Friday, September 28, 2007

Poker gems, #28

Jesse May, Shut Up and Deal, p. 73-74:

Like at the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City when Floyd has been playing seventeen or eighteen hours in a row without stopping to eat, sleep, or go to the bathroom because he’s so fuckin’ stuck he don’t want to move. And finally he can’t take it any longer so after he folds his hand he says, “Deal me in,” and starts sprinting for the bathroom, which in the Taj isn’t so close—no, you have to go out of the whole poker room and down the hall—and so the hand ends and the dealer shuffles and says, “Should I deal him in?” and Virginia says, “Yeah, give him a hand…he’ll make it.” And sure enough it hasn’t even been thirty or forty seconds and you can see Floyd through the plate-glass windows separating the poker room from the hall coming at a dead run, full sprint, waving frantically so we can see that he wants to be dealt in and there’s no way that the guy had time to finish let alone wash his hands, but when you’re stuck you don’t want to miss even one hand, not even after eighteen hours and five or six hundred of them. And it’s not just Floyd—I mean we all been there. And I heard that’s why Tom H got booted from the Stardust casino because the game was so rocking and wild and he didn’t want to miss a hand and walk all the way to the bathroom so he went in a corner and pissed in a garbage can.

Apparently the next poker movie will be awful, too

I know nothing of this firsthand, but the entities of Wicked Chops Poker (the only poker blog I check daily, without fail) explain:

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Poker gems, #27

Jesse May, Shut Up and Deal, p. 65-66:

My friend and roommate Jimmy put it in perspective about two years later when he told me a story about one day down at the Taj Mahal when he was playing with Hot Mama Earl in a Hold’em game. Now Earl thinks Jimmy is some sort of superhuman… possessing some special knowledge about poker that’s way beyond him. At one point Jimmy does something stupid—I mean really stupid—like he calls before the flop with a hand that’s way bad against a guy who maybe hasn’t played a hand in a while. Calls the flop with nothing and then check-raises on the turn with almost zero except maybe some twenty-to-one-shot draw that miraculously makes a straight on the river, so when he flips his hand over at the end everybody’s eyes widen in disbelief, and the poor chump who Jimmy beat in the hand gets out of his seat to make sure he’s not seeing things. And Jimmy is keeping on his cool-rider face, but inside he’s laughing hysterically because he knows how lucky he just got. Jimmy’s not the sort to rub it in or show his emotions and admit that he made a stupid play so he’s just looking down and raking the pot, and meanwhile Earl is sitting across the table with stars in his eyes, enraptured, drinking it all in because he thinks he has just witnessed a world-class player making a world-class play and not an ordinary sod who just had a snake charm stuck up his ass. Later when Jimmy and Earl both happen to be walking to the bathroom together and they’re out of earshot of the other players Earl says, “Now I understand if you don’t want to give away too many secrets, but could you explain to me about that play you made with the ace-six?” And Jimmy wants to look Earl dead in the eye and say to him, Earl, sometimes I just don’t know what the hell is going on and I just do stupid things and get lucky. But Earl doesn’t want to hear that and he says, “No, stop. Don’t tell me. It’s probably too deep to understand.”

So Jimmy instead smiles and looks mysterious and says, “Poker is a very complicated game,” which is what Hot Mama Earl wants to hear anyway and he walks away thinking Jimmy is a poker god and Jimmy takes a deep breath and goes to the bathroom and tries to figure out how he’s going to get back the five thousand dollars that he’s stuck in this 75-150 Hold’em game and how the hell is it possible to be losing in a game where everybody is playing so bad. But luck is strange and the short run in poker is very unpredictable, so even though he’s tired from eight hours of poker and hurting and feeling like a good seafood meal and a nice cold beer and a long sleep, he freezes his face in his cool-rider mask and trudges back toward the table. But all anyone can see is a relaxed smile, dark glasses, and impeccable concentration. And Earl is able to walk away thinking poker is deep, mysterious, and romantic, wonderful to be involved in, and not base, crude, and filthy.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Poker gems, #26

Jesse May, Shut Up and Deal, p. 50-51:

Poker players keep ledgers because they need them. They need them to show that they got it all under control. But it’s never under control. No matter how many wins you got in a row, no matter what your hourly win rate is, no matter what. A few things go this way or that way and you’re sitting there counting your money, cursing under your breath, shuffling your chips, heart a-pounding, gasping for air, and making those questionable decisions when you’re stuck in a big game after twenty-four hours wondering what the fuck’s happening and why it’s going on now.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Poker gems, #25

Jesse May, Shut Up and Deal, p. 45:

I live in Vegas now, been here three months. It’s almost two years since I dropped out of college. I had classes on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, and our poker games were Monday and Wednesday nights. Irreconcilable differences.

Poker gems, #24

Jesse May, Shut Up and Deal, p. 37:

And now he’s telling me that he’s making the jump [to playing poker for a living] and what can I tell him about his play or the game or the big game and so on and is he good enough. And I say, “Jamie, all I can tell you is that it’s lonely out there, real fuckin’ lonely, and your play doesn’t matter so much as how tough you are and whether or not you fall apart.”

Walking away in the middle of a hand--not recommended!

Tonight at the Hilton I witnessed another very strange occurrence in a poker hand--a player walking away from the table, leaving behind his would-have-been winning hand, and thereby forfeiting the pot. This also reminded me of a somewhat similar event from last fall.

For those who want the Reader's Digest condensed version without slogging through the stories, here's the moral: If you walk away from the table, you can't win the money, even if you have the best hand! Nobody should be that stupid.

Story #1:

Three players were involved. I folded before the flop and was just watching. Marty is a solid, above-average player in seat 4. Two people I don't recognise are in seats 5 and 6. The flop is J-Q-x, with the two face cards both being spades. Seat 5 pushes all-in, and both opponents call him. Seat 5 then makes his first mistake by flipping his cards face-up, even though the other two players can continue betting into a side pot after the turn and river cards are revealed. I don't know if he didn't realize that two people had called him (his action would be fine against just one opponent, since nobody would have any decisions left to make), or he just didn't understand why he shouldn't do that. (People develop strange bad habits in their casual home games, and tend to bring them to the casino, where they cause trouble.) He has the A-4 of spades, for the nut flush draw, with no pair.

Marty and Seat 6 both check after the turn card and again after the river, both of which are blanks. But as soon as Seat 5 sees that he didn't make his flush on the river, he makes his second mistake: he turns and walks away from the table, without waiting to see the other players' hands or to watch the pot being awarded. I suppose he must have assumed that at least one of the other two players had him beat. This was, in fact, pretty likely, but you never know for sure what people are doing in this crazy game.

So then the next bizarre thing happens: Seat 6 mucks his cards without showing them. He certainly could determine that he didn't have Seat 5's ace-high beat, but Marty hadn't shown yet. This means that Seat 6 couldn't possibly know for sure whether he won or lost.* I think that Seat 6 didn't grasp the implication of Seat 5 walking away (that is, that he was effectively forfeiting any claim to the pot, even if he had the best hand).

Marty is sharp, though, and absolutely knew what that meant. He wisely turned his hole cards face-up after seeing Seat 6 muck. He had a measly 9-10 offsuit, no pair, so he would have lost to the ace-high of Seat 5. He had been going for the straight draw and missed. But he was the only player who (1) was still at the table, and (2) showed his hand to the dealer and the table--which meant that he was the only one to whom the dealer could possibly award the pot, no matter how terrible his cards were!** The dealer can't push the pot to an empty seat, nor to a player who threw his cards away without showing them when the claim to the pot is still undecided.

The story has a coda. Former Seat 5 actually walked only to the poker room entrance, then stopped, as if he wasn't sure what to do next. After the next hand had begun, he came back over and stood next to his friend in seat 9 to watch him play. Seat 9 informs him that A-4 was actually the winning hand, but that he couldn't be awarded the pot because he gave up and left.

Now we're into the second hand after the one in question. I see and hear Former Seat 5 talking to the shift supervisor, Ken, at the front desk. Ken had no idea what had transpired. A few things seem immediately obvious to me: (1) No matter what Ken learns, he's not going to be able to rectify the situation now; it's a pretty universal rule that a player forfeits all claim to a pot if he waits until the next hand is in progress to make his protest about whatever happened.*** (2) Former Seat 5 can only relate first-hand what he saw, and the rest he's going to be recounting second-hand, and it will probably get garbled in the process. Which means that (3) Ken is soon going to have to come over to the table and query the dealer about what happened. The dealer, while a very sweet woman, speaks English as a second language, and she tends to get flustered when she feels under pressure, and when that happens, she doesn't relate events in a clear, concise manner. In other words, if Ken comes over to investigate, it's going to be a huge mess, with everybody offering facts, observations, and opinions, and it will stop the game cold for a long time while Ken sorts it all out. Moreover, Marty will probably come under at least some social pressure to give Former Seat 5 what he (Marty) won in that hand, or maybe split it. I don't think he should have to do that or even get pressed into such a gesture.

I think I can prevent the impending argument, because I know exactly what happened, and what facts are pertinent to applying the applicable rules. (It does occasionally come in handy to have graduated from a poker dealer school and to have the odd hobby of actually reading boring poker rule books.) So I hopped over and told Ken the story as recounted above. Former Seat 5 didn't deny having left his seat before seeing his opponents' hands. Ken gently explained that there was no way to give him the pot after the fact. (I didn't stick around to hear the explanation, but I assume it included both the fact that the guy had essentially forfeited any claim to the pot by leaving the area, and the fact that they couldn't correct anything this long after the hand was over anyway.) Former Seat 5 appeared to acknowledge that he had screwed up, though I'm only surmising this by body language and gestures. Fortunately, he didn't make a big stink about it.

Story #2:

This occurred the first time I played at the Suncoast last October. A new person was coming to the table, and the previous player from that seat had behind left a glass and a bottle of whatever he was drinking. The new player's hands were full with his chips, so the player in the adjacent seat graciously stood up, picked up the leftover crap, and walked over to the wastebasket near the poker room entrance to throw it away.

The problem was that this guy was, at that very moment, in the middle of a hand with a big pot, being contested by multiple players! He WALKED AWAY FROM THE TABLE, so when it came to his turn to act, and he wasn't in his seat, the dealer assumed he intended to fold and had gone out for a smoke or something. (This is very common, unfortunately. People often don't wait for their turn to fold before getting up to go to the restroom, get a snack, smoke, or whatever. They just leave their cards, knowing that the dealer will have no choice but to collect them as folded. It's rude and against the rules, but they do it all the time anyway.)

He was livid to return to the table and find that the dealer had mucked his cards. He claimed (plausibly, I thought--though it doesn't make even a speck of difference whether he was being truthful) to have had a flush, and that he would have beaten the hand that had been declared the winner. Maybe he did. But if so, it just magnifies the stupidity of walking away. He could have at least told the dealer, "I'm just stepping away to clear stuff out for this new player, I'll be back in ten seconds." That would have prevented the problem. He ranted on and on for 30 minutes about it.

Every poker room I've ever played in has posted on the wall a list of house rules. Usually near the top of the list is the universal mandate that each player must protect his or her own hand--protect it, that is, not only from being seen by other players, but from a whole variety of things that can cause it to be declared dead.**** These include the dealer accidentally collecting the cards after erroneously thinking the player has folded, another player's discarded hand getting intermingled with the player's live hole cards, and the cards falling off the table.

Walking away from the table isn't doing a very good job of protecting one's cards. It was this guy's own fault, and he just wouldn't admit it. The dealer took pretty intense abuse from him and from a couple of other players who agreed with him. She was actually close to tears. I stayed out of the controversy, except to reassure the dealer privately later that it wasn't her fault.

Moral of the stories (reprise):

If you're so stupid that you walk away from the table when you have money in the pot and it is even remotely possible that you might win the hand at showdown, you deserve to lose. All you have to do is sit there! What could be easier?!

*Even if he has no pair and both of his cards are lower than what's on the board--which means that the five community cards are his final hand, and his hole cards are ignored--that might be true for the other remaining player, too, in which case they would split the pot.

**He probably could have claimed it even without showing, since one opponent had forfeited by leaving and the other had forfeited by mucking his cards. But Marty is smart enough to make it all clean and legal and straightforward, and not leave open a possible argument somebody might have for reclaiming the pot if it came to a floor person's decision.

***E.g., Cooke, Cooke's Rules of Real Poker, p. 75:

11.13 After Showdown. ...Once the dealer has commenced the shuffle for the next hand then all rights to a decision regarding the previous hand are forfeited.

****See also:

The Professional Poker Dealer's Handbook by Paymar, Harris, and Malmuth, p. 18 (emphasis in original):
1. Players must protect their own hands at all times. This may be the most important rule in all of poker. A hand may be declared "dead" if even one card touches the muck or if another player's card touches a hand that is not protected.... Although the dealer should be aware of only mucking discarded hands, a player who fails to take reasonable means to protect his or her hand usually has no recourse if the hand becomes fouled or if the dealer accidentally collects an unprotected hand.

Poker Tournament Directors' Association rules, #28:
Unprotected hands. If a dealer kills an unprotected hand, the player will have no redress and will not be entitled to a refund of bets.

Robert's Rules of Poker, Chapter 3, under "Irregularities":
2. You must protect your own hand at all times. Your cards may be protected with your hands, a chip, or other object placed on top of them. If you fail to protect your hand, you will have no redress if it becomes fouled or the dealer accidentally kills it.

Krieger and Bykofsky, The Rules of Poker, p. 242 (I don't know why this is only in their "Tournament rules" section; it would seem to apply equally to cash games):
9.35 Killing Unprotected Hands. If a dealer kills an unprotected hand, the player will have no redress and will not be entitled to his money back.

Cooke, Cooke's Rules of Real Poker, p. 75:
11.10 Protecting Interest in the Pot. A player with a hand he believes to be the winning hand is responsible to hold onto his own hand until the pot is awarded. No player with an interest in the pot should release his hand to the dealer until his portion of the pot has been pushed to him.

Addendum, February 28, 2008

Reader Darrell Davis emailed me the following note, with an interesting story similar to those above. It is posted here with his permission.

I have been reading your blog and see you sometimes recount other peoples
stories. Usually these are from people you know, not some anonymous internet
person, but I have a story that you might be interested in. It too involves a
dealer affecting the outcome of a hand.

I live outside of Dallas Texas. I normally play at Winstar Casino in
Oklahoma. They have a really nice 46 table poker room. I really like the place.
It always seems well run and efficient. But yesterday I had a hand that was

I was playing in a 1-2 NL game. The person to my immediate right had just
lost a big pot and was left with only $8. He did not rebuy. This player was a
regular and seemed extra familar to the current dealer. I don't remember his
name, but I will call him Ted.

The next hand Ted limped in for $2. I looked down to find KhQh and raised
to $12. I got 3 callers, including Ted all in for his remaining $6. This created
a side pot of roughly $16. The flop came Jack high with 2 hearts. It checked to
me and I made a continuation bet. One player at the other end of the table was
contemplating a call. While he was thinking, Ted said "that's not good" and
stood up and walked away behind me.

The other player eventually folded. The dealer quickly threw out the turn
and river which did not improve my hand. I was left with King high as was well
aware that Ted might have had a winning hand. The dealer pushed me the side pot
and then said "lets see them". I asked if Ted's hand was dead. He looked behind
me and said "Ted are you still in this?". I looked over my shoulder and saw Ted
at least 10 feet away talking to another dealer. Ted walked over towards the
table, still talking to the other dealer. He stood about 2 feet behind his chair
and the dealer said "lets see a winner".

I figured if I said anything else Ted would realize that he might have a
winner and turn over his hand anyway. So I went ahead and turned over mine.

The dealer announced "King high" and then asked Ted what he had. Now Ted
realized he had the winner. He came the rest of the way to the table and turned
over his hand for an Ace high to take the main pot.

I jokingly asked the dealer how long he would have waited for Ted to return
to the table before he would have killed his hand. He didn't get it. I was
tempted to call for a ruling from the floor, but I realized that this would
definately make me the bad guy at the table. I really like to play the good guy
image and didn't want to change that. I decided to just concentrate on the next

The hand didn't affect the bottom line too much, there was roughly $40 in
the main pot. But it was the most interesting hand involving a dealer that I
have been involved in.

I probably would have handled this about the same way. When the guy is still in the room within earshot, he hasn't quite abandoned his hand. It would seem kind of nit-like to try to insist that his hand be killed under those circumstances, especially when (1) the guy is already down, (2) it's such a small amount of money involved, and (3) you can call the player back to the table just as quickly as you can call the floor over to make a decision. But he was definitely pushing the limits of what can reasonably be tolerated before he is considered to have forfeited his interest in the pot, IMHO.

Some poker stories (non-grumpy content)

While looking for a story I wrote up for a friend last year (which I hope will be in my next entry), I came across this email (now slightly edited for clarity) with what I thought were pretty amusing stories that all happened to me in one crazy week last October. Enjoy.

1. "That guy couldn't feel any better..."

This week a California couple has been putting in mega-hours at Suncoast. They both get drunk early and stay that way the whole time they play. They’re really pretty annoying, because they flagrantly talk about the hand while it’s in progress and coach each other, and the casino staff won’t do anything about it, because they’re dropping thousands of dollars a day. They’re never paying attention, so they slow the game down terribly, because every time it’s their turn, the dealer has to catch them up on what’s happening. The woman, Kelly, is actually a decent player. But the guy, Rob, is awful—he’s never paying attention, and thinks the way to play is to make ridiculous bets and raises every time, because occasionally he’ll get a call when he has a monster hand, or pull off a big suckout with lucky cards coming. He must get such an adrenaline rush when those huge pots are pushed to him, because he’s willing to lose tons of money in the process. Obviously, decent players will just wait for a big hand, and when the stars are all lined up right, spring the trap on him.

So Monday night, I think it was, Player A is a guy who, I swear, talks exactly like Paulie Walnuts on the Sopranos. Player B is somebody I haven’t seen before, but he has been waiting and waiting and waiting for a chance to nail Rob for all his chips, and he finally does it. B quickly declares that he’s done playing for the day, because he just doubled his money. He packs up his chips and leaves. After he leaves the table, Player A says (and remember, you must hear the Paulie Walnuts voice in your head when you read this), “That guy couldn’t feel any better if he had just gotten a blow job!”

I usually try not to laugh at or otherwise encourage the many crudities and vulgarities that low-class poker players engage in, but it was just too perfect a line, in too funny a voice, and I almost fell out of my chair laughing so hard.

2. Inflicting a bad beat

I have put some truly sick beats on people for big pots recently. Last night, when one of three ultra-drunks sat down, he started throwing in big raises nearly every hand, and scaring people off. I picked up A-J on the button, and decided to play back hard at him to see if I could cool his jets. He raised, and I reraised. He called. Flop had a Q and two little cards--nothing to help me, really, but he checked, so I put in a pot-sized bet. He hesitated quite a bit (and he was way too drunk to be consciously doing that to disguise a big hand), but called. Turn was a 10, which I didn’t like at all, because he could easily have either a Q or 10 in his hand, and any pair would be ahead of me at this point. But he looked at the board for a long time, as though he didn’t like it much, and checked, so I pushed all-in. To my considerable surprise and consternation, he thought a while, then said, “Fuck it, I’m calling!” and pushed his chips in. Then the blessed K came on the river, giving me the highest possible straight. Turns out he had Q-9, so he had flopped top pair, which explains why he was willing to call. So because I caught one of the few cards left in the deck (any of four kings or three remaining aces) that could save me, I made over $200 on that hand instead of losing the same amount.

There was an audible gasp from the table when we turned over our hands at the end (in a tournament, you have to both turn over your hands as soon as the betting is complete, but in cash games you can wait until all the cards have been put out), and they realized that I had moved all-in with basically nothing, and sucked out. This was obviously startling because they had only seen me bet strong with strong, made hands. Several people all at once were saying, “I would have sworn he had pocket aces,” “I thought he must have flopped a set,” etc. But somewhat surprisingly, there was general approval and admiration: the consensus was “You’ve got a helluva lot of guts to do that,” rather than “Boy, that was stupid—don’t you know you can’t bluff a drunk, bad player off a hand?” I certainly should know that by now—it’s one of those lessons I’ve had to pay to learn more than a few times.

3. Inflicting another bad beat

I didn’t get enough sleep last night because I was playing so late, so around 8 pm tonight I was really hitting the wall. I was at the Orleans again, had started with $100, doubled it up, then lost a big hand when I had A-J and another A on the flop, but I didn’t recognize that an opponent had made two pair, so got knocked back down to about $100 again. I decided I’d play one more big hand, and then win or lose, I’d go home. But then I went card-dead. I waited 45 minutes for any decent hand to play, and nothing came. I was down to about $75, because of paying the blinds and calling a few pre-flop raises, only to have to dump the hand when nothing developed. Finally I decided that I would just have to pick two cards and play them as if they were aces, and hope for the best. I got J-3 of diamonds in late position, a real crap hand. But sometimes—especially if you have a strong, tight reputation and haven’t raised in a long time—you can get away with playing like you’re holding a big pair, even when you’re not. That’s what I decided to go for.

I raised to $12 and got five callers. Yikes! That’s not what I wanted! With five others seeing the flop, it’s going to help one of them for sure, and it will be hard to push him off the hand. Oh well—the pot was now big enough that it was worth taking a major gamble on winning it.

The flop is 10-8-3. I’ve got a crummy pair of 3s, and nothing more. But it’s checked around to me, so apparently nobody else liked it very much either, and I decide to go for it. I push in my last $60 or so. One guy calls. Crap! No matter what he has, it’s got to have me beat, because nobody would call that bet with a worse hand. Oh well, I went into this hand knowing that it might blow up on me, but I had made enough at the Hilton earlier that even if I bombed out here, I’d still be up for the day. Turn card was a 7, and the river a 9. I sheepishly turned over my cards to show that I just had the 3s.

I didn’t even realize what had happened until another player said, “Oh my God, he hit runner-runner straight!” Sure enough, there was a 7, 8, 9, and 10 on the board, plus my J for the straight. The other guy had had ace-ten, giving him top pair and top kicker on the flop—a pretty good hand for him to gamble on. He was, shall we say, unhappy when he saw how it had gone down. Oh well—as they say, that’s poker, and I’ve been on the bad end of crap just like that enough times that I don’t mind a little excessively good luck flowing my way now and then.

Besides, hands like that have powerful future value, even if I lose them. To the extent that I’m known just as a rock that only plays premium hands, it’s hard to get action. When people see that I can push just as hard with nothing as I do when I’ve got the goods, it makes them more likely to call me the next time I actually have the best hand. Having opponents completely unsure what I have is at least as good as, if not better than, just having them habitually run away because they’re convinced I have the nuts.