Sunday, March 21, 2010

Seeing things at the Mirage

Friday evening I was at the Mirage, playing another poker session sitting next to Grange95, whom I get to like more each time I spend time with him. It was one of those poker sessions that generated a bunch of little observations and stories, none of which is worthy of a separate post in itself, but which I can string together as a hodge-podge post.

Actually, the stories begin while I was on my way to the Mirage.


When driving to the mid-Strip from my downtown apartment, it's always hard to know whether it will be faster to take I-15 or Las Vegas Boulevard. It was close to rush hour, which tends to clog the interstate, so this time I decided to take the Strip directly.

At two consecutive intersections, the traffic lights were out. I don't know why they didn't go to their default mode of flashing red in all directions--maybe a power failure. The first intersection was the weird one near the Stratosphere, where both Main and St. Louis run into LVB. There, everybody was behaving civilly, stopping and taking turns as if there were stop signs all around. This is obviously both the safest and fairest way of handling the situation, but it requires everybody to cooperate.

At Sahara, the situation was completely different. The drivers going east and west had figured out that if they just kept going, they wouldn't run into any interference. There was a constant stream of cars heading east and west, and long backups north and south were forming. Northbound and southbound cars had to kind of wait for a little gap, then make a dash for it, often only creeping through one lane at a time and being left stranded in the middle. (For those who haven't been there, this is a very large, fast, and, when it's uncontrolled, scary intersection, with three lanes in all directions.)

I apparently got there quite early in the process of degeneration into lawlessness, because the backups weren't too bad yet. But I imagine that after a short while things got really hairy there. Of course, the retaliatory tendency will be strong; once there is any sort of break in the east-west traffic, the north-south people who were forced to sit for a long time will decide that it's their turn, and damn those east-west scumbags, I'm going to keep going. They set up their own stream that the east-westers will challenge at their peril.

The whole situation was terribly dangerous. Just in the couple of minutes it took me to get through, I witnessed several near misses, and when it came time for me to venture through the oncoming traffic, it felt about as unsafe as anything I've ever done in a car.

I have never seen such a thing happen before, and I found it kind of interesting from a sociological perspective. It's a real-world manifestation of a tit-for-tat strategy. If you come upon the St. Louis intersection, and all your fellow citizens are behaving rationally and politely, you're naturally inclined to cooperate and take your turn. But if you come upon the Sahara intersection, where it's every man for himself, you don't have much choice but to fight your way through it any way you can. If you try to stop and wait for your turn, when nobody is willing to let you have it, you'll sit there forever.

Life is all about game theory, I guess.

OK, on to the actual poker.

A bad-beat story

No, not one of my own--one I heard from somebody else. I heard it a couple of weeks ago at the Venetian, but forgot to write about it. I was reminded of it Friday night because of other bad-beat stories being told at the table, with Grange and me grousing about how irritating they are.

I'm told this happened many years ago at the Nevada Palace, which has since been renovated and is now the Eastside Cannery. The guy telling me this story said that he was playing straight seven-card stud. By fifth street he had a diamond royal flush. An opponent got a spade royal flush in the same hand. Naturally they capped the betting on every street. But when the hands were revealed, the guy discovered that the house rule was not that the hands were considered a tie for a chopped pot, but that the tie was broken by suits, in the same way as when cards are dealt for the dealer button or for the extra chip when coloring up in a tournament. Under that system, spades trump diamonds. In other words, he lost the hand while holding a royal flush.

Now, I don't have any actual confirmation that this really happened. But his manner of relating it I found to be reasonably convincing--and I'm a skeptical hard sell. I don't know whether it's true or false, but I felt inclined to believe him, even though the situation is astronomically unlikely. If I had to put my money one way or the other, I'd go with true.

And if it is indeed true, I have to admit that it pretty much puts all other bad-beat stories to shame.


So I'm in the small blind with the Qc-5c. Not a great hand, but nobody raised, so I decided to toss in the extra buck and see what developed. Flop was ace-high with two crubs (including the ace). Well, naturally I'm going to bet at that, since I know that the crubs are going to get there. I bet $7, which was about 2/3 or 3/4 of the pot size. A woman across the table, whom I had pegged as the weakest player there, raised to $15, just barely more than a minimum raise. It folded back around to me. With the second-nut flush draw, it was not difficult to decide to call.

Turn was a blank. I checked. She bet $10. Well, if she intended that to dissuade me, she didn't pick her bet size very thoughtfully. I called. River was the jack of crubs. I bet $35, which she paid off before showing her second-best A-K.

As you can see, she played her hand about as badly as could be--not raising before the flop, min-raising the flop, making a tiny bet on the turn, then paying off the river when she might have recognized that my line that looked an awful lot like a flush draw was, in fact, a flush draw.

Nothing too strange so far. But then one of the more experienced players at the table, sitting to this woman's left, launched into a little lesson for her about bet sizing, protecting her hand against draws, etc. He was right on the merits, of course, but completely wrong as to the meta-game. What does he gain from teaching the bad players how to play better? I suppose he gets some sense of self-satisfaction. He gets to feel superior. He also gets to feel magnanimous, that he is helping his fellow human being. But he is costing himself money. More to the point, he is costing me money. I want this woman to play A-K against me exactly the same way every time she gets it.

If she finds herself losing money at poker and wants to improve, there are countless resources she can turn to from which to learn. The poker table is not the place for tutorials. It's rude to presume that somebody wants to hear your opinion about optimal play when they haven't asked for it, and it's rude to educate the fish at the expense of everybody else. It's also self-defeating, which is why it's so hard for me to understand it.

It wasn't the only time. Once while Grange was off on a break, our self-appointed professor analyzed the hand just played by a couple of other people, explaining what each of them did wrong, thus giving her pointers on how to avoid those errors.

Geez, dude--smarten up, will ya? If you're not getting paid to teach somebody else at the table how to play, then, as Archie Bunker was fond of saying, "Stifle!" And if you are in a formal student-teacher relationship (which I'm sure was not the case here), I think it would be courteous to inform everybody else in the game of that status.

That's how to straddle

Our professor had a nice bit of luck come his way. He straddled for double the big blind, was dealt pocket sixes, flopped a set, rivered quads, and got raised all-in by somebody who had made a full house. I'm pretty sure I have never before seen a straddle turn into a high-hand jackpot. It was only $75, but still....

Half-bet rule

In a hand I wasn't in, there was an early-position raise to $15, followed by an all-in for $26, which got called in a couple of spots before action returned to the original raiser. He tried to move all in. Both Grange and I had already done the arithmetic mentally and realized that the all-in bet was too small to re-open the betting, so the original raiser would only have the options of calling or folding. I immediately pointed this out to the dealer.

The dealer, though, got confused. When the player asked why he couldn't reraise, the dealer said, "The all-in would have to be at least half the size of your raise." Well, it was! But that's not the rule. The so-called "half-bet rule" is applicable only in limit games. In no-limit games, an all-in bet is not considered a true raise unless it is at least the size of the bet or raise that preceded it. In this case, the original raise was an interval of $13 over the $2 big blind, so the betting would be re-opened only if the all-in amount were an additional $13 over that, or $28 total. It wasn't. The dealer ended up having to call the floor over to get it clarified.

I continue to be flabbergasted at how many professional dealers don't grasp this simple concept. It's not that complicated. But trying to enforce and/or explain the half-bet rule when such a situation arises in a no-limit game is astonishingly common. I haven't kept careful track, but I'd estimate that at least a third of dealers get it wrong. I'm dumbfounded by this, because it's a situation that must come up every day. How can they keep getting confused by the same question over and over and over again?


Somehow Grange and I ended up talking about cringeworthy things. I told him about having seen a video clip from a kickboxing match in which one guy's leg breaks in the middle of his shin in a truly horrific manner. I found the clip on YouTube. I'm not going to embed it; I want you to have to click through to see it. Warning: I'm not kidding, this is seriously painful to watch. It will make you squirm and cringe, and you will never forget it; it will be seared into your retinas forever, even though it's only a few seconds long. If, given that notice, you still want to watch it, go here: While looking for that, I came across another clip that is virtually identical in what happens, though it's a much more recent fight: Same warnings apply.

Release the Grange!

This week on Poker After Dark the ads between segments have frequently been a shortened version of the trailer for the movie "Clash of the Titans," so I've seen it a couple dozen times now. (You can see the full-length version here.) At one point, a bearded man with a deathly serious tone commands, "Release the Kraken!" (If you don't know about kraken--pronounced cracken--see here.)

Grange's blog is titled CrAAKKer, because, as you can see from the stories he tells, a major part of his successful strategy is to identify nits who he knows will overplay their big pairs, call their raises with junky, sneaky little hands, and hit something with which to crack those aces and kings. This is not only profitable in and of itself, but often leads to the nits thereafter playing on Super Monkey Tilt. As he likes to say, hilarity ensues.

Anyway, his presence in town this week has done weird things to my mind. (That isn't too hard. It's pretty weird to begin with.) Every time I've heard, "Release the kraken!" I imagine the line actually being, "Release the CrAAKKer!" I envision a multi-armed and fearsomely toothed Grange being turned free from captivity to wreak havoc on the poker tables.

This amuses me far more than could be considered reasonable.

A non-poker blog

Before bidding Grange a fond farewell for this trip, I got to briefly meet his spousal unit, Chad, as well as Brian, a long-time friend of Chad's, and Brian's girlfriend. Grange mentioned my blog, which caused Brian to whip out a very cool business card with his blog name and information on it. I was instantly jealous. I want a Poker Grump business card! (I'm not sure what I would do if I had one, but that's not the point, is it?)

But for now the best I can do is provide a pointer to Brian's blog. It's a potpourri of whatever is on his mind, so tough to assign it to any particular subject or pigeonhole. But take a peek--maybe you'll like the way he thinks and writes:

Those are some beads!

As I was leaving the Mirage, I saw this guy with the largest bead necklace I've ever seen. He graciously--even eagerly--consented to letting me take a picture of him.

Photo problem

By the way, this is as good a time as any to apologize for my pictures getting crappier over time. I have increasingly noticed that shots taken with my cell phone camera have been coming out pretty awful--light sources streaky, and objects appearing blurred no matter what I do. It has finally dawned on me that the problem is that the glass plate covering the camera lens has become hopelessly scratched up from being carried around unprotected in my fanny pack for a year and a half or so. I suppose this development is sufficiently foreseeable that a smarter guy would have done something to prevent it, but it didn't occur to me until the last few days, when it was obviously too late. So now I'm stuck with it, at least until I break down and get a new phone. Deals come along often enough that I suppose I will do so before terribly long. But until that happens, you and I both will have to put up with the photos looking terrible. Most of the "Guess the casino" pictures were taken in early 2009, when the phone was new, and are not so afflicted, but once in a while one of them is a more recent shot, as are, of course, most of the ones that I use to accompany some story from the tables.

Sorry about that.


Wolynski said...

About those traffic lights - that was an hour long power failure in the neighborhood.

Anonymous said...

About 6 years ago at the Mirage Poker Room I was talking with an old timer who had been a dealer, and was a regular there. He had some great stories, and after about 30 minutes, he told me about dealing the two royal flushes in the same hand (I think this occurred in the mid-1970's). He carried around the newspaper article which I also saw, so it did happen. I think the article said odds were 30 billion to 1.

NT said...

For the record: if I ever find myself on the winning side of that kind of ridiculous longshot, I'm chopping the pot with the loser. Although if it's in a tournament, I'm keeping the bracelet.

Keiser said...

The full bet rule is usually used in no-limit yes, but unfortunately dealer schools focus on limit for beginner dealers (because it's easier math). Pretty weird since NL is much more common. Side effect of course is that limit rules get drilled into your head.

Grange95 said...

First off, those videos are truly gross. 'Nuff said. Posting them is sort of like a buddy who tastes or smells something foul, then immediately offers you the chance to taste or smell it yourself. Never, ever, take them up on the offer.

As for the raising hand at Mirage, that is a rule I see misinterpreted all the time. I think it is most common where the dealer has a lot of experience with limit poker, where the "more than half" rule will reopen the betting. Given our dealer's age and the fact it happened at Mirage, the limit rule being misapplied seems a likely explanation for the confusion. Still, it shouldn't require a floor ruling to correct the dealer.

BTW, I may totally misappropriate your "Release the crAAKKer!" line for a post ... Genius!

gr7070 said...

As much as I like the grump ( throught your writing) and nearly always agree with your point of view I couldn't disagree more with your take on feeding the fish.

Why would you care how two people interact. It's not rude to strike up a conversation with someone unless thye make it clear it's unwelmcomed.

If it's not rude then the only issue you have is a selfish one - it makes it more difficul for your to make a living.

With your political views you of all
people should see the acceptivilitynof two adults engaging in a manner they seedl fit that doesn't hurt anyone's rights.

Many people go to the poker room to enjoy themselves. For many that includes social interaction.

I think your coupling your extreme issues with social interaction with the increasing difficulty in making money and coming to a judgement on this item that is just plane wrong.

Brendan said...

gr7070 is completely and utterly wrong, so much so that it deserves no discussion. Now that that's out of the way, here's one more leg break for you, in gif form. It actually happened on live TV, the cable network Spike.

Love the blog, grump.

astrobel said...

When I encounter at the poker table one of those "teachers" I don't mess about. I ALWAYS make straight away the following comment in a dry and poisonous yet hilarious tone : " this is not a poker academy ".
It often works !

gr7070 said...

So it's not ok for two people to converse however they wish? You couldn't sound more foolish.

The only problem with that is pure selfishness and intent.

Grange95 said...

"So it's not ok for two people to converse however they wish? You couldn't sound more foolish."--gr7070

That's a rather silly statement. By participating in a public poker game, players consent to limitations on their ability to speak freely. For example, use of foul or offensive language is routinely banned. Or, discussing hands while in play is typically prohibited.

There are also plenty of topics that can be discussed, but shouldn't be. For example, I'd rather not hear about someone's medical problems or sexual conquests at the table, yet players routinely offer up those kinds of comments. Giving poker lessons at the table falls into this category of discussions that are permitted, but are better avoided.

gr7070 said...

>>>That's a rather silly statement.<<<

You would be silly to assume I was suggesting breaking any poker rules.

In addition, by my comment regarding rudeness one could easily presume that I wasn't referring to topics that would be socially unacceptable.

Having a *civil* discussion at a poker table is perfectly acceptable; even if that discussion makes it more difficult for a poker pro to make a living.

I do many things in a competitive environment, like sports and shooting. In those environments the less skilled, knowledgable are always welcomed and tought the game, rules, and techniques. Even if it means losing a competitive advantage.

For some it's about competition, not just accumulating money. Without a reasonable adversary there is no competition.

THOMAS said...

umm...fanny pack....for a dude...

shove the phone in your pocket! fanny packs aren't allowed...