Saturday, May 09, 2009

Caution to other bloggers: Unscrupulous advertiser

Addendum, August 15, 2014 

On August 13, 2014, Mr. Godera contacted me to try to resolve this matter. He requested to have this post removed, which I was not willing to do. However, in return for having now received payment in full for the previously unpaid ads, I agreed to amend this post to reflect that fact. I also agreed to remove an August 13 post that had again called attention to the events of 2008-2009, which I had written out of irritation at having been compelled to again deal with this ugly mess. I now consider this matter settled and closed.

Back in February I received an email from somebody named Aleks Godera with He wanted to purchase an ad here. Fine--we figured out the ad and price, which was promptly paid. No problems.

On that basis, when he emailed again in March wanting to purchase another ad, I put it up immediately. Payment, however, would prove to be problematic. I received excuse after excuse, delay after delay. Finally, he simply stopped responding to my contacts. I eventually gave up and deleted the ad.

He resurfaced this week, wanting to purchase yet another ad. I was wary, but decided to give him another chance. As with the previous encounter, the ad went up, but no payment came in the promised time frame. Again with the repeated excuses and delays, asking for information I had already provided several times, etc. I have again given up and taken down the ad.

Based on my experience with this person and company, I'd say that the M.O. is to pay for one ad to get your trust, then con you into putting up more ads which they have no intention of ever paying for. Perhaps this is because the most value comes from the first few days the ad appears, so they don't really care if you get disgusted with them and take it down for non-payment after a while.

It appears that this guy is like the J. Wellington Wimpy of blog advertising. Wimpy, you will recall, was famous for saying, "I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today."

So, my fellow bloggers, if I were you, I wouldn't do business with the dishonest Aleks Godera or the sleazy company he represents. I can't stand people or organizations with such fundamental lack of integrity. At the very least, if you choose to take a chance on them, get the money first. Otherwise, Tuesday will roll around, and Wimpy will be nowhere in sight.

Poker gems, #248

Tommy Angelo, in Elements of Poker, p. 27.

All the people who have won lots of money over many years at poker have three things in common. They have an A-game that will beat someone else's A-game. They play against those people. And they play their A-game dang near always.

Guess the casino, #137

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

Answer: Stratosphere

Friday, May 08, 2009

Weird rule at the Riviera

Above is the Riviera I wish I were at. The one I have actually been at this week is considerably less glamorous. But it has at least been profitable, as some compensation for being a dump. I may continue going there every night as long as the pool tournament is going and most of the locals are staying away. The Riviera games are pretty soft on a regular basis, but right now they are marshmallows.

Last night after I had been playing for quite a while, a Riviera regular (one of maybe only four I've encountered this week) showed up. When he was under the gun, he put out a $5 chip. The dealer announced, "Five dollar straddle." I assumed he had just had a slip of the tongue, so I asked, "Five?" He said yes. Both the player and dealer said that the straddle can be either $4 or $5. I had never seen this before, here or anywhere else.

Half an hour later we have a new dealer. Same player puts out a $5 chip. Dealer makes change and announces, "Four dollar straddle." The player tells her that it's $5. She has never heard of this rule, but rather than calling the floor over (which seems the obvious thing to do), she just says, "Oh, OK," and lets it go.

When I was cashing out at the end of the night, I asked the floor guy at the desk. He told me that, yes, the straddle can be $5 if the whole table has agreed to it. Hmmm. At the time of the first incident, I had been at the table longer than anybody else, and nobody had ever asked for consensus. If the whole table had, in fact, agreed to this arrangement before I arrived, and the first dealer knew this to be so, is that agreement still valid when not a single player who had made it remained at the table--that is, after a complete turnover of players? That seems odd.

I asked the floorman why some of his dealers seemed not to have heard of this option. His response: "Because we kind of make things up as we go."

Ah. Well, that would explain it, all right. Fine way to run a poker room.

I really don't care whether somebody straddles for $4 or $5. The advantage is that it saves the dealer making a lot of change. It also makes it that much easier for me to fold marginal hands. The disadvantage is that it's non-standard (I have a general dislike for non-standard rules, unless there is a very good justification for them), it's unknown to most of the players and apparently even some of the dealers, and it relies on 100% table agreement, which is no longer present as soon as somebody new comes along.

It's not important, but it's peculiar, which obligates me to report it here. Now I have done so.

Poker gems, #247

Tommy Angelo, in Elements of Poker, p. 25.

Your A-game is when you play your best and feel your best at the same time. You can move in and out of your A-game many times in a session. The idea is not to.

I'm goin' to the WSOP!

Well, there's a few minor technicalities to get past first.

I was jealous of Shamus and others who got invited to the previous PokerListings Run Good Challenge, when I didn't. It felt just like being back in school when I was always the last one picked for sports teams. (Trying to suppress painful memories here.)

When it was over, they asked for suggestions on who else should be invited to the next round. I'm shameless. I nominated myself.

And it worked! I received my invitation today. It starts Saturday, May 16, and they are giving away three seats to one of the $1500 WSOP donkaments. Looks like maybe 32 or so participants. You'd think offhand that I'd have roughly a one in ten chance of making it, but really, how hard could it be to beat a bunch of poker bloggers? :-)

Time to go get measured for my first bracelet.


Many of Full Tilt Poker's television ads share a theme that leaves me scratching my head in puzzlement at the basic concept. For example, there's one with Howard Lederer, in which he says, "I see you. Your eyes. Your hands. Your chips. Everything. So I don't need to see your cards." This is accompanied by highly cinematic shots of the tells his opponents are giving off, which Lederer's all-seeing eyes notice.

How does this make any sense for an advertisement about online poker, in which one is unable to observe the other players?

Further, how many people were involved in the making of this stupid commercial without any of them noticing that the ad copy has no connection with the service being sold?

Guess the casino, #136

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

Answer: Venetian

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Poker gems, #246

John Vorhaus, in Card Player magazine column, May 6, 2009 (Vol. 22, #9), p. 64.

There's a real danger in seeking to categorize your foes too firmly. Try to put everything into pigeonholes, and all you'll end up with is a bunch of squished pigeons.

Poker gems, #245

Tommy Angelo, in Elements of Poker, p. 21, in list of poker terms he has coined.

POOP -- Acronym for "passively out of position." Sometimes I play POOP.

"I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness"

(John 1:23, King James Version)

So Barney Frank has now introduced his bill to license, regulate, and tax online gambling. People and entities that I normally like and respect are falling all over themselves in celebration--for example, here and here and here. None of those sources, nor even the more journalistic and ostensibly objective story on PokerNews (here) bothers to suggest or quote anybody suggesting that the whole thing might be a really, really bad idea for the poker industry in the long run.

I'm telling you that it is, even though I expect my handwringing to be dismissed with amusement and/or scorn by nearly everyone in the poker community.

First is the general principle. We should be free to play poker (or blackjack or anything else) with our own money from the privacy of our own homes. Period. The word "free" there does not mean, "free, as long as we're using a site that meets the government's approval." It does not mean, "free, as long as both we and the sites pay onerous taxes." It does not mean, "free, as long as our state governor has not decided to 'opt out' of the federal system." It means that we should be left the hell completely alone. This is not an area in which the federal government has any constitutional authority to act, nor is it one in which the federal government has any particular expertise. Do you really think that PokerStars and Full Tilt will suddenly become better-run businesses than they currently are because they submit to several thousand pages of federal regulations?

Second is the pragmatic issue. I would wager all that I'm worth on this proposition: online poker will become less profitable, not more profitable, as a long-term result of this kind of legislation.

I have not yet read anything about what will happen if a site decides not to seek federal licensing. For example, what if PokerStars decides that it sees more disadvantage than advantage to submitting to all the taxes and fees and regulations? They might say, "Y'know, we're doing OK as it is. People in the U.S. can deposit directly from their checking accounts and start playing in a matter of minutes. We can't be kicked out of a state by an anti-gambling governor. We aren't paying U.S. taxes, and don't have to collect personal income tax withholding for our customers. We don't have to open our books to the feds. Our anti-fraud and anti-laundering security is already as tight as anybody knows how to make it. There just isn't much reason for us to change anything."

I don't know whether the Frank bill explicitly addresses this, but sooner or later, the powers that be will decide that this is intolerable, and either attempt to stop and/or prosecute evaders under extant legislation, or pass new laws that make it a crime to offer--and maybe even participate in--online gaming that is not federally licensed. It is a universal truth that governmental licensing bodies will not long tolerate those who sidestep them.

If you have the choice of playing on a federally licensed site or a place like Stars that has decided not to comply with licensing (and I'm just speculating that that will be the case; I have no information one way or the other), it will obviously be more profitable to play on a non-licensed site, because it will have far less overhead operating cost and can therefore charge less rake. The government will not put up with that for very long, I can assure you. The result will be that people like Frank and Alfonse D'Amato will do a 180-degree turn, and in a short time be advocates for prosecuting the scofflaws who are not compliant with the system they have set up--all in the name of "protecting the public," of course. This could easily include making it a crime not only for such sites to operate, but for you personally to play on them.

Furthermore, history shows that the rate of taxation will ratchet up and up and up, increasing the pressure on profitably like an anaconda increasing the tightness of its grip every time its victim exhales. Have you noticed what has happened with liquor and tobacco taxes over the decades? The so-called "sin taxes" are the easiest ones for politicians to turn to when they need yet another junkie's fix of a revenue increase. If you think it's hard to win at online poker big enough to beat the rake, try playing well enough to beat the rake plus, say, a 25% tax on every pot. Of course that's not what it will be to start off with, but give it time. There is no doubt in my mind that the rate will end up on the far side of the Laffer curve. It is the nature of govenments to act that way. They can't help themselves.

I'm telling you, folks, this is wrong and dangerous. I'm not sure I can come up with enough analogies and metaphors to convey it. It's letting the camel's nose into the tent. It's sleeping with the enemy, making a deal with the devil. It is like paying protection money to the Mafia. It is feeding a few drops of blood to the carniverous plant Audrey. It is like planting kudzu in your garden.

Those who are now welcoming the feds as a partner in online poker will, I fear, come to rue the day and wonder how they could have been so short-sighted. Federal licensing, regulation, and taxation will act like a slow poison, perhaps not quite killing online poker, but certainly leaving it far more weakened and unprofitable than it would be if it were just left completely alone (as it should be), and more than it would be if things were just left the way they are now (which is hardly ideal, but satisfactorily healthy and easy to deal with).

Look, I've ranted about this stuff before, here and here and here. I'm running out of ways to express what I foresee happening, so I'll repeat my favorite cinematic analogy from the last-cited post:

To continue my string of bad movie images and analogies, think of the poor
souls in "Dracula" (I'm thinking specifically of the 1992 Francis Ford Coppola
, though many others show the same thing) who are kept by the
vampires as a source of ongoing meals, rather like farm animals. They are barely
alive, left with just enough blood so that they don't die and can be bled again
later. That is what I am convinced would be the end-game of federally regulated
online poker--taxed to within an inch of its life, marginally profitable for
anybody except the feds.

All of this goes way beyond the relatively petty disputes that I expect to see garner most of the attention: the state opt-out provisions, the details of how taxes and withholding are done, etc. None of that matters much to me; it's like the proverbial rearranging of the deck chairs on the Titanic. The whole business is a disaster waiting to happen, and it seems that virtually everybody in the poker world is somehow blinded to that.

Sadly, I don't expect anybody to pay me any mind. They didn't listen to Noah, either, when he told them that those were not merely spring showers. But when what I have foretold comes to pass, you won't be able to say that you weren't warned.


See the first comment. Jim S raises thoughtful points that I think are worthy of response.

1. Jurisdiction. This isn't the place for a drawn-out debate about the proper scope of congressional power under the commerce clause. I'll just say that I am persuaded that the majority of what Congress currently does under the claim of regulating interstate commerce is constitutionally infirm (despite the Supreme Court capitulating to Roosevelt's court-packing threat and thus basically waving the green flag for Congress to do whatever the hell it wants to these days). I am persuaded by, e.g., the work of Randy Barnett in his fine book, Restoring the Lost Constitution: The Presumption of Liberty. (See especially chapter 11, "The Proper Scope of Federal Power: The Meaning of the Commerce Clause.") I fully recognize that this is a minority view, but I'm convinced that it is legally, philosophically, historically, and pragmatically correct.

2. Non-licensure. I'm not sure why Jim thinks I'm "misguided" here. I said I didn't know whether there was explicit prohibition of operating a non-licensed online gaming operation, but that if there weren't, there surely would be before too long. The upshot is that supporters of this legislation (assuming Jim is right that a provision similar to the one he quotes from a previous proposal is in the current bill) have to agree that they want the operators of, say, PokerStars to be thrown in federal prison if they refuse to either quit accepting U.S. players or submit to the licensure process. (I'm guessing, without bothering to check, that, as in previous versions of such legislation, that would include moving their servers and management to the United States.) People who think that have a very, very different concept of what constitutes "liberty" than I do.

3. Taxes. Again, I haven't checked the details of the new Frank bill for what, if any, new fees and taxes are contained therein. But I would be stunned if there were none.

It is clearly erroneous, though, to say, as Jim does, that "bill supporters who talk about collecting more tax revenues are talking about collecting taxes that are owed today but are not being paid because the IRS doesn't know they're owed." While that's included, it's definitely not all that is being asserted. The most frequently cited source for claims about tax revenue being missed is the PricewaterhouseCoopers report of December, 2007. You can see the executive summary of it here. It says, "In each case, about 56 percent of the revenue is attributable to individual income taxes, 22 percent is due to the wagering tax, 18 percent is due to the licensing fee, and 4 percent is due to the corporate income tax." Additionally, the study assumed that each state would be free to impose its own specific taxes on the sites, whether or not the businesses had a physical presence in that state.

Incidentally, I suppose that some readers will accuse me of laziness for not bothering to research in more detail what Frank's bill does and does not contain. OK, consider me guilty, but with this explanation. First, whatever it says is obviously subject to enormous change as it works its way through the enactment process. More importantly, though, I just don't care much. I am philosophically so utterly opposed to the whole idea of federal licensing, regulation, and taxation that the details of any particular scheme simply don't matter much. I remember once reading from Isaac Asimov that on a regular basis he received earnest schematics of inventors' perpetual motion machines, or elaborate "proofs" about squaring the circle or the invalidity of the second law of thermodynamics. He said, sensibly, that he wouldn't bother finding the flaw in the arguments--and in some instances he might not be able to. Still, he knew that a flaw must be there, because of how rigorously and thoroughly the contrary facts had been established. It's kind of like that for me here. I don't need to dissect the legislative language to know that the whole thing stinks to high heaven. Put the game I love under the thumb of the feds? I'm agin' it, no matter how much Lysol Frank and his supporters might spray trying to cover up the stench.

Now, if y'all will excuse me, I need to go do a little bolstering of the defensive perimeter on my cabin in Montana.

Guess the casino, #135

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

Answer: Excalibur

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Poker gems, #244

Tommy Angelo, in Elements of Poker, p. 3.

[D]uring that time I came up with a foolproof method of avoiding huge losses. What I did was I made sure I never had a huge amount of money to lose. I did that by culling my bankroll now and then, using sports betting, blackjack, and other bad ideas. And if that didn't work, I'd just jump in a poker game that I couldn't beat or afford.


If you're not watching this week's "Poker After Dark," you're missing out. It's among the most entertaining they've ever put on. Both the poker and the table talk are well above average. Go here to catch up on the first two days' worth. Trust me on this.

Rack 'em up!

Last night as I was negiotiating the driveway to the Riviera parking garage, I noticed several people entering the casino with strange-looking tubular packages slung across their backs. It took me a few seconds to recognize what they were: pool cue cases!

Why is that exciting? Because pool players typically make enthusiastic but lousy poker players. I am indebted to my friend The Vegas Flea for first pointing this out to me. He's right.

My intention had been to try to put in 20 hours at the Riviera this week and thus qualify for their weekly Saturday freeroll tournament, which, by all accounts, is some of the easiest money in town. The obvious downside is that you have to sit your butt in the fairly icky Riviera poker room for 20 hours (though they have some double-hour times, which cuts down on the total amount of ickiness), which is exactly why I've never done it before.

But as soon as I saw that there was a pool tournament going on (which you can read about here), the prospect of grinding it out at the Riviera no longer seemed so daunting.

As it turns out, they have cancelled the freeroll promotion for this week because they can't afford to tie up their cash game tables with a tournament on Saturday when they are anticipating having so many more people wanting to play poker than usual. Although this is not what I anticipated when arriving last night, it's even better. It means that the place is virtually free of the local nits who clog up the tables on most weeknights, putting in their freeroll hours. The only way to make money from them is to pilfer their chips when they step away from the table, or assault them in the parking lot and steal their Social Security checks. With them gone and the stickmen in their place, it should be happy hunting for a while.

My general observation has been that people in town to participate in any sort of sporting competition (bowling, archery, darts, pool, etc.) make even more excellent--and by "excellent" I mean "terrible"--poker opponents than Joe Tourist or Joe Conventioneer, because they tend to have a keener competitive edge and a bigger spirit of adventure, without necessarily having the poker acumen to go with it.

I think that this is especially true of pool players, most of whom presumably have had to learn how to hustle their marks. They have to disguise their true skill until the big money is in. That's obviously a skill that is highly pertinent to poker, which, I suspect, tends to make them think that poker is a perfect pasttime when they're not shooting pool.

But while they may well have an exquisitely honed sense of how their pool skills rate relative to those of any opponent, in general they seem not to be nearly as sharp at figuring out when a poker opponent is a better player.

All of which means that they are excited to be in Vegas, they have spent the day showing off their world-class pool skills, they are brimming with self-confidence, they want to play poker for a break, and they will bring to the table their desire to hustle unsuspecting opponents. But in reality, they are the unsuspecting ones.

It's all perfectly delicious.

Of course, these are broad generalizations, and there are plenty of exceptions. Daniel Negreanu was a pool hustler before he took up poker seriously, for example. I know I've read of other poker pros who are also significant threats with a cue stick, though offhand I can't recall which ones.

So I won't be going to the Riviera this week complacent. But I will be going there.

As I was racking 'em up last night (the chips, that is), preparing to leave after an easy, profitable session, the dealer said to me, "See you tomorrow night." This struck me as odd, because if he recognized me as having been there before, which is likely, he would know that I tend to stop in only occasionally; I'm not what one would call a regular there. I don't think he says this to everybody, because I hadn't heard him say anything similar to other players as they left. I think he simply recognized from my general demeanor and style of play that (1) I'm there to take the money, (2) it was easy pickings, and (3) the good conditions are likely to be there again all week, and thus, (4) I wouldn't be able to resist coming back. Damn. I hate it when people read me so well.

Guess the casino, #134

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

Answer: Bellagio

Deuce-Four haiku

While waiting for a game to start tonight at the Riviera, I was more bored than usual because they didn't have any poker magazines I hadn't already read. An idea occurred to me. OK, well, actually I shamelessly stole the idea from Pauly (here) and, more recently and specifically, Julius Goat (here). But even though both of them are better writers than I am, I knew that neither of them would or could pen a truly loving ode to the Deuce-Four. I knew that as the world's designated evangelist of the Great 2-4, the job fell on my unworthy shoulders. And so, right there in the Riviera poker room, I put pen to paper and this is what flowed out:

Just six pips total
Yet makes the nuts ev'ry time
Tiny but mighty

Play it for a raise
Flop comes four and four and deuce
Nobody suspects

Cardgrrl won't play it
Says it loses her mobneys
Unbeliever, she

Aces, kings, queens, jacks
All powerless to win hand
Drawing dead pre-flop

Praise the poker gods
For enlightening the Grump
Deuce-Four forever

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Movie review: "The Poker Club"

I saw a notice about this direct-to-video film in Poker Pro magazine. See entry here. The magazine copy (obviously written by the production company) describes it as a "terrifying new thriller," featuring "intense performances, taut direction and a shocking ending in which all bets are off."

Uh, no.

If I were asked to write a four-word review, I'd have a hard time choosing between "A piece of crap" and "Don't waste your time."

It wasn't listed with Netflix, so I found a torrent of it on a site of questionable legality. A good hint about the quality of the film was that the uploader had labeled the file "gaygaytpc."

There oughtta be a law that if you put the word "poker" in the title of a movie, the movie must contain some actual poker. If there were, the production team here would all go to prison. For life.

Where do I fill out the forms to request getting an hour and a half of my life back?

Book review: Elements of Poker

This morning I finished reading Tommy Angelo's Elements of Poker. I knew in advance that I would like this book, based on others' reviews and excerpts published in Bluff magazine and elsewhere--for example, this gem, one of the fittest descriptions of the game of poker I've seen. (Read all his Bluff contributions here.)

To be sure, there were parts I could have done without: a discussion of tournament equity, a big section on starting-hand selection, pages and pages about breathing. Maybe there's stuff there that I should know, and I don't know what I'm missing, but they didn't seem useful to me.

Way more than making up for those spots, though, are the dozens of places in which he made me think in new ways about old issues and problems. There are few writers that can accomplish that, given the breadth of reading I've done about poker. His way of both thinking and writing is quirky and highly original, traits that I admire. His writing reflects long and deep thought, and exquisite care in the choice of words. (If any poker book has ever contained more clever wordplay, I don't know what it was.)

The whole thing is obviously a product of the author's decades-long struggles with the game--and with himself. The dominant theme is how to tilt less, how to "lop off" chunks of your C-game so that you spend more time playing your A-game. Anybody who claims not to wrestle with this problem is deluding himself.

Another interesting, recurring theme is profit from reciprocality. That is, if every player does everything the same, nobody makes any money in the long run except the house. So in order to be a winning player, you have to do things differently from other players, and differently in a way that makes more money than they would make in the same situation. This is obvious when it comes to purely strategic decisions, such as whether and how to play A-10 from under the gun. But Angelo extends it to essentially everything involved in playing, including how you buy in, how you enter the game, how you speak, how you sit, how you move, how you breathe. Eye-opening stuff.

Rather than cite a few examples here, I'm going to embark on a series of "Poker gems" posts featuring the bits I liked best, maybe one a day or so. It will take a while to get through them, because this book ended up more heavily underlined than anything I've read in a long time.

I should also note that the book is admirably free of grammatical and typographical errors. In fact, I spotted only one (an extraneous apostrophe in "DVDs"--an extremely common mistake). I can't remember the last time I read a book that error-free. It would be an accomplishment for a work from a major press; for one that is apparently self-published, it's extraordinary.

Elements of Poker has its detractors, predictably. See Shamus's discussion of the haters here. Nothing works for everybody, I suppose. But Angelo hits me where I live. His book has already become one of my all-time favorites.

It's the swine flu! Head for the hills!

It has finally come to Las Vegas. See here. I will still bravely go out among the masses to play poker later today. But I will not inhale.

Guess the casino, #133

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

Answer: Sunset Station

Monday, May 04, 2009

Now PokerStars is making EVERYONE grumpy

For six days I have been effectively unable to play on PokerStars due to a glitch in last week's software update. I have also been unable to get any meaningful help from their support people. I posted about it twice. There was little said on the forums, apparently because such a small fraction of users were affected.

Today there is another software update. I guess you could say it was not ready for prime time. The forums are erupting in new threads of people describing their problems. Do a Twitter search for "PokerStars," and you see a bunch of "WTF is the problem?" type messages, agony about doing well in a tournament and then the system crashing, etc. It's not clear yet whether there are two separate issues (i.e., a client software problem and a central server problem), or whether it's all one big interconnected mess.

Either way, I'm experiencing an ugly but delicious bit of schadenfreude. See how it feels to get screwed and be helpless to do anything about it? Maybe now they'll actually get around to making it work right.


There is joy in Mudville now. The games are back. The software runs without quitting. I just turned $0.80 in $1.81 in about 45 minutes playing $0.04/$0.08 Omaha-8.

The art and science of deception

I just read this interesting article about what magic is teaching science about the flaws in human perception. Here's what I thought was the part most relevant to poker:

Teller designed his own house in the Las Vegas foothills, and he delights
in showing first-time visitors around. He starts the tour by pointing down a
hallway at a window, through which I see a beautiful view of the sprawling neon
city below.

"Go take a look," Teller says. I amble down the hall and—just before
reaching the end—smack into something hard, leaving a wet mouth-print on
polished glass. The "window" is merely a reflection; the hallway ends in a
precisely angled, mirrored door. "You didn't see the illusion because you
weren't expecting one," Teller says. "You assumed I wasn't fucking with your
head and that this hallway is actually a normal hallway. Those assumptions work
great until you walk into a wall."

The fake window is only the beginning. The house also has a bookcase
that's actually a door, lightbulbs that appear to change color mysteriously, and
a bronze bear statue that tells you what card you're thinking of. After
demonstrating that last prank, Teller watches as I try in vain to figure out how
it's done. He relishes the confusion of his audience—and even fellow
illusionists: "I had Criss Angel over here; he couldn't figure out how the bear
worked, either." Unless Teller sees the symptoms of astonishment—mouth agape,
eyes widened, pupils dilated—he doesn't consider the trick a success. "The magic
show is a competition," he says. "The audience is trying to figure you out. They
aren't suspending their disbelief—they're trying to expose you as a scam
artist." This is what makes magic so difficult: The magician must sell people a
lie even as they know they're being lied to. Unless the illusion feels more real
than the truth, there is no magic.

Isn't that how poker is? You have to convince your opponent that your hand is something other than what it actually is, because if he correctly deduces what your cards really are he will play perfectly against you and make no mistakes, in which case you can't make any money. But you have to sell this lie even as your opponent knows he is being lied to. You have to make the illusion feel more real than the truth.

I don't know about the rest of you, but I've walked into plenty of walls. It hurts. Then again, I've planted a fair number of walls and lured opponents into smacking into them. That mostly makes up for the pain.

Sometimes it's as simple as betting a strong hand and letting your opponent deceive himself as to its meaning. He might think, "If Grump had flopped a set, he wouldn't bet out here. He'd slow-play it to trap me, so he probably just has top pair with a queen, and my pocket kings are still good." That is, if your opponent is so strongly expecting to be lied to that he will interpret everything you do as deception, then you exploit that by being straightforward rather than deceptive. Jamie Gold, for all his faults, practiced this to perfection during his run to the Main Event championship in 2006, always telling opponents the truth about what he had and/or what they should do. Because they were expecting him to try to deceive them, they tended not to believe him.

As an interesting juxtaposition, just before reading this article I watched this week's "High Stakes Poker." The most entertaining part was Phil Laak trying to untwist Tom Dwan's actions, especially with a tiny value bet on the river. Laak knows instantly that he's not going to raise, so it's just a question of calling or folding, which means that he feels free to think out loud about his decision. He goes through not just what cards Dwan might have, but what Dwan's actions were attempting to say and do. He mentions that against a bad player his decision would be easy, but because Dwan is a genius player, he might be thinking one level deeper and pulling a double-reverse on Laak. In reality, Dwan is being straightforward this time, and both his bets and his words are honest reflections of his hand strength, which Laak just can't quite convince himself is the case.

Deceiving somebody who knows you're trying to deceive him is a fascinating game, as is trying to separate truth from lies when you're on the receiving end of possible deception. Maybe that's why I can't get enough of either poker or of Penn and Teller, who, better than anybody in the world, explicitly invite their audience into that Wonderland (Wondurrrland?) of smoke and mirrors, which you can't see, even when they're telling you that it's smoke and mirrors.

Guess the casino, #132

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Answer: Sam's Town

Binion's sees the light

Yesterday at Binion's I was shocked to find non-standard, commemorative chips floating around the table. Last time I was there was March 20, and none were in evidence then. In fact, the reason the discovery was so surprising is that Binion's has been one of the few holdout casinos, never issuing any special chips (as far as I know) during the almost three years I've played there. (The remaining ones that I can think of offhand include Wynn, TI, Bill's, and a handful of locals joints.)

Apparently some genius in upper management realized that they could have these things made for about a quarter, and sell them for $5, and that doing so might create a bit of profit. Since Binion's isn't even able to make their rent payments lately, this was probably a good thing to finally figure out.

Now they just need to get somebody to work on making their new-issue chips less, well, goofy-looking.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Guess the casino, #131

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

Answer: Riviera