Friday, December 12, 2008

Another reason to avoid the Sahara

As if having the worst dealers in town weren't enough, last night the Sahara gave me another reason to stay away. There was a horrible, pounding bass beat resounding through the poker room. It was coming from a new show that recently started in the theater a little way down the hall: "Fuego Raw Talent Live," about which you can read more here. There is a gift shop associated with the show, and they had loudspeakers set up in it. In other words, the noise wasn't just bleeding out through the theater doors; they actively go out of their way to impose it on casino patrons who are not attending the show. As I got closer to check out where it was coming from, it seemed that there actually was some sort of music beyond just the bass beat, but that's all I could hear from the poker room. It was horrible--loud enough to drown out the overhead canned music, and loud enough to start giving me a headache after 15 minutes or so. I asked the poker room staff about it, and they said that everybody complained, but they could do nothing about it. The show lets out at about 10 p.m., but the awful pounding continued until about 10:15. It was seriously so bad that I will never play poker there again while it is going on, which means going only on Wednesdays (when the show is dark) or after about 10:15.

Nice work, Sahara. You start off by having the worst dealers in town, add to that snatching the biggest percentage juice from your tournament prize pools of any place in town to rip off your customers, let people smoke about 3 feet from the table so as to make a complete joke of the "non-smoking" status of the room, give no comps to players, and now add an utterly intolerable sonic irritant to the mix. Hey, Sahara poker room--are you deliberately trying to drive away business, or is this all just a massive coincidence that makes it look like that's your goal?

The Sahara moves to cement its reputation




Almost 18 months ago, I wrote a post titled "Where are the worst dealers in town?" The answer, I concluded, was the Sahara. Lately the Luxor has been trying hard to snatch the title away, but last night the Sahara made another strong claim to maintain its supremacy.

On my right was a guy who just wouldn't stop talking about the hand in progress. He felt some pathologic compulsion to constantly announce what cards he thought other players had. The first time he did it, for example, was when I bet at a flop containing two clubs, and he said, "You've got the flush draw, huh?" as he mucked, while there were still two people left to act on my bet. (Actually I had one of those lovely combined flush and straight draws, plus the button--but no matter.) He did it again a short time later, and I shot the dealer a dirty "Are you going to say something about that?" look. The dealer did indeed act appropriately that time and reminded Loudmouth not to make such comments.

Dealer #2 comes into the box. Loudmouth rattles off his third remark about what he thinks somebody has. I'm sitting next to the dealer, so I lean over and quietly tell him that this is the third offense, and the guy has already been given one warning. He nods, and when the hand is over halts the action, gets Loudmouth's attention (he is wearing headphones, and everything he says is a shout, because he has no idea how loud he is), and tells him that he cannot talk about the hand while there are still decisions pending. Loudmouth protests that he doesn't really know what anybody has, he's just guessing like everybody else does, and besides, "everybody says the same kind of things." Maybe in your home game, pal, but this ain't your basement. The dealer politely but firmly explains that he might give ideas to other players, and it's against the rules. Loudmouth concedes the point and promises not to do it again.

But, predictably, within a few minutes he spouts off with speculation #4. Again this dealer takes appropriate action without me needing to prompt him. (Note that he is one of the exceptions to the Sahara's worst-dealers rap.) He again stops the game after the hand, has Loudmouth take off his headphones, and quite sternly reprimands him, making his point more forcefully than before.

Now we get to dealer #3, a young woman named Jennifer. On just her first or second hand at our table, the river puts a fourth spade on the board. Four players are in the hand, not including Loudmouth. As soon as that river lands, he pipes up, "One of you has got to have the spades!" You may recall that I lost a pot at Bill's a couple of months ago under nearly identical circumstances, when somebody speaking improperly caused a player to check his hand for a flush when he was otherwise about to muck it.

I recognize that Jennifer has no idea what has gone on before, so I lean over and tell her that Loudmouth has already received three formal warnings about discussing the hand in progress. I naturally assume that this information will spur her to action. The logical thing for her to do is call the floor, but the minimal thing to do is issue yet another warning. The hand ends, though, and she says nothing. I wait for the next hand to get played out, thinking perhaps she is gathering her thoughts about which course of action to take or what exactly to say, and yet she does nothing. I don't know if she's deaf, lazy, intimidated, indifferent to enforcing rules, or just an imbecile, but one way or another, it appears that she's not inclined to do her job. So I ask her to call the floor, which she does.

I explain the situation. Floor guy is very cool, handles things just right. He tells Loudmouth no talking about the hand in progress. Loudmouth first protests that he hasn't told his side of the story. (What side is that, sir? Would you like dealer #2 to step over from the next table and verify that he gave you two warnings in one down for exactly the same thing?) Floor guy tells him, "I wasn't here, so I don't know what happened. If I don't get called over again, I'll assume you were innocent. But if I get called to handle it again, I'll know you were guilty and we'll be asking you to leave."

Loudmouth apparently decides that he can't play under such intolerable conditions, and picks up his chips and leaves. Too bad, really, because he was an atrocious player from whom it would have been easy to win more money. But just as you shouldn't compromise on rules enforcement because somebody is a famous player (e.g., Hellmuth), one shouldn't compromise on them just because somebody is a horrible, fishy player (after he has been given fair notice and warning of the rules, of course).

Protecting the integrity of the game is arguably the dealer's primary function. After all, players can, if necessary, deal the cards, get the pot right, and award the pot among themselves, as is done in home games the world over, and as used to be done in California card rooms until fairly recently. Yes, a dedicated dealer tends to be faster and more accurate at those jobs, but the most important role is acting as a neutral referee, keeping everything legal and fair to all players. When a demonstrably incompetent and/or uncaring dealer like Jennifer flagrantly refuses to perform that most critical function, she is rendered essentially worthless. For only the third time in my Vegas years, I gave her the only penalty I can: no tips for the rest of the evening. (The first time was at the Hard Rock; the second time was recently at the Flamingo.)

Worthless dealers--the Sahara is full of 'em.


Ironically, as I was leaving an hour or so later, I saw the person who had inspired the original "worst dealers" post--Barry, a former Hilton poker dealer. (Hmmm. That sounds wrong. He prompted that post not by being one of the worst dealers--far from it--but by asking me my thoughts on where one encounters the worst dealers.) He was playing the $2-4 game at a table behind me. Weird coincidence, huh?

On an unrelated subject, Barry related that he has been reading this blog, including my deuce-four stories, and had one of his own to tell. He busted out of a tournament when he played 2-4 and saw a flop of 2-2-7, only to lose to a player with pocket 7s. Ouch! Well, as I pointed out recently, on extremely rare occasions, somebody with a far, far weaker starting hand will catch an astronomically unlikely draw-out on the 2-4, and there's just nothing you can do about it. Such freak occurrences should not dissuade smart players from keeping faith in the only hand that is intrinsically more powerful than pocket aces.

Obama transition team talks about poker

The new (December 22) issue of Poker Player newspaper has a front-page article by Wendeen Eolis. She explains that she had occasion to be meeting with several attorneys from the Barack Obama transition team in Washington, D.C., the day after "60 Minutes" did its piece about online poker. She found that they were willing to be quite forthcoming on the subject, as long as she did not use their names in print. In addition to learning what misconceptions they had about the poker world, she asked about the prospects for reversing the UIGEA or passing a poker carve-out. The reactions ranged all the way from, roughly, "it's not going to happen" to the most optimistic "don't count on it."

Well worth reading (not yet available online, though), especially for those of you who, contrary to evidence and reason, somehow convinced yourself that Mr. Obama cared about any poker game other than his own.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Vegas on "Nightline"

ABC's "Nightline" had two segments about Las Vegas last week. First is this one about the economic decline's effects on the city:

http://abcnews.go.com/Business/Economy/story?id=6375239&page=1

Then there was a segment on a religious group that is trying to fight porn and prostitution on the Strip. Go to http://abcnews.go.com/nightline, scroll down through the list to "Friday: Sin City Saviors."

Poker gems, #196




Jeff Madsen, in Bluff magazine column, September, 2008, p. 60.


We play poker because it makes us feel alive more than most things that don't threaten our physical well being. It targets the next closest thing, our emotional and mental well being... along with our comfort and financial security of course. Some can handle tampering with those things, some cannot. Those that can't should not be playing poker for anything more than fun.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Poker gems, #195

Peter Herold, on over-betting the pot with the nuts, in Rounder magazine, December, 2008, p. 22. (I never thought I'd find a gem in this piece-of-trash publication, but they surprised me.)


In cash games players can be a lot less likely to call over-bets because it is real money. If you bet $1,000 into a $600 pot they will naturally have more pause because they know that it is $1,000 of real money that it will cost them to see if their hand is good. The same can be said for major tournaments, where players can spend up to $10,000 to enter the tournament so they often want to get their money's worth and last for a long time.

In small stakes tournaments, however, I think the over-bet is almost always worth the risk. People that buy in to small stakes tournaments understand that it is unlikely that they will cash in the tournament and that they will probably lose all of their chips sooner or later. Tournament players simply don't want to fold big hands and spend the rest of the day wondering if they made the right decision, they want to have fun and leave the tournament with a story. It is psychologically easier for people to call, lose and walk away from the table saying "my aces got cracked, nothing I can do about it" than it is for people to think about whether they made the right decision or not.

Celebrity sighting




Somebody gave me a ticket for a free preview showing of "Valkyrie" at the theater at the Palms tonight. Have I mentioned sufficiently often how much I like free stuff?

I went (by myself--how pathetic is my life?), and saw none other than Andy Bloch a short distance ahead of me in line.

They ran out of seats for "Valkyrie," but offered instead to let the rest of us see "Yes Man." I had intended to see it anyway, so I accepted. It was as funny as a Jim Carrey movie should be, though pretty predictable. I haven't paid much attention to Zooey Deschanel before, but she stole my heart in this film--and such a cool name.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Poker gems, #194

Mike Fasso, on this week's "Ante Up" podcast, as transcribed and submitted specifically for this purpose by Shamus.


There really isn't such a thing as a bad beat.... People talk about bad beats. You know what a bad beat is? Really? The only thing that is a bad beat is if you have a better hand than your opponent at the showdown and your opponent wins the pot. That is a bad beat. Now, anything other than that is not a bad beat. So if you have a bad beat story that you want to tell me, if it falls in that first category, I'll be happy to listen. Otherwise, shove it, all right?

Blegging for a little help with Blogger




Only experienced Blogger users need read this post.

1. Long ago I signed up not only for the regular Google ads that show up in the left-hand margin, but for one that would appear in a block below each post. Several months ago, Google discontinued the latter program, which is why there is now a blank white space at the bottom of every post. My problem is that I can't get rid of that space, and, depending on the post and the browser and settings, it sometimes interferes with the end of the post content. I have done all I can think of to erase that damned space, without success. In my "page elements" page, there is nothing between the "Blog posts" element and the "Add a gadget" element at the bottom. When I try to edit the "posts" element, I see the options shown above; what had been the ad option isn't there anymore, so I can't delete it. I've even searched through the template HTML trying to find the offending code, and nothing jumps out at me as likely being it (though I could easily overlook it, since I really don't know what I'm looking for). Blogger's help pages are so disorganized as to be completely useless. So the question is, how can I get rid of that annoying block of white that Blogger keeps inserting uselessly at the end of each post?

2. You can see in the screenshot above that I have the quick-editing option turned on. It used to work, but ever since I had my computer virus and repair, the icon doesn't show up for me at the end of posts. That makes editing posts after publishing them take longer than it should, because I have to slog back through the main editing page, select the post to edit, etc. The problem appears to be something in the system recognizing me. When I'm looking at the blog, it no longer has my user name at the top; instead, it gives me a link to "sign in." But when I click that link, it knows who I am without me entering any further information and takes me directly to the editing page. In other words, this may be some sort of a cookie problem, rather than a Blogger problem exactly. I have cookies enabled, though, so I can't figure out the glitch.

Suggestions welcome via comments or email.

My turkey came a little late for Thanksgiving (zero poker content)




My sister, long a fan of the NFR, is in town for the rodeo. So yesterday I had lunch with her clan, then she and I went bowling at Sam's Town. As you can see above, even after having a small steak for lunch, there was room left over for a little turkey! I'm not sure I've ever hit three strikes in a row in my life. (Unlike Gadzooks; she can pull it off in her sleep.) Sadly, on the second game I reverted to usual humiliating style:




There is good news on the horizon, completely unrelated to the above, except that the crappy cell phone camera shots reminded me of it: A new phone is on the way. It's this lovely wine-colored LG Vu model:





See full review here. I had thought that I would have to wait a year or two to upgrade to a fancy, newfangled, touch-screen smartphone with web browser, because of the costs. But yesterday I found a great deal on the thing: Zero up-front cost (well, aside from a $36 activation fee), and a monthly plan that includes unlimited web access for only $8/month more than I'm paying now. And I get to dump Sprint, whose lousy service and call quality have been bugging me for way too long. (Not sure AT&T will be better, but they couldn't really be worse.)

There will be some transition time while I get used to all the bells and whistles, but before too long, when I have occasion to snap a photo and post it here, you won't have to squint to see it. The new phone has a 2 megapixel camera, as opposed to the 0.3 MP camera in the current phone. Might even get some videos out of the thing when needed. Whee!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Poker gems, #193

John Vorhaus, in Card Player magazine column, December 3, 2008 (vol. 21, #24), p. 92.

So--can poker be beaten? Sure ... if you have talent, instinct, courage, awareness, and an unrelenting work ethic. Otherwise, not so much.

A compliment unique to poker



I had an unusual experience last night with my two-fer, playing first at South Point and then at the Orleans: In both places, an opponent that I had spanked made a quite conspicuous move to take a seat to my left.


South Point: An early-position player (the guy on the right in the Esfandiari picture a couple of posts down), whom I had quickly pegged as being the smartest, trickiest opponent I had to deal with at this table, raised. I was on the button with 4-6 offsuit and called, hoping to hit something entirely disguised.

The flop was K-K-4, rainbow. My opponent bet $25. I called. My initial thought was that he probably didn't have a king, and a smooth call here would lead him to think that I did have one and that I was therefore trying to let him bluff again. In games at this level, most players in early position in such a situation will fire once on the flop, but not again on the turn unless they actually have a king. Basically, I was floating him, hoping to take the pot away when he couldn't keep firing at it. However, pairing the 4 did give me some "plan B" alternatives if needed.

The turn was an offsuit 10. My opponent pushed out a stack of $100, which was just enough to put me all in if I called. This was not what I had expected, and it made for a very difficult situation. With one of the more straightforward opponents at the table, I would pretty much have to conclude that he did, in fact, have a king. But this guy was definitely smart enough to get inside my head and, recognizing me as a fellow smart and potentially tricky player, know that I could make that flop call very light with an eye toward stealing on a later street. Therefore, he could simply be countering that move, even though he missed the flop.

Look at it from his point of view. He could expect me to have one of the following:

1) A true monster, like K-K or 4-4.

2) A nearly certain winner, especially A-K, with which I'm hoping he'll put in more money.

3) A king with a weaker kicker (K-Q, K-J, K-10), in which case my flop call was saying, "I like the trips, but I'm worried that you have A-K, so I'm reluctant to put it all in."

4) A pocket pair lower than the kings--maybe 8s or 9s, in which case my flop call was saying, "I want to see if you really have a king by watching to see what you do on the turn." An A-4 in the hole might be similar.

5) Complete air, floating him.

He understandably would have discounted (1) and (2) as improbable. Once he limited my range to (3), (4), and (5), putting me to a test for all of my chips was a very smart and bold move, because if I made my decision based on card strength alone, it was more likely that I couldn't call than that I could.

I took what I'm sure was at least two full minutes to think about this--maybe the longest I've ever kept a table waiting. It was one of the rare situations in which I had to do the thinking-one-level-deeper-than-one's-opponent thing. I finally concluded essentially what I just outlined above about what he would be thinking about me, and why he did what he did.

I didn't think he had a king, because if he had a king it would almost have to be K-K, A-K, or maybe suited K-Q to explain his early-position pre-flop raise, and with those big hands I doubted that he would lead out betting. Rather, he would check and either check-raise if I bet or let me have a free card to get something that I could call him with on the turn. I thought that A-Q or A-J was his most likely holding. I did have to worry some about Q-Q or J-J, etc. However, I thought it more likely that after my flop call he would try to keep the pot smaller and go passive to try to get to a cheap showdown with such hands.

It was risky, but I finally felt best about assigning him A-Q or A-J, a standard continuation bet on the flop, and a smart analysis of what I would be holding and thinking in order to make the big bet on the turn. If I was right, then calling was the thing to do. It took a lot of courage, and was one of the most difficult hero calls I've made since living here, but I pushed my chips out.

The dealer put a blank out on the river (a 7, I think). My opponent said "ace-queen," and then showed the same. I flipped over my cards--bottom pair with no kicker--and tapped the 4. The chorus from the table of "Wow" and "Great call" was almost as rewarding as the money. OK, not really, but it was nice anyway. Actually, now that I reflect on it, I think my own personal satisfaction at having analyzed the situation so well and having had the stones to act on it was better than the admiration of the table. (Hey, nobody can admire me as well as I can admire myself!)

What's weird is how this hand would look to an player with a little experience--maybe one who has watched a fair amount of televised poker but not played a lot. Except for the long thinking pause, it would look exactly like a donkey call: idiot sees a big pair and an overcard on the board, with an opponent showing strength, and still thinks his bottom pair might be good.

The truth is that it was a deeper level of play than is usually seen (or is usually profitable) at these limits. My opponent made an excellent read of what my range of cards could be and what I would be thinking he might have, and made a strong attempt to exploit the card weakness that he correctly guessed I was stuck with. (At least I think that's what happened. Of course, I don't really know what he was thinking. It's possible he wasn't thinking much at all. But based on watching him for a couple of hours, I'm comfortable attributing to him a pretty sophisticated game.) I, in turn, was able to make a slightly better play based on figuring out what he thought I would be thinking. I earned the pot not only by having a better hand, but by getting inside his head a little bit better than he got inside mine.

But now I'm straying from my original point. I didn't really mean to get into a deep analysis of the hand (though I think it's an unusually interesting one). Getting back to the story, it was just a few minutes later that I busted Mr. Esfandiari, and my opponent in the hand in this story quickly got up to claim that seat, two to my left. I assume that he decided that I was a player on whom he wanted to have good position.


Orleans: I started off at a must-move table. My second hand after moving to a regular game I had J-Q in late position. A middle-position player put in a standard raise. He's somebody I've played with once before at the Orleans. (By the way, I don't have a phenomenal general memory, but I'm pleased that my ability to remember specific opponents and their tendencies has grown tremendously since I've started this gig. I have a long way to go in that department still, but the fact that I can remember this guy from a single session several months ago is a lot more than I would have been capable of two years ago.) He's smart, aggressive, and potentially tricky. He's a poker dealer somewhere else (can't remember where), but not very prone to the common maladies of play that I see most dealers succumb to. I called, though not really liking the situation. J-Q is way too prone to being second-best and it too often makes for painful decisions later in the hand, because it's close to but slightly behind the range of cards commonly used for making the initial raise.

Flop was 9-10-x, giving me an open-ended straight draw. He bet again. I called. The turn was a brick. He checked and looked concerned. I bet about 3/4 of the pot. He thought a long time, tried to ask me questions about what I had, etc. He finally folded.

A few minutes later, the guy on my immediate left packed up and went home. The player I had just beaten in this pot made a beeline for the now-open seat. It's hard not to conclude that he moved because of me. After all, if he just hated the 10 seat, he would have moved to the 2 seat (where I was) before I got to the table.

Maybe 30 minutes later, he was obviously still obsessing over the pot we had contested, and he asked me what I had had. I remember him as being a pleasant, polite, and friendly guy from our previous session, and, besides, I knew I would be leaving soon, so I decided it was OK to tell him the truth: I had a good draw, position, and a bit of moxie. He believably told me that he had had 8-8 in the hole. Assuming that's true, I had 12 outs (four kings and two more 8s to make a straight plus six cards that would make me a bigger pair), so I probably would have played it the same if his cards had been face up, which is always a nice thing to realize after the fact. Rather than either berate me for a stupid bluff or kick himself for not calling with his better hand, he said, in what struck me as a sincere voice, "Then it was a really nice move. I wanted to call, but there were too many ways you could have had me beat. I thought you probably had jacks."


So there you have it. One of the highest compliments one poker player can pay another is both silent and unparalleled in any other area of human activity: Moving to a different seat so as to gain a positional advantage. It is, in effect, saying, "Sir, you are a handful to deal with, and I'm going to need whatever edge I can get on you."

Thanks, guys. I'm flattered!


(It has not escaped my attention that another reason one might move to a particular player's left is that chips tend to flow clockwise, so, all else being equal, one would like to have the seat to the immediate left of the biggest donkey at the table, in order to catch as much of his chip-spewing as possible. It's possible that I'm suffering from a self-delusion of being pretty good at this game, when I'm actually the live one at the table. That seems objectively doubtful, though, based on a couple of years of a winning record. But it is certainly possible that one or both of the players in these two stories were thinking not so much, "He's the best player and I need to get a positional advantage on him," but more like, "What a moron--let me move to where I can best profit from his idiocy." It's better for my ego, though, not to consider this possibility too strongly.)

Define "most"

I forgot to tell you about another little incident from the Mirage Saturday night. Because it's a place I don't visit often (once or twice a year), I couldn't remember if they had any jackpots that I needed to be aware of--bad beats, high hands, etc. So I asked the dealer. He said there were none. As if he felt the need to justify this state of affairs, he added, "Most of the poker rooms on the Strip don't have them. You'll find them farther out in the city and at the locals casinos, but not on the Strip."

Oh, really? This is all done from memory, but it's probably pretty accurate. The following poker rooms on the Strip do have bad-beat jackpots, high-hand jackpots, aces-cracked bonuses, or some combination of the above on a regular basis: Stratosphere, Treasure Island, Caesars Palace, Monte Carlo, Excalibur, Luxor, Mandalay Bay, South Point, Riviera, Sahara, Harrah's, Imperial Palace, O'Shea's, Flamingo, Bill's, Bally's, and Planet Hollywood. The poker rooms at Paris and Tropicana also had them, though both closed recently. No such jackpots: Mirage, Bellagio, MGM, Venetian (though they occasionally throw one in as a special limited-time promotion), Wynn. Unsure (because I almost never go there): Circus Circus.

Hard to see how the list of no-jackpot Strip poker rooms constitutes "most." Looks like at least 3:1 the other way.

I should add that I don't see the absence of such things as a negative. I'm happy to leave the dollar in the pot and win it by my allegedly superior skill, rather than have it taken out and awarded by dumb luck. Besides, the net effect of most such promotions is to take money from no-limit games and transfer it to players in the limit games, because the events they are rewarding happen much more frequently in the limit games.

Celebrity sighting



I drove out to South Point last night, since it is a hotbed of rodeo-related events. As I had hoped, the place was lousy with cowboy hats. Strangly, though, there were virtually none in the poker room. My table had more of them than any other when its Cowboy Hat index briefly reached 2, but most of the time it was 1 or even 0. Disappointing. After a couple of hours, I headed off to the Orleans, and it was the same--cowboy hats everywhere except in the poker room. I don't get it.

Anyway, about halfway through my time at South Point our table was joined by the very minor poker celebrity pictured below. That's Antonio Esfandiari's father on the left, with his hand on his chin. I suppose he picked South Point because of its association with "High Stakes Poker" (though I understand production is being moved back to the Golden Nugget for next season).



Mr. Esfandiari is not as good a poker player as his son. I busted him with A-Q on a queen-high flop. I bet, he raised all-in for only about 50% more, I called. When all the cards were out, he saw my hand and mucked without showing. He left before I got a chance to tell him that I enjoy his occasional appearances on "I Bet You" (which is one of the greatest concepts for a reality TV show ever). He was perfectly polite and very quiet his whole time at our table.


South Point has issued its first commemorative poker chips for this year's big rodeo celebration. Previously, it was one of the few casinos that had no special chips anywhere in sight--just complete uniformity of generic chips. (Others that I can think of offhand include Binion's, Golden Nugget, and Sahara, and Excalibur before the electronic tables.)

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Four stories




1.

I started at the Venetian last night. The older man to my right was having a bad time of it. Well, it was mostly his own fault, because he was a classic loose-weak player. Anyway, he finally made a full house and won a big pot, which happened to include a $100 bill in addition to the chips. He folded the C-note and put it in his pocket. This is a common thing for tourists to do, when they don't understand the rules of table stakes. Another player gently pointed out the problem, and the dealer, who hadn't noticed the action, confirmed that the money had to be left in play.

The gentleman replaced the note, and said, "OK, but it doesn't matter. Nobody's getting this from me anyway." I knew what he meant--he was going to be playing what Phil Laak calls "lock-down poker" from then on. I smiled at him and said, "The bill isn't going in unless you have the nuts, right?"

He said, "Not even then. I'd have to have the nuts, the screws, and a few washers, too!"


2.

After locking up a nice little "W" at the Venetian, I went across the street to the Mirage and bought in for my usual $100. On my second hand, I had A-K in the small blind. Several people limped in, but the button raised it to $15. He struck me as an aggressive type, and of course he doesn't need much of a hand to try to steal in that situation. But since I was out of position and completely unfamiliar with my opponents, I decided to play it conservatively by just calling, with further decisions to depend on the flop. The big blind called, too.

Flop was K-Q-J, which I simultaneously loved and hated. Top pair/top kicker is nice, but it would be all too easy for either of my opponents to have made two pair, a set, or a straight here. I checked. The big blind bet $30. The button moved all in for something like $300. I was thinking about what to do and leaning toward a call, when the big blind said, "OK, I call," and flipped up his cards: K-Q. He was so eager to get his money in that he didn't bother looking to see if it was his turn.

The dealer indicated that the action was still on me. I turned my cards up and said, "Thanks. You made this decision a lot easier. I fold."

Good thing, too. The button had A-A. I would have been drawing about as thin as one can get: a 10 for half of the pot was my only salvation--and it didn't come. The turn and river were blanks, so the K-Q held up.

Just to rub it in a bit, I told the big blind that I was definitely going to call, and he had saved me $85. In truth, I was undecided. I was leaning that way, but I was having an internal argument, because I knew how potentially dangerous the situation was. So maybe I would have made the smart fold anyway. I honestly don't know.

Moral of the story: When you act out of turn, you often cost yourself money.


3.

It is often difficult to look around a poker room and decide which of the games at one's chosen stakes is the best one to be playing in. But in Las Vegas, for about two weeks in December, during the National Finals Rodeo, which completely takes over the city, the Good Lord has seen fit to make that analysis relatively straightforward: (1) Count the number of cowboy hats at each table. (2) Move to the game with the most of them.

My Mirage table had a dismal Cowboy Hat Index of zero. I couldn't move at first, because we were the short-handed table. But as soon as we filled up, I changed to one with a CHI of three. The decision was sweetened by seeing that the table also included this guy wearing reindeer antlers on his head:



Yep, he was drunk, and getting drunker by the minute. So was his pal, two seats to his right. They ended up being the main sources of income for the rest of the table.


4.

Within a few hands, I knew I had done the right thing by moving.

I was in the big blind and folded to a small raise, because I had something atrocious like 8-3. A guy across the table had apparently expected me to call, and said, pointing at me, "This guy's so tight, I think he only plays aces." The person next to him said, "He's been playing that way all weekend."

This was a little after midnight Saturday night/Sunday morning. I had not played poker at all on Friday. I had only been at the Mirage for maybe half an hour at that point, and at this table for four or five hands. I had never seen this man before, to the best of my recollection. He apparently hadn't noticed that a new player had come into that seat, which was especially remarkable given that the previous occupant of that spot had been a woman in her late 40s with long blond hair--not exactly my doppelganger.

Excellent observational skills, sir!