Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Chopping the Blinds

If everyone folds around to the blinds in holdem, it's common for the two players in the blinds to "chop," meaning they take their blind bets back and move on to the next hand. In Los Angeles, $1 is taken for the house from the person in the small-blind. In Las Vegas, the house takes nothing. On the other hand, if there is a flop, usually there is a lot more taken (eg $5 more is taken in 20-40 limit holdem at the Bike if there are at least 7 players). There is an unwritten rule (it is rather strongly enforced socially at the poker tables) that you should either always or never agree to chop when given the opportunity. This means that you shouldn't be looking at your cards, seeing AA, and deciding not to chop if you have established yourself as someone who does not chop. I'd say that at least 90% of players agree to chop, but if either player refuses, then the two players play the hand out heads-up. 

I recently stopped agreeing to chop. Although I don't like having to pay the extra $5 to the house for what is often a small pot, I think it's worth it because I have a big edge against most players, and lots of players play even more poorly heads-up. One issue for me is that there is social pressure to chop. Some people take offense if I refuse to chop, and in fact, this was the main reason I ever agreed to chopp in the first place. It didn't seem worth making enemies. Since I had been chopping with people for the past several months, I was in particular danger of angering people by not chopping with them all of a sudden. On the advice of another prop player (Johnny), I made myself a little sign on a sticky-note saying "no chop." After a day or so it was defaced with "Please Raise Me!" Now I use a slightly larger sign that a player made for me. It's pink and says "please Raise me! NO CHOP" It's ridiculous enough that it seems to defuse any animosity towards me.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Re: The Pinky Nail

In a previous post I brought up the odd trend of men keeping a long pinky nail. Reader comments informed me that the purpose was to snort coke. Since then, I've actually seen a lot of women with the extra long pinky nail, as well.

This past week, for the first time, the topic was brought up at a poker table. A middle-aged middle-eastern man at my 20-40 limit table sported the long pinky nail, and a 40-something Asian woman asked him, "what's with the long finger-nail? Is that supposed to be a sex symbol or something?"

Rather bashfully, the man answered, "no, it's just a habit of mine. No reason."

I still find it remarkable that so many people have made cocaine such an integral part of their lives that they are willing to make a public statement about it by keeping their pinky nails long. My view of the average cocaine user has certainly been altered; while the pinky nail is still most common in middle-aged asian and middle-eastern men, these men have a fully diverse range of occupations and personalities.

Monday, October 13, 2008

YTD Results: High-Low Stud 8

When I get home from work each day, one of the first things I do is go to the computer and record my results in as much detail as possible. This can include specific start and end times for each game I played, as well as notes and of course win or loss amounts. I try to keep track in my head each time I move from one game to another, but sometimes I move so many times that I can't remember, and instead of particular games, my record for that day will just be under "various" (I've done this 8 times for a total of 58 hours). I do have accurate records of my total win or loss each day, which is important for tax reasons; this is easier to keep track of because I can just subtract how much I started with from how much I have at the end of the day.

Fifty-eight hours of play in "various" games notwithstanding (and also a few hours in mixed games), here are my results this year in Stud High-Low Eight or Better:

month profit hours rate
Jan:  472 15 31.47
Feb:  -48 35 -1.37
Mar: 2145 25 85.80
Apr:  172 23 7.40
May: 3793 34 112.39
June: 2041 24 85.94
July: -1392 23 -61.87
Aug: -562 9 -66.12
Sept: -566 13 -44.39
Oct: 1966 19 102.13

2008: 8021 219 36.67

If these results look erratic, I think it's only because that's the nature of poker and the fact that I didn't play very many hours of stud8 in some of these months. I think this chart may give you a better idea of how difficult it is for a lot of poker players to stay emotionally detached from their winnings and losses. Three straight losing months can instill a lot of doubt. Overall, I've made over $35 an hour, but I've had four losing months out of nine and a half. My hourly standard deviation is $300, about 8 times my win rate.

I think this is the first time I've listed any summary statistics here in my blog. I haven't felt comfortable giving detailed information about my income, but I think this cross-section is a good compromise between my own privacy and giving my readers an idea of what results can look like. Personally, I'm very happy with my result in this game this year- I had almost never played stud High-Low before.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

$40 NL at the Bike

Sorry for another long delay - I went on vacation for about ten days, during which I served as Best Man at my brother's wedding on Long Island. Congratulations, Max and Marie!

On Friday after work, my friend Alex and his friend Brian came to the Bike. They sat down in a $40 NL game, with $1 and $2 blinds. I moved from my $20-40 limit game to their game once I was off the clock. I had heard this game described as "the biggest little game in town" because there was supposedly so much action that it's possible to really make a lot of money despite the low stakes, but I had never ventured to sit in the game before. Although I had a lot of fun playing, I didn't really see the potential for big winnings. There was one guy who consistently pushed all-in with nothing, but he only lasted about an hour before finally giving up. A few of the other players were pretty bad, too, but they were losing their chips rather slowly. I think the rake was $4 - it may have even been $5 after the jackpot fee, I don't remember exactly. In any case, when pots generally range from $6 to $50 or $100, it's pretty significant to have $4 taken out of each pot. Unless there are usually two or three maniacs per table rather than just the one that was in our game in Friday, I think it would be very tough to average more than $5-$10 per hour at this game, and that's assuming it's possible to keep focused. Me, I was chatting with my friends and watching baseball on TV.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Poker Academy

I thought I saw Annie Duke at the Bike on Saturday. Someone who looked a lot like her came in and talked to a player unfamiliar to me at the hi-lo stud table, then left. Two of my prop friends told me they didn't think it was her, and I had to concede that she didn't seem to be dressed much like how I imagine Annie Duke (this woman was dressed in a sort of punk style). I now think I was right, though. A few minutes ago I just remembered that there is a "poker academy" event going on in a side room at the Bike. That link says that Annie Duke is one of the five instructors. I also saw Kenny Tran at the Bike on Saturday, but I'd seen him there before. Turns out he's another of the instructors.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Last Six Weeks

Sorry to those of you who I've disappointed with the long, announced delay in my posting here. Over the past six weeks, Brigid and I have had four visitors from out of town, and I've had my scheduled changed. I'm now working 7am-3pm Tuesday-Friday, and noon-8pm on Saturdays. So, this is the first day of my weekend. My new schedule obviously forces me to get up very early, but there are some definite benefits, as well. I miss the worst of the traffic, and I have the whole afternoon off after I get home around 3:30.

The "Legends of Poker" has been going on this month at the Bike. Yesterday began the finale, a $10,000 tournament that is part of the World Poker Tour. For me, the main effect is that the games are overly crowded, and I have to move around a lot or sit around doing nothing, which gets extremely boring. On the plus side, I've met some interesting people, including one guy who gets $1.8 million a year from Hawaii for the rest of his life because he was wrongfully incarcerated for 17 years and another guy who looks about 60 years old but is really 83 and used to run Sears in the 1970's.

I'll try to write something more interesting out soon, but I just wanted to give a quick update, and hopefully I'll get back into the routine of posting at least once a week.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Poker Good, Schedule Bad

I've increased my win rate each month this year (it was negative in Jan and Feb), and my past two months were both record highs for me. Surprisingly, I now much prefer the limit games (both holdem and stud hi-lo) to the no-limit games, but it's interesting to alternate between the two. It really highlights the differences between the two games, and I also find that I can sometimes use certain ideas that are central to limit when I play no-limit, and vice-versa. For example, I like to value bet on the river a lot in limit when I'm in position. If my opponents had had a decent hand, they would probably have bet, but they're still likely to call with their weaker hands because in limit the bets are so small compared to the pot. In no-limit, I think I had become too timid on the river, fearing a check-raise, but I've found that check-raises on the river have become exceedingly rare in the no-limit games I play in. Having gotten into the habit of betting the river in limit, I have recently been finding some river value bets in no-limit with hands that I would previously have just checked.

Eric, one of the players I'm rather friendly with at the Bike, recently played a 16-hour session at 400-800 limit with Jerry Buss and two or three others, and supposedly he won $140K, which is a phenomenal sum. He's only 22 and usually plays 40-80, but I think that's only because it's usually the biggest limit game going at the Bike. Last week, I was talking with him about his big win, and he suggested to me that I don't give myself enough credit and should try playing higher stakes more often. I mentioned in my last post that I was already considering doing this, so it was nice to get a vote of confidence. Still, a player coming off a $140K win at 400-800 might be a little biased when it comes to the advisability of taking shots at higher limits. The 40-80 game actually only goes during the day Mon-Fri, and I'm never working those hours anymore.

I'm still working the 9pm-5am shift. I've done it for four weeks now, and every weekend I've felt sort of jet-lagged, having to get up 4-5 hours earlier than I do during the week. This past weekend I failed to get more than two or three hours of sleep before I needed to leave for work, so I just called in sick both days. Since this is a terrible strategy for dealing with the problem long-term, I think I'm going to ask my supervisor to give me the weekends off if he still won't let me move back to my old 1pm-9pm shift.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

My New Schedule

I've finished one week of my new schedule, which is similar to what I described in my previous post (9pm-5am during the week, noon-8pm weekends), except I now get Friday off instead of Wednesday. This change was in response to my complaint that they had been asking me to work Friday night until 5am and then come back and work at noon on Saturday.

I actually didn't mind working overnight. I did get tired around 3 or 4 in the morning, but it wasn't too bad, and it was easy to get to sleep by around 6am. Also, I haven't been moved from game to game as much as I had been during the day, so I've been able to settle in at one game or another each night. The main issue I have is that I'm forced to change my sleep schedule each weekend and then switch back during the week. I asked to have my weekend shift moved to later in the day, but they insisted that they need all the props to come in at noon on the weekends. Supposedly, it will be just a couple more weeks before a new prop takes over my shift and I can revert to my old 1pm-9pm schedule. Also, I think I'm getting a $.50/hr raise, as of this week.

Meanwhile, for the past three months, I've been winning at a higher rate than ever. I've improved a lot, and I now think I'm usually the best player at any given table (or close to it). Given my recent results, I assume I have been getting luckier than average, too, but that sort of thing is hard to ascertain. I'm tempted to start playing the 40-80 limit holdem game more often, but I'm a little scared because the swings would be much bigger than what I'm accustomed to. Not only are the bets twice as large as my normal 20-40 game, but the players tend to be more aggressive (also slightly better on average, but only slightly).

Last week, Cheryl Hines and Teri Hatcher came to the casino and played $100 NL and sit-n-go tournaments. They seem to be friends with a couple of the regular $200 NL players who I am friendly with. I didn't get to play with them, although Teri Hatcher was about to sit at my table at one point. A seat opened up in another game before she sat down in mine, though. I've also played with this guy a few times. I'm not sure if he's famous, but someone did ask him to autograph a picture of himself. Jerry Buss has come in the past two days to play 400-800 limit.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Some Turmoil at the Office

On Monday I was told by my new supervisor that my hours would soon be changed to 9pm-5am for Monday, Thursday, and Friday. On Saturday and Sunday the want me to work noon-8pm. I had been pretty happy to have a somewhat normal routine working 1pm-9pm, so I'm not happy about this potential switch. Also, I'm going to make them change my Saturday schedule. Currently, they seem to expect me to work until 5am and then come back again at noon.

All the props in the upper section at the Bike had a meeting last week. The guy who had been the interim supervisor is being replaced by Mo, who had been the supervisor for the "hosts," who are essentially just props who play the bigger NL games. This is unfortunate - I thought the interim supervisor did a great job.

It seems that most new hires start in my position as a 20-40 open prop. However, most people find this job too difficult and either quit or switch jobs within a few months. A lot of them move to the middle section where the swings are much smaller, but others become "silent" props, who just play one game all day (eg 20-40 limit holdem) and cannot be moved by the floor people. The "open" props make less than 10% more than these "silent" props after taxes, so the casino has trouble keeping people in the open prop position. Their solution is to lower the silent props' salaries by 20% and offer to let them switch to being open props. Meanwhile, it was determined that there were not enough props working overnight, so we were warned at the meeting that some people's schedules would be changing. Considering that all the silent props were already given the bad news of a pay cut, I figured there was a good chance I would be among those moved to the graveyard shift. So, I wasn't too surprised by the news that they were, indeed, changing my schedule.

Mo, my new supervisor, tells me that I might be able to switch my schedule back if they hire some new props for the graveyard shift. Short of that, he says he would rotate in the other props in a few months if I still wanted to switch back to a day-shift. My current plan is to get my weekend schedule changed to something more reasonable, and then at least try my new schedule for a while (assuming they actually go through with all these proposed changes, which seems likely). I've heard the games overnight are pretty good, so maybe it will be okay. The main problem is I don't know when I'll be sleeping. I'll need to put up some darker curtains, I guess.

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Boss Gets a Pair of Twos of Spades

Something happened in the 20-40 limit game today that I'd never witnessed before: We were playing with a bad deck of cards. It had two 2 of spadeses.

I was in the big blind in the hand, and the owner of the casino was two to my left and limped, as did the player before the button. The small blind raised, I folded, and both limpers called. The flop had two spades, including the 2. The small blind bet, and only the "boss" called. On the turn, the small blind bet again, the boss peeked at his cards, and said, "uh, we have a problem..." but called the bet. The small blind bet the river and was called again. The boss held J2 of spades.

The floorman (Peter) was called over and thought that I should get my $20 big blind back, the other guy who saw the flop should get his $40 back, and the rest of the pot should go to the player in the small blind, because the boss should failed to end the hand at the appropriate time. The boss argued that since he didn't know that was what he was supposed to do, he should also get back the money he put into the pot. Another floorperson (Mike) was called over. He agreed with Peter, but they called in yet another guy, who I think may have been their boss. He took the money away, saying "we'll discuss what to do. Meanwhile, just keep playing." The button was moved and I was now in the small blind. (As it turned out, I never actually had to pay a big blind in that round, so the situation wasn't handled perfectly.)

One of the other props at the table agreed with the boss that he should get his money back. "A player shouldn't be penalized for a mistake by the casino," he said. He asked me my opinion. I said that because the boss had never been the aggressor (he never bet or raised, only called), it could not be argued that he was trying to take advantage of the situation, and thus he should get his money back. (The worry is that if the player with the bad card can assume that he will get his money back if he loses, he can take advantage of the situation by trying risk-free to bluff his opponent out of the pot.) Meanwhile, the boss had to leave to go to a meeting or something.

After quite some time (I think they reviewed the videotape), the floorpeople came back with the money and announced their decision: the original ruling would stand. I got my $20 back, the other guy got his $40 back, and the guy in the small blind got the rest of the pot.

Mike the floorperson said that he was a little unsure of the decision because the rulebook supposedly said something like "if the bettor has a duplicate card, he must forfeit the pot." He wasn't sure if a player who was just calling could be classified as a "bettor," but he decided that he probably should be. In any case, I think it's a bad rule. Another player suggested that the player in the small blind should get the pot and the casino should foot the bill and pay back the player with the bad card. Ironically, what that would have meant in this case was that the casino would be paying back its own owner.

Certainly, what a player with a bad card should do is stop the hand and reveal his cards as soon as he realizes the problem. However, I don't see the logic in penalizing a player who fails to do this but does nothing to try to exploit the situation.

After all this, the guy who had been awarded the pot decided to give the owner his money back. At least that's what he told me, but I didn't actually see it happen.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Not Much of a "Craze" Anymore

When I started this blog, Poker was in what I think can be called it's heyday. There was something of a poker craze going on, and thus "caughtupinthecraze" was born. In my first post, I claimed that I could teach anyone with a 3-digit IQ to win at poker in a casino. While that may have been true at the time, it's certainly not the case any more. The competition has gotten so much tougher that the players who now provide most of my income are probably better than I was back when I wrote that first blog entry.

There are now only two "open" props in my section who have been working longer than I have. One of the guys who had been there longer is now a "silent" prop for the stud 8-or-better game, meaning he doesn't have to play any other games. Also, both of the props who started the week after I did are no longer working for the Bike. One guy who has been a prop for about a month is actually working another full time job as a bio-chemist at a local biotech company. I don't think he's making any money playing poker - the only game he's good at is NL holdem. He thinks he'll keep both jobs for about a year, at which point his wife should be done with nursing school. Personally, I can barely imagine any scenario where I would decide to work 16 hour days when I had the option of working 8. If I get into grad school, I plan on quitting the propping job. (I'm on the wait list for UCLA's stat PhD program, and should hear back this week.)

Friday, March 21, 2008

I'm The Best

One of the floor people told me today that I was the best prop. That doesn't mean I'm actually any good at the games, he's just referring to the fact that I actually try to help start games and keep them going. I guess it's time to start slacking off before the other prop players become resentful.

As for actually playing the games, I'm now quite comfortable with both 20-40 holdem and 20-40 hi-lo stud. When I first started I'm not sure I had much positive expectation in these games, but now I'm beating them handily. In fact, 20-40 hi-lo stud would be my favorite game now, except that the other players are so horrible to be around. As for the holdem game, one of the other props, who I think is one of the best players there, suggested to me that I should try to always have enough chips in front of me to avoid ever having to be all-in, because when that happens I miss opportunities to outplay people. I told him my philosophy of the mathematical advantages of being all in (ie, someone who is not all-in might fold what would have been a hand that beat me). He said he thought I had enough of a skill advantage over the other players that I'd do better with more chips despite the theoretical all-in advantages. It was nice to get a vote of confidence in my limit holdem game, which I'm still working on.

About three weeks ago, a hi-lo regular named Gus died right at the table. It happened about an hour before I got to the casino. Heart attack, I think. I remember him just sitting at the table looking angry, but not usually actually playing.

Barry Greenstein was behind me in line at the cashier at one point today. I did a double-take when I noticed him, and he promptly left. There's often a big game in the corner of the room where I work (a mix-game up to 2000-4000, I think), which is often started when Jerry Buss shows up. He was there a couple weeks ago playing against Layne Flack, among others. I didn't see either of them there today, though.

About a month ago I was playing in a 4-handed $500 NL game, and one of the other players had a jacket with Tom "Captain" Franklin on the back. I didn't make anything of it, but then I saw his name in Card Player magazine. He's got a long tournament history. At the hi-lo game I often play with Joe Wynn (who also plays NL holdem) and David Young, who are both quite good. Joe folded 3 aces to me on 5th street after I bet with a board of 457 (I had an 8-high straight). Not many people would have gotten away from that hand so cheaply. David's been sort of trying to coach me. He says there used to be a big hi-lo stud game at the Bike (100-200 maybe) and he used to play against Ray Zee.

I also had a conversation with the keyboardist from My Morning Jacket, which I later found out is a favorite bad of my brother's. I had never heard of them. Brigid called just after he told me the name of the band, though, and she is apparently also a fan. We were playing $300-500 buying NL holdem (5-5 blinds). Sometimes I play these bigger NL games if they're just getting started and I'm not needed anywhere else, even though I'm only required to play $100 or $200 NL.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

This and That

It's been a few weeks since I last wrote, and I've been playing poker 40 hours a week at my new prop job, so there are lots of little stories to recount. The job itself I find to be pretty agreeable, except that I miss being able to take a few days off whenever I want to.

The owner of the Bike likes to play the 20-40 limit game. He's pretty bad, but mostly just because he plays way too many hands. If you don't care too much about losing a few hundred, I suppose it's probably a lot more fun to play almost every hand than it is to fold a lot. I was sitting next to him in the game a few weeks ago and Johnny Chan ambled over wearing a Bellagio shirt and a hat with some other casino's name on it. They discussed some project together for about 10 minutes. I don't think I've noticed any other recognizable players at the Bike, though. However, few days ago I did play high-low stud with the supposedly well-known whale Kim "The Dragon" Nguyen, who confirms that she once bet $1mil on the Superbowl. (Did she win? "Of course.") She seemed about as bad as the average stud high-low player.

Speaking of the high-low game, I've actually been doing well in it. I think it has something to do with the fact that I tend to give it my full attention, which I guess makes up for the 50 years of experience that the other players can draw upon. The culture of these games is startlingly different from that of the holdem games I'm used to. The most obvious difference is that most of the players have no qualms about harassing the dealers for any reason, usually just because they are not getting good enough hands. I honestly think they believe the dealers have something to do with the cards they get. Perhaps 40 years ago there was a lot of cheating going on, and so maybe the dealers really did have had the ability to manipulate the game, but in this game the dealers don't even shuffle the cards themselves (there are machines for that). Besides, I don't think the disgruntled players are trying to imply that the dealers are cheating, but rather just that they are bad luck, which, somehow, calls for them to be verbally abused. It is sometimes really shocking how convinced people are of their superstitions. Yesterday I overheard one such player ("Otto") respond to the question "are you in?" by shouting "With HER dealing? I'd have to be NUTS!" In other words, he was sitting out until a new dealer came to the table. This isn't actually one of the more ridiculous examples, but usually the abuse just involves berating the dealer for being "brain-dead" or something. Another odd thing about this game is that players will get quite upset if I take more than 2 seconds to make a decision during the hand, but on the last betting round, they will sometimes take literally 10 seconds before even looking at their last card. I think they like to keep themselves in suspense, and this is such standard practice that nobody ever complains about the delay. Then after all the action is finished, they will sometimes take as long as 20 seconds to decide whether to show their hand (I've actually considered calling for a clock on someone who was doing this), and often even more time is allotted to complaining to the other players about how unlucky they were to have lost. Then they often call for a new setup (ie, a brand new deck of cards), which they are allowed to ask for once an hour. This takes about 2 more minutes for the dealer to examine to make sure the cards are all there and unmarked. All of this is taken in stride by the other stud high-low players, but I am not allowed to consider how to play my hand for more than a second. In their minds, I think the honestly consider the actual play of the hands to be less important than these other practices of superstition and self-pity.

Holding AJc, I made a royal flush in 20-40 holdem on Sunday. If I were playing lower stakes, I would have been awarded a $1000 jackpot, but that promotion isn't offered at these stakes. I did get a couple hundred from the pot, though.

There is, however, a "bad beat jackpot" in the 20-40 game. If you have aces full of tens or better and lose to quads or better, you win half the jackpot, the winner of the hand gets a quarter of the jackpot, and the other players at the table split the rest. However, you need to use both cards in your hand. During odd hours (eg 1-2pm, 3-4pm), the jackpot is $100k, the rest of the time it's a progressive jackpot that starts around $10k. Last week the Jackpot was at $25k, and I held KK in the big blind. The first player raised, and there were three callers. I reraised, and 5 players saw a flop of AA6. Now, if someone had an A and either the turn or the river is another A, I would have the losing end of the jackpot, good for $12.5k. Everyone now checked to the button, who bet. I called, as did the pre-flop raiser. Since the button cold-called a raise preflop, it's reasonable to assume he has either a pocket pair (which I'm beating) or an A with a decent kicker (probably 8 or better). The turn was another A, so now I figure I'm either going to win the hand or the $12.5k (as long as the river card is lower than the kicker that goes with the A). Again the button bet, I called, and the third player folded. The river was a 4, which is a great card for me because now I will either win the pot or the jackpot unless the button has specifically A5, A4, A3, or A2. I bet, figuring it's pretty likely the button just has TT or 99 or something. When the button then raised, I realized he must have the A. I called expecting to win the jackpot... but my opponent showed A2. I lost $200 on the hand.

I am already halfway up on the seniority list for 20-40 props. There are seven of us, three of whom were hired after I started last month.

I overheard a lady in the 40-80 holdem game say "I raise... NOT!" The floorman was called over, and it was ruled that she would be required to put in the raise.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Stud Eight-or-Better

I've been holding my own in the 20-40 limit holdem game and crushing the no-limit games, but I'm still pretty lost when it comes to Stud eight-or-better. Through pure luck, I'm actually still up at this game after playing for 15 hours or so, but it takes all my concentration just to avoid making bonehead plays. There are a ton of things to think about and keep track of during the hands, and the skills and instincts I've developed for holdem have not translated as easily as I'd hoped. Here's a list of some things that are second nature for experienced stud8 players that I need to train myself to do better:

1. Keep track of several boards (one for each player) rather than just one community board.
2. Remember which cards have been folded. Part of this is identifying early which cards will be important to remember.
3. Calculate approximate odds for 3-card starting hands with 4 cards to come, and for 4-card hands with 3 cards to come. These odds need to be approximated for both the low and the high half.
4. Understand the meaning of other player's bets.
5. Keep track of who has to bet first (it's whoever has the best high hand showing, but this can change with each card) so that I know what my position will likely be in future rounds.
6. Immediately identify which players have caught good cards and are likely to bet, which is necessary to know in order to make effective check-raises.
7. Identify situations where I want to try to push certain players out of the hand. Often this means trying to check-raise in order to force another player going the same way I am to put in two bets at once. Lots of players will automatically call a single bet, but if I can force them to call two at once there's a much better chance they will fold. For example, if the player to my left and I are the only two players going low in a 5-way pot, getting him to fold should often be my primary focus. I need to be able to identify when I'm in this situation and can count on one of the high hands to bet behind him so I can check raise. Too often I miss opportunities like this because I'm still trying to do points 1-6.
8. Recognizing situations where I will be caught in a raising war between other players, forcing me to put in many bets to see the next card. These situations demand that I fold to the first bet, but if I'm too slow to recognize that this is going to happen, I will call a bet before either having to fold or calling $160 worth of bets (only 4 bets allowed on each round, $40 each).
9. Keep track of what my own board looks like to the other players.

There are certainly some other things I haven't thought of and some others that I've never even considered. For the time being, I think I need to prioritize a few of these things to focus on. At this point, it's too overwhelming for me to keep track of all this. Maybe just studying the odds away from the table would be a good first step.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

My First Full Work Week as a Prop

So far I like it. Last week I mentioned that I didn't understand how there could be so much downtime, but the past couple of days I did spend a lot of time sitting and doing almost nothing. The floormen will occasionally ask me to leave a game if a wait list has formed. Fortunately, there were some football games going on on Sunday. So, for several hours, I was being paid while I sat around, watched sports on TV, and chatted with other props and service people who were also bored. It seems like this sort of downtime will constitute at least 10% of my work week.

Most of the time, though, I have been playing. After a slow start, I'm back in the swing of things with my limit holdem, which is what they have me play the most (20-40). They've also been putting me in no-limit games quite a bit, often as low as $100 buy-in, and these are reasonably soft. I've played high-low split stud 8-or-better for a total of 15 minutes and won $9. I'm not confident that I'd be able to beat that game yet, so I've been avoiding it when given the choice.

I've made a good enough impression on one of the servers that she now stops by while I'm playing just to give me an iced tea or bottle of water. I've usually been eating two free meals a day at the casino, but sometimes one is just a fruit plate or soup. I've also gotten two milkshakes and two slices of pie, all on the house. They were good.

On Sunday, in the 20-40 holdem game, I was playing 6-handed with 5 other prop players for at least 20 minutes before another player showed up. This other player happened to be the most offensively angry and vulgar woman I think I've ever encountered. It took me quite a while to memorize her name, which was on her casino comp card, but it was worth it - "Spomenka Zeljkovic." She's overweight, around 50 years old, and speaks with something like a Russian accent. Supposedly she is a semi-regular player, but I can't understand how she has managed to avoid being kicked out of the casino. If you're curious what sorts of comments she was making, you'll have to ask me later. I'm not prepared to write the full extent of it here on my blog, but I will say that she was spewing a nearly nonstop stream of filth, and occasionally it was impressively creative. One less creatively vulgar incident was when another player got upset about being called a "fucking idiot," to which she responded "I don't mean you in particular." Later, a dealer complained to the floorman about her at one point, and so the floorman told Spomenka that "it's not nice to say those things." Actually, she did settle down quite a bit after that.

Now begins my Tuesday-Wednesday weekend.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

New Schedule

I went to the Bike on Monday for my first day as a prop, and they switched up the schedule on me. I'll be working 1-9 pm Thursday-Monday, which I actually like quite a bit better than 3-11 pm. I figure I can get lunch when I first get there, and then dinner before I go (meals are free). On Monday I played 20-40 limit from 2-9 pm. I lost more in the game than I made in salary, but I found it relatively easy to sit and play that long. I didn't get tired until about 8. However, by the time I left at 9 I was rather tired, and in my diminished mental state I forgot to bring home my employee handbook (I did remember to sign out at least). This means I still don't really know what my health benefits and vacation time are like or anything like that. Hopefully, I'll be able to find the employee parking lot tomorrow.

Supposedly there is usually a lot of downtime as a prop player, and I was warned that I should bring a book. I'm not accustomed to bringing things with me to the casino (hence my forgetting my handbook on Monday). Also, I don't understand when this downtime would happen. On Monday I was put in a game almost immediately when I arrived, and unless the game breaks I'm not really sure how I could have any downtime whatsoever. I was a little unsure of whether I was supposed to keep playing after the game filled up, but there were some other props playing the same game at another table, and they didn't leave, so I figured I probably shouldn't either. (Actually, one moved from my table to the other 20-40 limit game, but I have no idea why.) I guess tomorrow I'll need to ask the floorman to clarify the protocol a little more for me.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Back to Work

I'm starting my new job on Monday. Meanwhile, I've read the entire High-Low Split Stud book by Ray Zee already (it's rather short) and am nearly through Todd Brunson's chapter in Super System 2 (also short). Hopefully I'll be competent at this game when I dive in at 20-40. I don't actually have much of an idea of how much I'll be asked to play it, though. Maybe I should brush up on my limit holdem, as well. The $200 no-limit game, on the other hand, will be old hat for me. That's what I used to play about 80% of the time back in Vegas.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Prop Job Soon

I seem to be close to getting the job as a 20-40 prop player at the Bike. On Tuesday, I'm scheduled for a physical (not sure why they need this), and I assume I'll be starting soon after that. I'd be working Friday-Tuesday, 3pm-11pm. Including the commute it will probably be more like 1:45-11:45, so the job will consume about 50 hours a week. This is quite a bit more than I've been playing up until now, and I'm not very optimistic about how much I'm going to like giving up some of my free time. For the past few months I've been getting rather tired after playing for about 6 hours, and it's usually not worth sticking around when fatigue sets in except in the increasingly rare event that the game is extremely soft. I've been playing poker on my own schedule for two and a half years now, and I've become accustomed to having plenty of time during the week for everything I want to do. On the other hand, I've also spent more time at unproductive activities such as watching TV than I would have liked, and I know from experience that when my time is more structured I tend to get more done. Fortunately, as far as making the decision whether to take the prop job, it's not necessary for me to know ahead of time whether I'll like being a prop: if I don't, I can always quit and immediately return to my old job with no difficulty whatsoever.

Meanwhile, I need to learn to play stud eight-or-better without losing all my money. My brother got me Ray Zee's book High-Low-Split Poker for Advanced Players, which also covers Omaha. It actually seems like it would be nearly useless for an advanced player at these games, but for me it's been quite helpful. It gives an idea of what starting hands are worthwhile and what to expect from other players. I read Sklansky's section in the original Super System, but that is so outdated that the rules have changed too significantly since it was written for it to be useful (most significantly, there was no requirement of an 8-qualifier for the low). Supposedly, Todd Brunson wrote a chapter on stud-8 in Super System 2 that is much more worthwhile. I think I may go ahead and order that one. Phil Hellmuth has the only other published stud-8 advice that I could find, but I would never purchase anything published by him unless it were the absolute best source on a particular game. Even then, I would probably just avoid playing that game.