Saturday, November 14, 2009

Reader 2-4 story

Faithful reader Keiser sent me the following story:

Figured you *might* be interested in this one from a $1/$3 game at TI on
Thursday night. I had to profusely apologize for looking like an ass and
taking a picture of winning with 4-2o, I told my friends I read the blog of a
prophet of sorts who swears by this hand but they didn't believe me.
Little fuzzy, I took the picture as fast as I could.

Action: Raise to 12, 2 callers before me, I call from the cutoff and BB
calls. Flop A55, BB checks, initial raiser bets $20, fold fold, I call, BB
folds. Turn the trey I knew was coming. He bets $40. I
call. River K. He bets $40, I raise to $120 and he snap calls,
showing A9.

Thanks Poker Grump for the money!

Guess the casino, #326

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

Answer: Palace Station

Friday, November 13, 2009

Introverts at the poker table

(Cartoon above found at

While looking for something else entirely, I stumbled across this article from The Atlantic, published several years ago: "Caring for your Introvert," by Jonathan Rauch. It really struck home with me. This guy understands me and my ilk. He's one of us.

More than once I have been at a lively poker table for a while when somebody says something like, "Everybody is having a good time except for that guy" (pointing at me). It apparently never dawns on them that it might be possible for somebody to be having a perfectly good time in a way that doesn't happen to match theirs, or have the same outward manifestations. My first impulse is to protest, "I am having a good time," but I don't, because I really don't care whether he thinks I am having fun or not, and it's not worth the time and effort to try to convince him. That sort of person would never understand anyway.

I especially liked Rauch making this point:

With their endless appetite for talk and attention, extroverts also dominate
social life, so they tend to set expectations. In our extrovertist society,
being outgoing is considered normal and therefore desirable, a mark of
happiness, confidence, leadership.

But why should that be? Why is being extroverted normal and introverted abnormal? This seems to be one of the last remaining acceptable knee-jerk prejudices: to consider there to be something wrong with a person because he is quiet, reserved, thoughtful, speaking only when he feels he has something meaningful to contribute. We give lip service to the concept of diversity--as long as it's about race, sex, age, nationality, disability, sexual orientation, etc. Diversity along the extrovert/introvert axis is not generally welcomed.

I can recall at times in the past finding myself not easily fitting in to some group, and, when discussing the situation with a friend, being told, basically, that I have to engage in more small talk, laugh at other people's jokes even when they aren't funny, feign interest in the stories they tell about their lives and ask questions to prompt the telling of more, and various other gimmicks. All of which are rather like asking me to put on a dress and a wig and pretend to be female: the idea is some mixture of frightening, insulting, and ridiculous. The obvious question is this: If the group doesn't like me for who and what I actually am, why should I pretend to be otherwise? Why is it my responsibility to either change or fake being somebody I'm not? Don't other people have some minimal duty to be tolerant and accepting of me as I am?

Put more defiantly, if I'm not going to be valued for the assets that I bring to a group, well, screw them. It's far more their loss than mine. If they aren't interested in discovering my intelligence, experience, wit, kindness, insight, skills, etc., all because I'm not highly talkative or animated in body language, then they're too narrow-minded for me to care what they think of me.

I've read a lot of Mike Caro's stuff. I value his insights. I've learned a lot from him--probably more than from any other single poker writer. He has written endlessly about how socializing at the poker table is profitable, for the simple reason that people will willingly lose more money to you if they like you. Of all of his advice, I find that by far the hardest to implement. Maybe I should. Maybe someday I will.

But right now, I'm still happiest and most comfortable sitting quietly, watching and listening intently to the action and conversation, but contributing to the social milieu only on those rare occasions when I have something that I think is especially clever or important or useful to contribute. If opponents think that I'm dangerous as a result, that's fine with me. If, conversely, they think I'm timid and easy to bully, great--let them try. If they think I'm aloof and arrogant, well, OK--I don't really care and can't do much about that impression.

Once in a while I find myself next to a fellow traveler, one who is as quiet and thoughtful as I am. I sometimes discern a ferocious intelligence behind the watchful eyes, like a Ferrari engine that is just idling, but ready to rev up to its full, immense power at the touch of the throttle when needed. Sometimes we recognize each other as kindred spirits and strike up a transient friendship for the duration of the poker session--the wallflowers forming a tiny bouquet. We exchange knowing glances at the idiots who run their mouths endlessly but their brains rarely. We trade rolling eyes at the inane arguments over which running back is better. We mutually note the idiotic call from Seat 4, and simultaneously make our private plans of how to exploit his weakness. I like that kind of experience, though it's not common.

Mostly I get ignored, made fun of, and/or misunderstood. Mostly I'm used to it, and don't care much. But once in a while, like right now, I feel like letting people know the real story of what's going on.

Poker gems, #327

Howard Lederer, in ESPN broadcast of World Series of Poker, October 14, 2009, on the truth behind things poker players commonly say to each other.

"Nice hand" is code for "You're an idiot."

Bad luck at the WSOP

Yesterday I finally finished watching the final table of the main event of the World Series of Poker. I noticed, as I suppose everybody must have, how many of the eliminations occurred on bad beats.

I was sufficiently impressed with this fact that I went back and tabulated the last hand of each of the eight players voted off the island, with the percentage probability of winning as given by the on-screen graphics when the money went in. They are listed in order of elimination, with the ousted player listed first in each pair:

Akenhead 3-3 (20%)
Schaffel 9-9 (80%)

Schaffel A-A (83%)
Buchman K-K (17%)

Ivey A-K (75%)
Moon A-Q (25%)

Begleiter Q-Q (70%)
Moon A-Q (30%)

Shulman 7-7 (59%)
Saout A-9 (41%)

Buchman A-5 (56%)
Moon K-J (44%)

Saout 8-8 (54%)
Cada A-K (46%)

Moon Q-J (48%)
Cada 9-9 (52%)

So only Akenhead and Moon failed to get the last of their chips in as a favorite; six out of eight went out with the best hand. That's just kind of unsettling.

You can also get a sense for how often Darvin Moon got a lot of chips in as an underdog; in all three cases where he eliminated an opponent, as well as in his own final hand, it was when he was taking the worst of it.

CK over at the BWOP blog has some cogent thoughts about what all of this means. Go read her. I'm just showing you the numbers.

Not really expendable

Custom choppers are a fairly common prize item in casinos. I could do a couple of weeks' worth of "Guess the Casino" posts just on the ones I've seen on display. Mostly they bore me. I think they just look stupid and pointless. I can't imagine why anybody would want one.

But for some reason that I can't really put my finger on, the one shown below, which I saw the other day at Planet Hollywood, hit me differently. It was made for and used in the upcoming Sylvester Stallone movie "The Expendables." It's so unusual and creative--every smidgen of the traditional motorcycle has been carefully reworked--that, despite a certain grotesque element, I had to admit that there is some genuine beauty to it. If hard-pressed, I might even concede it to be, well, art.

See what you think.

Incidentally, just as I was taking the last of these photos, I spotted a security guard making a beeline toward me. But then he saw me put my cell phone camera away, and he veered off. I can only assume that he was about to tell me that photography was not allowed. But there were no such signs around, and, really, how can you put an object like this on public display and expect people not to want to take pictures of it? Idiots.

Guess the casino, #325

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

Answer: Mirage

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Guess the casino, #324

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

Answer: Luxor

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What chips to take to a new table?

When I did a table change yesterday at Planet Hollywood, it reminded me of something I left out of my room review of Harrah's Atlantic City. They have a strange rule there that I've never seen or heard of anywhere else. If you have more chips in front of you than the maximum buy-in, if you change tables you must pocket the excess. I.e., you can't move to a new table with more chips than if you were joining it as a new player in the room. This is decidedly odd, as it reduces the number of chips in play, and casinos usually have every incentive to keep more chips on the table.

It's a dream come true for players who like to lock up profits and not put their winnings at risk--i.e., the squirrelers or pigeonholers. Instead of having to try to sneak chips off the table and into their pockets when nobody is looking, they can just ask for a table change and management forces them to go south with the amount that is over the table max.

This really makes no sense. You might as well make it a rule that anything you win over the table max must automatically be taken off the table, whether you move or not. Why is it any worse to come to a new table with more chips than the max, but OK to stay where you are with more chips than the max? It is illegal to take your profit off the table if you stay put, but mandatory to do so if you're just moving to a different table of the same game. That may be the single most illogical pair of rules I've ever run across in a poker room.

Incidentally, a couple of months ago I learned for the first time that Mandalay Bay has the opposite rule: If you're changing tables, and you're below the minimum initial buy-in, you have to rebuy to at least the minimum to go to a new table. This makes some sense, because (1) it keeps more chips in action, which is good for both the casino and the players, and (2) when there's an empty seat to be filled, the players at the table have a reasonable expectation that it will be filled by somebody bringing at least the minimum buy-in.

If this rule is in place and enforced at any other casino in town, I have not encountered it. (If readers know of such, please speak up in the comments.) At the time I learned of it, I thought it was unique to Mandalay, but when I came home and looked it up, I was surprised to find it suggested in Roy Cooke and John Bond's Cooke's Rules of Real Poker. On p. 56 they write:

9.02 Minimum buy-in

The minimum buy-in applies to a player's initial buy-in when entering the
game, or a re-buy after going all-in in a pot or when returning to the table
after leaving during a period that would constitute the same playing session. If
a player is transferring from a game of the same type and limits then he does
not need to buy additional chips. (ALTERNATE RULE: A player transferring to
another game of the same type and limits must enter the game he is transferring
to with at least the minimum buy-in, unless he is coming from a broken game. The
logic behind this rule is that insofar as the players at the new table are
concerned, the transferring player is a new player. This alternate rule induces
action and is preferred, but because it is not widely accepted, it is the
alternate rather than the main rule.)

I like the Cooke/Mandalay Bay rule. I hate the Harrah's A.C. rule.

Yet more dreaming

This is now three nights in a row that I have had poker dreams. Well, for all I know, I might have poker dreams every night, but this is three times in a row that they have occurred just before waking, so that I remember them.

Last night I was watching the World Series of Poker main event final table as the last thing before I went to bed, with predictable results: I ended up playing poker with Phil Ivey and Steve Begleiter. It was a weird form of poker. Each player is given 13 cards, and you have to choose some to expose before the betting begins. There are complex rules about what you have to show. I had all four kings, and initially showed just two of them, plus a couple of other cards. But I wasn't sure I was doing it right. So I asked Phil, and he launched into a detailed explanation of not only what cards had to be shown, but what worked best strategically. I was so distracted by this that I didn't notice Begleiter coming over to my side of the table, and turning all of my cards face up. He was just curious what I had. He apparently thought that this wasn't a "real" hand, but just practice. I was livid. Even starting with 13 cards, quad kings will be a rare and strong hand, so I had been hoping to win a lot of money the first time I played this new game, and he ruined it. Typical Wall Street pig!

The night before that I was in a hold'em tournament and getting short-stacked. I raised from early position with a suited K-Q. Barry Greenstein called. The flop was something like A-7-3. I decided to represent having the ace, and shoved. Barry called. I showed my pathetic hand. But Barry was on a cell phone call. I don't know who he was talking to or what the subject was, but he was unusually animated and distracted. He took a full two minutes to finish talking and finally expose his hand: 3-3 for the flopped set and the winner. It was the world's worst slow-roll!

In a tangentially related weird coincidence, late last night, just before downloading the WSOP episode, I had been on a video chat with my friend Cardgrrl. One of the things we like to do sometimes is jointly solve difficult crossword puzzles--ones that are too hard for either of us to tackle alone. Last night one of the clues was "Biblical oneirocritic." I had no idea what that word meant. Cardgrrl did: Interpreter of dreams. She was right (see here, e.g.), and the answer turned out to be DANIEL (though I initially thought it would be JOSEPH). She told me early in the process of getting to know her that she knew everything, and I would just have to get used to that fact. At the time, I thought she was kidding....

Image above found at

Guess the casino, #323

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

Answer: Hard Rock

I'm a sucker for freebies

As I noted a couple of months ago, Planet Hollywood is one of my top-earning places. I haven't been there much lately for a few reasons, most prominent among them that construction along Koval and Harmon have made getting to PH a royal pain. That seems to have eased up now, though.

A couple of days ago, AlaskaGal, whom I know from (she and I were two of the final five at the tournament Saturday night), tweeted that she had received a nice poker chip set from PH, and posted pictures of it. It seemed that she got it for the simple act of adding the new PH poker room manager (phPokerMgr) to the list of people she follows on Twitter.

I have a nice poker chip set, but it is among the many things that didn't fit in the vehicle when I moved out here on short notice from Minnesota in 2006, so it is still in the custody of the ex-wife. I expect I'll retrieve it eventually, but I have no idea when. This means that I, an allegedly professional poker player, have had the ignominious situation of having no poker chip set of my own. When I want or need to play with chips, I have to use my collection of real casino souvenir chips, which means taking them out of their protective sleeves, etc. It's too much bother.

So the possibility of picking up not just random free swag, but a really nice set of poker chips and storage case, was almost too good to be true. Still, I ventured, feeling a bit silly and, well, even tawdry. I added Joe Viator (the new room manager) to my Twitter list and posted a note to that effect today, adding that I'd be there by late afternoon to play. A short time later, he responded: "when you get to the poker room, tell Jen u follow me and she will give you a gift."

He was as good as his word. When I arrived, Jen recognized me straight off before I could even say a word, and told me to stop back at the desk when I was ready to leave, and they'd arrange it for me. And they did. I cashed out my chips (for a nice little profit, thank you very much) and Ryan, the shift supervisor, presented me with the lovely boxed set of chips you see above.

It is far and away the nicest thing I've ever received from a poker room. I have a bunch of baseball caps and one windbreaker, scads of decks of cards, and have been given a book or two. But this case is so nice that it makes the rest of my apartment look shabby. (OK, well, maybe it is shabby, but now that is more obvious!) I am delighted to have it, and most grateful for the generosity extended to me.

Of course, I still mourn the loss of the previous location of the PH poker room, which I thought was one of the nicest in town. But despite increased levels of noise and smoke in the current spot, the room continues to be staffed by high-quality, friendly dealers, and frequented by plenty of casual tourist types who are there to have fun and don't play especially well. In short, it's an easy and pretty comfortable place in which to make money. I make sure to get there a few times a month (barring something like the construction obstacles). Now if they could just install a Star Trek transporter to shorten the walk between the parking garage and the poker room.....

So who wants to come over to my place for a little friendly game of HORSE?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Might as well ask for what you want

I enjoyed this story from --S, now back in Vegas and dealing at the M Resort and Casino. His blog was the one that made me think that I might be able to pull one off myself, so I continue to owe him thanks--as do you, if you enjoy reading my stuff.

I'm dealing a 4-handed $1/2 NL game. The 9-seat is the big blind. He checks
his option and calls out, "Lots of Nines and Twos, please!"

The flop is Q-9-9. He laughs, bets, and gets called.

The river is a deuce. The entire table laughs. The 9-seat checks and the
8-seat eventually bets into him. He asks incredulously, "Didn't you hear me
before the flop?" He raises and the 8-seat folds.

The 9-seat shows his 9-2 offsuit and takes down the pot.

Very next hand...

"Lots of tens and fours this time!" The flop is 3-10-10. He and I both
start laughing as he checks. The 6-seat bets. I laugh harder. The 9-seat says,
"You understand that the only hands I cannot beat right now are pocket threes or
a better ten than I have, right?" He calls.

The turn is a 4. He turns his cards face up, his 10-4 (suited this time,
though) and tosses some chips into the center of the table.

Three more times that down, he calls for a card on the turn or the river,
and it comes. He finally says, "OK. I'm not calling cards anymore tonight. I'm
afraid these guys are going to think you and I are up to something

Nice word - nefarious. At any rate, if I could produce cards at will when
someone called for them, I'd be the richest dealer in Vegas. Trust me when I say
I'm not ;)

The incident reminds me a bit of one of my all-time favorite poker stories. It happened at the Excalibur last year. It was one of the few times that I knew I had a great blog post the instant it happened, and could hardly wait to rush home and write it up. In fact, if I had read the story in somebody else's blog instead of having experienced it myself, I would be suspicious that it was just made up. See here.

Guess the casino, #322

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

Answer: Wynn (Thanks to Cardgrrl for the photograph.)

Monday, November 09, 2009

Poker dreamin'

A couple of people have written to alert me to the fact that in interviews following his elimination from the World Series of Poker final table, James Akenhead had mentioned that 2-4 (though he erroneously refers to it as "four-deuce") used to be his favorite hand, but from now on it will be the K-Q, which saved him at a crucial point in the tournament. I'm not sure if he's just daft, or cleverly trying not to let the world in on how strong 2-4 is.

In any event, it was undoubtedly because of thinking about this that Mr. Akenhead popped up in a dream last night. I was playing against him. Somehow, at stake in this hand was not only the cash pot, but an all-expense-paid poker cruise. The flop was Ad-3s-5d. (Of course, when I dream about poker it involves hands in which 2-4 would be the nuts!)

I bet with middle pair, holding K-5. He moved all in. While I was contemplating what to do, he showed me his cards, daring me to call. He had 3-4 of diamonds. That gave him bottom pair and a gutshot straight-flush draw. I was ahead, but he had 17 outs to beat my lousy pair of 5s. It would cost me all my chips (something like $200) to call, but the cruise was presumably of considerable value, so I was getting enormous pot odds when that was thrown in. I should have called.

But I folded.

Most people dream about being stronger, tougher, braver than they really are. I dream about being a weak, wimpy, cowardly poker donkey. I am so pathetic.

Poker gems, #326

Hans "Tuna" Lund, who died November 6.

“You’ve got to have the heart of a lion--play fearless, don’t be afraid and, when you roar, they better back up.”

(Quotation and photo taken from Amy Calistri's blog post, here.)

Guess the casino, #321

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

Answer: Sunset Station

Poker gems, #325

James McManus, in interview in Poker Pro magazine, November, 2009, p. 39, about his new history of poker, Cowboys Full.

Q: The book describes a lot of presidential poker. If all living presidents and the ghosts of dead ones visit the White House tonight for a five-table, 100 electoral vote buy-in, no-limit hold'em tournament, which one do you back? And if you're running the tournament, which ones do you keep a sharp eye on?

A: Good question! But the evidence is conclusive that Eisenhower was by far the toughest player, though Nixon did very well for himself during his stint in the Navy. So I would bet on Ike and Tricky Dick. At the same time, while there's no evidence that Nixon cheated at poker, he certainly cheated in politics, so I'd have to watch him the closest. As John Dean might put it, "There's a cancer on Table 16."

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Graph of a tournament

When I'm playing in a live poker tournament, I count my chips often. Stack size is virtually always one of the most important factors in every decision, so I want to be sure I know where I stand. But I have a problem: my short-term memory doesn't hold the result very well. So long ago I came up with the obvious solution: Write it down. I always have scratch paper and a pen in my shirt pocket anyway. That way, when I'm in a big hand and need to know how many chips I have, I don't have to be distracted from what I want to be focusing on to try to either recall how many chips I had at the start of the hand, or try to count them when the spotlight and pressure are on me. (I have made serious errors counting under those circumstances.) I just glance at my little sheet of paper.

I also usually jot down the time for each chip check, so that (1) I know if I've neglected to update it recently, and (2) I stay aware of the time of day.

I have long thought that it might be cool and interesting to take an entire tournament's worth of chip counting and graph it out. But the problem is that I usually don't do well in tournaments. I bust out before making it to the money, so the graph falls off of a cliff.

Last night was the first time since I have been undertaking this practice that I made it all the way to the end, and can thus make a graphic display of how my stack evolved over the course of the tournament. The other four who ended with approximately the same number of chips (all of us starting with the same 10,000, of couse) would, I'm sure, have very, very different lines, though all with the same starting and end points.

I used an Excel spreadsheet to enter the times, which it then converted into number of hours from the start of the tournament, shown along the x-axis. My goal was to do a count every ten minutes, plus after every major swing up or down. I didn't always succeed, but I came pretty close. You can see the result above.

I started out like gangbusters. Half an hour into the thing I had nearly tripled my stack, having busted two players. That all came in three big hands, with JJ holding up and AA holding up twice for the two eliminations.

As you can see, though, that was followd by two and a half hours of basically no net forward progress. Then shortly after I was moved to a new table I had the hand of the day: 7-10 of clubs on the button. I flopped top two pair, and it held despite aggressive, scary betting from the other two players contesting the hand. That took me to 61,750, and as I looked around the other tables at the time, I didn't see anybody else with more than about 30,000, so I was not only the tournament chip leader, but massively so.

It's a good thing, too, because I then hit the Death Valley of card deadness, the Dead Sea of card deadness, the Arlington Cemetary of card deadness. This lasted for the next couple of hours. It was disconcerting to see that enormous lead dwindle as the tournament clock showed the average chip stack number growing ever closer to what I had. But I was sure glad that I had entered that horrible spell with a stack sufficiently large that I could coast for the long, long time that I needed to.

The next interesting section of the graph is between 5 and 6 hours in. That's when we hit that threshold where there are lots of short stacks that have only one move, and the bigger stacks have to decide whether to call the all-in or not. That's always a high-variance interval in a tournament, and that fact shows nicely in the jagged up-and-down line; obviously I won some of those and lost some. I think that last uptick right at the 6-hour mark was when I busted the bubble boy with a bad beat (I was about a 3:1 underdog when the money went in) and moved to the final table.

It looked to me that I was probably fourth in chips when the final table of ten began, with about 10,000 more than the mean. I made some initial careful progress, but then had a big downturn when I overplayed a suited A-K that missed the flop. I would have had a substantial loss there no matter what, but I lost about 20,000 more than I should have because of being too stubborn.

I then turned up the aggression, and became one of the most frequent blind stealers. I was determined not to try to creep up the money ladder one little step at a time, meekly hoping that others would bust out first, but instead go for the gusto. I had apparently developed enough of a tight table image that I could get away with it, because I was open-raising all-in for 10-18 big blinds with 5-6 suited or 10-8 offsuit, and getting the players in the big blind to reluctantly fold much better hands (like suited K-Q, medium pocket pairs, or small aces) face up.

The last move up the chart came from busting out the last player to go, and shortly after that we negotiated the tournament-ending deal.

So there you have it. That is one possible route to success in a tournament. There are infinitely many possible paths that get to the same place, but this was mine. I'm feeling rather fond of it, and glad that I now have it memorialized this way.

AVP tournament: I make top five

I'm just home from a marathon poker tournament. sponsored this one at Harrah's. It started at 7:00 p.m., and didn't wind up until 3:00 a.m. I was fortunate enough to be one of the five left standing at the end (out of 65 original entrants), when we negotiated an even-money five-way chop of the remaining prize money for $1000 each. At the request of one of the organizers, I jotted some notes on how the final table played out. You can read that account here. I won't repeat myself here. But I'll tell you that I'm very happy with the outcome. I played my best, got lucky in a couple of key spots, and was never on the ugly end of any costly bad beats. What more can I either ask or expect?

I have long had what I feel to be a symbiotic relationship with AVP. When I first started playing poker in town, nearly all my thoughts that got reduced to words went up in the AVP forums. After a few months, the responses had been positive enough that I felt emboldened to start this blog, and the vast majority of my early readers were AVP'ers who followed me over.

Since then, I post a lot less on AVP, because virtually everything I have to say about poker goes here. But I continue to peruse the discussions there (though not as frequently or thoroughly as I did before my own writing got to consuming so much time). I am happy that people find their way in both directions: From this blog to AVP, and from there to here. I hope that that bidirectional flow of like-minded people continues for a long time to come.

I was reminded of all of this tonight because of the surprising number of people who recognized me and approached me with kind words of appreciation for this blog. I don't think I've ever heard so many gracious and obviously sincere compliments about it in one day before. I am both delighted and humbled by that response. Thank you all for taking the trouble to seek me out and tell me that you enjoy reading what I have to say. You have once again energized me to keep it going.

But not tonight. It's just after 5:00 a.m., and I am dying to get some sleep.

Guess the casino, #320

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

Answer: Silverton