January 25, 2011

Kansas City Harrah's Here I Come!

Well I might take a train,
I might take a plane, but if I have to walk
I'm gonna get there just the same.
I'm going to Kansas City, Kansas City here I come.
They got a crazy way of loving there
And I'm gonna get me some.

—"Kansas City" by Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller

This past weekend, buddy Jugweed and I journeyed into the wilds of Missouri to play some poker in Kansas City. Although KC is basically Jugweed's second home (as Kansas native and KU grad), let's just say that a Husker fan and a Jayhawk fan driving a car with Iowa plates through Missouri is generally a poor idea. Nonetheless, despite some sketchy weather, we arrived at Harrah's—North Kansas City in just over two and a half hours. Check-in was friendly, with the front desk clerk looking over my Total Rewards history and giving me a 50% discount on the room rate I had booked on the Total Rewards website. I'm fairly sure that the comp was in part because this was my first trip to that particular casino, yet it was certainly unexpected and greatly appreciated.

The hotel is very nice, with a sweet-looking conference area where I wouldn't mind spending some time for a CLE seminar or corporate retreat. The rooms were rather small, but were good quality, on a par with Holiday Inn Express, and perfect for a couple of guys who were just crashing for a few hours after a marathon poker binge (we stayed in a basic "deluxe" room, but I presume the "premium" rooms and suites are a little swankier).

We took a spin around the casino, which was clean, classy, and nicely decked out, but nothing spectacular—it would fit right in on the Vegas Strip as another Monte Carlo-esque mid-tier property. We then headed to restaurant row by the casino entrance for dinner, selecting Mike & Charlie's Italian Restaurant. We both had chicken spiedini for dinner—Garozzo sauce for Jugweed, Gabriella sauce for me—and cinnamon banana bread pudding for dessert. Tasty meal at a decent price.

Starvation averted, we headed to the poker room. The poker room has 14 tables, and all were full by 8:00 p.m. Friday night. There were several big games running—50/100, 10/20, and 5/10 NLHE, and 20/40 LHE—along with several tables each of 1/2 and 2/5 NLHE and 3/6 LHE. Intriguingly, a sign on the wall indicated that the room has discontinued all Omaha games "for lack of interest", allowing the room to roll the Omaha bad beat funds into the Hold 'Em bad beat jackpot. The room is off the second floor of the casino, but plenty of slot sounds and some tobacco smoke drifts into the room. Floors were good at starting games and seating players. Altogether a nice poker room.

Jugweed and I were seated at the same 1/2 NLHE table with almost no wait. One downside to the room is that the 1/2 NL buy-in is $60-$200, so the money in play is generally less than usual for 1/2 NL, and the effective stacks are likewise smaller. Still, the action turned out to be pretty good, with plenty of fishy play on display. During the first 10-15 hands at the table, one guy who I dubbed the "expert" tried to run over the table with big bets. On four or five occasions, the expert made a river bet, was called, and immediately said, "You're good" and mucked after being shown top or second pair.

I immediately targeted the expert, and tried to get into pots where he seemed to be raising light. I didn't win any monster pots, but the expert gave me at least $400 with bad bluffs and worse hero calls of my value bets. Gawd bless! In a bit of irony, the expert started button-straddling, and woke up with Aces twice in an hour. I joked with him that I needed to button straddle so I could get Aces. Instead, twice on the button I found Kings, and both times they held up for decent pots (including a payoff by the expert with top pair no kicker). I also managed to stack Jugweed once, when I made a rather sketchy turn call with a flush draw that hit, then pushed the river where Jugweed made a rough crying call with top pair. Altogether, I managed to turn a profit of ~$650 in about eight hours of play. Not too shabby for my first session in this room!

One interesting thing I noticed about the room was the use of these devices:

Basically, these are plastic chip stackers, used by the dealers to collect $1 tips. When $10 is reached (or $5 at the end of their down), the dealer will convert the $1 chips into $5 chips and put those into their personal toke box. I like this arrangement, as it noticeably extends the time between bank fills by keeping more $1 chips in play. An identical chip rack on the opposite side of the dealer is used to collect and color up $1 jackpot drop chips (or so it appeared).  Just an interesting innovation I had never previously observed.

As 3:00 a.m. approached, tables started breaking and the action tightened up significantly. Jugweed and I stayed until our table went to five-handed, then we took off, allowing the other three players to fill open seats at other tables. Channeling our inner Cloutier / Ivey, Jugweed and I headed downstairs to cash out our poker chips and check out the craps tables. Several games were in action, so we wandered up to a table with room for us both at my favorite spot, the corner by the dealer. I had two hot rolls, a lady had two good rolls, and Jugweed contributed a solid roll as well, letting me walk away with an extra $1,200 profit, and leaving behind some very happy dealers who I put on the hardways and the line (with shoes) during my rolls. As I've always said, the three best words in the English language are "off and on".*

One interesting item of note is that the craps tables in use had the traditional yo (11) and craps (2, 3, 12) numbers on the layout along with the traditional "point" numbers (4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10). Under this version of the game, a yo on the come out roll is no longer an automatic winner, and the craps numbers are no longer automatic losers. This was a first for me, and it took a few rolls to adjust to the odds offered by the new bets offered on this game layout. Based on a little research, it appears this version of craps is referred to as "crapless craps", since the craps rolls are no longer automatic losing numbers, and there is no "don't pass" line. Although avoiding three automatic losing rolls while giving up only one automatic winning roll seems superficially advantageous, the ever-helpful Wizard of Odds demonstrates that the crapless version of the game has a significantly higher house edge than does the regular game of craps. In fact, the crapless version of the game offers essentially the same house odds as double-zero roulette—poor. But, with a few hot rolls and a focus on the better odds bets, the game is still a fun diversion.

After a good night's sleep, Jugweed and I drove downtown for lunch at Bo Lings, a Chinese restaurant located near the Plaza by the KC Board of Trade. Saturday lunch is a dim sum affair, and we had a dozen or so amazing dishes. As an aside, Jugweed's wife is of Chinese ancestry, with parents who actually grew up in Taiwan. Jugweed's wife and mother-in-law cook awesome Chinese food, and they wholeheartedly endorse the food at Bo Lings. I can certainly understand why, as I enjoyed all the food. Favorites included the chive balls, "shark fins" (dumplings with shrimp and pork filling), and shrimp claws. Stop by if you get a chance!

Roughly one-third of our lunch at Bo Lings.

After lunch, Jugweed and I stopped by the Ameristar casino to check out the poker action. This casino is incredibly elegant and classy, with decor befitting it's Mississippi riverboat heritage—think dark wood, colored skylights, and chandeliers, along with a replica train in the front restaurant area. The poker room is upstairs, and has at least 20 tables. There were four tables of players in a noon tournament, and three 1/2 NLHE cash games underway. I went to a table where I was seated next to Oscar the Grouch. Jugweed was sent to another table, where he was seated next to Danny Tims, a Bellator MMA fighter. Yup, that's how I run in player selection.

When life gives you lemons, make vodka lemonade. Oscar the Grouch was an old fella, who whined non-stop about how the dealers gave him bad cards, or dealt bad flops, or let opponents hit draws. If someone raised his blinds, or raised after he limped, he'd muck and mutter rather loudly, "F*ck off!" The Grouch cost me $75 late in the session, when he called a $95 all-in on a board of Q-8-5 rainbow with ... KJ offsuit. The Grouch's call gave me odds to call with my 76 for the open-ended straight draw, and we both blanked out to let the original bettor win with Q9 offsuit. Oh yeah, the table was that soft! The good thing was that the Grouch was out of cash and tilted off into that good night ... errr, afternoon.

So, did I mention the table was soft? Once again, players overplayed top pair like it was the immortal nuts, made bad bluffs, and called down light. I won $610 in roughly two hours of play. In one big pot, I doubled up for over $250 when I played Jc8c on the button, flopped top two pair, and got called on all three streets by Q5 sooooted who caught a Queen on the turn. How kind. I then parlayed that stack into a bust of the table bully for just over $400, when I played KhQd on the button for a raise. We went to the flop heads up, which was all low cards with three hearts. He checked, I c-bet, he raised, and I called. The turn brought the Jack of hearts, giving me the second nut flush. Bully led out, and I called, confident he would bet the river. The river brought a second trey, pairing the board. Bully checked, and I value bet $75. Bully pushed over the top for about $130 more. I snap-called, reading him for a bully move with a smaller flush. Bully proudly declared "Queen high!" and rolled the Queen of hearts. I rolled my hand and scooped a monsterpotten. Thank you, come again! Bully stomped off to rebuy chips while the rest of the table debated how they thought I misplayed the hand. The free poker lessons were greatly appreciated, gents!

Altogether it was a fun and profitable trip. I can't wait for my next trip to Kansas City. Kansas City poker rooms, here I come!

* "Off and on" is the dealer call for when you are playing—and winning—a continuous come bet after the pass line point is set. For example, the point is 8. You place a come bet, and a 6 is hit. You keep playing the come bet, and if a 6 is hit, the dealer will say "off and on" to indicate that your established come bet is being paid (coming off) and your new come bet is being placed on the same number (coming on); instead of actually taking the bet down and putting the identical bet up, the dealer merely leaves both bets in place and pays you your winnings. When you have the table set (all point numbers covered by come bets—and odds, natch—on the board), any number rolled other than a 7 or craps pays you handsomely (or any number other than a 7 in the crapless version of the game). So, a continuous string of dealer "off and on" calls is a wonderful thing.

January 21, 2011

Moving Along

Time, time, time, see what's become of me
While I looked around
For my possibilities.
I was so hard to please.
But look around, leaves are brown
And the sky is a hazy shade of winter.

—Simon & Garfunkel, "Hazy Shade of Winter"

My posts have been a bit sporadic the past couple of weeks, and they are likely to remain a bit sporadic into the near future. However, let me explain. No, wait, there's no time. Let me sum up.

After nearly 16 years as a lawyer—ten of them as a full shareholder—with my current law firm, I am leaving for another career opportunity. Yes, I have finally been offered a spot as a Wall Street hedge fund manager and international playboy.

Naww, it's nothing that exciting. Instead, I've gone corporate, taking a spot as "Vice-President and Assistant General Counsel—Litigation" for a regional insurance company. Essentially, my job will be half management (monitoring complex or high exposure claims, overseeing outside counsel, and supervising in-house attorneys), and half litigation (defending first-party claims against the company). The job will offer a lot of variety and interesting legal issues, which is nice, considering my current practice rarely offers much in the way of intellectual challenges. Also, the pay and benefits are much better, and the long-term financial prospects are substantially better than remaining at my current job. Plus, the commute is all of five minutes.

Now, there will be some downsides to the new position. I won't have near the flexibility in terms of taking time away from the office, and my first year or so will require a ton of work getting my feet wet. Also, I will miss all the good folks at my current firm, where I have made many friends over the years. But, in a way, as the firm has grown, it has of necessity become more corporate, which inevitably leads to changes—and tensions—in relationships. It's kind of like a home poker game. It starts out as a few friends having some drinks, laughing, and pushing chips around. Then a few more people start joining in, and eventually, you have 30 players, house rules need to be written down, people focus more on money and less on camaraderie, petty disputes morph into long term grudges, and other players look less like friends or neighbors than another guy with an ATM card that resets at midnight (never mind that he probably can't afford to lose any money). Don't get me wrong, business and poker are about money. But never kid yourself—when the stakes get high, money can be corrosive to even the best of friendships.

Thankfully, this opportunity knocked at a great time. I wasn't looking for a different job, but this position is an amazing career opportunity and an interesting challenge. More importantly, I'm able to leave my firm while still on great terms with all my friends. After another five or six years in the firm, I'm not sure that I could have guaranteed such a happy outcome.

I don't believe in fate, but sometimes, things do just happen for a reason.

(Image source).

January 16, 2011

No Bad Beats? No Thanks.

"If it weren't for the river, there wouldn't be any fish."

—Ironman Santa Claus

Today is the planned launch date for a new Everleaf poker network skin, No Bad Beats Poker (NBB). NBB's gimmick is to offer No Limit Hold 'Em (and a few other games) free from those annoying "bad beats, suck outs, and bad luck." NBB promises: "Out play your opponents and build your bankroll! You’ll get your money back if you take a Bad Beat."

So how does NBB pull off this poker miracle? The basic rules are:

  • You must be playing at a No Bad Beats Poker table or tournament
  • At least one player in the pot must make an All-In wager
  • At the time of the All-In wager, your win probability (for that pot) must be greater than the Bad Beat Cutoff % posted in the table description (i.e., 70%).
  • You cannot fold at any point in the hand
  • You must lose the contested pot (i.e., cannot hold the high hand at showdown)

As an aside, the last two rules are really pretty silly to list at all. If you either fold or win the hand, you haven't been the victim of a "bad beat" in any commonly accepted definition of the term. (NOTE: The NBB FAQ page has more detailed explanations of the NBB game procedures).

Now it's important to note the effect of the bad beat protection. If two or more players get it all-in before the river, and the hand with the higher probability of winning loses (and the probability of winning is high enough to exceed the table bad beat threshold), the favored hand gets all of their wagers (not just the all-in amount) refunded to them from the pot. The winning hand (the one that sucked out) wins the remainder of the pot.

The entire NBB concept is horribly flawed. In terms of execution, it appears that NBB regards a "bad beat" as any time a favored hand loses to an underdog, even when the underdog has a substantial amount of equity in a pot. The scenarios used by NBB to explain the game play generally use a bad beat threshold of 60%, 65%, or 70%. In other words, if two players get it all-in on the flop with an overpair against a flush or straight draw, the overpair will typically find itself in a "protected" status, even if the drawing hand had proper odds to make the call. Or, in a preflop all-in between two pocket pairs (say the ever-deadly Aces vs. Kings), the higher pair is roughly an 80% favorite. The higher pair essentially gets a freeroll, winning the entire pot if the lower pair does not improve, while getting a full refund if the lower pair sucks out.

The NBB concept also impacts proper play. If the bad beat threshold is 65% or less, hands like overpairs and top pair might be well-advised to push against obvious drawing hands, to gain the NBB protection. By contrast, pure drawing hands generally shouldn't be played aggressively out of fear of generating a negative freeroll situation. Pushing preflop with Aces should be an almost standard play, while hands like Kings, Queens, and Ace-King might be auto-folded against tight players who push all-in preflop (which immediately suggests an interesting new way for tight players to steal preflop).

One interesting scenario which occurred to me is that a monster draw on the flop might well be able to gain NBB protection, and have a freeroll at hitting their draw. Imagine JhTh against 6s6d on a board of 9h8h2d. According to Cardplayer.com's odds calculator, the monster draw is more than a 70% favorite. So if the monster draw pushes (or calls) an all-in the draw wins the entire pot if it hits, and loses nothing if the draw misses. That's right, miss your draw, keep your money!

Much of the egregious idiocy of the NBB effect on game play could be remedied with a simple requirement that the bad beat threshold be a minimum of 85% or 90%, high enough that "standard" plays like pair vs. pair preflop, or pair vs. draw postflop, aren't eligible for NBB protection. Setting the threshold at 90% would essentially require a two-outer (e.g., set vs. overpair) or runner-runner on the flop, or a four-outer on the turn (e.g., two pair vs. straight or flush) before NBB protection kicked in.

Even if the NBB protection threshold were set at 90% or above, the entire NBB concept is flawed. Looking back at the Aces vs. Kings all-in preflop matchup, the Aces have roughly 80% equity in the pot. When the Aces win, however, they get 100% of the pot. The extra 20% of the pot above the Aces' equity point is properly regarded as money that is "on loan" to the Aces until the hand arrives where the Kings suck out and win the pot. The problem with the NBB concept is that it essentially steals equity from underdog hands and awards it to favored hands.

Finally, the NBB concept is objectionable merely as a matter of game philosophy. In football, one doesn't let a team drive to the one-yard line, then simply award them a touchdown because statistically teams score touchdowns from the one-yard line with a 90% or better rate. Likewise, the point of poker is not to wait until a highly favored hand is dealt to you by chance, and then simply declare victory. Poker is supposed to be a game of skill. Maneuvering opponents to call bets with bad odds is a key skill for winning at the game, if not the key skill. But opponents will quickly learn not to make such poor plays if they know that the favored hand is essentially insured against losing.

Bad poker players continue to play badly because their bad bets are occasionally rewarded. Similarly, casino pit game players keep playing because they occasionally take the house for a big score. But if the swanky casinos of Vegas were built on small house gaming edges (often 5% or less), why do poker players need bad beat protection when they can repeatedly get their money in the pot with a 30% or better edge? Bad beats and suckouts can be frustrating, but they are the bait needed to land the biggest fish. NBB is the epitome of killing the goose that lays golden eggs.

"Las Vegas is a city built with money won from people who aren't very good in math."

—Penn Jillette

D-Bag O' the Day (v.1.19)—Color Discrimination at the University of Virginia

Iowa state senator Brian Schoenjahn had a D-Bag O' the Day award all but locked up after introducing a bill this week which would make it illegal to "manufacture for sale, sell, offer or keep for sale, import, distribute, transport, or possess any caffeinated alcoholic beverage". That's right, the national hysteria over Four Loko has escalated to the point that a state senator in all seriousness is proposing what I suggested with tongue firmly in cheek—a ban on mixed drinks using a caffeinated mixer (e.g., Vodka Red Bull, Captain and Coke, Jack and Coke, Irish coffee). Truly a d-baggish nanny state proposal worthy of recognition, but unfortunately it is little more than a historical footnote to the epic d-baggery of one Jason Bauman.

Bauman is an associate athletic director for sports facilities at the University of Virginia. This past week, the Cavaliers hosted the North Carolina Tar Heels for a mens' basketball game. A Tar Heel fan, Greg Demery, scalped a second row ticket for $100. However, when Demery went to take his seat behind the Cavaliers bench, he was confronted by a security guard and director Bauman, and eventually forced to leave his seat and was relocated to a less desirable seat in the 17th row. But just what was the point for strong-arming Demery?

Was Demery's ticket a fake or reported stolen? No.

Was Demery drunk or causing a disturbance? No.

Had Demery violated a no-scalping policy? No.

Demery's one and only error was ... wearing North Carolina Tar Heel colors.

Yes, that's right, the University of Virginia practices color discrimination:

"We don't allow people in those seats to be dressed in the opposing team's apparel," Bauman said. "Because he was in that section, we moved him."

Athletic department staff members get free tickets for games, Bauman said. Since the incident, he has tracked down the staff member who received that particular ticket. The staffer had given four tickets to a friend, who sold this one to a scalper.

"We're dealing with that internally," he said.

Staff members are allowed to give away tickets they are not using, Bauman added, but "they know they are responsible for the people who sit there."

—Leah Friedman, "Troubleshooter: Tar Heel Fan Booted from Seat at UVA" (Triangle News & Observer, Jan. 14, 2011).

Seriously? The Cavaliers require fans to root for the Cavaliers in order to sit in certain seats? How ridiculously oversensitive and insecure. What if, instead of selling the ticket, the staff person had brought a friend who happened to root for the Tar Heels? Would Bauman have booted that person as well? What's next, separate concession stands and restrooms for opposing fans?

The best part of being a sports fan is to trash talk fans of other teams. Two seasons ago, I took buddy Santa Claus (an Iowa St. fan) to Husker Mecca (Memorial Stadium in Lincoln) for the CyClown-Husker game. I was able to secure first row, 50 yard-line tickets for what ended up being a debacle of a loss for the Huskers. Santa Claus was decked out in CyClown gear, strutting around and being an obnoxious yahoo, nearly getting into a half dozen fights. But nobody suggested he shouldn't be able to sit in that prime seat in the midst of the great Husker Horde. Or how about back in 2001, when roughly 40,000 Husker fans managed to take their Sea of Red show on the road to Notre Dame, where they outnumbered the home fans? Notre Dame's coaches and athletic director were embarrassed by their fans' ticket scalping, but they never suggested the Husker fans should be removed.

I don't particularly care about the legalities of Bauman's actions or the underlying policy. Legal or not, restricting fan seating areas by team, or requiring fans to root for particular teams to attend the event is simply anathema to the American sports tradition. The problem for Baumann is not with the random opposing fan getting a ticket in the home team's inner sanctum. No, Bauman's real problem is that his own fans are willing to sell prime tickets to opposing fans, something that simply doesn't happen for the truly elite sports programs:

Stealth bomber flies over Memorial Stadium in Lincoln.
Opposing fans will find it difficult to scalp a ticket outside the two
designated visiting fan sections (southwest corner, upper right of photo).
(Order this and other full-size official Husker photos HERE).

The best method for keeping opposing fans out of your prime seats is to put a competitive team on the floor or field. Bauman's silly efforts to enforce fan segregation simply reflect the insecurities of a second-rate athletic program.

January 10, 2011

The Vizzini Leak

Man in Black:  All right. Where is the poison? The battle of wits has begun. It ends when you decide and we both drink, and find out who is right ... and who is dead.

Vizzini:  But it's so simple. All I have to do is divine from what I know of you: are you the sort of man who would put the poison into his own goblet or his enemy's? Now, a clever man would put the poison into his own goblet, because he would know that only a great fool would reach for what he was given. I am not a great fool, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. But you must have known I was not a great fool, you would have counted on it, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.

Man in Black:  You've made your decision then?

Vizzini:  Not remotely. Because iocaine comes from Australia, as everyone knows, and Australia is entirely peopled with criminals, and criminals are used to having people not trust them, as you are not trusted by me, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you.

Man in Black:  Truly, you have a dizzying intellect.

Vizzini:  Wait 'til I get going!

The Princess Bride

The poison-duel scene in The Princess Bride is a comedy classic in which the villain, Vizzini, matches wits with the hero, the "Man in Black". Vizzini works through elaborate rationalizations for why the poison may have been placed in each of the two wine goblets, hoping to catch a tell by the Man in Black as to which goblet is truly poisoned. Eventually, Vizzini manages to talk himself into and out of believing that the poison is in each of the two goblets. Finally, he resorts to a ruse to try to cheat his way to the right solution, only to discover ... well, watch the scene and find out!

I often think of the Princess Bride poison-duel when confronted with a poker player who "tanks" for a ridiculously long time during a hand. I can only imagine the inner dialogue must run something like this:

"He overbet the river, so he's trying to look strong, so he must be weak, so I have to call. Except he knows that I know that "strong means weak", so he must actually be strong, pretending to be weak, so he looks too strong, knowing I will think he's really weak. So, clearly I must fold. However, he's a young guy wearing an Ed Hardy hoodie, so he's a big bluffer, so I must call. But he's only shown down the nuts tonight, and he has a tattoo of a donkey sh*tting diamonds out his azz, so he must have a strong hand, so I must fold. But ..."

It's actually kind of humorous to see some of these deep-thought moments at the table, when it's pretty obvious to most of the table whether the bet represents a value bet by an almond broker, or yet another bully bluff by the table maniac. It's truly astonishing how often these deep thinkers make the wrong decision.

A psychological quirk that might be in play in these situations is the surprising fact that deep analysis often becomes over-analysis, and over-analysis is often no better than a simple wild azz guess in terms of results. The fault in our thinking process arises from attempting to factor into our decision far too many factors, leading us to put undue weight on peripheral factors, or to minimize the weight given to key factors:

This is known was a “weighting mistake,” and it’s a serious problem for conscious deliberation. When we try to analyze our alternatives, we tend to search for reasons to choose one team over another. The problem is that we’re not particularly good at figuring out whether or not these reasons are relevant. In other words, we’re rationalizing, which is quite different from being rational.

—Jonah Lehrer, "You Know More Than You Know" in The Frontal Cortex (Oct. 12, 2010).

Studies have shown that the best decisions by experts are reached not by an immediate "gut" reaction, nor by a deeply analytical thought process, but rather by "intermediate decisions", where an expert is given the problem to consider, and then briefly distracted by other matters before being asked for their conclusion. In that situation, the expert has sufficient opportunity to allow his brain to rationally process the decision in light of the expert's knowledge and experience, but prevents the brain from over-analyzing the situation and out-thinking itself.

The upshot of this research is that, while we should approach problems rationally, sometimes more thinking is poor thinking. Although our immediate gut reaction at the poker table might provide a valuable starting point, it pays to give some extra thought before making our final decision. But it pays equally well if we learn when to turn off the logic circuits, because ultimately we can rationalize almost any play we want to make if we give our brain time to focus on the factors supporting that decision.

As any Princess Bride fan knows, two of the classic blunders are:  "Never get involved in a land war in Asia", and "Never go against a Sicilian when death is on the line." When it comes to poker, let me add this blunder to the list:

"If you find yourself talking yourself into a call or a fold, you're an idiot if you listen to that fool."

"You have defeated my Scandi, and bested my Grinder ..."

January 09, 2011

Button Up!

If you die in an elevator, be sure to push the "Up" button.

—Sam Levenson

During my past couple of trips to Vegas, I played a lot of hours at various Harrah's / Caesars Entertainment conglomerate poker rooms. Many of these rooms now permit a button straddle, which allows the button to post a blind raise ($5 at Bally's, $10 at Planet Hollywood, and any amount at Harrah's) which is live, meaning the straddler retains the right to raise. Action begins with the small blind, and proceeds with the button getting last action.

I happen to love the button straddle. Rather than a regular under the gun straddle, where the straddler plays the hand out of position, the button straddle lets the straddler play the hand with the best position. In other words, when on the button, a player can raise the effective stakes of the game for the one hand in which he holds the best position. Limped pots that check to the button can be stolen with greater value. Also, if a table is passive or fears big bets, a button straddler can build and steal pots with preflop raises combined with a strong c-bet or two-barrel bet. I find that many players at the 1/2 NLHE level don't mind an initial bet of $10-$12, but fear the big flop bet. Button straddling simply makes stealing from these types of players easier  and more lucrative.

However, my favorite reason for using the button straddle arises when one of the blinds on my button complains that they hate when I button straddle. Thank you, sir, for telling me what to do to make you play poorly! Also, players who whine about the button straddle pretty much telegraph their hand when they call a button straddle and/or a raise from a button straddle. Again, thank you sir for making it easy to play correctly against you!

Next time you get the chance, hit that button straddle and see the money roll in.

The button straddle in action.

January 07, 2011

I, Janus

 "Dogs at Cards" cake (image from here).

It's crAAKKer's first birthday! I'm not one for birthday cake, but I'll pass around some Templeton Rye ...

I began this blog a year ago with no real set-in-stone expectations. I knew it would be primarily poker-oriented (since that's my major hobby), but I didn't want to be limited by discussion forum stylistics. I wanted to be able to do some longer, more in-depth analysis of various issues, an ability I may have abused from time to time in these spaces (it's my blog and I'll prattle if I want). I also wanted to be able to branch off from poker into other issues of interest to me, which some of you may have found less than scintillating (it's my blog and I'll bore if I want). Mostly, though, I wanted a place to share some personal writing, and on that account, at least, things have worked out fairly well.

I installed Google Analytics early on to track site traffic, more out of curiosity than wanting to hit particular goals. At the one year mark, roughly 120 folks subscribe to my RSS feed, and there have been over 36,000 visits to crAAKKer by nearly 8,100 unique people from 87 countries. Not particularly huge numbers, but way above my modest expectations. So, thanks for reading, and I hope you keep coming back!

Also, digging into the data a bit more, a hat tip and sincerest thanks to my Top 10 referring blogs / websites:
  1. Poker Grump
  2. I Had Outs (#3 on its own!) / Dr. Clare's Electronicorium Emporium / Clareified
  3. All Vegas Poker
  4. Three Rivers Poker
  5. Two Plus Two Forums
  6. Pokerati
  7. Very Josie
  8. Life of a Poker Dealer
  9. Hardboiled Poker (Shamus)
  10. Lair of Lucypher
Each of the blogs in that list are ones in my RSS feed, and are entertaining or informative, and generally a good use of my limited casual reading time. I encourage you to give them all a look-see.

While we're data-mining, here are some of the zanier and more head-scratching search engine queries that led folks to crAAKKer:
  • Dutch minidress
  • Cheese PPA
  • Albarino telemarket
  • Bestiality blogspot (thus ensuring more hits from that search)
  • Dawn Summers birthday (people search for that?!?)
  • Hate Dawn Summers (I get that search)
  • How to kill a dealer (I get that one, too ...)
  • Eeyore sayings
  • Poker horror / Poker horror stories
  • Evil East Germans
  • Miniature stack of yaks
  • Antique dildos
  • Cat and sausage / Fun with cat and sausage
  • Mickelson 6'4" tall
  • Wife pokerslut photo
  • Fish sticks poker (Alrighty then ...)
Over the course of the past year, I covered a lot of topics, but here are a few of my favorite posts, and a few that my readers liked the most:

Humorous Poker Sessions:

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, "MadBrooklyn" World / "Dawn Summers" Does Des Moines

IMOP Memories:  The Beatdown at Bally's

Wine & Whine O' the Week (v. 1.11)—The crAAKKer in the Rye

How Phil Galfond Got His Nickname—A Poker "Just So Story"

Personal Posts / Social Issues / Random Stuff:

National "Whatever" Day

A Bad Beat Bakes My Noodle

Poker at the Gas 'n' Sip

The WSOP Ladies Event—A Modest Proposal

My Roots Are Showing—St. Matthew's Cemetery

The Absurdity of Poker

Poker Legal Issues:

Tilting at Poker Windmills

Why Poker Litigation FAILS

The Company Poker Keeps

The Emperor's New Sunglasses

Baxter v. United States—Landmark or Mirage?

However, I think my best contribution to the poker blogging world was probably my series of posts regarding the Rousso poker litigation in Washington state. Being a lawyer with a lot of appellate experience gave me a different viewpoint on the case than for most poker players, and I hope I was able to add something new to the discussion of Rousso in the poker community:

Poker's Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Year (Part 2)—Rousso v. State of Washington

Recapping Oral Arguments in Rousso v. State of Washington

Down Goes Rousso! Washington Supreme Court KOs Constitutional Challenge to Online Gambling Ban

Justice Sanders, In the Conservatory, With a Con Law Hornbook

PokerStars Sells Out Its Washington Players

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

Hopefully y'all enjoyed at least some of my posts this past year; please post a comment to point out your favorites that I overlooked. Thanks for reading, and drop by occasionally to keep track of crAAKKer II—The Donkeys Strike Back.

D-Bag O' the Day (v.1.18)—Desperate Oregon Fan Seeks E-Mail Order Auburn Bride

OK, I suppose it's time to let Daniel Negreanu off the hook and bump him from the front page featured D-Bag position. It was a good run, sir, but it's time to move on.

Our new featured D-Bag is one Ryan Tharp, who came to my attention via Deadspin. Apparently, Mr. Tharp is a young Oregon football fan who—like Mr. Negreanu—loves those hilarious prop bets. From his post on Craigslist:

I, along with several buddies, will be celebrating the Duck victory in Vegas from January 11th-14th. During that extravaganza, I plan on taking in the entire Vegas experience, including marrying a stranger. If you are cute enough, spontaneous enough, and an all around cool chick....let's get hitched. Loser of the bet has to pay the annulment costs. So, if you are going to be in Vegas after the National Championship, believe in your Tigers, and want to have stories to tell your grandchildren (won't be mine) then shoot me an email...with a pic!

Auburn ladies, this could be your future ex-husband!

Now, I do have to give Mr. Tharp kudos for being the rare college student who can be a drunken lout and still put together a coherent, grammatically correct paragraph. Nonetheless the entire premise of his prop bet is offensive.

The sig other and I have been dating for over four years, and have been living together and sharing our lives for more than three of those years. In a year or so, we intend to get married, which prior to April 3, 2009, would have been impossible in Iowa. Three good judges just lost their jobs because they had the courage to, well, do their jobs and rule on an important constitutional issue the way they felt the law required. Even after our wedding, there will be many states which will not recognize our marital status, should we find ourselves relocating or even merely traveling through, potentially creating issues related to health care decisions and property rights, among hundreds of potential legal landmines.

Now, I know that there are strong feelings on both sides of the marriage equality debate, and I fully accept that folks of good will toward gays might nonetheless oppose marriage equality based on any of a number of strongly held beliefs. It's an issue worthy of rational discussion, and at the end of the day, we may simply have to agree to disagree on some fundamental underlying principles. But please, stop trying to tell me that letting gay couples who are in loving, committed relationships marry will somehow undermine or destroy the "sanctity of marriage".

Looking just at Vegas, Mr. Tharp has good company in Nicky Hilton and Todd Andrew Meister (marriage annulled after two months), Dennis Rodman and Carmen Electra (marriage annulled after nine days), Axl Rose and Erin Everly (divorced after three weeks), and perhaps most famously, Britney Spears and Jason Allen Alexander who got drunk, got married, and had it annulled, all in roughly 55 hours. Britney does know how to live it up in Vegas! Of course, let's also give a special "sanctity of marriage" award to Darva Conger and Rick Rockwell—Darva competed on the reality TV show "Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?" for the right to wed a guy just for his (financial) assets. Oh yeah, that marriage lasted less than a month before it was annulled.

There's no reason to fear us gay folks destroying the sanctity of marriage. You straight folks are doing a bang-up job all on your own.

January 04, 2011

You Say "Intrastate" and I Say "Interstate"—
A Different Path to Online Poker Legalization?

You say either and I say eyether,
You say neither and I say nyther;
Either, eyether, neither, nyther,
Let's call the whole thing off!

You like potato and I like potahto,
You like tomato and I like tomahto;
Potato, potaeto, tomato, tomahto!
Let's call the whole thing off!

—George & Ira Gershwin, "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off" (1937).

During the past year, the hopes of the online poker community were repeatedly raised and dashed as Congressional efforts to pass a federal law legalizing—not to mention regulating and taxing—interstate online poker made significant new strides by passing a pro-poker bill out of the House Financial Services Committee, only to fall victim to the elections, then being resurrected in the lame-duck session by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (and his gaming industry donors), only to be killed—repeatedly—as part of a compromise over other pending legislation. With Republicans back in control of the House of Representatives, and anti-gambling advocate Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-AL) sitting in online poker ally Rep. Barney Frank's (D-MA) chair on the Financial Services Committee, the short-term prospects for meaningful Congressional action on the issue of online poker legalization are bleak.

All is not lost, however, when it comes to legislative action legalizing online poker. Several states are reportedly considering legislation to legalize intrastate online gaming or online poker, limited to the residents of that state, or of that state and people outside the United States. New Jersey is well along the path to legalizing online versions of all casino games permitted to be played in the state's brick and mortar casinos. Last year, California, Florida, Iowa, and the District of Columbia all considered similar legislation for legalized intrastate poker or gaming, and all of them are likely to revisit the issue. If New Jersey legalizes intrastate online gaming, Nevada seems a safe bet to follow suit so as not to jeopardize its position as the de facto center of the United States gaming industry.

Although any legislative steps toward the legalization of online poker should be welcome news to the online poker community, there are a number of potential drawbacks to a state-by-state approach which is predicated on legalizing only intrastate poker. Poker media insider F-Train recently laid out the potential pitfalls of an intrastate strategy:

On one level it's good to see the states trying to take the lead on this issue. But if history is a guide, it means the federal government will only be that much slower in developing national standards while it waits to see how things play out at the state level. It also gives anti-gambling legislators like Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) another argument against creating a national system.

If intra-state poker becomes the prevailing model, the industry will be split into multiple miniature player pools on a state-by-state basis, to the detriment of American poker players as a whole. And once Humpty Dumpty has shattered into 50 different pieces, good luck trying to put him back together. There *will* be differences in how online poker is run and regulated from state to state. Balancing and unifying all of those competing differences, and competing state interests, in national poker legislation will be exceedingly difficult.

Reid-bill detractors might point out that there would have been fragmentation under that bill as individual states opted in or opted out. While that's true, at least all of the opt-in states would have been playing in the same player pool with the same set of rules. Under state efforts, there's a different pool -- and most likely different rules -- for each state.

There is a legitimate fear that the balkanization of online poker among individual states with different regulations and isolated player pools would spell the doom of online poker for all but the most dedicated players in the larger states. Most states have a relatively small population and a concomitantly shallow online poker player base. In the smallest states, the legalization and regulation of online poker might not be cost effective for the state. In medium-sized states, online poker might be a viable industry for the state, but the resulting product might not be appealing to poker players if the effective player base is limited or the tax rate is onerous.

There is a path, however, by which intrastate poker might lead to the eventual legalization of interstate poker with a combined player pool and uniform national regulations and taxation schemes—the development of a national consortium of states which operate a joint online poker network, utilizing the multi-state lottery networks as a model.* Lotteries originated on a local or state level, but the biggest lotteries—Powerball and MegaMillions—were developed to offer bigger prize pools by increasing the potential customer base through creation of multi-state lottery consortiums. Of course, the states benefited from the increased lottery purchases made by customers drawn to the bigger prizes.

The advantages of a multi-state online poker consortium would be to increase the player pool base, with a resulting synergistic effect expanding the number of players and the amount wagered by those players. A multi-state consortium would also likely lead to uniform regulations, with many smaller states acquiescing in regulation by one of the industry leading states (likely New Jersey and/or Nevada). Taxation would also likely be more uniform, based on a proportional formula related to the deposits and/or rake by the players in each state. Additional states could elect to opt-in to the consortium; it should be noted that the Powerball and MegaMillions lotteries each started with a handful of participating states, yet today forty states offer both lotteries, and another three states offer at least one of the lotteries. Given the pervasive legalization of brick and mortar gambling in a majority of the states, a multi-state online poker consortium would likely attract new member states at a fairly rapid pace, as states scrambled for their share of the online gaming taxation bounty.

Now one might object that federal law would prohibit such a multi-state poker consortium. But the primary federal anti-gambling statute, the Wire Act, doesn't seem to preclude online poker conducted between residents of states where online poker is legal. Setting aside the legal issue of whether the Wire Act applies to bets or wagers unconnected to sports events, a safe harbor exception in the Wire Act states:

Nothing in this section shall be construed to prevent the transmission in interstate or foreign commerce of information for the use in news reporting of sporting events or contests, or for the transmission of information assisting in the placing of bets or wagers on a sporting event or contest from a State or foreign country where betting on the sporting event or contest is legal into a State or foreign country in which such betting is legal.

—18 U.S.C. § 1084(b) (emphasis added)

The plain language of the statute seems to permit residents of states where online poker is legal to play poker against each other without running afoul of the Wire Act (assuming the state statutes in question were drafted properly to permit such reciprocal play with residents of other states with legal online gaming). Other federal anti-gaming statutes—notably the Travel Act, RICO Act, and UIGEA—are similarly predicated on violations of state gambling laws, so presumably those statutes would not prohibit online poker if the game is played between residents of two or more states where each state had legalized reciprocal, intrastate online poker. However, when states initially legalize intrastate online poker, play will likely be restricted to players within the state. The importance of creating a multi-state consortium would be to establish a framework of uniform regulations to permit reciprocal, legal play between residents of different states which had enacted similar statutes to permit intrastate online poker.

Now, it's entirely possible I am overlooking an important federal law that would prohibit or restrict such multi-state online poker consortiums. However, once a few states legalize intrastate online poker, I suspect there will be sufficient demand to permit play between the residents of all states permitting intrastate online poker that some sort of federal statute would be passed to explicitly authorize multi-state online poker consortiums. Or, Congress might finally recognize that online poker is an established industry offering a new source of tax revenue, and pass a comprehensive federal regulatory scheme, preempting the balkanized intrastate system.

This approach of legalizing intrastate online poker in a handful of states, followed by the creation of a multi-state online poker consortium is inferior to enacting a comprehensive federal regulatory scheme. But the multi-state online poker consortium approach might be easier to achieve in the current political environment, and would be superior to a balkanized, purely intrastate, state-by-state legalization strategy. More importantly, however, if a multi-state online poker consortium could be created, it would likely either attract enough members to achieve de facto national online poker legalization (with a handful of outliers such as Utah and Hawaii), or it would spur some kind of federal legislative action.

When it comes to legalizing online poker, intrastate action in the short-term might well lead to interstate results in the long-term.

"Tomato, tomahto, poker, pokah ... let's call the whole thing off!"

(Image source)


* ADDENDUM (4 January 2011):  One distinction between my proposal for a multi-state online poker consortium and the current multi-state lotteries is that the states would not be operating the online poker sites directly or indirectly. Instead, states wishing to join the multi-state online poker consortium would simply enact legislation agreeing to the terms of belonging to the consortium, and permitting their residents to play against residents of other states in the consortium. Independent online poker sites would be licensed by one or more states in the consortium, and would be permitted to offer poker to residents of all states belonging to the consortium. This set up would be somewhat analogous to current wine shipping reciprocity laws, in which states permit out-of-state wineries to ship to their residents on the same terms as are offered by the wineries' home state. As stated by the Wine Institute,  "In its simplest form, a reciprocal law says 'a winery in your state can ship to a consumer in my state, only if a winery in my state can ship to a consumer in your state.'" Applied to online poker, states in a consortium would agree to permit residents of other states to play against its residents, only if residents of the other state enjoyed the reciprocal privilege.

Avoiding a Titanic Poker Leak

But it’s a totally different story in a big game. If I raise it $3,000 or $4,000 and the other guy and I have a lot of chips on the table, he’ll be a little more hesitant about raising me now because he knows there’s a very good chance I’ll play back. The guys I play with know that when I put my children out there, I don’t like to let them drown.

—Doyle Brunson, Super/System2, p. 394

A few days ago, I played a cash game session at the Meadows ATM. During the game, I saw an example of what is probably among the top five poker leaks, at least among recreational players—calling with a hand you are fairly sure is behind solely because of the amount of money already invested in the pot.

The hand went roughly like this. There was a straddle, and just about everyone in the room limped into the pot. Straddler raised to $24, and there were four callers. The flop came out highly coordinated—something like 9h8h8d. Straddler led out for $75, and got two callers. The turn was the Jh. Straddler led out for $125, with both players immediately going all-in for ~$800 more and ~$100 more. Now the big stack had never once shown down less than the second nuts when putting big money in the pot, while the other player was an uber-tight older nit. Straddler thought a minute, then said, "Well, I've already put most of my money in the pot, I have to call," and called for his last $150. Sure enough, the big stack had 98 for the flopped boat, while the old nit had the nut flush. The boat held up for another monsterpotten to the big stack. Straddler claimed to have held AhAd, and left after busting on the hand.

Now the big leak in this hand is the Straddler's thought process. He was fixated on the size of the pot and the fact he had committed a lot of his chips to the pot. The problem is that this fixation on the pot size and prior action blinded him to the reality that he was likely either drawing thin or dead. In economics terms, the money already committed to the pot is regarded as a sunk cost. A sunk cost is essentially a prior expenditure that cannot be recovered. For example, a developer decides to build a casino on the Las Vegas Strip. Building commences, and the project is 50% completed, but then the economy tanks. The projections for income from gambling, conventions, shopping, and other resort activities are no longer valid and must be revised. The new figures show that the projected income stream from the completed casino will not meet the additional expenses needed for completing and opening the casino; in other words, the project cannot be finished at a profit. A rational developer would abandon the project, despite having already invested tens or hundreds of millions into the project. The money invested prior to the decision point is irrelevant to the decision regarding whether to complete or abandon the project. If the additional investment needed to complete the project will not result in a profitable venture, then there is no point in making the additional investment.

Turning back to poker, the amount you personally have invested in a pot is never a valid consideration governing your future play in the hand. Either you have correct odds to call vs. your opponents' range(s), or you don't. The amount you have "invested" or put in the pot up to the decision point is irrelevant; it is a sunk cost. The past is past, and that money is now part of the pot; it is no longer "your" money or "your" investment. Reasoning that you "have to call because you already put in $X" or "it's an easy fold because you've only invested $Y" is a major leak. A smart poker player will look only at the total pot versus the wager he is facing (and future implied wagers, where relevant) when making his decision. 

The problem is that many recreational poker players, because they are loss-averse, will improperly factor the sunk cost of their prior wagers into their decision making process. These players often improperly invoke the concept of being "pot-committed" to justify their ultimate decision to make a bad call. Let's look at an example. You flop a monster draw with QJs, but get to the river and have Queen-high after missing your draws (let's ignore your ineptitude in failing to get all-in on the flop). The river paired the board, so you decide to take a stab at the $500 pot, betting $300. Your opponent, a rock, goes all-in for $400. It's $100 to call into a pot of $1,200. You're getting 12:1 on the last call, but is your hand ever good here, let alone one out of every thirteen hands? Are you truly pot-committed here? Calling in these situations is a terrible leak, yet many recreational players make that last call because they're fixated on all the money they've already put into the pot.

There are circumstances where loose calls with marginal hands are warranted, but those loose calls must be justified by relevant considerations: your opponent's likely range based on his betting line and your reads, coupled with your knowledge of your opponent's playing style (particularly whether he is prone to bluffing or making value bets with marginal hands). Basing your decision to make a loose call on the fact that you've already put a lot of money into the pot is throwing good money after bad. Once you've paid enough money to know you're beat, why voluntarily pay even more for the privilege of losing the pot? Making a habit of making these bad loose calls will eventually sink your bankroll.

"Don’t make loose calls and hopeless bets to avoid giving up on the pot. It’s okay to leave your kids out there sometimes. Maybe they have soccer practice today."

—Schmidt & Hoppe, "Don't Listen to Phil Hellmuth", p. 112

If you're sunk, it's silly to go down with the ship.

(Image source).

January 03, 2011

My Roots Are Showing—St. Matthew's Cemetery

"All things must come to the soul from its roots, from where it is planted."

—Saint Teresa of Avila

Over the Christmas weekend, I went back to my hometown in southwest Nebraska. One afternoon, Dad and I took a tour of the countryside, visiting the various plots of farmland and pastures my parents own, on which I toiled my pre-college life away. On our drive between a couple of farms, I asked Dad to swing by St. Matthew's Cemetery, a country cemetery where most of my relatives on my Dad's side of the family are buried. 

St. Matthew's holds a spot in my heart because from when I was in 5th grade until I headed to college, my brother Kevin and I helped my Grandpa and Great Uncle Walt with maintenance at the cemetery. Once every two weeks or so, the four of us would take push lawnmowers, hedge clippers, and weedeaters up to the cemetery to keep things presentable. Thankfully, the typically dry Nebraska climate along with the prairie grasses in the cemetery generally made mowing less of a regular issue than in more rainy eastern climes. During water breaks (where Grandpa or Uncle Walt would invariably produce some candy bars from their jug of ice water), Grandpa and Uncle Walt would share stories of the folks buried in the cemetery. Sometimes it would be to share the family genealogy. But more often, it would be stories of the lives of those now gone, and in many cases, long past. How people I would never meet led lives and met fates that intersected with those of my ancestors. Stories of immigration, assimilation, famines, droughts, floods, illnesses, fires, blizzards, tornadoes, and yes, wars. 

In many ways, my hometown was a typical rural Midwestern community. Generations of the original founding families lived, died, married, and had new families, resulting in a crazy quilt of inter-relationship between the locals, where everyone was at least second cousins with most of the other folks in the area. Lots of good German family names populate St. Matthew's Cemetery—Huxoll, Niemeier, Hormann, Meyer, Hilker, Stagemeyer, Meyerle, Schaben, Mües, Rodenbeck, Haussler, Menze, and Kaiser. My family name goes back five generations in the area, and is an immigration official's corruption of the original German "Müch". Even today, a few of the local old-timers still see me and inquire "How are the Müch boys?" (pronouncing it as "Muck").

St. Matthew's was a country church, started by German Lutheran immigrants. Services were generally in German, and my Grandma, who was among the last generation to worship in the church, kept a German hymnal from the church after it closed prior to World War II—even then, the decline of rural farm life was well under way. By the time my Dad was born, the church was long gone and the cemetery was the only remaining vestige of a former age. Yet, enough of the founding families remained that the cemetery was not only maintained, but continues to operate and serve as a final resting place for the modern descendants of the original founders even today.

St. Matthew's Cemetery is a peaceful, restful place, located in the prairie hills just a few miles north of my hometown. If it weren't for the fence and the tombstones, the cemetery would be indistinguishable from the adjacent pasture land. Yet in many ways, that little cemetery is more of an anchor for me than anything else in my childhood home. Those summer days spent with my Grandpa and Uncle Walt, learning the history of my ancestors, connects me more to "home" than anything other than my parents themselves.

After the jump are quite a number of pictures of the cemetery, with comments. Feel free to pass on these if you wish, as they likely mean a great deal to me and are not particularly relevant to y'all. However, if you want to know a little more about my heritage, here's your chance.

We begin with a series of photos capturing the extent of St. Matthew's Cemetery, taken from the main entrance, sweeping from east to west, with the cemetery to the north of the main gate (the cemetery lies on the north side of a gravel county road, with another gravel county road running along the east edge, and with pasture land to the north and west):

By the main entrance on the south edge of the cemetery is the original St. Matthew's Church bell, which is still rung for funerals and Memorial Day and Veterans' Day services:

Here is what I regard as the most beautiful, yet perhaps also the most heart-wrenching tombstone in the cemetery, for the child (Magdalene) of the St. Matthew's pastor and his wife, who died the day she was born:

Another great old tombstone of some distant relatives, celebrating the eternal bond of matrimony:

A couple of pictures of an ornate old tombstone for an Ernst Kaiser, who passed away before World War I led to a change in the family name (think Muslim names post-9/11):

Perhaps my favorite, and the saddest, story in the cemetery. These tombstones are for the Kleinbeck family, in which an entire family of 12 perished in a freak accident in October 1900, crossing the aptly named Republican River in a farm wagon during a flood. The small headstones are for each individual family member (my Grandpa and I recovered the burial plot from an overgrowth of lilac brush when I was in seventh grade):

Some pictures of tombstones for my ancestors from the Mües side of the family. Note my one Great-Uncle who served with the First Armored Division in World War II, seeing horrific action in North Africa and Italy, yet making it home safely. 

My ancestors from the Hormann side of the family. Note one Great-Great-Uncle who served in World War I, and eventually died from the lingering effects of German mustard gas attacks:

Some of my ancestors from the Niemeier side of the family:

Now, onto my Mock family ancestors.  First is my Great-Great-Grandpa Henry (note the delicate oak leaf scroll work which is suffering from years of exposure to the Nebraska elements; also, his wife—my Great-Great-Grandma—is buried next to Henry, yet her name has never been inscribed on the monument, whether through oversight, economic issues, or the chauvinism of the day):

Next, my Great-Grandparents, Carl & Mary Mock, my first ancestors born in the United States:

Finally, the current Mock family burial plot, which has tombstones for my Grandparents, my Great-Uncle, and my brother; my parents will eventually be buried to the right hand side of the photo. Even though my Grandpa bought the plot ages ago (as in, before I was born), note how it is in the most "modern" segment of the cemetery:

Close-up of the tombstone for my great-uncle Carl, who was mildly retarded after a childhood viral infection and fever. I remember doing farm work with Uncle Carl and playing cards with him at family gatherings. My Grandpa basically looked out for Uncle Carl until he passed away, after which my Dad took over that caretaking role. Uncle Carl was a kind man who, though none too sharp, still could play a mean game of pitch. Incidentally, the windmill on his tombstone is a dead ringer for several windmills I operated as a kid, providing water to cattle out in the pasture:

The tombstone for my Grandpa and Grandma. Grandpa died unexpectedly of a heart attack when I was about to start eighth grade. Grandma, like her siblings, made it into her nineties, rather impressive for someone who grew up on the prairie without electricity or running water until many years into married life, and who endured the Great Depression. Grandpa and Grandma's Golden Anniversary may have been the last of many great family gatherings in my childhood (I have 12 cousins on my Dad's side of the family, not to mention four Aunts who can cook like nobody's business):

Finally, we have a close-up of the tombstone for my older brother Scott (whose passing is discussed in this prior post). Scott lived in Colorado after college, and was always a nature junkie, so I love the peaceful pastoral scene for his tombstone:

Thanks for indulging my trip down nostalgia lane. We'll return to your regularly scheduled poker hijinks programming in the near future.