I was at the Stratosphere last night. I witnessed a hand that left me completely baffled.
Our contestants both look to me like celebrities. Seat 5 reminds me of Captain Kangaroo, while Seat 6 looks and sounds just like William H. Macy's character, Jerry Lundegaard, in "Fargo." So I'll refer to them as Captain and Jerry.
Those two plus both blinds (including me, big blind, in Seat 9) limp in. The flop is 5-5-x. It's checked all around. Turn is a king. Captain checks. Jerry makes a pot-sized bet. We blinds fold. Captain calls. I don't remember the river card, but Captain checks, Jerry checks. Captain shows 5-5 for flopped quads. Jerry shows a king and mucks. Captain wins the special $599 flopped-quad jackpot that the poker room has going this month.
Let's consider some of the possible reasons that Captain would play his hand this way.
1. He misread his hand, didn't know what he had. Nope. Even before he revealed it he called out, "High hand bonus!"
2. He misunderstood the rules and thought that if his opponent folded before the showdown he would lose out on the jackpot. This is fairly common among inexperienced players who hit a monster hand, and suddenly realize that they don't know how the promotion works, and can't stop in the middle of the hand to ask. But that's not this guy. He's a local whom I have played with several times before. He shuffles chips expertly. He knows how things work, no doubt about it.
3. He was out of position, so was going for a check-raise. Implausible. This was an incredibly passive table generally, and Jerry was no more likely to get out of line than anybody else. Anybody who tried to play a trapping game was misreading the table unbelievably badly.
4. He was hoping that giving free cards would help somebody make a big enough hand to pay him off. This is plausible for the flop and turn plays, but not for the river. After all, you can't get your monster hand paid off if you don't bet. In fact, as soon as the hand was over Captain explained that he was hoping that Jerry would make a hand that would qualify them for the bad-beat jackpot, which was at $18,000+. Frankly, I don't remember for sure whether a straight flush was possible on the final board, but I don't think so. It was not double-paired, so quads-over-quads was impossible. Worse, by not betting he risked the pot not being big enough to qualify for the $599 bonus. The pot was only $8 before and after the flop. If nothing else, he should have bet at least $2 at some point, hoping to get a call to get the pot to the minimum $10 required for the jackpot.
In short, I can't think of any sound reason why one would not bet out on the river, even if you can imagine a justification for passive play prior to that. Suppose that a straight flush were potentially out there when the board was complete. Are you really going to assume that your opponent has the exact two cards that make that hand, and check out of fear of losing your stack to the only hand that can beat you? That is "monsters under the bed" syndrome on steroids. There will be far more losing hands (straights, flushes, and full houses) that your opponent can have with which he will call a bet or even raise you than ones that can make a straight flush, even when a straight flush is possible (which I don't think it was). Besides, even if you lose your $200 stack to a rivered straight flush, you will win many times that from the bad-beat jackpot. So why not go for some value?
As I said, going for a river check-raise seems unwise, even given Jerry's bet on the turn, because a generally passive player like him will frequently take one stab at a pot, then not bet again. There is clearly more value in leading out with a river bet and hoping for a call or raise than checking with the fairly slim hope of a check-raise.
When I posted the bare bones of the story on Twitter and expressed my puzzlement, my friend Shamus quipped: "He's setting you all up for later when he checks with nothing."
It might be the best explanation anybody can come up with.
CODA: When Captain received his $599 in chips, he asked whether he had to keep them in play. This is a point on which house rules vary quite a bit. Some places require the chips to stay on the table, some require any that will put you over the buy-in cap to be pocketed, some let the player decide. Captain wanted to immediately cash out the whole $599, and just keep playing with what he already had in front of him, which the floor told him was fine. But then an argument broke out about what he would be allowed to do if he happened to want to keep all of that money in play--would he be allowed to? Note that this was not the situation--it was purely hypothetical. Nobody was objecting to Captain pocketing the money. The only question was if he could keep the bonus chips in play if he wanted to. Yet the argument droned on for ten minutes, with players vehemently insisting on one rule or another, claiming that it's done this way or that way everywhere else, blah, blah, blah. Good Lord, it was pointless. The only thing worse than an interminable argument at the poker table over an esoteric rule question is an interminable argument at the poker table over an esoteric rule when there is no possible resolution that will affect the current situation in any way.
Wednesday, October 03, 2012
I was at the Stratosphere last night. I witnessed a hand that left me completely baffled.
Tuesday, September 04, 2012
Tonight was the first time I've been back to the Palms since I tried their new poker room and didn't like it, which was back in May. I go even to places I don't like once in a while for variety and to keep an eye on what's going on and what may have changed.
Monday, November 28, 2011
Sunday, November 27, 2011
Thursday, November 03, 2011
A story from TBC's blog, here.
an interesting thing in the eldorado [in Reno] the other morning, and a dealer ended up getting fired. i wasnt at the table but i could hear em on the other table. (i was in the NL game before it broke for the morning tourney, and this was at the STUD table.) seems while the players (all 4 of them) were taking a break, the dealer thought it would be funny to setup the deck to give all 4 the royal flush. essentially no one would be getting hurt, and all get back their money. now everything was going according to plan, and suddenly one old man was screaming how he had a royal flush and wanted his money. the other players told him they ALL had the royal, and i dont know if he was senile, or didnt believe them, but he insisted the floor call gaming, and it seems he eventually got paid and the dealer got fired. i know it seems hard to believe but if u come here u will find out its true. lots of witnesses even dealers at other casinos know about it.
Saturday, October 01, 2011
I was playing at Binion's tonight. At one point I had 8s-8d and limped. Button limped. Small blind raised to $17, an unusually high raise. This immediately suggested to me that he had one of those pairs that so many $1-2 NLHE players just don't know how to play after the flop--queens, jack, tens, and nines, with jacks being the #1 suspect, as that is the one hand with which I most commonly see the over-sized raise. I called, as did the button.
Friday, June 24, 2011
Tuesday, May 31, 2011
I was at Bally's again last night, had another profitable and reasonably enjoyable session. I might actually come to like the place, in spite of the noise factor.
Sunday, May 15, 2011
Friday, May 06, 2011
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Tuesday, April 05, 2011
Saturday, March 26, 2011
Tuesday, March 01, 2011
Almost forgot a little incident from the Palms last night. I should have saved my purple felt picture for this post. Oh well.
The Palms has a long-running promotion that they call "Diamonds Are Forever." If you hit a diamond flush, your name is entered into a drawing. The next day they randomly select three names from the previous day's list of players who made diamond flushes, and those three people win $100 each. It's not a lot of money, and it's pretty rare to both make a diamond flush and then get chosen for a prize, but hey, something is better than nothing. I have been selected exactly once in the past.
Last night I called a flop bet with a flush draw, made it on the turn, and called another bet, hoping he would fire a third time. He didn't. I bet and he quickly folded.
As soon as he mucked, I said to the dealer, "Wait," because I could see that she was about to scoop up the board cards. She heard me, but continued with her task, and to my horror I saw the board cards gathered up, turned over, and put in with the muck. As she did this, she explained, "It's OK, he folded."
Obviously, she had concluded that my "Wait" request was because I thought she was mistakenly cleaning up the table before the hand was over. She knew that that wasn't the case, so felt free to disregard my plea.
I don't think I've ever seen this before. In joints that offer bonuses for high hands, bad beats, etc., dealers are usually extremely alert for signs that somebody has made one. They will often pause a bit before clearing away the cards, to give a player a chance to reveal his hole cards for proof of the hand. Some dealers will even ask if there is a qualifying hand, should the board cards make one possible. Motives for this conduct aren't hard to figure out; in addition to wanting to be helpful to the players, the dealer can usually expect a nice tip if the player wins free money.
It turns out that the young woman from last night is only a part-time fill-in at the Palms, and, in fact, this was only her second shift there. She usually deals at the Venetian, where there are no bonuses or jackpots, so no reason to keep the board intact for verification when a hand is over. She seemed not to even know about the diamond-flush promotion.
I was able to show my two diamonds in the hole, and two other players joined me in confirming that there were three more on the board, so in the end I didn't lose out. We'll see tomorrow if I get $100 worth of lucky. (The flush came just after midnight.)
But, hey, dealers: If a player tells you, loudly and clearly, "Wait," here's an idea. Stop what you're doing and find out why that request is being made. Sure, sometimes it will be due to a misunderstanding, and it will waste a few seconds with no gain. But since that's the worst that can happen, how about giving us the benefit of the doubt? Once in a while, we might actually have a legitimate reason to be blowing that particular whistle.
Saturday, February 26, 2011
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.
Monday, November 08, 2010
Played at Harrah's. Lost the first chunk with Q-Q. Flop 9-2-3 rainbow. Looked safe, so I moved all-in, as my only opponent was fairly short-stacked. He called. I showed the queens. Board played out 4-5, at which point he turned over 4-5 for runner-runner two pair. Sigh.
Lost the rest in an even more diseased fashion. 10-10 in the hole. Raise. Four callers. Flop Js-9c-10s. Checked to me. I ship it all in. Pay for your draws, fellas. Two callers, so I can't show yet. Turn: Jh. Now with a full house, I relax about the draws. One remaining opponent bets enough to put the other all in, gets a call. River: 10h for quads. Now I'm really relaxed about those draws.
Until the other guy flips over his J-J for better quads.
To rub salt in the wound, Harrah's does not have a bad-beat jackpot these days (though they used to). It is the first time I have ever been in on a hand that would qualify for a bad-beat jackpot by the usual criteria.
To pour some alcohol into the already salted wound, the floor guy checks their house rule book and finds that when there are two high hands at the same time, only the winner collects the high-hand bonus.
I left with nothing but a hard-to-top cooler story, and the package of Double-Stuf Oreos I bought on the way home for self-soothing.
Wednesday, September 01, 2010
Monday, May 24, 2010
I have kept Richard Marcus's blog about poker cheating and other casino cheating in my RSS feed--despite him being a flagrant, frequent, and unrepentant thief of online content from legitimate writers--because it does serve as a useful aggregator of news about the subject. He had a post today about a poker bad-beat jackpot being nullified at the Royal River Casino in Flandreau, South Dakota, because one player talked about the possbility of a bad-beat jackpot while the hand was in progress.
Because he is an unethical person, Mr. Marcus reprints an article from the local television station, KSFY, without even providing a link to the original. His modest "reform" since being caught habitually plagiarizing is that he now names a source, but then steals the material anyway, with no link to the original. But it's easy to find: http://www.ksfy.com/news/local/94683439.html
(I'm sure Mr. Marcus just "accidentally" overlooked this notice at the end of the article that he copied without permission: "2010 ksfy Action News. All RIGHTS RESERVED. This MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED.")
The article doesn't give a lot of detail about what actually happened. The claim is that only two words were spoken, and we aren't even told what those words were, or what the exact context was.
For my purposes here, it doesn't matter. What matters is that every poker room I know of that has high-hand and/or bad-beat jackpots has a rule in place to the effect that the awarding of the jackpot may or will be voided if the players discuss the jackpot possibility during the play of the hand.
This rule is eminently sensible. It helps prevent distorting play just to chase down a jackpot.
But even if you were to disagree about its purpose or utility, just the fact that it's there on the books and MIGHT be enforced, as it was in South Dakota, should be enough to shut up the nearly inevitable talking about the jackpot that occurs every time a board makes it possible. It seems that there is always at least one idiot that just can't resist pointing out what is obvious to anybody paying attention, and that one idiot might cost everybody a whole friggin' lot of money.
The worst thing is that the guilty idiot is at least as often the dealer as one of the players. I saw this just a few days ago at Binion's. The flop was three parts of a royal flush. When the turn paired the board, the dealer said, "Here we go!" I wanted to dope-slap him. In fact, I think that dope-slapping any imbecile who violates the rule should be explicitly permitted--even encouraged--by poker room rules.
At least one Vegas poker room recently terminated an ace-cracked type jackpot because of rampant collusion and discussion during the hand.
I have written about the whole problem of talking about jackpots while the hand is still in progress several times: here, here, and most especially here.
Even if you somehow manage to forget the first rule of Jackpot Club, please try to remember the second rule of Jackpot Club: You DO NOT talk about Jackpot Club!
Sunday, May 09, 2010
Good Evening Mr Grump,
The attached photo shows the the bad beat jackpot that was won at
Borgata yesterday by 2H 4H rivering a straight flush against another players
flopped Quads. By Atlantic City standards it was a small jacpot, only
$52,000. $24k for the quads as the loser, 12k for the straight flush as
the winner, and $3k for everyoune else dealt in the hand.
Saturday, May 08, 2010
Tonight was one of those rare nights where it all comes together.
I played my best poker, to the extent that I can't think of a single decision that I would have made differently--at least none that would have mattered more than a few bucks.
I never got ridiculously unlucky, and I got lucky in a few good spots. The most notable of these was flopping four queens, which won me a $75 high-hand jackpot in addition to the $180 pot. (That makes at least my fifth set of flopped quads in Vegas. See here for the others, and here for the math of the probability of this occurrence.)
There were blissfully few occurences of the many things on my list of pet peeves.
I played for a few hours at the Venetian and then a few at Imperial Palace, making a decent amount of money in each venue.
In each place I got to share the table with two pleasant and interesting people (making four in all--very unusual for one day) that I have met through this blog and/or through http://www.allvegaspoker.com/.
I had fun with Twitter.
I had some good chats with dealers that I like.
I generated an idea for a new occasional series of blog posts.
I even got to eat an ice cream cone while I played.
In short, I had fun, had some good fortune, played well, made some money, and exercised my atrophied social muscles a little. It's pretty rare that all of those things happen in one day.
I'm going to try to appreciate the resulting good feeling while it lasts.
(The post title is the last line of one of my all-time favorite movies, Trading Places. I'm not sitting on a beach on a Caribbean island with a drink in my hand, my girlfriend at my side, and millions of dollars in the bank, but it's close enough.)