Tuesday, July 29, 2008

1000 Minutes Of Discipline

I spoke with a friend last night who told me he just retired from poker.

"You're retired?" I asked.

I'd heard him correctly. Said he made the decision to retire based on a recent session. Apparently he went to play at 9:30 PM and then stayed all night long. Played until 2:30 PM the next afternoon.

Afterwards he was upset that he was unable to get up and leave the table. Okay. So perhaps he lacks the "discipline" to walk away from the game.

However he's sure got some "discipline" to sit there and play for 17 hours!

That's all I'm saying.

17 hour session?

The only thing I could do for 17 hours is sleep, and to complete that task I'd probably need a nap somewhere in the middle.

My friend summed up the pros and cons of what may be his last poker session. Ever.

"The good news is I played the entire time on just one buy in! The bad news is I lost it at the end after 17 hours of play. It was $200 hundred bucks!"

"Well at least you got your money's worth" I said.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Unmet Need

A guy raises my blind in late position.

Does it make any difference if I told you he had a ponytail?

What range of hands should we put him on?

How about after he says "This table sucks. I can't get no action."

The small blind calls and so do I. Flop comes 10,10, rag. Small blind bets. I get out of the way. Small blind happens to have 10,7 and is about to take down a big pot from the ponytail guy. This results in the ponytail guy yelling at the 10,7 guy for calling his preflop raise with well, 10,7.

It's hard to feel bad for the ponytail guy because we've all just listened to him say that our table sucks because he can't get any action. Well sir you just got some action.

The next orbit the same ponytail guy raises again in late position. This time he starts running his mouth about how no one respects his raises.

We all fold behind him.

At which point he starts complaining that our table is playing too tight.

And he means it.

This guy had a real miserable energy to him. He was the kind of human being you'd go to see a movie with just so you didn't have to talk to him. The kind of person best enjoyed in the dark, while paying attention to a motion picture and eating popcorn.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Motion Sickness

Poker tables are full of hacks. People making crazy moves. Moves that may or may not actually apply to the given hand. It's kind of like these players have learned how to do the Heimlech maneuver and desperately want to test it out, but no one happens to be choking at the moment.

Imagine you're sitting at a poker table feeling nausea. All of a sudden another player makes a bad read and misinterprets the situation to be that you're choking to death. So they run up behind you, wrap their arms around your chest, and start pumping.

Talk about awkward...

What this other player doesn't understand is that even if the Heimlech maneuver somehow alleviates the nausea on this particular hand, it still doesn't mean it was a positive expected value move in the long run.

Watching people like this play poker can be highly entertaining. Unless you're the person in the hand who got unlucky. Then their play might make you sick.

Most doctors and medical experts say that nausea and choking are two of the symptoms to look out for. If you've experienced either of these discomforts at the poker table, there's a good chance you outplayed your opponent but still got sucked out on.

Which is one of the major reasons why I never play poker on a boat.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Ahhhh Math

I've been playing lots of HORSE the past couple of days and discovered something scary: I'm up money in the games that involve a low hand (Omaha HL, Stud HL and Razz) and down money in the games that award only a high pot (Hold em and Stud high).

How strange and embarrassing is that?

Especially the hold em part!

Who knew that Texas Hold em was my big leak?

Meanwhile, perhaps not surprisingly, I've fallen madly in love with these low games. My math brain really digs the concept of playable cards. By playable cards, I'm speaking of cards in my hand that I can use to win with at showdown.

I haven't read any Razz books so I'm not sure if I'm stating the obvious (or even correct in this matter) but when playing Razz I prefer to hold something like 4,5,6 than say ace,2,jack. However from what I've witnessed, the same can't be said of my opponents.

I'm sitting with players who'll reraise me if they've got 2 good cards like ace 2,jack. This move is probably residual from Omaha HL where any ace,2 in the hole is potentially the nut low. Now ace,2,jack may have lots of bling, but it's still a drawing hand. A player with ace,2,jack still needs a legitimate low card to replace the jack.

So I've been coming along for the ride anytime I start with 3 cards that I wouldn't mind showing down. I certainly haven't played enough hands to make any sort of grandiose statement but for the moment this strategy has been been working pretty well.

If you're a regular Razz player, what I've written here is probably real remedial. Kind of like it's coming from a first grade teacher.

Yet if you've never played Razz before the last couple of paragraphs might read like calculus.

Which kind of sums up Razz.

It's first grade calculus.

It's first grade because everyone acts like they're 6 years old when they miss their draws. And it's calculus because just like calculus, most of the people sitting there have no idea what they're doing.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Poker By Analogy #523

Being a poker player is kind of like being the coach of a sports team.

In both activities you don't actually play. You manipulate and behave in certain ways to get those around you to act accordingly.

In both activities you can't will yourself to win. You can't make your hand hold up anymore than you can get your worst athlete to score.

In both activities you're forced to make the best with what you've got. If you're a basketball coach and your team is small, you might choose to play the game at a faster pace. If you're a poker player with suited connectors, you might want to keep the pot smaller preflop.

Play to your strengths.

Avoid your weaknesses.

Like my main man Sun Tzu.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

When Life Gives You Pancake Mix, Make Pancakes

I don't have much experience making pancakes. My pancake days have been limited at best. My participation almost symbolic. Watching me cook pancakes is like watching a politician throw out the first pitch at a baseball game. It's awkward and not worthy of press coverage. Oh sure on occasion I've passed through the kitchen and finished off a batch of pancake mix by doing the "guest pour" but that's the extent of my involvement.

No one has ever asked me to prepare pancakes for them. For some reason I've never been in charge of creating the mixture. I've never woken up and thought today I will make pancakes. Thus when it comes to the home pancake experience, I'm what you might call a role player. I eat. I close the meal. I'm there to finish up all the extra pancakes that come off at the end. The ones that no one else can handle. That's what I do. That's my job. And once in awhile...if I happen to find myself in the kitchen late in the meal...maybe I do the last pour or two. But that's it.

Due to my exceptional meal closing abilities, certain columnists have dubbed me the Mariano Rivera of Pancakes. They still love to talk of the time I spilled the pancake mix all over the kitchen counter in Arizona in 2001. No one forgets that night. And of course I also dropped the spatula in Cleveland back in 1997. It happens. Only two mess ups over all that time is still pretty damn impressive.

Looking back over my pancake career, I may not have poured the batter too often but I was a crowd favorite in the kitchen. The people would start clapping anytime I got near the ladle. In fact if you listen to old bootlegs of my 20th century pours, it's hard to tell if you're standing in my kitchen, or at Soldier Field in Chicago when William "The Refrigerator" Perry came into the game for one of his novelty goal line carries.

Mostly I was loved. Adored by pancake fans who knew I wasn't afraid to have fun out there. Not the people who started liking pancakes once they became popular. I'm talking about the folks who were there in the beginning. The same folks who will still be there eating their pancakes long after ESPN stops showing them. The people who actually appreciate breakfast and not the fad called breakfast.

Sometimes, if there were children around, I would try to pour an "R" in the pan to make them jealous that I could have a pancake in the shape of my first initial. This move can become rather dangerous if there is no additional pancake mix left for the young person to then make their own initial with. I learned this lesson the hard way.

Those of you who've had the pleasure of watching me cook before, you guys probably know to stand back at a safe distance. Everyone else however needs to be real careful. Sometimes food ends up in places it shouldn't and people get hurt in the process. It's one of the reasons I have you sign that waiver on the way in.

My wife is well aware of my cooking history. I'm messy. There are spills and occasional burns. So when I announced yesterday that I was going to make pancakes, you can imagine how surprised I was to immediately receive clearance from her to create the mixture.

She said okay? Did she hear me correctly? I said I was going to make pancakes.

My wife's only request was that I come and get her before I poured. Now sure I could have argued with her that pouring was the only aspect of pancake making that I might be qualified to do. But why ruin a good thing?

Meanwhile look who's getting full control over making the mix?

According to the box the recipe was simple. All I needed was:

2 cups pancake mix
1 cup milk
2 eggs
2 tablespoons oil

So like Joba Chamberlain becoming a starting pitcher, I began to make pancakes.

As a math guy I was all over the the liquid to solid cups things. They want 2 cups mix and 1 cup milk? No problem. The fact that I used different devices to measure each of these cups should calm everyone down.

The 2 eggs part was also pretty straight forward. I raised preflop and everyone folded.

The hand that got me in trouble was the 2 tablespoons of oil. I wasn't thinking and grabbed the extra virgin olive oil instead of using vegetable oil.

What? You want me to think too?

In my defense I've never made pancake mixture before. And all it said was oil.

(If that line of thinking doesn't convince people then I'm just gonna have my lawyer go on and on about how "the oven mitt don't fit." Mitt also happens to rhyme better with acquit than does glove. Talk about a lucky break.)

So that's the bad news. The olive oil did make the pancakes taste funny.

However the good news is that substituting olive oil for vegetable oil only matters if you care about how your pancakes taste.

I sure didn't get much help eating this specific batch of pancakes from my wife. As I sat there chewing endlessly I pictured Marv Albert chiming in with how "we're watching extended Gar-bage Time" in that Marv Albert way where he turns "Garrrrr-Baaggggge" into a French word.

So what did we learn here?

Well I definitely misplayed the recipe.

Olive oil instead of vegetable oil?

Embarrassing. I should know better. It's the kind of donkey mistake that results in getting flamed all over the message boards. The pancake blogger community can be tough like that.

Me? I'm trying to stay above the fray. I'm hoping that I've grown from the experience and that I won't make the same mistake next time.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Bluffing Onstage.

One trick I've learned in show business is to perform prepared material in such a way that the audience assumes I'm improvising. On their part it's a reasonable assumption since if I'd actually prepared material, it should be tight. So if I'm standing onstage and it looks like I'm thinking about what to say next, it's fair to assume that I'm making it up as I go along.

This technique (accidentally) worked for me this past week. I was messing around onstage rapping with two percussion players. My rhymes were all prepared but I took my time and did them so slowly, so randomly, so patiently, that it seemed like I was making the entire thing up in that moment. The pauses weren't planned. They were unintentional. They were due to my not remembering all of my rhymes. But the audience ate it up.

The audience's reaction is proof that life is all about expectations. If this same audience had expected a tightly memorized rap, then I would have failed. But to a group of people that thought I was making up rhymes on the spot, I looked like a rapping genius.

The bluffing part was amusing post show. I was chatting with some folks and well aware of just how sloppy my performance was. But these members of the audience would hear nothing of it. They were too impressed with how I had just spit out 5 minutes of clever rhymes off the top of my head. I told them the lines were prepared but they didn't believe me.

What they don't understand is that if I could improvise rhymes that well, I'd be the world's greatest rapper. Not some guy who's pausing every 4 to 8 sentences because he's trying to remember what obscure reference comes next.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Ace 10 is Whack

Most times I have no plan. I don't go into the casino thinking "I'm going to raise 40% of the hands" or "I'm going to fold all night." My style of play is dictated by what I see at the table and I react accordingly. That's what it says in my pamphlet. I'm happy to play lots of hands, I'm happy to fold. It's all based on what's going on in the moment.

Going to the Rio for an evening session, I fully expected to see chaos. It's what goes on in that room. I was prepared to play tighter than normal. At 2/5 it costs 7 dollars to see 10 hands. Thinking of it this way helps me chill out and play tighter. There's no need to force action to happen.

I came up with an experiment. Sit back and play real tight and fold for 3 orbits. It will only cost 21 dollars for 30 hands. At some point I'll pick up a hand and raise it up. In the meantime I'll fold all those crappy jack,2 hands and move on.

So what happens in real life? The very first hand I see gets raised to $35.
3 people call in front of me. I look down in the blinds at 8,9 suited. Welcome to 2.5 at the Rio.

I call because I have implied odds and by implied odds I mean a blog. The best part about calling is I immediately exceed my $21 budget before I've even seen a flop. Who knew I was this cool? People* trying to put a $21 dollar cap on me and I'm calling $35 dollar bets with 8,9 suited.

* People = Me.

I think I used to have discipline. At some point. Maybe.

Who we kidding? If Steve Wynn called me up and said Robert, it's Steve, I know you're at home but early position just raised to 35 and I'm looking at 3 callers, do you want 8,9 suited? I'd say "Who is this person pretending to be Steve Wynn and why do you keep calling my phone? " But you know a large part of me also wants to go down there and see a flop. I've got a sweet spot for 8,9 suited. What can I say?

And obviously I'm getting older, because I only called with it here. Back when I was younger I would have raised with the 8,9 suited. No question about it.

The flop came out King, king, queen. Not necessarily an ideal flop against 4 players. Then again any time the board pairs things get fun. I check. The preflop raiser, a lady with around 2 grand in front of her leads out for $50 into the $175 that sits between us. Everyone folds to me.

I give serious thought to raising here. I believe she has a big hand, but if that big hand is not ace king, or pocket queens, then she has to be nervous. I think a raise is in order. She can't call me without a king. I start playing with my chips.

Then another voice kicks in. The voice reminds me that ace, king is clearly within her range of starting hands. The voice mentions that I've only bought in for $500, so my raising here to say $150 would be committing 30% of my stack on a bluff on the first hand of the night against a player I have no read on. On an evening where I really wanted to let the game just come to me.

I go back and forth. She has the best hand. Will she fold to a raise? I called with 8,9 suited hoping to flop a miracle. Not trying to outplay an unknown opponent. I muck. And my opponent shows pocket aces.

Wow. I could have stolen it with a raise. Maybe. Probably. Who knows? It's the Rio in July. Anything is possible.

Is she one of those players who says "I can't lay this down" and calls? She has all those chips in front of her. She's doing something right.

The saddest part is this hand was the highlight of my night.

According to my publicist the spin is that we're all proud that I thought about raising. That I almost made the right move. Oh sure I lacked the courage to follow up on it. But my thinking about it means that I'm almost becoming an actual real poker player.

Give me another 10-15 years of living in Vegas and I'll have this whole "playing cards for a living" thing down. I swear to you. That's all the time I need.

Wow I can't believe I just wrote that last paragraph. I sure hope my wife doesn't read this blog. Now that would be really awkward.

So where were we? Oh yeah. The hand I could have maybe won. If I had raised. But I didn't.

I even managed to get sucked out on in a hand that I wasn't involved in. That's how powerful I am. I fold ace 10 off in early position behind an under the gun raiser and then watch an ace flop. I perk up to follow the rest of the hand. I have to know if I would have had the best hand. So that I can know whether or not to feel bad about myself.

As the hand goes on we will learn that the dude who raised in early position, in front of me, did so with ace 9 and got me to fold ace 10! How dare he! Who said to fold ace 10 off? That hand is gold!

We will also learn that the same lady who is up two grand and just won with the pocket aces has called this ace 9 guy with her queen 2. She flops middle pair on the ace, queen rag board. A blank comes on the turn. They both check.

A 2 comes on the river and the ace guy bets and she doesn't raise, she politely calls and her two pair takes down the pot. It was awesome. I would have lost with my ace 10 to her queen 2. And I would have gone completely and utterly on tilt. Absolutely positively.

Who knows what kind of bender I'd have gone on? The whole thing would have ended up with me doing public service announcements regarding safety and starting hands in poker.

Something like:

I always hear people saying ace 10 is fun and how much they love ace 10. Well certain hands aren't fun. Certain hands break up families. Certain hands are gateway drugs to trouble. Ace 10 is one of those hands. Certain hands lead you down the wrong path. That's why you fold ace 10 preflop.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Groundhog Day 1d

I was eliminated on day 1d of the 2007 WSOP Main Event when I slowplayed pocket queens and a gentleman with pocket 9's flopped a set.

What I want to type is "and I let a gentleman with pocket 9's flop a set." The implication being that when I didn't raise preflop, I allowed him to make his hand.

I probably lose a decent amount of chips on a 9 high board with queens no matter how I play it but part of me thinks I could have prevented the 9 from flopping if I raised preflop. You understand correctly. I am saying that if I raised then the 9 does not come out.

Why? Because the universe rewards me for playing correctly. And the 9 that flopped was punishment for my slow playing.

Makes perfect sense. The universe hates people who slow play. Everyone knows that.

It's way more honorable to raise and lose.

So what happens Sunday night?

In the very same room?

On day 1d of the 2008 Main Event?

I slow play pocket queens in a 2.5 cash game and lose a big pot when my opponent hits a set of 9's.

Have I learned absolutely nothing at all?

Is The Vegas Year stuck on loop?

For me to sit down in that very same room where so much good and so much bad has happened, and replay the same hand that knocked me out one year ago, bordered somewhere between cruelty and hilarity. I'm sure it was funny, just not for me. No for me it was awful. I was not happy.

It also revealed a huge hole in my game. Slow playing queens in early position. With aces I would have repopped it. With queens I hid in the dark and ran into his set.

It may have been my destiny to play these hands this way. Everyone knows that Nostradamas said something about "beware of the queens on day 1d." I always thought it was a metaphor for war or something. Little did I know that by "queens" Nostradamas meant "pocket queens" and when he says "day 1d" he's talking about "day 1d of the Main Event." It seems so obvious now that Nostradamas was talking about the World Series of Poker. My bad for not noticing this sooner.

What are my thoughts on doing it again on day 1d in 2009?

I know. I don't want to jinx it either. It's like talking about a no hitter, but if somehow I can Threepeat (TM Pat Riley?) and pick up pocket queens and run into a set of 9's on day 1d then I'm planning on starting a cult. There will be a bus waiting in the parking lot at the Rio.

I was just browsing through some compounds on Craigslist and there's plenty of reasonable stuff all over Texas. We can gather up our weapons. It doesn't have to be Texas. I'm open to suggestions as to where we live in this great country. The bus can go anywhere we want it to. I'm not one of those cult leaders who has to boss everyone around to feel good about himself. At least I won't be until the space ship comes down.

So yeah. If I wanted to grow as a poker player I might try to learn something from these hands. If I wanted to get better I might analyze what exactly happened. But I see no point in wasting my precious time experiencing with the idea of self growth when deflecting the blame towards others is so much easier. It's the American way.

With this in mind:

I'd like to blame the Universe for the humiliation and shame I felt as I was walking down the hallway and out of the Rio.

I'd like to blame the Harrahs corporation for their negligence in this matter. Specifically the Rio for not using a random number generator in their poker room. You guys are making millions of dollars hosting this event. Rent one if you have to! If the American Public* starts seeing this specific queens vs 9's hand too often on the ESPN television, it could be a huge setback for poker.

*American Public = The people that Phil Hellmuth refers to.

(This is a modern day footnote. You put it right under the paragraph because in a paperless world you never know how far you're gonna have to scroll to get to the bottom of the page.)

(Not to mention everyone's short attention span.)

(So I hereby declare that starting right now all footnotes are to be moved to directly below the reference. It'll make for easier reading. See? I got some good ideas. My talents would be wasted running a cult. I need to go into English. Or grammar. Or whatever field it is that covers footnotes. I'm sure there's a word for it. But I can't do everything for you guys.)

Can you imagine if we come back to the Rio in November for the WSOP Main Event final table and all 9 of the bust out hands are queens vs 9's flopping a set?

If you were sitting at that table, at what point do you start laying down your queens preflop? After 3 guys have gone out with them? 4? Seriously.

What do you do if the other player shows you a 9 preflop? And you look down at queens? What then? What does Sklansky say to do in this spot?

Imagine if the first 7 players have gone out with the queens. You're heads up for the bracelet, the 9 million dollars, and you look down at queens.

Can you really push here? Or is it an automatic fold?

All I know is you do not call with them.

So the bad news is I donked off my stack with an overpair to a set. I was that guy.

The good news is at least an ace didn't come out on the flop!

I have to acknowledge this right? I've been saying how an ace always flops when I have queens. So I will admit it was a big thrill for me not to see an ace this time.

In fact those few moments, from the time the dealer revealed the 9 high flop, up to the point when my opponent turned over his pocket 9's, that memory, those 25 to 30 seconds were some real good times indeed.

Thursday, July 03, 2008


Sometimes I get stuck check calling against extremely aggressive opponents. Raising scares them away so I'll let them bet my made hands for me. Of course the detriment to this style of play is when one of these guys sucks out on me. Then I get to internally steam that I let them hang around. But that's the risk involved in trying to maximize profit, since most times your opponent won't be drawing dead.

In my most recent session I defended with 9,10 suited from my big blind against the raise of an extremist. A third player called as well. I hadn't bet or raised many hands, so I didn't raise when the extremist led out with a bet on a 4,9,9 flop. The third opponent called behind me as well.

6 comes on the turn. Extremist bets again. I call.

Guy behind me pushes all in!

Extremist calls!


I have the extremist covered. I mostly have to decide if I have a better hand than the gentleman who pushed behind me. He has me covered. The board has two to a flush so (it's not likely but) part of me hopes he's chasing that. The reality is I'm scared of facing trips with a better kicker. Yet he's also the kind of guy who limps into every pot, so he could turn over any two cards here.

I call.

The good news?

He's got 7,9!

My 10 kicker plays at showdown and I win the side pot!

The bad news?

Turns out the extremist had pocket 6's and hit the third 6 on the turn. He wins the main pot. If I raise on the flop he folds but I made the decision not to raise there because I wanted him to keep firing bullets. I wanted to keep him in the hand. The fact that he hit a two outer doesn't change that.

"Long term Robert" understands the risk involved in slow playing.

"Short term Robert" wants to fire his head coach.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Big Fish Eats The Little One

“If you’re losing you probably don’t bet your hands as well as your opponents”
-Barry Greenstein

Every once in awhile I come across a special player. A poker artist. A person who has a deeper understanding of the game than the rest of us. A player who bets his hands better than everyone else.

It's kind of like how I feel when I'm playing HORSE with a bunch of 1st graders who are just learning to play poker and read and write. I run over that game. They don't know what hit them. Heck they're not even sure what beats what.

I mean I'd probably run over that game. If it existed. I don't actually know if 1st graders play poker. In Nevada it might be legal to play poker with 1st graders as long as you do it outside of the Las Vegas area. I can't call this a fact. But the way the laws work here it sure seems possible.

The only catch is you need have a gun with you in order to play poker with 1st graders. I'm not positive why this is part of the law but the gun might be necessary in case the 1st graders try to cheat or rob you.

This could be true. It's well known that children can be mean to each other. And the word on the street is they apparently don't know what beats what at poker. So how in the world do you expect them to push the pot to the right player?

What was your question again?

So yeah that's what happens at poker. The big fish eats the little one. Then a bigger fish comes along and check raises the big fish.

This past weekend I sat with a great poker player. A young kid who played super aggressive. Raised too much preflop. No one approved.

At first glance he appeared completely out of control. Every second or third hand he'd raise it up 6x the big blind. Then he'd fire bullets on every street until everyone folded. Then he'd show his bluff and we'd move on to the next hand.

No one wanted to play back at him without a made hand so he controlled the table.

And somehow someway the couple of times that he gets all in, he's got the nuts. Of course he does. That's why he's so good.

He was awesome at bet sizing. Putting players into tough spots with some hard decisions. Forcing them to commit their stack, without he committing his.

And he showed so many bluffs I stopped looking down at the table. I didn't want to see his cards anymore. I wanted to be able to pretend that once in awhile he had ace king. Even if he didn't.

His actions convinced me it would be reasonable to call him down with ace high on the river because usually it was the best hand. It wasn't, of course, the one time I tried it. No that time he had the goods. Good for him for earning that river call from me. Credit absolutely goes to all of his advertising on prior hands. He couldn't possibly have had a lower credit rating at our table. The guy showed 5 high, multiple times. As you can see I was a huge fan.

The common strategy against a player like this is usually to tighten up and wait for big hands to play big pots against him. However I went the other way with it and played many hands against him when I was in position. There seemed to be lots of impending (dare I say implied) value knowing that he was gonna fire out a pot sized bet no matter what came on the flop.

This passive strategy worked for me a couple of times. I called him from late position and then let him bet the hands for me post flop.

Quite often players who play this loose aggressive style end up giving their chips away but this guy was the real deal. He had a real strong ability for sensing when to shut down and when to turn on the pressure.

It was tough to win his chips but he was a pleasure to play with and learn from.