April 29, 2012

A Magical Night With Penn & Teller & Grump

On my recent trip to Vegas, I needed at least one evening away from the poker tables and decided to take advantage of one of the great things about Vegas—its cornucopia of great restaurants and entertaining shows. I have attended many of the Cirque du Soleil shows (some of them more than once), so I was looking for something a little different. Considering I recently read Penn Jillette's book "God, No!", and since the sig other and I follow Celebrity Apprentice on which Penn was a contestant this season, the choice was obvious. A couple of texts was all it took to strong arm Poker Grump into being my wing man for the evening (Grump is also a fan of Penn & Teller—see HERE and HERE for a couple of his posts that reference Penn & Teller shows). As a surprise bonus, Grump even treated me to a great meal at Lindo Michoacan, a "local" Mexican restaurant a mere 10 minutes or so from the Strip (I enjoyed the spicy-but-not-hot house salsa and definitely loved the slow-roasted carnitas entree).

Penn & Teller have been performing at the Rio for over a decade now, meaning their current show was running for several years before my first trip to Vegas in July 2006. I originally got hooked on Penn & Teller from their appearances on various late night TV shows during my college days in the late 1980s and early 1990s, not to mention their co-starring role in Run DMC's video for "It's Tricky" [FN1]:

I loved Penn & Teller originally because of their irreverent showmanship, often going so far as to reveal how they performed the trick, giving a wink and a nod to the audience who not only want to be fooled, but to have an idea of how they were fooled. Frankly, Penn & Teller have based their success on the genius concept of acknowledging to the audience that they are going to try to fool them, and then proceeding to do just that. They are really just the flirting teens of magicians, showing just enough flesh and leading their audiences on with promises of more revealing poses later. Two of their early tricks were memorable enough to have stuck with me nearly for nearly two decades. The first is the Rocket trick, which is still one of my favorite magic performances of all time:

The second memorable old-school trick is a variation on Cups and Balls:

Flashing forward to the recent show at the Rio, which began with a pre-show opportunity for the audience to inspect a crate and an envelope which were props in later tricks. Grump and I were impressed by the skill of the two ushers who assisted audience members going up on the stage by taking their beverages and remembering whose drink was whose when those folks left the stage.

The show itself was a phenomenally entertaining hour and a half, filled with new tricks and classic tricks from  past Penn & Teller shows. The show opened with a new Penn & Teller "meta-magic" trick, where an audience member participates in the trick and the audience is in on the trick—or so they think, until a final twist leaves a theater full of scrambled brains. They call this trick "Cell Fish" and it is a quite entertaining in-person trick (fast forward to the 4:25 mark for the trick; the video doesn't show it well, but the bucket Teller brings on stage during the trick ends up hanging above the audience participant for the duration of the trick, adding to the mystery of the final reveal):

The diabolical secret of the trick is revealed in this straight-from-the-iPhone footage. I have to admit, I fell for the Cell Fish trick hook, line, and sinker ...

Penn and Teller have a great rapport, blending Penn's fast-talking and often humorous showmanship with Teller's sly facial gestures and artistic sleight of hand. Even though they have performed many of these tricks hundreds of times, they still feel fresh. Both Penn and Teller are avowed libertarians, and they work some political statements into their tricks. For example, any magician can conjure a person from thin air. It takes Penn and Teller to conjure a scantily-clad woman holding a rocket-propelled grenade out of a TSA-certified metal detector. Penn and Teller also put their own personal twists on classic magic tricks. Plenty of magicians make people disappear; but Penn makes Teller disappear from a helium-filled garbage bag. Similarly, there are plenty of magicians who levitate a ball, but Teller adds an artistic element, creating a ball which is also a pet that learns to do tricks.

I enjoyed every bit of the performance, and every trick was well-executed and entertaining. The showstopping d√©nouement—the famed "double bullet catch"—was even better in person than on TV. But probably my favorite trick of the night was Teller's solo performance of the Goldfish Bowl trick:

It was a stunning illusion, even more so considering our seats were only a few rows back from the stage. During the performance, I knew Teller had to be producing coins hidden in various spots, but the execution was flawless. As for the production of the goldfish, well clearly there had to be a secret compartment, but where and how Teller triggered it sure fooled me. It was just overall a wonderful trick. Now after seeing the video several times, I have a pretty good idea as to where the coins are hidden and how the water tank operates. Watch the video again and see if you catch any clues to how the trick works; some of the trick can be figured out from the video, but you won't have one important fact which was known to me from having watched the live performance. I'll post my thoughts at the end of this post. [FN2]

Altogether Penn & Teller was a great way to spend an evening and I plan to go back for another performance, maybe this December during WPBT. In the meantime, remember that although Vegas is a great place for poker, there are plenty of other entertainment options that provide a fun change of pace to tilting d-bags with the Spanish Inquisition.


[FN1]  Run DMC's "Run Like Hell" album was the pregame soundtrack for my senior year high school basketball team—in rural western Nebraska in late 1987. How's that for the influence of early MTV in distributing urban hip hop music to the furthest reaches of lily-white America? "It's Tricky" is a regular part of my poker music mix, along with "You Be Illin'". I can even still recite the lyrics to both songs, which demonstrates the sticking power of music from our youth, along with proving I'm clearly not maximizing my brain's potential.

[FN2]  SPOILER ALERT! I think the coins are hidden in various spots—behind the chair, in Teller's pants pockets, in the towel on the lady's lap, in the fish tank (more in a moment), and in the lady's hands (again, more in a minute). Basically, look anywhere either of Teller's hands touch an object before he produces a coin (and keep in mind he is a master of palming and concealing items). Now for the tank; notice that there is a dark semicircle in the top middle of the tank that looks to be merely a shadow from lighting. Whenever Teller uses one hand, he keeps it high in the water within that dark area. Now here's what appears to be the key—the tank has a full mirror below the dark semicircle. Whenever Teller puts both arms in the tank he plunges them in quickly and deeply. His left arm is then reflected and you think you see his right arm, which is actually behind the mirror picking up coins or releasing goldfish. But the tank design is so well-crafted, and Teller choreographs the action so well (with his quick moves and the water turbulence helping cover up the deception), we are easily sold on the illusion being real. In the video above, look at the brief closeup of the goldfish; you can see some reflections in the middle of the tank where you usually wouldn't expect them (I suspect lighting effects minimize or eliminate those kinds of reflections for the live audience). Also, the tank is on the side of the stage which keeps the audience from seeing the side of the tank, while the other side is blocked by Teller; the tank's octagonal shape probably also allows some mirroring on the sides to hide the back part of the tank. As for the lady, she appears to be a plant who is in on the trick (the same or a very similar lady assisted with the live show I attended). This explains how the coins get in her hands, and allows Teller to palm more coins to drop from her glasses, etc. This also explains how she doesn't notice the coins in the towel or the strange construction of the tank. I'm probably missing some details, but these appear to be the basics for the trick, which I still love as much as when I saw it live. Despite all the non-traditional patter and showmanship, Penn and Teller are still talented technical magicians at heart.

April 26, 2012

An Irresistible Duck Pho Meets an Immovable Inquisition

Most of my readers also follow Poker Grump, so y'all should know about the Deuce-Four, which the Grump touts as the mightiest hand in poker. [FN1]  Of course, my friend CK, a/k/a the Black Widow of Poker, contends that "crubs" (clubs) are the strongest hand, because "crubs always get there" (though there is the small matter of needing a "crubs whistle" to summon the crubs). Naturally, one has to wonder what would happen if the Duck Pho ran into Crubs. In fact, Grump has already wondered about that conflict, a potential "irresistible force meeting an immovable object" situation. Based on field research to date (see HERE, HERE, and HERE for in-depth analysis), data are inconclusive.

In any event, Crubs and the Duck Pho, powerful as those poker demi-gods are, must bow to the transcendent majesty of the Spanish Inquisition. crAAKKer reader "RedXBranch" shared the following story as a comment to one of my recent posts:

I have been dying to tell you of a big win recently at our local casino in a $1/$2 cash game. I played the "Spanish Inquisition" against a lady specifically because she had played "the Grump" 4 times. The hand went: EP raise to $7, followed by 2 callers, then the lady called also. I look down at 6-3 off, and called "for the hell of it". Flop comes out 6,9,Q w/two spades. Action goes check, check, lady bets $10, I call and one of the other guys calls. Pot is now about $60. Turn is a blank and it goes check, lady makes it $15, I call and other player folds. She tells me, "you better be careful", and we have a laugh. River is the 6 of diamonds. Yahtzee! She bets $25 and I raise her to $75. She snap calls me while saying "I told you to be careful, two pair" (Q-9). I show my trips and say "that is the Spanish Inquisition, nobody expects it." Hilarity ensues. She called me an asshole. I told her anyone that plays deuce/four as often as she does should be able to appreciate my play of the 6/3 ... hehe! She hunted my chips like she was on safari for the rest of the night.

I love this story because RedXBranch clearly has a sense of humor, "calling for the hell of it" with a monster hand like the Inquisition. Plus, the Inquisition pays off in full, not only winning the hand (*yawn*), but also providing a "Yahtzee!" moment before causing hilarity to ensue.

The evidence is overwhelming. The Spanish Inquisition is superior to the Duck Pho. But I think we all knew that already.

[FN1]  The Deuce-Four really needs a nickname. All cool poker hands have awesome nicknames. Well, maybe not awesome, but at least a nickname. So, henceforth I will refer to the Deuce-Four as the "Duck Pho".

April 25, 2012

You Know You're Having a Bad Day in Court When ...

"When you have the law on your side, pound the law. When you have the facts on your side, pound the facts. When you have neither the law nor the facts going for you, pound the table."

~Old Legal Aphorism

Earlier this evening, Poker Grump tweeted this:

If a justice tells you, "I'm terribly confused" and "Why don't you try to come up with something else," you're having a bad court day.

Grump was referring to the U.S. Supreme Court oral argument today in the Arizona immigration law case, Arizona v. United States .  Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, Jr.—an experienced and talented appellate attorney—had as rough a day in court as can be imagined. As the preeminent SCOTUSBlog described the nadir of Verrilli's argument:

Even Justice Sotomayor advised him, bluntly, that his main argument was ”not selling very well; why don’t you try to come up with something else? … What’s left of your argument?”

As an appellate lawyer, there is really no worse feeling than when one of your strongest allies on the bench is bluntly telling you your argument sucks. In my former life in private practice, I was one of the lead motion and appellate attorneys in my firm. Honestly, there is nothing I enjoy more about my job than writing appellate briefs and arguing appeals. Many attorneys dislike or are intimidated by motion and appellate practice, but the construction and framing of legal arguments, and the freewheeling extemporaneous debate of those issues in 15-30 minutes of argument in front of a trial judge or a panel of appellate judges is right in my wheelhouse (which I'm sure will come as a major surprise to many of my readers). And just like Mr. Verrilli, I've had my share of ugly arguments, which I remember more vividly than many of my best winning arguments. Here are a couple of my personal lawyering horror stories.

* * * * *
Unlike many attorneys, I didn't specialize in any one area of litigation, preferring to be a jack of all trades, willing to dive into trial work as diverse as commercial disputes, insurance and reinsurance law, personal injury cases, and product liability claims. Basically, if you could fight about it in court, I could be your hired gun (or at least your legal sniper).

A few years back, I was one of the few attorneys in the office the week between Christmas and New Year's Day. A secretary came into my office, telling me one of my partners was very sick, and had a bench trial set to start that day in a commercial foreclosure action. I got on the phone with the judge and the bank's attorney who pulled a jerk move, resisting my request for a continuance. The judge gave me one day to prepare to take over the case. Wonderful.

The next day we spent putting on evidence for the judge. Like many commercial foreclosures, the bank was trying to prove a breach of the loan agreement, while my client was trying to prove substantial compliance; still, the law and the facts in foreclosure cases rarely favor the borrower. Late in the afternoon, the bank's attorney made an eight-part motion for an immediate order of foreclosure. If the bank won on any one of the eight points, they had the right to foreclose. After the bank's attorney concluded his argument, I began to rebut each of the bank's eight points, one by one. I had pretty good evidence, and the law was in my favor on some key issues. I was on a roll, thinking I might yet salvage what had to that point looked like rather bleak prospects for my client.

Until I got to Issue Number Six. That issue was pretty much a dead loser for my client. I spun up an argument out of a few random facts and some large leaps of inference, and quickly pivoted to the stronger ground of Issue Number Seven. That's when the judge—who is smart and well-respected—looked up from his laptop for the first time in the entire argument:

"Mr. Grange, do you have any other arguments for Issue Number Six?"

Ummm, well clearly I needed some other arguments but didn't have any on hand, so I played the classic lawyer trump card: "Your honor, that is a complex issue that I would need to address with supplemental briefing." Translation: I'm in trouble, so I need a couple of days to come up with something creative. The judge smiled at me: "Yes, I suppose that issue should be briefed. Have something to me by noon tomorrow." Needless to say, I won a complete sweep of every issue except Issue Number Six ... which meant I lost the case.

* * * * *

Two years ago, I was the appellate attorney for an interesting case arising from judicial review of an administrative proceeding. Another attorney had defended and lost the case before the agency, and asked me to handle the appeal. There were two interrelated issues—whether my clients were liable and whether they owed a penalty. If we won the liability issue, we also won the penalty issue. But the penalty issue was of primary importance to my clients, and we could win that issue even if we lost the liability issue. On appeal to the district court, we contested both issues, expecting our arguments on the liability issue not to prevail on that issue, but to provide the basis for a victory on the penalty issue. To our surprise, we won both issues. Regrettably, our opponent appealed.

The appeal was assigned to the Iowa Court of Appeals. Normally, a three judge panel would consider cases, often without oral argument. The court, however, selected our case as one of two cases to receive a special oral argument in front of a five judge panel as part of a continuing legal education conference attended by a couple hundred Iowa attorneys and judges, many of whom I know and have worked with in the past. Even more stressful for me was that two recent appointees to the bench were on the panel, one being a lawyer I clerked for in law school and the other a long-time district court judge who I had appeared before on numerous occasions. I also knew the other three judges on the panel from a variety of bar activities. Talk about some added pressure!

My 20 minutes of argument flew by, as the judges were well-prepared for the case and peppered me with a barrage of questions starting less than 20 seconds into my time. Having a "hot bench" like this is actually a good thing as it shows the court is engaged with the issues; nothing is worse than trying to fill argument time with judges who have no questions or only perfunctory questions clarifying minor evidentiary or procedural issues.

I quickly realized that the judges were skeptical of our position on the liability issue. But, the judges focused the bulk of the argument on that issue which was much more complicated, and which started to loom as the iceberg that might sink our case. So, I desperately looked for an opening to shift the debate to the far more favorable penalty issue. One of the two newest judges gave me that opening, when he was pursuing a line of analysis on the liability issue. My answer clearly did not satisfy him, and his facial expression showed he disagreed with my argument. Acting on instinct, I made a play to shift the argument to firmer ground. With a big grin I said:

"Your honor, even if you're not buying what I've been selling the past 15 minutes, there is still the penalty issue to consider, and on that issue, the law is clearly in my clients' favor."

The two newest judges nearly broke out laughing, and spent the next five minutes studiously "taking notes" to avoid making eye contact with me. Even the chief judge, a pretty no-nonsense type when on the bench, cracked a smile. A cardinal rule of appellate argument is never to use humor, but I made a spur of the moment decision that I needed to shift the debate by any means possible. Since I knew the panel, and had argued in front of them often, I felt I could pull off a self-deprecating joke that signaled to the judges that, although they were concerned about the legal implications of ruling for my clients on the liability issue, they could safely rule against my clients on that issue so long as they ruled for my clients on the penalty issue. Although my ego would have preferred a clean sweep of both issues, my clients only cared about the penalty issue, and winning that issue alone while quasi-conceding the liability issue offered the court an easy way to decide the case.

* * * * *

As a coda to my trip down war-story memory lane, I have had a few trials where witnesses said some funny stuff under oath. My favorite example was from early in my career, where a major fighting issue was where an employee got the beer that got him drunk. The employee testified that he and his supervisor would drink beer together every night after they closed the restaurant for the night. The beer, however, was brought to the restaurant by either the employee or his supervisor. When the employee's attorney tried to get his client to testify that the supervisor brought the beer that the employee drank, hilarity ensued:

Attorney:  Now the night of the accident, were you drinking the beer Mr. Smith [the supervisor] brought?
Employee:  No, I wasn't.
Attorney:  You weren't?
Employee:  No, I never drank the beer Mr. Smith brought.
Attorney:  Are you sure?
Employee:  Oh yeah. He always drank Coors Light, and I don't drink that shit. It tastes like piss.

Amazing how honest people can be while under oath!

Six Degrees of IMOP

Earlier this month, I was in Vegas for a work conference, staying and playing at the Mirage. I met a charming older Asian woman, "M.L." who is a local and a regular player in the Mirage poker room. I played in several sessions of $1/$2 and $2/$5 NLHE with M.L., and toward the end of my final session, we were seated next to each other when a younger guy sat down at the table. M.L. nudged me and said, "He played here yesterday, lost over two thousand dollars. Plays crazy."

Sure enough, the young guy ("Y.G.") sat down and began to play nearly every hand, always raising or calling a raise preflop. Y.G. hit a few ridiculous hands to annoy some of the more serious players, but he promptly gave it all back with a series of loose calls, bad bluffs, and overplaying of marginal hands. Y.G. wasn't bothered by losing, and was actually joking around in a friendly way, making the game fun and entertaining. As Y.G. told the table multiple times, "Hey, I lost $13,000 at craps tonight. This is nothing!"

Y.G. probably pumped $1,500 or so into the game before leaving to meet up with his wife for an early breakfast. I wonder how awkward their breakfast chitchat was.

As Y.G. walked away, M.L. and I shared our regrets that Y.G. left the game. After exchanging a laugh, M.L. looked at me and said:

"You think he played crazy? Last month there were some guys here from Iowa. Now they played really crazy!"

I wonder who those crazy guys might have been.

NOTE: For all the IMOP fans out there inquiring about the IMOP-VII trip report, Santa Claus is diligently working on it, though dark comedy is not his strong suit. Estimated delivery date is "sometime before Flag Day". So stay tuned, true believers!

April 24, 2012

A Rake Mirage

On my recent Vegas work junket, I played several sessions at the Mirage poker room, mostly $2/$5 NLHE in the evenings, then $1/$2 NLHE after the bigger game broke in the early morning hours. Considering Mirage was completely comping my hotel room, throwing a few dollars down the rake slot was the least I could do. Plus, the Mirage poker room is a very nice environment to play cards, a little less intense than some of the bigger rooms, with more passive, casual, entertaining, and profitable games.

One nice touch at the Mirage is the graduated rake structure for the $2/$5 game.  Instead of taking a straight 10%, Mirage drops a maximum rake of $3+$1 jackpot, with $1+$1 jackpot at $10, then $1 at $50, and $1 at $100. Even better, there is no rake at all if the game is smaller than seven-handed. The major effect of the graduated rake is to reduce the rake on those medium size pots where only two or three players see the flop, and a flop or turn bet takes down the pot. Many of the bigger rooms have similar—though not as slow—graduated rake structures, but a graduated rake is not at all standard in Vegas and is a welcome move for a room looking to spread games other than the basic $1/$2 NLHE and $2/$4 or $3/$6 LHE.

The $2/$5 NLHE game usually started early in the evening and would run well past midnight, even during weeknights. However, the game often would conclude with a couple of hours of short-handed play, with only seven or fewer players in the game. Once the player count dropped to four or five, the game would usually run for another 30 minutes or an hour before the players would break the game to head home or to seats in the running $1/$2 NLHE games. Being a hardcore degenerate, I was usually one of the last stragglers at several games each evening/morning.

Like many poker rooms in Vegas, the Mirage will take a reduced rake on short-handed games. Based on my less than scientific observations, it appeared that the rake for $1/$2 NLHE (normally $4+$1) was capped at $3+$1 for six players, $2+$1 for five players, and $1+$1 for four players. However, the rake was not reduced automatically. Instead, a player had to request that the dealer reduce the rake, the dealer would then call the floor and make the request, and the floor would grant a rake reduction. At one point around 4:00 a.m., a player at my short-handed $1/$2 NLHE table asked the dealer why the rake hadn't been reduced. The dealer replied, "I can't ask for a rake reduction. I have to wait for a player to request it. If I call for a rake reduction on my own, I would get fired."

Now let's allow for a bit of hyperbole here. I have known the Mirage poker room manager, Chris Coffin, since he was manager at TI's poker room, primarily through our postings in the All Vegas Poker forums and through my frequent play at TI and Mirage. I doubt Mr. Coffin would have a policy where dealers would be fired or even disciplined for requesting a rake reduction. However, it appears that Mirage dealers are not allowed to initiate a rake reduction request. Frankly, I don't understand this policy. The Mirage has been taking a lot of steps to transform itself into a solid mid-tier poker room, one that caters to the casual poker player while still offering a more posh experience as well as a variety of poker games not seen in the typical small Strip poker room. Why not make rake reductions automatic upon the game reaching the requisite number of players? If a floor approval is required to verify that the rake drop is correct, then allow the dealer to initiate the rake reduction request without waiting for a player request.

I enjoyed my time—and profit—playing at the Mirage poker room, and the room is certainly back in my regular Vegas rotation. The rake reduction policy is a minor issue in the grand scheme of things, but emphasizing a player friendly rake reduction policy could be a minor selling point in a city where half the poker rooms on the Strip have a $5+$1 rake. Then again, I don't get paid the big bucks to manage the poker room. Just my two cents. Or four bucks.

(Image source)

April 23, 2012

The Appearance of Poker Impropriety

Last week I had a work conference in Poker Mecca, which meant I had a free ticket to Vegas. In between seminar sessions and fabulous dinners, I managed a few sessions of poker. As a firm believer in dancing with the one that brung ya, I played mostly at Wynn and Mirage, and both poker rooms rewarded me with fun and profit. However, I couldn't resist the siren song of a session of $4/$8 Omaha8 at Venetian, so I headed over for a Friday night marathon session of degeneracy with a half kill.

The session was entertaining, as only a Vegas poker table can be. I met a young guy from Virginia who had graduated from Grinnell College in Iowa "because of the hippies"; he's currently playing poker for a living in Vegas, and talked openly of getting baked later that night (standard for a Grinnell alum). There were a couple of crusty old gents, and a couple of funny younger gals. Generally speaking, it was a pretty fun and profitable table.

Then, the drunk yahoo sat down. His red face indicated he either had golfed too long in the Vegas sun, or imbibed a dozen too many Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters. Yahoo sat down with with three racks of white ($300), but immediately began spewing them to the table as he ordered additional beverages. Yahoo was most certainly not a good loser, channeling his inner whiner as his questionable play never seemed to come up a winner. The inevitable race between broke and belligerent was well underway. Yahoo's night almost certainly would not end well.

Leticia rotated in to deal our game, and proved to be both friendly and competent (consistent with many other sessions she has dealt to me on prior trips). As something of a specialty game, limit Omaha8 tends to draw a lot of regular players—even in a tourist poker room like the Venetian—and our table was no exception. By chance, most of the regulars were on the opposite end of the table from where Yahoo and I were sitting; the two of us were in Seats 2 and 3, respectively, while the regulars were all in Seats 7 through 10. Leticia obviously knew the regular players and engaged in some friendly chatter with a couple of them. It was all innocuous stuff—updates on family, recent poker sessions, weekend plans, etc. Just another friendly dealer keeping a game moving and entertaining.

That's when Yahoo threw a monkey wrench into the game. Leticia and Seat 10 were chatting as she dealt a new game. Seat 10 was the big blind, and the action went as follows:

  • Yahoo was UTG, called $4.
  • I called $4.
  • Folds to the Button, who raises to $8.
  • Small blind folded.
  • Action paused on Seat 10 (the big blind).
  • Yahoo, not paying attention, calls $8.
  • Me, not paying attention and seeing Yahoo's call, calls $8 myself.

At this point, Leticia firmly but politely said, "Time. Action is back here, guys," and gestured to Seat 10. Just another standard amateur hour moment at the poker table.

That's when Yahoo went into total meltdown mode. "What the hell? How can he [Seat 10] have cards? His hand is dead. Kill his hand and let's play!" Leticia patiently tried to explain that the action had paused at Seat 10, and that Yahoo and I had acted out of turn. Yahoo was having none of that explanation: "The rest of us are at $8, so his [Seat 10's] hand is dead. He can't be at $4! That's just wrong." Leticia tried again to explain the action, but Yahoo was crossing from contentious well into belligerent. Leticia discretely pressed the Bravo system button to call a floor, and said, "Let's get a floor ruling." Yahoo angrily muttered, "Yeah, let's get this fixed now!"

The floor arrived in just a few seconds. She listened to Leticia explain the action and listened patiently to Yahoo explain his theory as to why Seat 10's hand should be killed. Yahoo finished his rambling by blurting out, "She [the dealer] is just helping out her friend. She's been talking to him all night, and now she's lying for him." The floor calmly explained that the action was on Seat 10. Yahoo continued to mutter his disagreement with the ruling, repeatedly claiming that Leticia was somehow colluding with Seat 10. Seat 10 finally folded, at which point Yahoo raised to $12. Predictably, Yahoo lost that pot, and busted out and left the table still angrily muttering about Leticia within the next few hands.

The dealer and the floor handled this rather bizarre situation professionally, calmly, and quickly. And, as our esteemed President might say, "Let me be clear, I don't think the dealer acted improperly, nor did she show favoritism toward any of the players she knew. She was just being friendly." However, a situation like this illustrates the slippery slope poker dealers must tread between being friendly toward players they know, and going too far and creating the appearance of favoritism toward those players.

Two years ago, I was playing at Aria when I was involved in a situation where a dealer's apparent friendship made me doubt her objectivity. As I described the situation on All Vegas Poker:

A female dealer was having a very animated and lengthy conversation with a player at the table who was also a dealer and at least a casual friend. I get AK in EP, raise, and get called by the button and also her buddy in the big blind. Flop is Ace high with a couple os small suited cards. Buddy checks, and I take some chips and begin cutting them next to the rail as I debated the amount of the raise. Next thing I know, dealer says, "checks around" and begins to burn and turn. I immediately say, "wait, I haven't acted." Dealer says, " you checked" and makes a gesture with all five fingers in a claw shape tapping the table. Now, my only hand on the table always had chips, was by the rail, and never tapped anything. I said, "I was cutting chips." Dealer's buddy piped up, "that was an obvious check," but other guy in the hand said he didn't know, and nobody else at table saw a check. Buddy pipes up again, "you checked" and dealer backed her buddy. I was as furious as I can remember being at a poker table, but I knew it was pointless to ask for a floor.

Poker dealers are going to get to know regular players; it's inevitable. Poker dealers, particularly the more outgoing ones, are even likely to get to know regular players socially. Heck, back when I played at the Meadows ATM four nights a week, I got to know many of the dealers well, and played in dealer home games, performed some pro bono legal work for a few of them, and even was invited to a couple of graduation parties for dealers' kids. So no player should be surprised that dealers may know and even be friends with players.

Problems obviously can arise when a dealer is called on to make a ruling involving a friend. Even if the dealer acts with utmost professionalism in making a ruling, the appearance of favoritism can taint the entire process from the perspective of other players. In many situations, calling a floor is of limited value in defusing the situation, as the dealer's rendition of events will often be the determining factor in how the floor rules. The problem of the appearance of impropriety can extend to situations where a floor or supervisor gives preferential treatment to a friend with respect to getting seated ahead of the list, or getting a table change to a juicy game. Or, what about situations where a poker tournament director has dinner or a couple of drinks with several elite poker players the night before a major tournament where the director is called on to rule on a situation involving one of those players?

Honestly, I don't know where to draw the line. Despite poker's widespread popularity, live action poker actually operates within a series of rather small, insular communities, even in tourist resorts like Vegas. Requiring dealers or floors to never interact professionally with players they know socially would be nearly impossible to enforce, and frankly would be overly restrictive and detrimental to the game. On the other hand, if dealers or floors regularly socialize with players away from the poker tables, then reasonable questions can be raised as to whether those dealers and floors are able to be objective when dealing with their friends on a professional level. Even if the dealers or floors go out of their way to be objective, players who feel they were on the wrong end of a biased ruling will leave the poker room with a bad taste in their mouth and a story of how they were jobbed by collusion to share with any friend or poker player they might encounter.

I really don't have any insightful solutions to offer. All I can say is that the appearance of impropriety is a recurrent problem that poker rooms need to find a way to address.

April 03, 2012

D'Bag O' the Day (v. 3.1)—
Splashing Zee Pot at Aria

"In my club, I will splash the pot whenever the fuck I please."

~Teddy KGB (John Malkovich), in Rounders

As my faithful readers are aware, I enjoy playing a little Pot Limit Gamboool (PLG) from time to time. In Vegas, the poker rooms at Aria and Venetian have been spreading fairly regular low stakes PLG games the past year and half or so, while the Pokerati half-n-half NLHE/PLG game has been rotating around several Vegas locales for at least three years (home base has been at the Palms for the past year or so). [FN1] During that time, I've managed some big scores (e.g., hitting both ends of a straight flush draw while running it twice for a monsterpotten at Venetian during IMOP-VI), and some memorable flameouts (e.g., getting felted by Orel Hersheiser's quad ducks at Aria during WPBT 2011). The PLG deities giveth, the PLG deities taketh away, praise be the PLG deities.

This past December I was in Vegas for the WPBT (for those of you unfamiliar with the WPBT, my 2010 tournament summary and trip report, and my 2011 food porn report should give you some flavor). On my last evening, after most of the WPBT crew had departed, I was playing a session of PLG at Aria. The game was playing deep and aggressive, so I played pretty tight and walked away with a triple up after about a three hour session. But the most interesting dynamics at the table didn't involve me at all.

When I sat down at the game, it took less than an orbit to figure out that three young guns were engaged in a full-fledged cock-measuring war (and not in the entertaining gay porn way). Each of the guys had over a thousand dollars behind, and there was a lot of jawing, taunting, and generalized verbal warfare. One of the guys was a know-it-all expert who critiqued every hand, refused to run it twice, and never acknowledged drawing out while always bitching about losing to a draw. Another of the guys was an uber-aggressive hoodie-n-shades player, who loved to mix it up and jaw with his opponents. Expert had gone on a mini-rush to build his stack to over $2,500, while Hoodie had a healthy stack over $1,000. Expert and Hoodie sparred back and forth, but generally avoided each other and made money by bullying the weaker players at the table.

Until "The Hand". It was probably inevitable that Expert and Hoodie would have an epic clash, given their styles of play. Still, one has to acknowledge the PLG deities have a pretty sick sense of humor. The Hand started innocuously enough. Preflop, action limped to Hoodie who raised the pot. There was a caller to Expert on the button, who reraised the pot (to ~$75 total); only Hoodie called. At this point, I felt Hoodie had a good hand, maybe a rundown hand like J-T-9-8 double suited, or a decent pair with straight and flush cards, like Q-Q-J-T with a suit. Expert could easily have been on a position steal, but he likely had a decent fallback hand, with some kind of bigger pair with straight or flush cards.

The flop came out Ks-Jd-5s. Hoodie checked, Expert bet pot (~$225), Hoodie called. So far, pretty standard. Expert might have anything from a set to pure air, while Hoodie might have straight and/or flush draws, maybe with top pair.

The turn brought the Th. Hoodie checked, Expert bet $400, and Hoodie moved all-in for roughly $600 more. Expert thought, groaned, and called. Hoodie asked if Expert wanted to run it twice. Expert waved his hand dismissively and barked, "I only run it once." Hoodie nodded, picked two cards out of his hand, and tabled them:

AsQs ... giving Hoodie the nut straight and nut flush redraw. Expert started carping about how Hoodie had "gotten so f@#$ing lucky," showing his KdKhXdXh for top set. Hoodie pointed out he had a big draw, which Expert dismissed. Expert said to the dealer, "Come on, give me some justice! Pair the f@#$ing board!"

And so the dealer did:  Jh

"Justice!" shouted Expert.

"Quads," muttered Hoodie, rolling over his other two cards: JsJc

Expert stared at the board, looking like his puppy or his nuts had been kicked. The dealer counted down Hoodie's stack, and calmly stated, "$985 more." Expert muttered something profane under his breath, so the dealer began to reach forward to Expert's stacks to pull out the requisite chips. Expert snapped, "Don't touch my chips! I'll handle it!"

Then Expert deliberately counted out $85, breaking it down. He picked up the chips and flicked them forward into the pot, "splashing the pot". As the dealer scrambled to pull the chips out to verify the amount, Expert deliberately slid out a series of nine stacks of twenty $5 chips each. Instead of letting the dealer verify the stack size and slide the stacks to Hoodie, Expert deliberately picked up each stack and lobbed each of them forward into the pot, one at a time. Once Expert's tantrum was over, the dealer silently re-stacked the entire pot, re-worked all four streets of betting, verified the pot size, and slid the chips to Hoodie.

In a bit of poker justice, Expert went on super monkey tilt and burned through his remaining stack of about $1,000, plus another $3,000 in the next hour.

Moral of the story—Don't splash zee pot.

How could I not include the "splash zee pot" scene from Rounders?


[FN1]  The Venetian PLG game has $1/$2 blinds, which are counted as $5 for pot-calculation purposes, with a $5 bring-in (if you call preflop, it's $5; first raise without a limp is to $15). The Aria PLG game has $1/$3 blinds, which are counted as $3 for preflop action, with post-flop action in $5 increments (first raise without a limp is to $12). The Aria game plays a bit smaller if there is a lot of preflop action, otherwise the games play pretty much the same. Buy-ins are $200-$500 at Aria, $200-$1,000 at Venetian. Overall, the skill level is a bit tougher at Venetian, but there are plenty of relatively novice players at both games. Dealers at both rooms generally are pretty knowledgeable and skilled at handling a pot limit game.

Both rooms also spread $2/$5 PLG on a fairly regular basis. However, the skill level and pot sizes in those games are not for the faint of heart or low of bankroll. As a rule of thumb, PLG plays twice as big as a NLHE game of the same blind structure. So, to play $1/$3 PLG, you should have a bankroll at least big enough to play $2/$5 NLHE. To play $2/$5 PLG, you should have a bankroll big enough to handle the swings at $5/$10 NLHE.

April 01, 2012

Always Use Protection

A few months ago, I stumbled on a relatively new poker blog: Rob's Vegas & Poker Blog. Rob, who lives in Southern California but often travels to Vegas to play poker [FN1], has recently been transitioning from playing predominately low limit Hold 'Em to jumping on the roller coaster of no limit Hold 'Em. Rob's posts are a fun and interesting window on the Vegas poker scene, and definitely worth adding to your feed reader of choice.

Rob recently posted about the importance of protecting your cards during play, to prevent them from being accidentally mucked by the dealer or fouled by another player's mucked cards. [FN2]  The basic premise of his post—be smart and keep a chip or other trinket on top of your cards—is sound advice. We've all seen live hands accidentally mucked by a dealer in the course of play (usually in the two seats next to the dealer, but occasionally in the middle seats facing the dealer, particularly when a player with a large stack holds his cards closer to the middle of the table than is usual). Of course a good dealer is going to try to prevent this problem from happening, but players need to do what they can to protect their hand.

I digress for a moment to share my favorite story in this genre. This hilarity ensued several years ago at Prairie Meadows Racetrack, Casino, & ATM, back in the dark ages when only limit hold 'em was spread. I was sitting in the "big game"—$4/$8—where the stacks were deep and the action was juicy. One obnoxious guy was in Seat 10, playing a very loose and aggressive style. On this hand, he was in the big blind, and called a raise preflop, along with most of the table. Seat 10 then called a bet and a raise on a draw-heavy flop, along with several other players. The turn filled both straight and flush draws (and a straight flush draw as well). Seat 10 checked, there were a bet and a raise, and Seat 10 three-bet. By the time action got back to Seat 10, there had been another raise. Seat 9 had been in the action to this point, but folded to the extra raises. The dealer swept in Seat 9's cards, Seat 10 capped the betting, and was called by two players across the table. The river paired the board, and the three remaining players quickly capped the betting. The other two players each had full houses, but Seat 10 loudly proclaimed, "I have a straight flush!" and reached down to turn over ... nothing. Seat 10's cards were gone, accidentally mucked by the dealer on the turn when he swept in Seat 9's cards while watching the betting action on the opposite side of the table. Seat 10 went ballistic. The floor ruled his hand was dead. Seat 10 dug his cards out of the muck, but the ruling stood. Seat 10 then went on super monkey tilt and burned through over $1000 in the next couple of hours (which is a pretty incredible accomplishment in a $4/$8 limit game).

In Rob's post, he relates a story of a dealer who kept trying to persuade a player to protect his cards with a chip, but the player wouldn't listen and in fact seemed annoyed by the dealer's comments. This reaction seemed to bother the dealer. My advice to the dealer—warn the player once, then move along to dealing the game. If the player doesn't want to listen, then the player has assumed the risk of having his hand killed accidentally. Trust me, this is one of those poker rules many poker players learn the hard way, but they should only have to learn it once.

Rob also fesses up to thinking about teaching the yahoo player a lesson by intentionally mucking his cards into the yahoo's unprotected hand. Rob resisted the temptation, but shared a story where another player wasn't so kind. To sum up, an obnoxious player went all-in preflop without looking at his cards, and without protecting his cards. Then, someone decided to teach the yahoo a lesson:

A player from the corner folded, and “accidentally” aimed very badly with his mucked cards, and instead of heading toward the dealer, they landed right on top of the preflop raiser’s cards, which he hadn’t looked at yet! Since they were unprotected and now mixed in the folded cards from the player on the corner, Brent had no choice but to pick up his cards and declare his hand dead. But the bet was still there and part of the pot. I don’t remember if someone had already called his shove or someone did subsequently to claim an easy big pot (assuming he had the idiot covered), but the guy’s entire stack was part of a pot that he couldn’t possibly win.

What the mucking player did in this case is probably a violation of poker etiquette; as noted in Robert's Rules of Poker (by Bob Ciaffone), players mucking their cards have responsibilities to the rest of the table:



The following actions are improper, and grounds for warning, suspending, or barring a violator:


Deliberately discarding hands away from the muck. Cards should be released in a low line of flight, at a moderate rate of speed (not at the dealer's hands or chip-rack).

But even if the mucking player didn't technically violate any rule of poker, he did violate a rather basic principle of general etiquette—never be a jerk. Look, we all run into players we find to be obnoxious yahoos. But it is not our responsibility as players to be vigilantes enforcing our own ideas of poker justice. Sure, the yahoo pushing all-in without protecting his hand probably deserved to be taught a lesson. But it is not appropriate for another player to intentionally foul his hand just to make a point. If we wink and smile at the mucking player's actions here, where do we draw the line? Would it be acceptable to grab another player's cards and muck them just because they slow-rolled you earlier? Would it be OK to mix your cards into another player's cards, killing his hand simply because he always takes a long time to make decisions? Call me crazy, but I think there is an implicit corollary to the the various rules governing how players handle their own cards—"Players may not intentionally mess with another player's hand."

As poker players, we owe it to each other to play not only within the technical letter of the rules, but also within the spirit of the rules. Players who try to take unfair advantage of a rule technicality are rightly derided as angleshooters. Players who intentionally do something to attempt to kill an otherwise live hand are angleshooters of the lowest order. In this case, if the table yahoo was out of line, there are rules and procedures that can keep him in line. If the yahoo doesn't want to protect his cards, it's only a matter of time before fate intervenes and teaches him an expensive lesson. There's simply no good reason for a player to intentionally cause a fouled hand. Doing so is more of a jerk move than anything the table yahoo might have done.

[FN1]  CORRECTION (2 April 2012):  Originally posted stating Rob was a Vegas resident, corrected per Rob's comment below.

[FN2] Robert's Rules of Poker (by Bob Ciaffone) states the generally accepted rule as:



2. You must protect your own hand at all times. Your cards may be protected with your hands, a chip, or other object placed on top of them. If you fail to protect your hand, you will have no redress if it becomes fouled or the dealer accidentally kills it.