Saturday, February 07, 2009

Fun at the I.P.

As usual, I rather arbitrarily chose my work station for the evening: Imperial Palace. I'm very glad I did. It turned out both profitable and fun, a combination that's hard to beat.

Dug myself a hole early on, but just before I hit the big hand that surged me ahead into profit territory, I was, to my great surprise, joined at the table by two other poker bloggers, B.W.O.P. and F-Train. Soon thereafter, they were followed by Grubette, half of the blogger duo that is Poker Grub. I had not met her before, nor, I must confess, have I ever explored her blog, though I will promptly remedy that deficiency now. Also at the table was a guy named Ken, an uber-rock of a player whom I have met briefly a couple of times through social events and tournaments of

Now I have to tell you, this combination of folks promised to make the table lively, fun, and interesting--and it lived up to expectations, as far as I'm concerned. However, there was a countervailing consideration. I had chosen I.P. because (1) in my experience, it tends to be one of the softest $1-2 NLHE games in town, and (2) I was feeling tired and lazy, not completely up to taking on a more challenging game, such as is usually found at, say, Venetian or Binion's or Caesars Palace or Treasure Island. These four people at one table meant four seats that were anything but soft, when I had envisioned them filled with people who would just hand me their money. So--forgive me for this--I admit that I viewed their presence as something of a mixed blessing.

But I caught a few lucky hands and managed to walk away with a nice W to cap one of my best weeks ever: eight wins in eight sessions (spread among Palms, Rio, Binion's, I.P., Hooters, Boulder Station, and Riviera--an interesting sampling of this city's poker rooms), netting north of $80/hour. (I'm taking tomorrow off to do some other stuff, so my poker week is now closed and in the books.)

I think I also made some Deuce-Four converts. The night was simply chock-full of boards for which 2-4 would have been the winner, including, e.g., an A-3-5 flop and a 4-4-2 flop. B.W.O.P. told me that observing this through the session had convinced her never to throw 2-4 away again in her life. F-Train, I think, remains on the skeptical side, despite the plain evidence. He played it once and won the pot with two pairs, but said that he had done it just for me, and he wouldn't do it again. Sooner or later he'll come around.

Unfortunately, both of them appeared to be having relatively frustrating nights in terms of the poker. Grubette seemed to be holding her own. I was glad that none of my big pots came at their expense. I hope that the luck I was getting shifted their way when I left.

Thanks, guys, for making my time there a blast. And thanks, too, to the less-experienced players who made it profitable (though I doubt they're reading).

Bonus story, having nothing to do with poker

Snippet of conversation overheard in the parking garage elevator on the way back to my car, between two women who appeared to be in their mid-30s.

First woman: She let everybody know that she's still sleeping with the boss from her old job. She texted him a picture of her tatas.

Second woman: I'm not texting anybody a picture of my tatas. But that's just me--I'm old and stodgy.

Guess the casino, #49

To reveal the hidden answer, use your mouse to highlight the space immediately after the word "Answer" below.

Answer: Bellagio. If you couldn't get this one, you just don't get out enough!

Friday, February 06, 2009

I'm not the biggest loser

I was unhappy to record a net loss for the month of January--down $255, to be exact. Not devastating, by any means, but unpleasant and disheartening. Some of it was due to bad luck, of course, but I'll admit that I was also afflicted by a streak of the Fancy Play Syndrome virus. Reverting back to my more habitual by-the-book, ABC, solid, value-bet approach seems to have turned the boat around. This week, though yet incomplete, is already my fifth-best since moving to Vegas, and the very best week that doesn't include a tournament score (i.e., it's my best-ever cash-game-only week).

But in the last couple of days, the news has presented me with more reasons not to feel quite so bad about a -$255 January:

1) There's this guy, who apparently owes Caesars and Rio some $14.7 million.

2) There's Tom "Durrrr" Dwan, who reportedly lost $3.5 million playing online in January. (Reached via this Wicked Chops Poker post.)

3) Then there's the Fertitta family. For a long time, it seemed that everything they touched turned to gold, but since taking their Stations Casinos company private, they are estimated to have lost no less than $3.5 billion. Now that's gotta hurt!

I guess I can take my little bad month in stride....

A spoonful of magic

I had a good time and a profitable session at the Riviera last night, so tonight I headed there again. Two seats to my left was a guy using a small souvenir collector-type spoon as a card protector. (I snuck a picture of it.) OK, that's a little peculiar, but hardly worthy of mention all by itself.

The really weird thing was what he did with it. Before every hand, he would rub the back of the spoon several times in a small circle approximately where he expected the cards to be pitched to him, then turned it on its side and made three or four consecutive scraping or scooping motions toward him, as if trying to spoon the good luck his way.




It seemed to work. That is, once in a while he won a pot. But a lot of the time it didn't work, and he had to fold without putting any money in, or he put some (or a lot of) money in and lost it. Overall, I'd say it worked about as well as if he had, say, smeared chicken blood on the table and his chair (though many casinos, oddly enough, frown on this practice).

People are so strange.

Guess the casino, #48

To reveal the hidden answer, use your mouse to highlight the space immediately after the word "Answer" below.

Answer: South Point (Did I fool you?)

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Dumbest floor decision I've seen in quite a while

Last night I was at the Riviera. I was in seat 10. The guy in seat 1 was not careful about protecting his hand. As many players are prone to do, he looks at them by just resting them on one long edge perpendicular to the table. Because I am in the same plane as he is, I can often see his bottom card. I have warned him about this. He is apparently a slow learner.

So a bunch of us are in a hand. Flop is A-K-Q. Misses me completely. I check and plan to fold. (I have the mighty 2-4, in fact, playing it on its holiest day, hoping to get a good story to tell here, but I think this is one of the rare instances where I have to let it go.) Slow Learner (SL) checks his cards again, and I get a glimpse that his bottom card is an ace. He bets $10 as I'm telling him, "Sir, I just saw your bottom card again."

There's a guy named John in seat 7. He's a dealer at the Venetian. I've played with him before. I actually like him a lot. He's a good player but pretty straightforward, friendly, funny, always well-behaved. He tells the dealer that if I saw SL's card, then everybody else has a right to see it, too. (He's in the hand.) The dealer is stymied by this request. John asks for the floor to make a decision.

Floor person comes over and the situation is explained to her. She tells me that I have to tell the table what I saw. My first thought is, "And if I refuse, do you have a penalty in mind that you think would apply to me?" I can't imagine what it would be. But I just don't really care here, since I'm going to fold and be out no matter what. So I say, "I saw an ace."

Simultaneously, the floor person is making SL show her his cards, apparently so that she can ascertain whether I'm being accurate. So now she asks, "Which ace?" I say, "It flashed too fast for me to see the suit." I suppose I could have added that I know it's not the ace of spades, because what I saw in my glance was a single, small, central pip, and the ace of spades mark would have been larger. I didn't bother with that additional piece of information.

The floor person said, "Well, if you can't tell me the exact card, then I can't make him show it." She said this directly to me, as if challenging me. Hey, lady, this isn't my fight! You asked what I saw, I'm telling you. If that isn't good enough for you, tough! Do what you want with the information.

So it was left at that. At the end of the hand, SL showed down the ace and deuce of diamonds.

This is a really strange floor decision. I can't think of any reasonable basis for requiring a player to announce to the table what he has seen of another player's accidentally flashed cards. I could be lying, or maybe my eyesight ain't so good and I'm simply mistaken. I'm sure that possibility is the thinking behind her checking SL's cards to see if I'm right.

But that opens up an obvious path for an angle shooter. Suppose the flop is all diamonds. I have the king of diamonds. My opponent bets into me. I want to know if he has the ace of diamonds. I'm in a position to possibly see his cards. So I announce that I have seen his cards, even though I haven't. The floor comes over and requires me to declare what I saw. I lie and say that he has the ace of diamonds. Now only one of two things can happen. Either the floor confirms my lucky guess that that's what he has, and shows the card to everybody, or says, "No, sir, you must have been mistaken," and the hand plays out, with me having gained an extremely valuable piece of information. Of course I wouldn't do that, but this city is filled with unscrupulous players who would, if they knew in advance that the floor is going to rule the way this did woman last night.

The only rational floor response, I think, is to tell the table, "Seat 10 claims that he saw a card of Seat 1. There is no rule that requires him to share this information. In fact, doing so would violate the rule against discussing the hand in progress. I remind you that he may be lying about having seen the card(s), or he may have thought he saw something he didn't. There is no remedy available for this unfortunate incident. Everybody please remember to protect your cards from being seen by other players in the future."

In most cases, I dislike situations that are handled differently depending on whether a player's action is deemed to have been deliberate or accidental, because that's not always easy to determine, and angle-shooters can become adept at faking things. But I don't see any good way around it here. If a player voluntarily shows his cards to another who is still in the hand, then clearly everybody else has a right to that same information before play continues. If, however, one person gets an advantage by seeing an accidentally unprotected card, in a way that isn't open to everybody, I don't think there is any immediate remedy, and you just have to play the hand out with that player having the advantage. You obviously can't automatically expose one or both cards in question, because that makes it too easy for an angle shooter to claim to have seen something that he really didn't. Adding the precaution of the floor trying to verify the assertion of what was seen introduces the hypothetical angle-shooting problem I mentioned above. Also, I must question again what this floor person intended to do if I refused to disclose what I saw. Is she going to penalize me, when I did nothing wrong? Is she going to try to torture the information out of me--maybe bring in the boys from Gitmo with a waterboard to make me talk?

There's also the problem that last night's decision in a way punishes me for having been honest. It made me the bad guy, as if this were all my fault, and put me in the situation of having to talk about the hand in progress. Put another way, SL slipped and revealed a card to one player (me), but I was asked to reveal it to eight others, arguably a far worse sin. That just doesn't make any sense to me. If this were to happen again at the Riviera, I wouldn't say anything about it until the hand was over, because I don't want to be put in that awkward situation again. Nice job, Riviera--you have caused a player to decide to be less open about breaches in game integrity.

This is actually the second time that I have been seen an opponent's card(s) in the middle of a hand, announced that fact, and been asked to tell everybody what I saw. The first time was at the Rio a month or two ago. This was just the dealer telling me that's what I had to do. I meant to write up that story when I got home, but then forgot all about it. It was so weird I thought it was just an anomaly. (Funny part of that story: The card I had seen was a 6, which was bottom pair on the flop. The player holding it folded after the dealer had me say what I had seen, because he was facing a large bet. Another 6 came on the turn. The table erupted with laughter, except for the player who had folded, who slammed his fist on the table.)

In thinking this over, I suppose there is really no reason for me to tell somebody that I'm seeing his cards in the middle of the hand. I can just wait until it's over. There is not much to be gained by passing on that warning as the hand is playing out--the damage has already been done. With two recent cases of my announcement causing complications for the hand, I guess it's easier on everybody if I just shut up until the end of the hand. My motivation in both cases was to try to say something in the very moment that the player is flashing, so that he can see what he's doing wrong with his cards. But in the future, I'm going to wait, lest the table be visited by another stupid floor decision that makes the situation worse.

*sigh* On rereading, I see that I have once again freely intermixed present and past tense in my story-telling. But once again, I'm too lazy to go back and fix it. Apologies again for my sloppy writing.

Favorite books

When I posted photos of my poker bookshelves, somebody requested in the comments that I list my top five. I started to put it together, but found that I couldn't. So I decided on a top ten list instead. That was too hard, too. I did finally manage to narrow it down to a top 15.

Note that these aren't necessarily the best books I have. Instead, my criterion was this: If I had read all of the poker books I already own (I haven't--not by a long shot), which ones woud I most look forward to reading again? Take, for example, David Sklansky's Theory of Poker. It's one of the most educational books you can read on the subject of poker. But it's hard work and deadly dull. It's like eating your vegetables--good for you, but not enjoyable. If anybody has ever actually enjoyed reading it, I'd wonder what was wrong with him. Not all of those listed here are fun, but those that couldn't be called fun at least were so informative, so full of new insights, that I lapped them up eagerly.

These are in no particular order. What's more, if you asked me in, say, a month to make this list again, it might turn out different. This is a fairly arbitrary choice based on today's mood.

Read 'Em and Weep, John Stravinsky

Aces and Kings: Inside Stories and Million-Dollar Strategies from Poker's Greatest Players, Michael Kaplan and Bran Reagan

The Professional Poker Dealer's Handbook, Dan Paymar, Donna Harris, and Mason Malmuth

The Best Hand I Ever Played: 52 Winning Poker Lessons from the World's Greatest Players, Steve Rosenbloom

Professional Poker: The Essential Guide to Playing for a Living, Mark Blade

Caro's Most Profitable Hold'em Advice, Mike Caro (This was AWOL from my photos, which I noticed only when searching for this list. I thought I had gathered them all in, but this one was hiding under a pile of papers. Oops.)

Phil Gordon's Little Green Book, Phil Gordon

Fighting Fuzzy Thinking in Poker, Gaming & Life, David Sklansky

Positively Fifth Street, James McManus

The Professor, the Banker, and the Suicide King: Inside the Richest Poker Game of All Time, Michael Craig

Cooke's Rules of Real Poker, Roy Cooke and John Bond (I'm afraid this really exposes what a sicko I am, to put a rule book on my favorites list.)

The Tao of Poker: 285 Rules to Transform Your Game and Your Life, Larry W. Phillips

The Making of a Poker Player: How an Ivy League Math Geek Learned to Play Championship Poker, Matt Matros

The Book of Bluffs: How to Bluff and Win at Poker, Matt Lessinger

Ace on the River: An Advanced Poker Guide, Barry Greenstein (This, too, was AWOL from the photos. It's oversized and doesn't fit on those shelves.)

Guess the casino, #47

To reveal the hidden answer, use your mouse to highlight the space immediately after the word "Answer" below.

Answer: Planet Hollywood

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Don't forget what today is

Although it seems impossible that any of my loyal readers would not already be celebrating, out of an abundance of caution I will insert this important calendaric reminder (like telling the Pope that it's Christmas, just in case he might have forgotten): Today is 2/4, the holiest day of the year in the Church of the Sacred Deuce-Four.

Whatever it takes, be sure that you play 2-4 at least once today. The poker gods will be watching. For you new converts, this is a devotional obligation, much like making an annual pilgrimage to Mecca.

Blessed be the Deuce-Four. Amen.

Poker lessons from non-poker movies: "Charlotte's Web"

I just finished watching "Charlotte's Web," a movie so adorable and charming that it might even make an arachnophobe think spiders are cute. If you don't get at least a little teary during Wilbur's last conversation with Charlotte, you're an even harder-hearted SOB than I am.

What's this got to do with poker? Well, the funniest line in the movie, for my money, is when Templeton the rat, perfectly voiced by Steve Buscemi, jumps off the truck at the county fair. He's in a hurry to find all the dropped food goodies that have been described to him. He eagerly exclaims, "OK, where's the filth?"

Charlotte disapproves of his greed: "Have you ever heard that good things come to those who wait?"

Templeton retorts, "No. Good things come to those who find it and shove it in their mouth!"


Once in a while something I read has an immediate effect on either how I play or how I think while I'm playing. One of the most recent was this Card Player magazine column by Ed Miller. He accurately describes how in live, low-buy-in NLHE games there is an unfortunately tendency for many players to limp in with a wide range of weak hands. The column is about exploiting that weak play. He uses a phrase that immediately stuck in my brain: "make-a-hand poker."

The bottom line is that when you overlimp, you're mostly hoping to make a
hand and win a big pot, and yet it's hard to stack someone or otherwise win a
big pot when the hand starts out limped seven ways. And to top it off, your
opponents are also hoping to make a hand and win a big pot, and they're almost
as good at doing it as you are. So, you just don't have a whole lot of


When seven people see the flop in a limped pot, everyone is playing
"make-a-hand" poker, and you don't have it much better than anyone else. But
when you raise preflop and only one or two people call, often your opponents
will be playing make-a-hand poker while you will be playing "I win if you don't
make a hand." This scenario can offer you a much more significant edge over your

Now, I realize that this isn't a particularly brilliant or original observation, but something about that phrase hit home with me. It has caused me to scold myself at the table when my first inclination is to jump on the limper train: "You're playing 'make-a-hand poker' again, aren't you? Do you really expect to win just by getting luckier than everybody else?"

It doesn't always change my play, but there have been a fair number of times that it has; I either dump a crappy hand and wait for a better spot, or decide instead to raise. In the latter case, I can then either make my opponents worry about how strong my holding is or surprise them when a tricky little hand hits the flop hard under great disguise.

The fact that you can take either approach successfully (dump it or pump it) is what I find so great about the little exchange between Charlotte and Templeton. You can achieve success in poker by either sitting back and waiting for the good things to come your way, or by taking the initiative--by grabbing it and shoving it in your mouth.

Some days I play Charlotte poker. Some days I play Templeton poker. I can usually make money either way, but Templeton poker is a helluva lot more fun.

Reader encounters: the other side of the story

Went to bed, couldn't sleep. Had an idea for the blog.

First, I should mention that I had another pleasant reader encounter today (well, yesterday now). I hadn't played at Binion's since December 27, according to my records. Arbitrarily chose it for today, and ran into a reader at the table. Even more remarkably, he told me that he had been hoping to see me during this trip, and it was his last couple of hours playing before leaving for home Wednesday. He had even somehow got to chatting about me with one of the Binion's dealers who knows my not-really-very-secret identity. She had told him that I used to play there fairly regularly, but she hadn't seen me in a while--which was true.

I was pleased that, once again, I both got lucky and didn't do anything too embarrassing. Strangely, though, my biggest profits came in the 30 minutes or so after he left the table, when on back-to-back hands I hit straights with suited connectors, and had opponents that couldn't get away from big overpairs. (As you may have noticed from recent posts, February is off to a rocking start, averaging $135/hour over the first three days. How long will that last???)

Anyway, I have gone back through the last year or so of posts and tagged the ones in which I met or played (live or online) with a reader, using a new label, "reader encounters." While I was at it, I added one for "reader submissions," for posts that discuss things readers send me via email.

While doing this, it occurred to me that it's kind of unfair to present only my side of those stories. Most readers don't have blogs of their own. So I propose to make a post out of whatever stories readers want to tell about me. If you have played with me, live or online, or met me in some other context, whether or not I knew you were a reader (some I learn about only after the fact), feel free to submit an email (address is in the "profile" section in the left margin). I'll give people a week or so, then put together whatever I receive into a post--the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Was I moronic? Brilliant? Polite? Obnoxious? Robotic? Inhuman? Inhumane? Fascinating? Boring? As advertised? Surprising in some way? Go ahead--tell it like it is (or was). Use your name or not, as you prefer. I'm really curious whether those who were there think I got the facts of my stories right, left out worthwhile points, etc. If you can, please include something about when and where the encounter occurred.

This might be fun. Or scary and embarrassing. I'm not sure which yet.

Guess the casino, #46

To reveal the hidden answer, use your mouse to highlight the space immediately after the word "Answer" below.

Answer: Imperial Palace

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

My poker books

I recently ran out of room on my shelves, so yesterday I went to Wal-Mart and bought another top-of-the-line $12 modular shelf to join the others. Today I assembled it and redistributed my books. It occurred to me to show you my collection of poker books. (Poker-related fiction is not included here.) The photos are all slightly blurred because the flash made everything glare out, but there is little enough light in this corner of my apartment that I had to deal with a slow shutter speed. Sorry.

Here ya go:

For you nitpickers, yeah, I noticed that the Roy Cooke rule book was out of alphabetical order--but only after I took the pictures. I have relocated it properly, but it wasn't worth doing the photos over again.


I should have waited a few more hours. One more for the collection came in the mail today. In his most recent podcast, Shamus mentioned that David Spanier had written other poker books beside Total Poker, a fact of which I had not previously been aware. So I looked them up on and found a couple of them available used for $1 each. Can't resist that price. This is the one that arrived today:

Guess the casino, #45

To reveal the hidden answer, use your mouse to highlight the space immediately after the word "Answer" below.

Answer: O'Sheas

My night among the smokers

Once or twice a year, something hits me (a stroke, maybe, or a brain tumor) and I decide I should put in a session at one or more of the handful of poker rooms in town that still allow smoking at the table. (Wow--strange coincidence. I just noticed that it was exactly one year ago today that I first put up my frequently updated categorization of degrees of smokiness in poker rooms.) Tonight was such a night. I took in Boulder Station and Hooters. Nothing interesting happened at Hooters, but let me tell you about Boulder.

New room

They're advertising a new poker room at Boulder Station. Baloney. It's the same old room, with barely enough change to call it a face lift. They moved the check-in desk from one end to the other, put up new wallpaper, and are gradually replacing the chairs with more comfortable ones. That's it.


Despite what has happened to me and other photographers in other Stations properties, I walked around snapping pictures at Boulder unnoticed and unmolested.


There was a young woman in uniform walking around offering table massages. I had not seen this at Boulder previously, though I've only played there twice before, so maybe it goes on all the time and I was just unaware of it. I've added it to my list of places where you can get a massage while playing.


On my next-to-last hand of the night, I was dealt J-J, except the second one flipped up and was exposed during the pitch and had to be replaced. I got an offsuit 4 instead. Ick. It's the first time ever, as far as I know, that I have had a big pocket pair broken up and taken away because of a dealer's bad pitch.

My big hand

OK, here's the story I really wanted to get to.

I had started with my customary $100 buy-in, and after a little less than two hours had worked it up to $201. I was two off the button and looked down at K-J offsuit. Not a great hand. Sometimes I'll throw it away, sometimes limp, sometimes raise. As is so often said in poker, it all depends. In this case, there were three or four limpers already, and it's not a hand I want to play in an unraised pot. I hadn't played a hand in a while, and hadn't raised pre-flop in a long time, so I thought that if I raised I could get credit for a bigger hand than I actually held. Furthermore, the cutoff and the button were the two tightest players at the table, so I thought that a raise had a good chance of effectively giving me the button for this hand. I raised to $13. I got four callers, including the button, which was not good.

The flop was Q-T-5 rainbow, giving me an open-ended straight draw to the nuts. The first three players checked. I bet $35 into the approximately $65 pot (a couple of limpers had folded, both blinds had called, and I think the max rake is $4--close enough), basically running a flag up the pole to see if anybody would salute, as the saying goes.

Boy, did they ever! The button reraised all-in for his last $95. The small blind pushed all-in for a little over $400. One guy folded. A middle-position maniac pushed all-in for about $250. Nothing, absolutely nothing like this had happened during the previous two hours! What in the hell was going on?! As the chatter and oooing and ahhing started, people started coming over from nearby tables to see what was developing.

I hated this situation. I probably had the worst hand among the four of us left contesting this pot! I had $153 left at this point. I estimated that I was getting better than 3:1 on a call for the rest of my chips and that I was right around 3:1 to win it. (Eight outs twice is about 33%, but you have to factor in some discount for the possibility of somebody hitting a runner-runner flush, or, more likely here, the board pairing and giving a full house or quads to an opponent currently holding a set.) It was close, but I thought the math favored a call.

I hate this sort of thing. If I'm going to be playing a huge pot, I want it to be on my terms, when I have reason to be confident that I have substantially the best hand. I might semi-bluff all-in on a good draw like this against a single opponent if I could be the aggressor, but calling all-in on a draw? Into three opponents? It's against my religion!

But I was finally persuaded by my estimate of the numbers that it was the right thing to do, so I stacked up my chips and pushed them forward. We now had an actual crowd around the table.

The dealer put out the turn card: deuce of the fourth suit. Didn't help me, but it didn't pair the board, and it killed the possibility of a backdoor flush.

River: a 9! Yes! I spiked my gin card, and now held the absolute nuts. The button mucked without showing. The small blind had 5-5 for a flopped set. The middle-position maniac had A-Q. (I don't know why he didn't raise before the flop. That was uncharacteristic of him.) The dealer pushed me about $654, and gave the rest to the small blind.

Here's the actual math, now that I can take the time to work through it with 20/20 hindsight. First, though, I have to guess at what the button had. I think it must have been 10-10, Q-Q, or Q-10--maybe A-Q or A-A, but I think those are less likely. Given his tight nature and how I had been playing, those are really the only two hands with which he would have called my pre-flop raise and then raised me all-in on the flop. For now I'm going to assume it was Q-10.

The pot was actually offering me $501 that I could win (the $65 pre-flop pot, plus my $35 bet, plus the button's $95, plus $153 from each of the two bigger stacks). That's 3.27:1 on my money if I win. The odds calculator at assigns us the following rounded probabilities to take the hand: 27% (me), 13% (for the presumed Q-T on the button), 58% (5-5 in the small blind), and 2% (maniac with A-Q). That makes my odds 2.7:1 against winning. So I was basically right that it was pretty close, but mathematically favored the call that I ended up making. [Patting self on back.]

(If we assume instead that the button had flopped a bigger set, it change the odds between him and the small blind, but doesn't change my odds meaningfully. Because he was the short stack, he wasn't eligible for any side pot and therefore wouldn't have to show his hand even if he did have a better flopped set than the small blind's 5s.)

It's nice to be presented with a moderately complex situation, work out the right decision, and have the poker gods reward it. Study your math, boys and girls--it really does come in handy!

I finished that orbit, but didn't have another playable hand (because my jacks got taken away). I packed up my chips and told the table, "Gentlemen, I know when my luck has gotten as good as it's going to get, and that would be now, so I'm leaving before it changes on me." That was my flimsy apology for the hit-and-run. But I just didn't feel like taking a chance on giving it all back, like I did the last time I had a comparable stack. A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do. Sometimes that means take the money and run.

Good dealer

By the way, I need to add kudos for the dealer. He announced verbally each step in figuring out the pot. He showed that I had the button covered, gave his stack to me, then counted my stack and took the same amount from each of the two big stacks, gave those sums to me, then gave the rest of the A-Q's stack to the small blind. He explained clearly at every point what he was doing and why. In multi-way pots, it's easy to make mistakes, but if the dealer says everything out loud along the way, it's makes it far easier for those involved to either be reassured that the outcome is correct or recognize that a mistake is being made and speak up to make it right. I tipped him more than I usually would for being so open and clear. Dealers usually get these things right, but do the work silently, so I have to figure out what they're doing as they go. That's not always easy, because there are several ways one can go about the process. I much prefer this dealer's uncommon explicitness.

One Hooters story

OK, I forgot about the one notable thing that happened at Hooters: I saw somebody flop a royal flush. He had A-K of hearts, and the flop came Q-J-10 of hearts--in that order, even. This is, I think, the third royal flush I've seen made using both hole cards, but the first one that hit on the flop. Given how much I play, that tells you something about how rare a phenomenon it is.

So all in all, my night among the smokers turned out OK. As soon as I burn the clothes I was wearing and finish coughing up a lung or two, I'll be fine.

Monday, February 02, 2009

What poker rooms really DON'T need

Playing at the Rio last night reminded me of something: Is it possible I've been writing for nearly 2 1/2 years without ever grousing about how much I hate $2 chips?

Here are the places locally that use $2 chips in addition to $1s and $5s: Rio, Red Rock, Binion's (inconsistently; some dealers use them only as drop chips, other circulate them), Aliante Station (same), Caesars Palace. They are accursed, wretched things. They do no good and just get in the way. They increase the complexity of getting the pot right and of visually estimating the size of the pot--not to an impossible degree by any means, but it's still annoying and unnecessary. I just can't see what useful purpose they serve. As drop chips, sure--make the box fill up less quickly than with $1s. But to use on the table, they're a pain in the neck.

When I'm at one of the above-named joints, I'm in a constant battle with the dealers. I'm trying to get rid of my $2 chips and they're always trying to give them back to me. If I have to pay a $3 blind, or call that amount, I'll use two $2 chips if I have them, even if I have 20 $1 chips in my possession. I want them GONE! They just clutter up my otherwise tidy arrangement of chips. I'm not so nutty about it that I trouble the dealer to change them for me every time I get them, because that would justifiably annoy the dealer and slow down the game. But they are always the first to go when I'm putting money into the pot.

There is simply no need for chip denominations in increments smaller than a factor of four or five--with maybe one exception. A casino can do just fine with chips of $1, $5, $25, $100, $500, and $1000. (A few nosebleed-stakes players need them higher, but I won't get into that.) That last jump is the only interval less than a factor of four or five that might be useful. That's because $100 and $1000 are both obviously natural amounts to work with, and I can see that it would be helpful to have one increment in between those, though it wouldn't kill anybody if there were none. I don't think it would be at all difficult to manage with either $500s OR $1000s without the other, and then have the next increment at $2500. But it's not like I play those stakes anyway, so I won't waste any more time opining on it.

I read somewhere (but am feeling too lazy to search for it again) somebody's "theory of chip equity" (at least I think that's what they called it): every chip denomination should be divisible into the next-highest chip denomination. That makes sense to me. $2 chips fail that test. They visibly slow down the process when a dealer has to count a player's stack because of this: they add in a small mental block because about half the time they can't be stacked into an amount that is equivalent to the next-highest chip denomination or multiple thereof.

$2 chips are like $2 bills--nobody wants them, and we would all be better off if they had never been invented. A few casinos, like the stupid federal government, keep trying to foist them off on us, for reasons that completely escape me. I wish they would just give it up.

Guess the casino, #44

To reveal the hidden answer, use your mouse to highlight the space immediately after the word "Answer" below.

Answer: Harrah's

Another strange casino photography incident

As I was leaving the Rio tonight, one of the cocktail waitresses climbed up on a little stage they have amidst the slot machines. They do this frequently, providing a bit of amateur entertainment to the gamblers. A few sing, most just dance to a recording while colored lights flash.

I thought a picture of her would make a good "Guess the casino" entry. I snapped off a couple:

Then it dawned on me that my snazzy new cell phone has rudimentary video capture capability. I hadn't even tried it out yet. I had the sudden idea that I might be able to make a video "Guess the casino" post, which would be cool if it worked. I fiddled with the controls, and got it recording. (It ran out of memory before the end of the song, because I hadn't entered my preference to save the file to the large-capacity memory card instead of to the default internal memory.)

But just after I got it going, something strange happened. If you listen closely, you might hear a female voice, a few seconds into the recording, saying something like, "That's not going on YouTube or anything, is it?"

I turned to look, because I wasn't even sure she was talking to me. She was. It was another cocktail waitress.

I think you'd have to know me to understand this, but there are many, many times in my life when I'm flummoxed into silence. This is most commonly because only a few possible things to say occur to me, and I have just barely enough social awareness to know that they're all horribly inappropriate and better left unsaid.

This was one of those moments. You might notice a pause before I reply. What I was actually wanting to say was, "Why does it matter?" Or maybe, "Are you so stupid as to think that nobody has posted such a video on YouTube before?"

After a few seconds of brain lock, I finally came out with, "That's not my intention." I really hadn't formed any specific intention. I was primarily trying to see if I could figure out how to make the phone work as a video camera. If I were lucky enough to succeed at that, and the resulting clip turned out well enough to be worth looking at, then I might post it on my blog. Had I stopped to think, and had I thought that the difference mattered, I might have told my inquisitor that sometimes I post videos directly on a blog, sometimes I put them on YouTube and then embed them in the blog post, and I wasn't sure which, if either, I would do in this instance.

I added, "Why?" She said, "I'm just checking." I said, "Oh." And that was that. She gave me kind of a stinkeye and walked away.

As I left the building and reviewed this interaction in my mind, the oddness of it grew and grew. There are no signs posted saying "Please do not videotape our dancers." The woman who spoke to me never said anything direct like, "It's fine to tape this for yourself, but please don't post it on the Internet"--which seems like the obvious thing to do if one's goal is to try to prevent such dissemination. Perhaps these young women, who obviously can't very well talk to passersby while they're dancing, have agreed to sort of act as surrogates for each other, all sharing in a request for videotapes not to be posted online. But if so, why not state that request clearly and affirmatively?

But even if we assume that Cocktail Waitress #2 was acting as a stand-in for Cocktail Waitress #1 in making her inquiry, why do they care? How is it rational to be willing to get up on a platform and dance provocatively (more or less, depending on one's perception), while dressed in a skimpy outfit that one might expect to see one's new bride wearing to bed on her wedding night, in front of dozens or hundreds of strangers, and do this several times per shift, day after day after day--and then object to the possibility that the act will be seen by others on YouTube? If they're embarrassed about what they're doing, or don't want certain people (e.g., their parents?) to discover what part of their job is, then for heaven's sake don't do what it is you want kept secret in a very public place in front of countless strangers!

It's ludicrous for them to think that they will be able to prevent people from taking still photos and/or video clips, and subsequently putting them into the family photo album, or on Flickr, or MySpace, or YouTube, or a personal blog, or whatever. It's even more ridiculous to think that they can keep that kind of control through the passive, indirect, unclear style of communication that #2 employed with me. It's completely irrational, and I can't stand irrationality--which is why I have such a hard time with humanity in general.

The more I thought about it, the more it annoyed me. (That is true for much of what happens in my life.) When I got home and transferred the video file to my computer, I discovered that it is of such poor audio and video quality that, absent the verbal exchange, I probably would have deleted it as not worth posting and sharing. But because they annoyed me, I've decided to be petulant and defiant about it and post it here.

I did try to post it directly via Blogger, as a small gesture toward keeping with what I had stated my intention to have been, but the server wasn't accepting the file after two attempts, so I gave up and uploaded it to YouTube after all.

Take that, Ms. "I'm just checking."

What poker rooms really need

During the Super Bowl, I played poker at the Palms for the first half and the Rio for the second half. Why? Dunno--just kinda felt like it.

I like playing when big sports events are on, because many of the other players are too engrossed in the game to really pay attention to what's going on at the table. They tend to play much more straightforwardly, with not much more than "Level 1" thinking. They're easier to bluff, because it's too much time and trouble to actually sit back and analyze whether I could plausibly be holding what I'm representing. But at the same time, strangely, they're also easier to value bet, because they tend not to think through all of my possible hands and figure out that I could have a monster. Furthermore, they tend to drink, and make rookie mistakes like not noticing possible straights and flushes on the board. I made $223 during the first half at the Palms, and $257 during the second half at Rio. Easy money.

But the price I have to pay is that the game proceeds more slowly than usual, because nobody is paying attention. (Well, nobody except me, anyway--I barely even knew who was playing today, and cared not at all who won.) It's annoying to have to wait for the dealer to get each player's attention in turn. And heaven forbid you should expect somebody to act when there is, say, an interception being run back.

Back when I used to play at the Hilton, I had told one of the dealers that I liked there (Kelly) about an early Simpsons episode where they are all in family counseling, hooked up to a system by which they could each deliver painful electric shocks to the others. I thought that poker rooms should install something like that in each seat. When a player isn't paying attention and doesn't respond to a simple, "Your turn, sir," the dealer presses a button, and ZZZZZZZZZZ! The inattentive boor is zapped to attention. It could also be used punitively, for players who swear, insult each other, blame the dealer for bad outcomes, talk about the hand in progress, etc. Every time I was at the table and Kelly was dealing, if somebody was out of line or requiring a lot of work to get to attend to the game, either she or I would turn to the other and mime pressing a button, with a knowing nod and smile in return. Yep, that's what poker rooms need, all right. During the Super Bowl, the casinos would have to switch on the back-up generators to supply enough power to the system. It would be worth it.

Here's that Simpsons clip:

Many poker rooms had special promotions to lure players into spending game time there today--money and prizes handed out, and so forth. I didn't pick up any extra cash that way, sadly, but the Rio frequently splashed pots with official NFL Super Bowl hats and shirts, so I picked up this spiffy new outfit:

I call this work, "Self-portrait with Stupid Cheesy Grin and Super Bowl Apparel." It's destined to become a classic of the genre.

Addendum, May 6, 2012

I see that the embedded Simpsons clip is dead. But you can still watch the scene here:

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Why do they have stupid people make the signs?

I spotted this sign the other day on the outside of one of the entrances to the Circus Circus hotel/casino (near the valet station). I stared at it for a while, trying to decipher its meaning, and left still uncertain.

First we have that awful apostrophe hanging out where it doesn't belong.

But then, ironically, it is the complete lack of further punctuation that leads to the ambiguity. Is it a declarative statement that only employees ask for assistance? Is it informing the reader that only employees need to ask for assistance--or even that only employees may ask for assistance?

I suppose the most likely intended sense is approximately this: "Only employees may proceed past this point. All others, please ask for assistance." Sure, that might be too wordy to fit on the sign, but they could effectively, if inelegantly, convey the same meaning simply by adding punctuation: "Employees only. Ask for assistance."

Can I trade an apostrophe for two periods?

Nathan Burton

Got some free tickets, so went to see Nathan Burton's "comedy magic" show today at the Flamingo. It's OK, but well beneath my boys Penn & Teller. (Then again, that may be true of every magic act.) He did two variations on a standard mentalist trick (appearing to have written down in advance what somebody in the audience would say), and about eight different variations on a person appearing in and/or disappearing from a box when there is no apparent way in/out. That's my main criticism of the show: there were basically two tricks, with small variations. Not a lot of variety.

There's a comedy act in the middle, but not your standard stand-up variety. Instead, this guy pulls four volunteers from the audience, puts funny masks on them, gets them to agree to make certain funny gestures when he taps them, then has them race to blow up and pop balloons. I know what you're thinking--it sounds incredibly stupid. Yes, it does. But he is a fine showman and makes nearly every second of the routine come out funny. I kept thinking, "This shouldn't be funny, but it is!"

It's certainly not a terrible show overall, but I think I'd feel ripped off if I had had to pay more than about $10 for a ticket. For free, I felt more than adequately entertained. I even shook Mr. Burton's hand afterward and told him, "Nice show." It hadn't really been my intention, but he was standing there greeting people as they left, and it would have been awkward to walk by without saying something. So I guess this counts as my celebrity encounter for the day, too.

Guess the casino, #43

To reveal the hidden answer, use your mouse to highlight the space immediately after the word "Answer" below.

Answer: MGM Grand

Weird coincidence

A few days ago I posted a review of "Beat the Player," by Robert Nersesian, about overbearing casino security. Then about 24 hours ago I posted a long post about my experience with casino security while taking photos.

About six hours ago, I was in a pizza place eating dinner when I saw a copy of the January 31 Law Vegas sun sitting there, and on the front page was this story about a patron of the Tao nightclub at the Venetian winning $80,000 in a lawsuit alleging brutality at the hands of the bouncers. The plaintiff is described as a professional poker player, even, though I've never heard of him. His attorney? Robert Nersesian.

Weird, eh?