Friday, October 08, 2010
Thursday, October 07, 2010
Tomorrow morning I'm driving up to Salt Lake City to visit my family. I don't have any particular plans as to how long I'll stay--a few days to a week, most likely. (See the flexibility that comes with this whole unemployment thing?!) I'll let you know when I'm back.
In the October issue of Poker Pro magazine, Carl Sampson reviews a hand from the 2008 NBC Heads Up Poker Championship. It's Andy Bloch versus Chris Ferguson in the final round. It's played best two out of three, and Bloch won the first match. Here's the first hand of the second match:
I'm sure I watched this when it first aired, though it didn't make any lasting impression on me.
Sampson questions whether Bloch really misread his hand. If Bloch genuinely thought he had Q-8 instead of Q-5, wouldn't he have made the continuation bet on the flop? He was in position, and his hand would have been as good as he could expect it to be. He had raised pre-flop, and so could represent having the ace. Besides, the I-have-you-beat-whoops-no-I-don't schtick seems kind of phony, a little Hollywood.
Which is all true. However, I'm inclined to think Bloch was being honest about his error.
Why check behind on the flop if he thought he had caught second pair? Pot control. Avoid a check-raise, which would have meant making the difficult decision about whether Ferguson did or did not have an ace. Also, he didn't have to bet to protect against any flush or straight draws, because the flop presented almost none.
Sampson reasons that Bloch had floated Ferguson's turn bet with the intention of the river going bet-raise, an audacious bluff on the river, having sensed weakness in Ferguson. However, when Ferguson didn't follow up his turn bet with a river bet, that plan went to hell. Sampson's theory is that Ferguson is more likely to make a thin call there after a check and a bet than after a bet and a raise, so the planned river bluff lost much of its value.
Sampson also argues that Bloch's plan was to keep Ferguson from knowing that Bloch had raised pre-flop with a hand as marginal as Q-5. But that doesn't make sense to me for two reasons. First, Ferguson well knows that proper heads-up strategy means raising in position a hefty percentage of the time, including with hands like Q-5. It's not like he's going to recalibrate his idea of what Bloch is capable of by gaining that bit of data. And Bloch knows that Ferguson knows that. In other words, the fact that Bloch had raised on the button with Q-5 is not something that he needs to keep secret, as if it's some wildly creative bit of play that will give away his game plan. Second, if Bloch was lying about the misread of his hand, and if Sampson's theory is correct, then Bloch would have simply mucked his cards unseen after Ferguson showed the winner. That would have left Ferguson wondering if Bloch had raised pre-flop with a big ace that missed, with a tiny pair (2-2 or 3-3), or with air.
Something that Sampson doesn't address is the breach of ethics that Bloch would be guilty of if he had deliberately miscalled his hand, announcing to Ferguson that he had him beat. It's inconceivable that he would shoot an angle trying to get Ferguson to pick up his tabled hand and throw it in the muck; there's no way that Ferguson would do that, or that Bloch would think such a trick would work, or that Bloch would be so sleazy as to try. But even the phony announcement of having the winner, quickly followed by the truth, is a pretty scummy thing to do to an opponent, especially one that you respect and consider a friend (and in this particular case, one that is Bloch's business partner in Full Tilt). I have a hard time believing that Bloch would do that. What is there to be gained by it? As a joke? Nobody is going to think that's funny in such a high-pressure situation. Maybe in a penny-ante home game, but not on this stage.
Overall, my conclusion is that it is more plausible that Bloch genuinely made a mistake here. At some point, his brain saw the 8 on the flop and translated that into a memory that he held Q-8 in the hole. (I have done such a thing a few times. I get in my mind what cards I want to see come, and crossed mental wires lead me to believe that what I want to see is what I have and vice-versa.) I think his play, his actions, and his words are reasonably consistent with that scenario. However, it is not wholly out of the question that Sampson is right and that Bloch was lying about misreading his hand. If he was, though, I'm hard-pressed to understand what he hoped to accomplish with the song-and-dance.
What do you think?
Wednesday, October 06, 2010
Tuesday, October 05, 2010
In a recent column for Card Player magazine, available here, the demonstrably idiotic Ed Miller* writes:
The “Cold Decked By A Drunk” Beat
There is a loud, drunk person at your $1-$2 table. Every third hand or
so, he moves all-in before the flop. Usually he wins the blinds and a $2 limp or
two. When this happens, he taunts everyone at the table for being scared of him.
Every once in a while he gets called. When that has happened he has shown hands like Jd 5s and 4c 2c . He’s usually up against a big hand, but so far he’s been lucky to win about half of these pots. Whenever he wins, he cackles gleefully. Whenever he loses, he rebuys for $100 from a thick wad of bills.
Ahem! In what conceivable way is J-5 anything like the most powerful hand in poker, the 2-4 (in crubs, no less!)?
On behalf of the Holy Order of the Mighty Deuce-Four, I demand an apology and retraction!
Incidentally, Miller's column continues the hypothetical story like this:
Last time around, drunk guy lost with Qd 4d when his flush
draw missed. He’s sitting on $100, and he moves all-in. Everyone folds to you in
the big blind, and you have Qs Qc . You call. He starts laughing
and says to you, “You’re going to love this one,” and tables Ad Ah.
No queen hits the board, and you lose.
For me, that's no hypothetical. It actually happened. This was back when the Aladdin was in transition to becoming Planet Hollywood and the poker room was temporarily upstairs, at the top of the escalator. There was a drunk Irish guy who was shoving blind every hand. I watched him to be sure he wasn't peeking at his cards first, and he wasn't. About the fifth time in a row that he did that, I picked up J-J. Plenty good enough to call a blind shove. Yep--the luckbox flipped up A-A that time. Arrrggghhh!
*I'm just funnin' here. I actually like Miller's writing a lot. Of all the columnists that churn out stuff for Card Player, Miller is by far the most likely to present a specific tactic or idea that I can actually remember and use the next time I'm going out to play. His book with Sklansky on NLHE also probably did more to change how I think about the game than any other.
Monday, October 04, 2010
Sunday, October 03, 2010
Today was one of the rare days of perfect, gorgeous weather that we get around here. We're in that very brief interval between when I complain about how hot it is and when I complain about how cold it is. As a result, instead of driving out to Mandalay Bay for NFL Sunday afternoon, I decided to take a stroll downtown.
When I head to Fremont Street to play poker, it's virtually always to Binion's. The only other reasonable choice is the Golden Nugget (El Cortez, Plaza, and Fitzgerald's are not "reasonable" choices), and I like nearly everything about Binion's better: it's more profitable, more comfortable, has better comps, etc. But it's been nearly a year since I played at G.N. and I decided to give it a go.
The real reason I made that choice illustrates how arbitrary my choice of where to play on a given day is, and how little it takes to influence it: G.N. was on a cool episode of "C.S.I" Thursday. In fact, it played the role of two casinos. Its famous shark-tank swimming pool was the scene of an unlikely murder by shark, while its new lobby with the indoor fish tank was used as the fictional rival casino "across the street." I liked seeing the familiar cast (I've been watching since the first season) stroll around the familiar halls. That's why the place was on my mind, and why I made the last-second choice to turn left instead of right after crossing Casino Center Boulevard.
Anyway, things didn't go well at first, and I was down to a stack of something like $120 when the hand in question came up. I was in Seat 3, and Seat 2 and Seat 4 were with me in the hand. I had J-10 and called a bet from Seat 4 on the turn with the board reading Q-A-8-7 for a double-gutter. The river was a 9, giving me the nuts. Seat 2 checked. I checked, fairly confident that the aggressive Seat 4 would bet again.
He did, $20. Seat 2 moved all in for $73. I figured he probably had the same hand I did. I put in my last $81. Seat 4 groaned, but announced a call, without putting out any more chips. He showed 5-6 for the low end of the straight. Seat 2 did indeed have another J-10.
Here's where it got interesting. The dealer pulled Seat 4's $20 into the pot, told Seat 2 and me to take back our last bets, and started chopping the pot. He had heard Seat 4's call, but somehow didn't realize that that meant more chips had to be tendered. A player at the other end of the table and I both simultaneously stopped him and said he wasn't doing it right.
He thought for a second, then seemed to have a light bulb go on. "Oh! Right!" He put the $20 back in front of Seat 4, then took more chips from Seat 4 to match my stack. He then counted down Seat 2's stack, discovering that it was $73. He took the $81 from Seat 4 and said, "So $73 of this goes to him (Seat 2)."
At this point, it was clear to me that he had no idea how to do this. He was just guessing, making it up as he went along. So I stopped him and asked him to please call the floor and leave all the chips where they were until the floor could sort it out. (I could have told him exactly how to do it, but I hate it when several players are all barking instructions to the dealer in contradictory ways--because there's more than one way to go about it--and making everything even more chaotic.) He obviously didn't want to. He said, "I've got this."
I try to be nice to dealers. I don't gripe about ordinary mistakes. But this was a disaster in the making. We were on the verge of losing track of which chip stacks were which. Furthermore, it was clear that the only reason he didn't want to call the floor over to handle it was because he was too embarrassed to admit that he didn't know what he was doing. Sorry, pal, but that's just not a good enough reason, and I'm not afraid to let you know it. I told him, "No, you haven't got this. You've screwed it up twice already, and I have no confidence that you'll get it right on your third try. Please call the floor over to sort it out."
He still just sat there, obviously fuming, but not doing anything. After a few seconds, another player not involved spoke up: "A player has asked you to call the floor. Would you please do that so we can get this finished and get on to the next hand?" That finally pushed the dealer to relent.
Floor guy came over, the situation was explained, and he rapidly and efficiently determined what needed to happen, moved the chips around expertly, explaining exactly what he was doing at every step. Nicely done, sir, a flawless performance.
When it was all over, I did not tip the dealer, which for me is a rare act of protest at his conduct.
I actually know exactly how the dealer felt in that spot. I went to poker dealer school just before moving to Vegas, thinking I'd get a job in the box. I vividly remember the first time I took the skills test and had to make right a pot with three side pots. I screwed up, and got myself so confused that I could neither finish the way I had started nor retrace my steps and get back to baseline to start over again. I went into deep brainfreeze and had no idea what to do next. I was embarrassed in front of the instructor and my classmates, and mad at myself for bollixing something I knew in theory how to do. But there was nothing to be done at that point except 'fess up: Sorry, I've made a big mess of it and now my mind has locked up to the point that I can't figure it out. I flunked, though I redeemed myself the next day on the retake.
Dealers make mistakes. That usually doesn't bother me. But not being willing to admit that you made a mess that you can't clean up, when it's my money you're about to give away to other people? That bothers me.
Being unable to admit that you're in over your head is as fatal a flaw in poker dealers as it is in poker players.