Monday, December 31, 2007

Poker gems, #61

Nick Brancato, in Bluff magazine column, December, 2007, p. 96.

The game is so simple on the surface, yet it's exceedingly complex. People could play for years before they even realize how little they actually know about poker.

Crass, tacky, and distasteful

While I was at O'Sheas the other day, I had to visit the men's room, and saw two of the above-pictured devices above the urinals. For a quarter, you can having a contest with your buddy about who has the fastest and/or greatest volume of output. (I was a little unclear on the details, and it's creepy enough taking a photograph in a public restroom that I didn't want to also lurk around long enough to read the fine print.)

This reminded me of something I always meant to gripe about from the Hilton: In their men's room, above the urinals, is a bunch of photographs of attractive women looking down on those using the facilities. The women are looking closely at what's being exposed, some of them reacting with obvious delight and admiration, others pulling out rulers and tape measures. If you see what I mean.

I'm sure that many visitors to these two facilities find these installations hilarious and enjoyable. As the title to this post suggests, I think they're just plain in bad taste.

I don't belong to that segment of society that experiences any sense of shame about human waste elimination. Personally, I wouldn't care a whole lot if all restrooms were unisex, because I don't really care if anybody is watching me; conversely, I have neither interest in nor disgust from seeing somebody else, male or female, urinating. I remember once being at the zoo in New Orleans, using the men's room, when an unfortunate female elementary school teacher, with her class on a field trip, had to enter and keep an eye on her young male charges--I suppose to be sure that they didn't get kidnapped or molested or something. She was a whole lot more embarrassed about the situation than I was. It's just not that big a deal.

But at the same time, I can't go so far in my relaxed attitude as to want to elevate it to institutionalized humor. Surely O'Sheas and Hilton management must realize that at least some of their guests will find such attempts at humor loathesome and vile. Why would you do something that you know will offend some substantial fraction of your customers, at least when there's little or no money to be made from doing so? (I put that condition on it because other things in casinos are likely to offend some people, but are undoubtedly revenue-enhancing, which at least makes the decision to have them understandable from a business point of view.) I can't imagine that whatever little enjoyment some segment of the population derives from crudeness like this outweighs the undoubtedly stronger negative thoughts and feelings that another segment will experience.

I guess I just don't get businesses going out of their way to be offensive.

Addendum, January 2, 2007

A friend pointed me to the following story about a downtown casino that has a piece of the Berlin Wall in its men's room: I'd have to agree that that is in even poorer taste than the two examples I cited above, though for different reasons.

Sunday, December 30, 2007


You've probably noticed that in the last few days I've fiddled a bit with the colors and type size for this blog. I think it's easier to read now than when I first went with the new template a week or so ago, but I don't trust my own eyes as the exclusive judge. Comments pro and con (public or by private email) are welcome.

Poker the Harrah's way

Last night I took in three of the adjacent Harrah's properties on the Strip. I started at Harrah's. I've played there twice before, and liked it OK, but yesterday, for some reason, it impressed me more, and I think I'll be spending more time there. Part of it is that I discovered the back way into the parking garage, so I don't have to battle Strip traffic now. Soft, easy-to-read competition, extremely low noise and smoke, competent dealers. And good hot chocolate, served fast!

I then walked next door to Imperial Palace. I've been there once before and thought I'd never return. But lately I've seen reports on about how incredibly easy the games there are to beat, so I decided to buck up and try to win some $$. The room is different than it was when I visited previously a year ago or so. The noise and smoke are pretty bad, but it was true that winning was easy. Also, the tables have been revised; they're no longer the infamous, huge monsters that they were before. They might be a tad larger than average, but before they were completely ridiculous, so wide that the dealers couldn't reach the player's bets or cards.

Finally, I stopped in at O'Sheas, one of the last remaining places on my "haven't tried yet" list. The definitive collection of stories and observations of O'Sheas is at, a blog kept by a Flamingo poker dealer, because they also staff O'Sheas. I set foot in the place once before just to grab an ice cream cone, so my only mental picture of poker there is the couple of tables they have set up right inside the front door. (See the bottom photo above.) Only one was going when I entered. I was stunned to find that it was a $1-$2 no-limit game, instead of the expected $2-4 limit. Maybe it was some sort of optical illusion, but it appeared to be the smallest table I've ever played at. Perhaps it was only because of the contrast of having just come from playing at the giant I.P. tables. Anyway, I was one of only four people playing, a few minutes before midnight. The game broke up after about ten hands. Fortunately, though, I doubled up on the last hand with pocket fours flopping a set and rivering a full house.

There was a live band playing about 40 feet away, making this officially the loudest place I've ever tried to play poker--painfully loud, literally. You could just barely make yourself heard by shouting. It was also the coldest place I've ever tried to play, because of being right next to the doors that kept opening. Absurdly uncomfortable conditions under which to play--impossible to concentrate.

But after I had been there about five minutes, the other table suddenly filled up, as in going from zero players to full in two minutes. I quickly realized it was a midnight tournament. The person who ushered these players in mentioned something about the "back room." I then looked around and noticed a sign towards the back of the casino: "Poker Room." Whaaaaattttt?

Somehow I had missed (or perhaps read about, then forgotten) the fact that O'Sheas at some point this year opened an actual room for poker. (See top two photos above.) I guess these tables out front are just for overflow and/or as an attention-grabber for passers-by. So when my game broke up shortly thereafter, I went back to the real poker room. To my utter shock, it's not so terrible back there! The noise and smoke were worse than I like, but after coming from the front tables seemed quite acceptable.

Two of the three tables were running the tournament, but the third had a $1-5 spread-limit game going, with a single $1 blind. I didn't stay long, because three of the players were drunk and playing unbearably slowly, prefacing every single damn bet with a series of announcements, speeches, conversations, questions, dares, challenges, jokes, etc., to each other. Every hand took three or four minutes to complete because of this. It was just intolerable. The only redeeming value in it was that one of them was genuinely Irish, with the charming accent to prove it. Still, about 30 minutes was all I could take. With a different mix of players, though, I wouldn't have minded staying longer.

If I'm counting right, I've now played poker at 55 different casinos in Nevada, plus 9 (I think) in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa before moving out here. I believe that my list of local poker rooms yet unvisited is now down to Speedway, Poker Palace, Railroad Pass, and Hacienda. The former two I'll probably knock off fairly soon; the latter two may take a long time, for reasons of distance and paucity of games being spread. After that, I may have to take on Reno!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Rake collection boxes

The photo above was taken at Fiesta Henderson, but it could have been anywhere, because all casinos seem to do things the same way, as far as I can tell. When it's time to change the rake collection boxes, a security guy comes around to the poker tables and leaves a new, empty box at each table. They come back later to pull the full box out of its slot in the table and insert the new one. The problem is that the empty boxes are often left sitting out for a long time--10 or 15 minutes, anyway.

For a long time I wondered why they used this two-stage procedure. Finally I asked and somebody explained it to me--it's something about minimizing the amount of time that the cart that carries the boxes has to remain open.

But I can't tell you the number of times I've seen players and employees (particularly dealers) trip over those damn boxes. They leave them right between/behind the dealer and the ten seat, and with carpet patterns being what they are, they're not always easy to see. (You can see one in the foreground above, and another in the background.)

I would be very surprised if there has not already been a significant injury (broken hip or ankle, maybe) and a resultant lawsuit in some casino over this practice. It's an obvious hazard.

Surely somebody can come up with a way to handle changing the boxes securely without leaving objects on the floor that people trip over. I don' t know the needs or inner workings of casino security, so any suggestions I might have would probably miss something significant. But I know that there has to be a better way, even if I can't identify exactly what it is.


(Blegging, for those not in the know, is the term for using one's blog to beg readers for help with something.)

I have chronic problems with line spacing in this blog. See, for example, the post on Fiesta Henderson below; somehow inserting that block-quotation paragraph made everything above it double-spaced (or maybe it's 1 1/2 spaces), and everything below it single-spaced. But I can't spot the bits of HTML code that are the problem, because I know very little about such things.

If somebody is very handy about web matters and can quickly dissect the page code and tell me where it's fouling up, I'd appreciate it. But please don't spend much time on it; it's a pretty minor annoyance and not worth slaving over for hours.

The smallest poker room in Nevada

I've mentioned several times recently that I'm trying to eventually play at least once in every poker room in the Las Vegas area. I listed the ones I have yet to try (though I realized later that I forgot to include the famous Speedway Casino in that list!), and a reader pointed out to me another one that I had overlooked. In fact, I had never even heard of it: Railroad Pass.

I literally did not know that the city of Henderson stretched out this far to the southeast. Click on the map above for a larger version, and you'll see that it is right on the border between Henderson and Boulder City. I had thought that Club Fortune (see was about as far as you could get in Henderson, but Railroad Pass is another three miles past that! It was 22 miles from there back to my apartment just off Fremont street downtown.

See that picture of the poker table above? That's not in the Railroad Pass poker room. It is the Railroad Pass poker room. One table, plus a couple of signs, in the middle of the casino. With nobody staffing it at 11:00 on a Friday night. That's a small room. It would be hard for any room to be smaller.

Can't say much of anything else about the place. This may be a severe obstacle to my long-term goal. With the place so far away and with poker actually being played there so infrequently (apparently), it may be a l-o-n-g time before I sit down to a game at Railroad Pass.

Let's have a Fiesta!

I had only played poker at Fiesta Henderson once before tonight (on May 25, 2007, to be exact, according to my records). There wasn't much to impress me--all locals, only two tables going on a Friday night, and those were a $2-4 game and a $3-6 game.

But there's a new sheriff in town. Fiesta hired James Klosty just before the Hilton poker room closed, and he also took with him Ken Franco, who had been a shift supervisor at the Hilton. So I thought I would check in to see how they were doing, and what they might have done with this little room.

The good news

I have to say I was favorably impressed. I was surprised at all of the promotions they have going, because I usually expect to see announcements of such things in print. Tight advertising budget, I gather. But they have progressive high-hand jackpots (capped at $599 for quads and straight flushes, uncapped for royal flushes, with the club royal currently over $2000), a progressive bad-beat jackpot (aces full of tens beaten by four-of-a-kind or better; currently at over $20,000); and a weekly $1500 freeroll tournament for just ten hours of cash-game play. James told me that they give more back to players through these promotions than any poker room on the Strip, and that's quite plausible.

Another one will be starting soon. Since details haven't been made public, I'll just give you a hint of it: 20 seconds to grab as many chips as you can from one of those plexiglas drums that they usually use for drawing random names or numbers for prizes. That's unlike anything I've heard of a poker room doing before. Might be interesting.

The room itself is a bit noisier than is my preference, but it's nowhere near as bad as, say, Bally's or the MGM Grand. Cigarette smoke wasn't bad enough that I noticed it while playing, though there was a little adhering to my clothes after I left. Sort of middle-of-the-road on that front. It would be even better if they didn't allow smoking at one end of the room.

They have a coffee machine and water cooler for players, so that you don't have to wait for (and tip) a waitress. I like that, especially since it took nearly 45 minutes from the time I asked for a bottle of water until it arrived (before I noticed the water cooler on the other end of the room). They will serve meals while you play, which often isn't so at the smaller poker rooms.

I was surprised at how busy the room was: four full tables at 4:00 on a Friday afternoon. Two were $2-4 games and two were $3-6 games. By about 6:00 a no-limit game started, and I migrated over to it. It was an unusually tight game, one of those where you have to pick up the table and shake the chips off of it to make any money. There were four pretty good players there, ones on whom I had little if any edge, which also surprised me. They weren't just textbook tight, but mixed things up nicely, good at sniffing out bluffs and making fairly thin value bets.

In the $3-6 limit game they had a feature I've never seen or even heard of before: "overs" buttons. Here's the definition from the best poker dictionary I know of (

overs button (n phrase) A button designating a player who will play at a higher limit when only those who have such an arrangement remain in a pot. Two or more players in a 20-40 game, for example, might agree that when either only they are in a pot or when others fold causing only them to remain, they will play 100-200. Each player so agreeing gets an overs button.

I always like learning new things about poker--especially now that I'm experienced enough that it's tempting to think I know all the tricks.

At F.H., the overs button transforms the game to no-limit whenever only players who have chosen to have one of the buttons are left in a hand. Since I almost always prefer playing no-limit to fixed-limit, I immediately agreed to take an overs button, and was one of four at the table who did.

But after thinking about it for a while, I surrendered it back again. I don't think it's strategically sound, at least for my style of play. Starting hand selection is different enough for low-limit and no-limit that I'm not thrilled with the idea of changing in the middle of a hand. It also seems sort of perverse that you can only charge an opponent $3 on the flop for him to be able to catch his flush or straight draw on the turn, but he can then charge you whatever he feels like to call if he hits it (because on the early streets, there is probably at least one player without an overs button, so the game is limit, but on the later streets it's more likely that the field will have been narrowed and the only players left both agreed to the "overs").

I was very glad I reliquished the button when I hit a series of rivered bad beats; I could see if opponents really made the hand they were representing for only one large bet. Of course, the other side of that argument is that if we had been in a no-limit situation, I might have been able to make it too expensive for them to draw. Still, I think I'd rather play either limit or no-limit for any given hand, not change it up in the middle of a hand. I don't mind casinos offering this variant, though, since nobody is obligated to participate; basically, every player has veto power over whether it will be in effect for any hand he's in.

The gripes

I consider it my self-appointed mission to complain about things in the world of poker, so I would be untrue to my calling if I didn't blow the whistle on things I think F.H. should do better.

They only have Card Player magazine, as far as I could tell. More variety is better.

There are no signs pointing guests to the poker room. It's on the second floor, an escalator ride up from the main casino floor. But even the sign directly above the base of the escalator--the sign that tells you all the things to be found on the second floor--doesn't mention the poker room! This is really shoddy. People shouldn't have to ask where anything is in a casino; it's not that hard to make good signs and maps. There's no reason for this, other than cheap and/or lazy and/or indifferent casino management. If you're not going to spend money promoting the poker room in print, for heaven's sake at least help people who are already there find the place!

I ran into yet another dealer who couldn't resist alerting everyone to a potential jackpot situation. It's been a bad month for this nasty habit (see;;; This time it was a dealer named Ron. When there was both a pair and three parts of a straight flush on the board, he told the table, "We're in bad beat territory!" With the bad-beat jackpot as high as it is, this kind of announcement can severely distort the action, if there happens to be a player who didn't know about the jackpot or didn't notice the possibility on the board. Maybe somebody has the quads and got so excited he didn't see the possible straight flush, until the dealer points it out. This is just not right. Grrrrrrrrrrrr.

Our no-limit table had chronic problems with the Shufflemaster, so bad that eventually it devolved into just hand shuffling. Apparently it wouldn't have helped to switch the machine out or move us to another table, because, we were told, all the other machines were just as faulty. C'mon--it's just lame to have equipment not work on such a widespread basis and have no means of backup. Similarly, the drop box for the rake kept getting jammed. If this is a one-time thing, no big deal, but I was led to believe that it's a long-standing, ongoing problem. Well then, get it taken care of, so that the game doesn't get stopped over such a silly little thing! Such things aren't serious enough to turn an otherwise pleasant poker session into a negative one, but they shout out the message that the casino doesn't care very much about the game or the poker room's patrons. I suspect that malfunctioning equipment in other parts of the casino wouldn't get neglected for weeks on end.

For reasons that aren't at all obvious to me, Kem brand cards (the most commonly used in Vegas casinos) that are printed with green-colored backs seem subject to wear a lot faster than their other colors. And sure enough, the green deck at our no-limit table had scads of cards with whitish rubbed-out patches. If there's just one such card, it can easily be replaced. But maybe a third or half of this deck had unique markings. I didn't think that anybody was paying attention to them, but if somebody cared to take the effort, he could easily and quickly learn to distinguish several cards by the wear patterns on their backs, and thus gain an advantage over opponents. This was not subtle; it was obvious, and surely every employee of the poker room who handled that deck noticed it. So why didn't any dealer take the initiative to replace the deck? A standard part of starting up a new table is supposed to be inspecting the backs of the cards, precisely to find such defects. Poker rooms should take decks this badly worn out of play permanently, rather than wait for a player to complain about the cards being identifiable.

Nevertheless, even with these faults, it's a nice little room. For me the biggest obstacle to frequenting it is that it's such a long drive from my downtown apartment. There's not much to be done about that fact. But if it were closer, and if the action were consistently there at times I'd want to play, there's nothing about the room or its management that would deter me from becoming a regular, and there's much to like about it, even for a grump.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Count me out

Recently I've been stuck playing more limit games than I usually do, and particularly $4-$8 limit. The same thing happens every time, and it makes me crazy.

It seems that nobody catches on to the fact that the bets are going to be $4 and $8 every time, and that, as a result, it is possible to have those bet amounts prepared in advance. No. Instead, nearly every player, when the action is on him, takes a stack of chips and drops them onto the table immediately in front of him, one at a time. 1...2...3...4...5...6...7...8. Then he's not completely sure he has it right, so he puts down the stack in his hand, splits the new stack he has created into two halves, checking to be sure each has four in it, then finally pushes them forward to make his bet or call. This gets repeated for each player who wants in on the fun.

When the half-kill is on and the game jumps to $6-$12, it's truly like the Chinese water torture. 1...2...3...4...5...6...7...8...9...10...11...12. I swear that some of these players have to take off their shoes and socks to count that high.

Seriously, the game would go about 50% faster if all of the players just did one simple thing: have a few bets' worth of chips counted out and stacked in advance. Being a tad on the compulsive side, I tend to keep all of my chips in stacks of 4 and 8 when I'm playing a $4-$8 game. When there get to be too many chips for that to work without taking over all of the surface area I have in front of me, I make a bunch of stacks of 16, too, which break down readily into 8s if I lose a big pot and need more 8-chip stacks. When it's my turn, it takes no time or effort at all to grab one or two sets of either 4 or 8 chips and push them forward. Bang--I'm done. On to the next player.

The only down side to this is that if I'm interested in knowing my current total chip count, I have to add up the stacks and multiply by 8 in my head instead of 10 or 20. But so what? I'm only doing that when I'm between hands and have nothing else to be doing anyway. Besides, in a limit game my total chip count is pretty unimportant strategically (as opposed to a no-limit game, where stack size is always a critical factor in decisions); it's only idle curiosity about how much I'm up or down for the session, and that takes a back seat to speed and efficiency of play. My long-term goal is income in dollars per hour, so more hands per hour means a higher rate of return for my time investment.

Another advantage is that firing out bets faster than other players conveys a sense of confidence. It adds at least a modicum of intimidation factor. It passes the action on to the next player a little faster than he's really used to.

So can anybody explain to me why virtually nobody in limit games takes the simple expedient of pre-sizing their bets and having them ready in advance? It's such an obvious time-saver. If people were generally using the chip-counting time to think about what to do--i.e., check, bet, call, or raise--I could understand it, but that's clearly not what's going on, because you see them sit and think for a bit, mentally settle on a course of action, then grab the chips and start the slow counting thing.

What would be even better is the casino making available $3 and $6 chips for a 3-6 game, $4 and $8 chips for a 4-8 game, etc. (Lots of places have $4 chips, which they mainly use for taking the $4-max rake, but they don't sell them to players at the cage.) It would mean more hands per hour, which means more house rake and more tips for the dealers.

Oh, and if you can't bring yourself to keep some stacks in the amounts that the bets are going to be, you could at least verbalize your actions. Just say "bet" or "call" or "raise," then take whatever time you need to count out the chips, while the action moves on.

Sadly, I'm sure that very few players--and no casinos--will hear my plea and change their ways, and the next time I play limit, I'll once again be pulling out what little hair I have left, as hand after hand, bet after bet, player after player, I have to endure the agonizingly slow counting of the chips.


Thursday, December 27, 2007

Mesquite-flavored poker. Part 3--Oasis

The room

As suggested by the security guy at Virgin River (see, I drove over to the Oasis. Once again, I was favorably impressed with a Mesquite poker room. It's surprisingly large (I counted 15 tables), plenty of space between tables, elevated from the casino floor level. It's open to the casino floor, but far enough away from things that smoke and noise are minimal. I love the maroon-colored felt on the tables.

When I walked in at about 5:00 pm, they were just breaking up the only game they had going, so it looked like I wouldn't get to play. But the floor guy suggested that I try the 6:00 tournament. I wasn't really in the mood for a tourney, but I was hungry and had to eat, so the timing would be about right. I grabbed a magazine from the rack and went to Denny's (inside the casino). Finished just in time to sign up for the tournament.

The tournament

This was a rebuy event. I've done lots of tournaments with one rebuy, but I don't think I've ever played in an unlimited-rebuy one. There's a reason I avoid them: the ability to rebuy cheaply mostly takes away one of the tactics I rely on most, which is forcing opponents to difficult decisions for all of their chips. But since it was the only action available, I took it. Two tables, 20 players, four would be paid. Entry fee was $35 for $1000 in tournament chips, with unlimited $10 rebuys for the first hour (though you had to be at or below $1000 to rebuy), plus an optional $20 add-on for $4000 at the end of the rebuy period.

A comment on this structure: It's stupid, particularly the size of the add-on. You can see that chips are half the price then. This means that in the last hand or two of the rebuy period, here's what all except the biggest-stacked players are going to think: "Well, I've got 2000 in chips. I'm definitely going to rebuy. My chances against the big stacks are not much better with 6000 in chips than if I go broke now and start over again with just the 4000 add-on. But if I win a multi-way all-in pot at this point, then I've got a fighting chance." So, predictably, the last two hands become an all-in fest, with one lucky soul becoming one of the big stacks. It pushes luck to way too big of a factor.

The competition was unbelievably soft. There is just no question that I was the best player at the table. I realize that sounds like bragging, but it isn't--it's a comment on how bad everybody else was. For me to be the best tournament player at a table, with my extremely limited tournament experience, is saying something about the other players, not about me. There was not a single player there who had "raise or fold" as his main mode, with "call" being an occasional tool. Instead, it was a game of limp-limp-limp, bet-call-call-call-call, check-check-check-check, bet-fold-fold-fold. Complete and utter passivity. The only thing that distinguished the players from each other was that half of them were loose-weak and the rest tight-weak. I was chip leader for most of the first five levels, until a series of three nearly consecutive suckouts felted me in about 13th place.

The idiot

The guy on my immediate right turned out to be one of those idiots who somehow earnestly believe that unlucky outcomes are attributable to the dealer (see In one hand, he limped, I raised with K-K, it got folded back around to him, and he re-raised. The limp-reraise always smells of aces, but this was the loosest player at the table, playing about 75% of hands, and raising with a third of those. Besides, in a low-buy-in event, where the running ratio of average stack size to blinds is not high, it's virtually impossible to escape if you're on the bad end of AA vs. KK. So I push all-in, and the idiot calls. He has 10-10. To me he says, "Nice hand" (even before the five community cards are dealt). Then, nodding toward the dealer, he says, "It's typical of what John always does to me, fucking guy." He is not kidding. I just don't get how players can harbor that kind of moronic belief. Yeah, pal, he stacked the deck between hands when you weren't looking, just so that you'd lose. It's all a conspiracy against you. (Of course, it wasn't a conspiracy when that same dealer later delivered him a runner-runner flush, after all the money was in, to make his pockets 8s beat my flopped aces and tens, the first of the three hands that were my downfall.)

Cash game

Enough players had been knocked out by then that a cash game was about to get started, so I stuck around a little longer and got a seat in it. It was, again, a $4-$8 game. Like at Eureka, the table was very soft. I would peg two other players as being on par with me skill-wise, and, unfortunately, they were the two seats on my left. But they were both card-dead, so didn't cause as much trouble as they otherwise might have. Even though I'm by no means a limit specialist, I cleaned up, even without any extraordinarily lucky run of cards--uptick $138 in an hour and 20 minutes.

Nice touches

Let me mention just a few other admirable things I noticed about the Oasis poker room:

  • As you can see from the last photo above, they have 50-cent chips instead of using half-dollar coins for making change from the pot when the house rake requires it. Every time I play in a place that uses silver, I wonder why they don't have 50-cent chips. Chips would be easier to handle for all involved. This is the first time I've seen a casino actually go that way. I like it. The only problem is that they won't cash out the last odd chip at the end of your session, so you either give it back as a tip or you've got yourself a souvenir.
  • I love what they do with their magazine rack. Not only do they have four of the five publications I like most (Card Player, Bluff, Poker Player, and Poker Pro, lacking only All-In), but unlike any other casino I've seen, they keep the last three or four back issues of each one available. That way, if you're not a degenerate who goes to poker rooms with my kind of frequency, you can read and/or take home issues you might have missed. Nice touch.
  • I have to applaud one dealer for something he did during the tournament. This is the same one--John--that had earlier been the target of the idiot's cursing. The idiot was in the big blind. A standard tournament rule is that if you're not in your seat when the deal is completed, your hand is automatically dead. This helps prevent slowing down the game, and also helps prevent people from possibly getting advice from other people before sitting down to a hand. Anyway, the dealer notices that the idiot is away from the table talking to somebody. As he's putting out everybody's second card, he goes out of his way to tell the player that he needs to get back or his hand will be killed. The idiot doesn't react quickly enough, and arrives about two seconds after the button got his second card. The dealer could easily have let it slide, but instead did the right thing and took back the idiot's cards, politely saying, "Sorry I have to do this, but it's the rule." Of course, Mr. Idiot can't blame himself, and says, "Great. He screws up and I have to pay for it." Huh??? Hey pal, even after you swore at him for an unlucky outcome, he went beyond the call of duty to try to cut you a break! He didn't screw anything up--he just enforced the rule properly. Kudos to him.

Like the Eureka, the Oasis is nice enough (and apparently profitable enough) that if it were in Vegas, I would definitely make it a regular stop. For the little town of Mesquite to have two such decent places speaks well for it.

Mesquite-flavored poker. Part 2--Virgin River

After pocketing a tidy little profit at Eureka, I headed across the street to the Virgin River casino. Soon after entering, I saw an overhead sign pointing the way to various places within the establishment, including "Poker room." So I walked in the direction indicated by the arrow. Kept walking that way until I saw another sign telling me the poker room was back in the direction I was coming from.

Hmmm. Must have missed it, I thought. So I did a 180, and went back the way the second sign said. I looked carefully for other signs I might have missed, or for a corridor that would take me to the poker room, or for a couple of poker tables camouflaged among the blackjack tables. Nothing, until I encountered the first sign again, pointing me back where I had just been.

Now I'm getting seriously irritated. I mean, I know that poker gets the lowest priority of any type of gambling by most casinos (because they make little on it compared to the revenue generated by the same number of square feet of slot machines), but it's a little ridiculous to make the room INVISIBLE!

After a third trek across the expanse between these two signs, without seeing anything that suggested poker, I asked a security guard where the poker room is. He said, "At the Oasis" (which is another casino down the road a mile or two).

Yep. They closed the Virgin River poker room. BUT THEY LEFT UP THE FRIGGIN' SIGNS DIRECTING PEOPLE TO IT!

Completely unacceptable, V.R.C. I'll understand if you don't want to pay for all new signs, but at least get somebody to climb up on a ladder and put white tape or paint over the portion of the signs that point to a non-existent poker room.

A pox on your lousy casino.

Mesquite-flavored poker. Part 1--Eureka

When I moved to Las Vegas in the summer of 2006, I stopped briefly in Mesquite on the way down. I went into the poker rooms of the Eureka and Virgin River casinos. Both looked pretty dingy, like the other depressed, worthless rooms I've visited lately. Neither of them had a game going, so I didn't stay long.

On my way back to Vegas yesterday after a short Christmas trip to Salt Lake City, I decided to give Mesquite another try. I went to Eureka first. I was very pleasantly surprised. It's a brand-new poker room. It's open to the casino, but at the far end, so smoke and noise is quite tolerable. As you can see from the photo, the tables are really nice, including cupholders, autoshufflers, and a player tracking system built in. They have coffee and water available without having to wait for the cocktail waitresses.

They had two full tables when I arrived at about 2:30 on a Wednesday (the day after Christmas), which is more than I would have guessed. Both were $4-$8 limit hold'em games, which also surprised me--usually I would expect one or both of them to be $2-$4 or $3-$6. There really is a difference in these games, though logically there shouldn't be. In my experience, $2-4 is usually a loser, because it's so hard to beat the rake; $3-6 is about a break-even proposition; but I can actually make money with some consistency at $4-8. There is no earthly reason that people should play the games differently, but they most definitely do. At $4-8, it is actually possible to push an oppnent hard enough that he'll fold rather than call a bet just out of curiosity or stubbornness or "the hope that springs eternal from within the human breast." (Extra super double bonus points for readers who can identify that quotation without resorting to a search engine. Hint: Think baseball.) So having $4-$8 games means that I'm actually happy to play, rather than just passing the time at a game that annoys and frustrates me. It's the lowest level at which one can really play poker, in any meaningful sense (i.e., it's out of the no-fold'em gutter). I actually bluffed a few times, and it worked! Try that in a $2-4 game.

They're obviously trying to get more no-limit games going, because they have a promotion: Play five hours of no-limit, and they'll give you a room for the night. Not a bad deal--but the catch is that you have to find a no-limit game going!

The first place they had for me to play was when another player was going off for 30 minutes or so to eat. They allowed me to "play over" his chips. I had heard of this before, but I've never seen it done at any casino. They literally put a plexiglas box over the absent person's chips to protect them, and I put my chip rack on top of that to play. If there are any Vegas casinos that do this, I'm not aware of it. A regular seat opened up in the other game before he got back.

Both games were very soft and easy to beat with a textbook tight-aggressive style (with a few curveballs thrown in to keep them guessing). I made $96 in an hour and 40 minutes.

Dealers were OK, but made more mistakes than the best ones do, mainly because they obviously know lots of the regular players pretty well and get overly chatty, and thus don't pay enough attention. But no major problems on that front.

Blinds were only $1-$2, which is a bit odd for a $4-$8 game. I would much prefer the standard $2-$4 blinds to help inhibit limpers and/or build the pot more (hard to know which effect would prevail, but either one is a good thing).

They also used a half-kill, which I don't mind. But it operated differently from any I've seen before. (A "full kill" pot is one that is played for double the usual stakes; in a half-kill game like this, a "kill" pot is 50% higher than usual, so, in this case, the game transforms to $6-$12.) The usual approach is that if a player wins two hands in a row, the next hand is a kill pot, and the person who won two in a row has to post some amount larger than the usual blind to prime the pump. But at the Oasis, a kill pot is triggered by winning a pot of $50 or more, regardless of whether it's your first or tenth in a row. It's unconventional, but I didn't see any problems with it.

My biggest gripe was the management of the games. Specifically, they had two nine-handed tables, and two people waiting for a seat in one of them. They also had an interest list for an Omaha game. There were seven names on that list, including two from each of the current hold'em tables.

When I noticed this, I asked the woman at the desk why they didn't start the Omaha game, since that would free up seats for me and the guy ahead of me on the waiting list. She said, "We can't make the hold'em games short-handed to start Ohama." I pointed out that they wouldn't be short; each game would lose two players and gain one. When they deem nine to be a full table, you can't seriously think of eight-handed as "short." She said, "You don't know how these guys whine about not having full tables."

I told her, "So you'd rather keep five people waiting (two on the hold'em list and three on the Omaha list) than start a seven-person Omaha game and have two eight-handed hold'em games?" She said, "That's how we do things here."

This is nuts. People don't like waiting for a game to start, and they'll leave. Sure enough, that Omaha game never got going, because, predictably, the three who weren't already playing hold'em got tired of waiting. If you want to fill a game, you have to start it first--then other players will come and fill it out. If you wait until you have enough players so that nothing will be short-handed, well, you'll just never start new games, because it's virtually impossible to keep that many people on a waiting list just standing around patiently. I'm certain that the three people who never got to play at all left with a much worse impression of the room than the hold'em players would have had from temporarily having one empty seat at the table. That happens all the time and is no big deal; waiting around a long time for a game that is promised but never starts, well, that's a big deal to those whose time was wasted.

The final interesting thing that happened on this visit was a fire alarm. It happened just as I was leaving--literally the instant that I stepped through the door. In fact, I wondered if I had triggered some security thing, like when the alarm blares at you in the public library because they didn't de-activate one of your books.

I've heard lots of fire alarms in casinos before, and they're actually kind of funny, because nobody does anything. They just keep doing what they were doing before. Every previous time, a recorded voice has come over the PA system saying something like, "Our staff is investigating the cause of the alarm. We will notify you if you need to take any action." In other words, they give people permission to ignore the alarm.

But this time, the overhead voice was actually telling everybody to evacuate. By the time I got to my car, a few people were trickling out, but it wasn't anything like you see in a fire drill at a school, for instance. I think most people will keep playing their slot machines until the reels melt from the flames and won't turn any more. Even then, they'll complain that it was just about to hit.

I haven't seen any news of a big casino fire, so whatever happened apparently wasn't that big a deal. But it's the first time I've seen an attempted casino evacuation.*

All in all, Eureka has made a huge improvement in its poker room. It's nice enough that I would make it a regular stop if it were in town.

*I guess that's not quite true. In another lifetime (November 21, 1980, to be exact), I was living in North Las Vegas. I had no news source that day, but noticed some smoke to the south, and saw many, many helicopter overflights from Nellis Air Force Base. It was only later that I learned that what had been going on was the worst disaster in Nevada history, and the second-worst hotel fire in U.S. history. The helicopters were trying to rescue people from the roof. See

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Card dropped on the floor--another view

I recently posted about an incident in which a player slammed his cards on the table so hard that one bounced off ( By the house rules, his hand should have been dead. I had thought this was essentially a universal rule (a view reinforced by a subsequent story from a long-time poker room employee of my acquaintance; see, but I learned from readers' comments that this is not so. One pointed out that the widely used Robert's Rules explicitly said that dropped cards remained live, which I hadn't noticed.

I sent the following email to Bob Ciaffone, author of Robert's Rules:

Last night I wrote a post that included a story about a player's card flying off the table when he slammed his hole cards down too forcefully. I opined that the hand should have been declared dead. I cited Roy Cooke’s rulebook, in addition to observing that this has been the house rule everywhere that I have seen such an occurrence.

A commenter wrote to point out a fact that I had overlooked—-that your “Robert’s Rules” prescribe a different outcome. Specifically, in chapter 3, under “irregularities,” you write, “14. If you drop a card on the floor out of your hand, you must still play that card.”

I don’t find anything in the TDA rules or Lou Krieger’s rulebook on this point, nor in the Paymar/Harris/Malmouth “Professional Poker Dealer’s Handbook.”

I’m curious why you choose to recommend that the hand still be live after a card goes to the floor. I don’t know that killing such a hand is absolutely universal, but it certainly seems to be the prevailing rule in Vegas casinos. If you’d be so inclined, I’d be interested in your thoughts about how this situation should be handled.

He was kind enough to reply, and gave me permission to post what he had to say:

Let me answer your question with one of my own. Who drops cards on the floor?
1) Cheaters
2) Newcomers who are old and fumble

If I were worried about (1) I would not use this rule. I have never seen it happen by someone other than (2)

Why be tough on such a person when you do not have to be? Bad enough the opponents know a card from the person's hand; that is enough to discourage deliberate use.

More on "gaming" and "gambling"

Last month I ranted a bit about the false but oft-repeated claim that "gaming" is a euphemism for "gambling" invented by the industry to de-emphasize the sometimes ugly connotations of the former word. See (and don't miss the comments section with that post, because Short-Stacked Shamus contributed a useful additional bit of word history).

The only source I had for this at the time was, as I indicated then, an essay by a guy named Basil Nestor, about whom I knew (and still know) nothing. You can read about half of that essay online here: (I assume that only the odd-numbered pages are available to prevent excessive copyright violation.)

Though it sounded to me as if Mr. Nestor were probably correct about his facts, it is my nature (or, perhaps, my nurture, or both) to maintain a degree of skepticism about factual claims such as this until I can verify things for myself with a source of unquestionable reliability. I couldn't do that easily at the time, because my copy of the Oxford English Dictionary--the best reference there is for word histories--got left in Minnesota when I moved to Nevada, and I kept forgetting to stop by the public library.

Well, I'm in Salt Lake City visiting my parents for Christmas, and they have a copy of the OED. So now I can remove my last bit of mental reservation about the facts claimed in my first post on this subject: "gaming" is unquestionably an older word in English than "gambling."

For those of you who are as pedantic as I am (hmm--that may not be possible...), here are the details:

gaming The action or habit of playing at games of chance for stakes;
The earliest published use of this word found by the OED's lexicographers is 1501. I won't bother citing it here, because it still has a lot of Middle English flavor to it, so the context is largely incomprehensible to modern eyes.

gamble (verb) To play games of chance for money, esp. for unduly
high stakes; to stake money (esp. to an extravagant amount) on some fortuitous
event. As the word is (at least in serious use) essentially a term of reproach,
it would not ordinarily be applied to the action of playing for stakes of
trifling amount, except by those who condemn playing for money altogether.
The earliest uses of the word (beginning in 1775--nearly 300 years after gaming came into the language) carried the connotation of cheating. Oddly, the verb form is documented only well after the noun forms (gambler and gambling), even though they appear as if they are derived from it.

gambler a. In early use: A fraudulent gamester, a sharper, 'rook.' b. One who habitually plays for money, esp. for extravagantly high stakes.
Earliest citation for gambler is 1747.

gambling The action of the verb Gamble.
As a noun, the earliest documented appearance of gambling is in 1784.

As a participle, the earliest known use of gambling is from 1726, of which the OED notes:

That gambles or plays for high stakes; orig. that plays unfairly, that cheats at play.

The next time you hear somebody object to gaming as being an industry invention to avoid any negative implications of gambling, just ask them what his or her evidence is for that claim. The only possible answer is "none," because it's just plain not true.
Here are just a few places I could find quickly on the web where the "euphemism" accusation is made: (Note--in the New York Times, even! Shame on their fact-checkers!)
They're all wrong.

I should be clear here as to several interrelated points of usage, as I see them:

1. I think it makes most sense to use the two words interchangably when speaking of the whole industry.

2. I think it makes more sense to use gambling than gaming in the micro-context of a poker hand, e.g., "He's gambling that a king or jack will come on the river." Gaming just doesn't sound right there, when the subject is a specific person making a specific bet on a specific range of outcomes, where randomness is involved.

3. I don't think it makes sense to assume or intend a morally negative shade of meaning automatically with either word.

4. However, I think it does make sense to use gambling in preference to gaming when some kind of opprobrium is intended or implied. For example, it would sound distinctly peculiar to say of a person who has lost his job, home, and family because of compulsive betting on horse races, "He has a gaming problem."

5. I don't think it is useful to continue the old connotation of cheating for gamble, gambler, and gambling. We have plenty of ways of describing cheating without loading that implication into another common word. Besides, I'd like to think that outright cheating is, these days, a fairly rare part of gambling in general.

Class dismissed.

Side note: The famous illustration above is taken from this page, where you can read about its history:
Attentive readers may notice some connection between this bit of art history and the pseudonym under which I blog here (and play online poker, too, in case you run across somebody named "Rakewell" at any of the major sites). That connection is entirely deliberate.

Addendum, October 17, 2011

The link in that last paragraph appears to be dead now. Try this instead:

Monday, December 24, 2007

Bah! Humbug!

A couple of days ago I did something I've never done before: I started reading Charles Dickens's "A Christmas Carol." Naturally, I've seen several movie versions and countless television parodies. But I've never read the original previously. It's quite a different experience than seeing it performed on stage or screen. I'm not finished with it yet, but I can clearly see that Ebenezer Scrooge has the grumpy thing mastered far better than I do. (Maybe for this one day I should change my moniker to "Poker Scrooge.")

If you find yourself with nothing more important to do on Christmas, I recommend reading it. You can find it here, including scans of the illustrations from the first edition (1843), from which the above two images were stolen:

The second picture pertains to this paragraph, which occurs just before Marley's Ghost departs:

The air was filled with phantoms, wandering hither and thither in restless haste, and moaning as they went. Every one of them wore chains like Marley’s Ghost; some few ... were linked together; none were free. Many had been personally known to Scrooge in their lives. He had been quite familiar with one old ghost, in a white waistcoat, with a monstrous iron safe attached to its ankle, who cried piteously at being unable to assist a wretched woman with an infant, whom it saw below, upon a door-step. The misery with them all was, clearly, that they sought to interfere, for good, in human matters, and had lost the power for ever.
So after you've spent a couple of hours delighting yourself with Dickens, if you still find yourself with some available time on December 25, consider finding somebody who is a little less well off than you are, and figuring out a way to help him or her, while the power to do so is still in you.

Come to think of it, maybe that's not bad advice for the other 364 days of the year, too.

Merry Christmas.

New look, same great taste!

That's what food products always say when they change the label, right?

Now that I'm up to about 270 posts, it was becoming really unwieldy to look back through old stuff. New readers, in particular, would be hampered in how they could sample previous posts. So I updated to a new template that, if it's working as it should, will give readers easy access to older stuff in two ways:

First, the "archives" element on the left shows titles of posts, and you can expand/collapse time periods as needed.

Second, I've added topical labels to all of the posts, and put an index to the labels below the chronological archive element. That way, if you're interested in finding where I've ranted about Phil Hellmuth, or want to find the posts somehow relating to poker history, or all the stories that took place at the Hilton, you should be able to do so easily. (And not all of the labels start with "h"!)

Next task: Figuring out how to move those damn ads from the bottom of the page to the side margin, so that more people will click on them. :-) I am completely in the dark about HTML, so each time I do something new, it takes some time to move up the learning curve. (Looking back through old posts to attach the labels, I was reminded of the first time I tried italics, first time I put something in bold type, first time I used a photo, first time I embedded a video clip, etc. I'm kind of retarded, but I am capable of learning slowly....)

As always, comments--private or public--are welcome.

Addendum, December 24, 2007

A commenter asked where the ads went. I hadn't even noticed that somehow in the process of switching templates the ads somehow vanished. Like I said, this is all new and mysterious and experimental to me. I look at Google's "AdSense" help pages and my eyes glaze over with bafflement. Anyway, I think that I have now managed to get the ads back and put them in the left margin. I wanted them over on the right, with narrower content. But I can't find a pre-made template that allows page elements on both the right and the left of the posts.

Don't be surprised if you keep finding changes here over the next several days as I fiddle with making all of this work right.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Another dealer injecting himself into the game

This month I've had a few posts about dealers who just can't resist becoming part of the action:;;

In response, Short-Stacked Shamus, who writes the excellent "Hard-Boiled Poker" blog at, emailed me a similar story that occurred a couple of years ago at the MGM Grand. I post it here with his permission:

Have been enjoying your other posts regarding table etiquette here lately, as well. I haven't a great deal of live experience (only really played a handful of times), but one of my most vivid memories involves a dealer inappropriately commenting on the action. It was my very first time playing live, and I was a bundle of nerves. Had a hand where I turned a straight and like the novice I was I involuntarily reached for my chips before the action got to me . . . and THE DEALER POINTED IT OUT TO EVERYONE. "He's already reaching," he said. Don't think it actually affected the other players' decisions on the hand, but I couldn't believe the dealer had said that.

The poker gods show their displeasure

At the Rio the other night, I'm one of three or four players to call a pre-flop raise. I have suited 5-6. The flop is 3-4-7 rainbow, giving me the nuts. One person checks. I lead out with a bet about half the size of the pot. The guy on my left immediately moves all-in, a huge overbet. It gets folded around back to me.

Here's where I made the mistake. I made the kind of semi-snarky comment that I usually think, but keep to myself: "I guess when you have the nuts, you're supposed to call." With that, I turned over my cards and pushed my chips in.

My opponent was bluffing with an A-Q offsuit. He could not win the hand. He could only tie and get a split pot if the turn and river were exactly a 5 and a 6, to put on the board the same straight I already had.

Turn card: 5.

River card: 6.

I got my money back, as did the bluffer.

The poker odds calculator at tells me that I had a 99.09% chance of winning the hand when the money went in, with a 0.91% chance of a tie. The worst possible suckout in hold'em is flopping quads, and an opponent hitting the only two cards in the deck that can make a straight flush. In that situation, it's 99.9% to 0.1%. So this wasn't the absolute worst suckout imaginable. But it was probably as close as I have ever come, with an opponent needing one of six cards on the turn and then one of the remaining three cards on the river just to get a chopped pot.

See what happens when you make rude or arrogant comments at the table? The poker gods hear it and snap you back into a state of humility.

Poker gems, #60

Matthew Parvis, editor-in-chief of Bluff magazine, in his "Editor's Letter," December, 2007.

I want to close it out this month by giving a shoutout to BLUFF's own managing editor, Chris Vaughn. Not only is he instrumental in getting great content each month for the Virtual Felt, but he is not too shabby at the tables himself. This past month he won both the Full Tilt Million and the Poker Stars Million in back-to-back weeks, an accomplishment nothing short of amazing. Oh, and the money doesn't suck either. Congrat, Chris--everyone at BLUFF is proud of you!

[Poker Grumps notes that this tribute was obviously written before a Poker Stars investigation revealed, and Vaughn himself subsequently confessed, that he cheated, that he wasn't actually the one who finished the Poker Stars tournament. See His prize money was confiscated, and Bluff magazine shortly thereafter fired him. I wonder if they're still "proud" of him.]

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Poker gems, #59

Bob Ciaffone, on the underrated value of calling bets from an aggressive opponent, rather than raising and reraising, in Card Player column, December 19, 2007, Vol. 20, #25, p. 84:

We know you can fight fire with fire, but what is wrong with fighting it with water sometimes?

Could I have found a new poker home???

Ever since the Hilton closed down, I've been adrift. I haven't had a default place that would tend to top my list of choices of where to play. I've just been wandering, hoping that someplace would strike my fancy enough to settle in.

The Venetian was coming closest. It's clean, well-run, good mix of locals and tourists, profitable, reasonably easy to get to (i.e., I can get in the back way without fighting Strip traffic), skilled dealers, quiet, smoke-free. So there wasn't anything to gripe about, but for whatever reason I just couldn't fall in love with it.

I tried Treasure Island. I really did. It shares many of the things I liked so much about the Hilton: Small, friendly, quiet, mix of locals and tourists, easy access. But for reasons that I never figured out, I just didn't make money there, despite trying and trying and trying. Maybe it was just strange statistical variance, or maybe it was something about the style generally played there that I couldn't ever put my finger on. But I can't keep playing at a financial loss.

I've also tried to love Mandalay Bay and the Monte Carlo, but can't. Suncoast is a place I like a lot, but it's a long drive for me, and there isn't a no-limit game going on with enough regularity. Caesars is OK, but, like the Venetian, bigger than I really care for, and fairly difficult in terms of parking/walking.

So basically I've been a bit depressed. I just can't deal with the fact that such a nice, cozy, profitable place like the Hilton closes while awful, abominable, atrocious, aggravating places (and that's only using the "a" adjectives!) sprout up and never die. The world ain't fair.

But tonight I have a glimmer of hope.

I've only walked into the Rio poker room once before, and I didn't have a great first impression. I had read largely negative reviews of the room at, so maybe that predisposed me to not liking it. I parked in the wrong garage, and it's an exceptionally long walk if you do that. Then, after the long walk, they only had one game going, and it was limit, and that day I just wasn't in the mood to play it, so I left. That was late last year sometime.

I gave it another shot tonight, and was pleasantly surprised about nearly everything. When I parked in the west ("Carnival") garage, the poker room was a shorter walk to get to than most places. Of course, there is the added pleasure of turning away from Strip traffic when coming off of I-15.

They had two no-limit games going and one $3-6 limit. Restrooms were very close, a fact of which my gradually enlarging prostate gland took special note. The poker room was open, or, I guess, sort of semi-enclosed, but it's not stuck among the slot machines and table games. Rather, it's next to the little bowling alley, the buffet, and the sports book, which gives it a completely different sound and feel than the rooms that are too close to the ding-ding-ding of the slots and the whoops from the craps tables. I detected no infiltration of cigarette smoke (and I have a sensitive nose for it), and it was pleasantly quiet. The room is about the size that I like.

The staff was attentive, friendly, and helpful. The dealers were outstanding--and that's something I'm pretty fussy about. Every one of the four on duty tonight was well above the industry average. Every one of them was fast, efficient, good at enforcing rules politely, and I saw not a single error made. Highly impressive.

During one hand, one player asked another to move his hands so that his chip stacks were more visible. An uninvolved player eyeballed the stacks in question and said, "Looks like $180 or $190 or so." This happens all the time, even though it shouldn't. I've never even once heard a dealer say anything about it--until tonight. This dealer politely said, "One player to a hand, please." The dealer was absolutely right. It's a minor thing, but unless a player asks the dealer to count down an opponent's chip stack(s), how he estimates the number of chips left is his own business, and an integral part of no-limit decision-making. Other players shouldn't stick their noses into it. As regular readers will know, I love strict enforcement of the rules, because that's how the game is most fair. I wanted to kiss that dealer--except that his moustache would have been a little bit scratchy, I think.

A poker room's cocktail waitresses are about eleventy-billionth on my list of priorities for reason to pick a place to play. But it was impossible not to notice the outfits these girls were wearing. I can't remember any other casino where the uniforms looked so much like a nightie a young woman might wear to bed on her wedding night. See for more photos and comments.

The Rio poker room also has massages available at the table. This surprised me, because it's something I've previously seen only in the largest rooms (e.g., Venetian, Caesars, MGM) and in the Palms. I don't know how they can make a good living in rooms as small as the Rio and Palms, but I'm happy to have them there. It makes for a nice break in a long, tiring session.

I also learned that there is a weekly freeroll. Spend 15 hours at cash games Sunday through Thursday, and you qualify for a tournament the following Wednesday evening. The room puts up $5000 in prize money, but this gets pushed up, because people who don't qualify for free can buy in for $230. The shift supervisor told me that they average about 30 free entries and 20 buy-ins, so the prize pool gets to $8000-$9000. That may work out to more tournament equity per hour of qualifying play than the Hilton's monthly freeroll did, and that was often considered the best deal in town.

I was amused by the felt on one table, pictured above. Just in case you forget what beats what, it's right there on the table for you. I've never seen that anywhere before.

Three of the old regulars from the Hilton were there, so apparently I'm not the only one noticing that much of what was likeable at the Hilton is embodied at the Rio, too.

Another little touch I liked was the wide variety of commemorative chips. I like having a bunch of different chips in play. It gives me something else to look at and think about, because, let's face it, poker can have long boring stretches, and nobody can maintain focus on the game all the time for hours on end. I also like keeping a collection of the different unusual chips that casinos put out. Yeah, I know, that makes me a sucker, because I buy for $5 what the casino pays about ten cents to have made, but it's a little thing that makes me happy, having a few hundred different chips at home to play with. The Rio must have an enormous number of different ones, because I found the 12 pictured above just in what I had in my stacks when it was time to cash out. (You can click on the photo for a much more detailed view of them, if you're interested.) I usually only expect maybe two or three different ones the first time I visit a room that is new to me.

Last but not least, it was incredibly easy to make money. Of course, this is a sample of one night, which doesn't say much for the long run, but it was a promising start. I basically got run over by the deck, and made a profit of $225 in about 45 minutes of playing $3-6 limit while waiting for a no-limit seat. That is completely unprecedented in my experience. Then I bought in for $100 at the no-limit game and left with another $158 profit an hour later (not including the chips I kept as souvenirs, which I don't think the IRS needs to know about...), mostly coming from a three-way all-in when I had flopped a set of tens and they held up.

It's only one visit there so far, but kind of like you feel after a first date that went well, I'm a bit giddy, and having fantasies that maybe this is the place for me. I really liked everything about the room. Or, to put it another way, I can't find anything to be my usual grumpy self about. I can't wait to try it again and see if first impressions hold up.

Plaza: Another stinky dump

Since I got on kind of a roll of finally knocking down my list of poker rooms not yet visited, I decided to hit two more of them in one night. The Plaza, downtown, was the second stop, but I'll talk about it first.

They've moved the room sometime in the past year, because I once stopped in there when they had no game going, and the tables were out in the middle of the casino floor, roped off. Now it's near a corner, with a little half-fence around its perimeter.

There are four regular tables plus one small one that I assume is for stud games. (In seven-card stud, every player gets his own seven cards, so it's rather difficult to play ten-handed, there being only 52 cards in the deck. So stud tables are smaller, to hold just seven or eight players.) There was only one in use, for a $2-4 limit hold'em game. Ho-hum. But I dutifully played for my hour.

The strangest thing about this room, as you can see from the first image above, is that it has limited hours. I don't recall seeing this in any other poker room in the city. I was there, and they really did shut down the game at 1:45 a.m. so that they could close up and get the employees out by 2:00--even though the game was still going strong (well, with seven players anyway). Very peculiar.

The other notable thing was how smoky it was. I'm home now and I positively reek. Leaving out the couple of places where smoking at the tables is allowed, this is absolutely the highest concentration of cigarette smoke I've yet encountered. It's strange because the casino was nearly empty, yet there was always a visible haze of smoke in the room. It's as if they had installed a diabolical ventilation system that sucked all of the cigarette smoke from the casino floor and blew it out into the poker room. I don't know how else there could have been that much of it. It was truly awful. My eyes were burning, and that hasn't been so even at Arizona Charlie's and Boulder Station, where people were smoking at the table.

I might have guessed it would be that way from the third peculiar fact: there's a cigarette vending machine right inside the poker room! Kind of a hint, eh?

One notable, memorable thing happened there that was unprecedented for me, though it had nothing to do with the room per se. I got bored and threw in a straddle, which I do maybe once out of, say, four or five whole sessions of poker--which is to say, very rarely. And this time I picked up pocket aces! Of course, the story isn't allowed to have a happy ending. I didn't improve and got sucked out on by a guy with 5-6 offsuit who flopped two pair. Oh well. At least now I can say that I've had the experience of pocket aces on a straddle bet.

The Plaza is one of five poker rooms that is within easy walking distance of my apartment (others being the El Cortez, Fitzgerald, Golden Nugget, and Binion's). I wish it had some redeeming quality, but I found none. As with most badly-run rooms, players were allowed to talk openly about the hand in progress, with not even a hint of disapproval from any dealer. I hate that.

In fact, let me list the qualities shared by a whole bunch of rooms that I've played in once, and don't expect ever to return to: Out in the open casino floor, with no shelter from smoke and noise; rarely any no-limit game going; only the lowest limit game(s) going; only a handful of tables; horrible quality of play; mostly inhabited by life losers; players primarily there to socialize and/or try to hit a high-hand jackpot or bad-beat jackpot; mostly players who seem generally unhappy with life, with few smiles and laughs ever seen; marginally competent dealers; little or no effort to enforce even basic rules; physically dirty, dingy, icky places to spend time.

That roster of dismal qualities is basically shared by the following places: El Cortez, Plaza, Gold Coast, Arizona Charlie's, Jokers Wild, Rampart, Texas Station, Tuscany, as well as the now-closed Fiesta Rancho and Stardust. They're all just dreadful, worthless places. There are a bunch of others that I don't like much, but at least have some redeeming value that I can point to, so that I can give them a C- or D+. But this list of eight (so far) are the dregs, the crap that sinks to the bottom in an ocean of poker rooms.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


I feel a bit guilty every time sombody posts a comment saying that they like my blog, and I don't reply with a personal "thank you." I'm torn between being polite and being repetitive. So here's my compromise: One big and totally sincere "thank you" to all such notes, past, present, and future, whether in the public comments or by private email. When my interest in writing flags occasionally, it is the knowledge that there are about a hundred people a day checking in to see what I'm thinking that motivates me to dig deep and force myself to try to come up with something that is worth their time to read. Your patronage and kind words keep me going.

Incidentally, the comments are essentially wide-open. I have it set up so that I have to approve each one before it gets posted, but that's only to keep out spam; I'll approve anything else (even the anonymous guy who said that the blog sucks). In fact, I especially appreciate those who express disagreement with an assertion or opinion I've stated. It takes a lot of thought and care to say, "I think you're wrong, and here's why." Several times I have been led to revise my thinking based on such comments, and I'm always happy to exchange an erroneous thought for a correct one, or a more nuanced or refined opinion for an overly generalized one.

Thank you all.

Poker gems, #58

Gabe Kaplan, on GSN's "High Stakes Poker," December 17, 2007.

Do you think Patrick Antonius ever has a bad hair day?

Rampart poker room--what the city hasn't been needing

The most recent poker room to open in the Vegas area is at the Rampart casino. I decided to give it a try tonight, thus reducing to five the number of card rooms I have not yet played in.

Sadly, the place is pretty worthless. There appear to be only three poker tables, and they're stuck out in the middle of the casino floor, not separated at all from the blackjack and craps tables. It would be easy to walk by and not even notice them.

They had one table going, never full, and it was a $2-$4 limit hold'em. Miraculously, I managed to book a win, which is pretty rare for me playing ultra-low-limit. (It's not that I exactly suck at the game; it's just really hard to keep ahead of the loss from the rake and tips.) I netted a $4 profit in an hour and a half or so of play. Wheeee!

Like most of the places that treat poker as an ugly stepchild, refusing to give it its own space, the Rampart poker room is smoky, noisy, and has marginally competent dealers. (One had no idea how to handle anything about the blinds that got even remotely out of whack, which was happening all the time as people drifted in and out of the game.) Like any $2-$4 limit game, the quality of play was just atrocious, really painful to watch and participate in.

(Story: I limped in with several others on the button with A-7 offsuit. Yeah, I know, it's a dog of a hand that I should have just thrown away. No lectures needed here. The flop was A-8-3. It was checked around until the guy on my right bet. I raised to find out where I was. He reraised, and he was a pretty tight player who I hadn't seen put in a reraise the whole session up to that point. That told me what I needed to know. I folded face-up, and he showed me A-8, for flopped top two pair. An elderly woman across the table from me scowled as she looked and me and scolded, "That's not a good hand to reraise with." I felt pity as I stared into her clueless, lifeless eyes, but I didn't respond. If I were inclined to give lessons at the table, I would have explained to her that I spent $4 to learn that my ace was not ahead. Had I just called, I would then pretty much have also had to call what would inevitably have been a second bet on the turn and yet another on the river before getting to the showdown and learning then that my ace was no good. That is, I learned this useful piece of information for $4, instead of the $10 that this fine player probably thought I should throw at it.)

There are scads of these crappy rooms all over this city. If you were taken to one with your eyes closed and tried to guess where you were by looking around, you'd have a hard time of it, because they're all the same. They have no character, no soul, no raison d'etre. I can't think of a single reason that I would go to any of them a second time.

But they did give me the lovely cap pictured above. So I got that going for me, which is nice.

(Bonus points for readers who catch and can identify the classic movie dialog reference in that last paragraph without clicking on this link to reveal the answer: