Thursday, June 07, 2007

"I had to call you"

I haven't yet compiled a list of the Ten Stupidest Things That Poker Players Say All the Time, but a leading candidate for such a list would be "I had to call you."

It seems that this is said with about equal frequency by players who win pots with a call and those who lose pots with a call. It doesn't matter--it's just as stupid either way.

First of all, no, you never have to call any bet. There is no gun being held to your temple. There is no rule requiring it. You get to choose. Now, it may be that in a given situation it is mathematically correct (i.e., a positive expected value over the long haul of making that decision many times in a lifetime of playing) to call, but that is not the same thing as saying that you had to call.

Secondly, it isn't even true that the call in question was reasonable on an EV basis many of the times that somebody utters the dreaded words. If there are 4 parts of a royal flush on the board, and you call a river bet to somebody who, by all indications, does indeed have either the straight or the flush, and you say, "I had to call you--I had top pair," well, then, you're an idiot.

In fact, this is one of the basic problems with the phrase: it is often followed by a statement about what the player was holding, e.g., "I had to call you, I had 2 pair/trips/a straight" (or whatever). But this just reveals that the person is making his decisions based solely on the strength of his own hand, rather than the relative strength of his hand versus that of the opponent--a preposterous way to make poker decisions. You don't get the pot just because you flopped a set or caught a straight on the turn. This ain't video poker, where the reward depends only on the hand you make. Whether your call wins you the pot because you beat a bluff or an unexpectedly weaker hand, or loses you money because your opponent had a stronger hand, making the call based only on what you're holding misses the entire point of good poker decision-making.

Finally, nobody at the table--least of all the guy who you either just beat or just gave more money to--gives a shit why you made the decision you did. Let me repeat, a little bit louder: NOBODY CARES WHY YOU MADE THE CALL! (And it's usually obvious without your explanation anyway, if anyone bothers to analyze the situation.) If you won, you're certainly not going to take the sting of the loss away from the other guy by saying, "I had to call, I had two pairs." In fact, it's rude and unsportsmanlike to rub it in with a speech. If you lost, the guy raking in your money absolutely doesn't give a damn why you made your mistake; he's just wondering if he maybe should have bet more and sucked more chips his way. So you're pissing in the wind with your post-hand analysis. Nobody is listening to you. Nobody cares.

Furthermore, your explanation just reveals a pathological insecurity: you are so afraid of what people will think of your call that you feel a need to explain it. But why on earth would you care what the other players think? If it was a reasonable call, given the range of hands with which your opponent made his bet, and it turned out that he was actually at the high end of that range with one of the few hands that would beat you, then be content with your own analysis that it was the right move. If you correctly sniffed out a bluff or a hand that was otherwise weaker than the bet represented, great, be proud of yourself.

Either way, what is the point of trying to change what somebody else might think of your call by providing an explanation of it? If somebody is impressed with a good call, they won't be made more so by your little self-centered explanation. And if somebody is inclined to think you made a bad call (regardless of the results), so what? Let them think you're a calling station or a moron, and then figure out a way to exploit that erroneous impression (if, in fact, it is erroneous). What's more, consider this: If it was actually a bad call, your justification of it after the fact just makes you look that much dumber in the eyes of experienced players, and they will go out of their way to set you up to make the same mistake again, to their benefit.

In my experience, I often have to think for quite a long time after a hand is over before making a really good assessment of whether a call was smart or not. Your instant analysis is at least as likely to be wrong as it is to be right.

So the next time you feel an urge to say "I had to call you," please just stifle it. It's never true, it's often not even an approximation of the truth, it tends to reveal only bad things about you, and, most of all, nobody cares.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Bizarre new "rule"

This post might better be titled, "Dealers who make up their own rules, part IV."

Monte Carlo, last night. There's a guy across the table from me who plays about 90% of hands, and bets or raises post-flop the majority of the time. He's very difficult to put on a hand, because he plays the nuts the same way he plays zippo.

He wins one pot with a bet on the river that an opponent doesn't call. Before he mucks his hand, he shows it to the guy next to him. Before the player has tossed in his cards, I say to the dealer, "Show those, please." The dealer hesitates. I've seen this happen many times, and it's usually because the dealer is busy doing other things and didn't notice one player showing his hand to another--perfectly understandable, with all the other things the dealer is doing when a hand is concluding. So I say, "He showed them to the guy next to him." That explanation is usually sufficient for the dealer to act, or at least to seek confirmation from one of the players involved that the cards were voluntarily shown, before showing the hand.

But this dealer mucks the cards anyway, and explains that the player that was shown the hand was not involved in the pot, so I don't have a right to see them. I think, "Are you f'ing kidding me? Are you just making this up as you go?" Instead, though, I explain that it is never the case that a player can give that information selectively to some people at the table but not to others. The dealer reaffirms that that is the rule--only people who were in the hand can ask to see it. (I was dealt in, but folded pre-flop. This dealer didn't explain how long one has to stay in the hand to retain the right to see the hand, under his bizarro version of the rules.)

Well, I don't believe this for a second. The cards are in the muck, and I'm not so concerned about this one hand that I'm going to try to pluck them out, but this is a principle that's too important to let stand in this idiotic fashion. So I tell the dealer, "Could you call the floor, please?" He does, though obviously he isn't very happy about it.

Predictably, the floor person confirms that "Show one, show all" does indeed apply, providing that the request is made before the cards go in the muck, while they can still be identified. I point out that I did make the request in plenty of time, but the dealer refused it. Neither of them attempts even a token apology, or acknowledges that a mistake was made.

I am usually completely forgiving of dealers' errors, and don't needle them about their mistakes--they're just part of the game, same as referees and umpires making erroneous calls in other sports. But this is one of the most universally recognized and commonly cited rules in the book, one which virtually every player can recite, and I was astounded that a dealer actually didn't know it. After the floor person left, I asked the dealer, "You really had never heard the 'Show one, show all' rule?" He opened his mouth, as if he was going to say something, then apparently thought better of it, turned away, and ignored the question.

For the fourth time in these rants, I have to say that I just don't understand the mindset of dealers who just make up crap completely on their own, and somehow delude themselves into thinking that those are actually the rules. There can't possibly be any person of authority or any book or any dealer school that taught him this. He apparently just made up this exception to the general rule. Who knows how long he has been citing it to players?

What the hell is up with that?

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Tap, tap, tap

I'm getting increasingly annoyed with players who absentmindedly tap their hand and/or chips on the table when they're thinking about what to do. It looks like a check, and other players behind them should be entitled to interpret it as a check. Unfortunately, most dealers are much more lenient about this that I think they should be.

A couple of weeks ago at the Sahara this happened. A very drunk guy, when it was his turn, tapped on the table with his right hand. It was a situation where I really needed a free card, so I was happy to check behind him. But after I did so, the drunk guy pushed a stack of chips in. I protested to the dealer that he had checked. The dealer said he didn't see it, so I re-enacted for him what the player had done. The dealer asked, "So he tapped with his right hand?" Yes. Well, it turns out that this particular player is a frequent flyer at the Sahara, and he always checks by tapping his left hand, palm flat, on the table (which I confirmed thereafter by watching him). So the dealer says that it wasn't a check--as if it is my responsibility to know the exact personal style of checking of every other player at the table, and thereby separate idle hand movements from actual, intentional checks. Ridiculous.

To quote from Roy Cooke's wonderful "Real Rules of Poker" (p. 68, rule 10.12): "The dealer and other players shall have the right to rely on a player's hand motions. Any tapping of the table or other hand signal that the dealer might reasonably construe to be a check shall be deemed a check." That's how it should be, of course.

Want an example of what a huge difference it can make?

Recently at the Hilton I had an offsuit AJ, with the A of spades. There was a pre-flop raise to $15 or so, which I called--along with 6 other people, so it was already a big pot even before the flop. The flop was all spades, giving me the top flush draw. A player a few seats to my right was supposed to act first. He tapped his hand on the table, and I couldn't tell if it was a "just thinking" tap or a check. Just as he reached for his whole stack and put it in the pot, the dealer said, "Was that a check?"

Now, I certainly didn't want him going all-in, because I couldn't possibly call such a large bet, in the hopes of catching another spade. I wanted a free card very badly. The player said, "No, I'm all in!" I spoke up and said, "It looked like a check to me." The dealer agreed, and made him take his bet back. Everybody else checked, too.

The turn card was another spade, and I had the best possible flush. This dummy then *still* decides to go all-in! As it turned out, he had pocket 9s, and the 9 of spades had been there on the flop, giving him a set--no wonder he had wanted to bet big, to take down the pot right then, without giving anybody a chance to draw to a flush to beat him. His tapping was just his internal debate about whether that was the thing to do. But even with four spades on the board, he couldn't let go of it. To make things better, the guy to my right made a jack-high flush with that turn card, and he went all-in! And, as you might guess, so did I. With what was already there before the flop and our 3 all-ins, the pot ended up being about $500.

That little idle motion with his hand while he was thinking cost that guy nearly $200. And I don't feel one bit guilty about calling him on it. Rules are rules, and the fact that I'm usually willing to be lenient when there's some doubt about his intentions doesn't mean I have to be every time. I'm extremely careful not to take any actions or make any motions that might confuse or mislead another player, or cause somebody behind me to act out of turn, and if others have to learn the hard way about paying attention to what they're doing, so be it. I've got bills to pay.

Now if we could just get dealers to be vigilant on this point, and enforce the rule consistently.

Fortunately, some do. A couple of weeks ago at Caesars Palace, there was a guy who was habitually doing the "I'm thinking" tap when it was his turn. Twice it caused people behind him to take their turns prematurely, and twice the dealers (different ones each time) called back those actions and let the tapper still decide whether to check or bet.

Finally there was a third such incident, unfortunately with yet another a new dealer, but fortunately with a dealer that was watching closely. He saw the tap, announced "Check," and gestured toward the next player. Mr. Tapper protested that he hadn't acted yet. The dealer explained that it looked like a check, but he would allow him this one warning. I spoke up and said that the same player had already been warned twice by previous dealers, which another player confirmed. Usually, this doesn't get anywhere (except maybe the floor called over for a decision), because obviously the dealer can't know what did or didn't happen prior to his arrival at the table. But this guy, bless him, took it seriously, and said, "In that case, we're going to have to let that stand as a check." The tapper didn't protest further. And, significantly, he didn't do it again. People are capable of learning quickly, if it costs them money. If they're allowed to slide repeatedly, they tend not to learn.

Monday, June 04, 2007

"Good luck, honey!"

Two bits of weirdness that are, in my experience, unique to Las Vegas, have been intruding into my consciousness lately. I'm hoping that talking about them here will help dispel the distress they have been causing me, similar to the way in which one rids oneself of earworms (songs you can't get out of your head) by giving in to the temptation to sing them aloud.

1. It seems that everybody here takes liberties with terms of affection for complete strangers who are of the opposite sex. At least between customers and casino/restaurant employees, men and women casually and freely call each other "honey," "dear," "love," "darling," "sweetheart," "sweetie," etc. I find this jarring, whether it's addressed to me or I just overhear it. The implied familiarity is simultaneously so intrusive and so phony that I have been unable to get used to it, despite some 11 months of exposure to it. I try not to be bothered by it when it's directed at me, because I know that it's not intended to offend, and, furthermore, that attempts to stop it are completely futile. But I refuse to join in.

2. I'd happily put up with being every female service employee's "honey" and "dear" if I could somehow stop being told "good luck" at every turn. Here's how it goes: I arrive at the casino for a session of poker. I buy chips at the desk, get directed to a table, and am told "Good luck." I arrive at the table, and the dealer greets me with some variation of "Welcome to the table. Good luck." Every 20 or 30 minutes the dealers rotate between tables. The process always includes the outgoing dealer telling everybody at the table "Good luck," a wish that is soon echoed by the incoming dealer. If I run out of chips and have to buy more, I get them either from the dealer or from a chip runner, either of whom will conclude the transaction with another "Good luck." If I order a beverage, I'll tip the waitress (in nearly 1000 hours of poker playing since I've been here, I have not seen a single male cocktail waiter, so I think it's safe to use the feminine form of the word), and hear, in reply, "Thank you and good luck." It has become so pervasive that one of the biggest casino conglomerates now has their telephone operators using a variation on it: I ask for to be connected to the poker room, and hear, "My pleasure. Have a lucky day."

Again, I try not to be annoyed by this, even though it's all purely mechanical and devoid of any feeling, because I know that all of these people are simply doing what their employers tell them to do and/or what seems to them to be situationally polite. But it's grating--like hearing "Have a nice day" 700 times in a row.

It all kind of makes me long for the old, familiar annoyances of Minnesota.