Friday, September 11, 2009
Mike Caro, in Poker Player newspaper column, September 14, 2009 (vo. 13, #6), pp. 4, 25.
Question 1: Does everyone spend the same amount of time thinking?
...The majority of people either think shallowly or almost not at all. Once you understand that, you realize why you have such a great advantage at a game like poker. You can make better decisions than your opponents. And you can manipulate them.
... Question 5: How much of your lifetime poker profit will be a result of superior thinking relative to your opponents?
All of it.
As mentioned in the immediately preceding post, last night my buddy Cardgrrl and I ended up playing at the same table at the Luxor for a few hours. During her February trip in which I first met her, we played together a few times at Venetian, Caesars Palace, and Mandalay Bay. But as we became closer, we mostly stopped doing that. We don't really want to take each other's money, we don't want to act as distractions for each other, and neither of us wants a seat occupied by a dangerous player (which each of us recognizes the other to be) that could be filled by a donating fish. So last night was, I think, the first time in more than six months that we have shared a no-limit hold'em cash table.
As we were leaving, I was suprised--nay, completely stunned and blown away--by Cardgrrl's casual, offhand comment: "You have an incredibly annoying table manner."
I've heard all sorts of things about my style of play and mannerisms at the table from all sorts of opponents, but I can't recall anybody saying that he or she found my style annoying. The most common observation is simply that I'm very hard to read, which, of course, is exactly my goal. And even though I tend to be about as hypersensitive to annoyances as anybody I know (hence this blog--duh!), I cannot fathom how anybody could possibly find the way I act to be annoying. I can imagine that people might find me cold or unfriendly (not mean or rude--just not engaging on a personal level). They might find me inscrutible or mysterious or even borderline scary/intimidating. But annoying? How can that be?
Cardgrrl took pains to reassure me that she didn't mean any criticism of me--in fact, didn't mean anything negative by it whatsoever, though I'm not sure that any amount of disclaimers can fully blunt the feeling that being told that one is "annoying" isn't especially flattering.
The best that I could garner from what I'll have to admit was rather intense questioning of Cardgrrl as to what, exactly, she meant by that remark (and I trust that she will feel free to speak up if I misunderstood or if I am inadvertantly misrepresenting her point of view) is that it is the highly mechanical, "robotic" and "automaton" (her words) way that I do everything that she found annoying and tilt-inducing. I asked if she would find Chris Ferguson's even more highly perfected control of body movements to be annoying, and she said yes. This was, at least, a little bit reassuring.
This idea that I am inadvertantly annoying to others when I try so hard not to be has me on life tilt. It's not only a new concept to me, it's completely contrary to everything I have tried to implement about how I play. I'm not at all trying to annoy opponents. I'm not good at chatting them up, engaging in small talk, making friends, keeping the game all light and fun, the way Mike Caro recommends. It's completely contrary to my nature. But I do try my very best never to cause any negativity at the table--other than what inevitably comes from being a challenging opponent (hopefully, at least on my good days) and taking people's chips. I don't want to be annoying; I basically want to be as completely invisible and unnoticed as possible, and being annoying seems to me utterly inconsistent with that goal.
So now I'm deeply curious as to whether Cardgrrl's perspective is shared by others. For those readers who have spent time at a table with me, please speak up in the comments and share your thoughts: Did you find my admittedly rather mechanical ways of taking my turn to be irritating and/or tilt-inducing, or think that others would find them to be so? Note that I am not looking for selective confirmation of my self-image and/or refutation of Cardgrrl's opinion. I am genuinely interested in finding out how I'm perceived, to the extent that that is possible. If you haven't played with me personally, but recall seeing other opponents that have a style similar to what I'm describing here, did you find them to be annoying? I really want to know.
Just for fun, here's a great clip showing how completely inscrutible Chris Ferguson is when taking his actions. Can you spot any tells here? If so, you have better eyesight than I do.
No surprise, really. But this time it took until near the end of the session (which was spent with Cardgrrl at the same table, something we haven't done in months) for the badness to be manifested.
The dealer was James. The "high hand of the day" was 5-5-5-5. That is, if one had pocket 5s and found the other two on the board, it was a $500 bonus. The flop came 4-5-5. Instantly, James said, "Oh, who's got those pocket 5s?"
It is perfectly appropriate, even laudable, for dealers to make sure that players know what jackpots and promotions are available, and what the rules and conditions for them are. (Side story: A young woman at the table hit quad aces and simply called an opponent on the river, rather than raising, because, as she explained, she erroneously thought that if he folded to a raise, there wouldn't be a showdown and she would lose eligibility for the high hand jackpot.) But a dealer should not volunteer this information in the middle of a hand in which doing so might alert players to something going on that they might otherwise have missed, and thus queer the action.
For example, suppose there had been a large raise preflop in this hand from a player with A-A, and a call. The raiser is contemplating what range of hands his opponent might have. He is unaware of the "5555" promotion. After seeing the flop of 4-5-5, he is not worried that his opponent could have 5-5 in the hand, because he thinks that his preflop raise was large enough to push out small pocket pairs. Now that the dealer points out the promotion, however, he realizes that 5-5 is, in fact, within his opponent's calling range, because that player might be willing to call an unusually large amount for the chance to hit the big bonus. If the opponent does actually have 5-5, the dealer's comment may reduce the amount that the player with quads gets from Mr. Aces, because now the latter is on alert. Conversely, even if nobody has the quads, the dealer's comment may increase the raiser's level of caution and cause smaller bets, or maybe even checking a street where he might otherwise have bet. In another scenario, perhaps a player who has poor eyesight or is too drunk to see the cards clearly thought that the flop was 4-5-6 instead of 4-5-5, and is about to play accordingly, until the dealer's comment draws extra attention to the fact that the board is paired.
Dealers simply must refrain from any comments that could potentially change how players play their hands. The Luxor dealers routinely ignore this mandate, and last night's incident was just the latest in a long line of such improper actions I've seen and documented here.
The most plausible explanation for the dealer's interjection here is that he wanted to be sure not to miss a possible large tip coming from a player who didn't know about the promotion and quietly mucked quads rather than showing them at the end of the hand. In other words, he selfishly puts his own needs ahead of the integrity of the game. I find that despicable.
This same dealer frequently, though not consistently, told players, "Nice hand," or "Good bet." Again, this seems likely designed to remind people to tip him, without overtly saying so. Cardgrrl has ranted about the wrongness of such dealer comments here. As she points out, this puts the dealer in the position of playing favorites--complimenting one player while ignoring or compounding the irritation or pain of the loser(s) of the hand.
She and I had a long talk about James on the way back from Luxor last night. She found this habit of his much more annoying than pointing out the possible quads. Conversely, I thought the quads thing was much worse, because it has the potential to compromise the integrity of the game, while the compliments are merely rude and irritating (and, admittedly, possibly bad for the game), but don't affect what is actually transpiring in a hand, because it's over by then.
As a final bit of unprofessionalism, both Cardgrrl and I felt a noticeable grating on the nerves when James called her "Honey" at one point.
Because of all of my griping about the Luxor dealers, it's probably only fair that I point out, again, that there are a few notable exceptions there--dealers who do their jobs very well indeed. One of the true standouts is Mark. If you've played there, you likely will have noticed him, if only because he keeps his hair cut in keeping with the pyramid theme of the Luxor, which is kind of a cool and interesting touch. More importantly, though, he is a real pro, in my experience. He keeps the game moving well, makes very few errors, is alert to players' needs, proactively deals with potential problems (e.g., last night he was the only dealer that noticed players who were inadvertantly flashing their cards while mucking, and politely reminded them to keep the cards down), uniformly enforces rules, and is unfailingly friendly and polite.
Why don't they make him the poker room manager, and have him teach his pathetic, hopeless, loser colleagues how to do their jobs right?
Thursday, September 10, 2009
A couple of weeks ago I overheard some of the dealers at MGM Grand poker room talking about a new pizza place that a friend of theirs had recently opened. They were raving about the food. I didn't get the impression that they were just talking up the place as a favor to a friend, because I was overhearing a discussion that wasn't really meant for me. I jotted down the name and looked it up later when I got home: http://mannieandboslv.com/
Tonight I tried it for the first time. It was sadly unpatronized. My ex-wife and I were the only two customers in the place the entire duration of our dinner. They have really great "grand opening" deals still going on: e.g., half price on any pizza for dining in, which is the special we took advantage of. We got a pepperoni and Canadian bacon large (16") thin-crust pizza and two soft drinks for a total of $13.11. If it was crappy pizza, this wouldn't be worth mentioning. But it was actually really good. I have a slight preference for thick crust, and will try that the next time. I liked it enough that I don't want the place to close because of lack of business.
It's right next to (south of) the Home Depot on Rainbow, just north of Charleston. Give it a try, eh?
I just got home from a couple of hours at the Flamingo. BWOP, Cardgrrl, and I each took on a separate $1/2 table. It was a relatively short session, as the two of them had a late dinner date, and I had to taxi my visiting ex-wife on some errands. Toward the very end, my friend --S showed up, fresh from some job interviews; he's coming back to town after experimenting with jobs at New Mexico and Colorado casinos. (By the way, for those of you who enjoy reading me, you owe a tip o' the hat to --S. It was reading his blog that made me decide that I, too, might have something worth saying about poker, and that the technical aspects of putting together a blog might be manageable for even a technodummy like me.) So it was a nice evening in terms of the company. And I won money at a decent rate, which is always nice.
But I post this to comment on two oddities that happened during the session. The first was that the poker room ran out of red ($5) chips. They were so short that they were going around the $1/2 tables begging players to trade stacks of red for green ($25) chips.
How in the hell does a casino run out of chips? This wasn't anywhere close to the busiest day of the year. Why don't they have about a billion dollars' worth of chips in the vault in the basement, ready for even the most insanely overcrowded day? The things are cheap to buy and last nearly forever. It seems to me like a no-brainer to have more chips than one would need on even the busiest day they've ever experienced.
The second oddity wasn't really related to the first, but came to my attention because of the first. A dealer was trying to deal with the chip shortage by getting the floor to approve letting $100 bills play. Cash has not previously been allowed to play at the Flamingo. The floor guy came over and told him that, yes, $100 bills would play--but this was not because he was making a special dispensation. Rather, it was because they had formally changed this policy as of September 1. Black chips ($100) are also allowed to play now under the new rule.
So it was strange that this dealer didn't know that. But then we had a dealer change, and the subject came up again. A player went busto and needed to buy a stack of red chips from one of the big stacks. They traded the bill and chips. The new dealer, though, said that that wouldn't help, because cash doesn't play. Yep--a second dealer hadn't heard of the new rule, which has been in effect for nine days now.
Then, a while later, a dealer who was acting as brush and chip runner between downs walked by the table and noticed that two players had C-notes tucked under or behind their chip stacks. He helpfully offered to trade those in for chips, informing the table that "Cash doesn't play." Yep--a third dealer had not heard about this. Of all three dealers who had to deal with the question, not a single one had heard that the poker room's policy had changed more than a week ago. Each time, the floor guy had to come over and inform them of the new way things were to be done. There was not a single dealer who had to address the matter who knew the new rule.
How can a poker room's management be so incompetent and uncaring that, apparently, the majority of its dealers don't know about a rather important change in policy or procedure more than a week after it has been implemented?
Wednesday, September 09, 2009
I just finished watching "Viva Las Vegas" (1964) for the first time ever. I know--I'm slightly behind the times.
There's not much point in a full review. After all, you've either already seen it or can make a darn good guess about what you'll get if you sit down to watch it: dumb plot that is just an excuse for Elvis and Ann-Margaret to sing, dance, and flirt.
What I enjoyed most was how it captured Old Vegas: for example, the car race downtown, zooming east on Fremont Street, then turning south on Casino Center, as you can see in the shots above. (Notice that when the race finally ends, a finish line has mysteriously appeared on the street at the intersection of Fremont and Casino Center where there was none before!) It would be rather difficult to do that today....
There are also nice shots of the race going over Hoover Dam, though the desert, and to a forested area that I have to assume is probably in the vicinity of Mt. Charleston. And, of course, strewn throughout the film are many shots of downtown, the Strip, and casino interiors. (Elvis has to visit every show in town in one night to locate his dream girl, whose name and working location he failed to get upon meeting her.) There's also a small part with actor William Demarest, whom I knew growing up only as Uncle Charlie on "My Three Sons."
I don't know how you could not like this stuff. Then again, I'm kind of a sucker for cheese.
Wow--it seems strange to sit down and start to write a real post of the kind that used to come out nearly every day. It's been a while!
Last night, I picked up Cardgrrl at the Venetian poker room, where she had been playing, and we went off to Mandalay Bay to do some fishing. After an hour and a half, we had both done reasonably well. (OK, I admit it--she had won quite a bit more than I had, thanks mostly to making a set of jacks on the turn and getting the all-in call from a guy with unimproved Q-Q.) She wanted to move on to the Luxor, so I agreed.
Good call, as it turned out.
By coincidence, we discovered in talking last night that Luxor is the place where both she and I first played casino poker--and both of us had no clue what we were doing back then. So it was kind of a return to roots, but hopefully this time with us nearer the top of the Luxor poker food chain than we were five or six years ago.
Unprofessional dealers--what's new?
Just about every time I write about a session at the Luxor, it includes a story about one of the dealers doing something stupid, unprofessional, and/or in violation of basic rules. (Just click here for a compilation of the relevant posts.) I'm not picking on the Luxor deliberately; I would complain about such things from dealers wherever they might occur. It's just that at the Luxor it happens a lot more than any other poker room I visit regularly. As I have noted before, I am not the only one with this perception; "Las Vegas Michael" spends even more time in poker rooms than I do and pays close attention to how they are run, and he agrees that the Luxor is in a class by itself in terms of how unprofessional the dealers are.
Last night it took only five minutes into the session before I had another humdinger of a bad-dealer story. The dealer was Jimmy. The final board on the hand in question was K-Q-3-7-3. Player A bet. Player B called. Player A showed K-10. Player B said, "Oh, you have a better kicker." Player B then turned a king face up, left his second card face down, and passed his hole cards back to the dealer in a clear and obvious fold.
Jimmy tapped the guy's face-down card and said, "Chop chop." Player B still didn't catch on, so Jimmy told him, "If you turn both cards up, it will be a chopped pot." Player B finally saw what he meant, complied (his other card was a 5) and the pot was split.
B's cards never hit the muck, but his intention was unambiguous, and the dealer's correct action would have been to turn the king face down, put both cards in the muck, award the pot to Player A, and say nothing about it.
Player A complained, but did so very softly, speaking quietly to the player on her right. (I was on her left, so heard it.) She didn't complain to the dealer or floor, as she should have.
If a player misreads his hand or the board or both, and wrongly decides to muck his cards, he must be allowed to do so. Neither the dealer nor another player may intervene to stop him. It is a strategic decision to muck rather than table one's cards, and dealers cannot make that decision for players, nor even help them make that decision.
I suspect that the dealer's reason for sticking his nose in where it didn't belong was the hope that he could pick up tips from two winners rather than one. He was a smart guy--he surely knew that what he was doing was against the rules. Dealers injecting themselves into poker hands and poker players' decisions is the single most frequent category of wrong stuff that Luxor dealers do that I have chronicled here. Clearly it is not going to stop anytime soon, because it has been going on for years. It is patently obvious that nobody in the poker room management cares about this stuff.
Here's another minor dealer error I saw last night: On the river, the action went check-check-check-check, then the button pushed out $35. The dealer, James, said, "Raise it up. Make it $35." Raise? Raise? How can there be a raise when there has been no prior bet? Players new to casino poker make this mistake all the time. Dealers never should.
One last dealer story: I had Tweeted about the first incident. Cardgrrl, two tables over, had apparently seen that post. A while later, she sent me a text message asking me whether Don was the dealer that I disliked. I responded that he was one of them, based on previous interactions. I guessed at what he was doing that annoyed her: being vulgar. She wrote back, "He was on about happy endings over here. Idiot." Bingo. Do I know my dealers, or what? (He's the same one that I referred to as "Dealer #5" here, when I heard him making stupid double-entendres about his "big carrot.")
An audacious bluff
Usually at the Luxor the players are such terrible calling stations that I deploy what I think of as my "Bill's strategy," which basically means no bluffing. There can be exceptions, but they must be selected with extreme care. Last night, such a confluence of circumstances occurred.
There was a large four-way pot. One player was all-in on the flop, with three of us calling. I had suited 7-8. On the turn I picked up both flush and gutshot straight draws, so I called another player's bet, as did the last guy.
The river missed me, but meant that the final board was K-5-4-3-2 with no flush possible. I didn't think either of my remaining opponents had an ace or a six, and thought that they couldn't call without a straight if I were to bet. Furthermore, they happened to be the only two players at the table that I thought were good enough (1) to have noticed that I had played my hand as if on a draw, and (2) to fold a hand like top pair or even two pair if they were sufficiently persuaded that I had just made my straight on the river. So when it was checked to me, I bet $50 at what was then a roughly $60 side pot. Both of them folded.
I had to show my cards because of the showdown with the all-in guy. As the dealer pushed me the side pot, he said, "You get this part for sure." I flipped my cards up and said, "I think that's all I'll be getting." I was right, of course--the approximately $150 main pot was won by the all-in guy who had a suited Q-J, and took it with queen high! Each of the guys I had pushed out of the pot claimed, very plausibly, to have had a king for top pair. Either one could have taken the main pot if not for folding to my river bet. I didn't profit, but the side pot was enough to make me approximately even for the hand (i.e., get me back what I had put into the pot before the river), which was good enough.
It is safe to say that my move caused quite a stir. I was massively unpopular with the two guys who folded winners, but the hand continued intermittently to be the talk of the table for about 15 minutes. Both of them admitted the obvious--that they were certain I had the straight. As one of them said, "Guy plays two hands an hour, you've got to believe he has it there."
I was exceptionally pleased with this move. At the risk of sounding overly self-congratulatory, it felt, well, professional. I understood the situation accurately, including my opponents' likely holdings, their temperaments and abilities, my table image, etc., then used that information to make an aggressive move that won me money I could have taken in no other possible way.
To make things even better, over the next 30 minutes I got three more calls from opponents who all said explicitly that they felt obligated to call me down because they had seen me bluff with 8-high. (This includes the guy in the story to follow.) So not only did I steal the side pot in that hand, but got paid quite handsomely in subsequent hands because of having had to show the bluff. I was enormously pleased with how it worked out.
The real happy ending
No, it has nothing to do with getting a massage, which is what I presume that nasty dealer Don was talking about. This is about the best way to end a poker session.
Cardgrrl and I had initially planned on leaving at around 10:00 p.m. But we both had slow starts, without much happening. So we decided (all by texting) to stay another hour or so. Good thing. As 11:00 hit, I played 8-9 of hearts, just as Cardgrrl texted me to say she was going to play two more hands, then quit.
I picked up a straight-flush draw on the flop with position on my opponent (flop 7h-5c-Jh). I called his $20 bet. As you can see from the photo below, I hit my perfect card on the turn, making the jack-high straight flush.
My opponent, who happened to be one of the two that I had bluffed off of a winner before, bet another $20 on the turn. I just called again, because his stack was short enough that if he bet anything on the river, as I thought he would, he would basically be pot-committed for any raise. Sure enough, he bet $20 again. I raised all-in and he called his last $50 or so. He mucked after seeing my cards. (He later said that he had had two pair, and I believe him. He also said that he was, of course, aware of the possible flush, but because of the eight-high bluff, he thought it was about 50-50 that I was bluffing again, so felt obligated to call.)
There was a short wait while the surveillance people were contacted and the high-hand jackpot money was prepared. I stood up and called Cardgrrl's name to get her attention (which is not something I'd do except under extremely rare circumstances--like this was). I motioned for her to come see what had happened. She responded that she was in a hand.
Was she ever! About a minute later, I heard the dealer at her table call out, "High hand, seat 3." Hey--wait a second. Isn't Cardgrrl in seat 3? I looked over again. Yes, she was. I trotted over and saw this on the table:
She started with pocket aces just after texting me the "two more hands" message. She then flopped a set, and turned quads.
My table had obviously figured out that we were friends from my calling out to her, so when I came back they asked if she had really hit a high hand at the same time that I did. Yep! The floor person came by about then with two stacks of red chips (i.e., $200) for me. There was a third stack in her rack, and she told me, "That's not for you--that's for my other high hand." Indeed it was. Cardgrrl won her pot plus a $100 bonus. (If she feels like telling how the hand played out she can--obviously I wasn't there to see what had happened.)
I don't even know how to start trying to figure out the odds against two friends coming to a card room together, playing at separate tables, both down to the last couple of hands of the night, and both hitting high hand bonuses at the same time--especially with this all happening in the poker room in which, years, earlier, both had independently played their first-ever casino poker. If it were in a movie script, they'd take it out in the editing process because it would be too freakishly improbable for audiences to accept as plausible.
But it actually happened (with pictures, as you can see, for those inclined to say "Pics or it didn't happen"). We were amazed and delighted, and laughed about the craziness of it all the way home. That reality can be stranger than fiction is as true in poker as in any other field of human endeavor.
It was the perfect way to end a fun and highly profitable evening of poker with the best poker companion I've ever known.