Saturday, May 28, 2011

Guess the casino, #871

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

Answer: Planet Hollywood

Poker gems, #421

Tommy Angelo, in A Rubber Band Story, page 168.

I make a living at poker by choosing when to enter a game and when to leave it. These options give me the freedom to choose my state of mind, and to choose my opponents. My betting decisions are of small consequence, comparatively.

Friday, May 27, 2011

VPN app

I just downloaded the brand-new-for-Android VegasPokerNow app. I've only spent a few minutes with it, but I'm already glad to have it. If it did nothing else, just having all the poker room phone numbers makes it worthwhile; now I don't have to have my contacts list cluttered up with them. But additionally, it has current room promotions, tournament schedules, visitor room reviews, maps, and more. At least a few times a month somebody at a poker table asks where there is a tournament for a certain buy-in range at a certain time. Previously I have directed them to the printed schedule that's always in the back of Card Player or Poker Player magazine. Now I can just whip out the LG Optimus V, press a couple of buttons, and hand it over like the modern man I aspire to be.

The app is free. Just go to the Android market and search for "Vegas Poker Now" or "VegasPokerNow"--either way works.

Someday I would love to see the app incorporate the next level of usefulness--an idea that I had long ago and wrote about here back in January of 2008: A continuously updated database of what games are currently being played at each poker room, and how many tables of each. It doesn't seem nearly as much of a stretch as it did when I first thought of it five years ago.

Guess the casino, #870

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Answer: MGM Grand

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Poker gems, #420

Tommy Angelo, in A Rubber Band Story, pate 145.

So now I was well on my way to establishing my preferred [table] image, which is WET (weird-tight).

Guess the casino, #869

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Answer: Hard Rock (before they moved the poker room)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Poker gems, #419

Tommy Angelo, in A Rubber Band Story, page 137.

[There is a] common, ancient rule, which states, "If you show someone your uncalled hand, then everyone is entitled to see it, but only after they do the show-one-show-all chant with disdain."

Guess the casino, #868

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Answer: Treasure Island

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


Sounds kinda like the El Cortez:

Guess the casino, #867

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

Answer: Paris

Impressive fold

Saturday was the last episode of this season of "High Stakes Poker." As always, there was plenty of good stuff. But what impressed me most was, of all things, a fold.

Watch this:

I suppose I might have been able to fold in that spot, but I certainly wouldn't have been able to do it so fast. Johnny Chan had not even announced an amount; he just said "raise" and Phil Laak flicked his cards into the muck. He had had a few seconds' warning that a raise was coming, because of how Chan was counting out chips, but it was still fast. I think I would have had to take time to ponder whether Chan would raise with, say, trip aces with a king kicker, or maybe K-10 for the Broadway straight.

In the long run, we all get dealt the same cards. You can't rely on getting better cards to be a winner in poker. Instead, you have to figure out (1) how to win more money than other people when you have the best hand, (2) how to win pots when you don't have the best hand, or (3) how to lose less when you don't have the best hand, or some combination of those three things. I have become convinced over the years that #3 is both the most important and the most difficult. It is the one that I think most definitively separates the long-term winners from the long-term losers.

Phil Laak seems to have that all figured out.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Guess the casino, #866

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Answer: Mandalay Bay

Nice touch, Ali!

In this week's installment of the NBC Heads-Up Championship, we see Erik Seidel paired against Andrew Robl. In their final hand, Seidel flops a full house and improves to a better boat on the river. Robl starts with pocket queens and has two pair on the river. Seidel moves all in. Robl is tortured about whether to call and possibly thereby lose the match. In the voiceover, Ali Nejad intones that Robl "cannot win this hand and yet he doesn't know it."

I laughed out loud. It was a wonderful tidbit of a reward for viewers who know their poker history. When Erik Seidel got heads-up against Johnny Chan, those were the exact words used by the TV commentator in their final pot, and Nejad even aped his tone and pacing. You can watch that hand play out here.

I heartily approve of such nods to history.

Tony and me, strangers and strangeness

This is one of the rare times I'm writing when I have only a vague idea what I'm going to say. I don't have a particular point, no story with a clear moral, no narrative path with a beginning, middle, and end--just some semi-connected thoughts and experiences and observations tumbling around inside my head. So together we'll see how it comes out. It was a year ago almost to the day that I last wrote about my personal history of oddness, of otherness. Warning: This threatens to be more of the same.

A series of otherwise unrelated events has put me in this brooding state of mind.

1) Last night I went to the Tropicana primarily to watch a $1000-each, winner-take-all, heads-up no-limit Omaha/8 match between "Tony Big Charles" (about whom I've written once before, here) and a guy named Dave. I originally became acquainted with both of them through, though more recently both of them have moved to the newer upstart site, Tony's blog (in the form of an ongoing forum topic) is here. Dave hasn't updated his poker blog in a long time. (He finished grad school and moved out of state to take a teaching position.) The two of them had done a similar challenge a couple of years ago. Tony won, and I think it has been a burr under Dave's saddle ever since that he lost to a man he considers an inferior player. He was coming back to Vegas for a visit, so they arranged a rematch.

I got recruited to use a cell phone camera to record Tony's hole cards, so that the owners of the VPN site can put together a reconstruction of the match. In the end, Dave won the best two out of three tournaments and the money. But it was very close. They each had one victory, and on the final hand of the third round they were close in chips and got it all in with very similar hands, which were probably close to 50/50 equity. The board went Dave's way, but it could just have easily gone Tony's. That wouldn't have quite finished the match, but Dave would have been left so short-stacked that it's unlikely he could have recovered. Basically, after a couple of hours of play, the whole thing came down to a coin flip.

Tony--as anybody who has met him, read his adventures, or even heard of him undoubtedly knows--is autistic. Within minutes, often just seconds, of meeting him, most people will notice that he is definitely "different," even if they can't put a specific diagnostic label on him. His list of quirks and idiosyncrasies is longer than that of the title character of "Monk." It is not the personality profile you would expect to make for success in a game like poker, where discipline, consistency, patience, focus, and social virtuosity are valued traits. Yet against all odds, Tony somehow manages to eke out a living playing poker.

Let me be blunt: Tony is paranoid about people and his surroundings, addicted to gambling, emotionally labile, undisciplined, self-destructive, often offensive to others (mostly unintentionally, but with bursts of intentionality about it), full of strange ideas and opinions, and can be downright annoying. But try as I might to dismiss and ignore him, I can't. And, try as I might to dislike him, I can't do that, either. That sounded wrong. I don't actually try to dislike him. A more accurate way to phrase it is that his most obvious and prominent personal characteristics are ones that usually make me want to avoid at all costs the one possessed of them. But Tony has a different effect on me. It's not that I want to become BFFs and hang out in my spare time, but I have developed a definite soft spot for him, after following his blog stories for the past couple of years.

Last night was, I think, the longest prolonged contact I've had with Tony. We played in adjacent seats at a NLHE game for about 30 minutes before the heads-up match got underway, and then, as mentioned, I sat next to him for the roughly two-hour contest, looking at his hole cards, and thus gaining some insight into his play.

Perhaps more important than observing Tony from short range, in terms of being fodder for today's rumination, was watching how Dave treated Tony. Dave is the kind of person I'm naturally inclined to like: he's funny, extremely bright, interesting, friendly, accomplished, musically talented, poised to make a real contribution to the world. He's also a superior poker player. But in recent months, Dave has become increasingly nasty to Tony, via posted responses in Tony's blog/forum. I have found it reading these verbal missiles sufficiently cringe-worthy to tarnish my impression of Dave in a major way. You can think the world of somebody, but if you happen to spot him kicking a puppy, it's unavoidably going to shade everything you think of him thereafter. And Dave has been kicking at Tony relentlessly and mercilessly.

I had hoped that it was just the cold, impersonal medium of textual exchanges on the Internet that was doing it, that things would be different in person. But they weren't. To the best of my recollection, Dave never said a kind or even sportsmanlike thing to Tony all evening. On the contrary, he continued his bashing. This seemed to me not to be friendly trash-talking between mutually respected rivals, but seriously mean-spirited, intentionally hurtful, hostile to the core. Of course, I'm entirely capable of grossly misreading people and emotional situations, so maybe my assessment is wrong and unfair, but that's how it seemed to me.

To his credit, Tony did not respond in kind. Of course he gloated about hands he won and sometimes sulked and made excuses for hands he lost, lamented instances of bad luck, and so forth. But I did not sense any cruelty, spitefulness, or hurtful intent in his comments. He was just wearing his emotions on his sleeve, as he always does. I was also surprised but glad to see that Tony did not appear to get upset at the loss. Frankly, I had expected he would blow up, but he didn't. He quickly got himself back into the NLHE game, and appeared to be handling himself just fine.

The unexpected net effect of observing these interactions for a couple of hours was to make me feel less inclined to want to be friends with Dave, and more inclined to feel compassion and even fondness for Tony. This, despite the fact that by all appearances and usual methods of accounting Dave is about a million times more the type of person I would usually tend to prefer to have in my life and spend time with.

Lately I've been more open with my opinions in Tony's blog when I think he's doing something dumb, self-destructive, or unworthy of the professional that he aspires to be--though I hope that my comments come across as the constructive criticism they are meant to be, rather than just put-downs. I could spend whole pages listing the things about Tony that I don't "get." But placed above all of that is the single thing that I don't "get" about Dave, which I sadly have to conclude is a really ugly streak of cruelty. Tony has plenty of faults, but I haven't been able to find cruelty among them.

I guess it comes down to this: I find characteristics such as emotional volatility hard to put up with, but I find deliberate meanness completely intolerable.

2) Last night after I finished playing at Bill's, I decided to use some of my accumulated food comps for the steak-and-eggs late-night special at Bill's coffee shop. While I was eating, I continued my reading of Don't Listen to Phil Hellmuth on my new cell phone. Another guy got seated just a couple of feet from me, at an adjacent table. He started talking to me:

"How'd you do?"

At first I wasn't sure he was talking to me, let alone what he was talking about.

"How did I do at what?"


"It turned out OK."

"Where you from?"

"I live here in town."

I turned back to my book and food, and apparently was successful in signaling him that I wasn't really interested in chatting, as his questions ceased. After all, I cannot believe that this guy actually cares how my gambling session for the day went, nor where I live. I think he was just bored and lonely, and felt that small talk was better than silence. But it isn't--not for me, anyway. It's torture, and I didn't feel like being tortured in order to alleviate some random stranger's boredom.

It was one of countless interactions I've experienced that remind me that I don't fit in well with the crowd. To use the classic phrase from kindergarten report cards, I don't play well with others.

3) Something on Twitter today led me to an article on the Psychology Today web site, and a link in the margin there led me to a blog by a woman with Asperger's syndrome, and specifically to this post from December, in which she ponders what the world would be like if "Asperger's was the norm, and non-autistics or neurotypicals were the minority." (Asperger's is basically a mild form of autism.) Among other things, the author imagines:
Those who insist on saying ‘have a nice day' and other polite exchanges of fairly empty niceties are taught to be honest and say what they think. People who go to shake hands are simply thought unhygienic. And of course, you would never be expected to hug someone just because they shared an ancestor or a common acquaintance.
I rather liked her imaginary world. I think I could get along better there than I do in this one.

4) Last Sunday was the conclusion of this season's "The Amazing Race" on CBS. I was pleased that they had brought back for this season Zev and Justin, who had fallen short on a previous season. Zev has Asperger's and you can tell almost at a glance that he's kind of "off." But he is extraordinarily good-natured. He's smart and funny and persistent, and Justin obviously both accepts and loves him in spite of all his quirks. I enjoyed watching these two best friends on both seasons, because they never got angry at each other, worked exceptionally well as a team, and always supported each other. They always managed to make the best of any bad situation and roll with the punches. They didn't win this year, either, but I was pulling for them all the way.

5) To be clear, I don't think that I would be diagnosable as having Asperger's, even if there were a definitive and reliable clinical test for it. (There isn't.) But there is no question that I share some characteristics and have some strong tendencies that parallel those of Asperger's: I'm terribly uncomfortable in most social situations, I can be oblivious to emotional nuances, I lean toward excessively literal understandings of everything, I often fail to grasp people's motivations, I'm blunt where reserve and diplomacy would serve me better, I get easily distracted and annoyed by extraneous aural input, I am baffled by many social conventions, and so on. (Cardgrrl is a valued liaison with the world of normal humans. For example, she recently spent a patient 20 minutes or so explaining the purposes and niceties of the "Tell ___________ I said hi" protocol, a request which I have always found not just pointless but bizarre and inexplicable--all the more so in an era in which a dozen different forms of instant communication across any distance are readily available.)

On one widely used test for the syndrome I score 40. The accompanying information says that "the average score in the control group was 16.4. Eighty percent of those diagnosed with autism or a related disorder scored 32 or higher." So you can see why I am sympatico with the Aspies, even if I'm not exactly one of them.

Well, it's about time I wrapped this up with some sort of brilliant, insightful conclusion, something that ties up all of the foregoing with a nice ribbon and bow, rewarding the reader for slogging through it rather than giving me a "TL;DR" or "TL;DGAFF." Unfortunately, I'm no more sure about what it all means than I was when I wrote the first paragraph. But it's what has been on my mind today.

Addendum, May 27, 2011

I just watched the videos of the match here. My memory was faulty. The spot in which they got it all in with very similar hands was a little earlier, not the final hand. In the final hand, Tony actually got it all in as a substantial underdog.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Should Harold Camping be put to death?

Harold Camping, as you probably all know by now, is the guy at who for years has been proclaiming that he had learned how to decode the Bible's timetable, and that it foretold May 21, 2011, as the Second Coming of Jesus.

That, um, kind of didn't happen.

I was thinking about this today, and I remembered this passage from Deuteronomy 18:17-20 (New International Version):
The LORD said to me: “...[A] prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death.” You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD?” If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously.
Camping clearly claimed to be speaking in the name of God. His web site today still shows all the May 21 crapola: "Judgment Day--THE BIBLE GUARANTEES IT."

Camping obviously believes in the literal truth of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments. He spoke a prophecy about the "Rapture" that did not come true, making him a false prophet by a definition that he would presumably have to accept as being one handed down by God. I don't see how he can escape the conclusion that he is a false prophet and should therefore be put to death.

But my guess is that when he goes back on his radio show tomorrow, he won't be offering himself up for righteous execution by the faithful--which will further show what a major-league fraud and charlatan he is.

Poker gems, #418

Dusty Schmidt and Paul Christopher Hoppe, on choosing between a pre-flop 3-bet and smooth call, in Don't Listen to Phil Hellmuth, p. 44.

The hands where this makes the largest difference are ace-queen, king-queen, pocket twos through tens, ace-jack suited and the like. When you 3-bet these hands, competent opponents will usually fold the hands that you’re dominating and continue only with the hands that dominate you. Furthermore, they’ll often 4-bet with their biggest hands, forcing you to fold before the flop. Instead of taking a flop against a strong hand and getting a chance to stack your opponent when you flop a set, you’re sticking 9 blinds into the pot and folding.

So before you drag the slider bar to size your 3-bet, think about what range you’re likely to get called by and whether you’d prefer to play a big pot against that range, or a smaller pot against a wider range.

Poker gems, #417

Lee Jones, during an online discussion of the monetary value of holding pocket aces, as quoted in Tommy Angelo, A Rubber Band Story, page 73.

How much is it worth to know that those aces are two little pieces of plastic, that you control them, and not vice versa?

Guess the casino, #865

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

Answer: Green Valley Ranch

Pus in boots

OK, it wasn't literally in boots, but that was as close to a clever post title as I could think of.

Last night I was leaving the Tropicana, undecided about whether to go home or head somewhere else to play, when AlaskaGal and her friend persuaded me to head to Bill's with them for some $0.50/1 NLHE fun. I ended up making $100, so it was a worthwhile diversion. But before the session was done, I had seen one of the strangest and grossest things at a poker table EVAR.

The player in question appears to be a Pacific Islander--Tongan or Samoan, maybe. I've not only played with him several times before, I've written about him once before. That was when we were at the Venetian and he disgusted me by eating two oranges at the table with visibly filthy hands, getting sticky orange juice all over everything, then licking his filthy fingers.

So I already knew the guy was a pig with zero standards of personal hygiene. But as it turns out, I really had no idea of the depths to which he could sink.

Last night he had the mid-portion of his arm wrapped in an Ace bandage. While he was playing in the tournament at the next table, before busting out and joining out cash game, I had noticed him unwrapping and rewrapping his arm. I figured he had a sprained elbow or something. No big deal. It's hard to get such bandages to be tight enough to be supportive without being uncomfortable, so I didn't think much of it.

Once he got to our table, however, I saw that there was much more to it. The Ace bandage was stained with bodily fluids. What was much, much worse, however, was that he unwrapped his arm and pulled off a gauze bandage that was underneath the elastic. Doing so revealed an ugly open wound. He had a boil or an abscess just above the elbow that was actively draining pus, and he reached in and squeezed some more out of it, then replaced the gauze.

Other players were reacting as you might expect: turning away, telling him how disgusting he was, making various noises to indicate their nausea and revulsion.

The dealer, bless his heart, told him, "Joe, you're going to have to go wash your hands before you get back into the game." He did--or at least he left for a while and came back carrying some paper towels. Whether he actually washed or not is anybody's guess.

Just when you think you've seen everything that can happen at a poker table, somebody comes up with new levels of astonishingly appalling behavior.

Idiocy on display

I was at the Tropicana last night. I passed this guy at a video slot machine. As the electronic simulated reels were spinning, he would rub the glass over them, rapidly moving his hand up and down over each "reel" just before it was to come to a stop, thus moving his way from left to right.

I saw such behavior once before, at the MGM, and jeered about it here. Readers then assured me that this is actually fairly common. I spend no time playing or watching others play slots, so I wouldn't know, but I have never noticed it except for these two instances. As I wrote about the woman at MGM, I feel sure that this guy does it because he believes that it enhances his chance of winning. The reality, of course, is that the outcome of each game is determined by a microprocessor a tiny fraction of a second after he presses the "spin" button. He might as well spend the subsequent seconds splashing chicken blood on the machine, for all the good it--or his rubbing--will do.

I don't know why I am still able to be amazed by the level of stupidity people are willing to put on public display, but I am.