Saturday, November 05, 2011

Let's count the mistakes

I played at the Rio last night. When I was directed to a table, the only seat open was #2, so I took it. Good thing. It was so advantageous that in retrospect I'm astonished that nobody else there moved to it when it became available.

Its advantage was all about the guy in Seat 1. He was drunk out of his mind. A friend of his at the table said that he had had about 20 vodka/Red Bulls in the past five hours or so. At the rate he was downing them, I believed it.

He was the classic happy drunk--far more interested in socializing and commenting on everything else going on around him than the game. He always had to be pestered into taking his turn, always had to be told about five times to post his blinds, always had to be told what the action was, etc.

Of most importance to the story, he put zero effort into protecting his cards, despite multiple warnings from the dealer, me, and the other players. He never capped his cards with a chip or other object. This is an especially dangerous habit in the two seats next to the dealer, for two reasons. First, the dealer can sweep one's hole cards into the muck much faster and more easily than from other positions. Second, other players mucking their cards can accidentally run them into unprotected hole cards of Seats 1 and 9 (or 10), thus killing the hand. The other way he failed to protect his hand was that he just lifted his cards in front of his face with no attempt to conceal them. I could see them without even trying about half the time.

As it happened, he quickly developed a fear of playing a pot with me, so I made almost no money from him over the couple of hours we played together. In only one hand was my view of his hole cards potentially going to make a difference. He raised pre-flop with 7h-8h. I had A-Q offsuit and called. The flop missed both of us. He put in a continuation bet. Since I knew exactly what he had, it was an easy call. I didn't raise, because the only decent player at the table was still in it with us. He raised, which foiled my chance at playing the hand as a superuser. Drunk guy and I both folded.

OK, now we get to the crazy hand of the night.

Drunk guy was in the big blind, but, as usual, didn't know it, despite the dealer asking him to post a couple of times. I folded from under the gun. I saw one of drunk guy's cards, a jack. Seats 3 and 4 folded. Just about that time, drunk guy says, "All in." It wasn't his turn, obviously. He still hadn't even posted his blind. Seat 5 pushes his chip stacks forward. He must have heard the all-in announcement, because there's no way he would have just open-raised all-in for $135.

So the first mistake was drunk guy acting out of turn. Second mistake was the dealer not quickly stopping the action and clarifying that that declaration was out of turn and would be binding only if there was no raise in turn from any other player before action was properly back on Seat 1. Third mistake was Seat 5 not understanding all of this, and responding as if Seat 1's action had been in turn.

But wait, there's more!

The next player asked for a clarification of what the action was. The dealer told him that Seat 1 had gone all in out of turn, and Seat 5 was all in. He folded, as did everyone else. Then the dealer, apparently having forgotten what he had just said, looked down at Seat 1, saw unprotected cards and no chips out (he still hadn't posted his blind), and absent-mindedly swept Seat 1's cards into the muck. Let's call that mistake 4.

Drunk guy looks down, trying to figure out what happened, and says, "Hey, where's my cards?" Dealer immediately recognizes what he did. He calls for the floor. While he's looking away, trying to get the attention of the supervisor, drunk guy says loudly and repeatedly that he had had two jacks, and pulls two cards out of the muck that he thinks are his. He turns them face up: a jack and a deuce. He points to the deuce and says, "That one's wrong," and starts rummaging through the muck turning cards face up, trying to find his other jack. Finally the dealer notices what he's doing and puts a halt to it. Let's call this mistake 5.

Meanwhile, Seat 5 says, "Go ahead and find those jacks, see if you can beat this!" and triumphantly slams his pocket queens face up on the table. Mistake 6. Why invite your opponent to get a live hand that has a 20% chance of beating you if you might instead get his chips as a freeroll if he is deemed to be committed to the all-in with a dead hand? Of course, an opponent's approval of muck-fishing doesn't legalize it.

Floor comes over. The correct ruling, in my opinion, should be that Seat 1 is responsible only for the big blind. His out-of-turn declaration is no longer binding once Seat 5 puts in his raise. Since he never moved any chips into the pot, when the action is properly on him, he can call Seat 5's all in, or he can fold. With a dead hand, folding is the obvious thing that any sensible player would chose to do, given the option in that situation--lose the $3 big blind and hopefully learn a lesson from the close call. But instead, the floor rules that the out-of-turn all-in is, in fact, binding. Mistake 7.

Drunk guy accepts this ruling, but clearly does so thinking that he still get a chance to fight for the pot with his long-lost jacks. Mistake 8. Nope. Floor tells him it's a dead hand and instructs the dealer to take $135 from Seat 1 and give it to Seat 5.

Drunk guy is surprisingly sanguine about this. I expected an eruption, but it didn't happen. He quickly resigned himself to it, saying, "Whatever. I don't care. Fuck it."

Floor guy gave him a "final warning" about the f-bomb. (He had issued one previous warning, and the dealers had issued several.) Sadly, about 10 minutes later, one more effenheimer resulted in another call for the floor, and our friend being ejected from the room.

Strangely, this was an outcome that two other players had actively sought, complaining to the floor about how the drunk guy was slowing down the game. Which he was, obviously. But if you're there to make money, having a player like this booted from the game is absolutely the last thing you want to see happen.

When I cashed out later, I told the floor guy how I couldn't believe how short-sighted those other players had been in working to have Seat 1 kicked out. It was like killing the goose that laid the golden eggs. He was sympathetic, and clearly knew exactly what was going on. He told me, "I know! I knew he was the action player in the game, so I tried to look the other way and let him keep playing for as long as I could."

Oh well. I made my money from the other players.

Miscellaneous links

In the last day or two, Twitter has pointed me to several interesting pokery things that I might have missed otherwise.

Annie Duke at The Moth, telling the story of how she grew up in a family of game players, learned to be competitive and not to lose, and how she discovered that poker was her true life calling (about 17 minutes).

"Grinders," an online pay-per-view ($4.00) documentary about playing poker for a living in underground cardrooms. I haven't watched it yet, but Kevin Mathers gave it "two thumbs up," which is endorsement enough for me. For more on the movie and how to see it, go here and here.

Forbes magazine reports on the latest filing from federal prosecutors on the Black Friday case, including some of their legal arguments.

Entertaining article by B.J. Nemeth about the creative things poker players dream up to bet on when playing "Lodden Thinks."

Interesting, sensitive, and self-aware blog post by Terrence Chan about how odd millionaire poker players' conversations and actions must appear to much of the rest of the working world.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

My old friend razz

Points and bragging rights--what more could a guy want?

Well, OK, money. But that's not available.

Out of court

Jury duty ended for me yesterday. Case submitted to jury at about 4:30 pm. I was designated as an alternate, and none of the regular jurors had been absent, so I was not to be included in deliberations unless one of them had some emergency and couldn't finish participation in the deliberations. They decided to go home and start fresh in the morning.

I just got a call from the court telling me that the case is over, I won't be called back in, and I'm released from admonition not to discuss it. To my great surprise, the jury was deadlocked, and it's a mistrial--after what couldn't have been more than about four hours of deliberation! I don't think I've ever heard of a jury being declared hopelessly deadlocked that quickly. Usually the judge lectures and pressures them to give it another try a time or two before throwing in the towel.

I'm even more surprised because by the conclusion of the case, I could see no way to acquit. I stood ready to be convinced by my fellow jurors that there was some plausible, innocent explanation for the mountain of incriminating evidence, but I thought it unlikely that that would happen. I would admit that there was some theoretical way that one might connect the dots other than in the straight line they seemed to make, but no reasonable or plausible way to do so, unless there was something I was overlooking. I really thought that when we did the initial poll, results would range only from "leaning guilty" to "throw away the key."

Now I will spend the rest of my life wondering how many and which of them thought the prosecution had not proven the case, and how they reached that conclusion, when it seemed to me to be about as close to open-and-shut as it could be. My hunch, after watching them for three days, is that a few of them just weren't paying close enough attention to the myriad details. It was a lot of dry presentation of documentary evidence, and I suspect that some of them tuned out, failing to grasp the truly damning implications of the numbers and signatures on the mountain of paperwork. (It was a case of defrauding the federal government, so naturally the case turned on what the papers contained.)

Once again I'm faced with plain evidence that I just don't see things the same way that the rest of the world does.

How did I not make this list?

It's inconceivable, really.

Four royal flushes in one hand

A story from TBC's blog, here.

an interesting thing in the eldorado [in Reno] the other morning, and a dealer ended up getting fired. i wasnt at the table but i could hear em on the other table. (i was in the NL game before it broke for the morning tourney, and this was at the STUD table.) seems while the players (all 4 of them) were taking a break, the dealer thought it would be funny to setup the deck to give all 4 the royal flush. essentially no one would be getting hurt, and all get back their money. now everything was going according to plan, and suddenly one old man was screaming how he had a royal flush and wanted his money. the other players told him they ALL had the royal, and i dont know if he was senile, or didnt believe them, but he insisted the floor call gaming, and it seems he eventually got paid and the dealer got fired. i know it seems hard to believe but if u come here u will find out its true. lots of witnesses even dealers at other casinos know about it.

Monday, October 31, 2011

On trial

I had to report for jury duty this morning. I thought that most likely I would be dismissed and life would go on, but I ended up being empaneled. So life kind of goes on hold for the next several days.

I'd tell you about the case, but then I'd have to kill you.

Poker gems, #442

Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Win as if you were used to it, lose as if you enjoyed it for a change.

Verbal is binding. Or not.

Late last night I was playing at the Golden Nugget with two friends. Poker Lawyer was on my left, Jen across the table. (The ladies love me, ya know. P.L. even dropped trou for me before she left town. OK, it was via Twitter, but it still counts.)

I had 4d-5d on the button, and so joined a chorus of limpers. The flop was 9-4-5. P.L. checked, next guy bet. I think it was $11. I decided to just call. This was partly slow-playing, partly waiting to be sure P.L. wasn't going to put in a big check-raise after having flopped a set or bigger two pair. She folded, so I was heads-up.

Turn was another 4, filling me up. Guy checked. I bet $22. He called.

I don't remember the river card--a jack maybe? Anyway, it didn't seem to change anything. He checked. As I was reaching for chips, he said, "I call."

It's getting rare that I'm faced with a poker situation that is new to me and that I don't know what to do about. I was sufficiently confident of having the best hand that I would have been willing to get my whole stack into the pot if I thought I would get called. But would he actually call? I wasn't sure of that.

My first impulse was to ask the dealer to call the floor over and get a ruling on whether my opponent's call was binding. If it was, I'd move all-in. But in the roughly five seconds I took to think about my options, I decided it was most likely that the floor would decide his declaration was done out of turn and was therefore not binding, and the very process of trying to get him hooked for his whole stack on that basis would show him how badly I wanted a call, he'd fold, and I'd end up with nothing.

I decided instead to proceed as if he hadn't said anything. I made a standard-sized value bet, about 2/3 of the pot ($45), and he called. He flashed a 9 before mucking.

The questions raised are: (1) If I had stopped the action after he said, "I call" but before taking my turn, what should the floor decide? I.e., is he committed to calling whatever I bet up to the full amount of his stack? (2) Strategically, what is the best way for me to have handled that--as I did, or take a chance on the floor saying that he is committed to a call no matter what I bet, which wins me his stack, or some other approach that I haven't thought of?

I think if he had been deeper, I would have taken a shot at the floor ruling. But as it was, his river call was for about half of what he had left, which means that the potential gain wasn't a lot more than I stood to make from ignoring his words.

He was a very experienced player. He demonstrated thorough understanding of the rules of the game. He knew how the blinds changed when players moved in or out of the game, for instance. In fact, the way he talked early in the session had made me think he was likely an off-duty poker dealer, though I never got explicit confirmation of this. I feel about 99% confident that this was not an accidentally premature call on his part. I think it is much more likely that it was essentially a verbal version of the grabbing-a-stack move I discussed recently, here. He has probably either done this himself on previous occasions or seen it done, and has reason to believe that if it comes to a floor decision it will be ruled non-binding. If so, then I would label it as angle-shooting, a way of pretending to call without actually committing any chips.

I understand that before I got into poker, a common angle-shot was this: a player wanting to inhibit a bet or raise from somebody to his right would announce "raise" out of turn, but then check or call when action actually got to him. That was quashed by instituting the rule that out-of-turn action would be binding if the action to the player in question did not change between when he announced his action and when it became his turn.

If applied here, that would probably not commit my opponent, because, the argument would go, in between his verbal announcement and when he had to actually make his decision, the action had changed by virtue of my bet.

So I'm still not sure what the ruling would be if I pressed for one, nor how I should have handled the situation. I'd like to get it figured out before the next time I'm faced with it.

Addendum, October 31, 2011

I asked Matt Savage via Twitter how he would rule in this situation. He replied:
cash game rules vary, I can guarantee you I am charging him something to get him to stop this angle, probably size of turn bet.

in tournaments the @PokerTDA has added a rule for conditional statements so we have latitude to make him call your whole bet.
He is referring to this rule, added earlier this year:
47: Conditional Statements
Conditional statements regarding future action are strongly discouraged; they may be binding and/or subject to penalty. Example: “if – then” statements such as "If you bet, then I will raise”.
I knew of this change but hadn't thought of applying it here. But on consideration, it does seem pretty reasonable (if you ignore the cash game/tournament distinction). His statement was functionally equivalent to "If you bet, I will call."

Thanks to Matt for his quick response.