Saturday, February 19, 2011

Guess the casino, #776

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

Answer: Sunset Station

Benyamine knows

From the Full Tilt Million Dollar Cash Game. He got it all in on the flop against Andrew Feldman.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Guess the casino, #775

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

Answer: Sahara

Thursday, February 17, 2011

IBM's next challenge should be poker

That's what Chris Wilson argues in Slate, here.

Laak on cheating

I was just reading the February issue of Bluff magazine and came across another retrospective bit of insight about the Ali Tekintamgac cheating scandal. In case you haven't heard of it before, this player had at least one "blogger" secretly working for him, with media credentials so as to be able to get close to the tables. The blogger would position himself in a way that he could see other players' hole cards, and signal them to Tekintamgac. See Shamus's excellent two-part account of the whole sordid affair here and here.

Anyway, Phil Laak recounts an interesting experience sharing a table with Tekentamgac at the Partouche event:
I found the rhythm of the game rather enjoyable, except for this one poker blogger who was hell bent on seeing my cards. Yes, it was Ali's 'blogger'. I had no idea they were a cheating duo at the time. All I wanted was the for guy to stop shadowing me so hard. At the time I thought he was just curious as to how I was playing. Though slightly flattered I thought that he could get a better education sweating one of the better pros. Ahhh, but they were not at Ali's table. It is funny how the whole thing makes so much sense now that Ali got caught.

Guess the casino, #774

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

Answer: Luxor

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Dancing donkey

I am definitely not a fan of trash talking, rubbing salt in opponents' wounds, etc. I don't do it myself, and most of the time I don't enjoy seeing it done by others. (I'll make an exception if Phil Hellmuth is the recipient.)

But I'm watching the new season of the Full Tilt Million Dollar Challenge, and I can't help smiling at the dancing donkey that Mike Matusow brings to the proceedings. It's just so silly that it would be hard to get offended at it.

(I realize that it would make more sense to splice these four clips together into one, but I haven't learned how to do that yet in MS Movie Maker. It was something of a technological breakthrough for me to figure out how to snip out the relevant segments from the shows. I'll tackle the resplicing problem another day.)

Surrounded by celebrities

The Imperial Palace is famous for its "Dealertainers," celebrity impersonators who deal blackjack for you, then get up on a little stage and sing a song or two. Just last night during the few hours I was in the poker room, we heard from the likes of Elvis Presley, Madonna, Garth Brooks, Beyonce, Tony Orlando, and Lady Gaga.

But what you might not know about the Palace is that it also features Playertainers. Here's the proof. At my table last night we had Brett Favre:

Dennis Rodman:

and, at the next table over, Senator Harry Reid:

Guess the casino, #773

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

Answer: Gold Coast

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Ur doin it rong

There are a few poker dealers in town who put out the flop in a weird way. They put the three cards down in a little face-up stack, then scoot the top card to one side, then the next card to the other side. It's a three-step process, instead of the one-step normal way.

This bugs me greatly. I'm not entirely sure why. Maybe it's because it takes an extra second or two every hand, for no good reason. Maybe it's because when I went to poker dealer school they taught us to be really snappy about putting out the flop. The goal, they told us, was to get all three cards exposed at essentially the same time, so that players would not be able to get a read off of an opponent's reaction to any one particular card.

But in any event, it's a practice that is slow and irritating without a single redeeming quality, as far as I can tell. I claim the right to bring a ruler to the casino and smack the hands of the dealers who are doing this, like a nun in parochial school dealing with a naughty student.

Guess the casino, #772

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

Answer: Circus Circus


I have one more story from last night's post-tournament cash session at the Orleans.

I had been playing for an hour or so, and was down somewhat, due to a three-barrel bluff gone wrong. I was in Seat 7. Seat 6 was occupied by a young man obviously new to casino poker. The details of the hand don't matter; suffice it to say that on the turn I had top pair (king) with a queen kicker, plus a flush draw, and liked my situation very much. I was about 80% confident that I was already ahead, and I had the draw as backup in case I was wrong. Before my opponent acted, I had already decided to raise him all-in (about $110) if he bet, or bet about half of my stack if he checked.

He cut out some chips--$40 worth, in two stacks of four red chips. But he pushed them forward with two movements in rapid succession, a classic string bet. The dealer picked up one of the stacks, seemed to hesitate, not sure what to do, then put it back down and decided to say nothing. I don't know why. She clearly was a rather timid personality. But maybe she had looked away at the crucial moment and wasn't sure of what she had seen. Or maybe she had heard something before the young man's bet that made her think that perhaps he had announced an amount, though, in fact, he hadn't. (The latter is actually my best guess. The room was noisy, and her English was kind of shaky, so I imagine it's easy for her to be unsure of what she is or is not hearing.)

Of course, I was happy to have him bet $40 instead of $20, since I was hoping for a double-up. (He had me covered.) I did not protest the string bet and was glad that the dealer wasn't going to call it back.

But just as I started reaching for my chips, the guy in Seat 9 spoke up in protest. "He didn't announce an amount. That's a string bet." I said to the dealer, "It's OK, we can let it go." but Seat 9 would have none of that. "No! He can't do that! He has to take it back."

The dealer capitulated and reduced the bet to $20. I thought about reducing my raise to $50 or $60, but I thought that since he was obviously wiling to bet $40, there was a good chance he would call the all-in, so I continued with the original plan. But after my opponent thought it over for a minute, he folded.

Of course, maybe I was really behind (though that seems unlikely), or maybe if he had called he would have drawn out on me in some gross way. But the most likely thing is that the intervention of Seat 9 cost me at least $20, and may have cost me about $90 (the difference between the amount that I actually won and the amount that I probably would have won if Seat 6 had felt pot-committed with a $40 bet and therefore had called and lost).

I was understandably annoyed at him for sticking his nose in where it didn't belong and was neither needed nor welcome. Still, I wasn't going to say anything to him about it. But then he opened the subject: "Sorry if I cost you $20 there." This was not said in an apologetic manner at all. The clear sense I got from it was, "Tough luck for you, but I did what had to be done."

So I responded: "You know, between the dealer and the players who are actually in the hand, we can figure it out without you butting in." He said, "No, obviously you couldn't. The rule is clear, and his bet had to go back, and the dealer wasn't doing her job." I said, "How about this: You call the string bets on the hands that you're involved with, and I'll take care of the ones that I'm involved with."

The exchange concluded with him saying, "You can be mad at me if you want to, but if you had won that extra $20, it would have been by cheating. Just think about that."

There was no chance that I was going to change his mind, or he mine, so I dropped it and the game went on.

This incident raises some interesting questions, I think. The first is when and to what extent does one step into a problem in a hand that one is not involved in? This is a dilemma I've wrestled with many times. Just a couple of months ago I prevented a very large pot from being pushed to the wrong player when not a single other person at the table--player or dealer--noticed that there was a straight on the board and the pot should be chopped. I have no doubt that that was the right thing to do.

But other times I'm still not sure whether speaking up was (or would have been) correct, even after reflecting on it for a while later. I think the first time I wrote about this phenomenon was in a blog post in November, 2007, here. Most of that post was later incorporated into a piece in Card Player magazine by their former columnist Mike O'Malley, available here. In 2009 I wrote about an incident at the Venetian in which I intervened in order to clarify how much money a guy was playing, and essentially everybody who submitted a comment on that post thought that I should have kept out of it.

With that history, I'm not immune to a charge of hypocrisy in complaining about the busybody at the Orleans. Nevertheless, there are a couple of guidelines that I think should illuminate when to jump into the fray uninvited, which he was not following.

First, I see the main reason for speaking up to be to help protect the general integrity of the game and, more specifically, to help protect less-experienced players who may not know all the intricacies of the rules. In this case, Seat 9 was unquestionably a very experienced player who, after an hour of watching me, had to recognize that I was not a naif in need of sheltering. Just as obviously, Seat 6 was not an angle-shooter trying to take advantage of me.

Second, if it were to happen that after I pointed out what I perceived as a problem, those involved in the hand were all OK with the situation as it was, I think that I would back off and let them be. Here, Seat 6 wanted to bet $40, the dealer had, for whatever reason, decided to let him, and I expressed my assent to the small irregularity. Even if the interloper had justification to speak up initially, once those directly affected by the situation have all agreed to let it be, I think he should back off. As a similar example, a couple of years ago I wrote about a situation at Caesars Palace in which there was a question of whether one guy's cards had been mucked. The dealer thought the hand should still be live, as did both players involved. But an annoying guy at the table just wouldn't drop it, insisting that the hand be declared dead, even though he had no stake in the outcome.

The second point of possible interest is Seat 9's contention that if the bet had been allowed to stand, I would have been profiting from "cheating." I reject this out of hand, frankly. To include this requires a very different conception of what constitutes "cheating" from what the word means to me. I see it as comparable to a football team declining to enforce a penalty on the opposing team when it is to their advantage to do so. Of course I have the right to force the player to reduce his bet when it was made in a technically illegal fashion, but I don't think there is any grand principle that should require me to do so when I am not disadvantaged by his action. That is particularly true here when the reason for the existence of the rule (to prevent an angle-shooter from watching an opponent's reaction to the bet, then deciding whether to increase the size of the bet based on that reaction) is not even remotely in effect.

Almost four years ago I wrote about the problem of players who do some sort of tapping motion while thinking about a decision, and how hard it can be to tell sometimes if this is just idle, meaningless hand activity or is intended to signal a check. I stand by the conclusion that I had then: If I'm the one being put in an awkward position by the player's ambiguity (because I have to interpret his action and act on it in some way), it is my discretion whether to look the other way and let it go, or have it enforced as a binding action, the way the rules say that I can. I view an opponent's string bet in the same way, if I am on the receiving end of his violation: I can ask that the rule be enforced, or I can waive enforcement. And, of course, I can make that decision based on what is most to my advantage. That doesn't mean that I always will; believe it or not, I'm actually capable of extending grace and forbearance. But I submit that it is not cheating, not angle-shooting, not unethical to make the decision either way--to let the errant action stand, or to insist on the player being held to letter of the law--and to make that decision based on what is in my own best interest.

(Of course, most often the dealer takes the initiative and I don't have a choice to make, but I'm discounting those situations here. Had this dealer initially disallowed the second part of the bet, I probably would have said something like I did, and then if she had continued to insist on the reduced bet size, I would not have pushed the point further.)

Questions for readers to comment on: (1) Was the guy wrong to involve himself in the first place? (2) Was he wrong to continue to press the point after I had indicated that it was OK with me to let the string bet stand? (3) Was I being unethical/dishonest/cheating/angle-shooting to say that I was OK with overlooking the technical violation and attempt to let the bet stand?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Take all of it

After bombing out of the HORSE tournament at Orleans last night, I played in a cash game long enough to win back my tournament entry fee. I realize that it's completely irrational to look at poker results that way, but I ended up a net 30 bucks on the day, which made me feel a little better about not playing particularly well in the tournament.

During one hand that I watched, the table rock had flopped a set. He bet it and got called by a headphones-wearing kid. He bet the turn, and the kid min-raised him. Rock pushed out a stack that he must have thought was enough that a call would have the kid all in. But he had slightly misjudged the kid's stack, and when the kid called he still had three white chips ($3) behind.

To my surprise, the river went check-check. Rock won. Kid rebought.

I couldn't figure out why the kid wouldn't put in his last $3 when the action was on him, nor why the rock didn't bet $3 on the river. There's no question that he knew there was still money left behind; the dealer anticipated the situation and clearly announced that the kid wasn't all-in after the action on the turn.

A guy sitting next to the rock said to him, "It says a lot about a guy's character that he has a monster hand and won't take his opponent's last three bucks." The rock replied with something like, "I don't like it when you see somebody figure out how much a guy has left and bet exactly that much in order to get every last dollar."

I do not understand this mindset. I cannot imagine how it is somehow noble to win $200 from somebody, but immoral or a sign of some sort of character flaw to win his last $3. If I am sufficiently confident that I have the best hand and that my opponent will put all of his chips in, hell yeah I'll take them all. That is why I'm sitting at the table. It is the only reason I'm there. $3 isn't going to change my life, but it's not going to change his to lose it, either. The question comes down to whether those three white chips will stay in his stack or come to sit in mine, and I see no reason not to prefer them being in front of me.

My guess is that the rock on some level feels guilty about the win, and the tiny act of mercy helps him alleviate that feeling. But this is just flat-out denial about the cutthroat, selfish, dog-eat-dog nature of the game.

In the latest issue of Card Player magazine, Alan Schoonmaker covers this exact topic--how feeling guilty about the predatory nature of poker interferes with maximizing wins. It isn't available on the magazine's web site yet, but it's well worth reading if you are plagued with a sense of guilt about taking other people's money by winning at poker.

(Incidentally, it appears that Card Player has revamped their web site recently and in the process made it much less accessible and useful. I tend to remember points made in columns by who wrote them. I've always previously been able to search the site by author, but no longer (unless I'm missing something). Now the contents are organized only by issue, and those are viewable only via a Flash player. Way to go, Card Player--make your archives unsearchable by any efficient means. Brilliant!)

I realize that some people play poker primarily for the fun of the game and/or the social interactions, and genuinely don't care about how the win/loss accounting goes. That's fine. These remarks do not pertain to them. But last night's rock can't be among those. I've played with him several times before, and he's always nearly silent, not gregarious and interactive. He doesn't appear to be having fun. (However, I realize that people think the same of me even when it's not true, so I'll take my own assessment there with a grain of salt.) His style is to lay in wait with a big hand and trap an unwary opponent. By every appearance, he is there only in order to leave with more money than he came in with. Given that, I find it incongruous that he doesn't try to squeeze every chip out of the game that he can.

Got guilt?

Dumb rule at Orleans

For a few days now I have had a hankering for a live HORSE tournament. The Orleans has one every Sunday night that is reasonably priced ($75), so I decided to give it a go. I finished mid-field after playing not my best. But along the way I learned that the Orleans poker room has a very peculiar rule.

In the first orbit we had two dead stacks reserved for late entries. Blinds and antes were taken from them as needed. I had one of them on my left. The first time it was my small blind (and hence big blind from the dead stack), everybody folded to me. When the button folded, I assumed that that was the end of the matter and I would collect the big blind. But the dealer looked at me expectantly, clearly waiting for me to act. I said, "The hand's over." He replied, "No, you still have to act."

I thought it was stupid, but for the formality of it I added enough to call the amount of the big blind. Then and only then did the dealer push me the pot and collect my cards.

As the next hand was underway, I asked him about this. He was absolutely clear that this was the house rule and they always did it that way. He specifically said that if I had folded, he would have awarded the pot to the dead stack/big blind.

This makes no sense whatsoever. The absent player's hand is killed as soon as the last card is dealt and the seat is unoccupied. If there is any definition of a dead hand, it is one that cannot win the pot under any circumstances. As soon as the button folds, there is only one live hand left on the table--that of the small blind--and the small blind is therefore only player to whom the pot can possibly be awarded.

The dealer clarified that if I had actually folded, he would have called the floor to ask what to do, but he also said that every previous time it has come up, the dead stack gets the pot.

As partial explanation, he pointed out that when playing online tournaments, even if the big blind is sitting out, the small blind has to call in order to win the pot. This is a flawed analogy. First, I'm not completely sure that's true everywhere; I just haven't paid enough attention to the situation to know. But more importantly, during an online tournament there is no "butt in the seat" rule in play. If you have been sitting out, you still get dealt a hand, and you can click the "I'm back" button anytime before it's your turn to act. In other words, your hand is not dead before the other players are taking their turns. But under standard live tournament rules, your hand is declared dead and pulled into the muck by the dealer before the first player acts. That makes all the difference in the world. Even if an online player in the big blind is sitting out, his hand is live until/unless he fails to act on it when required, so if everybody folds to him, he can legitimately win the pot. The site is not awarding the pot to a dead hand, as the Orleans rule apparently says that they will do. Online tournaments do not use dead stacks to hold open places that might later be filled by late arrivals; they create stacks as needed when new players register.

The rule is also stupid because it benefits nobody. All it does is act as a trap for the unwary. The penalty for not knowing that this quirky rule exists is that you lose a pot if you perform the rather natural act of returning your cards to the dealer after everybody else has folded. There's nobody left to play with/against, so why wouldn't you? Worse, the pot is given to a phantom player who did nothing to earn it, didn't even have any cards when the last player mucked, and most likely won't ever collect it, as the stack is taken out of play whenever the entry deadline passes.

I'd like to speak to the poker room manager and ask him or her about this hypothetical situation: "Suppose that the big blind doesn't notice that he's the big blind and mucks his cards, quickly followed by the under-the-gun player doing the same. The discards get intermingled and are therefore irretrievable. Of course the errant player is still required to post the big blind. (Never mind that the dealer should have seen to that before pitching the cards.) Now everybody at the table folds around to the small blind, who has the last live hand. The small blind assumes that the hand is over and returns his cards to the dealer, expecting to be awarded both blinds. What is your house rule and/or floor decision about who gets this pot?" Following the logic of their rule about dead stacks, I think they would have to give the pot to the big blind, even though he mucked his cards before everybody else did.

The two situations are functionally identical, as far as I can discern. But surely everybody can see that it would be insane to give this hypothetical pot to the big blind. My point, in this imaginary conversation with the poker room manager, would be that it is equally insane to award the pot to a dead stack with a dead hand.

Frankly, I can't think of a single good argument for having such a rule in place. It's extremely minor in the big scope of things, but it's among the most ridiculous house rules I've ever encountered.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

PAD annoyances

I just finished watching last week's "Poker After Dark" episodes. It's the first time I have downloaded and watched them in high definition, which was nice. People look different in hi-def, that's for sure. Other good things about the week were that it was a cash game (usually more interesting than tournaments), they had on two players I've never seen on TV before (Greg "FBT" Mueller and Olivier Busquet), and Eli Elezra and David "Viffer" Peat drove some crazy-diseased action.

But there were three things that kept annoying me through all five installments. In ascending order of irritation:

3. Helicoptering

For some reason, every time Mueller mucks his cards he does so by lofting them in a high, twirling arc. I see this frequently in the games I play, done by rank amateurs who don't know any better. It usually stops pretty fast after once or twice I tell the dealer that he or she needs to expose one of the cards to the table because I saw what it was when it was in the air. Dealers get annoyed at having to do that, and ask the player to knock it off. It's one of many bad habits people develop in casual home games and inappropriately bring to the casinos.

Mueller is a long-time, experienced pro. How can he not know that this bit of silliness frequently exposes one or both cards, and thus potentially affects the subsequent action?

2. Like it--or not

It's been about 30 years since the "Valley Girl" phenomenon introduced the use of the word "like" as a meaningless verbal tic, and, sadly, ever since then a large percentage of children, teens, and young adults have been infected by this terrible virus. I have heard some astonishing examples of likeorrhea (yes, I just made up that word) before, but I think that Peat's case is worse than any I have encountered before. It's incredibly jarring and annoying to listen to. Do these people not ever monitor their speech, and hear how stupid they sound? It got so bad that even Ali Nejad started making fun of him.

1. Laak-down poker

But the hands-down, far and away most annoying aspect of the week's shows was, well, basically everything about Phil Laak. Normally I like him a lot. I enjoy his stories, games, and prop bets. I'm amused by his quirky observations about poker, life, science, philosophy, investing, or whatever else is on his mind. But this week he was completely out of control. He had been drinking enough that his speech was slurring--something I've never seen in any of his countless previous TV appearances. He even admitted (rather confusingly) at one point, "Libations have inflected me a little bit."

He just Would. Not. Shut. Up. It was five hours of constant, non-stop, stream-of-consciousness verbal babbling. No mental filter, just free expression of every thought that was crossing through his mind. Peat once even begged for somebody to bring a muzzle for Phil.

But it wasn't just his talk. His ethanol-induced disinhibition spread to his conduct. He was obviously irritating the others at the table as well as the viewers. Here, for example, he gets into a wrestling match with Peat:

Then, a few seconds later, he pushes all of Peat's chip stacks over into a mess:

His poker was horrendous, too. He definitely does not play better drunk. He was playing stupidly and losing badly. He frequently lost track of whose turn it was, who was in the hand, what the action was, etc.

I guess I'm glad that he's a happy drunk instead of an angry drunk, but for entertainment purposes, a smart, sharp, sober Laak is a lot more fun to watch than the inebriated version. When he's not drinking, he's funny, interesting, one-of-a-kind. When he's drinking, he's just one big heap of annoying in every possible way.

Punctuation fail

I noticed this tournament board at Mandalay Bay this afternoon. Somebody in the poker room management, at some point, made this thing. I can just imagine what happened. There was just the plan word "Players" there. The sign-maker looked at it and thought, "Something's missing." The apostrophe went in, and the sign-maker said "Yes! That's it! Perfect!"