Saturday, July 07, 2012

Selling it

Last night I was playing at Binion's, Seat 1. Very early in the session I saw Seat 4 make a couple of very thin calls on the river (one of which was right and one wrong), and mentally pegged him as a calling station. Value-bet him, sez I to myself, no bluffing him.

Maybe an hour later I had been card-dead for quite a while, so I decided to raise with 10-8 offsuit from the cutoff seat. Most of my winning hands had been raise in position pre-flop, c-bet post, take it down. When the table is willing to let me do that, it obviously doesn't matter much what cards I have, as long as I'm not doing it so often as to arouse suspicion. I hoped that this hand would be yet another small win following the same pattern. The only caller was Seat 4 in the big blind.

Flop was A-J-9 with two hearts. Mr. Station checked. I thought this was a nearly ideal situation. I could represent the ace with a bet and have a high probability of ending the hand. If he called, I had an open-ended straight draw which, if it hit, would be thoroughly disguised, because he would never guess that I had open-raised with 10-8, given my tight image. If he were on a flush draw I could keep betting at any non-heart and likely win that way. If a heart came and he checked it, I could represent having made the flush. Lots of possibilities here for how to win this hand.

So I bet $15 into the roughly $20 pot. I was quite surprised to have him respond with a raise to $45. I didn't recall having seen him do a check-raise before. Yet I didn't get a sense from him of great strength, like a set. It felt more like a guy with an ace saying, "I don't think you have one." Very few players at these stakes check-raise a bare flush draw; rather, they use the check-raise to guard against opponents' flush draws. (The ace was one of the hearts, so he couldn't have top pair and a flush draw.) I considered my options, and settled on a call, hoping to either hit my hidden straight or get a heart which I could pretend completed my flush.

Turn was an offsuit 3. Whiff. I probably would have given up if he had made another substantial bet. But instead he checked. The check-raise/check pattern made me much more confident that, whatever he had, it was not a hand with which he was eager to get all of his chips in, which was a crucial point of demarcation. I took the free card.

River was the 4 of hearts. Now the question was what he would do. If he bet, I would have to conclude that he had flopped a pair and a flush draw, and abandon ship. But if he checked, then it would be much more likely that he hated the third heart than that he loved it.

Sure enough, he checked again. I moved all-in for my last $137. He sat back to think, and was pointedly studying me.

My usual practice when I am putting an opponent to a big test is to say nothing, no matter what. I rest my chin on my hands, remember to breathe normally, feel relaxed, kind of aimlessly look around at the pot, the TVs, the other players, or whatever else may be going on--and I try to do this exactly the same whether I have the stone-cold nuts or "what the little boy shot at."*

Here, however, the situation was somewhat different than usual. This guy was clearly suspicious, both by general disposition and because of the specific situation. Sure, I had played the flop and turn in a way that was consistent with a flush draw. The hole in the story, though, was that most of the time the pre-flop raiser will not have the flush draw when two of a suit come on the flop. The reason for that is simple: There are a lot more raiseworthy hands that contain different suits than are of the same suit, and even those that are of the same suit will be of a different suit than hits the flop three out of four times. If he was experienced enough to understand this truth, he was going to be leaning towards a thin call even more than was already his natural inclination. This was a high-risk, high-pucker-factor situation I was putting myself in. I felt that a little more salesmanship than usual was called for.

Very early in his tanking, he said, "Well, obviously you're saying that you made the flush. The question is, did you?" He quickly followed this with a friendly, "You're not required to answer that." Ordinarily I would ignore this or just give a small smile. But I wanted to stretch the envelope of my normal posture and conduct just a little toward the "I'm comfortable and relaxed" side, without overdoing it so much that he would recognize Hollywooding in me. So, playing off of what he had just said, I turned to the dealer and jokingly asked, "Do you have a player's Miranda warning here? Like, 'You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you'?" The dealer and a couple of other players chuckled, which helped me to smile along with them and, I hoped, look like everything was right in my world.

This all went on for a long time--three or four minutes, anyway. He counted out the chips for a call, and looked at what he would have left if he lost. I watched him intermittently, but remembered not to freeze up in either my breathing or where I was looking, which is one of the more reliable signs of a bluffer. At one point he asked me the classic, "If I fold, will you show?" Again, I usually ignore such questions completely, but this time I fudged just a little on the looking-relaxed side by smiling nicely at him and giving him a "Gee, I just don't know what I'll do" shrug.

I really thought he was going to call. But finally he sighed, looked dejected, took one last look at his cards, gave them that resigned snap with the index finger (what IS that gesture about, anyway?), and passed them back to the dealer face down. Pot to me.

I did not show.

He said, "I don't think you had it." I just smiled. Seat 2 immediately opined to Seat 4, "I think he had you all the way." Seat 4 asked, "You think he could beat two pair?" Seat 2 said, "Oh yeah, he looked really strong to me. I think he was stringing you along." Seat 4 said, "Well then maybe I made a good fold."

Yes sir, you absolutely did. As John-Robert Bellande likes to say, "Excellent laydown!" Excellent for me, that is.

(From the post-mortem discussion, I'm thinking that maybe he had A-9 or J-9, and checked the turn out of worry that I had top two pair with A-J, but that's just a guess, obviously.)

*Wow. I haven't heard or used this phrase in years and years. I don't know why it just leapt to mind to deploy here. When my grandmother taught me how to play cribbage, if one ended up with a nothing hand, that's what she called it--"What the little boy shot at." For a nice little exposition on the history and meaning of this phrase, see here.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Magic words at Mirage

A couple of weeks ago I was playing the (AVP) tournament at Mirage. A few seats to my right was a young man who was playing crazy. Within the first few hands, he open-raised to 20 big blinds, then shortly thereafter bet 4000 into a 1300 pot on the flop. This was not the stupid play of inexperience, but the carefree play of a very experienced player in a game being played for stakes he just did not really care about, trying to have some fun. Which is fine with me, but I want to get as much information as I can about what he's doing, because playing with him is going to involve high risk and variance.

He was seated next to a friend of his. One time when he made one of his stupidly big opening raises, his friend folded, then said, "Let me sweat you." So crazy guy showed him his hole cards. I knew right away that I would want to have that hand shown by the dealer if it didn't get exposed in the natural order of play. Furthermore, I was sure that the dealer had not noticed that little interaction, so I would have to be ready to explain to him what had happened. The dealer had a nametag identifying him as David, from Pennsylvania.*

At some point in the hand (I don't remember how far it went, and it doesn't matter), a bet from crazy guy went uncalled, and he won the pot. He traded his cards for the pot. As the dealer was sliding the cards toward the muck, I pointed at the cards and said, loudly and clearly, "Show those, please." I was sitting in the five seat, so the dealer and I were as close and as face-to-face as it is possible to get.

The dealer stopped his motion, the cards paused halfway between the player and the muck, and said, "What?" I repeated: "Show those, please."

The dealer absolutely, unquestionably both heard and understood me that time. But then he reacted in a bizarre way. He deliberately pulled the player's hole cards deep and irretrievably into the muck, gave me a puzzled look on his face, and only then asked, "Why should I show them?" Note that he mucked the cards before asking me that question, and did so entirely deliberately.

This seriously irked me. If he had just been moving too quickly to react in time to my first words, well, OK, such things happen. It's annoying, but I let it go. But this was intentional denial of my request, before he had even asked for, let alone heard, the reason why I was making it. Completely wrong and unprofessional.

So I explained: "That guy showed his cards to the player sitting next to him. That's why I was asking you to show them to the whole table."

The dealer said, "Oh, well you have to tell me that."

My God--can this guy really be this stupid?

I said, "I did tell you. What do you think the words, 'Show those, please' mean?"

He said, "People ask us to show hands all the time, without any good reason to. So you have to let me know that he showed them to another player."

I said--and I trust that the condescension in my tone of voice was perfectly obvious--"So the words, 'Show those, please' does not adequately convey to you that a player is requesting to see the cards?"

He said, "No."

I said, "OK, then, what are the magic words that cause you to actually do your job and show the cards that one player showed to another?"

He didn't have an answer ready for this instantly, but after thinking for a couple of seconds responded, "He showed his cards to another player, so you need to show them to everybody."

I repeated his proposed phrasing exactly, and asked him to confirm that I had it right. He did so. Then I further asked, "And that will get you to show the hand, but 'Show those, please' will not. Do I have that right?"

He was pretty fed up with me by this point, and snarled, "Yes."

I told him that I was glad to learn the magic words, because "Show those, please" worked in every other poker room in town, and it was important to know that the Mirage had a special magic phrase for that purpose. Again, I assume he could not have failed to miss the overt sarcasm in my voice.

So take this as a lesson. If you play poker at the Mirage, and if one player shows his cards to another player, and you want the dealer to enforce the "show one, show all" rule, there is only one specific sentence that you can use to accomplish that task: "He showed his cards to another player, so you need to show them to everybody." If you deviate from this specific formula one iota, the dealer will be obligated to ignore or deny your request.

At least that's what dealer David from Pennsylvania said was the rule and practice at the Mirage poker room. Surely he wouldn't lie about something like that, right?

*I never call out dealers by name for making ordinary mistakes. But this was not a mistake. This was deliberate sabotage of the standard rules and procedures of the game.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

A little lesson in law and politics for the Fourth of July

Warning: Zero poker content.

For a long time, I have wondered this: Suppose a U. S. president had as his highest poilitical priority reducing the federal deficit, but could not get Congress to agree with him. Could the president simply refuse to spend some significant percentage of the money that Congress allocated? E.g., the president has a cabinet meeting and tells the department heads that they are each ordered to spend, say, 5% less than Congress authorized for their departments, and if they didn't, he would fire them and replace them with people who would carry out this directive.

Can the president do that?

Well, as with many things, this turns out to be a lot more complicated than it might appear. I am looking into it today because several days ago while flipping through radio stations I caught a bit of conservative talk show host Mark Levin. I missed the context of why he brought this up, but he mentioned in passing that Richard Nixon had done exactly that, and Congress deemed it to be such an abuse of power that it was on the original list of proposed articles of impeachment, though in the end it was not included among the three articles the House of Representatives passed. I was floored. I had no idea.

So now that I'm home from visiting family in Utah, and have some free time, I decided to look into this more. I'm not going to try to make this a formal explanation, nor provide links to specific sources. (Unfortunately, most of the best sources would require me to go to the law library, and the question doesn't interest me that much.) Rather, this is just sharing the basic points that I have learned in the last few hours of reading. But the two most useful pieces of research I found online were these:


It seems that this question goes all the way back to Thomas Jefferson, and has caused occasional legal and political skirmishes between the executive and legislative branches ever since. Most have been settled by negotiation and compromise without much by way of long-term consequences.

But it really came to a head under Nixon. He claimed that he had to refuse to spend several billion dollars in order to avoid exceeding the national debt ceiling. Whether that is true or not is disputed. But he was obviously not in particularly good standing with Congress anyway, and this act of defiance was kind of the straw that broke the camel's back. In response, Congress passed the 1974 Impoundment Control Act. ("Impoundment" is the general term for the president not spending funds allocated by Congress, while "rescission" is the formal process of giving the money back to Congress.) Nixon signed it (which I don't understand, since he had claimed that impoundment was an intrinsic constitutional power of the president). As a result, if the president wants to not spend money authorized by Congress, he has to follow certain procedures, which include getting Congress to agree.

You might guess that this doesn't tend to work very well. Congress has ignored or refused most of the rescission requests that have been subsequently made. It is viewed as kind of a slap in the face. It's the president telling Congress, "You're trying to waste taxpayers' money, and I don't want to let you." Congress doesn't like that. Reagan was the only president who had a sufficiently amicable working relationship with Congress that he could get away with it most of the time he tried it. When his successor, George Bush, tried to get Congress to take back $8 billion in what he considered unnecessary spending, Congress agreed to just $2 billion of the request, but also simultaneously withdrew $22 billion of funding for items that Bush had deemed priorities. He got the message, and never tried to get permission for impoundment/rescission again.

What do the courts have to say about this? There has been only one Supreme Court case on the matter, Train v. City of New York (1975), but it was decided on the grounds of the specific language of the appropriation statute in dispute. Neither side raised constitutional, separation-of-powers arguments, so the court did not address them. Lower courts, however, have said that the executive branch does not possess the authority to refuse to spend legislatively appropriated funds. (I am intentionally glossing over the difference between funds that have been allocated and those that have been appropriated, as well as the differences in how appropriations occur depending on the kind of spending involved.)

The 1974 law actually requires the Comptroller General (i.e., the head of the GAO) to sue the president to force him to spend appropriated funds if he is refusing to do so and is not following the rescission procedures the law mandates. As far as I can tell, that has never happened. That would be one strange court case, to be sure.

The executive branch does have discretion to move funds around within any particular spending appropriation, to the extent that Congress has not specified program-by-program allocations. But the president cannot move funds between departments on his own authority.

So what would happen if a president decided to disregard the rescission procedures Congress mandated, and just not spend some significant percentage of allocated funds? Well, somebody would surely sue--the Comptroller, or somebody who was supposed to get the money and didn't, or maybe a Congressional committee with oversight responsibility for the affected department. I really have no good sense of what the Supreme Court would ultimately decide. In addition, maybe Congress would initiate impeachment proceedings, as they did for Nixon.

In any event, it would clearly be, as Mr. Obama seems to like to say these days, a BFD, and would likely turn into one of the most momentous constitutional showdowns in history. It seems unlikely to me that any president would take the matter that far, as it would alienate nearly every member of Congress and make it impossible for him to get anything else passed. I would probably try it if I were president, because I would care more about righting the disastrous fiscal course we're on than anything about what might happen to me personally or politically. But nobody who thinks like me would ever get elected, so it's kind of a moot point.

OK, children, that's your Fourth of July lesson in American history, politics, and law. Class dismissed. Go set off some firecrackers.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Roshambo-playing robot

Way cool. See here:

Hat tip: Pokerati.

Heading back to Vegas in the morning.