Saturday, July 12, 2008

A brief political interlude

If freedom to play poker specifically, and personal liberties more generally, is/are at the top of your list of political priorities, I'd say that your best presidential ticket is the Libertarian Party, with Bob Barr and Wayne Root. Here's an interview with the latter:

Friday, July 11, 2008

Before and after

Mike Matusow got a lot of attention for his weight loss when he showed up for the first day of the World Series of Poker having shed just enough pounds to win a $100,000 prop bet from Ted Forrest.

But not only did Matusow, by his own admission, start packing the weight back on the very next day, he's a complete piker when compared to what Thomas "Thunder" Keller has done. Compare these two photos I found of him, the first from 2004, and the second from this month. I saw a brief interview he did with PokerNews during his first WSOP event, and he said that he has dropped nearly 200 pounds.

And, as far as I know, it didn't take a prop bet to motivate him. Nice work, sir.

(Of course, he could take another smidgen off of that weight if he shaved that nasty little goatee....)

Still standing at the Main Event

As Day 4 begins, there are plenty of recognizable names still alive in the field. I would pick these as probably the best-known (in no particular order)

Matt Matros - 822,500
Alan Jaffray - 908,500
Tiffany Michelle - 249,000
Kido Pham - 228,500
Jean-Robert Bellande - 124,500
Phil Hellmuth - 475,000
Bob Bright - 324,000
Van Nguyen - 145,500
Lou Esposito - 302,000
Kirill Gerasimov - 146,500
Tim West - 63,500
Gus Hansen - 355,000
Mark Vos - 468,000
Thayer Rasmussen - 394,000
Thomas Keller - 294,000
Mike Matusow - 438,500
Maya Geller-Antonius - 245,000
Allen Cunningham - 386,500
Dave Colclough - 140,000
Hevad Khan - 338,500
Hasan Habib - 326,000
Alex Outhred - 326,000
Matt Lessinger - 268,000
Shahram Sheikhan - 724,000
Jon Friedberg - 426,000
Bertrand Grospellier - 181,500
Evelyn Ng - 414,500
Chip Jett - 318,500
Hoyt Corkins - 439,500
Dag Martin Mikkelsen - 931,000
Mike Wattel - 89,000
Johnny Chan - 252,000
Jon Turner - 726,500
Adam Schoenfeld - 200,000
Alexander Kostritsyn - 887,000
Thierry van den Berg - 170,500
Andrew Brokos - 566,500
Robert Mizrachi - 138,000
Steve Billirakis - 124,000
Cliff Josephy - 59,000
Victor Ramdin - 471,000

Of those, I would be OK with any of them taking down the big one, except for (1) Phil Hellmuth (the inflation of his ego would exceed the bounds of the universe, according to the known laws of physics), (2) Van Nguyen (because she is married to the cheating scumbag Men Nguyen), (3) Mike Matusow (because he's just repulsive), (4) Shawn Sheikhan (ditto).

The ones I would be most happy to see win include Matt Matros, Gus Hansen, Thomas Keller, Allen Cunningham, Hasan Habib, Matt Lessinger, Hoyt Corkins, Adam Schoenfeld, Andrew Brokos, and Cliff Josephy. They're all players that I've come to like and respect (though never having met any of them).

Oh, and, of course, Johnny fuckin' Chan.

I should also note this list of remaining players that I believe the entire world press corps is united in praying do not make the final table, lest every spell-checker on the planet go into meltdown:

Mirza Nagji - 91,500
Phongthep Thiptinnakon - 333,000
Jamal Sawaqdeh - 201,000
Thamir Akrawi - 153,000
Nick Voyatzis - 263,000
Pawel Andrzejewski - 340,000
Yde van Deutekom - 462,000
Charalampos Tsaoussis - 52,500
Graddus Terwiss Cha Van - 318,000
Jiri Hlavaty - 235,000
Eetu Vehilainen - 105000

Finally, here's the guy with the name that not a single journalist on Earth would be able to resist making puns on: Tri Nguyen - 370,000. (Try to win?)

I'm officially scared now

The robots are coming! The robots are coming!


That pretty much does it for mankind, the way I see it. If we can't even beat the computers at poker, we might as well just hand the keys to the planet over to them right now, and go cower in the corner in anticipation of our inevitable enslavement.

Razz is easy!

I have sort of figured out the basic strategy for low-stakes razz well enough that I can play it fairly automatically now. Although detailed knowledge of opponents' tendencies would surely make for even more profitable play, one of the things that I like about razz is that I can have a single game on in the background, with the edge of a window visible so that I know when cards have been dealt. I then click on the game window and make my move in advance, folding about 85% of hands. The 15% or so that I play I do while paying attention, then go back to email or web browsing or whatever other computer stuff I have going on. That's what I'm doing right now, in fact.

I wouldn't do this with any other form of poker. If I move up higher in razz with more skilled opponents, I probably wouldn't try it, either. For anything other than this, I would want to pay more attention to how opponents play. But here I can get away with being pretty mechanical about it. I keep notes on who the most frequent bluffers are, and a few basic things like that, but that's about the extent of my effort to characterize my opponents.

When I have the bring-in, I'll click "fold to any bet" unless it's the rare one that's worth defending.

That's what happened in the following hand--I clicked "fold to any bet" because I had the bring-in with a K-3-J, an unplayable hand by any standards. I went back to what I was doing and forgot about it. Next thing I noticed, a minute or so later, was that another hand was being dealt. But the chat box was saying that I had won the hand that just finished. Even stranger, it showed me having won it with a 7-6 low--that is, an actually decent made hand. Huh? How could that be? I was horribly confused, trying to figure out what had happened. Did I have a stroke? Maybe I had been the victim of an alien abduction and was missing a chunk of time from my life.

Nope. When I opened the hand history, it was all revealed. Nobody raised on 3rd street, and I had two opponents who checked it down all the way. The software checked all the way for me, too.

I'm certain this is the first time I've started with a hand like K-J and won a showdown--against two other players, even! Heck, it might be the first time in the history of razz that that has happened!

Full details below, for the morbidly interested.

Incidentally, I'm averaging about $10/hour profit playing this way, which isn't bad for something that is only occupying about 20% of my attention, while the rest of the time is spent productively (well, more or less!) on other things.

PokerStars Game #18735192404: Razz Limit ($1/$2) - 2008/07/11 - 03:01:22 (ET)
Table 'Antigone' 8-max
Seat 1: kernifex ($28.85 in chips)
Seat 2: S Blanco ($29.35 in chips)
Seat 3: Fast Normie ($33.20 in chips)
Seat 4: LVMichael ($34.95 in chips)
Seat 5: HookEmHorns ($15 in chips)
Seat 6: 2hotrod ($67.50 in chips)
Seat 7: Sabre31 ($29.10 in chips)
Seat 8: Rakewell1 ($75.90 in chips)
kernifex: posts the ante $0.10
S Blanco: posts the ante $0.10
Fast Normie: posts the ante $0.10
LVMichael: posts the ante $0.10
HookEmHorns: posts the ante $0.10
2hotrod: posts the ante $0.10
Sabre31: posts the ante $0.10
Rakewell1: posts the ante $0.10
*** 3rd STREET ***
Dealt to kernifex [Th]
Dealt to S Blanco [2h]
Dealt to Fast Normie [8s]
Dealt to LVMichael [9c]
Dealt to HookEmHorns [6c]
Dealt to 2hotrod [7s]
Dealt to Sabre31 [4h]
Dealt to Rakewell1 [Kd 3c Jc]
Rakewell1: brings in for $0.50
kernifex: folds
S Blanco: folds
Fast Normie: folds
LVMichael: folds
HookEmHorns: folds
2hotrod: calls $0.50
Sabre31: calls $0.50
*** 4th STREET ***
Dealt to 2hotrod [7s] [9d]
Dealt to Sabre31 [4h] [8h]
Dealt to Rakewell1 [Kd 3c Jc] [7d]
Sabre31: checks
Rakewell1: checks
2hotrod: checks
*** 5th STREET ***
Dealt to 2hotrod [7s 9d] [5c]
Dealt to Sabre31 [4h 8h] [2d]
Dealt to Rakewell1 [Kd 3c Jc 7d] [2c]
Sabre31: checks
Rakewell1: checks
2hotrod: checks
*** 6th STREET ***
Dealt to 2hotrod [7s 9d 5c] [6h]
Dealt to Sabre31 [4h 8h 2d] [Js]
Dealt to Rakewell1 [Kd 3c Jc 7d 2c] [5d]
2hotrod: checks
Sabre31: checks
Rakewell1: checks
*** RIVER ***
Dealt to Rakewell1 [Kd 3c Jc 7d 2c 5d] [6d]
2hotrod: checks
Sabre31: checks
Rakewell1: checks
*** SHOW DOWN ***
2hotrod: shows [Qh 5s 7s 9d 5c 6h Ad] (Lo: 9,7,6,5,A)
Sabre31: mucks hand
Rakewell1: shows [Kd 3c Jc 7d 2c 5d 6d] (Lo: 7,6,5,3,2)
Rakewell1 collected $2.30 from pot
*** SUMMARY ***
Total pot $2.30 Rake $0
Seat 1: kernifex folded on the 3rd Street (didn't bet)
Seat 2: S Blanco folded on the 3rd Street (didn't bet)
Seat 3: Fast Normie folded on the 3rd Street (didn't bet)
Seat 4: LVMichael folded on the 3rd Street (didn't bet)
Seat 5: HookEmHorns folded on the 3rd Street (didn't bet)
Seat 6: 2hotrod showed [Qh 5s 7s 9d 5c 6h Ad] and lost with Lo: 9,7,6,5,A
Seat 7: Sabre31 mucked [Ah 8c 4h 8h 2d Js Kh]
Seat 8: Rakewell1 showed [Kd 3c Jc 7d 2c 5d 6d] and won ($2.30) with Lo: 7,6,5,3,2

Another question

I don't mean to turn this into "Deep Thoughts with Jack Handy" here, but I'm playing a little razz online at the moment, and this just occurred to me.

When describing a normal poker hand in which one has failed to make even a pair, the usual shorthand is to call it "king-high," for example, if a king is one's highest card.

When describing a lowball hand, though, it's different. For example, if I've come up with 8-6-4-3-2, we call that "eight-low."

Seems to me that we should refer to it as "eight-high," since an 8 is the highest card.

So why don't we?

Question for the philosophers and other deep thinkers

How come the only time I get dealt rolled-up aces, kings, or queens is when I'm playing razz?

"Dead Man's Hand" review, part 3

I'll admit it: I'm a lot better at starting books than finishing them. My formal higher education (at least that's what they call it) lasted a sickening 11 years, and when it was over, I vowed that I would never again read a book I didn't want to read (because I was so tired of reading things that were required), and if I wasn't enjoying a book, I would feel no obligation to finish it. I've stuck by that, and it has meant abandoning a lot of them part-way through.

Back in January, I started reading Dead Man's Hand, a collection of poker-related, crime-genre short stories edited by Otto Penzler. You can access the first two things I wrote about the book with this tag. Then other reading priorities came along, and Penzler et al kind of got lost in the shuffle. This wasn't deliberately deciding not to finish it because it wasn't enjoyable--just slipped in priorities for a few weeks, and then basically got forgotten.

Well, the other day it popped up again, and I'm making another run at it. This afternoon I had a few hours to kill in the waiting room of Precision Tune while my car had some work done, and I took the book along.

So here's the next installment in my serial review.

The next story in the collection is "In the Eyes of Children," by Alexander McCall Smith. This is a stupid, forgettable story with one of those damnably ambiguous endings. It barely even involves poker. Some kids' schoolteacher gets humiliated in a poker game, no details of which are described, and that's their motivation for what they decide to do. That's the only poker connection there is. The whole thing is a waste of space.

Next up is Michael Connelly's "One-Dollar Jackpot." This is not a bad crime story. It involves the murder of a female poker player after she has left the casino with a lot of cash. Looks like a robbery-murder, but the detective quickly suspects the woman's husband is the real killer, having made it look like a robbery gone bad. The story boils down to a battle of wits between the detective and the suspect. A key point in this contest is a game of Liar's Poker.

I enjoyed the story just fine. But as with the story I wrote about in the previous part of this review back in January, there's a critical flaw in the poker part. (I realize that it's a stretch to include Liar's Poker as "poker," but let's give them that much.) A basic safeguard in playing Liar's Poker is that you have to use dollar bills that you know haven't been pre-selected by your opponent. For example, you might request them from the bartender's till. If you don't, it's like agreeing to play regular poker with a deck that your opponent has either stacked or marked.

The suspect here, a professional poker player, does not take this fundamental precaution, which is virtually unthinkable. For me it broke the spell of realism that the story otherwise had.

Next up is Joyce Carol Oates, with "Strip Poker." By no stretch of the imagination does this fit under the crime genre, but it is a first-rate piece of writing, as one would expect from Oates. It's a first-person recollection of a 14-year-old girl's harrowing encounter with some older, seedy men, alone in an isolated cabin in the back woods. Oates employs a nontraditional, sort of free-form writing style, with stream-of-consciousness sentences. Ingeniously, this effect gets more pronounced as the tension hightens, and the girl's head is increasingly swimming with fear and her first experience with the beer with which the men are plying her. The reader thus gets a vivid sense of the terror and confusion and panic she is experiencing. It's scary, scary stuff. As she finally gets a grip on herself and starts to reassert control over the situation, the writing gradually normalizes, and we see her smart, rational self emerge to worm her way out of danger.

Poker, which the men first teach the girl, then turn into a game of strip poker, is at the heart of the story:

But the cards don't come now. Or anyway, I can't make sense of them. Like adding
up a column of numbers in math class, you lose your way and have to begin again.
Like multiplying numbers, you can do it without thinking, but if you stop to
think, you can't. Staring at these new cards, nine of hearts, nine of clubs,
king of spades, queen of spades, four of diamonds. I get rid of the four of
diamonds and I'm excited, my replacement card is a jack of spades, but my eyes
are playing tricks on me, what looks like spades is actually clubs, after
raising my bet I see that it's clubs and I've made a mistake staring and
blinking at the cards in my hands that are kind of shaky like I have never seen
a poker hand before. Around the table the guys are playing like before, loud,
funny-rude, maybe there's some tension among them, I can't figure because I am
too distracted by the cards and how I am losing now, nothing I do is right now,
but why? When Croke wins the hand, Deek mutters, "Shi-it, you goddamn fuckin'
asshole," but smiling like this is a joke, a kindly intended remark like between
brothers. I'm trying to make sense of the hand: why'd Croke win? why's this a
"winning" hand? what's a "full house"? wondering if the guys are cheating on me,
how'd I know? The guys are laughing at me, saying, "Hey, babe, be a good sport,
this is poker."

I don't know how much of a poker player Oates is, but she certainly understands the core essence of the game, in a way that many players don't:

Doesn't it matter what your actual cards are, I ask Deek, if they are high
or low? Deek says sort of scornfully like this is a damn dumb question he will
answer because he likes me, "sure it matters, but not so much's how you play
what you're dealt. What you do with the fuckin' cards you are dealt, that's

At some level the narrator takes this message to heart, and it is the essence of how she turns her situation around. We learn a lot about her--she's been dealt a whole bunch of bad cards in her life, and this mess she has gotten herself into is only the latest of them. But she ends up playing what she has been dealt brilliantly. It's a masterful, chilling ending that I won't ruin by even hinting at it here.

Good, good stuff. Easily the best in the book so far, and darn near worth the cost all by itself.

More later.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Variation on a theme

Here we go again, just a few hours after the last incident. Once again, as presented by PokerNews:

Hand Killed, Table Flips

A controversy erupted over on the high Green tables. A player was all
in and another player called. Both players turned their cards over, and the
raiser walked away, refusing to look at the board. The dealer, thinking that his
cards were now dead, mucked his hand and started pushing the pot toward the
other player.

That's when the controversy started. The floor was called and the players
were asked what their hands were - but neither player could remember exactly
what they were. Ultimately, the pot was reconstructed and then split between the
two players.

This one is a little trickier, but the same bedrock rule applies: Each player is responsible for protecting his hand. Before the cards are revealed, that usually involves capping them and/or keeping a hand on them. But the responsibility extends all the way until the hand is over.

The usual safe practice is that you keep your now face-up cards directly in front of you, and only relinquish them to the dealer in exchange for the pot. The pot should be coming your way before you turn your cards in, because at that point the dealer will have killed all of the other hands, and anybody who thinks he has a claim to the pot or a portion thereof should have spoken up.

However, in some tournaments (especially at televised tables) dealers are instructed to bring the players' hole cards in toward the center of the table so the camera can capture everything important on the table in one shot. That means that you lose physical control of the cards. But even then, your minimal obligation for protecting your hand means staying right at the table, so that if the dealer makes a move to kill your hand erroneously you can instantly speak up. Most dealers will pick up the hand to be killed, check it one last time, tap it on the table once or twice, then turn it face down, then put it into the muck. If the dealer is doing this, then you should have several seconds of warning of the impending muck in which to yell "Wait!" before the cards get lost irretrievably. Of course, in that situation you have the added protection of all the other players (and the cameras) having seen what the cards were. But the primary obligation is still on the player himself.

Yes, certainly the dealer made a mistake here. I can only guess that he or she assumed that the player walking away had decided he had no chance of winning. That happens sometimes. (In fact, it happened at the WSOP yesterday. I don't remember all the details of the PN story, but one player made a full house when three of a kind came on the flop, and his opponent gave up, thinking he couldn't win, and headed for the door. Well, he was right that he couldn't win the hand outright at that point, but he had forgotten about the one in a squintillion chance of ending up with a chop--which is what happened when the final board was quads with an ace! Other players had to run to catch up with him and bring him back to the table.) When a player basically abandons his hand, what is the dealer supposed to do--push chips to a now-empty seat? So it's an understandable mistake, and one that could easily have been avoided if the moron had just stayed at the table.

As with using a card cap, this is really, really simple. Basically all you have to do to prevent loss of your hand in such a situation is stay at the friggin' table and pay a little attention until the hand is over. What the hell is so hard about that???

And, by the way, what is this nonsense about not looking at the community cards as they come out? Probably some sort of stupid superstition he has developed. If so, his allegiance to bizarre unseen forces (apparently some being that will take offense if the player looks at the cards, and will thus magically change the order of the cards in the dealer's hand so that they come out unfavorably to the offending player, I guess) is greater than his commitment to protecting his hand. What brilliant, wonderful priorities. Frankly, he deserves whatever happens to him.

I will never understand poker players.

As for the floor decision, it may have been the best (or the least bad) of the options available at that point. Another option would be to check the security camera tapes, pull those four cards out of the deck, reshuffle the remainder, and play the hand out. Might be more trouble than it's worth, though.

Jason Alexander is as delusional as Shannon Elizabeth

Since I picked on Shannon Elizabeth yesterday, I might as well share with you another roasting of a poker-playing celebrity that I did in the same yet-unfinished article that I started writing last year. I couldn't (and didn't really want to) find a photo of Jason Alexander in a bikini. I think that the above is about as close as any of us will want to get.
Here's what I wrote:
Paranormal vision

Jason Alexander, best known for playing
George Costanza on “Seinfeld,” is one of many television and movie stars who
play poker with some regularity and seriousness in public events. An article in
Bluff magazine recently profiled his poker thoughts and experience. In the
interview, he claimed an ability which, if real and reproducible, would make him
the most formidable player in the history of the game—being able to see, through
mental imagery, what card the dealer was next going to turn over:

“I’ve got to tell you that in the last two tournaments I played…I’ve gone
to this very quiet place and I have mentally pictured what the turn or the river
card is going to be and if it doesn’t come up for me in that moment of fantasy,
I get out; but if I saw the card and played it, good things would come. I don’t
know if it was instinctual or that third-eye thing. I’ve played some risky hands
when I was in big trouble, and, of late, it’s really paid off. You know, I just
saw it happen as if it had been turned.” [1]

Fortunately for Mr. Alexander, the rules of poker do not disallow such
clairvoyance (as long as it is not the result of collusion with the dealer). But
one has to wonder why, with such ability, he does not win every time he plays. I
assume that this talent, if it could be repeated under controlled conditions,
would also readily qualify for James Randi’s $1 million prize for demonstration
of supernatural abilities. I have not heard that the actor has not made
application for this money. Of course, he may not need the money, but he could
donate it to a charity of his choice. Perhaps he simply does not know of its

[1] Michael Friedman, “Jason Alexander: Seinfeld’s George finds serenity
now at the poker table,” Bluff, May, 2007, p. 42. Available online at
It's scary enough that these people have their private delusional moments. But that they feel perfectly free to share them with the public, with apparently no more concern for being deemed mentally ill than if they admitted to seeing yellow elephants dancing around them, says sad, alarming things about how unjudgmental our society is of whatever weird ideas people want to entertain.

Some people just won't learn

Sigh. It has happened yet again, according to PokerNews:

Simon Says "All In"

Simon Rinoldi was all in under the gun for 13,600. He was called by
Gabriel Chuang, and Rinoldi stood up to await his fate. As he stood up and
stepped back from his chair though, the dealer pulled all of the cards into the
muck, including Rinoldi's.

The floor was called over, and eventually the supervisor, Charlie Cresi had
to be summoned. He took a minute to survey the situation before making his

"It's definitely a dead hand," he said, indicating that it was impossible
to retrieve the cards from the muck. "In essence, it's the player's
responsibility to protect their cards," he added. The decision was made to save
Rinoldi's tournament life though. Cresi ruled that a minimum raise -- 3,200
chips -- had to be taken out of Rinoldi's stack, and the pot was awarded to
Chuang. Rinoldi was given a 10,200-chip rebate to use in another spot.

Rinoldi was unhappy with the decision, but he very easily could have lost
his whole stack in the incident. "I'm making a ruling in fairness to the game,"
Cresi said. The dealer apologized profusely, though by the rules, Rinoldi was
at-fault for failing to cap his cards to prevent them being prematurely

This is at least the third time this has heppend during this World Series--see here and here for the previous stories and associated rants from me. I don't get what players find so difficult or repugnant about using a card cap that they refuse to do it. But tough noogies. They have had ample warning. It's in every rule book, including the standard Tournament Directors Association rules and the WSOP rules. If players haven't bothered to read the rules, or if they know the rule but decide to risk going without a card protector anyway, I have zero sympathy for them. This is especially true if, in addition to leaving your cards uncapped, you step away from the friggin' table! (See here for other similar stories.) As Bugs Bunny would say, "What a maroon!"

Incidentally, this Charlie Cresi made a horrible decision. He was obviously right that Rinoldi's hand was dead, but was absolutely, completely, 100% wrong to give him any chips back. Assuming that Chuang had more chips than Rinoldi did (which is not stated but sort of implied in how the story is told), Rinoldi's entire stack should have been shipped over the Chuang, and Rinoldi shown the door. Thanks for playing. Thanks for the money. Buh-bye.

His chips were in the middle, matched by an opponent, and he had a dead hand. Only a live hand can be awarded the pot or any portion of it. We don't give refunds in poker. Once your chips are in the middle of the table, and that bet has been called, you have to win them to get them back, and you cannot win the hand when your cards are dead in the muck. Period. End of story.

Mr. Cresi's pathetic excuse that he was giving Rinoldi a break "in fairness to the game" is hogwash. It was not fair to Chuang, who was the innocent party here. This decision was just as bad, unfair, arbitrary, and contrary to the rules as if, out of nowhere, Cresi had wandered over to the table between hands and ordered Chuang to give Rinoldi 10,200 chips. Those chips rightly belonged to Chuang the instant Cresi's hand was declared dead. Had I been Chuang, that's a decision I would have appealed all the way to the tournament director.

I'd love to hear Cresi justify his numbers. On what possible grounds, other than "I say so," did he settle on the amount of the refund? This is an all-or-nothing situation. We either award pots (or portions of pots) to players with dead hands, or we don't. If the WSOP staff is deciding, against every rule and tradition of the game, that we do, in fact, award pots to players with dead hands, what basis is there in the rules for deciding on what proportion to give to each player? None whatsoever.

Giving part of a pot to a player with a dead hand is yet another in a growing line of astonishingly bad decisions by WSOP floor staff. I don't know where these people got their training, but they are becoming an ugly reflection on what should be our game's pre-eminent event.

Dave is out

I'm hopeless. I knew that Day 2b of the Main Event would be winding down about now, so after writing that last post, I decided to make one last check for anything interesting that might have happened in the 30 minutes or so it took me to write it.

I was dismayed to find this PokerNews post:

Cantu Eliminates David Irish

Preflop, from middle position, Brandon Cantu made it 4,000 to go. David
Irish, in late position, raised it up to 11,000 and Cantu made the call. The
flop ran 4-4-X and Irish led out for 15,000 after Cantu checked. Cantu fired
45,000 back and Irish shoved all in. Cantu called and showed for flopped trips
while Irish turned over pocket queens. The fours held for Cantu and Irish was

David Irish is a local semi-pro who is supporting himself playing poker while finished a graduate degree in music at UNLV. He's one of the most popular members of the forums, and keeps his own poker blog there. I've played with him a few times, and he's the real deal--a significantly better player than I am, in most ways. He's also a decent, likable, smart, funny guy and a fellow libertarian, politically. I'm genuinely sorry to see him exit before making the money. I thought he was on his way to making a bigger name for himself. He will, I'm confident of that--just not in this tournament, I guess.

That's him in the above photo, on the right. Not the greatest photo, but the first one I could find, and I'm too tired to keep looking for a better one.

Bedtime story

I'm about to hit the sack, and was just re-checking the PokerNews feeds from the last few hours to see what I might have missed. Found one more story to pass on.

PN has hired some exceptionally fine poker writers. (A few pretty weak ones, too, but we need not focus on them.) Here's my nominee for the best post of the day:


We picked up a hand with everybody's favorite whipping boy, Phil
Hellmuth, on the flop. The board showed 10h-As-9c, and the under-the-gun player
led out for 5,200. He was called by Hellmuth before a third player in the hand,
Tony Clark, raised to 16,000. Clark's raise folded the under-the-gun player and
brought the action back to Hellmuth. He called, then checked the 4c turn. Clark
immediately moved all in for about 29,000. That sent Hellmuth into the tank,
where he started talking to his opponent.

"If you have ace-queen, you're dead," said Hellmuth. There was no

"Buddy, what are you doing?" Hellmuth asked. He then asked Clark whether or
not he was overplaying ace-queen.

After several minutes, Hellmuth still hadn't acted. One of the players at
the table called for a clock, and a floor was summoned to the table. Hellmuth
seemed surprised, and asked who called for the clock.

"I did," said Ramzi Jelassi, a player who has engaged in several verbal
sparring matches with Hellmuth today. When Hellmuth asked how long he'd been
thinking, Ramzi told him it was four minutes. Hellmuth seemed to think, based on
that response, that it was fair that a clock had been called.

As the floor counted him down, Hellmuth finally made the call, slamming his
chips into the middle. Clark turned over 10d-10s for a set of tens, far ahead of
Hellmuth's Ad-Kc. The river bricked out 2c, allowing Clark to double up at
Hellmuth's expense.

"You probably won't make it 'til the end of the day," said Hellmuth. He
then got out of his chair and went to talk to his wife on the rail.

That hand seemed to light a fire under Hellmuth. He started playing every
hand. First, after Matt Vengrin raised from late position to 3,000, Hellmuth
raised all in. Vengrin called with Ad-Kd and was a dominating favorite over
Hellmuth's Ac-Qs. The board ran out Qc-Jd-8c-4h-Qh to make trip queens for
Hellmuth and send Vengrin to the rail.

We stepped away from the table for two minutes, only to come back and see
him involved in the very next pot, on the river. Hellmuth bet 20,000 into a
20,000-chip pot with the board showing 5d-10c-Qc-9d-Qh. Ryan Hughes made the
call; Hellmuth very confidently slammed his Qs-9s down on the table and
proclaimed, "Nuts!"

Hellmuth played one more hand immediately thereafter, getting a player to
call a raise to 9,000 on the turn (after that player bet 4,000) and a bet of
10,000 on the river. Hellmuth showed Qh-Qd, an overpair to the board. His
opponent mucked.

After all of that, Hellmuth's stack is at 143,000. He still seems to be
muttering to himself about the Clark hand, but we did hear him say, "None of
that matters now." We'll see if he actually believes it.

This is truly exceptional--live blogging of a poker tournament at its finest. I can't think of any post out of the thousands I've read in the past month that better conveyed a sense of what it's like to be there watching a table for some period of time. It's an actual story, with a beginning, middle, and end, with the pieces all fitting together. It's chock-full of details that bring the bare-bone facts to life. The writing is lively--you can tell how much work went into crafting it, which is especially remarkable given the crushing time constrainsts these guys are working under.

Anybody who has spent any time watching Hellmuth on TV will, I think, attest that this post absolutely nails his personality. Even if no name had been given, you would know it was Hellmuth being described, because of how well the writing captures him.

Aside from the merits of the post, I loved several other things here:

(1) Phil berates a player who, as far as I can tell, played his pocket tens flawlessly, getting maximum value from them. Kind of reminds me of how Freddy Deeb, in the first-ever episode of the World Poker Tour, got eliminated, and ranted to the camera about how terrible his opponent was. He said something like, "I'd like to play poker with that guy every day for the rest of my life!" The opponent? A then-unknown Gus Hansen.

(2) After criticizing a player (erroneously) for overplaying A-Q, what does Hellmuth do next? Overplays A-Q, running it into A-K as a roughly 3:1 underdog, and getting lucky. Imagine his reaction if the roles had been reversed on that one.

(3) Even after bouncing back from the hit, Hellmuth just can't let that one hand go. My guess is that in reality he's mad at himself for being so far off in his read, and embarrassed for having been so wrong in front of the cameras. No wonder people laugh when he makes over-the-top claims about his scary-good ability to look into opponents' souls and know what they're holding. (Don't get me wrong--he's no slouch in that department as pros go, but there's nothing mystical about it, and he's no better than a long list of other top names you could throw out.)

In making my comments and rants here lately about various PokerNews posts, I've almost never named the bloggers, because who wrote them hasn't been very important to the points I wanted to make. I'll make an exception here, though, and give credit where it is due: If you peruse the best-written poker blogs out there, Riding the F-Train is on nearly every one of their blogrolls. If you didn't before, now you know why.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Shannon Elizabeth is as delusional as Jerry Yang

At the end of the post I just put up a short time ago (the last substantive post; I was about to start this one when I noticed that it would be #700, so I had to take a slight detour and take care of that housekeeping before coming back to the serious stuff), I mentioned Jerry Yang and his strange beliefs about God rearranging the deck in the dealer's hand. I was about to include, in the same paragraph, mention of Shannon Elizabeth. She believes in basically the same nuttiness, except that she attributes the power to her own mind (and that of people around her) rather than to a deity.

I didn't include it there because I realized that I hadn't written about that fact in detail before, so I couldn't easily link to a previous post on the subject. This is to make up for that deficiency. Besides, it gives me an excuse to illustrate a post with a photo of Ms. Elizabeth in a bikini, and I think we'd all have to agree that, whatever positive attributes this blog might have, it has been woefully short of pictures of pretty women in bikinis.

Last year I started writing an article that I intended to submit to a magazine. It's about the weird things that poker players believe. I got distracted by other projects (including this blog), and never finished writing the article. But here's what I wrote about Elizabeth in the unfinished first draft:

Shannon Elizabeth, best known for starring in the movies “American Pie” and
“American Pie 2,” is one of the most accomplished actors-turned-poker-players,
having recently made it to the semifinals of the televised 2007 “NBC National
Heads-Up Poker Championship,” in which matches are played one-on-one—an
especially difficult format—defeating some of the world’s best players in the

She claims to call on a mysterious skill: She seems to
believe that her thoughts can rearrange the cards in the already-shuffled deck.

In an interview after her first-round win in the heads-up
tournament she said, “One of the biggest things, like a change that I’ve been
making just in my overall life, is the law of attraction and positive energy,
and really trying to, to picture the cards I need and not to picture the cards I
don’t want, cuz I don’t want to attract those cards.” [1]

stated, she may simply be thinking that her mental energies can change how the
cards get arranged during the shuffle—which would be remarkable enough in
itself, if it were a demonstrable ability. But an incident later in the
tournament seems to show that she extends this to influences that can be exerted after the shuffle, too.

In the last hand of her quarter-final match, Elizabeth is all-in before the
flop with K-10 against her opponent’s K-3. While they wait for the dealer to
produce the first three community cards, Elizabeth can be heard chanting, “Ten,
ten, ten.” This is not too strange, as it is natural to hope for a card that
will strengthen one’s position. It does not require any supernatural belief to
possess such hope. But immediately thereafter, she hears one of her supporters
mention a “three.” She quickly turns, hold up the palm of her hand to this
friend, and earnestly rebukes him, saying, “Don’t call for that…. Don’t call for
what you don’t want, call for what you do want. Please. Ten. Seriously. Ten. Law
of attraction. Ten.” When she is still ahead with only one card to come (and no
pair to her ten having been revealed, despite her incantations), she can be
heard repeatedly saying “Five of clubs, five of clubs, five of clubs,”
apparently having arbitrarily picked a card that would help neither player, and
thus leave her with the winning hand. The ace of hearts comes, which, while not
the card she willed to appear, accomplishes the same thing. [2]

is difficult to interpret her apparently deadly serious instructions and actions
here as anything short of manifesting a belief that her mental exertion, perhaps
combined with that of her supporters, can actually change the order of the
shuffled deck in the dealer’s hand. The ordinary view would be that once the
shuffle and cut of the deck is complete, the die is cast, and what cards are
dealt out cannot be altered (barring, obviously, simple errors or outright
cheating on the part of the dealer). But Elizabeth appears to truly believe that
if a pair to her opponent’s three—a losing card for her—was destined to appear,
she can change that by what she and her friends think and say in the few seconds
before the dealer turns over the card.

Unfortunately, the broadcast’s host did not ask the actress in her
interviews to explain in detail the mechanism by which this influence is
supposedly exerted. Do the cards physically rearrange themselves in the dealer’s
hand? Or perhaps the printing on the critical card is supernaturally altered, so
that we would find a duplicate of some card in the deck upon inspection after
the hand has been played. Or maybe her belief is that her will acts in a
temporally retroactive fashion, affecting the shuffle that occurred a few
minutes before via some sort of space-time warp. We are left to wonder.

[1] The entire 2007 tournament, as broadcast on NBC, is available
Elizabeth's comments, as transcribed by the author, are in Episode 3, Segment 2.
Her reference appears to be to such recently popular books as Michael Losier, Law of Attraction: The Science of Attracting More of What You Want and Less
of What You Don’t
, (self-published, 2004), and Rhonda Byrne, The Secret (Atria Books, 2006), both of which claim that one can alter the physical
universe and the actions of other people by thinking correctly and positively
about what one wants to see happen.

[2] This hand is played
out in Episode 8, Segment 5, at the URL above.

So now you know: Shannon Elizabeth is just as crazy as Jerry Yang. They simply put different labels on what is, at its root, the same basic delusion.

She looks a lot better in a bikini, though.* That doesn't put a dent in the delusional thing, but it's something.

*Clarification added in anticipation of snarky reader comments: No, I haven't actually seen Jerry Yang in a bikini. I'm just guessing here. I think it's a pretty safe guess.


It has been 46 days since #600. That's about on par with my previous pace (somewhere between 42 and 50 days for every hundred posts), so I guess the World Series work I've been doing this summer hasn't slowed me down as much as I anticipated that it might. In fact, I suppose it would be hard for readers not to notice that the WSOP has provided me a lot of opportunities for commenting on all the goings-on at the Rio.

All the things I wrote 46 days ago? Still true. So I won't repeat them.

Well, except for this one indulgence I allow myself every hundred posts: Please click on the dumb Google ads once in a while when you think about it. The checks Google sends me aren't large, but they are encouraging.

Thanks, always, for reading.

Lucky charms are not magically delicious

I've mentioned before the silver dollar that I use as a card protector. But I don't think I've told you that roughly once a week somebody asks me a question like, "Is that your lucky coin?"

I realize that the question is always intended to be friendly and inoffensive, but I think I should be offended. The implication behind the question is this: "I think you are so stupid that you probably believe in magic charms that make it more likely for you to get good cards."

Well, I don't believe in such nonsense. Not even a little bit. And what is it, exactly, that I did that made you assess my IQ as being roughly that of Cro-Magnon Man?

Here are four stories about magical thinking in poker from yesterday and today's WSOP Main Event, as reported by--come on, you can say it with me by now--PokerNews:

Hal Lubarsky and His Assistant

Hal Lubarsky is legally blind and uses an assistant who relays him the
action. He has an interesting totem on his table. It's a ceramic paw print. The
dog is a German shepherd named Nexus, who actually belongs to Hal's assistant.
Before every hand, Hal touches the paw print for good luck.

Unlucky Shoes

Sverre Sundbo woke up this morning wondering what to wear today. He
called his girlfriend and she gave him a few suggestions. One of his choices was
to wear a new pair of white sneakers. [Snarky editorial comment from the
Grump: A guy who can't decide what to wear on his own is already is such deep
life trouble that nothing is likely to pull him out of it. But he apparently has
found a match. Any woman that I would be interested in having a relationship with would, if asked such a
question, say something like, "You can't make simple decisions on your own? Have
I inadvertantly gotten myself involved with a pathetic momma's boy? I think maybe we need
to be spending more time apart for a while." If you ask me, that's about the
only sensible response to a boyfriend who can't dress himself. But no. He has a
girlfriend who not only doesn't object, apparently, to be asked such a stupid
question, but takes it seriously enough to make suggestions. I guess there's
someone for everyone out there.]

Within the first level, he had seen his double-the-average stack reduced to
less than 10,000. He called his girlfriend again and she told him to take off
the sneakers as they might be bringing him bad luck. He duly did what he was
told and, pot win after pot win, has seen his stack rise all the way up to

Sverre can now be seen walking around the Amazon room in white socks which
may now be dirty, but the smile on his face is clean and wide.

Wait...The Lucky iPod!

Dave Colclough opened with a preflop raise before Steve Zolotow moved
all in for his last 22,100. Colclough made the call and tabled Ah-Qd, but
Zolotow held the lead with his pair of 10s-10h.

Before the flop was dealt, Zolotow asked for the dealer to wait while he
grabbed his lucky iPod off Erik Seidel. He grabs the iPod just in time to see
the board come down Kd-Js-3s-Ks-5d to give Zolotow kings and tens to double up
to 50,000. Colclough is back to 65,000.

Hoodie Power!

Alan Jaffrey raised to 2,500 from under the gun and was put all in by
the small blind for around 20,000 total. Jaffrey called.

Jaffrey held Q-Q and his opponent Ad-10d.

Board: 10c-3c-6h-Js-9h.

After the hand, Jaffrey is up to 42,100. Jaffrey attributed his win to
"Hoodie Power." He said that after he put up his hoodie, he got two big

And here's one more along the same lines, nipped from Shamus's post earlier today over at Hard-Boiled Poker. (I think nearly all of my readers will know by now that Shamus is one of the live bloggers for PokerNews at this year's WSOP.)

Had another guy asked to be included in the [chip] counts (which we did),
then subsequently start to lose hands. Figuring he’d jinxed himself, he came
back and asked to be taken out. We did that, too.

I get this stuff, at least on some level. I mean, I've read Michael Shermer's excellent book Why People Believe Weird Things. I understand that we have "modules" in our brains that cause us to seek out and perceive cause-and-effect relationships that do not objectively exist.

But c'mon, people! We went through this little thing called the Enlightenment--and it wasn't just yesterday, as if the news has yet to spread. We are supposed to be beyond thinking that every little thing in the world is governed by mysterious forces that can be controlled by talismans or strange incantations and rituals.

In my own poker playing, I have noticed the odd coincidence that at the times I'm playing Elvis Presley music on my MP3 player, I tend to get better-than-average cards. In fact, I've hit two high-hand jackpots while listening to Elvis, way out of proportion to the percentage of time I have him on. I suppose I could conclude, were I so inclined, that the ghost of Elvis is still wandering through Las Vegas, rewarding those who listen to his music with favorable shuffles of the deck or rolls of the dice. But I don't. I do not put Elvis on in order to try to bring good luck, because if there really are forces like that operating in the world, it's far too scary and mysterious a place for me to want to continue living in it. The juxtaposition I have noticed is a weird statistical anomaly, and/or selective, biased memory at work, nothing more.

How can you possibly believe that more favorable cards will come your way if you touch a ceramic dog print before each deal, and yet survive in the modern world? Too bad for Lubarsky that he is blind, because that makes it harder to avoid stepping on the sidewalk cracks, thus putting his mother's back at risk of breaking with every step. Think I'm being harsh on the guy? If so, then tell me how it is even the tiniest bit less insane to believe in a connection between a totem and how the cards get shuffled than to believe that the placement of one's feet on the sidewalk causes vertebral fractures in a parent? It is not just stupid to be convinced that such notions are true, it is positively and literally delusional.

If you want to run around the casino without shoes, well, OK, but telling the media that you're doing so because you've discovered that the shoes you put on today are unlucky is the same as announcing, "I'm a complete imbecile" and/or "I've lost my mind." I'd love to ask this idiot to explain how, exactly, the presence or absence of these particular items of footwear affect the shuffling of the cards. No good ducking the question with "I don't know." You've got to explain the physics of it in detail to me. While you're at it, please explain how wearing the tinfoil hat prevents the aliens (or maybe the CIA) from reading your thoughts.

Same with the guy that Shamus reported on. Pray tell, sir, how does having your name either on or off of a web page showing updated chip counts affect the dealing of the cards? Who is the unseen omniscient being that takes offense in seeing your name on that list, and thus punishes you by moving the cards into arrangements that are unfavorable to your success? Describe this being in detail for me, please.

I'll grant that some of this stuff may be tongue-in-cheek. I doubt that Steve Zolotow genuinely thinks the outcome of a hand will be influenced by an iPod. More likely he was playing the clown for the amusement of the table. Same with Jaffrey. He's a very bright guy, and is, I think, more likely to have been joking for the sake of the reporter. But I don't think you can so easily write off the actions of Lubarsky or Sundbo or the anonymous man Shamus described. They appear to take such crap with complete earnestness.

This is just as looney and wacked-out as Jerry Yang believing that, if he says just the right prayers at the right time, God will change the order of the cards in the deck, even after they have been shuffled--a bizarre phemonemon I have written extensively about in the past.

I'm honestly baffled at how people can be that stupid, that far afield from rational thought, that deluded, and yet succeed in a game requiring intelligence and objective, rational decision-making.

You're only making it worse for yourself

Another story from today's WSOP Main Event, reported, as always, by the fine folks at PokerNews:

Tempers Flare

We just had a bit of commotion at Table #30 in the
Brasilia room involving a possibly exposed card. An initial ruling allowed the
hand to continue, but after there had been some action, a second ruling had the
hand declared dead.

That turn of events was not appreciated by one
player. He'd been dealt pocket aces on the hand. He objected so loudly (and
lengthily), he was eventually given a one-round penalty for his outburst.

The scene has settled over there, largely because the affected player is
currently away from the table. Play continues amid a heavy fog of

I'm assuming here that the card(s) exposed refers to a dealer error, not action by a player (because it wouldn't make sense for them to declare a "do-over" if a player exposed his own cards).

The rules and procedures for what to do when a dealer accidentally exposes a card during the deal are not terribly uniform between casinos, but they are (usually) pretty well standardized and followed at any given place. What varies are the criteria for declaring a misdeal. I don't feel like boring you with the list of options, but it involves whether the flashed card occurs on the first or second card dealt, and whether that card was going to the button, one of the blinds, or to a seat that is neither the button nor one of the blinds.

Perhaps the discrepancy between the first and second floor decisions was because the first guy was applying rules from his home casino, which might not be the same as the WSOP uses. (Even if so, though, you'd think that after a month of tournaments, the hired help would be up to speed on such matters.)

Normally I would say that it's pointless to argue with the floor person once he has made a determination of what will be done. This story may or may not be an exception to that general observation, since it isn't clear whether it was a player's objection to the initial ruling that brought in the second supervisor. My best guess is that it wasn't a player's objection, but rather the first guy realizing that he wasn't absolutely sure what the house procedure was, so he called for backup himself.

Anyway, what's so idiotic is the player with the aces making a big stink about it. In the first place, it's highly unlikely to result in a different decision. But just as importantly, the longer and louder you object to having your hand killed, the more obvious it becomes to everybody else at the table that this was your one time in every 221 (on average) to be dealt pocket aces. After all, if you looked down at 7-2, you probably wouldn't complain about the cards being called back in.

So this moron put up a big fuss that (1) earned him a penalty, (2) didn't get the ruling changed, and (3) even if he had somehow been successful in reversing the decision, would have meant that everybody ran away and left him to pick up just the blinds for all of his trouble.

This kind of thing happens in live poker, and you just have to shrug your shoulders and move on.

As I've discussed before, it's a similar situation when the dealer prematurely puts out the turn or river card, before the current round of betting has been completed. On two different occasions, I've seen that happen with a large pot being contested, and the prematurely turned river card is the third of a suit, prompting howls of protest from one player when the floor announces (inevitably) that that card will be withdrawn and reshuffled into the deck. Well, idiot, when you put up such a fuss, you make it perfectly apparent to everybody at the table that that had been exactly the card you wanted.

(Hmmm. It has just occurred to me that this would be a clever ruse. By objecting to the decision--though not rudely--one could convince one's opponents that one was on a flush draw, after having made, say, a straight or full house. Then if the replacement card is not of the same suit, a big bet will look like an obvious bluff and maybe get paid off. It's not a bad idea--I might try that some time!)

Anyway, it's just stupid and immature to whine and complain about either type of situation when it happens. Deal with it. Take it like a man. Walk it off. Get on with your life.

The title for this post, by the way, has nothing intrinsically to do with poker. But when I was thinking along the lines of "making things worse for yourself," I couldn't help remembering the funniest scene in one of the funniest movies of all time, "Life of Brian." It's worth watching, whether for the first time or the hundredth, below.

Poker gems, #142

95-year-old Jack Ury, oldest participant in the history of the World Series of Poker, upon his elimination from the Main Event earlier today, as reported by PokerNews:

I can't walk, can't see, can't hear, but I can still play poker! I'll be back again next year, if I'm still alive!

Interesting new feature on PokerStars

PokerStars made me download an update to its software yesterday (at least I think it was yesterday). Today something popped up that I've never seen before, on this or any other site. Click on the screen-shot above to see. I had to type in the word shown in order to continue playing. This is apparently part of their campaign to foil bots playing on the site.

I'm not too worried about bots, because everything I've read about them from sources I deem reliable indicates that they're fairly easy to beat. But that is obviously likely to change as artificial intelligence gets more sophisticated. So I'm pleased to see that PS is taking creative steps to try to stay ahead of the bot writers.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The miserable git

The guy at the Palms last night--the interrogator I just wrote about a short time ago--was one of the ten or so most unpleasant people I've ever had sitting next to me at a poker table. From the time he arrived until the time he left, about 90% of what he uttered was complaining. He complained at least 15 times that the drink service was too slow. He complained about being card dead. He complained about all of his bad beats. He complained about how badly the WSOP Main Event was going for him. He complained about his hotel room. He complained about the dealers. He complained about how other people were playing. He complained about the frequent straddles (about half the table employed them at every opportunity). When he won a hand, he complained that the pot hadn't been big enough.

These were all directed specifically at me--every time, he would turn and look directly at me while making these comments. (I think the woman to his right got spared because her English wasn't very good.) He didn't know how to take hints, because I gave him no encouragement, no feedback. I didn't turn to look at him, didn't respond, didn't change facial expression. I completely ignored him, pretended I couldn't even hear him, and yet that did nothing to slow him down. It was an astonishing solo performance, really.

I cannot count how many times I wanted to turn to him and say, "Look, mister, if you are really this miserable with your life, then please either go take a Prozac or jump off the top of the Stratosphere and end it all. Just stop inflicting your complaints on me, OK?"

But I didn't.

I can't figure out why people are like this. Do they really think that other random strangers are interested in all of their gripes about the world? Do they really have nothing positive or entertaining or informative or interesting to talk about?


I hesitated before posting this, because I can just imagine the reaction of some readers. "Hey, dude--you call yourself the Poker Grump, spend hours every week writing up what you have to complain about. Hell, you've done almost 700 blog posts, most of which are complaining about something or other. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black! You're the last one with a right to criticize somebody else for issuing a stream of complaints!"

So let me prophylactically address that objection now, rather than wait until the comments along those lines roll in.

First, yeah, the basic schtick here is writing about the things that irk me in the poker world. But I think and hope that it's perfectly obvious at every turn that I love the game to my core. Even after two years of making it my nearly daily grind, I still enjoy sitting down to play, every single time. I still look forward to it, to the point that when I've finally finished other chores and it's time to head out to the casinos, I literally think to myself, "All right--it's poker time!" When other obligations keep me from playing for a few days, I feel as if I were going without food. It's because I am endlessly pleased and intrigued and rewarded by this game that it bothers me when things about it aren't right. I trust that that sentiment shines through every time I file a gripe about something that should be better than it is. There was no hint of such an overriding sense of pleasure and enjoyment of poker from the guy last night to balance out his constant litany of grumbling.

Second, I don't inflict my complaints on anybody. You have to go out of your way to find them. You don't have to plug your ears to avoid hearing me whine, you just have to not point your browser to this page. People come here, I assume, because they find something amusing and/or interesting and/or informative about what I have to say. That is worlds apart from droning on into the ear of an involuntary audience who just happened to get stuck next to you at a poker table.

So if you had thoughts about complaining that I'm being a complainer who is complaining about another complainer, go complain somewhere else!

The interrogation

I lost a hand last night. Nothing extraordinary. I had Q-10 of spades, missed the flush draw but had paired my 10 on the river. I therefore called a smallish bet from my opponent, who had not played the hand very aggressively, making me think I might be good. As it turned out, he had the A-K of spades (making me glad the flush card didn't come), and had made a higher pair on the turn. It wasn't a big loss, just a kind of run-of-the-mill hand.

As he was stacking up the chips, he said, "I gave you a free card. I think that was a mistake. Would you have called $40 on the turn if I had bet it?"

This is hardly the first time I've been the subject of a post-hand interrogation, but I hate it every time. I think it's incredibly rude.

In case it's not obvious why, just rephrase the question so as to make explicit what it is actually asking: "I'm not sure I extracted all of the chips from you that I could have on that hand. Would you please give me more information about how you play specific situations, so that the next time we're contesting a pot, I can more effectively play against your tendencies and optimize my ability to win the most chips I can possibly squeeze out of you?"

If you're going to ask that, why not just ask your opponent if he could please hand you his stack of chips?

What makes these players think that I'm so stupid that I will answer such questions honestly, and thus help them play better against me?

I knew perfectly well the answer to the question from the guy last night, but instead I gave him my standard, pre-rehearsed BS answer: "I'm not very good at hypotheticals. I have to actually be faced with the situation before I can make a decision."

There's some truth to that, since I do go a lot by the "feel" of a situation. For any given interrogation that gets put to me, that answer might be completely true, completely false, or somewhere in between. I don't much care. My goal is to deflect the question without giving away information and without seeming rude. I think it usually succeeds.

But I'd really prefer not to be put under the bright lights to begin with.

Don't go to the Palms poker room after 2:00 a.m.

According to my records, last night was the 20th poker session I've put in at the Palms. I guess, however, that none of the previous ones lasted as late as 2:00 a.m., because I've certainly never before run into the situation that occurred last night.

A new player came to the table with his chips, an ashtray, and a lit cigarette. In most non-smoking poker rooms, somebody occasionally comes in with a heater going, not recognizing that it's a smoke-free zone. I assumed this was the same phenomenon. So I turned to the dealer and said, "Smoking at the table?"

I was stunned when he said, "That's allowed after 2:00 a.m." He then checked his watch, found that it was only 1:50, and told the new player that he couldn't smoke here for another ten minutes.

I was close to being done for the night anyway, but that was enough to prompt me to pack up my chips on the spot, not even waiting to complete the orbit we were on.

Wow, what a horrible management decision. The Palms is one of the better poker rooms in town in terms of being reasonably effectively isolated from smoking areas, but then for certain hours of the day they turn it into a toxic waste factory. What idiocy.

Anybody care for a beverage while you play? How about a little lung cancer?

So the Palms has just informed me that it does not want me playing there late into the night. OK, so be it.

I have just updated my list of categories of smokiness of poker rooms to reflect that the Palms is now on the list of shame, one of the few places in town to fall into category 6, in which smoking at the table is allowed. It now shares that distinction with such high-class places as Hooters, Arizona Charlie's, Boulder Station, and Club Fortune. Hope you're real proud of the company you keep, Palms.

Repulsive. Utterly repulsive.

Celebrity sighting

The Moneymaker effect has completely taken over the Palms this week, so it's appropriate to have spotted the guy it's named for playing in the poker room.

I was in the other room (the Palms has sort of a split poker room, with the two sides divided by a hallway), so I didn't get to watch the activity, just snuck over for the photo.

But one player at my table had just been moved over from a table in that room and had watched the goings-on for a while. He admitted that he didn't watch poker on TV, so he wasn't too up on putting names with faces of poker pros. But there had been, he said, another pro that everybody seemed to know playing on that side. He said it was a lighter-skinned black man, and that he was arguing with the player next to him. He thought maybe it was Erik Seidel.

I couldn't help laughing. I don't know who this guy saw, but (1) it's unlikely that anybody would describe Seidel as black (light-skinned or otherwise), (2) he's about the least likely guy in the entire poker universe to be arguing with another player, (3) he's not likely to be sitting in a $1-3 or $2-5 game (all that the Palms had to offer), and (4) he's probably not going to be at a PokerStars gathering, being a Team Full Tilt pro. Other than those small points, yeah, sure, it could have been Seidel.

Monday, July 07, 2008

What wasn't said

OK, this is the last time--today, anyway--that I'm going to pinch a story from the good folks at PokerNews and use it as fodder for my blog.

Not the Nuts, But Definitely Nutty

Five WSOP bracelets tend to win one a bit of respect. Or fear. Or what the
French call... I don't know what.

Allen Cunningham raised to 1,200 from the button and the player in the big
blind called. Both checked the 2d-10d-10h flop. The turn was the 2h. The player
in the BB bet 2,200, and Cunningham called.

The river brought the Kd. The BB player checked, and Cunningham bet 4,500.
His opponent called.

Cunningham showed 8d-7d for the rivered flush. His opponent turned over
Jd-10c for tens full of deuces. Not too much out there that could beat

After having been up around 60,000, Cunningham now has about 45,000.

You know how sometimes you hear people say that they preferred cinematic love scenes before everything got all graphic and explicit, because it was sexier to imagine what happened? Well, that's sort of why I love how this little story is written (besides the funny line about the French). It's a pretty insignificant hand, in terms of the progress of the tournament as a whole, or either of the players. But it tells the reader loads about this particular opponent and how players generally view poker superstars like Cunningham. And all of that is in what isn't said in the post.

I know that some of my readers don't play poker (they're people who know me personally, and, bless their hearts, they slog through all the stupid stuff about poker just because of who has written it), so let me explain what the PN blogger cleverly left unsaid, secure in the knowledge that basically only die-hard poker junkies would be reading it, and that they would be able to figure it out for themselves.

There were only three hands that Cunningham could have that would have his opponent beaten: pocket kings (for kings full of tens), K-10 (for tens full of kings), and pocket deuces (for quads). It was, objectively speaking, pretty darn unlikely that Cunningham held any of those. His opponent should have been, oh, maybe 90% confident that he had a better hand than Cunningham did, or at worst that they both had a 10 and would chop the pot.

Most players in this situation, against most opponents, would raise at the end, rather than just call. They would hope to get paid off by somebody holding a 2 for deuces full of tens, or by a flush. That this guy did not do so is the clever implication of the "definitely nutty" in the post's title. It is also what lies behind that language about the kind of respect and/or fear that Cunningham is able to generate in other players. Sure, against most players you'd raise, but this is Allen freakin' Cunningham!

As it turns out, a raise probably wouldn't have been profitable. I'd wager my last dollar that if the guy had raised, Cunningham's cards would have hit the muck without another single chip being put into the pot. You just can't think that a small flush is good when there are two ways an opponent could have quads, and when he only needs to be holding one lousy 10 or 2 to have a full house. Cunningham took his shot (perhaps hoping that his opponent would call with just an ace to accompany the two pairs on the board, or maybe a pocket pair to make a better two pairs than were on the board--and just maybe he could bluff a guy holding a 2 into folding), but I'm confident he would have folded to even a minimum raise.

Of course, his opponent couldn't know that when it mattered.

My compliments to the PN team members for (1) noticing this hand and what it implied about both of the players involved, and (2) writing it in a way that trusted the readers' intelligence to read all of the juicy stuff between the lines.

Where are the photographers when you need them?

Another PokerNews live-blogging post from yesterday's WSOP, reposted here just for general amusement purposes:

Beautiful Distractions

Karina Jett just stopped by Antonio Esfandiari's table to see her friend
Heather Esquin. Not only did she say hello, but Jett thoroughly rubbed and
squeezed Esquin's breasts. She claimed it was for good luck.

Esfandiari commented, "How are we as men supposed to concentrate with that
going on?"

I thought I had heard just about every method ever invoked for and by poker players for the bringing of luck, but I have to admit that this was a new one on me. But I've checked the rule books, and there doesn't appear to be any specific prohibition against it.

I'm going to have remember this. Next time I am at a poker table with a beautiful young woman who seems to be getting more than her fair share of bad beats, I'll have my offer ready: "Say, I've heard of something that brings good luck...."

Psychic abilities claimed, not proven

A trio of tales from yesterday's Day 1-D of the 2008 WSOP Main Event, all as told by the fine team of bloggers at PokerNews. See if you can spot what they have in common:

I Knew What You Had

On the turn, with the board showing Qs-10s-6d-Ks, Jennifer Tilly
checked to a player in the cutoff, who bet 1,000. Tilly called. On the river of
the 3c, the cutoff player bet out 1,250 and Tilly again made the call....

The cutoff showed As-4s and Tilly mucked. She told the player, "I knew you
had the flush. I pay you off on the turn and the river." She looked clearly

After the hand, Tilly is down to 12,000.

Lederer Better Than Yu

We recently passed by Blue #1 and saw that Howard
Lederer was all in for 13,400 against one opponent, Charles Yu of Dover,
Delaware, on a board of 3h-Jd-10h-2c. With the cameras rolling, the table talk

Yu: "I know you don't have it."

Lederer: "Oh, I have it."

Yu: "Maybe you should bet 10,000 and I'll call."

Lederer: "OK, I bet 10,000." He reached for his chips to take some back,
then smiled and left them in the middle of the table.

A minute or so passed.

Lederer: "If you knock me out, they'll probably put you on TV."

Yu: "OK, OK. I fold. But I know you don't have it. If you had bet 5,000, I
would have called."

As Lederer was raking the pot, he chuckled. "I like that he claims he would
have called 5,000," said Lederer to the player on his left.

The discussion continued a few hands later, with Yu still not convinced
that Lederer could beat king-jack, the hand Yu claims he folded.

"You should have made the hero call then," said Lederer. "You could have
told all your friends to watch you on TV." Then he turned more serious, and
said, "I raised you from first position, I raised you on the flop, and I moved
in on the turn. Do you really think your jack was good?"

Yu had no response.

(Before I move on to the third story, I just want to add that there were about three more posts throughout the day of ongoing verbal and card clashes between Lederer and Yu, with Lederer coming out on top of all of them. For a guy who is usually nearly silent at the table, he did a splendid job using a few well-chosen words to (1) sell his image, (2) confuse his opponent, and (3) manipulate his opponent--which, by the end of the day, he had clearly done. Just based on those few reports, it was a virtuoso poker performance by a guy that I've come to think of more as a behind-the-scenes administrator than a serious player.)

More Hot Set Over Set Action

On a flop of Q-8-4, Jeff Weil moved all in with Q-Q and was called by his
opponent, holding 8-8.

"I KNEW it! I KNEW it!" wailed the poor soul with the pocket eights, as
most of his stack was shipped across the table to Weil and the ESPN cameras

"If you knew it, why didn't you fold" wondered Beth Shak aloud.

OK, it's not too hard to see the thread those stories share, especially given the big hints I provided in this post's title and photo.

I don't think I've ever blogged about this (though I discussed it briefly in my little contibution to Episode 4 of the Hard-Boiled Poker Radio Show), but "I knew you had that" (or close variations) is one of the more common stupid things that people say at the poker table.

Beth Shak asks the most obvious question that gets at the heart of what's so stupid about it. How can you claim to have known that an opponent had you beat, yet still call? If Jeff Wile's anonymous opponent really knew that he was on the bad end of a set-over-set situation--e.g., if Wile had turned his cards face up--he clearly wouldn't have called. If Jennifer Tilly actually knew that she was up against a flush that she couldn't beat, she wouldn't have called.

There have been countless times that I have heard an opponent fold while telling me, "I know you have [some very strong hand]"--and they've been wrong.

We never know what an opponent has, in any meaningful sense of the word, until the cards are revealed. We can have varying degrees of confidence, assigning an opponent to a range of possible hands that make sense, sometimes a very narrow range. But there's always the possibility that the opponent is doing something completely irrational, so that the clues available lead to an erroneous conclusion.

It is quite rare that I experience such a high level of confidence in a player's exact holdings that I will be surprised to see him turn over anything else. Such occurrences are usually when I'm not in the hand (for reasons that aren't entirely clear to me, it tends to be easier to accurately gauge what's going on when one is not participating; this may be why poker dealers often overestimate their poker-playing skills, finding that their ability to guess players' cards erodes substantially when they're participating as an opponent rather just watching than as a neutral observer), and usually only after all of the action is completed, so that I'm operating with maximal information.

One time at the Hilton I was watching a multi-way pot develop. Barry, an off-duty Hilton dealer, was one of the contestants. When he made a big bet on the river, I had the highest degree of confidence in what exact two cards he had in the hole that I have ever felt in any poker situation. I would have been positively floored if he had anything else, because only one possible combination made sense. In fact, I'm ashamed to say that I blurted out, "I know what Barry has," with a little laugh. I instantly regretted it, because it could easily have queered the action. (He had the nuts and was wanting to get paid off.) It's the only time I've violated the rule about talking about the hand in progress in a way that could unfairly influence the betting and/or help or hinder another player. It blurted out of me because I thought it was so painfully obvious what he had, that, for that split second, I imagined that that conclusion must be equally apparent to everybody else, so what harm could there be in saying something? But then just as quickly I thought better, realizing that it might not be so clear to everybody. Indeed it wasn't, and Barry did get paid by one of the lesser hands. When it was over, I apologized profusely and repeatedly to both Barry and the whole table for injecting myself.

Anyway, the point is that that degree of pinpoint clarity is really, really rare in poker. And even then, it still doesn't reach what I would consider to be "knowing" what somebody's cards are.

It's another in the long list of stupid things to say at the poker table. Try to refrain from it.

Most intriguing WSOP story of the day

I just finished reading over the PokerNews live blogging reports from the last half of day, wondering what I might have missed while I was out playing poker at the Palms. Almost the last post of the day was reported by PN's director of tournament reporting, Garry Gates, stepping in himself (and stepping out of his lovely toga) to tell the tale:

The Amazing Phil Laak

We've got to give some credit to one of our frequent Shoutbox posters,
"fastasleep," for sparking the following investigation, as it looks like we've
been duped by the very clever Phil Laak...

On our WSOP registration list for Day 1d, Phil was slated to be in Amazon
Blue, Table 33, Seat 8. Our reporters then scanned the area and informed us that
he was nowhere to be found. Perhaps an error with the registration list? No
worries... it happens. He'll turn up eventually, right?

Hours had passed and there was still no sign of Laak when we noticed
fastasleep's Shout Box post:fastasleep [37 minutes ago]:

"Guys - what's up with Phil Laak....I read a news article that saud [sic]
he showed up today with an altered appearance, courtesy of a latex mask,
make-up, and a false mustache....? Did anyone get any pictures?"

To borrow one of Phil's most frequently used lines, "Sick... So

At this point, we started doing some investigative reporting and spoke with
a few players at the table who'd been there all day.

"Was Phil Laak in the eight seat to start the day?" we asked Alejandro
Parada and Cary Anderson.

"Never," said Parada. "That guy was old and he never said a word."

"The guy in that seat came in late, but he was real old. I watch that show I Bet You all the time and I'm sure it wasn't Laak," said Anderson.

A brief discussion ensued at the table and soon thereafter, Anderson
altered his original supposition:

"You know, the more I think about it, the guy had a big scar... like a big
worm. He wore a Texas hat, but I think he was older. I don't know -- it's
possible, I guess," he added.

Moments later, Anderson put the pieces of the puzzle together, giving us
the following explanation (paraphrased):

"You know, the guy did come in late and when the dealer asked for his ID,
he didn't have any. They then called the floor over and the man in question had
a quick discussion with the floorperson away from the table before eventually
returning to his seat. 'He's OK,' said the floorman to the table and the player
took his seat without saying a single word."

The conversation sparked whispers and "What-ifs" amongst the remaining
players on Table 33 and suddenly, the mystery was solved...

The dealer at the table had been sifting through the registration cards of
fallen victims amidst the commotion and then he found it... Amazon Blue 33, Seat
8 -- Phil Laak.

Needless to say, we missed his bust-out hand.

A clever stunt made for TV? Perhaps... An "I Bet You" prop bet with Antonio
Esfandiari? Certainly plausible.... Being Phil Laak and playing an entire Day 1
of the WSOP Main Event incognito? Ab-so-freakin-lutely awesome.

Mr. Phil Laak . . . PokerNews salutes you!

I was curious what news source the PokerNews tipster had read, so I did a Google news search. I doubt this is what did it (because it's dated too late), but this story adds a little bit more information:

HE SAID WHAT?: "On a scale of one to 10 I thought it was going to look like a
nine and a half. It's like an eight. But if they see something's funny they
don't know it's me, so it's huge." — Phil "The Unabomber" Laak, explaining the
disguise he used to keep opponents from recognizing him. Instead of donning his
usual sunglasses and hooded sweat shirt, Laak spent all morning with a makeup
artist who used a latex mask, paint and a fake mustache and beard to make the
player look completely different.

There's a thread on the twoplustwo forums about the incident, but with just random comments and speculation, no additional information. I did a Google blog search, and found a couple of mentions of the incident, but with no more real facts.

The WSOP sends a photographer around to snap pics of every player, then sells them in various formats, at outrageously jacked-up prices, to the rubes who want an official, custom souvenir of their Vegas adventure. Laak was at Blue Table 33, seat 8, and those photos are found here. This one should be him, and certainly matches the players' descriptions of the mystery man:

It is likely that other photos will pop up, as both media venues and ordinary folks hear about Laak's ruse and scan through their shots to see if they unwittingly caught him in a frame. But given this one available photo (assuming it's the right one), no wonder he wasn't recognized.

The obvious question is why he did this. As Gates wondered, was it a prop bet? Something to do with his TV show? Or was it simply so that he could play poker without recognition? I can see possible advantage in that, because there are surely some amateur players who will take shots at busting him just so that they can brag about it. Of course, that could be an advantage, too, since anybody trying that in a situation where it isn't favorable to do so means an edge for the pro. Maybe he wanted to not be hounded by autograph-seeking fans and media camera and just be left alone to play.

Being who he is, though, I'm quite certain that he will, before too long, emerge from behind the curtain and explain everything, maybe in his next Bluff Magazine column. He's not exactly one to dodge the spotlight for too long.

Addendum, July 9, 2008

As predicted, Laak has now told all. See his very entertaining 29-minute interview with Card Player TV here. It includes an explanation of how word of the ruse got out via Associated Press while it was going on (which, in turn, explains how it got back to PokerNews). His reasons were primarily the gamesmanship of taking on a different persona and exploiting what other players would think of how an old man plays, and the attention he knew would attend the revelation (e.g., ESPN camera time). I found that link, as well as a better photo of Laak's disguise, at Michele Lewis's blog here. Also, contrary to what the PN post said, he has not busted out, but will be returning for Day 2b today.

Stories from the Palms

The three souvenir chips above are the ones I nabbed tonight playing at the Palms. The first two, Gwen Stefani and No Doubt, are shown here as a shoutout to my good friend who is a fan of Ms. Stefani and her former band. The third one is a special chip the Palms issued for the Fourth of July, 2008. It was a nice surprise to pick up a chip that has only been in circulation for a few days. (Click on the photo for a ridiculously enlarged view.)

There were a couple of incidents worth grumbling about here during this poker session.


I was not involved in this hand, but was following the action trying to deduce what cards the two players involved had. One of the players was definitely not a PokerStars prodigy. He was mid-60s, with a heavy German accent, and I've seen him around town a few times before. He played the hand (the details of which don't matter) in a very peculiar way, alternating on every street between passivity and aggression, and I couldn't easily put him on a hand. It turned into one of the biggest pots of the night.

This man finally was facing a very large bet on the river. He looked very unhappy about it. He picked up his hole cards and showed them to the two players on his left (not visible to me or his opponent, who was next to me on the other end of the table from him). One of them reacted strongly, making a face and saying, "Oh, wow." (This is a good reason, kids, not to show your cards to another player during a hand. No matter how good your poker face is, you can't control how others will react, or what they will give away.) This heightened my curiosity. He finally decided to fold.

As the dealer was pulling in his cards, I said to her, "Show those, please." The man nearly had a fit. He went on a tirade about how disrespectful I was being. "Have some respect! HAVE SOME RESPECT!" The dealer had somehow not paid attention at the crucial moment, so she had missed the fact that this guy had deliberately flashed his cards to two other players, but when I told her that, those other players confirmed it. That should have been the end of it, because of the universal "show one, show all" rule. But this guy just escalated his protest at having his cards revealed. Finally, the floor was called over. It took her a while to get the salient facts, but once she did, the decision was simple: Of course any other player can ask to see them.

The guy was so angry at me for making this request that he picked up what was left of his chips, cashed out, and stormed off.

He was apparently confusing two different rules. The only one applicable here was "show one, show all." Information is the most valuable commodity at a poker table. Once he revealed his cards to two other players, it became perfectly legitimate for anybody else to ask to see them. This is not a breach of etiquette, either. Anybody flashing his cards to another player, especially in a hand as unusal and a pot as large as this, has to expect that somebody else will ask to see them. That is what usually happens. In fact, I maintain that it is rude to try to show them selectively, as he did. I think that the spirit of the rule imposes an affirmative obligation on a player. If I show one, I should lay my cards on the table for all to see--players shouldn't have to ask the dealer to exercise their right. (I suspect mine is a minority view on that narrow point, however.)

A completely different rule pertains to "called hands." That is, if on the last round of betting there is a bet and a call, then other players may have the right to ask to see the losing hand, even if the player holding it would rather toss his cards unseen into the muck. This is one of the most controversial rules in the book, and its implementation varies wildly between casinos. In some, only a player who was in the hand all the way to the end can exercise the privilege, while in others anybody at the table can, and in still others one has to be able to convince a floorperson that there is a basis for suspecting collusion, the prevention of which was the original reason for the rule. In some places, the hand about to be revealed gets killed by the dealer first, so that it's ineligible to win, should the player have accidentally misread his hand, while in others this does not occur, and in still others it occurs unless the player asking to see the hand is the guy who apparently won the pot. The rule is also different in tournaments than in cash games. It's all potentially very confusing.

Michael Wiesenberg recently summed all of this up in a column for Card Player magazine--see here. He wisely notes, in addition to the myriad of variations on the rule, that there is also an associated etiquette:

Even though the rules permit requesting any called hand to be shown, you'll find
that in public cardrooms, players rarely ask. Doing so is often considered a
breach of poker etiquette. It's easy online. At the end of any hand in which you
had cards, you can just click on the button that presents the hand history. No
one knows that you looked. In live play, though, you'll soon make a nuisance of
yourself and annoy the others at your table if you keep asking. Reserve doing so
for a hand in which you had demonstrable interest, such as one in which you were
driven out by a large bet on the river and the winning hand is worse than yours
and you want to see if you had the bettor beat. And even then, exercise your
right sparingly.

Well said, and good advice.

But even after typing in all of the above, I have to say that it's all completely irrelevant to the situation I was in tonight. This was not a called hand, so no variant of this rule had any bearing on the matter. I belabor it in order to make clear that the associated point of etiquette, nicely explained by Mr. Wiesenberg, is equally inapplicable. And that seems to be what the gentleman in question was missing. He somehow thought that that etiquette point also carried over to the "show one, show all" rule. It does not. No way, no how.

As I wrote here on the same subject back in November, 2006, in one of my earliest blog posts,
I have heard only one person ever express the opinion that it's bad form to ask
to see a player's cards after he shows them to another player, under the classic
and universal "show one, show all" principle. That was Phil Hellmuth, in one of
last year's WSOP events. I recall that another pro at his table stated strong
disagreement that there was anything wrong with the request.
In fact, looking back on that post (which I had kind of forgotten until just now), I think what I wrote there is what I would tell the older man who got so angry at me tonight:
Dude, you were out of line. If you don't want anyone to ask to see your
hole cards, it's pretty simple: just don't show them to anybody. But if you
choose to flash your aces to your buddy, you've got to expect that somebody else
is going to ask to see them, too, and if you can't deal with that, just go back
to your home game.

Pardon the extended discourse on this point. It's awfully rare that I'm publicly accused of having violated poker etiquette, so when that happens, I feel a need to explain and defend my actions.

I did try to calmly explain exactly this to the man tonight, but he twice interrupted me with yelling, over and over again, "HAVE SOME RESPECT!", so I gave up, rather than risk infuriating him further.


A bunch of young men had just started up a new game at the next table over. Within the first couple of hands, a big nastiness erupted. Apparently one of the players wanted to put in a double straddle (for explanations of the regular straddle, see here and here) and have it be live--i.e., that, like with the regular straddle, the double-straddler would gain the last option of raising before the flop. He was told that this would not be allowed.

He was incensed about this decision, far more than could be considered rational or even sane. He insisted that he had played in poker rooms all over Nevada, and every other establishment allowed this, except for the Palms.

Well, that's just pure BS. I can document having played in all of the poker rooms in the Vegas and Mesquite area (with the exception of a couple that I'm not entirely sure are even still open)--see here for the list. In most of them, at some point somebody has asked about the double straddle, which is popular in many home games. I have never found any poker room that will treat it as live. They all allow it, but only as a dead raise in the dark (meaning that the player does not have the option of raising again before the flop after putting in his initial raise).

Maybe it's different if you request a private game for a group of friends, and you're paying by the hour for the table and the service of the dealer, but that's not what this guy was claiming. Some places might also allow it if everybody at the table agrees (though again I've never witnessed this happening), but that's likely to happen only if all of the players know each other, so that it's nearly like a private game anyway. At any public poker table with a random assortment of players, there will almost always be at least one who objects to a live double straddle, because it can effectively push a game to be much bigger in stakes than everybody is comfortable with. If you basically try to turn, say, a $4/$8 game into a game with a $16 big blind, players won't want that. If they felt like playing with a big blind of that size, they would have sat down in a $15/$30 game to begin with!

Anyway, this guy was so bothered by this limitation on his fun that he picked up his chips and left, taking a couple of his friends with him. He had threatened that his leaving with his buddies would result in the newly-started game breaking up, but they just filled the seats from the waiting list, and it continued without them.

If being allowed a live double straddle is so crucial to one's enjoyment of a poker game, wouldn't it be wise to call around and find where it might be permitted before settling on a place to play? I don't know where those three guys went, but I'm highly confident that they didn't get any more satisfaction on their request at any other poker room in town.

It's so stupid to make a big fuss over such things. Sure, go ahead and ask, but if the dealer tells you it's not permitted, and the floor person can't or won't make an exception to the general house rule, you say, "Well, OK, thanks anyway," and move on with your life. At that point, no amount of talking, arguing, cajoling, demanding, stomping your feet, explaining what you have seen happen at other places, or raising your voice is going to get you what you want. So either live with the game as it is being spread, or calmly, politely stand up, say good-bye, and find a place more to your liking.

People can be such idiotic boors.


I'm pretty sure that I made a mental note of a third story to write about while I was at the poker table, but now it's 2:45 in the morning, and I'm having a hard time keeping my eyes open. My powers of recall are not exactly at their sharpest. So I guess I'll have to either come back and add an addendum to this post later, or do a separate post, or maybe the story will be lost forever. Couldn't have been too earthshaking, I guess.