Friday, July 13, 2007

Why I like the Hilton poker room (non-grumpy content)

I've mentioned the Hilton poker room a bunch of times in my posts, and even said that it's my favorite poker hangout. It's not exactly the most common/popular place for a reasonably serious poker player to frequent, compared to the Bellagio, Venetian, Wynn, Caesars Palace, Mirage, etc. And, frankly, it tends to get more negative reviews than positive ones from visitors, at least as judged by postings at (which is, incidentally, a really useful site for deciding where in the city to play). So I've been thinking that I should, at some point, explain why I like it there. And now seems as good a time as any. Yeah, I realize that it will seem like sucking up because they just had me on their little radio show, but I would have said the same things a long time ago.

First, and by far most importantly, once a year there is a huge Star Trek convention at the Hilton, so you have the opportunity to play poker with Vulcans, Klingons, and Romulans, in full regalia, at the table. Can ANY other poker room in Vegas make that claim? I think not.

OK, so maybe that's not really the most important factor. (It's the one I was prepared to give if the radio show hosts had asked why I like the Hilton. But they didn't, so I didn't get to use it, and I hate to waste my few scraps of comic material.)

These really aren't in any particular order, except as they occur to me:

It's an unusually friendly place. On only my second trip there, roughly a year ago, employees remembered me and were calling me by name. Very impressive.

I make money playing there. This is a must--there are rooms in which, after four or five visits, I haven't had a single winning session, for whatever reason, and I don't keep going back. When somebody posted an opinion at the above-mentioned web site that it was virtually impossible to make money at the Hilton because it is frequented by so many tight players, I poked through my records to come up with this data in response: "In April and May (just to pick the most recent time frame), I've played 23 cash-game sessions at the Hilton, totalling 104.75 hours. Of those, 14 have been winning sessions and 9 losing. My net profit has been $2587, or $24.70/hour. So when people who have played there for a few hours once or twice post here and make generalizations about not being able to make money playing there, I have to scratch my head and say, "Huh?" Now, maybe $25/hour is a pittance to some, not worth the investment of time. But that's about my average everywhere I play, so I consider it perfectly acceptable."

It's true that occasionally I run into a table of people playing so tight that the only way to make money is to literally pick up the table and shake the chips off of it into my pocket. But fortunately, the Hilton is one of the few rooms that will allow you to do this. (If I have to append "Just kidding" here to prevent readers from even remotely thinking that I'm serious about this, then I have truly failed in my attempts at humor herein.)

Actually, one of the things I value most is that most of the time I encounter a great mix of locals and tourists/conventioneers. I consider it ideal to have 2-3 players at the table whose style of play and habits I already know pretty well. It reduces the work of figuring out where the soft spots at the table are, what weaknesses I can see and exploit in opponents, etc.

The monthly freeroll is a great bonus. Do the math: they give away $20,000 every month, divided among roughly 60 players who show up for the freeroll tournament. Assuming you're of average skill, your expected value is about $333. It takes only 40 hours of play to qualify, which means that you're getting about $8/hour returned to you. Yeah, I realize that it's money that was taken out of pots, so it could well be that I'd do just as well if they didn't take it out in the first place. But as long as it's coming out, you might as well do what you can to get some of it back.

The place is one of the more effectively smoke-free rooms in town. It's not quite as good as facilities in which the poker room is truly isolated from the smoking areas of the casino (like Harrah's or Caesars Palace), but it's close. I never leave there reeking of cigarette smoke (and if I did, I wouldn't keep coming back frequently).

It has one of the best parking/walking factors in the city. I can almost always park within 200 feet of the door, and the poker room is probably only 100 feet inside the door. Compare that with, say, the MGM, or Planet Hollywood, where the hike is such a marathon that you could solicit donations for charity by the miles you have to walk.

I like small rooms. Maybe it's some sort of Freudian remnant of being in the womb, but big poker rooms make me feel kind of lost. I like easily being able to know, at least partially, what's going on at all the tables, who's coming and going, etc. Probably in correlation with this size factor, the room is sufficiently quiet that one can engage in conversation in normal, even quite soft, voices. I'm a quiet guy. I like quiet places. It's not like a library or funeral home or anything, but it's incredibly easy on the ears, by comparison with places like Bally's, or the old Aladdin, or MGM.

The staff is competent. Sure, there are a couple of dealers who I think don't pay enough attention and, consequently, make too many mistakes, but they're a distinct minority. Very few of my rants about problems with dealers have been Hilton stories. Moreover, I have never--not even once--seen a Hilton floor person make an incorrect or unreasonable decision when called over to address a problem.

It's one of the closest places to drive to from where I live--no freeways needed to get there. Your mileage may vary (literally). And because it's off the Strip, I don't have to wrangle with Strip traffic, either.

Their tolerance for rude/abusive conduct by players is pretty low. It's not as low as I would personally like, because my threshold for such antics is, like, absolute zero. But the dealers and supervisors will intervene more quickly and reliably when there's a problem than at most other poker rooms that I have experienced. (Maybe some day I'll write a post about the first time I tried the Tropicana, and took unbelievable verbal abuse from a jerk, without a single dealer doing anything about it.)

Comps are readily given and easy to use (though, admittedly, it would be nice if they were redeemable at a wider range of the facilities the Hilton offers).

The weekly Saturday tournament may be the best structure of any in town in its price range. And it's small enough that you have a decent chance of cashing. I'm happier with smaller, more frequent payoffs than larger but rarer ones.

There's a bunch of little things, too: autoshufflers to keep the games moving fast, good service from chip runners and cocktail waitresses, cup holders in the rail, decently comfortable chairs, Kem cards, table sizes that Goldilocks would say are "just right" (not too big and not too small), zillions of televisions, no obnoxious talking on cell phones allowed, free doughnuts (if you're there before they're gone, anyway).

Well, that's all I can think of at the moment. Hey, Hilton guys--can I get my payment for this advertisement now?

Article in Card Player magazine (non-grumpy content)

For those who just can't get enough of my writing about poker (ha!), I sort of had a thing in Card Player magazine a couple of issues back. It's now available online, at It's just the story of a bluff that I was unduly proud of, and wrote up and sent to Matt Lessinger, one of the CP columnists. He liked it enough to use it in his monthly column. Spoiler warning: reading it will reveal my ultra-secret real-world identity. (Shockingly, neither "Poker Grump" nor "Rakewell" appears on my birth certificate.)

Addendum, February 5, 2010

I see that the link no longer works. But this one should:

On the radio

Hey, readers! I'm going to be on a local poker-oriented radio show later today (Friday, July 13, 2007) from 3:00 to 4:00 p.m. It's KLAV, 1230 AM, and the program is "Poker, Straight from the Hilton." You can also listen to the show live on the web through, click on the "listen" button.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Today's hint: Check the spelling before you get the tattoo (non-grumpy content)

A few days ago I was playing in a Texas Hold 'Em tournament at Planet Hollywood (formerly the Aladdin). The guy on my left was wearing a short-sleeved shirt, so the tattoos on his upper arms were hard to miss. The person on his left asked him about them, and he said that he had just had them done a week ago. I couldn't see the ones on his left arm very well, but it was a series of playing cards. On his right arm I could see an ace, under which was written "Hold Em'."
The guy on the left asked how much the tattoos had cost, and the response was $450. I was feeling a bit cheeky, so I asked, "How much are you going to sue the tattoo artist for, for putting the apostrophe in the wrong place?"

The puzzled look said it all: This guy had no idea. He said, "What do you mean?"

I pointed out that the apostrophe represents the missing "th" in what would otherwise be "Hold Them," and belongs before the "em," not after. I was a bit worried at this point, because the tattoos were atop some pretty massive muscles. I didn't want him to feel any urge to kill the messenger.

But he looked at the errant tattoo, shrugged, said, "Whatever," and turned back to the game. I guess this shouldn't be surprising--after all, if he were inclined to care about punctuation, he presumably wouldn't have let the mistake be made in the first place.

I got knocked out in about the middle of the pack, but Mr. Tattoo was one of the top finishers, so I guess you don't have to know how to spell or write "Hold 'Em" to be able to play it.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Don't be a flasher

A few days ago I was at Mandalay Bay, in the 1 seat (on the dealer's immediate left). The guy in the 5 seat was a habitual flasher. That is, when he was thinking about what to do, he would shuffle his cards in a particular way that I've seen several other people use: The cards are face down, horizontal (i.e., the ends are to his right and left), and he lifts up the bottom one by its right side, using his right hand, and puts it on top of the other, repeating mindlessly.

Well, there are some problems with this. First, anything that you do without much thought (chip shuffling, tapping your fingers, bopping your head to your iPod music, chewing gum, eating an Oreo cookie, etc.) provides opponents with a tell, because you will tend, without knowing it, to change the manner or pace of the thing when you have a strong hand versus a weak hand.

But for this particular tic, the more important consideration is that, unless you're extremely careful, you'll expose your cards to the people on one end of the table. That's just what this guy was doing, obviously without knowing it.

So when I caught a glimpse of one of his cards, I told him (after the hand was over) that he was putting himself at a disadvantage by letting others see his hole cards. Other times that I have warned players of this, they have been grateful. Not this jerk.

First, the guy said, "So what? Have you actually seen them?" Yes, I replied. The player two seats to this guy's right spoke up and confirmed that he had been able to see them, too. Then the dealer confirmed that it was a problem, and said he had intended to warn the guy himself, but then had gotten busy in the hand and had forgotten it.

But rather than be thankful, or just accept the advice quietly, or even ignore it if he wanted to, this idiot felt the need to defend himself. He told the dealer, "They're my cards, and I can show them to anybody I want to."

I won't bore you with the tedium of the ensuing incredibly stupid argument between the dealer and the jerk. I will, however, point out that it's a gray area of the rules (unless the casino has a specific house rule), when a player may deliberately expose his cards to another player or players before action on a hand is concluded, and what, if anything, is to be done in the case of accidental exposure. Furthermore, these rules may vary depending on whether it's a cash game or a tournament, and whether the action is heads-up or multi-way. And some sets of rules require showing both cards if one is exposed (at least deliberately). It's kind of a messy technical problem.

But put all that aside. Even if there are occasionally legitimate tactical reasons that you might want to expose a card or two to an opponent during the play of a hand, if the rules governing the situation allow it, why in God's name would you want to defend ACCIDENTALLY doing so? That makes no sense at all. And that's precisely what this idiot was doing--all because he couldn't accept a little friendly helpful hint. And, really truly, I was being friendly and helpful about it, not criticizing him. I was blown away by his incredibly defensive, aggressive reaction. But at least he stopped doing it.

Please don't be a flasher. I'm tired of having to tell people that I can see their cards.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

"Things are good all over"

Tom is a regular at the Hilton who, as far as I can tell, is a decent enough fellow, but I dread getting stuck at a table with him, because virtually all he does is complain about what bad cards he's getting. And I mean constantly. He doesn't talk about sports or other players or the weather or poker strategy or his family or politics--he only opens his mouth to gripe about getting dealt bad cards.

Oh wait--there is one exception. This monologue is occasionally punctuated by complaining about how the rare good starting hand he receives gets outdrawn. That's how awful his constant moaning is: a bad-beat story is actually a welcome reprieve from the stream of ordinary gripes. It's not just like fingernails on a chalkboard; it's as if somebody had invented a machine that relentlessly scrapes synthetic, never-wearing-out fingernails across a chalkboard 24 hours a day, with a constancy that no human could hope to match. He is the Energizer Bunny of whining. If Mike Matusow is the John Henry of poker complaining, Tom is the steam hammer that runs poor John Henry to his death.

Last week, though, he actually made me laugh out loud for the first time, with a line that almost--almost, mind you--made me want to forgive him his incessant, drive-me-up-the-wall diatribes.

He was at the next table over. One of his friends, sitting at my table, hit four of a kind and won a high-hand jackpot. He leaned back in his chair, got Tom's attention, and told him the good news.

Tom replied, "Oh yeah? Well, things are good all over. Half an hour ago, I almost hit a pair."

Ah, if only his sense of humor showed through the river of griping a bit more often....