Saturday, September 19, 2009

New poker site seems to be unclear on the concept

Above is the banner for a relatively new online poker site, "RedBack Poker."

You see the problem as quickly as I did, don't you?

Black widow spiders have the famous red hourglass mark on the ventral side (underside), not on the back. See here and here, e.g.

So not only is the picture wrong, if the site's name is supposed to be referring to the spider, then the entire name of the business is misguided.

And as for that slogan underneath the photo, well, that's just too weird to need further comment.

More poker dreamin'

Last night I visited Barry Greenstein's mansion. No, not the one that everybody has seen on the televised tours he has done. He has a second, secret mansion. It's underneath the log flume at a major amusement park. (I was sworn to secrecy about which one.) The entire mansion is underwater. So it was a swimming tour. I had a hard time holding my breath at first, but soon I learned to breathe underwater, which is probably a really useful skill to have generally.

Also, Chris Ferguson was there. He had just received the first shipment of copies of the new book he has written, so I was one of the first to get to look through it. For some odd reason, he thought it would be more personal if they reproduced his handwritten manuscript exactly as it was--a page by page photographic reproduction. That is, you have to read the whole book in his own handwriting, mistakes and crossouts and all. He thought it was brilliant. I had my doubts, but kept them to myself.

The end.

Guess the casino, #270

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

Answer: Sahara

Friday, September 18, 2009

"How much do I have to raise?"

Last night I was playing at Mandalay Bay. My most profitable hand of the night, by far, was this: A straightforward player open-raised from second position to $10. I was one off the button, but by the time it got to me the player to my left had his cards in hand, cocked, ready to muck, so I knew I effectively had the button for this hand. There had been two callers ahead of me. I had 8-10 offsuit. I decided to take a flier here.

Good thing I did. The flop was 8-8-6. Bingo! The pre-flop raiser's range was already pretty much defined as being either a big pair or a big ace, because of his unimaginitive style. I hoped for the pair, of course, because with something like A-K he'd likely fire once, then give up unless he improved on the turn. He bet $20. One middle-position player called, as did I. No need to tip my hand yet, nor chase away the guy in the middle, who probably had some middling pair. Turn was an offsuit 3. Original raiser fired another $25. Middle guy bowed out. I decided to milk it further, and smooth-called him again. Let him think I'm on a draw with something like 4-5 or 5-7, or perhaps have pocket 9s or 10s and don't credit him with a bigger pair.

River was the case 8, giving me quads--and, if my assessment was right, giving my opponent a full house for which he would pay dearly. He bet $25 again. I raised to $75. He called so fast that I wished I had pushed for more, but oh well. I showed my 8-10. He flashed his pocket jacks before disgustedly throwing them away.

He had arrived with a friend, who was sitting on his left. I overheard pieces of their subsequent conversation. He said, roughly, "Once he flops trips, I can't blame him for playing it the way he did. But why would he call the $10 in the first place? What I want to know is, how much do I have to raise to get rid of the people with crap hands like that?"

Of course I don't call every pre-flop raise with junky speculative hands. But I do sometimes when the situation seems favorable for trying to hit a well-concealed monster, as here. I had a player whose range I could narrow down to just a few possibilities, one who I believed would pay me off if I hit (he had bought in for the max, so was plenty deep to be worth trying to bust), with position, with a solid table image that would make my actual hand unthinkable, and with a couple of other people having called ahead of me to start swelling the pot. That is what I consider a nearly perfect alignment of the stars to try to hit the big one.

I wonder if my opponent really thought through his question and its answer. If his goal is to be extremely confident that he will drive away all the junk hands that might call and draw out on him, then he could, of course, open-shove. But in that case he'd only get called by the hands that had him in terrible shape: K-K, and A-A, maybe Q-Q if somebody was feeling brave. When nobody had one of those, he'd win the $3 in blinds. Win $3 or face an 80% chance of losing $300--not a pleasant pair of prospects. He could be less drastic and raise to, say, about $50, but the effect would be essentially the same. He'd shoo away all the speculative hands, get raised by the bigger pairs, and have to fold, so his choice would be losing $50 or winning $3. Again, not exactly optimal poker.

Actually, the whole premise of his question is wrong. You do not want to chase away all of the opponents who have lesser starting hands that you hold. You want at least some of them to call your raise and stay in. Their failed attempt to improve to better than what you have is what generates the profit from big pairs.

So how about the other extreme, just limping in? Well, that tends to start a cascade effect that nets you seven or eight opponents and a small pot, which, again, is hardly the optimal situation. There has to be a happy medium.

Mike Caro addressed this a few years ago in what was for me an eye-opening Bluff magazine column titled, "The flawed concept of thinning the field," available online here. For every hand there is a mathematically optimal number of opponents, in terms of maximizing profit--and it is rarely just one, though that's the situation that usually makes post-flop play easiest. Whatever the theoretically optimal number of opponent is, however, that's not always the number you actually want in real-world situations. You prefer keeping in weaker players and driving out the stronger ones. All else being equal, you would also prefer keeping in the ones on whom you have the positional advantage and shooing away those who are behind you. Like with most things in poker, the number of opponents that you want when you're holding a strong starting hand depends on a bunch of different variables.

During my first year of playing in Las Vegas, I experimented with different pre-flop opening raise amounts, trying to find the optimal balance between keeping-in and driving-out. What I eventually homed in on was a formula that I've never shared here before. For a $1-2 no-limit hold'em game, I start mentally counting with $6 if the under-the-gun player folds and $7 if he limps in. I then add $1 for every subsequent player who folds and $2 for every player who limps. So, e.g., if I'm fourth to act and there have been two limpers and one folder before me, the raise amount will be $10. If I'm on the button in a ten-handed game and everybody has limped in ahead of me, that's seven players, and the raise will be to $19. If I'm in the big blind and everybody has limped, it will go to $23. Those big raise sizes don't happen often. It usually works out to between $8 and $16. If I'm under the gun, I make it either $7 or $8, depending on my mood. If there is a straddle, I usually add $4 or $5 to the amount. If there is a raiser and I'm inclined to reraise, I don't use any formula, but fly by the seat of my pants. The formula is adjusted but similar for $1-3 games.*

The reasoning is that, all else being equal, you want to raise more when there are already more people in the pot, and you want to play bigger pots when you're in position than when you're out of position. My formula accomplishes both goals rather nicely. There isn't any perfect formula, and I have to tweak it some depending on the table's propensities, but I have found it to be a extremely useful way of balancing the competing considerations without having to expend a bunch of mental energy selecting a bet size when I really want to be paying attention to my opponents' reactions. It also has the advantage that it looks fairly random to opponents, because there is no way they can watch me over enough hands to deduce what the formula is. I have to say, it has served me well. It may sound overly complicated, but it's really quite simple and has become completely automatic for me.

Key, of course, is that the raise size does not depend on the hand strength. If I'm raising from the button, the raise will be the same whether I'm doing it with A-A, J-J, 2-2, K-Q, 7-8, or 2-4. Whether I raise is not subject to any formula, being completely situational, but the size of the raise is determinate. Of course, opponents don't know that, and they frequently assume that my variable raise sizes are reflecting different hand strengths. Occasionally a player who fancies himself sophisticated and attentive will even say out loud something like, "I noticed that you made it $10 when you had jacks and $15 when you had aces. I'm on to you!" Yeah--good luck with trying to use that, Skippy.

A necessary result of this scheme is that sometimes I'm stuck with a small initial raise from early position, and a whole bunch of callers. But, frankly, I'm OK with that. I don't really want to be playing from out of position through the whole hand anyway, so if I don't improve on the flop, the fact that I've put in only a small amount of money makes it psychologically easier for me to give up on the hand, which is probably how it should be.

I do not, however, have as a goal to drive out every opponent who has a junky, speculative hand, the way the guy from last night seems to want to do. In the long run, I pay my bills when weaker opponents with weaker starting hands keep putting money into the pot with little more than "that hope which springs eternal in the human breast." (Brownie points for the first reader who can identify both the proximal, popular source of that quotation and what classical work it was alluding to. It's cheating to use Google.)

The answer to his question is this, in a nutshell: You're asking the wrong question. What you seem to need more work on is recognizing when you're beaten, so that you stop throwing away additional money. If you can do that more consistently than your opponents, you will deny them the proper implied odds for chasing your jacks with their 8-10 offsuit and similar crap hands. At that point, you have the best of both worlds: You'll make money when opponents chase and miss, and lose the minimum when they hit. That, my friends, is profitable poker. (No, I don't claim to have perfected that technique--not by a long shot. Surely, though, I am at least somewhat better at it than the average tourist, or I couldn't be a long-term winning player.)

But as long as you're going to be what Phil Laak and Antonio Esfandiari derisively refer to as a "POW" (pay-off wizard), worrying about the correct amount of a pre-flop raise is, as the saying has it, like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

*Long after I had devised this scheme for myself, I became aware of similar formulas employed for tournament situations, phrased in terms of number of big blinds, depending on the number of limpers and folders that have gone before.

Guess the casino, #269

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

Answer: Palace Station

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Guess the casino, #268

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

Answer: Hard Rock

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Guess the casino, #267

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

Answer: Stratosphere

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

How poker room jackpots and promotions work

Over on, friend and reader Grange has written a truly excellent, detailed description of the most common forms of jackpots and bonuses offered by Las Vegas poker rooms, including such things as eligibility rules, how to expect the poker play to be affected by the presence of the promotions, and who are the demographic long-term winners and losers at these things. You can read it here.

I have seriously toyed with the idea of writing a book that would teach casino poker newbies all the little things that we regulars tend to take for granted. (As one of many, many examples, I have several times heard first-timers ask if they can leave their chips at the table while they go to the restroom. It's kind of funny, but you can't blame them for not knowing things; there just aren't any good sources for such information other than asking.) If I ever get around to actually writing it, I wouldn't bother writing a chapter on jackpots and promotions. Instead, I would just try to get Grange to let me use his explanation as chapter guest author. My ego is such that if I think I can't improve on the writing of something in a subject that I know pretty thoroughly, well, it's about as high a compliment as I can pay.

Guess the casino, #266

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

Answer: Plaza

Monday, September 14, 2009

de Wolfe versus Reinkemeier

A controversial hand was played recently at the EPT Barcelona between Roland de Wolfe (his name is variously rendered orthographically, but the most reliable sources seem to converge on the way I have it here--small d, with a space) and Tobias Reinkemeier (whose name it seems inevitable that I will misspell at some point herein). Remarkably, there is also a video of how the hand plays out. I first heard about it from Shamus's blog. You can read his take on things and watch the video here.

I was undecided whether to comment about the hand here--until this afternoon, when Matthew Parvis, editor-in-chief of PokerNews, posted an extensive commentary on it, which you can read here. I'm not sure it would be possible for me to disagree more thoroughly with Parvis.

From this point on, I'm going to assume that readers have seen the video and have read Parvis's opinion.

First, I have to disagree with Matt Savage, at least as quoted by Parvis. Savage apparently first concluded that the tournament director's decision to award the pot to Reinkemeier was correct, then changed his mind after watching the video. He apparently decided in retrospect that he would have ruled de Wolfe's hand retrievable and live.

I think this is dead wrong. The usual rule is that cards in the muck are dead. Granted, there can be exceptions to this. But they are and should be rare. The exceptions should, in my view, be limited to those situations in which (1) the cards in question are clearly identifiable without any meaningful risk of misidentification, (2) the potentially aggrieved party was innocent and fulfilled all of his obligations to claim the pot or a portion thereof, and (3) the cards being in the muck was the result of some factor outside the injured party's control. This would most commonly be the dealer accidentally mucking the winning hand. Even when these conditions are fulfilled, it should not be an automatic retrieval. The decision-maker should, I think, keep always in mind that the general rules should prevail unless there are compelling reasons to deviate from it and make an exception. I think it should be done only in a situation in which a gross injustice would be caused by not making the exception.

In my view, if the player has voluntarily put his cards into the muck (or the pile of burn cards, as here, which I think should be considered the same thing), or has clearly voluntarily released them to the dealer for purposes of mucking, then I can't think of any circumstance in which they should be retrieved and declared live. Maybe there are such situations, but none occur to me at the moment. Even in the case of the angle-shooter who intentionally claims to have a better hand than he actually does, which then prompt the real winner to muck, tough--you should have waited to see your opponent's cards before giving up. No mercy.

Here, de Wolfe shows one card, and keeps the other face down. Mucking one card unseen is the same as mucking all of one's hole cards unseen--and that is a precept, again, to which I can think of no exceptions. de Wolfe made two errors which are related but actually independent. First, he failed to turn his cards face up. Second, he pushed them into the muck. (The dealer was a bit overaggressive in then pulling them out of de Wolfe's hand, but I think that is inconsequential. de Wolfe's intent was clearly to muck, and he presumably would have released the cards an instant later even without the dealer's intervention--and even if didn't, I would still rule the hand dead at that point for having voluntarily been pushed into the muck.)

So de Wolfe cannot claim either that he did everything he should do to claim/retain his interest in the pot. He was not an innocent party wrongly aggrieved by an errant dealer. He completely fails my test for when cards in the muck should be given the governor's reprieve and declared live again.

de Wolfe scores additional (though technically irrelevant) demerits in my view for, well, lying. He can be heard on the audio to say, "That's not in the muck." Uh, yes it is--that's where you put it, dude.

Next, I disagree with Savage saying that "he would have had a talk with Reinkemeier, letting him know he did not want to see this type of behavior from him in the future or a penalty could be warranted." Why? What did Reinkemeier do wrong? He called a river bet. Then he insisted that his opponent either show his hand or muck it, which was fully within his rights to do. Then, after his opponent had mucked, he voluntarily showed his cards, though at that point it no longer mattered whether he did; the pot was his either way, as he was the only player with a live hand. There is nothing there to penalize, nothing to warn about.

Parvis here equivocates. He doesn't say that Reinkemeier was angle-shooting; he says that it "was on the verge of an angle shoot." C'mon, man--make up your mind. Was it angle-shooting or not? He deems Reinkemeier's actions "inappropriate," without, apparently, being willing to label them as cheating or unethical, and while acknowledging that he violated no rules.

I think de Wolfe is far more susceptible to the angle-shooting accusation than Reinkemeier is. He first failed to perform the simple duty of showing his cards when his bet was called. He then tried to claim a pot to which he had clearly and voluntarily relinquished all claim--akin to a chess player voluntarily and deliberately knocking over his king in acknowledgement of defeat, stepping away from the table, then thinking better of it and coming back to take another turn. Finally, he lied about his action when he realized what a grave error he had made. It is de Wolfe, not Reinkemeier, who should be warned about his unethical actions.

Was it sleazy of Reinkemeir to show his queen-high? I don't think so--certainly no more than showing a bluff in order to get under an opponent's skin.

Here again I find Parvis's opinion less than crystal clear. He writes, "When players do their best to finagle the rules in their favor as Reinkemeier did when he waited for De Wolfe to muck and then boasted about it by showing his hand triumphantly, it should bother all poker players." So then, was it the waiting for de Wolfe that was, in Parvis's view, the ethical violation, or was it the triumphant showing of his own cards, or was it the the combination? That is, if Reinkemeier had quietly taken the pot without ever showing his hand, would he then escape Parvis's judgment of angle-shooting (or "verge of angle-shooting")? I cannot tell for certain.

However, in a later paragraph Parvis suggests that it was waiting for de Wolfe to show the second card or muck that was troublesome, rather than just the in-your-face showing afterwards. He writes, "when Reinkemeier finally saw that his queen-high was trumped by De Wolfe's king-high, he should have had enough honor and respect for the game to muck his own hand on the spot, allowing the pot to be awarded to De Wolfe." I think this is absolutely wrong. The clear implication is that Reinkemeier should not have forced de Wolfe to show his second down card, but instead let him get away with showing only one to claim the pot. No way. Both cards are shown, or both are mucked. There is no half way on that. There are reasons for this. Suppose, e.g., that de Wolfe had two of the same card, or his kicker was a duplicate of one of the board cards, i.e., de Wolfe had been knowingly playing a hand with a fouled deck, and he didn't want to show his second card lest that be revealed. Why should Reinkemeier not wait to be sure that he was actually and legally beaten with a legitimate, live hand?

Parvis clearly believes that showing one card is enough. He writes: "If, in fact De Wolfe mucked both of his hole cards without showing the king and then tried to retrieve his hand before seeing Reinkemeier's hand, then Reinkemeier, in my opinion, would have done nothing wrong. However, a king was shown, it was the best hand, and I believe the pot should have been pushed to De Wolfe." This makes no sense to me. Showing one card is not an action with any meaning. It is merely a tease. It would make as much sense to say, "de Wolfe clearly announced his hand as king-high, so at that point Reinkemeier should have accepted his word for it, acknowledged defeat, mucked his cards, and let de Wolfe have the pot." Nope--that's not how it works. A player does not have the winning hand by saying that he does, nor by showing fewer than all of his hole cards. He tables his entire hand face-up so that it can be read by the dealer and all players, or it is dead. That's all there is to it. There is no in-between.

Parvis's confusing position continues with this head-scratcher of a sentence: "I understand that there will be plenty of people who disagree with me, but I believe that as long as one plays within the rules then all is fair." Huh??? Reinkemeier did play within the rules, as Parvis explicitly recognizes, but yet he receives Parvis's condemnation. This sentence seems to be out of whack with the message of the rest of the essay.

I do not disagree with the general idea that there are points of ethics that are not part of the written rules. But they do not trump the written rules; they supplement them. They can never point or lead to a different outcome than the official rules, nor should they ever be understood to require a player to do something different from or contrary to what the actual rulebook prescribes. Parvis apparently wants the "unwritten rules" to trump here. He wants de Wolfe to be awarded the pot, even though he did not take even the most minimal step to fulfill his ethical and rule-based obligation to either show his cards or muck them. He wants to penalize Reinkemeier, who violated no rules and did not fail in any of his obligations to protect his interest in the pot. This I find bizarre. It is turning things on their head.

Parvis concludes that Reinkemeier should "man up" and relinquish the pot when he sees that his hand is second best. I think it is de Wolfe that should "man up" and either show his cards or muck them when called, without needing to be prompted by his opponent and the dealer to do so. And, when he learns that he made a mistake in mucking them, he should "man up" and live with the consequences of his own voluntary actions.

de Wolfe tries to boil down the issue this way: "The best hand should win." No. The best live hand should win. You killed yours by pushing it into the muck. All you had to do was turn both cards face up, rather than just one, and you would have had the pot. You were apparently embarrassed to do so (though it's strange that you would be willing to admit verbally that your hand was king-high but then not be willing to show that that was so). You let your embarrassment take priority over the slim but finite chance that you had the winner. So be it.

I not only would act exactly as Reinkemeier did (though perhaps without showing at the end), I have done so on any number of occasions--that is, insisting that the bettor either show or muck. If he chooses to muck the winning hand, that's his decision, and I have zero responsibility to stop him.

The bettor in such situations has the world's simplest remedy against losing the pot with the best hand: Just show it. It takes half a second and the flick of a wrist. If a player is not willing to do that, he deserves to lose. I have had many river bets called that were either bluffs or were in situations where the call told me that I was almost certain to be behind (e.g., the caller had the big pair, instead of the A-K I thought he might have). In such cases, I usually say something like, "If you called you must have the winner," but I do so while exposing my cards. Once in a while I get the pleasant surprise of being wrong and winning the pot. It happens often enough that I can't figure out why one would not take such action, when it is so easy and foolproof.

By the way, a very similar situation played out at the Wynn Poker Classic earlier this year. I wrote about here. It seems that some pros are slow learners, unable to take lessons from even the very recent past.


I just remembered that Cardgrrl told a similar story from her last visit to Atlantic City, which you can read here. Here's what I posted in a comment on her blog on that occasion. Very astute readers may note some similarity to what I just wrote above:

I strongly disagree that Crasian did anything wrong or was being a
douchebag. First, of all, he had the only live hand. Only live hands win pots.
Second, nothing in the account suggests that *he* saw the ace flashed. Why
should he take the word of somebody else as to what an opponent had? Third, I
completely disagree with the term "technicality." This is far, far more than
that. ETP had a decision to make, whether to table his cards or not. He chose
not to. The consequence of that is a dead hand and forfeiture of any claim to
the pot. This is absolutely standard by every rule book I've seen. He had the
world's simplest method of preserving his interest in the pot--turn his cards
face up on the table. It's not asking that much of him. If he chooses not to
take that minimal step, he deserves to get nothing. IMO, it would be a travesty
for him to get the pot, or even half of it. Tabling one's cards is not a mere
formality or technicality. It is a crucial and intrinsic part of the play of a
hand. It involves a strategic/tactical decision, whether to show or muck. One
must live with the consequences of making that decision badly, just as with
every other decision made in the course of the play of a hand.

I would feel differently if he had tabled his hand and everybody misread
it, or if the dealer accidentally killed it, or something else. But this was his
own damn fault, 100%. He did wrong the one thing he needed to do. Crasian did
nothing either unethical or against the rules. I, too, would keep the pot in his
situation, and not feel a shred of guilt or douchbaggery about it.

For two similar stories from my blog, see

Guess the casino, #265

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

Answer: MGM Grand

An unusual tell

The chip above now holds a special place in my collection: It is the only $5 chip that has ever won me $150. Let me tell you how.

I was playing last night at Bally's. I had chalked up a substantial win at Planet Hollywood next door, but after sitting down at Bally's I just couldn't get anything going. Amongst all my folding, though, I tried to pay some attention to the hands I wasn't in. While doing so, I noticed something unusual about one of the most active players at the table.

Bally's doesn't have very many commemorative chips in circulation, so they tend to stand out. This guy had the chip shown above--no, not one like it, but that very chip--on top of one of his stacks. The peculiar thing was that sometimes he put it into the pot along with other chips when he was betting, but other times he took pains to put it aside before counting out chips to go into the pot.

Eventually I figured out what he was doing. It seemed that he was intent on keeping the chip as a souvenir, and the times that he casually put it into the pot as part of his bet were the times that he was strong and felt confident that it would be coming back. Conversely, though, when he was bluffing or unsure of where he stood in a hand when making a call, he would first remove that chip from the top of the stack, then use only the regular Bally's chips for his bet or call.

I have never before either seen or heard of a tell anything like this, but it was a fine one!

It paid off in the end. I don't remember the details of the hand, but on the river I had bottom pair and a busted straight draw. He had been betting every street, as was his habit in nearly every hand he played, and I had been calling. On the river, with the pot at about $100, he took the special chip off of the top of a stack of $50 (10 red chips), replaced it with another regular chip, then shoved the stack in. Aha!

I don't know whether he had air and I actually had the best hand, or if he had a better but still mediocre hand. I was quite confident, though, that he couldn't stand the heat of an all-in raise after he had shown me his tell of weakness.

I had about $155 left. I announced "All in," and he mucked before I could even move my chips forward, without even a few seconds of thought.

So how did I get his cherished chip? Easy. When I knew that I was on my last orbit and would be leaving after a few more hands, he bet the flop using the chip. After the dealer put out the turn card and was waiting for action, I pointed to the chip in the middle of the table and asked if I could buy that one from the pot. "Sure," said the dealer, as they usually do at such requests. I quickly made the trade, and the chip was mine.

My main reason for doing that was that it was one I didn't have in my collection. A second motivation was that the guy had annoyed me. Nothing terribly rude, but he was just more exuberant in his celebrations when winning pots than I think is cricket. It was enough to make me take a bit of perverse pleasure in sneakily depriving him of his little prize. Hey, pal, if you want to keep the chip, stick it in your pocket, or keep it at the bottom of your stack. Don't keep putting it in the pot. It may not come back to you every time that you think it will.

Finally, I wanted the chip as a souvenir of my pleasure at having paid enough attention to the game to spot an unusual tell, and use it to my advantage. That pot with him got me back to even for the night. It was 1:00 in the morning, and I was too tired to try to mount another big win, so after I won one more hand, I left with a small profit.

A small profit and a good story.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Guess the casino, #264

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

Answer: Green Valley Ranch