Saturday, November 01, 2008

What Vegas has been needing: Another new poker room!

I see that the "M Resort" will be opening in March, 2009, something like 3 miles south of South Point. You can see a general floor plan here, and tucked away in the lower left corner is a spot labeled "Poker room." Hard to tell much about it at this point, of course, but it's next to the sports book, with restrooms just outside the room, and it looks like there is some sort of wall or half-wall between the poker room and the main casino floor, with a deli just on the other side of the sports book. It also looks like the poker room is immediately adjacent to the parking garage. These are all good things. I'm hopeful.

Check out the latest construction photos here. Looks to me like a beautiful building, perhaps rivaling the Wynn for aesthetics, at least externally.

New poker room at Binion's

I was at Binion's today for dinner with a friend--$7.95 prime rib special from 4 p.m. to midnight in the Coffee Shop. I'm a splurger, as you can tell.

Anyway, they had signs around announcing the new poker room, which apparently opened about 24 hours ago. I didn't have a chance to sit down and play, but I peeked in and snapped these photos. It looks very elegant.

There's sort of an anteroom/lounge thing with a check-in desk. You can sit and wait there for your seat to open up. They have past WSOP winners' photos on one wall and the Poker Hall of Fame on the other. Separating this from the actual poker room is a plexiglas wall, then down a few stairs and you're in the sunken room. The total space looks like less than they had before, and the tables are closer together. But my guess is that that will be more than compensated by the improved isolation from casino noise and smoke. The big-screen TVs also seem to be placed better for watching, if that's important to you.

I wonder about how they will manage communication between the dealers and the desk, but maybe they have something effective worked out.

The tournament area of the old poker room has not changed. It seems kind of odd to have the two things separated now (I'm guessing it's 50 yards between them).

I'll post another report after I've had a chance to try the new room out.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Summerlin poker

Tonight I went out to Suncoast to see their new poker room. You can see what I saw in the photos above. Not a lot to say about it. It's much like the old one, but without quite as much of the airy, luxurious space between tables. The first couple of tables are also a lot closer to the noise and smoke of adjacent slot machine than any tables in the old room were. Maybe the worst thing about the new place is that the restrooms, instead of being immediately outside the room, are now clear across the casino floor--one of the longest restroom hikes of any poker room that I can think of offhand. That's annoying.

Suncoast has also recently discontinued its $1-2 no-limit hold'em game. Instead, they play with a single $5 blind, the buy-in being $100 to $500. This is a structure I've never seen anywhere before. It definitely changes the character of the game. It threw me off at first. I guess the best way to describe the result is that people play in a more fundamentally sound way. There is less limping and more open-raising. Seeing a flop feels substantially less cheap, and players are noticeably less willing to play an "any two cards" strategy. Family pots are virtually non-existent. That's what threw me off--I'm used to being up against several crappy limpers' hands when I have a good one. Also, since a raise is pretty much going to have to be to about $15 to accomplish anything meaningful, pots grow quickly. On the flop, because the pot size is larger, a bet has to be larger to succeed at whatever goal one might have for it. I imagined at first that the game would have less action than a typical $1-2 game, but paradoxically the result is the opposite, with far larger average pots. One's variance will definitely be higher as a consequence.

In short, the game plays tighter, smarter, and bigger simultaneously. It's an interesting change of pace and challenge. But after being stymied for the first couple of orbits (because my habitual strategy was not working), and getting down to my last $35, I rallied and hit hands at key moments, leaving up by $339 in a bit under two hours. It feels good not just to win, but to be presented with a new poker challenge and successfully figure out how I have to adjust my play.

I rarely play at Red Rock casino, for two good reasons. First, it's too far away. Second, it's one of the most difficult $1-2/$1-3 NLHE games in town to beat, in my opinion. I would put it right up there with the Wynn and the Mirage as averaging the fewest soft spots at the table. My previous experience there is that I either lose or have to play my A-game to score a win. I hadn't played there since May, 2007.

But tonight I was sort of feeling my oats, and I decided that being at Suncoast was already about 90% of the way there, so I might as well give it another shot. I don't like to think that there's any NLHE game in town that is within my bankroll that I need to be intimidated by. Well, I guess I had a little something going tonight, because I pulled in $177 in an hour, then just felt too tired to be at my best for any longer, so called it a day.

On my way out, I remembered that there's a Fatburger at Red Rock. I've lived here for over two years now, and somehow had not yet found my way to a Fatburger. I decided it was time to give it a go for a midnight meal. You certainly have to wait longer than any other fast food place I've been to (they don't start cooking the burger until you order it), but it is indeed worth it. Much better than In 'n' Out Burger, I thought, though the latter tends to get more raves.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

More WSOP insanity

I had skipped ahead to glean the "Poker Fact" from the second part of this week's WSOP broadcast (so that I could write up my post on it) without watching the entire hour, until just now. I noticed a moment that showed one participant's delusional beliefs, reminiscent of those displayed by Jerry Yang at last year's final table.

Joe Bishop's father died earlier this year (April, I believe they said). At one point in the show, he has called David Rheem's all-in bluff with pocket sixes, and his hand is holding up. After the turn card, we see him sitting by himself, away from the table. He looks upward and says, "Come on, Dad. Come with me. Come on, Dad."

Now, admittedly this is not quite as explicit as Jerry Yang saying, "Lord, give me a set" before the river card is exposed. Still, it certainly seems that it's basically the same thing. Bishop appears to believe that his dead father (1) is physically somewhere above him (hence the looking up), (2) can hear him, and (3) has the ability to alter the order of the cards in the dealer's hand, such that if Bishop pleads with him correctly, his dead father will magically cause a good card to be transported into the second position in the deck, so that after the dealer burns the top card, a good one for Bishop's hand will be dealt as fifth street.

Probably by now I don't have to explain how insane this is. Believing that unseen dieties and/or ghosts and/or other mystical forces or entities can and will re-order the shuffled deck in the dealer's hand is just plain looney. It's delusional. Such beliefs are a sign of an unwell, unsound mind.

As it turns out, apparently Bishop's father isn't a particularly powerful ghost (maybe he hasn't earned his wings yet, like Clarence in "It's a Wonderful Life")--or perhaps Bishop just didn't ask the right way, or maybe his father wasn't paying attention at the critical moment, because Chino Rheem caught one of his six outs on the river to stay alive.

Heck, maybe Rheem was silently praying to one of his own dead ancestors--one who had stronger magical mojo and floated that king into position at the last second. That would be amusing, to have competing ghosts wrestling for control over the cards in the deck--much like the bizarre image we had last year of God's influence being invoked in opposite directions simultaneously by Yang's faction and Lee Watkinson's fiancee.

Will the madness ever stop?

On a more benign and more amusing note, I noticed that Nick Sliwinski's friends and family were all wearing t-shirts that they apparently had had made for the occasion, emblazoned on the back with the words, "Whose the bully now." (No question mark.) I'm guessing that not one of them noticed that it should have been "Who's," rather than "Whose." I wonder if the guy printing up the shirts noticed that his customers were asking to have their atrocious spelling/grammar skills advertised to the world, and diplomatically just kept his mouth shut and did as they directed, or whether he, too, didn't know the difference.

Oh well. Either way, being ignorant isn't nearly as bad as being delusional.

Poker gems, #179

Chris "Fox" Wallace, in Poker Pro magazine column, October, 2008, p. 76.

Do you ever wonder, when some fish is calling you a fish, if they would do the same thing to people in other professions? Does he tell engineers that they don't know how to build bridges and that the things hold up because the engineers are so damn lucky?

Two years old

It was two years ago today that this blog first appeared, debuting with this post. Seems like an eternity has passed since writing that.

Just a year ago, I was averaging about 100 readers a day. Now it's up to around 450. It boggles my mind to think that that many people point their browsers here day after day just to find out what I may have written in the last 24 hours. Mighty humbling, that.

My father once said--in front of my whole church--that my "terrible twos" lasted from two months to 22 years. But if the "terrible two" syndrome involves grumpiness, and that's what y'all tune in for, maybe there's another year's worth of posts left in this two-year-old blog.

As always, thanks for reading.

Doyle doesn't like me anymore

Or at least he doesn't want me playing on his site. I got this email earlier today:

Dear Player,
We have received notice from our poker software provider
that as of Thursday, October 30th, they will begin blocking connections from 13
U.S. states based on IP address.
If your internet service provider is based
in one of the following 13 states, you may or may not be affected by this
Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, New Jersey, New York,
Nevada, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Wisconsin, Washington and Kentucky.
Blocked connections will receive an error message upon attempting to login
to the poker client. Please read the Common Concerns below and if you believe
your connection to the poker client is being blocked in error, please contact
customer service immediately at so that we may assist you in
logging into your account.

This is strange, because a year or so ago when Doyle's Room came back from oblivion, it used the 13-state ban. Then, without any announcement that I heard, they started allowing Nevada residents to play. And now they're going back to the 13-state restriction. Nothing about the Nevada legal landscape has changed. So what genius legal counsel decided that it was problematic a year ago, then fine, and now problematic again? It makes no sense.

The email also didn't tell me anything about how I might get my money back, since I can't use it to play any more. If the client won't even fire up for me, it's not clear how I'll file a withdrawal request.

One obvious question is how Doyle and Todd and Hoyt are going to continue playing on the site for their bounty tournaments. But they apparently managed it when they worked under the 13-state ban previously, so I suppose they will do so again. No public explanation of this was made back then, and I kind of doubt that one will be forthcoming now. But my guess is that they'll keep playing, while blocking everybody else in the Silver State from joining them.

It all stinks.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Maybe the last chance ESPN has to get its facts right

I don't know if ESPN will continue with its "Poker Facts" feature with the next broadcasts, which are to be a final table preview, then the final table itself. If so, fine, I get more chances to see how they do. If not, then last night's show was their last chance to shine. Let's see how they did. (For previous posts in this series, start here and work backwards through the links provided.)

The first fact, shown above, requires the assumption that "an Ace" is meant literally--i.e., you do not have two aces.

Now we have to determine the probability that none of the other eight players at the table was dealt one of the other three aces. Each of them has two cards (because, as usual, we're presumably dealing with Texas hold'em here), for a total of 16 cards. The probability that the first player's first card is not an ace is 47/50, because there are 50 unknown cards and 47 of them are not aces. The probability that this player's second card is not an ace, given that his first card was not an ace, is 46/49, because there are now 49 cards left, of which 46 are not aces. We continue the same logic for all 16 cards, and end up with this expression for the joint probability that none of those 16 cards is an ace:

47/50 x 46/49 x 45/48 x ... x 32/35

Fortunately, the arithmetic is simplified by the fact that many of the numbers appear in both the numerator of one term and the denominator of another, and thus cancel out. But when you do the multiplication, you end up with 0.3053, or 30.53%. Note that this is exactly the inverse of ESPN's claim; i.e., 100% - 69.47% = 30.53%.

The problem, though, is that ESPN did the calculation correctly, but then used the wrong part of the result! 69.47% is the probability that there is at least one other ace held by another player. 30.53% is the probability of there not being another ace among those 16 hidden cards.

This makes sense if you think about it for a second. We're talking about 16 cards out of 50, or a hair under one-third of the deck in opponents' hands. There are three aces. It stands to reason that on average there will be one other ace out there, so you would expect the probability of another player holding an ace to be over significantly over 50%.

ESPN's blunder here was made worse by the voiceover, which said, "At a nine-handed table, if you hold an ace pre-flop, there is a 70% chance you're the only one who has one, so use it wisely."

The second poker "fact" of the night was the one shown above. This one is actually really difficult for me to check. It's not hard to find a list of Main Event champions and where they were calling home at the time that they won. But finding where they all were born is not easy. I don't know of any available resource that has that information all in one place.

Nevertheless, I think ESPN is correct. To the best of my ability to check things quickly, here's the list of non-American-born winners and their homelands:

Johnny Chan (1987, 1988)--China
Mansour Matloubi (1990)--Iran
Hamid Dastmalchi (1992)--Iran
Scotty Nguyen (1998)--Vietnam
Noel Furlong (1999)--Ireland
Carlos Mortensen (2001)--Spain
Joe Hachem (2005)--Australia
Jerry Yang (2007)--Laos

The caveat is that it's certainly possible that one of the apparently American winners was actually born somewhere else, while living most of his life in the states. But I'm going to assume that that is not the case, and give ESPN credit for this one.

This week's score: 1 for 2.

Poker gems, #178

Al Reinert, in Texas Monthly magazine, 1973, as quoted in The Championship Table by Dana Smith, Tom McEvoy, and Ralph Wheeler, p. 98.

Poker is a game of silent courage and sublimated paranoia.

A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do

My first two visits to the Tropicana poker room were horrible experiences, as I chronicled here and here. It was my intention never to return. However, when I talk to fellow grinders that I run into in the city's poker rooms, the Trop keeps coming up as a place they find profitable and easy to beat. It has been almost a year since my last trip there, so last night I decided to hold my nose and give it another try.

I was pleasantly surprised. The staff were all helpful and professional. The players were all friendly. I had a perfectly enjoyable (and profitable) evening there. I'm going to relent in my previous decision to keep it off of my list of places to hit--might even go there again tonight.

One hand is worth retelling. Player A limps in from early position. Player B puts in a standard raise. I'm on the button and call with 7-8 offsuit. Player A calls, too.

The flop is 3-6-9 rainbow, giving me an open-ended straight draw. Player A checks. Player B bets $10, fairly small. I think both of them missed this flop. I don't typically raise with draws, but this is a spot where it seems right, because I could easily take down the pot if both of them missed, as I suspect, and if one or both call, it builds a bigger pot that I could win either by hitting my hand or by betting bigger on the next street. I make it $35. Player A calls. Player B folds. Player A is a tight, solid player who hasn't been out of line all night, so his call gives me some reason for concern. With no draws other than mine sitting there, he's now smelling like a big made hand slow-playing.

But the turn is my gin card--a 5, giving me the nuts. To my surprise, Player A bets out pretty big, something like $60. He has roughly $100 left behind. This looks to me like he likes his hand enough that he'll be willing to get all the money in. I have him covered. I move all in. He immediately calls. This makes me think that we may have the same hand, and I even say that as I turn over my straight. But when he sees it, he grimaces. He has pocket nines, and had flopped the top set. He understandably must have thought he was ahead, as he couldn't expect me to have played 7-8 or 4-7 (the only two hands that would have him beat) for a pre-flop raise. (Of course, that's exactly why I will sometimes call a raise with such junk, because when it hits, it's marvelously disguised.) The board doesn't pair for him, and I win a pot of something like $400.

This hand wouldn't be especially remarkable or worth writing up here except for one unusual factor: Player A is a guy I've met before through an meetup. He's also a reader here, and the person I mentioned in this post, less than two weeks ago, who was kind enough to pass on a very helpful and profitable suggestion of a table change at Mandalay Bay.

Although I don't know him well, those previous interactions made taking his whole stack quite a bit more uncomfortable than it would usually be. In terms of emotion and social interaction, it's a lot easier to feel nothing about taking the money of a complete stranger with whom I've had no past.

I don't feel badly about it, exactly, but there is a twinge of mixed feeling going on. Given the choice, I'd rather have taken the chips from somebody with whom I had not previously shared a fun dinner, and who had not so recently showed me a kindness. But poker doesn't let us choose who will be on the bad end of those rare occasions when two big hands clash.

If the situation had been reversed--me with the set, him with the straight--or if the board had paired on the river to give him a full house, I would have disliked it, but I wouldn't take it personally, as if he had done me a wrong somehow. I hope that that will be true for him as well. I think we have to acknowledge that we are all sitting there in order to try to take each other's money. Crass as that sounds, it's the bottom-line truth of the game. So when somebody succeeds, it's hard to consider him ill-mannered for it.

Earlier this year, after losing a painful razz hand to a reader, I wrote this post about the experience. I said there, "It happens fairly often these days that I encounter a reader in the casinos or across the virtual felt.... Should you find yourself in that situation, give me your best shot, because I will be doing the same, with a promise of no hard feelings however it comes out."

That remains true. I think that taking money from somebody who has identified himself to me as a reader, or somebody with whom I have some other history from outside of poker, will always provoke mixed feelings about the awkwardness of the situation. Still, this is what I do, how I keep the bills paid, and I can't apologize for it with any degree of sincerity. All I can do is acknowledge that it's uncomfortable on both sides, then shake hands, shrug it off, and go on.

The Tropicana is one of the most prolific purveyors of collectible casino chips, so my tentative willingness to start patronizing the place more frequently will provide the opportunity of a significant expansion of my chip collection. The chip shown above is one of several I pocketed last night. I'm not much interested in sports, but when I saw this chip sitting in the pot last night, I immediately asked the dealer to trade it to me, because of one remarkable feature that I spotted: It is #1 in the limited edition of 1000. I have never before seen any #1 in a numbered series of chips in circulation, so I considered it quite a find. I doubt that it's especially valuable monetarily, but I think it's pretty cool.

I. Nelson Rose on the Kentucky case

See here.

For those who don't know, Rose is a leading authority on gaming law. He is a professor at Whittier College of Law in California, authored one of the standard texts in the field, has a regular column in Poker Player newspaper, and was instrumental in getting California's courts to legalize all forms of poker back in the 1980s. I have been looking forward to reading his thoughts on the Kentucky case; this is the first I've seen from him on the matter.

While we're at it, see this update on the legal maneuvers. I'm highly confident that the ruling will eventually get overturned on appeal. However, getting an appellate court to intervene on an emergency basis is a lot harder, so it won't be too surprising if this initial round fails. Appellate courts tend to prefer to wait until the trial court is all done with the case before reviewing it, and they typically have a high threshold for accepting that there will be permanent damage done if they don't step in quickly.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Book review: Killer Poker by the Numbers

Yesterday while I had a bunch of down time with an inoperable computer, I took the opportunity to read one of my newest acquisitions, Tony Guerrera's Killer Poker by the Numbers.

I don't do many book reviews here. The two most prominent reasons for this are (1) I have a nasty habit of starting a lot more books than I finish, and generally I think it's unfair to write a critique of a book I haven't read all the way through (though there are exceptions, in which case I state explicitly that I'm reviewing just a particular portion), and (2) my slightly OCD-ish tendencies make me inclined to write reviews that are as long as the books. I want to list everything I like and dislike, agree and disagree with. That's too much work, so I often just don't even bother starting.

But in this instance, I don't have any trouble writing a generalized, summary review. I didn't hate this book, but I also didn't get anything out of it.

The basic idea is that he walks you through a bunch of poker situations of increasing complexity. With each one, he shows you how to estimate a range of hands that your opponent(s) might have, count the number of different card combinations that could make each of those possible hands, guess at an opponent's likely response to your decision to call or raise, figure out the various possible outcomes of the hand with their associated probabilities and the size of the resulting pot you will win or lose, then put all of those elements together mathematically to reach a conclusion about which move has the highest +EV.

But none of this is new to me. As far as I can tell, there isn't a single original concept here. Yeah, it's reasonably well presented, if you've never worked through this kind of complicated problem before. But once you've done it a few times, there's not much more to learn.

All such exercises have some value in just being able to do them in detail away from the table, with no time pressures. The practical problem comes in being able to translate the kind of theoretical exercise that might take an hour or two to work through into a useful shortcut that you might actually be able to employ in the 30 seconds or so that you typically have to make a poker decision in the real world. That is the gap that I had hoped this book would bridge, an impression that was bolstered by the descriptions of it I read on But it was not to be. I didn't finish the book feeling any better able to apply the math at the table than I was before starting it.

The problem, obviously, comes from the inability to put any decent estimate into what a particular opponent will do in reaction to a particular move that I make. For example, when I need to figure out the probability that a player will fold to a bluff or semi-bluff, I find that I am usually unable to do any better than "more than 50%" or "less than 50%." As Guerrera acknowledges, your overall computation can't be any more accurate than the least precise factor in the equation, so if you can do no better than a fairly wild guess at such a basic parameter as whether an opponent will fold to a bluff raise, it's pretty silly to spend a whole lot of time following an outcome tree to a series of all possible outcomes.

With most poker strategy books, a situation is described, and your options are explained, along with rough estimates of how opponents might react (with different approximate likelihoods assigned to different types of players), and the outcomes that one might expect. Well, KPBTN does the same, but just replaces guesses such as "usually" and "typically" and "often" with numerical estimates, then does EV estimations.

I'm just not convinced that the result is any better than the more traditional and generalized way of discussing hands. The inability to come up with anything more accurate than ballpark guesses of specific opponents' reactions makes the resulting math, well, not a sham, exactly, but not especially useful. When I read through the scenarios, I was able to pretty quickly come up with a list of possible lines of action to take and a gut sense of which ones I thought were most profitable. After Guerrera spends pages and pages slogging through the numbers, his conclusions tended to mirror what I had already decided would be the best approaches to the hand.

In short, for an experienced player who has played enough that pattern recognition is already acting as a shortcut substitute for an explicit, step-by-step, deductive process as to what an opponent has and is likely to do, KPBTN shouldn't be a step backward, but I also think it's unlikely to be much of a step forward. If you've never worked through the hard math of a poker problem decision tree, I think it's probably worth reading this book and forcing yourself through the calculations, because it makes you think explicitly about all of the possible outcomes and their relative likelihoods. That is undoubtedly good brain exercise. I'm just dubious that it will actually improve your decision-making process the next time you have a tough situation to analyze in the heat of battle over the green felt.

Maybe it just comes down to me being more of a "feel" player than a "math" player (which may also relate to why I do so much better live than online). I'm not intimidated by probability calculations (as I hope I've adequately demonstrated in previous posts). It's just that I'm not convinced that anything beyond fairly rudimentary pot-odds math is going to be of much practical help in most poker situations.

Almost two years ago, I wrote this post, in which I included mention of what Charlie Shoten tells himself when facing a poker decision: "I am calm, confident, and clear, and I wait for my best choice to appear after considering all of my choices and the consequences of each. When my best choice appears, I act." If you can do that, I don't think you need Guerrera's book, which basically just gives you the long way of getting to the same destination.

Poker gems, #177

Sign outside one Gold Rush era San Francisco saloon/gambling hall, according to Des Wilson's Ghosts at the Table, as excerpted in Poker Pro magazine, October, 2008, p. 54:

Five free drinks if you find any of the waiter girls wearing underwear.

Monday, October 27, 2008

We interrupt this blog...

Sorry, folks. I've had a dead computer for the last couple of days. The repair guy just left. He fixed the problem, cleaned out a bunch of deadwood that had been hanging around my hard drive, left me with a couple more spyware/malware detection programs (apparently something slipped by the one I had working), and tripled my RAM, which is something I should have done long ago. The computer is working great now--better than it ever has before, in fact. But I'm left with a bunch of stuff to catch up on, so it will probably be a couple of days before blogging resumes again.

If you live in the Vegas area and need emergency computer service, let me recommend TLC Computer Solutions, 702-275-8455.