Friday, November 17, 2006

Overly chatty dealers

A few days ago I'm in a game in seat #1, in late position, with 10-10 in the hole. Flop comes down J-10-4, two-suited. The guy under the gun is cutting some chips out of his stack, and there's 2 or 3 players to act after him before the action gets to me. I am focused like a laser on the guy who's acting first, because I'm going to have a huge decision to make when my turn comes around: slow-play it, make a minimal raise, make a big raise, or just push all-in and take it down. My Spidey senses are on full alert. Are these other guys on straight draws? Flush draws? Did one of them hit set-over-set on me? It is just a handful of situations like this every session that make or break my success as a cash-game player. Today is going to be a winning day or a losing day based on how well I handle just a few critical moments like this.

And in my right ear, I hear the dealer start telling me about a car wreck he saw as he drove to work. WTF???? I realize he doesn't know that a potentially huge hand is developing right under his nose, or that I'm intensely interested in every scrap of information my opponents may be giving off, but jeez--he obviously can see that I have live cards in front of me. He's a nice enough guy, but his timing is just awful. I'm afraid to even cut him off, because that might signal the other players yet to act that I'm just a little too interested in the action. But he's leaning over, and referencing something else he told me about on a previous day, so I can't just ignore him. I have to tell him to wait until after the hand.

I wanted to smack him. How dense can you be?

Another day last week at another casino, a male dealer was openly flirting with an attractive young woman in the 10 seat, which meant that he was always looking away from the action. Over and over again, we had to get his attention to tell him that a betting round was complete, and we could use another card on the board, please. Incredibly annoying and unprofessional. There is no chance that he could have noticed and stopped a string bet, or an illegal raise, or a pot that wasn't right, or two players talking about the hand improperly, or any of a zillion other things that he should have been paying attention to. I wanted to hit him over the head with a 2x4. Or maybe whack him between the legs with it, which would have been more to the point.

Look, I like friendly dealers as much as the next guy. In fact, one of the reasons that the 10 seat has become my favorite is that it makes it easy to chat with the dealers I like when there's a lull in the action. But I try to be careful not to try to talk when he's, e.g., carving out three side pots, because I know that he's got to concentrate on getting this several-hundred-dollar mess of chips exactly right, or he'll have the whole table jumping down his throat (soon to be followed by the floor person). And the vast majority of dealers are aware that they shouldn't initiate a conversation--even with a player they know well--when that player has live cards. It's just a few that don't seem to grasp the difference between moments when it's OK to gab and moments when it's not.

And it's never OK for the dealer to compromise how he does his job for the sake of chatting, even if it is with a hot chick.

Drives me crazy!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

New setup? You're a moron.

God, how I hate idiots that ask for a new setup because they're in a dry spell for catching good hands. Do they seriously think that getting one or two new decks of cards will change that? It's sheer lunacy. Every hand you're dealt is random, whether it's from an old deck or a new deck. Random is random. Bad streaks are no more likely to end with a new deck than with the current deck. I wouldn't mind so much, except that it's such a waste of time, what with checking the decks for the right number of cards, getting them shuffled, etc.

I really want to ask these imbeciles to explain to me the mechanism by which they believe that a new deck of cards will change the probability that the next hand they're dealt will be a good one. They can't possibly have a cogent answer.

The only advantage is that this is yet another way that we learn which players think that they lose because of bad luck, rather than bad playing. If you ask for a new setup, thinking that it might change your luck, you're an idiot, plain and simple, in the same way that if you blame the dealer for bad hands you're an imbecile. You don't understand or accept randomness, which means that with your current mindset you will never, ever become a consistently winning player. You're a loser because you just don't get it. Thanks for volunteering to announce that to the whole table.

I understand randomness. I accept randomness. In fact, I embrace randomness. In the same way that random genetic mutations are the raw material on which evolutionary forces work to produce new species, random card sequences are the raw material from which I make strong, interesting, and unexpected poker hands. I make my livelihood out of randomness, and I accept that an inevitable consequence of randomness is that there will be long stretches of unplayable hands, and days and weeks when I lose money because I get strong but second-best hands over and over and over again.

That is the nature of the game. And it doesn't change because a new deck of cards is brought to the table, you pinhead. So stop wasting everybody's time. Go for a five-minute walk, and when you come back, we'll tell you that we changed the decks. Just believe it, and the effect will be exactly the same. (In fact, come to think of it, that's exactly what casinos should do: Anybody who asks for a setup is required to leave the room for five minutes. The game will just go on without them, but when they come back, everybody tells them that the decks were changed during their absence.)

Once again, if I had my own casino, asking for a new setup would be deemed proof that you're too stupid to be playing, so you'd be escorted out. But first we'd take a photo of you with a dunce cap on your head, to be added to the file of people not allowed back in for reasons of excessive stupidity.

I should note an exception to the above rant. Sometimes a deck needs to be replaced. This can happen because the cards have become sticky and the auto-shuffler keeps jamming, or the dealer keeps pitching two cards at a time, etc. Also, sometimes the cards are so worn that the backs of some of the cards have developed wear patterns that players can start to identify, or an out-of-spec Shufflemaster is putting distinguishing creases on some cards. If you can show the dealer and the floor person an objective reason that a deck should be replaced, by all means do so. I've done it myself a few times, including once when I spotted an ace that had been deliberately marked by a player. But as anybody who has spent much time in a poker room knows, the vast majority of setup requests are from players who want to change their luck. I frankly don't understand why casinos indulge these idiotic demands. Roy Cooke has it right again in his proposed set of rules: "A player may not request a set-up except for a marred card." ("Cooke's Rules of Real Poker," 14.19, p. 107.) Are you listening, poker-room managers?

Live straddle

You know how most casino games have bets that have larger or smaller house edges, and the ones with the biggest house edges are called the "sucker bets"? Well, the live straddle is the sucker bet of poker.

You're putting money into the pot voluntarily, without knowing what your cards are, knowing that you'll have to play the hand out of position. I can't think of even one good reason a sensible player would want to do that.

To sweeten the pot, you say? I doubt that it does, because you'll get fewer callers for the larger amount, offsetting the fact that they each come in for a bit more money.

To thin the field of opponents, you say? Well, you might not want to thin the field after you see what cards you have. If you have middle suited connectors, for example, you probably want as many players as possible in, because that's how such hands tend to get maximum value when they hit big.

To gain the advantage of acting last before the flop, you say? Sorry, but that's a pittance of an advantage compared to the uphill climb of having to act out of position for each of the next three betting rounds.

To be able to bluff-raise pre-flop and steal the limpers' bets, you say? Well, there's a decent chance that one of them knows you intend to pull this trick, and is limping in with a real hand, just waiting for you to do it, so he can re-raise you. Then how smart does your little ploy seem? Furthermore, there are a good number of players who dislike the live straddle enough that, especially when they're in late position, they'll put in a hefty raise with nothing, just to steal your money, and to discourage you from doing it again anytime soon. I heard one guy say, "If I'm in position, I'll always raise the straddle just on general principle." Can't say as I blame him.

And to make matters worse, the straddle always slows down the game, because there's always at least 2 or 3 players who don't notice that it's on, no matter how many times the dealer announces it, so we waste time while it all gets sorted out. It's a nuisance, with no benefit to anybody.

If I had my own casino, you'd get kicked out just for uttering the words "live straddle," let alone trying to do it.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Crap underfoot

What the hell is wrong with poker players?

OK, well, the only answer to that is "a lot." But today I'm talking specifically about leaving junk under the poker table. Poker players are pigs--no two ways about it. It seems to have become accepted that the area under the poker table is a wastebasket. If you've never looked under there, take my advice and don't. It's an ugly sight.

You take your chips in a rack to the table and unload them. Is it really too much trouble to take the rack back to the counter (or cage)? You could even put it on an adjacent table that's not in use, where it will easily be spotted and picked up by somebody running chips for another player before too long. But for God's sake, don't put it under the table. They accumulate there, and take up the foot space for the next guy that's going to sit in that seat. And, BTW, do you think that there's a chip-rack fairy that magically transports them back to some central location after you leave? No, you moron--when you drop it there, you ensure that somebody--whether another player who wants to reclaim an uncluttered bit of floor space for his feet, or an employee of the casino--will have to crawl under there and pick it up, because you were too damn lazy.

The same thing goes for all the other crap you're tossing under there: cups and glasses, candy-bar wrappers, losing sports-bet receipts, magazines, and all the other miscellaneous trash. How in the hell did you come to conclude that the floor under the poker table is a garbage-disposal area? The very worst, I think, are the cups with your chewing-tobacco spit in them. Thanks a lot for leaving that for me to kick over accidentally, you no-class, inbred peabrain.

How I would hate to visit the homes of some of the pigs I have to share poker-table space with....

Dealers as beggars

As Joan Rivers used to say in her stand-up routines, "Can we talk?" In particular, can we talk about dealers who beg (directly or indirectly) for tips?

There's a dealer named John at Orleans that I have previously liked a lot--he's very funny, while also being better than average at keeping things moving clearly and efficiently. But he shocked me the other day. He looked extremely bored while waiting for the action to finish on one hand, and while dealing the cards on the next he was in slow motion--literally. I told him that it looked like his batteries had run down. He just said, "No, that's not it." I didn't catch what he meant. But then that hand turned into a huge pot, and the winner tipped him 2 red ($5) chips. The next deal flew out of his hands. I still didn't make the connection, but I said, "Hey, I guess you got new batteries." He replied, "Yep, two red ones." Then he added, "Basically, you guys determine how fast we'll go here."

On I've read visitors commenting on the occasional dealer who is shameless in hinting for tips, but I've never seen it before. I lost all respect for this John. How completely crass and tacky and unprofessional, to deliberately slow down in order to annoy (or cajole or encourage--whatever) players into tipping better. The only book there is for poker dealers ("Professional Poker Dealer's Handbook," by Dan Paymar) says (though it shouldn't need to be said):

Always thank a player immediately for a toke. Try to make eye contact, as
this adds sincerity to the thanks. Show gratitude in your voice, but always do
it the same regardless of the size of the toke. Don't fawn over a player because
of an unusually large toke, and don't sound disgruntled because of a small toke
or none at all.... It can go without saying that dealers have a natural
resentment toward a "stiff" (non-toker). However, such a player should be
treated as well as any other. Even the non-tokers are important to your income
because without them there might not be a game for you to deal. Also, the
subject of tokes should never be discussed within earshot of any player.

Maybe my next "tip" for John should be a copy of that page of the book.

Second story: The only time I've tried playing at the Sahara was about two weeks ago, and a similar thing happened. Two guys in a pot go to the showdown. The one who called the last bet voluntarily turned over his hand first. The other guy sees that it's a winner, and mucks. The winner asks to see the mucked hand, with which request the dealer complies. The loser is out of chips and leaves the table.

The dealer tells the winner of the hand that, in the future, it might be better not to ask to see the hand, because sometimes the guy who mucks has actually thrown away the winner without knowing it, so exposing the hand risks losing the pot. Better to just take the money and be left wondering what your opponent had. (In some casinos, the house rule is that the dealer has to kill the hand before showing it, so there is no such risk, but generally what the dealer said here is correct.) The player saw the point, and thanked the dealer for the advice. The dealer said, "Well, you know, there is always a way to show appreciation for good advice from the dealer." The player said, "You're right"--and tossed him a few chips.

Completely tacky.

Final story. Last night I was playing at Suncoast. I won an enormous pot--about $900, because of a three-way all-in. There was a side pot, but the dealer ended up not having to count it out, because I was the big stack and I won it all. I passed him a $5 chip. He went surly fast, and seemed extremely grumpy for the next several hands. Maybe something else had happened that I missed, but I got the impression that he felt shortchanged on his tip for that big pot. I hope that wasn't it.

Everybody has his or her own approach to tipping dealers. Here's mine (remembering that we're talking either $1-$2 no-limit or $3-$6 limit here). I give $1 from every pot I win. The exception is that if a hand takes unusually long to play out (e.g., lots of bets and raises with several people involved, and/or side pot to count down), I'll bump it up to $2 or $3, because the dealer could otherwise have gotten out another hand or two in that amount of time. On one hand, that means that I might look cheap when there's a large pot and I toke only a buck (and some players have called me cheap in that situation). But on the other hand, I do the same even if I only pick up $3 by winning the blinds with an early-position raise, in which case I'm giving 1/3 of my profit. I figure it all averages out. I also don't distinguish between fast and slow dealers (because their tip income will naturally reflect their speed), or between those who make few mistakes and those who make many. I've wrestled with the ethics of this, and decided that I just don't want to be faced with having to weigh all those factors to come up with a "right" amount every time I win a hand, so I've basically said, "screw it all," and devolved to the fixed amount. If that makes me lazy or unethical in some other players' eyes, so be it--it's what works best for me.

I was encouraged recently that this was an acceptable approach when I read David Sklansky's book, "Poker, Gaming, and Life," in which he makes the following comment (p. 116-117):

One logical way to tip if you are a regular player is the following: Tip in
such a way that if everybody tipped similarly, the dealer would make a
reasonable amount for the day. For instance, if a dealer deals about 150 hands
per day, you might think that he or she ought to average about 75 cents per hand
dealt. If so, you might want to make this your average tip, depending on the
size of the pot. You know that tourists frequently tip more, while others tip
not at all, but that is not your concern. No dealer should complain about you if
you use this method. Furthermore, if you are trying to make a living by playing
poker but are just struggling along [that's me!], it should not be expected that
you toke off a high percentage of your income. You are still helping dealers
indirectly by keeping games going.

I agree, except that I've eliminated the part about the size of the pot. I figure that since I don't hold the dealer responsible when I lose a hand, I don't owe him or her a "reward" when I win one, either. The tip is a sign of thanks and respect for doing the job, and, in my opinion, doesn't need to relate to the size of the pot won.

But even if I'm being unforgiveably tightfisted, it doesn't excuse dealers degrading themselves by begging. It's an embarrassment. (What's more, I'm guessing that it's explicitly forbidden by every casino in town.)

Comments are welcome--particularly from dealers--about this touchy subject.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Weirdest card protector ever

This was in use by a guy at my table at the MGM Grand last night. All I can say is, "WTF?"