Friday, November 07, 2008

Poker gems, #184

Mike Caro, in Bluff magazine column, July, 2008, p. 81.

The amazing truth is that poker's biggest winners aren't necessarily those with the greatest skills. Among accomplished players, the ones who come closest to playing their best game all the time make the most money.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Poker gems, #183

Jennifer Tilly, in Bluff magazine column, July, 2008, p. 44.

I realize with small pots you can be wrong many times and still be in the game. With big pots you can only be wrong once.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Heads-up poker

Played two more matches with my snot-nosed kid nephew just now. Beat him both times. That'll show him! I was tempted to write in the chat box, "You're good, kid, but as long as I'm around you're second best. You might as well learn to live with it." But I'm about 100% certain he wouldn't catch the reference.

While playing, I was reminded of an article that Chris Ferguson wrote for All In magazine a couple of years ago. It is not to be found on their web site. I found a link to it in a forum, but the link didn't work. However, that gave me what had been the URL for the article, then using the wonderful Internet Wayback Machine, I found it here. It presents a solid basic strategy. So if you missed the article the first time around, or read it but didn't save it (like me), now you can get to it whenever you like.

Poker gems, #182

Lee Jones, in Bluff magazine article, July, 2008, p. 41 (available here).

Look, as I said before, I work for, so I hope you’ll come check us out. But whether you do or not, consider this: If you’re not studying poker training videos at some site to improve your game, the guy in the #3 seat, and the lady in #7 — they are. When they take your money, please don’t complain to me.

The Grump's Great Harrah's Challenge (plus a few others)

An idea occurred to me recently. I wanted to challenge myself to play and win in the whole row of Harrah's* properties on the Strip, all in one day. As I thought about it more, the idea evolved into a challenge that I will open up to all readers. It's a contest of sorts, though there's no prize other than (1) bragging rights and (2) a post here lauding the winner's enviable accomplishment.

Here's the challenge: At each of the seven Harrah's poker rooms clustered around Flamingo and Las Vegas Boulevard--specifically, Harrah's, Imperial Palace, O'Shea's, Flamingo, Bill's, Bally's, and Caesars Palace (note that Paris recently closed its poker room, else this challenge would be even more difficult)--you must play either limt hold'em at $4-$8 or lower, or no-limit hold'em at $1-3 or lower (cash games, obviously--not tournaments). You can buy in for as much or as little as you like and the house rules allow, but you must manage a net win of $100 or more by the time you check out in order to count a "W" for that property.

The winner will be the person who scores seven wins of $100 or more in the shortest time. In the event that nobody manages seven wins, the winner will be the person who scores six wins in the shortest time, and so forth. (A loss is counted the same as not having tried to play in a particular place. No marks against you, though it costs you time, obviously.) In the unlikely event that we have more than one player with seven wins, and their total times are within about 15 minutes of each other (i.e., so close as to constitute a virtual tie), the tie will be broken by who had the biggest overall net profit.

Obviously this is going to have to be done on the honor system. But since I'm not offering a million dollars, I'm not too concerned about cheaters.

Please submit your accomplishments, even if you don't score wins in all seven properties, or even if you don't set foot in all seven. If you win in even, say, four, and either lose in the other three or don't get to them, send in your numbers anyway. I don't really have any good sense of what it will take to win, and it might be well short of 7 Ws.

I think I'm going to impose a maximal time limit for any challenge of, say, five days. Otherwise, I could probably just go through my own records and find a set of dates encompassing a few months in which a scored a W at each place. That's no fun. You have to be trying to do this, and a time span of more than a few days suggests that you weren't really trying.

Write in (email address is listed in my profile, in the left-hand margin) telling me your name or pseudonym, the start and stop times (and it doesn't have to be all in one day--perhaps 7 Ws over the course of five days will prove to be the winner), the amount you won or lost in each property, and the date(s) of your attempt. I'll keep track of them, and one year from today tabulate the winners. I will assume that, unless otherwise specified, sending me your report constitutes permission to write about it and quote from what you say as I see fit.

I made one attempt so far, and did badly. I started at Harrah's (you can do them in any order you like, by the way), lost three consecutive buy-ins, decided it wasn't my day for poker, and went home. That was Sunday, October 26. I haven't tried again since then. But I will. And I'll report any progress toward a 7-W day (my personal goal) here.

If you're not a fan of the Harrah's properties, or you're staying elsewhere in town, there are ancillary contests running, too, because my original idea sort of metastatized. Specifically, we have:

The Grump's Great Downtown Challenge. Same basic idea, but the poker rooms involved are the five downtown ones (Golden Nugget, Plaza, Fitzgeralds, Binion's, and El Cortez). This one will be difficult because it may be hard to find games--particular no-limit games--going much of the time at the Plaza, Fitzgeralds, and El Cortez. Because I intend never again to play at the Plaza or El Cortez, I'm not likely to be putting in any serious attempt on this one.

The Grump's Great Boulder Highway Challenge. Same basic idea, but involving Sam's Town, Boulder Station, Eastside Cannery, Jokers Wild, and Club Fortune.

The Grump's Great South Strip Challenge. Same basic idea, but involving Silverton, South Point, and the M Resort (which means that you won't be able to start this until about March, when the M opens).

The Grump's Great MGM/Mirage Challenge. Same basic idea, but involving the trio of Excalibur, Luxor, and Mandalay Bay. This will likely be the easiest one to win, both because there are only three rooms involved and because they are all connected by indoor walkways.

The Grump's Great Flamingo Road Challenge. Same basic idea, but involving the casinos along Flamingo that are not listed in the other geographically-defined challenges, specifically, Gold Coast, Palms, Rio, Bellagio, and Tuscany.

The Grump's Great Tropicana Avenue Challenge. Same basic idea, but involving properties clustered on or near Tropicana, not listed in other geographically-defined challenges, specifically, Monte Carlo, MGM Grand, Tropicana, Hooters, and Orleans.

The Grump's Great North Strip Challenge. Same basic idea, but involving the Stratosphere, Palace Station, Sahara, Riviera, and Circus Circus.

The Grump's Great North Las Vegas Challenge. Same basic idea, but involving Texas Station, Santa Fe Station, Cannery, Aliante Station (due to open one week from today), and Poker Palace.

The Grump's Great Henderson Challenge. Same basic idea, but involving Sunset Station, Fiesta Henderson, and Green Valley Ranch. This should be the second-easiest one to accomplish (as long as you have a car), if you're not up for the harder ones.

The Grump's Great Black Lung Challenge. This one was inspired by this recent trip report posted over on, describing an attempt to hit in one day all of the city's poker rooms that still allow smoking right at the table. The problem was that those involved apparently didn't know the whole list, or silently chose to omit a couple. The list is now this: Arizona Charlie's-Decatur, Hooters, Club Fortune, Boulder Station, Palms (after 2:00 a.m., I believe--and to qualify for this challenge, you have to put in your time there during the smoking hours). Regular readers of this blog might guess that I will not be attempting this challenge. Also, this one will involve the most driving, so if the cigarettes don't kill you, the traffic might. Good luck with all that. Note: You don't have to be a smoker to attempt this challenge, but it probably helps.

Yes, I'm aware that I'm leaving out a lot of fine places, like the Venetian and Treasure Island. But there's only so many ways you can group these things and end up with a manageable number and logical geographic clustering. If you want to set up a similar deal with some other defined group(s) of poker rooms, well, just get your own blog and do it!

So that's eleven different challenges you can try, if you're up for it. The challenges are now open. Good luck, everybody!

*Yeah, I know that the corporate name is now Caesars. But just about everybody still calls it Harrah's--including some representatives of the corporation--and I will do the same here.

It's all so depressing

Congratulations, America. It appears that you have just elected the most statist, anti-freedom, anti-individual-rights president in history, or at least since FDR, whose appalling legacy of "big government is the answer for everything" still haunts us, drags down our economy, and saps our individual wealth to pay for it all.

It's mind-boggling to me that Americans seem so eager not to be geuinely free, at least as evidenced by how we vote. Every cycle, we elect people who have told us to our faces that they think we should be less free than we are, and for some incomprehensible reason, the majority of us seem to think that's the way to go. I just don't get it.

Of course, I'd be only slightly less depressed if McCain had won, because his policy views are, taken as a whole, only slightly less repugnant to liberty than Obama's. As we liberatarians are wont to say, the only difference between Republicans and Democrats is which freedoms they want to take away first.

It's going to be a long four years.

Oh, and incidentally, this is the first time I will have a president who is younger than me (by about four months). Nothing good can come of that.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

I'm suing Fitzgeralds

I was at the Fitzgeralds Casino last night. (I just now noticed that the name is not to be in the possessive form. But the tag/label I made for it erroneously already has the apostrophe in it, and it's too much trouble to fix it, so too bad.) I was in the "Club Fitz" office because I had received in the mail a coupon for $25 of free slot play, and had to redeem the coupon in the office before I could use it. (Took about ten minutes to run through that much on a "Wheel of Fortune" machine. Got nothing out of it.) While there, I noticed the "Blarney Stone" shown above.

Now, Fitzgeralds, more than about any joint in town that I can think of, stresses, in every possible way and on every possible surface, the idea of getting lucky. As you can see above, when I asked the cocktail waitress for a bottle of water to drink while I played poker, the stuff is called "Lucky Liquid."

But I was struck by the audacity of the last sentence of the sign under the Blarney Stone: "In the best of tradition of Blarney, rubbing the stone will surely make your day luckier."

Being the uber-skeptic that I am, I have considerable doubt that rubbing the stone will affect one's future gambling results for better or worse, for that day or for any other period of time. I think it's a lie, pure and simple. Among other questions, how is it that the results last exactly one day? Do the leprechauns in charge of this stuff keep a tally of what time you rubbed the stone, and when that day ends they cancel the charm?

So I want to sue Fitzgeralds for false advertising. They will have to prove in court that rubbing their stone makes one's day luckier.

But here's the catch. It's not exactly clear what "luckier" means in this context. Does it mean that rubbing the stone will make one's day luckier than it had been up to that point? Luckier than one's neighbor's day? Luckier than yesterday was? I think the most natural reading is that rubbing the stone will make one's day luckier than it would have been absent that action.

And therein lies my legal problem. What evidence can possibly be adduced either for or against the proposition that one's day will, from the point of rubbing the stone, become luckier than it otherwise would have been? Lacking a time machine, we can't run the day once with stone rubbing and once without it, leaving all other factors unchanged. As a result, I won't be able to prove that one's luck was not improved by rubbing the stone, and they won't be able to prove that it was improved.

So my lawsuit won't be filed right away. I have to have a little time to figure out this thorny legal problem. In the meantime, I'll just say that Fitzgeralds is spouting some serious B.S. If they think I'm libeling them for saying so, then they can sue me, and prove the case that they're telling the truth.

In case you're wondering, no, I did not either rub or kiss the Blarney Stone, and I scored a win at poker anyway. Imagine that.

Of course, I suppose that the response from the Fitzgeralds legal team would be that my lack of winning anything on the slot machine was because I failed to avail myself of the free luck enhancement offered to me in the Club Fitz office, when all I had to do was reach out and touch it.


Monday, November 03, 2008

Poker gems, #181

James McManus, in Card Player magazine article, November 5, 2008 (vol. 21, #22), p. 86:

Playing [Chip] Reese and [Ted] Forrest three-handed is usually quicker than filing a Chapter 11 petition.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Poker gems, #180

Bob Ciaffone, in Card Player magazine column, November 5, 2008 (vol. 21, #22), pp. 66-68.

I am not one to do much talking at the table when in a hand. However, some of my students who are fine poker players and find themselves confronted with a big bet like to try engaging the opponent in conversation. What surprises me is that they are successful in getting the opponent to start talking! And if the opponent gets to talking, he often gives the show away--especially if he is not bluffing. I of course see this kind of talking to the bettor, and see it getting replies. Most of the time, I can get a strong feeling one way or the other, and formulate an opinion on how a bet should be answered. So, my advice is to get the opponent talking when he bets, and keep your mouth shut when you bet.

Today's good news: I can graduate from high school

My best friend is a math teacher and tutor. She gave me a copy of a practice test that is used by kids preparing for their high school proficiency test. So I went at it. I didn't cheat--no calculator, no computer, no Internet. Hard-core: just me, a pen, and the paper.

I scored 39/40. I missed one only because I had no idea what a "box and whiskers" diagram was or how to interpret the data presented in that format. (If you, like me, finished formal schooling before these little pieces of hell came along, you can bone up on them here and here.) But on the upside, I correctly guessed at another "box and whiskers" problem (I intuited that the middle line represented a median, which turned out to be correct, and that was about all I needed to know for one question), and I also correctly answered a few questions about "stem and leaf" plots. Even though I had never heard of or seen them before, it took me only a few minutes of looking at the possible multiple-choice answers to figure out how they worked. (See here for the explanation, if you, too, are old as dirt.)

I'm pretty sure this New Math crap is being foisted upon our kids by the Communists. Or maybe it's the terrorists now. Yeah, that's it. It's another way they're trying to destroy our American way of life. If we do box-and-whisker graphs or stem-and-leat plots, the terrorists win. I say no!

But at least it appears that I could eke out a high school diploma if I had to, even at my advanced age.

My excuses

I have this nephew, Ben, 18 years old, back in Minnesota. He just graduated from high school this year, and is now taking some college classes. The last time I talked to him about poker was maybe three years ago, because he was losing his lunch money playing at (or maybe after--never really got that clear) school. He didn't even know which hands beat what other hands, and he was playing for the only money he had! D'oh!

It was, therefore, a bit of a surprise last week when my brother (Ben's father) emailed me and said that Ben had been playing a lot of poker and winning. So I began e-chatting with Ben about the situation. We decided to have a bit of fun and play heads-up sit-and-gos on Full Tilt, because they have tables at which you can put up just $2 each. Hey, the kid is young, doesn't have any bankroll to speak of, and it wouldn't feel right taking any serious money away from him, y'know?

I mean, there's no question of who's going to win here, right? This is a kid who I have seen being breast-fed. This is a kid I've seen burst into tears because he can't wait one more day to unwrap his Christmas presents. (He was, like, five at the time.) This is a kid I used to take to McDonald's, and who would then leave greasy handprints on the back window of my car. I'm a hardened Las Vegas pro. Please. Me losing to him is simply unthinkable.

Or it was, until I lost.

Twice in a row.

(Insert mental image of me turning beet red here.)

So I need to present my official list of excuses for the lapse.

I let him win on purpose to help boost his ego. Yeah, that's the ticket.

The dummy kept calling my bluffs when clearly he should have folded.

I'm pretty sure he cheated, with a ringer actually playing for him.

I had the beginnings of a cold.

I had been just about to head out to Binion's for the evening when he IMed me suggesting we play, so I was kind of in a hurry to get going.

$2 isn't enough to really focus my attention.

He got better cards than I did.

Everybody knows that online poker is totally rigged in favor of the weaker players, to keep them coming back.

I hadn't slept well the night before.

I had just spent the afternoon doing some mind-numbing work, so my brain was frazzled.

It was raining here. Nobody can play his best when it's raining.

It was Halloween weekend. You can't take poker seriously on Halloween weekend.

Is that enough? Because if it isn't, I can come up with more.

Next time, young man--you just wait until next time!

Who knew?

Inspired by the Hammargren house tour (see below), I was poking around a web site about Nevada's history, and came across this little-known fact:

The longest Morse Code telegram ever sent was the Nevada state
constitution Sent from Carson City to Washington, DC. and cost $3000.
The first part was tapped out by Frank Bell, cousin to Alexander Graham Bell,
inventor of the telephone.

Wow! Next time you have to do a lot of typing or other repetitive hand work, feel sorry for those poor telegraph operators!

Can somebody please explain the red dresses?

Last night as I walked from my apartment to Binion's, going west on Fremont Street, there were probably 200 people walking the other direction, in clusters of a few to a few dozen, all wearing red dresses--both men and women. I don't think I've ever seen so many men in dresses in my life.

I overheard a couple of bystanders ask the merry-makers what was going on, but they were given only non-answer answers, like "If you don't know, I can't explain it," and "If we told you, we'd have to kill you."

So I'm asking here: Can anybody explain what this assemblage of people wearing red dresses was all about? Please reveal the secret in the comments.

Lonnie Hammargren's house

I spent much of the afternoon doing something that can be done only one day a year: touring the home/museum of Lonnie Hammargren. Who is Lonnie Hammargren, you ask? Well, he's a neurosurgeon, former Lt. Governor of Nevada, former NASA flight surgeon, and honorary Consul to Belize. He's also the #1 collector of Nevada memorabilia--as well as collector of everything else. I mean, it's hard to fashion much of a connection between Nevada history and an actual 1815 Venetian gondola, but he has one (reputed to be the third-oldest gondola in existence).

I took a ton of photos. It would have been way too much work to upload them here, because the Blogger interface requires doing them one at a time (unless there is some batch process that I haven't discovered yet), and it would make this page too slow to load anyway. So I did something new: I created an account on Flickr and posted them there. Wow--that's a great site. Took no more than 2 minutes to set up the account and mount the pictures. I just love user-friendly interfaces!

See all the photos here. Read more about Hammargren here. See his own web site here.

I cannot sufficiently stress that you should make an effort to tour this place once in your life. Make your next trip to Vegas on Halloween weekends, not only because Vegas is highly entertaining on Halloween, but because October 31 happens to be the day that Nevada attained statehood, and either on that day or on a weekend near it is the only time that you can traipse through the Hammargren house.

It is impossible to describe to you either the sheer size or the incredible weirdness of everything. He has three lots with three houses all connected together, then roof and roofs on top of roofs, and inside the houses are at least a dozen different staircases leading to various internal levels (and at least a couple leading to nowhere, I discovered), with stuff crammed everywhere. There must be a thousand building and fire code violations on that property. Some places seem structurally unsound, but it's all so damn weird that you feel compelled to traverse rickety stairs, jiggling walkways, clear acrylic floors, overcrowded scaffolds, and every other manner of structural connection in order to poke around in it all.

You can take a "virtual tour" of the place on Hammargren's web site, but it's not the same, because you can't see things up close. It's better than nothing, though.

A few themes emerge from the chaos. Clearly the man is enamored with space and astronomy and NASA (for God's sake, he has what appears to be a functioning planetarium in his house, complete with seating for maybe 50 people!), Howard Hughes, boxing, Nevada history and casinos, U.S. presidents, religion, musical instruments, trains, medical history, Belize, Egypt, and movies. But even after accounting for hundreds of items in those categories, there remains the vast majority of, well, crap that just doesn't seem to have any organizing theme or purpose, other than, I suppose, that they are things that caught Hammargren's fancy at some point, and he either bought them or they were donated to him. Trust me--the pictures I posted constitute maybe 10% of what is there. You just can't imagine the sheer volume of far-out, completely inscrutable stuff that the man has accumulated over his lifetime. Why is there an Abraham Lincoln statue immersed in a plexiglas tank of water, surrounded by sea creatures? Why is a New York skyline replica next to an Aztec stone engraving, which in turn is hanging over a Chinese sculpture, next to a collection of 19th-century pharmaceuticals? Nobody knows. But there it is.

Vegas is the strangest city in the United States, maybe in the world. And of all the strange sights the city has to offer, I'm pretty sure that Lonnie Hammargen's house is the strangest. You really, really shouldn't miss it.

Folding K-K

I was struck by the juxtaposition and similarity of two things I've read within the last 24 hours from completely different sources.

First was this from Doyle Brunson's blog, October 22, 2008:

The Bellagio tournament is the greatest! There is no dinner break and
you can be home in bed by 10:00 pm if you choose. It is really good if you
are a little long in the tooth. I had a decent 1st day and am sitting with
$95,000 in chips. I could have had 50,000 more but I threw away 2 kings
preflop. I was convinced the other player had two aces and couldn’t
believe when he showed two jacks after I passed. That is the fifth time I
have passed two kings preflop in tournaments. I think this was the first
time I’ve been wrong. Oh well, who knows, he might have caught a jack and
really crippled me.

Then I was reading Matt Lessinger's column in the November 5, 2008, issue of Card Player magazine. He writes:
The point I am making is that going all in preflop with K-K against A-A is
clearly an acceptable way to lose a tournament. There are some rare instances
when you can get away from K-K preflop, perhaps very early in a major
tournament, but not often. For what it's worth, I've folded K-K preflop three
times in 12 years, and each time I was correct, but that demonstrates how rare
you can expect to do it. If you start looking for too many situations to fold K-K
preflop, not only will you end up folding it as the best hand too often, but you
will be adopting a mindset that virtually guarantees terrible tournament

One of the best K-K laydown stories comes from Phil Gordon. In his Little Green Book, he describes in great detail the considerations that led him to fold K-K at the final table of the World Series of Poker Main Event. It's such a good story that I scanned it in above. (It's too long to type, and if it's within the "fair use" copyright exception to type it in--as I believe it is--it should also be OK to scan it in.) Go read.

And here's one more Main Event K-K laydown story, this one from 1992, as told in All In: The (Almost) Entirely True Story of the World Series of Poker, by Jonathan Grotenstein and Storms Reback, p. 170:
As was becoming increasingly common, the most exciting poker of the entire
tournament was played when there were seven players left, all desperately hoping
to make it to the final televised table, which only had room for six. Hamid
Dastmalchi, a longtime professional who moved from his native Iran to San Diego
when he was seventeen, was the chip leader. Dealt pocket kings, he raised before
the flop, only to be reraised by Mike Alsaadi, a professional from Las Vegas,
who pushed all of his chips into the middle.

Hamid stared across the table at his opponent. Most players, especially
those blessed with the chip lead, would call such a bet without thinking twice.
Pocket kings, after all, are the second most powerful hand in Texas hold'em.
Hamid, however, thought back to a comment Mike had made earlier about how badly he wanted to make it to final day. And Mike wasn't just reraising, he was
reraising the chip leader, who was more than likely to call his bet.

"What do you think I've got?" Mike asked him.

"I know you've got two aces," Hamid replied as he threw his two kings into
the muck.

It was an incredible laydown, one that only the top professionals are
capable of making. Confirming the brilliance of the move, Mike showed his two
aces to the crowd.

How many times have I folded K-K before the flop? Zero. How many times should I have done so? Two. That's because in both situations I had enough information to reach the right conclusion from (1) the pattern of raising and reraising, (2) the demeanor of my opponent, (3) the knowledge that he or she had been playing tight and solid, (4) the knowledge that these opponents both knew the same about me, and therefore wouldn't be making a move on me after I was showing such strength.

In one case, at the Orleans, I lost about $200. The one that really sticks in my craw, though, was at the Golden Nugget. I was sitting on about $600 at the time, and was literally about to stand up and go get a couple of chip racks to cash out my bounty when I saw the kings, and the only player at the table who had me covered was the one who had the aces. I don't remember for sure how the raising went, but he was the one that moved all-in first, a big overbet to the $100 or so that had been my previous raise. I had such confidence that he would not do that with anything except aces that I could and should have written off the $100 and saved myself $500. But I didn't, and when I lost all of that in one fell swoop--the most I've ever lost in a single hand--it was as close as I've ever come to throwing up on a poker table.

In both of those cases, I can clearly remember thinking that there is no way that this particular person would be doing this with any hand except exactly A-A. And my rationale for calling in both cases went no deeper than "I can't fold K-K preflop."

(Note that these were both cash games. I play very few tournaments, and can't remember any tournament situation where folding K-K before the flop would have been reasonable.)

To be clear, there have been plenty of times when I've had kings and knew that I might be up against aces, but the situations were such that calling or pushing (depending on whose turn it was) was still reasonable. That's because of one of us having a relatively short stack, or facing a pretty loose/aggressive opponent who would push lesser hands, or whatever. In those cases, although I haven't kept careful track, my impression is that I'm about 50/50 in the long run--roughly half the time seeing the aces, but the other half seeing queens or A-K or occasionally even jacks. One time it was the other two kings. Those situations don't bother me, because calling or shoving was still the right move under the specific circumstances. They didn't feature the compelling, resounding, tidal wave of you're-in-trouble information that I had with the two instances in which I believe I could and should have folded.

But I've learned from those mistakes, I think. I've thought about them a lot, naturally, and tried to sear into my memory the overwhelming sense I had of confidence that I was behind. My hope is that the next time I get that same sickening realization that A-A is the only hand this particular opponent could have in this situation, I'll have the fortitude to act on that conviction and push my lovely but second-best cards back to the dealer.

Whether I succeed or fail at doing that difficult thing the next time the occasion arises, I shall dutifully report it here.

Dumb rule at Binion's

Since I haven't ranted about this before, this is as good a time as any to put on the record that I hate how Binion's is (as far as I know) the only poker room in town that uses the forward-moving button rule for cash games. I trust that they still use the dead-button rule for tournaments. (If they don't, I can't imagine how they handle the player complaints that result.) This is a pain because it's out of step with how everybody else in Vegas does it. Furthermore, they don't have any compensatory mechanism in place for making the blinds equal. Tonight I got to miss both big and small blinds for one round because of their wacky rule. OK for me, not so fair for everybody else at the table.

Short summary, for those who don't know what I'm talking about. When somebody leaves the table and he or she was about to get a blind, you can either leave the button where it is for two hands in a row and keep the blinds moving forward, or you can keep the button moving forward and have the blinds skip a seat. If the latter, there are complicated auxiliary procedures you can implement that keep everything fair--such as having somebody pay a blind while simultaneously having the button. But it's far, far simpler and overall fairer, IMHO, to use the dead button rule, especially since that's what everybody else in town does. Having a unique rule--especially one that is worse than the one that is standard--is just dumb and invites repetitive and pointless confusion and arguments. See here for another explanation of the two rules.

Shape up and join the rest of the civilized poker world, Binion's!

(Did you catch the clever point of the illustration above? It's a Dead button! Hahahahahaha! Sometimes I just amuse myself way too much.)

More on Binion's new poker room

I went back to Binion's tonight to try out the new room. It's a clear improvement on the old room. It's quieter, more elegant, and essentially smoke-free. I was there for five hours straight, and I catch only the faintest whiff of smoke on my clothes now--and that was probably from having a piece of cherry pie at the snack bar before leaving.

The chairs are a lot more comfortable than the old ones. They are what seems to be becoming the standard now: rolling office-style chairs that adjust up and down.

The tables are new. They violated one of my principles, though, in ordering tables with ten cupholders when they play games nine-handed. There is predictable confusion as a result, regarding who gets which cupholder, and it kills the easiest means of squaring up the table when people are too crowded together. (See here for full rant on this annoyance.) But at least it's still an improvement over those awful plastic ones that you have to jam under the table's padded elbow rest. Those are horrible.

The restrooms are a problem, though. You have to go upstairs. Worse, the down escalator to get back is out of service, so you have to walk to the far end of the casino, then down, then back to the poker room. That's a serious pain.

I had eight televisions in easy viewing range. That's nice.

I was right in predicting a problem of communication between the desk/floor staff and the dealers. Calling for a floor decision means a major delay in the game as things stand now. It takes forever for the poor dealers to get anybody's attention by yelling through the door that's between the front desk/lounge area and the tables. However, Michael at seems to indicate that a table-based player-management system is coming. If that includes means for calling the floor (as it presumably would), this problem might get better. See Michael's review and photos from his visit earlier today (well, technically yesterday now) here.

I may try to qualify for the December freeroll tournament. $50,000 is being given away, 25 hours to qualify, with double hours available during off-peak times.

Tableside food service is now available. I wanted to get a chocolate shake delivered, but it wasn't on the menu. Bummer.

The new tables have a line on them that may or may not be a betting line. I've ranted about faux betting lines before. I asked one of the dealers this evening if this was merely decoration or an actual betting line. He said, and I quote, "We're trying to get you guys in the habit of treating it as a betting line." Gee, thanks for that definitive, crystal-clear answer. I infer that it means that it is indeed a betting line, but they're giving players some time to get used to it before enforcing it as such (because there was no betting line on the old tables).

The poker magazines, for some reason, are still in the old room. The lounge would seem to be a logical place for them, but that's not where they are.

The floor person on tonight really needs a vacation, or maybe some Valium. The entire time I was there she was on edge. She yelled at dealers in front of full tables of players for what struck me as trivial mistakes or misunderstandings--not just once but many times through the evening. In fact, I didn't see a single interaction between her and the dealers that wasn't rancorous to some degree. Highly unprofessional.

I made money at a perfectly acceptable (though not top-notch) rate: uptick $257 in five hours. I can live with that. I also saw a royal flush tonight, using both hole cards. That's only the second time I've seen it happen in more than two years of full-time play. Too bad for that guy that Binion's doesn't have a high-hand jackpot. He did win the pot, though, which you may not find too shocking.

Overall, Binion's has put together a really nice room now--easily the best in downtown. This is the way it should be, given all the poker history that has taken place there. But it has not been so in the time that I've lived here. I'm happy to have the room in fine shape now. I anticipate playing there more frequently than I have in the past.