Saturday, December 29, 2007

Rake collection boxes

The photo above was taken at Fiesta Henderson, but it could have been anywhere, because all casinos seem to do things the same way, as far as I can tell. When it's time to change the rake collection boxes, a security guy comes around to the poker tables and leaves a new, empty box at each table. They come back later to pull the full box out of its slot in the table and insert the new one. The problem is that the empty boxes are often left sitting out for a long time--10 or 15 minutes, anyway.

For a long time I wondered why they used this two-stage procedure. Finally I asked and somebody explained it to me--it's something about minimizing the amount of time that the cart that carries the boxes has to remain open.

But I can't tell you the number of times I've seen players and employees (particularly dealers) trip over those damn boxes. They leave them right between/behind the dealer and the ten seat, and with carpet patterns being what they are, they're not always easy to see. (You can see one in the foreground above, and another in the background.)

I would be very surprised if there has not already been a significant injury (broken hip or ankle, maybe) and a resultant lawsuit in some casino over this practice. It's an obvious hazard.

Surely somebody can come up with a way to handle changing the boxes securely without leaving objects on the floor that people trip over. I don' t know the needs or inner workings of casino security, so any suggestions I might have would probably miss something significant. But I know that there has to be a better way, even if I can't identify exactly what it is.


(Blegging, for those not in the know, is the term for using one's blog to beg readers for help with something.)

I have chronic problems with line spacing in this blog. See, for example, the post on Fiesta Henderson below; somehow inserting that block-quotation paragraph made everything above it double-spaced (or maybe it's 1 1/2 spaces), and everything below it single-spaced. But I can't spot the bits of HTML code that are the problem, because I know very little about such things.

If somebody is very handy about web matters and can quickly dissect the page code and tell me where it's fouling up, I'd appreciate it. But please don't spend much time on it; it's a pretty minor annoyance and not worth slaving over for hours.

The smallest poker room in Nevada

I've mentioned several times recently that I'm trying to eventually play at least once in every poker room in the Las Vegas area. I listed the ones I have yet to try (though I realized later that I forgot to include the famous Speedway Casino in that list!), and a reader pointed out to me another one that I had overlooked. In fact, I had never even heard of it: Railroad Pass.

I literally did not know that the city of Henderson stretched out this far to the southeast. Click on the map above for a larger version, and you'll see that it is right on the border between Henderson and Boulder City. I had thought that Club Fortune (see was about as far as you could get in Henderson, but Railroad Pass is another three miles past that! It was 22 miles from there back to my apartment just off Fremont street downtown.

See that picture of the poker table above? That's not in the Railroad Pass poker room. It is the Railroad Pass poker room. One table, plus a couple of signs, in the middle of the casino. With nobody staffing it at 11:00 on a Friday night. That's a small room. It would be hard for any room to be smaller.

Can't say much of anything else about the place. This may be a severe obstacle to my long-term goal. With the place so far away and with poker actually being played there so infrequently (apparently), it may be a l-o-n-g time before I sit down to a game at Railroad Pass.

Let's have a Fiesta!

I had only played poker at Fiesta Henderson once before tonight (on May 25, 2007, to be exact, according to my records). There wasn't much to impress me--all locals, only two tables going on a Friday night, and those were a $2-4 game and a $3-6 game.

But there's a new sheriff in town. Fiesta hired James Klosty just before the Hilton poker room closed, and he also took with him Ken Franco, who had been a shift supervisor at the Hilton. So I thought I would check in to see how they were doing, and what they might have done with this little room.

The good news

I have to say I was favorably impressed. I was surprised at all of the promotions they have going, because I usually expect to see announcements of such things in print. Tight advertising budget, I gather. But they have progressive high-hand jackpots (capped at $599 for quads and straight flushes, uncapped for royal flushes, with the club royal currently over $2000), a progressive bad-beat jackpot (aces full of tens beaten by four-of-a-kind or better; currently at over $20,000); and a weekly $1500 freeroll tournament for just ten hours of cash-game play. James told me that they give more back to players through these promotions than any poker room on the Strip, and that's quite plausible.

Another one will be starting soon. Since details haven't been made public, I'll just give you a hint of it: 20 seconds to grab as many chips as you can from one of those plexiglas drums that they usually use for drawing random names or numbers for prizes. That's unlike anything I've heard of a poker room doing before. Might be interesting.

The room itself is a bit noisier than is my preference, but it's nowhere near as bad as, say, Bally's or the MGM Grand. Cigarette smoke wasn't bad enough that I noticed it while playing, though there was a little adhering to my clothes after I left. Sort of middle-of-the-road on that front. It would be even better if they didn't allow smoking at one end of the room.

They have a coffee machine and water cooler for players, so that you don't have to wait for (and tip) a waitress. I like that, especially since it took nearly 45 minutes from the time I asked for a bottle of water until it arrived (before I noticed the water cooler on the other end of the room). They will serve meals while you play, which often isn't so at the smaller poker rooms.

I was surprised at how busy the room was: four full tables at 4:00 on a Friday afternoon. Two were $2-4 games and two were $3-6 games. By about 6:00 a no-limit game started, and I migrated over to it. It was an unusually tight game, one of those where you have to pick up the table and shake the chips off of it to make any money. There were four pretty good players there, ones on whom I had little if any edge, which also surprised me. They weren't just textbook tight, but mixed things up nicely, good at sniffing out bluffs and making fairly thin value bets.

In the $3-6 limit game they had a feature I've never seen or even heard of before: "overs" buttons. Here's the definition from the best poker dictionary I know of (

overs button (n phrase) A button designating a player who will play at a higher limit when only those who have such an arrangement remain in a pot. Two or more players in a 20-40 game, for example, might agree that when either only they are in a pot or when others fold causing only them to remain, they will play 100-200. Each player so agreeing gets an overs button.

I always like learning new things about poker--especially now that I'm experienced enough that it's tempting to think I know all the tricks.

At F.H., the overs button transforms the game to no-limit whenever only players who have chosen to have one of the buttons are left in a hand. Since I almost always prefer playing no-limit to fixed-limit, I immediately agreed to take an overs button, and was one of four at the table who did.

But after thinking about it for a while, I surrendered it back again. I don't think it's strategically sound, at least for my style of play. Starting hand selection is different enough for low-limit and no-limit that I'm not thrilled with the idea of changing in the middle of a hand. It also seems sort of perverse that you can only charge an opponent $3 on the flop for him to be able to catch his flush or straight draw on the turn, but he can then charge you whatever he feels like to call if he hits it (because on the early streets, there is probably at least one player without an overs button, so the game is limit, but on the later streets it's more likely that the field will have been narrowed and the only players left both agreed to the "overs").

I was very glad I reliquished the button when I hit a series of rivered bad beats; I could see if opponents really made the hand they were representing for only one large bet. Of course, the other side of that argument is that if we had been in a no-limit situation, I might have been able to make it too expensive for them to draw. Still, I think I'd rather play either limit or no-limit for any given hand, not change it up in the middle of a hand. I don't mind casinos offering this variant, though, since nobody is obligated to participate; basically, every player has veto power over whether it will be in effect for any hand he's in.

The gripes

I consider it my self-appointed mission to complain about things in the world of poker, so I would be untrue to my calling if I didn't blow the whistle on things I think F.H. should do better.

They only have Card Player magazine, as far as I could tell. More variety is better.

There are no signs pointing guests to the poker room. It's on the second floor, an escalator ride up from the main casino floor. But even the sign directly above the base of the escalator--the sign that tells you all the things to be found on the second floor--doesn't mention the poker room! This is really shoddy. People shouldn't have to ask where anything is in a casino; it's not that hard to make good signs and maps. There's no reason for this, other than cheap and/or lazy and/or indifferent casino management. If you're not going to spend money promoting the poker room in print, for heaven's sake at least help people who are already there find the place!

I ran into yet another dealer who couldn't resist alerting everyone to a potential jackpot situation. It's been a bad month for this nasty habit (see;;; This time it was a dealer named Ron. When there was both a pair and three parts of a straight flush on the board, he told the table, "We're in bad beat territory!" With the bad-beat jackpot as high as it is, this kind of announcement can severely distort the action, if there happens to be a player who didn't know about the jackpot or didn't notice the possibility on the board. Maybe somebody has the quads and got so excited he didn't see the possible straight flush, until the dealer points it out. This is just not right. Grrrrrrrrrrrr.

Our no-limit table had chronic problems with the Shufflemaster, so bad that eventually it devolved into just hand shuffling. Apparently it wouldn't have helped to switch the machine out or move us to another table, because, we were told, all the other machines were just as faulty. C'mon--it's just lame to have equipment not work on such a widespread basis and have no means of backup. Similarly, the drop box for the rake kept getting jammed. If this is a one-time thing, no big deal, but I was led to believe that it's a long-standing, ongoing problem. Well then, get it taken care of, so that the game doesn't get stopped over such a silly little thing! Such things aren't serious enough to turn an otherwise pleasant poker session into a negative one, but they shout out the message that the casino doesn't care very much about the game or the poker room's patrons. I suspect that malfunctioning equipment in other parts of the casino wouldn't get neglected for weeks on end.

For reasons that aren't at all obvious to me, Kem brand cards (the most commonly used in Vegas casinos) that are printed with green-colored backs seem subject to wear a lot faster than their other colors. And sure enough, the green deck at our no-limit table had scads of cards with whitish rubbed-out patches. If there's just one such card, it can easily be replaced. But maybe a third or half of this deck had unique markings. I didn't think that anybody was paying attention to them, but if somebody cared to take the effort, he could easily and quickly learn to distinguish several cards by the wear patterns on their backs, and thus gain an advantage over opponents. This was not subtle; it was obvious, and surely every employee of the poker room who handled that deck noticed it. So why didn't any dealer take the initiative to replace the deck? A standard part of starting up a new table is supposed to be inspecting the backs of the cards, precisely to find such defects. Poker rooms should take decks this badly worn out of play permanently, rather than wait for a player to complain about the cards being identifiable.

Nevertheless, even with these faults, it's a nice little room. For me the biggest obstacle to frequenting it is that it's such a long drive from my downtown apartment. There's not much to be done about that fact. But if it were closer, and if the action were consistently there at times I'd want to play, there's nothing about the room or its management that would deter me from becoming a regular, and there's much to like about it, even for a grump.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Count me out

Recently I've been stuck playing more limit games than I usually do, and particularly $4-$8 limit. The same thing happens every time, and it makes me crazy.

It seems that nobody catches on to the fact that the bets are going to be $4 and $8 every time, and that, as a result, it is possible to have those bet amounts prepared in advance. No. Instead, nearly every player, when the action is on him, takes a stack of chips and drops them onto the table immediately in front of him, one at a time. 1...2...3...4...5...6...7...8. Then he's not completely sure he has it right, so he puts down the stack in his hand, splits the new stack he has created into two halves, checking to be sure each has four in it, then finally pushes them forward to make his bet or call. This gets repeated for each player who wants in on the fun.

When the half-kill is on and the game jumps to $6-$12, it's truly like the Chinese water torture. 1...2...3...4...5...6...7...8...9...10...11...12. I swear that some of these players have to take off their shoes and socks to count that high.

Seriously, the game would go about 50% faster if all of the players just did one simple thing: have a few bets' worth of chips counted out and stacked in advance. Being a tad on the compulsive side, I tend to keep all of my chips in stacks of 4 and 8 when I'm playing a $4-$8 game. When there get to be too many chips for that to work without taking over all of the surface area I have in front of me, I make a bunch of stacks of 16, too, which break down readily into 8s if I lose a big pot and need more 8-chip stacks. When it's my turn, it takes no time or effort at all to grab one or two sets of either 4 or 8 chips and push them forward. Bang--I'm done. On to the next player.

The only down side to this is that if I'm interested in knowing my current total chip count, I have to add up the stacks and multiply by 8 in my head instead of 10 or 20. But so what? I'm only doing that when I'm between hands and have nothing else to be doing anyway. Besides, in a limit game my total chip count is pretty unimportant strategically (as opposed to a no-limit game, where stack size is always a critical factor in decisions); it's only idle curiosity about how much I'm up or down for the session, and that takes a back seat to speed and efficiency of play. My long-term goal is income in dollars per hour, so more hands per hour means a higher rate of return for my time investment.

Another advantage is that firing out bets faster than other players conveys a sense of confidence. It adds at least a modicum of intimidation factor. It passes the action on to the next player a little faster than he's really used to.

So can anybody explain to me why virtually nobody in limit games takes the simple expedient of pre-sizing their bets and having them ready in advance? It's such an obvious time-saver. If people were generally using the chip-counting time to think about what to do--i.e., check, bet, call, or raise--I could understand it, but that's clearly not what's going on, because you see them sit and think for a bit, mentally settle on a course of action, then grab the chips and start the slow counting thing.

What would be even better is the casino making available $3 and $6 chips for a 3-6 game, $4 and $8 chips for a 4-8 game, etc. (Lots of places have $4 chips, which they mainly use for taking the $4-max rake, but they don't sell them to players at the cage.) It would mean more hands per hour, which means more house rake and more tips for the dealers.

Oh, and if you can't bring yourself to keep some stacks in the amounts that the bets are going to be, you could at least verbalize your actions. Just say "bet" or "call" or "raise," then take whatever time you need to count out the chips, while the action moves on.

Sadly, I'm sure that very few players--and no casinos--will hear my plea and change their ways, and the next time I play limit, I'll once again be pulling out what little hair I have left, as hand after hand, bet after bet, player after player, I have to endure the agonizingly slow counting of the chips.


Thursday, December 27, 2007

Mesquite-flavored poker. Part 3--Oasis

The room

As suggested by the security guy at Virgin River (see, I drove over to the Oasis. Once again, I was favorably impressed with a Mesquite poker room. It's surprisingly large (I counted 15 tables), plenty of space between tables, elevated from the casino floor level. It's open to the casino floor, but far enough away from things that smoke and noise are minimal. I love the maroon-colored felt on the tables.

When I walked in at about 5:00 pm, they were just breaking up the only game they had going, so it looked like I wouldn't get to play. But the floor guy suggested that I try the 6:00 tournament. I wasn't really in the mood for a tourney, but I was hungry and had to eat, so the timing would be about right. I grabbed a magazine from the rack and went to Denny's (inside the casino). Finished just in time to sign up for the tournament.

The tournament

This was a rebuy event. I've done lots of tournaments with one rebuy, but I don't think I've ever played in an unlimited-rebuy one. There's a reason I avoid them: the ability to rebuy cheaply mostly takes away one of the tactics I rely on most, which is forcing opponents to difficult decisions for all of their chips. But since it was the only action available, I took it. Two tables, 20 players, four would be paid. Entry fee was $35 for $1000 in tournament chips, with unlimited $10 rebuys for the first hour (though you had to be at or below $1000 to rebuy), plus an optional $20 add-on for $4000 at the end of the rebuy period.

A comment on this structure: It's stupid, particularly the size of the add-on. You can see that chips are half the price then. This means that in the last hand or two of the rebuy period, here's what all except the biggest-stacked players are going to think: "Well, I've got 2000 in chips. I'm definitely going to rebuy. My chances against the big stacks are not much better with 6000 in chips than if I go broke now and start over again with just the 4000 add-on. But if I win a multi-way all-in pot at this point, then I've got a fighting chance." So, predictably, the last two hands become an all-in fest, with one lucky soul becoming one of the big stacks. It pushes luck to way too big of a factor.

The competition was unbelievably soft. There is just no question that I was the best player at the table. I realize that sounds like bragging, but it isn't--it's a comment on how bad everybody else was. For me to be the best tournament player at a table, with my extremely limited tournament experience, is saying something about the other players, not about me. There was not a single player there who had "raise or fold" as his main mode, with "call" being an occasional tool. Instead, it was a game of limp-limp-limp, bet-call-call-call-call, check-check-check-check, bet-fold-fold-fold. Complete and utter passivity. The only thing that distinguished the players from each other was that half of them were loose-weak and the rest tight-weak. I was chip leader for most of the first five levels, until a series of three nearly consecutive suckouts felted me in about 13th place.

The idiot

The guy on my immediate right turned out to be one of those idiots who somehow earnestly believe that unlucky outcomes are attributable to the dealer (see In one hand, he limped, I raised with K-K, it got folded back around to him, and he re-raised. The limp-reraise always smells of aces, but this was the loosest player at the table, playing about 75% of hands, and raising with a third of those. Besides, in a low-buy-in event, where the running ratio of average stack size to blinds is not high, it's virtually impossible to escape if you're on the bad end of AA vs. KK. So I push all-in, and the idiot calls. He has 10-10. To me he says, "Nice hand" (even before the five community cards are dealt). Then, nodding toward the dealer, he says, "It's typical of what John always does to me, fucking guy." He is not kidding. I just don't get how players can harbor that kind of moronic belief. Yeah, pal, he stacked the deck between hands when you weren't looking, just so that you'd lose. It's all a conspiracy against you. (Of course, it wasn't a conspiracy when that same dealer later delivered him a runner-runner flush, after all the money was in, to make his pockets 8s beat my flopped aces and tens, the first of the three hands that were my downfall.)

Cash game

Enough players had been knocked out by then that a cash game was about to get started, so I stuck around a little longer and got a seat in it. It was, again, a $4-$8 game. Like at Eureka, the table was very soft. I would peg two other players as being on par with me skill-wise, and, unfortunately, they were the two seats on my left. But they were both card-dead, so didn't cause as much trouble as they otherwise might have. Even though I'm by no means a limit specialist, I cleaned up, even without any extraordinarily lucky run of cards--uptick $138 in an hour and 20 minutes.

Nice touches

Let me mention just a few other admirable things I noticed about the Oasis poker room:

  • As you can see from the last photo above, they have 50-cent chips instead of using half-dollar coins for making change from the pot when the house rake requires it. Every time I play in a place that uses silver, I wonder why they don't have 50-cent chips. Chips would be easier to handle for all involved. This is the first time I've seen a casino actually go that way. I like it. The only problem is that they won't cash out the last odd chip at the end of your session, so you either give it back as a tip or you've got yourself a souvenir.
  • I love what they do with their magazine rack. Not only do they have four of the five publications I like most (Card Player, Bluff, Poker Player, and Poker Pro, lacking only All-In), but unlike any other casino I've seen, they keep the last three or four back issues of each one available. That way, if you're not a degenerate who goes to poker rooms with my kind of frequency, you can read and/or take home issues you might have missed. Nice touch.
  • I have to applaud one dealer for something he did during the tournament. This is the same one--John--that had earlier been the target of the idiot's cursing. The idiot was in the big blind. A standard tournament rule is that if you're not in your seat when the deal is completed, your hand is automatically dead. This helps prevent slowing down the game, and also helps prevent people from possibly getting advice from other people before sitting down to a hand. Anyway, the dealer notices that the idiot is away from the table talking to somebody. As he's putting out everybody's second card, he goes out of his way to tell the player that he needs to get back or his hand will be killed. The idiot doesn't react quickly enough, and arrives about two seconds after the button got his second card. The dealer could easily have let it slide, but instead did the right thing and took back the idiot's cards, politely saying, "Sorry I have to do this, but it's the rule." Of course, Mr. Idiot can't blame himself, and says, "Great. He screws up and I have to pay for it." Huh??? Hey pal, even after you swore at him for an unlucky outcome, he went beyond the call of duty to try to cut you a break! He didn't screw anything up--he just enforced the rule properly. Kudos to him.

Like the Eureka, the Oasis is nice enough (and apparently profitable enough) that if it were in Vegas, I would definitely make it a regular stop. For the little town of Mesquite to have two such decent places speaks well for it.

Mesquite-flavored poker. Part 2--Virgin River

After pocketing a tidy little profit at Eureka, I headed across the street to the Virgin River casino. Soon after entering, I saw an overhead sign pointing the way to various places within the establishment, including "Poker room." So I walked in the direction indicated by the arrow. Kept walking that way until I saw another sign telling me the poker room was back in the direction I was coming from.

Hmmm. Must have missed it, I thought. So I did a 180, and went back the way the second sign said. I looked carefully for other signs I might have missed, or for a corridor that would take me to the poker room, or for a couple of poker tables camouflaged among the blackjack tables. Nothing, until I encountered the first sign again, pointing me back where I had just been.

Now I'm getting seriously irritated. I mean, I know that poker gets the lowest priority of any type of gambling by most casinos (because they make little on it compared to the revenue generated by the same number of square feet of slot machines), but it's a little ridiculous to make the room INVISIBLE!

After a third trek across the expanse between these two signs, without seeing anything that suggested poker, I asked a security guard where the poker room is. He said, "At the Oasis" (which is another casino down the road a mile or two).

Yep. They closed the Virgin River poker room. BUT THEY LEFT UP THE FRIGGIN' SIGNS DIRECTING PEOPLE TO IT!

Completely unacceptable, V.R.C. I'll understand if you don't want to pay for all new signs, but at least get somebody to climb up on a ladder and put white tape or paint over the portion of the signs that point to a non-existent poker room.

A pox on your lousy casino.

Mesquite-flavored poker. Part 1--Eureka

When I moved to Las Vegas in the summer of 2006, I stopped briefly in Mesquite on the way down. I went into the poker rooms of the Eureka and Virgin River casinos. Both looked pretty dingy, like the other depressed, worthless rooms I've visited lately. Neither of them had a game going, so I didn't stay long.

On my way back to Vegas yesterday after a short Christmas trip to Salt Lake City, I decided to give Mesquite another try. I went to Eureka first. I was very pleasantly surprised. It's a brand-new poker room. It's open to the casino, but at the far end, so smoke and noise is quite tolerable. As you can see from the photo, the tables are really nice, including cupholders, autoshufflers, and a player tracking system built in. They have coffee and water available without having to wait for the cocktail waitresses.

They had two full tables when I arrived at about 2:30 on a Wednesday (the day after Christmas), which is more than I would have guessed. Both were $4-$8 limit hold'em games, which also surprised me--usually I would expect one or both of them to be $2-$4 or $3-$6. There really is a difference in these games, though logically there shouldn't be. In my experience, $2-4 is usually a loser, because it's so hard to beat the rake; $3-6 is about a break-even proposition; but I can actually make money with some consistency at $4-8. There is no earthly reason that people should play the games differently, but they most definitely do. At $4-8, it is actually possible to push an oppnent hard enough that he'll fold rather than call a bet just out of curiosity or stubbornness or "the hope that springs eternal from within the human breast." (Extra super double bonus points for readers who can identify that quotation without resorting to a search engine. Hint: Think baseball.) So having $4-$8 games means that I'm actually happy to play, rather than just passing the time at a game that annoys and frustrates me. It's the lowest level at which one can really play poker, in any meaningful sense (i.e., it's out of the no-fold'em gutter). I actually bluffed a few times, and it worked! Try that in a $2-4 game.

They're obviously trying to get more no-limit games going, because they have a promotion: Play five hours of no-limit, and they'll give you a room for the night. Not a bad deal--but the catch is that you have to find a no-limit game going!

The first place they had for me to play was when another player was going off for 30 minutes or so to eat. They allowed me to "play over" his chips. I had heard of this before, but I've never seen it done at any casino. They literally put a plexiglas box over the absent person's chips to protect them, and I put my chip rack on top of that to play. If there are any Vegas casinos that do this, I'm not aware of it. A regular seat opened up in the other game before he got back.

Both games were very soft and easy to beat with a textbook tight-aggressive style (with a few curveballs thrown in to keep them guessing). I made $96 in an hour and 40 minutes.

Dealers were OK, but made more mistakes than the best ones do, mainly because they obviously know lots of the regular players pretty well and get overly chatty, and thus don't pay enough attention. But no major problems on that front.

Blinds were only $1-$2, which is a bit odd for a $4-$8 game. I would much prefer the standard $2-$4 blinds to help inhibit limpers and/or build the pot more (hard to know which effect would prevail, but either one is a good thing).

They also used a half-kill, which I don't mind. But it operated differently from any I've seen before. (A "full kill" pot is one that is played for double the usual stakes; in a half-kill game like this, a "kill" pot is 50% higher than usual, so, in this case, the game transforms to $6-$12.) The usual approach is that if a player wins two hands in a row, the next hand is a kill pot, and the person who won two in a row has to post some amount larger than the usual blind to prime the pump. But at the Oasis, a kill pot is triggered by winning a pot of $50 or more, regardless of whether it's your first or tenth in a row. It's unconventional, but I didn't see any problems with it.

My biggest gripe was the management of the games. Specifically, they had two nine-handed tables, and two people waiting for a seat in one of them. They also had an interest list for an Omaha game. There were seven names on that list, including two from each of the current hold'em tables.

When I noticed this, I asked the woman at the desk why they didn't start the Omaha game, since that would free up seats for me and the guy ahead of me on the waiting list. She said, "We can't make the hold'em games short-handed to start Ohama." I pointed out that they wouldn't be short; each game would lose two players and gain one. When they deem nine to be a full table, you can't seriously think of eight-handed as "short." She said, "You don't know how these guys whine about not having full tables."

I told her, "So you'd rather keep five people waiting (two on the hold'em list and three on the Omaha list) than start a seven-person Omaha game and have two eight-handed hold'em games?" She said, "That's how we do things here."

This is nuts. People don't like waiting for a game to start, and they'll leave. Sure enough, that Omaha game never got going, because, predictably, the three who weren't already playing hold'em got tired of waiting. If you want to fill a game, you have to start it first--then other players will come and fill it out. If you wait until you have enough players so that nothing will be short-handed, well, you'll just never start new games, because it's virtually impossible to keep that many people on a waiting list just standing around patiently. I'm certain that the three people who never got to play at all left with a much worse impression of the room than the hold'em players would have had from temporarily having one empty seat at the table. That happens all the time and is no big deal; waiting around a long time for a game that is promised but never starts, well, that's a big deal to those whose time was wasted.

The final interesting thing that happened on this visit was a fire alarm. It happened just as I was leaving--literally the instant that I stepped through the door. In fact, I wondered if I had triggered some security thing, like when the alarm blares at you in the public library because they didn't de-activate one of your books.

I've heard lots of fire alarms in casinos before, and they're actually kind of funny, because nobody does anything. They just keep doing what they were doing before. Every previous time, a recorded voice has come over the PA system saying something like, "Our staff is investigating the cause of the alarm. We will notify you if you need to take any action." In other words, they give people permission to ignore the alarm.

But this time, the overhead voice was actually telling everybody to evacuate. By the time I got to my car, a few people were trickling out, but it wasn't anything like you see in a fire drill at a school, for instance. I think most people will keep playing their slot machines until the reels melt from the flames and won't turn any more. Even then, they'll complain that it was just about to hit.

I haven't seen any news of a big casino fire, so whatever happened apparently wasn't that big a deal. But it's the first time I've seen an attempted casino evacuation.*

All in all, Eureka has made a huge improvement in its poker room. It's nice enough that I would make it a regular stop if it were in town.

*I guess that's not quite true. In another lifetime (November 21, 1980, to be exact), I was living in North Las Vegas. I had no news source that day, but noticed some smoke to the south, and saw many, many helicopter overflights from Nellis Air Force Base. It was only later that I learned that what had been going on was the worst disaster in Nevada history, and the second-worst hotel fire in U.S. history. The helicopters were trying to rescue people from the roof. See

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Card dropped on the floor--another view

I recently posted about an incident in which a player slammed his cards on the table so hard that one bounced off ( By the house rules, his hand should have been dead. I had thought this was essentially a universal rule (a view reinforced by a subsequent story from a long-time poker room employee of my acquaintance; see, but I learned from readers' comments that this is not so. One pointed out that the widely used Robert's Rules explicitly said that dropped cards remained live, which I hadn't noticed.

I sent the following email to Bob Ciaffone, author of Robert's Rules:

Last night I wrote a post that included a story about a player's card flying off the table when he slammed his hole cards down too forcefully. I opined that the hand should have been declared dead. I cited Roy Cooke’s rulebook, in addition to observing that this has been the house rule everywhere that I have seen such an occurrence.

A commenter wrote to point out a fact that I had overlooked—-that your “Robert’s Rules” prescribe a different outcome. Specifically, in chapter 3, under “irregularities,” you write, “14. If you drop a card on the floor out of your hand, you must still play that card.”

I don’t find anything in the TDA rules or Lou Krieger’s rulebook on this point, nor in the Paymar/Harris/Malmouth “Professional Poker Dealer’s Handbook.”

I’m curious why you choose to recommend that the hand still be live after a card goes to the floor. I don’t know that killing such a hand is absolutely universal, but it certainly seems to be the prevailing rule in Vegas casinos. If you’d be so inclined, I’d be interested in your thoughts about how this situation should be handled.

He was kind enough to reply, and gave me permission to post what he had to say:

Let me answer your question with one of my own. Who drops cards on the floor?
1) Cheaters
2) Newcomers who are old and fumble

If I were worried about (1) I would not use this rule. I have never seen it happen by someone other than (2)

Why be tough on such a person when you do not have to be? Bad enough the opponents know a card from the person's hand; that is enough to discourage deliberate use.

More on "gaming" and "gambling"

Last month I ranted a bit about the false but oft-repeated claim that "gaming" is a euphemism for "gambling" invented by the industry to de-emphasize the sometimes ugly connotations of the former word. See (and don't miss the comments section with that post, because Short-Stacked Shamus contributed a useful additional bit of word history).

The only source I had for this at the time was, as I indicated then, an essay by a guy named Basil Nestor, about whom I knew (and still know) nothing. You can read about half of that essay online here: (I assume that only the odd-numbered pages are available to prevent excessive copyright violation.)

Though it sounded to me as if Mr. Nestor were probably correct about his facts, it is my nature (or, perhaps, my nurture, or both) to maintain a degree of skepticism about factual claims such as this until I can verify things for myself with a source of unquestionable reliability. I couldn't do that easily at the time, because my copy of the Oxford English Dictionary--the best reference there is for word histories--got left in Minnesota when I moved to Nevada, and I kept forgetting to stop by the public library.

Well, I'm in Salt Lake City visiting my parents for Christmas, and they have a copy of the OED. So now I can remove my last bit of mental reservation about the facts claimed in my first post on this subject: "gaming" is unquestionably an older word in English than "gambling."

For those of you who are as pedantic as I am (hmm--that may not be possible...), here are the details:

gaming The action or habit of playing at games of chance for stakes;
The earliest published use of this word found by the OED's lexicographers is 1501. I won't bother citing it here, because it still has a lot of Middle English flavor to it, so the context is largely incomprehensible to modern eyes.

gamble (verb) To play games of chance for money, esp. for unduly
high stakes; to stake money (esp. to an extravagant amount) on some fortuitous
event. As the word is (at least in serious use) essentially a term of reproach,
it would not ordinarily be applied to the action of playing for stakes of
trifling amount, except by those who condemn playing for money altogether.
The earliest uses of the word (beginning in 1775--nearly 300 years after gaming came into the language) carried the connotation of cheating. Oddly, the verb form is documented only well after the noun forms (gambler and gambling), even though they appear as if they are derived from it.

gambler a. In early use: A fraudulent gamester, a sharper, 'rook.' b. One who habitually plays for money, esp. for extravagantly high stakes.
Earliest citation for gambler is 1747.

gambling The action of the verb Gamble.
As a noun, the earliest documented appearance of gambling is in 1784.

As a participle, the earliest known use of gambling is from 1726, of which the OED notes:

That gambles or plays for high stakes; orig. that plays unfairly, that cheats at play.

The next time you hear somebody object to gaming as being an industry invention to avoid any negative implications of gambling, just ask them what his or her evidence is for that claim. The only possible answer is "none," because it's just plain not true.
Here are just a few places I could find quickly on the web where the "euphemism" accusation is made: (Note--in the New York Times, even! Shame on their fact-checkers!)
They're all wrong.

I should be clear here as to several interrelated points of usage, as I see them:

1. I think it makes most sense to use the two words interchangably when speaking of the whole industry.

2. I think it makes more sense to use gambling than gaming in the micro-context of a poker hand, e.g., "He's gambling that a king or jack will come on the river." Gaming just doesn't sound right there, when the subject is a specific person making a specific bet on a specific range of outcomes, where randomness is involved.

3. I don't think it makes sense to assume or intend a morally negative shade of meaning automatically with either word.

4. However, I think it does make sense to use gambling in preference to gaming when some kind of opprobrium is intended or implied. For example, it would sound distinctly peculiar to say of a person who has lost his job, home, and family because of compulsive betting on horse races, "He has a gaming problem."

5. I don't think it is useful to continue the old connotation of cheating for gamble, gambler, and gambling. We have plenty of ways of describing cheating without loading that implication into another common word. Besides, I'd like to think that outright cheating is, these days, a fairly rare part of gambling in general.

Class dismissed.

Side note: The famous illustration above is taken from this page, where you can read about its history:
Attentive readers may notice some connection between this bit of art history and the pseudonym under which I blog here (and play online poker, too, in case you run across somebody named "Rakewell" at any of the major sites). That connection is entirely deliberate.

Addendum, October 17, 2011

The link in that last paragraph appears to be dead now. Try this instead:

Monday, December 24, 2007

Bah! Humbug!

A couple of days ago I did something I've never done before: I started reading Charles Dickens's "A Christmas Carol." Naturally, I've seen several movie versions and countless television parodies. But I've never read the original previously. It's quite a different experience than seeing it performed on stage or screen. I'm not finished with it yet, but I can clearly see that Ebenezer Scrooge has the grumpy thing mastered far better than I do. (Maybe for this one day I should change my moniker to "Poker Scrooge.")

If you find yourself with nothing more important to do on Christmas, I recommend reading it. You can find it here, including scans of the illustrations from the first edition (1843), from which the above two images were stolen:

The second picture pertains to this paragraph, which occurs just before Marley's Ghost departs:

The air was filled with phantoms, wandering hither and thither in restless haste, and moaning as they went. Every one of them wore chains like Marley’s Ghost; some few ... were linked together; none were free. Many had been personally known to Scrooge in their lives. He had been quite familiar with one old ghost, in a white waistcoat, with a monstrous iron safe attached to its ankle, who cried piteously at being unable to assist a wretched woman with an infant, whom it saw below, upon a door-step. The misery with them all was, clearly, that they sought to interfere, for good, in human matters, and had lost the power for ever.
So after you've spent a couple of hours delighting yourself with Dickens, if you still find yourself with some available time on December 25, consider finding somebody who is a little less well off than you are, and figuring out a way to help him or her, while the power to do so is still in you.

Come to think of it, maybe that's not bad advice for the other 364 days of the year, too.

Merry Christmas.

New look, same great taste!

That's what food products always say when they change the label, right?

Now that I'm up to about 270 posts, it was becoming really unwieldy to look back through old stuff. New readers, in particular, would be hampered in how they could sample previous posts. So I updated to a new template that, if it's working as it should, will give readers easy access to older stuff in two ways:

First, the "archives" element on the left shows titles of posts, and you can expand/collapse time periods as needed.

Second, I've added topical labels to all of the posts, and put an index to the labels below the chronological archive element. That way, if you're interested in finding where I've ranted about Phil Hellmuth, or want to find the posts somehow relating to poker history, or all the stories that took place at the Hilton, you should be able to do so easily. (And not all of the labels start with "h"!)

Next task: Figuring out how to move those damn ads from the bottom of the page to the side margin, so that more people will click on them. :-) I am completely in the dark about HTML, so each time I do something new, it takes some time to move up the learning curve. (Looking back through old posts to attach the labels, I was reminded of the first time I tried italics, first time I put something in bold type, first time I used a photo, first time I embedded a video clip, etc. I'm kind of retarded, but I am capable of learning slowly....)

As always, comments--private or public--are welcome.

Addendum, December 24, 2007

A commenter asked where the ads went. I hadn't even noticed that somehow in the process of switching templates the ads somehow vanished. Like I said, this is all new and mysterious and experimental to me. I look at Google's "AdSense" help pages and my eyes glaze over with bafflement. Anyway, I think that I have now managed to get the ads back and put them in the left margin. I wanted them over on the right, with narrower content. But I can't find a pre-made template that allows page elements on both the right and the left of the posts.

Don't be surprised if you keep finding changes here over the next several days as I fiddle with making all of this work right.