December 29, 2010

Wine & Whine O' the Week (v. 1.16)—When The Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Surly

Over the holiday weekend, I played a session of 1/3 NLHE at the Horseshoe in Council Bluffs. I happened to be seated at a brand new table that opened as players busted out of the Sunday noon tournament.  The player seated to my immediate right was a young guy wearing the de rigueur baseball cap and hoodie, as well as a sullen frown; let's call him "Young Einstein".  Within minutes of the game starting, another young hoodie-wearing kid stopped by to inquire how Young Einstein busted out of the tournament, which led to this diatribe:

I had Ace-King suited on the button.  Some lady [well, a different word for a woman was used] raised to 400 from under the gun.  Blinds were only 100/200, so it wasn't much of a raise.  I made it 1400 to go, and she called. Flop was all rags, she checked, I bet 2000, and she min-raised.  I couldn't see how she could've hit the flop, so I pushed for like 12,000.  She called me and showed Seven-Deuce suited, for a pair of twos.  Seven-Deuce!  Can you believe that [expletive] [expletive]?!?  What a [expletive] [expletive] call!!

Yes, yes, I can see how someone calling with a better hand is a terrible play.  Wow, she was horrible to commit her stack with the best hand.  If it weren't for donkeys getting lucky like that, the good players would win 'em all.  It sucks that geniuses like Young Einstein have players like that lady keeping him down.

Now, within the next orbit or two, a hand came up where there were several limpers to Young Einstein who was in the small blind.  Young Einstein raised to $15, a bit on the high side for the table.  I was in the big blind and looked down to find Seven-Deuce of spades—the Velvet Hammer.  Given Young Einstein's tilt factor, I figured it was worth taking a gander at the flop.  Sure enough, the flop came out all rags, with a deuce.  Young Einstein bet, and I called.  Turn was another rag.  Young Einstein bet, and I min-raised.  Young Einstein muttered, but called.  The river was another rag. Young Einstein checked, I bet big, and Young Einstein agonized a long while before folding.

Young Einstein asked, "Jacks?  Tens?"  I smiled and said, "No, I got a monster" and rolled over my hand.  Young Einstein jerked back, then started muttering darkly about the usual, "How can you play that trash?" and "Twice in one [expletive] day."  Apparently, he failed to appreciate the irony of the situation.  Within a few hands, he had pushed preflop with a suited Ace-rag and busted out, whining all the way out of the poker room.

Our surly Young Einstein immediately reminded me of the faux-bounty given to me by Drizz after my WPBT fiasco—a bottle of Surly "Darkness" Russian Imperial Stout.

Surly Darkness is an exceptional example of the Russian Imperial Stout style of beer, with a very dark (almost black) color, strong molasses and espresso aroma, creamy head, and high alcohol content.  The flavors are dark chocolate, caramel, coffee, and sweet dark fruits—mainly raisins and figs, with a hint of blackberries and plums—with a definite bite of spice on the finish.  The hops are noticeable in the background, but they don't interfere with the smooth, easy drinking character of the beer.  Surly Darkness is an amazingly tasty, refreshing beer for those of you who aren't afraid of the dark.

Doing the Hokey Poker-y at the 'Shoe

You put your red chips in.
You put your red chips out.
You put your red chips in,
And you shake them all about.
You do the Hokey Poker-y and you change your bet around.
That's called an angle shot!

This weekend I played a 1/3 NLHE cash game session at the Horseshoe in Council Bluffs. After seven or eight years of playing live poker, I thought I had seen just about every possible poker rules issue.  I was wrong.  There truly is something new under the sun.

To provide the appropriate context, the Horseshoe has two rules which factor into this situation.  First, the 'Shoe uses a betting line, with any money put in the pot while action is pending being required to stay in the pot, even if the player made a mistake (e.g., player puts out a call, not seeing a raise; the call money must stay in the pot if the player folds). Unlike some poker rooms, however, the 'Shoe does not enforce any rule about chips crossing the line in the air; it's only chips in the pot that must stay in the pot. Second, there is this ridiculous house rule:

On called all-in bets, once all action is complete, all live hands must be tabled.  If the all-in action occurs prior to the river, all live hands must be tabled before the remaining board cards are dealt.

During the hand in question, there was a multi-way pot with a small preflop raise.  On the flop (J-9-7 with two to a flush), Yahoo #1 bet, Yahoo #2 raised, and Yahoo #1 was the only caller.  Now the Two Yahoos were two younger guys who had been jousting with each other and a couple of the other young guys at the table in fairly typical aggressive internet hoodie style.  The Two Yahoos clearly had some history and seemed to be gunning for each other.  Also, an important factor in the events was that the two Yahoos were across the table from each other, occupying Seats 3 and 8.

The drama occurred on the turn.  The turn card was a Jack, giving the board two Yaks to go with a variety of straight and flush draws.  Yahoo #1 checked.  Yahoo #2 thought, then grabbed roughly half a stack of red chips and crossed the betting line, started to cut off three red chips as if to bet $45-$60 (three or four stacks of $15 each), then stopped, took back his chips to his stack, and then pushed his entire stack of roughly $175  across the line while saying, "All-in" (he actually cut three chips, then picked up all his chips, put them on top of his stack, and pushed all of his chips into the pot).  Yahoo #1 immediately says, "Call" and triumphantly stands up and slaps down Ace-Jack.  The dealer was still looking at Yahoo #2's bet and says, "I can't let you make that bet."  Yahoo #2 pulls back his stack, and the dealer reaches out and grabs $45 in red chips from Yahoo #2's stack and says, "I'm going to hold you to this amount as your bet." Honestly, I think Yahoo #1 acted so quickly in calling, while the dealer was focused on Yahoo #2's strange action, that the dealer was oblivious to Yahoo #1's "call".  In any event, Yahoo #2 looked at Yahoo #1's hand, laughed, and mucked, taking back his remaining stack.

So, this is a fine kettle of fish.  Yahoo #2's action seems to be a pretty clear string bet.  But, it seems possible that he was angle-shooting, using the betting line rules to gain an advantage.  On the other hand, although Yahoo #2 said "all-in" and pushed his stack across the table, Yahoo #1 did act a bit precipitously in tabling his hand, even though it was required by house rule, prior to the dealer indicating action was on him or clarifying whether the all-in was a legal bet.  On the third hand, the dealer was slow to issue a ruling on a string bet and correct Yahoo #2's action prior to Yahoo #1's "call".

So, dear readers, what do you think?
  • Should Yahoo #2's "all-in" stand?
  • Should the dealer have handled things differently?
  • Is Yahoo #1 at fault for tabling his cards?
  • How should a floor rule if he is called to the table by Yahoo #1?
(Here are Robert's Rules of Poker for basic betting and no-limit betting, though this situation seems not to be contemplated within those rules).

December 28, 2010

Distributing Lumps of Coal at the Horseshoe

This weekend, I headed to west Nebraska for the holidays.  After a nice couple of days with the parents back on the family farm, I was more than ready to stop off at the Horseshoe for some poker on the way back home.  The room was busy for a Sunday evening, with four 1/3 NLHE games, two 3/6 LHE games, and a full 110-runner tournament.  I played in a no-limit game for about 12 hours and had an enjoyable evening.  A few of the more entertaining highlights:

  • I played a rather tight game (for me), since the game was generally short-stacked and nitty.  I still managed to build up a stack, thanks in part to flopping set over set with AA vs. 44, then turning quad Aces.  Donkey Kong!  Also, I managed to flop trip Kings with AK, proving that even I can hit a flop with that ridiculous hand.
  • In a hand I was not involved in, there was another flopped set-over-set, this time with KK vs. 33.  Of course, the treys turned quads.  Hilarity ensued.
  • I did encounter a couple of coolers.  I flopped a set of 5s on a board of 5-6-7 with a flush draw, got it all-in against the monster draw; he hit his draw on the turn, and I missed the boat on the river.  Later, I had KhTh and got it all-in on the flop of Ts8h5h.  Turns out my opponent had AhQh.  Doh!  Sure enough, heart on the river.  Le sigh.
  • A young kid sat down at the table, and clearly was inexperienced to live play.  He had trouble handling chips, figuring out raises, the usual newbie stuff.  But the best moment was when someone bet $50 into him, and he threw out a yellow chip—a 50-cent chip!
  • In a weird hand with little in the way of Christmas spirit, a guy raised preflop, got a call from a fairly nitty older woman.  Flop was T-8-7, and the guy got annoyed when the lady check-raised him on the flop.  He pushed all-in, and was insta-called by the lady who rolled over J9s for the flopped nut straight.  The guy whined about terrible calls, then rolled over Kings.  Of course, the guy then goes running King-Ten for the full house.  Just as Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer was running though my head, a kid on his third buy-in pipes up, "That's justice! Justice for all the bad play at this table!"  The kid would bust out (again) and leave muttering within the hour.   His departure certainly spread some peace and goodwill at the table! 
My favorite moment of the evening, however, occurred when I was involved in a rare, multiway monsterpotten.  I had limped in late position with JdTd.  When the button raised, there were five callers to a flop of 6-7-8 with two diamonds.  I liked my monster draw, so I checked along with the rest of the players to the preflop raiser, who threw out a small c-bet of about 1/4 pot.  The small blind, a friendly but talkative young kid, smooth-called.  It folded to me, and I put in a $100 raise as a semi-bluff. The button folded, and the kid started chatting, trying to get a read on me.  He kept jabbering away, and I initially ignored him, but we finally had this exchange:

Kid:  "I got a big hand."

Me:  "Then get your chips in the middle."

Kid:  "Did you flop a straight?"

Me:  "Do I need a straight?"

Kid:  "I can beat two pair."

Me:  "Then yes, I have a straight."

Kid:  "I know I'm ahead here."

Me:  "The book says if you're ahead, you should raise."

Kid:  "What book?  I haven't read any poker books."

Me:  "It's available as a comic book."

The Kid laughed.  Then he got serious again:

Kid:  "Dude, I have pocket Sevens!"

Me:  "Sure you do."

Kid:  "Seriously, I have pocket Sevens!"

Me:  "Well, you're playing them very badly."

The Kid folded his "pocket Sevens".

Christmas truly is the most wonderful time of the year!

Friday Fun (v.1.17)—Lactose Tolerant Movies

Yesterday, as I was driving back to Iowa after spending Christmas with the parents in Nebraska, a Twitter meme exploded involving the hashtag #dairymovies.  Although I would like to blame Poker Grump or "Real" Dawn Summers for this little bit of insanity, it appears my Twitter feed was infected by none other than Ugarles.  In any event, the point of the silliness was to create movie titles involving a dairy product pun.  I contributed a few:
  • The Boursin Identity / Supremacy
  • Bleu Veleveeta
  • Fondue the Right Thing
  • Muenster's Ball / Gods & Muensters / Muenster's, Inc. (etc., etc., etc.)
  • The Black Holstein
  • 20,000 Leagues Udder the Sea
  • The Care Bears Movie (Le Cinema des Camemberts)
  • Provo Lonesome Dove
  • Cheddar Off Dead
  • Bleu Cheese Lagoon (Le Lagoon du Roquefort)

Among the folks I follow on Twitter, there were quite a number of clever and/or amusing entries.  Here are some of my personal favorites:

Doing a quick search on Twitter, here are some other notable efforts from the "at-large" community (some with a high degree of difficulty):

However, the grand prize, cream of the crop, big cheese entry is by Jess Welman, with:
  • Fontina (Aged) Mutant Ninja Turtles
See what she did there?  Oh so clever and funny, not to mention an inherently cheesy movie to boot!  Well-played, Ms. Welman, well-played indeed!

As pointed out in subsequent tweets, Soymilk Green is not really a dairy product.  It's people!

December 24, 2010

Happy Holidays!

I will be taking the weekend off from blogging, but wanted to wish all my readers a very Merry Christmas!  I hope y'all have fun with friends and family, and wish y'all safe travels. Remember, set aside the petty grievances for the weekend (they should have been aired on Festivus), and just relax and laugh a lot.

Speaking of laughs, here's an "Elf Yourself" video sent to me this morning by the sig other, featuring he and Berkeley in a Christmas country hoedown.  Enjoy!

Note:  Anyone who grew up in the Midwest in the 80s or 90s almost certainly had an elementary or junior high school physical education class unit on square dancing or country line dancing.  'Nuff said.

December 23, 2010

The PPA Throws In the Towel on Rousso v. State of Washington

Judge Chamberlain Haller: Uh, Mr. Gambini?  All I ask from you is a very simple answer to a very simple question.  There are only two ways to answer it: guilty or not guilty.

Vinny Gambini: But your honor, my clients didn't do anything.

Judge Chamberlain Haller: Once again, the communication process has broken down between us.  It appears to me that you want to skip the arraignment process, go directly to trial, skip that, and get a dismissal.  Well, I'm not about to revamp the entire judicial process just because you find yourself in the unique position of defending clients who say they didn't do it.

My Cousin Vinny

Yesterday, the Poker Players Alliance (PPA) issued a statement indicating that the PPA and Lee Rousso have decided against pursuing a United States Supreme Court appeal of the Washington supreme court decision in Rousso v. State of Washington.  As poker players will recall, Rousso is the case which affirmed the validity of a Washington statute barring all online gaming, including poker, leading to the recent withdrawal of Full Tilt and PokerStars from the Washington market.  The PPA's press release stated:

Lee Rousso and the Poker Players Alliance, after long and careful consideration, have decided to not seek review of Rousso v. Washington in the United States Supreme Court.  Given the procedural posture of the case and the state Supreme Court's decision having been made without benefit of a full factual record, asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review this decision does not provide the kind of opportunity that this issue truly deserves.  Both Mr. Rousso and the PPA are instead working on alternative strategies for continuing to press the issues raised by the case.  The PPA remains committed to overturning the state law and we look forward to working with our members in 2011 to push legislative initiatives that will no longer criminalize online poker in Washington.

Although many online poker players were likely disappointed in the decision to forgo pursuing an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, frankly, pursuing an appeal would have been an exercise in futility.  The U.S. Supreme Court has great discretion in selecting cases where certiorari is granted and a lower court decision is reviewed.  Typically, the court takes only cases raising important federal questions, and/or where lower courts are in conflict as to a significant issue of federal or constitutional law.  The Rousso case, while interesting to poker players, really has little to offer the high court in terms of sexy appellate issues.  The decision was unanimous, written by a conservative judge, and based on a straightforward application of established Dormant Commerce Clause case law.  More to the point, with a conservative majority dedicated to enforcing "states' rights"—including two Justices who have criticized the very concept of the Dormant Commerce Clause doctrine—even if the Court could have been persuaded to take the case, prospects of prevailing on the merits were slim at best.  In the obligatory poker analogy, getting the Rousso decision accepted and reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court would have required hitting a perfect-perfect draw.

Of course, the PPA doesn't admit to this reality in its statement.  Instead, the PPA claims that the "procedural posture of the case" and the lack of a "full factual record" were the real hurdles to obtaining justice for poker players.  The PPA is essentially asserting that, because the case was resolved on summary judgment (i.e., on motion prior to a full evidentiary trial or hearing), the PPA was unable to present the district court with evidence related to the nature of online poker, Washington's brick-and-mortar poker card rooms, and Washington's horse-racing industry (which accepts phone wagers).  These claims are disingenuous.

I'm a civil trial and appellate attorney.   Over the past 15+ years, I've filed dozens of motions for summary judgment, and handled dozens of appeals.  Trust me, if the factual record of a case decided on summary judgment is somehow inadequate, it is purely the fault of the attorneys for the losing side.  Summary judgment is not some kind of magical trial by surprise.  A summary judgment motion has to be based on "undisputed facts" which are identified by the moving party (here, the State), and supported by affidavits, exhibits, and deposition transcripts.  The opposing parties (here, Rousso and the PPA—and let's not forget that Rousso is the Washington state PPA director), then have an opportunity to submit their own statement of relevant facts (whether disputed or undisputed), also supported by evidence.  In a case like this, where Rousso and the PPA were seeking to have a law ruled unconstitutional, motions for summary judgment are the most common vehicle for obtaining a favorable court ruling; typically, these kinds of cases are driven mostly by the law, with largely undisputed facts.  Any litigant filing this kind of constitutional challenge has to know that a summary judgment motion will be filed by one or both sides of the case,  and thus should be prepared in advance of filing the lawsuit to respond to such a motion with a mountain of favorable evidence.  In the unlikely event a party is taken by surprise by a motion for summary judgment, courts are generous with permitting reasonable periods of time to generate responsive evidence.  If the factual record is truly incomplete and missing critical evidence, the situation is solely the fault of Rousso and the PPA.

Having read the parties' appellate briefs, along with the various court rulings on the merits of the constitutionality issue, I cannot discern any argument which seems to have failed because of the evidentiary record available to the court, nor do I sense that the various courts were basing their decisions on any factual dispute at all, instead focusing on the legal and constitutional issues.  The lengthy oral argument before the Washington supreme court likewise was focused on legal, not factual, issues.  I know it's fashionable among poker players to blame adverse legal rulings on "stupid judges" or other problems in the legal system, but sometimes, losing litigants and their attorneys simply need to admit their argument lost on the merits.

Apparently, the PPA is more concerned with saving face than acknowledging the failure of its legalization-by-litigation strategy.  Poker players deserve better from their purported advocates.

Is Phil Illogical, Or Merely Philological?—
A Review of Don't Listen to Phil Hellmuth

This appeal presents the question of whether, during a refereeship, a senior judgment lienholder may redeem property from a junior judgment creditor who purchased the debtor's property at an execution sale. To answer this question we must wade into the murky waters of our state's statutory redemption provisions, which our supreme court long ago described as “philological monstrosities, illustrating how successfully ideas may be obscured by language.” Goode v. Cummings, 35 Iowa 67, 69 (1872).  More than a century later, the court aptly observed, “The passage of time has not made the provisions any clearer.”  Blue v. Oehlert, 331 N.W.2d 112, 113 (Iowa 1983).

Estate of Lyon v. Heemstra, File No. 0-800 / 10-0390 (Iowa Ct. App. Dec. 22, 2010).*

A new poker strategy book hit the market earlier this month, with the provocative title, Don't Listen to Phil Hellmuth.  The authors of the book are Dusty "Leatherass" Schmidt and Paul "Giantbuddha" Hoppe, two well-established and well-respected online poker players with some solid prior poker writing to their credit.  The book is currently available online in an E-Book (.pdf) format, with a print version due for release and shipping in early January.  The book is rather pricey ($49.99 for either version, or $59.99 for both versions), so before you shell out the price of a nice steak at CarneVino, it's probably worth taking a look under the hood.

The basic premise of the book is that there are quite a number of poker strategy tips that have been widely disseminated in the poker community and are generally accepted as correct by many poker players.  The authors, however, contend that many of these strategies are misleading or mistaken, at least in the "modern" version of the game:

These anointed ones [Phil Hellmuth, Johnny Chan, et al] made their bones at a period in poker that was much like golf in 1910, when you could win the U. S. Open shooting 20 over par while drunk on the back nine.  Even so, poker books, DVDs and announcing gigs followed for these guys, all proffering instruction that might not have been that good in the first place and hasn't really changed in seven years.  Today they are offering commentary on a game that has moved on without them.

Listening to their advice today, we feel like we're hearing Lee Iacocca profess that his 1988 K-cars remain superior to modern-day models with front-wheel drive and computerassisted design.  Germs of advice that were either misguided to begin with, or were OK in small doses but not large ones, have metastasized into bloated edicts that never deserved to be sacred.  Like perfume, a little bit of this advice was fine, but too much of it is odorous.

—"Don't Listen to Phil Hellmuth", Introduction, pp. X-XI (2010).

The book is divided into 50 short chapters (example here), each of which analyses a particular poker strategy aphorism (all related, unsurprisingly, to Hold 'Em).  The chapter topics are taken from common poker advice delivered by poker pros, poker TV personalities, and poker writers, including many common chestnuts such as:
  • Punish the Limpers!
  • Calling Is Weak
  • Raise to Find Out Where You Stand
  • Your Bluff Should Tell a Story
  • "The Key to No Limit Hold 'Em Is to Put a Man to a Decision for All His Chips"
The authors spend five to ten pages discussing each point, adding nuance and qualifiers to make the advice more relevant and useful in modern poker, while debunking the application of the concept as a "one-size fits all" rule to be rigidly followed in most or all situations. The discussion is clearly aimed at a player who has sufficient experience with the game to be thinking about strategy concepts such as when to check-raise.  Readers are presumed to have knowledge of basic poker lingo (e.g., "UTG / BB / SB", "15bb / 15 blinds", "effective stacks", "float").  However, the writing style is polished and direct, making for smooth reading and a logical, easy to follow presentation of the point being analyzed.  Each chapter also uses one or more examples of representative hands to illustrate the point being discussed; an additional 25 poker hands are included at the end of the book in a separate section to reinforce the concepts discussed earlier in the book.  The authors even work in some dry humor from time to time, including this gem from a discussion of suited connectors:

Oddly enough, your best chance of getting paid is to flop a hint of a draw, call as a float, then catch runner-runner to make a straight or flush.  Just like in the porn industry, you need to backdoor it if you really want to get paid.

—"Don't Listen to Phil Hellmuth", Ch. 13, p. 58 (2010).

Now I suppose one could quibble a bit with the underlying premise of the book that Phil Hellmuth, et al., are giving out terrible poker advice.  After all, I doubt most of the people credited with popularizing each piece of advice intended it to be taken as a hard and fast rule.  For example, do the authors really believe that Phil Hellmuth believes that players with top pair should always "raise to find out where you are"?  But in many ways, regardless of the intent of the poker stars giving the advice under discussion, the authors are correct that many poker players do often take these aphorisms literally, misunderstanding the underlying concept, and instead misusing the advice to the detriment of their bankrolls.  So the conceit of attacking the advice given by poker pros is a handy vehicle for delivering some sophisticated "it depends" analysis of common poker concepts.

This book is not for beginners, who will find themselves in over their heads with much of the sophisticated discussion.  Likewise, accomplished professional or semi-pro players may find little new in the material.  But for the serious recreational player, there is a significant amount of thought-provoking analysis that will be valuable food for thought in examining one's style of play, enabling players to identify leaks and add refinement to standard poker plays.  Think of this book as the 2+2 poker strategy forums, with an English degree and without the catty junior high taunting.

For me, this book is a more modern version of Sklansky and Miller's No Limit Hold 'Em: Theory and Practice.  Both books offer detailed analysis of various points of poker play, divided by concept.  Prior to a poker session, I often take out Sklansky's book and read two or three concepts, and try to focus on those points during my session.  Don't Listen to Phil Hellmuth will be equally useful in providing me this kind of "poker tip of the day" material, but with a more up to date analysis which takes into account how modern players think about the game.

Don't Listen to Phil Hellmuth is a solid, modern addition to the poker strategy literature. For the cost of a continuation bet or two, this book is a good investment for most serious recreational players to make to improve their game, an investment which should pay dividends in spades.


* The Estate of Lyon decision is the latest chapter in a long-running Iowa legal drama.  Back in 2003, Heemstra and Lyon were two central Iowa farmers who developed a feud over cattle grazing on a piece of property.  One day, the feud turned deadly, and Heemstra murdered Lyon and threw his body into a dry well.  Heemstra was convicted of murder, which was later overturned on appeal; he was convicted of manslaughter after retrial.  This appeal decision arose out of one of the civil cases brought by Lyon's estate for wrongful death damages.  In shorthand for the non-lawyer types, Lyon's estate and widow claimed that Heemstra and his wife had fraudulently transferred assets into various family trusts in an attempt to avoid paying damages (roughly $5.7 million plus interest).  In this particular appeal, the court was looking at whether Heemstra's trust could redeem property seized by Lyon's estate to satisfy the judgment.  The veritable maze of judgments, liens, executions, levies, transfers, sales, and attendant legal pleadings would give a law school professor a week of lecture material.

Also, in an interesting twist, the author of the opinion is Judge Richard Doyle, for whom I clerked back in the early 90s while he was an attorney in private practice.  Judge Doyle is an incredibly smart man with a sparkling wit, who is the epitome of a great judge.  I pity him the headache he had to have suffered trying to untangle the web of transactions while simultaneously interpreting and applying some arcane statutes.

December 21, 2010

Adventures In Pot Limit Gamboool!—
Katkin & the Crazy Canucks

During my recent Festivus/WPBT trip to Vegas, I played a fun session of Pot Limit Gamboool!(TM) at the Venetian.  I've played in this game during several recent trips, and it has been uniformly entertaining and generally profitable.

Although I generally don't post hand strategy posts here (reserving those mostly for the VPN or AVP discussion forums), I do want to cross-post one PLG hand for comment from my readers, partially because I'm hoping there are some PLG savants who follow crAAKKer, and mostly because the hand involved the infamous Katkin

The game plays 9-handed, $200-$500 buy-in. The blinds are $1/$2, but count as $5 total for purposes of the pot (i.e., the first "pot" raise with no limpers can be to $15 total--$5 blinds, $5 "call" + $10 pot raise). The game was pretty sane by PLG standards. Most pots were limped preflop or one raise with 1-3 callers; preflop 3-bets almost always meant suited Aces or Kings, or suited Broadway wrap type hands. Stacks were mostly in the $300-$800 range.

On this hand, I was in the BB.  Katkin was UTG and limped, as did a Canadian player in LP, and another Canadian in the SB.   I was in the BB and completed.  My hand was AdKh9h7d; not too shabby for a blind hand.

Flop ($20):  QdTd7s

SB checked to me.  I bet $15.  Katkin raised pot, to $65 total.  Canadian LP raised all-in, for $120 total.  Canadian BB insta-raises pot to $340 total.

Katkin had about $400 more behind.  He had been playing solid PLG, showing down reasonable starting hands for position and preflop betting.  He had picked off one bluff with two pair against an aggressive player's missed draws, but otherwise was not putting money into a pot without a good hand or good draw.

Canadian LP had been a little more loose, was playing with a hyper-aggressive buddy (they were a couple of college age kids on vacation, FWIW), but had not been nearly as wild as his friend.  His stack had dwindled after paying off with a couple of non-nut draws that hit, but hit someone else harder.  He liked to see flops with suited middle / low cards ("rundown" hands).

Canadian SB was a moderately aggressive guy, seemed to be a mid-30s guy on vacation.  He had maybe $200 more behind.  He had played a lot of hands, but when he made a big bet, he had a real hand or real draw.

Action is on me, I have about $750 more behind (covering everyone in the hand).  Obviously I have nut draws, but with the multiway action with a player left to act behind, is this a raise all-in, a flat call, or a fold?

*** Note: Results are posted after the jump. ***

Katkin really made this a tough decision for me.  Against the other two guys, I was pretty sure Canadian SB had a set of Qs or Tens; if he had a big draw he would likely have flatted.  I had one blocker to his boat redraw, in the event I would call and hit one of my draws.  There were three problems I had, in order of increasing importance:
  1. My draws, although to the nuts, weren't as wide as a monster wrap with flush draw.  Someone with KJ98dd has better straight draws with diamond blockers.
  2. Canadian LP likely had either a set of Tens or Sevens, or a two-way draw of some sort.  So, he likely had some of somebody's outs, but it wasn't clear whose.
  3. Katkin.  Freakin' Katkin.  He had shown the initial real aggression on the flop, and was yet to act.  The hand felt like he had a big draw, but there was a possibility he held the set of Qs and Canadian SB had the monster draw.  But assuming he held the monster draw, I was drawing thinner than usual in a hand where I must improve to win.
If the action were three-way without Katkin, this seems to be an easy auto-shove.  But with Freakin' Katkin gumming up the works, I was stymied.  Finally, I folded very reluctantly.  Freakin' Katkin pushed, Canadian SB called.  The players showed:

Katkin:  AhKdJh4d

Canadian SB:  QcQsXX  (set of queens, no redraw; frankly, this hand is functionally equivalent to a set of Tens in terms of stealing boat outs from Canadian SB.

Canadian LP:  QT98 (top two pair plus a wrap, but no diamond draw)

The turn put the 6d on the board, and the river was a blank that did not give Canadian SB his boat redraw.  Freakin' Katkin raked the monsterpotten.
In hindsight, I think the correct play here was for me to push, knowing Katkin can't call with a lesser, non-nut draw.  If Katkin has a set, so be it, hope to hit the draw and miss the boat.  But most of the time I think this action means Canadian SB has the big set, and Katkin the draw.

What do you PLG experts think?  Inquiring minds want to know!

The Fear of Money

"I think maybe the money's what's throwing you off here today."

—Vincent Lauria (Tom Cruise), in "The Color of Money"

During my recent trip to Vegas, I had a hand in a $1/$2 NLHE cash game at Imperial Palace where I folded Kings preflop, making that hand only the second time in my life where I had done so.  The action had been a raise by a tight player, a healthy reraise to $40 by me, followed by an immediate and strong reraise by the tight player, with the two of us looking at playing for ~$450 effective stacks.  The player was so tight, and the reraise was so strong, I open-mucked my Kings, thinking to myself, "He has to have Aces."  The tight player saw my hand and rolled over ... Ace-Eight sooooted.  Oops.

The first time I folded Kings preflop in a cash game was four years ago during my inaugural Festivus trip to Vegas.  I was playing at the Rio in a $1/$2 NLHE cash game, and had recovered from an early downswing to work my stack up above $1,500.  There were several other large stacks at the table and the game was playing loose and crazy.  In one hand, there was a raise to $15, and a reraise to $50.  I was in the small blind and found Kings.  I raised to $150.  First raiser pushed all-in for over $1,000, and the second raiser insta-called for nearly that amount.  Crazy.  I thought forever, and finally folded, figuring one of them had to have Aces.  They rolled over ... Ace-Yak soooted and Ace-King.  Yes, I play badly.

In both cases, I felt there was a good chance I was up against Aces.  My thinking was that it's better to make a small mistake (folding and conceding my initial raise) than to make a big mistake (committing a deep stack with Kings preflop).  Or, as my motto at the bottom of this blog states:  "There's always a better place to get it in bad!"  But in small stakes cash games, it's actually very difficult and highly unusual to be able to put a player on exactly Aces, or even a narrow range like Aces, Kings, Queens, and Ace-King.  Against that larger range, folding a hand like Kings is a major mistake.  So why did I make that mistake, not once, but twice?

Well, my decision-making process in these hands might have been the result of a common psychological aversion to losses, even when the risk of losses can be offset by an identical chance of gain:

... When Kahneman and Tversky framed questions in terms of gains and losses, they immediately realized that people hated losses.   In fact, our dislike of losses was largely responsible for our dislike of risk in general.   Because we felt the disadvantages of risky decisions (losses) more acutely than the advantages (gains), most risks struck us as bad ideas.  This also made options that could be forecast with certainty seem especially alluring, since they were risk-free.  As Kahneman and Tversky put it, “In human decision making, losses loom larger than gains.”  They called this phenomenon “loss aversion”.

—Jonah Lehrer, "The Allais Paradox" (The Frontal Cortex blog, Oct. 21, 2010) (emphasis added).

Now my poor decision to fold Kings preflop in these two hands is a negative expected value (-EV) play against any hand range other than exactly Aces.  The math is rather straightforward, and the decision to fold Kings preflop is—or at least ideally should be—driven entirely by the range of hands I can assign to my opponent(s).  I may have thought I was making a smart laydown by folding Kings, by not putting my deep stack at risk.  But in reality, I was forfeiting more than merely the preflop bet I had placed in the pot; I was also forfeiting my significant expected profits from winning the pot over 2/3 of the time.

However, there are several common poker situations where successful poker players must invest money with some significant degree of risk, and where a straightforward pot odds calculation cannot provide a direct answer as to whether committing chips to the pot is a profitable (+EV) move:
  • Bluffing when it is the only way to win the pot.
  • Semi-bluffing with a draw or marginal hand that is likely behind if called.
  • Calling with a marginal hand that is generally only a bluff-catcher.
  • Value betting the river with a good but not great hand (particularly heads up or when last to act and action has checked around).
In each of these situations, I think many low stakes cash game players err on the side of caution, failing to bet or raise because of a psychological aversion to losses.  In each of these situations, there is often significant value in risking additional chips to win a pot, even without knowing whether one holds the best hand, or even knowing for certain one doesn't hold the best hand.  Yet many players (myself included) will often timidly check and fold in these situations as a default move, rather than analyzing whether a bet or raise is a better expected value play.  In other words, poker players often incorrectly forfeit their interest in a pot out of a fear of losing even more money with a marginal or poor hand, when the more profitable move might in fact be to risk additional chips in an attempt to win the pot.

Even though many low stakes poker players have read books and articles about pot odds and expected value calculations, why do we keep making the error of playing too timidly?  I think an important distinction must be drawn between situations where odds calculations are precise, and situations where the odds are imprecise.  For example, most decent poker players can and do routinely calculate pot odds when they are holding a straight or flush draw; if the pot odds are not favorable, it is a routine fold.  But for situations involving making a bluff or making a call to pick off a bluff, the odds are imprecise, creating doubt and timidity in our analysis of the proper play:
    The first gamble corresponds to the hypothetical ideal:  investors face a set of known risks, and are able to make a decision based upon a few simple mathematical calculations.   We know what we don’t know, and can easily compensate for our uncertainty.  As expected, this wager led to increased activity in the parts of the brain (like the striatum) involved with the expectation of rewards, as subjects computed the odds and calculated their expected earnings.  Unfortunately, this isn’t how the real world works.  In reality, our gambles are clouded by ignorance and ambiguity; we know something about what might happen, but not very much.  When Camerer played this more realistic gambling game, the subjects’ brains reacted very differently.  With less information to go on, the players exhibited substantially more activity in the amygdala, a brain area reliably associated with fear conditioning.  In other words, we filled in the gaps of our knowledge with fear.  And it’s this inexplicable fright—an irrational by-product of not knowing—that keeps us from focusing on the possibility of future rewards.

    —Jonah Lehrer, "The Truth Wears Off" (The Frontal Cortex blog, Dec. 6, 2010) (emphasis added).

    Now the poker literature is rife with examples of expected value calculations for making or picking off bluffs based on estimates of the percentage of times an opponent is calling or making a bluff.  But the problem with these examples is that what is easy on paper is tough to apply in real life.  When was the last time you actually thought, "This player is bluffing in this situation 36.77% of the time"?   Instead, we are forced to deal with more of a gut feeling as to how likely a particular player is to be bluffing or calling our bluff in certain situations.  And that gut feeling leaves us with a feeling of unease, causing our instinct to avoid risk and prevent losses to kick in, making us overly timid in our play.

    Now it's important to understand that our instinct to avoid losses is a hard-wired psychological trait that we must overcome to maximize our success at the poker table.  But our loss avoidance tendency is different from playing with "scared money", which is when we risk money we know is needed for non-poker purposes, or when we put an excessive percentage of our bankroll at risk at one time.  Although both kinds of fear will have a negative impact on our play, the proper remedy for excessive loss avoidance is to be more aggressive, while the proper response to playing with scared money is to drop down in stakes or to quit playing until our dedicated poker bankroll is healthy.

    So, for my first New Year's poker resolution, I shall strive to overcome my fear of losses, and try to analyze hands where I would normally check or fold to determine whether an aggressive play might, in fact, be a better (+EV) play.  I will face my fear of large losses, recognizing there may be a larger reward for aggressive play.  I will push aside that knot of anxiety in my gut, and seek out that rush of joy that comes with stacking chips.  I will not be afraid at the poker table.
    I must not fear.  Fear is the mind-killer.  Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.  I will face my fear.  I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.  Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.  Only I will remain.

    —Bene Gesserit "Litany Against Fear" from "Dune", by Frank Herbert.

    December 19, 2010

    Yo, Annie Duke—Don't Ask, Don't Tweet

    Yesterday, the U.S. Senate passed a bill repealing the military's anti-gay "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) policy.*    The vote was the final obstacle in a two-decade effort to allow gay and lesbian Americans to serve their country with integrity and honor.  For those of you who may not believe that the repeal of DADT was a major civil rights victory, I would encourage you to read these personal stories by current and former members of the military who happen to be gay or lesbian.  Although gay and lesbian Americans have served our country bravely for decades, allowing them to do so openly and honestly can only make the military stronger.

    I was rather disappointed, unfortunately, in a Tweet posted by Annie Duke after the Senate vote:

    They should have attached #reidbill to DADT. Then gays could play poker online in the military and tell people about it.

    Seriously, Annie?  You want to juxtapose the passage of an historic civil rights bill with the defeat of a bill to legalize online gambling—errr, poker?  The DADT repeal took years of intense lobbying, while the poker bill was a last second attempt to pay off Senator Reid's corporate masters in the Nevada gaming industry.  The DADT repeal will allow gay and lesbian Americans to fight and die for their country, while the poker bill would've enabled more twenty-somethings to legally avoid real jobs in favor of multi-tabling sit 'n gos and chasing rakeback bonuses.  Ahh yes, Annie, I can certainly see how trivializing the DADT repeal is "good for poker".

    Now, to be fair, Annie Duke's heart is in the right place on DADT repeal (immunizing her from inclusion on the infamous "D-Bag O' the Day" list):

    Big victory in the Senate to repeal DADT. Big day for civil liberties and tolerance!

    Duke, like most poker players, was likely disappointed in the Senate's failure to make any progress on legalization of online poker, an understandable reaction.  Duke also likely didn't intend for her breezy comparison of DADT repeal and the Reid poker bill to come off as insensitive to the DADT repeal victory.  Certainly in the grand scheme of things Duke's comment was more of a traffic violation than a serious misdemeanor, and substantially less offensive than the recent Twitter "jokes" of Duke's archnemesis.  But Duke's comment does trivialize the momentous importance of the DADT repeal.  Hopefully Duke will be a little more careful in how she advocates for poker going forward.


    * Special thanks are owed to Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-PA), an Iraq War veteran, as well as Senators Joe Lieberman (I-CT), and Susan Collins (R-ME), for their leadership in shepherding this bill through Congress.

    A Bad Beat Bakes My Noodle

    Oracle:  "I'd ask you to sit down, but, you're not going to anyway.  And don't worry about the vase."

    Neo:  "What vase?"

    [Neo turns to look for a vase, and as he does, he knocks over a vase of flowers, which shatters on the floor.]

    Oracle:  "That vase."

    Neo:  "I'm sorry."

    Oracle:  "I said don't worry about it.  I'll get one of my kids to fix it."

    Neo:  "How did you know?"

    Oracle:  "Ohh, what's really going to bake your noodle later on is, would you still have broken it if I hadn't said anything?"

    The Matrix

    The weekend after Thanksgiving, I played a session at the Meadows ATM.  A lot of discussion at the table surrounded the bad beat jackpot (BBJ), which was at a record $113,000 and climbing (I'm not certain if the jackpot has been hit in the past couple of weeks, having instead been playing poker in Vegas).  Now Prairie Meadows has fairly liberal rules as far as BBJs go:  the losing hand need only be Aces full of Jacks or better (one ace playing from your hand for full houses), while quads can be a qualifying hand without a pocket pair, so long as the hole card plays as a kicker (e.g., A8 vs. JJ would qualify on a board of 8-8-8-J-J, while 98 vs. JJ would not qualify—though it would still be a sick beat).  So, getting a BBJ up over $50,000 or so is a rare event.

    As is the usual case when BBJs get higher than normal, there were tons of stories flying around the table about BBJs previously hit, as well as the usual bad beat stories about BBJs nearly hit, or hit and disqualified (Prairie Meadows DQ'd one BBJ a few years ago because a player not in the hand saw the losing player about to muck and told him to table his hand).  My favorite near-miss story involves Fred, a local uber-nit (though I hasten to add that Fred is a decent fellow who has always been friendly with me).  About a year ago, Fred folded AdQd to a preflop 3-bet, and wound up missing out hitting a royal flush against another player's quads.  If you want to needle Fred, just muck AQs face up and say, "Fred, how would you play Ace-Queen suited?" with a completely straight face.  Hilarity will ensue!

    The point of this post, however, is to look at a common talking point involving BBJs—whether players sitting out of a hand deserve a table share (or some financial reward) when a BBJ hits.  For those unfamiliar with BBJs, it is typical to divide the jackpot between the winning hand, the losing hand, and the other active players at the table (or even all active players in the room).  Prairie Meadows awards 50% of the jackpot to the losing hand, 25% to the winning hand, and divides the remaining 25% among all other players who were dealt into the hand (they also allow an absent player to be dealt into one hand after leaving the table, so long as they have chips behind).

    It is common to hear players claim that, if a player sits out of the hand and a BBJ hits, they should still be given either a full table share, or at least a significant payoff from the winning and losing hands.  The theory behind these kinds of claims is that "the bad beat would never have occurred if Player X had been dealt into the hand, so Player X should be rewarded for causing the bad beat" (see this recent discussion thread over at All Vegas Poker (AVP) for a couple of examples of this argument).*  These kinds of claims are pure nonsense.

    The implicit premise underlying this type of argument is that Player X caused the bad beat by deciding not to play the hand.  After all, if Player X did not cause the bad beat, he clearly has no moral claim to any share of the jackpot ("moral" here used in the sense of fairness or equity, as opposed to a technical claim to a share, which the player clearly does not have under the rules).

    In order to analyze whether a player sitting out of a hand can be said to have caused the bad beat, let's first consider all the factors that require perfect coordination to bring about a particular bad beat:
    • First, the deck must be shuffled to permit a bad beat to occur.  That is, the deck must contain a series of cards that, when cut in the proper spot and dealt to the proper number of players, will result in a qualifying bad beat.  It is theoretically possible for some decks—likely most decks—to be shuffled so that no bad beat can occur.  It is also theoretically possible for a deck to be shuffled to permit more than one bad beat to be dealt, depending on the cut and the number of players.  Let's call a deck with at least one potential bad beat lurking in it a qualifying deck ("QD").
    • Next, the deck must be cut in the correct spot to bring the QD's potential bad beat into play. There is theoretically a 1/51 chance of the deck being properly cut to bring the bad beat into play.  However, because most dealers do not cut close to the top or bottom of the deck, a certain percentage of potential bad beats never have a chance of being dealt out of an otherwise QD.
    • Once the deck is cut in the correct spot, the proper number of players must be dealt into the hand.
    • Once the players are dealt in, the betting must proceed in a fashion that permits the two qualifying hands to make it to the river.  For example, a hand like 22 or 96s might be driven out by a preflop raise, or a hand like 88 might fold to a flop bet on an eventual board of Q-Q-J-8-8.
    • Player betting decisions may be determined by external factors.  A player holding a potentially qualifying bad beat hand may fold because of a large raise from a player who seems likely to hold a strong hand based on playing style or physical tells.  Or a player with a potentially qualifying bad beat hand may fold because they just lost a big pot and are looking to play only the strongest starting hands, or because another player in the hand is short-stacked and doesn't offer correct implied odds to play a suited gapper starting hand.
    • During the entire hand, there must not be a dealer error that affects the two qualifying pocket hands, nor the qualifying final board (e.g., no flashed cards, no premature burn and turn, etc.).  Note that there will be a certain number of non-QDs that can become a QD as the result of a dealer error which is corrected in the normal course of play (e.g., a flashed pocket card is replaced, a boxed card is discarded, a premature river card is replaced) (let's call these "near-QDs").  Bonus noodle baking—Should a player sitting out of a hand still get credit for "causing" a bad beat if the bad beat would never have occurred but for the subsequent dealer error?
    Notice that out of all of the necessary conditions for a particular bad beat, a player's decision whether to play a hand only affects one of them—the number of players initially dealt into a hand.  But an individual player's decision whether to play a hand is only one small factor in determining the final number of players dealt into a hand.  Let's consider a few common situations that affect player decisions whether to play a particular hand:
    • Player 1 is new to the table and must decide whether to post in (or take the blinds in Vegas), or to sit out and wait for the blinds to hit (or for the blinds to pass in Vegas).
    • Player 2 gets a phone call from his spouse.  He has to decide whether to take the call and be dealt out, or ignore the call and play the hand.
    • Player 3 is racking up to head home, and has to decide whether to see another hand.
    • Player 4 is supposed to meet his buddy for dinner.  His buddy drops by or texts to tell him either to leave immediately, or to play a few more hands, based on how well his buddy is doing at table games or in the sportsbook.
    • Player 5 is a nicotine-addict and has to decide whether to take a cigarette break or play.
    • Player 6 has to decide whether to take a restroom break or play.
    • Player 7 sees a friend across the room and has to decide whether to go greet him or play.
    • Player 8 is called to a new game or is given his table change request.  He has to decide whether to take a hand or move immediately.
    • Player 9 has been absent from the table and has to decide between paying his missed blinds and waiting for the blinds.
    • Player 10 just busted out and has to decide between buying back in short, locking up his spot while he hits the ATM to reload for a full buy-in, or calling it a night and letting a new player sit down.
    • In the case of one or more empty seats, there is an added decision by the floorperson whether to fill the empty seat(s) from the list, from a table change request, or from a table break, or whether to leave the seat(s) empty.  The floor decision is then followed either by a dealer decision to deal or wait for the new player(s), followed by the decision of the new player(s) to play or sit out that hand.
    Notice that, in a situation where a QD is in play, there will be up to ten relevant player decisions that affect whether the proper number of players are in a hand so that the potential bad beat may actually be dealt.  But, no one individual player decision, in and of itself, determines whether the bad beat occurs.  Rather, it is the aggregate of the decisions that ultimately matters.  After all, once a QD is in play, it doesn't matter whether a particular player is in a hand, it only matters that the correct total number of players are in the hand.  Thus, an individual player's decision to sit out of a hand is no more and no less important than the independent decisions of all the other players at the table to play or sit out of the hand.  However, the sum total of all of those independent player decisions are interdependent in creating the final conditions for determining whether the potential bad beat will be dealt.

    To think about the situation a little more deeply, let's say that a QD is in play, and exactly eight players are needed to be dealt into the hand in order for the bad beat to hit.  Six players are clearly going to take hands, but four players are making legitimate decisions whether to play.  If two of the four "on the fence" players sit out and two play, did the two that sat out "cause" the bad beat any more than the two that chose to play?  Did the two that chose to play that particular hand "cause" the bad beat any more than the six players who were going to play the hand regardless?  What if two of the players making decisions are friends who rode together; if one chooses not to play and his friend goes along with the decision, did the player who made the decision to leave "cause" the bad beat while his friend who acquiesced in the decision did not do so?

    Let's look at the same situation from a different angle.  Let's assume there is a QD in play. All that is needed is for exactly six players to play the hand.  But, because of various player decisions, eight players take hands and the bad beat is not hit.  Which two players do we "blame" for "causing" the bad beat to miss?  If that question strikes you as nonsensical, isn't it equally nonsensical to credit a player who sits out of a hand with "causing" a bad beat that hits?

    Just to be thorough, let's examine bad beats in online play (but first, you may want to take a quick look at these discussions by Shamus—Part 1 and Part 2—and Poker Grump regarding online card randomization processes).  According to PokerStars, they use a truly random shuffle to "set" an entire deck at the beginning of a hand.  PokerStars also utilizes "user input, including summary of mouse movements and events timing, collected from client software" as one source of entropy to ensure a truly random shuffle.  Based on this method of shuffling, should we consider each player whose "user input" contributed to the shuffle that results in a QD to be a "cause" of the bad beat?

    Now, to really bake your noodle, let's look at Full Tilt where, instead of "setting" an entire deck at the beginning of a hand, the software instead waits until a card is needed to be dealt to a player or to the board to randomly select a card from the remaining "deck" of undealt cards.  Since there will never be a QD in play (since there is no deck), can we ever claim that player decisions to sit out or take a hand "cause" a bad beat?  If one player's decision to auto-fold or mull over his playing decision causes the next random card to be drawn to "change" (i.e., be different), and the resulting card results in a bad beat, did the player's decision how fast to play his hand "cause" the bad beat?  More to the point, using Full Tilt's card randomization process, can we ever meaningfully consider any player decision to be the "cause" of a bad beat?

    The assertion that one player's decision whether to play or not play a hand "caused" a bad beat reminds me of the classic "Horseshoe Nail" proverb:

    For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
    For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
    For want of a horse the rider was lost.
    For want of a rider the battle was lost.
    For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
    And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

    Of course, for something as significant and subject to as many independent factors and decisions as the outcome of a large-scale battle, it is nonsensical to attempt to trace the root "cause" to something as minor and as remote as whether a horseshoe nail was in place. In reality, there were almost certainly hundreds of independent factors and decisions at play that contributed to the outcome of the battle.  Similarly, a poker bad beat hand is never dependent on one or even a few factors and decisions, and it is equally nonsensical to describe any one individual decision or factor as the "cause" or even a "cause".

    Perhaps the best way to analytically describe poker bad beats is to regard a hand of poker as an example of chaos.  Chaos theory describes:

    "dynamical systems that are highly sensitive to initial conditions" where "[s]mall differences in initial conditions ... yield widely diverging outcomes ... rendering long-term prediction impossible in general.  This happens even though these systems are deterministic, meaning that their future behavior is fully determined by their initial conditions, with no random elements involved.  In other words, the deterministic nature of these systems does not make them predictable."

    Any poker hand is "deterministic" in the sense that it plays out in a predictable manner pursuant to a consistent set of rules.  However, every poker hand is also highly sensitive to initial conditions, including the deck shuffle, the cut, player decisions and actions, dealer decisions and actions, floor decisions and actions, and even the decisions and actions of persons remote from the game itself (e.g., the decision of a player's spouse to eat dinner or keep playing slots).  Alter one or more of the initial conditions for a given poker hand, and the hand will likely play out in a significantly different manner with a substantially different outcome (the proverbial "butterfly effect").

    Viewed in this manner, any single player decision to play or not to play a particular hand is merely one of a large number of initial conditions for a given poker hand.  From time to time, there will be a very small subset of initial conditions for a given hand that may lead to a bad beat jackpot, but hitting the bad beat jackpot even in those situations requires the fortuitous combination of precisely the right subset of initial conditions.  Any one player's decision whether to play or not play a particular hand is no more significant than any of the other relevant initial conditions.  Although a player's decision to sit out of a hand may set up a relevant initial factor for the subsequent play of the hand, he has no more caused the resulting bad beat than has a butterfly flapping its wings in China caused a tornado half the world away in Nebraska.

    So, there's no logical reason to give any player at a table credit for "causing" a bad beat just because they made a routine poker decision.  After all, poker isn't craps.  Same dice!


    * Similar arguments apply to any "cooler" type of hand (e.g., AA vs. KK, or set over set), in which the hand would never have occurred but for various player decisions to play or sit out the hand in question.  But, the argument is most commonly raised in discussing bad beat jackpot hands.

    December 17, 2010

    Bob Loblaw on the WPBT

    "There's more to life than strippers and booze and buckets of blood.  Why do you guys have buckets of blood?" 

    —Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman), on Arrested Development

    One of my favorite all-time TV comedies was the hilarious, and underappreciated, Arrested Development.  The show was filled with offbeat, zany characters* finding themselves in absurd situations, while cracking snappy one-liners.  Sounds a lot like the recent WPBT Winter Classic!

    I arranged my annual Festivus solo trip to Vegas to coincide with the WPBT this year.  I figured I followed many of these folks' blogs, why not meet a few of them?  Not to mention their trip reports always seemed to involve a high degree of hilarity ...

    So I departed Des Moines Thursday morning, landing in Vegas before noon.  My room at Planet Hollywood was not yet available, so I moseyed over to Aria to play some poker.  I ran into "Missing Flops", a Vegas lawyer who blogs on Vegas Poker Now, who was playing the 1:00 p.m. tournament. My poker session was pretty meh, but I did entertain myself by tormenting a hoodie.  This young kid would glare at me from under his hoodie anytime I raised or called his bet.  I had a decent read on his style, which was a basic uber-aggressive approach that might've been profitable three or four years ago.  So, I played a few pots with him, winning almost all of them.  One interesting hand I had some sort of suited gapper and limped UTG.  Hoodie raised to $15, got a couple of callers, so I repopped it to $75 straight; big glare and a muck.  The pièce de résistance was when I called him down in position with Q6 soooted for bottom pair after he three-barreled an unimproved Ace-King.  The glare after I rolled over that hand probably means I shouldn't expect a holiday card this year.  As I was walking back to Planet Hollywood to check into my room (themed around the forgettable—and for me, forgotten—movie Mimic), the Aria poker room tweeted:

    @ thanks for coming out!

    Unintentional comedy at its finest.

    After checking into Planet Hollywood, I wandered down the Strip to play "flop a Royal" at Mirage.  I failed.  Then it was on to dinner with Poker Grump and Missing Flops at Dos Caminos in the Palazzo.  There was a great deal of merriment and some serious debate over poker and politics.  Then it was off to the Imperial Palace to check up on the WPBT crew at the Geisha Bar.

    At this point, I was confronted with a horde of poker bloggers.  Lots of names and faces were learned and promptly forgotten.  Hey, I'm old now, it happens.  I do remember meeting Otis (resplendent in a white polyester sportcoat with faux suede trim), BuddyDank (central casting for any middle-aged slacker), Ian (central Iowa resident I had inexplicably never seen at a poker table before, and whose blogger name I forget; EDIT: It's NumbBono!), and Falstaff (a big ol' teddy bear who was carrying a pitcher of beer, but no glass.  Epic!).  The irrepressible F-Train made an appearance, and I also saw the famed Pauly at the nearby pai gow table, with a rowdy group of compatriots.

    Although I'm a fairly outgoing person, being the newbie among a herd of old friends can be a little awkward.  So I wandered over to the IP's poker room.  I had to play some 2/4 LHE while waiting for a 1/2 NLHE seat to open, but that worked out just fine as Alaska Gal dealt me pocket Kings, flopped me a set, and I managed to get an old guy with KJ to think I was bullying him, resulting in a pot over $75.  Excellent!  I don't remember much of the 1/2 NLHE game, except that CaityCaity, CK, skidoo, Katkin, and Falstaff all put in appearances at various points in time.

    I then wandered back to P-Ho, intending to go to bed, but instead being seduced by the siren song of a juicy NLHE game.  There were a couple of young guys I would see several times over the next few days, as well as a crazy Asian guy fresh off a baccarat session.  This guy would buy in for $300, leave it in the rack, and then go all-in preflop.  After a few rounds of this, with most folks folding, I screwed up the courage to call him with 44 and a $100ish stack.  I doubled up.  A few hands later, I call again, with 66, and held up.  A few hands later, I call again with 44, and again doubled up.  The other guys, however, were not doing as well, finding hands like AK, AJ, and QQ getting shot down by the crazy guy's trash hands.  It was the most insane poker I've seen, outside several sessions at Bally's after midnight (crazy Gremlin poker there!).  The weirdest moment came when the crazy guy mentioned that he was waiting for his suite to be set up.  Apparently, he was a high roller, and was hosting a party that afternoon, so he was having a stripper pole and shower installed in the living room.  Clearly I don't do Vegas properly.

    Friday morning rolled around ... well, Friday noon rolled around, and I headed out to find some poker.  I decided to see what Bally's was like in the daylight hours.  Apparently, just as crazy.  I was seated next to a weird dude who seemed wired.  In between jitters, he would run off at the mouth, sharing that he preferred heroin to booze "because it doesn't affect my poker game as much", and bragging he not only once starred in porn (maybe back in the early 80s), he also "once was on TV and used to date strippers".  He hit on a nice Swedish lady at the table, including using this gem of a pickup line: "You're from Sweden?  I love IKEA and Swedish porn."  Unfortunately, he also was a bad poker player.  When I flopped a set and had trapped a kid overplaying Aces, PornStar calls my massive check-raise saying, "I need to gamble here."  Yes, the poker gods do reward donkeys, letting him flush my set for a monsterpotten.  Le sigh.

    I met up with my Brooklyn gals, Mary and "Dawn Summers" (too many blogs to link), for dinner at the Grand Wok at MGM.  Joining us were several of their NYC crew, including Ross, F-Train, and VinNay.  Dawn and I took competing pictures of each other at the table:

    After dinner, it was off to the MGM poker room for some cards and hilarity.  Instead, there were 2,000 drunk cowboys dancing at Centrifuge Bar, creating quite the ruckus.  I did play for a short time, including a hand where Josie dropped by to say hello, and saw me crack Aces with 9h4h; what a hot and fiery good luck charm she is!  I stayed long enough to see some smoking woman-on-woman action between CK and The Wife, then bailed for the quieter tables at Mirage.

    Error.  Turns out, the Mirage was hosting the official National Finals Rodeo party in its sportsbook.  The entire sportsbook and surrounding casino floor space was crammed with cowboys and cowgirls dancing the night away.


    In case you were wondering, why yes, that is a giant cactus in the middle of the Mirage sportsbook!  Now, lest you think I'm poking fun, let me be clear.  I grew up on a farm in western Nebraska, was in 4-H and FFA, did my share of showing and judging livestock at the county and state fairs, and had an uncle with a big cattle ranch in the Nebraska Sand Hills.  So, although I'm not a big rodeo fan, folks that are rodeo fans—complete with cowboy hats, cowboy boots, western cut jeans, western style shirts, and big shiny belt buckles—are part of my original tribe.  The band was actually quite good, and ripped through a ton of old school country hits (my favorite that night was a version of "Louisiana Saturday Night" that pretty much had the whole crowd two-steppin').  Regrettably, cowboys also can be donkeys—and lucky donkeys—at the poker tables, and after dodging quad aces then being whacked by two horrendous four-outers (is there any other kind?), I decided to pack it in for the night.

    Of course, I had to stop by the P-Ho poker room, since it was conveniently located by the elevators to my room.  First hand I ran second nut flush into the nut flush, but then the tide turned as I started pounding greyhounds (to prevent scurvy, of course).  For my big hand of the night, I had K8 of crubs, flopped trip Kings, rivered quads, and got paid in full on my river shove (a 2x pot bet) by a young kid trying to impress his girlfriend with his Ace-rag bluff.  Now that's a hero call!  Thank you, come again!  I also had the pleasure of sitting next to a young Hungarian guy who recited lines from Rounders.  Nothing quite like a Hungarian doing an imitation of John Malkovich ("Teddy KBG") doing a bad Russian accent.

    Saturday started off with the awesome WPBT tournament at Aria.  Since this didn't make it into my prior writeup of the tourney, I did want to mention I got to play for a bit with Chilly (who I knew from back in the day when I went to college with he and his wife), and also got to briefly meet the legendary Al Can't Hang (who is much smaller, quieter, and saner in real life than one might imagine).  EDIT:  I failed to mention a really interesting fellow I met during the tournament and later played some cash games with:  Travis, a/k/a "OnAFoldDraw".  Funny guy, good player, looking forward to hanging with him more next year.

    After the tournament, I found myself walking over to MGM with Katkin, Dr. Chako, and The Wife to play mixed games.  The Doc and the Wife are awesome folks, very friendly and entertaining.  The Wife grew up in small town Wisconsin, so we found plenty to chat about.  For example, she had 50 or so people in her high school graduating class, while I had 7.  The mixed games were more donking than playing.  I did flop quad 9s in hold 'em against The Wife, and later tilted a fat guy with bad "Flock of Seagulls" hair into leaving the table after I kept calling him down when he tried to bluff (dude, bluffing in 3/6 limit? riiiigghhhttt).

    The reindeer games came to a close when CK invited the Chakos and me to a comped dinner at Lemongrass in Aria.  This was a fantastic dinner, as we shared a couple of appetizers and four spicy Asian dishes.  I would highly recommend eating here with your Aria poker room comp dollars.  Even better than the food, however, was the company, as my dinner companions regaled me with amusing stories of prior WPBT hijinks as well as tales of their family lives.  That two hours was easily the highlight of my trip, and made me glad I had moved my Festivus trip to include the WPBT.  Good folks, those three.

    After dinner, we cabbed it to Imperial Palace for some poker and to see who might be at the Geisha Bar.  At the bar, we saw Miami Don with his Golden Hammer trophy; a well-deserved win for a guy who had dominated my last table.  Pauly and some of the WPBT old guard were holding court, and I managed sightings of Astin and Katitude, two people I would love to chat with briefly next year.  Funny thing, I had pictured Astin as a brawny, outdoorsy guy, and in reality he's a sharp-dressing young professional type.  Katitude, though, fit my image of her.  Both seem to be pretty easy-going and entertaining.

    I wandered over to the IP poker tables, where I lost a big pot to Grubette (at least, I think it was her), when my AcTc flopped top pair and a flush draw, and the turn card gave me altos dos pairs.  Regrettably, it also gave Grubette her gutterball Broadway, and I failed to improve.  My own fault though, for not raising enough on the flop.  However, I could hardly be gloomy because The Wife mentioned she was straddling at her table, which somehow led to her straddling me and giving me a lap dance during a Dealertainer rendition of "Achy Breaky Heart".  There were dozens of guys jealous of me at that point!

    The evening progressed with other friends joining the action at various points, including Dawn, Mary, and CaityCaity.  There was one weird guy at the table, who dressed like he was touring with some bad 80s band.  The only other memorable hand of the session was when, for only the second time in my life, I folded Kings preflop.  A older, nitty guy had raised big, I reraised, and he proceeded to shove without hesitation.  I assumed he had Aces, and I also wanted to protect my ~$450 stack.  He rolled over ... A8 soooted.  Wow.  I play so bad.  (For what it's worth, the only other time I folded Kings preflop was under similar circumstances, but with far deeper stacks; I was wrong that time, too).

    I headed back to P-Ho, where the late night game was in full crazy mode.  Two young guys at the table were trying to prop bet on all manner of stupid stuff, like whether the next person to walk past a certain spot would be male or female.  Thankfully, the louder one was a bad player, and donated ~$1,500 to the table.  Strangely, when the song "Danger Zone" came on, it turned out he not only had no idea the song was in the movie Top Gun, he had never even heard of Top Gun!  Kids these days ... However, this did lead to a hilarious remainder of the session, as we nicknamed the three young guys at the table wearing sunglasses "Goose", "Maverick", and "Iceman".

    Sunday was much more sedate.  I skipped the WPBT festivities at Lagasse's Stadium in favor of sleeping in followed by a fun lunch at Hash House A Go Go with "Local Rock", a frequent poster on AVP.  I then tracked down Dr. Chako and The Wife at the Venetian/Palazzo compound in order to say goodbye.  This was followed by a rapid shopping trip for something to pay the spouse pass; I ended up getting the sig other a watch, since it was from a trendy designer he likes, it travels easily, and I about threw up in my mouth at the idea of spending $150-$200 for a shirt he wanted.

    Shopping done, I returned to the Venetian to play some $1/$2 PLG (pot limit gambooool).  Also at the table were entertaining WPBT degenerates Drizz, Falstaff, and Katkin, along with a rotating assortment of crazy Canadians, a scary Scandi, and an alliterative Asian.  The game was great fun, and I even cashed out a nice profit.  One cooler hand I tweeted, where I flopped Kings-up with a flush draw and turned Kings-full:

    Falstaff and I get it in on the turn, my Ks full of 8s vs. his KQ76. He calls for the Queen. I cry.

    There was another big hand, this time where I folded on the flop to monster three-way action.  I folded a monster draw that I think should have been a call, but I'll post the hand later for comments.  Anyway, a little before midnight, Katkin and I cashed out and went to Noodle Asia for some food and interesting poker and politics chat.  If you ever have a chance to sit down with Katkin, do it.  Fascinating fellow.

    I headed back to P-Ho, popping into Imperial Palace briefly to say goodbye to Dawn and Mary.  The P-Ho late night game was in full crazy swing, yet I couldn't get much traction.  My final hand of the trip involved me getting it all-in three ways on the flop with Ac2c vs. CaityCaity's 99 and some young ET's 88.  Final board: Qc56c79.  Yup, not only did crubs not get there (thanks so much, CK), but Caity's set gave ET his miracle straight.  Yup, I run awesome.

    During this trip, I had experienced every kind of negative variance.  I lost to 2-outers, 3-outers, and 4-outers.  I was outflopped, turned, and rivered.  I was outdrawn, but couldn't hit my monster draws.  I ran into set over set, straight over straight, flush over flush, boat over boat, and yes, even ran into quads.  Still, Vegas did have one last bad beat waiting for me, even after I put away the remnants of my Vegas bankroll.**  I got into a cab Monday morning to head to the airport.  Upon learning that I play poker, my cabbie proceeded to suck five minutes out of my soul by regaling me with his brother's bad beat story.  For those who care, his brother was supposedly playing $5/$10 NLHE at the Venetian, flopped quad Kings, and lost to a rivered royal flush (the other guy had QJ soooted and flopped the open-ended straight flush draw).  The cabbie was outraged the Venetian didn't have a badbeat jackpot, "like the Orleans, or other good poker rooms".  Please, join me in lighting a candle to the poker gods tonight in memory of this guy who now is apparently also driving cabs, trying to rebuild his poker bankroll.

    I returned to Iowa to find single-figure temperatures, sub-zero windchills, and snow.  But, a happy Berkeley was there to snuggle up and keep me warm, and it was nice to actually get home.  Still, my Festivus/WPBT adventures were a ton of fun, and I look forward to next year when I can see my all my friends old and new, and hopefully meet more of the WPBT folks.  Notables on the "to meet" list:  Bayne, BadBlood, Iggy, StB, and April, though I quite likely met at least some of these folks and had no idea who they were.  

    And next year, my 85 offsuit will hold up.


    * My favorite character name on the show was "Bob Loblaw", an attorney who also wrote a blog, "The Bob Loblaw Law Blog".  Say his name out loud and you'll get why his character always made me crack up.

    ** Actually, I ran well enough that, although it was a losing trip, most of the big pots I lost cut into my profits for that session, rather than into my initial buy-in.  Still, a small losing trip could've been a monster winning trip had the poker gods been just a bit more kind on a few key hands.