May 28, 2012

The Price Is Wrong at the Meadows

Yesterday I played a late afternoon holiday poker session at the Meadows ATM. Games were rather sparse when I arrived mid-afternoon, with a couple of tables from the noon tourney still running, along with two tables of $1/$2 NLHE. As additional tourney players busted, some rotated into cash games, allowing some of the regulars to launch a $1/$2 Pot Limit HOE cash game. [FN1]  Despite the siren song of the Gamboool game, I stayed at the NLHE game because there were a few fishy tourist types, and I was waiting for the arrival of a vacationing blogosphere-Twitterverse friend, Jason, a degen geneticist from New Jersey (say that three times fast). I managed a $300 profit before we got five-handed with small stacks in play, so I gave in to temptation and moved to the HOE game just as Jason arrived to also join the degeneracy.

The game played rather nitty, with lots of limped or one-raise pots getting six to nine players to the flop. Preflop 3-bets were as rare as WSOP players who get knocked out without a bad beat. Still, there were numerous hands in the Omaha and Omaha8 rounds with multi-way all-ins, often with marginal draws. I wish I could say I cleaned up in the game, but some #runbad and some #playbad left me down for the session. Still, it was entertaining, since most of the table were friendly and talkative. I spent the session sitting next to a nice young gal (and solid player) @chelmc23, who is a regular in many of the Omaha games at the Meadows. We have played together often, so we gossiped a bit. At one point after witnessing a weird runner-runner suckout in a big Omaha pot, this exchange occurred:

Me:  "Wow, that's brutal."

Chelmc23:  "I had a worse beat in the Friday Omaha game."

Me:  "The 6/12 high-low?" [Note: A group of older folks have had a long-running regular Omaha8 game every Friday morning at the Meadows, often getting two tables. They play it $6/$12 limit, with a half-kill to $10/$20 following scoop pots of $60 or more.]

Chelmc23:  "Yeah. But I don't want to bore you with a bad beat story."

Me:  "Why don't you save it for the Hold 'Em round?"

Chelmc23:  "Good idea."

So, new rule: Bad beat stories can be told to liven up the boring rounds of a mixed game. The rule should also apply to Triple Draw and Stud games—except for Razz, of course, where merely playing is a bad beat.

I did win one entertaining hand of note. In a Gamboool8 round, I had some trashy hand in the big blind, something like K-J-9-7. It limped around, so I got to see a flop of 9-9-9. Donkey Kong! I checked the flop, got a loose player to bet it, a nitty lady to call, then I raised to $30, and they both called. Turn was ... oh who cares. I led out for $40, loose guy thought then folded, but the lady called. River was another card of no consequence. I bet $50, the lady sighed, pushed out the call, and said "Show me your 9". Instead, I rolled over my hand to claim the nice pot.

Anyway, the point of this post was to discuss the problems dealers can encounter when tracking pot size for betting purposes. The concept of pot limit betting can be tough for poker players used to the rigid structure of limit games and the anything-goes approach to no-limit games. Instead of simply pulling in bets each round, dealers have to track the pot size as players routinely simply bet by saying "Pot!" and then looking to the dealer to state the bet size for them. Now, as long as the dealer knows the pot size, and players bet, call, and raise in pot-sized increments, keeping track of the pot is simple arithmetic. For example, on one flop, a player bet pot. The dealer stated "$63". One player called, then the next player raised pot. The dealer froze for a moment, then started saying, "$280 ... $280 ..." which was clearly too high. I was in the 10 Seat, and quietly told the dealer, "It's $252 plus his $63 call, so ... $315 total", which another player also echoed. This case was easy because the raiser first had to call the $63 bet, then match the total in the pot for a raise of $252 ($63 x 4—preflop pot amount, pot bet, call, and call by reraiser). A more effective technique for thinking about this kind of pure pot betting and pot raising is to take four times the original pot bet size, then add another pot bet for each caller between original bettor and the pot reraiser to arrive at the total bet size for the pot reraiser (here, 4 x $63, plus 1 x $63, or 5 x $63 = $315; had there been a second caller, then simply make it 4 x $63, plus 2 x $63, or 6 x $63 = $378). Since the original bet amount was under $70, I knew the raise couldn't possibly be another $280 or more like the dealer thought. [FN2]

Later in the session, another weird pot-counting situation came up when a young lady dealer I had never seen before rotated into our game. There was a preflop raise to $10 with seven callers. I was out of the hand and not paying that close of attention. The dealer put out the flop, and the lady in Seat 1 put out a $15 bet that I couldn't see. Loose guy in Seat 5 raised pot, and the dealer said, "$115". Guy in Seat 8 then raised pot. Dealer said, "$300 more." Thinking that the $115 bet by Seat 5 was the first action on the round, I said to the dealer, "Shouldn't it be $345 more?" Dealer pointed to the Seat 1 bet of $15, and said, "It's $300". Seat 1 folded as I said, "Well, it can't be $300." Seat 5 called, and the dealer put out the turn card, then turned to me and quite tersely said, "It was $70 preflop, her $15, then his $115, so it's $300 more." I hadn't worked out the math by that moment, but I knew that $300 couldn't possibly be the correct raise amount (for one thing, with three players making bets ending in $5 before the pot raise, math says the raise amount had to end in a five, not a zero). But, I wasn't in the hand, the two remaining players had no trouble shipping the remaining $350 or so in Seat 8's stack (Seat 5 had him well-covered), so I simply shut the heck up. But I did take out my iPhone to write a note with the correct math to use as the basis for this post:

Let's start on the flop. A bet of $15, then a pot raise to $115 total means that the $15 bet plus a $15 call totals $30 on top of the pot. Since the raise was $100 more (for a total bet of $115), the preflop pot had to have been $70: $100-$15-$15=$70. The $70 original pot size checks with preflop action of seven players calling $10 each. So far so good.

Now, the next pot raiser must first call the $115 pending bet before his pot raise is calculated. So, $115 (pending bet by Seat 5) + $115 (call by Seat 8) + $15 (Seat 1 bet) + $70 (preflop bet) = $315 total pot which is theadditional raise amount for Seat 8.

So, the dealer was wrong as I knew, but I was also wrong as she knew. Math failure all around (though my error was based on not seeing the original $15 bet). Using The Price Is Right rules—closest to the correct amount without going over—I would normally give the dealer the win here. But, the dealer is being paid to keep track of the correct pot size. Being off $15 might not seem like a big deal, but in a multi-way pot where small amounts get magnified quickly, it can mean the difference between a player being able to call or reraise, or determine whether a player is able to get his stack in the middle on the turn. At a minimum, if a player questions the pot size in a pot limit game, a dealer should take a moment to confirm his or her math.

"The price is wrong, B#tch!"


[FN1] For my less experienced readers, HOE is a mixed game with alternating rounds of Hold 'Em, Omaha (high only), and Omaha Eight or Better (high/low split pot game with the low hand must be 8-high or lower to qualify).

[FN2] As I noted in a prior post on PLG in Vegas, some casinos elect to track the pot in $5 increments, with odd dollars rounded up to the next $5. Using only $5 increments, particularly postflop, makes the pot-tracking and pot-raising calculations much easier for dealers and players alike. There is some variation in how the $5 increment policy is implemented:
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).

May 24, 2012

Marriage Equality & the Courage of Political Pandering

In a recent TV interview that seems to have flown under the national media radar, President Obama announced publicly that he supports the rights of gay and lesbian Americans to legally marry their same-sex partners. The President was immediately criticized by many in his own party for being a political coward who had not "evolved" far enough fast enough from support for civil unions to support for full marriage equality. The President also took political fire from Republicans who predictably claimed that the President was cravenly pandering to wealthy donors and liberal base voters by publicly admitting to his support for marriage equality. Frankly, both sets of critics are correct. But President Obama's statement on marriage equality fits quite comfortably in the context of gay rights issues in modern American politics.

Let's begin in 1980, the first presidential election I can remember (I was in fourth grade). The 1980 election was probably the defining moment in American politics in my lifetime, when Ronald Reagan finally mastered the dark art of fusing socially conservative voters to the traditional Republican base of financial conservatives and foreign policy hawks. Reagan's views on gay issues "devolved" quickly from his opposition as a former governor to a California initiative to ban gays from teaching in public schools to a presidential campaign where he courted social conservative voters and donors with campaign statements condemning gays as engaged in an immoral "alternative lifestyle". Reagan's administration kowtowed to the newly influential religious right on the paramount gay issue of the decade—the AIDS crisis. Reagan never even acknowledged the existence of the AIDS epidemic publicly until near the end of his second term in 1987, while his administration shamefully delayed taking any public policy position because many of his top advisers viewed AIDS as a gay disease where the victims "are only getting what they justly deserve." Reagan's loathsome communications director, Pat Buchanan, even authored a New York Post op-ed piece in which he declared, "The poor homosexuals—they have declared war upon nature, and now nature is exacting an awful retribution."

Reagan's presidency also coincided with the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Bowers v. Hardwick. The Supreme Court—the ultimate protector of justice and equality—declared in rather harsh language that if states wanted to make being gay a criminal offense, well that was perfectly OK under the Constitution. This decision and the vestigial anti-sodomy laws it endorsed were used over the next two decades by many conservative states to justify refusing to permit gays to adopt children. After all, gays were criminals by law.

Pandering on gay rights issues reached its zenith in the 1990s when Congressional Republicans whipped their social conservative base into a frenzy on the twin issues of patriotic support for military service and strengthening families by working to ban gays from serving their country in the military or creating families by getting married. The equally loathsome "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) and "Defense of Marriage Act" (DOMA) were enacted with ease, thanks to hordes of Congressional Democrats falling all over themselves in a mad rush to reassure voters that, although they liked gays more than the Republicans and welcomed their votes and donations, they certainly weren't going to, you know, actually vote to support any recognition of gays as deserving of equality. Of course, Senate Republicans had to put a pickle on the shit sandwich of DOMA by voting down a proposed Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) that would have given federal protection to gays against employment discrimination (a law that has yet to be passed even today).

The 1990s also saw the genesis of the Republican tactic of using ballot measures to enshrine anti-gay bigotry into various state constitutions. Colorado voters bought into Republican rhetoric that gays should not be given "special rights" and passed a constitutional amendment prohibiting any state or local law or ordinance granting gays protection from discrimination in any form (targeted at local ordinances barring discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment or housing). Thankfully, the U.S. Supreme Court eventually invalidated the amendment in Romer v. Evans, but Republicans still use the "special rights" dog whistle to this day.

Moving into the current century (even if the Republican party would prefer not to do so), President George W. Bush campaigned on a "compassionate conservatism" platform. Apparently the "compassion" part was optional, as Bush (with the tacit support of the Gay Quisling) based his reelection strategy in 2004 in part by pandering to social conservatives in key swing states by instigating votes on state constitutional amendments banning gay marriage, not to mention openly endorsing the idea of a federal constitutional amendment also banning gay marriage.

Which brings us to the era of President Obama. Obama campaigned on the promise of repealing DADT, which had broad bipartisan public support. Yet Republicans led by supposed-moderate John McCain fought tooth and nail to preserve DADT and deny gay Americans the right to openly serve their country. My cynical view is that the Republican resistance was less about military service than it was about marriage equality. After all, if the public ever saw a gay soldier or sailor return from active duty to the embrace or even marriage proposal of a same-sex partner, the social conservative case against marriage equality would suffer a serious public relations blow. Also, gays serving in the military would be particularly vulnerable to the whims of the patchwork of state laws governing marriage equality, and a gay military couple would make a compelling example of the indignities imposed by DOMA and state anti-gay marriage laws.

In other recent political pandering, after years of Republican calls for marriage equality issues to be decided by legislatures not courts, Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie—his eyes firmly on social conservative support for a presidential campaign in 2016—vetoed a marriage equality bill and moved the equality goalposts back even further, demanding a statewide vote on a marriage equality constitutional amendment. Republican legislators in Louisiana voted to maintain laws that prohibit gays from adopting children under any circumstances, while Republican legislators in Virginia passed a law making it significantly more difficult for gays to adopt. Republican legislators in Missouri and Tennessee proposed laws to prevent public school teachers from even discussing gays. North Carolina Republicans pushed through a state constitutional amendment barring gays from marrying, even though state law already prohibited gays from marrying, and the Republican Speaker of the House admitted that the amendment would likely be overturned in a few years. And the leading Republican candidates for President fell over each other in declaring their anti-gay bona fides, with presumptive nominee Mitt Romney "evolving" from declaring his strong support for gay rights in the 1990s to pandering to social conservatives with a strongly anti-gay platform in the current presidential race. And just to drive the anti-gay point home, Romney recently hired then fired an openly gay adviser to placate the religious right.

Whew! That's a lot of political pandering on gay rights issues. President Obama's pandering fits right in ....

That being said, there is some merit to President Obama's critics on the left who note that Obama's "evolution" on marriage equality was a cynical and cowardly ploy calculated to ensure his election in 2008. Those critics are correct—President Obama is hardly leading the charge for marriage equality. Compared to many marriage equality proponents—Washington Governor Christine Gregoire, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee, New Hampshire legislators, prominent Republican attorney Ted Olson, Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, and former Iowa supreme court justices Marsha Ternus, Michael Streit, and David Baker, just to name a few—President Obama is downright cowardly in his evolution from supporting civil unions to his recent support for full marriage equality (qualified by pushing the issue off to the states).

Still, as a matter of pragmatism, it is rather politically unrealistic for gay rights proponents to expect politicians to openly endorse gay rights issues if doing so results in political suicide. After all, what good are politicians who support gay rights if their gay-favorable stances make them unelectable? In President Obama's case, it is arguable that a pro-marriage equality position in 2008 might have resulted in the election of John McCain. It seems obvious that gays are far better off with Obama as President than they would have been with McCain in the White House. In fact, President Obama has done far more to advance gay rights in three years—repealing DADT, rescinding the HIV travel ban, taking the position that DOMA is unconstitutional, publicly supporting marriage equality, nominating gays to positions as judges or significant administration posts—than all his predecessors have accomplished in over two centuries. Gays could use more cowards like President Obama fighting on their side.

In the long run, President Obama's public support for marriage equality both reflects and pushes the increasing public support for the right of gays to marry. But President Obama's support for marriage equality is not just merely a symbolic political position, it is a powerful statement of inclusion and equality for gays, serving as a beacon of hope to gays that they too can live the American dream of marriage, family, and a house with white picket fence (or tasteful shrubbery).

Just this spring, a teenage boy had the courage to come out as gay in his small rural high school in deeply conservative northwest Iowa. Kenneth Weishuhn, Jr. was by all accounts a happy and well-liked 14 year old. He created a Pinterest page— "When I get married. (: " —to share his plans for his wedding to the man of his dreams he had yet to meet. Yes, a 14 year year old gay Iowa boy was dreaming of his happily-ever-after wedding day. How much more traditional, more sappy, can any teen get?

A mere month after coming out, Kenneth committed suicide. Traumatized by the jeers and taunts of his classmates, Kenneth could no longer hide the emotional hurt behind his outward smile. Kenneth's death brought outrage, sympathy, and reflection. Hopefully Kenneth's death will be a catalyst for meaningful changes in attitudes towards gays in general and towards bullied teens in particular.

But no matter what happens, Kenneth will never meet the man of his dreams. He'll never fall in love. He'll never get to enjoy his perfect wedding day.

For the President of the United States to tell gay folks that their relationships are just as important as opposite-sex relationships, that gay people should be free to marry the person they love, is not just a merely symbolic political act, it is an important act of personal affirmation and support. President Obama's declaration of support for marriage equality, regardless of its political motivations, is a courageous and historical milestone in the struggle for gay rights. I don't give a flying pig how or why he arrived at this spot at this time; at the end of the day President Obama has chosen to stand with gay Americans in their quest for equality.

For the first President to show his support for gays as fully equal Americans, I can forgive a slow "evolution" of his views, and can overlook a reluctance to get too far ahead of public opinion. President Obama has made a historical choice on a major, controversial issue of his day, while in the midst of a heated campaign for reelection. Whether that announcement proves to be shrewd or foolhardy as a political decision remains to be seen, but it is undeniably courageous.


Last night my brother sent me a text message telling me he had received a spam message from one of my email accounts. I logged in, and sure enough, in my "Sent" file was a mass email message sent to my entire address book, with a link to a website I chose not to risk visiting. I also had a handful of bounce back and spam filter rejection emails, further confirming the hack. I reset my password, changed my security questions, and updated my notification options for when someone tries to change any of my security settings. I then did the same for my other email accounts, my online bank and 401(k) sites, and my credit cards. Kind of a hassle, but an hour of prevention beats months of pain.

Of course, I immediately thought of the recent hacking of the TwoPlusTwo Forums, where I had an account and would post on rare occasions. It is certainly possible that the two hacking events are related, considering the TwoPlusTwo hackers apparently demonstrated they had decrypted email addresses and passwords for at least a few forum users. However, it seems much more likely that there was no connection between the two events, and I was the victim of either a random hack or my own haphazard, lackadaisical approach to internet security.

In any event, this hacking appears to have been a thankfully gentle reminder to me to be more diligent in regularly changing internet passwords. Please learn from my experience and make sure that periodically updating your internet passwords and security measures is on your "to do" list.

May 21, 2012

Checking for Value

Last month I was in Vegas for a work conference and stayed at the Encore just to check it off my list of Vegas hotels. The rooms were comfy and classy, and allowed me a few convenient sessions of poker in the Wynn poker room. The Wynn poker room was the unofficial host room of the first Ironman of Poker outing, and it has consistently been one of my favorite rooms in Vegas. Classy, reserved, filled with Euro-donks and high-end booze. A little slice of poker heaven.

During one session, I was seated at a $1/$3 NLHE game with the typical cast of Vegas characters—a couple of hoodie wearing "pros", a couple of drunks looking to kill some time, a couple of businessmen with more money than skill, a couple of LAGgy Euros ... and a solid TAG younger gal. In what will be a surprise to my readers, I actually played less than two hands per orbit for the first few hours as I got a read on the table and tried to zombify myself back from card death with the occasional semi-bluff. The two hoodie guys obviously knew each other, and from their chatter they made it clear they were vastly superior to the other players at the table, and most of the other players in the room. Frankly, they made it sound like they were slumming it while waiting for a seat in the $5/$10 or $10/$20 NLHE games. Hmmm, wonder why they didn't head down the Strip to Bellagio or Aria?

Anyway, late in the evening an interesting hand developed.  I had built my stack to just over $500, and the other players in this hand all had $300-$800. TAG Gal limps UTG, hoodie raises to $12, Euro calls, other hoodie calls. I'm OTB with QdTs and call. Yes, it is a marginal call, but I had position and an uber-tight image to my credit, and I had some reads on the other players. Plus, I was bored. TAG Gal called as well, and we see a flop of:


Holy suited flop, Batman! The other players quickly check to me, and I bet $50 into the $60 pot. I figured my nut straight was good here most of the time, and I wanted to give poor odds to a naked Ad or Kd chasing the flush draw. If raised, I would go with my read, but fold most of the time despite my outs against a baby flush—my Qd was really just a blocker and an emergency draw, not a real flush draw. TAG Gal thought, then called. All the remaining yahoos postured, then folded.

The turn was interesting, to say the least:

Jd9d8d  7d

TAG Gal checked quickly. Hmmm, that kind of sucked. If TAG Gal had called with Ad, Kd, or Td, I was now drawing either dead (if she held the Td for the straight flush) or to one out (Td again, but for a gutterball straight flush of my own). About the only legit hand she could hold that I beat here was a set, or possibly top two pair. But I discounted those hands a bit since she did not bet or raise the flop; her hand felt like a draw or combo draw, and the turn made most of those hands good. Of course, she was definitely good enough to be making a move with a weak hand, hoping to represent the flush, but I wasn't sure she would try that move on the flop with three other villains behind her. On balance, I saw no reason to bet, so I checked and planned to call a small river bet with my now nut-straight bluff catcher.

The river served the pickle on this sh*t sandwich of a hand:

Jd9d8d  7d  Js

Yowzer! So most two pair hands and all sets just improved to a full house or quads. TAG Gal thought, then checked yet again. Hmmm, what in hell could I beat? Her entire flop range of flush draws, two pairs, and sets all now beat me. About all I could beat were a pure bluff and a baby flush that I counterfeited on the turn. I thought about throwing out a big bet as a bluff, but decided most of the hands she held that could beat me would call, and the hands I could beat would fold, sort of the opposite of a Sklansky-approved play.

So I checked behind. TAG Gal sighed, grinned, and rolled over Td9h for the straight flush. I laughed and rolled over my hand as well, just to let the table know I hadn't been bluffing the flop. Hoodie & Hoodie, Inc. immediately start jabbering like Monty Python's three-headed knight:

Hoodies:  "You didn't bet the river? You have to value bet that river!"

Me:  "I figured I was beat."

Hoodies:  "She checked the turn and the river! You have to bet for value!"

Me:  "I checked for value."

Hoodies:  "Checked for value? Huh?"

Me:  [pointing to my stack]  "I still have all these chips."

Hoodies:  "But she checked! It's stupid to check behind on the river."

I just smiled and let them continue to lecture me on proper poker strategy until they both busted out and left in search of a "better game". Probably green-chip War at Bellagio.

In all seriousness, I guess I can see some tournament or higher stakes games with a lot of meta-game factors in play where betting the river might be a decent play. But in low stakes games, in my experience players usually have what they represent, particularly with coordinated boards in a multi-way pot.

But what do you think? Obviously in this case TAG Gal was check-raising any river bet, but is her range wide enough to make a river bet a decent play to consider? Was I a total donkey on this hand? Inquiring minds want to know!

Where Is Chimento?

"You rush a miracle man, you get rotten miracles."

~Miracle Max (Billy Crystal), in The Princess Bride

Remember Chimento v. Town of Mount Pleasant, the case where the South Carolina Supreme Court was asked to decide whether home poker games are legal under that state's broad anti-gambling statute? Oral argument was held back in October 2010, and I have been monitoring the court's new decisions each week since then, waiting to see how the court would rule. Although the South Carolina Court of Appeals handed down a gambling decision last summer that referenced Chimento, the Chimento decision itself has yet to be released some 19 months and counting since the appeal was argued and submitted to the court.

Although I am not an expert in South Carolina appellate practice, I do quite a bit of appellate work, and also monitor appellate decisions in a number of states. Most appellate decisions are issued within six months of submission to the court (the submission date simply means the date the court votes on the appeal, usually the date of oral argument if argument is granted by the court). Browsing through the South Carolina Supreme Court's past few months of decisions reflects the Court follows the same general trend; a wait of more than a year and a half is certainly well outside the norm.

So what should we make of this lengthy delay by the Court? Sometimes changes in court personnel will delay an appellate decision, but here all five justices have been on the Court since before the case was argued. A delay can also indicate a controversial decision that has created a split on the Court, with the two opposing factions attempting to craft an opinion that will sway the decisive moderate vote. Similarly, a delay can indicate a unified decision as to the outcome, but disagreement and negotiation over the scope of the decision. For example, the Court may agree that the anti-gambling statute is valid, but be debating over whether to issue a strong decision on that point, or to carve out a limiting principle for certain situations. Conversely, the Court could be prepared to rule that the anti-gambling statute does not apply to home poker games, but is still discussing whether poker is covered by the statute in more general circumstances. Or, the delay could indicate the Court is planning to issue a detailed, analytical decision which requires extensive research and writing by the Court's staff.

Of course, the explanation for the delay might simply be that the Chimento decision is a lower priority than other appeals. Often cases with significant political impact will receive expedited consideration, as will cases involving certain types of criminal and family law issues. I can think of three appeals I've handled where I waited more than 18 months for a decision. In each case, the Iowa Supreme Court issued lengthy, detailed, but ultimately straightforward and unanimous opinions.

Unlike the U.S. Supreme Court which releases all of its opinions for a given Term before its summer recess in June (usually reserving its most controversial decisions for the last week of each Term), state appellate courts generally have no mandatory or even traditional deadlines by which an opinion in a case must be released. So, although appellate court tea leaf reading makes for an entertaining diversion, ultimately I don't think the length of time that has elapsed since the oral argument provides any useful insight into the direction of the Court's ultimate decision. To mix a couple of clichés, only time will tell how the Court will rule in Chimento, but good things don't always come to those who wait.

Anxious about how the South Carolina Supreme Court will rule in Chimento?
Allow me to suggest a watch panther.

May 20, 2012

Inertia Poker Players Can Believe In

Last fall, the Poker Players Alliance organized poker player support for an online petition to the White House advocating the legalization and regulation of online poker. On Friday, the Obama Administration posted its response, which was disappointing only to those poker players who were naive enough to believe that the online petition was something other than a silly publicity stunt on both sides. Chris Krafcik, Research Director for GamblingCompliance, asked me for my take on the response. I emailed him the following:

I don't have any profound insight to share re the Obama Administration's statement on iPoker, mostly because I think the statement is pretty much a standard political puff piece, a souped up version of a polite blow-off letter from a legislator to a constituent on an issue the legislator doesn't care about. The statement basically restates the current status of the law—federal law bans sports betting, states can authorize iPoker and other forms of iGaming, and violations of state iGaming laws may also be a violation of federal law. The statement then placates any social conservatives or law and order types by ticking off the usual laundry list of concerns—addictions, minors, fraud, and money laundering.

I think the most telling sentence of the statement is: "The Administration will continue to examine this issue and is open to solutions that would help guard against the use of online gambling sites as tools for conducting illegal activities or preying on unsuspecting individuals to the extent that online gambling is permitted." I read this statement to mean that the Administration is not actively pursuing any particular policy re iGaming or iPoker. Given the Administration's other policy priorities, combined with the fact this is an election year, I doubt the Administration has any interest at all in spending political capital on a niche issue like iPoker where there is strong social conservative resistance, no real political pressure from the President's base, and the issue has little resonance as a pivotal electoral issue either nationally or in swing states. In fact, legalizing iPoker on a national basis is probably a political negative for the President, likely to be portrayed by conservatives as another example of the President dictating social policy to the states.

In short, I think this statement is utterly inconsequential, and was intended to be so. Of course, the poker world will seize on it to support their collective delusion that iPoker legalization is a major political issue.

To be blunt, President Obama does not give a flying pig about internet poker or gambling. Nothing the President or his Administration have said or done at any point in time indicates the remotest interest in the issue near and dear to the hearts of poker players. At best, the President is not opposed to iPoker legalization, and if presented with an iPoker bill hammered out by the major casino, Indian, and law enforcement interest groups, would probably sign it (which is admittedly a major advance over the Bush Administration). But don't expect Obama or his Administration to lift a finger to push an iPoker bill through Congress.

May 13, 2012

A Poison Pill for PokerStars in New Jersey iPoker Bill?

NOTE:  This post was inspired by a lengthy Twitter conversation between a number of people I regard as experts in online poker legalization issues: @CKrafcik, @taxdood, @ftrainpoker, @Haley_Hintze, and @GrindUnumbMD_DC. They, along with @GamingCounsel, @PokerScar, and @JamesBarnesEsq, are well worth following if you have any interest in online poker legalization. This post is intended to both summarize and expand on yesterday's Twitter conversation in a more detailed manner and a more accessible format. My post will incorporate excellent observations made by the folks noted above, but the opinions expressed and factual errors made in this post are solely my own.

* * * * *

Yesterday, Chris Krafcik, Research Director, North America, for GamblingCompliance, Ltd., tweeted a link to the newly amended version of the internet poker authorization bill being considered by the New Jersey legislature, as it was reported out of the Assembly Regulatory Oversight and Gaming Committee on May 10, 2012. Although there will likely be some opportunities for further amendments prior to final consideration by the legislature, this version of the bill essentially sets the basic parameters under which internet poker would be legalized in New Jersey.

Krafcik also pointed out a key new section added by the committee which specifically addresses so-called "bad actors"—those poker sites which permitted U.S. players after the UIGEA went into effect in late 2006. New Section 37 (at the very end of the amended bill) contains what appears to be a very broad prohibition against permitting bad actors from being licensed to offer legal internet poker. The provision states (bullets added to aid readability):

[A] corporation or any person seeking to provide goods or services to a casino licensee in connection with Internet gaming shall not be awarded a casino service industry enterprise license, and shall not be permitted to conduct business with a casino, in connection with Internet gaming if that corporation or person:

(1) has at any time, either directly, or through another corporation or person it owned in whole or in significant part, or controlled:

  • (a) knowingly and willfully offered, accepted, or made available bets, wagers, or stakes using the Internet from persons located in the United States after December 31, 2006, unless such activity is licensed by a federal or State authority to engage in such activity; or

  • (b) knowingly facilitated or otherwise provided services with respect to bets, wagers, or stakes using the Internet from persons located in the United States for a person described in paragraph (1) of this subsection and acted with knowledge of the fact that such bets, wagers or stakes involved persons located in the United States;

  • ....

    First, note that the initial predicate paragraph of Section 37 is broad, applying to any company that might provide any kinds of "goods or services" to a casino offering internet gaming. This would include software, programming, advertising, and marketing—the sorts of activities existing internet poker companies would be in prime position to offer to brick and mortar casinos just getting started in the online market.

    Next, note that Subsection 1 is also broad, applying to companies with any direct or indirect control of a company offering poker illegally in the United States. This broad phrasing is meant to ensure that companies cannot avoid the restriction merely by means of a multi-layer organizational structure; for example, the Full Tilt Poker web of interrelated companies (roughly comprised of Tiltware (software), Pocket Kings (marketing), and Filco-Vantage-Oxalic-Orinic (licensees)) would all be barred under Subsection 1 regardless of whether only some of the companies were directly engaged in the day-to-day poker operations. Also, the principals of these companies, at least those who were either owners or sufficiently involved in operations to be considered a "controlling" person would also be barred under Subsection 1.

    Further, note that Subsection 1 has a sweeping method for ensuring that all "bad actors" are encompassed in the prohibition. Subsection 1  essentially  defines the prohibited activity to be running an internet poker site that took wagers from U.S. residents after December 31, 2006 without a U.S. license (state or federal). Of course, there have never been any U.S. licenses available to any internet poker site, so this is simply a very clever legal method for drawing a line at December 31, 2006, and declaring all sites taking U.S. money after that date to have been operating illegally. So, all the legal arguments about whether poker is a game of skill, or whether UIGEA or other federal or state laws expressly prohibit internet poker are all rendered irrelevant. If a poker site took money from U.S. players after the cut-off date, they are officially "bad actors" under Section 37.

    Finally, as Haley Hintze specifically noted, use of the December 31, 2006 cutoff date rather than the UIGEA enactment date of October 13, 2006 effectively allows some notable companies and individuals to escape the Section 37 ban. Although Party Poker and 888 Poker stopped accepting U.S. play nearly immediately after the UIGEA enactment, other companies didn't terminate operations until later in 2006 (or in many cases, until Black Friday). For example, Hintze notes that current Bwin.Party CEO Jim Ryan led Excapsa—the original parent company for UB, including through its "superuser" scandal days—into liquidation in December 2006. So, Ryan and Bwin.Party escape the Section 37 cutoff by a mere couple of months. It pays to have good lobbyists. [FN1]

    Moving on to Subsection 2, we find some truly interesting language which expands the ban on licensing and working with licensed casinos to those persons or companies which:

    (2) purchased or acquired, directly or indirectly, in whole or in significant part, a corporation or person described in subsection b. of this section, or covered assets of such a person, and will use that corporation or person or those assets in connection with the services provided to a casino licensee with respect to Internet gaming. A casino licensee shall not be permitted to use, directly or indirectly, covered assets in connection with Internet gaming involving corporations or persons located in this State.

    b. As used in this section:

    (1) “significant part” means, with respect to ownership of a corporation or person, the ownership of 5% or more of that corporation or person’s assets, or any percentage of ownership which provides control over that corporation or person;

    (2) “covered assets” means any asset specifically designed for use and used in connection with bets, wagers, or stakes using the Internet from persons located in the United States after December 31, 2006, unless licensed by a federal or State authority to engage in such activity, including the following:

  • (a) any trademark, trade name, service mark, or similar intellectual property that was used to identify any aspect of the Internet website or of the operator offering the bets, wagers, or stakes to its patrons;

  • (b) any database of customer information or customer list of individuals residing in the United States who placed bets, wagers, or stakes in or through an Internet website or operator not licensed by a federal or State authority to engage in such activity;

  • (c) any derivative of a database or customer list described under (b) above; and

  • (d) software and hardware related to the management, administration, development, testing, or control of the Internet website or operator.

  • Subsection 2 is essentially a poison pill provision, intended to prevent any licensed casino or online poker site from getting around the restrictions in Subsection 1 by purchasing the assets of a "bad actor" poker site and making use of them. To pull an example from thin air, suppose a licensed casino decided to get a jump start on the competition by purchasing Full Tilt, or just buying or leasing Full Tilt's software, "Rush Poker" concept, or customer database from the Department of Justice. Under Subsection 2, Full Tilt and its assets are tainted because Full Tilt is a "bad actor", and the company and its assets cannot be used legally by a licensed casino or internet poker operator.

    The upshot of this poison pill is to make Full Tilt and other "bad actor" sites toxic to U.S. casinos looking to partner with these former sites in essentially any conceivable fashion. Partnerships, buyouts, software licensing, customer sharing, and any other cooperative actions would be barred. Basically, the "bad actor" sites would be completely barred from the New Jersey market permanently under the current bill.

    Now, the bill would provide a "bad actor" site an opportunity for an evidentiary hearing to attempt to prove they did not operate illegally post-UIGEA. However, the sites would have to overcome a high evidentiary hurdle—proof by clear and convincing evidence—but the mere fact a poker site dodged conviction for illegal gaming would not be considered by the licensing commission. Basically, the deck would be stacked against any current poker operator ever getting approved for licensing.

    So, if "bad actors" can never be licensed in New Jersey, what implications does this have for internet poker on a broader scale? New Jersey has a large population base combined with a long history of gaming regulation, so it is a natural state to take the lead for regulating internet poker, in some ways more so than Nevada. New Jersey's population base gives it a major advantage over Nevada in terms of liquidity; more players means more money. If a multi-state consortium develops for internet poker, poker sites will need to comply with the most restrictive regulations among the participating states; most likely, many states will defer to New Jersey for licensing purposes. So, if New Jersey bans "bad actors", they will be banned across the board for all participating states. Further, if New Jersey begins licensing poker sites ahead of other states, it will set the standard for all other states.

    The upshot of these restrictions is that, if the New Jersey bill passes in its current form, PokerStars, Full Tilt, UB, and other poker sites operating in the U.S. post-UIGEA are likely shut out of the U.S. market permanently. In that case, Stars may have to reevaluate whether it makes financial sense to acquire Full Tilt's assets, knowing those assets can't be sold off in whole or piecemeal to U.S. brick and mortar casinos looking to break into the online poker world. Frankly, the entire Stars-Tilt deal might be in jeopardy if the New Jersey bill passes in its current form.

    So what are the chances the bill passes? It's hard to know how the New Jersey Senate will view the bill. But if the bill passes, it still must be signed by Governor Chris Christie. Here, the political issues are complicated. Governor Christie is a Republican in a Democratic-leaning state who clearly has national aspirations. If the Governor has his eyes on being the Vice Presidential nominee this year, then he likely would veto the bill to reassure social conservatives he is one of them. If he has decided to wait for a Presidential bid in 2016, he might well sign the bill or allow it to become law without his signature after 45 days in an attempt to curry favor and donations from casinos.

    Obviously the New Jersey internet poker bill is a long way from becoming law. But even if this bill is shot down, other similar bills in other states with similar restrictions are sure to pop up. Frankly, the future looks bleak for the prospects of PokerStars and other post-UIGEA poker site "bad actors" ever returning to the U.S. market.

    [FN1]  ADDENDUM (5/14/2012):  Paragraph discussing Bwin.Party CEO Jim Ryan added in response to excellent Twitter comments by Haley Hintze, the leading authority on the Absolute Poker/Ultimate Bet superuser scandals.

    ADDENDUM (5/15/2012): Haley Hintze has a new two-part post up at Kickass Poker looking at the proposed Stars-Tilt deal. Part 1 examines numerous rumors flurrying about regarding the Tilt-Stars deal. Part 2 analyzes the New Jersey iPoker bill, with some important background information related to Bwin.Party co-CEO Jim Ryan (with a few kind words thrown my way). As always, Hintze is well worth reading if you have any interest in online poker industry issues.

    May 12, 2012

    Dutch Letters & Brutal Honesty

    "There's only two things I hate in this world. People who are intolerant of other people's cultures, and the Dutch."

    ~Nigel Powers (Michael Caine), in Austin Powers: Goldmember

    So as my Twitter followers may be aware, I recently caved to my sig other's requests for new furniture for our living room, even though we already have perfectly good furniture. Apparently the fact I picked out the furniture before we met coupled with the opinion that my taste in furniture "sucks" and runs toward "ugly, old grandma stuff" means we need new furniture. Well, it's cheaper than a new house (another recurring theme also commonly worked into casual conversation).

    In any event, today we drove an hour to the historic and picturesque town of Pella, Iowa, famous for its Dutch heritage. Pella has a beautifully preserved downtown area with gorgeous old brick buildings, windmills, a canal, and an historic opera house. Each May a tulip festival is held, drawing hordes of tourists. The locals are so into the Dutch theme that even modern fast food restaurants and convenience stores must be built in faux-Dutch manner, heavy on the brick and steep-sloped roofs. My favorite Pella attraction is the old country Jaarsma Bakery on the town square, with its wide array of pastries, most notably strudel and Dutch letters.

    After looking at three living room sets the sig other had scouted a week or two ago—including a set identical to a set we had looked at here in the Des Moines area but at $500 more—the sig other headed on the road with Berkeley to his hometown for Mother's Day with his family, and I headed back to Des Moines after popping into Jaarsma Bakery for a coffee cake and a dozen Dutch Letters. The road home took me right past the Meadows ATM, and my car guided me into a prime parking spot late in the afternoon. So something productive was salvaged for the day.

    The Meadows poker room was strangely dead with one $3/$6 LHE game and one $1/$2 NLHE game running. After waiting 15 minutes or so, a new $1/$2 NLHE game was opened, but it was hard to tell the difference as my cards were colder than an iceberg. Eventually I hit a couple of hands and cashed out with a $200 profit—or as I prefer to view it, 10% of a leather sofa.

    One amusing moment occurred late in the session. A young college kid joined the game, and was clearly new to live casino poker. His first hand he posted in, then accidentally pulled back his post, resulting in the dealer mucking his hand preflop—he of course claimed he had a pocket pair and would have flopped a set. Then when his blinds hit, he would put out his blinds, then fiddle with them and accidentally put the chips back in his stack before the action got to him, resulting in an embarrassing lecture from the dealer and some teasing from the table. His play was pretty ABC weak-tight, and he was a tell-spewing fish most hands.

    Late in my session, an older regular known for his blunt talk joined the game. Young Fish was visibly uncomfortable at our table. Eventually a seat opened up at the other $1/$2 NLHE table, and Old Regular was first up for a table change; he declined. Young Fish then asked if he could change tables, leading Old Regular to spout, "You can't move! You're the reason I'm staying at this table!" Everyone laughed, but it was clear Old Regular was being completely honest. Young Fish began racking up to leave, and Old Regular says, "Can I at least have your phone number? We have a home game you should play in."

    For some reason, he never got that number.

    Windmill near Pella town square.

    May 07, 2012

    William James Checks in the Dark

    "What difference would it practically make to anyone if this notion rather than that notion were true? If no practical difference whatever can be traced, then the alternatives mean practically the same thing, and all dispute is idle. Whenever a dispute is serious, we ought to be able to show some practical difference that must follow from one side or the other’s being right. ...

    It is astonishing to see how many philosophical disputes collapse into insignificance the moment you subject them to this simple test of tracing a concrete consequence. There can be no difference anywhere that doesn't make a difference elsewhere—no difference in abstract truth that doesn’t express itself in a difference in concrete fact and in conduct consequent upon that fact, imposed on somebody, somehow, somewhere and somewhen."

    ~William James, "Lecture II: What Pragmatism Means", in Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking (1907)

    As a philosophy major, I was always strongly drawn to pragmatism because of its emphasis on linguistic clarity and logical consequences. The core principle of pragmatism, stated by philosopher William James above, can be paraphrased like this:  A difference, to be a difference, must make a difference.

    I was reminded of this core principle of pragmatism this past week when an interesting debate erupted on the All Vegas Poker discussion forums over the relative merits of a common poker maneuver—checking in the dark. [FN1]  For those unfamiliar with the term, checking in the dark (or "checking dark") simply means that the player first to act on a subsequent betting round exercises his betting option by checking before the next board card(s) are put out by the dealer, rather than waiting to check until after the player is able to see the board card(s). Checking in the dark has been popularized by the televised antics of players like Phil Hellmuth (who at times seems almost addicted to the play). But I have to wonder, have any of the players who routinely employ the maneuver actually analyzed whether checking dark is a smart play?

    Applying the principles of pragmatism—or Sklansky's Fundamental Theorem of Poker, if you prefer—if checking dark is a good maneuver, it will give a poker player some advantage over the player who employs the more traditional check. Now the player checking dark invariably will be playing the hand out of position, placing them at a distinct disadvantage. A player first to act will typically end up checking a rather high percentage of the time, either out of weakness from missing the board, or out of strength when disguising a hand that strongly connected with the board. However, a player first to act will find that leading out with a bet is advantageous in a variety of situations, including:

    • Flopping two pair or a set on a draw heavy board.
    • Betting a middle pair or bluffing on a dry, junky board.
    • Blocking a bet the first to act player cannot call.
    • Putting the opponent to the test on a scary board (e.g., a flop with an Ace, or a turn or river card that completes an obvious draw).

    Now this isn't to say that a player will lead out with a bet on all of these boards on all occasions. The point is that checking dark deprives a player of the option of making these plays. Clearly giving up the option to lead out with a bet on hands where doing so is the correct play is -EV. So, if it has any value, the dark check must be a sufficiently powerful, profitable maneuver to overcome the disadvantage of giving up the ability to bet boards where doing so is the correct play.

    Given the obvious disadvantages caused by checking dark, what are the possible advantages of checking dark? In all of the discussions I've heard and read on the subject, three reasons for checking dark come up the most frequently: a) checking dark reverses the position of the players when heads up, b) checking dark disguises the strength of a player's hand, and c) checking dark prevents a player from giving out information on the strength of his hand. On closer examination, all three justifications are spurious.

    With respect to "reversing position" of the players, checking dark simply does not reverse the positions of the players, either actually or effectively. The player checking dark still acts first, he simply exercises that option prior to the next board card being put out. Here we return to the principles of pragmatism—what is the difference between checking dark and checking normally? In terms of position, there is no difference. If the player first to act checks, the other player can bet or check behind as usual, and it doesn't matter if the first check was dark or not. If the first player to act in a heads up situation checks dark, and the other player checks behind, the dark-checking player does not miraculously gain the ability to act, as they would if they were in position. So, as there is no difference in action whether the opening check is dark or normal, there is no positional advantage gained by checking dark.

    So what about the claim that checking dark disguises the strength of a player's hand? This argument essentially states that because the player first to act usually checks, a dark check prevents the other player from knowing whether a flop (or turn or river) was helpful to the dark-checking player. Let's assume a player acting first would normally check 70% of the time out of weakness, check 10% of the time out of disguised strength, bet 10% of the time out of strength, and bet 10% of the time as a bluff. A dark check has no effect on the check out of weakness play or the check out of strength play, as a dark check and a regular check each look the same to a rational opponent. But a dark check deprives the player of the ability both to bet strong hands and to bluff. So, a dark check gives no advantage to hands to a player who wants to check, but hurts a player by depriving him of the chance to bet certain hands. Assuming a player balances his donk bets between betting strong hands and bluffs, a dark check that takes both plays out of the equation simply does nothing to disguise the player's hand that cannot be accomplished by normal, solid play. But if a player is stupid enough only to bet his strong hands out of position, then a dark check might in fact be a decent play, though the move is likely more than offset by those hands where a donk bet is the correct play and the dark check leads to a check behind. Of course, such a player has a whole other kettle of fish issues to worry about.

    Finally, let's look at the claim that a dark check prevents a player from giving out information as to the strength of his hand. We just looked at situations where a player checks his weak hands and bets his strong hands, but what about the more sophisticated player whose betting patterns do not reveal his hand strength? In these situations, advocates of checking dark maintain that the maneuver prevents the player from revealing whether they are strong or weak by taking out of consideration elements such as facial reactions and timing of response. Of course, this argument assumes the dark-checking player never looks at the board before their opponent acts. But if a player is bad enough to give off reliable physical tells about the strength of his hand, then checking dark is almost certainly the least of his worries—any decent player will simply eat the dark checker alive based on his physical tells which he will eventually have to give off when he inevitably looks at the board.

    In summary, then, for most players checking dark is almost certainly a -EV maneuver compared to simply playing a hand normally and checking when appropriate. For a small handful of players—multiple WSOP bracelet winners and tell-spewing donkeys—checking dark might occasionally be a decent play. In other words, although plenty of players have convinced themselves they are making a sophisticated play by checking dark, their thought process is flawed. Good players don't check dark. [FN2]

    "A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices."

    ~William James

    [FN1]  The debate was reminiscent of a similar debate on the AVP forums a few years back. Also, as is usually the case, Poker Grump has already weighed in on the debate with this thoughtful post.

    [FN2]  Of course, players like Phil Hellmuth are sufficiently better than most of their opponents that they can overcome the -EV of using the dark check. That doesn't mean that checking dark is a good play on its own merits.

    May 05, 2012

    One Dealer to a Hand

    Last month, I was playing a session of $4/$8 Omaha8 (Gamboool8) at the Venetian poker room. As my readers know, I enjoy the Pot Limit all-high version of Gamboool, but the hi/low split version is still a game I’m trying to learn. I have done some reading about it, and played occasionally in the regular Friday morning $6/$12 game at the Meadows ATM. But a low stakes game like the Venetian spreads is a solid training wheels opportunity that was too good to pass up, particularly on a night where I had decided to lock up my poker profits for the trip and was looking for a recreational game to kill a few hours.

    The table was generally friendly, and the action was pretty straightforward. One of the young gun local pros at the table openly discussed his plans for “getting baked” later in the evening, which was hardly surprising once I learned he had attended Grinnell College back in Iowa (a fine institution of higher learning proud of its ultra-liberal culture). When he later let on that he was born and raised in West Virginia, I inquired how he wound up in small town Iowa for college. “Because I wanted to hang out with hippies,” he replied rather matter-of-factly.

    Now one reason I enjoy the various forms of Gamboool so much is that novice and casual players are prone to misreading their hands and making rather boneheaded mistakes. Often players making the transition from Hold ‘Em forget the “must use exactly two cards from your hand” rule, and put money in the pot thinking they have a flush, straight, or even full house when they actually have a very weak hand, or they fail to realize when their made hand on the flop or turn has been counterfeited by the river. These mistakes are more pronounced in the hi/low version of the game, where novice/casual players have two different hands to misplay and misread each time they get involved in a pot. Combine these hand reading mistakes with a Hold ‘Em mentality about hand strength, and novice/casual Gamboool players are among the juiciest fish around.

    Since it was the smallest limit game being spread at the time, there were three tables with maybe six solid players spread among them (and no, I do not count myself among the ranks of solid Gamboool8 players). So most pots were multiway to the river, and the showdown often resembled a troop of monkeys, cackling and picking lice out of their hair while they figured out what high and low hands they held.

    On one hand, I was in late position with As-Qx-Jx-Ts. Now this is a solid high-only hand, but without a low draw, it’s a little more speculative in Gamboool8 since my hand is looking to connect with a high board for a scoop pot (and on a high-only board, you typically get fewer bets in the pot from the low chasers). Still, my hand had some decent value, and I limped in along with pretty much the entire table. The flop was decent, J-T-5 with one of my suit, giving me top two pair (on the rare Omaha board where that holding has much value), along with a gutterball Broadway draw and some potential additional straight and flush draws that could develop on the turn (there’s always hope in Gambool). Six or so of us called the big blind’s bet; I probably should have raised here, but I tend to be a little passive in early rounds of Gambool8 with just altos dos pairs. The turn was a beautiful King, giving me Broadway and the current nuts, but also foreclosing any low draw while also putting a backdoor flush draw (not mine) on the board. A middle position player bet, got a couple of callers, and I raised, getting two callers. The river was an annoying offsuit Queen. Obviously I had just been counterfeited, chopping the pot with any player holding an Ace with any other Brodway card. Still, when it checked to me, I bet, hoping to get some value from a yahoo with a King-high straight, or maybe even getting an inattentive player to fold a Broadway chopping hand. Unfortunately, I got one caller.

    I rolled over my hand and declared, “Nuts. Broadway.” I waited for the other player to table his hand, but as is often the case with Gamboool players, he held his hand up in front of him gin rummy style and shifted cards around as he tried to parse out what his best hand might be. The player held an Ace, which I could see, but the player was confused: “I don’t think I can make Broadway.” The dealer was looking at his hand and helpfully blurted out, “Oh yes. You got it.” The player looked back at his cards in confusion. The dealer said, “You have the Ace and the King, that’s Broadway.” The player yanked those cards out, put them on the table, then threw his other two cards down as well. Presto, chopped pot.

    It should go without saying that the dealer was out of line here. Nobody, including the dealer, should help read a player’s hand. This is especially true in Gamboool, where players often misread their hands and muck winners. In a bit of irony, this dealer had earlier warned players about reading hands that weren’t tabled. To be fair to the dealer, however, the practice is endemic to low stakes Gamboool, and short of tasering offenders, the practice is just a hazard of the game. But, for those of you playing Gamboool tempted to be the helpful hand reader, just don’t.

    Just STFU.