Saturday, August 30, 2008

Hard Rock stories

Home from the Hard Rock. This was one of the occasional sessions that generated a whole bunch of little stories and observations, none of which really deserve separate posts, so I'm lumping them together here.

New chip

I noticed a bunch of copies of the above-pictured chip in circulation tonight. They don't actually say "2008" on them, but I've never seen them before, and they were all obviously brand-spankin' new--clean, perfectly sharp edges, etc.--so must have just been issued this week. Happy Labor Day, all.

Another jackpot hand

I was in the small blind, unraised pot, with the 6 and 9 of clubs. I threw in the extra dollar to see if I might hit something on the flop.

I guess I kinda did. The flop was the 10, 7, and 8 of clubs. (See photo below.) I flopped a straight flush. It has been only 11 days since my previous flopped straight flush. The interval between the first and second ones had been about 16 months, and now less than two weeks!

Unlike the other recent one at Planet Hollywood, this one was not the mortal nuts. It was the best possible hand at the moment, but in theory it could be beaten if an opponent held two parts of a royal flush and hit the remaining two perfect cards to combine with the 10 of clubs on the flop to make a royal flush. I was not too worried about this possibility. I would have bet everything I own and everything I could borrow that my hand would still be best when the board was complete.

I was actually a lot more concerned about getting the pot to the minimum required, after my little fiasco at the Palms a while back, where I forgot about that requirement and the pot was $1 short of what was necessary. At Planet Hollywood, I had two opponents who did the betting for me, but tonight nobody was interested in the pot. Finally somebody made a $5 bet on the turn, and I min-raised him to $10 in order to virtually ensure a call. Whew! That did it. I made another bet on the river, but he folded what had been just a straight draw that missed.

How hard is it to flop a straight flush with a suited 6-9? Well, there are only two specific combinations of cards that will work: the 7-8-10 of the same suit, as I got, or the 5-7-8. With the two hole cards out of the deck, there are 19,600 different flops possible (disregarding what order they come in, since that is irrelevant), as given by the operation C(50,3). So only about one time out of 10,000 that you see a suited 6-9 will you flop a straight flush.

I'll say it yet again: My unlucky streak is definitely over!

The high-hand bonus was reasonably high this time: I got $231 for my display of exceptional poker skill. That's one of the highest I've ever hit--might actually be the highest, since I don't keep track of them, though I have a vague memory of there having been one over $300 a long time ago.

It was a rough poker night otherwise, with almost nothing working out well for me. That extra $231 boost turned what would have been an "L" in my books into a "W," and that would have broken a nice little streak of Ws I have going, so I was doubly grateful for it.

Celebrity recognition

Fairly late in my six-hour session, two guys on vacation together sat down on my immediate left, in seats 2 and 3. I'm not sure what prompted it, but the guy in 3 said to the guy in 2, while pointing to me, "Show him that picture. I'll bet he'll know who it is. He looks like he follows poker." Uh-oh. The pressure was on.

Fortunately, I did indeed recognize the photo on Seat 2's cell phone. It was Jack Ury, the oldest man to play in the World Series of Poker. (I quoted him for a "Poker Gems" entry here.) Turns out that the guy in Seat 2 is Mr. Ury's grandson. (Come to think of it, maybe it's great-grandson. This guy looked to be in his mid-20s, and Jack Ury is 93, so great-grandson would fit the chronology more naturally.)

I hear that the ESPN cameras spent a lot of time at Jack's table again this year, so when their coverage of the Main Event begins Tuesday evening, we may well get to see and hear more of him. That would certainly be more welcome than a lot of the buffoons and jerks and malcontents they tend to highlight.

The Duke has found Hard Rock

I saw "The Duke" at the Hard Rock tonight. I haven't seen him in months.

"The Duke" is a legend in local poker-playing circles. And by "legend" I mean "laughingstock."

If you've ever seen him, you'll know him by description, even if you haven't heard his nickname before. He goes to poker rooms dressed to the nines: Expensive tailored double-breasted suit, a dapper hat, a carnation in his lapel, pencil-thin moustache, tie bar, jewelry, long hair in a neat ponytail. He seems to prefer downtown, but ventures out to the Strip sometimes. I've spotted him at Caesars and a couple of other places in addition to the Golden Nugget and Binion's, which appear to be his main hangouts.

He gravitates toward games with no cap on the buy-in, so that he can pull his trademark stunt: He plops anywhere between $10,000 and $50,000 cash on the table. Mind you, this can even be in a $1-$2 NLHE game, in which it is uncommon to see even a stack of $1000.

The other remarkable thing about his poker room visits is that he doesn't play poker. He dumps his chips and money on the table, then wanders off. I have no idea what he does during these hours, but it isn't poker. He comes back every 30 or 60 minutes to play one hand, thus preserving his seat in the game, then leaves again. I've never yet seen him do anything but fold the one or two hands it takes for him to hold his seat for another block of time, though I've heard stories from others that he does actually play one now and again. When he does, I hear that his main strategy is to grab his bundles of cash and push them in, forcing his opponents to a decision for all of their chips.

True to form, tonight when I looked over at Duke's table, he was there only about one time in ten. I would see him walk in, apparently play a hand, and be walking out of the room again within two minutes, and stay out for long stretches.

His conduct is really terribly rude, because he ties up a seat that all of the other players would want to see occupied by somebody actually engaged in the game. If I ran a poker room, I would crack down on him, and not let him get away with playing just one or two hands an hour.

If there is to be a cluster of name-brand pros playing anywhere in town (e.g., a charity tournament), Duke will be there. He loves to be seen with them and pretend that they are all his friends. Maybe he has fooled himself into thinking that they are.

I used there a key phrase to understanding this odd little man: "be seen." His poker room visits have nothing whatsoever to do with poker, and everything to do with being seen. It's a pretty sick, pathetic personality that invests so much time and effort in that goal.


I also saw another colorful poker character tonight. Marsh is a guy I used to play with regularly at the Hilton, but have only bumped into a couple of times in the year or so since that room closed. He looks like a classic 1960s hippie transported forward in time: long, straggly grey hair, tie-dye shirt, fringed leather jacket, tinted John Lennon glasses, the works. But he's a very cool guy and a decent poker player--always one of my favorites to have at the table.

The most fascinating thing he tends to wear is a t-shirt on which he has imprinted a blown-up version of his actual Nevada driver's license. I've never asked him about it, but it seems apparent that the reason for this is to show off the fact that his real, actual, legal name is "Marsh Mallow." There are some Mallows in the phone book, though Marsh is not listed. I don't know if he was given that name at birth or changed in at some point. If the latter, I don't know why. But he seems awfully proud of it, however it happened.

Hypocrisy abounds

By far the largest pot of the night happened when three deep-stacked players got into a raising war, ending up with all of them getting all in. One started with about $300, the other two each had well over $400. $1100+ pots just don't happen very often in $1-2 games.

The hand actually looked pretty uninteresting before and on the flop. In fact, I can't even tell you exactly what happened, because I wasn't involved and it looked like nothing much was going to be happening. Then on the turn the raises started and, astonishingly, kept coming until all the chips were in.

Player A had K-3. Player C had K-5. The flop had been K-5-3. I think the turn was a 10. The river card gave the pot to Player A when he hit another 3, with all the money already in, to make a full house.

Player A was the shortest stack, so there was a side pot between B and C, which C took. B never showed his cards.

The strange thing, though, was that as soon as he saw his two opponents' hands, Player B started bemoaning how badly they played, going all in with K-3 and K-5. He kept this up, on and off, for at least ten minutes. Yet he never showed his own hand, and when asked what he had had, just replied, "It doesn't matter." There had been two diamonds on board by the turn, and after B left the table our best guess was that he had been on a flush draw, maybe some sort of combined straight and flush draw. He had definitely been the most reluctant to get his chips into the middle.

But still, he apparently couldn't beat Player C's two pair (kings and fives), else he would have shown his cards and claimed the side pot. So he was openly, loudly, and at length chastizing two players for getting their money in with better hands than he had when he called their bets! This was one of the most brazen displays of poker hypocrisy that I've ever witnessed.

He was seriously on tilt. A few hands later, after rebuying for $300, he got felted again. He had a made hand of some sort (I think it was just top pair), and lost when a gambling-type guy hit a flush draw after all the money was in. This put him on Super Duper Ultra Monkey Tilt, which was highly amusing to watch. Unfortunately, right at that point he was granted his wish for a table change, and went elsewhere to spew his chips. Dang! I wanted me some of that action! He left still spouting off about the horrible play, saying that he hoped he would find a table where people actually knew how to play poker.

I don't think I'll ever get tired of observing the crazy personality traits that poker brings out in people.

OK, you can breathe again now

Maybe an hour after that big hand, Player A, now stacked at around $900, tangled with the other big stack at the table--the same one who had earlier hit the flush to felt the hypocrite for the second time--who was sitting on about $700. I don't remember who started the bets and raises, but they went back and forth reraising each other until they were both all in--and we hadn't even seen a flop yet! I'm quite sure I've never seen a $1400 pot before the flop in a $1-2 game.

Well, the reason for the bidding war soon became clear: A-A versus A-A. There was some drama when the flop brought two spades, but that tension was short-lived when the turn card did not follow suit.

Each player made $15 or so on the hand, because of a couple of others who called the first raise before dropping out of the contest. Heck, it was almost worth that much just in entertainment value!

And that was my rather strange night at the Hard Rock.

Friday, August 29, 2008

How do you win a poker tournament?

I'm reading along in the June, 2008, issue of Bluff magazine, Jennifer Tilly's monthly column. She tells the tale of finishing deep in the L.A. Poker Classic, which you can read in full here. Here's how she prepared for Day 5 of that event:

I have been reading a lot of feng shui books lately. According to Asian
tradition, gold increases personal power and diamonds attract wealth. I put on
my Very Large diamond, and my WSOP gold bracelet, and then for good measure
stack more gold bracelets up and down my arm. Around my neck I wear a bear claw
necklace Michael Horse gave me for strength, and turquoise for wisdom. I know I
look goofy, but so what? All poker players are a bit off.

Next I go in the
closet and find my ganesh (remover of obstacles) that I used to put on the
table. Until I decided it made me look weak and retired it. Somewhat
embarrassed, I hide it in my purse. The blinds and antes are really high. I’ll
need to double up almost immediately. Skill alone is not enough at this point.
I’m going to need a heavy dose of luck.

I drive to work admiring my VL
diamond in the sun, and then I suddenly decide to call my sister Meg. Family
lore has it that she possesses supernatural powers. Perhaps if she is aware of
the situation and sending me positive energy, it might be the extra push I need
to get those pocket aces.

Meg is very excited when I tell her what’s going
on. “Wait, Jenny!” she gasps, “I’ll put it on my blog! That way everybody who
reads my blog can help!” She runs out of the room and returns a few minutes later
out of breath. “I did it!” she crows happily. “I told everyone to take a few
minutes out of their day to send good wishes your way and then I included the
link so they can follow along.” I hang up feeling that all that positive energy
will surely translate to one good hand.

Feng shui. Gold to bring power. Diamonds to attract wealth. Bear claw for strength. Turquoise for wisdom. A Hindu deity to remove obstacles. A sister's supernatural powers. Anonymous blog readers sending positive mental energy.

Tell me this. If you were a member of Congress, and Jennifer Tilly visited you to convince you about the need for laws to treat poker differently from other forms of gambling because poker is a game of skill, wouldn't you just point to her own words here, and then laugh her out of your office?

If you were an attorney trying a case involving an ambiguous state law, and the case turned on the judge finding that poker is primarily a game of skill, would you want that judge to have read this article?

I've read many different books full of advice on winning poker tournaments, but not one of them mentioned gold, diamonds, bear claws, turquoise, ganeshes, magical siblings, or infusions of mental energy from distant strangers. Does Jennifer Tilly really know things that have escaped (or at least not been revealed by) Dan Harrington, Arnold Snyder, Tom McEvoy, T. J. Cloutier, Gus Hansen, the whole Full Tilt crew, etc.?

Newest poker room in town: Eastside Cannery

I stopped at the Eastside Cannery late this afternoon for its opening day, not realizing that it didn't open until 8:00 p.m. That's why I ended up going on down the road to Sunset Station to see their new digs. (See immediately preceding post.) I had my good camera with me, and took a few daylight photos of the exterior before I left.

Coming back a little after 8:00 was insane. I've seen traffic jams on the Strip and on the freeways around town, but never before on Boulder Highway. I had no idea the opening would be this big. There was no parking open anywhere. People were parking at any business within half a mile and walking back, and the masses of pedestrians were causing gridlock, as they used to do all the time on the Strip, before the elevated crosswalks were installed. It took about 20 minutes to advance 100 yards or so to the same road leading to the self-parking lot that I had used earlier in the day. When I got there, I aborted. I could see that it was bumper to bumper all the way in, and all the way out, too. Since people couldn't possibly be leaving after having had their fill of the new casino (it having been open for less than 30 minutes at this point), that could only mean that turning down that road would mean inching forward, only to either get turned away because the lot was full, or inching painfully through a full lot, with virtually no hope of any spot opening up soon.

Instead I made a last-second decision to plow northward to Sam's Town, maybe a quarter-mile away, and zip into their parking garage and walk back. Lots of people were doing this. I ducked inside Sam's Town and bought a chocolate malt at their ice cream shop. Not only did I feel like having a chocolate malt, but I felt that this made me a sorta-kinda legitimate Sam's Town customer for the evening, so that taking up one of their parking spots for a couple of hours was sorta-kinda OK, even though most of the time was spent at their competitor.

The exterior of Eastside, as you can see, is strikingly unusual. I think people will either love it or hate it. I kind of dug it. It's mind-blowing that this radically new place was, just a few months ago, one of the ugliest dumps in town, the Nevada Palace. I would not have believed it could get transformed so thoroughly in so little time.

One of the photos above is a colored ice sculpture replica of the building. Cute.

The colored lights on the outside are intriguing. They are constantly shifting colors and patterns. It's really quite lovely, I think. I took a video clip of it, and will try to post it below, but I don't know how well it will show the effect. It's more pronounced from a distance, for some reason, and I was really too close. If there is no video posted below, it's because it didn't show up well enough to bother with.

Inside the casino was just as insanely crowded as the traffic outside. I can't figure this out. People, it's just like every other casino in this city! There's nothing here that you haven't seen and done before! Why do you all feel compelled to be here within the first couple of hours of its opening? Surely you can't all have blog posts to write about the experience!

The line for signing up for a club card stretched for at least 100 yards in both of two directions. The wait must have been way, way, over an hour. Again, it just blows my mind that so many people feel some compulsion to be there, and especially to wait so long for a stupid club card so that they don't miss out on whatever little scraps of rewards the casino might give them for a couple hours of punching slot machine buttons. Don't you people have anything better to do than wait in a line?

Fortunately, the poker room had runners that would take players' driver's licenses and go get cards made. This was a really nice service, and much appreciated. There was no way the wait in line was worth the couple of bucks of comps that I might have missed out on by not having a card, so I was prepared to do without for this visit. It was nice that I didn't have to give that up. They also gave me the nice t-shirt shown above, as well as a spinner card protector (shown above next to the poker chips). It's a nice little trinket, though nowhere near nice enough to replace the one-ounce silver dollar that I have become so fond of.

The poker room has eight tables. As with Hard Rock and Sunset Station, they are really nice ones--big (maybe too big), with unprinted blue-green felt. No autoshufflers, for some reason (cost, I'm guessing). Chairs are just so-so, kind of average dining-room chairs. No wheels, no adjustments available.

Sadly, they chose not to enclose the room, when it would have been quite straightforward to do so, and a tiny, tiny fraction of the cost of the total renovation. The room is kind of oddly shaped, with five sides, and two of them are fully open to the casino floor. Noise and cigarette smoke are real problems here, and will be one of the main factors limiting how often I visit the place, I'm afraid. They could so easily have made plexiglass walls, allowing curious onlookers to watch and work up the nerve to enter and play, while giving players the comfort of clean air and low noise. It's obvious to me that poker players' comfort was not a high priority for the building's design team.

There are a few TVs, but neither the number nor the size that we've become used to in modern poker rooms.

I liked the cocktail waitresses' uniforms. They were attractive without being embarrassingly revealing, as so many are. (This was true at Sunset Station, too, and I forgot to mention it.)

Rake for now is capped at $3, plus $1 for funding a freeroll tournament. There are no high-hand or bad-beat jackpots, apparently. There is a dollar taken out of each pot to fund a $40,000 monthly freeroll tournament, which I believe is shared between Eastside, Cannery, and Rampart. It requires 60 hours of play, which is a lot. You can get more starting chips in the tournament, as well as possibly a $100 bonus, for occupying the poker room chairs beyond the 60-hour minimum.

In one of the strangest opening-day glitches I've ever seen, the brand-new tables had slots for dropping chips (to fund the tournament) that were not large enough to accommodate a standard poker chip, so the dealers were having to use beverage cups to collect them instead!

It was a great pleasure to be using all brand-new chips and brand-new cards, on brand-new felt, while sitting in brand-new chairs and walking on brand-new carpet. That obviously won't last long, though. In fact, somebody had already spilled a drink on the felt by the time I sat down at about 9:10 p.m. What a doofus.

I got seated next to a guy who had the longest mullet I've ever seen. His "party in the back" went down past his shoulders. Weird look. He was one of those personalities that I can't stand, with an ever-present need to impress others with how knowledgeable he was. For example, in one of the first hands after I joined the table, there were two diamonds on the flop. First player bet and was called in three places. Mr. Mullet said out loud, "Somebody is on a flush draw." Wow. You, sir, are a friggin' poker GENIUS! What--can you see right through the backs of their cards??? I am SO impressed!


The dealers were a mixed bag. One seemed to be making a lot of newbie mistakes and was too slow. But two others were excellent. A guy named William was one of the best I've seen anywhere: fast, communicative, precise, in control, friendly, good sense of humor, alert to every little thing going on at the table. Just superb in every respect. The one following him, Heather, was on her first day of a regular job, though she had several weeks of tournament dealing under her belt. She was surprisingly fast for being that new, and an absolutely delightful personality.

I unfortunately dug myself a hole on my first hand. I flopped bottom two pair and on the turn got all the money in against a guy who had top pair and wouldn't let it go. The river brought him a third 10, and I was busto early.

But the poker gods apparently conferred and decided that that had been a lousy thing to do to me. I was basically stagnant for 90 minutes or so, but then made my entire night's profit in two hands: consecutive flopped sets. First, my jacks cracked another player's unimproved pocket aces, and I doubled up. On the very next hand I had 6-6, flop 10-6-5, and felted a guy who moved all in on me, holding A-10.

I think that is the third time I have had pocket pairs flop sets in consecutive hands since moving to Vegas two years ago. (Once was at Harrah's, another time at Monte Carlo.) Let's run the numbers on that happening, shall we? You get a pocket pair one time out of 17. Given that start, you then flop a third card of that rank 10.8% of the time. So having a pair and flopping a set happens, on average, once every 157 hands. That then means that it happening twice in a row is expected only about every 24,777 hands. Actually, I'm kind of surprised that it has happened three times, given that rarity. Yet more evidence that my unlucky streak is well past.

I didn't feel like putting in another marathon session, and cashed out just before midnight, up $111 in about 2 3/4 hours of play. Not stellar, but it will do--especially after starting out down my first buy-in five minutes into the game.

I heard a nice zinger at the table late in the session. The young woman to my right rivered a straight to suck out on a guy who had flopped a set. (From the way the two of them had been chatting, they apparently knew each other.) She put in a small raise that he immediately called. When the hands were revealed, and it became apparent what had happened, she said, "Sorry." He looked disbelieving. "You're sorry?" She replied, "Yeah. I'm sorry that I didn't get more money out of you."

It was laugh-out-loud funny. Her line was clearly both said and received with a smile and no ill will, which made it all OK. I loved it.

The final photo above is a band that was playing in the lounge on my way out. They were doing a really bad rendition of "Lady Marmalade." Atrocious. I have no idea who they are, but somebody in Eastside management used horrible judgment in selecting them for opening-night performance.

So that's my initial impression of the Eastside Cannery, the newest poker room in Las Vegas. It's really unusual that we've had the Hard Rock, the Excalibur's re-opening with the electronic tables, and now Eastside, all in just one week. I'm hardly the first to observe that it is the nature of this city to be constantly new and changing, reinventing itself. It's fun having a front-row seat to watch the births and rebirths.

New poker room at Sunset Station

I read somewhere recently that Sunset Station had moved its poker room since the last time I was out there, so I decided to give it a look today.

My first gripe is that the room is hard to find. I went in through the entrance that was closest to the old room, and actually went to the old room to see what had become of it. (Looks like they're turning it into theater space, but it's unfinished so hard to tell for sure.) I expected there to be a sign inviting guests to the new room, with map and/or directions. There was none. So I started wandering to my left. Wrong choice. I had to go nearly the entire perimeter of the casino before I found even a sign pointing to the new room. They have not lifted a finger to help people find the new room.

It's by the sports book. The old room was really nice, I thought, for a locals casino. It had my rare "category 1" rating for being smoke-free, one of only three rooms in the city physically set off from the smoking section. That is no longer the case. Now it's open to the casino on two of four sides, with the consequent intrusion of noise and smoke. It wasn't bad, but the casino was pretty dead. When it's busier, that might be a real problem. It has now been bumped down to a "category 3." The old room had a luxurious amount of space between tables, a rare treat these days. That, too, is now gone. They're not uncomfortably crowded, but there isn't the freedom and ease of movement that used to exist.

I do like that they have doughnuts available for players. Nice touch. They also have a water cooler. I wish all poker rooms did. In the ones that do, I can order one bottle of water from the cocktail waitress, then refill it as needed myself. That not only saves on tips, but on plastic going into landfills. (Yeah, I could just start off with a Styrofoam cup of water from the cooler, but I much prefer drinking from a bottle, and being able to keep the cap on, to keep crap out and to prevent spills.)

They have what appear to be new tables, or at least newly redone tables. Exceptionally nice. Roomy enough, built-in cupholders, well-padded rail, beautiful felt of a sort of pumpkin color, autoshufflers. Chairs are better than average, too--rolling, adjustable for height and back rake.

When I arrived at about 6 pm, there were two tables of $4-8 limit hold'em, and that was all. Within ten minutes or so they started a third table of the same, which I joined, while still having my name on a NLHE interest list. That game finally got started at about 7:45. They wouldn't start it until they had seven players committed to it, which seems pretty nitty to me.

The limit game was just insanely profitable. You've likely heard that a good player can expect to make about one big bet per hour, which would be $8. Well, I made $160 in less than two hours--well above my average take for no-limit games. Practically everybody at the table knew each other well. I was the stranger, which probably made it easier to get paid off with my good hands (both the intrinsically strong ones and the tricky little ones that hit just right), because they didn't know what to expect from me.

As is sadly common at locals poker rooms where everybody knows each other, the players and dealers care not one whit about hands being freely discussed as they are played. Players openly announce what they folded, what they think other people are holding, etc. I didn't even bother to protest, since this was clearly the culture, and I would have been imposing on it. I'm not at all sure the dealers would have done anything even if I had spoken up. But it's a huge turn-off for me, and one of the reasons that I won't be going back there very often.

All in all, this is nowhere near the worst room in town, but it's also no longer one of the nicer ones, as it used to be. It's well out of my way to get there, and now I have even less reason to look forward to playing there than I did before. And, frankly, they were not particularly welcoming, with the exception of one dealer who really did go out of her way to notice that I was unfamiliar to her, and chat me up. I suppose I'll hit the place once or twice a year, when I have some other reason to be in Henderson, but can't see it being worth the effort to get there more than that.

Above are a few photos I snapped before they asked me to stop--something about worrying that some players might not want their picture taken. Too bad.

New sponsor

Over there on the left you may notice the insertion of another text ad with embedded links. Unlike the Google ads, I don't get paid by the click, but I still wanted to call your attention to it. The company neither asked nor paid me to write this post; it's just my way of saying thanks to them for the sponsorship, and of making sure that anybody who might be interested in the service notices the ad. If rakeback from playing online is something you're interested in, by all means give them a look-see, and it will be a +EV situation for all involved.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Fun at Bill's

I had another successful session at Bill's Gambling Hall and Saloon last night--up $397 in what was for me an unusually long stretch at the table, 7 1/2 hours, not leaving until almost 4:00 a.m. I kept wanting to leave, but there was a never-ending stream of new players replacing the ones busting out, and, well, their money was just too easy to take for me to leave, as long as I was still alert enough to be making good decisions. I'm perfectly content with $53/hour.

Actually, that's almost exactly my hourly average for Bill's. I've played there six times now, five winning session and one clunker. Net win of $1399 over 24.8 hours, for an average of $56/hour.

Folks, I've gotta say something here. As recently as several months ago, you could have a meaningful debate about where the worst poker players in town were to be found. You might have made a plausible case for Tuscany, Sahara, Riviera, Excalibur, Stratosphere, Imperial Palace, O'Shea's, or a few other joints.

No more. The debate ended on May 13, 2008, when Bill's opened its doors. If anybody tries to tell you that the worst players congregate at some other casino, it is only because said person has not played at Bill's.

Examples just from last night:

-- I had K-K, and hit a miraculous flop of J-K-K (as if I needed more evidence that my recent horrible streak of bad luck was over), and took the entire stack of a young woman who just didn't believe that I had hit any of that, and thought her J-Q was good.

-- On a flop of J-J-10, I watched a raising war ensue between two players, who both ended up all in. I had been trying to guess which of them had the overpair and which had A-J or maybe K-J. Boy, was I wrong. One had 9-9. The other had A-K (with no flush draw).

-- A player raised from under the gun to $5. (Bill's plays with a single $1 blind.) I reraised to $15 with A-K. He called. The flop was A-10-2. My opponent bet $20. I raised to $60. He moved all in for an additional $84. Yuck. Top pair/top kicker is nice to have, but it's not good enough to bet the farm on. Nevertheless, given the stack sizes, I thought I couldn't get away from it. I actually found myself wishing he had more, so that I could make a better case to myself for folding. I reluctantly put in the additional chips, while saying, "At this point, I think the best I can hope for is that we have the same hand." I meant it, too. Usually in this situation, I'm up against a flopped two pair or even a flopped set (aces or 10s), and I'm in deep doo-doo. My opponent turned over A-9. Let me say that again: A-9. He raised from under the gun, called my reraise from out of position, then bet the flop and moved all in over my flop raise. With A-9. Big Slick held up for me. This player then rebought, and if you think he was bad before, you should have seen him when he was on tilt!

I hope it's obvious from such stories that bluffing at Bill's is throwing away your money. You will get called, often in more than one place, pretty much no matter what cards you're holding or what the board shows.

For the most part at Bill's, you have to be satisfied with rather small pots. This is partly due to the unusual blind structure, but more due to the incredibly low buy-in: just $20 gets you a no-limit seat. This attracts lots of people who have never played poker before, and/or who didn't intend to play that day and just happened to walk by a couple of poker tables at the edge of the casino floor. Of course, they play any two cards, and with ultra-short stacks, quickly find themselves pot committed. But then they keep rebuying for $20 or $40 or $50. So you can get all of their money without too much difficulty--you just have to do it in smaller chunks. I don't mind this at all. It also means that I'm risking less loss to the inevitable bad beats that they will score against me. When they occur, I think of it as just lending them some chips for a while....


Although the easy money was the main motivation, at least a small part of the reason I stayed longer than usual was because I had two fun and funny guys to my left, in Seat Two and Seat Three. (I was in Seat One, as per my usual preference.) They made it one of the most socially enjoyable poker sessions I've had in a long time.

I've mentioned many times in this blog that I'm really not a gambler at heart. I don't feel any need to constantly be in action, don't find any allure in slots or table games or sports betting. But last night there was a prop bet that was just too fun to pass up.

Right next to Bill's poker tables is a bank of four video slots. They are networked, and over the top of them is a big monitor. Every once in a while, a bonus feature pops up there. There are several different ones, all involving cute cartoon pigs. One of the rotating features is a piggy foot race. The only picture I could find of it on the manufacturer's web site is above--you can just barely see it below the "Bigger Bang Big Event" banner. I don't know the details, but somehow which pig wins the race determines which of the slot players wins a bonus, and how much it is. The outcome is pretty clearly random.

There are five pigs that run this race. The guy in Seat Two proposed that the three of us each bet $1 on the pig corresponding to our seat numbers, with the bottom lane designated as 1. This is obviously a break-even proposition, in which nobody has an edge, cost only a buck, and not only seemed like a bit of fun, but would have been practically rude to turn down. So I joined in. It's like betting on those dumb mechanical horse races that a few casinos still have, though with no house overlay.

Well, the first two races had to be declared a push, because they were won by either Pig 4 or Pig 5. The next two? Piggy #1 took them both. Then there were two more wins by 4 and 5, so no prop winner. Unfortunately for our fun, people stopped playing the machines after that, so our game was over.

My first venture into poker table prop betting? 100% success. Up $4. Thank you very much. I feel that I have mastered the prop bet, much as I mastered sports handicapping earlier this year.

You know what the three of us concluded? Video slot machine pig racing is TOTALLY rigged!


I learned a new little fact last night, completely unrelated to poker.

Some casinos put on their employees' nametags a notation of where the person hails from. I don't know why. Perhaps it's meant to spark conversations. One of the dealers last night was wearing such a nametag. I noticed that it read:


Like the smartass I can be sometimes, I said to her, "Who is it in the nametag-making department that thinks 'Vietnam' is two words?"

She said, "It is."

I thought she was kidding, but nope. She told me that in Vietnamese all words are a single syllable. (How's that for another interesting random fact?!) To her and other Vietnamese, seeing "Vietnam" looks all wrong. This is sort of confirmed by the first bit of the Wikipedia entry on the country. I suppose it's roughly equivalent to how something like "Unitedstates" would look to us.

In all my 47 years, I don't recall ever seeing the name written as "Viet Nam." Maybe I have and just missed it, but I think it would jump out at me as looking wrong, just as it did when I saw that on Diane's nametag, and therefore stick in my memory.

Who knew?!

Poker gems, #160

Andrew Black, interview with Bluff Magazine, June, 2008, issue, pp. 41-42, available online here:

You overestimate some aspects of your game and underestimate others. In fact, the whole game is designed to just confuse the hell out of you. It’s a typical situation: a guy comes along and it seems like he’s got a pretty good game and a good head on his shoulders, but one day he plays really badly and he wins a tournament. His mates come up and they say, “Aren’t you great? Aren’t you brilliant?” Now he think that’s the way to win a tournament, but actually, when you break down his game, he got lucky. I know people who are regarded as being amongst the top players in the world who will not be regarded as such in a few years, because I know how they played, and they played badly. The history of poker is littered with that kind of person. This happens at every level of the game. It happens at the lower limits, too, and I know that because I was at the lower levels for ages.

So, what you have at the end of the day is this mass of information which just keeps changing. It makes chaos theory look straightforward. The solution to finding your way through all this can only begin when you start to look at yourself and see where you’re at.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A poker brainteaser

Playing at the Rio tonight, I saw a final board of Qh-Qd-Qs-9s-Ks. It occurred to me that almost every rank of poker hand was available with this unusual set of community cards. That made me wonder whether it is the maximum possible for a hold'em board.

What no player could have with this board are the lowest hand rankings: high card (i.e., no pair), one pair, or two pairs. Because of the trip queens, everybody will have a minimum of three of a kind. But every possible type of hand three of a kind or better is possible here. A 10-J in the hole yields a straight. Two spades makes a flush. There are a whole bunch of possible full houses (13, if I counted right, but don't quote me on that). A queen in the hole gives four of a kind. And 10-J in spades produces a straight flush. A royal flush is not possible here, but I don't consider that actually to be a different hand ranking; it is merely one type of straight flush.

So that makes six different ranks of hands possible with this board. The question is whether that is the most that any hold'em board could generate.

Here's another candidate board: Ah-Ad-Kh-Kd-10h. Here the worst hand any player could achieve would be two pairs, so at first glance I thought this might beat the previous board and yield seven different hand rankings. But as I scrutinized it more closely, I realized that three of a kind is not available here; any player who ends up with three cards of the same rank actually has a full house. So as with the previous board, six hand rankings are possible, though this time not all consecutive ones (because of skipping over trips).

After thinking about it for a little while, I came up with a board that surpasses both of these. If you enjoy puzzles, take some time and work it out for yourself, before you scroll down for my solution.

["Jeopardy" theme music plays here.]

There are many similar possibilities, but the one I wrote down was Ah-Ad-Kd-Qd-Jd. If you held, say, 2-3 of clubs, you would have one pair. If you held J-2 of clubs, you would have two pairs. If you held A-2 of clubs, you would have three of a kind. If you held 10-2 of clubs, you would have a straight. If you held any diamond other than the 10, you would have a flush. There are six full houses possible. The other two aces in the hole gives you quads. And the 10d in your hand gives you a straight flush (the royal, in this case, though that's an unimportant distinction for this little game). That's every possible hand ranking except the lowest, a high card (no pair). This has to be the maximum, because in order to make a bare high card possible, you would have to have an unpaired board, but then you lose both the full house and quad possibilities, for a net loss of one ranking.

So eight is the maximum number of different hand ranks that might be available from one hold'em board.

If somebody wants to tackle the question of whether the answer is any different for Omaha, be my guest in the comments. Just thinking of that this late at night makes my head hurt.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Bless me, for I have sinned--or have I?

I. Nelson Rose is one of the most consistently interesting and informative columnists on the Poker Player Newspaper roster. In the current (September 1, 2008) issue, he takes a break from his usual subject matter of legal questions, and turns instead to the question of how to measure problem gambling in a person who makes a living playing poker, or is at least a serious amateur. The standard Gamblers Anonymous questionnaire doesn't work well for such people. So Mr. Rose concocted his own set of 15 questions, acknowledging that they are not scientifically validated.

I thought it might amuse my readers to peek in on my answers as I bare my sole to Mr. Rose, who is now my confesssor. (Confessor is a strange word, in that it can refer to either the person confessing or the person hearing the confession, and context is not always sufficient to tell which is intended. I meant the latter.) I trust that PPN will not seriously object to my reprinting the questions, since Mr. Rose's columns show up online for free a couple of weeks after publication. (See here for his archives.)

1. Do you play for stakes that you know are too high?

Never. The closest I've come is experimenting with the next step up, to see if it's profitable to play higher. But that's not stakes that I know are too high--it's trying to ascertain whether they are too high. I think that's a major, substantive difference, and not just quibbling over words.

2. Do you sometimes feel you can't quit because you are behind?

Strangely, no. I realize that this is an extremely common problem, but it's not one that I share. I hate leaving the casino when I'm behind as much as anybody, but I'm pretty realistic about recognizing that I'm not playing well, or the table doesn't have enough soft spots to make earning easy, or the poker gods are just determined to beat me every which way on a given day. If I ever lose more than what I had intended as my limit, it's because I stop and take stock of whether this is actually a game I can beat and have so far just been unusually unlucky. If I can honestly assess that that is so, I'll keep playing for one or two additional buy-ins, but if the bad streak continues, I don't feel any of the compulsion to stay until I have broken even again, which so many others have described as their downfall. Yeah, I hate leaving, but at such a moment I realize that the only alternatives are leaving down X dollars, or leaving later down X + X dollars, because the trend is not reversing itself.

3. Do you sometimes feel you can't quit because you are ahead?

No. On the contrary, I may leave money on the table more than I should because I so enjoy the feeling of walking away winner.

4. When you lose, is it often because of bad beats?

Yes. But I'm not sure what Mr. Rose is getting at with this question. It may be that it's an honesty question, probing to see whether one will confess to bad play. I'll certainly confess to bad play. In fact, when I have a losing session, after I get home I try to make a rough quantitative assessment of how much of the losing was because of getting unlucky and how much was because I played below my capability. That then allows me to start thinking about what I'm going to do differently the next day, so that I don't end up with two consecutive bad days. It feels like turning a negative into a positive that way.

Sometimes the assessment goes one way, sometimes the other. When I lose it is certainly not always because of bad beats, but it is indeed often. But it is universally recognized that that is the lot of the better players. The more consistently you get your money in as a favorite (presumably because of having more skill and experience than one's opponents), the greater the percentage of losses that will be because of bad beats. Somebody playing perfectly, as if he knew his opponents' hole cards, would lose only because of bad beats. So I really don't understand how this question and one's answer to it fit into Mr. Rose's apparent goal of measuring problematic behavior in a serious poker player.

5. Do you often get angry at other players at the table for such things as slowing down the game?

No. Never, actually. Annoyed? Definitely. Angry? Never. I'm a pretty cool-headed guy. I honestly can't remember the last time I was genuinely in a rage about something. Oh wait--yes I can. It was when I was out of town and learned that my ex-wife (we were going through a divorce at the time, but it had been quite amicable up until that bit of nastiness) had taken the opportunity to change the locks on the house, so that when I got back home I would have to start living out of a motel while that all got straightened out. Yeah, I was pretty ticked off about that. That was early 2006. That's the last time I was genuinely angry about anything, I think.

6. Have you gone on tilt more than once?

Well, yeah. But I can't imagine that there is anybody who has played several thousand hours of poker who could honestly answer this "no." In fact, I wonder if this is just meant as an honesty test--if you answer "no," then you're probably not being realistic about any of your other answers, either.

7. When you are losing, do you increase your bets to try to get even?


8. Do you often stay in too many hands?

I suppose it sort of depends on how you define "often." But under most parameters that I would consider reasonable, the answer would be no. I think if I did, I couldn't be a long-term winner.

9. Do you drink a lot, sometimes going on binges?

None at all. I think the last time I had even a taste of an alcoholic beverage was about five years ago, at my best friend's 50th birthday party, when I tasted whiskey for the first time. One sip was plenty to confirm my suspicion that I would hate it. I am so boring.

10. Do you sometimes forget important social obligations, because you are playing?

No. I have so few social obligations that they're very easy to remember. I also tend to keep track of time reasonably well while I'm playing, because if I note that a couple of hours have passed without significantly increasing my chip stack, I consider that reason to leave, or at least change tables, because stagnation doesn't pay the bills. So I essentially never experience the phenomenon of being shocked to discover how late it has become. I do sometimes turn down last-minute social offers because I feel a need to keep playing, but that's because I treat it as I would any job, and work comes before play.

11. Have you misled or lied to your family, friends or at work about how much poker you play?

No. I really have no need or incentive to do so.

12. Are you increasingly using the ATM?

LOL. Good thing I didn't come upon this questionnaire in the first half of the month, in the middle of my horrible losing streak! Fortunately, the answer is no--at least as far as withdrawals go. I do use it for deposits, but I'm guessing that's not what the question is getting at.

13. Have you lied to get money to play poker?


14. Do you feel bad about things you have done because of poker?

On a few occasions, I have had a bad day of poker and, as a result, felt crummy and unsocial, and cancelled a date or other planned activity with somebody, because I just wanted to sit home and mope and feel sorry for myself. But again, I don't think that's really the sort of thing the question is getting at. I've never been so upset because of losing that I get drunk, or get into a car accident, or hit somebody, or blow a wad of cash trying to win back my losses playing craps, or anything even remotely like that, and I assume that it's that sort of thing that Mr. Rose is intending to ask about.

15. Are you more interested in poker than sex?

I guess I'd have to say yes. But is that really a bad thing for somebody in my situation? Consider the alternative. If I spent six to eight hours a day engaging in, thinking about, reading about, and writing about sex, well, that might get me out of answering "yes" to this question, but then I'd have to turn to the Sexaholics Anonymous questionnaire and answer "yes" to all of their questions! And since that wouldn't generate any income for me, and would inevitably cause all sorts of other life problems, surely that would be a far worse situation to be in. Therefore, if a "yes" answer is a problem here, it's one I'm willing to live with.

So my score is 3 yes, 12 no, and all of the yes answers are, I think, not truly indicative of a problem. Mr. Rose doesn't provide any sort of scoring mechanism or interpretive answers, so I'm just having to guess at what he's thinking.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Poker gems, #159

Several days late, I'm finally getting around to listening to #7 of the Hard-Boiled Poker Radio Show. The opening lines, an excerpt from an episode of "Fibber McGee and Molly," made me laugh out loud:

Molly: Now, if a man wants to go out once in a while and play cards with his men friends, why doesn't he just say so?

Fibber: You mean that, Molly?

Molly: Of course I do. That doesn't apply to you, though, Dearie.

What the hail?

I was driving down the Strip at about 2:30 this afternoon when I started hearing clunk-clunk-clunk on my car's hood and roof and trunk. There were white chunks pelting the pavement, cars, and pedestrians.

I grew up in Illinois, then lived in Minnesota for 17 years, so I am fully qualified and certified to recognize ice falling from the sky when it occurs.

But this is Las Vegas. In the desert. In the summer. In the afternoon. When it was 102 degrees. And I'm telling you, there was ice falling out of the sky!

If this isn't literally hell freezing over, it's the next closest thing.

"Principal actor"

I'm reading the July issue of Poker Pro magazine. There is a short piece by Sam O'Connor about how to think about bad beats. The article is OK, but I was most struck by something in his biographical blurb at the end: "Sam O'Connor is the author of the book How to Dominate $1 and $2 No-limit Hold 'Em and a principal actor in Lucky You."

Really? I don't remember seeing him in it, even though I watched that klunker twice. So I headed to, font of all movie knowledge. I did indeed find Mr. O'Connor listed in the cast. The character he plays is "Old Man." He's the 48th one listed, right after "Bellagio Dealer #7" and right before "Man in Cowboy Hat" and "Woman with Straight."

Yeah, that's pretty "principal" all right. They really couldn't have made the movie without him, y'know? He basically had to carry the whole picture. [Snicker.]

Private note to Mr. O'Connor:

A popular online dictionary (see here) gives this definition of principal as an adjective: "first or highest in rank, importance, value, etc.; chief; foremost." You might want to give some thought to what that means before submitting your next article for publication.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

I'm childish, apparently

I was playing at the Excalibur again tonight. A woman in her mid-50s sat down on my left when the seat opened up.

I need to tell you, before continuing with the story, about how the PokerPro machines work with respect to the blinds. If the action is folded around so that only the two blinds are left in the hand before the flop, they can agree to "chop"--that is, each gets his money back, the hand is aborted, the button moves, and we're on to the next hand. There are two ways that a player can signal to the computer his willingness to chop. First, at any time you can go to the "options" menu and select "auto-chop blinds." This is what you do if you will want your answer to the chop question always to be "yes." Alternatively, you can wait until the situation arises. The computer will then ask both players if they want to chop (or ask just one, if the other has auto-chop already selected). Only if both agree (either by clicking "yes" at this point or by having pre-selected the auto-chop option) will this occur. There is something like a three-second window to answer affirmatively, if you do not already have it set to "yes" as your default. Failing to answer the question is taken as a "no," and the hand plays out. Once either player clicks "no" or fails to respond in the allotted time, there is no way to go back and do a chop; the hand must play out. Several of us discovered this fact last night.

I had auto-chop turned on. The woman to my left did not. Furthermore, she was watching the Olympics on TV when the hand in question arose. She only noticed the chop question being presented to her just as the screen was about to disappear, and she wasn't quick enough to click on either answer, so the computer took that as a "no."

She and I had not discussed what to do if the situation came up. I didn't realize that she was distracted, because I was just kind of looking straight ahead, waiting for her to decide one way or the other. Personally, I don't care much about whether the blinds get chopped or not, as long as it's either yes or no every time. I would have a slight preference for playing every hand, because I think I'm probably on average a little bit better than my opponents, and should be able to show a profit from playing heads up. However, so many players dislike playing when it's down to just the blinds that as a social concession I'll do whatever the other player prefers.

When her time expired, my screen indicated that the action was on me, and gave me the usual choices. I assumed from this that she had chosen not to chop. I had Kh-3h. I know that this is statistically likely to be the best hand here, so I raised to $7. I was actually a little worried that she had peeked at her cards, found a monster, and would be reraising me, because I wasn't sure at that moment whether she had wanted not to chop or had simply missed her window of opportunity.

It is just as I'm putting in the raise that she is getting flustered about having missed the chop opportunity. She doesn't understand that when the screen asking her the question vanished, that was the end of the matter. She still wants to chop, and is trying to figure out how to bring that option back. I already know that it is not coming back, so I finish registering my raise.

Now the action is on her. She sees that I have raised, and correctly concludes that chopping is no longer an option. However, she mistakenly thinks that this is because of me--that I refused to chop so that I could raise and steal her blind.

She said in a huff, "That is so childish! Go ahead--take it!"

I got a bit defensive here, and told her, "Whether we chopped was entirely up to you. I had pre-selected yes. You decided not to chop, which is OK with me. I'm just playing the hand because you chose to."

She folds, spits out an excuse about not having been given enough time to respond, and repeats that I--I--was being childish about it. She then logs out, stands up, and leaves, never to return.

So let's review. My actions: I had taken the responsible approach and pre-registered my approval of chopping if the other player wanted to do so. I was paying attention to the action and acted quickly when the computer signalled that it was my turn. When it became inevitable that we would play the hand out, I put in a modest raise that was by any standard the correct poker move, based on my cards. Her actions: She did not bother to pre-register her preference. She was watching TV and missed her chance to chop if that had been her desire. By her action or inaction, she forced us to play the hand. Once that die was cast, she objected to how I played it. She responded to the loss of her $2 not by apologizing for having missed the boat, but by getting angry enough at me that she decided to leave the game entirely.

But I'm the one who was being childish.