Saturday, December 15, 2007

On my non-iPod

I don't have an iPod. When I finally decided about a year ago that I could use some music while folding hand after hand after hand at the poker tables, I definitely wanted an MP3 player that used flash memory instead of a hard drive. Flash memory is more durable, has no moving parts, uses less battery juice, and is more compact. At the time (and perhaps still--I haven't checked) the largest capacity anybody made was 8 GB. There were two models available, an iPod and this one from SanDisk: The latter was quite a bit cheaper, so I went that way. I'm mostly content with it, though I know it's not as stylish or functionally elegant as Apple's offerings.

Anyway, it occurred to me today to post here occasional updates of new music I've acquired for my non-iPod. I will only include music that I think makes for good poker accompaniment. I'm not sure exactly what the criteria for that are, but some music that I like a lot just doesn't work well. For example, most good classical symphonic music (Beethoven, Brahms, Copland, Mahler, etc.) has so much range in volume that I'm constantly having to fiddle with the sound in order to keep the lows audible over the background casino noise, then turn it down again when it goes fortissimo. That's just too annoying.

I previously mentioned the last CD that I bought, a collection from Elvis's live performances at the Las Vegas Hilton from 1969-1972 (see Then somebody who likes me a lot bought me the "gold" version of the same album, which includes the bonus CD with the full recording of the first of those Hilton shows. Major smiles there. Elvis is, I think, the definitive music for poker.

Still, one needs some variety.

I got another new one this week, a Christmas present from my brother, and I'm already in love with it: "Begin To Hope" by Regina Spektor ( Best song of the set, already enshrined in my list of all-time favorites, is called "Better."
Turn up your computer speakers and enjoy:

Upgrades at the Orleans

Yesterday was my first trip to the Orleans in a long time--since July 15, to be exact. I was pleasantly surprised to see that they've done a few upgrades.

They used to have what appeared to me to be the second-oldest and second-crummiest tables in town, with bottom honors going to the El Cortez ( But now they have nice new ones, with a nicely padded edge. I wish they had also gone for built-in cup holders. More importantly, I can't figure out why they are still hit-and-miss on the Shufflemasters, some tables having them and others not.

They also spent some $$ on new chairs. These are very comfortable office-style seats with wheels, height adjustments, and backrest adjustments. For those who don't play poker a lot, it probably sounds like making a big deal out of nothing, but when spending an average of 120+ hours a month at a poker table, having a comfy place to park one's behind can make a huge difference in how pleasant or unpleasant the time is.

There is also now at the Orleans a half-wall around most of the poker room. It's possible that was there before, but I don't remember it, so I think that it's new. Too bad they didn't extend it all the way to the ceiling with plexiglas, the way that Harrah's is, to keep out noise and smoke from the slots area. Perhaps some day....

Gold Coast poker room and the rodeo

I'm trying eventually to get around to every poker room in town. After finally trying the Gold Coast yesterday, I'm up to 46 out of (as close as I can tell) 54 currently open rooms. (Yet to go: O'Shea's, Plaza, Hacienda, Rampart, Rio, and Poker Palace).

The Gold Coast is a crummy little room with little going for it. It's just an area in the middle of the casino, with full penetration of the noise and cigarette smoke from the surrounding slot machines. I've called there a few times hoping to catch a no-limit game, and they have never had one going. Yesterday there was one $4-8 table and two $2-4 tables. It's no worse than a lot of other places (e.g., Bally's, Tuscany, Texas Station), but no better, either. I just can't think of much reason I'd go back again.

The big annual rodeo is in town this week. Cowboy hats are everywhere. As I was leaving Gold Coast, I passed the bar and saw this group of six black hats standing together. They weren't very cooperative in arranging themselves so that they'd all fit in a cell-phone photo, so the blurry one above was the best I could manage. I'm not sure I'll ever understand the point of wearing cowboy hat and cowboy boots indoors. If you're going out on a cattle roundup, OK. But in a bar? What's the point?

Cruelest game ever invented

The poker gods have a sick, sick sense of humor sometimes.

I was playing at the Orleans yesterday. I picked up A-10 on the button, so I raised in order to thin the field a bit. The guy in the big blind had just recently caught me bluffing, and he called with the A-3 of spades, presumably thinking I might be on a steal again.

Flop was K-3-3. The BB slow-plays his three-of-a-kind. I check behind, rather than put in a continuation bet, primarily because of the recent failed bluff attempt. Turn card is a Q. Now the BB bets. I think he might be pretty weak and just trying to buy it--again because of the table image I've created for myself. Besides, I suspect that any ace or jack on the river wins it for me. So I call. The river is a lovely jack. With no possible flush, my Broadway straight (A-K-Q-J-10) ought to be good, because I think it's highly unlikely my opponent has quads or a full house.

To my astonishment, he moves all-in! I nearly beat him into the pot with my chips. He shows me the flopped trips that he unwisely slow-played. I show him the runner-runner straight that I managed to catch. He is disgusted, stands up, starts to walk away. The dealer calls him back, though, because it turns out that he had $10 more than I did.

On the next hand, I look down at the A-3 of spades--the same two cards my opponent had in the last hand. Literally the same two cards, because this table is not using an auto-shuffler, so it's the same deck. That's just too delicious to throw away, because I suspect that my former opponent is going to push his last $10 in with any two cards from the small blind. Sure enough, he does. I call and show him that I now have the very cards he just lost with.

He has--get this--the same A-10 that I had on the previous hand! So he is way ahead, right? He's about 3:1 to win this one. Or at least he is until the flop is A-3-x, giving me two pair. He doesn't improve, and I felt him. He calls me by a very rude term that involves my mother, and storms off. I can't help laughing.

That one-two punch is among the sickest, cruelest things I've ever witnessed.

But I'm keeping the money.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Poker gems, #57

Mike Sexton, in a tribute to the late Chip Reese, in Poker Player newspaper, December 24, 2007, issue, p. 27.

Years ago, I was talking to Chip about another Hall of Fame poker player that we lost too early, Stu Ungar. I asked Chip if he thought Stuey was the most talented player he had ever seen. Chip said, "Natural ability-wise, yes. Certainly he was the quickest minded guy I've ever known. Stuey's problem is that he doesn't understand the 'object of the game.' The object of the game is to accumulate wealth, improve your lifestyle, and provide for your family, and Stuey will never get it." Chip did.


Poker players always admired Chip for his success, his demeanor at the table, his lack of ego, and that he never steamed or went on tilt. I'd suggest we remember him for one guy who truly understood the object of the game.

Tropicana: The poker room with no rules

Just a couple of weeks ago, a reader emailed me privately to ask how I deal with it when another player gets so mad at me that I get physically threatened. I had to tell him that as far as I could recall that had never happened.

I spoke too soon.

But that's the second story of the post, so you'll just have to be patient before we get to it.


Back in October I posted here the story of the most unpleasant hour I've spent at a poker table, during my first visit to the Tropicana ( With the rodeo in town this week, I thought the Trop might be a spot where there would be a decent number of cowboys eager to give me their money (there weren't, as it turned out--lots of them playing slots, but not poker), so I decided to give the room another chance to impress me. It has been more than a year, after all.

Well, they didn't start off very well. There was only one table going when I walked in. There was nobody at the desk, but there is a poker table immediately adjacent to the desk, and three employees were sitting there chatting. I stepped over next to the table, thinking one of them would tell me about the waiting list status. They kept talking. All three of them looked up and caught my eye, then ignored me and continued chatting. (To be precise, one was reading a magazine, not talking.) Clearly they felt that it was not in their job description to acknowledge my existence.

After a couple of minutes the shift supervisor returned from wherever he had been and duly took my name for the list. It was only about another 10 minutes before a new game started, which isn't bad. But having three poker room employees see me standing there looking for assistance and then completely ignore me was not exactly a warm, friendly, way to start this room's second chance.

Verbal declarations are binding--well, maybe sometimes

Within the first hour of being moved from the newly opened table to the one that had previously been going (a move I requested, for reasons to be detailed later), I was involved in the first controversy. I had a big pocket pair. The player under the gun raised. He had been playing very loose, raising a lot, and bluffing a lot, so this didn't necessarily mean much. A player two seats to my right noticed this, and, before he touched his cards, smiled and said, "I'm going to raise you without even looking at my cards." He then picked up his down cards, thought a moment, and mucked them. I looked at the dealer to see if she was going to do or say anything, but she just collected his cards and looked at the next player to act, as if nothing unusual had transpired.

Well, I would welcome a raise in the dark by this guy, because I'm going to come over the top of him, and his chips will probably become dead money in the pot (i.e., money that is later abandoned by the person who put it in), because he will likely fold when the action gets back around to him. So I ask the dealer if verbal declarations are binding, and repeat the guy's words: "I'm going to raise." The dealer says that this doesn't mean anything, and besides, I have spoken up quickly enough that there has been no action behind, so nobody has been harmed.

This is complete BS, but I have the dilemma that I'm already giving away the information that I would have welcomed a raise in the dark, so I really don't want to press the point. The bigger a deal I make of it, the less likely I am to get any callers on my raise. So I drop it. But it's still complete BS.

The undead hand

I learned tonight that there are zombie poker hands: they're dead, but not really dead. They are the undead.

Let me explain.

One of the standard rules--in fact, universal, so far as I know--is that if one or more of a player's hole cards winds up on the floor by any means other than the dealer accidentally pitching it off the table during the deal, that player's hand is instantly, automatically dead. Period, no excuses, no questions asked. (E.g., Roy Cooke, Cooke's Rules of Real Poker, rule 16.12, p. 117: "A player's hand which is removed from sight or has a card dropped on the floor shall be declared dead. If a card falls to the floor for any reason other than being dealt off the table by the dealer, that player's hand is automatically dead.") This is part of a player's obligation to protect his hand. The rule is there because when a card is on the floor, all sorts of shenanigans can take place--switching it out for a different card, for example, or marking it for later identification, or holding onto it and not returning it to the dealer, in order to furtively re-introduce it (perhaps with another card "accidentally" on the floor) later.

I wasn't involved in the hand in question. Two other players were: one was a pleasant, calm, polite, middle-aged gentleman. The other was a highly volatile young man. I had noticed him while waiting for the table, and, in fact, even after I was seated in the new game I put in a request for a table change largely to be at the table with this hothead (let's call him "HH"). I had overheard him getting angry about minor things, and heard him tell a story about smashing his computer keyboard when he took a bad beat during online play. Just as importantly, I had heard him say that he was stuck about $800. A testosterone-fueled, adrenaline-pumped, aggressive, hotheaded, egotistical, volatile punk who is playing fast and loose, desperately trying to get back to even is like a juicy, ripe plum just waiting to be picked, and I wanted to share in the feast.

So anyway, the nice guy and HH get all their money in on a board of J-J-x-3-3. The pot is about $600. The nice guy shows first, and he has K-J. HH slams his cards down on the table face-up, and swears. Turns out he had A-J, so he would have won a huge pot if the board hadn't double-paired to give them both the same full house, with their kickers being irrelevant.

But, OOPS! When he slammed his cards down, he did it so forcefully that his jack bounced up off the table and onto the floor. He picked it up and put it back on the table. Everybody saw this--it wasn't exactly a furtive movement. (In fact, he had to walk around two other players to get to where it had landed.) The dealer said nothing, but just started to divide the pot in two.

I thought this was mighty strange. Either they don't have a house rule as per the usual convention of a card on the floor meaning a dead hand, or the dealer didn't know of such a rule, or the dealer was deliberately ignoring it. (She unquestionably saw the card go down and the player retrieve it.) Any of these three possible explanations is puzzling. So I asked her, "Do you have a house rule that a card off the table means a dead hand?" She said yes, then continued chopping the pot, as if the question had no relevance to what she was doing.

Well, HH heard me ask this, and nearly jumped out of his skin. "You mind your own business! You keep your nose out of my pot! You're not in this!" I replied that I simply wanted to know the house rule in case it came up in a future hand.

That was true. But I had two additional unspoken motives. First, in another recent post I explained that I think players who know the rules and see something happening that disadvantages another player who may not have enough knowledge, experience, or gumption to speak up in his own defense, have a general obligation to call attention to a situation, rather than sit quietly by and allow the rules to be broken. (See

But just as importantly, given how angry HH was about an unlucky card giving him only half of a huge pot instead of the whole thing, I knew that if he had to reliquish the entire pot because of a dead hand, he would be on Super Monkey Tilt (see, and extremely vulnerable to being fleeced. (He had a lot more chips than the nice guy, and would still have about $300 sitting in front of him to be taken away by non-tilters.)

The dealer was trying hard not to have to do anything about this situation. I quietly asked her if she could call the floor, please. She disregarded that request and kept counting chips, so I asked again. All the while, HH is getting angrier and angrier, as he senses the impending loss of the entire pot. Mr. Nice Guy isn't getting involved, just sitting quietly.

The dealer finally responds to my request and signals the floor person to come over. Now HH starts throwing out the actual threats: if he loses this pot because of my intervention, he's going to beat me to a pulp--various things in that vein. He is loud; everybody in the room hears this.

Floor guy comes over, and I ask my question again about a card on the floor meaning a dead hand. He affirms that that is the house rule. The dealer describes what happened. HH confirms it, but justifies himself on the grounds that it was an accident. (Well, duh--nobody who thinks they're winning the pot intentionally throws their cards on the floor. When this rule is resorted to, the situation is nearly always an accident.)

The floor guy is not exactly the most decisive character I've ever met. His final ruling is this: The hand is "technically dead"--his exact words--but if the gentleman (and here he gestures at me, apparently mistakenly thinking that I'm the other party involved) agrees to split the pot, we would allow that.

This is a terrible stance to take. It quite overtly puts the onus on the innocent player, along with a healthy dose of social pressure to give up half of a pot that is, by the rules, rightly his. The only correct way to handle this is with absolutely clarity: You tell the dealer to push the entire pot to the only player with a live hand. Of course, if that player, on his own initiative, wants to split the pot, he can speak up and say something, but it is wrong, wrong, wrong for the floor person to be the one suggesting that. He needs to declare the hand dead, award the pot, and deal with whatever the fallout of that decision may be (in this case, particularly, the inevitable emotional outburst from HH). Suck it up, dude; make a decision and make it stick. That's what you're getting paid for!

The nice guy does, in fact, agree to split the pot. Another player opines that that's the only right thing to do, and says that he would never claim the whole pot under such circumstances. He asks, "Would anybody here take the money over a technicality like that?" I don't say anything--because, really, what's the point?--but the answer is yes, I would, 100% of the time, absolutely, in a heartbeat, and without even a speck of guilt or remorse. I didn't throw the guy's cards off the table, he did that to himself, and the rules clearly specify the consequences. That is just as much a part of the rules that we're playing by as that three of a kind beats two pairs.

Anyway, after the floor guy walks away, HH continues his verbal tirade against me. I'm wearing a red sweatshirt, and among other things he says, "A lot more parts of you are going to be the color of your shirt if you stick your nose into one of my pots again! I will come over there and rip your heart out!" He's at the other end of the table, so this stuff isn't said quietly. The dealer hears every word, says nothing, does nothing.

I have to note that throughout this whole thing, I am not goading HH on. Other than my one-sentence explanation that I would like to know the house rule in case it comes up again, I did not address him, make faces at him, taunt him, or even look him in the eye. I just sat there, quietly asked my questions of the dealer and the floor person, and once the dealer finally spoke up to say what had happened, I said not a single additional word.

Talking about the hand in progress is just fine

HH had another trait that won't surprise anybody who has shared a table with his type before: He insisted on speculating aloud about other players' hands. The majority of the hands he was involved with would have him saying things like "I think you missed your flush draw," "I can't beat your pocket kings," "I know you're bluffing this time," etc., while there were still other players yet to act behind him. Just as with my first time at the Tropicana, no dealer in nearly four hours did anything about this--with one exception. One time, one dealer turned to him with her index finger to her lips in the "Shhhh" gesture, a warning which he instantly disregarded. Nothing more was said or done about this conduct the entire time. There were literally dozens of violations of this rule from this one player during my time there.

The conclusion

From my experiences tonight, I have learned these things about the Tropicana poker room:

1. Verbal declarations may or may not be binding, depending on the whim of the dealer.

2. You can talk about the hand in progress all you want.

3. When a player's hand is declared "dead," it's not really dead, it's just "technically dead," which means that it's still live if (A) the player that would be adversely affected makes a big enough stink about it, (B) the opponent is intimidated into forfeiting half of the pot, and/or (C) the floor person is a weenie who can't or won't make the only possible call according to the rules, and enforce it.

4. If one player loudly, openly, repeatedly, seriously, loudly, directly threatens specific physical harm to another player, in a manner that is heard clearly by both dealers and the floor person, absolutely nothing will be done to stop him, warn him, or punish him. Instead, the employees will act as if they heard nothing out of the ordinary.

I wonder if their house rule book is divided into two sections: the rules that will be enforced and the rules that won't be enforced. Maybe the latter are just labeled "suggestions" or "guidelines," because clearly they're not "rules" by any standard definition of that word.

My two trips to the Tropicana have both been quite horrible experiences, and both for the same reason: The poker room staff cowtows to loud, obnoxious bullies. It does nothing to discourage their antics, and, therefore, promotes such repugnant behavior. Apparently this kind of conduct is considered the norm there, since I have witnessed it two out of two times, and the employees all--yes, literally all--react as if it were an everyday occurrence, saying and doing nothing to stop it.

I can only conclude, as I originally did back in August, 2006, that the Tropicana has, for whatever strange reason, decided to cater to rude, obnoxious jerks--not only to tolerate their conduct, but to nurture and encourage it (because that is the natural, inevitable consequence of sitting quietly by). What I witnessed on my first visit was not an aberration, as the executive later tried to claim in his letter. It is, in fact, what goes on there daily, as far as I can tell.

It is one of the worst-run poker rooms in the city--and given the existence of places like Arizona Charlie's (, Jokers Wild (, and the El Cortez (, that's really saying something.

It's not a place I'm going to want to spend even another minute.

Addendum, December 14, 2007

Three commenters (see below) have all said basically the same thing: If I and everybody else saw the jack before it popped off the table, then isn't the hand-killing rule just being hypertechnical?

It's certainly true that if everybody has clearly seen the card before it goes sailing, there is a lot less reason to be concerned and deploy the death penalty. But that wasn't the case here. Apparently I told the story in a way that didn't make that clear, when I said that he had A-J and that he slammed his cards down face-up. So let me be more precise: He definitely slammed the ace down face-up, so I am assuming that the other card with it was face-up, too. I am also assuming that the other card that had been in his hand was the jack that he picked up off the floor. I can't claim to have seen that, though--all I saw was a blur of motion.

In fact, I don't know that anybody saw the card that went off the table before it went out of sight. Perhaps somebody did, but they would have had to be looking right at the spot on the table where he threw them, and have a quick eye, in order to see that card before it went to the floor. For all I know, he had an ace-deuce, and somehow picked the jack up off of the floor to show everybody. No, I don't really think that's what happened, but it's precisely the problem with cards on the floor--nobody knows. But if I somehow left the impression that everybody clearly saw what he had before the jack went flying, well, I hope this clears that up. During the ensuring discussion about how to handle the situation, not a single other player volunteered as a witness to say that he or she had clearly seen the card before it flew away. (On the other hand, the floor person didn't ask if anybody could vouch for what the card was.)

Another commenter says that he has not seen the death penalty imposed where he has played or worked. I certainly don't have any basis for saying that that is not so, and if he's right, then the rule may not be as universal as I have been led to believe. A card off the table is pretty rare--I think I've only seen it three times. But all three times it was declared dead, so my experience, slim as it is, matches the wording in Cooke's rulebook. I was also taught the same principle in poker dealer school.

I appreciate commenter Pete's reference to Robert's Rules of Poker. It was late last night when I was writing, and I was too tired to check all my usual sources for rules questions, so I overlooked that point. It's interesting and surprising. I'm going to email Mr. Ciaffone and ask him about that. If I get a reply, I'll post it here.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Don't argue with the floor person

One of the advantages of knowing poker rules pretty thoroughly--even the obscure ones that only get called into play on rare occasions--is that I'm never surprised about how some unusual situation is going to get resolved. If I'm involved in the hand, I don't have to divert my attention from the task of winning it, and if I'm not involved, I can just sit back and watch, without feeling the need to inject my opinion (because I know that my opinion doesn't matter). Players without formal training in poker rules, and without lots of table time logged (i.e., those who have learned to play on the Internet or in home games) tend to get blindsided by rules they don't know about, and it takes them off their game. Their reactions can be pretty funny and revelatory.

Here's an example of what I mean.

At least a few times a day in every poker room in the world, a dealer burns and turns too early. That is to say, the dealer mistakenly thinks the action is complete on a betting round when it actually isn't, and puts the next card face-up on the table. So then we have a problem. Whoever hasn't yet had the option to act on the flop can't very well be allowed to make that decision knowing what the turn card will be, when nobody else had that information.

There's a standard procedure for this situation, because, like I said, it happens with some regularity. The dealer really could handle it alone, but everywhere I've played the dealer is required to call the floor person over, who then instructs the dealer what to do. (Actually, this is one of the flaws in the system--to a novice, it looks like the floor person is making up a solution to the problem on the spot, when, in reality, they're going over a well-worn script.*)

At Planet Hollywood the other night, only two players were contesting a pot on the turn. Player A checked, B bet, and A check-raised without verbally announcing the raise--he just threw out a bunch of chips. The dealer noticed too late that the number of chips A put out was a raise rather than a call, and had the river card (a queen) out on the board before B was given a chance to respond to the check-raise.

Floor guy comes over, explains what's going to happen: The queen is taken back, reshuffled with the rest of the cards still in the dealer's hand (called the "stub," for those who want to impress their friends with their poker vocabulary). Player B is then allowed to make his decision about Player A's raise as if he hadn't seen that queen hit.

Well, B doesn't like this at all. He asks, "How is that fair? It wasn't my fault the last card got put out early!"

Now, this protest does two things, as far as I'm concerned. First, it tells me that this guy doesn't know casino poker very thoroughly, because he has obviously never encountered this situation before. Second, it tells me and everybody else at the table that he was indeed on a draw, and the queen was exactly the card he wanted (in this case, completing a fairly obvious straight draw). Of course, he could be putting on an Oscar-nominated performance, trying to sell his opponent on the idea that he needed that queen, when he already had a lock on the hand, but it sure looked like genuine frustration to me.

It was clear to me that he believed the floor person was just pulling an idea out of thin air as to how to resolve the situation, and that maybe he could persuade him to come up with some other solution that didn't involve retracting the queen. My speaking up would have just poured gasoline on the flames, but I really wanted to tell him, "Look, pal, arguing about it isn't going to get you anywhere. What he's telling you is absolutely standard, by the book, and if he were so inclined, he could even take you into the poker room manager's office and show you the procedure book, where it's written down just the way he's describing it. You might as well save your breath and everybody's time and just accept that that's how it's going to be."

The ending of the story was actually pretty funny--to everybody except poor Player B. He finally folded, but just had to get some nasty verbal shots in at Player A, saying that if they hadn't treated him so unfairly as to take back that queen, he would have won the pot. "You just got lucky that the dealer screwed up!" Then Player A, as he's scooping up the chips, quietly turns over his hole cards, revealing that he had flopped a full house! Player B had been drawing dead, and unquestionably would have lost all his money if the hand had played out with him hitting his straight on the river. It was a beautiful thing to see, the angry SOB suddenly cowed into silence by being shown how utterly misplaced his rage was. I admit it--I laughed. I couldn't help it.

Anyway, despite that delightful ending, the point is this: Don't argue with the floor person. I've seen them called over for dozens of disputes, maybe hundreds by now, and I've never once seen a player argue his way into a different decision. Occasionally there is some pertinent fact that doesn't get conveyed right at first, which properly changes the decision when brought to light. But if you're just trying to argue about what you think is fair, or what you do in your home game, or what you just know the rules of poker require, you're tilting at windmills. Even on the rare occasions that a floor person makes an incorrect decision (and it really is rare), they're stubborn as an ox about it, and you might as well argue with a brick wall. All it does is reveal that you're out of your element and you're out of control.

Of course, as usual, the people who really need this message are not readers of my humble words of advice.

Just for fun, here's an interesting video of a controversial hand at a recent big-money tournament: The reason it's interesting is that both Chau Giang and J.C. Tran, among the best professional players in the world, both misunderstand the applicable rules, as demonstrated in their interviews here. The dealer was exactly right (except that she probably should have called the floor over before doing anything--but she would have been told to proceed exactly as she did, for sure), and the tournament director explains the rule correctly. Point being that even many highly experienced players don't know all the rules, so even when pro players think that the floor person is wrong, it's often the players themselves who are wrong.** (Note also how the weaselly, low-life scumbag jerk that got away with murder here lies through his teeth about what happened.)

*I don't blame casinos for requiring the floor person to take over, for two reasons. First, some dealers get flustered at having made the mistake, and compound the problem by making additional mistakes, so it's helpful to have somebody watch the next steps closely. Second, even when the situation is handled exactly by the book, it's volatile, and at least one player is often left fuming, so it's good to have the floor guy already there to deal with it, rather than having the dealer take all the heat. My point isn't that they shouldn't get the floor involved, just that the solution to the problem is so standardized that an experienced dealer could just follow the recipe by himself.

**Not always, though. There have been stories coming out of the WSOP the last couple of years about floor decisions that really do sound like bizarre rules were being made up on the fly. And at the World Poker Open at the Gold Strike casino during season 4 of the World Poker Tour, the tournament director made a bone-headed decision (that a player who announced a raise wouldn't actually have to raise) in front of the cameras. But in ordinary casino poker, any floor person is far, far more likely to know the correct rule or procedure than the average player.

Faux betting lines

Some poker rooms have a line on the felt, and chips pushed forward aren't considered legally bet unless and until they cross that line.* The traditional rule, before a recent vogue of betting lines, was that forward motion with chips constituted a bet.

I don't care a whole lot whether a place uses a betting line or just the standard forward-motion rule, though on the whole I tend to think that betting lines cause more problems than they solve, and open more room for angle-shooters than they close, as expressed in this rant by Paul Phillips:

But I am baffled beyond words by the handful of poker rooms that have designed into the poker table felt what looks for all the world like a betting line, is assumed by all the players to be a betting line, and gets treated by the players as a betting line, only to have a dealer at some point in the festivities point out that it is not, in fact, a betting line. No, it's only decoration that happens to look exactly like a betting line.

It is no coincidence that I chose a photo of a Planet Hollywood table to illustrate this post. I was reminded of this gripe by playing there Saturday night. You can see in the picture what would look like a betting line to anybody who has seen them used before. But PH is far from the only guilty party on this point.

Listen up, poker room managers: If you don't want to have betting lines used in your facility, and you don't want players to assume that there are betting lines in use, then, maybe I'm just crazy to think this, but here's an idea: DON'T DESIGN INTO YOUR POKER TABLES WHAT LOOKS LIKE A FRIGGIN' BETTING LINE!!!

And you want to hear a wrinkle on this that's even worse? I was playing at Sam's Town tonight. I've only played there twice before, so I don't have the house rules down pat. The line on the table looked to me like it was probably mere decoration, because it was unusually far inboard--that is, one had to reach an unnaturally long way to reach it, suggesting to me that it wasn't really used as a betting line. When it was my turn to put out a blind, I put it at a normal spot in front of me, several inches short of the line, and asked the dealer, "Is that a betting line, or is it just decoration?" The oh-so-helpful dealer said, "Yes." I politely asked for clarification. He said he really didn't know, that when he had asked that himself in the past, he got told different things by different shift supervisors, so he didn't want to commit himself on whether it was a betting line or not, and if there was a problem or I wanted a definite answer, he'd just call the floor person to answer it.

Gee, thanks. Nice to know you can count on the dealer to clear up any ambiguities like that. Hey, pal, are you also a little unclear on whether a flush beats a straight or the other way 'round? I mean, I can sympathize that it would be strange to be told different things on different shifts, but if that happens, then for heaven's sake, take the initiative and go to the poker room manager to get it set in stone one way or the other. I understand that as a dealer you're the low man on the totem pole, but have some pride in your work, dude! If you see a problem, do what you can to get it rectified, rather than say, "It's not my job," and wash your hands of it. You would be doing every employee and every patron a favor by getting it cleared up--and you'd make your own job easier, too. Rather than having to repeat the speech you gave to me every time somebody asks, you could confidently say, "It's a betting line," or "It's just decoration," be done with it, and move on.

*Some places, mostly run by Nazis, say that every chip that crosses the line is automatically bet, even if you don't release it. That is, you have a stack of ten chips in your hand because you were shuffling them; you reach across the line and drop one chip from the bottom of the bunch to constitute a call; you bring your hand back with the other nine chips still in it; and then WHAMMO, you're informed that you just raised the entire amount that is in your hand, because "they went across the line." What makes this kind of house rule even more retarded is that it is never enforced consistently. There will always be some dealers who enforce it every time, some who completely ignore it, and others that will enforce it only if another player asks them to, which basically means that you get a new set of rules every 30 minutes, or at least every shift change (because the floor people are just as inconsistent about it as the dealers). Nazis, every last one of 'em.

Seat change buttons

What is so freaking hard about a poker room buying a couple of lousy seat-change buttons for each table?

Again, for those who don't waste all their time in casinos, a bit of background. People often want to move to a different seat at a poker table. This can be to get strategic positional advantage over a difficult opponent, to sit where they can see the community cards better, to get a better view of the football game on TV, because they think seat 9 is the lucky one, or whatever. In most places, you just ask the dealer for a seat-change button, which he pulls out of the tray and tosses your way. Then when a seat opens up, that person has first dibs on whether to move to it. If it's not the one he wants, the seat is open for whoever wants it (really smart places also have a "second seat change" button), and the guy with the button gets first crack at the next opening. It's a very simple procedure, with little room for disputes breaking out.

But for reasons that I have never been able to figure out, some casinos don't use them, and the situation is reduced to a free-for-all. Player A tells a dealer, "I'd like seat 7 when it opens up." The dealer says OK, but by the time seat 7 becomes available, two more dealers have rotated through, and three players have left and been replaced by others. Now Player A picks up and starts to move to seat 7, thinking it's his God-given birthright, but a newer player, who wasn't around when the intial land claim was filed with the long-gone dealer, asks, "Can I move to seat 7?" The dealer, having no idea about previous discussions, says, "Sure," and now you've got the makings of a dispute.

You know how the whole Israel-Palestine thing basically comes down to claims about whose ancestors were there first? Well, you get the same kind of problem with seats at a poker table. The new player is, as far as he knows, the first to have asked for the seat. The guy who's been waiting for two hours to get there certainly feels entitled to it. And it becomes a big mess.

The whole thing can be avoided by a stupid, dinky little plastic disk that says "First seat change" on it, plus the investment of three seconds to ask and receive it. Done. Settled. Problem avoided before it begins.

So why doesn't every casino take advantage of this? Flamingo, I'm talking to you. Planet Hollywood, I'm talking to you. (There are lots of others equally guilty, but I'm sufficiently vague in memory as to where I've seen this conflict erupt that I don't want to put down other names here, for fear of being in error.)

Just get the damn seat-change buttons and start using them, OK?

Horrible casino music

Speaking of Planet Hollywood (as I just was in the last post), who was the executive who signed a contract for the horrible singer they have in lounge adjacent to the poker room? He's unbearable. He's far worse than a karaoke bar would be. He's been there for months, with no sign of stopping. I can't believe that somebody auditioned him and thought, "My God, what TALENT! Quick! Sign him up before somebody else nabs him!"

Another player had a cogent observation about all the people that were there listening to him. These idiots apparently looked over all of the entertainment options this city has to offer, and decided on this. They thought: "Blue Man Group? No. Penn and Teller? Nope. Barry Manilow? Naw. Maybe a Danny Gans or Gordon Brown kind of thing? Not this trip. Phantom of the Opera? Huh-uh. One of the Cirque shows? Naaaa. No, instead, let's go see if that really bad singer is still down at Planet Hollywood, and waste our time there! Yeah, that's the ticket!"

Hey, PH, listen up: This guy is really, really awful. What's more is that he's so loud that I can't drown him out with my iPod. Please can him. If you signed a contract, buy out of it. Or just don't give the guy a microphone for his routine.

The converse problem: Dealers who are under-involved

First, a word about how "absent" buttons work, for those who aren't degenerates practically living at poker tables, like I do. Most casinos rotate dealers among the tables every 30 minutes (some places every 20). When a new dealer sits down, he is supposed to put a button reading "absent" at every seat where there is a stack of chips but no player. That player may be off at the restroom, eating, placing a sports bet, whatever. When a dealer puts the third "absent" button down, he is supposed to inform the floor, because that means that the player has been gone for at least 60 minutes and maybe as much as 90. If there's a waiting list for that game, the floor person will pick up and store the chips, and give the seat to a new player. Obviously, for this system to work, the dealers have to be diligent about the absent buttons, because it's impossible for anybody to keep exact track of how long any particular player has been away.

At Planet Hollywood Saturday night, a player had been gone for an hour easily before, at a dealer change, we noticed that there was no absent button. The outgoing dealer admitted that she was pretty sure the seat had been empty for her entire down, but she had forgotten to put an absent button out, so the incoming dealer put out two of them.

After the first dealer walked away, the new dealer told the table, "You always have to remind the dealers to put up the absent buttons, because the dealers here are really laid-back."

Oh, so I have a duty to remind you to do your job, do I? Well, sir, I disagree. It's no more my responsibility to remind you to place absent buttons appropriately than it is to remind you to count the chips and cash in the tray to be sure you're not short, or to remind you to signal the desk when a seat opens up, or to remind you to stop players from string-betting, or to remind you how many cards you're supposed to deal to each player, or to remind you to enforce the one-player-to-a-hand rule. Read my lips (so to speak): THAT"S WHAT YOU'RE THERE FOR! THAT'S WHAT YOU'RE GETTING PAID TO DO!

Being "laid-back" is nothing more than a euphemism for (1) laziness, (2) incompetence, and/or (3) timidity--not wanting to risk getting the absent player angry at you for placing the absent button. I can't think of a single decent reason that I should excuse a dealer for any of those three reasons for not doing his or her job.

Another dealer who can't keep out of the action

After writing twice recently about dealers who can't resist the urge to insert themselves into the game ( and, tonight at Sam's Town I saw another variation on the theme.

This time, a woman raised before the flop, then bet out on the flop and again on the turn, after which the dealer commented, "She's betting like she really has something!"

Yes, again, it's a pretty obvious conclusion to draw, but, again, it's wholly improper and unprofessional for dealers to act as if they're TV commentators talking to an audience.

Dealers, it's really simple: Keep the f*$%# out of the action! Is your job so boring that you just can't bear not being part of the game?

Sunday, December 09, 2007

A poker observation, from sad experience

The all-in bluff works just often enough to present a recurring temptation to deploy it, but not often enough to actually be profitable.

What's up with the dealers this week???

Two days after I griped about a dealer improperly injecting himself into the game by announcing a possible royal flush ( it happened again!

Today it was at Planet Hollywood. The dealer wasn't wearing a nametag, or I'd shame her the same way as with the previous incident.

The flop had the A and 3 of spades, and the 2s came on the river, whereupon this dealer said "Jackpot!"

What's up with this crap?