Saturday, May 17, 2008

Why do people play that way?

Last night at the Rio the only seat open was #10, which was fine with me, because that's my favorite by default anyway. (It's often the one open, because most players dislike it, and move away from it at the first opportunity, leaving it for the person next to join the table.) It was a fortunate thing, because seat 8 housed a classic poker maniac.

He didn't look the part. He was a mid-50s quiet man--not your standard maniac demographic. But when I say "classic poker maniac," I'm speaking of style of play rather than outward appearance.

I don't think I saw him fold a hand pre-flop the entire two hours I played. He raised about 75% of the time if nobody raised ahead of him. His raising range appeared to be, literally, roughly any pair and any single ace or face card. He would bet at every flop if nobody did before him. So being two seats to his left was a prime spot. It's extremely difficut to handle a maniac if you have to act before him. Position is everything. When dealing with a raging bull, you want to be sure that you're riding him, and not the other way around.

When I joined the table, he was at what must have been his peak chip stack for the night, around $600. By the time I left, he was, almost inevitably, down below $200. Maniacs never prosper. Well, never in the long run, and almost never in the short run. It is simply impossible to play that many hands profitably. Nobody can do it, absent an incredible streak of luck. Nobody.

Soon after I realized what he was doing (which didn't take long), I flopped top pair against him. I figured this was way good against his likely range, and responded to his bet with an all-in. Lost my first buy-in that way, because it happened to be the one time of the night he had the big overpair--kings. Oh well. One has to take such chances, or just cower in the corner whimpering, and getting steamrolled.

Predictably, I got back what I lost, and more, about an hour later. I decided that K-Q hearts was good enough to take against his raise. Flop was queen-high. He bet, I called. (I was remembering Mike Caro's advice: Don't try to out-maniac a maniac, just call, call, call. Plenty of money will get in, and you won't lose as much the times that he actually has a strong hand.) Same on the turn. The river brought me a third queen, which I was confident was gold for me, with no straights or flushes out there waiting to bite me. He could only beat me with A-Q or a full house. He bet again, I raised all-in, he called. He had a queen in his hand, but with a 7 kicker. I doubled up.

That's the thing about playing mediocre hands like Q-7, especially playing them as aggressively as he was habitually doing, and without regard for position. Sure, sometimes you'll hit a sneaky monster and get to stack an opponent. But more often, you'll be the one losing it all or doubling up the opponent, because the other players are being more selective about which hands to put a lot of money in with. Repeatedly taking the worst of it just isn't smart poker. His strategy might work well heads-up, where he starts with a 50% chance of having the best hand, but trying to do the same against a distribution of nine other hands at the table is a recipe for failure. It cannot work in the long run, and only works over the course of a session with a heaping helping of luck.

Every time I see this kind of play, I walk away baffled by it. Surely this guy knows that he is a long-run loser at poker, unless he is capable of a truly massive degree of self-deception. So he knows that his approach loses money. The only explanation, I think, is that the excitement is worth more to him than the money. He gets such a big thrill out of stealing lots of small pots, the occasional big score (like against me with the kings), and the rare hugely positive session, that he doesn't mind the overall monetary bleed year after year.

I have to admit that I don't understand this frame of mind. Then again, I'm just not a gambler at heart. I don't get the thrill from it the way many other people obviously do. That old saying, that the next best thing to gambling and winning is gambling and losing, is lost on me. Yes, I enjoy playing poker, but if I'm not making money from it, I'll drop it, for the night or for a lifetime. It is all about the Benjamins, as they say.

But not so for the maniacs, I guess. For them, it's all about the action, the thrill of risk and reward. I suppose that if he weren't playing poker, he could get the same effect from shooting dice. While I sort of understand that on a detached, intellectual level, I am wholly incapable of actual empathy, of seeing things from that point of view--it's just so far removed from what I'm there for.

None of this is meant to condemn the maniacs; they simply have different priorities and values than I do, and that's fine. In fact, I'm happy to have them around, because they are a prime source of my income (although with a lot higher variance and more ulcers than when playing against a table full of clueless fishies).

The guy who is focused entirely on making money at poker has a huge intrinsic edge over the guy who is just there for the thrill of the gamble, to whom profit is of secondary importance.

So bring on the ten thousand maniacs. I'm ready.

(Because of planning that last line, I was going to illustrate this post with an album cover from 10,000 Maniacs. But when doing the search, I came upon something even better, the above wonderful sketch from Charles Bell. Bell was an early 19th-century Scottish physician and anatomist, who might be considered the founder of modern neurology. "Bell's palsy" is named for him. He also happened to be a talented medical illustrator. So I'm delighted to use his drawing here. However, I should note that nobody with whom I have played poker--not even last night's maniac--actually looks much like the poor guy shown.)

Poker gems, #116

Phil Gordon, in this Q&A session on the Freakonomics blog. For the pointer, thanks to Ted at Red Bull and Poker, who in turn got it from uber-blogger Iggy. There are several nuggets here that would ordinarily mean separate posts, but rather than repeat all of this intro stuff, I'm going to break my usual pattern and compile them all into one.

I have a simple theory: change 10 river cards in any poker player’s tournament career and I would bet that they would be a losing tournament player for their career.

I think my game selection skills are just about as good as anyone in the game.
If there aren’t a few guys that are just giving their money away, I don’t play.

[W]hat we do at the poker table isn’t very different than what investment professionals do — we just get our results every two minutes instead of every few months or years.

I’ve never worn sunglasses at the table and I think it looks completely stupid and is unnecessary.

If I had to guess, I would say about 50 percent of the “name pros” you see on television on a regular basis have a negative net worth.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Look for me in the book

As I've mentioned several times, most of my online time lately has been spent trying to become modestly competent at razz. In the process, I believe I have set a new record. I'm trying to reach the folks at Guinness to see if they'll start recognizing a new category, for which I will be the first record-holder.

Specifically, how many times in a row do you think that you can be dealt K-K-x and have to post the bring-in? Well, yesterday for me it was 9,841 in a row.

I did the math on that, and the odds of this happening are precisely 497,844,016,923,506,881,542 to 1 against.

I'm in a session right now, and it appears that Poker Stars is working on beating yesterday's mark, so stay tuned for more updates.


[EDITORIAL NOTE from the legal department of The above post has been brought to our attention as a possible example of non-factual and/or exaggerated reporting. Readers are cautioned that documentation of the claims made therein has not yet been submitted to us for review and verification. The corporation therefore cannot stand behind the assertions made, and advises caution in accepting them as fully truthful. Thank you for reading.]

Thank you, Poker Stars

A short time ago I was in a cash razz game on Poker Stars. At the table was an incredibly obnoxious boor, even by online standards. The problem wasn't so much profanity as that he was mercilessly making fun of other players for what he considered their sub-standard play. Losing a pot to him meant enduring his barbs about how badly one played, because, of course, nobody could play as well as he. (One might wonder why such a marvelously advanced player was inhabiting the lowest stakes that PS offers. But never mind that little mystery.)

For example:

ZidanEEE14: johny just please trasfer me ur money
ZidanEEE14: dont even try to play
ZidanEEE14: just send it over

ZidanEEE14: johny u relly have no idea wat ur doing
ZidanEEE14: do u?

I tried asking him to be nice, but he ignored such advice.

When for the second time a player left immediately after taking a torrent of abuse from this jerk, I copied a few of his lines, along with game numbers, and sent an email to Stars support, and told them that two players had left the table, apparently because of his taunts.

Within an hour I received back the following email:

Hello Rakewell1,

I appreciate the time you took to write us regarding your concern. As we cannot monitor every table 24 hours, we are glad to have players as our "eyes and ears".

After review of the chat log, we have decided to remove this player's chat privileges. Their language was totally inappropriate and abusive to others. Our games are to be kept clean, fun, and a comfortable environment for everyone. We cannot tolerate this type of behavior at our tables.


Will L.

PokerStars Support Team

Just about the stupidest, most self-destructive thing you can do as a poker player trying to make money is chase away the most unskilled players by humilitating them for playing badly. They will either (1) be motivated to start playing better, thus making it harder to win their money, or (2) leave and find a friendlier place to play, taking their money with them. In addition to hurting yourself, the other players at the table will be none too thrilled with you accomplishing either one of these things, either.

It's gratifying to know that Poker Stars gets this, and will take steps to prevent it, when alerted to what's going on.

This is my official encouragement to all online players to police this kind of crap, and report it when it happens, so that these maroons will get their chat privileges suspended, and stop chasing away the little fishies.

(Today's second lesson: Do not attempt to construct a blog post while playing in a HORSE tournament. I folded a razz hand, then came here to type some. When the next hand started, I had a great opener, and got in a raising war with another guy. We capped the betting. Then I paired on 4th street, and was highly puzzled by being presented with the choice to put in a small bet or a large bet because of the pair. Yep--they had moved on to straight limit stud while I wasn't watching, and I failed to notice the game header. Had to abandon ship after pumping up the pot, and lost nearly a third of my stack in the process. D'oh!)

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Poker words, #3

Reading Gun Hansen's new book, Every Hand Revealed, last night, I came across two terms that were new to me.

On p. 25: "I open for 600 two off the button with Jc5c, the button click-raises to 1,200, and I call."

The term "click-raise" is apparently not original to Gus, as a Google search finds it a few other places (e.g., here), but I can't find a clear definition anywhere. I'm guessing from context that it is intended to mean the same as "minimum raise," and that it originates from the fact that most (maybe all) online sites make it easy to put in this kind of raise by having a dedicated button for it (as well as for a pot-sized bet/raise and an all-in raise, but for any other raise amount, you have to type in the size of the bet/raise or use the slider).

That said, I have to point out that in this particular situation this was not the minimum legal raise. The blinds were 100/200. Gus's opening raise was to 600, a raise of 400. Therefore, the minimum re-raise would have been another 400, to a total bet of 1000. It would be peculiar if the first time I came across a new term it was in a context in which it was being used incorrectly--but that may be the case here. Alternatively, it may be that "click-raise" refers to a raise that exactly doubles the previous bet, whether or not that constitutes a minimum raise. I don't know.

The second term new to me was just three pages later. On p. 28, he describes getting all-in against an opponent on the turn, with his flush ahead of the other guy's three-of-a-kind: "He calls, shows a set of nines, and we are down to the skill-card."

I like the whimiscal, ironic phrase "skill card" for whatever comes after all the money is in. But it shouldn't be hyphenated.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Poker gems, #115

Tony Guerrera, in Poker Player newspaper column, May 12, 2008, p. 31:

[I]f hope is part of your game plan, you need a new game plan.

The newest poker room in Vegas

I just got back from playing at the newest poker room in the city: Bill's Gamblin' Hall and Saloon (formerly known as the Barbary Coast). How new? Well, when I arrived at about 8:00 p.m., they had been open for about three hours. This was their first day. I had read about the opening here and here, and made a point of playing there the first day. Does any other poker blogger bring you a report mere hours after a room first opens? No!

When I arrived, one of the two tables was in use, but one of three players was just leaving. I joined, and we played three-handed for about 15 minutes, until I busted one player, leaving us with two. We played heads-up for a few minutes, then got joined by a third. Then two friends joined and we were up to five. By the peak, we were at eight, and stayed there for quite a while. But as players busted out, the numbers dwindled again. I busted one of four remaining, then played just one orbit three-handed before calling it a night at about 11:00 p.m., which broke the game.

The game was no-limit hold'em, but with an odd structure: just a single $1 blind. The minimum buy-in was $20, maximum $200. Especially this unusually low minimum will not please hard-core pokeristas, but it served a useful purpose. It was clear that nearly every player was somebody not planning to play poker, and didn't even know that there was a poker room there, but just wandered by. They had two people aggressively approaching onlookers and inviting them into the game, and it was surprisingly effective. Several bought in for just $20 or $40, and I doubt that they would have played at all were the minimum at, say, $100, which is more typical of no-limit games. The short stacks kept rebuying when they went broke, so it didn't bother me. Heck, better to have the seat filled with a bad player with $20 that's easy to win than a skilled one with $500 that it's going to be difficult to extract from him.

Did I mention bad players? Wow. I am not kidding. One guy had to ask the dealer if an ace could play as the low end of a straight as well as the high end. Another, holding A-2, and no draw, put in a raise, then called two players (one of whom was the only other one at the table that I would rate as very good) going all-in when the board showed A-8-8. It was perfectly obvious that one or both of these two had an 8, but this guy really thought his A-2 might be good. Uh, no.

I had a good night, uptick $416 in three hours. About half of that came from the maniac who was the guy I played with one-on-one for a while. He played as if he were an Indy car driver, with his foot mashed on the accelerator the whole time. I've compared playing against such people to bronco riding, and it feels that way. You're compelled to gamble more with weaker hands than usual, or just get flattened under their aggression. And my gambles paid off: I busted him once when my nut flush draw hit on the river, then he re-bought, and I busted him a second time an hour or so later when my Broadway straight hit on the turn--in both cases, after all of the money was in. He was not happy.

As you can see from the photos, the room is just a roped-off area in a corner of the casino main floor. As I snapped the bottom picture, my back was to the outside door, which was left wide open: from the side of the table facing the dealer, you can watch people walking by on the Las Vegas Boulevard sidewalk, and you can see one of the entrances to the Flamingo just to the north. Noise and smoke were predictably heavy, as people are smoking at slot machines just a few feet outside the ropes. I've added it to my "category 5" list here. There was decent '70s pop/rock music on the overhead speakers.

The place was surprising well run for being its first day. Staff comes over from the Imperial Palace, so all of the dealers were experienced. I saw zero errors, and they handled highly inexperienced players very well, gently prompting and correcting them as needed.

The felt on the tables looked brand new. I was surprised to see a big ad for Party Poker in the middle, rather than the name of the casino, which is the usual thing occupying that space. There was no foot-rest bar under the table, though. There was a very bright light shining directly in my eyes in the seat I initially occupied--I moved to get away from it after a while. The guy in charge heard my comment about it, and, in a manner that struck me as completely sincere, said that they would get that taken care of. Overall, the staff was extremely courteous and solicitous toward the players.

It was one of the most fun sessions I've had in a while. Nearly every player was happy, relaxed, there to have a good time, sociable, friendly, laughing, taking wins and losses in stride. I like that--makes the time pass much more easily.

I doubt that this will be anything like a mainstay place for me. It would be nice for profit, because the room relying heavily on people making an impulse decision to play poker means that the average quality of play is way low. But I predict that they will have difficulty keeping games going on a regular basis. Still, if I play at the Flamingo or Caesars Palace or Bally's, so that Bill's is immediately adjacent, I'll probably stop in again and play if there is something going, and hope that the money flows as easily as it did tonight.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A grand disappointment

Last night I finally got to watch "The Grand," a poker movie I had been aching to see, but which the studio never released to theaters in Las Vegas, to my great irritation. Well, as it turns out, I didn't miss much. It is the unfunniest "comedy" I have seen in a long, long time.

Consider the cast: David Cross, Woody Harrelson, Estelle Harris, Cheryl Hines, Gabe Kaplan, Richard Kind, Chris Parnell, Ray Romano, Jason Alexander, Hank Azaria. How can you make a movie that is not funny with that kind of stellar line-up? It seems impossible, but they did it. There were about six funny moments, and they were all in the trailer. What a rip-off.

It was so pathetic I can't even conjure up a good rant about it. All I can say is that it is the single biggest waste of comedic poker potential ever. Period.

Poker gems, #114

Phil Laak, on last night's "Poker After Dark," justifying playing As2c from out of position, after squeaking out bottom pair for the winner:

They were both black, right? That's nearly the same suit.

Another way of sharing inappropriate information

A couple of weeks ago I was playing at the Venetian, in seat 10, to the dealer's immediate right. The first card he dealt me was an 8, but it accidentally landed face-up after bumping into my chip stack. My second card was also an 8, so I would have had a nice pair to start with. I received a lousy 4 to replace the exposed 8, making my hand essentially worthless. Oh well--these things happen, and a replacement card is, on average, just as likely to improve as to degrade what my hand would have been, so it's not something worth getting upset about.

Anyway, when it came my turn, I was just about to show the dealer the other 8 he had given me, just to give him a little good-natured needle about the error. But at the last second it occurred to me that that action would effectively tell the rest of the table that I was folding another 8, because there is no other card that I would bother showing the dealer in that situation; no other card would have significance in light of the 8 that had previously been exposed. It would be wrong to show the table the other 8 I was folding, and therefore it would be just as wrong to show it just to the dealer, since everybody could easily infer what the card was. So instead I just mucked the 4-8 without fanfare.

I bring this up now because of a small incident on last night's "Poker After Dark." Phil Laak bobbled his cards while folding from early position, and a 9 was inadvertantly exposed. The dealer dutifully showed it to everybody. Jennifer Harman folded next. Then it was David Benyamine's turn. He had a J-9, and well might have played it, were it not for having seen Laak's mucked 9, which meant he had fewer ways to make a decent hand. He showed his cards to Harman with a smile before folding.

To his credit, a few seconds later he realized that he had, in effect, just informed the remaining players that he probably folded a 9, because why else would he do the "give me a little sympathy" display for Harman? He tried to cover it with a little song-and-dance, explaining what else besides a 9 he might have been showing--but it wasn't very convincing.

There are all sorts of ways of revealing--intentionally or unintentionally--to the table what cards you are folding or have folded (see here, for example), and they're all wrong. I'm glad that Benyamine realizes that, even if the recognition came a little too late in this instance. Information is the most valuable commodity at a poker table, and players have to learn to manage it properly, not giving it away when it is out of line to be doing so.

Poker gems, #113

Jennifer Tilly, on last night's "Poker After Dark," commenting on her uncertainty over whether her fold to Jennifer Harman's check-raise in the previous hand was a good laydown. (It was--Harman had the nuts, and Tilly was drawing dead.)

Maybe I'm gonna end up on the Internet again.

[This is an apparent reference to her first appearance on PAD, when she famously (or infamously) checked the best possible full house, in position, on the river, behind Patrik Antonius, explaining that she was worried that he had the only hand that could beat her--the highly improbable quad kings. It was a pretty stupid play, and she was raked over the coals mercilessly in the online forums for it.]

Off to a bad start

My brand-spankin'-newest book is Gus Hansen's Every Hand Revealed. It's a great idea for a book, and unprecedented: He documents and dissects every one of the 329 hands he played during his victorious run at the Aussie Millions tournament in 2007, discussing the situation and what he was thinking. It should be a fascinating insight into a highly unorthodox poker mind.

I just received my copy Friday, and cracked it open this evening to start in on it. I was dismayed to find this in the dedication:

To Chip Reese--

Remembering the Ones who left way to soon
but still enrished our lives in many ways....


Is there at Kensington Publishing Company not a single person with the title of "editor," one who is charged with, e.g., knowing the difference between "way to soon" and "way too soon," or knowing that there is no s in "enriched"?

Bah! If there is a misspelling on every line of the book, as with every line of the dedication, I'm going to be as bald as Gus by the time I finish reading it.

Monday, May 12, 2008

You know you've been playing too much poker when...

Too much exposure to any one subject, I suppose, can do strange things to one's brain. When I was most heavily into competitive shooting, I would tend to see gun calibers in addresses and license plates (e.g., 22, 45, 357, 223, etc.). If a word like "clock" was somewhere on a page, my eyes would pick it out and think "Glock" (which is my favorite handgun manufacturer). Any reference to "Smith" would register as "Smith & Wesson" (because we gunnies tend to just call them "Smiths"). And so on.

For quite a while now I have noticed the same sort of mind warpage happening with poker terms. Two have occurred within the past 24 hours. Last night I was reading in a political magazine a piece about the history of Middle East problems. When they used the term "PLO," I couldn't help wondering for a split second what pot-limit Omaha had to do with the subject matter. And just now I was typing an address for something going to zip code 16234, and my brain flashed with, "Wow, that's a nice razz hand."

Maybe I need a nice, long vacation....

Poker words, #2

Just a day after expressing my concern that I didn't come across new poker words often enough to merit an ongoing series of posts here, I happened upon another one. Lou Krieger, in his column on stud/8 strategy in the May 12, 2008, Poker Player newspaper, writes, "Even if another low card arrives on fourth street, it's not uncommon to strike out by catching three bananas, or high cards with a rank of nine or higher."

That's a new one on me!

The Kid and The Man

Tonight I finally cured a glaring deficit in my poker education: I watched "The Cincinnati Kid" (1965).

Unfortuately, there is precious little I can say about it that hasn't already been said--and said better--by others. For commentary as good as you're likely to find on the interwebs, see the Hard-Boiled Poker posts here, here, here, and here.

To what Shamus said, I'll add that in terms of the basics of movie-making--lighting, editing, camera angles and movements--I think this beats "Rounders" easily. There's nothing particularly wrong with those elements in "Rounders," but they're pedestrian, ordinary, workaday, rather than intresting and creative and artistic. I especially liked the high overhead crane shot near the very end (seen in the last photo posted above), emphasizing the Kid's loneliness in the world, in a manner reminiscent of--and probably directly indebted to--the famous shot in "High Noon":

I wasn't watching the DVD, so didn't have access to the commentary tracks. Shamus says that the director objected to the studio's insistence on a final shot that seems to show The Kid's repair of his relationship with Christian, the girlfriend who had left him earlier. I can see why he would object. It makes no dramatic sense, especially after having given us that enormous visual cue that The Kid is destined to be on his own. We do get a final glimmer of hope for him, when he shoots nickels once again with the shoeshine boy, but the message there seems to be that the only way back for him will be what he has already known: grinding it out as a small-stakes gambler. The return of Christian, in almost a deus ex machina appearance, is jarringly out of step with that implication, as Eric has already let it be known that poker is more important to him than she is.

Another interesting aspect of the film I haven't seen mentioned elsewhere is the use of the cockfight as ominous foreshadowing of the poker showdown. Very deft filmmaking, that. I think it serves to highlight the differences between what the match means to its participants versus what it means to the onlookers. Most of them care about the outcome of the game only because of which way they have placed their bets; they care no more about the players personally than the bettors at the cockfight feel for the birds. But for the Kid and the Man, it's life or death--not quite as literally as for the roosters, obviously, but it is about existence, as only one of them can leave that room with the identity of The Man.

It must also be noted that there is a lot of poker in the film, which isn't true of many other so-called poker movies.

Finally, there are the great lines (for the transcription of which I am relying on the "memorable quotes" section of the page:

Lancey Howard: Gets down to what it's all about, doesn't it? Making the wrong
move at the right time.

Lancey Howard: Like life, I guess. You're good, kid, but as long as I'm
around you're second best. You might as well learn to live with it.

Slade: How the hell did you know I didn't have the king or the ace?

Lancey Howard: I recollect a young man putting the same question to Eddie the
Dude. "Son," Eddie told him, "all you paid was the looking price. Lessons are

I cast my lot with those who have dubbed "The Cincinnati Kid" the best poker movie ever.

Poker gems, #112

Mike Caro, in Poker Player Newspaper column, May 12, 2008, p. 3.

Your profit is a direct result of the penalties opponents pay for their mistakes minus the penalty you pay for your mistakes.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Poker words, #1

I have occasionally thought about adding a series of posts about new poker vocabulary words--new in the sense that I'd write a post when I came across term I hadn't heard before. I haven't undertaken it because, in spite of doing a lot of poker reading, it just isn't very often these days that I find an unfamiliar word. The last new one I heard was in January: superstack, which refers to a player in a tournament who has more chips than the rest of the players at his table combined. I've been consciously trying to pay attention for other new terms to help jump-start this as a new feature in the blog, but had no luck.

Well, that just changed, so I'm introducing the feature, though I'm uncertain how often there will be posts in the series. I was reading in Card Player magazine today one of James McManus's delightful installments on poker history. In it he is talking about home poker games of the mid-20th century. He mentions that "tigers" and "skipper straights" were commonly recognized.

Easily the best online poker dictionary is this one, hosted at Mike Caro's web site. It readily provided me the answers. So here ya go, along with a few associated ones that it also became necessary to learn along the way:

(n) skip straight.

skip straight
(n phrase) In draw poker, a nonstandard hand sometimes given value in a private or home game, cards in a series separated each from the other by one rank, as 2-4-6-8-10, or 5-7-9-J-K. Some play that an ace ranks only high in a skip straight, that is, that A-3-5-7-9 is not considered a skip straight. A skip straight is also called an alternate straight, Dutch straight, or sometimes a kilter. The hand generally ranks between three of a kind and an "ordinary" straight.

(n) little cat. Sometimes the term refers to any of the hands big cat, big tiger, little cat, or little tiger.

big tiger
(n phrase) A nonstandard hand sometimes given value in a private or home game, five cards 8 to king with no pair, which ranks above a tiger and just below a flush. Also called big cat.

little cat
(n phrase) A nonstandard hand sometimes given value in a private or home game, five cards 3 to 9 with no pair (in some circles, 3 to 8 with no pair), ranks above a big dog, and below a big tiger. Also called little tiger.

big dog
(n phrase) A nonstandard hand sometimes given value in a private or home game, five cards 9 to ace with no pair, which ranks below a little tiger and above a little dog.

little dog
(n phrase) A nonstandard hand sometimes given value in a private or home game, five cards 2 to 7 with no pair, ranks below a big dog and above a straight.

I guess I just haven't played in enough crazy home games!

I don't get how these dog/cat hands work. That is, I don't see why they would be ranked higher than a straight. All other poker hands are ranked by their statistical frequency. But surely it is harder (more improbable) to get five unpaired cards between, say, 3 and 7 (a regular straight) than it is to get five unpaired cards between 2 and 7 (the little dog), because there is only one combination that will result in the former (3, 4, 5, 6, 7), while there are six ways of making the little dog (i.e., you can be missing any one of the ranks from 2 to 7). So why is a hand that's easier to hit being ranked higher than the one that's harder to make?

Furthermore, if I have 3-4-5-6-7 for a straight, couldn't I call it a little dog, since it's five unpaired cards between 2 and 7?

Or perhaps the dog/cat hands must contain both ends of the range, in which case there are only four ways to make each one rather than six (e.g., 2-3-4-5-7, 2-3-4-6-7, 2-3-5-6-7, and 2-4-5-6-7 for the little dog). Even then, though, they should rank below straights, I would think. Look at it this way: Putting all four categories of the cat/dog hands together, and ignoring suits, there are 16 card combinations that will make one of them (four different ways of making each of the four types of hand), but only ten ways of making a straight--again arguing that a straight must be rarer and should therefore be ranked higher.

But what do I know about it? Nothing, that's what. I'm just thinking out loud here.