Saturday, April 28, 2012

A contest! With a prize!

The times they are a-changin'. Harrah's/Ceasars has a crazy idea about building a giant Ferris wheel behind what are now its mid-Strip properties, and that means some other things have to go. Among those things are O'Shea's, in its entirety, and Imperial Palace, which will be remodeled and reopened as something else. (Read about it here.)

O'Shea's is closing permanently Monday at noon. So last night I went there to play one last time. I had heard on Twitter that the casino had issued a chip in honor of its closing--a strange finale that I don't recall any other property ever doing before. You can see the front and back of it above.

I bought four of them from the cashier, uncirculated. I'll keep one for my collection and try to sell two of them on eBay. The fourth I've decided to give away as a prize to a reader.

To win, simply use the comments section to submit, in 100 words or fewer, why you should be the one to receive this exceptionally valuable prize. Be imaginative. Feel free to lie, if you think it will help you. I'm not sure exactly what criteria will be used to determine the winner, other than it will be the one I like best. That might be because of sincerity, or pathos, or creativity, or humor. We'll just have to see what tickles my fancy. You have 24 hours from when this is posted. Note: Answers based on preexisting relationships, with nothing more, will fail. I mean, heck, my dad reads this blog, and he could submit, "Because I raised you," and it would be pretty hard to top that, y'know? So I'll be judging on what is written, independent of whatever claims or baggage you may have as a person.

Winner will receive the chip in the mail, whenever I get around to making a trip to the post office. U.S. addresses only. Don't be dopey and submit your entry as "anonymous," because then I'll have no way of verifying who sent it in. Make sure that whatever nickname Blogger knows you by is linked to or matched by your blog, your Facebook page, your Twitter account, your email address, or whatever, so that when I select a winner I don't have more than one person plausibly claiming to have been the author.


Addendum, April 29, 2012

I was about to pick a winner, but then realized that this post went up in the wee hours of Saturday morning. Because my page views spike on Monday, I know that many readers don't check in here on weekends. So, in order to give more people a chance to enter my little contest, I'm extending the deadline to Monday night.

What happened Friday night... the form of a rebus:

If you can't figure it out, you could look here for an explanation.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

"In the poker world...we only have our good name"

Many people in my Twitter feed today have posted links to and/or comments on this wonderfully ironic short video of Howard Lederer expounding on business ethics. It's just too rich not to share--especially this: "People always remember that you were that guy that stiffed everybody and didn't pay back."

That's a mighty powerful hand you have there, sir

Because of my interest in recreational/competitive shooting, I subscribe to the Twitter feed of the web site for news updates, etc. Tonight whoever runs that account posted the above photo with the comment, "No bluffing needed with this hand." I was puzzled for a few seconds--only four cards? But then I figured out the mystery.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Game theory on TV

One of my regular non-poker reads is a blog called "The Agitator," by Radley Balko. He posted this YouTube clip today. It's brilliant. I've never heard of this game show before (I assume it's shown in Britain), but you don't need to know the rules, the host explains enough. Watch now if you're going to, because spoilers will follow.


 Of course, the problem presented to the contestants is just a minor variation on the age-old "Prisoner's Dilemma." But I love, love, love how the guy on the right solves it. He presents an utterly convincing case that he is going to steal, and therefore the only way that the guy on the left has any chance of getting half of the money is by selecting "share," trusting that Mr. Right will be as good as his word and split the money after the show. This is perfectly plausible to Mr. Left, because he can't think of any reason that Right would be lying about which ball he is going to select (though of course he might be lying about his post-show intentions). But in fact, the whole song-and-dance was just a ruse to manipulate Left into picking "share." It was Right's way of making sure that Left didn't try to steal. Right had me completely convinced. I was stunned when he revealed "share." It took me a few seconds to process what had happened, but then when I got it, I wanted to tip my hat to him for a stunning piece of applied game theory. Absolutely perfect!

You know that poker concept of thinking one level deeper than your opponent? Well, my hunch is that the guy on the right would be one fearsome player.

In case you missed it

Just a few minutes ago, Jennifer Harman posted the above photo on Twitter along with an explanation that it came from a hand of Stud-8 she had just played at Aria. Four players made ace-high flushes. Three players had low hands, including (if I'm reading the blurry image correctly) one wheel for the nut low (second hand from the left). She said that they generated a $27,000 pot in this $300/600 game.

Live poker is SO rigged.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Betting versus check-raising

I like Ed Miller's columns in Card Player magazine. He is the writer who is most likely to have a specific idea that offers a relevant way to tweak my game, something concrete that I can implement the next time I play.

In the April 4, 2012, issue, he discusses a hand played by one of his students. In a $1-2 NLHE game, the student raised under the gun with Js-Jc and picked up three callers. On a flop of 9d-7d-4s the student checked, had an opponent bet, which folded the other two still in the hand. The student then check-raised. When asked about his play, the student said that his goal with the check-raise was to get his opponent to fold.

Miller spends most of the column discussing (appropriately) how wrong-headed this is. Not that he needs my two cents, but here's how I would have phrased the general idea:

I don't make money when my opponents make correct decisions. I make money only when they make mistakes. The most fundamental categories of mistake they will make are bad folds (when they have the best hand) and bad calls (when they don't). Of these two basic types of error, bad calls are far more lucrative overall. This is because of two factors. First, bad calls result in bigger pots than bad folds. Second, bad calls are a much more frequent error than bad folds, especially among low-stakes players such as those that populate Vegas's $1-2 games.

The consequence of these observations is that opponents' bad calls are the single most important key to making money in poker. Well, I'll qualify that. One could argue that avoiding making bad calls oneself--or, more generally, making fewer and less costly mistakes than one's opponents--is even more important. But in terms of what you might be able to manipulate opponents to do, inducing bad calls is the vein of gold.

One of the most frequent post-hand commentaries that bad players offer shows how poorly they grasp this concept. Hardly an hour of play goes by without somebody making a prohibitively large bet on the flop, folding the field, then showing an overpair with a comment like, "I didn't want anybody drawing at that flush/straight." If you ever want to show the poker world that you're unclear on the concept, be one of the guys who does that. What you should really want, of course, is for players to call too much money with inferior or speculative holdings, while simultaneously being able to deny them proper implied odds for the call by being able to get away from your hand on the occasions when they hit their draw, miracle two pair or trips, etc.

All of which is a long way of introducing what I thought was the most mysterious lacuna in Miller's column: the near-total lack of comment on his student's check on the flop. At the end, he does add this: "The irony of all this [i.e., his long criticism of his student's stated goal] is that I like his raise just fine. (I would have simply bet the flop, but given his check, I like the raise.) It's just his reasoning that was bunk. I like the raise specifically because lots of worse hands--tens, nines, diamonds, straight draws, and so forth--will call. My student raised thinking he would get folds, but in fact his bet is going to get action from all the right hands."

I don't disagree, but I would have put much more emphasis on what is passed over lightly with just the parenthetical remark. I would insist that betting out should be the default plan, with a check-raise an acceptable alternative only if the student can articulate very specific facts about his opponents that can justify it. Perhaps there's an aggressive player on the button who always bets when everybody checks to him. Maybe the student has been playing in a perfectly straightforward manner--check/folding flops when he has less than top pair, betting them only when he has better than that--and he has reason to think observant opponents have noticed this tendency and will try to steal from him. He may know one of the other players always bets draws rather than trying to take a free card. But there has to be something very specific about this particular confluence of opponents and circumstances to make going for a check-raise a viable alternative to betting.

I would give two reasons for this argument. First, as Mike Caro repeats ad infinitum, the obvious, straightforward action is usually the right one, and you need special circumstances to make deviating from it profitable. A continuation bet while holding an overpair to the board is clearly the most obvious, straightforward choice, the one least likely to trigger the fatal consequences of Fancy Play Syndrome.

Second, on a relatively draw-heavy board, giving a free card to three opponents would be a mortal sin, not forgivable with any subsequent act of atonement. One would need to be highly confident that a bet from one of them was going to be forthcoming before choosing to go for the check-raise. In this particular hand, without running any numbers, offhand I'd put the requisite level of confidence in an opponent betting at something like 80-90%. In order to have that high degree of confidence, one would need to be able to articulate specific facts about the situation based on previous observations and patterns.

So my only criticism of Miller's column is that I think he passes too lightly over the bet versus check-raise decision, as if it's kind of just a matter of taste or style. That may, in fact, not be his view of it. Maybe there just wasn't room to go into it while still airing out his main point about the flawed rationale his student gave. But I think that the check on the flop (assuming there were not adequate, specific justifications for it) it as big a problem as the warped reasoning about inducing folds.

Monday, April 23, 2012


...has a very important story to tell you about a little online poker bet that went down between us today:

I cashed in one of the two SNGs we were playing, but outlasted her in both of them.