Saturday, July 07, 2007

I think I'm going to throw up

Earlier this week I was playing at Sunset Station. Two middle-aged women, obviously friends, got some food delivered to the table and started sharing it. They were on the other end of the table, and the little cart with their meal on it was behind them, so I couldn't see exactly what they were eating, but it was some sort of finger food. They didn't wash their hands--just dug right in. They, when it was their turn to play, they'd LICK THEIR FINGERS OFF and resume play, as if nothing had happened.

It makes me nauseous just thinking about it.

How can people be so clueless? Poker chips and cards are filthy, disgusting things. Pick up any chip, and you can see globs of crud adhering to it. ("Table boogers," I once heard a dealer fittingly call them.) I know all too well that the majority of men leaving the public restrooms in casinos haven't washed their hands. Whatever is now on their hands, from their butts and genitals, gets spread all over the chips and cards.

And then you ladies want to handle those chips and cards for a few hours, then pick up and ingest food without first washing your hands, and then, to top it all off, LICK YOUR FINGERS??????????? What the hell is wrong with you? Are you just mentally ill?

Here's an interesting article from Bluff magazine about an experiment to determine the bacterial inhabitants of Vegas poker chips: I only wish they had tested for viruses as well as bacteria.

And have you two ladies never, ever seen guys who openly pick their noses at the table? I have, many times, in a series of images that are seared into my retinas. Coincidentally, here's Daniel Negreanu's video blog from just yesterday, in which he discusses Mike Matusow doing the same thing--and the camera pans over to Mike, who freely admits he goes digging for gold openly, and doesn't care who sees it or knows about it: Trust me: Mike is not alone in his lack of discretion about this activity.

So these ladies handle the chips and cards that have players' snot dribbled about on them, and then LICK THEIR FINGERS! Perhaps they think, somehow, that the rest of us sharing those cards and chips really, really want these women's saliva added to the already disgusting blend of crud we have to touch.

I remember an episode of Bravo's "Celebrity Poker Showdown" featuring the famously germophobic Howie Mandel. It was seriously bothering him to be handling the cards and chips, so he passed out latex gloves for everybody to wear. It was funny, but it was also pretty clear that this wasn't just a joke for him--he really couldn't handle thinking about all the microbes that were getting passed around. I'm not a germophobe--really--I just have a decent understanding of and healthy suspicion of the microbial flora that will invariably contaminate objects that get handled by so many members of the general public, many (most?) of whom have highly questionable habits of personal hygiene.

I'm not advocating that poker rooms hand out or require the use of rubber gloves while playing. But common sense suggests that one take care not to touch anything the cleanliness of which you care about (like, say, your face, or your food) after handling such manifestly foul things as poker cards and chips, without first washing one's hands pretty thoroughly.

Lordy, lordy, lordy--there's just no understanding some people's lack of good sense.

Addendum, May 6, 2011

I see that the link to the Bluff magazine piece no longer works. Here's the new link to get to the article:

Reacting to community cards

It happened again today. I was in a tournament at the Hilton. I wasn't in the hand, but the flop came down 2-5-2, and immediately another player who had folded before the flop smacked his hand down on the table, groaned, and shook his head. It was obvious to everybody that he had folded a deuce. (He later claimed to have folded 5-2, in fact, which is perfectly plausible.)

I hate this sort of thing. There's absolutely no reason for it. It's highly unethical, for exactly the same reason that you can't say out loud, in that situation, "I folded a deuce." That provides potentially crucial information to the players still making decisions--information to which they are not entitled. Suppose you're trying to represent having hit trips on that flop, and a player announces that he folded a deuce. Your bluff just became a whole lot harder to sell. Or suppose that you do, in fact, have a deuce with a weak kicker, and your dilemma is figuring out whether your opponent has the last deuce in the deck with a better kicker. Hearing that the last deuce was folded would be a big help to you, and, conversely, would hurt your opponent (because he will be less likely to believe that you have a deuce now, and because you'll be able to play the hand much more strongly than you would if you were worried about being up against a better set of trips). Such situations are exactly why it's explicitly against the rules to say such a thing. Well, an overt negative reaction to the flop essentially announces the same thing.

Unfortunately, it's highly problematic to try to write or enforce a rule against non-verbal actions such as this, because they can be as dramatic as this guy today was, or as subtle as rolling one's eyes silently, which one would have to be very observant to notice. But whether or not it's technically forbidden and subject to penalty in the same way that a verbal announcement would be, it's just wrong.

When I've pointed this out to offending players in the past, I sometimes get the protest along the lines of "I can't help it--it's involuntary." Bullshit. It's completely under your control. If you were still in the hand, would you yield to your impulse to stand up and cheer for having flopped a full house? No, of course not. You'd suppress it to the very best of your ability. You can do exactly the same kind of suppression of your natural reaction when that reaction is negative, if you choose to do so. If you react overtly, it's because you are making a deliberate decision to conduct yourself in that manner. No excuses.

Moreover, the not-s0-subtle psychological reason for people wanting to act out like this is that they want sympathy from other players about what a great opportunity they missed. But the fact is, nobody cares what a great hand you might have made. (On this subject, see my very first blog post: You're not going to get any sympathy (or, at best, you'll get some phony imitation of sympathy, though it's beyond me why anybody would reward your actions with even this). The same thing happens to everybody from time to time, and it's just part of the game. It's unavoidable, unless you literally play every hand you're dealt.

Deal with it. Grow up. Get over yourself. Stop acting like a baby, and stop throwing your little tantrums. They're immature, annoying, pointless, repulsively self-centered, unethical, and they disrupt the game.

Addendum, October 12, 2007

Last night I was re-watching one of the first-season installments of GSN's "High Stakes Poker." In one hand, Doyle Brunson folds pocket 8s to a bet on the flop when he doesn't hit a set. Two others are still in the hand. What would have been his third 8 comes on the turn--and it would have been the winning hand. Doyle immediately grimaces, shakes his head, and turns to look at somebody standing near him. It wasn't as flagrant as the instance I wrote about above, but it would have been perfectly obvious to anybody at the table that was looking his way at the moment. Of all the people that should know better than to act that way--Doyle Brunson?! So if you do this yourself, you're in good company, in a sense--but it's still wrong.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Favoritism? No, it's just the rule, moron

So today I'm at my favorite hangout, the Hilton, playing $3-6 limit while waiting for a no-limit seat to open up. One of the other players is Myron, a sweet octogenarian (I think I heard him tell somebody he's 83) who is a regular there. Rachel, perhaps my favorite dealer anywhere (smart, funny, interesting, unflappable, accurate, consistent about rule enforcement, attentive to detail--what more can you ask a dealer to be?), is in the box. Myron is on the button, but after the flop he mistakenly thinks he's first to act, and puts out a $3 bet. It is pointed out to him that it's not his turn, so he takes it back. The player who is rightly first to act bets $3, and is called by a young guy who just sat down on my right. (I'm not in the hand.) When the action gets back to Myron, he raises to $6. Guy on my right protests, saying that he can't do that; since he bet $3 out of turn, all he can do in turn is the same $3, which would now be a call.

Rachel politely corrects this young man's impression, and says that Myron can, indeed, raise in these circumstances. The young man gets unusually upset at this point, and insists that the rules only allow the $3 call here. Rachel correctly calls the floor over (Irving) and explains the situation. Irving confirms that Myron can raise. (It would be clear to any observer that Myron is a regular and known by name by all the staff--a detail that is about to become important.) Rather than accept this ruling, the guy on my right says, "Oh, you all know each other, that's great."

At the end of her down, Rachel went above and beyond the call of duty by stopping at this guy's seat and quietly offering to explain the rule in more detail, explicitly saying that she didn't want him to be left with the impression that it was favoritism operating. He declined and brushed her off. So he didn't learn anything.

I realize that there's not a snowball's chance in hell that that guy will ever read these words. But I'll feel better for putting it out into the ether anyway. (And, besides, maybe somebody else reading doesn't understand the rule, and can learn a little something.) So here it is: Action out of turn is binding if, and only if, there has been no intervening change in the action between when the out of turn player erroneously acted and when it actually becomes his turn. In this instance, if everybody had checked around to Myron, then he indeed would have been committed to his previous and untimely $3 bet. But the early-position player's bet changed the action. Myron was now free to fold, call, or raise.

Consider the lunacy of the young man's logic under other conditions. Suppose that before the action got to Myron, there was a bet, a raise, and a reraise. By this guy's logic, Myron could still only put in $3, which wouldn't be enough to call. It's absurd.

The purpose of the rule is to prevent angle-shooters from deliberately pretending to put in a bet or raise in order to inhibit action. That is, particularly in a no-limit game, somebody might want to try to scare opponents who are to act before him into not betting by "accidentally" firing a big bet out of turn, then, when everybody checks to him, he checks, too, thus getting himself a free card that he might otherwise have had to call a bet to see. The rule obligates him to the action that he took out of turn. But once somebody acting in turn shows by betting that they're not afraid of the possibility of a call or raise behind, there would be no purpose in forcing the out-of-turn actor to repeat his action in turn.

For the genuinely accidental action, the rule also makes sense. If I erroneously think I'm first to act, I might want to bet. But if instead I see a bet and a bunch of calls and/or reraises, well, that changes everything, and the situation no longer looks like a good one for a bet, so the rule doesn't punish me for my inadvertant error, and I can fold (or raise, or call).

This rule is, as far as I know, universally recognized. Here, for example, is "Robert's Rules of Poker" (available many places, including, under "Betting and Raising," #11: "An action or verbal declaration out of turn is binding unless the action to that player is subsequently changed by a bet or raise." Cooke's "Rules of Real Poker," 10.08, on p. 67, says, "A player who makes action out of turn shall be held to that action when it is his turn, unless intervening action changes the action the out-of-turn player is facing." Lou Krieger's new "The Rules of Poker," p. 84, says, "A player acting out of turn will also be held to his or her verbal declaration unless intervening bets or raises change the action faced by the out-of-turn player."

In short, this young guy was, well, insane. Instead of considering the possibility that he might just be wrong about the rules, he leaped to the conclusion that the poker room staff was conspiring against him and in favor of a regular player. Then, rather than accept a kind offer (after he had cooled down a bit) for a more thorough explanation of the situation and the applicable rule, he blew it off, preferring to maintain his paranoid fantasy.

People are funny creatures, in how they are so confident about things they really know nothing about, and in how they will actively choose to remain ignorant, and in how they love to see conspiracy all around when, objectively it isn't there. (No doubt this guy was followed by a squadron of black helicopters on his way home.)

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Clonie Gowen is a cheater

I was just watching "Poker After Dark" on NBC, a re-run of the "Ladies Night" special, featuring six female professional players, including Clonie Gowen, one of the best-known female players on the tournament circuit.

I was astonished to hear her relate a story of winning a pot even though she held the ace of spades, and, before the hand was complete, another player mucked his hand face-up, and in the process showed another ace of spades. Her clear obligation in this situation is to alert the dealer. The floor person will be called over, the hand is dead, everybody gets their money back, and the next hand goes on as if the one in question never occurred (with a new deck of cards, obviously). But instead of doing that, Gowen quietly took the pot, then told the dealer to replace the deck (apparently without specifying why that should be done).

This is cheating, pure and simple.

I just posted the following question in the "Ask the pros" section at Full Tilt Poker (where Gowen is one of the resident professionals) and on Gowen's own site, in the "Ask a question" feature. My guess is that it will be pointedly ignored in both places, and possible deleted. But it needs to be asked anyway.


On “Poker After Dark,” you told the story of winning a pot (in a tournament, I presume) even though you had become aware during the play of the hand that the deck was fouled (because there were two aces of spades present). The standard rules of poker clearly prohibit this. For example, Bob Ciaffone’s “Robert’s Rules of Poker” says, under “Irregularities”:
“4. If two cards of the same rank and suit are found, all action is void, and all chips in the pot are returned to the players who wagered them (subject to next rule).
“5. A player who knows the deck is defective has an obligation to point this out. If such a player instead tries to win a pot by taking aggressive action (trying for a freeroll), the player may lose the right to a refund, and the chips may be required to stay in the pot for the next deal.”
Roy Cooke’s “Rules of Real Poker,” p. 105, says:

“14.12. Fouled Deck…. When a fouled deck is discovered, all betting will cease and all money in the pot shall be returned to the players in the hand. If this information is available to only one player and that player attempts to win the pot by initiating action, that player shall forfeit all rights to the pot and all chips in the pot shall be divided among all active players at the time the fouled deck is discovered.”

Similarly, Paymar, Harris, and Malmuth, in “The Professional Poker Dealer’s Handbook” (2nd edition, p. 23) say that “a duplicate card…immediately fouls the deck, and all monies are returned to all players who received cards at the beginning of that hand…. If a player knowingly tries to win the pot with a fouled deck then he has a dead hand and forfeits all rights to the pot and all monies involved.”

In short, by every standard that I can find, you cheated. Worse, you openly advised people listening to your story to do the same--be sure they get the pot pushed to them before telling the dealer to replace the deck.

Were you to claim that you did not know such rules existed, I would find such an assertion implausible. At the very least, a player of your experience absolutely should have known to call over a floor person to make a decision on what to do, rather than keeping the information—and the pot—to yourself.

How can you justify cheating? Why do you advise others to cheat?