January 31, 2010

The Ironman Inviteth

Navin R. Johnson:  The new phone book's here! The new phone book's here!

Harry Hartounian:  Boy, I wish I could get that excited about nothing.

Navin R. Johnson:  Nothing? Are you kidding? Page 73 - Johnson, Navin R.! I'm somebody now! Millions of people look at this book everyday! This is the kind of spontaneous publicity - your name in print - that makes people. I'm in print! Things are going to start happening to me now.

Sniper [points to Navin's name in the phone book]:  Johnson, Navin R... sounds like a typical bastard.

--The Jerk

Friday was an exciting day for the Ironman of Poker (IMOP) crew, as official invites arrived via cruise director Santa Claus’ secret email account. The IMOP-V crew is officially set, giving us our official theme—“A Wolfpack of 12”. Pledge names have been assigned to the newbies—Colt, Fat Jesus, River Joe, Baby Carlos, and Mr. Chow.

We are already booked in Rialto View Suites at the Venetian, taking advantage of the scandalously low, insider-trading level poker room rate. Santa Claus correctly describes these accommodations as “1,100 square feet of pure awesomeness.” Somehow the six hours per day of mandatory poker play doesn’t seem all that challenging of a hurdle.

Returning events this year include the four NLHE tourneys we will play as a group, though the Sahara has fallen out of the rotation for the first time ever (much to the joy of Ironman “Sahara” who has made this request four straight years). This year’s IMOP-sanctioned tourneys will be held at Planet Hollywood, TI, Mirage, and Aria. Fittingly, the Mirage is a nod to IMOP history, as it has not been on the calendar since IMOP-I, while Aria is the new kid on the poker block, providing temporal symmetry to events (not that we really care). Also returning will be the ugly jacket dinner, this year at Nob Hill in MGM. As three time and only champion ever, I am a prohibitive favorite to win this event. In case you scoff, here are my entries from the past two years (with a cameo from Sahara himself in last year’s picture):

First they didn't have the bamboo umbrellas for the drinks, and now snails on the plate!

New events this year include the first ever team competition, with three teams headed by the three all-time IMOP champions. We will also be having a pledge hazing event, involving a quiz about IMOP history and The Hangover. Losers will be required to play the opening tourney wearing interesting outfits, shall we say.

One of our IMOP newbies—Pledge Colt (so-named as the doppelganger for some Longhorn who had a bad day against a Boy Named Ndamukong Suh)—already has regaled the IMOP crew with a worthy IMOP-pregame poker story from a weekend trip by several of the IMOP home game crew to Riverside Casino:
The good news—I got to see a royal flush beat aces full of kings on a board of Ac, 10c, Ad, Kd, Kc.

Yep—the bad beat jackpot at our table.

“Why was this anything less than a positive experience for you, Colt?”—you might ask. Well, I’ll tell you.

After returning from taking a leak and sitting back down—I watched the hand play out—even commenting that the river card (King of clubs) had the making for a bad beat jackpot to those around me. Once the cards were flipped over; we went nuts—and then later found out you had to be DEALT in the hand to be eligible for 25% of the jackpot ($55,000).

So—that piss cost me $2300.

With that said—if I were actually in the hand—the beat would have never happened and Fat Jesus wouldn’t have free-rolled his entire IMOP trip (yes—[Pledge Fat Jesus] was dealt in that hand).

I vow to take no leaks this entire trip.

If this story is an IMOP omen, events this March will indeed be the highest and jinkiest ever!
I'm a jerk. I once had wealth, power, and the love of a beautiful woman. Now I only have two things: my friends and, uh, my thermos.

And hopefully the IMOP Champion's Bling!

January 30, 2010

It's Not All About the Bracelet

“It’s all about the bracelet.”

It is almost a cliché now, how poker players at the WSOP routinely aver that they are playing for the bracelet, not for the money. Joe Cada and Darvin Moon repeated the “all about the bracelet” mantra at this past WSOP final table. A quick Google search brings up dozens of more examples, including notable name players like Jeff Madsen, Johnny Chan, Phil Hellmuth, Nick Schulman, and Phil Gordon. Two-time WSOP bracelet winner Howard Lederer probably states the bracelet party line as well as anyone:
"The WSOP is not just another tournament. And bracelets are not just another trophy. When a player dies, the first thing they report in their obituary is the number of bracelets won."

Reported by Michael Craig, FullTiltPoker.com (2/14/09).

Given this cult of the bracelet, the reaction this past week to news of T.J. Cloutier’s sale of two of his WSOP bracelets was predictable. Along with the usual snickering rumor-mongering about Cloutier’s supposed financial troubles (and legendary craps habit), the general reaction was astonishment. How near rock bottom must Cloutier’s situation be if he is resorting to such extreme measures as selling off these hallowed relics?

The Cloutier bracelet sale news occurred at the same time as the media hype leading up to the Super Bowl. So, for the past week, the sports media has treated us to a parade of former Super Bowl winners, wearing their gaudy Super Bowl rings, and waxing rhapsodic about how winning a Super Bowl ring fulfilled their ultimate dream. Sound familiar? What may also sound familiar, then, are the recurrent media reports of Super Bowl rings being pawned or auctioned off. This disposal of championship memorabilia isn’t even limited to poker bracelets or Super Bowl rings—the practice seems to encompass all of the major professional and college sports, as well as similar items like boxing belts, Olympic medals, and Heisman trophies. In fact, one online site is dedicated to the sale of championship rings, and offers rings from many major college teams (including my beloved Huskers), as well as from quite a number of Super Bowls and other professional sport championships.

Given the pervasive “all about the bracelet” or “all about the ring” mentality, it seems inconceivable to most fans that anyone would ever willingly part with a bracelet or ring except in dire circumstances. In fact, one prominent online broker asserts that most of his purchases occur because of “the three Ds”—death, drugs, and divorce—to which he now adds “the big E”—the economy. If the recurrent rumors are to be believed, in Cloutier’s case we might add the big G—gambling—to the mix. On the other hand, maybe it was all a publicity stunt, and Cloutier is sitting on a comfortable nest egg and laughing at the whole poker world.

Frankly, though, I could give a flying pig why Cloutier sold his bracelets. To me, the more interesting question is why we place such a high value on rings and bracelets in the first place. For players, the answer seems easy—the ring or bracelet reflects winning a title and being at the ultimate peak of one’s profession. The ring or bracelet also confers prestige, with success among the elite players being divided even more finely by the number of rings or bracelets, and in the case of poker, which bracelets (certain WSOP events carry more prestige). Finally, the ring or bracelet likely carries a certain economic benefit. In addition to the bonus money won by champions in most sports, or the prize money won by boxers and poker players, winning a ring or bracelet often translates into other economic opportunities—endorsements, appearance fees, book deals, and the like.

The thing is, all of those benefits from winning the ring or bracelet have nothing to do with the ring or bracelet itself. Instead, for a player, the ring or bracelet is just a symbol of achievement. Even if they pawn, sell, lose, or even give it away, their accomplishment still stands. They will still be introduced—or eulogized—as a “Super Bowl champion” or “four time WSOP bracelet winner.” So, when a player says, “I’m playing for a ring” or “All I care about is the bracelet”, what they are really saying is that they want all the things that come with winning. The actual ring or bracelet itself is rather beside the point. In fact, Phill Hellmuth, who is as famously obsessive about winning bracelets as anyone, has given away most of his bracelets to family and friends.

Since these rings and bracelets are really nothing more than commemorative baubles—a souped up version of a kid’s league trophy or ribbon—why do fans place such value on those items, caring so deeply that they are being sold, and in some cases, paying large sums of money to buy them? The collectors’ motives are fairly easy to guess. Although there might be the occasional shrewd investor who is simply looking to make a profit from a future resale, for the most part it seems most of these memorabilia purchasers buy these rings or bracelets to stroke their own egos and feel some of the reflected glory of an achievement they themselves will never personally experience. But, because they have money, they can get a ring or bracelet rather than settling for an autographed ball or framed team poster like the average fan. In a way, owning a ring or bracelet is just a variation on wearing a flashy Rolex or driving an exotic car—it’s the gauche byproduct of superfan syndrome and wealthy narcissism.

But if those who buy rings and bracelets are indulging their inner spoiled brat, the prize for epic tackiness goes to those who follow the reports of the sale of rings or bracelets with a sense of smugness. These are the people who righteously declare that they would never part with such an item if they had won it. These same people weigh in on comment boards, gleefully reveling in the tawdry details of another person’s financial woes. In a sense, the media coverage of sports memorabilia sales has a distinct tabloid feel, with sports fans lapping up every detail of a star player’s financial failings much like other folks follow the romantic breakups of their favorite actors and actresses. In the case of poker, the online discussion boards are fueled by rumors and speculation about which players are broke, almost as obsessively as the Hollywood tabloids speculate about which actors are secretly gay.* It’s schadenfreude on steroids.

If Cloutier in fact sold his bracelets because of financial problems, he wouldn’t be the first or last poker player to succumb to financial troubles, whether from gambling, drugs, bad investments, excessive partying, or even a bad run of luck. Likewise for other sports stars who sell off rings or other memorabilia. These folks may have won something most of us can only dream about, but off their chosen field of play, they are still just people with their own human weaknesses. Trading in gossip and cracking jokes at their expense isn’t funny, it’s ghoulish.

* Actually, speculating about what stars are gay is one topic Hollywood and poker have in common.

January 27, 2010

Deposit Comment Cards Here!

I've had this blog up and running for roughly three weeks now.  According to Google Analytics, apparently there are 60-70 of y'all who stop by on a fairly regular basis, which is at least 3-4 times what I expected this early in the process.  Hopefully I've entertained you to some degree!

I openly admit I am a novice with what a lot of bloggers take for granted when it comes to formatting and web design.  A lot of formatting and design have turned out to be pretty intuitive, or can be learned by following examples from a variety of sources, or by simple trial and error.  But I appreciate your patience with me as I get things squared away.

All that being said, I certainly welcome comments and suggestions from readers as to things they don't like, or things they think could be improved upon with this blog.  The layout and design features you see now were essentially selected by me after a lot of trial and error, with the final product being simply what looked good to my eye.  But, that doesn't mean the rest of you agree with my decisions.

In a recent post, an anonymous commentor posted the following suggestion:

Hint: This black text on dark grey background doesn't work very well on some displays.
My response was:
What kind of displays are you referencing? I've viewed the blog on four different computers (all using IE7 or IE8), and my iTouch (presumably Safari?), and have not noticed a problem. I went with the current color scheme in part because I felt it was less stressful to the eye than the usual "black on white" set up. But if readability is a common problem, I would be happy to play around with the color schemes and see if I can improve readability.
I would welcome any other comments or suggestions as to layout and design flaws any of you may find.  For example:
  • Readability
  • Location of page elements
  • Color scheme
  • Font type / size
  • Common blog widgets not in use you would like to see added
  • Blog widgets in use that you dislike
  • Linking issues
  • Whatever else annoys you (besides my writing style--you're stuck with that)
I'm designating this blog post as my "official" Comment Box for all non-content related suggestions and complaints.  Since I am somewhat a newbie with tech stuff, if your comment is technical in nature or requires a technical fix, please be as specific as possible in providing me as much technical detail as you may know, or a suggestion as to resources I can consult to better understand the issue.

All suggestions and criticisms are welcome--if I don't know something bugs you, I can't fix it.  Of course, I may or may not act on your suggestions. Please do not be offended if I decline a particular suggestion; at the end of the day, it still is my blog, and I have to be satisfied with the final product that y'all see.

Thanks again in advance for all of your suggestions!

Wine & Whine O' the Week (v. 1.3)

This past weekend at the Meadows ATM, I played in a 1/2 NLHE game at the same table as the resident Uber-Nit. This is a guy who plays only Top 10 hands, overbets them, and ends up steaming and muttering to himself when his “big” hands either get no action or get snapped off. I’ve seen Uber-Nit walking the halls of the casino, or in the restroom, complaining and cursing about a hand under his breath. It’s always fun to tilt Uber-Nit!

After a couple of hours, Uber-Nit was already simmering from having to lay down a couple of hands to postflop raises. Uber-Nit open raises to $17 from EP, which signaled a hand like a pocket pair 99-QQ, or maybe AK. Folds around to me OTB, and I decide to call with 9c8s, knowing I can steal on the right board, and get paid off if I hit a flop.

Flop is 9 high with two clubs. Uber-Nit overbets the pot, and I call. Turn is the Ac. Uber-Nit checks, so I bet, representing either an Ace or clubs. Uber-Nit thinks a long time, then calls, clearly uncomfortable. River is Qc. Uber-Nit checks. I’m afraid he might have AxKc, JcJx or TcTx, so I check as well.

Uber-Nit: “I don’t have a club.”

Me: “I do.”

I roll my hand, and Uber-Nit gives his patented half glare, half disgusted look. Uber-Nit starts snapping his cards against his hand in agitation.

Uber-Nit: “It had to be the Queen of f@#%ing clubs! Every f@#%ing time!” You call me with 98 offsuit, and then hit a flush. F@#%ing ridiculous!”

At this point he flashes what every player had to know he held—two red Queens—and throws them onto the table so hard they overshoot the muck.

Me [stacking chips]: “What a terrible river card.”

Commence Uber-Nit meltdown …

The Uber-Nit’s sour attitude is best enjoyed with a nice sweet wine. What better choice than the Yalumba Galway Pipe NV Tawny Port? Technically not a true “port” (since it’s from Australia rather than Portugal), it is nonetheless a tasty wine made in the tawny port style, and compares favorably with the better 20 year old tawny ports from Portgual. It has a deep reddish-brown color, with a nice acidity to counterpoint the sweetness. Flavors are typical of tawny port—caramel/toffee in the foreground, a good fig/raisin fruit base, and a hint of honey. Retail price is a good value for a better tawny port, typically ~$30/bottle.

January 25, 2010

Brett Favre Is Still a Winner

The Saints-Vikings NFC Championship game yesterday, while not exactly a paragon of defense and ball security, was certainly action-packed and dramatic. A lot of postgame analysis and Monday morning quarterbacking is assigning blame for the Vikings’ loss on QB Brett Favre, primarily because of his interception in the final seconds of regulation which deprived the Vikings of a shot at a long (55 yd.) field goal to win. According to this line of argument, Favre’s INT led directly to the Saints’ win in overtime.

This argument oversimplifies matters greatly. Certainly Favre’s INT was a critical error, but it was hardly the only factor leading to the Vikings’ loss. The Vikings also had three fumbles, including two within the Saints’ 10 yard line. Immediately prior to the play, the Vikings had a 5 yard penalty for 12 men in the huddle, which is inexplicable given that the Vikings had called a timeout. Without that penalty, a simple run up the middle for 2 or 3 yards would have left the Vikings with a 47-48 yard field goal attempt; hardly a sure thing (particularly given the rampant postseason kicking woes around the league), but certainly makeable in a dome a decent percentage of the time. Once in overtime, the Vikings’ defense gave up enough yards to allow the winning field goal. So, there was certainly plenty of blame to go around, and maybe just a little credit for the efforts of a pretty talented Saints team.

What gets lost in the argument is the underlying question of whether the Vikings would even have made it to the NFC title game without Favre. Much as it pains me to admit as a Packers fan, Favre’s performance this season is arguably his best ever. Comparing his season stats for this past regular season to his years with the Packers, Favre had:
  • His best QB rating (107.2; his usual range was 85-95)
  • His fewest INTs (7, well below his usual range of 15-23)
  • His best completion percentage
  • His third most yards passing (4,202, only 211 yds. off his career high)
  • Tied for his fourth most TDs (33, only 6 off his career high)
On top of his individual performance, Favre enabled the Vikings to win 12 games and get the No. 2 seed in the NFC, along with homefield advantage against the Cowboys. Can anyone seriously argue that the Vikings would have had as much team success with Tarvaris Jackson or Sage Rosenfels at QB? The Vikings may not have had such a strong QB performance since the glory days of Fran Tarkenton several decades ago.

I’ll be the first to admit Favre is an egotistical diva. But these days, most star athletes fall in the same category. Favre’s repeated retirement/unretirement dance is tiresome, as is the constant sports announcer worshipping of his “gunslinger” approach to the game. But despite all his foibles and flaws, Favre came to play every game; he was the epitome of a competitor. In fact, many of his INTs or bonehead plays came more from trying too hard to win, to manufacture a play on the run, to will a pass to work. That will to do all he could for his team is what made Favre a winner. It’s what made the Packers a winning franchise again, and what won them another Super Bowl title (with a big assist from Reggie White). It’s what changed the Vikings this season from another middle of the pack team to a serious title contender stopped one excruciating play short of the Super Bowl.

So, all you Vikings fans, I understand how it feels to see your postseason dreams crushed by a Favre INT. But, when you signed up for the Favre Express, you knew you were riding a QB who would push the edge to win, usually with solid success, sometimes with spectacular plays, but also occasionally in a flaming disaster. You simply can’t have Brett Favre the winner without Brett Favre the ticking timebomb; without that edge—that will to win—you would only have another QB with a strong arm who could do everything but help his team win.

In other words, you would have Jeff George. And you already know how that experiment turned out.

Poker with the Joker

One of my fellow Ironman of Poker (IMOP) running mates was in town last night, so we played a short session of 1/2 NLHE at the Meadows ATM while watching the Vikings-Saints NFC Championship game.* I had one of those frustrating sessions where I always seemed to be out of step—bluffing into the guys who can’t lay down middle pair, then failing to make a river bet against the guys who had a weak hand or missed draw. I wish I could say I was card dead, but I had AA three times (all small pot wins), KK three times (two small pot wins, one medium pot loss), QQ once (small pot win), and JJ/TT three times (all small pot losses). Of the four monster pots I was involved in, I won one with a great call, and lost the other three to draws that hit after the money (or the bulk of it) went in. I ended up down 1.5 buy-ins, but thankfully that was well-covered by my shrewd sports investments.

The poker game, although not profitable, did have a high #hilarityensues quotient. Early on I won a nice pot when I had AKo in the BB. I flop Broadway, but the board is all clubs and I don’t have one. There is a pot-size bet, and two of us call. Turn is 9d, small bet, followed by push all-in. I think a bit, and since I know this guy, I figure he has either the Kc or 9c, but is not made yet. I push over the top to get last player to fold, as I put him on a set or baby flush. He indeed shows 6c5c and mucks. Other guy in fact has KcQs. River is 6s, and I am off to a good start.

About this time my buddy, Barbie (@IMOPbarbie), arrives. Barbie’s style of play is best described as “demented-aggressive”. He is the “Joker” of poker players (the Jack Nicholson incarnation). Barbie’s pet hand is 63 (he calls it “the Spanish Inquisition”), but honestly, he’d raise with the proverbial Tarot card and napkin if he was bored (i.e., had folded before the river two hands in a row). On our last IMOP, he ran over two Scandis to the tune of at least $2K in profit, and left both rolled up in the fetal position sucking their thumbs after trying to figure out what had happened. He’s also the (former) owner of Fuzzy Puppy (a trained attack dog / card protector), who mysteriously disappeared at the last IMOP home game. Oh, and I drafted him (Barbie, not Fuzzy Puppy) for my team for this year’s IMOP. I mean, if the guy can pull off the epic “Meat Tank” prop bet (which required him to go all-in at a cash game at TI, then pull out and eat a leftover BBQ pork rib), why wouldn’t you want him on your team?

Barbie taking candy from Scandis at Planet Hollywood.

Barbie performing the Meat Tank at TI.

Anyway, I have a stack of ~$500 and I’m feeling good. Then, I run into a cooler. My nemesis at the table—let’s call him “Mr. Chow”—limps in MP. I find JsTs OTB, so I raise, and Mr. Chow calls along with a couple of others. Flop is a gorgeous Qs9s7h. Checks to me, so I bet around 3/4 pot, Mr. Chow calls, and another guy calls. Turn is the 8d—Donkey Kong! Checks to me, so I make a half pot bet. Mr. Chow calls. River is the 7s. Mr. Chow pushes for about half the pot. I hate it, but I make the call. Sure enough, I was rivered by … Ks6s. Ouch. I still have a nice stack, though, and I build it back up some when I run into Barbie. I end up stacking off to him with AK for TPTK when he flops bottom pair with J6o … and turns the J. Fun times. Rebuy!

I get some money back when I take a nice pot off of Uber-Nit by cracking his QQ with 9c8s—running clubs got there, of course. But, I then get KK OTB and have to give up on the turn when the board is four hearts and has the Ah to boot. In one of my favorite moments, I stack an uber-whiner when I call his flop all-in with QTs—I had a gutterball, backdoor flush draw, and it felt like my Q and T were both live overs. Sure enough, he has 99. The turn is the gin card—9h—making his set and my straight. Ahhh, much better!

At some point, I end up with one of the weirdest monster hands ever. I find KK again, raise to $12, get one caller. Flop is KQQ—not too bad, I guess. I slowplay it, and we go check-check. Turn is the case K—Donkey Kong! We go check-check again. River is … another Q! Now I’m hoping my opponent has AQ, since that would qualify us for the badbeat jackpot. I bet $20 and he instamucks. I end up winning a whopping $12 post-rake. Talk about bad beats …

In the meantime, Barbie is putting most of the table on tilt, showing down outrageous bluff after ridiculous play. He had people laying down two pair to his J-high or bottom pair over and over. At one point, Barbie four barrels at a final board that is Q-high with four clubs and a deuce. The river bet is $40ish, and the other guy (Mr. Chow) tanks. After a bit, Mr. Chow says, "I think we have the same hand," and shows AK with no club. Mr. Chow agonizes some more, and finally calls. Barbie says, "Good hand. Nice call." and rolls over J2o with no club. Barbie starts chattering about how he had to fire at the river, and what a good call Mr. Chow made, goes on and on. Barbie didn't realize he had won until the pot was hitting his stack! Hilarity definitely ensued. I think Barbie needs one of those pocket cheat cheet cards with poker hand rankings for IMOP.

Not long after, a guy next to Barbie bets $200 on the river into Mr. Chow’s cousin, for a monsterpotten of over $700. Mr. Chow’s cousin agonizes for over four minutes, muttering the entire time. Suddenly he stands up and points at Barbie and says, “Why couldn’t it be YOU?!? I call you!” He eventually folds two pair, and goes on mega-tilt when he’s shown a bluff with a busted flush draw. Whatever poker disease Barbie has, it’s clearly contagious.

Only six more weeks until Barbie and I hit Vegas for IMOP. I can’t wait to see if this is the year Barbie is finally assaulted by a crazed Euro-donk. One can only dream.

* This session again proved that it is a major leak to play poker while your favorite football team is on TV in a big game. At least three Vikings fans busted out, and another sat next to me and screamed at the TV repeatedly, until his Viking-tilt led him to donk off upwards of $800.

January 24, 2010

Donkey Hunting with Jugweed

Good bud Jugweed (@Jugweed on Twitter) got a spouse pass for poker, so after he watched the Kansas Jayfaux beat the ISU CyClowns, we rolled over to the Meadows ATM for a long session. I got right into a 1/2 NLHE game filled with several regular nits. Eh. Anyway, I posted in, there was a small raise, couple of callers, and I look down to find a Diamond Grump. I know, I know, sometimes I just run-good; it’s a blessing and a curse. Anyway, I flop a deuce, turn a four, and scoop a $115 pot from some d-bag who overplayed his AK after flopping TPTK. Hilarity ensued. “To do list … #3. Establish tight image.” Check.

I get myself a crAAKKer moment when I snap KK with a junky little unsuited AA. But then I gave back some chips after getting run over by two boats. In the first tragic encounter, I turn the nut flush when the 7h hits the board, but it also paired the board. I smelled a rat and checked the turn and called a value bet on the river, finding out that the turn, indeed, had filled up a regular playing the Hammer. A little later Jugweed had moved to my table, and I turn trip 5s with my 65s, but discover Jugweed had turned Tens full of 5s. Sneaky little bastard. I do get a measure of revenge when I play AcQc for a raise, and get several callers, including Jugweed. Flop is AJT with one club. Jugweed bets out $30 from the BB, folds to me, and I raise to $130, threatening Jugweed’s stack. He thinks a long time, but finally open-mucks JT! I assure him it was a solid fold, and from my perspective, it was a great laydown.

My inner SVB finally kicked in when I raise OTB with As8s. Five of us see a flop of Ad7s6h. Checks to me, I bet, get two callers. Turn is a beautiful 5s. There is a lead out bet and a raise, so I push and get two callers. River is Ks, and I take down a monsterpotten, causing a gal with fake red hair to start whining about how I sucked out on her. Apparently, she had aces up. Hmmm, ever consider betting your hand?

Red-hair gal rebuys, and an hour or so later, we get involved in another big hand. I was in the CO with 7s5s, and called red-hair gal’s raise, along with half the table. I flopped a flush draw on a Q-high board, and three of us see the turn where I pair my 5. It seems pretty clear red-hair gal has paired the Q, but she checks it to the third player who goes all-in short. I call, and red-hair gal calls, with ~$100 still behind. River is a Js, giving me my flush. I think a moment, and figure red-hair gal might fold if I bet, but she may bet it herself if I let her. So I check, she moves in, and I call. Red-hair gal rolls over QJ, and erupts when she sees my flush. Hilarity ensued as red-hair gal whined about how I called her raise with “just” 75s, and how I was so lucky to always hit my draws. Hmmm, still not into betting your own hand?

Jugweed and I decide to hit up AJ’s Steakhouse to enjoy some of the donkey money. As I was racking up, I took a last hand, and cracked a guy’s Yaks with AQo. I cashed out for a nice palindromic profit of $797. After demolishing a couple of monster ribeyes, we returned to action. Jugweed took the only open 1/2 NLHE seat, and I took a seat at the 2/5 NLHE game. The 2/5 game had a lot of the usual degenerate suspects, but the game was playing rather passively as the big maniacs were absent. I took a decent pot down when I found AQs in MP, raise to $25, and get the usual four callers. An EP limper with a short stack pushed all-in for $125 total. I made the call, getting decent odds, and figuring his range was pretty wide as he had been on monkey tilt after losing a huge hand in the past orbit. Flop is AAQ. Donkey Kong! I say, “I’ll end the drama, that kind of hit me,” and roll my hand. Guy blurts out a couple of curse words, rolls his AK, and tilts off into the night.

Regrettably, my run-good didn’t last long. I lost a little when I had to abandon my AK after flopping TPTK. Then, I had 3s4s in the big blind, and call an extra $20 along with four other players. Flop is Ks5c2s for the monster draw. Guy leads out for $80, I make it $220, original raiser pushes for $1500, folds back to me, and I call my last $240. I go whiff-whiff and lose to a set of Ks. Eh.

The 2/5 game starts to play uber-nitty, so I moved over to Jugweed’s table. No big hands of note, but I did manage to pick up another $150 to partially offset my 2/5 loss. A little after midnight, Jugweed and I roll out, with a nice profit of ~$450 (post steak dinner) still in my pocket. Not a bad withdrawal from the Meadows ATM.

Play Your Chips Right

I’m a very logical, analytical guy. I have a strong background in science and math, and I majored in philosophy in college. I also tutored Introduction to Logic for years, and taught my Symbolic Logic class for two weeks in our professor’s absence (in exchange for not having to take the final exam—score!). I even aced the two logic sections on the LSAT.

I relate all of this information so you appreciate that I am not a superstitious person. Indeed, I am about as logical/rational as anyone this side of Spock. So please accept this post as a statement of fact, not a silly superstition like those held by many of the irrational masses.

Our local casino—Prairie Meadows Racetrack, Casino, & ATM—has three kinds of red $5 chips in play:

On the top you see the “generic” $5 chip. On the bottom left is the “rainbow” chip issued in commemoration of the addition of table games to the horse racing and slots several years ago. On the bottom right is the “Sure Shot Biscuit” chip issued to commemorate some random horse that may or may not have run a race at the Meadows ATM. These chips are referred to by regulars in the poker room as “Mafia chips” in homage to The Godfather. Now, the generic chips are easily the most prevalent, but the rainbow and Mafia chips are common enough that a typical stack of 20 red chips received from the cashier will usually include two or three each of those “special” chips.

So, you might ask, why should you care? Trust me—there is a correlation between proper use of these three kinds of chips and success at the poker tables. The rainbow chips are incredibly ugly, and their ugliness contributes to ugly play and ugly results. Thus, those chips should be sorted out and should be put in play first, ahead of all other chips. The rainbow chips are essentially the proletariat of red chips.

By contrast, the Mafia chips are extremely strong, containing the threat of serious harm to an opponent; the aristocracy of the red chips. Clearly, the more Mafia chips you hold, the more menacing you are to the table. Thus, your success is dependent on acquiring as many Mafia chips as possible, and then only putting them into play when absolutely necessary—generally only on an all-in. I always sort out my Mafia chips on my initial buy-in, and on every pot I win. Those Mafia chips are kept in a separate stack in the back of my overall stack, protected from exposure to the pot until their power is needed in a huge pot.

Often, if I'm running cold, I will reexamine my chip stacks, and I almost always find a rainbow chip that has snuck it's way into a stack, there to fester like an ugly infection.  Cleansing the rainbow chip from the stack almost always improves the health of my overall chip stack.

Scoff if you want, but if you sit down at my table at the Meadows ATM, you better have some serious "horsepower" if you find yourself all-in against me.

NOTE: I’m not the only person to observe the correlation between chips in your stack and success at the poker table. Now the Poker Grump obviously has a lot of irrational tics on display in his chip stacking rituals, but he intuitively recognizes that some part of his chip sorting/stacking routine is profitable. It will probably take months of therapy to convince him to give up his silly 10-chip stack size superstition.

January 20, 2010

Advanced Poker-Drinking:
Rule VI—Focus on Poker-Drinking Position

Why just get drunk in Vegas, when you can get paid to get drunk in Vegas?

We conclude our discussion of poker-drinking, already in progress ...

Rule VI: Poker-drinking position is critical to profitable poker-drinking.

Many novice poker-drinkers are oblivious to the critical role of position in selecting a poker-drinking game. Unlike in poker, position for a poker-drinker is quite literal—it refers to the poker-drinker’s physical status:

Early position—An “early position” poker-drinker is early in his day (usually starting noonish to mid-afternoon). He is fully upright and able to ambulate without difficulty to any poker room on the Strip. He is able to appreciate the quality of the premium liquor he is consuming. He has a long period in which to maximize his poker-drinking profits (POTOP = 9 to 18 hours).

Middle position—A “middle position” poker-drinker is midway through his day, usually beginning after a late dinner (preferably a heavy Italian or Mexican dinner to better absorb the free booze and prolong the POTOP). He is usually reclining in his chair, can stumble without assistance as far as the next casino, and is able to tolerate short, low-speed cab rides without puking. He is not able to distinguish premium booze from well drinks, but is still sober enough to order “the good stuff.” His poker-drinking profit window is beginning to close (POTOP = 3 to 9 hours).

Late position—A late position poker-drinker is winding down his day, usually marked by eating pizza by the slice. He is close to horizontal or slumped forward almost to his knees, but can still stagger to the restroom and post his blinds with assistance from the dealer. He is not capable of operating an elevator, and moving walkways confuse him. He will order booze by grunting, “Beer!” or “Gin & tonic!”, but will drink whatever rotgut is placed in front of him. His poker-drinking window is closing rapidly, along with most major organ systems. (POTOP <= 3 hours).

Rule VI(a):  Your starting casino requirements will vary depending upon your position.

It is important to match where you drink to your ability to drink.  In early position, limit yourself to playing only in poker rooms with high booze-to-blinds ratios. Your goal in early position is to maximize your profits while enjoying premium booze. Also, in early position, you have the physical ability to walk to any poker room, so there is no reason to settle for second best. In early position, your wit, charm, and American Idol-inspired attire will prove irresistible to women. Generally speaking, early position casinos include: Venetian, Wynn, Aria, and Bellagio.

In middle position, your ability to walk or ride to another poker room is somewhat compromised, as is your ability to appreciate whatever you are pouring down your throat (though you can still distinguish “whiskey” from “rum” and will refuse to drink Zima Gold). Your POTOP is still far enough off you want to continue making money while drinking, but you would be content with merely breaking even since you will be able to hit on drunken girls at a bar near the poker room. In middle position, you can open up your casino requirements to include: MGM, Mirage, Mandalay Bay, TI, Monte Carlo, Hard Rock, Bally's (noteworthy for its unsurpassed drink service rate), Planet Hollywood, and Imperial Palace.

In late position, your sole poker-drinking goal is to get enough booze in you either to pass out or work up the nerve to call one of those girls on the “porn slapper” cards you collected earlier in the day (just to plant on a married bud for a joke, of course). Because your POTOP window is so short, you will not win or lose much money by poker-drinking, so your casino options are generally limited mostly by non-poker considerations (e.g., how close is your hotel, where is your girlfriend staying, where did the hooker tell you to meet her, are cigarettes or secondhand smoke available, etc.). Typical late position casinos include: Sahara, Luxor, Excalibur, Rio, Flamingo, Harrah's, and Caesars Palace (perhaps the worst poker-drinking value on the Strip).

Rule VI(b). Excess tipping is only effective in late position.

In considering tips for the cocktail waitresses you will encounter, it should be noted that the basic EDV equation includes an assumption that a poker-drinker will tip $1/drink. Because the point of calculating EDV is to determine if your drinking is more or less profitable than sitting in a bar, and since the typical drinker will tip approximately $1/drink in the bar, a similar assumption is incorporated into the value of booze consumed (VBC) variable so that you are comparing apples to apples and scotch to scotch. Many casual poker-drinkers believe they can increase their drinking rate (DR) and/or VBC by giving their cocktail waitress a large tip (typically $5-$10) up front; this is known as the excess tipping maneuver. The expectation of these poker-drinkers is that the waitress, overcome by their amazing generosity, will provide faster service (increasing their DR) and/or better quality booze (increasing their VBC), resulting in higher EDV. This assumption is false.

Early position casinos tend to be high class joints focused on the big money players. In an early position casino, a $5-$10 up front tip is like throwing your drink in the face of some obnoxious twit in a bar—momentarily satisfying, but still a waste of a good drink (and the money you spent on it). Since the early position casino already serves top-shelf booze, an excess tip cannot improve your VBC. With respect to DR, the waitress in an early position casino will pocket your excess tip and continue to focus on the high rollers who flip her green and black (and the occasional purple) chips; your level of service will be unchanged because to the service industry vultures, players like you are nothing more than small time roadkill compared to the bloated whale carcasses of the high rollers.

You might expect the excess tipping maneuver to have better results in a middle position casino; you would be wrong. Middle position casinos fall into two categories: high class joints serving middle class booze, and middle class joints serving middle class booze. In the high class joint, you get the same treatment as in an early position casino, but with an extra serving of open contempt to reinforce your roadkill status. In the middle class joint, you get noticeably better treatment, but the waitresses generally cannot upgrade your booze. Further, the improved treatment does not continue unless you consistently tip > $1 / drink thereafter, which makes the excess tip a net drain on your EDV. Given that middle position casinos already have limited +EDV due to middling VBC, continuous excess tips are generally enough to make the middle position casino a –EDV.

But what if you excess tip up front, but then only tip the standard $1 / drink thereafter? In theory this could be a +EDV situation, except for human nature. Think back to high school and that girl who would let guys get to second or third base on the first date. Now assume she dated you once, you hit an inside the park home run, and then she decided to join the born-again-virgin movement and save herself for “love”. Would you go on a second, or third, or tenth date with her? Of course not. Similarly, to the waitress you excess tip up front but never excess tip again, you have become the born-again-virgin tipper; don’t expect her to linger at your table lovingly passing you booze if you aren’t putting out.

In late position, interestingly, the excess tipping maneuver in fact has some +EDV. In late position casinos, tips may or may not occur, and when they do, they are in a range where your $5-$10 looks pretty generous. In fact, an excess tip could easily double your DR, and possibly move you from swill to middle-class booze. The excess tipping maneuver, however, is dependent on being able to play long enough to recoup your initial investment, so do not attempt the maneuver if your POTOP is < 2 hours, or if the waitress in question will be changing shifts or genders prior to your departure. CAUTION: the late position casino is not the place to give out real names and hotel room numbers with your real tips; you’re now a high-roller who might get rolled.

Conclusion: Hopefully this mathematical and game theory analysis will prove helpful to players of all ability levels in their quest to analyze the leaks in their poker-drinking games. After all, why just get drunk in Vegas, when you can get paid to get drunk in Vegas?

Advanced Poker-Drinking:
Rule V—Prioritize Booze Over Poker

Why just get drunk in Vegas, when you can get paid to get drunk in Vegas?

We rejoin the discussion of poker-drinking, already in progress ...

Rule V: Use drinking profits to offset poker losses.

In evaluating your total poker-drinking costs, the fixed costs (FC) (blinds and antes) are only one-half of the equation. Many professional poker-drinkers can turn a small but consistent drinking profit by simply folding every hand, thereby keeping their betting costs (BC) at $0 (the "muck and slurp" strategy noted earlier). For those poker-drinkers willing to accept the risk of greater variance, however, actually playing poker can offer greater profits (as well as the risk of greater losses).

An important concept to remember is that poker winnings are actually –BC. Thus, poker winnings directly reduce the total PC, and directly increase expected drinking value (EDV). In other words, poker winnings are +EDV. Conversely, poker losses are +BC and thus are –EDV.

These concepts can be helpful in evaluating marginal poker-drinking opportunities. For example, say you are at a poker room where you can play only 4-8LHE, and the maximum drink value is only $5. Your booze-to-blinds ratio is just under 1:1, and this room cannot be a profitable situation unless you have an extraordinary DR (>1 drink/orbit). However, if you are able to win >$1/orbit from poker, a marginal poker-drinking situation suddenly becomes slightly profitable.

Tight-aggressive poker-drinking strategy includes folding your blinds even when there is no preflop raise. A more loose-aggressive approach, however, is to see the flop in those no-raise situations, hoping to hit a monster poker hand and gaining a large –PC / +EDV windfall. This approach does cost an additional small blind per orbit, and thus your FC increases accordingly; this effect can be offset by drinking faster, thereby increasing your drinking rate (DR).

Rule V(a): Bad and unlucky poker players must drink more expensive booze at a faster rate.

Because poker losses increase your PC and are –EDV, you must offset those poker losses in some fashion to maintain +EDV. This can be accomplished by increasing your value of booze consumed (VBC) (i.e., ordering more expensive booze), or by drinking a faster rate (increasing your DR). In the case of large losses, you will need to drink ultra-top shelf booze at a frat-party rate (two drinks per orbit in some cases). In fact, switching to pure ultra-top shelf hard alcohol (e.g., single malt scotch on the rocks or premium tequila straight up) is your most profitable move as these drinks are pricey and can be slammed. Getting a bottle of comped Dom Perignon by claiming it is your first anniversary is an alternative approach for those wimps who cannot stomach the hard stuff (hey, it’s always the first anniversary of something in your life!).

As an example, assume you are playing 1-2NLHE or 1-2PLO. A bad beat that cost you $50 can be offset by consuming an additional five $12 drinks in two orbits ($60 in booze, less $6 in blinds, gives drinking profit of $54, which more than offsets your poker loss). The extra booze push will also limit additional poker losses as you will accelerate your pass out / thrown out point (POTOP)—defined as that point in a poker-drinking outing when your intoxication level terminates your poker-drinking activities due to either passing out or being thrown out of the poker room.

Speaking of passing out, we have arrived at the most critical finding in our poker-drinking analysis—the consideration of position.  So grab another beverage and joins us as we discuss:

Advanced Poker-Drinking: Rule VI—Focus on Poker-Drinking Position

Stay tuned true believers!

Advanced Poker-Drinking:
Rule IV—Seek Fast Booze & Slow Play

Why just get drunk in Vegas, when you can get paid to get drunk in Vegas?

We rejoin the discussion of poker-drinking, already in progress ...

Rule IV:  The cheaper the poker game, the more money you make. Don’t blow your drinking bankroll on poker.

Many casual poker-drinkers pay little or no attention to game selection. Instead, they just take the first table available, or play the poker game they are most familiar with, without evaluating the costs of that game. This laissez-faire (French for “I don’t giving a flying pig!”) attitude is a major leak for many casual poker-drinkers.

When evaluating your poker costs (PC), keep in mind that there are two factors contributing to the total PC: fixed costs (FC) over which you have no control (e.g., blinds and antes), and betting costs (BC) which are purely voluntary (e.g., your stupid choice to call a raise and a reraise in EP with 7-4 suited, just because they are suited and April 7 is your birthday). For a professional poker-drinker, FC is the most important factor in game selection.

Rule IV(a): Seek poker games where you can maximize your booze-to-blinds ratio.

Presently, the most common poker games spread in Vegas casinos are limit and no-limit Texas Hold’ Em, although Omaha and some mixed games can be found. The exact type of game is, however, irrelevant to the poker drinker—he should be focused solely on the blinds and antes, which represent the FC for the game.

To analyze FC, consider a poker room that offers 1-2 NLHE, 2-4 LHE, 2-5 NLHE, 4-8 LHE, and 6-12 Omaha8 (any games with blind structures above 2-5NL or 8-16L are, by definition, -EDV and should be avoided). The FC per orbit for each game is $3, $3, $7, $6, and $9, respectively. In order to break even at a particular game, assuming you do not play beyond posting your blinds and folding (the “muck and slurp” strategy), you must consume alcohol every orbit that equals or exceeds the FC for the game. Put another way, your VBC / orbit >= FC / orbit. This concept is known as the booze-to-blinds ratio.

Assume you are playing at the MGM poker room, with a maximum drink value of $6 for well drinks or decent beer (we’ll assume you were too drunk and/or hung-over to risk the walk to the Venetian or Aria). You can choose between playing 1-2NLHE, 2-5NLHE, and 4-8LHE. Inexperienced poker-drinkers usually make the mistake of assuming that, because 4-8LHE “plays smaller” in poker terms, it also plays smaller for a poker-drinker. Picking the 4-8LHE game, however, is a significant error. The booze-to-blinds ratios for the three games are 2:1 for the 1-2NLHE game but only 1:1 for the 4-8LHE game (and just slightly worse for the 2-5NLHE game). In other words, the 1-2NLHE game is twice as profitable as the 4-8NLHE game! A poker-drinker who drinks one drink per orbit will make a healthy profit at the 1-2NLHE game, but will only break even at the 4-8LHE game.

Ideally, in order to maximize your booze-to-blinds ratio, you will want to seek out games where high value booze is served, and low limit games are spread. For example, if Aria and the Venetian each serve premium booze, but Aria spreads 1-3NLHE as its smallest game, while the Venetian spreads 1-2NLHE, then the Venetian offers a more profitable drinking opportunity. If a poker room cannot offer you at least a 1:1 booze-to-blinds ratio, then the game simply cannot be beat, and it’s time to find a $5 pai gow table, or a convention or wedding reception with an open bar.

Rule IV(b): Seek poker games where you can maximize your drink-to-orbit ratio.

Because your FC correlates directly with the number of orbits of poker played, you will want to find a game where you can consume the greatest number of drinks in the fewest number of orbits. This concept is known as the drink-to-orbit ratio.

The drink-to-orbit ratio is a corollary to the drinking rate (DR) concept previously discussed. Both concepts focus on how to get the most booze in the least time. For DR, the focus is on increasing the booze delivery rate, while the drink-to-orbit ratio is focused on slowing the rate of payment of the blinds. A lot of factors can affect your drink-to-orbit ratio. Ideally, if you are able to choose between several different games that have the same blinds, you will want to look for the slowest playing table. This requires you to take a moment to read the table texture—the mix of player types at the table that will affect the general tempo of the game, and consequently will dictate the rate at which you will be posting blinds.

Signs of a slow (profitable) table include lots of young players, preferably wearing hoodies, sunglasses, blingy jewelry, iPods, and similar “online player” paraphernalia; these players will contest many pots to the river, with much posturing and numerous unnecessary “thinking” delays, slowing the rate of total hands played. Obvious newbies and conventioneers at a table are great, as they will make many errors that need correction (hopefully even needing a time-consuming floor decision), and will also need to think extensively over every decision. A hot female player at a table is also great, as many of the guys will be distracted from playing by attempting to flirt with her, and may also play more hands in an attempt to impress her (don’t bother with this strategy—she’s probably a better player than you and won’t be impressed by your poker "skillz", not to mention babes interfere with booze consumption). Bachelor parties or groups of fraternity buddies will be both slow and entertaining. Finally, if there appears to be a series of less experienced dealers in line for a table, that table may offer an opportunity for slow deals, slower play, and multiple dealer errors requiring floor rulings.

Signs of a fast (unprofitable) table include lots of old rock types who muck every hand even before getting their last card. Games with no chitchat or laughter, or with everyone wearing an iPod are terrible as well, since serious play is generally fast play. If you get stuck at this type of table, you can slow the pace by taking extra time to make all of your preflop decisions (which should be to fold every time—you’re here to drink, not play poker, remember?).

Rule IV(c): Take advantage of drinking freerolls.

In many poker rooms, poker-drinkers are given opportunities to receive free booze without posting blinds. Taking advantage of these drinking freerolls can pad your drinking bankroll.

For example, many poker rooms require you to post a big blind before beginning to play, or you may wait until the big blind reaches you. Why post a big blind in this situation when you can sit at the table and order drinks for free? Consequently, when sitting down at a new table, sit in the seat furthest from posting the next big blind, then kick back and knock down a free drink or two while waiting for the button to make its way around the table.

Similarly, many poker rooms permit you to be absent from the table for periods up to one hour without posting blinds. Take advantage of this situation by leaving the table just before your big blind hits, but get a free drink before you leave. Come back to the table periodically and get additional free drinks, but do not post back into the game. Instead, indicate you will wait for your blinds, then leave the table just prior to their arrival. Repeat until just prior to the expiration of your allotted absence time, post back into the game, then repeat at the next orbit. You may get some angry comments from the “serious” players, but don’t let those remarks shake you from your rock solid game plan. Plus, since you should be pleasantly schnockered, who cares what anyone else thinks?

Now that you have selected the correct poker game, it's time to address some important advanced poker-drinking techniques that will maximize your profits. Pour a shot of something top shelf, then come back and contemplate our next concept:

Advanced Poker-Drinking: Rule V—Prioritize Booze Over Poker

Stay tuned true believers!

Advanced Poker-Drinking:
Rule III—Drink Better!

Why just get drunk in Vegas, when you can get paid to get drunk in Vegas?

We rejoin the discussion of poker-drinking, already in progress ...

Rule III: The better the booze, the more money you make. Conversely, drinking cheaply is like sending cash to a Nigerian email scam artist.

This rule is already fairly well-understood by most professional poker-drinkers. However, the mathematical impact of drinking top shelf liquor is probably underestimated by the casual poker-drinker. Looking at the expected drinking value (EDV) formula, value of booze consumed (VBC) is not only a positive variable, but it also has a multiplicative effect on the drinking rate (DR) variable. So, not only is one top shelf drink a profitable play by itself, but many top shelf drinks will have an even more profound positive effect on EDV.

How do you increase your VBC in real life? Easy, play at poker rooms that offer top shelf liquor, like the Venetian, Aria, Wynn, or Bellagio. Avoid places that limit you to Schlitz or Zima Gold. Perhaps the most common error casual poker-drinkers make, however, is ordering cheap drinks when expensive booze is available. Always upgrade your drink.

Rule III(a): Coffee is for closers, well drinks are for losers.

Rule III(b): Beer drinkers go broke.

If you have a choice between a $4 beer, a $6 well drink, and a $10-$12 top shelf drink, choosing anything but the top shelf drink is a -EDV play. Similarly, if you can choose between a poker room that offers drinks in the $10-$12 range and a poker room that offers drinks in the $5-$6 range, you not only cost yourself the difference in drink price, but that error is compounded each time you order another drink. You may think that the walk from the MGM to the Venetian is long and hot, and you are out of shape and wearing all black in mid-July, but not taking that walk will have a devastating effect on your drinking bankroll.

Once you have mastered maximizing your DR and VBC, you are ready to take the big step from poker-drinking hobbyist to poker-drinking pro.  But first, time to pour yourself some of the good stuff, while we prepare our next lesson:

Advanced Poker-Drinking:  Rule IV— Seek Fast Booze & Slow Play

Stay tuned true believers!

Advanced Poker-Drinking:
Rule II—Drink Faster!

Why just get drunk in Vegas, when you can get paid to get drunk in Vegas?

We rejoin the discussion of poker-drinking, already in progress ...

Rule II: The faster you drink, the more money you make. Conversely, nursing a drink is like burning money.

In the poker-drinking expected drinking value (EDV) formula, drinking rate (DR) is a positive variable, meaning that, as DR increases, so does EDV. Further, DR has a multiplicative effect on another positive variable, value of booze consumed (VBC). So, increasing your DR has a synergistic effect in increasing your EDV.

How do you increase your DR in real life? First, drink faster! You can’t get drink number 2 until drink number 1 is finished, nor can you get drink number 26 until you finish drinks 1-25.

Second, look for poker rooms with numerous cocktail waitresses who are quick to get refills. A poker-drinking binge is not the time to find a room with one or two “hot” waitresses who spend most of their shift sucking up to the high rollers and ignoring you at your baby game table (more on how you got to that table later). Instead, choose the room with the hard-boiled veteran servers with the big hair and obvious plastic surgery who are five years and 50 pounds from being Starr Jones or Rosie O’Donnell who know that hustle gets tips. Looks don’t pay the drinking bills! Every minute that you spend at the table without a drink is a minute that is lowering your EDV, and literally sucking money out of your drinking bankroll.

But drinking faster is only one piece of the poker-drinking puzzle. To truly maximize your poker-drinking profits, you must channel your inner drinking diva. How? Well, freshen up your drink and prepare yourself for our next post:

Advanced Poker-Drinking: Rule III—Drink Better!

Coming soon to a theatre near you!

Advanced Poker-Drinking:
Rule I—Drink!

Why just get drunk in Vegas, when you can get paid to get drunk in Vegas?

We rejoin the discussion of poker-drinking, already in progress ...

Rule I:  Every dollar saved on booze at the poker table is a dollar earned.

My research and analysis has enabled me to isolate several factors that bore a positive correlation to poker-drinking profits. Surprisingly, the relative “hotness” of the wait staff, a factor long held to be an essential part of the Vegas poker-drinking scene, actually had no impact on actual drinking profits. Instead, I was able to narrow the relevant variables to the following: a) drinking rate (DR); b) value of booze consumed (VBC); and c) poker playing costs (PC). Using these variables, a serious poker-drinker can maximize his “expected drinking value” (EDV) by finding poker rooms and games that offer high positive EDV and avoiding rooms and games that offer negative EDV. The exact mathematical formula for calculating EDV is:

EDV = (DR * VBC) – PC

where EDV is expressed in dollars per hour, DR is expressed in drinks per hour, VBC is expressed in dollars per drink, and PC is expressed in dollars per hour.

Well, that’s a pretty scientific looking formula and everything, but at this point, the typical poker-drinker is thinking, “I’m hung-over, and I spent high school math class staring at the cheerleader in the third row. If I could figure pot odds, I’d be raking in the cash and babes playing online poker in my boxers. How am I supposed to use this brilliant formula without a bloody mary? Excuse me, I need to go hit on that cocktail waitress.”

The beauty of the EDV formula is that it allows us to analyze how to maximize EDV. By looking at each factor individually, we can determine how to apply the formula to real life situations, resulting in a profitable poker-drinking experience. Intrigued? Well, pour yourself a drink and settle in for an explanation on maximizing your poker-drinking EDV, which will begin with our next post:

Advanced Poker-Drinking:  Rule II—Drink Faster!

Coming soon to a theatre near you!

Advanced Poker-Drinking:
An Introduction

Why just get drunk in Vegas, when you can get paid to get drunk in Vegas?

Author’s note: I first wrote about poker-drinking in a post on All Vegas Poker a little over two years ago. Since then, the Vegas poker-drinking scene has changed, primarily for the worse, as many poker rooms continue to reduce the quality of the free booze they serve. So, I figured it was time to bring my analysis of poker-drinking to my new blog, along with some updating and editing. If you read the original on AVP, there’s not much new to see here, other than an updating of the poker-drinking rankings for Vegas poker rooms. To those of you who do not frequent AVP, I hope you find this series of seven posts either enlightening or entertaining. If not, have a drink and you’ll forget all about it!

Introduction: The poker boom of the past decade has brought forth myriad books, manuals, treatises, and websites devoted to improving poker playing skills. These publications have fed the swarms of poker locusts who inhabit most Vegas poker rooms, stripping every last chip from the assorted donkeys, fish, duck-billed Ed-Hardy-wearing platypi, and conventioneers who find themselves attracted to the olfactory siren song of cigarette breath, three day old underwear, and pieces of sandwiches putrefying in the fat rolls of the guy in the five—and six—seat.

But what about the casual poker player, the intrepid soul whose sole purpose for playing poker is that it seems like a “cool” way to get hammered while losing less money than playing $25 blackjack next to a tattoo-covered LA trust fund baby and looking more manly than playing nickel slots next to a chain-smoking granny? Although the poker-drinker is a common denizen of the Vegas poker scene, his (and he is male more than 98.62% of the time) unique poker strategies have not been subjected to rigorous mathematical and game theory analysis. The current poker-drinker is forced to live by his wits, learning by trial and error and the occasional “secret tip” from a degenerate fraternity brother.

Such a situation is a travesty that can no longer be tolerated. Casual poker players deserve to know for certain whether they are getting drunk on their own dime, or are being fed mother’s milk and whiskey from the swollen teats of the Vegas casino cash cows. This brief treatise is the result of my analysis (often interrupted by the annoyance of “work”) of the proper strategy for getting hammered in Vegas poker rooms. Although my treatise is based on solid intellectual theory, my conclusions have been tested and validated through extensive field research conducted by myself and a number of dedicated volunteer researchers (primarily my fellow degenerate Ironmen of Poker). At this point, I am confident we have established the validity of the “Fundamental Poker-Drinking Theorem”:

Utilizing optimal strategy, drinking at the poker table is profitable.

In analyzing this theorem, we begin with the core principle of poker-drinking: to drink the most of the best for the least. The key to understanding this core principle is that in Vegas, it is possible to drink without gambling, but it is very expensive to do so. Consequently, the goal of the sophisticated poker-drinker is to play poker and simultaneously consume free drinks for less than the equivalent price of booze—or beer, or fruity drinks, or Zima Gold, whatever trips your liver—in a Vegas bar.

In future posts, we will examine the six basic rules of profitable poker-drinking:

Rule I—Drink!

Rule II—Drink Faster!
Rule III—Drink Better!
Rule IV—Seek Fast Booze and Slow Play
Rule V—Prioritize Booze Over Poker
Rule VI—Focus on Poker-Drinking Position

Stay tuned, true believers!

January 18, 2010

Dumb and Dumberer—New Rules at the Prairie Meadows Poker Room

My home poker room is at Prairie Meadows Racetrack & Casino in Altoona, Iowa, a suburb of Des Moines. I affectionately refer to it as “The Meadows ATM”. It’s not the biggest or shiniest room around, but it has good action and the best dealers in the state, not to mention being less than 30 minutes from home, and 15 minutes from the office. Altogether it’s not a bad place to call home base; at least until the casino gaming management monkeys decided to throw some poop around.

In the past couple of months, two new and rather idiotic decisions have been implemented by upper management: a) a complete ban on the use of cell phones in the poker room, and b) closing the poker room every day from 4:00 to 8:00 a.m., even if there are games in progress. Banning cell phones is stupid-annoying. Closing the poker room is stupid-destructive.

I understand and agree with banning phone conversations at the table—none of us need to hear another player arguing with the spousal unit about where he is and what time he’s coming home, or lining up child care for their after-midnight session. But texting, emailing, Twittering, Facebooking, etc. is rather innocuous. People these days expect to be able to communicate on a whim, whether it be to make dinner or bar plans, tell a spousal unit what time to be home, share a joke, whine about a bad beat, or taunt a buddy about the big game.

About the only coherent explanation for the ban is an attempt to prevent collusion. But these concerns are rather far-fetched. In order for collusion to work via texting, two players would need to: a) be at the same table, b) both hold hands relevant to the play, c) be against a third player, d) hit a board where the third player will play and lose; and e) be able to text quickly enough to be useful but discretely enough not to get caught. I seriously doubt a confluence of all of those events would ever happen at a basic small stakes cash game or small buy-in tourney, particularly given the poor risk-reward ratio. This is a rule in search of a problem.*

The room closure issue is much more significant. Although there were often no games during those hours Monday-Thursday, during the weekend games routinely went all night. The rule is obviously intended to save employee costs for staffing a room with no games, but the rule has had a lot of unintended negative consequences:
  • People leaving the bars after midnight no longer want to come out and play for only a couple of hours.
  • People who target the drunk crowd go home earlier knowing that the bar crowd isn’t coming out in large numbers.
  • People don’t want to play as late or for as many buy-ins, since they don’t want to risk getting stuck 2+ buy-ins and not have the opportunity to get back to even.
  • Games take longer to get started the following day.

Obviously, if you have fewer players, the house gets less rake. It doesn’t look like this rule helps either the casino or the players. But this is what happens when bean counters with no understanding of the dynamics of poker make decisions based solely on spreadsheets and statistics.

It’s all almost enough to make me drive to the Horseshoe in Council Bluffs.

* The 2010 WSOP rules were recently released, and essentially ban cell phone conversations at the table, but permit texting/emailing until players reach the money (see Rules 55 and 56).  Hard to imagine why a lowly 1/2 NLHE or 3/6 LHE cash game needs greater preventive security measures than a tournament with millions of dollars at stake.

January 17, 2010

English as a Second Language for Sports Announcers

While watching an entertaining weekend of football (a big high five to F-Train for his Jets knocking off the Electric Norvs), I was reminded repeatedly of how badly many sports announcers mangle the English language. Here are my two biggest sports announcing pet peeves du jour:

“There’s no question …” / “No question about it …”—Umm, if there’s no question about a point, if it is so obvious and so incontrovertible that there can be no debate on the issue, why oh why are you wasting my time with your nattering?

“Player X is out with a [body part].”—This formulation is pure verbal laziness. “Smith is out with a knee.” Actually, he has two knees. He’s out because he has (take your pick): a) a torn ACL, b) a knee strain, or c) a knee injury. See how that works? You report on a medical condition, not merely name a part of the anatomy. To illustrate the silliness of this formulation, imagine saying a player is “out with a head” or “out with a brain” when in fact he is “out with a concussion”.

Now we can only hope Joe Buck goes back to baseball where nobody listens to him …

January 15, 2010

Clubbing with Santa Claus

Old college bud and poker pal “Santa Claus”* was in town on business last night, so I tore myself away from a work project for a short session of 1/2 NLHE at The Meadows ATM. I only played 3.5 hours or so, and the table was generally annoying, so I tuned out most of the chatter listening to random music—at one point, back to back songs were “18 And Life” by Skid Row, and “Mama Said Knock You Out” by LL Cool J, so the little elf DJ in my iPod was hitting some sweet classics.

The table was playing weak-stupid, with no 3-betting preflop, and lots of floating and chasing regardless of bet sizes postflop. Santa managed to get a table change into my game, so I moved from the 4 Seat to the 3 Seat. Santa saw me move and immediately accused me of trying to get position on him. In our strange poker symbiosis, I did in fact have position.

I donked off my first buy-in when my crub semi-bluff was picked off by top pair no kicker. Need to get me one of them thar’ crub whistles. Rebuy!

Then came the hand of the session. I limp in MP with 6c2c, as does pretty much the whole table. Some yahoo raises to $12, and six of us see the flop, including Santa. Flop was something like Qc7sd4c. Checks to the raiser, who c-bets $12. Yahoo. One caller back to me, and I raise to $62 straight. Santa immediately pushes all-in for $212 total! Aaaiiiiyyyaahhh!

Action folds back to me, and I’m confused. It’s not like Santa to slowplay sets or two pair on drawish boards, and this wasn’t the kind of table you could count on a c-bet for a check-raise. But there weren’t any real draws except the flush. It was just very perplexing. Finally, I decided I was getting a little better than 2:1 on my call, it was a big pot, and I couldn’t be drawing dead even if he had bigger crubs. Plus, I own Santa.  So, I called.

Santa: “You got clubs?”

Me: “Do I need them?”

Santa: “You got clubs?” (the man is persistent, or maybe his brain was locked up again)

Me: “Yeah.”

Santa: “Then I’m behind.”

Of course, this is the worst thing I can hear—Santa is obviously ahead with some dumb flush draw like 9c8c. Eh, such is poker. The turn is a club, and the river is a blank.

Me: “I got clubs.”

Santa: “You got it.”

Me: “I doubt it.”

Santa stares at me, so I roll my baby flush, causing eyes to bug out all around the table. Santa pauses, then laughs and rolls over … 5c3c!  Donkey Kong!  The one exact hand I can beat, and Santa has it! Ship. It.

Just goes to show, it pays to get your money in ahead.

* Santa got his nickname from his habit of giving chips away to all the good little poker playing boys and girls in Vegas. Santa is also the founder and cruise director for the annual Ironman of Poker competition in Vegas. Santa and I were playing high stakes Kings & Little Ones (KLO) in our college home game years before the game blew up online. Wait? You can’t get that game on FullTilt or PokerStars? Trust me, it won’t be long before all the Euro degenerates playing PLG start demanding the big action offered by KLO.

Wine & Whine O' the Week (v. 1.2)

Our whine of the week comes courtesy of “Uber Nit”, a regular at my local casino, Prairie Meadows Racetrack & ATM in the greater Des Moines, IA area. Uber Nit is an interesting character who irritates most players, but usually amuses me. He’s notorious for playing super tight, getting tilty (and talking to himself) when one of his big hands gets snapped, and pulling a hit and run at the 2/5 NL game before dropping down to the 1/2 NL game so he can take his profit out of play.

Last night, I played a short session with college buddy “Santa Claus” who was in town on business. When a seat came open at my table, Santa moved over with his stack of about $350. Santa wandered off until the button passed, at which point the following exchange occurred:

Uber Nit:  He can’t come in for more than $300.

Me:  Even if it’s a table change?

Uber Nit:  Yeah, he can’t come in for more than the table maximum.

Me:  So if you want to rathole some money, all you have to do is switch tables?

Uber Nit:  Well, if you table change you can put the extra money in your pocket.

Me:  Oh cool, so you can rathole.

Uber Nit:  I’m just saying that’s the rule.

Me:  Yeah, you would know the rules for ratholing.

This snappy comeback pairs nicely with the Gruet Brut NV Sparkling Wine from Gruet Winery in New Mexico, of all places. It is an excellent value, usually around the $15 retail price point. It has crisp green apple and grapefruit flavors, a citrus aroma, and plenty of creamy bubbles. Fun to drink on its own, but it also complements chicken, fish, pasta with cream sauce, and just about any other dish where you would usually drink a good white wine.

January 13, 2010

Cheating on Replay: Whodathunkit?!?!

The NHL is reporting that FSN* Pittsburgh--which owns the broadcast rights to Penguins home games--withheld a critical and conclusive replay of a goal scored by the visiting Philadelphia Flyers.  The disputed goal was disallowed, and after the review period expired, FSN showed the replay to its viewers.  An FSN producer has been suspended over the incident.  Thankfully, the replay did not affect the outcome of the game, won handily by the Flyers.

I'm shocked this situation has not arisen before.  In fact, with many pro and college teams having deals with local or regional networks (or in some cases, owning their own networks), I would be surprised if this indeed is the first such incident.  Replay is intended to provide for the integrity of the game by correcting errors.  Instead, actions like this allow replay to jeopardize the integrity of the game.  It's not just a matter of withholding unfavorable replay angles; what's to prevent some quick editing to show a player landing in or out of bounds, or the clock expiring earlier or later than was actually the case?

Given the millions of dollars at stake in sports these days, pro leagues and college conferences need to establish open review procedures with their covering television networks, and contract for stiff financial penalties should any shenanigans occur.  Perhaps a league or conference official should be required to observe the TV production team in action, with the ability to communicate to the replay official as needed.  The financial temptation to "help" the home team (and help the network's own ratings in the process) is simply too great to permit these potential conflicts of interest to go unmonitored.  In any event, public confidence in the use of replay needs to be restored.

* Apparently the Fox News "Fair & Balanced" standard has been extended to Fox Sports. What's next? Sean Hannity joining Terry Bradshaw to make replay decisions for NFL games?

The Real Flaws in Big Mac's Apology

Mark McGwire has finally completed the de rigueur three-step Kabuki dance of the public figure caught in some indiscretion: outraged denial, stonewalling silence, tearful apology. Now we await the final thumbs-up or thumbs-down from the self-appointed critics in the sports media as to whether Big Mac’s dramatic performance was satisfactory according to their standards: Was he sincere enough? Did he admit enough? Is it too little, too late? Never mind that most of these self-righteous media critics were the same individuals who shirked their professional responsibilities by turning a blind eye to steroid use in the late 1980s and through most of the 1990s to serve their own self-interests in maintaining access to these same players they now pillory. Why let a little hypocrisy get in the way of a good opinion piece about why Big Mac should or shouldn’t be welcomed back into MLB’s good graces, and possibly even voted into the Hall of Fame?

Frankly, though, all the focus on whether McGwire’s apology was “sincere” enough is misplaced. I have no doubt McGwire is truly sorry—not for his decision to use steroids, but that his steroid use became public knowledge. Big Mac is little different than the 6 year-old who breaks his mother’s favorite vase and tries to hide it; when his misbehavior is inevitably discovered, the kid’s tearful apology is certainly sincere, but he’s mostly sorry he got caught (or he’s only sorry after he got caught).

As I’ve written previously, I don’t give a flying pig if McGwire ever apologized for using steroids. But since he has done so, I do take issue with a couple of his ridiculous assertions:
"I did it [for] health purposes," McGwire told Costas. "If you look at my career, injured '93, '94, '95, '96, I was a walking M*A*S*H unit. I told my dad yesterday when I finally had to tell him about this. I remember calling him in '96. I was so frustrated with injuries, I wanted to retire. He's the one who told me to stick it out. At that time I was using steroids thinking it was going to help me. It was brought to my attention that it was going to help me heal faster, make my body feel back to normal."

Asked repeatedly by Costas if he believed that his statistics and records were legitimate in light of the disclosure, McGwire did not budge.

(“McGwire opens up about steroid use,” Matthew Leach, MLB.com).
Although it stretches credulity, let’s grant Big Mac his contention that he only used PEDs to recover from injuries, and not to increase his strength.* Let’s also assume Big Mac had improved as a player to the point that, if only he stayed healthy, he would inevitably have broken the home run record based on his natural skill, talent, and strength. Even under this rose-colored hypothetical, McGwire’s use of PEDs was nonetheless indirectly responsible for his breaking the record by permitting him to remain healthy for a full season, something he had trouble doing in the latter part of his career. Even McGwire himself admits, at least obliquely, that PEDs added games to his seasons, and seasons to his career. Those added games and seasons enable him to set the single season home run record (in more dramatic fashion than Barry Bonds’ subsequent effort) and pad his career home run stats. It is these two accomplishments that form a large part of the justification for his Hall of Fame consideration. Now, whether those accomplishments were achieved against pitchers also using PEDs, and whether his stats are still impressive in the context of other juiced hitters of the same era, is a debate for another day by people who actually care about MLB. What can’t be denied is that PEDs benefited McGwire’s career even by McGwire’s own arguments.
"I wish I had never touched steroids. It was foolish and it was a mistake. I truly apologize. Looking back, I wish I had never played during the steroid era.

(McGwire press release, MLB.com) (emphasis added).
Big Mac makes it seem inevitable that he used PEDs, simply because he was living in an era when lots of players were using PEDs. That reeks a bit of bovine excrement. It’s not like an unscrupulous doctor or trainer was slipping the PEDs to McGwire without his knowledge. Look, I went to college in the late 80s and early 90s, and most of my friends would smoke marijuana on occasion. I never did, not because of some moral judgment, but simply because I wasn’t sure what career path I would take, and didn’t want any hint of drug use in my record (not to mention tequila was always sufficient for my recreational purposes). Likewise, even if PED usage was endemic in MLB in the 90s, there were certainly a significant number of players who played within the rules, and avoided PED use. It’s possible that McGwire cost other non-PED-using players money by using PEDs to extend his career: pitchers who lost games** or gave up home runs to McGwire getting cut or getting less money, hitters who didn’t break in to the big leagues because McGwire’s career was extended, hitters who would have gotten bigger contracts or more endorsement deals if their performances weren’t diminished when viewed in comparison to McGwire’s PED-aided stats, and players from other teams who would have made the playoffs but for McGwire's ability to play a full season (or several extra seasons). It is these players to whom Big Mac owes a sincere apology, and it is these players whose voices should be the loudest in expressing outrage at those players who used PEDs, and in demanding that fellow players compete on a level playing field.

As for me, I still don't give a flying pig how the McGwire situation shakes itself out, and frankly, I want my sports media coverage to turn back to the NFL playoffs and college basketball.  At least we seem to have stopped talking about Tiger Woods and his terrible taste in mistresses ...

* Whether athletes should be allowed to use steroids, HGH, or similar drugs to assist in treating injuries rather than enhancing performance is an interesting issue that merits serious debate. Allowing this type of supervised medical use of PEDs for treatment purposes would probably prove to be a big loophole ripe for abuse. In any event, McGwire’s possession and use of PEDs was certainly illegal (though ironically, not against MLB rules) at the time he made his decision to use those PEDs, so the reason for his use of PEDs is ultimately irrelevant to the debate.

** It would be intriguing to learn how many baseball games were lost because of a decision to pitch around McGwire or Barry Bonds during the height of their PED-enhanced home run streaks, or how many additional games the Cardinals and Giants won because of the extra games and seasons played by McGwire and Bonds.  It's also entirely possible that McGwire's and Bonds' PED use kept teams out of the playoffs, directly impacting those teams and their players financially.