Saturday, January 12, 2008

Maybe that's how they talk in Texas

The image above is the first part of a two-page ad for, from Bluff magazine. Their claim is to be running the "most unique" tournament in online poker.


Unique means "one of a kind." It is an absolute. A thing is either unique or it is not, one of a kind or not. Therefore, logically, it is nonsensical to speak of something being "very unique." Similarly, one thing cannot be "more unique" than another.

How many people worked on putting this ad together and getting it into print, without a single one of them even understanding the basic meaning of the central word they were using to describe the product being touted?

In fairness, I need to acknowledge that some dictionaries include a corrupted, compromised definition of unique. For example, the Random House Unabridged accepted this: "5. not typical; unusual: She has a very unique smile."

This, though, is an abomination. Responsible editors should only acknowledge such usage in order to condemn it. We already have a number of ways of indicating that a thing is unusual. Our vocabulary for indicating that something is genuinely the only one of its kind is much more limited. To take the paradigmatic word for that meaning and tolerate it having a second, different meaning so that one has to then use additional words to explain which sense one intends is insane.

Consider another example: biweekly. Biweekly means, and has always meant, "every two weeks." It does not, cannot, should not mean "twice a week," no matter how many ignoramuses use it that way. If we start seeing that as an acceptable alternative definition, then the word loses all usefulness, because every time you say that something will occur biweekly, you then have to also specify whether you mean every two weeks or twice a week. And if you're going to do that, then there is no point at all in saying "biweekly" in the first place. The word literally becomes meaningless if it allowed to have two mutually incompatible meanings, a distinction between which cannot be readily discerned from context. (That last condition is important. We do have a least a few words in English that can mean either of two opposite things. E.g., cleave can mean either to cut apart or to cling to, but context almost always makes clear which the writer or speaker intends.)

The same is true with unique being expanded to include reference to things that are not unique. It doesn't enlarge the word; it destroys its meaning and usefulness.

So, Doyle's Room, what's it going to be? Is your tournament unique in the world of online poker? If so, then just say that it is "unique," not "most unique." If it's just uncommon, but not truly the only one of a kind, then say that it's the "most unusual" tournament.

But please stop contributing to the bastardization of a perfectly decent word.

Don't argue about the misdeal

One of the advantages of online poker is that you never have a misdeal. That's not enough to outweigh all of the other stuff that makes live poker so vastly superior to online games, but it's something. Misdeals are a pain in the rear.

A misdeal happens when for some reason the cards get dealt out wrong. There's a list as long as your arm of the different ways this can happen, but they all basically boil down to that one simple essence.

When the dealer realizes that a misdeal has occurred, it's a no-discretion situation. He or she has to collect all the cards, reshuffle, and start over again. OK, not a huge problem, maybe one minute out of my life wasted, but that's about it.

It seems, though, that the problem always gets compounded by one guy at the table who won't accept it. Predictably, somebody was dealt pocket aces or kings or queens before the mistake is discovered, and wants to play the hand out. So he starts kicking up a fuss, trying to find some other solution to the problem instead of just returning his cards to the dealer.

This message is for those morons: Give it up. It does no good. A misdeal is a misdeal, and nothing can be done about it. Your protests only accomplish three things: (1) They label you as a whiner. I can't stand whiners. (2) They waste everybody's time. (3) They tell everybody that you had a monster starting hand, which means that even if you somehow got your way and we played out the hand, you wouldn't get any action, because you've basically told us that you're holding one of the only three or four combinations of cards that anybody would care about relinquishing. Yes, usually the problem was caused by a dealer error, and you're the innocent, wronged victim. So what? Get over it. Things are unfair all over. Move on with your life, and let us do the same. Another hand is coming in about 30 seconds, if you'll just cooperate. The dealer already regrets the error, and piling on abuse will neither remedy the situation nor make it less likely to happen again in the future. Strange as it may seem to you, the rules on what has to be done do not change just because you happened to get two cards that you like.

While I'm on the subject, there is occasionally a related issue. Some kinds of errors in how the cards are dealt can be fixed by the dealer. For example, accidentally dealing a hand to a player who is sitting out until the blinds come back around (e.g., somebody who just came back from a dinner break) can be cured by simply killing the hand after the deal is completed. If the button gets only one card instead of two and doesn't realize that fact until it's his turn, that can be repaired by giving him the second card then, because nothing about the deck has changed. In some casinos, the accidental exposure of the first down card to the last player (the button) is an automatic misdeal, but in others it's handled with a replacement card, just as with any other player position (which, in my opinion, is the preferred approach; the reason for considering that a misdeal is just silly).

Anyway, when one of these fixable problems occurs, I frequently hear a player--always, always somebody who thinks he's an expert on poker rules and procedures, but isn't--calls out "MISDEAL" and throws his cards in towards the dealer. This triggers a chain reaction of other players doing the same thing. Then we really do end up with an untenable situation that can only be fixed by starting over again, but if the know-it-all had just kept his trap shut and let the dealer handle it, we'd be on our way already.

So here's the thing to remember: Only the dealer, not a player, can declare a misdeal. In fact, "misdeal" is a word that should not come out of your mouth at the poker table unless you're the dealer. If you're playing and you hear somebody other than the dealer call it, don't do anything unless and until the dealer asks you to return the cards. There are nearly as many false misdeals because of loudmouths who think they know everything as there are true misdeals, and every one of the former could be eliminated if players would just let the dealer run the game.

The painting above, by the way, is titled "A Misdeal," by the great Frederic Remington (see Click to enlarge it. You can buy a print of it from the same site from which I lifted the jpeg: Fortunately, I haven't yet seen anybody get quite that angry about a misdeal, and hope I never do.

Thank you, Daniel Negreanu! (non-grumpy content)

I promise that this blog will never become a platform from which I primarily discuss specific hands that I've been involved in. I realize that, for the most part, reading about somebody else's play is a lot like listening to a proud parent tell you all the details of what their kids are doing in school, or being forced to sit through a slide show of their recent vacation--you just don't really care. But once in a while, something stands out and seems to be a story worth telling. And for those who play just recreationally, maybe there's something to be learned here.

I was one of the ten players that started up a new $1-$3 no-limit hold'em game at the Palms last night. I took my usual favorite seat, #10, on the dealer's right. I didn't recognize any of the other players. (Well, I thought I recognized one, because she was the spitting image of Jennifer Love Hewitt, and it took me a while to convince myself it wasn't her. She could have a career as a JLH impersonator, though.) It was a young line-up; I believe I was the second-oldest player there, after an Asian woman in her mid-50s in seat #1.

It's only about the third hand we've played, so I have very little information on my opponents. I'm on the button and find the two black 9s. (This is the exact hand with which Phil Hellmuth won the World Series of Poker main event; I don't like being reminded of him by getting dealt this hand, but it would be a little silly to express my dislike for him by refusing to play it.) Five players all limp in ahead of me. I would sometimes raise in this spot, but I prefer playing conservatively while I'm still feeling everybody out, so I join the $3 crowd, as do both blinds.

The flop is 10h-5d-4h. Not a bad flop for my pocket pair. Everybody checks to me, so I bet $10--about two-thirds the size of the pot. The only caller is the Asian woman in seat 1. In theory, she could have any two cards, since she was in the small blind in an unraised pot. I think she probably doesn't have a pair bigger than the 10 on the board, because I would expect her to have raised before the flop with jacks, queens, kings, or aces. I don't think she has a 10 in her hand for top pair, because I would expect her to lead out betting with that if she had it, or maybe even go for a check raise (if she thought I was just putting in a position bet from the button after having missed the flop completely), though if she had a weak kicker (e.g., 10-2), she might do a conservative check-call to keep the pot small. Overall, though, I'm reasonably confident she is on a draw, with hearts being slightly more likely than a straight draw--but I'm going to be cautious of either one hitting.

The turn card is the 4c. This looks like a safe card for me, because it couldn't have completed any draw my opponent might have been on. To my great surprise, however, she bets $25. I really have to stop to think about this, because it doesn't help me clarify which of the possible holdings I had mentally assigned her she has. It's a confusing bet. If she had something really strong on the flop (three of a kind, two pair, or even a monster draw such as a simultaneous straight and a flush draw), I would expect her to do one of three things: lead out betting on the flop, check-raise me on the flop, or check the turn in anticipation of putting in her check-raise there. From out of position, it's distinctly uncommon for a player to check-call the flop, then lead out betting on the turn. Basically the only time that happens is if the turn card was exactly what the player needed.

But how could that be? As I said, it definitely didn't help her if she was on a straight draw or flush draw. It could only help her if she had a 4 in her hand, and had now made three of them. That's what I spent most of the time focusing on: what cards could she be holding, one of which was a 4, that would prompt her to check and call on the flop? It would be impossible for her to have both a 4 and a straight draw, or a 4 with a flush draw. What if she had something like A-4? In that situation, she might call a not-huge bet on the flop, hoping that (1) she'd get lucky and hit two pair or trips, or (2) I'd show weakness later and she'd get an opportunity to steal the pot away with just bottom pair. I certainly might do such a thing, so I assume she could, too. But if that had been the plan, why bet out on the turn? She would, in that situation, feel quite confident that her hand was now best, and I think most players would be far more likely to go for the check-raise, turning my anticipated continued aggression against me. It's as if her bet was proclaiming, "I have three 4s"--except that no rational player would want that fact to be obvious to an opponent yet, not until it was time to spring the trap! A final possibility was a pocket pair, like 6s or 7s or 8s. Again, though, it didn't really make sense for her to change from a passive check-call mode (perfectly reasonable with such a middle pair) to aggression.

Apparently other players watching the action had approximately the same thought process, because the guy sitting next to me said quietly, "Weren't expecting that, were you?"

I picked up nothing in her body language that gave me a clue as to how strong she was feeling, and my ability to scrutinize her was severely limited by the dealer sitting smack in between us.

I just couldn't put her on a hand. Nothing fit what she had done.

At this point, I had a flashback to something I read long ago from Daniel Negreanu--probably one of his Card Player columns, though it was way early in my serious interest in poker, and I don't have a clear memory of where it was. (Here's one in which he makes the same point, though I just can't recall whether it's the one that planted the idea in my mind for the first time: He occasionally makes a similar comment during a televised match, something like, "Well, I can't figure out any hand that makes sense for you to have, so I'm supposed to call in that situation.")

Negreanu had said that the key to a successful bluff was telling a consistent story, such that everything one has done in the course of the hand playing out leads an opponent to a conclusion about what one is holding (a false conclusion, of course). If an opponent can't discern a consistent message from your bets and other actions, he will likely call your bluff just out of curiosity and/or stubbornness. This is what most people new to poker mess up all the time, and why their bluff attempts tend to get picked off rather easily by more experienced players. This is also why it doesn't work to try to bluff bad players, because they haven't yet learned to piece together the clues you're giving them so as to deduce that you have a hand they should be afraid of.

Anyway, one of the lessons I learned from Negreanu was that when there is no hand an opponent could be holding that is consistent with what he or she has done during the hand, that's often reason enough to call, because there's a good likelihood that a bluff is being run on you. It's a good piece of advice, but a scary one to follow, because confusion is not a state of mind you want to be bringing to a psychological battle. Nevertheless, I tucked it away in memory long ago, and it has occasionally been the piece of wisdom I have needed in particular situations. This seemed like it might be another such spot.

So I called the $25, but I wasn't one bit thrilled about it.

The river card was the 3 of clubs. My opponent pushed forward $50, again in a way that I couldn't read for being either especially strong or especially weak. That card wouldn't have helped her flush draw. If she had exactly a 6-7 in her hand, it would have completed a straight, but her leading bet on the turn didn't fit with that being what she had, so I mostly dismissed that possibility. I was back to the same dilemma, basically. She was trying to sell sitting on a 4, but in a way that I thought no good player would have undertaken to play such a hand.

I thought and thought, quite a bit longer than I usually take, because the pieces of the puzzle didn't fit together. I'm not one to call out of curiosity, because if I'm convinced I'm beaten, the little knowledge gained isn't worth what it costs me, and I have no tendency to agonize over what an opponent might have had once it's over with. But I kept coming back to Negreanu's advice about calling when you're confused, when an opponent's actions cannot be made to add up to any plausible specific hand or range of hands.

On that basis alone, I reluctantly took one of my $50 stacks and slid it forward. I admit that I was having a near slugfest inside my brain, with one half saying, "Fold, you idiot! Don't throw away another $50! She just has to have something better than a measly pair of 9s!" The other half was quietly citing Mr. Negreanu's advice. It surprised me a bit that that's the half that won the argument, given how loudly the "fold" half was shouting.

The woman shrugged her shoulders and turned over the Qh-9h. Aha! She had been on the flush draw after all! I suspect that she was planning on just playing passively to see if she got there, but then when the board paired she made a snap decision to represent having made trips. She didn't take time to think through whether she could sell that notion, or how best to sell it. If she had check-raised me, it would have been a far, far harder call to make; with a completely unknown opponent, and a list of about a gazillion scary hands that could beat me--ones that a good opponent would play in precisely that way--I almost certainly would have folded.

This was only a middling-sized pot as these games go. Still, it was, I think, one of the ten or so most difficult calls I've made during the year and a half that I've been trying to make a living playing this endlessly intriguing game. It's one of the "thinnest" holdings I can remember--holding only a single pair, smaller than the high card on the board--for calling two large-ish bets from an opponent on whom I had neither a history of frequent bluffing nor a reliable physical tell.

My heartfelt thanks to Daniel Negreanu for the "assist" on this play. I was disappointed to read recently that he's no longer going to be doing columns for Card Player, because they were consistently insightful and informative. But it's hard to begrudge him the need to do other things instead, when he has already provided a wealth of useful tips.

Palms chips

I played at the Palms last night. I hadn't been there since August 1, and since then they've purchased a new batch of poker chips. A sample of the old (2005) and new (2008) $1 is shown above, though it's the same with the $5 chips. You can click the image for a huge close-up view, if you'd like.

What may not be apparent at a glance is that these chips are physically quite different. The old ones have a completely smooth surface; the new ones are textured and embossed. The new ones are about 1 millimeter smaller in diameter than the old ones, and a tad thicker, too. The two chip types are made of different kinds of composite--probably from different manufacturers.

No, this isn't the greatest problem I've ever run into in a poker room, but the simultaneous use of both kinds (they didn't retire the old ones, just supplemented the supply) does cause some nuisance issues.

First, the chips don't stack nicely because of the different diameters. Imagine trying to make a neat stack of coins, half of which are quarters and half of which are nickels. It would be nearly impossible. Yeah, yeah, I'm a fussbudget about some stupid things, to be sure, but what's wrong with liking to be able to make tidy, orderly stacks of chips?

Second, for those who like to shuffle and otherwise play with their chips, everything becomes harder because of the differences in size and surface texture. This one doesn't affect me, because once my chips are lined up perfectly, I'm done handling them until it's time to put them into action.

Third, the difference in thickness is enough that it causes a problem in counting. This isn't nearly as bad as the worst discrepancy in town, which is at the Golden Nugget. There, the $5 are much, much older and more worn down than the $1 chips, as well as being from a different manufacturer, so that 21 fit in each slot in a standard chip rack. Chip racks are one of the few things that are, as far as I know, absolutely univeral and interchangeable among all casinos, and they are all designed to hold five columns of 20 chips each--except at the Golden Nugget, where if you fill the racks in the usual way with the red chips, you'll unexpectedly be looking at five stacks of 21 each; fill the same rack with their blue chips and you've got the standard 5 x 20. I don't know how they stand it, but they get by somehow. My guess is that their chip-for-cash exchange error rate is higher than elsewhere.

Anyway, the problem the Palms has now introduced isn't that drastic, but it's noticeable. I didn't get a chance to play around with a rack, but it looked to me that the thickness difference was enough that 19 of the new ones would be just about equal to a stack of 20 of the old ones. That's just asking for trouble.

Finally, there's just the appearance. I don't insist on completely uniformity in everything; in fact, I enjoy having a variety of chips of the same basic color but with different imprints. But the new ones are so different that it's kind of jarring to the eye. Different prints on chips of the same base color and design and composition, when spread out on the green felt, might be compared to a field of wildflowers of different colors. The new ones thrown in, however, is kind of like seeing a bunch of mushrooms sprouting up among those flowers. Not that there's anything wrong with mushrooms, but they don't complement flowers well. As a small additional practical problem, when I was trying to eyeball the pot during a hand of poker, I found that the strange, unexpected difference slowed me down; my brain is used to seeing two basic kinds of chips, and here there were four. Maybe that's just me, though.

I don't have any preference for one style or the other. But I can't figure out why they placed the recent order from a different manufacturer, so that they're stuck with this awkward mixture of two not completely compatible styles. Maybe the new ones undercut the old in price, but aesthetics and practicality are worth something, too, a fact that seems to have been neglected in the calculation.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Is there any crap people won't buy?

H.L. Mencken famously quipped that "Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public." I think that would still hold true even if we narrowed it down to just "American poker players." You could also substitute "taste" for "intelligence," and still have a valid point.

Look at this assemblage of poker crap I found at just one major online retailer (in this case, I don't know about the rest of the poker-playing public, but if I stumbled into my bathroom in the middle of the night with a full bladder and found myself looking at a poker shower curtain, a poker toothbrush holder, a poker liquid-hand-soap dispenser, a poker wastebasket, a poker tissue-box cover, and poker wallpaper edging, all faintly illuminated by a poker night-light, I think I'd suddenly need to vomit more than to urinate.

In your kitchen, what would compel you to own a poker slow-cooker, poker barbecue utensils, poker glasses, poker swizzle sticks, and poker coasters? Certainly I can see that a flash drive would make a useful computer accessory for some people, but how are you better off for it being packaged like a poker chip?

Undoubtedly, though, there are people out there who would unwrap one of these hideous things at Christmas and react in earnest, "Wow! Just what I've been wanting!" These people must have more than a smidgen of alien DNA coursing through their veins.

I mean, I reckon that I love this game as much as anybody alive. The percentage of the world's population that spends a higher portion of an average day thinking about poker than I do must be very, very small. But I can't imagine my life being made even a scintilla happier by having such tsatskes surrounding me.

Just a note to my friends and family reading this. If you have ever considered getting me such an item as a gift, well, please don't. Neither of us would want the job of cleaning up the likely result.

Maybe he's never heard of Babe Ruth, either

Night before last at the Golden Nugget I had occasion to quote a bit of wisdom I once heard attributed to Amarillo Slim. The guy to my right had played a hand badly, but got away with it. He realized his mistakes, and said, "I can't believe how bad I played that." So I told him that I had heard Slim quoted as saying, "Anytime you're dragging the chips, you played it like a pro." It's not really true, of course, but it's clever and soothing.

(For purposes of this blog, I need to clarify that I don't really know if Slim said that, or something close to it, because I can no longer recall where I heard or read it, so I have no sense of how much faith to put in it. But for sociability purposes at the poker table, where I'm not likely to be asked for a specific citation, I don't mind giving him the attribution and letting it go at that.)

A young man (mid-20s, I'm guessing) a couple of seats away asked, "Who said that?" I thought he just hadn't heard the first part of my sentence, so I repeated: "Amarillo Slim." The guy scrunched up his face in puzzlement and said, "Never heard of him."

Now, this wouldn't be terribly surprising for a casual player, a tourist just stopping in to try this crazy game he saw on television. But this guy was a serious player. He knew all the angles. He was good enough to play for a living, though I don't have any idea if he does or not. He was astute in his comments about strategy. He was probably the most skilled player at the table that evening. He must have read at least several books about the game.

I cannot figure out how one could get that deeply immersed in the poker world and not have heard of "Amarillo Slim" Preston. I won't belabor his biography here (see for a good summary), but he was far more important to making poker as popular as it is today than Doyle Brunson. (Brunson is more important in the history of poker strategy, for having been the first to publish the previously closely-held secrets of the professional players, but Preston got a lot more popular attention in the press.) He won the WSOP main event (plus three other bracelets), founded the Super Bowl of Poker, shows up in James McManus's Positively Fifth Street, is enshrined in the Poker Hall of Fame (ironically, just across the street from where we were sitting when this conversation took place), and, in a community of people possessed of massive egos, makes the likes of Phil Hellmuth seem absolutely meek and humble by comparison.

I don't really have much intelligent to say about the Nugget guy's whopper of a lacuna in knowledge of his poker history, but it's stunning to me. It's kind of like hearing that an up-and-coming race car driver has never heard of A.J. Foyt, or that a talented pro-prospect college basketball star doesn't recognize the name of Wilt Chamberlain. Of course, one doesn't need to have heard of Slim in order to play poker successfully; it's just hard to figure out how one could not have had this giant of the game enter one's conscious mind at some point.

Here's hoping he reads this, and takes a moment to learn about and tip his hat to a man without whom poker might still be primarily seen in the popular imagination as a seedy, underground world, rather than the above-board, all-American, ratings powerhouse that it has become.

"Good luck, all in"

When I have writer's block and worry that I'm all tapped out of things to complain about, I need merely to remember that I have the category of "stupid things said at the table" to work with. It is a horn o' plenty, a bottomless well. There is simply no end to the stupid things one overhears poker players say.

This one has been bugging me since the first time I heard it, which was about two years ago. There is a large and apparently growing contingent of people who habitually say, when another player has pushed all-in, "Good luck, all in." They treat it as some sort of social obligation, like saying "Bless you" when somebody sneezes.

I really don't get this. I'm not sure I can even list all of the ways in which this is stupid.

First, there's the basic grammar of it. "All in," instead of being a descriptor, becomes a noun or temporary nickname. Who wants to be called that?

Second, is there any sincerity in the wish? Do you genuinely care who wins a confrontation that you're not party to?

Third, why selectively heap one's good will on the player who is all in, rather than the guy calling him who just happens to have a few chips left? If I have $105 and call the all-in bet of a player sitting with $100, what makes him more deserving of your sentiment than me?

Fourth, am I supposed to believe that you think that uttering these words actually confers some meaningful benefit? Do the cards change in favor of the one so blessed by your incantation? Do you think that saying this little phrase really shifts the probabilities? If not, are you implying that you think the player addressed is such an imbecile that he will believe that you are invoking such magical power on his behalf?

If you don't really think that you're changing anything about the outcome of the hand, and you don't really think that the recipient of your attention will believe that, then why the specific words "Good luck"? Why not, e.g., "Live long and prosper, all in"? Why not, "May the force be with you, all in"? I'll tell you why you don't say things like that: BECAUSE YOU WOULD SOUND LIKE A FRIGGIN' MORON, THAT'S WHY!

So here's what you need to know: Saying "Good luck, all in" sounds every bit as idiotic as my proposed alternatives. Please stop the madness.

Iggy on rules and etiquette

Sometimes when I check in on what Iggy has been posting lately, I realize how good he is and think that the poker blogging world would be better off if I stopped writing and instead just left a permanent marker here saying "Go read Iggy." For now, though, I'll point to another of his recent gems, and leave it at that:

This should be posted in large print on the wall of every B&M poker room in the world.

Maybe the best poker blog post ever

Just go and read it, OK?

Poker gems, #69

Tommy Angelo:

I'd rather be tight-weak than strong-broke.

Poker gems, #68

Ubiquitous poker blogger Iggy:

A key to winning at poker is the ability to lose well.

Are longer sessions better or worse? (Non-grumpy content)

In late 2006, Card Player columnist Steve Zolotow wrote an interesting series of pieces on the importance of record-keeping in poker. (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.) I had already been keeping records adequate for tax documentation, but his writings prompted me to refine my spreadsheets (how did the world get by before there was Excel???).

But for some reason, I never got around to doing the first analysis that Zolotow recommends, which is looking at results by length of session. Well, now I've done it. There's not really any reason anybody should care about the results, but I did the hard work, so I might as well share it.

The first chart above (click to make it bigger) shows data of dollars won/lost versus hours of cash-game play (I excluded tournaments), for the first eight months of 2007; I got tired of entering it after that, and thought that I had a big enough sample.

The first thing you might notice is that there appear to be as many dots in the negative range as the positive. That is so. I've seen and heard other pros say that they book wins something like two-thirds of the time. Well, for whatever reason, that isn't how I run. In fact, I'm at 51%/49% right now. That doesn't bother me, though, because as the chart also shows at a glance, my average win is quite a bit higher than my average loss.

Zolotow advises: "Look at your five biggest wins and five biggest losses. If you played significantly more hours during those losses than you did during your wins, you have a major discipline problem. If you perform this simple exercise and change your negative pattern, it will be the most important thing you can do to improve your bottom line."

I'm pleased to see that I pass this test. My five biggest wins are in sessions varying from 2.75 to 6.25 hours. My five biggest losses are between 1.75 hours (that was a positively brutal, intense beating that session!) and 4.5 hours.

My sense going into this data analysis was that I would see no significant correlation between length of time played and result. And that basically turns out to be correct. To be precise, the correlation coefficient for the data set shown in the first chart above is 0.16. A correlation coefficient is a way of expressing how related two sets of numbers are. It can range between 1.0 (perfect positive correlation; the data points would line up exactly on a line slanting up and to the right) and -1.0 (the opposite). So I have only a slightly positive tendency for longer sessions to be more profitable.

Next I ran the analysis you see in the second chart. It's the same data set, but with the absolute dollar values converted to dollars-per-hour rates. The correlation here is even weaker: 0.12, which means that I make only marginally more per hour during longer sessions.

You can also see that I don't go for the marathon sessions that some other players make famous. It's not my thing. On those rare occasions that I've gone past the 12-hour mark, I feel crummy and I don't play well. It's just not worth it.

My conclusions:

(1) As I suspected, the hard data confirm that I'm reasonably well disciplined about quitting when things are going badly for me that day. I definitely need to improve in this, because I can't count the number of times I've spewed off one extra buy-in (usually $100) even after I recognize that I'm playing poorly, or the competition has the best of me, or I'm just impossibly unlucky that session, or whatever. I'd love to have back all of the Benjamins that I've lost that way. But at least I can honestly say that I don't let the situation turn from "problem" to "disaster" before getting out of Dodge on the days that the donkeys are having their way with me.

(2) Between roughly two and eight hours, there is basically no correlation between how long I'm sitting at the table and how much I can expect to have made. Some days I get on a huge rush early, then stagnate for a few hours, neither making nor losing anything, until I get up and leave. Other days it's the reverse, and I toil and sweat with no headway, until four or five hours in I get smacked in the face by the deck and run my stack up ridicuously fast. Other times, it's just slow, steady progress. Other times, it's up and down, up and down, and whether I book a win or a loss is just a matter of where the pendulum is when I clock out. It's absolutely impossible to predict, and it appears not to matter.

Celebrity sighting

I played a bit at the Venetian tonight. The annual Adult Entertainment Expo is going on at the adjacent property, the Sands convention center. Walking through the Venetian was quite, um, interesting.

I shared the elevator with this woman on my way back to my car. No, it's not my photo, and that's not me next to her; I got this from the web, and it took some searching to find one of her with her clothes on.

I know who she is because the conversation with the man she was with mentioned that a mainstream film she appeared in ("The Heartbreak Kid," with Ben Stiller) is now out on DVD. It wasn't difficult, looking down the cast list for that movie at, to deduce that this woman goes by the name of Kayla Kleevage.

You can read more about her (safe for work) at The photo there was obviously done before she had further, uh, enhancements made.

And yes, she really looks exactly that hideous and ridiculous in person. I can't imagine the warped psychology that drives people to mutilate themselves in that manner. Ick.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Poker gems, #67

Al Alvarez.

Poker is generally reckoned to be America's second most popular after-dark activity. Sex is good, they say, but poker lasts longer.

Celebrity sighting

I walked down to Binion's this evening to take a little money from the tourists. On a couple of the big-screen televisions ESPN was replaying the WSOP main event. At one point, the entire next table over started whooping and hollering. I hadn't noticed, but Pamela Brunson (daughter of Doyle and sister of Todd) was playing (I think it was a $4-$8 Omaha game), and this was the segment of the broadcast series that had her featurette in it. She looked slightly embarrassed by the attention, but smiled and laughed through it. Incidentally, she's quite a bit prettier in person than the cameras showed her, I thought. I didn't ask to take her picture, since I wasn't at the same table, so I had to steal the one above from elsewhere on the Interwebs.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Poker gems, #66

D.L. Brook, in Poker Pro magazine, January, 2008 (well, the cover says "2007," but since the cover story is on the death of Chip Reese, I'm reasonably confident that they just screwed up the date), p. 70.

[G]ood poker players can sense blood and weakness faster than a free buffet.


Isaac Asimov had it easy. Every hundredth book, he'd just make it a compilation of samples of what he had already published. He called them "Opus 100," "Opus 200," etc. That is so cheating--just write 99 books, then one tears off with no effort!

I refuse to stoop so low.

But I will concede that it's tempting to use the occasion of my 300th blog post to note that the first 100 posts took ten months to write (from 10/30/06 to 8/31/07), the second 100 took only 2 1/2 months (until 11/14/07), and this last 100 has taken less than two months. I can't promise that the acceleration will continue, but without question the increased energy I have put into it has been largely because of the favorable feedback I get from you loyal readers.

It would also be tempting to spend the 300th post sort of pre-announcing that sometime quite soon you'll be seeing this-here blog featured in a column in Card Player magazine. Learning that was one of my main motivations for the visual overhaul of the last couple of weeks; I'll be expecting more new readers, and want people to be able to navigate old stuff more easily.

Finally, it would be tempting to just use up a mile-marker post by thanking you all for visiting, commenting, emailing, and putting up on your own blogs links to this one and/or to specific things I've written. It's more gratifying than I know how to describe.

But unlike Asimov, I'm not a cheater. I would never make a post out of such mere filler material. Nothing but solid, substantive, new thoughts each and every time, that's what I say.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Time to fire the graphics guy?

So I'm watching the final table of the first event (Foxwoods) of the Professional Poker Tour. It's down to three-handed. The short stack, Ron Rose, is all-in. The two big stacks, John Juanda and Chris Bigler, have a small side pot, but employing a common tactic are just checking down the hand to maximize the chance that one of them will beat Rose, and they'll be down to one on one for the championship.

When I first started watching televised poker, it was the World Poker Tour. I was amazed at how fast Mike Sexton could figure out what cards would produce the winning hand for a player. Yeah, I know, a lot of their voiceover is done in the studio long after the original taping. But that's only for the portions for which they need access to the hole-card camera information. When there's an all-in situation and the cards are turned face-up on the table, for the most part what you hear is what Mike and Vince Van Patten say in real time. And Mike is just as fast at spitting out what cards will be winners and losers in that situation as when the dubbing is done later.

I'm less impressed now than I used to be, because I've gotten to the point that I'm essentially as fast as he is. This isn't because I'm some poker prodigy--it's just sheer repetition of thousands of hands and the subconscious development of pattern recognition. So now when I watch poker on TV, I try to see if I can count the outs and figure the percentages before they flash them on the screen. Hey, I'm easily amused, OK?

I had to hit the "pause" button when I saw the graphic above. (You can click on it for a larger version.) It wasn't registering with me how those numbers could be right. I spent a couple of minutes going through all of the possibilities, and it just didn't make sense to me.

I finally figured out what the problem was, and it is now left to the curious reader--see if you can spot the error. Hint: It is not a problem with the cards; they are correct as shown. Also, there have been no cards discarded that are unaccounted for, because the only three players left in the match are all being shown. But the graphics guy(s) made a simple mistake, which seems sort of obvious once you spot it.

Don't scroll down for the answer until you've given it some thought.

They mixed up the numbers for Juanda and Rose. Rose can beat Bigler's flush with a full house if either of the two remaining queens or either of the two remaining 4s comes on the river. That's a bit under 10% probability, which they rounded up, but then assigned to the wrong player. Juanda is drawing dead, since the best hand he could possibly make, with another club on the river, would be a flush smaller than Bigler's.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Poker gems, #65

Barry Greenstein, from Ace on the River, p. 42.

I have come to expect to play with some people who are not very likeable. Most of them are not my friends, so I don't get upset if they don't act in a civil fashion. It comforts me that I am taking money from flawed people rather than from nice people. Players who are crybabies deserve something to cry about. A successful poker player looks for any flaw in his opponents' personalities and uses it as motivation to beat them out of their money. Fortunately, it is easy to find flaws. I like to beat up on the bad winners, bad losers, slowrollers, dealer-abusers, chauvinists, racists, egomaniacs, lesson-givers, coffee-housers, loudmouths, etc. The only nice people I want to beat are rich people who will not suffer financially. Poker is entertainment for them, and my poker wins are only a byproduct.

"Everybody wanna be in the picture, get up and go to the other side of the table!"

There's a fairly rare neurological condition known as "unilateral neglect," usually the result of a stroke, in which the patient loses the entire concept of either "left" or "right." Such people cannot see things in one half of their visual field, cannot turn toward that side, cannot even comprehend that there is another half of everything that they are not perceiving. They eat only the food that is on the half of the plate they can see. A woman with this condition will apply makeup to just half of her face.

Back in the days of my health-care career, I saw a man with this condition in the hospital a couple of days after he had had a stroke. He was eating his breakfast. His left hand was plopped down in his cereal bowl. I suggested that he might want to move it somewhere else. He insisted that it was not his hand! He genuinely could not grasp the fact that he had a left side of his body, so even when he turned his head so that he could see the hand in his bowl, he concluded that it must not be his. It was one of the saddest, but most fascinating, things I ever witnessed.

Patients with this condition, when presented with an empty circle and asked to fill in the details of the face of a clock will commonly make a drawing like those pictured above--either just half of the numbers in approximately their correct position, or all 12 numbers crammed into one side.

What does all of this have to do with poker? Well, not a lot, really, except for a bizarre incident that happened a couple of days ago at Harrah's, which reminded me of all of those distorted clock face drawings I've seen in textbooks.

I was one of the players on the list for $1-$2 no-limit hold'em. They were ready to start up a new table and called off the names. When this happens, sometimes it takes forever for the players to assemble and get going; other times there's a mad rush because everybody wants to grab their favorite seat. This time, it was sort of in between.

I took seat 9, on the dealer's right (Harrah's plays 9-handed, rather than 10), my usual favored place. The two seats to my right were occupied by two Russian friends. The first one to the table had been an elderly gentleman, who plopped down in seat 5, squarely in front of the dealer. Other people filled in seats one, two, three, and six, but the guy who took six left his chips there and went off to the restroom.

The last one to arrive was a young woman. Strangely, she pulled the chair out from the four-spot and wedged it in between number five and absent-guy's seat six. Why did she do this, instead of just taking the four seat where it was? Well, I don't know, but I have a strong suspicion. She quickly proved herself to be a smart, aggressive player, all business, clearly there for no reason other than to make money. Chips tend to flow around the table clockwise; that is, I will generally win more chips from the players in the seats just to my right than from other places at the table. This is because I have a positional advantage on them most of the time. Therefore, all else being equal, I'd like to have the softest, easiest targets on my immediate right. I think that this young woman made a stereotyped judgment (which turned out to be correct) that the elderly man was going to be the easiest player to bully, and she wanted him on her right. If she had taken the four seat, he would have been on her left, from which position it would be hardest to win his chips.

Anyway, when Mr. Six came back to the table, we had the bizarre picture of six of the nine players all crammed into the right half of the table, and only three players on the left half. This clearly wasn't going to work. The dealer tried to get the five seat to scoot to his right and become seat four. But he wasn't moving. He was a lot crankier about it than he needed to be, but he had two excellent points. First, he had been the first one there. Second, he chose that position because he had poor eyesight and it was the only seat from which he could clearly see the community cards. In my opinion, all players should be willing to defer to a need such as that.

I wouldn't really have minded moving, but that wouldn't have helped, because the two Russian guys on my right did not want to shift from seven and eight into eight and nine. (Most people dislike the one and nine or ten seats, next to the dealer. I'm weird; they're my favorites.)

The dealer gave up trying to manage the situation and called for the floor. Floor guy, unfortunately, doesn't ask the obvious question: "Who was last to arrive?" Instead, he just sees that the older man and the young woman are both spaced correctly for seats five and six, so he tells the guy crammed into what had been position six (now back from the restroom) to pick up his chair and move over to four.

A young woman in seat two tried to help by pointing out that the aggressive woman was the cause of the problem, because she was last to arrive, and had picked up a chair and squeezed it in where she didn't belong. The floor guy quite rudely cuts her off in mid-sentence. He doesn't want to hear it. He snidely says, "Thank you, I'm handling it."

Eventually, the guy who had been in the restroom agrees to move over, so it gets sorted out, but it was an embarrassing, juvenile situation for a while.

Clearly the chief culprit was the late-arriving young woman whose focus (apparently) on picking a victim for her aggression overrode all sense of fairness and propriety.

The poker book that has been most influential in how I approach the game is Barry Greenstein's Ace on the River. Most of what he writes about just isn't found anywhere else, particularly discussions about various aspects of the life of a professional player. He suggests that several strategies which are actually cooperative rather than competitive are good for professional players to embrace. He specifically includes (p. 159):

Not obsessively getting the best seat position. If you are jumping around
the table, continually competing with other players for best position on live
ones [i.e., the most unskilled players], you will make the game into a circus
and cause the live ones to feel uncomfortable.
The young woman from Harrah's, I think, needs to absorb some of Greenstein's lessons.

Incidentally, did you recognize the movie quotation that formed the title of this post? If not, see the scene it comes from here: In addition to the distorted clock-face drawings, this classic Mel Brooks scene was what came to my mind when I saw nearly everybody sitting on one side of the table. Sadly, Leonardo da Vinci was nowhere in sight.

X-22 sighting

Fans of televised tournament poker will likely recognize Paul "X-22" Magriel in the above photo. He's hard to miss, being one of the--how can one say this kindly?--most peculiar characters in the poker world.

As I mentioned in a previous post today (, I spent some time this afternoon watching the first couple of episodes of the Professional Poker Tour. One of the players at the featured table was Magriel, whom I have seen before on WPT and other such broadcasts.

After I left the Poker Palace (see immediately preceding post,, I went to the Sahara. I really dislike the place, but it's one of my most consistent profit centers, and I was already nasty in cigarette smoke, so I decided to hit it. They had only one no-limit game going, and only one seat available. I was stunned to sit down with none other than Paul Magriel on my right. He is easily the most recognizable "name" player I've ever shared a table with.

I have no idea whether he lives in town or is just visiting. I also have no idea why somebody who can routinely either buy himself into or get staked for $10,000 tournaments was playing a $1-$3 cash game at the Sahara late into a Sunday night. It couldn't have been for fun, because he didn't appear to be having any.

An even weirder coincidence is that this afternoon I read the first review I've come across of a brand-new poker tournament strategy book titled (strangely) Kill Everyone, the sequel to Kill Phil. And guess what Magriel was doing between hands? Yep, he was reading Kill Everyone.

I remembered reading a year or two ago that Magriel, who long ago wrote what is apparently still considered the definitive strategy guide for backgammon (see, was teaming up with Gus Hansen to write a poker strategy book. I took the opportunity tonight to ask about how this project was coming. He told me it had been cancelled, and Hansen is writing his own book instead. I told him, quite sincerely, that that was a shame, because that combination of authors had potential to make a truly interesting and groundbreaking book. He said, with what I took to be deep bitterness, "It would have been the best ever written." It seemed like a sore topic, so I didn't press him for details.

In contrast to his wild tournament style, he was the tightest player at the table. Perhaps this was because he was reading the book, or maybe he was just killing time waiting for somebody in the tournament that was going on, or maybe he just adopts completely different styles of play for tournament and cash games. I don't know. I saw him seriously contest only one significant pot in the hour I was there, and he won it with the nut flush on the river. He spent a lot of time away from the table. He also seemed at least as interested in his drinks as in the game. The cocktail waitress obviously knew his order by heart, because when he saw her, he would just raise a finger to get her attention, and she would point at him and say, "Another vodka-cranberry?" and he would nod.

Magriel is famous for, among other things, his weird tics and mannerisms at the poker table. On television he is constantly squirming, fidgeting, grimacing, moving his tongue from one side of his mouth to the other, etc. I wouldn't be too surprised if he has Asberger's syndrome, or one of the related disorders (see On the other hand, I've heard others quote him as saying that those things are all deliberate, an act to throw off opponents. I have always been highly skeptical of that--they just look way too deeply ingrained. But I have to say that he demonstrated essentially none of that stuff during the hour I was observing him. Maybe it is an act after all. Or maybe it's involuntary, but only brought out by the nervousness and adrenaline of the television lights and/or the pressure of a big-money tournament. Or maybe it's involuntary and there most of the time, but suppressed when he's drinking. I have no clue.

He was very quiet the whole time, but perfectly polite when addressed. He even graciously agreed to let me take the picture you see above. He wasn't looking his best, so I was prepared to have him decline and I would have respected that and not tried to sneak one. But he just chuckled and said, "Sure."

All told, it was one of the least expected and oddest personalty encounters I've had during my time in Vegas. And more than a little sad, too; I can't help feeling that he has been in better situations in his life than he seems to be now.

Poker Palace

I have knocked off one more place from my long-term goal of playing in every poker room in the valley. I'm glad it's done and I won't have to go back. The Poker Palace joins that special group of dives that, in my opinion, have no redeeming qualities and no reason to exist, as far as poker is concerned.

You get a sense of the clientele from the sign, shown above, in the parking lot. Really, now--if you have to remind your customers not to leave their children unattended in the car while they go in to gamble, you may not be catering to the highest echelons of society. I presume that they wouldn't have bothered having such a sign made up if it were not a recurrent problem.

Despite that being my first impression of the place, I had a moment of hope when I saw that the casino has two separate entrances, one of which is marked "Non-Smoking Entrance." I chose that door, and it was indeed wonderfully free of smoke. But I quickly discovered that that's not the section of the casino with the poker room, and traversing the doorway between the non-smoking and the smoking sections was like leaving one's house on a foggy San Francisco day. Ugh. The poker room is technically non-smoking, but like many other places, there's only a half-wall that separates the tables from the open casino floor, so it's pretty nasty.

When I arrived, there was no cash game going, only a tournament. But it was clearly in its last stages, which meant that I could expect players busting out to be looking for a cash game. They also told me they had four names on the list for a no-limit game, so I grabbed a magazine. I had to wait about 30 minutes before the game started. It peaked at six players, but usually had only five, and broke up completely 90 minutes after it began.

Oddly, they play no-limit hold'em with just one $2 blind. The players were all curmudgeonly tight, except for one guy who, once he got his stack down to about $25, had only one move: all-in before the flop. He picked up the blind often enough to stay at about that stack size.

I made a grand total of $6 in the 90 minutes I played there. Whee! Well, I also pocketed a handful of souvenir chips commemorating various minor events, but I don't include those in my winnings.

One dealer seemed to be an unusually bright guy, smart and personable, conversant on subjects of interest to me, and somebody it might be good to know. Other than that, I found nothing likeable about this place whatsoever.

Incidentally, before heading out to North Las Vegas, I called the Speedway Casino to see if they had a live game going. The guy on the phone (a pit boss) said that they hadn't had a poker game there in about six months. Crossing that place off my list may prove an insurmoutable challenge.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Play a hand with me

It's pretty rare that I post stuff dealing with strategy and analysis of hands, because, first, there's about a billion other places you can go for those topics, so I have little new and original to contribute. Second, I just think it's usually pretty boring to read about somebody else's poker play. It's a "you had to be there" kind of thing. Besides, if you don't know the author personally, it's hard to care much if he won or lost on a given hand or in a given session.

But I've been musing today on a hand that I played last night in a $1-2 no-limit hold'em game at Harrah's, one that required more thought and finesse than usual, and I think maybe some readers might learn something from it. I'll warn you in advance, though, that it's going to take a lot of words to explain what on the surface was a pretty straightforward hand of cards, because all of the interesting stuff was going on below the surface. This is a hand that would have been totally different if played online. In fact, it illustrates perfectly, in large part, why I'm so much more successful playing in casinos than I am on the Internet.

When Greg Raymer won the main event of the World Series of Poker in 2004, he had to deal with the usual nay-sayers calling him a luckbox, and put up with critiques of some plays that seemed, well, a little crazy. But then ESPN did a special show where he got to comment on what he was doing, play by play, and it was eye-opening: The guy is very smart, highly analytical, and always, always, always, had a thoughtful, intelligent rationale for doing what he did. It was an impressive performance. (Had I been a follower of the forums, I would have already known that he had, long before the WSOP win, distinguished himself as a first-rate hand analyst.) I hope to do something similar here, in microcosm, because there is so vastly much more going on in poker than who has what cards, and this hand shows that abundantly, I think.

The nature of the opponent is absolutely crucial here. She is a classic tight-weak player, meaning that she plays very few hands, doesn't bet them strongly when she has them, and seems to be easier than average to intimidate. To make matters worse for her, she's playing in a seat next to a girlfriend, and they're openly commenting on the action as hands play out (not to the point of actually violating rules, but just things like "Wow," and "oooo" and "uh-oh" when unexpected things happen). In other words, she's spinning off loads of extra information about whether she likes the situation or not.

Conversely, I've been lucky enough to establish a highly tight-aggressive image, not showing any of my bluffs, showing down only strong hands, and making good laydowns when beat, all of which adds up to the table seeing my bets and raises as deserving healthy respect. It's just the way I like it.

I have only tangled with this young woman in one pot before. She folded to my raise on the river, and I showed her that I had made the nut straight on the turn and had trapped her for that last river bet. I have no doubt that that memory will influence how she plays against me in the future.

These facts are critical, because I'm about to do something unorthodox, and wouldn't attempt it without those circumstances having set it up.

I limp in from early position with Q-10 of hearts. It's not a hand I'm thrilled with, and I won't take much heat with it, but it does have potential. Ms. Tight-Weak raises to $10, which is a pretty standard opening raise for this table. Everybody else folds.

Normally I would fold here, too, and with good reason. As Dan Harrington points out in his essential treatise on tournament hold'em, you have four weapons at your disposal: your cards, your chip stack, position, and table image. You don't need to have all four of them going for you in any hand, but it's unwise to go into battle without at least two of them on your side.

Here I have only one: table image. I'm out of position. She has a few more chips than I do. And given the narrow range of hands with which she has been raising, she almost certainly is starting off with stronger cards.

It is terribly arrogant of me to think that I can outplay an opponent without the advantage of position, without an intimidating stack of chips, and with a weaker hand. It's really rare that I would attempt it. But, as I hope I have adequately established above, the peculiar mix of factors here seems just right that I might be able to negotiate an unusually dangerous situation. At the very least, I believe that it will be easy to determine if I'm beat and get away from the hand without too much loss.

So I call her raise, and we see the flop of K-Q-2 rainbow. I check. She bets $20. I think she probably has either pocket aces or a king with a strong kicker to bet into me here, and if she had aces, she likely would have raised more before the flop. But I decide to call, mostly to see what she does with the turn card, in the hope that a steal opportunity will present itself. Lots of players like her will fire on the flop, but not have the heart to keep betting if they are called. In her case, this could be because the flop missed her (e.g., she has pocket 10s or jacks, and really didn't like the flop, but was willing to take one shot at it), or because the flop helped her, but she's worried about being trapped by me slow-playing something like two pair or a flopped set of deuces. In addition to all of that, having made second pair here gives me outs even if she has the king; a 10 or another Q will likely give me a better hand.

The turn card is an offsuit 6. I like this, because there are no flush draws to complicate the analysis. It's possible that she has a straight draw with A-J, but it's only a one-way if so, and I really don't think she's the type to have bet just a draw. If she had J-10 for the open-ended straight draw, I think she would have just limped in before the flop.

On the other hand, the turn card obviously didn't help me. I'm going to check, and basically if she fires again, I'm bailing out.

At least, that's the plan.

But then she does something unexpected: she bets $20 again. A larger bet, and I'm convinced she has a king, I'm beat, and I'm outta there. But repeating, rather than increasing, a bet size on a later street is a tight-weak player's classic scream of fear. My assessment of her is that she has sufficient experience to overcome her fear if she had two pair (especially king-queen here) or pocket kings or queens for a flopped set, and she would be confident enough of her hand to bet strongly. On the other hand, if she had missed completely, I think she wouldn't be putting in another bet at all. That means that I can narrow down her hand possibilities with almost laser-like precision: She has A-K, K-J, or A-Q. Nothing else fits the pattern here.

Repeating the same bet size after the pot has grown larger isn't quite raising the white flag of surrender, but it definitely changes my plan. I now think there's a good chance I can steal it from her. So I calmly, quietly, deliberately put two red chips on top of a $50 stack and push it forward--a check-raise, tripling her bet.

She and her friend instantly go into frenzy mode: "Uh-oh." "What did I get myself into?" "What does he have?" I like this. Unless my radar is way, way off, this isn't acting to fake me out with a monster, but is genuine concern on her part. She cuts out the additional $40, moves it back and forth between her hands a bit, looks at what is left of her stacks if she calls and loses this, but then finally puts it in. But she is definitely rattled.

I now believe that I can eliminate A-Q from her range of possible hands, because she wouldn't call a check-raise with second pair. She's just got to have a king for top pair, and most likely A-K to be willing to call my check-raise.

Well, basically I'm done with this hand. I gave it a good try, but it didn't work. I'm beat and I can't push her off of her hand. Time to cut my losses and look for a better spot.

But wait--did the dealer just put out a third queen for me on the river? Why yes, he did! Thank you, Mr. Dealer! I am about as certain as I can be that I now have the best hand. What's more is she can't think that I have a queen, because nobody would be stupid enough to check-raise with second pair (hee hee!). So I move all-in for my last $106.

She again goes into talk-out-loud mode. It takes her at least a full minute, but finally she says, "OK, I call." She then gets the bad news, and shows me her A-K. She crabs a bit with her friend about how lucky I got--which there is no denying. I hit one of five cards that would make me the winner, without which it probably would have gone check-check at the end.

Her mistakes were excessive timidity and transparency. If she had put in closer to a pot-sized bet on the turn, I would have scampered off with my tail between my legs. And consider her call of my check-raise on the turn. She should have thought something like this: "If I call here and he pushes all-in on the river, I'm going to call that. Since I'm going to be willing to risk nearly all my chips anyway, it would be smarter to push now, because if he's just trying to bully me, he might fold, but if I wait until the river and he goes all-in, it will be too late to push back against him, and, besides, that last card might help him. I can't expect my hand to get any better than it already is, so now is the time to make my stand." If she had re-raised me there, again I run away licking my wounds. Her weakness cost her nearly her entire stack.

The transparency cost her money, too, because without making herself so easy to gauge, I would have been concerned that she started with K-Q, flopped two pair, and make a full house on the river. I might have still tried the check-raise (I honestly can't say for sure), but if she had called it without fuss and drama and emotion, I would have been seriously worried that I was beat even after making three queens, and would have checked it down with her, cutting her losses. She virtually allowed me to play as if her cards were face-up on the table, which let me extract maximum value when I got more than a little bit lucky.*

So today's lessons, kids, are these: When you have a good hand, playing it timidly will cost you money. And whatever hand you have, the more you talk and react and scrunch up your face and fiddle with your chips, the easier it will be for an opponent to deduce what you're holding, and adjust his play optimally against you, which will also cost you money. That's not what you want, is it?

*Of course, these things can go the other way, too. Just a few days ago, also at Harrah's, I made the nut straight on the turn, put in a pot-sized bet, and had an opponent move all-in on me with two pair. I called, of course, and he hit one of four cards on the river to make a full house. Nothing you can do about that except roll your eyes and pull out more cash.

Go ahead and stare, for all the good it will do you

Last night I was playing at Imperial Palace. I only recognized one other player as somebody that I've dealt with before, and I mainly remembered him because of The Stare.

First, a bit of background about one of the best-known poker "tells" (i.e., things that players do that give away information about the strength of their cards). When the flop comes, if it has helped a player, he'll often reflexively look down at his chips. He has made a snap decision to bet, and he's looking at how much he has left to start trying to figure out the amount. Conversely, if the flop doesn't help him, he'll often keep gazing at it longer than his usual practice. Again, this is a subconscious behavior. He keeps trying to see if there is something, anything, there that can help him. It's easy to imagine the train of thought: "Is there a pair for me? No. How about a flush draw? No. Maybe a straight draw? No." This sequence of analysis takes time--not an eternity, but noticeably longer than if he instantly saw something he could use.

For inexperienced players, this is one of the most common and reliable tells. Advice books routinely advise that you not look at the cards the dealer is putting out; instead, they say, watch your opponent's eyes so that you can gauge whether he likes the flop or not. The cards will still be there for you to analyze a few seconds later, but you only have a very brief window of time to catch the opponent's reaction to the flop.

Well, there's nothing especially wrong with that advice, per se, if the opponent in question is very new to live poker. I've profited from it many times myself. But after you've played for a while, and especially after you've read about this tell and caught it in other players, it's one that's trivially easy to conceal in yourself. You just have to develop a habit of moving your eyes in the same way on every flop. My practice is to glance briefly at the cards, then move my eyes immediately to the hands of the first player to act (because I think that hands give away at least as much information as the face does).

But once in a while, I become aware that a player is taking the "watch your opponent's eyes" advice a little too seriously. That's the case with the player I was with last night. He's just staring right at me every time the dealer puts out the flop, turn, or river, if I'm in the pot with him.

(Sometimes this becomes almost comical, when two players, both having diligently read the advice, just glare into each other's eyes, neither one wanting to be the first to break off and look down at the cards--kind of a weird poker version of "chicken.")

It's creepy to be stared at like that. I don't like it. But I'm sure not going to tell him that I don't like it. No, it's far better not to look back at him, once I've determined that he's doing this routinely. Instead, I'll pretend like I have no idea why he's watching me, and do a little reverse-tell thing on him. The flop hits me perfectly? OK, I'm going to keep staring at those cards, maybe make a miniscule wince or grimace (not too much--don't want to oversell the effect) to convince him that the continuation bet I'm about to make is a bluff, and let him come over the top, confident that he's got me.

Conversely, if I whiff on the flop, I zap my eyes downward to my chips as fast as I can. Then I can take a bit of time to decide whether to bet as a continuied feign of strength, or check, and let him think that I'm trapping him, and maybe peel off a free card.

Of course, I won't do either one of these consistently; over time, I'll more or less randomize it, lest he figure out that I'm reverse-telling on him and be able to use that information to his benefit.

The point is, this tell only works with that subset of players who aren't aware of it. This guy last night? He was risking eyestrain with no benefit. He picked the wrong target for his radar, because I can throw chaff at his instrumentation with less effort than he is expending to try to read me. Apparently he didn't read or remember the part of the advice book that said that tells always appear in a context, and the context can completely change the interpretation. If you have an opponent with any degree of sophistication to his play, he's not going to be just giving away reliable, consistent information for free.

Go stare at somebody else next time, pal.

(Very cool bit of art above borrowed without permission from

I don't like Eskimo Clark

Paul "Eskimo" Clark is one of about a zillion people on the poker tournament circuit that shows up sufficiently often on television that it's almost impossible not to have seen him at some point, if you're into watching such things. I hadn't had cause to dislike him, until today.

The Professional Poker Tour was a great idea that didn't take off. It lasted one season. Instead of a bunch of amateurs with $10,000 to blow on a big tourney buy-in, or guys who got lucky in a super-satellite, you actually had to be a professional poker player with a decent track record in order to be invited to play. The competition really is impressive, with very, very few soft spots at any of the tables. From what I've seen so far, there's a lot of really great play here.

I never saw the broadcasts when they originally aired, which I think was in 2005-2006. But I recently found a place where I could download them, so now I'm starting to work my way through the season. It will take a while, because they covered the events with reasonable thoroughness, devoting ten hours of TV time to each tournament, rather than just a two-hour final table, as the World Poker Tour does. With five events in the season, that's 50 hours of play I'm looking forward to absorbing. You can expect to see more grumpy complaints posted here from what I see.

Each of the first two episodes, taped at Foxwoods, have given me reason to put Clark on my list of disfavored pros.

String raise

At the very end of the first episode we catch the tail end of a brouhaha between Clark and Paul Darden. This didn't happen at the featured table, so we can't see the actual incident that triggered the confrontation, but apparently Clark made a string bet or raise, and Darden called him on it, backed up by the dealer, and the excess portion of the bet or raise had to be withdrawn. It's hard to tell for sure, but it appears that Darden bet on the river and Clark wanted to raise, but was instead limited to a call because of the illegal movement.

This is surprising all by itself, because string bets/raises (i.e., putting out some amount of chips, then going back to one's stack to grab more to put out in a second motion, without having first made a verbal announcement) are exceptionally rare among professionals or even experienced amateurs. It's the kind of mistake you tend to make once, your first time playing in a casino, but then you catch on to how things work, and the mechanics of proper betting become automatic.

Clark wins the hand, but he stands up, shakes his finger at Darden, and says, "I'm gonna have to call it on you now since you're coming after me. I'm gonna call everything on you." Darden tells him that's fine, call whatever you want, because "I know how to play."

This is so stupid. First, it's pretty unlikely that Darden (or anybody else) is going to make the kind of blunder that Clark did. Second, whether or not to "call" another player on such infractions is usually not left to any player's discretion; the dealer should be the one speaking up about it, and do it in every single instance, whether or not anybody else at the table notices or cares. (In this case, since the dealer apparently saw it happen, I'm guessing that he would have disallowed it anyway, but Darden was just a hair quicker to point it out.) Third, the classy thing to do in this spot is say, "You're right, my mistake. I wasn't thinking," then let it go. This sort of verbal tirade accomplishes nothing except to get yourself labeled as an immature brat who can't admit to his own failings.

Personally, I would just ignore a tantrum like that, just stare at the guy like the clown he is. But if you're inclined to respond at all, Darden has it about right: Go ahead, dude, I defy you to catch me being that boneheaded!

Not knowing the action

In the second incident, the blinds are at $150/300. From early position, Chris Bigler silently pushes all-in for a huge overbet, $7025, with suited A-K. The dealer should announce the raise to the table, but doesn't, as far as I can tell from the tape. Clark, three spots to the left of Bigler, fails to notice Bigler's move, and throws $1200 into the pot, thinking that he is raising (with K-J offsuit). Annie Duke points out to him that it was raised before, and Clark takes back his chips. The tournament director is called for a ruling, and says that Clark can either call Bigler's raise or fold, but if he folds the $1200 will stay in the pot. This is a pretty standard rule. It is always every player's personal obligation to know what the preceding action was before making a decision.

At this point, the ethical and professional thing to do is say, "You're right, it was my mistake," give up the $1200 (18% of his stack--a big hit for a slip-up), smile, and move on. But no. He has to argue about what his intentions were, what the rule is, whether the raise was verbally announced, etc.

Finally, Duke says, "You know what, Eskimo, just put your money in the pot. He's made a ruling." Chris Karagulleyan chimes in, "There's no one higher you're going to go to." At last, Clark realizes that he's wasting his breath (and everybody else's time), and disgustedly throws the chips back in, along with his cards.

The delicious irony is that Bigler gets called by somebody else, so we get to see the hand played out, and Clark would have sucked out on him and won a huge pot. Hee hee hee! I love it when whiners get punished by the poker gods.

The only way to be grumpy about poker is to do it away from the table--like in a blog, maybe....


I'm now listed on this site's aggregation of poker-related blogs:

I haven't yet figured out all of its ins and outs, why certain things get featured and not others, etc., but at least it makes it easy to scan and sample other blogs that I haven't heard of before.

My main concern is that they are completely non-selective in what blogs they'll list; if it's about poker, it's in. After not too long, it may get so bogged down (blogged down?) with crap as to become not very useful, because most poker blogs, like most of everything in the world, aren't worthwhile.

Poker gems, #64

Robert Turner.

A person should gamble every day, because think of how bad it would be to walk around being lucky and not know it.