Saturday, July 23, 2011

Poker gems, #432

Penn Jillette, in BigThink interview here (about the 44:00 mark).

I will occasionally, because my wife loves it, play poker.... I'm not a good player, and I don't enjoy it very much. Any game where the winner goes the longest seems to me a bad game. I've won games where the winner goes the shortest so you can get on to other stuff.

Guess the casino, #927

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

Answer: Rio

Friday, July 22, 2011

Skirmishes in the information war

This post is in the form of a letter to Tony (yes, the same Tony featured in the previous post's silly story), but because the problems I identify are common, I hope there is value to my readers in letting you all peek in on it.

Dear Tony:

Last night was the longest time I've spent in a cash game at a table with you, and it gave me my best chance yet to observe for myself something that many others have commented on in your blogs after playing with you for a while: You give away way too much information. It's not entirely clear to me if you understand the extent to which you are doing it, or the damage it does to your bankroll, so I'm going to try to lay out some concrete examples from last night and explain how they can hurt you. These are just a few of the things I saw; there were dozens more that I could chose from, if I wanted to try to make an exhaustive catalog.

My intention here is not to embarrass you or say that you're a bad player. You obviously do well enough to get by. But you could do so much better if you closed off some of your leaks, and many of your worst leaks relate to control of information.

It should also be noted that none of these are unique to you. In fact, they are things I see commonly in many players--which is exactly why I think it might be valuable to readers to list them here, because they may see the same problems in themselves. But I would expect somebody who aspires to be a professional at the game to have a better handle on these things than the average tourist. Moreover, an aspiring professional should want to improve where he can. Though I have to point out specific things I think you're doing wrong, in order to make my points, my goal is to be helpful, not just condemning.

These are in no particular order.


You freely told people at the table about the current size of your bankroll. I don't think there's anything particularly wrong with you writing about this on your blog, and once in a while you'll have somebody at the table who reads your blog and therefore has this information. But to give it out voluntarily is, I think, a terrible mistake.

The most obvious problem is that it invites potential crime. Somebody might think that you mean that you're carrying all that money with you. I know that you're not, but what I know doesn't matter. Just the idea that you're carrying a ton of cash could set you up for being assaulted and robbed. You worry about that possibility enough as it is. Why add to the potential?

The second problem is that nobody cares, unless they're (A) a friend, or (B) thinking of trying to steal your money. Talking about money is fraught with social problems. It makes people uncomfortable. In our society, we don't ask other people how much money they have or make, and we don't disclose that information to others unless there is some very specific reason. I'm pretty open about just about everything in this blog, but I have never and will never talk in concrete terms about how much I make at poker. It's nobody's business.

I know that you care what others think about you. Telling them how much money you have will pretty much have only negative consequences. Those who have a lot more money than you will look down on you for being nearly broke, as they see it. Those who have less might be jealous. Either way, you have sown negative feelings. Negative feelings about you from other players hurt you. You make more money from people who like you. (This is Mike Caro's most emphatic teaching.) Doing things that make people either resent or look down on you is self-destructive. Frankly, you sounded like you were bragging, and nobody likes a braggart.

Answer me this: What do you gain by sharing this information with strangers at the poker table? How does it benefit you in any concrete, identifiable way? I think the answer is that it doesn't, and the potential for several kinds of harm is real. The cost:benefit ratio here is infinite.


You frequently discussed how a hand was played immediately after it was over. In one instance, you caught a pair (jacks, I think) on the river to beat a guy who had been ahead prior to that. You pointed out to him how his raise on the flop was so small that it made sense for you to call to try to catch a card. Then you told him that since you missed, if he had bet again on the turn you would have folded.

I'm not sure I can describe how awful this kind of talk is, in terms of long-term poker strategy. You were telling an opponent explicitly how to play better against you the next time! Why on earth would you do this? You should want him to continue playing as weakly as he did. That's how you won the hand, and that's how you would win the next one, too--except that you clued him in to precisely what he did wrong, and how to do it better the next time.

Frankly, I wanted to stand up and yell at you: WHAT ARE YOU THINKING???? The answer is that you weren't thinking at all. You were just reacting, with no filter between your brain and your mouth. Maybe the two dumbest things a poker player can do are criticize another player for his bad play and educate him as to how to play better. You did both at once. What did you get for it in return? A little bit of ego gratification. Was it worth it?

By the way, when you engage in such idiotic behavior as that, you cost ME money, too. If the guy smartens up and starts playing better, he will do so against everybody, not just against you. Your words are taking money out of my pocket, and I resent it.

There are plenty of resources that this guy and others can turn to if they want to learn to play better poker. It is not your job to educate him. Lots of recreational players aren't interested in investing time and work into getting better. They're just there to relax and have a good time, maybe win a little money if they get lucky. Imposing on them a poker lesson that they didn't ask for will tend to cause resentment. Sometimes they even leave the table, in search of a game where everybody is having fun and nobody will criticize how they play or make them feel stupid. Then we all lose out.

Tony, this kind of talk is self-defeating. It is precisely this kind of talk that is condemned with the common expression, "Don't tap on the aquarium--it scares the fish." There is absolutely no justification for it. It is a bigger leak in your game than things about which you have repeatedly expressed concern, such as how to play flush draws.

"The poker table is not a classroom. And you don't want recreational players to conclude that you're playing seriously. If you do that, they're likely to become self-conscious about their decisions and stop playing so liberally--which will cost you money." Mike Caro, Caro's Most Profitable Hold'Em Advice, page 242.


You repeatedly told everybody at the table whether you were up or down from your original buy-in. Once you even said something like, "I have to get back another $62 and then I can leave."

First, again, nobody cares, in the sense of being sympathetic for you if you're down or rejoicing on your behalf if you're up.

Second, as others have told you countless times, you cannot play A-game poker if you're obsessed with always finishing up for the day. Chips are tools for gaining more chips, nothing more. In other words, you shouldn't even be thinking about being up or down for the day or for the session, let alone talking out loud about it.

Third, it opens you up to exploitation. Have you ever noticed the way that many players segregate their chip stacks into their original buy-in and their profit? As long as they're playing with their profit, they're fairly loose. After all, it's found money, free money. If they lose it, they're not really out anything, as they see it. But if the profit goes away, and they start cutting into the original buy-in stacks, they become much more serious. A player like that who is reaching into the original buy-in stacks to put in his raise is far, far less likely to be bluffing than if he is only having to play with his profit stacks.

You know that, right?

You don't keep your stacks segregated that way, but the effect is exactly the same. If sharp, observant players know the degree to which you are ahead or behind, and they know that it matters a great deal to you which side of zero you end up on (and the fact that you frequently call attention to your status makes it abundantly clear that it does matter a great deal to you), they will exploit that information. Now, I think that you're not as completely predictable as the chips-segregation guys, and sometimes you're more willing to bluff and gamble when down than when you're up. But that doesn't matter. All that matters is that it's information that smart players can use to gain extra insight into how you are thinking and playing, and thus play better against you.

I would ask again, How does it benefit you at all to tell the table how much you need to make to be back to even? In theory, you could do this to spread disinformation, knowing what people will think of you, then do the opposite of what they will anticipate. But I do not believe that you are doing this. I think you are just spewing the information because it occurs to you, because it's on your mind so constantly, and, again, you just don't stop to think about the consequences of opening your mouth.


You show your hole cards unnecessarily. You do this a lot. You did it more than any other player at the table last night.

This is a complex area. There is no one clearly best strategy for deciding when to reveal your hole cards if you aren't required to do so. Some world-class players never do it. Daniel Negreanu, asked about this once for a World Poker Tour special feature, said that he does it occasionally, but always with a specific plan and purpose for what he wants his opponents to think and know. That's smart. Antonio Esfandiari recently noted in his live WSOP commentary that he never shows cards that reinforce an opponent's good decision. E.g., if they fold, he won't show them a winner--but he might show them if he was bluffing. He wants to spread disinformation and put opponents on tilt for having made a mistake, not give them a psychological reward for making the correct decision. Again, that's a perfectly justifiable strategy. It's a thoughtful way to decide what to show.

In Caro's Most Profitable Hold'Em Advice, the author spends several pages discussing how to selectively show cards in order to reinforce the erroneous tendencies of specific players. For example, show your strongest hands to players who are already inclined to fold too often when you bet. It will have the effect of making them think, "Yep, that guy always has the goods, just as I suspected." As a result, they will tighten up even more against you. Conversely, show your bluffs to players who are inclined to call you too often, in order to get them to call even more often. Again, this is a perfectly valid, well-reasoned approach to the question.

But I don't think you are following any well-thought-out strategy. I think you show when you feel like it, and there's not much more to it than that. That is unacceptable. That is unprofessional. That will cost you money.

By far the simplest approach is just never, ever show any cards unless the rules require you to show them. I think that should be your default plan. It may not be fully optimal, but it's never very much of mistake, whereas showing willy-nilly, the way you are doing now, is an egregious leak. If you asked me for advice on this point (and I realize that you didn't), I would say shut off that gushing pipe completely. Lock it down. Get in the habit of never, ever showing unnecessarily. After several months of getting used to that practice, then you can consider trying to find very selective, strategic spots in which showing your cards can increase your profits. But for now, just stop it completely.

You might also consider that the message you are sending is not the one you intended. I caught a very keen insight from Olivier Busquet the other day when he was doing live WSOP commentary. One very tight player raised, got everyone to fold, then showed some high pocket pair. Busquet was asked what it says about a player when he shows cards like that. He responded (paraphrasing here), "It tells me that he's weak and afraid. He is trying to tell the table, 'When I raise you shouldn't play back at me.' Why doesn't he want people to play back at him? Because he's afraid of tangling with them." I think Busquet is on to something there. It was a revelation to me. I had not thought of it that way before, but it's worth considering that when you intend to convey strength, it accidentally comes across as weakness.


You freely discuss what you will do with certain hands in certain situations. For example, at one point last night you showed something like an A-8 that you had raised with, and said, "I'll raise with hands like that, but I won't call if somebody else has raised first."

That was another occasion on which I wanted to yell at you. What possible good is that doing? The smart, observant players will file away that information to use against you. The really bad players, who only consider hand strength and not situations, perhaps have never considered that there are hands with which one might sensibly raise, but fold if somebody else raises first. Why are you giving them an education? They didn't ask for it, and if they learn to play better, it makes it harder for you to win their money.

For about the umpteenth time I'll ask, what could you possibly hope to gain by sharing with others exactly how you play certain hands?


I'm sure you'll remember the hand in which you had Q-Q and the other guy had 2-4, and hit a gutshot on the river to make a straight and win the large pot. I'll dispense with pointing out that 2-4 is the most powerful hand in poker and always wins. My point here is that you went on and on about this. You repeatedly said, "Goddammit," and other such things. Even half an hour later, long after that player had left the table, you were rehashing it, talking about how much money he had put into the pot when he was drawing nearly dead.

This is another example in the category of things you shouldn't even be thinking, let alone saying.

When I hear somebody droning on about a hand that was over half an hour ago, I know that he is not focusing on the present. I know that he is more likely to call than his baseline. (Never try to bluff a player who is obviously on tilt.) I know that he is going to be playing more hands than usual in an attempt to get back what he perceives as having unfairly lost, and will be more likely to bluff or overplay weak or mediocre hands. When you expose your feelings to the table like this, you unintentionally inform the better players what to expect from you and how to play more accurately against you. This will cost you money.

The best thing would be to get to where you don't care about the outcome, as long as you made the right decision. If you can't manage that, at least make it look to others as if that's where you are. Never let 'em see you sweat.


You played a hand with, I think, A-Q, then immediately afterward asked me if I thought you played it right.

I will never discuss poker strategy or tactics at the table with you--or with anybody else, for that matter. (OK, "never" is too strong there. But it's almost never. And when there is a rare exception, it is sotto voce, when seated next to somebody I know and trust, not out loud for all to hear.) It's just plain bad for the game.

It is a bad mistake to clue in the recreational players that there are layers of depth to the game that they are not seeing. It is unwise to let them know who among their opponents are the most thoughtful and experienced and analytic. The fact that they can't figure that out from just watching hands is part of what makes them bad players. (You know the old saw about not being able to spot the fish at the table in the first 20 minutes.) It is self-defeating to let them listen in on discussions about how a hand could or should have been played.

I also don't want to be spotlighted at the table as a player whose advice you seek and value. That hangs a big sign around my neck telling the inattentive players that maybe they should watch out for me more than they had previously been inclined to do. That, in turn, may make them less willing to play hands against me, and therefore cost me money. It's bad form all around, and reduces both of our expected profits for the night.

Mike Caro again, page 261: "It's a very bad idea to discuss serious strategy with weak opponents--at the table or away from it. Doing so makes them self-conscious, and helps them recognize that there are levels of poker they don't understand. They are apt to play more cautiously as a result, and, worse, they may even learn to play well!"


While sitting in Seat 1, at least one time you showed your cards to the dealer before mucking. The player in Seat 10 was still in the hand and saw them, though he didn't say anything about it. I know you didn't mean to show them to that other player, but you did. You might have influenced how the hand played out, because now that guy had information about what cards were out, information that was not available to his opponent(s).

It is generally really difficult to control exactly who can and cannot see your cards when trying to expose them selectively. It's just a bad idea.

Yet again, I have to ask: What possible gain is there from showing your cards to the dealer? He doesn't care what you had. If he is good at his job, he is not going to react and reward you with sympathy (which I assume is what you are seeking). He is going to act like he saw nothing. The best dealers, in fact, will turn their eyes away and refuse to look when a player is trying to share his cards that way, and explain that he doesn't want to take the chance of influencing the action by giving away anything with a reaction to what he is seeing.

This kind of action not only gives away to another player what you were willing to fold to his bet, but directly and adversely affects the integrity of the game. This was a serious breach of protocol. To be blunt, there is no excuse for it. There is nothing to be gained, and much to be lost.

Some general thoughts:

I like what John Vorhaus wrote in one of his columns: "They say that information is power; in poker, it's cash, just cash." Information is money. You should not give it away when you don't have to.

Even better is Tommy Angelo's extended discussion of poker as an "information war" (Elements of Poker, pages 86-92:
I play poker on a need to know basis. I need to know the thoughts my opponents are thinking. I need to know the feelings they are feeling. And I need to know the cards they are playing. Meanwhile, I need them to know as little as possible about me. I call this relationship the information war.

The information war is fought on two fronts--sending and receiving. To win it, send less information than they send, while receiving more information than they receive. By controlling those differences, you control information flow....

The information war at poker has an arms race, and if one were to take it to its natural extreme--which I have--one would play a style of poker I call "mum poker"--which I do.

On the outside, mum poker is the classic poker face, extended to the entire body, and maintained through sixth street. [Angelo coined the term "sixth street" to refer to everything that happens after one hand ends and before the next begins, most especially the players' discussion about what just happened.] On the inside, mum poker is no complaining, no blaming, no regretting. Mum poker is stillness. Mum poker is readiness....

Or you could just think of it as sit up and shut up.

Today, when I am playing primarily for profit, I play mum poker.... I do not speak unless spoken to, and even then, I do not react to questions or comments about poker.

I have found that the less information I send, the more I focus on the game. And when I am focused on the game, I send less information. When I employ mum poker, I fight on both fronts of the information war simultaneously....

Mum poker is not about not talking. It's about not talking about certain things, namely, poker things. Mum poker means not talking about poker plays, poker thoughts, and poker feelings, especially the recent ones. And it means not talking about poker players, especially the present ones.

Mum poker means not saying certain words and phrases when you play. Words like ace, king, queen, spade, heart, pair, straight, gutshot, river, etc. Mum poker also means not being a dickhead. If someone asks you if you like your food, answer. If someone asks you if you like your cards, don't answer. That's mum poker....

There's a big difference between ignoring the people and events in a poker game and not reacting to them. Ignoring is when you react on the inside, but not on the outside. Not reacting is when nothing happens, inside or out. Not reacting looks the same as ignoring, but it feels better....

Everything everyone does is a tell. What they wear is a tell. How they sit is a tell. What they say is a tell. What they don't say is a tell.... It's all a seamless trail of tells. And what do all these tells tell you? It depends. Tells might tell you about your opponent's thoughts. Tells might tell you about your opponent's feelings. Tells might tell you about your opponent's intentions. Tells might tell you what your opponent's hole cards are. It all depends on what you are doing. Are you listening? Or are you telling?

To the extent that there is identifiable motivation for why you do these things, I think it is chiefly that you very much want others at the table to respect you, to think that you're a good player. To that end, you try to show them that you understand the game more deeply than they do. But sooner or later you have to ask yourself what is really more important to you--controlling what nine strangers think of how you play poker, or maximizing your profit? Those two goals are mutually exclusive. You cannot give away information without giving away money. As it stands, you are giving away information on a nearly constant basis. That means that you are giving away money. I don't think you can afford it.

I have a serious suggestion for you, and for any of my readers who recognize similar problems in their own information wars. When you first read this, you'll think I'm just exaggerating to make a point, but I'm not. I'm deadly serious and completely literal in this suggestion: If you really want to plug these information leaks, you have to make your brain equate information and money in a very explicit and automatic way. I suggest that every time you catch yourself leaking information--showing a card that you didn't have to show, talking about strategy, criticizing how an opponent played, cursing about a bad beat, rehashing a hand that is long over, discussing your bankroll, telling people whether you're up or down for the day--punish yourself by giving the dealer a $5 chip as a tip. Giving away information is giving away money, and you've got to learn that association down to the deepest fibers of your being. The way to ingrain that lesson, I submit, is to make it hurt, and make the information=money connection explicit to yourself along with the pain.

I don't know whether any one piece of information that you give away is worth more or less than $5, and it really doesn't matter. What matters is that you come to grips with the fact that when you leak information, you are giving away your chips. It is literally true, whether you acknowledge it or not, so make it literally true and concrete for yourself. I predict that if you do that, it will not take long before you learn to keep your information to yourself--and all those red chips, too.

If your reaction is that you can't help yourself, that these things just happen, I will have to disagree. Suppose I offered to pay you $100,000 if you played poker for one hour without a single unnecessary information leak. Could you pull it off? Of course you could. These leaks are things you choose to do--every single one of them, every single time--and you could choose not to do them if you wanted to, if you had sufficient motivation. The question that remains is whether you will decide that making more money is sufficient motivation.

I hope you find these observations and suggestions helpful. I wish you success, my friend.

I have just one question, sir

I wrote quite a bit about Tony "TBC" a couple of months ago here, after watching him play a heads-up Omaha match at the Tropicana poker room. (Since then he has moved his blog to here.) Last night he and I shared a table at Hooters for a few hours.

One of the players sitting between us had his girlfriend watching him play. She got progressively drunk on shots of Patron.

The boyfriend half of the couple was apparently getting bored, and they were chatting about where else they could go. He asked if the Tropicana (right next door to Hooters) had a poker room. I said yes. Another player, between me and him, said no; he hadn't been aware of the recent reopening.

Tony decided to interject his story to emphasize that there is, in fact, a Tropicana poker room. Now, if you've never met Tony, this is kind of hard to describe, but when he is bursting with eagerness to share something, it pours out of him loudly and rapid-fire, in what psychology professionals might call a "pressured speech" pattern. I would runallthewordstogetherlikethis to convey graphically how it sounded, but then you wouldn't be able to read it. So you'll just have to imagine the following one-breath story gushing out like water from a fire hose, at both high speed and high volume:

"I played a thousand dollar buy-in heads-up no-limit Omaha eight or better tournament against a guy at the Tropicana poker room and they didn't even charge us any rake because the poker room manager is friends with the guy who set it up and the whole thing is on YouTube."

There was silence for a few seconds, as nobody seemed to know exactly how they should react to this tale.

Then drunk girl broke the silence with an earnest question:

"Were you naked?"

I have no idea what prompted her to ask this. It was so completely out of left field that I nearly fell out of my chair laughing.

Having been there, I am pleased to report that no, the contest did not take place in the nude. However, upon reflection, that would add a certain element of humiliation and hilarity to any future rematch, and I think the participants should consider it.

But I don't want to be running the hole-card cam if they do.


I sat down for what turned out to be a long interview with Glenn at Missing Flops:

Guess the casino, #926

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

Answer: Orleans

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Professional or recreational gambler for tax purposes?

Interesting and informative post from "Taxdood" on a recent case from the U.S. Tax Court:

Guess the casino, #925

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

Answer: Imperial Palace

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Guess the casino, #924

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

Answer: Caesars Palace

Whispering against the rules?

A small controversy erupted yesterday during the World Series of Poker. Long-time boyfriend and girlfriend David Sands and Erika Moutinho, against all odds, ended up next to each other at the feature table very deep in the Main Event. I wasn't watching the live webcast on ESPN3 when the incident in question occurred, so let me quote a couple of poker media sources.

This is from Poker Listings:

Before the dinner break, there was a small controversy at the featured table because last-woman-standing Erika Moutinho and her boyfriend David "Doc" Sands were whispering between hands.

Yes, the last-couple-standing is still alive with 30 players remaining.

During the dinner break, WSOP Tournament Director Jack Effel tweeted that he had discussed the issue with Moutinho and Sands, because there were complaints about the whispering.

@WSOPTD: Had a conversation with them, and they are both on notice.

No matter what happens, it's an awkward situation for Moutinho and Sands.

If they stay out of each other's way, they're open to accusations of soft playing. If they play against each other, they're open to accusations of chip dumping. It's a bit of a no-win situation.

And here's Casino City Times:
The two began play on separate tables, with Sands on the featured TV table and Moutinho on an outer table. But when Bach was eliminated from the Main Event, Moutinho was moved to the TV table and seated right next to her boyfriend.

When Moutinho took her seat at the table, Sands greeted her with a kiss on the cheek. Moutinho had 2.6 million when she sat down at the featured table. Sands had 2 million. When Sands and Moutinho weren't in hands, the two looked like they were lost in their own universe, talking quietly to each other.

But when it appeared Moutinho had whispered what she had just folded to Sands (Sands was not in the hand), tournament officials stepped in and warned the two players to be very careful about what they communicated and how.

Tournament officials told Casino City afterward that due to the unique and high-profile nature of the situation, they had to make extra sure there was not even the appearance of wrongdoing at the table.

So those are the basic facts.

The central question here is whether they violated any rule. It is certainly the case that if you show your hole cards to another player, everybody else at the table has the right to see them, too. But what if you show nothing, and after the hand is over you tell the player next to you what you had, softly enough that others can't hear it?

Twitter isn't a great medium for extended debates about poker rules, but it does have the advantage of being immediate and fast. Though I wasn't watching the action, I quickly learned of the incident from Twitter, and got myself involved in discussing it when I saw Matt Savage--perhaps the most prominent poker tournament director of our time--opine that the whispering was a violation of the rules. Several others called him on this point, too, including B.J. Nemeth and Christian Harder. (Note: Savage has a non-standard Twitter habit of replying to interlocutors by retweeting what he is responding to, with his own comment appended at the end. I am lightly editing these Tweets for readability.)

@SavagePoker Jack Effel has already spoken to @Doc_Sands and @EMoutinho about the whispering incident which was the right thing to do.

@SavagePoker RT @SammyTheDentist: did you see Moutinho/Sands hand? <--They were told to stop as it is not fair to everyone at the table.

@SavagePoker RT @jdgrover: Is it any different than 2 players telling ea other what they had after a hand? <--Yes, if they told everyone it's ok!

@BJNemeth @SavagePoker What rule, specifically, are Erika & David breaking? Players whisper to each other between hands all the time.

@BJNemeth @SavagePoker "Show one, show all" is considerably different than "Tell one after the hand, tell all."

@PokerGrump @SavagePoker Are you saying that there is a rule against one player privately telling another what he had, after the hand is over?

@PokerGrump @SavagePoker If that is your position, can you cite the rule? Does it apply during the dinner break? How about after the day is over?

@SavagePoker Show one, show all applies here and of course you cannot control what happens away from table, on breaks, or at end of day.

@SavagePoker RT @2p2Pokercast: Would you have given them each a penalty or just a warning as well? <--Reminder of show one show all rule.

@PokerGrump @SavagePoker If you're saying that one player cannot whisper down cards to another player at table after hand, that can only be...

@PokerGrump @SavagePoker ...enforced by a complete ban on whispering at the table. Are you saying that's the rule? If so, show me anywhere it's written.

@SavagePoker @PokerGrump believe it or not, not every rule is written but there is one for etiquette and show one show all.

@PokerGrump @SavagePoker I agree that there are rules, and there is etiquette. One is enforceable, the other is not.

@PokerGrump @SavagePoker Are you saying that "Don't whisper your last hand to your neighbor" is etiquette rather than a rule? If so, I'll agree.

@PokerGrump @SavagePoker But that was not the implication of your invoking "show one, show all," which is clearly a rule.

@SavagePoker @PokerGrump: Are you saying that "Don't whisper your last hand to your neighbor" is etiquette rather than a rule? <--In this case maybe

@SavagePoker @PokerGrump the way it went down did not look very good. They asked what each other had and then whispered.

@realcharder30 @SavagePoker I thought that they shouldnt of done it and just waited until break or more discreetly but they did not violate any rules.

@realcharder30 If you believe there is a problem with Erika and David communicating then separate them, do not tell them they can't whisper to each other.

If it had been just about anybody else besides Matt Savage saying that the conduct in question was a rules violation, I probably wouldn't have challenged that opinion, even though I would have thought it was erroneous. But Savage is so influential and considered such an authority on rules that I didn't like the idea of what I think was an ill-considered, off-the-cuff opinion being promulgated and accepted by his many followers as gospel truth.

As you can see, Savage's position shifted markedly. He started by saying that the post-hand whispering was a violation of the "show one, show all" rule, but by the end was reduced to arguing that it was a breach of "etiquette," and that it "did not look very good." Both of those things may be so, but they are very different from saying that the conduct was a violation of poker rules that could be enforced and penalized.

I am left wondering what Jack Effel meant by saying that the couple was "on notice." Did he warn them that they were violating a rule? If so, what rule?

There is a bit of ambiguity in the relevant rule as published by the WSOP this year. It reads:
97. Players are obligated to protect the other players in the tournament at all times. Therefore, whether in a hand or not, players may not a.) Disclose contents of live or folded hands....
Taken literally, this says that I can never, under any circumstances, disclose what I had in any hand I played in a WSOP event, even after the event is long over. That's an absurd interpretation, obviously, and can't possibly be what those who drafted the rule intended. But because the rule doesn't have any time limitation written in (e.g., a clause that specifies "while the hand is in progress"), perhaps this is the rule that Effel was intending to cite and enforce when he said that Sands and Moutinho were "on notice." But if Effel's reading of the rule is that it pertains even after the dealer has all the cards back, then how does he read into it any endpoint? And if it has no endpoint, how does the WSOP intend to enforce it against players talking about hands over dinner between levels, or overnight between days? The only logical temporal endpoint to the rule's intention is the end of the hand, which is when the pot has been awarded and all hands killed.

I have played cash games sitting next to Cardgrrl several times. I don't recall ever having whispered to her what I had after a hand was over, but it might have happened, because I wouldn't have considered it unethical or against the rules. Many times one of us has, after a hand was over (or even during a hand, if the other is not involved) disclosed to the other what we had when playing at the same table online. I have never thought we were doing anything wrong with such chat.

It's true that it is information that other players don't get. But it is degraded information, because telling somebody after the fact may not be the truth. Hearing a report is not the same as seeing the cards. That's a mostly theoretical rather than real point here, because I would never lie to Cardgrrl about what I had; if I didn't want her to know, I just wouldn't tell her. (I think the same is true for her with respect to me, though I'm not entirely sure of that, as I know that she considers the spreading of disinformation to be an important game tactic, and at the poker table I am just another opponent to be defeated by any means necessary.) As it pertains to Sands and Moutinho, I similarly assume that one would not whisper false information to the other about the contents of a hand that just ended.

I have probably had at least a few such episodes in the past when seated in a live game next to a friend, though I can't remember any specific instances--again, they wouldn't stand out in my mind, because I wouldn't have thought there was anything remarkable or wrong with privately sharing what cards I had just had, if I had some social reason to do so.

I have many times seen couples playing adjacent to each other and at least occasionally whispering to each other as soon as a hand ends, most likely sharing what the hole cards were. I have never protested this, because I can't see that it's against any rule. However, when two friends habitually show each other their cards before mucking them, I definitely will do something about it. Asking the dealer to expose them for the table two or three times in a row unequivocally sends the message to the offenders that you've noticed and won't let that pattern continue.

What would I do if I were at a setting of more import than my standard game--like, f'r instance, approaching the final table of the WSOP Main Event--and saw a couple sharing that way? Well, in theory, the rules aren't any different, but the stakes are so vastly greater than I might do something. If it happened only rarely, I might not speak up. But if I saw them whispering to each other after every hand in which one of them was involved, I probably would say something to them. I'm not sure what. Maybe something like this: "I don't know of any rule that prevents you two from whispering between hands about anything you want to talk about. But when you do, the rest of us are immediately going to conclude that you're sharing information that isn't available to the other players, so it might be better if you didn't whisper to each other the way you have been. At the break, you can talk in private all you like."

The mind reels at trying to write a general rule that would prevent such communication. As I suggested in my discussion with Savage, you can't have a rule that only says you can't whisper to another player what cards you had. The nature of whispering is such that nobody else can know what was said, so such a rule would be unenforceable. You would have to expand the rule to say "no whispering at the table." But that still won't accomplish the goal. Many poker rooms are noisy enough that you practically have to shout to be heard. It's easy in such circumstances for one player to tell another about a hand without whispering, yet not be heard by anybody else at the table. For that reason, you would have to expand the rule to say, essentially, "Any conversation between two players must be loud enough to be heard by everybody at the table." And that kind of expansion would be completely impractical. A "no whispering" rule also doesn't preclude passing notes, using Twitter or text messaging, etc.

For the situation that occurred yesterday, it seems that the simple expedient of asking them to refrain--for the sake of appearance, if not fairness--was all it took. (I remain unclear on whether there was an actual threat of penalty for further occurrences.) That is as it should be. I don't know what the tournament staff should do if that proved to be insufficient. Harder's suggestion of redrawing the seats (at least I think that's what he was implying) is interesting; certainly tournament directors have the right to redraw for new seats as needed. Of course, even that wouldn't stop them from texting each other, as use of communication devices at the table is apparently still allowed (based on having seen Ben Lamb thumbing his keyboard between hands on the live feed).

If there is any general way to prevent this from occurring, I can't imagine what it would be. Fortunately, it happens rarely enough--at least in circumstances where it really matters--that we don't have to figure it all out right now.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Guess the casino, #923

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

Answer: Venetian

A different Main Event experience

Please go read the two-part blog post from my friend Dominic about his first WSOP Main Event. The combination of his skill as a tournament player and good first table draw enabled him to acquire and then maintain a big chip stack through the first three days--quite a contrast to my experience being handcuffed and surrounded by talent. It all came crashing down for him--as it eventually does for all but one player--but not until he had made it into the money on day 4. He writes poignantly about how it all felt.


More stats on women at the WSOP

A few days ago I presented a rudimentary statistical analysis showing, I believe, that women in the WSOP Main Event performed less well on average than the men did, in terms of surviving to the money. I wanted to do another test of how the women cashing did compared to the men cashing, in terms of final standings, but I couldn't do it until now. With the last female in the field eliminated a few hours ago, I can now proceed.

First, though, I have to admit a small problem. I was told that 13 women cashed. This apparently came from Nolan Dalla doing a hand count of the field when the bubble was reached. I have been able to find no list of the names of these women. From news reports of those who went deepest, plus a little detective work, I have been able to identify 12 women in the list of the payouts. But if there were 13, I sure can't figure out who the 13th one is. I've checked a whole bunch of gender-ambiguous names on the list, using several sources (such as Google image search), and can't find whoever the last one is--if Dalla is right about the number.

The 12 I confidently identified (name, finishing spot):

Moutinho, 29
Musumeci, 62
Crawford, 85
Callaway, 203
Koerner, 299
Luu, 310
Naugoks, 391
Renaud, 398
Rousso, 511
Andrews, 521
Kerstetter, 590
Gazes, 609

Fortunately, I can do the math with just 12, though in order to do so, I'm going to have to pretend that there were only 12 women cashing, along with 680 men, for a total of 692--even though there were really 693 in the money. Because I don't know where the missing data point is, it won't systematically skew the results; it will just make them a little less robust. (However, because the number of women became smaller as the event wore on, and those remaining got more media attention, I'm positive that the missing woman--if there indeed is one--did not finish above the 142nd spot, when it was widely reported that only three women were left, and she is much more likely to be among the earlier exits than the later ones.)

I'm going to run what's called the Mann-Whitney U-test, which you can read a little about here. Basically, you put all your data points in order, then perform a statistical test on their rankings to determine if those with characteristic A are, on average, more toward the high end of the list, more toward the low end of the list, or similar in distribution when compared to those with characteristic B.

You enter lists of the rankings into an online calculator such as this one, and it spits some numbers back at you. In this case, I did it two ways. The first time I entered the raw place-finishing numbers in as two datasets and let the software do everything else. The second time I calculated the value of C myself (it's the sum of the number of men each of the 12 women bested, in this case 4230), then directly entered the values for n1, n2, and U. Both methods gave the same results, giving me confidence that I did it all correctly.

The bottom line is this: The p-value of the resulting statistical test is 0.83, which means, roughly, that if we ran the tournament a whole bunch of times from where things stood when the money bubble burst, we would see at least this level of difference between the sexes' average subsequent performance by chance alone 83% of the time.

In other words, the women's performance, once in the money, was not statistically distinguishable from that of the men. Put yet another way, the distribution of the women's final standings is very much what one would expect if one just randomly picked 12 out of the last 692 finishers. Their results do not tend to cluster meaningfully toward either the high or the low end of the list.

So once this group of women hit the money, their results were completely comparable to the men. Of course, this is a very small sample, so the test does not have a lot of resolving power. But to tell you the truth, I was expecting, based on the previous results, that the women in the money would be sufficiently clustered low in the standings that their mean performance would be demonstrably lower than the men's collective average. It was not so.

You can get a sense of this graphically, too. Below is a plot of the women as pink dots against the blue line of the men in the money. (I swear I did not pick those colors; they are what the Excel chart wizard chose by default!) It is, strangely, oriented with the best lower on the left, though that doesn't really matter. (It's late and I'm too tired to figure out how to make this just a horizontal line the way I originally envisioned it.) Click on it for the bigger version.

Even without running any numbers, you can basically eyeball it and see that the women are not noticeably clustered toward the top or bottom of the line.

The only odd thing is how they tend to show up in pairs, one going out soon after another of her kind. It's probably rooted in the same biological phenomenon that causes women always go to the restroom together, but that's one of those mysteries to which we men are doomed to stay eternally ignorant.

Conclusion: As far as can be determined with the very small sample, once female players reached the money, they performed, on average, as well as the men did in terms of finishes--in striking contrast to the most likely conclusion about women's performance from the start of the tourney to the money bubble.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Trivial pursuits

I've mentioned a few times here that in recent weeks I've been participating semi-regularly in a weekly team pub trivia contest run by Vegas Pub Quiz. The team, "Quiz On Quiz Off," is a loose and ever-changing group anchored by Katie Baxter and Bob Lauria. The team has been privileged to have as guest players such luminaries as Shamus, Julius Goat, and Matt Matros.

There was a series of ten weekly contests constituting league play, and our team came in first from those playing at McFadden's. Saturday night was the season finals, gathering together the top finishing teams from all of the pubs in which VPQ runs the contests--16 teams in all.

Unfortunately, we were seriously handicapped by the fact that Katie recently decided to move back to the Washington, D.C., area. If there was one team member who most reliably was alone in knowing some obscure bit of information, it was her. But it was a freeroll, so we gathered at Quinn's Irish Pub at Green Valley Ranch, and did what we could.

We aced the first round, 100%, but then stumbled badly on the next two rounds. Things were so tight that it seemed impossible for us to have any room in which to make a comeback. After the completion of the first five (I think) rounds, when they announced standings, I counted eight teams listed ahead of us, and two more tied with us. Only the top three won the cash prizes. It was looking grim.

But then we pulled off a stunning rally in the final round, where questions are harder and point values are doubled. On no less than five questions, none of us knew the answer, but we put together weird combinations of uncertain fragments of wispy memory, reasoning, and good guesswork--and nailed every one of them. These included such oddities as the kind of bird the character "Flit" was in the Disney Pocahontas movie, the popular store chain known for having a "You break it, you bought it" policy, a rock band named by combining parts of two of its members' names, and the number of freedoms FDR listed in a speech.

Amazingly, we did so well in that last round that when they announced the final standings, we had advanced into a three-way tie for second! First prize was $500, second was $250, third $150. Fourth place team would receive nice commemorative keychains. (Insert "loser" tuba sound from "The Price is Right" here.)

The tiebreaker question: How many bottles of wine does the average American buy per year? We guessed 9. They gave the answer as 15. (Poking around the web now, I think the real answer is probably closer to 13, but whatever.) Apparently one team nailed it and was awarded second prize. Our team and one other were left to fight for the min-cash.

Strangely, and without forewarning, they announced that this would be settled by Rock, Paper, Scissors, rather than by another trivia question. Which seems to me kind of like resolving a tied tennis match by playing a hand of gin rummy, but they didn't ask my opinion.

Stalwart team member Chris Minton was forcibly pushed volunteered to go up on stage. Just before he went, I had one bit of advice for him.

I pause in the story here to tell you that I am by no means a Roshambo expert. I do know enough, however, to understand that it is, or at least can be, far from just a quasi-random means of settling disputes, which is the only way most people know of it. I first became aware that there were serious students and players of the game maybe six or seven years ago when people like Annie Duke, Phil Gordon, and Rafe Furst put together Roshambo contests for charity in conjunction with the World Series of Poker. (Why did they stop that? It was fun to watch!) After hearing about those hijinks, I followed a few web links, and discovered that there is a whole subculture of people who take the game very, very seriously.

My most eye-opening moment came when I read Furst's chapter on Roshambo in The Full Tilt Poker Strategy Guide. Perhaps your first reaction, like mine, was, "Why is there a chapter on rock, paper, scissors in a poker book?" Well, Furst explains some of the basics of the leveling and mind games that go into serious Roshambo, and shows how the same principles are relevant to poker.

People may try to be random in their selection between rock, paper, and scissors for any particular throw, but, in fact, we humans are terrible randomizers. Most people end up with fairly easily observed patterns. The experienced and attentive player can predict what his opponent will do (and sometimes even influence what he will do) with sufficient accuracy that a rookie has nearly no chance to beat a good player over a string of, say, 100 throws. People are predictable enough that a computer can beat most players over the Internet, even though it can't observe tells telegraphing what the opponent is going to throw, the way expert live players can often do. (I wrote about failing to beat the computer here. You can see all of my posts that discuss Roshambo here.)

So, as I said, I'm not an expert, but I've read enough from the those who are to have picked up a few basic pointers. Among them is what I think must be the single most easily exploited fact when facing an unknown opponent who one presumes is not a serious student of the game. It was that bit of well-documented observation that I whispered to Chris just before he left to do battle for our team:

"If they send a male, go paper. Most men will throw rock the first time." *

He looked surprised, but accepting.

Chris and the other guy get up in front of the crowd. The announcer counts down the fist pumps with them: "One, two, three, SHOOT!"

Other guy: Rock.

Chris: Paper.

And just like that, team Quiz On Quiz Off slides into the min-cash and chops $150 among our five team members.

After all of the strange things we had to know or guess at in order to win the league from McFadden's and then squeak into a tie for second place, it was that one bit of knowledge about game theory that ended up the difference between getting cold, hard cash and getting keychains--a fact that I knew only because of having read about Roshambo due to its interesting psychological parallels with poker.

I have to admit, I still can't stop grinning when I think about how it ended. Sure, first or second prize would have been nicer, but it was pretty sweet to snatch third place from the jaws of defeat, not by virtue of us knowing an extra piece of trivia knowledge, but by virtue of being better game players.

They'll still be running the weekly trivia contests at McFadden's and elsewhere, but I'm no longer going to make it a priority, as I had been doing recently. The prizes are reasonably generous, but they are all in bar tabs. Since my standard is to get one $3 lemonade to sip while we play, there's really not much incentive to spend a couple of hours a week at it. It's been fun, but I think I've had enough for now. I might revisit when friends are in town (I have reason to believe that Cardgrrl would crush the competition, which would be fun to watch) or some such other special occasion, but not every week. I'd rather spend the time making money at poker.

Or rock, paper, scissors.

* Of course, this doesn't apply to people who are aware of it (which, fortunately, is a slim minority of the populace). In fact, Furst's chapter describes some of the Jedi mind tricks he plays on opponents. For example:
My power move against new opponents is to say, "I'm going to throw rock," and nothing else. I am doing this to induce in you a belief that I'm not going to throw rock, at which point I will throw rock. Or if I think you are the type to believe that I will do as I say, then I'll do so with the intention of throwing scissors (or paper, depending on whether I think you will be aggressive or not).

Bonus footage: Lisa and Bart Simpson play Roshambo:

Guess the casino, #922

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

Answer: Stratosphere

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Guess the casino, #921

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

Answer: Monte Carlo