Saturday, August 29, 2009

Guess the casino, #249

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

Answer: Monte Carlo

Tiny AVP meet-up

My friend Cardgrrl had a little do Friday night at the Rhumbar lounge at the Mirage, which has a lovely outdoor setting. The purpose was to give fellow denizens of a chance to meet her in a setting other than across the green felt.

The weather was just right, and, aside from a few moments of icky cigar smoke, so was essentially everything else about the setting and the attendees. The menu of exotic drinks available at Rhumbar is pretty impressive--enough to make one consider becoming an alcoholic. But I had to be content with a virgin strawberry-pineapple daiquiri thing, which was sweet and tasty. (I also had sips of a couple of Cardgrrl's selections, which were pretty interesting.) I think it safe to say that a fine time was had by all present.

Photos are here.

Tomorrow, Cardgrrl and I tackle the Red Rock poker room.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Guess the casino, #248

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

Answer: Gold Coast

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Poker gems, #308

Mike Caro, in Bluff magazine column, August, 2009, p. 89, speaking of his experience with trying to keep his World Series of Poker tables light and friendly.

Most of the tables I sat in during those events were friendly--giving me something to work with from the get-go. But some were as quiet as a horror film before the crazed killer jumps out from the closet. Dead serious players. I hate that. So, immediately I went into action, engaging players in conversations and announcing, "This is the quiestest table I've ever been at, which is a sure sign that some players here are taking a hundred million dollars way too seriously."

Guess the casino, #247

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

Answer: Bellagio

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Guess the casino, #246

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

Answer: Sam's Town

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A note about the "Guess the casino" posts

I originally envisioned the "Guess the casino" posts as photos of particular places and things in and around the Vegas casinos that were sufficient thematic or otherwise distinct that one could guess the casino without even having been there. There are probably some such items still in the archives (I have hundreds of photos not yet deployed, mostly taken many months ago now, when I got into a bit of a frenzy about it), but as those paying attention will have noticed, most of them now are things that you would have to have seen and noticed in person to recognize. I.e., usually now you can't just spot something about the object or background and deduce where the shot must have been taken. I discovered that there just weren't enough distinctly identifiable spots to keep the series going for very long under the original premise.

So there is definitely a change in emphasis. That is, it's not really any longer reasonable to expect even a fairly Vegas-savvy reader to know or guess the location of more than an occasional photo in the series. But I still enjoy posting them, and hope that some readers still enjoy looking at them. If you find it frustrating to try to actually deduce or just plain guess the casino, well, you might try to stop looking at it as a game at which there is an expectation that you can figure it out with some effort. Instead, think of it as just a little feature about the beautiful or odd things that this strange city has hidden away if you go looking for them.

Incidentally, the other day I ran into a reader who admitted that he only looks at the "GTC" posts, and not the rest of my content! I would never have guessed that there were any such people, but I'm happy to pick up readers whatever their tastes. It balances out the occasional nay-sayer who thinks the "GTC" posts are either a mar on the blog or my way of being lazy and skimping on writing fresh content.

Also, as a special addition, sooner or later you will see pop up in the series some guest shots taken by my good friend Cardgrrl. I don't think she would mind me revealing that she spent a good number of years as a professional photographer in an earlier phase of her life. She has a far, far better eye for physical beauty than I do, along with much more skill and experience at using a camera to capture the beauty she perceives.

Where I win

One of the questions I am asked most frequently is something about where to play--where are the softest games, where can one make the most money, which are the best rooms, etc. Note that those are not equivalent questions.

Recent my pal Cardgrrl addressed the subject of the frequent poker forum question about where the softest games are. Among other partial answers, she suggested that (1) the answer is ever-changing, (2) and somebody who really had a decent bead on the current answer wouldn't be inclined to divulge it.

There is some truth in these observations, but I don't see it entirely the same way. I think there is a fair amount of constancy in how games of a given level/structure play from place to place. Yes, of course, there is also at least as much day-to-day and table-to-table variation as there is casino-to-casino variation (i.e., within-group as compared to between-group variation). We've all seen how the arrival or departure of a single player can radically alter how the game plays in a matter of minutes. But still, it's a safe bet that, say, the $1/3 NLHE game at the Wynn is going to be a tougher struggle to beat than the $1/2 NLHE game at Imperial Palace. It just is. They cater to almost completely non-overlapping clientele, and the two groups have very distinct average characteristics and skills.

As for spilling the beans and inviting in the sharks, I'm not worried. First, I don't think my readership is that broad, nor does it include many people with big pointy teeth. Second, true shark-like creatures don't tend to be interested in the $1/2 games that constitute most of my play and income.

I mention all of this because it has been a while since I reviewed my records to see which poker rooms were generating the most money for me, which is obviously something I need to do from time to time. This post is to announce the results.

In case this isn't readily apparent (though I think it should be), what you see here does not mean that the games in the rooms listed are objectively the softest or most profitable for everybody. There is a lot of random statistical noise that may account for a huge fraction of the room-to-room variation I experience. Alternatively, it may simply be that my particular style of play performs well against the opponents in these rooms, but somebody with a slightly different style would have very different results. I have spent a decent amount of time talking to others who make their living (or a good portion thereof) from the same types of games, and I'm always amazed at how different our impressions are of the places where we fare the best. For example, MGM Grand is extremely popular among most of my fellow "show me the money" serious players, but was long one of my personal "kryptonite" rooms. Conversely, they tend to find that the Venetian game is too stocked with good players as opposed to completely green tourists, whereas my experience has been that the V is one of my best venues. Who knows why? It's all a mystery, with so many variables that it's likely beyond any of us to do more than guess.

Speaking of kryptonite rooms, I'm pleased to announce that two places that had been such for me seem to be no longer. Specifically, Harrah's and MGM. I had accumulated a terrible track record at both places, and avoided them for a long time as a result. But recently, upon revisiting, I have found perfectly acceptable success. This reinforces my tentative conclusion that what I was experiencing was a combination of (1) random statistical variance, coupled with (2) some degree of self-fulfilling prophecy, i.e., after losing at a place three times in a row, there is probably some subtle corrupting influence on my play from a subconscious sense of fatalism. Once that is overcome, things can play as normal.

I note, finally, that, remarkable as this may seem, I had done so much better at the old Hilton poker room than anywhere else, and spent so much more time there than at any other poker room, that two years after it closed it still remains my #1 all-time income source! It still pains me every time I think of it being replaced by a bunch of stupid slot machines. Grrrrrrrrr!

So here we go.

The first way to count results is by total net profit. By that method of accounting, my five top poker rooms (counting only those still in operation, for obvious reasons) are:

1. Mandalay Bay
2. Palms
3. Venetian
4. Sahara
5. Bill's

However, that's not very useful, because it is obviously hugely influenced by the number of times that I visit a place. (For the record, my most frequently visited spots are, in order, Venetian, Palms, Rio, Orleans, Mandalay Bay, Caesars Palace, Golden Nugget, Planet Hollywood, Binion's, and Bill's. But that's counting all three years equally, and lately there hasn't been much of Orleans, Nugget, or Caesars--they racked up most of their visits earlier.)

So let's go to the next way of looking at it: percentage of sessions that are winning ones. For this and all other figures herein, I'm only counting the rooms where I have placed five or more times, in order to iron out some of the random noise that results from too-small sample sizes.

1. Sunset Station
2. Sahara
3. Tuscany
4. Mandalay Bay
5. Planet Hollywood

Finally, we can look at it in terms of average dollars won per session. (I keep track of hours, but not in the same spreadsheet, so it would take a lot of work to figure out dollars per hour for a given poker room. Average dollars per session, though, is calculated automatically for me in the heading for each casino.)

1. Tuscany
2. Sahara
3. Suncoast
4. Sunset Station
5. Mandalay Bay

Your mileage not only may vary, but almost certainly will vary.

As a final note, the fact that I find a place profitable does not mean that I like it. For example, I find both Tuscany and Sahara to be execrable places, so bad that I literally feel like a need a shower when I leave. They are dirty, smelly, noisy, uncomfortable, with bad dealers and management and lousy customer service. I really despise them. But the money flows so easily that I hold my nose, bite my tongue, and keep them in the rotation. (You think it's easy playing solid poker while holding your nose and biting your tongue? Try it!)

Guess the casino, #245

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

Answer: Mirage

Monday, August 24, 2009

17 outs, swing and a miss

It's not very often that I find myself with 17 outs on the flop, so I thought it might be worth recording how it happened.

After a very successful session at Mandalay Bay yesterday afternoon (Sunday afternoons there are becoming a happy, habitual indulgence, with the money pouring in freely), I decided to try to make a little extra at the Luxor next door. I bought in for the max, $200, which after about 45 minutes was down to $125 or so due to losing one race (A-K lost to an all-in 5-5) and false starts on a few other hands.

UTG guy raises to $15. He's solid, so probably A-K or a big pair here. I have Kc-10c on the button. With crubs, how can I go wrong? I call, following a call by a MP short stack.

Flop is Ks-Jc-9c. This gives me top pair, the second-nut flush draw (in crubs!), and a gutshot straight draw. UTG leads out for $25. MP guy shoves for about $45. I reshove for my last $110. Original raiser calls. He has, predictably, As-Ac. MP guy never shows, mucks when he loses.

So I win with any crub for the flush (9 cards), queen for the straight (3 more cards), 10 for two pair (3 cards), king for trips (2 cards)--or so it looked at first glance. In actuality, since he had the Ac, that's one fewer crub available. And, of course, they are not all clean outs, since (A) I don't know what the MP guy had, and (B) runner-runner crubs would give him the higher flush, and oddball things like a Q-10 combo give him a higher straight, K-A gives him a full house, etc. Conversely, the Qc would give me an unbeatable straight flush and some big jackpot (I didn't check to see how much it was).

But I'm going to have to have a word with C.K., because the crubs did not get there. Nor did the trips, two pair, or straight. We went blank-blank. Oh well. As they say, all you can do is get your money in good, and I managed to do that. That $110 shove would have reaped about a $200 profit if any of my cards had hit, and I was a clear mathematical favorite.

Maybe this is why they call it gambling.

Guess the casino, #244

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

Answer: Flamingo

Memorializing my own idiocy

Yesterday my buddy Cardgrrl won the 1:00 p.m. $150 Megastacks daily tournament at Harrah's. Only 14 runners, but still a very nice performance, especially the recovery after taking a series of brutal bad beats that took her from overwhelming chip leader to about fourth place with five players left (and only two getting paid). She had been looking forward to trying it, because the structure seemed to play to her strengths--especially patience. She was obviously correct. Congratulations, my friend. You deserved it, and I'm tickled pink for your victory.

Cardgrrl was too polite to mention, however, a few additional facts in her brief and self-effacing account: 1. I was in the tournament, too. 2. I was the first to bust out. 3. My bustout came at her hands. 4. I was out about 45 minutes into the thing, which was only about 30 minutes of play, as we started 15 minutes late (having to wait for enough latecomers to get a second table going). 5. I played like a completely moron.

You have to understand, first, that this tournament structure starts one out with 400 big blinds. Four hundred! That is astounding and rare. There is almost no acceptable excuse for losing all of one's chips within the first hour. Getting it all in with aces pre-flop and taking a bad beat would be one. Maybe getting stuck in a set-over-set situation. More generally, if you're putting in even a quarter of your stack early on, it had damn well better be with the nuts or near nuts at the time if you (A) expect to have a shot at winning the tournament, and (B) want to be able to feel good about your play after the fact.

Grand donkey that I am, I managed to lose 3/4 of my chips in an early hand with top pair/top kicker. Now, if one is relatively short-stacked, it's perfectly understandable to go with that and hope for the best. But I know perfectly well that that's not a hand that is anywhere near strong enough for commitment of the fraction of chips that I gave to it so early in the game, and with such deep stacks. This is not news to me; I have been aware of this basic fact of tournament strategy for years. I can justify calling the initial bet and raise on the flop. But I then proceeded to call two more very large bets on the turn and river without having improved.

You want to know the worst part? (This is something that I didn't even confess to Cardgrrl in our post-mortem after she won last night. I was too embarrassed.) I thought and hoped that my opponent had the same hand. That's right--I committed myself that deeply hoping for a chopped pot! I had no reason whatsoever to think that he was bluffing or overplaying a weaker hand than mine. He actually had flopped top two pairs, and improved to a full house on the river. Yes, I continued calling even after the board had paired. It is hard to find words for how monumentally idiotic this is.

Not too long afterward, I shoved over the top of Cardgrrl's flop check-raise with a measly A-J, with an ace on the flop. I did so nearly instantly, not taking any time at all to think about it. Had I folded, I would have been way the short stack at the table, but still would have had 40 big blinds in chips--a workable, salvagable amount, with which I could have found any number of better places to get it in. Had I stopped to think, I would have realized that there were no starting hands with which she would have called my preflop raise from the small blind, as she did, and check-raised me on the flop, that did not have me beat. (She held A-Q.) Furthermore, my fold equity was essentially zero. I was simply frustrated and basically gave up. In short, how I lost the last quarter of my starting chips was every bit as shockingly, inexcusably moronic as the way I lost the first three-quarters of them.

It was an embarrassing, appalling performance. It was what you might expect from a tourist playing something other than his $0.25 home game for the very first time. It is what you might see in an online freeroll, or microstakes tournament.

I spent the rest of the day kicking myself for it and wondering how I came to be such a poker imbecile. Professional at the game? Don't make me laugh.

Even now, I cringe at the thought of anybody reading this--as if it weren't bad enough for six other players to have witnessed it firsthand. But I write this as one final self-inflicted kick in the butt to hopefully sear into my memory how incredibly badly I'm capable of playing, and how terrible it feels to lose that way. (I know what you're thinking--the WSOP experience should have already done the job. Apparently not. I must acknowledge the fact that I can at times be a very slow learner.)

I really have no good idea what caused such a monumental meltdown. It was a complete, catastrophic failure of every part of the constellation of qualities that makes me modestly successful in my bread-and-butter cash games: experience, patience, discipline, analytic capability, attentiveness, and emotional stability.* Was it sleep deprivation from the night before? Wrong time of day for me to be playing? Not feeling much enthusiasm for playing? Not caring much about tournaments generally? Not recalibrating myself to the specific structure? Possibly some element of all of the above.

But whatever caused it, it was mightily painful to be reminded of the depths of ineptitude to which I'm capable of sinking when there is a confluence of factors degrading my game--a self-administered slap in the face, which I now share with my readers as part of my shame and catharsis.

Let's hope it's the last time I have occasion to deliver myself up for such humiliation.

*I realize that some readers will likely jump to the conclusion that it was Cardgrrl's presence that did it, but that's actually the one factor that I'm highly confident had nothing to do with it. It's true that I'm enormously fond of her, but I feel zero impulse to show off for her, zero nervousness, trivial amounts of distraction, etc. If anything, her presence makes me even more solid than usual, because I don't want to embarrass myself with donkitude. I like having her at the table with me, not only because she's fun and interesting and pleasant to be around generally, but because I know her game reasonably well, so it's one less player I have to figure out from scratch.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Today's helpful hint: Ask about the cash

A couple of weeks ago I posted a story from the Venetian in which I anticipated a potential problem about how much money a guy was playing and spoke up, trying to get it resolved before it became a crisis. I admit that I was kind of surprised that not a single commenter agreed with my action. (Nevertheless, I think we can all agree that the player involved, the dealer, and the chip runner all bear part of the blame for the situation arising as it did.) I reject the specific form of criticism that was based on the retrospective observation that the player involved got mad and left, when he was clearly a donkey and likely would have donated a lot more money to the table. That was completely unknowable in advance, and it might just as well have turned out that my intervention saved him money and made him grateful and happy. Still, although I don't exactly conduct myself according to reader-majority rule, it has given me cause to reflect, and I'm now not sure that I would do the same again.

But thinking about that experience and whether I did the right thing triggered memories of a tangentially related class of incidents in which there has been uncertainty about cash playing.

The most common rule in Vegas poker rooms is that $100 bills on the table are in play the same as chips (and are subject to the same buy-in cap), but other denominations of currency are not.

(In card rooms that take the rake in half-dollar increments, there are a bunch of weird and inconsistent rules about when and whether the half-dollar coins you get back are in play. E.g., they might be usable for paying your blinds, but not count if you're all-in, or only count in full-dollar amounts, or other such nonsense. For purposes of this post, I'm only talking about bills, not coins.)

However, there are variations on this. The most peculiar one I know of is the Sahara, where all denominations of currency are in play--even $5 and $1 bills. At the old Hilton poker room, no bills played, nor did $25 or $100 chips. Their reasoning was that it was too easy for other players to overlook these items and thus inadvertantly misjudge an opponent's stack and make a crucial error.

The Imperial Palace is an example of a room that follow this same policy now. A few weeks ago I was playing there. On the river I missed a flush draw but made some sort of small pair. I checked. Opponent moved all in: he had a single $1 chip and a single $100 bill, both of which he pushed forward. The bill had been sitting in front of him for several hands at least, but the dealer had failed to notice it until this moment. He informed the player that the bill was not in play, so the all-in bet was only $1. Floor was called and made the same ruling. The player was livid. I called his $1, though I was about 99% sure I was losing. He had the nuts--a straight. He was ranting about how he was being cheated out of $100. I reassured him that $1 was just about the most I would have called, so the error actually made him an extra dollar that he otherwise would not have gotten, because if his bet had been $101, I would have folded. That calmed him down.

The point, though, is that dealers frequently don't notice currency on the table. Last week at the Venetian I noticed that a player had a stack of $20 bills sitting behind his chips. I don't know how long they had been there before I spotted them. I waited until the hand was over, then told the dealer, "We should probably get clarified whether that cash is in play." The dealer, too, had failed to notice whenever it was that the player had added the money to his stack. He got it changed for chips, and all was well.

Similarly, during the last week of the World Series of Poker, I was sweating Cardgrrl as she played a juicy $2/5 game at the Rio. At some point I noticed a similar situation--a player had quietly added some $20 bills to the table. I was pretty sure that the Rio followed the standard rule of only $100s playing, so I whispered to her that she might want to ask the dealer about it between hands. She did. Again, the dealer had not noticed the issue, and it got resolved before it became a big blow-up.

The obvious problem is that when this sort of thing goes unnoticed and unresolved until there is an all-in move, somebody is going to end up unhappy--whoever has or believes he has the winning hand will want as much in the pot as possible, and the loser will be arguing against counting whatever he can. That's the worst possible time to try to resolve the matter.

Yes, dealers should always notice when a player adds cash to his stack, both to be sure that it is eligible for play and that it does not violate any buy-in cap. But dealers have a lot to do, and this kind of thing slips by unnoticed all the time. So today's helpful hint is to simply ask. Don't assume that any particular poker room follows the standard rule if it's a place where you are not a frequent visitor and certain of the house rule. If you're told that no cash plays and there is cash on the table, or that only 100s play and there are 20s on the table, just wait until the current hand is over and ask the dealer to clarify. Of course, once in a while the player affected will get upset, because people can be irrational and stupid. But you'll be doing everybody at the table a favor by getting the question resolved definitively before there is a big blow-up.

Guess the casino, #243

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

Answer: Bally's