Saturday, August 01, 2009


I joined Twitter three months ago now, as I noted in a blog post about it at the time. Predictably, my thoughts and feelings about the service have evolved rather rapidly.

I am currently following 17 people (though that's in flux every day as I work out who I think really adds value to my reading time), and I am followed by 174. I have done 362 tweets so far.

Many of them are pretty bland, e.g., tournament status updates when I'm playing online. (These, I'm afraid, sometimes take on a tone of whining that I try to avoid in blog posts. The immediacy comes through before I censor myself. For example, this recent one: "I now officially suck at every variant of poker, live and online, cash and tournament. I probably even suck at some forms not yet invented.") Many of them are kind of pointless but entertaining (well, to me, anyway), often snarky, conversations among a small circle of my friends. Some are just statements about where I'm playing on a given day, or a quick note about a big hand I just played. (I don't always post those. Some days I feel like just being quiet and/or left alone.)

But I have found that emerging from the primordial ooze are two favorites types of messages. (Dare I be so grand as to call them genres?)

The first is the pokery observation that occurs to me, usually while playing, that probably wouldn't befit a full blog post, even if it happened to still be on my mind by the time I got home. For example:

There should be a gaming regulation about poker dealers keeping their ear
hair from getting unruly.

I'm reminded of the gambler's prayer: Lord help me break even--I need the
money. Now only $11 from that goal.

Astute observation of the day: Climbing-out-of-the-hole poker is never fun

Maybe it's just me, but every time somebody bets "eleven," I hear it in a
fake British accent and think of amplifier volume knobs.

The other type that especially pleases me is the story. Compressing an entire story--with a beginning, middle, and ending--into 140 characters is not easy. It's like a whole new art form (using the word "art" loosely there). But I am enjoying the challenge. I don't claim that these are pearls to be preserved for the ages, but I find it strangely satisfying to come up with such a composition that can stand all by itself. (Once in a while, it seems impossible to squeeze the tale into 140 characters, and I have to make it a two-parter, as indicated by the ellipses in the following.) For example:
Difficult snack choice at deli: fruit salad or giant cookie? I finally
decide on a compromise: I get both.

People get confused by rake in half-dollar increments. Guy got a Kennedy
half dollar as part of a pot and asked dealer.... "Where's this from?" Smart-ass
dealer said, "Probably Denver."

Chips jammed in table drop. I pull out of infamous fanny pack slender
aluminum rod perfect for job. (Dont ask, long story.)... Woman next to me looks askance and asks, "Who are you--MacGyver?"

At IP. 2 players just prop bet $5 on genre of music I'm playing on MP3. One
said jazz, 1 classical.... Actual answer: Jimmy Buffet. Push.

Maybe I'm taking too much attention away from the game when I notice one of these potential observations or stories and then set about to make the composition of it as good as I can, under the circumstances. On the other hand, one simply can't concentrate fully on the game all the time anyway, so if one is going to be diverting one's attention for a while, it might as well be on something at least marginally fun and constructive.

So far, I find Twitter more enjoyable than I had envisioned at first. Whether it will continue to be, or whether my interest in it will wane over time, remains to be seen. For now, though, if you haven't signed up to follow my small contributions, you might be missing some tiny versions of the sort of content that you presumably like reading here. I don't make any money from the efforts, but it's nice thinking that a bunch of people get a smile from my blog-in-miniature.

New TDA rules

The 2009 version of the Tournament Directors Association rules has been released. Well, sort of released. For reasons that I can't figure out, it seems that one must be a member of the club to download the latest version, whereas previous versions were freely provided. Nevertheless, Dan at Pokerati broke the embargo (such as it is) and published them anyway; you can view the full set of rules here.

Back in June I did a post about a rules question that arose during a World Series of Poker event. Specifically, is a player entitled to get a count of an opponent's chips (from either the player, or from the dealer if the player is not cooperative) if those chips have not been made part of a wager? The two rule books I have both say emphatically yes. But readers spoke up in the comments section about casinos that seem to employ the contrary rule.

I was most intrigued by a commenter who wrote, "We discussed this rule at great length at the TDA Summit this past Tuesday. You will see this spelled out in future TDA rules." So I looked through the new set of rules eagerly, hoping to see this addressed. I have to guess that they were unable to achieve unanimity on the matter, because it doesn't seem to have been put into a rule one way or the other.

Poker gems, #303

John Vorhaus, in Card Player magazine column, July 29, 2009 (vol. 22, #15), pp. 87-88.

Your Problems + Denial = Tilt.


[Y]ou can't master poker if you can't master yourself.


It's not arrogance that causes me to think that I'm usually the best player at the table; it's just that it really doesn't take much to be the best at a typical Vegas casino $1-2 NLHE game. Commonly I find that there is one other player that is of comparable skill level. I spend very little time and mental energy trying to make the fine distinction as to whether it is he (or she) who is slightly the better player, or I. It simply doesn't matter much. If somebody is in my general range of experience, I pretty much know what to expect, and that's all that matters.

Maybe once every couple of weeks I run into somebody that is good enough that it makes me feel pretty sure that I'm outgunned. These are the players that have moves that are not in my repertoire. These are the ones that have an uncanny sense of timing, of where they are in every hand, and a degree of cagey fearlessness that I can envy but not yet emulate. Frankly, there aren't too many of them, because most that are substantially beyond my ability will have moved up to bigger games than $1-2.

Last night at the MGM Grand I had one of this class at my table, two seats to my left (I was in 1, he was in 3). I had him spotted within the first two hands. He was always deliberate, taking an almost unnerving amount of time to make the big decisions. He was contemplative. He was the very model of selective aggression, a nearly perfect raise-or-fold player except when he was deliberately trapping. He responded to feeble attempts to play back at him with crushing return pressure that nearly always caused the opponent to cower off. He gave off no tells. He never spoke during a hand, letting his chips do the talking instead. He never showed his cards unless required. I never once saw him get his money in with the worst of it. He was seriously good in every way.

Except one.

After every hand in which he was a participant, he would launch into a verbal post-mortem with the few players near him. This was quiet enough that those at the far end probably couldn't hear, but clear enough that it couldn't be missed by anybody within a couple of seats of him. He would explain in detail what he thought the opponent(s) had and why, how his assessment of their possible range started and how it changed with the additional information each new board card and betting round provided, etc. It was, every time, a sharp, canny, accurate, insightful analysis.

It was also incredibly moronic.

Except for the two of us, the skill level at this table was quite low. It was, I think, overall the weakest table I've played in at the MGM, and it was, frankly, quite easy pickings. So what possible effects could the Professor's lessons have?

-- Alert the brain-dead players that there are whole levels of analytic skill to which they have not had their eyes opened before.

-- Signal these same players that Seat 3 is occupied by a person who has access to some of these higher levels of thinking.

-- Make these players conclude, "Gee, I'd better be more careful and try not to make any stupid mistakes, or I'll get eaten alive at this table."

-- Clue these players in to things like what bet sizes suggested about opponents' holdings, or what factors to consider when deciding whether to value-bet versus check behind on the river--things that they may not have considered before.

Possibly the worst possible outcome is one that I think actually occurred: chasing away a bad player. After I had been there not very long, the fishiest of fish sat down in Seat 2. He was terribad, stupibad. He barely knew how to tell when it was his turn. He was completely transparent when he was not being indecipherably stupid. He burned through his first buy-in within just a few hands, and rebought, to my great delight.

On the hand that I think was the last straw for him, the fish bet weakly the whole way. Smart player called him down, making the nut flush on the river. However, that card also paired the trey from the flop. Professor then delved into the lecture, explaining to the guy on his left (but perfectly audible to the idiot in 2) why he couldn't raise there, because he didn't think Seat 2 would have been betting a lower flush draw that way, so the only hand that would call a raise would be a set that had filled up on the river. In fact, Seat 2 had shown just two pair--pocket 9s plus the paired treys on the board--and there had been an ace and a king on the flop. His plan had apparently been to just hope that a series of small bets would win it for him, with likely no thought about what his opponent might have.

Anyway, the post-hoc analysis implied pretty clearly (without being overtly insulting or name-calling) that Seat 2 had badly misplayed the hand. This was true enough, but what on God's green earth is accomplished by making this even more obvious than it already was? I tried not to look to my left to add to the guy's social discomfort, but in my peripheral vision I got the sense that he was squirming from deep embarrassment, probably induced by a combination of knowing that he was in a game that was over his head and having that fact pointed out to everybody within easy earshot.

I got up for a restroom break, and when I returned, the fish was gone. I have no idea what, if anything, he said when he left, whether he lost the rest of his chips on a hand that I missed or just cashed out what he had remaining. Either way, it was a serious blow to the profitability of the table. The most likely conclusion, it seems to me, is that his desire to play had been completely crushed by his mortification at being tagged as a bad player and an unworthy opponent.

Maybe he went to play limit instead of no-limit. Maybe he went to the craps tables instead. Maybe he went back to his hotel room, and will now spend the rest of his long-planned weekend in Vegas, and the rest of his bankroll, on strip clubs and hookers instead of on the poker that he had been looking forward to. If so, it is a loss to the poker economy.

So now it's 18 hours later, and I'm left still utterly baffled by the seat 3 Professor. How is it possible simultaneously to be so damn smart at the game, and so damn dumb at the metagame?


In my recent post on the proper method of stacking chips, I mentioned the Three-Deep Chip Stack Rearrangement--that lovely point in good sessions at which one has accumulated enough chips that there is no longer sufficient room to keep them in the standard double rows, and they must be adjusted to triple rows.

Well, it was a good night for poker last night at the MGM Grand, and I reached that magic moment for the first time since composing the previous post. So this is just an addendum to document what it looks like when it happens.

Recent mentions

It has been about three months since I last did a Google search of other blogs to see what people have been saying about me (see here for previous roundup).

Here's the recent list, some mentions just passing, others fairly extensive. Again, I'm omitting my pals Cardgrrl and Shamus for the same reasons as mentioned the last time around (i.e., most readers, I think, already know of and follow them, and since we hang out in person when possible, it's not too surprising that we show up in each other's posts with some regularity).


Guess the casino, #221

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

Answer: Suncoast

Friday, July 31, 2009

Poker gems, #302

Bob Ciaffone, in Card Player magazine column, July 29, 2009 (vol. 22, #15), p. 78.

I believe that going all in on the flop in no-limit betting when the pot is a quarter of your stack size or larger is an important tool of the trade. Most players consider using this tool when on a draw, but a surprisingly large number rarely or never use it when they have a good made hand, especially when they have more than one pair. They are afraid that their opponent will fold, whereas a smaller bet will have a better chance of being called. However, these same players regularly call an all-in overbet with top pair and a weak kicker (or worse), because they put the opponent on a draw. You would think they would realize that you cannot have it both ways. By this I mean that if an all-in overbet both looks like a draw and is a draw most of the time, why not use it with a good made hand? Do you think your opponent is psychic, calling with light hands when you have a draw and folding when you actually have a big hand? (I assume that you can keep a poker face and a shut mouth.) Furthermore, using this tool of an all-in overbet when holding two pair or a set will make your opponents think twice about making a light call with hands like top pair/no kicker, second pair, or middle pair. The bottom line is, the all-in overbet is a difficult weapon for an opponent to cope with, especially when he knows that you may have a biggie instead of a draw.

Guess the casino, #220

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

Answer: Mandalay Bay

The theory of poker relativity

If you start off a poker session digging yourself a deep, ugly hole (as I did today), but manage to claw your way back first to even then to being up (as I also did today), walking away with what is objectively a pretty mediocre and pathetic $103 (which, yes, I also did today) feels like an absolute fortune in one's pocket.

If, conversely, one starts off like gangbusters, raking it in hand over fist, enjoys the pleasures of "stacks and towers of checks I can't even see over" (see here), then gives back nearly all of the gains, and one walks away with the same $103 net profit on the day, for the same number of hours of play, it feels like you've lost a fortune.

It's all relative. And, of course, it's all completely irrational. But like most of us, I have to confess to retaining pockets of irrationality in my brain.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Tableside food

When playing at the Venetian on Monday, I noticed a young woman strolling around the tables inviting players to order food. Her shirt indicated that she worked for a place called "Pizzeria da Enzo."

It appears that the Venetian poker room now has a little competition in the tableside food service. Maybe it has been going on for a long time, but I never noticed it before. You can still order things from the "in-suite dining" menu, but now there's this other completely independent outfit.

So I checked their menu, and I was impressed:

Just $10 for a chicken parmigiana meal? Sounded like a pretty good deal. I had been planning on taking a break and having lunch at the Grand Lux, but decided to try this new option. I ordered, it came quickly, and the young woman took my player's club card and did all the processing to get it comped for me. The food was actually really good.

In fact, it was so good that I went back today, intending on getting the exact same thing again. And I did. This time I even took a picture for you. (If you think it feels strange taking cell phone pictures of one's chip stacks at the poker table, it's even weirder taking pictures of food there.)

My experience with tableside food is extremely limited. For the most part, I think it's much better to take a break from the game and go eat somewhere else than to try to do two nearly incompatible things at once. But I guess I don't mind making an occasional exception. I think my only previous experiences eating at the table were at the Hilton, where I would sometimes get a personal pan pizza from the Pizza Hut there, or buy a couple of $1 hot dogs on football Sundays.

So you've got a decent portion of chicken parm, pasta, good bread and butter, and a generous helping of fresh fruit (strawberries, grapes, melons). Makes for an excellent repast--especially when it's completely covered by one's ridiculous stock of accumulated-but-rarely-used food comps (except for the tip, of course). I recommend it.

New stuff at the Venetian

As I was leaving the Venetian this evening, I noticed a couple of new things.

First was this big announcement of a new place to buy beer--because, really, there just aren't enough places to buy beer in Las Vegas.

Second was a new bank of slot machines:

And, yes, you hear the distinctive, forboding theme music as you walk by.

I'm still hoping some day to be able to use the famous line from that movie at the poker table. My opponent shows a full house, which I can beat with a higher one, and I get to say, "You're gonna need a bigger boat."

Of course, I could never do that to a stranger, so it will have to wait for the perfect moment when it happens against somebody I know personally, and in a situation where I'm sure that other person will be able to find it humorous, and not as adding insult to injury.

(You'd think that with a moniker like "Poker Grump," it would be second nature for me to needle, harass, and annoy my opponents--and enjoy doing so. But, *sigh*, I just can't bring myself to do it. Cardgrrl says that I'm not really grumpy, but actually a "big 'ol marshmallow softie." I believe that this is an exact or nearly exact quotation from her after the first couple of days we spent at the tables together: "Who would have guessed you'd be so nice?" But let's keep that little secret to ourselves, OK? A man's got to keep up his image.)

Guess the casino, #219

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

Answer: Mirage

Was I a dirtbag?

At Planet Hollywood tonight I took advantage of another player's mistake, to my profit. Of course, most of the money one makes at poker can be classified that way, but this was different enough that I'm feeling a bit squeamish about it in retrospect, and not sure whether I should be ashamed of myself.

Situation in brief: Heads-up in a small pot. Because my opponent bets small, I check-call both the flop and turn, hoping to make my straight. Sure enough, the river brings me the stone-cold nuts. I'm out of position. Do I bet or try for a check-raise? The question just boils down to whether I think he will fire again if I check to him.

I'm thinking about this, and have just decided that he's most likely to check behind, so I need to value bet. But just as I'm about to reach for some chips, he tosses $10 forward, out of turn. I had not checked, had not made any movement that was either calculated to look like a check or might reasonably be interpreted as such. It's just that I took a lot longer than he had gotten used to from my checks on the flop and turn (or at least that's my best guess as to what caused his misfire).

I said, "I haven't acted yet." He apologizes and pulls back the $10.

Well, I know that action out of turn will be binding if when it is his turn the action has not changed. That is, if I check, he is now committed to betting the $10. So I said, "OK, I check."

He then checked, too. The dealer alertly and correctly told him that he could not check, that he had to put out his $10 bet again. He did so. I then check-raised to $25. He called, saw my hand, mucked, and looked seriously disgusted.

What's perfectly clear is that I did nothing against the rules. Furthermore, I did nothing to encourage or entice his error. I wasn't even taking more time than I needed hoping that he would act prematurely. (It was maybe 10 seconds.) It hadn't even occurred to me that this might happen. But I did unequivocally and deliberately take advantage of the situation once he had made his mistake. It was a snap decision, made without time to reflect. If I had wanted to be nice to him, I could have bet the $10 for him. He might have folded, might have called. Heck, he might have even raised, though that seems unlikely. Alternatively, I could have checked then just called the $10 he had to bet.

So, dear readers, what say you? Did I pull a sleazy, slimy move? Was it unethical? Would you have done the same thing?

I can tell you that although I likely gained an extra $15 profit from the hand as a result, I'm not sure that it was smart strategically. He was two seats to my left, and we had had a decent rapport before this happened, and it completely soured the mood. Mike Caro repeats endlessly that you have to keep the atmosphere at the table light and sociable, avoid letting people see that you're serious about taking their money, be the person that is the most fun to lose to. I'm sure he would disapprove of what I did--and it's certainly possible that it cost me more money over the next couple of hours than it made me, if it alerted both my opponent and other players that they needed to be more wary of me than they had been. There's just no way to know that. But it's a legitimate consideration, independent of the ethics of what happened.

This is different

I noticed this poster outside of Planet Hollywood tonight. It was kind of hard not to notice it.

Strip karaoke. What a concept.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din

A few months ago I wrote a self-congratulatory post about having beaten Cardgrrl in a best-of-five series of online HORSE heads-up sit-and-go tournaments. Shortly thereafter, she won the next match and posted about it here.

There were some others that ensued, then we had a months-long hiatus, mostly because of scheduling conflicts and doing more single-table HORSE SNGs instead of heads-up.

Today we finally got back to the heads-up format, and she reminded me (1) of the first post, and (2) that I had not posted about subsequent results. (I had actually forgotten about the post--in fact, it had been so long that I was even confused whether we had played HORSE or NLHE. I may have early Alzheimer's.)

She suggested that my subsequent silence was because I had lost. I'm not sure that's entirely true. I think that I would have stopped blogging about the results even if I had won, for reasons that I won't detail--but primarily, if I'm being honest, it was because I didn't feel especially proud of myself for having gloated at her expense the first time. I don't allow myself the luxury of going back and rewriting posts with the advantage of later perspective (I'll fix a typo if I catch one on a later rereading, but that's it). But if I did, that's one I would either delete or revise in tone.

But that said, it's time I make it known publicly that every time after the first that we have done series of either three or five games, Cardgrrl has won. Today it was two for two. I'm not sure what the total number of matches has been--five, maybe six? So this is my public acknowledgement that she has consistently gotten the better of me in these things, and must be recognized as the better player--a recognition I make freely, humbly, and fondly, without grudge or resentment.

I bow to my superior friend, while still hoping to make a long-term comeback in the series.

Chip stacking the Grump way

I have been realizing lately that one of the most characteristic, identifiable features of The Grump Way of Poker is how one stacks one's chips, and that I have never described it for my readers. (For a story of how somebody once recognized me, having never seen a photograph of me, at least partly by how I stacked my chips, see here.)

So yesterday as I commenced a session at the Venetian, I resolved to take occasional photographs of how the chip stacks shift over time, thus illustrating the rules for how they are to be kept.

I had hoped that the session would be one in which the stacks kept growing and multiplying. Alas, it was not to be. Turned out to be one of those uber-annoying sessions in which one gets an endless string of second-best hands: queen-high flush losing to king-high flush, second nut straight to nut straight, overpair to flopped set, etc. I was wary enough that I didn't lose a ton of money on any of them, but it was just a slow, depressing, step-wise death spiral downward.

Still, the basics of proper aesthetic chip stacking can be learned just as well from a shrinking stack as a growing one, so I'm going to run with it.

OK, in the above shot we have been brought our chips by the runner: $300 worth, consisting of 58 reds and 10 whites.

The first thing to note is that the chips cannot be kept in stacks of 20. Oh yes, I know that this is very popular, but it is wrong. It's just too easy to knock them over, and too hard to keep them really neat and straight and precise. No, no. Chips must never be in stacks of more than 10. Were my name Sklansky, I might call that the Fundamental Theorem of Poker Chips.

So we're going to break these big stacks down. But there's another complication here. See that Palazzo chip on top of the third stack? Well, the Venetian has scads of those things, plus a smattering of other commemoratives--Wayne Brady, Jersey Boys, and the occasional leftover Gordie Brown. Obviously--well, at least I hope it's obvious to everybody--those can't just be mixed in with the regular chips willy-nilly. [shudder] They must be segregated.

(Someday I will have to do a full rant on the proper ratio of standard-issue chips to commemorative chips. Lots of places get it completely wrong, including the Venetian.)

OK, in the above shot you can see that I have divided the red chips into the special ones on the left and the regular ones on the right. That's a pretty typical ratio for the Venetian, just under 1:1.

Here we go. You can now see that the chips have been broken down into stacks of no more than 10 chips each. There are several things to notice here.

First, it may catch your attention that there are suddenly some chips missing. Yep. See those cards in the preceding shot? Those were two queens, and I lost about $50 when I ran them into somebody else's A-Q, and two more aces came on the board. That was about my fifth hand at the table, and it was a foreshadowing of how the whole session would go.

Second, you can see that the stacks of ten are two deep. This is the usual correct number. If you keep accumulating more, you might eventually have to go to three deep, when you run out of comfortable room along the rail. This is usually the high point of a session for me: the Three-Deep Chip Stack Rearrangement. It is a cause for happy dancing inside the head. There is no universally prescribed number of stacks before getting to the three-deep threshold; it all depends on how close together the seats are (don't want to encroach onto your neighbor's space, you know), what seat you're in (and hence the degree of curvature of the rail), and other factors. This is an advanced technique that I think I'd have to give individual lessons on, when students are ready.

The next thing to notice is key: the development of some stacks of less than ten chips. At all times, there must be at least two, but no more than three, stacks of exactly five chips each, plus one smaller stack of one to four chips if there are any left over after making the correct number of five-stacks. There actually is a pragmatic, poker-related reason for this. When I'm in the middle of a hand, I want to minimize the time and mental energy it takes to make a bet or raise or call of a particular size. Having a couple of stacks of five chips each, plus the stacks of ten, makes it trivially easy to pick up a combination of the desired amount without having to stop to count. $80? A ten-stack, a five-stack, plus one loose redbird. No counting required. Counting not only distracts you from the other stuff going on (like what opponents are doing), but slows down the game, and potentially causes you to give off tells, such as hands shaking, making counting errors, and so forth.

In limit games, by the way, all of the above goes out the window, and it's really best to keep at least a good number of chips in stacks of the two betting amounts, for exactly this reason: you just grab them and put them out, no counting required, no delays, no distractions.

Finally, you should notice that the commemorative chips have disappeared. Where did they go?

Oh, there they are! Yes, they are hiding. The way to dispose of them is to put them in stacks of nine, each capped by one regular chip as a disguise. The first of these stacks is always to be the inner-left one, followed by the outer left, just above it. (I should have pushed a few chips from that stack aside, too, so you could see that the boundary between special and regular chips is about a third of the way down that second stack.) Repeat this pattern as needed.

Now for the final step: Making everything neat and tidy. Of course you need to make sure that the chips are as close to perfectly on top of each other as possible. It's best when they have just come out of a rack, but one doesn't get that luxury too often. Just do the best you can. Then you want the stacks a uniform distance from the rail. The proper spacing is the width of a silver dollar. You do keep a silver dollar on you to use as a card cap, right? Well there ya go. You use it as shown in the photo above. And now you've got stacks that anybody can be proud of!

Ideally, you're sitting in the 1 seat or 10 seat (see here for an explanation of why I prefer those; I forgot to include this point in that list). There, the rail is straight, so you can make two-deep rows of ten-stacks pretty much as far as you want, and everything will be neat and square. But you can't always get that. Yesterday, for example, I was stuck in the 3 seat, where table curvature is about maximal. That produces a problem, because the top and bottow rows will get out of alignment. You just have to do the best you can. Sometimes you can cheat a bit on the spacing between the stacks and the rail (i.e., a bigger gap in the middle, less toward the ends), so that you trade uniformity of spacing for neatness of the rows. It's not always an easy call.

Oops--I took yet another hit (don't remember which one it was), and suffered further stack shrinkage. But we adjust and move on. Just to reinforce the importance of the balance between five-stacks and ten-stacks, notice here that the mandatory number of five-stacks is, as shown, three. If I combined two of them into one ten-stack, that would leave me with just one five-stack plus the "leftovers" stack of two, which is simply unacceptable.

Ah, I did win one pot, and had a momentary reversal of fortune. Of course, not everybody is scrupulous about keeping the visually disruptive special chips out of play as much as possible, so every time you win a pot, you pick up some and have to stash them away out of sight, in accordance with the policy prescribed previously.

See? My ratio of special to regular chips has gotten worse, because my losses were all regular ones, but the pot I won had a mix. So now the commemorative chips are occupying a greater fraction of the stacks--but we just have to deal with that. One trick I use to combat this problem is to use the mostly-commemorative stacks when making larger bets or calls in which I'm not confident of where I stand. If I'm going to lose some chips, might as well fob off the icky, irregular ones instead of the nice regular ones.

Uh-oh, another big loss. Now I have a problem. By the standard five-stack rules, the above is the correct arrangement: One ten-stack, three five-stacks, plus one (or is it two? can't tell for sure) singles. But this is admittedly a not very pretty arrangement. So for this special case, one is allowed an exception, as follows:

This rearrangement produces five five-stacks, which is suboptimal, but has the aesthetic advantage of not having a single ten-stack standing there all by itself, looking awkward.

OK, that's it for the photographs. Two more hits, and I was broke and went home. Not my day. Hey, it happens.

I think I can anticipate some questions.

Q: Wouldn't you be better off paying more attention to the poker game and less attention to which chips go where?

A: No. What a stupid question! Next?

Q: What about the $1 chips?

A: Ah, excellent point. Two years ago (two years ago yesterday, in fact, I now notice) I put up a post about my preference for keeping somewhere between 5 and 15 $1 chips. Like with the stacks of five and ten red chips, this is primarily so that I can easily make any bet size I want or need to with minimal time counting, no need for change being made, etc. The same rules apply for stacking them, i.e., they are kept in stacks of five (plus whatever extras make a stack less than five), except for the rare occasion that I have so many that I can make a couple of ten-stacks plus the five-stacks. Very few casinos have commemorative $1 chips--the Venetian is a rare exception. For that reason, I have never felt the need to treat "special" and "regular" $1 chips differently, which is why in the above photos you see the two species (or are they races? I'm not sure) freely intermixed. It's probably a shocking sign of horrible laxness on my part, but that's how I feel about it.

Q: Doesn't it bother you that the pictures on the chips are oriented in random directions?

A: No, and it shouldn't bother you, either. People who insist on aligning the chips (or at least the top ones on the stacks) so that they are all facing the same way, or who line up the marks on the edges of the chips into perfectly straight lines or fancy curves or spirals, well, they're just pathetic, sicko, obsessive-compulsives who ought to get themselves on some powerful psychotropic medications. That is just plain weird and unhealthy. Conversely, the chip-stacking rules I'm talking about here are perfectly rational, healthy, normal, and are so clearly aesthetically and pragmatically correct that they should be obvious to any right-thinking poker player.

Q: Doesn't keeping especially neat and orderly chip stacks give off information about your style of play?

A: Yes, it does. Even before I became aware that people like Mike Caro had published this observation, early on in my poker playing I noticed the obvious correlation that people who keep their chips all tidy tended to be quite tight, whereas those who didn't care about their stacks tended to play loose. But I don't worry about it. The frequency with which one plays hands is just about the most obvious feature of any player's style, and anybody paying even minimal attention will figure it out quickly anyway. Besides, the more firmly entrenched I think my tight image is at a given table, the more likely I am to (A) use it to bluff, and (B) raise with nontraditional hands that might combine with the board in ways that opponent would never anticipate. In other words, I use the image of tightness more to my advantage than most opponents can use it to figure me out.

Q: Do you really do this stuff, or are you just yanking our chain?

A: I really do it. Every time, without fail. There are, by now, enough readers who have spent time at the tables with me that they might pipe up in the comments to testify to this fact.

Guess the casino, #218

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

Answer: M Resort

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Guess the casino, #217

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

Answer: Imperial Palace

Pay to see Joan Rivers?

As I was leaving the Venetian earlier today, I noticed this enormous ad-mural painted on the wall between the casino and the parking garage.

Pay $48 to see Joan Rivers? After what she said about poker players? They'd have to pay me to sit in her presence.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Buying in big

As regular readers know, it has long been my habit to buy into $1-2/$1-3 games for $100, and build from there, even though table max is typically $300 (sometimes more, sometimes less). I even wrote a longish post about the whole subject last December (see here), outlining my experiences and justifications.

But, truth be told, the most fundamental reason I continued to do it was inertia. We develop habits and patterns, and it becomes hard or uncomfortable to break them. As the previous post indicates, I was well aware of the pros and cons of this particular choice, at least in the hypothetical, but I actually had very little experience with doing it any other way, so it was not a decision formed of objective comparison trials.

The first crack in the armor came in February during Cardgrrl's first visit after we had become e-quainted. After playing at the same table with me a couple of times, she commented on my practice: "Your style really seems more suited to a big stack."

Now, I had heard occasional comments from the electronic peanut gallery about my buy-in habit, but never before from somebody who (1) had watched me play for a while, (2) was paying attention to the pros and cons of the decision as they applied specifically to me, and (3) was somebody whose game and opinion I had reason to respect. It got me thinking.

I didn't change anything right away, but that one little comment kept eating away at me. What if I really was doing something fundamentally wrong? What if I'm leaving a bunch of money on the table that I could otherwise be taking home?

Now fast forward some. March, April, and May were positively brutal for poker for me. It was, in fact, a deeper and longer losing streak than the one from last summer that I described here. My worst ever. It was so bad that I was in a way glad to have very convenient excuses (the WSOP writing work, the resulting profound sleep and mood disturbances, and wanting to spend time with Cardgrrl while she was in town) to avoid playing live poker for most of the month. (If you noticed a decline in the number of tales from the felt during June, you were not just hallucinating.)

Something had really gotten poisoned in my game, and I needed some major head-clearing. As I thought about it through June, I realized in retrospect that as the losing streak lengthened, I had gradually adopted a kind of "learned helplessness." Cardgrrl wrote a great post a few months ago about the psychological consequences of running into invisible walls over and over and over again. You start walking more slowly, feeling your way, terrified that the walls are everywhere.

That's what had happened to me, and it required an extended absence from the tables for me to see it. My style had become overly wary, fearful, cramped, crabbed, scared of my own shadow. At some level that I hadn't overtly acknowledged to myself, I was playing in a way that would try not to lose too much, because of how terrified I was to see my bankroll shrinking day by day.

So when early July rolled around, Cardgrrl was gone, the WSOP was done, and I finally felt ready to hit the "reset" button and take to the felt on a regular basis again, I knew I needed an overhaul. I needed to be bold without being insane, take big risks when appropriate, etc. Mind you, this generally characterized my play for the time I've been in Vegas. It was just in the March-May time span that it kind of fell apart on me and went into "turtle" mode.

I decided that one of the ways I would implement this was, for me, roughly the equivalent of desensitization therapy for phobias: I am going to expose myself to the thing that I had come to fear excessively, namely, losing money. I am going to put money on the table, and then I am going to win. I am not going to be afraid. Moreover, I am not going to play as if I am afraid. This is what I told myself, forcefully and repeatedly. And the most concrete part of the plan was that I was going to be bold enough to experiment with buying in for the max, because to continue my previous habit was to invite the accompanying fears and bad, timid play that had become accreted like barnacles to the small stack buy-in.

If I can't cut it in this business, I thought, then I'm going to flame out boldly and spectacularly, rather than fizzle away a few tens of dollars at a time, which was just too pathetic a thought to endure.

I should tell you what was the final, definitive factor in my decision: It was having watched Cardgrrl play the uncapped $2-5 game at Rio during the WSOP Main Event. Watching her move stacks of chips around with an admirable fearlessness, using them as the tools and weapons they are, was what finally made it click with me how pathetically weakly I had been playing. I had, on some level, reverted to a truly paralyzing mode of thinking of the chips for their real-world monetary value, and thus being perversely afraid of losing them.

I really like the way that Antonio Esfandiari expressed this concept in his book, as excerpted in a Poker Gem I posted almost two years ago--see here. I had not exactly forgotten that bit of wisdom, but I needed to have the truth of it pounded back into my head. Cardgrrl's play had that effect. (Thank you, my friend. I haven't told you previously that letting me sweat your game that day did this for me, but it did.)

And whaddyaknow--it worked. Things have been going much better since my break from the game. What's more, they're going better because I'm causing them to go better. On most days now, the game is feeling relatively easy, like it has for most of the time I've been playing in Vegas. I'm still no poker prodigy--probably never will be--but I'm feeling appropriately confident, and I'm making money again.

Anyway, this is venturing a bit far afield from what I had in mind to write. (Have you ever noticed that I tend to ramble and go off on tangents? You have? Oh. Sorry. Never mind.) I set out to tell you specifically the results of my experiment of buying in for the table maximum rather than my habitual $100.

In short, the results have been stunningly good. SPECTACULAR, I'd say. So good that I am kicking myself hard for not having opened my eyes and my mind to the possibility before. There have been at least five occasions in which having $300 in front of me early in a session has clearly, unquestionably, definitively resulted in making $200 (or close to it) more than I would have in a hand if I had been sitting behind just $100.

I have described a few of them in Twitter messages:


Biggest pot of the day: 2-6 in big blind, no raise. Flop 3-4-5 rainbow. Felted a guy who had A-2. 8:29 PM Jul 10th from web

Given my recent run of luck, it's astonishing that he didn't have the 7--8, or even catch a 6 on the river to chop. 8:30 PM Jul 10th from web

Sorry--I meant astonishing that he didn't have the 6-7. 8:31 PM Jul 10th from web


Doubled up when 2-4o cracked AA (as if that's even newsworthy). Uptick $225. 12:00 PM Jul 11th from txt

Victim is still going through thesaurus finding every synonym of "idiot" to call me. 12:02 PM Jul 11th from txt

BTW, lifetime investment in the 2-4: way, way positive. 12:06 PM Jul 11th from txt

Another BTW: Recent experiment with buying in for max instead of my habitual $100 v. profitable so far, the 2-4 hand being only one example. 12:21 PM Jul 11th from txt

[I also described that hand in more detail here.]


Extremely drunk guy came back from a long restroim break, flopped a set, and felted an opponent. (More to come) 5:00 PM Jul 15th from mobile web

He then loudly announced that his change in luck was because he had masturbated in the restroom. Thanks for sharing. 5:02 PM Jul 15th from mobile web

Doubled up through our drunk masturbator, a process made easier by him showing his hand before river action. $600+ pot. 6:06 PM Jul 15th from mobile web

Once again, v. v. v. glad I bought in for max. 6:09 PM Jul 15th from mobile web

[Details don't matter, but I had A-J, flop A-A-K, made aces full when the river was another K, and drunk guy had a K for the under-full.]


I also told the story here of a hand just a few minutes into a session at Bally's where I made $200--not a full double-up but definitely a lot more than I would have if I had been sitting on a $100 stack.

And there are others. Today, for example, I was playing at the Venetian. I bought in for the $300 max. There hadn't been much stack movement up or down when this happened: I was on the button with J-Q offsuit. It's a pretty unspectacular hand, but I had been playing very tight and decided to give it a go. There had been several limpers. I raised to $15, and got five callers, making a $90 pre-flop pot. Which is nice, except that realistically I can't expect to win that nice pot even half of the time, under these circumstances.

Unless, of course, the dealer puts out a flop like Q-Q-K (two hearts). Oh my! Guy in middle position bets $25. I raise to $75. Everybody else folds. He calls. Turn: Offsuit ace. Opponent moves all in for his last $155. I call. He has Ah-3h, so flopped the nut flush draw, added top pair to that on the turn, and probably thought I just had A-K or maybe K-J or K-10. I had him covered. So I took his entire stack ($15 + $75 + $155 = $245), whereas if I had been sitting on $100, that's what I would have made from him.

On July 19th, I was playing at Mandalay Bay. I had been at the table for only about half an hour when a little set-mining paid off big-time. I won't try to recount it blow-by-blow, but I had 8-8, called a big pre-flop raise from the table big stack, flopped a set, trapped him, and he just couldn't let go of his K-K. Doubled up on that hand. Absolutely it put $200 in my pocket more than I would have had under the old practice.

Yesterday at the Palms I stacked a guy for $225 or so when I correctly read him for a mediocre hand, shoved despite his check-raise, and my measly overpair was indeed good. (I had 10-10, flop had been 8-high, and he had K-8, undoubtedly think that his top pair was good.)

There have also been at least two occasions when I suspected (correctly) weakness from an opponent, and made an all-in move, early enough in a session that under my former practice I would not have had enough chips to push the other player off of a hand, but with a $300 stack, I was successful.

Of course, the down side of this is that there have been occasions where I have lost more than I would have under the old practice. For example, at the Rio Saturday, I had bought in for $300, and it had drifted down to about $200, when I found the two black aces in the small blind. The UTG player limped in. Next guy (very tight) raised to $20--the biggest raise I had seen him make. I pumped it up to $80. To my great surprise, UTG (a classic Crazian from SoCal) hemmed and hawed, but then called, as did the raiser, though he had a bit less than the full $80 and so was all-in. Flop was 9-J-Q, all red, two diamonds. I'm first to act. I have about $120 left, and the pot is almost $240. Of course I shove. Frankly, it's hard to think of a flop on which I wouldn't shove under those conditions. Get insta-called by the Crazian, who--naturally--had called a pre-flop reraise to $80 from bad position with K-10 (but it was sooooted--in crubs), and had flopped the nuts. Felted me.

There have not yet been any other instances of being felted for the whole large buy-in, or even most of it. There have, however, been two or three times when I lost between $50 and $100 more than I would have with a short stack buy-in.

But even just counting the occasions like these where there is virtually no doubt about what the outcome would have been under both conditions, I'm way, way to the good here. I suppose that shouldn't surprise me. Theoretically that should be the result if I am better than my average opponent at getting the big money in when the odds are in my favor. But the number of times in which such double-up situations (or nearly so) have occurred early in a session has, frankly, been a revelation.

I think perhaps I was insensitive to them before, because if I doubled up my short stack, I would rationalize something like, "He wouldn't have doubled me up if I had had three times as many chips." But if my first month of experience is any indication, there are plenty of situations in which people really do just hand over their entire big stacks without much good justification. I need to be ready to receive the full bounty of their generosity (or stupidity, or drunkenness, or inexperience, or whatever).

What's more, I think, though I can't prove, that there have been other intangible benefits. While being bold when necessary, I am also more aware that I have a lot of money in potential jeopardy all the time. It makes me take my time on the big decisions more. It makes me more willing to let go of hands in marginal situations where I'm basically just guessing at where I am, and wait for spots in which I'm more clearly ahead. It allows me to play some speculative hands earlier in a session than I used to (though I have to watch that tendency--I know from my past that I can get to seriously overdoing it, and the stack erodes before my very eyes). It likely also projects an image of more strength to opponents. Players coming to the table after me don't know whether I bought in for that much or won it.

I am left to wonder how much richer I would be today if I had been doing this all along.

Poker gems, #301

Venessa Selbst, in Card Player magazine interview, July 29, 2009 (vol. 22, #15), pp. 44-45. The question posed was, "What's the biggest mistake that you see players making in deep-stack cash games?"

People don't put pressure on players enough when in position, and it's kind of shocking to me. If you call a raise preflop with 10-9 suited, just because the flop comes K-5-5 or something like that, you don't have to give up. The other person probably missed it, too, so just use pressure in position. It's easy to do. You really have to bet scare cards more than people do, and overbet if you have to. You can't just wait for the nuts. If you are going to play deep, you should take advantage of it; otherwise, it's pointless.

[I just have to add that I find myself liking Vanessa Selbst more and more every time I come across additional stuff about her. See not only the full interview in the current Card Player, but the profile done for PokerNews here (from which page the above photograph was purloined--I like the shot very much). I find her to be one of the most interesting poker pros to come along in quite some time. Also, there is much about her that reminds me of my friend Cardgrrl. I would not be a bit surprised to see the latter's career follow a trajectory similar to Selbst's, though tracking a few years behind.]

"Predictably Irrational"

A friend gave me this book a couple of months ago, and I've been reading it a bit at a time, finally finishing it up Saturday night.

As you might gather from reading a bunch of the rants I've posted here, I'm endlessly fascinated by the irrational things that people do at the poker table--superstitions, blaming dealers for bad cards, kicking themselves for not playing 9-3 offsuit when the flop comes 3-3-9, donking off their last money rather than pocketing it, etc.

So I had kind of hoped that this book would shed more light on such subjects. As it turned out, it didn't. I would really have to stretch to find poker connections and analogies for the kind of systematic mental errors that the book is dedicated to exploring. They are almost all economic in nature. Even though my mental landscape is such that I see poker and poker analogs everywhere, and even though I kept hoping that at least one of the chapters would make an obvious jumping-off point for a good blog post, I came up basically empty-handed.

That isn't to say that the book is uninteresting. On the contrary, it was fascinating through and through. It just ended up not being enlightening on the particular forms of irrationality that I see pervading the poker universe.

But if you think you might be interested in knowing stuff about, say, how we decide whether a particular item is worth a particular price, and the myriad irrational factors that go into such decisions (and how marketers have a pretty good grasp on those things and can use them to manipulate our decisions), or how and why and to what extent people will tend to cheat and steal and what factors tend to mitigate such actions, or how and why we will go out of our way to exact revenge even if it costs us money, then you might find this book as interesting as I did.

Just don't expect to learn much that will enlighten you about the poker dunderheads of the world. (And we all take our turns at being the poker dunderheads.)

Poker gems, #300

Eric Baldwin, in Card Player magazine interview, July 29, 2009 (vol. 22, #15), pp. 38-39. He is reviewing a key hand played during his recent WSOP victory, in which he made a thin raise on the flop.

A common mistake that players make after putting in this raise is to sit there hoping the opponent folds. This does absolutely no good, and in fact causes harm. If [he] folds, the hand is over and there is nothing to be prepared for. If he raises, you're done with the hand; again, there's nothing to be prepared for. Instead, you should be preparing for a call, thus feeling and looking more confident when a turn comes and your opponent checks to you.

Poker crossword puzzle

Many issues of Poker Player newspaper contain a poker-themed crossword puzzle of sorts, but they're all terribly lame. Instead of the solid blocks of spaces to be filled in the way you see in professionally constructed puzzles, the ones in PPN are just individual words that happen to cross at a few points. They're so stupid that it's never worth the time to try to solve them.

Yesterday I was reading this week's issue and was bowled over to see an actual, standard-issue, professional-looking crossword puzzle. It was constructed by Michael Wiesenberg, a columnist for Card Player magazine and author of the best poker dictionary to date. It follows classic puzzle rules about blocks of open squares, symmetry, no two-letter words, etc. (There is one dodgy spelling that they sneak in as an answer, but I'm so otherwise ecstatic to see this thing that I'm giving them a pass on it.) Of the 128 clues, 29 pertain to poker--not an easy feat to pull off.

It's still a fairly easy puzzle to solve; I could almost, though not quite, do it using only the horizontal clues.

You can see a typical example of the worthless kind of puzzle they usually print by going to today; the "current issue" there, which always lags behind the print version, is the July 20 issue, and the puzzle is on page 20. Soon, though, this will be replaced by the August 3 issue, and if you don't otherwise have access to PPN, you'll be able to print out and work the good puzzle that way. I recommend it.

More of these, please, PPN!

Guess the casino, #216

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

Answer: Flamingo

Sunday, July 26, 2009

What is so hard to grasp about the SHOW part of SHOWdown?

This is not exactly a new phenomenon, but it seems to be increasing in frequency. Or maybe I'm just noticing it more and becoming more disturbed by it.

We're down to the river. Player A bets. Player B calls. The action is over. But Player A, rather than showing his cards as he is supposed to do, starts quizzing Player B about what he has.

This is infuriating to all involved (except, apparently, all of the Player A's of the world). Player B has a right to expect that Player A will either reveal his hand promptly, or muck it if he was running a total bluff and doesn't want to show. The other players at the table and the dealer have the right to expect that, since the action is now complete, we will quickly and efficiently determine the winner, push the pot, and get on to the next hand.

These perfectly reasonable goals and expectations are frustrated--for NO good reason--when Player A turns into a douchebag and refuses to do the only thing that is required of him at this point, which is show his cards or muck them.

I saw this exactly pattern several times in a session yesterday at the Rio. There's a call, action is done, and the bettor starts in with, "Did you catch the flush?" or "I put you on two pair--that right?" Annoys the bejeebers out of me, even when I'm just a bystander.

With remorse, I have to report that I have even seen my good friend Cardgrrl--usually a paragon of good poker etiquette under even the most trying circumstances--run afoul of this one. It happened at the very end of her June visit, during a $2-$5 cash game at the Rio. She had 9-9, flopped top set, and bet it all the way. She had one caller on the river for her final all-in bet. By that point, there was an ugly potential straight on the board, which this opponent well might have been chasing. When the guy called the all-in, rather than flip her hand up, she asked him, "Do you have a straight?" It was only when he shook his head "no" that she showed the set of nines (which, by the way, turned out to be the winner of the biggest pot I've ever seen her take--a profit of $670 on the hand). I was as stunned as if she had slow-rolled an opponent with the nuts. It was the first and only time I've seen her violate standard poker etiquette. My guess is that it was the enormous size of the pot that was causing heightened anxiety about the outcome, and thus short-circuiting her usual impeccable habits.

Anyway, this conduct is wrong. It is rude. It wastes everybody's time, and increases the unpleasant feeling of suspense that the caller is already feeling. It increases resentment between the players involved. And for what gain? Because Player A is embarrassed about his hand? Well, if you're embarrassed, maybe you shouldn't have played it in the first place. Is it because Player A wants to maximize the chance of seeing B's hand to get a better read on him, and thus stalls, hoping that B will show first? That's just smarmy. The bettor shows first, and it is the caller who then has the option of showing or mucking. When you turn it around, you screw up the universal and perfectly sensible order of things.

And in doing so, you piss people off. You piss off Player B. You piss off the other players who want to get the game going again. You piss off the dealer, who wants to get as many hands out per down as possible. All for your own selfish indulgence.

As I said at the outset, my subjective impression is that this particular piece of bad sportsmanship has been increasing lately. It seems that players see other people do it, decide it's a good idea, and adopt it into their own play. Well, I'm here to tell you that it's NOT a good idea, and not only should you not mimic it, you should speak up in protest when it happens. You should let the Player A's of the world know that you resent their breach of the rules and of etiquette, and their selfish wasting of nine or ten other people's time.

In my opinion, every time this happens, the guilty party should receive unmistakably disapproving looks and comments from every other player at the table. Let these people know that this is not acceptable conduct. It is not cute or clever. It is a rude, unnecessary imposition on everybody, and we should not let it go without disparaging comment. Basically, we have to make the negative social pressure against the practice intense enough that it will come to outweigh whatever selfish internal motive is driving these jerks. (I hasten to add that Cardgrrl is not a jerk, nor any of the other nasty names that I think the habitual offenders deserve. It was, as far as I can tell, a one-time aberration.)

Will you join me in my campaign of explicit disapprobation of the Player A's of the poker world?

Guess the casino, #215

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

Answer: Excalibur