Monday, December 31, 2012


I spotted this sign a few days ago in the Luxor poker room. It's an electronic sign, and was starting to change just as I snapped the photo, which is why it has the Bee Gees thing fading in.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Bluffy McBlufferson

I just got home from 4 1/2 hours at Planet Hollywood, where I was playing with Rob and his friend Prudence. I had a good night--one of my best in several months, actually. Most of what I won came from pots where I had the best hand, but two sizeable ones were out-and-out thievery. The latter is always more fun to talk about, so I will.


Villain is a tourist, quite a bit tighter and more disciplined than most of them. Completely ABC, transparent. I had noticed that he was reluctant to put a lot of money in with one-pair hands. This is mostly a commendable and appropriate thing, but it also makes him a good target for bluffing. I had been playing tight and was getting respect when I showed any aggression.

He raised to $7 from under the gun plus one, which immediately narrowed his hand range enormously--certainly nothing outside of the top ten list, and probably only A-K, A-Q, and pocket jacks or better. I was in the small blind with 4-5 offsuit. This is a situation where I would normally fold, but some internal imp prompted me to take a flyer and see what might happen. I was the only customer he hooked.

Flop was J-7-8 rainbow. I checked, he bet $15, and I called with just a gutshot. It would have been nice to hit that, but mainly I was hoping that he was on A-K and would check behind on the turn in surrender, setting me up to steal if the river was not an ace or a king--an out-of-position float, basically.

But fourth street made it more interesting--another jack. I checked again. He bet again, $30. I decided to represent the jack, and check-raised to $80.

I'll interrupt the story to note that just a bit under 3x is my favorite check-raising amount. I mentally think of it as "3x-minus." My observation has been that 3x or more blows too many mediocre and drawing hands out of the water when I have the goods and want a call. 3x-minus does that less, yet it usually does not give the correct odds for a draw to call, the way a minimum (2x) raise would. Naturally, when I'm bluffing, I try to follow the same pattern. It's not really that I expect most players at this level to be paying enough attention to my check-raise sizes to notice if I were to deviate from my norm--I'm not doing it often enough for that. Instead, the reasoning is that a 3x check-raise is so standard that making it just a little less than that looks like I'm trying to get a call, without being the minimum raise that actually is easy for an opponent to call. To put it another way, it's either a good amount to value bet, or a good amount to look like a value-bet.

Back to the story. He thought quite a while, but eventually called. This was the first time I had seen a significant crack in his demeanor, and he looked seriously uncomfortable. I imagined that he was thinking something like, "What have I gotten myself into?"

The turn card had put a second diamond out, so I now believed that he either had an overpair, or he had the A-K or A-Q of diamonds and was calling in the hope of hitting the nuts on the river. For that reason, if another diamond had come, I probably would have had to shut down.

River was the ace of spades. I quickly moved all-in for about $120. He thought only a few seconds before mucking.

The best part was when the guy on my left, a very experienced player (and, I think, an off-duty dealer) told the villain, "I don't know what you had sir, but that was definitely a good laydown." Hee hee!

I take it back. That was the second-best part. The best part was winning the pot with complete air, and with what was very nearly the worst possible hand one could have for that board.


Much later, I had moved seats to be between Rob (on my immediate left) and Prudence (two to my right) for convenience of chatting. That seat also put me on the immediate left of the table's live one, a young man who had gotten lucky to build his stack to about $500, and was now in the inevitable process of redistributing it back to the other players.

Rob and I both had in the vicinity of $400 stacks, I believe. It is important to note that Rob had been basically spinning his wheels for most of nearly three hours at this point. He was two seats to the left of the table maniac, but had not been able to take advantage of that prime spot. He was just up and down relatively small amounts, never able to make a big score--until just a few minutes before the hand in question occurred, when he nearly tripled up in one hand. This meant that he was sitting on a meaningful profit that had not yet settled in emotionally. I judged that he would be less willing to risk losing it than usual, because his mindset would be, "I finally got ahead after three hours of nothing, I'm not going to give it away lightly."

There is a second important piece of back story. One of the disadvantages of being a poker blogger is that people who pay attention to your writing will have an enormous amount of information about how you play. I had a bit of insight about Rob that I thought would be relevant. About a month ago, he did a long post in which he talked about how reading an old post of mine (here)--which makes the point that playing scared in no-limit poker is going to lose you money--had caused him to rethink his approach to no-limit poker. In his post, Rob admitted that he had a tendency to see a significant profit in front of him and go into lockdown mode to prevent losing it. All of which meant that I thought Rob was a ripe target for stealing, because his new-found wealth should cause an exaggeration of what was already a tendency he struggles with.

With that in mind, I did something that was admittedly daring. OK, it might be more honest to call it reckless. I limped in with 6h-8d from early position, then called Rob's pre-flop raise. ("It's a position call," I told him. It took him a few seconds to get that I was joking.)

Now, I didn't take notes in the immediate aftermath of this hand, because it wasn't until on my drive home that I began thinking it might make good blog material. So I'm a little fuzzy on the details. But the flop had a 6 and two diamonds, and I believe it was 10-high. I think it might have been 6-9-10, because I recall that it had given me bottom pair, a gutshot straight draw, and the backdoor flush draw. That's pretty close, anyway.

I checked. Rob bet $20, I think. I called.

The turn was a small diamond--deuce, maybe? I checked again, though with deliberate hesitation. I had not yet decided what I would do if he bet, but if he felt inclined to give me a free card, I'd take it, and if he bet, I wanted him to have noticed the deviation from my usual rhythm, and possibly interpret it to mean that I had been wavering between betting out and going for a check-raise. I thought that impression, if I had reason to call on it, would look more like a flush had gotten there.

He bet $40. I thought a bit and check-raised to $110--the logic of the amount being the same as described in Hand #1 above. I wanted Rob to read me for the flush, because a check-call/check-raise was entirely consistent with having made a small or medium flush. I guessed that he did not like seeing that third diamond peel off, and that fact, coupled with the already-identified tendencies to protect a nice win (the acute one compounding the chronic one), would make this a convincing line.

He took a very long time to decide what to do--at least three full minutes. The longer it went on, the more obvious it became that he had either aces or kings, with one of them being the diamond. I hoped that it was kings, for two reasons. First, Rob has post after post after post about how he hates pocket kings and how he always seems to lose with them--his personal kryptonite hand. Feeding into a player's pre-existing belief system makes it that much easier to manipulate him. Second, if he had only the king of diamonds, he would have to worry that I had limp-called pre-flop with something like the A-2 of diamonds and he was already drawing dead.

There was yet another psychological factor at work. Right after Hand #1, I had texted Rob to gloat privately about having pulled off the big bluff. I wasn't sure if that fact would now cause him to think, "He's doing it again," or, conversely, "He wouldn't dare do that again after having told me about the earlier bluff." That could have worked either for or against me, and I didn't know which would predominate.

But finally Rob folded. He was visibly perturbed, and left the table for a few minutes--to clear his head, I assume. I felt bad about that. I don't like inflicting distress on my friends. But I trust that he understands and accepts the terms of the game. Chief among those is this premise: that we will all be using every legal tactic and stratagem we know, every scrap of information we have at our disposal, every bit of skill and reasoning we can muster, every means of deception and psychological trick we can pull off, in order to take each other's money. It is ruthless and cutthroat, but that is the essence of the game. When friends are involved, I will occasionally do a few playful things just for fun that I wouldn't ordinarily do, especially in small pots--play a goofy hand, show a bluff to rub it in, or whatever. But when there's a big pot brewing, I am going to try to win the money by any legitimate means available to me. Because I have more information about my friends' tendencies, I can more accurately tailor my line to maximize my chances of winning. This works both ways, naturally, since they know a lot about what I am and am not capable of doing. Which is a long way of saying this: I definitely don't soft-play friends (and I would be appalled if any of them soft-played me). I don't play them harder or in a more tricky way than I would play other opponents just because they are my friends and I'm specifically targeting them, but at the same time, knowing more about them means that I can often exploit them more than mercilessly than I can strangers. And that, in turn, means that I should exploit them more mercilessly. That might seem antithetical to friendship, but in the insular sphere of a poker game, it is not.

When Rob had had a chance to get back in the game mindset (and after he had won another good pot, which always helps remove the sting of a lost one), I offered him an honest exchange of information about the hand. He agreed, and I explained my cards and my rationale. He told me that I had it nailed--he had had pocket kings, including the diamond.

After a few seconds' pause, he realized the implication of what I had told him. "You mean, you called my raise from out of position with 8-6 offsuit?" Yes. Yes, I did.

In this case, obviously, I was not running a pure bluff as in Hand #1. It was a semi-bluff. Even if he had called me, I could have caught either of two 6s for trips, any of three 8s for two pair, any of three non-diamond 7s for a straight. At the time I made the raise, I also thought there was about a 50-50 chance that any diamond would also give me a winning flush, though this turned out not to be so.

As a side note, had Rob pushed all-in over the top of my check-raise, I would almost surely have folded. But I knew that my line put him in a difficult position, one in which it would have been hard for him to do that unless he happened to have made the nut flush, an unlikely occurrence. One of the things I was taking advantage of was the knowledge that he knew me to be capable of some way-off-the-beaten-path moves. I knew that he perceived me as a difficult-to-read and potentially dangerous opponent. He would know that I might be running a total bluff, but that I also might have him crushed, with a set, a flopped straight, a turned nut flush, or whatever. When my range contains so many hands that could cost him his entire stack if he guessed wrong, I was betting that he would not want to risk that much money in the face of that much uncertainty.

Here's the pithy lesson I take from this second hand: Know your enemy, especially when he is your friend.

Addendum, December 31, 2012 

See Rob's version of the story here.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The man across the hall

There's another apartment directly across the hall from mine--literally five feet away from my threshold. Behind it lived a highly reclusive elderly man. I use the past tense there because he died last week, in his apartment. There was some fuss as the police and paramedics came, then left with a body, leaving a legal notice on the door forbidding entrance while the coroner investigated the circumstances.

A few minutes ago, there was a knock on my door. It was his daughter. She is there to pick up his remaining possessions. She wanted to know if any of his neighbors knew him and could tell her about his life.

This seemed to me kind of an odd request, until she filled in more of the story. He disappeared in 1988, and had not been in contact with his family since then. They had periodically tried to find him, without success. So this poor woman had not seen or heard from her father in almost 25 years, with her first contact being the police calling to tell her of his death. She had had no explanation for why he vanished, no idea where he was. No wonder she was thirsty for any scraps of information about how he had been living.

I told her that when it was warm (most of the year) he kept his door propped open a few inches to let in air, but not enough that anybody could look in, and based on how much of the time the door was cracked that way, he almost never left his apartment.

I only saw him a couple of times in the six years I've been here, when we were both coincidentally leaving or returning at the same time and exchanged a nod and a hello. I assume he was probably just living on Social Security, or maybe he had some sort of pension.

About a year ago I noticed water puddling around his door and seeping out from there down the hall. I immediately contacted building maintenance so they could get the flooding stopped. To my surprise, he was in there! The flooding was coming from the apartment above into his, but rather than call for emergency help to get the leaking stopped, he was just mopping up his floor. Peculiar behavior. It seems that he really did not want to be bother anybody, or to be bothered.

Today was the first time I've seen inside his apartment. It's a studio. It has only one window, and the only thing visible through it is a cinder block wall six inches away. I had never noticed that the next building was so close to the back of ours that the apartments on that side had no view whatsoever. It's the kind of view that makes for a visual punchline in TV sitcoms when somebody first goes into a hotel room or apartment, opens the curtains, and sees a brick wall. I didn't know that there are people who actually live in places where that is the reality. Apparently that has been his entire view of the outside world for many, many years.

I hope that in his effects his daughter finds some sort of explanation for his disappearance and reclusiveness, as I couldn't help her learn anything substantive about him. She seemed like a warm, kind woman, and her pain at having been inexplicably shut out of her father's life for so long was palpable.

I find the whole thing terribly sad. I hope I don't end up like that.

His name was Bob.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Response to Newtown

Every time in the past few days that I've seen somebody propose something that should be done to prevent another public mass shooting, I've mentally added my response to it to a long post I've been composing in my head about all the things that either wouldn't work or couldn't possibly be implemented.* Every proposal I've heard falls into one of those two categories.

Well, rest easy, because now I don't have to write that post; somebody has done it for me. Megan McArdle's essay for The Daily Beast yesterday is far and away the most level-headed reaction to the tragedy I've seen. Her conclusion, encapsulated by her sub-head, is the same as mine: "The things that would work are impractical and unconstitutional. The things we can do won't work."

She isn't coming from heartlessness; she felt as saddened and horrified as everybody else did. Nor is she just letting ideological purity trump caring about results. Her points are entirely pragmatic, grounded in hard-core realism. And she happens to be right. (She gets wrong a few small points about firearms--such as that revolvers have stronger recoil than semi-automatic handguns--and their associated laws and terminology, but nothing important enough to lead her basic thesis astray.)

By odd coincidence, I had been talking to my girlfriend about this subject just two days before Friday's news. She had just come from a local discussion group where the conversation had been about the second amendment, and asked me what I thought could be done to reduce gun violence in the United States. My answer was not very eloquent, but was much in line with McArdle's: The things that might do anything more than nibble around the edges of the problem are simply not feasible, for a variety of reasons.

For me the core obstacle to success is this: The tiny minority of people who cause all the mayhem (both mass public shootings and the enormously more common single homicides) are exceptionally resistant to the forces that cause the great majority of us to conform our behavior to societal norms--a conscience, the desire to be law-abiding citizens, a wish to not be in prison, and a preference for being alive rather than dead. A psychopath or career criminal for whom those tenets are not fundamentally controlling principles is basically beyond our power to deter until he has actually committed his felonies.

Anyway, I'm now on the verge of actually writing the threatened post rather than just writing an intro to McArdle's piece, which was my goal. So I'll shut up and suggest that you go read it.


McArdle encountered a large number of readers who erroneously read her to have said that 6-year-olds should have gang-tackled Adam Lanza. (She didn't.) To clarify, she has this short follow-up piece.

*I suppose I should add the confession that this has not always been just a mental exercise. I have irritated a few of my friends because, when they mention that something should be done, I press them for specifics, then explain why any specific proposal they suggest is doomed to failure. I'm not naturally pessimistic or fatalistic. It's just that I've spent many, many hours reading and thinking about this subject, and long ago came to the conclusion that gun violence in the U.S. is a deeply intractable problem, that there isn't anything effective that would be achievable, politically feasible, constitutional, and affordable.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The old razzle-dazzle

My table Saturday night at South Point had at least three players who were smart, experienced, and paying attention. When I have that kind of situation, one of my most reliable strategies is play completely straightforwardly for long enough that the attentive players think they have me pegged, then surprise them.

In particular, whether an opponent puts in a continuation bet after making a pre-flop raise is one of the most recognizable characteristics that attentive players will notice. I think the three most common patterns seen among $1-2 NLHE players are: (1) c-betting every time or nearly so; (2) c-betting every time one's hand is helped by the flop plus all the times that the flop looks like it should have helped a typical pre-flop raising range; and (3) c-betting when the flop is favorable to one's hand, checking when it is not.

I love to be facing opponents in category (3), because they are nearly playing with their cards face up. Reading them is easy. So when I want to lull opponents into thinking that they know where I am in a hand, I first set them up by actually playing style (3). How long I keep it up depends on how the cards fall. It needs to be long enough for my opponents have seen me raise, then either c-bet or not, with predictable results. That can take more or less time, depending on how many raising hands I get dealt early in the session. But I suppose that on average an hour or so is enough to establish me in their eyes as an easy read.

Then it's time to give 'em the razzle-dazzle--slow-play big hands to induce complacency and even larceny, win pots by betting aggressively even when I have whiffed the board.

That's what I did Saturday night. I played completely transparent, ABC poker for the first hour or so. My thinking opponents had plenty of opportunity to learn that if I checked the flop, I was basically giving up on the hand, and if I bet it, I had it. The stage was set.

The trickiest, most dangerous player at the table was, fortunately, on my immediate right. He also had a big stack of over $500. In the hand in question, he limped, then called the raise I put in with J-J. The flop was A-J-x. He checked. I checked behind, knowing that this would convince him that I did not have an ace and did not like seeing the ace on the flop. If he had an ace-rag kind of hand or a medium pair, he would be given reason to think he was probably ahead, and if he had missed completely, he would be emboldened to try to steal.

Sure enough, when some unhelpful rag fell on the turn, he bet $25. I called. He should now put me on either a jack with a good kicker (K or Q) or an unimproved pocket pair below aces. He would know by now that I did not put much money into pots with one-pair hands, especially when not top pair, giving him license to steal. One of his prime characteristics as a player was making serious stabs at pots to which opponents appeared less than fully committed. That is usually an admirable and winning strategy, but it can also be turned against you.

The river was a king. This completed no flush draws, and the only straight possible was Broadway with Q-10 in the hole. While this wasn't impossible for him to have, the odds were against it. The only other way he could theoretically have me beat would be to have A-A or K-K, and his pre-flop play made that almost impossible. I had 90%+ confidence that I had the best hand.

True to form, he took another swipe at the pot with $45 on the river. I had about $150 left. I moved all-in, hoping that he had hit some sort of two-pair hand that he would feel compelled to call with. No such luck this time. He chuckled, turned up his thoroughly unimproved Spanish Inquisition (6-3 offsuit), said, "I have a feeling you can beat this," and mucked. My jacks stayed securely face-down on their return trip to the dealer.

In retrospect, I'm virtually certain that if I had c-bet that flop, he would have folded in a heartbeat. By confounding his expectations--expectations that I had carefully cultivated for just such a moment as this--I got him to put in $70 that I could have won in no other way, with him thinking that it was a prime bluffing situation, when in reality it was anything but.

The icing on the cake was that after the hand was over, he made clear his conclusion that I had had K-K, and his bluff only failed because I had caught a lucky third king on the river. He convinced himself he had been foiled by a 2-outer, when actually he had no shot at succeeding from the get-go. This meant that even after conning him, he still had me pegged as Mr. Straightforward, and I'd be able to con him again! (Note that this would not be possible if I had succumbed to the temptation to boost my ego by showing off my tricky play. Keep your cards to yourselves, kids.) Sadly, another such opportunity did not arise before it was time to go, but I was licking my chops at the thought of it.

Razzle-dazzle 'em,
Show 'em the first-rate sorcerer you are.
Long as you keep 'em way off balance,
How can they spot you got no talents?
Razzle-dazzle 'em,
And they'll make you a star!

A quick comparison

Number of children killed by rifle fire in Connecticut that makes Barack Obama cry: 20.

Number of children killed by CIA drone strikes in Pakistan that does not make Barack Obama cry: 176 and counting.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Remedy for a dealer error

Last night I was playing at South Point. In one hand I had a single opponent. I bet the turn, he called. I was waiting for the next card to appear when the dealer said to me, "He called you." This was not news to me. It took me a couple of seconds to realize that the dealer was gently prodding me to show my hand, and another couple of seconds to realize that the dealer had made a major mistake. Somehow thinking that the hand was over, he had dropped the stub of the deck onto the discard pile. To make matters worse, he had somehow mixed the burn cards in with all the rest. (I had been watching my opponent, not the dealer, so I can't explain exactly what the dealer did, but that was the result.)

Floor was called. The stub was not clearly separable from the muck, and I don't know where the burn cards were. The floor guy's solution was to pick up most of the cards from the table, picking what appeared to me to be a completely arbitrary point most of the way down the pile. Then he had the dealer reshuffle those cards, cut, burn one, and finally deal a river card.

In theory, if the dealer had been able to tell him where the burn cards were (i.e., did he drop the stub onto the muck, then the burn cards on top?), they could have separated those out, then counted from the bottom the known number of discards that should be present, thus recreating the stub. I'm not sure why they didn't do that.

Another player who was not involved put up quite a fuss about the procedure, saying that all of the cards, including the discards, had to be included in the reshuffle. The floor guy repeatedly but politely rebuffed him by saying, "Thank you for your opinion," then going on with his instructions to the dealer.

I didn't care much. A random card is a random card, and it makes no difference to me whether they come up with the same random card that, absent the dealer error, would have been put out as fifth street, or a different random card. One is no more likely to be either beneficial or detrimental to my situation than another.

But my guess is that there is, in fact, some standard protocol to be followed in the case of this type of mistake, and that what I saw done was not it. Comments from those more knowledgeable in such arcane matters will be welcome.

Saturday, December 15, 2012


Some months ago I turned on the word-verification feature for comments. I.e., you had to prove you were a real person in order to post, though anonymous comments were still allowed. It immediately cut way down on the amount of spam I had to deal with.

A few days ago I quietly turned that requirement off to see if perhaps the problem had stopped or slowed down. Nope. Within 24 hours, it was back to about ten times a day getting an email notification of an obviously spamming comment submitted, which I would then have to flag as such. It's a serious irritant. So with regrets and apologies to my readers, word verification is being turned back on. Blame the horrible, selfish, anti-social people who think that the whole internet should be theirs for splattering their ads. If you are one of them, please go die in a fire.

Also, for reasons that are completely obscure, sometimes I don't get an email telling me that a comment is awaiting my approval. I try to remember once a week or so to go to the Blogger dashboard and check for pending comments that didn't generate an email notice to me, but sometimes I forget and comments languish in limbo without my knowledge. It's not a conspiracy, just a techo-glitch. Please forgive and don't take it personally.

Slightly off-topic

Why is there an editorial on the use of pesticides on farms in the new issue of Poker Player newspaper?

Growing problem?

(No poker content.)

In the wake of yesterday's school shooting in Connecticut, I tried discussing possible solutions with various friends and strangers on Twitter--which admittedly is a pretty awful medium for such things. One of them first said that school shootings were an "epidemic." When I questioned the validity of that label, he said he was willing to settle for calling it a "growing and disturbing trend." I asked him for his statistical evidence that it was a "growing" problem. He admitted that he had none other than "being alive for the last 20 years."

I had no specific evidence in mind. I didn't know offhand whether it was a growing, shrinking, or stable problem. I am, however, aware of the very human tendency to feel that things are getting worse even if they are not. Our minds tend to emphasize recent things more than past things, making us not very reliable at judging trends in the absence of actual hard data.

This morning I was reading a piece by Nick Gillespie in Reason magazine's "Hit and Run" blog: "4 Awful Reactions to Sandy Hook School Shootings--And Thoughts on a Better Response." He points to this helpful table of data from the National Center for Education Statistics, citing it for the proposition that our schools are actually getting safer over time, not more dangerous. It's downloadable as an Excel spreadsheet. I had Excel spit out this graph from the table:

The only massaging of the data I have done is to add a five-year moving average, in an attempt to damp down some of the wide year-to-year swings. Each pink dot is the arithmetic mean of the previous five years.

If there is any directionality to the trend line, it is downward. You might say that there is no clear trend in either direction, that the variation from year to year is so great that you can't discern any definite overall movement either up or down. I wouldn't quibble with that reading.

But I don't think any fair-minded person can look at these numbers (I'm taking for granted that they are complete and accurate) and say that homicides of school children are a "growing" phenomenon, or any more of an "epidemic" than was the case 20 years ago. Moreover, this table from the same organization shows that total school enrollment (pre-kindergarten to grade 12) has increased from 46,864,000 in 1990 to 54,704,000 in 2010, a growth of about 17%. This means that even if the absolute number of school homicide deaths were steady over time, the risk per student is declining.

Of course, this conclusion does not mean that each death is not tragic, or that we should just shrug our shoulders and live with things as they are. But I firmly believe that public policy debates have to be grounded in objective facts, or they are bound to go off in the wrong direction.

I am proposing no particular solutions here. I just wanted to present the data as a starting point for figuring out what more, if anything, can and should be done about the problem.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Owning your mistakes--or not

Last night I was at MGM Grand in search of men in cowboy hats. They were there by the millions,  it seemed, streaming by the poker room for hours, but none of them ever stopped in to play. Go figure.

Anyway, at one point I was in second position with K-K and intended to raise to $8. I dropped the red chip on the table and was going to drop my three blue chips next to it. But--oops!--I saw that I had just two blue chips in my hand instead of three. Without thinking, I reached back to my stack to fetch another blue chip. But as I moved my hand forward again to drop the three blues, I realized that I had screwed up, and could no longer legally add more chips to my bet. The red chip, sitting lonely out there on the felt, constituted just a call of the big blind, as I had not announced a raise. I would have to play a limped pot from out of position with pocket kings--not my favorite situation to be in. Worse, everybody had seen what had happened and knew that I had wanted to raise, so they were alerted that I probably had a big starting hand, and there was little chance of going for a limp-reraise.

Oh well. This was, as far as I can remember, the first time I've make that particular error, and I'm not going to beat myself up over making one dumb string-raise mistake in seven years of playing.

The flop came A-K-x. I bet, hoping that somebody with an ace would call me down, but the bevy of limpers all folded. Small pot won. Disaster averted.

Another orbit or two later, I was again in early position, this time with A-Q offsuit. I raised to $8--legally this time. The guy across the table from me was on the button, and had his attention divided because he was chatting with a friend standing behind him. It appeared that he intended to call my raise, but instead of picking up one red chip and three blues, he accidentally picked up two of each and tossed them forward, then resumed his conversation. It took the dealer a few attempts to get his attention and tell him that he had to raise to $16. He didn't understand at first, because he was not aware that he had put in more chips than my $8 worth.

When he couldn't convince the dealer that his intention of just calling should be the determining factor, he appealed to me: "You know I meant to just call, right?" I wanted to stay neutral, so that nothing about the strength of my hand would be given away by advocating for some particular outcome. I also didn't want to antagonize him. So I said, "I don't know what the house rule is, but I'm fine just abiding by whatever it is."

I pause here to note that the dealer was wrong. The player's min-raise would have been to $14, not $16. But I didn't care, and I didn't want to add another issue to that of whether his bet should be construed to be a raise. I wanted to stay out of it, and let the dealer handle it. Let her be the object of this player's irrationally growing wrath.

He finally accepted her direction to increase his bet to $16. I just called. Of course, I could have reraised. After all, unless he's shooting for an Academy Award, he was not one bit happy about having to put more money in, so he was not sitting on any hand that he really loved. I didn't want to blow him out of the pot when there was a high chance that I had a hand that dominated his. I.e., if he had a weak ace or a queen with a worse kicker and we both hit the flop, I could win a big pot. If I were to reraise and he were to call, I'd be stuck playing for a bloated pot with A-Q from out of position, which is not an enviable task.

I won't bore you with the details of how the hand played out, because they're not relevant to my point, but I ended up winning the pot when I hero-called his river bluff on a somewhat scary board.  He showed 3c-4c, which had flopped bottom pair to my top pair.

The fact that he lost $50 or so on the hand stoked his irritation even further. For another five minutes after the hand was over, he continued arguing with the dealer about her forcing him to increase his bet to a full legal raise. His intention to merely call should have governed what happened, he kept insisting. I don't know why she kept explaining it to him over and over, or why she kept apologizing for enforcing the rule, as if it were somehow her fault. I think she should have either ignored him, told him to drop it, or called the floor to handle it.

The point, though, is that we all at least occasionally make technical mistakes when playing poker in addition to the tactical ones. All you can do is accept that you erred, figure out the implications for how the hand will now play out differently, and move forward. It is pointless, dishonest, and self-defeating to try to get a do-over, or to blame somebody else for what you did, or to get hot under the collar about it, thus clouding your judgment for how to play the hand optimally. This guy last night did all three.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Poker gems, #467

Pauly McGuire, in Bluff magazine, December, 2012, page 93.

There's often no logic in what happens once the dealer fans out the flop, then drops a turn card, and a river card. Because the universe has spoken and that's that. Either you make the best hand, or you don't. And if you don't have a strong hand, then you better have balls the size of a Volkswagen because that's the only way you're going to win the bully your opponent and let them know who's tougher...who's a bigger bad ass. You can't do that playing limit hold'em or playing low-limit stud with the myopic fogies reeking of mothballs and Ben-Gay. But at a no-limit table, you look a man in the eye and scare the heck out of him with a fierce movement of chips to the center of the felt.

Poker gems, #466

Jennifer Tilly, in Bluff magazine column, December, 2012, page 90. She describes a wild night of poker in Ivey's Room at the Aria, which saw her down by $400,000 at one point, gradually clawing her way back to a $6000 profit by around 6:00 a.m.

I take a taxi back to the Bellagio. The bill is seven dollars, and I give the guy 20 and tell him to keep the change. He lights up like a Christmas tree, and I realize I am back in the real world where money means something.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Dealers and players

I very much liked Andrew Brokos's blog post today at, musing about player conduct and dealer conduct. It sounds to me as if he behaves at the table much like I do. I've never met him, but I'm pretty sure we would get along famously.

Read the whole thing here.

Unusual day

Sunday was a highly atypical day for me.


First I had a late lunch with my sister, her husband, one of their daughters, and her husband, all in town for the annual rodeo. Then we went bowling at Sam's Town. I won both games, scoring 139 and 150, which is pretty good for me--especially since I haven't bowled in about 18 months.

Unfortunately, in the process I somehow managed to wrench my back, so now I'm in pain and walking funny, dreading when I have to change positions. Getting old sucks.


Came home, did some work. In the evening I sort of invited myself to a home game some friends were having--@spencer_chen, @gamble24x7, @veggiepoof, and one other whose Twitter I don't know. It was my first chance to play open-faced Chinese poker, which seems to be all the rage these days. I had never even played regular Chinese before, though I had watched it a few times and understood the basic idea.

My entire knowledge of OFCP comes from an article in Card Player magazine by Jennifer Shahade , a blog post a few days ago by Shamus, and an article by Dave Behr in the December issue of Bluff magazine, which by coincidence I had just read yesterday. So I was green as green could be, and knew I was likely to lose money. Which I did--$89, to be exact, at $1/point. But that's OK. Learning new forms of poker always costs money as one makes mistakes and, hopefully, learns from them to play better.

But ya know what? I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say that OFCP is not, in fact, a form of poker. For that matter, neither is traditional Chinese poker.

This is a point that I haven't seen raised in any of the three sources I mentioned, but which occurred to me as I watched the others play during the one hand out of five I had to sit out. (A maximum of four people can play at once, since each player needs 13 cards.) There are several ways to express the basic element that is missing, but they all amount to the same thing:

  • There are no hole cards, no secrets that you hold which are unknown to the other players. 
  • There is no betting on the strength of your hand. 
  • It is a game of perfect rather than imperfect information. 
  • You cannot bluff. 
Mike Matusow is generally not a font of wisdom that I turn to, but Michael Craig quotes him as saying, "If you can't steal, it ain't poker." He's absolutely right. 

Mike Caro has argued that the ability to bluff is more a defining element of poker than are cards. He describes an imaginary game of "cow chip poker," in which the players scout a nearby field for cow chips, conceal what they find in paper bags, then reassemble to bet on who has the biggest one. You can win with an empty bag by betting in such a way as to convince your opponents that you found the biggest cow chip. That's poker, even with no cards. In another hypothetical situation, he describes how two people can play poker with a deck of just three cards, because you still have the crucial elements of being able to have a secret card and bluff with the worst hand. 

Video poker is not poker, in part because it's played against the house rather than against other players, but also because it lacks secret information and bluffing. OFCP fails by that same criterion. They are both games that superficially resemble poker because they use the standard 52-card deck and poker's traditional five-card hand rankings. But resembling is not being. They are not poker. 

It was, nevertheless, highly enjoyable. I didn't find it nearly as addictive as others breathlessly describe it after first exposure, but it's definitely an intriguing game. 

Oh, and the other important thing I learned about OFCP is that people say "fuck" a lot. Really a lot. 


After I got home, I watched the premier of "Sin City Rules" on TLC, which I had taped earlier. The only reason I was interested in it is because one of the stars is Jennifer Harman, whom I like. But I thought the whole thing was awful, painful, unwatchable. Jennifer is fine, but the other women are completely unbearable. They're self-absorbed attention whores. Judging by the first episode and the teaser on TLC's web site, the show exists mainly to capture and televise the catfights among them. Ick. I can't understand why anybody would watch such trash. The preview for next week's show seemed to focus more on Harman's life as a mother and poker player, so I'll probably give it one more try, but I can't see myself tuning in much beyond that. I'm kind of perplexed how she got associated with the show; she seems not at all like the others. 

And that was my completely out-of-the-ordinary day. 

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Poker gems, #465

Nick Wealthall, in Bluff magazine, December, 2012, page 71.

The worst offense--one that you see time and again--is to fold a legitimate hand to a bet and then show it. There is simply no way to state how utterly stupid this is.... Over and over, you'll see players open-raise a hand, get three-bet or shoved on, think and then fold, before showing one card--an ace. Let me tell you right now you might as well have taken every good player at the table to one side before play and said, "Hey fellas, I'm the soft spot at the table. Feel free to reach into my arse and pull out as many chips as you like. Seriously, beat me up. Batter me over and over again. I fricking love it. I am here to help you!"

When a player shows a semi-strong hand he's folded, his opponents don't think, "Ooh, he's so clever to make that big laydown," they think,"Wow, what a pussy! I wonder what else I can make him fold."

Saturday, December 08, 2012

How do they know?

The new issue of Card Player magazine (November 28, 2012; vol. 25, #24) has a two-page article by Craig Tapscott on pages 28-29 in which he interviews Alex "Assassinato" Fitzgerald about the latter's thought processes during a hand he played in one of the 2012 WCOOP events.

Here's the second page:

It's the graphic that has me puzzled. If you read the interview, you see that the hand ended when Fitzgerald bet on fourth street and his opponent folded.

So where do they get the river 2c in the graphic? And how do they know that the villain had the Ks-Qs?

My first thought was that the whole graphic was an error, meant for another hand. But no--the cards shown for Fitzgerald perfectly match the text of the article, as do the flop and turn cards.

I also thought that maybe the opponent showed his cards before mucking them, and/or that this occurred on one of the online poker sites that allow rabbit-hunting, in order to see what the last card would have been. But that can't be, because they specify that this occurred during the WCOOP, which is on PokerStars. Stars does not have rabbit-hunting, and does not allow players to show their hole cards when folding.

So who put those false, extraneous pieces of information into the graphic? And why?

Also, am I the only one who notices stuff like this?

ADDENDUM: See comments for explanation of the hole cards, though the 2c river remains a mystery.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

New Harrah's poker room

Yesterday my friend "Apollo" tweeted a picture of a new poker room at Harrah's. This surprised me, as I had not heard that a move was in the works.

Today by coincidence I was at Harrah's. I have a friend visiting from out of town, and we decided to see the Mac King magic show. While I was there, I stopped to have a peek at the new room:

I don't play much at Harrah's, because it's a place where for some reason I have historically tended to lose more than I win. But on the occasions that I did play there, the things that I especially liked were that it was basically a hermetically sealed room. It was as perfectly isolated from casino smoke and noise as any poker room I've ever been in.

No more. Now it's right out on the casino floor, with just a low half-wall marking its border. Which means that there is no protection from the noise, and people will come and stand right next to the wall and smoke while they watch a poker game two feet away. Ick.

So now I'll have even less reason to play there than I did before.

I also stopped by the old poker room to see what was being done with it. Kind of hard to tell:

This is taken from the door leading to the sports book area.

The old Harrah's poker room is also where I first met Cardgrrl. She was standing about where that plastic bag in the foreground is.

Everything changes in Vegas.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

If only

Ten minutes ago I won a pot of over $1000 by rivering quads for a one-outer. Specifically, my 4-4 beat J-J on a board of J-4-2-2-4.

So why the post title? And how am I able to be posting about it so fast?

Because ten minutes ago I was sound asleep in my bed.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

"Multi-Action Poker"

New way to deal live poker will be tried at Aria starting tomorrow. Kind of like multi-tabling live. See details here.

I've seen the table at Aria. It's pretty funky. Several people have Tweeted pictures of it, such as this one from John Kim.

WPBT hike

The poker bloggers of the world were in town for the annual December gathering this past weekend. It was, as always, good to see so many smart, fun, interesting, interconnected people at once. Here's the group shot of the bunch of us just before the start of the Saturday tournament at Aria, which, shockingly, I did not win. (I had the honor of Wil Wheaton mock-derisively declaring my tournament starting table "bullshit.")

This year, for the first time, Dan England organized a hike for Friday morning. I was one of the people to show up for it. Those who survived are pictured here. Those who succumbed to wild burro attacks did not get their pictures taken. (Burro bites, like moose bites, can be pretty nasty.)

The chosen hiking path was the 4.2-mile Oak Creek Loop, just outside the Red Rock Canyon scenic drive. I took a bunch of pictures. I wasn't going to post them, because when I got home and looked at them on my computer, I found them disappointing. Josie (who doesn't get a link now cuz she isn't writing anymore) griped at me for not having blogged about the weekend. I told her that I had no good stories and the pictures were crappy. She looked at a couple and said they were better than I thought, so fine, I'm doing it. Album of hike pictures is here.

But I still have no good stories to tell.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


There's always something new and crazy coming to Vegas.

Tombstone Hold'em

I just learned about this game from a post on my brother's blog. He only mentions it in passing, but the name "Tombstone Hold'em" got my attention. The rules can be found here (though I assume that several times when they refer to a "pocket pair" they really mean "hole cards," which need not form a pair). It looks like fun. I just wish I had known of it in time to organize a run of it at this upcoming weekend's annual poker blogger gathering.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

"You'll get there"

(No poker content.)

Last night I was browsing bike routes that local riders have uploaded, looking for someplace new to explore this morning. I found this one out in Henderson and thought it looked promising:

I did see that hill between the 11- and 12-mile marks, but thought that after my encounter with the monster climb Tuesday, I could handle this one. Ah, the hubris of youth. Or age. To tell you the truth, I didn't even check the slopes. I just looked at the total elevation change, and made a snap-call that it was manageable. Had I peered into the numbers a little more deeply, I might have seen that most of that uphill is 7-9%, and stretches of it are above 10%, peaking at 13.6%. Those numbers may not mean much to you if you have no experience comparing them with real-world roads, but trust me--those are gnarly slopes. The one that nearly killed me Tuesday was a pretty steady 4-5%. So if I had seriously studied the map for this one in Henderson, I might have spared myself what was to come.

The first part of the ride wasn't hard. About ten miles in, I got to the base of the hill and started up, determined that I was going to do it without stopping, even if it meant going ultra-slow. If I just looked a short distance in front of my tire, I could convince myself that I could do it--just keep turning the pedals one more time, then one more time after that.* But if I lifted my head and looked at how far I had to go, and how steep it was, it felt impossible.

I was pushing through the hurt, mostly managing not to discourage myself by looking too far ahead. But then about half way up, I had a sudden collapse. I had not planned on stopping to rest, but all at once I just couldn't push the pedals any more, and had to stop. I parked the bike and sat on a big rock panting, sensing my heart about to pound its way through my sternum, feeling pathetically sorry for myself. I also felt stupid: Twice in one week I had bitten off more than I could chew (an apt metaphor for Thanksgiving week). How could I have looked at the profile of this hill--a mere three days after having underestimated the one in Summerlin--and yet again failed to realize that it was beyond my capacity? Am I really that slow a learner?

As I was wallowing in fatigue and hypoxia and pain and self-pity, I glanced up and saw another cyclist coming up the hill. He was covering ground faster than I would have thought humanly possible, given how that same slope had defeated me. What's more was that he didn't look like it was killing him, or even bothering him. He appeared to be enjoying himself, as if he were just on an relaxing Sunday jaunt. At a glance it was obvious that he was a very, very strong rider. His bike and accessories were top-shelf, and he was clearly in that elite class of riders for whom such expensive purchases were justified, in that he could really squeeze their performance potential from them. If there is a bell curve of cycling ability, he and I are at opposite ends of it.

He never stopped, but he slowed down as he neared me. He called out, "Are you all right?" "Fine," I replied. "I just couldn't make it all the way up without stopping to rest."

He gave me a smile that struck me as warm and supportive, not in the least bit condescending (as he might have reason to be, given the disparity in our abilities), and said sympathetically, "It's a hard climb." By now he was past me, and he looked back over his shoulder to add, "But don't worry--you'll get there." And he sped off.

I'm not usually one to be easily affected by cheap sentiment, breezy cliches, or generic affirmations. But something about the specific words he chose and the warmth and compassion that I detected behind them gave me a real rush of confidence. Like few times that I can remember in my life, in a flash my mood and outlook were transformed. This random stranger managed, with those last six words, to pull me out of a pit of doubt and self-recrimination and snapped me back into focusing on actually getting done what I had set out to do. As soon as he had disappeared around a bend, I hopped back on my bike to attack the hill again.

And you know what? He was right. I did get there. Not nearly as fast as he did, but at my own slow pace I got to the top, when a few minutes before I had come very close to convincing myself that I couldn't do it and calling off the apparently futile attempt.

Not many worthwhile things in life are easy. Once in a while you are treated to an easy coast down a hill and the feeling is exhilarating. But very quickly that freeroll ends and you're back to the hard slog up the ugly side of the next challenge, step after step, day after day. Life is one hill after another after another, and we spend a lot more time trudging up them than we do sailing down the other side. Each one can feel endless, even pointless, as if you'll never beat it, as if you'll never get to the top.

It's a hard climb.

But don't worry--you'll get there.

*If you've never seen the documentary film "Touching the Void," you owe it to yourself to find it and watch it. It's an incredible, harrowing story of survival. In short, a guy with a broken leg has to climb down a mountain in the Andes all by himself, because his partner has left him behind, assuming that he had died in the fall that broke his leg. I thought the most interesting part was the psychological tricks he had to use to get himself through the ordeal. He had a master self who kept issuing commands, such as, "You have to get to that rock over there before you can rest." And the part of his mind that was actually carrying out the orders would protest that it couldn't be done. But the master self was like a slave driver who would accept no excuses for failure. So accomplishing one small goal at a time, pushing through the pain of one more short segment before resting, he made it down and survived. It took him several days of pushing himself in that way. I realize it's kind of melodramatic of me to compare a virtually risk-free suburban hill climb on a bicycle to that arduous journey, but I do flash back to it when trying to push myself to go a little bit farther, and then a little bit farther after that.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

South Carolina case

I have just read the decision of the South Carolina Supreme Court in Town of Mount Pleasant v. Chimento, available here. I have not read any other coverage or commentary on it. I don't have time for as full a critique as I would like to write, but here are some scattered thoughts. And remember: I am not a lawyer, and I don't even play one on TV.

1. The entire case turns on the meaning of the phrase "any house used as a place of gaming," because the statute bans gambling only in specifically listed locations, and this is the only one from the list that could conceivably apply to the home poker game in question. The phrase is not defined by the statute. You can immediately intuit that the phrase cannot just mean "any house where gaming takes place," because if that is the intended meaning, then the legislature would have just said, "any house." Put another way, the broadest interpretation renders meaningless the qualifying verbiage, "used as a place of gaming." So when does a house shift from being one where gaming is taking place but is not "used as a place of gaming" to one where gaming is taking place and is "used as a place of gaming"? That is the crux of the whole matter.

2. The majority concludes that, sure, it will often be vague whether some particular defendant's conduct crosses that ill-defined line, but these particular defendants were so clearly on the bad side of the line that we don't have to decide where that line is. Moreover, the court said, these defendants don't even have legal standing to raise the constitutional defense of statutory vagueness.

3. I think the dissent has by far the better argument here. The dissent says that whether these defendants' conduct was clearly over the line is not the end of the inquiry. We also have to ask whether the fuzziness of the line is such an intrinsic characteristic of the statutory language that arbitrary enforcement is necessarily going to result. And she concludes that that is, in fact, the statute's fatal flaw, constitutionally speaking, independent of the question of whether these defendants' due-process rights were violated because the vagueness of the statute made it impossible for them to know whether their conduct ran afoul of the law.

These defendants were only arrested and prosecuted because of the regularity of the game's occurrence, the fact that they held open an invitation for anyone to join, because rake was taken to defray the costs of providing food, and because the stakes were more than "penny-ante." The police freely admitted that it was these criteria that caused them to make arrests. Yet none of these additional criteria are in the statute. When the police make up their own criteria for deciding who to arrest and who to leave alone, I don't see how anybody can deny that this constitutes arbitrary enforcement. Nor can I see how anybody can deny that arbitrary enforcement is both (1) constitutionally disallowed as a matter of due process and (2) odious and dangerous as a matter of public policy. As the dissent persuasively argues, this statue is so vague that arbitrariness on the part of law enforcement is not only a possibility, but an inevitable consequence, and that is something the Supreme Court has rightly and repeatedly said cannot be tolerated.

4. My preference for the dissent's conclusion really has nothing to do with my preference, as a public policy matter, that people be free to run poker games in their home. It surely has a great deal to do, however, with my personal experience with arbitrary enforcement of laws. I have been on the raw end of an arbitrary law-enforcement decision--and not in a minor way, but in a way that completely changed the entire trajectory of my life, so I have a strong visceral distaste for prosecutions that hinge on the arbitrary decisions of those charged with enforcing the laws.

5. The majority decision doesn't take issue with the conclusion of the lower court that poker is a game in which skill predominates over luck. But not a single member of the court, either in the majority or in the dissent, thought that that had any bearing on the outcome. It was completely irrelevant to the questions that the court had to answer. "Whether an activity is gaming/gambling is not dependent upon the relative roles of skill and chance, but whether there is money or something of value wagered on the game's outcome." If you hear anybody say that this court held that poker is a game of skill, they're either misinformed or deliberately misstating the facts. That language is pure dicta--i.e., a side commentary on a question that the court did not have to resolve in order to reach its conclusion. It has no legal force, and cannot properly be cited as precedent by future courts.

6. I'm appalled at Chief Justice Toal's concurrence. She effectively admits that she would vote to uphold the statute even if it is unconstitutionally vague because she fears what would happen to public decency and order if they struck it down. I consider that a flagrant abdication of her duty. In the rare instances in which a court finds that it must invalidate a statute but that doing so will leave some sort of potentially alarming gap in the state's whole statutory scheme, one compromise remedy courts can turn to is to stay (i.e., delay) the effect of the decision--say, for 30 or 60 or 90 days--to give the legislature time to enact a replacement before the old statute is declared void.

7. The dissent reads to me as if it were originally written to be a majority opinion, then tweaked later when it became a dissent. My guess is that the swing vote, Toal, was with the dissent at first, but then what became the court's opinion was amended just enough to win her over as far as the result, though she still disagreed with the main part of its reasoning. It appears that it was the section on standing that pulled her over.

8. The dissent is right, IMHO, to criticize the majority's handling of the standing question. That is, they are deciding the case (or at least settling one of its most important arguments) on the basis of a question that neither party raised to the court. Although the dissent doesn't say this, the proper thing for the court to do when it faces such a dilemma is to order the parties to do additional briefing, and perhaps even a second round of oral argument, to address the question on which the case may be turning. (This is what happened, for example, in the Citizens United case on campaign financing before the Supreme Court a couple of years ago.)

OK, that's all I have time for. Besides, it's probably more than about 99% of you are interested in already.

Climb every mountain

(No poker content.)

I found a web site, Strava, on which one can not only upload the GPS data from a bike ride, but compare it to other users who have covered the same track. I quickly discovered that one of the most popular local biking challenges is a route called the "Villa Ridge climb" in Summerlin:

I thought it would be fun and interesting to take it on and compare my time to the best that have been recorded--which, as you can see, is 13:37 for a man, 15:03 for a woman. I knew I would be vastly slower than that, but I didn't expect that I'd have difficulty even finishing the ride. After all,  I've done 24-mile rides with 1000 feet of climb, so how hard can 4.4 miles and 667 feet of climb be?

As it turns out, a lot harder than I thought. I had to stop--twice--for ten-minute breaks to catch my breath. Some of my longer rides to date have certainly left me tired, but I had never before been forced to stop because I had reached my cardiovascular limit. Until today.

The first time I must have looked a sight sitting on the curb panting, because a nice lady stopped her car, rolled down the window, and asked if I was OK. I put on a brave face. "Yes, fine, thanks--just taking a breather." Inside, though, I was dying.

When the fire in my legs and lungs again forced a halt, this time I dialed 911 and had the friendly paramedics come by and jump-start my heart a few times, as it had gone into ventricular fibrillation.

Why so much difficulty compared to my previous rides? The answer perhaps should have been obvious to me just looking at the graph above, but it became painfully apparent as I was riding: It's the unbroken, unrelenting nature of the climb. Once it starts going uphill, there are no flat spots, no downhill portions in which to do some recovery. It's just climb, climb, climb, and climb some more.That is a condition I haven't faced before, and it makes all the difference in the world.

But I did eventually make it up the hill, mostly fueled by sheer stubbornness. Well, that plus the fact that I had left my car at the top of the hill, so turning around and heading down was not an option. I confess that I was feeling so completely whipped that I probably would have wimped out and taken that option had it been available.

My time? 51 minutes, including the rest breaks. My legs felt like overcooked spaghetti for the rest of the day. Overcooked spaghetti that was on fire.

This is mildly discouraging because I've had my eye on riding Red Rock Canyon, and that is an even more difficult climb, with more than 50% greater elevation rise in about the same distance as Villa Ridge. I had previously been thinking that it would be at the outer edge of my ability, but that I could do it. I now know that I can't--at least not without taking several breaks along the way, and maybe being carried the last mile or two by my funeral procession.

On the other hand, being faced with this stark evidence of how out of shape I am gives me some motivation to do better. And having an objective, repeatable benchmark test gives me the means to track my progress. Maybe next time I can make do with one ten-minute rest and one five-minute rest. Then with just two five-minute rests, then just one. And maybe, just maybe, in a month or two I can increase my leg strength and cardiovascular reserve enough that I can make it to the top without stopping at all. (One of the advantages of living in Las Vegas is that even in the winter it doesn't get prohibitively cold for biking.)

I still won't show up on the Strava leaderboard, but that doesn't matter. I'm really only competing against myself. As long as I can get to where I can convincingly trounce the pathetic, out-of-shape, overweight, middle-aged, whiny slowpoke who barely managed to even finish the ride today, it will be something I'll be proud of.

Monday, November 19, 2012


Steve Zolotow presents an interesting little quiz in his column for Card Player magazine (November 14, 2012, issue; vol. 25, #23, page 50). He asks the reader to estimate what percentage of the time 10s-9s will win against the following hands, assuming all-in before the flop:

1. Ac-Ad
2. Ac-Kc
3. Ac-5c
4. 5c-5d
5. 7c-6c
6. 9c-8c
7. Top 20 percent range
8. Top 40 percent range
9. Top 60 percent range
10. All hands--100 percent range

If this piques your curiosity as it did mine, take a couple of minutes to jot down your answers, before scrolling down.

Here are the answers Zolotow gives, as percentages, followed in parentheses by the estimates I had written down:

1. 22.8 (20)
2. 38.7 (40)
3. 45.9 (45)
4. 52.4 (50)
5. 62.8 (65)
6. 69.3 (75)
7. 35.4 (30)
8. 41.6 (35)
9. 46.5 (40)
10. 54.0 (45)

Clearly I did a lot better putting in estimates against specific starting hands than I did against ranges. I have a bazillion times more experience with the former than with the latter. For the former, my guesses were all good enough that they would produce the right answer in a go/no-go situation at the table nearly every time. For the latter, though I wasn't outrageously off, I still missed by enough to cause an erroneous decision in some significant spots.

And, frankly, estimating hand strength against an opponent's range is a more important skill than estimating it against a specific hand. It's something I ought to work on.

How about you?

The near future of online poker

This insightful analysis was published nearly a month ago, but it had escaped my attention until Poker Lawyer tweeted a link to it today:

I won the Sunday Million on PokerStars

OK, well, not me, exactly, but clearly one of my disciples in the Holy Order of the Mighty Deuce-Four, somebody using the screen name Sexylady409. See the write-up of the final hand of the tournament near the end of this piece. (Thanks to Jen for the tip.)

Saturday, November 17, 2012

It's the little things that count

The little cards, that is.

Last night I was playing at Aria with my friend Poker Lawyer, who was in town for a few days. Shortly before the events described herein transpired, we were also joined by another friend, Stump.

I had 2c-4c on the button and called a raise to $15 from a middle-position player. PL was on my left in the small blind, and reraised to $45. I called, and it was just us to the flop. I don't remember what hit, except that it was completely uncoordinated and had a 4. Which, of course, was plenty of reason to call her $50 flop bet, knowing that I either already had the best hand (if she was playing A-K), or would improve to it with two pair or trips on the turn or river. Turn card was a blank. She checked. I moved all in for my last $110 or so. She folded. I showed. She said, "Every trip to Vegas I lose $100 to you when you have that hand!"

She is, apparently, learning, however. She won a big pot with 2-4 when I was away from the table on a phone call.

Not long after that 2-4 hand I had 6s-3s. The 6-3 is a hand that my friend Grange95 and his other Iowa poker-playing friends call "The Spanish Inquisition," because nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition. (I have written about this a few times before. See here.) I raised to $13. The guy to PL's left called. His play was a completely straightforward, conservative, ABC style. (He also bragged to us about his niece the porn star, but that's another story.) Flop: 6-3-6 with two diamonds. OK, that might be good for me.

I was surprised that Porn Star Uncle led out with a $20 bet, but I was happy that he had a hand that he liked well enough to do that with. I was guessing a medium pair, 7s or 8s or 9s. He tended to reraise pre-flop with 10s or higher. I didn't really think he had a flush draw, because he was not the type to take over the betting lead with a draw. I also didn't think he had a straight draw, because even if he had called me with a 4-5 (presumably suited), I didn't think he would lead out with it. I hoped against hope that he had 3-3 in the hole, though this seemed unlikely. I called.

Turn was 4d. This time he bet $35. He was not one to lead out betting twice without a hand that he liked a lot, so I felt confident now putting in a raise to $100. He rechecked his hole cards before calling. Aha! He probably has a big pair with a diamond, and he was playing it more cautiously pre-flop than most people would. I don't think he would call that raise with just an overpair unless it included a big diamond, hoping for a flush. I mentally joined him in hoping that he would get there.

He did. The river was the 7d. Now, this put a four-card straight flush on the board, which gave me a bit of pause. But he checked to me. If he had the 5d, I didn't think he would take a chance on missing a value bet if I got scared by that board and checked behind. I also didn't think he would have bet out on the flop with just a gutshot straight-flush draw. Furthermore, since both the 4d and 6d were on the board, he couldn't have started with suited connectors that included the 5d, and I didn't read him for being somebody who would play gappers after a pre-flop raise. And, finally, if I flop a full house and lose to runner-runner straight flush, well, them's the breaks, and I'm going to feel like I just got ridiculously unlucky, not that I played badly. However, failing to value-bet a full house when I think my opponent has just made a big flush, because of "monsters under the bed syndrome," would indeed be playing badly.

So I shoved. He called instantly and flipped over pocket queens, including, of course, the Qd. I showed the full house. Judging by his facial expression and sputtered words, I think it's safe to say that he did not expect the Spanish Inquisition. Our chief weapon is surprise.

Frankly, I'm still puzzled by his call. He should have been worried that I had Ad-Kd or Ad-Jd when I raised the turn, or that I had an unsuited big ace with the Ad that beat him on the river. He had seen me bluffing before, but never for anywhere near this amount. Maybe he didn't notice that those had been much smaller pots.

Anyway, he had me covered just barely, and I ended up doubling up with that $680 pot. Nice work if you can get it.

PL and I told the table about our strange Iowa friends and their love of the Spanish Inquisition. The next hand I played was again a 6-3. I raised, bet the K-4-5 flop, got a caller. Turn was 2, giving me the nuts. I bet and the other guy folded, his face registering obvious suspicion. I showed again.

Within five minutes, I had S.I. a third time. This time I just called somebody else's raise. Flop again had a 4 and 5, so I called. Turn 7. He checked. I bet. He folded.

By this time, everybody knew. It was no longer true that nobody expected the Spanish Inquisition. In fact, everybody was fully anticipating exactly what I had, and they were right.

Lesson: A hand that nobody expects has diminishing returns as they learn to expect it. Which, of course, means that you move on to other hands that they are not expecting. In big-bet poker, a disproportionate share of your profit will come from hands that are outside of the range your opponents will think you are playing in a given situation.

One player joked to me, "I see you winning with 2-4 and 3-6, and I feel that I'm learning the wrong poker lessons here." I corrected him: "No, you are finally learning the truth about which hands are actually the strongest. The books you've read have it all wrong."

A tip o' the hat to Grange95 for cluing me in to the power of the 6-3. It's no 2-4, but clearly it will do in a pinch.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Poker gems, #464

Andrew Brokos, in Card Player magazine column, November 14, 2012 (vol. 25, #23), page 40.

I'd rather have a good hand and the best position than the best hand and poor position.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


I have twice recently come across the phrase "touch-bet" as a poker term, and I don't know exactly what it means.

Both times have been in Poker Player Newspaper columns by David "The Maven" Chicotsky. First, in the September 25 issue he wrote:

Remember also that even though our continuation bet of 375 is very small relative to the pot, it still represents about 25% of our opponent’s stack left behind. Quite often we’re able to use our stack leverage against our opponent by making polarized bets that are very small or big relative to the effective stack in the hand.  
This is one of those examples where I’d prefer to see us make a value- oriented-bluff touch-bet on the flop, or put our opponent all in. Just because you’re used to betting a certain size on the flop, doesn’t make it the optimal size for the given situation.
The second example is from his November 19 column (not available online yet):
We are able to bet larger or small in an attempt to mitigate risk; betting larger with a naked draw or betting smaller with absolute air (such as a touch-bet). Sometimes betting smaller gives off the impression that we have a strong hand against thinking players. It's possible to come up with a bunch of reasons to bet more or less than our normal default bet sizing. 
Obviously the context is virtually identical for these two instances. I can get a general sense that it's a small continuation bet after missing the flop. But is there something more precise about it than that--more conditions that define it or set it apart from other continuation bets? The fact that both instances of its use come from Chicotsky makes me suspect that it's a term that he and/or his pal Ari Engel came up with. But so far a Google search has been fruitless in coming up with a clearer description of what the phrase means.

Anyone? Anyone?

Addendum, November 13, 2012 

I asked Chicotsky via Twitter for an explanation of his terminology. His response:

Monday, November 12, 2012

Pocket guide

A bunch of copies of this book were in the magazine rack in the poker room at Mandalay Bay when I was there yesterday. Last week I saw somebody in my Twitter feed mention having picked one up at Treasure Island, I think.

It's a guide to the poker rooms of Las Vegas. Each room has either one or two pages, with details about location, contact information, games spread, tournament schedule, and promotions.

Nothing in the book indicates who compiled or published it, or why. At first glance you'd think that it's paid for by advertising. But the only ad anywhere is the back cover, which is a splash for the Venetian poker room.

A printed book is a strange medium for this kind of information these days. The details change so fast that the book was guaranteed to be out of date the day it hit the stands. And it was. Two of the poker rooms it lists have already closed (Jokers Wild and Aliante Station). One promotion listed expires December 15, another expires at the end of November, and several more at the end of the regular NFL season, further assuring that the book will very quickly be hopelessly outdated. The entry for the Suncoast poker room mentions a promotion that was good only during August!

Even All Vegas Poker, a web site dedicated to tracking what's going on in the city's poker rooms, has difficulty keeping up with the ever-changing promotions and tournament schedules. My understanding is that they call every poker room manager every week to see what's new. My guess is that it's rare that a single day passes without at least one piece of information found in this book changing. When most people are carrying around a web-enabled smart phone, a book like this just doesn't make much sense.

And, by the way, you'd have to be Captain Kangaroo to have a pocket big enough for this "Pocket Guide," which is 5 1/2" by 8 1/2".

Whoever published it also could have used a good proofreader. The table of contents lists "The Strip" a second time instead of "Off Strip" for a section header. It calls the Eastside Cannery the "Eastside Canner." There are odd errors inside, such as a reference to free meal as a "compliment buffet." Fremont Street is misspelled as "Freemont" all three times it appears. The plural of "ace" is written as "ace's." "Please" is spelled "Pleas."

This book is just an all-around mystery. Who produced it? Why? And if you're going to bother with putting such volatile information out in a book format, why such a bad job of it?

Once again, the world baffles me.

Monday, November 05, 2012

One last plug for Gary Johnson

Then I'll shut up about him. For a while, anyway. (I fully expect he'll be running again in 2016, and I fully expect to be an enthusiastic supporter again then.)

This is one of the more interesting pieces I've seen about Johnson. It emphasizes his ability to be more a pragmatist than an ideologue: "“I think libertarians need somebody who can articulate getting from A to Z. But you know, if G is achievable, how about it? Let’s get there!”

I also like his willingness to say "I don't know" when asked about something he hadn't considered before, and his unwillingness to declare all use of military for humanitarian reasons off-limits. I think he is right that we can't stop all atrocities around the world, but that we have to remain open to stopping genocides when we can.

By the way, you can watch what should be an interesting debate between Johnson and Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, 9 pm EST/6 pm PST tonight, streaming here:

Oh, and have I mentioned that Johnson is the only candidate who openly advocates your right to play online poker, and has spent time hanging out at the WSOP trying to reach out to poker players as a constituency? I have? OK, then--never mind.

I'll leave you with my two favorite paragraphs:
A curious thing about Johnson’s candidacy is that if you are not a libertarian – but you are liberal who believes in basic civil rights, the right to due process, personal privacy, an unregulated Internet, a peaceful foreign policy, marriage equality, and an end to crony corporatism and pro-wall street policy-making, for example, then Johnson – not Obama – is much closer to you on policy, but you’ll probably vote for Obama. Similarly, if you are a conservative who believes in the Constitution, small government, free markets, balanced budgets and the Fed out of huge areas of your personal and economic life that could be better handled by yourself or even the States, then Johnson – not Romney – is much closer to you on policy, but you’ll probably vote for Romney.... 
There is a greater difference between the end of the two party system and its continuation than there is between an Obama presidency and a Romney presidency. A choice between two things that are the same is no choice at all. Much nonsense is written about “wasted votes”. By any accurate definition, a wasted vote would be one that, even if repeated indefinitely, could change nothing of substance. A vote for the duopoly, whether you prefer Obama flavor or Romney flavor, would be such a vote. When you see that, you see that the only way not to waste one’s vote is to vote to break the duopoly, which means to vote for Gary Johnson.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

String theory

At Mandalay Bay today I saw what I thought was an interesting situation that called into question the way I have thought of the string-bet rule.

A player had all of his chips in two stacks. He was first to act on the river. He picked up one stack with his left hand and moved it forward. Without letting go of it, he then moved the second stack forward with his right hand, with it ending up next to the first stack, and then he released both of them at the same time.

Was this a legitimate all-in move, or an illegal string bet?

I asked this on Twitter and got quite a variety of responses:

If you think the answer is perfectly obvious one way or the other, then consider these variations.

1. Does it matter to you if the interval between the forward motion of the two stacks is, say, 10 seconds versus half of a second?

2. What if he verbalizes "all in" between the two motions?

3. Does your answer change if the first stack was all of his red ($5) chips, and the second stack was all of his blue ($1) chips?

4. Does your answer change with the size of the second stack, i.e., a big stack of 30 chips versus one or two stragglers?

I do not like having the application of a rule depend on discerning a player's intention, because (1) it's too subjective a process, and (2) the process can be abused and manipulated by experienced players to their advantage.

Here, however, I'm forced to conclude that there is no way to do anything but attempt to figure out his intention. If he was betting, say, close to $200 with the first stack, and had left behind just one blue chip, and it appeared that he noticed it only after he had already moved the first stack into position and was doing his best to rectify his oversight, and he did so almost instantly, it's hard to assign to him any angle-shooting motivation. But the more you stretch any or all of those parameters, the murkier his intentions become.

If he had two equal stacks of red chips, and clearly paused for a long time to think after moving the first one forward, then we have to conclude that he did not form the mental intention of putting himself all-in before he started his move.

In between those rather clear-cut cases on either end of the spectrum, it's all kind of murky.

It's easy to pontificate that if he hasn't verbalized his action first, then if he is using both hands to move chips, they have to be synchronized. But that just moves us to the question of exactly how perfectly synchronized they have to be. We humans aren't capable of actual simultaneity. Shoot a sufficiently high-speed video of the action and you'll find some discrepancy, even if only tiny fractions of a second. It would be absurd to write the rule in a way that requires the two stacks to hit their final resting point within some precise interval of time of each other. But if you're not going to do that, and yet you agree that some intervals are short enough to be OK as an all-in while others are too long to deserve that supposition, then you've necessarily reduced it to a subjective judgment call.

What actually happened today was that the first stack was all of his red chips, and the second was all of his blue chips. But they were roughly equal, maybe 25 or so of each. So he couldn't have just overlooked the second stack. Furthermore, he paused briefly with his left hand on the first stack after having moved it forward, announced, "All in," then picked up the second stack with his right hand and moved it next to the first before releasing both of them. I think that what happened was that at first glance he thought that his red chips alone were enough to cover his opponent's stack, but then he realized a beat too late that the two of them might be closer in total chips behind than he thought, and he probably shouldn't leave his blue chips out of the bet, so he did a quick mid-move correction.

In other words, it makes no sense to attribute to him any actual ugly angle-shooting, because the difference in the total amount of the bet was not enough that it would make much difference in an opponent's decision. Furthermore, his mid-move correction came quickly enough that he couldn't have been trying to gauge his opponent's reaction before deciding whether to add more chips to his bet. But it also wasn't just the classic "oops I meant to go all in but I forgot the one blue chip that I'm using as a card cap." He had a real change of mind, I think, but one that didn't actually alter the situation by very much.

Because of that, I think a reasonable argument can be made to let the bet stand (because it changed the absolute amount of the bet by a fairly small percentage, not enough to plausibly affect whether an opponent would call), AND a reasonable argument can be made to make him take back the second stack (because he probably did not start his move with the intention of including it).

The dealer didn't hesitate at all. She disallowed the second stack. Nobody argued the point, and I was probably the only one that thought it even pointed to an interesting question.