Saturday, June 25, 2011

Why I almost but didn't quite make it to the casino chip collectors' convention

I mentioned the other day that the year's biggest casino chips collectors' convention was in town this week, and that I would be scrupulously staying away so as to avoid any temptation to buy some collectible goodies that I can't really afford.

Well, apparently I have a lot of chip collectors among my readership, because I received a surprising number of messages through the blog comments, by email, by text, and even in person at the tables over the last few days, all passing on this thought: You really should go, because it's cool and amazing.

Today is the show's last day. When I woke up late this morning and checked the overnight Twitter feed, I learned a couple of useful things: (1) The Rio's daily deepstack event, which I've been wanting to try, had been pushed back to 4:00 pm instead of its usual 2:00 pm. (2) Daniel "Jungleman" Cates was having the last of his series of ticket giveaways for a seat in the WSOP Main Event at McFadden's at the Rio from 12:30 to 1:30. (You can read much more about Dan in the New York Times Magazine here, and in the cover story of Bluff Magazine Europe here.)

I formulated a plan. I would head to the Rio, pick up my Jungleman drawing ticket, register for the deepstacks tournament while the lines were still short, then drive to South Point, spend a couple of hours looking at poker chips--without buying any--then be back at the Rio by 4:00 to play. As my day-planning goes, this one was positively brilliant: Geographically efficient, productive, and fun.

Let me pause for a minute and tell you about the drawing, because you might not have heard of it. As reported on Cates' blog and a YouTube video, and as I first learned from the Twitter feed of my friend Jason Simon (Thanks, Jason! I owe you one bowl of soup next visit!), Daniel decided to hold a free raffle to give away a seat to the World Series of Poker main event, as his way of giving something back to the poker community from which he feels he has benefited so richly. It's a lovely, generous offer.

The only eligibility criterion was that the recipient had not previously played in a Main Event. However, in order to pick up tickets, you had to go to where Daniel was holding court, in a one-hour window of time, with just a couple of hours of advance notice on Twitter. As a practical matter, that severely limited the field of contenders to those living in Vegas, with a car, with no day job, and who checked Twitter frequently. Hey--that's me!

I don't usually enter drawings and other such things, but I did some mental math on this one. I made a guesstimate that they probably wouldn't have more than about a hundred people able to make it to the locations specified under those conditions. If I did it every time, I might therefore have 1% or maybe even as much as 2% of all the tickets in the bowl. With the prize worth $10,000, my equity in it would be something like $100-$200. If there were four ticket days, my total time expenditure would be less than four hours. That seemed like a worthwhile endeavor. So I did it. I picked up a ticket at each of the four events, scattered between May 24 and today:

Back to my day. I didn't stick around McFadden's, even though I knew they would be holding the drawing at 1:30. I thought my chances of winning weren't high enough to make it worth cutting into my chip-ogling time. Besides, they had been clear that one didn't need to be present to win, and they had promised to telephone the winner.

When I got to South Point, I found the convention center rooms where the casino chips vendors had their displays. As a bonus, though I had read online that it was $10 to enter, a sign announced that entry would be free Saturday, as the show was closing. But I decided to check my messages before strolling around inside the rooms.

You have to understand that virtually nobody calls me on my cell. I give the number to very few people, and, well, even they don't like me very much, so they leave me alone. OK, that's not quite true, but my friends know that I dislike talking on the phone except for short exchanges of information as necessary. I'm not a chatter. I literally get less than one phone call a week.

So when I saw missed-call and voice-mail alerts from an out-of-state, unknown number, with a time stamp of 1:33 pm, you can bet it caught my attention. Could that really be what I thought it might be? I sat down in an easy chair just outside the convention hall to listen to the message:

I bet every one of you would have pressed "4" to listen again. I sure did.

(If I just violated a wiretapping law or something like that with the above recording, well, I'll throw myself on the mercy of the court and hope the judge is a poker player.)

The next thing I did might surprise you. I didn't call him back instantly. Instead, I called Cardgrrl. She means the world to me, and I had to share with her my excitement even before calling to confirm that this wasn't some terrible prank or misunderstanding. She figured out where the story was going even before I got to the punchline, and was interrupting me with "No way!" and Elaine-esque "Get out!" even before I could announce, "I won!"

But I kept it short, and contacted my benefactor immediately thereafter. By the time I was done with a quick call to him, the news was already on Twitter from both @JunglemanDan and @MicheleLewis (who had been recruited to pull the name out of the ice bucket), and friends who knew my real name were translating that that was none other than @PokerGrump. In fact, I was already getting buzzed by text messages from friends urging me to check Twitter, if I hadn't already heard.

I was way too excited to care about poker chips by then, so I left South Point--having made it to within 30 feet of the show's entrance--returned home, picked up all of my drawing ticket stubs, and went back to the Rio, not yet sure when I might need to meet up with Daniel. I'm sure the chip vendors will be back next year, and who knows--by then I might have a little more money I can spend with them!

For the record, the winning ticket was the second one shown above, picked up at PT's Pub on Rainbow the afternoon of June 6.

There are still some details to be worked out, such as Daniel's publicist, Lara, getting verification from WSOP officials that I have never registered for a Main Event before (I promise I haven't), logistics of doing the buy-in, and getting together for some training from Daniel, which is thrown in as part of the offer. (Just when you thought it couldn't get any better, eh?) But that's all just details.

There's one other thing that I have to arrange. I had already purchased airline tickets to fly out to D.C. for a visit to Cardgrrl the week that the Main Event starts. Before I had a chance to point out to her that I'd have to change travel plans, she said, "You'll have to change your plane ticket." Some girlfriends would get in a huff about a visit being postponed in order to play a game. Not her. She is the most supportive person ever, and nearly as excited for me as I am.

A couple of people have already asked me about this, so let me address it up front: I will not be selling pieces of my action. Had I won a satellite for $10,000 in lammers, I would certainly be mulling over how to reduce my variance with various kinds of deals. But this is a gift, and an almost unbelievably generous one at that. After only a minute or two of thought, I knew that selling pieces of a gift seemed, well, kind of tacky. I would frankly feel embarrassed to tell Daniel that I had commodified his kindness in that way.

When I was a little boy, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl was my favorite book. I'm sure I read it more than a dozen times. The desk in our family room always had some notepaper in a little wooden holder that my brother had made, and one time, when I was in about sixth grade, it was stocked with yellow-orange paper. To my small eyes, it looked like gold. I took one of those 3" x 5" slips and copied onto it the entire text of the Willy Wonka golden ticket from the book. I had to write really small, because there were so many words to fit onto it. But when it was done, it allowed me to feel the way I imagined that Charlie himself must have felt when holding that precious piece of gold leaf. I held on to that imaginary ticket until I moved out of my parents' house when I got married at age 23.

Today is the closest I've come to that feeling since I made my own Willy Wonka ticket. Thank you, Daniel, for giving me a rebirth of that sensation of hope and anticipation of great things about to happen. I will try not to let you down.

(Image from here.)


I see that a couple of other sites have already beaten me to posting about the drawing results. See Wasted Aces here (though with my name misspelled), Michele Lewis here.

I understand that there will be other PR moments associated with this. Obviously I'll keep you up to date as I learn about any such things.

More pokery plates

At South Point (where, it should be noted, there was a casino chips collectors' convention going on):

At Rio:

Also at Rio, taken through my car window as I was leaving:

P L Uh-Oh

If you haven't already heard about the crazy 5-way-all-in-preflop hand at the PLO event at the World Series of Poker a few hours ago, go read about it here:

And if Shamus doesn't make that his hand of the day, well, dear readers, you have my personal assurance that I will flick his ear good and hard next time I see him.

Guess the casino, #899

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

Answer: M Resort

Friday, June 24, 2011

I think I win this one

I'm just home from the Stratosphere.

I had been playing for about four hours, sometimes a little up, sometimes a little down, but no net progress. In fact, at the time in question I was down a little over $100 from where I had started, and had been stuck there for an hour or so. I was feeling tired and starting to make some dumb mistakes, so I decided to suck up the loss and call it quits at the end of that round.

But then the dealer started me out with 9c-10c, and augmented that with the well-chosen flop of 6c-7c-8c. It's been over a year since I last hit a straight flush in live play (at least that I wrote about here; but it's possible I hit one and didn't do a blog post and then subsequently forgot about it with my 50-year-old brain cells). That was at the Golden Nugget. It has been almost three years since I last flopped a straight flush (at the Hard Rock)--and back then I did so twice in a month. This was only the third time I've ever flopped a hand so big that it was impossible for anybody to beat me, no matter what they held and no matter what cards came on the turn and river. (The first was described here, the second here.)

I won only $30 or so from my opponent, but picked up a nice $450 bonus from the casino.

Guess the casino, #898

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

Answer: Bally's

Thursday, June 23, 2011

WSOP chips

While playing another round of pub trivia last night, another team member, David Shapiro, asked if I had picked up the WSOP commemorative chips. I knew nothing about this. He informed me that they had put out four special $5 chips for collectors. Who knew?

So after our team squeaked out a one-point victory in trivia, I went to the Rio's main cage and asked to buy some of these chips. I just wanted one of each. The guy went into the back, and when he returned, he was beaming. He told me that I would be the last person to obtain a complete set, because one of them was the last one left. (I don't know which one is the first to run out.) They aren't matching numbers, or even particularly low numbers in the run of 500 each, but I don't really care.

I see on eBay they are being offered for starting bids of $9.99 for one or $34.99 for the set. I suppose I could sell them, but where's the fun in that?

Have there been similar such chips issued in the previous several years that the WSOP has been at the Rio? I have dozens of Rio chips, but have never seen one issued for the WSOP before. But that might be because they all get snapped up by collectors and never make it into circulation at the poker tables, which is the only place (usually) I would obtain them. I didn't investigate thoroughly, but a little hunting on eBay found a 2007 WSOP chip from the Flamingo, another from Harrah's, and a 2006 one from the Rio. So maybe there are lots of such chips, issuing from several different Harrah's/Caesars properties, and I've just been blissfully unaware of them.

But that's OK. I like picking up unusual chips that happen to catch my eye when playing poker, but I'm not going to let myself get obsessive and hunt down one of every specimen ever produced. That way madness lies--not to mention poverty. My rules are simple: No chip over $5; I never pay more than face value; and I don't go out of my way to find them, they have to come to me. I have compromised on the $5 rule only insofar as buying one Wynn $8 chip each year when they come out with a new one celebrating the Chinese New Year, because they feature absolutely adorable animal photos. Last night was one of just a handful of times that I've bent the method-of-procurement rule.

By happy coincidence, the Casino Chip & Gaming Token Collectors Club is having its annual convention right now, June 22-25, at South Point. I'll be making it a point to stay far away from temptation.

Guess the casino, #897

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

Answer: Sahara

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Guess the casino, #896

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

Answer: Luxor

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

P-p-p-poker face, p-p-poker face (mum mum mum mah)

I was reading the current issue of Ante Up magazine, and came across an interesting column by psychologist Stephen Bloomfield. He discusses the results of a study that I had not heard about elsewhere. It's available online here (in fact, it seems to have been published only online, not in a traditional peer-reviewed scientific journal).

Here's the formal citation: Schlicht EJ, Shimojo S, Camerer CF, Battaglia P, Nakayama K (2010) Human Wagering Behavior Depends on Opponents' Faces. PLoS ONE 5(7): e11663. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0011663

The gist of it is this: They took a bunch of volunteers and made them play lots of simplified Texas Hold'em hands against an imaginary opponent. The subjects' only decision in each case was to call a raise to 5000 chips, or fold and lose the 100-chip blind they had posted. The only information they had available on which to make the decision each time was (1) their own hole cards, and (2) an image of the face of the opponent.

There were actually 100 different artificial opponents, i.e., 100 different synthetic faces, each of which could be presented in a neutral variant, a trustworthy variant (relaxed, smiling, friendly), or an untrustworthy variant (scowling, hostile). The central research question was whether the subjects would tend to alter their betting patterns based on which type of face they were looking at, when their hole cards were held at a constant absolute value.

The answer: Yes. But only in one direction. The trustworthy facial variant triggered more folds than the neutral one, but the untrustworthy facial variant did not cause more calls than the neutral one. Most of the shift in betting patterns occurred, as might be expected, where there was not much difference in expected value between calling and folding. In other words, a trustworthy face tended to tip the decision toward a fold only where it was already a close, difficult choice to make.
The increased influence of trustworthiness on reaction time (Figure 3B) and correct decisions (Figure 4B) around the optimal decision boundary suggests that people are using face information most for medium-value hands. This could be explained by optimal data fusion [33]–[35], which states that the more uncertainty people have about the value of their hand, the more they should weigh face information when making a betting decision. Since participants in our experiment were novices (12 of 14 play less than 10 hours/year), they may have a more reliable estimate of high-value hands since those tend to be more salient/memorable (e.g., face cards, aces, pairs, etc.) than medium- and low-value hands. Indeed, participants in our study took significantly longer to react to hands in the optimal fold region (Figure 3B), and also made significantly more mistakes for medium- and low-value hands (Figure 4B), supporting this notion.

It is also interesting that all of the changes in wagering decisions were observed against trustworthy opponents, while untrustworthy opponents did not yield any significant results. This asymmetry is even more fascinating given that people's perception of trustworthiness is more sensitive to changes between untrustworthy and neutral faces, than between neutral and trustworthy faces [27]. One possible explanation stems from the assumption that people use a random opponent decision criterion in this task, unless there is information that an opponent is betting with non-random hands. In this respect, neutral and untrustworthy faces are functionally the same: neutral faces do not provide information about an opponent's style, while untrustworthy faces may suggest that opponents are betting with poor hands. However, if participants are already assuming opponents bet randomly, they cannot decrease their criterion any further. In agreement with this proposal, Figure 5B shows that the inflection point for the neutral (Green) and untrustworthy (Red) curves is very close to the optimal decision boundary for a random opponent. However, trustworthy faces may provide information that the opponent has a high-value hand, leading to the observed shift towards more conservative wagering behavior.
(Incidentally, I think the fact that these subjects were not proficient players puts significant limits on the generalizability of the results. Even if they hadn't specified this, you could infer it. Inexperienced players tend to want to play every hand; they're reluctant to throw anything away, which explains the increased reaction time and increased frequency of mistakes with poor starting hands. What an expert would muck instantly (bluffing not being an option), the amateurs tend to want to play. Given that the researchers set the opponent's raise size at a rather ridiculous 50 big blinds, good players would immediately start with the assumption that their best strategy will be to reject all but the strongest starting hands.)

The authors' bottom-line conclusion:
Interestingly, contrary to the popular belief that the optimal poker face is neutral in appearance, the face that invokes the most betting mistakes by our subjects is has attributes that are correlated with trustworthiness. This suggests that poker players who bluff frequently may actually benefit from appearing trustworthy, since the natural tendency seems to be inferring that a trustworthy-looking player bluffs less.
I suppose there's some truth to that, but it seems to give opponents little or no credit for being able to learn. (There was no opportunity to learn and therefore adjust strategy in this study, because each trial involved a different opponent.) Frequent bluffers get sniffed out even by inexperienced opponents. After some period of time of frequent raising, everybody is going to be thinking, "He can't have a real hand every time." No facial expression is going to change that reaction. At best it might delay it a bit. And what about the player who isn't bluffing, who wants to induce calls from weak hands held by weak opponents? The information from this piece of research doesn't seem to offer any assistance there. I suppose you could try adopting the trustworthy face when you're bluffing and not when you want a call, but again, any opponent with two neurons connected inside his skull will figure out that obvious ruse before too long.

Still, I found it interesting that there is at least a modicum of empirical evidence to support Mike Caro's frequently repeated maxim that being friendly and open, chatty, relaxed, fun-loving will win you extra calls compared to the guy making the same bets with the same hands, but who is silent, scary-looking, deadly serious, intimidating, or insulting. Caro's reasoning has to do not so much with the issue of trustworthiness, but just the fact that recreational players don't mind losing money to people they like and who they know will not criticize or embarrass them for making a bad call, so they're more willing to make what they know is a likely futile or "keeping you honest" or mere curiosity call.

David Williams learns about the Deuce-Four

From his Twitter feed (read bottom to top):

Hat tip to Minton.

Guess the casino, #895

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

Answer: Gold Coast

Monday, June 20, 2011

The little cards deserve love, too

Of course you all already know to always play the Deuce-Four, since it always wins:

But I have to say that I am growing increasingly fond of 6-3, the so-called Spanish Inquisition:

In fact, the biggest pot of the day for me at last week's WSOP seniors event happened when I used the S.I. to felt a guy with A-K on a board of A-6-3.

Professional jealousy

It just doesn't seem fair that some people can put up blog posts like this, and the rest of us are stuck just pretending that we know how to write:

Two young things are heads up at a table buttressed to the front rail. 200-400 limit mix. Plaques stacked on the table show the current game, switched every ten hands. One player is thirty, slow and solid, his girth backing up his moves and his gaze, deliberate in front of five stacks of black, ten grand worth. His opponent, twenty-three and perhaps a day, hates having to be here. He belies his disdain for these archaic cards, shuffled by hands, and the snail paced movement of the game, and every element of life in this the real world, with every ounce of his actions. His left hand moves like a piston, down over a tall stack of his chips, breaking it into two, and then breaking one of those into four, and then stacking them all back up again. He does it again. His eyes roll with exasperation when his opponent thinks for all of five seconds. He bets blind, he tries in vain to speed the game to catch his mind. He’s stuck, losing, but it’s more than that. He’s stuck at this table, this life, this virtual hell brought on by the DOJ when all he dreams of is being in his underpants at his desk with his two monitors, his headset, and ten tabling with his expensive mouse....

A new dealer comes into the box in the Aria game. She’s a pert forty year old lady with a coiffed perm and angular face. The kid goes right for her, long before she’s even taken the purse from her shoulder and hung it over her dealer’s chair. He’s at her jugular with pointy jabs. “Can you deal?” he barks. “Then let’s go.” She gathers the deck and then looks into her rack, trying to get her bearings straight. He leans over and reaches into the rack, invading her personal space. “These!” he barks. “See these chips? They go here, at ten you switch the game. Let’s go. Let’s go!” Most of his chips are in one tall stack, double high. The rest he’s clacking from one hand to another, making noise. He can’t stop moving, his energy boundlessly reflecting his mind. He swigs from a glass litre water bottle. He can’t stop. Nothing is fast enough. Nothing can make him happy. Nothing here outside the virtual world.

That's Jesse May, whole thing here.

Blog name

Every once in a while I run across a poker-related phrase that I think would make an absolutely perfect title for a blog. I noticed one such today:

"Unbalanced Range."

It's so good that if I were starting this blog from scratch today, I'd probably forget the whole grumpy theme and go with that. It simultaneously suggests my generally tight play (i.e., I don't have a truly balanced range--I'm usually not bluffing); the fact that the blog might feature a wide assortment of topics, depending on my whims and interests at any given moment; and that I am likely to be perceived (rightly or wrong) as a little unbalanced.

Ah, if only I had thought of this five years ago....

Guess the casino, #894

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

Answer: Aria

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Worth reading

Norman Chad, on why poker players deserve respect:

Memphis represented

Congrats to Memphis Mojo for a $5031 prize in the WSOP seniors event. See here for his denouement.

I liked this part of the story:
One cute hand was in respect to the PokerGrump. The table dynamics were that usually somebody raised three times the big blind and won the pot preflop. Because the blinds and antes were getting high, the pot to be won was substantial. I was in the cutoff seat with the mighty 2-4 off-suit and raised to T6000, expecting to win it right there. Unfortunately, both blinds called, ouch. The flop was 7-7-8, an excellent one for my purposes. They both checked and I bet T12,000. The small blind folded and the big blind gave me a dirty look and said, "I don't believe you for a minute," but he also folded!
One of the lesser-known powers of the Deuce-Four is that it performs Jedi mind tricks on opponents, causing them to fold hands that are currently ahead. Of course, this is really a favor to them, because the next two cards off the deck were certainly going to be 4-4, and somebody would have lost more money calling you down with an ace.

Guess the casino, #893

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

Answer: Circus Circus