Saturday, July 19, 2008

How to turn a king into a wheel

When playing my PokerStars razz game, I usually don't make even a token effort to defend my bring-ins. But once in a while, circumstances are just right. Specifically, if my two down cards are both parts of a wheel, I'm up against only one opponent, that opponent looks, by position, like he might be stealing with a sub-premium starting hand, I figure it's worth peeling off one card and see if I'm making progress towards something good.

That's what happened here. As it turned out, my opponent was not just stealing, but actually had a decent hand. That ended up working to my benefit, because on the river he believed his very respectable 7-6-4-3-2 was best. He couldn't know that I had caught the perfect card on the river to make the nuts. (I was ahead on 6th street, too.) After all, I was showing K-5-2-8, which doesn't look too promising.

Hee hee hee!

My opponent was--how shall we put this?--not happy.

PokerStars Game #18942850919: Razz Limit ($1/$2) - 2008/07/19 - 16:56:51 (ET)
Table 'Urania' 8-max
Seat 1: slipperyroad ($19.45 in chips)
Seat 2: lobasa ($68.85 in chips)
Seat 3: ragmuppet ($27.65 in chips)
Seat 4: nutOmatic ($90.40 in chips)
Seat 5: jrddoc ($28.50 in chips)
Seat 6: M@lici@ ($44.55 in chips)
Seat 8: Rakewell1 ($17.10 in chips)
slipperyroad: posts the ante $0.10
lobasa: posts the ante $0.10
ragmuppet: posts the ante $0.10
nutOmatic: posts the ante $0.10
jrddoc: posts the ante $0.10
M@lici@: posts the ante $0.10
Rakewell1: posts the ante $0.10
*** 3rd STREET ***
Dealt to slipperyroad [Kh]
Dealt to lobasa [Jc]
Dealt to ragmuppet [6d]
Dealt to nutOmatic [Js]
Dealt to jrddoc [Jh]
Dealt to M@lici@ [5c]
Dealt to Rakewell1 [4c 3d Ks]
Rakewell1: brings in for $0.50
slipperyroad: folds
lobasa: folds
ragmuppet: raises $0.50 to $1
nutOmatic: folds
jrddoc: folds
M@lici@: folds
Rakewell1: calls $0.50
*** 4th STREET ***
Dealt to ragmuppet [6d] [2d]
Dealt to Rakewell1 [4c 3d Ks] [5s]
ragmuppet: bets $1
Rakewell1: calls $1
*** 5th STREET ***
Dealt to ragmuppet [6d 2d] [Td]
Dealt to Rakewell1 [4c 3d Ks 5s] [2c]
jdot joins the table at seat #7
ragmuppet: bets $2
Rakewell1: raises $2 to $4
ragmuppet: calls $2
*** 6th STREET ***
Dealt to ragmuppet [6d 2d Td] [3s]
Dealt to Rakewell1 [4c 3d Ks 5s 2c] [8c]
ragmuppet: checks
Rakewell1: bets $2
ragmuppet: calls $2
*** RIVER ***
Dealt to Rakewell1 [4c 3d Ks 5s 2c 8c] [As]
M@lici@ is sitting out
ragmuppet: checks
Rakewell1: bets $2
ragmuppet: raises $2 to $4
Rakewell1: raises $2 to $6
ragmuppet: calls $2
*** SHOW DOWN ***
Rakewell1: shows [4c 3d Ks 5s 2c 8c As] (Lo: 5,4,3,2,A)
ragmuppet: mucks hand
Rakewell1 collected $27.70 from pot
*** SUMMARY ***
Total pot $28.70 Rake $1
Seat 1: slipperyroad folded on the 3rd Street (didn't bet)
Seat 2: lobasa folded on the 3rd Street (didn't bet)
Seat 3: ragmuppet mucked [2h 7s 6d 2d Td 3s 4s]
Seat 4: nutOmatic folded on the 3rd Street (didn't bet)
Seat 5: jrddoc folded on the 3rd Street (didn't bet)
Seat 6: M@lici@ folded on the 3rd Street (didn't bet)
Seat 8: Rakewell1 showed [4c 3d Ks 5s 2c 8c As] and won ($27.70) with Lo: 5,4,3,2,A

Checking out early

Nearly every time I play poker, I run into at least one person who checks out (i.e., folds unnecessarily, when not facing a bet) on the flop if he misses it. I don't get this.

First, let me tell you what I'm not talking about. I'm not talking about breaking a rule or point of etiquette. Some people consider folding when not facing a bet to be against the rules, the equivalent of acting out of turn. I first ran across this idea last year in a Card Player magazine column by Michael Wiesenberg, available here. This surprised me, because I've never heard a player in a casino scolded for checking out, as long as it is done in turn. Here's Wiesenberg's argument:

Online cardrooms offer an unfortunate option. You can fold at any time when
the action is on you, even when there has been no bet in the current round.
Presumably, this is to speed up the action, but the downside of this is that it
is not protecting the other players.

For example, in a no-limit hold'em game, the player on the button flops a
straight-flush draw and bets on the flop (which contains an ace) and turn.
Unfortunately, the river misses him completely. He is reasonably certain that
the player under the gun has middle pair. To his right you sit, a new player not
up on cardroom etiquette. The first player checks. You, drawing to a straight or
flush, missed your hand and disgustedly throw your cards into the muck. The
button had planned on making a final bet to try to steal this pot. Had you held
on to your cards, the first player might well not have called, fearing that an
overcall from you would beat him, but with you now gone, he's much more likely
to call, so the button dares not make a bluff that otherwise might have had a
reasonable chance of succeeding. But your not holding on to your cards stopped
him. You did not protect him. When you are in this situation and the first
player checks, you also should check and hold on to your cards, even if you're
that sure you can't possibly win. Then, if the button bets, hold on to your
cards until the first player acts. Only when he has completed his action should
you throw your cards away.

I usually agree with Wiesenberg, but here I think he's wrong. Of course folding rather than checking changes things. But that's the nature of the game--every action or lack of action by every player changes the situation. In the specific example cited, one could just as easily argue that the player checking out makes it easier for the guy on the button to bet with nothing, because now he knows that he only has one person to try to bluff, which is always easier than trying to bluff two people. Yes, the unnecessary fold changes things, but it doesn't change things in a way that is either obviously or consistently favorable or unfavorable to any other player. It is therefore not unfair or unethical in the slightest, in my opinion. The player checking out has no way of knowing whether his action helps or hurts the plans of any remaining player; he cannot intentionally be helping or hurting anybody else by his decision. As far as I know, it is not against the rules in any Vegas card room.

But that's not my point here. There are rare situations in which I have checked out on the river, because it is inconceivable that I could win or even split the pot. I stress rare, though, because usually I'll just check along with everybody else, there always being a very small chance that I'll have the shock of collecting the pot, or part of it. (For one such story, see the second part of this post.)

Checking out on the flop, though, is just nuts, as far as I'm concerned. There are two more cards to come, and you just might get to see them both for free. That doesn't happen often, but it costs you nothing to check and hope. If somebody bets, you can fold at that point, without anything lost. It's not like you're in a hurry to be doing something else, since you have to wait for the hand to play out anyway. Once in a great while, even if your hand is a complete dog on the flop, the turn and river will come as the miracles to make you two pair or trips or a straight or a flush. What is the point of throwing your hand away when instead you could just check and watch to see what develops? I cannot discern any up-side, any benefit to folding in this situation--yet every session I play I see at least one player who has adopted this as a habit when the flop misses him.

Like I said at the beginning, I just don't get this. Poker players do all sorts of goofy things, but this strikes me as one of the most inexplicable.

What ever happened to...?

I was just going through some old papers that have accumulated on my desk, trying to see what can be tossed, what still needs action, and what has sat too long to be of any use now. I pulled out the ad (from Bluff Magazine, I believe) shown above. It ran maybe a year ago. At the time, I went to the web site specified and signed up. Among other reasons, I did so because they promised to send a free web cam to everybody who signed up, and, if I recall correctly, said that they would send it right away, even before they had their site ready for playing poker.

That sounded fine to me. I don't have a web cam. Of course, I don't really need one, or I'd plop down a few bucks of my own and buy one, since they're pretty cheap these days. But it might be fun for chatting with friends and family, maybe even recording a few video rants/clips for this blog. And I was intrigued by the idea of an online poker site with players all sitting in front of live cameras. Watching other people is both more informative and more interesting than staring at a bunch of cartoon avatars, or empty chairs (UB), or blank circles (about half the Stars players).

But after entering my contact information, the site told me that they weren't quite ready to get started yet. They would, of course, let me know as soon as they launched. I quickly forgot all about it, until running across this ad in my stack of junk tonight.

What had been now redirects you here, a site called "Gray's Poker." Other than the name change, everything looks pretty much like I remember it. The "news" section's last update is September, 2007, and includes the Bluff Magazine ad campaign, almost surely referring to the Bulldog ad pictured above. There is no explanation of the name change that I can find.

If you try to download the software, you get roughly the same message I recall from last year: We're not quite ready yet, but leave your email address and we'll notify you soon. Don't call us, we'll call you. The site still promises a free web cam as soon as you sign up. Best money is that that's not really true, either.

So, does anybody know what happened to this outfit? What happened, in business terms, that caused them to buy the ads, then do nothing more (apparently) after that? Why the name change? Why keep the site up if they've gone bust and nothing will ever come of it?

Oh, and where's my free web cam?

Friday, July 18, 2008

In cyberspace, everyone can hear you scream out advice

I admit that that may be the lamest post title I've ever come up with, but I'm in a bit of a hurry and didn't have time to wait around for something better to occur to me.

Yesterday I was playing my usual PokerStars $1-$2 razz game. I wasn't in the hand in question. One player was taking quite a while to decide how to respond to an opponent's bet. Another guy who was out of the hand typed in the chat box, "Fold."

When the hand was over, I pointed out that that was against the rules and a quick way to get his chat privileges revoked. He disagreed, and a couple of others at the table piped up on his behalf. In the ensuing discussion, they pointed out that the guy who had written "Fold" didn't disclose what cards he had had, and had no special knowledge of the situation. He just had an opinion as to what the player facing the bet should do.

I didn't know offhand what PS's rules were, but I pointed out that giving such advice would definitely not be allowed in a brick-and-mortar casino. On the other hand, there is certainly no rule against getting advice from just about any source other than the chat box when playing online. I can have a friend standing over my shoulder as I play and telling me what I should do. I can have somebody in contact with me by telephone or online instant messaging. A friend can even fire up his own PS client and be watching my table, shooting me advice by IM. So, logically, why shouldn't he be allowed to do the same using the chat bax (with observer chat on)? And then if that's allowed, why not somebody who is actually seated at the table? In fact, taken to the extreme, if I have a friend at the same table with me, he can be on the phone with me or send me an IM with exactly the same content as he would write in the chat box. As long as he's not telling me privileged information not available to everybody else (like what cards he folded), and as long as our communication is not collusion (e.g., raising and reraising, one of us having the nuts, in order to trap an unsuspecting third player into calling dead), it is no different than what could be accomplished via the chat box.

In other words, since "one player to a hand" is neither enforceable nor an actual rule for online poker, why make a specific exclusion for receiving advice via the chat box? It's an interesting question, and one that I hadn't thought much about previously.

So I emailed PokerStars support about the situation. As usual, they responded very promptly:

It's a direct violation of rule 7.

"In cash games only, players still in
a hand may chat about what cards they claim to hold. This is coffee-housing,
which is common in poker. However, players (in the hand or not) may not coach or
otherwise suggest how another player should play his hand. For example, it is
okay to say You should call; I'm bluffing. It is not okay to say, You should
call; he's bluffing."

The full set of cardroom rules is available at:

So Stars is very clear that this one word of advice in the chat box, "Fold," was a violation of its rules. But should it be?

I guess I'm glad that Stars takes this position, even if it's not entirely logical. I would hate to see the chat box become a free-for-all of talking about the hand in progress and giving advice.

Perhaps the best way to think about it is that Stars is not trying to make or enforce a blanket rule against a player receiving advice on how to play his hand. Rather, they're making a rule about ways in which the chat box may and may not be used. In terms of trying to duplicate the live casinos' rule about one person to a hand, it's not terribly effective (though arguably at least marginally more effective than doing nothing), but at least it accomplishes the goal of not having the chat box dominated by such chat, which I think would happen on some tables if not for the rule.

It's a thorny problem without perfect solutions, I think.

Opinions, observations, etc., always welcome in my chat box, i.e., the comments section.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Give it up for the Goat

If these aren't the funniest things you read today, I'll double your money back. Better yet, if these aren't the funniest things you read today, point me to what is the funniest thing you read today, and if I like it, too, we can share it with the rest of the 0.0000000000000000001% of the world that reads this blog.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The gems so far

After posting three "Poker gems" in a row, on kind of a whim I clicked on the "gems" tag, which brings up all 145 of them at once, and read through them all. (Full confession: Part of this was undoubtedly because I was procrastinating some unpleasant work I've got to finish today.) It was a great 30 minutes or so of reading. Heck, one could make a book out of these things. I don't mean to blow my own horn here, but one at a time I've rather unintentionally assembled a really great assortments of sage, pithy, funny, sobering, and insightful bits of poker commentary.

Even if you've read all of my posts, if you feel like revisiting some of the best poker wisdom there is, click on that "gems" label and see what has been put together here. You might find that it's time well spent.

Poker gems, #145

Barry Tanenbaum, in Card Player magazine column, July 2, 2008 (Vol. 21, #13), p. 109.

When you play for a living, you inevitably will encounter losing streaks. They can become a problem if you cannot respond properly. It takes an unusually tough player to lose several days in a row, show up for work the next day, have his pocket kings rivered in the first hour, and still be able to play his best game. If you cannot do this, your hourly rate will be devastated several times per year.

Poker gems, #144

John Vorhaus, in Card Player magazine, July 2, 2008 (Vol. 21, #13), p. 110.

No matter where we are in our poker [progress], the first thing we must do is acknowledge that we're much closer to the beginning than to the end, because the beginning is well-defined, but the end remains, like the end of the rainbow, always out of reach. That's no problem, nor any cause for dismay, for, as Robert Browning said, "A man's reach should exceed his grasp. Or what's a heaven for?" But if we think we have the game sorted, we're doomed, for, as someone other than Robert Browning said, "If you're not slowly getting better, you're slowly getting worse."

Poker gems, #143

Benny Binion, in 1973, on the future of the World Series of Poker, as quoted by James McManus in Card Player magazine, July 2, 2008 (Vol. 21, #13), p. 104:

We had seven players last year, and this year we had 13. I look to have better than 20 next year. It's even liable to get up to be 50, might get up to be more than that.

A software bleg

From the Urban Dictionary:

5. bleg
A noun or verb; an appeal for thoughts or more to readers of one's blog. A combination of blog + beg.

I have done very little blegging herein, but I think this is an appropriate opportunity.

I'm thinking about buying either Poker Tracker 3 or Poker Office. I have Poker Tracker 2, but find it pretty cumbersome to use. Version 3 is supposedly an improvement, but it's hard to know exactly how much better it is from their ads.

So this is an appeal for readers who have used one or both of these packages (or others, if there are comparable products that I'm not aware of) to post mini-reviews in the comments section and/or pointers to really good comparison reviews found elsewhere on the web (I haven't run across any yet, sadly).

Given my recent propensity for razz and HORSE, an important feature for me would be the extent to which the apps are flexible enough to record and analyze data from those games as well as hold'em.

An odd observation about Las Vegas

Today I walked the three blocks to the post office to mail a package, then on the way back home stopped at the deli across the street from my apartment building to buy a delicious turkey-bacon sub for my lunch.

The short jaunt reminded me of one of the peculiar things about Las Vegas: Compared to everyplace else I've ever lived, people here are unusually deferential to the "walk" and "don't walk" signs. Whether the traffic light is red or green, if the "don't walk" sign is lit, people will just stop and wait, even if there are no cars for blocks in any direction! If they arrive as the "don't walk" is just beginning, they'll patiently stand there through the rest of that green, then through the entire red, and only cross the street when they get the "walk" signal again. You can see large masses of people doing this, with none of them breaking out of the herd, when none of them would be in even the smallest degree of danger by violating the command from Big Brother.

Me? Well, maybe it comes from having grown up in a university-dominated town, where anarchy reigned, but my philosophy about it is that they haven't yet invented a set of traffic signs that can determine when it is safe to cross better than I can. Until they do, I'll rely on my own senses. Sometimes that means not walking when I'm being told it's OK (because of, say, a left-turner that is ignoring the presence of pedestrians), and sometimes that means walking when it tells me not to (because waiting would be an act of futility, a deference to authority with no useful purpose).

My experience is that if I set the precedent by going against the light, a few stragglers will recover from their momentary shock and follow me across, but the majority will stay back on the curb, awaiting instructions from the lights.

The above is true for most areas of the city. It does not apply to the Strip, where pedestrians, in the places where they are not forced onto overhead crosswalks and therefore still compete for the same space as the cars, use their massive numbers to clog up any intersection they can, for as long as they can get away with it.

As for the rest of the city, though, I still haven't figured out what has induced this mass yielding of the will to the automated signs. I've never seen it before.

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens

OK, maybe I've still got too many Sound of Music echoes bouncing around in my head, but the title of this post alludes to the fact that today I watched both the Monday and Tuesday episodes of this week's new "Poker After Dark" (available here) and got to experience what is indeed one of my very "favorite things" in poker: watching Phil Hellmuth lose. (The photo of him above is selected because it's one of the few in which he's not sporting that blecch-inducing UB logo.) This week's PAD is a cash game, a departure from their usual format.

First, it was amusing to see him seated next to Tom Dwan, acting as if Dwan is his new best friend. This was apparently taped after the heads-up championship, because one of the other players asks something like, "Weren't you two supposed to play a heads-up cash game?" That's a challenge that was (sort of) issued and accepted when Dwan busted Hellmuth with a bad beat at the Caesars event.

In Monday's episode, Hellmuth raised with suited K-5, and Allen Cunningham called with 6-6. The flop was 5-6-X. Hellmuth bet, Cunningham raised with his set. Hellmuth goes into a rant about how he had predicted for the cameras that this exact scenario would come up: that he would get Cunningham to put all his money in drawing nearly dead. Oh yeah, great read there, Phil! LOL!

But things got even better on Tuesday. First, Hellmuth picked up suited A-K and appropriately put in a substantial reraise from one of the blinds. His opponent, an amateur I had never heard of before, called with Q-10 offsuit. The flop came king-high, but Hellmuth, following his usual idiotic habit when he is playing out of position, had checked in the dark, so he couldn't bet his top pair/top kicker. The other guy checked, too. But even more stupidly, Hellmuth checked again on a fairly non-scary turn card, and his opponent, who had now picked up a straight draw, checked behind. The river completed his opponent's straight. Hellmuth checked again, then called when the other guy bet about $12,000.

Predictably, rather than kicking himself for misplaying the hand about as badly as can be done, Phil berated his opponent for the preflop call. He then spent several minutes congratulating himself on having lost the minimum on the hand! Uh, no, Phil--you should have won it, and probably would have if you had bet on either the turn or the river. Aren't "eagle" types supposed to be bold and fearless about their strong hands? You played it like a mouse. (For those among my readers who don't know, Hellmuth's book, Play Poker Like the Pros, famously categorizes poker players into animal types: the mouse, the jackal, the elephant, the lion, and the eagle.) I was glad to hear the commentator, Ali Nejad, say "Phil has nobody to blame but himself" for the loss. That fact was obvious to everybody except Phil.

Next, Hellmuth gets stacked off when he finds himself on the bad end of a set-over-set situation with Cunningham, fives versus tens. He shoves it all in and, of course, gets called. He is 100% certain that he trapped Cunningham for all the marbles--until he sees the cards. It's a priceless moment.

Now he's well and truly steaming, and rebuys for another $100,000. (At least this time he pulled it out of a very nice black leather satchel, unlike the laughable plastic grocery bag in which he was carrying his money when he showed up on the second season of "High Stakes Poker.") He runs some junk hand (can't remember the details) into Mike Baxter's K-K. Hellmuth hits top pair, but is behind all the way, and loses a bunch more money. Again, rather than berating himself for overplaying his mediocre hand, he latches onto the fact that Baxter took maybe two seconds longer than he really needed to to turn over his cards after being called on the river, and launches into a several-minute tirade about being slow-rolled. I don't think this fit any reasonable definition of a sl0w-roll. When Baxter got called, he very likely thought that Hellmuth would only call him with a hand that had him beat. He even grimaced a bit, which I interpret to be him thinking that he must have lost. He really hesitated only a second, and I got absolutely no sense that he was doing it to prolong the losing opponent's anticipation (which I think is the essence of the slow-roll). Baxter was very classy about it, though, and apologized for the perceived infraction of etiquette, in order to smooth things over with Phil. (And maybe just to shut him up.)

Speaking of classy, I have been highly impressed by Tom Dwan so far. Other than the NBC heads-up match, this is the first time, I think, that I've seen him play on television. The guy seems to have a phenomenal poker sense, knowing when to apply pressure and when to back off. He has played nearly flawlessly in the first two hours, and is the big winner up to this point. Some of that is because of good luck, for example, flopping the nuts when his opponent flopped the second nuts, but I think he squeezed every single chip out of the guy that he could have, which takes a great feel for the game.

Just as impressive, though, is how he held his tongue with respect to Hellmuth. Before Phil mucked his A-K in his misplayed hand, he flashed them to Dwan. Dwan could easily have engaged Phil in a debate about how badly he had played it, but he just said, "No comment." I think it was clear from his facial expression that he know Phil had completely bungled the situation, and he certainly owed Phil a needle or two from their heads-up encounter. But he didn't take the shot, just kept it to himself. Smart and classy, both.

Three more days of watching Phil Hellmuth lose his money--it's like a brown paper package tied up with strings!


It just occurred to me to check what Phil's book says about playing A-K when you flop an ace or a king to go along with it. Here it is, p. 52: "You bet, raise, and reraise quite a bit because you have hit 'top pair' with 'top kicker.' In every case where an A or a K hits the flop you will have top pair with top kicker (A-A-K or A-K-K), and this is a very strong hand in Hold'em! ... The point I'm trying to make is that A-K becomes very powerful when you catch an A or a K on the flop, and you should put in a lot of betting and raising on the flop when this is the case." (Emphasis added.)

Of course, this is in the "Beginners' Strategy" section. Probably in the "Advanced Strategy only to be attempted by Eagle players" section, it says, "Check it down until your opponent makes a straight, then call him."

Me and the Full Tilt boys

Watched the above game for a while this evening. Fun to see $600,000 being kicked around. The waiting list was John Juanda and John D'Agostino.

I almost clicked on that "join waiting list" button, but, y'know, these guys are close personal friends of mine, and they need the money more than I do, and I really couldn't soft-play them ethically, so I'd have to bust them all, and, well, I just wouldn't have felt right about that. So I let them have their little game to themselves.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Shopping spree!

I got an email from PokerStars today:

Dear Rakewell1,

Congratulations! You have achieved SilverStar VIP status.

Your VIP level lasts for the rest of this month and all of next

This entitles you to the following rewards:

Naturally, at this point in reading the letter, I just assume that they're about to tell me that I've earned myself a new Porsche, like Dario Miniero did. After all, I've had a $0.50/$1 or $1/$2 razz game on in the background for, like, a couple of hours a day, on average, for a couple of months now. It can't take much more than that, can it? And "Silver Star VIP"--that's got to be super-duper high in their rankings, right?

No such luck. It's actually their second-lowest rewards level. And they're just giving me some lame stuff.

No Porsche.


But I took the occasion to check my Frequent Player Points status, which I've actually never done before. I had absolutely no idea how many I had accumulated, or what I could get with them. Turns out I had about 5200 of them little suckers in my account. So I went on a little PokerStars shopping spree.

I ordered Daniel Negreanu's new book about small-ball strategy, a black hoodie PokerStars sweatshirt, and a tan PokerStars hat. (Now I'll fit right in at the Palms, about this time next year.) All for FREE! (Well, sort of.) Still have about 200 points left, so maybe I'll enter one or two of the freeroll tournaments mentioned in the email.

As I looked around the FAQ section of the PokerStars site, trying to figure out what I had earned and what I could do with the point, I learned a couple of things:

The good news is that I only have to earn about another 995,000 points by the end of the year to attain "Supernova Elite" status, their highest rewards level.

The bad news is that even that would only be about a third of what it takes to get me that new Porsche.

Monday, July 14, 2008

What's Vegas really like?

Nobody can tell it like VegasRex can. See his excellent rant here.

Last Black Standing

OK, you might as well fire up the ol' word processors and get ready to start writing the hate mail over this one.

The man pictured above, Michael Carroll, was just eliminated from the Main Event of the 2008 World Series of Poker in 27th place, the first knockout of Day 7, on which the final three tables will be reduced to the Final Table.

He was the Last Black Standing.

Why does that matter? It doesn't. But neither does it matter that Tiffany Michelle is the Last Woman Standing, yet that fact has received oodles of attention from the media. (Her name is apparently really Tiffany Michelle Graham. I assume that "Tiffany Michelle" is sort of a stage name she adopted. Since that's the name under which she entered the tournament, I'll use it here.) On the PokerNews live feeds over the past couple of days, several times a day they would throw in a post about how many female players were left, as if this fact were somehow meaningful. They never once did a post about how many black people were left in it.

Being black is exactly as relevant to one's poker playing as is being female. So why does one immutable characteristic get lavish attention and the other none at all? I don't pretend to know the answer to that. I only know that it's both silly and wrong that so many people care so deeply about whether poker players have two X chromosomes or only one. It is my own form of mini-retaliation (and spoofing) to point out that Mr. Carroll--about whom I know nothing, by the way--is just as deserving of media attention for having more melanin than any of the remaining players as Ms. Michelle is for having ovaries instead of testicles.

Yes, women are statistically under-represented at poker tables generally and in big poker tournaments specifically. But that is true of black people, too, so that fact does not constitute a rational justification for paying attention to one group but not the other.

If you privately are glad to see that a black person will not win the Main Event this year, then you are obviously a racist. Of course, if you are upset about the fact that a black person will not win the Main Event this year, then that makes you a racist, too. Similarly, if you hope that Michelle is eliminated because for whatever reason you can't stand the idea of a woman winning, you are sexist. And, in parallel, if you were rooting for her to win solely because of her gender, that, too, makes you sexist. It's all the same. If you favor or disfavor a person because of race, you're a racist. If you favor or disfavor a person because of sex, you're a sexist. You're a bigot either way.

One of the great things about poker is that it simply doesn't matter whether you're male or female, black, white, Hispanic, or Asian, young or old, tall or short, skinny or fat, physically handicapped or a perfect specimen of humanity. Not only is the game equally open to all, but none of those characteristics intrinsically impact one's ability to learn and succeed at the game.

Frankly, I find the attention heaped on female players in the spotlight demeaning to women. Every time there is attention lavished on a female player specifically because she is female, there is at least a vague undertone that she merits the attention because she's doing something one would tend to think she shouldn't be able to do, like a pig learning to play a Brahms piano concerto.

What would be most genuinely respectful of women, in my never-humble opinion, is silently accepting, as a simple matter of fact--so obvious that it's not even worth mentioning, let alone dwelling on--that women are just as capable of playing the game as men are.

To the media outlets and bloggers who focus on the Last Woman Standing, but completely disregard the Last Black Standing, I ask you to justify why you deem one worthy of your attention but not the other. Can you do it?

Incidentally, I have no specific hopes for who wins it all this year. All of the players I was hoping to make it fell by the wayside yesterday. (Fortunately, so did all of the ones at whose success I would have been nauseated.) I certainly don't care about the sex, race, or age of the winner. My only hope is that it's somebody who is a genuinely skilled player (unlike, say, Jerry Yang), and somebody who will not be an embarrassment to the game, as I consider several past champions to be (including Russ Hamilton, Phil Hellmuth, Jamie Gold, and Jerry Yang, though all for very different reasons).

Addendum, July 14, 2008

Here's a sampling of some of the giddy, giggly, breathless, brainless rhetoric that is being spewed on Michelle's performance solely because of her sex:

On the blog of "TinaB": "Women poker players all over the world are watching Tiffany make World Series of Poker history today!"

From commenter "sdjennifer" on the same post: "Gotta love a stong, skilled woman making it this far and hopefully all the way! ... Go Tiffany!"

From blogger "aviganola": "BTW - Tiffany Michelle is the last woman standing in the WSOP Main Event right now. They are down to 27, would love to see her make the last 9. Go Tiffany!!"

From Snuffy: "This could be the greatest thing in poker history. Bigger than Chris Moneymaker."

From the pokerdonkeysblog: "However Poker Donkeys! has found a player among the chip leaders that we believe could win it all. Tiffany "HOTCHIPS" Michelle! That's right, the only girl in the bunch is not only one heck of a player but she's also HOT! Poker Donkeys! fully supports "Hot Chips" on her way to winning the WSOP 2008. You go girl!"

From "liveplayer": "Poker can use a new ENERGY and this lady looks like she might make it happen! The writers all of the web - covering the event this year are LOVING the story behind this gal... I WISH nothing but the best for Tiffany Michelle - I'm behind her all the way! You go GIRL!"

From pablosplace: "I'll probably now be pulling for any American, but specifically, I'd like to see Tiffany "Hot Chips" Michelle, the lone female, make a deep run."

From albiezushi: "Over $9mil goes to this year's winner and I really hope that the only girl left in the event wins as that would be HUGE news--for not just the poker world but for the general media as well. It'd be great for poker and hey, she's not bad looking either...GO TIFFANY MICHELLE!"

From $mokkee: "Who isn’t rooting for her at this point?"

From Gaming Alerts: "There’s no telling what would happen to the poker world if a woman won the tournament, but many in the industry are excited by the prospect and believe it would be a positive for the game."

Jeffrey Pollack, Commissioner of the WSOP, as quoted in the Gaming Alerts piece: "If a woman made the final table...that would be terrific. And if a woman won, that would be terrific."

Hmmm. So, Mr. Pollack, I take it you think that a man winning would not be terrific. Either that, or your point is the rather idiotic, "It would be terrific if a man won and it would be terrific if a woman won." Please explain whether your point is the idiotic one, or the one in which you think it would, for some reason, not be "terrific" for a male to win.

I wonder if these people stop to consider that when they say they want Michelle to win because she is female, they are simulataneously telling the other 26 of today's contestants, "I don't want you to win, because you're a male." That is not one bit different than walking up to Michael Carroll and saying, "I'd glad you busted out. I wouldn't want you to win, because you're black."

On the other hand, I rather liked this thoughtful commentary from a blogger calling herself "sarawaraclara." My only disagreement is that rather than complain that her raises get insufficient respect because she is a female, she should relish that error on the part of apparently sexist male opponents, and learn to exploit it.

Controversy at the WPT

Hey, it's not a WSOP story for a change!

There's a World Poker Tour event going on at the Bellagio, and a bit of a controversy came up Friday between Barry Greenstein and David Williams. This is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, it's rare that Greenstein gets involved in a dispute of any sort. Second, it's rare for the events underlying a tournament dispute to be caught on camera.

You can read the blog post and watch the video of the incident and the floor decision here. (Caveat: That URL may not be stable as they add more pages of posts to this event, and there doesn't seem to be any way to point you to the specific post. You're looking for a post titled "Floor to Table 61," so if you don't see it on this page, you may have to move forward or back a couple of pages to find it.)

A few thoughts:

First, it's good to see that Greenstein, true to form and true to how he describes himself in his book, remains calm and rational through the whole thing. He never apologizes (since he believes he didn't do anything wrong), but also never gets accusatory towards Williams, as he easily could have ("Hey, pal, my chips were right here, it's your own fault for not asking for a count!"). Williams, on the other hand, is agitated and even drops an f-bomb on the floor guy, which isn't the best way to sway a decision in your favor.

Second, I think Greenstein's explanation fits perfectly with what we observe. He seems to be recounting things both subjectively and objectively accurately.

Williams, on the other hand, I'm not sure is being completely forthright. He says that he wouldn't have called if he had known the correct amount. Well, in the first place, he never called anything. He raised both times the action came to him. He moved all in, and Greenstein called him. Maybe he just got flustered, but he is definitely not describing what occurred accurately.

More significantly, though, he claims that he would not have "called" (or, presumably, moved all in) if he had known Greenstein's stack size. This seems implausible to me. The discrepancy is only one 10,000 chip, so, essentially, whether Greenstein had about 50,000 or about 60,000. There's nearly 60,000 in the pot when Williams shoves. At that point he allegedly thought that Greenstein had only another 15,000 left, and is trying to assert that if he had known that Greenstein actually had 25,000, he would have done something different. What, folded? The notoriously aggressive and willing-to-gamble David Williams folding pocket jacks preflop in that situation strikes me as pretty dubious. And what if he had just called? The flop came 10-7-2, so he definitely would have either pushed all in or called Greenstein's all-in bet after the flop anyway, with the same result.

Williams had to know that Greenstein was absolutely pot-committed. Greenstein had raised to 35,000, so whether he had another 15,000 or 25,000 left, either way Williams had to know that Greenstein was not only willing but probably eager to get it all in. Williams had no fold equity. So when Williams had his decision to make, he thought he would be putting in about 23,500 (to call Greenstein's raise) plus 15,000 (to put Greenstein all in), or a total of 38,500 to try to win the 60,000 already in the pot plus the additional 15,000 that he figured Greenstein had behind, or a total of 75,000, for pot odds of about 1.95:1. The actual situation is that he had to put in 48,500 to win 60,000 + 25,000, for pot odds of about 1.75:1.

In other words, I think Williams was either lying or just hadn't fully thought out the situation when he claimed that he would have done something different. (He doesn't specify what different action he would have taken, but as I said before, if he just calls Greenstein's raise at that point, all the money is going in anyway when the flop comes out; folding would have been smart, but out of character for Williams.) I refuse to believe that he would have been willing to commit that much money when being offered 1.95:1, but not when being offered 1.75:1. With pocket jacks against two opponents, both out of position and both clearly willing to shove it all in, that's just asking for trouble. It was a bad move on Williams's part, just about any way you analyze it, and failing to ascertain in advance exactly how many chips he was putting up was really just a minor part of his overall problem in that spot.

Frankly, Williams's trouble began with his outlandishly sized reraise. We don't know what the blinds and antes were at this point, but we are told that the first player raised to 1475 as the opening action. Williams reraised him to 11,500, a nearly 8-fold raise! That's just silly. It's one of those raises that will only get called (or, in this instance, reraised) if he's beat. Yes, of course he was trying to isolate the original raiser, perhaps sizing his bet to be about what that player appeared to have left. But if so, it was a serious error, not taking into account that there were two players yet to act between him and his target (the blinds). Had he raised to only, say, 5000, then it might have been easier to at least stop and think about getting away from the hand when (1) Greenstein came charging over the top of him, from out of position, with the third raise, and (2) the player under the gun pushed all in. That would tend to tell me, were I in Williams's position, that J-J might be in deep doo-doo.

I think the floor decision was the correct one. There was not even an accusation, really, that Greenstein had tried to hide high-denomination chips. And Williams didn't take the simple precaution of asking for a count of Greenstein's chips before pushing. He could even have just asked Greenstein to move his hands to get a clearer view, and that would have done it. In fact, I suspect that if he had done that, so that Greenstein knew he was contemplating an all-in, Greenstein would have accommodated him and counted (or at least estimated) his remaining stack. Greenstein's bet of over half of his stack was obviously a signal to Williams that he wanted to get it all in, and he would be happy to help Williams realize that he didn't have much left behind.

The UltimateBlecch mess gets uglier and uglier

I was going to do a long, complicated post about the last several days' worth of revelations about UltimateBet, but it's just too much. Instead, I'll just point you to this Pokerati post, which, combined with the comments readers have submitted about it there, will take you to where you can read about it in as much depth and detail as you care to. You might want to put on plenty of scum repellant before wading through it.

I listened to Annie Duke's interview from July 10 on PokerRoad Radio, available here. A bunch of random reactions to it:

She says that Eric "Rizen" Lynch's main concern that caused him to terminate his relationship with UB was the impending national exposure from "60 Minutes."

Most of what she said was basically a repeat of what she had said in the PokerNews interview on which I commented extensively a couple of weeks ago. She doesn't come any closer to addressing the concerns I wrote about there.

She added some technical detail about how the cheating was accomplished that went beyond what I had heard before, though that may simply be because I hadn't read deeply enough in the right places. She insists that it was not a superuser account. Rather, it was software installed on the culprit's server that allowed him to pluck the hole-card information from the data stream. I guess the distinction is that it was not a specific account with special privileges, but rather software that was separate from the UB system and could therefore be used by anybody, regardless of what account they were using on UB. Doesn't seem like a particularly important distinction to me.

In her PokerNews interview, she was careful to say that she didn't know if it was one person or more, but throughout this interview she refers to the culprit in the singular, repeatedly and without ambiguity.

She mentioned that James Campbell is one of the new pro members of the UB team. I had missed this announcement. You can read the press release here, if you want to, though I'm not sure why you would. It laughably claims that Campbell is one of the most "revered" online players. What rot. I think I've heard of him before, but I'm not completely sure. Anybody care to admit that they "revere" him? Anybody? Anybody?

She also mentioned that a couple more pros' signing will be announced in about two weeks, and then a couple more some unspecified time after that.

She says that the insider (or former insider) that has over the last several days leaked information detailing additional corrupt accounts and some big industry names linked to those accounts (see the Pokerati link to get to all the details) is somebody who has tried to blackmail UB. This is apparently an attempt to discredit him. And of course, if that accusation is true, it speaks badly of the character of the mole. But ironically, it might add credibility to his information (although the evidence that his information is good is already quite strong), a point that Duke fails to mention. After all, one usually doesn't attempt to blackmail with false, readily disprovable information. The blackmail allegation also tends to make me think that there is yet more mudslinging to come, with the recent public leaks just the first shot across the bow, perhaps in another attempt to get UB to pay the hush money in order to keep the rest of what this Deep Throat knows quiet.

There was more, but not too important, and I feel too slimy about the whole thing to keep writing.


Sunday, July 13, 2008

Shenanigans at the WSOP

Posts from the live bloggers at PokerNews, which need to be read in order. First, from last night:

Hellmuth Ends the Day With a Blow-up

Cristian Dragomir opened with a raise to 80,000 before Hellmuth made it
255,000 to go from the small blind.

"I hope he doesn't have aces," said Hellmuth as Dragomir asked for a count.
After a few moments, Dragomir made the call.

They saw a flop of 9c-10c-7s and Hellmuth checked to Dragomir, who thought
for a moment before firing a healthy bet of 300,000. Hellmuth sighed in disgust
before folding As-Kh face-up on the table.

Matusow laughed and said to Dragomir to show the bluff, and Dragomir
flipped 10d-4d! Matusow and the crowd roared in hysterics as Hellmuth jumped out
of his seat and stormed around the room berating his opponent for calling his
reraise with ten high.

"Listen buddy, you're an idiot!" screamed Hellmuth. "This is the Main Event
and you are the worst player in history!" he continued as the crowd was loving
every moment of the blow-up.

Dragomir's entourage continued to cheer as Hellmuth continued the barrage.
The TD stepped in and issued a warning to Hellmuth to settle down before
Dragomir stood up out of his chair to put Hellmuth back in his place with a cry
of, "Enough is enough!"

Fortunately for both players the clock ticked over to the end of the level,
and the end of the day's play to settle both players down. They eventually shook
hands and began to bag up their chips as Mike Matusow summed up the situation
best as he shouted, "Thank God for Phil Hellmuth! Thank God for Chris

What a way to end the day!

Extra! Extra! Hellmuth Starts Day 6 in the Penalty Box

Everyone thought Phil Hellmuth ended the day just with a blow-up and a
warning, but that's not the case. He continued to berate Cristian Dragomir for
several minutes after the last hand we described and after floorperson Robbie
Thompson issued him a warning. That prompted Thompson to summon supervisor Steve
Frezer to the feature table. Frezer listened to Thompson's description of the
situation and then assessed Hellmuth a one-orbit penalty to start Day 6.

Never a dull moment when Hellmuth's around.

Then we move to the action early today:

Sitting This One Out

As we reported just prior to the conclusion of last night's play, Phil
Hellmuth will be serving a one-orbit penalty and sitting out the first nine
hands of play. With the blinds and antes where they are, this time-out will cost
Hellmuth a total of 81,000 chips, or roughly 11% of his total stack.

It should come as no suprise that Hellmuth starts Day 6 back at the main
ESPN featured table on the Milwaukee's Best Light stage. With just moments until
the cards are in the air, the other eight players have arrived, unbagged their
chips, and have been mic'd up by the crew, but "The Poker Brat" is nowhere in

Off the Hook

Just before the announcement of "shuffle up and deal," Hellmuth
strolled into the tournament area and took his seat. He was dealt into the first
hand which he raised from under the gun, winning the blinds and antes.

When a floor supervisor was asked about the alleged one-round penalty
Hellmuth was to serve, a reply of "it's been overruled" was given.

Phil Hellmuth's One-Orbit Penalty Overturned

Many people were surprised when Phil Hellmuth sat down at the ESPN
Featured Table and played the first hand of the day after receiving a one-round
penalty for his behavior during the final hand of play last night.

When asked why Hellmuth was not sitting out, WSOP Commissioner Jeffrey
Pollack told us, "The penalty has been overturned, and we will be issuing a
formal statement shortly."

Stay tuned for more on this development.

Official Statement from the WSOP on Phil Hellmuth's Penalty

The following statement was just released by the World Series of Poker
regarding Phil Hellmuth's penalty, which was overturned at the start of play

"This morning Phil Hellmuth met with Jack Effel, WSOP Tournament Director,
Howard Greenbaum, Harrah's Regional Vice President for Specialty Gaming, and
Jeffrey Pollack, Commissioner of the WSOP. Based on that meeting and an official
review of the situation, it was decided that the penalty imposed on Mr. Hellmuth
at the conclusion of play last night was excessive."

"Warnings and penalties are intended to correct inappropriate behavior and
our rulings should be as fair as possible, given the circumstances," said
Pollack. "In this instance, the punishment did not fit the crime."

"Phil has now been warned and put on notice in a way that he never has
been," Pollack added.

This has "shenanigans" written all over it.

First, if you're Joe Ordinary Player who got assigned a penalty, could you even get a meeting with the people named in the WSOP press release? I doubt it. If asked, they would now probably say that of course they would give the same consideration to anybody similarly situated. But only a fool would believe that. It's simply not plausible. My guess is that you have to have a poker agent and/or attorney with insider connections to even be able to get a phone call returned from those guys.

Second, what the hell is the "Harrah's Regional Vice President for Specialty Gaming" doing in that meeting? When did he become part of the tournament staff in charge of enforcement of tournament rules? Answer: Never. He's not. The WSOP's own rules for 2008 specify, at #98: "The Tournament Supervisor's, or highest authority in the room, decision is final." Doesn't mention that the "Harrah's Regional Vice President for Specialty Gaming" gets involved. Maybe "final" means "subject to us changing our minds later if we fear that television revenue might drop as a result of the previously not-really-final decision." Maybe it depends on what the meaning of the word "is" is.

The obvious and pretty much inescapable conclusion from his meddling in this mess is that the primary question they had under consideration was not "What is fair?" or "What do the rules say?" or "What is the right thing to do here?" or "How have we treated other players with similar outbursts?" but rather "What is best for Harrah's?" What they clearly decided was best for Harrah's was to minimize the chance that Hellmuth would be eliminated from the tournament before reaching the final table, as he would be a big draw for TV ratings.

Third, how is it, exactly, that screaming (assuming that PN is reporting accurately here) to one's opponent that he is an idiot and the worst player in history is not deserving of a one-round sit-out, which is the mildest penalty they have to impose? WSOP 2008 Rule 35 reads, in relevant part, "Any player who directs any profane and/or abusive language at another player, dealer or tournament staff member or who makes any profane and/or abusive comments about another player, dealer or tournament staff member will be penalized in accordance with Rules No. 31 and/or 51." Note the word "will" there. Not "may be penalized," but "will be penalized." It is mandatory. We have to conclude, then, that in the opinion of the highest WSOP brass, screaming that your opponent is an idiot and the worst player in poker somehow does not constitute "abusive language" or "abusive comments." I'd love to hear them explain that.

Finally, what's this business about Hellmuth now being on notice? Is there anybody in the poker world who had already had more warnings, or had more behavioral penalties imposed than Phil Hellmuth? Are we seriously to believe that the WSOP directors concluded that maybe he just didn't know what the rules were, or what proper conduct required, and thus was deserving of just a warning instead of an actual penalty. What complete bullshit.

This is not the only way in which Hellmuth has been placed above the WSOP rules. As documented by California Jen at Pokerati here, Hellmuth alone was given a pass for the huge UltimateBet logo on his shirt that clearly exceeded the explicit tournament rules.

This is reminiscent of the apparently special treatment given Scotty Nguyen earlier in the series.

Shenanigans. Low, scummy, rotten, unfair, favoritism shenanigans, coming from the highest levels of authority at the WSOP.

Addendum, July 13, 2008

My habit during the WSOP has been to read the previous day's Tao of Pauly blog each morning. Following that pattern, I just now found what he wrote about the incident yesterday:
The Hellmuth saga continues...

I got confirmation that Hellmuth's appeal was based on two things...

1. It was an act for ESPN cameras.

2. He said that although he was given a warning many times before, it was
always an idle threat and nothing every happened beyond that warning. He felt as
though the timing of the penalty and that the lack of enforcement of previous
warning was also justification for it to be overruled.

Jeffrey Pollack will be issuing a statement shortly.

I think it's bullshit about the reversal on the original ruling made by
Steve Frezer. One orbit? It was peanuts. Hellmuth should have taken it like a
man. And Harrah's should not have gotten involved. Why stir the pot on such a
minor thing in an almost flawless WSOP main event? Talk about stepping in
dogshit one block before you walk into church.

Harrah's dropped the ball there. Double standard? Hell yes. If that
incident did not have a named pro or a celebrity like Hellmuth involved, the
obnoxious out of line player would have been tossed much earlier. Guys like
Scotty Nguyen and Hellmuth get away with being jackoffs for the cameras. By not
enforcing the "excessive celebration" rule which they added this year, Harrah's
is abiding by a double standard. They are pretty much saying that it's perfectly
OK to do what you want. Act like an ass. As long as it is for the entertainment
As usual, Pauly both adds information not available elsewhere and nails the commentary.

It's not cheating, just uncouth--and maybe not even that

I've gotten behind on my Pokerati reading, trying to catch up today. The above photo (and two more nearly identical to it) accompanied this post from a few days ago:

Attempted Cheater Caught on Tape

These shots were taken on Day 2 [of the World Series of Poker Main Event],
and they show the player sitting to Pat Poels’ left trying to sneak a peak at
his hole cards. I told Pat about this, btw, and like Tommy Grand or Joey Greco,
I showed him the surveillance footage of the disappointing truth.

“It’s better that you know,” I told him.

But Pat reassured me that it’s OK, his opponent didn’t see anything,
because “I’m very good at looking at my cards,” he said with a straight face as
if he were being totally serious about a practiced skill. “Just ask Robert, he’s
told me before when trying to sweat me he can’t see my cards.”

Pat is currently on break in Day 4 of the main event — 450k in chips with
350 players remaining, one of whom is not the guy at right.

Posted by DanM at 4:04 pm

I have some problems with this.

First, I'm guessing that the phrase "surveillance footage" is tongue in cheek. I assume that DanM doesn't have access to actual Rio surveillance cameras. I also doubt that the Rio has any of its security cameras situated at an angle that low.

Second, even if we assume that the guy pictured is attempting to sneak a peek at Pat Poels's hole cards, that is not cheating (a point which, the instant post's headline notwithstanding, DanM conceded in a follow-up post the next day). I think it's scummy, and I do just about anything I reasonably can do to avoid the situation (as I've detailed here), but it's not cheating.

Third, I don't think it's at all clear that the man pictured is attempting to look at another player's card. Sure, that's possible, but it's also possible that his gaze is actually somewhere else, for example, watching the hands of the player to Poels's right. I tend to watch other players' hands much more than their faces. This is for several reasons: (1) I think that hands give off as much information as faces do, and maybe more. (2) It's less confrontational than looking at others right in the eye. (3) It's a lot easier to follow the action and know when it's my turn by watching the movement of chips and cards.

This practice of mine means that if the player to my right, or the one two to my right, has a habit of not looking at his hole cards until it's his turn to act (a common thing), then I'm nearly always going to be looking right there while he's checking his cards. It might appear that I'm trying to sneak a peek, but either these players are ones who already know how to block views--intentional or otherwise--or it's a problem that I've already dealt with. In other words, if looking at his hands is giving me a look at his cards, I'll handle that in some manner. In fact, when it's an issue, I usually explain to the player that I have to be looking right there so that I know when he has acted and it is my turn.

All of which is a long way of saying that the guy in the photo could be completely innocent, doing exactly what he's supposed to be doing in order to follow the bets and folds. I therefore disapprove of the rush to judgment, as if something nefarious is the only possible explanation for where his gaze appears to be. Yeah, maybe he's a low-life cheating scum-sucker, but this photo is awfully weak evidence for such an accusation. I can easily imagine myself being caught in an identical posture, having neither done nor even attempted anything the least bit shady.

This needed to be said

"California Jen" over at Pokerati has a two-part guide to not being rude and/or disgusting in poker rooms, here and here. Go read and obey.