Thursday, January 31, 2008

“Nice catch, donk”

Nice catch, donkHe said, as the chips happily slid across the virtual baize and into my stack. It was a nice catch.

I ain’t here to deny my occasional resemblance to the much-evoked Equus asinus. It was one of those PLO hands (full ring, $25 max.) that’ll come up every now and then. I knew I was behind and yet called it down anyhow, hitting my card on the end. We’ve all been there, and a lot of us have been called donks when all was said and done.

But let’s do something decidedly non-donk-like. Let’s look at this hand again.

The button is Seat #9. I’m in the “hijack seat” (#7) with $28.70. The ill-fated one destined to cast aspersions -- PaKettle -- is in Seat #5 with around $32. He’s been playing a below average number of pots, and seems content only to bet when he’s got the goods. PaKettle and I both limp, and blinds stay in as well, meaning we have built a harmless little 95-cent pot (once the nickel rake is taken) going to the flop.

My hand? Jd8dAcTh. Not the greatest starter, but this was pretty much a passive table w/little preflop raising, so I knew I probably could see a flop without a lot of fuss. I’ve only just begun Jeff Hwang’s Pot-Limit Omaha Poker -- so far, very good -- but I have read the part where he strongly advises against playing hands with a “two gap” on top. He suggests discarding most of these -- although he does allow A-J-T-9 or (maybe) K-T-9-8.

A-J-T-8, though, even single-suited, ain’t much. Then the flop comes Ah7cAs. (The donk sits up in his chair.)

The blinds check, as does PaKettle. I bet 75 cents with my trips. The blinds both fold. Then PaKettle bets pot -- raising $2.45 to $3.20. So we know where the other ace is. And where one of the sevens is as well. I decide to take one off and make the call. The pot is $7.05 (after the rake).

The turn card is the 5h, and PaKettle again hastily bets pot.

Now I do have nine clean outs here -- unless, of course he happens to have any of ’em over there sitting next to his ace & seven. In terms of pot odds, it’s an easy-to-calculate 2-to-1 to call, and I’m only a little better than 4-to-1 to hit. In terms of implied odds, I’m reasonably sure he won’t be able to resist paying me something on that river should my eight, ten, or jack arrive as ordered, though how much he’ll give up I can’t know for sure.

Oh, and also -- I do occasionally eat my lunch out of a trough. I call.

Once I do, two very nice things happen in short order. First the river card, the Jh. Then PaKettle bets $10. Hee-Haw!

I put all $18.20 I have left in the middle and he (of course) calls. I win the $55.10 pot.

Now I don’t know for certain I’m going to get that extra 18 bucks from him on the end, but if I did, then calling the turn would make sense, yes? That’s seven bucks to win $37. (I’m subtracting the $18 more I ended up putting in.) Even if I’m only getting an extra ten-spot off him on the end, that would be $7 to win $29 . . . still making calling a 4-to-1 shot a not unreasonable play.

In any event, while I might demonstrate donk-ish tendencies now and then, I know if I’m PaKettle in this situation, when that jack pops out there is no way I’m giving 18 more bucks to the donk guy who called my pot-sized check-raise on the flop, and then my pot-sized bet on the turn.

No, I’m checking, he’s either value betting (and I call, or perhaps fold to a bet as large as ten bucks) or shipping it (and I definitely fold), and that’s that.

Oh, and I probably think to myself, “nice catch, donk.”

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Maverick’s Guide to Poker; or, on the Omaha Trail

'Maverick's Guide to Poker' by Charles E. Tuttle (1994 reissue)Had a chance not too long ago to hit the used bookstores and grabbed me a couple of off-the-beaten-path poker books. One is a fairly straightforward strategy book by Irwin Steig called Common Sense in Poker. Published in 1963, so it’s primarily focused on stud games. The other was this cheapo-looking reprint of Charles E. Tuttle’s Maverick’s Guide to Poker. This edition is from 1994 (published to concide with the film starring Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, and James Garner), but the book was originally published back 1959 as Poker According to Maverick. Actually, Tuttle isn’t listed as the author -- the conceit here is Bret Maverick, the fictional character of the Maverick television series (which ran from 1957 to 1962), is the author, sharing with us his wisdom from the tables.

I’ve only just skimmed the book thus far. I’m seeing a few hokey poker stories, told in that faux-Old West style that can either be amusing or tedious, depending on yr P.O.V. Among Maverick’s “Ten Commandments of Poker” one finds the usual bromides (“Never draw to an inside straight,” “Never draw to a three-card flush”), plus one from the Old West and/or late 1950s: “Don’t play poker with women.”

'Poker According to Maverick' by Charles E. Tuttle (1959)The strategy portions cover draw and stud games, but there is a chapter on Hold ’em in here as well. I’m suspecting that chapter may have been added to the 1994 reissue. Hold ’em was around in 1959 -- Crandell Addington has said that was the year he first saw the game played -- but I don’t really see Tuttle giving a chapter to it like this back then. (By comparison, there’s no reference at all to Hold ’em in Steig’s book, published four years later.)

Further evidence that the chapter might have been added to the 1994 reissue is the fact that it ends with a couple of pages about Omaha, a game that Bob Ciaffone says originated in the early 1980s.

Then again, I could be wrong. At least one of the games referred to as Omaha in Maverick’s Guide to Poker actually does resemble an earlier variant that Ciaffone says preceded the game that Robert “Chip Burner” Turner and “an Oriental lady from the Seattle area named Gwen (nicknamed ‘The Dragon Lady’)” came up with in the Golden Nugget around 1982.

Maverick/Tuttle refers to three different Omaha games here:
(1) the variation of Texas Hold ’em in which the game is played the same except for the fact that instead of a three-card flop the cards come out one at a time, thus creating two extra betting rounds;

(2) what the author refers to as a “silly” game called “Mutual of Omaha” in which the game is played the same as regular Hold ’em except a player is allowed to purchase (for a predetermined price) an extra card after the river has been dealt -- an “insurance” card (get it?);

(3) the “Amarillo version” of Omaha in which the game is played just like regular Hold ’em except for the fact that the player has to use both hole cards to make a hand.
It’s that third variation -- the “Amarillo” game -- that most directly influenced what became the Omaha game with which we are familiar.

Never saw the TV series, but I do recall enjoying the film well enough. (Speaking of, I just noticed the PokerGrump recently reviewed the film.) Might end up giving this here volume a closer look after all. Hmm . . . what’s this chapter on “Poker Cheats” have to say? Stuff about signalling, marked decks, okay . . . . what’s the main point? Oh, here it is:

Never play with strangers.”

(Safe to say Maverick wouldn’t recommend playing online.)

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

UnBelievable

Ultimate Bet is crashing and burningAnyone reading this blog probably already knows, the shysters who run Absolute Poker also run Ultimate Bet. Back in October 2006 (just prior to Bush signing the UIGEA into law), the company that owned UB (Excapsa Software) was bought out by the company that owns Absolute (Blast Off Ltd.).

Now I realize are a lot of people in the world who don’t read this blog, and among that group are a significant number of folks who play online poker at Absolute Poker and/or Ultimate Bet. Safe to say (I think) most of those playing on those sites don’t have much more than a vague idea about what went so terribly wrong on Absolute last fall and/or AP’s connection to UB.

Anyone reading this blog might also know that on learning about the superuser cheating scandal at AP, I decided to pull my cabbage outta Absolute Poker and Ultimate Bet tout de suite. Among my posts about the AP scandal I also shared the friggin’ madness I had to endure to withdraw my funds from Ultimate Bet. Anyone who took up Absolute Poker on their offer late last summer to allow unlimited transfers back and forth between the sites -- for “funds to seamlessly flow from one poker room to the other” (as they put it) -- probably should read that post before trying to withdraw from UB.

Since that time, I’ve seen a few interesting threads on the forums referring to various problems players have had on UB in particular. Among the usual complaints about support, I have seen three fairly specific issues here lately regarding the play on UB.

First, there’s the “wait list freezing” problem that many users seem to have suffered. (I, too, had this one happen to me during the short time I played on the site.) Whenever a player is playing on one table and then adds his or her name to the wait list for another, the site tends to freeze when the wait list pops up. A not insignificant software flaw, that. Here’s one poster complaining about that one. And here’s another.

Then there’s the issue of “all in abuse” -- that is, players purposely timing out and thereby taking advantage of unlimited all-in protections. Whereas most sites limit the number of times a player can disconnect and receive such protection, UB has no means for doing so. Thus, anytime a player gets to the river with a missed draw and does not want to call a bet to see a showdown, he or she can simply time out and get there for free. Saw some recent gripes about this one, but people have been upset about this issue for years.

Hassles, yes. But these issues have more to do with functionality, really, than the site’s integrity. Then yesterday I saw this jaw-dropping post. I’m not going to summarize it -- read for yourself. The post was submitted by “leatherass” and is titled “Are you kidding me UB?”:
I was talking to my friend whose screen name is Forcewithme on the phone today while he was playing UB. I told him I’d sweat him for a few minutes while we were on the phone and pulled up the Lobby. Without realizing it, I logged in as Forcewithme. Apparently when he was at my house last week he played on my computer and saved the log in to my computer. SO when I thought I was logging in as me I actually logged in as him. After watching him play for a few minutes I checked the cashier to see if I had any money in there and saw quite a bit of money and that is when I noticed that I was logged in as him......while he was sitting at 6 tables!!! So I told him that I was logged in as him and he was like, “Are you kidding me?” So we decided to see if I could play some tables and sure enough I sat and played some .01/.02 NL tables while he had 6 tables fired up from his house 100 miles away. We couldn’t even believe it. Has it really gotten this bad over at UB?
Responses confirm what is described to be the case -- multiple people can log into Ultimate Bet from different locations using the same username/password.

Crap on a cracker! Anyone need more reasons not to play at Ultimate Bet?

(Not even getting into rumors of another superuser-type scandal happening at UB.)

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Monday, January 28, 2008

The Failed Ambassador

Bobby Fischer on the cover of Life Magazine in 1971Was listening to NPR’s “On the Media” yesterday and heard a segment about Bobby Fischer, the iconoclastic chess champ who died last week in Iceland at the age of 64. I knew the broad outlines of Fischer’s story – his precocious beginnings, his heroic-seeming triumph over the Russian Boris Spassky in 1972, and his subsequent exile from America. I’d also known about the crazy-ass anti-Semitic stuff and his hatred of America, although I don’t think I realized the extent of those feelings until I heard some of those stories about him last week.

Fischer’s victory over Spassky -- played out against the highly-charged backdrop of the Cold War -- created a not-insignificant surge in the popularity of chess in America. Fischer biographer Frank Brady was interviewed for the segment, and he spoke about the profound effect the PBS coverage of the Fischer-Spassky match -- for which Brady was a correspondent – had on the nation.

“It really created a sensation,” says Brady. “People in New York City and throughout the nation were playing in restaurants, and playing on park benches, and playing all over the place. All of a sudden chess dominated the country like it normally would dominate in the Soviet Union. I mean, the U.S. Chess Federation had about 5,000 members before 1972, and around 1973 they had about 100,000 members. And people were playing in tournaments all over the country -- as they still are.”

This kind of talk made me think a bit about poker and, of course, Chris Moneymaker’s victory in the 2003 WSOP Main Event, a salient moment in the game’s history. Indeed, Brady went on to talk about how the “Fischer effect” (so to speak) continues to have its influence in America today. “We’re still feeling the strength and vitality of Fischer,” says Brady.

Of course it didn’t take that long -- maybe a couple years -- before people stopped buying the onyx chess sets and books about chess and the game again faded into the background of the general popular culture landscape. From the mid-70s onward, membership in the USCF declined rapidly (back down under 50,000), though today has built back up to around 80,000 members.

One factor causing the rapid decline in the popularity of chess was likely Fischer’s utter unsuitability to function as a spokesperson or “ambassador” for the game. In 1975 Fischer would end up forfeiting the world title to Anatoly Karpov after refusing to agree to terms for his title defense. There followed years of obscurity until he reemerged in 1992 to play –- and defeat –- Spassky once again in an exhibition match. That match took place in Yugoslavia, and the U.S. government claimed Fischer’s participation was in violation of U.N. sanctions against that country. Facing arrest should he return to the States, Fischer became a political exile.

He’d spend the rest of his life living in Hungary, the Philippines, and Iceland, occasionally surfacing via phone calls to radio talk shows via which he shared his increasingly bitter (and bizarre) views about Jews and the U.S. Though some dismissed Fischer as a madman, Brady disagrees, simply judging him to have been “a mean-spirited son of a bitch.”

Fischer-Spassky (1972) & Moneymaker-Farha (2003)People talk about the “poker boom” having ended or at least slowed down, but when you compare the recent history of poker to what happened to chess in the 1970s, it is clear that poker’s stunning growth in popularity following Moneymaker’s 2003 WSOP victory is more than just a passing fad. And while there are a number of factors that have particularly helped poker (television and online poker being the most obvious), one has to give Moneymaker some credit for having been a much better ambassador for the game than Fischer was for chess. Had Moneymaker, too, been a “mean-spirited son of a bitch” and gone down some sort of self-destructive and/or hurtful path as did Fischer, poker surely would’ve suffered as a result.

There are other factors, too. The fact that poker isn’t as difficult to learn as is chess -- relative amateurs can jump in and even win at poker (not the case in chess) -- is probably the single biggest reason for poker’s endurance. Even so, poker players interested in the vitality of the game can’t honestly deny Moneymaker’s important contribution. Listening to Fischer’s story only confirms that to be true.

If you’re curious, here’s that “On the Media” segment on Fischer:

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Friday, January 25, 2008

Do We Want Online Poker Regulated? (2 of 2)

 In that Rounder’s Radio podcast I mentioned last post, Preston Oade listed a number of reasons why he believes Americans who play online poker should not be too eager to see bills like Barney Frank’s Internet Gambling Regulation and Enforcement Act (H.R. 2046) become law. I shared a few of those reasons yesterday -- go listen to the show if you want to hear the full argument.

As I said last time, I largely concur with Oade’s perspective on these bills. I also share his lack of enthusiasm for the Poker Players Alliance seemingly devoting almost all of its energies toward lobbying in favor of these bills. However, I don’t agree with everything Oade said about online poker during the show.

As he described his disfavor with the proposed IGREA and the other bills, Oade explained “I think what most online players want is the same thing I want. I want to be able to play online every day. And I don’t want it to be inconvenient. And I don’t want it to be expensive. And I don’t want to have weird things happening to me. And that’s what I want and that’s what I think most poker players want . . . . And right now that’s what we’ve got.”

All fine, until that last line.

Referring to the ease with which he has recently been able to fund his Full Tilt Poker account, Oade characterized online poker as currently satisfying all of those desires he had listed. (“If it ain't broke, don't fix it,” says Oade.) Sure, he can play every day, at least on some sites. It is convenient for him, I would imagine. And probably not too expensive, although that depends in part upon the method he tries to use to transfer funds to and from sites and the policies of the sites regarding withdrawal fees, etc.

But, come on. There have been a lot of “weird things” happening lately. And the fact that online poker’s efforts to self-regulate are not terribly reliable make it all the more likely they will continue to occur as we move forward.

The truth is, almost all online poker sites are currently regulated, although in a somewhat haphazard, patchwork way. And when we’re talking about sites that accept U.S.-players’ bets, we’re talking about what is essentially a voluntary system. Since there is no federal regulation of online gambling in the U.S., when I log on to an online poker site I’m counting on that site having some sort of voluntarily-accepted, non-U.S.-based oversight on its operations.

There are a couple of ways most online poker sites voluntarily regulate themselves. One is to be regulated by the governments of countries who do have an IGREA-like law regarding online gambling. There are some countries which in fact grant licenses to online poker sites -- Gibraltar, Malta, and the United Kingdom, to name a few. A poker site does not have to be physically located in the licensing country. For example, Bodog, headquartered in Antigua, is licensed by the U.K. In order to receive such a license, the site has to abide by a number of regulations, a lot of which resemble those broadly outlined in Frank’s proposed H.R. 2046.

The other way online poker sites can prove to customers they have some sort of oversight regulating their operations is to get a license from an independent group such as the Kahnawake Gaming Commission. Again, to get such a license, the site has to abide by that group’s stated regulations. For example, the Kahnawake Gaming Commission has a long list of items -- described as “Regulations Concerning Interactive Gaming” -- which a given online gambling outfit must adhere to in order to receive the KGC seal of approval.

While the Kahnawake Gaming Commission is not the only organization that grants licenses to online gambling sites, it is by far the most popular licensing organization. Today the KGC has listed over 450 such sites among their “permit holders.”

Of course, this kind of voluntarily-invited regulation is only meaningful if the licensing body is truly independent of the sites and trustworthy. The KGC’s response to the Absolute Poker cheating scandal indicates in obvious, bold strokes just how lacking in credibility such a system can be.

Life's a BluffThe KGC’s report of the Gaming Associates’ recently-completed audit of Absolute Poker visibly demonstrates the problems with trusting the KGC to regulate online sites. For one, the report is incomplete -- as I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, it clearly does not identify all of the regulations Absolute Poker failed to follow. (See Lou Krieger’s recent post for other ways the report falls short.). Secondly, the sanctions the KGC imposes are largely impotent. And, as Frank Frisina’s recent Life’s a Bluff cartoon illustrates, there are serious, unanswered questions about KGC’s independence from Absolute Poker. (See cartoon at left -- and when yr done here click the pic to visit “Life's a Bluff.”)

All of which is to say, I have little assurance I won’t “have weird things happening to me” when I play on a site whose only license comes from the Kahnawake Gaming Commission. As it happens, all three of the sites I play on at present -- PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and Bodog -- are licensed by the KGC. PokerStars is additionally a member of the Interactive Gaming Council, a group that does function quite like a regulatory body. (Read more here.) As I mentioned, Bodog is additionally licenced by the U.K. (Read about that here.)

And as for Full Tilt . . .

My query to Full Tilt PokerErm. Should I be worried? Not saying I’m ready to leave Full Tilt, but it sure would be a hell of a lot more reassuring to know that if any “weird things” did happen to me, the site answered to someone besides the KGC.

(I’m not alone in having reservations about the KGC. The U.K. Gambling Commission left them off their “white list”, meaning none of them KGC-only licensed sites can advertise in the U.K.)

We’re between a rock and a hard place. We don’t want the feds to regulate online poker, but the present system of voluntarily-accepted regulation isn’t working very well, either. What, then, can be done?

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Do We Want Online Poker Regulated? (1 of 2)

Do We Want Online Poker Regulated?There was a discussion over on Rounder’s Radio earlier this week regarding the subject of regulating online poker. Dr. Alan Schoonmaker hosted the show, which apparently was labeled as an episode of “Poker Talk Beyond the Books.” (I believe Dr. Al’s show, Poker Psychology, will be resurfacing over on Rounder’s sometime in the near future.) Schoonmaker moderated a debate between John Pappas, Executive Director of the Poker Players Alliance & Preston Oade, an attorney. Oade has argued a couple of cases before the Supreme Court and has also previously collaborated with Schoonmaker on some articles.

The conversants touched on a number of issues related to online poker, but the debate was essentially over whether or not U.S. online poker players really should want laws like Barney Frank’s proposed Internet Gambling Regulation and Enforcement Act (H.R. 2046) to be passed. Pappas takes the view that we indeed should, and the PPA has largely focused its lobbying efforts toward building support for the IGREA and other, related laws proposed last year like Rep. Wexler’s “Skill Game Protection Act” (H.R. 2610), Rep. Berkley’s “Internet Gambling Study Act” (H.R. 2140), and Rep. McDermott’s “Internet Gambling Regulation and Tax Enforcement Act” (H.R. 2607). Meanwhile, Oade believes such laws create more problems than they relieve, and that in this case “the cure is worse than the disease.”

I tend to concur with Oade’s view here, although I have to say I did not agree with other points made by Oade during the show. As I wrote here in a post last May (shortly after Frank’s bill was introduced), “The more I think about this IGREA . . . the more it seems to me that it ultimately invites more governmental interference between myself and the online poker sites where I want to play. I do think the bill would make online poker safer and more reliable, but I fear it may actually make it easier for those who oppose online gambling to keep a lot of us from playing.”

Such a statement partly concurs with Oade’s view, if I am understanding him correctly. He believes the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 does not in any way refer to poker or have the legal heft to include poker as an example of a “bet or wager” financial institutions are being told not to facilitate. I’ve said before here that the UIGEA’s references to a “game subject to chance” do at least appear to provide a basis for identifying poker -- like other forms of gambling -- as an activity banks, credit card companies, and third-party vendors aren’t supposed to allow. Nevertheless, Oade is probably right to say that the UIGEA mostly derives its definition of what is illegal from the 1961 Wire Act (which only covers sports betting), and even the recently proposed regulations don’t offer any clarifications that would unequivocally include poker in what the UIGEA is intended to cover.

Oade worries that one effect of the proposed legislation would be to remove any doubt about whether -- in a legal sense -- poker is to be considered gambling. That in turn may lead to (even more) states deciding on their own to prohibit citizens from playing online poker. Oade is also not thrilled about giving the feds control here, and sees the potential for an increasingly burdensome system of taxation ultimately causing online poker to be no fun for anyone.

Like I say, I largely concur with Oade’s position. While I like the fact that the existence of these bills helps keep alive debates about the heavily-flawed (and unfair) UIGEA, I don’t harbor genuine hopes for the IGREA or the Skill Game Protection Act to be passed. For one, I continue to doubt either will ever gather the momentum to make it out of the House (never mind the Senate or the President’s office). But even if there were a possibility they could become law, I would have too many reservations about what might come next to feel very good about that coming to pass.

That being said, I did have a serious problem with Oade’s much-repeated claim that online poker is -- as far as he can tell -- in fine shape as is and thus not in need any sort of additional regulating. As Oade put it at least a half-dozen times during the show, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

When it comes to online poker, what we got ain’t nearly as hunky dory as Oade suggests. Online poker may not be “broke,” but it sure as hell is in need of some repair.

Tomorrow I’ll be sharing a bit more about Oade’s characterization of online poker, ca. early 2008, then add a few thoughts of my own. Meanwhile, if you’re interested, you might go check out that Rounder’s podcast.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Comparing 2008 NBC Heads-Up Poker Championship Participants

NBC National Heads-Up Poker ChampionshipNBC has named 60 of the 64 planned participants for this year’s NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship, scheduled for February 29-March 2 at Caesars. The four remaining spots will be filled by those qualifying via promotions set up by NBC.

For each of the three years NBC has staged this event, the announcement of those invited has invariably been greeted with complaints about who was picked and who was left out. There a few targets this time around, the most obvious being former baseball great and Cy Young Award winner Orel Hershiser, television personality and multiple Emmy award winner Brad Garrett, SAG and American Comedy Award winner Jason Alexander, and Oscar-nominated actor Don Cheadle. Lots of awards, all right, but little in the way of poker pedigree.

I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the relative tourney triumphs of the 60 chosen. What follows is a list of all 60 ordered according to lifetime tourney winnings. Each player’s highest-ever cash is also noted.

I’ll let you take a gander and decide for yourself what (if anything) is meaningful about this here list. All stats reflect what one could find on the Hendon Mob database on the day the participants were announced. Click to view a larger picture.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A Dish Best Served Cold

Plotting Revenge Is FunDr. Alan Schoonmaker’s Your Worst Poker Enemy (2007) offers a lot of advice about how to recognize and deal with one’s emotions when at the table. In a section about anger, Schoonmaker lists some of the ways anger can negatively affect one’s game -- e.g., we read others less well, we become impatient, we show vulnerability, etc. The last item on the list refers to how anger sometimes causes us to try to seek revenge, say, against a particular player. Here Schoonmaker shares a Chinese proverb: “When you sent out for revenge, dig two graves, one for your enemy and one for yourself.”

I had a humorous situation come up recently at a PLO25 6-max table that could be interpreted as my having been unduly influenced by a desire for revenge. I’m not going to deny that I wasn’t entirely motivated by my hopes of “getting back” at a certain player, but to be frank the whole scene was a lot more lighthearted than that sounds. Some funny chat, too, so here goes:

I’d bought in short ($10) and after twenty non-eventful hands or so had dribbled down to $7.65. Non-eventful for me, at least. A guy across the table -- Mirabell -- had caught a great rush during that same stretch, going from $35 or so to over $100. Everyone else at the table was low, the second-biggest stack being that of Witwould who sat on my right with a little under $20.

(As always, I’ve changed the names. The chat, however, is all cut-and-pasted verbatim.)

Then came a hand where I’d limped in with 4h4s2hAc. All checked the J-2-x flop, then a four on the turn got me interested. A deuce on the river meant I’d filled up, but unfortunately I lost my tiny stack to Witwould for whom the river made jacks full.

I probably would’ve forgotten all about the hand, but as I went to rebuy I noticed some chat down below:

Witwould: nice hand
Witwould: thank you very much


I knew what the guy was up to, but I decided to play dumb.

Short-Stacked Shamus: ?
Witwould: i was complimenting myself
Witwould: no one else was offering praise and i thought it was a nice hand


While I make it rule not to engage in this stuff too much, something possessed me to express offense at my opponent’s efforts to be witty.

Short-Stacked Shamus: it was okay . . .
Short-Stacked Shamus: but not worth such a show
Witwould: meh
Short-Stacked Shamus: yes, meh


That’s when I decided to rebuy for the maximum, $25. Might as well have some ammo, should anything else arise with my new buddy.

A few more rounds went by, then I had a hand against the big stack, Mirabell, in which I’d flopped top two (aces and nines) in EP and made a big, somewhat risky check-raise against him. He didn’t rush to respond, eventually hitting the “TIME” button as he contemplated how he wanted to deal with my surprise bet. As we all waited, Witwould decided to chirp up:

Witwould: TIME means fold

Mirabell did fold. Then came a little more chat.

Mirabell: no it actually doesn’t
Short-Stacked Shamus: not always
Mirabell: it means I have a very good hand
Mirabell: and need to think about
Mirabell: what I am going to do
Witwould: well you folded didn't you
Witwould: couldn’t have been that good
Mirabell: well you’re a moron aren’t you?
Witwould: jury’s still out on that one me thinks


Short while later Witwould manages to win a $35 pot after making a questionable turn call, then sucking out a king-high flush. Feels so good about it he again chooses to celebrate in the chat box: “smart people 0 - moron 1.”

About 20 more hands go by. I’m involved in a few smallish pots, winning some, losing some. No one is chatting. Am still sitting at around $25 when I have a very fortunate hand in which I hold A-7-x-x, flop comes A-A-7, and I end up nearly doubling up against a guy with pocket sevens. My stack is now a little over $48. Then comes the big hand.

I’m in the BB where I’m dealt 5cTs9h9c. Folds around to Mirabell (still with $100 or so) who calls from the cutoff. The button -- who has $13 -- calls, and Witwould (with $37) completes from the SB. So the pot is just a buck when the flop comes 8h7s6s, giving me the nut straight.

This might be one of those weird situations in PLO where one flops the nuts but should perhaps consider getting out. Witwould checked, and I decided to check as well to see what the others would do. Mirabell checked, and the player on the button bet $1 (the pot). Then Witwould decides to check-raise pot ($4 more).

I’m pretty well convinced Witwould is on a draw. The fact that I have two nines also makes it a little more likely -- though not definite -- I’m the only one with the nut straight here. I decide just to call. Mirabell folds, then the button repops for the rest of his stack (about $10 more). Witwould instantly reraises his entire stack as well, making the pot about $56 total. I owe about $30 to stick around.

What would you do here? Is folding an option? For me, it was not. For one, I’m not good enough yet to let go of these kinds of hands. And yes, I was perhaps more than a little motivated by revenge against Witwould. I called.

The button player had 5dAsJd4s -- a low straight & the nut flush draw. I expected to see that. I also thought Witwould had to have a set. But no. He’s got 5h5sJc9s -- a 9-high straight & the nine-high flush draw. Ugh. Clearly he didn’t see my sticking around here as a possibility.

This is all very nice. I only have to dodge six spades (I’m holding one) & the three tens to win it all. And I do, thus taking the $88 pot.

Feeling pretty fine, I can’t resist typing “gh” when the dust settles. Witwould hastily exited the premises without further comment. That’s when Mirabell made my night:

Mirabell: mabye he shoulda used the TIME button
Short-Stacked Shamus: lol
Mirabell: :)

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Monday, January 21, 2008

Poker Review: A Big Hand for the Little Lady

'A Big Hand for the Little Lady' (dir. Fielder Cook, 1966)A Big Hand for the Little Lady (dir. Fielder Cook, 1966) will sometimes surface on “best of” lists of poker films, though I’m guessing not too many among the post-Moneymaker crowd of poker players have seen it. Can’t recall ever noticing it turn up on the cable box -- not lately, anyhow -- and I believe its DVD release in November 2007 marks the first time it has been made available in that format. Perhaps now more folks will discover this clever, highly entertaining, western-slash-comedy with poker at its center.

Nearly the entire film takes place at a hotel & saloon in Laredo, Texas, ca. late 19th century, the site of an annual private poker game involving “the five richest men in the territory . . . playing for blood.” We eventually learn the game has been going on for sixteen years, and those involved demonstrate their dedication by shirking all other responsibilities to be there. A lawyer, Otto Habershaw (Kevin McCarthy), leaves in the middle of a capital case, abandoning his obligation to defend his client’s life. Another player, Henry Drummond (Jason Robards), takes off in the middle of his daughter’s wedding to be there. Clearly, this is an important game.

The group of five players finally assemble in a private room and commence play while the curious locals gossip without. A few days in, a couple arrive at the hotel with their young son and request a room. Passing through on their way to San Antonio, the family’s wagon is in need of repair, and although the hotel is mainly for cattlemen, the proprietor agrees to fix them up with a room.

The father, Meredith (Henry Fonda), witnesses with special interest an exchange behind the counter of $3,000 for poker chips, and ends up inquiring about the game. It soon becomes evident that Meredith has a severe gambling problem -- he’s on the “poker wagon” -- and while his wife, Mary (Joanne Woodward), is down the road at the blacksmith’s, Meredith manages to get himself invited into the game.

It’s dealer’s choice -- they appear mostly to play either 5-card draw or 5-card stud (no limit). They play “table stakes” -- meaning a player is not allowed to bet more than he has on the table when a hand begins -- although we subsequently see that rule is not strictly observed. Finally, they play “Western rules,” meaning a person is not allowed to “tap out” if he hasn’t got enough to bet. In other words, there are no side pots. If the betting gets too high and a player hasn’t enough to call, that player must “bow out” of the hand and lose whatever he’s put into the pot.

“Rough game,” says Meredith upon hearing the rules. “The game we play,” says Dennis Wilcox (Robert Middleton).

Doesn’t take long before we realize Meredith is in over his head. After losing yet another pot, a sweating, edgy Meredith stammers “it’s a question of averages . . . the cards are due to break for me.” “Famous last words,” comes the reply.

Then comes a most curious hand of 5-card draw in which, incredibly, all six of the players apparently have strong hands. Meredith, down to his last few hundred when the hand begins, finds himself bet out of the hand. Desperate, he gives his cards to his son, then rushes up to the room to collect $3,000 more -- the family’s entire savings -- with which he’s allowed to buy more chips. (As I mentioned, they seem to ignore the “table stakes” rule.) The betting resumes, but with all of the reraising Meredith again finds himself bet out of the hand. He’s put all he has into the pot, yet needs $500 more to call. And even if he does call, he can’t close the betting.

When Meredith objects to the punishing “Western rules,” Wilcox responds: “Now look, mister. The first rule of the game of poker, whether you’re playing eastern or western rules, or the kind they play at the North Pole, is put up or shut up!”

Meredith tells Mary he's picked up a 'once in a lifetime' handIt is at this moment Mary returns, horrified to find Meredith in the game risking their nest egg. Meredith tries frantically to explain to Mary how he’s got a sure winner, the kind of hand that only comes “once in a lifetime.” Meanwhile, he is failing in his efforts to raise funds by selling the family’s wagon to one of the players. Finally overcome, he falls to the floor, the victim of an apparent heart attack.

While the doctor (Burgess Meredith) attends to the ailing Meredith, Drummond indifferently calls out “Doc, I just want to ask a simple question. Is he going to be able to finish this hand?” An upset Mary goes back to her husband lying on a table, and in his delirium he hands his cards to her, indicating that she is going to have to finish the hand for him.

From there we watch Mary take up her husband’s desperate cause to raise enough money to remain in the hand. Not gonna say anymore regarding the plot’s subsequent twists -- to do so would surely lessen yr enjoyment of the film -- but rest assured they are entertaining, and ultimately (I think) help elevate the film a notch above yr average melodrama.

Fonda is compelling as the greenhorn Meredith, well portraying the nervous, overmatched poker player. Woodward and other supporting players are also terrific, with Paul Ford deserving a particular nod for his droll portrayal of the banker, C.P. Ballinger. Fielder Cook directs with a light touch, occasionally emphasizing comic exchanges with nifty cutting and/or shots while avoiding being overly obtrusive.

I’d say A Big Hand for the Little Lady definitely deserves a spot somewhere on those “best poker movie” lists. Particularly when one considers the dearth of good poker movies, generally speaking. Not everyone agrees. In Total Poker, David Spanier has a couple of good things to say about the film, but ultimately he finds it a mostly “silly story.” And Anthony Holden, in Big Deal, points out the obvious rule-breaking that occurs, suggesting that upon witnessing these transgressions “the serious poker player will return to his game without watching further.”

I won’t expend too much energy defending the story against the charge of silliness, although I do think worrying about the players’ adherence to rules misses the point somewhat. I will, however, go ahead and recommend the film not just for its cleverness and entertainment value, but also for the way it genuinely highlights poker as important in terms of both plot and theme.

As far as plot goes, the entire film revolves around that game & the “big hand,” and unlike some lesser poker-themed movies, does a nifty job (in my opinion) simply portraying the game. And while the film may convey different messages to different viewers -- or perhaps none at all, to some -- I see the idea of the bluff as an important thematic point here, insofar as the film does invite viewers to think about the significance of bluffing when telling a story, whether in a hand of poker or in a film.

Besides, there are a number of great poker-related lines in there, too. I’ll leave you with one. After learning the men aren’t interested in buying the family’s wagon, Mary mutters with disdain how they “are all such gallant gentlemen.” To which Drummond replies . . .

“We’re gallant on Sunday. This is Friday, and we’re playing poker.”

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

A Shamus Plug -- Texas Calculatem Poker Odds Calculator

Texas CalculatemEvery now and then I’ll get asked to review poker software and perhaps write about it here on Hard-Boiled Poker. For example, just this week I was contacted by the folks over at Poker Academy with such a request. Haven’t had the chance to check their program out as yet, but after following that “First Man-Machine Poker Championship” last July I’m quite interested to look into what they’ve sent me. Might try to load that sucker later tonight.

You may recall how the University of Alberta Computer Poker Research Group developed a program -- or, really, a series of programs -- called Polaris, which they pitted against Phil Laak and Ali Eslami in a series of duplicate poker matches last summer. My understanding is that the Poker Academy software uses the CPRG’s research, thus creating what is apparently a pretty powerful training program. Once I get it up and running and learn about the ins & outs, I’ll try to write something about it here.

Meanwhile, a couple of months ago I was sent another, more modest program to review, something called Texas Calculatem. I tried it out and found some of the features interesting, though decided ultimately I probably wasn’t going to be using it when I play. To be frank, I have gotten to the point where I don’t even like to run PokerTracker/PokerAce HUD when I’m playing, simply because I feel I remain better engaged with what’s happening at the table without the added distraction. (Still, I know a lot of folks do get a lot out of seeing those insta-stats when playing.)

Texas Calculatem is primarily a poker odds calculator. I could be wrong, but I believe it is mostly intended to be used in fixed limit HE. When you are dealt a hand, you are told immediately how it ranks relative to other starting hands. For example, when I was dealt QJ-offsuit, I learned its hand rank was 87.8%; when I was dealt 72-offsuit, I learned its hand rank was 0.7%; and so forth. If the hand appears in one of Sklansky’s hand groupings, you get a little note up top telling you which. So for my QJ-offsuit hand, the program told me I had a “Sklansky 5” hand.

After the flop (and thereafter), you get indications of how many outs you might have, what the odds are you’ll draw one of those outs, and a suggestion regarding how to proceed (“Check or Fold,” “Check or Call One Small Bet,” etc.). Yr basic poker odds, then, though it does not calculate pot odds. If you want a pot odds calculator, you have to get another program, called CalculatemPro.

Like I say, not really something I’m going to be using very much. I am recalling, however, when I first started playing online how I would prop these little notecards with Sklansky hand groupings & odds/outs next to the screen. I suppose a program like Texas Calculatem fulfills that function, in a way, and maybe even helps tutor the novice a bit in how to recognize hand strengths.

A few different things planned this week, including some more about Absolute/Kahnawake, a poker movie review, and perhaps something about the 2008 National Heads-Up Poker Championship on NBC (coming up at the end of Feb.). Hell, I might even have to tell you all about a Razz hand I played (in H.O.R.S.E.).

For now, though, I’m gonna go watch some football. See ya tomorrow.

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Friday, January 18, 2008

AIPS III Event No. 1 -- Limit Hold ’em

Wormed my way to 43rd in the Ante Up! Intercontinental Poker Series III in 3-D event last night (limit HE, $5.00+$0.50). 155 runners, all told (probably the most ever for an AIPS). Ended up a bit shy of the money, as the first 27 spots paid.

I’m writing this post without the benefit of hand histories, so forgive the imprecision with some of the numbers. I lasted just over two hours, getting bounced the first hand back from the second break. During that interval I had made a hasty check of the leaderboard to determine just where I stood . . .

I had around 3,400 chips, a good bit below average (approx. 5,200 at the time). Of the 43 players remaining, I was in the low twenties. For Level 13, the blinds were 250/500, with 500/1,000 stakes. I had decided I was probably going to be picking a hand and going with it. I had also decided I had as good a chance as anyone to go deep. So much for optimism.

Sure enough, first hand back I get dealt pocket tens in LP. I raised, and it folded to the BB who three-bet. I just called, leaving me with under 2,000, and the flop came K-K-5. The BB bet, I raised, and he called. The turn was a blank, and we ended up getting it all in right there. He tabled QQ, I didn’t spike a ten, and that was that.

When the tourney began I thoughts of writing up one of those epic chronicles in the manner of Hoyazo. Probably had such thoughts ’cos the Hammer Player was at my starting table, as were Ante Up! co-host Scott Long and frequent guest host Mike Fasso. I even took some screen shots along the way, thinking I would do a Hoya-homage of sorts. But when I looked back, none of the pics I grabbed were all that interesting. (This was a limit HE tourney, after all.)

Hoyazo took a couple of hits early on, then grinded his way back to a decent-sized stack before finally busting. Meanwhile, Fasso (on my right) was entertaining us all with frequent verbal jabs directed toward Scott whose little gecko was across the table. After one hand where Scott raised preflop then let go somewhere down the road, Fasso told him “Keep raising with napkins, Frenchie.” When asked about the trash talk, Fasso blamed it on his meds.

Actually, my most interesting hands of the night came against Fasso. Somewhere during the first half-hour I picked up AA on the button. It folded to Fasso who raised in the cutoff. I three-bet, he called, and together we saw a flop of K-3-5. He checked, I bet, and he check-raised me. I just called, putting him on a king. When an eight came on the turn, I raised Fasso, but he three-bet. Now I thought KK was possible. I called. Another eight came on the river and Fasso bet again. I just called, and he showed K-3 suited. I’d counterfeited him with that eight on the river. I hadn’t really thought Fasso would raise preflop with K-5 or K-3, but he did.

That hand helped cripple Fasso -- he was down to 350 or so at one point -- but he came back. Later I was getting low, and was under 1,000 in chips when he and I had an interesting blind-vs.-blind hand. I was in the BB with 2-3 offsuit. (I routinely picked up the worst hands in the blinds all night.) He just completed, I checked (of course), and the flop came 10-10-8. Fasso checked. He’d tried a check-raise bluff in that situation against me earlier (which I three-bet & he folded), so I didn’t want to give him the chance to do so again as I couldn’t possibly call or raise him this time. I checked, and the turn was a trey. Fasso checked, I bet, when he folded I showed my deuce-trey. “Dammmmmmmmmmmmit!” typed Fasso. “Played that awful.” No subject in that sentence, but I’m pretty sure his criticism self-directed.

Fasso kept his cool, though, and as I said worked his way back into contention, having a nice-sized stack (over 10,000) when I finally busted. (The tables got reset a couple of times, but I ended up next to him again for my last few hands.)

Don’t know how things turned out, though I hope Fasso did okay. Will come back and add a link to the Ante Up! site later today once they post the results. (EDIT: Looks like he made the final table. WTG, Mr. F.) Be sure to catch this week’s show, where they’ll probably review last night’s tourney, but also have Fasso on to talk about his trip to Tunica where he played in a few prelim WSOP Circuit events.

As far as last night went, I think played okay. Made a few so-so decisions, but some good ones, too. Had a hand in Level 12 where I was again dealt pocket aces (no hearts) and ended up actually folding it on the river in the face of a QhQc8hThJh board and a very excited opponent. (Might’ve been wrong, but I probably saved 800 chips on that one.) The fact is, once we reached Level 13 I think three-fourths of us were down to four or five big bets or less, meaning only a few players had any leeway for maneuvering in a given hand.

Those of you who play AIPS already know there’s a neat, friendly community of poker players who’ve gathered around that Ante Up! podcast. Those of you who haven’t (and who are interested in some cheap entertainment) should come check it out sometime. They attract all varieties of players -- from tourney interlopers like me to seasoned punters like Hoyazo to 2007 WSOP Main Event final tablist Lee Childs. (That’s right -- Childs was there last night.) You can see the full AIPS III schedule here.

Thanks to Aquaman, for the AIPS poster. Have a good weekend, all.

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