Saturday, April 17, 2010

Fed up

I'm about as even-tempered, take-it-in-stride a person as you're likely to meet. Still, I've always known that I have a breaking point, but I was never sure what it would take to get there.

Well, now I know.

Last night I finished up at the Stratosphere by being dealt the only big pocket pair I had seen all night: K-K. When I tell you that all the money went in pre-flop, you'll be able to guess that I was up against the only hand I did not want to see, and that it did not turn out well.

Tonight I played at Imperial Palace. I got into a hole early on, but then got moved to a new table where everything seemed to click just right, and within about ten minutes I was out of the hole and up about $50 on my $300 buy-in. I felt ready to carry the momentum on and score a nice, big, fat W for the record books.

The poker gods apparently had other plans. A series of three hands did me in. In the first, I flopped top two pair and lost to a flopped set. $100 down the drain. In the second, I was ahead all the way until he caught his gutshot straight draw on the river. Another $100 went bye-bye.

The third was the most brutal. I was in the cutoff and joined a bunch of limpers with my Ad-5d. The small blind raised to $12. I called along with a few others. This woman had been at my first table before it broke and we both moved to this second one, so I had been playing with her for roughly three hours and thought I had a good feel for her game.

The flop was a near-perfect one for me: 2c-3d-4d. I had a straight, the nut flush draw, and even a gutshot straight-flush draw.

The raiser bet $50. I thought she most likely had a big pair and was making this pot-sized bet to discourage others from drawing at the flush or somebody with a mediocre ace hitting a 5 for the wheel. It folded around to me. I thought that if she had a big pair other than aces, she might find a fold if I moved all in, since she had seen me show a string of pretty solid hands through the night. So I pulled out one of my rarely-used tools: the min-raise. I made it $100, hoping that she would find that irresistible. I guess she did, because she moved all in. I called, obviously. Our stacks were nearly equal, but it turned out that I had her covered by $12.

I showed my cards immediately. She did not. I don't remember what the turn was, but the river was a fairly harmless-looking black 4. But harmless it was not. At that point, she revealed her hole cards: 3-4. She had flopped two pair and rivered the boat.

I took my last $12 and left.

Two consecutive sessions ending up this way would be enough to annoy me for a little while, but I would ordinarily take a day off from playing, and by the next day be rarin' to go again. This is different. These are coming as just the latest in a series of such sessions, combining coolers and suckouts in a seemingly endless succession. March was my second-worst month ever, and April so far is ahead of even that pace. I've had four weeks in a row of net losses, and five of the last seven, and the two exceptions were both trivial positive amounts. It is, by far, my longest and deepest losing streak ever.

As far as I can tell, no more than about 20% of it is due to bad play on my part. Of course, it may be that I'm completely deluded about that, I completely suck at poker, and it is finally being made manifest. I don't think that's the case, but it's awfully hard to be objective about it. I can't tell that I'm playing any different than I did before.

But whatever the cause, it has finally gotten to me. I can't do it any more. I can't take it either financially or emotionally. I have tried playing tight, playing loose, playing passively, and playing aggressively, and it seems not to matter one little bit--the results are the same no matter what. The only way I can think of to stop the losing at this point is to stop playing. I don't know for how long. I'm not throwing in the towel forever, but I need a serious break to see if I can get my head clear and regain some modicum of desire to play again, which at the moment is utterly depleted.

I feel like Paul Newman in "Cool Hand Luke," in the boxing scene with George Kennedy. I've taken the punches, fallen down, and stood back up as many times as I'm capable of, and now all I can do is give in and collapse in a heap.

As a result, it's likely that I won't post much for a while, either. This has sapped my interest in writing about poker as much as my interest in playing it.

I'll keep playing at least a little bit online. For me, playing online is a completely different experience from my bread-and-butter live games. Also, I just received notice that I'm invited to participate in the "invitational" portion of the Full Tilt Poker "Battle of the Blogger Tournaments," an honor and opportunity too great to pass up. But as for live play, don't expect to see me at the tables anytime soon.

I can anticipate that many of you good people will be feeling an urge to click the "comment" button and send some encouraging words my way, or share your own tales of poker woe. I appreciate the good intentions, but please don't. This has fully brought out my anti-social, misanthropic inner self, and such messages would just tend to annoy me further. I really just want to be left alone.

Guess the casino, #480

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

Answer: O'Shea's

Friday, April 16, 2010

Beware the newbie

Remember the old Mr. Magoo cartoons? Virtually blind, he would stumble (or even drive) into all sorts of incredibly dangerous situations, completely oblivious to what was going on around him, and yet miraculously emerge unscathed, with no clue as to what a narrow escape he had just had. Others around him, though, weren't so lucky. They tended to get hit by all the things that missed Mr. Magoo.

New poker players can be a lot like that. I was reminded of that fact last night while playing at the Stratosphere. After I had been there just a short time, two guys wearing matching company shirts sat down in the seats on my left. They were in town for the big National Association of Broadcasters convention. I chatted them up a bit, and learned that their company makes equipment for institutional video instruction. The guy two spots to my left was a pretty typical poker tourist, having played enough to know what's going on. But he brought along a co-worker who was absolutely clueless. He did not know what beat what, how to tell when it was his turn, what the blinds were, or anything else--as green as green can be.

This is not meant to be demeaning. Everybody has to be new and clueless when starting out at just about any undertaking, and poker is no different. He was just there to have fun, which is fine with me. I went out of my way to help him have a good time, congratulating him when he won, saying, "See how easy this game is?", giving him little pointers about protocol and rules, etc.

An aside: Before I forget, I have to add a stern word of condemnation for one of the other players who tried to take advantage of how this guy never knew what his options were. He tried to tell him what he had to do ("Bet two red chips!") while in a hand with him, to manipulate him to his own advantage. He did it smilingly, but it seemed clear to me he was trying to use the new guy's inexperience to get him to make mistakes. This not only flagrantly violated the one-player-to-a-hand rule, but was just plain despicable angle-shooting. I was shocked that the dealer didn't intervene. I did what I could, quietly telling the new guy, "You should ignore advice from him. Just always ask the dealer what your options are and make your own decision." But a pox on him and his house. Fortunately, and fittingly, it backfired, and the newbie had the best of it every time, even when he just did what the jerk suggested.

Back to the story. He bought in for $60, and won the first hand he played, quite by accident, and had about $70 in front of him when the most hilarious hand of the night transpired. Newbie limped in, as he almost always did, then called a small raise from the player to my right. The flop was K-7-2. Newbie bet $5 and got a call. Turn was a 4. Newbie bet $5 again. This time, the player on my right raised to $25. Newbie hemmed and hawed, but finally called.

The river was another 4. Newbie didn't realize he was first to act (he never knew). Finally the dealer told him the action was on him: "Check or bet?" Newbie looked horrified at the thought of betting. He waved his hand in front of him the way one traditionally does to indicate "hold" to a blackjack dealer, and said, "No, it's too much." He wasn't facing a bet, so I took this to mean that he felt he had enough of his chips in the pot already and didn't want to be risking more. His opponent moved all-in. The dealer then had to explain to Newbie that he could either put all of the rest of his chips in or fold. He thought a while, then resignedly said, "Oh, all right," and called.

The other guy turned over Ac-4c, for rivered trips. He had obviously just been trying to bully the weak-appearing Newbie on the turn, and got incredibly lucky on the river.

Newbie's face dropped. He said, "Oh, wow, that's good." He had his cards in his hand, looking unsure what to do with them. Another player across the table said, "Turn your cards up." (This was completely improper, but we'll let it slide for now.) He did: pocket 7s, for a full house. It was the most perfect, though completely unintentional, slow-roll I've ever seen.

The table erupted in laughter. Newbie had no idea he had won, but he was delighted with the news and the pot.

None of us ever knew what to expect when he revealed his cards. His betting patterns were as inscrutible as his body language; he would bet $25 into a $10 pot on the flop, then $5 on the turn, with no rhyme or reason to it.

But in spite of that--or maybe because of it--he went on a tear. He won virtually every hand he contested, though he clearly had no idea whether he had the winner until the dealer announced it. He played for only about an hour, but racked up close to $300 in chips when he left. If ever there were beginner's luck, this guy had it.

About a month ago, I wrote about a player that acted like he was new to poker, but in whom I noticed some charteristics that were sufficiently inconsistent with that role to make me suspicious that I was witnessing an elaborate ruse. So trust me when I say that last night's Newbie was either genuinely what he appeared to be, or the most masterful actor since Sir Alec Guinness died. I would stake my net worth on the former.

A while later, the corporate twins had left, as had the guy who had unwisely tried to bully Newbie. Replacing him on my right was Newbie #2. He wasn't quite as raw as Newbie #1 had been, but still was pretty lost.

One hand I played against him perfectly illustrates the Mr. Magoo-like danger of such players. He was under the gun, I was second. I had a suited A-J, and just limped with it. (Yeah, I know, but spare me the lecture for now, please.) Then I called a raise to $15 from the button (yeah, I know again), as did Newbie #2 and one other, making the pot about $60. The flop was jack-high with no draws. I was tentatively planning on a check-raise, but the action checked all the way around. That made me think that the button probably had either an A-K or A-Q type hand or a pocket pair lower than jacks. Turn was a blank, and when Newbie #2 checked to me, I bet $40. The other two players folded. Newbie #2 debated with himself for a while, but finally called. The river was another apparent miss. Newbie #2 checked to me again. I bet $50. He again took at least a full minute before reluctantly making the call. I showed my top pair/top kicker. He let out a sigh of relief, said, "Whew!", and showed me his pocket queens.

That caught me completely off-guard. I would have been less surprised to see some junky low two pairs than that. I don't normally go crazy with TPTK. I'm well aware that it does not rank high in the pantheon of hands. But Newbie #2's entire being radiated weakness and fear. Given that unmistakable body language and the betting pattern, I had a high degree of confidence that my hand was best.

And that right there is the problem that newbies pose to more experienced players. They have no sense of where they are in a hand, no feel for how strong a hand should be to be the likely winner in any given situation. As a result, their betting and their tells give off false information--not because they're trying to be deceptive, but because they tend to grossly either underestimate or overestimate the strength of their holdings.

In this case, it worked to his advantage. If he had played his pocket queens in a more traditional, aggressive manner, it would have been much easier for me to fold at some point along the way, and he wouldn't have ended up with $105 of my money.

Of course, what makes newbies profitable is that they are just as inclined, on average, to overvalue hands as to undervalue them. They will call you down with third pair or ace-high, they will run bluffs in situations that have zero chance of success, etc. In the hand I lost, for example, that combination of appearance and betting sequence will far more often turn out to have been signifying that he held a jack with a lower kicker (J-K, J-Q, etc.), or something like pocket 10s, than the dominating queens.

You will frequently hear people say that they hate playing with novices because of how unreadable and unpredictable they can be, and prefer playing against better opponents. I understand the point: It is uncomfortable to play against people who give you no idea--or a false idea--of where you are in a hand. Still, people who say that are just crazy, or don't like money, because inexperienced players will tend to make far, far more mistakes (and more expensive mistakes) than experienced ones. They tend to be very profitable opponents, but you have to be prepared for all sorts of surprises at the showdown.

It can be a lot of fun to play with Mr. Magoo. Just watch out for the piano falling from the window above, because when it misses him, it's likely to hit you.

Count me in

Details here.

Guess the casino, #479

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

Answer: Mandalay Bay

Thursday, April 15, 2010

New ride at the Stratosphere

The omnipresent Vegas Rex caught some trial jumps of the new ride at the Stratosphere. Looks scary as hell to me. See video and read more details here.

A record I'd rather never beat

I have the worst luck at the Excalibur. I blamed it on a ghost in the machine when they had the electronic tables. Now I think the place just has it in for me. I must have offended the departed spirit of King Arthur or something.

Last night I played there--for the first time in six months--for 5 1/2 hours. The best hand I made was two pair. No trips, no straights, no flushes, no full houses. I had two pair twice, never even top two, winning with it once, losing to a straight the other time. As for starting hands, the only big pair I ever had was K-K, and of course that lost to A-Q when an ace flopped.

I don't even know how one might begin to calculate the odds of that sort of run of near-nothingness, but it seems astronomically improbable. Though I don't keep records that could confirm this, it was, I think, the worst stretch of cards I have ever come across. The fact that I lost only $106 was due to top pair being good in a couple of key spots, plus my necessarily stingy play earning my occasional steals a lot of respect.

To add insult to injury, the night also featured me losing $60 with top pair/top kicker (A-10) on a 2-2-4-10-8 board to, yes, the mighty Deuce-Four, which had flopped a full house. After all I've done for it, it turns on me. That hurt. It really, really hurt.

It was a thoroughly miserable experience. It appears that after a hiatus of exactly one day, the run-bad is back on.

However, I'll have to admit that an endless string of worthless hands, grating as it is, is preferable to the endless string of good-but-not-quite-good-enough hands that had characterized the previous few weeks. At least it was easy to fold all night long.

Oh, and as I was leaving the Excalibur at about 2:00 a.m., I had the pleasure of seeing a random dude urinating between cars in the parking lot. It's the third time I've seen this in a casino parking lot, the first being at South Point and the second at the Tuscany. That's keepin' it classy, Las Vegas.

Guess the casino, #478

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

Answer: Harrah's

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Stee wjee

So you know that post from earlier today about Deuce-Four making a straight flush? It has a bit of an amusing history. At least I find it amusing. Whether anybody else will remains to be seen.

For the three nights before last, I had had marginal sleep in both quantity and quality. Last night I slept for one hour and then was wide awake, so it looked like it was going to be #4 in a row. I decided, therefore, to hit the problem with a hammer--the Ambien hammer.

Faithful readers will remember that I had a weird pokery experience with Ambien just over a year ago. So I should have known that the only sensible thing to do after popping one is to climb in bed. But no. I decided I had a little time before it would kick in, and I could accomplish something useful. Like, maybe, pound out a quick blog post.

First I spent about ten minutes looking up something that I had heard on the radio as I lay awake. That was my downfall, because ten minutes is about all the time I had before the fog would arrive. Then I started on the blog post about the Deuce-Four. All I had to do was find the link to the photo, post it, and add a snarky comment.

Well, I got stupid in the middle of this process. All I got done was the title. I got so sleepy that I didn't even try to shut down the computer. When I finally woke up, it was still on (as was the light, which I also forgot to turn off). The browser was still open to Blogger's post-composition page. Here's the blog post title I had typed in the appropriate box:

Deuce-Four makes stee; wjee;
Catchy, isn't it?

Dam breaking

I have mentioned that I've been in another slump lately, with a long stretch of coolers and suckouts driving me insane with frustration. Past down periods of this sort have tended to end rather dramatically, with some huge win finally signalling the end of an era.

Well, I may have had another one.

I won't bore you with the betting sequence, but at the Venetian last night I was at the eye of a perfect storm. I had 4-4 in the hole, the table maniac had A-2, and a solid player had 3-5 in one of the rare limped pots. Flop was 4-2-2, and the turn was an ace. That gave me fours full, the maniac deuces full, and the solid player a wheel. I got all of the maniac's chips plus most of the ones in front of the solid player. (He was smart enough to be suspicious and just call rather than raise me, and I think I pushed him about as far as he would have gone in terms of committing chips. The last hundred he put in was with deep reluctance and an "I know I'm beat" look of resignation.)

It was the biggest pot I've won in probably four months or so. It has left me with the sensation that the dam has broken, the storm is over, a new day has begun, and a bunch of other corny metaphors.

Remember the old commercials for Mennen's "Skin Bracer," in which some guy would get slapped in the face and say, "Thanks, I needed that"? That's how I'm feeling today. (I found a couple from that series on YouTube, here and here.) I really did need that.

Deuce-Four makes straight flush

A reader posted a note on Twitter, drawing my attention to this hand that he played online yesterday:

Of course, making the nuts is just what Deuce-Four does. It comes naturally. It's all in a day's work for the most powerful hand in poker.

Guess the casino, #477

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

Answer: Flamingo

Another charity tournament that I didn't enter

I played at the Venetian today, partly because the big NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) is in town, and I thought that was a likely spot its attendees would congregate, but also because I knew that Jennifer Harman's annual charity tournament for the SPCA would be there, which might be fun to watch.

They had staff and/or volunteers from the SPCA there with a bunch of adoptable animals, cleverly taking advantage of the publicity to try to place a few, as well as show the public what sweet critters they have there ready for homes:

Maybe I'm just stupid, but I thought that that might have actually been Cab Calloway there, until I got home, looked him up, and discovered that he died in 1994. So probably not.

Louis Anderson took a turn posing with a doggy to try to help get it adopted:

As usual for such events, there were a bunch of celebrities. There was a protracted "red carpet" thing going on. I took a couple of quick breaks from my poker game to snap a few shots, but I didn't have the patience or interest to stick around from beginning to end. Frankly, I can never figure out why those things take so long. Should be about 30 seconds per celebrity, 60 tops. But they turn out to be like traffic congestion--going slow for no apparent reason. People are just standing around waiting for their turn to step in front of the camera, and there's no obvious reason they're not going, but everything just goes in slow motion anyway.

Here's Robert Iler, "A.J." from "The Sopranos" (best drama ever put on television).

And here's Holly Madison, Hugh Hefner's ex-#1 girlfriend. Whatever oddities and flaws she may have, she certainly knows how to smile and pose.

There were a few fake celebrities, too, though I'm not clear on what their purpose was, when there were plenty of real ones to grab public attention.

And, of course, there were poker celebrities.

Erik Seidel:

Tom McEvoy:

David "The Maven" Chicotsky:

Tiffany Michelle:

Andy Bloch, with a cat named Corkie (as per his Twitter feed):

And, of course, Jennifer Harman. I have no idea who the others with her are, but they seemed to be connected to some organization that was donating a bunch of money to the SPCA:

Jimmy "Gobboboy" Fricke was there, but not as part of this event. He was at the final table (day 2) of yesterday's Deep Stack Extravaganza. My cash game, oddly, was in the tournament area, right by the elevated platform where they had the final table going on. It seemed that nobody was paying any attention to it. I tried taking a picture, but it came out blurry because I didn't use flash and had it on telephoto, and right after I snapped it they asked me not to take pictures in the "gaming area." So it looks like a stalkerish photo, even though that's not what I wanted the result to be.

Lots and lots of other poker and non-poker familiar names/faces were there. I made no effort to catch them all. Just got you a sampling.

There were a bunch of cool things available for bidding through a silent auction. A couple of examples:

That's all I have to tell you about it.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Guess the casino, #476

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

Answer: Aria

Monday, April 12, 2010

Guess the casino, #475

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

Answer: Aria (That's Cardgrrl on the left. She recognizes in the mirrored pillar a cool source of distorted images. See here for the photograph that resulted.)

Sunday, April 11, 2010

"You can't do that!"

Seeing as how this entire blog, at its core, is devoted to airing my poker pet peeves, I feel obligated to give a shoutout to the very nicely done two-part PokerNews video on the same subject, here and here. The re-enactments were a nice touch, particularly with Allen Kessler as a rules nit.

Chan and Seidel--once more unto the breach

Having another insomnia night. It might have something to do with having heard six gunshots in rapid succession just outside my apartment complex as I was going to bed at about 1:30 a.m., followed by sirens and a police helicopter circling overhead. (Speaking of which, Nevada has been crowned the #1 state in crime for the seventh consecutive year! Go team!)

Killing time, I was jumping around the PokerWorks web site. I noticed a link to something about the famous final hand of the 1988 World Series of Poker, featuring Johnny Chan and Erik Seidel. I wondered if they would get it right, since, as I've chronicled here ad nauseum, writers have a nasty tendency to screw up the facts.

As Britney Spears might say, oops, they did it again.

Here's the entirety of the very brief piece:

At the WSOP 1988 final table, Johnny Chan was dealt J♣ 9♣, and Erik Seidel
was dealt Q♣ 7♥ pre-flop. They both limped.

The flop came Q♠ T♥ 8♦, giving Chan a straight and Seidel a pair of Queens.
Chan bet $40.000 and Seidel raised $50.000. Chan called.

The turn came the 2♠, which didn't change either player's hand. Chan
checked and Seidel moved all-in, the trap was set for Seidel; Chan called.

The river brought the 6♦ and Johnny Chan was crowned the Champion.

The cards are correct as stated. The action, however, is all messed up, except for the true statement that both players limped pre-flop.

Here's what really happened: Chan had the button and was therefore last to act on each round after the flop. Seidel checked, Chan bet $40,000, Seidel check-raised another $50,000, and Chan called. The action was check-check on the turn. On the river, Seidel open-shoved, and Chan called.

I have written about this hand, and the almost countless ways that poker authors get the facts wrong, on three previous occasions: here, here, and here. The anonymous PokerWorks writer joins at least ten other well-known poker authors that have misstated in print or online the basic facts of how the hand played out. (I'm guessing that whoever wrote this for PokerWorks is European, based on the use of periods in the bet amounts, where we Yankees would use commas.)

This is so astonishing to me because you can watch the whole hand on YouTube. It could not possibly be easier to see exactly what happened. This hand has been seen by tens of millions of people, between rebroadcasts of the event, the clip being shown in various poker shows, featured in Rounders, and available on the web for viewing at any time. It may well have been seen, in total, by more people than have viewed any other poker hand in history. And still writers continue to describe it erroneously. Why, why, why??? How can so many people be so sloppy about such readily verified facts?

To quote myself from the last time I addressed this subject, "I remained completely unable to explain this baffling, annoying, and disturbing phenomenon. If authors get facts wrong when they are this easy to check, one cannot help wondering what else they are screwing up."

Incidentally, it has now been more than two years since Gary Wise told me via email that he would correct the errors that appeared in a piece he wrote for his web site here. I first wrote about the Chan-Seidel hand in January, 2008. My friend Shamus submitted a comment in which he pointed me to Wise's note. I emailed Wise to alert him to the errors, and he responded with a note saying that he would fix them, though I didn't write anything about it in my blog post at the time. However, by August, 2008, when the subject came up again as a result of James McManus getting things wrong in an article in Card Player magazine, I took the opportunity to chide Wise for not having corrected his mistakes. I do so again now, more than two years after he said he would fix the problems.

For the record, I'm embedding below a version of the video clip from YouTube that is somewhat easier to see clearly than the one I used in my first post on this subject.

(See here if you don't know the origin of the "once more unto the breach" used in the title of this post.)

Guess the casino, #474

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

Answer: Mirage