Saturday, May 02, 2009

Things people ask me, #4: Where I sit

A recurring question in comments and emails is why I favor seats 1 and 10 (or 9, at nine-handed tables; for this post, I'm just going to always call them 1 and 10), next to the dealer. I've mentioned this preference many times in my stories, and for most players those are the least favorite positions, so it's a natural question.

Let me start by asking you to ponder this question: Is there any position at the table that has an intrinsic strategic or tactical advantage over the others?

I first came across this concept in a column in Card Player magazine when I was still living in Minnesota--probably early 2006, though I've searched for it in the online C.P. archives and can't find it, so I can't give proper credit. The answer is yes: Seat 1 has the clear advantage. That's because you want to be looking at the players on your left to see if they are telegraphing information about their intentions. Because of the curve of the table, you can do that from seat 1 more easily and naturally (i.e., without craning your neck and otherwise being obvious about it) than from any other position. Depending on the exact size and shape of the table and positioning of the seats, seat 7 or 8 might offer a similar advantage, but it's less consistent, and the angle usually isn't quite as good.

After that one objective advantage, all of the rest of my reasons are purely subjective personal preferences. In no particular order, they include:

--There are many dealers that I like, and it's much easier to chat quietly and semi-privately with them from one foot away than from across the table.

--I fairly often find a need to point out something to the dealer (pot not right, button not right, foreign language being spoken, improper talk about the hand in progress, etc.), and it's easier to do so from close at hand. Again, I like being quiet and discreet when possible, rather than having to make myself heard above the din of the casino and voices of the other players.

--With the exception of the player on the other side of the dealer, I usually have an excellent view of everybody else.

--For reasons not entirely clear to me, players in the 1 and 10 seats sort of disappear from the sight--at least the conscious sight--of the other players. From a couple of seats (2 and 9, especially) this is partly a function of blocked sightlines. But there's something weird psychologically, too, that I can't really put my finger on. I can tell you this for certain, after many, many hours of observation: The players who most often get skipped in the action are those in the 1 and 10 seats. I.e., seat 1 will tend to act before seat 10 has, seat 2 will tend to act before seat 1 has, etc. It seems that the occupants of those positions just fade into the background. Since being unnoticed is the effect I want most of the time, those two seats are a natural match.

--Because most other people ditch seats 1 and 10 as soon as something else opens up, they are the two most likely to be the open ones when you join a table. It's convenient to like the thing that you will most often be forced to take.

--As a corollary of that, you can often get seat 1 or seat 10 even if there are no vacancies. (This happens if, e.g., one of the players in them wanted to change, but didn't notice or was away from the table when another seat became available, so he missed his opportunity.) You just ask their current occupants if they'd prefer to sit where you are, and if the answer is yes (as it often is), make the swap.

--I have the shortest possible distance for mucking cards, for putting chips within reach of the dealer, passing tips, etc. No overshooting, no undershooting, no accidentally flipped cards while mucking.

--Nearly every poker room has the tables oriented so that the dealer is facing the front desk, to facilitate communication with the floor, brush, etc. I like kind of keeping an eye on what's going on in the whole room (well, not the big rooms, but the smaller ones), so picking the 1 and 10 seats automatically puts me where I can see what's happening.

--Conversely, if there are any disadvantaged seats for watching television, it will tend to be those two. The casino doesn't need its dealers watching football. I don't care what's on, and it's better for me not to be distracted anyway.

--Seats 1 and 10 nearly always have the most elbow room at the table, the least chance of that awkward, silent struggle for control of the no-man's-land between seats. Similarly, unless you get somebody with unusually long legs in the adjacent seat, the foot area tends to be less contested than other table positions.

--You only have to sit next to one other player. Since poker players frequently smell of B.O., stale cigarette smoke, booze, bad breath, etc., cutting in half the number of them you have to share personal space with is a boon. You also halve your chance of sitting next to a chatterbox who will want to prattle in your ear about every thought that passes through his feeble and/or drunken brain. In those two respects, it's a lot like the advantage of a window or aisle seat in a commercial jet, compared to the center seat. We misanthropes leap at the chance to cut in half the number of our unwanted contacts with the great unwashed.

--When the dealer isn't looking, it's easy to reach into the tray and steal a few chips.

(Just kidding! Relax!)

To be fair, there are also some disadvantages that you have to put up with:

--I have banged my knee on the damn rake collection boxes more times than I can count.

--If you're playing when security comes around to change those boxes, you'll probably have to move out of their way.

--Other players will muck their cards in your direction and accidentally kill your hand if you don't keep it well protected.

--Similarly, unprotected cards sitting that close to the dealer are in greater danger of being prematurely scooped up into the muck if you don't cap them.

--You have one other player that is really difficult to see when you need or want to. The guy in the 1 seat often has to rely on the dealer to indicate when it's his turn, because sometimes you just can't see anything of what the 10 seat is doing.

Overall, I find that the advantages greatly outweigh the disadvantages, and I'm rather glad that mine is the minority view. It is rare that I have to compete with anybody else to claim one of my two preferred spots.

I'm going to stop short of encouraging readers to try the unfamiliar positions with an open mind, because I'm afraid everybody will discover that they really are superior, and it will foul up my little secret. So just forget everything I've told you, OK?

I am easily amused

Every time I walk to one of the downtown poker rooms I pass this tarot/psychic wagon just west of Las Vegas Boulevard. The sign always amuses me. Usually it's late at night and too dark for my flashless cell phone camera to take a picture, but I took a rare trip out in broad daylight today, so I can now share it with those of you who don't hang around these parts.

I wonder what the conditions are for the money back guarantee. If she tells me the lottery numbers to play, and they lose, do I get a refund?

I always feel like sticking my head in the wagon and asking for a "broacher." I've never seen one before. I don't even know what it is. I know what a "brochure" is, but not a "broacher."

Genomeboy makes a funny

I played for a while at the Venetian last night with a reader, Genomeboy. (Obsessive readers with Rain Man-like memories may recall that he got mentioned herein once previously, in this post. N.B.: He is not the same person as the one that runs the web site.) Great guy, smart and funny.

The game was largely fueled by one spewtard, who had a roughly $800 stack when I joined the table at 7:45 p.m., and was broke by about midnight. He played virtually every hand, most often for a raise to either $6 or $8. I took one big chunk from him when, after being terminally card-dead for an hour or so, I took a flyer and raised with 8-6 offsuit, got several callers, and saw a beautiful flop of 8-8-2 (with a 6 on the turn for good measure). It was checked to me, and I made the same continuation bet that I would have if I held two big overcards or an overpair. The spewtard check-raised me all in with just a deuce. When I called (duh!), he sheepishly explained that he thought I had A-K or A-Q and had missed the flop completely, just as I had hoped my opponents would think. Much later, I took the last of his dwindling stack when he missed the flop but shoved a big overbet anyway, and I fortunately read the situation right and called him with top pair. (It wasn't too difficult--he had long before proven that he made smallish value bets when he was strong, and much larger bets when he had little or nothing. Typical spewtard pattern.)

Anyway, somewhere in between those two hands, I raised with A-Q, got a couple of callers. Flop was queen-high. I bet when it was checked to me. Two callers--a completely straightforward, conservative, untricky guy in one of the blinds, and the spewtard. I think we checked around on the turn. River was a king. Spewtard made a small bet here, and both I and the other player called. He had A-Q, too. Spewtard had K-6 offsuit. He had sufficient self-awareness to be a little embarrassed for having called my pre-flop raise from out of position with such trash, and having called with nothing on the flop, too.

Even though nobody criticized him for his play, he apparently felt a tad defensive about it. He said, "Hey, I had other cards that would win it for me, too."

Withoug missing a beat, Genomeboy quipped, "Where--in your pocket?"

It was the funniest moment of the night, I thought. (If it doesn't come across that funny in writing, well, maybe you had to be there.) Didn't quite make up for losing $50 or so the way I did on that hand, but I still ended up net positive from the spewtard, so it was OK.

Guess the casino, #130

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

Answer: Rio

Friday, May 01, 2009

Another zero-level thinker

In between random shut-offs of the software, there was some serious head-scratching going on for me in last night's HORSE SNG on PokerStars. This was the fifth hand of the tournament:

My first thought was that this looked suspiciously like chip-dumping, although a $5 STT seemed a strange venue for such shenanigans.

I became less suspicious over time, because the same character (kolorfish) spewed just as badly to everybody else, including me. For example, here's a stud hand (not high/low) where he called my bet on the river with nothing but queen-high. I had a well-hidden full house, but I did have an ace showing, and he couldn't even beat that. Here's the hand history:

PokerStars Game #27688006030: Tournament #160069666, $5.00+$0.50 HORSE (7 Card Stud Limit) - Level IV (60/120) - 2009/05/01 3:13:34 ET
Table '160069666 1' 8-max Seat #3 is the button
Seat 1: tanani1 (2112 in chips)
Seat 3: Cardgrrl (653 in chips)
Seat 4: xxCHEExx (3032 in chips)
Seat 6: Rakewell1 (1173 in chips)
Seat 7: boogerbam (2578 in chips)
Seat 8: kolorfish (2452 in chips)
xxCHEExx: posts the ante 12
Rakewell1: posts the ante 12
boogerbam: posts the ante 12
kolorfish: posts the ante 12
tanani1: posts the ante 12
Cardgrrl: posts the ante 12
*** 3rd STREET ***
Dealt to tanani1 [8d]
Dealt to Cardgrrl [Kc]
Dealt to xxCHEExx [Td]
Dealt to Rakewell1 [9s 9d 9h]
Dealt to boogerbam [3d]
Dealt to kolorfish [3s]
boogerbam: brings in for 18
kolorfish: calls 18
tanani1: folds
Cardgrrl: folds
xxCHEExx: calls 18
Rakewell1: raises 42 to 60
Rakewell1 is disconnected
boogerbam: calls 42
kolorfish: calls 42
xxCHEExx: calls 42
*** 4th STREET ***
Dealt to xxCHEExx [Td] [Qs]
Dealt to Rakewell1 [9s 9d 9h] [As]
Dealt to boogerbam [3d] [Th]
Dealt to kolorfish [3s] [5h]
Rakewell1 is connected
Rakewell1: bets 60
boogerbam: folds
kolorfish: calls 60
xxCHEExx: calls 60
*** 5th STREET ***
Dealt to xxCHEExx [Td Qs] [Ks]
Dealt to Rakewell1 [9s 9d 9h As] [5s]
Dealt to kolorfish [3s 5h] [Qh]
Rakewell1: bets 120
kolorfish: calls 120
xxCHEExx: calls 120
*** 6th STREET ***
Dealt to xxCHEExx [Td Qs Ks] [6h]
Dealt to Rakewell1 [9s 9d 9h As 5s] [Jc]
Dealt to kolorfish [3s 5h Qh] [7h]
Rakewell1: bets 120
kolorfish: calls 120
xxCHEExx: calls 120
*** RIVER ***
Dealt to Rakewell1 [9s 9d 9h As 5s Jc] [5d]
Rakewell1: bets 120
kolorfish: calls 120
xxCHEExx: calls 120
*** SHOW DOWN ***
Rakewell1: shows [9s 9d 9h As 5s Jc 5d] (a full house, Nines full of Fives)
kolorfish: mucks hand
xxCHEExx: shows [Kh 5c Td Qs Ks 6h Tc] (two pair, Kings and Tens)
Rakewell1 collected 1572 from pot
*** SUMMARY ***
Total pot 1572 Rake 0
Seat 1: tanani1 folded on the 3rd Street (didn't bet)
Seat 3: Cardgrrl (button) folded on the 3rd Street (didn't bet)
Seat 4: xxCHEExx showed [Kh 5c Td Qs Ks 6h Tc] and lost with two pair, Kings and Tens
Seat 6: Rakewell1 showed [9s 9d 9h As 5s Jc 5d] and won (1572) with a full house, Nines full of Fives
Seat 7: boogerbam folded on the 4th Street
Seat 8: kolorfish mucked [4d 2s 3s 5h Qh 7h 8s]

OK, so maybe the poor schmuck thought it was Stud/8, right? I doubt it, based on what happened a short time later.

During a Stud/8 round, my four visible cards were QQ33. He had four small cards showing, so when he called my bet on the river, I naturally assumed he would take the low and we'd split the pot. Nope. I scooped. I checked the hand history, and he had had one pair--aces--and no qualifying low. He couldn't beat what I had showing, and called a bet on the river. Well, at least he didn't raise that time, so he was getting a little bit smarter than he had been at hold'em. Here's that hand history:

PokerStars Game #27688083753: Tournament #160069666, $5.00+$0.50 HORSE (7 Card Stud Hi/Lo Limit) - Level V (80/160) - 2009/05/01 3:19:19 ET
Table '160069666 1' 8-max Seat #3 is the button
Seat 1: tanani1 (2120 in chips)
Seat 4: xxCHEExx (1550 in chips)
Seat 6: Rakewell1 (3978 in chips)
Seat 7: boogerbam (3184 in chips)
Seat 8: kolorfish (1168 in chips)
xxCHEExx: posts the ante 16
Rakewell1: posts the ante 16
boogerbam: posts the ante 16
kolorfish: posts the ante 16
tanani1: posts the ante 16
*** 3rd STREET ***
Dealt to tanani1 [2h]
Dealt to xxCHEExx [Ts]
Dealt to Rakewell1 [As 9s Qs]
Dealt to boogerbam [7s]
Dealt to kolorfish [6c]
tanani1: brings in for 24
xxCHEExx: calls 24
Rakewell1: calls 24
boogerbam: folds
boogerbam is sitting out
kolorfish: calls 24
*** 4th STREET ***
Dealt to tanani1 [2h] [6d]
Dealt to xxCHEExx [Ts] [7c]
Dealt to Rakewell1 [As 9s Qs] [Qd]
Dealt to kolorfish [6c] [Ac]
Rakewell1 is disconnected
Rakewell1 is connected
Rakewell1: bets 80
kolorfish: calls 80
tanani1: folds
xxCHEExx: calls 80
*** 5th STREET ***
Dealt to xxCHEExx [Ts 7c] [Qh]
Dealt to Rakewell1 [As 9s Qs Qd] [3c]
Dealt to kolorfish [6c Ac] [4d]
Rakewell1: bets 160
kolorfish: calls 160
xxCHEExx: calls 160
*** 6th STREET ***
Dealt to xxCHEExx [Ts 7c Qh] [Jc]
Dealt to Rakewell1 [As 9s Qs Qd 3c] [3d]
Dealt to kolorfish [6c Ac 4d] [7h]
Rakewell1: bets 160
boogerbam has returned
kolorfish: calls 160
xxCHEExx: calls 160
*** RIVER ***
Dealt to Rakewell1 [As 9s Qs Qd 3c 3d] [8s]
Rakewell1: bets 160
kolorfish: calls 160
xxCHEExx: folds
*** SHOW DOWN ***
Rakewell1: shows [As 9s Qs Qd 3c 3d 8s] (HI: two pair, Queens and Threes)
kolorfish: mucks hand
Rakewell1 collected 1696 from pot
No low hand qualified
*** SUMMARY ***
Total pot 1696 Rake 0
Seat 1: tanani1 folded on the 4th Street
Seat 4: xxCHEExx folded on the River
Seat 6: Rakewell1 showed [As 9s Qs Qd 3c 3d 8s] and won (1696) with HI: two pair, Queens and Threes
Seat 7: boogerbam folded on the 3rd Street (didn't bet)
Seat 8: kolorfish mucked [Ah Js 6c Ac 4d 7h 9h]

I managed to finish in 2nd place despite the frequent software glitches. With people like this guy populating the tables, it's something of a wonder that I ever fail to cash in these things.

PokerStars is making me VERY grumpy

Tuesday night, after downloading the latest software update, the PokerStars client began giving me fits. It shuts itself off every three to six minutes or so when I'm playing. Wednesday I wrote about my initial contacts with the support team.

Nobody who left a comment on that post has been having the same problem. Nothing I have tried has remedied the situation. The subject sure doesn't seem to be burning up the chat forums, as it undoubtedly would if a large percentage of users were affected.

Last night I tried my usual nightly HORSE sit-and-go, and the software quit at least a dozen times. EXTREMELY annoying. Intolerable, actually. I won't do that again until they get this fixed. They will not be getting my daily $1-$2 in tournament fees. That'll show 'em! I will bring them to their knees by withholding my mobneys in protest!

To make matters worse, PokerStars support, for the first time ever in my contact with them, is acting about as incompetent as the average counter person at McDonald's.

After the maddening experience with the SNG last night, I fired off another email to support, asking them for a progress report. This is what I received in return:

Thank you for your email.

I can confirm that we have not had people reporting similar problems. Can
you make sure that your computer is not infected with a virus or other similar
program that would cause this to happen. If that is for sure not the case then I
am afraid that we need to wait until the programmers have investigated the
problem from your log files. I am very sorry for the inconveniences.

Thank you for your patience and understanding, meanwhile, if you have
any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact us again. Good
Best Regards,
Tarvi R
PokerStars Support Team

Huh? First they told me that the problem was, in fact, due to their software update, and now they're saying it's not.

So I wrote back:

Yes, I am very confident that I have no virus or other malware. Why was the
previous message (see below) that the problem was related to the recent update?
And when will your programmers investigate the log files?

A short time later, this message hit my inbox:

Thank you for your email.

I am sorry for the confusion, the message was true. Apparently we have been
reported similar issues from a few other players, I am sorry that I was not
aware of this!

I mentioned the virus possibility just to make sure, as this has been a
case in the past. Good that that is cleared.

Now I can only apologize again for not being informed enough and also
apologize for the inconveniences. I hope the issue will be handled soon.

Good luck!
Best Regards,

Tarvi R
PokerStars Support Team

So first it was due to their software update, then it wasn't, then it was again. Whatever is going on over at Stars, it seems that the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing. I love the wording that the writer can "confirm" that nobody else has the problem, followed, upon my further questioning, with a retraction. Thanks for that in-depth investigation you did before announcing what you can "confirm," Tarvi R. First-rate work you're doing there.

This does not inspire confidence that they have their A-team working day and night to get the issue resolved.

I didn't really think it would accomplish anything, but I wanted to express my irritation at the completely useless wording of that last message, so I sent this back:

With all due respect, your "hoping" that the issue will be resolved soon and
wishing me "good luck" accomplishes nothing. I need answers and time frames. Are
we talking tomorrow? A week? A month?

Predictably, I got basically a bedbug letter in reply:

Thank you for your email.

Unfortunately I cannot promise you anything as this is out of my hands. As
you were told, our programmers team is working on it. I am very sorry and I hope
for understanding. We understand that nobody benefits from the issues and the
team is working hard in order to have it solved as soon as possible.

Again, I am sorry, and thank you for your patience and
Best Regards,

Tarvi R
PokerStars Support Team

Yeah, right. The team is "working hard." So hard they didn't even bother telling you, Tarvi R, that there was an issue. So hard that they haven't put up any sort of notice on the sign-in page explaining to customers what's going on, thus leaving us to waste time with steps like I took, thinking the problem might lie in my own computer.

The claim that the team is "working hard" to resolve the issue made me think of "Raiders of the Lost Ark." Toward the end, Indiana Jones tries to find out what the government is doing to locate the Ark:
Maj. Eaton: We have top men working on it now.
Indiana: Who?
Maj. Eaton: Top. Men.

You may recall that that last line is uttered with a withering, shut-the-hell-up look and tone, leaving no doubt that the subject is closed. Permanently.

Stars is handling this in about the way I would expect from UltimateBlecch--sweeping it under the rug and pretending like nothing is going on, while lying to its customers--rather than in the straightforward, up-front way that I would have expected based on my previous dealings with the company. To say I'm disappointed and disillusioned would be a gross understatement. I am, frankly, appalled and disgusted.

And very, very grumpy.

Guess the casino, #129

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

Answer: Red Rock

Thursday, April 30, 2009

I am now salivating

Looking at NBC's "Poker After Dark" schedule, I see this for the next two weeks' worth of shows:

Week of May 4 (Hellmuth Bash Cash Game I) Tom Dwan, Kenny Tran, Phil Laak,
Antonio Esfandiari, Phil Hellmuth, Bob Safai

Week of May 11 [(Hellmuth Bash Cash Game II) Tom Dwan, Antonio
Esfandiari, Kenny Tran, Phil Hellmuth, Bob Safai, Phil Laak

I'm not sure exactly what the parameters of this game are, but anything that has the words "Hellmuth Bash" in it has got to be worth watching. It cannot start soon enough for me.

Poker gems, #243

Doyle Brunson, in Super/System, as quoted in Bob Silverstein, "Understanding 'Internal Tells' Will Give You an Edge," Poker Pro magazine, May, 2009, p. 69.

Sure you want to study the emotional makeup of your opponents. But of all the players at the poker table, the one whose capabilities and limitations are going to affect you the most is the one sitting in your chair.

Navel gazing

This morning Cardgrrl posted a note about her Google Analytics stats. I've had G.A. running for about a year and a half now, but have really done very little with it other than tracking daily page hits, and once in a while seeing what searches bring new people by. Until reading Cardgrrl's post, I didn't even know that it had the capability of tracking unique visitors, and while looking for how to do that, I found a bunch of other ways of analyzing reader data that I didn't know were there. Thought I'd share some of them with you, using the past 365 days as the time frame.

While I have enough of a competitive streak that I'm capable of deliberate one-upsmanship, this honestly isn't being posted to brag that I have more readers than Cardgrrl. If Shamus or Pauly or Iggy or Wicked Chops were to post their numbers, it would show how small-time I really am. I'm well aware that I have more visitors than some poker blogs, fewer than others, and I'm perfectly content with that being as it is. As the title to this post indicates, this is just me expressing my curiosity about what's going on, not boasting (nor complaining, either).

Here are the most popular posts/pages that people look at. Not surprisingly, the Cannery backroom story was far and away the most viewed, since notice of it got spread rather far and wide.

Here's a list of what people are looking for in search engines that lands them on this site. I have noted in the past how strange it is that my rather offhand comments about whether there are any gay professional pokers consistently top the list (after the obvious searches to find the whole blog), with Tom Dwan being the one that started my pondering.

Here's where people are coming from, net-wise:

And here's their geographical distribution:

How long do viewers stick around on average?

I went through the full list of dates (not shown above) to see what caused the most prolonged page views. Nothing surprising. They correlated almost perfectly with the days that I wrote either the most or the longest posts. The nice thing about that is it suggests that people actually read through what I put up, even on the days that it takes longer.

Unique visitors:

32,551 of you???? Good grief, haven't all of you people got anything better to be doing with your time?

It's nice to see that there is reasonably steady growth over time (excepting the obvious big Cannery spike).

Incidentally, that up-and-down fluctuation you see is an extremely consistent weekly variation, with a drop on the weekends followed by a spike on Mondays. This suggests that people are reading while at work, and catching up on Saturday and Sunday posts on Monday. Tsk, tsk, tsk! Hey! That's not what they're paying you for!

This next one has me a bit puzzled. I'm not sure why the most common duration of visit is less than ten seconds. Best guess is that means people check in, find nothing new since the last visit, and move on.

The "recency" numbers took me a while to decipher. 74% are "0 days ago." Obviously, this can't mean that 74% of all page views in the last year took place within the past 24 hours. I assume it means that out of all of the visits in the past year, 74% of the time the viewer's previous visit had been within the past 24 hours. Assuming that's right, it means that a very high fraction of visitors are daily (or even more-than-daily) regulars, which I find more humbling and flattering than I know how to convey.

The "visitor loyalty" suggests, not surprisingly, that there was a big chunk of people who were looking for one specific thing, found it, and didn't look around much or come back. However, after that group the next most common is the bunch of you that peeked in more than 200 times, which, again, is just mind-boggling to me. It is often the case that I can't understand why anybody would be so interested in what I might have to say, but I never cease being grateful that it is so.

Guess the casino, #128

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

Answer: Hooters

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Planet Hollywood stories


Planet Hollywood almost never issues new commemorative chips, so it was quite a surprise tonight to find that they have brought out not one but two new ones since the last time I was there a few weeks ago.


Hot on the heels of my straight flush at Imperial Palace, I had this rather lovely flop at PH:

As you can see, though, this time the pot was rather small. Also, the quad-5 jackpot had been hit a short time before, so it had been reset to its minimal level of just $50. But it would be unseemly to complain. It's nice to have the nuts, nice to win even a small pot, and nice to get back a bit of the high-hand jackpot drops to which I contribute with such regularity.

Incidentally, as I snapped the above photo, another player observing me got an alarmed look on his face and said, "Are you sure you can do that?" I wasn't entirely sure what he meant, so I said, "Do what?" He said, "What you just did--take the picture."

Well, I didn't ask anybody's permission, but I do have some experience with taking photos in casinos....

First, it's hard to see what anybody would find objectionable about it. Second, by the time anybody were to tell me not to, the deed would be done. So it's not on my top-ten list of things to worry about.


There is either a weird rule or an uninformed dealer at PH. At my table was a middle-aged Asian man with a woman, whom I assume was his wife, sitting behind him. She was looking at his hole cards most hands. At one point during a hand they were conversing in a language that I believe was Chinese. The dealer was distracted at the moment, so since I was sitting next to him, I quietly said, "We have an English-only issue." He looked up, realized who I was speaking of, and replied, "It's OK--he can speak to her in a different language."

I see three possibilities here.

First, it's an example of selective enforcement of a rule. That is so obviously problematic that I won't bother spelling out why.

Second, the dealer was simply wrong about the rule.

Third, there really is a weird house rule that exempts conversations with observers from the English-only rule. That would be stupid. The guy involved may be telling his wife everything he is thinking (or, when the hand it over, what he was thinking through the previous hand), and some other player at the table may be understanding him, when nobody else is. One chief purpose of the rule is to help ensure equality of information access for all players, and you defeat that purpose (at least potentially) by putting in an exemption for non-players. (For similar reasons, I think the English-only rule should apply the entire time people are playing, not just when they have live cards.) Although unlikely, she may be telling him what she thinks he should do with his hand, violating the one-player-to-a-hand rule.

It makes no sense to have an English-only rule but have it not apply to everybody present.


Matt is one of my favorite dealers at PH. He's fast, friendly, accurate, smart, and attentive. So I was shocked when he so flagrantly violated dealer etiquette tonight.

I had K-K in the small blind. A whole bunch of people limped in, so I raised to $16. I got three callers. Flop was Qs-Js-x. (Neither of my kings was a spade.) It was early in my session and I was down a bit from my initial buy-in, having just $74 left at this point. With about $60 in the pot, it was pretty much a no-brainer to shove it all in.

A short-stacked and obviously very inexperienced young woman in middle position thought long and hard about what to do. She had only about $40 left. A man in the seat next to her, who clearly knew her, was quietly telling her that she should fold. Matt heard this and appropriately reminded him that he wasn't allowed to help her. He apologized, then left the table to have a smoke. She eventually folded, as did the others.

I showed the kings to help establish an image. The woman very believably said that she had folded As-7s, and asked nobody in particular whether she had done the right thing by folding. Here is where Matt went wrong. He told her that her friend had given her bad advice. She asked why. He launched into an actual lecture, recounting the hand, the pot size, the relevant chip stacks, etc. He explained pot odds--a concept she had apparently never heard before, judging by her reaction. Encouraged, he went on to tell her the pot odds versus the odds of making her nut flush, etc. Not surprisingly, two other professors at the table latched onto the fun and explained yet more details of the decision-making process she should have engaged in.

It's bad enough when clueless know-it-all players try to educate others at the table. When dealers do it (and, offhand, I can't remember any ever doing anything like this before), it's absolutely inexcusable. As a dealer, he may not care if players learn to play better and make fewer mistakes, but I sure as hell care. I make my living from their mistakes.

If she wants to learn about pot odds and drawing odds, fine, there are tons of sources she can turn to when she gets home. The poker table is not the place for it, and the dealer is not the instructor. It is ridiculously far outside of his job description. He probably sees himself as gallant, helping out an inexperienced player. But the result is that is in helping her he lowers the EV of every other player there. He has no right to be doing that. It was one of the most egregious violations of protocol I've ever seen from a dealer, and I've seen some whoppers. That it came from a guy who is usually nearly flawless in executing his job was massively stunning to me.

It tempts me to start a new reality TV show: "When Good Dealers Go Bad."


Terry King is another likable, professional dealer at PH. Until tonight, though, I had no idea of her place in poker history. I was delighted to overhear pieces of a conversation she was having with another player in which she mentioned having a WSOP bracelet. Because I hadn't been paying full attention, I wasn't sure I heard that right. But when I got home, I looked it up, and sure enough, the proof is here and here. 1978, the second year a ladies' event was held, a $200 7-card stud tournament. Sadly, she said that the bracelet was stolen in a home burglary in the 1980s.

Despite that, a very belated congratulations, Terry. And thanks for dealing me the quad fives!

PokerStars sucks (but probably only temporarily)

Stars is my all-around favorite online site, but right now they're driving me crazy.

Everything was fine Monday night for the readers' tournament. But last night I logged on for my usual nightly HORSE sit-and-go, and had to download a software update. OK, no big deal--happens every week or two. There was no problem using the lobby, registering for the tournaments, etc. But as soon as the thing started, big trouble. The software shut itself off a few minutes in. This had never happened before.

I fired up Stars again, and within three or four minutes the same thing happened again. I shut down other programs running, and tried again--same result. I rebooted and then went back to Stars--same outcome. After busting out of the frequently-interrupted tournament, I even tried reinstalling the software. No improvement. I tried sitting in a microstakes cash game, and had the same frustration.

I emailed Stars support. They responded with a canned--and completely irrelevant--message about how to diagnose and fix connectivity problems. I fired back an irritated note saying, basically, "Thanks for nothing." It is not a connectivity issue; the software is shutting itself off spontaneously. This time they replied with a request for my log files, which I sent.

This morning I received the following email from them:

Thank you for providing these log files. At this time we are not sure what
is the cause of this trouble however it does appear to be related to our

Your logs have been sent to the programmers for investigation. Once
they have identified the cause a new update will be released to fix the issue.

In the meantime we do apologize for any inconvenience this may



PokerStars Support Team

Well, at least they are acknowledging that, as I suspected, it was their latest software update that introduced the instability.

Just now I tried again, and got the same spontaneous shutting off. There was no update available. There was also nothing in the "news" section to warn other players of the technical problem, so there are probably a whole bunch of customers trying to figure out what's going on.

I went so far as to check the twoplustwo forums, which I usually avoid. I didn't check every possible forum, but I did find this, posted just an hour or so ago, in the "Internet Poker" forum:

I am connecting from hotel in england...cut out in middle of sng i was
runaway of internet works fine but no one else has posted so
that makes me nervous

I posted a quick reply about my experience. There is currently one subsequent reply of somebody stating that he has had no troubles.

I can't be the only one affected; I think there is no way that Stars would be acknowledging that the problem lies with their software update. Instead, they would tell me that the problem is in my computer. On the other hand, whatever the issue is must affect only a small percentage of users, else I think the forums would be ablaze with alarms and complaints, and Stars would have been compelled to put out some sort of prominent announcement. If I'm right about that guess, it's too bad for me, because it means that Stars won't be in much of a rush to figure out what the problem is and get it repaired.

So I'll just have to sit and wait. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

In the meantime, if you use PokerStars on a PC (not Mac), please add a comment as to whether or not you are finding this mysterious shut-off issue. It would be interesting to get some vague sense of what fraction of users are affected.

Update, 11 pm

I took Gadzooks's suggestion about the Revo Uninstall program, and used it to thoroughly remove every shred of PokerStars, then did a fresh install, and so far it appears to be stable. 20 minutes into a cash game, and no issues.

Thanks for all the help!

Update, 11:02 pm

This is what you call speaking too soon. Posted that note, then Stars just went away again. GAAAAAAAAAAAA!

Guess the casino, #127

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

Answer: Mandalay Bay

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

This year's Phil Hellmuth WSOP embarrassment

Last year, UltimateBet's theme for ads for its WSOP satellite system was all about joining the UB army. Then Phil Hellmuth made his "grand" entrance to the Main Event as a World War II general.

I spied the above ad in the new issue of Poker Pro magazine, and I assume it will be repeated in every other poker publication. Does that mean that Hellmuth's entrance this year will be in Roman garb, perhaps as Julius Caesar wearing a toga? In other words, is it possible that they have found something more embarrassing than the NASCAR gimmick of 2007 and even more embarrassing than the Patton thing?

If so, I think I'll go dressed as Brutus and carry out my designated historical role.

Et tu, Grump?

Guess the casino, #126

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

Answer: Imperial Palace

Monday, April 27, 2009

I won the readers' HORSE tournament!

OK, well, I suppose that headline requires a bit of explanation. I didn't win in the technical sense--you know, as in being the last one left with all the chips. But that's an awfully narrow, snooty, exclusivist way of understanding what it means to "win," isn't it?

I won in the "Dewey defeats Truman" sense--an event that one had every reason to expect would happen, and then just didn't quite.

I won in the "had the most fun" sense. (I was thinking of saying that it was great but didn't last long enough, but then I shuddered when I remembered other contexts in which I have heard those words.)

I won in the same sense that modern schools make sure that every kid is a "winner," getting some sort of stupid ribbon or trophy that says "future winner" or something else equally vapid.

I won in the sense that I outlasted Cardgrrl, an important goal. OK, well, technically, once again, this isn't quite so, but I neglected to getting around to making the last-longer bet with her that I had planned to, and which I would have lost, so that means that I effectively won.

I won in the sense that I wasn't the first one out. Not quite.

See? There I am down there at #24, proudly having outlasted a full 14% of the field! I iz awesome.

Here's my inglorious bustout hand:

I was well and truly sandbagged into thinking I had the best hand, until it was way too late. Congrats to amjamieson59, who has already been transferred the $10 bounty I had placed on my own head.

For some odd reason, the other players didn't all just pack up and leave after I was out. They wanted to keep playing. Kind of strange if you ask me. I mean, really, what's the point? But they insisted.

Here's how the final hand went down:

Kudos to Sauza 262 for the W and for picking up a pretty decent $112 payout (for less than two hours' work).

Also a big "ty" to Cardgrrl for volunteering to bubble, so that everybody else could make the money. Very generous, that grrl. (Her observations are here.)

I have to say that I was disappointed in the uber-fast structure, even though I generally like PokerStars better than any other online site. In fact, it was exactly because I had discovered how much better Stars' HORSE single-table-tournament structure was than the competition (see here for details) that I just assumed, without checking carefully, that the same would be true for multi-table tournaments of the same game. Gadzooks had warned me that this would be so, in a comment to the tournament announcement post, but by then it was basically too late. Oh well.

Next time (whenever that may be) I'll probably move it back to Full Tilt, and also go back to NLHE.

DaFoundation emailed me this lovely screen shot from his first level. It's nice to know I have made some converts to the Gospel of the Holy Deuce-Four.

Thanks to all for playing. Frankly, 28 people was a lot more than I expected, and it delighted me. I wish I could have acquitted myself a tad better, but overall I still think I came out of it winner.


As you might have noticed from the new box at the upper left, I've joined Twitter, and even managed to get my tweets automatically posted to the blog--a level of technical accomplishment that astonishes me. Things never work that easily.

I still don't really have any clear idea what, if anything, I will use the thing for. But there have been many technological things that I have brought into my life which at the time I thought would have rather limited use, but which turned out to be tools useful for much more than I would have guessed. These include fax machines, a home computer, the internet, a scanner, a cell phone, etc. So maybe in a year or two I'll be saying that I can't imagine life before Twitter. Or, alternatively, a year from now perhaps those same four initial messages will be sitting there with time stamps "A year ago." We'll see.

I think that I will occasionally post a note about where I'm playing, in case anybody feels like joining me at a table to take my money. For a variety of reasons, I'm already sure I won't do that every time I'm out playing (for example, I'm sure to forget a large part of the time), but at least sometimes I'll announce it.

I suppose that on the rare occasions I enter tournaments I might post updates on my progress (as if anybody cares). Heck, I might even use it during tonight's readers' tournament.

At the very least, now I can be sure that I'm not absolutely the last blogger to adopt the fad.

Today's least surprising news: there's another bad dealer at the Luxor

By now regular readers know that nearly every time I play at the Luxor I end up ranting about how bad their poker dealers are. It's time again. (Click this label for the previous horror stories.)

Yesterday there was a young woman dealing whom I had not seen before. That, combined with her rather slow speed, makes me think she is most likely fairly new. That in itself is no problem. I actually have a soft spot for new dealers trying to learn the ropes, and I cut them a lot of slack. They may be slow, but they're usually doing their utmost to get everything right, and I respect that.

This woman, though, was an exception. Her cardinal sin was not paying attention, so she frequently didn't know what or where the action is, though she probably could have told you every detail of the basketball game she was watching in preference to the poker game. It was not uncommon for a raise to go unannounced until four or five players had subsequently acted. I don't think she even one time told us how many players were in the hand. She let table talk about the hand in progress go without notice. One guy was habitually splashing the pot, and she said nothing to him. She frequently forgot to take the rake until after pushing the pot to the winner. She always killed the winning hand before pushing the pot, which is just asking for a big fight to break out sooner or later, when she either gives it to the wrong player or somebody thinks she did.

But perhaps her strangest trait, in light of the serious and problematic infractions that she let slide, was how she would warn or correct players for completely innocent actions.

For example, she was fanatical about players not making their own change. One time I was in the $2 big blind. A middle-position player raised to $6, so when it was my turn and I wanted to call, I added a $5 chip to my two $1 chips, and took back one of the latter. She said, "Don't make your own change. Let me do it for you." I saw her give other players the same warning in similar circumstances.

This is nuts. She absolutely should prevent players from taking change from the chips that have been put out in front of other players, or which have been gathered into the center in the pot. That's a nasty home-game habit that one frequently sees among players who are new to casino play, and it's strictly forbidden for very good reasons. But not only is there nothing wrong with a player making his own portion of the pot right, it is a more efficient practice than having the dealer do it. This happens on nearly every hand of poker, and I have never, ever before seen any player or dealer or floor person complain about it or even hint that there is anything improper about it. I think she learned the rule about players not making change from the pot or from their neighbor's chips, and erroneously generalized the prohibition to include making change from one's own chips. It's just silly.

Here's another example: After the flop, the first player made a bet. Two players folded. The last one left to respond to the bet was an older and obviously experienced player. He deliberately mucked his cards face up, chuckling about how completely he had missed the flop. The guy clearly knew that he was the last one to act, so that there was nobody who could be improperly affected by his action. It's something I do myself from time to time. It is not against the rules, nor is it bad etiquette. It's harmless, except for the extra fraction of a second it might take. But this clueless dealer said to the "offending" player, "Can you keep your cards down, please? I don't want to have to kill your hand."

Huh? He was folding. What more did she think she could do to his hand? Furthermore, the penalty for exposing one's hand prematurely, when there is more action pending, is not killing the hand.

Speaking of cards being exposed when there is still multi-way action pending, that happened yesterday, too. This time it wasn't the new dealer, but Frank, whom I've complained about several times before. I wasn't involved in the hand, but on the river there were three players left. Action was check-check-bet. First guy was contemplating whether to call, and asked the bettor something like, "Do you really have it?" The answer was, "I bet because I don't think you have a king." (A king was the high card on the board.) To which the early-position player responded by looking at his cards, then deliberately turning his king face up for several seconds, then back down, while grinning back at the guy who had made the bet and the challenging comment.

When the dealer didn't say anything about this rather obvious infraction, I asked him if that was allowed, given that there were three players still with live cards. He asked, "Is what allowed?" He had been so engrossed in watching the television that he had not noticed the improper discussing of the hand nor the guy exposing his king for the entire table to see. Note that this was the only thing happening at the table at that moment. Nobody was talking to Frank or causing other distractions. He just didn't care enough to notice what was going on. That is Mr. Magoo level of blindness and inattention. But it's par for the course for Frank, and for most of the other dealers at this low-class, badly managed poker room.

After every visit there, I become more and more convinced that the way they recruit their dealers is to administer a proficiency test to applicants, then hire the ones who fail it. It's hard to imagine any other explanation for the astonishing level of incompetence and lack of professionalism.

Poker gems, #242

Joan Rivers, on last night's "Celebrity Apprentice," to Annie Duke.

You're a poker player! A poker player! That's beyond white trash! Poker players are trash, darling. Trash!

[See the full rant here, because a transcription can't possibly convey the bile and venom with which the words are spoken.]

This is it!

Today is the second readers' tournament. See details here.

I have heard a rumor that playing in a private online poker tournament immunizes you against swine flu. I can't verify that personally, but how could you take the chance on missing out, in case it's true? At the very least, it is highly unlikely that you will contract swine flu during the tournament. Can't promise you won't pick up HORSE flu, but you'll be pretty much safe from swine flu.

Guess the casino, #125

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

Answer: Sahara

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Casino poker is TOTALLY rigged

Luxor today. The table's two big stacks (about $400 each) get into a raising war. It takes the fifth raise, but they get it all in before the flop. The table maniac has finally picked up a real hand: the two black kings. His opponent has Ah-Kh, and would have been seriously overplaying it against any other player, but our maniac was raising and reraising pretty indiscriminately, so it's hard to criticize him too severely for not crediting the maniac with a one of the only two hands he should fear. (I folded 9d-10d when the third raise came.)

The flop was all blanks, except for two more hearts for the Ah-Kh.

Turn was the ace of spades. Ouch! With no straight draws, the maniac is down to one out; only the king of diamonds will save him.

River: That's right, the king of diamonds. Maniac wins.

Of course, this isn't really a bad beat in the traditional sense, because the pot went to the player with the best chance of winning when the money went in. Still, one doesn't often see 400-big-blind pots determined by a one-outer on the river. The table let out about as big a collective groan in sympathy for the victim as you'll ever hear. Probably didn't help the poor bastard feel any better, though.


Another milestone come and gone so quietly that even I didn't notice it. Post #1500 was actually yesterday's reminder of the readers' tournament. What I wrote back at #1400 about anniversaries becoming less important over time is still true, but there's a more mundane reason for the oversight here. I do the "Guess the casino" posts in large batches--right now they're all set to release one every night through May 17, for example--and when I log onto Blogger it tells me the total number of posts inclusive of those future ones. That means that the counter has been over 1500 for quite a while now, so it stopped catching my eye.

Anyway, 1500 seems like a ridiculous, impossible number of posts, inconceivable to me when I started this thing, even if many of them are quick little nothings. It seems incomprehensible to me that anybody is still reading. At times I feel so silly writing that I want to shout at all of you, "Don't you have anything better to be doing than reading this crap?" And, at myself, "Don't you have anything better to be doing than writing this crap?"

But secretly, down deep, I'm glad that the answer to both questions is "no."

Thanks for sticking around. I'll let you know when I--when we--get up to 2000.

Guess the casino, #124

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

Answer: Binion's