in the restroom adjacent to the coffee shop, and now I've found a second one, also in Binion's.
These things are so cool! You stick your hands in, and it feels like a tornado gets turned on! Just a couple of passes up and down, and the water is blown away off of your hands. Much, much faster than traditional hot air hand dryers, and a lot more fun than paper towels.

New poker room at the Silverton

I went to the Tropicana tonight, thinking that I'd put in a few final sessions there this week before they close the poker room doors permanently. But the place was dead--not a single player anywhere.

So instead I drove out to the Silverton, thinking that perhaps they had their new room finally open and ready to go. After all, it's been a year since they moved out of the original room, and when I was there in early October they had up signs promising to have the new place open in November.

I was lucky--they just opened the new room Friday. Unfortunately, I didn't have my real camera with me, since I had not expected to be going out that way, so you'll have to settle for the low-resolution photos from my crappy cell phone camera.

The new room is not bad. There are five tables with autoshufflers and the card-swiping player management system. I like the colorful felt. I also like the brown velvet arm rest. The cupholders are inexplicably small--too small to hold the cups in which they serve coffee, which seems incredibly boneheaded to me. (Doesn't really affect me, since I don't drink coffee, and the holders are just barely big enough for a water bottle. It just seems like a really poor design.) I like the "racetrack" configuration they use, with a solid wood surface on which to stack chips, though I realize I'm in the minority on this point. There are seven big-screen televisions, which is adequate for a room this small. The chairs are awful--probably the worst point of the new room. They are like padded kitchen chairs. No wheels, no swiveling, no height adjustment, no back adjustment. I felt like they were too high, and I had to bend forward uncomfortably to lean my elbows on the nicely padded rail. (As I've said before, I realize that saying things like this makes me sound impossibly nit-picky. But when you're spending several hours at a stretch in a place, details of how comfortable the physical setting is can make a huge impact on how pleasant or unpleasant the whole experience is.) They still use a paper list instead of computerized, but that's probably OK for a room this small. The restrooms are close--maybe 20 yards outside the poker room. The room is in an entirely new expansion section of the casino. It looks like the poker room is immediately adjacent to where the parking garage will open to the casino, which is nice.

About half of the long wall separating the poker room from the slot machines is open. Smoke and noise were not a problem tonight, but the place was dead. I don't know how it will be when it's more crowded.

Beverage service was very slow. One dealer explained that they haven't yet finished building the bar that will be in the expansion section, so the waitresses are having to trek to the far end of the casino for the drinks. Presumably, then, the pace will quicken in the near future. They are also planning to have food service at the tables, though that, too, isn't ready yet. There's a Johnny Rockets also opening in the new section. Yum!

When I arrived at about 8:15 p.m., there was one tournament wrapping up, one $2-4 limit hold'em game, and one $1-2 NLHE game (buy-in $50-$200, $4 max rake). I joined the no-limit game, of course, as the fifth player. We did get up to eight or nine players at one point, but then the 9:00 tournament started, and enough people left to play in it that the game broke up.

I more than doubled my money in that time, though. But I have to confess that it was ugly. Most of my profit came from a hand that I misplayed badly. I paid way more for a draw than was mathematically right, even considering implied odds--and I knew full well that I was doing so and that it was idiotic. But my luckiness exceeded my stupidity, and I hit the stone-cold nuts on the river. I'm not proud of it, but I didn't give the chips back, either.

The biggest practical problem with the Silverton poker room will, I think, continue to be its limited range of opponents. Even though my table was short-handed, I recognized no fewer than four of the same people I faced back in October! They all knew each other well, it seemed. Whether there is a NLHE cash game going on a weekday is always uncertain, and they seem to break up easily even after they start. That's a big limiting factor in how interested I will be in driving out there frequently.

In short, the new room is at least as nice as the original room was, and hugely better than the temporary rooms were. Now if they can just keep the seats occupied more regularly, they might have something there.

By the way, do you know how to tell when it's autumn in Las Vegas? The Silverton aquarium has giant pumpkins in it!

Monday, November 24, 2008

"I know what a straddle is"

I was playing at the Monte Carlo tonight. We were in the first orbit after a new player had joined the table. When it was his big blind, the player to his left put in a live straddle to $4. Several people called the $4, including the big blind. When action reverted to the straddler, he raised to $24. That's where the trouble began.

But before I can continue the story, I need to provide you with this small diversion. It's a clip from "Seinfeld." In order to understand and appreciate what went through my mind as the rest of the story played out, you really need to take a minute (OK, 2:40) to watch the following scene first:

Back to our story. So the under-the-gun player raises to $24. The big blind objects. "He can't do that. When he put in his first raise, that was his turn. He can't reraise himself." Simultaneously, about three people at the table said variants of the same thing: "Yes, he can. It's a live straddle."

To all of which the new guy said testily, "I know what a straddle is!"

I had an instantaneous flashback to Jerry Seinfeld. I wanted to raise both of my index fingers, and tell him with a smile, "I don't think you do!"

OK, that's the end of the funny part of the story. It went back and forth, and he finally accepted the action, yet still insisting that (1) it was not legitimate, and (2) he knew what a straddle was. It was kind of bizarre.

In order to assuage the pedants among my readers (that's not an insult; I consider myself a fine specimen of the species), I'll point out that I do know that the term "straddle" has had more than one meaning over time. See here, e.g. But in contemporary usage, at least in Las Vegas, the term always suggests an optional blind raise with option to raise again.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Tropicana poker room apparently to close


The Tropicana poker room, encompassing 6 tables of NL and 2/4LHE action,
will be closing down permanently as of November 30th. The employees were
notified today of the closing date and the layoffs.

The poker room employs 19 people. All 19 will be laid off as of November

The same is being reported, without detail, here.