Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Fun and not-so-fun at the Luxor

Wow--it seems strange to sit down and start to write a real post of the kind that used to come out nearly every day. It's been a while!

Last night, I picked up Cardgrrl at the Venetian poker room, where she had been playing, and we went off to Mandalay Bay to do some fishing. After an hour and a half, we had both done reasonably well. (OK, I admit it--she had won quite a bit more than I had, thanks mostly to making a set of jacks on the turn and getting the all-in call from a guy with unimproved Q-Q.) She wanted to move on to the Luxor, so I agreed.

Good call, as it turned out.

By coincidence, we discovered in talking last night that Luxor is the place where both she and I first played casino poker--and both of us had no clue what we were doing back then. So it was kind of a return to roots, but hopefully this time with us nearer the top of the Luxor poker food chain than we were five or six years ago.

Unprofessional dealers--what's new?

Just about every time I write about a session at the Luxor, it includes a story about one of the dealers doing something stupid, unprofessional, and/or in violation of basic rules. (Just click here for a compilation of the relevant posts.) I'm not picking on the Luxor deliberately; I would complain about such things from dealers wherever they might occur. It's just that at the Luxor it happens a lot more than any other poker room I visit regularly. As I have noted before, I am not the only one with this perception; "Las Vegas Michael" spends even more time in poker rooms than I do and pays close attention to how they are run, and he agrees that the Luxor is in a class by itself in terms of how unprofessional the dealers are.

Last night it took only five minutes into the session before I had another humdinger of a bad-dealer story. The dealer was Jimmy. The final board on the hand in question was K-Q-3-7-3. Player A bet. Player B called. Player A showed K-10. Player B said, "Oh, you have a better kicker." Player B then turned a king face up, left his second card face down, and passed his hole cards back to the dealer in a clear and obvious fold.

Jimmy tapped the guy's face-down card and said, "Chop chop." Player B still didn't catch on, so Jimmy told him, "If you turn both cards up, it will be a chopped pot." Player B finally saw what he meant, complied (his other card was a 5) and the pot was split.

B's cards never hit the muck, but his intention was unambiguous, and the dealer's correct action would have been to turn the king face down, put both cards in the muck, award the pot to Player A, and say nothing about it.

Player A complained, but did so very softly, speaking quietly to the player on her right. (I was on her left, so heard it.) She didn't complain to the dealer or floor, as she should have.

If a player misreads his hand or the board or both, and wrongly decides to muck his cards, he must be allowed to do so. Neither the dealer nor another player may intervene to stop him. It is a strategic decision to muck rather than table one's cards, and dealers cannot make that decision for players, nor even help them make that decision.

I suspect that the dealer's reason for sticking his nose in where it didn't belong was the hope that he could pick up tips from two winners rather than one. He was a smart guy--he surely knew that what he was doing was against the rules. Dealers injecting themselves into poker hands and poker players' decisions is the single most frequent category of wrong stuff that Luxor dealers do that I have chronicled here. Clearly it is not going to stop anytime soon, because it has been going on for years. It is patently obvious that nobody in the poker room management cares about this stuff.

Here's another minor dealer error I saw last night: On the river, the action went check-check-check-check, then the button pushed out $35. The dealer, James, said, "Raise it up. Make it $35." Raise? Raise? How can there be a raise when there has been no prior bet? Players new to casino poker make this mistake all the time. Dealers never should.

One last dealer story: I had Tweeted about the first incident. Cardgrrl, two tables over, had apparently seen that post. A while later, she sent me a text message asking me whether Don was the dealer that I disliked. I responded that he was one of them, based on previous interactions. I guessed at what he was doing that annoyed her: being vulgar. She wrote back, "He was on about happy endings over here. Idiot." Bingo. Do I know my dealers, or what? (He's the same one that I referred to as "Dealer #5" here, when I heard him making stupid double-entendres about his "big carrot.")

An audacious bluff

Usually at the Luxor the players are such terrible calling stations that I deploy what I think of as my "Bill's strategy," which basically means no bluffing. There can be exceptions, but they must be selected with extreme care. Last night, such a confluence of circumstances occurred.

There was a large four-way pot. One player was all-in on the flop, with three of us calling. I had suited 7-8. On the turn I picked up both flush and gutshot straight draws, so I called another player's bet, as did the last guy.

The river missed me, but meant that the final board was K-5-4-3-2 with no flush possible. I didn't think either of my remaining opponents had an ace or a six, and thought that they couldn't call without a straight if I were to bet. Furthermore, they happened to be the only two players at the table that I thought were good enough (1) to have noticed that I had played my hand as if on a draw, and (2) to fold a hand like top pair or even two pair if they were sufficiently persuaded that I had just made my straight on the river. So when it was checked to me, I bet $50 at what was then a roughly $60 side pot. Both of them folded.

I had to show my cards because of the showdown with the all-in guy. As the dealer pushed me the side pot, he said, "You get this part for sure." I flipped my cards up and said, "I think that's all I'll be getting." I was right, of course--the approximately $150 main pot was won by the all-in guy who had a suited Q-J, and took it with queen high! Each of the guys I had pushed out of the pot claimed, very plausibly, to have had a king for top pair. Either one could have taken the main pot if not for folding to my river bet. I didn't profit, but the side pot was enough to make me approximately even for the hand (i.e., get me back what I had put into the pot before the river), which was good enough.

It is safe to say that my move caused quite a stir. I was massively unpopular with the two guys who folded winners, but the hand continued intermittently to be the talk of the table for about 15 minutes. Both of them admitted the obvious--that they were certain I had the straight. As one of them said, "Guy plays two hands an hour, you've got to believe he has it there."

I was exceptionally pleased with this move. At the risk of sounding overly self-congratulatory, it felt, well, professional. I understood the situation accurately, including my opponents' likely holdings, their temperaments and abilities, my table image, etc., then used that information to make an aggressive move that won me money I could have taken in no other possible way.

To make things even better, over the next 30 minutes I got three more calls from opponents who all said explicitly that they felt obligated to call me down because they had seen me bluff with 8-high. (This includes the guy in the story to follow.) So not only did I steal the side pot in that hand, but got paid quite handsomely in subsequent hands because of having had to show the bluff. I was enormously pleased with how it worked out.

The real happy ending

No, it has nothing to do with getting a massage, which is what I presume that nasty dealer Don was talking about. This is about the best way to end a poker session.

Cardgrrl and I had initially planned on leaving at around 10:00 p.m. But we both had slow starts, without much happening. So we decided (all by texting) to stay another hour or so. Good thing. As 11:00 hit, I played 8-9 of hearts, just as Cardgrrl texted me to say she was going to play two more hands, then quit.

I picked up a straight-flush draw on the flop with position on my opponent (flop 7h-5c-Jh). I called his $20 bet. As you can see from the photo below, I hit my perfect card on the turn, making the jack-high straight flush.

My opponent, who happened to be one of the two that I had bluffed off of a winner before, bet another $20 on the turn. I just called again, because his stack was short enough that if he bet anything on the river, as I thought he would, he would basically be pot-committed for any raise. Sure enough, he bet $20 again. I raised all-in and he called his last $50 or so. He mucked after seeing my cards. (He later said that he had had two pair, and I believe him. He also said that he was, of course, aware of the possible flush, but because of the eight-high bluff, he thought it was about 50-50 that I was bluffing again, so felt obligated to call.)

There was a short wait while the surveillance people were contacted and the high-hand jackpot money was prepared. I stood up and called Cardgrrl's name to get her attention (which is not something I'd do except under extremely rare circumstances--like this was). I motioned for her to come see what had happened. She responded that she was in a hand.

Was she ever! About a minute later, I heard the dealer at her table call out, "High hand, seat 3." Hey--wait a second. Isn't Cardgrrl in seat 3? I looked over again. Yes, she was. I trotted over and saw this on the table:

She started with pocket aces just after texting me the "two more hands" message. She then flopped a set, and turned quads.

My table had obviously figured out that we were friends from my calling out to her, so when I came back they asked if she had really hit a high hand at the same time that I did. Yep! The floor person came by about then with two stacks of red chips (i.e., $200) for me. There was a third stack in her rack, and she told me, "That's not for you--that's for my other high hand." Indeed it was. Cardgrrl won her pot plus a $100 bonus. (If she feels like telling how the hand played out she can--obviously I wasn't there to see what had happened.)

I don't even know how to start trying to figure out the odds against two friends coming to a card room together, playing at separate tables, both down to the last couple of hands of the night, and both hitting high hand bonuses at the same time--especially with this all happening in the poker room in which, years, earlier, both had independently played their first-ever casino poker. If it were in a movie script, they'd take it out in the editing process because it would be too freakishly improbable for audiences to accept as plausible.

But it actually happened (with pictures, as you can see, for those inclined to say "Pics or it didn't happen"). We were amazed and delighted, and laughed about the craziness of it all the way home. That reality can be stranger than fiction is as true in poker as in any other field of human endeavor.

It was the perfect way to end a fun and highly profitable evening of poker with the best poker companion I've ever known.


matt tag said...

This post has left me with an enormous grin on my face. We all catalog and commit to memory every runner-runner-nine-nine and 1 outer that beats us, and holding the second nuts with trip queens with the only possible hand that beats us being 3-5, and somehow the donk villain has just that (in a raised pot).

So nice to see the craziness work in your favor.

Couga said...

I know you are known as the "Poker Grump" but you gotta cut the dealers a break now and then. The two instances that you have posted about above are good examples that you need to tune down the OCD and take a step back and look at your situation.

In situation A, where the dealer pointed out that it would be a split pot if the mucker exposed his 2nd hole card, it seems to me that this is probably more "Customer Service" than anything else. Just because you are playing to pay your bills doesn't mean your table should be run like a $25/$50NL game.

Most of the people you relieve of their money are just looking to have a good time. The dealers actions here may be intended to pick up an extra buck in tip money, but on the other hand it could be to ensure that players are having a good time. Remember that these people that you are paying your bills with most likely just want to give poker a shot. Don't you want repeat customers? Remember, you are playing at an introductory table ie. the lowest limits available, and should not only accept that these things happen but expect that these things will happen.

Who knows maybe the noob that just got a lucky split pot because a friendly, (not necessarily incompetent dealer) will become a regular contributor to your car fund because he is having a good time.

As for the 2nd situation where the dealer said "Raise it up" to an opening bet... perhaps your preconceived notions that the dealers at the Luxor suck make you so hypercritical of their actions to think that this is worth mentioning. The guy mis-spoke, cut him a break.

As for dealers being crude or inattentive, that is one thing, but your gripes seem very nit picky imo.

Don't get too grumpy on me.

- ChipEnvy

Sean G said...

That is a great story at the end there. Maybe I was too harsh on "Casino Royale" after all.

I love how well that 78 bluff paid you off, it's really a great feeling to have the image of a maniac while still being able to play ABC poker.

I agree with you on the first dealer, with the split pot. I think he should have mucked it and said nothing; That is what a professional would do. But then it sounds like Luxor is not particularly interested in running a professional game, which likely influences their clientele. I picked up on it right away when I visited, and I tended to play the Mirage or MGM instead. As ChipEnvy implied, the casual players are drawn to casual dealers, so there's the good with the bad.

Scotty said...

This is your fault for linking this back but I have a comment about the whole "how can you raise with no bet?". If you check, the bet is zero. You can make the case for raising the bet of zero to whatever you want. Both are correct. Checking is making a bet of zero and any bet subsequent of that can be seen as a raise. Maybe I'm OCD as yourself, but I've always seen that way.