Saturday, October 25, 2008

Poker gems, #176

Barny Boatman, as quoted by James McManus in Card Player magazine article, October 22, 2008 (vol. 21, #21), p. 104.

I think you'll find that there is an inversely proportional relationship between the amount of success a player has had and the importance they attach to luck.

Friday, October 24, 2008


Shamus has a new episode of the Hard-Boiled Poker Radio Show up today, available here. I'm not in this one, and I haven't heard it yet, but they never fail to entertain.

Shamus keeps up with the poker world's podcasts more than anybody I know. He sent me an email tipping me off that this post of mine from earlier this month is discussed by the "Ante Up" guys on today's show, from 9:55 through 15:15.

Tiffany Michelle is dead--sort of

On this week's World Series of Poker broadcast, they mentioned that Tiffany Michelle once died on "ER." I hadn't heard this tidbit before, and was curious about it. It was easy to locate the episode from her IMDB page (here), and I ordered the DVD from Netflix. It arrived today.

She plays a 16-year-old who crashed into a telephone pole while riding a motorcycle, came into the ER in full arrest, and couldn't be resuscitated. (Not much acting ability called for in that role. No lines also meant no credit at the end of the show.) I never would have recognized her if not specifically looking for her. But now you can see what she looked like before she had several million in chips sitting in front of her.

Maybe it's just me, but I think I'd rather see her with blood pouring from various wounds than covered in UltimateBet logos.

Celebrity sighting

I spotted Lon McEachern in the Rio poker room tonight. I meant to take his picture on the way out, but lost my money when my aces got cracked by jacks, and I was miffed enough that I forgot about Lon. Sorry--no picture. You all know what he looks like anyway.

Two players at my table said that Anthony Hopkins had been playing there yesterday. I found this pretty believable. However, I was less convinced about the claim that he had ordered dinner at the table: liver, some fava beans, and a nice chianti.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Casino carpets

And you think I am interested in some weird and offbeat stuff?

Here's a web site primarily devoted to cataloging casino carpets. Take your motion sickness pills before viewing.

How fast do things change in this city?

Binion's will be opening its new poker room sometime within the next couple of weeks. That got me to thinking about how many changes there have been in the city's poker rooms just in the time that I have been here. I arrived in July, 2006. Here's a list of the poker rooms that have appeared, disappeared, or moved within the facility since that time:

Excalibur (not a move, exactly, but a change to electronic tables)
Planet Hollywood (3 moves)
Fiesta Henderson
Green Valley Ranch
Sam’s Town
Silverton (2 moves, third coming soon)
Sunset Station

Moves planned:
South Coast

Fiesta Rancho

Club Fortune
Eastside Cannery
Hard Rock
Aliante Station (coming November 11)

This is all off the top of my head, so I probably missed some.

Had I arrived just a few months earlier, I would have also been here for the openings of Wynn, Venetian, South Coast (now South Point), Red Rock, Hilton, and a few others, I think. In other words, my list tends to underestimate the pace of change, because I came right after the biggest expansion in the industry had already taken place.

Given that there are about 50 poker rooms in the city now operating, it's pretty amazing what percentage of them have opened, closed, or moved just in the last two years.

Downtown light show

My timing for leaving Binion's was good--I caught one of downtown's overhead light shows. It's one of my favorite ones, with a fire-and-ice theme, ending with Bachman Turner Overdrive's classic, "Taking Care of Business." There's something seriously wrong with you if you can listen to that cranked up to stadium volume and not feel compelled to move with the music.

If you've skipped downtown entirely during your trips to Vegas, and figured that everything you need or want to see is on the Strip, you're missing out. The world's biggest music videos on a three-block-long screen is just one of the things you should add to your plans next time around.

Oh, what the heck. Might as well show you the whole thing (though obviously you miss out on the sense of scale here):

Great piece of history on display at Binion's

Tonight I did one of my favorite casino two-fers: Golden Nugget, then about 20 steps across the way to Binion's. The Binion's game was maybe the biggest $1-3 game I've ever seen (though perhaps I've just forgotten a bigger one)--more than $4000 distributed among 9 players. Scored a W and a W in my two stops, thank you very much.

On the way out of Binion's, the car shown above caught my eye. At first I thought maybe there was a contest or drawing in which one could win it--which would be just unspeakably cool--but no, it's just there on display. Since so many of my readers won't be able to see it for themselves, I thought I'd share it with you.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Last night at Bill's I had been playing for a couple of hours with my stack moving up and down, up and down, but hovering right around where it had started, with no clear net forward progress. I was getting frustrated. I was also annoyed at a woman who had chased a gutshot straight draw and got there.

So I returned the favor. I twice called with nothing but an inside straight draw, and made it both times. I finished the session up $105, and it was virtually all due to the pots I won on those two hands. I could say that I was doing it to randomize my play, because I knew that nobody could put me on the hands that I had, etc. But the ugly truth is what I said above. It was terrible play, reflecting a horribly unprofessional attitude. I should have just gotten up and left.

I'd like to apologize to the woman who I victimized through my donkey play. I'd like to apologize to my tablemates, who must have wondered what idiot pill I had swallowed. I'd like to apologize to my more clear-thinking, day-after self for being a moron and getting ridiculously lucky. I'd like to apologize to my readers, who expect better of me.

There. I feel better now.

Poker crossword

The New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle I finished last night was titled "Overheard at the Poker Game." (It's not the new one in this week's paper; it was originally published several years ago and is now in a book.) Here are the themed punny clues I had to solve, along with the answers:

Chef's comment at the poker game:
I hope I win this pot.

Laundry worker's comment at the poker game:
I have to fold.

Broadway producer's comment at the poker game:
I want a full house.

Lifer's comment at the poker game:
I'm in for a hundred.

Car seller's comment at the poker game:
I'm the dealer.

Tennis pro's comment at the poker game:
I'd like another ace.

Artist's comment at the poker game:
I'll draw two cards.

Farmer's comment at the poker game:
I raise all I've got.

Poker gems, #175

Alan Schoonmaker, in Card Player magazine column, October 22, 2008 (vol. 21, #21), p. 94.

"Poker is all about picking on the weak. It may be weak hands, weak players, or just weak play." ("Shulman says," Card Player, Oct. 24, 2003) You may dislike that aspect of our game because it seems immoral, and it certainly is not chivalrous.

If picking on the weak bothers you, poker may be the wrong game for you. Poker is predatory, but so is life in general. The strong eat the weak everywhere, not just at the poker table. Winners recognize that reality, while losers deny, ignore, or minimize it.

Hellmuth proves my point

Earlier this year I ranted about claims made by Phil Hellmuth and others that he can't stop himself from making his infamous outbursts during tournaments. I said that that was BS--he could refrain from it anytime he chose to. He just needed sufficient incentive.

Last night's ESPN broadcast of the WSOP, I think, proved my point. The first hour took place the day after Hellmuth received a warning about berating opponents, in which he was allegedly "put on notice in a way that he never has been." Operating under the threat of actual penalty, he manages to act merely childishly, rather than truly obnoxiously--or, more to the point, in a manner that crosses the line of violating tournament rules.

His opponent calls Hellmuth's pre-flop raise (made with A-2; nice hand selection there, Phil!) with Q-10, and gets lucky enough to hit a straight. Hellmuth makes two pairs on the river and pays him off.

But because of the sword hanging over his head, Hellmuth's tirade is noticeably attenuated. He says what appears to be "Goddammit" (hard to know for sure, because it's bleeped out and he's moving rapidly, so it's difficult to read his lips), but that's it for the profanity. He repeatedly questions, "Queen-ten?" and similar comments. But he does not call his opponent an idiot. He does not tell him that he can't even spell poker. He doesn't tell him that he's the worst player in the world. He doesn't criticize the dealer for the cards that were put out (another bit of loveliness that Hellmuth was seen last week to have added to his repertoire). That this relative suppression of his wrath is due to the official warning is made clear when he wanders over to his family and says, "I can't tell him the truth" and "I can't tell him what he really is" and "I can't say it" because "they'll give me a penalty."

Several years ago, economist John Lott wrote a highly controversial book called More Guns, Less Crime, in which he showed (more or less convincingly, depending on your point of view) that increased access to firearms by law-abiding citizens leads to reductions in violent crime rates. He realized that this might seem implausible to readers who tend to think of criminals as being irrational people not prone to thinking through their actions, and thus not likely to respond to incentives or disincentives. Therefore, he discusses whether criminals' conduct can actually be modified by incentives (pp. 16-17):

Yet even if we assume that most criminals are laregly irrational,
deterrence issues raise some tough questions about human nature, questions that
are at the heart of very different views of crime and how to combat it. Still it
is important to draw a distinction between "irrational" behavior and the notion
that deterrence doesn't matter. One doesn't necessarily imply the other. For
instance, some people may hold strange, unfathomable objectives, but this does
not mean that they cannot be discouraged from doing things that bring
increasingly undesirable consequences. While we may not solve the deeper
mysteries of how the human mind works, I hope that the following uncontroversial
example can help show how deterrence works.

Suppose that a hypothetical Mr. Smith is passed over for a promotion. He
keeps a stiff upper lip at work, but after he gets home he kicks his dog. Now
this might appear entirely irrational: the dog did not misbehave. Obviously Mr.
Smith got angry at his boss, but he took it out on his poor dog instead. Could
we conclude that he is an emotional, irrational individual not responding to
incentives? Hardly. The reason that he did not respond forcefully to his boss is
probably that he feared the consequences. Expressing his anger at the boss might
have resulted in his being fired or passed up for future promotions. An
alternative way to vent his frustration would have been to kick his co-workers
or throw things around the office. But again, Mr. Smith chose not to engage in
such behavior because of the likely consequences for his job. In economic terms,
the costs are too high. He manages to bottle up his anger until he gets home and
kicks his dog. The dog is a "low-cost" victim.

Here lies the perplexity: the whole act may be viewed as highly
irrational--after all, Mr. Smith doesn't truly accomplish anything. But still he
tries to minimize the bad consequences of venting his anger.

Hellmuth is just like Mr. Smith. When he knows that he profits from his antics (as I argued previously), and he perceives no real disincentive (because tournament officials never actually enforce the rules against him), we get tirades. But all it takes is convincing him that there are real penalties actually about to come into play, and he suddenly becomes capable of reining himself in. Even though the whole act is highly irrational, he responds rationally to properly designed incentives and disincentives.

Now that tournament officials know this, the only question is whether they will use this knowledge to continue to apply pressure to Phil to shape up, or whether they will allow him to return to his practiced ways of kicking co-workers and throwing things around the office.

Could ESPN gets its facts right this week?

My last installment in this series was just a few days ago, because I was late in the week getting to the WSOP broadcast. I'm a little more on top of it this week.

You can see above the first ESPN "Poker Fact." Let's see whether it's correct.

There are ten different ranks of straights, from A-5 through 10-A. Each of them is obviously made of five cards of different ranks, each of which could be any of four suits. So for each straight there are 4 x 4 x 4 x 4 x 4 = 1024 different ways of making the straight. However, four of those combinations--the ones that are all of the same suit--will actually make a straight flush, and one can't legitimately call that just a "straight." So we have to subtract 4 from 1024, leaving 1020. 1020 different combinations of cards that can make up each straight, and ten different straights, means that there are 1020 x 10 = 10,200 different straights!

No problem for the first fact of the night. Let's cross our fingers and hope ESPN can keep it up.

This one is entirely straightforward. I'll again assume we're talking about hold'em here.

You get the first card. Now there are 51 cards left in the deck, of which 12 are of the same suit as the card you're holding. So the probability of the second hole card matching the suit of the first one is 12/51 = 0.235, or 23.5%.

Hooray! ESPN got two out of two right!

You think maybe somebody has tipped them off to this series of posts, and they decided to work a little harder at fact-checking? I doubt it.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

About blogging

For those of you who find yourself fascinated with the whole concept of blogging, I highly recommend this essay by Andrew Sullivan, "Why I Blog." (Thanks to Iggy for pointing me there.)

Some choice bits from it:

A reporter can wait—must wait—until every source has confirmed. A novelist
can spend months or years before committing words to the world. For bloggers,
the deadline is always now. Blogging is therefore to writing what extreme sports
are to athletics: more free-form, more accident-prone, less formal, more alive.
It is, in many ways, writing out loud....

In one of my early Kinsley-­guided experiments, he urged me not to
think too hard before writing. So I wrote as I’d write an e-mail—with only a
mite more circumspection. This is hazardous, of course, as anyone who has ever
clicked Send in a fit of anger or hurt will testify. But blogging requires an
embrace of such hazards, a willingness to fall off the trapeze rather than fail
to make the leap....

It was obvious from the start that it was revolutionary. Every writer since
the printing press has longed for a means to publish himself and
reach—instantly—any reader on Earth. Every professional writer has paid some
dues waiting for an editor’s nod, or enduring a publisher’s incompetence, or
being ground to literary dust by a legion of fact-checkers and copy editors. If
you added up the time a writer once had to spend finding an outlet, impressing
editors, sucking up to proprietors, and proofreading edits, you’d find another
lifetime buried in the interstices. But with one click of the Publish Now
button, all these troubles evaporated.

Alas, as I soon discovered, this sudden freedom from above was immediately
replaced by insurrection from below. Within minutes of my posting something,
even in the earliest days, readers responded. E-mail seemed to unleash their
inner beast. They were more brutal than any editor, more persnickety than any
copy editor, and more emotionally unstable than any colleague....

To blog is therefore to let go of your writing in a way, to hold it at
arm’s length, open it to scrutiny, allow it to float in the ether for a while,
and to let others, as Montaigne did, pivot you toward relative truth. A blogger
will notice this almost immediately upon starting. Some e-mailers,
unsurprisingly, know more about a subject than the blogger does. They will send
links, stories, and facts, challenging the blogger’s view of the world,
sometimes outright refuting it, but more frequently adding context and nuance
and complexity to an idea. The role of a blogger is not to defend against this
but to embrace it. He is similar in this way to the host of a dinner party. He
can provoke discussion or take a position, even passionately, but he also must
create an atmosphere in which others want to participate.

That atmosphere will inevitably be formed by the blogger’s personality. The
blogosphere may, in fact, be the least veiled of any forum in which a writer
dares to express himself. Even the most careful and self-aware blogger will
reveal more about himself than he wants to in a few unguarded sentences and
publish them before he has the sense to hit Delete. The wise panic that can
paralyze a writer—the fear that he will be exposed, undone, humiliated—is not
available to a blogger. You can’t have blogger’s block. You have to express
yourself now, while your emotions roil, while your temper flares, while your
humor lasts. You can try to hide yourself from real scrutiny, and the exposure
it demands, but it’s hard. And that’s what makes blogging as a form stand out:
it is rich in personality. The faux intimacy of the Web experience, the
closeness of the e-mail and the instant message, seeps through. You feel as if
you know bloggers as they go through their lives, experience the same things you
are experiencing, and share the moment....

It stems, I think, from the conversational style that blogging rewards.
What you want in a conversationalist is as much character as authority. And if
you think of blogging as more like talk radio or cable news than opinion
magazines or daily newspapers, then this personalized emphasis is less
surprising. People have a voice for radio and a face for television. For
blogging, they have a sensibility....

Rudeness, in any case, isn’t the worst thing that can happen to a blogger.
Being ignored is. Perhaps the nastiest thing one can do to a fellow blogger is
to rip him apart and fail to provide a link.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Fantasy question

During boring stretches at the poker table, my mind often wanders. One of the "what if" questions that occasionally pop into mind is what online poker site I would choose to have sponsor me.

Suppose I won the WSOP Main Event, or maybe a couple of consecutive World Poker Tour events, so that I'm a sizzling hot commodity in the poker world. Or, since that's not especially realistic, maybe just suppose that I found a lamp in an antique store, rubbed it, and a genie popped out (preferably an attractive one as pictured above, rather than a gruff old man type). But this time there's a twist on the old "three wishes" thing: I get only one wish, and it is limited to selecting which poker site to be a pro for. (This genie got bored after a few centuries cooped up in the bottle, and became an online poker addict. Hence the limited selection of wishes.)

However it happens, the baseline assumption is that all of the sites are offering the same financial package, whatever that might be, so that compensation is not a factor on which I can make my selection. Which one would I pick?

I wonder about this particularly when I see an announcement of a new pro signed up with a site. I would like to know what kind of behind-the-scenes negiotiations took place. For example, when Eric Lynch contracted with UltimateBet, everybody wondered out loud, "What was he thinking?" There was a similar reaction to Tiffany Michelle's decision to join the same outfit, though the recent announcement that Michael Binger will be on the team, too, seems to have been mostly ignored, for reasons that are not obvious to me.

Well, it seems that the first line of demarcation would be those that welcome United States players and those that don't. It would feel pretty silly to be representing a site which neither I nor the majority of people that I play with in casinos could use. (For a reasonably complete and frequently updated list of online sites and e-wallet services that do accept U.S. customers, see this very useful page.) That rules out what otherwise might be enticing opportunities, such as Party Poker and T6.

For similar reasons, I would automatically exclude sites that use the "11-state ban," which includes Nevada. That would rule out a few places, such as Eurolinx.

Next, I would want it to be a place that is reasonably well established, not some brand-new upstart that might go belly-up in a few months (as, for example, Duplicate Poker recently did).

Those two factors together limit the field to essentially these: Full Tilt Poker, PokerStars, Absolute Poker, UltimateBet, Bodog, Doyle's Room, Bugsy's Club, Poker Host. A few others, such as the Cake network or Players Only, are pretty iffy on the longevity count.

Of that short list, I would exclude Absolute Poker and UltimateBet. If the reasons for this exclusion aren't obvious, well, then, you just haven't been paying attention. Would I endorse one of these sites if they were the only ones to offer me a lucrative deal? Wow--I really don't know. I would hate to be put in a position to figure out how much I value not being thought of as part of Team Cheater. I wouldn't feel that it was an actual question of selling my integrity, because I genuinely believe that those sites no longer have superusers stealing from other players. But the residual taint would still be pretty awful, and I really don't know how much money it would take to get me to overlook that fact. Fortunately for my little fantasy here, I am imagining equal competing offers from every site, so I don't have to worry about that conundrum.

Next I would cross off Bodog. The immediate reason is that their involvement in sports betting pretty obviously has them in the crosshairs of the Department of Justice these days, and who needs that kind of trouble? Another reason is that I think their overall marketing plan is pretty sleazy (sex sells, right?), and I'd prefer not to have to be embarrassed by all of that excess.

So that basically leaves me with Full Tilt, PokerStars, and Doyle's Room as the bigger players, and Poker Host, Players Only, and Cake as the lesser entities. Normally I'm an iconoclastic, against-the-grain kind of guy, rooting for the underdog (like, did you notice who I voted for???), but one of the nice perks of representing a site would, I think, be rubbing elbows with the other pros on the team. The smaller sites have virtually nobody in their stables. I wouldn't want to be the only face they splash on their ads and the only one wearing their colors at big tournaments.

That means I have it narrowed down to Full Tilt, Stars, and Doyle. I think I would next have to say "sorry" to The Godfather, because, though I like his site, it doesn't offer razz or HORSE, which is most of what I play online.

Then between Full Tilt and PokerStars, it's not an easy decision. FTP has a generally more impressive roster of players, although they have, in my opinion, been diluting it lately by signing up every Tom, Dick, and Harry as red-name pros. What the sites offer to their players is pretty comparable. I generally prefer playing on Stars, though the reasons are highly subjective and not terribly important preferences, rather than stark, black-and-white differences. I could endorse either one in good faith. Stars has an edge in having moved their licensing away from the troubled and tainted Kahnawake Gaming Commission and their servers off of the Kahnawake computer farm--a lead that I wish FTP would follow.

All things considered, I think I'd end up signing on the dotted line of PokerStars. It's the place that I actually play most, so I wouldn't have to either lie or change my practices. As far as I can tell, they are top of the line in customer service and game integrity. They have an impressive and growing roster of fellow pros to be teaming up with. I don't know of them ever having done anything sleazy or shady in business terms or promotions. So Team PokerStars it is.

Of course, the probability of me actually encountering a genie who presents me with this offer is fairly small, and it is even less likely that I will become an overnight sensation/hotshot poker superstar anytime soon. So I don't really have to make a final decision just yet.

But it's good to be prepared, just in case, right?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Poker gems, #174

David "Viffer" Peat, in Card Player magazine interview, October 22, 2008 (Vol. 21, #21), p. 49, on what it's like to play poker for a living.

I'll be honest with you, I used to love the lifestyle, but I have realized that it is not fulfilling. The money keeps me playing, though. Let me tell you a story. About a year ago, I was playing in a $100-$200 game and ended up talking to this kid who told me that he was one year away from finishing law school, but he was going to give it all up to play poker. I told him that I would trade my lifestyle, and all of the money I have, to be one year away from graduating from law school and owing a bunch of money, but having a chance at a real life. Poker leads to a lonely life, and you don't ever get a sense of accomplishment. The only fulfillment for a poker player is winning money, that's it.