Saturday, March 27, 2010

Guess the casino, #459

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Answer: Mirage

Friday, March 26, 2010

Guess the casino, #458

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Answer: Monte Carlo

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Guess the casino, #457

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Answer: MGM Grand

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Guess the casino, #456

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Answer: Mirage

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Guess the casino, #455

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Answer: Mandalay Bay

Monday, March 22, 2010

Guess the casino, #454

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Answer: M Resort

Sunday, March 21, 2010

How long it lasts

I'm just back from an early session at Bally's.

I bought in for my usual max, $300. Early in the session I got up by about $130 by cracking jacks with 5c-7c when the flop came a lovely 4-6-8. Things didn't move much for a while after that.

A guy at the far end of the table was always inadvertantly flashing his cards by doing that stupid repeated one-over-the-other shuffle that so many players like to do. (Why, why, why, why, why? How can people be so oblivious as not to realize that in the process of lifting one up by its end to bring over the other, they're exposing it to at least half of the table? And what is the upside of this mindless revealing of your most crucial information? It's utterly incomprehensible to me. Look at your cards, put them on the table, cap them, and leave them the hell alone! Geez, people, it just isn't that complicated a process. OK, parenthetical mini-rant over.) I told him that he was showing his cards when he did that. A young woman two seats to my left asked me, "Are you a nice poker player?"--as if such a thing were mythically rumored to exist, but not to be expected in the real world. I replied, "Not especially. Just one who likes everything to be fair."

Maybe an hour later I took a restroom break, leaving just before my big blind, as is my usual practice. When I returned, the button at my seat said "Missed small blind." Ignoring that, when the next hand started I put the button and a single $1 into the middle, and another $2 in front of me, making up both blinds. The dealer tried to correct me: "You only missed the small blind." No, I told her, I missed both. She said, "Are you sure?" I said, "Absolutely." So she relented.

The same young woman on my left said, "You definitely get good karma for honesty." She was right. The cards were dealt, I had A-A, and won about $50. I wouldn't ordinarily show my cards just because of having aces, but given her "good karma" comment, it was irresistible. Everybody got a smile out of that.

A couple of hands later I was one of several players to call a small raise, holding Q-10 offsuit. The flop was Q-10-x with two clubs. I made a pot-sized bet. Guy on the button shoved all-in. It folded back to me and I called. He had Ac-9c for the nut flush draw, no pair. Turn: 9s. River: Ah, giving him a backdoor better two pair. Ugh.

That took away nearly all my profit. I was sitting at about $330. A couple of hands later, I limped with 10-10 from first position, then called a raise to $10 from the small blind. We were the only two to the flop, which came 10-9-8, two-suited. SB bet $2, something he was fond of doing whether he had nothing or the nuts, so the bet size told me nothing. I raised to $15. He raised another $20 on top of that. I raised an additional $50, he added yet another $100, I moved all-in, and he called. He had me covered by a small amount. He rolled over Q-J, and the board did not pair to save me.

To nobody in particular, I said, "What happened to the good karma I was supposed to have?"

The guy who had been sitting to my left said, "Sorry, it only lasts one hand."

Guess the casino, #453

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

Answer: Excalibur

Poker gems, #347

John Vorhaus, in Card Player magazine column, March 10, 2010 (vol. 23, #5), p. 64.

The type of bluff that you can successfully run is utterly dependent on your table image. Therefore when bluffing, to bastardize Shakespeare, "To thy known self be true."

Seeing things at the Mirage

Friday evening I was at the Mirage, playing another poker session sitting next to Grange95, whom I get to like more each time I spend time with him. It was one of those poker sessions that generated a bunch of little observations and stories, none of which is worthy of a separate post in itself, but which I can string together as a hodge-podge post.

Actually, the stories begin while I was on my way to the Mirage.


When driving to the mid-Strip from my downtown apartment, it's always hard to know whether it will be faster to take I-15 or Las Vegas Boulevard. It was close to rush hour, which tends to clog the interstate, so this time I decided to take the Strip directly.

At two consecutive intersections, the traffic lights were out. I don't know why they didn't go to their default mode of flashing red in all directions--maybe a power failure. The first intersection was the weird one near the Stratosphere, where both Main and St. Louis run into LVB. There, everybody was behaving civilly, stopping and taking turns as if there were stop signs all around. This is obviously both the safest and fairest way of handling the situation, but it requires everybody to cooperate.

At Sahara, the situation was completely different. The drivers going east and west had figured out that if they just kept going, they wouldn't run into any interference. There was a constant stream of cars heading east and west, and long backups north and south were forming. Northbound and southbound cars had to kind of wait for a little gap, then make a dash for it, often only creeping through one lane at a time and being left stranded in the middle. (For those who haven't been there, this is a very large, fast, and, when it's uncontrolled, scary intersection, with three lanes in all directions.)

I apparently got there quite early in the process of degeneration into lawlessness, because the backups weren't too bad yet. But I imagine that after a short while things got really hairy there. Of course, the retaliatory tendency will be strong; once there is any sort of break in the east-west traffic, the north-south people who were forced to sit for a long time will decide that it's their turn, and damn those east-west scumbags, I'm going to keep going. They set up their own stream that the east-westers will challenge at their peril.

The whole situation was terribly dangerous. Just in the couple of minutes it took me to get through, I witnessed several near misses, and when it came time for me to venture through the oncoming traffic, it felt about as unsafe as anything I've ever done in a car.

I have never seen such a thing happen before, and I found it kind of interesting from a sociological perspective. It's a real-world manifestation of a tit-for-tat strategy. If you come upon the St. Louis intersection, and all your fellow citizens are behaving rationally and politely, you're naturally inclined to cooperate and take your turn. But if you come upon the Sahara intersection, where it's every man for himself, you don't have much choice but to fight your way through it any way you can. If you try to stop and wait for your turn, when nobody is willing to let you have it, you'll sit there forever.

Life is all about game theory, I guess.

OK, on to the actual poker.

A bad-beat story

No, not one of my own--one I heard from somebody else. I heard it a couple of weeks ago at the Venetian, but forgot to write about it. I was reminded of it Friday night because of other bad-beat stories being told at the table, with Grange and me grousing about how irritating they are.

I'm told this happened many years ago at the Nevada Palace, which has since been renovated and is now the Eastside Cannery. The guy telling me this story said that he was playing straight seven-card stud. By fifth street he had a diamond royal flush. An opponent got a spade royal flush in the same hand. Naturally they capped the betting on every street. But when the hands were revealed, the guy discovered that the house rule was not that the hands were considered a tie for a chopped pot, but that the tie was broken by suits, in the same way as when cards are dealt for the dealer button or for the extra chip when coloring up in a tournament. Under that system, spades trump diamonds. In other words, he lost the hand while holding a royal flush.

Now, I don't have any actual confirmation that this really happened. But his manner of relating it I found to be reasonably convincing--and I'm a skeptical hard sell. I don't know whether it's true or false, but I felt inclined to believe him, even though the situation is astronomically unlikely. If I had to put my money one way or the other, I'd go with true.

And if it is indeed true, I have to admit that it pretty much puts all other bad-beat stories to shame.


So I'm in the small blind with the Qc-5c. Not a great hand, but nobody raised, so I decided to toss in the extra buck and see what developed. Flop was ace-high with two crubs (including the ace). Well, naturally I'm going to bet at that, since I know that the crubs are going to get there. I bet $7, which was about 2/3 or 3/4 of the pot size. A woman across the table, whom I had pegged as the weakest player there, raised to $15, just barely more than a minimum raise. It folded back around to me. With the second-nut flush draw, it was not difficult to decide to call.

Turn was a blank. I checked. She bet $10. Well, if she intended that to dissuade me, she didn't pick her bet size very thoughtfully. I called. River was the jack of crubs. I bet $35, which she paid off before showing her second-best A-K.

As you can see, she played her hand about as badly as could be--not raising before the flop, min-raising the flop, making a tiny bet on the turn, then paying off the river when she might have recognized that my line that looked an awful lot like a flush draw was, in fact, a flush draw.

Nothing too strange so far. But then one of the more experienced players at the table, sitting to this woman's left, launched into a little lesson for her about bet sizing, protecting her hand against draws, etc. He was right on the merits, of course, but completely wrong as to the meta-game. What does he gain from teaching the bad players how to play better? I suppose he gets some sense of self-satisfaction. He gets to feel superior. He also gets to feel magnanimous, that he is helping his fellow human being. But he is costing himself money. More to the point, he is costing me money. I want this woman to play A-K against me exactly the same way every time she gets it.

If she finds herself losing money at poker and wants to improve, there are countless resources she can turn to from which to learn. The poker table is not the place for tutorials. It's rude to presume that somebody wants to hear your opinion about optimal play when they haven't asked for it, and it's rude to educate the fish at the expense of everybody else. It's also self-defeating, which is why it's so hard for me to understand it.

It wasn't the only time. Once while Grange was off on a break, our self-appointed professor analyzed the hand just played by a couple of other people, explaining what each of them did wrong, thus giving her pointers on how to avoid those errors.

Geez, dude--smarten up, will ya? If you're not getting paid to teach somebody else at the table how to play, then, as Archie Bunker was fond of saying, "Stifle!" And if you are in a formal student-teacher relationship (which I'm sure was not the case here), I think it would be courteous to inform everybody else in the game of that status.

That's how to straddle

Our professor had a nice bit of luck come his way. He straddled for double the big blind, was dealt pocket sixes, flopped a set, rivered quads, and got raised all-in by somebody who had made a full house. I'm pretty sure I have never before seen a straddle turn into a high-hand jackpot. It was only $75, but still....

Half-bet rule

In a hand I wasn't in, there was an early-position raise to $15, followed by an all-in for $26, which got called in a couple of spots before action returned to the original raiser. He tried to move all in. Both Grange and I had already done the arithmetic mentally and realized that the all-in bet was too small to re-open the betting, so the original raiser would only have the options of calling or folding. I immediately pointed this out to the dealer.

The dealer, though, got confused. When the player asked why he couldn't reraise, the dealer said, "The all-in would have to be at least half the size of your raise." Well, it was! But that's not the rule. The so-called "half-bet rule" is applicable only in limit games. In no-limit games, an all-in bet is not considered a true raise unless it is at least the size of the bet or raise that preceded it. In this case, the original raise was an interval of $13 over the $2 big blind, so the betting would be re-opened only if the all-in amount were an additional $13 over that, or $28 total. It wasn't. The dealer ended up having to call the floor over to get it clarified.

I continue to be flabbergasted at how many professional dealers don't grasp this simple concept. It's not that complicated. But trying to enforce and/or explain the half-bet rule when such a situation arises in a no-limit game is astonishingly common. I haven't kept careful track, but I'd estimate that at least a third of dealers get it wrong. I'm dumbfounded by this, because it's a situation that must come up every day. How can they keep getting confused by the same question over and over and over again?


Somehow Grange and I ended up talking about cringeworthy things. I told him about having seen a video clip from a kickboxing match in which one guy's leg breaks in the middle of his shin in a truly horrific manner. I found the clip on YouTube. I'm not going to embed it; I want you to have to click through to see it. Warning: I'm not kidding, this is seriously painful to watch. It will make you squirm and cringe, and you will never forget it; it will be seared into your retinas forever, even though it's only a few seconds long. If, given that notice, you still want to watch it, go here: While looking for that, I came across another clip that is virtually identical in what happens, though it's a much more recent fight: Same warnings apply.

Release the Grange!

This week on Poker After Dark the ads between segments have frequently been a shortened version of the trailer for the movie "Clash of the Titans," so I've seen it a couple dozen times now. (You can see the full-length version here.) At one point, a bearded man with a deathly serious tone commands, "Release the Kraken!" (If you don't know about kraken--pronounced cracken--see here.)

Grange's blog is titled CrAAKKer, because, as you can see from the stories he tells, a major part of his successful strategy is to identify nits who he knows will overplay their big pairs, call their raises with junky, sneaky little hands, and hit something with which to crack those aces and kings. This is not only profitable in and of itself, but often leads to the nits thereafter playing on Super Monkey Tilt. As he likes to say, hilarity ensues.

Anyway, his presence in town this week has done weird things to my mind. (That isn't too hard. It's pretty weird to begin with.) Every time I've heard, "Release the kraken!" I imagine the line actually being, "Release the CrAAKKer!" I envision a multi-armed and fearsomely toothed Grange being turned free from captivity to wreak havoc on the poker tables.

This amuses me far more than could be considered reasonable.

A non-poker blog

Before bidding Grange a fond farewell for this trip, I got to briefly meet his spousal unit, Chad, as well as Brian, a long-time friend of Chad's, and Brian's girlfriend. Grange mentioned my blog, which caused Brian to whip out a very cool business card with his blog name and information on it. I was instantly jealous. I want a Poker Grump business card! (I'm not sure what I would do if I had one, but that's not the point, is it?)

But for now the best I can do is provide a pointer to Brian's blog. It's a potpourri of whatever is on his mind, so tough to assign it to any particular subject or pigeonhole. But take a peek--maybe you'll like the way he thinks and writes:

Those are some beads!

As I was leaving the Mirage, I saw this guy with the largest bead necklace I've ever seen. He graciously--even eagerly--consented to letting me take a picture of him.

Photo problem

By the way, this is as good a time as any to apologize for my pictures getting crappier over time. I have increasingly noticed that shots taken with my cell phone camera have been coming out pretty awful--light sources streaky, and objects appearing blurred no matter what I do. It has finally dawned on me that the problem is that the glass plate covering the camera lens has become hopelessly scratched up from being carried around unprotected in my fanny pack for a year and a half or so. I suppose this development is sufficiently foreseeable that a smarter guy would have done something to prevent it, but it didn't occur to me until the last few days, when it was obviously too late. So now I'm stuck with it, at least until I break down and get a new phone. Deals come along often enough that I suppose I will do so before terribly long. But until that happens, you and I both will have to put up with the photos looking terrible. Most of the "Guess the casino" pictures were taken in early 2009, when the phone was new, and are not so afflicted, but once in a while one of them is a more recent shot, as are, of course, most of the ones that I use to accompany some story from the tables.

Sorry about that.

Too close for comfort

What you see above are scans of two facing pages from the March 10, 2010, issue of Card Player magazine. (I wish I could have put them side by side, so that you see them as they appear in the magazine, but my scanner isn't big enough, and stitching them digitally is a little beyond my technical know-how.)

My first reaction upon opening this spread was, "Oh, Evelyn Ng got a column in Card Player. I didn't know that." (I admit that I then had some unkind thoughts about her qualifications as a columnist, but those aren't relevant here.) Then I started reading Steve Zolotow's column. I was puzzled when I got to the end of the page, because it wasn't finished. Instead of continuing onto the next page, an arrow directs the reader to turn the page.

Card Player never splits editorial material this way; they run things continuously. (Thank heaven. I hate the "continued on page 93" kind of searches to read the rest of an article.) That was the first time it occurred to me that Ng's piece might be an advertisement. So I looked more closely, and, sure enough, it says so at the top of the page.

Now, if I had been thinking about it a little more, I might have realized that no other writer in the magazine gets half of the page taken up with the identifying photograph, so something was amiss. But I think it's perfectly obvious that the Bodog ad is designed to mislead the reader, at least initially. It cannot possibly be a coincidence that Ng's piece (and, incidentally, I'd bet a hefty sum that she didn't even write the copy that shows up under her name) uses exactly the same typeface and size as the actual columnists, such as Zolotow, for both the body of the piece and the headline.

I am surprised that Card Player is complicit in this attempt to deceive its readers. If I ran the magazine, this kind of camouflaging of an ad to look like editorial copy would not be allowed. Responsible publications have unmistakably clear delineations between the editorial contents and the ads. Even meaningless little blogs like this one make sure to keep that line bright, if their authors have any sense of integrity. That was a large part of the reason that so many of us reacted unfavorably to PokerStars making a pathetic effort to bribe us into blurring the distinction last month.

I think Card Player should require Bodog and other advertisers not only to put the "advertisement" disclaimer at the top, but to use distinctly different fonts, so that even at a glance it is immediately apparent that a piece such as Ng's is an ad rather than part of what the magazine is offering its readers.


Soon after posting the above, reader "qdpsteve" emailed me a photo that stitches together the two pages, so you can more easily see what it looks like when you open the magazine. The result lost some resolution, which makes it harder to see how the fonts are identical, so I'm adding it here rather than replacing the two separate pages above.

Thanks, Steve!

The week ahead

I have a few (well, four, to be exact) posts in mind to write tonight and tomorrow. Then there is likely to be a relative lack of posting for the following nine or ten days. My dear friend Cardgrrl is coming to town for a little over a week, starting Monday, for a confluence of events, including the tournaments (details here), and some get-togethers for members of Poker Academy. The schedule is already filling up with tournaments, dinners, meetings with friends, shows, and sight-seeing day trips. And, of course, any unstructured time that I can spend alone chatting, relaxing, and/or playig poker with Cardgrrl, I'll take. Also, an out-of-town reader that will be here next week has generously offered to enter me into the Venetian nightly 7:00 pm tournament Monday, so I'll be playing that.* The predictable result of all this is that I'll be building up a bunch of experiences to write about, with no time to do the writing until after Cardgrrl leaves March 30.

So once again I must ask your forbearance. I know it's a strange concept, but the order of priorities is (1) life, (2) play poker, (3) write about poker. I do realize that so far this year there have been more than the usual number of blocks of time in which (1) has had to be tended to above (2) and (3), but that's just how it is sometimes.

*It happens with some regularity that a reader will write to say he or she will be in town and would like to meet me. I'm usually reluctant to make any particular plans along those lines, for a couple of reasons. First, I'm terribly awkward and uncomfortable in social situations, especially meeting strangers. This tendency is exaggerated when playing poker, because I'm inclined to just sit quietly and try to pay attention to the action, which usually doesn't lend itself to being chatty. As a result of this, sometimes people meeting me think that I'm giving them the cold shoulder and/or not liking them, which isn't necessarily so. Second, I'm not fond of planning my poker in advance; I like to go when and where the spirit moves me, so to speak. I often Tweet where I am, so it's not like I'm hiding, but I almost never know very far ahead of time. But the offer to stake me in a tournament--well, I'm not one to turn down free money. If this reader knew of my general reluctance to plan meet-ups with readers, he certainly devised a high-probability way of lowering my shields and making it happen!

Automated craps table

Today I played for a while at the Rio, because they have suspended their daily freeroll tournament during March Madness days, meaning that the games there should be good again temporarily (and they definitely were).

I then headed to the Flamingo for a second session. I've been kind of neglecting Harrah's properties so far this year, and would like to make at least some effort toward maintaining my platinum status, though it really does me little good. I have found that it's much easier, when going to the Flamingo poker room, to park at Bill's and walk to the Flamingo than to navigate the Flamingo parking garage, which is one of the worst in the city.

While walking through Bill's, I noticed this new computerized craps table. Maybe they exist elsewhere (in fact, almost surely so, since it's hard to believe that Bill's would be the site chosen for a first installation) but I've never known of them before. I was intrigued.

As you can see, players can sit instead of stand. They each have a private monitor. There is obviously some means of loading money/credit into them. (I'm guessing that you just hand cash to the dealer, who enters the credit on his central terminal, but I didn't witness this happening.) There is still a physical table with actual dice and a shooter, but no chips are used. Bets are made from the computer screen.

There are obvious advantages. This must surely speed up the process of placing bets. It reduces dealer errors in payouts, as well as the ancient Vegas tradition of dealers helping themselves to part of the payout, as recreational players often don't know how much they're supposed to be getting and therefore won't notice that they got shorted. It also should eliminate what I understand are the most common forms of player cheating, such as past posting (altering bets surreptitiously after the dice have landed).

I stood and watched for a few minutes. The computer system did not seem to reduce the players' fun at all. They were hooting and hollering the same as at other craps tables. The shooter was on one hell of a hot streak, and everybody was loving it. Or so it appeared. From the very little that I understand about craps, I gather that you can make yourself very unpopular by betting against the shooter. In a regular game, it is openly apparent that you have done so. But with the monitors, I assume that your bets are private (unless somebody is looking over your shoulder), so you can bet "don't pass" all you want, and nobody will know, unless you cheer when everybody else is dejected.

I wonder how the system affects dealer tips. I overheard enough to know that there are mechanisms built into the machine for tipping dealers from your credit and for posting bets for the dealers. But perhaps the social pressure to tip is reduced when nobody knows if you won or lost and the dealer isn't the one pushing you the winnings.

Another interesting feature is that the central monitors display information such as how many times in a row the shooter has won, and the highest number of times in a row a shooter has won since the table opened. If you're dumb enough to believe that certain numbers on the dice are "overdue," the screen helpfully tells you exactly how many throws it has been since various combinations hit.

I still have zero interest in playing craps, and have never put a single bet on the dice--a situation which is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. But I like seeing how technology changes gaming. If I were to decide to play, I think I'd seek out one of these tables. I think it would both speed up my learning curve about the multitude of betting options and enhance my enjoyment of the experience if I didn't have to be reaching down onto the table and figuring out which chips were mine, where to put them, when to pick them back up, and so forth. And secretly betting contrary to the rest of the table would satisfy some facet of my misanthropic tendencies.

Incidentally, while I was watching, one of the players' girlfriends rejoined him after having been off doing something else. He told her, "You should play this. You would win right away. Girls are always lucky at craps." I got the impression that he genuinely believed this, rather than that he was trying to butter her up in some way. Sigh. My campaign to make the world think rationally is a massive failure. Some people are just bound and determined to believe moronic things, and can't be educated out of it.

License plate FTW

I very much liked this plate, and the car to which it was attached, seen earlier today in the Rio parking garage.