Saturday, December 27, 2008

Seen in downtown Las Vegas

Happy Hanukkah from Fremont Street. For more than one might ever want to know about the holiday, see here.

More on the Sahara poker room robbery

See news story here.

It strikes me as very strange that those are the best photos they could pull out of surveillance coverage.

Guess the casino, #10

Comment: Scale is hard to determine here, so I'll tell you that this is a wall-sized photographic blow-up, with the carpet there in the foreground. It is located not far from a popular poker room.

Answer: Orleans

Friday, December 26, 2008

Guess the casino, #9

Answer: Fitzgeralds

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Poker gems, #203

A delusional Phil Hellmuth, in a Poker News Daily interview (see here), upon being asked what he thinks makes UltimateBet an attractive site on which to play.

We have the best software out there.

[This interview took place several days before it became public that UB had a software problem that could result in the pot being awarded to the wrong player, which the site later admitted had occurred 37 times.]

Just wondering

Do guys named Bill have an inherent disadvantage when playing live poker because of giving away information about the strength of their hand? That is, do they have a, um, William tell?

Merry Christmas

May your holidays be blessedly free of grumpiness.

Guess the casino, #8

Comment: This may be an exceptionally difficult one. This casino doesn't have many distinctive things to take pictures of. The first photo is of the poker room. (The poker room itself is not out of focus, like Robin Williams in "Deconstructing Harry." I just couldn't get my phone camera to focus right. Gotta read that owner's manual one of these days.) The second one is a bar/lounge just to the left of the poker room, with a piano player. So the question is, where is there a poker room like this with such a bar next to it?

Answer: El Cortez

Odd sight at the Golden Nugget

I'm not sure what a mariachi band was doing sitting/standing around the slot machines, but there they were.

And you thought he was just a fictional character

Look who's working at Binion's--it's Clark Kent! I guess he got laid off from the Daily Planet. Times are tough all over.

Naturally, this raises once again the whole troubling issue of Superman playing poker.

(Josh actually wore a nametag reading "Clark" one night, which amused me greatly.)

The fine art of counterfeiting

I was playing tonight at the Golden Nugget. When a new player joined the game on my immediate right, I fairly soon realized that he was the most inexperienced person at the table, and I was happy to be positioned perfectly to take advantage of him.

My opportunity came when I was in the small blind with Kc-3c. The pot was unraised, so I limped in along with several others. The flop was K-Q-3 rainbow, giving me top and bottom pair. I bet out $7. One player called, then the button (the new guy) raised to $20. I pushed all-in for a total of $68. The caller folded and the button went into the tank.

First he asked, "You got big slick hiding under there?" I said nothing. After a while more he asked, "Will you show me if I fold?" By this point, I was highly confident that I was ahead, or his money would already be in the middle. I wanted a curiosity call, so I told him, "I can't promise you that." He hemmed and hawed a while more, then finally counted out the chips for a call and slid it half-heartedly across the betting line.

I showed my cards, and he turned over his K-7--exactly the kind of horrible call that I had been hoping for. But the dealer didn't see things the same way I did. She put out 10 on the turn and another 10 on the river, giving us both two pair (kings and tens) with a queen kicker. Argh!

To clinch his identity as my new ATM, the new guy said, as he was stacking up his half of the pot, "I guess I did the right thing after all." There was no humor in this comment; he was earnest, patting himself on the back, displaying a just slightly results-oriented manner of thinking about this game. Yes, friend, keep doing exactly that kind of thing!

Just a few hands later, the UTG player raised to $12. I was two to his left. I called with Ad-5d. (I know, I know. It would be a questionable call even if I were on the button, but with about fifty players yet to act behind me, it was inexcusable. I confess.) Three other people behind us called, too, making a pot of about $60. The flop was K-7-5, giving me bottom pair. The UTG player checked. I didn't have enough chips for a check-raise to have any fold equity, so it was either make a very cheeky shove now (I had $67 left), relying on my tight image (plus the table having witnessed how I handled the two-pair flop a short time before) or check and plan to fold if anybody else bet. I made a snap decision to do the former. (Yep. Second dumb thing in one hand. Mistakes have a way of snowballing that way.) The button called, and I knew I was beaten. UTG folded.

I sheepishly turned over my pathetic cards, smiled at my opponent, and said, "You couldn't just let me steal it, huh?" He showed 5-7 for bottom two pair.

Well, you can see the end of this story coming down 6th Avenue--and we didn't even have to wait for it. Turn card: BAM! Ace! River was a blank. I took it down with a better two pair than his. He politely refrained from making various and sundry comments about my play--just shook his head. I gave him the screwed-up face and shrug as the only semi-apology I could make.

There is no honor among thieves--or among us counterfeiters.

Poker gems, #202

Richard G. Burke, in Poker Player newspaper column, January 5, 2009, p. 7.

Chasing is something winning players do every session. Chasing is something losing players do every session. Winners have the money odds going for them; losers have the money odds going against them. It's just that simple.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Perhaps the smallest problem with playing on UltimateBlecch

The recent fuss about UltimateBlecch awarding pots to the wrong players has reminded me that I haven't played there in many months, probably more than a year, in fact--whenever it was (January, 2008, as I recall offhand) that there was the first buzz about superuser account cheating. I still had about $60 sitting on account there. I hadn't even looked at a table since the whole "Cereus" merger thing went live a few weeks back. I was curious if and how that might have changed the look and feel of the games.

So I decided today to see what things are looking like on the ol' UB. Yeah, yeah, I know. Spare me the vitriol. Or unleash it, if you want. I can take it.

Played a $6+1 9-handed NLHE SNG. (Finished 3rd for a net profit of about $4. Whee! Excellent use of an hour!) What bugged me most was that there is nothing on the screen to inform players of the current blinds. If you're in the middle of a hand such as the one shown above and want to know where you and/or other players stand in terms of big blinds remaining (one of the most crucial parameters for decision-making in SNGs), there is nothing to tell you. You can probably go to the tournament lobby (I didn't check this), but that's a pain. If you're playing several of these at once, it would be very difficult to remember confidently where each game stood.

That's right: Even among all of UB's issues, what annoyed me most was the lack of a couple of numbers planted somewhere on the screen. I'm funny that way.

I have to admit that I felt a bit wistful playing. It reminded me of how much I used to like UB. It was my favorite online site. There is a lot of play built into the tournaments; I was the short stack when we got down to four-handed, but still had 22 BBs left. It's subjective, but I just plain like the table layout, controls, speed of the play, lobby, etc.

If only it weren't, y'know, owned by criminals who use their insider access to steal your money, run by PR hacks who lie to their customers almost every time they open their mouths, operated out of one of the most corrupt and untouchable political jurisdictions in this hemisphere, lacking any meaningful regulation, oversight, or licensing by any outside agency, plagued by the most fundamental kind of software errors, and represented by the most ill-behaved, embarrassing, annoying, and immature pro on the circuit. Small things like that can sour a sensitive soul to an otherwise pleasant poker experience.

Guess the casino, #7

Once again I had to digitally obscure the answer found within the photo. But at which hotel/casino did the Beatles stay in August 19, 1964?

Answer: Sahara

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Misconceptions about the big stack advantage

Maybe I should have included the following in my post from earlier today about why I tend to buy in somewhat short rather than for the maximum allowed. It would have fit in well particularly with the Daniel Negreanu blog post (to which I linked) about common misunderstandings of alleged big stack advantages in cash games.

For two or three months now I've had on my desk a piece of paper on which I scribbled some quotations from players I've heard opine on the subject, and I just never got around to writing the post. (Yes, I always have pen and paper in my shirt pocket when I play--primarily for documenting cash in and out and time in and out, but secondarily for jotting down notes about blog post ideas.) Their remarks caught my attention because I heard basically the same error from two different people on consecutive days.

The first guy was at Bill's. He was nursing a very short stack--something like $30. A player at the far end of the table from us (I had just sat down) had obviously had a very successful day, and had several hundred in front of him.

At one point, Mr. Bigstack made an intimidatingly large bet at a pot and won it. Mr. Shortstack said to me, "He has enough [chips] that he can do that." I just nodded and let it go.

Not long after, Mr. Shortstack folded to what he thought was a bluff by Mr. Bigstack. He again chose me as the outlet for his lament: "He bluffed me earlier. I know he did, but I didn't have enough chips to call him."

Yes, that's an exact quotation. And no, I have no idea how he arrived at such a bizarre conclusion. If you think your opponent is bluffing, generally you call or raise. Now, you might decide to do otherwise if the bet is very large compared to the pot, or if it's more than you're willing to risk (though in that case you probably should cash out rather than continue playing with money you're unwilling to put into play). But calling what you believe to be a bluff is the very easiest if you're short-stacked, because you can't lose much! I just can't get my head around what this guy was thinking. Maybe he believed that your last money has to go in with a virtual lock on the hand, or something like that. In any event, he clearly was of the opinion that the table's biggest stack had an enormous intrinsic advantage over the smaller stacks, and he was feeling persecuted.

The next night I was playing at the Rio. There was a similar chip discrepancy at the table. A short-stacked woman watched a big-stacked player make a pushy, aggressive move, and whispered to me, as she folded, "He's got the chip equity."

Chip equity???? Are you just making this $%*&@# up?

I realize that there is a concept of "chip equity," though it's not often referred to in exactly that way. It has to do with making decisions in a tournament situation, especially very late in the tournament. There are circumstances in which you have to consider not just what action has the greatest expected value (EV) in terms of accumulating chips, but what action has the most value in tournament cashing--in real money. Those considerations can sometimes be at odds with each other; a move might be slightly +EV in chip terms, but -EV in terms of your expected prize money. The latter is often called "tournament equity," and the former could be called "chip equity"--though, again, it's a term I've only seen used rarely.

But it has zero applicability to cash games. Your "chip equity" and your win or cash "equity" are precisely the same. For all practical purposes, you should be happy to get as much money into the pot as you can when you are a tiny favorite--say, 55:45--because repeating that situation many times over the course of your poker career will show a profit. In a tournament, that might not be wise if the result of losing will be missing out on cashing altogether, or missing out on a big jump in prize money that is about to occur. (I'm not saying you necessarily wouldn't take the gamble--just that the decision becomes complicated by more factors, and isn't necessarily an easy one.)

I genuinely have no ill feelings for people who just haven't learned something yet. We all are beginnings when we start, and learn as we go, and there's no shame in being at any given point along the learning continuum.

But I do definitely feel disdain for people who pretend to know more than they actually do--who, for example, try to throw around a word or term that they've heard and think that they vaguely understand, when in reality they have no idea what they're talking about. They're trying to sound smart and knowledgeable, when they're clueless.

Naturally, I don't consider it my job to point out to them in person that they're showing off their ignorance. For reasons of both social comfort and profit, it's far better to smile and nod approvingly, make a mental note that the speaker is playing way over his level of understanding, and adjust my game accordingly to more efficiently take his or her money.

But nothing need prevent me from using my blog to let loose on their garish, willing display of ignorance!

New Lederer book

No, not that Lederer. The other one. No, not that one, either.

It's Katy Lederer, author of the fine autobiographical work Poker Face. She has a new book of poetry out. It presumably has nothing to do with poker, but if you are, like me, somewhat fascinated with the entire Lederer clan, you might want to look into it. I heard an interview with her on public radio today. You can hear it and both hear and read excerpts from the book here.

Things people ask me, #3: Buying in short

So where was #2 in this series of things I frequently get asked via email and comments? Well, I kind of forgot to label it as such, but it's the post called "Where I play." All of them can be found through the label "questions."

I've mentioned many times that I almost always buy in to my $1-2/$1-3 NLHE games for $100, which isn't always the minimum (a few places set the min at $50, and Bill's $1 game has a buy-in of $20 minimum), but is also never the maximum. Conventional wisdom is that you have a strategic advantage if you always buy in for the maximum, particularly if you figure to be a better player than most of your opposition. So people naturally wonder why I go the other way. (It's technically not "short" in the sense of being below the table minimum, but I'll call it that, since it is below the table maximum.)

To be honest, the habit started because I was new to playing, trying to just get a feel for the Vegas games, I was scared money, and I didn't have any real bankroll to speak of. As you may know by now, I wasn't planning to play for a living when I moved here; I was planning to get a job dealing and play on the side until I got good enough to go pro. But the dealing job never panned out, and I found that I was winning from the get-go, so I just sort of fell into it.

During that period, I discovered that I liked buying in short. It allowed me to feel out the table without having too much at risk. My liking for it continues, for much the same reason. I think of it as taking the temperture of the table by sticking my toe in the water, rather than diving in. The first buy-in is expendable--not that I'm seeking to just give it away, but I'm willing to let it be an investment in learning how the table plays and reacts to me, if need be.

Suppose in the first few orbits I find prime bluffing opportunities. I can make the all-in move. I either get away with it and win the pot and learn that this table might be one I can push around, or I get caught, lose not too much money, and learn that this table might be one for value-betting my strong hands to make my nut, rather than blustering my way to a win.

Similarly, it allows me to discover if I have an exceptionally smart and/or tricky opponent who has trapped me with a second-best hand without losing a ton. Occasionally, I find myself at an unusually sharky table, and when I have to pull out that next Benjamin after losing the first, it occurs to me, "I don't have an edge against this table." That prompts me (if I don't let my ego get in the way) to move to a different table or a different poker room, before I lose more.

There's also an emotional component to it. I find it extraordinarily satisfying to start with $100 and watch it grow to, say, $500. Sitting on $500 feels oodles better if I started with $100 than if I started with $400. And in the worst-case scenario, if I lose it all in one hand, and it's either too late or I'm too tired or discouraged to keep playing, my net loss is still only $100 in the former case versus $400 in the latter.

Starting somewhat on the short side also usually forces me to play tight at first, which is a bit of imposed discipline that I definitely sometimes need. To be profitable with a shorter stack, you just have to be more picky about starting hand requirements, less inclined to chase draws, etc., because you don't have the implied odds to play a broad range of speculative hands. That imposed discipline also has the lovely side effect of creating a certain table image.

To the extent that there is any typical session of poker, I'd say that my most common pattern is this: I buy in for $100, play tight and solid, establish a rocky image, and gradually build up to around $200 or $250. That's when I either leave the game or seriously change gears, depending on how long it has taken me, what I think of the table and my edge over it, where I am on the mental tiredness/alertness scale, and various other factors. I love it when indicators are to do the latter. That's when I start bobbing and weaving, making the tricky plays, playing the speculative hands. By that point, I have a much better feel for which players I can push, which to avoid, which ones will pay me off when I have the goods, and so on. My opponents will also have developed a false impression of my playing tendencies, which I can now exploit. I can also absorb the impact of a bad beat (or a bad move or a bad read on my part) or two without turning my W into an L for the day. Finally, if all is going well, there will be one or two bad players who are in the hole and trying to climb out (a process I will have witnessed step by step), and I can take full advantage of their growing desperation.

Of course, it doesn't always work out that way. Lots of things can muck up the game plan. But by far my most profitable and satisfying sessions are the ones where this pans out: I buy in for $100, play tight and solid, build the stack slowly while simultaneously building a reputation, then turn up the heat when I've got more in front of me, and accelerate the profit-making, finally leaving with a tidy profit. Ain't much in this world that makes me happier than the cash-out and drive home after such a day at the tables.

To be sure, there are at least two major advantages that buying in for the maximum would convey, which I am sacrificing by this choice. First, if I am actually the best or one of the best players at the table, my edge is greater against weaker players when we both have big stacks, because deep-stacked decisions are more complicated, risky, and error-prone. A less experienced opponent is more likely than I am to make a very expensive mistake, to my profit. Second, it's great to be on the good side of a nuts versus second-nuts situation and make the most money possible from it, which I can't do if it happens near the beginning of a session and I have only $100 in front of me. I might be missing out on, say, another $300 that I would have made on the hand if I could have gotten the opponent to commit his stack when we were both equally deep. (Of course, the flip side of that is that when I'm on the second-nuts side of it, I don't lose as much. But presumably I'm better than my average opponent in escaping that kind of trap when necessary.)

Those are not small considerations. They are, in fact, the main basis for the conventional advice to buy in for the maximum. And maybe I should. I don't preach this as gospel. I'm just telling you what works for me. It has been a successful pattern for a couple of years now, and I'm content with it.

For further reading, Daniel Negreanu wrote a nice blog post debunking the myth of the strategic advantage of the big stack here. And in his first columns for Card Player magazine about a year ago, Ed Miller did a bang-up job explaining the same concept:

He then proceeded to show how starting with a shorter stack provides a particular strategic advantage against a wild table:

In apparent response to Miller's series, fellow Card Player columnist Bob Ciaffone penned a jeremiad in which he grudgingly acknowledges the strategic advantage of the short stack in no-limit poker, but decries it as "a poker pestilence" (great phrase!), rather than something to be desired and/or attempted by his students or readers. In this piece, Ciaffone unleashes on habitual short-stack, hit-and-run players (and the casinos with buy-in rules that encourage them) a heaping helping of vitriol that I don't recall ever seeing come out in his writing before or since. It's a must-read column:

So consider all sides of the matter; don't just take my advice. In fact, I wouldn't even call what I've written here "advice." As I said earlier, it's just what I have found works well for me. Your mileage may vary.

Ultimate proof of the deuce-four's power

A reader pointed me to this hand he played recently on Full Tilt:

And yet there are still doubters out there. I don't know what it takes to convince some people!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Guess the casino, #6

Note: I would normally consider a casino's floor or carpet pattern to be way too obscure to make a fair visual guessing challenge. However, this one is so striking and distinctive (and, IMHO, beautiful) that if you've seen it once, you'd probably remember it.

Answer: Venetian

Poker gems, #201

Mike Caro, in Bluff magazine column, January, 2009, p. 77.

[Sorry, folks. We have a problem here. The whole column is the gem. You need to read it. Really. Seriously. It's about politics and the right to be left alone to do things that don't hurt anybody else, like playing poker. It's good and important stuff, done in the usual inimitable Caro way. It's too long to type in here, but find a copy of the magazine and read it. If you're reading this note sometime after, say, February, 2009, you should be able to find it at in their archives (Peter Eastgate on the cover, column is titled "We're Being Conned").]

Eleventy hundred

Sweet-looking ride, eh? Has nothing to do with poker, but it's hard to find meaningful pictures of much of anything when searching under "1100." That's how many posts there have been in this blog now.

It took 38 days to put up the last hundred posts, my second-fastest mark yet. (See #1000 here.) No, I'm not really trying to break records--it just sometimes happens that I'm feeling blabby, other times not so much.

As always, thank you for reading and commenting. I am flattered on a daily basis that so many people point their browsers here.

Don't forget the stupid Google ads.

Poker gems, #200

Lee Jones, in Bluff magazine column, January, 2009, p. 65.

A couple of years ago, Greg Raymer won a Pot Limit Omaha event during PokerStars' WCOOP tournament series. When it got down to heads-up play, I instant-messaged a colleague and said, "Greg is going to take this thing down and it's not even close." How did I know? Well, it was like this: when Raymer had the button, he'd raise, and his opponent would call. When the opponent had the button, he'd limp in. So to a first approximation, every pot in which Greg had the button was three times as large as the pot in which the opponent had the button. Who would you put your money on?

At a major tournament about a year ago, I was chatting with Daniel Negreanu about the value of position. Steeling myself against a potentially fatal blow to my ego, I said, "Daniel, suppose you and I are playing PLO heads up. But one thing: I've always got the button. Who wins?" Daniel thought briefly and said, "You'd win." ...Now, just to be clear, Daniel Negreanu is ten or a hundred times the poker player that I am. But faced with me having the button on every hand, he fancied my chances better than his.

Can we talk about something besides the jackpot?

Saturday I played for quite a while at the Orleans. They have a bad-beat jackpot, and it had climbed over $125,000. Two things happen at that point. First, the threshold hand for winning it drops to its lowest level: aces full of anything beaten by quads or better (both hole cards playing). Second, the room fills to capacity with people trying to get a share of it. Nothing wrong with that--that's presumably why the casino does it, to increase attendance.

I admit that I chose the place to play that day based on the jackpot. I thought it was highly likely to hit sometime over the weekend, with that low threshold and that many people making their hand selection mostly based on the potential for hitting the jackpot. (I was right; it hit some time Sunday morning.) And as long as I can play pretty much anywhere with roughly the same overall +EV, I might as well play when and where I might pick up some extra free money. At the Orleans, everybody playing in the same type of game as the one where the jackpot hits divides 5% of the jackpot. I estimated this at something like $600 each just for being there at the magic moment. Of course, it's quite a bit more likely to hit in a limit game than a no-limit game, but I'm not going to change what I play in an attempt to guess which limit will get it; I just play my regular game the regular way, and if somebody in one of the other $1-2 NLHE games hits it, great, and if not, nothing lost.

Anyway, the room was more jam-packed than I have ever seen it before. There were 23 cash tables in operation when I left, with long waiting lists for all of them. It was a madhouse.

At the table, there was, for all practical purposes, only one topic of conversation: the jackpot. It drove me batty after about ten minutes. People were repeatedly checking what the threshold requirements were. Players worked out elaborate signals and code words and betting patterns that they would use if they had a possible jackpot hand, in order to make sure that the pot size reached the minimum acceptable to qualify. Dealers passed on stories (possibly true, possibly urban legends) about there having been X number of hands that would have qualified, but the pot was just a dollar or two shy of the minimum. Players engaged in all sorts of shenanigans to be sure they were never dealt out, lest the jackpot hit during the two minutes they were in the restroom. When somebody was away from the table, somebody else would usually make a point of noting that he was out, so that if the jackpot hit right then, he wouldn't get a share. Every detail of the qualifying rules was hashed and rehashed and debated. One guy got a table change and told us that it was specifically so that he could be at a table with an autoshuffler, so he could get in more hands per hour and thus maximize his chances of making a jackpot hand. Stories of jackpots of yore were told and retold and retold. Whenever some combination of cards came even vaguely close, somebody would show his hand and say something idiotic like, "If only that had been a jack on the river instead of a six!" And, of course, every time that the board was such that it conceivably could yield the required kind of bad beat if two players held precisely the right hole cards, the chatter would heat up: "Oh, here we go!" "I hope somebody has the aces!" "This could be it!" Etc. Even the damn dealers couldn't keep their damn mouths shut, and would make comments just like the players were doing.

It was utterly maddening. These morons just had nothing else on their mind. I even sent a text message to a friend: "I'm in poker table small-talk hell!"

The most perplexing aspect of it was that all of this talk was doing the one thing that the casino's rules explicitly warn might void the jackpot, even if all other requirements are met! See rule #7 in the photo above. (Every casino that I know of with such a jackpot has a similar prohibition, because they don't want to queer the action and have people play in artificial ways just to try to hit it.) Now, I don't really know how strictly this would be enforced. But for heaven's sake--if you seek out a particular poker room because you want to try to hit the jackpot, and you stay in hands longer than you should (i.e., play in a -EV manner) because you're trying to hit the jackpot, why would you flagrantly engage in the conduct that might void your payment if you do manage to get lucky and hit it? It's just insane!

I was definitely using the non-iPod yesterday, with the volume turned up quite a bit louder than usual. I had to muster up every bit of self-restraint I had in order not to stand up and channel Sister Mary Elephant for them:

Oh, and by the way, the Orleans poker room is WAY too big to still be relying on dealers yelling at the desk person, chip runner, floor person, etc. When the room is busy, it's almost impossible for them to be heard. It's a horribly inefficient and unprofessional way to run things. And for those sitting in the seats next to the dealer, it's deafening to repeatedly be assaulted with "FLOOR on 17!" "PLAYER'S CHECKS ON 17!" "SEAT OPEN ON 17!"

Get with the program, and install a computerized player management system already.

More on the deuce-four

Some updates for you.


About three weeks ago, long-time reader Grange, obviously a faithful convert to the Holy Order of the Deuce-Four, alerted me to an excellent deuce-four story he posted on the forum. See here. (Sorry for the delay in posting this, Grange. I meant to do it right away, then got distracted and forgot about it.)

He also proposed (privately, but I trust he won't mind my sharing) naming the hand The Schadenfreude, because of the pleasure it brings when you show it, either as an outrageous bluff or as a winner, and you get to watch your opponent go on Super Monkey Tilt. It's a nice thought, but the problem is that I would have to look up the spelling every time I wrote about it here, and that's way too much work.


I was dealt the 2-4 twice in today's blogger tournament, and lost both times. I don't think I have to point out to this audience the phenomenal odds against such a coincidence. Truly stunning.


I had it once this evening on the button while playing at the Orleans. It was suited in diamonds, and I caught my diamond flush on the river to win, naturally. The guy I outdrew didn't say anything, but if looks could kill....


The other night when I was at the Riviera playing, I had 2-4 in the big blind. I paired the deuce, but got edged out of the pot by the small blind, who had pocket 3s. Such a huge bad beat. So close. Anyway, he scoffed (in a friendly manner) at the hand I had played. I tried to educate the table. I told them in complete deadpan, "Many people underestimate the power of the deuce-four."

Brace yourself for this. They LAUGHED! They thought I was joking! I assured them of my earnestness, and the more I did so, the more they laughed at me!

But over the next hour or so, every time there was a board with two deuces, or two fours, or something like an A-3-5, or a one-pair hand taking the pot when 2-4 would have made two pairs, I pointed it out to them, saying, "See? You mock the deuce-four, but look what it would have done here." And every time they laughed MORE! I felt like Noah trying to convince the world that a boat would be a really good idea in the very near future, and nobody would listen.

The Apostle Paul warned about just this sort of thing: "If ... there come in those that are unlearned, or UNBELIEVERS, will they not say that ye are mad?" (1 Cor. 14:23, King James Version.) Yes indeed, the unbelievers say that we who are in the know are mad. But if they persist in their unbelief after being exposed to the truth, the poker gods will smite them mightily.

I've done what I can to bring them into the fold. I wash my hands of them after that.

Yea, verily. Amen.

Secret most pros won't tell you

I've decided to break down and share with my readers an important poker principle that you won't find in any book or DVD or training video currently on the market. That's because there are some things that the pros keep to themselves in order not to give up all of their edge to the general public.

You're sitting in a casino poker room and the dealer pitches you a card. It lands nicely right in front of you. But you see that it is not oriented the way you'd like in order to be able to peek and see what it is. Personally, I like them with the long axis pointed toward/away from me, but others like them with the long axis oriented right/left. Either way is fine, but whichever way you prefer, you have a problem when the card lands close to 90 degrees from the way you need it.

The dilemma is this: You have to rotate the card(s) either clockwise or counterclockwise--but which?

Amateur players often assume that it couldn't make any difference. After all, what is printed on the face of the card can't change because of how you turn it. "Preposterous," these people would say.

But it does matter. You absolutely must apply the rotation in the same direction that the card was spinning as it arrived in front of you (which usually depends on whether the dealer is right-handed or left-handed). If you rotate it in the opposite direction, terrible things happen. The cards get dizzy from the sudden change. This is especially true with the face cards. If you upset the delicate equilibrium of, say, a queen, do you think she is going to call out to her peers to come join her in this hand? No! She's upset. She's nauseated. Her inner ear thing is all out of whack. She's going to just sit there and try to recover. She might even throw up a little. By the time she's feeling better, the hand is over and you've got nothing except a little spot of queen vomit.

The underlying mechanism is different for the non-face cards. It's not a dizziness problem, but one of conservation of luck, which is closely related to the conservation of angular momentum. Do you remember a carnival ride when you were a kid, in which you stand against a round wall, and they start spinning it, and after it's really going they drop the floor out from under your feet and you stick against the wall by centrifugal force? It's the same with the cards. You need to keep them spinning in the same direction that the spinning was initiated by the dealer. If you suddenly reverse it, the luck all falls out, in precisely the same way that you would have fallen down into the pit of that ride if they had suddenly thrown it into a reverse spin.

The mathematics of this has actually been worked out in some detail by the boys at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory. It's beyond the scope of this blog, but trust me on this. Or go to your local library, ask where they keep the back issues of The Journal of the American Society of Theoretical and Applied Serendipity, and look it up for yourself.

You have to treat the cards with respect, and that includes not jarring them into a sudden reverse spin. Once you think about the underlying mechanisms, it's rather obvious, isn't it?

So now you know.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Blogger freeroll tournament summary

Things started very nicely indeed. This is hand #1:

That took me into 9th place, which I can't complain about for the first hand:

Nothing much of interest happened then until hand #50:

Just kind of a standard position move/float/steal there, but I liked it.

Hand #58:

If redsmith had bet again on the river, I would have folded, but when he checked I thought he probably couldn't call an all-in move. I turned out to be right. Perhaps he was spooked by the memory of me having beaten him with the two pairs back on hand #1. I was in 97th place after that hand.

I got a huge bump up on hand #65:

Of course, to my opponent in the big blind, it looked like I was just trying to steal from him. His reraise with a bad ace was perfectly reasonable. My fourth bet size was intended to look fairly weak (as if I were just desperately hoping he had nothing and would have to fold, while leaving myself room to dump the hand), trying to tempt him to shove--and it worked! Whee! It's not particularly brilliant poker to beat A-9 with an A-K, but I think I can give myself some credit for coaxing an opponent--not a stupid one--to put all his chips in pre-flop with A-9, as a roughly 3:1 dog.

That hand put me into 11th place:

It also got mentioned in the PokerStars live blog:

With that one exception, I wasn't being dealt much in good hands, so I had to make do with what I had. Here's hand #70:

Again, I'm not claiming that this is ultra-brilliant poker; it's simply the kind of thing you have to attempt sometimes to keep ahead of the blinds in a tournament. Sometimes it blows up in your face, sometimes (like this one) it looks as easy as taking candy from a baby.

That put me into 8th place heading into the first break:

Speaking of things blowing up in one's face, take a gander at hand #75:

When he checked the turn, I thought I probably had the best hand with my 9s. But I was wary enough to check behind, lest I face a check-raise, which would have given me a very difficult decision. The river call was fairly automatic, because I thought that if he really had top pair he would have bet the turn. Nicely played on his part--sucked me in all the way. That dropped me down to 19th place, so not too terrible a hit.

I had shown a couple of blind steals with trash, and it seemed to pay off in hand #95, when one of the blinds apparently thought I was pulling the same trick yet again:

That brought me all the way up to 6th place:

I drifted downward in the rankings for a while, then came hand #135:

With that guy's ridiculously huge open-shove, I was about as confident as I could be that he had a medium pair, somewhere between 6s and jacks. I decided I was willing to flip a coin with him to try to get back into a big-stack situation that I could exploit. It worked--put me into 17th.

Now off to a new table. This was actually a good thing, because I had been only about 3rd stack at my old table, but at the new one I had nearly 50% more than the next-biggest stack.

As it turned out, it was a good thing I had a big stack in order to absorb this nasty little hit (a 5-outer) on hand #152:

Down to 56th place at that point.

At the second break I was up a bit, to 48th place out of 170 runners.

I got another boost in hand #164, when I made a moderately difficult but ultimately correct call:

At hand #190, the open-shove again looked to me like a middle pair. At the least, I was pretty sure he wouldn't do that move with A-A or K-K, the only hands to which I'm a big dog here. I was willing to race with him, in the hopes of climbing higher on the leaderboard, since I was really trying to finish deep and not just cash. The decision was also made easier by the fact that this player had open-shoved something like four out of the previous ten hands or so:

That got me up to 23rd place.

And then I got stuck in the muck. Card-dead with bigger stacks aggressively abusing the near-bubble situation. Just couldn't do a thing.

After the "money" bubble passed, the all-ins came fast and furious, and again I couldn't find a hand with which to take on of them one, and the blinds really eroded my stack.

Finally I got a situation in hand #220 where I was on the button and everybody folded to me. I was getting sufficient short-stacked that winning those blinds and antes was definitely worth a risk:

One of the bloggers got it exactly right--bad enough in that situation for one of the blinds to have a real hand, but Q-Q and A-K??? What rotten luck!

But I have no regrets. I think that in terms of tournament strategy it was the right thing to do.
I can't just fold and let the blinds play by themselves, and if I put in a standard-sized raise and get reraised, I have the awful choice between relinquishing something like a third of my stack to what might be a bluff resteal and playing on very short-stacked, or calling off my whole stack with the horrible J-4. So even after reflection, I think I'd do the same thing again.

The whole tournament was fun and interesting, and I did a lot better than I did in last year's. I think it's generally true that I'm a better player than I was a year ago, and that includes in online tournaments, which are not at all my specialty. It would have been nice to do better, but finishing in 74th place out of 369 players is honorable enough, and I got a Step 3 ticket for my efforts.

If that turns into anything, naturally I will report it here.

In the money

Bubble has burst. 100 left, all of whom win at least something. I'm in 38th.

Still OK

Took a nasty little beat just before the 2nd break to drop me from about 17th to 48th place, with 170 remaining. I have 13,136, with average stack 10,852, so decent shape, but not where I'd prefer to be.

More later.

OK so far

I'm in the big online blogger championship at PokerStars. No time to write much. I'm in 8th place out of 308 left at the first break, which makes me a virtual lock to take down the whole thing, right?


Details later. You can follow live updates at

Overheard at the Orleans

Orleans today. Player A has pocket jacks. Flop and turn are four unconnected smaller cards. Player B shoves. Player A tanks for quite a while, finally calls. The turn had made a random two pair for Player B (something like 9s and 6s), and they hold up.

So after the hand is over, A (who is sitting next to me; B is at the far end of the table) wonders out loud whether he should have called the all-in bet. A guy two to my right says of Player B, "He's an Asian guy and he got lucky. That's what Asian guys do--they get lucky. It happens all the time."

He is neither joking nor being ironic. He is dead serious, and more than a little disgusted at the whole lot of them, unless I'm badly mistaken in my read.

I think I will have to simply withhold futher comments, because I can think of nothing that sufficiently skewers the idiocy on display here.

I think he might be a poker player

Spotted in the parking lot near the poker room entrance at Orleans.