Saturday, September 15, 2012

Amazon (no poker content)

My friend Grrouchie just put up a post (if you go there, be sure to feed his fish) with a story about going above and beyond what they had to do to make up for failed promises that were not Amazon's fault.

This reminds me of my own encounter with Amazon's customer service yesterday. I have bought a bunch of ancillary items for my new bicycle. As my rides get longer, I'll need to be able to do simple repairs out on the road so that I'm not stuck walking home or waiting for somebody to come fetch me. To that end, I bought a book about bike repair, a small tool kit, a spare tire tube, a portable tire pump, and a tire gauge. I needed a bag to carry that stuff (except for the book). I picked one from Amazon. When it came, I found that it was just a tad too small to hold that assortment of stuff. So I picked another one that had slightly larger dimensions, and it proved to be just right.

I went to Amazon's web site to begin the process of returning the first bag. I filled out the form, relating the above story and assuring them that there was nothing wrong with the product, then clicked "submit," expecting to be taken to a page with shipping instructions. Instead, I got this message:

Just keep it, we'll refund your money anyway!

Who ever heard of such a thing???

Now, I realize that this is probably not, at root, a magnanimous personal gesture being extended to me because I'm an especially valued customer. Most likely, their accountants have crunched the numbers and found that for a $14 item it costs the company more to ship and process the return (i.e., inspect it for suitability for resale, get it back into the right spot in the warehouse, etc.) than they would make from being able to sell it to the next customer. If the item in question were, say, a $1000 camera, I don't think that same message would have popped up.

But even having that cognitive awareness, the feeling I got was one of warmth and generosity being directed my way. I'm pleased that for just the cost of the second bag, I have two similar products, and I can pass this other one on to Cardgrrl to use on her bike. And it absolutely does have the effect of making me even more inclined to use Amazon for future purchases.

Smart people are running that company.

Friday, September 14, 2012

When it rains it pours

The new bike survived its initial shake-down rides around the neighborhood without any problems, and I have acquired a few necessary accessories (water bottle mounting bracket, emergency tool kit, proper lights), so yesterday I took it on its first long ride. Well, it turned out to be 11.5 miles, which is long for me and my old, old bones, though just a warm-up for serious cyclists.

I have a map of the city's bike trails put out by the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada (available online here). A few miles due east of downtown is sort of an S-shaped trail, which then intersects near its southern end with another east-west trail. I set out to find these. Smoothly prepared paths with no motor vehicles to plow me down seems like a good way to put in some miles.

And I found them!

(Right-click and select "open link in new tab" to see the pictures full-size.)

Both of these two were opened in 2009 alongside some of the city's washes. A "wash," for those of you who have never lived in the desert, is a drainage area for floodwaters.

Here's the intersection of two washes. The bridge visible on the right is the connection between the two multi-use trails.

Tuesday we had a nasty downpour, the kind that always makes the news with shots of stupid people being rescued from their cars because they tried to drive through water without knowing how deep it was. It was only 1-2" of rain, depending on where in the valley one measured, but given the impenetrability of the soil and the amount of concrete, that's enough to cause all sorts of problems here that it would not in, say, the Midwest. Here's a news story about the resultant mess. Today we learned that at least one person drowned in the flooding.

Anyway, I was seeing these two washes about 48 hours after the rain had hit, and there was still water in them, though only a trickle. But what impressed me was that there was sand and debris up on the paths. It's possible that this has washed down from above, but I suspect that the water had risen to the level of the paths, which means that it would have reached as high as the bottom of the bridge in that photo. I wish I had seen it.

Floods around here are nasty problems, though very different from the ones that hit places like the Mississippi River. They hit fast and hard. I particularly remember news stories from the summer of 1984, one of the worst years for water in the valley. I had lived in Vegas from 1980 to 1982, so I was familiar with the streets that I saw on the national news--except that I was not used to seeing them as the rivers that they had become.

Since then, the county has established a flood control authority, which has spent billions of dollars on a still-unfinished 30-year construction project, building drainage channels and holding basins, so that these periodic floods don't cause the kind of property damage and loss of life that they have done in the past.

Here's a quick overview of a hundred years of Las Vegas floods, plus a sampling of news stories from the especially bad years of 1984 and 1999, and a ten-year retrospective on the 1999 floods.

If you're here when one of these things hits, don't mess around with it. The danger is almost always over within a couple of hours, so just wait it out where it's safe.

I'll take Geography for $500, Alex

Either Card Player magazine and its columnist, Bernard Lee, are confused about what constitutes the "West Coast," or I am. I was not aware that any part of the states of Nevada or Colorado had been given ocean views. Must be a global warming thing.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Poker gems, #462

Daniel Negreanu, in this week's broadcast of the World Series of Poker Main Event.

There's actually a good quote from the Rocky Balboa movie, where he says, "It's not how hard you hit. It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward."* That's what separates a true champion from the rest.

*Here's the full speech, from IMDB:

Rocky Balboa: You ain't gonna believe this, but you used to fit right here.[taps on the inside of his hand] I'd hold you up to say to your mother, "this kid's gonna be the best kid in the world. This kid's gonna be somebody better than anybody I ever knew." And you grew up good and wonderful. It was great just watching you, every day was like a privilege. Then the time come for you to be your own man and take on the world, and you did. But somewhere along the line, you changed. You stopped being you. You let people stick a finger in your face and tell you you're no good. And when things got hard, you started looking for something to blame, like a big shadow. Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain't all sunshine and rainbows. It's a very mean and nasty place and I don't care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain't about how hard ya hit. It's about how hard you can get it and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That's how winning is done! Now if you know what you're worth then go out and get what you're worth. But ya gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain't where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody! Cowards do that and that ain't you! You're better than that! I'm always gonna love you no matter what. No matter what happens. You're my son and you're my blood. You're the best thing in my life. But until you start believing in yourself, ya ain't gonna have a life. Don't forget to visit your mother.

Josie knows

From last night's "The Dank" tournament on PokerStars:

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

I hear rumors...

...that the Silverton will soon be re-opening its poker room, under the management of Cantor Gaming.

...that the Plaza, too, is planning to re-open its poker room.

...that the Lady Luck casino downtown is including a poker room in its current renovation.

Mind you, I have no reliable source for these things. They're just rumors I've heard recently.

We shall see if any of them comes to pass.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

You don't see this every day in a poker room

I spent from about 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Tropicana poker room, trying to win a share of the $16,000+ they had to give away in free drawings before closing permanently today. I had calculated last night that each person in attendance had an expected value of over $250 just for keeping one of the seats warm for eight hours, which I thought made it worthwhile.

In the early afternoon, Vegas experienced a real gully-washer of a storm, and it even came into the poker room. The table you see here had to be closed down because the water came in, collapsing a ceiling tile, which you can see on the floor in the second photo. Drama!

I didn't win any of the giveaway money, sadly. But I did make $136 from the poker. I know that's not much for eight hours of work. However, I ask you to temper your judgment with two considerations:

First, my table was incredibly nitty. They were there to occupy the seats for the drawings, not for the poker. The poker was just something the rules required them to do to pass the time. I have probably been at tighter tables briefly, but I sure would never have stayed at one for so long if I had the option to move to a better table. People were literally lined up dozens deep waiting for a chance to sit in one of these games because of the drawing money, so there were no openings to move elsewhere. How tight were these players? They spot-welded their chips to the felt, lest they be overcome with a spasm of recklessness and toss one into the pot with less than pocket aces.

Second, within the first hour or so, I dug myself a hole one buy-in deep when I was on the bad end of one of those horrible set-over-set situations. I had 7-7 versus Q-Q on a Q-7-2 flop. I thought I was most likely trapping an opponent with A-A or K-K, given her pre-flop three-bet. But nope--I was the one with the hook in my mouth this time.

So on paper it doesn't look like much, but I consider it to be an accomplishment worthy of a bit of pride. Besides, $136 profit is, as the old saying goes, better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

FWIW, I'm pretty sure I'm the only person who has been present at the closing of the Tropicana poker room on two separate occasions--once in November of 2008 and then again today.

This was not the winning hand

Last night I played the Monday night mixed game at Tropicana for the last time, as its poker room will be closing at 4 pm today. I may be there for the occasion. Oddly, I was also present the previous time that the Tropicana poker room closed its doors.

The game was 5-card Omaha/8 (just like regular O/8 except that you start with five cards instead of four), and the cards you see above are the five that I was dealt. That's right--the dealer gave me a king-high straight flush. Unfortunately, the rules of the game require playing just two from one's hand and three from the board, which means that being dealt a straight flush is kind of a crappy hand. I did flop a draw to the nut straight (7-8), and added the second-nut flush draw on the turn, but the river paired the board, leaving me with nothing.

Monday, September 10, 2012

I am psychic

Late last night, while writing a reply on an online forum, I wrote: "Tropicana's pay-by-the-hour promotion kills all the action during the day, and it's often dead at night. I suspect that room will not survive long."

About five minutes ago, one of the Tropicana dealers said on Twitter that the Tropicana poker room will be closing tomorrow.

You might say that this required no special psychic powers on my part, that anybody could see this coming from how little activity there is in that room, or from the fact that it was briefly associated with Jamie Gold and every poker business venture he's involved with rapidly fails, or from the fact that they have no idea how to run a poker room or take care of customers.

I reject all such mundane explanations. I am psychic, and that's all there is to it.

By the skin of my teeth

After my success in Friday's HORSE tournament at Orleans, I decided to take a crack at their $100 Sunday night version. I have tried this one twice before, with nothing to show for it. But since then I've had the extra experience of three of the tough MGM Grand Tuesday night HORSE tournaments, plus the two Friday ones at Orleans, which I thought gave me enough additional practice at identifying live opponents' playing styles in the non-hold'em games that I might be due for a little success.

Things started off just the opposite of Friday. I sank like a stone. I was playing the same tight-aggressive style, but I had a never-ending string of missed draws and strong but second-best hands. We started at 7:00 with 10,000 chips, and by the first break I was down to 590o. At 8:50--4100. 9:00--2500. 9:10--2000. 9:30--1600. I think that was less than three big bets for that stage of the game.

But time after time when I found a spot to get all the chips in, my hand held up. By 10:00 I was up to 5000. 10:35: 6900. 10:40: 15,100, and above my starting stack for the first time all day.

By that point, the original 41 players had been whittled down to just 18, so I was still well below the average stack size of about 28K, but things were moving in the right direction.

Then at 11:00 I hit a monster, an ace-high crub flush in stud against two opponents, and zoomed up to 47,700 with 13 left, my first time above the tournament average.

At 11:40 I badly misplayed one stud hand, spewing half my chips on a draw that I should never have been chasing, but at 12:05 I got them all back when another club flush gave me the nuts in Omaha--back to 63,000, when the average stack, with seven people left in, was about 58,500. Next hand I hit something else that I didn't jot down, and was up to 87,000.

I stayed at about that stack while two more players were eliminated, and the final five of us were in the money.

The best player at the table was not me, but the guy on my right, who had an overwhelming chip lead. He was being smartly aggressive. Everybody was letting him run over them, because the other four of us had pretty much equal stacks and I assume we all wanted to climb up the pay ladder. He was appropriately taking advantage of our excessive caution.

I decided to play back at him, and doing so pushed me up to my peak of 116,000 at 12:50.

At that point, I should have backed off, changed gears back to tight, and let Mr. Big Stack knock out one or two of the shorties. But I didn't. I kept pressing it too long and too far, and paid the price. In quick succession I played two big hands where I was basically just playing on my table image, but--oops--was up against real hands (one against the guy on my left, and the coup de grace delivered by the big stack), and I was out.

So I'm unhappy with my end game, but very pleased that I exercised appropriate patience and spot selection when I was down so short. Fifth place brought me the minimum cash of $295, which is basically tripling my buy-in, and works out to about $32/hour for the six hours it took. It's far from life-changing money, but given how dismal things looked for me for so long, I deem the outcome an absolute success--nearly a miracle. Of course there is the question of what might have been, had I not overdone the aggression on those last two hands. But that's a lesson I can tuck away and remember for next time, without letting it defeat my pleasure at having snatch at least a partial victory from the jaws of defeat.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Another strange rule at Mandalay Bay

How many times have I used some variation on that post title? About a dozen, I'd guess. Every time I think I have come across every oddball rule in their book (a book, incidentally, which players are not allowed to see), I'm wrong, and there is another to be discovered. It's like they have an inexhaustible horn-o'-plenty of weird house rules.

I was there last night. I got into a hand against a regular local. I had 5-5 and position. He raised, I called. Flop JJ8. He bet, I called. Turn 2. He checked, I bet, he called. River queen. His check-call on the turn had made me think that he might have missed the flop but still have a higher pocket pair than mine, like 7s or 9s--and if he didn't, then that queen on the end might have done me in, so I checked behind on the river.

I waited for him to show his cards. He didn't, instead pointing at me and saying, "I called your bet." Before I could say anything, the dealer intervened, telling him that since the last round of betting had no action, showdown went in clockwise order from small blind to button. That is indeed the standard rule.

But this guy insisted that Mandalay's house rule is different, and when there is no betting on fifth street, first to show is whoever took the last aggressive action (bet or raise) on a previous betting round. This player has enough time in the chair that I thought he could easily be right, so I kept mum and let the dealer handle it. The player insisted that the dealer call the floor. He did so. Floor confirmed. I have heard that casinos in Europe tend to follow this practice, but it is not the standard way in the U.S.

Anyway, I showed my 5s. He then showed his A-Q and took the pot.

In terms of that hand, my consolation is that at every point where I was ahead, I put money into the pot, and when I wasn't, I didn't. That's how it's supposed to be, right?

In terms of the rule, there's a follow-up discussion to be had. Readers with elephantine memories may recall that I wrote about a similar situation, also occurring at Mandalay Bay, in one of my very earliest blog posts, on November 9, 2006, when this blog had existed for less than two weeks.

But I got things wrong in that post. I've known this for a long, long time. Probably within a year of having written it I had gained enough additional experience at the tables to know that I had made a mistake. Once in a while a situation at the table would remind me of it and I'd think that I should publish a correction, but then I never got around to it. Today I repent of that ongoing neglect.

In that situation, there was no betting on the last round because I had moved all-in on the flop, and my only opponent had called. Back then, my understanding was that such a situation was functionally equivalent of there voluntarily being no betting on the last round, even though both (or all) players still in the hand have chips left and could bet if they wanted to. Furthermore, my reading of Cooke's rule book did nothing to dissuade me from that view. His wording seems to support it, though it's not explicit. (See that old post for the citation.)

Krieger and Bykofsky's The Rules of Poker is also ambiguous about whether these two situations should be handled the same way. From page 135, rule 5.18:
On the final betting round, the last player who actively bet or raised the pot (and was then called) is required to show his hand first. Once he shows his hand, other players reveal their down-cards in clockwise order. If all the remaining players check on the final round, the showdown begins with the player who is seated to the left of the dealer in community-card games such as hold'em and Omaha, and the player whose board requires him to act first in stud games.
I can't tell for sure what these authors' meaning is for situations like the one I described in 2006, when there is no betting on the river because there are no more chips left to bet. The first sentence seems to imply that the question reverts to whoever made the last aggressive action on a previous street. But even that is not really clear because of the introductory phrase, "On the final betting round." It could be that the wording of their rule is unclear because they just didn't anticipate that specific question. (I think that is the most likely explanation for Cooke, too.)

Robert's Rules of Poker, though, is explicit on this point:
If everyone checks (or is all-in) on the final betting round, the player who acted first is the first to show the hand. If there is wagering on the final betting round, the last player to take aggressive action by a bet or raise is the first to show the hand.
So he plainly makes the two situations (i.e., no betting on the last round by choice or because there is no more action possible) equivalent.

My experience, however, is that the uniform practice in Vegas poker rooms is that an all-in and call prior to what would otherwise be the last round of betting means that the showdown order reverts to that final action, and the aggressor shows before the caller. Except, apparently, at Mandalay Bay.

Back in 2006 I was right about the point that this is how Mandalay does it, but I was wrong about that being the standard practice. M.B. is, in fact, the odd man out, as it is on so many other small points of poker order. I have long known that I got that post wrong about what the standard practice is (and I'm now embarrassed to see how I spoke of the benighted fools who were not nearly as savvy as I). I had come to assume that what the floor supervisor told me that day was simply an error. What I learned last night is that he was correct--but only because Mandalay's house rule is different from the standard rule.