Saturday, June 14, 2008

Poker gems, #128

Dr. Pauly, at Tao of Poker:

How do you prep for a Razz event at the WSOP? Wear a cup and invite all the neighborhood kids to come over and take turns kicking you in the junk. If you survive, you have balls of steel and can withstand the brutal insanity of Razz tournaments.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Poker gems, #127

Richard Brodie, as quoted in PokerNews story by Dennis Waterman. (Edit: Mr. Brodie notes in the comment section that the original source, not noted in the PN story, is his blog, specifically this post.)

The only way to beat Vegas is to hit and run. That's why I never moved here. If you spend too much time in Sin City it grinds you down, wears you out, and eventually absorbs you, stealing your soul and making you part of the jaundiced, hungry money machine. But if you hit and run you can get in, make a quick score, and get out before it bites you back.

Poker gems, #126

From Barry Greenstein, a guy who gets it (Card Player magazine interview, May 21, 2008; vol 21, #10, p. 48):

To me, poker is not about proving that I can beat everyone, it is about paying the bills. I want to make money so that I can enjoy my life; I have never felt that I needed to prove myself to anyone.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Have I ever mentioned how much I hate razz?

I just finished about an hour of razz on PokerStars, playing my usual $0.50/$1 table, starting with $20. I played clean, in that I never even once deviated from a starting hand selection of three unpaired cards 8 or lower. I was a very good boy, in other words.

I got precisely seven such starting hands in that hour. Here are the results of the first six:

2-A-6...2-10-Q-6 (two pairs, Q-10)
4-7-A...J-A (aborted)
6-3-A...3-10-J-5 (10-6)
3-A-7...8-Q-A-8 (two pairs, Q-8)
5-3-6...3-5-2-K (two pairs, K-6)
A-3-4...K-Q-Q-8 (Q-8)

The ones I played all the way out were not because I was being unduly stubborn, but because an opponent was giving me free cards in the right spots and/or the opponent's hand was looking equally crummy.

I lost every one of them. Every one. 100%. Batting zero for six. Six good starting hands, and the best hand I had made at the end was a lousy 10-6, with not a dime made off of any of them.

Finally, FINALLY, with my last $3.50 or so, I managed to turn one starting hand into a rough 8:

7-2-8...5-4-K-7 (8-7)

I lost this one to a guy holding A-2-9-7-4-3-T.

What a stupid, stupid game. I don't see why anybody plays it.


A stop at the Rio Amazon room

I just got back from a quick visit to the World Series of Poker.

Earlier in the evening I was catching up on some blog reading, and found Shamus sort of lamenting his birthday. I checked on the status of the WSOP event he was reporting on for PokerNews, and figured that I could rush over there and wish him a happy birthday in person either as the event was ending for the day or during their dinner break. Besides, I have never seen the inside of the famous Amazon Room--and how can I consider myself a serious poker player while that's still true?

So I dashed over. Had some trouble finding the entrance, as where I parked was sort of a "you can't get there from here" situation. Passed by Erick Lindgren at the taxi stand on my way in. Knowing that when I left the house he was still playing at the final table of the 2-7 no-limit draw event, I thought that that couldn't be good. Sure enough, soon after arriving inside I saw the television table where they were playing, and he wasn't at it. It's down to Lisandro, Matusow, and Greenstein at this point. I was hoping Lindgren would take his second, but of the remaining field I've gotta go with the poor children of the world getting the money via Barry.

Anyway, the Amazon Rooom is every bit as big and chaotic as everybody else has said. It's utterly insane--and this evening was not a particuarly crazy time, as things go. I was on the phone with Shamus for nearly five minutes, him trying to figure out where I was in relation to him and me trying to spot the landmarks he was describing, before he found me.

The final hand of Day 2 of the Pot-Limit Omaha event had just gone down, and Shamus and his PokerNews partner for the day, MarcC, were both working hard on the post to describe it. It's a crazy, crazy hand, well worth reading about (if you're into that sort of thing). See here. I expect that that play will be the subject of much Monday-morning quarterbacking. There's a fine line between brilliant plays and donkey moves in poker, and it's not always easy to label a particular action one way or the other. But IMHO, Vanessa Selbst's decisions in that hand fell well on the donkey side of the line--which is surprising, because everything I had been reading about this event as it transpired seemed to show her as bold but solid.

I gained new respect for the conditions under which the PN bloggers are working. I had assumed that they were up in the elevated media center, with a commanding view of the room. Nope. They're stuck off in a dark, unglamorous, unelevated corner, with a good view of only two or three nearby tables, and they're usually having to write about events taking place in some distant portion of the room, in what might as well be Timbuktu, guided only by scribbled notes handed them from the on-the-spot reporters. No wonder some things get garbled in the process. It's amazing they get as much right as they do.

There are distractions, too. For example, as Shamus and MarcC were rather desperately trying to sort out some conflicting data on that dramatic last hand of the day that set the final table for tomorrow, a random, older man, looking and sounding pretty lonely, stopped at their table and started talking about how June 11 was the anniversary of (1) Timothy McVeigh's execution, and (2) his own mother's death. Uh, we're trying to work here, dude. Sorting out Omaha hands can be confusing under the best of circumstances. Doing so when there are discrepancies in the reporting would be taxing even to one who is extremely familiar and comfortable with the game. Doing so while trying to be polite to a babbling stranger, and while virtual railbirds on the internet are already posting complaints that the details of the hand are wrong as reported, well, lemme tell you, those guys earn their pay.

But it all got sorted out (apparently), and there was time for a little chatting before I took my leave. On the way out I passed a strikingly thinner Mike Matusow (I assume that by now everybody who would care has already heard about him winning $100,000 from Ted Forrest by dropping something like 60 pounds over the last year), Andy Bloch, and Haralabos Voulgaris. I'm not particularly star-struck, but it's still kind of an odd feeling to encounter in real life people I've seen mostly on televised poker shows. It is, however, getting to feel less peculiar the more times it happens (which, obviously, is a lot more since moving to Las Vegas).

Probably just a couple more years, and all of those guys--Barry, Erick, Erik, Daniel, the Phils, Ted, Jennifer, Allen, etc.--and I will be on each other's cell phone speed dials, making mutual plans for dinner, golf, etc.


Happy birthday, Shamus! Try to spend the next one working not quite as hard, eh?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Guess it's not a language academy

All day in the right-hand margin of the pages of live news updates from the World Series of Poker, the PokerNews site has been flashing this two-part advertisement from the WSOP Academy:

Would you trust them to be able to teach you how to win a bracelet if they can't even spell "bracelet"?

Ironically, Phil Hellmuth, one of the featured instructors in this school, famously taunted an opponent in the WSOP a few years back with the line, "You can't even spell poker!"

Well, can you, Phil?

(Tip o' the fedora to Shamus for pointing out this gaffe to me.)

Addendum, June 12, 2008

One of the execs at PokerNews contacted me by email and said that it was PN--specifically their Lithuania-based web team--that designed and is responsible for the ad. The WSOP Academy is not to blame. I see that it has already been remedied.

It's all about the cards

Perhaps my least favorite moment in the whole process of hitting a casino to play poker is signing in and out, when I have to hand over my players' club card to be swiped so I can get comp credit for my hours.

You see, I kind of have a lot of those cards, and I have to keep them all together. There are way too many to fit in a wallet. I often don't know when I leave the house where I'll end up playing, because I change my mind on the way, or because I have a really lousy session and pick up to go somewhere else, or I have a spectacularly lucky big start and feel that I'm just going to give it all away if I stay put. So the cards have to come with me, or I might not have the one I need when I need it. I hear that some people leave them in their car's glove compartment, and just pull out the one they need when they arrive. I'm sufficiently absent-minded that I'd always be forgetting to take it inside with me. Besides, wouldn't the Vegas summer heat melt the plastic?

I always wear a dorky fanny pack when I'm out and about, and there's plenty of space for the cards. But they have to be held together. So I have them all strung on a key ring:

The result is that when I come to that dreaded moment of handing over the card, I have to give them the whole mess. And that nearly always provokes some sort of remark. "Got enough of those?" "Do you have all of them yet?" Etc.

Even worse is sitting down at the table at the places where they swipe the card right at the table (Station properties, Treasure Island, MGM Grand, Imperial Palace, and a few others). First, the poor dealer usually has to make the swipe one-handed, because the deck of cards is in the other hand. Doing this with a single card isn't too hard, but juggling my whole collection is a challenge.

But then there are the inevitable sniggerings from the other players. Apparently having this many cards is quite amusing to them, though I've never really figured out why. Surely there are thousands upon thousands of Vegas locals who have such collections, and I can't possibly be the only one that has them all strung together for efficiency. But there's always at least one person who feels the need to ask, "Gamble much?" or say something sarcastic like, "You really don't have enough of those cards." My, my--aren't you clever to think of such witty banter on the spot.

Besides, it's really not all that many. It's 25, to be exact. I've dumped the ones for places I'm unlikely to ever play in again.

My stock reply is to say, "Some people would call that evidence of a gambling problem."

But it isn't. I spend more time in casinos than anybody I know except employees of the places, but the total amount I spend on non-poker gambling a year is under $25--and even that is nearly all on 2-for-1 coupon deals or when a friend is in town and I do a little nickel-and-dime betting alongside him or her for amusement. The casinos do not consider me a highly valued customer; I never qualify for any of the giveaways they have for their regular customers, because poker hours aren't nearly as profitable to the casinos as the same time spent plugging slot machines or trying to beat the blackjack dealer, so we poker players are at the bottom of the comp priority list.

Still, when I can pick up an extra buck or two an hour in free food credits just for handing them the stupid card as I start and end play, well, dammit, I'm going to do it. That means dragging the cards around with me, but with them thrown into a fanny pack that's no burden at all.

The only burden is the taunts from poker room employees and other players. I'm kind of a freak of nature in a lot of ways that, were people to know about them, might make targets worthy of some ribbing. Carrying 25 casino cards may be the least peculiar thing about me. But that's the first one so many people see, so that's what grabs their attention, I guess.


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Poker gems, #125

Ambrose Bierce, as quoted in John Carlisle,'s Poker Player newspaper column, June 9, 2008, p. 13:

The hardest tumble a man can make is to fall over his own bluff.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Something fishy is going on in the WSOP ladies event

Yesterday I was watching some of the live updates from the World Series of Poker on the PokerNews feeds. One of the first ones about the ladies event was an announcement from WSOP Chariman Jeffrey Pollack to the effect that as long as he was in charge of things, there would be a ladies event (some people want to eliminate it), and that no men would be allowed to enter it (never mind antidiscrimination laws to the contrary).

Today, that report can no longer be found in the pages of Poker News updates of that event from yesterday. However, similarly defiant declarations from Pollack are reported by Michele Lewis as having occurred the night before:

Last night at the Queens of Heart dinner, Jeffrey
made two announcements:

1. As long as he is WSOP Commissioner there will be a Ladies
Event awarding a bracelet

2. No man would be allowed to register for the Ladies Event today

But at least one man did register for the tournament, and show up, only to be turned away at the last minute. Here's the incident as reported by Poker Listings.
Alan Jaffray showed up in a lovely dress hoping to have a go at the
bracelet. Jaffray's intent was to protest the sexist nature of the tournament
but was approached by WSOP Chairman, Jeffrey Pollack, shortly before the start. Mr. Pollack requested that Jaffray unregister himself from the tournament to preserve the integrity of the game and Jaffray obliged.

But on Jaffray's blog, he makes it pretty clear that, from his point of view, he was not "requested" to unregister, but was positively disallowed from play by Mr. Pollack:
I showed up at 11:30, met Patti, Sabyl, and a couple of friends at the
coffee shop, borrowed Patti's hat, had them adjust my necklace and apply makeup,
posed for photos with supportive and enthusiastic ladies at a couple of nearby
tables who were also playing that afternoon, walked to the Amazon room, and
promptly got pulled aside and kicked out by Jeffrey Pollack, Commissioner of the
World Series of Poker.

I'm honestly surprised by this - as I told Jeff, I've never heard of anyone
being denied entry to a poker tournament, including ladies events, on the basis
of sex. He claims that "in the 31-year history of the World Series of Poker
ladies event, no man has ever played." I asked if he was not concerned about the
sex discrimination aspects of this decision. "Not at all. Men are not a
protected class."

He talked about how they treat this event very seriously - "as do I, sir" -
and about the importance of protecting "the integrity of the game." I'm not sure
what my penis has to do with the integrity of the game. He asked if I could
understand his point of view. "I don't accept it, and I don't believe it's
right. But you're the boss, and if you say I can't play, then I can't

"I'm disappointed and annoyed that I can't play, since I expected to have
more fun in this event than perhaps any other in the WSOP, and I'd really love
to win the bracelet. C'est la vie. I don't know whether or not they have the
legal right to discriminate in this way, but I'm not going to make a big fuss. I
don't care enough to fight it, and I have too much to lose to risk Harrah's
blacklisting me and preventing me from playing future WSOP events.

Maybe I'll have better luck in the WSOP Negro World Championship. Oh, wait,
they don't have that. They wouldn't even dream of running that. Hmmmmm.

At least I got a nice outfit out of the experience. Photos later.

Jaffray confirmed the same point in a story and interview by Jennifer Newell for PokerWorks:
I never got to my seat. As I was approaching the blue section,Jeffrey
Pollack pulled me aside and informed me that I would not be allowed to play.

But perhaps the strangest part is that it appears there is a man not only playing in the event, but among the chip leaders at the end of Day 1. Here's what is being reported on the N.Y. Times "Freakonomics" blog:
Last year my wife Jeannette played in the ladies event at the World Series
of Poker. As I wandered around the poker room, I noticed a few of the
contestants sported very un-ladylike goatees. On closer inspection, they were
definitely men.

I asked around, and it turns out that the casino technically cannot exclude
men from participating in the ladies event if they want to. Every year a few men

Unless there is a case of mistaken identity, it looks like a man is
threatening to win the ladies event at this year’s World Series of Poker. After
one day of play, the starting field of over 1,000 has been whittled down to just
61 remaining players.

Here the blogger, Steven D. Levitt, refers to Hoa Nguyen, 7th in chips going into Day 2. He also posts this link to Nguyen's player profile on the official WSOP web site. Dude looks like a dude to me, all right.

(Caveat: Since there are many events going on simultaneously, I consider it possible that he unknowingly crossed the border from one event to another, and thus was seeing men in an open event. However, if that were the case, you wouldn't really expect him to stumble upon a table of eight women and one man, which is kind of what is implied in his report. Remember, too, that his observation was from last year, not this year, so it's relevant to the question of whether men have entered the ladies event in the past, but not relevant to whether any men are playing this year.)

So here are my questions (and I'm deliberately omitting the larger question of whether there should be women's-only events; that's a matter of opinion, and I'm just focusing on questions of fact):

1. Is Levitt right that at least a few men have entered the ladies WSOP event in past years, or is Pollack right that that has never happened?

2. Did Pollack, in fact, say something about no men being allowed to enter the event in his introductory remarks to the crowd, as I remember PokerNews reporting just after it happened? (I grant the possibility that I was web surfing somewhere else and thus it came from some other source--perhaps I'm even confusing what I read from Michele Lewis with something that came from the PN live feeds. But I feel about 90% confident that I'm remembering it accurately.)

3. If PN did make such a report, why has it been deleted?

4. Is the Hoa Nguyen reported as one of the current chip leaders actually the same person as in the WSOP player profile, and is the accompanying photo (which is clearly of a male-type person of the masculine gender) correctly matched to the player?

5. If Nguyen and/or other men were allowed to play, why was Jaffray denied entry (assuming that his report of being disallowed--rather than just asked to withdraw--is correct)?

6. If Nguyen and/or other men are playing, why was that fact ignored in PokerNews's 12 pages of coverage yesterday? Similarly, was not Jaffray's incident considered "poker news" by that reporting organization?

7. Was Jaffray asked not to participate, as PokerListings claims, or was he actually prevented from playing, as he says? If the latter, why does PokerListings say otherwise? Did they, perhaps, get their information from Pollack, without asking Jaffray for his version of events? If Pollack is the source for their report, did he lie about the interaction with Jaffray? If so, why?

8. Does PokerNews's exclusive contract for live reporting from the WSOP include an explicit or implicit agreement that they will suppress stories that the WSOP would, for whatever reason, prefer them not to report on (perhaps because of being too unpleasant or controversial or showing the WSOP management in an unfavorable light)?

If I am able to get definitive answers to any of these questions, I'll post what I learn in an addendum to this post. For now, I'll just say that something smells really rotten here.


I wrote the above before making my usual daily rounds of poker blogs. If I find that others are discussing the situation, I'll add a note about it here.

I see that Wicked Chops Poker has a brief post and a photo of a person whose sexual identity is not immediately obvious. They say they confirmed that it's a "dude," but given WCP's penchant for tongue-in-cheek reporting, I don't know how much stock to put in that claim.

Here's what Pokerati reported, in relevant part:
The ladies event brings out all sorts … supposedly one man entered, and one
man left. Because the WSOP wasn’t gonna get themselves into anything resembling
a civil rights and discriminatory mess, anyone who stood in line for Event #15
would be allowed to buy in. However, when only one man did this, Nolan Dalla
went up to him and politely asked him not to play — refunded his buy-in as he

No names given, so I don't have any idea how to mesh that information with the other reports discussed above.

Addendum, June 10, 2008

The Freakonomics post cited above has now been amended to say that "reliable sources" have confirmed that the Hoa Nguyen this was indeed a case of mistaken identity, and the person by that name in the ladies event is (A) female and (B) not the same one as linked to in the WSOP site bio and photo. The other questions remain, however.

You goof, I profit

Yesterday afternoon I was playing at South Point. It was a $4-$8 limit game with a half-kill, while I was waiting for a no-limit seat to open up. My opponent in the hand had won the two previous pots, the second with an outlandish bluff, so the half-kill was on, and the hand was being played $6-$12.

Normally when somebody has just shown a bluff, then comes out firing the next hand, he really has something. But I got a sense that this guy might try the ol' double-reverse-reverse and bluff again, on the assumption that we wouldn't think he'd do that. He raised before the flop. I was on the button with just a 6-8 offsuit, but I decided to hunt him down and see what was going on.

The flop was A-6-3, giving me middle pair. He bet, I called. Although he could easily have an ace, I thought his range of raising hands was wide enough that it was more likely he did not have one. Of course, he could also have a pocket pair bigger than 6s, but I just didn't believe him.

The turn was another 3. He fired again, and I called again, figuring that this was a safe or at least neutral card for me.

The river brought a third spade, the 4. Now he checked. I couldn't tell if this meant he never had the ace to begin with, or he had it but was now afraid that I had filled a flush draw. So I bet. He called. Oops--that must mean he has an ace after all. Oh well. That's the way it goes sometimes.

I flipped up my cards silently. He was at the other end of the table. I was extremely surprised to hear him say, "Oh, you flopped a set. Nice hand." The guy next to him said, "No, a full house," and my opponent then apparently noticed the paired board and said, "Oh yeah, even better. OK"--and he pushed his hole cards toward the dealer face down!

Both he and the player next to him had obviously misread my hand and thought that I had 6-6 instead of 6-8. Well, it's not my job to correct them. I hadn't said a word. I wasn't trying to trick or deceive anybody. I was sure that somebody else at the table would pipe up and correct the guy's misimpression, because that virtually always happens in such situations (even though it shouldn't), but miraculously nobody did this time.

The dealer had pushed up the 6, the ace, and both 3s on the board to indicate which cards constituted my best five-card hand, but he did not verbally announce my hand. This was good for me. Unfortunately, by the time my opponent pushed his cards forward, the dealer was busy stacking the chips up (I can't imagine why he was doing this--it was not a situation in which he would reasonably expect a split pot to result), and those cards just sat there for several precious seconds! I was mentally flogging the dealer: "C'mon, forget the chips! Get those cards in the muck before he comes to his senses!" But I remained quiet and motionless. I think that urging the dealer to muck the cards would both alert the other player that something was wrong and border on being unethical.

Finally, the guy says, "Hey, hold on a minute." This suddenly alerted the dealer that something was afoot, and just as the guy started to reach out to reclaim his cards, the dealer snatched them up and shoved them deep into the muck, completely unrecoverable. Whew!

That's when the talk started. People started pointing out that I just had two pair, not three of a kind or a full house. The guy said, quite plausibly, that he had had A-Q. He wanted the dealer to do something, but the dealer obviously had to explain that he couldn't do anything but award me the pot, since nobody else had seen his cards.

I didn't say a word through the whole thing, just stacked up about $70 in chips.

I have maintained here repeatedly, whenever the subject has come up, that a player's decision to either show his cards or muck them unseen is a strategic/tactical one, just like the decision to check, bet, call, raise, or fold, and the player must be allowed to make that decision unaided, even if it's a foolish one. Once he decides to reveal his cards, then it doesn't matter if he has misread either his own holding or that of an opponent--at that point both the dealer and the other players can sort out who the winner is, because, as they say, the cards speak. (Or, alternatively, "cod spick.") But the cards can't "speak" if nobody except their owner ever sees them.

I would never intentionally tell an opponent that I had trips or a full house, when I really didn't, in an attempt to get him to muck the winner--that's about as dirty as angle-shooting gets. And if he opened his hand and the dealer misread the cards and started pushing me the pot, when it rightfully belonged to somebody else, I'd speak up and correct the situation immediately.

But I feel not one iota of duty to correct another player's erroneous reading of my cards before he finishes making his decision on whether to show or muck, nor one speck of guilt for having accepted that pot. Why on earth should I stop him from throwing away the winner, if that's what he feels like doing? All that he has to do in order to prevent adverse consequences of making a mistake at this crucial juncture is the minimal effort of turning over his cards. If he's not willing to do that much, why should I or anybody else help him? If he has decided that keeping his cards Top Secret is more important to him than reducing the risk of losing the pot by mistake, who am I to try to convince him otherwise?

I'm glad to report that the guy didn't go ballistic or anything. He admitted that he screwed up--although he did have a few unflattering comments to his neighbor about my decision to make such thin calls.* That's OK, pal--we can disagree on whether it was reasonable. I'm pretty generous about such things when I have your money.

*In this particular situation, this gripe was even more stupid than usual. One of the objectives of showing a bluff--as he had just done--is to make opponents think that you're bluffing again later when you're actually not, and thus collect extra calls that otherwise would not have been reliquished. Assuming that he was rational enough to have that as one of the reasons he showed the bluff, he got exactly what he was hoping for--and then complained about it!

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Shut yer piehole!

To the best of my knowledge, we have just had the first enforcement of the WSOP's new "excessive celebration" rule. As reported about 20 minutes ago by Don Peters at, from the ladies event:

"They call me the firecracker."

We've just had our first penalty issued for the tournament. Heidi "The
Firecracker" Muhamed eliminated a player and taunted her as she exited the room.
She then received a warning from the tournament staff.

After another win, Muhamed burst out again in celebration. This time, the
tournament staff was quick to issue her a one-round penalty. "The Firecracker"
just got back into play and has 5,200 in chips. She asked one of our reporters
for a piece of tape to put over her mouth. Another outburst will issue her
another penalty. A third penalty will get her kicked out of the

Three cheers for the tournament staff. Other than outright cheating, ain't much lower in poker (or any other game or sport for that matter) than taunting an opponent you have just beaten. What is so hard about just sitting there quietly and raking in the chips? What is wrong with people that that does not provide sufficient satisfaction? If you get pleasure from kicking somebody when he or she is down, there is something seriously disturbed about you. A poker tournament penalty won't come anywhere close to fixing your deep-seated personality disorder, but it's all we can do.