Saturday, January 17, 2009

Poker gems, #210

Chris "Fox" Wallace, in Poker Pro magazine column, January, 2009, pp. 74-75.


When someone calls me a fish, I revel in it, knowing that they not only think I'm a bad player (most days that's very wrong), but that they probably don't understand my game at all, and they won't be trying to understand it. A predator would dissect my game, trying to figure out why I did something, and if I was really a fish they would either keep quiet about it, or compliment me on my play in a genuine fashion. A predator is happy when his prey is slow and easy to catch, and he doesn't warn them that he's following them or that they could get away from him by behaving in a smarter way.

If you like...

...my "Guess the Casino" posts (and I realize that not all of you do. Tough! They're fun to do, and some people enjoy them.), you might also like the "Where is this?" photo quiz series put up by the folks at Vegas Today and Tomorrow. See here. I have difficulty with them, because they mostly focus on the outside of casinos, to which I pay little attention, plus a bunch of places that ceased to exist before I moved here. Still fun and interesting, though.

Guess the casino, #28





To reveal the hidden answer, use your mouse to highlight the space immediately after the word "Answer" below.



Answer: Bill's

Friday, January 16, 2009

Poker gems, #209

Chris "Fox" Wallace, in Poker Pro magazine column, January, 2009, pp. 74-75.


Being called a fish at the table is one of my favorite things. It tells me so much about an opponent, and all the news is good. When someone starts to berate me for my play, it almost always means that they are paying more attention to my mistakes than my good play, and they are usually misdiagnosing a play and don't understand what happened or why I made the play I did. It tells me that they will be expecting me to suck out on them, so I can bet out when the flush comes in and I missed my straight, because they will often fold.

Daniel Negreanu is on drugs???




That post title got your attention, didn't it? Hee hee!

Here's what's behind the question. I've mentioned before that I have a mild hand tremor that gets greatly magnified by even small amounts of adrenaline, so before I play poker I take a pill called propranolol to prevent it from becoming a major tell at the table. It's in a class of drugs commonly referred to as beta blockers. I assume that there are other poker players who do the same, though I've never known of any who admit it openly.

But the other day I overheard one player tell another that he had heard Daniel Negreanu say in an interview that he took beta blockers when he played poker, to block the effects of adrenaline. I did a Google search, however, using a bunch of different terms, and couldn't find anything that really matched the claim.

The closest I found was an interview from Bluff magazine in 2005, which includes this exchange:

You like to listen to your iPod at the table. What’s a typical Daniel
Negreanu track list?

It’s funny, and a lot of people don’t believe me, but I often listen to
the sounds of the ocean and birds chirping.

No industrial techno, then?

(Laughs) Late at night, if I need a boost, I’ll throw some Missy Elliot
in there. But usually its like ‘massage music’ - just to keep me relaxed and
focused.

Is that because you get impatient at the table?

Well, It keeps me from getting restless during those mundane, boring
moments that can happen in poker. I’m also taking these new poker vitamins,
which I’ll be endorsing soon – they help too.

Poker vitamins? What the…

It’s a new product. A guy from the auto racing industry approached me
and said: ‘Try this, it will really help you focus.’ It’s got adrenalin blockers
in it and it keeps you really relaxed. It keeps you on an even keel – calm, but
alert. I started taking it and I was like, ‘Wow!’ As a poker player, especially
in long tournaments, the key is to control your adrenalin.


My hunch is that this is, in fact, what the guy at my table had heard or read. The product in question was called "Clear Edge." You can read more about it in a fluff piece fine example of hard-hitting, objective, investigative journalism by PokerNews here. The distributor's web site mentioned in that piece appears to be defunct now, but the product itself (seemingly no longer with Negreanu's endorsement) may still be available at various online sources for dietary supplements, such as here. But note that other supplement sources list nothing under that brand, which makes me suspect that the few that do are simply showing an outdated page, and the stuff really isn't on the market anymore. Not that I really care either way.... Here is one user's experience with trying it.

Anyway, whatever the merits of "Clear Edge," it is definitely not a beta blocker, and any claim that it will actually block the effects of adrenaline as beta blockers do is seriously overwrought.

All of which is a long way of bringing me to this question: Have any readers heard or seen anything from Negreanu (or any other name-brand pro, for that matter) in which it is made clear that he uses a pharmacological beta blocker for poker? I kind of doubt it at this point, but perhaps I missed something, and I'd like to know if it's so.

The game of life is poker




Recently two of my favorite poker bloggers, The Poker Shrink (Tim Lavalli) and Shamus, expressed their dislike for the whole genre of "poker is life" books and articles.

Well, I'm here to disagree. In fact, the first three poker books I read after moving to Vegas were all in that vein: The Tao of Poker and Zen and the Art of Poker, both by Larry W. Phillips, and, most explicitly, Poker as Life: 101 Lessons from the World's Greatest Game, by Lee Robert Schreiber. I enjoyed and learned from all three. Maybe it's because I'm fond of thinking shallowly and over-generally, but I just can't help seeing poker parallels everywhere I look.

Take, for a random example, a jet airliner making an emergency landing in a river. (Everybody seems to be using that word "landing" today without commenting on the oddness of its application to the situation, so I will do the same.*)

We're told that about 1 in 10,000 flights experiences a bird strike, but it is apparently vanishingly rare that a two-engine jet gets both engines taken out simultaneously by a flock, as appears to have been the case yesterday. Convergence of rare, unhappy events? Hmmm. Sounds a bit like poker to me. That plane definitely got bad-beat by a runner-runner, or maybe even a perfect-perfect.

The pilot presumably had a minute or less to evaluate his options--go back to LaGuardia, head for the little airstrip in New Jersey, or ditch in the river. I can only guess at the number of variables that have to go into that kind of calculation. Perhaps the answer could be arrived at by a specifically programmed supercomputer, once you finished entering the hundreds of pieces of relevant data. But, of course, in real life there is no time to resort to such means.

This reminds me of my impressions after reading Tony Guerrera's Poker by the Numbers:

All such exercises have some value in just being able to do them in detail
away from the table, with no time pressures. The practical problem comes in
being able to translate the kind of theoretical exercise that might take an hour
or two to work through into a useful shortcut that you might actually be able to
employ in the 30 seconds or so that you typically have to make a poker decision
in the real world. That is the gap that I had hoped this book would bridge, an
impression that was bolstered by the descriptions of it I read on amazon.com.
But it was not to be. I didn't finish the book feeling any better able to apply
the math at the table than I was before starting it....

When I read through the scenarios, I was able to pretty
quickly come up with a list of possible lines of action to take and a gut sense
of which ones I thought were most profitable. After Guerrera spends pages and
pages slogging through the numbers, his conclusions tended to mirror what I had
already decided would be the best approaches to the hand.

In short, for an experienced player who has played enough that pattern
recognition is already acting as a shortcut substitute for an explicit,
step-by-step, deductive process as to what an opponent has and is likely to do,
KPBTN shouldn't be a step backward, but I also think it's unlikely to be much of
a step forward. If you've never worked through the hard math of a poker problem
decision tree, I think it's probably worth reading this book and forcing
yourself through the calculations, because it makes you think explicitly about
all of the possible outcomes and their relative likelihoods. That is undoubtedly
good brain exercise. I'm just dubious that it will actually improve your
decision-making process the next time you have a tough situation to analyze in
the heat of battle over the green felt.

Maybe it just comes down to me being more of a "feel" player than a "math"
player (which may also relate to why I do so much better live than online). I'm
not intimidated by probability calculations (as I hope I've adequately
demonstrated in previous posts). It's just that I'm not convinced that anything
beyond fairly rudimentary pot-odds math is going to be of much practical help in
most poker situations.

I think "experienced" is the key word there. This pilot apparently was about as well-prepared as one could possibly be, with a background flying fighter jets, 19,000 hours in the cockpit, who-knows-how-much time in simulators handling various emergencies, time spent working with the NTSB on airline safety, and investment in his own company consulting with other industries about how to apply the lessons of commercial airline safety. The guy is apparently a true expert in what happens in terms of psychology and team communications when there is a crisis afoot.

So when the chips were down (so to speak), those decades of experience and thought and preparation all converged in some weird, organic way in his brain, in a manner that no computer could replicate. He was able almost instantly to weigh the myriad pieces of information (speed, altitude, direction, visibility, distances, obstacles, risks to the passengers and people on the ground, etc.), and process them to a conclusion.

Sometimes I watch great poker moves on TV and wonder how the players could arrive at the right decision. It all boils down to experience. Sometimes they are able to dissect and explain the factors that pushed them one way or another (e.g., Gus Hansen's recent book), but other times when they're asked, it just comes down to feel: "I just didn't think he had it." The more poker you play, the better you get at both sides of this kind of thing--explicit, step-by-step analysis, and the gut-level feel for what you need to do, a process that sometimes is greater than the sum of the parts we can neatly identify.

Of course, even after reaching the right conclusion, one has to have the guts to execute it. It would not have done for the pilot to make his snap judgment that he needed to put the bird down in the Hudson, then curl up into a fetal position and start crying. In poker we often talk about the weird sensation of having a strong sense of what the right thing to do is, but then doing something different. Sometimes we lack the courage to "pull the trigger" when we should. Other times we know that folding is the best move, but something else--ego, a craving for action, curiosity, or whatever--interferes, and we get a Matusow-like blow-up as a result. (I love James McManus's description in Positively Fifth Street about how "Good Jim" knew he should fold mediocre starting hands, but the right hand of "Bad Jim" kept pushing chips forward. Been there, done that.)

Sometimes life gives us no genuinely good options, just a bunch of bad ones. In those situations, it does no good to whine and wish for an option that isn't available--you have to accept the reality of the circumstances and go with whatever is least bad. Ya might say that the pilot yesterday had something along those lines: no really good options, just a bunch of bad ones, worse ones, and truly awful ones. It would have done no good for him to waste time lamenting his situation, wishing that he had called in sick that day, or complaining that it was no fair for the damn geese to hit both engines at once.

Poker is like that, too. You're short-stacked in a tournament, the blinds are about to hit you again, you know that mathematically you have to go with any two cards when it is folded to you, and you look down at the 7-2. Ick. No point in wishing it were otherwise; it isn't. You have nothing but bad choices here, and have to pick the one that is least horrible. Sometimes you die anyway, and are left with nothing but the comfort of knowing that you did what you had to do. Sometimes you run into a cold deck, and the best outcome is one of those where all you can do is commend yourself for "losing the least possible." But once in a while a miracle occurs, and you survive, even coming out of it a winner.


I used to be into competitve shooting nearly as intensely as I am now into poker (though without making money from it). Love it though I did, I was not constantly seeing parallels with life. Sure, like any sport, you could draw lessons about focus and preparedness and competitiveness and sportsmanship and stuff like that, but I never found the number or richness of analogies between the game and life that poker provides. I won't bother trying to wax philosophic about why that is, but I will submit that poker is unlike any other game that I know of in its capacity for life analogies both great and small.

Maybe it's superficial of me, but I happen to like that.


*Long ago I saw a very funny routine by a stand-up comic--I saw it just randomly channel-surfing and never caught her name--about this subject. She made it more realistic by repeating the relevant part of the famous flight attendant safety briefing while exaggerating the words water landing and surrounding them with wink-and-a-nod air quotes--basically making the point that it's all nonsense, because we all know that in the event of a "water landing," we're all gonna die. She said something like, "They tell you that in the event of a 'water landing' your seat cushion can be used as a flotation device. Screw that. In the event of a 'water landing,' I'm using mine as a toilet."

Guess the casino, #27







To reveal the hidden answer, use your mouse to highlight the space immediately after the word "Answer" below.



Answer: Golden Nugget

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Poker gems, #208

Chris "Fox" Wallace, in Poker Pro magazine column, January, 2009, pp. 74-75.


This attitude won't make poker more fun; in fact, it will be less fun. You won't get to play a lot of hands, and you won't be able to satisfy many of the social needs that every human has. Things like the desire to be liked, the need for respect, an inherent desire for fairness and justice and a sense of entitlement to some of those pots that you aren't winning when things go badly. You will have to learn to satisfy all of those psychological needs away from the felt (real or virtual), because while you are at the table you can only care about chips, and getting more of them in front of you.

This means that you cannot focus on anyone at the table who makes you angry. Teaching that guy a lesson and dispensing some justice will not get you any chips, so you rein yourself in and don't even think about him, because he doesn't matter. Only chips matter.

How do I disagree? Let me count the ways




In the poker news section at the Card Player web site I found this story about a suggestion submitted to the Barack Obama transition team, which has apparently become one of the most popular ideas for the team's consideration. Here's what the submission says:

Boost America's Economy with Legal Online Poker

Let online poker players in the United States play legally and without fear
of prosecution. Reform the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act to exempt
poker, a game of skill, from the law. Boost the economy by letting American
companies and Ameican (sic) players make money and pay taxes instead of sending
online poker businesses offshore. Protect online poker players by regulating the
industry to ensure that no one is ever cheated.

Obviously I am in support of online poker being legal. Still, it's hard to imagine how I could have more disagreements with such a short request. Let me list them.

1. It's not at all clear to me that changing anything about the UIGEA would "boost America's economy." It's possible that poker--both live and online--could vanish entirely without materially affecting the economy as a whole. Assuming that the great majority of poker money is recreational, it might simply get shifted to other entertainment sources instead.

2. The "legally without fear of prosecution" line implies that (1) playing onling poker is currently illegal and (2) there is fear of prosecution now. Well, I don't have any! The only people who fear prosecution for playing poker online are those who haven't done more than about three seconds of research into the matter. It is not illegal to play poker on any web site. (I'm talking about federal law here. At least one state--Washington--has made participation in Internet gaming a felony, though even there I have not heard of any prosecutions.)

3. I think it's a huge mistake to suggest "reform" of the UIGEA to treat poker differently from other online gaming. This is a question of personal liberty. I happen not to be interested in playing blackjack either live or online, but why should the guy who wants to play blackjack be prevented from doing so any more than I am kept from playing poker?

My other major hobby is competitive handgun shooting. I have for many years watched closely the political machinations surrounding the issue of gun control. Those who want more restrictions on gun ownership always try to fragment their opposition by selecting specific targets. For example, they'll try to pass bans on .50 caliber or larger rifles, because only a small fraction of gun owners have them, so there is less opposition than if they went after ordinary hunting rifles. Or they'll try to make illegal small or low-end handguns, knowing that for the most part only the poorest, least-connected people choose those weapons, and that's a segment of the population that doesn't get much sympathy or put up much of a political fight. In this way, they chip away at gun ownership little by little. Fortunately, organizations such as the NRA and Gun Owners of America and the Second Amendment Foundation recognize the "divide and conquer" approach and oppose all such piecemeal efforts of the gun control fanatics.

The same principles apply here. When we ask for specific exemptions for our preferred game, it's like taking other people that share our lifeboat and throwing them overboard to the sharks.

You've heard the lines that start, "In Germany, they came first for the Communists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist." (See here for history.) That's the situation we have here. It's folly to consider online poker some sort of divine right of man, but be willing to toss blackjack and roulette to the political wolves. We need to stand together on this. It is just as wrong for do-gooders in Washington, D.C., to tell you that you can't play blackjack on your home computer as it is for them to tell you that you can't play poker. It is illogical, morally wrong, and politically foolish, in my opinion, to carve poker out from the rest of online gaming. As Americans we either have the right to engage in private activities with our own time and money that do not hurt others, or we do not. It is short-sighted to plead for special protection for only one such specific pursuit while letting all of the others be taken away.

If we fight for online poker but not other online gaming, it is, in effect, acknowledging that the feds have legitimate reason to criminalize (or at least make difficult) some forms of online gambling, and you are then reduced to arguments about why poker should be made an exception. I recognize no general right or power on the part of the feds to restrict my activities that hurt nobody else. I can't understand why the writer of this proposal implicitly cedes such a power to the government, which it does not rightfully have.

Rather than fighting the entire idea of a nanny-state government, the writer is effectively agreeing to have a nanny, and just begging the nanny to let him keep one particular toy. The whole approach is incredibly wrong-headed.

4. There is a point about taxes being not paid in the U.S. by companies that are forced to locate offshore. But when a point is made about American players not paying taxes, we have different problems. All income is taxable. That includes poker income, even that which comes from playing online at foreign-based sites. Now, it's probably true that not all citizens accurately report all of their poker income. But what is the evidence that that would change even if the UIGEA were repealed or altered? Many people are dishonest in their taxes when they can get away with it, whether that money comes from gambling, tips, contract work, or whatever else. Is the writer here proposing that the government be allowed to monitor all cash in and out of every online gaming site to better prevent tax cheating? If so, I think he is inviting a guest to the party that he will quickly regret having let in.

5. The writer seems to blithely assume that federal regulation of online poker will "ensure that no one is ever cheated." That is sheer idiocy. If the writer actually believes that this will be the result, his glasses are too rose-colored for me or anyone else to save him. Take the securities industry, for example, which is heavily regulated. Anyone hear of Bernard Madoff? Ivan Boesky? Enron? Where is the evidence for such a grandiose claim that cheating will be eradicated? What precedent can the writer cite for an industry that was previously unregulated and full of cheating, then federally regulated and the cheating vanished? Frankly, anybody who thinks that federal regulation will make it impossible for anyone participating in the regulated field to ever get cheated is too stupid to be taken seriously. I don't even know that federal regulation would substantially reduce the possibility of cheating at online poker, let alone make it disappear entirely.

Is this proposal to the Obama transition team really the best that we can come up with in regard to poker? Lordy, I hope not, or we're in serious trouble.


The print shown above is Martin Luther nailing his "95 Theses" to the door of the Wittenberg church, as engraved by Gustav König (1808-1869). You can see the entire set of 48 engravings of Luther's life here (which is where I found them), or look at the entire original book (as preserved by the Google Book project) here.

Guess the casino, #26





To reveal the hidden answer, use your mouse to highlight the space immediately after the word "Answer" below.



Answer: Mandalay Bay

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Poker gems, #207

Chris "Fox" Wallace, in Poker Pro magazine column, January, 2009, pp. 74-75.


If you really want to play poker part or full time as a significant part of your income, you need to become a predator. You need the ability to detach yourself from the game, from the frustrations and from all of your desires....

You are not here to dispense justice or to show that guy to your right who the boss is. You aren't here to gain respect or show off or convince someone that you are a better player than they are. You don't even care if they know you're any good at all. Because you only care about the money. Big piles of chips in front of you, as many as possible, and those chips are the only reason you play this game. Games are too tough these days to play any other way and still expect to win.

Guess the casino, #25





To reveal the hidden answer, use your mouse to highlight the space immediately after the word "Answer" below.



Answer: Caesars Palace

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Poker gems, #206




Chris "Fox" Wallace, in Poker Pro magazine column, January, 2009, pp. 74-75. Note: I don't usually find much to like in Poker Pro, but once in a while there something of real value. I thought this column was especially good, so I'm going to post several paragraphs from it, each as a separate entry, on consecutive days.


There are only two attitudes about poker that make sense. Either you are a recreational player and you want to have some fun and see if you are any good, or you are a serious player and you only care about making money. Anything in between the two is a recipe for disaster. Trying to have fun and casually play some cards will guarantee that you lose money, and losing money when you are trying to be serious about winning will ruin your fun.

More things I know are true (but would have a hard time proving)

Not many readers will likely remember, but this is actually the second post I've done on this topic. See here for the first.


1. Jacks are more likely to flop a set than any other pocket pair.

2. There is an inverse relationship between how good a parking spot one finds in the casino's parking garage and how successful the poker session will be. (Note: You cannot take advantage of this fact and manipulate it to success by intentionally parking far from the entrance. Sorry.)

3. Black aces are more powerful than red ones.

4. Even if a particular card room is traditionally a successful one for you, it will cease to be so if you visit it too many times in a row. After two good sessions in a row at one place, you must next play at a different room, or you will score an L. You can have infinitely many winning sessions in a row, as long as no more than two of them consecutively are in the same poker room. It is not possible to have three winning sessions in a row if all of them are in the same room.


Frankly, I don't understand why poker strategy books do not teach these simple facts.

Some sights at the Venetian

Not much about the poker itself to discuss from today's session at the Venetian, but I have a few odd sights to share. Apologies in advance for the fuzzy pictures. I had to take them all quickly, and bad focus and motion artifact were the results.


First, high on the list of things not to do at a poker table: flossing.



Yeah, really--that's what he was doing. Please, folks: Just don't. Srsly. Ew.


This next thing I can't really say is a violation of etiquette. Nor is it terribly uncommon. But I'm still greatly amused by it every time: The gangsta look. Maybe it's a poka gangsta look.





We've got the faux designer shades, the pin-striped baseball cap with the flat, broad brim, the earrings, the mouth-breathing, the wifebeater undershirt with the hoodie over it, complete with dollar signs across the shoulders, and the ho nice young woman waiting subserviently in a chair behind him.

It's all just silly. I'd really love to ask him things such as, what is it that you like about this look? What it is you want people to think about you when you dress yourself this way? And, most of all, do you have any idea how ridiculous you look?

I think that if you're going to attempt this nonsense, you should at least have the guts to go all the way: shift the cap over to the side, get the gold bling around the neck, put rings on every finger, and wear the grille on your teeth. Then you have an actual ensemble. When you go just halfway like this dude, it just screams "wannabe" (though why anybody would wannabe that escapes me).


Finally, just a quickie shot of the final board on one hand. Can you look at this and still doubt the power of the deuce-four? This hand was won by a guy with an A-2. He would have been squashed like a bug by the 2-4.

Guess the casino, #24





To reveal the hidden answer, use your mouse to highlight the space immediately after the word "Answer" below.



Answer: Silverton

Monday, January 12, 2009

Another convert in the making--not!

Thanks to reader Lance Brown for bringing this blog post to my attention. It's a science writer describing a poker session on his recent trip to Vegas:

The rest of the session was pretty uneventful, though it started out kind
of odd. I was dealt deuce-4 the first two hands at the table and folded them
both preflop, of course. The first flop was 2 2 4 and the second flop was 2 2 2. Guess I gotta learn to play crap in early position even when it's raised. Nah, that would be stupid and cost me a lot of money.

See? I try to bring the gospel of the 2-4 to the masses, but they will not listen. The poker gods gave him powerful evidence of the righteousness of the 2-4, and he dismisses it as "stupid."

O ye of little faith!

Book review: The Book of Vice




I like a weekly public radio show called "Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me." Its host, Peter Sagal, is a funny and witty guy and does well at bringing out humor from his guests as they poke fun at the news of the week.

He wrote a book recently: The Book of Vice: Very Naughty Things (And How to Do Them). I heard him interviewed on the local public radio station when he was doing promotion, and put it on my amazon.com wish list. I got it for Christmas, and have already finished it.

It's not about poker, but much of the research for the book was done in Las Vegas, including the chapters on gambling and strip clubs, and, I suspect (though it is not stated), the one on swinging.

I don't really have a lot to say about the book other than to recommend it for general entertainment. Sagal's naivete about the world's vices is kind of charming. He admits freely that he just doesn't get why people want to indulge in virtually any of the things he writes about, even after exploring the subjects and talking to those involved.

He has a lightly humorous style that I really liked. For example, this on swinging:

We are told, via their occasional interviews in the press, that swingers or
Lifestylers or whatever are no different from you and me...they meet up to
socialize, talk, drink, and dance with their good friends, old and new. And then
they have sex with them. Which makes me stop, and consider the various good
friends my wife and I have, and then consider how it would be if one of our
suburban dinner parties ended with us removing our clothes and performing sexual
acts, and I have to put my head between my knees and take deep breaths.

Here are a few of his musings on gambling:
And why would anybody play slot machines anyway? Particularly the ones that
cost $500 a pull? The only less enjoyable way to dispose of $500 is to have it
taken from you at knifepoint, and even that provides a good story to tell later
on.

...

This is known as either the law of averages or the law of large numbers,
which is the basic principle of nature--not gravity, as you may have
thought--that holds up the big walls at the Bellagio.

...

So all the games they offer have, built into them, a house
edge ... a small probability that the casino will win, eventually. If you happen
to be near a casino roulette table while reading this book, you can actually
walk up and touch that edge with your finger right now ... it's the green 0 and
00 spaces at the wheel side of the felt. Bet black at roulette and you might
think you have a 50 percent chance of winning ... but it's actually about 47
percent, because of those two spaces that are neither red nor black. And those
three points of difference, between a dead-even game and a game that favors the
house by even a tiny margin, are why Steve Wynn has a private jet and you don't.

The most puzzling thing about the book is the selection of "vices." He understandably includes swinging, gambling, pornography, and strip clubs. But the chapters on lying, eating exotic gourmet food, and excessive consumer consumption seem out of place, not even meeting the author's own definition of what constitutes a "vice." Just as puzzling is the omission of other obvious candidates: alcohol, drugs, prostitution. Maybe they're being saved for a sequel.

Despite that, it's a fun read, and you might even learn a thing or two along the way.

Guess the casino, #23





To reveal the hidden answer, use your mouse to highlight the space immediately after the word "Answer" below.

Answer: Paris

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Grump vs. the Geeks






Last night I returned to the Venetian. I knew that the porn stars would all be at Mandalay Bay for the big Adult Video News awards ceremony, and that that would leave just the Consumer Electronics Show attendees. Sure enough, I spotted a few convention ID badges around the necks of my fellow players.

That's right---it was going to be me against the Geeks.

Let me just skip right to the end of the story. I played for exactly three hours, finishing up by $573. I never lost a big pot, never got my money in with the worst of it (except for deliberate bluffs--every one of which was successful). Compare that to Thursday night, playing against the porn stars. My stack fluctuated wildly up and down, finally ending up a fairly pathetic $115 for just under eight hours of play, and even that success was dependent on some lucky flukes.

My conclusion, based on the highly scientific sample size of one table each: Porn stars play better poker than computer geeks. Who knew?!

****

There was one seminal hand worth describing. Our table was blessed with a Geek Maniac. He was the friendliest, chattiest, smilingest guy there, very affable and enjoyable personally. But he was a maniac. He played at least 90% of his starting hands. If nobody raised ahead of him, he would do the job himself virtually 100% of the time. Sometimes it was a min-raise, sometimes to $6, sometimes $8, sometimes $12. As far as I could tell, the amount didn't vary with his hand strength. Rather, he would go in spurts of a certain amount for a while, then change to a different amount for a while, etc. He would always, always, always continuation-bet the flop. He was an inveterate bluffer--as one would have to be playing that way, because you just don't make real hands that often.

As I trust my readers know, it is impossible to play poker profitably this way. Sure, he won about three monster pots during the time I watched him, but, predictably, it would all either bleed away slowly or get lost in another huge confrontation. But he had a big wad of Benjamins and wasn't afraid to dig into it. Excellent! I recognized two other local grinders at the table, and this one guy was feeding all three of us. (We stayed out of each other's way.)

So late in the day, Geek Maniac is under the gun and straddles, as always. I'm in middle position and see my favorite hand, the 2-4 offsuit. Yay! I can't lose! Position isn't perfect, but I've played 2 1/2 hours of rock-solid poker, never showing a bluff, winning every large pot I contest, showing down nothing but strong hands. So the situation should be a good one for either making a completely unreadable hand or making a plausible bluff. I called the $4, knowing that it was just a down payment, because, as he always did, Geek Maniac raised it, this time to $12. I called again.

The flop was A-Q-2 with two hearts. (I had none.) Geek Maniac bet $15. My lowly bottom pair might be good here, and I might improve to two pairs or trips, or be able to represent the flush if another heart were to come, so I called. Besides, I wanted to see what he would do on the turn. (I should mention, perhaps, that Geek Maniac had a major tell in his bet sizing. When he had nothing or something really weak like bottom pair or an underpair to the board, he would repeat his bet size from the flop to the turn, or from the turn to the river. Huge information giveaway.)

Turn was an offsuit 2, giving me trips, which was almost sure to be the winner here. Of course, he plays any two cards this way, and could theoretically have had the case deuce--or even, God forbid, pocket queens or aces for a full house--but that's mathematically unlikely enough that I felt I could safely disregard it unless he showed real strength. (Another facet of his bet-size tell was that he didn't bluff big; his big bets and check-raises were always the real deal.) This time he bet $25, suggesting that he had top pair at least. I raised to $80. He called without too much difficulty, but with definite trepidation. Again, this let me know that he had a real hand, but certainly no monster. He was very easy to read, both from betting patterns and body language.

River was an offsuit 5, completing no possible flush or straight draws. Beautiful! Geek Maniac checked. I bet $100. He hesitated for no more than two seconds before calling, which makes me wonder if I could have squeezed more out of him. But no matter--I showed the ol' 2-4. He nodded unhappily and mucked without showing. I scooped in the roughly $420 pot. Thank you, deuce-four!

***

Geek Maniac left the table quietly maybe ten minutes later. I was surprised at the table talk after he was out of earshot. A young woman two seats to my left (I've played with her before and know her to be good) said, referring to me, "I was so happy when he won with that deuce-four! I was, like, 'Yeah! Take THAT!'" (Geek Maniac had stacked her earlier when he flopped a set of queens to beat her pocket kings.) Even more surprising, the dealer then piped up: "Me, too! I know I'm supposed to be neutral, but I loved seeing him get a dose of his own medicine!" Apparently, despite his personal affability, the Geek Maniac's playing style had been getting on everybody's nerves.

I thought this was really strange. From the dealer's perspective, not only is such an overt display of favoritism highly unprofessional (even after the other guy has left the table), but why should she care who wins or loses, or what anybody's playing style is? I could understand it if the guy was a jerk. Then it would be perfectly natural to wish to see him taken down. But as I've said several times, he was really a charming, happy-go-lucky person whom it would impossible to dislike. He was never rude, never churlish, never a sore loser, always complimenting other players on good hands and good play, an extremely generous tipper, etc.

As for the other players, they should have hated that hand--first, because it made a big chunk of chips a helluva lot harder to win than if they had stayed in Geek Maniac's stack, and, second, because it for the first time revealed me to be a lot more potentially tricky and difficult to put on a hand than they had presumably believed prior to that point. Logically, it made no sense for them to be happy with the outcome. But I guess for some people, the emotional revenge satisfaction factor meant more than the implications for their chances of leaving the game winner. Personally, when I see a big pot go down between other players, I always either love or hate the result based on my assessment of whether that mass of chips just became easier or harder to take home; I'm rooting for the worst player to win. Once again, I guess I have to face the fact that the way I think about things just isn't shared by most of the rest of humanity.

****
Just a "BTW" thing that occurred to me for the first time last night: Since "Venetian" is the adjectival form of "Venice," why isn't it spelled "Venecian"?

Poker words, #5

It's been a while since I came across a new poker term, but I liked this one right away: the butoff seat. See here for explanation.

Guess the casino, #22






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Answer: Riviera