Saturday, April 25, 2009

Foreclosure City

My ex-wife alerted me to an hour-long story that she heard on Minnesota Public Radio about mortgage foreclosures in Las Vegas. (She and I have, fortunately, remained friendly.) See here. I'm listening to it now, and finding it interesting--details about the people involved, the consequences that you tend not to think about, the sights and sounds and smells that clusters of abandoned properties generate.

Readers' tournament, fourth reminder

See full details here. It is always possible that PokerStars will, at the last minute, decide to add $1,000,000 overlay to the prize pool. You wouldn't want to miss out on that, would you?

Self-indulgence

Once in a while I do a Google blog search to see what, if anything, other bloggers might have been saying about me. (Surely it's not just me--every blogger does this, right?) Here's what I've found for the past couple of months.

I'm omitting mentions from my friends Shamus and Cardgrrl, since there's nothing too unusual or surprising about seeing my name pop up in their writings, given our frequent interactions. Furthermore, I'm assuming that most of my readers already know about those two, whereas this list is intended to point people to what may be unfamiliar territory.

Thanks to all for the kind words. (I found no unkind words this time around, which is something of a relief.)


http://betting.betfair.com/poker/puds-poker-progress/poker-blog-roundup-poker-grump-twitter-poker-rubbi-110409.html

http://qualitydesktoppundit.blogspot.com/2009/04/pokerblogging-part-1.html

http://vegasflea.blogspot.com/2009/04/lunch-with-grump.html

http://www.dieiscast.com/2009/04/01/my-expert-opinion/

http://dbcooperspokerlife.blogspot.com/2009/03/poker-stuff.html

http://blog.pokerperambulation.com/2009/02/25/tendencies-beyond-the-table.aspx?ref=rss

http://tmoplaysgames.blogspot.com/2009/02/you-talking-to-me.html

http://bwop.blogspot.com/2009/02/you-cant-play-with-my-yo-yo.html

Only #4?

I see that Forbes magazine lists Las Vegas as the fourth most dangerous city in the United States, as measured by violent crimes per 100,000 residents.

I'm deeply ashamed of our poor performance. How can we be beaten by Detroit, Memphis, and Miami? I hereby vow to do everything in my power to move us up to to #1 on the list next year.

Guess the casino, #123








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




Answer: Imperial Palace

Friday, April 24, 2009

Auto collection at Imperial Palace

Even after almost three years of living here, there are still a bunch of typical touristy/Vegas-y things that I haven't done yet. For example, Monday night this week was the first time I've seen the outdoor "Sirens" show at Treasure Island. (It's really, really dumb.) Still haven't watched the Mirage volcano erupt, either.

One of the things I've long been meaning to do is tour the famous auto collection at Imperial Palace. I decided that today was the day to check that one off of my list before hitting their poker room.

Admission is officially $8.95, but all you have to do to get in free is visit their web site (here) and print yourself a free ticket.

I'm glad I went. It's a much larger and more impressive collection than I had imagined. I took photos of more than 50 cars, and that was with exercising considerable restraint, because I felt like capturing far more of them. I uploaded them to a Picasa album here. In each case, the placard identifying the car follows the picture of the car. (Exception: The first one, which is a lovely Nash Metropolitan. I thought that the sign would show up well enough not to need a separate photo, but I was wrong.)

I spent almost 90 minutes wandering around the display, and loved it. I especially liked:

  • 1928 Mercedes-Benz S Tourer (formerly owned by Al Jolson)
  • 1933 Pierce Arrow Silver Arrow
  • 1956 Lancia Blue Ray
  • 1938 Cadillac V-16 Fleetwood Limousine (formerly owned by W.C. Fields)
  • 1967 Ferrari 330 GTC Prototype
  • 1930 Duesenberg J Murphy Town Car
  • 1925 Renault Model 45
  • 1929 Rolls Royce Springfield Phantom I
  • 1939 Bugatti Type 57C
  • 1951 Talbot-Lago T26
  • 1953 Cadillac Ghia
  • 1953 Alfa Romeo BAT5
  • 1935 BMW 319 Sport Roadster
  • 1994 Jaguar XJ 220
  • 1953 Ford Crestline Glass Top
  • 1986 Ford RS200 Evolution
  • 1939 Chrysler Royal Sedan (not because of its aesthetics, but because it was the car Johnny Carson learned to drive in, took to his prom, etc., and he eventually tracked it down, purchased it, and had it restored)
  • 1937 Ford Woody Wagon
  • 1972 Chevrolet Impala*

Whether you are interested in classics from the 1920s-1940s, the American muscle-car era, racers, or one-offs commissioned by people with too much money, you'll find plenty to ooo-and-ahhh about here.

With the Big Three U.S. carmakers all facing imminent extinction largely because they've been cranking out ugly, crappy cars that nobody wants to buy, it's wonderful to be reminded that automobiles really can be beautiful things.


*You must be thinking, "Huh? That sure doesn't belong on the list!" Well, my family had a fire-engine red 1972 Chevy Impala when I was growing up. OK, technically it was a Biscayne, but the Impala, Biscayne, and Bel Air were all essentially the same car, different options and trim levels. My parents handed it down to me when they moved on to newer cars, so I drove it for my last couple of years of high school and first year of college, generating vast numbers of fond memories. Some day when I'm rich, I'm going to find a restored one and keep it forever.

Norman Chad is wrong

Every time that the ace of spades is put on the board during a hand shown in a World Series of Poker broadcast, Norman Chad notes that it is "the prettiest card in the deck."

I'm here to tell you he's wrong. The prettiest card in the deck is, in fact, the four of diamonds.

Well, in some circumstances, anyway. Like--to pick a random example--if you happen to be holding the 2d-5d, and the flop contains the 3d and 6d. Then the 4d is unquestionably the prettiest card in the deck.

Oh, look--I just happen to have a photograph of such an occurrence!





Here's what happened. I had been one of just four players to start the day's first $1-$2 NLHE game at Imperial Palace this afternoon, though the table quickly filled up. I bought in for my usual $100, and had built it up to about $175 in 30 minutes or so. That was largely due to one hand in which I held Ac-Kc, with two more clubs on the flop. On the turn I called a bet that was, by the books, giving me incorrect odds, but I knew that since crubs always get there, there is no such thing as being priced out of the nut crub draw. Naturally, the Qc came on the river for me. Thanks for the tip, C.K.!

So there I was, on the button, limping in along with most of the table, with the 5d-2d. Now, the 2-5 is nowhere near the powerhouse that the 2-4 is, but beggars can't be choosers; you have to play what you're dealt.

Flop was 6d-3d-6c. It was checked around to me, and I bet $8 (I think). I got only one caller, and I had to assume he was slow-playing a 6. I figured I would need to make my straight or flush to win.

I was equal parts astonished and ecstatic when I made them both at once with that beautiful 4d. My opponent checked. The pot was already big enough to qualify for the high-hand jackpot, so I was only focused on how to stack my opponent. I thought that if I bet here it would be too obvious that I had a flush, and I judged him to be smart enough to get away from trips in that situation. Checking not only disguised my hand, but gave him a chance to improve to a full house or maybe a flush if he had one diamond. Of course, my fondest wish was that he had flopped quads and we'd split the bad-beat jackpot, but I wasn't counting on that.

I admit that I'm not even sure I looked at the river card. Since I had an absolutely unbeatable hand--no combination of my opponent's hole cards and anything coming on the river could possibly win now--I really didn't care what it might be. Little did I know that it had just given my opponent a full house (sixes full of aces). He bet $15. I raised to $45. He min-raised me another $30 on top of that, which convinced me that whatever he had he liked enough to swallow the hook all the way, so I shoved in my last $116. I had him covered by about $10. He thought for maybe five seconds before calling. (For the record, I would have called in his spot, too. He was only behind pocket aces and the two straight-flush possibilities, so had every reason to think he was good there, poor guy.)

I not only felted him, but picked up a very nice $309 high-hand bonus from the Palace.

Poker has been unkind to me the last few weeks, and I've lately started getting that awful feeling of "losing is an inevitability" when I sit down. In fact, I hadn't played since Sunday, in an attempt to get my head right again, so this win was an enormous relief. A $550 profit in 45 minutes felt like the old days, days that I was beginning to think weren't ever coming my way again. I finished that orbit, but then told the table that that was definitely as lucky as I was going to get today, so I was getting out of there before anything could turn ugly on me. Yep, I took the money and ran. I am not ashamed.

Next time you hear Norman Chad expounding on card aesthetics, remember that, as with most things in poker, it all depends.

Don't drink and drive




I realize that that post title is not exactly an original message. But there's a reason behind it.

Just in case there is not sufficient disincentive provided by (1) the possibility that you could kill or maim yourself or somebody else, (2) the possibility of destroying your car, (3) a criminal record, (4) jail and/or prison time, (5) thousands upon thousands of dollars in fines, legal fees, and increased insurance rates, and (6) loss of your license to drive, Las Vegas is ready to add to your troubles this: You can get sentenced to community service and have to spend countless hours roaming around downtown Vegas picking up other people's messes, while wearing a bright orange vest that tells everybody exactly what you did and why you're out there. (Click on the photo to embiggen it so that you can see the "DUI" printed on the vest.)

I see a few of these guys nearly every time I walk or drive through the downtown area. It makes me wonder what it takes to get some people to learn.

The "beautification" crews are already big enough. Please don't join them. I'd rather see you clean up at the poker tables.

Guess the casino, #122




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




Answer: Mandalay Bay

Thursday, April 23, 2009

"Ace in the House"

I mentioned a few days ago having played briefly with Cory Zeidman at Mandalay Bay. (See Cardgrrl's account of the story here.) That caused me to poke around the web a bit to see what else the guy has done. I found that he was the host of a show on the Game Show Network called "Ace in the House." It apparently never got past the pilot episode, which aired back in December, 2007. The premise of the show is that they pick an ongoing home poker game, come in and spruce up the room and add a table with hole-card cameras, then bring in a pro (presumably it would have been a different one every time) to play against the amateurs for a $10,000 winner-takes-all prize.

I found a torrent of the show online, downloaded it, and watched it last night. I then scanned through some of the comments made on various discussion sites. I found myself siding with those who found it pleasantly entertaining. Yeah, a lot of the poker was badly played, similar to what used to be the case on "Celebrity Poker Showdown." But the people were pleasant, and Mike Matusow--at least as far as can be judged from the highly edited tape--played nearly perfect poker against the five amateurs. Zeidman was OK, though he needed more practice to speak really fluently in his commentary.

I think the main ingredient that is largely lacking in "World Poker Tour" and WSOP play is showing that poker is fun.* Because of the player mix selected by the producers, "High Stakes Poker" and "Poker After Dark" are usually engaging to watch, not only because of the exceptional level of game play, but because the players appear to be genuinely enjoying themselves. That element of fun was present in abundance on "Ace in the House," and I thought it made up for the mostly mediocre skills on display.

Too bad they didn't turn it into a series. It seems like a great idea for a show. Then again, I was one of the few who enjoyed "E! Hollywood Hold'em," so my taste has to be brought into question.


*I realize that my stoic, stonewall posture and appearance at the table looks somewhere between bored and robotic, but the truth is that I'm usually having a grand ol' time. I do actually enjoy it still. Once in a while an extrovert at the table comments that I look miserable when everybody else is having fun, but it's rarely true. People just have fun in different ways. Mine is very quiet and laid back. Maybe that's why they don't invite me onto televised poker shows. Well, that plus the fact that I kind of suck at the game. (N.B.: "Good enough to beat most tourists" does not equal "actually good.")

Winning a HORSE

As frequently mentioned here, most nights I play one or two HORSE sit-and-go single-table tournaments on PokerStars for a $5, $10, or $20 entry fee. I've been holding my own in the long run, but had quite a dry spell--19 in a row without taking first place. Ick.

I finally broke that string last night. Cardgrrl went out in third place on hand #120, leaving me heads-up with Villain. (I was the one who knocked her out, in a Stud/8 hand, when I caught a lucky card on 7th street to make a better two pair than hers. I has awesome river skillz.)

The heads-up battle was unusually protracted. It was, in fact, epic. I don't understand why it hasn't been the headline story at all the poker news sites today. Patrik Antonius vs. Tom Dwan? Yawn. This is where the real action was last night.

I think I played better than I usually do--hence my excessive pride at finally taking it down after 55 rounds of mano a mano. Here's how the chip stacks looked over time:




Hands 121-137 were Stud-8 400/800, hands 138-167 were Hold'em 500/1000, and hands 168-176 were Omaha-8 750/1500.

As you can see, we were pretty even at first, then I took a big lead, lost it, took it again, lost it again and was almost down to the felt before staging a final comeback. Just like in the movies.

As I said, it was epic. If you think you have seen epic battles before, this was epicer (a word I have stolen from Cardgrrl).

I can't easily show you the key stud hands, and I don't feel like going through the multi-step pain of the only way I know to do it, so I'll just skip ahead to the hold'em and Omaha hands.

#147:



Not very exciting, obviously, but a lot of chips moved my way. Sadly, I gave them all back--plus some--in the very next hand.

#148:



A real heartbreaker, that one. Ouch.

The next major shift in chip stacks didn't come until hand #154:



Yowza. Yet more pain. I think that was the point at which I asked my opponent who he was sleeping with at Stars to get dealt such lucky river cards. He did not seem to find me amusing.

#167:



I was pleased with myself not to have been intimidated by his flop check-raise, reraising him with just ace-high, and it worked out well for me.

#171, Omaha:



Here I had a crappy starting hand, but flopped a low that I thought was likely good plus an open-ended straight draw, pushed hard with it, and got lucky. I was then ahead for the first time in about 23 hands.

I finally took the thing down with hand #176:



I obviously got lucky to make my full house with the same card with which he made a flush, but I was a 63/37 favorite on the flop when the money went in, which is, I suppose, what matters most.

Anyway, it was a sufficiently fun and grueling match that I thought it was worth posting a few highlights here. I was proud not only of winning but of not giving up when a couple of unlucky hands put me on life support. It's strange how winning a $20 first place feels so good, when if I win $20 in a live hold'em hand at my usual games it doesn't even register enough to be worth remembering two minutes later.

It takes so little to make me happy these days!

Dale Earnhardt's got nuthin' on me




For a brief time early in this poker thing, I tried for the Intimidator look. (If you count the cards, you'll see that we Intimidators play a man's game: five-card draw. We take our whiskey straight up, too.) After only a few sessions, I decided that I looked, well, a little silly. Since then, I go for the Allen Cunningham effect--just shut up and try to blend into the background so nobody notices me. It seems to work OK, and fits my natural personality better than trying to scare people by appearance alone. At 5'7" and 145 pounds, I don't exactly have the hulking ferocity of, say, T.J. Cloutier, of whom James McManus wrote, "While there's nothing overt about it, the man comfortably embodies a lethal threat, even from the seated position. If it happens to suit him, he can reach across the table and rupture key vertebrae with his bare hand, and everyone sitting here understands this down in our helical enzymes." Positively Fifth Street, p. 237.

I wonder if a big check-raise coming from the most harmless-looking guy at the table--one you were barely even aware was there--is actually scarier than one coming from a player who looks like he's trying to frighten you out of the pot.

Guess the casino, #121





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




Answer: Caesars Palace

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Poker faces, #4

SPOILER ALERT!!

I just watched next Sunday's episode of High Stakes Poker (season 5, #9), which GSN accidentally released prematurely on YouTube, and which was thus captured and re-released at other sites of questionable legality. So if you want to watch it without knowing how any hands turn out, avert your eyes now.

Below is Howard Lederer's confusion and consternation upon learning that not only did Tom Dwan outdraw his A-K with trash, but Dwan had put in the fourth raise pre-flop with 8-6 offsuit.




The rest of the table, though, finds the whole thing highly amusing.




Daniel Negreanu points at Lederer and says, "You just got Durrrrrrrred!"

Guess the casino, #120





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




Answer: Boulder Station

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Blackjack question #2

Once again the disclaimers about the shallowness of my grasp of blackjack, blah, blah, blah. Still, I wonder things.

Video blackjack machines exist. I have seen them. I have played them at the MGM Grand while waiting for a show to start, at Ellis Island while waiting for a seat in their excellent barbecue restaurant, and at Terrible's in Primm, again while waiting for a show.

But what always puzzles me is how few and far between these units are. I was discussing this with Cardgrrl over dinner at the cafe at Harrah's the other day. She didn't seem convinced, so we wandered all over the casino floor in search of a video blackjack machine, never finding one. Perhaps there are one or two tucked off in a corner somewhere that we missed, but I'm not sure. We passed dozens upon dozens of video poker machines and slot machines (reel and video) of every variety. I checked as many of the multi-game units as I could, because I know that sometimes those have blackjack as a game option--but not at Harrah's. No video blackjack.

I don't understand this. If I were inclined to play blackjack, I would prefer a video machine to a live dealer, all else being equal. I'm assuming here that the payout schedules are the same. That may or may not be true, but it should be true that the video blackjack machines don't have worse payout than live games, because the casino logically should want to encourage people to play the version of the game that costs the casino less to provide, which is surely the electronic one. So if there is any difference, the payout schedule should favor the machine over the dealer. Still, I'm assuming that they are equal, without having put even one minute into ascertaining whether this is so. (Why would I bother with actual facts when I can form opinions without them?)

If that assumption is correct, then the video version seems to me obviously superior to the table game, if making more money (or losing less money) is your goal. You get a lot more hands per hour, and you don't lose anything to dealer tips.

But it's perfectly obvious from the scarcity of video blackjack machines and the large number of blackjack tables that very few players prefer the machines to the dealers. My question is why that would be so.

One possibility is that people counting cards can't exercise this skill at the video game. But surely that's only a small fraction of all blackjack players.

Another possibility is that people like the social interaction with the dealer and/or with the other players. I don't suppose I can say that that is clearly irrational, but it seems odd to the misanthrope in me to put that factor ahead of the financial one. Maybe if you know that you're going to lose money over the long run, spreading the loss out more slowly makes sense so you can enjoy it longer. But that frame of mind is completely foreign to me--if you know you're losing money, why play in the first place?

My best guess, though, is that the main reason that people choose the table version of blackjack is that they don't trust the machines to be playing fair. When you happily stand pat with your two 10s, and the dealer is showing a deuce with a 10 in the hole, then catches a 9 to hit 21, my hunch is that most people just chalk it up to bad luck when the pretty young lady is turning over those cards in front of her. But if the same thing happens electronically, they think they're being cheated by a crooked machine that deliberately dealt itself the perfect card.

Naturally, I can't prove that the casinos and video machine manufacturers do not conspire to make the loss rate higher than it would be if the game were fair, but I'm inclined to think that they're legit, in the absence of pretty compelling evidence to the contrary. Then again, when I see contrails from jets overhead, I think that they are what they seem--condensation from the heat of the engines in cold air, rather than seeding the sky with mind-control chemicals to enslave the population, or whatever.

So for those of you who play a lot of blackjack, enlighten me: Do you pick the dealer variety primarily because, (A) you're counting cards and you can't do that at the machines, (B) you know you're losing money and you want it to leak away more slowly, (C) you like the social atmosphere and would miss it at a machine, (D) the payouts are somehow more favorable at the table game, (E) you can't bring yourself to trust that the cards are genuinely being dealt randomly in the video version, or (F) some other reason I haven't thought of?

Guess the casino, #119





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




Answer: MGM Grand

Monday, April 20, 2009

Blackjack question #1

I never play blackjack. Well, that's not quite true. I think I have played video blackjack machines three times in my almost three years here, all while waiting for a show to begin or my name to be called to a restaurant. I think I lost $5 once, $2 once, and made about $1 once. That's me, Mr. Big-Time Professional Gambler.

Oh, and I played it live once, too. That was when I was here on my honeymoon--we're talking 1984 here, so long ago that I literally can't even remember which casino it was.

But being immersed in the world of casinos, one hears things about games one doesn't play. Something I keep hearing about blackjack that has me perplexed is the complaint by better players that they hate sharing a table with people who don't know what they're doing. As far as I can tell, the gripe is simply this: A player taking a hit when he shouldn't means that the next player gets a different card than he otherwise would have. If that card is a 10 and he busts, it is apparently common to get upset at the player who took what "should" have been his card. The complaint seems to be lodged even by people who are making no attempt at card counting, so that is apparently not part of the issue. As I hear it, many "serious" players will even get up and leave the table because of their fury at the guy who is playing "incorrectly."

If I'm right that this is what the complaint boils down to, it is madness.

Of course it is the case that a player's decision to hit or stand affects what cards will be given to subsequent players. But it does not do so in any systematic way. If Player 1 takes a card, it means that Player 2 gets Random Card B instead of Random Card A. But Random Card B is just as random as Random Card A, which means that it is just as likely to be good or bad for Player 2's situation as Random Card A would have been.

It seems that this is purely a case of selective attention and memory. Player 2 notices when, e.g., Player 1 hits on 17 and catches a 4, which would have proved to be a winning card for Player 2, who instead now busts when a queen comes his way. But he does not mentally attend equally to the situation in which the reverse happens, and Player 1 takes the bust card when he "should" have stood, and Player 2 instead now gets the baby card that gives him the winner.

If the game were played with the dealer (or even the player) selecting a card randomly from somewhere in the deck, instead of always the top card, then this complaint would presumably vanish, because one would no longer be able to determine what would have happened if the offending player had stood instead of hit, or vice-versa. The same would be true if the rules specified that the deck be reshuffled after each player. But there is no mathematical difference between these hypothetical changes and the way the game really is. A random card is a random card. No player can systematically cause either benefit or harm to subsequent players' situations. The effect a player's decision will have on the other players will be unbiased--sometimes favorable, sometimes unfavorable, but with a long-term net effect of exactly zero, with the good precisely balancing out the bad.

Consider a poker analogy. Last night at the Imperial Palace a player recounted how the heart royal flush jackpot had been hit at his table at about 3:00 a.m. that day. He said that it only came because he got up and went to the restroom, thus shifting what cards every player left at the table received. The player who got the royal would have received either one or two different cards than he actually did (depending on their relative table positions) had my storyteller not been absent on the crucial hand. This is the case every time a player leaves the table, joins the table, changes seats, sits out for a few hands, etc.--it changes the cards for everybody else. But nobody complains about it, for three reasons. First, you only rarely figure out what would have happened had the last player/position change not happened. Second, there is nothing "wrong" with any of the actions that result in the alterations, so there is little temptation to lodge any sort of accusation. Third, everybody is still getting two random cards; whatever change is made is just as likely to be helpful as harmful to any given player.

As far as I can tell, the blackjack complaint, though frequently enough voiced that I have heard it from multiple sources despite paying essentially zero attention to the world of blackjack, is utterly irrational. It is based on a combination of superstition, lack of understanding of the nature of randomness, and selective attention to unfavorable versus favorable outcomes.

The purpose of this post is to query my readers and see if I'm missing something. Do I have it right? Is there something actually rational about this complaint that I'm not grasping? It would hardly be the first time I'm confronted with evidence of human irrationality on a large scale, but it would make me happier to hear that there is something genuinely sensible about the situation that I have overlooked, and it is not just another example of masses of people being stupid. Please use the comments to enlighten me.

I have another blackjack question about rationality and irrationality. I'll post it here in the next day or two.

Button straddle

The other day at Harrah's I was surprised to see the button straddle being used. I had previously seen this only at the Rio, Hard Rock, and, most recently, the Stratosphere. I went to allvegaspoker.com, the best source of information about what's happening in Vegas poker rooms, and found this report confirming my observation, and noting that the rule change would also be coming to some or perhaps all Harrah's properties. Last night at Imperial Palace a dealer confirmed that they had had it going for two days.

I've previously explained my reasons for disliking it here. I have seen nothing since then to change my opinion, so I won't repeat the arguments here. This note is just to express my dismay that the thing is spreading. I hope that it stops where it is, and does not become a de facto standard in poker rooms.

Poker gems, #241



Samuel Butler.


Every man's work, whether it be literature, or music or pictures or architecture or anything else, is always a portrait of himself, and the more he tries to conceal himself the more clearly will his character appear in spite of him.

Guess the casino, #118





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




Answer: Harrah's

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Recap of my week

It has been a quiet week in Lake... Oh, wait--that's somebody else's opening line.

It has been a busy week in Las Vegas. Both Shamus and Cardgrrl have been in town for my birthday. Well, they each claim that something else brought them here--poker tournaments and some equestrian stuff, blah, blah, blah. But we all know the truth.

Wednesday Shamus and I went to the Wednesday Poker Discussion Group at Binion's. As you all know by now, I live about five blocks from there. I've been meaning to get to those meetings for, oh, two years or so now, and then always either forget or have something else come up. It took an out-of-town visitor to finally get my butt in a seat there. Glad I did--it was actually interesting. I wouldn't have thought that you could discuss one poker hand for 90 minutes, but we did. It was one of those weird hands in which you could make a pretty reasonable case for folding, calling, or raising at every decision point, and advocates for each approach were not shy about explaining their preferences.

The presenter, a guy named Alan (Allen?), had played the hand at a $2-5 game at the Wynn. I'll spare you the details, but he took a mediocre starting hand (Q-8) hand up against two unknown, drunk opponents from out of position, and used a completely weak/passive line, largely based on his interpretation of an odd comment the main opponent made early in the hand--a pretty dicey proposition on every front. But (1) it worked out for him, and (2) I had to admit that I could imagine myself making exactly the same decisions. Yeah, it was lousy poker by conventional standards. But sometimes you don't have to play brilliantly to win--you just have to play somewhat less badly than your opponents.

I was reminded of a line that I didn't think I'd ever end up quoting in earnest: Barry Greenstein's "Math is idiotic." His point was that sometimes it all comes down to deciding whether the guy has it or not, and nothing about numbers will solve that riddle for you. That's what Alan was facing, and he got it right. Good for him.

That evening I had a delightful dinner with Cardgrrl, Shamus, F-Train, and BWoP. Pity poor Vera, Shamus's wife, who had to endure a couple of hours with five poker bloggers. Most would consider that a fate worse than death. But we did actually manage to pretend to be normal humans to the extent of finding a few topics other than poker to discuss.

Been hanging out with Cardgrrl a lot, continuing to find her smart, funny, and interesting. Well, except for the nasty little habit of forgetting where she might have left her glasses, necessitating the search of the entirety of one of the largest hotel/casino/resort/convention center complexes on the planet (with the initials M.B.)--y'know, only a few square miles or so.

Late Wednesday night we were playing at Harrah's when our table was joined by a guy with one of the strangest hats I've ever seen. He was black, with apparently a huge afro. But it was all stuffed inside a knit cap that was about ten times the size of his head. Every time I looked at it, it reminded me of a Jiffy Pop container about to burst. Cardgrrl said that it reminded her of Star Trek or some other sci-fi show, with a big-headed alien.

Friday night was Tony Roma's for birthday ribs with my best friend, then "The Sting." It has probably been 20 years since I saw this last, so it was a real treat. I loved Paul Newman, as Henry Gondorff, getting cold-decked by the bad guy with quad threes, with which he was supposed to lose everything to his opponent's quad nines--but then Gondorff turns over quad jacks instead! (See Shamus's take on the scene here.) This leads to a great line of dialog:

Floyd: Doyle, I KNOW I gave him four THREES. He had to make a SWITCH. We
can't let him get away with that.

Doyle Lonnegan: What was I supposed to do - call him for cheating better
than me, in front of the others?

Last night Cardgrrl and I were playing at Mandalay Bay in a rather boring, sedate game, when suddenly I became aware of a familiar face standing behind and chatting with a couple of the other players. He soon joined our game:



That's right--it was Cory Zeidman, he of the infamous straight-flush hand against Jennifer Harman. (See here for a bit of discussion of that, with relevant links.) Also, he of the incredibly tedius, meandering recount of said hand during Phil Gordon's live broadcast of the 2007 Main Event--a story that started with a trip to the dentist, his observations about the dentist's office's furnishings, etc., all interspersed with regular promises that, yes, this background was indeed all relevant to the story of the straight flush. Yeah, right. This had all predisposed me not to like the guy, until he showed up on Poker After Dark recently, so skillfully skewering Phil Hellmuth that I did an about-face and began liking him.

Literally as soon as he sat down, the nature of our game changed. He hadn't even received his chips yet, and he raised the first hand, eventually showing that he had pocket 10s and flopped a set. He quickly became the center of both action and conversation. I found him to be funny and likable--and, obviously, quite a decent player. I had hoped to get him in a situation where I could make a comment about going sightseeing if I lost the hand, but it never happened.

Zeidman quickly ran up against the quirky house rules of the Mandalay poker room. (See here for more on that.) First the dealer made three players remove their cell phones from the table. Not allowed. Then they wouldn't let Zeidman read a poker magazine when he wasn't in a hand. That led to a prolonged discussion with the floor person. It's a little hard to describe the tone of that conversation. Zeidman managed to convey with zero ambiguity how stupid he thought the rule was, all the while maintaining a genuine smile and good humor. He finally found a loophole: The shift manager tried zinging him with the observation that she knew he didn't know how to read anyway, so it shouldn't matter. He acknowledged that this was true, which then meant that they couldn't accuse him of reading the magazine. Instead, he just "looked at the pictures" between hands. They left him alone after that.

These exchanges led to a running joke at the table about other rules. When he ordered a bottle of water and set it down in the appropriate place, I told him in my best faux-serious tone of voice, "Hey, no using the cupholders at the table!" When he was talking during a hand, I snapped, "No talking during a hand. House rule." Well, at least I was having fun with it.

He stayed only an hour or so, but it was definitely an enjoyable short visit.

Poker? Well, poker this week has basically sucked. E.g., playing at the Venetian and being the fourth one to call a raise, with 8h-6h on the button, seeing a gorgeous flop of 6-6-8, and losing it all to a guy holding pocket eights. FML. A "S.I.G.H." if ever there was one. That's how my poker week has been.

But all the other pleasant and interesting stuff happening this week have been almost enough to make up for that kind of thing.

Guess the casino, #117




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




Answer: Excalibur