January 23, 2012

Gin Night at the Meadows

Gin card: In poker, a card that gives two players strong but different hands. Usually, one player will make the strongest possible hand (often referred to as the "nuts"), while the other player will make a very strong but losing hand (e.g., a card gives one player a flush and another player a straight or smaller flush, or one player makes quads while another player makes a full house).* Alternatively, getting the specific card(s) one needs to make one's hand (e.g., hitting a set or an inside straight draw).

Last week, I made my Ali-like return to the Meadows ATM, where I hadn't played in several months. But, my buddy Santa Claus was in town for work, so we met up for Jethro's BBQ and some poker. After stuffing myself with smoked brisket, pulled pork, and andouille sausage, it was off to the Meadows poker room.

The crowd was typical for a Wednesday night, with eight or nine tables in action for the mid-week tournament. Santa and I had to wait only a few minutes before getting into a new $1/$2 NLHE cash game with several tournament bustouts. Seat selection is a key skill for poker success, so I made the important strategic decision to sit in the 3 seat. Santa, however, unwisely chose the 2 seat.

The game started rather tight, typical for a mid-week game. After a couple of orbits, I found As5s in the big blind. Shockingly, a bunch of us all limped. The flop was junky with a couple of hearts and one spade. A bad player two to my left bet $10, and I called along with the hijack, thinking my Ace might be live and figuring I could represent the flush if a heart hit. The turn was a big spade, giving me the backdoor flush draw. I checked, bad player bet $25, hijack called, and I called. River was a baby spade. Gin! I bet out $50, bad player called, and hijack folded. I rolled over the nuts and hilarity ensued. My opponent stared at the board and my hand, then commenced angry, non-stop muttering until he busted out a few hands later. As Dusty Schmidt says, "Just like in the porn industry, you need to backdoor it if you really want to get paid."

An orbit later, I was back in the blinds. A couple of aggressive guys who had busted out of the tournament had joined the game. Most of the table limped preflop, and I closed the action checking my option with JTo. The flop came down 9-8-3 rainbow. I checked, aggro guy in middle position bet $10, aggro in hijack called, and I called. Turn came a Queen. Gin! Believing in the theory that the best way to get money in the pot is to put money in the pot, I led out with a $25 bet. I was hoping to get one caller. Instead, first aggro guy raised to $50, then the next aggro guy pushed all-in for roughly $150. With the action back on me, I paused a moment, trying to figure out what was going on. The turn had put a backdoor flush draw on board, but I had one of that suit, so I couldn't be up against a freerolling straight with a flush redraw. I decided the worst case for me was to be dodging a flush draw and a set, and there's no way I could fold the current nuts even though those draws were live. The other guy had roughly $200 left behind, and I decided if he could call the current raise, he could call my push. So, I pushed, and he snap-called. I rolled my hand, and both opponents rolled over ... Q-9 for top two pair. Ruh roh Rooby! That's about as good as I could hope for. Variance was kind, and the river rolled off a blank. I scooped a nice pot, and a few hands later, racked up and cashed out with a tidy profit.

Santa, meanwhile, stuck to his silly Seat 2 strategy. I headed home to celebrate Gin Night:


* I've used the term "gin card" for years, as have several of my poker buddies. Interestingly, I was unable to find a definitive origin for the phrase, but did find several references going back to 2006 using the term, including United Poker Forum (May 2007), Full Contact Poker (August 2007), Two Plus Two (September 2009) (though the forum archives reference the term much earlier in strategy posts dating back at least to 2006), Poker News (November 2009), and the Durrrr Challenge website (December 2010).

The earliest reference I could find was in the Two Plus Two archives where there is discussion in 2005 about a blog post by Daniel Negreanu where he reports hitting his "gin card" and losing:

From his blog he says, "The flop came A-A-10 and I was pretty sure that my opponent had A-K, K-K, Q-Q, or maybe even AA or JJ. He checked and I checked. The turn was my gin card, an 8. Or not... the dude had four aces! Goodbye."

In any event, although the exact moment where "gin card" crossed over into the poker lexicon is probably lost to the mists of time, I think it's safe to say the phrase probably came into vogue sometime around the Moneymaker boom.

January 17, 2012

You Might Be the Sucker If ...

"Listen, here's the thing.  If you can't spot the sucker in the first half hour at the table, then you ARE the sucker."

~Mike McDermott (Matt Damon), in Rounders

I don't have an official trip report for my holiday hit and run in Vegas, but there were a few random amusing moments that are worth sharing. So, with apologies to Jeff Foxworthy ... no wait, he made millions with his redneck schtick, so screw him. Herewith is my first installment of what is likely to be a running theme:

You Might Be the Sucker If ...

The players send a car and driver to pick you up at the airport.  We've all seen the hordes of limo drivers at the Vegas airport, many sent by the casinos to pick up their whales. But no casino is sending a car for a poker player, at least one who doesn't have a big craps or blackjack monkey on his back. I certainly will never be looking to gamble enough to get even the most desperate casino host to give me so much as cab fare.

So imagine my surprise when, after being stuck in airports for 16 hours due to storm delays, I landed in Vegas at midnight and discovered a chauffeur waiting for me with instructions from a group of poker players to take me directly to the Palms poker room for the Pokerati NLHE/PLO game. Though I would normally have drug my jet-lagged behind directly to bed ... Oh who am I kidding? I love me some Pot Limit Gambooool! So if a bunch of Vegas vultures need a chip-spewing lagtard, well I'm their huckleberry!

You think an overpair is a good PLO hand.  The Pokerati game was in fine form, with a nearly full table when I arrived. Now, I'm not a PLO wunderkind by any means, but I've done some reading* and played fairly regularly on Vegas trips the past two years, so I can hold my own at the low-stakes tables. The Pokerati game had at least four players who made basic, newbie errors, most notably failing to adjust hand values to account for the differences between Omaha and Hold 'Em. Bread and butter Hold 'Em showdown hands—say, overpairs, two pair, trips—are rarely more than bluff catchers in Omaha. Yet time and time again several players got it all-in with those kinds of hands, often on the flop or turn, only to be mowed down by strong Omaha hands—wraps, wraps with redraws, sets with backdoor flush draws, etc.

So, I bided my time, playing tight in Hold 'Em, loosening up in Omaha, licking my chops. In three big hands, I got my money all-in with the nuts or a monster draw against weaker made hands or non-nut draws, each time raking in a healthy pot. My biggest hand of the night came when I played a run-down hand (Q-J-9-8 with one suit) on the button against an early position pot-raise and a late position re-pot raise. I figured I was up against A-A-x-x and another big pair (probably K-K-x-x), which made my hand easy to play postflop. The flop was perfect: J-T-8, though there were two of a suit other than mine (I did have a backdoor emergency flush draw). I had the nut straight, plus two pair (more useful for blocking full houses than making one), and my Jack made top set unlikely. Early position player bet, late position player raised, giving me some pause. Although I had the current nuts, my opponents could easily have draws to better straights or flushes. Still, they were prone to overplaying hands, and the pot was too large for me to fold at that point. So we got it all-in right there, and my hand held up. One player had A-A-rag-rag without any flush or straight draws, while the other player mucked without showing, letting me drag a $500+ pot. Thank you, come again!

You have to ask the rules to the game before you buy-in.  While I was luckboxing a nice stack, a young guy walked into the room. By this point, it was nearly 3:00 a.m. and we were the only game running. My seat was within an arm's length of the counter, so I overheard the manager explain that we were playing a NLHE/PLOT mixed game. Then, I just about did a Snoopy Dance:

The young guy actually asked how to play Omaha! Then, he bought in for $300! Being the seasoned veteran I am, I simply wiped the drool from my chin and made sure the seat to my right was open. My dreams of stacking the newbie were dashed, however, as he won some pots at Hold 'Em, but then put his chips on virtual lockdown during the Omaha rounds. Disappointed and being overcome with travel fatigue, I decided to put my profits (just over $1,200) on lockdown as well, and went to cashout. Imagine my surprise when I turned around moments later and saw Poker Grump scooping all the kid's chips in a hand of Hold 'Em! Well, it was mighty sporting of the Grump to protect the kid from learning Omaha the hard way.

You don't know how blinds operate.  On day two of my trip, I moved to the Caesars Palace poker room to rack up some Total Rewards tier points on my mission to hit Platinum status. I was seated at a new table, and immediately began making money off of several weak players. I was eventually joined by friends Grump and Carol (a/k/a "the Black Widow of Poker", or CKBWoP for short), who smelled blood in the water. Two young players were in the game at various points, neither of whom had the first clue how to play poker in a live setting. One sat on my immediate right, and constantly inquired whether it was his blinds, and if so, how much to post. Neither player could figure out elementary betting techniques such as how to raise. Not surprisingly, both players donated several buy-ins to the game. Honestly, I thought players like this were nearly extinct! I will definitely need to put Caesars back in my Vegas rotation.

You try to bluff a calling station.  During my Caesars' session, there was one older gent with a vaguely European accent who invested several buy-ins before going on a heater and luckboxing his way to a big stack. During his entire time at the table, he was a textbook ET (an uber-calling station), calling down with any pair, any draw. So what brilliant strategy did I employ to get his chips? Yes, I raised with 98 sooooted on the button preflop, then fired three barrels at a scary board that did not improve my hand. Of course, ET called me all the way down with flopped second pair, because that's what he does. Huckleberry redux. Sigh.

Orel Hershiser buys you a martini—with your money.  This hand actually occurred during my WPBT trip earlier in December, but it fits well with the theme of this post. I had busted out of the Aria tournament and joined Carol at the $1/$3 PLO table to kill some time before dinner at CarneVino. A couple of hours into my session, I was treading water when Orel Hershiser sat down on my right. For a guy who was an MLB Cy Young winner, League MVP, and World Series MVP during a pretty illustrious career, Hershiser was surprisingly friendly and down-to-earth.  Hershiser is a solid amateur poker player as well, known for making the final eight in the NBC Heads Up Poker Championship in 2008, and rumored to be a regular at the mid-limit cash game tables. Our baby game was clearly just a recreational activity for Hershiser, who seemed to be using the game both to relax and to try out some PLO tactics.

Hershiser was playing fairly loose, but he clearly knew what he was doing and didn't put big money in the pot without a quality Omaha hand. Like any Omaha player, Hershiser stuck around with some marginal hands and won some nice pots when his more improbable draws hit, but he was certainly playing well.  My stack was around $350 when I found K-K-Q-T single-suited on the button. I three-bet it and we both saw a flop of J-T-2 rainbow with one of my suit. Herhsiser checked, I bet, and Hershiser moved all-in. I thought a bit, then decided his aggressive style merited a call. Hershiser showed K-J-9-2, also with a backdoor flush draw. Not the greatest hand for me to see, but I was alive. Then the turn came another deuce, giving Hershiser the baby boat and leaving me on life support, drawing to the case King. The river was the case duck, naturally, just to twist the knife with dangler quads.

I stared at the board a few seconds, then declared I was done for the night. Hershiser was still raking in the pot. He saw me stand up, and immediately turned and handed me three red chips from the stacks that only seconds before had been in front of me. In a completely sincere manner, Hershiser said:

"Here, let me buy you a drink! Have a great night!"

Let me tell you, I savored that free $335 martini.

* For those who want to improve their Pot Limit Gamboooool game, I highly recommend this set of four books by Jeff Hwang (available in paperback or Kindle editions):

Pot-Limit Omaha Poker (a great introductory strategy book)
Advanced Pot-Limit Omaha I: Small Ball and Short-Handed Play
Advanced Pot-Limit Omaha II: LAG Play
Advanced Pot-Limit Omaha III: The Short-Handed Workbook

Now maybe I should make time to read them again ....

January 03, 2012

A Bad Case of Earworms:
The 25 Greatest TV Theme Songs

Last night, I came down with a bad case of earworms. I blame Poker Grump.

It started innocently enough. I got into a semi-spirited Twitter debate with Poker Grump and a motley assortment of misfit toys regarding what TV theme song was the best ever. I advocated for “Hawaii Five-O”, but the Twitterverse spit out a ton of intriguing alternatives. I was inspired by the debate to challenge Poker Grump to post our Top 25 TV theme songs simultaneously for criticism and frivolity (Grump’s list is cross-posted here). There really is no underlying wager to settle or winner to be determined, although I assume I will emerge victorious in the court of public opinion ….

Since Poker Grump accepted the challenge, things have taken an ugly turn, with several dozen TV theme songs running through my head non-stop for the past 24 hours. I started by listing TV theme songs off the top of my head, then searched iTunes and online lists (see here and here) for ideas of songs I had overlooked. Then, I started plugging in the obvious top songs and knocking out the obvious misfits until I had my list. The process was harder than I had anticipated; there was a lot of handwringing over the final fifteen spots, and I found myself having to make some tough cuts of songs I had assumed were locks for the Top 25. Obviously there’s a large element of “eye of the beholder” in play when judging the “best” TV theme songs, but there are a few criteria I tried to use to sort out my list:

  • Did the theme song set the mood and/or provide background for the show?
  • Was the theme song an earworm? When the song comes on, do you find yourself humming, whistling, and/or singing along?
  • Was the theme song for a show I regularly watched, and/or which was widely popular?
  • Has the theme song crossed over into popular culture—e.g., is the song used in other TV shows or commercials, or otherwise parodied, sampled, quoted, and/or referenced in pop culture?

So, without further ado, here's the list (in traditional inverse order) (where I couldn't find a different, "official" title, I went with "Theme from ________" as a default song title):

25.  L.A. Law / “Theme from L.A. Law (instrumental)” by Unknown:  Ripped off by a dozen law dramas since.

24.  Bones / “Theme from Bones (instrumental) by The Crystal Method:  Suspenseful, yet strangely scientific. Perfect fit for the show.

23.  Monk / “It’s a Jungle Out There” by Randy Newman:  Neurotic and playful. You had to see the series to get the song.

22.  The X-Files / “Theme from the X-Files (instrumental)” by Mark Snow:  Eerie mood-setter for a paranormal conspiracy show.

21.  Rawhide / “Rawhide” by Ned Washington & Dimitri:  None of us remember watching this show, but thanks to the Blues Brothers, we can all sing it. Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’, keep them doggies rollin’ …

20.  The Muppet Show / “Theme from the Muppet Show” by Jim Henson & Sam Pottle: Catchy tune, and they played weekly games with the opening credits years before The Simpsons.

19.  The Addams Family / “The Addams Family Theme” by Vic Mizzy:  Oh snap! Snap!

18.  The Flintstones / "Theme from The Flintstones" by Hoyt Curtin:  It's a good time, a yabba, dabba, doo time, it's a gay, old time!

17.  Hill Street Blues / “Theme from Hill Street Blues” (instrumental)” by Mike Post:  Soft piano, soaring strings, good for a hankie before the first commercial.

16.  Batman / “Batman Theme” by Neal Hefti:  Perfect superhero theme. Great hook, greatly sampled and parodied.

15.  Star Trek: The Next Generation / “Theme from Star Trek: The Next Generation (instrumental)”:  The essence of pure space adventure.

14.  The A-Team / “Theme from the A-Team (instrumental)” by Mike Post:  Just a kick-azz theme song for a bunch of guys who kicked azz every week.

13.  Family Feud / "Family Feud Theme Song (instrumental)" by Unknown:  Easily the most recognizable game show theme of my lifetime.

12.  Happy Days / “Happy Days” by Pratt & McClain:  How better to make the mid-70s to early 80s feel like the late 50s?

11.  The Brady Bunch / “Theme from The Brady Bunch” by Sherwood Schwartz:  What color hair did the girls have? Now try to stop singing. ‘Nuff said.

10.  Gilligan's Island / “The Ballad of Gilligan’s Island” by Sherwood Schwartz & George Wyle:  What was the name of the ship? How many hours was the cruise? Now try to stop singing. ‘Nuff said.

9.  The Beverly Hillbillies / “The Ballad of Jed Clampett” by Paul Henning:  Someone says, “Bubblin’ crude.” You say, “Oil that is. Black gold. Texas tea.” Now try to stop singing. ‘Nuff said. Plus, there’s the Neal McCoy homage, “Hillbilly Rap”, where he takes “bubblin’” to new heights.

8.  Dallas / “Theme from Dallas (instrumental)” by Jerrold Immel:  Big musical theme to introduce big hats, big hair, and big stars.

7.  Mission: Impossible / “Theme from Mission: Impossible (instrumental)” by Lalo Schifrin:  Possibly the most ripped off TV theme song riff. That's a huge compliment.

6.  M.A.S.H. / “Suicide Is Painless (instrumental)” by Johnny Mandel:  A moody intro for a black comedy about war. Couldn’t argue if someone wanted to move this up a few spots.

5.  Miami Vice / “Theme from Miami Vice (instrumental)” by Jan Hammer:  This was a groundbreaking show for kids my age, and really ushered in a new style of TV show, with pop music soundtracks, fast paced / jump cut editing, and an emphasis on style over exposition. The song perfectly conveys the energy and excitement of both Miami and a cop show.

4.  The Dukes of Hazzard / “The Dukes of Hazzard” by Waylon Jennings:  One of my favorite childhood shows, and the catchy song perfectly encapsulates the essence of a couple of Southern good ‘ol boys fighting against the man and having a good ‘ol time.

3.  The Jeffersons / “Movin’ On Up” by Ja’net Du Boise & Jeff Barry:  Catchy gospel-inspired tune with some important cooking advice—“Fish don’t fry in the kitchen, beans don’t burn on the grill.” I dare you to find a person who doesn’t tap their feet and sing along to this one!

1. / 2.  Cheers / “Where Everybody Knows Your Name” by Gary Portnoy:  Look, it’s a song about drinking with friends at a bar, it’s a song you can sing with your friends at a bar, and the show is about a bunch of friends who hang out at a bar. Oh, and it’s impossible to get out of your head. Hard to top.

2. / 1.  Hawaii Five-O / “Theme from Hawaii Five-O (instrumental)” by Morton Stevens: The opening drums leading into the horn power riff, juxtaposed over images of huge surf waves. Perfection!

ADDENDUM (4 January 2012):  Mea culpa. I should have kept the courage of my convictions. Hawaii Five-O is perfection, and must be placed in its rightful Numero Uno position. Just take a look at this Brian Setzer Orchestra live performance posted by Lucki Duck over on his blog, Small Potatoes Poker & Sports Betting:

Honorable Mentions (a/k/a TV theme songs that made my initial list but didn’t make the cut):

All In the Family:   Iconic, but honestly, the show is no longer a cultural touchstone the way Cheers or the other shows are, particularly to people under 50. It’s the War & Peace of TV theme songs; everyone is supposed to remember it and revere it, but most people couldn’t sing a line from the song or relate a classic scene from the show.

Cool theme songs, but the shows are largely forgotten (you might know a scene or two, but characters? Episodes? Memorable quotes? Come on, now!):  SWAT, Barney Miller, Bonanza, Laverne & Shirley, Taxi.

Good theme songs, but just not as good as others in their genre:  WKRP in Cincinnati, Night Court, Charlie's Angels, Law & Order, Seinfeld, Psych, South Park, Entourage, The Simpsons, Magnum P.I.

Overly sappy / cringe-inducing theme songs (memorable doesn’t mean good):  Sesame Street, The Greatest American Hero, The Golden Girls, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.

Radio hits masquerading as TV theme songs:  Dawson’s Creek, Friends, Party of Five.

So, which songs did I get right? Where did I botch it horribly? What is your top five? What TV theme song did I utterly overlook? Comments are open!!

Corn earworms (image source).