Saturday, March 14, 2009

Guess the casino, #84

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

Answer: Harrah's

Friday, March 13, 2009

Tell bad-beat stories, get a PhD

I saw this notice, on Prof's Poker Blog, about what sounded like an interesting lecture that took place at UNLV yesterday. This afternoon I found that the podcast of the lecture was up (here), and I listened to it while having lunch.

Ugh. It's horrible. The presenter, a graduate student named James Avery, is apparently working on a sociology PhD based on his observations of poker players in their natural environment, what he calls "the ethnography of poker." How could I resist wanting to hear this? But heed my warning: There's nothing there.

First, the guy is just an awful public speaker. If you play a drinking game of taking a shot every time he says "y'know," you will be passed out after the first minute. He goes through 26 minutes of prelimary, irrelevant crap, before he gets to the substance of his talk. (If you're going to listen, at least do yourself the favor of skipping ahead that far.)

At that point it gets slightly better because he starts reading from a narrative he previously wrote, which reduces his incredible complex of annoying verbal tics. But what we hear is badly written, substituting a plethora of adjectives for good writing, in the way that is typical of high school students trying to be creative. Worse, the stories we hear amount to nothing more than an excruciatingly detailed account of how a poker hand plays out--not a thing there that you wouldn't know after playing live for a few minutes--plus a couple of over-elaborately told bad-beat stories.

Seriously, if I ever over-wrote the story of a poker hand as badly as Mr. Avery does, nobody would ever read this blog again.

I had honestly hoped to be the first to point the poker world to an insightful, fascinating look inside the world of poker from an academic point of view. Instead, I'm left wondering whether the world of graduate schools is so bereft of quality that one can actually get a PhD from a major university by telling poker stories that are not even worthy of a blog post.


Guess the casino, #83

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

Answer: Eastside Cannery

Poker gems, #227

John Vorhaus, in Card Player magazine column, March 11, 2009, (vol. 22, #5), p. 95.

[T]he best opponent at the table can never inflict as much damage on us as we can on ourselves.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Guess the casino, #82

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

Answer: Wynn

Poker gems, #226

Ed Miller, in Card Player magazine column, March 11, 2009, (vol. 22, #5), p. 84-85.

Here's my way of looking at it. Poker is not a social game--not if you care to play it well, that is. Learning to play poker well is a solitary exercise. It's an exercise in introspective spirituality. There's no good way to measure whether you're a good player or not. It has to come from within.

I look at it like learning a martial art. I am studying something that will make me a better person. I am always learning. I have never mastered it, nor can I ever master it. I am more skilled than some people, and less skilled than others. Some things I learn quickly, and others I learn slowly. It's a lifelong task.

Every day, I learn something new. My skill improves, and my decisions are sharper and faster. And every day, I have prepared to learn even more the next day. Every day, I climb a new step, and yet I will never reach the summit. I can only be satisfied with how far I've come and be eager for the journey ahead.

The money won or lost is irrelevant. I mean, truly irrelevant. I know that some people say, "Money is the way poker players keep score," but that's nonsense. You keep your own score. Are you happy with how much you're learned? Are you ready to learn more? What do you believe you've mastered, and what challenges are still before you?


Poker is a psychological trial. It will test you every day. It will test your ability to handle failure, and it will test your ability to accept success with humility and temperance. You cannot hope to succeed in these trials unless you are strong and confident from within. How do you feel about how you play? What do you think you have to learn? And, are you ready to play today and learn that thing?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Hellmuthian ranting

Thanks to an anonymous reader for pointing me to this post of what are allegedly chat transcripts from Phil Hellmuth. There's no way to verify their authenticity, but they are certainly in character for him, and of the same tone as the ones that made famous "mobneys," "jopke," "morno," and others.

125 horses

WARNING! Boredom alert! I talk herein about my poker results, which nobody cares about.

I have now played 125 single-table online HORSE tournaments. About 2/3 of those have been $10 entry, most of the rest $5, with a few others ($20, $15, etc.) scattered in. Most have been on PokerStars, a handful on Full Tilt. I have tried signing up for them on Bugsy's Club (see here for why), but never got one going. A few have been turbo, most not. All have been eight-seat deals with three places paid.

If the outcomes were totally random, I should expect to cash 38% of the time, or 47/125 events; I have actually cashed 44% of the time, or 55/125 events. Similarly, if all players were of equal skill and luck as each other, one would expect to claim first place 13% of the time, or 16/125; I have actually taken first 16% of the time, or 20/125.

In other words, I have proven to be just slightly better than the average of my competitors--something like a 15-20% edge, depending on how you figure it.

Are these results just due to a little bit of luck, or is there something real that I can take some actual credit for? Well, using the binomial probability calculator here, it appears that if all players were of equal skill, this degree (or more) of deviation from the predicted number of cashes will occur by chance only about 8% of the time.

That may be tricky to understand, so let me rephrase it. Suppose you had a game in which eight people drew the numbers 1 through 8 out of a hat, all luck, no skill. You and your seven friends play this game 125 times. (You have very boring friends.) The probability that you would draw either 1, 2, or 3 55 or more times, by the operation of chance alone, is only 8%. So if you actually achieved this, your friends would have some justification for raising an eyebrow and suspecting that you are rigging the system in some way. Similarly, if only luck were at work, there is only about a 15% chance that you would draw the slip of paper with the number 1 on it 20 or more times over the course 125 games.

All of which means that this is now a large enough number of tournaments that I can be reasonably confident that the results I'm seeing are a real reflection of a difference in how I'm playing, relative to the other players, rather than just random variance. I can have something like 85-90% confidence in that conclusion.

In short, I am Lord of the $10 HORSE.

I have spent $1186.40 on entrance fees, and taken $1312.00 in prizes, for a net profit of $125.60, which represents a return on investment of $1.11 for every dollar put in. However, my guess is that my average time investment is roughly 45 minutes each, so that's coming out to not much more than $1/hour. What's that they say about a hard way to make an easy living?

But, as I've said here many times before, this stuff is all a learning process, not primarily a serious income-generating endeavor.

I feel ready to move up to the $20 level more consistently, and see if I can stay in the black. The problem is finding games. Even at the $10 level, I often sit as the lone registrant for 30 or 60 minutes before giving up. At the times I usually want to play (late at night, before going to bed), there is practically zero interest in playing higher. I'm not sure how to fix that problem, other than changing my playing times, which I am not enthusiastic about.

You may have noticed the appearance of Cardgrrl's avatar in screenshots from some recent games. That is not a coincidence. We have been playing together in a few of these a week for the last couple of weeks. We keep open a separate IM chat, so that we can exchange snarky comments about the other players as well as engage in a little friendly ribbing about who has the most mobneys, who just bluffed whom, etc.* I had largely stopped playing these events for a while because I got bored with them, and this new twist has renewed the fun. It's definitely best when some dunce acts like the Professor of HORSE and tries to lecture everybody on how badly they're playing, and we get to talk and laugh at him behind his back and see if we can put him on Super Monkey Tilt by either deliberately bad play or play that is good enough that he doesn't get it (they have the same effect). One guy earned himself a chat ban from Stars by having been tilted so bad that he stuck around hurling invectives at the remaining players long after he got knocked out on the bubble.

Playing with an affable and like-minded friend is highly recommended.

*In this age of heightened suspicion of online poker malfeasance, I suppose it is necessary to add the public assurance that we do not cheat in any manner. We do not soft-play each other; each of us has been taken out on the money bubble by the other, and if anybody bothered to look at our hand histories they would find plenty of bluffing and check-raising and maximal value-betting going on. Furthermore, we do not coach each other. We will sometimes reveal to the other what cards we're playing, for sweating purposes, but only after the other is out of a hand, and even then the sweater doesn't offer comment until after the hand is done. There is no attempt to collude, either by exchanging information about what we have during a hand and trapping a third player, or by chip dumping.

It would be nice if one could just assume that everybody automatically knows and abides by those simple scruples, but, sadly, there is ample evidence to the contrary--hence this explanatory note. Prior to a couple of weeks ago, I hadn't ever used IM software with another player during a game, so the need to make clear personal/interpersonal rules of conduct hadn't come up. There is obvious potential to use IM (or the telephone, for that matter) for various nefarious purposes, but neither Cardgrrl nor I want to touch that with a 10-foot pole. There is neither fun nor a sense of accomplishment in winning via ethical compromise. So never fear, dear readers. Should the sites want to review the hand histories to check for any signs of foul play, because they notice that we're often enrolled in the same games and wonder if there's cause for concern, they have my blessing to check it out thoroughly. Absolutely nothing amiss is there to be found.

*sigh* I started this footnote to forestall people wondering if we might be guilty of shadiness for having an IM chat open. Now I've written so much that I worry that I protest too much. Oh well. Let people think what they will think, I guess.

Have I ever mentioned how much I hate razz?

I mean, I wasn't really expecting to complete the wheel, when three of the treys in the deck were showing, but would it have killed the poker gods to send, oh, say, an 8 or a 9 my way?

It doesn't rise quite to the level of outright moral wrongness as this, but still....

Full, sad hand history follows for the morbidly curious. The only comfort it gives me is that I bet or raised at every opportunity when I had the best hand, and as soon as I no longer had the best hand, I called one bet (because I still had the best draw) and the last round was checked. Not a helluva lot more I can do than that.

PokerStars Game #25834541149: Tournament #147022636, $5.00+$0.50 HORSE (Razz Limit) - Level III (40/80) - 2009/03/11 1:17:43 ET
Table '147022636 1' 8-max Seat #5 is the button
Seat 1: Bedazzled777 (1447 in chips)
Seat 2: jsalazar666 (620 in chips)
Seat 3: RandomStu (1167 in chips)
Seat 4: Rakewell1 (2658 in chips)
Seat 5: pkflopnuts (1503 in chips)
Seat 6: kev_$ (1392 in chips)
Seat 7: philippe6969 (2245 in chips)
Seat 8: Mr Testy (968 in chips)
kev_$: posts the ante 8
philippe6969: posts the ante 8
Mr Testy: posts the ante 8
Bedazzled777: posts the ante 8
jsalazar666: posts the ante 8
RandomStu: posts the ante 8
Rakewell1: posts the ante 8
pkflopnuts: posts the ante 8
*** 3rd STREET ***
Dealt to Bedazzled777 [Th]
Dealt to jsalazar666 [8h]
Dealt to RandomStu [6d]
Dealt to Rakewell1 [5c 2h Ad]
Dealt to pkflopnuts [3d]
Dealt to kev_$ [9s]
Dealt to philippe6969 [3c]
Dealt to Mr Testy [3h]
Bedazzled777: brings in for 12
jsalazar666: folds
RandomStu: raises 28 to 40
Rakewell1: raises 40 to 80
pkflopnuts: folds
kev_$: folds
philippe6969: folds
Mr Testy: folds
Bedazzled777: folds
RandomStu: calls 40
*** 4th STREET ***
Dealt to RandomStu [6d] [Ac]
Dealt to Rakewell1 [5c 2h Ad] [4s]
Rakewell1: bets 40
RandomStu: calls 40
*** 5th STREET ***
Dealt to RandomStu [6d Ac] [Tc]
Dealt to Rakewell1 [5c 2h Ad 4s] [As]
RandomStu: bets 80
Rakewell1: raises 80 to 160
RandomStu: calls 80
*** 6th STREET ***
Dealt to RandomStu [6d Ac Tc] [Kh]
Dealt to Rakewell1 [5c 2h Ad 4s As] [4h]
RandomStu: bets 80
Rakewell1: calls 80
*** RIVER ***
Dealt to Rakewell1 [5c 2h Ad 4s As 4h] [5d]
RandomStu: checks
Rakewell1: checks
*** SHOW DOWN ***
RandomStu: shows [7c 7d 6d Ac Tc Kh 7h] (Lo: K,T,7,6,A)
Rakewell1: shows [5c 2h Ad 4s As 4h 5d] (Lo: A,A,5,4,2)
RandomStu collected 796 from pot
*** SUMMARY ***
Total pot 796 Rake 0
Seat 1: Bedazzled777 folded on the 3rd Street
Seat 2: jsalazar666 folded on the 3rd Street (didn't bet)
Seat 3: RandomStu showed [7c 7d 6d Ac Tc Kh 7h] and won (796) with Lo: K,T,7,6,A
Seat 4: Rakewell1 showed [5c 2h Ad 4s As 4h 5d] and lost with Lo: A,A,5,4,2
Seat 5: pkflopnuts (button) folded on the 3rd Street (didn't bet)
Seat 6: kev_$ folded on the 3rd Street (didn't bet)
Seat 7: philippe6969 folded on the 3rd Street (didn't bet)
Seat 8: Mr Testy folded on the 3rd Street (didn't bet)

Guess the casino, #81

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

Answer: Sante Fe Station

Me and Those Guys

Last Wednesday when I was at the M Resort, I taped an episode of "That Show with Those Guys" for

I was surprised to get the invitation, because I didn't exactly praise the show when I mentioned it here a couple of weeks ago. I didn't trash it either--just felt kind of meh. So it's kind of a strange and unexpected way to get an invite. But Those Guys turned out to be quite cool and interesting and good to know in person, and doing the show was a fun experience. We just chatted about life as a low-stakes grinder in general, and then about the Cannery episode in particular.

If you're a regular reader, you probably won't learn much about me that you haven't heard already, but if you want to see the interview, tune in here (Episode #27, March 10, 2009). I can't tell you exactly what's there, because we talked for a lot longer than they will probably want to use, and I haven't watched it yet to know which of my dronings got edited out by the Crapshield 3000. Maybe I come off looking like a boring idiot--who knows? Anyway, it was yet another interesting and unexpected experience to come from writing this here blog thingy, so I'm happy to share it with you.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Ed Miller: Straight guy

While I was looking for a photo of Ed Miller to illustrate the previous post, I decided to read his Wikipedia entry. Maybe everybody else already knew this, but I had not previously heard that he was the subject of a Queer Eye for the Straight Guy episode on Bravo. I can't find that episode online, and it appears that DVDs of it aren't available through Netflix, so I'll mostly just have to wonder about the before and after looks.

However, I did find one short clip from the episode over on It shows the crew meeting up with Ed at the Silverton casino:

I also found this short YouTube clip of Ed visiting his mother's home after it was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Sad.

Poker gems, #225

Ed Miller, in Card Player magazine column, March 11, 2009 (vol. 22, #5), p. 84.

As social a game as poker is, it's also an extremely lonely one. You enjoy your wins and suffer your losses alone. No one knows how much you've won or lost today, this week, or this month. Even worse, no one cares. And I mean, no one. Even your mom doesn't care. When I play poker, my wife doesn't care how I did. My friends don't care. No one cares.

Awareness FAIL

Since I'm quick to pounce on the idiocy of my fellow poker players, it's only right that at least once in a while I tell a story on myself. Here are two of them from today at the Venetian.


I had some trash hand in the small blind and limped in. I hit nothing on the flop. It was checked around. Nothing on the turn. It's an obvious check-fold situation. My mind wanders for a few seconds, until I realize that the guy two to my left is putting out a bet. I tell the dealer, "I think I'm first to act." The dealer gives me a puzzled look and says, "I thought you checked." This is a dealer I know to be alert and attentive, with mistakes and erroneous assumptions few and far between. As I'm processing his response, two other players speak up and agree that they saw me check. I mentally rewind my internal videotape, and realize, yeah, as a matter of fact, I think I did tap the table in my usual way, then instantly forgot about it.

In the situation at hand, it didn't matter, because I was going to be mucking no matter what, but this is the first time that I have ever failed to be aware of my own actions. Of course I occasionally miss what some other player does, but to take an action myself and not register it consciously? Completely unprecedented. And, I have to say, a little frightening.


Maybe 15 minutes later, I have the button and look down at A-K offsuit. When it gets to me, I'm about to put in a raise, but as I glance around the table, I see that the guy in seat 7 (I'm in 10) has $7 in front of him--a $5 chip and two $1 chips. I would often, though not always, put in a reraise here, but seat 7 was the tightest player at the table. He hadn't put in a preflop raise since the Truman administration. So I decided to play it cautiously and just call. I was running short on $1 chips, so I put out two $5 chips.

Both blinds called. Then I saw seat 7 put out another $5 chip. I opened my mouth to protest that he can't reraise himself. But just then, the player in seat 8 also tossed out another redbird. I hadn't even noticed that he had cards. They weren't hidden at all--I was just oblivious. In a flash, it dawned on me that seat 7 had not raised after all. Both he and seat 8 had just called, but their chips landing near each other had looked to me like a raise to $7, because my attention had wandered when they were acting the first time around. I thought I had merely been calling with my two red chips, but I was actually raising.

An ace came on the flop, it got checked around to me, and a standard c-bet won it.

But this was alarming. I make mistakes all the time with respect to guessing what other players have and how they will react to my actions. But it is rare that I miss the action in a hand I'm involved in. If I miss something, it's almost always because there was an external distraction, or somebody acted out of turn when I wasn't watching him, or something like that. For me to have simply zoned out enough to have missed two players' calls before the flop is not at all my usual state.

For reasons I won't bore you with here (maybe I'll post about it some day), I always look at my cards as soon as I have both of them, eschewing the common advice not to look until it's my turn. So in this situation, I was already tentatively planning a raise, and was counting how many players were in, watching to see if anybody looked like they were getting tricky with a plan to limp-reraise, etc. At least, that's what I thought I was doing. It's certainly what I am usually doing in that spot, and absolutely what I should be doing. Yet I blanked out for long enough for two players to bet without me taking any notice of their actions, which then caused me to make the mental slip about who the chips belonged to.

I'm sure this must sound like a mighty petty thing. I may not be able to explain with sufficient emphasis how far out of character this is for me. Sure, I can disconnect when I know I'm going to be mucking. But when I've already decided I'm going to be in the hand and probably raising, I'm usually laser-focused on what the players acting ahead of me are doing, trying to gauge how much they like their hands, and so forth. (Which is why it irks me so when other players try to talk to me in such moments.)

I needed to get home soon thereafter anyway for an online HORSE tournament for which I had pre-registered. (I was the first bust-out, thank you very much.) But even without that motivation, I would have seriously considered leaving, because that one-two succession of a strange level of obliviousness actually rose to the level of being alarming. I wish I had Ambien or some other external force or agent to blame it on, but I've got nothing. Blood clots going to my brain, maybe. Yeah, that's gotta be it. Time to put the UNLV neurology department on my speed dial.

The cultural awareness of poker players

Last August I wrote a post titled, "The geopolitical awareness of poker players." It might be worth rereading that as background for these two stories.

During a session at the Venetian with Cardgrrl last month, there was a young guy who thought he knew everything at the far end of the table. [Edit: Dangling modifier alert! But I decided it's amusing enough to leave it as originally written.] We also had at the table a pleasant young man who had introduced himself as "Wolfgang," and who had a classic German accent. But for reasons that remain unfathomable to me, oh-so-smart young guy put in his guess that Wolfgang was from--are you ready for this?--Finland. Yes, Finland. Excellent guess, sir!

I was reminded of that story today. Again I was at the Venetian. Two seats to my right was a gentleman of classic Indian-subcontinent appearance and accent. That is, one might reasonably guess him to be from either India or Pakistan, but certainly not, oh, I dunno, FINLAND. India was strongly favored over Pakistan if you happened to notice that his card protector was a very large silver coin, on one side of which was writing that appeared to be Hindi, and on the other side of which was the figure of a multi-armed Hindu god, flanked by elephants. His wife was sitting subserviently beside/behind him, wearing a sari. I'm no expert on Asian languages--I couldn't tell spoken Hindi from Dravidian or Punjabi or Pashto if my life depended on it--but if what he and his wife were speaking were not one of the major languages of India or Pakistan, I'd be a monkey's uncle.

Which, now, is enough background for you to see why I wanted to run and hide in shame at being a fellow American with the guy who casually asked this gentleman sitting beside him, "So, are you Spanish?"

Americans' priorities

What does it say about our country that more people visit the Las Vegas Strip than the National Mall and associated museums and memorials in Washington, D.C.?

I suppose I shouldn't complain--but it's hard to feel proud about it.


For a sense of what it feels like to run good--really, really good--through a long session, see the accounts of two of my fellow bloggers: this one from Ted at RB&P, and this one from C.K. at Black Widow of Poker.

I have had a few nights akin to those, but it feels like it's been forever, so I'm officially jealous. I think it's my turn next.

Poker gems, #224

Alan Schoonmaker, in his newest book, Poker Winners Are Different, as quoted in review by Martin Harris for PokerNews, here.

[I]n most [poker] games the skill differences between players are much smaller than the differences in their motives, discipline, thoughts, reactions to feelings, and decisiveness.

Guess the casino, #80

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

Answer: Palace Station

Monday, March 09, 2009

Guess the casino, #79

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

Answer: Hard Rock

Deuce-Four on High Stakes Poker

I recently wrote about how the mighty Deuce-Four would have cracked pocket kings if Gabe Thaler had played it on the first World Poker Tour of this season. Well, now High Stakes Poker joins the fun. Deuce-Four was all set to crack aces, until Peter Eastgate blew it.

We start with Barry Greenstein raising and a resultant family pot:

Eastgate flops trips--par for the course with deuce-four. Greenstein makes the continuation bet. Tom Dwan raises with top pair, and both Eastgate and Greenstein call. So far, so good for the strongest hand in poker. It is poised to win an enormous pot:

But on the turn, Dwan pours on the pressure with a huge second bet. I actually gasped out loud when first Eastgate folded...

...and then Greenstein did the same.

The Deuce-Four did its job--nobody can fault the hand. But you've gotta have faith in it.

All kidding aside, if you're going to be playing a hand like that, I think it doesn't make much sense to go halfway and then abandon ship. Your entire purpose is to flop something like trips or two pairs under great disguise. When you do, if you're not going to go with it, then it's pretty silly to have even gotten into the hand. That doesn't mean that you steam ahead under every conceivable set of conditions, but I can't understand the call on the flop followed by a fold. If Eastgate thought he had the best hand on the flop, the turn card should not have altered that assessment. If he didn't think he had the best hand on the flop, he should have folded then.

Interestingly, Dwan pretty clearly knew that Eastgate had thrown away the winner, while Eli Elezra, Daniel Negreanu, and Doyle Brunson all opined that Greenstein had folded the best hand. In fact, Dwan will pick up a side bet with Brunson on that point, with the show's airing.

Gabe Kaplan commented on Dwan's play, "Dwan got himself caught in the crossfire there on the flop, but then he just brilliantly played his way out of it with an exceptional move. The only other player I know of that would have made a move like that, maybe the late Stu Ungar." I don't know if that's literally true, but it's quite a compliment. It does seem that Dwan figured out right where both opponents were and correctly calculated that neither could take the heat. Very, very impressive.

Of course, had he known that Eastgate held not just any old deuce, but the Deuce-Four, he would never have dared go against it. He would have crumpled up his cards and run screaming from the room in terror.

As an aside, John Vorhaus recently wrote a nice column for Card Player magazine concerning the need occasionally to bet yourself out of a problem that your betting got you into. See here. He concludes, "When you bet yourself into trouble, sometimes the only thing to do is to bet yourself back out. Fortune favors the bold. You needn't be reckless or careless, but if you fear betting when betting is called for, you probably shouldn't be playing the game." Dang--I should have made that into a Poker Gem.

Addendum, March 10, 2009

Listen here for Barry Greenstein's detailed (17-minute) dissection of the hand and the decisions of all the players involved. Fascinating stuff. (Hat tip to Ted at Red Bull and Poker.)

Who you callin' a liar?

Palms, late this afternoon. Dealer named Charles in the box. I think he might be relatively new there, or perhaps recently changed to a shift where I see him, because he is not as familiar to me as most of the dealers there.

I am in seat 10, on the dealer's right. Seats 1 and 2 are unoccupied. (That will become significant.) I'm under the gun. The first card dealt to seat 9 brushes against my hand as it goes by and turns its face toward me. In my peripheral vision I can see that it flashed my direction, but I was looking up at a television at the moment (there may have been scantily clad cheerleaders doing a halftime show; I ain't sayin') and could see nothing of the card--not a suit or color or pip, not even whether it was a face card or not. If I had seen any piece of it, I would have immediately said so, without waiting to be asked.

The dealer asked if I had seen it. (A few months ago I kvetched about how wrong it is for dealers to take that approach rather than assuming the worst.) I said no. He dealt out a couple more cards, then apparently thought better of it, put down the deck, and started gathering the cards back in, as for a misdeal. The player in seat 9 was puzzled by this and said to the dealer, "I didn't see it--did you?" Charles replied, "No, but I think somebody else might have."

Remember that seats 1 and 2 were empty at the time. Seat 1, if occupied, would have been the only plausible position from which another player might have seen the card; seat 2 would have been quite a stretch, but since both were empty, we need not speculate on whether the dealer was referring to them. I'll even go so far as to point out that my back was to a wall, so that there wasn't even anybody at the next table that could theoretically have seen that flashed card. There is only one person on the planet that the dealer could possibly have had in mind when he said that "somebody" might have seen it. That would be moi.

This was the worst possible way to handle the problem. The best approach would have been the cautious, conservative route of just replacing the card (or declaring a misdeal if the house rules say that an exposed card to one of the blinds is a misdeal, as I think is the case at the Palms). The next-best approach, I suppose, is to say and do nothing, trusting that if I got a peek I'd speak up without prompting. The third-best approach would be to ask me whether I saw it, and believe the answer, whatever it might be.

The absolute worst way to handle it was what he did: ask me, then openly express his disbelief in my answer in front of the entire table. What in the hell is the point of asking me, if he's not going to abide by the response? Does he think that he has a built-in mental lie detector of sufficient accuracy to use it to determine what to do when I give him my answer? If I failed his personal veracity test, on what basis? I'd like to know.

About ten minutes later another situation arises--same dealer still in the box. After the turn, the board is 8-2-8-8. I check. The guy in seat 1 checks. Player in seat 5 bets. I call. Seat 1 looks at his cards again. I see the deuce of hearts in his hand. He folds, and the dealer pushes the cards into the muck irretrievably before I can react and have him expose that deuce to the other player left in the hand.

Well, it's obvious that I have to speak up. A deuce being dead here is clearly highly pertinent and potentially crucial information to my opponent. So before the dealer burns and turns again, I say to the other guy, "I need to let you know that I saw him [pointing to seat 1] fold the deuce of hearts there." Both he and the dealer thank me for volunteering the information. The player in seat 1 is surprised that I had been able to see it, but confirms that he had that card.

I didn't do that to stick it to the dealer; I would have done the same no matter what had happened in previous hands. But I hope that the second incident made him reconsider his first judgment of me, and that he felt at least a twinge of remorse for having doubted me earlier. I understand that he doesn't know me from Adam and can't just assume that I'm trustworthy. But that's why it would have been better to assume the flashed card had been seen, rather than pass me through his honesty filter and try to guess. The outcome would have been the same in terms of the cards, without having insulted me in front of everybody in the process.

I have quoted before the following passage from Barry Greenstein's superb book, Ace on the River (pp. 84-85). I will continue to quote it as often as it is relevant, because it really sunk in the first time I read it, and I have genuinely attempted to live up to his words and example:

I follow a stricter set of ethical guidelines than most of my opponents,
even if it costs me money in the short run. It has given me inner peace, and in
the long run I have actually profited from it.

...I try to be honest even in borderline areas.

Some players believe that they are justified when they disregard the rules
against someone who has cheated. Others believe it is acceptable to disregard
the rules against someone who may cheat them. Still others believe
that they are above the rules and everyone is fair game. If you are
scrupulously honest, no one is likely to cheat you in retaliation or because he
thinks you may cheat him.

Dishonesty gets in the way of a winning player. If losers are in a game with suspicious activity, they will have a reason to stop playing. Conversely, players will like to play with you as long as they know you play honestly. I try to set a standard for obeying the rules against all opponents. If I can gain the respect of the other players, they may follow my lead.

It's strange that just about a month ago I had the opposite problem, when a dealer at the Venetian clearly didn't believe me when I announced that I had seen cards flashed. What's up with dealers thinking I'm lying to them? Do I have a dishonest-looking face or voice or something? I really don't get either their suspicion or their decisions to handle the situations in ways that made perfectly clear than they thought I was lying. It's more than a mite offensive.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

New versus established tables

A long time ago I noticed a trend that I wasn't sure was real: Newly started games seemed harder to make money at than when I joined a game that had long been in progress. I couldn't tell if this was a figment of my imagination, a sampling anomaly, or a real phenomenon.

I mentioned it to Cardgrrl when she was here last month, and, to my surprise, she quickly agreed. Here are some factors we came up with that might explain it:

  • At a new table it is less likely that players have already been drinking (though that's not unheard of).
  • Nobody is stuck and therefore playing wildly to try to get back to even.
  • Most players sit down with a mental commitment to playing tight and conservatively, but that discipline tends to break down over time, so it is less of a factor governing play in an established game than a new one.
  • The table maximum buy-in set a limit on what the biggest stacks are at first. But after the game has been going, if players are taking big swings at each other, the total chip count on the table can climb dramatically as the rebuys accumulate.

Given those considerations, and now that I've taken the time to think it through, I have decided that on the rare occasions that I am offered the choice between a game just getting started and one of the already established ones, I will hastily select the latter.

Interestingly, the opposite may hold true online. In the current issue of Poker Pro magazine, Chris "Fox" Wallace discusses the life cycle of online poker tables. (Actually, this is what brought the whole subject back to mind and prompted me to write about it.) Again, this is not something I had really considered before, but he makes a good case that it is often profitable to be the first or one of the first to start or join a new online table. This is because the fishy players are impatient and will tend to sit down wherever they can find an open seat without waiting. They do not look for particular weak opponents to play with. They do not bother checking the lobby for table stats of average pot size, number of players seeing the flop, etc. So if you can be there right when they first log on, you can be the one to take their money. As Wallace puts it, when the other sharks smell blood in the water, it will be because you have been dining.

So take heed, and choose your table accordingly.

Runner runner runner runner runner flush

In last night's HORSE sit-and-go, I had my card magnet turned up to "High."

Guess the casino, #78

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

Answer: Caesars Palace

Free service for locals

Jan Fisher's column in the current Poker Player newspaper is all about praising the email subscription service from this web site. You get daily updates of free or greatly discounted meals, shows, etc., from the Vegas casinos. Looks like it's worthwhile, from the little looking around I've done.