Friday, December 25, 2009
Thursday, December 24, 2009
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
I'm off to spend the holidays with Cardgrrl in Washington, D.C. It's possible there will be a jaunt up to Atlantic City, but I kind of doubt it. So little poker and probably not much incentive to write until a couple of days into the new year. Of course, you never know when something will pop into my head and need an outlet, so I might surprise us all. But if you don't see anything here except the automatically-deploying "Guess the casino" posts, that's why. I'll be back at things soon enough.
Monday, December 21, 2009
Matthew Showell at PokerListings calls this the best thing ever to come from the 2+2 forums--and he may be right.
It's easy to understand how some habits that are either against the rules or considered bad form in casinos get established: they grow in home games in which such conduct is accepted or even encouraged. One of the home-game tournament series in which my friend Cardgrrl plays regularly, and at which I joined her for a couple of sessions in October, is player-dealt; without a dedicated dealer, each player is responsible for making his or her own change for bets from the pot. Players get used to doing this, come to a casino for the first time, assume that the same procedure applies, and are suprised when they get their hand slapped by the dealer. Similarly, many home games have little or no effective ban on talking about the hand in progress, and veterans of those games tend to be surprised when other players or dealers object to them announcing out loud what cards they folded, or speculating about what cards people are holding.
But there are some habits the origins of which I have a hard time understanding. The one that I've been thinking about lately is the ugly tendency to show just one of the two down cards when called on the final round of betting.
I was playing Saturday at Harrah's, my first venture out into the world after surving hantavirus, or whatever the hell it was that had me down all last week. (I picked Harrah's because I needed less than one more hour to qualify for Platinum status there. I made it, and picked up my spiffy new card on the way out.) I picked up A-K offsuit in late position, and raised to, I think, $12. Two callers: the big blind plus a limper. Flop was K-x-x, with no flush or straight draws. They both checked to me. I bet $25. Woman in the big blind called, other guy folded. Turn was an apparent blank. She checked to me again. I bet $45. She called. River was yet another blank, as far as I could tell. Suddenly the big blind took charge and bet $50. I didn't think that she had been slow-playing a set or other big hand, based on both body language and the betting pattern. She couldn't have been chasing a draw, so I had the sinking feeling that she had been playing a weak king and hit a lucky two pair on the river. But with top pair/top kicker, and a $50 call to maybe win a $225 pot, a call seemed virtually automatic--so that's what I did.
My opponent at this point peeked at her cards again, picked the one she wanted to show, and turned over a king. She then stared at me, waiting, apparently, for me to do something. Well, what I did was stare right back at her. I didn't feel like telling her that she was obligated to either show her hand or muck it. I assumed that she would figure out soon enough that I wasn't going to budge. It took ten seconds or so, plus another playing prodding her with, "He called you, so you have to show first," before she finally turned over her other card--a 5 (which did not pair the board). I then showed my winner.
To get back to my original point, are there really home games in which this is considered adequate, in which a player can expect that showing one card will be accepted by the other players if it's enough to win? In this situation, if I didn't have a hand that beat her top pair, would she really expect me to muck without seeing both of her cards in whatever home game she came from? (I should add that from her chip-shuffling dexterity and conversation about strategy, it was clear that she had a decent amount of experience playing the game, though I have no way of knowing if this was her first time in a casino or her thousandth.)
I just have a hard time believing that home games are routinely so casual on this point. Don't those involved (1) want more information about what their opponents are playing, and (2) understand that the rule serves game integrity by helping to ensure that the winner has a valid hand (i.e., no fouled deck, such as two of the same card, and the right number of hole cards)? Those of you with more experience in home games, I'd appreciate sharing in the comments what you have observed.
But now a digression on the etiquette of the matter.
In July I ranted about the seemingly increasing trend for players, when called on the river, to not show their cards, but instead start asking the caller what he has. This is just another variation on the same theme. Yet another variation is the angle-shooter who tries to never show unless he has the winner; these dirtbags will take advantage of the fact that sooner or later many opponents will feel the social pressure for somebody to reveal a hand, and wait to see what the caller has before mucking a loser or showing a winner. Although motivations and the exact technique vary, it's all pretty much the same to me. It all amounts to an ugly violation of both rules and etiquette.
I recounted this incident to Cardgrrl the day it happened. Although mildly sympathetic, she was of the opinion that I was making too much of it. She suggested that another way of handling the situation was just to show and be done with it, without worrying about forcing one's opponent to comply with the rules first. In essence: It's a showdown, so just show and get it over with.
There is, I must admit, some merit to this approach: 1. You are never the cause of the game being delayed. 2. You never accidentally muck the winner by misreading your own hand, your opponent's hand, or the board. 3. You never cause resentment in others.
But there are downsides, too. 1. You give away information unnecessarily. 2. You encourage the dirtbags and angle-shooters to continue their irritating and/or slimy ways. 3. You fail to gain information on your opponents' play to which you are rightly entitled, and which might be valuable.
On that last point, consider what this woman's final bet told me, once she had revealed her cards. First, I learned that she's a bad enough player to think that it was smart to take K-5 offsuit, from out of position, up against a raise from a player she had to know was tight and solid, and, furthermore, to call bets with it on the flop and turn.
More subtly, though, I learned that she has enough understanding of strategy to deploy a blocking or defensive bet--which is what I think we have to conclude her river $50 was. She understood that if I had a medium-strength hand, it would be hard for me to raise her, and a smallish bet such as she made might cost her less than checking and calling whatever I might choose to bet there (and she might well feel obligated to make the crying call with top pair). If I raised her, she could then confidently conclude she was beat and fold. It was a pretty smart move, because I indeed might have bet bigger than $50, but couldn't raise with just one pair in that spot.
It was a weird juxtaposition--this apparently moderately sophisticated river bet, combined with a willingness to play a hand a good player should have known to throw away from the get-go. And those were both useful pieces of information that I would have missed out on if I had just accepted her one-card-show.
Against Cardgrrl's position, there's also this argument from analogy: We have the rule in this country that you drive on the right-hand side of the road. Once in a while, somebody comes along going the wrong way into traffic, because they think it's one-way their way, or they're drunk or otherwise confused, or maybe suicidal, or maybe they just think it's a free country and they can drive wherever they want to. We could all just choose to ignore it, swerve around them and continue on our way. But there is obviously great social utility in forcing compliance with this rule. For that reason, I'm glad that we have police that will forcibly arrest those who fail to comply, and a judicial system that will sort out and variously deal with different levels of intentionality/culpability.
Similarly, there is considerable social utility to the standard protocol for the order of showdown in poker. Yes, one could just tolerate and excuse/forgive the occasional nonconformer, with the attitude that there are bigger things to worry about. But I think there is a greater, long-term good served by making sure that all players understand the rules of the road and abide by them, and that driving on the wrong side is not OK. There is an established protocol for order of showdown, and everybody's interests are best served by having everybody correctly and efficiently abide by it. Of course, there's no need to go throwing people in jail for first offenses here; obviously, some players really are just new and don't understand. I'm all in favor of kind, gentle education for such. For the deliberate offenders, though, tasering is in order, at the very least.
I can't object to those who, like Cardgrrl, choose to disregard the violations and just conduct themselves in a completely unobjectionable way without regard for what others do. But I think it is better for the game in the long run if we make clear to all that conformity with the rules and etiquette will be required.
Sunday, December 20, 2009
I was at my usual Sunday haunt this afternoon, the home of all the weird, backwards house rules in the city. I thought I already knew them all, but apparently not.
I was at a full (ten players) table. Wheels spinning, not making any money. There was one other table of the same game, which was also full. So I asked for a table change when a seat opened up at the other table. There was no waiting list.
A while later I looked over and noticed an empty seat at the other table. I assumed that the floor person had not noticed it yet. So I approached her and asked if I could move over. She said no, I had to wait until they had somebody to take my seat. I pointed out that she currently had one 10-handed table and one 9-handed table, and that would still be the case if I moved. No table was being left short, and they were still as balanced as they could be. She said she understood, but she couldn't leave my table even one seat short in order to fill the other.
And that's how they ran it. I had to wait until another player came along, so that my seat wouldn't be left empty when I moved to the other game.
This is unlike any other table-change procedure I've run across. Assuming that there are no must-move tables going, as long as the tables remain in balance players are usually allowed to move. If there's an odd number, rooms don't care which game has the empty seat; they just don't want to allow a move that would cause there to be an imbalance in the games (i.e., a discrepancy of more than one in the number of players).
I have been through numerous table changes at Mandalay before, and I can't recall this ever having come up previously--I'm sure I would notice and remember, because it's so out of step with the policy everywhere else.
Or, this being a new floor person, maybe she just had her own quirky way of doing things that doesn't reflect the poker room policies.
Either way, it was quite odd, and another example of customer happiness being sacrified in pursuit of enforcement of "we make up our own" rules at Mandalay Bay. I swear they must have a whole team of people hidden in a back room whose only job is making up stupid new rules.
A long time ago there was a one-page article in, I think, Bluff magazine, written by a poker dealer, about things that players can do to help (or at least not unnecessarily hinder) the dealer. Most of them were pretty obvious to me (such as, do not move the button unless you really, truly understand when it is to be moved--and the great majority of players who think they do, don't).
But one request she had puzzled me, and I've wondered about it since then every time it comes up. So let me ask my poker-dealing readers.
She said that if you're the under-the-gun player, and have made your decision quickly, wait until all the cards have been dealt before you act (call, raise, or fold). She said that it gets confusing to the dealer and/or players to have action commencing before all the cards have been dealt.
I haven't really noticed this to be a problem. But maybe it is an annoyance when I act too fast in that situation, and nobody has told me.
So, dealers--what's your preference? Does it make your life easier if the UTG player holds up the action a few seconds until the button has all his cards, or does it not really make any difference to you?
I know you're all going to think I'm crazy, but I swear the days have been getting shorter. The sun has been going down earlier and earlier every day. This has been happening for, like, six months now. Something is very, very wrong.
If this trend does not turn around real soon, I am going to report it to the authorities.
"Poker After Dark" was a big cash game this week. It contained a moment that caused me as much poker schadenfreude as I have ever felt when, as you can see above from the stills, Phil Hellmuth lost his stack to Phil Ivey in a massive cooler of a hand, with P.H. flopping top set and P.I. a straight. Nuts versus second nuts. [Edit: OK, 2nd nuts versus 3rd nuts, as some commenters have correctly pointed out.]
It's hard to see how anybody could get away from that set-up without going broke, so at least this time the loss wasn't because Hellmuth did anything particularly dumb. But he so richly deserves to lose just on the basis of being such an enormous embarrassment to the game of poker that I don't really care if he takes his licks through bad play or bad luck.
Of course, he could have controlled how he handled the loss. He could have chosen to be philosophical about it and determined to continue playing his A-game. Or he could have recognized that he wouldn't be able to play as well after such an incident, or simply decided that it wasn't going to be his night, and walked away from the game (that's my usual approach). But no. He put another $100,000 on the table and donked off much of it thrashing around with his arm cut off in a tank full of sharks. He swore. He blamed the dealer and asked to have her replaced.
The schadenfreudiest part, though, was that Daniel Negreau was booking him for this session, meaning that if Hellmuth walked away winner, Negreanu would have to pay Hellmuth an amount equal to the win, but if he finished loser, Hellmuth would have to pay Negreanu the amount of the loss. The arrangement effectively doubled the magnitude of any win or loss. So from my perspective it was the perfect time for Hellmuth to get kicked in the nads by the poker gods--because it cost him twice as much.
Both before and after the loss, Hellmuth repeatedly said that he wished he could get Negreanu to book him for many such sessions. But he seemed to tune out that Negreanu was practically jumping up and down to say, "I will!"--every night for the rest of his life. In fact, Negreanu was willing to put a multiplier on the deal: book for 2x, 3x, 5x, 10x, even 30x the amount of win or loss. He is, obviously supremely confident in his assessment that Hellmuth is a huge underdog in deep-stacked cash games against a lineup such as was featured in this show (Gun Hansen, Patrik Antonius, Tom Dwan, Ivey, and himself). Hellmuth's ego just won't let him hear what a deafening warning bell that judgment is.
Hellmuth obviously has an impressive record playing large-field tournaments against mostly amateur opponents. But in deep cash games against the small number of people who play the highest stakes spread day in and day out, he's a complete fish. Everybody at the table understood that fact thoroughly--except for one.
(I no longer remember who the commentator was, but during one tournament when Hellmuth was struggling against a table brimming with talent, it was noted that he is a great player against mediocre opponents, but a mediocre player against great opponents. Seems about right to me.)
I can't decide which "Rounder" quotation to close this with, since so many are applicable, so I guess I'll just list them all:
Teddy KGB: It hurts doesn't it? Your hopes dashed, your dreams down the toilet. And your fate is sitting right besides you.
Mike McDermott: [Narrating] But this isn't a gunfight. It's not about pride or ego. It's only about money.
Mike McDermott: It's immoral to let a sucker keep his money.
Mike McDermott: Are you satisfied now, Teddy? Because I can keep busting you up all night if you like.
Mike McDermott: Listen, here's the thing. If you can't spot the sucker in the first half hour at the table, then you ARE the sucker.