Sunday, March 30, 2008

Appreciating The Math

There's an interesting article in today's NY Times on the math behind Joe DiMaggio's 56 game hitting streak. The line that got me thinking was:

"in 1941 Joe DiMaggio had an 81 percent chance of getting at least one hit in each game"

Lets translate to poker:

Joltin' Joe has pocket aces and his opponent pocket kings. DiMaggio is an 80-20% favorite to win the hand. If the aces hold up, his hitting streak continues. If the aces get cracked, his hitting streak is over.

Somehow Joe's pocket aces held up 56 hands in row!


Who wins 56 in a row without their aces getting cracked?

Fact is there's only been three times in history when aces have actually held up at showdown.

- My grandfather won't talk about WW2 but he has told me in great detail about the night he saw pocket aces win in Springfield, Mass. in 1938. His brother confirms this story.

- Che Guevara's pocket aces were in big trouble after Victor Dreke flopped a set in the Congo in 1965, but Guevara took down a huge pot when a third ace came on the turn.

- Everyone remembers Mindy Cohn's pocket aces holding up against Kim Fields' flush draw on the set of The Facts of Life in 1982.

And that's it.

Of course bad luck aside, a hand that is an 81% favorite should win.

Yet the fun math is to run some trials of an 81% favorite versus a 19% dog.

If we have them square off 4 times, an 81% favorite will win all 4 in a row only 43% of the time.

Math is desperately trying to tell us there's a 57% chance DiMaggio WON'T get a hit 4 games in a row. Even at his phenomenal 81% success rate.

So not only does DiMaggio have to win 4 in a row (which he will only do 43% of the time), he somehow has to repeat this success 14 times in a row!

What 43% thing happens 14 times in a row?

Can you imagine how much money I would have lost betting against DiMaggio in 1941?

I don't know what .43 to the 14th power looks like but if this was a standardized test I'd recommend finding an answer real close to .81 to the 56th power.

Good luck with that.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Wisdom, Profit, and Not Always Being Wise

"Alas, how terrible is wisdom when it brings no profit to the man that’s wise!"

I misplay my fair share of hands.

No doubt about it.

Every single day.

I try to process them, learn, and then move on.

Some stay with me longer than others.

Saturday afternoon. Caesars Palace Poker room, Las Vegas, Nevada.

Guy limps in early position. A gentleman raises to 15 from the cut off seat. The button calls and the action proceeds to me sitting in the big blind. I have a pretty strong hand. Ace King.

A professional poker player might raise here. I probably raise around half the time. However since I have to play this entire hand from out of position, a smooth call feels fine to me too. I have no problem donating 15 bucks and mucking if I don't connect with the flop.

The bad part about calling is I'm probably seeing the flop 4 ways. The good news is it will allow me to disguise the strength of my hand. No one will put me on ace king.

For the moment I'm winning the battle of misinformation. So although calling doesn't feel very strong, it does feel somewhat reasonable.

This seems like a good time to mention that someday I'm gonna have my own chain of electronic stores called "Reasonable Robert" with commercials that brag about how incredibly reasonable my prices are.

"Are you tired of unreasonable people giving you unreasonable prices? Come on down today and let Robert make you a reasonable offer for a flat screen television!"

So I call. Early position limper calls.

Four of us see the king queen, rag flop.

Boom. Top pair. Top kicker. No different than it would be if I had raised preflop.

"Why do you continue to be unreasonable? Reasonable Robert guarantees you the best price on any new computer system! Reasonable Robert....His prices are so reasonable!"

In this situation a professional poker player might lead out with a bet but I want to sit back and give the preflop raiser the chance to continue bet.

Isn't that why I'm here playing live poker? To watch people lie in person?

If I didn't want to witness a human being lie in person, I could be relaxing at home playing on the internet. But I've specifically come to the casino in person to watch this human being continue bet. Or at least that was my plan. Until life happened and the early position player screwed things up by firing out a bet behind me for 25 bucks.

The preflop raiser folds. As does the button.

Damn. This gentleman limped in preflop, and then called a raise. Now he's betting out like he has the best hand. I don't think he's testing the waters. I think he genuinely thinks he has the best hand.

What's my best case scenario? If I call this bet what am I hoping he has? King jack for a weaker kicker? Ten jack for an open ended straight draw? These both feel like wishful thinking.

Lets review how he played his hand. His two cards enticed him to limp preflop. Not raise. He also didn't reraise when given the chance preflop. He does not have a big pair. I was probably ahead of him preflop.

What scares me is the definite possibility he has king queen for top two pair. This is exactly how lots of people would have played king queen off from early position.

They don't want to fold it. But they're also too scared to raise with it from early position. So limping in to try to see a flop becomes their best option.

I've hit top pair but he has me. I can feel it. I guess I should have reraised preflop.

I take a few moments to feel sorry for myself.

Come on universe! He called a raise out of position preflop with king queen! Why are we rewarding this type of play? Shouldn't we be punishing him?

Woe is me. I had him dominated preflop but now I'm in big trouble. Someday when I'm a great poker player I will muck my cards in this spot.



But not today.

Today for some reason I don't trust myself. I don't trust the voice inside my head that is pleading with me to fold. And what's extra ugly for me is that I believe this gentleman! So by not folding it's really myself I don't believe nor trust.. I'm basically calling my own bluff.

"The decider" or whoever it is that makes poker decisions for me doesn't want to follow my poker instincts. No, unfortunately this decider really wants to see this guy's cards. To see if my read was right. (How awesome to put myself into a position where I can prove I'm right by LOSING money!)

So I call the 25 bucks. Knowing deep down that I'll need to hit a three outer second ace to make a bigger two pair to win.

Don't kid yourself. I fully expect to get lucky. Lets make that part clear. I absolutely expect to beat him with the kind of unfair mathematical anomaly you see all the time at poker. He'll be disgusted and dislike me personally when I suck out on him. This pot is mine. You just watch.

Surprisingly it doesn't happen on the turn. Something small comes out. I check and this time he bets $50. Nice value bet sir. Another great opportunity for me to fold.

If I call this bet right now how much am I really prepared to call off on the river?

You can tell I'm making a bad call when I find myself hoping something real scary looking comes out on the river just to get me to showdown as cheaply as possible.

By the way, this sequence of calls I'm describing here is what tourists do. It's level 1 poker. Go down in flames with your top pair top kicker.

Who cares what my opponent could have? I have top pair top kicker. How can I fold?

I call the $50 turn bet. I'm going to get lucky and take down this pot on the river. Or I'll lose money to king queen and get to feel sorry for myself for having been out flopped by a hand I dominated preflop. See? Either way it's win/win! Pity is standing close by.

Who doesn't like to feel sorry for themselves? Who doesn't want to sit around and reminisce about favored hands they've had over the years that somehow found a way to lose?

The dealer peels off the rag river. I check and this time the guy pushes out $50. It's such a reasonable bet it's almost greedy. Ridiculously small to ensure he gets paid again. The idea being that of course I will call 50 dollars to give myself a chance to win what is now a $260 pot. He is correct. Even though the voice whispers that 50 dollars saved on this hand is 50 dollars I won't have to win later on.

"Shhhh" I tell the voice. "We've come this far."

50 more bucks to see his king queen? 50 more bucks to know forever that I was right?

How am I supposed to prove to everyone, most importantly myself, that I'm good at poker if I don't lose 125 dollars on this hand?

As you can see, this experience has bugged me for a couple of days. I'm too good to play a hand this way. I'm a good enough poker player to fold top pair top kicker when I know I'm beat.

Sometimes I'll call an opponent's river bet with king high.

Other times I'll muck top pair top kicker.

It all depends on what the voice tells me.

There's no benefit to my making good reads at the poker table if I don't actually trust myself enough to listen to them.

That doesn't sound reasonable.

And I think that's what Sophocles was trying to say about wisdom.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Vegas Fact #10

Vegas Fact #10
Caesars Palace won't take any action on the Boston Celtics.

According to their sports book, "If the Celtics win the pro basketball championship, the team playing them will be recognized as the team with the best finish and would be considered the winner for wagering purposes."

Why is there no action on Boston at Caesars?

Apparently the Caesars CEO owns a piece of the Celtics. So due to his conflict of interest, they're off the board. This creates some interesting value for the Western Conference teams because the Celtics happen to be favored to win the East. And assuming the Celtics do win the East, a Western Conference team only needs to get to the NBA finals to collect on this bet!

Contrast this "just get to the finals" journey with Eastern teams like Detroit or Cleveland who not only have to beat Boston in a 7 game series, but then also have to beat whoever comes out of the West in another 7 game series to win the NBA title.

You'd think that with this much larger hurdle, teams like Detroit and Cleveland would be long shots at Caesars to win the NBA title. Not the case. Their odds were surprisingly close to some of the Western Conference contenders.

I see opportunity here.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Wynn Classic Main Event Satellite

I spent Saturday trying to satellite my way into the Wynn Classic's 10k Main Event. I wasn't alone. 188 degenerates paid $1060 a piece, creating 17 seats plus some leftover cash. All to be part of the Classic.

Can I be the wise-ass who points out the Wynn casino opened up in 2005?

Without using Google, I'd guess this poker tournament started up as recently as 2007.

Only in Vegas can that make it a classic.

I show enough patience as a human being to think a satellite into the main event presents good value for me. There are plenty of bad players in the field. I also do well playing against the better players who don't completely adjust their game for the format.

For some reason these guys are still trying to get ALL the chips at their table. They're not at peace with the concept of survival. They don't take advantage of the fact that they only need to stay alive to win.

I watched aggressive players race each other for all their chips in the first two levels. Makes no sense to me in a tournament where 1st place gets the same prize as 17th place. If that's really how you feel about having to hang around for the next ten hours then go play a one table sit and go. These guys did not want to maximize the experience. They wanted to either dominate or move on to cash games.

There weren't too many bad players at my first table. Unfortunately I noticed a few familiar faces. At first this annoyed me. Yet in hindsight it was probably a good thing. It made me tighten up my play early on.

3 of these advanced players were looking to gamble and played too many hands. However they did notice that I wasn't playing much and they'd fold whenever I'd bet. This image allowed me to run in place until I could find a real hand to play a bigger pot against them with.

My table broke in the second level. I was up around 10% in chips and excited to move to a new seat to open things up. However I couldn't finish any hand with the best cards and by the end of level 3 my stack was below average when we went on break.

The good news was that antes would finally arrive in level 4. This is when tournaments begin for me. I play better when there's something in the middle of the table worth fighting for. It's when I stop playing scared.

The more realistic my getting eliminated from a tournament becomes, the more at ease I feel with that reality. I'd absolutely hate to go broke in level 1. Yet when blinds and antes become a decent percentage of my stack, there's no shame in going out. Suddenly that same medium looking hand that's real tricky to play early on becomes a plain old monster.

Meanwhile I had two tough hands from level 4 that I'm still thinking about.

The first one was a multiway pot on a 10,9,3,2,king board. I only held a 10 and I really thought that 10 was good until the king appeared on the river. My opponent made a pot sized bet. I didn't put her on a king. I put her on queen jack.

She was a tight player. Still, I wanted to call badly. To confirm my read. And of course to write about it for you guys. But my job is to build up my chips, not show how good my reads are.

My read says I'm beat and how good can my read be if I know I am beat but still call anyway?

I don't think she had the courage to make that bet without the straight. I don't think she would bluff into two players. Maybe one. But not two. (If she did have the courage to bet the river with the worst hand then she deserved the pot. Great bet and very well played.)

I still had chips. I kept on fighting. The table had tightened up and using short stack aggression I was able to get my chips back up to the 5000 starting range.

The other tough hand for me was an orbit or two later. My stack was around 4000 chips. With blinds still at 100/200 and 25 ante, I raised to 700 in early position with queen jack suited. Got called by the button and big blind as well.

Flop comes out 2,2,7 with two of my suit. I've got a flush draw and over cards.

I continue bet 1400. I'm happy to take it down. It also wouldn't be terrible to hear the word "raise" behind me. The button folds but then something not so great happens. The blind just calls. Damn.

Here's where it gets tough. Against other players I might think they're making a move. A player might call my continuation bet in hopes of trying to take the pot away from me on the turn or river. Especially on a 2,2,7 flop. And against those players I'm probably pushing on the turn no matter what comes.

But not this guy.

No, this guy is an older conservative fellow who plays one hand an hour and always has something if he puts chips in the middle.

I would venture to guess that I am presently trailing his hand. There's not too many hands that he would call a flop bet with that I'm ahead of.

The turn comes and misses me. At least it's small and keeps my over card potential alive. The gentleman checks to me again.

After he calls my flop bet I only have around 1900 left. In hindsight I can see I should have bet more (or even less) on the flop. My remaining 1900 chips isn't enough to get him off his hand when the pot already has over 5000 in it.

Now in a cash game I can shove, get called, lose, and take more cash out of my pocket. But obviously in this satellite I cannot rebuy. I only have one life.

Winning this pot will not get me a seat in the main event.

But losing my remaining 1900 chips will guarantee that I don't get a seat.

I can still push the rest of them in the middle if a spade, jack or queen comes on the river. And I'll probably still get called. The pot would be too big and there's little reason for him to suspect I actually have the flush draw. My checking the turn just looks weak. Not like I'm trying to grab a free card.

If I miss on the river I can lose this pot and still have enough chips to see a couple of orbits to find a good hand to get the rest of my chips in with.

So protecting my remaining chips is one reason I check the turn.

The other reason is I think he'll call and I can't find a likely hand he's holding that I'm ahead of.

Like even if he's bluffing, what can I beat?

I can't beat ace high.

Heck I can't even beat king high.

The only hand I can put him on that I'm presently beating is a smaller flush draw.

Yes, he could have the 8,9 of spades. If that's the case I'm golden.

But that's the only hand I think I can beat.

So I check the turn behind him.

The river brings a king. And not a spade.

Old man acts first and bets out 3000. I want to call. For you guys. To write about it. But of course I have to fold.

I'm also tempted to show my cards. Show I wasn't just continue betting the flop. Show that I actually had hope. Show that I had outs but couldn't get lucky. But I resist temptation and muck quietly.

With my smaller stack I went back to work. Pushing all in preflop to steal blinds and antes. Excited to eventually race someone and double up. Fully prepared to embrace the gamble.

My moment came an orbit later when I picked up ace queen. I'm calling any reraise so I cut out the middleman and pushed all in from under the gun.

For my small stack, an ace queen here legitimately felt like a monster.

And it was for a few moments.

Until a player behind me called with ace king.

The flop came 4,5,5 so I had some unexpected outs to pair the board and chop the pot on either the turn or the river but it was not to be.

Friday, March 14, 2008

My America

You know how Presidential candidates travel around the country and meet with regular citizens so that they can bore us with these stories later on at their convention?

Just like these politicians, I'm out here in Vegas meeting the people. What Phil Hellmuth might call "the American public." Ordinary folks. Human beings. The America that's playing poker on a weekday afternoon at the MGM Grand.

My America.

When I'm asked to speak at the Democratic National Convention later this Summer I will tell America about the woman from Chicago who didn't give up trying to buy the pot from me after I called her flop bet with top pair.

She tried again on the turn and I called that too. She finally checked the river. I checked behind her. At this point you might think the cards should speak. You might think the pot should automatically be awarded to the best hand. Read on.

Based on our position she is supposed to show her cards first. She also made the last bet and I made the last call which would also result in her showing first.

However I don't mind showing first. It's a respect thing. It's only a 40 dollar pot. I probably have the best hand with top pair. Etiquette says I show my cards. She'll muck and life can move on.

Sometimes when playing at a tougher table against more difficult opponents there are reasons for me not to show first. Or at least so quickly. It all depends. I might get information on another player by making them show first. This isn't being a jerk. This is playing the game within the rules.

But the reason I'm emphasizing that I didn't have to show first, the reason I mention that I could have made her show her missed draw or bottom pair, the reason I'm pointing these things out is because when I flipped over my hand, the cards hit the table and then flipped back over to their covered side.

They're still within my arms reach in front of me. So I flip them over a second time to show the winning hand. I'm pretty sure a few players and the dealer saw it the first time.

Everyone is waiting for this woman to muck her cards so that I can be pushed the pot. But she doesn't muck. She doesn't show either because her hand doesn't beat mine. Instead she starts yelling that I mucked my cards. Even though they never hit the pile of discards. Even though I could still reach them. This is her strategy. This is how she wants to win the pot.

As far as I'm concerned it's dirty poker. It's like we both agreed not to run in the Florida and Michigan primaries and now she's suddenly claiming those states count.

For me the bigger issue isn't whether I mucked. It's respecting other players. She doesn't want the best hand to win. She doesn't want the cards to speak. She wants to win by getting my hand disqualified. The same hand I've just shown her respect with by showing first.

She's trying to take a pot away from another player that doesn't belong to her.

This is Her America.

And as you might expect, she wouldn't let it go. She continued to argue.

And as you might expect, I couldn't keep my mouth shut.

We exchanged some dialogue. It's not worth repeating.

Lets just fast forward to the ending.

I closed with "You are one classy poker player."

She closed by telling me to "Just shut up."

And just like that my Rain Man persona evaporated away, disappearing somewhere into the idiot wind of perfumed air resonating throughout the MGM Grand.

Yet I'd be lying if I told you this lady was the only great individual I met at the MGM Grand. There are so many inspirational citizens out there.

How will I ever forget the young man seated to my left with the uncontrollable knee shake every time he held a big hand?

This young man obviously needs medical care. Probably some sort of muscle relaxer and if I become President I will work on getting this for him. I promise you that. But until that happens he's just going to have to live with the most obvious poker tell I've seen in years.

Most player's tells are usually related to their betting patterns. This guy was all about his knee.

There was a simple formula:

-When he bluffed it stood still. Perfectly.

- When he connected with the flop or held a big pair it would shake.

Every single time.

I eventually got involved in a hand with him. I felt pretty good about it on the flop but then he bet 100 bucks on the turn and I faced a tough decision.

Normally it would be difficult but this time as I stood there and played with my chips I peaked down to my left. His knee was shaking non stop.


And I liked my hand too.

Too bad.

It went into the muck.

So many great citizens we have. So many.

I got to know the gentleman from California in seat 8 who check raised me on the turn, not aware he was only 15% to win the pot.

My gut told me he was chasing. It was a very scary spot. I only held top pair, 6 kicker! But my instincts told me I was ahead. A year ago there'd be absolutely NO WAY I'd hang around in a pot after getting check raised with top pair 6 kicker.

But I put him on a hand. And I was going to stick to it. I came back over the top and reraised him. He sat and thought for a few minutes. Great news. My hand is ahead.

He eventually calls. I'm 70% to win the hand. He's 15.91% with 7 outs to win the pot. We chop the rest of the time.

He hit the gutshot straight and won a big pot. Still, I was proud of this last hand.

Im playing good poker, getting better at reading situations and having a bad run all at the same time.

I'm not looking for empathy. I really am fine with this.

I do share it however to illustrate how difficult it can be to do this for a living.

Outplaying your opponents and getting your money in good isn't always enough.

Not in my America.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Eli's Message from Phil

"I like what Phil Ivey says: 'When you win, you have to stay there forever to beat the game; when you lose, you have to get up.' Control is everything."
-Eli Elezra

You know how Rain Man was an excellent driver?

I'm pretty good at getting up from the poker table when I'm down money.

No one walks out of a casino like I do. They used to say Magic Johnson was faster running with a basketball than without it. That's me heading to the valet when I lose.

However I need work on the flip side. The staying there forever when I'm up part. I definitely leave and let myself go home too easily.

What can I say? I like home.

Plus there's always the urge to book a win. An urge that feels so good in the short run but bad in the long run.

This urge showed up yesterday. After a couple of losing sessions Thursday and Friday I took Saturday off from poker. But there I was playing 2/5 Sunday afternoon at the Wynn. I was up money, gave half of it back and then left because the truth was that it mattered to me to finish the session up.

It was a shame my psyche felt this way because my table was just so beautiful. Full of maniac players that gave action. It became clear to me that I was likely to double up, but I'd have to risk losing my stack to get there. They were willing to gamble.

I however didn't want to. I didn't have that gambling feeling coming off two losing sessions. So I left.

My self criticism is that by leaving I was being results oriented. Only thinking about how it would feel in the moment. That's not good but it was clearly my truth. So I listened to it.

As I walked out of the Wynn and thought about these feelings, a light bulb went off in my head. (Is the light bulb in my brain? Or is it located slightly above my brain on top of my head? Either way...) The light bulb told me to play poker like Rain Man.

I'm being serious here.

What would Rain Man do?

Make correct decisions. Over and over again. He'd have no reaction whatsoever to winning or losing. Who cares about that? That money part wouldn't matter to him.

Raymond Babbit just wants to play the next hand correctly. In fact he doesn't just want to play the next hand correctly. He NEEDS to.

It sounds so simple. Sit there and pretend I'm Raymond Babbit.

I'm crazy enough to think it could improve my game.

If nothing else it'll make the tiresome poker table banter a little more interesting.

Next time someone asks me where I'm from I'll say "Cincinnati Ohio."

And then when they ask me what I do for a living I can say "I'm an excellent driver."

What's that? You're an excellent driver? Do you drive a taxi? A truck? A limousine?"

"No. Dad lets me drive slow on the driveway every Saturday."

Every Saturday?

"Yes. But not on Monday."

Not on Monday?

"Definitely not on Monday."

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Poker is Hard

Coming off that rough session Thursday night, I returned Friday to the Wynn.

You know. To get back up on the horse.

Things looked good early on. I called a preflop raise with pocket 5's and stared with disguised joy at a 5,7,7 flop. My opponent bet his ace jack. The whole thing was a dream. I'm 98.02% to win.

Wait a minute. Did I say a dream? I'm sorry! I meant a nightmare. Incredibly the dealer turned over back to back aces to give my opponent a bigger full house and destroy my hand.

This my friends is what you call "not running well."

When I'm a 98% favorite to win a hand, I need to win that hand.

I lost as a 98% favorite yesterday too.

So in theory I should win my next 98 hands in that spot. Not lose 2 in a row.

I'm not a good enough poker player to make a living doing this without my 98% hands holding up.

In fact as long as you brought it up, 99% or 100% would be ideal.


Come on universe! Give me a few wins in a row as the big favorite before sucking out on me again!

You can't do that to a guy like me two days in a row! You'll make him crazy and he'll start talking to himself in the third person.

Later in the same session 4 of us are all in preflop. One guy has kings. One has queens. Me and the 4th guy have aces are 60% to chop the pot. Or at least we were 60% until a king and a queen came out.

Fascinating how numb I feel playing poker. This second hand didn't even faze me after some of the runner runner stuff. I just got up and calmly walked out of the casino. Yep, yep, yep.

Part of me gets a little scared when this sort of bad luck happens. Not so much of my opponents. But of the math. Like until a big pot gets shoved my way it starts to feel like it's impossible to win at poker.

The biggest problem is I can't will myself to win. I just have to keep doing what I'm doing. At some point my stack will grow (again) instead of disappear.

I'm curious to see what happens next time at the table. Either I'll finally make some money or I'll have more math defying stories to share.

I think we call that Wynn/Wynn.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Late Last Night at the Wynn

I call 15 bucks preflop 5 ways with pocket 3's. Flop is a pretty looking Jack,7,3 with two spades. The preflop raiser bets 45. I make it 115. Dude in between us calls all in for his last 42. Preflop raiser thinks. Preflop raiser folds.

The best news is I'm not even up against a flush draw. All this gentleman has is queen, jack for top pair, queen kicker. He claimed he thought I was on the flush draw but the truth is with his small stack (and the big pot) he can't easily fold top pair here. Even with a bet and a raise in front of him.

I'm 98.08% to win.

A jack comes on the turn to give him trips and me the boat. At the time this seemed like a real good card since I hadn't seen his hand yet and he could have been on the flush draw. Yet even with him hitting trips and gaining hope I'm still 84% to win the hand.

The river? The 4th jack comes. Runner runner quads. Poof.

It's an unlikely occurrence but I'm genuinely calm. Rather than think of how unlucky I got, I prefer to focus on what it took to beat me. The guy had to hit running quads. If that's what it takes for me to lose a big pot then that's good poker.

The next orbit I raise to 10 preflop with 5,7 suited. The button calls. Flop comes 6,8,9. I bet 15. He calls. I'm 82.53% versus his top pair. Turn is an 8. I'm now an 84.09% favorite. Yet between not seeing his cards and my holding the ignorant end of the straight, the board looked pretty dangerous. Too many scary cards could come on the river.

I over bet the pot and pushed all in. I WANT the call. He obliges with his top pair, 10 kicker. Fun to think that I don't even need a straight to be ahead of him here. Even just something like ten, jack would have been good enough.

The river? Another 9. He hits the runner runner boat. Poof.

This was a great evening at work. It might sound strange to say but I did my job. In both hands I got my money in exactly where I wanted to.

A session like this is strangely encouraging.

I should have doubled up twice.

The results don't change that.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Roberts Rules Of Poker

6:25 PM. Wednesday night. No limit poker at the Venetian.

First hand I raise it up with jack 8 suited. One caller. Flop is 7,9,10. I bet 15. Guy calls. Turn is a small card. I bet 30. He calls again. River is a jack. Not the best card for me. I bet 45. He calls and turns over ace 8. Hit the straight on the river. We chop my pot

Speaking of me, what's especially awesome here is dealer doesn't recognize my straight. Yeah for some reason she sees his 8 but not mine. There's confusion. I still end up with my half of the pot. Nevertheless, afterwards, she warns me that if she had mucked both my cards I wouldn't have gotten my half. I secretly disagree. I think I would have called the floor and gotten my portion but it's easier to just agree with her.

So I say "Yep."

She says "You'd be okay with that?"

I say "I'd be okay with that."

She thinks I'm serious.

6:26 PM. I count my chips and realize that between rake and tip I managed to lose money on that first hand.

6:27 PM. Second hand. I'm in there again, this time with ace suited. I flop the flush draw because it's how I roll. I bet, there's a caller, a raiser, things happen, questions are asked, words are exchanged, promises broken and when dust settles at the Venetian, all of our chips are in the middle.

This kind of hand is exactly why I'm buying in short. So that I can gamble. So that I can play more aggressively. I'm hoping to double up. The worst case scenario is I've established an early loose image.

Unfortunately I go blank, blank, and rebuy for $100.

6:32 PM. Minus 10 with ace 10 suited.

6:44 PM. I raise with queen jack from the cutoff. Button calls. So do blinds. Flop is a decent enough Jack, Ten, rag. I bet 15. Two callers. Turn is another ten. I bet 20. They both call again. An ace comes on the river. I shut down and check. Second player bets 50. Third guy folds. It's back to me. 50 to win 150. I don't think he has an ace. I think he's either got a 10 for trips or he's bluffing a missed draw.

I want to fold but the pot is too big. I convince myself that he would have shown aggression on the turn if he had a 10.

It's a scared call. But it's still a call. I put the $50 out there.

He says "good call" and throws his cards into the muck.

Then it happens.

The dealer looks at me and says "Show me your hand."


"You gotta show me your hand."

"No I don't."

"Yes. You gotta show me your hand for me to push you the pot."

"No I don't."

"I can't push you the pot without seeing a hand."

"I'm the last player standing. I don't need to show cards. There's no one left in the hand to win the pot besides me."


"Who are you going to give the pot to if I fold?""

"I can't push the pot to you without seeing cards."

Doesn't she know this is my favorite thing in poker???

Nothing gives me more joy than calling a river bet and winning the pot without having to show my cards because my opponent has mucked.

"Can we get the floor?" I ask.

The men at my table all looked uncomfortable. A couple of them joked about how the game was friendly before I sat down. I told them I was sorry for the delay but it's not correct poker to make me show my hand. And that I just want to play by the rules.

The supervisor comes over and the dealer explains the story to him.

I told this supervisor that the entire reason I called the river bet was to see my opponents hand but that my opponent mucked and got away from showing his hand. So why should he earn the right to see my hand?

At this point the supervisor amends his ruling to "A player doesn't have to show his cards in this spot unless someone else asks to see it."

So what happens of course? The guy to my left, the same guy who has just mucked his cards after I called his river bluff asks to see my cards.

And even better: the Venetian Supervisor hears this and actually tells me to turn over my cards and show my hand!

I asked him the same question that stumped the dealer. "Where's the pot going to go if I don't show my hand?"

There was no answer.

Then I added "They wouldn't make me show my cards at the Bellagio or the Wynn."

Truth is I probably should have just thrown my cards into the muck to see how it all played out. It would be a better story for you guys. Instead I got impatient and ended the episode by finally showing my cards and claiming the pot. However the whole thing definitely pissed me off. So I decided to be real careful. I immediately stood up and grabbed a rack to cash out my chips.

I'm sure I'll go back to that room. The action is too good to stay away. I certainly won't let one bad dealer and an inexperienced floor man ruin the Venetian for me but on this particular evening it was real easy to go find another casino to pay my rake. Specifically, one that lets me muck my cards and still win at the end of hands.

And so I left.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Three Random Hands For Your Reading Pleasure

I played Monday night at the MGM. Yesterday afternoon at the Venetian. Had a pretty cold run of cards but what felt good was recognizing traps and avoiding them. I also noticed how wonderfully tight I can play when I know I'm going to be seated there for awhile. You know. Folding that ace 10 from under the gun. Folding that ace suited to a raise. The more poker I play, the more hands I will see, the tighter I can be. It's the reason people multi-table on the internet.

Poker is all about hand volume. If I'm only going to play poker for an orbit and see 10 hands, then that ace 10 might be a monster. Kind of like it would be late in a tournament when blinds get real big and your M is real low. But if I'm going to sit at a cash game and see hundreds of hands, I can fold ace 10 faster than Dylan can say "Don't think twice, it's all right."

Anyhow, as promised, here are three random hands for your reading pleasure.

1-Straddled hand at the MGM....
I limp with queen 10 suited. 3 callers. Straddler makes it 20. We all call. Flop comes out 5,5, queen and straddler checks. I fire out 25. Everyone folds except for the player to my right who had checked in front of me. Rag comes on turn. I see his hand hesitate. He doesn't know whether to bet or not. He checks to me. I check behind him. Another rag on river and he checks to me again. Hmmm. I'm sitting here with top pair. As I'm considering a value bet, I wonder what the hell he called me on the flop with. My read tells me he has a real hand. Is he slowplaying a 5? Does he have ace queen, king queen or jack queen? Probably not ace queen but all the others are possible. If I were to bet here I gotta be thinking he has something like small pocket pair. Or maybe queen 9? What other hands can I beat? It's too small of a range. I check and show my queen 10. He shows king queen and claims he was waiting for me to bet so that he could check raise. Sure you were sir. I don't believe him. (Yet far be it for me to overestimate the playing abilities of my opponents.)

Mainly I mention this hand because part of me is dying to bet that river to prove to myself that I'm not weak. Yet I'm glad to follow poker instincts and not bet when something feels wrong. I don't need to show anyone how strong I am at poker. What I need to do is make good decisions.

2- I limp in early position with ace suited at the Venetian. Flop comes queen, queen, 3. Two of my suit. Aggressive kid bets out 10. I call. So does a third player. I'm not in love with chasing a flush on a paired board. I also expect that one of these players already has a queen. However the 3 out there gives me comfort that they probably haven't hit their boat (yet).

Turn is a 9. Not my suit. Kid bets 30. A fold here would be fine for me. But this time I call. I believe that if I can hit my flush I could potentially take his stack on the river.

River is an ace.

This time he checks. I missed my flush but hit top pair. Now of course if I had the nuts I'd bet. Or if I held absolutely nothing I might bet. But with just a pair I'm more than happy to check behind him. If I passed him on the river, good for me. But my read is still that he has a queen. The bigger thing for me here is that up till now he's been real aggressive. So his check here is suspicious.

I check behind him and show my ace. He turns over queen 9 for the boat. Damn I'm happy that flush didn't come on the river. I was playing with fire.

Meanwhile I gotta repeat how much that check on the river really stood out to me. In his case I think he should bet the nuts because it would be real hard for me to tell this bet apart from his other bets (bluffs). If he was a weak player then a check might fool me. But not from this guy.

3- The last hand of interest came pretty late in the session. The table was wild. A few times someone would raise 5x the big blind and still get 6 callers. So when I picked up pocket aces, I limped as you might expect. Unfortunately no one raised and 5 of us saw the flop. Before it even came out I reminded myself that against this many opponents I was no longer the favorite. No need to feel sorry for myself once a confusing looking flop comes out.

Flop was jack, 8, 3. Two diamonds. The same aggressive kid from the hand before bet 10 bucks. If I held ace jack I'd probably feel good here. So even though they always go down in flames there's no need for me to fear holding aces right? I raise him to 25.

Not only does the kid call, but another guy in the blinds also comes along for the ride. This 3rd (older) gentleman I absolutely cannot put on a hand. He's already shown down 4,9 off. You usually don't see that from the older guys. On one hand he is terrible. (He previously paid me off on a 4 flush board with only top pair.) On the other hand he plays any two cards. He's dangerous.

A 3rd diamond comes on the turn. They both check to me and I take my time and peak down at my aces to see if either one is a diamond. One of them is.

Here's where it gets interesting. If I held no diamond I think I'm more likely to bet. I don't want a diamond to draw out on me. I'd want to charge the players to see the river. I'm also happy if I bet and the hand ends now.

However I do have a diamond. The nut draw. So a diamond on the river will only help me. My thinking here is also that if I check the turn and a diamond doesn't come on the river, perhaps one of the players will bet out with weaker holdings since I've just shown weakness.

My other fear (if I were to bet the turn) is that I get reraised and have to make a tough decision. So by checking, I control the size of the pot. I also control my ability to see the river.

River is the beautiful looking 4th diamond. They both check to me again.

I suppose I could have moved all in and made them wonder. But I'm greedy and want to get paid. So I bet a reasonable 50 bucks. It's small enough that I could easily get reraised. Hopefully all in. First player folds but the kid thinks about it for awhile. He asks me how much I bet.

I don't answer. I sit there in fear.

Please raise me.

After a few more seconds he calls. I show my aces. He mucks. I'm guessing he initially had a pair (jack or 8) along with a diamond (queen? ten?).

Mostly, how nice to see a hand where pocket aces wins.

I left the Venetian soon after but not before listening to an obnoxious conversation at the 1/2 table next to mine. Two guys were fighting and one finally challenges the other to play him heads up no limit at 100/200 blinds.

The first guy says he'll play him 25/50.

The 100/200 guy says 25/50 is too small for him. He only wants to play 100/200.

Playing 25/50 no limit is obviously too small for the gentleman sitting at a 1/2 table.

I might need to get me some headphones. Fast.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Cats and Poker

Much has been written about dogs playing poker.

And by written, I of course mean painted.

But as far as I know, the artist C.M. Coolidge didn't paint any pictures of cats playing poker. It's a damn shame too because some cats play poker.

Mine do. Every so often we get out the chips and play a quick sit and go or small stakes cash game.

I'd rather not use their real names in case they read so lets just say that one of the cats, we'll name her the "Bengal" plays pretty poorly. Lots of questionable calls and desperate bluffs. She's one of those players you'd call down with ace high. The Bengal has horrible instincts and loses her stack quite often.

The other cat, lets call her the "Grey Cat" has a real solid poker game. She's tight aggressive. Every decision makes sense. She's often on the right side of positive expected value.

Bengal is real loose. Grey Cat is real tight. It carries over to their real lives.

If strangers come over to visit, the Bengal is there to greet them. Her critics say she meets too many people and plays too many hands. She likes to get herself into the middle of chaos. If you take a step, she's often under your foot.

Yet you could come to my house and never meet the Grey Cat. She's real good at hiding and not being noticed. Some call her the shadow. She picks her spots. And if she was previously hurt in anyway, physically or emotionally, she's a master at not repeating the specific behavior that caused her danger.

But where this whole "cats and poker" post just came to light was my taking the cats outside. With the arrival of warmer weather we suddenly have birds hanging out on the low branches in the trees in our backyard.

So I'm standing out there with the two of them and Grey Cat just went absolutely berserk chasing the birds. It was her one feline show interpretation of The Call of the Wild. I've never seen her that aggressive before.

But it makes perfect sense. She finally had the right opponent to get aggressive with. There's no need for her to get aggressive with things that are bigger like humans (or big stacks).

No. It's more logical to pick on the things in life that are smaller than you. Whether that means birds or small stacks. It's the bully approach. It works in nature. It works at the poker table.

Grey Cat was chasing a meal just inches away. She could see her reward in front of her and was salivating. Kind of like when they bring out all the cash to the final table in poker tournaments when you get two handed.

Unlike the Bengal, Grey Cat can switch up her game. She's not always the same at the poker table. She's passive at times. Yet also savvy with her aggression. She's only clawed me a couple of times ever, and yet each time I was annoying her and clearly deserved it.

If Grey Cat has her claws out there's definitely a good reason. She's not bluffing. The Bengal will sometimes claw you by accident. It's not strategy; She's just clumsy when she executes certain cat moves. But you gotta take this in account when you play a hand with her. People are always yelling at the Bengal when she sucks out on them.

An advanced item in the Grey Cat's poker arsenal is her ability to lay down a hand. If I'm pursuing her around the house she might run from me for a room or two but if I continue to follow her, she eventually stops and submits. Just gives up. She accepts that sometimes she's unable to hide. She understands that giving up and folding is okay. She doesn't try to win every pot.

Bengal of course plays a much different style. She never gives up. She stays and fights every battle.

When the cats were confronted by two large dogs, Grey Cat ran and hid behind the dryer. Not Bengal. No she stayed right where she was. She sat in the middle of the room. She didn't take a single step. She just looked at the dogs and hissed.

Bengal certainly wasn't folding (running). She wasn't raising (attacking). But she sure as hell was going to stay right there and call these dogs (bet) down.

I admire Bengal's heart. I admire her courage.

But I don't want to back her at the poker table.

I'd rather back the Grey Cat.

If Grey Cat is playing a hand, I know there's a damn good reason.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

The Weather

It's beautiful outside here in Vegas.

It's as if someone saw it was March 1st and immediately turned the thermostat up to 75 degrees Fahrenheit, 24 degrees Celsius.

You know. The kind of weather they promised us in the commercial that told us how life would be perfect in the desert.

No one complains about the Vegas weather like I do. It's really one of my most endearing qualities. And complaining about the weather in Vegas is real easy because Spring lasts for less than a week. It's true. We go from Winter straight into Summer.

So while today is utterly amazing, deep down I fear the warm breeze that's blowing outside. A warm and pleasant Nevada day is clearly a gateway drug. It can only lead to one thing. 120 degree days. That's 48.888 to those of you who think in Celsius. And that's when it gets ugly.

But not today.

No. For this moment in time, today is still perfect. And what better way to spend a perfect day than for me to go sit inside a casino!