Saturday, July 18, 2009

An obvious conspiracy to annoy me

Yesterday I made an attempt at The Grump's Great Harrah's Challenge, in which the object of the game is to win at least $100 in the shortest total time from each of the seven Harrah's poker rooms clustered around the Flamingo-Las Vegas Boulevard intersection. I did well at Imperial Palace and Harrah's, but then ran into a brick wall at, of all places, O'Shea's, and shut it down for the night, after giving back 2/3 of my previous winnings. Despite ending the day up in cash, the day was an exercise in getting my goat. Three stories should illustrate why.

Dealer error and an angle-shooter

Before yesterday, I don't recall a dealer error ever directly costing me any significant sum of money. Can't say that anymore.

I was on the button in Seat 6 with Jh-10h. There were a few limpers. I raised to $15. Everybody folded except for the guy in Seat 1. He was the table monster stack, having been there for obviously many hours, and on the hot streak of a lifetime.

The flop was A-K-5 rainbow. As usual, I was watching my opponent carefully, and I got the sense that he was tempted to bet before settling on a check instead. Although I would often put out a continuation bet in this situation, I decided to be cautious and check behind. The turn was the beautiful queen of diamonds, giving me the nuts, though putting a second diamond on the board. My opponent bet $30. I raised to $100. He called, though with some fairly obvious trepidation, and after trying to quiz me on what I was holding.

I don't remember what the river card was, but it was a low one that didn't pair the board and wasn't a third diamond, so I still had the unbeatable hand. Seat 1 checked. I said, "I'm all in." My face was down at the time, because I was counting my chips, with the intention being that my next words would be what the amount was ($143, as it turned out).

The dealer said, "Twenty." He had obviously misheard me in the noisy environment of I.P. I instantly said, "No, I said, 'I'm all in.'" The dealer said, "I'm sorry. Player is all in." Then Seat 1 piped up, "I heard 'twenty,' too."

There is just no way in hell that two people independently heard "I'm all in" as specifically "twenty." It's peculiar enough that one did, impossible that two did. I am as sure as I can be, without actual evidence, that Seat 1 simply realized all of a sudden that this was a route to possibly getting a much cheaper decision than he would otherwise have to make. He lied. He was angle-shooting, taking advantage of the dealer's error.

The floor was called. The dealer explained what had happened, that he thought he heard me say "twenty," and the other player claimed the same thing. Nobody else claimed to have heard anything. The floor ruled that the bet would be $20. Seat 1 called, and showed 5-5 for the flopped set.

With undisguised irritation and sarcasm, I turned over my cards and said to the dealer, "Yeah, I'm betting $20 into a $200 pot with the nuts."

As the pot was being pushed my way, I overheard Seat 1 plausibly telling the player next to him that he had put me on A-K for top two pair, although he had verbally floated the idea that I had Broadway when he was deciding on his call on fourth street. In other words, I'm in the range of 90% confident that he would have called the full amount, even if reluctantly.

The responsibility for this minor disaster is divided three ways. First, I take some share of the blame for apparently not speaking up enough in that loud environment. Second, the dealer screwed up. He had to be at least a little uncertain about what he heard, because "I'm all in" objectively just doesn't sound very much like "twenty." If he had paused for just a second to wonder whether he had heard correctly, it should have dawned on him that $20 was an extremely unlikely bet for that situation, with over $200 in the pot--not impossible or unprecedented, but weird enough that it would be worth asking whether what he thought he heard was what I had actually said. Finally, of course, there's the lying scumbag cheating angle-shooter who didn't want to have to make a difficult decision, and exploited the situation to his advantage.

It was a collision of factors custom-made to tilt me.

Still, I had made $114 in two hours. It was then that I decided that that was a potentially decent start on the Grump Harrah's Challenge, so I took the money and ran, stopping next at Harrah's.

Unclear on the concept of "doors"

I made money even faster at Harrah's. First I executed what I thought was an admirably well-timed bluff using just position and a middling pair against two opponents, though if their later chat was honest (and I think it was), I was actually bluffing with the best hand. That gave me an uptick of $86 less than 15 minutes in, and the second stop on the Challenge was looking good. A short time later, a guy on tilt from a bad beat in the previous hand tried to run a bluff into me when I had pocket jacks with a flop of 10-8-2, which was an easy call. So I made $204 in 30 minutes, and took off for the third stop.

So what was annoying about that? Something not directly related to the poker.

The Harrah's poker room has long been one of the best in terms of low levels of noise and cigarette smoke. That's because the room is one of the few in town that is fully enclosed, physically isolated from the surrounding casino floor.

But they have recently implemented a new policy: leaving the doors open.

This displays a profound lack of comprehension of the very concept of door. A door exists so as to selectively let people or things in and/or out. If you are never going to let anything in or out--i.e., if the door is going to be closed all the time--you might as well use a wall instead. Conversely, if you're going to let everything in or out--i.e., leave a door open all the time--you might as well take the door off of its hinges and remove it. It serves zero purpose.

Just outside the Harrah's poker room is the courtyard area between Harrah's and Imperial Palace. There's a bandstand, a bar, sidewalk merchants, etc. It's very loud at times, especially on weekend nights.

There was a extremely loud band playing, and it was making me crazy. Also, players would leave for a smoking break, and stand about six inches outside the room, the better to keep tabs on the game and run back in when it was their turn. (Is there something about tobacco that makes people rude and uncaring of how they affect other people? It seems to me generally that most smokers care not one bit how about how their nasty habit is inflicted on others.) I was seated at the table immediately adjacent to the doors, which were being propped open by chairs.

This is just insane. With one quick decision, they have turned what was perhaps the city's quiestest and most smoke-free room into one that is annoying infiltrated with horrible noise and cigarette smoke.

I asked the shift manager if they could close the doors. I was given to understand that the answer was no, and that it had come from levels of management in the Harrah's organization well above the poker room, so that nobody to whom I might have actual access had any power to change the decision.

The reasons, I was told, were twofold. First, to increase traffic. Second, to comply with the need for disability access.

These are easy to address. For the first, sure, it's understandable that at least some small percentage of potential patrons--especially those working up the nerve to enter a casino poker room for the very first time--might feel a little put off by closed doors, even though they are glass. This has an easy solution: You put on the doors a big sign that says something like, "Welcome to the Harrah's poker room. Please come in." That way, there is no risk that anybody will think it's a private place, like Bobby's Room at the Bellagio, for example. Problem solved.

As for disability access, I can grant that that's a legitimate consideration. But the solution, again, is easy: You have your engineering department install power door openers, just like you have with every other one of the hundreds of doors in the place. Duh!

I hate noise and smoke when I'm playing poker. I grit my teeth and put up with it at places like I.P. and Bill's and Sahara because they have proven to be such consistent cash cows for me. But when the situation is created by a retarded new policy that fails to consider why the room was built the way it is in the first place, when it eliminates what for me had been the room's most attractive attribute, it's completely unacceptable.

Bad beat at O'Shea's

I dreaded the next Challenge stop. O'Shea's is without question the noisiest poker room in the valley. The only protection from cigarette smoke is the fact that the tables are open to the sidewalk, so there is often some decent air circulation.

Anyway, poker did not go well here. Max buy-in is $200, and I lost that, gave up, and went home. The last big pot went down like this:

I was down to about $100. I had A-A for the first time in the night, all three casinos combined. The under-the-gun player raised to $12. I reraised to $30. He called. Flop was K-2-7. He moved all-in for his last $48. I called.

He showed--get this--9-10 offsuit. A pure bluff, and an incredibly stupid one at that. After all, there is no hand with which I'm putting in the pre-flop reraise that I'm going to fold when I'm being offered better than 2:1 ($48 call to win about $110). I don't really think he has flopped a set, but the possibility isn't going to deter a call for that price. It was a move that made no sense.

Anyway, I showed the aces, and was feeling pretty confident about winning. But then the turn was a queen, and the river a jack, giving him a nine-to-king straight. The only way he could win that hand was like that, or with an eight and a jack, or with some combination of nines and tens for trips or two pair. I was a 94% favorite (better than 15:1) when the money went in.


I admit that I donked off my last $20 rather than cashing it out, which would have been a smarter, more disciplined, and more professional way of dealing with the fact that I had decided to give up on one of my most annoying nights of poker in recent memory.


For reasons that I will detail in the immediately following post, poker yesterday was an exercise in annoyance and frustration. My anxiety was compounded by the fact that I knew when I got home I would have to make a phone call and deal with a personal life situation that had me feeling lost and confused, as if I were groping in the dark. I had feared that the call would amplify that distress and escalate my tension. Instead, it turned out to be profoundly calming and reassuring. It ended with me feeling more valued and trusted than I have in many years.

So why bother posting about this when, as you can tell, I don't feel at liberty to disclose any details? Two reasons.

First, on the outside chance that the person involved is reading this, it gives me another chance to express my humblest and deepest gratitude.

Second, I know that a good number of readers come to care about me and my problems and life despite never having met me. It's kind of a weird blog thing. To them I just want to say that even in the face of various nagging issues and problems, at this point in my life I am, in fact, very, very happy.

Guess the casino, #207

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

Answer: M Resort

Friday, July 17, 2009

Guess the casino, #206

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

Answer: Paris

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Solution to the puzzle

I assume that everybody who wanted to take a crack at the Crytoquote puzzle from a couple of days ago has done so.

For those who couldn't solve it or didn't try, here's the unencrypted Poker Gem #292:

People would be surprised to know how much I learned about prayer from playing poker. --Mary Austin

Guess the casino, #205

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

Answer: Mirage

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


There are some signs of movement in my experimental "all Harrah's all the time" program, in which I am trying to see if I can get Harrah's to notice that I give them mobneys, and they should give me generous kickbacks.

As previously mentioned, last week when I first looked into the situation and started learning about "reward points" and "tier points," I found that I had 369 of the former and 21,501 of the latter on my account. Today I am showing 1069 and 22,793. Movement! Whee! It takes 4000 tier points to earn platinum status, which seems not only feasible but easy at this rate. Diamond status for 11,000 seems likely out of my reach, unless I really play nowhere else for a long, long time, and I would hate to give up playing at the Venetian, Palms, Planet Hollywood, South Point, Mandalay Bay/Luxor/Excalibur, etc.

This is probably still not as much credit as it should be. They are allegedly giving us 28 tier points per hour of poker play, and I've put in 37.3 hours in Harrah's property chairs since then, which should translate to 1044 additional points, or a current total of 1413, plus whatever I might get for flushing $30 down a Harrah's toilet losing a total of $30 in their stupid slot machines at three different casinos. (I did the $20 at Imperial Palace as previously noted, then, at Cardgrrl's suggestion, dropped another $5 each at Flamingo and Bally's.) Perhaps the reported 28/hour isn't quite right, or maybe there is some lag in getting the hours updated.

The rewards credits aren't going up as fast because I've finally started using some of them to get free meals, which I hadn't done before. Under the old system, one had to go to the poker room management and get comps written out, which was a bother, so my credits mostly went unused. Now that I've discovered that I can just go to one of the restaurants and have the check covered by my rewards card when it comes, I'm a lot more likely to use them.

In any event, it seems that the system is responding to my inputs at least a little bit. Still nothing in my "offers" inbox yet. We'll see if that starts changing soon.

Of course, there remains the problem of what to do when Harrah's finally notices me and starts offering to let me stay in their fine Vegas hotel rooms. I don't like hotel rooms, even when they're free. I like my own bed, in my own apartment. And I don't have any travel planned to other cities with Harrah's properties. So in one sense, this whole project is kind of boneheaded and pointless. But it interests and amuses me nevertheless.

Guess the casino, #204

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

Answer: Imperial Palace

No dog in the fight

I saw something kind of unusual Sunday afternoon at Caesars. I was in seat 8. The guy in seat 10 was a real tool, always complaining about something--his cards, his bad beats, somebody else's bad play, whatever. You know the kind of person--never happy unless he's griping about something.

The player in seat 1 was the table donator. He was drunk, playing every hand, and playing them badly. In the hand in question, seat 9 was driving the action. He was a decent player and a perfectly nice guy. He had flopped top set and was betting it for good value all the way against seat 1. On the river, he bet again--$50, I think it was. Seat 1 was pondering whether to call. He pushed his cards a little bit forward, and the upper right corner of them ran under some of the cards in the muck. At least 90% of his cards (counting by surface area) were still outside the muck, so there was zero question about identifying which were his. But his action was ambiguous. I couldn't tell at first whether he had intended to fold or whether he was just clearing some space in which to count his chips. But he immediately started counting out chips in the space he had made (his chips were just a big jumble, not even in stacks, which is why he needed some space to work with them). The dealer recognized the ambiguity of the situation, and asked the guy whether he was folding. He said no, he was just making space to count his chips. (He was clearly drunk enough to have difficulty with coordination of fine motor skills, and also drunk enough not to realize what he had done with respect to the cards touching the muck.) So the dealer moved the player's cards back an inch to get the corner of them out from under the muck cards, moved the muck more towards the middle of the table to prevent a recurrence, and let him continue.

Now the tool in seat 10 starts kibbitzing, first sort of under his breath and no nobody in particular: "His hand is dead. His cards touched the muck." He repeated this ad nauseum, getting a little more forceful and agitated about it with every iteration.

While this was going on, the drunk guy finally made the call and showed something pathetic like second pair/bad kicker. Seat 9 showed his winner, and the dealer was starting to push the pot.

But no--seat 10 wouldn't let it go. It didn't matter to him that everybody else at the table--including the only two players affected--were content with things. He finally told the dealer not to push the pot and to call the floor. The dealer made a couple of attempts to get him to drop it, because it was over and he's not involved anyway, but he insisted on the floor being called.

Floor guy came over, heared the jerk's complaint, asked the dealer what happened. At this point, another thing happened that I haven't seen before: the dealer lied to the floor guy, and said the player's cards came close but didn't touch the muck. He must have just wanted to be sure that the ruling would be that the hand was still live, because I think everybody at the table knew that those cards had, in fact, been in direct contact with the muck. Seat 10 went ballistic at this. The floor guy shut him down, said that he was taking the word of his dealer, the hand was live, the bet was called, and the pot went to seat 9.

Mind you, nobody else was saying a word during this whole incident. Everybody else either didn't care, didn't want to get involved, or thought the right outcome had been achieved anyway, so let's move on with life.

Of course the dealer should not have misrepresented what happened. But more fundamentally, the guy in seat 10 should have stayed out of it.

The second story is one Cardgrrl related to me during her trip here in April. It's secondhand, and it's been a while, so some details may be garbled, but I think I can convey the essential points.

She was playing at Imperial Palace, not involved in the hand. An Asian woman for whom English was a second language was playing and involved in the hand. She was being sweated by a man presumed to be her husband. He was seeing her hole cards as she played. There was a large pot and a showdown on the river. The woman appeared to be about to muck her hand without showing it, when the man sitting with her said, "Flush." She looked again, then tabled her hand face up, and took the pot with a flush that she had apparently not realized that she had until her husband pointed it out to her.

Now, this is unquestionably a gross violation of the principle that each poker player must make all decisions in a hand without outside assistance. That includes the last decision one has to make in a hand: whether to show one's cards or muck them unseen. Her husband's violation of this rule should not only get him a warning, but should result in him being immediately expelled from the room. No more sweating for that day. Mike O'Malley wrote a Card Player magazine column about this exact problem back in February. You can (and should) read it here.

But should her hand be dead? That's one of the questions O'Malley addresses, and, as he explains it, different facilities handle the situation differently. Some poker room supervisors cited in the article would kill the hand, others would not. I get the sense that the majority view is not to kill it.

Anyway, in the hand that Cardgrrl witnessed, a player at the table who was not involved in the hand began protesting--quite loudly and insistently and obnoxiously, as I understood it--that the woman's hand should be dead, and continued pressing the point even after the floor had ruled otherwise. He was apparently livid about the situation, even though it did not affect him at all!

I find this kind of behavior most peculiar. Doesn't life present enough difficulties directly in one's path that must be dealt with head-on? Do you really need to go searching out battles other than your own?

There are times that it is both acceptable and right to speak up about a rules problem when you're not involved in the controversy. I think this is especially true when a less experienced player is getting shafted in some way because he doesn't know some fine point of rules and procedures. If you're sticking up for somebody who needs an advocate to keep his interests protected, I think that is honorable. But that was not the case in the Caesars situation, and apparently not so in the I.P. story, either. Even if it were so in the latter, he would have fully discharged any ethical duty he might have to protect a less experienced player by simply getting the floor called over to make a decision.

It's also perfectly OK, when a hand is over, to ask the dealer and/or floor about the situation in the hypothetical, if you think you should know the general rule or house rule for future reference. But if you're doing that, you can wait until the pot is awarded and the next shuffle started, so that it's clear that you're not attempting to change the outcome of what just happened.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Poker gems, #292

Today's poker gem comes with a twist: it's in the form of a puzzle.

When I was growing up, our daily newspaper had a feature called the "Cryptoquote." It's a simple substitution cypher, featuring a quip or aphorism or observation. My father solved them most days, and he gradually got me interested in doing them, too. He taught me about the basic tools for solving them: the one-letter words, looking for "THE," checking for "-ING" and "-TION" word endings, and so forth. As I got into my teenage years and got better at them, sometimes we would copy them out and make a competition out of who could get it done faster. One of my prouder moments in life came during one of my recent visits to my parents in Utah. Dad told me that he had been unable to figure out that day's Cryptoquote. It took me a while, but I cracked it. It was sort of a "when you can take the pebble from my hand" moment.

Today Dad emailed to me the Cryptoquote as published in yesterday's Salt Lake Tribune. If you're interested in trying to solve it, copy and paste it into a word processor, then print it out in a large font, with lots of spacing between lines. By this puzzle's convention, what appears after the dash is the source or author's name.

This one took me 15 minutes start to finish. Can you do better? (The very fact that it is appearing in this blog already gives you a major hint to the solution that I didn't have.)




Brags in the comments about solution times are welcome. Spoilers are not. The first two comments submitted both contained spoilers, and I took the rare step of rejecting them. (Sorry to the posters; no offense intended, but I think that the comments show up without additional clickage for some readers, and I don't want spoilers there.) I will post the solution later.

Guess the casino, #203

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

Answer: Hard Rock

More about tournament chip distributions

About three weeks ago I did a post about the distribution of chip stacks at arbitrary points in the middle of a poker tournament. I managed to confirm to my satisfaction my previously dataless hunch that the curve would be skewed--steeper on the left, shallower on the right, with the mean chip stack greater than the median.

The Main Event of the World Series of Poker gives me an opportunity to do the same exercise with an even larger field, and to track it over several days. I didn't really expect that I would derive any new conclusions, but I was just curious to see if my theory would hold up, and perhaps be even better demonstrated.

I used the end-of-day chip counts as reported on the PokerNews live blog pages (which are supplied by the WSOP tournament staff). Unfortunately, I can't use the chip counts at the end of Day 1 because two of the four first-day flights went for four two-hour levels, and the other two for five (a discrepancy which was compensated for by reversing the amounts on the two different Day 2s). As a result, the data would be, to use the technical term from the realm of statistical analysis, "really messed up."

Here's how things looked at the start of Day 3, though. (Use the link to the previous post on the subject for a full explanation of how I generated the charts and what things mean.)

The specific numbers at the beginning of Day 3:

Players left: 2028 (counting only the ones with chip counts reported; every day there are a few that don't get reported, for reasons that aren't entirely clear to me)

Total chips: 192,950,180.

Mean chip stack: 95,140

Median chip stack: 80,200

Range: 3,100-610,500

Then here's how things looked at the beginning of Day 4:

Numbers at the start of Day 4:

Players left: 785

Total chips: 192,745,800

Mean chip stack: 245,540

Median chip stack: 208,500

Range: 5,900-1,380,500

And at the beginning of Day 5 (with the numbers now dropping low enough that there's a lot more noise in the data, so the curve isn't as clean):

Numbers at the start of Day 5:

Players left: 404

Total chips: 194,341,800

Mean chip stack: 481,050

Median chip stack: 396,000

Range: 18,300-1,819,000

Finally, here's the start of Day 6 (which is still playing on as I write this):

Numbers at the start of Day 6:

Players left: 185

Total chips: 195,058,500

Mean chip stack: 1,054,400

Median chip stack: 852,000

Range: 109,000-4,872,000

Tomorrow (Tuesday) I'll pick up the chip counts for the beginning of Day 7, give them the same treatment, and add it in an edit here. However, I suspect it will get even uglier, because the numbers are getting too low to look nice (currently at 64 and falling--meaning that 99% of the field has been eliminated).

Conclusions, modest as they are, remain the same as with the last post. This just adds more evidence.

Addendum, July 14, 2009

Start of Day 7 numbers:

Players left: 64

Total chips: 195,714,000

Mean chip stack: 3,058,000

Median chip stack: 2,895,000

Range: 650,000-9,745,000

Addendum, July 15, 2009

It's really kind of ridiculous to expect anything from the data at the beginning of the day of play in which they will go from 27 down to the final nine. But for the sake of completeness of the project....

Beginning of Day 8 numbers:

Players left: 27

Total chips: 195,400,000

Mean chip stack: 7,237,000

Median chip stack: 5,610,000

Range: 1,440,000 - 20,160,000

Flopping straights: The good, the bad, and the ugly

As I have repeated many times, this blog is not and never will be principally about either my poker results or the hands that I played in a particular session. Such blogs are BORING. But once in a while, something really, really unusual happens, and especially when a couple of such somethings happen in a short time frame--like, for instance, flopping a straight with junk cards--it seems like a natural subject for a post. Besides, when I get feedback from readers about my writing, the most consistent thing I hear is that people like stories from the tables better than my editorializing about poker news, rules, personalities, TV shows, books, etc. So here ya go.

I am making some feeble efforts to get the attention of Harrah's. As part of that, I am concentrating my poker time in their facilities for a while to see what happens to my accrued points in the rewards plan, and see if any offers for freebies start coming my way. Since last Wednesday, all of my play has been at Harrah's properties: Rio, Caesars, Imperial Palace, Bill's, Bally's, and Flamingo. (The couple of hours at Bill's probably gets me nothing, since they don't use or recognize the Total Rewards card there, for reasons that completely escape me. But I was in the neighborhood, so dropped in for a visit.)

At Bally's tonight, I bought in for the table max, $300. On my third hand I was in the big blind with 5-7 offsuit. Nobody raised, so I got the flop for free: 4-6-8 rainbow. Oh my. That looks pretty good. Kinda nutty, if you ask me.

There were maybe six people in the pot, and I wanted to starting getting more money in, so I bet $7. An early-position player two seats to my left raised to $15. My preliminary assessment of him is that he's completely solid. He's a middle-aged guy, and has one of the two biggest stacks at the table, so he has obviously been winning a lot.

Everybody else folds around back to me. My only concern is how to get the most possible money into the pot. I don't want to blast him out of the hand, when I don't have any feel for how much he likes his hand. Lots of $1-2 NLHE players will make a raise like this with just top pair, especially if he has an ace kicker, and a big reraise will, I fear, make him go away. So I decide to just call.

The turn is the deuce of diamonds--a second diamond. I don't really worry much about him having two diamonds, but it's a consideration. I actually hated the card, because I was sort of hoping he'd put me on just a straight draw, and if he did, he would now fear that I got there and shut down. Whether to bet here is a tough decision without, I think, a clearly correct answer. I decide to check and gauge his response.

He bets another $25, and my read is that he is still very confident in his hand, still liking it a lot. OK, dude, let's see if I'm right about that. I check-raise to $75. He pretty clearly was not expecting this, but he takes only about 15 seconds to decide to call. My best guess at this point is that he flopped a set and is worried about me having a straight, but he's willing to call in the hope that the board pairs, making him a full house.

Up until this point, I was a little concerned that he also had a 5-7 and we'd end up chopping it. However, that seems an unlikely hand for him to have played from bad position, and I'm fairly sure that he'd shove at this point if he had it. After all, if he thought I had 3-5 and had made my straght with the deuce on the turn, he would be convinced that I would now be willing to play for stacks, and would be glad to get it in with the nuts. On that basis, I'm now pretty confident that one or the other of us is going to take it, not chop it up.

River is the jack of diamonds. Unless he has two diamonds, which seems unlikely, I still have the better hand. Now the question that I consistently find to be the most difficult one I routinely face: How much can I extract from him? If he really believes that I have a straight to his set, he won't pay much, so maybe I should put in a irresistibly low value bet, like $40, to guarantee getting something more out of him. On the other hand, perhaps he has 8-8 for the top set, and is torn between me having a straight and having a lower set, so he will make a crying call for more. This is a tough, tough decision.

I finally settle on $125, into a pot of about $185, leaving myself only $83 behind. It's risky going that high, because I might get nothing, but a voice in my head is saying, "Value-bet the SNOT out of it!" I even considered a shove, but I couldn't bear the image of him snap-folding if I did. Even if I can't get paid off decently, I should at least get rewarded with a good, hard sweat from the guy!

He thought for a LONG time. It must have been close to five minutes. At first he looked like he would fold. Then he checked his hole cards a few more times. He asked the dealer how much was in the pot, but was told he had to count or estimate it himself. He asked how much I had behind, and I told him. He cut out the amount of the call and looked at what stack he would have left. He looked at me a lot.

Finally he slid the chips across the line. I showed. He winced, nodded, and mucked without showing.

I think he must have had 8-8. I think that with a lower set he would have folded more easily, because that would add more significant hands to the list of hands to which he was losing. I don't think he raised me on the flop with the lower straight draw.

Anyway, the point is, I made over $200 in one hand, about five minutes after sitting down. Some days, poker is EASY!*

On the other hand....

A couple of weeks ago I was playing at the Rio. I had the 3h-4h on the button, and joined several other limpers. A woman in the big blind raised to $10. I had been at the table for a couple of hours, so I knew her to have a completely predictable, straightforward, A-B-C style. Her range for raising out of a blind was limited to pairs and Broadway cards, especially A-K or A-Q. A couple of others called, so a pot was building. Given my knowledge of her limited range and my position, I thought it was a worthwhile spot in which to speculate with a call, even though I usually don't put much stock in the small suited connectors.

The flop was really quite lovely: 5c-6h-7h. I flopped a straight with a gutshot straight flush draw. It is extremely unlikely that anybody has a better hand at this point. The woman bets out--I think it was $20. Everybody folds to me. This fact basically eliminates any possibility that I am behind, because there is no way this woman raised from the big blind with either 8-9 or 4-8, even suited.

I raise to $60. She appears uncomfortable--nervous, even. But after thinking for not too long, she calls. I suspect she has an overpair; I think if she flopped a set, she would move all-in after my raise. Still, I hope she has a set and will therefore be willing to get it all in on the turn.

Turn is the 4d. This doesn't help my hand any, but I think doesn't help hers, either. Within the range of hands with which she might raise from a blind pre-flop, the only one that I am now behind is 8-8. But I can't let that possibility stop me. That would be "monsters under the bed syndrome." She checks to me. I shove for my last $75 or so. She calls immediately.

Yep. She has the 8-8. The flop gave her an overpair plus an open-ended straight draw, which is why she was willing to call my raise. (With just an overpair, she might have gotten away from it, and she certainly would have folded any two big unpaired cards to the raise.) She got there on the turn.

I don't think I did anything wrong here. Given that a relatively weak player might easily call off all her chips with A-A or K-K in such a situation (which, indeed, I would want her to do), and even a good player could easily double me up after flopping a set there, I think it would be ridiculous to fear the one hand in her range that had me beat on the turn and slow down the action. Besides, even if she had 8-8, I knew I had flush outs to come on the river. But it didn't happen. I lost all my chips to her and left for the day. It was a pure "S.I.G.H." ("so it goes" hand).

Some days, poker is HARD!

*I think it must be noted that this was another powerful piece of persuasion that buying in bigger may be better, contrary to my longstanding practice. Had I bought in for my usual $100, I would have made $100 (plus a bit from the limpers). As it was, I think I squeezed every last dollar out of the situation that I could.

Punctuation FAIL

Sign seen in the Flamingo poker room tonight.

Nice proofreading there, Flamingo!

Monday, July 13, 2009

A word of warning about sleazoids

Last night during a break in the tournament at Caesars Palace, somebody not in the tournament came over to chat with a dealer that he obviously knew personally.

The guy had been in a large-field tournament at Venetian the previous day, and made it into the money. He was tracking carefully the bustouts, hoping to stretch his short stack into the next level of payout. But he didn't make it; he was the last one in whatever the current tier was.

Eliminations were happening quickly enough, though, that he thought he might actually be able to get the higher payout simply by loitering a bit. In other words, if somebody else busted out right after he did, said person might head straight to the podium (or wherever they were coordinating certification of payments) and take the lower-tier amount, following which our storyteller could claim the next spot up in the money.

I couldn't tell from the pieces of the story that I heard whether his plan succeeded. Doesn't much matter to the moral: the guy is a cheating scumbag that should be banned from poker in every casino for even making the attempt.

In small fields, this won't work. But in large fields, with many table in operation at once, it's easy to see that there could be enough slop or lag in the system to get away with this. There is always some delay in dealers alerting the floor about an elimination, getting the seat card collected, having somebody recount how many seats are now open, etc. It would not be too difficult for the order of two eliminations to get reversed--especially if the earlier one were deliberately stalling, trying to make it happen.

I wondered about this starting from when I was present for Cardgrrl's cash in the WSOP this year. She was eliminated on the first hand played at her table after the money bubble, but was officially recorded as the 9th one up in the money. She didn't stall in getting to the payout line, but the hand did take an unusually long time to play out. Still, I was surprised that that many got there before her. It appeared to me that there was no mechanism to prevent somebody from holding off for a while in the hopes of wrongfully sneaking up into the next jump in the payout structure. Maybe the tournament staff are more careful to get the order right when they know there is a jump about to occur, but maybe they don't. I have no experience in or direct knowledge of such operations.

Anyway, last month was the first time I became aware that it could be a problem, and last night was the first time I became explicitly aware that there are scummy poker players who will try to exploit any such defect in the system to their advantage. (Seriously, the guy had NO shame. He was bragging to his dealer friend about how clever he was to be doing this, and what a sucker the other guy would be if he wasn't paying enough attention to get the higher payout he had earned. These people make me sick.)

So this is just a word to the wise, in case you're playing in a tournament large enough that this could become an issue: Pay attention to the order of eliminations (even though you have about a hundred other mental priorities right at that time), and try to make sure that the tournament staff are doing the same.

Small cash

Just got home from Caesars Palace, where I made a tiny bit of money in a tournament.

Hey, you're thinking--wasn't Caesars the place that you crucified just a few days ago for giving out bogus tournament information, with the implied threat that you wouldn't darken their door again? Um, well, yeah. But I forgive so easily!

Actually, it was mostly unintentional. That is, I didn't really set out with the intention of playing a tournament today, and I had no thought of taking Caesars of my list of cash-game venues. Several mostly arbitrary factors had made me settle on Caesars for my cash game today. As it got close to 10 p.m., I was waning, but didn't really feel like quitting playing for the day. On the other hand, I didn't want several hundred dollars at risk without being fully sharp. So it dawned on me that a tournament might be the thing to do. And, by happy coincidence, Caesars has a nightly 10:00 p.m. tournament for $70. The structure isn't great (3000 chips, first blinds 25/50, so start wth 60 BB; 20 minute levels), but it's something.

There were 65 people in it. I played about as well as I expect of myself. I wasn't trying to be ultra-aggressive and build a huge stack--just steal here and there, be willing to get it all in with a much lower threshold than I would for a cash game, etc. It worked well enough, I suppose.

I ended up in 8th place, with 9 paying. The payout structure needs serious work, though. I collected only $130, not even double my buy-in, and the 9th-place finisher got only $95 or so. That's just wrong.

I was all-in with the worst of it only once. When we were near the bubble, I had one of the larger stacks and pushed from the cutoff with Q-10. Woman in the big blind called with Q-J. I bounced her out when a 10 came on the turn. In return, at the final table, after we had lost the 9th-place guy, I called a shove from a smaller stack with suited A-5 to his K-J and lost half my stack when a jack hit the turn.

That reduced me to about 10 big blinds, so I became a fairly frequent pusher, to keep myself afloat while I still had some fold equity. Finally I did it from the button with 7-7 after it had been folded around to me, and the small blind called with A-Q. Ace on the flop, and I was out.

It took 3 3/4 hours to get that far, and probably less than another hour for them to play it out, because it was already shove-or-fold for several of the remaining players. The average stack was only about 20 BB when I left, so not a lot of room for play.

It was modestly fun. And it broke an ugly trend: I have not cashed in a live tournament since October, 2007. To be fair, this is only the 11th one that I've played in that time, and going ten tournaments without a cash is hardly alarming, when only 9-10% get paid every time. Actually, that's one of the main reasons I do so few tournaments--I just intensely dislike the fact that you will be walking away with nothing most of the time.

It was nice to chalk up a tournament W for the books, even an itty bitty one. Maybe, just maybe, I'll start doing a few more of them.

Guess the casino, #202

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

Answer: Caesars Palace (OK, technically this is FAO Schwartz in the adjacent Forum Shops, but close enough; it's too cool not to use.)

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Guess the casino, #201

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

Answer: South Point