Friday, December 31, 2010

Feeling blue at Arlington National Cemetery

Cardgrrl and I spent a couple of hours this afternoon at Arlington National Cemetery, yet another in the virtually endless list of tourist sites around D.C. that I've never been to before.

I took a bunch of photos, and had hopes that a few of them would be gems. However, when I got home and started looking at them on the computer, I quickly noticed that both the white gravestones and the green grass were blue. I realized pretty fast what had happened. When at the museum the other day, the automatic white balance on my camera was not compensating well for the dim, yellowish light, and pictures were looking yellow, so I manually set it to "incandescent light." I never changed the setting back. Today, under the late afternoon sun, the stupid camera thought we were still indoors with 100-watt bulbs around us. As a result, the pictures are all quite thoroughly saturated in blue that doesn't really belong there.

I'm disappointed, but there's not much to be done about it now. I suppose I might be able to apply some sort of digital correction, but I think it would be more work than it's worth. So I'm just going to chalk it up as a learning experience--the modern equivalent of shooting a roll of film with the lens cap on. And even with no photos that I can proudly show off, the touching experience of the cemetery remains undiminished.

You can see the blue-washed photos here:

Tomorrow, we hope to see lion cubs at the zoo, then a nice dinner and show (The Capitol Steps) with good friends.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Guess the casino, #738

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Answer: Paris

Playing for funsies

Just played a 90-person $2.20 SNG with Cardgrrl for fun. I was a little surprised to find that it allowed us both to register, since we were using the same IP address, but it did. We ended up finishing in 3rd and 4th places, which was nice:

It's nice when you play with a friend and both end up doing about equally well.

The fun was only tarnished by the final two players engaging in obnoxious, mutual-fan-club chat about how brilliant they were and how donktastic everybody else was. Please, dudes--if you're bragging about being better than the average $2 tournament player, you have set the bar pretty low for yourselves.

In one hand, I had aces hold up against an open-ended straight flush draw. Cardgrrl and I disagreed about our guesses as to the percentages when the money went in on the flop. I thought my opponent was ahead about 52/48. She thought he had it about 60/40. But surprisingly, the truth is that I had a 51/49 edge, according to both PokerStove and the odds calculator at

I was too busy playing to think about why the percentages wouldn't be in his favor, when he had 15 outs. But now that the tournament is over and I'm looking at it again, the reason is obviously the paired flop. That gives me four cards (two aces and two fours) to make a full house, which he could then only beat by hitting his straight flush. Put a blank there (e.g., 2s or Js) instead of a second 4, and he is ahead about 56/44--halfway between my estimate and Cardgrrl's.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Guess the casino, #737

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Answer: Mandalay Bay

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Stakes on a plane

My flights to D.C. this time were on AirTran. It's the first time I've used them. I had heard that they had wifi on their planes (mainly through Andy Bloch's Twitter posts about how he now uses AirTran whenever he can for this reason). But my selection of AirTran had nothing to do with this feature; it was simply the best mix of low price and convenient travel time that was available when I went to buy a ticket. I had not given a thought to the wifi thing until shortly before I left home.

But it was true. For most of the 3 1/2 hours from Las Vegas to Atlanta, and most of the 1 1/4 hours from Atlanta to D.C., we had free wifi service. I understand that its being free will not continue much longer; it might even be gone by the time I fly home. But it was pretty cool. I didn't want to enter a tournament--even a short-duration turbo SNG--for fear that the connection would be unreliable. So instead I two-tabled $0.25-$0.50 razz on PokerStars while listening to streaming Christmas carols (it was December 25th, after all) through an online music service, all using my noise-reduction earphones and my new laptop. The combination made me feel like a Thoroughly Modern Millie. The connection was nowhere near at peppy as I'm used to with my cable service, but it worked acceptably well. Only once did I get a warning that I was using up my time to take my turn.

One down side is that it appears that you have to sign on again every 45 minutes, and my first time allotment ended without warning. I just suddenly wasn't connected to anything anymore, with no idea why. It was only when I started the log-on process over again that I figured out that my disconnection was due to 45 minutes having transpired. That was an ugly glitch.

But other than that, it was a beautiful thing. After I got bored with razz, I did some of the review/editing work on my end-of-year review post. I admit that I also sent a couple of emails to friends just saying, "I'm sending you an email--from a plane!" It was reminiscent of when they first installed telephones in the seatbacks, and you got to listen in on neighbors making calls only for the purpose of saying, "Guess where I'm calling from?!"

I wondered at first whether anybody around me would be either curious about or offended by my playing poker. If they were, they stayed quiet about it. It might have helped that I had a whole row to myself for the long leg of the journey (a rare luxury in itself).

The title of this post, in case you didn't figure it out, is a little wordplay on the title of the 2006 film, "Snakes on a Plane." I saw it via Netflix a couple of years ago, and it was every bit as stupid as you'd expect. It had about five good seconds, consisting entirely of Samuel L. Jackson profanely spitting out what became the movie's only famous line of dialogue.

I thought of that line while playing my little poker games. It occurred to me that if somebody logged onto a casino site--one that features all of the traditional casino games--instead of a poker site, he could play some craps, and thus perhaps be given reason to curse, "M-f'in snake eyes on a m-f'in plane!"

Thieving poker dealer


Guess the casino, #736

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Answer: Green Valley Ranch

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Smithsonian Museum of Natural History

Cardgrrl and I spent some time today at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History--not a lot, as we got a late start and available parking ended at 4 p.m. But we managed to hit some of the famous highlights: the rotunda, dinosaurs, the Hope diamond.

It was difficult to take any decent photographs, because the place was (1) jam-packed (to our surprise), and (2) very dimly lit. But the few that turned out well enough not to be completely embarrassing are collected here:

Guess the casino, #735

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

Answer: Bellagio

"Poker" in books

You can now search Google's database of books for the relative frequency with which words or terms show up, by year (or decade) of publication. I was curious about whether "poker" would show an increasing trend over time; after all, there were very few poker books written prior to World War II.

I was therefore surprised at the curve generated, showing a peak in the mid-1940s, and a substantial decline since. (There is a little rise just in the last few years before 2000, which might be attributable to the boom in poker and poker publishing, or might just be statistical noise. Too early to tell.)

For comparison, I also checked "blackjack," "roulette," and "gambling." None of them showed the same kind of trend line.

I'm puzzled by this. Maybe a lot of the references are noncontextual, i.e., referring to fireplace pokers rather than to the game. If so, that would help explain why the other words do not follow similar patterns. Or maybe it's a sampling error problem--i.e., a higher fraction of 1940s books that mention poker found their way into Google's database than was the case in the 1980s.

But I really have no solid idea. Theories, readers?

Monday, December 27, 2010

A grumpy 2010 in review

I am on the third of nine days visiting Cardgrrl in D.C. Then I'm back to Vegas for just three days, with a big project to crank out in that short time, followed by a long weekend driving to visit the family in Utah again. So although I might check in with a quickie note here and there, for all practical purposes, poker and blogging are done for the next couple of weeks.

I'll take this opportunity to present the post mandated by the Blogger Handbook: The best of the year. Last year's effort, with links to those from previous years, is here.

Speaking of Cardgrrl, the best part of the year was the fact that our relationship continued to grow. I was in Washington for visits over Christmas/New Year, in May, and in August, plus she made Vegas voyages in March and June, and we met up in New Mexico in February. That's a decent amount of visiting, though I wish it could be more. She is mostly out of the poker business now, but I still find plenty of occasions to mention her in these pages:

The poker world's knowledge and appreciation of the Mighty Deuce-Four continued to gain ground this year. All sorts of posts about my own experiences, and those of others, playing the most powerful hand in poker are gathered here:

A long, rambling, self-revelatory post about my quirky personality and worldview:

I wandered into the annual fray about women's poker tournaments, and got it all out of my system so that I never have to do so again:

Once in a while some situation arises at the tables that requires a supervisory ruling, and it's not obvious what the call should be. These aren't common, so when one occurs I try to describe it in detail, with the arguments for each way of making the decision. Here are two examples:

In non-poker-related news, I wrote here about finally achieving the goal of doing a Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle perfectly, start to finish, without having to go back and make any corrections: The update is that I have repeated that accomplishment four more times since then. I love it when I can see measureable progress in a skill. But further update: A friend gave me for Christmas a book of extremely difficult crossword puzzles, definitely a level or two of challenge above NYT Sundays. I've tried three of them so far, and they are right at the bleeding edge of what I can even finish; doing one without errors along the way seems an insurmoutable challenge.

I just pounded out this stupid little poetry parody on the spur of the moment, but some readers seemed to like it:

I think that this year I did more posts about specific poker hands than has been my practice before. It tends to take a lot of time and work to explain everything that happens leading up to a difficult decision for a lot of chips. Sometimes I have just said what I did, sometimes left it at the decision point for readers to think about, with the end of the story published later:

I crack myself up sometimes. I really, really enjoyed writing this fake press release from PokerStars, but I was disappointed that I apparently failed to fool any of my poker-playing readers into believing it was genuine:

This was an interesting situation: Even at the end of a session, and after contemplating it after the fact, I was unable to be sure whether a guy I had played with was the complete newbie he made himself out to be, or a wolf in sheep's clothing:

One of my favorite post genres is the multi-story, when several things happen in the course of a poker session that individually aren't quite worthy of being whole posts, but which, when composited, sometimes make for something greater than the sum of the parts. Here are some examples from this year:

In that last one, I realize now that I failed to mention one other significant thing that happened that night: I was given my first honest-to-goodness opportunity to "run it twice," when I was short-stacked and made an all-in squeeze play with, I think, 9-9. Original raiser had A-J and called. The rules for the Thursday night game at the Palms allow running it twice, so we really could. My opponent offered. I had long ago decided that I would decline, given the chance. I did. I won, and tripled up (because there had been several other callers who all left their dead money in the pot).

Here's what it's like playing poker with Mr. Magoo:

In one short post, I coined two new words that should be in the general poker vocabulary:

Nothing to do with poker, but this year I've made more of an effort not only to take nice pictures of the places I go, but to share them with my readers:

Thanks to Mike Caro, I knew how to deal with a poker bully:

This little essay on how one learns good and bad poker playing is one of my favorite posts of the year:

Once in a while I sort of feel like stirring up a hornet's nest, and so I write something like this:

My attempt to get a new word into poker circulation:

Sometimes the stories pretty much write themselves:

This year had more than its share of poker frustrations, and I was more candid, I think, than I usually have been in the past sharing them:

I don't always comment on political developments that affect poker, because, well, everybody else in the business does, and I try not to say anything unless I feel I have some different perspective to contribute. This year we had two biggish national legislative moments, Barney Frank's bill and Harry Reid's. Though I may be dead wrong in my opinions and predictions, I tried to add my contrarian voice over several posts, plus ask some questions that I didn't see anybody else either asking or answering:

My take on a brazen robbery at a Berlin poker tournament--again, giving a point of view unlike I had seen anywhere else:

I spent more time playing online tournaments this year than ever before. Looking back through my archives month by month, I see that I wrote a lot about them, too. But there's nothing special about those posts, for the most part--they just relate what happened in this tournament or that. You can review them all, should you find any reason to do so, here:

That about does it for 2010, as far as my poker life goes. Thanks for sticking around for another year. I expect that 2011 will have some interesting changes in store.

Guess the casino, #734

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

Answer: Sam's Town

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Guess the casino, #733

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Answer: Palms

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Guess the casino, #732

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Answer: Bill's

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas videos

For your viewing pleasure, a small collection of nontraditional Christmas-themed videos that I have enjoyed seeing over the past several days:

Guess the casino, #731

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Answer: Golden Nugget

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Give blood, get tickets

For at least the last several years, Penn and Teller have generously donated two free tickets to their show to anybody who gives blood during what is otherwise the slowest time of the year for blood donation. (In 2008 I wrote about seeing their show for my second time when a blood-donating friend took me with her.) A Twitter message this morning from @PennJillette reminded me that it was that time of year again: "I'm at United Blood Services on Charleston giving whole blood and free tickets to P&T to other blood donors from now until December 31st."

So I headed over there this afternoon. I confess that I had not donated blood in, oh, 20 years or so. After having been a regular donor in my youth, I stopped when I entered a career that, kind of ickily, gave me sufficiently frequent contact with other people's bodily fluids that I thought it wise not to donate, even though I remained technically eligible. (I was concerned that I might donate in the interval between acquiring some nasty virus and the tests for it turning positive.) But that's no longer an issue, so it's time that I put myself back into the donor pool.

I'm grateful to P&T for their service of giving show tickets as an incentive. It worked for me! To my surprise, the blood bank was also giving each donor a free four-pack of compact fluorescent light bulbs from Nevada Energy (equivalent of 60-watt bulbs), which are not cheap to purchase at stores. The combination made for a rather nice payoff for doing something that I really should just be doing out of the goodness of my heart.

Oooo, shiny!

I like changing the background picture on my computer desktop every month or two. I inevitably choose an astronomy photo, and the most convenient source of beautiful and interesting astronomy pictures is the wonderful Astronomy Picture of the Day from NASA. Hey, we're already paying for them, so might as well use them. I have it in my daily RSS feed. When I bother to read the detailed explanation that accompanies the photos, I almost always learn something about astronomy that I didn't know before.

The one above is now my new desktop picture. See it in its glorious maximum resolution here, and see the explanation of it here.

I only started using it with a heavy heart, because it meant giving up the one I had been using, which is this astonishing image:

Click to see it at full size. See the explanation of it here.

Another Bodog withdrawal

I took another $200 out of Bodog. I made the request on Saturday or Sunday, and received a check by UPS today, drawn on a Canadian bank. Strangely, the amount was for US$200.35. I'm not sure how to account for the little extra bonus. But unless there are problems with the check clearing, all in all a far better experience than the last withdrawal.

It's possible, in retrospect, that on that previous withdrawal I just wasn't paying enough attention and clicked the wrong option, resulting in the Visa card and its attendant problems. I just can't remember for sure. But either way, I'm glad to have what I consider to be the normal/standard method back in play.

Guess the casino, #730

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Answer: Club Fortune

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

"Five-Card Stud"

I just watched "Five-Card Stud" (1968), which is available through Netflix, both DVD and instant view. It's the first poker movie I've seen in a long time. Except that it's not really a poker movie. In fact, we see exactly one hand of poker during the whole film. There it is above, in the opening scene.

Somebody in the old west town of Rincon, Colorado, gets caught cheating, and the others form a lynch mob and give the scoundrel the frontier justice that I think casinos still ought to deliver to poker cheats. The town starts going crazy, though, when the card-playing vigilantes start being found dead one by one. The mystery of who is killing the killers is the movie's whole plot.

It's all pretty lame, I'm afraid. But it is kind of fun seeing stars such as Dean Martin, Roddy McDowall, Robert Mitchum, Denver Pyle, and Yaphet Kotto in their much, much younger days.
Maybe the best part, poker-wise, is Martin singing the cheesy title song:

Lyrics (as found at the bottom of the page here):

(Music by: Maurice Jarre / Words by: Ned Washington)

He was King at Five Card Stud.
The stranger's game was Five Card Stud.
He was hard to beat,
Rather play than eat,
Long as it was Five Card Stud.

When he played he played for blood.
When this ramblin', gamblin' man said, 'Deal 'em',
You had better beware.

Bet your poke and he'd leave you broke.
Then he'd make a joke as he slyly grinned.
Then he'd say, 'That's enough today!'
And he'd ride away like the wind.

Stud was all he lived and breathed,
But now and then a fire seethed.
Liked his gals and fun.
Then he'd up and run,
Run right back to Five Card Stud.

Never played two hands the same.
He could bluff you, bluff you blind.
You'd swear that He invented the game.

How he loved that Five Card Stud.
Life to him was Five Card Stud.
When he played he played for blood.
He was King at Five Card Stud.

Guess the casino, #729

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

Answer: Bally's

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Guess the casino, #728

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

Answer: Sunset Station

Monday, December 20, 2010

Guess the casino, #727

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

Answer: Sahara

Sunday, December 19, 2010


Get yer scarves, get yer Cardgrrl handmade silk scarves right here:

Though it is not yet technically time for "last-minute" Christmas shopping, Monday is the last day that you can get free shipping, and may well be the last day that you can order and expect delivery by Friday. Early purchasers of my acquaintance have been impressed by their beauty, quality, and suitability as gifts for a tasteful woman in one's life.

Guess the casino, #726

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

Answer: Luxor (Easiest one yet?)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

String raise? Moi?

[Illustration found here.]

I was just cleaning off my desk, and uncovered a scrap of paper on which I had jotted a note about this little incident. It was a reminder to post about it, but then I buried the reminder. Not much of a loss, really--it's nothing earthshattering, but it was memorable because it was the first time I've ever been accused of making a string raise.

It happened at Caesars Palace. I was in Seat 10, as I usually prefer. I raised to $13. I did this the way I always do: I picked up two red chips, then three blue chips with my right hand, then plunked them down in two small stacks, first the three blues, then the two reds next to it. As with most pokery actions, there's a reason for the way I do things: It's just easier for both players and the dealer to see exactly what the size of the bet is if it is placed this way than if they are either in a single stack or scattered. (Some dealers will reach over and spread the stacks out to make it even more obvious, though I think this is mostly unnecessary.)

Well, apparently the guy in Seat 1 saw me drop the three blues, then turned his eyes away and started reaching for his own chips. He put out $3--the amount of the big blind. He was surprised when the dealer informed him that there had been a raise.

He objected that it must have been a string raise, because he had seen me drop the three blues. Fortunately, the dealer had seen my move, knew that it was perfectly proper, and gently so informed the other player. He finally relented--though he didn't seem convinced--and made the reluctant call. A c-bet after the flop won me the small pot.

I'm far from a perfect poker player. I occasionally will do something really dumb (e.g., my recent story about exposing my cards when there was still a player contemplating whether to call). But there are some points on which I am, so far, perfect. I have never put in a string bet or raise. Not even once. What's more, I think I'm actually incapable of it.

A digression: The handgun competitions I used to participate in regularly (matches sponsored by the United States Practical Shooting Association) have very strict rules for safely handling one's firearm. If you do any of several dangerous things--let any part of your body pass in front of the muzzle, have your finger on the trigger during a reload or while clearing a jam, drop the gun, have a shot go over the protective berms around the shooting bay, take your gun out of the holster when it isn't your turn to be shooting, and so on)--whether intentional or unintentional, you will be immediately disqualified from the match. They do it very nicely, and let you know that you are welcome back to the next match, but there is no allowance for excuses, no looking the other way. Because of the members' collective meticulous attention to these rules, nobody ever gets hurt. Early on in my competitive shooting days, I once accidentally knocked a loaded pistol out of its holster. It plopped to the ground. I was politely invited to leave for the day. I was humiliated and angry with myself, but I also learned a valuable lesson, and never again made that mistake.

When you first start working with handguns, the easiest thing in the world is to grasp it with thumb and four fingers around the grip and index finger on the trigger. After all, the things are designed specifically to make that natural and comfortable. But one of the most crucial safety measures for any firearm is to keep one's finger off of the trigger until the gun is on target and you have made the decision to fire. Most accidental shootings by police happen as a result of violating this fundamental rule. (See, e.g., this short video clip of a Las Vegas cop, who was very lucky not to have shot either her partner or the suspect.) I have witnessed many unintentional discharges (none resulting in injury, fortunately), and they can almost all be blamed on disregarding this rule.

If you have a good firearms instructor, he will quickly and consistently correct you when you make this extremely common mistake, and after a while it gets so that it feels most natural to pick up a gun with one's index finger extended along the side, completely outside the trigger guard, where it can't cause any inadvertant trouble. This, by the way, is perhaps the single most common weapons-related error made in movies: supposedly highly trained firearms experts are shown running around with their fingers on triggers when they're not shooting. Well-trained people simply don't do that. Once the habit is ingrained, it feels so wrong to have a finger on the trigger when not prepared to shoot that the brain just can't accept it, and takes action to correct the situation.

That's where I'm at: there are no circumstances I can conceive of in which "muscle memory" would not compel the correct way of handling a pistol or revolver, unless I had some specific reason to intentionally override it. I was pleased when I realized that my facility in handling guns had progressed to that point, and I later became a "range officer" in the sport, assigned specifically to watch for exactly those kinds of problems and errors in others, further heightening my awareness of constant safety.

The same is true for handling chips in a poker game. I always decide on an amount to bet or raise before I even reach for chips, I never pick up more than I intend to push forward, and I always do it in one motion. The only exceptions are when it's an all-in situation, or an awkward amount to move, in which case I announce the amount verbally first. These habits are so deeply embedded that it is no longer possible for me to "slip up" and make a string raise.

Which is all a far-too-wordy explanation of why I was so thoroughly taken aback when I heard the guy in Seat 1 say, "That was a string raise." He had no way of knowing this, but he had made his accusation against somebody who was not only innocent, but who is incapable of being guilty, at least of that particular sin.

Incidentally, I suppose that it might be strategically useful, from time to time, to execute an "accidental" string raise, knowing that it will be called back by the dealer and reduced to a call, as a way to dissuade an aggressive later player from raising. But I consider that to be over the ethical line of angle-shooting, and wouldn't do it.

Weighing the differences

As I have mentioned several times in the past few months, when I play NLHE tournaments online these days, it's mostly on Bodog. My use of PokerStars and Full Tilt is mostly limited to playing games not offered elsewhere (HORSE and razz, in particular), as well as occasional private blogger tourneys.

I have noticed several differences in how sites do things.

1. Breaks.

A couple of years ago, both Stars and FTP adopted a coordinated break system: all multi-table tournaments take a five-minute break at 55 minutes past the hour. This makes it easy for people in multiple tournaments--even those playing across multiple sites--to get a few minutes for the bathroom, fixing a snack, moving the laundry, or whatever else needs to get done, without having to miss any hands. It's such an obvious improvement that it's hard to believe that nobody had taken this step long before. Once in a while it results in a bit of silliness, such as a break after five minutes of play in a game that starts at 3:50. But overall the benefits far outweigh such minor nuisances.

Well, Bodog still hasn't gotten the memo. Their breaks come after 60 minutes of play, period. If you're in two that started at different times, tough--sit out of one to get a few minutes away from the computer. This is really stupid, and badly needs to be changed to what now must be considered the industry standard. I am once in a while playing a NLHE on Bodog and a HORSE on Stars at the same time (there are afternoon tournaments starting an hour apart that hit my preferred sweet spot in terms of both buy-in and typical number of entrants). It would be nice if they broke at the same time.

Speaking of breaks, there is another difference I've noticed. In single-table sit-and-go tournaments, Stars has no breaks. FTP does, though it allows the break to be cut short if everybody returns early and clicks the "I'm ready" button. Sometimes those SNGs can be unusually prolonged, so I'm grateful to FTP for building in breaks, but I'm also grateful that you can agree to skip it (e.g., when down to heads-up and clearly near the end).

2. Sounds.

I know that many online players turn off sound effects except for the "your turn" alerts. I don't. I kind of like the sounds of bets and raises. It allows me to keep track of the general action even when I step away from the computer for a minute to get a drink, or whatever. Also, the sequence of sounds keeps me apprised of the action when my thoughts wander; the special "all-in" sound, in particular, tends to snap me back to attention.

With both FTP and Stars, you only get sounds (other than "your turn" alerts) from the window that is on top. If I'm playing two games at once (I never do more than that), only the active window plays sounds. With Bodog, however, it keeps playing sound effects from both games at the same time. I find this confusing. When I'm focusing on what's happening on one table, it's distracting to my poor non-multitasking brain to be hearing stuff that's going on at the other table.

I can't say that Bodog's approach is wrong or objectively worse, but it is not my preference.

3. Sitting out.

On FTP and Stars, when you sit out, the system reveals this fact to the other players. Your seat gets a clear "sitting out" label. On Bodog, however, that doesn't happen. As far as the other players can tell, you're just folding whenever it's your turn. Of course, after a while they might figure out that there's nobody driving the bus, but it's up to them to be paying enough attention to notice; the software won't help them.

I'm torn about this. I'm not sure that one approach is clearly superior than the other. The argument for the Stars/FTP way is that in a live tournament you'd be able to see who is taking a break from the table, so why not online as well? I like knowing, because it lowers the threshold for stealing if I can see that there is one fewer opponent who might play back at me. On the other hand, I'd like to think that generally I'm more attentive and observant than others at the table, so I'd like to be rewarded for being the first one to deduce that Seat 4 must be sitting out, so I can more liberally attack the blinds when he is either a blind or the button.

4. Prize structure.

Bodog has what I consider to be a clearly inferior and highly annoying means of determining the prize structure: except for the smallest tournaments (in terms of number of participants), they always pay a fixed number of tables, rather than a fixed number of spots.

Here's a typical payout structure (top center):

You can see that they jump from 9 spots paid to 18, then to 27, 36, etc. Compare that with how Stars does it:

Stars obviously doesn't care about making the number of spots paid an exact number of tables.

Consider what happens at Bodog when the 101st player joins the tournament. Before, they were going to pay 9 players out of 100, or 9% of the field. Now they're going to pay 18 out of 101, or 18% of the field. This results in a payout structure that is way too flat; the first six or eight players to exit in the money will barely get their buy-in back. Yesterday I was in one that was just on the good side of the line: We had 96 players, so nine places paid. The minimum cash for the $20+2 buyin was $87.50. I finished in a disappointing 8th place, for $112.50. But those decent prizes (for a couple hours of work) would have been greatly diluted if there had been five more players.

Conversely, on Stars, to take a comparable example, when the 97th player registers, the payout moves from 12/96, or 12.5% of the field, to 15/97, or 15.5% of the field--a much smaller jump than with the Bodog plan. I'd prefer that they do it in even finer increments, and just keep it as close to a constant percentage of the field as possible, but I don't object to the small steps used here.

Obviously, in fields over a few hundred, there isn't much difference in the two approaches, but I rarely enter such tournaments. I like the more frequent--even if smaller--cashes I get from fields of roughly 50-200, which is in a range where it makes a big difference how they do the payouts.

I have seen this in tournaments in casinos, too. Last year I sweated Cardgrrl during one of the Golden Nugget "Grand" events. They had just over one cutoff point (I think it was just over 100), and made jumps in number of spots paid by whole numbers of tables (18, as I recall). The result was that the payout structure became abnormally flat, and her min-cash barely made back her buy-in.

I don't understand the attraction of making the number of places paid an exact multiple of the number of players per table. Sure, you can say that if you make the final two tables, you're in the money. But who cares? I see no downside to there being, say, 14 spots paid for 140 entrants, rather than having to choose between either 9 (too steep a structure) or 18 (too flat). Tournament directors: Why do you have such a fondness for paying exact numbers of tables? I don't get it. (Glenn of the Missing Flops vlog disapprovingly commented about this phenomenon the other day, too.)

What's in a screen name? #18

Hey, might as well be honest about your intentions, right?

Trust me: watch it

If you like poker on TV, watch the last episode of the season of the PokerStars Big Game (week 12, episode 5), here. It's about as spectacular as it gets. You don't need to have seen the previous shows of the week to enjoy it. Like online and live poker, televised poker is so rigged!

(There is a lowlight, though. We learn that the loose cannon believes that his dead brother controls both the state lottery numbers and the cards dealt in a poker game. How do people get themselves to such insanity?)

Guess the casino, #725

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

Answer: MGM Grand

Friday, December 17, 2010

More questions

Phil Gordon interviews Howard Lederer about the apparent death of the Reid bill on ESPN Radio here.

At about the 21:30 mark, Gordon asks Lederer when he first became aware that a 15-month blackout period would be part of the bill. Lederer says, casually, "A couple of months ago." Aha! This would seem to confirm that (1) Reid had this thing cooking for a while, and (2) prior to the election he had tipped off some insiders about what was coming.

This may be the answer to the question I asked last month: "What am I missing?" Reid had been an opponent of online gaming, so it made no sense to me that in the closing days of the election we suddenly heard from Lederer, Andy Bloch, and Barry Greenstein that Reid would be a champion for online poker.

But, of course, this answer (assuming my inferences are correct here) just leads to more questions. First among them is why Reid kept this under wraps. He apparently recruited poker insiders to speak up for him in an effort to win votes of poker players. So why not publicly announce what he was planning to do?

Second, I'm still completely baffled by the actions of the Poker Players Alliance. One would assume that if Lederer knew about Reid's intentions prior to the election, then so did the PPA. But when the Reid bill was announced, the PPA sure as hell looked like it was caught completely off-guard, with its first public statement being utterly devoid of any indication of support for the proposal. Today the PPA did a press release wagging its finger at Congress for not passing the legislation. Uh, well, if this bill was such an obvious win for poker, why was your first statement on it so carefully neutral? And I still continue to wonder what then happened in the subsequent 24 hours to change that bland "we dunno about this thing" attitude into salute-the-flag enthusiasm? Something very strange was going on behind the scenes there, and they're simply not being candid about it. Hey, PPA: Candor is a prerequisite for trustworthiness. Your credibility is awfully low here.

Yet another question is the overall timing. The UIGEA passed in 2006. What took Reid so long to decide to do something for poker? He gave himself very few opportunities for passage, waiting until so late in the congressional session. Was the idea for the bill a last-minute thing when he realized that he was polling behind Sharron Angle, and he became desperate to attract more votes? If so, how strong is his commitment, now that he is safe for another six years?

As an aside, you can make a fun game out of counting how many times Lederer says "y'know" during this podcast. Caution: Do NOT make this a drinking game.

New blog

Dominic Ricciardi has started a new blog for QuadJacks, called, cheekily, "The Doctor's All In." You may recall that back in April I mentioned a one-time article he had written. As a result of that, we ended up meeting and striking up a friendship. I was pleased and humbled that my writing here inspired him to start his own occasional blog, The No-Limit Doc. I have felt a bit of pride at seeing him start integrating himself into the weird little poker blogger community, first with participation in the recent WPBT weekend, and now with the announcement of this affiliation. Well played, sir.

Guess the casino, #724

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

Answer: Palazzo (Usually I limit this game to casinos with poker rooms, but this wall was so unusual that I had to use it.)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Another alternative viewpoint on the Reid bill

This time from F-Train:

If Dave (along with Foucault, John Pappas, and others) is right about a gathering storm of federal crackdown on payment processors, it makes me want to ask: All you who claimed that a poker-playing Barack Obama in the White House would be Good For Poker (and/or for freedom generally), how are you feeling about your choice now? With one phone call or memo, he could tell his attorney general, the Department of Justice, and the U.S. attorneys to leave online gaming alone. You want to make a bet that he will do that? Has he lifted a single finger in support or defense of your interests?

And for those of you who campaigned/voted for Reid on the belief that he'd make headway for online poker, how do you feel about his work on your behalf? Do you feel like commending him for waiting until the 11th hour to make a fruitless, half-hearted effort, instead of tackling the problem, oh, say, anytime in the previous four years?

Vegas from space

See here.

For orientation, the Strip is horizontal across the center. The vaguely L-shaped void at the left must be McCarran airport. U.S. 95 is seen heading northwest toward the upper right, and southeast toward the lower left. The very brightest spot, right next to the airport, is surely the Luxor. The greenish section in the lower left is Henderson. The smaller cluster of lights at the north (right) end of the Strip is downtown. The two thin lines of lights extending roughly northward (to the right) from downtown are I-15 (upper) and more of Las Vegas Boulevard (lower).

Hat tip: WPBT teammate Katie.

Guess the casino, #723

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

Answer: Gold Coast

Bodog payout followup

A month ago I told you about getting a prepaid Visa card from Bodog instead of a check. Now I can tell you the rest of the story.

I had to log onto a web site to activate the card. This proved frustrating for reasons too arcane to detail, but I gave up for a while, and the card just sat on my desk. Finally this week I got around to tackling it again. Bodog did not respond to my email to their help desk, so I called them. They hadn't given me the code that I needed to activate the card, nor the PIN with which I could use it at an ATM. They said they did, I told them they didn't, blah, blah, blah. Anyway, it finally got worked out, and I got the card activated.

First attempt to cash out at an ATM was a fail. This was my fault. I had not read carefully the instructions that came with the card. Strangely, you have to go into the "savings account" menu at the ATM, which is not what I expected. I tried both the "checking account" and "credit card" options, then gave up when those didn't work. Who would think that a prepaid card would be considered a savings account by the system?

So I went home and RTFM, as they say.

Second try, I asked for the full $300 in cash. It wouldn't give it to me. The obvious thing would be to check the balance first, because it might have changed due to currency exchange rate fluctuations. But the printed instructions had warned me that I would not be able to check the balance at an ATM; it said you have to use the web site for that. Which is why I didn't try it. Also, somebody was waiting behind me to use the machine, and I didn't want to be the jerk that holds up another person's errands because I couldn't figure out how to do a transaction. In frustration, I tried another cash request, this time for just $100, to see if it would give me anything. It did, though it deducted $3 for a service fee. It then asked if I wanted to know the remaining balance, which surprised me because of the previous warning. I pressed "yes," and it told me I had $183.48 left.

That means that my original $300 had drifted down to $286.48 between when Bodog's partner financial company issued the card and when I got around to actually using it. That's a 5% loss.

Today I went back for Round 3. This time I checked the balance first, which worked just fine, despite the stupid papers they had sent me: $181.56. I lost another two bucks overnight! (Let me take this opportunity to send a big upraised middle finger to the Obama administration for continuing its insane policies that are continuously devaluing the dollar.) Because of the $3 service charge, I wouldn't be able to take out $180 in cash. Since it would only take requests in increments of $20, I settled for $160.

Before leaving, I did one final balance check. The answer: $8.43 left on the card. That surprised me. $181.56 minus $160 minus a $3 service charge should have left me $18.56. Somehow, an extra $10.13 vanished without a trace. I have no idea what happened to it.

What I do know is that, in all, my original $300 actually translated to $260 in my pocket plus about $8 on the card. OK, the second $3 fee was my fault for not figuring out how to do it all at once. But even if you ignore that, the net result is that I lost a minimum of $29 on the deal, 10% of what my payout should have been.

This reveals three of the problems with using the card instead of a check: (1) You risk losing substantial value with movements in the exchange rate. (2) If you go for cash, you're hit with fees for each transaction. (3) It's really hard to use up the last bit of the money you have on account--at least in cash. Maybe, maybe, next time I buy something online I can use part of all of this, but I think that will be hard to get the last bit out. Most likely some small amount will be left there, like the last few pennies that you can't shake out of the piggy bank. Not exactly life-changing money here, but still annoying.

Hey, Bodog--if you're taking a customer satisfaction poll on this new idea, put me down as "against."

Sweatin' with the oldies

Most people think that poker isn't an aerobic exercise, but it can sure work you up a good sweat.

Tonight I was playing at the Flamingo. We started a new table, and about 30 minutes in, I found two red kings in the big blind. There were two limpers, followed by a young man on the button raising to $10. First decision: Call or reraise? A reraise might earn me only $14 if everybody folded. The limpers were two retirees, who had a tendency to limp-call any normal-sized raise. I thought they would fold to a reraise, but stay in if I just called, making for a nice pot. Also, if an ace were to come on the flop, I could get away with little loss, because odds were that at least one of these guys had some ace-rag hand. So I went with the call, and my prediction about the oldies (sorry to use a slightly disrespectful term, but I have to justify the post title I picked--besides, I consider myself one of them, being eligible for the WSOP seniors event next year) proved to be correct. Four of us to the flop, pot about $35 after rake.

Flop: 5h-6h-2d. Though I thought the button would continuation-bet anything if we all checked to him, I didn't want to take the chance of it being checked all around, because there were too many potentially scary cards that could hit the turn. Also, going for a check-raise was not ideal here, I thought, because I was first to act after the likely bettor (the button), so if one of the retirees had hit a set, my check-raise could get really expensive. Better, I decided, to lead out, because the flop was coordinated enough that a set would probably raise to protect against draws, so I could get away, if necessary, with the cost of just my opening bet, rather than having to face a likely all-in from a slow-played set after having put in a large check-raise. I bet $30. Our senior citizens folded fairly quickly. When it was his turn, the button instantly shoved for $181. I had him covered by less than $10.

I didn't have a ton of information on him. This was the first time he had made any move this large or aggressive. The most salient fact here was the size of the reraise--six times my bet. I thought that a big overpair would be more likely to raise smaller. Would he do that with a set? Possible, given the consideration of the draws. But in my experience, most $1-2 players just LURVE to get cute with sets, and shoving doesn't give them the satisfaction of the trap. The size of the bet seemed to me to be either a big pair not wanting to get drawn out on, or a strong draw (e.g., A-Q in hearts) that was semi-bluffing. He had taken no time at all to decide on the push, and I thought that a set would take a minute to consider the options for how to play it.

I thought about it a while. I decided that I had most of the big pairs beat and was a substantial favorite against a draw. I have a really strong distaste for putting in my whole stack with just an overpair, but this seemed to me like one of the occasional places where I likely had the best of it with nothing more than unimproved kings. I called and showed.

My opponent flipped over 8h-9h, for a gutshot straight-flush draw. I was indeed a favorite, though not by as comfortable a margin as I would have liked. To be exact, it was 57% me, 42% him.

The ol' apocrine and eccrine glands went into overdrive on the turn, which was a black 8, giving him a pair. He gained more outs, but, of course, was left with only one card on which to hit, so I improved a little statistically: 64%/36% now. Still, I could just hear Mike Sexton, in that overexcited voice that he gets when all the money is in and it's down to one card: "He can hit a heart, a 7, an 8, or a 9. Vince, Grump is going to have dodge a lot of cards here!"

My sweat was extended when the dealer put out the river, but I couldn't see it, because his hand hovered where it blocked my view. (This was not purposeful on his part.) I could see a flash of red on a face card, but that was it. He actually announced the winner before I could see what had happened: "Kings." He moved his hand, and I finally saw that the jack of diamonds had joined the board. Whew!

Score one for us old guys.

Oh, and admit it: You had to look up "apocrine and eccrine glands," didn't you?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Nice aerial photos of the Strip

Guess the casino, #722

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

Answer: Circus Circus

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Million-dollar idea

Or maybe a billion. I don't know. But somebody's gonna get rich.

There's something this town has been needing for a long, long time. I first thought of it about ten years ago on a vacation here. I have no doubt that many others have thought of it, too, but nobody has done it.

Some casino needs to build a luxurious indoor pool.

The fact is, the number of days of really nice outdoor swimming/poolside weather in Las Vegas is rather small, certainly less than half of the year. For most of November through March, it's too cold. For about half of April through October, it's too hot.

Hence the need for an indoor bit of paradise. Domed to let in the nice sun, but climate-controlled. Have cabanas, drink service, in-pool blackjack, nice music, food service, etc. There's a decent example of just such a place at the Harrah's in Atlantic City.

It seems obvious to me that people would flock to such an attraction on all the days that the outdoor pools are suffering from either excessive or insufficient heat. When Papa Bear's porridge is too hot or Mama Bear's porridge is too cold, Baby Bear's porridge under the glass dome will always be just right.

Somebody please get on this right away.

"Let the dog die!"

Great story from Doyle Brunson:

Guess the casino, #721

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

Answer: Aria

Monday, December 13, 2010

My next question

I have asked a couple of times, basically, why anybody is in favor of proposals such as the Reid bill, when the status quo, while not ideal, is perfectly workable. (See here and here.) Reading more over the past several days--especially, but not exclusively, Foucault's thoughtful perspective--has made me come to believe that the problem with the current situation that I have perhaps been underestimating is a growing difficulty in funds transfers.

This seems to be punctuated by news today that yet another prominent player in this game is pulling out (hat tip: Pokerati):

I personally have not had more than minor glitches with either deposits or withdrawals, which is why, from my point of view, there doesn't seem to be any compelling reason to change anything. Maybe there is more to this issue than I have appreciated. Maybe it is, in fact, the reason that the PPA and others seem desperate to pass this legislation, even though it means an extended blackout period, cutting the U.S. off from the rest of the world when poker returns, hefty taxes, and enormous overhead costs to comply with a complex regulatory scheme.

But I'm still unclear about it. Why do the sites need to use financial intermediaries at all? I have not needed to use a funds-transfer middleman for deposits at either the big sites (Full Tilt and Stars can take the money directly from my checking account, last time I needed to reload) or the small ones (e.g., when I opened an account on the Everleaf network in September I was able to use an ordinary Visa card).

As for cashing out, I don't see why the sites can't just issue ordinary business checks and pop them in the mail. I doubt that my bank is going to refuse to honor a check just because it comes from overseas and has the name of a poker site on it. My memory is hazy, but it seems to me that my first cashout from FTP was in the form of a check openly drawn on FTP's account, from a Canadian bank--but that was back in 2007, I think, so I might be misremembering.

Again, as a small-time player in the online world, and one who only occasionally makes either deposits or withdrawals, maybe I'm just not sufficiently tuned in to what has been going on in this arena. I just don't understand why the sites need to rely on third-party money movers at all, but there might be an elephant in the room that I'm not seeing.

Guess the casino, #720

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

Answer: Suncoast

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Hogarth and me

Over the weekend, a couple of the gathered poker bloggers asked me about the meaning and/or origin of "Rakewell" as my blogger handle and screen name for online poker games (which long preceded the blogger thing). I talked about it in an old post, in case any reader is interested in the kind of obscure answer:


Serious ugliness abroad. I had not heard of this elsewhere.

Now THAT'S how to play razz!

Friday night I spent a pleasant few hours playing a $3-6 HORSE game at the MGM Grand with several other poker bloggers in town for the World Poker Blogger Tour. Through the weekend's festivities, I finally got to meet a bunch of people whose stuff I have read and against whom I periodically play in private online tournaments.

One of them was Josie, of the Very Josie blog. She got the full attention of the table with how she played the razz hand you see above. She was in seat 1. Somebody I didn't know was in seat 2. Josie had the bring-in with a queen showing. Seat 2 completed. Josie called--itself a little surprising. On 4th street she caught a 6 and called again. On 5th she picked up an ugly king. Eyebrows were raised when she called yet again. Calling with a Q and K showing, against a first-position raiser who now has 5-3-4 up is, um, shall we say, unorthodox. I confess that I turned to the guy next to me (Special K), and quietly asked, "This is razz, isn't it?"

6th street, with deuces for both players and another bet and call, set the tongues a-waggin' even further, for two reasons. First, Seat 2 looks for all the world like he has a wheel here. Second, the hand with which a bring-in player is most likely to have called the 3rd-street raise is A-2 in the hole, which, if true, would now mean three bricks up, and potential for making nothing better than a queen-low.

I think every person at the table--save the two involved in the hand--was laughing out loud when 7th street saw the following sequence of unexpected events:

1) A bet from Seat 2. (OK, that part was not unexpected.)
2) A raise from Josie (which is when I snapped the photo).
3) An extremely reluctant, obviously painful, face-up fold from Seat 2, revealing his 7-low.
4) Josie casually showing everyone her runner-runner 6-perfect, before stacking up the nice pot.

As they say, hilarity ensued.

I suggest that you not try this at home, even if your name happens to be Josie. You have to be VERY Josie to pull it off!

Le Frenchman, he eez not happy

I'm playing a little HORSE tournament on PokerStars. We just had a guy from France bust out, but not before he left the table with this nice litte trio of sendoffs in the chat box.

t'es nul a chier

(From Google Translate: "You suck a shit.")

t'as le cul bordé de nouilles et tu joues comme une tapette

(Google: "You got your ass edged noodles and you play like a fag." I suspect that what Google renders as "ass edged noodles" is meant to be even more vulgar and depictive. Let's leave it at that.)

table de grosses tantouzes

(Google balked on this one, coming up with only the unhelpful "Table big tantouzes." But an online French dictionary here suggests fairy or queen for tantouzes.)

Such fun. This particular cheese-eating surrender monkey appears to have an unhealthy obsession with sexual orientation, which I do not share. Nevertheless, I rather enjoy the thought of responding to my next bad beat with a cry of "Ass edged noodles!"

Guess the casino, #719

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

Answer: Riviera

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Guess the casino, #718

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

Answer: O'Shea's

Friday, December 10, 2010

Guess the casino, #717

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

Answer: Jokers Wild

An alternative point of view

This is the most cogent argument I've read in favor of the Reid bill:

As King Agrippa said to the Apostle Paul, almost thou persuadest me.

Thursday, December 09, 2010


I like a couple of the designs found here, especially "Poker 101" and "Donkey Checklist."

Poker gems, #405

Chris "Fox" Wallace, in Poker Pro magazine column, December, 2010, p. 71.

Over the years I have never had a student who is losing money because he is playing too tight in cash games. Occasionally I have advised a student to play a few more hands in late position, and I have advised almost all of them to be more positional overall, but I have never had a student who really needs to loosen up.

Guess the casino, #716

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

Answer: Caesars Palace (Admit it--that's not what you were expecting, is it?)

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Poker gems, #404

Joe Stapleton, on PokerStars Big Game, after Doyle Brunson told Daniel Negreanu that he didn't use a heads-up display (HUD) when he played online.

Doyle's HUD is a Post-It note with his password written on it.

Poker gems, #403

Daniel Negreanu, on PokerStars Big Game, needling "loose cannon" William Given, after Given won only a small amount with quad aces, having slow-played them to death against Scott Seiver.

Where's the rest of the pot?