Saturday, March 28, 2009

New blog to check out

A friend of mine recently started a blog, It's not a poker blog, exactly, not a Vegas blog, exactly, not a "here's what I'm doing today" blog, exactly. Sort of all of the above and none of the above. But he has some interesting view on things, including poker and Vegas, so you might want to browse through the first posts he has made and see if you like it. Both on the blog and on he calls himself "The Vegas Flea," and the URL of the blog is, not surprisingly,

(I was looking for pictures of fleas, and they all made me feel itchy just looking at them. The one above didn't--probably because it's not immediately recognizable as a flea--so it got selected. It's kind of cool, too, in a creepy sort of way.)

And I MEAN it!

Three hands played, three buy-ins lost. Should have known something was up when the cards felt cold to the touch. What do they call such hands? Oh, yes--SIGHs. Worst 20 minutes in poker history.

Posted to Craigslist job seekers category: "Available cheap: one grump. Will work for chips."

How do people run so good? I'm never playing poker again.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go squish as many ants as I can find. Any penguins I come across had better watch out.

(If the last two paragraphs don't mean anything to you, see here.)

I guess my ban is rescinded

Perhaps my banishment from the Cannery and Eastside Cannery is over. I got a letter today announcing the Eastside Cannery's poker promotions for next month. The letter concludes, "Good luck and we look forward to seeing you soon!" I guess I'm invited back!

Of course, it's a form letter. But still, legally, wouldn't this constitute a pretty clear invitation, superseding the previous trespass warning? It would be interesting to try it and see.

On the other hand, who needs the hassle?

Poker gems, #229

Jennifer Tilly, on "Poker After Dark," after losing heads-up to Johnny Chan.

I have a tell on him now. When he has a good hand, he goes all in.

Guess the casino, #95

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

Answer: Venetian

Friday, March 27, 2009

Proper hold'em strategy revealed in new study

I saw this post on Pokerati about a new study analyzing 103 million hold'em hands played in December, 2008, on PokerStars. Apparently Stars gave Citigal, a consulting firm, the logs including all of the hole cards to assist in this research. You can read a summary of the report here, or the whole thing here.

It turns out that only about 25% of the hands went to showdown. (It would have been interesting to see how that differed between limit and no-limit, but such information is not provided.) Of those that went to showdown, only about 50% of the time was the winner the player with what would have been the best hand had everybody stayed in. In other words, about half of the hands going to showdown would have been won by somebody else, had that player not folded at some point earlier in the action.

There is only one possible conclusion about how to win in online Texas hold'em: NEVER FOLD ANYTHING--NOT EVARRRR! My losses certainly seem to come from players following this strategy. Now I, too, know the secret.

Podcast about the Review-Journal story

A reader sent me an email pointing me to this podcast (#29, March 26, 2009). The first 25 minutes or so are spent discussing the recent Review-Journal story about my Cannery incident. I found it more interesting and thoughtful than most podcasts tend to be. My only quibble was with one participant ("Chuck") who seemed to have the impression that I flaunted my status as a blogger (to either the casino security guys and/or the police; his theory wasn't completely clear) as somehow giving me "extra rights." That was not the case at all. The blog only got mentioned when the police asked me why I was taking the pictures. It's a question that would have been impossible to answer without mentioning the blog.

Two highlights:


David Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at UNLV: "Whatever happened with the security officers, they just got a little bit too overzealous there, because I can't imagine escalating anything to that level. I mean, in the course of a shift, you've got so many real issues to deal with and real problems of all kinds, it's hard to believe that somebody would be actually trespassed [i.e., formally forbidden ever to return]--which is really extreme. I mean, y'know, I've seen people vomit on other people and not get trespassed, so to trespass somebody for taking a picture, that's kind of ridiculous. So I don't know what was going on, if there was some other attitude or what was happening. But when I first heard about the story from the reporter I thought, wow, that's really weird, and I was kind of guarded in my comments, because I didn't want to make some kind of sweeping thing and say, oh yeah, they were totally liable, and then it turns into a lawsuit or something. Y'know, I don't know what the situation was, but, y'know, I can say if I was in there working security, I would, if I was told not to let them take pictures, I would politely direct them to where they could take pictures and not, y'know, I want to look at their camera and all that other stuff. That's just weird."

It should be noted that when Mr. Schwartz talks about his experience in casino security being required to forbid photography in certain areas, he's talking about Atlantic City, where, I am given to understand, there are actual gaming regulations that the casinos have to enforce. There are none in Nevada.


Jeff Simpson is a gaming columnist for the Las Vegas Sun. He wrote a story about Jerry Yang when he won the World Series of Poker in 2008. Because the story focused on Yang's religious beliefs intersecting with poker, I emailed him a link to what I had blogged about the subject, and I believe he has been at least an occasional reader since then. Here's some of what he had to say on this podcast:

"I was aware of this story, y'know, it seems about a month or so ago. The guy who writes the blog, it's a very good poker blog called Poker Grump. [The man obviously has refined taste!] And the guy who has the blog, y'know, maybe he is a little, y'know, you can tell by the name of the blog, he may be a little ornery, and, y'know, willing to stand up for what he perceives to be his rights. [Comments about how he would have been inclined to be more deferential than I was in hopes of avoiding escalation.] ...The police and hotel security work incredibly closely together. The security forces of all the hotels way outnumber the police who, y'know, deal with crimes in those jurisdictions. Y'know, the police are, y'know, they almost always will side with the security force when there's some kind of a dispute between security and a patron. It's just, it's not even a question. In many of, and so that's, when I read the way the North Las Vegas police treated the guy at first, I thought that the police were even out of line suggesting that they thought there was some kind of law being broken, and then later coming to their senses after checking the guy's blog.... You count on the police to sorta, y'know, straighten them [i.e., overacting casino security officers] out immediately, and that didn't happen in this case. The police should have been, like, they guy wanted to leave, you didn't let him leave, why not? I mean, y'know, the police should have definitely done that."


There's another podcast that briefly discusses the article, here (March 27 episode), from about 18:30 to 24:30. Not nearly as thoughtful as the previous one--just the show's co-hosts giving their opinions about what happened. They spend about half the time debating the basic facts, because, although both claim to have read my original story, they're both pretty fuzzy on the details. One thinks that I was OK, the other thinks I should have just capitulated and made things easier on everybody--kind of the basic divide seen in every discussion of the matter.

Thanks again to a reader for pointing this out to me.

Guess the casino, #94

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

Answer: Planet Hollywood

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Why the difference?

Apparently the standard way in which the North Las Vegas police handle customers detained in the Cannery back room is to beat them before throwing them in jail and filing a false report:

I don't know why I had it so easy--after all, in addition to being "uncooperative" (as is said of the guy in this story), I was also "upset" and, worst of all, "verbal." If that doesn't deserve a beat-down, what does???

I feel like I got cheated out of the full Cannery/North Las Vegas Police experience to which I was rightfully entitled.

Guess the casino, #93

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

Answer: Harrah's

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

No more Bugsy

I received two related emails today about BugsysClub, the little-known and little-used online poker site which was my favorite venue for playing $1 heads-up sit-and-go tournaments with my nephew in Minnesota. The first announced the closure of the site. The second, confirming information in the first, was from PokerStars, saying that my BugsysClub funds had been transferred there.

The grave marker of Bugsy Siegel seemed the appropriate way to note the sad occasion.

Poker gems, #228

Matt Matros, in Card Player magazine column, March 25, 2009 (vol. 22, #6), p. 84.

I believe there are at least a hundred people playing poker today, any of whom would've been the best player in the world 10 years ago.

Guess the casino, #92

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

Answer: Monte Carlo

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

What happened to the real Johnny Chan?

Apparently somebody kidnaped him and replaced him with the freak shown above, who appears under Chan's name on this week's "Poker After Dark."

Seriously, dude--WTF?

1400 (plus one)

I slipped up. The previous post was #1400, and I missed the moment, making this one #1401.

Newly married couples tend to celebrate small anniversaries, like one week since the wedding, then one month, two months, etc. After a while, those just slip by unnoticed, and it becomes something of a chore even to remember the annual ones.

I think that these every-hundredth-post marks are becoming like that. There have now been enough of them that they're losing significance. What I have said every time remains true--how much I appreciate your eyeballs landing here every day, and so forth. But I'm feeling less inclined to say it just because the odometer clicks over another 00 mark.

I think I'll have to note the passage of #1500 when it occurs, and then after that I'll probably shut up about it until maybe #2000--assuming (1) I'm still around doing this, and (2) there is anybody left reading it.

Because I missed the occasion, I stole two pictures to illustrate this post, one for 1400 and one for 1401. Both are taken from the wonderful, which is probably the most visually interesting and delightful way that you can keep track of the time on your computer. Give it a try.

A reconsideration

Last week I described a heartbreaker of a hand against Spewtard. The story, in short, is that I had Qd-Qh, and I knew that he had exactly Ad-Jd. I raised (to $16, as I recall). He reraised to $40. I raised another $100 on top of that. He shoved for a total of what proved to be $435. I had him covered and called. The flop and turn were safe, but he caught an ace on the river to win.

In the comments, somebody asked about the alternative strategy I could have taken: Just call the reraise to $40, then decide on the flop whether to commit. I had, in fact, briefly considered that option as the hand played out, but made the instantaneous decision that I knew I was roughly a 2:1 favorite, and I should get in as much money as possible with those odds.

However, I've been debating this on and off ever since, and I wondered if I could work out the expected value of each strategy. I think I have done it, to a reasonable approximation.

Strategy 1

This is what I actually did. I was a 68.3% to 31.7% favorite to win. So if we did the hand 1000 times, I would win $435 683 times for a total profit of $297,105. I would lose $435 317 times, for a total loss of $137,895. Net gain would be $159,210. So my expected value (EV) for this strategy is approximately +$159 for each time we play the hand this way.

Strategy 2

The particular Spewtard was so bad that he very well might have been willing to shove on the flop no matter what cards came, and whether I checked to him, bet small, bet big, or shoved myself. I'm using that assumption here.

Let's suppose that I decide to shove (anticipating a call) on any flop where I'm ahead, and check-fold on any flop where I'm behind. How would that work out mathematically?

Here are the types of flop where I'm behind, and the number of possible flops that would fit each category, given the four known hole cards:

3 aces: 1

2 aces: 135

1 ace: 5440

3 jacks: 1

2 jacks (no ace): 126

K-Q-T: 32

3 diamonds: 56

Note that I don't have to account separately for two-pair combinations, because any flop that pairs both of his hole cards necessarily contains an ace, which alone is enough to beat me and cause me to fold.

That's a total of 6291 flops in which I'm behind and will fold, thus losing $40.

There are also 1008 additional flops that contain two diamonds (and no aces). I'm still ahead, so I'm shoving, but he has 11 outs (8 diamonds and 3 aces) twice, or roughly a 44% chance of winning. I know this isn't exact, but working it out precisely (i.e., taking account of the hands that would result in straights for me but not him, or give me a full house, etc.) would be way too complicated.

Finally, there are 9997 flops that are dry for him and look safe for me--he misses his aces, his jacks, his straights, his flushes, and even his flush draws. In most of these, he will have just 3 outs (the remaining aces) twice, or approximately 12% chance of winning. Again, this is imprecise because there will be some straight draws unaccounted for here that might hit, as well as some runner-runner combinations. But, again, it isn't all one-sided, because some of these I'm lumping all together will also improve me even more than they improve him.

I'll spare you the arithmetic, and just jump to the conclusion: The average EV for this strategy works out to about +$180.

Strategy 3

Suppose I wanted to reduce variance even further, and not put the big money in when he flops a flush draw, even though I'm a favorite. That is, I fold in all of the situations listed in Strategy 2, plus every time two diamonds flop. Again, I'll skip over the boring math and just tell you the result I got: Average EV is +$165. It's obviously lower than the EV for Strategy 2, because I'm passing on situations in which I'm a favorite.

Interestingly, though, it's a slightly better strategy (though only by a small margin) than my pre-flop shove--if the assumption about Spewtard's conduct is correct.


If I could know for sure that Spewtard would put all his chips in on the flop no matter what came, then it would be smarter to wait for the flop, then either fold or shove according to whether I'm ahead or behind.

As I mentioned, this possibility did occur to me in the heat of the moment. I dismissed it because of the potential for losing the chance at stacking him if he were smart enough to fold upon missing the flop. That is a possibility, especially after I told him that I had seen his cards. But he just might have been so drunk and so uncaring about the money that he would shove regardless. The only way to know the true optimal approach would require being inside his head enough to know how he'd react. Unfortunately, we don't have that information. Because Strategy 2 is only about 13% better than Strategy 1 when we're making the assumption that he will shove on any flop, if he has much of any propensity to get scared and fold when he doesn't improve and I bet the flop, then Strategy 1 probably comes out ahead. It is, sadly, unknowable.

The way things came out, even if he had been willing to shove on the dry flop that came, I still would have lost to that damned ace on the river. My only consolation would have been that I got the big money in as an 88% favorite (i.e., on the flop when he had just 3 outs twice) instead of "merely" as a 68% favorite. I don't think that would have stung any less. Heck, it might have hurt even more.

But I'll have to admit, waiting for the flop before deciding whether to commit is a more interesting option than I initially gave it credit for being. Against a typical bad opponent, I'm confident that my approach was the highest possible EV. But against this particular bad opponent, I really don't know.

I find some consolation in this excellent paragraph from one of Matt Lessinger's Card Player magazine columns (which I have quoted before here):

I don't care if you are a rank novice or a world champion. It doesn't matter
whether you are in a tournament or a cash game. You could be playing for pennies
or Porsches. It's all the same. If you can get all of your money in as a 4-1
favorite, do it. And if you lose, live with it. It happens. Wait for
the next opportunity to arise, and then do it again. If you are able to
consistently create that scenario, you will be a successful player--end of

Not to brag or anything, but....

...surely two straight flushes in two days is worth mentioning. Didn't even need for crubs to get there for this one.

I don't mind online poker being so obviously rigged, when it's rigged in my favor. My opponents had better start donning their tinfoil hat avatars.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Deuce-Four triumphs again on HSP

It seems that this year the poker gods are trying to demonstrate to the world the power of the mighty Deuce-Four. See how reigning world champion Peter Eastgate wields it as a bluff to take down a pot, after wrongly losing faith in it mid-hand on a previous episode.

Poker faces, #3

From this week's episode of High Stakes Poker, we see more of the faces of poker.

First, this is how you execute the fake yawn to look bored when you have pocket aces:

But then when your aces get cracked for $548,700, you first look away to hide your disgust...

...then turn back around to reluctantly settle up:

If you're Barry Greenstein and you got all your money in bad but sucked out for half a mil, you display true facial minimalism thusly:

On one of the early HSP episodes, after a big pot, Gabe Kaplan commented that Greenstein is such a consummate pro that you couldn't tell by looking at his face whether he had won or lost that hand. That's not always true--he will occasionally crack a smile or shrug his shoulders--but it is indeed usually the case, as demonstrated here. Tom Dwan, to his credit (especially given his age), is barely more animated, either in victory or defeat.

Imagine Phil Hellmuth in that spot. Oh wait--you don't have to imagine it. Just replay what happened when Dwan got lucky and cracked Hellmuth's aces, here. See if you can tell which of them is more mature, the 21-year-old or the 43-year-old.

Every time I watch Dwan play on television, I end up liking him more. I admire both his phenomenal skill and his devil-may-care attitude.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Who needs a low?

I got this hand while playing in a HORSE sit-and-go. I thought that one of my opponents must have a low hand for half the pot, but was delighted to see all the chips coming my way.

A straight flush is such a thing of beauty. It would be a shame to lose half of the pot to some crappy rough 8-low hand--a point I also made here, the last time I got a straight flush online. Note that both straight flushes were in crubs, which makes perfect sense, since, as I have been learning from B.W.O.P., crubs always get there.

I thought I was going to be able to report having taken down the tournament, but a fiercely contested heads-up finale ended badly for me when my full house lost to a bigger one on the river. Sad but true. I think when you hit a straight flush, they ought to just stop the tournament right there and award you all the prize money. But nobody asked me.

More bizarre plagiarism

Earlier this month I mentioned a weird form of theft of my posts. Here's another example I just found:

First, they introduce apparently random typographical errors. Second, they use the content of this post but the title of this one. But I think the ultimate insult was putting Justin Timberlake's name at the top of it.

If anybody knows Russian and can take a stab at telling me what the foreign content of this page is about, I'd appreciate it. (At least, I think that's Russian.)

I still don't understand the whole content-stealing business and how it can be profitable.

My Cannery story hits the press

My "backroomed by casino security goons" incident is featured in the Las Vegas Review-Journal today. See here.

For me, the most interesting parts are the Cannery's official response, the gaming board official's comments, and the response of the North Las Vegas police, none of which I had heard before.

The Cannery:

Cannery spokesman Tom Willer said that although there is no rule explicitly
prohibiting photography in the casino, guards considered Woolley a security

Aha! So the several guards who told me it was a violation of their company policy to take pictures were all either lying or inexcusably uninformed.

"(He) appeared to be taking photos of surveillance camera positions,"
Willer said. "That would be a problem for any casino operator. He did not wish
to cooperate with us and show us the photos he was taking, or he had taken. So
we asked him to leave the property."

For reasons stated in my original post on the story, this is peculiar reasoning. Surveillance camera positions are pretty much everywhere, which (1) makes it hard to take a photo that didn't include them, if the camera is aimed even vaguely upwards, and (2) makes trying to map their position for nefarious purposes completely futile. Sure, if there are only three cameras in the whole place, and you'll want to be able to knock them out before you attack the cage, you'll want to know where they are. But there are hundreds, placed every 20 feet or less. There's no way that even a detailed blueprint of where they all are would be criminally useful, as far as I can determine.

Also, he is being incredibly deceptive when he tells the story this way. I refused to show them the pictures, so they asked me to leave??? Hell, no! I tried to leave, and they wouldn't let me! He kind of omits that rather crucial detail.

Gaming Control Board:

"There are no rules against it, and there are no rules or regulations that
govern it," Randy Sayre, a member of the Nevada Gaming Control Board, said of
shooting photos in Nevada casinos.

This matches my research, done after the fact. I searched the gaming regulations and statutes to see if there was anything that required casinos to bar photography, and found no such thing.

But he added that companies are free to prohibit the practice. They are
also authorized to detain customers deemed to be security risks until police

Since this isn't an exact quotation, it's hard to know precisely what the guy said, and therefore whether he stated the facts inexactly or whether the paraphrase is inaccurate. It is not correct as stated, however. Casinos do not have the statutory power to detain people "deemed to be security risks." Their detention authority includes only the cases in which they have reason to believe the person has violated the statutes governing gaming (chapter 465 of the Nevada statutes) or has committed some other felony. There is also the generic citizen's arrest right, which covers "public offense"--and, unlike the casino-specific provisions, under this statute there must have been an actual public offense, not mere suspicion of one. Nothing that I did could reasonably qualify for that. See towards the end of the original post about the incident here for links to the specific statutes on this stuff.

North Las Vegas police:

However, Sayre said, customers are under no legal obligation to reveal
photos upon request.

Sgt. Tim Bedwell, spokesman for the North Las Vegas
Police Department, concurred.

Bedwell said North Las Vegas police responded to the Cannery call over
Woolley's pictures partly because Woolley was reportedly "very upset and being

After they assessed the situation they determined Woolley was within his
rights to refuse to share pictures.

"Very upset" is hard to assess objectively, since it describes an emotion rather than observable behavior. Of course I was upset at being harassed, imprisoned, sworn at, lied to, accused of plotting to rob the place, and otherwise generally treated like a criminal when I had done nothing wrong--nothing that even violated casino policy, I now learn.

Was I acting upset? Well, that all depends on your meaning of the term. It would absolutely be inaccurate to say that I was acting agitated, which would, I think, be the most common interpretation of acting "upset." That is, I was not running, fighting, flailing my arms, going bug-eyed, etc. No witness could legitimately say that I was looking like I was out of control or on the verge of becoming a physical threat. I was never combative nor could anybody reasonably say that I appeared to be so. That is simply not in my nature, unless provoked considerably beyond what the Cannery goons did (i.e., you will have to cause me to think you are launching a potentially life-threatening assault on me in order to provoke a combative reaction from me).

But I was certainly being "verbal" about the fact that they had no right to be detaining me. I was also definitely being "verbal" about what morons the security guards were--for example, one of them explicitly confusing an alleged Cannery policy with a felony, and claiming that the owner of private property can do to a visitor whatever he or she wants to do. I do not suffer fools gladly, and I was, very literally, surrounded by fools. I was not shy in letting them know that I felt that way. My speech, however, although definitely barbed in content, was never loud, uncontrolled, or profane, though those characteristics were definitely present in the speech that they were directing at me. In short, at all times I was under considerably better self-control than the security guards were.

Also, I have some vague recollection of hearing something about "freedom of speech" somewhere. I did not know that a person being "verbal" was now legitimate grounds for a police investigation. Maybe that "freedom of speech" thing doesn't apply in North Las Vegas, Nevada.

One wonders how the call to the police went down.

Casino: "Yeah, we have a guy detained here. He's being verbal."

Police dispatcher: "For God's sake, don't let him get away! We're sending the SWAT team right now!"

Anyway, it's overall a good story, I think. Thanks to the reporter, Benjamin Spillman, for getting relevant responses from those other entities, as well as for getting all of the facts of what happened right (in my experience, this is, sadly, a rarity for the media). It would have been interesting to have statements from other casinos about what their photography policies are, but there is only so much space in the newspaper.


I see now that Vegas Rex, who is also quoted in the Review-Journal story, beat me to getting a response up on his blog. Check it out here.