Saturday, July 31, 2010

Poker gems, #382

Steve Zolotow, in Card Player magazine column, July 28, 2010 (vol. 23, #15), p. 78.

I have noticed that the most tapped-out players are always those who think no one else can play. I mentioned to Lyle Berman that a player's opinion of the opposition correlated with his bankroll. Those with low bankrolls had low opinions of their opponents. He extended this concept by adding that the more broke they were, the more convinced they were that they could beat every game playing with your money. Yes, there are a lot of players looking to get staked.

Guess the casino, #585

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

Answer: Aria

Define "celebrity"

There's a full-page ad in the current issue of Card Player magazine for a "Celebrity Poker Tournament" to be held at the Firelake Grand Casino in Shawnee, Oklahoma.

Here's who they boast will be attending:

  • "General Larry Platt, Americal Idol, Pants On The Ground"
  • "Norm Macdonald, Comedian" (should be "MacDonald," not "Macdonald")
  • "Jaime Edmondson, Playboy Playmate" (January, 2010; she was also half of the runner-up team on The Amazing Race last year)
  • "Chicken George, Big Brother" (contestant on the first season, 2000)
  • "Theo Vonn" (I'm guessing they mean Theo Von, who was on MTV's Road Rules in 2000, plus a couple of other reality shows since then)
  • "Kevin O'Conner" (probably means Kevin O'Connor, but even so I can't tell which of several people by that name it might be; Wikipedia lists two Irish footballers, an American actor, the co-founder of DoubleClick, an Amazing Race contestant, the general manager of the Utah Jazz, and the host of This Old House)
  • "Mark 'The Chinaman' Britten" (stand-up comic)
Wow. Hoo boy, that is one impressive line-up.

Look, I'm an old fuddy-duddy, hardly the most up-to-date on who's who. I saw Twitter messages yesterday pleading to "free Snooki," and had no idea who that was until I Googled the name. So maybe I'm a bad standard by which to judge relative degrees of fame.

But even if we give them a pass on misspelling three--THREE--out of the seven names (budget wouldn't allow for a proofreader, apparently), what kind of "celebrity" list is this? Norm MacDonald? OK, I'll give you that one, as kind of a B-list or C-list guy. I saw Platt on Idol. I saw Edmondson on Amazing Race, though I didn't know she had subsequently done Playboy, and wouldn't have remembered her from the show. I saw Chicken George on Big Brother way back when, but had no idea he was still stretching out his 15 minutes of fame from that. The other three are completely unknown to me, and, as indicated above, I can't even tell which O'Connor they have in mind.

At the very bottom of the ad, it says that there will be "over 20 celebrities playing in the tournament." One has to assume that for purposes of the ad they picked the biggest names that they had from their list, which means that you can expect to see some 13 "celebrities" even less famous than these.

I sure hope they have a crack team of security experts to keep the multitudes of overexcited fans at bay.

Because I'm a little geeky, that's why

I just made a decision. The next time I have quad aces, I am going to either say out loud or in the chat box (depending on venue, obviously), "All your ace are belong to us."

Good enough

Would have been nice to take this one all the way, but I'm OK with a $184.80 - $22 = $162.80 profit for three hours' play. Thanks to the railbirds who saw the Tweets and joined me at the end.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Guess the casino, #584

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

Answer: Texas Station


I'm not sure why I'm spending so much time on the subject of HR 2267, since I'm highly dubious that it's going to get enacted into law. But sometimes I just get curious about something and have to figure it out, even if there are no real-world consequences.

I wrote earlier today about the balkanization of online poker, but only in a footnote. My friend Cardgrrl submitted a comment in which she expressed doubt that this was really a problem. That made me wonder if I'm understanding the matter correctly, so I went back to investigate it a little more, as I had previously been relying primarily on news reports summarizing the bill's provisions.

The first of two amendments that I'm focusing on is Amendment 8, offered by Campbell, and agreed to by voice vote. It adds to the requirements for obtaining a federal license this language: "Require licensees to maintain all facilities within the United States for processing of bets or wagers made or placed from the United States."

The second is Amendment 16, offered by Sherman, and agreed to by voice vote. This specifies that in order to receive a federal online gaming license, the applicant must provide "Certification that the applicant has established a corporate entity or other separate business entity in the United States, a majority of whose officers are United States persons and, if there is a board of directors, that the board is majority-controlled by directors who are United States persons." It further states that the licensing entity must "Require that a majority of all of the employees of the applicant or licensee, and of its affiliated business entities, be residents or citizens of the United States."

Let's suppose that, say, Australia passed an essentially identical law for the licensing of an online gaming company to accept bets from its citizens. Can Acme Poker USA operate in both places?

Clearly Acme Poker is going to have to have its servers and administrative offices in the U.S., using U.S. employees--at least all of those facilities that are going to be handling U.S. customers. I suppose it could set up a subsidiary corporation, something like Acme Poker Australia, and base it in Melbourne--although even there I'm a little uncertain, because of the language about "affiliated business entities."

Now can a U.S. player and an Australian player play at the same virtual cash-game table? That strikes me as problematic. Obviously the two servers have to communicate with each other continuously in order to make such a game happen. I wager $1 here, Kangaroo Ken raises me $2 more. It seems to me that the servers in Australia are necessarily "processing," in some way, the bet that I made, and, in parallel, the U.S. servers are "processing" the bet that Ken is making--in apparently violation of Amendment 8.

You might argue that the Australian servers are not part of the U.S.-licensed company. First, in my hypothetical, Acme Poker Australia is a subsidiary of Acme Poker USA, and thus is under the ultimate control of Acme Poker USA. So maybe we change that and make them, somehow, sister companies, neither one controlled by the other. Or go even further and say that they are wholly independent, but have negotiated a cooperative agreement to use compatible software and exchange real-time poker game data so that their players can freely compete against each other. (I have a hard time seeing how that could actually work, because there would be no common pool of money. But set that aside, and assume it could be figured out.)

But there is still a problem, I think. The language doesn't say that the licensee has to make sure that only those facilities under its control are in the U.S.; it says that "all facilities" for processing bets by U.S. players must be located here. The implication of that is that the company cannot allow the transmission outside of the U.S. of any data required for any part of the "processing" of a bet by a U.S. player, which would seem to imply that there can be no international play. If a server in Australia is receiving the wager information from me and passing it on to Ken, surely that server is "processing" my bet, which violates Amendment 8.

I might be completely wrong about all of this. I'm giving you my admittedly amateur and rather hasty and superficial analysis. But unless somebody presents me with a persuasive argument as to why these amendments do not, in fact, have the effect I'm inferring from them, I will be of the opinion that the version of the bill passed by this committee, if enacted, is going to make it impossible for there to be legal poker played by U.S. residents that involve anybody situated outside of the United States. (It would also mean that you couldn't play on your usual site when you were traveling outside of the country, but that's a much smaller concern.)

It appears to me that if every country passes substantially similar measures, what we will be left with is a global patchwork of sites, none of which can communicate with each other--the very antithesis of what the Internet was supposed to accomplish. The artificial lines we draw on maps to delineate our territory from that of other nation-states will be adopted into online gaming, as if the Internet did not exist beyond our own shorelines.

This is "definitely...good for poker"?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Strange language

I was just reading Todd Brunson's column in the July 28 Card Player magazine. It included this brief story about a mixed-game tournament he was playing, with Phil Hellmuth at the table:

A few hands later, the game was razz, and Phil again tried to dump me some
chips. I raised from the one hole with like six small cards behind me, and Phil
reraised me with a 7 up. Nice hand there, Phil--lol, I mean, did he really think
I had raised into six babies with an 8 in the hole?

I had a 3 up with A-2 in the hole. The one redeeming factor for Phil was
that he might have had a 5 in the hole, as there were three out. But that proved
not to be the case, as Phil bricked on fourth street (as did three others,
including me), then hit the miracle 5 on fifth street.

The only thing remarkable about this account, for me, was the sudden realization that it would have been complete jibberish to me, say, three years ago, before I had played my first hand of razz. Even with a pretty solid understanding of hold'em, I would have had no comprehension of what this story was relating, or the underlying strategic concepts.

I have a few readers who know little or nothing about poker. They read the blog because they know me personally and want to keep up with what I'm doing and thinking. Once in a while I pause and realize how nonsensical it must sound when I write a paragraph or a story that is chock-full of poker terminology and shorthand allusions to strategic concepts that I tend to assume my readers understand without having it all laid out in detail.

The thing that most commonly reminds me of this is when Memphis Mojo does a post about bridge rather than poker, and I'm left scratching my head, trying to grasp what the hell he is talking about--since I don't even know how the game goes. Take this bit from earlier today, for example:

West led the ♦8, a singleton! This has to be an awful lead. Does he
really hope his partner will win the ace and give him a ruff? Haha.

Kate won and led a low diamond to ruff. West was now void, but couldn't
beat my ♠9. Of course, I wouldn't have opened without that card, ahem. She
now had 13 tricks: She took six spades, two hearts, two diamonds, two clubs and
one ruff.

This all means precisely nothing to me. It might as well be written in Egyptian hieroglyphics. It makes me feel a bit stupid, though logically it shouldn't; I'm simply not informed about the relevant subject matter. (In my defense, I recently had occasion, on a completely unrelated writing project, to toss off a paragraph considering porphyria cutanea tarda, mononeuritis multiplex, reflex sympathetic dystrophy, and venous stasis dermatitis, and I'm guessing that Memphis Mojo would be the one left scratching his head over that. So there! Ha!)

All of which is just to say this: Thanks to the non-pokery people who put up with what must be a nearly continual sense of bewilderment at the poker jargon found here. I actually do have some sympathetic sense of how foreign it must feel.

A legal oddity

I was just skimming through the actual text of H.R. 2267 to tie up a few loose ends on my previous post, when I noticed something unexpected. I was looking for what I assumed would be a provision for criminal prosecution and punishment for offering online gaming without a federal license. As far as I can tell, there is none. I.e., there's nothing that lays out as a crime, with specific associated penalties, the act of providing online gaming without a license. It looks to me as if the only way the feds will have to prohibit such gaming is by going to court and obtaining an injunction--basically a cease-and-desist order, the continued violation of which would bring the offender under the provisions of contempt of court.

That strikes me as odd and unexpected, because virtually every time a licensing program of any sort is put into place by any jurisdiction it is accompanied by a provision making it a crime to engage in the activity involved without obtaining said license. Still, I'm not at all sure what, if any, significance to attach to this fact. I also don't know how it would work in actual practice. After all, if a company has its headquarters and servers entirely outside of the U.S., what can a federal court actually do it? Of course, that's true of criminal provisions, too, as long as the owners/operators don't make the mistake of deciding to celebrate a good year by going to Disneyland.

Incidentally, there is also no clause that I can find making it a crime to engage in online betting as a person prohibited from doing so under the new regulatory scheme; the responsibilities lie wholly with the licensee/operator. Similarly, nothing in this bill makes a federal crime out of placing online bets with an unlicensed operator. Interesting.

More on H.R. 2267

Yesterday I reiterated my opposition to any federal licensing scheme for online gambling on general principle.

I should have also added that an independent, sufficient reason to be opposed to the idea is that the last thing this monstrously money-addicted Congress needs is another new revenue source; we should be looking for every possible way to starve it rather than feed it. That the current bill is picking up supporters who like it purely for the fact that it gives them more of our money to spend is alarming, though misguided people and groups (such as the Poker Players Alliance) are using this as a selling point.

Here's a snippet from the New York Times demonstrating this mindset:

Supporters of legalization said fiscal considerations played a role in
their thinking. “I was looking for the money,” Representative Jim McDermott,
Democrat of Washington, said in an interview. He sponsored the companion measure
to allow taxation of Internet gambling; he wants to dedicate the money to

Representative Brad Sherman, Democrat of California, said in an interview
that the money was an attractive source of financing for other programs. “We
will not pass an Internet gaming bill,” Mr. Sherman predicted. “We will pass a
bill to do something very important, funded by Internet gaming.”

He added, “Forty-two billion dollars over 10 years has an

This is just wrong. First, any tax and licensing fees should be no more than required to operate the regulatory body. Second, at a time when Obama's budget projections show a tripling of the federal debt to more than $15 trillion by 2020, compared to 2008 levels, it is simply insane to be thinking of doing anything with new revenue other than trying to reduce that number. Using it for yet more new spending commitments is so fundamentally irresponsible from a fiscal and public policy standpoint that any member of Congress advocating it (as, e.g., Sherman and McDermott above) should be impeached and removed from office--or maybe just shot where he stands.

Along the same lines, states that don't opt out of the federal plan will be able to tack on their own taxes, which causes the same problems for both the profitability of the game and for overstretched state budgets as I have outlined at the federal level.

But what I really wanted to address in this post is this offhand remark from a Wicked Chops Poker post of earlier today: "The bill, which ... definitely falls under the 'Good for PokerTM' category, would effectively undo the UIGEA and make all online gambling, except sports betting, legal at the federal level."

Good for poker? "Definitely"? Let's consider that.

Now there is no state or federal tax taken out of cash pots or tournament payouts that I win. Under H.R. 2267 there will be. (OK, technically the taxation part will be under a separate bill that is still in committee. But it is unthinkable that 2267 would pass without that part coming along for the ride. Also, having not read that companion bill, I suppose it's possible that the taxes will come out of deposits rather than individual bets or pots. Same difference.)

Now online poker sites do not report one's winnings or losses to the IRS. Under H.R. 2267 they will.

Now I can play on Full Tilt Poker, PokerStars, Ultimate Bet, Bodog, Cake network, etc. Under H.R. 2267 those sites would not be available.*

Now I can bet on sports through any number of online sites. Under 2267 that will not be possible.

Now I can fund at least some online poker accounts via credit card. Under 2267 that option will be taken away.

Now I can play online even if I'm behind in child support payments. Under 2267 that will become illegal.**(As a matter of general principle, you tell me how the status of my child support payments is any business of either the federal government or Party Poker.)

Now I can easily transfer to or receive from friends funds from my online poker accounts. Under 2267, that freedom will almost certainly be eliminated, due to the anti-money-laundering requirements.

So, Wicked Chops Entities, can you explain to me how any of these things makes my life as an online poker player better, i.e., how these provisions are "definitely...Good for Poker"?

*PokerStars seems oddly confident that it will be able to become a licensee under this bill. Similarly, the blogger for Doyle's Room is calling this bill "a great success for legalized poker in the U.S." I don't know what they are seeing or thinking that escapes me, because it sure looks to me like they would be excluded. Even if they somehow were to get past being able to prove that they had never violated any state or federal law with respect to online gaming (itself a dubious proposition, given the Justice Department's interpretation of current federal law and several state laws that are pretty unambiguous), I simply can't believe that they would be willing to move their entire operation to the United States, as would be required for licensure. By the way, this is another problem with the whole idea of licensure: Every jurisdiction wants the businesses it regulates to be physically within its borders. FTP and Stars simply cannot simultaneously be wholly located within the borders of the U.S. AND France AND England AND Italy AND every other nation that wants to regulate and tax them. This trend will inevitably lead to the unnecessary balkanization of the online poker world.

**My friend Shamus reads this provision as saying only that one cannot obtain a license to operate an online gaming site if one is behind in child support payments. Though the wording of the amendment is clumsy, I think that's pretty clearly wrong. It doesn't say that the licensee must not be behind in child support payments; it says that the licensee is required not to take bets from any person who is behind on child support payments.

Guess the casino, #583

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

Answer: Sandia

Research on the best poker face

Pointer supplied by Cardgrrl:

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Slippery slopes

A convergence of events prompts me to pick this subject.

First, last night I was reading the new issue of Card Player magazine. There's a news story about the broadening of Florida's laws to allow real no-limit poker (July 28 issue, page 26, article by Stephen A. Murphy). That wasn't news to me, but it gave more background about the history of Florida's poker laws than I had been aware of:

Florida legislators legalized penny-ante poker in 1989, but capped all pots
at $10. While the law would loosen up a little over the years, it never went as
far as most serious poker players would've liked.

In 1996, state-licensed pari-mutuel facilities were allowed to begin
spreading poker games with the $10 cap. In 2003, a new law passed that scrapped
the $10 cap but still forced the max bet in any action to be only $2. In 2007,
no-limit hold'em was finally introduced, but with the $100 max buy-in.

The second convergent event was reading today the final arguments in an interesting pro-con debate about online gambling sponsored by The Economist, available here.

The third event was today's passage out of committee of H.R. 2267, proposing to establish a federal licensing/regulatory scheme for online gaming. See the Poker Players Alliance's press release on it here.

Slippery slopes are real. (For an excellent overview of how and why slippery slopes work in law and politics, see Eugene Volokh's article here.) You can easily imagine how the latest Florida law is the literal, nightmarish fulfillment of an anti-gambling activist's parade of horribles. "You see? We warned you back in 1989 that penny-ante was just the first step, and they'd demand more and more. Now they have finally achieved what they really wanted 20 years ago."

It works in other subjects, too. A friend of mine from back in Minnesota, Joe Olson, co-authored a fine historical essay for a law review about how England went from almost no gun-control laws to a nearly total ban on firearms (and, along the way, use of any force for self-defense) in just a few decades ("All the Way Down the Slippery Slope"). When the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional restrictions on sale of contraceptives and laws against interracial marriage, few would have guessed that those decisions created a slippery slope leading to judicial striking of anti-abortion laws and legalization of same-sex marriage.

On the other hand, perhaps those pressing the first cases knew exactly what they were doing and saw the end from the beginning. After all, there is a clear history of smart, strategically-minded people using the slippery slope to achieve their purposes through patient gradualism. Thurgood Marshall's brilliant stepwise attack on racial discrimination laws jumps to mind. He very carefully plotted out how to use courts, legislatures, and public opinion to knock down barriers one at a time, starting with the most patently unfair and unreasonable ones. It took decades for his plan to play out fully.

It's good to see examples like Marshall's, and like the Florida poker history, and know that you can achieve meaningful reform of stupid, restrictive laws by continuing to press an issue over time. After all, you can't just fly to the top of Mount Everest in a helicopter and say you've conquered it. You can only get there one step at a time.

But it works both ways. Freedoms can be just as easily destroyed in small steps as they can be won--probably more easily, in fact. It is easy for politicians to vote either to ban or to continue or tighten a ban on some activity that only a minority of people want to do, whether it be smoking marijuana or riding a Jet Ski or shooting a machine gun or piloting a motorcycle without a helmet. Those examples also share the characteristic of being things that are either objectively or arguably bad or dangerous, which makes it even easier for politicians to prohibit them by law, in the name of protecting people from their own folly.

I'm not proud of this, but I was once all in favor of a bunch of prohibitions of things that I knew were bad for people. I have supported anti-tobacco legislation, helmet laws, seat belt laws, and even an attempted ban on tanning booths. They seemed like no-brainers to me; these activities are dangerous and no reasonable person could want to see his fellow citizens harmed needlessly.

I'd like to think that I'm more enlightened now. I have come to realize that if I don't want other people mucking around with the liberties that I want to engage in (driving ridiculously overpowered fast cars, playing with guns, entering poker tournaments, eating foods crammed with salt and trans fats, etc.), I can't very well be working to prohibit the things that they so irrationally want to do (drink themselves into a stupor, smoke cigarettes, hire prostitutes, go sky diving, drive Humvees, worship Baal, etc.), even if I think they've gone mental to want to do them.

Today's second and third items provide vivid reminders that there are lots and lots of people out there who remain as paternalistic as I used to be. The "con" author of the Economist debate and any number of politicians opposing H.R. 2267 (because they want online gaming to be illegal) want to control your life. They claim the right and power to decide for you whether you should be able to enter $1 tournaments on PokerStars in your pajamas, because, Lord knows, you're just too stupid to be trusted to make such decisions for yourself. Although they would undoubtedly deny it, it is absolutely, demonstrably the case that they believe they are in a better position than you are to decide what you do with your time and your money.

You should be appalled and resentful of this--unless, of course, you try to do the same to others with respect to some activity that you find abhorrent and want to ban, in which case you're just getting tit for tat and you deserve it.

Anyway, I have strayed from where I set out to go. What I wanted to get to was this: I remain opposed to the Frank bill, and all others like it, precisely because of the slippery slope. As I have argued here several times before, I think it is a dangerous precedent that is far more likely, ultimately, to kill online poker than to save it.

The reason I think this is that taxes and regulations, with rare exceptions, tend to ratchet in one direction only. If we get federal licensing of online gaming, then every time there is some crime or other scandal, as there surely will be, the regulations will get tighter and more severe. Witness what happened just last week with the banking industry, and what happened with respect to offshore oil drilling almost as fast as the tar balls washed up on the Florida beaches.

Same thing with taxes. How often do you see tax rates cut, compared to how often you see them raised? Isn't the latter, oh, about a hundred times more common than the former? Politicians tend to disbelieve the Laffer curve, or at least always convince themselves that they're still on the upslope side of it so that raising tax rates will increase governmental revenue. It will be the same with online poker. The initial tax rate will be painful but not lethal to the industry. Over time, though, the slippery slope will make the games less and less profitable, both because of increased tax drains (as you can see happen with tobacco taxes, gasoline taxes, alcohol taxes--heck, just about any kind of tax you can name) and because of increased rake due to ever-higher overhead costs of complying with ever-more-burdensome regulations.

The process may eventually stop or reverse, but it will only do so when the damage has become so great (i.e., both the sponsoring companies and the government making less and less money) that it is impossible to deny--and then it's too late. The kitten will have fallen off the end of the slide, and mother cat won't be able to rescue it. They will have killed the goose that lays the golden eggs. (Add your own overblown metaphor here.)

The current situation is not great. I am not fond of the legal haze of today's status quo, nor the fears that such uncertainty generates. I have heard from many friends, readers, and fellow players at the live tables that they don't play online because they're worried about cheating, or it being illegal, or the IRS being able to trace transactions, or funds being suddenly confiscated by the government, or sites being shut down or going bankrupt. It is a disgrace, an outrage that people in Russia are more free to play poker online than we are in the allegedly last great bastion of freedom. But I remain convinced that the way things are is better than the way they eventually will become if the feds get involved.

I am fully persuaded that what we will witness will not be a repeat of Florida, with gradual liberalization of the game. No, it will be a promise of Shangri-La, but actually leading to slow death by regulatory and confiscatory strangulation. Ironically, I believe that those currently fighting federal licensing will in the long run get their wish--the end of online gambling--while those begging "Tax and regulate it, please!" will celebrate now, only to see it all go to pieces on them later, one small step at a time.

The best hope for online poker is for the government to leave it the hell alone. That is what a free nation would do. That is what a free people deserve.

Guess the casino, #582

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

Answer: Paris

Poker gems, #381

Norman Chad, in WSOP broadcast, July 27, 2010, commenting on a hand in which brothers Robert and Michael Mizrachi squared off against each other.

By the way, Lon, correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe Cain murdered Abel after taking a bad beat in razz.

Where to play online?

As mentioned at the end of the last post, VegasRex announced today that he will be leaving town. As a consequence, he said that he's going to start exploring the previously uncharted territory of online gaming. I have no idea what the online world holds for games other than poker (though there's obviously a lot to choose from), but I do have a decent amount of experience with and opinions about the online poker realm.

Here's what Rex wrote about the prospect:

There will be one challenge for me as it pertains to online gaming.

I do not own a Windows PC.

I have access to one, but I've not personally used Windows for my own day-to-day purposes for some time. For the most part, I only use Unix-based operating systems such as Linux, FreeBSD, and Mac OS X. Since Windows 7 has been getting rave reviews for the past 9 months, and since Mac Snow Leopard was perhaps the most ridiculous OS "upgrade" ever, I'm not going to do the cliche'd "Windows sucks" thing, but I do prefer the "Unix way" to the "Windows way".

Because of this, I may have to buy a copy of the dreaded OS or see if various programs run under Wine or some kind of emulator. My assumption is that there aren't a lot of Mac/Linux friendly online rooms, but I may be wrong.

Here's a useful page that lists Mac-friendly online poker rooms, with the ones open to U.S. depositors helpfully flagged with the red, white, and blue:

Let's go through these one by one--or almost.

We can consider Full Tilt and PokerStars together, because as far as I am concerned they are pretty much equivalent and interchangeable. Whether I play on one or the other is almost completely arbitrary--a function of where a private tournament is being hosted, or where my current bankroll is bigger, or where the next razz game will be starting up. In terms of being able to find a game of the type and size that you want at the time that you want to play, in terms of security, in terms of ease and reliability of getting money in or out of your account, there is very, very little difference between the two. With FTP you can sign up through an affiliate and get rakeback, but Stars effectively equals that with its frequent-player points system. Flip a coin, pick which one you like the display and controls on better, you really can't go wrong. In fact, for the sake of flexibility, you just oughtta have both of them loaded and ready to go.

But, frankly, I use both sites mostly for (1) just fun (e.g., bloggers' tournaments, where I know a fair number of the other players), and (2) when I want to play a game other than hold'em. It's virtually impossible to find anything other than hold'em and Omaha anyplace else. If you want to learn other games or want to play them seriously because you think you have an edge over the opposition, you really have to play at FTP and Stars; there just isn't any other choice available.

Next up we have UltimateBet and Absolute Poker, which are now just two slightly different versions of the same site. I think that the utterly shameful way that the company has, even up to the present, dealt with its two cheating scandals (not to mention all the other security and software glitches that seem to crop up with some regularity) is reason enough to want to see them go out of business due to players turning their backs. I haven't played on AP in more than four years. When the UB scandal first broke, I decided to abandon the site, but they made it such a pain to take my last $60 or so out that I eventually gave up. (I'm not alone in this experience--which all by itself should be sufficient reason to be leery of the site.) So I pop back in once in a while and play a $5 or $10 tournament. I'm down to less than $10 now, I think. I won't absolutely swear that I'll never put another dollar in, because something unforeseen could happen that would induce me to do so, but right now I don't anticipate giving them any more of my money, and I'd be happy if everybody else shunned them, too. Good riddance to an ugly blight on the world of poker.

"Luvin Poker" is another one listed by the FlopTurnRiver page. I'm not sure why they singled this one out. It's just one of many skins of the Everleaf network. Victory Poker is probably the best known of them, though they're all quite new. I opened an account there a month or so ago, but I have not yet tried playing there, nor have I deposited any money, so I can't report on the experience. This network is a very small player in the online poker market, and it will be lucky if it survives. I wouldn't want to keep an amount on account there that would hurt to lose, due to the worry that they'll go belly-up with no forewarning. They don't have a dedicated Mac version, but you can use their "instant play" version, which I assume is Flash-based, playing inside a web browser.

Finally there's Bodog. I gotta tell you, if what you're looking for is bad players, Bodog and the Cake network (I use Doyle's Room for the latter, but you could pick any of them and it would be the same) are today like Party Poker was back before it withdrew from the U.S.--just unbelievably fishy. I guess I'd toss the Merge network in with them (Carbon Poker and many others), though I don't especially like their user interface, so I sign on less often there. But neither Cake nor Merge has yet released either a Mac-dedicated version or a platform-neutral web-based version.

I like the actual game interface on Bodog, but its main lobby, tournament lobby, and hand history reviewing pieces are pure garbage--difficult and unintuitive to use. That's ancillary, though. Customer service is crappy, but I don't have any serious worries about the site's basic integrity. It's much smaller than FTP or Stars, but there are still plenty of low buy-in tournaments going on all the time.

FTP and Stars are so good in their execution of nearly everything, and in the overwhelming torrent of games available, that you'd think there would be no reason to even consider an also-ran site like Bodog. But here's the bottom line from my experience: FTP and Stars are slow leaks for me, in that I'm a long-term loser playing them. Some unquantifiable part of that is because a large percentage of my play on them is games other than hold'em, where I'm more a recreational/learning player than a serious one. But even in NLHE tournaments (I haven't tried NLHE cash games online, at least not more than dipping my toe in them) I struggle to break even. Tournaments aren't my best thing, nor is online poker generally, so even though I'm not facing pros at the stakes I buy in for, it's not a money-making proposition for me.

But Bodog is something else entirely. It is not difficult to cash in tournaments there. If there are even three players at a table who seem to know what they are doing, it's a surprise and a small miracle. Just don't bluff. Repeat: DO NOT BLUFF. You will be surrounded by calling stations, so wait for made hands and value-bet them. That's it. That's the whole secret. If I were going to try to make it as a low-stakes online grinder, I would use Bodog and one of the Cake sites as my primary hangouts.

So there's my best advice about where to play if you're using a Mac in the United States.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Thanks, Rex

VegasRex has announced that he is pulling up stakes, so to speak, and moving off to the Northwest sometime soon.

I've been thinking about this on and off today, trying to think of a way to express my thanks and admiration for his blog without embarrassing myself by sounding like a pathetic fanboy. I failed, so I'll just have to risk that he'll see this and roll his eyes in puzzlement and/or disgust.

I first learned about Rex when the Hilton poker room closed. It had been my primary spot for poker, so a reader (Smudger) sent me a link to Rex's post about the closure. It was clear he and I saw this--and a bunch of other stuff--similarly, so I posted a note about his eulogy. I've been a loyal reader ever since.

I have to admit that at first I was jealous, because I quickly discovered that he had the kind of style and tone that I had originaly envisioned for this blog: some blend of outrage and disgust that still managed to be humorous and not sound like I took myself too seriously. (If you look back at my first few posts--October through December of 2006--you'll see what I mean.) I was rarely able to achieve it, and certainly couldn't sustain it as my primary "voice." It seems to come naturally to him, though.

What's strange is that he and I have still never run into each other, despite both spending inordinate amounts of time in casinos. (I didn't know what he looked like at the time I put up that first post, but I do now, and--trust me--he would not be hard to spot.) My loss.

I owe him another round of thanks for bringing attention, commentary, and outrage to my incident at the Cannery last year, at a time when many others had attitudes such as, "You had it coming," or, "Everybody knows you can't take pictures in a casino," or, "You should have just done what they asked you to do," or, "You were just looking for trouble/attention." He knew by repeated personal experience how insanely arbitrary and thuggish both casino security personnel and Vegas-area cops can be, and was unflinching in taking my side, despite having never met me, and despite having no way to verify that I was telling the truth about the episode.

I'd be writing this paean even without that incident, though, because there is no other blog about Vegas that is even remotely as consistently original, thoughtful, and funny as his has been. Funny, as in, you don't dare read it on a laptop in public because people will look at you strangely when you're laughing your head off in Starbucks, and you won't be able to share, because the best bits would likely shock and offend the unprepared.

I also tend to agree with most of his opinions about how things ought to be, but even when I don't I have to admit that he nearly always presents good reasons and persuasive arguments for holding a different point of view.

OK, I guess that's enough fawning to constitute sufficient payback for three years of some of the most pleasureable reading I've gotten in this city.

Rex, I won't wish you happiness where you go, since you already expressed well in your announcement why you won't attain it. I hope, though, that you find more contentment than Vegas seems to be affording you lately. Moreover, I hope that you continue to write about it, wherever you land.

If you do, I'll be there to read and enjoy.

P.S. You mentioned in the posts today some uncertainty about where to start online play. That deserves more extended comment, so I'll do the next post addressing that question.

Guess the casino, #581

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

Answer: Mandalay Bay

Monday, July 26, 2010

Guess the casino, #580

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

Answer: Green Valley Ranch

Sunday, July 25, 2010

For introverts only

Here's a blog I just discovered that I think you'll like: The Introvert's Corner. I've just read the most recent half-dozen posts, and want to highlight most of them: Why introverts hate telephones, the perils of being a good listener, how to piss off an introvert, how introverts fare in intimate relationships--it's all good stuff.

Guess the casino, #579

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

Answer: Bellagio