Saturday, December 30, 2006

Two New Books

I just got back from a trip home for Christmas. I got two new poker books that I'm pretty excited about, but it may be a while before I get to them. One is the new No Limit Hold 'em: Theory and Practice by David Sklansky and Ed Miller. The books in the Harrington series are the only ones I know of other than this one that focus on no-limit, and those are meant to be for tournament play. As Sklansky says in the introduction, no-limit games are rather fluid, in the sense that there are very few simple, generalizable rules. He says he's resisted writing a no-limit book because, unlike his other books, he doesn't think that most people will be able to just read this one and then go out and be a winning player. Other, unteachable skills play too large a role. Since no-limit is so hugely popular, this had been a rather glaring hole in the Two-Plus-Two library.

The other book is The Psychology of Poker by Alan Schoonmaker, with Sklansky listed as a "Strategy Consultant.". I minored in psychology in college, focusing mainly on decision theory. I think I'll have a lot to say about this book, but it remains to be seen whether I'll agree with Schoonmaker's analysis and whether his ideas will add much to my game. Schoonmaker has a Ph.D. from Berkeley in industrial psychology (not sure what that is), so he at least has an impressive resume and should have a much larger knowledge base than I do. His Bio says he likes playing low limit games, where the playing styles are less homogeneous. Also, players tend to be more willing to reveal their thoughts and emotions in these games. The hope is that this has allowed him to learn more about player's motivations.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Harrington on Hold'em Volume III

I've only written one book review so far for this blog, but it seems like good fodder for some future posts. The thing is, I haven't actually read any poker books in the past two months; I've been reading some other non-fiction things recently and I find it hard to keep track of the ideas if I'm reading too many books at once. The most recent poker book I've read is Harrington on Holdem Volume III: The Workbook. Being the third book in a series and more just a series of problems than an actual book, this isn't the ideal book to start with, but it's still moderately fresh in my mind, so I'm going to start with it anyway.

Like the first two volumes of HoH, I found Volume III to be rather disappointing but still quite valuable. The book quizzes us on 50 tricky tournament hands, many of them plucked from actual hands played by Ivey, Negreanu, Hellmuth, Hansen, and others. We are put in the position of one player, and at each decision point we are given multiple choices. After the hand, Harrington provides discussion of his thoughts on each decision, and gives you a score depending on your answers.

Even without any of Harrington's discussion, I think this book would be worth the read. You could probably find these hands online without going to the trouble of getting the book, but Harrington does a nice job of selecting interesting hands, and it's convenient to have them set up in the format of a quiz. Sure, you don't really need a poker pro like Harrington to format hands like this for you, but in any case, I found it enlightening to compare my own decisions with those actually made by top players.

Harrington's discussion and scoring system, however, are often frustrating. This book (and indeed, the three volume set of books) had enormous potential. Harrington is a very cerebral player, which makes his style ideal for teaching. Many of the top pros seem to use skills that "can't be taught," or at least would probably be very difficult to teach. Harrington emphasizes a lot more explicit analysis of pot odds and hand reading. In my opinion, this is an excellent approach, and his books are at their best when he delves most deeply into these strategies. More often than not, however, Harrington's discussions fail to take advantage of the deep analytic abilities he possesses and occassionally displays. Instead, we get comments such as "you probably have the best hand, so you should call," advice which can easily be shown not to be universally sound. Indulge me in the following counter-example to this justification for calling:

Suppose I have TT and raise preflop. An opponent rereaises me all-in and I determine he has the following types of hands at these rates:

AA-JJ, 45% of the time (I am losing and will win only about 18% of the time)
TT-22, 5% of the time (I'm ahead and will about 81% of the time)
Two overcards like AJ or KQ, 45% of the time (I'm ahead and will win 57% of the time)
Bluff or one overcard 5% of the time (I'm ahead and will win about 73% of the time)

In this situation, I have the best hand 55% of the time, but I will win only 39.3% of the time. Even though I usually have the better hand (55% of the time), if my opponent's raise was twice the size of the pot or more, I do not have pot odds to call (and the volatility of calling would make calling that much worse). Nonetheless, Harrington is willing to put the idea "you have the best hand, so you should call" into his book. When Harrington passes such simplistic advice off as analysis, I feel rather cheated. I realize that not every situation justifies a detailed equity analysis, but that doesn't excuse him from trying to justify his opinions with clearly faulty logic. The danger here is that his readers will read "we probably have the best hand, so we should call" and think that this faulty logic applies universally. It doesn't, Harrington surely knows it doesn't, but he doesn't seem to care enough about his readers to avoid claiming that it does. As I recall, Harrington's three books abound with faulty justifications like this. My advice: if you read these books and Harrington makes a general strategy claim, don't believe it unless he justifies it.

The other thing that frustrated me was Harrington's scoring system. Each answer of a multiple choice is given a certain number of points. This is fine and good. The problem is that no effort is put into making the scores correlate with the quality of the decision. Often, in the discussion, he will express some difficulty in deciding between, say, choices A and B, not even considering C because it is clearly bad. Then he concludes that A is best, assigns that answer 4 points, but awards zero points to both B and C. I find myself thinking, "Come on now, Dan, you know choices B and C do not display equal levels of decision making. In your discussion you strongly considered B, while C is clearly a terrible choice! Surely they should not be awarded the same number of points! Why not give answer B 2 or 3 points?" Then in another hand, he will award 1 or 2 points for an alternate answer, but it is quite arbitrary when he decides to do this. The end result is that the point system and the ambitious "Categorizing Your Errors" section are rendered useless. I think these could have been effective features if Harrington had put more effort into the scoring system.

HoH3: The Workbook provides worthwhile opportunities to practice and analyze your play. Just don't take Harrington's pithy analysis too seriously, and don't bother using the book's scoring system to score your choices.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Table Image: First Impressions (in case anybody's actually watching)

I haven't been playing as much recently, but today I got rudely awakened around 2 pm because Brigid and her friends wanted to go to the Commerce. Despite only having gotten 5 hours of sleep, I decided to join them.

Since I was rather tired, I resolved to play more conservatively because this takes somewhat less brainpower, and gives me fewer chances to make mistakes. When I have a specified regimen like this (which is rare), I think it can be a good idea to start the session by playing the exact opposite style. That way, if anyone's paying attention, they'll get an inaccurate first impression. This is useful because, psychologically, people vastly overemphasize their first impressions of others when trying to judge them later. The problem with this strategy is that it's pretty likely nobody is actually paying any attention to me, and I might end up sacrificing some equity on these early hands for "image advertising" that nobody even notices.

Come to think of it, I used a similar "strategy" in my first ever casino poker experience. A good portion of my poker reading up to that point was from this page by Mike Caro. Caro is an excellent poker thinker and a good writer (check out his canonical Book of Tells), but he puts an awful lot of emphasis on managing table image. Thus, so did I. When I sat down at the 2-4 limit table at Foxwoods that fateful day three years ago, I decided to spend my first 20 minutes or so playing like a maniac, raising preflop and on the flop most hands. My impression from Caro was that most players play too loosely, and that by making myself seem loose and aggressive, I would encourage them to play even more loosely against me. In retrospect, I realize this was overkill to the extent that when I finally reverted to my standard tight playing style, it must have been plainly obvious that I was not playing maniacally anymore. As it happened, though, I had a two hour long run of great cards and managed to win $320 that night, a pretty ridiculous amount for only about 4 hours of 2-4 limit.

Today this strategy has been pared down to trying to show one hand that I played aggressively
enough for the other players to notice and, hopefully, even discuss amongst themselves ("Q9s? Didn't he raise to $20 before the flop? That guy's nuts!"). I'll only do this until I manage to show such a hand; then I just revert to my standard strategy. The idea, of course, is to encourage people to give me action after I've switched gears and started playing only premium cards.

My first time under the gun I got a good opportunity to do put the plan into action. Playing 3-5NL with $200 behind, I got K6 diamonds and raised to $20. I got four callers, so the pot had $100.

Flop: Qd 7d 5c, giving me a flush draw. Deciding this hand would be a good chance to either take the pot with a semi-bluff, or get called and show my hand, I bet $60 and got one caller. Pot now $220.

Turn: 2s. With my flush draw, I pushed in for my last $110. If he folds 1/3 of the time or more, this is profitable for me even if my draw never comes when he calls me (in actuality I will hit my flush about 1/5 of the time, and there's a chance I would win with a K also). Since he didn't raise the turn, it seemed likely he'd fold to a big bet. Besides, I kind of wanted to have to show the hand for the image reasons I just discussed. Anyway, he folded and I mucked. (Why not show this hand? Well, not only is it kind of bad etiquette to show bluffs, I think it makes people suspicious that I am trying to set them up if I show. Of course, they would be right, so that would defeat the purpose.)

A round went by without any good opportunities for aggression, so I decided to just forget it and play conservatively. Maybe my previous all-in move would suffice, despite not getting to show it. Besides, I'd been there over 20 minutes and so the "first impression" opportunities had more or less expired. Then, on the button, I got 45o, and limped behind 3 other limpers. The big blind raised to 15, and we all called except the small blind. Pot: ~$75.

Flop: Ac 3h 5c. The big blind bet $50 and got two callers in front of me. With about $290 left, I pushed all-in (a $240 raise into a $275 pot). I figured even if the BB had AK, he'd have to consider folding with three opponents saying they have hands, and one of them (me) representing at least 2 pair. The other players would actually be correct to draw at a flush, but in my experience, people have a psychological hangup about calling big all-in bets on draws, even if the odds call for it (calling on draws is generally perceived as an amateurish play, and it's common for people to be ridiculed for it at the table, regardless of whether the play was actually -EV). Even if AK is out there and calls, I still have 9 outs to win (almost 35%). Anyway, the first two players folded, and the third called. I showed my hand... My opponent showed Qc 6c, and he missed. I pulled in a nice pot of $750+ with a pair of 5's, no kicker. Also, although it didn't quite have the "first impression" quality, I think it did make a bit of an impression on the rest of the table.

About 2 rounds later, I had an outstanding run of cards, winning about 8 of 11 straight hands. I don't know if my previous play had anything to do with it, but I got a ton of action on those hands and increased my stack from $700 to about $1500. After only 2 hours, Brigid's friends were ready to go, so I didn't have any time to lost anything back... good day at the office.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

More Interesting Home Game?

I had an interesting conversation yesterday with one of Brigid's statistics friends, Robert, with whom I occasionally discuss poker. Robert's cousin is some sort of Hollywood insider, though I didn't quite understand how. Anyway, supposedly Robert's cousin plays in a home game run by, I think, Danny Masterson, who I saw at the Bellagio poker room once with James Woods. Robert has never played in it, but he made it sound like he could probably get himself, and possibly me, invited. I think I would feel horribly out of place in such a game, but it would probably be fun and would certainly be interesting.

Monday, December 04, 2006

November Void

Wow, I failed to make a single post in November! For a while I had been trying to write at least one post a week, whether I had anything to say or not. Having overslept that metaphorical weekly blogging alarm a few times in the past few months, I neglected even bothering to set the alarm last month, and I didn't wake up until now. I know that several months ago I had several (i.e. at least 3) loyal readers. I appreciate your interest and comments, so I apologize for not holding up my end of the unspoken bargain. I'm going to reset my alarm now and see if I can't get this up and running again.

The last time I played casino poker was November 16, so I guess that partly explains why I haven't been inspired to write, at least the past couple weeks. I know this date because I keep track of my results in an excel spreadsheet, complete with a "notes" column in case someday I want to know, for instance, if I tend to play better when I have a friend with me or when I'm alone, or if I just want to remind myself of when certain events happened. The rest of the information pertains mostly to my hours and income. So far I've resisted requests for more details on my personal hourly wage and other such topics, despite conceding the fact that it would certainly make the blog more interesting.

Anyway, on November 16, I was at Hollywood Park Casino (traffic was too thick to bother driving to the Commerce - couldn't spare an extra hour and a half) playing 3-5 NL holdem. There were two rather small men in cowboy hats at my table who seemed a bit too loose preflop, but too tight thereafter. They turned out to be pretty discerning players besides those two tendencies. More interestingly, they were actually jockeys at the Hollywood Park race track! (Expect more moderately worthy stories such as this in the coming weeks.)

Since that day I've actually played poker twice, both times back home in Lexington Mass where I was for Thanksgiving. The first day brought together the three guys (Alex, Alex, and Matt) I played with back in high school about 3 nights a week, plus another friend, Taylor, who used to play with us pretty often, too. (Hey, I could probably use some stories from back in the day for a post or two!) I lost $7. The next night I went out expecting not to play any poker, but when I arrived, a poker game was just starting up with a bunch of old high school friends/acquaintances, some of whom were very inexperienced. I won $110. Both nights I think we were playing $.50-1 NL.

I've been sick most of the time since I got back to LA, but I seem to be better now, so hopefully I'll have some more actual poker to talk about soon. I also still have a lot of ideas jotted down for posts to make in the absence of any interesting news to report.

Expect another post within a week: now that I've backed myself into a corner, I think I'll probably be too ashamed to avoid posting, at least for a week or two. I'll assume at least one or two people will have read this by then.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Home Games

A couple of posts ago, I mentioned that I would be trying to play in some home games during the week, when I am somewhat reluctant to make a trip to the casinos because LA traffic is at its worst and casino poker is a bit slower. Since then, I've played in four home games, and they seem to be a waste of time. Three of these games I was invited to by Aaron. The fourth game was actually at my apartment, with some of Brigid's friends from the UCLA Statistics department. The main problems are that the games are too small and too slow.

My friend Alex has commented to me that he doesn't think he could be a pro poker player because he can't stand the other poker players at casinos. Personally, I kind of like interacting with the people at the poker tables. Often, they are people who I would never otherwise interact with in anything resembling a social manner, and frequently they are actually interesting and more friendly than I would have expected. Meeting new people every day keeps things interesting. On the occasions when they are obnoxious, I have no qualms about ignoring them or telling them off. I can then focus on the game instead.

Ideally, in a home game, I won't encounter obnoxious people, because they are all friends of friends of friends, but I haven't really found this to be the case. My friends are pretty agreeable and so are their friends, but this can easily break down after another iteration or two. Also it's not uncommon for a competitive game like poker (which also involves money) to bring out the worst in an otherwise amiable person. Since I'm a guest in someone's home, I don't feel right ignoring or arguing too much with obnoxious players in home games, as I might at a casino. Worse, the games I've played in are played at such a slow place and for such low stakes that the games can be tedious even when I generally like the other players. This is the case for the game with Brigid's friends; I feel like I spent most of my time pointing out whose turn it is and then explaining what their options were.

I suppose that if I found a home game with high enough stakes, it could be worthwhile, but in that case I might be worried about the security of my winnings. Home games also can be worthwhile if you enjoy the company of the other players (as with Aaron Orange County game), but then it's more of a social event, not a substitute for actually earning money at a casino. If were willing to make a 3 hour round trip to Orange County, I think my time would be better spent going to the Commerce.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

R.I.P. Cory Lidle

Yesterday morning I woke up to see the news that a small plane had hit an apartment building in Manhattan. As strange as this story was at the time, it became even stranger to me when I learned that the pilot was Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle.

Before I moved to Las Vegas, I once had occassion to have a lengthy conversation with Lidle at a poker table in Binion's. Despite being an obsessive baseball fan, I didn't recognize him at all. He was sitting to my right and was quiet but friendly. After chatting with him for a couple minutes, I asked him about his unusual-looking card protector (at that point I still didn't know who he was). He told me that he actually designed it and sold them on his website; a friend of his had a company that custom-made such things. It had a chart on one side showing you your odds to catch a card on the turn or river given a certain number of outs. We got into a somewhat ridiculous conversation about whether such a chart should even be legal at the table, and a few other people at the table had strong opinions on the subject. It got to the point where someone at our table asked the floorperson if we would be allowed to bring a calculator to the table (yes, it would be allowed). Lidle seemed disapproving of bothering the man with such a silly question.

It was only at that point that I asked to take a closer look at the card protector in question. Along the bottom it said "" I looked at him curiously and said "are YOU Cory Lidle?"

"Yeah. Why, are you a baseball fan?" he asked. I was, and we proceeded to discuss various things including his high school teammates Jason and Jeremy Giambi (Jason is a cool guy. Jeremy is a "walking drug store" who blamed his girlfriend when he got caught with pot in his bag at the airport), playing for the Phillies as opposed to the Reds (the Phillies are a fun group... the Reds have a lot of obnoxious young players), and the new drug testing policy ("I like it, because I don't use them"). He also confided in me that he hadn't touched a baseball since the end of the season (this was mid-January, a month before the spring training), and indeed he had a reputation of having a poor work ethic.

Due to my encounter with him in Las Vegas, I became a bit of a Cory Lidle fan. It helped that I think he was a bit underrated as a player (so I felt justified in arguing that he deserved a spot in the starting rotation). I was also quite impressed with his willingness to speak his mind publicly, most notably about his rooting against Barry Bonds because he's a cheater. Of course, I also have some respect anyone who has spent the time to become a decent poker player, as Lidle seemed to have been. In any case, I just wanted to get my personal memory of him in writing, as I was sad to learn of his death.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Tom Ferguson Invitational Poker Tournament

Not much poker for me the past two weeks. I've successfully made the move to LA, and I hope to find some sort of routine soon. On Friday I had a somewhat notable, out-of-the-ordinary poker experience. My girlfriend Brigid has just joined the statistics department at UCLA as a PhD student. One of the professors in the department, Tom Ferguson, just finished his 50th year as a member of the faculty. He's an expert in several fields, including game theory (I've actually read one of his papers). More interestingly, he's the father of Chris "Jesus" Ferguson, probably one of the five most recognizable poker players in the world. Anyway, to commemorate Ferguson's 50th year, the faculty organized the "first annual Tom Ferguson Invitational Poker Tournament." The tournament was free and open to department members and friends, with prizes donated by the faculty.

Most of the 28 players were very inexperienced, with a reasonable idea of how the game worked but almost no grasp of appropriate strategy, so I felt a little bad winning their first prize of the iPod Nano. I quickly handed it over to Brigid so that at least there was some feeling that a department member was involved (Brigid won a prize too with her 9th place finish). My victory was far from a certainty, though. With M's starting below 6 and blinds increasing every round, it was imperative to get in and gamble. I was fortunate enough to double up with AA on the fourth hand and to win some coin flips after that. Although it was fun to play some poker and meet Brigid's new colleagues, the main reason I wanted to go was that I hoped Chris might show up for his dad's party. Unfortunately, he didn't make an appearance.

Later tonight I'm off to play in Aaron's weekly home game. Actually, I might be playing in a lot of home games this year. Aaron's invited me to another weekly game down in Orange County that I haven't been to yet, and supposedly the stats department has a monthly tournament. I also live about a mile from the UCLA frats, where I suspect there may be some poker, but I'm not the type of person who's good at talking my way into games like that, nor am I particularly comfortable with it. In fact, I'm not perfectly comfortable playing in Aaron's home games, despite actually having been invited. A little discomfort might be worth sparing me from driving through the traffic to the casinos a few nights a week, though. Given recent legistlation, I'm not very optimistic about playing on the internet.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Mirage SNG Update

I've had a cold the past week, so I haven't played as much poker as usual. Still, I have made it to the Mirage often enough to play in eight more Sit-N-Go (SNG) tournaments. My results have matched my approximations as closely as possible: 2 first places and 1 second place in the 8 attempts. I had guessed that I should place about 40% of the time, with somewhat more 1st place finished than 2nd place. In actuality I have placed 37.5% of the time. Adding the first two I played, I now have 4 first places and 1 second out of ten. Here are some new observations:

The tournaments tend to take much longer to start up than I had experienced when I wrote my previous post. During the day (before 5:30PM), they were unable to get even one SNG started. They stopped even trying to run them from about 5:30PM to 7PM so as to not interfere with registration for their nightly multi-table tournaments. Once they start back up in the evening, though, they seem to be able to get a new tournament going every hour or so, and they often have two running at once. Playing in cash games while waiting for the SNGs to start works well, except that it means I cannot get settled into a cash game for long. On the other hand, if the cash game is good enough, I can always opt to stay and forgo the SNG when it starts.

The cheaper SNGs ($70) run much more often than the more expensive ones ($115 and $175). Of the eight I played since last posting, six were $70 SNGs (2 firsts) and only two were $115 (1 second place finish). I have never seen a $175 tournament run.

The competition has been on average a bit tougher than before. In six of the eight tournaments there was at least one other pro at my table. Still, in all but one of the tournaments, there were at least three truly terrible players.

Even against the other pros, I am very confident in my short-handed game. Thus, I think my optimal strategy is to play extra tight until the table becomes somewhat shorthanded, because that maximizes the chances that I will still be in the tournament at that point. Even if on average I will have fewer chips, just being alive late in the tournament seems to provide me with many fruitful EV opportunities that I suspect more than make up for whatever I may have sacrificed with overly conservative play early in the tournament.

None of this is particularly relevant to me anymore, however, because on Tuesday (Sept 19) I'm moving to Los Angeles.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Mirage's "Sit-N-Go" Tournaments

I'm not sure if it's still the case, but when I used to play poker online, one of the most popular forms was the single table sit-n-go (or SNG) no-limit holdem tournaments, where you just buy in and wait for 9 other people to join. Sometime last year, the Mirage started offering their own SNGs. I actually wasn't sure this would work, since in a live environment, people have to actually sit and wait for enough players to show up. Online, on the other hand, you can much more easily occupy yourself with other things (another poker game, for instance). Notwithstanding my skepticism, the live SNGs seem to have caught on. Until Monday, though, I had never tried one. This is mostly because a floorperson told me I couldn't get a $15 food comp for playing in them, so I always just played cash games instead.

As I arrived Monday afternoon, I heard an announcement that there was one seat left in a $70 SNG. They also offer $115 and (I think) $170 SNGs. Despite the lack of a food comp incentive, I've been interested in trying one, so I decided this would be a good chance. Taking my seat, I recognized no other players at my table, usually a good sign. We were given 1000 in chips, with the blinds starting at 25 and 50, so our starting M was just over 13, which is rather low (anything under 20 or so and strategy adjustments need to be considered). Inquiring with the dealer, I learned the blinds would increase every 15 minutes, also rather fast. The dealer dealt for the button, and I was placed 6th after the blinds. For the first 8 hands or so, I was dealt nothing playable, and folded. As I was watching, I began to worry that this might be a limit tournament. Every bet and raise that was made was the exact amount that would be required in a fixed-limit game, be it pre-flop, on the flop, or on the later streets. Could it really be that my opponents are so unsophisticated that they don't realize they should be betting more than the minimum? It hardly seemed possible. For about two hands I had become convinced that I was, in fact, playing in a limit tournament, when suddenly someone made a raise of 3 times the blind. I looked up at the dealer, expecting her to explain that the player had raised too much. She simply announced "raise to 150, " and looked to the next player. At that moment, I realized the incredible degree to which my experience in no-limit poker outpaced the rest of the table. My competition was about as soft as I'd ever seen. When it got to heads up, I had almost a 4 to 1 chip lead on my opponent, who was one of the better players, but still mediocre. He folded way too often heads-up, but he managed to stick around for about 20 minutes before I finally won. First place $420, second place $180. The whole thing took about an hour and a half.

Tuesday I played another SNG at the Mirage, this one for $115. Looking around the table, I recognized the player two to my left, a dealer. All the others were new faces. We started with more chips this time (1500), but the rest was structured the same. I drew the big blind to start, and there were about 5 limpers. Since in tournaments players tend to play rather straightforwardly, I was pretty confident nobody had a big hand, or they would have raised. So, I raised to 300, expecting everyone to fold their mediocre drawing hands. The first player mumbled about "300 just like that?" before folding. However, I got two callers. Foolishly, I had expected these players to be reasonably typical tournament players, in spite of my previous experience that suggested the contrary. I missed the flop and folded to a bet of only 200. After that, I adjusted my strategy to sticking around and looking for big edges because my competition was, once again, astonishingly weak. The only other decent player was the one I recognized as a dealer. He and I got to head's up, with my holding a 3 to 1 chip lead. After about 12 hands I had won again. This one took only about an hour. First place $700, second place $300. The floorman even offered me an unsolicited $15 comp when he paid me my winnings.

I certainly don't expect to win every time, but the competition in these SNGs is so weak that I believe I should come in the money at least one third of the time. Assuming I win about $540 on average when I do cash (minus the $115 buyin and also the dealer tip), and that I cash 40% of the time, the expected value of one of the $115 SNGs would be about $90. For an 1 to 1.5 hours of play, that comes to $60 to $90 an hour, which is quite good. Another consideration is, of course, whether the risk involved in playing these SNGs outweigh the EV. Considering that my current hourly standard deviation is almost $300 playing cash games, it's hard to imagine the an hour long, $115 SNG being any riskier, although I haven't bothered to do the actual calculations yet (based on the above approximations). If these approximations are anything close to accurate (a big "if"), I should probably be playing in these SNGs as often as possible.


Update (3/2/12): Mirage SNG Update posted 9/18/06

Monday, September 04, 2006


The other day at the Mirage, I had an interesting encounter with Rose, an Asian dealer from the Bellagio. We were both playing 6-12 limit, and she recognized me from when I used to play at the Bellagio every day. We got into a discussion about the Bellagio. After I explained why I don't play at the Bellagio anymore, she told me that the floorman I particularly dislike there has some sort of mental problem that makes him slow. Huh. I asked her how the new 5-10 NL game is there. When I used to play there, they only had 2-5 NL and 10-20 NL. In the past couple months I've heard that the 5-10 NL game there is great and that I should start playing it as my regular game. Rose, on the other hand, told me I should stay away from the 5-10 and instead play the 2-5, 10-20, 15-30 limit and (especially) the daily $540 tournament.

In the midst of our friendly conversation, Rose won a pot, and her timid-looking female opponent turned over her cards for the showdown: two pair.

"Two pair??" Rose exclaimed. "You think that's good? I have straight." The losing player just raised her eyebrows at us, unsure why she deserved such ridicule. I was taken aback by Rose's sudden hostility. Feeling somewhat ashamed to have been conversing with her, I asked, "what's wrong with betting two pair there on the river?"

"Oh no, no. I just had better hand," Rose explained.

"But you're acting like you think she's an idiot," to which Rose just shrugged. She persisted in taunting the other players the rest of the night.

Personally, I find it rather entertaining to encounter so many strange people, even if it means many of them will be truly obnoxious. Exceptions where I am not so amused include situations where people speak way too loudly and won't shut up, persist in telling me boring stories long after I've stopped showing any interest, or behave in ways that slow the game down. Short of that, I find obnoxioius behavior like Rose's tolerable and even somewhat amusing. I consider it despicable and I wouldn't associate with the perpetrators, but it does tend to liven up the game.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Dealers are Rich

It's been a couple of years since I heard anything about how much dealers make at Las Vegas casinos. The last discussion I can remember having about it was with recent WPT champion (and "crew" member) Joe Bartholdi, back when he used to deal at Binion's. At the time, he told me he wanted to move to Los Angeles, where Dutch Boyd and other crew members were living, but that his girlfriend was making $100K a year dealing blackjack and was unwilling to leave her job in Vegas to move to L.A. Joe told me he was making about $60K as a poker dealer. Since then, whenever I've been asked how much dealers make, I've said, "I'm not sure, but poker dealers can make over $60,000 I think, and other dealers sometimes make as much as $100,000." Usually, the person who asked dismisses these estimate as being far too high.

Now I have some more evidence. At the Wynn (admittedly, the highest paying casino), the average dealer makes $100,000 a year. I would guess the poker dealers average a bit less. I got the $100K figure from this article about how Steve Wynn is instituting a new tip-sharing policy that's not very popular among the dealers.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Google Ads

It seems I can put up ads on my blog. They would be generated by Google in the same way the ads for gmail work: ehe text of my blog would be scanned for key words so that the ads are related to my blog's content. The ads on gmail tend to be unobtrusive and often pertinent. If I do this and anyone actually clicks on an ad, I get paid some nominal sum. I'm also pretty curious to see what will be advertised, so unless I have a sudden change of heart, expect to see some ads up in a day or two.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Celebs Playing 3-6 limit at the Mirage

I've now played poker with two supporting actors from TV shows at 3-6 limit tables at the Mirage. A few months ago, it was Brad Garrett from "Everybody Loves Raymond." Last night I was sitting next to a guy I'm pretty sure was Powers Boothe, from "Deadwood" and Sin City. I also have heard Jason Alexander plays there sometimes, but I've never seen him. I don't really have a story to tell, I just think Powers Boothe is cool enough that I should post about it. And if it wasn't him I was playing with earlier, well, that guy sure looked a lot like Powers Boothe, which is kind of interesting in its own right, I guess.

In case you actually care: Here is some evidence I found that Powers Boothe might actually play poker, which makes me feel somewhat more confident it was really him. (Search for "poker." It's a bit more than half way down the page.)

Monday, August 14, 2006

Los Angeles Poker

From about the time I started looking into moving to Las Vegas for poker, I had heard that Los Angeles was another excellent location for a poker player. The Bike and The Commerce casinos have two of the biggest poker rooms in the world, and other poker rooms were supposedly scattered all through the city. I decided on Las Vegas because I already had some connections here, but I always figured Los Angeles would have worked just as well. Now that I'm moving there and looking into it a bit more, I'm not so sure. I've now been to both the Bike and Commerce, and both are located in rather depressing neighborhoods, almost completely devoid of culinary options. Drinks, which I have become accustomed to being served for free at poker tables, were being paid for by patrons at the Bike; I can only hope that this is not a city-wide policy. My most severe misgivings, however, concern my anticipated commute.

Westwood, the neighborhood I'm moving to in LA next month, doesn't seem to have any poker rooms within a half hour drive. Now, I realize expecting a commute of less than 30 minutes in Los Angeles was probably overly optimistic, but I really thought that was going to be the case. When a particular destination is about 10 miles away on the freeway, I used to expect that to mean it would take about 15 minutes to drive there. That was before I tried driving on the freeways in LA. The Commerce casino is 20 miles from Westwood, but this takes at least 40 minutes, probably nearly 2 hours during rush "hour." The Bike is just a bit further. Somehow, I had gotten the impression that the Hustler Casino was ten miles away, but really it's about twice that. My best bet now seems to be the Hollywood Park Casino in Inglewood, east of the airport. Only 12 miles south of Westwood on the 405, this shows some promise; maybe I'll even be able to get there in under half an hour. Hollywood Park has the added advantage of being in the neighborhood where Aaron, one of my best college friends, will be moving this week for his new job with a video game company. It'd be nice to finally have a poker buddy to play with on a regular basis, but I expect Aaron will be pretty busy with his new job. I just hope the Hollywood Park poker room will be satisfactory. Going to their website doesn't really help give me much idea what to expect. I guess I'll have to go check it out on my next apartment hunting trip. Hopefully, I won't have to resort to the recently outlawed internet poker after I move.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

The Pain of a "Bad Beat"

Recently I was talking to Brad, one of Joe's friends. I had last seen him two and a half years ago, and at that time we played a home poker game during which Joe and I had to explain the rules to him. Now he plays what I guess you could call semi-pro poker, by which I mean he plays online for hours a day and doesn't have a job, but he doesn't seem to consider himself a pro. That's pretty impressive progress in two years.

While we were talking, Brad mentioned that he plays online a ton, and I told him I thought he'd probably get sick of it. For me, I find it hard to justify sitting in front of a computer all day long when that is one of the reasons I decided to leave my old job. Brad says that he actually likes playing online more than live sometimes because he doesn't mind the bad beats as much. I had never heard that before. The only reasons I had heard in support of online play is it's convenience, possible higher earning rate, and faster pace of play (which reduces boredom). He said that online, he expects bad beats and since he plays several games at a time, he usually plays at lower stakes, which makes the bad beats not quite so bad. I guess online the bad-beat pain can also be reduced partly due to the fact that you don't have actual people there looking at you, and since you will be playing another hand immediately (and if you are multi-tabling, you are already playing other hands). I imagine it is also easier to watch a number on the computer change than to watch someone take a pile of your chips.

Personally, I think my problem is the exact opposite. Bad beats don't really bother me that much unless I am playing over my head financially, which is very rare. In fact, I usually feel pretty good after a bad beat, because it means that I probably played the hand well, which give me more confidence. So, playing at stakes that can't hurt me helps me to avoid the pain of a bad-beat. The flip side is that if I don't care about the money, it makes it a bit harder to concentrate on the game. As I've mentioned before, I think concentration is the main factor that separates good players from great ones.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Los Angeles

My girlfriend Brigid recently moved out here to Vegas with me, and we'll be moving to Westwood, LA, in September because she's starting a PhD program at UCLA. My current plan is to continue playing poker. Rumor has it that Los Angeles is at least as good a place for a poker player to make a living as Vegas. I was hoping to commute from Westwood to the Commerce or the Bike, which are, I think, the two largest poker rooms in LA. The problem is, the traffic in Los Angeles in maddeningly slow. Shockingly slow. Unimaginably slow. Brigid and I spent a couple days in LA to go apartment hunting, and we stayed at the Ramada next to the Bike. The drive from there to Westwood was unpleasant even with a friend in the car. I don't know if I'll be able to stand making the 40+ mile round trip commute every day.

Another option may be to play mostly at the Hustler casino in Gardena. I've never seen the place, but it's only 10 miles from Westwood, which I imagine should make for a perfectly tolerable commute of 30 minutes. Supposedly Larry Flynt is a poker player, so I"m hopeful that the poker room there will be pretty nice. I'll have to check it out next time I go to LA.

This blog has focused on Las Vegas life and poker, so I'm sure you must all be wondering what will become of this blog when I move... well, I think it's going to stay pretty much the same, except obviously there won't be so much about Las Vegas anymore. In retrospect, I don't think I've written that much about Vegas anyway. So, it will be almost exactly the same.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

WSOP Update

Well, I got knocked out on the first day, only a few hours in. I think I played well, though, and I've made back my $1000 buy-in playing 1-2NL and 2-5 NL the past two days, so I don't feel too bad about it. My most questionable play was laying down KK on a jack-high flop. In that hand, my opponent was someone I'd played a tournament with before and he was about the tightest player I'd ever seen. He raised pre-flop in early position, I re-raised with my KK, and he re-raised me again. I probably should have folded here because I don't think he would have done that without AA or KK. I was being offered 5-2 odds, and I figured it was possible he had QQ... the only other real possibilities were AA or KK. He pushed all-in on the flop, offering me 2-1 odds. I folded. If I can't call there on the flop I really shouldn't bother calling pre-flop either.

The hand I was crippled on I had QQ and the flop came jack-high again. My opponent was a bit short-stacked and pushed all-in with AJ. I called and he caught an Ace to beat me with two pair. I was able to stay alive by doubling up with AA, but then the blinds increased to 50-100 and I still only had 500 (we started at 1500). In late position I pushed all-in with AKo behind two limpers. Everyone folded except the last guy, who called with Q9o and caught a pair to win.

Supposedly we set a new record for the largest live single-day starting tournament. This is because the really big tournaments like the main event have 3 starting days because they can't fit all the entrants on one day. Also, there were about 800 "alternates" for our tournament who took people's places once they'd been knocked out.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

$1000 NL Holdem WSOP Event

I'm giving in and playing in my first WSOP event, the cheapest NLHE ovent offered. It starts tomorrow (Monday) at noon, and is supposed to run three days. The most expensive tournaments I've played in the past cost $540, so this is a bit of a stretch for me. Also, I expect there'll be over 2000 entrants, and I'll probably be playing 11 hours tomorrow.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Weekend of Tournaments

My freshman and sophomore college roommate Ben and his girlfriend Lauren were in town this past week. We played a little 1-2 NL and several smallish tournaments (mostly around $100 buyins). Ben won two of the five tournaments we played (although one of them had only 9 players), and cashed in all but one.

The second tournament Ben won was at Sam's town. I arrived a bit drunk (don't worry, a friend drove me), and about 45 minutes into the tournament, but they let me buy in at that point and I managed to triple my stack in the first several hands. It seems that if you are obviously drunk, people are much more willing to call your raises with ace high or bottom pair. Meanwhile, Ben had built his stack up to become one of the chip leaders, and he was eventually moved over to my table as players were eliminated. Playing shorthanded, the blinds were becoming overwhelming and my M was down around 5. I decided to try to steal the blinds with 87o. Ben decided to call me with a meager A5s. The flop was A44, leaving me almost dead. The turn was another 4, leaving me with absolutely no chance to win the pot. I did have one out for a split though, and sure enough, the case 4 came on the river. We both played the board.... but I was knocked out near the money a while later on a bad beat (AA heads up, all-in preflop).

The one tournament Ben failed to cash in was the noon tournament at Caesars. This time I fared much better, placing fourth out of almost 150. Actually, we agreed to a split at the end. The tournament director had some sort of computer program to determine fair payouts corresponding to everyone's ship counts at the final table. I held out for an extra $75 or so. I really would have preferred playing, but I had other engagements, and Ben had been wiating for me for several hours and wanted to get the hell out of Caesars (the only place his luck had failed him). Frustratingly, the tournament director took a full hour to give us our money, and this was after we had just spent about 20 minutes agreeing on how the chop would work. Other than the long wait for our cash, the tournament was well-run, I thought.

In our last tournament, an evening one at Binion's, I convinced Lauren to let me pay 90% of her entry fee if I would get 90% of her winnings. She did pretty well, lasting much longer than I did, but failed to earn me any money. Ben, on the other hand, came in 6th (they paid 10). He had been chip leader but ran into some bad luck at the final table, where the initial pots were so big that there was absolutely no room to maneuver beyond pushing all-in pre-flop.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

First Day, WSOP 2006

Yesterday marked the first "open event" at the 2006 WSOP, held at the Rio. The first event was a $500 tournament open only to casino employees (congrats to my buddy Jackson, a dealer at the Mirage who took 13th out of 1232. Actually, I don't know his last name so that might not be the guy I know. Still, congratulations Jackson Young, whoever you are.) Anyway, the first event was the $1500 No Limit Holdem event that I had considered playing in. However, the idea of being forced to play 10 hours, plus time for dinner and 8 breaks, was rather daunting. Plus, the event is supposed to last 3 days, and I have some friends coming in on Thursday. Instead, I decided to just stop by the Rio and check the place out. I was hoping to get in a cash game if possible. I also thought I might stick around long enough to play their $500 "second chance" tournament, which is supposedly run every day at 5 pm.

I wasn't sure I'd be able to park due to the likelihood that it'd be ridiculously crowded, but for some reason there was a ton of parking, much more than there used to be on a weekend night back in February when I played at the Rio a lot. Still, when I got inside, the place was packed. I had to wander around a bit before I figured out where the tournament was being held, but when I neared it, the scene was rather spectacular. They have booths set up for sponsors and things all along the hallway. Even though the tournament had already started, the hallways were still crowded with specatators and the media. I walked by a photo booth with sample photos of WSOP bracelet winners, including Scotty Nguyen. Then I turned to go and who happened to be walking by, but Scotty himself.

In the tournament room were over 200 tables full of players. Since this was not enought to accommodate all the players, they had alternates rotating in whenever anyone was eliminated. Supposedly there ended up being more than 2600 players. I could barely move through the aisles so I stayed near the entrance and watched ten or so uneventful hands of Gavin Smith's table. John D'Agostino was being interviewed behind me. I was surprised to see how many big name players showed up for such an inexpensive and lengthy event. John Juanda, Joe Bartholdi (I'm a fan because he seemed like a cool guy when I talked to him during my first trip to Vegas 3 years ago), Howard Lederer, and others. I stopped to watch Jennifer Harmon after she raised to 150 before the flop (blinds of 25-50, she had about 2000 in mid-late position). The big blind raised her to 700. She pushed all-in after a few seconds, and the big blind immediately called with about 1600. He had AKo. Harmon's QQ held up.

It was only about 2pm at this point, and there were no cash games going, so I decided not to stick around for the 5pm tournament. Besides, the place was so crazy and hectic I didn't feel like trying to figure out where it was going to be held or how to sign up for it. I went over to play at the Wynn, where they have a promotion where if you play 50 hours by July 22 you get to play in a $100,000 freeroll tournament. The Wynn was also packed, by far the most crowded I've seen it on a Tuesday afternoon. I'm not sure if this was because of the promotion or the WSOP being in town, but they had only one or two empty tables in the place and every game had a sizable list. I played their 15-30 game while waiting for 2-5 NL, and lost about $100, (bad luck this time, I'm quite certain. I had 3 sets all lose to straights on the river). Then I moved over to the 2-5 game, where I had much better luck, including runner-runner quad 5's, and a semibluff that was called but I caught my flush. I got 6 hours in towards my 50 before becoming exhausted (jet-lag from flying in from the east coast).

As a side note, I started reading The Professor, The Banker, and the Suicide King by Michael Craig. It's an interesting story about billionaire Andy Beal coming to Vegas to play the best poker players head's up for stakes between 10K-20K and 100K-200K. Beal becomes extremely competitive, to the point where Barry Greenstein at one point admits that Beal had outplayed him during one session, and later Ted Forrest says he had been outplayed as well.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Complicated Hand vs. Joe

My friend Joe has been in town the past couple of weeks and we've been playing a lot of 1-2 NL. Late Sunday night we got into a game full of weak, loose, drinkers, and Joe and I were dominating the table. I was playing a hyper-aggressive style and Joe, to my left, was just sitting back playing good, solid poker.

A lot of people, when they play at a table with friends, are reluctant to play hands heads-up against their friends. This is completely understandable, and I can't really fault them for it. Nonetheless, this behavior does disrupt the natural flow of the game. Each player at the table should be able to assume that their opponents are playing for themselves and only for themselves (this is especially important in torunaments, where collusion would be even more profitable). Anyway, Joe and I have a history of not going any easier against each other, as is exemplified in what follows.

In the following hand, I had about $425 left in mid-late position, and Joe had me covered. Nobody else at the table had over $300, as far as I can remember. There were two limpers and I limped in with KTs. Joe limped in behind me, and the small blind completed.

Flop: Ks Kc 9c.

This is a flop where I am very likely to have the best hand, but if I don't, it has the potential to get me into plenty of trouble. My T kicker is worrisome.

Action to me: check, check, bet $20. This player is quite aggressive, and likes to be tricky, so this bet actually suggests he does not have a king. Anyway, with three players behind me, I just call. Joe raises to $100. This constitutes a raise of $80 into a pot of size $68 (after rake). Could Joe be raising with an inside straight draw like JT? Yes, but this seems very unlikely. Obviously, Joe has to suspect that one of his opponents has a big hand, so this would be an extremely risky bluff. I am about 95% certain he is holding the last K, possibly even K9 or maybe even 99. Joe is not the type to play Kx preflop, unless possibly if it's suited. It is hard for me to imagine that my KT is the best hand in this situation. The blinds fold. The original bettor ponders for a while, and says "you must have my king outkicked." Then he shows his hand to the guy next to him, who nods. Then he folds.

Now, in my experience, when someone states something about his hand just before showing it to someone and then folding, he is telling the truth over 95% of the time. He has no incentive to mislead the other players if he is going to be out of the hand anyway, and if he were lying about it to help his table image, he wouldn't show it to the person next to him. Suddenly, I had some doubt about Joe's hand. I still thought he might be holding a king, but now I was significantly less certain than I was before. I decided I needed to find out where I was, so I raised to $250 (a $150 raise into a $228 pot). After some deliberation, Joe called. At this point I was again pretty sure Joe had the best hand. I would have expected him to re-raise there, but maybe he figured he could get the rest of my money in on the turn and river.

Pot: $528
Turn: Ts. Now I have the nuts. With about $155 left in my stack, I put out a bet of $50. After calling my flop raise, Joe can't fold to such a small bet. He pushed me all-in, and I obviously called. Joe showed KJ.

Pot: $835.
River: Tc. Joe and I split the pot with KKKTT.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

"The Snake"

Out of curiosity, I went to the Hendon Mob database to see who placed in the tournament I wrote about last time. Turns out, the guy who sucked out against me went on to win the darn thing. I saw him again on Monday night at Mandalay Bay playing craps, and he was wearing a leather jacket with "Snake" on the back. I was amused to see that he calls himself Kevin "The Snake" Blakey on the database.

Friday, May 26, 2006

First "Festival" Event

When people I know find out that I am a serious poker player, they often ask me "when am I going to see you on TV?" Since most televised events cost $10K or more, the answer is I am not going to be on television anytime soon. I suppose that I might be in a televised event during the WSOP, since they often televise lower buy-in events. Frankly, though, I'm not sure I want to play a televised event - I don't particualarly like being in front of a camera and I think they make you sign release forms and stuff that at least a few poker pros object to (Chris Ferguson and Andy Bloch, for example, no longer play in WPT events for this reason). Even the lowest buyin events at the WSOP are over $1K, and I very rarely play events over $400. Last night, however, I decided to try my hand at the $540 evening tournament at Mandalay Bay, part of their "Mandalay Bay Poker Championship." If I made it to the money, at least I would have some form of recognition to point my "fans" to. Besides, I am falling behind one of my poker buddies from back in college. The last time I saw him was the day after he placed in the WSOP event.

Only 42 people entered the $540 evening event, with 5 places to be paid. Actually, I think there were a few more entries after the tournament started, but their were still fewer than 50. My first table was mostly tight except for a pretty loose player directly to my right - a very favorable situation, really. I decided to play a little aggressively because the table was tight and I would almost always have position on the only guy who usually called. I had increased my stack from the initial 3000 to about 4000 (blinds at 25-50), when I picked up AA in middle position. the guy to my right limped in, and I raised to 200. I think my aggressive play may have paid off a bit here, because the next two people called behind me, and then the big blind went all-in for over 2500, probably an over-sized bet regardless of his holding. Anyway, the loose player folded and after several seconds of fake pondering, I pushed all-in too (I think this makes it look like I may just have AQ or something). The two players behind me folded. My AA held up against his 99, and my stack was up to about 7000. Meanwhile, some of the more experience playes were getting frustrated by our dealers. The first two dealers of the night were truly terrible. They certainly knew the rules, but they couldn't keep up with the action, and seemed not to have much motor control in their arms or fingers. Basically, the players had to announce where the action was, when it was time to put out the flop, what order he was supposed to deal in, etc. Fortunately, after that, we had much better, more experienced dealers, but those first two were just so ridiculous I felt I had to mention it here even though it doesn't much relate to the rest of the story.

At the first break (after 3 rounds of 40 minutes), with about 30 players left, I was the chip leader with about 18,000 in chips, with average around 4,500. After the break, another player at my table began getting very loose and aggressive, taking down a lot of pots. After about an hour, he was up to 15,000, and I was up to 30,000. We were playing 7-handed because only 15 players remaine. Blinds were 200-400 with antes of 25, so each hand had 775 in the pot to start. With him on the button and me in the big blind, he opened with a raise to 1200. I had 89o. This is a difficult situation because I think I can push him out with a raise, but if I raise to 4000 or something, I would really not welcome a reraise all-in, which was a common move on his part. I would probably have to fold if he did that. Alternatively, I could just push all-in right here. The player to my left, the big blind, was very solid, with around 8000 left. He would probably fold without a very unlikely AA-JJ. This would also force the original raiser to decide if he wanted to risk the whole tournament on this one hand. I think he would probably have made that raise to 1200 with about half of his possible hands, trying to steal the blinds, so it's not that likely he has a hand strong enough to call. I think he'd call with AJs or better, so let's do some Dan Harrington style calculations to see what the EV of an all-in raise here would be.

About 1.8% the big blind calls me with a big pair. Assuming the button folds in this case, the EV for me in this situation is:
% win/loss EV
17.2% I win, + 9575 1647
82.8% I lose, - 7800 -6458
Sum = -4811
Obviously bad for me, but this happens less than 2% of the time. The other 98% looks like this:
% win/loss EV
87.6% button folds + 1975 1730
12.4% button calls
17.2% I win +15775 336
82.8% I lose -14800 -1520
Sum = 546
Overall EV = .018*-4811 + .982*546 = -87 + 537 = 450.

Obviously I don't know exactly what hands my opponents might call or fold with here, so there is no way to get as precise as the number above indicate. Still, it looks like pushing all-in here is probably good for the Expected Value. Probably a bit too much risk, however. I'd really rather not lose 15000 chips, which will happen about 10% of the time.

Instead, I decided to just call with my 98o. Not sure if this was a good idea. The big blind folded.

Pot $3000
Flop: 9d 9h Td.

Great flop for my hand, obviously. Despite the obvious draws on the board, I chanced a check here because my opponent was so very aggressive. As expected he bet, but only $1200. This looked a lot like a probe bet, so I figured he probably had nothing. A hand like a pair of tens or an overpair would want to bet more to charge me to draw to my straight (or flush). Anyway, I raised to 4500, and he came back over the top, all-in. I called, and he showed QJo with the J of diamonds. I was about 82.5% to win, but the K came on the river for his straight.

I held on for another hour or so before being the first knocked out at the final table. It was fun, though, and I feel like I played quite well. My inclusion in the Hendon Mob Poker Database will have to wait, though.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

WPT and Drunkenness at the Mirage

The "Mirage Poker Showdown" is currently going on at the Mirage, culminating in a $10,000 buyin World Poker Tour event, which started a couple days ago. I've seen Dan Harrington, Antonio Esfandiari, the golden palace guy, David Williams, John Juanda, Darrell Dicken (aka Gigabet, his online name), and WSOP bracelet winner Anthony Reategui (see below for why I recognized him). For some reason, there have also been extremely drunk people playing poker this week. In only one case could I directly link a player's drunkenness to the "poker showdown." The rest of the drunkenness seems unrelated.

Just like anybody else, drunk people like attention; the difference is that most sober people won't sacrifice their dignity to get it. For instance, after making a joke and getting a few laughs, a sober person will usually leave it at that, whereas a drunk person will repeat it over and over. The shorter the attention-getting comment, the better. In the case of three people on Friday and Monday nights, they developed their own catch phrases that they used over and over in order to keep attention on them.

Both nights had a few drunken supporting characters and a main character who started out sober and friendly and progressively got drunker and drunker until he or she had become incoherent and vulgar, with personalities changing so much that they were nearly unrecognizable as the people next to whom I had initially sat down. The hero of Friday night was Luke, a "pro" in his late twenties who moved to Las Vegas in August. It was a 2-5NL game and I sat to his left. He recognized me from some previous poker room meeting, and asked my name. At this point he was completely coherent; the only evidence that he had already started drinking was the bottle of Corona in front of him. I told him my name, and he told me his name was Luke. We had a friendly conversation about living in Las Vegas. He told me he spent most of his time smoking weed and playing video games (he just got XBox 360, which I haven't played yet) with his roommates, one of whom was sitting across the table from us, and that they were both playing poker for a living.

For the next hour or so Luke alternately pounded Yaeger shots and Coronas. As he did, he got louder and more loose and aggressive. His favorite catch-phrase was "You assholes might not find me funny, but I am. I'm very funny." My friend Dan showed up during this time and sat in our game. Dan is a very solid, winning player (he is a teacher in the Teach for America program). He had built his stack up from $200 to about $250 I think. Meanwhile, Luke and re-bought several times, but now had over $700 in front of him. On a recent hand he had drawn out on a mediocre and ridiculously conceited player who had been playing in the $1500 "poker showdown" event. He said he placed fourth, so maybe it was Ray Fliano, I dunno. Anyway, he couldn't stand the terribleness of losing to AQ all-in pre-flop to beat his JJ, so he left in a huff. Anyway, with Luke on the button, Dan picked up AT. I can't remember exacly how it played out since it was a few days ago, but to the best of my recollection, Dan raised to $20, and Luke raised to $50 (which meant very little since he had been raising more than half the time). Dan called and they saw a flop of T 7 4, no flush draw. Dan checked since he knew Luke would bet for him. When Luke bet only $30, Dan became suspicious by the small bet and just called (I would have raised). The turn was another ten, and all the money went in... Luke had a full house, 4's over 10's, beating Dan.... wow. Against a player playing random cards three of a kind with an ace kicker is a huge hand. Anyway, Dan left and later told me he won all his money back at craps.

A little after 3 am another guy showed up, overweight and already about as drunk as Luke was. His catch phrase was "I don't like it, I llllove it!" which he first used to describe how he felt about Luke's poker style and later used to describe many other things as well. He was also playing extremely aggressively, and doing quite well. Whenever he won he would rake all his chips in and sift his fingers through them while shouting "I llllove gold!" He told me that earlier that day he had lost a $200,000 pot. "A $200 pot?" I asked. "No, $200,000." He showed me his wrist, where he was wearing a WSOP bracelet. He told me he had just come in 3rd place in the Mirage Heads-up event, and David Singer had drawn out on him; that's why he got drunk and came to play 2-5 NL. Later a friend of his came to play too, and I learned the bracelet holder was Anthony Reategui. Once Anthony had finally gotten around to stacking all his chips, his friend started flicking chips across the table to knock them over, something I wouldn't expect would ever be tolerated, but this was 4:30 am and the dealers had long since given up trying to maintain order.

Amidst this chaos, Luke was nearly thrown out for excessive use of profanities. For most of the night nobody complained about it, but then we got a dealer who was clearly uncomfortable about Luke's profanity and asked him to stop... when the floorperson came over, Luke still didn't stop, and the floorperson asked "do we need to cut off your drinks?" Luke's response was "if you cut off my drinks, I'll cut off your fucking titties." Somehow Luke wasn't thrown out, but his drinks were immediately cut off. According to his roommate Joe, "The thing about Luke is... he's an idiot." Supposedly, Luke isn't allowed to drink in their apartment.

On Monday night I sat down at the 1-2 NL game at the Mirage, partly because I didn't have a lot of cash on me, and partly because I noticed that 8 of the other 9 players had alcoholic beverages in front of them. For the next five hours no fewer than five of my opponents were drinking alcohol at any time. The girl next to me was a very attractive blond girl named Anne who had just turned 21, and her boyfriend was at a neighboring table. A 33 year old guy named Rafael was also at the table. He had arrived with another woman who he later found out was married and her husband was also in the poker room. Despite the boyfriend, after his first woman had left, Rafael decided to hit on Anne. Admittedly, she econouraged him by telling him that her relationship "wasn't serious," and she was pretty receptive to his flirting. Really, though she was just being friendly to everyone. She was talking to me a lot since I was sitting next to her, and Rafael was none too pleased about that. For the next four hours Rafael tried to get her number so he could go visit her in Guadalahara, where she was vacationing at some later time (with her boyfriend, I suspect). Anyway, Anne is the drunkard from this particular night, getting friendlier and more talkative, spilling beer on herself, and later catching her tipping beer bottle between her breasts so it wouldn't fall. Her catch phrase was "what does that mean??" which she liked to say after the flop came out, but she didn't really need to have a catch phrase to attract attention. A new player sat down across from us and asked her to lift her shirt up because it was "too distracting." "Sorry, I guess they're kind of falling out, " replied Anne bashfully. Rafael left with only her email address (and $900).

Interstingly, Anthony and Anne probably won about $100 each, while Luke lost about $1000.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Two Hands at Caesars

With visitors and travel I haven't really been able to settle back into a routine recently. I've been playing mostly at the Mirage, with their lower rake and $15 food comps, but I haven't really settled in there, either. I've been going to different casinos a few times each week. In the past year and a half, a lot of new rooms have opened up: MGM, Caesars, Venetian, and Red Rock, for example. Almost every room in town now runs 2-5 NL holdem, which is probably the most popular game now, along with the low limits from 2-4 to 4-8. There are so many games in town now that each casino rarely uses even half their poker tables during the week. This makes me worry slightly about the health of the poker boom, but at least it means I usually get seated very quickly after I arrive in the poker room.

Anyway, as I've mentioned before, I had some issues with the way Caesars' poker room was run when it first opened. I decided to give it another shot last night. Things seem to be running much more smoothly there now (except the restrooms are still inadequate). Since this is supposed to be my poker blog, I figured I'd describe a couple hands, which I haven't done in a while.

I sat down in the $2-5 NL game with $200. Caesars has no maximum buy-in, so the $200 was a very small stack compared to most of the others. Most people will tell you that it's a disadvantage to play with a short stack, but I actually think it's an advantage. For one thing, it's a mathematical fact that it is advantageous to be all-in on an early round when you have more than one opponent, because it's possible that one of your opponents will fold what would have been the winning hand. Having a small stack increases the chances of this situation arising. Having the smallest stack also means that, on every hand, I know exactly how much I'm playing for. This can effect strategy considerably. When all the other players have large stacks, they need to be concerned with each other and try to play optimal big-stack strategy. By definition, these big-stack strategies are not as effective against a smaller stack; as the small stack, I can take advantage of these discrepancies. Some people (like the guy in the first hand I describe below) may argue that buying short is a devious strategy to be frowned upon. These players must be in the minority, though. If many people agreed with this, then more casinos would have a large minimum buyin, which would eliminate the problem. As it stands, I'm quite comfortable buying in for whatever the rules allow me. Besides, I like to get a feel for the table without risking too much when I first sit down; sometimes I will pull out more cash to increase my stack after half an hour or so. Enough about short stacks... on to the first hand.

This was about the 5th hand I played, and I was down to $193 I think. An experienced player in early-middle position with over $500 raised to $15. Two to his left, I called with KJ of diamonds. This is a marginal holding, but I like to mix it up early in my session because it gives my opponents a false impression of me, which I can sometimes use to my advantage later. Besides, KJs isn't a bad hand. The player in the cutoff, two to my left, raised to $50. He had about $5K. The original raiser called, and I was left with a decision. Should I call another $35 here? There was $118 in the pot already ($122 - $4 rake), so I was being offered about 3.3-1 odds. I knew I might be up against a big pair or AK, but my hand had straight and flush-draw possibilities, and 3.3-1 is pretty attractive, so I called. My stack was now down to $143, and there was $157 in the pot. The flop came Kc Js 4d, clearly an excellent flop for my hand. The first player checked, and I decided to check as well. Unless the last player had specifically AQ, I think this was a good place to slow-play. The last player bet $60, less than half the pot. The first player folded, and I figured I might as well put the rest in now, in case he had some sort of draw. He called and turned over AK. My two pair held up. Now, this is where things got interesting. After counting down the last $83, the guy with AK tossed the money into the air and across the table, chips going all over, including into other players stacks.

"What the Hell are you doing?" I asked him. "I don't throw your chips around."
"They're not your chips until I put them into the pot," he replied.
Then (and this was the most inappropriate action in the whole ordeal, I think), the other player who had been involved in the hand decided to stick up for the guy who had thrown the chips everywhere! "Sometimes good players who lose to bad players get frustrated," he said.

"That means he should throw chips across the room? I've seen much worse beats than that and nobody threw anything. You can get frustrated without having to throw things."

Then he decided to explain to me how it's bad for the game to come in and sit down with only $200. "It's not real poker. You clearly didn't come here to play poker. You called a $50 raise, a quarter of your stack, and you didn't have enough left for him to get you out."

Anyway, the rest of the table took my side and the chip-thrower kept quiet after that.

Here's a hand I think I didn't play so well. I had KQs under-the-gun and limped. There were a couple more limpers, and then an asian girl on the button, a pretty good player, raised to $20. (She was friends with the chip-thrower, but she hadn't seen the incident, and he had moved to another table at this point. I don't think she knew about it.) One of the blinds called, I called, and the two limpers called. There was about $100 in the pot. I had very close to $500 left after the call.

Flop: Kc Td 3h. My suit was spades, so no help there, but I did have top pair. The blind checked, and I think I should have bet $60-$80 here. Instead, I checked and decided to see how the hand developed. My thinking was that if there was much action behind me, I could get away from the hand, and if not, maybe I could get another bet out of the asian girl who raised pre-flop. The next two players checked, the girl bet $75 and the blind folded. This was was pretty much what I had hoped would happen when I checked, but my situation was actually very precarious. I had no idea where I stood with respect to the asian girl's hand, and I had two players behind me that were still in the hand. They could be planning to check raise, or maybe one has a straight draw. They were loose enough that I couldn't rule our KT or QJ. The girl could have me beat with AA, AK, TT, or even KK, or she could have me tied with KQ. Continuation bets here are very risky with 4 opponents, so that is actually not that likely (which I should have considered when I checked before). I decided to play it safe again and just call the $75. The next two players folded.

Turn: 7c (or something). With the two players behind me having folded, I now felt like I should be my hand. With the pot at $250, I bet $150 of my remaining $425. In retrospect, I think this was a mistake. It was very likely that she would either fold or raise here. If she raises, I have to figure she has me beat (or at least tied), and I'd have to fold. That's exactly what happened. Instead, I think perhaps I should have checked. Then if she checked behind me, I might be able to get something out of her on the river. The way I played it, I might as well have had nothing, because there was no way the hand was going to reach a showdown - generally a bad way to play medium-strong hands like top pair. Still, the biggest mistake was probably check-calling the flop (or maybe I should have folded pre-flop?). I needed to define my hand for them, so that they could react accordingly. By showing weakness when I checked the flop, I was unable to get any sense for where I stood in the hand.

Friday, May 05, 2006

I'm back

It's been a few weeks since my last post... I want to apologize if you have been checking in every so often expecting to find a post. I have tried to keep up a good pace, but I haven't been playing much recently, and nothing too exciting has happened at the poker tables except for an implosion at the 5-10NL game one night where I lost all of my significant winnings after what had been a very profitable night. I got tired, took a break, came back, and decided I might as well play one more round. I don't like thinking about what happened next, so that's all I'm going to say about that right now.

The WPT and WSOP circuit are in town now, but their events are usually at noon (when I wake up), and most of them are over $1000 to enter (the cheaper ones have already past), so I don't think I'll be playing in any of them. Anyone want to stake me to a tourney in the $2k-$3k range? A word of advice: don't bother. I haven't been doing too well in tournaments recently, either.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

New Poker Room at the Venetian

Last night I finally remembered to go check out the Venetian's new poker room. It's quite nice-looking, probably the third nicest looking after the Bellagio and Wynn. Like the Wynn (but not the Bellagio), it has all the state-of-the-art queuing technology. It also has more room between the tables to walk around than do most places (Bellagio has the least). When I got there I put my name on the list for 2-5 NL. They had about 5 tables of this running, which is quite a lot for a Tuesday night. However, that constituted about half the games running in the room, and most of the other games were 4-8 limit. Most of the tables were empty.

While waiting for my 2-5 seat, I took a seat in a 4-8 game. I was surprised to see that the rake they take there is under 10%. They don't take out the fourth dollar until the pot has reached $80. Unfortunately, when I moved over to the 2-5 game, it turned out that they take the usual 10%. Still, the Venetian seems like an excellent place to play 4-8, and reasonably good for 2-5. They also will give you a $15 food comp after only a couple hours of play, and they'll bring food to the table. I don't have much of an idea of what's available, but I got a hamburger, and it was not so great.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Sammy and Chau: NL at the Bellagio

I went back to play at the Bellagio for a few hours and, indeed, I could tell I was pretty rusty. Fortunately, none of the horrible floorpeople were there. I went to the Bellagio because figured it would be the most likely place to have good NL games going at 4 am, and they cap the buyin at $200, which I figured would be good since I expected to be a bit rusty. I had forgotten how cool the Bellagio's poker room is. Playing at the lowest limits available in a poker room, as I do at the Bellagio, makes the atmosphere feel much different from playing at the highest limits, which is what I've gotten used to at other casinos. It's too bad the floorpeople there tend to be so terrible.

The other cool thing about the Bellagio is that it attracts the best players in the world. This morning, Barry Greenstein and David Benyamine were playing with a few other people in Bobby's Room, and Chau Giang and Sammy Farha were playing 100-200 NL with a few other players out on the regular casino floor at a table by the cashier. This is the biggest NL game I have ever witnessed, with a minimum buyin of $20K. As I walked by the table as I went to cash out my chips, Giang was shouting something playfully at Farha. At this point the game had shrunk to 3-handed. The third player (who I didn't recognize) was out of his seat, laughing that he wanted nothing to do with whatever was going on. I stopped behind Giang to watch the hand. It was still pre-flop and there was less than $2,000 in the pot I think. Giang was sitting to the left of the dealer. Now he was standing and leaning forward with his hands on the table as he shouted across it to Sammy. Sammy, like me, was having some difficulty understanding what Chau was saying, but it seemed he had just gone all-in for another $30K.

"So if I say 'yes,' then it's another $30K?" Farha asked Chau. Farha was holding his cards up in the air to allow a woman behind him to see his cards.

"Yes, yes, thirty thousand," replied Giang.

"Ok, put the flop out there," said Sammy. I interpreted this to mean he had called, but Chau reached into the pot and started pulling in the chips. The dealer seemed to have no problem with this, and proceeded to put out the 5 board cards. Anyway, I guess Sammy actually had folded. As Giang began to muck his cards, the third player, who was standing next to me to the left of Giang, reached in and playfully tried to turn over Chau's cards... Giang slapped his hand away, then turned over one of his cards: a king. He then claimed to have had AK, which clearly upset Farha. "I don't know why I fucking laid it down!" The third player claimed to have also had an ace, and tried to get Giang to tell him which ace he had... Chau refused to respond, suggesting that he may have been afriad to be caught in a lie (if he named the wrong suit, the other guy would know he had been lying). I don't pretend to be able to figure out all the motives and double-speak of a world-class player like Chau Giang, but I guess this suggests Giang didn't have the ace... I dunno.

After cashing out, I walked by the table again, and Farha was clearly steaming. He made a raise preflop with about 7 black chips, and Chau asked him how much it was. "I don't know, what does it matter? Here!" Farha responded irritably. He threw in a whole stack of $1,000 chips. I didn't stay to watch the rest of the hand.


I was back on the east coast again for about ten days, and just got back late Monday night. I haven't played any poker since my last blog post, so that's why you haven't heard from me at all. I'm a big baseball fan, and that will be taking up some of my time during the season (in fact, my fantasy draft in Brooklyn was one of the reasons I was on the east coast). It's always a strange feeling going back to the casino for the first time after a week or so off, and this has been nearly two weeks. Maybe I'll start back at 1-2NL for a few days.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Gambling Theory and Other Topics by Mason Malmuth

One of the books I thought I needed to read upon deciding to become a professional gambler was Gambling Theory and Other Topics by Mason Malmuth. After all, I wanted to become a serious gambler, and it says right on the cover that it is "Absolutely MUST Reading for All Serious Gamblers." With a title like "Gambling Theory," I was expecting the book to be a technical exposition aspects of game theory that are useful to gambling. As it turns out, the nebulous idea of "other topics" comprises about 90% of the text. To be fair, most of these "other topics" concern gambling and are reasonably insightful. Sometimes, even entertaining.

Several times in his 300+ page book, Malmuth mentions that the idea of "non-self-weighting strategies" is the over-arching theme that holds all topics in the book together. This is the idea that in order to overcome the negative expectation of a negative-sum game, one must be able weight his bets himself (that is, the game cannot be "self-weighting"). For instance, in order to overcome the rake in poker, you need to be able to choose which hands to put your money into. To this I say: no shit. You mean I can't expect to win by just calling down every hand, regardless of my cards? Malmuth is right to consider this idea central to a winning gambling strategy; that he considers this topic to be profound is somewhat ridiculous. Also troubling is that he applies this idea to situtations that can be seen as positive-sum games, such as investing in the stock market. He extends to many extreme lengths. For example, Malmuth says that in life, introverted people are living a self-weighting strategy by only speaking when they have something useful to say, and this is why most successful gamblers are introverts. Hmmmm.... if you say so. I would have guessed it's because we tend to be kind of nerdy, thinking a lot about numbers and probabilities.

There is a section on "tournament strategy" that suggests doing all you can to conserve your chips when you are short-stacked. He has a list of 18 concepts about tournament strategy that can help you follow this suggestion. Number 11 is "Don't go out with a bang..." He says that you should "try to make those few remaining chips last as long as possible." This goes along with concept number 15: "Steal less late in a tournament if low on chips." As far as I can tell, these two ideas fly in the face of the advice in Harrington on Holdem, Volume II, which suggests become more and more aggressive as your M gets low. (M is a measure of chip count compared to the blinds.) Both books are published by Malmuth's and Sklansky's 2+2 publishing. So which is it, 2+2? Aggressive or passive when short-stacked? I'll have to reread Harrington's and Malmuth's justification on this topic. As I recall, Harrington gives vague justification, saying "you don't have time to sit around and wait for a good hand," but Malmuth's justification is more mathemeatical.

I found the section on "Calculating your Standard Deviation" to be particularly useful and probably could be correctly billed as "must reading for all serious gamblers." Before reading this section, I wasn't sure how to calculate my standard deviation correctly, and I was thinking I would have to derive the formula myself. Anyway, if you gamble for a living, read this section at least. However, be aware that there is a typo in the formula: in the places where you see "N," replace it with "N-1" (thanks to my dad for pointing this out). If you play a lot, this fix does not make much difference.

That is a problem I have with the entire line of 2+2 publishing's publications. These books sell like hotcakes (even better, maybe), and new editions come out every year. Despite this, almost every page has either a typo or grammatical error of the sort I would be ashamed to have left in an 5-page essay that I wrote in two hours. I usually have a typo or two in my posts on this blog, but I go and change them when I realize it. How do the errors in 2+2 persist, edition after edition? This is an enigma that haunts me like the missing license plates in Las Vegas. Why are these glaringly obvious transgressions allowed to persist? Usually the typos and grammatical errors don't make a big difference, but come on, why not try to get it right? Even if they usually don't matter much, they do sometimes make a difference, like when numbers or formulas are involved.

Overall, I recommend skipping this book except for some of the sections in the first half of Part Two: Theory in Practice. The sections entitiled "How much do I need?" and "Calculating your standard deviation" are particularly useful. Some other sections convered topics I found painfully obvious, but maybe some professional gamblers could benefit. For instance, Part Three: Pseudo Theory Exposed. For more advanced analysis, you may want to check out The Theory of Gambling and Statistical Logic by Richard Epstein, although it is $50 on Amazon. I haven't read it yet, but it looks promising. Anybody have any other suggested reading?

Monday, March 13, 2006

14th place

After five and a half hours of play, I was knocked out in 14th place (top 10 were paid).

For lack of anything interesting to discuss (that is, I don't feel like putting in the effort at the moment), here is the hand I was knocked out on.

Blinds are 500-1000 with antes at 200. There are seven players, and I am in the big blind with about 8000 left. The pot contains 3900 pre-flop, so my M is a meager 2. The second player limps in for 1000, everyone folds except the small blind, who calls. The small blind is also short stacked, with about 10,000 left, and the limper has about 15,000. I have 96o. At this point, going all-in is an option, but I had been quite aggressive recently and I think I would have gotten called. Anyway, I just check.

Flop: 9s 7d 3h. A very good-looking flop for my hand, as I now have top pair. The small blind checks, I check, the limper bets 2000, and the small blind folds This is just about exactly what I wanted to happen when I checked on the flop. There is now 7400 in the pot, and I have 6000 left. I go all-in with my top pair. Unfortunately, the limper has a set of threes and calls immediately. No help from the turn or river means I am out of chips.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

WSOP Freeroll Tonight

The freeroll is at the Rio tonight at 7 PM, just a couple hours from now. There are 40 players, I think, and $17500 paid out to the top ten.

Oh, and by the way, Friday night I hit two "jackpot" hands (quads or better), after not hitting any in January or February. Each jackpot hand pays out from $40 to $599... My two hands totalled $110. Oh well. I'll take it. (The hands were quad 3's and quad 7's.)

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Venetian Poker Room

For several months now, rumors have been circulating about the Venetian opening a poker room. First, I heard it was supposed to open in December 2005. This date came and went without any new poker room at the Venetian (perhaps people got it confused with Caesars, which did open its poker room that month). Then I heard it would open in February. Still, no. Anyway, last night I had a chance encounter with a dealer I know from the Rio and then Caesars. I saw her in the parking lot last night outside a local grocery store, and she told me she took a job at the Venetian's new poker room- which opens April 2. I just checked their website, which confirms this date. Judging by the website (and the dealer's description), it should be nice. Maybe I'll stop by the Venetian this week and see if I can get a peek at the new room.

As a side note, I have heard that Caesars' poker room, which supposedly cost $13 million (not sure what cost so much), has not been doing so well. I still haven't been back there since making this post about why I didn't like playing there.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Rio WSOP Freeroll - I'm In!

Well, it's semi-official. I convinced one of the floormen at the Rio to tell me whether I had over 80 hours in February, and he looked at the computer and said I was well over 80, probably over 95 (by my count I only played there 84:15, but who's counting? Oh, right...)

As I understand it, the freeroll tournament is March 11 at 7 pm. Supposedly there will be about 40 players. First place gets a seat into the main event of the 2006 WSOP. Second through tenth places receive percentage payouts from a pool of about $7500. If this is accurate, the average player will win $17500/40 = $437.50.

The money for the freeroll tournament all comes directly from the players: $1 is taken from every pot. This money also funds the high-hand jackpots, which pay out from $40 to $599 if you get four-of-a-kind or a straight flush. ($599 because, at $600, more paperwork is required.) I don't particularly like the jackpots because it compromises the purity of the game, but it does encourage worse play from my opponents at times. For example, one woman twice stood up and looked at the front board in the middle of a hand, clearly checking the jackpot sizes... and both times she indeed had a high hand. She just couldn't wait for the hand to be over to see how much she had won! That's a pretty ridiculous tell. On the second of these two hands, this tell allowed me to just call on the river - instead of raising - with a full house (it was a limit game and I couldn't bring myself to fold it).

Over the course of the month, I think I saw at least 30 of these jackpot hands get paid out to people at my tables. Assuming an average of 8 players at my table at any given time, and assuming that I play the same number of potential jackpot hands as the average players, we can calculate the probability that none of these 30 jackpot hands were won by yours truly. It's simply (7/8)^30, which comes to .0182, according to Google's calculator. I bring this up, of course, because this is exactly what happened.

Friday, February 24, 2006


In gambling, as in the stock market, you must consider two things when determining whether a game or portfolio is worthwhile: volatility and expected return. In gambling, these things are usually measured in hourly rate. Most gamblers underestimate the former and overestimate the latter. In fact, most gamblers I know probably have little concept of what volatility even is. According to Malmuth in Gambling Theory and Other Topics, an expert player may have to play over 4000 hours before he can be voer 99.8% sure to be above even (based on a standard devation of $650 and a win rate of $30). That's two full years of full-time playing before you can be assured of being in the black! How many pros would have the bankroll, patience, and psychological fortitude to play that long before throwing in the towel?

Volatility is a measure of the riskiness inherent in a game. The most common and useful measure is the standard deviation. If my standard deviation in a game were $300/hour and my expected return were $0/hour, then 68% I can expect to be within one standard deviation (-$300 to $300) after one hour of play. 95% of the time I can expect to be within 2 standard deviations (-$600 to $600).

Keeping these number in mind, I've found, is very useful for two reasons. First, it keeps me humble and prevents me from putting my bankroll at great risk. Usually, doubling stakes means more than doubling standard deviation, because competition tends to be better. Also expected return will be less than double for the same reason. Thus, if I were to move up from my usual $2-5NL game to the $5-10NL game, as I planned to do in January, I would have to accept a doubling of my standard deviation, while less than doubling my expected return.

Second, knowing about these standard deviation helps keep losses in perspective. A common question gamblers ask themselves (and others) when they are running badly is "Am I playing badly or am I just unlucky recently?" If you know your standard deviation, you can at least give yourself some idea by answering the question: "If I were playing as well as I normally do, what is the likelihood that I would have lost as much as I have over the past X hours?" Usually the number will be higher than you would have expected. This doesn't quite give you the answer you were looking for ("Bad or unlucky?"), but it does give you some perspective on how much luck really does play into results. For me, this can help me to regain my confidence during a losing streak.

Most people tend to attribute their good results to skill and their bad results to bad luck. I am just the opposite. In fact this post was inspired by a statistically unlikely session I had last night, where I came out almost 4 standard devation ABOVE my mean over the course of 7 hours. Boy, was I ever lucky!

By the way, the Rio games got good again and I'm going to qualify for the WSOP freeroll tournament. I sure hope volatility is on my side again that day.