For the first time ever, we have the full IMOP crew returning, with nary a newbie in sight. Our cruise director, Santa Claus, has released the preliminary schedule of events, with a few highlights I can share with my loyal readers:My only puzzlement is this: Where is the special honor or challenge in winning with the most powerful hand in poker?
those of you wondering what a signature hand is, think of playing "the Hammer" game for
five full days (albeit with a different personal junk hand), except
your opponents have no idea you're playing. Snap a few Aces after rolling
over, say, 6-3, and hilarity ensues. Multiply that by a dozen guys playing their
own signature hands, and the anti-Iowa cursing can be heard up and down the
Strip. Seriously, it is quite common to have folks at your table see you roll
over a signature hand, and groan, "Oh, you're part of that crew?" This year, in
honor of the sixth IMOP competition, the official signature hand for all Ironmen
will be the mighty Deuce-Four, a/k/a "the Grump".
Saturday, February 26, 2011
My friend Kristi Smith (Alaska Gal on allvegaspoker.com and vegaspokernow.com) just posted the above series of tweets; read from the bottom up.
This sort of thing is precisely why I tend to be a hard-ass about people talking about the hand in progress. Sure, a lot of the time it doesn't really affect anything, but once in a while it does. And once it does, it's too late to do anything about it. The people who engage in it tend to have no sense whatsoever of what can be said without affecting the action, so cannot be trusted to have appropriate levels of discretion. The only cure is prevention. So I speak up about it when it has apparently done no harm in an attempt to prevent it from happening again in a moment when it will hurt me or someone else.
I see now that I've done 31 previous posts with this general subject as a label, so you can maybe tell that it's something of a crusade for me. Perhaps the best of these posts is here, where I list 16 common kinds of talking during a hand that break the rule because they might change how another player makes a decision. At least twice I have lost a pot because of somebody butting into a hand inappropriately; see here and here.
In Kristi's case, the dealer should have spoken up immediately when the friend started talking during the hand. It may have been too late to prevent the undue influence by then, but she still needs to attempt to enforce the rule, if only to impress its importance upon the others listening in. (If you let this stuff go, recreational players understandably get the impression that nothing is amiss, and start imitating the practice.) When the hand was over, she should have called the floor to report what had happened, and the floor should have asked the friend to leave the room. Players might reasonably just get a warning for a first offense (even if it caused real harm), but bystanders should get automatically expelled for such interference.
I'd be mad, too, Kristi.
Cardgrrl's brother, Aaron, and sister-in-law, Annika, live in Austria. Annika is disabled and gets around on a motorized scooter. She is in town for a few days for a conference related to her job. I was pleased to get the chance to finally meet her, and we got together for a nice dinner tonight.
She had been shopping and sight-seeing around City Center today. She parked her scooter just outside the restaurant, and went inside using her crutches. She did not lock the scooter. She has done it this same way for 15 years, in cities all over the world, and never had a problem. Today, however, while she was having lunch, somebody stole her scooter.
When she discovered this, she immediately contacted security. She tells me that they were extremely helpful, and, using video surveillance tapes, were able to track where the scooter had gone, and found it for her where it had been abandoned. It was apparently just taken for somebody's little joyride. But in the process, they had damaged it so that it is unusable until she gets it back to Austria for repairs.
Really, now--how low do you have to be to steal from a disabled person her primary means of mobility?
Some days, human beings just disgust me. OK--make that most days. But some days my sense of revulsion at the species is stronger than others. Today is one of those.
A couple of weeks ago I was playing poker at the Stratosphere on a Friday, early evening, and learned that there was a promotion going on. Hitting a flush or better earned you the right to pick an envelope from a box, in which would be an amount somewhere between $10 and $100. This ran until the envelopes ran out--which, of course, happened right before I hit my first flush.
Last night I was at the Stratosphere again, and heard that the same promotion would be running today, starting at 11:00 a.m.. Apparently they have been doing it every Friday for at least several weeks. I was told that there was $2000 to be distributed, divided among 98 envelopes. I had evening plans, so I decided to put in my poker time in the afternoon. I also had played in the 10:00 p.m. tournament last night (came in second), which got me a coupon for an extra $10 in chips, good for the next 24 hours. So the Stratosphere seemed a logical place to hang out today. Neither the extra $10 nor the promotion really mean much to me, but free money is free money, even if only a little. Since the differences between one poker room and another are pretty small anyway, I thought I might as well take what I could get.
I started off playing my usual $1-2 NLHE game. After about an hour I had just broken even, running in place. I had hit one full house, drawing an envelope with the smallest prize: $10.
I had noticed, however, that the next table over, where they were playing $2-4 limit, was sending players to the desk to pick envelopes at a rather astonishing rate compared to ours. This isn't too surprising; it's much easier and cheaper to stay in a hand to the river in a limit game than in a no-limit game. Any promotion that depends on hitting a certain poker hand (high hand bonuses, bad-beat jackpots, the Palms "diamond flush" game, etc.) will always tend to shift the jackpot-drop money from no-limit games to limit games. It's one of the reasons that I would overall prefer that such promotions didn't exist, because as an exclusively no-limit player I will, on average, not get back from them what I contribute. But it's a small effect, so I don't spend much time worrying about it.
As I said, though, the hit rate at the $2-4 limit table was impossible not to notice. Every few minutes they were sending up one, two, or three players. In order to qualify for an envelope, one's hand need not be the winner, nor did one have to use both hole cards. If, for example, there was a flush on the board, everybody still in the hand at the showdown would win an envelope, as long as the pot had the minimum $10 in it.
A while after I had noticed the frequency with which that table was collecting envelopes, I started noticing snippets of their conversation. I put two and two together, and realized what was going on. They were not playing to win pots; they were playing only to hit envelope-qualifying hands at minimal cost.
I have never, in almost five years here, done the "play to win the bonus money" thing. If there's a bonus to be had, and I hit it, fine, it's a little something extra, but I don't go out of my way to try. In no-limit games, it's surely -EV to alter play so as to try to hit some particular combination of cards, because your opponents will just make it too expensive.
In the lowest-stakes limit games, however, that is not necessarily always going to be true. It was clear that the players at the table next to mine had decided, rightly or wrongly, that it was more profitable to try to play for the envelopes than for the pots. I thought this was kind of an interesting situation, one that I hadn't explored before, so I decided to join them.
(As a side note, I used to routinely play $2-4 limit games if that was the only thing available while waiting for a seat at a no-limit game. I eventually figured out, though, that it was a long-term loser for me. Maybe some people know how to play that game well enough to beat the rake plus tips, but I apparently don't. So instead I now carry a crossword puzzle and work on that if I have to wait for a seat. I am considerably happier that way. Now I sit in $2-4 limit games only on the rare occasion that I'm playing in order to be sociable with a visiting friend who doesn't want to play higher. Today was the first exception I've made in a long time.)
Sitting in the game, I quickly confirmed the hunch I had formed from a distance. The play was almost completely passive. People were limping in with what I assume was any two suited cards and any pair, and checking down nearly everything except monster hands. The pot was usually $10 just from the limpers. But when it wasn't, and somebody had a qualifying hand, he would make a little show of counting the pot, make a bet, and somebody would give him a courtesy call to get the pot big enough. Players were obviously willing to do this for each other because they could be confident that the favor would be returned if and when they needed it.
The only time I heard anything explicitly said out loud about what was going on was when one of a cohort of five friends at the table said to a newcomer, "We're not playing to win white chips. We're playing to win envelopes." But it hardly needed to be said. Anybody who knew of the promotion, and who had passing familiarity with how low-limit poker games usually play out, would have immediately noticed how this game was seriously skewed in exactly the direction that that announcement made clear. Players were, e.g., routinely checking flopped sets and two-pair hands, and one can only assume that the reason was to be sure the hand didn't end before getting two shots at turning it into a full house. There was no bluffing, and almost no semi-bluffing with flush draws. Many more pots than usual were checked all around on every street when nobody made a qualifying hand.
It wasn't to be my lucky day. I was at this limit table for about two hours, had a net loss of about $60, and hit only one envelope-qualifying hand. Even that one was bittersweet. I had 8-8, flopped a boat with 8-10-10 and bet it as hard as I could; since I already qualified for an envelope, I figured I might as well also try to win as big a pot as I could. An opponent with K-10 and I got into the only raising war I saw the whole session, which he won when his miracle king came on the river. Grrrrrr. My envelope had $30, which made me about even on the hand.
Others, however, were doing much better. In the photo above, I was in seat 1, so it was kind of hard to take a picture of the guy in seat 10, but you can see much of his stack. He had arrived right at 11:00 and had been playing for envelopes all day. In this picture you can't see that he has two full stacks of red chips. He was sitting behind about $500, an amount almost unheard of in a game of this size. He said, very plausibly, that he had earned $240 in envelopes so far. He was definitely one of the ones I had seen popping up to the desk most often before I joined the table.
I knew only one other player in the game--Cindy (PokerMuffin) from allvegaspoker.com. She, too, was trying Envelope Poker for the first time. Like me, she was failing. She hit only one in the two hours or so we were both there.
Late in my session, there was some sort of kerfuffle. I didn't know what was going on, except that the player sitting next to Cindy, who was one of the group of five friends, accused her of having turned them in to the floor person, who happened to be a friend of Cindy's. She denied it. I had no idea what this was about, but soon thereafter the five friends all racked up and left, saying that they were no longer feeling welcome.
After they had gone, I asked Cindy what that was about. Apparently one of the floor people had said something to one or more of the friends--out of my earshot--about them colluding. It's not clear to me whether they left because of a genuine sense of insult, or because they felt that they weren't going to be allowed to play the same strategy anymore. It didn't matter much, because this was all happening just as it was getting to be time for me to leave for a dinner date.
As I was cashing out, the floor person--who has come to recognize me as at least a semi-regular and somebody who knows the game reasonably well--asked me whether I had noticed "collusion" going on at that table. I said no, at least not in the traditional sense in which that word is used. That is, as far as I could detect, the group of friends was not playing against each other any differently than they were playing against everybody else. They were not building large pots with two of them trapping a stranger's second-best hand in the middle, or signaling each other what they held, or soft-playing each other while playing hard against the rest of the table.
But I told her that it was perfectly clear that they were playing to maximize their chances of earning an envelope, neglecting what would otherwise be optimal strategy to win the pot. I also told her about the one verbally explicit acknowledgement of what was going on that one of them had made. She smiled, thanked me, and said that was helpful information.
This all raises an interesting question: Is such play collusion? More generally, is it cheating of any species?
I don't think so. Suppose the casino put $1000 in every envelope, or $1,000,000 in, say, each of 10 out of the 100 envelopes. It would be positively insane to play in any manner other than what I saw--the players tacitly cooperating to maximize everybody's chance of picking up an envelope. I think that mathematically there is a serious question whether the amounts available in this particular promotion were high enough to justify abandoning most efforts to win pots in favor of earning envelopes, but the ethics are the same if we change the amounts so that it is crystal clear that winning envelopes is far more valuable than winning pots.
The players are simply adjusting their strategies to maximize their earnings in rational response to the rather perverse incentives that the casino has offered them. As far as I could tell, they were not breaking any rules. They were just adapting their poker strategy as the situation warranted (or at least arguably warranted). It is no more cheating than when players slow-play aces during an aces-cracked promotion, preferring to win the bonus over maximizing the pot. It is no more cheating than when players drop down to the cheapest limit games and broaden their starting-hand range to include any two cards that can make quads or a straight flush when a bad-beat jackpot is bulging.
When casinos set up incentives that change what poker strategy will make a player the most money, they shouldn't be surprised that players do exactly that. If the room managers are too dense to anticipate how players will adjust their play to take advantage of the promotions offered, the problem lies with them, not with the players. If the room managers don't want the play of the game distorted, then they should not offer incentives that will predictably result in distortions. It is, in my opinion, misguided for the casino to blame players for responding to game-distorting incentives that the casino has put in place. Accusing them of cheating under such circumstances is muddled thinking, if you ask me.
Poker room managers should also be capable of anticipating that a promotion like this will result in many, many pots that just barely make the minimum size requirement, and that this, in turn, will result in lower-than-normal rake for the poker room while the promotion is running. This seems pretty dumb and self-defeating to me--but then again, nobody ever promoted me to be a poker room manager, so what do I know?
(Caveat: What I heard about the accusation and the players' reactions was almost all second-hand. I could have easily misunderstood something, or drawn an incorrect inference from the partial information available to me. Furthermore, it's possible that there was some sort of collusion going on that I didn't notice or know about. I don't believe that there was, but I hold open that possibility. But if the casino geniunely had evidence that there was, then I think their response should have been far more vigorous and definitive than an accusation or warning.)
What if these five friends had explicitly agreed in advance--in an arrangement that they did not disclose to the other players--that they would play this way and after the game make an even split of the profits? Would that be cheating? (I have no knowledge that this happened; I'm just constructing a hypothetical to further probe into the ethics of the situation.) I'm less confident about this opinion and more subject to being convinced otherwise, but my inclination is to say no, because the resulting play does not disadvantage anybody outside their group any more than if ten strangers sat down, each independently arriving at the realization of how silent cooperation would optimize chances for winning envelopes, and played accordingly. Just as when players silently cooperate to "gang up" on a short-stacked, all-in player late in a tournament, it is not cheating because each is still making decisions in his own best interest.
My understanding is that today was the last day of this particular promotion. Sometime next week, the Stratosphere is shifting to some version of the more common progressive high-hand bonus structure. I do not know whether the envelope promotion is ending because the room managers felt that it was being abused, or just that they change things once in a while to keep it interesting, and this one had run its natural course. Either way, I won't be sorry to see it go. It was mildly fun and interesting to experiment with a radically altered playing strategy for a couple of hours, but I don't think it's the best use of my playing time, and I'd rather not have my contributions to the jackpot pool so distortedly be given away in games I'm not going to be playing. A single two-hour trial of Envelope Poker was enough for me.
Friday, February 25, 2011
Thursday, February 24, 2011
In case you hadn't heard, somebody stole about $30,000 worth of chips from the Rio this morning. See, e.g., here.
Here's a piece about an exhibition coming to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, featuring Cezanne's series of paintings titled "The Card Players." As far as I know, nothing explicitly proves that the subjects are playing poker, but, really, what else could it be? What else could possibly interest people?
Or should I feel a little ripped off?
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
I was just reading a pair of articles about crying in poker by Jennifer Newell and Martin Harris. It reminded me of an interesting little anecdote I read about Chris Ferguson years ago.
This comes from Aces and Kings: Inside Stories and Million-Dollar Strategies from Poker's Greatest Players by Michael Kaplan and Brad Reagan, published in 2005, pages 211-212. Ferguson has just defeated T. J. Cloutier for the World Series of Poker Main Event championship, A-9 beating A-Q, all-in pre-flop, when a lucky 9 fell on the river.
Ferguson bear-hugged Cloutier as the tournament room erupted. Family and
friends poured down to embrace Ferguson, who, in turn, embraced the piles of
money, a look of uncharacteristic, unmitigated glee overtaking his poker face.
By all appearances, the moment was overloaded with joy. Four years later, though, Ferguson insists that his display was as calculated as any of the bluffs he made during the series. "I kind of decided, ahead of time, that showing emotion after winning the World Series of Poker would be appropriate," he says. "Bizarre as it sounds, that was actually a conscious decision. If there were no TV cameras and no audience, I would have displayed no emotion whatsoever. If it was just me and T.J. in a back room, my normal reaction would have been to shake his hand, to tell him he played a good game, and to walk out."
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Remember Mad Libs? Well, I just had a great idea for a new variation on the theme. That's right: Poker Mad Libs.
Phil Hellmuth is playing poker on [cable TV channel]. In this hand, Phil's opponent is [famous poker player], who is a far better player than Phil, but whom Phil refers to as a [animal]. Phil has [strong poker hand]. [Famous poker player] has [crappy poker hand]. Phil raises [number] times the big blind. [Famous poker player] calls.
Phil [checks in the dark; sorry, there is no choice here]. The flop is [three cards]. [Famous poker player] bets [dollar amount]. Phil calls.
Phil [checks in the dark again; again, sorry, but there can be no alternatives here]. The turn is [card]. [Famous poker player] bets [dollar amount]. Phil starts [select one: fidgeting, muttering, talking to himself, asking other players to shut up for one goddamn minute while he gets a read]. After [number] minutes, he calls.
He [checks in the dark; c'mon, by now you know there is no other plausible option]. The river is [card]. [Famous poker player] bets [dollar amount]. Phil says [expletive]. Phil makes a disparaging reference to [famous poker player]'s [select one: mother, nationality, ridiculous good luck, atrocious play]. Phil recounts [select one: how the hand played out, all the previous hands in which he has gotten unlucky against this player, how unfair the world is to him]. Phil reminds his opponent that [select one: he has 11 WSOP bracelets, he is 10,000 levels above his opponent in poker thinking, he always slow-plays his monster hands in order to trap]. Phil announces that his opponent is a [adjective] [animal].
Finally, after [number] minutes, Phil [select one: calls into the nuts, folds the winner]. Upon seeing [famous poker player]'s cards, Phil throws a [object], then [select one: curls up into a fetal position, walks off the set, challenges him to a heads-up cash game that will never take place]. In a later interview, he blames his loss on [select one: the dealer, the other players distracting him, the TV show's producer, the sun being in his eyes].
When Phil recounts the hand for his Card Player magazine column, he will say that his own play was [select one: brilliant, amazing, fucking brilliant, fucking amazing], and that [famous poker player] was [select one: incredibly lucky, an absolute idiot, probably cheating].
I tell you, there are unlimited possibilities here. It's a million-dollar idea, and I'm just giving it away to anyone who wants to run with it. That's the kind of guy I am.
Monday, February 21, 2011
Something got me thinking about how poker rooms have changed since I moved to town in July, 2006. I started down a mental list of casinos, and could think of only a handful in which there has not been an opening, closing, or move of the poker room in the time I've lived here.
What follows is my attempt to catalog such changes. This is all done from memory, and will undoubtedly have a few errors, but the point still stands: Nothing in Vegas is forever, including poker rooms.
Aliante Station: Opened, then moved.
Arizona Charlie's--Decatur: Moved twice.
Bally's: No change.
Bellagio: No change.
Bill's: Opened, then moved.
Boulder Station: No change.
Caesars Palace: Opened.
Cannery: Moved three times.
Circus Circus: No change.
Club Fortune: Moved.
Eastside Cannery: Opened, then moved.
El Cortez: No change.
Excalibur: Moved; then fired dealers, went to electronic tables, then went back to live dealers.
Fiesta Henderson: Moved twice, then closed.
Fiesta Rancho: Closed.
Fitzgerald's: No change.
Flamingo: No change.
Gold Coast: Moved, then closed.
Golden Nugget: Moved.
Green Valley Ranch: Moved.
Hard Rock: Opened, then moved.
Harrah's: No change.
Hooters (formerly San Remo): Opened.
Imperial Palace: Moved three times.
Jokers Wild: Moved.
Luxor: Moved twice.
M Resort: Opened.
Mandalay Bay: No change.
MGM Grand: No change.
Mirage: No change.
Monte Carlo: No change.
Orleans: No change.
Nevada Palace: Casino closed (later reopened as Eastside Cannery).
Palace Station: No change.
Palms: No change.
Paris: Moved, then closed.
Planet Hollywood (formerly Aladdin): Moved three times.
Plaza: Closed (I think).
Poker Palace: No change.
Railroad Pass: Closed.
Rampart: Opened, then closed.
Red Rock: No change (opened shortly before I arrived).
Rio: No change.
Sahara: No change.
Sam's Town: Moved.
Santa Fe Station: Moved.
Silverton: Moved twice.
South Point (formerly South Coast): Moved.
Stardust: Casino closed.
Sunset Station: Moved.
Texas Station: No change.
Treasure Island: No change.
Tropicana: Closed (reported to be reopening soon).
Tuscany: Closed, then reopened.
Venetian: No change. (Opened shortly before I arrived.)
Wynn: No change.
That's 66 properties I've listed, of which only 22 I classify as "no change" in the past 4 1/2 years. (Of course, they've all had changes in personnel, in games spread, in rules, number of tables, tournament schedule, etc. I'm talking about opening, closing, or moving, plus the one unique type of change listed for the Excalibur.)
I'm not in the "Survive Donkey Island" game, but I was going to be stuck at home for the evening anyway, needed a break from a project I'm working on, and heard via Twitter that AlCantHang had arranged for his corporate overlords to add an extra $100 to the prize pool. For a small $1 + $1 tourney, that's a nice overlay. So I played. I'm glad I did, finishing in a close 2nd place with a proportionate chop of the money.
My table started off playing very conservatively. The other tables were, apparently, going all-in every hand, because there were unlimited $1 rebuys available. I had to rebuy one time, and took the optional $1 add-on, too, which put my total investment at $4--almost surely the lowest contribution to the prize pool among those at the final table. Among 27 players, there were 27 add-ons and a rather astonishing 219 rebuys! After the rebuy period ended, I spent a long time with the largest stack at my table, but still below the tournament chip average--which is mathematically quite an uncommon situation to be in. We were all being taunted in the chat box by people at the other tables for being so nitty. Somebody commented that if one of us won, we'd have the frequent rebuyers to thank. That is true. So, thank you!
I didn't have to kick myself for doing anything too stupid this time. I did, however, have two pretty spectacular suckouts. Here I was just bullying, trying to steal the big blind from the small blind with a pre-flop shove. He had been surrenduring his blinds most of the time, rarely defending, so it wasn't a crazy, random move on my part, but I did get exceptionally lucky to pull out a runner-runner-runner-runner straight:
Later, when I was down to being one of the shortest stacks, I thought the small blind was just purely stealing my big blind, so I pushed. I was wrong, but it was a reasonable guess under the circumstances. I was mortified to get called, but again managed to pull it out of the dirt:
Other than those two spots, I don't think I ever got big money in worse than a coin flip.*
Tournaments that are mostly poker bloggers can be a lot of fun, and this was no exception. Lots of players know each other, and the fun, bragging rights, trash-talking, Monty Python jokes, and post-game blogging are as important as the money. Listening to one's own play get live drunk podcasted on Buddy Dank Radio is a kick, too. I'm pleased that with every year that passes I know more of the screen names as living, breathing people that I've met.
Next week, I'm freerolling for about 140 rebuys.
*Addendum: A Tweet from AlCantHang reminded me of another situation I didn't think of when writing the above. On the money bubble, he was short stack, on my right. He made a min-raise from the small blind. I had suited 5-6 and called. Flop contained a 4 and 7, giving me an open-ended straight draw. When he checked, I pushed as a semi-bluff. He called--having slow-played his AA. 3 hit the river, and that was that. So I was about a 2:1 dog when the money went in on that one, I guess.