Saturday, October 24, 2009

In which I play a new game--and crush it

Cardgrrl and I had another non-poker day today. It was spent at the home of her closest friends, a husband-and-wife pair that she has known since college days. I had exchanged some correspondence with them in advance, and had anticipated that meeting them would be one of the best parts of the trip. I was right. They proved to be a completely delightful couple that I hope will be in my circle of friends for a long time to come.

The highlight of the visit was playing a game that Cardgrrl has played with them (and their two teenage sons, one of which was there, the other of which is off to college) frequently in the past: "Apples to Apples." This is absolutely one of the best games I've ever enountered. It is simple in premise, virtually instant to learn, fast-paced, funny, creative, and endlessly entertaining. Each player has seven red cards, on each of which is the name of a person, place, or thing (James Dean, oil spill, the Eiffel Tower, high school reunion, the ozone layer, babies, loan shark, girlfriends). One player, acting as judge, selects a green card from the pack. The green cards contain a concept or quality (silly, fake, manly, touchy-feely, clean, demanding, etc.). Players select from their red cards the one that they think the judge will decide best fits the category or characteristic specified on the green card. The judge can make the decision on any basis he or she wishes (the most literally correct, the funniest, the most ironic, or even random). The person whose red card is selected by the judge keeps that green card, and the first player with seven green cards wins.

I won twice in a row. And I have to tell you, it wasn't even close. In the first game, nobody had more than three when I hit seven. In the second somebody had gotten to five, but none of the others had more than three.

In other words, I crushed. (Here's that "insufferable" thing again that Cardgrrl was talking about. Don't worry--it won't last long.)

A large part of it is luck--having cards that perfectly fit and that are kind of obvious winners. E.g., I had "First man on the moon" when the category was "Technological." Hard to top that. (I also had "Skinheads" when the green card said "Hostile," and thought it was a shoe-in, but lost a close decision to "Attack on Pearl Harbor.") But some of the game is also getting inside the head of the judge and anticipating what he or she will find compelling. E.g., I submitted "Eiffel Tower" for the "Manly" green card, thinking that the judge (the teenage son) would find the phallic symbolism an irresistibly cutesy way to make his decision--and he did. Similarly, I guessed that our hostess, then serving as judge, would appreciate the lateralness of "talk radio" submitted for the "chewy" green card--i.e., topics for discussion on the radio being stuff to chew on, as in "chew the fat." She did, and on that basis.

Do you see poker parallels here? I sure do (though, of course, I tend to see them everywhere, so it's not saying much). You have to be able to see the game from the perspective of somebody else in order to be successful. I won a green card by correctly anticipating that our host would think "Corvettes" were more "Neat" than whatever others were submitting, but I would not have made the same choice if, say, Cardgrrl had been the judge that round--just as I will be more inclined to play a tricky little hand like 5-7 offsuit against an opponent that I believe has a big pair and will get too married to it than against a cautious player who is good at smelling traps and getting out of them, and will be more inclined to fire the three-barrel bluff at the overly nitty play-only-the-nuts guy than at the calling station.

A couple of years ago I briefly was part of a small group of players who shared difficult poker hands via email discussion. It didn't last long. I confess that I didn't contribute much. (Some of them are readers--so, sorry, guys.) Here's why: Every time I thought about submitting a hand for consideration, it boiled down to a question of deciding how this particular player would react to a bluff, value-bet, or whatever, or what cards he might have in this specific situation. But how to convey by email what information I had on that point? Consider, for example, this hand, which took me forever to write up, because of trying to explain everything I had gathered about my opponent, how previous hands had played out, what his emotional state and image of me likely were, etc. I just couldn't find the time or inclination to type out that level of detail very often. But that's just what one needs in order to make good decisions in poker--particularly in no-limit games--whether on the spot or after the fact. Who you are playing against is an enormous part of every decision you have to make.

As for "Apples to Apples," if we're being honest, most of my success today was the proverbial beginner's luck of having superior cards. After all, my four opponents not only know each other much better than I know any of them (or they me), but they have played this exact game against each other many times. So I'm not going to fool myself into thinking that it was some poker-honed, ultra-superior, mind-penetrating radar that brought the wins. But it was definitely in my thoughts the whole time that seeing things as other players see them was a crucial element to that game, as well as to the one with which I'm more familiar.

Cardgrrl and I are going to a live deep-stack tournament tomorrow, probably to be followed by a cash game. I hope that I am able to carry over at least a little bit of the good fortune I had today, and also remember how useful it can be to get inside the other players' heads.

Guess the casino, #305

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

Answer: Mandalay Bay

Friday, October 23, 2009

The cool thing I did today (no poker content)

Today Cardgrrl and I took a day off from poker. We went to the Library of Congress. We took the official tour of the main (Jefferson) building, which was interesting enough. But part of our reason for choosing that institution to visit, as opposed to a thousand other places one might explore, was that we were going to be meeting up with two of Cardgrrl's friends for dinner, and they both work at the Library of Congress. We got to their building (there are several) just after closing time, and so had to be escorted in. But that meant that we got to see some of the office space and some of the storage areas where the general public ordinarily doesn't get to go.

By happenstance, one of the friends we were meeting spied in the hallway a colleague that she thought could and would take us on a special impromptu tour, and that's exactly what happened. We were ushered into the vault of the periodicals section of the library, where are kept the most rare and valuable of the collection. Part of it is what I understand to be the largest collection of comic books on the planet. Hence the photo above. Those particular ones were lying on a cart because they had been pulled from the shelves for a visiting scholar who is researching the history of images of women in American comic books.

About three feet away from that cart (to the right of what is framed in the photo) was a set of shelves on which were the newest acquisitions. They included a mint-condition first issue of some old superhero comic that I hadn't heard of before, but of which the curator was exceptionally proud. (It was apparently a very expensive purchase.) She also showed us a newly acquired bound volume of the earliest issues of the first Cherokee-language (actually bilingual, with English in parallel columns) newspaper in the U.S. On the same new-acquisition shelves was a bunch of old newspapers being collected because they printed the Declaration of Independence in 1776. My understanding was that the library has been trying to assemble as many samples of these as they could find. You could see by the dates how the news spread around the country and the world. She pulled out for us examples such as a Virginia newspaper from, I believe, July 16, 1776, and the first newspaper in which the Declaration was published in London in late August. A Philadelphia newspaper had it on the front page, but right next to it were ads for, among other things, slaves for sale. Oh, the irony! (I could see that this bound volume was sitting on the shelf, though she only described it for us rather than pulling it out.)

There are, we were told by the official tour guide, some 140,000,000 items in the Library of Congress. I don't suppose that an Archie or Wonder Woman comic, or even a bunch of 1776 newspapers, are the most interesting things there. But it was an unspeakably cool and unexpected treat to be personally escorted into one of the library's usually completely-off-limits vaults, after hours, and shown some of these rare items by the very kind, enthusiastic, and technically knowledgeable woman who is in charge of their safekeeping, just because we happened to have been visiting one of her colleagues at the right place and time.

From there were walked to a nearby Mexican restaurant, Tortilla Coast, which I liked very much. The purpose of the get-together was for me to be able to meet some of Cardgrrl's best friends, and them me (more of which is coming tomorrow), and to celebrate the belated birthday of one of them. It was a delightful time.

If I had something pokery to report, I would. But I can't apologize for having no poker news when I spent my day in such delightful company and pursuits. Once in a while, I am reminded that there is more to life than poker, and it can be quite nice indeed.

Guess the casino, #304

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

Answer: Hooters

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Guess the casino, #303

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

Answer: Golden Nugget

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Legality of poker in the District of Columbia

Now that I have played in an underground poker game in the District, I thought maybe I should learn for myself whether I was committing a crime in the process. Oh, sure, some people might check that out in advance, but that's not how I roll.

To the best of my ability to determine, the central statute in operation is this:

DC ST § 22-1704

Division IV. Criminal Law and Procedure and Prisoners.
Title 22. Criminal Offenses and Penalties.

Subtitle I. Criminal Offenses.
Chapter 17.
Subchapter I. General Provisions.

§ 22-1704. Gaming; setting up gaming table; inducing play.

Whoever shall in the District set up or keep any gaming table, or any
house, vessel, or place, on land or water, for the purpose of gaming, or
gambling device commonly called A B C, faro bank, E O, roulette, equality, keno,
thimbles, or little joker, or any kind of gaming table or gambling device
adapted, devised, and designed for the purpose of playing any game of chance for
money or property, or shall induce, entice, and permit any person to bet or play
at or upon any such gaming table or gambling device, or on the side of or
against the keeper thereof, shall be punished by imprisonment for a term of not more than 5 years. For the purposes of this section, the term
"gambling device" shall not include slot machines manufactured before 1952,
intended for exhibition or private use by the owner, and not used for gambling
purposes. The term "slot machine" means a mechanical device, an essential part
of which is a drum or reel which bears an insignia and which when operated may
deliver, as a result of the application of an element of chance, a token, money,
or property, or by operation of which a person may become entitled to receive,
as a result of this application of an element of chance, a token, money, or

The term "gaming table" is further defined in section 22-1707:
All games, devices, or contrivances at which money or any other thing shall
be bet or wagered shall be deemed a gaming table within the meaning of §§ 22-
1704 to 22-1706; and the courts shall construe said sections liberally, so as to
prevent the mischief intended to be guarded against.

Interestingly, as far as I can tell, "gaming" itself is not specifically defined.

Poker is not specifically mentioned in either statute. However, my admittedly superficial analysis is that a court would be hard-pressed not to see it included.* True, one might succeed at convincing a court that poker is not a "game of chance," but is instead a game of skill. However, I wouldn't count on it, based on recent results in other jurisdictions. And even if one succeeded on that count, one would not be out of the woods, because the first part of section 1704 prohibits the keeping "any gaming table...for the purpose of gaming," without regard to the "game of chance" language. With the broad definition of "gaming table" in 1707 to include any game in which anything of value is bet or wagered, I can't see how a poker game could escape.

In doing a quick Google search on the subject, I came across a couple of places where people were claiming that having a poker game in the District is legal as long as there isn't a rake. As far as I can tell, that is just plain wrong. Inviting a couple of friends over for a penny-ante game with no house rake or profit taken, or hosting a poker tournament where all of the entry fees are redistributed back to the players without juice, is just as much a violation of the statute as operating a 24-hour, for-profit, raked game in a low-rent apartment somewhere. Pub tournaments in which the prizes are non-monetary items of some value or bar-tab credits would similarly seem to be prohibited.

Note, too, that all of these examples, being violations of the same statute, constitute felonies, punishable by up to five years in prison. That's right: Invite three friends over to your house for an evening of $0.01-$0.02 limit hold'em, and you're a felon. Makes a lot of sense, doesn't it?

The only way you escape the broad definition is if you run a game only for funsies and bragging rights, with absolutely nothing of monetary value at stake. (My friend Cardgrrl sometimes plays heads-up with a poker buddy here for practice and experience, with just such an arrangement, and that would seem to run afoul of no laws.)

The good news is that it appears that playing poker does not violate the statute. It is the keeping of the gaming table that is the criminal violation.

Using a free web site on case law, I am able to search only the last ten years, but in that interval I find no criminal cases in the D.C. appellate courts in which maintenance of a poker table or establishment has been adjudicated. It is possible that there exists older case law that clarifies or modifies the facial language of the statutes, but if so, I don't know about it.

I also have not yet dug into the status of the law in neighboring Maryland or Virginia. If anybody can point me to a definitive source for such information (i.e., not just "I heard that..."), so that I don't have to figure it out myself, it would be appreciated.

*That language about construing the language "liberally" is part of a trend over the past several decades. Courts have frequently held that criminal statutes must be interpreted narrowly or strictly, so that citizens are on fully fair notice of what is prohibited. That is, if it is ambiguous whether a particular action falls within the scope of the legal proscription, courts are generally supposed to find that the action is not criminal. Not surprisingly, legislatures didn't like this development, so many of them started incorporating language like you see here, directly instructing courts not to implement the so-called "strict construction" or "rule of lenity." But courts in many jurisdictions have simply ignored such mandates, on the grounds that narrow interpretation is a constitutional requirement as part of "due process," and legislatures simply don't have the authority to require otherwise. Courts in some jurisdictions, though, have capitulated. Kind of bizarrely, I had to research this in some depth in conjunction with a legal case I was involved in a few years ago. (No, I wasn't on trial for any criminal accusation, but the question was relevant to a civil case.) I found clear case law favoring the rule of lenity for penal statutes in 11 states (CT, FL, HI, IL, LA, NJ, PA, RI, TN, WA, WV), whereas at least nine state appellate courts have heeded the legislative mandate to the contrary (CA, DE, MI, MT, NH, NY, OR, SD, UT), though not always with great consistency. For others, including DC, I couldn't find clear declarations one way or the other. Fascinating, eh? I'm just chock-full of useless knowledge.

This all probably doesn't matter, though, for the case of poker, because the fact that wagering is involved puts it pretty clearly on the prohibited list, and there isn't much ambiguity for a court to have to try to resolve.

The Gospel of the Deuce-Four comes to D.C. (and other stories)

Yesterday I had a lovely day spent with Cardgrrl. We took a long walk in the afternoon, exploring part of her neighborhood in Washington, D.C. She lives within a few blocks of such institutions as the National Cathedral, Fannie Mae headquarters, the Sidwell Friends school (where attend children of U.S. presidents, senators, etc.--because public schools are good enough for eveybody else's kids, but not theirs), the Department of Homeland Security, and American University.

In the evening we started with what her blog readers will have come to know as the "A league," a well-organized home-tournament series in the northern Virginia suburbs. This particular one was held in the basement of one of the members, with "Rehab" playing in the background on the television. (I certainly knew of the Hard Rock pool and its reputation, but I had no idea that there was a reality TV show about it, nor had I even heard of the "Tru" network that it's on. What a dumb show.)

Cardgrrl did great in the tourney, taking second. She would have won it, if not for a super-ugly three-outer on the river during heads-up play, when she had her lone opponent just barely covered, and was too crippled to recover as a result. Her surprising reaction to this beat was to tell the other player, "You suck," to which he responded, "Yes, I do." It appeared that this was neither intended nor taken as an actual put-down, the two of them having played together for a couple of years now. She assured me in private later that such banter is routine for the group and not taken seriously by anybody, but it was still an odd and highly uncomfortable moment for me, as an outside observer.*

I admit that I had some difficulty adapting to the home-game milieu, what with players casually reaching into each others' chips for change, endemic splashing of the pot, no attempt whatsoever to enforce any rule against discussing the hand in progress, ubiquitous card-flashing, rabbit-hunting after most hands (really, I don't understand why anybody cares what might have been, but that's something I've ranted about before, so won't repeat here), the dealer button signifying actual dealing by that player (while the small blind shuffles a second deck for efficiency), etc. But it was all organized in its own slightly chaotic way, perfectly friendly, and actually a lot of fun.

Since everybody else managed to go with the flow, I'm sure I could learn to adjust to that environment as well, given a few more experiences with it. After all, the casino poker rooms of Vegas, with their rules and procedures, were once foreign and uncomfortable to me, too. There's nothing particularly wrong with the home-style version. It's just that the standard casino ways of doing everything are now completely second nature to me, so encountering different and unfamiliar ways of doing things is, at least temporarily, at the edges of my personal comfort zone. The people, though, were warm and welcoming, and did their best to make the new guy feel part of the gang. That's certainly something one doesn't get in a typical Vegas poker room. I am humbled by and grateful for that reception. I expect to be playing with much of the same group Sunday, and I'm genuinely looking forward to it.

I made it to the final table but not the money, exiting the tournament in one of the worst ways possible: by mucking the winning hand accidentally when I was all-in. It was instantly placed onto the list of The Top Ten Most Stupid Mistakes I Have Ever Made While Playing Poker.

It happened because, as another example of the non-casino, home-game way of doing things, the small main pot was awarded first to a player who had been even more short-stacked than I was. Of course, standard procedure is to award the side pot first. I was eligible for that, and had the best of the three hands that were competing for it. But because of the reverse way that they did the showdown, once the fourth player--the only one with a stack shorter than mine--showed a better hand than mine, I assumed I had lost. Put another way, the flipped order of showdown caused me to confuse, for a few critical seconds, which pot was the side and which was the main, and by the time I realized my mistake, my cards were in the muck. Of course, I should have just turned them face-up anyway, as I have preached here any number of times. The size of that side pot was such that it merely would have taken me back to where I was in chips before the hand started, which wasn't great, but it was still in rather than out. The final outcome still most likely would have been me out of the money, but I would have at least had a fighting chance. Stupid, stupid, stupid me. Fortunately, the entry fee was only $25, so I didn't kick myself as hard as I would have if more money had been at stake. Still, it was an inexcusable lapse for one with my level of experience.

From there we went to what Cardgrrl refers to in her blog and tweets as the "Crime Scene Game," so designated because of the bloodbath she experienced the first time playing there after having started her blog. We started playing around 10:30 p.m. and stayed until 2:30 a.m.

Late in the session I was almost back to even after taking a long time to dig out of an early hole, when I found the 2s-4c in early position. I limped, as did several others. The flop was 3d-5d-7s, giving me an open-ended straight draw. I thought that flop likely missed all or nearly all of the other players, and I had acquired an image as the tightest player in the game (mostly because of an unbelievably long string of unplayable cards), so I thought a bet might take it down. I think I made it $10. It did reduce the field to one opponent--the guy who had built up the largest stack at the table, with some $800 in front of him. (Buy-in for this $1-2 NLHE game is capped at $300.)

The turn was the As, completing my straight. I bet $25. My opponent min-raised to $50. I popped it an additional $75 on top of that, and he called. The way he had been playing, I was pretty sure that (1) he would have raised on the flop to defend against the flush draw, and/or reraised me all-in on the turn, if he had 4-6 for a higher straight, and (2) he would only call my turn reraise with top two pair or a set. The river was the 8h, which changed nothing; this guy absolutely would not have played the hand this way with 6-9. I moved all-in for my last $125. He thought a while, called, and asked, "You got a straight?" Well, of course I do, sir--it's the deuce-four! The biggest pot of the night came my way. He did not show his hand.**

I snapped a picture of the result, though it appears that I had an ugly fingerprint or something on the cell-phone camera lens, resulting in a smudged appearance to the whole thing:

Cardgrrl, of course, had figured out what I was playing, but none of the other players knew about me or this blog or the 2-4. She told my unfortunate opponent that he was playing with a disadvantage, not knowing that about me. I explained to the table that the 2-4 is the most powerful hand in poker.

Cardgrrl sent out the following Tweet: "@pokergrump wins huge pot playing the 2-4. I still do not believe." It's true--she doesn't. She's a stubborn woman. (She also made a crack about how I was going to be "insufferable" after winning this monster pot with that hand. She may be right about that, though there's an argument to be made that I'm pretty damn insufferable at baseline anyway.)

Apparently one guy believed my preaching. Just a couple of hands later, while I was still stacking the chips, he played 2-4 (in crubs, no less!) after another guy had raised with A-4. The original raiser moved all-in on a flop of 2-2-4, and was insta-called by the brand-new convert to the Holy Order of the Deuce-Four, who was understandably quite pleased to learn of its magical properties:

Everybody at the table had a good laugh about it. Well, all but one. Can you guess who did not find it amusing? That's right: Mr. A-4.

So I have, like a good missionary, spread the Gospel of the Deuce-Four to the Washington, D.C. area poker world, where I am confident it will flourish, having found highly fertile soil.

*I just wouldn't make a very good "good ol' boy." It seems completely backwards to me to have a relationship in which insults are taken as part of the fun. If a stranger tells me that I suck at poker, I brush it off. His opinion is both uninformed and unimportant to me. If a close friend said the same words, it would be much harder to dismiss and far more hurtful. I just don't get the whole dynamic there. But I am apparently the oddball in that regard, as in so many others.

** I wrote the above before noticing, during proofreading, that the photograph shows one of his hole cards exposed: a four. I did not see this when it happened, being too busy with the pot, taking the picture, etc. If my conjecture about his holdings is correct, it means he had a set of fours. However, it seems unlikely, in retrospect, that he would then show one but not both of them. That makes me think that I gave him too much credit, and he actually had A-4. But I'll never know for sure now.

Guess the casino, #302

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

Answer: Fiesta Henderson

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Guess the casino, #301

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

Answer: Caesars Palace

Monday, October 19, 2009

Maybe my best 2-4 story ever

Sunday (yesterday) I played the afternoon tournament at Harrah's Atlantic City with Cardgrrl. She busted out fairly early (flopped two pair versus flopped straight, as I heard it), but I managed to hang on quite a long time. I finished 7th in the field of 45. Sadly, only five got paid, so I was the next-to-bubble-boy, which is quite annoying; 4 1/2 hours of work for nothing.

Anyway, when there were just two tables left, I had gotten critically short, so shoved with suited K-7 when it was folded to me in middle position. I got called by the woman to my left with A-Q, and she won, which then left me in desperate need of chips. When I was in the big blind, there was a raise followed by a reraise from the tightest player at the table, who had not three-bet the entire time I had watched him, so I had to let that go, much to my chagrin.

Next hand I was small blind. I think I started the hand with 6000, and had to post 1000 of it for the blind. The button raised to 8000. I had 2c-4h. Two live cards, surely, AND the most powerful hand in hold'em! I shoved.

My opponent had Q-10. The flop looked bad for me: Q-10-3, giving him top two pair. But I had nothing to fear. After all, I had the 2-4!

The turn card probably didn't scare my opponent: A harmless-looking ace. But I knew what that meant, and, in a move that is exceptionally rare for me, I even verbally called out what the river would be: "Five!"

Sure enough, the dealer paused for dramatic effect, then whipped down the five of clubs. Wheel for me! The table went wild!

I pulled out my cell phone and snapped a picture just before the dealer whisked away the cards. He has, at this point, taken my hole cards and tossed them on top of the board cards after mucking my opponent's cards and pushing the pot. There's action and I wasn't holding very still, so things are blurry, but you can still see the results:

On the very next hand I more than doubled again when my 10-10 bested somebody else's suited A-9.

I wish the end of the story were that the dramatic runner-runner save had propelled me to a $1200 first-place cash, but it was not to be. That, however, cannot be laid at the feet of the mighty Deuce-Four, which fully performed up to its legendary reputation.

Cardgrrl had come over from her cash game when she heard that I was in trouble and was standing at the table to witness this. She even tried to take a photograph of the hand, but was stopped by the tournament director. Apparently this casino is among the more paranoid about photographs. (They were so busy stopping her that they didn't notice that I was doing the same thing at the same time.) But, sadly, she still does not believe. In fact, today during a $2-5 NLHE cash game she outdrew my flopped second pair/top kicker to make a straight on the river using her own 2-4, but still refuses to accept its supernatural strength. I don't know what it's going to take to make a convert of her.

Standard odds calculators will tell you that my probability of winning after that flop was about 3.6%, and 9.1% after the turn. But my faithful readers and I know the truth: it was a 100% lock from the get-go.

All hail the Deuce-Four!

Back from Atlantic City

Just got back to D.C. about an hour ago from a weekend in Atlantic City with Cardgrrl. Too tired to write. This is just to post a promise of a long report on the goings-on. We ended up playing only at Harrah's. There just wasn't enough time to make it practical to try visiting other poker rooms, despite a kind offer from a reader (well, at least a reader of Cardgrrl; not entirely sure about me!)/fellow blogger Tarpie to take us with him on a side trip to Caesars Palace. It has definitely made me want to go back when I can take several days and sample more of the casinos.

Full report of the trip coming soon--probably tomorrow (Tuesday).

Guess the casino, #300

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

Answer: Bellagio

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Guess the casino, #299

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

Answer: Treasure Island