Saturday, May 24, 2008

"You don't look like a horrible player"

I went slumming tonight--hit the Stratosphere and the Sahara. I really dislike playing in both places, but they're such consistent money-makers that I keep them in the rotation to visit once in a while, especially after a losing streak, to get things back on a positive track.

At the Stratosphere, my second hand after sitting down with $100 I was dealt A-Q of diamonds. I raised to $12 after a couple of limpers. I was called by the big blind and the guy on my right. The flop was J-8-2 rainbow. Nothing great for me, but nothing too scary, either--good chance it missed both of them as much as it missed me. Both opponents checked, so I put out $25. Big blind folded, guy on my right called.

This didn't look to me like a check-call of great strength, as if he had flopped a set or something--more like maybe he hit the 8, and decided to stick around to see if he could make two pair or three of a kind. So I'm not worried yet, because an ace or a queen should give me the winner, and even failing that, I think he's not feeling married to his hand, and is probably susceptible to being pushed off of it. I'm an unknown entity to him, and he's out of position, so if I'm right that he doesn't have a monster, and he misses the turn, he likely isn't going to be willing to put in a lot more money.

The turn card is an offsuit 10. I didn't think he limp-called before the flop with an 8-10. I also didn't think that he called on the flop with a gutshot straight draw, so in all likelihood that card didn't help him. He checked, adding support to my theory. I have $63 left in front of me, and there is about $85 in the pot, so I shove. Even if he calls, I should have outs with an ace, queen, and now a king would give me the nuts, a Broadway straight.

He thinks for a while. Finally he shows me a K-J offsuit, smiles, and says, "You don't look like a horrible player, so this must be no good." And he throws it away.

I smile back and say, "I'd like to think I'm not horrible."

He says, "Yeah, you had me beat."

We now commence the strategic advice portion of this blog entry. This hand perfectly illustrates what's wrong with limp-calling with a hand like K-J. Of course, you might hit a miracle flop with two pair or three of a kind, but that's less than 2% of the time. If you're calling a pre-flop raise on a 2% hope, you're throwing your money away.

If you are the pre-flop raiser with K-J, a flop like J-8-2 rainbow is just about ideal. You have top pair, strong kicker, little to fear from draws, and nothing that looks like a two-pair hit with which an opponent might have called your pre-flop raise. It looks like smooth sailing.

Conversely, if you limp with the same K-J, then call a pre-flop raise, now how does that J-8-2 flop look? You have to worry that the raiser has A-J, J-J, Q-Q, K-K, or A-A, against any of which you are a huge underdog. You have no draw to save your bacon if you venture further. And being out of position, you have to either check--thus showing weakness, inviting an aggressive opponent to bet even if the flop missed him, after which you have to basically guess where you are in the hand--or bet, worried that you'll have to abandon those chips if you get raised.

That's why people call K-J and similar holdings "trouble hands," because they are frequently dominated and make it very difficult to deduce whether you're ahead or behind, so that it's easy to make large mistakes--especially when playing from out of position.

If my opponent had thought this through ahead of time, he could have saved himself $37. He could have thought, "What would be a pretty good flop for me that isn't relying on a 2% or less probability? Maybe something like J-8-2. But even if I get that, how sure can I be that my hand is good? Not very. Might be better just to wait for a better spot." He could then have let go of the $2 he had invested, or, if he ran through that mental exercise first, just folded without even putting up the $2. Another approach would have been to raise with the K-J before the flop, thus making a lead-out continuation bet after the good flop a very natural move.

Alternatively, he could have done one of two things on the flop, once he realized that the flop was about as well-suited to his hand as he could ask for. First, he could lead out betting at it, stealing the initiative from me. If I'm holding A-K, A-Q, A-10, pocket 10s, etc., it's going to be hard for me to call. If I come over the top of his bet, he can still choose to fold. An affirmative $25 bet does him a hell of a lot more good than check-calling my $25 bet, not only in terms of giving him a chance to win the pot outright if I've missed, but in terms of getting a lot more information about whether he's ahead or behind. If you're willing to invest $25 on this hand with a call, take the aggressive route and stick it in up front, forcing me to make the decision.

Second, if he wanted to be even more daring, he could check-raise me all-in after I bet the $25. There's a pretty decent chance that his hand is good here. Even if it's not, he invests $63 to potentially win the $60 or so that is already in the pot, plus my last $63 if I call, so he's getting 2:1 on his money if I call, and it's pure profit to him if I fold. Given our stack sizes (he's sitting on about $300), this is an extremely reasonable move.

For the record, if he had check-raised me, I certainly would have folded. If he had led out with a $25 bet on the flop, I would have either folded or moved all-in over the top, depending on my sense of his strength; I'm really not sure which way I would have gone. At the very least, he would have given me a hard decision, and anytime you make an opponent face a difficult decision, you open the door for him to make a costly mistake, which is basically your whole object.

Instead, though, he played it passively, like a coward, and gave away $37 when he had the best hand. Of all the ways he could have played his hand, the limp-call/check-call/check-fold was absolutely the worst option. (It is because people often do things like this that the Stratosphere and the Sahara are consistently profitable for me.)

I'm glad you don't think I'm a horrible player, sir. I don't think you're horrible, either--but you do need a lot of work on the basics of the game: use of position, aggression, and hand selection. Employing any of those three things correctly probably would have won you the pot, or at least caused you to lose a lot less.


Can it really be that I have managed to find 600 things to say about poker? I guess so.

After every 100, I kind of scratch my head and wonder if I still have another 100 things left to say on the subject, but somehow they keep spilling out. This time it took 50 days (slightly slower than my previous pace), so an average of twice a day I find something to write about.

You can see my previous centenary posts here.

Thank you for continuing to read. I mean that--it is gratifying and flattering. And please click on the dumb Google ads once in a while. That way, I don't have to spend quite as much time taking money from drunk tourists.

Define "new"

The scan above is from the current (May 20) issue of Gaming Today/Slots Today. Note the repeated use of the word "new" to describe the poker table at the Rio that is imprinted with hand rankings. They say it arrived "just in time" for the World Series of Poker that is starting next week.

Now look back at this post from December 19, 2007, the first time I played at the Rio. See anything familiar?

Nice to see that GT/ST is right on top of the latest breaking news.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Poker gems, #121

Richard Harroch and Lou Krieger, in Poker for Dummies, p. 107.

If you never bluffed at all in Omaha/8, you'd probably be better off.

How long is "the long run"?

One often hears it said that poker is a skill game because, over the long run, the luck evens out. That's true, at least in a theoretical sense. But just how long does "the long run" have to be for the luck to even out?

I recently read (though I can't remember where, and I'm feeling too lazy to search for it) an interview with Gus Hansen in which he estimated that perhaps 90% of his success in a given session could be attributed to luck, but over the course of a year, that number would be more like 2%. That sounds nice, and it roughly matches my personal, subjective sense of what's going on, but it's not very scientific.

I'm reading Poker for Dummies by Richard Harroch and Lou Krieger. It is actually a fine introduction to the game. Their chapters on stud and Omaha are the first pieces of strategic advice I've read on those games, and they have already helped me with both starting hand selection and deciding when to jam versus keep the pot small in the low-stakes HORSE tournaments I've been playing every day lately.

But of even more interest, and the part that is of relevance to this post, was this short snippet, from pp. 35-36:

We used a computer to simulate 60,000 hands of $20-$40 Hold'em. That's
about one year of play if you treated poker as a job and went at it eight hours
a day. The objective was to determine how long it would take to get into "the
long run," that elusive zone where luck is filtered out and only skill
determines who wins and loses.

Because identical player profiles were loaded into the computer, the
long-run expectation was zero. With identical profiles, each player should
neither win nor lose. They should have broken even in the long run.

Nevertheless, there were four losers and five winners. Seat 9 lost $3.18
per hour while seat 6 won at the rate of $1.99. That's a difference of more than
$5 per hour--and it was clear they never got into the long run, even after a
year of simulated play.

The authors then discuss extending the simulation to 50 years of play, and still differences remained, though smaller: up $0.60 per hour for the big winner and down $0.35 per hour for the big loser. They conclude from this experiment: "Maybe the best you can expect over a lifetime of poker is that only 1 to 1.5 percent of your results would be attributable to luck."

This reminded me of a startling assertion that Mike Caro made in one of his Bluff magazine columns last year:
Here’s where people get confused. They think that because luck evens out in
the long run, and skill prevails, that over their career of playing poker,
they’ll get almost exactly the same opportunities as everyone else. This just
isn’t so. A lifetime isn’t long enough for the cards to break

Sure, if you play 10 hours a day for 50 years, you’ll get approximately the
same proportion of top pairs, flushes, full houses, straight flushes, and
everything else that others get. Some folks call it the law of averages or the
law of very large numbers. But it doesn’t tell the whole story. You need to
consider which games you’re playing when you hold that royal flush and how many
players are throwing big money against it. Are you competing for big limits at
the right times? Were you on vacation when the billionaire came to town and
dumped millions into your game?

And what about tournament winners? A top pro can go years without winning a
tournament and another with similar skill might win four times in one year. That’s luck, and – trust me – it won’t even out in 25 years of play. Skill matters a lot, but not enough to definitively determine who’s best – which is another reason I seldom play poker tournaments. I already know I’m best and if I simply declare it, some folks will believe me. If I play hundreds of tournaments and don’t win, they’ll begin to wonder. See?

Life isn’t fair. Some people spend a lot of time in hospitals. Some
businesses fail for unforeseen reasons. Your life equates to a single session of
poker. Luck won’t even out for you. But the more you steadfastly make
good decisions, the better you’re likely to do with the cards you’re dealt.

That's from the March, 2007, issue, posted here, with emphasis added.

So if you're playing several times a week, not doing anything different than your usual winning ways, yet experience a couple of months in which you lose, lose, and lose some more, can it really be due entirely or largely to a nasty streak of bad luck lasting that long?

Oh, yeah.

A brief observation about the WSOP

I think I must be the only poker blogger who has not yet had anything to say about the controversial decision to delay the World Series of Poker main event final table until November. My silence is mainly because I just don't care. The whole thing makes my shoulders shrug and my eyes glaze over. The WSOP just isn't of much importance in my life.

But yesterday something occurred to me that I haven't seen mentioned in the pros-and-cons debates. (Perhaps it has been and I just missed it.) And that is this*: If it fails as an experiment, and thus only happens one time, and next year they go back to things as they were, this year's winner will have the shortest reign as world champion on record (something like nine months).

Even more peculiar, and possibly a greater perversion of justice, is that last year's winner, Jerry Yang, would then end up as the longest-reigning one-time winner (i.e., excluding the four back-to-back winners: Johnny Moss, Doyle Brunson, Stu Ungar, and Johnny Chan).

This is not merely of symbolic importance--there's real money on the line. As I understand it (it's not like I have a whole lot of personal experience as world champ), whoever is the current title holder tends to get swamped with offers to attend tournaments, with entry fees and travel expenses all covered by the sponsoring facilities, plus the various endorsement deals, etc. I don't know that cutting the duration of holding the title from 12 months to 9 months would mean an actual 25% cut in those side benefits, but there would almost certainly be some reduction in such perks.

That may be among the least compelling arguments that have been made on the decision. But if I were the winner, I think I would experience at least a bit of annoyance that I got cheated out of a quarter of my time as the champ, and that that time was given to Jerry Yang.

I'm just sayin'.

*For some reason, typing that sentence gave me a chills-inducing flashback to Richard M. Nixon saying "Let me say this about that."

Not the same thing

I just got back from a session at the Rio--thought I'd get in a couple more there before the place becomes a madhouse with the World Series of Poker next week.

The player on my right was, well, full of himself. He was a know-it-all, kind of like Cliff Clavin in "Cheers." Particularly where the question was about poker rules, he considered himself to be an expert on par with Hoyle.* We had three players at the table who, it was painfully obvious, were having their first casino poker session. They were full of questions, and Mr. Hoyle thought it was his duty to pipe up and provide definitive answers, even if the questions were directed to the dealer. And, of course, the dealer's answer was never good enough--he always had to embellish on it. Basically, he just liked showing off that he knew poker rules.

Unfortunately, he was more confident than right, and not so good at following even the rules he knew.

There was a huge hand in progress as I sat down, with a four-way all-in. Mr. Hoyle was not in it, but the player on his right was; he and one of the newbies were the last ones with chips left after the betting round on the turn. At this point, Mr. Hoyle began chatting with the player on his right, speculating about what he thought the all-in players had. When the guy he is talking to still has live cards, chips, and decisions to make, and with an enormous pot being contested by so many players, this is an egregious violation of the one-player-to-a-hand rule.

Those being potentially disadvantaged by it (i.e., the ones who were already all-in) were down at the far end of the table, and probably couldn't hear, and therefore couldn't speak up in protest. So even though I had just sat down, I took it upon myself to stop him: "You really can't be discussing the hand with him while he still has action pending." Mr. Hoyle didn't acknowledge that he was wrong, but he did shut up.

I had no idea what sort of personality I was dealing with, since I had been there only a couple of minutes (the hand was extremely slow to play out because of the involvement of the inexperienced players, who were completely bewildered by the multiple all-in bets, side pots, etc.). But as I was to find out, I had apparently caused a considerable bruise to his ego with this mildest of scoldings.

Several hands later, I injected myself again, though the situation was quite different: The dealer misread a tricky board. The final community cards were 3-3-3-4-8. Player A had pocket jacks. Player B had pocket 4s. Both players thought that A was the winner. The dealer did, too, and was starting to push the pot to A. All three of them were seeing threes full of jacks beating threes full of fours. But actually player B had the better hand, with fours full of threes. It's an easy mistake to make in that situation.

Anyway, it got straightened out, and the pot was properly given to Player B. When it was over, Mr. Hoyle nudged me and said, "You know, just like about me talking about the hand? Well, you shouldn't be helping the players there, either."

I don't like to get into arguments at the poker table, and I didn't expect that I could convince him of how wrong he was, and the situation didn't seem likely to come up again that session, so I ignored his remark and let it drop.

But he was absolutely wrong.

His error in the first hand was potentially providing information/assistance to a player who still had decisions to make. In the second hand, no player had any decision left to make. I was correcting a dealer error, not helping another player. Yes, it's true that both players had misread Player B's hand. But once both players had turned their cards face up on the table, they are not required to make an accurate determination of what their best five-card hand is, or who the winner is--that becomes the dealer's obligation.

Now, if the situation were slightly different, if B had flashed his cards, then started to muck them thinking that he had lost, I would be out of line to stop him or speak up to inform him that he had the winner, because he would have to be left alone to decide whether to throw them away or turn them face up for the dealer to read.

Cards face-up on the table speak for themselves, and the player with the best hand is entitled to the pot (absent an exceptional situation in which there is something he has done wrong or failed to do right, as in the stories discussed here).**

What's more is that players have an affirmative ethical obligation to prevent just such dealer mistakes from being made. For example, Cooke's Rules of Real Poker, p. 62, rule 9.15: "Any player who sees an incorrect amount of chips put into the pot, or an error about to be made in awarding the pot, shall point out the error to the dealer at the earliest possible opportunity." Krieger and Bykofsky, in The Rules of Poker, agree: "Although the dealer is required to determine the best hand and award the pot accordingly, cards speak, and every player at the table has an ethical obligation to speak up if he notices a dealer error." (Rule 5.22, p. 140.)

I was puzzled by Mr. Hoyle's critique of my intervention at first, but, as I mentioned earlier, as time went by, it became clear that his ego was heavily invested in always being right, and I had done damage to that fragile self-image. Psychologically, he needed to redeem himself, and finding a spot in which he could return my admonishment filled the bill for him. Getting the criticism in so as to balance the scales was far more important to him than actually being right.

Egos make people do the strangest things.

*Yes, I know that Hoyle died before poker as we know it was invented. But it's just a figure of speech. And besides, Hoyle is in the poker hall of fame, though that has always struck me as kind of an oddity.

** Funny story--at least it was funny at the time. The first day of class in poker dealer school, the instructor was trying to teach this principle, which is usually condensed to just "cards speak"--two words that this instructor kept repeating, to drill it into us. He had an extremely thick Filipino accent. A young woman sitting next to me asked at the next break what the teacher had been saying. I explained it. "Oh," she said. "That makes sense. I thought he was saying 'cod spick,' and I had no idea what that was about."

I predict that when this is posted it will be the only page on the whole world wide web in which the phrase "cod spick" appears.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Poker joke

In the mail today was the copy of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Poker that I had ordered. As with the Dummies book, there is a sound, non-obvious reason for me to be reviewing these--about which more sometime soon. This one was written by the late, great Andy Glazer.

I was just thumbing through it, when I spotted the word "Lollapalooza" in a sub-header on p. 147. I couldn't imagine what this had to do with poker, so I read the section. It's apparently an old poker joke, but one I had never heard. I liked it so much I decided to share it with y'all, and scanning it was much easier than typing. (Copyright, shmopyright.) Click to make it big enough to read, and enjoy:

A poker urban legend

I heard a poker urban legend today. Oddly enough, before this happened it had never even dawned on me that there is or might be an entire sub-genre of urban legends dealing with poker.

I was at the Venetian. The woman on my right told the story. It seems that her father was in an unspecified Atlantic City poker room when they first started offering bad-beat jackpots. Sharing the table with him was a quiet older woman and two young punks, who were behaving obnoxiously towards her and everybody else. At some point, a rare hand came up, with a straight flush beating four of a kind. One of the young punks had the straight flush. The older woman had the four of a kind. She flashed it to the kid, then threw it in the muck, voiding any possibility of the casino paying out the jackpot. As she did so, she said something like, "That'll teach you to be rude to everybody!" Of course, the jackpot was huge; she sacrified what would have been the lion's share of the money in order to spite the punk and deprive him of what would have been the second-largest portion of the payout, amounting to tens of thousands of dollars. (Typical bad-beat jackpots are distributed something like 40-50% to the loser of the hand, 25-40% to the winner of the hand, and the rest parcelled out to the other players at the table or in the entire card room.) It turns out that the woman was independently wealthy, playing poker just for fun, and didn't care about the money, so it was worth it to her to make sure the punk didn't get rewarded for his bad behavior.

So why do I call this an urban legend? Because this now makes the third time I've heard the same story, from three different people, in different locations (one back in Minnesota before I moved here). There is some variation in details: usually it's just one bad apple at the table instead of two, for example. Of course, the jackpot is always huge, never one that was recently hit and therefore near its minimum.

It is not impossible that this has actually occurred somewhere, sometime. But it's extremely unlikely that it has happened so many times that by pure chance I have been seated at poker tables with three people who either witnessed such an event or were, as they claimed, retelling it second-hand. I would not have difficulty believing that the father of the woman at the table today did, in fact, tell her that story. However, I would be highly skeptical about his having actually been witness to it. It is far more likely that he heard the story from somebody else, and inserted himself into it in the retelling--a classic and prime feature of the urban legend.

The largest online repository of urban legends that I know of is I searched that site for the word "poker," and though I found a few stories in which poker is an incidental part, there were none centered specifically around the game. So this may be a whole unexplored area.

Note how well the characteristics of this thrice-repeated (within my hearing) story fit the general outlines of the urban legend, as described in the glossary supplied by the good folks at

Urban legends are a specific class of legend, differentiated from
"ordinary" legends by their being provided and believed as accounts of actual
incidents that befell or were witnessed by someone the teller almost knows
(e.g., his sister's hairdresser's mechanic). These tales are told as true,
local, and recent occurrences, and often contain names of places or entities
located within the teller's neighborhood or surrounding region.

Urban legends are narratives which put our fears and concerns into the form
of stories or are tales which we use to confirm the rightness of our world view.
As cautionary tales they warn us against engaging in risky behaviors by pointing
out what has supposedly happened to others who did what we might be tempted to
try. Other legends confirm our belief that it's a big, bad world out there, one
awash with crazed killers, lurking terrorists, unscrupulous companies out to
make a buck at any cost, and a government that doesn't give a damn.

Folks commonly equate 'urban legend' with 'false' (i.e., "Oh, that's an
urban legend!"). Though the vast majority of such tales are pure invention, a
handful do turn out to be based on real incidents, and whether or not something
actually happened has no bearing on its status as an urban legend. What lifts
true tales of this type out of the world of news and into the genre of
contemporary lore is the blurring of details and multiplicity of claims that the
events happened locally, alterations which take place as the stories are passed
through countless hands. Though there might indeed have been an original actual
event, it clearly did not happen to as many people or in as many places as the
various recountings of it would have us believe.

Clearly this is told as a cautionary tale about the importance of being civil to others at the poker table, lest a victim of rudeness visit extreme financial revenge upon the taunter(s). And, as I said, perhaps it actually happened once somewhere.

Or, at least as likely, what actually happened was somebody unaware of the jackpot flashed the huge losing hand, then mucked it before anybody could stop him or her, not knowing that they were throwing away a pot of gold, following which the story was modified as a morality tale. No matter how nasty our species is (and--trust me--I operate under no false pretenses about the awfulness of which people are capable; the rose-colored glasses came off long ago), stupidity and ignorance are still responsible for about a zillion times more bad things happening than is deliberate cruelty.

If you have heard this particular urban legend or other poker-related tales you suspect to be such, I'd love to read about them in the comments.

Poker gems, #120

Comedian Steven Wright:

Last night I stayed up late playing poker with Tarot cards. I got a full house and four people died.

Additional info about marked $100 bills

Pauly, of Tao of Poker fame, picked up on my latest note about the odd stamp marks on the backs of $100 bills, and added some photos from his own wallet. See here (but note that for some reason I can't figure out the permalink on the post in question appears to go to the blog's entire May, 2008, archive, so you may have to scroll down to the one in question, dated May 20). A comment left on that post gave a very useful pointer to this page, which has lots of additional examples and some explanatory theories.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Strangest "Poker After Dark" ever

Last night's episode of "Poker After Dark" was the strangest ever. It had little to do with the poker. The whole thing was dominated by a weird prop bet that started as a seemingly trivial bit of small talk.

Phil Gordon said to Howard Lederer, "I saw your mom playing poker at the Mirage yesterday." Lederer doesn't believe it. And it eventually turns into a $1000 bet. Gordon is so convincing that Robert Williamson takes $1000 of the action, too.

Before the bet is actually placed, though, Gordon's story changes several times, and gets embellished. First he decides that it was at the Venetian, not the Mirage, and it might have been two days ago, rather than yesterday. And maybe she wasn't actually playing poker, but was just in the poker room.

Then there's a big question about whether it was Lederer's mother or stepmother. Both Gordon and Lederer state that Gordon has definitely met both of them, and should be able to recognize either one and tell them apart. But Gordon is confused for a while. Apparently at some unknown time in the past there was a karaoke contest at which Lederer's mother was a judge, and she voted against Gordon. Gordon at first says that this is the woman he talked to yesterday. Then later he says, no, not that one, the other one--so presumably Lederer's stepmother.

Whichever one it supposedly was, Lederer isn't buying it. His mother hates casinos, and won't even go to a movie theater inside of one, so the idea that she was casually playing poker (she doesn't play poker, either) in the Mirage or the Venetian is just out of the question, even though she does live in Las Vegas. Lederer's stepmother does play poker, but Lederer was pretty sure that she was then in San Diego (she does not live in Vegas; I assume, though it wasn't stated, that she lives in New England, where I believe Howard's father still lives and teaches English), and that she would never hit town without calling him. On the strength of those presumptions, he's willing to bet that whoever it was that Gordon saw and spoke to, it was neither his mother nor his stepmother.

But Gordon isn't backing down. In fact, his story gets more specific, which is what draws Williamson into the bet. Gordon says that not only did he recognize the woman in question, but that she asked him if he recognized her. He said, "Yeah, you're Howard's mom," and she confirmed that. Gordon is so certain of all of this that he says he would bet up to $20,000 on it. When others at the table express interest in the bet, he is so confident that he tells them that if Howard will cover their bets, "Back the truck up!" He had temporarily forgotten Lederer's stepmother's name, but when Lederer mentions "Simone," he adds extra emphasis--yes, that's definitely who it was.

Well, after a lot of back and forth (and this is a greatly condensed version of all that took place), they make the bets, somebody gets a cell phone, and Lederer places the call to his stepmother. (They never call his mother; apparently Gordon accepts that it was not she.) She is in Florida (I think that's what she said) and has been for a few days. She has not been in Las Vegas recently. Lederer is careful not to lead the witness; he simply asks her where she is now and how long she has been there, without telling her the back story or that there is money on the line. Gordon speaks briefly to her, too, ruling out the possibility that Lederer is faking the conversation.

He pays up, but remains apparently completely baffled at how he could have it wrong. He suggests that maybe Lederer has set the whole thing up, coaching Simone in advance to deny having been in Vegas. (This seems unlikely. Not only do I not think that Lederer would stoop to that kind of rank dishonesty, but it just seems too looney a thing to set up in the hopes that it would somehow lead to a prop bet.) Williamson seems to believe that Lederer and Gordon conspired to make the whole thing up just to take Williamson's money, which they will secretly split later. (Unlikely, I think, for similar reasons.)

This is a really bizarre situation. I'm impressed that Lederer would have such reliance on his knowledge of the two women in question (particularly his stepmother, who does play casino poker; he was therefore relying solely on the presumption that she would not come to town without calling him) as to disbelieve an incredibly earnest and highly convincing Gordon. Gordon, in fact, was so convincing that Ali Nejad said that if Lederer accepted the bet, it could only be because he hated money. Gordon had me convinced, too. I thought that Lederer was going to get a surprise on the other end of the phone. (I wasn't sure enough that I would have put $1000 down on it, though, especially because of how Gordon's story changed in significant details along the way.)

So what could possibly have occurred in Phil Gordon's life that had him 100% certain that he had had a conversation with Lederer's stepmother the day before, yet be wrong about it? That's the core of the mystery for me. I hopped over to the "televised poker" forum to see if there was speculation about this. A reasonably plausible suggestion was made by somebody calling himself "badatmath": "It was probably some lady that had met Phil in a poker tournament or something and when he said "yeah, you're Howard's mom!" she didn't hear what he said, thought he was joking, or just went along with it for some reason."

That does seem to be just about the only possibility that makes sense. Of course, it also requires that she coincidentally happened to resemble Lederer's stepmother, or that Gordon had a brain lapse as to what Lederer's stepmother looks like. Nobody during the show nor online has openly suggested this, but a healthy dose of alcohol in Gordon's system at the time might also be part of the answer. That would also help explain his uncertainty as to which casino this happened in, what day it occurred, which of Lederer's relatives it was, whether she was actually playing poker or just hanging around the room, etc.

Phil Gordon hasn't had any well-known nickname before now. At the close of the episode, the fill-in voice-over commentator said that Gordon, now with some egg on his face, could become known as Phil "Back The Truck Up" Gordon.

All in all, it was a weird but fascinating glimpse into human psychology generally--i.e., how we can trick ourselves so easily, and be much more certain of things that we really ought to be--and, more specifically, into the lives of professional gamblers, and how easily they turn ordinary interpersonal interactions and conversations into betting opportunities. No matter how long I stay in this racket, I can't imagine ever becoming such a gambler at heart that I would act that way. Maybe I still just value money way too much....

Addendum, May 25, 2008

It's actually even a little weirder than I reported above. I'm watching the "Director's Cut" show, where they recap the week's events. In replay, it's clear that I slightly misremembered what Gordon said in his story of the encounter. Rather than him being the one to affirmatively suggest to the woman that she was Howard's mom, he actually says that she offered this: "You remember me. I'm Howard's mom." If he's accurate about that, it effectively eliminates the suggestion discussed above about Gordon saying such a thing and it being unheard or misunderstood or shrugged off by the woman he was talking to. Of course, memory is tricky, and perhaps it did happen as suggested above, and in Gordon's memory he has accidentally inverted who made the identification. (In the twoplustwo thread on this, somebody transcribed part of the discussion, and very specifically quotes Gordon as saying that he's the one who suggested the identification. But just moments ago I saw a replay of another part in which he says that the woman is the one who affirmatively identified herself, so apparently he told it both ways, a detail that I didn't catch the first time around.)

In the post-game interview, however, Gordon remain adamant about who he spoke to. He is mystified about the whole thing, says it's the strangest thing that has even happened to him, and he is headed over to the Venetian to investigate. Perhaps he is hoping to find other people that know Lederer's stepmother and will verify that she was there.

This all transpired several months ago, so I wonder what he uncovered. Gordon has a blog, but he has only posted on it twice in the last year and a half, and there's nothing there. I submitted a question about this through his web site, but I'm not really expecting a response.

I'm OK, your not OK

A friend pointed this out to me in an email: Our fine, proud, local community college, the College of Southern Nevada, has this banner across its web site home page: "While your [sic] focused on learning, we're focused on you."

I guess if you attend school there and have to do a term paper, you can be pretty sure that bad spelling and punctuation won't be counted against you.


I was looking over the list of top administration in order to find somebody to whom I could send a taunting email about this gaffe. In the process, I came across this paragraph describing the functions of one Larry Mason, "Interim Director of Diversity & Inclusion":

Provide leadership, guidance, and coordination for the college’s diversity
efforts. The Office of Equity & Inclusion was established to
address diversity and multiculturalism related issues. Those issues include
access, equity, retention, and recruitment for faculty and students.
Additionally CSN will facilitate professional development for diversity as it
pertains to Culture, Race, Gender and Religion and their impact in the classroom
and campus. As CSN and the Nevada increases it’s population of international
students and diverse students, we will work diligently to prepare our future
workforce to compete in a global marketplace and to establish bridges between
CSN and K-12

Wow. Let's proofread that together, shall we?

First sentence: This is actually a sentence fragment, not a sentence, as it has no subject.

Second sentence: "[M]ulticulturalism related" should be hyphenated.

Fourth sentence: This needs a comma after "Additionally." It is silly and pretentious to capitalize any of the four nouns used. There is no serial comma used after "Gender," though one was used in the previous sentence after "retention." One can argue for or against that function for the comma, but at least be consistent, and either use it every time or omit it every time.

Fifth sentence: "The Nevada"? What is that, a river or something? Since when do states get referred to as "the"? ("I'm going down to the Florida to see Disney World!") "[I]ncreases": you've got a double subject in this sentence ("CSN and the Nevada"); assuming that the intention is to speak about the increase in the population of both of them, this should read "increase," rather than "increases." "[I]t’s population": Ugh. Who had the bright idea of sticking an apostrophe in there? The possessive pronoun should be "their," anyway, since we're dealing with the same double subject. Finally, there is no period at the end of the sentence.

Maybe I should be cautious about pointing out all of these problems. They'll probably go running to the legislature saying we need a tax increase so that they can hire a proofreader.

When I worked in an office job in about 1982, typewriters with memory functions were still not common. Our office didn't have one, and I was given the task of researching the available equipment so that our office could purchase one. I remember receiving in the mail a letter advertising one model, bragging about how easy the machine would make production of perfect documents. I even remember the manufacturer: it was the ill-fated "Qwip" division of Exxon. But the letter containing these boasts was chock-full of misspellings and other typographical errors. I found maybe 20 of them, then mailed it on to my father for his amusement. He found several more than I had overlooked. He gave it to his secretary, who found one or two more that we had both missed.

You might guess: We did not buy a Qwip system. We bought an IBM. Poor mechanics of writing give a terrible impression of a business, especially one trying to sell word-processing equipment. Bad writing similarly gives a horrible impression of an alleged institution of higher learning. If you come out of CSN with a diploma, but unable to write a competent sentence in English, was your tuition money really well spent?

In putting this kind of crap on its web site, CSN is basically announcing to the world that as an institution it doesn't give a damn about the basics of English usage. One might wonder why that is, but I sure as hell don't have an answer.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

How to fold

You would think that with all of the infinite complexities of poker, the one thing everybody would be able to get right is the single easiest part of the game: folding.

You would be wrong.

Online, of course, all you have to do--in fact, all you can do--is click the button. A few sites give you the option to show your cards as you fold, but only when you are the last one out of the hand, so that there is no way you can queer any action yet to come. Just about the only way you can screw up the process is by just sitting there, not doing anything, and timing out--which is extremely rude, because it wastes everybody's time for no good reason. Well, there is one other way you can get it wrong: you can type in chat about what you're folding, when there are still players actively in the hand. But that will typically get you scolded by another player, and if it gets reported to the site, you'll at least get a warning not to do it again.

But in a casino, the number of wrong ways to fold vastly exceeds the number of right ways, and it seems that the universe of poker players manages to find and employ every single one of the wrong ways, every day.

By far the most common problem with folding is exposing the bottom card inadvertantly. Anytime you lift the cards off of the table even a couple of inches, there's a good chance that you're flashing. If I really watched every player's cards, I could see at least one card inadvertantly exposed on nearly every deal. That's how ubiquitous the problem is.

On most hands, knowledge of one discard won't change anything. But you never know when it will. If I see a 7 flash by, and the flop is 7-7-K, then I know that I don't have to worry about the bad kicker in my 7-5 hole cards, because I have the only 7 left in the deck. That's an extremely valuable piece of information.

It becomes tiresome to inform the dealer every time I see a card flashed as it's being folded, so I've gradually raised my threshold for doing so. First, I have to be planning to stay in the hand; if I'm going to fold myself, my illicit information isn't hurting anybody else. Second, the violator has to be a chronic one. If it's somebody who isn't usually flashing, I let it go. But if he's doing it a lot, clearly he needs to be informed that there's a problem. Third, I have to see the card pretty clearly--be able to identify it specifically. If I just get a vague sense of a bunch of red dots, or that it's a picture card without further detail, I don't speak up.

One might question the ethics of this position, but it's seriously a problem to speak up every single time I see a flashed card, because it's happening all the friggin' time! I'm not thrilled about the decision to let it slide the majority of the time, but the rigid alternative is socially extremely awkward--being the only person at the table who ever mentions it at all (I can count on one hand the number of times I've heard another player volunteer having seen a flashed discard), and doing so on nearly every deal, if I were really strict about it, well, it's just an untenably nittish role to play. So I live with my compromise, for good or ill.

The next wrong way to fold is the loft: the guy who thinks it's somehow cool to toss his cards way up high, hoping they'll land right in the muck. These goofballs appear to take great pride in the accuracy of their arcs. But, obviously, this exposes at least the bottom card, and often both, to anybody at the table who cares to take a peek in mid-air. What surprises me most about this is how few dealers say anything about it. It should be an immediate warning, with the floor called over on a second offense, and an invitation to leave for the day the third time around. Usually, though, nothing at all is said or done. Grrrrrrrrrrr.

A third wrong way to fold is to flash your cards to another player before you toss them in. This is especially egregious if the other player still has a live hand to be played. But it's wrong even if you're showing them only to a player who folded before you. Information is the most precious commodity at a poker table, and by both rule and convention, it must be equally available to all. Hence the "show one, show all" rule. If you flash your cards to your buddy in the next seat, every other player has the right to see them, too, in order to help form a picture of what range of hands you tend to play versus fold. (If there is still action pending in the hand, the correct procedure is for the dealer to kill the mucked cards, then set them aside, to be revealed to the table after the hand is completed.) I don't often exercise this privilege, but once in a while there are two friends sitting in adjacent seats, who show each other their cards every time around. In those situations, I will indeed start exercising my right to see what they're throwing away, and--surprise, surprise--after about three times in a row, they catch on and stop doing it.

A fourth wrong way to fold is to flash your cards to the dealer. This is usually confined to the players in the 1 and 9/10 seats. The first problem with this is that the dealer doesn't care. He's cranking out hundreds of hands a day to mostly complete strangers, and cannot possibly have any emotional investment in whether you're getting the world's worst run of bad cards, or the most horrendous bad beats. What's more is that even if he did care, he can't show any reaction to what you are revealing, lest it leak improper information to the other players yet to act. Finally, it's pretty hard to show your cards to the dealer without them also becoming visible to at least one other player, usually in the seat on the dealer's other side.

Speaking of the dealer, it should--but cannot--go without saying that it is inexcusable to deliberately fire your cards at the dealer as if they were weapons. I don't see this every day, but probably a couple of times a month, on average. You're an idiot if you blame the dealer for whatever ill fortune you may have just experienced, and even more of an idiot if you decide to show the table where you place the fault. If I ran a card room, doing this just once would get you ejected for the day. No, you're not likely to send the dealer to the hospital for sutures or orthopedic surgery, but it's unspeakably rude and demeaning, and I simply wouldn't want players that hotheaded and volatile playing in my facility.

So there you have it--at least five wrong ways (that I can think of off the top of my head, though there are undoubtedly others) to do the simplest act that poker asks of its players. You literally don't have to (and shouldn't) even lift them off of the table. Just slide them gently forward.

When I first started reading poker blogs a couple of years ago, I had on my reading list several written by poker dealers, since I was interested in becoming one myself. I remember a post from one of them about this very subject. Unfortunately, I can no longer recall who wrote it, and I was unable to find it with several attempts at a Google search. But the post concluded with the observation that all you have to do is push your cards two inches forward. It then asked, "Is that too much to ask?"

It was a good question then, and remains so now. When all you have to do is slide your cards a few inches toward the dealer, how can so many people get it so wrong so much of the time?

Poker gems, #119

Johnny Moss, as quoted in Poker for Dummies, by Richard Harroch and Lou Krieger, p. 28.

In an otherwise even contest, the man with the best concentration will almost always win.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Poker gems, #118

Mike Caro, as quoted in Poker for Dummies, by Richard Harroch and Lou Krieger, p. 9. (There's a non-obvious reason that I'm reading this, which I'll probably disclose sometime fairly soon. Don't go jumping to any conclusions.)

If they're helpless and they can't defend themselves, you're in the right game.

Ugliest poker sunglasses

For some time now I've been collecting examples of the biggest, ugliest, most effeminate sunglasses worn by men at poker tables. Some are professionals, from televised poker shows. Some are amateurs I've been in a game with. There have been lots of the latter, but I've often had a hard time getting pictures of them. Basically, my only three choices are: (1) Tell them I want to snap a photo to enter in my "ugliest sunglasses" contest. That might not be wise, for obvious reasons. (2) Tell them I want to snap a photo because their glasses are so good-looking. But I'm just not a good enough actor to pull off a whopper like that with a straight face. (3) Sneak a picture when I think they're not paying attention. This is made trickier by the fact that my cell phone camera, when in use, flashes a red light, and has a message on its external screen (both visible to anybody facing the lens) that says "CAMERA IN OPERATION." I guess the manufacturers don't like the thought of surreptitious photo-taking.

Let's start with the amateurs. First up is this guy, who is actually the latest addition to the collection, having been spotted at Mandalay Bay Saturday night:

Both of the next two were taken last year sometime. I'm pretty sure the first one was at the Hilton, but I can neither recall nor tell from the background where the second one was (though Planet Hollywood would be my best guess):

Then we've got the pros. Here's "Hollywood" Dave Stann, from FSN's "Best Damn Poker Show":

Here's John Juanda, from a "Poker After Dark" tournament:

Here's Daniel Alaei, from "High Stakes Poker":

Here's Shawn Sheikhan, also from "High Stakes Poker":

Here's Dan Harmetz, the third entry from "High Stakes Poker," which seems to be a mecca of ugliness:

Finally we have Dario Minieri, in a photo taken at, I believe, last year's WSOP main event:

So there you have my nominees for "Biggest, Ugliest, Most Effeminate Sunglasses Worn by a Male at a Poker Table." I leave it to readers to pass final judgment in the comments section.

Incidentally, a Dishonorable Mention should go to Dolce and Gabbana. From my informal observations, they make a disproportionate share of glasses of this general style. They're horrible. Nevada should pass a law allowing one to rip these monstrosities off of another person's face and stomp them to bits, without criminal or civil liability. The world would be a better place for it.

Poker gems, #117

Chris Ferguson, to Andy Bloch, during the final match of the NBC Heads Up Poker Championship:

I hate you math guys.

Another small step towards more generalized poker competency

Night before last, I signed up for two of the single-table HORSE tournaments that I've been enjoying lately on Poker Stars, one for $5, one for $10, and thought I would play whichever filled up first. One started, and before I could unregister from the other one, it started, too! So I had to manage two of these puppies simultaneously.

At first I thought it wouldn't be too bad, because starting within a minute or so of each other, I assumed they would progress pretty much in parallel, so that I wouldn't have to be focusing on different games at the same time. Unfortunately, the $10 game had two players who kept having disconnect problems, and every time that happened the tournament clock would stop for a minute or so. It didn't take too long for the two tournaments to become completely out of phase.

I realize that there are plenty of people who are completely comfortable with all of the different games, and can size up any given situation in just a few seconds, so that switching back and forth is not difficult. But for one like me, it's quite a challenge. Hold'em, of course, is my bread and butter; at this level of play I could do it in my sleep. And in razz I have played enough to at least have a basic A-B-C strategy down, so it doesn't take a lot of thought to make a reasonable decision.

But Omaha, stud, and stud/8 are still big foggy areas in my brain, and it takes a great deal of concentration for me to end up with even a vague notion of whether I'm ahead or behind in a hand, especially if there is more than one opponent. (In the split-pot games it happens embarrassingly often that I think I'm going to win the high, but when the cards are revealed, I actually lose the high but win the low--or vice-versa. That's how far off my radar is for those games.) So switching rapidly back and forth between the games was a real test for me--particularly at 4:00 in the morning, which is when this happened.

But I did it. I came in 2nd in the $5, and 1st in the $10. Uptick a massive $52!

And just before these two started, I had finished in 3rd place in another $5 one (payout: $8). Three consecutive cash finishes, with two of them played simultaneously but asynchronously, is not bad for never having studied strategy in 3 of the 5 different forms of poker that make up these things, just kind of winging it on general poker knowledge. (Of course, it also helps that none of the opposition is greatly skilled at all of the games, or they wouldn't be signing up for the lowest stakes the site offers. It's a safe bet that we're all early in the HORSE learning curves. There are no sharks patrolling the waters of the $5-10 sit-and-go.)

Anyway, it seems that the ol' brain cells still have a bit of flexibility left in them, even at my advanced years.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

New podcast

Short-Stacked Shamus put up the third episode of the Hard-Boiled Poker Radio Show a few days ago. I just got around to listening to it, and it's very funny--well worth about 52 minutes of your life. (I'm not in this one, so don't go there expecting to hear my voice.) Go check it out.

It's not a reraise, dammit!

I did a twofer tonight: I hit, first, Mandalay Bay, then hiked over to the Excalibur, taking advantage of them both being connected to the Luxor (which sits in between them) via indoor walkways. My original plan had been to play at all three places, Luxor last, but it was too late and I was too tired by the time I finished at Excalibur.

Anyway, I saw/heard the same mistake twice tonight, one in each casino. In each instance, somebody put in a bet on the flop, followed by another player announcing "reraise."

This is not a "reraise." It is simply a raise. In order to be a reraise, there first has to be a raise. The first bet on any round of betting is not a raise, because there is nothing to raise. So if the second person to act wishes to bet more than the first person did, it's a raise, not a reraise. The third player to act in a round of betting can put in a reraise; it is not possible for the second person acting to do so.

The World Poker Tour episode this week was their annual invitational "Ladies Night." Watching it reminded me that I never saw the one from last season (at least I don't remember having seen it, though with my aging brain cells, it's possible that I watched it 20 times and it didn't stick). I have all of the episodes from every season clogging up my computer's external hard drive, so I fired it up and watched the thing.

The lone amateur player, who won the qualifying tournament to earn a place at the table with the invited pros, does exactly the same thing at one point: she announces a "reraise," when she is simply putting in a raise. Well, not too surprising for an amateur to make that mistake. But I was shocked that Mike Sexton repeated it, saying, in his usual over-excited voice, something like, "Vince, she's not just calling, she's reraising!"

Mike Sexton definitely ought to know better.

And if you, dear reader, didn't know better before, now you do. It's one of those little goofs that, while not actually adversely affecting anything, reveals that one is rather inexperienced at live casino play.

Actually, nobody ever has to use the word "reraise"; simply "raise" works perfectly well, even if it's the fifth or tenth consecutive increase in the size of the bet. So if you want to avoid any possibility of ever making this faux pas, just delete the word "reraise" from your vocabulary entirely, and you'll be fine. For what it's worth, I think the word "reraise" sounds a tad silly, so I never use it. "Raise" does the job just fine.

Closely related is the error in which the first person to act in a given round of betting says "raise" before putting in his chips. Uh, no. You can bet, but it is logically impossible for you to raise, since there has not been any previous bet.

It's just as easy to get it right as to get it wrong, so please try to get it right, OK?

Last post about the marked bills

I have previously mentioned strange stamp markings on the backs of $100 bills here and here. Above are scans of some of the latest ones that have come my way.

This is my last plea for definitive answers about who is putting these marks there, and why. If I don't hear from somebody in the know this time, I'm sticking with the Satanic cult terrorists theory.

Strangeness at the Excalibur

As I was leaving the Excalibur poker room a short time ago, I saw these two guys playing the wheel of fortune. They're wearing these strange white paper hats. You can't read them in this low-resolution cell phone photo, but the one on the left says "It puts the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again." (That's one of the creepier lines from "Silence of the Lambs," for those of you who have never seen it.) The one on the right says something about being Mexican and the INS coming to get you.

There must be a weird story behind these hats. My guess is that it involves both alcohol and a lost prop bet. But I didn't inquire.