Saturday, March 07, 2009

A hair above average

Given how badly I did in predicting the first two rounds of the NBC Heads-Up Championship, it's a little odd that my choices are holding up better in the third round. I hit 5 out of 16 of these correctly (Wasicka, Negreanu, Grospellier, Dwan, and Seed). Each remaining player at this level is one of four in the first round, so chance alone would have given 4/16 correct.

Best of all, it looks like Tom Dwan and Phil Hellmuth get a rematch of last year! You have no idea how hard I'm praying that Dwan slaps him with another bad beat--preferably a one-outer on the river. It would make my day--my whole year, in fact. And if he were to do it with the Deuce-Four, well, I would never ask for anything again in my entire life.

Weird experience with Ambien (minimal poker content)

In the wee hours of Thursday night/Friday morning, I realized I was in for another of my occasional bouts of insomnia, so I got out of bed, took an Ambien (10 mg), and, a short time later, decided to start filling out my predictions for the NBC heads-up tournament while I waited for the effect to kick in.

I have taken Ambien, oh, maybe five or six times before. On previous occasions, it worked perfectly, making me sleepy without feeling drugged, inducing a full night of consolidated sleep, with minimal hangover effect. I couldn't design a medication to work more perfectly than it had. However, on each of those occasions, I had had a snack before going to bed, as is my habit. Thursday night I did not, and I suspect that that caused more rapid absorption of the drug than before. It hit me really fast and hard.

I only mention this because I left behind hard--and rather amusing--evidence of the effects. Below you can see my first attempt at the brackets.

I first spelled "Wasicka" wrong. Trust me--I know how it's spelled, even without having it printed right in front of me. Then you can see my handwriting deteriorate literally name by name as I went down the list. I misspelled "Hershiser," again despite knowing better when I'm in full possession of my faculties. "Matusow" came out scrawled.

Then I started on the next round of the same bracket, and again messed up "Wasicka." I'm not sure how to account for that random line stemming out from "Ivey"--I think I actually fell asleep for a couple of seconds and the pen slipped. But then, rousing, I tried writing "Wasicka" for a third time, and the result was barely recognizable. That's how fast my fine-motor skills were being sapped. At that point I realized that I couldn't focus, gave it up, and went to bed.

The other strange aspect is that the next day I found a half-empty can of Coke in my refrigerator. I live alone, so unless I have a sweettooth poltergeist, at some point after ingesting the Ambien I opened a Coke, drank half of it, and put the rest away--but I have absolutely no memory of this.

In short, I was sleep-drinking and sleep-writing. Well, sort of. Of course, it's all better than if I were out driving while impaired, which at almost exactly the same time Layne Flack either was or was not doing, depending on what you choose to believe.

There's not really much reason to tell you about this, other than that I find it interesting and kind of funny, and I tend to report here about everything that happens in my life. I've never been drunk in my life, but for the first time have a hint of what chemical impairment and memory blackouts feel like.

Too bad I didn't log on and try playing a HORSE sit-and-go while in that state. It might have been, um, interesting. LOL drugaments!

Ambien--ask for it by name!

The Bluefire Poker challenge

I just read (here) about the folks at Bluefire Poker challenging Barack Obama and/or any member of Congress to a poker match, with odds at one million to one (i.e., pay $1 to enter, win $1 million if victorious) to beat any of their training pros, the most recognizable of which is Phil Galfond, he of the worst online screen name in high-stakes history ("OMGClayAiken").

It's a clever idea on the surface. But it's so ludicrously wrongheaded that it's hard to take it seriously. That is, I'm sure that it is in earnest at its most basic level--they presumably would actually conduct the game and pay up if necessary. But do the Bluefire people harbor any actual thought that it will accomplish anything meaningful towards their stated goal of demonstrating that poker is a game of skill?

Let's consider, first, who might accept the challenge. Well, perhaps somebody like Barney Frank would. He loses, then gets to say, "See? I've been trying to tell you that poker is a game of skill!" But since it is already known that he supports legal online poker, skeptics will suspect that he threw the match just to confirm his point. Result: Nobody's mind changed.

Would somebody like Senator Jon Kyl, one of the most vocal opponents of gambling, take up the challenge? Of course not. What does he have to gain?

The people who want online gaming to be as illegal and inconvenient as they can make it simply do not care about where any particular game falls on the skill/luck continuum. It's kind of like trying to convince a Prohibitionist to carve out an exception for 3.2% beer on the basis that it's not very much alcohol.

Consider, e.g., the position of "Focus on the Family," a leading anti-gaming lobbying group: "Focus on the Family opposes all forms of legalized gambling for both moral and pragmatic reasons." Do you see even a pinhole of light coming through that position that is open to the argument about the skill involved in poker? Of course not. It's a completely irrelevant point to the moralist crowd. They have determined in advance that they know better than you do what things you should and should not be allowed to do with your own money in the privacy of your own home, even when you are hurting nobody else. They can't be bothered with facts or reason or nuanced distinctions.

Senator Kyl has been clear on this. Two years ago he wrote a piece for the National Ledger predicting that there will be no carve-out for poker.

First, he shows that he's perfectly willing to lie to make his case when he says, "Online gambling is already illegal under existing federal and state laws."

Next, he either intentionally misrepresents or ridiculously misunderstands the very nature of the game by stating that poker isn't really affected because you can legally continue to play the game online as long as it's not for real money. If the game is for play money, he seems to think, it's just the same, so you're not really being deprived of anything:

"It is important to note that the UIGEA does not affect online poker for entertainment. If a poker player does not bet with a gambling entity or stake anything of value on the game, it does not constitute 'gambling' and does not violate the law. Your Saturday night poker game is not affected. Nor are 'dot-net' and other poker sites that are free to play. Poker enthusiasts are not deprived of the opportunity to play the game – only online financial gambling is affected."

I can't tell if he's serious about this. If he is, then he is so misinformed that nobody should ever take seriously anything he has to say about gaming. To state what will be obvious to every one of my readers, if there is not something of real value at stake, it ain't poker. If there is not genuine risk of loss and gain involved, then there is no incentive to make better decisions than one's opponents do. The game instantly devolves into farce, as is evident after just a few minutes of playing on the free side of any poker site. Try playing your A game against a piece of software (e.g., the Wilson products) when there is nothing on the line. Go ahead--I dare you. See how long your patience holds out.

In his final paragraph, Kyl tosses a bone to the idea of poker as a game of skill, challenging supporters to prove their case in court. But his mind is explicitly already made up to the contrary: "While poker, like other card games, involves an element of skill, the hands that win or lose are a result of chance – 'the luck of the draw.'"

So I repeat: Those already opposed to gaming will not participate in the Bluefire challenge, for several reasons. (1) Their opposition is based on moralistic judgments for which the question of skill is irrelevant. (God has commanded them to prohibit you from playing hold'em, you know.) (2) They have nothing to gain politically from the challenge. (3) To the extent that they will even recognize that skill is involved, they maintain that luck still predominates, and aren't interested in being convinced otherwise.

The irony, of course, is that anti-gambling efforts are being led by Republicans, who, in most other circumstances, claim to be in favor of laissez-faire economics, individual liberty, and lessening governmental interference in citizens' lives. Hey, not everybody can be bothered with piddly details like intellectual honesty and a consistency of principles.

Of course, the Republicans aren't entirely alone on this. Those who foolishly believed that Barack Obama was going to be on their side in the attempt to repeal the UIGEA or enact an exception for poker (despite my warnings to the contrary) must have been disappointed when he selected Eric Holder as Attorney General. Despite their philosophical differences on most policy questions, Holder and Kyl are blood brothers when it comes to absolute opposition to online gaming. During his confirmation hearings, Holder was crystal clear that he would take a hard line against any attempt to "modify or stop" the UIGEA regulations, and that he would be "vigilant in enforcing those regulations to shut off the flow of cash from this illegal activity." (Those are Kyl's words, but Holder endorsed them unequivocally by saying, "Yes, that is my position. That's what I will do.") See here for more details.

Is there on Capitol Hill a single politician who (1) is genuinely unsure of whether poker is predominantly a game of skill or chance, (2) cares about the answer, and (3) would be willing to base his legislative votes on the answer? I doubt it. I have not heard of any. Those would be the natural targets for the Bluefire challenge. But I think it's like having a natural consistuency of leprechauns.

Furthermore, are those who press this skill vs. luck question really willing to be consistent and intellectually honest about the consequences and implications? I cannot see any way to argue for a poker exemption on the basis of the skill factor without also needing to take blackjack along for the ride. People can unquestionably employ enough skill at blackjack to make a living playing it--as opposed to, say, roulette or craps, games for which you will search long and hard to find a "professional" player. Hard as it is to make the political case for a specific exemption for poker, try arguing for an exemption for both poker and blackjack. But if you don't, you're guilty of special pleading rather than a reasoned and principled position. Sports betting, too, can clearly be done with enough skill to make a handsome living, but I don't see the Poker Players Alliance or other advocacy groups rushing to include sports betting in their carve-out requests on the basis of the skill argument. I think I detect the stench of hypocrisy there.

In short, I can't take the Bluefire challenge seriously as anything other than a publicity stunt. It's vaguely reminiscent of Mark Twain's famous short story, "Science vs. Luck," in which a Kentucky jury becomes persuaded of the skill involved in the game of "Old Sledge" by playing through the night, because the skilled players end up with all the money. But unlike the jurors in that tale, minds in Washington, D.C., are already made up, mostly on grounds that have nothing to do with the question of skill. Nobody who is in a position of power is, as far as I know, susceptible to suasion on the basis of the kind of test Bluefire is proposing.

It's a cute idea, and an interesting attempt to get their company some free attention, but nothing more.

Guess the casino, #77

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

Answer: Fitzgeralds

I love this shirt

I wouldn't actually wear it, of course, but I love it just the same. So much truth embodied in one simple image.

Taken from

Friday, March 06, 2009

Such a good guesser

The first eight matches of the heads-up championship are over. How many did I get right? Wait, let me count here--that would be ONE. Scott Fischman won. All my other choices blew it.


I did better in the Diamonds bracket, just concluded--up to four out of eight, so equivalent to random selections. Yay me! Got right Harman, Laak, Hansen, and Seed. I think I also have to give David Oppenheim credit for possibly going all the way, since he turned out to be even a later-minute replacement (for Layne Flack) than was Hevad Khan.


5/8 in the Spades bracket, 4/8 in the Clubs bracket. Overall 14/32 in the first round. Probably best not to use my predictions as a betting guide....

My NBC Heads-Up Championship predictions

These are based on nothing more than guesses and, in some cases, wishful thinking. I'm going with Hevad Khan as my dark horse to win it all. Why? Because he's this year's last-minute replacement, and last-minute replacements have always done remarkably well in this tournament. History repeats itself, y'know?

Because of the lack of scientific method (or any other sound method), as David Letterman always says, "Please, no wagering."

Guess the casino, #76

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

Answer: Bill's

I am king of the Deuce-Four

Pay attention, class. This is how one plays the mighty Deuce-Four.

First, you use it like the 2x4 that it is, and hammer opponents with it--including a pre-flop raise--even if you flop nothing. This makes them fold. Then you must be sure to show them what you have done, thusly:

The next step is this: Two hands later, you pick up QQ and flop a full house, betting and raising with it the same way that you did with the 2-4 and air.

This results in one opponent calling through the turn, and another all the way to the river.

In this particular case, it also resulted in an immediate marriage proposal via instant message from a certain other player at the table who witnessed this poker-god-like feat. There is, however, some doubt as to whether it is legally binding under the circumstances. I mean, it's akin to coercion, me showing off that kind of poker virtuosity. This happens to me a lot at the poker tables--kind of like women throwing their panties at Tom Jones on stage. It's an occupational hazard of being so irresistibly awesome.


I posted the above while the tourney was still going. Cardgrrl went on to knock me out on the bubble (lest anybody think we soft-play each other), then took 2nd place. Her back-to-back 2nds won her more mobneys than my 1st and 4th, which somewhat attenuates my above-mentioned feelings of awesomeness. But only a little.

For everything else, there's MasterCard

... Getting to heads-up with Cardgrrl and then winning a HORSE single-table tournament with rolled-up aces--priceless.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Poker gems, #223

Des Wilson, in Poker Pro magazine, March, 2009, p. 54, in a review of Roy Brindley's newly published autobiography, Life's a Gamble.

Roy...was at home playing online and drinking heavily. It became a kind of online mayhem, but he just kept winning. He won $20,000 and was already trying to book a holiday when Chandlers [the online poker site] telephoned to say, "Sorry, mate, you can't take the cash out--you were playing on the play money table, not for real money."

Grumpy letter to the Stratosphere

Eric Buksa
Executive Hotel Manager
Stratosphere Hotel
2000 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, NV 89104

Dear Mr. Buksa:

I am not sure that you are the right person for addressing this concern, but it was your card that was given to me by the people at the information desk when I asked. I trust that you will pass it on to whomever else in your organization might best be suited to handle it, if need be.

Earlier this week I was in the Stratosphere poker room. Before playing, I wanted to get something to eat at one of the restaurants in the facility. I had never used any of the comp dollars that had accumulated on my player’s card (my Ultimate Rewards card number is 300999976), despite having played in the poker room 17 previous times. I assumed, therefore, that there would be no problem in getting a comp ticket.

To my surprise, when the person at the desk checked the records, it showed me having played only one session within the previous year (apparently the credits expire after a year)—specifically, 2.25 hours on January 17, 2009.

Because I play poker for a living, I have to keep meticulous records for tax purposes. Never mind the 13 previous visits prior to a year ago; my actual time in your poker room during the last year is as follows:

March 8, 2008 6:00 pm to 7:40 pm, 1.7 hours
May 23, 2008 8:55 pm to 10:35 pm, 1.7 hours
October 14, 2008 6:45 pm to 11:35 pm, 4.8 hours
January 17, 2009 4:40 pm to 6:50 pm, 2.2 hours

Total: 10.4 hours.

Naturally, I am aware that it is the player’s responsibility to clock in and out using the card. You may or may not tend to believe me on this point, but I do this with great consistency. To the best of my knowledge, I have only failed to notify a poker room desk of my departure on three or four occasions in the last year, despite playing five to six days per week, at essentially every card room in town, often at more than one casino on a given day. It is inconceivable that I failed to check out three out of four sessions at the Stratosphere.

I have a pretty good idea of what most likely happened. As I cash out my chips, I ask the person at the counter to clock me out. He or she asks my name, and when I give it, promises that it will be taken care of. But there is somebody else behind me in line or just approaching the desk, and the promise quickly gets forgotten, with no record made.

Even so, the sign in the poker room says that the policy is that neglecting to clock out will result in only one hour of credit being assigned. Were that followed, I would have at least received credit for one hour on each of the three visits beside the January one, for a total of 5.5 hours on record now. In other words, the staff is not even following the room’s own stated policy.

I am not overly concerned about the loss of something like $7 or $8 in comp credits; the fact that I had dozens of hours’ worth of credit that I let expire unused (from more than a year ago) demonstrates that. I write because of the irritation. Poker players are already at the bottom of the ladder in terms of what casinos give back in comps. I resent that, though I understand the reasons for it from the businesses’ point of view. So when you further erode the effect of even this paltry token of appreciation by not bothering to keep track of it correctly, it’s frankly insulting. It is another sign of the generally lackadaisical approach to customer service that I have found to pervade the employees’ attitudes in the poker room of the Stratosphere. I would prefer that you not bother even having such a comp program than to claim to offer one, but then implement it with such carelessness that it can’t be relied upon. When I ask, for the first time in 17 trips to the poker room, for a lousy meal comp, and am effectively told that I haven’t earned it, that I’m not a sufficiently valued customer for you (that’s the corporate “you”) to have bothered taking note of my presence, I don’t think I’m being overly sensitive to find that an affront.

There are many things I don’t like about the Stratosphere poker room (the noise and infiltrating cigarette smoke, mediocre dealers, lax enforcement of rules, etc.), which is why it’s one of the least frequent stops on the Strip for me, despite being the most convenient to where I live. Your poker room staff today gave me yet another reason to stay away. And, in case this matters to you, I will be posting a copy of this letter on my poker blog (, which is read by 1000 or more people daily, so that they, too, will know that if they choose to patronize the Stratosphere poker room, they should not count on receiving even the minimal token of appreciation that the promised $1/hour food comp represents.


No partying

I was tentatively planning on playing at Caesars Palace this evening and then catching some of the red carpet action in association with the draw party at Pure nightclub for the NBC Heads-Up Championship that is running this weekend, like I did last year. But this morning I woke up with a nasty sore throat. So instead I'm going to stay home, feel sorry for myself, and watch Survivor and CSI. I'm not sure they will actually go ahead with the draw party, because, let's face it, without me there really is no party. But they have my blessing to try to enjoy themselves anyway, and not worry excessively about my health.

Guess the casino, #75

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

Answer: Stratosphere

The M Resort poker room

After my experiences fighting the opening-day crowds and traffic at Eastside Cannery and Aliante Station, I decided that casino grand openings are not for me. The new M Resort opened Sunday, and I stayed away. But I was out there today for another project (which I will be telling you about within a few days), so naturally took some time to scope the place out and play a little poker.

Here are a few random shots I took. (The rest will be saved for "Guess the Casino" posts.) It's really a lovely facility.

The poker room is right by the parking garage, which is great. It appears to have 12 tables, an amazing 8 of which were in use on this Wednesday afternoon. My guess is that that is the result of curiosity on opening week, and will not be sustained--but who knows? There were two tables of $1-2 NLHE (buy-in $100-$300, rake 10% to max $4 plus $1 jackpot drop), one of $2-5 NLHE, and the rest $2-4 limit and $4-8 limit.

A whole bunch of observations, in no particular order:

They run the tables ten-handed. Chairs may be the most deeply padded I've seen in any poker room. They are not on wheels and don't adjust, but my tender buttockals still found them mighty comfortable to sink into. Similarly, the padding on the rail may be the softest and thickest in town. No built-in drink holders, though. Tables have autoshufflers. The place was freezing, even though I was wearing my usual long-sleeved shirt and a sweatshirt over that. Those stuck with short sleeves and/or shorts were really suffering.

In the time I played, I'm not sure there was a single tourist at my table. I definitely recognized at least six locals that I've played with before, and the rest talked like locals. The play was completely typical of a locals joint: lots of limping, lots of weak-tight play, low action, people playing totally level 1 poker (i.e., narrowly focused in on their own cards). I made $85 in two hours, and felt like I was wringing blood out of rocks to do that well.

The poker room is effectively open to the casino on three sides, with only half-walls marking it off. Noise and smoke might therefore be problems. But they weren't today. I never smelled smoke. I have tentatively listed it as a category 3 in my ranking of degrees of smoke-free poker rooms. The noise was subdued, though the casino was not very busy. It is adjacent and open to the sports book, rather like the Rio's arrangement, so I suspect on big game days there's going to be a cacophony coming through.

The restrooms are literally as close as they could possibly be without actually being inside the poker room. Even better, there is a convenient half-hidden door right next to the tables, and the restrooms are about five steps past it. But, strangely, the door is one way only; you can exit but not re-enter. To get back to your seat, you have to trek all the way around the perimeter of the room back to the main desk. I was told that the reason for this is to cut down on the sports book patrons cutting through the poker room, which would indeed get disruptive. So the proximity of the restrooms is kind of a mixed blessing.

They do not have the typical modern proliferation of big-screen televisions. There were three on one wall in the main poker room, plus one above the desk, plus two more in the auxiliary poker room, which appears to be reserved for the higher-stakes games ($2-5 NLHE today). Space between tables was about average--less than the luxurious spacing in rooms like Aliante Station, but more than the notoriously tight places such as Bellagio. Perfectly adequate, in other words. The overhead light was kind of harsh. I found it glaring, and if I went back I would wear a baseball cap to shade my eyes. It also cast a lot of shadows on the tables.

I didn't order any drinks, but watching those who did it seemed to be quick and accurate service. There are progressive high-hand jackpots. The tables appear to have betting lines, but a dealer clarified that any forward motion ahead of one's cards constitutes a bet; the line is only a "courtesy line," meaning they ask you to move the chips that far forward to make it easier for the dealers to reach them. The felt is a lovely tan, but I fear it will quickly become visibly soiled and start to look cruddy. Cards are standard Kems. Footrest rail is the standard. I did not see any magazine racks, but I would guess those will be added soon. They use the common software for showing tables and waiting lists, and the same player-management card-swiping system at the tables as one sees at Station properties, MGM, Imperial Palace, etc. There is no water cooler in the poker room, but, as an unusual touch, the casino floor has at least two self-serve soft drink stations.

There was a huge line for signing up for a player's club card, but fortunately they had forms in the poker room which one could fill out and a card would be fetched by a runner. Nice service, except that they spelled my name wrong on it. Grrrrr.

I never once got dealt the mighty Deuce-Four, so apparently the fix is in.

Some photos:

Nobody threatened to back-room me for taking these pictures, which was a pleasant change.

The cashier was obviously new handling chips, and couldn't cut them into stacks quickly. The dealers were fine, except one who wasn't paying enough attention and made two significant errors in one hand. One of the dealers had had the "M" logo painted on her fingernails, and she kindly allowed me to take a picture of them:

The M is about 17 miles from my apartment. Though it's certainly nice enough, right now it's hard to imagine taking the time and effort to pass by all of the Strip rooms to get there, when the closer places will consistently tend to have better action and a lot more drunk tourists. On the other hand, I do sometimes make trips out to Silverton and South Point (approximately once a month, I guess), so maybe I'll start including the M and make those three-for-one casino days.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Beating Phil Hellmuth with the Deuce-Four

The only thing sweeter than sucking out on Phil Hellmuth would be doing it with the Deuce-Four. I can only dream of it, but Cardgrrl has alerted me to this hand history in which Yakshi actually did it--and gave Phil a little chatbox needling in the process. Bravo, sir!


Ahem. A little additional poking around the blog gives considerable reason to suspect that the story is, shall we say, not entirely based in reality. (The initial assumption of factuality was mine, not Cardgrrl's.) But wouldn't it be loverly?

Maybe I'm a terrorist--or a drug lord

The other day somebody agreed to pay for an ad to continue appearing on this blog after its initially agreed-upon run had concluded. He asked if making payment through a Full Tilt Poker fund transfer was acceptable to me. I said sure. I've used that means before without any problem--with this same advertiser, in fact.

The money was transferred to me, and I then initiated a withdrawal of the same amount. (The payment was for more than I usually keep on account, and more than I could reasonably expect to actually put into play, given how little I do on the site.) To my surprise, the request for withdrawal was denied. When I wrote to FTP to ask the reason, this was the response:

Your recent $____ withdrawal request has been declined.

We have determined that you have been receiving funds from another player solely for the purpose of withdrawing them. We have reviewed both accounts and discovered that you and __________ deposited and transferred these funds without any intention of playing on the site.

We offer our services to provide a safe and secure environment to play online poker and not to facilitate the movement of funds.

As we do not condone this activity, please do not attempt to withdraw funds for other players in this manner. If you do not intend to play with these funds, please transfer them back to ___________.

Any further evidence of this type of activity may result in a permanent suspension from Full Tilt Poker and possible forfeiture of funds.

Thank you for your cooperation.



Full Tilt Poker Support

I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I can understand FTP not wanting to become a de facto PayPal, when they get nothing from processing the transfers. But on the other hand, it seems that the manpower involved in monitoring and investigating this kind of transfer costs them more than it could be worth. We're talking less than $500 here, and it has happened twice in six months--not the kind of volume or frequency that I would think worthy of their attention and concern.

I think that on the first occasion I waited a couple of weeks before I put in the withdrawal request, and it was for less than the full amount. I'm not sure whether it was the immediacy of the recent request, or the fact that it was for the same amount as I had just received, or the fact that this was the second transfer from the same person, or some combination of those factors that triggered the investigation and denial. Perhaps the advertiser added exactly that same amount to his account just before transferring it to me, and it was the 1-2-3 combination of deposit-transfer-withdrawl that caught their attention. I just don't know what sets off their alarms.

Maybe it would have been OK before, but FTP has changed their practices over the last six months to clamp down on this sort of thing. If so, my guess is that the change came about because of the UltimateBlecch scandal, in which, as I understand it, the movement of large sums from one account to another without scrutiny from the site was a key part of keeping the scam going.

Or maybe it's all part of FTP's long-term mission to help make implausible the occasionally heard argument that online gaming sites are used for criminal money laundering. After all, with the kind of volume and frequency of cash they have seen me moving around, I could easily be an Al Qaeda operative or part of the Medellin cocaine cartel, right?

Anyway, I transferred the money back and we moved it through PayPal instead. I am left puzzled and slightly annoyed (not an entirely unfamiliar state of being).

Guess the casino, #74

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

Answer: Planet Hollywood

Cool chip

I have collected so many chips from the Rio that it's getting fairly rare for me to spot one I haven't seen before, even though they have issued many dozens, perhaps hundreds, over the years. I saw this one tonight and just had to have it. Besides, it gave me an opportunity to try the macro mode on my cell phone camera, which looks like it works quite well.

Does Bill Chen read Card Player magazine?

If so, does he read it really, really carefully?

Today I was playing at the Palms and picked up a copy of the newest issue, dated March 11, 2009 (vol. 22, #5, with Phil Galfond on the cover). While waiting for a table, I started reading. There's an article (a pretty interesting one, actually) on p. 36 about what has happened to David Sklansky's "gap concept" since he first introduced it.

Illustrating the piece is a screen shot of a PokerStars hand:

Did you notice why I asked about Bill Chen?

If not, look again, more closely:

That's right--in the chat box, it says "bill chen suckssss."

I tried requesting the hand history to see if there was more context, but couldn't get it. (The system said that the hand numbers I entered were not recognized; the entire tournament hand history is apparently too large; and if there is any way to request the hand histories from just one table of a MTT, I haven't discovered it.) I wonder if perhaps he had just busted out of the tourney, and that was the railbird's conclusion.

I thought everybody loved Bill Chen!

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Wide stance

I've had a lot of trouble lately being seated next to guys who seem to have no proper sense of other people's personal space.

It's a common sociological observation that men tend to have a far more pronounced sense of entitlement to the space around them than women do. My completely unscientific personal observation over the years is that this is directly proportionate to the man's ego. The self-centered, boistrous, chip-on-the-shoulder, don't-mess-with-me types feel an absolute sense of ownership of whatever space they may occupy, or want to occupy, and don't care whose toes they step on in the process--literally or figuratively.

The space under a poker table is tightly limited, especially those that seat ten players instead of only nine. You would think that this would necessarily impose automatic limits on how players arrange themselves. But no. There are a fairly small number of men--pardon my sexism, but I have never once observed a woman to share this tendency--who just don't care how much space they are rightly entitled to under an equitable division. They want what they want, end of story. They will sit with limbs all akimbo, and dare anybody to tell them they can't or shouldn't do so.

A couple of weeks ago at Mandalay Bay I was next to one of these boors. He was going to sit with his legs splayed far enough apart that he could get a prostate exam without changing positions, and damn'd be him who first cries, "Hold, enough!"*

The guy wouldn't take a gentle hint. Several times I "accidentally" bumped into his leg when moving mine entirely within the space directly in front of my chair. The socially normal response to this situation is to realize that one has intruded outside of one's proper bounds, apologize, and withdraw. Not this maroon. Three times he disregarded my attempts to move him off. The solution came only when he got up to use the restroom. While he was gone, I moved his chair a few inches away, and got my legs arranged to the outer edges of my rightful space, prepared not to yield. As it turned out, a good defense was indeed the best offense. Having staked out my claim in his absence, he was unable to resume his previous territorial invasion, and the conflict ended.

Of course, one could take the direct approach and simply ask the rude person to take his knees back to where they belong. But I have many times witnessed simple, stupid conflicts like this escalate at the poker table to the point that they become angry, involve the dealer and floor person, bring the game to a halt, etc. I prefer handling things under the table, so to speak.

Feet can intrude, too. Last week at Planet Hollywood I was in seat 1 next to the dealer. The tall guy on my left was at roughly a 45-degree angle to me because of how the table curves. He apparently felt like he had gotten the bonus seat and was entitled to whatever space his long legs could reach to. If I moved my feet from off of the foot-rest rail, he would quickly move his right foot there. I suppose he either didn't think about it, didn't care, or just felt that if I wasn't going to be occupying that spot for a while, he might as well do so. But then when I needed a shift in position and wanted to put my feet back up, I had to run him off.

There can also be problems aside from the physical intrusion. That same night, at a different table, I had been in seat 2 when seat 6 was occupied by an enormously obese man. He was so fat that he couldn't sit facing the table like normal people, but had to sit facing to the side. He chose to face my way. Because of the huge mass of abdominal fat, he also couldn't easily keep his legs straight out in front of him, but instead splayed them as far apart as he could, with his bulky pannus resting directly on the chair between his fat thighs. This would have been unattractive enough all by itself, but it was infinitely worsened by the fact that the zipper on his shorts (yes, shorts) was down and his fly as wide open as his knees. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH! My eyezzzzzzzzzzzzzz! It burns! Or, as Colonel Walter E. Kurtz might say, "The horror! The horror!" (I whipped off a text message to Cardgrrl about this ghastly sight. She replied, "Do NOT send me a picture!")

This stuff isn't complicated. You are entitled to your chair and the space immediately in front of your chair, in roughly a wedge-shaped segment. Think of the poker table as a pie with cuts made from the center, radiating outward. You get the space between cuts. Yeah, some pieces are bigger than others, and they're all somewhat differently shaped, because the table is oblong rather than round. Tough. That's how it goes. Move to a place that has more space if you feel you need it. I'm pretty small, but I definitely like the maximal amounts of buffer space around me, which is one of the major reasons I prefer the two seats next to the dealer--they have more elbow room than any others. When the dealer "squares up" the table to re-allot the available space fairly, those two seats virtually never have to adjust, because they are farther away from their neighbors than any other.

I'm not so territorial that I will defend my leg space to the death, but I will use whatever subtle, annoying, and sneaky tactics that I deem necessary to allow my legs and feet to move freely and comfortably within my allotted space, and make you keep yours where they belong. Good fences make good neighbors, and all that. I just wish that people had enough decency to keep things to themselves to begin with so that I didn't have to bother shooing them away.

Incidentally, I am aware of the oddness of using the word "stance" to refer to a sitting position. I chose it only because of the notoriety the phrase "wide stance" received in connection with the 2007 Larry Craig scandal and his alleged explanation of what happened. As reported by Wikipedia:

According to the arrest report prepared by Sgt. Dave Karsnia, "Craig stated
... He has a wide stance when going to the bathroom and that his foot may have
touched mine." Craig never used the term "wide stance" himself. According to the
transcript of the police interogation, Sgt. Karsnia asked: "Did you do anything
with your feet?" and Craig replied: "Positioned them, I don't know. I don’t know
at the time. I'm a fairly wide guy."

I don't think I'd want Larry Craig sitting next to me at a poker table.

*I suppose that this reference is obscure enough that I should probably explain it. It's from MacBeth, Act 5, Scene VII. I played MacBeth in a highly abbreviated version of the play in sixth grade, and, as I suppose the teacher hoped would happen, a bunch of random lines and phrases from it have stuck in my brain ever since, only to pop out at odd moments like this.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Nh, Grump, wp

Towards the end of the time that the Hilton poker room was open, I had a highly satisfying session in which one of the trickiest and most aggressive regulars was on my right. Early in the session I pulled off a three-barrel bluff. He thought a long time, eventually folding a strong hand (don't remember the details) face up, but was clearly perturbed at having to do so. Within ten or fifteen minutes, we clashed again. This time I had the near nuts, and pushed him on every street again. It was clear to me that the previous hand worked on his psyche, because this time he called me down quite light, and was disgusted to lose.

Inducing an opponent to make $100+ errors twice in that short time span doesn't happen too often in $1-2 NLHE games, and I loved it. I remember that I have done the same thing once since then (opponent folding to a large bluff on one hand, then shortly thereafter calling me when I had the goods), though I can no longer remember the circumstances--only the feeling, which is one of pure delight.

You wouldn't think that the simple act of stopping at a stale yellow light could induce the same kind of pleasure, but it did for me last week. You see, twice over the previous week I had found myself accidentally cruising through a red. This is not my norm. Usually, as Raymond Babbitt would say, I'm an excellent driver. I stay below the speed limit, don't weave lanes, etc. And I am ordinarily pretty conservative about yellows, with a default to stopping if it doesn't mean making a panic braking. But twice recently I had misjudged the combination of my speed, the distance, and the duration of the light. Also, I have to admit, I was probably gradually loosening my standards over time, as a result of growing increasingly annoyed with having to wait through the ultra-long Las Vegas red lights. (They are far longer than any other place I've lived.) Both times I had been chagrined to find myself entering the intersection clearly after it had changed to red. Both times, I looked around, hoping there wasn't a police officer watching. There wasn't.

Those incidents had caused me to plant a reminder in my brain to return to being cautious, and not to continue pressing my luck in those situations. So last week when I was returning home after my night of poker, northbound on Maryland Parkway, and the light turned yellow, I had a decision. It was a close one, and I might have gone for it but for the warning I had given myself. So I stopped. As I did, I noticed one black-and-white Metro Police car stopped at the intersection heading east, and another stopped there heading south. I think I would have once again have ended up entering the intersection a hair into the red, and I would have been nailed if either officer had been paying attention.

I'm not proud of having been a scofflaw in the two previous incidents, but the combination of getting away with it, then tightening up my game, so to speak, when I was about to be called down, felt awfully lucky to me.

Poker gems, #222

Barry Greenstein, apparently trying to propagate a new poker catch phrase on this season's "High Stakes Poker," according to this interview with the show's co-host, A.J. Benza:

Math is idiotic.

Poker faces

The new season of "High Stakes Poker" started last night. I don't get GSN, so I had to wait for it to show up online. You can watch the first episode here.

I felt like a junkie overdue for his fix, and loved every minute of it. The play was interesting, the table talk was amusing, and Gabe Kaplan was in high form. (E.g., when Doyle Brunson was seen staring at something out of camera range, Kaplan quipped, "I don't think it's a woman. Must be the buffet.")

But one of the real treats was the range of poker faces we got to see this time around. First up is Peter Eastgate, in the final hand of the show. He had been thinking he was ahead, until Daniel Negreanu unexpectedly raised him on the river.

But first prize unquestionably goes to Tom Dwan. I don't think anybody could fake the astonishment he displayed when Peter Eastgate called Dwan's large river bet, then showed the winner. (It's not shown in these shots, but Dwan had 6c-7c and was absolutely certain it was good.)

Had Eastgate raised, then showed the winner, Dwan would surely not have been so surprised. Eastgate really blew that hand. He asked Dwan whether Dwan would have called if he (Eastgate) had raised. That's a question that every other player at the table, both of the commentators, and probably every viewer could have answered for him: a resounding "yes." Negreanu gently told Eastgate, "He doesn't like to fold. That's kinda his thing."

Dwan confirmed as much. He quietly said "Thank you" a couple of times--meaning, "Thank you for not raising there."

TV's best poker show is back!

Poker gems, #221

W.H. Murray, in The Scottish Himalayan Expedition. (Thanks to Cardgrrl for the suggestion.)

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe's couplets:

Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!

Poker language

Something recently reminded me of a short essay I read several years ago by Richard Lederer, father of Howard Lederer, Katy Lederer, and Annie Duke. It's about the plethora of poker terms that have migrated into general use in English. Not too surprisingly, it has been put up on the web: see here. It's well worth reading.

You can read more about Mr. Lederer in a two-part profile done three years ago by PokerNews, here and here.

Card protectors

Two unusual card caps were in use at my table at Treasure Island last night, so naturally I had to take a picture of them. (Unsatisfied with the results, I did some fiddling around after I got home and discovered that my cell phone camera has a "macro" mode buried deep in the options menus, of which I will avail myself next time an opportunity like this presents itself.) In case you can't tell, the one on the left is a very cute puppy dog, of which I entirely approve. The one on the right is an ugly, icky beetle, which I cannot understand anybody wishing to use.

Guess the casino, #73

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

Answer: Imperial Palace

Guess the casino, #72

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

Answer: Excalibur