August 30, 2010

Master of Yaks

End of passion play, crumbling away,
I'm your source of self-destruction.
Veins that pump with fear, sucking dark is clear,
Leading on your death's construction.

Taste me you will see,
More is all you need.
Dedicated to
How I'm killing you.

Come crawling faster.
Obey your Master.
Your life burns faster.
Obey your Master.

Master of Puppets I'm pulling your strings,
Twisting your mind and smashing your dreams.
Blinded by me, you can't see a thing.
Just call my name, 'cause I'll hear you scream.

—"Master of Puppets", by Metallica

I've long been a huge Metallica fan, and have been to more of their concerts (five) than any other band.  I first got hooked when their first video, for "One", debuted during my early college days.  Of course, this led me to explore their earlier albums, and what song is more quintessentially Metallica than "Master of Puppets"?  I suppose some would argue for the ubiquitous "Enter Sandman", but in my view, "Sad But True" was the best song off the Black Album.  Of course, if we're talking best Metallica song, I might lean toward "Fade to Black" off Ride the Lightning or "Sanitarium" off Master of Puppets.  If you need a song to rock out to when angry, to chill out with when down, or to pump you up on a long run, Metallica has plenty of music that will fit the bill.

In any event, the classic Metallica song "Master of Puppets" might as well be called "The Call of the Yaks" considering the feelings of anger and despair that often accompany playing pocket Yaks.  As the saying goes, "There are three ways to play pocket Jacks; all of them wrong."  Frankly, I've probably found more than three ways to misplay Yaks over the years, often using three misplays in a single session.  But yesterday, at the Meadows, I finally discovered how to play Yaks.  Yes, I became the Master of Yaks.

I went to the Meadows ATM for a short session, hoping to find good action after the noon tournament.  While waiting for a spot to open, I watched the final table of the tourney.  Down to the final three players, the blinds were 5K/10K, and the chip stacks were 165K, 5K, and 5K.  Yes, the chip leader, Lori, had a 33:1:1 chip lead, with the small blind having a single 5K chip merely because he was rounded up during the chip race off that occurred when they went to three-handed play.  The two short stacks were immediately all-in, then heads up play began.  Lori got her money in as a huge favorite but lost with Q4s vs. 54o, Q8 vs. 85, and KQ vs. 62.  In the first two hands, her opponent rivered a 5, while in the third hand, he flopped a duck.  Finally, on Hand #4 of heads up, with the stacks nearly equal (95K to 80K), Lori ran her AcQc into 66, and despite not hitting a pair, a flush, or a straight, still won the tourney after finding a double-paired board to counterfeit the pocket 6s:  K-T-T-K-4.  Amazing showing by Lori, one of the nicest regulars at the Meadows, albeit a tough player.

About a half hour later, I finally get a spot on one of the 1/2 NLHE tables.  I posted in behind the button.  Then, three hands later, there is a straddle and a call to me in middle position.  I find Commie Yaks, and decide to limp, expecting a raise from the straddler, and planning to reraise.  Instead, the player on my left pops it to $17.  Surprise!  Even more surprising, there were five callers to me.  Hmmmm, repop squeeze play?  Call and set mine?  The initial raiser had a pretty tight range for that raise, say {AA-99, AK, AQs}, so I wasn't thrilled about maybe walking into a big hand.  Also, there were a couple of gamblers among the callers, so who knows if a squeeze play would work?  I finally opted to set mine, to lower my risk of a big hit to my stack, while still fairly certain to get paid off big if I hit the flop. 

Alrighty then, seven of us see the flop with ~$120 already in the pot.  The flop came out Js-7c-6c.  Donkey Kong!  It checked to me, and I checked as well, certain there would be a bet.  Sure enough, the preflop raiser made it $35 to go, and there were two callers to me.  The pot was getting huge, and the board was draw heavy, so I just went ahead and pushed for ~$275 total.  The preflop raiser agonized, then called, the next two guys folded, and the final guy called.  The turn was the Kh.  Preflop raiser pushed all-in for another $100, and seemed really happy.  Ruh roh, Rooby!  Did someone just hit a bigger set?  Inquiring minds want to know!  The river was a non-club Ten.  Groovy, AcQc just got there.  How lovely.  But no, preflop raiser rolls over AcKc, while the other guy shows ... 54 offsuit?!?!   Pac Man!  The pot was ~$980 to me, giving me a triple up on my first orbit.

And that, dear readers, is how to play Yaks.

Yak with Mt. Everest in background (image source).

POSTSCRIPT:  OK, in the interests of full disclosure, I did donk back some of the chips, mostly on one hand where a table maniac and I each flopped Kings up, only he had the better second pair.  I also got run down in a couple of hands, but still carted home a full buy-in profit. 

Unfortunately, I didn't play nearly as well Friday night in a home game with, among others, Ironman Mr. Chow, who channeled his inner crasian to run down my KK with QTo, flopping J-9-x, and turning his six-outer to the straight, at which point I promptly spewed my entire stack to him drawing dead.  Eh, maybe I'll make Cowboys the next hand I master.  I can see it now—Master of Cowboys—a blended sequel to Rounders and Brokeback Mountain.  There will need to be a Tom Dwan cameo, obviously, and maybe an appearance by Zed and the Gimp ...

August 28, 2010

D-Bag O' the Day (v. 1.15)—
Ken Mehlman, Gay Basher, Throws Gay Bash

This week, in what was a complete non-surprise, Ken Mehlman finally got around to publicly acknowledging that he is—gasp!—gay.  So another rich dude turns out to be a little light in his tasseled loafers.  Why should we care?

Well, maybe, just maybe, it's because Mehlman was the first political director for the George W. Bush administration, the campaign director for the Bush 2004 reelection campaign, and Chairman of the Republican National Committee after the Bush reelection.  His political career was built in large part on a foundation of cynical, anti-gay demagoguery, using gay marriage as a national wedge issue in the 2004 election, and standing silent as the Bush administration and the Republican party pandered to the religious right with overt gestures (threatening to veto ENDA, resisting repeal of DOMA and DADT, and advocating two Federal Marriage Amendments) and "dog whistle" tactics (e.g., campaigning on the classic "San Francisco values" or "protect the kids" memes).  Joe.My.God summed it up nicely with this pithy headline:  "Repulsive Anti-Gay Quisling Homophobic Scumbag Asshat Closeted Former RNC Chair Ken Mehlman Has Come Out".

To call Mehlman's actions "bigoted" or "anti-gay" really understates the case.  Trust me, during the 2004 election, I actually felt like Republicans, including my President, regarded me as a second-class citizen.  It is difficult to express how hurtful that era of politics was to me on a personal level, when a political party actively campaigned on a platform designed to whip up votes through divisive hatred toward gays.  It is even more distressing to me that Republicans routinely resort to gay-bashing to win elections, when the Conservative (Tory) Party in Britain has made efforts to be more inclusive and welcoming of gays (and other minorities), while still advancing conservative policies and winning a few elections along the way.  Over the past decade, voting Republican has never been a live option for me, at least at the state or national levels, because even if an individual Republican could get elected without campaigning against gays, that candidate's election would indirectly assist the bigoted Republican party core in advancing its social agenda.

What's even more galling about Mehlman's announcement is how fake it all seems, massaged to minimize any negative PR.  Mehlman's statements simply defy belief:
Mehlman arrived at this conclusion about his identity fairly recently, he said in an interview. ...

"It's taken me 43 years to get comfortable with this part of my life," said Mehlman, now an executive vice-president with the New York City-based private equity firm, KKR. "Everybody has their own path to travel, their own journey, and for me, over the past few months, I've told my family, friends, former colleagues, and current colleagues, and they've been wonderful and supportive. The process has been something that's made me a happier and better person. It's something I wish I had done years ago."

—Interview by Marc Ambinder in "The Atlantic"

Bullshit.  I'm only a few years younger than Mehlman, I grew up in a conservative rural area, and I went into the legal profession at a time when being openly gay wasn't common, so I have a pretty good idea of the path he's traveled.  Let me be very blunt—Mehlman has known he is gay for decades.  He might have been afraid of being openly gay, but he didn't just wake up one day this past March and think, "Hmmm, wonder if I'd enjoy sex with men."  And let's keep in mind, Mehlman has been credibly reported for years to have been dating men even while enjoying his powerful political positions, so pardon me while I roll my eyes at his sudden gay awakening.

Mehlman's public acknowledgement of the blindingly obvious has been accompanied by plenty of self-pitying hand-wringing about how difficult the process has been for him:

The disclosure at this stage of Mehlman's life strikes one close friend as being like a decision to jump off of a high diving board:  Mehlman knows that there is plenty of water below, but it is still very scary to look down and make the leap.  Mehlman likes order and certainty, and he knows that the reaction to his public confirmation cannot be predicted or contained


Because his tenure as RNC chairman and his time at the center of the Bush political machine coincided with the Republican Party's attempts to exploit anti-gay prejudices and cement the allegiance of social conservatives, his declaration to the world is at once a personal act and an act of political speech.

"I wish I was where I am today 20 years ago.  The process of not being able to say who I am in public life was very difficult. No one else knew this except me.  My family didn't know.  My friends didn't know.  Anyone who watched me knew I was a guy who was clearly uncomfortable with the topic," he said.

—Interview by Marc Ambinder in "The Atlantic"

Oh, please.  Trust me, the decision to come out can be difficult, laced with fear of rejection by family or friends, and for some folks, very real fears of loss of job, harassment, or bullying.  But Mehlman has always been a part of the privileged classes, where his being openly gay might have hurt his chances to work publicly in certain Republican party leadership positions, but otherwise being out would have had minimal effect on his life.  Even in today's more gay tolerant environment, there are gay youth coming out publicly despite facing real consequences—bullying, physical attacks, estrangment from family and friends, and loss of financial and emotional support.  Other gay folks are living openly out lives in more gay-hostile areas of the country, with none of the safety nets conferred by Mehlman's social status.  Mehlman's failure to come out before now has nothing to do with any struggle over his identity, and has everything to do with a cynical, craven, and cowardly choice to pursue his personal interests at the expense of common gay folks.

Now, I'm not one to support "outing" closeted politicians or celebrities.  Who people sleep with is generally none of my business, and doesn't seem to correlate much with their ability to do their jobs.  But I feel comfortable condemning those closet cases who actively use positions of power and influence to advance their own careers at the expense of gay folks who don't enjoy the same degree of acceptance and protection.  Mehlman decided long ago that being out would be detrimental to his career.  Fine, he was entitled to make that difficult choice.  But as Mehlman was building his conservative resumé, hobknobbing with fat cats, strutting around the upper echelons of the national political scene, and parlaying it all into a small fortune and plum job (executive VP at "legendary leverage-buyout mastodon KKR"), there were hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of regular American gay folks suffering from job and housing discrimination, being kicked out of the military, and being denied the right to adopt kids or receive even minimal recognition of their relationships.  Obviously, Mehlman isn't solely responsible for all Republican anti-gay bigotry; there are plenty in the party who share that blame.  But Mehlman was a key figure in the Republican decision to pursue gay-baiting as a campaign strategy, which appears even more cynical now that other key Republican insiders from that era—including notably Dick Cheney, Laura Bush, and Steve Schmidt—have recently stated public support for gay marriage, as well as repealing DADT to permit gays to serve openly in the military.

Mehlman says he wants to work to advance gay causes within the Republican party, including raising funds for the fight to legalize gay marriage.  Some in the gay community are welcoming Mehlman's belated support for gay rights issues:

Dustin Lance Black, the Academy Award winning writer of "Milk," said, "Ken represents an incredible coup for the American Foundation for Equal Rights.  We believe that our mission of equal rights under the law is one that should resonate with every American.  As a victorious former presidential campaign manager and head of the Republican Party, Ken has the proven experience and expertise to help us communicate with people across each of the 50 states."

—Interview by Marc Ambinder in "The Atlantic"

Mehlman is a despicable lying, cheating, opportunistic weasel (with apologies to the many fine weasels among my readers), so you'll pardon me if I don't drop off a "welcome to the community" fruit basket.  However, I do believe in atonement and redemption.  Mehlman deserves a chance to repair the damage he and his party caused.  But after cashing in on the demonization of gays, Mehlman needs to do more than sign onto a few high-profile fundraisers for gay rights groups.  And, until gays can serve openly in the military, work free from discrimination, and marry the person they love, Mehlman should be rightly reviled for not using his power and influence to step up and fight for the rights of gays when it mattered the most.

"Now that I'm rich and out of politics,
I have more time to enjoy cosmos and show tunes"

ADDENDUM (28 August 2010):  I meant to include a link to Michael's post over at "Life & Times In Cleveland", but couldn't find a good way to work it into my diatribe.  So, please, go give a read to a straight guy's insightful take on this epic case of d-baggery.  In particular, I was struck by this point: 

2. Is it possible to be gay and not want same sex marriage? (although I relent there are some days all of us would vote to abolish marriage, I digress). My point is, while I disagree with the standard conservative argument against same sex marriage, I can at least (somewhat) understand their position.  For someone who is gay to not only be against it, but to champion policy and public opinion against it, seems unbelievable to me.

I don't think gays, or any other minority group, should ever be expected to hold homogenous views on any political issue.  There are certainly reasonable arguments to be made that gays should be granted civil recognition of their relationships on an equal basis, while reserving the label "marriage" for relationships recognized by a religious faith tradition.  But the hypocrisy of helping lead the charge against gay equality on a wide spectrum of issues, through the method of vilifying gay folks, is what is particularly galling conduct by a closet case like Mehlman.

August 27, 2010


I played a very short session of poker last night at the Meadows ATM.  I was driving back from a lengthy meeting with an expert witness at the University of Iowa medical center, and found my car taking the Meadows exit.  Well, my car was right, it was Thursday night, with plenty of big action players and tourney players to fill the poker room.  Problem was, management was essentially incompetent, as I stood around for nearly an hour while three—count 'em, three—floor folk stood around bickering about whether to open the 2/5 NLHE game, or a new 1/2 NLHE game.  The blindingly obvious answer was to open the 2/5 game, which would in turn open up enough 1/2 seats to get nearly everyone into the game they wanted to play.  Apparently, the sticking point was that a few guys in the 5/5 mixed game were on the 2/5 list (which was 18 deep), and wouldn't commit to opening the 2/5 game.  This in turn caused angst among the mix game players who were worried about playing short-handed.  Where is the floor with the backbone to tell these guys to stop bellyaching and just pick the damn game they wanted to play?

Anyway, I ended up playing only an hour and a half.  My table had a couple of guys I figured would spew chips, and I was right.  One guy was trying to be a table bully, but I quickly figured him out, letting him three barrel me with air.  One hand, I held 65o, called him all the way down with fourth pair, and won.  An orbit later, I held 54s, flopped the flush draw, and called his river bet after I missed with just bottom pair, and again raked the chips.  Thank you!  Come again!

The rest of the night was pretty standard for me, winning some pots with aggression, losing a couple on big draws that whiffed.  On one hand, I called a preflop raise with 98s, the flop was A-K-9, and the preflop raiser bet big.  I thought about raising, then decided it wasn't worth it.  The other guy proudly slammed down 32o, and spent the next two orbits crowing about his huge win (of $15).  Which leads to our hand of the night:

I was UTG, and found 32o. I figured, why not play it for a lark?  Maybe a little poetic justice will result.  Right on cue, big bluff guy raises to $17, a big bet at this table. Surprisingly, there are five callers to me.  I call as well to close the action—that's right we had seven players to the flop for $17 in a 1/2 NL game.  Crazy.   Anyway, flop is 9-3-2 with two spades.  Donkey Kong!  I know there will be a bet, so I check, intending to check-raise all-in.  Cue big bluffer, who overconfidently puts out $75.  Couple of folds, then hell breaks loose.  One guy raises all-in for a little over $150.  Another plays calls all-in for around $120.  I put both guys on flush draws, or maybe an overpair and a flush draw, so I push all-in as well.  Despite the great odds, big bluffer insta-mucks (hah!).  Sure enough, the other guys show QsTs and AsJs.  Turn is a Queen to give me a little sweat, but the river was a beautiful, if unnecessary, trey of clubs.  Canoe!  I rake the ~$600, and a few hands later, rack up my profit and head home for some well-deserved wine.

CAUTION:  The foregoing poker play was made by an expert (donkey) under controlled, statistically variant conditions.  Please do not try this move at home.  Remember, canoes can be hazardous to your health.

August 24, 2010

Pay Off Wizard Needs Chips, Badly!

"Blue Wizard needs food, badly!"

Gauntlet video game

Twenty-odd years ago, I was a teen in a tiny farm town in western Nebraska.  Video games were popular, but the only one in town was in the local bar, a place that was verboten to me.  But on school trips and summer camps, I managed to sneak away with friends to the occasional arcade or hotel game room, where we'd pump quarters into all the classics:  Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Centipede, Frogger, Defender, Galaga, Space Invaders, Missile Command, Mortal Kombat, Asteroids, Duck Hunt, Double Dragon, Street Fighter ... OK, so there were a lot of video games back in the day.

One of my personal favorites was Gauntlet, a multiplayer game with a Dungeons & Dragons-esque theme.  Up to four people could play at once, with each player selecting his or her own type of character:  Wizard, Warrior, Elf, or Valkyrie.  Each type of player had its own strengths and weaknesses, and the players needed to work as a group to be successful.  There really was no ultimate objective, just lots of killing of ghosts and demons, avoiding the Death wraiths, collecting treasure, and trying to eat food to stay alive for another level (though the game would helpfully take more quarters if you couldn't find a snack onscreen).  One of the alternately cool and obnoxious parts of the game was an announcer with a deep and oddly-accented computerized voice that would intone various warnings:

"Blue Wizard needs food, badly!"
"Do not shoot the food!"
"Use magic to kill Death!"
"Red Warrior is about to die!"

I got to thinking about Gauntlet recently because I have noticed a marked uptick in bad players in the low-stakes cash games I play.  Although my poker buds and I have generally observed games getting tougher the past couple of years, recently there has been a notable—and welcome—influx of new bad players.  So what's the Gauntlet connection?  Well, most of these bad players seem to be "Pay Off Wizards"—players who simply feel compelled to call value bets, particularly on the turn and river, even though they know they are likely to be behind.  Pay Off Wizards seem to play in mortal fear of being bluffed off a hand, often convincing themselves their modest holding has a real chance of winning.  Here are just a handful of the most egregious examples I've collected over the past three cash game sessions:
  • I flopped the Queen-high flush (in clubs, natch).  I was called down for pot-sized bets on all three streets by ... AhJh for Ace-high.
  • I hold ATs, flop trips on a T-T-7 board, turn is a small blank, river is a 7, and I get called down on all three streets ($75 turn and $125 river) by .... 72o.
  • I turned the nut straight, got called.  I bet the river, was raised, and then had my reraise all-in called by ... second pair, no kicker.
  • I play 87 sooooted, flop the stone cold nuts with 4-5-6 rainbow.  I got called on the flop and turn in three spots, and got two players to call all-in on the river trey with ... K7o and J7s.
  • I flop a flush draw with A3s, miss, but hit a trey on the river.  I bluff a 3/4 pot-size bet, and get called by .... AK unimproved.
  • I flop a flush draw with A5s, miss, but turn a 5.  I bluff the river and get paid off by ... KQ unimproved.
  • I play 64 sooooted OTB for a raise.  Player calls me on blank flop.  I turn a flush draw and keep firing; only a call.  I river the flush, bet the pot, get called by .... second pair.
  • I play A6 soooted, float the flop in position with bottom pair.  Turn trips, raise the turn and bet the river, get called by ... TPTK.
  • I raise OTB with pocket ducks, flop a set on an Ace-high board.  I get called in two spots all the way to showdown ... by A9 (rivered two pair) and A5 (top pair no kicker).
It's not just me and my weird LAG playing style, either. I've seen similar payoffs in favor of other players as well, including bizarre calls of river value bets by rocks and nits who wouldn't voluntarily risk a redbird without having the near-nuts.  Well, I'm not one to object to draining players of their cash (and life force).  Just call me Poker Death.

"Pay Off Wizard is about to rebuy!"

Here's a Poker After Dark episode where Phil Laak acknowledges his extraordinary Pay Off Wizard skills:

Friday Fun (v.1.14)—
A Gaggle of Flaming Yo-Yo Masters

To start our semi-irregular funky link dump, here's a chart via Graph Jam that incorporates two of my favorite things—logic and dessert.

* * * * *

My blog recommendation of the week is Las Vegas Cabbie Chronicles.  This gentleman relates the Vegas experience from the vantage point of the ubiquitous cabbie, with stories ranging from hilarious to headscratching to heart-warming.  Although there are plenty of amusing tales to digest, I suggest starting with his recent kafkaesque series revolving around his efforts to fight a series of absurd traffic tickets

* * * * *

So, a teenage boy converts his trombone into a flamethrower.  What could possibly go wrong?


* * * * *

So, we all know (I hope) that a group of dogs is a "pack", a group of cattle is a "herd", and a group of poker blowhards is a "team".*  But try matching these animals with their respective groups (answers below**):

1)  Ravens
2)  Jellyfish
3)  Ferrets
4)  Moles
5)  Eagles
6)  Sharks

A)  A smack
B)  A labor
C)  A business
D)  An unkindness
E)  A shiver
F)  A convocation

* Apologies to Joe Sebok, but when you hang with Phil Hellmuth, Annie Duke, Brandon Cantu, and Tiffany Michelle, you're going to get sprayed with a little spittle.

** Go look it up yourself, you lazy bum.  Oh, all right:  1-D, 2-A, 3-C, 4-B, 5-F, 6-E

* * * * *

Science has now proven the "beer goggles" effect actually exists; we do find people more attractive when we're drunk.  Next week, science will announce a study proving that Vegas club kids are d-bags.

* * * * *

Finally, via the Daily, a Seventh Degree Imperial Yo-Yo Master and G/DB/E candidate, Jensen Kimmitt, with a pretty amazing display of useless skills:

August 22, 2010

Wine & Whine O' the Week (v. 1.13)
—Nobody Expects the crAAKKer!

NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition!  Our chief weapon is surprise.  Surprise and fear.  Fear and surprise.  Our two weapons are fear and surprise.  And ruthless efficiency.  Our three weapons are fear, surprise, and ruthless efficiency.  And an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope.  Our four ... no.  Amongst our weapons ... amongst our weaponry are such elements as fear, surprise .... I'll come in again.

—Cardinal Ximinez (Michael Palin) in "Monty Python's Flying Circus"

This week, I played a wild session at the Meadows ATM.  At one point, a young kid sits down to my right.  He's a regular at the Meadows, decent player, generally has a tight and moderately aggressive style of play.  He had built up a stack of nearly $300 from a $100 buy-in after a couple of hours, mostly by raising preflop and taking it down with a flop c-bet. 

The fateful hand started innocuously, but don't they always?  There were several limpers to the Kid, who raised to $17.  Fair enough.  Then, I look down and see 6-3 offsuit.  Now, this hand may seem like trashy rags to many poker players, but as the Ironmen of Poker know, this hand is actually the incredibly powerful "Spanish Inquisition".  It acquired its name during IMOP-IV when Ironman Barbie drew 6-3 as his "signature hand" and used it to great effect, felting at least a dozen players and nearly causing two international incidents (though that might be more directly attributable to his taunting ... er, "witty banter").  While stacking his victims' chips, Barbie would cackle, "Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!"  It's a wonder Barbie hasn't been beaten about the head and neck with blunt objects.

Anyway, back to the crAAKKer hand.  So, I have the Spanish Inquisition.  Clearly, I must call.  Everyone else folds, perhaps sensing the hidden strength of my hand.  It can be tough to hide the excitement of seeing the Spanish Inquisition, so I may have given off a tell or three.  Anyway, the flop comes down 9-3-3.  Donkey Kong!  Seriously, were you expecting anything less?  This is the Inquisition, man!  Kid bets $25, I make the Hollywood smoooooooth call.  Turn is a 7.  Kid bets $45, I again "ponder" my play and smoooooth call.  River is a duck.  Kid checks; about time he showed some respect!  I quick-bet $75, representing the busted flush draw, and Kid snap-calls.  I say, "I just have a three" and smile as the Kid's head snaps back in shock!  Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!  The kid flashes Kings, keeps shaking his head, starts muttering, then looks directly at me:

Kid:  "How could you make that call?" 

Me:  "I flopped trips."

Kid:  "No.  Preflop.  I don't understand how you make that call."

Me:  [grinning while silently stacking chips]

Kid:  "Seriously, I don't get how you make that call ... I raised!"

Me:  "I know."

[cue monkey tilt table change]

Spain produces more than Inquisitions, including some great summertime wines from the Rías Baixas wine country in the Galicia region.  These wines are based on the Albariño grape, and typically result in crisp, light, fruity wines, perfect for pairing with seafood, salads, tapas, and light pasta dishes.  A personal favorite is the Bodegas Martín Códax Albariño 2009 (always get the newest vintage as Albariño is generally made to be drunk young when it is at its freshest).  This wine is like biting into a crisp green apple with undertones of citrus and honeydew melon.  Perfect for sipping on a hot day, when most Chardonnays would be too heavy and alcoholic.  The next time you reach for yet another thin, insipid Pinot Grigio, think Albariño instead for a crisper, more flavorful wine at half the price (most Albariños are in the $8-$15 per bottle range, with the Martín Códax coming in around $12).

Here's the classic Monty Python "Spanish Inquisition" skit:

August 21, 2010

Annoying Angle Shots—The Two Pair Gambit

Forgive me while I get all Grumpy, but this past week I've seen a couple examples of what is quickly becoming the most common and most odious of lowstakes angle shots, at least at the low stakes games I play—the "two pair" gambit.  Here's how the play usually goes:

The hand is at showdown, and the board is paired—say K-K-9-5-4.  The victim is reluctant to roll his hand, so the angle shooter—who holds a hand like A5 or 54—very loudly says, "Two pair!"  If the victim is fairly new to poker, he may muck a hand like A9 or 88 without showing, focused on the idea he has one pair using his hole cards, not taking into account that the board also has a pair, giving him a decent two pair hand as well.

I saw this angle shot used three times in the past two cash game sessions I've played.  It worked once, and nearly worked a second time.  In the second case, the player rolled up her hand to show she had caught an Ace to pair her AQ; she thought she had gotten unlucky, and inadvertantly won the pot.  In the first case, the angle shooter (a stereotypical young poker d-bag, complete with sunglasses, scruffy beard, and Ed Hardy sweatshirt) rolled his "winning hand" (pocket fours) after his victim mucked, and couldn't stop grinning like the Cheshire Cat when his victim caught on and tried to complain about his mucked hand.  The victim cashed out less than an orbit later, still agitated about the hand.  Our studly angle shooter won himself a nice $30 pot, and drove a bad player and his remaining $200 (and who knows how much more) from our game, and possibly from live play altogether.  I hope it was worth it.

(Image by "Geyzerrr" at DeviantArt).

Santa Claus Steals Candy from Babies

Last night, Ironman of Poker (IMOP) cruise director and Templeton Rye hunter Santa Claus was in town for business, so we met up for an after work session of $1/$2 NLHE at the Meadows ATM.  Now Thursday evening action is usually excellent, as there is a tournament at 7:00 p.m. that is generally well-attended, along with a regular $5/$5 mix "big game" that brings out all the degenerates.  The room was busy when we arrived around 5:00 p.m., but we got into a game after a short wait.  Management, however, gets an "F" in logistics for failing to schedule enough dealers.  The big mix game was full with a list, the $2/$5 list was 20 deep, and the $1/$2 list was 10 deep, but no tables could be opened because the dealers were already "locked in" and no additional dealers were scheduled to arrive to open new tables until 6:00 p.m.  Oh well, not my problem!

The game was initially rather uneventful, other than Santa and I needling each other.  Most of the players were fairly tight, and short-stacked, making the game unsuitable for my usual crAAKKer tactics.  I started having flashbacks to the horrors of my last session at the 'Shoe, where I proved the old adage about blood and rocks.  To make matters worse, we had two obnoxious players in the game—one was a crazy looking dude who tried to bully the table and complained every time he got slapped down, and a "poker professor" who had to deeply analyze each and every hand like a skinny and non-funny version of John Madden. 

Crazy dude bullied his way to a $1,000 stack, then promptly gacked it all back and left the table whining about how badly we all played.  For all his self-proclaimed poker smarts, the professor found himself rebuying after spewing chips making a number of rather questionable plays.  By 10:00 p.m., our table had dropped to nitty five-handed play.  Santa and I had each taken a decent chunk of chips off of crazy dude during his supernova, so we were debating racking up our profits (about a buy-in each) and heading to my place to enjoy some pizza and Templeton Rye when we heard the best sound in the poker universe—loud, drunken laughter.

Three guys in golf attire were sent to our table.  Turns out they had been golfing in a charity event all day, and had been "boozing it up since noon".  Excellent.  Two of them ("Andy" and "Billy") were regulars, and the third ("Chip") I have seen on occasion.  A guy already at the table ("Eddie") was also a friend of the crew.  As soon as the crew sat down, the game became a "strap on your seatbelts, keep your hands in the car" roller coaster ride.  The usual hand went down something like this:
  • Andy or Billy would raise to $30, often blind.
  • Other players would call.
  • Occasionally, Andy or Billy would reraise to $100 to steal the pot preflop.
  • If the hand made it to the flop, Andy or Billy would bet $100-$200 to try to take it down right there.
  • If a non-crew member made it to the flop and seemed interested in the flop, Andy or Billy would call them down to the river to try to knock the player out.
Now, at this point, the game becomes quite easy.  In fact, it was so easy Santa went to the bar to get a drink, realizing there would be no more tough decisions the rest of the night.  Essentially, Santa and I had position on the entire crew, and we simply sat back and waited for premium hands.  Then, we would limp-reraise preflop, and bet big on flops we hit, knowing we were going to be way ahead of the crew's range.  No need for a degree in astrophysics to play this game!

My strategy started off rather poorly, when I ran my 99 into Billy's TT, helping him build up a $1,500 stack.  Then, a weird hand happened that gave Santa and me an IMOP flashback.  Billy was in seat 1, next to the dealer.  He was involved in a big pot, and was facing a big river bet when he slid his cards forward.  The dealer mucked the hand, and started to push the pot.  Suddenly, Billy went absolutely nuts, screaming, "I had King-Ten of spades!  I f--king had King-Ten of f--king spades!"  If true, he would've turned the nut straight and rivered the second nut flush (and I fully believe he in fact had the King-Ten of f--ing spades).  But it looked to me and even his friends that Billy had mucked his hand.  The floor came over, ruled his hand dead, and Billy kept pacing around, screaming about his "King-Ten of f--king spades!" and even tried to dig his hand out of the muck.  The floor, Brandon, did a great job of keeping things calm while standing his ground.  Billy kept arguing, then suddenly blurted out, "Awww, how can I be mad when Brandon is smiling at me so cute?"  His buddy Chip dryly observed, "Billy gets a little gay when he's drunk."  Kudos to Brandon for not only not kicking Billy out, but also getting Billy to calm down, then running interference with the gaggle of security guards who had come into the room to investigate "the disturbance".  Trust me, if Billy had gone home, his buddies—and their cash—would have gone with him.  Instead, the house, the dealers, and the players all kept making money, which is a wonderful thing.

Billy was drunk enough he sometimes had trouble keeping focused on the action, and since he was near me, I would help keep the action flowing by reminding him when it was his turn to act, which led to this exchange that had me laughing:

Me:  "It's $30."

Billy:  "Who raised it?"  [ummm, the same guy who's raised it the past 30 hands?]

Me:  [pointing to Andy"Your best buddy down there."

Billy:  "Oh no, he's not my best friend!"  [points at Eddie"He's my best friend, ever!  I was even best man in his wedding!"


Billy:  "Well, it was his first wedding, before the divorce." 

Billy:  [turns to Eddie"Sorry dude!"

Now many players fear or are annoyed by maniacs, who admittedly do upset the game.  But they serve a very useful purpose—they pry chips away from rocks and redistribute them to the table.  Case in point was an old guy in seat 10 who had bought in for $100, played one hand every hour, and always had a top five hand when he played.  Old Guy had built up a $600 stack, but in the course of two hands, Billy and Andy took it all.  The big hand was when Andy raised to $30 preflop, Old Guy reraised to $100, Andy shrugged and called.  Flop was all low rags.  Old Guy bet $100, Andy called.  Turn was a low blank, Old Guy shoved for about $200, Andy snap called, having turned two pair with 74o.  Old Guy rolls Aces, natch, and fails to catch up.  God bless the maniacs!

Billy quickly demonstrated the life cycle of the drunk maniac—build a big stack with improbable junk hands, get slapped upside the head by math, bleed all the chips back, rebuy, gack those chips off, hit the ATM, lather, rinse, repeat.  Billy probably pumped four buy-ins into the game, then borrowed another two buy-ins from Andy and Chip.  Andy put four buy-ins on the table before starting to build a monster stack, mostly at the expense of Billy and Chip.  By the end of the session, the action at our table was easily heavier than the $2/$5 NLHE or the $5/$5 "big game", with many pots running over $500, and multi-player all-ins occurring a couple of times per orbit.  As for Santa and me, we simply collected our share of the maniac tax, picking big hands to play, waiting for favorable flops, then punishing the maniacs with check-calls and value bets.  Taking down a limped pot with a huge limp-reraise squeeze play would generally net $100+ in profit, which was merely an appetizer for the big pots where Andy or Billy would see a flop.  I won three monsterpotten with flopped trips, while Santa was a little more conventional, using Kings, Yaks, and a couple of AK hands for the bulk of his profit.  Speaking of profit, while the drunk crew provided plenty of entertainment, the real fun in poker is in stacking chips from monster pots.  As you can tell, we had a blast!

My stack about an hour before leaving.  By the time I cashed out,
I had added three black chips to the mix.  Note the lucky
"Godfather" chips in the lower left; it was a full stack by cash out!

Santa's stack about an hour before cash out.  Santa parlayed Kings
into an additional four pillars of the pyramid before cashing out.
(That's my arm on the right side of the picture, guarding my stack
against Santa's patented stack stealing swoop maneuver.)

ADDENDUM (21 August 2010):  I forgot one of the sickest beats of the night.  Andy blind raised preflop to $30, Billy reraised to $100, and Andy called.  Flop was A-A-2.  Andy checked, Billy bet, Andy raised, Billy pushed, and Andy called.  Andy asks Billy, "Do you have an Ace?"  Billy nods "yes" and rolls AK.  Board runs out, and Andy finally rolls over ... pocket ducks for the flopped boat!  Hilarity ensued ...

August 19, 2010

The 'Shoe Is Too Tight

"Tight.  Too ... tight."

—Ironman Bonnie, intoxicated and trapped in the Venetian's expertly made bed during IMOP-III

I had a court hearing in Council Bluffs on Monday, so on the way home I made a quick pit stop at the Horseshoe for a session of $1/$3 NLHE.  The 'Shoe was in full preparation mode for the upcoming WSOP Circuit Event, set to kick off today in its newly revamped format, with lower buy-in main events, regional championships, and a WSOP bracelet freeroll tournament.  Our table was the first to get to use the official WSOP dealer buttons, which were the old plain white dealer buttons with Miller Lite decals pasted on both sides.  Classy.

Although I only played for about four hours, the session was quite remarkable because of the tightness of play.  Four or five players might limp in or call a raise to $6-$8 (in a $1/$3 game, mind you), but preflop raises over $10 rarely got callers, and usually only one caller.  Limping with AK, KK, QQ, JJ was endemic to the point of being standard.  Postflop was even worse.  Top pair was a check-calling hand, overpairs would bet 1/4 pot at most, and big hands (e.g., two pair, sets, flushes) would massively overbet the flop.  This game made the proverbial "rock garden" look like a Euro-maniac spewfest.  Frankly, it would have been less of a miracle for an actual granite boulder to ship some chips into a big pot than some of these rocks.

"Oh that's right, Private Pyle, don't make any f--king effort to get to the top of the f--king obstacle.  If God would have wanted you up there he would have miracled your ass up there by now, wouldn't he?"

—Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (R. Lee Ermey) in "Full Metal Jacket"

In case you think I'm exaggerating, let me give you some examples:
  • I raise to $10 with TT in the big blind.  Two callers.  Flop is T-T-2 with two clubs.  Yahtzee!  I bet $15, my standard c-bet.  Two snap-folds.
  • I limp with 55, as do four others.  Flops is 9-9-5.  Yahtzee!  It checks around.  Turn is an Ace.  Someone bets $5, folds to me, I raise to $15, folds around.
  • I limp with 97 on the button.  Flop is 6-9-T.  Checks around.  Turn is another 9, putting a flush draw on board.  Yahtzee.  Checks to me, I bet $10, get one caller.  River is a 7, no flush possible.  Yahtzee?  Checks to me, I bet $15, get flat called by ... J8 sooted, who never bet or raised with the OESD and backdoor flush draw, and check-called with the nut straight on the river.
  • I flopped sets of 3s and 6s, no action when the flop checks through, and folds around when I bet the turn with big cards on board.
  • I play J3s for a raise on the button, get two callers.  Flop is J-5-3.  Checks to me, I bet $10, get one caller.  Turn is another 3.  Altogether now, "Yahtzee!"  Check-check.  River is a Ten.  Checks to me, I bet $20, he thinks and folds ... KJ!
  • I play 76s, flop is Q-5-8 for the OESD.  Flop is a 1/4 pot bet, I call.  Turn is an Ace.  Check-check.  River is a 4.  Yacht Zee.  He checks, I bet around 1/2 pot, he thinks forever before finally calling with ... AQ.
  • I play QcTc in the BB for a limp.  Flop is Qd-Td-8c.  Checks through.  Turn is Ts.  Yaht-frickin'-zee.  I bet $5, get two callers.  River is the 7d.  I bet 1/2 pot, one snap-fold, the other guy thinks, then folds 9d8d!
Maybe I'm incredibly easy to read at the table.  Maybe the cards were marked.  Maybe I was playing with a bunch of almond brokers* in town for the nut peddling convention.  Maybe I was playing at a table of guys whose poker minds have been permanently destroyed by a series of online bad beats.  All I know is that, despite all the big hands, I made a whopping $52 profit from poker.

Now, I did lose two decent-sized pots when I flopped altos dos pairs against the bajo set, and a couple of hands later flopped bajos dos pairs against the alto set.  But they were both fairly short-stacked, so my big losses were under $250 total.  On the other hand, I won a couple of decent pots when crAAKKing aces (details at 11:00, or in a future post).  In fairness, then, I probably made about $250 from all my big hands, probably a sixth of what I would normally expect to make when running that hot. 

I did also get a high hand jackpot for my quad tens.  The HHJs at the 'Shoe are progressive by rank, and can only be hit once per day.  Also, the straight flushes are separated by suit as well as rank, so the jackpot drop gets pretty chopped up, and the HHJs grow slowly.  Typically, quads pay $20-$40 when hit.  But, I was lucky that Tens were on top of the list, and I hit it about a half hour after the HHJs were bumped up from the previous day's jackpot drop, paying me $164 (net $150 after dealer tip).  So, I still finished the session with a nice profit, but I feel like I squandered a great SVB streak.

Table 8 at the Horseshoe.

(Image from here).

* Originally wrote this as "almond salesmen", but realized that the term is sexist.  So, the officially recognized term going forward will be "almond brokers".  At crAAKKer, we take our political correctness as seriously as our starting hand selection.

August 15, 2010

Hoofbeats of Doom—Playing Zebra Hands

"When you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras."

Medical aphorism attributed to Nobel Prize winner Dr. Theodore Woodward 

Medical students are taught to "think horses, not zebras" to remind them that in most patients, a common diagnosis is more likely than a rare condition.  This concept occurred to me recently when I saw a couple of hands posted in the strategy forum over at All Vegas Poker (AVP), and a similar hand on Vegas Poker Now (VPN).  In one hand, a player flopped a baby flush and ran into a bigger flopped flush, and in the other two hands, a player flopped the idiot end of a straight.  Of course, in each thread, the poster wanted to know how to avoid these potential coolers (well, other than by folding preflop, natch).

If you play poker regularly, you will run into the occasional monster cooler, something tougher to lay down than two pair versus a better two pair.  Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and sometimes you get to enjoy the slow motion carnage as a bystander to the train wreck.  The thing is, coolers tend to be memorable:

In Confessions of a Winning Poker Player, Jack King said, "Few players recall big pots they have won, strange as it seems, but every player can remember with remarkable accuracy the outstanding tough beats of his career."  It seems true to me, 'cause walking in here, I can hardly remember how I built my bankroll, but I can't stop thinking of how I lost it.

—Mike McDermott (Matt Damon), in "Rounders

Although set over set is bad enough, I have seen flopped set-over-set-over-set on two occasions, once with me involved; in both cases, bottom set turned quads for the win.  In a memorable stretch of runbad last fall, I got stacked three times in a single session of 2/5 NLHE, with a flopped King-high flush versus a flopped Ace-high flush twice, and a flopped set over set on the third hand.   Or, on my Festivus trip to Vegas last winter, I was involved in a hilarious hand with a couple of total yahoos, flopping a Yak-high flush against BWoP's Le Dawn-ed flush, and Poker Grump's Set O' Presto.  My hand did finish in a strong second place; unfortunately, I had bet the win, rather than the exacta box.

In any event, although weird coolers seem to happen frequently in poker, I decided to figure out the actual odds for the most common coolers:  set over set, flush over flush, and straight over straight.  Here's the executive summary (the "show your work" segment is below the jump).  Now, there are actually a couple of different ways of looking at the probability problem, with different relevance to our decision-making at the table:

The "Perfect Storm" calculation—Determining the odds that, as a deal begins, the right confluence of events will occur to create a cooler hand that will sink us or our opponent (or any two players at the table).

The "Doomswitch / Boomswitch" calculation—Determining the odds that, upon hitting a monster flop, an opponent has the necessary hole cards to complete the cooler hand.

Note that the odds below are "pure" odds, calculated without regard to player hand selection.  So, assuming players tend to muck certain hands preflop (e.g., J2s, 74, 43) as "junk", or fold small pairs to preflop raises, the realistic odds of flopped coolers are much longer.  Also, the odds below are merely a calculation of how often we will find ourselves in these flopped cooler situations, not how often we will be on the top or bottom side of these cooler flops.  The relative tightness/looseness of our and our opponent's starting hand ranges will dramatically affect how often we are winning or losing in these situations.

Set over set: 

Perfect storm odds—Thankfully, Brian Alspach has already calculated these probabilities in great detail for a Poker Digest article.  The perfect storm probabilities for a set over set situation vary somewhat based on the number of players in a hand, as more players mean a higher probability of players being dealt pocket pairs.  However, for a ten-handed game where all players take pocket pairs to the flop, flopped set over set should occur in roughly 1 out of every 167 hands.  Since we will only be dealt a pocket pair once every 17 hands, the odds we will be involved in a flopped set over set situation (assuming all pocket pairs see the flop) are 1 in 2,839.

Doomswitch / Boomswitch odds—We flopped a set, so what are the odds our opponent's random hand also flopped a set?—are 1 in 90

NOTE:  Not all flopped set over set hands will wind up as coolers. There will be cases where a draw heavy board will slow down the action.  I haven’t factored these situations out of the calculations above, because those hands typically will still end up as coolers if both players play their sets aggressively versus draws.  Also, there will be rare cases where the flop will be full house versus quads, which again are not factored out, as they are also coolers (just much colder).

Flush over flush:

Perfect storm odds—Unlike with sets, where more players in a hand mean more possible pocket pairs, which increases the odds of a flopped set over set situation, the odds of flush over flush situations decrease with more players, as more cards of the suit in question will be distributed to players, rather than being available for the flop.  To put it another way, having more than one opponent with suited hole cards decreases the odds of a flush flopping, while having more than one opponent with distinct pocket pairs increases the odds of sets flopping.  So, we need to look at the perfect storm odds of two players with random hands flopping flushes—1 in 19,491.

Doomswitch / Boomswitch odds—We flopped a flush, so what are the odds our opponent's random hand also flopped a flush?—1 in 39.

NOTE:  Not all flopped flush over flush hands will wind up as coolers.  There will be a few rare cases where the lower flush will in fact flop a straight flush or open-ended straight flush draw.  I haven’t factored these situations out of the calculations above, because those hands typically will still end up as coolers.

Straight over straight:

Perfect storm odds—To keep consistent with our flush odds calculation, what are the odds of two players with random hands flopping straight over straight?  This takes a little more thought, as there are three ways two players can get straight over straight—"bookend" straights with connectors (e.g., 34 vs. 89 on a 567 flop); "gapper" straights with a shared middle card (e.g., 35 vs. 58 on a 4-6-7 flop); and "bookend-gapper" straights with a shared middle card (e.g., 34 vs. 48 on a 5-6-7 flop, or 37 vs. 78 on a 4-5-6 flop).  The final odds—1 in 24,038.

Doomswitch / Boomswitch odds—We flopped a straight, so what are the odds our opponent's random hand also flopped a straight?—1 in 82.

NOTE:  Not all flopped straight over straight hands will wind up as coolers. A monochrome flop may easily slow down one or both players. Also, in the shared middle card straights, there will be a few rare cases where the lower straight will in fact flop a straight flush or open-ended straight flush draw. I haven’t factored these situations out of the calculations above, but it does mitigate somewhat the effect of straight over straight coolers.


Realistically, the Doomswitch / Boomswitch odds are the ones we care about the most, since we rarely think about cooler hands if we aren't already in a potential cooler situation.  So, what can we conclude from these odds?
  • Flopped cooler hands are quite rare.  Flopping bottom/middle set, a small flush, or the idiot straight should be a happy occasion, not a time to start seeing monsters under the bed.
  • It is much more likely to see a flopped set over set situation, both because it is easier to hit the requisite perfect storm situation, and because player self-selection makes it more likely players will play pocket pairs to the flop, while many suited or connected/gapped cards get folded preflop as "junk" (e.g., J2s, 74o, 43).
  • Because flopped cooler hands are rare, if we encounter aggression after flopping bottom/middle set, a small flush, or the idiot straight, we are most likely up against a hand we can beat.  If we flopped a set, we are usually looking at two pair or a draw.  If we flopped a straight or flush, we are usually up against two pair, a set, or a draw (including pair-plus and combo draws). 
  • Because we are usually ahead on the flop with these hands, it might make sense, absent truly deep stacks, to play fast and aggressive with smaller sets, straights, and flushes. 
  • Conversely, with top sets, nut/big flushes, and nut/big straights, it may pay to raise smaller for value, or to slowplay, hoping our opponent will commit more chips on a safe turn card.  If our opponent in fact is on the wrong side of a cooler, he will likely let us know by getting his chips in on the flop without our help.
  • Although flopped coolers are rare, the odds of a cooler materializing greatly increase as the turn and river change the board texture.  Although we may flop the best hand, if the chips don't go in on the flop, we may well get run down on later streets.
Now, although the numbers tell us that flopped coolers are rare, sometimes those hoofbeats you hear are in fact from a herd of zebras.  Or gazelles.  Maybe wildebeests.  Anyway, good poker intuition can still play a valuable role in helping sniff out the trap hands where you seem destined to go broke.  For example, about a year ago I was playing $2/5 NLHE at the Meadows ATM.  There were a few limpers, and one of the regular maniacs raised to $25.  There were a couple of callers, all standard.  I found Yaks in the BB, so I popped it to $150 straight.  To my surprise, a young guy UTG smooth called, as did the original raiser.  The flop came out Qh-Jh-7d.  Yahtzee!  But, it was a busy board, so I decided to play aggressively, and bet $350.  The young guy UTG thought, then pushed all-in, and the maniac snap-folded.  Now, the young guy is a regular, and a solid player.  He isn't necessarily rock-tight, but his play smelled a lot like QQ.  I just couldn't see him playing 77 for $150 preflop, and I would have expected him to reraise with AA/KK.  AhKh made some sense, while AQ and QJs were longshots.  On the other hand, he is capable of a big move if he smelled weakness, though I couldn't think of a hand he might think I had that I would lay down, other than AK or an underpair.  We were each pretty deep, around $1,500 at the start of the hand.  So, calling would cost me ~$1,000.  My heart told me I was beat, but in the end, I just couldn't lay down the Yaks.  Sure enough, he rolled over QQ, and it was "good hand, good night" time for me.

A similar hand occurred at the 2009 WSOP, the infamous Billy Kopp blowup hand.  Essentially, Kopp went from being one of the dominating top three stacks with the final table bubble in sight, to busting out short of the final table, thanks mostly to gacking off a huge stack to Darvin Moon when both players flopped flushes.  Although there are many better poker players who have dissected and analyzed that pivotal hand, it seems to me that the idea the Moon had flopped a higher flush never even occurred to Kopp.  Although flush over flush was improbable, once Moon showed serious interest in the hand on the flop and the turn, alarm bells should have been going off.  I'm not saying Kopp should have laid his hand down, but at some point, a baby flush turns into a bluff catcher, and a deep stacked player needs to think about protecting his stack.

So, even though we should expect horses, not zebras, it pays to remember that sometimes:

Zebras can have you swimming with the fishes!

(Image from The Cute Report)

Detailed, boring math below the jump (feel free to point out math errors in the comments or via email!):

Set over set:

The basic calculations for the "perfect storm" odds are in the Alspach article.  Simply multiply the odds of any two players flopping sets (1/167) by the odds we will be dealt a pocket pair (1/17) to get the odds we will find ourselves in a flopped set over set situation—1 in 2,839.

Now, for the "doomswitch / boomswitch" odds, we need to:  a) assume we flopped a set, and b) calculate the odds our opponent has a pocket pair that also made a set on the same board.  Since we made a set with one of the board cards, our opponent must have a pocket pair that matched the rank of either of the remaining board cards (assuming they are distinct ranks).  Let's say the flop is J-9-5, and we have a set of 5s.  Our opponent can have JJ or 99 to be ahead.  Once this board flops, there are 6 ways for our opponent to hold a pocket pair of Js, and 6 ways for him to hold a pocket pair of 9s.  There are C(47,2) possible starting hands (after we know our hole cards and the flop), so the odds of our opponent holding a pocket pair that also flopped a set is:

(6 + 6) / C(47,2) = 12 / 1,225 = 0.0111 = 1.11% = 1 in 90

Flush over flush:

We can start with this calculation for flopping a flush for one player:
Total preflop combinations = C(52,2) = 1326
Suited combinations = C(13,2) * 4 = 78 * 4 = 312

Chances of being dealt 2 suited cards = 312/1326 = 23.53%

Once you have 2 suited cards chances of seeing a flop that gives you a made flush:
Number of possible flop combinations: = C(50,3) = 19,600
Flop combinations containing all of your suit = C(11,3) = 165

165/19600 = 0.008418367347 or about .84%

So, assuming you play any 2 suited cards, chances you'll get a flopped flush would be 312/1326 * 165/19600 =0.00198079232 or, as you figured, about .2%

The more important number here is the .84% chance that you'll get a flopped flush.

To adapt this methodology to two flopped flushes, just work in the odds for a second hand having been dealt two suited cards of your same suit out of the remaining 50 cards:

C(11,2) / C(50,2) = 55 / 1,225 = 4.49% (roughly 1 in 22)

Also, adjust the flop calculation to take out the two suited cards in villain's hand:

C(9,3) / C(48,3) = 84 / 17,296 = 0.49% (roughly 1 in 206)

So, the odds of two players having suited cards in the same suit, and flopping a flush, would be:

(312 / 1,326) * (55 / 1,225) * (84 / 17,296) = 0.005% (roughly 1 in 19,491)

However, once you flopped a flush, what are the odds your opponent with a random hand also flopped a flush?  This is a little easier.  There are 8 cards of our suit remaining after we flop our flush.  To get two hole cards dealt of our suit, we calculate:

(8/47) * (7/46) = 0.0259 = 2.59% = 1 in 39

Straight over straight:

First off, there are only 8 ways to make a “bookend” straight vs. straight (ignoring suits for the moment):

Low Hand / Flop / High Hand

A2 / 3-4-5 / 67
23 / 4-5-6 / 78

89 / T-J-Q / KA

Let’s start by finding the odds of being dealt the low side of one of these straights—“low bookend connectors”.  Now, the ranks 2-8 each work in two starting hand combos, while the Ace and 9 only work in one combo each.  There are 9 ranks for the first card, with four suits for each rank, giving us 9*4 = 36/52 odds of being dealt a qualifying first card.  Then, for each qualifying first card 2-7, there are 8 corresponding second cards that will give us connectors able to make a low bookend straight, while for the Ace and 9 there are 4 corresponding second cards that will give us connectors able to make a low bookend straight.  Thus, the odds of getting a connecting card for the second card is 7/9(8/51) + 2/9(4/51) = [(7*8) + (2*4)] / (9 * 51) = 64/459.  This gives us odds for getting low bookend connectors of (36/52 * 64/459) = 0.0965 = 9.65% = ~1 in 10.4.

Next we need our opponent to get the corresponding high bookend connectors, which fortunately are exactly one hand (disregarding suits).  So, for their first card, they can be dealt any of the eight available cards that will make the corresponding high bookend connectors (8/50), and the second card dealt to complete the high bookend set must be one of the four cards of the other rank (4/49).  So, the odds of our opponent getting dealt the high bookend connectors that match our low end are (8/50 * 4/49) = 0.0131 = 1.31% = ~1 in 77.

Finally, we need the gin flop, with cards of exactly the three ranks needed to complete the straight for both sets of bookend connectors. Needing one card out four from each of three ranks on the flop, means there are 64 (4*4*4) flop combinations (order doesn’t matter) that can complete the bookend straight. There are C(48,3) total flops = 17,296, giving us odds for hitting a gin flop of 64/17,296 = 0.0037 = 0.37% = ~1 in 270 (note: you could also calculate the flop odds as (12/48)*(8/47)*(4/46) = 0.0037).

Thus, the final odds for flopping the idiot end of bookend connector straights:  0.0965 * 0.0131 * 0.0037 = 0.0000047 = 0.00047% = ~1 in 213,796.

But wait, there’s more! (actually, a LOT more).  There are also straights where the two starting hands share a middle card and flop straight over straight.  These straights occur in the following pattern:

Low Hand / Flop / High Hand

A2 / 3-4-5 / 26
A3 / 2-4-5 / 36
A4 / 2-3-5 / 46
A5 / 2-3-4 / 56

23 / 4-5-6 / 37
24 / 3-5-6 / 47
25 / 3-4-6 / 57
26 / 3-4-5 / 67

9T / J-Q-K / TA
9J / T-Q-K / JA
9Q / T-J-K / QA
9K / T-J-Q / KA

So, ignoring suits, for each rank Ace (one) through 9, there are 4 starting hands that can flop the idiot end of a straight over straight (note that half are gapper vs. gapper, while the other half are gapper vs. connector, though each version has a shared middle card, so the distinction is not important).  So, we have 36 starting hands in total, without reference to suit.  Adding in suits, there are 16 (4*4) ways to be dealt each starting hand, and there are a total of C(52,2) = 1,326 starting hands, so the odds of being dealt an eligible idiot straight hand is (16*36)/1,326 = 0.4344 = 43.44% = ~1 in 2.3.

Now, for the high hand.  Once the low hand is set, our opponent needs the exact matching high hand.  These odds are slightly lower than with the bookend connectors, as there is one shared middle card between the low and high hands.  So, the odds of our opponent getting dealt the matching high hand is (7/50 * 3.5/49) = 0.0100 = 1.00% = 1 in 10.

Finally, we again need the gin flop, with cards of exactly the three ranks needed to complete the straight for both hands.  The flop odds calculation is identical to the flop odds we calculated for the bookend connectors: there are 64 (4*4*4) flop combinations (order doesn’t matter) that can complete the straight, and there are C(48,3) total flops = 17,296, giving us 64/17,296 = 0.0037 = 0.37% = ~1 in 270.

So, the odds for a flopped straight over straight where both hands share a middle card is: 0.4344 * 0.0100 * 0.0037 = 0.0000161 = 0.00161% = ~1 in 62,217.

Finally, to get the total odds of a flopped straight over straight, we add the bookend straights to the shared-middle card straights, and get 0.0000047 + 0.0000161 = 0.0000208 = 0.00208% = ~1 in 48,077.  But, this was calculated as merely being on the idiot end of straight over straight.  We could just as easily be on the high end of the equation, so we need to double these figures to get the final odds for being in any hand with a flopped straight over straight: 0.0000208 * 2 = 0.0000416 = 0.00416% = 1 in 24,038.

Onto the doomswitch/boomswitch odds—if we flop a straight, what are the odds our opponent has also flopped a higher or lower straight (identical straights are not included, only the coolers)?  Depending on whether it is a bookend vs. bookend situation, or a shared middle card situation, our opponent can have either 8 or 7 cards for the first hole card, and either 4 or 3 cards for the second hole card.  So, the odds become (7.5/47) * (3.5/46) = 0.0121 = 1.21% = 1 in 82.  For a bookend vs. bookend situation, the odds are slightly better: (8/47) * (4/46) = 0.0148 = 1.48% = 1 in 68.  If a gapper straight is involved, the odds are: (7/47) * (3.5/46) = 0.0113 = 1.13% = 1 in 88.

Now, why are the odds of a flopped straight over straight so much lower than the odds of a flopped flush over flush?  There are several factors in play.  First, it is easier to get an eligible straight starting hand than flush starting hand.  Conversely, it is easier for our opponent to get an eligible flush hand than it is to get an eligible higher straight hand.  But the real kicker is that the gin flop is easier (nearly 24% easier) to hit in a flush over flush hand than in a straight over straight hand:  84/17,296 flush flops rather than 64/17,296 straight flops.  Considering it is slightly easier to hit a flush draw than a straight draw certainly makes it “feel” correct that it should be tougher to flop straight over straight than flush over flush, even if a straight is an easier hand to make than a flush, considered ab initio.

August 14, 2010

Girl, Irritated

Tonight I finally caught up on my TiVo'd WSOP 2010 episodes.  As usual, early round coverage focused on various celebrities and poker royalty as ESPN sought to manufacture a story.  During one episode, ESPN featured several hands involving WSOPE main event champion Annette Obrestad (a/k/a Annette_15) as she played in her inaugural WSOP Main Event.  Although she came into the WSOP with high hopes and high pressure, Obrestad's results were rather pedestrian, if not disappointing.

Now, I have previously played poker at the same cash game table as Obrestad during IMOP-V.  I found Obrestad to be a very pleasant, humble, and fun player.  Watching her during the WSOP coverage, Obrestad showed a markedly different attitude of arrogance mixed with petulance:
  • After two-barrel bluffing with ATs on a Queen-high board, she gave up on the river when a second 8 hit the board, giving her opponent trips (he had middle pair with the 8 on the flop).  She whined about how she could have bluffed her opponent off any other river card.
  • She pushed all-in with 99 on a Ten-high board, and made a sharp remark about slowrolling when her opponent thought briefly before calling with JJ.  She managed to suck out another 9 to stay alive, and was admittedly rather gracious in acknowledging she had gotten lucky.
  • In the hand that spelled her WSOP Main Event doom, Obrestad again pushed all-in on a Nine-high flop with just AJ, and complained about her opponent calling her with QQ, claiming that she thought her opponent could never call her with an overpair.
Although I was rooting for Obrestad to have some real success, I found her attitude both surprising and disappointing.  Now, to be fair, Obrestad is nowhere near the level of poor sportsmanship exhibited by a significant number of male players over the years, including notables like Phil Hellmuth, Mike Matusow, Eric Molina, Hevad Khan, and Shawn Sheikhan, among other infamous poker d-bags.  In fact, Obrestad was probably no worse than any of the hundreds of generic whiny poker players in the Main Event field, most of whom were never within 50 yards of the TV table, and all of whom returned home to regale their buddies with tales of how they busted out on Day 1 because a bunch of yahoos made a ton of donkey plays.

Obrestad is clearly an incredibly talented player who will likely continue to have great success in poker (Exhibit A is her amazing laydown of 44 after flopping 4s full of Yaks, only to have her opponent turn Yaks full of 7s).  I guess I had just expected, or at least hoped, her elite talent would be accompanied by a more decorous attitude.

Girl Interrupted at Her Music—Johannes Vermeer

(image via Wikipedia commons)

August 13, 2010

D-Bag O' the Day (v. 1.14)—
The Chicken Dance Killer

King of Swamp Castle:  Did you kill all those guards?

Sir Lancelot:  Um... oh, yes! Sorry.

King:  They cost fifty pounds each!

Sir Lancelot:  Well, the thing is, I thought your son was a lady.

King:  Well, I can understand that. ... You only killed the bride's father, you know.

Sir Lancelot:  Well, I didn't mean to.

King:  Didn't mean to? You put your sword right through his head.

Sir Lancelot:  Oh dear.  Is he all right?  
King:  [to the wedding guests]  This is Sir Lancelot from the Court of Camelot!  He is a very brave and influential knight and my special guest today.

Wedding Guest:  He's killed my auntie!

King:  No, please! This is supposed to be a happy occasion!  Let's not bicker and argue over who killed who.

—Monty Python and The Holy Grail

In a modern update to one of my favorite Holy Grail scenes (and source of two of my favorite quotes* from the movie), a Turkish man reportedly killed several guests at his wedding when he shot off an AK-47 rifle as a method of celebration.  I guess the Chicken Dance just doesn't cut it with youngsters these days:

Shake it, Justine!

Just for good measure, some chicken dancing from the hilarious and underappreciated Arrested Development:

Arrested Development Chicken Dances - Watch more Funny Videos

* "Let's not bicker and argue about who killed who."—This one is useful anytime a tense argument at the poker tables needs defusing. 

"Huuugge tracts of land."—Useful for discretely (or not so discretely) signalling to my standard-issue male buddies the notable assets of various persons of interest.