February 16, 2013

Barry Greenstein Warns About Cheating in Open-Face Chinese Poker iPhone App


Open-face Chinese poker with a stacked deck
Image source: Barry Greenstein

An iPhone app for playing Open-face Chinese poker has a major security vulnerablility that allows players to cheat. That's the warning given by professional high-stakes poker player Barry Greenstein in a blog post on Pokerstars.com.

Open-face Chinese poker has been rapidly gaining popularity among high-stakes gamblers. It's a complicated card game to play, and playing on an app simplifies it. (It's also easy enough to play with others on one's iPhone in a cardroom while waiting around for a game to start.) So people who play games for money are playing games for money over their iPhones.

Greenstein writes about playing against a particular high-stakes player. In the classic hustle pattern, they start playing for (by Greenstein's standards) cheap and the hustler losing. Then the hustler asked to kick the stakes up. At the high stakes Greenstein lost significantly ... and noticed:

Now, it's not that he beat me, but it's how he beat me. It seemed like after being in trouble he kept getting saved on the river over and over and over. Even though it was believable that he was a better player than I was, I decided I wanted to start keeping track of when he needed to get outs in these situations. When he had to get an out on the river to beat me, I wanted to see what his percentage was.

I started keeping track, and the next 14 times it came up, he hit seven times. Now that's not every time, but it was enough that after that I quit.

I have a nephew who is a programmer and I called him up. I told him I thought I was being cheated, and asked him if he could figure out if there was any way you could see if a person could download this app and perhaps change the cards or do whatever, because I suspected there might be something going on here.

My nephew downloaded the app and once he had a chance to start looking at it he called me back within 30 minutes. He said anyone who's a programmer who knows how to hook up an iPad to another computer could easily cheat using the app.

He said he could see all the cards and do whatever he wanted. I asked him if he could give me a demo, and we played a game and he sent me three kings on top, a flush in the middle, and a straight flush in the back. He explained that anyone who was a programmer or who had a friend who was a programmer could cheat me at the game, no problem....

Using a proxy server, with the current version of the app, you can see all thirteen cards of yours and your opponents when each deal is begun. Most cheaters wouldn't spend the time to change the cards as my nephew did. They would know whether their flushes and full houses were going to come in, which allows them to play efficiently like normal Chinese poker....

My nephew got in touch with the app's programmers to tell them what they have to do to fix their app. The Apple documentation actually explains how to make an app secure, but when these programmers wrote this Open-Face Chinese Poker app, they didn't know people were going to be playing for lots of money using it. And so they didn't write it in a secure way, because they thought it was just going to be a fun game that people were going to play for free. So it's not even really their fault.

Being cheat-resistant was not in the app's design spec. The game designers did not anticipate that users would be playing the app for money. But users are playing for money, significant enough money to make cheating attractive.

I had been thinking recently about rebooting As I Please. And I wrote this news item up as a comment on this week's "Friday Squid Blogging" post on Bruce Schneier's blog. By the time I was finished, I realized what I wrote was worthy of a blog post on its own, and was ready for the tweaking needed for publication

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Posted by abostick at 01:24 PM | Comments (0)

April 27, 2009

Joan Rivers Lashes Out at Annie Duke on "Celebrity Apprentice"

Here is a YouTube video of Joan Rivers venting bile on the reality TV show Celebrity Apprentice. Donald Trump fires Rivers' daughter Melissa, apparently due to the machinations of famous-name poker player Annie Duke and a co-conspirator.

Joan Rivers says to Duke, about 2:30 into the clip:

Your people... you give money with blood on it! I've met your people in Vegas for 40 years! None of them have last names. None of 'em. They have cash bowls full of... you're a poker player. A poker player. That's beyond white trash! Poker players are trash, darling! Trash!

(via private joker)

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Posted by abostick at 11:51 AM | Comments (0)

June 27, 2008

2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Days Thirteen and Fourteen

WSOP Stud/8 Tournament
WSOP Stud/8 Tournament
Originally uploaded by abostick59
I got up before noon on Wednesday, after about ten hours of sleep. I have found the recipe for getting sleep on Las Vegas gambling expeditions: Get away from the casinos! After getting my daily writing done, I headed out for the Rio. My intention that day was to play satellites, in hopes of winning a bunch of tournament entry chips with which to buy into Thursday's $1500 stud/8 tournament.

It didn't work out that way. The line was long to get into satellites. I played a $325 satellite and was first to bust out — in an early hand I hadn't had a handle on how small the starting stack size was, and crippled myself by betting half the pot on a continuation bet when I should have just pushed in. After that it was a matter of time before I either doubled up or busted out, and I busted out.

I waited in the line again for another $325 satellite. This one worked out better. I held out for 9th place, after the fourth increase in blinds.

While in the satellite area I ran into Walter Browne, who props at the Oaks. I bought a piece of his WSOP tournament action, but he hasn't been doing so well this year. (Last year he cashed three times, including a second place). He tells me he's been doing great in satellites, however.

I'd had it with satellites, however, so I went across the hall to the Amazon Room to see what was going on in cash games.

There were no seats in the stud/8 game, but there were seats open in a 75-150 mixed game, with hold'em, Omaha/8, and stud/8 in the mix. I sat down and put money on the table. The lineup was one I could hold my own against in the Omaha rounds and do very well in the stud/8 and hold'em rounds; but I was eager to get to the stud/8 game. (Yuval Bronshtein was in the stud/8 game. At one point I went to him and told him, "I don't know how you are in flop games, but if you are any good, it's raining soup in this mix game." He didn't move over, though.) After about two hours I was called to the stud/8 game, having booked a modest win of three big bets in the mixed game.

The forced-move stud/8 game was a good one, and I did well in it. I had a good handle on who was trouble and who was soft. Eventually, though, I was moved to the main game, and that was no good at all: only one soft player and all the rest were the old familiar gang of local regulars. I didn't stay very long there. I quit at 1:00 AM, booking enough of a win to end the day as much ahead as the satellites had put me behind.

Thursday was the day of the $1500 stud/8 tournament, the second tournament that I had planned to play at the WSOP. I got yet another good night's sleep, and stayed in for the better part of the afternoon. I headed over at about 3:30 PM to buy my entry and hang out.

The best way to hang out, I thought, was to sit down in a game. I was tempted by a 50-100 limit hold'em, and found it to play just like mid-limit hold'em everywhere these days. I played until about 4:30, and booked a $22 win.

There was anticipation and excitement in the air, like there is before the start of just about every tournament. The race was about to be on! The halls were crowded with tournament entrants waiting for the chance to take their seats, talking with each other, wishing each other luck, sizing each other up.

And the tournament began. I got off to a good start, with rolled up nines in an early hand holding up to scoop and give me an early lead for the table. But in the second round I had the misfortune to run into five premium starting hands in a row — literally one after another — and was scooped by someone else. I turned 3500 in tournament chips into 470 in very short order. I was in desperate straights at the break, having to play the short-stack game. I'm good at the short-stack game, but I wish I didn't have to play it quite so often. And even if you're good, the odds are against you. I busted out shortly into the third round.

I went straight to cash games, and was seated right away in the stud/8 game. Maybe I was a little tilted, but I was unable to make more than a couple of hands hold up, against obviously weak competition. I toughed it out, knowing how streaky the game can be, waiting for a good streak to make up for my bad ones, but the good streak never came.

At length, down more than one and a half buy-ins for the game, I gave up. I had the notion that, in the time I'd been in Las Vegas, every time I'd sat down at a no-limit hold'em game I had doubled up my chips in short order before going a game I had wanted to play more. So why not play no-limit hold'em in earnest?

I put my name on some lists and was soon called over to a $5-and-$10-blind no-limit hold'em game. Sure enough, not long after I sat down, my pocket eights flopped a set and rivered a full house, and I stacked someone off for $900.

Despite that, this was kind of a tough table to play. About half the players were good, and all of the good ones and some of the bad ones were posting Mississippi straddles on the dealer button. This means that (in a 5-10 game) the button posts $20, and gets last action before the flop. The action begins with the player in the small blind (rather than the player in front of the big blind). It gives the button a huge advantage, and is absolutely terrible for the players in the blinds. I posted Mississippi straddles almost every time it was my button.

While waiting for hands I leaked chips pretty fast, because it was an action game; but my good hands were good indeed. I called a raise in the big blind in an unstraddled pot with A-8 suited in clubs, along with two other callers. The flop came K-8-7 with two spades. I checked; the raiser bet about half the pot and got a caller. That looked like a continuation bet to me, and I thought that my pair of eights just might be good. I decided to call and take a card off. The turn card was a red ace, giving me top and middle pair. I bet $200, about half the pot. The initial raiser said, "Spiked your ace, huh?" and mucked. The player after him raised four hundred more. I went into the tank for a little while. What hands beat me? Sets, and AK. AA and KK were very unlikely, given the action; that left 77 and 88. Meanwhile I currently beat everything else the guy could have. And given the flush draw on the board, if the villain held a set I would likely have heard more from him on the flop — if he was playing right. Oh, well... if he had a set, he had me. I pushed all my money into the middle. Now it was his turn to go into the tank — and, seeing that, I now knew my hand was good. Eventually he called, all-in. The river card was a blank. I showed my hand, and he mucked with a look of disgust on his face. Even though I had him covered, there was already enough in the pot from other players to have doubled me up.

That's what the game was like: leaking chips in the face of fast preflop action, and winning significant pots to keep me in profit. I looked up one player when he was bluffing. I stole a few pots shamelessly.

When the dust settled, I had won enough in the hold'em game to make up for the beating I had taken in the stud/8 game. I was down for the day, but only for my tournament buy-in.

Why haven't I been playing more no-limit hold'em? (The answer is that I don't think I'm very good at it. Clearly, I'm good enough for this crowd.)

The game got short, with only good players left, so I picked up with my win. I headed back to the stud/8 game, not to play but just to see what was up. Chris Grigorian, who seems to like me (the feeling is mutual) was very complimentary to me: "You were tilting, and you got up. That is the sign of a good player." Maybe. Better players don't tilt in the first place.

2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Zero
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day One
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Two
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Three
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Four
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Five
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Six
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Seven
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Eight
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Days Nine and Ten
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Days Eleven and Twelve

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Posted by abostick at 04:06 PM | Comments (2)

June 25, 2008

2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Days Eleven and Twelve

Bellagio Poker Room
Bellagio Poker Room
Originally uploaded by abostick59
I started slowly on Monday, and was slow to finish my writing and get out. I didn't walk over to the Rio until after 8:00 PM.

The Amazon Room was hopping. It was the day of the Seniors' $1K no-limit hold'em event, and more than 2,200 people had played, the only event of the day due to its size. Hundreds of players still remained in the tournament, and the cash area was jammed. I got on the list for my old standby, the stud/8 game. There was also a huge list for the 20-40 mix game, and I added my name; but it wasn't likely to go down any time soon, as all the lower-limit tables were being used.

There was an empty seat in a 75-150 mixed game, with stud/8, razz, and stud high being the games in the mix. The players didn't look too formidable, so I sat down.

I folded a few hands, then played a straight draw that got open-ended on fourth street and got there on sixth. My opponent had an open pair on his board, and donked me on the river. I said aloud, "Did you fill up?" and called. He had aces up; my straight was good. During the play of that hand I was called over to the stud/8 game. "Yeah, I know, hit and run." I was nearly $800 to the good in that game, from that one hand.

The stud/8 game was another matter. There were a couple of weak players in the game, including one rocket scientist who had been at my table on the first day of the $5K tournament. But I wasn't able to take good advantage of them. I fell behind in the game, but never so far behind as to be net down for the night. Chris Grigorian joined the game. He is an excellent player whose table talk can confuse the unwary (after the manner of Sean Sheikhan). The rest of the players were the rocky regulars, part of the same crew of Vegas locals who, evidently, play this game (for a lower betting limit) all the time at Sam's Town. The rocket scientist kept taking my money and distributing it to the others. He won a lot of pots and half-pots, but for some strange reason his stack kept diminishing. Eventually, as evening turned to morning, he picked up and went to bed.

And eventually we all got moved from the must-move game to the main game, and I was able to get back most of my own, especially as the game got shorter. Some of the rocky regulars were there, but there was an extra soft spot. I had climbed almost back to even when the game broke. Chris Grigorian was imploring me to play him heads-up. I kept in mind what Sky Masterson had to say about ears full of cider, and declined. There were no other games going in which I wanted to play, so I returned to my hotel and went to bed.

I was up on Tuesday morning after only about four hours' sleep. Tuesday was the day that the housekeepers were slated to come through, do some cleaning, and change the sheets and towels. We had had the do-not-disturb sign up last week, so we were overdue for a cleaning. We also needed laundry done. Lynn took the car and headed out to the Clark County Library. I gathered the dirty laundry together and took it down to the hotel's laundry. Doing laundry kept me busy for an hour and a half. Lynn came back shortly afterwards.

I had a party in the evening to go to, just a few hours away. I pretty much had the choice at that point of getting my writing done or going out to play cards. I had already just taken a day off, so I opted to go out to play cards. I drove to Bellagio.

It took a long time to get a seat; the Bellagio poker room was surprisingly busy for a week day (although I suppose the WSOP brings in action). They were hosting a $1000+80 tournament that was sold out and taking signups for alternates. With Bill Chen's party starting at 6:00, I didn't feel like I had time to play in the tournament, so I stuck to cash games. I put my name down on a bunch of lists, and eventually was called to a $5-and-$10-blind no-limit hold'em game. I lost a little bit of my stack playing a bit fast, but made good when I was dealt pocket queens and doubled through a kid who thought his flush draw was golden.

I got up to take a walk, checked the mid-limit brush's clipboard, and saw that it looked like my name was on the top of the list for $15-$30 limit hold'em. I decided that I didn't want to miss that seat, so I picked up my chips from the no-limit table and waited by the mid-limit podium. But it turned out that the mid-limit brush had called my name a long time ago. She had been shouting, not using the PA system. So I was without a seat. The brush would do nothing else for me. I was at the top of the list for 30-60, so I stuck around to wait.

While I was waiting I encountered Kurt, one of the 30-60 regulars back home at the Oaks Club. It says something about Bellagio's place in the poker world that you meet a lot of the regulars in your home club when you play there.

I got my seat in the 30-60. I started out doing well, but eventually fell behind. The game was a mix of good players and not-so-good ones. I could keep my head above water with the good ones, but the not-so-good ones kept making donkey plays that came out right, like Mister Magoo. I wound up giving most (not all) of what I had won in the no-limit game to the donkeys in the 30-60.

At 6:00 I picked up my chips, up a mere $150 for the day, and cashed in. By the cage I saw that Chris Grigorian was playing in the tournament; when he wasn't in a hand I tapped his shoulder to say hello.

From Bellagio, I went to the house that Bill Chen and friends had rented for the month. I believe Bill was sharing the house with Jerrod Ankenman, Matt Hawrilenko, and Gavin Griffin. Bill was spending his time outside in the back, tending the barbecue. Gavin was behind the bar, making marguaritas and daiquiris. Various poker folk showed up, including Alan Jaffray, Jan and Peggy Stein (whom I recalled from days past at the Oaks and other Bay Area cardrooms), Sabyl Cohen, Terrence Chan, Matt Grapenthien, and some people whom I hadn't known before. I felt a little out of place, being a mid-limit grinder in the presence of some serious heavy hitters. But I've known some of these people for years, and I certainly wasn't the only mid-limit grinder present.

We ate wonderful barbecue: "Fred steaks" — which I had never heard of before but are apparently something of a Bay Area barbecue tradition — and chicken breasts, plus grilled vegetables, salad, enchiladas, guacamole (excellent, made by Gavin Griffin), and brie. I was very happy to overeat, and to break my no-feedlot-beef discipline.

We gossiped about other people we know — perhaps even you. We debated when it is right to peel on fourth street in eight-or-better stud. We put our immortal souls in serious jeopardy by watching YouTube videos of Phil Hellmuth blowing up. Some people played pool, or backgammon, or chess. Others watched television.

I was more than a bit distressed to see an episode of Family Guy close with a rape joke, and that helped me realize that I was really tired, running on just four hours of sleep. I said my goodbyes, and headed back to my hotel.

2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Zero
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day One
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Two
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Three
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Four
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Five
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Six
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Seven
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Eight
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Days Nine and Ten

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Posted by abostick at 03:29 PM | Comments (0)

June 23, 2008

2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Days Nine and Ten


Bill Chen mulls one over...
Originally uploaded by waldo483
I slept for about four hours, from 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM. I had a leisurely afternoon in my hotel suite, getting my daily writing together. It wasn't until almost 9:00 PM that I set out to go back into the fray.

This time it was back to the Rio. There was a seat waiting for me in a forced-move 50-100 stud/8 game, and I took it. The game was okay but not terrific. I wanted to play more of the BOTERS (or "STROBE") mixed game, so I put my name on the list. Turnover in the mixed game was very slow. My name was second of two on the list at 9:15 PM; and I wasn't called into it until 12:35 AM. I didn't do so well this time. The table was a lot more serious, a lot less live. Variance got to me in the badugi and triple-draw rounds. (One time in triple-draw I was dealt 8-7-3-2-brick in late position, and drew one when the big blind called my raise and drew three. I caught a five on the first draw, making my hand; my opponent kept drawing. After the final draw he bet into me and I called; he had 8-6-5-3-2, notching me by one pip.) I got fed up with losing, and at 4:30 AM I left the game when it was just about to switch to razz.

I returned to the stud/8 game, hoping to recoup some of my loss. Things didn't go well at first. Cyndy Violette had joined the game after a 75-150 mixed game had broken. Not long afterwards she was joined by my nemesis from the stud/8 tournament, whose name I now know to be Yuval Bronshtein.

I was originally sitting in the #1 seat, not ideal from the point of view of visibility, but it was a good position for me to be playing, given how the other players were sitting. Yuval was sitting to my immediate left in seat 2. I took a bathroom break at one point, and came back to find an attractive young woman in a cocktail dress chatting Yuval up, giving him her phone number and making sure he got it into his PDA. Another young woman came up, also dressed for clubbing, and joined the conversation. It was a bit distracting to me, in a too-much-talk way, not a fine-looking-women way, but I tried to focus on playing my cards. The conversation ended, and the women said their goodbyes to Yuval. The one who had been talking to him longer touched her hand to my shoulder, smiled, and said goodbye to me, too.

When they were gone, a man across the table from us chuckled and said something about working girls. That made a lot of sense to me. I can see why club girls might want to check out the high-rollers throwing money at each other in the high-stakes poker games in hope of catching some rich guy's attention. But why would a club girl, focused on a handsome and stylish young man, turn some of her charm towards a hippy biker dude who had been ignoring her?

Players left the game, players joined the game. I moved to the #4 seat to get better visibility, and Cyndy moved to the #1 seat to get better position. Yuval started pushing to raise the limit. $100-$200? $75-$150?

Then came a big hand for the three of us. Cyndy and Yuval had small cards in their doors; I had an ace, with another in the hole. Cyndy completed the bring-in, and Yuval raised. I liked my aces, so I three-bet. The bring-in dropped out, Cyndy called the two extra bets, and Yuval reraised again. I was slightly afraid of Yuval having rolled up fives, but figured he would be doing the same with other card combinations too, combinations of which I was ahead. I put in the fifth bet, and the other two called. The hand went to hell from there, with both of them catching low and connected. I caught low, too, but I didn't like my hand so much. I was in a position of having to represent strength when I was very likely an equity dog, in hopes of getting one of them to fold should they catch bad. If that were to happen, the now-dead money in the pot would make it worth getting freerolled by the scary low hand of whatever opponent remained. But it was not meant to be: I couldn't get either of them out, and so was at high risk of either being chopped up by them or scooped by one of them. As it happened, Cyndy's three eights and a low scooped my aces and fives and Yuval's two smaller pair. The pot was huge, and my stack was crippled.

Yuval suggested bumping the limit to 75-150 once more. This time, I and the other players agreed. I put more cash on the table in order to have a reasonable stack for the new limit.

I was dealt another big hand — two kings in the hole with a third in the door — and again went up against Cyndy and Yuval, both catching very scary low cards. I was trapped for three bets on one of the later streets, but this time, with no low possibility, I was much more careful. My hand didn't improve on the river, and Cyndy bet and Yuval raised. If I stayed it would have cost me five bets by being jammed between them; so I folded. Cyndy had a straight six, and Yuval had a 6-5-3-2-A low. Although it was not cheap for me to see the river card, I hadescaped a brutal beating. But I was starting to feel like I wasn't allowed to win the big ones.

Some refugees from the big pot-limit Omaha game showed interest in our game. Yuval suggested bumping the limit once more, to 100-200. I reluctantly agreed, and the PLO high-rollers sat down. I put still more cash on the table, and buckled down to focus on playing aggressive ABC poker, just as I would if I weren't playing the for highest stakes I'd yet played in my life.

"Aggressive ABC poker" turned out to involve a lot of folding, sometimes completing or raising on third street and folding when I caught a bad card on fourth. Andrew Prock calls folding on fourth street "the Hammer of Thor," the real secret to beating one's opponents at eight-or-better stud. I wielded the Hammer of Thor mightily. Eventually, as the morning progressed, I built my stack up to within reach of breaking even. I was exhausted. The game was good, and I knew exactly who the live players were and how to exploit them, but I was approaching the limits of my stamina. I ordered cup after cup of coffee from the cocktail servers. I kept nodding off between hands. Yuval got back to even, and picked up and left, saying his girlfriend was waiting for him.

Then, in this damnably streaky game, I caught hold of a hot streak. In short succession I was dealt decent hands that held up, or terrible hands that I was able to turn into winners, or (one more time) rolled up kings that this time scooped a three-way pot. I came up from under water, and kept winning, getting to the point where I was ahead almost as much as I had been behind.

The noon tournament, triple-draw lowball, had just begun. I began racking up my chips. I sold some of them to other players, but what I had to take back to the cage was one of the biggest payouts in my life. I wound up coloring my chips up rather than cashing them in.

Now it was time to head back to my hotel, get some food, and get some sleep. I was reeling with the emotional impact of what I had done. Much as I hate to lose at poker, sometimes I think that winning is almost as bad, at least in terms of what it does to me physiologically. (As far as the money is concerned, winning is definitely better than losing, thank you very much.) Many people enjoy the thrill of the gamble, and to them gambling and losing is almost as rewarding as gambling and winning. Not me: gambling to me is stressful, and the aftermath of gambling to me is like the aftermath of traumatic stress.

Lynn was awake and working when I got back to the room; and she dropped what she was doing to make me lunch. What a sweetie! I didn't need her to wait on me; and at the same time it was great to be able to sit there and stare into space while she brought me a sandwich.

From there, it was an effort to get off the couch and into bed. I slept for a couple of hours, until it was time for a phone date I had arranged with Debbie back home. But Debbie discerned how groggy I still was, and we rescheduled for later in the evening.

I went straight back to sleep, and woke at 8:30 PM. I puttered around on the Internet until it was time for that rescheduled phone date. Afterwards, I went to bed, and slept until morning, waking to the news that Bill Chen had made it to day 2 of the triple-draw event. (He later busted out in 24th place, barely into the money; but that's today's news.)

2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Zero
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day One
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Two
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Three
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Four
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Five
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Six
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Seven
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Eight
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Days Eleven and Twelve

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Posted by abostick at 07:01 PM | Comments (3)

June 21, 2008

2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Eight


Las Vegas - Bellagio
Originally uploaded by GlobeTrotter 2000
Friday was a long day. It started out fairly lazy, but I got out to the tables later on.

I got up at 2:30 PM, and was slow to get started. I am beginning to feel the effects of my non-schedule schedule. It took me many hours to get my daily writing and blogging done, and it was a long slow process, made slower by my seeming lack of energy. I didn't get yesterday's blog post put to bed until after 9 PM, and I didn't get out to play cards until after 11.

Once again I headed out to the Strip. This time I went to Bellagio. I got seated right away in a 15-30 hold'em game, and was called after only a few minutes to a 30-60. Surprise! Two seats to my right was MitchL, a regular in the Oaks' 30-60 game and a poster to the 2+2 Mid-Limit Hold'em forum. Later on Muriel, another 30-60 regular sat down to my left.

It was a decent game, with some good soft spots. Aside from Mitch, there were a couple of other young aggressive players, but there was also a LAG in seat one whose number I had, and I took shameless advantage of him.

I took a few beats early on, losing half my stack, but I was able to work it back up above water in short order. Eventually the game got short (Mitch left before this) and broke, and we were moved to empty seats at another table — where yet another Oaks regular (a man whose name I should know but don't) was playing. "The gang's all here," I told him. "All we need now is Ms. Davis!" He laughed.

Eventually I got tired of limit hold'em, so I picked up at about 4:00 AM, more than a rack ahead. I wasn't quite ready to retire for the morning, so I headed over to the Rio to see what was going on in the Amazon Room. Not all that much was, as it turned out. The only decent game in my price range was the 75-150 Omaha/8 game, and I'm just not a good enough Omaha player to take that game on. But on the lower-limit side there was a 20-40 mix game: BOTERS (Badugi, Omaha/8, Triple-Draw 2-7, Eight-or-Better Stud, Razz, and Stud High). There was a seat open, and I couldn't resist. I've been tempted by the higher-limit mixed games, but have been feeling not quite up to speed, particularly in badugi. I have a clue or two, but only a clue or two, plus basic card sense. In the other games I range from adequate (Omaha/8) to expert (stud/8). I told the player to my left that it this particular mix could be better called "STROBE."

It turned out to be an action game with one serious live one throwing a party (for example, in one hand of razz, after a king brought it in the live one raised the bring-in with a ten in the door, with baby cards acting after him. He got hammered that hand, and many others, and he was complaining bitterly to the dealer about it. But he wasn't the only bad player at the table, just the worst. I had a major overlay in all the games except perhaps badugi, as it turned out. I quickly got ahead, and while the swings were like a couple of hundred dollars either way in a round, the trend was upwards.

I haven't been writing very much about celebrity-spotting: poker pros with name recognition are thick on the ground here, and were especially so during the stud/8 tournament. (I never mentioned, for example, spotting Jennifer Tilly walking back and forth while Sabyl Landrum, Bob Laurie, and I were hanging out during a break on the first day of the stud/8 tournament.) But after daybreak the player to my right said something about Mike Caro that I didn't quite hear. I asked him what he meant, and he said, "Over there. In the blue jacket." Sure enough, it was Mike, sitting down to play in the 75-150 Omaha/8 game. He is something of a poker hero of mine, and he was a regular on rec.gambling.poker back in the day that I was one too. So at a good point in my game (during an Omaha round) I went over to say hello.

By the time I left the game just before 10:00 AM, I was up $700. I wouldn't have stayed anywhere near so long except that I was getting hungry as I played, and the only food available anywhere near the Amazon Room was room service delivery of breakfast. So I ordered some French toast at a ridiculous markup, and waited more than an hour for it to be delivered, playing (and winning) as I waited. It took time to eat while I played as well. Finally I was finished, and I waited out the stud/8 round before picking up, cashing out, and heading back to bed.

2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Zero
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day One
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Two
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Three
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Four
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Five
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Six
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Seven
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Days Nine and Ten
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Days Eleven and Twelve

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Posted by abostick at 07:05 PM | Comments (1)

June 20, 2008

2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Seven

Las Vegas Morning Alpenglow
Las Vegas Morning Alpenglow
Originally uploaded by abostick59.
Yesterday was one day by the calendar, but it almost feels like two day, because I went out twice and came back to sleep twice.

I woke up at 1:30 AM, after five hours, after more than five hours of sleep. I was thinking about getting dressed and going back to the Rio. Lynn was awake, and planning on going out to get some groceries. She offered me a ride. I accepted, so I got dressed in a hurry. We got a little bit lost trying to find the back way into the Rio convention center, but after a side trip to the Strip and back by way of Spring Mountain Road. We found the Rio's employee parking lot, and I went around the back of the Poker Kitchen tent to find the entrance of the convention area.

I got into the stud/8 game, but it wasn't very good, no action players, mostly the usual tough regulars. There was a 150-300 mixed game going, and Cyndy Violette was playing in it. In the mix was badugi, ace-to-five single-draw lowball (almost like home, except without a joker), triple-draw deuce-to-seven, and razz. I like triple-draw and lowball, can play basic razz, and can cope with badugi. Cyndy told me I should play, and that I should make adding eight-or-better stud to the mix a condition of my joining the game. That made sense ... but I felt like she was maybe being a little to encouraging. Mixed games are how pros take advantage of other pros, by giving up equity in games that aren't their best games in order to get people to play their best ones. This was not an great mix for me, even with stud/8 added. I decided to decline, and go back to the straight stud/8 game.

But that game didn't get any better, and I was struggling with a small loss. After taking another turn around the cash game area, I settled on 20-40 limit hold'em. The game was half-decent, although it had too many solid pros. Eventually the soft spots either busted out or picked up and left, leaving only the solid pros. after a round or so of blinds like this, I picked up. "All wolves and no sheep," I said. as I racked up my chips. The game broke. I cashed out a bit more ahead in the hold'em game than I had been down in the stud game, leaving me with a $78 win for the morning session. I got back to my room at about 7:30 AM, and to bed before 9.

I woke up again shortly after noon, and put myself together to run some errands. I wanted to top off my bankroll. By the time I got dressed it was after 1:00 PM. Lynn had told me there was a Bank of America not far away, at Wynn and Twain. I got confused, in this part of Las Vegas that hitherto has not been part of my stomping grounds, and headed up Valley View to Desert Inn (The Wynn is the site of the old Desert Inn, right?), and wound up being swept by the roadway over the railroad tracks and the freeway to the Strip. I opted to head north to downtown, where I knew the main Las Vegas B of A branch was located. I reloaded my bankroll and also got more walking-around money. Then I filled the car with gasoline, and then headed to the Lucky supermarket at Decatur and Spring Mountain. I was meaning to get a small box of laundry detergent and some mayonnaise for making sandwiches, and it occurred to me that I could get some other things as well: sandwich fixings, breakfast cereal, and so on.

Driving around in that part of Las Vegas, it seemed, every strip mall had its own massage studio.

Back to the room again, to get a post up about the previous day, my bustout from the tournament. Then in the late afternoon I headed back to the Rio to play cards. I got into the stud/8 game just as they were starting a second must-move game. But the room managers screwed up the feeder game pattern, having the third game feed both prior games, leaving the players in the second game feeling frustrated that they couldn't move into the main game. Some of them did, anyway. Some of the players in the main game wanted to change it to a straight high-only stud game. The floorpeople decided to start a 75-150 stud high game at another table, and that took the live players away. The three games were collapsed into two, and the floorpeople decided that the second table (to which I had been moved) was a must-move game again after all. It was a thorough clusterfuck, and no one was happy about it. I got moved to the main game, consisting of nothing but frustrated good players, and decided to bail out. I cashed out, up four stacks of green, and headed back to my hotel, to fetch the car and check out the poker action on the Strip.

After more confusion trying to get around on the streets, I made my way at length to the self-parking lot at the Venetian, and journeyed through the shopping arcade and across the casino to their poker room. Their offerings didn't seem very appealing to me: no-limit hold'em up through $10 and $20 blinds, some low limit hold'em and Omaha. There was an interest list for a 20-40 hold'em game.

I walked from there to the Wynn. The Venetian gets up my nose, by being almost nothing like the real Venice despite the architectural copies. (The Paris doesn't much resemble the real city of Paris, either, and neither does the Orleans resemble New Orleans past or present.) I would like to see someone open a casino resort called the Las Vegas Las Vegas, which would be a Vegasized version of Las Vegas itself. The main casino floor would be called the Strip; the penny slots would be Downtown, and the luxury suites would be in the Henderson Tower. It would be a gaudy fantasy of what Las Vegas never really was.

I got to the Wynn, and played more 20-40 hold'em. In this game, most (but not all) of the breaks went other players' ways rather than mine, and in this all-night session I wound up taking a dive half again as large as the win I had booked in the earlier part of the evening. I did make some nice plays, though, winning a significant pot with one bluff, and making one good call to catch someone else's bluff. Another bluff of mine was snapped off; and I made four or five bad bluff-catching river calls — and that means that both in bluffing and bluff-catching I was dramatically ahead of break-even. This softened some of the impact of the evening's loss.

The game broke in the early morning, and I headed back to home base just before sunrise. This time I remembered to get a picture of the morning alpenglow.

2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Zero
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day One
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Two
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Three
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Four
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Five
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Six
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Eight
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Days Nine and Ten
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Days Eleven and Twelve

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Posted by abostick at 09:16 PM | Comments (0)

June 19, 2008

2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Six

Phil Hellmuth stepped on my foot!
Phil Hellmuth stepped on my foot!
For those of you who can't stand the suspense, I busted out of the stud/8 championship tournament shortly after the first break, in the middle of round 9.

I was awake somewhat after 10:00 AM on Wednesday. I wanted to turn over and go back to sleep; but getting these updates done is important to me. Lynn said to me, "Put the writing off until this evening." My answer to her was, "I hope to be very busy this evening!" So despite wanting more sleep, I got up, showered, and fixed myself a substantial breakfast of bacon, fried eggs, and toast.

Writing took time, as usual, and the hotel's WiFi was being wonky when I was trying to upload yesterday's blog post. It was after 2:30 PM when I left my room to head for the tournament, not sure whether I had gotten my post to go live or not, and post-production tasks left completely undone. I had time to grab a mini-pizza from the vendor in the convention center hallway. Then I called Debbie at her job for some words of encouragement. Today's round was being played in the Brasilia Room, much less of a zoo than the soccer-field-sized Amazon Room. The cards were in the air while I was still finishing my pizza.

Andrew Prock had posted a scouting report on his friends' and horses' assigned tables to his LiveJournal, so I was not taken by surprise to discover that I was seated at the same table as Barry Greenstein and Sean Sheikhan, nor that mine was not the smallest stack of chips at the table. Sheikhan's table manner is brash and obnoxious. He talks trash, and says ridiculous things, for instance: "You sucked out on me!" to Greenstein when Greenstein's freeroll failed to hit so that Sheikhan's two pair held up for half a pot versus Greenstein's low with a busted straight draw. Obnoxious and provocative table manner is part of the game. But I had to say something when Sheikhan directed his bluster towards a dealer when she had dealt him one too many bring-ins in succession. "Putting other players on tilt is part of the game," I said. "But when you try to put a dealer on tilt, everyone loses." Sheikhan conceded the point. The next hand I was dealt the bring-in. "Besides," I added, "Everyone knows that giving a player the low card for the bring-in is a dealer's way of flirting with him."

Greenstein was playing back at Sheikhan, both with his chips and with his banter. "Sean, do they have in Iran any cartoon that is the equivalent of Mister Magoo? Sean plays just like that old guy who walks off the ledge right onto the girders the crane is hauling up." Greenstein is an affable and friendly man whose misfortune it is to resemble Max Schreck, the actor who played the title role in the German silent film Nosferatu. He looks just as creepy and vampiric in person as he does in his pictures.

With some fortunate half-pots and scoops I was able to work my stack up from the desperate 11,900 to a near-average 26,000. For a while I was back in the hunt. But the streakiness of eight-or-better stud caught me again, and at the first break I had as few chips as I had when I started. But I had outlasted two other players at my table.

During the third round, I was sitting in my seat at one end of the table, with my feet folded back on either side of my chair. Someone squeezed behind me, passing through, and stepped on my right foot. I looked up. It was Phil Hellmuth, coming into the tournament area to schmooze with people he knew who were playing. He hadn't said a word as he went past; it was as if he hadn't noticed. Was it an expression of a grudge he might be holding me because of that beat I put on him in a stud tournament at Casino San Pablo some years back? More likely it was just obliviousness, combined with acquired situational narcissim. "Phil Hellmuth just stepped on my foot!" I announced. The player to my right said, "Maybe that will bring you luck."

Here is my bustout hand. With about 7000 in my stack I woke up with (46)5 with a two-flush. The ante and bring-in are 300, and the betting limits are 1200 and 2400. Treys and sevens were completely live, but another five was out. I completed the bring-in, and got two callers. Fourth street paired my five and bricked one of the other two players. The player who caught good was a young man whom I had played with during my all-night cash-game session, and I knew him to be an aggressive action player — in cash games. I checked, he bet, the other opponent folded, and I called. Sixth street gave me an eight and a brick to the villain. I bet; he called. Sixth street gave us both bricks. I checked; he checked after me. Seventh street gives me no help, and my hand is an open pair of fives. I have less than a bet in my stack. I check to my opponent, and he bets into me. Do I call or do I fold? Calling and losing, I'm out. Folding leaves me almost cripppled — but with enough chips to pay antes for a few hands until I can find an all-in hand and maybe double up from the antes. It seemed like a hellishly close decision to me, but I decided that the half-pot was big enough to be worth it. I called, and my opponent showed a flush and a low. I was out.

Despite my busting out, I was in an excellent mode. I was charged up, feeling good about my play. I told Debbie on the phone, "I fought well, and I died well." I didn't feel finished, and so I was ready to get on some lists for some cash games.

But I noticed that I was hungry. So I went to the Rio's coffee shop and picked out a sandwich from the menu that was covered by the $10 voucher that came with my tournament entry. While I was waiting for my food, I began to notice quite how bone-tired I was. Playing more that day would not be a good idea.

I was seated facing the railing separating the coffee shop from the walkway between the casino and the tournament area. Cole Tibbets, son of the owner of the Oaks Club, walked past and noticed me. We talked across the railing for a minute or two. He is here for the cash games, just like me.

After finishing my meal, I made my way back to my hotel suite. Lynn welcomed me home. I took some time to do the post-production work on my blog post, which had in fact gone live. I went to bed at 8:00 PM.

2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Zero
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day One
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Two
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Three
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Four
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Five
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Seven
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Eight
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Days Nine and Ten
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Days Eleven and Twelve

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Posted by abostick at 04:25 PM | Comments (3)

June 18, 2008

2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Five

Amazon Room
Amazon Room
Originally uploaded by abostick59.
Let me start with the day's finish: I made it into day 2 of the World Championship Seven Card Stud High-Low Split event. 120 players remain out of 261 starters. My stack size is 11,900, slightly more than half of the average of 21,750. The starting limit this afternoon will be ante 200, bring-in 200, and betting limits of 800 and 1600. I am rather closer to the felt than is comfortable.

I got up after 10;00 AM Tuesday morning after about four hours of sleep. That is less than ideal; but I wanted to get through my writing and blogging tasks before I headed in, and I had some hopes of being able to watch some of the $10K Limit Hold'em event final table, where Jerrod Ankenman would be playing. As it turned out, I wasn't able to get finished writing before 4:00 PM. At that point I suited up and headed for the Rio and the tournament areas. I got some food — prepackaged sushi from the "poker kitchen" in the tent just outside of the rear of the convention center. I wandered around for a bit, and I tried to psych myself up for this event, a huge one for me.

Play started on the dot of 5:00 PM. I didn't know anyone at my table. I got off to a bad start, having a bunch of strong starters die on fourth street. My starting stack of 10K dwindled to 9K and then lower.

Once again I was astonished by the low level of play at a WSOP stud/8 event. The signature trait that a stud/8 player uses to judge the looseness and profitability of a game is the degree to which players take off a card on fourth street when they catch bad. In high stud, fourth street is often just a stop on the way to see a fifth card; once you decide to play a hand, the next big decision is on fifth street when the bet doubles. But in stud/8, your fourth street card makes or breaks your hand. Players who don't jump ship when they catch bad on fourth are what makes the game good. Most of the players at the table, even the ones who clearly knew what they were doing, were peeling off another card on fourth when they caught bad, unless they faced a bet and a raise.

And the far end of the table was populated by people whom I didn't think really knew what they were doing — four loose callers in a row, always defending their bring-ins to a raise, usually peeling on fourth street. I had essentially no fold equity on third street. My bets and raises had to be for value.

Except, for the longest time, I wasn't getting any value: my hands died on fourth, or superb draws busted out. My stack was over 6K at the first break. In the next round it got as low as 2K, but then my luck finally changed. I was trapped into drawing to a flush in a multi-way pot, and it got there, giving me half of a substantial pot, bringing me back up to 6K. Pocket aces held up for high in a jammed multiway pot, busting the first player to leave our table. My half of the pot brought me back up above water.

Back in the hunt, I was able to work my stack up to 15K. Then, late in the fourth round, I was dealt rolled-up eights. The player to my left was the bring-in. One of the loose players at the other end of the table limped in. The player to my right completed the bet. His stack was fairly low at this point. I raised. The bring-in called, apparently having a strong low starter, Initial raiser put in a fourth bet, and I put in the final raise. The three of us saw fourth street, all of us catching good low cards. The player to my right was all-in on fourth street, and I bet fifth and sixth streets and checked the river. The player to my left had missed his low and his scoop draws, and my unimproved trip eights beat the other player's aces and jacks. I scooped a huge pot. My stack was now over 26K. That hand had lasted long enough to be the final one for the round at our table.

It was a whole new ballgame for me now, as one of the bigger stacks. New players were moving in, also with big stacks. The sense of the tournament was changing.

But I ran into yet another cold streak. Six strong starters in succession (with the usual many folds interspersed between) died on fourth street. The seventh broke the streak, but that left me with 16K. From that point on until the end of the eighth round I was hanging on waiting for the right spot that never came. The round finished with me having just under 12K. It was almost 3:00 AM, and I was knackered. I staggered back to my hotel, and fixed a meal of pasta and salad. Then to bed, before 4:00 AM.

Now it is time to go back into battle. Wish me luck.

2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Zero
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day One
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Two
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Three
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Four
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Six
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Seven
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Eight
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Days Nine and Ten
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Days Eleven and Twelve

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Posted by abostick at 02:02 PM | Comments (1)

June 17, 2008

2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Four

Rio Neon
Rio Neon
Originally uploaded by abostick59.
Monday was a short day for me. I woke up at 5:00 PM, having gotten six and a half hours' sleep, a good amount under the circumstances. I spent the evening — my effective morning — following what has come to be my morning routine: cleaning up, geting dressed, eating breakfast, writing up the experiences of the previous day, and doing the pre- and post-production work on my blog post. I didn't get out of my hotel room until midnight. It was oddly familiar: I was effectively on the same schedule that I had been on for most of May and June, playing 30-60 hold'em five mornings a week at the Oaks Club.

It was not quite routine when I got to the Amazon Room. Two stud/8 games were going, but they were full. There were a couple of names ahead of me on the list, and I put my name on it. None of the other games looked particularly appealing.

On a whim I headed to the room where satellites were playing. The brush was calling out that she had one seat left in a $560 stud/8 satellite. I took it, feeling that it was my best shot at winning some tournament chips to defray the cost of my entry in the big Tuesday tournament. Seven of the eight players, including me, put up $100 for a last-longer bet on the side.

I got extraordinarily lucky in the early rounds. For instance, I started out one hand with hidden jacks and a seven in the door (relax — jacks and sevens were live, and there were no overcards in anyone else's door), and wound up in a three-way pot. I kept catching low, and since the one of the other players caught a brick I kept betting until he caught a third low card. On sixth street I caught a fourth low card that gave me a gutshot straight draw, and my river card filled the hole and made my straight. Scoop! "That's a pai gow hand!" said one of the other players in the hand. Some low starters made straights; some hidden brick pairs spiked trips on fourth street. (One of those didn't hold up, losing to another player's flush; but the way my luck was running overall that hardly mattered.)

My stack started to get short as the satellite wound on — I was actually playing pretty tight, tighter than the rest of the table. I was actually surprised at how much action people were giving. I was the only player who didn't automatically defend their bring-in. Three- and four-way pots on fourth street were common.

As the limits went up I started to feel like maybe I wasn't in such good shape. But I made a stand with a small pair, stayed in until I was all-in, and when the dust settled I took half the pot, resulting in a more-than-average stack four handed. Then I wound up with half the chips, and pretty much stayed that way until the end.

When it was three-way, we agreed to split the $700 last-longer bet three ways, leaving the extra $100 for the winner.

I wound up heads-up with "Doc," who gives the lie to the old adage. He's been a regular in the cash game, and he isn't very good. I had a commanding chip lead. Then I put him all-in and he made his hand and doubled up. I was still ahead 2:1, but in our next confrontation (which took a while) he doubled through me again, leaving me slightly behind. I was able to chip away at him and regain my 2:1 advantage, but then this hand happened at the T1200-T2400 level. I had a bit less than T12000, and Doc a bit more than T4000. Doc was the bring-in with a four in the door; I had a five as my upcard and two treys in the hole. In a head-up match this is a premium hand. I raised his bring-in. He raised back at me. We both caught small, and he was all-in on the next card. His hole cards: the other pair of threes. It was a very close race; but when the dust settled, Doc had a pair of threes with a king kicker, and mine only had a jack for a kicker.

Now we were close to even again. I had T7200 and Doc had T8800. The limit was high enough to make this very much a crap shoot, reducing my edge against him. So I proposed a split: divide the tournament chips down the middle, and Doc takes the cash and the extra last-longer money. Doc readily agreed. The prize pool included $120 in cash, which Doc gave to the dealer as a toke.

So $560 plus an additional $100 yielded $2500 in tournament buy-in chips and an additional $200 in cash, for a net profit of $2040.

The main tournament registration windows were open at that hour, 4:00 AM, so I decided to buy my entry to the $5000 Eight-or-Better Stud World Championship, starting Tuesday at 5:00 PM, then and there.

Back at the Amazon Room, the stud/8 game was going with empty seats. But I suddenly realized I was desperately hungry, and a bit tired. I wanted to find something to eat, and quite possibly do so in my own hotel room kitchenette. So I started the long walk back down the Rio's convention center corridors to the main casino. Once on the casino floor, I noted that the All American Bar and Grill, just adjacent to the casino floor, was serving food at that hour, so I got a table and ordered a club sandwich and fries, with a cup of coffee to drink.

Refreshed and re-energized, I traveled long, over moor and mountain, to return to the Amazon Room, only to discover that the stud/8 game had broken. There were seats available in 2-5 and 5-10 NLHE (and much bigger games) and in 20-40 limit hold'em, but I didn't really feel like playing in those games at that point. So the better part of valor was to return to my hotel and get some rest before the big tournament in the afternoon. Before I did so, however, I spent a few minutes talking to Gary S., a sometime regular in the Oaks and other Bay Area cardrooms. He said I was looking good. I didn't say so, but I thought he looked terrible, unkempt, gone to seed. He was raving about the Omaha/8 game he was playing. Another player, he pointed out, was raising and reraising blind on every street. "It's amazing!" he kept saying. I didn't say that it wasn't that amazing; people like that come through a poker game from time to time. Raisebots can make a game very interesting and lucrative, but I don't think they're amazing.

But the writing was on the wall. It was time for me to go get some rest. I made the return journey, and was walking down Valley View Drive to the Extended StayAmerica just when the sun was rising. The mountains to the west had already been lit up in desert alpenglow, like a Galen Rowell photograph. It was not quite 6:00 AM.

2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Zero
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day One
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Two
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Three
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Five
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Six
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Seven
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Eight
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Days Nine and Ten
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Days Eleven and Twelve

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Posted by abostick at 03:25 PM | Comments (0)

June 16, 2008

2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Three

World Series of Poker logo
Sunday started with a continuation of the pattern I had established: waking relatively early after a decent night's sleep, and spending the morning catching up on the Internet and writing up my doings of the previous day. I should not be surprised at how time-consuming regular writing can be, especially if there are pre- and post-production tasks that go with it. I do everything myself here at As I Please; I don't have a copy desk, photo editor, or production manager to take my copy and turn it into a blog post. Movable Type does a lot of the work, but there is plenty that I have to do myself to get the result you're reading here. Slowing the process down even more is the WiFi at the Extended StayAmerica, the connection to which is weak and intermittent. So between one thing and another, although I was up at 8:00 AM Sunday morning, I didn't get out of my room and on the walk across the Anvil of God to the Rio until 2:00 PM.

I had been feeling frustrated about my results of the previous days' play in cash games, down and up tiny amounts, and felt that changing up might help me. I went to the satellite area to see how I could do.

The brush was selling seats to a $1030 no-limit hold'em satellite, and I stepped right up and took one. The procedure here is that players first get a seating card from the brush who is promoting the satellites. Then one goes to the registration window to pay one's entry fee and get a two copies of the entry receipt. One shows one's WSOP player's card at the window. Then one goes to one's assigned table and seat, giving one of the receipts to the dealer, and showing the dealer both one's player's card and some sort of ID to confirm that one is who one says one is. (John Doe can't buy a seat and send a ringer like Sabyl Cohen or Bill Chen to play for him.)

The $1K satellite had a very slow structure: players started with T5,000 in chips (although the smallest denomination of chip is 25, so they might as well call it T200) and rounds at least twenty minutes long. I didn't adjust very well to the slow structure, and I was surprised at how long it took through the early rounds to bust the first player out. In my long-haired, long-bearded biker-hippie garb, I must have presented a startling contrast to the very clean-cut and well-dressed men who made up the rest of the table. I knew one of the players from past experience: Paul "Eskimo" Clark, looking surprisingly clean-cut and well-dressed. (I can remember when he presented himself as something like a biker-hippie at the poker table. Has age tamed him?)

Without trying to do so, I established for myself an image as a wild-loose player. I busted two players by making calls of their all-in raises that prompted astonished murmurs of "what a call!" when we turned our hands up. (I was in fact thinking of ranges of hands and whether or not my call was profitable against those players' ranges; but the effect was to make me look like a maniac.)

I died a maniac's death, though: I donked off most of my chips by continuation-bet bluffing a player who had the hand that I was representing. Then I was a small stack, and it was an easy matter for someone to eventually call one of my all-in bets and beat me.

Chastened, I moved down, to a $525 satelline with a more familiar, fast play structure: T2000 in chips and ten-minute rounds. The play here was completely different, comparable to what I would expect in a $10+$1 single-table sit-and-go tournament on an online site. No familiar faces here, although one of the players turned and started speaking in Vietnames to Jimmy Tran as Tran came walking by. I died the death when I got suited AK in early position and made a reasonable-sized raise and got two callers. Jimmy Tran's friend called in middle position, and so did the big blind. The flop came the very appealing K73 rainbow; I made my standard bet for that spot — a little less than half the pot, looking exactly like the c-bet I would be making if I missed. Jimmy Tran's friend called me, and the big blind dropped out. Turn was a relatively innocuous card that put a two-flush on the board. Again, I bet about half the pot. My opponent raised me, doubling my bet. Given stack sizes, to do anything here meant all my chips were going into the middle, so I reraised all-in, and he insta-called me, turning over 77 for a set. I had no outs; I was done with the satellite, in ninth place.

While in the satellite area, I saw some familiar faces. When I was buying into my first satellite, Alex Alaskar called to me. Alex is an old tournament nemesis of mine, and he currently is a dealer at the Palace in Hayward. I waved JP Massar over while I was in the $1K satellite, and we touched base. I also saw Roger Park, a San Francisco lawyer whom I first met years ago at a home game at Lee Jones's house and later became part of the circle of players that Dan Huseman calls "the Berkeley Mafia" (i.e. people on the ba-poker email list who played regularly in the Oaks Wednesday night or Sunday tournaments).

After dumping more than $1500 on satellites, I figured that I needed to change up again, so I returned to the cash-game section of the Amazon room. In the hallway I was hailed by Jerrod Ankenman, on his way to his seat in the $10K Limit Hold'em Championship.

There was no seat for me in the stud/8 game, so I put my name on other lists. The high-limit brush was promoting a mixed game about to start, a $100-$200 combination of badugi, Omaha/8, triple-draw deuce-to-seven lowball, and eight-or-better stud ("BOTE"). On a lark I put my name on the list, and the brush called for the game to get going in the high-limit pit. I bought chips, and waited for the game to start. But before it came together, I was called to the stud/8 game, and I decided that discretion was the better part of valor.

I didn't do so well in the stud/8 game. It was full of the same old familiar people (with one or two new faces) and there wasn't much weakness which a good player could take advantage. I fell behind. It was a forced-move game, and the main game was suddenly depopulated when a $660 stud/8 satellite was being promoted. The forced-move game broke, and the main game was stalled over a dispute over time collection. One of the players didn't want to pay time, giving an excuse that didn't make enough sense to me to hold water — I think she was looking for any reason she could find to not have to pay time. She wound up sitting out the rest of the dealer down, and not paying time for half an hour.

There were a couple of decently weak players in this game, once it filled up and got going again, but I wasn't able to do well against them for quite a while. It was particularly frustrating to trap a particularly live player for five bets each on sixth street when he was still drawing to a low and then having him outdraw me on the river. That's poker, but that was also a lot of bets lost in that hand.

Cyndy Violette came up to me at one point and asked me how the game was. "A bunch of tough spots," I answered, "and a couple of soft places. You can easily figure out which ones they are." (I found it a bit curious that she picked me to ask.) Eventually she did get in the game, and played through the night, still in it when I left in the morning.

I broke discipline and pulled an all-nighter. It turned out to be a good thing that I did, because the night-time and early morning game was had a lot more action in it, more loose players, players dropping in because they wanted to play something. The game had become one that had good prospects for me.

I went through a long cold stretch, hand after hand of folding, or seeing fourth street and folding. Playing hand after hand of poker has a rhythm to it that keeps one going. These cards suck. Fold. Wait for the next one. New hand. Fold. Wait. New hand. Fold. Wait. The old-time Texas road gamblers used to say that to be a successful poker pro you needed to have alligator blood in one's veins. I once thought that this was about being tough and mean and dangerous; but now I realize that the typical alligator spends its time in the swamp or bayou doing nothing in particular, just waiting for the right opportunity. To do well in poker, you have to wait.

So I waited and waited. And my opportunities came along at last. You couldn't tell what time of day it was in the Amazon Room, but outside it was growing light, and I was making money at last. I turned a loss of more than a rack of chips for the game into an even larger win, leaving my significantly up for the day. It was my first big score of this trip.

I cashed in my chips at 8:30 AM and returned to my hotel, only to discover that Lynn Kendall was up and getting dressed. "Let's go out for breakfast!" she said. The Las Vegas heat had been keeping her cooped up in the room, and the relative cool of the morning was her chance to get out. We drove to a Denny's and had a pleasant time together, although I could barely stay awake. By the time we had gotten back to the room it was 10:30 AM. I had to wind down and fall over, and I did.

2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Zero
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day One
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Two
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Four
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Five
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Six
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Seven
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Eight
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Days Nine and Ten
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Days Eleven and Twelve

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Posted by abostick at 10:52 PM | Comments (1)

June 15, 2008

2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Two


/ 05.12.07 - 213/365: Poker Night
Originally uploaded by d.rex.
I was awake fairly early yesterday — 7:30 AM or so. I had a leisurely morning, making a quesedilla for breakfast, taking a shower, catching up on the Internet, etc. The WiFi in my hotel room is weak and iffy, and I found trying to update my blog to be frustrating. At length I got my writing done, and pre-production, and, when at last I could, post-production. Yesterday's blog report went live after noon and post-production was finished before 1:00 PM. My writing tasks complete, I suited up to head for the tables once again.

I was hungry again, and, on a whim, I crossed Valley View Drive to the Gold Coast to check out their Chinese restaurant, Ping Pang Pong. On Friday, one of the dealers, a young Chinese man, had recommended it.

The restaurant was full of Chinese families for Saturday dim sum. There was a wait for a table, but space to sit immediately at the counter. I opted for the counter.

The quality of the food was good, but I was disappointed by the service. It was difficult for me to get the attention of the servers as they wheeled the dim sum carts around. The quality of the food that I had was good, but the selection did not seem to be very wide. I think I would have been better off ordering off of the menu rather than eating dim sum. Three dishes plus tea came to $11 plus tip.

The noon event was a $1500 no-limit hold'em tournament, and was very popular. Many of the tables in the cash game section of the Amazon Room were given over to the tournament, and the stud/8 game was not yet going, although a few 2-5 and 5-10 NLHE games were going. I put my name on some lists, and wandered about the room looking at the tournament action. The only person whom I recognized at the tables was Greg Raymer.

An announcement boomed over the PA system: In three minutes the tournament players would go on break. All spectators should clear the room immediately. I made my way out, along with all the other spectators. Moments later, the doors of the Amazon Room vomited forth vast numbers of tournament players. There was no getting back inside until they all had left. It took a while for me to get back to the cash game area. When I did, they were just calling down a 2-5 NLHE game, and I got a seat.

When I had a chance to look, I saw that the board for the 50-100 stud/8 game was clear of names. I wondered about that, and had an intention to go check it out. Then I heard an announcement that there were available seats in the stud/8 game — which had somehow gotten enough interest in the short time I had been out of the room to get going. I quickly locked up a seat, and picked up my chips (down $5) and moved to my game of choice.

It was not a great game. It was full of regulars, some of whom had exploitable weaknesses, but not big ones. One live player sat down in the #1 seat (I was in the #3 seat), but otherwise it was a battle between rocks of granite and rocks of sandstone. Some of the regulars left in dismay.

The place of one of them, to my immediate left, was taken by Cyndy Violette. Man, this game just keeps getting softer and softer ... (not). She was the winner of the $2K stud/8 tournament that I had played in 2004. She and I traded observations about how bad the table was. She is cute in a dirty blonde sort of way, but there was absolutely no chemistry between us, just the friendliness of poker-table rivals. After maybe an hour of play, a 75-150 Omaha/8 game got going, and she moved over there.

Thanks to the live player in seat one, I had worked my stack up half a buy-in; but I ran bad for a while — just like the day before, I ran into a stretch where I couldn't win a showdown to save my life. I went from up two stacks of green chips to down a stack and a half.

Meanwhile, the 5:00 PM tournament had begun: $5000 pot-limit Omaha, with rebuys. I heard the announcement during the tournament's dinner break: 152 players took 483 rebuys to build a prize pool of more than three million dollars. The average player spent $20,000 to play in this event. With that being the average, you know that some players spent less ... and some players spent a lot more. "LOL donkaments..." indeed!

I found time among the various tournaments' dinner breaks to get food. I went to the sushi and noodle kitchen that is set up near the Brasilia Room. They offer all the Asian soup (e.g. Pho, wonton soup, pork and duck noodle soup, etc.) you can eat for $15, all the sushi you can eat for $29, or both for $38. The soup deal doesn't look like a good one to me, but $30 for all the sushi you can eat is a fair price. I went for the sushi. The selection is not great (for nigiri sushi you have a choice between tuna, salmon, yellowtail, mackerel, shrimp, crab, and eel; and you can get some rolls, including California roll) but the quality of the fish is good. It was easy for me to eat my money's worth. With hot green tea, my tab came to $34 plus tip.

I began at last to catch up with people I know. I saw Victor (vmacosta on 2+2) who is a regular in the Oaks' 30-60 game late at night. I got up from the table to chat briefly with him. Andrew Prock came to me at the table, and we talked for a bit. Sabyl Cohen called me and left a message just as I was cashing out. I called her back and caught up with her. She, alas, has come down with a chest cold and needs to take it easy for a while.

Towards the end of the session, a couple of good scoops brought me back up to even. I had been thinking about playing later (and shifting my time schedule later, to take advantage of evening and early morning loose games), but when the end of my eighth hour came around, I just didn't feel like playing more. I finished the session up $48 ($43 on the day). Down $59 one day, up $43 the next — I don't know if I'm up for the drastic variance of high-stakes poker.

I made my way back to my hotel, and realized quite how tired I was. I sat with Lynn for a while, and then went to bed, while she stayed up writing.

2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Zero
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day One
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Three
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Four
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Five
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Six
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Seven
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Eight
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Days Nine and Ten
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Days Eleven and Twelve

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Posted by abostick at 12:52 PM | Comments (0)

June 14, 2008

2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day One

Rio Las Vegas Hotel & Casino
Rio Las Vegas Hotel & Casino
Friday the Thirteenth came on a Friday this month, and I was in Las Vegas to see how lucky I could get.

Lynn and I got to an early start. We were loaded up and checked out of the Motel 6 by 8:15 AM. I was hungry; I think we both were. The plan was to find somewhere to get breakfast. But first I wanted to go by the suite hotel where we would be staying for the duration, and see what time we could check in. After some time navigating the maze that is Las Vegas in the confused zone between the I-15 freeway and the railroad tracks, we found our way to our hotel. It was 8:30 AM. I caught the attention of the desk clerk and, to my amazement, despite the sign reading "Check-In Time 3:00 PM" over the counter, she told me that there was a room available right then. So we checked in, unloaded the car, and unpacked. It is a reasonably comfortable suite, not luxurious, but clean and well-appointed.

The next order of business was breakfast. We took to the car again. I thought that a casino coffee shop was the thing, and so we pulled into the garage at the Gold Coast (across Valley View Drive from the Rio). It was a long hike from the garage through the casino to the coffee shop; and the coffee shop was open to the casino floor.

Lynn is seriously allergic to tobacco smoke. I could smell it as we walked through the casino. I didn't notice it in the coffee shop, but she did. By the time we finished breakfast, she had to hit her inhaler. I paid the bill, and we made a quick getaway to the nearest exit (followed, infuriatingly, by a clueless gambler with a cigarette). The exit put us out by the Gold Coast's swimming pool. We wandered through the byways of the hotel until we found a security guard who bent the rules to direct us to a service entrance near the loading docks. I went to fetch the car, and we returned to our hotel. Lynn has now laid down the law for herself: No more casino floors, period.

Back at our room, I coaxed the internet connection to life, and spent a bit of time catching up. Then I wrote up my travel report of the previous day, and uploaded it to As I Please.

At last it was time to do what I had come to Las Vegas to do: play poker at the WSOP. I put myself together and went out to do battle with the other knights of the green felt.

If you believe the street maps, the Extended StayAmerica hotel is half a block south of the corner of Valley View Boulevard and Flamingo Road, and the Rio is at the northeast corner of that intersection. What the street maps don't get across is the Brobdignagian proportions of Las Vegas urban geography, and the brutal quality of the mid-day sunlight. I was muttering something to myself about mad dogs and Englishmen when I got across Flamingo Road and faced the choice of ways around the parking garage to get to the Rio's entrance. But the walk from my hotel to the entrance to the Rio, between a quarter and half a mile, was shorter than the walk from the Rio's main entrance to the exhibition halls where the WSOP is being held.

I had been to the WSOP at the Rio for a weekend in 2006, so I was prepared for what it is now like: a chimerical cross between a poker tournament, a trade show, and a three-ring circus. Three different ballrooms are filled wall-to-wall with poker tables. One of them is for single-table satellites, one for evening tournaments and so-called Mega-Satellites, and the largest, the Amazon Room, has the main tournaments as well as high-stakes cash games. The corridors are lined with exhibition booths, complete with booth babes, touting products such as Cardrunners poker training videos and All-In energy drink. WSOP logo-wear stores sell branded products like T-shirts, caps, sweatshirts, decks of cards, keychains, and so on -- every sort of WSOP-branded items imaginable. WSOP-branded underwear? Condoms? I didn't see any, but that doesn't mean they aren't there.

I re-upped my special WSOP-edition Harrah's Total Rewards card, and found my way to the cash games in the Amazon Room. This is a huge exhibition hall, with acres of poker tables. One section has the shrouded and blue-lit final table area. At least two thirds of the rest of the room is given over to tournament tables. And maybe fifty tables of cash games are crammed into one corner of the room. Triangular latticework overhead supports individual lighting for each table, screened by white muslin. The effect of the lighting is that the room seems quite dim, even though the tables are adequately lit for card play.

I put my name on the list for my favorite WSOP game, the $50-$100 eight-or-better stud game. There was a table going strong and a few names waiting on the list. I figured it could be a while, so when the brush called down a $2-and-$5-blind no-limit hold'em game and said there were open seats, I took a seat and bought in for $500.

The dealer high-carded us for the button, and, in seat 4 of a nine-handed table, I wound up starting in the hijack seat (two off the button). My first hand was unplayable; so were my second and third. But when, in my fourth hand, the player under the gun, to my immediate right, opened for $15, I squeezed my cards and saw two black kings. I intentionally reraised small, doubling the bet to $30. Everyone dropped out but the initial raiser, who raised again, $60 more. Just at that moment, the brush called down the list for a forced-move stud/8 game. I wanted that game, but I was in a hand, dammit. Meanwhile it was suddenly reasonably likely that the man to my right held pocket aces ... or kings, or a smaller pocket pair, or AK, or any two cards for that matter -- I just didn't know.

I said, "I want to play in that stud game they just called down," and raised again, $120 more. The man to my right said, "All in." Did he have aces? Let's find out. "Call." I said. He turned his hand over to show his aces. I showed my kings. The dealer burned and turned the flop: K 8 rag. I win! Turn was another 8 and the river was a blank. I had gone all in with the worst of it, gotten lucky, and doubled up. I was apologetic as I racked up the chips ... and then sold a rack back to my victim.

I made my way to the new game, although there was some doubt as to whether it would actually start. Nevertheless I bought more chips and was ready to play. A young guy sat down at the other end of the table. He was really eager to play a mixed game of some sort, of any mix. "How about eight-or-better, badugi, and triple-draw," I suggested. "Sure!" he said. Another player waiting for the game to start was Marty, a familiar face from the several times I had played in this game before. He was going along with the young gun's desire to play a mixed game; but another seated player objected. Marty proposed a compromise: start an interest list for a new mixed game. The young gun thought that would work. Meanwhile this game would be straight stud/8, and be a feeder game to the main game.

The game got going, and it filled up. For the first few hours I couldn't win a showdown to save my life, and it was my misfortune to make a few very good second-best hands. I burned through my first buy-in and a good chunk of my second. Worst hand: when I started with a hidden pair of tens with a small card in the door (not the best starter by any means in stud/8, but the conditions were right for it to play well) and caught a third ten on fourth street, looking like my hand had died but in reality it was quite strong. I was up against two low draws, and they both bricked on fifth street; but one of them came out betting anyway. I raised, and the other low hand reraised, to my surprise, as I put in the fourth bet. I jammed on sixth street also, when they both caught low (one of them with a possible straight). I failed to fill up on the river, and the possible straight was in fact an eight-high straight, rough 8 for low. The other guy thought he'd had a low but in fact had a pair of threes. Yes, it was that good a game.

I bided my time, got moved to the main game, and promptly scooped a three-way pot with a wheel. Cold streak over! I rebuilt my stack from down $2.8K to down a little more than $500 -- which meant that I was very close to even for the day. It was 10:00 PM, and I had been playing for pretty much exactly eight hours. Maybe I was in Las Vegas now, but I'm still treating poker like a job, and my shift was over. I picked up my chips at the dealer change, and cashed out, down $59 on the day. But because my cashout was above some threshold, at the cage they photocopied my ID for currency transaction reporting purposes. They aren't going to file a CTR for a $3K cashout, but that's a big enough transaction for assiduous bookkeepers to be on the lookout for structuring.

I walked the long distance through the Rio and the not-quite-as-long distance down Valley View to the suite hotel. Lynn, bless her heart, had gone out to Trader Joe's and stocked the kitchenette. Two fingers of scotch and a plate of pasta later I was staring at my computer screen, wondering if I had what it took to write up the day. No, I was too tired. We went to bed before midnight.

2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Zero
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Two
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Three
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Four
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Five
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Six
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Seven
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Eight
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Days Nine and Ten
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Days Eleven and Twelve

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Posted by abostick at 12:20 PM | Comments (2)

June 13, 2008

2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Zero

Greetings from Las Vegas!

It's been four years since I've done this, but I'm doing it again. I am in town for the World Series of Poker. I am planning on staying through Sunday, June 29 — the longest I have yet stayed in the city.

I'm doing things differently this year. Lynn Kendall and I drove into town in Lynn's car, arriving shortly after midnight this morning. I am renting a budget suite (or, as they put it on the sign out front, an "efficiency studio") from Extended StayAmerica.

I was in the final stages of putting together my things for my two-week Las Vegas adventure when Lynn Kendall called: she was running just a bit late, and did I mind if she got to my house later than the 10:00 AM time we had set? I told her it was fine. I didn't tell her that I was running behind schedule also, or that her being late was something of a relief to me. I got all my things together and ready to go, and I even had time to finish the last bit of the book I was reading (Black and Blue by Ian Rankin) so that I wouldn't have to schlep it with me for the sake of a few pages.

Lynn arrived. We loaded up the car with my things. I got behind the wheel and drove: first to the Oaks Club, where I wanted to withdraw cash from my player's bank account there. Because there are Bank of America branches in Las Vegas, I was comfortable leaving the bulk of my bankroll in my B of A account to be withdrawn at my convenience; but I wanted to have some ammunition on hand at once; and there was enough in my account at the Oaks for a good start. I took it out in cash, and stashed it away in a safe place.

After that, a brief stop to top off the car's gas tank. Then it was onto the road, heading east on Interstate 580, leaving Oakland at about 11:15 AM.

Even with the price of gasoline, being over $4 per gallon at home and more than $5/gallon at some places along the route, I was expecting to save money by driving to Las Vegas rather than flying. But Lynn and I were doing something else, too: the high price of gasoline is not a temporary thing, and so this could very well be the last chance for a road trip along California's byways — a favorite pastime of mine — that I would be getting for a very long time.

Half Dome as Seen From Olmstead Point
Half Dome as Seen From Olmstead Point
Originally uploaded by abostick59.
We followed I-580 and I-205 to Manteca, in the San Joaquin Valley. From there we continued east on California Route 120, through Escalon and Oakdale, into first the foothills and then the actual Sierras. Once we entered Yosemite National Park and headed higher, we stopped the car frequently to gawk and take pictures. But I was feeling the press of time. The directions provided us by Google Maps had suggested that the driving time between Oakland and Bishop (our planned stopping point in the Owens Valley) was just short of 6 hours, meaning we ought to get there just about 5:00 PM. But as we made our way through the park, approaching Tuolumne Meadows, it was getting late in the day, and I was hard put to see how we could get to Bishop in two hours or less.

Despite my concerns about time, the drive and the sightseeing was splendid. The Tuolumne Meadows are gorgeous, looking as close to Paradise (at least in summertime) as I could imagine existing on Earth. I want to go back again; which makes my feeling that this could be my last road trip ever to be all the more wistful.

I've only driven over the Sierras a few times, and each time I've done so on a route other than I-80 through Donner Pass I've felt a strong attraction to the high country, to the granite landscape sculpted by now-vanished glaciers. There are ways it feels to me like coming out of the dreamy depths of the lowlands up into the real world.

We continued on, over Tioga Pass (at 9900 feet of elevation) and then down along the side of a steep gorge to Mono Lake, where the road joined US Route 395. This was now familiar countryside to me, since I had taken 395 south through the Owens Valley on a previous road trip a couple of years ago. We were still quite high up — altitude 7000 feet — but although we were still in the high country, it felt like we were out of the mountains. The sharp crags of the eastern Siearras were to our right as we headed south, past Mammoth Lakes, and into Bishop.

My original plan was to spend the night in Bishop and take the next leg, through Death Valley and Pahrump to Las Vegas, the next day. But I suggested we eat dinner before finding a motel room; and over dinner Lynn and I looked at each other. I said I was feeling the pull to press onwards. I said that one of the downsides of this was that we would be going through Death Valley at night and thus wouldn't see anywhere near as much. Lynn replied that if we pushed on, we would pass through Death Valley at night when it was cooler, not 110 degrees in the shade (if there were any shade to be found). Moreover, the moon was a few days past its first quarter, what Lynn called a "rustler's moon." The landscape would not be completely dark.

We sold each other on the idea, and so after finishing dinner, we saddled up again and hit the road, south through the Owens Valley. This valley feels to me like an ensmalled Gondor, a river running through an alluvial plain between two mountain ranges, one sharp and snowy to the west and one rounded and arid to the east. Bishop isn't the least bit like Minas Tirith; but what was to the east of the eastern range was a passable imitation of Mordor.

Once we cut east from 395 towards Death Valley, we were almost completely isolated. The sun had set behind the western range, and it grew dark. We encountered perhaps one car coming the other direction every twenty miles or so. We took another stop as the evening gloom deepened, to appreciate the clarity and silence of the desert. Desert silence is like no other sort of silence I've encountered. The crunch of dirt under my feet, the breath of my companion, or my own heartbeat, seem almost intolerably loud in that stillness.

Then we descended into Death Valley itself. A few hours ago we had been 9900 feet above sea level. Now we were below sea level on this darkling plain. I couldn't see much outside of the glare of the headlights while I drove; but Lynn was able to see the moonlit landscape as we drove through.

And then out of the valley, along a stretch of road populated by suicidal jackrabbits, to the Nevada border, and Pahrump, back into civilization. We got into Las Vegas just after midnight, and found a Motel 6 in which to spend the night for cheap before I could claim my suite the next day.

2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day One
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Two
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Three
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Four2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Five
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Six
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Seven
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Day Eight
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Days Nine and Ten
2008 World Series of Poker Diary — Days Eleven and Twelve

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Posted by abostick at 01:11 PM | Comments (4)

May 05, 2008

WSOP to Delay Main Event Final Table by 4 Months

World Series of Poker logo
Play of the final table of this year's World Series of Poker $10,000 No-Limit Hold'em Championship event will be delayed until November 9, 2008, four months after the originally scheduled July 16.

The purpose of the delay is to bring a sense of immediacy to ESPN's broadcast of the final table on November 11. In previous years, viewer interest in and suspense over ESPN's broadcast of the WSOP Main Event final table has been tempered by the knowledge that the outcome of the tournament had been determined months before. This will make the broadcast coverage of the final table more like a sporting news event and less like documentary history.

In my opinion, this will be very likely good for generating interest and viewer ratings for ESPN's broadcast. That, in turn, will be good for the poker world in general as the continuing boom in televised poker translates into enthusiastic new players coming to the game and injecting more money into the booming poker economy as they find their feet in public cardrooms, both brick-and-mortar and online.

At the same time, the announced change has an arbitrary and capricious air to it, leaving many players feeling hurt, offended, and doubtful. Several discussion threads on the 2+2 forums have erupted and caught fire with player debate about the schedule change, with commenters opposing to the change vastly outnumbering its supporters.

2+2 commenter objections to the four month delay include:

  • Some weaker players who might stumble into the Big Dance's final table through good fortune and a rush of lucky cards. The four-month delay may enable these players to prepare for the final table through coaching and training, presumably from top-level professionals who had been busted out earlier.
  • Because earlier segments of this year's WSOP coverage will be broadcast before the final table is played, this will give final table players the opportunity to review footage of their opponents, at least those who caught the eye of ESPN's crew or happened to play at a TV table in the earlier levels.
  • The length of time between the prior levels and the play of the final table provides an unparalleled opportunity for dealmaking and outright collusion among final-table players.
  • Some commenters believe that final table players may face violence or threat of violence from supporters of other players.
  • Non-US-resident final table players face an additional burden of getting through customs and immigration for a second trip to the US in November.
  • The extended time between the earlier levels of the tournament and the final table will likely increase the media spotlight shining upon final table players, and some of these players may not crave this attention.

These objections seem to me (with one exception) to be overwrought reactions to a change imposed by an unaccountable authority. No poker player in her right mind, for example, would want anything to do with the Big Dance if she wished to avoid the limelight. The Big Dance is not just another tournament that happens to provide an overlay because of the abundance of donkeys' dead money. It is widely considered to be the most important tournament in poker, with it's winner identified as the World Champion. This has been true since its inception. Amarillo Slim Preston becoming a media darling, appearing multiple times on the Tonight Show, for example after he took the crown (defeating a field of players three orders of magnitude smaller) in 1973. Some World Champions have claimed that the action they have gotten in subsequent years because of enthusiastic punters who want to take on the champ has been more financially rewarding to them than the actual prize money they won. Winning the Big Dance is about celebrity and notoriety.

The other objections seem small issues to me, except one: the prospect of collusion.

It is tough enough to keep poker clean under normal circumstances; and the final table of the World Series of Poker is about as far from normal as poker gets. Some of us still remember the scandal from the 1997 WSOP, eleven years ago, when Adam Roberts threw the $2500 7-Card Stud event to Maria Stern, allowing Stern to claim the bracelet in exchange for the greater part of the prize money. That scandal rocked tournament poker, and that was before the days of media scrutiny. The new final table play schedule may do great things for televised poker ... but an ugly collusion scandal on a par with the Adams/Stern debacle would cause orders or magnitude more damage to the image of poker than we sustained in 1997, because of the attention of the all-seeing eye of television.

Earlier in As I Please:
World Series of Poker Registration FUBAR
Cards at WSOP Provoke Players' Revolt
WSOP Tournament Director Quits
Fiction TV

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Posted by abostick at 01:26 AM | Comments (0)

April 12, 2008

What Almost Every Poker Author Gets Wrong About Starting Hand Selection in Texas Hold'em

Raise It Up!
Raise It Up!
Originally uploaded by abostick59.
In just about every book about Texas Hold'em that I've read[1], the authors discuss starting hand selection in the same way: They sort starting ranges by position, starting with early position (under the gun and the next two seats, in a ten-handed game), middle position (the next three seats), late position (the cutoff seat and the button), and the blinds. Hand selection is invariably presented in that order of position. starting tight in early position, and loosening up in later and later position.

But that is directly the opposite of how hold'em players experiences multiple hands of poker. The dealer button moves clockwise each hand, and in each hand the action runs clockwise from the dealer button. After each hand, a player's position gets earlier and earlier. Rather than starting out tight and loosening up as one's position gets better, as the books recommend, a player following their recommended strategy should be playing more and more tightly as one's position gets worse and worse with each hand — until one takes the blinds and is rewarded with the dealer button and can open up one's play again.

The early-middle-late convention for outlining hand selection is an old, time-honored format. Bobby Baldwin's chapter in the original Super/System, originally published in 1978, follows the convention. I don't have a copy of it on hand to consult, but I recall John Fox's Play Poker, Quit Work and Sleep Till Noon (1977), about Gardena-style five-card draw, also followed the convention in its coverage of starting hand selection.

If I were to write a textbook about hold'em, which would surely include discussion of starting-hand selection, I would start with play on the button, and proceed through the earlier positions, just as players actually experience the situations about which they must make decisions.

[1] The significant exception is Gary Carson's The Complete Book of Hold 'Em Poker, which is a detailed discussion of what kind of hold'em hand is playable in what circumstance under various game conditions, and only at the end of the chapter does Carson offer a table of hands with which to open the betting under the gun.

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Posted by abostick at 05:03 PM | Comments (1)

April 08, 2008

Poker Hand: Best. Call. Evar.

Over at the 2+2 Mid-Stakes Limit Hold'em forum, forum members are discussing the virtues of bluffing and thin value betting after the last card. I take the position that a player should bet for value on the river when there is enough likelihood of being called by a player with a worse hand, but that bluffing should be reserved for one's very worst hands, the ones that have no chance of winning a showdown. Game theory tells us that the size of the range of losing hands that should be bluff-bet relates to the size of the range of the hands that should be bet for value the way the bet size relates to the pot size. And there should be a wide range of hands with which a player checks and calls a bet, and a range where the right move is to check-fold.

Here is a hand I played last Thursday that illustrates bluff-betting done right. I was playing in the Oaks Club, in Emeryville, in the $15-$30 hold'em game. I was in middle position in seat 4. The player under the gun, in seat one, limped in. I squeezed my cards and saw the queen and nine of hearts, good enough for a call in this spot. I limped in, and the player in the cutoff seat raised. The player in the big blind called, under-the-gun called, and I closed the action with my call.

The flop came 8-7-6 rainbow, giving me overcards and an open-ended straight draw. The pair outs to my nine were probably no good, because they would very likely make someone else's straight. The big blind checked, under-the-gun checked. I chose to check and see how many bets I would have to pay after the preflop raiser bet. To my surprise, though, he checked after us, giving us a free look at the turn card.

That card was the deuce of spades, putting two spades on the board. Big blind checked. Now the under-the-gun player fired a bet. I called with my estimated nine outs (six straight outs, two queen outs, and spades that make my hand counted as half an out and rounded down). The preflop raiser and the big blind dropped out, leaving me head-up with the turn bettor. While the dealer burned and turned the river card, my opponent loudly said, "No spade!" The river card was the three of clubs, making the board 8-7-5-2-3, with no possible flush. My opponent bet out once more.

Now it was time for me to go into the tank. I had planned to check after him if he had checked to me, hoping that my unimproved queen-high was enough to win a pot. My opponent was a loose-agressive player who bluffs a fair amount, and sometimes makes a point of showing his bluffs. When he does show his bluffs, they are low cards that miss the flop — precisely the sort of cards one should be bluffing with, because they have no other way of winning. So I figured either my hand was way behind a strong hand like a straight, or it was very likely ahead of a pure bluff. Would the villain be bluffing more often than one time in seven in this spot? I thought it very likely.

I called the bet. "Good call," said my opponent. He didn't turn his hand over. I didn't turn mine over either. "No pair," I said. He held onto his cards. He clearly didn't want to show his hand. I turned over my unimproved queen-high. He stared for a moment, and mucked.

"You called me down with queen-high!" he said. "You didn't show me any respect at all."

"Actually I called because I do respect your play," I replied, quite sincerely, while I stacked the chips.

I described the hand later to Debbie. She paid me the wonderful compliment of saying that my call was a "Sabyl call."

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Posted by abostick at 12:59 PM | Comments (6)

February 23, 2008

Where Is the Best Place to Stash Your Poker Bankroll?

poker bankroll
image source Card Player
Poker players, at least those who play in brick-and-mortar cardrooms and casinos, usually wind up handling and keeping amounts of cash that would boggle the minds of most people who aren't initiates of the green felt.

So where should you keep your poker bankroll to avoid having it stolen?

SavingsAdvice.com presents a conversation with someone who ought to know the best place to hide money — a burglar! The anonymous burglar speaks from his experience about where he looked first for money and valuables, and where he wouldn't bother looking.

The best place to keep money, the burglar says, is a bank, of course. But if you insist on ready access to your bankroll after hours:

Your best strategy, then, is to actually leave some money in obvious places for the burglar to quickly find (the same applies if you keep all your money in the bank). This can not only save your other stash of money, but may actually keep the burglar from destroying your place as he looks for where you have hidden your money. If they believe they may have found the cash that you have in the house, they are much less likely to keep looking (remember, they want to get out asap). In the end, if you hide all your money well, you may win a moral victory in not letting the burglar find the money, but you’ll likely have much more damage done to your place that will end up costing you more in the long run....

His number one recommendation for money was in toys in a young child’s room. As he explained, young children don’t have money, they have an abundance of toys and most parents don’t trust a child around money. Therefore, parents will rarely hide money there. In addition, when money is hidden, it is usually hidden away neatly and securely — a child’s room is rarely a neat place making it an unlikely place for money to be hidden. Plus with all the stuff in a child’s room, it is not someplace that a burglar can search quickly and get out (rule #2).

If you have a safe, it should be professionally bolted down so it can’t easily be removed. If you leave some token money for the burglar to find in the places they normally look for money, then anyplace you wouldn’t normally consider a place to hide valuables will usually keep those valuables safe. The underside of trash cans, inside laundry detergent, inside false packaging (but only if the packaging appears real and is in the appropriate place - “When you find a Campbell’s soup can in the bedroom, you have a pretty good idea there is money inside”) were some examples he gave.

There's a follow-up post, Don’t Hide Money In The Toilet: More Conversation With A Burglar, in which the anonymous burglar reveals the places he always looked for valuables, because they are the usual places people with something to hide hide them. Don't hide your bankroll in: the resevoir tank for a toilet, a cereal box, anywhere in your refrigerator or freezer, or in or around your bed.

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Posted by abostick at 05:40 PM | Comments (2)

February 13, 2008

Awe-Inspiring Poker Hand Pits Aces vs. Kings vs. Queens

Here is an amazing hand of poker from last year's broadcast of the Party Poker European Open III.

With blinds of $1K and $2k, Dennis O'Mahoney opens the action at $6K to go, holding pocket kings. Darren Hickman has pocket queens and raises $20K.. Achilleas Kallakis goes into a huddle, with pocket aces, eventually deciding to raise all-in with his stack of $66K. Two players acting afterwards fold pocket sevens and pocket fives! Now it's O'Mahoney's turn to put on his thinking cap. Eventually he folds. Hickman calls Kallakis' all-in bet, and the two see a rainbow board of 2-3-K. The turn is a 4, and the river a Q, and Hickman's rivered set of queens crack Kallakis' pocket aces. If O'Mahoney had stayed in the hand he would have won a huge pot, but he had made a good preflop fold.

Just how incredible is this hand? When you think of it, not very. The odds against being dealt pocket aces are 220:1 against. At a six handed table, you expect to see someone dealt aces slightly less often than once in every thirty-seven hands on average. The numbers are the same for kings and queens, so if you neglect card depletion effects, the probability of three players having AA, KK, and QQ are going to be somewhat less than 1/37 cubed, or about one deal in fifty thousand. (At a ten-handed table, it is more like one deal in 10,800).

Now remember that poker has been televised for some years now, and in preparing the broadcast, the producers pick out the interesting hands. AA vs. KK. vs. QQ guaranteed to be interesting, even if — perhaps especially if — one or both of the players holding KK and QQ make good laydowns before the flop. Have there been fifty thousand deals of hold'em hands dealt at tables with card-peeking cameras since the advent of televised poker? I don't know, but I would guess that the actual number is somewhere in that order of magnitude. So it isn't surprising that sometime in the recent history of televised poker this confrontation between AA, KK, and QQ took place. And it's no surprise at all that a poker buff would put it up on YouTube. If you wait long enough in poker, everything is going to happen.

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Posted by abostick at 01:42 PM | Comments (1)

February 12, 2008

UK Court of Appeal Rules Poker Is Not a Game of Skill

Angus MacKenzie reports for Eurosport that the Court of Appeal of England and Wales has determined that luck predominates over skill in the game of poker, and so poker is subject to the regulation of the UK's Gaming Act of 1968.

Derek Kelly was found guilty of breaking the Gaming Act because a club he operated, the Gutshot Private Members Club, charged entry fees for the Texas hold'em poker tournaments it hosted. Kelly appealed, asserting that poker is a game of skill like chess or bridge, and should be treated under the law in the same way. The Court of Appeal heard Kelly's argument, but ruled against him.

The element of skill in poker is the basis of its legality in licensed cardrooms in California.

Had the Court of Appeal ruled in Kelly's favor, this would have opened the way for private clubs to offer poker games and tournaments to their members. As it is, poker is limited to casinos licensed under the Gaming Act.

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Posted by abostick at 09:38 PM | Comments (0)

July 27, 2007

Susie Bright Interviews Jamie Gillis

Susie Bright interviewed male porn star and director Jamie Gillis last week. That is, I think it's her interviewing him, but it seems like she did all the talking.

Gillis started making pornographic loops in 1970. Then the porn movie business exploded in the seventies (the "Golden Age"), and exploded again into videocassettes in the eighties. He invented the "Gonzo" genre of porn in 1990 with his video On the Prowl.

SB: For those people who don't know, what is gonzo? What did you want gonzo to be?

JG: All I wanted to do was just go out into the streets and meet people. Bring a girl out – maybe to a dirty bookstore or something — and just throw her to the wolves.

SB: Your first movie in that style was "On the Prowl." You took a pretty girl out and she said, "I'll fuck whoever wants to if you'll let us tape it." A lot of people will think everyone jumped at the chance. But of course, they didn't! There was a lot of tension. People were afraid of being conned, or that it wasn't real, or that she would cut their balls off in some crazy... There's this tension that they don't know if they can trust you with their nuts.

JG: It's a very unusual offer. Sure!

SB: (Laughing) Yes it is!

And in the late nineties, Gillis was a regular in the Oaks Club, playing (what else?) seven-card stud. That was where I met him and played against him from time to time. It's been a few years since I've seen him, but Susie Bright explains why in passing: he is living in New York now.

I got search hits a few days ago for "jamie gillis poker." It turns out that someone was asking about him on 2+2. According to rumor, he is now a poker pro. That's funny – he wasn't that good a player when I knew him. But then again, neither was I.

(via Xeni Jardin at Boing Boing)

Posted by abostick at 01:05 PM | Comments (0)

July 01, 2007

Best. Poker Dream. Evar.

Alan Jaffray, in a Terrence Chan's LiveJournal, tells of a dream he had about playing a novel form of triple-draw lowball at the World Series of Poker:

I've never played live triple draw outsider of ARG events.

I had a nightmare about it, actually. I'd satellited into the $50K HORSE, but showed up a couple hours late, just in time for the triple draw round which had been added at the last minute. Instead of shuffling and dealing standard cards, the dealer gave each player a wooden box containing steamed buns over cabbage, the underside of the buns displaying the card value. I managed to use the provided spatula to peek at my bun-cards, but fumbled while preparing my discards - one of them broke open and my hand was declared dead. Then I woke up.

I'm reasonably sure this is not, in fact, a procedure commonly in use in live triple draw games.

(via Mason Kong)

Posted by abostick at 10:46 AM | Comments (0)

June 10, 2007

"I'd Do Her" Journalism in Poker

Patti Beadles has been a Net citizen for at least a decade and a half, so she is much more practiced at dealing with this sort of thing than, say, Alison Stokke.

But the fact that she has the right stuff to handle it is still no excuse for the sort of coverage Aaron Hendrix is providing at PokerPages.com of the Ladies' World Champion No-Limit Hold'em Event at the World Series of Poker:

Patti Beadles
My future wife #2

Sunday, 10th of June 2007 01:45 PM

(Aaron Hendrix reporting)

I'm sorry Shannon (who is playing by the way), but I have to break up with you. I've always wanted a woman with neon pink hair. If I got a strobe light it would be like psychedelic man.

That's a little less tacky than saying, "I'd hit that," but not by much.

Poker still has a Boy's Club atmosphere — check out the user icons on the 2+2 forums — but when you're representing poker to the world, you really shouldn't put that face forward, especially when covering the women's tournament.[1] Aaron Hendrix loses extra style points for threatening in public to dump his girlfriend for someone hotter (as Lynn Kendall just pointed out to me while I was talking this post out with her).

[1] Of course, the very concept of a segregated "Ladies" tournament is deeply problematic, but it's been a tradition of the WSOP almost from the beginning.

(via Keith Fichtmaier posting in Patti's LiveJournal)

Posted by abostick at 10:06 PM | Comments (3)

June 09, 2007

Harrah's (Partially) Un-Bars Richard Brodie

Harrah's management has relaxed its ban of Richard "Quiet Lion" Brodie from Harrah's properties, and Brodie can play in the World Series of Poker:

Thanks to the quiet diplomacy of WSOP commissioner Jeffrey Pollack and to many of my fellow poker players vouching for my character, Harrah’s has decided to allow me to play in the remainder of the WSOP and lifted the ban on my entering their properties. I’m still learning the details of why this was handled this way but it’s looking more and more like a big mistake. As usual everyone at Harrah’s was friendly and professional. I will post more details as they become available but I can now eat at the buffet without fear of arrest.

(via Spencer Sun)

Posted by abostick at 09:46 AM | Comments (0)

June 06, 2007

World Series of Poker Registration FUBAR

ADB Fold'em wanted to play in the first event at the World Series of Poker, the $500 Casino Employees tournament on Friday, June .. He did everything right: registered in advance on the WSOP Web site, sent in a cashier's check for entry fee payment, and got a confirmation. It ought to have been straightforward for him to get his seat assignment, sit down, and play. It wasn't:

Now I get in line. The line does not move. Many folks are just walking up to their buds and joining the line in that manner. After an hour, the line has moved maybe 20 feet. We are assured by a Harrah's employee that "We'll come get you if it gets close", sort of like the airlines do to get folks through security in time to make their flights. OK.

Another hour passes. The line has moved maybe another 40 feet. Several of us in line point out to a Harrah's employee that we have preregistered and we ask if there isn't some other place we should go, rather than in the main line. The employee then says "Let me go find out, I'll be right back." This from 3 or 4 different employees. None ever return. I am becoming concerned about the speed of things. I can see that the line, which is 3-4 abreast in the hallway becomes about 10-12 abreast as it makes the turn toward the tourney area. A co-worker from CSP comes by. Apparently he stood in line for 4 hours that morning and has his seat. He offers to go into the tourney area and try to find out if there are alternatives. He returns and says I should get in a line inside the tourney area. OK.

I get in the new line inside the area, jumping maybe 500 others. Now I can see the cashiers' windows as folks register. The lines into the windows are not single file, but about 2-3 abreast, so it's difficult to detect any line movement in this new line either. It appears to take about 5 minutes for each person at the cashier. It's announced that the event is being put back an hour to 6PM. OK.

My line doesn't move at all. There are at least 40 people in front of me headed for the the one cashier at the end of our line. Hundreds of others are also waiting in line. The loudspeaker announces that players should take their seats, the event is starting. A massive chorus of boos erupts from all of us still trying to get to the cashier. Despite help from a friend who works for Harrah's, who tried to get me on a faster line, I could see I was more than an hour away from getting a seat. At 6:45, having stood on line for 4 1/2 hours, I finally gave up and left. NOT OK.

The WSOP has begun. Are we having fun yet?

Posted by abostick at 06:21 PM | Comments (0)

June 03, 2007

Harrah's Bars Richard 'Quiet Lion' Brodie from Its Properties

Harrah's Entertainment has barred high-stakes poker and video poker player Richard "Quiet Lion" Brodie from all its properties in California, Nevada, and Arizona. This effectively 86es Brodie from the World Series of Poker as well.

On May 10, Harrah’s sent certified letters to several high rollers informing them that their business was no longer wanted at Caesars Palace or any of the other Harrah’s properties in Nevada, California, and Arizona. I was one of them. I called the office of Tom Jenkins, regional vice president, and got a call back from Terry Byrnes, the VP of customer service. He told me I was being 86ed because they couldn't figure out how to make a profit off me.

What happened is that Brodie got lucky: He hit two royal flushes on a $300-per-pull full-pay Deuces Wild video poker machine at Caesar's Palace last April. He also hit quad deuces twice on the same machine.

If you play video poker, you know that these things happen from time to time. You also know that you can go on long dry spells between hot streaks like this. Brodie adds:

I hit four huge royal flushes in the last year at three of the Las Vegas Harrah’s properties. Not surprisingly, I’m ahead, although I’ve put 80% of it back. This seems to rub them the wrong way. But I have trouble imagining the thought process that would cause someone to decide that kicking out one of your most loyal customers is an appropriate solution to the problem of him having extremely good luck. If they think the machines are too loose, make them tighter. If they think they are giving me too much in comps, give less. They control every aspect of the game. Except luck. And kicking out players who have been lucky makes about as much sense as banning people from playing the lottery because they win it.

Reactions to lucky streaks in video poker are not unique to Harrah's, but the usual response is to cut down on the promotional offers to players who aren't losing as much as they hoped. Even that is potentially unsound business: lucky players get unlucky and you want them to be at your place when that happens.

If it weren’t for the WSOP, I’d laugh about this rather than cry. I don’t think they’re trying to punish me, I just think they don’t understand their business and are compounding one costly mistake – offering way too much in comps and incentives to video-poker players – with another.

Yes, that's right: Brodie is barred from all Harrah's properties, not just the casino floors; and Harrah's hosts the World Series of Poker. Brodie is being unjustly punished for honest play in the face of bad judgment by Harrah's casino hosts. It doesn't even compare to counting cards in blackjack!.

When I named Brodie the most hated player in poker, I was joking. He simply doesn't deserve this. Harrah's management is being idiotic. They certainly don't need bad publicity from dumb moves like this when the WSOP is off to such a rocky start.

(via Spencer Sun)

Posted by abostick at 10:54 PM | Comments (3)

June 02, 2007

Jim Geary's Monopoly Game for Poker Players

Jim Geary recasts the Monopoly game board for poker players:

Go= Day Job Paycheck, skim $200 for poker
Mediterranean Avenue= Paul Phillips
Community Chest= Get Layne another Jack and Coke, receive $25 toke for services
Baltic Avenue= Barbara Enright
Income Tax= Neteller takes 10% of your bankroll
Reading Railroad= Puggy
Oriental Avenue= Phil Hellmuth, Jr
Chance= Pay Poor Tax: Toke Floorman $15
Vermont Avenue= Amir Vehidi
Connecticut Avenue= Mensky
Jail (just visiting)= visiting Matusow
Etc. ...

Read the whole thing.

Posted by abostick at 05:00 PM | Comments (0)

June 01, 2007

Cards at WSOP Provoke Players' Revolt

Players find custom WSOP cards hard to read
photo credit: PokerWorks
Poker Players at the World Series of Poker are extremely dissatisfied with the decks of cards that were especially commissioned for the tournament series.

The United States Playing Card Co. produced the special decks for Harrah's Entertainment, Inc., which hosts the WSOP at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. The decks feature large rank indices without suit pips in the opposite corners to traditional card designs, and "Poker Peek" indices in the traditional corners. Suit pips on the face of the card are reduced in size, making it difficult for players to distinguish between suits of the same color.

PokerWorks quoted 2005 World Champion Greg Raymer as saying "There is no way any poker player has played with these cards before today." Players during the first event of the weeks-long tournament series chanted, "New cards! New cards!" An unnamed Harrah's executive claimed that players in the high-stakes cash games refused to play with the new card designs.

Suits are hard to distinguish in the WSOP decks
photo credit: PokerWorks

Harrah's and U.S. Playing Card executives are scrambling to replace the unsatisfactory decks. A truck with 300 replacement decks is on its way to the Rio. Supposedly, USPC was to produce a total of 18,000 decks of cards for delivery to Harrah's over the course of the WSOP. Aborting production of the newly designed cards cannot be coming cheap.

The WSOP was already opening under a cloud due to the sudden departure of tournament director Robert Daily two weeks ago. It remains to be seen whether Harrah's staffers remaining can overcome the challenges they are facing and run a successful tournament series. The success of the WSOP is the success of poker, and so poker enthusiasts are hoping the WSOP is a success.

(via Spencer Sun)

Posted by abostick at 09:58 PM | Comments (0)

May 18, 2007

WSOP Tournament Director Quits

WSOP Tournament Director Daily Resigns Two Weeks Before Events Begin

WSOP Director Leaves Harrahs Accepts Post with DG Holdings, Ltd.

Contact: DG Holdings, Ltd., 702-575-0808, info@dgholdings.co.uk, Additional release(s) forthcoming, Photos available upon request

UNITED KINGDOM / LAS VEGAS, May 17 /Standard Newswire/ -- DG Holdings, Ltd. (DGH) has announced that Robert Daily, former World Series of Poker Tournament and Events Director has agreed to become a member of the DG Holdings board, leading the company's online gaming platform division.

DGH is a privately-held, international investment group with offices in Europe, Asia Pacific and South East Asia. The DGH gaming division was formed more than four years ago to develop a state-of-the-art gaming platform that enables fully-integrated, on-line gaming operations.

Mr. Daily leaves Harrah's after 11 years in various capacities. During his tenure, he served as the 2005 WSOP Event Manager and 2006 WSOP Tournament Director. Bob received the prestigious 2007 Chairman's Award for his efforts.

"I have greatly enjoyed my years with Harrah's, and especially the World Series of Poker," said Daily, who was again appointed as the upcoming 2007 WSOP Event Director before announcing his departure. "I have every confidence this year's WSOP will run smoothly and efficiently and if I did not feel strongly that the tournament was ready, I would not have left at this time.

"After my resignation, DGH approached me to join their group as a board member to provide leadership to their online gaming platform – especially poker – and I couldn't pass up the opportunity. I have made many great friends within the poker industry and I look forward to working with them in the future from a different perspective."

Robopoker, who watches the news a lot more closely than I do, points out the detail that Daily resigned before DG Holdings hired him. Something is rotten in the state of Harrahs.

(Whatever you think of bots in poker, his blog is a good one, and other poker bloggers should show Robopoker some link-love.)

Posted by abostick at 12:16 PM | Comments (0)

May 17, 2007

Behavioral Study Suggests Japanese and Americans Look at Faces Differently

LiveScience.com reports that research by a Japanese behavioral scientist strongly suggests that how people look at faces is culturally determined.

Masaki Yuki of Hokkaido University was inspired by the different styles of emoticons in the United States ( :-) and :-( ) and in Japan ( (^_^) and (;_;) ).

Prof. Yuki's research indicates that Japanese people tend to take emotional cues from faces by concentrating attention on the eyes, while Americans tend to look at mouths.

(Those of you who have taken the "Spot the Fake Smile" test should now be aware that involvement of facial muscles around the eyes is the giveaway of a real smile.

Yuki's finding that people of different cultures read faces differently is a challenge to the underpinnings of Paul Ekman's Facial Action Coding System. Ekman asserts that the emotional meaning of facial expression is pan-cultural. If people of different cultures perceive facial meaning differently, though, how can it be said at all that the inner emotional meanings are the same?

I'll leave that one for the semioticists to duke out, and move on to the takeaway for poker players: Sunglasses matter.

(via Boing Boing)

Posted by abostick at 03:08 PM | Comments (1)

May 14, 2007

More Poker Bot Accusations on Full Tilt from Two Plus Two Forum Members

The $200-maximum-buyin no-limit hold'em games on Full Tilt Poker aren't the only games where players suspect bots are playing.

Posters to a thread on the Mid-High Stakes Shorthanded Limit Hold'em forum on TwoPlusTwo.com name a number of players whom they suspect to be bots that play in the heads-up (one-on-one) tables at limits ranging from $15-$30 to $200-$400. Once again the players named have remarkably similar Poker Tracker statistics. And they never seem to play each other, although they appear to be willing to play some of the players with strong reputations and winning track records.

The bot accusations come from Destroy the Poker Bots, a site that lists player handles on Ultimate Bet, Full Tilt, and Absolute Poker. (There's a page for PokerStars, but the list is empty.) The site is run by a 2+2 user with the handle MrGatorade. MrGatorade does not currently explain his criteria for including a player on his lists.

Why should you care about possible bots playing at heads-up tables? Here's what 2+2er Gildwulf has to say:

The amount of money going into the Full Tilt HU economy is extremely limited. It doesn't matter if you can beat a bot for 0.25bb/100 if his "exploitable" strategy is raping the fish 100 hours a week for 2bb/100. One bot is annoying; a dozen bots and that is a significant amount of money taken out of an economy that is not big enough to handle that kind of fish farming.

NB: Heads-up poker is the form of the game where bots are the most formidable, in which mathematical analysis and game theory can make a programmed player's game virtually unassailable.

Posted by abostick at 08:02 PM | Comments (1)

May 12, 2007

Bot Scandal at Full Tilt Poker

Robopoker reports on a poker bot scandal at Full Tilt Poker that has spawned a discussion on TwoPlusTwo.com that has more than 1700 replies over four days.

2+2 user SukitTrebek's Poker Tracker hand history database revealed to him that a number of regular players in the Full Tilt $200 no-limit hold'em games are very likely bots. SukitTrebek carefully gathered evidence — including playing against the supposed bots and repeatedly taking advantage of giant holes in their game, until, first, the bot programmer apparently manually took over when SukitTrebek and the bot were head-up, and second, the bots would leave the table whenever SukitTrebek joined a game they were in.

SukitTrebek presented his evidence to Full Tilt's management, and kept goosing them from time to time. They asked him, in order to help their internal investigation, to not go public with his accusaution while their investigation went on.

The alleged bots disappeared from Full Tilt. Some weeks later, SukitTrebek received email from FullTilt saying that the investigation was complete. Not long after that, the bots reappeared! SukitTrebek went public on 2+2's Internet poker forum early Wednesday morning, and the thread exploded.

Late on Thursday, 2+2 user FTPSean, identifying himself as a representative of Full Tilt Poker, started a new thread:

After doing our due diligence in this case, we came to the following determinations:
  • During the investigation we found the evidence to be inconclusive in supporting either determination (human or bot).
  • After careful consideration, the evidence did not warrant the seizure of funds and permanent account closure.
  • We stand by our decision. Having said that, re-opening an account after an investigation such as this one does not mean we have made an irreversible decision. We will continue to reevaluate this situation.

I particularly like the third bullet point in all its weaselly, waffly glory; We stand by our decision ... We will continue to reevaluate this situation. Robopoker says Full Tilt management is in "damage control mode."

Two things stand out to me from this story;

First, the bot operator is not terribly bright. If I were running a profitable bot on a poker site, and I had just had my account locked down and then reopened, I would not celebrate by firing up my bot at full capacity again. I think I would draw down my bankroll and lay low for a while.

Secondly, it is really surprising that this bot wins any money over time... except that the evidence is clear that it does. It was found out because the Poker Tracker data for a number of tight-aggressive players was uncannily identical, statistic for statistic. Robopoker claims that his own bots' statistics don't converge anywhere near that closely, because his pays attention to board texture and opponent playing style. SukitTrebek thinks this guy is not a very good poker player, but has stumbled into a formula for playing that is good enough to beat the games ... for now.

How can a bot that can't adjust to opponents still make money? That's easy: Mike Caro's Law of Least Tilt. A bot never tilts, It wins or loses according to the fall of the cards and the basic strength or weakness of its algorithm. Real human players almost invariably go on tilt — lose their psychological balance and play badly, perhaps without even realizing it. Tilt is responsible for a noticeable fraction of many players' losses. Bots don't tilt; and so a bot is going to have an edge against a human player who uses the same strategy as the bot.

Posted by abostick at 09:49 PM | Comments (4)

April 30, 2007

Yahoo! Offers Real-Money Online Poker in Europe

Internet giant Yahoo! is offering online poker games for money to European customers. Yahoo! is in partnership with Gibraltar firm St. Miniver, Ltd., offering a branded user interface (or "skin," in online poker jargon) on the International Poker Network, owned by Swedish firm Boss Media AB. Customers can access Yahoo! poker through the firms yahoo.co.uk portal.

This is a huge change in the weather for online poker. Yahoo! is a titan among online brands. I imagine it is only a matter of time before other major Internet brands follow suit. The Gaming Intelligence Group, a firm that offers news and analysis of the online gambling industry, hints that eBay, Google, and Microsoft are likely prospects. (Historically, eBay is anti-gambling as well as anti-sex. The online payment service PayPal had been the main line of funding for Internet poker sites before it was acquired by eBay, but after the acquisition eBay swiftly pulled the plug.)

The news of Yahoo!'s entry into the online poker business broke concurrently with the news that Rep. Barney Frank (D.-Mass) had introduced the Internet Gambling Regulation & Enforcement Act 2007, legislation that would repeal last year's Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act and provide for the regulation and taxation of online gambling in the USA. The UIGEA had a drastic impact on US players ability to play online poker, with most sites, including giant Party Poker, withdrawing from the US market.

(via Robopoker)

Posted by abostick at 12:10 PM | Comments (0)

April 29, 2007

Unbeatable Strategy for Roshambo

Online poker site UltimateBet has just added Roshambo — the ancient game of rock-paper-scissors — to its repertoire of online competitive games for money.

My referral logs tell me that a lot of people are looking for a strategy to win at Roshambo. Here is my own unbeatable strategy for online Roshambo:

Take a six-sided die (d6). Each time you throw, roll the die. Choose your throw according to this chart:

  1. rock
  2. paper
  3. scissors
  4. rock
  5. paper
  6. scissors

This is a truly unbeatable strategy — using it, no opponent will be able to get any edge over you.

Alternatively if the circumstances are right, you may be able to use Eric Cartman's strategy for winning Roshambo.

But maybe you shouldn't be playing Roshambo online at all: UltimateBet is charging a 10% rake of the money wagered for each Roshambo match or sit-n-go.

Rock crushes Scissors, Scissors cuts Paper, and Paper covers Rock. But Rake beats all of the rest, over time.

Posted by abostick at 03:54 PM | Comments (2)

April 25, 2007

Genderqueer Poker SF Erotica by Hanne Blank

Hanne Blank celebrated International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day by publishing on her Web site the hot (but PG-rated) story "A Game of Cards."

The plot of this work genderqueer poker science fiction erotica hinges on the play of a hand of Texas hold'em. And the plot is structured like a hand of hold'em. It's a nice piece of writing. It's completely safe-for-work; and at the same time it's really hot. Read it.

(via Debbie Notkin)

Posted by abostick at 11:05 AM | Comments (0)

April 21, 2007

RoboPoker - New Blog Describes Using Bots at Online Poker Sites

There's a new poker blog in town: RoboPoker: My Life as an Online Poker Robot.

RoboPoker has been posting frequently since he started last Tuesday. Here's his first post:

Who I am.

I am a professional poker player. Over time, I will reveal as many details as I can in regards to the limits I play and the income I make, but suffice it to say that I make a very comfortable living via online poker. Yes, I run a "war room" of online poker-bots that do not tilt, sleep, or anguish over the tough calls.

I will not:


  • Help you make your own bot.
  • Sell you mine.
  • Reveal any information that I think will endanger my income as a professional 'bot player.

I will:

  • Offer an honest perspective of online poker from my unusual point of view.
  • Post news items of interest to poker players of all types.
  • Offer poker topics for discussion of interest to the bot coder/game theorist/mathmatical player

Now, I realize that I will be hated by most that would bother to respond to, or even read this blog. All I ask is that you give me a bit of time. As you learn the truth behind the paranoia, you'll find you have very little to fear.

I am not as afraid of poker bots as some people are. They are against the rules of essentially all online poker sites, so they are certainly "cheating," at least technically. Naive players seem to be terribly afraid of bots, thinking that they will be fleeced by these machines. I often wonder why they don't feel the same way about skilled flesh-and-blood players.

From the skilled player's point of view, especially from the professional player's point of view, bots are a bad idea primarily because of their unlimited potential to multiply. If a substantial fraction of the players online are well-programmed bots, then competition for the easy money of the bad players becomes tougher. It is in the flesh-and-blood pros' interests to keep the number of bots down.

It is in the interest of the poker sites' owners to keep the number of bots down to the extent that players perceive bots as a threat.

Personally, I welcome the RoboPoker blog and the player behind it. Whatever you think of the ethics of automated poker play online, sunlight is better than shadow. I would much rather have RoboPoker posting openly than only sharing the secrets of poker bots among a secret cabal, or remaining silent. People who care about online poker should read this blog, and learn.

Posted by abostick at 01:40 PM | Comments (2)

April 18, 2007

The Most Hated Player in Poker

Who is the most hated player in poker?

Is it Phil Hellmuth, Jr., known for his temper and his arrogance, who was chosen as the most disliked player in a poll at Games-Poker.biz? Is it Josh Arieh, who showed no class at the final table of the Big Dance at the 2004 WSOP, broadcast on ESPN to a worldwide audience? Barry Shulman? Sam Grizzle? Dutch Boyd?

My pick for the poker player who is hated by the most people is Richard Brodie. He plays online at Full Tilt using the handle "Quiet Lion." He writes a blog, Lion Tales, that describes his life as a poker pro.

I've played with him a couple of times online at Full Tilt. He is polite and well-mannered, responding amiably to the people who talk to him about his notorious past.

But what is this notorious past, you might ask, and why is he hated?

Richard Brodie was employee #77 at Microsoft, hired in 1981, to join the small but growing firm's four-person Application Division. After writing a p-code C compiler that Microsoft would use for multiple-platform development of its applications, Brodie went on to create a word-processing program, intended to have a user interface compatible with Microsoft's new spreadsheet program, Multiplan.

Brodie's word processor was called Microsoft Word.

In every office in every business across the land, and in countless homes as well, you don't have to wait very long before you hear a cry of anguish and the exclamation, "I hate Word!" from people who have never heard of Phil Hellmuth, never saw Josh Arieh's bad sportsmanship on ESPN, and don't know Barry Shulman from Adam. Millions of computers work like demonic prayer wheels at gigahertz clock speeds, all adding ill-will and resentment to Richard Brodie's karmic burden.

Compared to that, Phil Hellmuth is a piker.

Posted by abostick at 06:40 PM | Comments (1)

April 08, 2007

Statistical Properties of Poker Tournaments

People are starting to talk about a paper soon to be published about the statistics of stack sizes and player counts in poker tournaments.

Clιment Sire, a French physicist as well as a poker player, noticed some patterns about stack size and number of chip leaders while playing in online tournaments. He developed a toy game and derived statistical properties from a tournament model based on that toy game that appear to match well the statistics of actual tournament results. The chip leader's stack size, apparently, scales with the logarithm of the number of players. Chip leader stack size, Sire found, is governed by the Gumbel distribution, a probability distribution that describes the maximum of some varying property: the hottest day in August in Oakland, for example, or the maximum level of a river during flooding season.

Sire's statistical model of poker tournaments can be used to predict the number of players over time, given the starting number of players, their starting stack size, and rate of increase of blinds and antes. As such, it can very likely be applied by tournament directors to optimize tournament structures, a task hitherto best done by Tex Morgan's TEARS (Tournament Evaluation And Rating System).

(via Tom Bayes and Gramina)

Posted by abostick at 08:36 AM | Comments (1)

April 05, 2007

FBI Investigates Second Life for Online Gambling

Quoth Reuters:

FBI checks out gambling in 'Second Life'

FBI investigators have visited Second Life's Internet casinos at the invitation of the virtual world's creator Linden Lab, but the U.S. government has not decided on the legality of virtual gambling.

"We have invited the FBI several times to take a look around in Second Life and raise any concerns they would like, and we know of at least one instance that federal agents did look around in a virtual casino," said Ginsu Yoon, until recently Linden Lab's general counsel and currently vice president for business affairs.

Second Life is a popular online virtual world with millions of registered users and its own economy and currency, known as the Linden dollar, which can be exchanged for U.S. dollars. ...

Hundreds of casinos offering poker, slot machines and blackjack can easily be found in Second Life. While it is difficult to estimate the total size of the gambling economy in Second Life, the three largest poker casinos are earning profits of a modest $1,500 each per month, according to casino owners and people familiar with the industry.

The surge in Second Life gambling coincides with a crackdown in the real world by the U.S. government, which has arrested executives from offshore gambling Web sites.

Most lawyers agree that placing bets with Linden dollars likely violates U.S. antigambling statutes, which cover circumstances in which "something of value" is wagered. But the degree of Linden Lab's responsibility, and the likelihood of a crackdown, is uncertain.

"That's the risk; we have a set of unknowns, and we don't know how they're going to play out," said Brent Britton, an attorney specializing in emergent technology at the law firm Squire Sanders & Dempsey in Tampa, Fla.

Britton said Linden Lab could face criminal charges under the 1970 Illegal Gambling Business Act or the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act. The latter law, passed last year, takes aim at credit card companies and other electronic funds transfers that enable Internet gambling. ...

"It's not always clear to us whether a 3D simulation of a casino is the same thing as a casino, legally speaking, and it's not clear to the law enforcement authorities we have asked," Yoon said.

About Ginsu Yoon's curious statement in the last graf quoted, Mark Gritter, who pointed us to this story, has this to say:

Where has he been? Does he think the government has been cracking down on sports betting sites because they're too dumb to label themselves "simulations" of sports betting? Does somebody at the Justice Department actually see a difference between a 3-D simulation of a poker room and, well, an online poker room?

I can only agree with Mark here.

Posted by abostick at 03:52 PM | Comments (0)

April 01, 2007

Poker Geeks Gone Wild at the European Poker Tour Grand Final

At the European Poker Tour Grand Final in Monte Carlo, on Saturday night Dusk Till Dawn held a lavish party, and Suffolk Punch Poker was there. Who was that doing a pole dance, baring their chest at the crowd's encouragement?

Bill Chen explains:

What really happened: There was a fairly wild (by US standards) party at Black Diamond in Monte Carlo. There was a stage and pole thing next to the dance floor. Of course the local hotties where dancing on stage (you see pictures of them).

So during one break the left the stage empty while the music was playing. Since I was close to the stage I got up there and started dancing suggestively with the pole. Encouraged by the crowd I started taking my shirt off. It just so happened most of the poker media were at this event so they had video and camera.

There's video, too? I hope it makes it onto YouTube.

(via Spencer Sun)

Posted by abostick at 10:22 PM | Comments (0)

March 15, 2007

Old Card Mechanic Video by John Scarne

Mark Frauenfelder at Boing Boing points us to this vintage video, "Cheating in Gambling," featuring legendary card mechanic and poker authority John Scarne.

Remember The Sting? During the railroad poker game sequence, when Paul Newman's character Henry Gondorff was manipulating the deck of cards, the closeups were of Scarne's hands.

Frauendfelder claims that Scarne was his great uncle. Small world.

Posted by abostick at 03:11 PM | Comments (0)

March 08, 2007

Lowball Wiki

Mark Gritter has just added a Lowball Wiki to his LowballGurus Web site. As of this writing it's a blank slate, with the only content being the introductory main page and a link to Wikipedia's entry on badugi.

Welcome to the lowball Wiki! This site is dedicated to the discussion of lowball games, including Triple Draw Lowball, Badugi, California Lowball, Razz, and Kansas City Lowball. In the future we hope to have theory discussions, hand histories with commentary, articles and article commentary, book reviews, site reviews, and other interesting content.
Posted by abostick at 11:56 AM | Comments (0)

February 22, 2007

Where Are They Now?

Tom Bayes writes on LiveJournal:

Remember at the end of "Animal House" when we were told the future of several of the main characters (e.g. Senator and Mrs. John Blutarsky, Lt. Niedermayer killed by his own troops in Vietnam). Well, since online poker is coming to a crashing end, we need to know the future of our favorite poker personalities:

Chris Moneymaker: Opened sportsbar in Knoxville, TN. Jailed for running a Super Bowl "squares" pool.

Greg Raymer: Took a job as a park ranger at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument in Colorado. Rebuilt bankroll in the $5 games at Cripple Creek and Black Hawk....

Read the rest

Posted by abostick at 02:35 PM | Comments (0)

January 18, 2007

Birth of a Card Shark

Yesterday I went down into the basement and dragged out the trunk where I keep a bunch of old papers, so I could bring to light the notebooks where I kept a diary from 1977 to 1980. I've been reading them from the beginning, finding them compelling despite their jejeune character. (I have what is perhaps an unhealthy appetite for my own writing, be it journal entries, old Usenet posts archived on Google Groups, or blog posts.)

Here is what I wrote about my first big win at poker. It takes place at SunCon, the World Science Fiction Convention held over Labor Day weekend in 1977 in Miami Beach, Florida. I was eighteen years old. It took place on Friday night and Saturday morning, September 2-3, 1977.

Later, I ran into Mike [Glicksohn] once more. He and a small entourage were going to their rooms to pick up money and cards for a poker game. I decided to join them, picked up a couple of bottles of Guinness from my room, and we all went up to one of the suites on the 14th floor [of the Fontainebleau Hotel]. Mike went off for a while to make a phone call, and when he got back the game began.

I had originally intended to spend not more than $5 in the game. This was the first all night poker game I had been to, and I fully expected to have bad luck. However, at one point there was no limit placed on the pot, so the betting was high. My cards were reasonably good, so I stayed in. I won the hand, to my relief (I was risking too much for my comfort). The game continued at the quarter or dime ante level for a while, then the stakes went up again, and I won again. This happened one more time, and I cleaned out Mike's money, leaving me with an IOU of $24.50 from him. We played at the dime level for the rest of the evening, and we quit at 5 AM. My total winnings were ~$150.

Mike Glicksohn was the only person named in my diary, but if memory serves, Ted Pauls was also in the game. And maybe Ron Bounds...?

That win was the high water mark of my poker career, until I began playing public cardroom poker twenty years later, in 1997.

Posted by abostick at 12:00 PM | Comments (0)

August 30, 2006

Online Poker Is Rigged!

Internet discussion forums have been torn by debates about the integrity of online poker sites since the advent of Internet gambling. At last, Bill's Blog has proof has been found that online poker is rigged!

Party Poker Dealer Caught Dealing Seconds

This blow-up of a game at Party Poker clearly shows the computerized dealer dealing from the bottom of the deck!!!1!

(via TheRonin on 2+2)

Posted by abostick at 04:57 PM | Comments (1)

August 11, 2006

Jamie Gold Wins the Big Dance

Quoth Card Player:

Jamie Gold raises to $1,700,000 and Paul Wasicka makes the call. The flop comes Qc8h5h. Paul Wasicka bets $1,500,000 and Jamie Gold moves all in. Wasicka calls and shows 10h10s. However, Gold turns over Qs9c for a pair of queens. The turn is the Ad and the river is the 4c.

Paul Wasicka is eliminated from the tournament in 2nd place and earns $6,102,499.

Jamie Gold wins the $10,000 Main Event, the bracelet and $12,000,000.

My friend Sabyl Cohen busted out in 56th place, well into the money. She was the last woman remaining in this year's field.

Posted by abostick at 01:23 PM | Comments (0)

July 17, 2006

Real Live Poker-Playing Preacher

In Tomball, Texas, a suburb of Houston, reports SF Gate, a Baptist minister named Ken Shuman has an unusual ministry. Quoth David Ian Miller in SF Gate:

[Shuman is] now the general manager of Main Street Crossing, a popular coffee shop and live-music venue in Tomball, Texas, that has become a kind of Christian community center. By day, it's just a coffee house. But on nights and weekends several ministries, including Shuman's Wellspring Church, hold their worship services there. They also run a host of activities, including discussion groups and poker games three nights a week.

"The idea is mostly to provide a fun place to hang out," Shuman says. "We don't do heavy evangelism." Still, he adds, it's often easier to connect with the faithful over a round of Texas hold 'em than from behind a conventional pulpit.

Shuman was an ordinary Baptist preacher who led an ordinarily successful congregation when he had a crisis of faith. He left his church and eventually found a place at Main Street Crossing, a coffee house that serves beer and wine, with live performance space that is available both for music group bookings and Christian fellowship meetings.

I've heard that you tell people that despite being a pastor, you will "whup their ass" at poker. Is that true?

(Laughs) I don't know where you got that quote from, but the thing is, well, I told you I was a success junkie. So whatever I do, I want to do it well. And so I decided after the first night of poker that I had to learn how to play simply because there were people there, and I'm trying to connect with people, and what better way than to sit down at a table for three hours with a group of people and play cards?

So I started reading books and learned how to play poker at a pretty good level. And actually, as of last week, I am the point leader for the league that plays at our place.

And how do your new visitors respond to an ass-whupping, poker-playing pastor?

You know, most typical church people look at me like: "You left this nice big church to come do this? And now you're drinking beer and playing poker? You've lost the faith." And I just have to live with all that. I'm not worried about impressing the church people. What I'm worried about, or what I'm most concerned with, is just connecting with these people that play poker.

And I feel like I pastor all of them. I know about when they are going in the hospital, I know about the surgeries they have, I know about their marital problems, because they have begun to see me as a pastor that they can trust.

I think the biggest issue out there today for a lot of folks is they just don't think there is anybody they can trust with their stuff. They think he's gonna preach to me, or just tell me to come to church or pray a little harder and everything will be fixed. I believe we're all broken people. We're just broken in different places, and we all have addictions, and that we just need to come clean with all that and say: "Life is a journey, and faith is a journey. Wherever you are in that journey, let's journey together, and maybe we can help each other as we go."

My understanding is that gambling isn't approved of by Southern Baptists. Do your poker games include gambling?

No. They don't. It's just a league. The players don't pay to play. And there can be no exchanging of money at any of our sessions. If we did, we would lose our license – our beer and wine license – and feasibly they could shut us down, and feasibly they could haul me to jail.

Posted by abostick at 09:58 AM | Comments (0)

July 16, 2006

Another Bracelet for Bill Chen

Bill Chen has won a second WSOP bracelet, in the $2,500 short-handed no-limit hold'em event.

Bill is in a solid first place in the WSOP best all-around player standings. Even if he doesn't make any more showing for the rest of the WSOP, he will have made his mark and is on the board as an important tournament player. He will surely be on TV, make the cover of Card Player, et cetera. Which leads me to wonder:

Is celebrity poker ready for Bill Chen?

Posted by abostick at 08:35 AM | Comments (0)

July 05, 2006

Friends of Bill C.

I met Debbie at the Oaks Club tonight because, on a rare free Wednesday evening so that we could play in the evening hold'em tournament. Something unusual was in the air.

"You're a friend of Bill's, right?" Dan Huseman asked me when I sat down in the 15-30 game before the tournament. Ummm, no, I've never even been to a meeting.

No, he wasn't talking about Bill W., co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous and the Twelve Step movement. Instead, he was referring to Bill Chen, who Tuesday won the $3,000 Limit Hold'em event at the World Series of Poker.

Bill has been a long-time poster to rec.gambling.poker. I first met him when he came to the home game I hosted for a while. There was a period of time, before he moved to Philadelphia to work for a financial trading company, when Bill dominated the Oaks' Wednesday and Sunday tournaments.

But there's more: Oaks Club regulars pwned the $3K limit hold'em event – casino manager Larry Thomas made the final table also, eventually making 6th place.

Congratulations to Bill Chen on winning his first WSOP bracelet. I'm sure it won't be his last.

(But no joy for either me or Deb in tonight's tournament, alas.)

Posted by abostick at 11:32 PM | Comments (0)

April 14, 2006

Puggy Pearson 1929-2006

Legendary poker player Walter Clyde "Puggy" Pearson died on Wednesday, April 12.

Puggy Pearson grew up in a working poor family in Tennessee. He enlisted in the US Navy at the age of 16, and he honed his cardplaying skills while he was in the service. After his discharge, he followed the white line in the middle of the highway from game to game during the heyday of the Texas road gamblers. Such players as Amarillo Slim Preston, Doyle Brunson and "Sailor" Roberts were his peers.

Pearson wasn't just a poker player, but a multitalented game player. He was, among other things, a world-class pool player. He had a slogan, which he had painted on the side of the RV that he drove in his later years:

I'll play any man from any land any game he can name for any amount he can count. (Providing I like it!)

Pearson supposedly passed his notion of a freezeout – a game where everyone buys in for a fixed amount and plays until one player has all the money – was adopted by Benny Binion for the fledgeling World Series of Poker during its second year in 1971. Consequently, some people call Pearson the father of tournament poker. Pearson himself won his WSOP world championship bracelet in 1973.

I only played with Puggy once, in a cash game at Binion's Horseshoe during the 2003 WSOP. It was a forced-move feeder game into another forced-move feeder game, and the brush was quite busy. Puggy kindly told me, soon after I sat down, to make sure that the brush knew I was in the game, to preserve my position on the forced-move list.

(via buckeyebrain on the LiveJournal's Poker community)

Posted by abostick at 03:19 PM | Comments (0)

April 11, 2006

Phil Hellmuth Jumps the Shark

Phill Hellmuth vs. Bill Fillmaff

The tagline is "One has the nuts. The other is nuts." The promoters coyly don't tell us which one is which.

(Click here if you are wondering precisely who is Bill Fillmaff.)

Posted by abostick at 09:52 AM | Comments (3)

December 20, 2005

The Law of Unintended Consequences

The New York City transit workers' strike has had an unusual effect: it appears to have sent online poker playing through the roof.

DeviatedNorm posts to LiveJournal's WTF, Inc. community a press release from the publicist of online poker site Doyle's Room:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Press Contact: Kevin Manning
212-999-5585
kmanning@5wpr.com

MTA TRANSIT STRIKE RESULTS IN RECORD ONLINE POKER NUMBERS

Online Poker Site DoylesRoom.com Sees Record Amount of Players During Early Stages of MTA Transit Strike

December 20, New York – It is only mid-afternoon, but already internet poker site DoylesRoom.com is seeing record numbers online in the New York City metro area. It appears, due to this mornings New York City transit strike, many commuters are staying home from work and playing poker online.

Normal peak hours for online poker are between 8pm EST and 1am EST, but today, many accounts that are active only in the evening hours went live by as early as 10:00am EST in New York City and surrounding areas affected by the strike illustrating the fact that many commuters that opted to “work from home” were instead playing online poker.

“At first we didn’t know what was going on with the flood of players we were getting from New York City,” stated Marty Wallace, COO for DoylesRoom.com. “Then we realized that the transit strike they’ve been threatening since this past Friday finally took place.”

The winter season is the peak time for online poker rooms like DoylesRoom.com because people spend more time indoors away from the cold and log online. With the addition of a transit strike in New York City, those numbers have reached record levels.


###

Doyle’s Room (www.DoylesRoom.com ) is the only online poker site endorsed by poker legend, Doyle Brunson. The site is a leading poker provider for North American players and is an international hub for Texas Hold ’em and other popular poker games. Players at DoylesRoom.com can play for free to learn the game, or engage in real game play against players throughout the World.

Sean Hamel
Account Executive
5W Public Relations (www.5wpr.com )
45 West 45th Street, 5th Floor
New York, NY 10036
Phone: (212) 999-5585 x239
Fax: (646) 328-1711
Email: shamel@5wpr.com

Note: I checked both the 5W Public Relations Web site and the site of Doyle's Room and could not, at first attempt, locate an online copy of the press release, so I can't independently confirm its veracity myself. However, the Chicago Tribune has a news story reporting the same basic facts, and also reports that BetOnSports.com's poker room has had a 30-35% spike in users today.

(hat tip to Lynn Kendall)

Posted by abostick at 07:35 PM | Comments (0)

December 16, 2005

An End to No-Limit Hold'em at Lucky Chances

As of Wednesday, December 14, Lucky Chances Casino in Colma, Calif., no nonger spreads no-limit Texas hold'em. Under pressure from the California Department of Justice's Division of Gambling Control, the city of Colma passed an ordinance establishing a $200 maximum bet ceiling, and Lucky Chances managment chose to voluntarily comply.

This means an end to the fabulously juicy baby no-limit hold'em games Lucky Chances began to spread in April, 2004, as well as the much bigger $1000-minimum- buyin game they've spread for much longer.

The issue is the California Gambling Control Act, which took effect on Jan. 1, 1998, four months before Lucky Chances opened. Among other things imposed a moratorium in the expansion of gambling in cities lasting until 2010. Lucky Chances' opening was explicitly exempted by the CGCA. Not long afterwards, the city of Colma, with the express approval of the Division of Gambling Control, removed the city's ordinance that imposed a $200 betting limit, and Lucky Chances introduced no-limit hold'em.

Artichoke Joe's Casino, in nearby San Bruno, lost a lot of business when Lucky Chances opened, and lost more when the Colma bet cap was removed. It seems that customers have a idiosyncratic preference for competent dealers, consistency of decisions by floor personnel, and quality of food. Dennis Sammut, owner of Artichoke Joe's, did what any savvy business owner does when customer service issues result in a drop in business: he complained to the Division of Gambling Control. After five years of legal maneuvering, the DGC reversed itself and sent a letter to the city of Colma informing them that lifting the $200 bet cap violated the moratorium on expansion of gambling in cities. At length, the city, and Lucky Chances, have opted to comply.

The story isn't over yet: According to the San Mateo County Times the Colma City Council voted to lift the betting limit if one of three things happens: state law is changed to allow it; the city wins a court challenge of the DGC's ruling; or if a majority of Colma voters approve the removal of the betting limit.

The San Mateo County Times article will disappear behind a firewall shortly. See more below the fold.

City agrees to casino betting limit

But move could cost city $1.8 million annually
By Julia Scott, STAFF WRITER

COLMA — Faced with the possibility of the city's only casino losing its license for violating state law, the City Council voted Wednesday night to voluntarily impose a state-required betting cap — but they also gave themselves an out.

In July 2005 — six years after the state Division of Gambling Control expressly approved a City Council ordinance removing upper betting limits on all card games at Lucky Chances Casino — the Division sent the town a letter informing it that its unlimited betting violated the California Gambling Control Act. The letter asked the city to reduce its individual betting maximum to $200 on poker and Asian games like Pai Gow.

The law took effect Jan. 1, 1998 — four months before the opening of Lucky Chances. It prohibited "expansion of gambling" in existing casinos, which state officials say includes unlimited betting.

Now, faced with losing 16 percent of their annual budget because of the limit, the City Council is calling the language of the Act confusing and its application arbitrary, since Artichoke Joe's Casino of San Bruno continues to enjoy unlimited betting with state approval. They point out that the state division, part of the Attorney General's office, did not find fault with unlimited gambling when Lucky Chances opened in 1998.

"For seven years, we've had this practice. For seven years, the state never said anything to this town," said City Attorney Roger Peters.

The city stands to lose as much as$1.8 million annually as a result of betting caps. The casino generates about $3.7 million a year for the city — one-third of its total budget.

"The money has become the town's backbone in terms of our ability to provide services," said Assistant City Manager Laura Allen.

Confronted with a number of possible penalties, including loss of the casino's license, the City Council voted unanimouslyto limit betting to $200 on Wednesday. At the same time, however, they voted to revoke those limits if a state bill is passed allowing it; if the town were to win a legal challenge against the state; or if a majority of Colma voters overturned the limits. The town has not yet asked a judge to rule on the matter, but it has hired a lobbyist to meet with legislators in Sacramento.

The council decided to hold a special meeting early next month to authorize a citywide vote on the issue. It was not clear what legal weight a vote would carry, since the Division has said it would violate state law if it were to become effective before the year 2010.

The council also passed an ordinance to consider language proposed by Lucky Chances to skirt the new limits by placing more betting squares on the tables, thereby increasing maximum betting limits. The casino voluntarily introduced $200 betting caps on its poker and Asian games for the first time on Wednesday.

Division of Gambling Control spokesman Nathan Barankin said that his agency first learned of Colma's unlimited betting from their Bay Area competitors. Those competitors were allowed to continue unlimited betting because they had received their licenses before the creation of the Gambling Control Act, whereas Lucky Chances had not.

Posted by abostick at 09:05 AM | Comments (0)

December 15, 2005

Andy Bloch and the World Poker Tour

Andy Bloch isn't too happy about the release [PDF] players have to sign before playing in a World Poker Tour event.

I'm in Vegas and I want to play poker, but I won't be playing the World Poker Tour at the Bellagio, or any more WPT tournaments, until the WPT changes the player release that they force every player to sign before playing. The current release sets practically no limit to what the WPT can do with a player's name and likeness, and the WPT has shown that it will exploit players' names and likenesses beyond what any of us accept as reasonable. I've tried negotiating with the WPT, but they will not make any significant changes. I'm not the best known player (I'm sure Chris Ferguson's decision not to play will have more of an effect) so not playing the WPT may hurt my career, but I think it's a risk worth taking.

Here is the language to which Bloch objects, with the specific portions to which he objects the most emphasized:

1) Grant of Rights. Player acknowledges that WPT Enterprises, Inc. and its successors, assigns and licensees (collectively, “WPT”) will be recording, filming, photographing and exploiting films and/or television specials or other audio visual works of and/or about the Tour Event (jointly and severally the “Programs”). Player consents to such filming and exploitation of the Programs, and hereby irrevocably grants to WPT the right to film, record, edit, reproduce and otherwise use Player's name, photograph, likeness, signature, biographical information, appearance, actions (including, without limitation, revealing Player's hole cards), conversations (including, without limitation, “behind the scenes” footage and filmed interviews with Player) and/or voice (the “Recordings”) in, and in connection with, the Programs and/or the “World Poker Tour” and in connection with the distribution, advertising, publicizing, exhibition, and exploitation thereof and of other audio-visual works (including, without limitation, “behind the scenes” productions and public service announcements) and any and all derivative, allied, subsidiary and/or ancillary uses related thereto (including, without limitation, merchandising, commercial tie-ins, publications, home entertainment, video games, commodities, etc.), in whole or in part, by any and all means, media, devices, processes and technology now or hereafter known or devised in perpetuity throughout the universe.

Bloch compares this to the equivalent clause in Harrah's WSOP Circuit player release:

In consideration of my being permitted to participate in said promotion, I do hereby accept and irrevocably authorize Showboat Casino Hotel and its successors and assigns (including but not limited to ESPN) to print, publish, televise or otherwise utilize my photograph or any likeness of me for promotional purposes without compensation.

Bloch comments, While the line between permissible "promotional purposes" and impermissible merchandising needs to be defined a little bit, the WSOPC release is a lot better than the WPT's "any and all derivative, allied, subsidiary and/or ancillary uses related thereto (including, without limitation, merchandising, commercial tie-ins, publications, home entertainment, video games, commodities, etc.)".

Bloch has a degree from Harvard Law School and is a member of the bar, but is not at the present time practicing law.

To my own eye, it looks to me like the WPT is treating the players like patsies. Their waiver is, on the face of it, unacceptable. There are things that are reasonable for them to want to use players' likenesses -- video and print advertisments for the show, for example, but there are a whole range of subsidiary rights for which the WPT has no legitimate need. If I play in a WPT event, they get to use my likeness in video games, and I don't get paid for it. Hell, there's nothing in this agreement that would prevent the WPT from licensing fictional print, movie, or TV rights to the players as characters.

The WPT is treating the players like patsies. Andy Bloch is doing the right thing, and I hope that his example gets a lot of attention.

(via Paul Phillips)

Posted by abostick at 03:02 PM | Comments (1)

December 14, 2005

International Man of Mystery

Yesterday I was at the Oaks Club. I played some other games for a while, and eventually was called to a seat in the $15-$30 hold'em game.

Apparently I'm the subject of some discussion in the game. As I approached the table, Denny Dahlgren, one of the day-shift prop players, said to me, "We need your help here. Give us a multiple-choice question, with three or five choices, of what it is that you do."

Very interesting! My stock answer to the question of what I do for a living has been for some time "freelance editor," but it's actually been a while since I've had any billable hours to charge. Are some of the regulars trying to get a line on me? I would think they'd already have done so by now. I come to the Oaks to play sometimes during afternoons, sometimes in the evening, and very occasionally stay there overnight for a marathon session trying to recoup losses in a good-seeming game.

I've never heard anyone else asked quite in that manner what they do for a living anywhere, let alone at the Oaks. Evidently I am something of an enigma to some people there. Then again, Denny is the sort of opponent I like to see in the game, tough though he is, because he is skilled at connecting with the other players and making the game enjoyable to play. Perhaps I was just the topic of the moment, with which he was jollying up the other players.

I sat down and posted to get a hand. Naturally someone ahead of me raised, and I had to get out.

A few moments thought provided me with the following: "One: Internet security consultant. Two: Big game hunter. Three: Student. Four: Professional poker player. Five: Accountant."

Denny and a couple of other players all picked "student." Denny said, "That was on my list of guesses when we were talking about it."

"Student" is of course the correct answer right now. The regulars who pay attention know that I'm not a poker pro, for the simple reason that they don't see me logging enough hours at the table to make a living.

But that didn't stop me from making the faux complaint, "So nobody thinks I'm a poker pro, huh? When am I ever going to get any respect from you guys?"

Posted by abostick at 02:55 PM | Comments (0)

September 08, 2005

Casinos of Destruction

Mississippians paid the price for their state's peculiar laws about gambling when Hurricane Katrina struck. The law allows only "riverboat" gambling, which in practice means that casinos are built up upon large, rudderless barges permanently moored on the waterfront.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that when Katrina made landfall, the storm surge and ferocious winds tore casino barges from their moorings and washed them ashore, causing substantial damage:

"That sombitch smacked my building, swept all my merchandise and guns out, and pushed that safe clear across the parking lot," said John Godsey, standing in the rubble that used to be his pawnshop and looking up at the wrecked Casino Magic right next to it in the parking lot. "This building would probably still be standing if the casino hadn't hit it." ...

The lavish Palace was lifted sideways onto a walkway, and the adjacent Sports Zone gambling hall cleared a path a half-mile inland. The east side of the city around its shell is a disaster zone, with splintered wood from former houses littered for miles.

The 134,500-square-foot Grand Casino Biloxi, the state's largest coastal casino, cut a swath of wreckage across Highway 90 where one part wrecked the historic Hotel Tivoli and a museum under construction, and another part flattened apartments and homes.

If the law had allowed casinos to be built on solid ground, the damage in Biloxi, severe though it was, would have been substantially lessened.

Posted by abostick at 09:17 AM | Comments (1)

April 29, 2005

High-Stakes Roshambo

Greg Costikyan might think that Roshambo - the game of rock, paper, and scissors - is a degenerate game, but that doesn't stop it from being an important decision-making tool. The New York Times reports on what just might be the Roshambo matchup for the highest stakes on record:

Takashi Hashiyama, president of Maspro Denkoh Corporation, an electronics company based outside of Nagoya, Japan, could not decide whether Christie's or Sotheby's should sell the company's art collection, which is worth more than $20 million, at next week's auctions in New York.

He did not split the collection - which includes an important Cιzanne landscape, an early Picasso street scene and a rare van Gogh view from the artist's Paris apartment - between the two houses, as sometimes happens. Nor did he decide to abandon the auction process and sell the paintings through a private dealer.

Instead, he resorted to an ancient method of decision-making that has been time-tested on playgrounds around the world: rock breaks scissors, scissors cuts paper, paper smothers rock.

In Japan, resorting to such games of chance is not unusual. "I sometimes use such methods when I cannot make a decision," Mr. Hashiyama said in a telephone interview. "As both companies were equally good and I just could not choose one, I asked them to please decide between themselves and suggested to use such methods as rock, paper, scissors."

Officials from the Tokyo offices of the two auction houses were informed of Mr. Hashiyama's request on a Thursday afternoon in late January.

They were told they had until a meeting on Monday to choose a weapon. The right choice could mean several million dollars in profits from the fees the auction house charges buyers (usually 20 percent for the first $200,000 of the final price and 12 percent above that).

(via Eric Holtman)

Posted by abostick at 07:57 AM | Comments (1)

April 08, 2005

Stupid Cheater Update

I wrote: If I were low enough to collude in an online poker tournament, I don't think I'd be so amazingly dumb as to post about it in my LiveJournal. Hell, I'd at least friends-lock the damn thing. The post is now friends-locked. I guess the torrent of angry comments he got from Paul Phillips' pointer clued him in.

He writes in his current entry:

paul phillips taught me a lesson today.

a lot of posts will be friends only for the time being.

One hopes the lesson he learned was more than just "if you're going to cheat, don't post it publicly to your blog."

Meanwhile, I sent the post to the PokerStars support team, and this is the response I got:

Hello Alan,

Thank you for your email. Unfortunately there is not enough information here to identify the player in the journal. We offer dozens of these qualifying tournaments every week, and there are many qualifying players in each one. It is nearly impossible to find one player based on the information provided.

You should note that what the players did was actually very stupid. Not only was it against our rules, but it was also strategically a dumb play. If the players had enough chips to be able to limp into the prizes when they combined stacks, they had enough chips to try and both make the prizes.

The term chip dumping is reserved for players who share chips in order for both players to last longer in a tournament. It does not apply to players trying to knock each other out and halve their total possible payout.

If you have any further questions about this or anything else, please let us know!

Regards,
Dan
PokerStars Support Team

If the PokerStars hand history database is in any shape at all, using the information in the post ought to be very straightforward. It should be all the more easy given that ronny bojangles described in detail the play of more than one hand. If I had a zipfile containing all PokerStars hand histories from March 16 and 17, I guess that I could pinpoint the hands in question and identify the perpetrator in something on the order of an hour, most of which would be spent debugging the perl script.

Secondly, that's a very restrictive definition of chip-dumping. If one player in a group of colluders has an overlay in terms of playing ability in a tournament (or even is a substantially better player than the others in the group), then the expectation of the group as a whole is increased at the expense of the other players in the tournament if the weak players in the group blow off their chips to the strong player. This doesn't fit "Dan"'s definition of chip dumping, which demands that the practice enhance the likelihood of all participants' winning, but it is clearly collusion, it clearly has a negative impact on the non-colluding players' EV, and it falls within what most experienced players would label as "chip-dumping."

"Dan"'s reply makes me substantially less confident in the ability and willingness of PokerStars' management to confront collusion. Maybe Ed Felten is right and I was wrong about whether countermeasures against collusion can keep it down to a reasonable level.

Posted by abostick at 01:49 PM | Comments (1)

Stupid Cheater of the Week

Think of this as the Poker edition of Jeralyn Merritt's regular Stupid Criminal of the Week feature on TalkLeft.

Paul Phillips points us to this amazing post on LiveJournal by one ronny bojangles:

so I've officially gone from poker player to strategist.

tonight, seth (played wednesday night cards with us last week) and I played a $10+$1 turbo/rebuy tourney for a seat to the $215 NL buy-in $350,000 guaranteed weekly on pokerstars. I think around 62 total people in the qualifier. after rebuy/add-on period was over, 8 places qualified, 9th paid $170.

it got down to about 18 people and me and seth were at the same table. I was 1-up on him (sitting to his left, acting after him most hands). I had about 6000 in chips and he had about 4000. The only way we figured either one of us would get a spot is to dump our chips to each other. blinds were so fast that if we played alone we'd get knocked out around 11th and 10th, which pays nothing. since I was in best position, we both decided that we should dump chips.

I was in SB, seth was on button. BB had around 10x BB, so with a raise and a call he would probably fold. Everyone folded to seth, who I told to go all in with A8o. I had 87d and I reraised all-in over Seth. BB folded his 3k, so that was guaranteed to one of us as is. If I sucked out a 7 or diamonds on seth I'd have more than enough chips to qualify. If seth's hand held up he'd have more than enough chips to qualify. We decided that we'd shoot for one seat and take the payout.

I lost the hand to seth, and lost my remaining 800 a couple hands later. Seth got a qualifying seat to the $215 easily. We sold the seat for $180.

Seth spent $33 between rebuys and add-ons. I just spent the original $11. So we worked out the deal that we'd take our buy-ins out of the $180, then split the rest of the money 60/40. In the end, I earn $54 and seth earns $82. And it was all so easy, but very lucky.

The highlight of the tourney was right before the first break. I was in about 11th position out of around 44. Under the gun, I go all in with KQo, hoping to pick up the blinds or get a low stack to call. The whole point of turbo rebuy tourneys is to get as many chips as you can as fast as you can. I ended up getting called by 3 people, and lost that pot. I was down to $90, and after the break the blinds were going up to $100/$200. I'm BB first hand, so I'm all in regardless. I get 1 call, AQ vs my 98. I end up getting a straight. Two hands later, I have AJ. I double up again.

I doubled up so many times that I was in 4th position with about 26 people left. But the blinds came so fast and my hands were garbage that I just tried to hold out. Then I got put next to seth and gave him my chips.

I feel great because of this. For once, teamwork worked. Everything went according to plan and I'm $54 richer because of it.

If I were low enough to collude in an online poker tournament, I don't think I'd be so amazingly dumb as to post about it in my LiveJournal. Hell, I'd at least friends-lock the damn thing.

Posted by abostick at 10:00 AM | Comments (1)

April 01, 2005

Stuey

Last night was a movie night for Debbie and I, and because we're the last kids on the block who do not subscribe to Netflix, we drove to Reel. Debbie spotted High Roller in the New Releases section and immediately picked it up. It's a biopic about the life of three-time poker world champion Stu Ungar, written and directed by A. W. Vidmer. We agreed on it as our pick of the night, and rented it.

I'm not at all sorry we did, but I won't recommend the movie to everyone. (More below the fold, including spoilers.)

What I liked about the movie was the picture it painted of life among the gambling wiseguys of the 1970s, with its blend of affection, integrity, violence, and sordidness. Stuey Ungar's choice to live in it was shown as reasonable and appropriate, and its other inhabitants were depicted as human, likeable people. Ungar's early gambling career was as a wizard player of gin rummy. One scene, pitting Ungar against a high roller, depicts Ungar's legendary ability to know what his opponent held after four discards. The poker scenes later in the movie were reasonably well done, although as a poker buff I would have liked to see more of them. It was a valuable look at a world that has since changed almost unrecognizably.

The film is deeply flawed, however. It is not well-written. The dialogue stumbles in many places. The scene of Stuey's father's funeral shows an open casket, which simply wouldn't be the case at a Jewish funeral. A bedroom dispute between Ungar and his wife seemed completely unmotivated and unbelievable.

Moreover, there is a complete disconnect between the people around him and those who figured in the life of the historical Ungar. In the film, Ungar's wife is named Angela and his daughter is Nicole. The real-life Stu Ungar was married to a woman named Madeline, and their daughter was named Stephanie. Everyone except Ungar is fictional. Bob Stupak and Mike Sexton are completely absent from the story; in their place is a fictional "D.J." who bears a passing resemblance to Jack Strauss.

I don't think writer A. W. Vidmer does justice to the role of drugs in Ungar's life. He is shown using cocaine, spinning out, and then cleaning up. The script implies that Ungar died clean and sober, which the real Ungar certainly did not.

WSOP.dk has a list of links pointing to information about the real Stuey Ungar. There's a reminiscence by Mike Sexton on PokerPages, and Ken Churilla has a page of several people's memories and tributes to Ungar on the Gocee.com Poker Center.

High Roller was completed and taken onto the film festival circuit under the title Stuey in 2003. In January of this year it was picked up for cable by Starz, and it was released on DVD on March 15.

Posted by abostick at 05:01 PM | Comments (0)

Who Will Be the Next Pope?

Place your bets, everyone! Bestbetting.com has the line on who will be chosen as the next Pope.

There are a limited selection of choices, ranging from Dionigi Tettamanzi, currently at 3.6:1 against, to the 99:1 longshot of the Australian George Pell.

Lynn Kendall tells me via AIM that she's disappointed there are no odds listed for the selection of Cardinal Sin. The bookmakers cannily don't provide the odds for the field.

(via Majikthise)

Posted by abostick at 03:13 PM | Comments (0)

March 25, 2005

Shadow Boxing

I played $15-$30 hold'em last night at the Oaks.

Rich is a smart, aggressive, tricky player who is tough for me to outplay. On that basis, I don't like to play at the same table as him. At the same time, he tilts easily. If someone puts a bad beat on him, he starts steaming and muttering about how they shouldn't have been in the hand in the first place or something similar. He gets mad if people beat him by playing badly. In other words, he embodies a lot of my own darker tendencies at the table. This can make it fun for me to play with Rich, because once he starts to tilt, it becomes easier for me to step out of the role of tight-player-on-tilt and let Rich occupy it. And when I do this, I find it difficult to resist the temptation to make sport of him.

(This is surely one of the reasons why so many players treat Phil Hellmuth as such a goat. Phil has a famously bad temper – he's the John McEnroe of poker – and has a very high opinion of himself. When he busts out of a tournament and storms furiously out of the room, hundreds of players project their bad-temper and arrogance onto him, and confidently comfort themselves that they aren't like that at all, no, not one bit.)

Last night I was winning, but I had taken a few bozo beats, so I was tending towards tilt. Fortunately for me, players with worse hands had outdrawn Rich a few times, he was losing, and he was radiating his annoyance.

For one hand, Rich was in the small blind in seat three. A crafty gambler in seat five opened the betting by limping in. The action was folded around to me, on the button, in seat one (the player in seat two was away from the table). My hand was the the 5 and 6 of hearts. I trailed in, Rich threw in a chip to complete his bet, and the player in the big blind rapped his knuckles. The dealer burned and turned a flop of 7 6 3 rainbow, with one heart. I had second pair with a weak kicker and a gutshot straight draw. There were four small bets in the pot.

Rich was first to act; he bet out. The player in the big blind folded. Crafty Gambler called, and I chose to try to play for a free card: I raised. Rich reraised (no free card for me, unless Rich wanted one too). CG cold-called the two bets, and I called after him. Thirteen small bets – six and a half big bets – were now in the pot.

The turn card was the ace of hearts, and I had picked up eight more outs to make a winning hand. Rich checked, and CG bet. It was a sure thing that he had an ace in his hand. Calling here was a no-brainer: I was getting the right price to call for the heart draw alone, my straight outs were probably good, as would the two remaining sixes, and my second pair might possibly hold up if I hit it. Rich also called, clearly not happy with his situation. The pot now held nine and a half bets.

The river card was a black seven, for a board of 7-6-3-A-7. Rich checked, and CG checked also, presumably because he feared I held a seven in my hand. I rapped my hand on the table and announced, "Two pair."

CG turned over his hand: the ace and eight of clubs. I mucked my hand unseen. So did Rich, and he went into a slow burn.

"You cold-called two bets with an ace," he said. "Nice hand!"

I couldn't resist the temptation. "If you don't want people to draw out on you, you shouldn't price them in; you should price them out."

"What are you talking about?" Rich shot back. "Do you think I should check-raise? Either way he has to call two bets with an ace as his only out."

The next hand was underway, and Rich was in it. I kept my mouth shut and did the math in my head: With four bets in the pot, CG was getting 5:1 for his first call of one bet; and with my raise and Rich's reraise he was getting 11:2 (5.5:1) to call again. On the other hand, if Rich had checked and raised my bet, CG would only be getting 7:2 (3.5:1).

There are compelling reasons not to talk about strategy and tactics at the table, but Rich on tilt was too tempting a target. When we next had both folded before the flop, I said, "If he's getting the right price to call your first bet, then he's getting the right price to cold-call the next two."

"That's completely wrong! His only out was an ace! How can you say that?"

"I'm saying that if he was getting the right price for the first bet, he would still be getting the right price for calling the next two. It's an 'if' statement. A conditional. It's logic, which is part of math."

Of course, I knew very well that CG had not been getting the right price to call that first bet, even if his kicker would have been good if he had spiked it instead of the ace. I wasn't going to say that, however. I also knew that if Rich had held the hand I now thought he had -- an overpair to the board -- he would want to price both CG and I into the hand, not price us out. Rich seemed to be missing this point, and a lot of others as well.

"If you think that the pot odds of catching an ace are that good," Rich said, "you're a moron."

Now I was kvelling: Rich thinks I'm a moron who can't do math! And he'd lost track of the difference between pot odds (what the betting action offers a player) and probability odds (the likelihood of the event happening). You can't ask for more than that, and besides, he was acting just like me! What a wonderful opportunity to give my shadow a few kicks in the butt!

An opportunity came shortly later. Seat two vacated, and I moved into it, right next to Rich. Connie Hyun sat down in seat one, and waited for the button to pass. When it was my button, with Rich in the small blind, Connie posted three chips to get a hand.

The player in seat seven limped in. The players after him folded. Connie looked at her cards, thought for a moment, then checked. I had pocket threes in my hand. I limped in also. Rich completed his small blind, and the big blind checked. I got my dream flop of 2-3-K. Rich bet out, and everyone else dropped out. I called Rich's bet. The turn was a mid-range blank – call it a 9. Rich bet again, and I called again, figuring I could jam him on the river no matter what it was and make the most I could out of the hand. The actual river card was perfect for me: another king, giving me a full house of treys over kings The only hands that beat me were KK and 99 (unlikely given the preflop action) and K9. Rich bet one more time. I raised him. He reraised me. I put in the fourth bet. Rich called me, muttering something about "Kings full?". I showed my hand, and he mucked.

As I was stacking the chips from this hand, Connie asked me, "Would you have called me if I had raised?"

"Hell, no," I said. "You need to get seven and a half to one to get the right price to call with a small pair."

Rich couldn't resist his chance to show me he knew more math than I did. "It's eight and a half to one," he said.

I kvelled again. Rich was forgetting the difference between probabilities and odds. (There's one chance in 8.5 that a pocket pair will flop at least a three of a kind; and that works out to odd of 7.5:1 against.)

Rich and I are very much alike as players. We both think we're smarter than everyone else, and we're both wrong. We tilt in the same way, and we both have a tendency to write other players off as morons, even when they clearly aren't.

The things that provoke us in others are part of our own shadow.

Posted by abostick at 11:39 AM | Comments (3)

March 09, 2005

I Want My ... I Want My ... I Want My W P T

Rodney Chen on the ba-poker mailing list points us to a story in the San Jose Mercury News [registration required] about Bay 101's "Shooting Stars" World Poker Tour event going on now:

Jesus had already lost his chips, but Fossilman was there. So were the Poker Brat and the Unabomber.

Some of the biggest nicknames to ever draw a full house were doing just that on Tuesday at San Jose's Bay 101 Casino. The World Poker Tour is in town this week. That means big players, big prize money – and big groups of onlookers with jaws dropped down to here.

The tide has turned. A year and a half ago, journalism about the television-fueled growth of poker emphasized the dark side of gambling. Now it's about poker stars, celebrities, and glamour.

"[E]ver since they put poker on TV, these guys are like rock stars'' [said Bay 101 dealer Tony Fletcher.]

And having rock stars means one thing: Groupies. Or at least a crush of hangers-on, card-shark wannabes, and assorted gawkers who have helped turn poker into the smokingest professional game in America at the moment.

Old-fashioned Hollywood star-power has also fueled the frenzy. And this week's million-dollar event has brought out actors James Woods, Mimi Rogers and Jennifer Tilly. If that wasn't enough, Tobey ``Spider-man'' Maguire slipped in, hooked up to an iPod and skulking behind dark shades as he waded into hands of no-limit hold 'em. ...

[Pleasanton software salesman Bill Balew] said he heard Jennifer Tilly is Phil ``Unabomber'' Laak's girlfriend.

``That's proof that poker has gone big-time,'' Ballew said. ``Beautiful women used to date professional football or baseball players. Now they want to date poker players.''

Groupies? Jennifer Tilly?? Man, that ain't working; that's the way to do it!

Posted by abostick at 11:28 AM | Comments (1)

March 02, 2005

Head-Up NLHE Tournament Strategy

Paul Phillips is playing in the National Heads-Up Poker Championship this Friday. In his LiveJournal he asks the question When if ever should you fold your button preflop in a no-limit heads-up match?. He gets the range of answers one would expect: some good, some not so good.

The best answer he gets, by far, is the link Jerrod Ankenman posts to his own LJ:

Case 1: Small stacks (<10 BB)

Just play jam or fold. It's really, really hard to do better than this, and really easy to do worse.

Case 2: Larger stacks (10-25 BB)

Now the game moves from 1 bullet to approximately 2.
I think at this stack size you should probably be raising to either the minimum or 2.5, depending on your particular preference: if you like raising to 2.5, then you should probably play jam or fold up to about 12 or 13, lest you wander into the realm of "I've raised and I can't give up!"

There's more. Read the whole thing. In fact, click on the link and save the info to a text file, because the info is so hot that if I were Jerrod I would friends-lock it so that it didn't spread too far. It's that good.

Posted by abostick at 02:33 PM | Comments (1)

February 11, 2005

Poker Column in the Sports Pages

As poker is mainstreamed and turned into a spectator sport, it had to happen: Steve Rosenbloom, a sportswriter for the Chicago Tribune, now writes a column on poker, syndicated via Tribune Media Services.

I can't quickly find anyplace online that accessibly archives the column, but you can find todays installment at the San Jose Mercury News (requires registration; but BugMeNot is your friend):

At the table, just as in baseball, it's good to throw them a curve

Poker legend Doyle Brunson calls it ``changing gears,'' and it means changing your play to keep opponents guessing. You can change your tight image at the table by playing lesser hands. You can change your pattern of calling bets by aggressively raising. Sometimes you can change in the middle of a hand and pull off a stone-cold bluff.

That's what Gavin Griffin did last year at the final table of the $3,000 pot-limit hold 'em event in the World Series of Poker.

Griffin had used his bully stack to pound Gary Bush and Gabriel Thaler during the nearly three hours they played three-handed, but suddenly, with the blinds at $8,000-$16,000, he limped from the button, prompting Bush to say, ``That's the first time you've done that.''...

(via Zbigniew)

Posted by abostick at 10:37 PM | Comments (2)

January 24, 2005

Who Won?

Patti Beadles played 10-20 online last night. This is what happened:

Winners and Losers

I was playing in a six-handed 10-20 holdem game online tonight while I wound down for bed.

Seat one was a revolving door – about half a dozen players came through it during the 150 or so hands that I played.

In seat two we find perhaps the second worst poker player in existence. He was very passive, his raises were reliable, and he was more than a little bit optimistic about his cards. In fact, he called more than a telemarketer.

Seats three and four were relatively solid players.

I was in seat five.

Seat six was the only guy on the planet who could play worse than seat two. He would reraise preflop with hands like 84-offsuit, three bet with J8, call with anything and nothing (including drawing dead), always raised and often capped with his draws on the flop, and was just generally hemorrhaging money.

Six kept sucking out on me for a while, but eventually I got back to even and then ahead a few hundred bucks.

Three was making money, though Two drew out on him a few times. Every time he did, Three would start swearing at him. "Stupid fucker. Your going to lose all your money. Fucking moron." Two never said anything the whole time.

Four was fairly quiet, though he would occasionally make a comment like, "very nice hand".

Six, however, was cheerful even after he was stuck over $800. When he started getting close to the felt, he quipped, "I'm going for broke."

I suggested that I would support him in that endeavor, and that it wasn't personal – it was merely my job as his opponent. I would expect the same from him. He laughed and agreed.

I told him, "you're an unusual player, and I mean that in a good way. Most players get cranky and nasty when the cards don't fall their way, but you're still joking and laughing. I respect that."

"Losing all your money isn't the worst thing that can happen to you. I lost three friends today. They were killed in a fire."

His hometown was listed as Staten Island. I made a quick trip to Google news and discovered that three NY firefighters were killed in a blaze today. "Are you a firefighter?"

"Yes."

I was stunned, and made the best sympathetic noises that I could muster, followed by, "I respect that job – my hat's off to you."

"Are you wearing a hat?"

"No, but I could go grab one just so I could take it off-- I collect them." We spent a couple minutes discussing which hat would be best for me to take off to him, and finally decided on the leather top hat.

The contrast between this guy and Three was huge. Three was being a flaming asshole because he lost a single pot, even though he was well ahead of the game overall. Six was being extraordinarily pleasant and social and never said a bad word to anyone even while he was nearly four figures in the red, not to mention three friends.

I'm sure Three finished the session with more money than Six, but if I had to pick winners and losers, I'd score it the other way.

Truth to tell, I've got a lot more of Seat Three in me than is good for either me or the game in general. It's very good to have the reasons why this isn't such a good idea illustrated in primary colors.

Posted by abostick at 09:44 AM | Comments (3)

January 15, 2005

Setting the Record Straight

Now that the Wall Street Journal has made an issue about Markos Moulitsas receiving money from the Howard Dean Campaign, the time has come for me to set my own record straight.

Since I began blogging, I have written in As I Please about the following people from whom I have received money or other consideration: Alex Alaskar, Tommy Angelo, Patti Beadles, Benny Behnen, Steve Brust, Rick Chin, Chris Claremont, Sabyl Cohen, Bonnie Damiano, "Erik" (a prop player at the Oaks Club), Danny Flores, Perry Friedman, Jamie Gillis, Charles Haynes, Phil Hellmuth, Karina Jett, Lee Jones, "Kim," Steve Landrum, J.P. Massar, Chris Moneymaker, Tommy Joe Neal, Men Nguyen, David Notkin, Debbie Notkin, Paul Phillips, D. Potter, Andrew Prock, Rory Root, Steven Schwartz, Peter Secor, Spencer Sun, Larry Thomas, Ngoc "Jimmy" Tran, and Tom Whitmore. I also received a $9400 payment from Lucky Chances Casino and a number of payments from Casino San Pablo totalling close to $20,000. I have received payments from other people mentioned in the blog although not by name, and from many others, too numerous for me to have kept track.

In 2004 alone the payments I have received substanially exceeded what the Dean campaign paid Kos.

Zephyr Teachout, the source who blew the whistle on the Dean payments that Kos acknowledged in a disclaimer on his front page for months, is quoted as saying, I think its a good time for creating a culture of simply not writing about people you accept money from. Have I compromised my integrity as a blogger?

Update: Additional names added to make the list more complete.

Posted by abostick at 10:09 AM | Comments (2)

December 29, 2004

Great Chips Have Little Chips....

Gambling Magazine reports that Shuffle Master has aquired patents for the use of RFID technology in casino chips, which would enable casino management using the technology to track betting and chip movement throughout the establishment:

"Say I sit down at a black jack table and I have a player's card. I place it and a $100 bill on the table. My card is swiped which places me at that table," explained [Shuffle Master CEO Paul] Meyer. (A player's card is another way for casinos to track frequent gamblers. They earn points on the card for free meals, or other rewards.)

Without RFID, "as I play over time, the only way the casino can estimate the kind of player I am, is by using pit boss estimates. That's a pretty rough estimate. That's where table tracking comes in. Every chip is associated with me and is tracked using a reader. Exactly what I'm betting and losing or winning is tracked automatically. Without tracking, they (casino) don't know what I'm betting." In other words, the reasoning behind RFID utilization is that the casino will know what every player is doing at every table.

"Say you move away from one table with $500 in chips. You now go to cash in those chips. Those RFID chips can be read at the cage and associated with you. In your moment of generosity, you give a cocktail waitress a $25 chip. When she cashes it in, we know how generous a tipper you are."

The article also mentions security applications, such as being able to know when a dealer has covertly palmed and pocketed a chip.

There's another "security" application that goes unmentioned: When you can track players wagers, wins, and losses on a bet-by-bet basis, you can see who wins and who loses over even comparitively short times. The winners will stand out. If a blackjack shoe were to have an optical reader that tracks every card dealt, the house could follow when the card count favored the dealer and when it favored the player. The bet-tracking would be able to correlate player betting patterns to deck quality. It would show that the "drunk" staggering around the casino floor, occasionally making a big bet at a table, was picking out the tables with favorable point counts, tipping management off to the activity of a card-counting team and helping to finger which players were on the team.

"Abdul Jalib" once wrote that he thought that casino managers could make more money by lessening the heat on individual card-counters, most of whom are amateurs and are prone to making expensive mistakes when they get the count wrong. This technology could make this possible while still protecting the casinos from the ravages of coordinated counting teams.

(via boingboing)

Posted by abostick at 01:09 PM | Comments (1)

November 30, 2004

Casino Cheater's Blog

Richard Marcus claims to have been a professional casino cheat, scamming his way to wins at roulette tables in Las Vegas and other gambling venues. He's written a book about his exploits, American Roulette, and he promotes it through his weblog.

The narrative of such books tends to be about how the glamorous Byronic heroes, acting illicitly and perhaps illegally, beat both the games and the casino heat to take money from the soulless and exploitive casinos. Some of my best friends have run blackjack card-counting teams.

The stated purpose of Marcus' blog is to tell stories that had to be cut from the book for space reasons, and to keep tabs on the goings-on in the world of casino cheating. Promotion of the book is also a big motivation, as I've said.

I have glanced at the blog, not having seen his book, and while Marcus may seem to be a bit full of himself, his stories ring true, consistent with what other people with similar experiences have told me.

(via boingboing)

Posted by abostick at 01:15 PM | Comments (0)

Bank Robber Apprehended at the Oaks Club

Larry Thomas, casino manager for the Oaks Club, was reading the news last week when a story caught his eye: a bank robber believed responsible for a rash of eight robberies in Northern California had had his picture taken by a bank's surveillance cameras. The robber wore a distinctive black Oakland Athletics baseball cap.

One of the essential skills of a casino manager is to recognize customers, old and new alike. Larry recognized the person in the bank photo as a player at the Oaks Club, one who had been playing $2-$4 and $3-$6 hold'em, but recently made the move up into the $15-$30 game.

Larry checked the video monitor of the camera covering Table 18. Yes, there he was, the same guy, wearing the same black A's cap. Larry called the Emeryville Police Department. The cops arrived, cuffed the suspect, and took him away. local television station KTVU identifies him as Tommy Joe Neal, arrested for a parole violation and wanted in connection with eight recent bank robberies.

Turns out, I've played with the guy. Not a very good player; took too many chances.

(via Spencer Sun)

Posted by abostick at 10:40 AM | Comments (1)

November 24, 2004

Tabish & Murphy Acquitted in Binion Murder Case

The New York Times reports that Rick Tabish and Sandy Murphy were found not guilty of murdering Ted Binion in their second trial.

In Jim McManus's book Positively Fifth Street, Tabish and Murphy's first trial was the counterpoint to his first-person account of playing in the championship event at the 2000 World Series of Poker and making the final table. Tabish and Murphy were convicted of murder in that trial, but the Nevada State Supreme Court overturned the conviction.

Tabish and Murphy beat the murder charges, but they were convicted on three other charges: burglary, grand larceny, and conspiracy to commit burglary.

Court TV has more details.

(via TalkLeft)

Posted by abostick at 10:00 AM | Comments (0)

October 14, 2004

Loni Hancock Has a Blog

State Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, the Democrat from District 14 (including Emeryville, Berkeley, Albany, El Cerrito, Richmond, San Pablo, Orinda, Lafayette, Moraga, and parts of Oakland) has just started a blog on Blogspot. I don't actually live in District 14; my neighborhood is gerrymandered out of the district.

It is brand-new, and so far it is all about the proposed expansion of Casino San Pablo from a minor cardroom into a giant Vegas-style casino.

I wonder how long it will be before the freepers find it?

(via SFGate)

Posted by abostick at 10:28 AM | Comments (0)

October 13, 2004

Really Big Bet Poker

It's just talk so far, but it might turn out to be the biggest poker game the world has yet seen.

Last May, Texas banker Andy Beal played in a $100,000-$200,000 limit hold'em game at Bellagio. Apparently, he is piqued about "fish stories" about that game that appeared in the New York Daily News. In response, Beal issued a challenge, printed in the pages of Card Player, to Doyle Brunson, Chip Reese, Todd Brunson, Jennifer Harman, Howard Lederer, Chau Giang, Barry Greenstein, Ted Forrest, Gus Hansen, Lee Salem, John Hennigan, Ming La, Lyle Berman, Phil Ivey, Johnny Chan, and Hamid Dastmalchi:

Call me naοve (I've been called worse), but I believe that I am the favorite in a heads-up limit high-stakes game against most of you. For the record, I challenge you to put up or shut up about your "professional play." Come to Dallas and play me for four hours a day and I will play until one of us runs out of money or cries uncle. If your play is so great and your wins have been as large as you claim, you should have plenty of bankroll and be jumping at the chance to come and play another $100,000-$200,000 game and win a lot more money. I should add that you can bring your own independent dealers and your own cards, and can play in a different location of your choice every day if you wish. You should provide a slate of any six or more of the above players and I will pick from your slate who plays. Observers should be free to attend in order to record exactly what happens at this game, so it won't turn into another fisherman's story.

Observers may not realize, wrote Paul Phillips about this challenge, that this is a poorly disguised attempt to bust the corporation via variance. . ("The corporation" is the syndicate of players who pooled their money to take Beal on at Bellagio.) That is to say, Beal might be using his deep pockets as a weapon against the corporation: he might not have an edge in the game, but he can take them on without risk of ruin. The corporation players, on the other hand, might be risking everything they have for the sake of their competitive advantage.

Doyle Brunson has just responded to Beal's throwing of the gauntlet by throwing down a gauntlet of his own:

As far as your challenge goes, we concede that you have more money than all of us put together. So, why would we want to get into a $100,000-$200,000 game in which we would be underfunded? We are pros, and we know the disadvantage of this. So, here is what we propose:

1. We will raise a $40 million bankroll and post it along with yours. (Everything is contingent on raising the money, but I think it is very realistic that we can expand and raise it.)

2. We will play 30K-60K. If either side loses half of its post-up money, it can raise the stakes to $50,000-$100,000. There is an old axiom that applies here: Get out the way you got in!

3. We will choose who plays and when.

4. We prefer to play in Vegas, the gambling capital of the world. Most of us live here, and what would we do in Dallas when we weren't playing? This is negotiable. The first three points aren't.

Andy, I'm chuckling as I write this closing paragraph. If Bill Gates came to Dallas and wanted to flip coins for $100 million per flip for four hours a day until one of you ran out of money or cried uncle, would you do it? My money says you would decline.

Yes, $30K-$60K (and $50K-$100K) is a smaller betting limit than $100K-$200K. But an 80-million-dollar freezeout ... !

Part of me is saying "wow!" And another part of me is thinking that $40 million is a lot of money to risk on what amounts to a pissing contest, and maybe there are better things to do with that money.

Posted by abostick at 04:24 PM | Comments (0)

September 22, 2004

Unstoppable Poker Bots?

Internet security guru Ed Felten takes note of a scary story on MSNBC that warns us that <fnord!> sophisticated card-playing robots – known as “bots” in the nomenclature of the Web – are being used on commercial gambling sites to fleece newcomers, the strategy-impaired and maybe even above-average players. </fnord!>

Felten himself looks askance at efforts of online poker sites to deter bot playing as well as collusion:

The online casinos are kidding themselves if they think they can enforce a no-bots rule. How can they tell what a player is doing in the privacy of his own home? Even if they can tell that a human's hands are on the keyboard, how can they tell whether that human is getting advice from a bot?

The article discusses yet another unenforceable rule of online poker: the ban on collusion between players. If two or more players simply show each other their cards, they gain an advantage over the others at the table. There's no way for an online casino to prevent players from conducting back-channel communications, so a ban on collusion is impossible to enforce.

By reiterating their anti-bot and anti-collusion rules, and by claiming to have mysterious enforcement mechanisms, online casinos may be able to stem the tide of cheating for a while. But eventually, bots and collusion will become the norm, and lone human players will be driven out of all but the lowest stakes games.

But there is another strategy. An online casino could encourage bots, and even set up bots-only games. The game would then become not a human vs. human card game but a human vs. human battle between bot designers for geekly mastery. I'll bet there are plenty of programmers out there who would like to give it a try.

The MSNBC article, once you get past the menacing shadows and ominous organ chords, presents a pretty good view of the state of the art of poker bots: the cutting edge of poker bots can play really well against a single player, but are much more at sea in full games with a constantly changing cast of characters. A reasonably skilled programmer can write a bot that could beat a soft game (I have fond memories of playing against r00lbot on the old irc.poker.net). It's a major challenge to produce a bot that can hold its own against skilled players, as Darse Billings and others at the University of Alberta can attest.

Collusion, on the other hand, is detectable over time because it has a definite signature. Colluders with knowledge about each others' cards can exploit edges that would appear to be marginal or negative-EV to someone without that knowledge. (Think of folding a flush draw because of knowing that two of your nine outs are gone and the pot is offering the wrong price, when an ignorant player would call thinking the odds were right). Colluders can also exploit occasional large-edge situations, e.g. when a hand that might not be the absolute nuts is known to be the nuts because of cards that are out of play.

Detection of colluders becomes a problem similar in kind to traffic analysis in signals intelligence. Effective colluders have to take advantage of their edge in such a way as to not reveal it, which means not taking advantage of it some (presumably randomized) part of the time. But that reduces the edge from collusion. If collusion becomes widespread, then (if the online poker sites are on the ball) collusion is widely detected and widely quashed. If collusion is low-key, then it doesn't get quashed ... and it doesn't take too much money out of the game. Sounds like there's some kind of Nash equilibrium to be reached, given a particular level of online poker server collusion vigilance.

But this doesn't alter the fact that at this point in time the fish are biting, and there are more of them every day. There's enough money for all of us to win, bots, colluders, and the merely skilled and experienced players, right now.

(via boingboing)

Posted by abostick at 04:17 PM | Comments (1)

Di Fi Seeks to Block Expanded Casino San Pablo

According to a report in today's San Francisco Chronicle, California Senator Dianne Feinstein has authored a one-sentence bill that would revoke the status of Casino San Pablo as land held in trust for the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians. If the bill becomes law, then it's back to square one: the Lyttons lose their shot at gambling revenues, and CSP remains what it always has been: a barely-if-at-all-profitable cardroom.

I'd rank Feinstein's chances at getting this through the Republican-controlled Congress somewhere between "slim" and "none". She's a Democrat, at least in name, and the state's Republican governor has already stated his opposition to her bill. Also, it's not clear whether her sudden opposition to CSP's expansion is due to actual community concern or if she's throwing a bone to John Tibbetts, Dennis Sammut, and the other local card club owners who have been consistently using what legal and political clout they could muster to prevent the slot machines from showing up at CSP.

Posted by abostick at 01:17 PM | Comments (0)

September 20, 2004

Fiction TV

It might not be in the same league as Dan Rather screwing the pooch over a memo that turned out to be "not real" (although the hoax memo apparently reflects the alleged author's real opinions of the time).

But the folks at ESPN seem to have been playing fast and loose with the play of key hands in their coverage of the World Series of Poker. There were numerous reports that in ESPN's coverage of the 2003 WSOP, the play of certain hands were, ahem, creatively recreated. Now, though, Paul Phillips has caught ESPN in a continuity error that clearly indicates that the hand in question was depicted with edited footage:


1) Hmmm, what do I have again?



2) How did these chips materialize in my right hand? They weren't there a couple frames ago. And if Phil Hellmuth has just re-raised me, why are there no chips in front of him and why does he look so uninvolved?



3) Oh good, I still have JT. I've put over 20K into this pot so far, I have trip jacks, and I have only 40K left. I guess I'll... fold? That doesn't sound like me.



4) Still, I decide to fold. Hey, those chips that had just materialized in my right hand have now disappeared! Ah well, easy come easy go.



5) See you later, trip jacks. I hope the magical teleporting chips return someday.

On 2+2, Paul explains why, even before he found the continuity error, he thought ESPN's producers faked this hand:

* the improbability of the laydown
* the improbability of the laydown FROM THAT PLAYER
* the improbability of the turn re-raise
* the improbability of the turn re-raise FROM THAT PLAYER
* tony's body language when he folded
* the fact that we know they faked other hands
* the fact that we know they faked other hands SOMETIMES EVEN WHEN THE CARDS WERE FLIPPED UP!

You all noticed, didn't you, that the WSOP broadcasts are presented by "ESPN Original Entertainment"? If I learned that (say) Survivor was fixed, I wouldn't think twice; and in fact it's pretty likely that Survivor's producers have their thumbs on the scales. What this WSOP video indicates is that ESPN's producers view television poker on the same level of importance as reality TV.

Posted by abostick at 09:52 PM | Comments (0)

September 10, 2004

WRGPT 14 Registration Open

While my back was turned (I've spent the past week in an assembly hall in Yachats, Oregon, among a crowd of people barking like dogs; what was your first week of classes like?) registration opened for the fourteenth annual World Rec.Gambling Poker Tournament. WRGPT is a no-limit Texas hold'em tournament played entirely for email. Entry is free, and the only prize is bragging rights.

815 players are registered as I write this. I'm expecting that this is the first time in several years that more people started in the Big Dance at the WSOP than will play. Is this the beginning of the end...?

Good luck to everyone. As always, I intend to r00l you at the final table.

Posted by abostick at 02:11 PM | Comments (4)

August 27, 2004

No Mega-Casino in San Pablo, This Year

"This story isn't over yet," commented Debbie Notkin. She was right:

San Pablo casino won't get OK in 2004

Governor gives up after lawmakers oppose compact

John M. Hubbell, Chronicle Sacramento Bureau
Friday, August 27, 2004
Sacramento – A deal to create a huge tribal-owned casino in San Pablo was declared dead for the year late Thursday when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's administration said it would not push for approval in the face of lingering bipartisan opposition. ...
Posted by abostick at 03:41 PM | Comments (0)

August 24, 2004

"As Soon as You Take Their Money, You Owe Them Something"

The story of the advent of casino-style gambling at Casino San Pablo, here in the Bay Area, has been unfolding with no little drama.

California State Senate leader John Burton, the San Francisco Democrat who is titular head of the city's Burton Machine, announced last Friday that Democrats had blocked the original plan to expand CSP to a super-colossal casino with 5,000 slot machines. The Democrats favored a plan where CSP would only expand to a jumbo casino with only 2,500 slots, half as many as was agreed originally between the Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians. On Saturday US Senator Dianne Feinstein (RD-Calif) chimed in, calling the agreement between the Lytton Pomos and the Governator "unconscionable" and "totally unacceptable."

The Lytton Pomos acceded to Burton's demand on Sunday, so quickly that I cannot help but suspect that this was a smoothly directed piece of political theater, that the original plan was intended to be so outlandish that the "compromise" reached, the target actually aimed for, would seem small in comparison. The Governator and representatives of the Lytton Pomos signed the revised agreement on Monday.

But wait ... there's more! Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross, crackerjack investigative journalists for the San Francisco Chronicle, reported in Sunday's edition of the Chronicle that Joe and Gavin Maloof, part of the management team slated to run the expanded CSP for the Lytton Pomos, organized a fundraiser last February that netted more than a million dollars for the Governator's campaign war chest. The Maloof brothers own the Sacramento Kings, as well as the Palms casino resort in Las Vegas.

Matier and Ross point out that during the recall campaign that put him in office, the Governator denounced the role of special-interest money in politics: "As soon as you take their money," they quote him as having said, "you owe them something.'' In that same campaign, the Governator slammed his leading opponent, Cruz Bustamante, for accepting campaign contributions from tribal interests while the state was in negotiation with them over gambling compacts.

A spokesman for the Governator told Matier and Ross on background, "It's our understanding that (Joe) Maloof wasn't engaged in any discussions to manage the casino at the time of the February event, and we never had any indication of his participation until after the agreement was reached.'' How convenient for the Governator.

Posted by abostick at 03:15 PM | Comments (1)

August 18, 2004

The Slot Machine that Devoured San Pablo

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians have reportedly reached an agreement to turn Casino San Pablo into the third-largest casino in the U.S., eclipsed only by the Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods in Connecticut.

According to a story in today's San Francisco Chronicle, up to 5,000 slot machines would be housed in a building, six to eight stories tall, featuring two gaming floors, six restaurants and bars, and entertainments areas. The deal between the Governator and the Lytton Pomos also features a guarantee that no other casino could open within a 35-mile radius of CSP, a region which includes San Francisco, most of the Peninsula, the East Bay, and large chunks of Marin, Sonoma, Napa, and Solano counties. In return, CSP would turn over 25% of its gambling revenues to the state.

The giant casino will be run by the Rumsey Band of Wintun Indians, who operate the casino at Cache Creek, and the Maloof family (who own the Palms casino-resort in Las Vegas, as well as the Sacramento Kings basketball team) will be backing the project financially. The Chronicle story gives no indication of the extent to which poker will be featured in the giant casino.

The giant casino is to be built within the next two years on "a nine-acre sliver of land" that is the site of the current CSP cardroom.

Posted by abostick at 09:04 AM | Comments (0)

August 16, 2004

Hitting the Jackpot

So there I was in the $20-$40 hold'em game at Lucky Chances, stuck about $600 and becoming increasingly amazed at the hands with which the other players were either raising or cold-calling raises. Holding offsuit 76 two seats ahead of the button, with two limpers ahead of me, I semi-fishily limped in. The button trailed in, the small blind folded, and the big blind checked.

The flop came 6-4-4 with two spades on the board, giving me two pair. I didn't fear an overpair (at this table, pocket pairs seemed to be raising hands), but there was a chance someone held a 4. The action was checked to me, and I bet. The player on the button raised, and one of the early limpers called.

The turn card was another 6, giving me the current best possible full house. Early limper checked, I checked, button bet, early limper called. I think that the action is consistent with both of them having fours in their hands, and if someone else has a six, well, the guy with the four is still going along for the ride. I raised. The button dropped out. Early limper reraised me. (!) Okay, it's a split pot, but I still have boss full house. I reraised, going all-in for the amount of a full bet. While the dealer is burning and turning the river card, I turn my own cards over, fully expecting a split pot.

The clown god loves a good schmengie: I was a 902:1 dog on the flop and a 41:1 dog on the turn, but I hung in there! The river card was the case six, for a board of 4-4-6-6-6, giving me four sixes with a seven for a kicker, while the other guy had pocket fours, having flopped quads and being beat by runner-runner. (I'm including the fact that the player on the button had pocket nines in these odds.)

Lucky Chances' jackpot was at $47,000. Loser's share is 50%, winner's share 20%, and the remaining 30% split among the other players in the hand. My share was $9400 (less 25% withheld for tax). I toked $400 to the dealer, Michael Hornholtz.

Mike Caro says that one problem with bad-beat jackpots is that the winners' shares often leave the poker economy. This is certainly true in my case: the lion's share of it is going to pay for my tuition this fall. I think there's something kewl about being able to pay one's tuition from the winnings of a single hand of poker.

Apart from the jackpot, which I'm accounting separately in my poker records, I finished down $380 in that session. Dammit, I hate it when I lose!

Posted by abostick at 06:14 PM | Comments (3)

August 15, 2004

Life Is Too Short to Read rec.gambling.poker

Paul Phillips is wading through the muck of Usenet newsgroup rec.gambling.poker so that you don't have to. Two of the diamonds in the muck he has found are:

you are obviously to stoooopid to have a job

I have noticed that when playing online if I leave my mouse pointer in the same spot after folding/playing a hand, I, quite often, get the same two cards on the next deal.

Once upon a time, back in the day when you could have an intelligent conversation about sex on alt.sex, rec.gambling.poker had a reputation of being one of the better, more congenial newsgroups on any topic on the Net. I started reading it regularly a little past its heyday, in 1997. Nevertheless, it was reading r.g.p. that gave me the foundation of my poker skills and the direction to build them and hone them. There was a core group consisting of a blend of Internet geeks and people who played for a living (and one could watch some of the former transition into the latter). Mathematical theory was developed and promulgated. It was a valuable resource for people of just about any level of experience. Mike Caro was a regular participant, and David Skansky and Mason Malmuth intermittently so. We got to watch the emergence of today's generation of world-class players, people like John Juanda and Dan Negreanu, through their posts.

Alas, the culture of flamewar and trash-talk emerged to dominate the group's discourse. I no longer recommend it as a place for new people to learn about poker and the poker community.

Want to learn how to play poker, and participate in a vigorous community of people like yourself? Go to Two Plus Two. Don't waste your time with r.g.p.

Posted by abostick at 10:37 AM | Comments (3)

August 14, 2004

TV Poker and Table Image

Paul Phillips is thinking about the implications of televised poker:

I was never in the camp that having my hole cards exposed to the world would be detrimental to my results; I was indifferent because television almost never gives you enough context and unless you understand WHY a player does what he does, you are no closer to predicting his future actions.

But now I feel like I'm totally in a position to manipulate people who have seen me play on TV. Since I know exactly what's been on TV I can assemble a model of myself based on that and (with numerous caveats) grant that model to strangers. If you can form an accurate sense of your opponent's model of you and make the correct adjustments, you have a monster advantage.

I think this could work very well against rank-and-file players. I'm not so sure, though, about world-class players who might have played many hours against Paul and have their own mental models of his play, formed independently from any TV broadcasts. (Of course, there are a lot more rank-and-file players than world-class players.)

Posted by abostick at 11:49 PM | Comments (0)

Friday the Thirteenth Fell on a Friday This Month...

... But that didn't stop the action at the Oaks Club. It was only a notch short of crazy last night. Huh? I though gamblers were supposed to be superstitious.

I played in the $6-$12 hold'em game for a while, then they started a must-move $15-$30 game. The 15-30 game was at a stud table, nine-handed, as all the larger hold'em tables in the place were in use.

I was lucky in that I got good cards, and even luckier in getting soft opponents, the kind who cold-call raises, and see any showdown when they've flopped a pair. I could describe some hands to illustrate, but most of the ones I won were boring, and the interesting ones were bad beats, and who wants to read bad beat stories, especially when I was in a good mood and winning and the beats seemed like proof of how good the game was? I walked away having more than doubled the cash I had put into play.

Debbie also played, in the Omaha game. She came away from her game with a philosophical question. What is worse, an Omaha game with a succession of bad and inexperienced dealers, or an Omaha game with a succession of bad and inexperienced dealers and five self-appointed table captains?

Posted by abostick at 10:04 AM | Comments (2)

August 11, 2004

Don't Do This at Home

No-Limit Texas D&D

(via D. Potter)

Posted by abostick at 09:53 AM | Comments (0)

August 01, 2004

No-Limit Hold'em Has Legs

I didn't go to Casino San Pablo for the debut of their baby no-limit hold'em game. Instead, I went to the movies with RJ. Afterwards, Debbie picked me up at the Daly City BART station and we went to Lucky Chances to play poker there.

They had four $100-buyin, $1-$1-$2-blind NLHE games. Moments after we got there and put our names on the lists, they called down a fifth game. And what a game! Four earnest young men were the action players – I had the impression that they worked together at some financial firm or other. At length, there must have been $2,500 on the table (this is a $100 maximum buy-in game with nine players).

Back in April I worried about the long-term viability of this game. For now, at least, it's going strong with no sign of slacking.

Posted by abostick at 09:52 AM | Comments (2)

July 29, 2004

Dick Cheney Plays Poker

If ESPN's coverage of the WSOP were like Fox News, we's see more final tables like this one:

Poker With Dick Cheney

Transcript of The Editors' regular Saturday-night poker game with Dick Cheney, 6/19/04. Start tape at 12:32 AM.

The Editors: We'll take three cards.

Dick Cheney: Give me one.

Sounds of cards being placed down, dealt, retrieved, and rearranged in hand. Non-commital noises, puffing of cigars.

TE: Fifty bucks.

DC: I'm in. Show 'em.

TE: Two pair, sevens and fives.

DC: Not good enough.

TE: What do you have?

DC: Better than that, that's for sure. Pay up.

TE: Can you show us your cards?

DC: Sure. One of them's a six.

TE: You need to show all your cards. That's the way the game is played. ...

Read the rest

(I've seen this going the rounds on email, with attribution trimmed off. Thanks to 14cyclenotes for the link to the original.)

Posted by abostick at 04:42 PM | Comments (0)

July 27, 2004

Yet Another Baby No-Limit Hold'em Game

Peter "Fold'em" Secor announced to the ba-poker mailing list that Casino San Pablo, in San Pablo, California, (on Interstate 80, just north of Richmond, in the Bay Area) will begin spreading a small-buy-in no-limit hold'em game this coming Saturday at 11 AM.

The blind structure is $1 on the button, middle blind of $2, big blind of $3; $5 to go; $3 dropped from every hand. Buy-in is $100; you can rebuy enough chips to bring your stack up to $100, but no more; if after you lose chips you buy less than enough to give you $100, that will be considered a short buy. No drop for (or participation in) the bad-beat jackpot.

There are problems with this structure – Fold'em expressed concern that the game might not last a month. But, as he points out, since CSP doesn't have any game bigger than $8-$16, there aren't any pros playing, and the game might have legs.

Posted by abostick at 12:14 PM | Comments (1)

July 25, 2004

The Price of Fame

Paul Phillips discovers one of the downsides of appearing on TV for World Poker Tour final tables:

I played in the mirage super satellite tonight. At my first table a guy said "You look just like that guy on the world poker tour (beat) the one who called with the bottom end of the straight." Oh the ignominy. "You even have the same mannerisms." I objected to the comparison and told him I play way better than that guy. He seemed content with that.
Posted by abostick at 12:26 AM | Comments (0)

July 12, 2004

Spot the Fake Smile

Avedon Carol points us to a nifty BBC Science & Nature quiz called Spot the Fake Smile. Quiztakers view brief Flash videoclips of people's faces as they smile. The challenge: determine whether the smile is real or fake.

Avedon picked the link up from Vincent Flanders' Web Pages That Suck

One of the best uses of Flash on the Web comes from the BBC and their "Spot the fake smile." You'll never look at a smile the same way again. I gave this little test to my friends and – surprise! surprise! – women scored better at finding the fake smile than men. It would be interesting to see how well professional poker players score on this test. I would hope they get them all correct. My score? 12 out of 20 correct. That's why I don't play poker for money (plus I can't bluff).

I'm not, strictly speaking, a professional poker player. I got only fifteen out of twenty correct ... but I plead a flaky connection. The Flash animations loaded quickly at first, and I did the first twelve perfectly. Then the downloads got real slow, and the Flash worked only intermittently; and I got only three of the remaining eight correct.

I might be a ringer though. The quiz is inspired by the Facial Action Coding System (FACS) of Paul Ekman and Wallace V. Friesen. Malcolm Gladwell had profiled Ekman and FACS a couple of years back in the New Yorker. Gladwell's article made FACS sound like a poker players dream, vindicating Mike Caro, turning the art of reading tells into a science. I researched Ekman and FACS on the Web, and ultimately decided not to shell out the $260 needed to buy the FACS manual and investigators' guide, but not before learning enough to distinguish between an authentic smile with twinkling eyes and the phony grimace of the beauty queen waving to the crowd from the back of a convertible.

Posted by abostick at 10:25 PM | Comments (3)

May 28, 2004

Greg Raymer Wins the Big One

Congratulations to Greg "Fossilman" Raymer, who won the World Championship event at the World Series of Poker this evening, outlasting 2,575 other entrants in a seven-day poker marathon, and winning a record-breaking $5,000,000 prize.

This makes the second world champion whom I have known at least casually before his win. Chris Ferguson used to play on the old IRC poker server; and Greg has been an ongoing contributor to the Usenet newsgroup rec.gambling.poker and to the discussion forums on Two Plus Two. No dark horse, his reputation as a no-limit hold'em tournament player has been developing over the years.

Way to go, Greg!

Posted by abostick at 09:40 PM | Comments (3)

Poker in the Washington Monthly

Doing my daily check of the blogs, looking at Kevin Drum's Political Animal, I saw in the sidebar that the Washington Monthly has a feature article about the poker boom: Jack of Smarts, by Justin Peters.

It's nothing special. Justin Peters, fresh out of college (perhaps a newly-minted J-school grad; his bio says he is "a writer in Washington, D.C.") breathlessly documents the growing popularity of the game:

These days poker – specifically Texas hold 'em, the best version of the venerable game – is enjoying an unexpected renaissance among Americans in general, and twenty-somethings in particular. It is newly ubiquitous on television: The World Series of Poker, a single event which took place last May, is replayed on ESPN with obsessive frequency 10 months after it ended. The World Poker Tour, another set of tournaments located in casinos around the country, got picked up by the Travel Channel last year. In the fall, Bravo introduced its heavily promoted "Celebrity Poker Showdown" program, betting on viewers being riveted by a fifth-street showdown between Timothy Busfield and Coolio. But perhaps anecdotal evidence speaks louder: Three years ago, when I was a sophomore at Cornell University, there wasn't a game to be had. By the time I graduated, I could choose from several different games every night of the week.

It's a familiar story: World Poker Tour blah blah blah online casinos yadda yadda Chris Moneymaker blah blah blah Rounders. ... Poker isn't just gambling, Peters tells us, it's a game of skill. He projects an image of jaded knowingness. At the same time, he boasts of having won $140 in a single game, and writes with amusement about the regular in his game who has lost "several hundred dollars" since he began playing. That's small potatoes, even by the standards of the Oaks' 2-4 stud game where I first made my bones in public cardroom poker.

Peters misses a fundamental point. Poker isn't a show of masculinity, it isn't merely a game of skill; it's a game of predation, of exploitation. The ur-skill of poker isn't tell-reading, or even using knowledge of the odds; it is game selection: finding a game that is weak enough that you can beat it and win the money.

Rounders, the World Poker Tour, and the growth of online casinos have all been very good to poker, by bringing in new generations of players ... who don't yet know how to play. Some of them will learn and become winners; others will lose and give up in frustration; but plenty of them, bless their hearts, will learn just enough to turn their personal losses from a flood to a trickle and spend the rest of their lives keeping the games afloat. I wonder which category will claim Justin Peters? I have a guess.

Posted by abostick at 06:28 AM | Comments (4)

May 12, 2004

WSOP Diary: Day Seven

On Wednesday, I woke up at 7:30 AM, after four and a half hours of sleep. That was just barely enough for me to feel rested enough to play in the $1500 Seven-Card Stud High-Low Split event.

I had two $500 lammers in my pocket from satellites, so I put in just $500 cash to enter. Once again, Debbie bought a quarter of my action.

I got off to a better start than I had in the $2K event the previous Saturday. I was able to get my fare share of chips as time went along, maintaining an average-sized stack until well into the sixth round. The only player I knew at my first table was Max Stern, although the other players had clearly been around the block a few times.

Our table broke in the fifth round. Not long after that I blew off some chips by taking off a card on fourth street and catching just enough to keep me calling to the river, leaving me with about $3K in chips. That's where I stood at the dinner break. Seated to my right was Dutch Boyd, who had made the final table of the $10K main event last year, now playing a very short stack. (He had also sat to my right for a while in the middle stages of Saturday's event, also short stacked, and I had gotten to like him and respect his short-stack play.)

After dinner, the antes and betting limits started getting really big, so I was compelled to shift gears into survival mode – which entails some patience and some gambling. Dutch went out fairly quickly. I survived for another hour, well into the eighth round. Sooner or later, a short stack either doubles up a couple of times into safety or it goes broke. I went broke, when my pair of tens was outrun by Karina Jett's bring-in defense that paired a jack on fourth street. 37th place, out of a field of 213. (Karina put my chips to reasonably good use, making it into the money.)

Once again I walked away feeling good about my performance. I had visions of being able to reach the final table both times; and it's pretty clear to me that I could have reached either one of them, had some breaks broken my way. I belong in that field of players.

After phone calls with Debbie and with Lynn, it was time for me to take a break from poker. Tired though I was, though, I felt it was just too early to go to bed. Instead, I walked straight into the Vegas Zone.

I played some craps for a while at the Four Queens. Unfortunately none of the shooters could make a point to save their lives, and I dropped more cash than I would have liked. I sat at the bar in the Golden Nugget for a while, playing video poker for the free drinks. It certainly wasn't a full-pay machine, but I was lucky enough to spike four deuces playing Deuces Wild, so that made up for my craps loss. I walked up and down Fremont Street. I paid $8.75 each for two beers in The Girls of Glitter Gulch.

At 2:00 AM I took a walk through the Horseshoe, thinking that I should be going to bed. The stud/8 game was going, though, shorthanded. If there's one thing I love more than a stud/8 game, it's a short stud/8 game. I pulled out some money and announced that I was drunk, and that the other guys would eat me alive.

I actually went down $2000 fairly quickly, but I was playing a good game. It got shorter, and I began to get some of my own back. For about forty-five minutes I played head-up with a player named Kim, and scooped enough pots to get almost even.

Then the pot-limit Omaha game broke, and some of the players sat down. Kim and I took shameless advantage of them for a little while, before they began to ask to turn the game into a mixed game, half stud/8, half Omaha/8. I suck at Omaha, but an opportunity is an opportunity.

For a while I blew everything I would win in the stud/8 rounds in the succeeding Omaha. All my good starters got clobbered – my usual story at Omaha. Eventually, I scooped some nice pots, and got $1500 ahead in the game. I picked up at 7:15 AM, and returned to my room to get some sleep.

Posted by abostick at 04:04 PM | Comments (1)

May 05, 2004

WSOP Diary: Day Six

I didn't sleep deeply, but I did sleep, becoming wakeful (with bits of dream images flashing and flirting with my consciousness, as if I were still in REM state) some time before 8:00 AM on Tuesday morning, making for about four and a half hours of sleep. As usual, it wasn't enough, but I wasn't going to get more.

I spent some time writing up my Monday experiences, then packed the PowerBook up and took it with me to the Four Queens coffee shop, where I wrote more as I ate. After breakfast, I went to the Horseshoe satellite area, where I played a $225 NLHE satellite and a $215 stud/8 satellite. I crashed and burned out of both of these.

I was feeling grumpy about busting out, and tired, so I returned to my hotel room to finish writing about Monday. The maid interrupted so see if the room was clear for cleaning. The second time, I packed up again and went downstairs to the coffee bar in the hotel lobby.

Writing took a long time, and I was tired. I had a 7:30 PM phone date with D. Potter scheduled. There wasn't enough time for me to me to go out to play cards, so I spent the remaining time in my room.

I sat for my daily half-hour of meditation. I don't think meditation is any kind of substitute for sleep, but the time spent sitting still with eyes closed and not thinking, or at least not dwelling on anything except my breath, is in fact restful.

I also spent some time on the phone touching base with Debbie and with Lynn.

At 8:15 PM, after my phone calls, I put myself together to go back into battle. I returned to the Horseshoe and sat down in a $2-and-$5-blinds no-limit hold'em game, blew off half my stack with semibluffs that got called and missed, then doubled up again when I had a real hand and the table was now convinced I was a bluffer, and then busted a player with a smaller stack when offsuit K-9 on the button in an unraised pot flopped a full house. When I was called over to the stud/8 game, I was up $170, having bought in for $500.

I played stud/8 for a while, and got up $300, but my mind was on satellites, and the lineup in the stud game wasn't encouraging. I picked up, and sat down in a $525 NLHE satellite. I blew off most of my chips because I was thinking like a cash-game player when an opponent bet big at me on the river and I had a bluff-stopping hand. I did my crowd-counting random number thing, came up with a number that said "call", and called him. The other guy showed me a full house. D'oh! I hung on for rather a while after that, but made the mistake of making a stand against a frequent loose raiser with K8 and getting overcalled by AQ. (My hand would have beat the loose raiser unimproved, who had suited 75, and an 8 did flop. But so did an ace. IGHN.)

I played a $225 NLHE satellite in which I simply didn't get any breaks, and went out early. I played another one, and this time I got cards. Three-handed, I was up against a cute redheaded woman who was dressing to show lots of skin and cleavage, presumably to mess with the heads of players who get distracted by skin and cleavage, and a loose-aggressive player who was a clone of Paul Suliin wearing a Gonzaga University sweatshirt and lots of bling-bling. After a few hands of play, our stacks were within a chip or two of exactly even, so we agreed to a one-chip save, and played for the remaining chip and cash.

Knowledge of head-up all-in equity helps. I was able to run over the other two, taking out first the Paul clone and then the redhead. Two chips plus $80 for me, taking the sting out of satellite play. I was now up in cash games and down just a little bit more in satellites, being down a net of $94 since I woke up.

I was hungry. It was almost 2:00 AM. I went to the Horseshoe coffee shop; it was closed! I went to the Four Queens coffee shop; it was closed, too! At length, I settled on the Plaza's coffee shop.

I was nearly finished with a grilled ham-and-cheese sandwich when Andrew Prock joined me. We spent a while talking stud/8 strategy and analysis, until my eyes began to cross. I said good night, and went upstairs to sleep. I was dismayed to see that the time was 3:05 AM when I got in. I was sleepy enough that I opted not to take melatonin, and I drifted off straight away.

Posted by abostick at 11:16 AM | Comments (5)

May 04, 2004

WSOP Diary: Day Five

Just about at 8:30 AM, I looked at the clock and decided that I wasn't going to get any more sleep soon. I began to write up my experiences of Sunday. I realized that I was hungry, so I put myself together and brought my PowerBook down to the Plaza's coffee shop. I wrote while I ate my breakfast.

I saw a sign by the coffee shop cashier saying that the hotel lobby was a wireless hotspot. I decided to check it out after breakfast. I found that I got good signal, but the service was available if and only if one was willing to pay $8.95 per day of use. That's just not cost-effective compared to paying $0.75 per call to dial out using a 56K modem.

I returned to my room to finish my writeup. I got iTunes going, playing Steely Dan's The Royal Scam, music that is altogether too appropriate for Las Vegas. My hotel room window faces south, and I have an excellent view of the Strip casinos as well as the wider cityscape and the mountains in the distance. With the music playing as I wrote, it seemed that I could see the same cultural high-water mark on the mountainsides that Hunter Thompson claimed to see, looking out from his window in the Mint, now the east side of the Horseshoe, back in 1971.

(Aside to Thompson fans: fond though I am of tradition, and even though I have Surrealistic Pillow loaded into iTunes, I would never consider throwing my PowerBook into the bathtub, or even a grapefruit in its place, while it blared "White Rabbit" at full volume. I left all my adrenochrome at home, too. Melatonin just isn't the same.)

I finished the entry just after noon, so I dialed out to upload it to As I Please. I also brought iChat up, and found both Debbie and D. Potter online. I chatted with both of them while I cleaned up the latest round of comment spam from the blog.

When my online chores were completed, I disconnected, and got on the phone to talk some more to D. When I was done with her, I called Lynn Kendall. After taking care of my relationships, I sat in meditation for half an hour. Only then did I suit up to return to the fray at the Horseshoe. It was 2:30 PM. I might have gotten only five hours of sleep, but I had spent nearly twelve hours taking downtime.

I put my name on the list for the big stud/8 game. The brush was just calling down a no-limit hold'em game with $5 and $10 blinds, and saying that there were seats available. On a whim I decided to play while waiting for the stud/8 game. Only three people were actually seated. When I sat down, the dealer pitched the cards, and we played four-handed. At the table were Jimmy Chu Tran, whom I recognized from years of seeing him at WSOPs, although I had never before played with him, and an East Coast pro named Bobby. The identity of the fourth player didn't register with me. I bought in for $2000, enough to have some play, but the maximum I was willing to lose.

Jimmy Tran had always struck me, away from the table, as being mild-mannered and likeable. We had had a nodding acquaintance going for years. In a poker game, however, he is irritating, aggressive, impulsive, and loud – much the same sort of table image as Men Nguyen's.

We had a big confrontation when, after I raised the pot in early position with suited AQ, he called from the big blind. The flop was a very scary K-Q-10. Jimmy led into the pot with a big bet, and put me to the decision. I had no real read on him. I had no sense of whether his bluster represented a strong-means-weak bluff or a strong-means-strong trap. He's an experienced enough player, though, that he could be double- or triple-faking me, depending on how strong a player he thought I was; and at the table I was a complete unknown to him. He tossed the dealer a $5, saying "Give me two dollars back." This was a move, of course, but was it strong-means-weak or strong-means-strong?

I decided to put him to the test, and raised all-in. Now it was his turn to sweat. I made like a sphinx, and stared mutely at the chips in the middle of the table. Jimmy coffeehoused, presumably to try to elicit a tell. "Ace-Jack" he asked? I attended to my breathing, practicng zazen. Jimmy moved for his cards as if to fold. I attended to my breathing. Jimmy moved for his chips, as if to call. I attended to my breathing. Eventually, he waved a hand, saying "I call." I knew then I was beat.

"I think you got me," I said.

"You want to deal twice," he said, "for insurance?"

"Yes, let's do it." Dealing twice is a way that big-bet players often reduce variance in all-in confrontations, so that a draw gets a second chance (for half a pot) or a made hand can be protected somewhat against a draw's getting there.

The dealer put out a pair of turn and river cards. The second turn card was a queen. I showed my AQ; Jimmy showed offsuit KJ (representing top pair and an open-ended straight draw on the flop). My hand improved on one board, and his was good on the other. Offering to deal twice was a canny move on his part, because his was hand was such a huge favorite over mine. We split the pot, which should count as a bad beat for Jimmy.

In another hand, raised before the flop with pocket jacks, and Jimmy called me. The flop came queen-high. Jimmy checked, and I checked. The turn was a king, and Jimmy checked again. I checked after him. A small card fell on the river. Jimmy bet $150, which was about twice the pot. This time, I wasn't going to raise him. I had a hand good enough to call a bluff, and that's all. The question is, was he bluffing?

"What are you worried about?" Jimmy said. "I have nothing!"

The pot was laying me 3:2; I should be folding three times out of five in that spot. I needed a random-number generator real fast. There were a number of people along the rail, watching the game. I decided to count them, modulo five, and fold if the count was 0, 1, or 2. "What are you doing?" said Jimmy. "Praying?"

"Counting," I replied. There were fourteen spectators on the rail. "I call."

"I told you I had nothing," Jimmy said, and mucked his hand.

The other memorable hand from that game was one where I was just a spectator. Jimmy opened in early position with a raise. Bobby called on the button. The flop was the queen of clubs, the ten of spades and the five of clubs. Jimmy led into the pot, and Bobby called. A small club fell on the turn, making a flush possible. Jimmy checked, and Bobby checked after him. A red king fell on the river.

Jimmy bet the pot on the river. Bobby paused, and then raised all-in. Jimmy went into a huddle, counting his stack. Bobby had enough in his own stack to cover him. If Jimmy lost the hand, he would need to buy more chips. to keep playing.

Jimmy waited and waited. We all waited to see what would happen. "What are you going to do, Jimmy?" Bobby taunted. "It's call or fold, one of the two. Which is it?" Jimmy stalled some more.

"I've had enough of this," Bobby said. "I'm going to go play in the tournament." He stood up. "Dealer, push the pot to my seat when the hand is finished." He walked around the table to the entrance of the poker area, and around the rail into the crowd of spectators. "What are you going to do, Jimmy? I don't have time for this. I want to play in the tournament." It went on like this for several minutes.

At length, Jimmy surrendered his cards. Then, quickly, he reached for Bobby's cards, still on the table in front of Bobby's seat, and turned them over: pocket fives, the hand known as "Presto." Bobby had flopped a set, and had been trapping Jimmy.

Bobby erupted with rage. "What the f--- are you doing, Jimmy?" he said heatedly. "You didn't pay to see those cards! There's no f---ing way I'm going to show my hand if you don't pay to see it. You've got a read on me, and you didn't pay for it!..." And so on, while he walked back to the table.

Two floorpeople came to the table, and some security guards approached discreetly. Jimmy had in fact committed a serious breach of poker etiquette. But the fundamental rule of public cardroom poker is that a player is responsible for protecting his or her own hand; and Bobby was in fact away from his seat when the breach had taken place. "You're never going to do this again, right, Jimmy?" admonished the floorperson.

The immediate edge went from Bobby's anger, but he walked away from the game. Not long after that, I was called to my $50-$100 stud/8 seat. I was happy to take away $13 in profit from the no-limit hold'em game.

I did no real good in the stud/8 game. Soon into it I caught a series of strong starting hands, and I pushed them strongly ... and lost. I went through my $2000 buy-in fairly quickly, and put another thousand on the table. I slowly, painfully clawed my way back up, but only some. I was moved to the main game, which was tight, without much prospect for recouping my losses.

I took a break for dinner in the Horseshoe's buffet with Andrew Prock, who was in the game with me. We discussed our prospects and some fine points of stud/8 play while we ate, and then returned to the game. I stayed for one more dealer push after that, then got up, down $1600. It was about time I took a dive in that game.

On impulse, I drew a seat in a $125 NLHE satellite and sat down. I was fed up for the moment with eight-or-better stud, and figured I had a decent overlay here. It turned out to be one of those tables of weakies that makes satellite play at the WSOP so profitable – people more-or-less completely new to cardroom poker, lured in by tournaments on TV and the dream of big bucks. One of the players was a loud, obnoxious drunk. I let him bluff me out on the flop of a pot I had raised preflop, and bided my time. He didn't last long. None of them did, really.

I played like an implacable poker machine, while at the same time being genial, outgoing, talkative. I ordered a beer to drink while I played, and started to feel the buzz from it towards the end of the satellite.

I wound up head-up with the only other good player at the table. I had never The satellite paid two $500 lammers and $120 cash. With me having a 6:4 chip lead, I offered him a deal where I took the cash and covered the dealer toke. He turned me down. The next hand, I raised him and he called me, then bluffed me out of the pot. "See, I can outplay you."

"Hey, I did offer you an overlay."

"I'm not dead money, you know."

In my big blind I had a big ace, and I reraised his open-raise from the button. He surrendered, and said, "We're in the exact same chip position as when you offered that deal. You want it?" I agreed. I took the cash and a chip, giving me two profitable satellite finishes in a row. I toked the dealer $30.

I was wiped at that point, so I returned to my room to get some rest. I had some hopes of returning to the fray in the middle of the night, when players were tired, some drunk, with their noses open. I went to bed at 9:00 PM, with my phone alarm set for 12:30 AM.

I dozed, getting rest, if not actual sleep. I put myself together and went out once again.

I checked out the Golden Nugget poker room again (no real prospects) and then returned to the Horseshoe. I played in the $1-and-$2-blind NLHE game for a few minutes, then got into the stud/8 game. But it wasn't much better than before. I folded hands for a while, and jumped at the chance when Linda on the satellite side announced that there were seats left in a $525 NLHE satellite. They let you buy into the $525 satellites with lammers, and that's what I did.

No one was actually seated at the table when I drew my seat and paid, but when the game got started I discovered what a mistake I had made. Seven of the nine other players were experienced tournament pros, including Carlos Mortensen, Ron Stanley, and my friend Jimmy Tran.

The play was slow and tight. I got a run of amazing hands – aces three times, kings, AK, AQ, etc., and used them to take substantial pots down preflop and get comfortably ahead for a while. It took an hour of play before we lost our first player, a bracelet-wearer whom I did not recognize. In quick succession he had his aces all-in before the flop against pocket tens with a ten flopping, and AQ all-in against A-10 with a ten falling on the turn. He got up angry, complaining about the "bullshit dealers here."

"I can get really mad about, a beat," I said to the dealer, "but I never think it's the dealer's fault."

"It's got to be someone's fault," the dealer answered as he scrambled the cards for the next shuffle. "Whose fault is it if it isn't the dealer?"

"Why, it's Jimmy's fault, of course!" I pointed across the table to Jimmy Tran.

Jimmy promptly described our AQ-vs-KJ confrontation to the rest of the table, intending, no doubt, to rattle me and get me self-conscious and angry. He made a point of saying that the chips in my stack were his. (I had limp-reraised with aces in an early round, forcing him to lay down Presto.) Between us, we put on a show of trash-talking each other. Meanwhile, I was actually playing in implacable poker machine mode.

Not that this did any good at that table. I had my AK fall to KK, losing a third of my stack, and another quarter of what was left in a mis-timed steal attempt. After that, the blinds were big enough that any hand I would be playing was to be an all-in hand. Eventually I made a stand with a suited king, and got taken out by the player next to me, who reraised with AQ and flopped a queen. "I told you those weren't your chips!" I said to Jimmy. The player who took me out put his hand to shake mind. So did Jimmy across the table. I went around to shake it.

I felt good about my performance in that satellite, except perhaps for my atrocious game selection, so I went for another $525 satellite, using my other lammer. This time I looked at the game before I got into it, and it looked more like the beery fish-fest I would prefer to play in.

It exceeded my wildest expectations. In the second hand, six players (including me, holding 98) saw a flop of 6-5-4. The big blind bet out small, got called in three places (including me, willing to take off a card in hopes of hitting my gutshot and busting someone). Then, the player immediately after me put in a substantial raise, and got called by the player on the button. The big blind reraised all-in, and got called. I instantly folding, knowing that the action signaled that at least two of my four gutshot outs were in other players' hands. The player after me called, and so did the one on the button. The big blind turned out to have 73 for second-nut straight, the player to my left had pocket eights, the button had A7, and the first caller had 32, drawing completely dead. The big blind's hand held up, and three players walked away from the table, without a clue of just how terrible their calls had been.

The winner of that hand was seated close to the rail, and he was talking with his daughter as he played, pointing out the pros and big names as they walked by. "And I don't know Z.Z. Top over there," (pointing at me) "but I see him around every year, he knows what he's doing." I nodded and smiled in acknowledgment.

Again I played like the implacable poker machine that I was, and held my ground while everyone self-destructed around me, and wound up head-up with the man who started out so strongly with his straight. I trapped him into giving me a 3:1 chip lead, and then got him all in holding QJ against my A9. A queen flopped, and we were tied in chips. He offered an even split. Even though I felt I could outplay him, I figured the better part of valor was to take it. I had parlayed my two lammers into five! And counting the lammers as equivalent to cash, I was now
just about even for the day.

Andrew had been watching my finish. We went for a walk. I credited him for some ideas he had given me on Thursday that gave me something to work with to get over my feeling that my no-limit hold'em game was off. I was putting them to work, and they seem to be working.

It was 3:00 AM. Andy went back to play, and I returned to my room. Between one thing and another, I was awake until 5:00 AM, when the melatonin kicked in and I slipped into spacey, REM-y sleep.

Posted by abostick at 06:34 PM | Comments (2)

May 03, 2004

WSOP Diary: Day Four

I checked the time shortly after I woke: 8:45 AM, eight hours after we had gone to bed. I had gotten a full night's sleep!

We got up and dressed, and put our stuff together for checking out. Debbie went out to play cards, while I remained behind in the room. I wrote up my diary entry for Saturday, sat zazen for half an hour, and did a final check of the room. I checked out of the room, then dragged my luggage the block and a half to the Plaza. It was close to noon. Rooms were not available, but I was able to check in at the front desk and leave my bags.

I went to the Four Queens' coffee shop for breakfast. I called Lynn Kendall and talked with her while waiting for my breakfast to be served. After eating, I went to the Horseshoe and caught up with Debbie. The time was 12:45 PM.

A second $50-$100 stud/8 table had just been started, and it had a seat waiting for me. Bonnie Damiano was at the table, wearing a ClassicPoker.com blazer. She was due to be interviewed by a crew from CBS News imminently, about online poker. "I'm going to tell them what's different about Classic Poker," she told us.

"What is different about Classic Poker?" I said.

"It's classier! The software is classier, the graphics look great, and players are going to be well-dressed."

"Does that mean," I asked, "that we won't be able to play online in our underwear?"

She explained that the dress code applied to the site's big live-tournament events.

A few minutes later, Nolan Dalla (working as WSOP media coordinator) came by and announced that the camera crew wanted to film our game, if nobody playing objected. No objections were raised. Not long after that, the crew came by, first for the interview (at the table, with her back to the game) with Bonnie, then to get our play on camera.

Apparently, CBS News is doing a feature story on poker on college campuses, and took advantage of the WSOP media circus to get some high-stakes play on tape for color. The crew shot a few hands of our play – I did nothing but fold on camera – and then the reporter did several of takes of her saying just one line: "College students play poker for fun and small stakes ... but in some games, the pots can get as large as they do ... here in Vegas."

At 3:00, I left my chips at my seat and sought Debbie out. We went to the Plaza and determined that my room was ready.

I was eager to get to the room, because it was my first opportunity to get online and upload my diary entries to As I Please. (For some reason, I couldn't dial up a data connection from the Nevada Hotel.) I was gratified to find your encouraging comments on my Day Zero post, and while there was comment spam to delete, it hadn't gotten out of hand.

I returned to the stud/8 game. The live players had been moved to the main game, and had been replaced by knowledgeable tough players. A third table had been going on for most of the afternoon, and some of the players in it were loose and aggressive. It was not a good situation to be in from a game-selection point of view. My best hope was to wait it out until I could get into the main game, hoping that the live ones were still playing.

Then came one of those hands: I was dealt split aces with a five for a kicker: one of the best starting hands in high-low stud. Andrew Prock, sitting just to my right in seat four, completed, showing a small heart in the door. I reraised, and got called in three places. Fourth street gave small suited connectors to both the player in seat one and to Andrew. I got the only card I could get that wouldn't slow me down: a third ace. I was high, I bet out again, and got called by seat one and by Andrew.

Fifth street brought small cards to everyone, with mine (a seven) being highest. I still had a shot at both halves of the pot, with my low equity more-or-less making up for the loss of high equity due to the dangerous upcards of my opponents. I bet out once again, and once again got two calls.

A queen on sixth street killed my low draw, and both seat one and Andrew caught third suited small cards. My hand was now in significant trouble, but after a moment's reflection I decided I was better off betting than checking – a raise from either spot would tell me what I needed to know, and either or both might still be drawing. I bet, and got two calls.

My river card was a completely useless eight. I checked, seat one checked, and Andrew bet. I made a crying call, and seat one called after me. Andrew showed a heart flush with no low. I showed my losing cards and mucked. Seat one, to my total astonishment, also mucked. What could he have had that would justify an overcall? Two pair?

That was just one of those beats that happen in stud/8. You can't even call it a bad beat, because everyone played correctly as far as I could tell (although I am astonished by seat one's river overcall). The trouble was, it left me stuck about $900, and the character of the game was such that I wasn't likely to recoup it any time soon.

After a few hands, I asked Andrew to take a walk with me, and we discussed the situation of the game. He concurred with me that the game sucked, and that picking up would probably be a good idea. When we got back, we played a few more hands, and he did just that. I decided to put my hopes on the main game, and stayed.

I also decided to shift gears, and play more loosely and aggressively, to try to take advantage of both the tightness of my opponents and the swings of variance. Much to my surprise and delight, it worked. It helped that the player in seat two, who had recently arrived from the second feeder game, was either more live than he seemed or had simply come unglued. In the space of a few hands he spewed off $2000, half of it into my stack. (I had had two small pair on fourth street with low kickers river a full house, and a complete steal with an ace up paired a brick kicker on fourth head-up against a mediocre low hand, making two pair on sixth and holding up against two smaller pair to scoop.) In a very short time, I went from down $900 to up $700.

I shifted gears again back to my normal tight-aggressive game, and bled about $200 in antes and third-street calls. At 5:30, I sought got a buffet comp from the floorman, then sought Debbie out to get together for dinner. I picked up from the game up $500, quite a victory considering how desperate my situation had been an hour before.

Debbie and I ate dinner in the buffet, then returned to my room in the Plaza for about an hour of cuddling and talk, which developed into some constructive relationship processing. I walked Debbie down to the street so she could catch a cab to the airport. She returned home, and I was alone in Las Vegas again.

I was feeling pretty tired, so I didn't return to poker. Instead, I spent some time in the room resting, then went out to Fremont Street.

I spent some time shopping for a new hat – I didn't find one – and stopped in at a new Walgreens, across the street from the Neonopolis mall, to buy some melatonin. (One way or another, I hope to get Las Vegas insomnia beaten into submission.)

Then I did what any good ol' boy would do to unwind after four days of strenuous poker. I walked into The Girls of Glitter Gulch to drink a couple of Coronas, watch nearly-naked women bump and grind on stage, and slip a few dollar bills into their thongs. Admission to the club is "free," but it comes with a two-drink minimum; and my two beers cost $17.50. Some people react to this like it was a scam, but it adds up to a reasonable price to pay for admission into a strip club. I knew the deal when I walked in, and it was fine by me.

After I finished my second Corona, I returned to the street. Now I was faced with a problem: I was tired and two beers to the wind; but the alcohol had also dulled the ache of my fatigue. I had entered the Vegas Zone. What was I to do?

I returned to the Plaza. First I checked out the craps pit, and discovered that the game that had used to have a $2 minimum with 10x odds was now a $5-minimum game with 3x-4x-5x odds. That changes the game from something where the house edge acts as rent for a fun party table to one where the rent is just too steep for the party. (The Four Queens has $5-minimum craps with 10x odds, but I wasn't in the mood to gamble that high.) I found the Plaza's single full-pay Deuces Wild video poker machine. I fed the game a $20 bill and played it out. This would be my first non-poker gambling of the trip. I was feeling a little more sober when I was done, but not ready for sleep. I was still in the Vegas Zone.

I went out again, this time to the Golden Nugget. I spent a while sitting at a table waiting for a $125 satellite to get down. I talked to Sam Angell, an old-time poker player with a bracelet from the early days of the WSOP. Eventually enough people gathered for the satellite to start. To my consternation, Mo, one of the regulars in the Lucky Chances $10-$10-$20 no-limit hold'em game, drew the seat to my immediate left. He was easily the best player at the table, and he had position on me.

Despite the alcohol, I played a good game, a better NLHE game than I had been playing. I made no mistakes, and died well in fourth place. (I was relieved when Mo busted out earlier, but I couldn't get anywhere after that.)

The Nugget was done spreading satellites for the night, so I crossed the street to the Horseshoe. Seats were being drawn for a $125 NLHE satellite, so I got one. Three of us sat twiddling our thumbs waiting for the game to fill. Linda, the night-shift satellite director, was busy running many games at once, and had not time to sell the game. I did my best in her place, without a microphone: "We still have seats in this $125 no-limit hold'em satellite, but they're going fast! Don't be shut out! ..." To my amazement, my pitching hit home, and the table suddenly filled rapidly.

One of the last seats to fill, two spots to my left, went to "Chris," a fairly generic-looking Young Poker Dude with a goatee, Titleist golf cap, and sunglasses. That's how I read him: like hundreds of other guys, probably knowing quite well what he's doing, maybe a bit full of himself, but dangerous anyway. It wasn't until the game was down to six players that I realized from other people's comments that Chris was in fact the reigning world champion, Chris Moneymaker.

I played rather less well in this satellite than the previous one. I made one seriously boneheaded play: I opened the betting with a reasonable-sized raise holding suited ace-queen. The player in seat 10, who showed every sign of being a real player who knew what he was doing, reraised the pot, but not quite enough to put me all-in. After it was folded to me, I said, "Okay, let's dance." and pushed my remaining chips in. Naturally, my opponent had AK, offsuit at least.

I got my dream flop of a queen and two clubs. The king of clubs fell on the turn, and the pot was mine. I doubled up by being stupid.

I made one other bonehead play: when the blinds were 50 and 100, I was still thinking they were 25 and 50. Holding a weak ace I opened for 200, which was actually the minimum raise. I got called in two places, and the flop missed me completely. The big blind bet out and I folded. I said to Chris, "That was the sort of raise where you just click the button without moving the slider.... I was hoping the big blind had clicked on 'auto-fold.'"

Chris chuckled, saying "They don't have that checkbox here. Some of these guys have clicked on 'auto-call.'"

That was the extent of my knowing, with-it conversation with the world champ. It was the only acknowledgment I made that I knew who he was, by making a reference to the PokerStars user interface.

I got aces cracked by going all-in against KQo before the flop. Naturally, two queens flopped, and my stack was crippled. But if you know the odds, it's easier to play a short stack than a big one, because you can just pick your spots to jam and pray. I chose well, and worked myself back up to an average stack. Chris Moneymaker went out in, as I recall, fifth place.

The player in seat one was a bozo. He build an early chip lead by taking AQ all-in against AK and sucking out – what a maroon! He called too much and didn't reraise enough. In effect, I had his number as a particular sort of weak player.

At the 100-200 level, three-handed, he opened the betting for 500. I had pocket aces in the big blind. Against a strong player, I would reraise. Here, however, I thought, is the perfect opportunity to trap with rockets. The flop came Q-7-7. I checked to him, and he moved in. I called, and AA beat AK handily. This put me into the chip lead with about 4500, almost half the chips in play.

The bozo suggested a three-way split. I said I had half the chips and wanted to play, and that was that. Not long afterwards, my pocket pair beat the third player's overcards, and it was head-up, with my having three quarters of the chips.

Bozo and I passed the blinds back and forth for a while. Then I got another pocket pair, sixes, and moved all-in. He called me with 87o, and flopped a pair and turned a second one. Now, with even stacks, he proposed an even split. I took it without hesitation. I thought I could outplay him, but I wasn't convinced of my ability to beat him at shooting dice.

Nonetheless, for $125, I got a $500 tournament lammer and $50 cash (we split the $20 dealer toke between us.)

Linda was setting up to spread another $125 satellite right away at this table. I was feeling wiped, though, and ready at last for bed. I returned to the Plaza, fed another $20 into the full-pay Deuces machine, ran it up to $40, cashed it out (now even for video poker play for the trip), and returned to my room. I took a melatonin pill, and read until I fell asleep, at about 3:15 AM.

Posted by abostick at 12:18 PM | Comments (8)

May 02, 2004

WSOP Diary: Day Three

Friday night – actually Saturday morning – I stayed up until 2:00 AM writing up my experiences of the day, to the point where I couldn't keep my eyes open any longer. I went to bed, and slept until 8:45 AM, more than six hours!

Debbie went out to play cards at the Horseshoe, while I sat in meditation for half an hour, then finished writing Friday up. At that point it was just after 10:00 AM – time to call Andrew Prock to see if he was up for breakfast.

I rendezvoused with Andrew and with Debbie at the coffee shop of the Four Queens. Andrew made his final pitch to me about the $2000 stud/8 event, and I decided on the spot to do it. Debbie took me aside after breakfast and gave me her own pep talk, and bought a quarter of my action.

I was surprised that I could find no one at the top of the escalator by the tournament area with tournament entry lammers to sell. It was with some chagrin that I paid cash for my entry – the past two times I've played WSOP tournaments, it has been with lammers won in satellites, clearly and obviously the fruit of victory.

The only person whose name I recognized at my table when it started was John Hennegan in seat eight. Most of the others, though, clearly knew each other, part of the tournament circuit. The woman who sat in seat one, though, was wearing a bracelet she had won at the World Poker Open in Tunica. Seat three was unoccupied at the start.

The tournament had 225 players, each with a stack of $2000 in tournament chips in front of them. I got off to a slow start, playing tight and not getting anything to play with. The first level was 30-60, with ante of 5 and bring-in of 10. Antes, bring-ins, and hands surrendered on fourth street when I caught bricks all chipped away at my stack. I was surprised at the level of play; most of the other players, even the ones whom I thought were clearly experienced at stud/8, pushed their hands past fourth street after catching bricks. If this table had been a money game, I would have been thrilled.

About halfway into the first round the occupant of the empty seat arrived: Chris Ferguson. "Just the person we wanted to see here," I quipped. Debbie would be happy, I thought. To her taste, Chris is just about the best-looking man in poker.

Eventually I caught a hand that went somewhere and split a pot and took down another pot on fifth street, bringing me to more chips than I had started with. The wind never really took my sails, though. Halfway into the third round, when all the tournament action was halted so that players could watch (and put bets on) the Kentucky Derby, I had only $1900 in my stack.

(The wind never took Chris Ferguson's sails, either. He got some bad breaks, and busted out before the second break.)

As the antes and betting limits increased, as I leaked more chips over time, I had to loosen up and gamble more. Doing so got my stack up to over $3000, but by that time it was the fifth round, the 150-300 level. The bleed brought it down again, and then I took a hand to the river against the woman in seat one. My two pair and busted low draw did not hold up against her flush and low. I was left with a very short stack, with the antes eating proportionately huge chunks of it very fast. I was not hands even good enough to gamble with, though, until I had but one $100 chip more than the $50 ante.

"I wonder what's going to happen this hand?" I said to the table, holding my single chip up. "Something interesting, I think!" Obviously, I was in a situation where I would be playing any hand I was dealt. Lightning struck: I was dealt split aces with a suited five. The player to my right raised the bring-in, I called all-in, another player called, and a third one, short-stacked, reraised, getting a call from the original raiser. The other short-stack went all-in for three bets on fourth street, leaving the other two players head-up for a second side pot.

When the dust settled, the final side pot was scooped by two small pair, the all-in player took the more substantial second pot with a better two pair. My split aces had improved to aces and jacks, so I scooped the main pot, all $850.

My situation had improved from hopeless to desperate. I went all-in for three bets with two small cards with an ace against three other players; I made the best low, and doubled up.

I continued to play the desperate short-stack game, and was astonished at how well it worked. I have a decent-but-not-perfect sense of the all-in equity of stud/8 starting hands, and was able to pick my spots well. I got lucky, too, of course, but I also knew what I was doing. Amazingly, I survived to the dinner break with a stack of about $1800 (going all-in and winning half a pot in the very last hand of the sixth round).

I was really keyed up during dinner, during which I sat with Andrew (who had a more respectable stack of $8200 at that point) and Debbie. We talked about my situation, and Andrew coached me some of the fine points of short-stack play.

I didn't expect to survive the seventh round, but I did. Finally, in the eighth round, my luck ran out, when I committed my stack of $800 (at the $400-$800 level) to a pair of queens that didn't improve, to be beaten in two places by two pair, taking 62nd place out of a field of 225.

I left the tournament area feeling really proud of myself, having been able to nurse a tiny stack through three hour-long rounds of increasing antes and betting limits. I'm sure now that I have an overlay against this field of players. This isn't to say that I'm the best player around; but that I'm good enough, I believe, to have a creditable shot of making money.

I took a break after busting out, spending some time walking around the building and talking with Debbie, and then talking on the phone with Lynn Kendall. Afterwards, I came back to the cash games and got into what now seems to be my standby, the $50-$100 stud/8 game. I didn't get very far at the second must-move table, but in the first must-move table I was able to take significant advantage of some seriously weak players and make some good reads. While I was playing in the cash game, Debbie played in the late-night Second Chance tournament. I checked in with her at the first break, and then was feeling ready to cash out, up $900, when she came to me at my table, having just busted out, shortly after midnight.

The good money news is that even after the $2000 outlay for the tournament, I am cash-even for the trip so far. This bodes well for the rest of the week.

Posted by abostick at 03:23 PM | Comments (1)

WSOP Diary: Day Two

I was awake before 6:00 AM. This is typical for me alone in Las Vegas. The last time I looked at a clock before going to bed, the time was after 1:00 AM. Just short of five hours of sleep: that's pretty good, considering.

I've added a tool to my bag of tricks since the last time I spent a week in Las Vegas. Upon realizing that I wasn't getting back to sleep any time soon, I got up and sat in meditation for half an hour, a home-brewed imitation of zazen. When the half-hour was up, I lay back in bed, hoping to have calmed my mind enough to get some more sleep.

It was restful, but it wasn't sleep. I got up for real at 7:30 AM and called home to touch base with Debbie, to nail down the final details of the plan for us to meet up in the evening. Then I dressed and went out.

I ate breakfast in the Horseshoe coffee shop once again. Afterwards, well after eight, I went to the satellite area.

Today's tournament was to be $1500 no-limit hold'em event. The satellites thus had $175 buy-ins, paying out $1500 in tournament entry lammers and $120 in cash, with the house taking $130 in juice. I was first to bust out of the first one, The second one had a tougher lineup, so I was able to hold out for fifth place.

I came out of the satellites feeling that my no-limit hold'em game was off: not that I was off my best game, but that my best game just wasn't all that good. I went outside and walked around the building while talking about it to Debbie. One way to look at this is that the feeling that my game is off and always has been is that this is a sign that things are about to get better. I hope so. The WSOP, though, isn't the place for improving one's game, but for putting an improved game into play.

I went back to my old standby, the eight-or-better stud game. There was a seat available in the must-move game. But tournament time was approaching, and it was going to be a sell-out. Shortly after I sat down, floorpeople came by to tell us that every poker table in the Horseshoe would be needed for the tournament. I clocked out of that game down a nominal couple of hundred dollars.

There was some talk, spearheaded by Karina Jett, about picking the game up and moving en masse across the street to the Golden Nugget. I made a few cracks to the effect of "No, how about the Plaza.... Say, maybe the El Cortez would treat us right!" (The Plaza's poker room is low-rent, and the El Cortez is the very bottom of the barrel.) At length, the game was broken, along with all the other cash games. The lines at the cage were long.

Andrew Prock had the very clever idea of walking around to the older side of the casino and using the other cage. There was only one person ahead of us in line there, so we beat the crowds.

At the Nugget, there were already a couple of names on an interest list for $50-$100 stud/8. Andrew and I put our names down, and we hung out in the poker area.

The Golden Nugget poker room is actually a tented-over portion of the hotel's swimming pool and sunbathing area, with ventilation for piped-in air conditioning. It is light and spacious, and there is plenty of space between the room's twenty tables. Ten of the tables are low-limit, nine are high-limit, and one, railed off from all the rest, had a $3000-$6000 limit mixed game, where Doyle Brunson, Chip Reese, and others were playing. It's a comfortable environment to play, although the air conditioning only imperfectly overcomes the ambient outside temperature.

The chief drawback of the room is that is newly opened, and that the management had had to hire dealers at a time when everyone who is the slightest bit competent at pitching cards is taken on by the Horseshoe. What the Nugget wound up with was a crew of absolute beginners, most of whom were doing their best, but who were still climbing up the learning curve.

I talked for a while with Peter Secor, who was playing in a 4-8 hold'em game, then sat down in a new 1-5 spread-limit stud game, much to the amusement of the stud/8 players who saw me. "Hey, it's action," I said. I had dropped $13 by playing a bit too aggressively when they called down the stud/8 game.

The typical player of high-limit eight-or-better stud is a grumpy old man, somewhat unkempt, with a sour attitude towards the cards he is dealt and the outcome of the play of the hands. I look at the players of this, my favorite form of poker,and wonder, "Is that who I am going to be in twenty years? Could it be true that that is who I am now?" At any rate, these grumpy old men were hard on the inexperienced dealers. Karina Jett, who is neither grumpy, old, nor a man, took the role of table captain, explaining as cheerfully as she could manage how the dealer should be running the game. Some of the other players were rather less polite. I wound up feeling that I had to make a point of praising the dealers when they got things right and encouraging them (rather than berating them) when they didn't.

To make things worse, the game was a rock garden. There were no soft spots. The best thing that could be said about it is that I could tell that while this particular rock was made of granite, that one over there was sandstone. Andrew sat in the game when it started, but he picked up and left after a while. (Don't get me wrong; Andrew is not a soft player.)

I got stuck a few hundred dollars in the game, and decided to wait it out. In the middle of the afternoon, I got up from my seat to take a walk, to cross the street back to the Horseshoe. Enough tournament tables had broken that now some cash games were being spread, and that included the stud/8 game. I put my name on the list, then chatted for a while with Andrew about Andy Latto's bustout hand in the tournament.

I returned to the Nugget, intending to pick up my chips, and discovered that there were now some actual soft players in the game, so I sat down again and waited for the hands I needed to take some of their money; and as I waited, tough players were replaced, one at a time, with weaker ones. The game got better, and I got ahead.

One of the players got the attention of a floor person. She wrote out a buffet comp for him. I was surprised; I had thought that the Golden Nugget poker room would follow the lead of the Mirage and Bellagio, part of the same chain, both being notoriously stingy with comps. I caught her eye, and got a buffet comp too.

At 5:00 I realized I was hungry. Debbie was not likely to get downtown until 8:00 or later, and that would be too long to wait to eat. I picked up my chips and went to the Golden Nugget's buffet for my free meal. The buffet there is excellent, comparable in quality, if smaller, to the high-end buffets at Strip casinos.

I had the peculiar experience of listening while I ate to the woman at the table behind mine breaking up with her boyfriend on her cell phone. "Do me a favor," I heard her say. "Lose this number. Don't call me again. Have a nice life." I wanted to turn around and say something comforting; and at the same time I guessed that this woman wanted very much to be left alone.

After eating, I went back to the Horseshoe. I put myself on the list for the stud/8 game, but then went with Andrew to the satellite area. After just a minute of keeping us waiting in line, the satellite coordinators put together a stud/8 satellite (tomorrow's tournament is the $2000 stud/8 event).

I started well in the satellite, scooping a couple of pots to give me an early chip lead, which I retained for a while, until a player named Mickey, loose and aggressive, accumulated chips by being aggressive and getting lucky. When there were four players left, including Andrew with a short stack and me with an average one, I had a good high hand cracked by Mickey, who spiked a running pair of bricks when he hung in against my two-pair-plus-a-good-low-draw when he held two smaller pair. This crippled my stack, and I played survival for a while. Then Andrew, holding split queens, put me on a steal when I raised on third street with split aces, and reraised. One more reraise and I was all-in. Once all the cards were dealt, Andrew spiked a second pair, and I got no help. No blame, just the breaks breaking wrong. But it made me furious. I left the building to walk off my mood.

Then, back to the live game. I got into the must-move game and played for a while, dipping slightly down. Debbie arrived, and I left my chips on the table while I got her checked into the hotel.

Back in the game, things didn't go so well. I was moved to the main game, which was tougher, I knew where the soft spots were and was prepared to exploit them. The trouble was the cards were giving me bad breaks ... like the hand where my three aces were cracked by the other guy's two pair that spiked a three-outer on the river to fill up. His starting hand (that he raised with) was (8 8) 10 – a hand that I think of as being basically unplayable in stud/8.

Just after that hand, Andrew, who was also in the game at that point, pulled me aside and took me for another walk, telling me over and over again that the swings in stud/8 can be huge, and that my feeling of tossing a two-headed coin over and over again only to have it come up "tails" every time was not unusual. Also, he told me, aggressive players who play marginal or inferior hands aren't making as big a mistake as one might think, especially if they can read other players well. "It's not you," he kept telling me.

The pep talk did me some good. I returned to the game in a mood, but focused on the cards. The breaks started coming my way again, and I used them to good advantage – I'm proudest of scooping a pot when I called a river bet from an aggressive gambling player with a pair of fours and a busted low straight draw. I built the pot on the early streets when my equity was huge, and made the right move on the end.

The voice of Marci, the top section brush, was getting more and more hoarse as she called into the PA microphone as the evening wore on. I realized that I had some Fisherman's Friend throat lozenges in my belt pouch, so I sought her out and gave them to her, as my good deed for the night.

I had gotten down a thousand dollars at the worst in this game, but my good cards had gotten me even again. Andrew had been putting serious spin on my playing in tomorrow's event. He came in second place in the same event in 2002; I take his recommendation seriously. I haven't decided for certain to play in it, but I'm leaning towards it. And if I were to do it, I would need a good night's sleep.

I picked up not long after midnight, touched base with Debbie (who was playing $10-$20 Omaha/8), and returned to the room, to write up the day's events, and to get some sleep.

Posted by abostick at 03:18 PM | Comments (1)

WSOP Diary: Day One

Travel to Las Vegas was almost completely painless. Debbie drove me to the Oakland airport, getting me there at 7:35 AM for an 8:55 AM flight. The line to check luggage was fairly brief. Although I was in the second boarding group (note to self: from now on, always use Southwest's Internet boarding document feature), I got a good seat, near the front of the plane. Peter "Foldem" Secor was also on the plane.

The flight was uneventful. I had a window seat, on the starboard side of the plane, and I had an excellent view of the changing California landscape from the coast through the Central Valley and the Sierras to the Owens Valley, and on to Nevada. I got a good view of Caltech's Owens Valley Radio Observatory.

Land, get baggage, wait in long line for cab, go downtown to my hotel: the Nevada, on Main Street, a block and a half south of Fremont. It's a low-end hotel, but not the dive I feared it might be.

After checking in at the hotel, I walked to the Horseshoe. Tournament registration is upstairs, outside Benny's Bullpen (the old bingo hall) where it has been for the past few years. There are two new wrinkles: Players need to fill out a release for the television coverage; and instead of getting a slot-club-style card, players get a badge on a lanyard, like a trade show badge. I've seen a number of players wearing these, but there's no real need to do so. I've been carrying mine in a pocket.

Benny's Bullpen is where tournament play is taking place. On the ground floor, the back end of the old Mint side of the 'Shoe is taken up by single-table satellites and low-limit games. The poker room itself is devoted to top-section games. The race and sports book is taken up by tables, also, devoted to $50 two-stage tournaments.

The poker areas are all hopping and happening; the rest of the casino seems placid by comparison.

I had lunch in the coffee shop, then returned to the poker room. They had just started a must-move $50-$100 eight-or-better seven-card stud game – a feeder game into another game that fed into the main game. The second must-move game got short, however. The players wanted to bump up the limit to $75-$150. I decided that this was just a little bit too high for me, and opted to move to the first must-move game instead.

I wound up spending eleven hours in the game, being moved to the main game while I was away getting dinner (again in the coffee shop).

During another break, I walked across the street to check out the Golden Nugget's new poker room. It turns out to be way in the back of the Nugget, past the pool area. It is a sizeable room. I didn't count them, but I estimate between twenty and thirty tables. I saw lots of low-limit games, and a number of top-section games, from $10-$20 to $50-$100 hold'em, as well as a pot-limit hold'em game (I didn't see what the blinds were).

I wound up booking a $1400 win in the stud/8 game. It was a good game, and I think I could have done better than that. I then discovered that walking a block and a half down Main Street at midnight was a lot scarier than it was at noon.

Posted by abostick at 03:14 PM | Comments (0)

April 28, 2004

WSOP Diary: Day Zero

I've got my bankroll in order; the laundry is in the dryer waiting to be taken out, folded, and packed; only a few final details remain.

First thing tomorrow morning, I'm flying to Las Vegas to spend a week participating in the World Series of Poker. This will be the seventh consecutive year that I've gone to the WSOP. Since 2000, it's been a consistently profitable trip.

My WSOP modus operandi is to play single-table satellites and in side games. I am considering playing in the high-low-split seven-card stud events on May 1 and May 5. The buy-ins for these are steep ($2000 and $1500, respectively), and I will likely decide to play in them if I have won enough to comfortably cover the entry fees.

I don't want to make any promises, but I am going to try to post daily updates. I'll be keeping detailed records of my play anyway; it ought to be easy to flesh them out with anecdotes, memorable hands, and local color.

I'm returning home on the evening of Friday, May 7.

Posted by abostick at 03:37 PM | Comments (4)

April 10, 2004

Baby No-Limit Holdem Game at Lucky Chances

Lucky Chances Casino, in Colma, California, is now spreading a small-buyin no-limit Texas hold'em game.

The structure is $1 blind on the dealer button, $1 middle blind and $2 big blind, with action starting at $4 to go. The minimum buy-in is $40 and the maximum is $100. You can only buy more chips if you have less than $100 in front of you, and only enough to bring your stack up to $100. Unlike the larger NLHE games at Lucky Chances, players may not kill, and new players do not need to post to get a hand. There's no rake or jackpot drop; instead there is a $6-per-half-hour time charge, collected when dealers change.

Except for the blind structure, peculiar to Northern California lowball and NLHE games, the game is structured identically to the no-limit games one finds at online poker sites, such as PokerStars or UltimateBet.

Lucky Chances' management is clearly hoping to capitalize on the interest in no-limit hold'em generated by poker games on television such as the World Poker Tour.

I am told that they began to spread the game last Wednesday (April 7). On Friday night, the game was lively and spirited, with a significant list of players waiting to get in. The quality of play was about what you might expect, i.e. terrible – not quite as bad as you'd find in the dime-and-quarter-blind games on PokerStars, but still pretty easy to beat over time. Be prepared to weather some outrageous beats, but on the whole and overall solid play is going to win the money.

I have no clue whether or not the game is going to be sustainable. No-limit poker is notorious for the ease with which the better players can take the poorer players' money. The game might burn out its player base really quickly. On the other hand, if no-limit hold'em on television continues to attract new players into cardrooms, this game might turn out to be sustainable over the long haul.

Grab your rods and reels and your best lures, folks! The fish are biting at Lucky Chances.

Addendum: Tommy Angelo points out that, aside from the blind structure, this game is structured identically to the small NLHE games now being played in Los Angeles cardrooms.

(Updated to add time charge info)

Posted by abostick at 12:35 AM | Comments (0)

March 23, 2004

An Inside Look at the World Poker Tour

Paul Phillips comments on his own appearance on last week's installment of the World Poker Tour, in which Paul won Bellagio's Five Diamond World Poker Classic.

Paul makes the telling point that the story of the TV show, although it has the same ending as the actual tournament, is different from what the participants might have thought it was:

The other misconception that's endemic is that the edited TV show represents real-time action. OK, I know people SAY that they realize that you're only seeing a very, very small percentage of the hands at the final table, but they don't appear to genuinely believe it. The editors choose hands to highlight a "story", either for the show or for a string of hands. The heads-up "story" was that Dewey was moving all-in on me every hand... even though that's not even close to true. ...

I enjoyed the show was good overall, but they left out two hands that I thought were key to the result.

1) The first orbit, Abe made a small opening raise and Gus called in the small blind. Being priced in at 5-1 I called with KJo. The flop came J32 rainbow: Gus checked, I checked, Abe bet, and we both folded. I later found out that Abe had AA that hand. I could easily have lost many more chips.

2) Heads-up, Dewey limped the button and I checked KT in the big blind. It turned out he was limping with AJ hoping I'd make a play for the pot. We ended up checking it down all the way. When I saw his hand at showdown I knew I'd dodged another bullet.

Paul comments with no little venom about the quality of the commentary on his play appearing on rec.gambling.poker or on the Two Plus Two discussion boards:

I read what commentary I could easily find. The most striking feature of the majority of it is how little effort people put into getting the facts right. What is the point of analyzing a poker situation if you're not going to take the trouble to confirm the details? Do people think that little factors like who raised whom, what the cards were, and how many chips everyone had are irrelevant filler?

Relax, Paul. Life is too short to worry about what the yammerheads are saying about you on the Internet. Besides, look on the bright side: some people's big concern about the WPT format is that people get to see how finalists play their cards. Isn't it reassuring to know that many of the people who do so are getting bad reads on you?

Alas, I didn't get to see Paul's moment of triumph. I was in Las Vegas last week, staying at the Mirage, and the Mirage doesn't include the Travel Channel among its video offerings to guests. Not to worry, though, my companion and I were able to find even more fascinating pastimes.

Posted by abostick at 04:30 PM | Comments (0)

February 15, 2004

Valentine's Day

I spent the first part of the morning with Debbie, catching up with her after my having gone for the week before at Esalen. I told her Esalen stories, and also about how things are developing with my new sweetie Lynn, whom I had visited on my drive home the afternoon before.

We went out to breakfast, and then drove in two cars to return the car I had rented for my trip down the coast. From there, I dropped Deb off at the BART station so she could be Girl Editor at a writer's conference in the city.

Genuinely on my own for the first time in a week, I headed to the Oaks Club, and sat down in a brand-new 15-30 hold'em game. (It was old enough, though, that I had to post behind the button to get a hand.) I started out with mediocre luck, having my QQ cracked by AK (I got cute and checkraised the flop when an ace flopped, silly me). But then Lynda Ebner sat down in the box to deal, and my luck turned. The deck ran over me like a Mack truck while she dealt.

I had been chatting with her, asking if she had gotten any valentines. She answered that Wayne, the shift manager, had brought a large box of chocolates and the staff had decimated it in just a few minutes. She dealt me a winning hand: suited AK flopped top pair. Then, in the big blind, I caught the king and queen of spades, with five limpers – in the 15-30 game! – so naturally I raised. The flop came low and rainbow, with one card of my suit, and I figured that overcards plus a backdoor flush draw was enough for checking and calling one bet. The nine of spades fell on the turn, so I was committed to see the river, which obliged me by also being a spade. Dennis Dahlgren paid me off. I said to Lynda, "What sort of chocolates do you like?" "See's," she said without missing a beat.

I kept winning, sometimes outrageously, such as when pocket eights beat 5-3 when the board was 4 5 6 7, as well as more than my fair share of hands like AK, AQ, and AJ that flopped top pair and held up. By the time Lynda's push came along, my stack had grown from $400 to $1200.

At two o'clock, I picked up my chips, now more than $1300 worth, even though one of the local live ones (who had won the Oaks' tournament the previous Wednesday) sat down. Juicy though the prospect was of playing with him, I had more errands to run.

Off to the Berkeley Farmer's Market to get ingredients for dinner: Andouille sausage, garlic, and crimini mushrooms for a spaghetti sauce; some mixed greens for a salad, and a dozen roses as a Valentine's offering for D. Potter. I took a side trip to See's Candy, on Shattuck, to get boxes of chocolate: one each for Debbie and for Lynda Ebner. Hey, an $800 down on Valentine's Day is worth a box of chocolates.

I went back to the Oaks, only to find that Lynda had left early. The dealer captain said that he could make sure she got her box of chocolates. From there I went to D.'s apartment, to deliver the roses. D was not home, so I left the flowers on her bed, next to her iBook, and went home.

I went home, and began the long, slow process of getting caught up with my LiveJournal friends list. The process was all the slower because Lynn showed up on IM and we chatted through the afternoon, until it was time for each of us to start dinner. Somewhere along the line, D. crept in through the front door and up the stairs, leaving a bouquet of flowers on the newell post. I didn't find this out until she told me when I called her later. The sneak.

I fixed, as I said, a spaghetti sauce with Andouille sausage, onions, and mushrooms. Debbie came home shortly after seven, and we ate at about 8:00. afterwards, my lack of sleep from the previous week caught up with me, and I fell over.

All in all, a whole lot of love in the day. And a juicy win at the poker table. A person can't ask for much more than that.

Posted by abostick at 09:35 PM | Comments (2)

January 13, 2004

Harrah's to Buy, Reopen Binion's Horseshoe

It appears that there is hope for Binion's Horseshoe, the casino in downtown Las Vegas that has been the home of the World Series of Poker. Adam Goldman reports via AP that:

Harrah's Entertainment has signed an agreement to buy the financially strapped Binion's Horseshoe hotel-casino, two days after the legendary downtown property shut down and federal agents seized money to pay for unpaid employee benefits, a Harrah's spokesman said Monday.

Harrah's spokesman Gary Thompson declined to say how much the deal was worth, but said his company agreed to assume all the landmark property's liabilities. The deal includes the rights to the lucrative World Series of Poker tournament and the casino's legendary name in Nevada. Thompson couldn't say when the deal would be completed.

The purchase must be approved by the Nevada Gaming Commission.

This is an interesting development. Harrah's Entertainment is in my opinion the single best-positioned operator of gambling casinos in the United States, with solid positions in the gambling centers of Reno, Las Vegas, and Atlantic City, as well as the Mississipi riverboat and Gulf Coast markets. In addition, Harrah's manages a number of Indian casinos.

The Horseshoe would be Harrah's first entry on Fremont Street, a difficult niche in the casino market in which to prosper. But other casinos do prosper there, notably Boyd Gaming properties such as the Fremont, the California, and Main Street Station.

What will Harrah's do with the 'Shoe? I imagine that they will continue to develop and promote the World Series of Poker; but will they try to preserve the casino's dilapidated Old West charm? Or will they try to make it over into a more modern casino?

My own take on other Harrah's properties is that very little sets them apart from other casinos. The Harrah's casino experience is very much a generic one. What I call the Horseshoe's "dilapidated Old West charm" is what sets it apart from other casinos and gambling halls. Without it's cachet as the place "where legends are made and millions are paid" the place would be scarcely a cut above the El Cortez, down the street. But if Harrah's cleans up the dinge and makes the place a copy of its other properties, it could discover that it has cleaned up its identity, its branding power, as well. Why would a gambler choose Harrah's over the Four Queens or the Golden Nugget?

Some poker players, like the one who runs Love and Casino War, are concerned about Harrah's past experience with casino poker, notably the fiasco of the Carnivale of Poker in 2000. I'm not so worried. The World Series of Poker is a strong franchise, and it is managed by a strong team led by Matt Savage. Personally, I'm hoping that this year's WSOP will be the best one yet.

Posted by abostick at 12:33 PM | Comments (0)

January 11, 2004

Binion's Horseshoe Closed

Water always flows downhill. It looks as if it has reached bottom for Binion's Horseshoe, home of the World Series of Poker, grandfather of all poker tournaments. The Las Vegas Sun reports:

Agents shut down gambling at Binion's Horseshoe in Las Vegas

By ADAM GOLDMAN
ASSOCIATED PRESS
LAS VEGAS (AP) - U.S. marshals and agents from the Internal Revenue Service shut down gambling at Binion's Horseshoe hotel-casino Friday, enforcing what authorities said was a federal court judgment for nonpayment of union benefits.

The hotel remained open and guests were being allowed inside the downtown property, known widely as the host of the World Series of Poker.

But roulette wheels stopped, blackjack games ended, slot machines were silenced and gamblers were told to cash in their chips about 7:30 p.m. Agents seized money from casino cashiers and sent at least some employees home.

Gaming Commission suspends license of Horseshoe

By Cy Ryan

SUN CAPITAL BUREAU

CARSON CITY - The state Gaming Commission Saturday signed an emergency order suspending the operation of table games and slot machines at the financially troubled Horseshoe Club in downtown Las Vegas until it posts the required bankroll to pay off winners.

The commission said owner Becky Behnen, daughter of the founder Benny Binion, must continue to pay the taxes and license fees due during the closure of the casino, a landmark in the downtown.

Dennis Neilander, chairman of the state Gaming Control Board, said Behnen has agreed to the condition. He declined to say how much of a bankroll Behnen must put up before the casino is reopened.

Posted by abostick at 06:18 PM | Comments (0)

January 02, 2004

"What Goes On Here ... Goes On Your Record"

From a report in Casino City Times:

Casinos, Airlines Ordered to Give FBI Information

31 December 2003

by Rod Smith

Las Vegas Gaming Wire

LAS VEGAS – Las Vegas hotel operators and airlines serving McCarran International Airport are being required by the FBI to turn over all guest and passenger names and personal information, at least during the holiday period, several sources said Tuesday.

FBI spokesman Todd Palmer confirmed the federal action and said the requirement that the companies surrender customer information is a "normal investigative procedure."

However, Allen Lichtenstein, general counsel for the Nevada Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the program "clearly is not part of a normal investigation.

"What we seem to be witnessing at this point is a move on the part of the government to keep tabs on what everyone is doing all the time, which has serious civil liberties implications," Lichtenstein said.

"It's one thing to have some specific security concerns and a targeted investigation with some basis in fact, but to ... try to follow everyone goes beyond what is called for."

Hotel operators who asked not to be identified said the information being provided to federal officials includes guest and passenger names, addresses and personal identification information, but not casino records or guest gambling information. ...

President Bush signed legislation earlier this month expanding the authority of the bureau and other U.S. authorities conducting counterterrorist intelligence. The law authorizes them to demand records from financial companies including casinos without seeking court approval.

Previously, casino companies generally released such private information only under subpoena. But under the new law, they will be required to release it if national security letters are issued by federal investigators.

The information is being transmitted electronically to the FBI on what could amount to 300,000 visitors to Las Vegas daily.

(via Eschaton and TalkLeft)

Posted by abostick at 09:25 PM | Comments (1)

December 25, 2003

Las Vegas, the Workers' Paradise

An article by Harold Meyerson at The American Prospect details the remarkable history of Local 226 of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union at organizing workers at the hotels and casinos of the city of Las Vegas.

Local 226 is probably the largest – and surely the most remarkable – local union in the United States. While most unions have been shrinking or struggling to hold their own over the past several decades, and while hotel union membership has declined from 16 percent of the hotel workforce in 1983 to 12 percent in 2000, Local 226 has grown by 30,000 members since its low point in 1988. It has done that by organizing virtually every hotel on the Vegas Strip, so that roughly 90 percent of the jobs in the city's major hotels are unionized. Considering that Nevada is a right-to-work state where employees can work in unionized workplaces without joining the union, this is a breathtaking achievement.

Meyerson reviews the union's history: HERE came to Las Vegas when the first generation of Strip casinos were being built in the 1950s, during the time that he delicately describes as "when the Rat Pack was just beginning to appear togeter." People familiar with Vegas history know that this is the heydey of the mob in the city. The union's fortunes declined in the seventies and eighties, when organized crime lost its ascendancy and Vegas gambling was taken over by corporate capital. Eight hotels decertified the union during the eighties.

HERE responded by organizing. "We had to convert from business unionism to rank-and-file unionism," says Local 226 official D. Taylor. (A cynic might view this as changing from a tame mob union into a worker's union with real teeth.) They also responded by cutting a deal with Steve Wynn when he was preparing to open the Mirage, the first of the new breed of modern casino-resorts. In exchange for work-rule concessions and the union's lobbying efforts in Washington, Wynn agreed not to block organizing efforts at Wynn properties. When the Mirage opened, it was a union hotel.

Other casino owners were more reluctant to deal with the union. The union drew a line in the sand at Binion's Horseshoe, downtown. The union struck, setting up picket lines in front of Binion's in January 1989.

SF&F readers may remember this description of Local 226's picket line at Binion's from Tim Powers' novel Last Call:

Strikers from the culinary and bartenders unions were walking back and forth carrying signs in front of the Horseshoe, and one of them, a young woman with very short hair, had a megaphone.

"Baaad luck," the striker was chanting in an eerie, flat voice. "Baad luck at the 'Shoe! Come on oouut, losers!"

God, Dinh thought, Maybe I'd have stage fright, too.

Every Thanksgiving Binion's gave a turkey to each cabdriver, and Dinh, known as Nardie to all the night people of Las Vegas, had always dropped off her downtown fares in front of the place. She wondered if she'd soon have to start unloading them back by the Four Queens.

Business at the Horseshoe fell off. Once upon a time, nobody crossed Benny Binion; but Benny was dying, and maybe Local 226 still had mob juice. At any rate, after a strike that lasted nine and a half months, Benny's son Jack, now managing the 'Shoe, signed with the union. Benny died not long after, on Christmas Day of 1989.

After this, other casinos fell into line, except the Frontier, on the Strip. A six-year strike left the Frontier a ruined business, and in 1998 it was sold. The new owners quickly signed with Local 226.

Meyerson highlights the union-run training programs – funded by the casino-resorts – that open job prospects for union members in the lowest-tier jobs, such as housekeeping. With union encouragement, a worker can start in an essentially unskilled job and climb up a ladder of skills. From what Meyerson describes, this is one part of the world of casinos where everybody wins: the workers improve their skillsets, and earn more even at the lowest skill levels; the casino-resorts gets a pool of service-industry labor better trained to meet their hiring needs as they continue to expand; and the union continues to keep its place at the banquet table. Hotel workers in Las Vegas earn 40% more than their counterparts in Reno. Las Vegas dishwashers earn $4 per hour more than the national average 0f $7.45/hr.

This is because the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union fought to keep its place at the table when Las Vegas reinvented itself. At the same time, though, Las Vegas's growth made it possible. Las Vegas has continued to prosper even after 9-11, even after the dotcom bust and the NASDAQ crash. Those who look to Las Vegas to learn how the labor movement can revitalize itself need to keep this in mind.

(via Calpundit)

Posted by abostick at 02:16 PM | Comments (2)

December 13, 2003

Roshambo and Luck

Greg Costikyan has posted to his blog an essay on Roshambo (Rock Paper Scissors), as part of his current theme of seeing what familiar games have to teach contemorary game designers.

Surprisingly, Greg reaches a wrong conclusion:

Rock, Paper, Scissors is surely one of the earliest games each of us learns to play. It can be played in essentially two ways. The first way is by selecting your move entirely at random, making no effort to predict what your opponent will choose. In this case, you will win a third of the time, lose a third of the time, and draw a third of the time.

The second way to play is, if you will "in earnest:" that is, by trying to guess what move your opponent will make next, and selecting your own move in response. This can work, if your opponent is also playing in earnest, and you are smarter than he. In that case, you will win more frequently than with the random strategy.

However, if one player does indeed win more often than random selection would allow, the other player has a strong incentive to adopt a random strategy, since his win ratio will rise from less than one-third to one-third. And if either player (or both) selects a random strategy, the outcome will be random.

Thus, Rock, Paper, Scissors is what I call a degenerate game; it ultimately degenerates into a game with random outcomes, losing any element of strategy—and becomes dull.

What Greg identifies as degeneracy in Roshambo exists in idealized, theoretical Roshambo, but not in the real-world game played by real players.

People are predictable. People can be psyched. People are no damn good at all at being random without artificial aids like coins or dice.

Suppose you, a human being, are playing long sequence of Roshambo throws against a savvy human opponent. Early on, you discover that your opponent seems to be wiping the floor with you, so you defend by trying to be as random as you possibly can. (Perhaps for a bar bet once you've memorized the decimal expansion of pi to many, many places, and decide to throw in accordance with that sequence of digits, modulo 3.)

Your opponent might still mop the floor with you! The game of competitive Roshambo is, among other things, a game of tells. You might be choosing your next throw completely randomly, but giving it away by your stance, the how you hold your hand, the motion of your arm, and so on.

The next level of the game comes when both players are aware of the real-world dimension of Roshambo. They each strive to eliminate tells ... or cultivating them with the intention of using them to mislead.

This is the level of Roshambo at which Perry Friedman is said to play:

Roshambo tournaments are rife with verbal sparring, psychological one-upmanship and manipulating opponents into tells. Former [poker] World Champion Phil Hellmuth, Jr. is generally right at home in such an environment, but met his match in one quarterfinal against Tiltboy Perry Friedman.

Hellmuth strode forth confidently to center ring, his 6-foot-6 inches towering a good foot above Friedman. He assumed his usual table demeanor, threatening to "look into Perry's soul" as he often does with his poker tournament opponents. After a few early ties when both players threw rock, Friedman switched to scissors to beat Hellmuth's paper. Friedman disdainfully exclaimed "rock, rock, paper?!" in a manner that clearly suggested it was an amateurish maneuver. For the remainder of the match, Friedman would outtalk and out-throw Hellmuth, until, leading 9-6, he proclaimed (in his best Scotty Nguyen impersonation): "If you go rock, it all ova baby!" Hellmuth couldn't resist the challenge, threw a rock and lost to Friedman's paper, sending the smirking Friedman to the semifinals. Perry smiled and confessed to the audience that he actually had no soul.

(From "The 2001 World Roshambo Championship")

Could Phil Hellmuth have defended against Perry Friedman's onslaught by randomizing his throws? Perhaps. But he did commit one of the classic blunders. (Classic blunders: Never get involved in a land war in Asia. Never go up against a Sicilian when death is on the line. And never, ever take a Tiltboy on in a Roshambo match – or let him organize your PowerPoint presentation [but that's another story].)

Posted by abostick at 05:52 PM | Comments (1)

December 03, 2003

Calling Patti Beadles...

In today's Morning Fix, Mark Morford declares a need to start a home poker game:

I want to gather a cluster of a few friends every week and have them bring buckets of spare change and whip up some exceptional food and enjoy much laughter and discussion and raunchy jokes and music and expensive scotch, and stay up too late until the last hand is played out and the last drop of whiskey is enjoyed and everyone goes home buzzed and askew and tired.

Mark seems to think that poker is some kind of Guy Thing, and that it's really about drinking booze and talking sex, with the cards being a kind of ritualistic glue.

Poker night. Once a week, lasting any number of hours, booze and cards and munchies and a handful of close friends, maybe a couple rotating slots for newbies. It would be beautiful and good and as I am in deep appreciative love with the female species I would happily welcome a woman to the table. Or three.

But then again, maybe not. Not that no fine callipygian card goddesses exist who could drink adeptly and bluff skillfully and appreciate the upscale whiskey-tasting experiments and more than hold her own when discussing hardcore sex and politics and religion and the cornering ability of fine European automobiles.

Does this sound like anyone we know?

Posted by abostick at 12:54 PM | Comments (0)

November 19, 2003

Bust Steve Landrum? In Your Dreams ... !

[Debbie and I had Sabyl Cohen and Steve Landrum over for dinner last night, which probably explains why he turned up in my dreams.]

11-19-2003

I'm playing in a poker tournament, a seven-card stud tournament. It's been a while since I've played a hand, and my stack is dwindling from the drain of the increasing antes and bring-ins.

I am the bring-in with the diamond deuce showing and an unsuited ace and trey as my hole cards. Across the table, Steve Landrum, with another deuce as his doorcard, completes the bet. I decide my ace makes this a worthwhile hand to play, and call.

We both get deuces on fourth street. Steve is first to act, and he bets. I call all-in. We turn our cards face up: Steve has ace-deuce-four-five, and I've got ace-deuce-three-five. [In case you're wondering what happened to the pairs of deuces, things like this happen all the time in dream poker.]

We're both all-in, there's no more action. The dealer deals the cards. I pair up on fifth street; Steve pairs his ace on sixth, but I make two pair. On seventh street, Steve catches the last ace to make trip aces. Luckily for me, I catch a four to river a straight. I have busted Steve out of the tournament, pretty much by getting lucky. Steve shakes my hand.

The tournament director hands me a wad of money: apparently there was some kind of bounty on Steve. I riffle it, and put it in my pocket. Then I think: wait a minute: he had three aces, and we both had pairs of deuces on fourth street. If Steve had three aces, then he made a full house, and my wheel was no good. But I'm still in the tournament and Steve's out. [Things like this happen all the time in dream poker.]

Posted by abostick at 08:57 AM | Comments (0)

November 14, 2003

Lucky Chances' Gold Rush is More Like a Casual Stroll

The news is full of stories about how poker tournaments are growing in popularity by leaps and bounds, fueled by television coverage like that of the World Poker Tour. (Thanks to Love and Casino War, here is yet another such article, appearing in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.)

But you wouldn't have known it last night at Lucky Chances Casino, in Colma, California. This week is the week of Lucky Chances' annual Gold Rush tournament series, and the place has about as much buzz as a hive of tortoises.

Last year's Gold Rush was a stop on the World Poker Tour, and the big boys came to town. Local fixture Rick Chin partnered with Tom McEvoy in the partners tournament, to onlookers' amazement. In last year's stud tournament Debbie played at the same table as Phil Hellmuth and Diego Cordovez. I went up against Men Nguyen in a no-limit hold'em game (we wound up splitting the pot in our big confrontation) and railbirded a final table with Dan Negreanu.

But Lucky Chances' star tournament director Matt Savage moved on to Bay 101 in San Jose. By some coincidence, Bay 101's Shooting Stars tournament next April is a WPT event, and Lucky Chances is no longer on the tour. (The World Poker Finals at Foxwoods, in Connecticut, is this weekend's WPT event.)

Debbie and I both played in last night's seven-card stud event. The club was filled with familiar local faces, including a contingent of regulars from the Oaks Club (the best stud players in the Bay Area, not that this is saying all that much). The event was about as heavily subscribed as when the Oaks' monthly Saturday tournament is seven-card stud, with pretty much the same players. And away from the tournament, the club had about as much energy as it usually does on a Thursday night. (The big excitement of the night was their getting a 40-80 hold'em game down.)

I busted out of the tournament shortly after the first break, and proceeded to win my buy-in back in the 20-40 hold'em game. Debbie busted out rather later than I did, and we decided to head for home. Before leaving, I bought Peggy Stein's entry into tonight's tournament, the Hold'em Shootout.

Casino San Pablo, having the installation of slot machines being iminent, has ended its excellent tournament series. Lucky Chances feels like it has lost momentum since losing Matt Savage. Bay 101 in San Jose is a long schlep from Oakland. Poker tournaments may be growing overall, but here in the Bay Area they seem to be shrinking. I'm disappointed.

Posted by abostick at 10:24 AM | Comments (0)

November 04, 2003

Torture Nolan

"Torture Nolan?" you ask. "Nolan Dalla? Who would want to torture Nolan Dalla? What's he ever done to you?"

Here's the thing: I just checked in on the front page of Card Player. They now have a "Daily Poll" feature going.

This poll, Television's Impact on Poker, is comprised of several questions, so visit daily to answer all questions. Results will be published in an upcoming Card Player magazine "Table Talk" column by Nolan Dalla. Here is todays question:

Should television networks establish dress codes for players (who appear at final tables)?

Online polls are st00pid. Nobody knows this better than Atrios, who has been siccing his readers on CNN's online polls to get the goat of Lou Dobbs (and before him, Wolf Blitzer). Remember, says Atrios, the point isn't to say what you think, the point is to make him unhappy.

(Dress codes?? You mean, so that Spencer Sun wouldn't be allowed to wear Patti Beadles' hat at the final table of the Tournament of Champions?)

Go!

Posted by abostick at 09:07 PM | Comments (0)

October 28, 2003

SF Chronicle Poker Feature Underscores Vice

Yesterday's Chronicle contained a feature article on the rapid growth of poker, both in Bay Area cardrooms and on the Internet, fueled by television programming such as the World Poker Tour and ESPN's WSOP coverage. The article profiles local player Tony Esfandiari.

On his way to work, slim, slick-haired and goateed Antonio Esfandiari, a young San Franciscan wearing sweats and sandals, carries a large red ice chest stuffed with a bounty – poached wild salmon, stuffed chicken, pasta, spicy tuna rolls, French bread, pears and raspberries, an energy bar and carrot juice.

"I'm going to work a lot today," he explains, as if blowing $50 at Whole Foods is an everyday thing to do.

With that, he steps into a small booth, asks for his safety deposit box, casually removes six chips worth $1,000 each, and moves toward his workstation:

the high-stakes Texas Hold'em game at Lucky Chances in Colma. Here, on Wednesdays and Fridays from 11 a.m. to whenever, the minimum buy-in is a cool grand, and should you feel good about drawing Big Slick, you can bet everything you've got. So what's $50 to avoid a casino steak?

Esfandiari, often, at 24, the youngest player in the room, has decided to be a professional poker player. He is careful to say, however, that he does not consider himself a gambler, describing games that require less skill as "the dark side," inhabited by "the sick f–." Esfandiari says he simply senses opportunity – to make money off a Vegas lifestyle many young men covet.

A companion article profiles former world champion and Palo Alto resident Phil Hellmuth, Jr.

Journalist Demian Bulwa's coverage is not starry-eyed wonder at the glamorous life of a poker pro. While his article is pretty much factually correct, the language he uses is loaded with value judgments – and it is clear that poker is not one of his values.

Bay area cardrooms are "seducing new players." Bulwa hints that poker might have been a factor in Ben Affleck's breakup with Jennifer Lopez. Poker tournaments "bring a bit of heroin to a lottery-loving world." Poker is "an addictive game." He even quotes a New Jersey anti-gambling activist who says "They don't build casinos so you can take the money home, and they don't put up these Internet sites so you can go on and win the money."

Reading this article, you might think that poker is the new crack, with the vast profits taken from helpess addicts going not to Colombian coca barons but to maintainers of Costa Rican server farms.

I'm no polyanna about the social and psychological consequences of compulsive gambling. These problems are real, and people get badly hurt – both gamblers and their families.

Bulwa's article, though, reads as if he went into it with an attitude, like he intended to do a hatchet job. It is about as appropriate to emphasize the risks of gambling in a feature on poker's growth as it would be to emphasize the dangers of alcoholism in a feature on the growing popularity of microbreweries.

In the long run, poker players with more skills are going to win money from those with less skills. Luck is a factor, and a big one in the short term – and a good thing, too, because unless the weaker players get lucky now and then, they have no incentive to keep playing. With more and more people coming to the game of poker, more and more of them are going to lose money. And some of them will develop into problem gamblers. It's the nature of the game. Poker is a living illustration of Gore Vidal's dictum, "It's not enough to succeed; others must fail."

But just as there will be losers, there will also be winners. So far, over the six years that I've been playing cardroom poker, I've been one of the winners.

Posted by abostick at 10:05 AM | Comments (2)

October 23, 2003

Quizkids' WRGPT Info Pages Up and Running

If you want to keep up with the fast poker action in the 13th World Rec.Gambling Poker Tournament (see below), point your browser to the Quizkids WRGPT13 Info Pages. See who is still in the running, who has busted out, and who busted them.

For example, here is the bustout hand of former Tournament of Champions winner Spencer Sun, the first player to be eliminated. Very shortly later, our own true Patti Beadles was sent to the rail when her ace and king of clubs ran into an unbeatable power hand: Kh7h. Guess you weren't expecting your table to be moving that fast, were you, Patti?

Meanwhile, as of this writing Debbie and I are both part of a 157-way-tie for 327th place, both of us having folded everything we've been dealt so far. Deb's brother, David Notkin, is in 44th place with a stack of $17,025. 1,110 players remain, out of a starting field of 1,150.

Posted by abostick at 03:21 PM | Comments (1)

October 21, 2003

Poker 2.0

Our own true Paul Phillips is the subject of the lead graf of Business 2.0's article on the "computer jocks and math whizzes" who comprise the new breed of poker players:

Don't rush, Paul Phillips tells himself. Even when you're burning up under the television lights, $1.5 million in poker chips is at stake, and you're facing one of the most feared players in the world – an old Texas road gambler named T.J. Cloutier, who has just opened the betting with $60,000.

Unfortunately, the first three grafs are all you get, unless you happen to be a Business 2.0 subscriber – and who wants to pay money to read fatuous New Economy cheerleading? Your other alternative is to go to a newsstand and buy a copy of the November 2003 issue. (That's so twentieth-century. But then, so is fatuous New Economy cheerleading....)

Posted by abostick at 12:15 AM | Comments (1)

October 14, 2003

WRGPT13 Has Begun!

The first hand has been dealt out to 1,141 players in the Thirteenth World Rec.Gambling Poker Tournament (see below).

Posted by abostick at 07:59 AM | Comments (0)

September 16, 2003

WRGPT13 Registration Open

The Thirteenth Annual World Rec.Gambling Poker Tournament is now open for registration.

WRGPT is a no-limit Texas hold'em tournament, structured similarly to the championship event at the World Series of Poker, played entirely through email. Players put no money up, and there is no prize for the winner — except for bragging rights. You don't even get to watch the final table on the Travel Channel.

It has come a long way since 1991, when Will Hyde dealt out hands and boards by hand, and sent them to a field of 30 players. Last year's tournament started with 1,086 players and lasted 281 days. When I registered this morning, there were 444 other players signed up. (The registration announcement email was sent out 10:38PM PDT last night.)

Good luck to all participants. I expect to see you — and r00l you mercilessly — at the final table.

Posted by abostick at 08:47 AM | Comments (1)

September 11, 2003

From Harlan Ellison to Phil Hellmuth

Acquired Situational Narcissism

We all know that movie stars, professional athletes, rich people and politicians often act like complete jackasses, but Robert B. Millman, professor of psychiatry at Cornell Medical School and the medical adviser to Major League Baseball, thinks he knows why. The cause, he says, is acquired situational narcissism, a psychological dysfunction that Millman was the first to identify and that he treats in his celebrity patients.

(via Bill Gibson)

Posted by abostick at 11:30 AM | Comments (0)

August 27, 2003

Boubli's Big Laydown

There's a discussion on Mason Kong's LiveJournal about a hand played last month at the Grand Prix de Paris, the first event of the second World Poker Tour, being held at the Aviation Club de France.

Mike Sexton's column in Card Player describes the play of the hand, a confrontation between Howard Lederer and Jan Boubli. Boubli had pocket kings; and (so he tells us) Lederer had aces. Read Sexton's column to find out what happened.

Then go to Mason Kong's LiveJournal to read the discussion.

Posted by abostick at 07:15 PM | Comments (3)

August 25, 2003

Poker on CNBC

So I dropped into the Oaks Club this afternoon, and got a seat in the must-move $15-$30 hold'em game. Sweet game; I booked a tidy win — but that's not what I'm writing about.

One of the TV monitors in the cardroom was tuned to CNBC, with the financial reporting, the stock ticker crawl across the bottom of the screen, the whole nine yards.*

I looked up from the game to the monitor at one point, and noticed that it was showing another poker game, in a public cardroom. Had the channel been changed to ESPN2, with its coverage of the World Series of Poker? No; it was still CNBC, with the stock ticker crawl across the bottom. And the chips the players were using looked familiar ... they were the $1 chips at Bay 101, in San Jose. The words "Prop Player" showed on the screen briefly.

Why in heaven's name would CNBC spend airtime on a $3-$6 hold'em game at Bay 101?

I glanced up every now and then. Some of the time the screen showed the play of the game, and sometimes it showed two people talking in a lounge setting: a dark-haired younger woman whose ethnicity didn't register with me, and a slender white man, looking fiftyish in age.

The segment finished with the woman at a desk in the CNBC studio. A logo above the ticker crawl showed the words "You get PAID to do THAT?" I infer that it's a regular feature about peculiar jobs, and that the peculiar job in question was prop player at Bay 101.

I didn't recognize the guy. Anyone know him?

(*) Once upon a time I took offense at the idea that investing in the stock market was a form of gambling. Then I took up cardroom poker, and discovered quite how many gamblers cared about the financial markets in the same way they cared about sports. On a weekday in an American poker room, you'll always find a TV monitor showing CNBC

I rather think that the Las Vegas casino-resorts that make branded partnerships (such as California Pizza Kitchen at the Mirage, or Krispy Kreme doughnuts at the Excalibur) are missing a bet: there should be a branch offics of a brokerage in the casino — Schwab, say, or eTrade — right next to the poker room and the sports book.

Addendum: Patrick Milligan informs me that the segment featured Michelle Caruso-Cabrera interviewing Chuck Thompson. It was first broadcast on CNBC's Power Lunch yesterday and evidently rebroadcast after markets closed.

Posted by abostick at 10:51 PM | Comments (2)

July 25, 2003

Who's Got the Button...?

If you haven't played poker in a public cardroom, you probably have never seen a dealer button. But you've heard of it many times: another word used for it is buck. "Passing the buck" literally means letting the dealer button pass you by, so that the next player, not you, has the responsibility of dealing the cards — and the advantage of acting last.

President Harry S. Truman, well known for his love of poker, surely knew this when he put the famous sign on is desk, the one that read, "The buck stops here." There was no one else to whom he could pass the buck. He had the final responsibility. The sign also served as a warning to those knowledgeable enough to read it: "The buck stops here" also means "I'll always have position on you." As Doyle Brunson put it, In No-Limit Hold'em, position is ... well, it's the name of the game. It's everything. If I had position all night, I could beat the game ... and I'd never have to look at my hole-cards. (Super/System, p. 334) Tor Books editor Beth Meacham, talking about Tor's publisher, Tom Doherty, puts it another way: "Tom bats last."

There's been a lot of questioning of "where the buck stops" in the Bush White House in the dustup over the Niger yellowcake. The reporter questioning Scott McClellan a week ago asked that very question, and that was when CIA director George Tenet was the Designated Fall Guy, i.e. the player on the button. But then a new hand must have been dealt, because The button has been passed to Deputy National Security Advisor Joseph Hadley. If the Truman Administration's motto was "The buck stops here," that of the Bush White House seems to be "Button move!"

Anyone who can read English can take backbearings from both Tenet's and Hadley's statements of culpability; and those backbearings point straight at Hadley's immediate supervisor, Condoleeza Rice.

To continue with the poker metaphor, Rice is obviously sitting in the small blind right now, and the buck will inevitably be passed to her in the next hand. In the big blind is Vice President Dick Cheney (whom Josh Marshall, at least, thinks is the person genuinely responsible for the State-of-the-Union gaffe). President Bush is obviously under the gun, which perhaps explains why he's lobbying right now, with that little stack of "Missed Blind" lammers in front of his chips. Meanwhile, George Tenet, now in the cutoff seat, is giving off a huge tell that he's going to be moving all-in soon, and it wouldn't be wise for any of the White House players to call that bet.

Bless the nominee,
And give him our regards,
And watch while he learns
That in poker and politics,
Brother you gotta have
That slippery haphazardous commodity
You gotta have the cards!

—"Politics and Poker", music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick; from Fiorello! by Jerome Weidman and George Abbott

Posted by abostick at 12:51 PM | Comments (1)

July 09, 2003

The New Card Shark

An article in the Technology section of today's New York Times covers the rise of poker players like Chris Moneymaker, schooled in online poker sites:

While the Las Vegas hype machine focused on the rags-to-riches tale of a man who parlayed a $40 entrance fee into a huge pot, many poker players recognized that the amateur's success signaled the arrival of a new age in the game. Mr. Moneymaker may never have been in the same room as other players in a tournament of Texas Hold'em poker, but he had played extensively online, where the game is faster but the money is just as real. He was as much a rookie as Ichiro Suzuki, who joined the Seattle Mariners after nine years in the Japanese major leagues.

The article also features a way cool picture of Darse Billings, one of the creators of Loki, the University of Alberta's poker-playing bot.

Posted by abostick at 06:15 PM | Comments (0)

July 08, 2003

Back From Chelan

We had a lovely time on Lake Chelan, with Debbie's brother, David Notkin; David's wife, Cathy Tuttle; their children, Emma and Akiva; and David and Debbie's mother, Isabell Notkin. We stayed at Kelly's Resort, with the family divided between two cabins in the woods.

I brought some sourdough starter along, and was able to bake three loaves of bread in the kitchen of our cabin. It turned out reasonably well, considering that I had none of my baking paraphernalia with me (no baking stone, no spray bottle, no parchment paper, no dough knife). Everyone else thought the bread was marvelous; I know what it could be, though, and judged it merely good enough for the circumstances.

I also brought chips along, because David's a serious poker player, but we never did get a game going. Instead, we played a lot of Dictionary, and David took on Debbie at Anagrams.

Emma taught us to play a wonderful bluffing card game called B.S. All the cards are dealt to all the players. Each player discards face down between one and four cards, supposedly of a given rank — first player discards aces, second player deuces, and so on. After a player discards kings, the next player discards aces. If you don't have anything in your hand of that rank, then you lie! If you think the person who has discarded has lied, you challenge by saying "B.S.!" The discarded cards are revealed: if the discarder has lied, then she must take the muck into her hand; but if she was truthful then the challenger must take the muck. Once the next player discards, it's too late to challenge. The winner is the first player to discard (unchallenged) her last card(s). Play can continue until two players remain, at which point the player holding the most cards is the biggest loser.

It's a deceptively simple game; children can play it straightforwardly, but it engaged my poker brain thoroughly, as card sense and player-reading makes it quite interesting.

I came away from the game thinking that I'd love to watch a matchup among people like Men Nguyen, Dan Negreanu, Layne Flack, and Phil Hellmuth. Or even among the usual suspects like Bill Chen, Patti Beadles, JP Massar, or Spencer Sun. There's going to be card playing at Peter "Fold'em" Secor's party this Saturday; I'm going to see if I can drum up interest in a game of B.S. It should be easy enough to play it for money stakes — perhaps as a reverse freezeout (four players put up $25 [or $2.50, or whatever] each. First player out gets $50, second $30, and third $20; or maybe $60, $30, and $10).

The highlight of the week for me was when I took the ferry on Wednesday to Stehekin, at the far end of the lake, and stayed there for two days at the Stehekin Valley Ranch. Deb joined me on Thursday. The Stehekin Valley is isolated, accessible only by boat or plane (or by hiking in over the mountain passes), with no telephones or electrical power. You go there to be isolated, surrounded by the Cascade mountain range. The buildings of the ranch were maybe fifty yards from the foot of a mountain maybe a mile and a half high, whose rocky and icy peak was only something like three or four miles away in a straight line. The mountain peak on the other side of the river was almost as close. The view from the porch of the dining hall, up the valley, included McGregor Peak and the glacier on that mountain's uppermost slopes. If you love mountain vistas, this is a great place to see them.

Wednesday afternoon, after getting settled in my cabin, I went for a walk, two miles up the dirt road to a trailhead, then on a two-and-a-half-mile hike along the Agnes Gorge. I was completely on foot, like I had gone for a walk, no pack, no water bottle, nothing. (Perhaps I was being foolish — but I did put on sunscreen.) At the trailhead I crossed out of the Lake Chelan National Recreation Area into the North Cascades National Park; and about a mile along the trail crossed into the Glacier Peak Wilderness. I had walked into the wilderness! Way cool!

The scenery ranged from shady pine forest to open mountainside meadows with thrilling views of the surroundings. Early on the trail I could see McGregor Peak behind me. Then, after crossing into the wilderness, the trail rounded a bend and entered a meadow, and ahead of me was the sight of the still-more-magnificent Agnes Mountain. The gorge itself was hidden for much of the walk, until the end, when the trail wound along close to its edge, and I could look down and see the rushing rapids below me. The trail ended beside a hundred-foot waterfall.

The hike was incredibly satisfying to me, to be close to the mountains and the creeks and the forest, completely alone, like I had eluded the consensual hallucination that comprises the maya of civilization and had found myself walking in the real world.

Debbie joined me on Thursday, and we left on Friday, the 4th, to rendezvous with the family and return to Seattle. That night Debbie and I went to Jane Hawkins' new house, next door to her old one in Wallingford, to have dinner with her, Luke McGuff, Vonda McIntyre, and Rich and Linda McAllister (who were in town for Westercon). Afterwards we sat on the roof of the garage of Vonda's house to watch the fireworks over Lake Union. This turned out to be the best fireworks display I have ever seen.

And home again the next day. We spent some time at the Doubletree Inn, across from SeaTac airport, to catch a tiny bit of Westercon. Debbie had to meet with Geri Sullivan about a project to which Geri is contributing; I hung out for a while in the bar, reading, occasionally chatting with familiar people who came by. Then we flew home.

Posted by abostick at 02:02 PM | Comments (1)

Straight Flush!

No shit, there I was, in the 6-12 hold'em game at the Oaks Club early this evening. Most everyone at the table was new to me, except for Laura in seat one and Danny Flores in seat two. I'm in seat seven. The dealer is Anya, the beautiful woman who used to help Alan Wasserman run the Oaks' tournaments when she was a chip runner.

In this hand, I'm in the cutoff seat, and my downcards are the six and four of clubs. The player under the gun folds, and Danny opens the betting by limping in, and gets a caller after him. The cutoff seat isn't the button, but I like my position enough to feel I can take a flyer with my hand, so I trail in.

The player on the button, a genial gambler with whom I've been building some friendly rapport, puts in a raise. Oh well, that's why its not such a good idea to limp in with a hand like suited 6-4 when you don't have the button. Not only was I committed to throwing an extra bet after a speculative hand, but the raiser is the one player who has position on me. Oops.

The player in the small blind drops out, but the big blind, a serious young Asian man whom I read as more of a thinker than a gambler, calls. Everyone else who is already in the hand puts in an extra bet.

The flop comes down 8c 8d 5c. Suddenly, I like my hand, although I'm not head-over-heels in love with it. I've got a gutshot straight flush draw, which means that three sevens give me a straight and the fourth, the seven of clubs, gives me a straight flush. Any other club will give me a flush, too. But a non-suited seven could give anyone holding 8-7 (a plausible limping hand) a full house, and there could easily be better flush draws out there. The good news is that, given the action and the players in the hand, 8-5 is fairly unlikely, so that I'm reasonably comfortable that no one has a full house — yet. I've got twelve outs to make a hand, but there's a reasonable likelihood that some of them are tainted.

The action is checked through to the player on the button, who, unsurprisingly bets. Big blind calls, Danny Flores calls, seat 5 calls. I like the pot odds, even though the number of players still in the hand means that my draw is thinner than I'd like it to be. I call.

Anya burns and turns the 46-to-1 longshot miracle: the seven of clubs. I've made my straight flush! Now my only problem is to get as much money into the pot as I can. I decide to slowplay, and give someone holding an eight in their hand the chance to catch enough to commit money to the pot.

The big blind checks. Danny Flores bets. He might be playing a suited 8-7 — I've seen him play cards like that in early position before — but I think the more likely hand for him is the ace of clubs and a suited kicker. The player between us drops out, and I just call the bet, waiting for the river to put the squeeze on Danny. The player in the big blind overcalls — better and better.

The river card that Anya puts out is the queen of spades. The big blind checks. Danny bets again. Now is my moment: I raise.

To my complete astonishment, the player in the big blind reraises! Five more chips, all-in. Danny cold-calls my raise and the big blind's all-in reraise. And here's the only bad luck I had in this hand: the Oaks Club's rule on raising all-in bets and raises is that you can only "complete" an all-in's bet, i.e. raise it enough to make it a full bet; and in this particular case, since the all-in player's partial reraise was in response to my raise, I couldn't even complete the bet! (The rationale for this is that doing so would be me raising my own bet.)

I said, "I sure hope that somebody has pocket eights!" and tabled my hand. No such luck; no jackpot this time. The player in the big blind showed his queen and eight of hearts. He had flopped three eights and rivered eights full of queens. Danny never showed his hand, but I assume from the fact that he called the double bet at the end that he, too, had a full house, presumably eights full of sevens. He lost with his usual grace and style (Danny's a mensch), but it must have gotten to him, because he got up immediately and lobbied for a while.

That's only my second straight flush. My first came early in my poker career, when I was dealt a pat royal flush in clubs on fifth street in the Oaks' 2-4 stud game. That time all I won was the antes and bring-ins. I think I might have won one more bet if I had checked it down to the river.

(Meanwhile, I've got a partial draft written about our trip to Lake Chelan; I hope to finish it and put it up tomor—err, later today.)

Posted by abostick at 02:29 AM | Comments (4)

June 19, 2003

Proof that Playing Too Much Minesweeper Is Not Good for You

Minesweeper Faith

When playing Minesweeper, I can click on a square and know that it is clear. How? By logical deduction.

But that logical deduction depends on assumptions. First of all, I assume that the programming of the game is sound and that the numbers on the screen are an accurate and honest count of the number ofmines in adjoining squares. Secondly, my knowledge depends that the logical reasoning that goes into my conclusion is in fact sound. To play effectively, I must believe that what I conclude from my logical reasoning is coincides with the actual placement of the mines in the grid.

I can play Minesweeper. I can make deductions about the placement of the mines, make decisions accordingly, and avoid clicking on mines. It works over and over again.

To play Minesweeper requires faith. My faith is borne out again and again. The confirmation of the faith is simple and quick.

Poker Faith

The mathematics of permutations and combinations and the principles of probability that underly the game of poker are extensions of logic and deduction from the same foundations of mathematics that underly the game of Minesweeper. I must believe in the soundness of the reasoning that goes into them, and I must believe in the honesty of the game, if I am to play poker with any sense of it as a genuinely winnable game — "winning" here meaning more or less that in the long run I'll win more money at it.

A big difference between poker and Minesweeper is that with the latter game, my faith in mathematical reasoning is immediately confirmed. The stochastic nature of poker, on the other hand, means that I can play a hand "correctly" (i.e. in such a way as to maximize my expected win) and lose — or for that matter play very far from correctly and win. The mathematical reasoning that tells me that this cell is definitely free and that one definitely contains a hidden mine is far less definite for poker, saying only that if I play a particular hand in particular circumstances many times over, on average I should expect my average win or loss to be close to a particular value.

To play poker requires faith; but that faith must bear up to the challenges of short-term results. Faith takes a substantial beating at the poker table. ... but the mathematical reasoning in which I place my faith tells me that to lose faith is to lose.

Once last year, while playing in side games at the World Series of Poker, in Las Vegas, I took a substantial loss at a $20-$40 high-low split seven-card stud game. I kept having to throw away hand after hand that started well but caught bad cards on fourth street, or got punished when I caught that fourth good card but caught worthless bricks on the last three cards. Again and again I committed my money to a pot only to see it vanish into hopelessness. I busted out of the game and returned to my hotel room in a terrible state. I raged at my losses, pummelling my bed with a pillow, screaming with frustration with each blow. How could this have happened to me? I was playing as well as I knew how, and I had lost, badly. The law of averages was on my side; what had gone wrong?

And then I wondered, just how unlucky had I been? I took out pencil and paper and began to calculate roughly how often I should get a decent starting hand, and how often that hand will catch good or bad on fourth street. The numbers I worked out showed that I ought to be catching bad a majority of the time, and that in fact my luck had been bad, but not outrageously so.

I had undergone a crisis of faith, and through something analogous to meditation and prayer found the balance I needed to stay the course.


Faith and Science

Even the most zealous adherent to logical positivism must eventually rely on her faith in positivism to accept and believe in a number of invisible and undetectable things. That is what is so troubling about quantum mechanics, for example: reason and careful scientific observation lead to conclusions about the nature of the world and the fundamental entities that make it up that run deeply contrary to common sense and daily experience. The practice of empirical science demands a great deal of belief in invisible things, phenomena not apparent to the senses except through elaborate constructions of instruments, and so on. Such belief is rewarded by confirmation, by consistency of results, and so on. Quantum-dependent devices such as semiconductors work. So do vaccines and epoxy glue.

An ordinary human being cannot work things out from first principles all the time. She has to trust her memories, trust consensus faith in consensus constructions, and so on. "I have studied this carefully and determined it for myself" devolves into "The person who asserts this has good credentials, and there are people out there who might have checked this out, and until someone says otherwise it's a good bet that this is true." One cannot accept the validity of science without making many leaps of faith. Above all, one must have faith in the consensus of the community of science.

And then there is Gφdel's theorem. In its strictest form it states that in a self-consistent theory of numbers there must exist propositions that, while true, are not provable within that system; any number theory in which all true statements are provable will be inconsistent, and so all false statements are provable in it as well.

The larger implication of Gφdel's theorem is that this situation of unprovable truths is the case in ANY logical system. (Handwaving proof: an isomorphism exists between said logical system and a number theory. Gφdel's theorem can be proven in that number theory, and so the isomorphic proof stands in the logical system under consideration.) So there exist truths that cannot be proven under a given logical system. In particular, there exist truths that cannot be proven within the logical system that comprises science, rational empiricism, and logical positivism.

In other words, it is scientifically inevitable that there are truths that exist outside of science. If they can be reached at all, they can only be reached by faith.

Does my brain and my sensory apparatus constitute a logical system? If so, then there are truths than I cannot perceive or deduce from my perceptions. What if I include the things that I can make and use in this logical system? Then there are truths that cannot register on my instruments any more than I can perceive them directly. This strongly suggests (although it does not in fact prove) that there exists truths that I cannot perceive or comprehend. The faith I place in logic, therefore, tells me of the likelihood of the transcendental, the ineffable, beyond the reach of reason, philosophy, or even emotion.

Posted by abostick at 02:25 PM | Comments (2)

May 24, 2003

Moneymaker Makes the Money

Chris Moneymaker is poker's new World Champion.

Posted by abostick at 07:50 AM | Comments (0)

May 22, 2003

Saddenz for Patti

She busted out on the first day of the Big Dance at the WSOP. Her stack of chips got crippled when, holding pocket kings, she moved in on an inoccuous flop against Andy Glazer, who held pocket tens. Andy rivered a ten, and Patti was left with a tiny stack.

(Andy, to his credit, alluded to this hand in his own daily WSOP report by saying he had gotten "incredibly lucky.")

Posted by abostick at 12:13 PM | Comments (0)

May 16, 2003

Patti Beadles Needs an Editor ...

... but then, this month she's been living in the topsy-turvy nocturnal world of Las Vegas during the World Series of Poker. Trust me, that's enough to fry anyone's brain. What's your excuse?

Patti writes:

My friend Steve won not one but two $10K seats in the supersatellites today... yay for him! We celebrated by going to a 3 a.m. showing of Matrix Reloaded. In a nutshell, I wasn't terribly impressed.

I dunno about you, Patti, but I'm impressed — winning that second seat is, in effect winning $10,000 cash. That by itself, I would guess, probably covered his entire capital outlay for his WSOP trip. If it were me, I'd celebrate with a lot more style than seeing some movie. (After Andrew Prock took second in the $1500 Stud/8 event last year, with JP Massar and I rooting for him at the final table, we had a somewhat postponed celebration in the form of dinner at Bay Wolf, in Oakland.)

What's that? You were unimpressed by Matrix Reloaded rather than Steve's wins? Never mind....

Posted by abostick at 12:22 PM | Comments (0)

May 14, 2003

Iraqi Cards

Bill Chen writes on the ba-poker mailing list:

Just saw on CNN here that the three of hearts has been caught. I know we caught the queen of spades and several hearts recently. Know how close we are to shooting the moon?
Posted by abostick at 11:56 AM | Comments (0)

May 08, 2003

You're Both Wrong

Joshua Micah Marshall doesn't like the New York Times op-ed piece by Jim McManus about William Bennett's gambling problem, which Marshall blogged yesterday and I picked up from him. Marshall hits, correctly, on errors of fact on McManus's part: a net loss of $8 million over the course of many months is not the same thing as putting $8 million "into play." (Last month, during a weekend trip to Las Vegas I sat down three times in that $50-$100 stud/8 game I mentioned yesterday, buying in each time for $2,000. Did I put $2,000 "into play" or $6,000?)

But Marshall gets it wrong about this statement by McManus:

All of us gamble. Air travel, dating, investments, education, even driving or walking to work are not for the risk-averse. Vastly more is at stake when conceiving a child than when Mr. Bennett plays video poker, yet married couples are treated to no finger-jabbing sermons when they roll the dice on reproduction.

I'm not sure I've read a group of sentences more fatuous or morally shrunken as these in some time, writes Marshall. Gambling may be harmless fun, but can't you distinguish between that sort of risk and the one people take when they bring a new life into the world? It seems to me that McManus is making precisely that distinction. The potential risks and rewards hanging on the pull of a $500 slot machine are small potatoes indeed compared to both the risks and rewards of becoming a parent. And a gambler who has taken odds on all her pass line and come bar bets so that all the numbers on the craps table are working for her may well feel anxious about the fear that the shooter's next throw might seven out ... but she can always take down her odds and walk away. Can a mother do that? Or even a small business owner, who gets ulcers wondering if this month's sales are going to be enough to make payroll?

I fail to see the moral shrinkage. In a world where risk and fear surrounds us every day, despite our best efforts to reduce and contain them, so that accepting and dealing with risk is an essential part of sane adult functioning behavior, what is wrong with taking risks for pleasure in the (relatively) safe and controlled environment of a casino?

I see where McManus is coming from, in a way that I think perhaps is escaping Marshall. McManus isn't defending Bennett; McManus is defending gambling. He is saying, in effect, we shouldn't be piling on Bennett, because gambling is in fact not immoral:

As a finger-jabber himself on some subjects, [McManus writes just after Marshall ends his quote] Mr. Bennett should perhaps be more alert to such ironies. Still, if he pays his taxes and abides by the law, we should keep our noses out of his personal life.

This is where McManus misses the point of Bennett's critics. The morality of gambling may be in dispute. But so is the morality of so many of the activities at which Bennett has jabbed his finger. Most gay people who have come out and come to terms with their own desires, for example, would say that they are moral people notwithstanding whom it is they are drawn to love. For that matter, it's easy enough to find people who see nothing wrong with a married man accepting a blowjob from an eager intern, something that Bennett has decried in no uncertain terms.

Bennett's hypocrisy is evident because the morality of gambling is in dispute. And one of the reasons for this dispute is the fact to which McManus seems blind, is that compulsive gambling is a real problem, that people really do come to harm and bring harm to their families as a consequence of their losing control of their gambling. McManus's op-ed piece comes off to me as a lesser version of one of Nolan Dalla's pollyanna-ish denials of the dark side of gambling.

It's easy to pile onto Bennett for his hypocrisy. As those of us who remember Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart can tell, Americans just love to see preaching moralists brought down by their own sins. (And the penitent sinner plays almost as well, as those who have played the role have been finding out since the days of Augustine.)

But what nobody else appears to be saying about Bennett's fall from grace is quite how stupid it is. If there's anything more lame, more foolish, than blowing $8 million on high-limit slot machines I don't know what it is. (Unless, that is, there is such a thing as $500-per-spot Keno, where the runners strolling through Bellagio's high end restaurants like Circo or Picasso, are the sort of sophisticated, well-dressed young ladies one expects to see nursing glasses of mineral water at the Baccarat Bar after midnight.) You'd be better off playing blackjack, where if you can keep track of the count you have a fighting chance of winning. You're better off rolling dice at the craps table, because if you stay away from the sucker bets the house edge is muchsmaller than with slot machines.

I've had every reason to suspect that William Bennett was a moral hypocrite since the very first I'd heard of him — it practically comes with the territory. What tickles me about the whole situation is just how dumb a hypocrite he is. I think it isn't fair that Steve Wynn, Kirk Kerkorian, and Donald Trump have been getting all of his money. Send him down to the poker room, so I have a shot at grabbing my share along with the other winners.

Posted by abostick at 12:23 PM | Comments (0)

May 07, 2003

Don't Throw Me into that Briar Patch!

Here's Jim McManus writing in the New York Times:

After a recent speech in Rochester, [William] Bennett was asked what the chances were of his running for president in 2008. He responded by saying that he might enter the World Series of Poker instead. He was only half serious, I gather; his purpose was probably to stir more presidential conjecture while manfully ducking the question. But perhaps Mr. Bennett should try the real deal. The $10,000 entry fee for the championship event would appear to fall comfortably within the parameters of his bankroll. But is the God-fearing author of "Why We Fight" and editor of "Our Sacred Honor" up to this challenge?

I sure hope he is. And while he's waiting for the Big Dance to begin, I sure hope that Mr. Bennett spends some time in the $50-$100 eight-or-better high-low seven-card stud game. Sit down, Mr. Bennett, it's an easy game, just like the one you used to play in college, except you don't have to do that silly thing with the chips in your fist at the end of the hand.

(via Talking Points Memo)

Posted by abostick at 12:33 PM | Comments (0)

May 05, 2003

Monday Miscellany

Ordinarily I don't bother with those silly online quizzes ("Which Beverly Hillbilly are you?"), but Teresa Nielsen Hayden points us to one that even I can't pass up: Which Springer-Verlag Graduate Text in Mathematics are you? It turns out that I am Foundations of Differentiable Manifolds and Lie Groups by Frank Warner. I find this oddly comforting.

* * *

David Scott Marley calls attention to an article by Joshua Green in the Washington Monthly about sometime drug and morality czar William Bennet's high-rolling gambling habit. It seems that the author of The Book of Virtues has a jones for $500-a-pull slot machines. "'There's a term in the trade for this kind of gambler,' says a casino source who has witnessed Bennett at the high-limit slots in the wee hours. 'We call them losers.'"

Other people care about the seeming hypocrisy of a morality monger blowing millions of dollars on slot machines. There's quite a large piece of me that's saying, "Slot machines?? What a mug! What a live one! I wonder if there's any way of luring him out of Bellagio's salon privι and into the poker room?"

* * *

Avedon Carol has recovered from her eye surgery sufficiently that she is posting again to The Sideshow instead of that ghastly substitute on blogspot.com.

* * *

If you are interested in generating hits on your blog, I commend to you the practice of going to live theater performances and posting reviews. My mentions of Berkeley Rep's productions of Suddenly Last Summer and Fraulein Else have garnered more search queries from Google and other search engines than anything else I've posted here.

Posted by abostick at 10:19 AM | Comments (1)

April 09, 2003

Grab Bag o' Dreams

4-3-2003: Three union posters, viewed in succession.

The first shows a picket line of workers, on strike for higher wages. Written above and across the image, the caption "Protecting ... Our Livelihood!"

The second shows the shop steward standing up to an abusive foreman. The caption reads, "Protecting ... Our Self-Respect!"

The final poster shows a worker kneeling as he works on an open machine. He's wearing kneepads. The caption: "Protecting ... Our Knees!"

The ironic contrast between livelihood and self-respect on one hand and knees on the other seemed to be at least part of the point of the dream.

4-6-2003: Nice hand, sir

I'm playing a hand of eight-or-better seven card stud (that's a high-low split game, with an eight qualifier for the low). I've got a four and a deuce down and an ace for my door card; my fourth-street card is a six. My opponent shows the deuce and four of spades. My hand is high, I act first. I bet, and he calls.

Fifth street brings him an offsuit five, and a trey for me. I now have a 64 — "number two" — the second nut low hand. I bet, and my opponent calls. I think that my hand is goddamn good, and that if he had a wheel he would certainly raise me; I conclude that my low hand is a lock.

Sixth street gives me a nine (a blank, basically) and my opponent the jack of spades. I bet my hand, he calls. I get another blank as my last card, dealt face-down. My opponent has three chips left (we're playing 2-4). If he's made a wheel, I have to call him anyway, and if he hasn't then I'm getting my money back; and he can't raise me. I bet one more time, and he calls all-in.

We turn our hands over. My opponent has a wheel and an ace-high flush in spades, scooping. He'd made the wheel on fifth street and the flush on sixth, and he passively called my bets.

(My thought in the dream was that my opponent had misplayed his hand, but upon waking reflection I think that this was not the case. Usually, when a player does this to me in real life, I think that he or she has played the hand badly, by not raising me and taking control of the betting. I have a hand that I basically have to take to the river at whatever price I'm getting. I should have lost a lot more chips than I actually did ... except that my opponent was short-stacked. He won as many chips from me as he possibly could, and if I had happened to have slackened in my betting, he could take it up and bet at any point, and earned exactly the same amount as he did.)


4-8-2003: Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar

I'm in the Oval Office, in front of the desk of President Bush. On his desk is an ornamental cigar holder, presenting a fan of cigars in a shape like a peacock's tail. I take one of the cigars. The President isn't pleased at this, but it would be rude for him to stop me. I take the cigar home with me.

(I remember having a cigar box in my room at home, containing cigar butts and ends, broken, torn or half-smoked; but the cigar I've just brought home is whole.)

I trim the ends of the cigar, light it, and smoke it in my bedroom, savoring its taste. Then I realize that my roommate, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, will be very annoyed by the reek of cigar smoke filling the apartment. But it's too late, the house is already filled with smoke, so I finish the cigar, not putting it out until it is done.

(Awake, journaling this dream, I remember the sense that the apartment was my apartment in Pasadena in 1987, where I was concerned not with the smoke not of cigars but cigarettes, and my roommate was Mike Lewis, a chemistry grad student. I haven't been Patrick's roommate since 1980.)


4-9-2003: Abducted by aliens!

We've been abducted by aliens! In their space ship, orbiting far above the Earth's surface, we are subjected to rude and unpleasant experiments and probings. Something is growing in the belly of one of the other abductees, a young woman. It seems she is about to give birth to something, and she is placed in an alien maternity harness. This is a tight coil of rope or cable, and someone must be wound up with her, holding her spoon-fashion from behind, while she goes through labor. That someone is me, and the cabling is wound tightly around us. With a groan and a shudder, the woman expells the thing inside her: a dark sphere with a rough and mottled surface, covered with slime. The aliens take this thing away, prizing it highly.

Posted by abostick at 10:40 AM | Comments (1)

April 06, 2003

Fifteen Minutes of Fame

I had just picked up from the $20-limit lowball game at the Oaks Club, and was waiting for the next time light to come on so that Debbie would get up from the $4-$8 stud game in which she was playing. While I waited, I leafed through the April 11 issue of Card Player, and found Michael "Q" Wiesenberg's column, "The Low Rollers:"

An interesting situation arose in the lowball game of a Bay Area cardroom that generated a lot of e-mail traffic on the Bay Area Poker mailing list. I won’t identify any of the posters nor use their own words. I’ll just describe the situation, because it’s one that is typical of lowball, and one in which an inexperienced player could easily make a mistake. Nor will I use real names for the participants.

Wait a minute, I thought, the only serious lowball talk I can recall on the ba-poker list recently was started by a question of mine. Sure enough, Q went on to write:

The under-the-gun player folded. From the next position, Jim, a solid player, opened. The next player folded, and Erik, the prop, raised. Andy, a player whose specialties are seven-card stud and Omaha, but who sometimes jumps into a lowball game while waiting for another game, was next with, as he posted to the mailing list, a pat 8-5. He wasn’t sure of what to do, so just called. The remaining players folded to Lucy in the big blind, a fairly loose player, who called. Jim also called the raise.

Yes, it was indeed the hand I had described in a posting to ba-poker last January:

Subject: [ba-poker] Lowball Hand: Pat 85 in a Raised Pot

It's the Oaks' 20-limit lowball game, with a good lineup — [name withheld] the Prop who plays a lot of lowball, one or two other solid players, and a bunch of optimists who will open and draw two under the gun.

UTG folds and Solid #1 opens. Two folds, and [name withheld] the Prop raises. This means either a very good draw or a pat nine or better. My own hand is a pat 8-5.

What's my play here: cold-call the raise, or reraise?

Assuming that Solid #1 is along for the ride either way, how should I draw, and how should I play after the draw?

The broad consensus on ba-poker, supported by Q, Dave "Quick" Horwitz, and Bill Chen, was that I should indeed have reraised the raise I faced. (The sole dissent was good old reliable Beth Even, who asked why I didn't consider folding in this spot.)

Q's column isn't about my play of the hand; it is about "Erik's." Q has been writing lately about what to do with nines in lowball, and "Erik's" hand, when it was shown down, proved to be a nine, and my eight-five held up to win the pot. Q rakes "Erik" over the coals for his play of the hand: The loose player in the big blind drew two cards, the solid player drew one, "Erik" stood pat, and I stood pat after him. After the draw, the solid player checked, "Erik" bet, and I called him down. Why did Erik bet? Q writes. His play made no sense with the hand that he held, basically because his hand doesn't make money if it's good, because no one calls him, but if he gets a caller with his nine he's very likely beat.

Q's column contains some invention, however, perhaps as invented details to protect the guilty: I play a lot of seven-card stud, but Omaha is definitely not one of my specialties. And I don't sit down in the lowball game only occasionally while waiting for a seat in another game. I'm playing a lot of lowball now because there's no jackpot drop in the Oaks' lowball game. And the Oaks' $20-limit game is soft and sweet; while there are some exceptions I usually walk away winners from that game. (I'm still learning lowball, though, and I'm not terribly good by objective standards: I've played in the $60-limit game once, and the other players mopped the floor with me.)

Posted by abostick at 10:07 PM | Comments (0)

April 01, 2003

PayPal Violated PATRIOT Act, Says Prosecutor

James Kittock passes on this news item from Reuters' Internet Report:

PALO ALTO, Calif. (Reuters) - A federal prosecutor has alleged eBay Inc. (Nasdaq:EBAY - news) unit PayPal violated a 2001 anti-terror law aimed at fighting money laundering when it provided payment services to online gambling companies, the Web auctioneer said in its annual report filed on Monday.

Silicon Valley-based eBay said it received a letter on Friday in which the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri accused PayPal of violating a provision of the USA Patriot Act.

The provision prohibits the transmission of funds that are known to have been derived from a criminal offense, or are intended to be used to promote or support unlawful activity.

PayPal has gotten out of the business of funds transferral for online gaming (except where it hasn't — see below). But the question of whether transferring funds for online gaming is prosecutable under the PATRIOT act strikes very close to home. Chances are high that if you are reading this someone you know is liable for prosecution as a terrorist.

Posted by abostick at 08:33 AM | Comments (0)

March 30, 2003

Online Gaming for Tiltaholics

Online gaming for money is taking a new twist, going after the demographic that thinks no-limit hold'em might as well be Old Maid, reports an AP story appearing in the Miami Herald:

Service to offer cash, prizes for online gamers

DALLAS — A new source of income — or debt — could soon be a mouse click away for PC gamers.

Players 18 years and older can win cash or prizes while playing against each other in the online World War II action game Return to Castle Wolfenstein.

It's part of a deal between YouPlayGames and two Texas companies — Even Balance, Inc. of Houston and Id Software, Inc. of Mesquite.

After registering with YouPlayGames, gamers can place their wager.

The cost of entry generally will range from a few cents to a few dollars for each kill or injury players incur on their opponents, YouPlayGames creator Chris Grove said Tuesday.

...

YouPlayGames is headquartered on the Caribbean island of Curacao in the Netherlands Antilles, just off the coast of Venezuela.


(via boing boing)

Addendum: I just took a look at the YouPlayGames home page, and noticed that the site accepts payments via PayPal. I wonder how long that is going to last? The ground shifted late last year when eBay acquired PayPal, and the latter announced that they would discontinue doing business with gambling sites.

Posted by abostick at 05:30 PM | Comments (0)

March 27, 2003

When Worlds Collide

Teresa Nielsen Hayden has just blogged Steve Brust's weblog, quoting Steve's June 8, 2002, entry on his "notes for a new poker book" (for example, Chapter 4. How to prevent bad beats by always going in with the worst hand).

My personal favorite entry is this one:

Fri May 31st, 2002 8:39 AM

Yesterday I was sitting next to a drunk in the 4-8 Hold'em game at the Palms.
"What do you do?"
(Q6--muck)
"I'm a writer."
"What do you write?"
(KT offsuit--muck)
"Novels"
"What kind of novels?"
(J7--muck)
"Science fiction/fantasy."
"Oh. Uh...I know it's kind of personal, but how much do you make per book?"
(93--muck)
"Enough to make a living, not enough to date a cocktail waitress."

I know Steve quite well from the science fiction universe — Fourth Street Fantasy Conventions and Reinconations, the old GEnie Science Fiction Round Table, and so forth — but these days I feel more closely connected to him through the poker world than the world of SF fan- and prodom. I had a good, long chat with him at last year's World Series of Poker, for example; but when Debbie Notkin and I, along with Mike Ford, Elise Matthesen, Emma Bull, and Will Shetterly, were in Las Vegas for a vacation getaway a couple of weeks after BARGE in August 2001, we were disappointed that we couldn't get together with him.

Steve is a kind of triple-threat: writer, musician, and poker player, which I guess means he could quit three day jobs at once. Most recent thing of his that I've read was Freedom and Necessity (co-authored with Emma Bull); I liked it. Last I heard, Steve plays a lot at the poker room at the Palms.

Posted by abostick at 11:13 AM | Comments (0)

March 11, 2003

Lou Krieger & Betting Patterns

"There hasn’t been all that much written about betting patterns," writes Lou Krieger in the current issue of Card Player, "but it’s something every top-notch poker player thinks about from time to time."

Lou is absolutely right on both counts. An understanding of betting patterns is a key to unlocking the mysteries of hand-reading. And there's damned little written about it in poker books.

The best thing I've read about betting patterns is a post to Usenet newsgroup rec.gambling.poker by Tad Perry. Tad's focus is on how to bet to get the most out of your winners and lose the least with your losers. He gives a few examples, and summarizes a strategy for use in head-up play against an aggressive opponent. Tad looks at betting patterns as tactical tools.

Lou Krieger, in his column, appears to be more interested in betting patterns as sources of information — information for you about your opponents, and information about you for your opponents.

Let’s begin, Lou writes, by examining the most common pattern you’ll find in a hold’em game. It goes like this: call, bet, bet, check. That’s simple, isn’t it? You’ve seen your opponents do this all the time. You probably do it yourself. You call the blinds before the flop, catch a hand you like — something like top pair with a good kicker — so you bet the flop and the turn, but when you fail to improve to three of a kind or two pair, you decide to check the river to save a bet just on the odd chance that you’re beaten.

Guess what? By analyzing, or at least becoming aware of betting patterns, you’ve just picked up a small leak in your game. You’re leaving money on the table. Do you see it? Most of the time, the river card is not going to promote your opponent’s hand to one that’s better than yours, as long as you had the best hand going to the river. Sure, there will be times when you’re facing three or four opponents, two suited cards flop, and your opponents passively call while you do the betting on the flop and turn. It looks like at least one of them is on a flush draw, doesn’t it? And maybe he is. If a third suited card jumps out of the deck on the river, you certainly have my permission to check as long as your opponents act after you do. But if you have the luxury of acting last, go ahead and bet. You’re likely to be safe, not sorry, if you do.

Lou has a point here that this common betting rhythm says a lot about the quality of one's hand. But I think he is missing, or at least sidestepping, the point of checking on the end instead of betting.

A majority of the time, an opponent's hand is not going to be improved by the river card, true. But the question is, is she going to call your bet on the end if she hasn't? With what sort of hand is she going to call you down?

A case in point is in hold'em if that third flush card falls on the river. Lou is absolutely right that most players who make their flushes on the end will bet out, in order to get that extra bet (because checking top pair to a flush board on the end is so common). But suppose your hand is Kc Qd, the board is Qh 7h 4c 2s Jh, and your opponent checks to you. That heart jack on the river doesn't appear to have made her a flush, but she may very well have rivered two pair. She could easily be afraid of betting this hand into you, for fear that you have made a flush, but will happily check and call down your river bet.

As anyone who has read The Theory of Poker should understand what goes into the decision of betting on the river. It doesn't matter that your action on previous rounds has been call, bet, bet. You are leaving money on the table if and only if a bet on the end wins more money, on average when the situation is repeated many times, than it loses. You should bet when your hand is a favorite to win when called. Not when it is the favorite to be the best hand, but when it is the favorite to be the best hand against a hand with which your opponent will call.

Now I will freely admit that in a loose low-limit game your opponents are going to call you down with some amazing holdings, "just to keep you honest." In a game like that, betting top pair with a good kicker on the end is virtually mandatory. But as the skill level of your opponents increases, you need to fine-tune your own sense of when to bet on the river and when to check.

Lou also examines the pattern of call, check-and-call, check-and-raise, bet that is usually the signature of someone's holding a very strong hand. He's right on the money here. Read about it yourself.

Lou scratches the surface, and Tad digs a little bit deeper. But both of them only introduce the basics of a subtle subject. You are going to have to work some details out for yourself if you really want to improve your game by understanding betting patterns. That's the next jump in poker skill for book-reading players: moving beyond the books to creating your own poker expertise that perhaps no one else shares.

Posted by abostick at 12:14 PM | Comments (0)

February 27, 2003

Sometimes the Bear Eats You

I played in the Oaks Club's hold'em tournament this evening. I got off to a reasonable start at an easy table, but I got burned shortly before the end of the rebuy period, and went down in flames not long after the start of the next round.

Here's the hand that crippled me. I was in the cutoff seat (one out from the button) in seat six; I had a stack of 1000 "dollars" (tournament chips have no real value except insofar as they represent equity in the prize pool; but they have printed denominations). Alex Alaskar was under the gun in seat 10 with somewhat more than enough chips to cover me. The blinds were 40 and 60. Alex opened for a raise, and the action was folded around to me. I've got the ace and queen of spades. Maybe I should have reraised, but I'm weak-tight when UTG opens for a raise. (But then, it was Alex Alaskar, a notorious loose cannon.) I cold-called the two bets, and the big blind came along for the ride.

The flop came down as the ace of hearts, six of diamonds and three of hearts. I had flopped top pair with a pretty good kicker, and heaven only knew what Alex had. He bet into me. I raised. The big blind dropped out. Alex reraised, and I just called him.

The turn card was the ten of diamonds. This was a trouble card: "in the playing zone" as Jim Brier and Bob Ciaffone would put it, and it put a second flush draw on the board. Alex said something indistinct, and reached for his chips. I thought he had said "I bet," and I was waiting for him to put a bet out before I acted. After a moment or two he said, "It's on you." I bet my top pair, and he called me.

The river card was the four of clubs. Alex bet into me immediately. Yes, he's completely capable of playing 7-5 like that and rivering a straight, but he's also completely capable of a bluff in that spot. I called him down. He showed me his two pair: the three and four of diamonds. I told you he's a loose cannon.

After that it was only a matter of time before the blinds got me, unless I got lucky. I didn't get lucky; I caught an offsuit A-9 when I had slightly more than enough chips to come in for a raise. I raised, got called in two spots, and threw my last two chips on the ragged flop. The caller dropped out, but the big blind stayed with me. Naturally, he had a pocket pair and had flopped a set. IGHN.

I didn't go home; I went into the main cardroom and got into the $20-limit lowball game. If I'd caught any cards, I'd have killed that table, it was so soft. But to beat duffers you have to show them the best hand; and I got dealt a bunch of beautiful draws that didn't get there. I sat between Chinese Jennifer and a player I didn't know, an elderly black man who played and moved quite slowly and gave off amazingly clear tells when he had good hands. He also gave off an unmistakable odor of stale urine. I put up with the smell, though, because he made plays like: opening under the gun, and then drawing two cards; calling two bets in his big blind and drawing four cards (!); and drawing three and betting into a crowd when he paired up.

It would have been hog heaven for me, except that I couldn't catch any cards until late in the evening. I wound up buying in for $600 (three buys of $200 each), and walked away with $405, for a net loss of $195.

Debbie had played in the tournament also, and had busted out not long after I did. She played live games also -- she was able to win her tournament buyin back. She came to me at 11:00 PM to check in with me about sticking around or going home. I figured that there was plenty to do tomorrow, so I decided to book a loss and go home.

Patti Beadles won the tournament, by the way, for the second week in a row.

Posted by abostick at 12:00 AM | Comments (2)
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