Friday, November 23, 2007

The return of Mr. Obnoxious

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a story from about a year ago about having to call the clock on a chronically foot-dragging player ( Here's an email I wrote not too long after that one:

So you’ll remember the story about the personality-disorder guy arguing about the “clock” rule from a week or two ago? I hadn’t been back to the Golden Nugget since then, until tonight. And just my luck, I got seated on his left.

One of the fundamental rules of poker is that nobody can help any player make a decision. A corollary of this is that you can’t talk about the hand while it’s in progress, because anything you say might influence another player’s decision. Soon after I sat down, the first four community cards on one hand made a possible straight flush. One player said, “Ooo, somebody might have a straight flush.” After the hand, I gently pointed out that he shouldn’t say things like that, because it’s always possible that somebody in the hand hasn’t recognized that possibility, and pointing it out helps him, or changes what decision he would have made. The player was very polite, acknowledged that he shouldn’t have said it, and that was the end of it.

Maybe an hour later, a different player folded to a raise on the river, and while folding said to the person who had raised, “I’m folding because I think you hit your straight.” There were still two other people left to act. Again, after the hand was over I pointed out that that comment could affect how the hand plays out, and the dealer chimed in reminding the table not to talk about the hand while it’s in progress. Again, the offender said, “You’re right, I forgot that others were still in the hand. I’m sorry.”

A short time later I raise with AJ. There is one caller. The flop is Q-8-2. The Obnoxious Guy says (ostensibly to the player on his right, who is not in the hand, but loud enough that I could hear it), “Goddammit, I threw away my hand. I had queen-eight.”

Now, I want to bet at this hand even though the flop missed me. I want to represent that either the flop helped me, or my hand is strong enough that I didn’t need help (i.e., AA or KK). Fortunately for me, the opponent is an 80-ish guy who I’m pretty sure didn’t hear the comment. But you can see how it would influence his decision about calling. If he knows that two of the cards I might be holding that would have been helped by this flop were folded by another player, it makes it much easier to call with a mediocre hand, when I really want him to fold. That is, it makes it harder for me to successfully bluff at the pot.

Fortunately, however, he did fold. As I was stacking the chips, I asked the dealer to call the floor person (supervisor) over. I told the floor guy that since I had been sitting there, the table had been cautioned twice about discussing a hand in progress, and in spite of that, Obnoxious Guy announced that he had folded Q8 when there was a Q8 on the flop. Obnoxious Guy says, “So I said it a little too loud. So what?”

Floor guy says, “OK, rack up your chips. You’re done for the day.”

OG: “I didn’t do anything!”

Floor: “Pack it up. You’re done.”

OG: “Just give me a warning.”

Floor: “No. We warn you about the same thing every day, and you keep doing it every day. No more warnings.”

Aha! So I’m obviously not the first one to complain about this. He's a serial blabber, and there's no doubt that he knows it's against the rules. The first two offenders just weren't thinking, either not knowing the rule or temporarily forgetting it. I'm quick to forgive such infractions. But when somebody does it in full knowledge of the rule, after many previous warnings, my compassion and tolerance is exactly zero.

So OG is racking his chips, and snarls at me, “Thanks a lot, pal.” I say, “Hey, it’s a simple rule. Just follow the rules and there wouldn’t be any problem.”

After he leaves, two other players and the dealer all thank me for speaking up about him. Once again, apparently he annoys everybody. I don’t understand why the other players and dealers aren’t more assertive about enforcing the rule, if he’s violating it that often.

Why does the world have to be filled with jerks?


Just a note added in retrospect: My thanks to the floor guy (whose name, I'm sorry to say, I don't recall) for acting so definitively that night. I haven't run into OG since then. I wonder if being booted out finally got his attention.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Poker gems, #54

Gabe Kaplan, on GSN's "High Stakes Poker," commenting on Patrick Antonius's open shirt: "Well, when you play good poker, you gotta show a little cleavage."

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

World record house of cards

The only possible thing to say is "Wow."

Poker gems, #53

Doyle Brunson, in GSN's "High Stakes Poker," November 19, 2007. For context, it should be noted that the game is extremely loose and wild, and in the hand being played when Doyle speaks up, there has been an unprecedented check, bet, check-raise and re-raise in the dark on the flop before the dealer even puts out the three cards:

If my daddy knew I was losing in this poker game, he'd come out of the grave and beat the heck out of me.

Poker gems, #52

Gabe Kaplan, on GSN's "High Stakes Poker," November 19, 2007:

There is no crying in baseball, and there is no mercy in poker.

Monday, November 19, 2007

"Gaming" and "gambling"

Over the weekend, I spent some time reading about last week's congressional hearings about online gambling. Among the predictable gripes from the enemies of anybody having any fun is always the accusation that the word “gaming” is an industry euphemism, devised to avoid the unseemly overtones of the word “gambling.” It is dishonest, they say, to call it "gaming."

That canard came up again in the context of this hearing. Annie Duke, after testifying at the hearing, engaged in an online chat sponsored by the Washington Post. See The very first question submitted was this:

Gaming? GAMING? Where I come from, playing for money -- on the Internet or elsewhere -- is called GAMBLING. And that's okay by me, but why do you insist on calling it "gaming"? How can you have an honest debate when you don't use honest language?

This person is either deliberately misrepresenting the facts or, more likely, is just ignorantly repeating something he or she has heard, without bothering to investigate it.

In fact, “gaming” is a much older term. I learned this from “The Gambler’s Guide to Taxes,” by Walter L. Lewis. An appendix in that book reproduces a short essay by Basil Nestor, in which he traces the history of both words. (I'm not sure why the essay is in a book on taxes, since it has no real bearing on that subject, but I'm glad I found it anyway.) Here's the Reader's Digest condensed version:

“Gambling” was not even a word in English when Shakespeare wrote "Hamlet," in which the title character, who plans to kill his uncle, says that perhaps he should do it when his uncle was “at gaming, swearing, or about some act that has no relish of salvation in’t,” rather than when the man was praying (Act 3, Scene 3).

“Gambling” still hadn’t been coined when the Statute of Anne (1710) declared legally unenforceable any debts arising from “gaming or playing at cards, dice… or by betting….”

George Washington in 1778 noted that “gaming is again creeping into the Army” and therefore prohibited cards and dice, whether played for money or not.

When the term “gambling” finally arose in the early eighteenth century, reports Nestor, it clearly had the connotation of cheating—a game that was covertly fixed against the player—as opposed to “gaming,” which signified honest wagering.

So now you know.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Comedy club (non-poker-related content)

When I get show tickets for free (sign up at, if you live in the Vegas area), I think it's a nice gesture to give a little plug here when it turns out to be a good one. This week I caught a guy named Brad Upton at the "L.A. Comedy Club" at Palace Station ( I thought he was very, very funny--had me laughing almost all of the way through his set. Frankly, the emcee and the warm-up acts were lame, and they got me thinking that the whole thing had been a colossal waste of an evening. But then Upton came out and hooked me right away. He's well worth going to see, if you get the chance.

I can't really tell you anything more about it, because how do you describe a comedian--other than repeating some of his material, which would ruin the show for you--beyond saying that he's really funny? So I'm stuck just saying, "He's really funny." I hope that's enough. Oh, wait--I do know another point to make about him. When I recall several of his lines and bits, I don't just smile or think how clever he was, but I actually start laughing out loud again just from the memory of it. That doesn't happen for me very often with comedians. There. That's the best endorsement I can think of.

Now go get your tickets.

What's done is done

As I've mentioned previously (, I think Phil Laak is one of the most interesting professional players to watch and read about. But though he's smart and, for the most part, highly rational, he occasionally reveals bits of unexpected irrationality.*

On an episode of "Cash Poker," (from which the above screenshot is taken), Phil initially limps in, along with several others. Then a player behind him puts in a large raise. Phil folds, as does the player on his left. Phil then says to the other guy who folded, "This is where you pray the flop doesn’t connect you, now that you’ve folded. This is the time for a small prayer."

I've heard this sort of comment many times before. For example, players are raising and re-raising each other before the flop, and a third player drops out of the action after the bets get too high for him. The two remaining players both get it all in, and the last one who folded announces that he mucked pocket 7s, and says, "Dealer, don't you dare put another 7 out there on the flop." Sometimes, when there is betting yet to come after the flop, a player who folds to a raise will not declare what he had, but will still give a generic warning to the dealer: "You had better not put out the cards that would make my hand."

This is insane! After you've folded, it can't possibly make any difference to you what community cards get revealed. A decision to call or fold before the flop isn't made retroactively correct or incorrect based on what three cards the dealer puts out. It was correct or incorrect based on the strength of the starting hand, your position, the number of opponents, your table image, your read on opponents' strength, the size of the pot, the size of the raise, and a myriad of other factors. But what happens after the point at which you have to make the decision is utterly irrelevant to any rational assessment of whether the decision to fold was correct.

I assume that Phil's implication is that if cards come on the flop that would have made him a powerful hand, had he stayed in, he will regret his decision to fold. That's ludicrous. Why would you chide yourself for not taking into account information that is unavailable at the time you had to decide what to do? Would you pride yourself on being a great player if you called a big raise with 7-2 and the flop was 2-2-7? I should hope not. So then how can it make sense to kick yourself for folding the 2-7 when that flop hits?

It's perfectly natural to see a flop that would have turned a garbage hand into a stealth monster and think something like, "I wish I could have my cards back." But you know that isn't how the game is played, so you shrug your shoulders and let it go.

(You might also take the opportunity to look back at your decision to fold and re-evaluate whether it was the smartest move, given the information you had at the time--not given what the flop was. The reason this is smart is that, if you conclude again that it was the right play, you can give yourself a little mental pat on the back to counteract what might otherwise be the insidious tendency to remember the 2-2-7 flop the next time you look down at 7-2, and play it in the futile hope of history repeating itself. I find that reassuring myself that my fold was correct helps neutralize any temporary sting of regret that I feel when the would-have-been miracle flop comes.)

However natural it is to feel a momentary twinge of regret for the mathematically and strategically correct fold that, in retrospect, would have been a lucky spot for an unorthodox pre-flop call, it strikes me as completely ridiculous to think--let alone say out loud--that you hope the flop isn't one that would have helped you. What, you can't handle that twinge of remorse, so you have to pray, beg, and threaten the dealer that circumstances don't come up that will cause you to feel it? That's just childish. Grow up already.

When I was in fifth grade, our class learned and performed a highly abbreviated (like, 30 minutes, I think) version of Shakespeare's "MacBeth." It was a great experience for me, especially since I landed the title role. I've never forgotten many of the lines I had to memorize back then, even though it has now been about 35 years.

After MacBeth has murdered King Duncan, in order to assume the throne himself, he is tormented by guilt. His wife, Lady MacBeth, says to him (Act 3, Scene 2),

How now, my lord! why do you keep alone,
Of sorriest fancies your companions making,
Using those thoughts which should indeed have died
With them they think on? Things without all remedy
Should be without regard: what's done is done.

Even more famously, later Lady MacBeth herself becomes unhinged, and starts sleepwalking, reliving in her dreams the night that she pressed MacBeth to kill the king in his sleep (Act 5, Scene 1):

To bed, to bed! there's knocking at the gate:
come, come, come, come, give me your hand. What's
done cannot be undone.—To bed, to bed, to bed!

You can't go back and unfold your hand. You can't make your decision whether to play based on what the unknowable flop is going to be. Therefore, it's silly to anguish over having made a correct decision. It's even sillier, in anticipation of such regret, to make threats or propitiations in an attempt to prevent seeing a flop that will trigger such anguish. It is a "thing without all remedy," and "should be without regard."

Regular readers know by now that I'm not particularly keen on the idea that prayers at the poker table are of any efficacy. (See and As irrational and embarrassing as I think it is to offer up prayers to try to affect the outcome of a hand that one is in, it is ten times more foolish to offer them up to try to affect the outcome of a hand that one has already exited.

*I'm obviously aware that he's eccentric and does strange things. Some of that, I'm sure, is for show, and some is just his oddball personality. But peculiarity does not equal irrationality, and here I'm only talking about the latter trait.