Saturday, February 28, 2009

How bad can you get your money in?

While I was looking for something else, I happened upon this post from the "Aces Full of Ducks" blog. It's an analysis of the worst pre-flop hand-versus-hand confrontations you can get into in hold'em. I had read long ago in a column by Phil Hellmuth that A-A versus A-6 was the most lopsided duel, but that turns out to be not quite right. The explanation given in the post is thorough, lucid, and interesting--well, if your mind is wired in the strange way that it takes to care about such matters.

Poker gems, #220

Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy: The Lives and Opinions of the World's Greatest Philosophers (1926), Simon & Schuster/Pocket Books, 1991, Ch. II: Aristotle and Greek Science; part VII: Ethics and the Nature of Happiness.

Excellence is an art won by training and habituation: we do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have these because we have acted rightly.... [W]e are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.

[Note: This quotation is frequently attributed, erroneously, to Aristotle. It is actually Durant's paraphrase of Aristotle. See here.]

Poker gems, #219

Roy Cooke, in Card Player magazine column, February 25, 2009 (vol. 22, #4), p. 52.

When you play poker, your goal is to win money. If you play a style that's designed to keep you from losing money, you can never win.

How we become superstitious--or not

One of my favorite radio shows is "Car Talk." On today's show, a caller from Maine named Paula told Click and Clack that sometimes her Subaru won't start in the cold weather. Her remedy is to heat up a blanket on one of her old-fashioned house radiators, tuck it under her coat, run out to the driveway, and put it on the hood of the car. Then after about ten minutes, she'll try starting the car again, and it will almost always work the second time.

As she was saying this, I had a flashback to my freshman year of college. I started undergraduate life as a physics major, and I well remember slogging through the lectures and sections of the textbook about heat transfer equations. Even if you haven't been through that, general life experience alone might suggest to you that Paula is, well, daft. There's just no way that a blanket placed on a home radiator--one which isn't too hot to be held against one's body--placed on the hood of a car in cold winter weather, will transfer heat through the hood and subsequently through the air between the hood and the engine, in sufficient quantities to have any effect on the engine.

As the Car Talk brothers quickly realized, Paula's elaborate ritual has nothing to do with why the car starts the second time but not the first. Far more likely is something quasi-random, such as a faulty neutral safety switch (the thing that won't let current flow to the starter motor unless the transmission lever is set to neutral or park). Paula would presumably have equal success if she just waited that ten minutes warming herself at the radiator, rather than a blanket. But of course, what happened was that she got this wacky notion once, tried it in desperation (probably in a feeble attempt to replicate what she had seen or heard of other people doing with electric engine block heaters), found that it appeared to work, and therefore kept doing it.

This reminded me of a story I read about 20 years ago in a magazine--can't remember where now. The author said that every day for years he and his cat went through the same thing. He would come home from work, go to the kitchen, pull out a can of cat food and the can opener, open it, and scoop some out with a spoon. Then, just as he was going to dump the contents of the spoon into the cat's food dish, the cat would stick his head under the spoon, thus getting the cat food dropped onto its head. The cat would then eat the food, clean the excess off of his head, etc.

Again, we can easily infer how this began. One day, early in their relationship, the cat got overly eager and stuck its head where it didn't belong. For this behavior he seemed to get rewarded with a bunch of yummy food. So something in his brain clicked, and he tried it again the next time he saw that there was a spoon with food in it. Same result. His poor little brain concluded that suffering the indignity of having food dumped on his head was what it took to get fed, so he persisted in the strange behavior every day forever after.

Wouldn't it be nice if we were smarter than cats?

There's no deep mystery to be explored here. Some sort of similar tale undoubtedly lies behind every superstition. Somebody once opened an umbrella in the house and something terribly unlucky happened to him soon thereafter. He mentioned it to some friends, one of whom perhaps had, by coincidence, noticed the same temporal connection. They leaped to the conclusion of a causal connection and began telling everybody about it. Every time somebody consciously violated this new social taboo, he would be more vigilant for signs of bad luck than he otherwise would have been absent hearing about others' misfortunes, so it isn't surprising that he would notice something unlucky happening, and thus have the theory "confirmed."

My guess is that the guy with the lucky spoon ritual at the Riviera developed it by accident. Perhaps one time he was absent-mindedly twiddling it in a circle as the dealer was shuffling, and he got dealt aces. His brain seized on the connection as somehow causal, and a superstition was born. Of course he can't be bothered to undertake a scientific, statistical test of what cards he is dealt (and/or how much he wins or loses in a hand) when he does the circle-and-scoop thing versus when he doesn't. In truth, he probably doesn't really want to know. He likes the illusion of control that his ritual brings him; he is no longer simply subject to the whims of randomness, but exerts a mystical influence over the cards. It's nice to feel powerful, not buffetted by the winds of chance, even if it's nothing more than a self-delusion.

Jerry Yang suffers from the same kind of strange cognitive defect when he acts on his belief that saying the right kinds of words to the right god at the right time will change what cards the dealer is about to deliver.

But I maintain that poker success is incompatible with such hogwash. A winning poker player must, I believe, both accept and embrace randomness. I know that over the long run I'm going to be dealt exactly the same distribution and frequency of starting hands as every opponent that I face. Whether I win or lose therefore depends entirely on making sound decisions that result in winning more money with the best hand than they do, losing less money with second-best hands than they do, and winning pots with the worst hand (i.e., bluffing) more successfully than they do.

In poker we are all given the same raw materials. It is up to us--not the Fates--what we do with them. Some people find that idea frightening. I find it empowering and liberating. Divorcing myself from nascent superstitions, nipping them in the bud, before they have an opportunity to take hold of and pollute my mind is an essential part of that. No, that dealer is not especially unlucky, nor is having a $50 bill in my wallet, nor is winning the first hand of a tournament. Conversely, I cannot rely on wearing my lucky hat, carrying my lucky rabbit's foot, or playing my lucky junk hand.

I have no security blanket, heated or otherwise. Food will not just magically plop itself down into my dish like manna from heaven if I hold my head a certain way. I have to make the success happen all by myself. As William Ernest Henley famously wrote, I am the master of my fate.

(Just wondering here. If you take all of your stock certificates and stitch them together into a sort of patchwork quilt, do you now have a securities blanket?)

I guess I'm not alone

A recent study, nicely summarized and discussed here, suggests that blogging can make you happier. As Dr. Grohol writes in his psychology blog:

The researchers found support for deeper self-disclosure from bloggers resulting
in a range of better social connections. These included things such as a sense
of greater social integration, which is how connected we feel to society and our
own community of friends and others; an increase in social bonding (our tightly
knit, intimate relationships); and social bridging — increasing our
connectedness with people who might be from outside of our typical social

This matches my experience. Poker is in some senses a social game, but I find nearly all of the interactions from it superficial (when they are not downright annoying). There are a few exceptions. But for the most part, I have, paradoxically, felt far more of a sense of connection with other people when sitting completely alone in front of my computer than when sitting in a large poker room with a hundred of my fellow human beings. The process of telling all of you about myself, finding that you're interested in what I have to say, reading your feedback, and perusing the blogs of others who are more or less similarly situated has been genuinely fulfilling, whereas playing poker for a living is mostly a very lonely experience--at least that has been my experience of it. I have unquestionably made more and closer friends through this blog than I have across the green felt.

A couple of years ago I read somewhere (can't remember where) that worldwide the average readership of a blog post was less than one; i.e., the typical entry doesn't get read by anybody except the author. If that were the case here, I would have shut it down long ago, and thus missed out on the rewarding experience. So this is another good occasion to thank you for reading and commenting. I'm glad you enjoy it enough to check in once in a while. In the end, though, I'm pretty sure that I get more out of it than any of you do.

Guess the casino, #70

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

Answer: Excalibur

Friday, February 27, 2009


Last night I had my biggest one-day loss in 51 weeks. It happened in a way that was just way too annoying to describe, so I'm not going to inflict my whining on you. But it really knocked the wind out of me, killing any enthusiasm for either playing poker or writing about it. I know from past experience that this, too, will pass. But if you don't hear from me for a couple of days, that's why.

Guess the casino, #69

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

Answer: Suncoast

Thursday, February 26, 2009

What are the odds?

I just finished a $10 HORSE sit-and-go on PokerStars. I won this one. The screen shot above shows the key hand from the heads-up portion of the match. This was what gave me the big lead, and it was all over just a few hands later.

It's a strange hand. I have never before seen two people in a heads-up stud game both get the same two pairs, and have the winner decided by the kicker (which, as you can see, went my way, but only on 7th street--whew!). We even had the same hand (9-9-J-2) on 4th street). Weird.

Full hand history is below:

PokerStars Game #25365578000: Tournament #143645166, $10+$1 HORSE (7 Card Stud Limit) - Level IX (300/600) - 2009/02/26 4:02:16 ET
Table '143645166 1' 8-max Seat #1 is the button
Seat 3: hishga (6266 in chips)
Seat 4: Rakewell1 (5734 in chips)
hishga: posts the ante 60
Rakewell1: posts the ante 60
*** 3rd STREET ***
Dealt to hishga [9h]
Dealt to Rakewell1 [9s 2d Jh]
hishga: brings in for 90
Rakewell1: calls 90
*** 4th STREET ***
Dealt to hishga [9h] [2c]
Dealt to Rakewell1 [9s 2d Jh] [9c]
Rakewell1: checks
hishga: bets 300
Rakewell1: calls 300
*** 5th STREET ***
Dealt to hishga [9h 2c] [Js]
Dealt to Rakewell1 [9s 2d Jh 9c] [4d]
Rakewell1: checks
hishga: checks
*** 6th STREET ***
Dealt to hishga [9h 2c Js] [8c]
Dealt to Rakewell1 [9s 2d Jh 9c 4d] [Jd]
Rakewell1: bets 600
hishga: raises 600 to 1200
Rakewell1: raises 600 to 1800
hishga: raises 600 to 2400
Betting is capped
Rakewell1: calls 600
*** RIVER ***
Dealt to Rakewell1 [9s 2d Jh 9c 4d Jd] [Th]
Rakewell1: checks
hishga: bets 600
Rakewell1: calls 600
*** SHOW DOWN ***
hishga: shows [Jc 9d 9h 2c Js 8c 3s] (two pair, Jacks and Nines)
Rakewell1: shows [9s 2d Jh 9c 4d Jd Th] (two pair, Jacks and Nines - Ten kicker)
Rakewell1 collected 6900 from pot
*** SUMMARY ***
Total pot 6900 Rake 0
Seat 3: hishga showed [Jc 9d 9h 2c Js 8c 3s] and lost with two pair, Jacks and Nines
Seat 4: Rakewell1 showed [9s 2d Jh 9c 4d Jd Th] and won (6900) with two pair, Jacks and Nines

Guess the casino, #68

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

Answer: Sante Fe Station

Casino roulette is TOTALLY rigged

I was walking through Binion's toward the poker room a few days ago when this roulette history board caught my eye. Hitting the "0" four times in a row? Please. It's so obviously rigged. Such things cannot happen by chance alone.

Fyodor Dostoevsky's novel The Gambler has a section about an unusual string of roulette hits, including more "0" than would ordinarily be expected. You can hear my friend Shamus read that portion of the book in the Hard-Boiled Poker Radio Show, episode 4, which you can download from here. The pertinent section runs from about 17:00 to about 27:00.

Mandalay Bay adds comps

No, no--not that Mandalay bay. The one in this hemisphere. (Confession: Until about two weeks ago, I didn't know there was another one. I thought it was just a made-up name.)

I was playing there tonight and was surprised to see a sign at the front desk announcing that they are now tracking player hours for food comps, $1/hour. Their system is kind of a pain in the neck, because they don't use your MGM/Mirage card. You fill out a form, then on every visit you have to have them fish it out of a box. You and the employee both initial it on your way in and on your way out. But still, it's a lot better than what they gave you before, which was a big fat nothing.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


1300th post yada yada yada thanks for reading yada yada yada I'll keep writing yada yada yada if you keep checking in yada yada yada click on the ads yada yada yada.

(I think I'm getting lazy.)

Nothing to see here, move along

This morning the local radio news was all about a truck that had overturned at the corner of Charleston and Lamb, spilling both ammonium nitrate and diesel fuel in front of a McDonald's. (See here, e.g.) That's a rather scary mix. Isn't that what Timothy McVeigh used to blow up the federal building in Oklahoma City?

This afternoon I drove to Der Wienerschnitzel for lunch. (Once in a while, a guy's just gotta have a chili cheese dog, and nothing else will do.) I knew it was somewhere along Charleston, but didn't remember exactly how far east-west. I wasn't even thinking about the morning's news until I was there, and realized that it was just to the east of the McDonald's in question. Driving past on two sides, I couldn't see any remnants at all of this morning's drama. They did quite a clean-up job. The only evidence that anything unusual was going on was the arrival of a Channel 3 news van, probably to set up a live shot from the scene. (Why does every television news team think that it adds to a story to have a reporter do a remote piece live from a place when the event is long over?)

So I didn't get to see any excitement, but, on the positive side, I didn't get blown up, either.

A one-sentence political rant having nothing to do with poker (I just need to get it off my chest)

I believe that Barack Obama (with the assent of Congress, of course) has done more long-term economic harm to the nation in his first few weeks in office than any other president has done in his first weeks in office, and that in years to come, when the repercussions of it are more evident, we will look back on this period with a "what were they thinking?" horror, similar to how the Smoot-Hawley tariff act of 1930 is widely viewed today.


I suppose this puts me over my self-imposed one-sentence limit, but to assuage those who conclude that I'm a Republican hack, I'll add that I think George W. Bush inflicted at least as much long-term economic harm on us in his, oh, last six months or so--and maybe more.

She didn't believe me

A couple of weeks ago I was at the Venetian playing, when a player mucking his cards accidentally flashed them. I got only the quickest glimpse, close to the absolute minimum with which I could actually discern the faces. One would have to have been looking in just the right place at just the right time--but as it happened, I was.

I immediately told the dealer, "Those flashed," so that she could expose them before they got mixed into the muck and became unretrievable. The usual response in that situation is that she would simply turn them over for all to see so that the information is shared equally, and that's the end of it.

But this dealer seemed instantly suspicious that I was lying about having seen the cards. She asked, in a tone that I thought expressed doubt, "What did you see?" I said, "A four and a nine, one red, one black." (I hadn't been able to make out the exact suits.) She checked the cards, then, apparently satisfied, exposed a four and a nine, one red, one black.

This bugs me. (Anyone surprised to discover me annoyed at some trivial event at a poker table? Anyone?)

The implication is that this dealer has some threshold of accuracy to which I must rise before she decides that I have seen enough to warrant exposing the cards. Suppose I had seen, e.g., just that there were two clubs, but couldn't tell the ranks. Would she then make a judgment that that wasn't close enough to justify sharing the information? Or what if I couldn't tell at a glance between two very similar pip configurations, e.g., whether a card was a 7 or an 8, but I knew it was one or the other. Would she peek down at a 7 and decide that since I really didn't know for sure no showing was to occur? What if I could see only that there were two face cards, but I couldn't determine which they were. Would that pass her little test? And what if I'm honestly mistaken, thinking I saw a jack when it was actually a king? Will she expose them, or decide not to, and leave me embarrassed at having been wrong (and thus less inclined to speak up the next time it happens)?

Maybe the worst facet of this peculiar behavior on her part is how it opens the door for an angle shooter. Imagine that I have K-K. Of course, the worst fear in that situation is that somebody has an ace and will make a higher pair when an ace hits the flop (which it always does, right?). It would be useful to know if somebody had thrown away an ace. So a guy in early position mucks with just a tiny wobble in the cards--not enough that I really saw anything. I tell the dealer, "Those flashed." She asks me what I saw. I tell her, "I'm pretty sure one was an ace." She checks the mucked cards. Now she will either turn over the ace if there was one, or be forced to report, "Nope. No ace there." The former situation is highly valuable information to me, the latter less so, but it costs me nothing to take the shot.

I suppose the rejoinder to this is that even in the standard operation of the rule (i.e., just claiming to have seen flashed cards is enough to get them exposed without quizzing the player) can be exploited by an angle shooter who just wants a free look at any two random cards by claiming to have seen a flash. However, (1) the potential information gain is less than in the scenario I described above, and (2) he will have to just be doing it in random situations where he might plausibly claim to have seen something, rather than exploiting particular situations where he needs some specific information, and (3) over time the dealers and other players will start to notice the pattern if he's doing it more than seems credible.

This is quite similar to the problem I described earlier this month of getting quizzed about exactly what I saw when another player's live cards have been held in such a way that I can see them. I don't like being grilled to test either my eyesight or my honesty, and I think that doing so is intrinsically problematic for the current hand as well as serving to discourage players from speaking up when they get a partial glimpse of information that isn't available to the entire table.


A couple of hours too late, I have realized what would have made a much better title for this post: "Don't quiz me, bro!"

Agreement on the Luxor poker room

"Las Vegas Michael," editor of, is an exceptionally knowledgeable and personable guy, but in the past he and I have had very different--even polar opposite--preferences in poker rooms. For example, he used to smoke (quit a few months back) and complained about the trend toward non-smoking rooms, while the level of smoke is one of the main factors that will tend to drive me away from a room. I have a thing for small, quiet rooms (all else being equal--though it never is), while he seemed to like lots of action and people. He avoided rooms where locals were putting in hours toward freeroll tournaments, while I was one of the ones participating. That sort of thing.

So it has been interesting to me that over the last several months our opinions have tended to coincide (with the stand-out exception of the electronic tables at Excalibur), for example, on the new rooms opening at Hard Rock, Binion's, and Eastside Cannery. (By the way, I see on AVP that the Eastside Cannery has already moved its poker room to a new, smaller location, only six months after opening. Not a good sign. See here. I'll not be bringing you an in-person review of the new place, for reasons that you might well imagine....)

Anyway, the latest area on which Michael and I are in complete agreement is the Luxor. He had apparently not been there in a while, but a few days ago posted a formal "editor review" of the room. See here. Michael always tries to find good things to say about a place, and tries to be gentle in his criticisms (at least that's how I read him), but he struggled to come up with any compliments for the Luxor, other than the convenient location of the restrooms. He came down particularly hard on the dealers:

Dealer rating: 2.

The dealing staff at the Luxor is yet another weak link on the Luxor poker
room chain. The staff seems to be a mix of younger dealers with attitudes and
older dealers who don’t care. It is apparent that many of these dealers have
been at the Luxor a long time, and perhaps due to this fact proper dealing
protocol seems to have been softened greatly over the years due to many simply
being “set in their ways”. It is rather common to see dealers complaining
publicly about various management decisions and scheduling in plain view and
hearing range of the patrons. It is also a frequent occurrence to see commonly
accepted procedures and protocols tossed out due to what can only be explained
as sheer laziness: rolling the deck, matching stacks after an all-in win,
watching televisions instead of paying attention to the action, mixing the muck
and the stub immediately after the last card is boarded, etc. These are dealer
idiosyncrasies that are common in dealers that have simply lost the passion for
the game and their jobs.

I have witnessed more rolled eyes, snappy answers, and lack of interest for
conversations from the dealing staff here then from nearly all other properties
combined. When a dealer makes a mistake, and is corrected by a player in the
game, more often than not, the staff responds very negatively and with an

Of course, there are always exceptions. There are a few dealers at the
Luxor that do their job well, welcome new and established players, and maintain
good solid game control. Unfortunately, these good apples are the minority in
the bunch.

This caught my attention, because I have ranted here several times about how the Luxor dealers are working hard to capture the "worst dealers in Vegas" title. See, e.g., here, here, and here.

It's nice to see a confirmatory opinion along these lines, and to know that I'm not just imagining things or blowing them out of proportion. There really is a serious, chronic problem at the Luxor that nobody there seems interested in fixing.

The only reason I put up with all the crap that goes on there is that, as Michael also notes, the competition is definitely on the soft side. It's easy to win there, which in the end trumps other concerns. But I tend to use it as a "hit-and-run" room for a quick buck, because it's just not a pleasant place to linger. It's too bad, because the problems are things that could be remedied rather easily, if there were just a poker room manager who knew how things should be and was given both a mandate to make a good room and the authority to make it happen.

It can happen to anybody

Cardgrrl sent me this sad photo from her game last night--sad, because she got in the way of an opponent's mighty Deuce-Four. This is at least the second time it has happened to her. Strangely, I have never, to my knowledge, been on the receiving end of the 2-4. Perhaps the poker gods are showing their appreciation for my evangelism.

Guess the casino, #67

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

Answer: Texas Station

More chit-chat

More discussion about the Cannery incident in these places: (caution: pain-in-the-butt registration required just to read)

It's quite amazing what people claim to "know" about me, my personality, my actions, my past, my thoughts, my real intentions and motivations, what I'm hiding, the casino interior, casino policies, the law, casino security guards, police authority, and a whole bunch of other related and unrelated things. Most of them are wrong on most points, but that doesn't stop them from (1) being sure of themselves, and (2) going on the record (though usually anonymously or pseudonomously) with their certainty.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan is often quoted as having said, "You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts." Apparently he never read internet forums.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

More evidence (as if any were needed)

I haven't been watching the World Poker Tour this season. I'm feeling like I've been neglectful, so today I started with episode 1, the Bellagio Cup. Just a few hands in, I spotted this horrendous incident.

As Vince Van Patten calls the action, "Gabriel Thaler looking down at a four-deuce, won't play that mess." Thaler folds.

That mess? THAT MESS???

And these are your supposed expert commentators? They seem not to know that Deuce-Four can take down pocket kings in its sleep.

Never mind the ensuing action. Just look at the final board and what won:

Thaler's Deuce-Four for the straight was way good. Even better, there was no betting on the flop, so he would have made the nuts on the turn for free. But this allegedly great player threw it away. And the commentators apparently didn't even notice that he folded what would have been the winner. If they were more attentive, they might have said something like, "You know, Thaler's hand would have taken that pot, and nobody would have ever suspected what a monster he was holding until it was too late."

But no.


It's so hard to convince people to change their already-made-up minds, no matter how much evidence you put in front of them.

Guess the casino, #66

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

Answer: Fiesta Henderson

Close but no cigar

Binion's tonight. Shorthanded game, very passive, lots of checking. I limp in with suited A-2. No betting on the flop or turn. Final board is 8-8-5-6-5, no flush possible. One guy finally bets $5. Two others fold. I'm last to act. I decide to call, because I don't think he has a boat or straight. I think we're most likely chopping. (Yeah, I know, bad plan to call for a possible chop, but it was $5. So sue me.) He turns over 7-3. I assume it was a bluff. I show my ace for the win.

As the dealer starts to push the miniscule pot my way, my opponent says, "Hey, wait. Don't I have 5-6-7-8?"

I look him square in the eye and say, "Yes, sir, you do," and continue stacking the chips.

It takes him a few seconds, including the ever-popular counting on his fingers. Then: "Oh, I guess that's not enough."

He had the good sense to laugh at his own mistake, along with the rest of the table.

Monday, February 23, 2009

I made it onto the 2+2 forums (not necessarily a good thing)

See here. Thanks to Cardgrrl for the alert.

As per the 2+2 forum norm, I'm immediately adjudicated to be a "smart-ass," a "douche," a "dick," a "huge geek," "lame," and "a real jerk." And I thought it was bad just being grumpy....

VegasRex on squirreling

I've been catching up on VegasRex's second blog, "The Real Las Vegas." Earlier this month he put up a post about what he calls the "30-minute rule." (I believe it's actually a one-hour rule in most poker rooms.) The rule says that whatever money or chips you initially put on the table plus whatever you win in the course of a game must be kept in play until you cash out. Furthermore, when you cash out you can't sit down in the same kind of game for less money than you cashed out until at least an hour has passed.

The purpose of the rule is to prevent players from stashing away their winnings while keeping smaller amounts of money in play, a practice variously known as squirreling, ratholing, or "going south." I wrote about this before here.

Rex's post is, I think, the first time I've seen somebody argue against the rule. His basic point is that when he has won a pot, that money is his and he should be free to do with it what he wants, including stuffing it in his pocket and continuing to play with the minimum buy-in for that table.

I think the flaw in the argument is that chips in play don't fully belong to you until and unless you cash them out. They are always in play, subject to being taken by other players, which is not true of the cash in your pocket. They are part of the structure of the game as long as they remain on the table. You are therefore not free to remove them, except under the conditions and rules that govern the game. This is different from, say, roulette, where the amount of chips you have in play has no effect on other players' decisions and strategy. Also, unlike in other table games, players judge how good or juicy a table is by how many chips they see in play (and thus are available to be won), so the house has incentive to keep as many on the table as possible. The rule actually works to the advantage of the best players, because the weaker players who get lucky once in a while have to keep those chips vulnerable to being reclaimed when they get outplayed later.

So I disagree with Rex on this point, but it's an interesting and uncommon point of view, and thus worth reading.

Bad advice in Bluff magazine

It's not often I find in the mainstream poker magazines a piece of advice that is just plain wrong, but here's an example. The February, 2009, Bluff has an article by Sam Chauhan (whoever that is), "Tournament Mindset: Your Beliefs Are Your Reality."

He writes, "I don't care if this is your first tournament or 100th. You have to go into every tournament feeling that you are the best. Why would you give a psychological advantage to any player by telling yourself that he or she is better than you?"

That's just insane. If you are playing in your first-ever poker tournament and you think that you are the best player there, you're delusional. Period. You aren't the best. Without much doubt, you're probably one of the worst. With incredibly rare exceptions of preternatural raw talent, poker is a skill you develop only with time and experience.

In my opinion, what you should be doing is not pumping yourself up with false notions about being the best player, but making realistic assessments of your skills relative to each of your opponents, and on that basis pick your targets selectively. You also need to adjust your play based, in part, on skill differentials. That is the whole concept behind the Kill Phil strategy. In brief, more skilled players have an advantage when playing on later streets, and will be reluctant to get too much money in pre-flop just hoping to get lucky. They will want to play against you in many, many small pots, taking advantage of their skill advantage to outplay you. That's much better for them than shoving with a pair against your A-K on a coin flip. So you exploit that situation by forcing them to play in exactly the way they are trying to avoid. Why play the game on the territory where your opponents are most comfortable and have the edge on you? Better to acknoweldge that they have a skill advantage, and force them to just plain get lucky if they're going to beat you for a big pot.

But if you have deluded yourself into thinking that you're better than every one of your opponents, you can't make concessions like that. And you will, therefore, not make the strategic and tactical adjustments that you should to maximize your chances of success.

Horrible advice, Mr. Chauhan. Just horrible. Do you really enter the WSOP Main Event convinced that you are the single best player out of the thousands there? If so, please have your psychiatrist bump up your medication dosage, because you really need it.

Online poker show

I just came across a web site that I hadn't seen before: They put up shows about Vegas, including "Stripper Method," described as "a glimpse into the lives of two former exotic dancers who are now your everyday mothers, housewives and business owners," and "The VegasCabbie," with a taxi driver's tips and insights into the city.

But most relevant here is "That Show with Those Guys," three poker players who talk about what they're doing and review poker rooms and tournaments. I watched just one, an episode about the Venetian and its Deep Stack Extravaganza. Frankly, it's not my cup of tea, as it sounds just like a lot of the table talk I hear for hours every day. But give it a try, maybe you'll like it more than I did.

Guess the casino, #65

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

Answer: Whiskey Pete's, in Primm, Nevada. C'mon, admit it: you thought it was Excalibur, didn't you?!


I was at Mandalay Bay this afternoon. I had Kh-Qh under the gun. I raised to $7. The player to my left reraised to $12, which was kind of strange. We had started a new table only 10 or 15 minutes earlier, so I didn't know a lot about him. Two or three others called, as did I.

Flop was Qs-Jh-5h, giving me top pair with a good kicker plus the second nut flush draw and a back-door straight draw. I was OK with this. I checked, intending to either check-raise or take a free card. (Or, of course, reevaluate if somebody showed extraordinary strength.) The pre-flop raiser bet $45 and was called by the guy on his left. The others folded. I check-raised all in, a total of just under $200. The raiser called, and the guy trapped in the middle reluctantly folded.

I flipped over my cards, and was delighted to see that my opponent had Kc-Qc. I was freerolling! Whee! I was guaranteed to win at least half the pot, but might take the whole thing. My opponent, meanwhile, had to fret about a heart coming to turn his half pot into my whole pot.

Alas, no flush came for me, but my last opponent and I each made a little money on the hand.

I don't have any deep point to make with this story. I just find myself in freerolling situations so rarely, and it's such a great feeling (definitely one of the top ten sensations in poker), that I had to mention it here.

Did you notice who's on the bicycle in the photo above? That's Rita Hayworth, way back in 1940, doing a little freerollin' of her own. The photo is from the Life magazine archives. See here.

"Let's go with that"

Luxor tonight. I'm not in the hand. There is a middle-aged man and his 86-year-old father at the other end of the table in adjacent seats. I have a pretty solid player on my right. A young woman, too new to the table to have a bead on her, is three seats to my left, with the son and father to her left.

Final board is 2-2-5-A-2. (Naturally, I can't resist pointing out what the nuts would be here, though that's not the point of the story.) The father is first to act. He wants to bet, but absent-mindedly makes a hand motion that the dealer interprets as a check, and he doesn't argue the point when the dealer says it will have to stand as a check. (I thought then and still think that this was an honest mistake, not a ruse.) Solid guy on my right bets $25. Son calls. Father raises to $50. Solid guy thinks a while, but finally folds. Son calls. He has an ace. The father has pocket threes. The father sees the pot going to his son and thinks it's a mistake. "I had a full house," he protests. The dealer points out that an ace in the hand gave his son a bigger full house. The father sees his mistake and concedes.

In the inevitable post-hand analysis, solid guy moans, because he folded an ace, which, of course, would have taken half of the pot. But, as he points out, "I thought one or the other of them had the deuce. One of them was sure betting like he had it."

The young woman, almost under her breath, chimes in: "Or like he didn't know what he had."

The dealer hears this, nods to her, and says, "Let's go with that."

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Flopping the nuts with poker's best hand

This evening I saw yet another flop of A-3-5. Too bad neither I nor anybody else was holding the holy Deuce-Four at the time. It seems that I've been seeing that flop a lot lately. It could be an illusion of selective attention/memory, because I'm so aware of the 2-4. It made me wonder how often one could expect to see that flop when holding the magic hand. (The only other way that 2-4 can be the nuts on the flop is if it comes 2-2-2 or 4-4-4. Those are rare enough that I'll disregard them.)

Once we have removed two cards from the deck, there are 50 left from which a flop can be formed. There are 19,600 ways to pick three cards from these 50.

There are 4 x 4 x 4 = 64 different ways of making A-3-5. Of those, four have all three cards from the same suit, in which case 2-4 offsuit (which is all I'm considering for now) for the straight is not the nuts.

That leaves 60 out of 19,600 times that 2-4o will flop the nuts, or about one time in 327. It's the same frequency if your own two cards are NOT the 2-4, as long as you don't hold an ace, trey, or five.

I should, on average, see that flop less than once each session. Sure seems like more than that lately, though. Maybe I'm hallucinating. (Or maybe I have, once again, screwed up the math in some embarrassing way.)

Guess the casino, #64

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

Note: A few overly revealing details have been digitally blacked out of the image.

Answer: Imperial Palace

Interesting show at the Palazzo

Yesterday I saw this item in the Review-Journal about a new free show at the Palazzo. It sounded intriguing. Besides, I had a two-for-one coupon for one of their restaurants, and a double-your-bet free play coupon for a table game. (My traveling companion chose black for me on a roulette wheel. It came up red. $25 gone. But the upside is I would have won $75, so on an essentially 50:50 bet it was definitely +EV.)

We caught the 4:30 show. I took too many pictures to upload them here, but you can see them in a Flickr set here.

Basically, three young women dressed and made up as classical statues come down the escalator, take their places one by one in the pool area in front of the waterfall, and strike various poses while classical music plays. They also have tubes hooked up under their outfits so that water can come out of their fingers and heads. Yeah, it sounds goofy, but it's kind of cool. When they're done, they come out and stand in front. That's when the assistants start hawking photos. Of course, you can take all the pictures you want (and I didn't even see anybody get backroomed for it!), but if you want to get in the picture with the statues, you have to pay and have their photographer take the shot. They they glide off to the up escalator and fly away, with a mop guy behind them cleaning up the water so nobody slips and falls and sues the hotel.

About the time the statues are making their exit, two young women on long stilts and hand crutches, dressed as vines, are making their way in. I thought this was the more interesting part of the show. They display real athleticism as they move around, but a nice aesthetic/artistic sense at the same time, which is not an easy combination. After making their way through the crowd (with considerable daring--they brush right past people, seemingly unafraid of being knocked off their stilts), they take up positions against a wall and move through various motions and poses. It's all quite cool.

I took these video clips with my new cell phone camera. The resolution is low (sorry), but you can at least get a good sense of what's going on.