Saturday, April 26, 2008

Expelling a jerk from a tournament

Back in March, lots of poker news sources and blogs reported on the unusual expulsion of a tournament chip leader, a guy named Lesley Thornburg, from the final table, due to ongoing bad behavior. These were essentially all based on the report of Nolan Dalla, which you can read here. I didn't repeat or point to it at the time, because I didn't have anything useful to add to the story, and anybody who peruses poker news outlets or blogs would almost certainly have come across it elsewhere.

I was pleased and surprised to find in the May, 2008, issue of Poker Pro magazine an editorial comment from John Wenzel, who describes the situation with other details not previously reported. It's not clear whether Wenzel was there, or just reporting secondhand on what others told him, but at least he gathered perspectives other than that of Dalla. And even with these additional pieces of information about what the culprit was doing, it's clear that there is a lot being left out.

It's such a remarkable story that I'm posting it here, in the form of a scan of Wenzel's piece, since I know that Poker Pro magazine isn't nearly as widely circulated as other publications, which means that many people won't ever see this. (Click the image to embiggen it sufficiently for reading.)

The only question left is why the tournament director didn't disqualify the guy sooner.

Addendum, April 27, 2008

I started wondering if this Thornburg fellow had attempted any explanation or defense of his actions in the various poker forums, so I Googled his name and found one, of sorts, from somebody claiming to be Thornburg, which you can read here. Even if the post is really from the person in question, it's a pretty implausible defense, basically saying that he did nothing out of the ordinary, and he can't imagine why they picked on him. The threshold for conduct that will get you ejected from a poker tournament (for anything short of being caught red-handed cheating) is about a hundredfold higher than what this writer is saying happened. Furthermore, if Wenzel's witnesses are even remotely on target, the guy was hopelessly out of control, and probably drunk enough that he couldn't be counted on to even remember his own conduct, let alone be a reliable judge of it.

Making a stop at the Station(s)

Last night I played at two of the Station casinos--Texas Station and Santa Fe Station--each of which I had previously visited just once. I nabbed a bunch of short stories and observations about each.

The image above, incidentally, is not from North Las Vegas (where both of the above-mentioned casinos are located). Rather, it is Claude Monet, "Gare Saint Lazare: the Train from Normandy," 1877, a painting that one may see at the Art Institute of Chicago. About ten years ago that museum had a mind-blowing show, pulling together roughly 150 Monets--the largest assembly of his paintings in one place since the artist's death. I was privileged to see it. Best art experience of my life.

Texas Station

My friend James Klosty used to be a shift manager at the Hilton, then moved up to be the poker room manager at Fiesta Henderson. He sent me an email recently telling me that he had moved yet again, and is now in the same position at Texas Station. So I decided to go see what he has done with the place.

This is a small poker room--I counted nine tables. It's too smoky for my taste, with an ineffective half-wall on three sides, exposing players to smoke and noise from the surrounding main casino floor. Last night, a Friday, between 7:00 and 9:00, there were four tables in action, two $2-4 limit and two $4-8 limit hold'em games--nothing in the no-limit category. That alone will severely restrict my interest in returning. The games were pretty typical for a locals-oriented poker room. Most of the players plainly knew each other, and the dealers knew most of the players. There's a series of weekly freeroll tournaments going on now--qualify with ten hours of play--and a lot of the seats were filled with players punching the clock.

Texas Station's poker room is far from the worst of the lot, but, frankly, there isn't much there that would make me interested in visiting it again.

A variation on "I knew he had..."

One of the more annoying stupid things that people say at the poker table is "I knew he had..." (fill in: the straight, the flush, aces, or whatever). Of course, people only say this after their hunch is confirmed. It's pretty easy to be right 100% of the time when you only reveal your "prediction" after the evidence is in.

That's why it was refreshing last night to hear the very rare admission of an error. I won the biggest pot of the night with 7-8 of hearts in the hole when the flop came 4-5-6 rainbow. The betting had been capped with five players before the flop. My bet on the flop got three callers, two on the turn, and one called the river. The woman to my right said, after the hand, that she "knew" I couldn't have 7-8, because she "knew" that I wouldn't call all of that aggressive pre-flop betting with such a holding.

There have been only two or three times that I've noticed a player using the phrase "I knew" when describing what proves to have been an erroneous conclusion. Of course, nobody ever really knows what another player is holding--which is precisely why I find the whole "I knew he had..." post hoc boast to be so stupid and annoying. One's best guess or deduction does not constitute knowing in any meaningful sense. So I appreciated this young woman's honesty. Whether consciouly or not, she showed that what frequently and casually gets labeled as certain knowledge of what an opponent has is usually highly tenuous and fallible.

Applause for a unique rule

During a short stint at a $2-4 table while waiting for a $4-8 seat to open up, the player to my right asked the dealer to give the cards a scramble on the table before putting them into the Shufflemaster. This is a topic I've addressed before, here and here. I've never seen a dealer refuse the request--until last night.

To my great surprise, the dealer said, "I'm not allowed to do that. I have to call the floor." She called over the floor person, and was told that house rules do not permit giving the cards an extra "wash" before putting them in the Shufflemaster.

I wanted to stand up and cheer. Finally, a poker room that implements a rational policy that prevents stupid players from wasting everybody's time with a pointless gesture. Hoorah!

The only way this could be made better would be to have the rule specify that the dealer must administer a dope slap to the idiot player making the request, simultaneously asking "How stupid are you anyway?"

Somebody failed junior-high English

I spotted this sign just outside the Texas Station poker room last night. Notice the erroneous apostrophes in "10's" and "Ace's." Oddly, it's "Aces" in one spot and "Ace's" in another--apparently the sign writer wasn't sure, and so made one each way, figuring it was better to be half right and half wrong than to risk getting it wrong twice. Notice also that he manges to correctly make the plural of "flush" and "player" without inserting superfluous punctuation.

I'll never understand why so many people insist on using apostrophes to make a few randomly selected nouns plural. (There's an entire blog devoted to this pervasive problem. See here.)

Sante Fe Station

After I had had my fill of limit hold'em, and there was no sign of a no-limit game getting started, I left Texas Station and proceeded up Rancho Drive a couple of miles further northwest to Sante Fe Station. I had been to this place only once before. That was on opening day of "Lucky You." I took a friend out there to see the movie and try the then-new "Salt Lick BBQ" restaurant (pretty good, but mostly indistinguishable from about a thousand other barbecue places). There was a little down time before the show started, so I played maybe 30 minutes of limit hold'em while waiting.

Last night was surprisingly different. The place has 14 tables, and 12 of them were full, with waiting lists for everything. I had not anticipated it being so busy. They had only one cocktail waitress for the entire room, which just isn't enough for 12 tables. It took 45 minutes to get a lousy bottle of water.

As with Texas Station, this is primarily a locals casino. Many of the players clearly knew each other. Play was the standard weak/passive that one usually observes in such places. Easy to beat if you just pick your strong spots, and avoid bluffing, because you're surrounded by calling stations. (Hey, it just occurred to me--maybe that's why they named the casino chain the "Station" casinos!)

"All of a sudden..."

The funny line of the night came from a guy named Joe. Four players were in the hand, and nobody bet at it the whole way. The board ended up showing a straight, which nobody could beat, so the pot was chopped four ways; each player got his $2 back. Joe was at an end seat, and raised his hands like a catcher in baseball, encouraging the dealer to throw the two blue chips his way. She obliged. But at the last nanosecond, the player sitting next to Joe deftly reached out and single-handedly nabbed the two chips in mid-air--a very nice interception. He was just kidding around with his friend, and after pretending to pocket the chips put them down in front of Joe where they belonged.

Joe pointed to his buddy and quipped, "All of a sudden, he became my ex-wife!"


I watched one guy win a small pot when he had pocket 8s and the other two 8s came on the flop. His lone opponent had nothing and folded to a small bet on the turn. He whined for five minutes about how he couldn't get paid off, and that it was his unluckiest day in poker.

The only thing worse than a player who whines when he loses is the guy who whines when he wins. (See here for a similar story.)

Don't trust your life to 911

As I was leaving Santa Fe Station, I passed through the intersection of Rancho and Lone Mountain Road, where I saw a very drunk guy stumbling around. He randomly staggered between the sidewalk and Rancho. Cars come along pretty fast on that stretch of this major street, and I was worried that he would stumble out at the wrong time and get hit. So I called 911 on my cell phone to report the situation, and hopefully have the cops take him somewhere safer to sleep it off.

I'm aware that calling 911 from a cell phone doesn't necessarily get you to the right people for help on the first try, because the systen isn't really set up to know where one is calling from. I'm used to having to specify where I am and what service is needed before being transferred to the appropriate call center. So when the call was answered, I quickly explained the location and problem, and heard, "One moment please while I transfer you." OK, that's cool.

Second call answerer. I go through it again. This time I am surprised to hear the "wait while I transfer you" again. A third person answers. I ask, "Do I really have to explain this for a third time?" She says she isn't aware of whatever I may have said to previous people. I'm annoyed, but I rattle off the information yet again. She asks which part of the intersection. I say the southwest corner. She then asks which of the two roads I'm traveling on (Rancho), and which direction. How can that matter, since I'm past it now? But I oblige. Then she wants a detailed description of the man in question--race, age, hair, shirt color and style, pants color and style, etc. After about three of these questions I'm getting seriously irritated, and finally cut her off with this: "Look, if your officers get to the intersection of Rancho and Lone Mountain Road and see a drunk guy stumbling around in the roadway, it's probably the same one I saw. And if he has left and there's a different drunk guy stumbling around into the road, then they can help him."

She apparently took the hint and stopped asking for further information. I still can't see the point of asking for all of those details. I mean, isn't it obvious that if they arrive at the intersection specified and see somebody wandering in the street drunk, that's probably the man in question, regardless of what color shirt he happens to be wearing?

I'm sure glad I wasn't trying to report a rape or murder in progress. It would have been done and the perp long gone before I (1) got transferred to the right agency, and (2) finished answering all of their pointless questions.

Pull up your pants, dude!

This is Kofi Farkye, a 19-year-old college student who got to the final table of the North American Poker Championship (season 6, episode 5 of the World Poker Tour). In addition to the humiliation of being knocked out on a kind of dumb play, he has to live with having neglected to wear a belt when it might have done him the most good.

Don't they have any sort of dress code for this show?

Not only does this guy not how to wear pants, he is apparently an online poker cheater who has been banned from Poker Stars for multi-accounting. See story here.

Friday, April 25, 2008


I ran into Annie again tonight at the Tuscany poker room, a place I've never seen her before. I used to see her only at the Hilton, but it no longer surprises me to run into her anywhere, because she really gets around--especially if there is a freeroll tournament in the offing for hours played. I've introduced you to Annie before here; I suggest reading that post before this one, so that you have some sense of who I'm talking about.

Seeing her again reminded me of two other Annie stories.

Annie plays a pretty classic tight-aggressive game, and makes her money from the tourists who underestimate her. One day she came into the Hilton and the poker room manager asked, "Are you here to take everyone's money again?" She cupped her hands as if holding an imaginary bowl, transformed her face into that of the saddest, most pathetic street beggar, cocked her head to one side, and plaintively replied, "No, I just want to make enough money to buy a little rice to feed my family." It's hard to convey how funny this was, coming from a player who often needs a wheelbarrow to cash out her winnings.

Another time she was obviously sick, coughing and sniffling, looking like hell. One of the dealers asked why she didn't just stay home that day. Annie looked at him as if he had just asked the world's stupidest question. She scrunched up her face and said, "Because I not dead YET."

I am now actually managing to eke out a decent living playing poker. I do love this game, but still, there are times, when I've been playing too many long sessions in a row, that Annie's answer is about the only one I can come up with for why I'm still sitting there, rather than being home in bed:

Because I'm not dead YET.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Podcast #2

Episode #2 of the Hard-Boiled Poker Radio Show, with another small contribution from moi, is now up here.

A few nice things to do in Vegas (no poker content)

With my sister still in town, I'm taking a few days off from poker, so no new stories are being generated. In the meantime, we bring you this substitute blog content.

Tonight we ate at Lindo Michoacan, which has been voted "Best Mexican Restaurant" by Las Vegas Review-Journal readers five years in a row. I thought it was excellent, and there were several things on the menu that I'd like to go back and try.

Then we went and played a round at the only miniature golf course in the city: King Putt. The guy who owns it used to be a poker dealer at the Hilton, and it was interesting keeping up with the progress, while he was still dealing, of getting business loans, scouting locations, getting permits, etc. He's also a fellow graduate of the University of Illinois, which alone is reason enough to know somebody. (Hey, it worked out for me, Barry Greenstein, Hugh Hefner, and Roger Ebert, right?) He has turned it into a surprisingly nice outfit--looks like he spent a fortune on the Egyptian-themed decorations.

Finally we stopped at Marble Slab Creamery for some truly superb ice cream, just a couple of blocks south of King Putt. I had the banana ice cream with marshmallows mixed in. Mmmmm.

And that was my exciting evening out on the town. I realize that a "proper" Las Vegas fun night is supposed to involve lots of reckless gambling, strippers, night clubs, copious amounts of expensive booze, maybe a hooker, maybe a spontaneous wedding that you don't remember the next day. But I'm content with a nice Mexican meal, miniature golf, catching up on family news, and some high-quality ice cream.

Maybe I don't really belong here....

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Bellagio is a nice place to take visitors (slight bonus poker content right at the very end, if you're patient)

My sister is in town for a meeting, so we went out to eat at "In 'n' Out Burger" (her choice--she had never been there) and bowling at Gold Coast (I got a 164 in my second game, including 3 strikes and 4 spares--my best score in years). We're talking high-society outings here.

She had seen the Bellagio fountains for the first time when she was here for the rodeo in December, so we stopped by again. They remain enjoyable no matter how many times you may have seen them before:

Then we went inside the Bellagio to stroll through the conservatory, dressed in its fancy spring attire. I regretted not anticipating this. I would have brought my real camera, instead of the crummy low-resolution cell phone camera. (For much nicer photos, see Vegas Rex's sampling here, as well as the link within that post.) Anyway, here's what we saw:

As we were about to leave, it dawned on me that one of the biggest poker tournaments on the calendar was taking place right that minute within that very building. So I dragged my sister over to the Fontana Lounge, and sure enough, there was poker being played. Ted Forrest walked right by me, returning from a break. With only my crummy camera and no admittance to the room by spectators, I was reduced to these two pathetic shots:

Above, that's Burt Boutin standing there in the camel jacket, getting in the way of people I actually wanted to take a picture of. He's obnoxious. I didn't really want a picture of him.

OK, see that rectangular light sort of in the middle? Directly below that you see a person seated at the table wearing a white shirt with a black baseball cap on? That's Phil Ivey. And if you look just a hair down and to the right of Phil, the face that is sort of in profile is Men "The Master" Nguyen.

So there's your very slight bonus poker content for this post, right there!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Penn and Teller (no poker content)

I've loved Penn & Teller for maybe 15 years now. I'd watch anytime they went on Letterman, including videotaping so that I could play it back in slow motion and try to figure out whatever trick they were doing. I've seen all of their prime-time TV specials, their 1989 movie "Penn and Teller Get Killed," their three BBC specials about magic in India, China, and Egypt, and I have two of their books. I've watched all of their Showtime series, "Bullshit!" I've listened to Penn's famous "This I Believe" essay about atheism on NPR (their most-searched-for piece). I think I've seen all of the YouTube videos that feature them. I saw their show at the Rio four or five years ago. I even got to participate on stage for the famous "Magic Bullets" trick. I got to speak to them briefly after the show and tell them how much I appreciate all they do for skepticism and libertarian values. (I'm not sure why those two things seem to go hand-in-hand for so many people, but they do.)

And Saturday, I got to see the show again--for free! They do a very cool thing every January, which is offer free tickets to locals who donate blood. A friend of mine gave a pint, and took me to the show for my birthday.

It was as great as I had hoped. About half of the acts were different from what had been in the show the last time I saw it. In the very first one, pictured above, Teller walks onto the stage with his head encased in a concrete block. An audience member is invited onstage. Penn takes her glasses and slips them into his pocket. He has her confirm that an object he produces is a genuine billiard ball, and raps it against Teller's concrete for further verification. After a while, Penn takes a hammer and smashes open the concrete block, and under it we see that Teller is wearing the woman's glasses! The whole time, Teller's hands never move from where you see them in the photo. This is one of those tricks that I would love to see a second time in order to solve the mystery of how it's done. (Actually, I think I have it, and I'll reveal my guess below after the spoiler alert, so you can choose whether to read it or not.)

I loved a bit in which a blindfolded audience member first has knives thrown at her (but not really), then ends up throwing them at Penn (but, again, not really). It's not magic in the traditional sense, because everybody in the joint sees exactly what is happening except for the poor woman up on the stage--but it's still wonderfully entertaining.

I've spent many hours thinking about the "Magic Bullets" trick--easily their most famous illusion. I've Googled it and read just about every description of it people have posted. They specifically ask for audience members with handgun experience, so, predictably, lots of shooting enthusiasts end up talking about their on-stage observations in firearms-related forums. Between my two live viewings of it, having seen it once on television, as well as a YouTube video of an earlier incarnation of the same trick, I'm quite confident now that I have worked out how it is done.

I've debated whether to explain the details. On the one hand, when I first saw the Rio show, Penn had a long monologue in which he talked about the phenomenon of stage magic, and I was impressed by one thing in particular that he said. Paraphasing, it was that you could figure out everything we do if you put your mind to it. You generally don't put in the effort because you enjoy being baffled. It struck me as essentially an open invitation to dissect their performance. On the other hand, I so respect and admire their work both on and off stage that I would feel kind of cheap and sleazy to divulge what I've figured out--particularly when the final confirmation of my ideas came from them so generously giving away free tickets to blood donors.

The latter considerations are outweighing the former in my mind, so for now I'm going to keep it to myself. I'll just say that it's very, very clever and sophisticated, and I would never have even begun to crack it without having had lots of experience with handguns, including making my own ammunition in my basement for practice and competitions. The solution is, I think, highly technical.

It's a great show--the only Vegas act I've seen twice (well, unless you count the "Game Show Spectacular," about which see this post). Read more about the P&T show and its Vegas history here. Then go see it.


Here's what I think happens in the show-opening eyeglasses trick. When Penn stands next to Teller to rap the billiard ball on the concrete, he slips the glasses to Teller. (I didn't catch him doing this, of course, but in retrospect, it seems like the only possibility. That's why I'd like to see it again, to pay attention during those crucial few seconds, and see if I can verify this hunch.) But then how do they get on Teller's face, when his hands never leave the front corners of the concrete block? Well, I couldn't figure that out until I saw the photo posted above as I was preparing to write this. I think those aren't really Teller's hands. I think they're props, and his arms are free to move around under his suit. You can sort of see a strange bulge right above the big support belt he's wearing. (During the show it occurred to me that his arms must get very tired, being held in that position for so long. Now I think not!) He can therefore put the glasses on once Penn slips them to him. If I'm right about this, it's remarkably simple--yet extremely effective and surprising.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

How to win with a full house--in Razz!

I started off with an unraiseworthy A-6-A, intending just to steal, since nobody raised before it got to me. I got only one caller, and when he paired on 4th street, I was more confident that the steal would work. But my lone opponent was having none of it. We both ended up with full houses, but mine was lower, which, in Razz, is better.

PokerStars Game #16873553723: Razz Limit ($0.50/$1.00) - 2008/04/20 - 17:29:51 (ET)
Table 'Coelestina II' 8-max
Seat 2: Pr0fChaos ($26.95 in chips)
Seat 3: Lacrosse9 ($15.80 in chips)
Seat 4: Osgood99 ($22.90 in chips)
Seat 6: Rakewell1 ($19.90 in chips)
Seat 7: Donnersslu ($4.95 in chips)
Seat 8: Tiurin ($18.45 in chips)
Pr0fChaos: posts the ante $0.05
Lacrosse9: posts the ante $0.05
Osgood99: posts the ante $0.05
Rakewell1: posts the ante $0.05
Donnersslu: posts the ante $0.05
Tiurin: posts the ante $0.05
*** 3rd STREET ***
Dealt to Pr0fChaos [3d]
Dealt to Lacrosse9 [Ts]
Dealt to Osgood99 [5s]
Dealt to Rakewell1 [Ad 6h Ac]
Dealt to Donnersslu [Jh]
Dealt to Tiurin [7c]
LTK_888 leaves the table
Donnersslu: brings in for $0.25
Tiurin: folds
Pr0fChaos: folds
Lacrosse9: folds
Osgood99: raises $0.25 to $0.50
Rakewell1: calls $0.50
Donnersslu: folds
*** 4th STREET ***
Dealt to Osgood99 [5s] [5c]
Dealt to Rakewell1 [Ad 6h Ac] [8d]
Rakewell1: bets $0.50
Osgood99: calls $0.50
*** 5th STREET ***
Dealt to Osgood99 [5s 5c] [2d]
Dealt to Rakewell1 [Ad 6h Ac 8d] [8h]
Osgood99: checks
Rakewell1: checks
*** 6th STREET ***
Dealt to Osgood99 [5s 5c 2d] [8c]
Dealt to Rakewell1 [Ad 6h Ac 8d 8h] [4d]
Osgood99: checks
Rakewell1: checks
*** RIVER ***
Dealt to Rakewell1 [Ad 6h Ac 8d 8h 4d] [8s]
Osgood99: checks
Rakewell1: checks
*** SHOW DOWN ***
Osgood99: shows [Ah 2c 5s 5c 2d 8c 5h] (Lo: 2,2,8,5,A)
Rakewell1: shows [Ad 6h Ac 8d 8h 4d 8s] (Lo: A,A,8,6,4)
kosa28 joins the table at seat #1
Rakewell1 collected $2.45 from pot
Rakewell1 said, "lol"
*** SUMMARY ***
Total pot $2.55 Rake $0.10
Seat 2: Pr0fChaos folded on the 3rd Street (didn't bet)
Seat 3: Lacrosse9 folded on the 3rd Street (didn't bet)
Seat 4: Osgood99 showed [Ah 2c 5s 5c 2d 8c 5h] and lost with Lo: 2,2,8,5,A
Seat 6: Rakewell1 showed [Ad 6h Ac 8d 8h 4d 8s] and won ($2.45) with Lo: A,A,8,6,4
Seat 7: Donnersslu folded on the 3rd Street
Seat 8: Tiurin folded on the 3rd Street (didn't bet)