Saturday, December 18, 2010

String raise? Moi?

[Illustration found here.]

I was just cleaning off my desk, and uncovered a scrap of paper on which I had jotted a note about this little incident. It was a reminder to post about it, but then I buried the reminder. Not much of a loss, really--it's nothing earthshattering, but it was memorable because it was the first time I've ever been accused of making a string raise.

It happened at Caesars Palace. I was in Seat 10, as I usually prefer. I raised to $13. I did this the way I always do: I picked up two red chips, then three blue chips with my right hand, then plunked them down in two small stacks, first the three blues, then the two reds next to it. As with most pokery actions, there's a reason for the way I do things: It's just easier for both players and the dealer to see exactly what the size of the bet is if it is placed this way than if they are either in a single stack or scattered. (Some dealers will reach over and spread the stacks out to make it even more obvious, though I think this is mostly unnecessary.)

Well, apparently the guy in Seat 1 saw me drop the three blues, then turned his eyes away and started reaching for his own chips. He put out $3--the amount of the big blind. He was surprised when the dealer informed him that there had been a raise.

He objected that it must have been a string raise, because he had seen me drop the three blues. Fortunately, the dealer had seen my move, knew that it was perfectly proper, and gently so informed the other player. He finally relented--though he didn't seem convinced--and made the reluctant call. A c-bet after the flop won me the small pot.

I'm far from a perfect poker player. I occasionally will do something really dumb (e.g., my recent story about exposing my cards when there was still a player contemplating whether to call). But there are some points on which I am, so far, perfect. I have never put in a string bet or raise. Not even once. What's more, I think I'm actually incapable of it.

A digression: The handgun competitions I used to participate in regularly (matches sponsored by the United States Practical Shooting Association) have very strict rules for safely handling one's firearm. If you do any of several dangerous things--let any part of your body pass in front of the muzzle, have your finger on the trigger during a reload or while clearing a jam, drop the gun, have a shot go over the protective berms around the shooting bay, take your gun out of the holster when it isn't your turn to be shooting, and so on)--whether intentional or unintentional, you will be immediately disqualified from the match. They do it very nicely, and let you know that you are welcome back to the next match, but there is no allowance for excuses, no looking the other way. Because of the members' collective meticulous attention to these rules, nobody ever gets hurt. Early on in my competitive shooting days, I once accidentally knocked a loaded pistol out of its holster. It plopped to the ground. I was politely invited to leave for the day. I was humiliated and angry with myself, but I also learned a valuable lesson, and never again made that mistake.

When you first start working with handguns, the easiest thing in the world is to grasp it with thumb and four fingers around the grip and index finger on the trigger. After all, the things are designed specifically to make that natural and comfortable. But one of the most crucial safety measures for any firearm is to keep one's finger off of the trigger until the gun is on target and you have made the decision to fire. Most accidental shootings by police happen as a result of violating this fundamental rule. (See, e.g., this short video clip of a Las Vegas cop, who was very lucky not to have shot either her partner or the suspect.) I have witnessed many unintentional discharges (none resulting in injury, fortunately), and they can almost all be blamed on disregarding this rule.

If you have a good firearms instructor, he will quickly and consistently correct you when you make this extremely common mistake, and after a while it gets so that it feels most natural to pick up a gun with one's index finger extended along the side, completely outside the trigger guard, where it can't cause any inadvertant trouble. This, by the way, is perhaps the single most common weapons-related error made in movies: supposedly highly trained firearms experts are shown running around with their fingers on triggers when they're not shooting. Well-trained people simply don't do that. Once the habit is ingrained, it feels so wrong to have a finger on the trigger when not prepared to shoot that the brain just can't accept it, and takes action to correct the situation.

That's where I'm at: there are no circumstances I can conceive of in which "muscle memory" would not compel the correct way of handling a pistol or revolver, unless I had some specific reason to intentionally override it. I was pleased when I realized that my facility in handling guns had progressed to that point, and I later became a "range officer" in the sport, assigned specifically to watch for exactly those kinds of problems and errors in others, further heightening my awareness of constant safety.

The same is true for handling chips in a poker game. I always decide on an amount to bet or raise before I even reach for chips, I never pick up more than I intend to push forward, and I always do it in one motion. The only exceptions are when it's an all-in situation, or an awkward amount to move, in which case I announce the amount verbally first. These habits are so deeply embedded that it is no longer possible for me to "slip up" and make a string raise.

Which is all a far-too-wordy explanation of why I was so thoroughly taken aback when I heard the guy in Seat 1 say, "That was a string raise." He had no way of knowing this, but he had made his accusation against somebody who was not only innocent, but who is incapable of being guilty, at least of that particular sin.

Incidentally, I suppose that it might be strategically useful, from time to time, to execute an "accidental" string raise, knowing that it will be called back by the dealer and reduced to a call, as a way to dissuade an aggressive later player from raising. But I consider that to be over the ethical line of angle-shooting, and wouldn't do it.


Kim Shannon (aka Kimminentdanger) said...

What's a worse crime to be accused of, in your opinion... string betting or slow rolling? No particular reason for this question, other than sheer curiosity.

Rakewell said...

The latter. A string raise is just a technical violation. Nobody intends it to needle another player, and nobody seeing it takes it as a personal affront.

Josie said...

When you were cleaning your desk did you find a scrap of paper about reraising with a 10-7 and then showing it? Would that be considered "needling" someone? :P

Rakewell said...

I would only needle somebody I like.

Or somebody I could put on tilt.

If they happen to be the same person, so much the better. :-)

Pete said...

It is entirely possible that even if he saw your whole move he might have thought it was a string raise. The problem arises form the common misconception that the string raise rule is designed to prevent players from gauging other players reactions and adjusting their bets.

When people use this as the basis of the rule you frequently see very awkward rulings about the precise way a bet should be made.

In some rooms you get the "every chip that goes over the line is bet."

In other cases a player reaching out with multiple chips and dropping them individually is a string bet.

I have seen rulings where a player taking a stack in each and moving them forward simultaneously is told that is a string bet because both hands didn't cross the betting line at the same time. Or sometimes because the two stacks did not hit the felt at exactly the same time.

And recently on 2+2 several posters confirmed a PA casino using the rule that if you set out a stack and then break into two stacks (to make it easier to read), this is a string bet and only the lower portion (the one that touched the felt first) counts as your bet.

So if this player is used to those types of rules .... he may have felt your move was a string bet because you set out the blue chips first and then added a second stack.

gr7070 said...

You ought to get back into shooting Grump.

I shot my first ever Steel Challenge match(es) this morning. Shot two rimfires, Ruger MkIII and S&W 617.

Michael said...

I liked the analogy, very nice piece.