Saturday, July 17, 2010

What's your sign?

Another first for me today at the Planet Hollywood game was that two deaf friends joined the game at the same time, on opposite sides of the table. They were frequently signing to each other between hands, though I never noticed it during hands.

All poker rooms that I know of have an "English only" rule. However, some say the rule is in effect only when a hand is in progress, others say it is in effect for everybody at the table all the time. There are cogent arguments to be made either way, and I don't have a strong opinion about one being clearly preferable to the other, as long as it is enforced consistently.

But whichever way the rule is to be enforced in a particular place, the question is this: Should American Sign Language--or any other form of sign language (other spoken languages have their signing parallels, and deaf friends/siblings, I'm told, often concoct their own)--be considered a non-English language the same way that, say, Japanese would be?

It seems to me that it surely must be, for logical consistency, though the rules seem always to be written in terms of what language is spoken during the game, so there might be a loophole that a table lawyer could argue about.

Money in or out?

I was playing at Planet Hollywood today. Here's the situation that came up:

Four players to the flop. Player A goes all-in for $55. Dealer announces the all-in and tosses the little "all-in" button in front of A.

Player B pushes all his chips in, total of $17. Again, dealer announces it and tosses another all-in button to B.

Player C is the table big stack. He verbally announces call.

Player D says nothing, but puts out $17.

The dealer points out to him that because of A's action, it is $55 to call. (Player D is in seat 9 of 9, next to the dealer, while A is in seat 2, less easily in his field of view.) D reconsiders, decides to fold instead, takes back his $17.

Player A says that those chips have to stay in the pot.

The floor is called, situation explained. Ruling is that the $17 has to stay in the pot.

I think this is wrong. Yes, Player D certainly should have been following the action. He had plenty of warning that the bet was $55 to him: the chip stack, the dealer's verbal announcement of two all-ins, plus two buttons tossed out. Also, he could have asked what a call would cost if he had any doubt. I am generally unsympathetic to people not paying attention, not doing their due diligence, etc., and believe that if the mistake costs them money they will be more inclined to learn to do things right.

Still, in this particular situation, nobody had acted behind him. In fact, nobody could act behind him (unless he raised), since he was the last one in order. Nobody was misled by his mistake. There is no way he could have gained any advantage by doing this intentionally as some sort of angle-shooting; if there were, I would consider that a decent argument for making the bet stand, as a deterrent to such shenanigans. But here, I think it's a "no harm, no foul" situation.

My rule books don't seem to be especially clear on this point. The best I can find is from Cooke's Rules of Real Poker, p. 66, rule 10.06:

A player who bets or calls by making a forward motion and releasing chips
into the pot is bound by that action. However, when facing a raise, if a player is unaware that a pot has been raised and places enough chips in the pot to call an unraised bet only, the dealer shall advise the player that the pot has been raised, whereupon the player may reconsider and change his action, provided that no one has acted behind the player. If someone has acted behind that player, that player has the option of forfeiting the chips he has released into the pot and surrendering his hand, or calling the raise he faces.

Admittedly, this doesn't exactly fit what happened here, but I think the general idea is the same. Misunderstanding the amount of a call is conceptually no different from misunderstanding a raise as a bet. (Cooke doesn't explicitly say that he's talking about limit games, but you can sort of guess that that's what he's thinking about. After all, he is almost exclusively a limit player himself.)

I can't see that it should make any difference whether the $17 all-in came before or after the $55 all-in. Either way, the guy misunderstood the amount of the bet, changed his mind when the action was pointed out to him, and the result was no different in any way than if he had correctly understood the bet and just decided to fold in the first place.

I didn't speak up, because (1) this is not a situation in which I'm confident of what the standard rule would be, and (2) floor people are not generally inclined to care what my opinion is, especially when I'm not involved in the hand.

But I'm curious what others think the best ruling would be.

Guess the casino, #571

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

Answer: Sunset Station

Friday, July 16, 2010

Mr. Uncooperative

I forgot to tell you about this story when it happened. It was in March, when I played a daily Venetian tournament (described a bit here).

All of you who play live tournaments know that there tend not to be enough of the lowest denomination chips. When the antes kick in, it can be tight, and the dealers often have to get whoever won the last pot or two to make change (because that's the person, usually, with the most ante chips, and the dealers don't have extras in their trays). I had never seen this be a problem, until the tournament in question.

There was one guy at our table who just flat refused to make change when asked. I guess he had some weird fondness for low-denomination chips, or some weird aversion to exchanging them for high-denomination chips. Or maybe he was just an uncooperative jerk generally. He said virtually nothing the entire game.

Because he never gave any ante chips back, after a while he had a hugely disproportionate number of them. It was becoming increasingly difficult to make the remainder of them stretch. There were just barely enough, and it was taking more and more time every hand to get the antes right before the cards were pitched. Yet still this louse would not yield to repeated requests to help make change, as he sat on a pile of the ante chips. He was cornering the market.

Finally we got a no-nonsense kind of dealer. He made the obvious request the first time and got the usual refusal. He made it through that hand, but seeing how desperately short we were and how difficult it was to make things work, on the next hand he upped his own ante, so to speak. He told Mr. Uncooperative, "If you don't make change voluntarily, we'll give you a ten-minute penalty and make the change from your stacks while you're away from the table."

This finally broke the impasse, and change was given--but it was hardly done with pleasure. Everybody at the table could see that the guy was seething mad at this dealer. It apparently put him on major life tilt, and he donked off all his chips in a rapid sequence of three hands, both of them spots where it was just crazy--bluffing into the obvious nuts, etc. He rapidly went from one of the chip leaders to busto.

When he was eliminated on the last of these, he stood up and let loose a string of invective at this dealer that was, I believe, longer, louder, and more foul-mouthed than any I have heard in a poker room, and I have been around for some doozies. The TD quickly came over and tried to calm him down, to no avail. He rapidly escalated to making threats of bodily harm to the dealer, at which point security was called. He was escorted out. And by "escorted" I mean "half-carried," still cursing and yelling out death threats to the poor dealer over his shoulder.

I have absolutely no idea what his problem was, but it was clearly a lot bigger than not liking to part with his ante chips.

I don't have any actual point to make about this cretin. I can't exactly try to draw an important moral from the story--"Be sure to help make change when the dealer asks you to"--because 99.9% of people (and, I'm sure all of my readers!) already know and do this as a matter of course. It was just one of the odder occurrences in my poker life, and I thought it deserved airing.

I emailed a short version of this story to a dealer friend of mine, and he responded with this note:

I've never seen that before. Had I been the dealer, I would have
simply reached into his stack, made the change, smiled at him, and said "Thank you, sir!" before moving on. Of course, I've always worked with floor staff who would back me up, so I would have confidence that my floor wouldn't have an issue - or at least wouldn't have one in front of the customers...

I'm still stuck trying to figure out why he wouldn't make change. There are only so many of each denomination in play, and if he has the majority of them, one would think he could figure out he would be forced to help out eventually. Weird.

Closest thing I ever saw to this was during the WSOP a couple years back. During the color-ups, the chip leader at the table is required to buy up the denomination being colored off and then floor staff colors up one person per table. This guy refused and was throwing a fit until the TD basically told him he had no choice and if he continued to not let the staff touch his chips that he would be disqualified from the tournament on the spot.

Too many weirdos in the world :)

Amen to that.


Can anybody give me a plausible explanation for how the word fade came into its current usage in the poker world? For those who haven't heard or noticed the word, it is used to mean avoid or dodge. He will win the hand if he can fade a king on the river. Cardgrrl tells me that her Oxford English Dictionary shows no usage in other fields that would easily explain how it got ported to this meaning in poker. (However, it's a first-edition OED, so perhaps the more recent version has something newer that would help.)

I find this one of the most baffling terms in poker.

What game is this?

Matt Matros, in his Card Player column for the July 14 issue, writes about his starting table at a limit hold'em tournament, event #12 of this year's World Series of Poker:

Another player was upset because at the 75-150 limit [Level 2], his opponent had bet the "max" of 150 and forced him to fold. "So, 150 is the max, right? I'm not allowed to raise him or anything?"
(To come slightly--but only slightly--to his defense, I've long thought that the terminology of "limits" for fixed betting amounts was both wrong and potentially misleading. But this is the first I've heard of somebody actually verbalizing a misunderstanding of the concept.)

This reminds me of all the times I've seen a player sit down at a table and not know what the game is. There are, of course, occasional instances of somebody trying to get to one particular game, hitting the wrong table, and quickly realizing his mistake. That's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about players who sit down with the right kind and number of chips, play for a while, and then eventually ask something mind-boggling, such as, "Is this limit or no-limit?"

Several times I have jotted down a note to myself to write a blog post about these airheads, but then I get home and can't think of anything appropriate or funny or insightful to say about such situations. In fact, I still can't. I'm just completely dumbfounded that people can buy hundreds of dollars in chips, sit down at the table, play for an orbit or two, and then still not know what game they're playing. Indeed, what can one say about such people, beyond that they are moronic?

Still, gotta give Matros credit for one-upping me on such tales. Buying into a World Series of Poker tournament and not knowing even the basics of the game's structure and rules is a level of mental opacity well beyond sitting ignorantly in a cash game for a while. I remember a couple of years ago there was a guy in a WSOP razz event who apparently thought it was straight stud--or at least played as if did, going for high hands instead of low hands--baffling and/or amusing everybody watching. (Sorry, I can't quickly find the write-ups of his antics.)

I am frequently reminded that people are capable of whole orders of magnitude of stupidity beyond what I expect. As I have said before, the First Law of Stupidity states that there is always more stupidity in the world than you think. The Second Law of Stupidity states that, even after you take the First Law of Stupidity into account, there is still always more stupidity in the world than you think.

Dealers baffle me sometimes

Last night at Bill's there was a dealer that I don't recall having seen there before.

In the first of two puzzling things I saw him do in one down, I moved all-in on the turn, holding the second nuts (second-best possible straight) with a flush redraw. My one opponent called. Our hands were shown. He had just top pair. The best he could do on the river was improve that pair to trips; he could not make a straight or flush. He was drawing dead.

The dealer looked at our hands for a few seconds, then proceeded to make the pot right. That's what was strange, because I had the other guy covered--not just by a little bit, but by over $100. Not even close.

So this dealer, assuming that he knows how to read poker hands, sees that I am absolutely going to win this pot no matter what card comes next, sees that I have way more chips than the other guy, but still he paused the action long enough to count down the other guy's chips, cut out an equal number from my stacks, and return the balance to me. As he did the last of these steps, he said, "This probably isn't necessary."


But, OK, whatever.

[Edit: On re-reading, I see that those last two paragraphs are fine examples of my scintillating, refined, highly literate writing style that people everywhere are raving about.]

A few hands later, he wrinkled my forehead again. I wasn't in this hand, but at showdown we had K-8 versus K-4, with a board of AKJK5. Because of straight and flush possibilties, the river went check-check, so the pot was already right, with no last bets to be taken back.

This dealer never announced that it was a split pot. He didn't push up the kings and ace and jack on the board to indicate the tied winning hands. To make matters worse, he picked up both players' cards, turned them face down, and stuffed them into the muck. Then, and only then, did he start dividing the pot into two equal parts. Neither player had said anything to this point indicating that they understood it was a chopped pot.

The problem here is that it's a situation in which one or both players will commonly misread the board and think that the K-8 hand is the winner. In fact, I thought perhaps the dealer was going to make that mistake, since he gave no indication of his read.

Fortunately, it appears that both players understood what was happening, as each took his half of the pot without comment or fuss.

It is really bad practice to kill the winning hand(s) before awarding the pot. Sooner or later, there is going to be a controversy. A player will misread the hands and protest that the pot is going to the wrong person. Or, worse, the dealer himself will misread it and award the pot incorrectly, or will forget which player had which hand and push the pot to the wrong seat. With the hands mixed into the muck, there will be no way to verify the right answer, and it will come down to either other players speaking up about what they remember the cards being, or checking security video. Either way, it's a mess that causes ill feelings and stops the game dead in its tracks for unbearably long. And it can be avoided (mostly) by the simple expedient of keeping the winning hand(s) face up on the table until after the pot has been pushed. This is standard procedure everywhere, and I have no idea why this dealer had developed the bad habit of doing things out of order. There is nothing to gain by his alternate method, and lots to lose.

Because I was sitting in seat one, I thought I might quietly give the dealer a helpful hint to this effect. But I didn't know him at all, and he didn't know me from Adam, so I was aware that he had no reason to trust me to know whereof I spoke, and I didn't want to come across as a know-it-all. Therefore, I started by casually mentioning that I hadn't seen him here before and asking if he was new to poker dealing. He said, "No, not really." I thought there was a clear edge of defensiveness in his tone and a kind of half-scowl on his face. I aborted my plans, as I got the distinct impression that he wasn't going to be receptive to suggestions on how to run his game.

It's not like I was going to follow that up with, "Really? Cuz you sure deal like it's your first friggin' day on the job, you mouth-breathing half-wit!" I may have thought that, but I wouldn't ever say it.

Oh well. If he won't learn the easy way, he will one day learn the hard way.

Foucault's pendulum on the upswing

Andrew Brokos, a.k.a. Foucault, continues to grow in my estimation. After another deep run in the WSOP Main Event ended yesterday, he can boast these results from its past five years:

2006: 279th, $38,759

2007: 361st, $34,664

2008: 35th, $193,000

2010: 87th, $79,806

That is a one heck of an impressive run.

His blog, in case you aren't already a reader, is a veritable free training site; i.e., he posts and analyzes hands with the kind of thought and depth that you usually have to pay big subscription fees to get from successful online professional players. He also writes occasional hand-analysis columns for Card Player magazine. And, in case you've forgotten, he was a major whistle-blower early on in the UltimateBlecch scandal.

I've never met the man, but in the few media interviews I've seen from him, he seems good-natured and humble. His passion, apart from poker, is helping develop high school debating programs, which I'm sure helps enrich the lives of many young people.

As far as I can tell, he is one of the truly good guys of poker. He certainly deserves the success and increasing attention that he is receiving.

Guess the casino, #570

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

Answer: Sahara

A stop at Bill's--plus, cicada sweat

I heard via Twitter that about a week ago Bill's moved its poker room, so this evening I put in a short session there to see what I might think about it.

What I think is this: They killed the three distractions that I most liked about the old room.

First, the old room had the best people-watching vantage point of any poker tables in the city, bar none. Particularly in the summer when they would leave the exterior doors wide open, it was almost like sitting on the sidewalk to play, but with air conditioning. Watching the freaks and tourists was the best part of playing at Bill's. Well, besides making money, that is.

Second, if you were there at the three showtimes a day, you could listen in on Big Elvis performing maybe 40 yards away. I doubt that you'll be able to hear him in the new location. I like Big Elvis. In fact, Big Elvis got married tonight, at Bill's. I was there and snapped the photo above. (That wasn't pure coincidence. I had read about the nuptials in the Las Vegas Sun, and picked today for my visit partly because of the chance to peek in on it.) The wedding took place in the same spot that he performs every day, though they dressed it up so differently you wouldn't be able to tell from the pictures. That guy is one hunka hunka burnin' love. (There is, however, a lot less of him than there used to be.)

Third, when Big Elvis wasn't performing, they had pop oldies playing in the casino--it's music I grew up listening to and gives me a pleasant rush of nostalgia. As far as I can tell, it doesn't play in the new location, probably because people in the immediately adjacent race/sports book want to be able to hear the game or race being called. (Pure speculation on my part there.)

So now playing there is just the poker. Less fun. I know, I know--I'm not supposed to be there for the people-watching or for Big Elvis or for the soundtrack of my youth. But one can't pay attention to the game all the time, and I enjoy having something else going on as a respite from studying for tells and calculating pot odds. They took those things away, and I don't like it.

The new location is also right next to a bar, and when I arrived the entire region was stinking to high heaven from some nasty dude's big fat cigar. The old room was pretty smoky, too, but they didn't improve the situation any, it appears to me.

Bill's poker room caters to beginning players, with the lowest stakes and buy-in of any NLHE game in town. (The MGM "beginners' game" may be an exception; I don't know its parameters offhand.) Many, many times I have seen people wandering by and deciding to play because of those factors--people who started their day with no intention of playing poker, and who had never played poker in a casino before. I think that the walk-by player factor will be meaningfully decreased in the new location, as it's a bit off the beaten path of the slots and table games. It's sort of hidden behind and roped off from the player's card service area and the $1 hot dog stand.

I'm not exactly a frequent flier at Bill's these days, but I'm afraid that my visits will become even fewer and farther between than they have been. I'm giving the room change a big thumbs down.

Random fact learned at the poker table tonight: Cicadas are the only insects that can sweat to cool down when it's hot. This came up because a young woman seated next to me had a cicada tattooed on her arm. Why? I have no idea. But she did. And seeing it prompted another player to volunteer to be Cliff Claven (he brought up that name himself) and tell us about cicada sweat. I didn't think he was pulling our legs, but I had no idea whether the information was reliable. When I got home, however, and Googled it, I became convinced. I found this paragraph here:

In perhaps its most novel defense, the desert cicada has developed an
extraordinary ability to remain active throughout mid-day, when most would-be
predators have to seek shelter from the desert heat. Notably, the cicada,
unlike any other known insect, can sweat, which helps it dissipate heat.
“When threatened with overheating,” said University of Arizona entomologist
Robert L. Smith in an article called “Keepin’ Cool and Dodgin’ Spines,” “desert
cicadas extract water from their blood and transport it through large ducts to
the surface of the thorax, where it evaporates. The cooling that results
permits a few desert cicada species to be active when temperatures are so high
that their enemies are incapacitated by the heat. No other insects have
been shown to have the ducts required for sweating."

So there ya go. Now I ask you--what other poker blog could you have read today that would have educated you about cicada sweat? NONE, I tell you!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Call or fold? (Conclusion)

It took me a minute or so to process all of the possibilities. I finally decided that it was more likely that it was a situation in which I'd want to get my money in than one in which I wouldn't.

It was ultimately the speed and size of his bet that made me conclude that he probably did not have one of the three monsters I had to worry about (A-8, 8-7, or 7-7). The speed and size didn't ring true for those hands. I decided that it was quite a bit more likely that he had one of these: (1) the same hand as me; (2) a flush or straight draw that he was trying not to have to hit; (3) a straight-flush draw on which he was willing to gamble his stack*; (4) an 8 with a worse kicker. With any of those, I would be OK with playing for stacks. My very, very rough guess to myself was that the sum of these combinations was about twice as likely as that he had one of the monsters.

I don't like making big calls like that just verbally. I prefer to get the right number of chips and move it forward. The reason for this is purely psychological and irrational: I really hate counting out a big bunch of chips after I have learned that I have lost. I'd rather put them in the middle when I still have reason to believe they will be coming back to me, with interest. It's stupid, but that's how my mind works.

So after settling on the call, I put four red chips on top of a cluster of four stacks of $50 and pushed them all across the line.

The instant I released those stacks, my opponent said, "He's got me outkicked." A great relief washed over me.

It didn't last long. The dealer put out a deuce on the turn, and the guy added, "Oh, not any more." He flipped over 8s-2s.

I was down to three outs, and the dealer couldn't find me a king.

I wanted to barf, but that is frowned upon at Mandalay Bay, what with their quirky house rules and all.

As you can see, I was way off base in my assessment of him. I would never have guessed him as one who would have played 8-2 from UTG. That was based purely on a sense of what percentage of starting hands he played, which was nowhere near high enough to include 8-2 in his EP range. I don't know why he played it. Maybe it's his favorite hand.

Why did he raise so much? Again, I just don't know. It makes almost no sense. He obviously knew the instant I called that he was way behind. He had a decently strong hand, and with that bet turned it into a bluff, because he could only get a call when he was beaten. He had no reason to think I was bluffing; I had bluffed exactly once in that session, and it was long before he arrived. He had seen nothing but solid play from me. He should not have thought I was just on a draw after my reraise.

My best guess about this thought process is this: The reraise convinced him that I had an 8, so he knew he was impossibly far behind. He didn't want to have to make crying calls on the turn and river, so he made a snap decision to gamble that my kicker was small enough that I wouldn't dare call.

But whatever his reasoning (or lack thereof), I got the big money in as a better than 6:1 favorite (71% win for me, 11% win for him, 18% chop). As they say, there's not much more I can do than that.

I have previously quoted this excellent paragraph from one of Matt Lessinger's old Card Player columns, and it remains one of my go-to mental solaces when Bad Things like this happen to me:

I don't care if you are a rank novice or a world champion. It doesn't matter whether you are in a tournament or a cash game. You could be playing for pennies or Porsches. It's all the same. If you can get all of your money in as a 4-1 favorite, do it. And if you lose, live with it. It happens. Wait for the next opportunity to arise, and then do it again. If you are able to consistently create that scenario, you will be a successful player--end of story.

*It did not occur to me in the heat of the moment, but in retrospect this is a situation in which the existence of the high-hand jackpot probably weighed against his having the straight-flush draw. I think most $1-2 NLHE players would not want to pass up the chance to hit it and collect the bonus, and consequently they wouldn't be so eager to end the hand on the flop when only 4/5 of the way there. That is mathematically a fallacious decision, because the size of the bonus, combined with having only a roughly 8% chance of hitting one of the two needed cards, means that the effective pot odds are only marginally altered in a deep-stacked situation like this.

When in aroma...

First article I've seen about the various scents that casinos add to their air circulation systems:

Guess the casino, #569

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

Answer: Palace Station

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Call or fold?

I played an afternoon session at Mandalay Bay yesterday with two friends. This hand occurred after they had both left. I'll describe all I can about it and let you decide what you would do.

I had bought in for $300, and at the beginning of this hand I had about $330 in front of me. I was in the small blind with Kh-8h. Nobody raised, so I added the extra dollar. I think there were five of us to the flop.

Flop: 887 with two diamonds. I led out for $8. Big blind folded. Guy two seats to my left min-raised to $16. It folded back around to me. I added another $25 on top of that. Within about two seconds, my opponent declared himself all in. It would be another $220 to call.

I can't tell you much about this guy. Young Asian, but he had not been at the table long, and he had played almost no hands. He had bought in for the max, $300. I had not heard a word from him. I had not seen him play a pot bigger than maybe $25. I was in the 4 seat, he in the 6 seat, so he was maximally difficult for me to see, and he was so far outside of my scope (because of both playing few hands and being nearly impossible to lay eyes on) that I had nearly forgotten he was there. I had effectively zero read on his personality or playing style. However, he had been there long enough that the fact that he had played few hands and no big pots was significant. He was no LAGtard, that's for sure. After his shove, he sat quietly, seeming comfortable--not the classic frozen, unbreathing posture of a big bluff. I couldn't make anything of his body language toward either a call or a fold.

This was by no means an instacall, as I saw it. I didn't want to blithely stumble into 7-7 or 8-7 and be drawing razor thin. But I couldn't put him on a hand that made sense.

If he had flopped a boat, I thought he'd be more likely to try to draw me in with a smooth call or another smallish raise, not suddenly overbet the pot by a factor of four. He couldn't be worried about a flush draw or straight draw; in fact, he'd be more likely to want me to hit anything I was drawing to. (That line of thinking is limited, though, by the fact that he would never have seen me bet and reraise with just a draw.) On the other hand, of course, it could be that he thought I would reason exactly that way and be more likely to call a fishy-looking overbet than something smaller. Or maybe he concluded with my reraise that I liked my hand enough that I'd come along no matter what, so he might as well go for the gusto.

Would he play a naked flush draw--or even straight draw--this way, trying to chase out either somebody else on a draw or somebody with an 8 but a weak kicker? Maybe, but that would be awfully risky, and he didn't strike me as that whimsical.

What about a 7 with either the 6 or 9 of diamonds, for two pair plus backdoor straight and flush draws? Possible, but not very likely, I thought.

What about a straight-flush draw, with 5d-6d, 6d-9d, or 9d-10d? That was a real possibility. However, I doubted that he would have limped UTG with the 6-9, and putting him on just one of two specific card combinations seemed overly narrow. Couldn't rule it out, though.

Basically, it seemed to me, my bet and reraise practically screamed that I had an 8. Whatever I was going to conclude about his hand, it had to be with the assumption that he was expecting to see an 8 in my hand.

That, in turn, meant that he either felt confident he could beat it (having flopped the boat or holding A-8), or he was afraid of it, and trying overly hard to get me to fold. As those internet kids say these days, he had a polarized range. I was either way ahead or way behind; there was only a slim possibility of having the same hand, or him having the straight-flush draw, which would make him a small underdog.

Given his relative tightness, I thought I could reduce the range of his kicker, if he did, in fact, have an 8. He had limped under the gun, and I thought he would likely do that only with A-8, 9-8, 7-8, and maybe K-8. I couldn't imagine him playing 8-5 or lower, even suited, that way. But if he had the connectors (likely suited), wouldn't he have to think longer and harder about whether he wanted to commit that much money when he couldn't know whether my kicker was bigger or smaller? After all, I had been in the small blind, and could therefore have any two cards. (I don't think I had folded a single small blind to limpers that entire session. Of course, he may or may not have noticed that fact.)

If I were right about how his position narrowed his range, then I could well be up against A-8, which would be just as much a disaster as running into a full house. But, again, I was stuck on the strange overbet. I certainly wouldn't play either A-8 or the flopped boat that way. Would he? I just didn't know.

Think about it. Decide what you would do. Leave a comment about your decision and your reasoning, if you like. I'll post the end of the story in about 24 hours.

Thinning the Forrest

You really should read the last seven or so entries in Michael Craig's blog, here, about the details of the conclusion of Ted Forrest's $2 million weight-loss bet.

And you should not try this at home.

Dwan vs. Hellmuth

Well worth watching, IMO.

Guess the casino, #568

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

Answer: Luxor

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Next best

I'm watching a "Poker After Dark" cash game from June that I had not previously seen. Phil Laak starts with 8h-9h, flops trips, turns a full house. Phil Hellmuth calls Laak's ever-larger bets on every street, including $22,200 on the river, losing something like $37,000 on the hand--with ace high.

After stewing for a few minutes, Hellmuth finally mutters, "I should have played back, actually."

At this, Gus Hansen pipes up: "Well, at least you found the second-best option."


No poker content, but this is just too wonderful not to share:

(Hat tip to Matt Welch at Reason magazine's "Hit and Run" blog.)

Guess the casino, #567

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

Answer: Gold Coast

"Hand shuffle"

There still remain a few bits of poker room procedure that I don't fully understand, even after more hours with my butt in chairs in those rooms than I would want to count up.

Here's one: In some poker rooms, but by no means all, when a dealer is doing the shuffle by hand instead of using the machine, he or she calls out, "Hand shuffle, table 6."

What is the purpose of alerting the floor to a hand shuffle? I don't know. My guess has long been that it was to help prevent fraud in high-hand and/or bad-beat jackpots. You know how dealers will tap a toke on a hard surface before pocketing it. The idea behind that is that somebody stealing a chip is not going to call attention to it. I have assumed that it's that same general idea for the hand shuffle--a dealer who is attempting to set the deck in order to achieve some otherwise highly unlikely outcome will not want to call attention to the fact that he is doing so. Thus, alerting the floor to the procedure brings it more out in the open and thus makes it less suspicious.

That theory was confounded today, however, when I noticed the dealers at MGM Grand doing it--a poker room that has no jackpots. (They've probably been doing it all along, and it just never before sunk into my skull that this doesn't fit my theory.) Of course, the same principle could apply to an ordinary hand, just making sure that the dealer isn't putting out a cold deck to the advantage of some particular player.

But I really don't know the answer, and today I am wondering if my previous assumption was all wrong. Fortunately, there are several excellent, knowledgeable dealers among my readers, and I'm confident that one or more of them will speak up in the comments section and satisfy our collective curiosity. (After all, I can't be the only one who has wondered about this, can I?)

Today's pointless statistic

I see from Twitter that play at the Main Event of the World Series of Poker has ended for the night, with 1240 left (a number that might change a bit by morning). Assuming that a champion will be determined at about 11:00 p.m. (just making a guess) on Monday, November 8, that's 2855 hours from now. Which means that, on average, they will need to lose just one player every 2.3 hours to make it.

You heard it here first.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Guess the relative hand strengths

Today I watched the latest episode of Party Poker's Big Game (not to be confused with the PokerStars Big Game), which is not the most polished poker show on the tube, but has some good players and action.

The following hand came up. I have blacked out the hands' associated winning percentages, with my highly advanced digital image manipulation skillz.

I was surprised at the percentages--to the point that I thought there might have been a production error. But I entered the same cards into the odds calculator at, and it matched what the show's graphics had displayed.

If somebody had asked me to put these hands in descending order of likelihood of winning at showdown, I would have gotten it wrong, though after looking at the numbers and thinking about it for a while I can see why it is the way it is. See if you can accomplish it better than I did.

Scroll down for the same screen shot with the percentages restored to it.

Shoe clerk

I was just reading the column by John Vorhaus in the June 30, 2010, issue of Card Player magazine (vol. 23, #13), p. 74. I was intrigued by his use of a term I don't recall having run across previously:

[Y]ou open an unraised pot for $20, which is not a bad raise with pocket aces,
since you want to thin the field, ideally to just one player, and a bet of four
times the big blind will drive out most of the shoe clerks.

It's not hard to tell the intended meaning from context, but I wanted to see if this is something idiosyncratic to Vorhaus, or more widely recognized. I quickly found this definition, here:

shoe clerk
(n phrase) 1. A player who does not stay for a raise
(with the implication that he is dropping out of fear) or, particularly in a
no-limit game, for any large bet. 2. Someone who is not serious about playing a particular pot, and thus will not call a raise. For example, for
definitions 1 and 2, you might hear an aggressive player say, “Let’s raise and
get the shoe clerks out.” Also known as ribbon clerk. 3. A weak player.
So there ya go.

Where did it come from ? I don't know. The obvious guess is that a shoe clerk is somebody who is always bending over, reaching to the floor, so by analogy a player who has dregs for a hand. But perhaps it came from the insinuation of weakness, a shoe clerk not being considered the manliest of occupations.

Guess the casino, #566

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

Answer: Circus Circus

Sunday, July 11, 2010

As opposed to a FALSE poker player?

I just noticed this new addition to Full Tilt Poker's appearance. Every player at the table of the tournament I'm in right now, save one, has this odd little "T" symbol. When you hover your mouse over it, you will be informed, "Rakewell is a true poker player."


I clicked on it to see if there was more, and was taken to this page. As far as I can tell, all that this "badge" means is that at some point I deposited some money on FTP and then played in at least one cash game or tournament.

Um, well, the fact that I'm sitting at a table in a game that cost money to register for pretty much announces the same thing. The only other possibility is that all the money I have on account came from somebody transferring it to me--or maybe winning some freeroll tournaments that had small cash prizes.

So if I'm in a cash game or non-freeroll tournament, and I see the "T" badge affixed to another player's avatar, I know that he is not in the tiny minority of players who have money on account at FTP solely as a result of somebody else giving it to him or winning a freebie. What, exactly, is the point of that? How does this help me? How does this distinguish him from the 99% of all players that are probably similarly situated?

Furthermore, if somebody does not have this badge, it could mean that (1) he's a freeloader who mooched some bucks off of a friend, (2) his bank wouldn't let him send money to FTP, so he gave a friend cash in exchange for a funds transfer, (3) he has two accounts (he deposits on one, then transfers some to the other), (4) he won some freerolls to start his online bankroll, or (5) he is a normal depositor who simply elected to turn off the badge display (the above page tells you how). Even if I could somehow reliably distinguish which of these possibilities is the case for a given player--and I can't--how is that helpful in any way?

Maybe I'm missing something here. It wouldn't be the first time. But as far as I can tell, this is the dumbest, most pointless thing Full Tilt has ever added to its site.


Have you ever noticed that when you learn a new word, or first become aware of some person or fact, you will frequently run across the same thing again in some totally unrelated, random context very soon thereafter? I have, and I know I'm not alone.

The first time that the name "Jason Calacanis" entered my consciousness was around June 22, when I watched (a day late) the first installment of the second week of the PokerStars Big Game. He was on for that whole week.

But in the last 24 hours, I've been hit wth a Calacanis triple whammy.

First he showed up on a podcast with the Entities of Wicked Chops Poker.

Second, last night I started reading Paul McGuire's hot-off-the-press book Lost Vegas. (Order your copy here.) On page 11 Pauly is describing his first day on Media Row at the 2005 World Series of Poker. He writes of Jen Leo, "She had secured a blogging gig covering the WSOP for a new gambling site created by start-up entrepreneur Jason Calacanis." This surprised me, because I had no idea that he had been involved in the poker scene that early; his conversations on the TV show had made it sound like poker was something he had just recently taken up, but perhaps I misunderstood that. Pauly doesn't mention the site, but with a little probing around the web just now, I think that it must have been Card Squad, which is still online but announced its own demise in early 2007.

Third, I was just now reading Pauly's semi-live blog updates from yesterday, when I spotted the Calacanis name yet again--his bustout hand from the Main Event, seventh item down.

Now, to be fair, a couple of caveats are in order. First, I must have actually heard of Calacanis at least in passing prior to last month, because while digging around for this post I noticed that he was featured in Bluff magazine in the October, 2009, issue. I virtually never miss that publication, so I probably at least glanced over the article, though I'm sure I didn't read it closely. Furthermore, I see now that Wicked Chops has mentioned him at least three times before--here, here, and here; I read their stuff pretty faithfully, so my eyeballs had likely run over the name, even though it didn't stick with me. Second, these recent mentions are clearly not entirely independent of each other.

Still, it's a little freaky to have recently become aware of somebody who is not exactly a prominent player in the poker world, then see his name pop up in three different places in a 24-hour stretch. If he has a publicist, he or she is doing the job well, apparently.

Guess the casino, #565

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

Answer: Aria