Saturday, October 22, 2011

"Witty and provocative"?

My friend Shamus recently did a post for Epic Poker about the history of strip poker. It's one of his series on the role of poker in American culture, a subject about which he teaches a college course and is uniquely qualified.

The post refers to several movies I had never heard of before. Of them, the one I'd most like to see is the 1971 Milos Forman film, "Taking Off," but it is not available through Netflix. I settled instead on trying the 1940 production, "Mad Youth," which Shamus described as "witty and provocative."

I rarely disagree with Shamus as vehemently as I'm forced to here. The two adjectives I'd pick would be more like "execrable and soporific."

The whole thing is badly written and badly acted. The plot involves a lonely-hearts single mother who dates men through a male escort service, and her young-adult daughter, who likes to throw racy parties at home while mom's away. Strip poker is a part of these, though it occupies less than two minutes of the 63-minute feature. Not surprisingly, given its filming during the years of the Motion Picture Production Code, nothing is shown beyond the world's most unflattering and unrevealing underwear.

I guess we're supposed to be taught a lesson about how badly things turn out for youth as shockingly wayward as these, because the two principal female characters bizarrely end up forced into the sex slave trade in a locked-down brothel. Well, of course! Surely everyone knows that no other end is possible for people so shameless as to engage in showing their knickers to friends around a poker table!

Along the way, we have long detours for oddities like a guy pretending to be bullfighting his two dogs, and a falling-in-love story told through the turning pages of a diary. Really, the whole thing is just dreadfully bad. I'd even go so far as to call it unwatchable.

But if you want to decide for yourself whether it is better described as "witty and provocative" or "execrable and soporific," you don't even need to order the DVD from Netflix, as I did. You can just pop over to YouTube, here.

Don't say I didn't warn you, though.

The very picture of passivity

It's not hard to get a general feel for how a table plays. But once in a while, I'm finding that the numbers in Poker Tracker's heads-up display emphasizes some feature of the players more concretely and definitively than my unaided subjective sense conveys.

Above is a great example. I was aware that this table was playing more passively than most. But then I stopped and looked around the table at the numbers, and was floored by just how insanely passive it revealed the action to be.

Look at it. We've got "sallil" playing 46% of his hands, but raising only 4%. We've got "g ma" playing 45% of his hands, but raising only 3%. We've got "WhoUgunaCall" playing 25% of his hands, raising zero. We've got "player1901" playing 42% of his hands, raising zero. Finally, and most extremely, we've got "J5892" playing 54% of his hands, raising zero. Their aggression factors reveal that only one of them bet or raised post-flop more than he checked or called, and only two of them did so more than a third of the time.

(Me? Completely card dead. On the rare occasions that I got a decent starting hand and raised, I got a bunch of callers and then totally whiffed the flop, and was unwilling to bluff into a field full of calling stations.)

It's impossible to play this way profitably in the long run. I wonder how long it will take this bunch to figure that out. We can hope that they never do.

Kings take out aces, and more aces

This was a three-way all-in pre-flop. Kings taking out aces is not too rare. Kings taking out two pairs of pocket aces simultaneously, well, that's something you don't see every day.

What's in a screen name? #39

The hardest part of online poker tournaments for him is making it to the five-minute break every hour.

Guess the casino, #1018

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

Answer: Texas Station

Friday, October 21, 2011

Guess the casino, #1017

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

Answer: Sam's Town

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Televised bad beats

These are all worth rewatching:

Calling all-in first hand with AK

In my recent post about my online SNG results, I included my self-assessments of the games in which I went out unusually early. One of them was having called an open-shove with AK on the very first hand of a tournament. I assessed the loss this way: "Guy went all in 1st hand with Q-9, I called with AK. He caught a 9. Definitely right move."

Commenter "Terry in Victoria" questioned this: "I just disagree on one thing where you called an all in on the first hand with AK. At best its a race for all your chips. Your a much better player than that and why risk them all when you can get your money in a much better times with less risk and more reward."

I'll admit that I had made my assessment on just a general sense that it was the right move, but this comment made me wonder. I decided to explore the question, since this is the kind of thing that math and modern poker software tools allow us to settle with a fair degree of confidence. It's a worthwhile question, because these low-stakes games have a small but steady number of players who shove all-in on the first hand no matter what they have and no matter what the action before them has been. I see it in maybe 15% of the games I play, so it's worth knowing how to respond to it.

First I went to an independent chip model calculator, here. If I lose, my equity obviously drops from 10% of the prize pool to zero. If I win, I go from 1500 chips to 3030 (doubling up plus the 10/20 blinds), which increases my prize-pool equity to 18.6%.

Let's assume that I call every time, and then set x to be the fraction of the time that I have to win in order to make the call profitable over a large number of trials. To simplify the math, I'll assume the prize pool to be $100. Then 18.6x (the amount I win) has to equal 10 (my original equity) to be a break-even call. X then must be 53.8%. I.e., if I win more than 53.8% of the time, it's a +EV move.

Next we have to figure out how A-K offsuit fares against the range of the shover. For that, the oddly named but wonderful PokerStove is the tool of choice. From it I learn that A-Ko is 65.3% to win against a random hand. That is plenty to make this a +EV call.

Now, one can still argue that it's not the best move, not on the basis that the call is -EV per se, but because one will likely be able to find spots to get it all in with even higher equity later. That may be so. I don't know, and I don't think it's a question that can be easily answered objectively. My gut sense, though, is that the call is indeed worthwhile.

Note that this calculation assumes everybody else will fold. A wrinkle is that that may not be so, and the hands with which one is likely to draw a second caller will be heavily populated with aces and kings, making it harder for my A-K to win. But I don't know how to account for that mathematically, so I'm conveniently disregarding it.

After finding the solution (or at least partial solution) to the case where I have A-K and the shover has any two cards, I wondered how much narrower his shoving range could be and the call still be a correct one mathematically. The answer surprised me. If an opponent is open-shoving not with every starting hand, but only with his top 50%, the answer changes only negligibly; I'm still 64.9% to win. If he tightens up and shoves with only the top 33% of his starting hands, I'm still 64% to win. Top 20% of his starting hands still leaves me with 62% winner, and even his top 10% of hands gives me 57%, just barely enough to be +EV.

The break-even point is if we somehow knew that he was only shoving with the top 7.4% of his possible starting-hand range, which means pairs 88 or better, suited aces with 10 or better kicker, unsuited aces with queen or better kicker, suited kings with jack or better kicker, and Q-Js. Maybe there exist players who adopt such a strategy (shoving with that range only), but I kind of doubt it. My impression is that those who open-shove do it with pretty much anything, hoping to get lucky and double up early or lose and start another game where they try the same gambit. These are not the world's most mathematical, analytical players.

An interesting related question is what range of hands I should call with if I know that my crazy opponent is, in fact, shoving on the first hand of the tournament with any two cards. Again my win percentage has to be about 54% to be mathematically correct. (I'm assuming the ideal case, where I'm either last to act and everybody else has already folded, or I somehow know that everybody else will fold behind me.) Top 50% of my starting hand range gives me 57.8% equity against a random hand, which is enough to do the trick. That's a huge swath of hands. I tried tightening it up somewhat: Any pocket pair, any suited or unsuited ace, and any two Broadway cards. That's about 28% of starting hands, and it yields 61.8% win equity, which is plenty.

I'm not sure I'll actually change my game to call that loosely--largely because of the fear of somebody else behind me overcalling with a much narrower range that has me crushed--but it's interesting and worthwhile knowing that the math says it works.

Guess the casino, #1016

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

Answer: Palms

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Guess the casino, #1015

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

Answer: Luxor

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

200 SNGs

Every time I do a post about my poker results, either live or online, I think, "There can't possibly be anybody interested in this." But comments keep suggesting otherwise, to my puzzlement, so I venture again.

A little less than three weeks ago I reported to you about my first 100 single-table sit-and-go tournaments on Bodog. I have now completed the second 100. I mixed some $10 in, whereas the first 100 had been all $5. I also started tackling three games at a time instead of just two, and it is already more comfortable and less frenetic-feeling than it was the first time I tried it. Still, I can't pay as much attention to what individual players are doing, which bothers me. I have no idea how online specialists manage 20 or 30 tables at a time. I assume that, like most anything else, it's just a matter of gradual increases in facility of decision-making, but at this point it seems as impossible as climbing Mt. Everest would be for me.

As you can see from my nifty graph, I hit a rough patch there for a while, though I appear (and hope) to be just on the verge of climbing out of it with another upturn. I'm mostly good about avoiding going out on the bubble, but that bad patch included a sequence in which I bubbled four out of seven games, which was, I'll admit, pretty tilting.

My pattern of finishes has remained virtually unchanged:

I suppose that shouldn't be too surprising, since I haven't changed how I play in any noticeable way. In-the-money finishes are 36%, exactly the same as after the first 100. I still pretty well avoid the bubble and being the first or second one out. I also still score more firsts than anything else, which pleases me greatly. It makes me think that maybe there's something to this whole "poker is a game of skill" thing after all.

If I make the money, the most likely outcome is a win, the second most likely outcome is second place, and the least likely outcome is third for the min-cash. This is as it should be. There is no question in my mind that I have a measurable edge on most of my opponents when it gets to the end game. Most of them are either stupidly aggressive, pushing all in with ridiculous frequency (obviously afraid to make the harder decisions that come post-flop), or, alternatively, way too timid. In the latter group, they tend to limp every button, display obvious bet-sizing tells (mostly small bets with weak hands, big bets for big hands), and not bluff enough. Because my play is tight-aggressive during most of the tournament, they have learned to be afraid of my bets, and the combination of table image and a better knowledge of how to play two- and three-handed allows me to chip up against such players by running over them much more than they should let me.

My net profit after 100 games was $115. My net profit now is $185.

So if my pattern of finishes hasn't changed, why the lower profit per game? Simple: I'm doing less well in the $10 games than in the $5 games. In fact, my return on investment (ROI) is a little higher now than it was after the first 100 for the $5 games (1.25 compared to 1.21), but ROI for the $10 games is a dismal 0.88, with a net loss of $44.

You can go ahead and mock the fact that a player as experienced as I am struggles to beat $10 online SNGs. It doesn't worry me. My first run at the $5 games was negative for a while, too, until I adjusted my play to match the players. I've only done 34 of the $10 games compared to 166 of the $5. I'm confident I'll figure out what tweaks I need to make in compensation, given more time.

There is, in fact, a noticeable difference in the style of play moving up one notch--more than I would have expected. Sure, there's a lot of overlap, but I definitely see more thoughtfully aggressive play and less blindly aggressive play. In the $5 games, it's common to run into players who think that the way to run a bluff is to shove all-in, on the assumption that nobody can call a bet that big. Of course, what happens is that they only get called when they are crushed, and they get knocked out. That particular behavior is hugely profitable for the better, more patient players, and there is much less of it one level up. Players that lacking in fundamental understanding tend to choose the lowest buy-ins, and even the difference between $5 and $10 filters them out to a substantial degree.

I mentioned last time Cardgrrl's suggestion that I start keeping notes about my 7th- and 8th-place finishes. Why those spots in particular? Well, my 10th- and 9th-place finishes are mostly bad beats and cold decks. Those are early enough in the game that I'm not getting my whole stack in without strong reason to do so. If I lose, it's because it was something like a nut versus second-nut situation, or flopping a set and getting sucked out on with a straight or flush. There's not much room for examining and improving my play in those circumstances. The later finishes (6th, 5th, and 4th) are just run-of-the-mill stretches of dead cards, or appropriately gambling with a shove when short-stacked relative to the blinds, and it not working out. Again, it's hard to find systematic things wrong with my play that would keep those situations from happening.

But I have a lot of 8ths and 7ths, which are still early enough that a good percentage of them might be avoidable, and it's probably worth finding out if that is so. I added a "comments" line in my spreadsheet and now force myself to enter a brief evaluation of what happened. I try to be brutally honest with myself in chalking the results up to bad play versus bad luck. Here's what I wrote. (Some of these are for 10th and 9th-place finishes, too, when I thought there was something noteworthy.)
Overplayed big pair in face of resistance, shouldn't have lost. He had flopped 2 pr.

Cold deck, QQ v. KK. OK with play.

Bad beat cost much of stack, then open-shoved with 10-10 with 10 bb, called by KK.

Prob bad play.

AI on flop with pair and flush draw vs. top pair no draw, missed 14 outs x2. OK with play.

Shoved pre with JJ over 4 bet, which was QQ. Bad play.

3-outer on river. Played fine.

Guy went all in 1st hand with Q-9, I called with AK. He caught a 9. Definitely right move.

Made every kind of bad play.

Horrible 3-outer on river after all in on flop.

20 bb in SB, shoved w AK over apparent blind steal from big-stack button, he had 10-10, held.

Cold deck. Overpair plus straight draw plus flush draw lost to one-bigger pair.

Played fine. 15 BB, shoved with JJ over table's most frequent raiser, he had AK, caught A.

Tried AI semibluff w flush and str draws against a player who had been getting frisky. He had flopped a set that time.

Card dead. 11 BB shoved with 99, called by KK.

Check-raise shoved with pair and flush draw, guy called with just two overcards, hit.

Made stupid bluff attempt.

Played fine, just unlucky everywhere.

Stayed with second-best hands a couple of times when I should have folded.

Cold deck--KK on dry flop, but guy had hit 2 pr.

TPTK, he made disguised straight on turn. Unsure whether I overplayed it or it was reasonable. Really hard to put him on that hand.

Card dead. Played fine.
There you have it--my confessional for all the world to see. Of course, any particular evaluation might be wrong and/or self-serving and/or the result of denial. I write them instantly after getting knocked out, usually while still playing one or two other games, so I can't devote too much time or attention to the analysis. Still, it gives me a sense of how much of these disappointing results can be attributed to me doing something stupid. It's more than I wish it were, but the first step to correcting a problem is acknowledging it, so maybe there's hope for me yet.

I have also just ordered Collin Moshman's book Sit 'n [sic] Go Strategy from Amazon. Maybe that will help me spot some leaks.

OK, that's enough navel-gazing for now. Onward and (I hope) upward. I'll report again after another 100.

Two more ways the Mighty Deuce-Four wins

Sometimes you bet at a flop that has no connection whatsoever with your Deuce-Four, and the competition just folds. I'm not entirely sure whether they somehow sense the power and run away in fear, or they are mind-tricked into being convinced they're beat. I guess it doesn't really matter.

Other times, you have Deuce-Four in the big blind, and everybody is wise enough to just throw their cards away, giving you a walk.

Guess the casino, #1014

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

Answer: Aria

Bodog goings-on

1. Here's another way that Deuce-Four wins: It bails you out of a jam. I was the short stack and called a small raise in the big blind. When he bet at the flop, I thought it was more likely that he missed it than hit, so my lowly paired deuce might be good. I shoved. He called instantly. Oops.

But not to worry, I have the Deuce-Four on my side!

2. Here's another of those rare quads-on-the-board-on-fourth-street hands that talked about extensively in two recent posts, here and here. (If you didn't read the comments on those posts, you might find them interesting. Not many comments threads in this blog have gone that long.) I calculated last month that this would happen only once in about 21,000 hands. I have definitely not played 21,000 hands on Bodog since then, so the poker gods sent this one a little early.

3. As faithful readers know, crubs always get there. However, it turns out that there are times when that is not a good thing.

4. Ever wonder what other players think of you? Well, with this guy, you don't have to wonder!

5. The Bodog quads just keep on comin' my way, for reasons that I am utterly at a loss to explain. This time it was in the form of a super-full-house (quads plus a pair).

Monday, October 17, 2011

Another example of the "gaming" euphemism myth

Last week the Washington Post carried a story about the growth of poker's popularity among college-age males. Following the predictable route, it features both examples of extraordinary success (Eric Froehlich), and warnings of dire consequences. Blah blah blah, nothing new.

The meat of the article aside, this is the sentence that caught my attention:
The past decade has seen an evolution of gambling to “gaming,” a triumph of euphemism amid a wave of legislation to legalize and destigmatize wagering.
So much for careful background research.

I wrote about this common misperception in some detail almost four years ago, here and here. Short version: Gaming came into the English language about 250 years before gambling did. It is simply not true that the former is a euphemistic replacement for the latter.

I have submitted a suggestion for a correction to the Post's web site, and emailed the author of the article, asking whether he has any evidence to support the euphemism claim. If I get a response from either source, I'll let you know.

Guess the casino, #1013

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

Answer: Riviera

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Man Who Folds Aces, and other stories from the MGM

Yesterday was another in the roughly twice-yearly series of tournaments sponsored by This time it was at the MGM Grand, so I headed over there in the afternoon to get registered early and play some cash games before the tournament. There were several things worth reporting.

Oh, Those Kids!

On my way to the poker room, I stopped in a restroom. Access to the only two urinals was impeded by a couple of guys in yellow one-piece outfits, rolled down to their waists, clearly trying to figure out how to accomplish something, though what, exactly, I could not say at first. They kindly yielded to let me take care of business.

While I was washing my hands, they finally got into position for their stunt. I turned around and saw this:

While two friends videorecorded the feat, one of these guys was supporting the other urinating while doing a handstand.

Why? Well, there was some sort of team name written on the rear of their odd outfits, and I overheard them talking about what a difficult "task" this one was. From that, I surmise that they are one of several teams attempting to accomplish a list of fun/crazy stunts first (or best), in order to win some prize. But I didn't stop to ask the details. I just took my Weird Photo of the Day and went my way.

Their mothers must be so proud.

The AVP Tournament

This thing was huge. They ended up with something like 330 participants, which I think is triple what they've ever had before. I have no idea how it suddenly exploded in popularity, but it was pretty overwhelming, given what I had come to expect. These used to be fairly small, cozy affairs where I would know a hefty percentage of the players from the AVP forum, but yesterday I had no idea who anybody at my table was, nor they me.

It was all set up in an area away from the main poker room, next to the lion's den. It appears that MGM has decided to start taking the poker tournament market seriously. In addition to sacrificing a sizable area of what had been slot-machine casino floor space, they invested in a bunch of new tables with very attractive felt:

They have also acquired lovely new tournament chips:

I especially like that they are color-keyed to match what we already expect from cash chips--green for 25, black for 100, etc. Nice touch. My only complaint is that the 1000s and 5000s look too much alike from a distance.

A few minutes into the second level of play, I had A-A and reraised the table's most aggressive player, who called. The flop was bone-dry, 2-5-9 rainbow. He bet at it, I shoved all-in. He looked unhappy, asked for a count, then, shaking his head, said, "I've gotta call you." He had K-K. Which was perfectly fine with me, until another king hit the turn, and just that fast I was out.

Well, at least I didn't invest eight hours in the thing, only to have the same result on the bubble.

Laser Read

OK, I'll admit it up front: I'm telling this story only as a brag about how sick-accurate a read I had on one player in the cash game. There were several limpers--including me one off the button with 3-3--before he popped it to $18 from the small blind. As I've said many time, whenever I see a raise that large, I assume the player has J-J until proven otherwise. Two others called, so I did also, pure set-mining.

The flop was A-J-J. Normally my inclination would be to cancel the suspicion that the raiser had J-J. The probability of hitting four of a kind is just too remote to entertain. But I watched his reaction, and he was clearly confused, trying to figure out whether to bet or check. I had not seen anything like this facial expression on him in the hour or so that we had been playing together. He finally settled on a check, but his look and hesitation sealed the deal for me: He had flopped the joint.

Mind you, this was not just a passing thought on my part. I can't prove this to anybody, but I was so convinced of my read that I told myself, "Even if I get a free card and hit a set on the turn, I'm not putting another dime into this pot." Everybody checked.

I don't remember what came on the turn; it didn't matter to me. Our raiser bet and got one caller, who I thought was being foolish not to have noticed what was going on. I folded.

River came. I don't know what it was. I was too focused on watching the players. Our raiser bet again, got another bet out of his caller, then rolled over his J-J flopped quads.

This was a really strange experience that is hard to describe. There have been a few occasions where, with three of a kind on the board, a betting pattern only made sense if a player had the fourth of that rank, and I have on that basis been reasonably confident in making such a read. But I have never before been even remotely this confident that I was up against a pocket pair having made quads on the flop the moment it happened. This time, somehow, I just knew.

They should fire Norman Chad and hire me to do the Jack Links Beef Jerky wild card hands for the WSOP broadcasts.

Pardon Me, But Your Tell is Showing

I mentioned recently (here and here) Jean-Robert Bellande masterfully using a common tell in a reverse fashion, to perfect effect. Yesterday was one of the occasions when its more usual, straightforward reading came into play.

I had 4s-5s in the big blind and called a middle-position raise. The flop was 10-2-2 rainbow, with one spade. I checked, he bet, and I called. I thought that he most likely had two big unpaired cards and whiffed this flop. My plan was this: If he bet strongly on the turn, such that I believed him to have a big pocket pair, I would fold. If he bet weakly, confirming my impression of big unpaired cards, I would check-raise. If he checked behind, I would lead out on the river if it appeared to be a card that would have missed him (i.e., not a Broadway card).

Fourth street brought the 3s. Now I had an open-ended straight flush draw. My plan stayed the same, except that now I would call any reasonable-sized bet he might make, even if he looked overpair-strong, because hitting either my straight or flush on the river would be marvelously disguised, and I would have a good chance of claiming his entire stack.

He checked behind.

Fifth street was the 3c. Dang. Not only did I miss, but bluffing him just became harder, because he might call holding any ace, on the grounds that I might be betting with a weaker ace, and two pair on the board would result in a chopped pot. I was suddenly unsure whether the chances of my planned bluff succeeding were high enough to warrant risking it.

My dilemma was neatly solved, however, when I saw him grab a stack of chips and hold it off the felt in front of his cards, staring right at me, in one of the most flagrant "I'm gonna call you, sucker, so WATCH OUT!" moves I've ever seen.

I had figured out on my own the implication of this gesture before I got around to reading Caro's Book of Poker Tells, but since it's a classic work and Mike Caro is the master, let's let him explain it (pages 212-214 in the 2003 Cardozo reprint, and photo 89):
Among beginning and intermediate players, this is a common method of trying to prevent a bet. The reason players want to stop you from betting is because they hold weak hands with some possibility of winning. In other words, they'd like to see both hands shown down on the table. Then maybe they can salvage the pot. Reaching for chips is intended to show strength and appear threatening. As you now know, players staring at you are less of a threat than those staring away. So here we have a classic example of a woman combining two tells that point in the same direction (looking at the bettor and reaching for her chips). She is probably holding a marginally weak hand. This gives you opportunities to bet hands you would have otherwise checked.
Caro rates this tell as 97% reliable among weak players, 91% reliable among average players, 73% reliable among strong players.

His over-the-top attempt to stop me from betting had precisely the opposite effect: It let me know that it was safe to proceed. I bet about two-thirds the pot, and he flung his cards away in disgust. I suspect he had A-K, and had no idea how far ahead of me he was. (In fact, I literally had the worst possible hand. Anything he held would beat me.) If he hadn't gone for the intimidation move, I well might have decided a bluff would work too infrequently to be profitable and given up.

The Man Who Folds Aces

Shortly before I left for the tournament, this hand went down. I was in the small blind, Seat 1. Seat 3 was under the gun. He was a classic elderly rock. I had been playing with him for nearly two hours, and he had never, never, put in a pre-flop raise. He was so conservative that he wouldn't even bet a nut straight if a possible backdoor flush had come in. I had seen him be aggressive in only two spots, and he had shown the nuts both times.

So when this guy, first to act, fumbled around with his chips trying to decide on an opening raise amount, you can bet that it caught my attention. He settled on just $7. He's got aces or kings, with very little doubt about it. Apparently other players don't pay attention to the same things that I do, because he picked up several callers. Then the guy in Seat 9, on the button, reraised to $27. I had some small suited connectors and had thought about calling; with so many others in the pot and only $5 more to me, and my call likely to close out the action (assuming the big blind didn't raise), it would probably be worthwhile to try to flop a sneaky monster. But the reraise foiled that plan, not only because the price just went up, but because of the heavy likelihood that our Grumpy Old Man (him, not me) would decide he didn't want to be playing from out of position against such a large field, and put in a prohibitive four-bet. I folded.

Sure enough, GOM made it $49 to go. Now the surprising move: Seat 4 five-bet all-in. This was the same guy who had hit the quad jacks earlier--a 30-ish Asian guy. This folded the field back to GOM, who had way more chips than Seat 4. I anticipated an instant call. Instead, he asked the dealer for a count. It was something like $120 more. He grimaced, sighed, thought a few seconds, then said, "OK, I call."

Based on that, I mentally downgraded him from aces to kings. But even with kings it was kind of a strange hesitation. He could not reasonably think that Seat 4 held aces--practically nobody would play aces that way. It should still have been an instacall. Remember, nobody else was left in the hand, so there was no role for feigning weakness in order to lure more money into the pot. I concluded that I would most likely see K-K for GOM, and a medium pocket pair--maybe 8s or 9s--for Seat 4.

I was pretty close on the latter; he flipped over 10-10. But I was astonished when GOM turned up his pocket aces. I mean, sure, that's what I had initially suspected was his most likely hand, but his reluctance to call when faced with an all-in made no sense.

After the board had played out without an upset, Seat 4 was walking away, and GOM was stacking chips, I asked him, "What was all that about asking for a count of his stack and thinking about whether you'd call?"

His face darkened with resentment and defensiveness. "I wanted to know how much it was--is that all right with you?"

"Sure, but is there some amount it could have been that you would not have called?"

"Yes, there is."

I didn't believe this for a second. "Oh really? How much would have been too much for you?"

"A number bigger than he had."

"Really? You'd fold aces if his stack was bigger?"

"Yes. I've done it many times before."

I dropped the matter there. He was either lying but too stubborn to back down, or he was serious and actually plays that way, and I wouldn't want to dissuade him from such stupidity.

There exist rare but valid circumstances in which it can be correct to fold aces before the flop in a tournament. But there are no circumstances in which it is mathematically correct to fold aces before the flop in a cash game.* Pocket aces are at worst about a 3:1 favorite over any hand that your opponent might have. If you're unwilling to wager all the chips you have on the table as a 3:1 or better favorite, you're doin' it wrong. If you're afraid of losing your entire stack because you can't afford to be without it, you shouldn't be playing.

I still can't decide whether (A) this guy is so unbelievably tight in his play that was actually considering a fold there, (B) he lost track of the situation, thought there was still somebody else in the hand that he was trying to reel in, and was unwilling to admit that mistake after the fact, or (C) was putting on a show for no reason, and bizarrely lying to me about it in self-defense afterwards.

I've gotta say that I'm leaning towards A. Maybe he was leveling me, but my read was that he was being straight, and didn't appreciate having his, um, shall we say, unorthodox, methods challenged.

*I say "mathematically" there because Tommy Angelo has famously written about the amazing psychological results he achieved by folding aces before the flop--just to prove to himself that he could do it, and just to see what it felt like. See here.

How many jacks are in the deck?

Poker gems, #441

Matt Lessinger, in Card Player magazine column, October 5, 2011 (vol. 24, #20), page 46.

[I]f an LPP [loose passive player] catches a strong enough piece of the flop, he will call--plain and simple. In most cases, the size of your bet won't affect his decision. Also, since LPPs are passive, they rarely will check-raise. With all that in mind, why make a pot-sized bet when a bet of one-third the pot can accomplish the same thing?

...Betting $20 into a roughly $60 pot, with the hope of getting your opponents to fold, can seem ...counterintuitive..., but against the right opponents, it's clearly the correct play. Whether you bet $20 or $60, they will fold the hands that missed and call with the ones that connected, so there's no sense in betting more than is necessary.

Only in Vegas

I saw this one a couple of weeks ago and forgot to post it.

Degenerates unite!

Guess the casino, #1012

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

Answer: Flamingo

Got pretty near all of 'em

I checked and he shoved the flop as a huge overbet. The river was just rubbing it in.