Saturday, July 28, 2007

The blue-chip Nazis

Final post today, I promise.

I usually play either $1-2 or $1-3 blinds no-limit hold'em, and in nearly every casino that means using $1 chips and $5 chips. (There are a few exceptions, such as Caesars, Red Rock, and Excalibur, which also use $2 chips, and Wynn with their notoriously confusing $3 chips. I dislike both arrangements. They're completely unnecessary and inefficient departures from the norm.)

I like keeping roughly 10 (between 5 and 15, anyway) $1 chips (which are usually blue, though sometimes white or gray or something else) in my stack. This allows me to tip cocktail waitresses and floormen as needed. More importantly, it allows me to make a bet of any size I want without having to verbally announce the amount. If I have no $1 chips and want to put in a bet of, say, $8, I would have to throw in two red chips ($5 each) while saying "make it eight." I want to keep silent during a hand as much as possible, and having a supply of $1 chips helps make this possible. If I have a big stack of blue because of winning a pot that contained lots of them, I use them to pay my blinds and make small calls. Then when my blues have been whittled down to about ten, I use red chips for those purposes so that I get a bit of change, and thus keep my blue stack between 5 and 15.

The dealers have a little problem, as chips from the table gradually get squirrelled away in the drop box: Because the rake on these games is usually between $1 and $4, they run out of the $1 periodically and have to call for a refill from the cashier. This process slows down the game. As a result, some dealers are highly protective of their tray full of blues.

One Hilton dealer is almost funny in how consistently she will decline to let players get change for their red chips when they request it. Once I saw her tell a player she couldn't make change because she was almost out of blues. Then, a few minutes later, after she had gotten her tray restocked with blues, the same player asked again, and this time she said, "I can't, because I just got a fill." The absurdity of her logic made me laugh out loud, though I'm pretty sure she had no clue what I found so funny.

I'm inspired to write about this today because during this afternoon's session at the Palms, I was faced with two consecutive dealers who openly resented my blue-chip practice. With both of them, I had about 5 blues, yet tried to pay a blind with a $5 chip. Each one of them looked at my stack and said, "You still have some ones there. You can use those" (or words to that effect). It was obvious that they were trying to minimize the number of blue chips they gave out in change. They were like mother birds defending the eggs in their nest from predators.

But here's the crazy thing: The way I do this makes no difference whatsoever in the overall flow of the $1 chips from the cashier to the dealer's tray to the table to the drop box. The net rate of loss is exactly the same no matter how many blue chips any player keeps in front of him, as long as each player is more or less consistent over time. If I keep approximately 10 at all times, the dealer will have to get a fill exactly as often as if I started out with 50 of them and kept that number all the time, or started with zero and tried to keep as few of them as possible at all times (as I've seen some players do). It's the net flow that determines how often the dealer will have to stop the game for a fill, not the number of blue chips sitting on the table.

Of course, if I and/or other players for some reason really liked hoarding blue chips, and continuously put in red ones in order to get blue ones in change, that would quickly deplete the dealer's tray. But even then, after a while the whole system would simply reach a new point of equilibrium. From that point on, the rate of loss from the dealer's tray would be precisely the same as it usually is. The only way to change the overall dynamic would be if there were no red chips in play, and thus no need ever to make any change. But with the size of pots in these games, that's obviously impractical; the dealer would lose far more time counting chips in large bets than is currently lost with getting occasional fills.

So I'll continue my peculiar (but not irrational) little habit of defending a stack of about 10 blue chips. Fortunately, the vast majority of dealers either understand what I'm doing, or don't notice, or don't care one way or the other; they just make change from a $5 chip when I need it, without comment. And I'll continue to chuckle at and be baffled by the occasional dealer who acts like a blue-chip miser, unwilling to part with any unless absolutely necessary. It's dumb, but it's also pretty harmless, and it's usually over in 30 minutes, when the next one sits down, and I can go back to my usual pattern.

Addendum, 7/30/07: I liked the phrase from the first comment to this post so much that I stole it to make a new title.

"You don't like me, do you?"

If you haven't read the post below ("Good bluff,") read it first, because this story is sort of a continuation of it. It involves the same opponent, maybe 30 minutes after the hand described in that post.

I'm in the big blind with pocket kings. The same player as previously described is in middle position and raises to $25. This immediately conveys some useful information, because he raises frequently, but in virtually every previous case it had been to either $15 or $20, not $25. Instantly the most likely cards he's holding are pocket jacks, maybe pocket queens or tens, because those are hands that are really difficult to play after the flop, which induces many, many players to put in unusually large raises before the flop in the hopes of not having to make any difficult decisions later in the hand.

(Strategy note: It is virtually always a mistake to vary the size of an opening pre-flop raise according to the strength of the hand with which you're raising. This is true whether you make the variance direct [i.e., weaker hands get smaller raises, and the strongest hands get the biggest raises], or inverse [smaller raises with the biggest hands, hoping to get several callers to build a big pot; bigger raises with junk hands because you don't want to get called]. It's fine to vary the size of the raise based on position and number of people who have already limped in ahead of you, but it is never wise to relate the raise size to the cards you're holding. Experienced players will pick up on any such pattern very readily, and you thereby give away a ton of information about what you're holding.)

One other player in late position calls the $25. I reraise to $90. My goal is either to win the pot right now ($50 profit is fine with me), or get it down to one opponent. I predict that the original raiser will call, both because of what I suspect he's holding and because I think he still wants to get back at me for the previous hand in which we tangled. I'm right--he calls, the other guy folds.

The strange thing is that before he calls, he looks at me and says, "You don't like me, do you?" As always, I say nothing and don't look at him directly.

So before the flop there is just over $200 in the pot already. I have maybe $215 left in front of me, which means that any reasonably strong bet I make at this pot after the flop commits such a high percentage of my chips that I might as well throw the whole stack in. What's more, I know that I'm going to bet at this flop no matter what comes. I really hope there's not an ace, because it would be just my luck that my opponent is sitting on an A-K. But even if there is an ace, it's still more likely that his hand does not have an ace (because of the size of his original raise), so I'm going to bet anyway. I'm confident he doesn't have pocket aces, because he didn't re-raise me before the flop, and because he looked in genuine discomfort when putting in the rest of the $90. I have to act first, and I certainly don't want to check the flop and let him check behind, thus getting another free card to catch some sort of straight or flush to beat me. All my money is going in, no matter what.

Given this unusual situation, I decide to pull a move that I use only rarely. After the dealer has verified that my first opponent put in the right amount for a call, and the second player has folded, I announce, "I'm all-in in the dark." Because I'm going to do move all-in anyway, there are some advantages to doing it before I see the flop. First, I can't give away any information about whether I like the flop by my voice or how long I hesitate before acting or how I push in the chips or anything else. Second, it just screams of extreme strength. Any experienced player will conclude that I probably have pocket aces, because I'm announcing, "I can win this hand without any help from the flop." In the event that he has A-K and an ace comes on the flop, I will have pre-planted in his mind a grave concern that that ace helps me more than it helps him.

Indeed, this guy says as much as soon as I make that declaration: "Crap, he's got the aces." The flop is 8-4-3, all clubs. This is a bit scary, since I'm not holding a club. But it's too late to take it back, and, besides, he's extremely unlikely to have made a flush. If he has a flush draw, that gives him more ways to win than he would otherwise have, but I'm still a big statistical favorite.

He thinks for a while, making assorted comments. He says to the player next to him, "This guy (meaning me) really doesn't like me." But he finally calls. He has the black jacks. The turn and river cards don't help him, and I scoop a $600 pot.

It's this business about me not liking him that prompts this grump. I can't figure it out. I haven't made a single hostile comment, action, gesture, or facial expression towards him. I don't think we've exchanged any words at all, but if we did, it was just some bit of small talk. What on earth makes him conclude that I don't like him personally? I'm just playing the hand to the best of my ability, in the way that I hope will maximize my profit. I would play it the same way against anybody else on whom I had the same information as I have about this guy. From my point of view, my actions are utterly dispassionate and impersonal. As they say, it's just poker. I'm just playing the game. I'm not out to hurt him. I have done not a single thing to target him specifically; it was just random chance that we got involved in two big pots in a fairly short time frame.

Moreover, what makes him care whether I like him or not? Is that really why he sits down at a poker table--to be liked by the other players? I'm sure that poker is primarily a social experience for many recreational players, but they're usually found in home games, or $2-4 limit games, where not much money is at stake, and the wins and losses tend to come slowly. That kind of motivation doesn't usually drive one to play in cutthroat no-limit games, where the object is to try to take every last cent of every other player's money. The mere fact of sitting down in a no-limit game announces that your intention is to take everybody else's money as quickly, efficiently, coldly, and ruthlessly as you can. Of course, you can do that while being friendly and affable and having a good time, but surely nobody is under any illusions about the real motive here: it's money, pure and simple.

Oh well. If this guy thinks that I dislike him (I don't; I have very little information on whether he would be an interesting or enjoyable person to spend time with outside of a poker room) and that, as a result, I'm targeting him, he will necessarily conclude that when I bet into him, I'm doing it with lesser hands than what I might use to go after other pots. That will induce him to make mistakes of calling or raising when he's behind, as happened here. So, my friend, if you want to believe--for whatever reasons your fevered imagination has contrived--that I don't like you, go right ahead. I'm not going to lift a finger or say a word to convince you otherwise.

But it isn't true, and even if it were true, a psychologically healthy and mature player wouldn't give a rip about it either way.

Oh, and thanks for the money!

"Good bluff"

More from today's Palms $1-2 no-limit hold'em session.

I realize that hand histories, in isolation, are pretty boring. I'm going to walk you though this one, because there is actually a point to be made at the end.

A guy in middle position open-raised for $20. I was the only caller in the small blind, with 9-9. The flop was 3-8-J rainbow.

I already know that if my opponent started with unpaired hole cards, he will only hit a pair or better on the flop about once in every three times (32.4%, to be exact), so even knowing nothing more than that, chances are that I'm ahead here. The fact that two of the flop cards are little ones makes that even more likely. I had already pegged this guy as a pretty good player, though a little more aggressive than he can really handle (i.e., I had seen him get in over his head and not get away from a pot when should have known he was beat). That made me pretty confident that he would bet if I checked. I wasn't really planning a check-raise, because I needed more information before committing a lot of money to this pot. I wanted to see what I could learn from how and how much he bet.

Sure enough, he fired out $50. Now this was a bit odd--I hadn't seen him overbet the pot before. The size of that bet plus everything about how he made it (fast, emphatically, looking right at me in sort of an intimidating way) shouted, "I want you out of this hand right now." He absolutely did not want a call there. So, naturally, I called, based on the truism that you should always do the opposite of what an opponent wants you to do. He gave me a very quizzical look, and said kind of condescendingly, "Are you serious?"

The turn card is a 4, which almost surely didn't help him. Although I think I'm ahead at this point, I don't have enough confidence in that conclusion yet to build a big pot. I suspect that my call on the flop has alarmed him. To test that hypothesis, I check again, and sure enough, he checks behind me. There is no way this guy would check here if he had an overpair to the board, had a jack in his hand for top pair, or had hit a set. This pretty much seals my conclusion that my measly nines are the best at this point. Just about the only hand that he could plausibly be holding that would have me beat is pocket tens. Now as long as no big card comes that might pair him (I think he has something like A-K or A-Q), I should be in good shape.

Another 3 hits on the river. Again, this is extremely unlikely to have helped him. So I bet $75 into an approximately $140 pot. He asks me a couple of questions, which I ignore. He thinks a while, then folds.

As he tosses his cards in, he says, "Good bluff."

It is that remark that leads me into this grumpy rant. It's not the first time I've heard this, but I hate it every time, so I need to say something about it.

The most obvious response is that if you really think that your opponent is bluffing, then you should be calling or raising, not folding. There is an incredible discordance between your actions and what you claim you're thinking when you say "Good bluff" while folding. Actions speak louder than words, so what's apparent is that you do not really believe that it was a bluff. Which means that you're lying--and it's not even a good lie, but one that is revealed as such to everybody watching even as you speak it. It's stupid.

There are, I think, two main reasons that people say this in such a situation. First, it soothes the ego by covering all the bases. If it really was a bluff, the person can tell himself that he "knew it" (though obviously he really didn't), and if it wasn't a bluff, he can reassure himself that he made a good laydown.

The second motivation is to try to goad the other player into showing his cards, to prove that it was not a bluff. In this instance, I had actually planned to show him my hand, because I was still fairly new to the table and wanted to establish that I was playing in a pretty solid manner. But because I suspect that one of this guy's reasons for saying "Good bluff" was to annoy me into proving him wrong, I decided instead to frustrate him by not showing, and leave him wondering. That's my little retaliation for the smarmy comment.

Personally, I think a much better way to get a look at an opponent's hand in a situation like this is to fold face-up, especially if you add a "nice hand" kind of comment with it. That's a pretty clear friendly invitation. I will usually, though not always, respond kindly to an opponent taking that tack, and show. In battle, when an opponent surrenders, you don't keep shooting. The face-up fold is far classier than the sniping little "Nice bluff," as a means of trying to see what your opponent beat you with. Tit for tat. Nice begets nice. Nastiness begets nastiness.

I guess the reason that it irritated me more than usual today is that, given the situation, it was so obviously not a bluff. I think any knowledgeable, experienced player who had watched the hand play out, not having seen the hole cards, would be highly confident that I had the best hand at the end, even before the other guy's fold. His betting pattern was one of weakness, while mine was one of cautious strength. If my opponent had been unsure of where he stood and asked me, as he folded, "Were you bluffing me?" I would have shown him my cards and said, "No, I think I had the best of it." No taunts or insults, just friendly honesty about the situation.

Instead, he choose to be bitchy and egotistical about it. So, in return, he got no information and scored no points for good sportsmanship. It's a loser thing to say in every situation.

The squeaky wheel gets the grease at the Palms (non-grumpy content)

I was waiting for my turn at the table at the Palms today when a series of unusually surprised and enthusiastic uproars came from a nearby table. I stepped over to see what had happened. It was A-A versus 10-10. I don't know how the betting went down, because it was all over by the time I joined the commotion. But it was obvious from how fast the last two cards came that they got it all in after the flop, if not before. Anyway, the underdog had caught a 10 on the flop for a set, then the aces made their own set on the turn. But the biggest explosion from the players had come when the underdog hit his one-outer for quad tens on the river.

Then the controversy came up. The Palms had had a bad-beat jackpot, a promotion that ended five days ago. A sign on the wall said something like "We no longer have a bad-beat jackpot. The money that was collected will be redistributed through another exciting promotion to be announced soon." Four of a kind beating aces full of tens would have qualified for the jackpot, were the promotion still running.

For the next hour or so, the guy who had lost (and subsequently stopped playing) kept coming in to the room and talking to the other people who had been at the table, including Mr. Quads. He was saying that he was going to talk to everybody in the casino management that he could, in an effort to get them to give them the jackpot money. He was trying to enlist the support of the other players, because the jackpot distribution would have given a share to everybody at the table.

I was kind of annoyed at having to hear this guy tell his loser story over and over and over again, and repeat over and over and over again how unfair it was that they had ended the promotion without giving away the money they had collected, etc. I was too polite to say it, but I was thinking, "Fat chance, buddy. They ended the promotion, and that's that. No way you're going to pry that money out of them. They're going to use it to seed something else, period."

To my great surprise, the Palms proved me wrong. Eventually, the poker room shift manager came to the table with an announcement: She had gotten approval to distribute the money in the jackpot fund just as if the promotion were still running. It took well over an hour for all the paperwork and accounting to get done, but the loser of the hand walked away with over $4000; Mr. Quads got about $2300 (though he sadly had to relinquish the $82 he had received as a high-hand bonus!), and the other people who had been at the table each got $411.

I guess it does pay to make a little noise! If it had been me, I probably would have just shrugged my shoulders at the double bad luck (losing the hand plus just missing the bad-beat payout) and walked away, assuming that nothing more could or would be done about it.

Incidentally, this was my first time playing at the Palms. I not only had a highly profitable session (up $543 in less than 3 hours), but found it an enjoyable, comfortable place to play. I expect I'll be making it a more frequent stop in my gallavanting around. I also got to meet Murph, a poker dealer whose blog I have perused and enjoyed from time to time ( I found it through the blog of a Flamingo poker dealer who I have gotten to know a bit through his frequent play at the Hilton (see

Another celebrity sighting (sans photo)

I was playing poker at the Palms this afternoon, when somebody at the table looked up at the poker desk and said, "It's Macy Gray," and chuckled.

I have to admit that I've heard of Macy Gray, even seen her sing once or twice on TV shows, but didn't care for her music, so paid very little attention. I wouldn't know her if I passed her on the street.

The woman at the counter did resemble my vague recollection of what Macy Gray looked like, but so would a thousand other people. So I couldn't tell whether the other guy was really identifiying her, or just joking that it was somebody that sort of looked like Macy Gray. I wasn't paying much attention to what was going on there, but a few minutes later, the poker room staff was doing something a little out of the ordinary for this woman, and another player at the table sniffed, "Celebrity treatment." She also was accompanied by a guy who looked suspiciously like a bodyguard. Furthermore, we had heard less than an hour earlier that Paris Hilton was at that very moment checking into the hotel, planning to attend a performance by Fergie at the Palms tonoght. So all this made me think that maybe it really was Ms. Gray.

I was less than ten feet away, so I scanned her a bit for some distinguishing feature that I could later check against Macy Gray photographs. I found one quickly: A lacy tattoo that looked like a bracelet around her right wrist.

Got home and checked a Google image search for Macy Gray. And whaddayaknow--they show her with just such a tattoo. So I guess it really was her. My claim to fame today is that Macy Gray took the seat at the table that became available when I left.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Celebrity sighting (non-grumpy content)

Once again, apologies for the poor resolution on wide angle on my cheapo cell phone camera. It may be a bit hard to tell, but that's actor Michael J. Anderson, in the background, checking in at the poker desk at the Hilton last night. He's been in lots of movies and TV shows, but is most famous for playing the red-suited, backwards-talking, dancing dwarf in "Twin Peaks," 1990-1991. He was seated at another table, so I didn't get to talk to or play with him. However, I'm told that this is the second session he has put in here this week, so I may get to see him again soon. Amazingly, he looks just like he did during "Twin Peaks"--that is, he absolutely does not look 17 years older than then. It's like he's frozen in time.
Addendum, 8/10/07: Mr. Anderson was playing poker at the Hilton again last night. While he was waiting for a table, he kindly allowed me to snap a much better picture of him, and chatted with me for a few minutes about David Lynch movies. He got seated at a different table from me, so I still don't know how well he plays. But he's very kind to strangers.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

This post for men only!

OK, well, women can read it, too, but only if you have a lot of nose and ear hair.

So now that it's down to just us people with nose/ear hair problems, let's talk frankly, shall we? I have no idea why, with age, we start losing hair where we've traditionally had and wanted it, and start growing hair in all sorts of places that we're not used to having it. None of us asked for this, but it's the way things are, so we have to deal with reality.

And the reality is this: Nose hair and ear hair are just gross. Nobody wants to be seeing it on you--or, more precisely, coming out of you.

What does this have to do with poker? Well, at the poker table we are crowded together unnaturally and uncomfortably. We have to look at each other to chat, to see who is doing what, to watch facial expressions and gain information, etc. If you're across the room from me, the thick, black, gnarly stuff sprouting from your facial orifices probably won't be within the gradually fading resolution of my vision (although, let's face it, there are some guys who could get theirs to floor length without much effort). But when you're shoulder-to-shoulder with me, my view of your face is about as good as Cary Grant had of George Washington's in "North by Northwest."

And I don't want to be seeing what you've got going on there.

You get a haircut once in a while, right? You shave at least a few days a week, right? So what has motivated you to decide to just let nature take its ugly course when it comes to the nose and ears? (And if you're one of the Eyebrow People, let's throw that area in for good measure here, too, though it falls more into the category of "weird" than "disgusting.")

Hey, I'm right there with you. About the time I turned 40, some bizarre biological switch was thrown, and out the stuff came. I actually have to eat twice as much as I used to, because my body is now expending so much energy on growing unwanted hair everywhere. But I deal with it, y'know?

If you don't already know what to do or where to turn, I highly recommend ordering yourself one of these bad boys: . I've had mine for six or seven years now, and it's going as strong as ever. It's fast, powerful, painless, and effective. About two minutes once a week and you're good to go. You'll wonder why you ever fussed with dainty little scissors or the dreadful prospect of plucking. (Of course, if you're one of the ones I'm addressing, maybe you never bothered trying those first steps.) There's really just no excuse not to.

Guys, I'm just telling it like it is: Nobody, NOBODY wants to see you looking like you just snorted up the clippings from a barbershop floor. And (WARNING: potentially nausea-inducing observation coming up in this sentence; avert your eyes if you are sensitive) we really, really don't want to see the stuff that gets tangled and matted in your little bushes after you blow your nose. If you see what I mean.

So please take care of business, men. I'd sincerely rather never have to address this subject again.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Wait until the action is complete, please

In limit games, the amount of every bet and raise is fixed by the structure of the game. Because verbal declarations of intent are binding, when a player says "raise," he must put in a raise, and it must be exactly the amount that the rules specify. The word "raise," therefore, determines what his action is on the hand, and the next player can safely and properly proceed with his own decision.

But in no-limit games, which is what I usually play, there's a crucial difference: a raise can be any amount between a defined minimum and all the chips that a player has in front of him. If he says "Raise to $20," or something like that, then that has the same effect as if he said nothing and pushed out $20 in chips. Either way, his decision for that turn is over, and the next player in line can act.

Lately, though, I've seen a lot of no-limit players muck their cards as soon as they hear the player on their right say the word "raise," even though no amount has been declared. This is in violation of the rules, because it isn't their turn yet. And, yes, it matters.

Suppose I'm one to the right of the button, and the first player to act after the flop puts in a bet. Everybody folds to me. I want to raise. My problem is that I don't know whether I'm going to have one opponent to deal with or two, because the guy on my left (with the button) hasn't acted yet. If I say raise, and he immediately throws his cards away, my decision just got easier. I might now put in a larger raise than I otherwise would have, because I know it's easier to get one opponent to fold than to get both of two opponents to fold. Or, alternately, I might put in a smaller raise than I otherwise would have, because I have a hand I want to play against just one opponent, and I was originally planning to raise enough to persuade the button to fold. Now, however, since I know he's folding, I want to coax the first-position bettor to call my very strong hand, so I can put in an irresistably small raise.

Either way, I have gained important information that I can use to make my decision, and it's information that I shouldn't have.

(There's an exception to the rule here. If, because everybody else has already folded, you are going to be the last person to act on the raise that has been announced, and you won't be calling even a minimal raise, then there is no problem with the insta-muck. This situation, however, will essentially only arise before the flop when it's down to the two blinds.)

Unfortunately, dealers tend to be pretty lax about enforcing this. My limited experience is that most players who commit this violation simply haven't thought about the implications, and once they understand how it distorts the rightful play of the game, they stop doing it.

So, dealers, could you please be more aggressive at putting an end to this? Every time it goes uncorrected, other players may notice, decide that it's perfectly OK, and start doing it themselves.

Addendum, August 30, 2007:

I’m watching an old episode of the World Poker Tour, specifically the first Mandalay Bay tournament from season 5, which I hadn't seen before. I was surprised to see this exact situation occur, and become the topic of discussion among both the players and the commentators.

Players are Brad Booth, Joe Tehan, and Burt Boutin.

Tehan has A-K and raises under the gun.

Boutin calls with A-Q.

Booth attempts a squeeze play with 10-2, and re-raises.

The action is back to Tehan, who announces “I raise,” and puts out chips to call Booth’s re-raise. He hasn’t yet decided on the amount of his raise.

Boutin apparently makes an honest mistake, thinking that the chips Tehan has put out are the raise. He presumably doesn’t care how much the raise is--he’s getting out. He folds and stands up from the table.

Tehan makes a face and says something I can’t hear, because over his words Vince Van Patten is saying, “Look at this, Burt has folded. He’s up out of his seat like a Pop Tart.”

Booth says, “You’re always supposed to wait for the amount to be raised there, Burt.”

Mike Sexton: “Brad makes a good point there.”

Boutin: “Oh, I thought he said raise and he raised it.” Apparently at this instant he realizes that the chips Tehan put out were just the call of Booth’s re-raise. “Oh, I didn’t see, I’m sorry.”

Sexton: “Joe said raise, and as soon as he said that Burt mucked his hand. But it makes a big difference. Does a guy raise the minimum raise? Does he move all in? He can bet any amount he wants there. You’re supposed to let him complete his bet before you fold your hand.”

The hand finishes playing out as Booth folds.

Sexton: “But the point is well made, though. You know, when you’re in a game, even if you know you’re going to fold your hand, courtesy dictates that you wait till your opponent make [sic] his raise before you muck your hand.”

Van Patten: “No doubt about it, and Burt knows that, but Burt just made a mistake there, and he apologized for it. So it does happen at the table. Burt, a veteran of the poker world, apologizes—no harm, no foul.”

A whistle???

Just when you think you've seen it all....

At the Hilton today, a stupid argument broke out between two players. I wasn't involved in the hand, but here's what happened. After the river card was dealt, Player A went all-in, and pushed all his stacks of chips forward. Player B said, "I call," without pushing his chips forward.

Now, this is perfectly acceptable. It's how I usually do it, too. It's time-saving to just find out who won, and then settle up who owes whom, and how much. The guy who called even turned over his cards first as he announced his call, though he had every right to wait and see his opponent's hole cards first.

Player A hears the announcement of the call and sees B's cards. He knows he's beat. Player A is an older Asian guy who is usually silent, but every once in a while he flies off the handle about something--and it's always something incredibly trivial. When he does, he yells as loud as anybody in a poker room ever gets, and it's essentially impossible to understand what he's saying, because of a thick accent, and because his voice jumps way up into the little-girl-soprano register when he's upset.

That's what happened in this instance. He was mad because B didn't push his chips forward. By the rules, this makes no difference whatsoever, as B calmly tried to point out to him, once the shouting started. B said, with complete sincerity and plausibility, "If I had lost, I'd pay up." Of course he would--the casino would see to that, even if he refused (something I've never seen happen, by the way). But that didn't stop the ruckus. Player A's gripe was completely meritless and stupid, and was obviously just the result of being mad at losing a really big pot.

After 15 or 20 seconds of this nonsense, a guy sitting between A and B pulled out a referee's whistle and blew it--hard. You know how loud those things can be in a confined space like a small poker room. It was ear-splitting.

Ken, the shift supervisor, came over to the whistler, and told him calmly but firmly, "If you ever do that in this room again, you will be asked to leave." Mr. Whistle protested that he couldn't stand the stupid argument. Well, buddy, none of the rest of us could, either, but we didn't resort to a whistle!

It was truly one of the strangest moments in my poker experiences. I can't say I liked or approved of the technique, but it was instantly effective at terminating a pointless, annoying, and time-consuming argument.

By the skin of my teeth (non-grumpy content)

Poker blogs that mostly revolve around the writer's personal poker results and hands are, in my experience, deathly dull, so I've tried to avoid telling stories that are of no importance to any larger point. But once in a while something so unusual happens in a poker hand that I just have to tell the tale.

Played at the Hilton again today. One opponent is Paul. He's one I like having at the table, because he's friends with lots of people, and he's always having fun, win or lose. I pride myself on never gloating when I win and never whining when I lose, and the same can be said of Paul. And, truth be told, I also like having him there because he's still relatively new to the game, and I've gotten the best of him most of the times we've tangled in big pots. It's critical to today's story that I have seen him overbet and overvalue good-but-not-great hands on many occasions. That said, he plays quite a bit looser than I tend to, which means that there's always potential danger lurking, because he can have hole cards that I wouldn't expect him to be playing.

I'm in middle position, limp in with 9-10 offsuit. Paul is in the small blind, and raises to $12. 9-10 certainly isn't a great hand, but I'll have position on him after the flop, so I decide to go for the ride. I know that I can just throw it away with minimal damage if things don't develop favorably.

The flop is J-Q-K with two spades. I flopped a straight! I have the second nuts; the only hand that can be ahead of me at this point is A-10. Now, I immediately recognize that Paul could easily have an A-10. On the other hand, there's a wide range of hands with which he might have raised before the flop, so I'm not very worried about being behind.

Paul has checked in the dark, as is his custom when he's first to act. I put in a bet that's nearly the size of the pot, to make it unprofitable for him to try to make a flush, in case he is sitting on two spades. To my surprise, Paul raises me. I'm instantly worried that he does, in fact, have the A-10, and is trying to push me off of a spade draw. Still, I know Paul's manner of play well enough to know that he could put in a raise here with two pair or three of a kind, and certainly any two-pair or trips hands he could have with this flop would explain the pre-flop raise. He might even raise me here with A-K, though that seems less likely. So I conclude that I'm still reasonably safe with my straight.

It would make no sense to just call and see what develops, because my hand is already as good as it's likely to get, but if he has one of those six other hands, he could easily improve to a full house, and I don't want to be putting big money in with a straight after he hits a full house, if he's going to. So...

I re-reraise him. He waits only about 3 seconds before pushing all-in. Uh-oh. But my previous reasoning is, I think, still valid: Paul would certainly do this with several hands that he could plausibly be holding other than the A-10. Maybe I'm beat, but it's not often as a hold'em player that you flop the second nuts and have a less-experienced opponent betting into you. I decide that I'm ahead of six out of the seven hands he could have here (3 ways of making two pair, and 3 ways of making three of a kind), and behind only one of them, so I have to go for it. I call his all-in.

As I flip up my cards I say, "I've got the second nuts. I'm just hoping you don't have A-10." He smiles and turns over--I know you're all way ahead of me here--the A-10. I have no spades, so I can't make a flush. This means that I cannot win this hand outright, no matter what cards come on the turn and river. The best I can do is split it with him if an ace comes, which would then mean that we both have the same ace-high straight. I'm drawing to 3 cards in the deck just to get my half of the money back! That's about as bad a spot as one can get onesself into in poker.

The turn card is another spade, giving Paul a flush draw, though that doesn't really matter, because he's already holding the ace of spades, so if no ace comes on the river, I can't much care whether I lose to just a higher straight or to a flush. The $300 I had sitting in front of me is just as gone either way.

The dealer puts out the river card. It's an ace. Paul and I both have the Broadway straight, and we split the pot. We actually each lost about $2 on the hand, because of the casino's rake of the pot. But you can be sure that I was delighted to have that outcome. Paul, to his credit, didn't whine or complain or yell or swear or stomp his feet. He just shook his head.

By coincidence, a couple of hours later we were both leaving at the same time. I told him that somewhere there is kept an invisible log of poker results not as they actually played out, but as they by all rights should have happened, and in that alternate-reality log book, I owe him $300. He was gracious as always. He told me that he was saying to himself, "Finally, FINALLY, I got him where I wanted him"--and then I slipped out of it! A perfectly understandable sentiment, given our history. And it's basically inevitable that sooner or later he will nail me for a big pot, if we play together long enough, because that's the nature of the game. But today wasn't the day for it.

Addendum, August 16, 2007:

Paul took almost $100 off of me two days ago. By strange coincidence, I had 9-10 again, this time in hearts. The flop paired my 9 and gave me a flush draw, too. It got checked around. The turn was an offsuit 10, giving me two pair and the flush draw. Paul bet, and I liked my hand enough to move all-in. He had pocket tens, and had made a set with the card that made my two pair. Oops! I didn't hit the flush, and he won, quite deservedly--he was ahead every step of the way. Nice hand, Paul. You got me good there, and this time I couldn't slip out of the net.