Saturday, September 01, 2007

Poker gems, #8

From All In: The (Almost) Entirely True Story of the World Series of Poker by Jonathan Grotenstein and Storms Reback, p. 23, on how the first World Series championship was decided, revealing something of the ego of poker players:

Jack Binion then asked the participants to vote for the best all-around player.

"I couldn't understand why the fuck anybody would vote," scoffed [Amarillo] Slim. "We played for a lot of money and that was the vote."

Everyone else voted for themselves.

So Jack refined his approach. "I asked them to vote for whom they thought was second best."

Poker gems, #7

Chris Moneymaker (

In the World Series, you'll have 8,000 people: 200 world-class players, 2,000 real good players and 5,000 complete morons who watch it on TV and think they know what they're doing.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Why so chintzy on the Coke?

Every casino that I know of provides free drinks for their gamblers, including poker players. That's nice. But I can't figure out why they're so stingy with the Coke.

Coke is my only vice, really. I don't drink, I don't smoke, I don't do drugs. But I loves my Coca-Cola. (Pepsi will be tolerated in an emergency, but with my nose turned up.)

The problem while playing poker is that essentially every casino offers me an itty-bitty glass that is filled to the brim with ice, followed by a little squirt of Coke thrown in as an afterthought. One swallow and it's gone.

I don't get this. I could request a Red Bull, which probably costs the casino a buck a can. I could request whiskey or vodka or a decent beer, all of which the casino would presumably get for me. By comparison, Coke is dirt cheap. At any 7-11 store, you can buy a Ginormous Gulp (or whatever they call it) for, like, 79 cents, and it's about the size of a 55-gallon oil drum. I assume that they're making a profit on the stuff, even after paying for the several pounds of plastic it takes to make a cup that big. Nobody can actually drink that much, at least not without having a urinary catheter surgically implanted. And if you did, the caffeine jolt would be like getting a cardiac jump start from a Nevada Power high-voltage transformer.

So the manufacturer obviously sells the syrup for the dispensers pretty darn cheap. It's probably even cheaper for them to give me a glass of Coke than a bottled water, for Pete's sake. Why, then, does the casino treat the stuff as if it's liquid gold?

Can't a guy get a decent glass of Coke in this city?

Both sides of quad slow-rolling in one night

From the best poker dictionary in existence, by Michael Wiesenberg (

slow roll
(n phrase) The practice by some players, at the showdown, when they have the best hand, of waiting till the last possible moment before showing that hand. This is usually done for one of three reasons: to see everyone else's cards first, to needle one or more of the active players, or just out of pure orneriness.

(v) To knowingly have the best hand at the showdown but expose it only after the losers' hands are shown, leading another player to think he has the winning hand. See slow roll.

By odd coincidence yesterday, I was both the intentional victim and unintentional perpetrator of a slow roll of unbeatable four-of-a-kind hands in one session at the Venetian.

I'm in late position with suited Q-9 and call a largish raise from one of the blinds. It's heads-up between us. The flop is 9-8-8 rainbow. My opponent hesitates, looks at his chips, looks at me, seems quite nervous, then puts all his chips into one big stack and pushes it forward. It's $103. This is well over twice the size of the pot--a huge overbet. Before that, I thought it most likely that he had a big pair, something between jacks and aces, and I was frankly just hoping to catch a lucky flop, but expecting to have to dump my hand if I didn't hit something strong.

His hesitation, nervousness, and the peculiar size of the bet made me re-think this, however, and suggested to me that he actually had A-K, missed the flop, and really, really, really didn't want a call. At this point, I had only $110 in front of me, so the call is for essentially my whole stack. I finally convinced myself that hitting my 9 actually did put me ahead, so I call.

Then several things happen basically all at once. My opponent turns over his cards, and I see that I was dead wrong in my post-flop read of him: he had pocket aces. Oops. Oh well. So without even watching the dealer put out the turn and river cards, I start counting out what I'm going to have to pay him.

While I'm doing that, I glance up at the now-completed set of community cards. The last two cards have come 9-9, giving me quad 9s, but it doesn't register that way with me. For some reason I can't explain, my brain reads the board as 9-8-8-8-9, instead of the actual 9-8-8-9-9. Just at this moment, I get more confused because the dealer announces my opponent's hand as "nines full of aces." I'm frozen like a deer in the headlights, simultaneously trying to figure out (1) how he can have nines full when there are only two 9s on the board (or so I think), and (2) whether my full house is bigger or smaller than his. I haven't turned over my cards because I'm a little embarrassed to have twice called big bets from a guy with aces when I was so far behind.

It takes me probably five seconds to clear my head and realize why I'm so confused. Then I see that I got just obscenely lucky to turn my measly pair into quads. So I sheepishly flip over my hole cards. Several people at the table gasp. My opponent--to his credit--didn't whine or complain, just let his head roll back for a second, then stood up and walked away.

The dealer seems to understand my situation, and quietly says, "You didn't see it, did you?" No, I didn't.

So to the guy I beat, I apologize for the slow roll. I'm well aware of how rude it is. I swear it was completely unintentional. I thought for sure I was dead. All those 8s and 9s blurred in my visual cortex, and I just didn't grasp what had happened for a few seconds. I would never do that on purpose. You left the table too quickly for me to explain, though I did attempt to tell the other players at the table what had happened, once it became clear to me in retrospect.

Earlier in the evening I had A-J. The flop was A-K-x. A guy in the big blind checks, I bet, he calls. The turn card is another K. This makes me think he probably doesn't have a king and my ace is probably good. I only have in front of me about the same amount that's in the pot, so I move all in after he checks again. He calls. The river is a blank. I turn over my A-J.

He looks at my cards, looks at me, nods, but doesn't move. Then oh-so-slowly he turns over first one king, then another one. He has all four of 'em.

I suppose that if I were a generous soul, I would give this guy the benefit of the doubt and assume that somehow he got confused about his hand the same way I did. But, frankly, this seems pretty damn unlikely. Pocket kings are the second-best starting hand, and I think everybody who looks down at them gets a little jolt of excitement at the prospect of winning the hand. Then upon hitting a third one on the flop, the excitement builds, because you're a virtual lock to win the hand. When the fourth one hits the turn, and an opponent pushes all-in, it's like having an orgasm.

It's just not plausible that this guy didn't know what he had, given the sequence of events. It played out in a completely different way from the hand in which I made quads on the turn and river after all the money went in on the flop. With about 99% certainty, this guy was just being a jerk. I have no idea why, other than a personality disorder. It happened within the first five or so hands of my session; I had just sat down, and so hadn't had any kind of history with him that would make him want to retaliate.

On one of the first seasons of the World Poker Tour (season 2's "WPT Invitational," to be exact) Harry Demetriou accidentally gave an opponent a slow roll. He had put in a pre-flop raise with pocket aces. The short-stacked opponent (I don't remember who it was) moved all-in. Harry didn't realize that a player between the all-in guy and him had folded; that is, he didn't know the action was back to him. He just sat quietly for maybe 30 seconds. Finally he realized that everybody was waiting for him to act. He obviously was going to call.

What was impressive is that he apologized over and over and over again. He would never intentionally slow-roll anybody; he just didn't realize it was his turn.* He was mortified that anybody would think he had done that deliberately. He's a classy guy.

I think most players are delighted to show their winning hands as quickly as possible. It's rare to run into a player who takes some sort of sick pleasure in slow-rolling with the absolute nuts. I don't recall ever before being the one to have done it (however unintentionally), nor being on the receiving end (though perhaps I have been, and don't remember it). It was very strange to be on both sides of it in one night.

To the guy who slow-rolled his quad kings: a pox on you, sir.

*In this case, it would be a slightly different kind of slow-roll than described in the definition above. If at any point in the hand one has the nuts--the best possible hand--so that a call of an opponent's all-in bet is eagerly and automatically given, delaying that call any longer than necessary is another version of a slow-roll. Now, sometimes there is a strategic reason to take one's time about it--most commonly to seduce another player into also calling, by acting as if it's a difficult decision. There's nothing unethical about that. But in Demetriou's case, he was the last one to have a decision to make. He would surely have acted instantly if he had known it was his turn.

Poker gems, #6

Max Shapiro, in his Card Player magazine column, May 23, 2007:

There's an old joke about a guy coming home late from a poker game to find his hideous harpy of a wife waiting for him with a rolling pin. She demands to know where the hell he's been, and he tells her she'll have to pack all of her things because he just lost her in a card game.

"How could you manage to do such a thing?" she screams.

"It wasn't easy, dear," he replies. "I had to fold a royal flush."

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Does your mother know you're wearing that shirt? (Minimal poker content)

Sometimes I just have to wonder what people are thinking when they select clothes to buy and wear.

The other day I saw a 30-something-year-old guy in the Venetian poker room wearing a t-shirt that said, on the front, "You have a nice ass," and, on the back, "What high school do you go to?"

I assume that people wear shirts with messages on them because they want to announce to the world something about their personality or their interests. Fine--I have no problem with that. I have my share of shirts commemorating an event I've been to or a product I like. I don't wear t-shirts much*, but if I did, I'd certainly consider ones that had stuff printed on them that I found funny or interesting.** I assume that people would either get and appreciate the joke--and thus think that they have at least a little something in common with me--or not like it, and thus probably not be my type.

But what on earth could one expect people to think of a guy who wears the nice ass/high school shirt? Did he buy it saying to himself, "Wow, people will think I'm so clever"? Does he laugh at it again every time he puts it on? When going through the drawer that morning to pick out a shirt, did he see this one and think, "Yep, that's the one that will convey just the right image of me today"?

Look, I'm not a prude, nor am I unrealistic about the sexual attractiveness of teenagers.*** It's just that I can't figure out what image of oneself one would be attempting to convey to the world by buying and wearing that particular shirt. Is it, "Wow, I really hope everybody sees that I enjoy fantasizing about sex with high school girls"?**** I mean, basically, what else can it be? Is there really anything that one can conclude about the wearer other than that? I suppose there's the possibility that he's being ironic, that he's actually the father of a teenage daughter, doesn't like the thought of her emerging sexual attractiveness, and wears this shirt in ironic defiance of his own true feelings. But that's quite a stretch.*****

Or maybe I just don't find the suggestion--however remote--of statutory rape to be as funny as this guy does.

Mostly, though, I suspect that I have thought about this guy's shirt, and what it says about him, a lot more than he ever has.******

*Not that anybody cares, but the pragmatic reason is that poker rooms tend to be really, really cold, so long-sleeved shirts tend to be a lot more comfortable. I also like to carry a pen and paper in my breast pocket for recording when and where I played, my results, things to look up when I get home, ideas for this blog, etc. So even long-sleeved t-shirts aren't my favorite garb, since they lack this crucial pocket.

**I just found this bunch of t-shirts (and posters, some of which should also be on shirts), which I would totally wear: (Thanks to Wil Wheaton's blog for the pointer:

***There's the old joke, "What do you call a man who finds 15-year-old girls sexually attractive?" Answer: "Heterosexual." The point, obviously, is that all straight guys do. For most of human history, girls of what we now consider high school age were expected to already be having children. Assuming that there is a strong genetic component to what kinds of people one finds to be sexually attractive, it appears to be nearly universal that it includes adolescents of one gender or the other.

****Nothing in the shirt's message specifically mentioned girls, so it's at least theoretically possible that the designer and/or purchaser had high-school boys in mind. But I'm pretty dubious of that.

*****I love irony, and I can appreciate irony even in t-shirts. (As opposed to appreciating ironing of t-shirts, which I don't.) At the same Venetian poker table was a woman who struck me as exceptionally bright, likely an engineer or professor of some sort, wearing a shirt that said "Math is hard!" I assume that this was derived from and/or in deliberate reference to the infamous talking Barbie. (See for a nice summary of the history of that model, and how the "math is hard" expression emerged from it.) I further assume that this particular wearer loves math, and wears the shirt in proud irony--which I think is funny!

******This is now the most footnotes I've ever had in a blog post. Maybe I should start thinking of a better system, eh?

Poker jokes for retirement

I like jokes as much as the next guy. But some poker-related jokes have become so overused that I think we have to actually ban them from further use. I am hereby forming a new organization, Players for the Retirement of Old Poker Jokes (PROPJ, pronounced "prop-jay"). You can join simply by using the "comments" button to submit a candidate for permanent banishment from the game.

Here's my initial list:

Maybe the most common one pops up when a player wins a pot, but in the excitement of stacking up the chips forgets to return his cards to the dealer. When reminded of the need to do so, he says, "They're so good I want to use them again on the next hand!"

Not funny.

Once in a while two players will bet and raise each other with a lot of tension. Then finally when it's over, one of them reveals his hole cards, and the other, seeing them, scowls, says something like "You play that crap?" and turns over--the same hand.

Not funny.

Four or five people limp in. The subsequent three rounds of betting get checked all around. When the cards are turned over, somebody has just barely made a hand, like bottom pair with a bad kicker, and wins the pot. Some wise guy at the table will always say, "You had the nuts!"

Not funny.

A card gets accidentally exposed during the deal. The dealer shows it to everybody, announces that it will be the burn card and not in play. Inevitably, some wisecracker will say, "Well, that kills my hand," or "There goes my quads."

Not funny.

Either on the flop or when it turns out that it's a limped-in family pot before the flop, somebody who folded will ask, "Can I get my cards back?"

Not funny.

Somebody bets, say, $25. A player behind him will say, "I would have called $24, but $25 is way too much."

Not funny.

Any "joke" that involves the words "jack" and "off" in close proximity is

Not funny.

If you buy into a $100 tournament and start with, say, $2000 in tournament chips, saying that you're just going to cash them in and leave with your profit is

Not funny.

After the flop and the turn have put one card of each suit on the table, somebody will rap the table while saying, "I check my flush [or flush draw]."

Not funny.

Before folding a junk hand, a player will ask if he can double down, or make some other blackjack move.

Not funny.

Any oh-so-clever sexual double-entendre relating to "straddle" is officially declared to be...

Not funny.

A player facing, say, a $25 bet will toss out four red chips ($20), then realize his mistake, and add another one, at which point some other player will make the fake protest, "That's a string call!"*

Not funny.

In a no-limit game, one player declares himself to be all-in. The next one to act puts his hands behind his chip stacks, as if to push them forward, and says, "I'm all [pause] OUT," then folds.

Not funny.

There are many, many more of these. They all need to be done away with. I'm not sure I can stand to hear them for very much longer before I go postal at the table. So please join my new association by suggesting other lame, old poker jokes that just have to go. Maybe together we can get them banned forever. Violators will then be required to, I dunno, maybe clean up all the crap that's under the tables, or write their forbidden bad joke on a chalkboard a hundred times. (Suggestions for punishment for the unrepentant jokesters will also be gladly accepted in the comments section.)

For the good of poker, we PROPJ members must also be actively working to bring into use new material, stuff that's genuinely funny. We must take on the responsibility to elevate poker humor to lofty new heights.

For example, here's my favorite: After the flop, I have nothing--no pair and no draw. Somebody makes a big bet, and the action is to me. I ask the dealer, "How many more cards are there to come?" Of course he says "Two." I feign surprise and dismay, and say, "Oh, that's not nearly enough," and throw my cards in the muck.

Now that's funny!

*Explanation for the uninitiated: A "string bet" or "string raise" is when somebody puts out some amount of chips, then goes back to his stack to get more to add to it. Because some unethical players used to do this to watch for an opponent's reaction--then add more chips to the bet or raise if it appeared that the opponent didn't like the action--this is now universally proscribed. You have to either announce a specific amount in advance (in which case you can go to your chip stack as many times as needed to fetch the right amount of chips), or put whatever you're going to bet out in one motion. But for obvious reasons, just putting in a call of somebody else's bet doesn't have the same potential problems, so there's no prohibition against (and really no such thing as) a "string call."

"But it wasn't my fault!"

A few days ago at the Hilton I was sent to join a 10-seat table that then had only nine players. However, one of them was taking up two places. He was an obese, older man who had prosthetic limbs below the knees. He was on an electric scooter. But, oddly, the scooter was parked along the long side of the table, with its front half taking up the space where the 6 seat would usually be, the seat turned 90 degrees, and its occupant facing the table in the 5 spot. Two chairs had been removed from the table to make this possible. This wasn't a problem at long as only nine were playing, but my arrival required all ten seats to be in use.

It appeared to me that he could either move to a standard chair or turn the scooter so that it was facing away from the table, and basically sit facing the back of the scooter, thus taking up only one slot.

Linda was the shift manager. She was extraordinarily patient in working with a guy that turned out to be nasty and uncooperative. She offered to let him move to a regular chair. No, he wouldn't do that. She offerered to move players around so that he could sit on an end seat or by the dealer, where there is a lot more elbow room. No, he protested, because then he couldn't see the cards in the middle of the table.

But she persisted, and he finally, reluctantly, agreed to try to turn the scooter and sit facing its rear. It took a lot of manipulation, because he couldn't drive it himself while turned, so somebody had to help him, and there was another table in the way, and the whole thing turned into quite an ordeal. (I ended up in the 10 seat, on the dealer's right, because the player that had been there vacated it while things were being rearranged. But Linda obviously knew that the issue would come up again soon when somebody else arrived, so they might as well fix it now.) The guy complained about every aspect of the move: he was too far away from the table, then he was too close, then he was too much to the right, then too much to the left, then he couldn't get his legs where they needed to be under the table right, etc., etc., etc. He was being a real pain in everybody's butt.

Finally he got situated to his grudging satisfaction. During this interval, the button and blinds had passed him, so on his first hand back in action, the dealer gave him the choice to wait until the blinds came around again, or put in both blinds now.*

This guy's response was a new one: "But it wasn't my fault that I missed the blinds!" The poor dealer was stymied for a response. I assume that he, too, had never heard that particular form of protest.

I wanted to ask, "When did we go to a fault-based system for paying the blinds?" But I didn't. It's such a stupid concept. Is it one's "fault" if one has to get up and use the restroom? Maybe players should be given hall passes, like I remember from junior high school, as permission to use the restroom and not have to pay missed blinds upon one's return. Of course, if "fault" is to enter in, there will have to be an interrogation as to whether one could really wait a few more minutes, how full one's bladder actually is, how long it has been since one's last visit to the little boys' room, etc.

Anyway, after Scooter Guy disgustedly agreed to make up his blinds (he could have just waited, of course--it wasn't like anybody was forcing him to rejoin the game right then), he tossed in just the amount for the big blind. Then the dealer had to remind him that he had to pay both blinds, and that led to another round of eye-rolling, moaning, and complaining--for the additional lousy $1. Then, when the dealer brought that chip into the center of the table, instead of leaving it in front of the player,** there was another protest about that!

I'm sympathetic, to a degree. I mean, I can only imagine how rough it is to have had both legs amputated, and have poor eyesight to boot. But still, this guy could have chosen a completely different way of handling it. First of all, if I had a serious physical disability, yes, I'd expect some reasonable accommodation to be made for me when needed. For example, if I really couldn't see the community cards except from, say, the 5 and 6 seats, a casino absolutely should be willing to require other players to move so that I can sit where I can see. That's a pretty minor inconvenience and concession to make. Nevertheless, I'd like to think that I'd make such requests only when there was no other reasonable way of making things work, and I'd do everything I could to make the disruption minimal. Furthermore, I'd be pleasant, smiling, and grateful about it, I hope.

This guy was not like that. He was confrontational and uncooperative about every aspect of it, making it uncomfortable for everyone that had to help get things sorted out. Obviously the way things finally got arranged actually did work, despite him saying all along that it wouldn't, that he wasn't willing to try it, etc. He was just being a stubborn, obnoxious jerk. Linda was a saint in how she firmly but respectfully pressured him to keep trying various options until a solution was found.

My limited experience is that poker players--and poker room employees--are as helpful and accommodating to disabled players as they can be. On the national scene, for the last two years, there has been a player at the World Series of Poker who has no use of his arms, due to neurologic injury from a motor vehicle accident. He has learned to manipulate the cards and chips with his feet, and everybody accepts the minor disruptions of time and elbow room that this causes. This year, a blind player at the WSOP main event went deep (finished 193rd out of 6000+ entrants), despite the need to have somebody whisper to him what his hole cards were, what the community cards were, what the bets were and who had made them, and so forth.

Even at the Hilton, there is one regular player who can barely see her own hole cards, and has to have the dealer announce what the cards on the board are. There is another who has had his vocal cords surgically removed (throat cancer is the most common cause for this) and speaks with an artificial electronic larynx held up to his neck. Everybody understands this, and accepts his whisper (because it's a pain for him to have to grab his device when he's handling chips and cards) and/or hand signals as to a raise, call, or whatever.

Yesterday at the Venetian I shared a table with a woman in a wheelchair who, in addition to whatever her lower extremity disability was, had sufficient weakness in her hands that she couldn't push her cards forward to fold. The dealer would take her verbal instructions to fold her cards, and would count out and put in the pot for her the number of chips she directed for a bet/call/raise. As far as I can tell, nobody has ever complained about such reasonable accommodations, and none of the players with disabilities has been unpleasant, demanding, or unreasonable about negotiating what was needed to make the game run smoothly for everybody--until, that is, I ran into Scooter Guy, who, I hope and believe, is an unfortunate anomaly in the poker world.

*The button and blinds, and all the ways they get paid and skipped and arranged, are one of the most confusing aspects of live poker for players new to casinos. The easiest way to think about the blinds is that they are payment in advance for one round of poker (that is, the button making one full lap around the table). So if you haven't paid the blinds because you were out to dinner or the restroom or whatever, you can either continue to sit out until it's your turn to put in the big blind again, or you can pay both of them at once and rejoin the game immediately, in which case there is twice as much starting money as usual in the pot for that hand. In a low stakes game, the blinds are such a trivial amount of one's gains or losses for a session that it's incredibly petty to make a big fuss about them, but people do it all the time.

**Usually, a blind bet is "live," meaning that when the action gets back around to the player who put it in, the blind can either stand alone as his bet for that round (if it hasn't been raised), or it's part of his bet if he chooses to raise or call a previous raise. But when a player has to put in both the big and small blinds at the same time, the amount of the small blind has to be "dead," meaning that it is in the pot, but not part of a player's bet. Otherwise, the effect would be to raise the stakes for that hand, and everybody who wanted to play would have to call, say, $3 (the previously absent player's $2 big blind plus his $1 small blind), instead of the usual $2.

Casinos, how about getting your dealers to agree on what the rules are?

Yesterday at the Venetian I was seated at a table with three players from Paris. (France, not Texas.) They were frequently chatting amongst themselves in French. I recall enough of the language from high school and college classes to know that they were talking about everything except poker.

(Side note: As far as I can tell, poker is so deeply rooted as an originally American game that other languages mostly adopt English words unchanged. As a result, it's usually not hard to tell when foreigners are discussing the game, no matter what language they're using, because words like "flop," "ace," "raise," and "flush" come up, varying only in the accent.)

Dealer 1 reminded them repeatedly to use only English at the table. About the third time, one of the visitors protested that the dealer was just shuffling the cards at the moment--there was no hand in play. The dealer told them that at the Venetian the rule is English only the entire time one is at the table, not just while there's a hand in play. This was a mild surprise to me, because it differs from the standard rule, and I can't remember ever hearing a casino employee announce this as the house rule.

The most vocal French player said that, like me, he had never heard the rule being used to prevent chat when there is not a hand in play, but the dealer reiterated at least five times that that's how it is at the Venetian.

OK, if that's the house rule, it's the rule. There are certainly legitimate arguments to be made for it (e.g., players could be reviewing signals that they'll use to figure out who has the strongest hand, and trap an unwary player between them). Also, if the rule is that English-only applies only when a player has live cards in front of him, a player who has folded could tell a compatriate who still has cards what he folded--information which would then not be available to others contesting the pot.

Anyway, the French chatter mostly stopped for a while. But maybe an hour later it starts up again, and a player complains to the dealer--a different one now, of course. This dealer tells the complaining player that he can't stop them, because none of the people speaking French had live cards at the time, and the rule only applies then.

Hmmmmmm. It can't be both ways.

Just a thought for poker room managers: How about having your dealers all tell players the same thing about your house rules? Or is that too much to ask?

"You called a raise with that?"

An ever-amazing number of people who play poker just have no concept of the game beyond what some introductory book told them about how to play, yet think they have it all mastered.

Venetian today. I'm on the button with 4-6 of diamonds. The guy on my right raises to $10. I call, as do two other people who had limped in ahead of the raiser.

The flop is 9-6-4, giving me bottom two pair. A young bald guy (YBG) in early position checks, the original raiser bets $10, and I pop it up to $30. YBG calls, everyone else is out.

The turn card is another beautiful 6, giving me a full house. YBG checks. I check behind him, trying to act weak, and hoping that he will catch a card on the river that will give him a flush, a straight, two pair, or something else with which he will be willing to put a lot of money into the pot--especially if this check on the turn convinces him that I was just bluff-raising with position on the flop.

River card is a queen. I didn't know it at the time, but YBG just made top two pair, with his Q-9. He checks, and I have to assume he was planning to check-raise me. I decided to put in a large bet, because a large bet on the river after checking the turn is a very common pattern for somebody who is weak (e.g., made just one pair on the flop, or was on a draw that missed) and is trying to steal the pot at the end, which is what I wanted him to think. I suspect that the size of the bet changed his mind about the check-raise, because he thought for a while, then just called. When he saw my hand, and the dealer said, "Sixes full," he flung his cards in face up, turned to the guy next to him, and gave him a look that said, basically, "Can you believe that idiot?"

I stacked up the chips, but as I was doing so, I was keenly aware that YBG was staring at me from the other end of the table. Finally he said, "You called $10 with 4-6, huh?" I just smiled sheepishly and nodded. He shook his head. A couple of hands later he left the table and didn't come back.

This is much the same attitude that I discussed recently after winning a big pot with a 4-5, with which I raised before the flop:

Let me try to explain it another way. There are two kinds of players who will call a raise in a no-limit hold'em hand with a 4-6: Beginners, to whom any two cards look like they have good potential, and moderately advanced (or truly advanced) players who recognize that there really is potential for big payback with such hands. I'm not comparing myself to the pros who play for tens of thousands of dollars per pot, but you'll see the best players in the world put themselves in situations like this all the time on shows such as GSN's "High Stakes Poker."

I could even quote the godfather of poker, Doyle Brunson. In fact, I think I will (Super System 2, p. 617):

I always make exceptions when I'm in position, even with the trash hands. For
example, if I were on the button with a hand like A-8 offsuit, I might call a
raise before the flop if enough people, say four, were in the pot in front of me
and I didn't think there'd be any more raises. I might call a small raise and
take a flop with a trash hand because it's a good percentage play. I'd be trying
to make a full [house], trips, or two pair. But if I don't get a real good flop
to the hand, I'll throw it away. I won't get involved and burn up a bunch of
money with one of those trash hands. I'm not going to call any bets on the flop.
I'll be raising or I'll be gone.

And therein lie the differences between the novice and the expert (or, in my case, at least the reasonably well informed intermediate player) calling a raise with something like a 4-6: (1) recognizing the combination of circumstances (especially position) in which there is enough potential for occasional big profit to be worth taking a shot with a low-percentage hand, and (2) being smart enough to get away from it if it doesn't produce a very strong hand.

In this case, as with my previous story, I had been playing tight and showing down mostly premium hands, so I knew that if this 4-6 connected with the flop in a significant way, opponents would assume I was playing big cards and had missed. I suspect that that's exactly what happened here.

But I don't really need to justify my play here. Maybe I'm overrating myself, and it was objectively a complete donkey move that no expert would make, and I just got ridiculously lucky. Suppose that's the case, and YBG is a much better player than me and sees that I'm a bonehead that caught a miracle. What does he accomplish by the snide little comment? It seems to me that he should want to be at a table where there are idiots playing any two random cards, who are relying on luck to save their sorry butts from ruin. Those are just the kind of opponents that make poker profitable for the better players.

The only things that he can accomplish with that little shot of nastiness are all bad--or should be, from his point of view: (1) He makes a fishy player feel bad and leave the game, taking the money with him, probably to be replaced by somebody from whom it will be harder to win chips. (2) He makes the stupid player start thinking more critically about his play, and maybe get better and harder to beat. (3) He sours the mood at the previously light, enjoyable table. (4) He shows himself to be a bad loser. (5) As I think is the case here, if he's really not as advanced a poker theoretician as he fancies himself to be, he risks revealing to more skilled players that he's pretty limited in how he thinks about the game.

And incidentally, YGB, in case you're reading this, Q-9 isn't exactly a premium hand either, ya know, especially to be trying to play against a pre-flop raiser from out of position. Unless, of course, you're so skilled that you can outplay opponents even after spotting them both the likely better hand and position. Which I kinda doubt, in your case.

Annie Duke isn't one of my favorite professionals (I think she's generally overrated, has a track record of unethical behavior at the table, and from what I gather of her personal life, well, I'm not certain I'd want her as a friend). But she does tend to write effective columns in Bluff magazine, and recently she addressed this very subject in a piece I'd highly recommend reading, if you've been in the habit--even occasionally--of openly critiquing other people's play the way YBG did today. I especially like the revealing story of her own unpleasant history in this regard, in the last three paragraphs:

Lee Jones made the same point perhaps even more forcefully in a column in Card Player magazine:

YBG, I sincerely hope to see you at the table again, now that you've shown me that you have blinders on as to what constitutes smart play--and especially now that I'll have you scared that as a stupid, fishy, luckbox, I might be playing any two cards against you in any situation. Heh heh heh!

Radio show, again

I'm invited to be on "Poker, Straight from the Hilton," again this Friday, August 31, 2007, with another list of things to complain about in the world of poker. The show goes from 3:00 to 4:00 PDT. They tell me to expect to be on from roughly 3:30 to 3:45. It's on in the Las Vegas area on KLAV, AM 1230. You can also listen on the web through, click on the "listen" button.

Several people told me about technical difficulty hearing much of the show last time I was on. Apparently it was a glitch at the station, and affected both the radio broadcast and the webcast. I hope my presence doesn't cause a repeat of whatever the problem was.

Poker gems, #5

From Matt Matros, The Making of a Poker Player (2005), pp. 72-73:

The first few months after Yale were otherwordly. I was supposed to be this educated intellectual, but I didn't feel like one. I thought I had wasted four years without accomplishing anything, with my best days behind me. Although this sulking was foolishness, it wasn't foolish to me then. This period was the first of several since I took up the game that poker got me through an upheaval. It's ironic that a game of constant bankroll swings, changing fortunes, and uncertainty would be a stabilizing influence, but it has been. Why? Because I love the game. I love analyzing hands and determining the best way to play them. I love taking money from people who think they are better than everyone else. I love meeting brilliant game theorists and calling them friends. I love the rush of making the final table of a tournament. I love having $2,000 in chips in front of me. I love winning a hand. I love that the next hand is a minute or so away. I love figuring out exactly what a person is thinking.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Poker gems, #4

Paul Phillips, on playing pocket queens in hold'em (Poker Pro magazine, September, 2006, p.32):

"I pretend that they're aces, but I leave the door open to deciding they're deuces if my opponent seems to think his cards are aces more than I think mine are aces."

Missed it by THAT much!

For those who have never heard some of the phrases made famous by Don Adams as Agent Maxwell Smart--including the title of this post--hear them at

There was another odd occurrence during my hour at Jokers Wild on Sunday. Its poker room, like many others, has high-hand jackpots. If you get four-of-a-kind or a straight flush (with certain conditions on the size of the pot, the number of people at the table, etc.), the casino pays you a jackpot, which grows over time when it isn't hit. There are, sadly, many players, especially at the low levels, for whom hitting such jackpots is the entire point of playing.

Anyway, an elderly woman won an unremarkable hand with pocket queens. I thought nothing of it.

On the next hand, the turn and river were both queens. When the second one hit, both this woman and the dealer let out loud groans, and then a couple of other players chimed in with sympathetic comments, like "Look at that," and "Oh, yeah--almost."

I remembered that this woman had shown queens on the previous hand, but didn't think it was possible that the occurrence of two queens on THIS deal was being fussed over. On the other hand, I couldn't see anything else remarkable going on that would cause the clucking.

When the dealer looked in my direction, I caught his eye, gave him a deliberately puzzled expression, and spread my hands, meaning, "What's going on?" He said, "She had pocket queens on the previous hand."

I asked him, "So what?"

He pointed out the high-hand jackpot. I told him that I knew about that, but it didn't qualify if two of the four cards came on one hand, and the other two on the next hand. He said, "Yeah, but it was so close."

I could hardly believe that these people were actually this stupid. I said, "Well, it's a whole lot easier for two queens to hit the board if the other two of them aren't in somebody's hand."

The dealer granted that, with a facial expression that seemed to indicate he had never considered this before.*

He replied, "Yes, but it seems that they always come on the next hand." Uh, right, if you consider 4% of the time (the probability that the next hand will have a board with two queens--see the math below) to be "always."

I pointed out that it makes no difference whether the other two queens came on the next hand or 100 hands later. He said, "I know, but it was so close."

To which I could again only think, "SO F'ING WHAT?????"

The only way these morons could have any sort of emotional response to this situation is if they're imagining that two queens hitting the board is completely independent of two queens being in somebody's hand, and you get the jackpot when these two events just happen to coincide. In that case, you could think of it being a "near miss," sort of like the roulette ball falling into the slot right next to the one on which you had bet your life savings--close, but not quite.

But that's not the situation here at all. Her having those queens in her hand radically affects the probability that we'll see two on the board. It's like reducing the width of the slot into which the roulette ball can fall to make you a winner to about one-fourth of the size of all the other slots, then trying to hit it.

(I suppose that I should mention the related poker phenomenon of "flop lag." This is a great term for when, e.g., you play a 7-8, have to fold to a large bet on a flop of A-K-K, then on the next hand see a flop of 4-5-6. This is "flop lag"--seeing the perfect flop for your hand, one shuffle too late. I have heard this discussed many times, and, of course, have experienced it. But it's just a fun observation, with no connection to reality. I have never heard anybody say anything that even remotely suggested seriousness about this experience being, somehow, "close" to a great thing happening. It's just a bit of silly amusement.)

In this case, it was also not only a completely different shuffle and deal, but a different deck of cards (because they alternate; one is shuffled while the other is in use). What's more, the queens that came on the board in the second hand were both black, whereas in the first hand her pair had been one red and one black. That second board could not have occurred in the first hand. None of that really matters in terms of the statistics, but the observations add to the lunacy of thinking that this was, in some meaningful way, a case in which Agent Smart would have had occasion to say, "Missed it by THAT much!"

No, you idiots, you missed it completely.

*Here's the exact computation of the effect.

Suppose we know that no players were dealt any queens (and, obviously, the same approach applies to any rank of cards you want to posit), so that all four are potentially available to be among the community cards. We don't care about the order they come in. The number of different boards of five cards that will contain exactly two queens is C(4,2)*C(48,3), where "C(x,y)" is the standard notation for the number of combinations of y objects you can pull from a group of x. Here we're specifying that two of the five cards on the board be queens. There are C(4,2)=6 different pairs of queens. With each of those pairs, there are C(48,3)=17,296 ways of pulling another three cards from the remaining 48 cards in the deck, so the total number of different boards with two queens is 6*17,296=103,776. There are 2,598,960 total possible boards--that's C(52,5)--so the fraction of all possible boards that contain exactly two queens is 103,776/2,598,960=0.0399. That is, it will happen 4% of the time, approximately.

But if we know that a player is already holding two of the four queens, now the number of boards containing the remaining two of them is given by C(2,2)*C(50,3)=1*19,600=19,600. The number of possible boards drops to C(50,5)=2,118,760. The probability of getting a set of five community cards containing two queens thus becomes 19,600/2,118,760=0.0093, or a little less than 1%. Putting two queens in a player's hand makes it more than four times less likely that a board with two queens will appear.

Isn't math fun?!

"Did you see...?" (Non-grumpy content)

Hilton, Sunday evening. Very drunk guy joins the fun. He keeps telling us two things, over and over again. First, this is his first time playing. This was a flagrant lie, based on his facility with handling chips, his familiarity with procedures (e.g., complaining about players folding out of turn; knowing about "buying the button," etc.), and so forth. His second claim was that he had been drinking a lot. Of that there was no doubt.

Occasionally during a deal a card will wobble in the air and possibly be exposed to players, or hit somebody's hand or chip stack and partially (or completely) turn over. On one hand, this guy's second card did something like that. I didn't see it, but the dealer (Kelly) saw the card, and was just about to replace it, as per the usual procedure--because if she saw it, probably somebody else did, too. But the player said that he didn't see it, and nobody else volunteered having seen it (I believe, and would like to think, that most people are honest enough to speak up if they saw a card partially exposed).

While the dealer was trying to decide whether she needed to replace the card, the drunk guy who received it looked at his cards, then loudly asked the dealer, "Did you see the ace or the nine?"

I couldn't help laughing. It was the funniest thing I've heard in a poker room in a long time. Kelly tried--without much success--not to laugh.

Now, some people in that situation would cleverly make such a comment as a deliberate piece of misleading information, then play their pocket fives (or whatever) against a confused opponent. But this guy bet the flop, which had two hearts, and, when nobody called, turned over the ace and nine of hearts. I think he was just too drunk to think up a good lie on the spot.

I think I'm going to throw up, part 2

From time to time I'm still pursuing my quest to play at least once in each of the poker rooms in the city. Yesterday morning I saw a blog post from a poker dealer that I know from his occasional play at the Hilton. He now teaches at a dealer school part time, and some people from the school were going to visit the Club Fortune casino, where a recent graduate had just taken a job. I had never even heard of this place, but looked it up on a map on the web and found that I could also hit a couple of other yet-unvisited poker rooms on the way back up Boulder Highway, so I set out. This place is technically in Henderson, I understand, but is nearly to Boulder City. (See

Club Fortune is kind of a dinky little nothing place. The poker "room" is, for now, just three tables in the middle of the casino, but I'm told that, like every other casino in the city, they're under construction, and within a couple of months they'll have a genuine room for poker.

Playing $2-4 limit hold'em there was fun, because the group that had assembled for that purpose was there just to have a good time and support/razz/overtip their recent graduate (who did just fine, by the way). As "S" writes in his follow-up post,, a good time was had by all. I sure had a good time watching S call with his pocket jacks to the turn, then give them up rather than throw in another $4, then see a third jack hit on the river. (Hee hee hee!) It was fun because nobody took the game seriously. Yeah, I usually take my poker pretty darn seriously, but $2-4 is an unbeatable luckfest, and it can be fun, as long as everybody understands and accepts that fact. It's when people take poker at that kind of ridiculously low level seriously that it causes problems. If you're actually trying to win money consistently at poker, you will fail and experience endless frustration playing $2-4. Those people sour the game. So it was refreshing to have a table full of people who understood that the winners and losers were to be determined mostly by chance, rather than skill. At one point, I made what I knew to be a bad call, and announced it as such. S, sitting next to me, said, laughingly, "Isn't that the whole point?" Yeah, on some days, I guess it can be!

Incidentally, this was the first time I've played at a place where smoking at the table is allowed, and nobody smoked a single cigarette the entire time I was there! Miracle!

Anyway, after that gang broke up, I went back toward town, next stopping at Jokers Wild, another place I had never been to before. It's not quite as bad as the El Cortez or Arizona Charlie's-Decatur, but it's pretty dumpy. Only one table going (a $2-4 spread-limit), and it was never full. It was as dreary an experience as $2-4 usually is, because of the usual factors (people with unrealistic expectations of consistently beating the rake, the abominable level of mindless play, suckouts being the norm, grouchy players, indifferent management, etc). Nothing different here than anywhere else.

But--to finally get to the point of this post--I did see something there that I've never witnessed before. You know how some clerical workers, particularly those of a certain age, have an ugly little habit of licking a thumb or index finger in order to leaf through a stack of papers? Well, I saw a poker dealer at Jokers Wild doing that for the cards. Why? Because they were stickier than average (as were the chips).

It made me shudder. Think of all the ickiness that players bring to the table on their hands and spread all over the cards and chips. Imagine getting all of that crud on your hands, then LICKING your thumb to help you get a good hold on the corner of the card. Not only should this be patently disgusting to the dealer, but we get to watch him add his saliva to the mix of filth that's already on the cards. No wonder they get sticky. All I could think when watching this was one word, a whole bunch of times:

ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh

To the Jokers Wild dealer (you know who you are): Dude, you is NASTY!

Incidentally, I also tried to hit another place listed in Card Player magazine's online database of poker rooms ( Nevada Palace. But I walked around the place twice and didn't see anything resembling a poker table. I found one online report that says they do a daily tournament, then basically close up: If so, I can't imagine why they even bother offering poker. Anyway, it's probably not worth the trip out there.