Saturday, February 04, 2012

Strange ultimatum

In the January 30 issue of Poker Player Newspaper, publisher Stanley R. Sludikoff has an editorial about the Full Tilt Poker mess that has been dragging out for almost a year now.

The principal players--Ray Bitar, Howard Lederer, and Chris Ferguson--have, of course, remained essentially silent, undoubtedly on the advice of their legal team, given the hefty criminal and civil penalties potentially hanging over their heads.

Here's how Mr. Sludikoff starts his editorial:
In this segment it is my intention to take up the issue of the alleged illegal activities of poker celebrities Chris Ferguson, Howard Lederer, et al. I say "alleged" because no indictments have been handed down, and everyone should be granted the supposition of innocence until proven guilty.
I pause here to note the wild factual inaccuracy of saying that "no indictments have been handed down," but let's go on.
On the other hand, Howard, Chris, and their cohorts have been publicly silent, apparently hiding from their usual public exposure. This activity tends to support the proposition that they are guilty.
Oh really? So, Mr. Sludikoff, if you are ever accused of a crime, and you heed your attorneys' advice not to make any public statements, we should take that as evidence of your guilt, right? To put it another way, the accused enjoy the presumption of innocence, unless they fail to issue statements to the press--is that your view, sir?
So in the interest of justice, I will delay subsequent editorials for two more weeks and invite the named parties to communicate with me, lay out their position, and tell our readers what happened. And I will print their statements exactly as rendered.
Wow. How big of you. Because, after all, these people surely would have spoken out by now if only they had some media outlet that would give them space to do so!

It's so ridiculous. I can't imagine why Mr. Sludikoff thinks that these guys will feel so threatened by the specter of his coming tirade against them that they will reverse course and suddenly open up in his pages. What could he possibly plan to say about them that hasn't already been said ten thousand times before over the past ten months?

To pick just the most recent example I've seen, earlier today Daniel Negreanu unleashed another torrent of hatred on the FTP gang:
They edited down my comments about Ray Bitar, Howard Lederer, and Chris Ferguson, but they definitely got the gist of my vitriol towards them. I'm disgusted by them and what they've done to smear the game with putrid decision making. Ray is a buffoon, Howard is arrogant, condescending, and incompetent, and Chris is a liar and has the warmth of a snow pea. These were never my friends, I never cared for any of them. I never trusted them for a second, and my "read" was always that these were not my kind of people. Why are they different from the rest of the group? These three were on the board, admittedly making all the decisions, and jeopardizing millions of dollars worth of players money that still hasn't surfaced. You guys suck. I hope to never see any of your faces at the WSOP anymore, and I hope you live with the shame you deserve for the rest of your lives. Your own personal, private hell. You deserve all the wrath you've received from the poker world, and much more. You are scum and each of you absolutely deserves a few swift baseball bat swings to the groin area, old school Vegas style.
Does Mr. Sludikoff have in store rhetoric that is so much worse than that that the possibility of seeing it in print will cause the accused to open up to him, with the risk of handing more ammunition to a federal prosecutor who has his missiles radar-locked onto them, just to avoid another round of name-calling? He might as well say, "Now go away or I shall taunt you a second time."

I am really baffled at what combination of arrogance and ignorance it takes for Mr. Sludikoff to believe that his pulpit is so fearsome that threatening to use it will pry an explanation out of defendants who are lawyered up six ways to Sunday.

As they used to say on Seinfeld, "Good luck with all that."

Friday, February 03, 2012

Another one bites the dust

The Silverton is the latest casino to close its poker room:

While it wasn't as icky a room as the one at Fitzgerald's, I can't say I'll miss the place much. I played there only four times in my five years in Vegas, and it was always a nitty locals joint. Just not much reason to head out there, other than the cool fish tank (which I've heard has also gone away).

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Chicken dinner

Mrs. Lederer had another of her almost-weekly AVP home-game tournaments on PokerStars tonight. This one was triple stud, i.e., a rotation of straight seven-card stud, razz, and stud high/low.

I winz it.

That is all.

Wackadoo hand

I've seen and written up my fair share of bizarro hands, but I think this story from Las Vegas Poker Dealer may top them all:

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Playing scared

Tony Bigcharles (TBC) recently posted this hand history on his blog:

the final hand i had aa and made it $12 in EP. 3 guys called, all of whom had a decent amount of chips, none had me covered. flop comes up JJ4 rainbow. well i figure im either behind or so far out in front im not worried about a free card, so i check for pot control. i did think the one young kid behind me with about $350 in chips liked the flop. we all checked. turn comes Q again we all checked, and this might be where i should bet, but probably too late to do any good. river comes Q, we all check to the guy in late position. i hate that river. he bets $50 and i pay him off, he has Q9, and i leave when the blind gets to me.
Here's the comment I left there with my first thoughts on it:
The AA hand was played really badly. It is admittedly scary to be out of position, and have to decide to lead out into three opponents. But a flop of JJ4 rainbow is about the most perfect kind of flop you can hope for in that situation. It cries out for a continuation bet. You will get called by only three kinds of hands: Exactly 44, any J, and some pocket pairs who are suspicious that you missed with AK or AQ. The last category will be much more frequent than the first two, and is, of course, exactly what you want calling you: players with only 2 outs to win. This is a 100% c-bet situation, and it was a bad mistake to check there. In fact, even with 3 opponents and out of position, there are very few flops that you should not c-bet with AA. Of course, once in a while you'll lose to somebody who called you with 44 or KJ, but the amount you win most of the time will more than compensate for those losses over the long run. At least it will if you actually win the pot when you're ahead.
After thinking about this some more today, I want to add some further observations.

I was trying to figure out what Tony meant by saying he checked "for pot control." That made no sense here. I finally decided that it doesn't mean anything in this specific context. It's just a phrase that Tony tosses out when he doesn't bet in order to justify his action by making it sound as if it was a purposeful tactical decision. But it wasn't in this case.

For those of you who don't follow Tony's adventures, one of his prime characteristics is that he can't stand quitting for the day when he's stuck. A losing day is an intolerable concept to him. That means that if he is way behind, he starts playing more recklessly, gambling it up in an effort to get lucky and get back to even. If that fails, he goes in search of a video blackjack machine and tries to recoup his losses that way. It's a terribly destructive behavioral pattern, and he well knows it, but he continues to do it anyway.

Conversely, if he is doing well, he will often go into lock-down mode, playing in a miserly fashion because he doesn't want to put his winnings at risk. I think this is the factor most at work in the hand posted here. Elsewhere in the post he notes that he was about $280 up for the day when this hand transpired, and I get the feeling that he was planning on wrapping it up soon.

The reason that the phrase "pot control" sounds so out of place in that spot is that it is not what a skilled player should be thinking about. It is a spot in which AA will be the best hand the great majority of the time, so the focus should be on building and winning the pot, not on preventing it from growing unmanageably large.

Similarly, Tony's argument that he was either way ahead or way behind so he didn't mind giving a free card--well, that's just plain odd. It's a non sequitur. There certainly are way-ahead/way-behind situations, but one does not resolve them by taking or giving a free card. That just gets you deeper into the hand with no additional information, like wandering farther into a wilderness without a map.

In truth, there is only one plausible explanation for Tony checking both the flop and turn into three opponents in a situation where he should know that most of the time he has the best hand on both streets, and it's one he didn't admit to in his post: He was afraid. Specifically, he was afraid of getting sucked deeply into the hand, being put to a decision for his stack, and losing all of the profit he had accumulated through the session. That fear paralyzed him into inaction. My guess is that if this hand had played out early in the session, he would have bet into the field, knowing that it was pretty unlikely that anybody had outflopped him, and hoping for a call from worse hands. That is unquestionably how the hand should be played.

The reason I'm posting his description and this comment here is because I think it serves as a beautiful illustration of what's wrong with playing scared: Fears become self-fulfilling prophecies. Tony was afraid of losing more money, so he played passively, and the result was that he lost more money! Had he played it aggressively, he would have avoided the outcome he feared. Ironic, isn't it?

Back in the early days of this blog, I posted these two paragraphs from Antonio Esfandiari's book, In the Money: Strategies for Winning Texas Hold'Em Cash Games, page 15. I think they bear repeating here:
What's the best way to play fearless? First and foremost, you have to divorce yourself from how you traditionally think of money. Money outside of the poker room is different. That is money to be spent wisely or invested discriminately. The money you bring into the poker room is your means to winning. Do not think of this as money. Think of it as the tools of your trade. You should no more think about the dollar cost of an individual chip than a carpenter thinks about the cost of the nails he's driving. That carpenter will drive all the nails he needs to in order to do the job. That is what I am going to do at the poker table, and that is what you should do as well.

Consider your chips to be the cost of doing business, nothing more and nothing less. As with any buiness, you will have overhead. Think of bad beats as your overhead. Furthermore, as Doyle Brunson once wrote, when you make a big bet, you cannot think, "Oh man, I'm betting a Cadillac." Even if you're a recreational player, if you're thinking of the steak dinner you could buy with the chips you're betting, you're dead money. So look at those chips as the tools of the trade. You will free yourself from the fear of losing them, and then you can go win more.
I believe that Tony had mentally already locked up his win. The chips had ceased to be tools with which to win more chips, and had already become mentally and emotionally transformed into cash in his pocket. That mental shift meant that it was far more difficult to put them into the pot when he needed to. There is a crucial mental distinction between betting seven red chips from your stack and betting $35 from your wallet, and Tony had fatally crossed over from the former to the latter. As a result, he couldn't pull the trigger when it was the obviously correct thing to do.

Scared money loses. Fearless money wins. If at any point in a poker session you are no longer willing to risk losing all the chips sitting in front of you whenever you can get them in with an advantage, then that is the moment when you need to stop playing. Right then--not when the blinds next come around, not when the football game is over, not when your chip stack gets to some predetermined amount, not when you've finished putting in the hours to qualify for the weekly freeroll tournament. Those chips are far more at risk from your timidity than they would ever be from smart, aggressive play.

Tony didn't set out to remind us of that lesson, but I believe that when we read between the lines, that is what his story teaches us.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Snowing in Vegas

Last night I made one of my occasional ventures into the Imperial Palace Sunday night 10-game mix. On my immediate right was a player there for the first time. He openly admitted that he had played some of these games for microstakes a few times online, but never live. That this was true was confirmed when he made common rookie mistakes (the same kind I made the first few times playing the unfamiliar games), such as getting confused between the betting rounds and drawing rounds. In the first hand of 2-7 triple draw, he announced his hand prior to the third draw, thinking the action was all over with. Oops!

On the next hand, I started with four strong low cards (don't remember exactly what they were) plus a jack. (The goal of triple-draw is to get five unpaired cards as low as possible without a straight or a flush.) I raised and drew one--a king. I bet again when the two remaining players checked to me. The only one who called was the guy on my right.

He discarded two, which meant that the chances of him improving to a really strong hand by the end were rather small. I didn't really want to turn in my king and get another bad card in return, because that would then compel me to either get lucky on the final draw or try a desperation bluff, which could easily get called by an opponent suspicious that I had tried and missed all three times.

So here's my situation: I had position, I had just one opponent (and an inexperienced one at that) who had drawn two cards on the second drawing round, I had raised and drawn just one card, then bet again, so I was telling a consistent and presumably believable story. I decided the situation was right to try snowing instead of drawing.

The "snow" is a form of bluffing unique to draw games. It means that you stand pat without having made your hand, in order to falsely project strength. It basically forces an opponent to get lucky enough in his draw to make a very strong hand, or else abandon his hand in the face of your confidence. You can do it on just the third draw, but it looks even more convincing if you do it on the second draw. You are declining two chances to improve your hand, so you must like what you have a lot, right?

I patted the table. Predictably, my opponent checked, so of course I bet again. He called and drew one. I patted again. He checked on the final betting round, and I bet once more, hoping he would fold--because I couldn't beat any hand with which he would call. He shook his head and said, "I only improved to a ten, and I'm sure you must have better than that." He indeed showed his made 10, then mucked. I.e., he had five different cards, the highest of which was a 10--only a mediocre hand in this game. He knew it was good only as a bluff-catcher, and I had given him no reason to think I was bluffing, even though I was.

My friend Troy (dealer at TI, excellent player) was on my left in the 10 seat, which made it easy for me to be sure that he--but nobody else--caught a glimpse of my king before I passed my cards back to the dealer. He caught my eye and gave me a half smile and an approving nod after realizing what it meant I had done.

I'm happy to have left back in Minnesota the cold, white powdery stuff that falls from the sky in such prodigious amounts there. But just a little snow here and there at the poker table can still make my day.

Monday, January 30, 2012

What the hell is the problem at Bluff magazine?

A few weeks ago I poked fun at Bluff magazine for having this mess of a headline in the December issue: "IF YOUR GOING TAKE MONEY, IT MAY AS WELL BE FROM THESE GUYS."

Little did I know that this was just the beginning of an epidemic of bad headlines in that publication. The three images above are scans of pages from the January, 2012, issue. If one wanted to be picky, one could gripe about a couple of others, too, involving the use (or lack thereof) of a comma here or a hyphen there. But I'm not including those, since they are arguably correct, depending on the exact sense that was intended, and they are at worst small errors.

These three, however, are just glaringly wrong. The first say, "...A COUPLE MORE TO ON THE WAY." My guess is that this originally read, "A COUPLE MORE TO GO." Somebody then decided to alter it to "A COUPLE MORE ON THE WAY," but failed to delete the now-unneeded "TO."

The second and third examples are even more embarrassing, because they obviously result not just from a bit of oversight, but from some chucklehead at the magazine who actually does not know the difference between your and you're. I hope it's the same lamebrain who was responsible for the error in the December issue, as I'd hate to think Bluff has two such sixth-grade dropouts on its paid staff.

Hey, Lance Bradley: You are listed as the editor-in-chief. Do you know what it means to edit?Here's the most relevant portion of Merriam-Webster's online dictionary definition:
1c : to alter, adapt, or refine especially to bring about conformity to a standard or to suit a particular purpose
(Emphasis added.)

Is this not your job? Do you have any idea how unprofessional this makes the magazine look?

I like Bluff. I really do. I read it faithfully and look forward to new issues hitting the poker room stands. But jeez, guys, this is really terrible work.