Saturday, December 04, 2010

Anyone have a fork handy?

Last night at the Orleans I had a suited 7-8. Flop 8-8-J. I get it all in against a stupid woman (I don't say that lightly; she's a local that I have played with a few times before, and she's a terrible player) who has A-J. Turn: J.

Today I went to Mandalay Bay after failing to get a balloon ride across the street at Cloud Nine. (See below.) Early on, I pick up one of the statistically best ace-cracker hands, suited 7-8. I get it all in against, yes, A-A, on a flop of 10-7-8. Turn: 10, giving him a better two pair.

Rebuy. Play very patiently on a table with two certifiable maniacs and two semi-maniacs (i.e., they don't play every hand like the maniacs, but they grossly overbet everything when they do play). Maniac #1 open-raises from under the gun to $25. This means nothing; he does it for close to 50% of his starting hands, regardless of position. Maniac #2 raises to $75. This means he has some sort of hand, but by no means necessarily a premium. I have $206. I put it all in with my K-K, confident I'll get at least one call, because Maniac #2 has only about $65 more behind. I do. He has 6-6. I even have his suits covered. The board runs out A-4-5-7-8, giving him a straight.

A few hands later I have suited Q-10 in a seven-way limped pot (a rarity at this table). Flop is Q-8-4 rainbow. Maniac #2 bets $25, meaning he has something, but not necessarily much. I put in my remaining $60. He reluctantly calls, while saying that he knows he's beat. He has just a 4, no draw. Turn: 4. River: 4. Quads for him.

That's it. I have once again reached the limit of my tolerance for such things. I'm out $800 in the first four days of the month, and feel no interest in playing again anytime soon. It's time for another break of currently undetermined duration from the game.

Is Cloud Nine dead?

Back in mid-November I saw a notice that the Cloud 9 tethered balloon attraction was offering $10 ride with the donation of a can of food for a local food bank. Today was the last day of the special--so of course I waited until today. The web site suggests calling for reservations. I tried three times, and just got a recording. So I just went out there. It was overcast but warm, and I thought I might get some nice photos of the city. Saturday hours are supposed to be 10:00 a.m. to midnight, and nothing on the web site indicated anything was amiss.

It was dead. The balloon was there, but nobody was around. The parking lot was empty. The office (labeled "Flight Center") was dark and locked, with a bundle of pamphlets outside the door that hadn't been taken in.

I get the distinct feeling that the whole business quietly went belly-up sometime very recently, though I have seen no such announcement anywhere. A Google news search finds no announcement.

I wish I knew what had happened. I was looking forward to a nice ride.

Guess the casino, #711

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

Answer: Orleans

Decisions, decisions (conclusion)

If you have not already read the first part of this story, in which I described the decision I faced, you might want to do so now, before reading on.

I thought a long time, and finally folded.

Well, first I threw up in my mouth a little bit, THEN I folded.

I decided he wasn't the type to check-raise the river with air. I thought he wanted a call, which meant that he believed he had me beat. And the hands that actually had me beat weighed more heavily in my mind than the Dumb Guy hands. I just couldn't see him being obtuse enough to value-check-raise with trips in that situation. I decided that he was quite a bit more likely to have a full house, or, at minimum, the ace-high flush, than something that he mistakenly thought was the winner.

He mucked without showing, so I'll never know.

If I had to guess his most likely hand, it would be a suited K-4 (or his kicker pairing whatever the river card was). On the flop, he thought top pair was good enough for a call. On the turn he like his trip kings, but worried about the flush. On the river he finally made his hand, and made the instant decision to go for the check-raise, without really thinking through whether that was the way to get maximum value, whether I could be relied on to bet for him. But flopped two pair with K-10 is also a decent possibility, as is either 2-2 or 10-10 for a flopped set--but if so, he played them very strangely.

But I'll tell you that I'm having pangs of regret about the fold. In retrospect, I really wonder if he had trip kings and he inadvertantly bluffed when he thought he was value-betting. On the other hand, I hate making bad calls, and I like to imagine that I'm better at getting away from second-best hands than most of my opponents. Maybe the laydown was correct. I really don't know.

Frankly, the uncertainty is annoying me more than I should let it. I'm so used to not knowing such things that it usually doesn't eat at me. I shrug and move on. Once in a while, though, a situation is so puzzling that I can't figure it out to any satisfaction, which causes my brain to keeping mulling it over, trying to unlock the riddle. But I know from experience that the second-guessing of myself will pass quickly, and this hand will be mostly forgotten, like the other thousands before it.

And, just for C.K., I have to say this: Stupid crubs.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Poker gems, #401

Joe Stapleton, in PokerStars Big Game, in the middle of Phil Hellmuth bitching at the dealer for giving his amateur opponent the card to fill his gutshot straight, beating Hellmuth's two pair:

Don't blame the dealer. We all know it's the seat that's unlucky.

Poker gems, #400

Barry Tanenbaum, in Card Player magazine column, December 1, 2010 (vol. 23, #24), p. 74.

Many of my friends who play no-limit are macho types. They always believe that they figure to be the best player at the table, and they always buy in for the table maximum so that they can win the most money.

When playing with strangers, this can be an error. You have no idea who the excellent players are and who are less-skilled. So, always buy in for the minimum while you assess the table....

Yes, if it turns out that you are the best player, you may have lost a bit of an opportunity. But if the opposite is true, you may have saved yourself a lot of chips when misreading one of the better players.

Guess the casino, #710

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

Answer: Imperial Palace

Decisions, decisions

I was playing today at Caesars Palace. About an hour into the session, I had about $180. I picked up Qc-Jc on the button. It was folded around to me. I raised to $13. The only caller was the big blind.

Flop: Kd-10c-2c. BB checked. I had an open-ended straight draw, a flush draw (and, as we know, crubs always get there), position, a single opponent, and the betting lead. In my book, that's plenty of reason to bet, which I did--$20. He called.

Turn: Kc. Ding! Now I have improved to the second nut flush with an open-ended straight flush draw. Visions of sugarplums royal flushes danced in my head. He checked again. I bet again--another $20. It is unusual for me to repeat a bet size on two streets, but I wanted to maximize the chance of a call, both because I was pretty sure I had the winner and because I wanted a pull at hitting the 9c or Ac for whatever jackpot they had. He called.

River: Some blank, maybe a red 4, I don't remember for sure. He checked again. I bet $40. I was stunned as I could be when he check-raised all-in. He had me covered. It would cost my last $90 or so to call.

What to do in this sort of situation is, obviously, highly dependent on the nature of one's opponent. I can't tell you a whole lot about this guy. He was very quiet. As far as I could tell, he was completely straightforward, not a tricky bone in him--but it was a small sample size. He didn't play a lot of hands, and when he did, he was mostly a calling station. The only aggressive move I had seen him make was a pot-sized bet on the river, with a set he had made on the turn, into a board with a four-straight on it. Surprisingly, he got a call and won. I thought both ends of that bet and call were pretty dubious.

Check-raising the river is unusual in this level of game. It nearly always means either complete trash or a really huge hand. What could he be sitting on?

I broke his possible hands down into four categories. First was the monsters, the nut flush and any full house. Second was complete air--some sort of busted draw, A-Q, or whatever. Third was smaller flushes than mine. Fourth was a category that I wouldn't even open for some players--the Dumb Guy hands. By that I mean hands that only a really bad player would think were good there: trip kings, or something like A-10 for two pair with an ace kicker. With a possible flush and full house out there, it's crazy to check-raise the river with those hands; it's the classic "zero-equity" bet, getting called only when you've lost. You check-call, check-fold, or bet and fold to a raise. But there are some players at this level that can convince themselves that such hands are pure gold in this kind of situation, God bless 'em.

I did not think that he was capable of a river check-raise with nothing, at least not against a player that he probably recognized had been one of the tightest at the table, and who had bet at every opportunity, showing strength. (If he had been paying attention, he would have seen that thus far in the session I had been perfectly A-B-C, betting when I had something, checking and folding when I didn't.) Even if he's capable of such a move in some circumstances, this would not seem to be the place to expect him to deploy it. Would he do it with a busted draw out of desperation? Maybe. But what draw would that be? Another Q-J, going for the straight? If so, would he really continue after that ugly turn card? He can't have a busted flush draw.

So I basically ruled out a busted draw. And I didn't think he would be running a pure bluff from the outset. After all, if he had been planning an out-of-position float to take the pot away (a move I'm not sure is in his repertoire), surely the turn would have been the time to pull the trigger. Not only would he see that as a great bluffing card, but he would not be able to count on me betting the river to put the check-raise in then.

In fact, that was what most occupied my thoughts here: If this is a value bet with a monster, what made him feel confident that I would bet the river? After all, repeating the flop bet on the turn should smell of weakness. If I had a full house there, I don't think I would usually count on my opponent betting the river, and I would most often lead out, hoping for a call or raise, because I wouldn't want to risk getting no more money in if he checked behind. That line of thinking pointed back to the possibility of it being a bluff, either with nothing from the get-go or the busted straight draw. But, again, such a move didn't fit what I knew of his type of play.

All of which led me to consider the Dumb Guy hands, especially trip kings. But I couldn't feel easy about that, because, again, it made no sense to check-raise there instead of check-calling. Did he not see the flush? Did he not grasp the implication of the pair on the board? That's about the level of denseness it would take to check-raise all-in as a value bet in that situation, and it was really hard to attribute that degree of ineptitude to him. He was timid calling-station bad, but not "Oh my God! What's wrong with you?" bad.

Smaller flushes also didn't make sense to me, for basically the same reasons as the Dumb Guy hands. The best non-nut flush he could have was with the 9c-xc. That's a highly tenuous hand on which to pull out the river all-in check-raise; he'll only get called when he's losing.

So that was my dilemma. I could put him on absolutely no hand that fit the action and/or his general style, to the best of my ability to discern it.

Once again, I will give my readers a chance to ponder, comment, guess, commit themselves, before revealing the end of the story in 24 hours.

Poker gems, #399

Joe Stapleton, on PokerStars Big Game, about Phil Laak.

The sling is from a recent ATV accident in which he nearly died. As for the haircut, I can only imagine there was some brain damage as well.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Now featured at Caesars Palace...

When I checked in at the desk at Caesars Palace this afternoon, I handed my player's card to the guy behind the desk, who surprised me by saying, "They'll check you in at the table."

Sure enough--Caesars has finally joined the rest of its sister properties and has installed the Bravo system. This must have occurred very recently, because I was there two weeks ago and nothing had changed.

This is a welcome addition, as local nits were terribly abusive of comps and any other temporary promotions that relied on hours at the table: playing a few hands and then taking a break for an hour, lather, rinse, repeat. I hope this new development will mostly put an end to that obnoxious practice.

Poker gems, #398

Matt Lessinger, in Card Player magazine column, December 1, 2010 (vol. 23, #24), p.58.

At a given buy-in level... you're not going to be that much better than your opponents. if you were, you'd be playing for higher stakes. If they were that bad, they'd soon get tired of losing and play something else. It's the small differences in skill that set you apart from your opponents. You're not going to win every time, but it's an extra win here and there and a few extra in-the-money finishes that will generate your long-term profits.

For the most part, you need to give your opponents credit for having a skill set similar to yours. That's something that a surprising number of players refuse to do, or they don't give it enough thought.

Guess the casino, #709

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

Answer: Caesars Palace

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Guess the casino, #708

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

Answer: Venetian

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Spin, spin, spin

I just read this article on PokerWorks about the "iron clad security" measures on the Cereus network (UltimateBlecch and Absolute Puker). Remember that the sites that are the subject of the story were the ones where owners and other insiders spent years playing against their customers while using their privileged access to view their opponents' hole cards; the sites which then repeatedly lied to their customers and the press about the problem, and which still have not made full restitution. These are the sites where once in a while the software will award the pot to the losing hand, if the hand happens to belong to the site's big-name sponsored pro. These are the sites that earlier this year were found not to bother encrypting the data stream, so that if you were on a wireless network anybody could "sniff" your information, look at your hole cards, and raid your account. These are the sites that, when notified of this problem, did not shut down or even tell its customers of the issue.

With that in mind, here's what I wondered when reading the PokerWorks article (which is pretty obviously bought and paid for by Cereus):

1. If somebody from the "PokerWorks staff" (the only attribution given, presumably because nobody could stand to have his or her name put on it without throwing up in disgust) actually wrote this--as opposed to it having been handed to PokerWorks by the Cereus PR department--did he or she then go home and burn his or her journalism diploma in shame after having reported that these two sites are built on a "foundation of safety and security"?

2. After Joe Sebok said, "We are committed to doing everything possible to safeguard our network and players," did he then burst out laughing, and, though not reported in the story, say to the reporter, "Sorry, it's really hard to say that shit with a straight face."

That's what I wonder.

Guess the casino, #707

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

Answer: South Point

Two diseased hands

Some nights the money comes in by dribs and drabs: a raise and c-bet here, a small pot there, here a bluff, there a bluff, etc. Other nights, essentially the whole session's profit comes in one or two big chunks. I don't have any real preference, as long as the "check out" amount is greater than the "buy in" amount was. But tonight was most definitely in the "big chunks" category. Moreover, both hands were, to use my new favorite poker word, highly diseased.

Diseased hand #1

When playing at the Imperial Palace, where I was parked for the evening, I often go to either a little ice cream shop between the parking garage and the casino, or pop next door to an ice cream place in the food court at O'Shea's. I've been eating ice cream while I play poker, given the opportunity, since back in the Hilton days. I've even been caught in the act on Twitpic.

And here's the crazy thing. In a weird effect so consistent that it has become close to a superstition with me (and I have very few of those), while I have the ice cream and for a short time thereafter, all sorts of good pokery things happen. I can't explain it, but it's true, and has been for four years now. Quad queens happened right after my ice cream, e.g., at the very same table as I was at tonight.

Tonight I made my usual ice cream run about an hour into my session, returning with a single scoop of Nestle Toll House Cookie ice cream. In a waffle cone--obviously (as if one really needs to specify that). I returned to my place at the table, seat 1. Usually I'll wait for the big blind, because that gives me a chance to reduce the mass of the ice cream before I have to juggle playing and eating simultaneously. But as it happened, I was just one off the button, and didn't want to wait nearly a full orbit. So I tossed in my $3, and was rewarded with Q-Q.

There was a button straddle from Seat 2. Seat 3--in a move unprecedented for him--open-raised to $25 from the small blind. (At Harrah's properties, a button straddle forces the action to start in the small blind, which I think is an awful rule, but there's not much I can do about it.) Anytime a player makes a conspicuously large opening raise, I immediately think that his most likely hand is J-J, and I prove to be right about that a large fraction of the time. But you have to be careful, because once in a while you run into somebody who plays aces that way--the regular at Mandalay Bay that I wrote about here, for instance.

Even stranger than an open-raise that large was that it was called in two spots--specifically, seats 4 and 6--before action got to me. This was already causing me to wonder what the hell was going on, because nothing even remotely like this had transpired during my time at this table. The two callers happened to be exactly the players that I had identified as the weakest and least potentially tricky ones in the field, which was helpful, because I didn't think either of them would play aces or kings that way.

I raised to $60. Seat 3 folded, though he seemed reluctant, which solidified my sense that he probably had jacks. Seat 4 moved all in, as I had expected him to do, because he had only about $25 more behind the first $25 he had committed.

I turned over my queens, at which point the man next to me kindly pointed out that Seat 6 had yet to act. Oops. This is a level of boneheaded error that I make pretty rarely, on the order of once or twice a year. The reasons it happened are obvious in retrospect. First, even though I had seen Seat 6 call the $25, and even though his money in the pot was one of the reasons I picked $60 as the reraise point, I had subsequently forgotten about him, because I was focused on whether Seat 3 was going to fold or four-bet it, the latter action likely meaning I'd have to surrender. After he had folded, I just focused on the expected action of seeing the rest of Seat 4's chips go in, and, with that happening, I felt done with the things I had been anticipating. Balancing the ice cream cone and watching for drips at the same time surely didn't help, nor did the fact that Seats 3 and 4 were in my immediate field of vision, while Seat 6 was off in the periphery.

But what's done is done and cannot be undone. (Bonus points for naming the original source for that, without Google.) I shrugged, smiled at the guy in Seat 6, and said, "I guess you get the advantage of playing the hand knowing what I have." To make matters even crazier, Seat 4 had taken the cue from me and turned over his cards, too! He was showing a suited J-9.

By the way, let's pause and reflect on Seat 4's decision-making here. He called a $25 raise--half of his stack--from an early-position, solid player, when there were still eight people left to act behind him, with J-9. Let's call that Bad Call #1. (There will be others, as you shall see.)

So Seat 6 got to make his decision seeing both opponents' hole cards, a rare luxury for him. He thought for a while, then called. Call me crazy (you probably already do, and, really, who could blame you?), but my read of his thoughts while he considered this was that he was plotting to take the pot away because of my error. That is, he thought that if he bet after the flop, I would have to conclude that I was beat, because surely he wouldn't bet a hand he knew to be losing. Maybe he was really thinking that, or maybe I was just projecting on him what I would be thinking in that spot--which is exactly that. But in either case, he ended up making the call. I thought his most likely holding was A-K. Surely he wouldn't put that much in just set-mining with a smaller pair after seeing my Q-Q, I thought, and I had already ruled out A-A and K-K when he had flat-called the initial $25. A-K seemed the only thing left in the likely range that would put in the second call of that huge initial pre-flop raise.

The flop was 3-4-5 rainbow. Not bad for queens, all things considered. Seat 6 quickly grabbed $45 in chips and pushed them across the line. I read him as scared. I was not ready to believe that he had hit that flop as hard as he wanted me to think, especially given what I had concluded about his likely narrow range based on the pre-flop action, combined with my suspicion about how he had been planning to take advantage of my gaffe.

So I shoved. He had just under $100 left now, and I had him covered. At first his face fell. I thought I had caught him in a bluff, and he was going to fold. But to my surprise, he thought for a few seconds, then called. To my even greater surprise, he then turned over A-Q offsuit.

That's right. He had first put in $25 pre-flop after an early-position raise and call. Let's call that Bad Call #2. Then he had called an additional $35 after seeing that I had him crushed, and after seeing that Seat 4 had two of the cards that might otherwise contribute to making him a miracle straight. Bad Call #3. Then he tried to steal the pot, knowing that he was ahead of Seat 4 and in a good spot to win a nice pot if he could drive me away. OK--I can't blame him for that attempt. But when I saw through it and put him to the test, he then called off another C-note, knowing that he had only seven outs (three aces and four deuces). Bad Call #4.

Turn and river were a 10 and a king, changing nothing, and I scooped it, in spite of my horrendous brain fart.

I'm telling you, it's the ice cream. It has magical powers.

Diseased hand #2

About an hour later, we had the same setup: the button and a button straddle at Seat 2, and an opening raise from Seat 3 in the small blind, this time to the more modest and standard $8. There were three calls before it got to me, so I gladly added my $8 after seeing that I had been dealt the Mother of All Hands, the Mighty Deuce-Four.

I rather enjoyed seeing the flop of 3-5-6 rainbow. Just the second nuts for me, in a situation where it seemed highly unlikely that anybody was sitting on the only hand that had me beat (the 4-7).

When it was checked around to me, I made a small $10 teaser bet. Let's see who wants to play. The button raised to $22. Given his pre-flop raise and this move, an overpair seemed the most obvious conclusion. I was stunned to see all three of the others in the hand each make the $22 call in turn. It's hard to figure how five players can all have enough of a hand at this point to want to continue.

I decided to reraise, not because I was afraid of any draws (really, only somebody with a 7-8 could be on a pure draw and have a decent chance of hurting me), but because I was convinced that one of these guys had a set and was slow-playing it, and I wanted to get his stack committed now. If the turn paired the board, I would have a horrible decision, and if it brought a 2, 4, or 7, it could scare off any chance of felting somebody who had a flopped set.

So I reraised to $100. Fold, fold in rapid succession. But then the folding stopped with Seat 6 (a different player than Seat 6 in Diseased Hand #1). He looked anguished. Bingo, I thought. There's my victim with the set, probably 3s, and he has now shifted from sly, confident slow-playing to a sick feeling that he is up against a bigger set. The call would require all of his $70 or so remaining. He pondered for nearly two minutes, then finally put the chips in. The final remaining opponent mucked.

I showed the Mighty Deuce-Four. Seat 6 grimaced, as if he had known it would be bad news. He revealed (drum roll, please) Ad-4d. He could win with two running diamonds, but otherwise was drawing to three cards just to claim half of the pot.

I think we can legitimately label this Bad Call #5.

I don't remember what the turn and river were, but they provided no miracle. How could they, really, when pitted against 2-4?

Ho-hum, flop the nuts, stack a guy, win a big pot. This is just what Deuce-Four does, despite there remaining a few hard-core unbelievers in the poker world.

When you've got ice cream, Deuce-Four, and a few pathological calling stations working together on your behalf, it's hard to lose.

Sheldon Cooper likes Vegas

I can be a little slow to get on the bandwagon. I just started watching "The Big Bang Theory" this season, its fourth year on the air. Had I known how smart and funny a show it is, I would have started tuning in a long time ago.

So now I'm going back and catching up on what I've missed. I liked this description of Las Vegas from an episode toward the end of the second season. Sheldon has an idea for cheering up his friend Howard after Howard got dumped by a woman:

"You know, I am given to understand that there is an entire city in Nevada designed specifically to help people like Howard forget their problems. We can replace them with new problems, such as alcoholism, gambling addiction, and sexually transmitted diseases."

As they say in the forums, QFT.

Some beautiful things

There is probably somebody in your life who would think you the best husband/boyfriend/partner/son/daughter/brother/sister/friend/partner/parent/uncle/aunt EVAR if on Christmas morning she opened a box from you and it contained the most beautiful, luxurious silk scarf she had ever seen.

My sweetheart Cardgrrl has designed and hand-made some of the most gorgeous scarves on the planet, and is now selling them at her new web site, I hope you'll do me the favor of taking a look at them.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Now what will you get if you order water at the Venetian?

Not Fiji water, apparently.

Aces cracked

Image from:

Yesterday was, I think, the first time I have played poker during an aces-cracked promotion since moving to Vegas--and I did it twice, first at Flamingo, then again at Harrah's. Yesterday was definitely the first time I have ever been dealt pocket aces during an aces-cracked promotion, and thus had to decide how to play them. I went for the standard approach with a raise and a continuation bet. A short stack shoved and I called. I won, though less than the $100 bonus I would have earned by losing the hand.

I first encountered an aces-cracked promotion back when I was living in Minnesota and playing at an Indian casino in Wisconsin. I quickly tired of the inevitable stupid arguments that would break out over whether one should play to win the hand or play to lose it and pick up the jackpot. I maintain that avoiding having to listen to such arguments endlessly repeated is an excellent reason to stay away from poker rooms during aces-cracked promotions. They make me want to stick an ice pick in my eardrums.

The argument should be purely mathematical, though precious few of those engaging it seem to understand how to evaluate it.

The first part of the analysis is straightfoward, thanks to marvelous tools such as PokerStove: What is the probability of losing when you have pocket aces? Here's the answer, given the number of opponents (assuming that they all stay in the hand to the river):


As you can see, you have to drag five people all the way to the river to have even as much as a 50% chance of having your aces cracked. Even in loose-passive games, that does not happen very often.

But the math gets murky after that point. If you're playing to lose--i.e., limping and check-calling--you can't control how much your opponents like their hands, and therefore how much they'll charge you to stay to the river. Furthermore, your attempts to minimize the pot will often--usually, in fact--backfire when you end up winning in spite of yourself, and raking in a much smaller pot than you might otherwise have won.

Knowing the statistically predictable frequency of loss is easy. But determining the optimal strategy also depends on knowing how much equity you'll sacrifice by having minimized the pot when you win, and how much you'll have to put into the pot on calls when you lose. Those numbers are not at all obvious, and they will vary tremendously with the style of play of your opponents at any given table. They are effectively unknowable, and at best can only be guesstimated.

If the jackpot were, say, a million dollars, the conclusion would be obvious: try to lose. Conversely, if the jackpot were one dollar, the conclusion would be obvious: ignore it and try to win the hand as usual. The problem is that the jackpot--typically $50 or $100--is in a range such that one's assumptions about the costs of trying to lose make all the difference in the world about one's conclusion as to the optimal strategy.

And that is why the table arguments about how to play aces are so pointless: nobody knows what is actually best because the answer is completely contingent on unmeasureable and constantly changing input variables.

Because of that, I had decided long ago that if I found myself in such a situation, I would play as usual, try to win, and take the jackpot as a consolation prize if I lost. That may or may not be optimal for any specific mix of opponents, but, in its defense, (1) it is not clearly wrong or suboptimal for typical conditions in a $1-2 NLHE game, and (2) it saves me having to try to run complex math at the table.

Given that aces-cracked promotions are relatively common, you might wonder how it is that I can say that I think yesterday was the first time in 4+ years I've encountered one. First, they typically run during hours that poker rooms are slow; management is trying to get games going when the room would otherwise be idle. I am usually not playing during those hours. Second, I usually try to avoid rooms running such promotions, because I seriously dislike how they distort the game. Yesterday I was seated at both the Flamingo and Harrah's before I knew that the promotions were in effect.

Since leaving the Midwest, I have therefore had a blissful respite from hearing nits criticize somebody who plays his aces aggressively, or stupid laments from a nit who is so "unlucky" as to win with his aces, or endless speculation about what would have happened if an aces hand had been played differently from however it was actually played--a respite which came crashing to a halt yesterday. These are among the most pointless and annoying, yet seemingly inevitable, conversations that will ever afflict a poker table, ranking right up there with jackpot discussions when a bad-beat bonus has become unusually rich.

Spare me. I hope it's another four years before I have to listen in on another round of it.

Poker in math class

Hat tip: Otis

Well, THAT didn't last long!

Hat tip: GamingCounsel

Guess the casino, #706

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

Answer: Monte Carlo

A rare public admission

Shane Schleger, one of the bright, rising stars of tournament poker a few years ago, on Thanksgiving Day put up this blog post, in which he admits that he is now toward the end of his third consecutive losing year. It's pretty painful to read, but for those of you who have aspirations to make this game your livelihood, you literally cannot hear of such failures too many times. It can be more brutal that you probably realize, even if one is greatly talented, as "Shaniac" undeniably is. Sobering stuff.

Hat tip: Jen.

Stratosphere: Two failures, one success

In March, 2009, I posted this letter that I had written to management at the Stratosphere, complaining about how they had failed to keep track of my hours of play, and on that basis refused to comp a meal. An excerpt:

When I ask, for the first time in 17 trips to the poker room, for a lousy
meal comp, and am effectively told that I haven’t earned it, that I’m not a
sufficiently valued customer for you (that’s the corporate “you”) to have
bothered taking note of my presence, I don’t think I’m being overly sensitive to
find that an affront.
I never received any sort of response.

Today I learned that they have not bothered fixing the problem.

During football season, I usually hang out at Mandalay Bay for Sunday poker. I had an impulse to do something different today. I have long wanted to try a cute little retro place inside the Stratosphere called Roxy's Diner, and today seemed like a fine time, with poker to follow after lunch.

I presented my player's card at the poker room desk and asked them to check how much food comp credit I had accumulated, at the usual rate of $1/hour of play. The answer? He couldn't find me in the system--at all. He asked me whether I had ever played there before, meaning, obviously, that he didn't recognize me. (This is one of the hazards of trying to remain inconspicuous and not call attention to myself--I tend to succeed.)

In addition to the 17 times I had played there prior to that March, 2009, blog post, I have played there seven more times subsequently, for a total of 21.8 hours. Comp credits expire if not used within a year, but five of those sessions, adding up to 16.4 hours, have been within the past year. Four of those sessions and 13.3 of those hours were just in the month of October (2010), when I was finally starting to warm up to the place again.

I have diligently checked in and out every single time. But as far as the Stratosphere poker room is concerned, I've never been there. Somehow they have managed to utterly lose all evidence of my 24 sessions playing in their room, and, at the same time, don't recognize my face or name.

The shift manager behind the desk admitted as how their computer system for this stuff is "totally messed up." Yes, I know that. I have known it for nearly two years. I just had this crazy idea that you MIGHT HAVE BOTHERED FIXING IT BY NOW! (That's my San Kinison impression.)

The only redeeming point in this was that the guy apparently found me credible in my claim that I had played there several times, and gave me a $15 comp ticket on faith alone. I do appreciate that gesture, but I would appreciate it a hell of a lot more if they would straighten up what might be the most miserably useless, screwed-up, unreliable poker-room comp system in the city.

Comp ticket in hand, I mosied the very short distance to Roxy's and was quickly seated. I indulged my urge for a chili cheese dog. It was excellent--and HUGE.

But just as delightful, I found, was the entertainment. Predictably, and in keeping with the diner's theme, they have an Elvis-heavy rotation of oldies playing overhead. That, though, is punctuated, two or three times an hour, by one of several of their waitresses grabbing a microphone and singing live as she wanders through the restaurant, wearing a poodle skirt. One of them even keeps a hula hoop going while she sings, which I would think isn't easy.

None of them is going to win American Idol, but they all had perfectly decent voices, and offered what seemed to me to be genuine enthusiasm for the project. I appreciated their effort and charm.

Sufficiently sated, I went back to the poker room. They had one no-limit table going. I was first on the waiting list. I sat down with my magazine and read. And read. And read. I waited about 45 minutes. It's really, really unusual to have no seat in a game open up in that much time. (My rule of thumb is that a typical game will rotate one player about every 15 minutes, so if there are three tables going, wait time will probably average only about five minutes.) I looked over the players, and got no sense that any of them was getting ready to leave anytime soon, so I gave up.

As it turns out, I maybe should have stuck with the usual Mandalay plan. Sahara had no game. Imperial Palace had no game. O'Shea's had no game. I got a seat at the Flamingo, but it was a table of non-gambling rocks, at which I managed to squeeze out a big $5 profit in an hour and 15 minutes before deciding that there was no prospect for improvement. I ended up at Harrah's, where I played badly and took a small loss before I decided that my heart really wasn't in playing today, and headed for home.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Guess the casino, #705

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

Answer: Hooters

Here we go again

Once again, I have had somebody grouse about my alleged bad behavior when he was the one at fault.

It happened at Imperial Palace tonight. I limped from early position with Jc-10c, then called a late-position raise to $8 from a big, bald, British, tattooed guy, who I shall call BBBTG. Flop 10-J-Q rainbow. I liked having two pair, but this is about as dangerous a flop as you could name for two pair. I was beaten by 10-10, J-J, Q-Q, Q-10, Q-J, A-K, and K-9, all of which were probably in his pre-flop raising range. I was obviously currently ahead of any one-pair hands, but A-A, K-K, and A-Q all had lots of outs, and even A-J, A-10, K-Q, K-J, and K-10 would give me a good sweat. I didn't want to risk a free card, so I bet $20, the size of the pot. He almost instantly moved all-in for $46 more. This only narrowed his range a little, by effectively ruling out pocket pairs lower than 10-10, which wasn't much help to my decision. The vibe I got from him was more "I'm not going to let you weasel this pot away from me" than "Let's please get all the money in because I have the nuts." So I called.

He did not show right away, so neither did I. The turn was a 4, I think. The river was another 10. That helped me, but was by no means a cinch. I was still losing to J-J, Q-10, and Q-Q. He wasn't moving, so I reminded him, "I called you, sir." He announced, "Two pair."

Not good enough. You don't get to win the pot by just declaring what your cards are, even if you're more specific than "two pair." Oddly enough, other people might not believe you. You have to show them to win. This concept seemed too advanced for the feeble mind of BBBTG to grasp, so I gave him another reminder, more slowly this time: "I. Called. YOU."

He finally took the hint and rolled over his pocket aces, whereupon I quickly showed my full house and took the pot.

Had that been the end of it, I wouldn't be writing this. But it wasn't. BBBTG was playing next to one of his friends, and I overheard scraps of their ensuing sotto voce conversation, the gist of which was that I had acted with unspeakably atrocious manners by not showing my hand when he declared himself to have two pair, because I must have known I could beat any two-pair hand.

Grrrr. How many times do we have to go through this, people? Could it be that there are, somewhere in the world, poker players who do not read this blog regularly, and thus have not heard the word about one's showdown obligations? Hard to believe, but perhaps that is the case.

If you take the last aggressive action, and somebody else calls, then you have the responsibility to show your hole cards first. Alternatively, if you're embarrassed about them, you can just throw them in the muck. But your obligation is not discharged by saying what you have, nor by showing just one card. The even more annoying practice of starting to quiz your opponent about what he has is, or at least should be, grounds for execution on the spot. At least BBBTG didn't do that. (Being a merciful kind of guy, I would be willing to commute his death sentence to castration with a dull, rusty knife and no anesthetic, thus ensuring that his rudeness and stupidity genes were not passd on to the next generation.)

No matter how long I play this game, I will never understand why so many people have such a hard time understanding and complying with this simple, universal rule and practice. Nor will I ever get why people who fail to abide by it feel comfortable bitching about those of us who do, as if somehow we are the source of the problem. It's like veering across the center line into oncoming traffic, then blaming the people who stayed on the right for the resulting head-on collision.

At least BBBTG didn't make me wait for the heat death of the universe. I hate when that happens.