Saturday, November 28, 2009

Score one for the chip runner

I forgot to post about a funny incident that occurred November 19 at Caesars Palace. I tweeted it, but those not following me on Twitter won't have heard this.

Guy sits down, gives chip runner $200. He gets involved in the first hand, and by the river he's all-in by verbal commitment. He loses. It was pretty reasonable--they both had trip queens, but loser with a king kicker, winner with a jack kicker that paired on the river to make a full house.

The chip runner showed up just as the pot was being pushed. The losing player told the chip runner, "Give 'em all to that guy," and pointed to the winner. It was done as he asked. He gave the chip runner another two c-notes.

A minute later, the chip runner is back with the chips. He gets the player's attention and asks, "OK, who do these go to?"

Fortunately, the player took it in the spirit intended, and joined in a hearty laugh with the rest of us.

The other side of the coin

Yesterday it seemed that everybody who pays attention to the politics of poker was atwitter about the announcement of a six-month delay in the implementation of the regulations that financial institutions will have to follow under the UIGEA. See, for example, this bit of barely contained excitement, as reported by PokerNews:

The extension is an important victory for Internet poker and the Poker Players Alliance, which submitted the petition for delay. The ruling affords six months for Congress to revise the act, clarifying the definition of "unlawful Internet gambling" in a way that distinguishes the game of poker.

"The PPA is extremely pleased with the decision by the Federal Reserve and Treasury to grant the six month extension," PPA chairman and former Senator Alfonse D'Amato said in a statement. "This is a great victory for poker, but an even greater victory for advocates of good and fair public policy. These additional months are critical to provide legislators time to clarify UIGEA and pass legislation to license and regulate poker early next year."

John Pappas, executive director of the PPA, said he thinks the extension of six months rather than the requested year could actually help poker's cause by providing a sense of urgency to those in Congress who support the licensing and regulation of the Internet poker industry.

"I think it will it will force Congress to act quickly on this rather than drag their heals thinking they can deal with this later because they have a year," Pappas said. "Hopefully we'll have some movement in the House and Senate. If there's good progress being shown, we're hopeful we would be granted another delay."

Any number of poker pros were similarly excited, juding from Twitter messages. Howard Lederer and Andy Bloch, for example, both forwarded this from the PPA: "6 month UIGEA extension! Release coming shortly."

All I can do is shake my head at how pathetic and wrong this is.

What has happened is a six-month delay in enforcement of a law that is woefully misguided, expensive, ineffective, and should never have been passed in the first place. Sure, it's better than nothing, but getting so giddy about it is rather like celetrating when you're chained to a wall in a Cambodian prison and you learn that they're going to skip your flogging today. Of course no flogging is better than flogging, but cause for breaking out the champagne? Hardly.

This is precisely the kind of thing that happens when you accept as an inevitable reality governance by an incompetent, corrupt, overbearing, and overreaching federal government. I, for one, do not welcome our new insect overlords.*

The PPA and its like-minded supporters seem to have no idea of the trouble they're inviting, though this episode should be enough to clue them in. Once you accept that the federal government should be and will be licensing and regulating online poker, you are reduced to begging for table scraps. You scratch and fight and lobby (spending big bucks in the process), hoping for some marginal improvement in how things work, perhaps a little less paperwork to be filed here, or a tiny reduction in the confiscatory tax rate there. More often, though, you're fighting just to maintain the status quo, trying to prevent another round of ratcheting up the percentage Uncle Sam claims, or preventing implementation of another step up in the complexity of the hoops an online poker site has to jump through to verify that a potential new customer is of age.

I am warning you all once again: federal licensure and regulation of gaming will eventually choke the life out of online poker. I wrote in some detail my reasons for concluding this back in May, here, with pointers to some earlier shorter screeds. I won't cover the same ground again. I just wanted to take this opportunity to point out how the PPA is already pathetically groveling, hoping to be tossed a tiny crumb from the table of the feds.

Online poker is not a legitimate concern of the federal government, which has neither constitutional authority nor any reason to be involved in the field at all. It is inconceivable to me that, e.g., PokerStars will run any better or more securely after it spends a bajillion dollars to get a federal license, and another bajillion to be sure that they are following the several thousands pages of regulatory minutiae that will assuredly follow. All that will happen is that their overhead will increase, taxes will be taken out of winnings before they get to you, and the whole enterprise will become less profitable for sites and players alike. Mark my words.

Online poker should be free from state and/or federal governmental interference, taxation, regulation, control, and oversight. It can work perfectly well for all of us if just left the hell alone. As a political goal, we should settle for nothing less than that.

*For some interesting and amusing bits of history of this great meme, see here and here and here.

Circle of confusion

I just learned a new term: "Circle of confusion." It's a technical term from the field of optics. You can read all about it here, if you wish.

Had I come across this phrase out of context, I would have assumed that it was referring to a typical $2/$4 limit hold'em table.

Guess the casino, #340

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

Answer: Mirage

The all-in button

While playing at the Venetian yesterday and today, I noticed that they have started using an "all-in button." When a player declares himself to be all in, the dealer tosses that button in front of him. Some other places (e.g., MGM Grand) also have "call" buttons used when there is a call of such a bet, but the Venetian has not gone that far.

My impression is that the dealers dislike taking the trouble to deploy these things, but I think they serve a useful purpose. I explained my reasons for this opinion last year, here, so I won't repeat them. But I will add one more that I didn't list then: It makes the action clearer on the surveillance tapes, which do not pick up conversation at the table (as far as I know--and I really doubt that they do). If one had cause to review how a poker hand played out, it would be helpful to know that a player verbally committed all of his chips, because otherwise the action might seem out of order or otherwise anomalous, and the amount raked might appear wrong.

My main concern about them is if they are not used consistently. If players learn to rely on them (particularly hearing-impaired players, or anybody in a poker room as noisy as, say, Bally's), but then comes along a dealer who isn't reliable about tossing the button out when it's called for, there could ensue more confusion and debate than might happen when players know they need to ask for verbal clarification of the action if there is any doubt.

It is still just a few places in town that use these, but I think it's a good trend, and hope other poker rooms will start the practice, too.

Fuss over a chip

I played at the Venetian again today. In an extraordinarily rare occurrence, I picked up two old chips that were not previously in my collection, and that I didn't even know existed. The Venetian hasn't issued any new styles of chips since opening the Palazzo a year or two ago, so this was kind of a big deal for me. (You can get a sense of how exciting my life is from the fact that this sort of things makes my day.)

The chip on the right I spotted just a few hands before I left for the day. The player who had it in his pot was kind enough to exchange it for a regular one, since he wasn't a collector. No problem.

But the chip shown above on the left came with a story.

I was fiddling with my MP3 player and not paying attention to the hand or the pot, when the dealer asked, "Does anybody here collect poker chips?" I said that I do. Just before pushing the pot to the winner, she picked up the chip from the pot and showed it to me, noting that it's quite rare to see those in circulation. I was happy to trade her a regular chip for it, and stuck the new treasure in my pocket.

At that point, the guy two seats to my right, having witnessed the transaction, spoke up, saying something about taking chips off the table. By then I had my music back on, so I didn't hear him exactly. But then the dealer, with a pretty disgusted look on her face, told me, "He wants you to replace the chip you took off the table."


Let me interrupt the story to tell you about this guy. I had been playing with him for a couple of hours by that point, and he was getting on my nerves, easily the most annoying person at the table. I'll list his sins:

1. He was enormously obese, so fat that he couldn't sit up to the table in the normal manner. He had to sit sideways to the table, thus taking up a lot more than his fair share of space.

2. He was constantly doing something on his phone--more constantly than I have ever witnessed anybody doing before at a poker table. I have no idea if he was texting everybody in the western hemisphere, or playing a game, or web surfing, or what. Whatever it was, the dealer had to get his attention virtually every time it was his turn. He was slowing the game down every time the action came around to him, so absorbed was he in his damn phone.

3. He would put his chips just barely over the line, every time, no matter how many times various dealers asked him to push them forward more so that they could reach them. He just wouldn't. I.e., he would ignore their requests until either one of the players next to him would brush the chips toward the dealer, or the dealer would reach/adjust/half-stand-up/whatever to be able to get out that far. Then, of course, the next time he put money into the pot, he would do it exactly the same way, and again completely ignore any plea the dealer might make to give a little help.

4. He whined. The only talking he did was whining--about bad beats, bad cards, bad service, etc.

If Santa keeps a separate list of Naughty Poker Players, this dude is on it every year, I guarantee. He's just obnoxious. He must be a regular, though I don't remember seeing him before, because every single dealer knew his name without looking down at the little players-card-reading computer display.

So even before the chip incident came up, this guy was on my Do Not Like Even One Little Bit list. His one redeeming quality, as far as I was concerned, was that he repeatedly made the big hero call all-in when he should have known that he was beat. The world needs a whole lot more players as bad as he is. (Sadly, though, I was never the one benefiting from his donkeyhood.)

Back to the story, now that you understand how this ass had already irritated the bejeezus out of me.


As I was taking out my wallet to fish for a $5 bill in order to placate the jerk and end the controversy (it wasn't really for him that I was agreeing; my main motivation was to prevent the poor dealer from having to step into the matter further, or make a decision, or call for the floor), I turned to him and said, "I don't mind doing so, but would you make the same request if I had tipped the cocktail waitress with a $5 chip?"

The guy said, quite defensively, "It's not the same thing at all!"

I decided to pass over exploring the logic of that conclusion--or lack thereof--with him. You know the old saw about not engaging in a battle of wits with an unarmed man.

But I did fix him in my gaze and asked, "Has anybody ever called you a nit?"*

This, folks, counts as major-league nastiness in my book. It is not exactly appalling conduct on my part, under the circumstances, but this is as bad as I ever get. I can count on one hand the number of times that I have snapped at another player in a manner comparable to this. I just don't do angry or mean, at least not beyond this pretty mild level.

His only response was to mutter, "I've probably been called everything that a person can be called."

That I believe, sir. That I believe.

Incidentally, I wrote about the rules and ethics and pragmatic aspects of snagging a commemorative chip from the table two years ago, here. I said then, "Since nobody would or could possibly object to, say, giving a cocktail waitress a $5 chip as a tip, it's a bit crazy to think that anybody would care about removing the same amount of money as a souvenir." I have pocketed hundreds of collector chips now, never try to hide what I'm doing, and have never had anybody object. I guess I just hadn't run into a sufficiently high level of "crazy" until today. When I'm going to a place that has a high likelihood of me running into new chips that I'll want to take home (Palms and Rio, mainly), I usually take along with me a few extra chips from that casino (yes, I have chips from lots of different casinos lying around here--don't ask why, they just kind of accumulate unbidden) so that I can make the exchange. This is more about getting those dormant chips from my apartment back into circulation and working for me than it is to prevent objections about going south, but it has the ancillary effect of preventing any concerns along those lines, too.

* On the subject of nittiness, see this amusing thread on "You Might Be a Nit If...." (Hat tip to my blogger/dealer friend --S for the pointer to this in his recent post on the subject.)

Friday, November 27, 2009

Guess the casino, #339

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

Answer: Mandalay Bay

Thursday, November 26, 2009

I cheated

But not at poker. (Perish the thought!)

On Tuesday I got a free vaccination for H1N1 ("swine") flu from the Southern Nevada Health District. I don't meet their criteria, but I got it anyway. How? Easy. I lied.

They are not yet offering the vaccine to the general public. You have to be in one of the "priority" groups. Or, more precisely, you have to tell them that you're in one of the "priority" groups. For some of the groups, they have no way of knowing whether you're telling the truth.

I didn't think I could convince them that I was pregnant, or that I was under 24 years of age. But how are they going to know whether I live with or care for a child that is under six months of age, or whether I have one of the qualifying pre-existing health conditions (such as asthma)? They won't.

Of course, I could have waited until they finish with the priority group immunization and start offering the vaccine to everybody, as they promise they eventually will. But there's no indication of when that might be. It takes a couple of weeks after vaccination before it takes effect, and I wanted to be protected as soon as possible. There are a few reasons for that. First is my ongoing, daily exposure to people at the poker tables. Second is that the holidays will presumably increase such exposure. Third is that I'll be flying to Washington, D.C., again in late December, and thus be subject to prolonged confinement in close proximity to others. Fourth is that in early January I plan to visit my elderly parents, and would hate to unknowingly be in the early contagious phase of influenza right then and thereby unwittingly expose them.

In my not-so-humble opinion, the published guidelines are inadequate. It's true that I am demographically and medically not one of the people at high risk for developing the severe, life-threatening complications of this or any other form of influenza. But presumably it is a worthwhile public health goal to reduce the total number of cases as well as reducing the number of severe cases. After all, since not all high-risk people are going to get the shot (or the nasal spray form of the vaccine), the next most effective way of protecting them is to immunize as many people as possible that might come in contact with them--herd immunity, they call it.

I'm in a position of coming in contact with a large number of random strangers from all over the country, and doing so in a way that has a pretty decent likelihood of contracting and then spreading the virus, if I'm susceptible. Poker cards and chips are filthy things. I'm convinced that they serve as efficient vectors for respiratory viruses. (The technical term is fomites, which, incidentally, is pronounced FOE-muh-teez, despite most health professionals of my acquaintance being ignorant of Latin and pronouncing it the way it looks: FOE-mites, with a long I.)

Worse, poker players are filthy things, too. They are just appallingly casual about picking their noses, picking their teeth, eating finger food at the table, licking their fingers, sneezing and coughing into their hands, and other disgusting, disease-spreading activities. The great majority of men in a casino do not do even a token hand-washing after attending to their business in the restrooms. The people I see and play with on a daily basis are not even clued-in enough to be embarrassed by any of these unhygienic behaviors.

People situated as I am can either serve as Typhoid Marys for contagious illnesses, or more like graphite control rods in a nuclear reactor, depending on whether we are immune. If you vaccinate all the local poker players in Vegas and Atlantic City, for example, you would interrupt a bunch of transmissions of flu to them and, subsequently, from them to others. (I'm not claiming that they are the only group one could identify with that characteristic, but they form one such group.)

Of course, I recognize that from the perspective of a public health agency trying to formulate policies, it's pretty hard to write guidelines that are precise enough to be useful for that sort of situation. It's difficult to make a meaningful prescription out of "Get the shot if you tend to have a lot of interactions with a lot of people from a lot of different places in which you exchange a lot of hand-held objects and in which a lot of those involved tend to do a lot of gross, uncareful things with their bodily secretions."

So I don't really blame the health department for not writing their guidelines broadly enough to include the likes of me, even though I think that they would in an ideal world. For me it is sufficient to have the educated guess that most public health officials, if they knew of my situation, would agree that I'm a pretty good target for immunization, in order to reduce the total national influenza burden, even if not explicitly listed in the "priority groups."

When, therefore, they make "cheating" so obviously easy to do, I not only don't feel a smidgen of guilt about it, I think I'm doing the world some good.

Poker gems, #329

Todd Brunson, in Card Player magazine column, November 18, 2009 (vol. 22, #23), p. 42, at the end of describing a heartbreaker hand from Day 2 of the 2009 WSOP Main Event.

Sure enough, he showed me the Ac-3c for a boat. He had hit runner-runner to beat my flush on the flop--only a 34-1 beat to start my day; not too bad. I was hoping for a chance to get some of my chips back from him, but they broke my table and I'm sure that he was back at Studio 54 or the nuthouse by nightfall. A few more beats like that, and the orderlies could save a trip and take me back with him.

Getting credit

Last night I was playing at Planet Hollywood.

In the most interesting hand of the night, I had 8-8 on the button and called a straddle. The straddle had been put in by the most aggressive player at the table. I will often raise in that spot, but I felt confident that the straddler would raise, so I was inclined to let him. I was right.

In fact, he raised to $20, which is just ridiculously large, and screamed of trying to knock off the limpers and pick up a few bucks. Do you think I was born yesterday, sir? I have seen this move a thousand times before. You have nothing. I called, of course. The small blind called, too, which I was a little afraid would complicate the situation.

The flop was Q-10-4 rainbow. SB checked. Straddler bet $40. "Shenanigans," I thought. Total BS. The $20 raise trick didn't work, so he's trying to buy it again. He had something like $125 behind. I didn't want to fold to this overaggressive clown. I didn't put in $20 pre-flop just to hit a set; I thought I had real showdown value against his range. Flat-calling seemed wrong, too, because that action could easily just lead me into headache/difficult decision territory on fourth street. Raising basically meant moving all in, as I had both opponents covered. (SB had less than the straddler.) There was now $100 in the pot. If I shoved, I would be offering the straddler about a $225 pot for his last $125, or about 1.8:1. Given his aggressive nature, he could call that with a pretty wide variety of holdings. However, there weren't many draws that he could plausibly try to hit.

If the SB came along, too, the pot odds would be enhanced for the straddler, so I wasn't sure I had all the fold equity I'd usually want in this situation. But I glanced over at the SB. He was looking directly at me, and when he caught me looking his way, he grabbed his chips with both mitts, in the classic way of somebody trying to goad an opponent into not betting or raising. I.e., he's trying to convey, "I have a strong hand and I'm ready to get all my chips in, so you'd better watch out!" Which, of course, nearly always means that it's safe to bet or raise, because he's really not that strong. In this case, I interpreted it to mean that he might be willing to call the straddler's bet, but not a big raise from me.

So I decided to pull the trigger. "I'm all in," I said, and moved my chips forward. Raise or fold, baby.

SB now groaned. He said, "That flop hit me square in the face, he's betting out, and this guy's moving all in? What's going on here?" He thought and muttered for about 30 seconds before throwing away his cards.

One down, one to go.

Then the most startling development of my night occurred. I tried not to look too shocked when the straddler folded his pocket aces face up as he told me, "Nice hand, sir."

As the pot was being pushed my way, he then joined a few others at the table who were calling for me to "Show your queen-ten," or "Show the set." I smiled and said to the straddler, "Sorry, but you're going to have to lose some sleep over this one tonight." My cards were kept securely face down as I returned them to the dealer.

How much is a tight table image worth? You tell me. Last night it bought me a $100 pot without a fight.

The only thing worse in that hand than my read of my opponents was their read on me. It's not the way I usually like to win big pots--but I'll take it!

Here's an interesting footnote to the hand. When the straddler showed his aces, SB said derisively, "I had those beat." My initial impression from his tone of voice was that he was telling the truth. But in reflecting on it afterwards, I'm not sure. He was a decent player, so it seems unlikely that he would call with any two-pair combination there for $20 pre-flop from out of position. Maybe Q-10, but even that is iffy. Did he really fold a set? Clearly he's not folding Q-Q. Would he fold either 10-10 or 4-4, with the mortal conviction that one or the other of his two opponents held a higher set? He surely wouldn't put me on Q-Q, and probably not even 10-10, after I had limped in from the button, though he might think those were plausible hands for the straddler. But given his short stack, it seems pretty unlikely to me that he would fold even the bottom set. I would sure make the call there, and it wouldn't even be a crying call. My best guess is that he had Q-10, and decided that either the straddler or I had flopped a set. But if I had those cards in his position, my chips would be in the middle pronto. If I were him holding Q-10, I would not tend to credit either opponent with the only two remaining queens or tens in the deck, so I would think I would only be losing to exactly 4-4. If we were playing really deep stacks, folding would have to be a consideration, but given that he had maybe $75 left at that point, folding top two pair seems out of the question, if they were my cards. I'm left really stymied by his comment. Maybe he was just blowing smoke and had something like K-Q, so that folding to signs of great strength--especially when squeezed in between, and unsure how the straddler was going to respond to my shove--was both easier and more reasonable than it would be with any hand that actually had pocket aces beat, as he was claiming. Still, though, his comment sounded sincere to me, so I just can't tell whether my read of his tone was as far off as my read of the straddler's hand had been, or whether he made the evening's worst fold.

Guess the casino, #338

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

Answer: Hard Rock

New bridge across the Strip

Yesterday I saw some Twitter messages saying that they had officially opened the pedestrian bridge across Las Vegas Boulevard. It runs from just outside Planet Hollywood/Miracle Mile to the new City Center complex--which is, by the way, just unbelievably huge.

I had been thinking of playing at P.H. tonight anyway, so took a few minutes to check out the new bridge before heading into the poker room. You can see the album of pictures I took of and from the bridge here.

To the haters who like to point out this fact whenever I post a bunch of pictures, let me just admit in advance (and for all time, basically) that I'm not a great photographer. I have no special equipment, no training, and no particular eye for framing, lighting, composition, etc. I just take ordinary touristy snapshots. Sometimes they turn out nice, sometimes they pretty much suck. That's just the way it is, and probably always will be. The idea, though, is to show you things that you might not see otherwise, especially if you don't live here. So take the photos for what they're worth, and if you don't like them, you might consider just saying nothing about that fact while you move on to the next post, or the next blog, or some other pursuit more worthwhile than pointing out that my pictures aren't the world's best. Because, really, how does such a complaint help anything or anybody?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Three hands, or maybe four

I'll tell you about two of the hands I played last night that were key to chalking up a W in each of two poker rooms instead of continuing my recent string of L's, plus a bonus one I saw play out the other day.


I'm on the button with 3d-4d. The under-the-gun player raises to $12, and there is a caller before it gets to me. I realize that I have described a fair number of hands in which I have played junk like this--enough that readers might come to think that this is habitual for me. I feel some need to reassure you that it isn't; the circumstances have to come together just right. This fit the bill: UTG raise from a tight player that I can already put on a narrow range of hands, big pot brewing, on the button, and holding a hand that can either hit big or easily be determined to be no good and thrown away with just a small loss. So I call, as does one of the blinds. Pot about $45.

The flop is Jc-3c-3s. Ding! Unless the UTG guy started with pocket jacks, I should be good here. UTG checks. The first caller bets $60. He is one of two other pretty good players at the table. Interestingly, in the hour or so I've been at this table, I've seen him bet good made hands big in an attempt to prevent a flush draw, but been called and had the draw get there. He seems frustrated by this series of events. I have not seen him bet draws that I know of. He's just by general skill certainly capable of it. But this overbet of the pot smells to me like yet another in his series of "give up your flush draw, I've got top pair" bets. I call, not only to help make him think I'm drawing (and hence commit his stack if there is no club on the turn), but to be sure that the UTG player isn't going to do an all-in check-raise, which would make me leery that he flopped a full house. But the blind and he both fold. Heads-up, pot now about $165.

At this point, my lone remaining opponent does something I have not seen him do before. He rapidly puts his chips into a single stack and pushes it forward as he says, "I'm all in, in the dark." It's maybe another $130 or so. I have him covered.

I probably should have waited to see what the turn card was, but I had already decided that he was much more likely to have a made hand--AJ or KJ, maybe even QQ for an overpair--than a draw, so I didn't much care what the next card would be. I figured that even in the worst case scenario, which was him having either JJ or the case 3 with a better kicker, I'm not getting away from this hand, so I might as well call. Nothing the dealer could turn over is going to dissuade me at this point. I announce my call before the dealer turns and burns.

I was surprised and kicked myself when I saw that (1) I had been dead wrong on my read, and the guy had Ac-5c for the nut flush draw, and (2) the turn was the 8c, giving him his flush. Still, though, if I had waited to see the card before making my decision, it would have turned out the same, because I still would not have put him on the draw. The all-in dark move was much more consistent with somebody acting defensively against the draw than somebody on the draw. So I would have called anyway.

Such considerations all became moot, though, when the dealer put down the 4h on the river, giving me a full house: threes full of fours. It's a tiny little house, but it's full! And except in the sewage business, a full house beats a flush. Whew! But I got my money in with the best hand, so it's not like I was saved by an ugly suckout.


A short time later I cashed out my $300+ profit and scooted next door to Excalibur. Mandalay Bay would have been just as close (Luxor is in between them, so I could go either way), and is a much nicer place to play generally, but my clothes were already stinky from cigarette smoke from the Luxor, so I figured they wouldn't get any worse from the relatively smoky environment at Excalibur. Besides, I had not played there since late July, and this would be only my second visit since they canned the electronic tables. I do try to stop in to just about every poker room in town from time to time, and this was as good a chance as any to see what, if anything, was new at Excalibur.

Most of my profit there ended up being from one hand. I had A-Q offsuit in middle position. I put in my standard raise and got three callers. The flop was A-K-3 rainbow, which I thought was pretty good for me. To my surprise, the UTG player, who had limp-called before the flop, led out for $30 into the roughly $45 pot. I thought he most likely had a smaller ace and was testing the waters. I eyeballed his stack as having another $60 behind, which turned out to be exactly correct. I knew there was some small possibility that one of the two players yet to act had a monster like A-K or 3-3, but only one of them had me covered; the other was short-stacked and so couldn't do much damage. I decided I needed to raise or fold, baby. I took one chip off the top of each of two $50 stacks and slid them forward.

The next player moved all-in for his last $61, and the button folded. Back to the UTG guy, who counted and found that he had exactly the amount of my raise left, and he put it in. I flipped over what I thought was the winner. I winced when UTG turned over A-3 for a flopped two pair. I winced yet again when the third guy in the hand turn over ANOTHER A-3! Yikes! I'm beat in both places!

But sometimes the poker gods are kind to grumps, and this time they saw fit to bless me with another king on the turn, counterfeiting my opponents' second pair, and putting me in the lead with two pair (aces and kings) with my queen kicker playing. The river changed nothing, and I scooped.

I think I played it correctly, given the stack sizes, even though I ended up accidentally getting my money in as an underdog. (I was about 30% to win, 7% to get a three-way chop.) I don't mind being the one getting lucky for a change.

Bonus hand!

I had forgotten another story I wanted to tell. It involved the same guy who was UTG in the foregoing, and came a short time before the hand I just described. I had Ah-Jh in the small blind. There were a bunch of limpers. I pushed it to $16, and got only the one caller. I saw that he had just $30 left behind, so I said, "Let's make it interesting," and put out $30 before the flop came. After all, what he has left is less than the size of the pot, so there really aren't any flops on which I'm likely to fold there. It's basically a 100% c-bet situation. He was one of the weakest players at the table, and I thought I might gain a little fold equity with the intimidation factor of the dark shove. I.e., if he read that move as me holding aces, kings, or queens, he might fold even if he hit some small pair on the flop.

The flop was all small cards, two suits, all black, though I don't recall exactly what was out there. Not my ideal, but my chips were already committed. The guy thought for a minute, then looked right at me and said, "All in."

From the look on his face, it quickly became apparent to me that he thought he was being the aggressor here, and was waiting for me to call. It was only when the dealer turned and burned the next card that he snapped to and realized that I had beaten him to the punch. He had not noticed my comment about "Let's make it interesting," nor had he noticed that I had dark-shoved on him!

He had Q-10 offsuit. So he called off the last of his chips with no pair and no draw, mistakenly thinking that he might push me off of a hand with a bluff, when my chips were already in the pot before he did so! Excellent situational awareness, sir!

A-J held up. And you already know the next part of the story: I took his rebuy, too, on a lucky suckout.

Mandalay Bay

I was not involved in this hand from Sunday, but it was pretty remarkable.

Before the flop there was some limping, a raise from the blind, and three callers. The flop was Q-Q-9 rainbow. The original raiser led out with a strong bet--$50 or so. Next guy called. Third guy moved all-in.

This was the most solid, rocky guy at the table, never once even a step out of line. He also had the biggest stack there, some $800 he had amassed by waiting patiently for a monster, then capturing the stack of a weaker hand. With that bet and call in front of him, and him willing to commit the $300 or so it would take to cover his opponents, there were only two things he could have: 9-9 for a flopped boat, or Q with a very strong kicker, king or jack. (Probably not an ace, though, because before the flop he limp-called.) I thought that even Q-10 was probably below his range; he was so conservative that with that holding he would probably just call down an opponent for fear of being outkicked.

I was shocked, then, when the fourth player called off his last $150 or so. The other two quickly folded. The rock, not surprisingly, flipped over K-Q. The fourth player? As-Js. No pair, no draw. He had runner-runner flush and straight draws, but that was all. And no, they did not come to pass for him. Sadly, he left the game at that point. (This was his last rebuy. I had stacked him earlier when I flopped the nut straight and he flopped the low end of it.)

A long time ago I described what I thought was the worst, stupidest call I had ever seen in a live poker game. This one was in that same general ballpark of badness, a couple of orders of magnitude worse than the level of badness that usually prevails at $1-$2 games in town, and he didn't even have heavy drinking to blame it on. I thought it was worth memorializing here.

Guess the casino, #337

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

Answer: Flamingo

Perhaps I'm not losing my mind after all

The chips above are two new ones that I picked up at the Excalibur poker room tonight, where I was playing for a while.

November ups and downs

As I've explained here many times, I don't usually discuss much about my results or income, for a variety of reasons. I don't usually disclose on any given day or week whether or how much I'm winning or losing, and I try to keep my writing about poker unconnected to my results of the moment.

But once in a while I break that silence for some particular reason, and this is one such occasion.

November has been a highly unusual month. It started out like gangbusters. I couldn't lose. I had nine cash winning sessions and a big tournament score, punctuated by just one losing session.

Then things went all to hell. From November 12th to the 22nd I endured six consecutive losing sessions, for a total loss of $1526. (That's fewer sessions that I would usually put in during an 11-day stretch because I was taking days off in between the losses trying to get my head straight and not play with a mindset of making up for them, which is a deadly, sure-to-lose perspective.)

Losing that much money in that short a time frame stings, there's no denying that. But I can take the loss financially. It's what the repeated losing does to my head that I'm going to try to describe.

It's not terribly uncommon for me to have a week or two in which I just spin my wheels, with losses roughly equally balancing wins. That's kind of annoying, because it feels like I've just been wasting my time without accomplishing anything useful. But six substantial losses in a row is pretty darn rare for me. Even the couple of bad, prolonged losing spells that I've written about here before haven't been loss after loss after loss; they have been, rather, a long series in which the losses continued to exceed the wins in both magnitude and number, but there has been at least some winning going on along the way.

One losing session rolls off of me like water off a duck. Two in a row annoys me, but by the next day I'm fine again. Three in a row starts escalating the frustration. And at four, frankly, I start losing my composure. I shouldn't, I know. I should be able to shrug off as many consecutive losses as there are, because such streaks will happen no matter how soundly I play, and I'd better get used to that fact. But I'm not to that point of zen-like equanimity yet. (I try, without much success, to emulate Tommy Angelo's way of seeing losing ten times in a row as practice for the next time that he will lose ten times in a row.)

I tell you, losing that many times in a row does strange things to my brain. A task that was routine, ordinary, and even habitual (i.e., winning at least modest amounts at poker) suddenly became impossible. It feels like getting in a car, and you no longer can remember which pedal is the accelerator and which the brake, or how to make the thing turn. Worse, you keep crashing into things. It's not just discouraging, it's seriously disorienting. It's like I have forgetten how to be able to dress myself, or even speak coherently, after a massive stroke.

During such a spell, it seems to cease to matter what I do. I can play tight or loose: I lose. I can play aggressively or passively: I lose. I can play well or badly: I lose. I can have a table of experts or fish: I lose. I can pick any cardroom in the city for the day's work: I lose. I can move from one table to another, or even one casino to another: I lose. None of that makes any sense. None of it is how it should be. It is, I think, what experimental psychologists (those sick bastards who come up with new and devilish ways of torturing lab animals) call learned helplessness. It is poker futility writ large.

Cardgrrl on losing

My wonderful friend Cardgrrl has written about losing in poker as eloquently and thoughtfully as anybody I know. For example, this:

I think running bad is a little like getting lung cancer when you're a
non-smoker. It happens; you didn't do anything specific to bring it on, but
people keep asking you if you did. Everyone has advice on how to get better, but
few of them will hold your hand (or your forehead) while you go through chemo. A
lot of people will just disappear from your life, or avoid talking about "it"
altogether, as if your daily routine were continuing as normal otherwise and you
ought to be able to compartmentalize, for everyone else's sake as much as your
own. But some of them, often cancer survivors themselves, will offer sound,
practical advice on diet and exercise, recommend good physicians, listen to you
vent without judgment (as, if they were lucky, others did for them), and offer
strategies for coping with the rest of your life while you're ill. When you are
in remission, they will celebrate with you and also help you find equanimity in
the face of the possibility of recurrence.

If you are fortunate, you will actually emerge from the illness stronger,
more self-aware, with better habits for maintaining your well-being and a keener
understanding of what is and isn't within your control. And if you are truly
blessed, you will have learned how to live well even under the most adverse

In a long post from about a year ago, Cardgrrl details one astoundingly horrendous trip to Atlantic City where nothing, nothing, nothing would go right. (Let's try not to dwell too long on the part about her making out with another player at the table, OK?) Rereading it makes me glad that I either have never experienced days quite that bad, or I have blessedly blocked from conscious memory having done so. A couple of other old posts describe painful, though somewhat less dramatically concentrated, losing streaks: here and here.

But her best work on the subject is in three posts that I think are just too good in their entirety, too insightful and eloquent and wise to excerpt or try to summarize. It would be an injustice to them and to their author. Go read them in toto, here and here and here.

The pain does end

I'm writing this now because tonight this particular fresh hell (hat tip: Dorothy Parker) seems to have run its course. One of my tricks for breaking a losing streak is to head to one of a few places that I dislike as poker rooms (because of heavy noise and cigarette smoke problems, bad dealers, etc.) but which are reliable cash cows. The Luxor was the choice of just such a place tonight. And it came through for me: Up $316 in about 80 minutes.

I crossed the tunnel into the Excalibur (another such room), and hit again: $150 in exactly one hour.

I plan to describe a couple of the hands in a separate post, but not here, because exactly how it happened is beside the point. The point is that, as suddenly as it began, the just-can't-win streak is gone. Winning was easy again, the way I'm mostly used to it being. It feels a bit like a tornado suddenly ripped me out of my comfortable home, spun me around, bonked my head against a bunch of flying debris for 12 days or so, but then dropped me down again and went on its way, presumably to torment some other grinder.

Now I just have to brush myself off, and go about picking up all the hundred-dollar bills that got blown out of my wallet in the process.

Interesting new game from Shuffle Master

While waiting for a seat in a game at the Luxor tonight, I picked up the only reading material they had available: the awful "Gaming Today" rag. For once, I was glad I did. I found this review of a new game from Shuffle Master.

You have to know that Shuffle Master's latest table shuffler reads the cards as they are shuffled, and therefore knows the exact position of every card in the deck. (The current versions do not do this.) The new game takes advantage of that knowledge in an interesting way.

Here's how the company describes it in a press release:

Dealer Bluff Six Card Poker™. Featuring head-to-head play against the dealer and
an optional bonus bet, Dealer Bluff Six Card Poker™ is the first table game to
incorporate the card-reading capabilities of an automatic card shuffler into
game play. Players and the dealer each receive six cards to make their best
five-card poker hand, and when the dealer pulls his hand from the i-Deal®
shuffler, the shuffler reads his hand and makes a bet based on the strength of
that hand which is reflected on an LCD display embedded in the table. If the
dealer’s hand is good, he bets a large amount, and occasionally the dealer will
bluff and slow-play.

But read the review for a lot more detail on how it works. It's still a fixed house edge, of course, but having a computer that knows the cards and makes wagers based on the strength of its hand--but with random variability built in to make guessing harder--makes it, I think, one of the most interesting table games ever to come along, and a whole lot more like actual poker than anything else I've heard of.

I'm assuming that the computer doesn't know the players' hands, because there is presumably no way to input how many players are being dealt in on any given hand. And even if the computer "knew" opponents' cards, as long as the betting algorithm doesn't take that into account, it's irrelevant. (Superstitious and/or paranoid players may not see it that way, however.)

Just thought maybe you'd like to know.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Guess the casino, #336

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

Answer: Excalibur

Monday, November 23, 2009

Funny post

Dominic (Dmuz75) is often funny, but I thought this post was one of his best creations. (Yeah, it was a month ago. Yeah, I'm behind on my reading. So sue me!) Go read and enjoy.

New rule at Mandalay Bay

I was playing at Mandalay Bay yesterday, as I do most Sundays lately. I like it there, though the infamously quirky house rules are occasionally annoying. (Click here for a link to all the things I've written about their rules.)

Like, for instance, the no-texting rule. It is one of the few places in town that doesn't allow it. So when I want to exchange text messages with friends, or read/post on Twitter, I either step away from the table as I'm supposed to, or do it discreetly until a dealer reminds me not to, then wait for the next dealer before resuming. (I'm not just being rebellious; my hope was that if dealers had to enforce this stupid rule often enough, they would get tired of it and help lobby management to repeal it.) I never do texting while in a hand, and I think there have been only two occasions where I have been absorbed enough that I didn't notice it was my turn, and the game got delayed a few seconds because of me.

So yesterday I was noticing that even the dealers who are usually the quickest to tell players to please not text at the table were saying nothing. There are also a few dealers who, at the beginning of every down, run down a list of things they want to be sure all the players know about--jackpots, betting lines, verbal declarations of action are binding even out of turn, no use of cell phones at the table, etc. I noticed that that last item wasn't being included. Hmmm.

Finally, I overheard a snippet of conversation between one dealer and an obviously regular player about the new cell phone rule. I had music on at the time (this lovely 1984 recording of Vincenzo Bellini's "Norma," with Joan Sutherland and Luciano Pavarotti) so I didn't hear exactly what they said, but it caught my attention because of my observations that texting wasn't being stopped or mentioned. I asked. The dealer told me that, yes, they had just changed that rule. Texting is, as I understand it, now allowed when one is not in a hand. Furthermore, cell phones can now be kept on the table, which was prohibited before. However, talking on one's phone is still not permitted at the table, whether in a hand or not--a rule to which I have no objection.

Back in August I wrote about how M.B. had begun to allow players to chop the blinds when there's a hand nobody wants to play. Ever so slowly, one gradual, reluctant step at a time, it seems that Mandalay Bay's poker room is clunking along to catch up with the rules that are mostly standard at every other place in town.

Guess the casino, #335

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

Answer: Circus Circus

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Somebody listened to me for a change!

Twitter conversation from overnight, about a rule at Planet Hollywood that I had not previously been aware of, but which I recently discussed after seeing it in place at Harrah's Atlantic City:


Was told interesting rule at ph. On requested table changes i can't take stacks over $300. Don't get that one.


@socalvegasmk Going south allowed at PHo?


@socalvegasmk See


Maybe @phpokermgr can shed some light on the reason for requiring players to rat hole their winnings if they change tables?


@AlaskaGal1 if table change requested, all chips must still play. If table breaks, player may then pocket chips to the buy in limits


@phpokermgr You may want to read this: RT See


@AlaskaGal1 I will change this rule tonight. Thanks for the heads up


@socalvegasmk not anymore. I just changed that one. Sorry for the confusion


@AlaskaGal1 read it. Thanks for the info. That rule is no longer in exsistence


@phPokerMgr Thanks! I will be back in town in 2 weeks, I will be sure to stop in and say hello!


@phPokerMgr Must say I am impressed by your customer service and eagerness to change/update house rules. Think I'll be playing PHo more now


I was told by new PH room manager that previously mentioned rule about switching tables with only $300 no longer applies.


The new room manager at PH was nice enough to come over himself to tell me this while introducing himself.

Then there was this comment submitted overnight to the post in question:

I appreciate you letting me know about this. This is a rule in which will no longer be in place. PLease continue to let me know any irregularities as I am working on changing many rules. bu the way, this is phPokerMgr. Consider this changed.

To which I responded:

Good to hear it, Joe. I hadn't been aware of PH having this rule when I wrote this. As you can see from the comments, though, it does have its defenders. I remain unpersuaded, however.

Guess the casino, #334

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

Answer: Caesars Palace