Saturday, December 20, 2008

Poker gems, #199

John Vorhaus, in Card Player magazine column, December 17, 2008, (vol. 21, #25), p. 74.


Some players find laughable the notion of ever folding a pocket pair [before the flop]. These players are known, colloquially, as losers.

Non-poker things annoy me, too

But you probably already knew that....

Here's the latest example. While at the Sahara tonight, this sign caught my attention:




Sorry, but my new camera phone, though a far sight better than the old one, doesn't do too well in low-light situations. (No flash.)

Anyway, the first thing that I wonder is about the phrase, "Steak the way it used to be." Has there been some change in steak that nobody told me about? Is it really vastly different than "it used to be," so that one has to seek out specific, rare restaurants that will prepare it whatever that old way was? Because I'm not aware of steak having fundamentally changed over the decades (well, except for cattle now being mostly corn-fed, not to mention injected with various steroids and antibiotics and who know what else), I can't get my mind around why one needs to find a retro chef to get steak the way it used to be.

The second thing that bugs me about the sign is the inadvertantly infelicitous phrase (which may be hard to read in the photo), "Just off the casino floor."

Did nobody involved in designing, printing, and erecting this sign notice that that phrase, positioned after "Steak the way it used to be," might conjure in the mind of the reader an image of steak being dropped on the casino floor, then picked up and immediately served to the restaurant's patrons? It's the first thing that occurs to me; that they are trying to convey some sort of vague directions to the restaurant only becomes apparent as an afterthought. (And, by the way, given the size of the casino, "Just off the casino floor" is about as unhelpful as directions could possibly be.)

You all have no idea how hard it is to be me, feeling continuously bombarded by things that annoy the hell out of me, while everybody else strolls comfortably past signs like this, apparently neither noticing nor being troubled by them.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Flopping trips and tripping flops




Last night after I left the Orleans I drove to the Riviera and played there for a while. In the first hour, there were three flops that contained all the same rank of card: specifically, 9-9-9, 8-8-8, and 5-5-5. That seemed like a remarkable coincidence to me, and it got me wondering how often this should be expected to occur. Let's work it out.

The first card can obviously be anything. Let's say it's the ace of spades, just for funsies. Now there are two cards left to come for this flop and 51 cards unaccounted for in the deck. There are 1275 combinations of two cards that can be picked from a deck of 51 when we don't care about the order they come in, because C(51,2)=1275.

There are three aces left. There are only three different pairs we could possible select from them: Ad-Ac, Ad-Ah, and Ah-Ac. So only 3 out of the 1275 possible pairs of cards that we might draw to complete the flop will meet our stated criterion of all three flop cards being the same rank.

In other words, this should happen 3/1275 hands, or 1 in 425 hands, or about 0.24% of the time--a pretty rare occurrence, all right.

So I was correct: seeing it three times in an hour was highly unusual, given that a typical hour of live casino poker usually won't produce more than 40 hands or so.

Isn't math fun?!

What happened at the Sahara?

I was at the Sahara buffet for dinner tonight (pretty awful--can't recommend it), and as I was leaving, I passed the poker room. The "cage" area was cordoned off with yellow police tape, and there were several police officers hanging around. This was about 20 minutes ago. Most obvious conclusion is that there was a robbery of the poker cash. If anybody knows, please speak up in the comments.


Addendum

It appears that my guess was correct. Here's the first news item on it, though with practically no details:

http://www.lasvegasnow.com/Global/story.asp?S=9557629


Addendum

The text of the story at that link changes as they get more information. Here's what it says now (11:40 p.m. Friday night):

Las Vegas Metro Police are investigating an armed robbery at the poker room
inside the Sahara Hotel and Casino.

Police say the robbery happened just before 6:00 p.m. The robbery was
to the Sahara, not a player. No word on how much money taken or if a weapon was
used.

No one was injured.

This is the kind of thing that makes me wonder if reporters even think about what they're writing. If it isn't clear to you what I mean, let me make it more obvious:

"Police are investigating an ARMED robbery.... No word on how much money taken or IF A WEAPON WAS USED."

Duh!

What else must one do?

Here's how I exited the 8-game-mix blogger freeroll qualifying tournament a few minutes ago:





Bleah. Had the maniac trapped about as perfectly as possible (got the first chunk of it in as an 88:12 favorite, and got the big money in as a 92:8 favorite), and he caught his two-outer.

Have I ever mentioned how much I hate this stupid game?

I'm glad I've already qualified for the final; the pressure is off. Today was playing mostly for fun, as I've never tried the 8-game format before. I don't plan to play the final qualifying round tomorrow, as it comes right when I should be making some real money in the casinos.

Guess the casino, #5




Hint: I had to digitally alter this photo because the sign had the name of the casino on it in big letters twice! I blacked it out. However, I left intact the casino's opening date, listed in the lower right-hand corner, which you can use as a good hint (i.e., it's probably not the Wynn!). I realize that you can read only a few of the headliners' names, but trust me, it's a VERY impressive list--basically anybody who has been anybody in live entertainment in the last, oh, 50 years or so.


Answer: The Riviera

Guess the casino, #4





Answer: The Orleans

Know when to walk away, and know when to run




I started my session at the Orleans tonight at 6:45. On about the fourth hand I had A-J suited in middle position and raised to $13. Had two callers. The flop came jack-high (don't remember the other cards, but nothing scary in terms of straight or flush draws). I bet almost the pot, $35. Player A (who had me covered) called, but looked uncertain about whether she should. Player B was short-stacked, and went all-in for $65. I couldn't reraise there, of course. I called, as did Player A. I had only $25 left behind. So when the turn card was another baby and the fourth suit, I put it all in and got called. River was another blank. I showed my A-J. Both opponents flashed a jack before mucking, but apparently they didn't hit their kickers. So five minutes into my session, I had more than doubled up.

Maybe 15 or 20 minutes later I had lost a little because of raises or calls that had to be aborted. I was sitting on about $230 when I found A-10 offsuit in late position (two off the button, I think). I raised to $13, had three callers. Flop was Kc-5d-Jc. Ick. With that many people in, somebody surely has my ace-high beat and will call if I bet. There's even a significant risk of getting check-raised. So when it's checked to me, I check behind. I'm prepared to abandon ship if I don't get help.

But the dealer, bless her little heart, puts out the Qd, instantly turning my nothing hand into the nuts. The small blind bets $20. Next two players fold. It's to me. I raise to $65. Don't want to scare him off yet, but, conversely, in case he's on a flush draw, I want him to pay too much for it mathematically. He calls. River is the 9h--no flush to worry about, fortunately. Turns out that is the worst possible card that could come for my opponent. He bets $50, and it looks to me like he's very much wanting a call, whereas on the turn he had seemed wary about calling my raise. Something about that river 9 changed his mind about this hand. The obvious conclusion is that he has a 10 and made his straight. I kind of doubt that he matches my A-10, because of his demeanor on the turn and the fact that he didn't shove to my turn reraise. So I think he'll go all the way with this one, and I move all in. Sure enough, he calls almost immediately and turns over his K-10.

Nice hand, sir, but not quite good enough. As Maxwell Smart was fond of saying, "Missed it by THAT much!"

Turns out our stacks were very nearly equal. He had me covered by about $7. He didn't stick around. He just said, "Nice hand," then said, "That's it for me," and took his last few chips and left.

I decided to take the money and run; since my main victim was no longer there, I didn't have an issue of giving him a sporting chance to win his chips back. So I played one more orbit, losing a bit when a couple more hands couldn't connect (including a suited A-K on my last hand). But I left the table at exactly 7:15, 30 minutes after I started, cashing out for $507, a profit of $407, or a win rate of $814/hour. I can live with that!

The beautiful final chapter of the story is this: I needed to talk to somebody at the Orleans poker room while I was there (in fact, that was the reason I chose to go there in the first place). When I was done and finally walking out, a woman who had been sitting two seats to my left stopped me. She told me that the young man who had taken over my seat when I left lost his entire $200 buy-in less than five minutes into his session when he got on the bad end of a set-over-set flop (his queens, somebody else's aces). That would have been me!

In short, I sat down at the perfect time, and stood up at the perfect time. Now if only I could manage that difficult feat every time I played....

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Poker gems, #198

Barry Tanenbaum, in Card Player magazine column, December 17, 2008 (vol. 21, #25), p. 60.


You will get called on enough of your real bluff attempts, thus demonstrating that you do bluff, that you never need to create useless bluffs just to show that you are trying. Every bluff you make should represent in your mind a realistic attempt to win the pot. Never bluff for advertising.

It's all about the bad beats

I just got knocked out of the fourth qualifying tournament for the big blogger championship on PokerStars Sunday.

Before launching into the sad tale, I should probably talk about why I played at all, since I had already qualified. The PokerStars web site had said that winning additional seats would do one no good. That temporarily looked wrong, when Gadzooks posted an email she got from Stars after winning a second spot. It said that she could transfer it to somebody else. However, a follow-up email she posted later said that that was wrong. So the motivation of winning a second seat and passing it to a less-fortunate blogger buddy was nixed.

That left me with four motivations to play. First, I could deny somebody else a seat in the final. Well, that's not really much of a motivation. It seems pretty stupid to invest three or four hours to reduce the final tournament field from 432 to 431. Second, it's just fun to play with other bloggers, some of whom I read and some of whom read me. Third, if I could get to the top 45 or better, I'd win another chance at gaining entry to real-money Sunday tournaments, not just the blogger freeroll. Fourth, since I don't play many online tournaments, it gives me some practice at zero cost.

I did have some ethical question about whether to play, since I might deprive somebody else of a seat. But I finally decided that poker is fundamentally a selfish, self-interested game, and the self-interests listed above--especially the third--were sufficient to justify the time investment. So I played.

By the way, I also played yesterday in the weird Omaha/8 pot-limit tournament. Couldn't get anything going. It was just pathetic, which is why I didn't post anything about it.

Today's tournament was way different from Tuesday's, in which I won a seat in the final. I neither gave nor received a serious bad beat in that one, but today that was the dominant theme. Also, in that one I succeeded by getting an absurd frequency of pairs, sets, and full houses. Today, only one pair turned into a set. I guess it all evens out.

So here we go. This is hand #4 of the tournament:



Probably my worst tendency when playing online is to constantly think that people are trying to bluff me. I call or push back hard in many spots where I shouldn't. In fact, this tendency is so strong that the great Julius Goat based one of his characters on me--see here. My habit was exacerbated today by the knowledge that I didn't really need to win. That gave me more leeway to indulge my curiosity and doubts, which sometimes worked out nicely; other times not so much, as you'll see.

In the above hand, my suspicion worked in my favor. I was right to doubt him. This double-up propelled me into an early leader position:




Next up is hand #27, my one and only flopped set:




We move on to hand #72:



Here my suspicious mind worked against me. The all-in move was a good one on his part, because it looked to me like a steal. After I raised from first position, he had to credit me with a pretty big hand, so it didn't make sense to me that he would actually think he had the best of it with any hand with which he wouldn't have tried a pre-flop reraise. The exception would be a flopped set, but if that were the case, I thought he would try milking instead of shoving. I was just plain wrong in my read, even though I took quite a bit of time to think it through, and it cost me dearly. That hand dropped me down to 200th place out of 380 remaining.

Just three hands later, I played the Doubting Thomas again:



His ridiculously huge raise from the big blind looked to me like an obvious steal of all those limpers' chips with nothing, so I figured I was at least even money to beat him. Wrong! But as Julius says of the player profile based on me, he "catches up from behind like his name is Don Beebe." Hee hee hee!

This beat prompted a mini-tirade from ikke_tom:

Rakewell1: thought you were just stealing
cj28000 [observer]: lol
Dealer: Game #23035021896: ingy104 wins pot (60)
Ikke_Tom [observer]: ? and u think i would fold after that?
Administrator: 1,000 FPP satellite to January 3rd's 8,000 FPP LAPT-Viña del Mar Qualifier starts in 5 minutes. To register see T126570454 under the Events/LAPT tab.
Ikke_Tom [observer]: idiots ....pff
cj28000 [observer]: lol
Rakewell1: no, course not
Dealer: HappyPixel, it's your turn. You have 14 seconds to act
Ikke_Tom [observer]: bah
Dealer: Game #23035028164: HappyPixel wins pot (120)
Dealer: Limits going up: blinds 40/80
Dealer: FundelMental, it's your turn. You have 14 seconds to act
Dealer: Game #23035045154: Woozy Player wins pot (80)
AlCantHang: this isn't poker, it's bingo
Ikke_Tom [observer]: it is with morons like him
cj28000 [observer]: yip
Rakewell1: lol

Some people just can't take bad luck. It would be entertaining, I think, to engage in competitive IQ testing with all the people who call me "moron" and "idiot."

That hand boosted me up to 75th place out of 369 left, and I went into the first break at 94th out of 339.

The next significant hand was #112:



Yep, same theme: I just didn't believe him and got insanely lucky on the river. (I vaguely recall that his play on a couple of previous hands had given me some reason for suspicion, but I admit I can't remember those details now.) That pushed me back into contention, 41st place.

Another big boost came at hand #118:



Once again, I was convinced he had nothing. I did have reason here. This guy had been a thorn in my side, reraising me every time every time I put in a raise. I decided it was time to take a stand, and if I happened to be doing it the one time he actually had something, oh well, them's the breaks. Besides, I had the nearly unbeatable 2-4! I didn't see his cards, but I guess I was right that he was stealing every bit as much as I was.

That pot pushed me up to 4th place, though by the time I grabbed this screen shot just a few seconds later somebody had already climbed one over me:




That same player and I clashed once more, in hand #126:




A while later I got whisked away to a new table. I decided to use my biggish stack and newly arrived status to push people around a bit (players are more cautious with the new guy at the table), in hand #154:





I love it! Go for a rather audacious out-of-position steal, and flop the nuts! I just wish I could have gotten paid off for it. Still, it was a big enough pot to finally get me back into the top ten:





But then came icky hand #164. This particular opponent had raised my eyebrows because I had seen him push all-in as an opening raise, just a crazy move given his chip stack. That image paid off for him here, because I thought my A-J was probably good:





Oops. It was a terrible call on my part. After having worked so hard to climb back into the top ten, I should have just let it go, even while believing that he was just stealing, rather than risk so much of my stack. Better spots would have come along. That dropped me down to 74th place out of 171 remaining. Not lethal, but not as good as staying in the top ten, either. Dumb, dumb, dumb. I went into the second break a little later at 63rd out of 128.

On hand #190, my bad-beat chickens came home to roost. Karma demands that after administering so many suckouts I get one in return:




Ouch! Now you see the real lesson of my bad A-J vs. A-K hand. If I had let that one go, I would have still been in a much better position to absorb this subsequent beat without being put into short-stack territory.

As it was, though, this really crippled me--down to 109th out of 123 left. I hung on for a while longer, repeatedly moving all-in to steal the blinds and hoping for a double-up. I finally did it with 3-3 and got called by Q-Q. I couldn't find one more bad-beat arrow in my quiver for the day, and was done.

But it was still a fun game, worth the couple of hours that it took. Hopefully I also re-learned some lessons about picking my spots better. We'll see.

I think there's only one fitting way to close this post, given its recurring theme:



The Party Poker guilty plea




I find that I'm having another bout of insomnia (a more frequent problem of late), so I might as well write something.


In Oliver Stone's 1991 movie "JFK," Joe Pesci (as David Ferrie) famously says, "It's a mystery! It's a mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma!"*

Apparently that's approximately what Shamus is feeling about this week's announcement of the guilty plea and staggering $300 million fine for Party Poker founder Anurag Dikshit. If you haven't already heard the basic facts from any of the many poker-related sites discussing them, go read the Hard-Boiled Poker post about it to get up to speed.

I share his sense of perplexity. Nothing about it makes sense to me. Here are some of the questions that keep running through my mind, in no particular order:

1.

If Dikshit's attorneys convinced him that his offering of various onling gaming opportunities to U.S. residents was in violation of the Wire Act, why didn't they stake out this position before launching the service here? Surely Dikshit and his fellow investors did due diligence on questions as basic as whether the business they were commencing would land them all in federal prison. Didn't they?

2.

On what basis does the Department of Justice--and, apparenlty Dikshit and his counsel--conclude that offering casino games over the Internet violates the Wire Act? As I explained here, that statute explicitly relates exclusively to "bets or wagers on any sporting event or contest." Even if you grant that what was originally intended to prohibit telephone communication of bets can be extended, without additional congressional action, to the Internet (and it's probably reasonable to guess that courts would make such extension), I don't know how you put online poker, blackjack, roulette, etc., into this category. Sure, I'm aware that the DOJ has steadfastly maintained, when asked, that the law relates to all online gambling, but I've never seen a reasoned, detailed explanation from them for how they get to that interpretation. I have a hard time believing that they would succeed in persuading a court of that broad reading, especially in light of the principle of lenity or strict construction, which mandates that when a criminal law is ambiguous as to whether it prohibits any specific defendant's actions, the doubt must be resolved in favor of the defendant and against the government.

The only court case to date on the question was a slam dunk against the DOJ's position. You can read the appellate decision here. The pertinent sentence is this: "Because the Wire Act does not prohibit non-sports internet gambling, any debts incurred in connection with such gambling are not illegal." This decision is not officially binding on courts outside the federal fifth circuit (south central states), but typically courts in the rest of the country would consider it "persuasive authority," and would have to have strong reason to come to a contrary reading.

Note that whether poker is a game subject to chance--predominantly, or slightly, or otherwise--is not a relevant question here. For purposes of the Wire Act, there is no legal distinction between poker and any other casino game. The mix of luck and skill does not matter, nor does the fact that in poker one is pitted against other players rather than against the house. It doesn't even matter whether poker or whatever other game is involved can or should be considered "gambling." All that matters for the Wire Act is whether the bets in question were placed on a "sporting event or contest."

At first glance, one might think that poker (and, for that matter, blackjack and other casino games) is a "contest" and therefore falls under the statute. But a common rule of interpretation in law says that when a specific term is grouped with and followed by what might otherwise be seen as a general word or term, the restrictive/descriptive nature of the former is deemed to be applied also to the latter. Here's Widipedia's brief explanation:


It is presumed that a statute will be interpreted so as to be internally
consistent. A particular section of the statute shall not be divorced from the
rest of the act. The ejusdem generis (Latin for "of the same kind") rule applies
to resolve the problem of giving meaning to groups of words where one of the
words is ambiguous or inherently unclear. The rule results that where "general
words follow enumerations of particular classes or persons or things, the
general words shall be construed as applicable only to persons or things of the
same general nature or kind as those enumerated." 49 F. Supp. 846, 859. Thus, in
a statute forbidding the concealment on one's person of "pistols, revolvers,
derringers, or other dangerous weapons," the term "dangerous weapons" may be
construed to comprehend only dangerous weapons of the kind enumerated, i.e.,
firearms, or perhaps more narrowly still, handguns. Here, the term "dangerous
weapons" must be given a meaning of the "same kind" as the word of established
meaning.

In other words, the Wire Act would be read as if it said "sporting event or sporting contest." It would not be reasonable to believe that Congress had in mind poker or blackjack when it used the phrase "sporting event or contest," and if it was not within the intent of the legislature, then it is not properly within the scope of the statute. (It is granted that determining the intent of any legislative act is fraught with problems, but in this particular case it's hard to make a plausible argument that casino games were intended to be included, when it would have been so easy to add a few words explicitly to include them had Congress so desired.)

As far as I know, none of Mr. Dikshit's businesses involved sports betting. Even if they did, that isn't the only target of the criminal complaint, because apparently the guilty plea specifically mentions the offering of poker as one of the offenses confessed to.

3.

What, if anything, is going on with the other Party Poker owners? Are they all being targeted, with Dikshit the first one to make a deal? Or is he the only one against whom official action has been taken to date?

4.

I don't feel like trying to dissect the federal sentencing guidelines, but I'd sure be interested in opinions from anybody with experience in such matters on this question: Suppose there had been a trial and a verdict of guilty. For a presumably first-time offender, non-violent crime, with a max of 2 years in the statute, what would be the reasonable expected range of actual prison time he might have faced? I mean, if he'd be looking at something like 30 days, heck, I think I'd take that and keep the $300 million! (Yes, I realize that he might have gotten the prison time and the fine--but I'm just sayin'.)

5.

OK, here's my biggest question. Why didn't Dikshit and his partners, along with the owners of PokerStars, Full Tilt, and all the others, long ago file a declaratory judgment action? I started asking this a few years ago when the DOJ first sent out that notorious letter to media outlets warning them that if they accepted ads from sites that offer poker or other online gaming they might be in violation of the Wire Act themselves, via a conspiracy or aiding/abetting theory. (Offhand I think that was 2004, but don't quote me.) That letter caused a widespread and nearly immediate change in policy of many broadcast and cable stations. In turn, it prompted the poker sites to start advertising the .net sites instead of the .com sites.

When one is facing a credible threat of prosecution, but one believes that one's actions are not illegal, one can go to court in a civil case and ask the court to rule on whether the actions are lawful. If one wins, it makes subsequent prosecution practically impossible. Of course, the down side is that if one loses, the government has a much easier case against you. But given the wording of the law in question, the online sites had a very high chance of prevailing, and winning would have meant that they could operate in the U.S. free and clear, with no fear of prosecution (as long as they weren't taking sports bets, of course, which means that sites like Bodog would still be in jeopardy).

Once the DOJ started rattling sabers with that media letter, the gaming sites had an obvious legitimate fear that they were in the prosecutors' crosshairs, and would therefore have had legal standing to pursue a declaratory judgment action.

I renew that question now. The Dikshit case provides even more tangible and compelling evidence that similarly situated site owners and operators need and deserve a court ruling on whether their activities do, in fact, violate the Wire Act. The government often responds to such cases by trying to prevent the court from answering the question through challening the plaintiff's standing; they say, often disingenuously, that they are not pursuing prosecution, though naturally they won't ever commit in writing to not pursuing it. The plaintiff has to be able to show that there is a real risk of prosecution, because otherwise the court would be handing down nothing more than an "advisory opinion," which it is forbidden to do by the Constitution's requirement that courts handle only actual "cases and controversies." The Party Poker prosecution, though, makes it effectively impossible for the DOJ now to pretend that it is not interested in going after the online gaming operators. I think it would be a breeze to establish legal standing now, even if it might have been somewhat tenuous before.

Not only would they be likely to win such a case, but the cost of bringing it would be much, much less than $300 million, even if it involved a circuit court appeal and Supreme Court appeal (the former is likely to be brought by whichever side loses; the latter is a lot less likely). I cannot understand why nobody has filed a case to answer the question before indictments get handed down and one's actual liberty is put on the line. I think if I were one of the site owners, I would have insisted that my lawyers do it as soon as the DOJ started to show interest in finding targets. I would much rather have the question addressed on my own terms in a civil case than on the prosecutor's terms, with prison time hanging in the balance.

One fairly wild theory is that Party Poker is acting to try to make it so that its competitors cannot operate in the United States, thus leveling the playing field. That strikes me as nutty. If that were the goal, a declaratory judgment action would be a lot easier. The result of the case would either be that it would be clearly OK for Party Poker to re-enter the U.S. market, or put the operators of Full Tilt et al. on clear notice that they were in deep trouble if they stayed in it. Either way, it would level the playing field for a whole lot less money and trouble than copping to a felony.


Shamus asked his questions and concluded with "You tell me." Sorry, my friend, I cannot. All I can do is join you in puzzlement, and add my questions to yours. Nothing about the guilty plea makes sense to me.

To put it more crudely, I can't explain Dikshit.


*My vast research--meaning about two minutes on Google--tells me that this phrase is not original to that movie, as I have long thought. It apparently dates back to Winston Churchill in 1939. See here.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Something wicked this way comes

It's frightening what's happening today. My Weather Bug doodad in the corner of my computer screen reads "31 degrees." That's below freezing, which means, I think, that the world has basically stopped. Also there is white stuff falling from the sky. This is seriously weird. The only explanation I can think of is that perhaps this is what people visiting from other parts of the world refer to as "snow"--but surely that's impossible in the L.V., isn't it? Maybe it's an effect of global warming. Conversely, maybe we need more global warming. Whatever the case, it's freaking me out. This is definitely not what I signed up for when moving out here.

See news story here.

Guess the casino, #3






Hint: This one is tricky. The answer is probably not the first thing that occurs to you if you've spent a fair amount of time in Vegas casinos--nor even the second.


Answer: MGM Grand, specifically one of the aquariums in the Rain Forest Cafe.

Dogs playing poker

See the nice piece on the history and significance of the famous Coolidge series of paintings here.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

I done OK

This evening was my second try to win a seat in Sunday's final of the PokerStars World Blogger Championship of Online Poker. I made it. I can even tell you the secret of how to do well in one of these things: (1) Get dealt a lot of pocket pairs and have them turn into sets with an absurdly high frequency, and (2) don't donk off the chips you win from (1) by making big bluffs. Allow me to illustrate.

This is hand #19 of the tournament:





Next up is hand #27:




My opponent here did not approve of my play of this hand, as demonstrated by the ensuing chat:

Dealer: CrazyEights8 finished the tournament in 493rd place
CrazyEights8 [observer]: i love stupid
CrazyEights8 [observer]: nice call kid
CrazyEights8 [observer]: gla
Dealer: Game #22983654348: CUdeP wins pot (150)
Dealer: Limits going up: blinds 20/40
CrazyEights8 [observer]: twice u over played a hand with a flush ont he board
Dealer: Game #22983671731: michal48 wins pot (300)
Rakewell1: and both times it was unlikely my opponent had the flush
CrazyEights8 [observer]: i love stupid
Rakewell1: but don't let that cloud your judgment of me
CrazyEights8 [observer]: stupid has its rewards
TNSpaceman: for god's sake, would you just leave the rail? it's a frickin freeroll.

Interesting he says that I was stupid, when I was actually ahead at every point throughout the hand. He apparently thinks that if there are three of a suit on the board and you don't have the flush, you must assume that your opponent does. I do not share the view that one should make that assumption. Oh well.

Shamus at that point reminded me to quick take a snapshot of the tourney lobby because I was in the top 10:



I must always document these moments, because they don't last long!

For hand #74, I should perhaps add a third piece of advice on advancing in tournaments: Get aces when somebody else has queens. Yes, that is excellent advice indeed. The hand just plays itself.




I got moved to a new table at this point, but continued my brilliant strategy of being dealt pocket pairs and turning them into sets (or full houses) on hand #114 (there was a long spell there for the intervening 39 hands):




For the next part of our lesson, we move on to hand #125, in which I illustrate the perfect way NOT to bluff. Of course, I was fully aware that it was boneheaded and doomed to failure, but I did it purely for pedagogical purposes, so that I could show my faithful readers what not to do. (I should be selling Isuzus.)



That major blunder really set me back, and I had to switch strategies, looking for spots to steal the blinds and put in all-in reraises when I thought somebody else was stealing. That kept me afloat for a long time.

Of course, it goes without saying that one cannot succeed in a tournament without occasionally playing the mighty deuce-four, as I show in hand #162:



I think I had some sort of tell there, and everybody knew I held the 2-4 and they were smart enough not to want to tangle with it.

I started to get back into contention with hand #180, in which I reverted to the pre-planned strategy of catching pocket pairs and turning them into sets and full houses:




At this point I was still below average in chips, but felt like taking a chance. My opponent in hand #190 was very tight, and his min-raise from under the gun just screamed aces or kings. I decided to take a gamble and see if I could outflop aces. Because his cards were virtually face up with his move, I thought I could either stack him or get away with minimal loss. The plan succeeded perfectly:





That win finally put me back above the average chip stack, and in reasonably safe position to earn a seat, with only 22 eliminations yet to go. As you can see, even with a modestly above-average stack I was in 23rd place at that point, meaning that the distribution of stacks was skewed heavily toward the top end, and there were plenty of short stacks teetering on the brink.




So I hunkered down and played conservatively. I reverted back to the core strategy of flopping sets, as shown in hand #222:



That propelled me back into the top 10 for the first time since the aces vs. queens hand, so I quickly captured the ephemeral evidence:



Tenth place, with only four eliminations left to go for a seat. Yes, this pairs/sets approach is clearly working well. So I waited just 12 hands before doing it again, in hand #234:




After establishing such a reputation (I showed that set of queens), naturally I needed to capitalize on it, so tried a little steal in hand #239:




Somewhere in here, after a few smallish pots, I climbed as high as 6th place (though I had the wrong name highlighted in the screen shot):



My last hand of the tournament was #255. The opponent here had been playing balls-to-the-wall, raising light and frequently, so I thought he was a good target for a check-raise, even holding nothing, when the flop looked like it probably would have missed him completely:



I really wish I had folded to his all-in. It was a big blunder. I still had enough chips to fight back in another spot. In fact, had I survived one more place, I would have moved up from winning a Step 2 ticket to a Step 3 ticket. But oddly, that's actually the fact that pushed me to call--I knew he knew that I knew we were on another bubble, which meant that as the bigger stack he might easily think I'd fold rather than risk elimination, and therefore push light. But I made a snap decision that was, I think, objectively wrong (and I'd say the same even if I had sucked out a win there). What can I say? I went crazy! I plead temporary insanity and throw myself on the mercy of the court.

Anyway, I finished in 28th place out of 559 entrants, which isn't terrible. It was strange to make only two big bluffs in the entire tournament, and get called on both of them. That's not the way it's supposed to work! I forgot Phil Gordon's maxim: Don't bluff if they're gonna call. But I accomplished my primary purpose of gaining entry to the final event, which means that I can play the rest of the qualifying tourneys to win rather than to "cash," or even skip them altogether if the timing doesn't work right on any particular day (though it's not like I really have a whole lot of competing things to be doing). I was also pleased that I never got the big money in as an underdog, except in the two places where I was doing so deliberately.

I see that Shamus has already beaten me to a write-up of the event, so check his perspective here.

Poker gems, #197

This is a special two-for-one, because I came across basically the same point expressed by two different people in just a couple of days.


Lee Jones, in Bluff magazine, September, 2008, p. 96:

I think that it may be profitable, if boring, to play PLO in such a way that all you do is wait to suck out on aces. Some PLO players, bless their hearts, never reraise pre-flop unless they have aces. So you call and then if you're beating aces on the flop, you get all the money in.


Jeff Williams, in Card Player magazine interview, December 17, 2008 (vol. 21, #25), p. 26:

You see many players trying to get as much money in as possible before the flop with A-A-X-X hands. I usually make this play only if I can get 35 percent of my stack in preflop, since then you can easily shove in the rest of your money on almost any flop. If you get too little of the money in preflop, all of your opponents know that you have A-A-X-X, and it's quite easy to put only the remaining chips in the pot when they have your hand beat.

Guess the casino, #2





Answer: Monte Carlo

Monday, December 15, 2008

Guess the casino, #1

To mark having a new cell phone with a halfway decent (though still not spectacular) camera, I am launching a new, occasional series of posts in which the reader is invited to try to guess at which casino a photograph was taken.

This first one will be ridiculously easy--even if you've never set foot in Las Vegas, you have a good shot at getting it right with just a little bit of thought--in order to show how it will all work.

Here we go:




There will be no prizes for guessing these right; it's just for your own amusement. In fact, I don't even want to bother moderating a ton of comments that are just people submitting possible answers, so I'm going to try something new here to have the answer contained within the post.

If I've done it right, the text of the answer is hidden right after the word "answer" below, by using a font color that is the same as the background color. To see the answer, then, you just need to use your mouse to highlight that text and it will magically appear.

Answer: The MGM Grand

See how it works?

The next ones won't be so easy. Have fun.


My first PLO tournament

Today was the first qualifying tournament in the PokerStars World Blogger Championship of Online Poker series. It's the first time I've tried playing pot-limit Omaha. The results were less than spectacular.

It started nicely enough. Here's the first hand of the match:






Whee! I'm the table chip leader now!

Here comes my big boost in the leader board, a short time later:





Here's a minor hand. The opponent here was a frequent bluffer, and I was simply taking advantage of that, plus the reputation I had earned as actually having something when I bet, plus having position, plus holding the all-important deuce-four. (Notice I flopped a straight draw with it, and the 3 surely would have come on the river, had the hand played out.)



Here's my next jump up in chips. I really don't know what this guy was thinking. He appears just unable to fold aces.



I snapped this screen shot of the tournament lobby at this point, knowing from long, sad experience, that this was likely as good as it was going to get, so I wanted to preserve evidence that at one point I was doing OK:



Sure enough, the decline and fall began shortly thereafter. On this hand I flopped the nuts, but then.... well, take a look for yourself.



That was my first heartbreaker--a 71/29 favorite on the flop. I correctly guessed that he had made a straight when he raised on the turn. I wonder what would have happened if I had represented making a flush on the river with a big bet. River card pairing the board sure would have been nice.

Then another smallish loss. I didn't have much faith in my trip 6s, so didn't lose much:



The next heartbreaker will look like I lost my mind ("went crazy," as Phil Hellmuth would put it), but I really didn't. This particular opponent, as noted earlier, was not only a habitual bluffer, but had been short-stacked for a while and raising/shoving very light.



So my judgment of him was right, and I got my money in as a 53/46 favorite, according to the odds calculator at www.twodimes.net.

The fall from grace continued after I got moved to a new table:



My end then came in two swift, pathetic hands:





But on that last hand, at least I picked a decent spot, going in as a 53/47 favorite.

And thus ends the sad tale of our hero's first attempt at PLO. I hope you all kept your hankies handy.

Tomorrow's qualifier is no-limit hold'em. We'll see if I fare any better with that.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Breaking the MGM curse




Last night I had a breakthrough.

The MGM Grand has been my nemesis. For reasons that I cannot explain, I had played there five times without having a single winning session. There is no other poker room in town in which I had that kind of record. This was particularly weird because other similarly situated low-stakes grinders tend to love the MGM as one of their most consistently profitable places of business. So last night I was bound and determined to crack whatever evil spell had been cast on me with respect to this particular room.

And I did. I played completely ABC, by-the-book, classic tight-aggressive poker and walked away up $102 after about three hours. That would not usually be cause to celebrate or for a blog post, but given the past history, it was a meangingful accomplishment. The psychological barrier has been broken down. The "loser" mantle has been cast off, and I can now enter the joint pretty much like anyplace else and play without the mental negativity of feeling like I'm doomed to lose.

Coulda been our vice-president




This is almost surely the last crappy low-resolution cell-phone photo that this blog will have, because my snazzy new phone has arrived. I've already taken some shots with it which will hopefully show up here soon, but I'm having difficulty moving them from the phone to my computer. The phone didn't come with a USB cable (found one on amazon.com for $2 and ordered it, though), and for some reason the email function isn't working right--need to call AT&T for troubleshooting, I think.

Anyway, I don't actually walk on the Strip very often, because I tend to enter and leave the casinos via the parking garages. But last night I had occasion to be wandering. It's the first time I've noticed the stars embedded in the sidewalk. Apparently it doesn't take much to get one, because I had not even heard of the great majority of the people who have been so honored. But I certainly knew this name: Wayne Allyn Root, the VP candidate for the Libertarian Party this year. We could have had a vice-president who had his own sidewalk star in Vegas, and we collectively blew the opportunity!

The star calls him the "King of Vegas." Maybe that's why he couldn't get elected--I'm pretty sure the Constitution says something about not having kings. It's a little-known legal-historical fact that that's also why Elvis never became president.

Another change at the Sahara




I forgot to mention that I snapped these photos at the Sahara the other night. They have new felt on the tables. They used to have green Speed Cloth, which I erroneously said here was only to be found in Vegas at Fitzgeralds. A commenter reminded me that Sahara had it, too. But no longer. So now I was retroactively right!

You can't quite see it, but I took the first shot when I did because the flop was 2-2-4, once again showing that had somebody had the wisdom to be playing the 2-4 there, the pot would be his.